December 06, 2005

Mindfulness Part 3: Situational Analysis and Politics

I think that if I were asked to sum up the idea of mindfulness in a single phrase it would be situational analysis. To reiterate somewhat, entrapment occurs when pre-set categories, notions, mindsets, predjudices (call it what you will) override an individual's point-of-view. There are so many valid and important aspects of daily activities and life in general to which the concept of situational analysis applies.

One recent topic of discussion was a broad wash regarding politics - perfect! Last fall there was a full-size billboard adjacent to a somewhat rundown section of Wealthy Street. It loudly proclaimed in verse: "DON'T TAKE NO STATIC, VOTE STRAIGHT DEMOCRATIC!" As it was on my daily bus route, I was presented with many opportunities to view and ponder this sign. There are probably three or four potential "issues" about this sign, the least of which is not the phrasology of the message, but for the sake of simplicity (and my own peace of mind) I'll try and stick with just the straight ballot aspect.

The situation at hand is the decision for which (if any) of multiple candidates in multiple races to vote for. To select a straight ballot option with only consideration for the 50/50 (Dems/GOP) is to disregard virtually all functional analysis. In fact, I personally regard the very notion of blindly rattling off R, R, R, R...down the list of options to be quite distasteful. I think that simply knowing which party a candidate is aligned with is not nearly enough information on which to base the casting a vote. Yet, I would imagine (this is pure conjecture) that 75-90% of the voting that takes occurs is based primarily on "us and them" and not much more. A better consideration for how to vote may be to analyze qualities and issues offered by political candidates and base voting on a cognitive result, not a pre-set category. For that matter, I think it's better to not vote at all than to vote arbitrarily.

Speaking of political categories, it bugs me when people ask if someone is a Republican or a Democrat. We've managed to polarize and reduce American politics to red and blue - each individual is immensely pressured by the culture to compartmentalize themselves as a "member" of one party or another. Is it so wholly unimaginable that someone may be fiscally liberal and socially conservative? Maybe someone strongly supports environmenal preservation and simultaneously opposes to legalized abortion? Each issue (situation) requires contextual analysis. Sure, one may analyze and decide to subscribe to the vast majority of a particular party's stances on issues, but to insist on labeling "our side" is PROBLEMATIC.

"When ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise." - Thomas Gray

November 01, 2005

The Master's Lament

Q. "Why must I lose to this idiot!?"

Chess Master Aaron Nimzowitzch
after having leapt onto a table during
a tournament.

A. Because you can.

October 31, 2005

Mindfulness Part 2: Education for Outcome

"From kindergarten on, the focus of schooling is usually on future goals, rather than on the process by which they are achieved. The single minded pursuit of one outcome or another (i.e. - getting into Harvard) makes it difficult to have a mindful attitude about life (Langer 33)."

This idea is closely related to the concept behind my frustrations from an earlier post, The Art of the Resume. Langer has identified what I believe to be a major flaw in our current culture's approach to education, and other aspects of our culture as well.

Yoda: "Always on the future his mind is, never on the here and now."

As Langer points out, from very early on the main end of schooling was to advance to something else - the next grade, good college, good job, etc. Case in point: high school "SAT" courses which focus solely on improving student's test-taking skills. What a sickening concept, teaching kids how to amplify their results based on what are essentially tips and tricks. Back in the good ol' days they used to have classes which improved SAT scores, too. They were called math and english and history.

The main point is this; such a heavy focus on the ends causes a disregard for the means. In this case, the means is education - the gaining of knowledge about the world, about one's self, and about God. "Pish-posh," says our culture, education is merely a conveyance. In other cultures the journey is as or more important than the destination. I believe, as I imagine Langer does as well, that our culture has fallen out of sync with a healthy balance between the two. I feel that a better understanding and approach to engaging students in the process of education would, ironically, be a dramatic benefit to the same goal that the current tradition holds.

There are other negative aspects to outcome based education as well. When children take up a new activity with an outcome-based orientation there exists a "predominate anxious preoccupation with failure." The emphasis is on "Can I or can't I?" as opposed to "How do I?" A result of this mindset is an inordinately mindless fear of failure. I can't tell you how many times I've witnessed the utter trauma that simple math test has caused in so many of my peers' lives. I mean I have seen individuals near the point of mental breakdown over an insufficient grade on one test (or more commonly over the fear of a pending grade being insufficient). One such example occured very recently following a Cultural Anthropology midterm. About a week after the test before a Friday class I over heard a girl say that if she didn't get her test results back that day it would ruin her whole weekend. I sincerely hoped for her sake that she was being facetious, but I suspect that there was some truth in her comment. Can you see how unhealthy such a preeminant focus on failure is? This girl almost certainly could not care less whether she actually learned about other cultures, all she was concerned with was the grade. In my own academic career there have been many times where my sole motivation for performing a task was the sheer terror of getting a bad grade.

I was reminded by this section of the text of an interview I read. The actor Owen Wilson was being interviewed by a magazine and one question/answer stood out to me even before I read the Langer text:

MAGAZINE: Have you gotten better at dealing with criticism?
WILSON: Now if a movie goes south it might not capsize me like it used to. But I still have a terrible fear of failure. My father gave me a [Samuel] Beckett quote, "Try again. Fail again. Fail better." I find that really liberating.

I believe that outcome based education is a disfunctional tradition. A healthier system would include more emphasis and value placed on learning and education as more than just a vehicle. The key words of Beckett's quote are fail better. There are no failures, only ineffective solutions. The only real failures occur when one becomes so hung up on a "failure" that they fail to use the experience as an opportunity for betterment. So the "Culture of Failure" is not a failure, but simply an ineffective solution for achieving said outcomes. The key is thoughtful consideration of what is going on and how to deal with it.

