Measuring Civilization: Wheels on Meals

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Are you civilized?  Is your neighbor?  How about your President?

Trick question.

As far as I can tell, we don’t have a measure of “how” civilized we are.  Sure, an economist will point to GDP, a geographer could point to population, and a librarian could point to how many reference works exist.

But HOW civilized are we?

One measure put forward many years ago has to do with eating.

I love eating.  And I love studying behavior.  Let’s put the two together.

If I took your civilization and withheld the food supply so it was, say, 25% of normal, what would happen?

Would many people starve quietly, still obeying the rules of decency and law so that civilization continued peacefully?

Or would there be some sort of breakdown in the rules?  Would people become more like wild animals, stealing, robbing, murdering, even cannibalizing?

Let’s bring some rigor to the process.

Take any group of people, say the group you’re stuck in a meeting with today, and make them supreme.  By that I mean, make everyone else in the world go away.  They have the whole Earth to call their own.

How long can this group survive using the rules of society they grew up with?  Will they thrive and grow into a new society?  Or will they end up at each other’s throats?  Or, my favorite, will they run away from each other, dying alone?

Make the group your whole nation.  Or the whole Earth.  You choose the group.

Then restrict their food.  Give them only so many calories every quarter day.

Here’s where the fun starts.

I know that when I get hungry, I attack.  I attack the fridge.  MUST EAT screams my stomach.  The rest of the body follows.  When my stomach is full I go back to being all nice and civilized.

How many quarter days would I allow civilization to survive?  Maybe two.

How about you?

 

Pride and Prejudice: Omniscient Vendetta

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Last P&P post covered the fact that the omniscient narrator was making a mistake.  I know, it seems crazy, but there it is.  She (of course it’s a she!) makes claims about Mr. Bennet that aren’t shown in the book.  

What we didn’t cover was why the narrator would make mistakes like that.  What is she hiding?  More importantly, what is Jane Austen trying to prove?

I’m not sure what Jane was thinking, but it certainly makes the book far more complex.  It means the narrator becomes a character.  And a character has, well, a character.

In the case of P&P, this narrator is certainly not omniscient.  Even worse, the narrator has a thing against Mrs. Bennet.  How do I know?  Check out this evidence.

Her father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown.

 This comes from P&P, first paragraph of Chapter 42 (Volume 2 Chapter 19).

Talk about getting slammed!  The narrator is pretty much saying Mrs. Bennet who is weak, illiberal, no longer gets any affection, respect, esteem, or confidence.

But the book doesn’t hold up any of those claims.  True, Mr. Bennet never kisses her or says he loves her, but a lot of that didn’t go on back in those days anyway.  At the same time, he does show her respect and confidence throughout.  So what’s going on here?

The only thing I can figure is that the narrator has it in for Mrs. Bennet.

Maybe they were childhood rivals, and the narrator is in love with Mr. Bennet?  Or perhaps it’s a sister that no one likes to talk about.  At any rate, the narrator takes great pains throughout the story to slam Mrs. Bennet whenever she can.  Why?

Even if you think this is crazy talk, consider this.  No one writes tighter than Jane Austen.  It’s like reading a compressed computer file that expands in your head.  So why should Jane keep going on and on about how silly Mrs. Bennet is?

There can only be one reason.  Mrs. Bennet is truly a genius but hides it well.  The narrator is jealous, but since she’s a narrator she doesn’t have much recourse to revenge but telling us lies about Mrs. Bennet.  That’s where the vengeance comes in.

What who did when, I don’t know.  But I’ll get to the bottom of it.  In the meantime, I’ll just have to read more Jane.

Pride and Prejudice: Omniscient Mistakes

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Back in writing class I learned that the omniscient narrator was, well, omniscient.  That means they know everything.

Since the author DOES know everything, and since the narrator is also the author, that makes sense.

But what if they weren’t the same?

That means the narrator becomes a character.  And a character has, well, a character.

In the case of P&P, this narrator is certainly not omniscient.

Need some evidence?  Here you go:

Her father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown.

