The Kolumn: Wikileaks

So, this entry is a new installment in a column that I write for Jefferson’s high school newspaper, The Outlook (anyone who can tell me why it was witty to spell column with a “k” gets a victory cookie). While I appreciate the outlet that the Outlook allows me to have for my writing (’cause it’s not like anyone actually reads the posts on this blog), they are notorious for strange editing that can impede the understanding of works as complicated as the ones I compose.

My new entry is rather lengthy for a column as well, so I am just assuming that I will be disappointed with the final product that appears in the newspaper. As such, I am going to take this opportunity to reprint the article in its entirety here, so that my actual message can come across for anyone who actually wants to know it. The content is about the Wikileaks saga of the past two weeks, and I suggest reading the New York Times’s “State’s Secrets” series about the recent releases before reading the commentary itself.

The Kolumn: Wikileaks

As the Julian Assange saga continues to unfold, I have found myself pondering more and more the role of information in a modern democratic society.

Julian Assange is the founder of a website entitled, a sort of “watchdog” website that collects classified or otherwise secret details about the workings of the US government and releases them to the public, usually in highly-publicized mass-releases of hundreds of thousands of documents. The most recent and devastating Wikileaks release occurred during the last three days of November, with the disclosure of upwards of a quarter of a million State Department communications with foreign officials.

Very few of them painted the United States in a favorable light. One set of cables reveals that the government bartered away prisoners from the notorious Guantanamo Bay; Slovenia was instructed to take one prisoner if the nation hoped to meet with the President at all. The government also seems to have committed acts suppressing human rights, such as during a German investigation into a botched Central Intelligence Agency operation; basically, US officials discouraged any investigation into the matter at all, even though a mistaken individual had been held by the CIA for months in an Afghan facility.

All of these releases are eye-opening and shocking in their own right, no doubt. What I have found more informative, however, is the reaction of the American mainstream media and the American people to this information. One would assume that Assuage and his website would be praised for promoting a level of openness that the government seems to be horribly neglecting.

Strangely enough, the opposite reaction seems to be occurring. Several news organizations (with Fox News leading the way, obviously) have labeled Assuage a “terrorist” and called for his arrest, and internet polls hosted by CNN and others have shown that a surprising amount of Americans actually agree with this notion.

First off, I would like to make clear that Assange should be considered a hero, not a terrorist. If exposing hypocrisy and demanding honesty is an illegal endeavor in twenty-first century America, then the American people could not call their government a “democracy.” Yes, his actions may jeopardize future diplomatic relations between the US and other foreign countries, but Assange was not the one committing rampant hypocrisy in the first place. The US government shot itself in the foot by having all of these secret dialogues; Assange was merely the messenger that brought the atrocities to light.

That being said, I am currently very perplexed as to why a person would not want to know if hypocrisy had become the culture of their government. The summary of that argument seems to be: if it is information that will jeopardize the objectives of the American government, then it is information that should not be shared.

I cannot even begin to explain how wrong this reasoning is. It is the worst form of patriotism: blind, unquestioning, naïve. It assumes that the government can do no wrong, and that what is best for the rulers is best for the ruled.

In fact, it is an argument that runs completely counter to the principles of a democratic society. Democracies differ from more tyrannical forms of organization due to their inclusion of the ruled in the ruling process. It requires an informed and questioning populace that can actively choose representatives who will embody the will of that population within the halls of the government.

Thomas Jefferson was correct in noting that “the ignorant can never be free”, and yet it seems that a sizable portion of the American population would rather be the former than the latter.

This is very concerning. A population that is uninformed of its government’s doings is not democratic; it’s totalitarian. The appeal of a democratic government comes from the power that it gives to every single citizen of the nation, and that power is manifested as information. If the American people have no desire for information, then they have no desire to have control over their own ruling institutions.

