Saturday, December 31, 2011

Conor - Obsession

"On to the next one," says a good friend of mine. He's talking about the television series The Wire. I recently finished the Wire, but I can't let it go. I read interviews with the actors and writers, I talk about it all the time with my likeminded friends. Shit, I'm watching it right now with Nick. I can't stop thinking about it.

I mentioned my plans to rewatch the series upon returning to Oklahoma after break, and my friend says that he won't watch it again. "There's too much other media out there for me to consume. On to the next one." This is beyond me. I must know everything there is to know about the Wire, even if that means I never stop talking about the Wire, even if that means I don't experience other things due to this obsession.

Right now I'm midway through a playthrough of Final Fantasy VII, a video game that my brother introduced to me in 1999. I am an extremely obsessive person, fine.

A short, incomplete list of my obsessions.
   - The Wire
   - Final Fantasy
   - A very specific and small spectrum of indie rock
   - Monster Energy drinks
   - Ultimate Frisbee
   - Cane's Chicken Fingers
   - Most cats
   - Being so busy that I can complain about it

My very specific and small spectrum of indie rock is a telling example, actually. Sure, I don't know all the new bands and what have you, but the artists I do have? I have at least a majority of their studio albums and I have read several interviews with the front man and a few significantly less interesting ones with like maybe the bassist or something. I am unafraid and completely willing to constantly reference certain insights I may have gleamed from these interviews, too. Such are the advantages of an obsessive stud.

I'm resistant to change. I'm attracted to stagnation. I dwell on things, but like, in a cute way. I'm still talking about things long after most people have moved on. I'm thinking about them long after I stop talking about them, because I'm aware that it's no longer acceptable for me to still be stuck on these past events. I wish I could brush certain things off in a more timely manner, but I can't. In social situations there's always another What-If I can ponder, there's always another alternate universe I can create and live in. With my more materialistic obsessions, there's always another interview I can find.

This episode of the Wire is almost over. I enjoyed it a lot, even without the element of suspense and surprise it once had. I will probably watch this episode again soon, with the director's commentary on.

I should do homework more often but this is cooler.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Home Improvment

In a basement, in my hometown, at an improv sleepover. That's the sitch. This is an old drum, but I'm back and I'm beating it again. Because, well, I'm here. And this is the drum that I beat when I'm here.
It's like a favorite pair of shoes that are just too small. They didn't bust, and they're not even that smelly or dirty. By all means, a solid pair of shoes. It's just a bit painful to wear. The constriction of this once adored pair of shoes is cutting off my circulation. It's building up my blood pressure. I feel the pounding of my pulse in my head.
I can't complain, not right now. I've laughed a ton tonight. Yet I feel distressed. There's some element of this — I'd say I'm clinging to the past — that just doesn't feel cool. I can't say I'm having a bad time — I'm not. I just don't feel good about it, I've put in a lot of thought to this show. Too much thought for some measly alumni show (that's going to be great and I hope you go/went to it!) that's supposed to be mere fun and games. The angst makes me borderline nostalgic. Nevermind an 8-page college paper, are these skits funny? The critics in my head give me no discernible feedback, a bunch of jibberish.
Why they make that noise, I don't know. Maybe I'm hearing the pounding in my head. It hasn't snowed yet this December, maybe that explains this out-of-whack mood I'm in. There's no pattering of snow on the rooftops, but instead an occasional rain. But on a dry day, with it too cold to go outside, there is silence. Yet I hear it.
It sounds like something important but not able to be dealt with at this time. Like a wife nagging about a problem that I cannot fix. Or like a dog complaining that it can't drive. Or like a baby screaming at me that it wants to communicate with me but it can't because it's a baby. Or, it sounds like none of those things. It sounds like how it reads:
It's internal, it's a heartbeat, it's a cry for help, it's a pleasant rhythm, it's a reminder that I'm not alone, it's a reminder that no one's around. It tells me nothing, but it explains everything. It makes me feel crazy. It makes me feel human. It makes this noise, and that noise goes:
It doesn't rhyme with "bomb" or "mom" or "bum" or "mum," but somewhere between those sets of words, you find the sound I'm looking for. And if you keep thinking of "nom nom nom," you're doing it wrong. Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. A moment passes, then I hear it again:
I would like to go swimming in a pool. To drown my ears in water, let it rush in and invade my head so that it can flush out the sound. Sound. Pound. The pounding of it, it lingers like a vile stench. No need to scribe it. You know where this leads.

How'm I doing? Oh, I'm fine. Just a tad stressed for no apparent reason. My dreams have been getting smaller. My drum has been beating louder, and it's not very soothing. In fact, nevermind this whole fucking piece. I've got work to do. 


But first. I mean, I guess I wasn't done. I just want to say that I've been searching for motivation. Not "to go on," nothing that serious. Just to do well. I don't mind sitting at home all day indulging in entertaining activities. There's something about winter that makes me not care at all whether I'm inside or out. As long as I'm somewhere, I'm happy there. Content, we'll say. I am content. 

This was garbage, but hey, so is this.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Nick - Remember When Brendan Was Cool, Guys?

Once upon a time, our dear Thursday Brendan was a bad ass. He flew off the handle, went rogue, because a rebel without a cause. Fueled by his frustration with our lack of posting, he puffed out his chest and boldly proclaimed that he would hold up any day that we miss, like an internet-era Atlas.

It was awesome.
Today I looked to find that Cool Brendan, whom we had all grown to know and love, is gone, leaving behind no traces of his teenage rebellion.

Now we look around to see that the dream is ending, and Cool Brendan has been replaced with Lame Brendan.
If you're going to learn one thing from this post, let it be this: 'something about burning bright and fast.'

Poetic, don't you think? I mean, Brendan probably could have written better poetry. Cool Brendan would have, anyway. Lame Brendan is just lame.

Hell, he probably doesn't even do any drugs.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Speaking of let downs...

Ahh, what a great title! So much possibility. I could be talking about several things, including: my own personal college frustrations, the Packers losing to the Chiefs last weekend, a challenging disappointment from my childhood, Classic Brian's viewership statistics, my family, or any of a number of other wonderful bloggable topics!

But, you see here, I'm taking the Two and a Half Men route. Fuck that show.

Two and a Half Men was what Charlie Sheen did before he went crazy. It's also a show about a crude man and a prude man living with a growing boy, and how their influence affects him growing up. From afar, it seems pretty awkward that uncle Charlie just fell off the face of the earth and equally crude uncle Ashton Kutcher came in as a handy-dandy replacement for this over-aggregating piece of shit series.

Give me Tyler Perry. Seriously.

