Monday, August 27, 2012

College Field Guide: Intellectualis Pseudiforas

It’s nearly September, and that means millions of people across the nation are heading off to college, many for the first time.  There they will meet many new and exciting types of people, some of which they will, in retrospect, with they hadn’t.  I hope to adequately define a specific species of student, Intellectualis Pseudiforas, better known as the Common Pseudo-Intellectual. 

            The Pseudo-Intellectual has been observed to inhabit every college campus in the country, with high concentrations present in nearby coffee shops and book stores.  The Pseudo-Intellectual often travels alone or in small packs, occasionally gathering into large groups.  They have been known to share territory with Floralis Neohipnia (The New-Age Hippy) and Genes Excrucia (The Tortured Artist).  Some vital symbiotic relationship between these groups and others has been hypothesized, but never proven.
Famous example of Intellectualis Faux (Fake Genius)

            Unlike other members of its genus, the Pseudo-Intellectual is difficult to identify by sight, and can appear similar to species ranging from Genius Perezoso (Slacker ‘Genius’) to Phillus Xeno (‘Wannabe’ Foreigner).  The most accurate way to determine if you’ve encountered a Pseudo-Intellectual is by listening.  The Pseudo-Intellectual will often start sentences with “Did you know…” and “X said” (X being any famous author, philosopher, or historical figure), or some variation thereof. 

            The remainder of the Pseudo-Intellectual’s vocal range is almost exclusively comprised of paraphrased recitations of what a professor said earlier in the day.  As an interesting side note: the Pseudo-Intellectual and its relative Intellectualis Verdad (The True Intellectual) can best be differentiated by their calls. (The True Intellectual’s speech is often an extrapolation of recently learned information, or a connection between two previously unconnected ideas.)

            While mostly harmless, the Pseudo-Intellectual is an annoying creature and, if given attention, a persistent one.  When (there is no ‘if’) forced to interact with a Pseudo-Intellectual, the best course of action is to make yourself seem as uninterested as possible.  Once the Pseudo-Intellectual has concluded that you are not an easy source of attention, it will leave in search of another source of validation.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Breif Book Review: Dune

Frank Herbert’s Dune can be read two ways.  The first is as a story:

            With a few twists, the story behind Dune is an old one.  A noble family travels to another fief, only to fall victim to treachery resulting in the death of the father and forced exile of the son; the son must get his revenge and reclaim the throne.  Make the fief a planet named Arrakis, and add in prophecy, mystic abilities, and futuristic tech, and you’ve got the story of Paul Atreides.

The second (and I believe better) way to read this novel is as a portrait:

            Like I said, the story throughout Dune is an old one, one that will not surprise the reader too much.  But the point isn’t the plot, it’s the planet.  What Herbert attempts and (I believe) succeeds in doing, is giving us enough of an understanding of an entire world and population to be able to extrapolate and comprehend their present, past, and future.  He covers topics ranging from ecology, to theology, to military strategy, to Xenobiology.  The scope (and, I presume, intent) of this novel gives the readers more than just a window into another world: It gives them a guided tour.

            In creating a world, some things get more attention than others.  The simplicity of the characters is my biggest complaint (followed closely by the hundreds of times I had to skim through the glossary).  But the people are not the point.  They, like their culture and environs, exist to bring Arrakis to life.  Perhaps there’s something to be learned from the amount of work and detail put into bringing to life a nearly lifeless planet.

            At almost 800 pages (not including the appendices which cover ecology, history of noble families, the intent of a sacred order, and a glossary), Dune may require a bit of work.  Picking up on the lexicon of Arrakis may take some time at first, but is rewarding as you go along.  Dune also asks the reader to accept the mysticism as well as the superscience.  I am, admittedly, not a big fan of the fantasy genre, with many exceptions.  So take it with a grain of salt when I say that the mystic abilities are somewhat confusing in their limitations and uses.

            But at its heart, Dune isn’t any more about magic than it is about any one aspect of the Arrakeen society.  This novel is a portrait of an entire planet.  And it paints that portrait spectacularly.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

So You Think You Know American History?

            Did you know that George Washington wasn’t the first person to hold the office of President of the United States of America?  It’s true.  You see, Washington was elected under the Constitution, which wasn’t ratified until 1789.  Between 1781 and 1789, the government operated under the Articles of Confederation, under which a president was appointed for a single one-year term.  There were seven presidents appointed this way, the first of which was a man named John Hanson.  Not only was none of this mentioned in my American History class, but the textbook (which focused on American history from colonial times through the Civil War) never even mentioned the name John Hanson.  Not once in the entire textbook. 

            In the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, there was a horticulturist named John Chapman.  He was an early conservationist, vegetarian, and Swedenborgian missionary.  Also a businessman, he planted nurseries on what was then the frontier, which, due to complexities in claim-staking law, was a big help to homesteaders.  If you were to picture John Chapman, all you’d see is an oddly dressed man dropping apple seeds into the dirt behind him as he walked.  That’s all anyone cares to remember about him.

            Thomas Nast, a political cartoonist, created the Republican Elephant.  He did not, as many believe, create the Democratic Donkey, although his use of it did make it popular.  The modern image of Santa Claus was also created by Nast, despite what you’ve heard about Coca-Cola advertising campaigns.  Although, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created as part of an advertising campaign for Montgomery Ward. 