 This comes from P&P, first paragraph of Chapter 42 (Volume 2 Chapter 19).

It’s pretty hard hitting, with the narrator letting us know how hard life has been for Mr. Bennet.  That last line is the hardest of all; he’s lost all respect, esteem, and confidence in Mrs. Bennet.  Wow.

Wait just a minute.  One of the things that strikes me about Jane Austen’s writing is that she is tight, super tight.  When she describes something, or someone, she doesn’t waste space or words.  We learn Lydia is tall and stout.  Austen tells us this in two separate places, only once.

But when it comes to certain things, the narrator just keeps going on and on.  We’ll get to that in the next post.  What’s critical here is that Austen does everything right – her characters do exactly what she wants them to do.

So, let’s look at the three items that Mrs. Bennet has lost in the eyes of Mr. Bennet.

Respect.

How do you show someone respect?  You leave their personal space alone.  You don’t talk when they are talking.  You don’t badmouth them behind their back.  You address them politely at all times.

Guess what?  Mr. Bennet does exactly all those things throughout the book.  So how is that he has lost respect?  He certainly has lots of opportunities to show it.

Esteem?  This is a hard one so I’ll leave it for later.

What about confidence?

This one’s easy.  How do you show confidence in someone?  You trust their decisions, you don’t second guess them, you don’t “micro-manage” their activities.  Guess what?  Yes, it’s happened again.  Mr. Bennet does in fact trust his wife to make all sorts of decisions, including managing the girl’s education.  How about that?

We’ll talk about why the narrator makes these mistakes next.  But for now, it’s sufficient to show that the narrator certainly is not omniscient.  In fact, I don’t think the narrator even read the book.

So what I learned back in writing class was a start, but studying Jane Austen?  That’s a master class.

 

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Pride and Prejudice: No Means No

Great Novel, Great Novelist

I certainly never thought I’d be talking about #MeToo in the context of Jane Austen, yet here it is.

It started with an attractive French cloth featuring a folk song about the wonders of local liquors and love.  It begins with a young man enticing a young woman with small vials of different spirits.  It ends in a haystack.  I thought he might have been trapped.  My wife suggested date rape.

And that got me thinking about the whole “no means no” subject.  After all, quite a few guys go through adolescence being told that “no means yes.”  And that’s where Mr. Collins comes in.

He is adamant that, according to popular lore, a young lady will say no but really mean yes.  In the context of P&P, we know he’s referring to matrimony.  But in the context of Jane Austen, she likely knew that she was referring to almost anything young women do in the context of men.

Exactly where did Mr. Collins learn this wisdom of femininity?  Probably on the street corner with his other guy buddies boasting of their prowess.  Jane doesn’t tell us, it’s not relevant to the story and it doesn’t make it any funnier.  How could it get funnier?

Here’s Elizabeth doing her best to get rid of this oaf, and he refuses to take “no” for an answer.  She asks him for respect, for dignity, for some recognition that she has a head on her shoulders and can think for herself.  He still doesn’t quite get it.

And I’m willing to bet that Jane was familiar with the condition.  There’s a darn good chance that she had her own “no means no” moment, and she took it to heart.  The fact that she could weave it into one of the best novels of all time is to our advantage.  I’m just glad I finally figured it out.

 

Pride and Prejudice: Copycat

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Every now and then I feel a pang of guilt because I’m studying P&P so closely in order to improve my own story.

It’s not like I’m stealing anything from Jane.  Hardly.  A lot of times I’m paying homage to her genius.

Why should I feel guilty?

Because it’s the first time I’m doing this.

The greatest artists always copied great art before them.  When they became great, they usually start copying themselves.  Check out Rodin, one of the greatest sculptors of all time.  His early works and his later works are very much derived from each other.

We watched a silly monster movie the other night.  It featured “marines” fighting “artificially intelligent robots” that had broken their programming.  I put all those things in quotes because those characters didn’t act anything like what the words are saying.  They were simply misleading labels to substitute for “teenagers” and “magic monsters.”

