Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Short Dialogues with Inanimate Objects

By ned * Other ned Posts

Ned:   I know this is kinda awkward.  (looks shyly away)  You might remember me. We used to hang out ... like a year ago.  I really liked your unfiltered tap water and I was kinda hoping we could hang out for a night.  
The City of New York:  Ned, you were great.  Really you were.  But San Francisco! For all of this (New York shakes its "Bronx" in a sassy manner)!  I mean even Mets fans feel pity for the A's ... Knicks fans look down on the Golden State Warriors! 
Ned:  Its not like I am asking you to marry me.  Come on! It would be fun.  We can even go above 14th street?   
The City of New York:  I dunno.  You hurt me real good, Ned.  When you sang New York, New York at Sing Sing Karaoke - I thought it was going to last, well, forever.
Ned:  (Bats eyelashes)  Just a night?  I know how you miss my puns. Plus I have something that belongs to you.
The City of New York:  Ok, fine.  whatever.  Just as long as I get my "I HEART NY" t-shirt back.  
Ned: No problem

War Telegram STOP

Dear Right Argyle Sock, STOP

The Secretary of the Wardrobe has asked me to express his deepest regrets that your life partner is believed to be lost in action.  STOP

Your sole mate has been reported Missing-in-Action at the Lucy Garbello Laundrymat on Grant Street in San Francisco since May 15th.  Remains matching the description of a left blue argyle sock (size 9-12) have yet to be found. STOP

When we receive more information, you will be promptly notified.  The Secretary extends his deepest sympathy to you and your sock brethren of all shapes and colors in your tragic loss. STOP
Dear Mr. Young,

I am submitting a formal complaint regarding your patronage in me this past Thursday.

Your attire was simply unbecoming for the Happy Fun Time Burger establishment.  Just because you wear a nehru collared shirt, birkenstocks, and John Lennon glasses does not make you an intellectual who is able to comment on the finer points of hamburgery.  Your inane babel on the cultural role of Iron Man 2 certainly doesn’t either.

The dishes you ordered were banal at best.  American is a poor man’s muenster and “tartar” is not more elegant or "new age." You might as well have bitten into a petri dish of ecoli and ordered a side of lawsuits to save us the trouble. 

Given your stupidity and the costs we incurred in lost brand equity, I would like to request that you either pay us more money or serve us a free meal.  This is fair compensation for the disservice you did to the rest of our clientele by your mere existence. 

Have a good life.

Happily Fun-Timely Yours,
The Happy Fun Time Burger at Grant and Vallejo  


Dear light blue urbane/euro cut polo,

Please don't hate me because I have spilled on you every time I have worn you.

I found you on that discount rack in the summer of 2008. But just because you were on sale, baby, doesn't mean there is a percentage off my love for you.
I hurt you because its how i show my love. So let me apply my tide stick and make everything better.

Dear Mr. Young

I wish to provide you a consultation on a condition which has been painfully brought to my attention.

The levels of methane gas trapped in my cushions over the past week suggest the high probability of an irritable bowel; the peanut scent suggests over-consumption of Thai. 

Just because I was your grandparents's possession does not mean that I find it acceptable that you have their gaseous schedule.

As I lack specialized medical credentials to formally appraise your situation, I recommend you get a second opinion from your bedsheets.

This recommendation is covered by your health insurance in a literal sense.  Your unopened mail from the past month is sitting on my left cushion. 

Your Couch, M.D.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mixtape Mondays - Something for the Graduates

May is a month of pomp & cirmstance, tissues for mom's, and diploma's for sons and daughters.

In honor of that, the staff of brings you this month's mixtape.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wild Geese

By Mike Corey * Other Mike Corey Posts

Wild Geese.

Mary Oliver wrote about them once, or perhaps more than once, depending on whether or not the revisions--assuming there were any--count as separate writings. But in what that writing or those writings ultimately produced, Oliver touched on a notion that has resonated with me, as I imagine it would with most who come across it.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile, the world goes on.

