Monday, July 26, 2010

Dog-Haters, Beware!

I've taken a break from reading to research routes on Colorado's 14ers and visited the best place for it, 14ers.com. As I tend to do, I decided to enter the forum and see what people were writing about these days. Of course, I found a current thread on dogs. It seems that most of the community is against dogs on 14ers. Well, excuse me, but if I am going to enjoy a hike up a big mountain, why wouldn't I take my dog? And why would people take an issue with dogs on hikes? Why do you approach me, you belligerent prude, and tell me about some imaginary leash law?

First of all, I do agree that there is an etiquette that dog owners should follow but that they are too often too ignorant to mind, such as picking up after the dog, making sure it doesn't chase wildlife, doesn't get off trail, doesn't bother people who don't want to be bothered, doesn't eat others' food, doesn't get into a fight with another dog, to name a few. And I do agree that certain breeds are just not well suited for these sorts of hikes.

However, if there is a U.S. State with the potential of a dog to be happy, it's Colorado: It's big; it's colorful; it's got running space, meadows, and mountains.... I never had a problem encountering a dog on a trail; sadly, I can't say the same about humans. Does human hypocrisy know no bounds? Let's protect our animals, become vegetarians, get dogs/ cats from shelters rather than breeders, and certainly NEVER wear fur or leather, but god forbid we allow a dog the freedom to enjoy the beauty and grandeur of nature. ](*,) WTF?

It seems to me that the lawmakers of this country have all sat down and decided that freedom will be limited until all people can do is sit home and watch TV... only certain kinds of TV, that is. No nudity! No nipples showing! No violence! You will not smoke in public places. You will not smoke ganja at all. You will not drink beer in public places. You will not wear a thong on the beach. You will not drive a black car on Sundays (Seriously! CO law!). You will wear a helmet if you're riding a bike. You will not ride your motorcycle into certain towns (Golden, BTW). "You will not cry, or sneeze or barf or fart!" Who are these laws meant to protect? Now I opened up Pandora's box! Don't get me wrong... I love America because it has plenty to offer, but I'm not going to keep my eyes averted from the obvious faults either. It's a country run by a bunch of extremist prudes, who want to protect the stupid few at the expense of everyone else's freedom. But you've heard this before.

So I will take my dog on the trail on every 14er and hike (up to a certain class of difficulty, of course), so he can have his day off leash doing what he does best--RUN--(it's a shepherd) and to protect me from other people... not from other dogs!

Oh, yeah... and thank you for petting my dog! But if you stop me on the trail to tell me about some imaginary leash law, I will give you lip! :)

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Fall of Man

The originary man before the fall, according to Rousseau at least, was reliant only on his own natural ability to survive, reaching for nothing beyond the stretch of his own hand accessible within a walking distance. He could only grasp without manipulating, without making tools in order to manipulate nature. He had nothing that would be inessential or unnecessary to his own survival. He relied purely on what was inside of him rather than exterior objects. "His desires never [went] beyond his physical wants;" in fact, he didn't have any passions. "The only goods he recognize[d] in the universe are food, a female, and sleep: the only evils he fear[ed] are pain and hunger" ("A Dissertation On the Origin and Foundation of The Inequality of Mankind and is it Authorised by Natural Law?"). If he didn't have passions, he didn't grasp for knowledge, he did not anticipate anything, he didn't have a future, he was outside of time. If he did not anticipate anything, he did not anticipate his own death, and so did not fear it, and in a sense was immortal. Mortality only exists if the subject is aware of his own finitude. He did not work, speak, or have skills or knowledge. He only imitated animals. He had at his disposal only his natural abilities.

But, lo and behold, Prometheus took pity on the man because he lacked a special power, gift, or some ability that made him better equipped for his survival on earth. The other animals had all sorts of powers that Epimetheus distributed among them based on a principle of compensation: the smaller creatures received wings or dwelling underground; larger, already had an advantage over others. But Epimetheus, who was not a particularly clever boy, exhausted all the powers on other animals forgetting about humans. So Prometheus, his wise brother, stole from Hephaestus and Athena the gift of craft or skill in the arts along with fire so they could use this techné to their advantage.