It's apparently America's favorite comedy, according to the Nielsen rating system, which is either really fucking dumb, or panders to the really fucking dumb, because Two and a Half Men is a dumb sitcom with dumb jokes for dumb people. I used to get Charlie Sheen and George Lopez confused. But George Lopez is waaaay too good for a show like Two and a Half Men. And George Lopez isn't all that funny (though his stand-up used to kill me; I say "used to" because I haven't seen it in a while, not because I've outgrown it, although maybe...).

Eventually I got tired of living in the dark and Googled "Why I love Two and a Half Men," just to see if there was some reason behind this supposed phenomenon. My most successful results:

Actually, jokes about farts make me laugh everytime. That's why I love Two And A Half Men so much. That's why I'm farting whenever I can (in private).

Somehow, being inside a cloud of my own farts makes me feel at home whereever I am..."

That's a quote from username Doc Sanchez, recorded on, and oh boy this is ironic, Hard to tell whether Doc Sanchez was serious, based on the source. That punch just lost some power either way. [Edit: I looked further and I don't think it's ironic. Punch power restored!] Anyhow, another one:

"Why I love Two and a Half Men

Alan:: I'm sorry, I'll go get some Chardonnay and assume the position!
Charlie: Hey! Don't be letting your mouth write checks your ass can't cash!

*gloms* I luff them lots and lots."

That's from Saifai's blog, whoever the hell Saifai is. Slash whatever the hell it means to glom.

"one of the reasons why I love Two And a Half Men isn't due to the exorbiant amount of sexual stuff, but because I enjoyed the torture and crap that the Allen Harper character has endured since day one of the series."

Thanks, darkwolf007 of Also, what a weird reason to watch a show. That happens in other shows. Does he know about other shows? darkwolf007, there are other shows.

"I'm A Fan Because It Shows The Same Relationship I Have With My Brother Strong But Love One Another, Its Fun And Makes You Wonder What Will Happen nex't, The Actors Are Great And Not Boring, I Enjoy it Like I Did With The Golden Girls." (Source)

"This is why I love Two and a Half Men.
Alan: How many zero’s in a million, Jake?
Jake: M-I-L-L-I-O-N. One." (Source)

Okay, as that well runs dry, I figured I'd balance the scale a bit, and try Googling Arrested Development in a similar fashion. The results were slightly more robust, we'll say. Perhaps the most perturbing thing of all is that no one in my search for 2&.5M fans came out and said the show was funny. And it's not. It's a classic sitcom; laughtrack, single serving plots, fourth wall — everything. And worst of all, it invites shows like Whitney to come along and find a niche for NBC. Shitty television is a bad thing, and you just have to consider yourself lucky when a show like 30 Rock or The Office Arcade Fires its way into a public limelight in addition to having garnered more intelligent viewers (note: I definitely realize "Arcade Fire" was not the best choice to verbize for that sentence, (perhaps "Democracy" would be better) but it's 6 a.m. and I ain't about to give no fuck). I just can't figure out which demographic is skewing the American idea of funny and proclaiming shows like Whitney and Two and a Half Men better than shows like Arrested Development and Community. I think it's old people, because middle-aged folks are generally more receptive these days to progressive shows such as these.

Is the American public really stupid? Who are they? I don't think I've met them. They must be the people I ignore on my way to class, not wishing for the chance to meet and interact with them. Maybe I avoid this Nielsen power-constituency altogether, and maybe I'm lucky because it seems that they aren't really good at learning the ropes of advanced humor.

Let me take a moment to catch my humility; unloading all that pretentiousness is just kinda tiring, you know? (Said Eliot while using a semi-colon.)

Doesn't mean I'm not right. I don't know if the public will ever get smart enough to realize that teeny-bopping pop stars make shitty music, and that bands like Daughtry and Nickelback are only good at what they do because what they do sucks. Movies see less of this problem, Twilight series grossing numbers notwithstanding.

So wherein does the let down lie? Is it with the product or the consumer? Who am I really supposed to be disappointed in? Because while, yes, pop-culture exploits the sheep that provide the wool for its warm blanket known as mass appeal and those sheep have alternative choices awaiting should they elect to exercise conscience and intellect, we could simply be staring at a more formidable base of pop-culture had we the will to eliminate mind-numbing projects that seduce swarms of simple-minded viewers.

In other words: which sucked first, the chicken or the egg?

And the optional lengthy part of this post is that this effect carries over forever. Politics, school systems, fucking food, everything is best executed independently. I will like the music that I like, I will like the television shows that I like, I will like the food that is made specifically the way I like it, I will like the politician who shares my agenda the exactest, and I will learn better from the education that accommodates my brain the best. But unfortunately, that's not America. America's all-inclusive. Fortunately for us, its all-inclusiveness includes us who hate the all-inclusiveness aspect and want our own tastes.

It's sad. America was founded with hails of independence, and yet now it seems like convention is more befitting an adjective. The exemplary entity of this horrible regression is Two and a Half Men. Fuck all two and a half of them.

--Eliot Sill

Monday, December 19, 2011

Nick - Let Down

I'm going to tell you guys up front; this is a post about my semester. Exit's that way, if you're in the wrong room.

My semester is best summed up with one word: disappointment. It's a beautifully succinct word. It implies expectations, followed by a lack of reward. It describes a hole where there should have been fulfillment. When the day you've waited for for weeks finally arrives, and you spend it in your room listening to music, that's disappointment.

The semester, much like the song First Few Desperate Hours by The Mountain Goats, started out on a high note before delving into more depressing subjects. There was the rush of coming back; the excitement over all that was going to happen this semester. We had improv auditions coming up; we were going to find a house to live in next year; we were going to party like nobody's business.

We found a house, I found a girlfriend, and I didn't have to take chemistry classes anymore. Things were going well, until we lost the house. Problems came up with the lease; one of our housemates pulled out of the deal. Meanwhile my professors were turning out to be crazy and their classes very weirdly set up. This weird rhythm, once established, persisted the entire semester.

But, good news! We found another house! This was the best part of my semester. Living in the dorms started to grate on my nerves after that. I just wanted to have my own room and live in our house. I just wanted the year to end.

Then I got mono. I was really sick for over a month, and I felt shitty in general for a long time before and after that. I pushed through. I pushed hard. I dragged myself to classes when my tonsils were too swollen to talk. I made myself keep moving by focusing on the future.

I got better just in time to miss CU Improv Fest. I still felt awful and tired, but I never once let myself crash. Then I got to spend time being unable to drink, having difficulty staying up past 10pm, and watching as all the good times blazed past me.

Finally, an end is given; finals week approaches quickly. Only one more week. One more week and I'm done. I see light at the end of the tunnel, just as my relationship launches into the final stages of its slow, agonizing collapse. Boom, crash. All that effort wasted and gone. Suddenly the end of the tunnel doesn't look so light.

Here's the part where I spend the day I waited for for weeks in my room listening to music.

