Just another blog post about Kate and William’s baby

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Royal FamilyPrince George Alexander Louis is now two days old, and the internet and media have spent those two days being completely fascinated by him. Look at any news website, and chances are, you’ll find several articles, each repeating the others to a large extent, reporting and commenting on every word that the royal family has said about the baby, declaring how proud Princess Diana would be if she was alive, describing what the baby looks like, and letting us know exactly what Kate was wearing the last time she was seen. (Last I heard, it was a blue polka dot dress reminiscent of what Princess Diana wore shortly after the birth of Prince William.) This baby is currently one of the most popular topics on facebook and twitter and tumblr; every fan of the British royal family wants to say something, even if it’s only a generic congratulatory remark (which the royal family will never personally see) or a comment about how exciting this historical event is.

But not everyone is excited. I’ve been surprised at how many facebook statuses (and even a few internet articles) I’ve seen complaining about the hullabaloo and accusing other people of being obsessive and trivial. They’re annoyed to see coverage of the same story everywhere they look, especially when it’s something that will have no impact on their own lives or the lives of their family and friends. Some of them even take the time to post their own opinions online, complaining about the degree of everyone else’s interest.

Royal WeddingIt was the same way when the new prince’s parents got married a little over years ago. The media was obsessed, the general public was fascinated, and an enormous number of people tuned in to watch the royal wedding live on TV, even though, for those of us in North America, it was in the middle of the night. A few of the pictures from the wedding became iconic images in pop culture and the news for the following several months,  and even now, most people can remember  off the top of their heads exactly what the new Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress looked like. But yet there were other people who were tired of hearing about the royal wedding even before it happened, who were either annoyed or amused at anyone who was particularly enthralled with the story, and who wished that the media would let the event pass out of the magazines and newspapers as soon as it was over.

I’m not among those people who pulled an all-nighter to watch the royal wedding live, and I’m not one of those people who has been fanatically keeping track of every detail of Kate’s pregnancy. In fact, I hadn’t remembered offhand even approximately when the royal baby was expected to be born. But I enjoyed seeing after-the-fact online news about the royal wedding, and I’ve enjoyed keeping an eye on the news regarding the new prince over the last couple days, and I personally think it’s wonderful that the media is so excited about the life events of Kate and William and their new son.

Most of what we see in the news is about war, crime, death, political controversies, economic problems, devastating natural disasters, and other tragedies and problems. In general, those kinds of things are bigger news than births and marriages and personal accomplishments of individual people. It’s refreshing and reassuring to see that sometimes, it is possible for good news to be major news. It’s important that, in between being sad about the problems of this world and being upset about the controversies in this world, we can also be happy about the highlights of the lives of famous people. Sharing enthusiasm for these kinds of things draws people together in the same way that political campaigns pull people apart. The fact that Kate and William are likable public figures (and that they make a really cute couple) only adds to the appeal of the news stories that involve them.

Also, he's really, really cute.

Also, he’s really, really cute. I mean, seriously, why wouldn’t you want to see this all over the internet?

It’s pretty clear that Prince George is going to permanently remain in the public eye and on our facebook news feeds. Once the excitement of his birth passes, he won’t be as important to the media as he is now, but we’re still going to be hearing about his first steps and his first words and every childhood landmark that he passes. And although I’m probably not going to be actively seeking out that information, I’ll be interested to see it when other people choose to talk about it on the internet.

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Humans: An Owner’s Guide For Cats

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Everything in this blog post was written at the suggestion of this beautiful feline.

Everything in this blog post was written at the suggestion of this beautiful feline.

A new human owner will quickly find that humans have many odd habits. For example, soon after you get your human, it will probably select a random assortment of verbal sounds to use as your name. Your human will probably also make up several alternative names, otherwise known as nicknames, for you. It is up to you to decide whether or not you will respond when your human calls you, but it is generally advised that you only do so on rare occasions. You don’t want your human to think that it can control you. However, when you feel like answering, (for example, if your human is offering you food, or if you want attention) it is perfectly acceptable to come when your name is called.

