Monthly Archives: May 2009


I’m amazed at Pixar’s ability to consistently put out great movies. I saw Wall-E twice in theaters, which is something I almost never do.

I don’t have much useful to say about their latest movie “Up.” I mean, I really, really liked it. The storytelling is excellent, and even remembering the movie hits me emotionally.

The moral of the story, even though explicitly stated by the kid, is something I’m not sure kids will understand. Despite being an adventure story, the movie celebrates the mundane. By that, I mean the ordinary everyday activities of our lives. It’s a theme that resonates with me because I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the mundane recently, and how important it is because that’s what most of our lives consist of.

Throwing Things Away

I love throwing things away. Well, the only thing I love more is throwing things in the recycle bin.

After I came back from Baltimore, with all my stuff, I realized that my room is now packed with junk. I have a lot of old toys, among other things, that I don’t need anymore. So I’m giving things away, recycling others, and throwing away the rest.

Eventually I’ll need to sell a lot of my paperback books. That’s a goal I’ll hold off on for now. There’s a lot to conquer in this room. It’s like a long campaign, and I’ll need to fight it one battle at a time. Hopefully it will all be decluttered by the end of summer.


It’s amazing being back home, with nothing hanging over my head. I hung out with my cousins and laughed harder than I had in a long time. I was crying, and I had a cramp the next day — all from laughing. I met a new person who does a lot of stuff with music, and connected him with another one of my musician friends. I played basketball, which was more physical activity than I’d done in a long time. Socially, physically, emotionally, I feel better about myself. Overall, life feels better.

There’s a part of me that is missing, but that’s a good thing. It feels as if a lot of bitterness has just melted away. My life felt useless at Hopkins; I hated writing essays and doing schoolwork. I will never go back to the academic life.

The only thing I will miss from Hopkins is some people, but I will make sure to stay in contact with them.

I put my entire life in a holding pattern during school, I realized. Now, there are all these things I can do, and there’s nothing holding me back. I’m out of excuses, and I’m in a better setting.

One thing I will have to do is make sure I create enough time for myself. Well, I have enough time, but I have to make sure I spend that time more wisely. It’s good to be happy, but I have to be sure I’m always moving forward.

Penguins on Monkey Bars

Years later, I’m not so sure why I found “penguins on monkey bars” so amusing.

At the end of the year, I typically go through my class notebooks to find doodles in the margins. Some of these are funny enough to convert into a comic. I rip those pages out and keep them. I recently found an old ripped-out page with a “penguins on monkey bars” sketch, and I don’t know why the hell I thought this premise was worth hanging onto. Some premises are promising enough that their rough form can turn into something good. Others begin terrible and end terrible. There is no evolution in their lives. “Penguins on monkey bars” is one of them.

Living with No Furniture, Etc

I still need to cancel cable and internet, and sell my furniture. This has led to a little bit of anxiety: How am I going to live without these things?

Yet this is me, less than a year ago, Living on the floor:

I don’t know why, but there’s something deeply satisfying about not having too many things. For some reason, sleeping on the floor made me feel like a more disciplined person.

Now I not only have electricity, but cable, a chair, a table, my Wii set up, a couch, a kitchen table, and a mattress. I already feel like this is too much. It weighs me down. And now that I am more comfortable, I find myself wasting too much time on the internet and TV again.

I had way less than I do now, and I was still happy — more happy, perhaps. Thinking this through has now reduced my anxiety.

Holding Pattern

I’ve been doing a whole lot of nothing. Well, I’m slightly exaggerating, but my life does feel as if everything is in a holding pattern. I’m not trying to progress or improve myself, and I’m just waiting until I get back to California before I do anything. Part of this, I’m sure, is just me distracting myself from the necessary things that need to be done before moving. I guess another part is the idea that I shouldn’t do anything until I’ve moved and this chapter in my life is over. But I don’t really believe in chapters, so I should start preparing for my life after the move. I should do some serious reflection now, and not wait until I get to California.

99 Books

I’ve been packing up my books. I’m moving, and I want to take my books with me. They’ll be shipped via the USPS, and I was worried they might not make it. So, I decided to write down the titles of all my books. If they were to be lost, then I would be able to slowly re-accumulate my lost titles.

I discovered that I have 99 books in my little room. Wow. The books that I’ve accumulated since college actually exceeds that number because I’ve already shipped batches of books home.


