Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Let Your Kids Fail.

            I have the most trouble practicing what I preach when it comes to this topic. To quote several clichés: there is no pearl created without a grain of discomfort, no steel tempered without fire, no omelet made without cracking a few eggs. Parents, if you read this blog, which you probably don’t unless you’re my mom, let your children stumble, suffer, struggle, and ultimately achieve.
            My family consists of narrow-minded and stubborn personalities. When we have decided on a goal, we do everything in our power to reach it, no matter what the cost is (for varying reasons, I do it because Miley Cyrus told me to). My father, with an IQ just south of being Mensa-worthy, will always try and help me reach my desires. When I was neck-deep in a band junior year, he would always try to talk to the venue or show management to find out about this or that issue, and I would throw a hissy fit. It’s my damn band! Let me deal with being $40 short on tickets or needing to find a working power outlet. I need to know how to do this. I love the poor man to death for his illogical need to see me succeed, but the only time I’ve let him meddle has been with Physics. Okay, “Physics” means two years of late nights trying to explain to me how the rotational inertia of a hollow sphere is affected by the varying magnetic field it’s rolling through… I actually don’t think we’ve ever done a problem like that, but I digress. That’s where I’ve deviated from my own advice; let’s get back to why parents shouldn’t help, and I’ll always let you lord the help I’ve received for Physics over me.
            No child can flourish without at least a taste of adversity. I’m not telling anyone to drop their seven year-old off in the middle of New York with a map and a bus card in the morning with no advice except, “Dinner’s at six; don’t be late!” in an attempt to prepare their offspring for the real world, but I am saying that a kid who has never had to think for themselves will never be able to. Again, don’t think that’s a reason to be neglectful. If you expect your kid to cook every meal, clean the house, take care of the pets and their younger siblings, and do it all with a full course load, you are a bad parent. My dad never explicitly gave me the answers to any problems; we sat at a table in the corner of the living room with a pot of coffee and a bag of Girl Scout cookies between us, and he painstakingly worked me through the steps to find the solution to a ridiculous problem.
            This concept will always require a tricky balance. Is driving to school with your child’s homework coddling them and teaching them not to plan ahead? If it’s a regular occurrence, yes. Should you wake your son or daughter if he or she oversleeps and would miss school if left alone? You should at least make an effort to do so. If you expect love, respect, and kindness from the fruit of your loins (that’s an outdated term), help them when you can, but know when it’s time for them to learn for themselves. One day, your little angels will go into the world alone, and they’ll have to deal with choosing significant others by themselves, with classes, and with work by themselves. Let them be prepared.

-Jason Rossiter

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Liberty, Justice and Despotism?

