The Laboratorium
May 2003

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Find the Fallacy

The Matrix Reloaded set a record for opening-weekend box office grosses. Why? Entertainment Weekly speculates:

R IS FOR REVENUE Theatres didn't seem to try awfully hard to thwart unaccompanied teens under 17, who theoretically shouldn't have been able to enter the Matrix without a parent or guardian. Revealed one underage patron at a 'plex in Greenburgh, N.Y., "We can pretend we're seeing Daddy Day Care and sneak in."

Republicans, French Republicans

I've figured out what the hard-line pro-war America-rah-rah-rah mood of this country reminds me of. Ironically enough, it's France.

In 1792 and 1793, respectively, France declared itself a republic and executed Louis XVI. It was, in popular imagination, the most democratic act in the history of the world; France was committed to liberty and the will of the people in a way that no other nation was. The mood of the country, and especially of the dominant faction in its government, was strongly patriotic. France, after all, was showing the rest of the world how a country should be run.

The new republic was also highly paranoid; it feared that hostile emigres were plotting to sow disorder in France and overthrow the new government. In 1792 and 1793, France declared war on Prussia, Austria, Russia, England, Spain, and various minor German principalities; it invaded Belgium, the Netherlands, Savoy, and Avignon.

French armies entered these newly-conquered territories with promises of liberation from tyranical monarchs and almost immediately instituted elections whose expected outcomes were made quite clear. France was engaged on a grand project of remaking Europe in its own image, replacing kings and emperors with citizens and assemblies.

History had other ideas. In the face of near-universal opposition from the other world powers, a few notable defeats on the battlefield, and a severe economic crisis, the French turned on themselves with a vengeance. In the Terror of 1793 and 1794, the ruling Jacobins used the machinery of government to suppress dissent and execute their enemies. Even after their fall, France's troubles were hardly over--it spent most of the next two decades at war, three-quarters of that under the control of a military dictator.

It's all highly sobering.

In Dreams Begin Impossibilities

I have been having strange dreams, ones that verge on the sensible, except for one or two details that are off, e.g., I am not wearing pants.

The night after the explosion, I had a dream about being in a class with a notoriously tough professor. He gave us a five-minute break in the middle to get something to eat. I looked very hard, but could only find some very sticky gummy candy and was a bit late getting back. He called on me, cold, but I was still chewing, so I asked (how?) him to please pass over me and call on me in a minute.

Uncharacteristically, he did so. A minute later, he came back to me and started asking me questions about "indivisible planetary hagues."

I Am Fine


I am fine, and so are my friends, in the extremely limited sense of "fine" that matters at moments like this.

A few hours ago, a lot of us were sick with stress from exams. A few hours from now, we'll be sick with stress from having our school nearly blow up.

But for now, we are unharmed, safe, and in contact with our families and with each other.

We are fine.

The Victims of Stories

We are all the victims of stories in one way or another, even if we are not in them, even if we are not born yet.

-- Barry Unsworth

If You Know Where to Look

Don't know why I bother trying to think up my own metaphors. The Kierkegaard quotations at right are the results of two separate occasions today when was trying to explain something just right, only to realize that I was subconsciously plagiarizing old S.K.

What's perhaps scarier is that I was able to find each within a couple minutes of searching. The first is from Fear and Trembling, about two-thirds of the way through the Preliminary Expectoration; the second is from Repetition, near to the end. It wasn't a rational process of working out how their ideas fit into the overall plan of the work. It was an intuitive sense of how far along in the book I was when I first came across them and they lodged themselves in my brain.

Have Not Grasped It

That there are many who promptly have this category ready for every occasion, even when the oatmeal burns, simply proves that they have not grasped it.

-- Soren Kierkegaard

Strange Thoughts

[A] soldier standing alone with a loaded rifle at his post near a powder magazine on a stormy night thinks strange thoughts . . . .

-- Soren Kierkegaard

Dual Careers

Herschell Gordon Lewis is best known to the world as the director of 1963' Blood Feast, which more or less single-handedly created the "gore movie" genre. Over the next decade, he directed over two dozen films chock full of over-the-top bloodshed. Then he retired, and became . . .

. . . an advertising copywriter. No, worse. A direct-marketing copywriter, one determined to show the rest of the world how to close deals with perfect phrasing. He conducts seminars in word choice that make Glengarry Glen Ross seem low-pressure. As he explains on his web site, "Every word is a weapon."

Perhaps he's not so far from his first career, after all.

It’s Against the Law to Frown on Capitol Hill

I had a sudden nostalgia attack this morning; I miss Seattle's Capitol Hill. This time of year especially, towards dusk, coming down, oh say, Harrison from 15th Street towards Broadway, with the bay shining in the last light of the day.

That's my home; that's where I belong.


5500 words today.


Black Thoughts

It's not clear to me why, but my particular flavor of seasonal affective disorder seems to be that I consistently go postpartum at the end of the spring semester. Even if my mood is tolerable, my imgination goes bleak bleak bleak.

I'm not in shape to write much original content, partly out of my annual case of the bleaks, but also because I need to crank out multiple papers in the next couple of weeks. Perhaps a few choice quotations will do instead.

We are separated from death by the span of only four fingers, those of us at sea.

- Sheri Holman

Have I mentioned that I expect death around every turn, that every blue sky has a safe sailing out of it, that every bus runs me over, that every low mean syllable uttered in my direction seems to intimate the violence of murder, that every family seems like an opportunity for ruin and every marriage a ceremony into which calamity will fall and hearts will be broken and lives destroyed and people branded by the mortifications of love? Is it all right if I ask you all of this?

- Rick Moody

It was all lies, excuses, please believe me that I know full well how hollow this all must sound. But please believe me also when I say that once I have been told how the trick is done, I am not easily fooled the second time. I saw the possibilities, I did. But the fact was and the fact remains that I was tired, grotesquely tired, tired, and nothing more. Nothing more.

- Me (from an unpublished story, online in an earlier version)

If only I could lift myself up
like a cup or bowl and be emptied.

Poured out into the grasses, undrunk.

If only I could loosen myself from myself. The dead weight
of the body, of grief, forgotten.

Or loosed, blown by the wind.

- Hyejung Kook

She already knows what the conversation will be
This happens again and again.

- Nerissa Nields

Being able to articulate what the problem is won't make it go away.

- Ben Duggan

What’s Wrong with This Sentence?

There's a headline on right now that reads "U.S., UK look to run Iraq for at least a year."

Does American exceptionalism extend even to punctuation?

Thumpa Thumpa Thumpa

Woke up this morning to the sound of jackhammering from the street next to my house.

Not happy about this, no sir.

The Dead Never Sleep

There's a sign on the front gate of the cemetery that says "Absolutely no parking; 24 hour access required."

It's probably best not to reflect too closely on the implications.

It Never Rains But It Pours

I have proleptic moods; today I discovered what I'd been saving up for all week.

[Massive LawMeme trouble, details redacted.]