I drag myself to my Thursday morning stats final. I hadn't studied. I hadn't really slept. I pushed through, tried hard not to cope with reality for the rest of Thursday, couldn't sleep again, and blasted through my last final on Friday.

Get me the hell out of here.

The worst part is that I don't think I would do anything different if given the chance. I was dealt a shitty hand, and I played it out to the bitter end, card by agonizing card. I was tired and angry, I hadn't learned anything, and there wasn't a damn thing I could've done to prevent any of it.

It's an asshole thing to say, but I was disappointed in everyone but myself.

At least I still have that, I guess.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Robert - Travels to Colorado

The road to Colorado from 1111 Williams Blvd in Springfield IL is a long and very straight one, not counting the northern detour to Iowa City, Iowa to pick up fifth passenger. My lovely lady friend Hannah and her lovely precious family reluctantly agreed to let me tag along with them to the big square mountain state (not Wyoming) after they discovered me hiding in the midst of luggage piles in the back of their rented Chrysler suburban. I hopped up to the backseat, put on a blanket, read my book, and vicariously watched silent Parks and Recreation on Hannah's laptop screen from across the way for 7 hours of Saturday and 7 hours of Sunday.

Admittedly, I ignored most of Illinois. We've seen it all, really. In snowless December there was a preamble to the Midwestern journey in the form of unrelenting flatness of long since harvested cornstalks. Hundreds of thousands of thin brown rows exploded past the rear window at somewhere around 80 mph speeds, marking our progress field by field, cow by cow. That was to be the theme everywhere until Colorado, when mysterious green and brown lands (also harvested) began to roll over on top of the spears of dead cornstalks.

Iowa, surprisingly, has a number of sizable hills, particularly in the southwestern corner where it spills its highways into Missouri and Nebraska. That number is around 6, and all of them provided a beautiful change of pace. Entering Iowa City, our big ass suburban was greeted by San Francisco-esque hills that turned houses on their sides and threatened the bouncy balls of every kid in town. I've never been to San Francisco, so doubtless its actual hills were nowhere near in comparison, but it felt that way in respect to lands I've known in the past — lands where the geological zit Centennial Hill is established as a local landmark.

We started Day 2 in some nameless town past Lincoln, Nebraska — it had a Hampton Inn and that is all I know. Nebraska is the oft-ridiculed driver's nightmare that extends for hellish miles across the rectum of the Midwest. If the Mississippi River divides the East and the West America for wagon settlers, it's Nebraska and Kansas that separates it for the automobile traveler. This is, however, a place I've only traversed once, and, not having the responsibility of chasing an infinite horizon at the wheel of the car, I was free to drift off as I pleased and peacefully observe the surrounding countryside as a new experience to me.

Winter is nature's dressing room, and I drank in all its naked trees and barren earth, all with lascivious eyes. Something about winter landscapes, even without snow, no especially without snow, is captivating. It's earth in the raw, with ice that creeps up against the edges of the more still-watered ponds and gives off two different reflections — the clear light blue one of the sky off the liquid water, and the dark royal blue against the ice. The rest of the view is brown; brown earth has by this point given up all attempts at photosynthesis and waits in frost for a layer of clean snow that hasn't come yet. So it's a transition period — from green summer and fireworks autumn to winter, from foraging mammals to long hibernation, from birds to no birds.

Nebraska wasn't all that bad, then. There was one picturesque scene. Over an endless expanse of wheat clipped at the knees was scattered a few groves of leafless trees, and beside the highway a wood and wire fence, behind which was a small manmade pond, around which grew cattails and the like. Prepositions. And off a little ways in the distance, a freight train chugged across the landscape carrying a hundred million red and yellow boxcars. It was so perfectly American Gothic that I almost puked up corn and nearly choked on chunks of hard-working industry. What a bastion of all-American progress. While I was witnessing that and thinking about the giant mountains I'd eventually see, it struck me as incredible how credible we consider the incredible extent of flatland to be. Those of us who grew up in the Midwest expect to see nothing different, and I imagine many people of the world might be plopped down here in Nebraska by a giant Magic Hand and not know what the hell to do with themselves, looking in every direction and seeing nothing to mark themselves with. They might assume they've fallen into purgatory, with no way out except to convert immediately to the cold religious extremism that governs much of the area.

Cows were a frequent sight. We all know how I feel about cows. I don't like them. How is it that our mental stereotype for a cow is the black and white dairy cow? Every cow I see is bull-colored. Dark black or dull brown or dirty off-white. Not a lot of multiples of color on individual cows. In early Nebraska I saw a couple of cows grazing up ahead of me in a golden-brown harvested field. It looked like a pretty plain sight to me — a boring cow being really lazy in a comfortable patch of earth. But if I turned my head and looked straight ahead down my own lane at the rows of wheat whizzing by, I saw the ground actually covered in a film of snow, and I saw that maybe the cow's ground was not as comfortable and lazy as it appeared, despite its hooves. Maybe I should give cows a touch of respect; perhaps they suffer in their fields all day. They're like timid horses, really. Or aloof horses. Or apathetic horses, who are fat. Fuck cows.

Nebraska is so flat, even if it's interesting. Nowhere is a land more placid and predictable than Nebraska, except maybe for Kansas, and Oklahoma, and Illinois, and Iowa, and Indiana, and Ohio. The only human element to break it up and make it hideous are the sloppy low-rise billboards that poke out of the ground every few miles with bright reds and yellows, the typical ones that advertise for porn shops and steakhouses and food-fuel-lodging on Route 39 just of Exit 179. The one element that surprised me though was the neverending stretch of manmade ponds that littered the side of the road. I mean, there was one that was at least two miles long and no longer than 200 feet wide, whose water level went directly up to the front steps of houses. Let's hope that never floods ever.

The thought of mountains, or the idea of mountains, is a horrible thing, because the horizon is a billion miles away and mountains will never show up no matter how far you drive, and when they do you will never reach them no matter how far you drive, because they are on the horizon which is a billion miles away. This trip promises mountains, though. That is where we are going. Once you have the promise of something, you'll start to look hard enough to where you'll start seeing things you didn't before, probably either mirages or air pollution, says Mrs. Kolkmeier. You do get to Colorado, though, and even though you can't even see the faint outline of mountains yet, a victory line has been crossed. You've made it through the infinite wheaten gateway to the west.

The west is a very strange place to me. Even the road seems foreign, with its chalk-gray surface and black and white midlines. Its grazing fields that don't even look comfortable to walk on from two miles away. But here we are. Boulder, CO, where somehow the sun shines bluer and yellower on everything in sight and it's 50 degrees in December and everyone is prettier and nicer than they are in the rest of the world. Time to snowboard.

(Dedicated to Charley Field.)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Of Lust and Love

One day a man turned to his companion and said:

“Friend, you have been like a brother to me for almost my entire life. We tell each other everything and are as close as two friends can be. But in all this time, I do not think I have ever seen you truly happy.”