These words have meant a great deal to me since I first came across them 5 1/2 years ago in a poetry class at Duke University. Their meaning is clear on the surface: Bad things happen to all of us as individuals, and though our worlds may slow down or come to a halt, the world in which we live does not. What it means beyond that is not a matter of right and wrong, but of how it matters to the reader.

Different authors may intend for different writings to mean certain things--or various things. Or nothing at all. Mark Twain once wondered why his writings and words had to mean anything beyond the superficial read. Ernest Hemingway, however, thought of his writings as an iceberg, with only the top 10% visible to the reader. The rest had to be sought out.

I wonder now, as a law student, if it is a good thing or a bad thing that these two views from two great American authors also happen to represent the two views of interpreting the law: the textualist and the liberal?

There are, I'm surprised to have found, many similarities in interpreting a novel and interpreting a court opinion. There is ambiguous language; there are ambiguous policy goals; there are questions of a book's impact; there are concerns that the masses will only learn of its content through a cursory description in the media; and fears that the purpose will be misconstrued by those desirous and capable of misusing it
Up until recently, I had believed that the glaring distinction between a novel and a judicial opinion was the absence of heart in the latter. But a "final lecture" from our contracts professor has me thinking otherwise.

I should not have been so foolish. As the son of an attorney who loved the law and the way he was able to help others with it--in building companies, non-profits and so forth in what ultimately became a growing city as a result--I should have known that, at least, those who practice law are not without heart. And yet, since his passing, my approach to the law has been one of reluctance, for fear that it would require me to adhere to the bottom line rather than the greater good.

Now 3/4 of the way through my first year of law school, I fear I had become robotic and unfeeling in my approach to studying, if nothing else. It's hard not to, I suppose. There is an unending downpour of reading material, or rules to memorize and applications to master; there are nothing but bottom lines in law school. But there are relationships, and not just between people. But between students and the law. I am hopeful, then, that mine has taken a leap forward.

The best lawyers, I know, are not necessarily the ones that left law school with the highest grades, but the ones that were best able to apply that which they learned--skills more so than rules--to the people they served after law school. The cold world requires a certain level of proven proficiency, of course, but once the foot is in the door, application is what matters. Some lawyers apply those skills to dollars and sense. In a way, I suppose we all do, no matter our profession: dollars and sense are along the continuum, at some point in that future. The butterfly, after all, still beats its wings; and the farthest star still moves, if ever so slightly.

But what of me? I've come to law school with a very specific person of enabling myself to better advance society through access to education, the goal of which is to make everything better for everyone. I look at the world and I am saddened by so much of what I see; and hopeful at so much else. And I know that better education can accomplish so much in righting the wrongs I see in the world. Such anger there is, such despair.

I want to be the the kind of lawyer, and use the law in such a way, so that the despair that comes to others does not render their worlds stopped, but helps them go on.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

... Has Left the Building

By LeKeith * Other LeKeith Posts

Wrestlemania is an annual Pay Per View by World Wrestling Entertainment (the WWE). Considered the Super Bowl of professional wrestling, it contains matches that are often the culmination of a feud (storyline) between wrestlers looking to have a Wrestlemania or breakout moment so as to elevate their status in the wrestling community. Lately, another trend has emerged. Wrestlemania has become a place for the last stand, an established superstar proving that they are capable of one last great match before retiring. This year, the latter theme is what I have been unable to move past, even if the WWE and its “no off-season” schedule already have. Wrestlemania 26 is where the Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels had the last match of his career.

I started watching wrestling in 1992 with Wrestlemania 8. Hulk Hogan and the 'Macho Man' Randy Savage - names I knew of before I started following wrestling - were featured in the main event matches; however, the 3 people on that card that caught my attention were The Undertaker, Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart and Shawn Michaels. They are the reason I kept watching after. By the end of that year - at the Survivor Series 1992 PPV - the Undertaker was featured in a signature match - the debut of casket match - against the Ugandan Giant Kamala. Guess who won?