How many movies are there where some unknown monster preys upon unsuspecting souls?  Even Stanley Kubrick, the greatest of the great directors, made a monster movie using basically the same formula.

So, copycat?  Heck yes.  In fact, I urge all of us to go out and copy something.

Only, please make it something good.  Copying something poor is only going to give me a headache.  And that’s something you don’t want to copy.

 

 

 

Itch Pitch

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As far as my exhaustive internet research can discern, there is no complete theory as to why we scratch an itch.  (This article explains how the mouse body generates an ITCH.)

Now, before you go all mosquito and feathers on me, consider this.

The most common scratch is when there’s nothing there!  We watch men do this during baseball all the time.  In all fairness, that’s not scratching, that’s adjusting.

Check out the deer in the image.  He’s scratching an itch.  Could it be a mosquito, a tick, a teeny-tiny rifle?  Maybe he was trying to answer his phone.

We’ve recently learned about the microbiome.  Are you eating?  Maybe stop for a moment and consider this.  You have more than one mouth.  In fact, you are feeding about ten TRILLION mouths.  Yes, they are really tiny mouths.  Many of them are plants or viruses, but you get the picture.

You are filled with about a trillion of your own, personal cells.  Then there’s a whole lot of other cells that live on and in you.  That’s your microbiome.  And we’re learning more about it all the time.  For fun, I’m going to call the microbiome that lives ON your skin, skin+ instead.

Your skin is totally covered with skin+.  The skin+ on your elbow is different than the skin+ behind your ear, or your belly button.  My belly button is filled with lint, but that’s another story.

Consider this.  When you itch, there’s a skin+ war going on.  Your skin loves to live with one kind of mix, but perhaps there’s another variety that’s butting in.  Who knows, maybe the elbow skin+ is trying to move to your ear.  Whatever the reason, by scratching when “nothing” is there, you’re helping mixup the skin+ from one area to another.

So, if you’re scratching your head now, think about your skin+.

If you’re itching a scratch, try scratching your head first, and then scratch your skin+.

Or take a soothing bath.

Happy Scratching!

 

Pride and Prejudice: Fight Club

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Fight club?  Isn’t that a reference to a brutal, physical, bloody pugilistic mess of masculinity and violence?

Why, yes.

There is something about watching a well-choreographed fight scene that draws many people, not only men, in order to find out how equal opponents will fare in the most brutal of sports.

The fight becomes more suspenseful when the opponents are unequal.  We expect one to win, and then, surprise, the underdog comes through.

Guess what?

Jane included a fight-club like scene right smack-dab in the middle of P&P.  You guessed it.  The chapter where Darcy comes and proposes to Elizabeth.  She’s the underdog.

I’m in the middle of writing my version of this chapter, and my admiration for Jane has gone up yet another notch.  She’s already pretty high up as it is, but this chapter is brilliant.  Here’s a breakdown of the fight, in five parts.

  1. Darcy comes in swinging.  He states his position, catching her with an unexpected left hook, and he’s confident of victory.  Liz bounces off the ropes, a bit dazed, but still in the fight.  Her “No thank you” is a light punch to the gut.  He’s not fazed.
  2. Darcy comes back with his demands, and Liz lets him have it with some of the best quick punches in history: you say you love me while insulting me!  He’s certainly a bit unsteady with this one.  NO ONE tells Darcy he’s not logical!
  3. He doesn’t fight back, but hits the ropes while Liz delivers some more blows, telling him that he separated Jane and Bingley.  He doesn’t argue, he’s proud of it!  That’s quite a defense there, holding up his hands to his face the entire time.
  4. Liz isn’t done.  Now she brings up the whole Wickham thing.  These are known as “feints” in boxing, because the blows don’t really land.  All they do is distract your opponent, and mix him up it does, as Darcy goes ballistic thinking about Wickham and the past.  But Liz has set him up for a series of punches known as the TKO.
  5. While Darcy is still hot, claiming he was too honest with her, and could have won if he’d been all nice and romantic, hiding his true feelings.  This is called dancing and weaving in the boxing ring.  Liz isn’t having any of it.  She’s focused on the kill:
    1. First Punch, a hard right.  If you had behaved in a more gentleman-like manner.  Wow.  This one draws blood, but he’s still standing.  We find out much later this has been hurting him for the entire rest of the story.
    2. Second Punch, a good left throwing him off balance.  Liz lets him know she wouldn’t have accepted him no matter what he said.  Ha!  At this point he thinks he’s still in the fight, but this is how you tell the great fighter (Lizzy) from the wannabe (Darcy).
    3. Third Punch, the technical knockout.  I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last man on Earth.  This is the first time ANYONE ever said those words.  And it’s letting him know that he’s dead last in her eyes, Mister “Everyone Adores Me” totally getting cut down at the knees.  Fight’s over.