The other looked at him with a blank expression and, lifting his hands palm-up, replied:

“What does it mean to be truly happy? I have lived out my entire life as I have seen fit, and I have enjoyed it all. Is that not happiness?”

“Yes, it is true that you have always done as you please, but what have you to show for it? You have thrown away any chance at success in life to pursue your petty interests. What of your future? How will you provide for yourself? How will you provide for a family?

The man simply shook his head, a disappointed expression on his face.

“You say I have thrown away success? You say I will never be truly happy? This existence is but a mere instant in the passage of time. Is it wrong for me to squeeze what pleasure I can from it while I have the chance? We are all but specks on a speck in the sea of countless specks that is the universe. Why should I plan for the future, when it is not promised to me? It is promised to no one. Rather, I would live for today, everyday.”

“But what of love, my friend? How can one hope to ever love and have a family if you make no plans for the future?”

At this, the man shocked his friend with a bout of biting laughter.

“You fool! Love is such a silly thing. It is nothing more than a fleeting lie. Rather, give me lust, for at least I know that to be true. We were created to lust, not to love. It is simply the nature of humanity, and yet we combat it with religion and morality. Therefore, when someone lusts after me, they must be sincere, for why would one affirm something we have branded so taboo, if it were nought but a lie? No, my friend, love is the lie. It is no more real than time or God.”

“So now you say you believe in neither time nor God!? How can you speak such fallacy?”

“Time is but a construct that we as humans have created for our convenience. Were we not here, time would not exist. Are you really so foolish as to believe that without us, the universe would cease to be?”

By this point, his friend had lost his temper.

“And God? What of Him? How can you say there is no God when we stand here now? We must have been created somehow!”

“To that I would simply say; evolution.”

“And from where did these beings from which we evolved come?”

“Still lesser beings. And then from lesser, and so on until the dawn of life. And before life, we were chemicals. And before that, other chemicals, and so on until forever!”

“But then, my friend, let me ask you one last question. From where did that original bit of matter you surely speak of come?”

Turning, he said over his shoulder with a smirk on his face:

“The same place as your God, I suppose.”


Conor - Why Does My Head Hurt So Much Right Now

Ooooooowwwwwww. Ow ow ow ow ow ow.

I fell asleep in Jenni's car on the way back from the airport and my head was like "surprise, we're made of pain now." I ran into Jenni Austiff at the airport in Dallas! How crazy is that. I always look at every passerby in the airport, and there's always some point where I say to myself "this is silly. I do not know any of these people and I never will." That thought isn't usually followed by running into a friend from my hometown, but I guess it sometime is.


It's like this throbbing pain. I'll represent this in how I dictate my ow's from here on out.


I pulled an all nighter on Wednesday. My mom always said that lack of sleep would come back and hurt me. Here it is, Mom. You've always been right. About everything. Once in high school I brought home my girlfriend at the time for the first time, so first impressions and what have you, right, and my Mom stops me as we're leaving and in all seriousness warns me not to go into seaside caves at low tide. You were specifically right about that, Mom.


It could be that I'm watching Nick play Sonic Adventure 2 Battle for the Nintendo Gamecube. Jesus Christ, Nick, you're 19 years old.


My head doesn't hurt anymore. I was considering continuing this lie, but I can't do that. Not to you guys.  After all you've done for me.

Which leaves me in a pretty weird spot when it comes to this Classic Brian post.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Well, that's it, semester 3. Took my last final today. Woot.

Grades up in the air, life up in the air, rain up in the air, falling down, I'm not going home tonight. Or tomorrow. I'm sticking around a few days to tie up loose ends with friends and enjoy a few free days in Chambana that I thought I'd have experienced before the semester's end.

It was a busy semester, holy shit was it busy. I tried to read books, I tried to listen in classes, I tried to edit stories, I tried quite a few things. Once again the dynamic changed — with the influx of transfer friends — like the third season of an enticing television show. Life has this funny natural progression to it. The more you think you've solved things, the more you end up having to solve.

And so I am taking a couple days, Chambanning, and organizing myself, collecting my thoughts and my things before I go home for winter break. I look forward to it, but as usual I also feel a want to stay. I like my life here, it's occupied, explorable, and productive. My life at home is relaxed, easy, and slothlike. It's amazing how hard it is to choose between the two.

Shout out to Jing, Professor Unger, Rashard Mendenhall's aunt, and Lance for teaching me a bunch of cool shit this semester. Shout out to History, Journalism, and Black Women in U.S. Contemporary Society for being interesting and math for being easy this time around. To Kaplan and Jewf, for being really easy to work with, and all my writers, for not being a bunch of dicks. Especially Emily Bayci, with whom I am apparently no longer feuding, and actually reads this shit blog, often commenting to me how she likes people's posts other than mine. Shout out to Illini sports, there are more boring things out there, and Steve Jobs for being No. 1 celeb death this semester (which was a crucial moment for our football team, they've been winless since his death). Shout out to the Communications library, see you soon, and to my SHIT I NEED TO DO whiteboard, this is the first acknowledgment I've given you in weeks.

College is like, you have this stack of problems and you just do whatever. That's been my experience thus far. And, oh yeah, definitely don't be a math major.

--Eliot Sill


Today I took 6 hours worth of math exams. So.

Also I'm currently reading a book for physics I was supposed to have finished before Thanksgiving break, and all I have to say is space is really really cool. Like, you thought it was cool when you were little, and you were right. It's crazy cool. Oh, and there are satellites that measure gravity and can detect tunnels underground, like the ones from North Korea to South Korea big enough to fit a tank, and can give us a picture of the buried crater that resulted when an asteroid hit the Earth and killed all the dinosaurs!!!    !!!   !!!

Don't be a math major!


Monday, December 12, 2011

Nick - Overboard

I paced back and forth across my quarters, over and over again. I felt the rocking of the waves, gently bobbing the room and the ship up and down. I heard the faint whistling of the wind pushing vainly against the outside of the ship. I stopped and silently listened to the creaking of ropes and the clomping footsteps of what little of the crew was left at work above deck.

I was getting impatient.

I took my hat off, and placed it on my desk. I admired its grandeur. It was, truly, the perfect hat. And it was all mine. Because I am the captain, and this is the captain's hat.

The door of my room creaks open, and Argyle pokes his head in, his beady little eyes looking frightfully at me.

"You're late," I growl menacingly, "by the number of times I've refilled my lantern, I'd say I sent Gordon to go retrieve you more than two hours ago."

Argyle bobs into the room, Gordon carrying him in, completely off the ground, by the back of his shirt. Gordon drops him on the floor. Argyle says nothing, but he nervously fumbles with some papers as he unfolds them and spreads them out on my desk.

"We are, um, we are short," Argyle mumbles.