             Now, I know that there are a good deal of ways to misconstrue what will follow in this next essay, so just bear with me and save any judgment until you have actually read the essay in its entirety. Let me state once and for all that I am not a fascist; some have in the past labeled me as such for the views that I have posed, or rather have toyed with and debated. The views I present in this essay are just one alternative to the current system which I, like many Americans, view to be corrupt and broken.
             I feel as though, at current, the United States of America could use a healthy dose of despotism. At this point I know you’re all jumping back and screaming, "No!" Just hold on a moment, and let me explain. What I propose is nothing like fascism. What I propose is still a democracy. However, the executive office in this case would be given a good deal more power than what it already has. Mostly he or she would be able to rule by decree if need be (there you go, that's the despotism, not so bad is it? What's that you say? Keep reading then). This would allow the chief executive to take control of a situation without having to deal with Congress. Now you jump back and say “But that’s what lets things like genocide happen!” For this I propose that the Constitution would remain the supreme law of the land and that the president/despot/dictator (whatever you want to call him or her) would be accountable for his actions in office and would be subject to the same term limits that the president is subject to now. If for some reason the president were to pass some sort of law that violated the Constitution, it would be subject to the same sort of judicial review. Of course, it goes without saying that the president, along with Congress, would be elected by popular vote of the people.
            So what’s the point of having a legislative body? I’m glad you asked. See, the president’s job isn’t to make laws; he can if he needs to. The legislative body would still be able to pass laws and even override the president’s veto.
            Well, who controls the army? Whoever does is really in power. A system much like what is in place now would be the case for this new government. The chief executive would have supreme command only in time of war and of course only Congress could declare war.
            This is where the liberalism comes in. It doesn’t seem that such a government would be very liberal. There is, however, room for liberalism. I won’t get into what I believe are the do’s and don’ts of a society, but things such as gay marriage (civil unions, at least) or Alice Paul’s Equal Rights Amendment would be allowed to exist at last. This would be facilitated by the president’s ability to make these things law without having to muck about in Congress.
            Now that the parameters and details of this new government are laid out, a case needs to be made for such a government. America is at a crucial point in her history; Congress is particularly inept at doing just about anything. Reasoning for a semi-autocratic government comes with the realization that Congress has just about ceased to function and if there were a national emergency the president would be able to handle the issue much more easily and succinctly. Public education in the United States, for instance, is nowhere near where it should be in terms of quality; if the president had the power to rule on such matters without having to go through all the bureaucracy, that would ultimately result in nothing positive. Instead more gridlock would be found. Americans are sick of their representatives. Regardless of party, the people of this country don’t believe they are being served in a manner that dignifies the true beliefs. There is far too much finger pointing in Washington. With a system such as this, the United States would still be a democracy. Liberalism would still be present and things could get done much easier and the people would be happier.
            Now that all is said and done, what do you think? Could despotism—if you could even call it that—be beneficial to America? I realize there are certainly flaws to my proposal, but, given our current situation, perhaps it is time to start looking for answers in a new way.

Maybe the bit about "Liberty and justice for all" could finally be true 


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"I am Jack's wasted life."

  No, the title was not speaking of QBA's very own "Jack". Rather, it's a quote from the movie that is the topic of this essay. As promised, I bring you an essay on the philosophy I found in Fight Club. This ties with The Dark Knight for my favorite movie ever and, if pressed, I'd give this one the edge. Heck, I'll come right out and say it; Fight Club is my favorite movie. One of Jason's, as well. I had a conversation with a friend a few days ago explaining the meaning behind Fight Club and the absurdist connotations in the movie. (Absurdism is a philosophy which states that life, the universe, and everything inherently have no meaning. I suggest, for an introduction to absurdism, you check out The Stranger by Albert Camus. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and it's not necessarily the most entertaining book, but it's interesting.)
  This is a movie about an average everyman searching for identity in all the places he'll never find it. Material possessions ("I flipped through catalogs and wondered: What kind of dining set defines me as a person?"), diseases he doesn't have, clever and pithy remarks, etc. But suddenly, he meets this girl, Marla Singer, who is everything he is, and he doesn't like what he sees. And then a guy, Tyler Durden, one of the greatest characters to ever grace a movie screen, simply redefines everything he's ever believed and says to him that having an identity is completely overrated and that life is about finding happiness where it can be found.

I give you two example quotes:

"F*** off with your sofa units and strine green stripe patterns, I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let... lets evolve, let the chips fall where they may." - One of the first exchanges between Tyler and the narrator, Tyler talks about consumerism and how we are passive as a society, but, on a deeper level, by my interpretation, Tyler says that it's a pointless endeavor to try to define yourself, because nothing has any meaning. It's all about living in the moment and doing whatever it takes to make yourself happy in the moment, even to the point of hedonism. This is what the fight club itself is all about: taking control of your own pursuit of happiness and pleasure.
"You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your f***ing khakis. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world." - Tyler shows that the passive consumerism of our society, again, has been used for too long to try to find some meaning in a meaningless universe, again going back to the absurdism of the movie.