October 21, 2005

Poker Sucks

Ok, poker is a big joke these days but I just had to post this pic from the FullTilt homepage. I don't know exactly what it was a promo for, but I found the image to be hilarious. There's something about seeing Phil Ivey's shadowy face in a reference to where Sean Connery would normally appear that I find totally ridiculous. Phil Ivey is such a champ.

The handles of the pros on this site appear in red, which I believe is the root of the pun "The Hunt for RED in October" as opposed to the Tom Clancy movie The Hunt for Red October.

October 20, 2005

Poetry Post

Author's Note: Here's another post that I made on the discussion board for my literature class. Our study has shifted from literary fiction (primarily short stories) to poetry. As one may imagine, the study of poetry has created somewhat of a discontented stir amongst the students. Now, when there's discontent going on I'm usually inclined to be in on it. The following is a response to a post by my fellow student Aaron V. in which he discussed his frustrations with poetry in general:

I appreciate that Aaron has articulated his idea about poetry being an esoteric club, one which requires specific training in order to enter. It is apparent to me that once one is trained to understand poetry they often feel compelled to enforce upon themselves an appreciation for it. This is most pointedly true for me in my own experience. For instance, today I was flipping through the most recent issue of the Dialogue publication at Calvin. Indeed, I was actually reading the poems and feeling their effect (well, some of them at least). Upon realizing that I was getting into it, I started to feel guilty about a previous interaction with the Dialogue. That previous experience was as follows:

One evening when I was a freshman living in RVD I was hanging out with some friends of mine at the smoke pit*. We discovered a copy of the Dialogue that someone had left behind and it spurred a conversation about the usefulness of such a publication. Now I of all people should have at least been able to play devil's advocate and stick up for a publication of the arts (as I have frequented the Spoelhof basement for many classes here at Calvin). Instead, I found that I much preferred to bash it as a bunch of lofty b.s. produced by people who were either trying to fool the reader into thinking they were deep, or had already fooled themselves. Well, the combination of the presence of lighters and a large, sand-filled ash basin was too much to resist and the pages of the Dialogue were soon being consumed by flames of protest.

Or we were just being jackasses via an insensitive display of, as Aaron would put it, ignorant frustration. As I said, the memory of that incident caused me to feel some guilt today, but that feeling of guilt was soon replaced by another thought...a question. Have I fooled myself? The various ways I have interacted with the Dialogue represent two distinct mindsets (a.k.a. perspective or point-of-view). My current perspective is more open-minded to poetry, but does that prevent my previous mindset from being equally valid? Now instead of feeling guilty I was a bit unsure, scared that I might be one of those people who is compelled to be "into" something just because they know how to; like Aaron said, a part of something bigger than themselves. It is certainly comforting to be able to reassure one's cognitive capacities by exercising skill in reading/understanding poetry. I fear that the effect or meaning - possibly subconsciously self-enforced - that some of the poems have may be an outlet of that reassurance.

This, I believe, points to the fact that our respective realities are a construct of whatever mindset we happen to be in at that point in time. Here's a somewhat hypothetical generalization: I once found poetry to be frustrating and useless, now I find it to be interesting and meaningful. Now, when I am confronted with someone who finds poetry to be frustrating and useless I think that they are wrong. But they are me. Their ideas are valid, and I must respect that (in the same way that I didn't respect the ideas of the other side when I participated in the Dialogue burning). My point is this (and I would imagine that Aaron may agree); I call into question the tradition of enforcing poetry on students as being a good thing. In my experience, many poems are primarily successful only in polarizing the reading audience. Some people don't get it and immediately tune it out, while others revel in their ability to get it and perpetuate what makes them feel better than the people who don't by writing more poetry.

Granted, this is an extremely cynical conceptualization about poetry in education, and you probably shouldn't buy into what I'm saying. Honestly, however, it is the way (or at least a way) that I am inclined to think. Maybe a year from now my mindset will have changed again and I can have an argument with my former self and prove that jerk wrong once and for all.

*Ok, I better qualify this a little bit for fear of misinterpretation. Many of my friends at Calvin are smokers, or at least smoke occasionally. In dealing with that, I have found that some of the most genuine social interaction in all of my experiences at Calvin has occurred while hanging out at the smoke pits. Unfortunately a resultant of this was the breaking of a promise that I once made as a very young kid to my parents (I remember speaking the actual words), "I will never smoke even a single cigarette." Ah, I'm beginning to understand the relevance of the cliché "never say never." Yes, I have sampled a cigarette or two, but I am under no delusions about the negative health implications of smoking, not to mention its potential for addiction, so I've tried to keep it under the auspices of responsible freedom. So please, please, please don't call me in a giant frenzy about how evil smoking is because I already know that you are right.

October 18, 2005

A Series on Mindfulness: Part 1

Upon the recommendation of Charles Young (Chair of Achitecture, Calvin College) I am reading a book by Ellen Langer titled Mindfulness. I sense that the text represents Langer's primary work - her theories about a concept which she has dubbed "mindfulness". In the following series of posts I plan on summarizing what I have read and focusing specifically on ideas which I found to be particularly relevant.

The first few chapters of Mindfulness primarily discuss the distinction between mindfulness and mindlessness. Thus far Langer has only hinted at the definition of mindfulness; rather she has concentrated mostly on its opposite, mindlessness.