The Main Event saw Bret, the World Champion, face Shawn, the Intercontinental Champion. 1992 was no doubt their breakout year as they not only carried the WWF/WWE from that point on but also established my understanding of wrestling. Bret's technical ability regularly turned matches into lessons; Shawn's athleticism carried with it a willing yet defiant sacrifice of body for the sake of entertainment; The Undertaker has never failed to leave the audience in awe whether they be attending a show live or watching a recorded show from home. These three, dubbed the leaders of the WWE’s “New Generation,” provided a guarantee: there will always be at least one thing I would be excited to watch.

In light of what I've said above, I have - admittedly - not been a Shawn Michaels fan; that was my brother. I am a dyed in the wool – pink & black wool, preferably – Bret Hart fan. This led to many sibling arguments where our intensity was matched only by Bret and Shawn’s when they faced off. Their 60 Minute Iron Man Match at Wrestlemania 12 was the culmination of a month long debate over who was better. Even after, I refused to acknowledge Shawn's victory in the match. And, after the controversial ending to their Survivor Series 1997 match, the phrase ‘Montreal Screwjob’ could not be uttered in my presence for years.

But I can't deny Shawn Michaels' ability as a wrestler, athlete and performer. And yes, I have looked forward to his matches, even going so far as to cheer him on rare occasions. I specifically went to my friend’s house to watch him face Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania 19. And I watched only that match. I rooted for Jericho though; he lost.

Bret retired in 2001; he has only recently resurfaced in the temporary role of assisting the next generation of the Hart family – the Hart Dynasty – in becoming Tag Team Champions. Now, with Shawn retired at the hands of the Undertaker no less, two-thirds of my inaugural class of wrestlers are done. The Undertaker's stellar in-ring career is in its twilight years, much like Randy Savage's was in 1992. And while he has a few Main Event Matches left in him, there is an expiration date and it is drawing nearer.

Will I stop watching once my wrestling foundation is fully retired? Highly Unlikely. There are some wrestlers in the tradition of these elite 3, Jericho chief among them. But it won't be the same: I've lost my guarantee.

I know, I know. “Wrestling’s fake.” And, yeah, it is (if you want to be a dick about it). If Shawn Michaels does come out of retirement, then he won’t be the first; that’s a wrestling tradition in itself. But if this is the end, and based on the ovation he received after his match at Wrestlemania 26 and / or the ovation he received the next night on Monday Night RAW during his retirement speech, I think it is.

So, sincerely, from a non-HBK fan: Thank You Shawn Michaels. Don’t make me regret it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


By ned * Other ned Posts
The song Taps has always struck me as too familiar.  Like Happy Birthday or the Jeopardy theme song, whatever delectable musical feast is behind it has been beaten to common mush. Overplayed in culture, when I hear the familiar melody I glaze over. Change my focus. Review tasks. Scan the crowd. Until it passes.  Perhaps with the exception of one time about a month ago.   

Given my grandfathers rank at the end of World War II, we could have had a gun salute if we wanted.  My family declined given how that might appear in the courtyard of a church closely woven into a suburban fabric.  We opted instead for an honor guard to ceremoniously fold the flag of a nation my grandfather cherished.  Opted to honor him with a lone trumpeter playing Taps.  Somehow that was fitting for a man rich in character but unencumbered by extravagance. 

As the trumpeter played, the richness of his tone matched the richness of color on his brass instrument as the sun bounced off the metal into the chapel.  The light highlighted something for me.  On display in Ohio in early March was an event that Northern California - for all its splendor - can never have.  I came to Ohio after one of the dreariest February's.  Central Ohio had more snow in February 2010 than in any other February in recorded history.

Yet, somehow, on the day of my short-notice flight home, the sun shone and never let up while I was there.  The contrast of seasonal change was startling.  Daffodils burst from the ground next to patches of melting snow. 

I always associated my grandfather with the spring.  His birthday is today, April 14th.  These new beginnings of spring give you bounce in your step and license to shed one layer of clothing with smug pride.  My grandfather did so at that opportunity and always enriched himself with the outdoors.  It is more than fitting too that Easter is the holiday of the spring.  The revolution of the climate during the season reminds us that change beyond what we immediately experience in the starkness of winter is possible.  By embracing spring, we better understand the limits observation alone can reveal to us.