If America were truly democratic, the Assange would be showered with praise instead of threatened with arrest. As much as the media would prefer it to be, this is not a question of liberalism versus conservatism, or patriotism versus nonloyalty; any person who prefers this little idea called freedom should be praising Wikileaks, not condemning it.

Brett’s Top 10 Onion Articles of All-Time (or; How to Actually Do Social Commentary)

There is little debate among young intellectuals that The Onion provides undoubtedly the most poignant commentary on contemporary American society of… well, anybody really. Ignoring it’s (applaudable) humanistic streak and spot-on parody of modern sports journalism, the reader is still left with unfathomable amounts of pertinent and bitingly-satirical “coverage” of the modern American political landscape. As a way to pay homage to this towering giant of satire, I now present my top 10 favorite Onion articles:

10. I’m Getting Pretty Good at Masturbating

I intend to use these earlier entries as a way to show of my hipster credentials and expound upon Onion articles that very few people actually know about. This one, however, needs very little explanation. A classic.

9. Company Stops Dumping Hazardous Waste After Realizing Its an Auditing Firm

Little known fact: the Onion also does radio parodies. They’re less-well-known (and rightfully so, for true radio news parodies are unbelievably boring), but this one definitely should receive its proper credit. The idea is brilliant, the execution is sublime.

8. Trojan Introduces New Line of ‘No One’s Pleasure’ Condoms

The writers of the Onion have a canny knack for parodying the pathetic and hypocritical nature of the American marriage system, this article being the best example of that. Others include Typo in Proposition 8 Defines Marriage as Between ‘One Man and One Wolfman’ and Family That Prays Together Suffers Through Long, Hellish Marriage Together.

7. New York Marathon Winner Tests Positive for Performance-Enhancing Horse

The paradigm of hypocritical bullshit and insider transactions that some call “modern sports journalism” is in need of severe ridicule on all levels; it is, without fault, one of the most pathetic examples of misguided journalism the world has ever seen. This one is particularly striking, and the irreverence of it begs to be extrapolated out to the genre as a whole.

6. Existentialist Firefighter Delays 3 Deaths

This one is mostly a self-parody for me, really. Truth be told, there are bits of existential philosophy (not really Nietzchean, per se, but more Redditarian) that have worked their way into my socialist-progressive-atheistic-transcendentalist-naturalistic worldview. When interpreted incorrectly, however, existentialism (much like a deterministic realism) can lead to morose tirades from pathetic intellectual characters about the pointlessness of the Universe (I’m looking at you, Stephen Crane). Thus, this healthy dose of Onion satirical tonic is a more than welcome reminder about the limits of one’s personal philosophy.

5. South African Vuvuzela Philharmonic Angered By Soccer Games Breaking Out During Concerts

Now we’re starting to get into the classics, the Onion articles than any true consumer of contemporary social commentary should have memorized. Everyone remembers the vuvuzela frenzy during the World Cup this summer, but only the Onion was brilliant enough to recast this debate as if the vuvuzelas were actually beautiful instruments capable of performing majestic monotonic works. A personal favorite.

4. Supreme Court Upholds Freedom of Speech in Obscenity-Filled Ruling

One could muse for hours about how ingeniously this article reminds liberal-minded intellectuals that their right to critique is actually a well-established tradition within America, and….. Yeah, not gonna go there. The picture of Ginsburg flipping off the reader is all that this article needed to be destined for greatness, anyway.

3. Sumerians Look On in Confusion as God Creates World

The Onion is as good at critiquing modern religion as any other humorist (or collection of humorists, really) currently operating. This and the next one are prime examples of that. Consequently, I love using the Sumerian argument whenever I find myself in conversations with theists; something along the lines of, “What, the Sumerians weren’t good enough to be created by your god?”

