Monday, December 31, 2012

Insomnolence, Greek historians, New Year's tidings, et cetera & more et cetera.

Oof. I arrived in Jersey at about 10:00 AM yesterday morning and slept until 6:00 PM. Took a nap from 5:00 to 7:00 AM and NOW I AM WIDE AWAKE. My circadian rhythm is doing the polka.

An update about what I've been reading lately is good a way as any of perking myself up and getting primed to stay awake for another sixteen hours.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Today we are a travel blog.

Air Canada screwed me. I'm stuck in Frankfurt Airport for another six hours until I can fly out to Toronto, and lord only knows how long it will be until another plane can carry me to back Jersey. The worst part of it is that I'm trapped in the Eurozone with a wallet and bank account full of worthless American dollars. I just paid seven dollars for a twelve ounce latte. WiFi runs ten dollars an hour.


Fuck Air Canada. Fuck Canada. Henceforth I shall live as wastefully as possible so as to accelerate the US's inevitable push northward to annex Canada and gobble up its natural resources. YOU FUCKERS DESERVE IT. YOUR FUTURE IS A BOOT STAMPING ON A HUMAN FACE. FOREVER.

Sorry, sorry. I'm not mad at you, I'm just mad at the situation.


Uh, so I guess I got nothing better to do than talk about Poland, where I spent Christmas with my father. A friend of mine insisted I take pictures, and I got off to a great start by leaving my camera in Jersey. I was able to borrow a camera from my old man, but didn't get much opportunity to take many snappies. But let's have a look at them, since I really don't have anything better to do. The alternative is to buy a giant stein of beer and chain smoke and --

-- actually, that sounds pretty great. You know that they still sell Djarum cigarettes in Poland? I wrote The Zeroes chaining Djarum Vanillas, and I've got a pack of those in my pocket. Fuck Air Canada, fuck my lungs.

Anyway. We're still gonna run through these.

This grainy vision of loveliness is our Christmas tree. I haven't decorated one of these suckers in ages, and I think we did a fine job. Unfortunately, by Polish standards it was a bit "cold," meaning not garish enough. After all those decades of the austere Soviet aesthetic, the pendulum has swung the other way, and gaudy is in.

We didn't have a star, so we used a codpiece instead. Or at least that's what it looks like.

Here is a street in Pruszków, the suburb of Warsaw where my old man has lived since 2009. I arbitrarily snapped it when I realized I still owed Amy photographs of the Polish landscape and had only photographed the damn Christmas tree.

I'm not sure what to say about Pruszków. It's a very lovely, very chill little town. (I use "chill" to mean "laid-back," of course, but it is also very cold.) Speaking with a classmate's Polish girlfriend at my high-school reunion, I was told that Pruszków is known for being a mafia town, but her information was outdated. Now it's known for....

...good question.

Anyway, If I had to object or complain about some aspects of Pruszków, I'd point out a litter problem. There's a lot of trash lying around, even in the (otherwise lovely) public park on the fringe of town. And you know how cleaning up after your dog is standard procedure in the States (or at least in the parts from which I've hailed?) Well -- not so much here. The shit piles up on the frozen ground and gets buried by successive snowfalls. When the temperature rises, as it did on an unseasonably warm day in the middle of the week, the snow melts and disappears, leaving behind several weeks' worth of cryogenically preserved dogshit.

(Recycling bins. There aren't many of those, either. The only one I saw during my whole stay was at the Warsaw airport this morning. I probably threw out more plastic bottles this week than in the previous fifty-one combined.)

Here is a church in Pruszków, snapped for the same reason as the street pictured above. Poland is very Catholic.

Here is your hideous correspondent at the Copernicus Museum in Warsaw. I had my choice of being photographed as Marie Curie, Nicholas Copernicus, or Albert Einstein. You see there wasn't really much of a choice at all.

The Copernicus Museum is one of those interactive science museums in the same vein as Jersey's Liberty Science Center, which means it's great fun and does an admirable job of illustrating scientific concepts through interactive exhibits. The problem is that it brings in too many god damn children, who run around mashing all the buttons and turning all the levers they can without bothering to notice the lessons the pieces were built to convey.

Toys are wasted on kids.

This creature is a robot that uses algorithms to create rhyming poetry. It had a Polish and an English setting, and what it can produce in English is much more limited in range than in Polish.

If an Apollo lives in this rational age, surely He would appear to His faithful in this image. HAIL!

A marvel of Polish engineering. Every hour on the hour this thing activates. The wings flap, the wheels turn, and all the clockwork critters and people on board come to life to the thunderous tune of "Carmina Burana." It's really quite a spectacle and I wish I'd figured out how to manipulate the camera into capturing it on video.

Here's a picture of your asshole correspondent's shoe, captured as he tried to figure out how to enable the camera's video recorder.