Mindlessness is propogated by three categories or factors:

1. Entrapment by category
2. Automatic behavior
3. Acting from a single perspective

While the creation of new perceptual categories is a mindfull process, mindlessness takes over when we rely too heavily on pre-set paramaters which often do not do justice to the dynamic nature of many aspects of life. I suppose an example of such categorization could be the typical traits assigned to genders. In poker, it would be mindless to assume that Annie Duke is going to play passively just because she is female. Mindfulness, on the other hand, would include observation and situational analysis within a specific context. In that sense, the concept of mindfulness is very applicaple to poker strategy in general. All of the "rules" for correct play are flexible and depend heavily on the situation. So to rely too heavily on inadequate categories is an act of mindlessness.

Automatic behavior is another device, similar to categorization, which is naturally helpful for human cognitive and active processes. Our brains are capable of "auto-pilot" for many activities such as typing which would be impossible to complete with such efficiency without it. Again, this is useful and necessary for many tasks - the trouble arises when that function invades other areas which are more important. When regular practices become so routine that we no longer even know what we are doing, that is mindless. Another way of generalizing this category would be inadvertant attention to structure as opposed to conscious attention to content.

The following is a good example of automatic behavior from my own experience:

When I was learning how to drive we only had two cars and they were both manual transmission. My parents were confident that I could handle learning the rules of the road and stick-shift at the same time. I specifically remember how frustrated I was with my mom when she was trying to explain the concepts of working the clutch. She was proficient at it herself, but when it came to explaining what to do she effectively had no idea. She knew she could do it, but she didn't know how.

Thirdly, acting from a single perspective. A good analogy is following a recipe as if it were necessarily the only possible way of preparing that dish. According to that m.o., if a little extra salt gets added the recipe is ruined and must me thrown away. As with both of the previous catergories, the crux of the issue has to do with disregarding the dynamic quality of many situations.

Next time: Education for Outcome

October 11, 2005

It Begins...

Author's note: I originally intended for this to be a very short post which would insinuate that the poker bug had bitten again. However, once I started typing I found that there were more things that had to be said (funny how that works). Anyway, don't be surprised if I re-open the annals of WEALTHY STREET POKER sometime soon for updates on my micro-limit adventure.

Less than a week ago I randomly discovered a residual $0.75 (that's seventy five cents) on my Paradise Poker account. The reason for this is that Paradise only allows cash-outs in full dollar increments. The last time I cashed out was over three months ago, similarly, the last time I played poker online was also that long ago. In the time since I haven't even touched my account, hence the discovery of the $0.75.

I've been playing it in my downtime at Calvin at $.02/.04 Seven Card Stud and Limit Hold'em tables. Not too long ago the lowest stakes that Paradise offered was $.50/$1, obviously there would be no way of playing $0.75 at those limits, but it's plenty to sit down with when the small blind is only a penny. Actually, I should clarify...I started at the 2c/4c limits and gradually progressed to slightly higher limits such as .05/.10 and .10/.20 as the roll increased slightly yet progressively. It's amazing that after all I've been through in poker a thirty-five cent pot at micro-micro limits can still give me a little charge. On that note, it's never really been about the money. I thought it was at some points, but it wasn't.

Regardless, that $0.75 is now over forty dollars ($43.33 to be exact). If the number one rule for professional gamblers is to play a game that can be beaten, I'd say that this exemplifies that rule. It may be silly for such little money, but hundreds and hundreds of hands later I was able to multiply a seemingly infinitesmally small bankroll into almost 6000% as much as its original state. That's a pretty decent profit margin, wouldn't you say? And the fact of the matter was that it was actually fairly easy. I just sat there patiently waiting for good spots and practicing a little finesse every once in a while. In fact, it was almost a given that I was going to keep increasing the stack due to the fact that the lowest limit games are super easy to beat. That model by which dollars are earned at poker is radically different from "gambling" such as blackjack. In order for anyone to ever even think about turning $0.75 into $43.33 at blackjack they would have to risk huge chunks of the bankroll constantly and in turn would need to be consistently lucky for that period of betting. For long periods of time it is impossible to continue to multiply a bankroll by playing roulette. You either go broke quickly or slowly, but you do go broke.

Now it's time to take a look at what is probably the second rule for pro "gamblers." That would be not losing all your winnings once you get 'em. This is the rule I don't much care for. Historically I have much preferred to win some money at beatable limits and blow it all by risking too much at higher stakes. After all, card smarts won't keep any one from going broke - money management is as important if not more. That being said, I'm sure that I'll blow that $40 in the next few days. What was I gonna do with that money anyway, buy stuff?

P.S. - Any reference made to the general concept of professional gambling above does not in any way imply that I wish to pursue that as my sole career. I am simply using that as an example from which to draw conclusions about gambling.

P.P.S. - I had it up to over $95 at one point, the operative word being had. Enough said.

October 10, 2005

Pub Post

One new bar on which to report: Birch Lodge located on Michigan Street.

As per our usual arrangement, Tyson and I trekked over towards Logan's Alley for the live music at 9pm on Sunday. Logan's is pretty small (read: very small) and we got there a little after 9, so the place was crowded. Plus, the band wasn't knocking any socks off for the few minutes that we were inside. So we opted to bail and check out Birch Lodge, which we had passed on the way down. Again, this was another hole-in-the-wall type of joint that seem to be common on Michigan Street. The atmosphere was decent however, and they were pushing the "lodge" feel with warmer pine wood and skiing/sporting paraphenalia on the walls. There was even a row of über-tacky cut birch logs nailed above the bar.