2. God Answers Prayers of Paralyzed Little Boy; ‘No’, Says God

This is probably the most famous Onion article of all time (besides the faked moon landing headline “Holy Shit! Man Walks on Fucking Moon”, of course), and for good reason. It is a very well-designed enunciation of the philosophical Problem of Evil as an argument against a just and loving god. The Onion is not exactly atheistic in its critique of modern religion, but it sure could be construed that way. They’re definitely humanists, at least.

1. Pitchfork Gives Music 6.8

By and large, this article is the most brilliant piece of satire ever composed by the Onion, perhaps ever composed by a 21st century hand period. One must understand the hipster and self-absorbed nature of the Pitchfork media website before the true brilliance of this subtle article becomes prominent, but once this occurs, said prominence is never in question. There are those who say that satire should serve a social purpose as a vehicle for rational and liberal change; nothing is more bittingly liberal than this attack against self-absorbent and better-than-thou behavior.

My Long-Belated Prop 8 Repulsion Victory Lap

Yes, yes, I realized that I truly missed the boat on the whole “blogging about Prop 8 being repealed” thing. When these guys are lobbying to prevent you from blogging anymore, it tends to make writing a laborious process.

Anyway, for those who live in a cave (I only include this because several of my friends do indeed live in rock outcroppings), let it be known: California’s ban on gay marriage was recently overturned. It, of course, was met with immediate opposition by the religious right for… well, I suppose they had quasi-rational reasons, but I just can’t get over the hypocrisy of the Good Ol’ Newt story to really lend creedence to the argument.

It will undoubtedly go to the Supreme Court (as all politically-salient cases end up doing, regardless of their intrinsic merit), so celebration may be tenetive at best. Still, for those of us who wish to see a political system where minorities are celebrated instead of squandered, respected instead of marginalized, and granted eqaulity under the law even under the pressure of Bronze-Age mythologies and hypocrites like the Newt-myster, this is still a step in the right direction.

Let me first clarify the biases that people will undoubtedly scream at me anyway: as a social-welfare supporting, Alezander Herzen-reading, atheistic quasi-Transcendentalistic (minus the whole “spiritual” element”) liberal (and no, there is no contradiction in combining all those labels; perhaps another blog post will illuminate that topic…), I tend to find myself a bit of an ideological minority with most of America. As such, there is nothing more pleasuring to me than to see established authority forced, by its own system, to concede freedoms to its populace. To say that this country is the “land of the free” is (as Auto-Tune the News would put it) pure poppycock. But maybe someday we’ll get there…

Enough of my ideological musings. The point here is that gay marriage really shouldn’t even be a legitimate issue in 21st century, post-post-modern politics. As much as the more conservative of Americans would like to deny it, guess what?: there are homosexual people. And guess what else?: they want to be tortured in marriage just like heterosexual people do. It’s not a myth; ’tis a fact. How could any rational and reflective individual not see this point? (Oh yeah, I forgot…)

The much more interesting debate underlying this issue, however, is the Right’s claim that religion is the source of our morality (towards homosexuals, towards people of other skin, towards anyone really). Conservatives (at least the most reactionary of them) seem to think that our country should draw its moral decisions out of the Christian holy texts, and that should be the end of it. Is morality really intertwined with religion? Here’s where I shall toss the ball to science: it’s not. Not convinced? Try here, here, or maybe here.

So it logically follows that the overturning of Prop 8 also a step towards liberating ethical law (a subject that, as a whole, I’m still not entirely convinced of) from religious texts that bear nothing of value to its composition and sustainment. Part of it is common sense: a god commands something because it is right, not the other way around. To put it another way: if whatever god you worship (my fellow atheists, you may abstain from this thought experiment) told you to kill someone, told you that suddenly murder was a morally acceptable thing to do, would you begin to kill other humans frantically and with reckless abandon? I sure hope you would not, for your moral reflections need to kick up a notch if the answer to that question was anywhere near “yes”.