Humans also have bizarre sleeping habits. Rather than logically napping periodically throughout the day, they have a tendency to sleep for several consecutive hours in the middle of the night. This has a tendency to make them wake up later than they ought; sometimes, your human might sleep as late as breakfast o’clock in the morning. When this happens, you will have to wake it up. Sometimes, it will arise if you gently paw its shoulder and speak softly in its ear. At other times, more drastic measures are needed. Jumping forcefully on its chest is often an effective method, especially if you accompany this tactic with a resounding wake-up call in your best Siamese voice.

RomanaMany humans have a special type of cat bed they call a “laptop”. This laptop consists of a horizontal keyboard and an attached upright screen which sometimes has bright, moving images on it. Frequently, your human will sit down with this cat bed on its lap or on top of a piece of furniture in front of it. It will then stare blankly at the screen. This means that your poor human is bored and lonely and would like you to come keep it company. Out of consideration for your human, you should lie down on the keyboard so that it may admire your great beauty and cuteness. As you lie on the keyboard, your laptop bed may make annoying dinging noises. Ignore this; it doesn’t mean anything, and you wouldn’t want to make your human lonely by leaving.

At times, your human may hold a book or several pieces of paper in their hand instead of holding your laptop in its lap. Books and papers are other types of cat beds. Your human may not know how to hold them properly; you may have to push the book or papers into a horizontal position before lying down on top of them. Hopefully, your human will appreciate your help in correcting this pathetic error.

Your human may occasionally tell you that you should not scratch a certain object, that you should not go through a certain door, that you should not jump onto a certain countertop, or that you should not eat a certain thing that you found. You are under no obligations to obey your human’s rules; it needs to be reminded who is the owner and who is the human.

Bo Thanksgiving 2010Humans are generally capable of feeding themselves. As an owner, it is your responsibility to offer to sample all of your human’s food. If your human declines your offer, repeat it more loudly. It is not recommended to take no for an answer. This is not only for your human’s well-being, but also because your human’s food probably tastes better than yours. If you should find that this is not the case, you are not compelled to eat the morsel that you have obtained, and you should politely request that your human replace it with some other type of food that you prefer.

As a responsible human owner, it is your duty to protect your human from dangers such as evil insects, vacuum cleaners, and running water. When your human is in danger, warn it, and then take the situation into your own paws by killing, destroying, or meowing at something. The exceptions to this rule are if you are scared or lazy, in which case you are not compelled to take any action.

Often, your human will run away from home and leave you alone for hours on end. You will generally be able to predict when this will happen based upon certain warning signs. For example, you may notice your human putting shoes upon its feet or handling car keys. When these things happen, you should tell your human to stay where it belongs, but people are disobedient creatures and are likely to ignore your instructions. Upon your human’s return, tell it how worried you were and admonish it never to do such a thing again. And then tell it how much you love it and curl up in its lap for the rest of the day, because your human is awesome and you’re glad to own such a wonderful creature.

Romana

A Grammatical Note on the Usage of Certain Colloquial Words

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To summarize this blog post, here is a helpful diagram showing correct forms of direct address.

To summarize this blog post, here is a helpful diagram showing correct forms of direct address.

The colloquial English word “guy”, in its singular form, is always masculine. In English, the gender of a noun is not as much of an important principle as it is in other languages, because neither the definite nor indefinite article change forms depending upon the gender of the noun, and not even adjectives have gender. But the noun “guy” is singular in that it is exclusively used to refer to a male person. As is to be expected, the plural form “guys” is also masculine and refers to a group of male people. There is one interesting exception to this rule. When used as a direct address, “guys” is gender neutral. A person can start a statement with “Hey guys,” regardless of whether the addressees are male, female, or a group including members of both genders. (If you live in the Southern portion of the United States, the term “y’all” serves the same purpose. Unlike the word “guys”, it is actually a pronoun, since it is a contraction that contains the pronoun “you”.)