 

The whole thing is absolutely brilliant.  Darcy has barely enough energy to stand at the end and see her crowned the winner.  He says “You have said quite enough”, which in boxing language is “Uncle!”  He leaves, nursing serious wounds.

So the next time anyone says a romantic comedy doesn’t have enough action, point them to this story, this chapter, and let them read away.  It’s one of the bloodiest fight scenes in literature.  And the best part is that the suspense doesn’t end there, it only gets better.

Thank you Jane.

 

School Bus Moon Bus

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Mom: Ohnny, you’re going even if you turn blue.

Kid: Don’t want to.  What good is a stupid park?

... school bus.

Mom: You’ll learn something you can’t learn here.  See cool things like animals you’ve only seen in pictures.

Kid: But’s it’s going to take days and days and days.  I’m going to die!

Mom: It takes three days each way, and your Rangers will keep you very busy.  And you have to exercise along the way.

Kid: I know I know, I don’t wanna go!

Mom packed up her 9 year old with required gear, some mom-required gear, and then extra for good luck.  All the kids were loaded onto the school bus, strapped in extra tightly, kissed again, and sent off.  The parents breathed a sigh of relief, most of them looking forward to a few weeks of quiet.

The kids split in smaller groups, each guided by their accompanying Rangers.  By way of deserts, jungles, rivers, mountains and cliffs each one got to see a bit of unadulterated Nature, the landscapes of their distant ancestors.

Ohnny wasn’t the best behaved little boy, and during 4th day, a special transport showed up.

Ohnny the Kid: Grandma!

Grandma: Hello spitfire.  I hear you’ve been causing trouble for your teacher.

Kid: Not really.  Maybe a little.  I’m sorry.

Grandma: You’re going to be extra sorry now.  (To the Ranger:) I’ll take him, young man.  And he’ll be returned in pieces if he doesn’t shape up, understand Ohnny?

Ranger and Kid: Yes, Ma’am.

Ranger:  I’m glad you’re here.  He’s a good boy, just, animated.

Grandma: Out of control?  Sounds like his father.  A lot like his grandpa, too, now that I think about it.  That old fart, he just missed his 102nd birthday.

Ranger: I’m sorry.  You must miss him so.

Grandma: I don’t miss the old coot.  He missed his birthday because he’s on Mars helping with the Terran-dome exhibit.  He’s a lichen specialist and that stupid mold is giving them problems.  He’s going to live till he’s 150, unless I kill him first.

Ranger: You must be quite the experts to be full-time Terrans.

Grandma: We know our stuff.  Someone has to repair this place, considering the damage done by our ancestors.  A few more centuries and it will be back to where it was during the Egyptians.

Ranger: You get a whole planet to yourself, one big park.  You’re lucky.

Grandma: Lucky?  This is hard, full-time work.  And I don’t need a snot-nosed kid diddling with my agenda, Ohnny!  Get back here!

Grandma continued: You’ve got the work, turning the whole moon into one huge city.  That can’t be fun, living with all those people breathing down your neck.  That’s another reason we opted to stay here.

Ranger: It’s not so bad.  All the trappings of civilization that used to be in the big cities, like New York or Paris, you can only find those on Luna, and soon on Mars.  Someday it’ll be completely covered, we’re up to over 15 billion already.