Because of the Epimethean (belonging to the Titan of afterthought, the past, recollection, and reflection) fault of forgetting and the Promethean (of the Titan of foresight, the future, anticipation) fault of theft, humans became differentiated from animals as the only creatures that partook of the divine, that acknowledged gods through worship and sacrifice, and that became aware of their own mortality vis-à-vis the immortality of the gods. Due to the Olympian conflict that ensued from the brothers' faults, Pandora released elpis from her box. Elpis being both hope and fear or rather expectation is an extension of suffering. In Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound the Titan says that he bestowed on humans "blind hope."

So through the faults of the Titans humans have fallen. They became aware of time. They began to anticipate and fear death. They discovered articulate speech. They invented houses, bedding, automobiles, clothes, Prada.... They became both producers of commodities and consumers. And--like the Promethean liver--their hunger, ills, suffering, and labor returns every day for eternity. And the liver, the organ of all the humors and passions, is the cause of their suffering. Because of their techné, skill or craft, they learned to manipulate nature and to destroy it. Being the only creatures in between nature and gods, they neither belong to the natural nor the divine world. They are perpetually incomplete, inadequade, imbalanced, unstable, always disatisfied. They either rely too much on the past or look too far into the future; they have no present but exist in time.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pimpin' My Crib

It’s amazing what a little paint can do: it can fully transform a room, remove dirt and mess, and improve karma. Seven days of work and $200 later, voila!


I know. I’m a compulsive painter. But I needed to get the kitchen project done before the semester began, otherwise I’d never find enough time to do it. My inspiration came from thinking of Iza’s birthday party this year, but that’s a subject for another blog.

How did I do it? Well, I did not have much to work with: kitchen cabinets from the 60s, I believe, all metal, some with wooden doors—plain, with no design whatsoever, soiled after years of abuse. The top cabinets had no handles, which contributed to the dirtiness. Bottom cabinets sported silver, retro handles. Floor? Linoleum with a funky brown, yellow, turquoise, and green pseudo-mosaic design. Yes, it is possible! Countertops? Turquoise with gold swirls.

The challenge: transform this kitchen without a major investment.

I started by painting the cabinets, since it would have been too expensive to replace them. Oil primer, a coat of white paint, and some joint compound at least cleaned up the room and patched holes and cracks. But it looked awful! So I put down the white paint and went to the hardware store for some color. I also knew it was necessary to use more than one color in order to keep the eye focused on the pretty design, rather than the strange floor and countertops. With the floor and the countertops, the color scheme was pretty much prescribed: turquoise and green. Now I just needed to find decent hues that would be pleasant and fresh. The kitchen is rather small, so the colors needed to be relatively light and bright. Since there is no door to the kitchen, I also had to be mindful of the colors blending well with the purple living room. Another essential purchase: contact paper for all the cabinets.



I trudged to the contact paper section first. The designs are limited, and I thought that perhaps I could use it on the outside of the cabinets as well. I chose a blue flowery design, and headed over to the paint department. I picked up a blue that worked with the contact paper: tropical lagoon. Then a nice, bright green: spring cactus. That’s when my concept was born: green cabinets with blue flowers offset by dark green molding. Spanish olive was a nice complimentary green. The molding department offered pretty 3/4-inch molding and some fabulous embossed wood appliqués. I talked to some random contractor who was browsing in the store and wanted to pat my dog, and he recommended Liquid Nails as an adhesive. Then to top off the design I picked simple silver knobs for the top cabinet doors. 


I had a nice dark wood wine cabinet in the kitchen and a small, wicker square table with two chairs of the same color I purchased years ago at Pier 1 Imports. With a little bit of help and a few days the kitchen was completed! Now I can go back to my summer reading.

Friday, July 2, 2010

At Puck's

I'm currently sitting at Wolfgang Puck's establishment at Logan airport in Boston, and since I still have an hour or so until I fly out, I thought I'd give you the skinny on airport food. Being a snob such as I am, I probably chose the most expensive food joint where alcohol is served, so I can relax my pre-flight nerves. For those of you who don't know... I don't like flying. I don't like airports. I don't like crowds. And I especially don't like yuppy couples making out right in front of me, making googly eyes at each other over their expensive glass of cheap chardonnay. Which brings me back to my topic: restaurant review.

Wolfgang Puck--a classy fellow,  celebrity chef, successful businessman--probably thought it would be a good idea to add some finesse to airport fare. And he was right! For me at least, choosing between Dunkin' Donuts, McDonald's, and Puck is no brainer. But does he live up to his name...