  Two quotes, my two favorites in the movie, actually, that I find really highlight the absurdism of the movie are:

"I felt like destroying something beautiful." - You'll probably understand this one's absurdist relations a tad more if you read The Stranger, but it's a great line in its own right. There's something about the idea captured in it of just giving in to destruction and pure, raw emotion that really gets me.
"On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero." - This sentiment goes beyond "Everybody dies." It's more along the lines of, "Everyone who has ever lived will die. Nothing in existence now will matter in time." There's nothing that could capture the meaningless of life, the universe, and everything better than that.
  The idea of this whole identity crisis being within the narrator is even more compelling. In the end, the narrator wins because the radical ideas of Tyler Durden go against the moral compass the narrator has been raised with and the society that he has been indoctrinated, more or less, to believe in, and so he takes radical measures to stop Tyler. It's striking, though, that the narrator effectively kills Tyler Durden at the end, having to go against the moral compass of the very society he's trying to protect to save it. He seems to be just as confused about his identity at the end, then, as at the beginning, but he's taken Tyler's message to heart; he doesn't care anymore. He's content to just be happy with his love for Marla Singer.
  Basically, we should learn from Fight Club that you'll be much, much happier in life when you stop thinking about things and learn to be content with whatever comes your way. Which might be why I'm miserable, seeing as how I write for a little blog called Questions, Bar Answers.

-Adarsh Nednur

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Monday, June 18, 2012

F*ck You, Mom!

Soap is good for many things; washing out your mouth is not one of them.

When I was younger, my parents never took the expression to its literal meaning---I strongly sympathize with those whose did--- but they did meticulously monitor my word choice, English and Russian. I was constantly warned to never curse in the house and was quickly reprimanded if I did.

I don’t think I’m alone in wondering why some vocal vibrations are considered more inappropriate than others. Why are some words so special that they are labeled something as evil-sounding as a “curse,” and why should we avoid them? What makes us refrain from speaking them at a job interview and twitch when we hear our 8 year-old sister pronounce them?

In the movie Monster, the protagonist, Aileen, is a highway-hooker-turned-murderer that steals her dead client’s cars and money to sustain her and her girlfriend (great film, go watch it). The movie shifts between the main dialogue and flashbacks narrated by Aileen. During these flashbacks, she speaks in a brooding and nostalgic cadence, which differs strongly from her general gruff and mumbling tone, punctuated by many “cr*ps,” “bullsh*ts,” and “f*ckings.” I noted during the movie that I sympathized a lot more with the narrator of the flashbacks than the main character, even though they were the same person, simply because she cursed less. Subconsciously, I was sobbing for the narrator Aileen but pursing my lips at the protagonist Aileen. It seemed that word choice alone separated the ratty, despicable prostitute from the confused, tormented woman inside.

The main reason my parents gave me for abstaining from cursing was that it makes people sound trashy and uncultured. But why? Two reasons:

One: curse words may genuinely offend some people.

Disregarding the etymology of the swear words (f-word, s-word if you’re interested), I believe that these words have simply been agreed upon over the years to hold their present significance. Because of this, generation upon generation of mothers have nailed a bad association with these words into their offsprings’ minds, and these words can truly make some people uncomfortable. Yet, I also believe that we don’t offend people directly by cursing as much as make an image for ourselves. Those who witness our cursing and are not personally affected may make the assertion that we are willing to make others uncomfortable. We may henceforth be labeled “inconsiderate” after uttering our choice words. But this, in fact, is the main reason why kids are so quick to pick up cursing. They feel the effect these words can bring, and what does a teenager love more than making his parents cringe? This is also why theres a national catastrophe each time the president calls a NY Times reporter an a-hole *cough* Bush *cough*.

Two: their use implies a lack of vocabulary.

I like to separate curse words into two categories: fillers and descriptors. Fillers are curse words that can take the place of an object or idea, such as ‘cr*p’, while descriptors can take all grammatical forms, such as the ‘f –word’. Fillers are generally used in place of other, higher-level words and imply a low level of literacy, but at the same time, they, unlike other nouns, can directly convey tone.