Grandma: Good luck to you.  Okay, as promised, he’ll be back by sundown.  And if he so much as breathes funny, let me know and he answers to me.  Got it?

Ranger: Yes Ma’am.

Kid: Yes Grandma Ma’am!

She laughed and walked away, Ohnny holding her hand tightly.

 

Pride and Prejudice: Help Wanted

Great Novel, Great Novelist

Hello Gentle Readers,

Today, instead of releasing creative steam, I’m reaching out to anyone who would like to be an early reader of my book.  I’ve reached the halfway point and I need feedback.

Do you know of someone who likes reading, especially romantic comedies, like P&P?

Is that person a good writer, maybe even an author?

Please forward this to them, or post this on your own feeds.  Since I have no social media presence, it’s unlikely that many of my posts get further than the Kremlin.  (joke!, maybe)

Perhaps you (or they) would like to know what it’s all about.  Here we go.

It’s P&P with strong women, including especially Mrs. Bennet.  Darcy is a woman named Ross, President of a worldwide enterprise known as the Foundation.  Her closest associate is a young woman named Iris.  The setting is mainly the suburbs of Boston in the 1980, with major scenes in New York City and Los Angeles.  The star is a young man named Ken.  Unlike Lizzy, he’s not waiting for Ross to fall for him.  He’s busy researching his own exciting family history.  Not only does this history contain incredible twists and turns, it also connects a loose end that Jane Austen left us in the original novel.

Yes, this book contains insights into the real P&P, and I’m enjoying writing it.  Now I have to find out if anyone out there would enjoy reading it.

So please, pass this on!

Very Sincerely,

Steve

 

 

Folding Yoga

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Yoga and me get along great.  I’m into that whole 8 limbs thing, and the 10-ish commandments called yamas and niyamas.

Most of us get hooked through the asana part of yoga, that’s limb number 3.  The asanas are called poses or postures.  Their purpose is to get us to feel better, avoid future pain, and focus on ourselves so that we can look upon the universe with greater honesty.

It’s crazy, but true.  The more better you see inside, the more better you see outside.

Yeah, yeah, yoga is great and I feel all warm and fuzzy.  But is all a bed of lotus flowers?

Not always.  For me, the best flavor of yoga practice has the name of Iyengar, BKS.  He popularized a very precise and intense form of practice that emphasizes deep understanding.  I’m into understanding stuff, so it works out pretty good.  It turns out he was also fond of experiments and learning, and so am I.  I call him BKS because Iyengar is a caste designation, not a name.

His teacher was also his brother in law, and that guy was awesome.  He could slow his heart enough so people thought it stopped.  He taught every student differently.  He earned 8 doctoral degrees.  That was T Krishnamachurya.  I’ll call him TK.

Here’s my problem.

TK was big on getting things precise and using whatever he could find to help his students learn.  BKS took this one level further, and introduced the brick (blocks), standardized mats (I think), chairs, and, my personal least favorite – the blanket.

The blanket sounds great, but it’s kind of flaccid and floppy and fringy and dusty, at times.  It never sits exactly the way it’s supposed to, and when I touch it there’s suddenly ripples and wrinkles that magically appear.

Of course, a BKS trained instructor tells us the blankets must all be folded in a precise way for the asana.  Look at the instructor and follow her example.

I freak out, but try not to show any emotion.  Inside, I’m frustrated.  Every time I touch a blanket it turns into a bed cover.  The folds have to be in the right place.  The fringe has to be pointing the right way.  The segments have to be even.  The folding pattern has to be done in the right order.

Aaaargh!

I know, that’s not a yoga mantra.  But it’s part of my yoga vocab.

I usually solve the problem by waiting for my instructor to fix it for me.  She’s almost always patient and understanding.  I once explained that I’m folding deficient in fabrics, just ask my wife.  But the instructor just gave me “the look.”

It’s funny, because I’m good at origami.  But there’s something about that dang blanket.

Namaskar.