Here we go. This is the Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw's tallest building and a representative example of the short-lived Socialist Realism aesthetic. (You can probably read all about it in this Anne Applebaum book. Not that I have, mind you.) As you might have guessed, this concrete behemoth was constructed during the Stalin years as a "gift" to the faithful brothers and sisters in socialism from their Soviet overlords. After the end of the Soviet Empire, the Poles decided to repurpose it rather than knock it over -- hence the movie theater sign at the bottom of the picture.

I found a watercolor print of the beast on sale for a buck at a museum gift shop. How could I not buy it? I think I'm gonna give it to my roommate as a present. ("Merry Chistmas! I saw this picture of the ugliest building in Warsaw and thought of you. Go fuck yourself.")

Most of Warsaw was leveled after the failed uprising in 1944, but a few buildings survived. Lately they've come around to touching them up. The one on the left has already been restored; the one on the right is awaiting treatment.

These are quite beautiful in comparison to the apartments constructing during the Soviet period. Anything constructed between the late 1940s and the late 1990s are basically giant concrete slabs with windows. I'm told that early on, their Soviet architects wouldn't even give them porches or window boxes. ("Loyal workers only home for sleep! For what is home amenities being needed?") As the Soviet grasp on Poland became more tenuous, the newer buildings were constructed with slightly more consideration for their tenants' humanity.

Like my friend James, whenever I have a camera in my hands I feel compelled to capture images of local street art. My old man thinks I'm crazy for it. During my visits to Warsaw (and to a lesser extent Krakow) I've noticed that the Poles have a greater propensity for stencils then their American counterparts.

Interesting. You've got to figure that the average graffiti artist is in his early twenties. That means we're seeing NES iconography approrpriated by people who were too young to have ever owned an NES. Hmmm.

Warsaw again. One cool thing about the city -- and something I didn't notice until my old man pointed it out -- is that the buildings generally don't rise over three or four stories. (There's actually still a law in effect forbidding any structures taller than the Palace of Culture and Science.) The streets feel like streets instead of canyons. It's a city that never suffocates you, and it's rather refreshing (particularly if the city to which you've been most accustomed is New York).

This is a stature of Kronos/Saturn from inside the Warsaw Royal Castle. I don't know why I chose to snap this over any of the other art inside; maybe after reading so much Edith Hamilton, Marcus Aurelius, and Plato on this trip, I've just got Greco-Roman iconography on the brain.

The more one learns about Polish history, one cannot help but be impressed by the Poles' stubbornness and tenacity. The art in the Warsaw Royal Castle is an example. You'll enter a room full of tremendous 18th century landscape paintings and read that they were hung up in 1700-something -- and then some were stolen by Napoleon and the French army, and others by Nicholas and the Russian army, and were then returned so they could get stolen by the Nazis before the palace itself was blown to smithereens during the Uprising. The Poles finished reconstructing the castle -- without any approval or help from their Soviet administrators -- just in time for the paintings to be returned and hung back up in the late 1980s.

The royal scepter of the Polish king Augustus III (I believe). This photograph was taken for the sake of an inside joke with my friend Caroline involving the word "shaft."

This is my old man outside the entrance to the Royal Palace. I figured I might as well get -one- picture of him while I was in town.

My diminuitive friend Yen insisted I tell my father I love him at some point during the trip -- and if you're a male, you'll understand that this is really usually more of a deathbed conversation. But after visiting the Castle, my old man and I went to a little eatery where there are essentially three things on the menu: cod, kielbasa, and vodka. A shot of vodka runs about $1.50. A plate consisting of a sausage, buttered bread, some mustard, and a tomato slice costs the same price. (I'm told places like this were much more common and popular during the Soviet years. I'm mystified as to how anyone could possibly compete with or get tired of them.) At any rate, after six shots of vodka I had a much easier time breaking the news to my father that I loved him. Then we went home and watched Airplane. Now I'm here and fuck Air Canada.

I'm going to go smoke the rest of my Djarums.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On Comments On Current Events, Part 2

Today we take a quick glance at some of the bluster coming from the nation's "liberty" enthusiasts following the incident in Connecticut. Again, from Facebook:

Ohhh, there's that word again. Freedom. It's one of those weasel words that people like George W. Bush like to brandish as an unquestionable cause or an irrefutable justification. It can mean pretty much anything and so, rhetorically, it's often meaningless.

It is likely meaningless in the practical sense, too.

Feeling free is another matter. Nobody likes to feel that their actions are directly restricted, especially against their will, especially by somebody else. Video game enthusiasts scream and gnash their teeth when politicians suggest outlawing game sales to certain age groups. I screamed and gnashed my teeth when the Obama administration successfully pushed for banning the sale of (most) flavored cigarettes. Gun owners scream and gnash their teeth when somebody so much as suggests a restriction on clip sizes.