Argyle is the chef, and by extension, he is in charge of the storeroom. And he was supposed to give me the summary of the inventory days ago.

"Why are we short, Argyle?" He makes no response; he simply looks down at the floor nervously. "Is it because you've been sneaking food for yourself? Or using more for the crew, against MY ORDERS?"

The echo of my last words ring out in the small room. Still silence.

"Gordon," I say very quietly, "Throw him overboard."

I turn my back. I only hear Argyle's pathetic struggles as Gordon drags him above deck. The noise is brought to a halt by one faint splash punctuating the soft creaking of the ship.

I look to my compass, and see that it has swung from north to east. Why would he have changed direction? Why would he have changed directions when I, the captain, specifically said to head north? I march up to the deck, where Gordon is standing next to One-Eye, the navigator.

"One-Eye!" I shout as I approach the pair, "Why has our course been changed!?"

One-Eye turns his head to me slowly, as if thinking, as he always does. "Feelin' a storm." He says gruffly.

"And why wasn't I consulted!?"

"Didn't see the need," One-Eye responds, constantly in the same bored, uninterested tone.

"You didn't see the need? You didn't see the need to consult me, THE CAPTAIN?"

One-Eye's response is concise. "Eh," he says.

"Gordon," I say very quietly, "Throw him overboard."

Gordon looks at me, and then grabs One-Eye by the back of his shirt and drags him over to the edge of the ship. One-Eye doesn't really resist.

Gordon stands, looking at me. He doesn't move.

"Gordon. What is the hold up?" I say in my most dangerous, scathing tone.

"...He's the last one left."

I stand silently for awhile, looking back and forth at the empty ship.

"How dare you disobey a direct order."

I push Gordon into the water; he tumbles off the side of the ship, One-Eye falling quickly behind him.

I walk back down to my quarters. I pace back and forth, over and over again. I feel the rocking of the waves. I listen to the wind feebly rushing against the outside of the ship. I stop and listen to the complete silence coming from above deck.

I take my hat off and place it on my desk, right next to the compass, the arrow of which is now drifting slowly and aimlessly. Truly, this is the perfect hat. And it is all mine.

Because I am the captain, and this is the captain's hat.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Robert - DIE HARD

Spoiler Alert

Novelist Roderick Thorp decides a Christmas theme would be good for his new book, Die Hard. Hell yeah. That'll be an awesome edge, he says. He crafts a Christmas Eve backdrop that permeates the setting. Yeah, that's good. Eight months later, Thorp finishes his book and then realizes that he's completely forgotten to really incorporate the Christmas theme into the plot in any significant way. "Oh well," says Thorp, and he publishes his book anyway. Here's a synopsis.

The story begins with John McClane on a plane. A stranger advises John to curl his toes up into feet fists when he gets off the plane, to unwind the plane stress. The stranger never appears again. Much later in the movie, John heeds his advice for a slow ten seconds. The scene then immediately moves on and is utterly forgotten, providing no cause or effect on the plot whatsoever.

John arrives in what is eventually revealed to be LA. He is driven around town by a limousine driver, a rambunctious young black male who is given by far the most vivacious spirit of any character and sees plenty of camera time to display this. His role in the movie is first and foremost to get trapped inside the empty parking garage sealed off by Euro-terrorists and do absolutely nothing but sit still when the camera flashes back to him every five minutes or so. This eventually culminates in him punching an unarmed runt terrorist at the end of the movie and smiling goofily.

The terrorists. McClane enters the building, finds his estranged wife and immediately reseduces her just in time for a gang of 12 sophisticated terrorists led by Professor Snape to seal off every exit and entrance and shoot a lot of bullets into the ceiling. Their collective characterization is a hybrid between the heist finesse of Ocean's 11 and the Aryan blood lust of Drago from Rocky IV. After they infiltrate the building, murder countless guards, hack the mainframe, fire rocket launchers at the police, announce their international terrorist ties, wire the entire building with explosives, and demand the release of international prisoners, they finally reveal their ultimate evil plan to nick some money and hang out at the beach.

McClane, having studied guerrilla warfare superheroism in the NYPD's police academy, nonchalantly performs numerous feats that would make Nathan Drake from Uncharted 3 scoff in disbelief en route to stopping the bad guys. His intricate knowledge of elevator shafts, ventilator systems, and Macgyvering multiple grappling hooks out of AK-47s and fire hoses comes right out of Chapter 1 in New York's Intro to Policing textbooks.

McClane gets his hands on a walkie talkie that connects him to the terrorist leader Snape, police sergeant Al Powell, and somehow the limousine driver in the basement of the building. Powell is featured heavily throughout the movie, and he is in constant communications with McClane and continuously tries to counteract the LAPD police chief's recklessness. In the end, his effect on the actual plot itself is literally nothing at all, except to be a megaphone for blatant story exposition and a blank reflector for McClane's own character development. Like the limousine driver, he gets six seconds of limelight when he overcomes his uncommon police fear of excessive force by repeatedly shooting the last standing terrorist.

The plot itself. McClane spends about half of his alone time crawling stealthily through a building whose blueprints he understands startlingly well considering he's never been in it in his entire life. He spends the other half of his alone time screaming at the top of his lungs, throwing chairs through windows, or just shooting guns at nothing, usually managing to do all this without attracting the attention of the terrorists, who repeatedly trickle out assassins to kill him in easily defeatable groups of 1, 2, or in one instance 3. There's about a 15-minute period of brilliant plot where unarmed Professor Snape meets McClane face-to-face and tricks him by pretending to be a hostage, but the excellent dialogue that follows is quickly and smartly drowned out by a one-minute scene of Snape and long-haired Drago shooting about 30 clips of bullets into a panorama of glass panels. They then leave the scene, allowing the very murderable John McClane to meander away from his cornered position with nothing more than cut bare feet.

Soon after, McClane notices that Professor Snape has wired the entire roof with C4 plastic explosives. The purpose of the explosives, it is revealed, is to "make it appear as if the terrorists died so they can escape without being sought after by the government." Yeah okay, director John McTiernan.

What a bold move by the director to include this artful nuance into the film. Yeah that's a helicopter in there.
The movie ends shortly thereafter. McClane reunites with his hostage wife and drops Snape off the side of the building. The scene outside the building is one of jubilation, and we get an odd little world-slows-down, eye-contact-across-a-fast-crowd love moment between McClane and police sergeant Al Powell, who have actually never met before and have no way at all of being able to recognize each other visually. The oft-mentioned limo driver explodes out of the barred parking garage into the crowd, to little or no attention. He swings on over to John and his wife, who is sure to suffer worse injuries later that night than any one of the movie's villains, and he proceeds to drive off into the LA sunset, John Wayne-style, without even the possible thought of dire medical condition or sanctions for millions upon millions of dollars of unnecessary property damage.