The word “dude” is a colloquial term similar to “guy” in usage, but the two are not interchangeable. For one thing, “dude” is used primarily as a form of direct address, and the plural form is significantly less common than the singular. Like the word “guy”, “dude” is technically masculine, but can be used as a gender-neutral form of address. This is handy, given the fact that, as previously mentioned, “guy” is only gender-neutral in the plural. If it wasn’t for the useful word “dude”, there would be an inconvenient gap in the English language, for there would not be a good gender-neutral colloquial term to be used to address just one person. (I am deliberately not counting any words that are fairly unusual or that could be considered profane or derogatory. I also am not counting “hey you”, for the word “you” is actually a pronoun, as previously noted. Additionally, I am not counting “person”, because it is unusual and a little awkward to address a person as “person”. I, of course, do it quite often, for I am unusual and awkward.)

In short, the word “dude”, when used to address someone, is the singular form of the word “guys”, despite the fact that this is grammatically absurd. This just goes to show that colloquial English is just as weird and confusing as the more formal form of this language.

There’s This Book I’m Reading, Episode 6

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This is what the cover of my copy looks like.

This is what the cover of my copy looks like.

I recently finished reading Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. This is probably the third or fourth time I’ve read it, but it’s been a while. I remember that my parents gave the book to me as a gift a few years back, but I don’t remember exactly when. I think it was a birthday gift, but I could be wrong about that, because I seem to recall reading it during a long road trip in the middle of the summer, and my birthday is in early September. At any rate, I have come to associate that book with summer in general and with summer road trips in particular. I’m not taking a road trip this summer, with the exception of the drive when I moved here at the end of May, so I read the book in bits and pieces over the course of last month.

Ray Bradbury is known as one of the pioneers of the science fiction genre. He was by no means the first to write stories taking place in the future and in space, but his books are old and outdated by comparison with current science fiction books, movies, and TV shows, and his ideas were influential for subsequent science fiction writers. The last portions of The Martian Chronicles were written in 1950, and some of the chapters were published as short stories in magazines a couple years earlier, so the book predates the popularity of sci-fi as a television genre, and it also predates the existence of the space age in real life. I find it interesting to note that, for those reasons, The Martian Chronicles is devoid of the technological lingo and made-up scientific concepts that characterize newer science fiction.

Mars RoverAs far as I can tell, Bradbury’s time didn’t have quite the same degree of optimism about the progression of technology that people had in the 1960s, and Bradbury’s estimate that Earth explorers would reach Mars in 1999 was more realistic than other many other early science fiction predictions. After all, the awesomely high-tech Curiosity rover arrived on Mars last summer, only thirteen years after 1999, and the first Earth machine to land in Mars was in 1975, well before the setting of Bradbury’s book. True, no humans have yet been on the Mars’ surface, but for all we know, there could have been Earth colonies on Mars by 1999 if space exploration had continued to be a major priority and if Mars had turned out to be a little more similar to Earth, as Bradbury had predicted. (The Martian Chronicles describes the atmosphere as being somewhat deficient in oxygen due to the lack of vegetation, but aside from that, the geographical and atmospheric conditions of Mars are depicted as being very much like Earth.)

This cover looks cooler than mine.

This cover looks cooler than mine.

However, Bradbury did not foresee many cultural changes. It’s a little amusing to note the ways in which the characters and events of The Martian Chronicles reflect the mid-twentieth century. For example, Bradbury did not anticipate the Civil Rights movement or second-wave feminism, and he depicts African Americans, (to use a term that’s more polite than the one used in the book) housewives, and white men as having the same relationships with each other that they did in the 1940s and 1950s. And, like most non-contemporary science fiction writers, Bradbury didn’t expect such remarkable technological advances in the entertainment industry and in communication devices. In The Martian Chronicles, there is no such thing as the internet, there are no cell phones, and the only machines described are a few robots, rocket ships, and the occasional car.

Bradbury’s depiction of the Martians themselves is interesting and not entirely consistent. At the beginning of the book, they are quick to kill the Earth explorers, but later, we are supposed to see the Martians as a peaceful and gentle race of people, devoid of the negative qualities of Earth people. In some chapters, they are bureaucratic and seem to be a satire of humanity on Earth, while in others, they seem like innocent victims of colonization, who had until then been living in an elegant, simple, utopian society. Even the styles of their names and the description of their physical appearances vary from chapter to chapter. But one detail is consistent; Martians have a superior intellect and telepathic capabilities. They can communicate with English-speakers, they can cause people to see things that aren’t real, and in at least one case that I can remember, a Martian is able to act as a shapeshifter that responds to people’s thoughts and expectations.