There are, of course, many places and laws that still need to be tweaked (or flatly refuted) before our laws have rid themselves of residual moral-religious confusion: marajuana, gambling, contraception (this “abstinence-only” propoganda, while backed by several reputable psychological studies, is nonetheless horrendously sexually restrictive and backward), and education to name a few (if I hear the phrase “intellegent design theory” one more time, I might have to compose an entire blog post just to rant about  it).

Still, it’s a start; a long-winded, agonizing start, but a start nonetheless. As such, it is time for something that I rarely ever do to the American people: *slow clap*. Just make sure you don’t squander the opportunity.

Why This Band is Awesome: Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society

Here is a rather new feature of the Illiterate Ramblings blog (so new, it’s never been done before!): the “Why This Band is Awesome” section, where I deliver a “crash course” for different bands, artists, or ensembles that I believe discern some important qualities of my persona. Considering that this is the “Thoughts on Jazz…” blog, I figured highlighting my favorite modern jazz ensemble would be an apt pilot for this new Interwebs endeavour of mine.

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society
Genre: Jazz, Minimalism, Post-Rock (Self-Described as a “Steampunk Big Band”)
Formed in: 2005
Location: New York City
Record: New Amsterdam (Indie)
Essential Listening: Transit, Zeno, Phobos

Understanding DJASS is no small undertaking in itself. As this interview and this Youtube video will tell you, Argue envisions an alternate musical history, where the big band never phased out of style and instead backed up the likes of Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, ect. (The Who, anyone?). Working his way from the 1930s through all the permutations of rock, pop, hip hop, classical, and (of course) jazz, Argue then asks himself: what would a modern big band sound like in that setting? My guess is it would sound a lot like DJASS.

Although Argue claims that his ensemble “looks backwards as well as forwards”, it would be counterintuitive to call DJASS’s sound anywhere near “nostalgic” or even “aware of previous trends”. Unlike most jazz musicians, who repeatedly cover the same “standard” tunes to the point of madness (although this isn’t always bad), Argue’s compositions are lush, multi-textural, and endlessly complex. He seems to be telling stories from multiple perspectives within the same song, and this literary bent can be heard throughout his tunes (Habeas Corpus, the 5th song on this blog entry, is literally a story of a Bush detainee named Maher Arar).

Argue also does something that any independent artist should do: he archives the band’s live gigs on his blog for free download and distribution. Although he has a record out on New Am called Infernal Machines (the title being a Sousa quote, reactionary to phonographs), there are many other compositions that are available solely on his blog and which should be imbibed post-haste. Suggested tracks: Ferromagnetic, Ritual, The Perils of Empire, Induction Effect. Argue does another thing that (at least for jazz nerds such as myself) qualifies him as a really cool guy: he voluntarily posts scores to some of his tunes for anyone to download. Argue’s musicianship and wit truly come out once one see’s his scoring.

So, the question begs to be asked: what exactly makes DJASS so great? The narrative element that I mentioned before cannot be ignored (for further evidence, see Redeye), and the fact that my modern, semi-freaky trumpet idol Ingrid Jensen plays lead only helps matters. But there is a certain cult-like atmosphere surrounding this whole band that bodes very well for the future of jazz as an art form. Argue is reinvigorating a genre that has been stuck in uninteresting experimentalism and abhorrid nostalgia for faaaaaar to long (why do people still play this song? Seriously?). Argue’s compositions are complex, chordally active (if anyone listened to me and downloaded the scores, they will understand that point just fine), emotive, inventive, and beautiful all at once. They’re as much minimalism and post-rock as they are jazz, but this genre-jumping serves Argue well due to the simple fact that the man knows what he’s doing. Unlike some jazz-rock combinations, Argue’s synthesis feels fully natural and, oddly, necessary; he wouldn’t be able to tell the narratives he does without this genre-busting sound.

Expect many more “Why This Band is Awesome” post, jumping around to such diverse ensembles as LFTR PLLR, The Decemberists, Do Make Say Think… You get the point. Oh, and for those who are claiming “Hipster!!!!” (and I can hear you), may I direct you here.