The song Taps for my grandfather highlighted another contrast.  It is a surreal experience to be with someone as they take their last breath.  In embracing his passing, I came to a better understanding of life.  Its richness and wonder.  Even in the most common things. Common Songs. Common changes of the seasons. 

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mixtape Mondays - April Showers

April showers both of the indoor and outdoor variety as compiled by the members of ATC.  Enjoy!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Progress Questioned?

By ned * Other ned Posts

Simply put, David Cross makes me laugh. From the envelop pushing skits of Mr. Show to the unwitting innuendo’s and “never nude”-ness of Tobias Funke, Cross has been pushing comedy irreverently forward for almost 20 years. On stage, his leftist charged, cynical, matter-of-fact stand up style even gets a chuckle from this right-of-center optimist.  Off stage, he pushes other comics to not simply appease the masses.   However, I might not fully agree with everything he says for reasons you might not expect.

“It was written thousands of years ago … when people were even dumber than we are today … Go outside and wait for the bars to empty out, watch Fox TV, and realize the Bible was written by people even dumber than these m&@#?+f&%$ers”

Religious commentary aside, statements like this seems like ideas more easily conveyed before 9/11, the rise of the War on Terror and the stock market challenges of the past months. The optimism and economic opportunities of the 90’s reaffirmed our belief in the progress of society. Since the Scientific Revolution, one could say Western Society has clung to the idea of Progress. Today must be better than yesterday or else we are failing as a society.  Underneath Cross's commentary is that assumption.

From my vantage point, our ideas on Progress are being re-evaluated on the whole. Recent socio-political events, economic recessions and environmental challenges call into question the path society is walking.  By reevaluating our current trajectory, it allows us to look on the past from a different perspective.  Several books of the past few years have spoken about the past with a degree of reverence and its people with appreciation that you certainly wouldn’t find in Heart of Darkness colonial times and perhaps not 1995.

In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamon takes a geographically deterministic view of how certain ideas and societies have come to dominate others. Implicit throughout the book is the idea that peoples of the past or of a less technological advanced state were not necessarily less bright. The ideas and resources that they had access to were just different. His studies of the remote peoples of Papau New Guinea revealed a society more cognizant of the nuances of nature than he would ever be. He was amazed at the intricacies of their understanding of their environment.

Karen Armstrong’s book the Case for God has a somewhat misleading title in that based on her logic God’s existence can likely never be rationally proved. Throughout the book she makes the argument that many of our current practices of religion have moved away from the role religion has played throughout our society. Her concepts are fairly complex. However, in a nutshell, she argues that religion through practice and ritual helps us to cope with inexplicable. Consequently, reason is inherently challenged when fulfilling the role of religion. Additionally, religion is ill-equipped to handle the investigations better left for reason. She argues that since the Scientific Revolution Western society has been looking to religion to help in the scientific dialogue when before distinct boundaries were made between mythos and logos. In a way, her book claims that our religion should to a degree look back to better fulfill its role for people.

Each of these books approaches past peoples with reverence. One might say that they are indirectly challenging the idea of progress. However, I believe humanity is continuing on a path of growth and improvement. Perhaps it is because I am the eternal optimist. Perhaps though it is because through this present lens we are now able to appreciate and learn from humanity’s past to improve our future. Jared Diamon and Karen Armstrong would presumably agree.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love, New Zealand Style

By LeKeith * Other LeKeith Posts

While I bemoan the end of the Flight of the Conchords television series, I think of what they have left me. Reviewing their lessons via their albums, the teachings of Bret, Jermaine and even Murray have prepared me for times like Valentine's. So, "For all the Ladies in the World," here is how romance is done, the FOTC way.

First, find a lady. This can happen one of two ways: She can notice you, check out your "Sugalumps," and introduce herself. Or, you can notice her, and go over to her. Pay her a compliment; she is "the Most Beautiful Girl (in the Room)" after all. There is the third way but it should be avoided if at all possible: You and your buddy should not "both be in Love with a Sexy Lady." It's not what "Friends" do.