Ex: “Could you move your cr*p?” as opposed to “Could you move your backpack?”
Your friend clearly doesn’t feel too happy about your backpack lying in the middle of the room.

I also believe that we feel a tingle at the sound of a descriptor because it implies an intense feeling for the idea expressed in the rest of the sentence, be it positive or negative. When a person swears, they’re less worried about wording or imagery than the emotion behind their thought.

Ex: “Go away!” as opposed to “F*ck off!”
In other words, vacate the area, A.S.A.P.

Personally, I don’t consider it a huge offense for people to occasionally drop the f-bomb to emphasize their point in the right company, but constant overuse isn’t beneficial either. It doesn’t say much about your intellect if you can’t express yourself in any other way.

In the end, we create our own balance of vocabulary to suite our personality and the tolerance of those we surround ourselves with. As we age, we decide for ourselves when and where we consider it ok to curse. While playing Spades with friends, yes. While having tea with grandma, no. We should limit our cursing to an audience that understands our need to speak our mind without having to strain our brain for the perfect adjective.

-Julia Chinchillia
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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Joker on Humanity's Selfishness

  I'm not going to attempt to refrain from spoiling The Dark Knight; if you haven't seen it, you're missing out. Go watch it as soon as possible. It is one of my two favorite movies, tied for first place with Fight Club, and it's always struck me how deep the philosophies behind it are.
  First and foremost, the thing that strikes me about The Joker is that nothing he says is incorrect, and he is proven correct time and time again. The Joker's main philosophy is that self-interest is the language of the world, that it's every man for himself, and he is proven wrong twice, and twice only, throughout the movie: first, in the climactic scene of the Prisoner's Dilemma played out on ships, and second, in Harvey Dent turning himself in as Batman. In the first scene, neither ship blows up the other even though it's in each ship's best interest to do so. I could argue that each does this only to escape from the guilt, but that's an essay for another time. As for the second scene, Harvey Dent later shows himself to be just like all the others, so I think this is a moot point. Every other time, from trying to kill a politician to save themselves, to gangsters attacking each other with snapped pool cues to save themselves in "tryouts", to The White Knight himself turning dark and killing police officers and people in power.
  I find that one of the most effective quotes in the movie is Joker saying to Batman, "They need you right now, but when they don't... they'll cast you out. Like a leper. See, their morals, their code: it's a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They're only as good as the world allows them to be. I'll show you. When the chips are down, these, uh… these civilized people, they'll eat each other. See, I'm not a monster; I'm just ahead of the curve."
  People, carved by thousand of years of evolution, only function in their own self-interest. The Joker is such an effective villain because, more than proving a foil for Batman, The Joker symbolizes human nature itself. The Batman's idealism is proven repeatedly to be a futile force, while The Joker's cynicism is proven to be spot on. This conflict is exemplified in the struggle of Harvey Dent/Two-Face, who starts off sharing The Batman's idealistic views of hope and altruism and self-sacrifice, but is corrupted to the views of the masses and becomes what would be the symbol of evil if Bruce Wayne had not taken the fall (thus corrupting even the remaining symbol of good in Gotham).
  Many people think that The Dark Knight has a relatively happy ending, what with The Joker being captured and Harvey's rampage being ended and all, but the way I see it... Batman loses. He's forced to see that his principles, the views that people are inherently good and work for the good of all, is misplaced. Indeed, he's forced to accept that, to defeat evil, he'd have to break his moral code and become exactly what he hates most, a morally abstentious monster. Thus, evil will never go out of style; even if The Joker has been captured, he's proven that the very people that Batman works to save are just as bad, if not worse. How do you win if your duty is to protect the evil you are fighting? Can you blame me for being cynical?

  I plan to write another essay on another film. The public's homework is to watch Fight Club. Jason and Jack will concur that it's freakin' fantastic.