Note the "Stella Glass" necessary for true
enjoyment of this Belgian Brew.

The draught selection was slim, six or eight taps ranging from the usual domestic lights to some more gnarly local stuff like New Holland's "Mad Hatter" India Pale Ale. We selected a middle ground with a pitcher of Stella Artois which was reasonably priced at less than $11. We've been ordering quite a bit of Stella recently; it's light and easy to drink yet has a very gratifying "beer" body and taste unlike domestic crap. Incidentally, I've had Mad Hatter before in bottles and it was some funky stuff. Apparently American micro-breweries like to play this little game called "Let's see how much hops we can put in the IPA!" Don't get me wrong, I'm all about hops but I feel that a successful incorporation of hoppiness should be balanced and drinkable as oposed to pure pungency.

Speaking of bottled beer, after having been down to Founders a couple of times and experiencing how amazing their selection is fresh from the tap I have a newfound appreciation for the local brewery. I suppose the same could go for stuff like Mad Hatter and I should keep an open mind about ordering draughts of micro-brew that I didn't care for in bottled form. Regardless, I will always be puzzled by people who go into bars and ordered bottled beer. When I'm paying four or five times the retail price for a portion of beer I at least like the illusion of getting something that you can't get in the store. To each his own, I suppose.

"You just gotta keep living, man. L-I-V-I-N, living!"

October 06, 2005

Show, Don't Tell

Ugh, this is becoming the literature blog. Scratch that, this concept is universal. It's the idea of showing as opposed to telling to express a concept or idea, and there are many applications including music, film, and the written word.

Music - In particular, a touchy subject: praise songs (think LOFT). Sentimental Hallmark style schlock that enforces a specific emotion as opposed to arousing genuine ones is bad. Next topic.

Film - Sentimental Hallmark style schlock...yeah, you get the picture. I think the main point is that there is a lot more value, utility, enjoyment, etc. to be derived from films that are not entirely self-explanatory. I believe that a deeper level of engagement, such as questions a film raises, adds immensely to the enjoyment - especially for replay value. This is relevent for all films, regardless of a each one's particular genre (sappy drama, slasher horror, blow-em-up action). For instance, I think that Mars Callahan's first movie Double Down is a good film. It's really low budget, and the writing/acting/cinematography is goofy at times, plus the ending is total fluff. Yet there is a consideration of issues other than simply making a quick straight-to-video escape flick. One of the most insightful inclusions was the following line, spoken by Michael's father:

"Have you ever spent money you worked your ass off to get? You always say 'Money won is twice as sweet as money earned,' well that's bull___."

Granted, none of the characters in the movie ever really learn this lesson (they win their big bet at the end and live out their days on Easy Street), but I feel that the inclusion of a little throwaway philosophy is a credit to the film. And my point is that even the most ridiculously non-literary works benefit from a degree of thoughtful complexity.

What was the other topic, again? Oh yeah, the written word. "Double Down is good because it's not just a totally dumb movie." Do you believe it? Show, don't tell.

October 04, 2005

All For Angkor?

The Angkor Wat temple complex in Siem Reip, Cambodia - one of the architectural wonders of the world.

Does anything about this image scream "We need more WordArt!"? Engineering Senior Design Project Team #13 (a.k.a. - "All for Angkor") thinks so. This group of "individuals" is responsible for orchestrating a collaborative effort with a student architecture design team from South Korea (thanks, Grandma) to design a structure for an agriculture building at the proposed Angor Global University. However, despite the alliterative name the group has chosen I feel that this project will be no different than the scores of relatively useless SDP's that came before them. I am available to this and other groups in the class to impart aesthetic design knowledge (ART) as well as architectural insight (ARCT) and so far all of my efforts to help have been roundly rejected (by a bunch of ENGR's).

I am growing increasingly exasperated with the unilateral disregard for my offering of contribution to the project. Let me expound a bit on that "WordArt" comment earlier...Yesterday the team was drafting a Power Point slide to submit which would visually and textually summarize the project goals, etc. I explicity expressed my desire to assist in this element of the project - it is graphic design after all. Pitifully, when push came to shove, I was relegated to sitting in the back of the group and watching as another project visual got ridiculously butchered, "Engineering Style." The typical result is either an extremely grey and bland "blah" of a presentation, or the opposite - as was this case - a grotesquely disharmonious amalgam of trashy word art and block-picture overlays set with an obscenely tacky color "scheme," or lack of one to be more precise.

Regardless, if the team doesn't want my help then they should stop wasting my time. If I were the owner of a firm I wouldn't let a single one of these people anywhere near the graphic-design aspects of producing project visual. After all, they're engineers! All this cookie-cutter crap is really starting to get to me. Aaach! I'm getting worked up and I can't type derrogatory thoughts as quickly as they are popping into my head. More on this later...

P.S. - Apologies to anyone in the team who may happen across this post. I'm just venting a little bit, you know.

September 30, 2005

Paul's Case and Easy Rider

Author's Note: The following is a post I made on a literature discussion board for my English 205 class. It discusses a corallory I perceive between a short story by Willa Cather titled "Paul's Case" and the classic film "Easy Rider." To read the full short story click here.

“It was a losing game in the end, it seemed, this revolt against the homilies by which the world is run.”

It appears as if the editors of our textbook, as well Professor Saupe, tend to associate literary fiction with stories that don't have an easily identifiable "moral," and I would tend to agree. I also think that in order to gain the most understanding from any piece of writing it is important to not jump to conclusions about the intended meaning.