After the initial contact and a Keh-bahb, you might want to take things to the boudoir. Hold up, "You Don't Have to Be a Prostitute." Always remember: "A Kiss is Not a Contract". Go through a checklist: Learn her last name. Make sure she isn't a high class prostitute, despite your compliment. Make sure she's not your friend's ex-girlfriend. Confirm that she is not a "Demon Woman." Once these objectives are cleared, and "If You're Into It," it should be Wednesday; that's "Business Time." Enjoy but proceed with caution the first time. Even though "You Told Her You Were Freaky," she thought you were joking. Wait until next Wednesday to show her you were serious.

Sadly, the FOTC method does not contain a way to end things happily. It could turn "Carol Brown" at any given moment. To delay the inevitable, hide all bus timetables so she can't take one out of town. Of course, the "Au Revior" will still take place. When that happens, start chopping onions; it will give you a reason to say "I'm Not Crying." But remember the old adage: It is better to have loved than to be left holding a yellow notepad, muttering "Leggy Blonde" to yourself. Or, you could enter a state of complex denial, "Ramble Through the Avenues of Time," and make up a completely new girlfriend.

Happy Valentine's Day!!

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Antiquated Game

By ned & by Guest Co-Author Word Gnome * Other ned Posts

The American Squash Society is attempting all out war to win over the hearts and minds of a new generation of squash fans and players.

Squash reached its height of popularity in the Victorian era. The four walls of the squash court seemed to embody the trapped emotions most felt; the black ball matched their outfits. The modern name "squash" also comes from this time period as its original name "Butternuts" was too suggestive.

However, the game fell out of favor when it became the game of Herbert Hoover and no bailout has brought it back since. The seventies were perhaps the low point when the professional game lost its sponsorship by a single malt distillery and had to rely on support from a manufacturer of blends. But with modern techniques the A.S.S. feels it can reach people it could not before - perhaps even as far south as Paramus.

One failed effort to spread its renown in New York City was Squash!, the recent scratch ticket lotto game. The ticket came in all white except after Labor Day. Winning tickets returned without protective eyewear were voided.

The game produced an outcry in country clubs from Larchmont to Montauk. They never would have wished that their beloved “antiquated game” be simply given to the masses. An alternative method was needed and a debate rages on.

“If the game is played in great concentration by the wealthy, it will certainly trickle down to the masses,” stated William K. Pinniford IV, varsity player at Cornell majoring in Hotel Management.

Others support improving the games image through charity work. However, recent efforts have not proven successful. A.S.S. recently tried to send squash balls and racquets to Haiti, but the gift was turned down by Former President Bush who said "We don't need trinkets. Just send cash." Executives at Disney - avid squash players themselves - have been filtering through applications for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition to find the right candidate to build a squash court in a home to no avail.

However, there has been some luck with product placements. Thanks to a hefty check, Paris Hilton never leaves home with out herbedazzeld squash ball earrings. Also, a video of the "chocolate rain" YouTube sensation playing squash in a Tron man outfit under a cloud of Diet Coke - Mentos explosions has gone viral.

A.S.S.'s efforts do appear to be making some gains. Martini sales around Grand Central Station - a traditional positive indicator of squash's popularity - have soared in recent months. With any luck, a new generation of players will come up, perhaps even children prepping in public schools with dreams of going to Swarthmore or Kenyon.

- - - - -
The is of course satire and the names and organizations are made up.

The authors - let it be known - enjoy the game of squash and actually came up with this premise while playing a spirited match. 

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mixtape Mondays - Disenchanted Love

In honor of Valentine's Day and its often unmet expectations (yes, we have some ex-emo kids on staff), we present to you a mix of disenchanted love.

Special thanks to Howard Han of who contributed some song recommendations:

Music Playlist at

Songs Included and contributors rationale:

"Denial Revisited" - The Offspring: Im embarrassed to say this, but I listened to the offspring beyond 'keep them separated' and pretty fly for a white guy. For me, this has always been the perfect break up song: two people know that it's over, one of them is walking away but the other just won't let go. In the end, however, he knows that it's over.