Atheism: A Modest Proposal

It was only inevitable that I would eventually do a blog post on religion (there is a direct relation between “amount of time spent arguing about a subject” and “amount of blog posts on said subject”). Those familiar with my particular religious connotations will know that I am quite atheist (a summary in 3:14), but I have been re-examining my beliefs lately with a discerning eye (utilizing a few good readings and other source materials). Having finally perfected my ideology (ok, perfected may be too strong of a word), I figured I should share it with the interwebs.

Time for the controversial thesis statement: I have scientifically proven that no God exists.

…Ok, allow me to modify a bit. I have, using science as a guide, proven (in my mind) that no God who humans would be able to understand (or should even care about) exists. Please don’t stop reading here, Jenni Chung. I do have pieces of evidence to back up my position.

There was one particular field that I found myself drawing from immensely as I made my arguments: evolutionary neuroscience, utilizing both “evolution” and “neuroscience” in equal proportion. The recent advances in religious neurosciences were especially intriguing to me; it seems we are getting closer and closer to pinpointing the exact parts of the brain that control religious experience (the God Part of the Brain, if you will). As a result, we are that much closer to rendering religious experience in the exact same boat as social, perceptual, or cognitive brain functions; religious brain function seems to be just that: a function. Any arguments that I have heard as to the spirituality of this portion of the brain, or to its “special-ness”, have been horrendously unimpressive and reactionary at best (for instance). Seeing how religious individuals reconcile these new findings with their beliefs will be quite interesting (although, if history is any indication, they may just ignore logic all together).

As to save space, I shall move onto my second proposal, having to do with evolution. First off: for those who still deny evolution, I must say the evidence is so overwhelming for its existence that intellectually-curious Christians are instead trying to reconcile their beliefs with the theory; denying evolution at this point in history is a flat-out rejection of logic (although many reactionaries have blatantly rejected logic in the past). Following along this line of thinking, I realized that concepts such as a god who is anthropomorphic, who offers his followers an afterlife, or who tries to interfere with the daily lives of people cannot exist as long as evolution does. Think of it this way: if evolution is true (it is), then man evolved from single-celled organisms exclusively through natural processes, with no help of any supernatural power. As a corollary, it would have been just as likely that human beings would not have evolved from this situation; as such, how would it make any sense for an intelligent being to thus be of human descent? It would be just as likely that the “god” in question would have been a trout, pathologic bacterium, or possibly even this.

Let’s follow this evolution theory all the way to its conclusion. There is no reason to assume that a hypothetical god would be a human; but there still could be a “god”, right, even in some metaphysical abstraction? To the extent that humans care (or could even know, see agnosticism), the answer is frankly: no. The brilliant thing about evolution is that it allows nature to work all the way up to the (admittedly theoretical) Big Bang without needing any sort of creator whatsoever. This does not rule out, of course, the fact that some sentient “being” could have indeed caused the Big Bang; on that point, I will concede to the agnostics. The best part is, however: it doesn’t matter. If we view the Big Bang as the only instance of divine intervention, and assume that natural laws and evolution carried the torch from that point on, then there is no reason to assume that any “divine” being who may exist would even resemble something from this solar system. If the entire universe is at the mercy of natural laws (and please do not bring up the whole “natural laws are God” argument; that theory is based on more abstraction and perversion than any one human being is capable of digesting), then it is acceptable (and, arguably, correct) to view all life as a mere combination of chemicals; a cosmic mistake, a joke, if you will. If one were to believe in a God that merely caused the Big Bang, and perhaps set down the laws of nature, then said “god” would be so abstract to the human, nay, to the Earthling, that knowledge of it would never truly be knowable. At this point, I just took the easier path: said “god” does not exist (or, if it does, we have no way of knowing), and therefore there is scientifically no God.