This may be especially true for Paul's Case. Indeed, possibly the most objective statement in the whole story (the line quoted above) may be the most open to subjective interpretation. There are even dangerous would not be a huge stretch of the imagination to infer that Paul's Case advocates suicide as a way of escaping the inescapable. I would say that this probably was not the intention of the author, especially when considering Paul's moment of remorse for "what he had left undone" just before the impact of the train. So if it doesn't advocate suicide, what is it saying? Is that final conclusion of Paul's transmitting the message of: RESISTANCE IS FUTILE? Man, that would be a downer.

On a slightly different note, has anyone seen the 1969 classic Easy Rider? You may recognize the motif of the film from the recent Starsky & Hutch reference. At first glance this is just a throwaway hippie flick about two mangy bikers who smoke a lot of dope. The basic plot is as follows: Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper make a big score in an illegal drug deal and use the ill-gotten cash to fund a groovy cross country journey from Los Angeles to Mardi Gras. Oh, and they pick up Jack Nicholson along the way. However, there is an ongoing current of social commentary throughout the film, especially in the portion which features Jack.

Despite the content such social commentary, it would still be easy to identify the overall message of the film as an advocacy for the "Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll" worldview. All the resistance the pair meets along the way comes from people who are labeled "intolerant" of their free-wheeling lifestyle. However, there is a cryptic line in a scene near the end of the film in which Fonda and Hopper are sitting by the campfire. Hopper's character is optimistic because of all the money they had stashed in the tear-drop gas tank of Fonda's bike, but Fonda replies with a look of extreme remorse, "We blew it." I really think that this line is meant to show an epiphany on Fonda's part (not dissimilar to the one Paul has) that the path they had chosen was ultimately the wrong one. Shortly thereafter the two meet a similar end to many of the characters from the literary fiction we've read.

I believe that the meaning (if not the theme) of Paul's Case and Easy Rider are very similar in their respective conclusions. Both Paul and the guys from the film were living in a fantasy world fueled by funds that were stolen from society. In the end, neither could sustain their counter-cultural lifestyle and both met untimely demises as a result. I would hate to try and boil down the broad wave of meaning that this has to a reductionism such as "Resistance [to societal norms] is futile," especially because I think that there is a more uplifting way up presenting it. It is my contention that both the story and the film could lead to the conclusion that in order to be truly free and happy one must be productive and contribute to society as opposed to leeching off of it in order to fuel a hedonistic lifestyle. It almost pains me to say it, but this is ringing some major "Prelude" bells about the Calvinist ideas of vocation and stewardship. Perhaps there's a reason why Easy Rider is available on DVD in Hekman Library after all.

September 26, 2005

Pub Crawl Update

The hunt continues...been to several new watering holes since the last Pub-post. Here goes:

Founders Brewing Company
A true micro-brewery, the IPA was decent and the Oatmeal Stoudt under nitrogen was fabulous.

The Cambridge House
The only place in town for scotch. Their multi-tier system covered the gamut, and to put it in perspective, Glennfiddich and Laphroig were in the lowest tier. For $7.50 you can get three 1.5oz samples of the "low" tier scotches - lovely. Plus, the game room in the back was very nice.

Rocky's Bar & Grill
Don't blink. Tucked away on a backstreet in a heavily industrial area, Rocky's was quite the nice surprise. It's a true hole in the wall, but the atmosphere was excellent as were the pours on the Jameson (thanks to my man Cliff). Good/Cheap burgers, too - what more could you ask for?

Bull's Head Tavern
Live music with no cover on a Friday night? That's what I'm talking about (Bill Withers' "Use Me" was being covered when we stopped in). However, Bull's Head is smack in the middle of things on Ionia Street, so you've gotta deal with the crowd/noise. That being said, it was definitely a Five-o'clock set as opposed to the typical Ionia Street [Jerk]-o-rama (read: Taps).

Another Ionia Street bar, typical scene - very crowded/noisy, but cheap enough. At that point we weren't to worried about the fine details anyway. It does make one appreciate Rocky's all that much more.

The Cottage Bar
I've been to this place before, just never sat at the bar. More of a restaurant than a watering hole, Cottage is a great place, but I'm not in a hurry to "have a drink" there again.

Despite the fact that they have 30 beers on draft (hence the name) this place was pushing a very "Club" atmosphere. It was the first time I had to wait in a line -albeit very short- to get in the door, and the place was packed. Yeah, did I mention it's on Ionia Street. The Guinness was fine, not to mention 25c cheaper than Cottage, but I won't be running back to taps anytime soon either.

Overall Message: In the future, anyone trying to find me on a Friday night should not be looking on Ionia Street.

September 25, 2005

Supertramp Rocks at...LaGrave CRC?

I went to church again this week, and was very surprised to hear the somewhat elderly pastor make a reference to one of my all-time favorite bands - Supertramp. I know, the whole "all-time greatest" list thing comes from the movie High Fidelity in which John Cussack totally disses Supertramp, but they are still one of the greatest progressive/pop rock bands. Curiosly enough, I'm currently going through a phase where I'm gleaning a lot of deeper meaning from music, so it was perfectly suitable for there to be an application from a Supertramp song into this weekend's sermon (after all, as the Bible and Pink Floyd say, everything under the sun is in tune).

Not only was the band referenced, but he made mention of the specific song and even went so far as to read (not sing) the entire first verse and chorus:

The Logical Song
...Then they sent me away
To teach me how to be sensible,
Logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world
Where I could be so dependable,
Clinical, intellectual, cynical.

-There are times-
When all the world’s asleep,
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man.
-Won’t you please-
Please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
Please tell me who I am.

