Tag: Criticism

Day 996: The Greatest Prank In The History Of History

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“That putz, Bolton. This will totally blow his mind.”

The above may have been uttered between the cool gusts of sharp giggles at a gathering of the Berkeley chapter of E Clampus Vitus, an organization designated either as a “historical drinking society” or a “drinking historical society”, depending on whom you ask. These are folks who are dedicated to the noble history of the American West, though they prefer to cozy up to their history with a frothy glass of smirk. Call them deviant scholars, outlaw students of the distant past and the eternal spirit of yeeha. Practical academics and impractical jokers.

The brass plate left by Sir Francis Drake near the bubbly Pacific coast is little more than a whopping banana peel, left on the ground to trip up one unfortunate mark but soon elevated into an established part of the natural vegetation. The so-called plaque that signifies the terminus of European exploration across our happy little continent is a hoax, a forgery, a one-off gag that exploded into accepted fact.

The lesson here is that history, for all her dates and names and oft-inexplicable motivations, can be a blast. Especially when iniquitous historians with a smirking sense of humor mess it up on purpose.

HerbertEugeneBolton-1

Herbert Eugene Bolton was one of the most respected historians of American western expansion, the author of a now-commonplace theory that asserts that we should look at colonial expansion across all the Americas holistically, rather than piece by piece. He was a brilliant man, the fantastic mind who established the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley as the preeminent historical resource it is today. He was also a member of E Clampus Vitus. One would expect he’d have been on the lookout for shenanigans. Read more…

Day 993: Sexual Selection In Darwinian Theory, or Why You Can’t Get Laid

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Herbert Spencer was the 19th century philosopher, scientist and all-around smart cookie who coined the phrase “Survival of the Fittest” after having read Charles Darwin’s On The Origin Of Species. While some may argue each and every tenet of evolutionary theory (much to the exhaustion of everyone who actually knows a little something about science), we have come to realize that Spencer was only half-right in determining which genes get promoted into the next generation. It’s also a matter of Survival of the Sexiest.

Sexual selection extends beyond the boast-worthy ability to fend off predators, gather food and shoot zombies with a crossbow. Mate selection based on these factors certainly occurs, but the truth grabs many more hairs between its gnarled knuckles. So much of who we are plays into our subconscious exigency to be sexually selected.

So if you’re finding your Saturday nights have of late been more occupied by binge marathons of Murder, She Wrote than sweaty, carnal bodyslapping, perhaps you should turn to science to understand why. With a few tiny modifications to your being, you might just find yourself crotch-deep in sexual social butterflydom.

English dictionaries

You need to word good. Humans – at least most humans – possess a far greater vocabulary than that which is needed for basic communication. It’s true – most of us know words like ‘dungarees’, ‘mellifluous’ and ‘woebegone’, but how often do we really need to use them? Evolutionary scientists suspect we throw down this excess of verbiage in an effort to show off our intelligence to potential mates. This has been tested; we tend to spew a more flowery and profound lexicon when we’re in a romantic mindset. Then again, some of us do it just to make a living. Read more…

Day 991: The Subjective Science of Getting Friendly With Your Water

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Good morning, water. You look lovely today. The way you have meticulously extracted the energizing essence of those crumbly brown nuggets of Sumatra in my coffee maker really brings out the glimmer in your droplets. Look, I’m a married man, but if I wasn’t, I would totally be gettin’ up in dat aqua, you feel me?

According to Dr. Masaru Emoto, I may have just created a more healthy and vibrant cup of coffee. Dr. Emoto is a revolutionary oracle of scientific knowledge, inasmuch as he has concocted his own definitions of the words “scientific” and “knowledge”. Dr. Emoto has “proven” (and it’s hard to find a source for his work that doesn’t nestle that word between the comforting pillows of quotation marks) that positive energy makes water better.

Not better-tasting, not more nutritious or refreshing… just better. Happier. More wholly fulfilled. Dr. Emoto unearthed that line where metaphysics and alternative medicine cross over into crazed Lynchian fiction, then leaped across it like a doped-up Olympian. He landed among the Technicolor bobbles of the absurd, cultivated his own particular brew of ludicrous reasoning and slapped a price tag on it.

And we bought in. Oh, how we bought in.

How could we not trust that sincere face?

How could we not trust that sincere face?

Masaru Emoto earned his doctorate at the Open University for Alternative Medicine in India, though I feel “earned” should be yet another resident of Quotes-Marks Manor, as I have unearthed a couple of sources which claim that such a degree can be bought for around $500. But Dr. Emoto’s doctorness is relatively moot, as he immediately set out to sail the vague ocean of alternative medicine, which contains far more fetid flotsam than it does navigable current. Read more…

Day 818: Brother Can You Spare Infinity Monkeys?