Are we really surprised about Obama’s non-enthusiasm about prosecuting for torture? What happened when he was a Senator running for the presidency and the telecom issue came up? They broke the law and he voted for immunity. This, depite his statements that indicated the opposite. When it comes to civil liberties, Obama’s words are about as good as Arlen Specter’s. We really can’t trust him.

This is not to say that I hate Obama. He will get us out of Iraq, even though his views on foreign policy are quite pedestrian. Despite his opposition to the Iraq war, he is still a typical liberal interventionist. He’ll do better on healthcare and the economy than Mr. McCain who wanted to freeze spending during a recession. The choice was between Obama and someone completely moronic. And during the primary, the choice was between Obama and Hillary Clinton, who could not even admit that she made a mistake voting for the Iraq War.

Mr. Obama has his good points and bad points. And one of his bad points is civil liberties. Get FUCKING used to it. When it comes to civil liberties, the president is our enemy. We can’t trust him.

By the way, these false dilemmas about what the president can and can’t do are really annoying. They are always completely arbitrary. Fight in two wars OR prosecute for torture. Fix healthcare OR cap-and-trade. Fix the economy OR fix healthcare. It’s as if we completely swallowed the Republican talking point about Obama having “too much on his plate.” Please, tell me how busy Mr. Holder is fixing the economy. Then, tell me with a straight face that he can’t pursue prosecutions for war criminals, which is required under the Geneva Conventions. These types of arguments about what Obama can and can’t do are never argued with any facts, just blind assertions. They are based on either what they in fact don’t want to happen, or on some desire to make Obama not a villain.

Face it, he’s wrong when it comes to civil liberties. He has been and he will be for the rest of his presidency. He has embraced the worst of Bush’s arguments for secrecy. Use Occam’s Razor, goddamnit.

Even if Obama doesn’t torture, the power is still there for the next president to use. Unless we prosecute. And we make some structural changes to the executive branch. (Independently elected AG anyone?) Even Hamilton never envisioned a presidency this strong.

What Were You Expecting?

What were you expecting, Shawn? A euphoric high? A lightness of being? A triumphant parade?

I stepped out of the room after my last final and the world greeted me as it usually does. The sun shone, the grass waved in the wind, and the birds chirped as if it were any other day.

I swear, this was more anticlimactic than when I beat Super Mario Galaxy. The final level wasn’t any challenge; you just ran through and collected the last purple coins.

Or it’s like a birthday. Someone asks, “How does it feel to be X years old?” I can only answer, “Gosh, I don’t feel any different.”

Oh well, time to get drunk and play Wii sports. I deserve at least that much.


I bought an ocarina — cheap but overpriced, if you know what I mean. It was a simple piece of pottery. I dropped it, and then it shattered into a million pieces. Okay, into like 6 or so big shards.

I superglued it back together, referring to it as “ocarina surgery.” To extend the metaphor, the patient is stable but not 100%. I’ll need to do some follow-up work. The ocarina works, but there is one semi-large hole and a bunch of cracks. When I play it, the notes come out all funny because there are extra holes. I’m going to try to find some putty to fill the holes and hopefully it will be good as new.

The ocarina has brought a lot of joy to my life. I didn’t really realize how big a desire I have to make music. Now, I have to make do with the maracas and recorder. The ocarina was much easier to play than the recorder. I hope I can fix it up.


I don’t know when’s the last time I felt this, or if I’ve even felt this before. Suddenly, I’ve crossed some type of threshold. I’m no longer waiting for things to end, but I’m waiting for things to begin. It’s an incredible feeling, seeing those infinite possibilities ahead of me.

For the past four years (at least), I’ve waited for the semester to end. I live my life for that, then summer starts. Yet always in the back of my head is this nagging feeling: that this will end. So I spend all semester waiting for school to end and all summer dreading the end of the summer.

But now, I don’t even care about getting out of here. I can think the thought, but it immediately slips out of my mind. It has no purchase. Go ahead, ask me: Are you glad to be done with school? Whatever. The question is incomprehensible. The future fills my mind.

I’ve thought about doing a general retrospective about my college experience, but I don’t know how useful it will be. I tend to live my life with some degree of awareness. If there are any useful lessons to cull, it appears that I would have learned them whilst I was going to college. A full-blown retrospection will only focus on the negative, and that just won’t be useful at all. My lessons have already been developed within my notebook, or are in the process of development. If I do look back at all, I must do so with the intent of focusing on my best moments. Capture those and see what I did right.