Overall, 4.5 stars out of 5. A must-see.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Thursday Night Rambling Blues

by Brendan Cavanagh

I didn't have time today to sit down and write a cohesive post of appropriate length, so here's a collection of things I'm thinking right now.

I had to make a five-minute presentation about my progression through any childhood, cognitive theorist's theoretic stages of development. Basically an excuse to show five minutes of baby pictures and cute c0lLeGe  pix. I hastily assembled the video at the last minute, and added some music to the beginning to make it more dramatic. Needless to say, it went well. Nobody knew I was the sibling of triplets, so that portion of the video got a lot of attention. Nice! Easy-A. But anyway, looking through my childhood pictures, I just felt so old. My innocent, childhood self even looked different than me. I felt like a corrupted, distorted version of that boy. Not that I hate myself or anything, but I guess I just can't fathom the amount of significant change that has taken place in my life since then. I mean, we have iPods and cell phones that are ten times smaller than Zach Morris'. Our President is an African American! Look how far we've come.

Speaking of Saved By the Bell...let's talk about that. You know, when I first started watching it, in junior high, I despised it wholeheartedly, but watched it every day before school for an hour anyway because it was the only sitcom on at six or seven in the morning. Over time, as I watched it for several years in a row before school each morning, I grew to appreciate its ridiculousness, like the time senior year when Zach tried to prevent a frantic Jessie from popping caffeine pills before the big video shoot.

I already appreciated the Joker playing card before The Dark Knight came out.

More saved By the Bell...check out this parody, about A.C. Slater's life after Bayside High.

I'm sad that my poetry class is over for the year. It really kept me motivated in writing poetry, and I felt like I was expressing myself more articulately and artfully than I had in a long while. I want to keep writing poetry and honing my skill. Here's one that I've written that I'm proud of:

Lady Rose

Again incapable of speech I watch
as across the windswept street
shuffles the nerve-wracked Lady Rose
bearing and untidy assortment of empty letters
the black ink bleeding upon faded-yellow sheets
reminiscent  of the wrought-iron gate impaling
a pool of fallen leaves outside
her isolated mansion existence.
She wouldn't let you know it
                         I know it
                         after many years of keen observation
                         from my post along the wide window
                         at the corner coffee-house
                         beside the post office
but she once lived a life of luxury
as evidenced by the floral French fragrance
stemming from the neck of her beaten frame
and which wafts to where I sit still speechless
at the cafe's only outside table
in the first merciful days of April.

After her husband passed
hardly any of her ample inheritance
could save her home, like her countenance
from wilting into sun-dried disrepair.
                          I was there.
                          I watched detached as always
                          while her husbands life spilled out
                          in silent streams from his thick neck
                          as he mouthed helplessly
                          I knew then that I could make my lady happy thereafter.

Each subsequent Friday afternoon
she passes my post to deliver her post
where I sit still and aware, always aware
that I'll never be able to reveal
my unspoken deed of unrequited passion
forever doomed to murmur weakly

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Newman Hall

For the past semester my I have lived in private certified housing, specifically Newman Hall. Last year, all I knew about Newman Hall was that it was a Catholic dorm and that Nick Dietrich lived here. It had the stereotype of being a bunch of boring weird kids who didn't go out, and probably all had their own rosaries. After a semester here I feel like I've gotten a pretty good grasp on this place and I have to be honest, the stereotypes are kind of true.

Newman Hall tries to offer every possible thing you could want in your college life. You sleep at Newman, eat at Newman, study in the caf or the Lewis lounge, hang out in the floor lounges, participate in evening activities they offer, worship at Newman, and even go on trips over break with your Newman family. In theory this could seem like a nice idea. Newman is a home and the people there are a community. However, in my observation it has greatly stunted these kids' college experiences.

When I lived in public dorms, I had friends all over campus, I rarely ate at the same dining hall for every meal in a day, and everyone I knew was the same way. The people I lived with were involved with a ton of activities on campus and  could go out with a variety of different groups. Most of the people I have met at Newman spend almost all of their downtime here, their friend group is consists mostly of other Newman residents, and if they get involved, it's with a Newman organization. Obviously there are exceptions, our very own Nick is a second year resident and has tons of outside friends via improv, but this is a rarity.

On my own floor, the girls I have bonded with the most have been the girls in sororities which is surprising because these are the types I tried to avoid last year. However, when compared to the other Newman types on my floor, these are the girls who are going out and doing something different. It's almost like they are the rebels.

Finally, and this is going to be a terrible generalization, Newman Hall is has one of the largest homogenous and sheltered/naive populations I have come in contact with on campus. Again, I know this is certainly not everyone, but it is true for a sad amount residents. As everyone at U of I, most of the people you meet here are from the suburbs. Plus, these kids' parents decided to pay for private housing for their children. For some that is a religious or community-based decision, but for many, it's proof that your parents probably don't have too much trouble with money. As white, privileged kids from the suburbs, these kids haven't seen much of the world and Newman Hall is allowing them to keep that shelter. I start to cringe every time I hear someone here try to use the term hippie or hipster, try to discuss social issues, or brag about partying. This is because it is almost always followed by a misinformed or just slightly off statement that is immediately accepted by those around them.

Oh! and why don't we have any kind of late night or convenient store? I have spent more on food this semester than I ever did last year.

Ok, so I'm ranting. And probably offending a lot of people. I'll try to add in the positives. Newman has a baller location. Seriously, I get mad when I have to walk more than about 6 minutes anywhere because of how spoiled I am living next to the quad. Also, there is a sink in the room, and the room is bigger. These things really do make a huge difference. My RA is also really nice. That's not really a Newman thing, I just like her. Also the weird meal system makes it incredibly easy to steal food for yourself and others. Oh and they leave a soda fountain out at all times so that's just free. That's really all I can think of. Needless to say I can't wait for Sweden.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Nick - Re-Elect Frank Sobotka

Yesterday I realized I have 500 pages that I can print in the computer lab before the end of the semester. The following is a mere sample of my work.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Just a Small-town...Boy!

So Conor's post made me rather nostalgic about my own childhood. And by childhood I mean everything up to 4th grade, when Blessed Sacrament ruined it all.

Anyway, a fun fact about me that many of you may not know; I grew up in a small town, Girard, and I sort of consider myself a small town kid in many ways. Sure, I was born in Springfield and lived in a too-small piece-o-crap house for the first couple years of my life, but no one really remembers that time in their life, so it doesn't count.

I loved my house in Girard, exponentially more than the house I live in now. There are so many good memories in that place. In our house now, there's always something else that needs to be fixed or remodeled, but that house in, that place was perfect. Maybe I'm just saying that because I was little then and didn't know shit about such things, but I wouldn't have changed a thing about that house. I had a pretty big, fenced-in backyard. There was this tree back there that was the best tree ever for climbing. It was really pretty and my mom could watch me out the kitchen window and man, did I climb that tree a lot. Being at the top of that tree was the best damn thing ever. I ran the world from up there.