            When everyone sings “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch, they are only singing the chorus.  There are two more verses.  The tune to the Star Spangled Banner is that of  “The Anacreontic Song,” a popular drinking song developed by the Anacreon Club, a gentlemen’s club devoted to music.  The Star Spangled Banner has five verses, and includes the lines:

                        Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
                        No refuge could save the hireling and slave
                        From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave

            What you don’t know is often far more interesting than what you think you do.  There’s a reason people say ‘The truth is stranger than fiction.’

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Day at the Ad Agency

            “Yes, Mr. Holstrom.  Yes, I realize that this is unacceptable.  I’m going to rectify the situation right- Rectify.  It means to make right.  Yes, I’m sure it doesn’t mean that.  Yes, I’ll get right on it.  All right, thanks.”

            I hang up the phone, and rub my temples.  This is the third time Johnson’s fucked me over.  I open the drawer in my desk by my right knee, pull out a bottle of scotch and a glass.  I hate firing people.  I pour, drink.  Johnson’s office is down the hall, about ten yards from mine.  His office is only about eight by ten, but then again, he’s only worked here for six months.  It took me three years to get a decent sized office. 

            When I enter the room, Johnson is sitting with his feet on his desk, leaning back in his swivel chair, holding a paperback at arm’s length over his face.  I clear my throat.  Johnson looks at me without moving his head.

            “Hey,” he says, “What’s up?”

            “We need to talk,” I say, pulling from my pocket the folded up flyer Mr. Hostrom faxed to me.  “It’s serious.”

            Johnson swings his legs off the desk, and sits up straight, tossing the book behind him.  It hits the wall and some pages fall out.  I lay the flyer flat on the desk in front of him.  “Can you tell me what this is?” I say.

            Johnson looks it over, then says, “It’s the promotional flyer I designed for Mattress Mart’s sale.”

            “And do you see why Mr. Holstrom might be upset with it?”

            Johnson strokes his chin for a moment.  “No.”

            “Well, I see several.  Let’s start with the big bright red letters across the top.”

            “What about them.”

            I can’t tell if Johnson is messing with me, so I give him the benefit of the doubt.  “You don’t see it?”


            “Mattress-Side Sale.  In big red, inexplicably dripping letters, it says Mattress-Side Sale.”

            Johnson shrugs as if he has no idea what I mean.

            “Mattress-side.  Matricide.”

            He shrugs.  “Coincidence.”

            “Coincidence!  How could it be coincidence!  What the fuck does Mattress-side even mean.”

            “It means ‘the act of murdering one’s own mother.’”

            “I know that!”

            “Then why’d you ask?”

            I take a few deep breaths.  “I mean, why did you name the sale the Mattress-Side Sale.”

            “Because we have the best mattresses this side of the Mississippi.” He says.  “I promise, any homophones are coincidental.”

            “See, I have a hard time believing that.”  I point to the image beneath the title, “Could you explain this?”

            Johnson looks it over.  “I think the meaning is quite clear.”

            “So do I, which is precisely the problem.”

            The image is a line drawing of a large number of young men and middle aged women in a mattress store, all of them brandishing weapons of some kind.  Beneath that is the line: Everyone and their mother is going Psycho for our low, low prices.

            “Do you seriously expect me to believe that this has nothing to do with matricide?”

            “It has everything to do with mattress-side.  That’s the name of the sale.”

            The son of a bitch is grinning now.  “Enough,” I say.

            He shrugs.  “Fine,” he says.  “The pun is intentional.  I thought he’d like it.”

            “Why would he possibly like it?”

            “You’ve seen the commercials, always talking about prices so low that he’s got to be insane and all that.  What says crazy better than matricide?”

            I look him over carefully, trying to determine whether he’s still pulling my leg.  “Not that kind of crazy.  He’s quirky uncle crazy, not dress up like a clown and rip out your sternum crazy.”

            Johnson shrugs. “My mistake,” he says.  “I’ll do better next time.”

            I brace myself, take a deep breath.  “There won’t be a next time.  You’re fired.”

            He looks at me, actually serious for the first time so far.  “What!  Because I made one mistake!”

            “This is hardly the first mistake.”

            “Name one other.  I dare you!”

            “That Chef Spyro’s Gyro shop.  You remember that one?”

            Johnson crosses his arms over his chest.  “What about it?”

            “‘Chef Spyro will fill your mouth with his hot meat.’  And the picture was a close-up of Spyro winking.”

            Johnson snorts in derision. “So it happened one other time.  Big deal.”

            “And Bragler’s Pharmacy.  The ad just said, ‘Drugs.  Lots and lots of drugs.’”

            “It got people’s attention.”

            “It got the police department’s attention.”

            “Police are people.”

            “That’s not the point!”

            I take several deep breaths.  “The point is, you’re fired.  That’s it.”

            I stand up and start to leave, but Johnson runs around the desk and grabs my shoulder.  “Let me show you what I’ve got,” he says, clearly desperate.  “If you don’t like it, I’ll go.”

            “Fine,” I say. 

            An easel with a giant pad of sketch paper is leaned against the wall.  Johnson spreads its legs, and prepares to flip over the page.  “It’s for Rico’s Italian diner.”  He flips over the page.

            There’s are two meatballs next to each other, and a cannoli dangling below them.  The tagline says, “You’ll love our big meaty balls.”

            Johnson is smiling self-consciously.  I look at the ad again, then back to Johnson.  I turn around and start walking.  “You’re fired.” I call out over my shoulder.