Let's do a bit of menu analysis, shall we?  Wolf, as he prefers to be lovingly called, starts with booze on his menu... I'm already intrigued. Nice touch... you don't have to eat anything... after all, you don't want to look fat when you meet with your honey when you land. He's got some premium options in the hard liquor section: Grey Goose, Patron, 15 year Scotch. In beers he doesn't do too bad either: Stella Artois, Sam Adams, Bass... In wines, however, he falls short... Mirassou? Ecco Domani? Beringer White Zin? Come on now! Cater to your (pseudo) sophisticated clientelle, please!

In terms of food, the sandwiches caught my attention. We've got
  • Turkey Remoulade Sandwich with red onion, romaine lettuce, and remoulade sauce (for those of you who don't speak snob, it's a kind of tartar sauce).
  • Smoked Ham and Swiss Sandwich with creamy dijon, red onions, romaine lettuce and plum tomato.
  • Pesto Chicken Salad Sandwich with red onion, romaine lettuce, plum tomatos, and garlic pesto.
  • Turkey Avocado Club Sandwich sporting avocado, bacon, plum tomatoes, red onion, and remoulade sauce (yes, the same).
  • Chicken Aioli Sandwich with provolone, romaine lettuce, plum tomato, red onion, cilantro aioli warmed in the oven.
All of these are served on "artisan whole wheat ciabatta rolls" with "seasoned french fries." The first thing I noticed was the limited list of ingredients: five sandwiches with three main ingredients (turkey, chicken, ham) served with red onion, romaine lettuce, and plum tomatoes. I figured I'd try the Aioli Sandwich (by the way, aioli is also a remoulade of a sort) because it's oven-warmed with a glass of pinot grigio. The ciabatta roll was less than satisfactory, but the aioli made the entire sandwich (I wonder if they get it in jars). All in all, for around $10 not a bad deal. The seasoned fries? I'm not sure what Mr. Puck considers seasoned, but they tasted not unlike the Micky D's fries next door. The lady next to me commented on their "hand-crafted pizza" she ordered, and I quote, "It was surprisingly delicious."

As a desert, I opted for the classic East Coast coctail, cosmopolitan. I have no complaints: tangy, subtly sweet, with an ample amount of vodka in it. Potent! Very nice! Just what I needed to get me on that steel bird without freaking out. The entire meal, cost a little over $40 with a generous tip included, and frankly considering the competition in price-quality ratio, Wolf gets my vote, despite his shortcomings.

Feeling Time

And the two and a half weeks went by like a dream. Only memories remain. Two weeks ago there was an eternity until my departure; the time seemed to have stopped for a while. Now I find myself writing my final blog from the sunny Massachusetts wondering, "How fast did the time pass?" Where did the time go?

Considering my experience of the passage of time, I cannot help but believe that temporality is subjective: it depends on the individual. In Kantian terms, it's mind dependent: time is imposed by the mind on the world. At the same time, there must be something like objective time, or measured clock time. By "being" I don't mean that it's some kind of a real, distinct entity... but rather that I agree with Heidegger that clock time is an artificial structure possible only because temporality is possible. Humans at some point realized that moments were arranged temporally, more or less linearly, that there is a "before" and "after," and they decided to come up with a standardized way of talking about time. Hence, they divided the day into hours, minutes, seconds... months into weeks... the year into months... following some obscure guide--astronomical signs--because the sun and the moon seemed to be bigger than they were and much more consistent than anything in their little world.

But that standardization would not have been necessary, if we all experienced time in the same way all the time. Our experience of time changes every moment of the day and with it the duration of the present changes as well. William James figured that out but he stipulated that what we call the present is anywhere from a fraction of a second to three seconds. In this I think he was off: I think the present can last for minutes, even hours. But it's completely subjective and depends on the situation. Take reading, for example... you can spend hours reading, in the same position, your thoughts focused on one thing, and it feels like the "now" for hours. But when you're falling, the duration of the fall to you is much longer than it is to the observer: the "now" swells into minutes, when it's actually only fractions of a second. So our temporality contracts and expands the actual clock time.