- Adarsh Nednur

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Christian Against Christmas

            Holidays are a time for families to gather and reflect on the ideas that they’ve been putting off for the other 364 days of the year. Christmas and Hanukkah let the almost spiritual feel as though they have some real faith, and Thanksgiving makes families that hate each other paint masks on and sit down to a tense meal together.
Everything up to this point has been hyperbole, but, as most of what gets put on Questions, Bar Answers pertains to the generalized view of situations as put forth by society, this post will follow that vein. I want to make you, reader, aware of what I perceive to be the most widespread façade in human existence, holidays. If we dig past the generic definition for holiday that says it is merely a day where no work is done, we find that they are meant as days for reflection on a plethora of ideas and topics. I don’t like that idea mainly because any attempt to focus more acutely on an idea means we expect to be able to. To parallel the old band adage, “If you can lift your toes more when I ask you to, you never had them high enough,” my opinion on holidays is that, “If you need a day to let someone know you care about them, you never cared about them enough.”
Allow me to explain; in the Christian faith, Christmas is a time to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the human third of the spiritual Triptych. The question I have for my Christian brethren is why should we close the banks and mark up the costs of seasonal foods for a celebration that actually takes place on the date of the pagan winter solstice [Wikipedia, second paragraph]? If Christianity is true (which I believe it is, but that is an entirely different essay), then reflecting on its tenets because the calendar tells one to isn’t going to grant salvation; that would be a vain attempt to make spiritual hollowness. Everyone jokes about the only time your average American attends church is for Easter, Christmas, funerals, and weddings. Anyone who is even just aware of basic Christian theology knows that God doesn't want a show of faith; He wants actual belief and action.
Spiritual and familial sentiments, if they are genuine, cannot possibly be contained to a set day of the year. Thanksgiving is just an expensive custom that families who aren’t tight-knit despise and happy families find to be a stressful week of meal and travel planning. The history books tell us about the pilgrims and the Indians if we care to learn about it; we don’t need a day to remind us of that either. Patriotic holidays are a time for the uninvolved American to say he loves a country he knows nothing about. On Thanksgiving, July 4th, and Presidents Day, the majority of people still won't know how much of the budget military spending is, and if we declared independence from Great Britain.
I’m not trying to abolish your work or school holidays. Actually, I take that back, if we removed the extensive breaks in the school year, classes could be done in maybe 4 and a half months, leaving the rest of the year for students to learn a trade, start a band (I've tried that), or to continue the lethargy they practiced during the school year. So, yes, I’m trying to abolish your work and school holidays. When people realize that it’s more important to be a bearable family unit every day, and to worship their respective deities in every moment of their life, I feel like the world would run smoothly and we would all be much more honest with ourselves.

-Jason Rossiter

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Go ahead, Tilt at the Windmills

What can be learned from Don Quixote? Yes, the supposedly insane Spanish knight who famously jousted with a windmill thinking it was a giant. The idea that true happiness can be found in two simple words—those will be revealed later, I promise. At the end of this essay, hopefully Don Quixote won't look so insane.

People today are faced with a multitude of depressing situations. I could start a pythonic list that would drone on and on, but I won't. Earth isn’t exactly in what you would call an ideal situation, and this situation is exactly what gives way to quixotic pleasure of the impossible dream. My argument for happiness is that one should constantly tilt at windmills and chase the impossible dream. This constant movement forward seems to confirm and defy the opinion of fellow writer, Adarsh. My argument is that if you set your goal so far away yet somehow seemingly obtainable then you can’t be disappointed because you won’t ever be disheartened. Don Quixote becomes important because he serves as the epitome of such a lifestyle. To the reader, Don Quixote experiences more joy in the frivolous activities of pretending to be a knight-errant than managing an estate and ordering around servants. What is wrong with that? A man who chases his Impossible Dream is something that should be admired. Take for instance the scene with the windmills “Destiny guides our fortunes more favorably than we could have expected. Look there, Sancho Panza, my friend, and see those thirty or so wild giants, with whom I intend to do battle and kill each and all of them, so with their stolen booty we can begin to enrich ourselves. This is nobel, righteous warfare, for it is wonderfully useful to God to have such an evil race wiped from the face of the earth."
"What giants?" Asked Sancho Panza.
"The ones you can see over there," answered his master, "with the huge arms, some of which are very nearly two leagues long."
"Now look, your grace," said Sancho, "what you see over there aren't giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone."
"Obviously," replied Don Quixote, "you don't know much about adventures.”

