Friday, May 22, 2009

Flowers for Algernon

So today on a car ride down to a hike with the in laws and on the way back, Bonnie Jean and I started and finished the short story Flowers for Algernon. Before you comment anything in particular about what you may have known about the book, please be aware there are two separate versions of this story: the short story and a later full length novel based on the short story. We read the short story which is very different from the later version.

The story is so hauntingly beautiful I'm still absorbing the impact of it. There's the traditional sci fi warning against tinkering with that we should not, but there's also much more to it. The differences people draw between physical and mental disability are compellingly portrayed, the persecution of one who is mentally different, the unwelcome pity the disabled are subjected to. Its all there. There's a beautifully done job of comparing different levels of intelligence and showing the futility of drawing absolute value distinctions based on relative levels of ability. I think that part was especially meaningful for me, touched some very old notes in my psyche. I also particularly like the title and the ending, where we are given the admonition to give flowers to Algernon. Or, as I interpret it, to honor those who may have high ability or low ability for the core of their being and not for any arbitrary functioning level we have assigned them. There's a lot more you could draw from that title, but I won't drag on. Between reading Mimzy were the Borogroves and Flowers for Algernon, I've had a beautiful experience recently reading science fiction trying to account for how we interact with the unknown and perhaps known, but the inevitably different.

Other highlights from today: I saw an endangered species of lizard.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


I have been blessed to never find myself in a situation where it was hard not to work Sunday. To be sure, there have been times when I could have had a job easily except I wouldn't work Sunday, but I always managed to find one at the times it really mattered. Working AT&T customer service has been good that way as well. However, recently it has been announced the call center's hours are being expanded to later at night in the normal week at Sundays as well. So far the scheduling process at our call center has involved a lot of guess work, poor training, and no respectable level of regularly allowing schedules to be readjusted to new needs. A schedule I have this week may be the schedule I'll have for the next year, or the next 2 months. Supposedly they were supposed to change every quarter, but a quarter of what no one has cared to explain.

Hopefully this will all work out. There's plenty of agents who would gladly work Sunday if given the chance, so I may luck out. In the meantime I'll just keep laughing at them each time they email our their survey link asking me to state yet one more time whether I like working Saturdays or Sunday's best, whether I'd prefer to work weekends or weekdays, and whether I could cope with a rotating schedule. I've taken the stupid survey at least 5 times already, with no sign yet of them stopping sending it to me to do over again. Maybe I didn't answer correctly last time.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Midnight Mental Meandering: Plato, Nietzche, and Elder Bednar

While watching a recent CES broadcast I was struck by some contrasts between what Elder Bednar had to say and some statements by Plato regarding experiencing reality. Both, amusingly enough (in that they both pick on the same subject for essentially the same yet opposite reason), warned of the danger of media’s by which life is represented: Elder Bednar warning of cyber media and Plato decrying poetry. Both of them protested them as distractions away from ultimate reality. However Plato was talking about immaterial forms experienced through the mind and Bednar was talking about this bodily existence. Perhaps they both had a true point to their own cultures, given that in Plato’s day there may have been fewer opportunities to envelop oneself in the mind and today there are so many opportunities that they can dilute our experience of physicality.

Elder Bednar also spoke at length of the need to experience physical/emotional life in family life, friendship, exercise, and social experience. Plato on the other hand, in Phaedo, speaks of experiencing absolute reality when he says that an enlightened one should practicing dying by separating the mind from the distractions of the body in search. And as such we should look forward to the separation of the body from the spirit. In describing this I can’t help but contrast it to Nietzsche who described that we can only really experience the world as we drown ourselves in physical experience, only grasping to the world as perceived by the Apollonic mind as necessary to avoid madness.

Bednar describes happiness as coming from having a body and pursuing the experiences that come from it, wheras for Plato happiness comes from pursuing otherworldly truth in the mind alone. I would not wish to inadvertently put a false dichotomy on the subject, as the D&C clearly describes 101:37 “Therefore, care not for the body, neither the life of the body; but care for the soul, and for the life of the soul.” Now, as the soul is defined in LDS theology as a combination of body and spirit, it is hard to see this scripture as really meaning to neglect the body, but rather to take care of it as part of the greater whole of our being. And I think Elder Bednar would agree with my framing his words in that context.

Bednar’s reprimands fit me generally enough as a person…you’ll find me stuck in a book or a video game much more readily than trying to get to know my next door neighbor. And as a member of Aspie subculture, I find some of Bednar’s reprimands…provocative. Its commonly described in Asperger Syndrome and has also been my own individual experience that electronic interaction can be easier than “real” social interaction in some ways. Strip out the non verbals, the tone of voice, eye contact, and pronunciation emphasis and leave the words to speak for themselves and I do much better. Sit me down next to someone that I know moderately well and have interacted with before and it might be five to ten minutes before I sort myself out enough to attempt a social interaction. With most people this period of silence is something of an interaction killer in itself. With my wife the silence was something we could share about as meaningfully as the words. But electronically, I don’t need to break the sound barrier. I don’t mean to suggest my own preferences or strengths/weakness pattern as validating or invalidating the point Elder Bednar was trying to make, nor do I feel particularly validated or invalidated by them. It just makes me introspective, reveling in interior nuances, evaluating strengths and weaknesses, etc. When one of my college classes a while ago had us read a book on an Enneagram based personality theory, I was confused to find myself exhorted to “ground myself in my body” to help me progress or something of the like and I didn’t really know what it meant at the time and I’m still not entirely sure that I know now either. I tend towards Plato much more and a life of the mind, though I try to stay engaged otherwise. I mainly just hope to enjoy all the meandering nuances of my own and other’s existence in all their dimensions while finding truth from among the brambles of presumption and folly with which every society deals. That sounds like a pretty good life.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Semester over

So I passed my oral examination well enough and the written final is submitted. I decided to celebrate last night by cooking up a storm. Tried two new recipes that I had never done before: Almond Chicken and Carom flat bread along with cooking a normal loaf of bread. It didn't get done till way too late at night, but I had fun. The chicken was good, but very different. One just simply doesn't expect chicken to taste like almond, so it kind of confuses you. Pulling straight from memory I think the spices in it were garam masala, turmeric, red chili powder, coriander, ginger garlic paste, bay leaf, cloves, peppercorns, salt with an almond paste and cream to thicken it up.

The flat bread, which the cookbook recommended to go with this particular dish, was fenugreek, carom (or ajwain, depending which name you like best), red chili powder, whole wheat flour, semolina, clarified butter(which I had to make just for the occasion) and salt. I never dreamed of putting red chili powder in a bread, but it actually worked out well.

So I feasted well. Hopefully school can continue to progress. I'm a little confused as to what to do next. The teacher suggested I might get more credit for my work than I was anticipating, which might mean all I need for graduation is one more internship, a thesis, and an oral defense. So whether or not that ends up happening changes whether I register for another class or if I just sit down and ask them what they want for a thesis (its changed a lot since I first started, so what I heard on the subject when I was in class may not apply any more). But, I probably won't find out the credits situation for another 5 days or so, and you only are allowed till May 11th to register for the next semester. So, who knows what I'll do next.