According to Bourdieu, normally we don't notice time, and the only time when we notice time is where there is a breakdown. Breakdown of what, you ask? Breakdown between what we expect to happen or what is possible to happen and what actually happens. Everything we do happens in a social sphere, and our actions are controlled by a set of bodily dispositions. His analogy involves a team sport, such as football: we all run around on the field playing the game according to some arbitrary but nevertheless existent rules. Say you have Fabiano passing the ball to Robinho. When Fabiano passes the ball, he is not targeting Robinho's position at the time of the pass, but rather he anticipates Robinho's position when the pass is completed. When the pass is completed successfully, both players don't think about the time. However, the breakdown occurs when Robinho doesn't take control over the ball, despite Fabiano's efforts: the anticipated result is not reached, and so both players, according to Bourdieu, are suddenly aware that time is passing, and they experience an uncomfortable anxiety. Time is only experienced when the anticipated event does not come to fruition.

If we can extend this analogy to the 19th Century, it explains the apparent cultural anxiety: since the French Revolution failed, or rather did not bring the anticipated result, than the people would have, according to Bourdieu's theory, experienced a temporal breakdown with a sudden consciousness of time as a result. The world was then waiting to see what happens next. Waiting for Bourdieu (and for Dr. Seuss) is a form of submission, and a sign of powerlessness. Perhaps, this feeling of powerlessness explains Shelley's revolutionary spirit: he refused to sit still and submit to tyranny. He believed in his own power... in the power of humanity in general.

Right now, I anticipate waiting for a plane at Boston Logan, and I have a feeling that my experience of time will be quite elongated. Robinho, on the other hand, is feeling his time rapidly running out as Brazil is ten minutes away from losing to Netherlands.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Placebo

Martin made an interesting and quite revolutionary assertion: he inverted the traditional paradigm of thinking that objective time or clock time came prior to temporality or subjective time. For him, clock time comes after temporality--after our conception of time. In other words, because we experience temporality, clock time is possible. Further, he insists that if we accept this model, this understanding allows us to live more authentically in relation to our finitude and to be able to hold onto the present more effectively.

As we know, and as many philosophers have theorized, perhaps starting with Augustine, the present is a rather slippery concept. We know that the past is all that has already happened, that we can recapture by remembering. We know that the future hasn't happened yet. But what is the present? What is "now"? The "now," as William James, Hegel, and Husserl stipulated, has one foot in the past and one in the future but itself is quite intangible. Further, because the present seems to be over before we know it, it gives us an impression of being late, or of losing time. There is no present because before long it's already the past. However, if we live in constant anxiety because we feel that we are losing time, don't have enough time, or are always late, we live inauthentically.

What do I mean by living authentically or inauthentially? I use the terms narrowly as technical concepts from existential philosophy. Authenticity is the conscious self's coming to terms with its own materiality and finitude, an understanding of its condition in relation to the world. An authentic Dasein is always on time: time passes but it feels a coherent continuity rather than a disconnected jerking from one missed opportunity to another.

If we again agree that the Romantics were obsessed with time and that there was a cultural anxiety about a certain discontinuance between the present and past evident in the works of poets, than the entire generation suffered from inauthenticity. Blake and Wordsworth wished they forever remained in childhood. Wordsworth was concerned with those fleeting "spots of time" and with the effectiveness of his own faculty of memory. Coleridge disagreed with Wordsworth. Shelley wanted to deny that time had any effect whatsoever on his existence. Byron's narratives were sometimes fragmented and sometimes neverending, as if he tried to extend his stories into eternity in order to defy his own finitude.

Of course, this cultural phenomenon also manifests itself in the period's compulsion to measure time precisely. The 19th Centure was all about watches and clocks. Georges-Auguste Leschot from Geneva pioneered mass production of watches starting in 1830s. By inventing interchangeable parts watches used stardardized parts that were cheaper to produce and, hence, more readily available. Big Ben started ticking on 31 May 1859, so that everyone in London--from all socio-economic strata--could know the time.

This emphasis on clock time or objective time seems to further alienate the 19th Centure Dasein from the world. Instead of getting a better understanding of one's existence, it became increasingly paranoid and neurotic as it got further lost in time and in the world. The mid-Century Dasein felt a compulsion to measure time because its own temporality, its subjective time-measuring device, was malfunctioning. In other words, it reached for drugs to relieve the symptoms without looking to understand the disease and to eliminate the source of these symptoms. So instead of gaining more control over time, it kept losing it at an increasing rate.