The idea of living like Don Quixote comes with a good deal of fighting societal norms. Who wants to be a conformist anyway? Think of all the great innovators in history, such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and the like. They destroyed corporate culture as it was known at the time. Both fought society and both won. For many at the time their actions and attitude would have seemed very quixotic. It is, however, this very idea that makes the life of Don Quixote one worth living. Gates and Jobs were and are the titans of the information age, yet they chased a dream that twenty years prior seemed absurd.

We live, we die, and regardless of how you feel about the afterlife there is something to be said for living life to its fullest. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true. Put yourself at your own funeral; what do you want people to say?
The life led without inhibitions is the most successful by any measure. The lack of inhibitions will allow one's ambitions to be more prevalent. Ambitions to drive forward, to chase the impossible dream, will lead to higher quality of life, or at least more fun. At the end of the day, I would take being happy over being well off. I’m confident that most people are the same way.

Chasing the impossible dream will bud in all sorts of serendipitous ways; one only needs to read Don Quixote to observe that he enjoys his adventures. Now, you don’t have to go out and actually tilt at windmills to find the same sort of fulfillment, but the idea is all the same. Go ahead, form that micronation. It'll never be recognized, but you'll enjoy yourself along the way. I mean, why not?

Why not?

-Grant Silverman

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Sunday, June 3, 2012

We Are Number 1?

In a post from April (“Cato and Kiriyama Are...Right?” on April 1), Jack highlighted how readily we point out one character as morally superior and the rest of the cast as simply wrong. He wrote, “We like to associate ourselves with the hero, even if that distances us from the reality of the situation,” and I’d like to spring off of that statement and suggest that Americans have an obsession with being the best. Oftentimes, our claimed “superiority” is unsubstantiated.
                America is no stranger to self-assurance. Oh, the U.S. is only number twenty-five in the global education rankings for Math? Well, that’s ok, because we offer a well-rounded education that makes our students understand the world. Yes, in Germany the majority of students opt for vocational training instead of high school, and yes, 80% of German students have a job within six months of finishing their education, but we’re still better because we want to send every single one of our students to college. Forget that only 48% of our students have a job within six months of leaving school and find themselves strapped with debt. It’s not that we don’t see what other countries are doing. It’s just that we have too much pride to take their successes and incorporate them into our own system.
I, too, am guilty of straining to make myself feel good about failures. This track season I humiliated myself at almost every meet by crossing the finish line at the back of the pack. Instead of using my defeat as motivation to work harder and improve my standing, I commented that track wasn’t my priority and that I’m good at other things which matter more to me. While that is true, I might be true I can’t deny that I was making excuses. Furthermore, who knows what I would think about track if I were actually much better at it. Maybe then it would be my priority. The point is, rather than face my failures, I tried to make myself feel better about them by saying that they were not important.
                The difference between these two situations is that while a person or nation may claim to not prioritize an activity and therefore not excel at it, the U.S. does claim to value education. Why then does it indulge its own pride and ignore the lessons to be learned from other countries’ successes?
To clarify, of course no person or country can be the best at everything, especially in an area that is truly not a priority. What we should avoid, however, is turning a blind eye to failures and, in the process, ignoring the models of successful action that surround us and could improve us. We’re not always the best. We should accept it and learn from it.


Hi, I’m Kirby. I love being outdoors and exploring new areas, even if only the neighborhood next to mine, though there are more interesting places than that in the world. I play the harp and enjoy learning and performing ethnic pieces. A confession? I can’t get through the day without diving into the newest discussions and causes on – multiple times.

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