"It Ain't Me Babe" - Bob Dylan: The ultimate 'f&#$ you song' for a girl. It says, "you know what, everything you need, i don't have and won't give to you girl."

"Love Will Tear Us Apart" - Joy Division. Title says it all.

"No Children"- Mountain Goats: This song is what I would play if I knew I was getting a divorce.

"Fuck You Lucy"- Atmosphere:  I listened to this song the first I was really heartbroken. For me, it expresses all of the negative/raw emotions associated with breaking up with someone.

"Come Pick Me Up" - Ryan Adams: For me, anti-love songs are about hurtint he other person as much as they've hurt you. This song has a lot of that.

 "Song for the Dumped - ben folds five (Yes we did find a japanese version!)
"Dakota" - Stereophonics
"Dry Your Eyes Mate" - the Streets
"(I Hate) Everything About You" - Three Days Grace 
"Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" - Nancy Sinatra 
"Positive Tension" - Bloc Party
"Tiny Vessels" - Death Cab for Cutie
"Kiss Off" - Violent Femmes
"Funeral" - Saves the Day  
"Emily Kane" - Art Brut
"Lost Cause" - Beck
 "Driftwood" - Cursive
"Dickhead" - Kate Nash
"90 Mile Waterwall" - The National
 "Piece of My Heart" - Janis Joplin
"Get Yo Shit" - Black Joe Lewis
"Me/A Man/Then Jim" - Rilo Kiley
"50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" - Paul Simon "
"I Should Have Known Better" - She + Him

Saturday, January 30, 2010

You Kant Do That on a Blog, Part III of III

By Observation Deck * Other Observation Desk Posts

As unbelievable as it sounds, I have survived my first semester of 1L year of law school – although barely. Even more unbelievably, I have returned to complete my tri-partide epic about Kant.

As promised, this part is supposed to be about applying Kant’s categorical imperative – but this may be a harder task even than understanding its philosophical underpinnings.

Let’s start with one hypothetical and go from there. I was riding home from work on the subway (some of you may know it as the “metro,” the “tube,” or even the “iron-bellied subterranean beast”) when some old lady gave me a really hard time about not giving up my seat to her. I have nothing against old ladies and the truth was that I didn’t see her. This got me thinking about whether Kant’s categorical imperative required me to give up my seat to this old lady. What immediately occurred to me was how complex an application of the categorical imperative would be in something as simple and mundane as this.

Let’s just start with the first formulation – that we should act “only according to that maxim whereby we can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” Seems straightforward, doesn’t it? Not so fast. It seems that we may get conflicting answers depending on how we defined this “maxim.” For example, if I defined the maxim as “we should always yield our seat to someone older than us,” this would seem to require that I give up my seat to the old lady. But could I “universalize” this maxim? What if I were handicapped and there was a fully healthy, non-elderly person who just so happens to be older than me? Would I be required by my maxim to yield my seat to him? Doesn’t this seem a little intuitively strange – to require a handicapped person to yield his seat to a healthy person who happens to be older?

What about if I changed the maxim a little, say something like this – “we should always yield our seat to someone who is weaker than us.” This seems to work – I would be required to yield my seat to the old lady but not if I were handicapped or otherwise weaker than her. But there is still a problem -- what if we tried universalizing this maxim as Kant asks us to do? Wouldn’t everyone on the train be required to give their seat to someone who is weaker than them? So let’s say, I followed the maxim and gave the seat to the old lady, wouldn’t she also have the duty to look for someone else who may be even weaker than she were. If she found such a person and gave him/her her (I would use "that seat" to avoid the her her repetition) seat, wouldn’t that third person be required to look for a person even weaker than him/her? Wouldn’t this sort of degenerate into absurdity if everyone were required to look for a person weaker than them to give their seat to every time they wanted to sit down on the subway? It appears that universalizing this maxim leads to absurd results, something that would, under Kant, make the maxim void as a “universal law” for us to follow.