I'm not sure if the lyrics were super applicable to the actual message, but it's a good tune regardless. Plus, this is not a pop song. "You Really Got Me" by the Kinks is a pop song, but who listens to that crap anyway. If anyone ever raises any questions regarding Supertramp's "pop" status, I recomend referring them to "Fool's Overture" - the last song on Even In The Quitest Moments. I believe the running time is over ten minutes, and there's even some background sampling from a Winston Churchill speech (We shall fight on the seas and oceans. We shall defend our honor. We shall never surrender!).

"History recalls, how great the Fall can be, while everyone is sleeping, the boats put out to sea."

Didn't N*Sync do a cover of that song?

September 23, 2005

The Art of the Resume

I'm currently in the process of drafting a resume to hand in to the Career Development people at Calvin. They've sent a couple of speakers over to the Engineering Senior Design class to talk about the importance of interviewing skills and a good resume. It's kind of funny, after all those years of classes dealing with theoroms and abstract, seemingly inapplicable busy-work, this is really the only stuff that matters in terms of converting everything you've worked on into $$. Sadly, however, I feel that I am the only person in the entire class who has some philosophical perspective on what's really going on.

The last time Career Development gave a lecture the representative spoke about the value of good interviewing skills, resume, suit, etc. And he's absolutely correct, these "little" practical matters are extremely important, far more than capability to perform the job well. After all, if you can't connect with the person who decides who to hire, how will they know you can perform the job well? Anyway, the students seemed to be bubbling with excitement over the prospect of finally starting salary positions in real live engineering firms, and the Career Development people were going to help them essentially play the system to get those jobs. "Yeah, I'm gonna go buy a suit, beef up my resume, practice interviewing - I can't wait to get $40,000 a year!"

Despite the practical issues the dude from C.D. was talking about, something he said offended my sensibilities quite a bit. It was along the lines of this:

"There's no point in spending $100,000 on college if you don't do what it takes to get a job when you graduate. After all, you don't want to be living in your parents' basement ten years from now."

I looked around and everyone was smiling and nodding, amusing themselves about how sucky it would be to have to live with their parents. It does seem like a fairly common, innoculous statement, so why was I so offended? There are multiple reasons, the least of which is not that he reduced the entire college experience to a $100K "Get a Job" ticket, which can be purchased at a College or University near you! I absolutely HATE this way of thinking, it practically makes me sick to think about it. Regardless of what happens upon my own graduation, I will know that I have developed and grown in enormous ways, ways that would not have been possible if it weren't for my experience(s) at Calvin. I have learned about the world, philosophy and theology. I have learned about truths and theories, facts and abstractions. I have learned an immense amount about what it means to be human, and I've gained a lot of perspective on the things that occur on this earth. I have gained this knowledge both from the professors that have taught me in class and also (possibly more importantly) from the interpersonal relationships which have sprung up along the way. I am now incorporating it into my daily life, putting what I've learned into actual contemplative practice. How dare someone cheapen the value and worth of my experiences to a mere meal-ticket!

Then when I thought about it more I realized that there was another element to his statement which I found to be interesting, if not objectionable. It was the part about living with one's parents (I do understand that this comment was made in good nature, but it helps me draw a point). For the most part, according to my observation and personal testament, I have found that students at Calvin are usually free-rolling on their parents' dime. According to the model presented by the guy from C.D. this means that the parents purchase the kid a ticket into the work world so that he/she can start their independent life. Wow, where do I start with this one? I think for me the main point is this: if you're so anxious to get away from your parents while at the same time relieving them of approximately $100,000, why don't you just take the money directly from them and just leave? You'd gain four years of "freedom" (i.e. - not school) and could start your independent life without a trace of debt. I think that most people could parlay a $100K headstart and a little effort into a relatively successful life.

What's that? How will they get a job without a degree? Well, that's sort of the whole point isn't it. Businesses originally valued the experience and growth that people gained by going to college. As a result, a college degree gradually became a pre-requisite for many companies (simple enough). The problem is, as I am inclined to believe, that over time the cart slowly got moved in front of the horse. Now the institution of "college" is a machine, gorging on billions of private dollars each year, pumping out hundreds of thousands of so called graduates every Spring. College degrees, ergo, have become practically useless except for the fact that they are 100% necessary (know what I mean?) Everybody has to pay for their stamp of approval before they can move down the corporate assembly line. I find this sysytem to be backwards, not to mention foul, and it upsets me that I, like everyone else, will inevitably be forced to kneel before this corporate-political behemoth. It's like Microsoft - you can run but you can't hide - this system has a deathgrip monopoly on our society.

So what I've done here is twist the amicable words of someone who was trying to help me be successful into an enraged commentary about the state of American (Western) society as it relates to higher education and the work force. I hope it caused some readers to think, even if they were just thinking about how strange and unreasonable my objections are. Anyway, back to that resume...

"It's not what you know, it's who you know."
-Conventional Wisdom

September 21, 2005

And I'm Still (In a Whole Lot of Trouble)

It is entirely possible that Waiting for Columbus is the best live album ever. What am I saying, that's silly. Of course it's the best live album ever. I seriously contend that each and every track on this disc is better than the studio version of those same songs.

My favorites are:

Dixie Chicken
Fat Man in the Bathtub (a.k.a. - My Sweet Juanita)
All That You Dream

...but the best one is probably the "hymnic" interpretation of Willin'. There is some serious soul in this song, and I love the Smokey & The Bandit-style truck driver motif (granted, a much more serious version).

I've been -
Warped by the Rain,
Driven by the Snow,
Drunk and Dirty,
Don'tcha know.