MarsBradbury’s Martians actually aren’t that different from alien races that one might see in the original Star Trek series or Doctor Who. In fact, even the theme of an alien civilization dying out under an Earth colonizing boom is something that is fairly typical of science fiction, as is the apocalyptic prediction of Earth’s fate. The main thing that sets The Martian Chronicles apart from newer science fiction is the near absence of technology in major plotlines and expositional passages.

Look what a cute cat he had!

Look what a cute cat he had!

Despite this, I think that Ray Bradbury actually understood how time travel worked. I think he deliberately left those concepts out of the book in order to conceal the fact that he himself had used time travel in writing it. I say this because he stole an idea that I had many years later, but before I had ever read The Martian Chronicles. I wanted to write a story that didn’t have any characters. The plot would be subtly conveyed through the description of physical objects, (without personification, which would be cheating) the order of these descriptions, and the choice of wording, which would offer suggestions and implications about preceding events that would have involved people. But the plot would not be explicit, and it would be a very unique kind of story. That is, it would have been unique if Ray Bradbury hadn’t done it in one of the last couple chapters of The Martian Chronicles. So I presume that he time-traveled into the future, after I will have had written my story following that idea, and he stole that idea from me. At least, I’d like to think that’s what happened.

Thoughts on the Declaration of Independence

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Declaration of IndependenceOnce upon a time, on July 4, 1776, in the city of Philadelphia, the Second Continental Congress officially finalized the final draft of the document known as the Declaration of Independence. This document, written by Thomas Jefferson and revised by the continental congress, stated that the United Colonies were “free and independent” and “absolved from all allegiance to the British crown,” on the basis of the accusations that the British government was oppressive. The words of this declaration are famous and familiar, especially the first sentence of the second paragraph, and they have often been quoted as the quintessential statement of American ideology. It is perhaps worth noting that the ideas expressed in this document are not original, and the Declaration of Independence is reminiscent of the Magna Carta in several ways. Technically, the Magna Carta is the more historically significant of the two documents. Even within the story of the birth of our country, there are other occasions that held more significance than the writing and signing of the Declaration. Other important dates include the official beginning of the Revolutionary War, (April 19, 1775) the end of the war (in October 1781) the Treaty of Paris formalizing the end of the war, (signed on September 3, 1783, and finalized when the ratified documents were exchanged on May 12, 1784) and the signing of the constitution which we still use. (September 17, 1787) But it is the Declaration of Independence that we remember as the true beginning of the United States of America.

A screenshot from the very end of the musical 1776

A screenshot from the very end of the musical 1776

And this raises the question: What if the Declaration of Independence had never existed? The historical comedy musical 1776 (which is a pretty reliable source, right?) gives the impression that the suggestion of writing such a declaration was made in order to put off the vote and win over more delegates who weren’t so enthusiastic about the issue of independency. If the Declaration of Independence hadn’t been written, if the colonies had declared independence only by waging war and not by writing a famous statement justifying it, what would the historical effect have been?

Would the constitution perhaps have been different if it hadn’t had the precedent of the Declaration of Independence? In particular, would the Bill of Rights have been necessary in order for the constitution to be ratified? Would things such as the freedom of religion, (Amendment I) the right to bear arms, (Amendment II) or the various rights concerning law enforcement trial, have needed to have a place in the constitution if the Declaration of Independence hadn’t been all about the existence and importance of rights? And if not, how long would it have taken for those rights to be officially included in the law, and what repercussions would that delay have had on subsequent historical events and cultural mindsets?

What about the Civil War? Would the South have tried to secede over the issue of states’ rights if it hadn’t been for the fact that they were only doing what their ancestors had done less than a century previously? (After all, in both cases, the conflict largely had to do with the geographical distance and cultural chasm been the governing authorities and the relevant sector of the population.) And would the abolishment of slavery perhaps taken a few more decades to bring about if slavery hadn’t been contrary to an important American historical document? After all, the Jim Crow laws existed until close to a century after the end of slavery. I think we can all agree that it’s good that slavery ended in our country a long time ago, but I think we can also agree that the end of slavery was not equivalent to the end of extreme racism, and that the Civil War did little to solve the latter of those two problems. If it hadn’t been for the precedents and principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence, could the Civil War have been avoided? And if so, would the Confederacy be a separate country or would it have remained part of the Union, but also retained its culture, including slavery, for a longer time?