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Every so often I encounter one of those weary, soggy mornings when the lazy sun can’t seem to prop my fingers upon their ASDF-JKL; thrones to do their little thousand-word dance. Artificial stimulation helps – sometimes a throttle-jolt of caffeine, perhaps a bursting platter of bratwurst eggs benedict, even one of those nefarious little energy shots can bump the words past my grimy fingerprints. But what I really need?

Monkeys.

An infinite number of monkeys huffing an infinite amount of jenkem in front of an infinite number of typewriters could eventually produce something close to an acceptable article. Probably not within my one-day deadline, but you never know.

Actually, the infinite-monkeys cliché usually posits a loftier result, either the complete works of Shakespeare or at least one of his plays. People have crunched this hypothesis into a briny pulp, sorting through the ramifications of infinity and trying to use math to uncover just how much time we’re talking about. One school even attempted a practical re-enactment of the theory. That’s good – that deposits this topic just deep enough into the Realm of Weird to warrant my attention.

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Aristotle contemplated the random combinations of atoms that make up the universe, and pointed out that the only difference between a comedy and a tragedy is the arrangement of its “atoms” (meaning letters). It was French mathematician Emile Borel who first used the infinite-monkeys concept in his 1913 paper “Mécanique Statistique et Irréversibilité”. Emile’s monkeys serve as a metaphor to help us wrap our imaginations around the idea of producing a massive, random string of letters. Read more…

Day 729: When The Screen Runs Red With Virtual Blood

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Yesterday morning I was confronted with one of those pivotal moments in the parental experience, one in which a father finds himself perched upon the precipice of coolness, wavering like a basketball on a hoop’s rim. Do I tilt toward the two points and lock in my status as the awesome dad? Or reject the score in the interest of conservative reason and cautious prevention?

My daughter, who had recently acquired an impressive amount of Christmas cash from relatives who didn’t want to gamble with clothes sizes or outdated notions of what her fleeting interests might be at this moment, told us she wanted to purchase Grand Theft Auto V. The family became immediately polarized: “It’s violent.” “It’s fun.” “It’s misogynistic.” “The city is magnificently rendered.” “Did I tell you about the doctor that performed my hip replacement?” (Grandma has a way of bumping a conversation onto a wholly different track.)

It came down to me. Of course I don’t want my daughter exposed to a negative influence; it’s bad enough that she watches crappy TLC shows for hours on end. But she’s sixteen years old, not at all violent in nature, and apart from a handful of truly flummoxing quirks, she’s an astoundingly well-adjusted kid. So what do I do?

Let the controversy begin.

DeathRace

In 1976, a game called Death Race hit local arcades, stirring up the first controversy on the shelf of violent video games. Players control a car and try to steer over ‘gremlins’ (which look a lot like little stick-people), turning them into little tombstones when they do. The National Safety Council called it sick and morbid. 60 Minutes ran a story about the psychological impact of video games. The technology was still four years shy of Pac-Man, and already parents were alarmed. Read more…

Day 507: Saving The Souls Of All Bostonians

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I’ve never been one to target the masses with swift aplomb and savvy scribing. Possibly because I still use expressions like ‘swift aplomb’ – the masses aren’t really into that. But had fate plunked me down in a simpler, less outspoken, less internet-y time, I would have known the secret to placing my words at the iris-end of eyeballs all over the country, even the world.

The trick, as any writer from the seventeenth through twentieth centuries would tell you, is to get your stuff banned in Boston.

This might also net you a snazzy t-shirt.

This might also net you a snazzy t-shirt.

Why Boston? Why is there no Wikipedia page devoted to things that were banned in Pittsburgh? Or Richmond? Or <insert city name that you, the reader, despise>? Everyone knows those schlubs don’t know from quality literature.

Boston was founded way back at the dawn of what would become America by a bunch of uppity Puritans who had no time for such blasphemous notions like profanity, mature content, adult themes, or independent thought. Actually, I think a lot of early American cities were founded by Puritans, it’s just that Boston took a little longer to shimmy free from the shackles of repression – a word I’ve decided is a portmanteau of ‘religious oppression’. Boston was a theocracy, pure and simple. And despite whatever yammer-jammer may have been scribbled in the First Amendment later on, city officials still held on to the right to save its citizens from objectionable material that had the potential to book their souls on a one-way ticket to an unfathomable HELL. Read more…