In my literature class we've been discussing the distinction between commercial and literary fiction writing. Commercial fiction can be purchased in the grocery store and does not typically challenge the reader to contemplate or reflect beyond absorbing a formulaic plot. Literary writing is supposed to draw questions about larger meanings than just what is happening in the book. I know that in the past I haven't necessarily had loads of appreciation for literary fiction, but I'm learning how to unlock the meaning in a lot of it - something I may have thought of as BS in high school. In comparison, reading good literary fiction makes the more commercial stuff seem frivolous at best, downright wrong at worst. In turn, I'm starting to feel the same way about music.

Example: "Why Can't This Be Love?" by Van Halen (Van Haggar, actually). I liked this song the very first time I heard it. It's a catchy tune, no doubt about it. However, the more I listen to it the more I realize that it's pretty flat. The instumentals are compelling, but there is a decided lack of depth and range - squealing guitar chords with a constant back-beat overlaid with some sort of synth. For the whole song. The vocals, in turn, are of decent quality, but the songwriting is super cheesy - not to mention repetitive.

This is not to say that I don't still listen to Van Halen, I do. The difference is in the way I engage it, typically on a strictly entertainment basis. Conversely, my appreciation for more literary music such as Little Feat has grown immensely.

I've gotten out of the habit of ending with a quote, and that's no good. Perhaps the quotes add a nice little flavor of perspective at the end of each post, or maybe it's just good to sign off with a sentence or two that I didn't write.

Stood alone on a mountain top,
Starin’ out at the great divide
I could go east, I could go west,
It was all up to me to decide
Just then I saw a young hawk flyin’
And my soul began to rise
And pretty soon
My heart was singin’

-From "Roll Me Away" by Bob Seger

September 19, 2005

Dos Gringos Mediocre at Logan's Alley

The band at Logan's last night was weak, especially compared to NightCrawler last week. They were calling themselves "Dos Gringos," although it seemed more like three guys to me - guitar/vocals, bass, drums (bongo drums). While they were mellow enough and seemed to have some talent, it was far short of transendent. While we were there the only song I recognized was - admittedly a very nice selection - "The Weight" by The Band. It really doesn't matter who's playing it, I like hearing that song, but Gringos' version was pretty lame. Incidentally, I was thinking about rocking the jukebox prior to the band starting and I was going to play that exact song off of the Starsky & Hutch soundtrack. I decided to wait (eh, wait/weight) because it was already after 9:00 at that point and I didn't want to have my songs preempted when the band started.

If you have a few minutes click on this link.

Speaking of the Starsky & Hutch soundtrack, one might wonder why "The Weight" by The Band was in a recent parody-type film starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. The reason, of course, is the inclusion of a brilliant reference to a classic scene from Easy Rider, which contains the very same song. I only wish I had seen Easy Rider before I saw Starsky & Hutch. Regardless, it was an identifiable reference - plus that's and awesome song, one of the best.

P.S. - Another good one by The Band is "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," actually I have no idea what the name of the song is, but that's the chorus.

P.P.S. - They put some chalk out by the board in the bathroom, so "NightCrawler Rocks" now appears there twice, as well as a simple shout out to "Little Feat." Each of the "NightCrawler Rocks" messages were done on totally separate incidences, with no idea that the other had taken place. Great minds think alike, I guess.

September 14, 2005

Grand Rapids Brewing Company

The joys of the micro-brewery! I'd have to imagine that Gritty McDuff's on Fore Street in Portland, Maine was the first brew-pub I ever went to, and I was probably about 8 or 9 years old. On the right day the smell of the cooking grains and malts, etc can be nearly overpowering, and that smell always stirs up good memories for me. Now before you question why I was in such an establishment, well they have a restaraunt also. Regardless, the micro-brewery is in my blood, so to speak. Ol' padre even used to brew up some funky batches in our basement.

Off the top of my head I can recall a few establishments that brew their own beer which I have frequented along the way:

Iron Hill Brewery (Newark and Wilmington, Delaware)
John Harvard's (Wilmington, Delaware)
Brandywine Brewing Company (Greenville, Delaware)
Gritty McDuff's (Portland, Maine)
Stewart's (Newark, Delaware)
Grand Rapids Brewing Company (you guessed it - Grand Rapids, Michigan)

Here's the catcher. I turned 21 only nine days ago, so as one might reckon, I've only ever ordered a beer at one of these places (I live in Michigan...). This is not to say that I have not sampled the beers from these fine establishments, only in the past it was all sips and never pints. Speaking of pints, who needs 'em? I'm Mr. Mug Club now at GRBC - a low ranking #354, but it counts. Mugs are supposedly ~ 20 oz, which is a few ounces more per draught than a pint glass (four, to be precise). This is great and all, but the real benefit of being on the mug club is on Tuesdays: $2 Mugs all day long. Yesterday was the first Tuesday since my I got signed up, and I felt I would be remiss to not pay GRBC a little visit. So instead of going northbound from Calvin back to my place after classes I simply hopped on the southbound bus and made my way to the bar. It's just that easy, and in order to assuage any concerns that any guardian-type reader may have, here's this:

A. I have no car. You can't get in trouble for driving home from the bar if you have no car.

B. Let's just say that I didn't exactly have my first drink on my 21st birthday. Responsible contact with alchohol has been part of my life for as long as I can remember, both by example and practice.