Right next to my tree was my swing-set. I spent more time on that thing than doing anything else. I'd pretty much play on it every way you weren't suppose to. Gotta keep things interesting.

But the piece de resistance was absolutely my basketball court. Yeah, I had a legitimate half court basketball court in my backyard. Suck it. I used to be pretty good at basketball, considering all the hoops I would shoot.

What I really miss about living in Girard, though, was the atmosphere. I knew my neighbors and everything was in walking distance. There was a square (YUUUUP) with a playground in the middle that kicked ass. There was also this drug store owned by these twin old guys, Bob and Bill, and they made the best milkshakes there. And there was this other place called Whirl-A-Whip, which was only open in the summer. I was never really a huge fan of their food, but there was this one milkshake that I could never get enough of. The cinnamon twist milkshake is legendary. I've made trips back to Girard just to get one.

Next time I go back, who wants to come with meeeeeee? =D


Conor - The Secret Passageway Was, In Hindsight, Poorly Named


This right here is a road map of my childhood. It is also Nicholas Dietrich's backyard. 

I come from a competitive, merciless family. Weakness is not tolerated, and being bad at something is synonymous with disliking it and thinking it is stupid and a waste of time. Like FIFA 2012, or driving stick shift. That shit's lame. On the other hand, the thrill of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat is unrivaled. It can come in any form, it can be the result of hard work, or stupid amounts of luck, it doesn't matter. All that matters is winning. 

Tag was how I channelled this borderline problematic need to compete as a child. Nick Dietrich, Nick's little brother Ben, my next door neighbor Peter Eck, and Nicole, a girl a couple houses down from Nick who would randomly play tag with us but we didn't talk to for any other reason. That was the team. GGOT, we called it, short for Good Game Of Tag, each letter pronounced very clearly and confidently, as we were armed with the knowledge that we were doing something so cool that we had an acronym for it. Little did we know things with acronyms weren't always cool, like SIDS, or FIFA.

The rules were simple, because the rules of tag are usually simple. Whoever was it would sit on the swingset (marked by the stack of 4 ducks on skateboards in the upper left corner of the map), close their eyes and count to 50. Our version of counting to 50 was to pretend to count silently to ourselves, shout the occasional number in order to keep the pretense up, and then just get up whenever it wouldn't be disgustingly obvious that you hadn't counted. The swingset, or the stack of ducks up there, was base. Get to base without getting tagged and you're safe. If someone was tagged the game would stop and we would reconvene. If everyone got to base we'd start a new round and the same fool would have to be it again. The ultimate humiliation. 

The backyard was our battlefield, and we all knew it well. We knew where to initially, where to go when the shit hit the fan, and where to never under any circumstances go. As a base-based tag game, the guy (let's act like guy is gender neutral) who was it was also somewhat tethered to the duckstack. Most of the time we'd try to be out of the it dude's line of sight at the beginning of round, but even when he'd (he is also gender neutral) see you, you weren't in immediate danger. Committing to chasing one guy (neutral as fuck) down was risky. It was basically saying "I'm allowing everyone else to get to base because I'm so sure I'm about to destroy you." It was bold. Unless you were three years older than your prey. In which case it was frowned upon and cowardly, albeit effective.

Tag was most interesting when it came down to a one on one battle. Everyone else got to base, and it was just the hunter and the hunted. It was as much about knowledge of the surroundings as it was about speed and agility. 

The brown area there is the wooden back deck, removed from the ground by two or three feet and surrounded by a 2 foot fence. Using this higher ground was interesting due to the fence, because it was much harder for it bro to jump the fence from the side closer to the base than it was for the prey on the deck, giving the prey an advantage. This strategy relied on pure speed and reflexes though, because you would be making eye contact with the hunter the entire time. 

The purple arrow next to the deck leads to a dead end. You were fucked if you went back there. No exceptions. It never worked out, ever. 

The green arrow is down the driveway. Most of the time we played entirely in Nick's backyard and didn't stretch down that way too far. There were some bushes along the sides of the driveway that we would occasionally get ambitious and crawl into. This worked maybe 6% of the time. A man can dream.

The pink square is the garage. The garage was pivotal. The black arrow points into the garage. The garage door was normally closed, but when it was open, we would sometimes hide amongst the clutter of the Dietrich's garage. Which was stupid. Because you'd be hiding in a garage with one way out. The garage's main function was providing a blindspot for the hunter. It defined the legendary Secret Passageway, the worst named thing ever.

Every single worthwhile game of tag involved the Secret Passageway. Nick's backyard was fenced in by a 6 or 7 foot wooden fence, but between the garage and the fence there was the Secret Passage way, a path around the garage that was the ultimate strategic nightmare. Basically, by hiding on the opposite side of the garage as the base, the prey could force the it fellow to commit to guarding one side of the other. IT would nervously pace in between the two entrances, helpfully designated by the heart symbols up there, and all it would take to lose the round was edging a little too close to either entrance. Being in the middle wouldn't really work either. It was perfect. Perfect in every way. Perfectly balanced, perfectly suspenseful, and perfectly stupidly named. The sensation of quietly sneaking down the upper branch of the Secret Passageway, hoping that IT had overcommited to the lower section, fearing that he was confidently hugging the corner you were about to emerge from, ready to sprint back to the relative safety of the blindspot if he poked his stupid IT face around to see if you were coming, was perfect. Just perfect. I miss it.

This might have been boring to read, but it was a lot of fun to write. Let's play tag, guys. Let's play tag this summer, Springfieldians. Hell, let's play tag this winter. Normanites, let's find someplace to play tag, and then, uh, play tag. 

Also Nick Dietrich didn't really run when he was a kid, he almost exclusively skipped. It was really funny and stupid and we should make fun of him for it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fast Times at Butler University

...because the day just seems to fly by when you're having fun.
by Brendan Cavanagh

Despite being an English major, I think I've only been assigned one or two papers all semester in my one actual English class (American Literature).  Therefore, I spent the last four hours or so working on my final essay of the year, due tomorrow. We had to choose from one of four prompts, so I chose this one:

     The image of post-revolutionary America as a diverse land of free, independent, individuals prospering through hard work and self-reliance is a break from the Calvinist ideals of community in New England.  This “new pastoral” or “republicanism” seems to have more to do with secular, Enlightenment principles than with Christianity.  In this essay, define the Enlightenment and explain how it influenced the concept of American identity.  In what ways did the national identity develop from these modern and secular influences and what, if any, influence did the Calvinist principles of the Puritans have on this new, modern nation.  Discuss at least three texts and use direct quotes to defend your argument. 