What about the second formulation – the requirement for us to only act in such a way that we “treat humanity, whether in our own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end? Let’s use the same seat-yielding example as above. At first, there doesn’t seem to be any problems. In yielding the seat, I am clearly acting in such as way that treats the old lady as an end in herself and not as a means to an end. Or am I?

Whenever we act, there may be a whole host of reasons, many of which we may not even recognize as reasons, that motivates us. In the example above, I might have acted to yield my seat because I felt guilty when she started asking for the seat. I might have acted because I didn’t want to get disproving stares from other passengers. I might have acted because I wanted to impress the cute girl sitting next to me. Or there may even be some motivation for yielding my seat that I myself am not aware of. If any of these ulterior reasons motivated me to yield my seat, wouldn’t I be using the old lady as a means to an end – to assuage my own guilt, avoid disapproval from other passengers, impress the cute girl, or some other end I desire that has nothing to do with the old lady or the yielding of the seat in themselves. This example isn’t specific to this situation either – nearly every decision I make can be motivated by any number of reasons. Therefore, applying Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative seems to ask us to consider our own thoughts and conform our decisions about when and how to act according to essentially subjective judgments. Yet this goes against the foundational principle of Kant’s categorical imperative – that morality – whether a particular action is justified – is inherently objective and not subjective. Hmmmmm…

That only leaves us with the third formulation. The problem is, I don’t think anyone understands what Kant means when he says that we should “act as if we were through our maxim always a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends.” I think what Kant is trying to say is that we should try to universalize the action in question and see if this would lead to irrational, impossible, or self-contradicting results. Going once again back to our seating-yielding, I’ve already mentioned above one possible reason why universalizing the maxim may lead to absurd results. Looking at this problem, one might conclude that universalizing the maxim may be impossible and therefore that the maxim is therefore void under the third formulation.

Alternatively, however, one might also conclude that the practical concerns are not actually fatal – for example, we could still imagine a hypothetical system through which it would be very easy to figure out exactly who is weaker than whom and who should yield their seat to whom. Under such a hypothetical system, universalizing the maxim would not lead to impossible results and the maxim would thereby serve as a fine moral law for people to follow. This reveals another difficulty with applying Kant’s categorical imperative to real world decisions – people often differ on what they consider to be “impossible,” “irrational,” “self-contradicting,” or even what are “means” and what are “ends.” Kant’s moral philosophy fundamentally presupposes some singular objective benchmark at which all human beings can arrive through rational thought. The flaw with this assumption is that objective rational thought is often still dependent on subjective concepts or definitions – sure we may all rationally agree that the earth is “round,” but we may differ on what the definition of “round” is.

At the end of the day, I don’t really know how I feel about Kant’s categorical imperative. Part of me has been and will probably always be fascinated by its clarity, its simplicity, and its search for a unifying theory. But part of me also questions its inflexible obsession with absoluteness -- isn’t moral flexibility sometimes useful when circumstances change or arise to which we need to recalibrate our moral beliefs? I guess that’s the hallmark of a good philosophical theory – the fact that it never ceases to provoke more questions, push more boundaries, and demand more of the people that study it.

Oh, and I did not give up my seat to the old lady in the end, because I wanted to universalize this lesson – though duty may be sublime, a sense of entitlement is most definitely not.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Chapter 1

2009 was marked by a myriad of developments that left us craving smaller bites of information.  Through Google reader and iPhone apps we got headlines and snippets to satisfy our data hunger.  Twitter speak limted us to 140 characters and drove an Iranian uprising.   Obama's first year in office could be credited from an internet campaign that generated a grassroots base. 
Around the Couch was founded in part to combat this trend.  Longer essays allow us as writers and readers to grapple with complex ideas in our complex world.  Hopefully, you enjoyed the ride thus far and thank you for reading and, to the team, for writing. 
Sure it was also founded to tell stories about first encounters with excessive amounts of alcohol, avoiding grime in the streets of manhattan, and comic book heroes. 
But one gets sentimental around birthdays.
Happy 1st Birthday Around the Couch. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Best Video Game of 2009