Ahhh, I can hear the cries already. “That is not a scientific proof; there was no use of the scientific method anywhere!”; “Using science as a philosophy undermines both subjects!”; “A world without religion would soon fall back into anarchy and immorality!”. My replies to those charges is simply this: once a belief system can rationally defend itself against the evidence I have just compiled, I will then start to address philosophical technicalities.

Plus, the ramifications of my ideology are actually quite enjoyable. First off, the most reassuring one: there is no afterlife! The evidence: if life is just an evolutionary process (which, once again, it rationally is), then the concept of an afterlife becomes meaningless; either one attributes eternal life to paramecium or a virus, or one finally comes to the realization that there is no life beyond this one. But… but that’s depressing, you cry; that won’t help console me when a loved one dies. Flatly: no, it won’t. But I would much rather live in a quasi-“evil” and determinant world than in a world with eternal life. Just think about it: eternal life is probably the scariest proposition that man has ever devised. If I were to live forever, the motivation to do work (in this world or the next) would be completely gone; procrastination gains a whole new meaning if one has eternity before something must get done. Additionally, life is only beautiful because it is short, because it is fragile, because it cannot continue forever. This world, in all its randomness, is all we have; how is that not the most beautiful thing in existence?

Additionally, all of this speaks volumes to the advancement of human understanding and knowledge. Let me just make a stepback statement here: we are learning how the fucking brain manifests itself. Science is finally answering questions that philosophers have only been able to ponder for eons: the foundation of knowledge, the basis of sociability, the neurology of emotion. We are entering a new age of knowledge, because we’re finally learning where knowledge comes from. As a result, my atheism is not at all a pessemistic worldview; in fact, I tend to think that it offers a great deal more optimism than the leading world religions, in which more than half of the world’s population is subject to eternal damnation.

Don’t get me wrong; this argument is by no means all-inclusive. Even as I finish this post, I can think of at least three or four good arguments that I did not make (atheistic morality, for instance). Additionally, I realize that some of this narrative may seem rambling or even incoherent to a culture that has somehow avoided the “science vs. religion” debate for two centuries now; as such, I encourage comments, critiques, rants, or any other jargon that you wish to use whilst you defile me in the comment section below. Debate is, after all, the only way knowledge is ever truly obtained.

(For those who were disappointed as to my lack of sarcasm in this post, may I refer you here)

TL;DR: Atheism is scientifically defensable, while belief overwhelmingly is not. I provide links, but I doubt anybody will click them (as per your request, Mark).

An Emotional Decision

Things change. As much as the further right half of the US legislature would like to deny this fact (much in the same way that they denied Obama any sort of congratulations during his State of the Union address), it is indeed just that: a fact. One of the world’s most renound satirists of the conservative, Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, actually just rearranged the set of his television series (by doing so, making it more Amuricahn), a definitive change for any pundit. Thus, if Colbert can do it, then so can I. Now, I wish to quell as many rumors about my change as I can, especially that one regarding myself and a sex change. I do not have the money, connections, or the know-how to accomplish such a feat. No, my change is even more drastic, shocking, and nerve-rattling:

I have decided to start feeling emotions.

Now, I understand what your first logical response would be: Brett, your cynical, wry-drenched sarcasm and biting wit are the only reason that I read this blog. By destroying these, aren’t you destroying your blog readership as well? There are two flaws in that argument, however. The first, and rather more blatent, flaw is that my blog does not have a readership to begin with, so there is nothing worth saving in that respect. In terms of the razor-sharp wit that some think will be affected by a decision such as this, be advised that I do not plan to try and change my character. Such a change would uproot everything I have built myself apon and probably lead to a steady depression before any sort of lasting change took place. I merely hope to make sarcastic remarks while feeling emotion at the same time and avoiding a crushing “emo phase”. I hope that’s possible.