Alright! Now you guys are going to get a dose of what a typical English paper was like for me this semester. And who knows, you might come out of this just a little bit more educated. Quoth Judge Reinhold in the above video: "Learn it. Know it. Live it."

The American Enlightenment: A Reexamination of Existing Social Structures

            As individual American prosperity flourished in the late 18th century, American citizens began to relinquish themselves from a traditionally strict adherence to communal, religious values and heartily embraced the ideals of the Enlightenment movement taking place in European countries like France and England.  Among the many components of such a vast intellectual revolution, three main tenets best describe the American attitude and approach to writing at the time: First, humans are rational creatures who can employ their inherent privilege of free thinking to logically explain the world and consequently experience unprecedented intellectual freedoms; Second, through the process of obtaining a valuable education, human rationality is ideally universal; And third, with the ability to rationally explain the universe, humans may understand the true form of all things.  After adopting the aforementioned beliefs of the Enlightenment, three well-renowned Americans at the time, Judith Sargent Murray, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, reconsidered the negative ramifications a once-dominant Puritanism had on an increasingly progressive American society.

            However universal the ability to reason freely, the necessary means to obtain an adequate education, and thus celebrate the intellectual fruits thereof, were not offered to everyone.  Primarily affluent, land-owning white men had the capacity to attend reputable schools, while the destitute (of either sex), Native Americans, African-Americans and women were, for the most part, unable to do the same.  In 1790, esteemed author and proto-feminist Judith Sargent Murray, who came from a liberally educated family, published a multi-faceted appeal in defense of the female mind.  “Are we not deficient in reason?” she challenges her male readers, “We can only reason from what we know, and if an opportunity of acquiring knowledge hath been denied us, the inferiority of our sex cannot fairly be deduced from thence” (727).  In keeping with the Enlightenment ideal of reexamining the world around her, once interpreted solely from a clerical point of view, Murray confronts the repression women had long suffered at the mercy of a traditionally male-dominated, once-Puritanical society.

            Simultaneously demonstrating an Enlightenment-era argument and exemplifying how women, too, are capable of rational thought, Murray employs a thoughtful reinterpretation of the well-known Genesis story of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace in the Garden of Eden.  Murray argues that men erroneously assume that Eve willfully chose to sin at Satan’s provocation, when in fact, she was tempted by Satan in his once-shining beauty into acquiring a perfect knowledge of the world around her.  Adam, in turn, sinned as well not because he, too, desired such knowledge, but because “he was influenced by no other than a bare pusillanimous attachment to a woman” (732)!   Therefore, by utilizing a biblical story familiar to a formerly religious region, Murray not only effectively conveys her dissatisfaction with female subjugation, but also tests the long-held belief that women are inferior to men, which the Puritan faith only perpetuated.

            Like Murray, American president Thomas Jefferson composed a rational essay to express his frustration with a current human rights issue in America.  In true Enlightenment fashion, Jefferson employs logical reasoning to challenge the historical lack of religious freedom in America, which was founded on the pursuit of individual liberties.  Published privately in 1784-1785 in response to a series of questions posed to him by the French Marquis de Barbé-Marbois, Jefferson’s “Notes on the State of Virginia” comment on a variety of subjects concerning Virginia, with Query XVII focusing on religion.  In order to combat prior animosity between distinct religious denominations in colonial America, Virginia’s declaration of rights in May of 1776 “declared it to be a truth, and a natural right, that the exercise of religion should be free” because, as Jefferson posits, “Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error” (661-62).  In a society that not long ago had been almost uniformly Puritanical, Jefferson’s idea of free enquiry was certainly polemical, as well as an illustrative example of the intellectual freedoms bestowed upon those who invested in the ideals of the Enlightenment.

            Furthermore, Jefferson encourages free enquiry by overtly rejecting forceful uniformity of religious convictions, a system which had prevailed in certain regions from the time the first fledgling Puritan communities were established in the early 17th century until America’s declaration of independence from Great Britain.  Since the beginnings of Christianity, myriad innocent people have been punished for their religious beliefs, “yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.” But, Jefferson asks, “Is uniformity of opinion desirable? No more than of face and stature” (663).  In his belief, not only does the Enlightenment illuminate the universal freedom to subscribe to any religious denomination, but also it guarantees an individual the liberty to be one of many, rather than one in many.  In other words, Jefferson admonishes societies, like those formerly established by the Puritans, for emphasizing the importance of communal values rather than secular beliefs and convictions.

            At about the same time Jefferson’s “Notes on the State of Virginia” were published, fellow diplomat Benjamin Franklin was in the process of writing his detailed autobiography.  In relating the events of his young adulthood in Philadelphia, Franklin implicitly describes his disgust with formal religious worship as a primitive act of embracing Enlightenment ideals in North America.   Although he professes to hold particular religious principles, he expresses misgivings about his minister’s sermons, which follow a formulaic, almost superficial approach to being a good Christian, rather than simply informing his parish how to be upright people of morality.  According to Franklin, the Presbyterian minister, as well as those of differing Christian denominations, spoke about religion “without any Tendency to inspire, promote or confirm Morality [and] serv’d principally to divide us and make us unfriendly to one another.”  While their biblical explanations of how to be good people may have had some validity, Franklin argues, “they were not the kind of good Things that I expected from that Text” (525).  Rather than blindly follow every word his minister uttered about morality, Franklin chose to individually find a rational method of attaining morality.

            In true Enlightenment fashion, Franklin embarked on the rational pursuit of moral perfection by designing a series of thirteen steps which, if meticulously followed, would logically allow him to “live without committing any Fault at anytime…[and] conquer all that either Natural Inclination, Custom, or Company might lead [him] into” (526).  Initially careful not to include any step that might be solely associated to one particular religious sect, Franklin finally settled on: Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquility, Chastity and Humility.  True to his resolution to remain resolute in his affairs, Franklin continued adherence to his precepts for the remainder of his life.  Over time, he reluctantly discovered that some virtues, like Order and Humility, were more difficult to master than others and that naturally, humans are bound to err.  Although his attempt to achieve moral perfection was not entirely effectual, Franklin demonstrated the highly rational and increasingly secular mindset adopted by many Americans during the era of Enlightenment.

            By the end of the 18th century, strictly Puritan settlements stressing communal values and stringent adherence to the Christian faith had been all but overcome by generations upon generations of economically-motivated landowners, artisans and common citizens of various denominations and beliefs.  With such secular motives in the people’s minds, a movement like the Enlightenment was guaranteed to enjoy widespread success in America.  For those who were fortunate enough to obtain a modest education, like Murray, Jefferson and Franklin, reevaluating the evolving nation’s previously established social structures was imperative.  Not to take advantage of the ability to rationally discern right from wrong is a mutilation of one’s intellectual privileges.

If you actually read this, for the love of God, give me a call or a shout out. I want to pat you on the back. Real gently.