I believe that the worst thing that parents can do is try to keep their kids away from stuff like that entirely for as long as they can. What's the point of that? Then the kid goes from 0-60 all at once when they hit college and has no clue what the deal is. Anyway, it seems irresponsible to not train one's kids to know what alchohol is all about (of course, this is if one were to consume alchohol at all). That being said, I still think my parents are feeling hesitant regardless. Just remember that the drinking age was 18 back in the day...and I'm an old school kind of guy, know what I mean?

It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia

This is (was) the best new show on television. Last night was the season finale, and I suspect that this seventh episode will be the last we see of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Oh well, it was a good run while it lasted. FX is on a binge of TV-MA shows which supposedly "push the envelope" by dropping a few sh--s and a racy sex scene or two into each episode. While the looser restrictions of the TV-MA rating do allow a lot more creative freedom for the writers of the show, I feel like they also are restricting themselves by being subjected some sort of "edgy quota." At some point it feels forced, and I think that shows like Nip/Tuck, Rescue Me, Starved and Always Sunny would benefit by not being pigeon-holed into a TV-MA rating for every single episode.

Granted, I'm not saying that I've been offended by any of the material, as I doubt anyone who would choose to watch an entire episode would be. My point is only that FX should concentrate on promoting quality, long-lasting series and not on getting as much objectionable fare as the advertisors will tolerate.

September 12, 2005

NightCrawler Rocks at Logan's Alley

We decided to go out for a quick drink last night at around 8:00 and headed up to Michigan Street. Logan's Alley was selected and the atmosphere/music was decent. Drink prices were cheap enough, but the kicker was the selection. There were probably 20 beers on tap, many of them local as well as imports, and there were almost 100 beers from around the world available in bottles.

As is happens, Sunday night is Live Music at Logan's, and as it happens the band playing was called NightCrawler. We got to the bar at around 8:15 and normally would have been about ready to go by 9:00, but the band started playing and they were awesome. It was just two guys - Max Morrison on guitar/vocals and Dan Jaccobazzi on winds (i.e.- flute/sax). They were covering a lot of classic rock songs, and everything had a very mellow flavor as a result of the acoustic guitar and lack of percussions. Of the bands they covered, the ones I can remember are Beatles, America, Donovan, Lou Reed, Men At Work, Paul Simon, Neil Young, Allman Brothers, "Shanty Song," "Baker Street," Gordon Lightfoot, Jimmy Buffet, John Lennon, a sweet instrumental of Van Morrison's "Moondance*," and of course Jethro Tull.

Both players seemed to be quite comfortable with the most of the songs, and Jaccobazzi's wind instruments skills were pristine at times - his rendition of the sax solos from Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" were unbelievable, spot on. Of course, since someone was playing the flute lots of people were shouting out "Jethro Tull!" They saved Locomotive Breath for the second set. Definitely going to make efforts to check those guys out again.

*That's "Moondance," not to be confused with King Harvest's "Dancing in the Moonlight."

P.S. - Both shows were free, but NightCrawler was better than Eddie Money the previous night at Rosa Parks Circle - although the big outdoor concert did have its appeal, and that's a compliment to NightCrawler not a dis of Eddie Money.

Music vs. Poker

Author's note: this post was originally made on WEALTHY STREET POKER and has been moved here since the creation of this site.

Maybe I should start a separate blog for this kind of stuff. It would seem silly to keep posting stuff about the music I'm into these days on a site titled "WEALTHY STREET POKER." Either way, I'm posting it here for now because I simply don't have anything to talk about regarding poker. Anyone who has been keeping up with the posts may have noticed that my discussion of hands/strategy, etc. has ceased as of late. The reason for this is that I have not been playing any hands to discuss. I have fallen off of the face of the poker scene, both online and local - maybe it's been almost two months since I played a hand of poker? Probably less than that, but certainly nothing regular.

"So what's been occupying all of those hours?" one might ask. School started last week, and that has kept me very busy with all sorts of correspondence and paperwork I have to complete which pertains to my graduation in the Spring. So far nothing is locked in, and that's not a good thing. But I'm working on it, and anyway, school doesn't really count as a replacement for poker. At least in the past I haven't cut cards out of the equation once classes start. If I had to identify one thing that's occupied my "interest zone" is the music. I've been paying a lot more attention to music recently - appreciating it more. Not only am I trying to appreciate newly discovered qualities of music that I know, I'm also discovering new bands/songs altogether. There hasn't exactly been a clean break with heavier rock from the 70's/80's, but I've been more partial recently to gentler, more intricate fare like Alan Parsons, Allman Brothers, America, The Band, CSN&Y, Marshall Tucker Band, Steely Dan, Tom Petty, Yes, etc.

One band that I've been aware of my entire life but never invested much effort into investigating is Little Feat. Fortunately I got my dad the 4-disc box set a few years ago for Christmas, so now I have more Feat than I know what to do with. I think it represents a very interesting dynamic when many of the band's best songs are live versions of album tracks. Perhaps stating opinions as absolutes is not the most tactful thing, but anyone who thinks that the album version of "Dixie Chicken" is better than the live one from Waiting for Columbus is a fool. "Willin" is pretty good live, too.

Oh, I forgot to mention Genesis, Pink Floyd, and Phil Collins (yes, I know that he was in Genesis). The list could go on, but you get the picture. Here's an idea: get the full eight minute version of Phil Collin's "Take Me Home" and listen to through good quality headphones with plenty of volume. I'll just say that there's some wild stuff going on in that song that you definitely cannot hear when it's playing over the grocery store Muzac speakers. The same goes for Toto's "Africa" (another all-time elevator music classic).

"I seek to cure what's deep inside,
Frightened of this thing that I've become."

Pretty deep, Toto.