Or was the Declaration of Independence simply a formality, and would the original American ideology have been exactly the same even without the document that first defined and explained it? Is the Declaration of Independence just a famous piece of paper that technically has no more influence than any of the older documents and writings that say much the same things? Was July 4, 1776 really one of the most important landmarks in American history, or was it just a regular day that we arbitrarily selected to observe as the birthday of our country? I guess there’s no way to know for sure, unless we went back in time and somehow prevented the Declaration of Independence from coming into existence. And I, for one, would like to highly discourage that course of action, because I’m in favor of the Declaration of Independence regardless of whether it was historically monumental or ultimately insignificant.

Life and Souffles

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There are certain questions that one finds oneself asking from time to time. What is my purpose in life? Why am I here? What am I meant to be accomplishing right now? What must I do in order to bake a really great soufflé? I don’t have answers to any of these questions, but one of them seems a little easier to solve than the others, and so that’s the one that I have turned my attention to today.

I found this image on google, but it's pretty similar to what my soufflé looked like. Except mine was a little paler and I used a glass dish.

I found this image on google, but it’s pretty similar to what my soufflé looked like. Except mine was a little paler and I used a glass dish.

For the record, I would like to say that I am pretty pleased with my latest soufflé. For one thing, I didn’t use a recipe, but it turned out anyway, which is an indication that I know what I’m doing, more or less. This cannot be said for every aspect of my life, so it’s nice that I can say it about soufflés. Also, it was a very pretty soufflé. It’s too bad that my camera batteries are dead, and that I was therefore unable to preserve the beauty of my soufflé for posterity and the internet.  It tasted fine, too.

One of the appeals of the endeavor to make an awesome soufflé is that it’s supposedly pretty difficult. Soufflés have a reputation for being prone to failure, which is mainly because they have a very high air content and do tend to collapse. The process of making a soufflé is also somewhat more complicated than that of making things like most cookies or cakes. Also, the main ingredient of soufflés is thoroughly beaten egg whites, and egg-white-beating is an acquired skill. But learning how to make good soufflés is an easier objective than, for example, finishing college, so I think it’s a feasible goal.

OswinAnother appeal of soufflé-making is, of course, that soufflés feature relatively prominently in Asylum of the Daleks, the Doctor Who episode from September 1, 2012. In this episode, The Doctor, Amy, and Rory are sent down to a planet that the daleks use as an asylum, hence the episode title.  A human named Oswin Oswald has also been residing on that planet for the past year, ever since her starliner crashed. (There’s more to her story than that, but it doesn’t come out until later in the episode, and I’m not doing spoilers right now) This is where the soufflés come into the tale. During the year that Oswin has been trapped someplace “not nice”, surrounded by daleks, she has been passing the time by making soufflés.

Oswin isn’t the greatest soufflé-maker; the soufflé that she makes at the beginning of the episode is a failure. (And for some reason, she throws away the soufflé pan along with the soufflé, an action which has always puzzled me) But that’s not the important thing; the important thing is that Oswin is the type of person who, when space-shipwrecked on a hostile planet full of daleks, responds by practicing her soufflé-baking skills.

I particularly like Oswin as a character, and have frequently attempted to find ways to equate myself with her. In fact, for a while I used her likeness as my facebook profile picture, and her face is my current tumblr avatar. Right now, I especially relate to Oswin in that particular episode. Spending a few months in limbo between college and grad school isn’t exactly the same as spending a year trapped in a crashed starliner surrounded by daleks, but it seems to me that there is a pretty clear allegorical connection. So, since Oswin’s awesomeness manifests itself in such occasions through the practice of soufflé-making, the application in my own life is fairly apparent.

 

In the image above, we see various levels of egg-beating, ranging from “cheater” to “expert”. I come in at level three with the non-electric hand-mixer, although I’m working on achieving whisk proficiency.