For those cynics out there who wish for me to provide reasoning for my decision, I shall do so below:

1. It has come to my attention that people who do not feel emotion are clinically diagnosable as psychopathic. For all of the jokes that I make about being crazy, I have never truly wanted to have any sort of diagnositcally-relevant disease of my brain, especially psychopathy, which can directly lead to an inability to attract women. In fact… I wish to now blame my inability to strongly attract girls to “temporary psychopathy”, and I hope that in the future women will not avoid me just because they think I am a lunatic.

2. Through trial and error, I have learned that it’s best if one does not mess with Darwin. Through personal experience, I would tend to instruct that one not mess with John Lieberman, head of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience laboratory at UCLA, either. Lieberman has recently published a paper in the American Psychologist journal discussing the coping mechanisms in the frontal cortex of the brain for dealing with emotional stress. Of the 4 different mechanisms employed by the neurons, the least effective at dealing with disstress was a basal ganglia that tried to “forget” an emotion even happened. According to his research, this response led to prolonged bouts of physical and emotional stress, along with spells of depression, in the test subjects. In order to avoid these harsh side-effects, I shall attempt to master the most beneficial coping mechanism: moderation.

3. Returning to an idea hinted at earlier, I have concluded that my inability to attract members of the opposite sex stems solely from the fact that I am unable to connect with them emotionally. I have deduced that there is no concievable way form women not to love a trumpet-playing, psychology-obsessed loner with a fetish for weird music and political debates. Rather, it is merely the fact that I cannot sit through the entirety of The Notebook without analyzing the effect that corporate interests had on the movie that is putting this distance between me and attractive females. Thus, I plan on watching movies such as The Notebook and… There enlies the problem. I cannot think of another chick flick besides The Notebook. Oh well. I suppose I shall just search “chick flick” on Netflix and watch the first 5 results or so. That should give me more than enough material to last through any first date. Perhaps I shall consruct some poetry in iambic tetrameter as well, just to be sure…

4. This is perhaps a long shot, but I want to eventually do a PhD dissertation either regarding the evolutionary process of religious experience in the brain or the likewise evolutionay process of cognition. If the latter case comes to fruition, I figure it would be easier for one to conduct research on the state of consciousness if one actually has a conscious. Thus, for the rational good of emperical science, I must experience the irrationality of emotion.

There you have it. Only time will tell if dabbling in emotions was a commendable or deplorable decision on my part. I, however, like to imagine myself as somewhat of an adventurer (among other things). My quest? To travel through the deep Amazon rainforest of anonimity in my head in searh of the lost Mayan Treasure of Emotion. Perhaps I shall acquire a Tilly hat and a whip and will instruct my boatmates to keep the Indiana Jones theme song on loop as we travel down the river. Anything is possible. So, if you see me at school tommorow, and I’m humming “bum pa dum bum, pum pa bum”, just tell yourself: “Oh yeah, he’s feeling emotions.”

My Case for Block

Learning is all about connections. When Glenn Beck pleads with the viewers of his TV program in a methodology similar to Dora the Explorer, I learn that pundits have the intelligence level of preschoolers. When James Burke somehow is able to logically comment on the Industrial Revolution, the Reformation, sexual tendencies of the tribes of Malaysia, and the emergence of the Socialist party all in the same monologue, I learn that James Burke is awesome (he has an entire PBS series coincidentaly called “Connections”). And when Jefferson High School decides to rid itself of its Language Arts/ History Block, its lone commendable academic achievement, I learn that there really is no God.

Block is the only class I have ever taken that actually focuses on connections. One could take AP Physics, Chemistry, and Biology (which I shall accomplish by the end of high school) and, without any further research, have no idea how the three sciences relate. Block takes LA and History, 2 classes that are exceptionally prone to this isolationalist manta, and interlaces them in a logical and complex way. Never before had I considered how societal and political pressures influence literature, or transversely how a well-learned and ticked-off intellectual can change the course of history (i.e. the October Revolution). In a particularly brilliant day of Sophmore Block, Petersen and Neilly were able to deliver two icy-witted and hilarious rants about domestication and patriarchy, respectively, and virtuoistically intertwined the two otherwise-unrelated topics into the most informative and humorous day of school I have ever experienced.