So, back to the future. I feel incredibly giddy, even though I’ve still one final to go. Ahead of me lies infinite possibilities. Ask me about the future, what do I plan to do, and I will answer: I don’t know yet, but I’m eager to explore. I have my comic; I have a summer job; and I have options to explore. I can remake my identity.

And then there’s that image that keeps coming to my mind: Infinite possibilities.

Public Image and Infinite Possibilities

My last essay is about Cicero and Caesar, and how they both crafted their public identities. I’m going to very consciously start to do the same thing. I need to find out my favorite virtues and figure out which historical figures are my heroes.

But first, I have to finish that damn essay, haha.

The exciting thing about finishing college is that I will face infinite possibilities after I’m done. I can craft my own public image in any way I want and become the person I want to be.

Note to self: When creating public image, build in flexibility. Do not trap yourself in a corner.


Still have to finish an essay tomorrow. And take a final. But hey, it’s almost over.

The image of “13”, the day of freedom, has kept me going so far. Another rough day is ahead tomorrow, but I just got to keep concentrating on the goal.

Two Essays in One Day

I am going to pull off an amazing feat tomorrow: I will write two essays in one day.

Granted, I do have a limited amount of time Saturday to complete the second essay, but I want to challenge myself to complete this essay-writing marathon.

After that, it’s over for essays. I’m done writing shitty papers that will only be read by one person.

How I’ve Grown and an exploration of the internet and culture

There is at least one thing that makes me better than I was four years ago: The ability to entertain opposite positions. Things that were once considered sacrosanct are now up for debate. E.g.: Capitalism? Perhaps it’s not so great. I am definitely less dogmatic.

Those who’d like to simplify me would note my supposed “leftward” turn, as an Obama supporter. Yet how can I be sympathetic to this Chomsky On Adam Smith and this The Decline of Middle America and the Problem of Meritocracy, from a paleoconservative?

The same time that my politics have become more “liberal” (whatever that means — I guess supporting Obama and opposing braindead republicans), my lens for viewing history has become more “conservative” (which means respecting how tradition and habit shape culture, and how fragile it is when broken). I am reminded of reading Saul Alinsky’s Reveille for Radicals and how attuned one had to be to local conditions and to meet reality how it is, not how one wished to be. I am reminded of Afeni Shakur’s speech during the MSE symposium and her pleas to help people within the community, and how we can’t rely on the government to do everything. And I can’t help but thinking that there’s some sort of theme underlying this, some sort of unifying thread to the critiques I’ve recently read of our modern society.

In my mind, I like to think how I’d advise my peers, were I to give a speech about what to do after college. It’s mostly advice for myself. In recent times, it has taken a direction towards service to the world. I think that’s profoundly wrong. There’s no such thing as a world community, or even an online community. There’s no “place.” There’s something about being “local” that is a necessary requirement for community. I think community can be enhanced by digital components, but you need a place in order to have a center. Specifically, I’m thinking of two examples: One positive, and one negative. My ATDP experience has been enhanced from digital interaction, but it only works because ATDP exists within a physical location and TIC in particular has continuity in location. JHU lacks community because there is no place for people to congregate. They recently tried this “Hopkins Infected” thing to try to change culture. But you can’t build culture with PR. You need a place. The only times I ever had any semblence of community interaction was when I watched the debates with people in the same place, on the same TV in Charles Commons. Other times, those common rooms weren’t really meant for common interaction. Another time was those tea parties I had in Gildersleeve, but we had to congregate in a hallway.

I guess what I’m getting at is that you can’t expect to change “the world”, and it isn’t really admirable to try to change the world. We think the online world has created this unique opportunity, but it can only work to enhance what we already do, not if we use it in lieu of normal democratic activity. To turn purely to the online realm is to lock us within an echo chamber. Where like congregates with like, and you never have to talk to the people you live next to or the people you see everyday. You never have to interact with the person whose house borders yours, or interact with the janitor who walks by your office. You never have to convince your conservative uncle to accept gay marriage; you just have to pontificate on a message board filled with like-minded people.

There’s something disturbing about this, uprooting ourselves from our real communities and creating virtual communities where we never have to venture far from our current dogmas. Yes, yes, you’ll say that the internet has all these alternate viewpoints, but how do we really interact with the internet? The primary method of interaction with information is the search. We are trained to find exactly what we want. This means what we want to hear, not necessarily what we need to hear. The internet is large, yes. But because it is so big, we can spend days within one tiny little corner, examining all the intra-party debates, without realizing that there is so much more.