By Josh Cain * Other Josh Cain Posts

              Before I submit to you my selection for the best video game of 2009, I want to clarify that I am not judging by the normal video game standards such as graphics, game play, story, or even multiplayer.  As a hardcore gamer, I recognize that Assassin’s Creed 2 is far more beautiful, Batman: Arkham Asylum more innovative, Uncharted 2 more engaging, and Modern Warfare 2 more addictive than my favorite game of last year. All that being said, New Super Mario Bros. Wii defeats the competition in what is perhaps the most critical category of all: You can play it with girls. 

              To say that girls suck at video games is a gross generalization. I myself have had the pleasure of playing Halo against the Frag Dolls, a team of legitimately attractive professional female gamers, and while for the most part I slaughtered them like a wolf among lambs, some actually gave me a run for my money. Also, the number of female gamers has dramatically increased in recent years as Nintendo has released a steady supply of quality titles encouraging players to play with puppies and not get fat. Therefore, I am in no way trying to be misogynistic when I say that most girls, when handed a controller, are incapable of fragging noobs or landing sick 15-hit combos. In truth, “girl” could just as easily be “old man” (over the age of 35) or any other person who didn’t grow up with a controller in their hand and who, unlike me, is more comfortable moving and looking around using their body rather than two joysticks.

              When I tell girls that I’m super into video games, they usually stop talking to me. Those who are too drunk or desperate to leave invariably try to engage me by telling me that they haven’t played a game since Mario Brothers, but they really liked that. mildly abrupt transition.  Josh’s Law: every girl on Earth has, at some point, played Mario Brothers. This simple fact makes New Super Mario Brothers Wii instantly accessible to the Non-gamer sex. Even if there is some crazy circumstance in which she has never played Mario, the inherent simplicity of being able to say, “Here are two buttons. Move to the right, jump, and try not to die” means that anyone can pick it up and play

                Rock Band is the only other game that comes close to being as female friendly, but I don’t really count it as a “video game” in the traditional sense of the word. Mario has levels, power-ups, bosses – in short, it’s an honest to God video game…and GIRLS will play it with you! It used to be that if I invited a girl back to my place to “play video games” it was equivalent to crudely propositioning her for sex as we would both find the idea of actually PLAYING games upon reaching my room laughable. One time in college I brought a girl home under these pretenses not realizing the guy I shared my room with was working on a paper and I had to suffer through actually playing a game with the girl. Suffice it to say I never saw her again. 

              The joy of the new Mario is that it has something for everybody. To the hardcore gamers reading this, realize that while the lady friend that you somehow managed to lure into your home is enjoying the cute characters, accessible gameplay and nostalgia of the game, you can be appreciating the legitimately challenging levels, hidden items, and upgraded gameplay features. You’ll also both get a kick out of the penguin suit, but for entirely different reasons. The key element that differentiates Mario from the competition, however, is the key word that I keep using - “with.” Mario Wii is the first in the series to be truly multi-player, and it is an amazing experience. To imagine it, think of Mario 3, then think of Mario 3 with two people playing at the SAME TIME. If you’re reading this sentence you didn’t do it right, because if you did YOUR HEAD WOULD EXPLODE. The fact that you can have four people going at once makes it all the more phenomenal. Depending on your skill level, you can either be relying on your teammates to save you when you’re about to die or revel in the added challenge of having people jump on your head and throw shells at you when you’re trying to time a critical jump. 

            Growing up, one of my favorite things to do was have people over for an afternoon to play games, hang out, and eat pizza. I still enjoy doing this, but as I’ve matured I’ve begun actually talking to women and, as such, have developed female friends. Until Mario Wii came along, I was not able to share this most essential of bonding experiences, the play date, with 50% of my friends. Now, thanks to Mario, I can feel comfortable inviting girls over to play a game without them thinking I’m trying to seduce them. For this reason alone, I award Mario the top prize of 2009. Also it’s ridiculously fun.