The argued aim of our libertarian and second-amendment enthusiast friends is more freedom for more people, what they actually mean translates to some jargon like "as few negatively-experienced circumstantial restrictions on behavior for as many people as can be managed." Now that we have a better idea what they actually mean, I think another look at their argument is deserved.

The funny thing about this line of reasoning is that it only applies to social sanctions imposed by a governing body. If the government tells somebody that they can't or shouldn't do something, a wrong is being committed. A "freedom" is being quashed.

But when a person's "freedom" is restricted as the result of another individual exercising his own "freedom," it's apparently a different case altogether.

Giving an industrialist the "freedom" to dump as much chemical waste into the river of their choice restricts the "freedom" of the people living downriver to enjoy and use the river as they might otherwise see fit. Giving assholes like me the "freedom" to smoke in a restaurant restricts the "freedom" of the other patrons to enjoy a meal without breathing in the toxic fumes I'm coughing out. Giving Americans the "freedom" to easily purchase bullet-spraying automatic weapons restricts the "freedom" of unarmed Americans to enjoy an environment in which there's a minimal probability of bullets whizzing in their direction.

In these cases one rarely hears objections from those voices who cry foul when gun control is mentioned.

But do ask someone at the scene of one of our regular massacres how "free" they felt when the gunman of the day was unloading clips into the crowd.

But it doesn't have to be this way, we're told by some partisans. If more people, as many people as possible, are "choosing" to purchase and carry firearms, then there's much less a chance of gunfire breaking out. You must exercise your liberty to purchase and carry firearms to ensure that nobody's liberty is restricted by the use of firearms.

We want to be able to carry guns, so we strongly suggest that the rest of you carry guns, too.

That isn't just hypocritical. It's tyrannical.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

On Comments On Current Events, Part 1

All day Friday, the only thing anyone on the Internet wanted to type about was the incident in Connecticut. Of all the commentary I've parsed, my favorite has been:

Take that, us!

Judging by the contents of my Facebook and Twitter feeds tonight, our friend's prediction was accurate.

This demonstrates one reason why joyless fuddy-duddies like me complain that the Internet and the new mass media landscape are reducing people's attention spans. (Because it is, because it does.) Social movements can't gain much momentum if The Issue of the Day (whatever it may be) is contending with YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, video games, etc. for people's attention.

Oh, but look at all of the the #guncontrol vociferations we've retweeted! Of course we care! Of course we feel strongly about this and want it to change!

Feeling strongly and vocalizing about a social problem will never be enough to make it go away. Posting fiery comments on Facebook and Twitter, signing petitions, and sending copied email texts to your congressman makes little to no difference. Whether the issue is gun control, foreign policy, reproductive rights, etc., getting anything done requires groundwork.

I speculate that it's hard to muster up and sustain the kind of ardency and outrage that compels a person to put aside what he's doing, change his routine, and dedicate himself to activism (because activism, whether of the personal or organized sort, is pretty much the only way social change is ever deliberately effected) when (a) TV, video games, Facebook, and the rest of that list are constantly and perpetually pulling his attention in different directions (b) the use of these media is tremendously reinforcing, making it less likely that the user's behavior will deviate toward a direction away from them (as activism often requires).

(How many dedicated activists, do you suppose, play World of Warcraft on a regular basis?)

Again -- this is speculation, and only speculation. I can't confidently assert that the ease of mass communication and potential for mobilization offered by social media are offset by its general sedative effect. Nor can I say with any certainty that the public of the early 21st century is actually more opiated than the public of the early 20th or 19th centuries, but something tells me that the Internet, television, and games are a much more potent tranquilizer than the classical diet of theater, dime novels, and booze.

Yeah, yeah -- I'm not saying it should be everyone's responsibility to go out and save/change the world. But it would be nice if people, instead of just posting about it on the Internet, asked themselves what they could do, as individuals, to help fix the thing they're complaining about. And I wonder if a social environment so saturated with such powerful multimedia distractions inhibits the fostering of focused and committed activists.

Speaking of escapism, here's another comic. My name is Patrick (hi, Patrick!) and I'm part of a problem.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Another Pre-Solstice Status Update

(Image appropriated from APOD.)

Oh, right. I'm still alive, and I still have this "web log" that needs to be updated.

Well -- I did say I would be updating the comics page instead of blogging for a while, giving me the time to work on some longer-term writing projects, didn't I?

What this actually means is that I'm spending my after-work time drawing and 'shopping instead to finalize the two-month backlog I wanted. I always, always, always forget how long it takes me to make these fucking things. (This one in particular was like the bloody Shawshank Redemption.)

So the novella and novel that still need to be proofed and edited still await my attention, and here I am drawing comic strips about vomit jokes.


It's hard for me to feel content with anything this time of the year. I don't think I can be blamed for this. Nor do I think I can be blamed for wanting to launch Mariah Carey and every trace of her recording career into the fucking sun.

Oh, at any rate: the last two comic strips are here and here. A new one will be posted on Thursday. These are exciting times!