Even worse, the internet is training us not to listen. I was deeply disturbed by the redesign of facebook. Someone left a comment on my wall and I looked for a way to reply. The only link I could find was “comment.” As I’ve said before, “We are no longer individuals. We are merely ephemeral memes, floating in The Stream.” Instead of talking to an individual, I could comment on their comment. Each comment was encapsulated. I no longer had to talk to a person. Our memes simply interacted with each other. The disturbing thing about facebook is that the method of communication has changed. Instead of exchange, it has morphed into broadcast. I write comments and hope that people care enough to “Like” the minutiae of my life. Broadcasting is a fundamentally narcissistic method of communication. Look at all the blowhards on talk radio and cable news. The problem is that broadcast means you do all the talking; you don’t have to listen. Memes don’t listen to each other. They briefly kiss in The Stream and then disappear forever. Not that oral communication itself doesn’t have a sense of ephemerality to it. But repeated interaction between real people in a real place creates something which twitter cannot.

This is not to denigrate the internet and to say we should throw away facebook or twitter. The phone is a fundamentally less satisfying way of communicating than face-to-face conversation, but at least we recognize that. We don’t pretend that the telephone is going to revolutionize democracy and turn us into entirely new people. The phone is best used to supplement our normal interaction. It is best used when it brings people together, to meet in real places. It is best used when two people are forced apart, such as by war, and they yearn for the day they can be reunited. When work draws family members apart, it can help them keep updated, but you can’t use it in lieu of annual or monthly or weekly visits. We must recognize that our digital communications have inherent limits and deficiencies. Digital “communities” are inherently inferior to real communities, and can’t replace them. The presence of my online “buddies” on AIM can’t replace the comfort of the presence of a person who is next to me, breathing. You can’t hear those people on AIM breathing; you can’t feel their life. Dualists have done great harm to our conceptions of reality. Two intellects interacting isn’t the same as two bodies interacting or two mouths speaking and four ears hearing. We are more than our consciousness; we are our bodies too.

I’ve talked also about world community. There’s no such thing, just as there’s no such thing as a digital community. There’s no world culture. Think of the hubris of the word “universal.” The universe is so vast that we aren’t even specks. Our entire solar system isn’t even big enough to be a speck within the universe’s vastness. To call a trait universal is to hubristically expand its bounds beyond what we can rightfully claim. It’s the same thing with “the world.” It’s too big. Our monkey brains can’t handle it. You can’t truly care about the world in the same way you can care about your sister or mother. 10,000 people dying thousands of miles away can’t truly affect you the same way the death of a close friend can. If the utilitarian calculus does affect you, then there’s something inhumane about your character. The death of a close friend should bother you more than 10,000 lives a million miles away. Part of it is evolution: Our monkey brains simply can’t care about so many people, especially when they’re far away.

If you care about global warming, then you shouldn’t do it for imaginary children who aren’t born. You should do it because you know children who may grow up in a violent, hot world. You have carried these children in your arms, and heard their excited voices dream of tomorrow. You want them to have a better tomorrow. You shouldn’t have to care about all the children in the world, or all the children in America. When you press your lips against their cheeks, and feel the love in your heart, that should be enough to press you into action. A living, breathing child who exists in front of you. It is their future you care about.

You shouldn’t do it for “the environment.” You should do it because you have actually walked in the forest. You have felt the sun filter through the leaves of the trees. You have felt the bark of the redwoods. You have breathed in the crisp air. You have felt the dirt between your toes. You have hiked the mountains. You have picked the flowers. You have watched the birds. You have dipped your feet in the streams. You can’t care about “the environment.” You can only care about real places, where you have interacted with the life. Yes, we can abstract to care about animals in the rainforest we haven’t seen. But it only works if it is built upon our real interaction with nature. If the sole interactions you have with the environment are tossing plastic battles in the recycle bin and buying reusable bags at Trader Joe’s, then something is seriously amiss. That credit card commercial about the kid forcing his dad to buy new products bugs me to no end. That is not caring about the environment. (Although it does at least have real people rather than online activists.) You need something real if you want to conserve. Go experience nature.

You can’t care about the world if you don’t care first for your community. You can’t save the world if you can’t first save your community. You can’t convince a nation unless you first convince your family and peers. Mobility and the internet can make us avoid the very hard work of convincing and organizing people in our own communities. We can feel smug in our bubbles of enlightened friends. How sad this is. How good can you feel sending $25 to feed a hungry kid in Africa while people die on your streets? That’s not to say we should ignore foreign aid, but we should not let all our attention be focused outward. How struck I still am today by Afeni Shakur… I don’t even remember her words, but I still remember the sentiment… Our children are dying.