Block is also the first class a student takes that encourages them to think, a facet of my education that had been very lacking up to that point. Admittedly, the homework load during sophmore Block was rather unimpressive, as usually a quick improvisation on the lyrics of Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” would suffice for the majority of Petersen’s worksheets (woah, Black Betty, spama lama ramjam). One could not write an essay about the societal sacrifices made by the Oracle in “Things Fall Apart” or one comparing disassociation and nihilism without a certain level of logically retained information, however. AP junior Block more than scales the homework gap (Sundays have fondly been renamed “Chapter Notes Day” by Block students) while continuing the concept of analytical thinking. Whether Emersen and Thoreau intended to insipre or annoy their audience with their Teanscendentalist doctrine is arguable, but one cannot argue that such a study reveals facets of one’s character never before examined.

All of this academic merit is remarkable in it’s own right, but if this were the only offering that the Block classes had to present, there would not be such adament resistence to its termination. What the school district fails to realize is that Block exists as a sort of fraternity within the confines of Jefferson High. Elitist or not, Block students instantly have a multitude of common experiences which creates a sort of loosely coersive group that, although rather absent on Saturdays, puts a smile on the collective face its members on Mondays. Any Facebook status concerning Block is guaranteed at least 3 “likes” and no less than 5 comments (what an interesting time in which we live, where Facebook and YouTube are the primary judges of the popularity of any particular item). Having extensive relations with upperclassmen, I would contend that the Block experience is remembered in nostalgia as an overwhelmingly positive experience, probably due mostly to this, as Stephen Crane states in the Norton, “subtle brotherhood”.

Perhaps this is merely a coincidence, but it also seems that the greatest teachers that Jefferson has just happen to teach Block classes. No explanation is needed for the popularity of Petersen: his ice-cold, emotionally-detached, and blatently logical character is impossible to dislike, especially of late, when that character has been clashing with the emotions of his new fatherhood. Knutson also needs very little introduction, as her “Puritan”, motherly persona combined with her laybacked, almost Transcendental perspective on time hits at the perfect interval in the personal development of the school’s smartest juniors. Neilly and Rolwes have a degree less of admiration from the student population, but I personally find just as much to enjoy in those two history buffs as I do in the eccentric LA teachers. They prove that one can be rather normal, merely having a passion for something, and still achieve a high level of intellect. Now, I realize that the elimination of Block will not eliminate these teachers as well, but there is something to be said for having 4 brilliant teachers in a row when considering the development of our top students (actually, the elimination of Block might literally eliminate Petersen, knowing his persona).

Having exposed all of the benefits of Block, I have yet to find one solid reason for cancelling the class. This lack of decent logic makes the elimination of the classes that much harder to swallow. All of the rumored reasons as to its demise make little to no sense, something that Block has taught me to avoid at all costs. If the cancellation is due to complaints about homework, then the district is failing to realize that there is a major difference between the perceived amount of homework we receive and the actual amount. We complain with frequency about Chapter Notes, but that is the only homework we ever receive from Rolwes. The fact that “Black Betty got a child, squama riga gam” counts as an answer on Petersen’s worksheets should also diminish this point. If the discontent has to do with the “implausibility of the class” (actual quote), then the school district obviously doesn’t understand the idea of connections that I introduced earlier in this post. But, if the rumors are true, and Jefferson is destroying Block just because none of the other schools have the classes, then I don’t think I’ve ever been this sad. Our school, which can have P.R. nightmares from time to time (oh, Jefferson has a cop now. Huge news story!), finally created something educationally rigerous, stimulating, and flat out awesome, but we dismantled it because other schools weren’t smart enough to catch on?

It is not a good day to be a J-Hawk.


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