It requires an absurd Messiah complex to think that one can change the world. You don’t owe the world anything. But you do owe your community everything. You owe your mother and father who brought you into this world. You owe your brothers and sisters. You owe your friends who put up with you. You owe all the rich and poor people who make your life what it is. If you can’t convince them, then you can’t convince anyone. You owe your nieces, nephews, students, and children a better world. If you can’t save them, then you can’t save anyone.

People and community and tradition. There are things that have been lost by our dogma of capitalism and individualism.

I have no solutions, no grand sweeping proclamations about how we must change the way society is structured. Of course, that may be against my program to some degree. But it may require a change of laws and governmental organization at some point. For now, I can only continue to read my disparate sources in hopes of forging some type of synthesis.

No, that’s not the only thing I can do. The most important thing to do is to begin to care about the actual people and places around me. To make sure I worry about the mores of my community before the mores of my nation. To look outwards instead of inwardly and abstractly. To cure myself of my own Messiah complex. That’s a start, at least.

The Rule of Law and the Press

It’s hard to fathom that the consensus amongst the punditry is against prosecutions for torture. They give all their reasons, but the essential proposition is to let war criminals go free. Not prosecuting means ignoring our laws and treaty obligations. How can we have the media openly calling for flouting the rule of law?

Maybe this is the logical endpoint of cable news and its ilk. When the world is viewed through a political prism, the law disappears. The only thing that matters is who wins and who loses in the partisan game. I don’t know. It is upsetting, no matter the cause.

Let the newspapers die. Yes, they did have some role in helping uncover some of these crimes. But perhaps the overall harm they have done to the republic, at this point in time, is greater. They were terrible in the lead-up to the Iraq War. The current op-eds are full of pundits allying themselves with war criminals.

I am reminded of Stephen Colbert’s performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Specifically, when he encourages the reporters to “write that novel you got kicking around in your head — you know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know — fiction.”

The press portrays themselves as essential to the function of democracy. But the story of them being a check on governmental excess — hasn’t that become a fiction? Even when the government engages in heinous war crimes, they want to pardon them.

Stumbling Towards Graduation

This is what I originally wanted to post on the TCM Blog. It’s over-sharing on that blog, but not this one, so enjoy:

I want to give you an update on what my current plans are for The Chalkboard Manifesto, which will require some amount of information about my personal life. If you don’t care, feel free to skip the post. The short version is that big changes will probably be happening after this month. Now, to the long version.

I’m nearing the end of my undergraduate education. I’ve finished my last class, and I just have to make it through finals. This will keep me relatively busy. After that, I’ll be even more busy. I have to make time to connect with the important people in my life because this will be the last time I see any of them for who knows how long. My family will be coming to celebrate my graduation with me, and I’m really excited to spend time with them. I’ll also have to deal with moving across the country — packing, shipping, cancelling the cable, and all that stressful stuff that comes with moving. Like I said, I’ll be busy.

Before all that, I will be working on a buffer so that updates will continue as normal. It will be a hectic time, so even with the buffer, I will use at least one vacation day, and maybe up to 3. I’ll probably let you know at the end of this week what the deal with vacation days is going to be.

After that, well, I don’t know what the hell is going to happen. The long-term plan is to make this comic into my main source of income. The medium-term plan is have a job and work on the comic too. The short-term plan is job search plus working on this comic. While I search for a job, I will be working on this comic as if it were my full-time job.

So the short-term future tentatively involves new features and experimenting with the art. It involves number-crunching on my part to actually see what would happen with merchandise.

But like I said, I don’t know what the hell is happening job-wise. So I’m not ready to promise anything yet, except…

I can promise you that post-graduation, I will be spending a lot more time on this comic than I ever have previously.

Conservative Abominable Conjunctions

It is odd how conservatives can, with all earnestness, argue for a proposition while holding contradictory positions. Here are some example abominable conjunctions:

Global Warming (AKA Massive Climate Disruption) is false because:
The Earth is naturally warming AND The Earth isn’t warming at all.

Only torture will make Al-Qaeda members talk AND We didn’t really torture.

Unfortunately, in the latter case, many conservatives have simply embraced the position of torture. I prefer the abominable conjunction to the disgustingly immoral position of being pro-torture. At least they had the decency to feign morality. Now, they have no shame.