2009-10-23

What I like about fashion

It's easy to think someone looks beautiful, but it's hard to know why. It's also easy to think an american tourist looks stupid in Nikes and a fanny pack (don't laugh, brits), or a french fashionista looks snobby in her italian designs.

Fashion is something most people don't have to worry about, even if they do. It is one of the very last visible steps to enlightenment, or it is the last stage for the wannabes. Caught somewhere between individualism and conformity, between modesty and arrogance, fashion means many things to many people. It depends on where you're standing as well as in which direction you're looking.

I used to think that I had no business thinking about fashion, but I simply didn't realize that I was already. I thought some people went over the top with their obsession, but I laughed similarly at the "clueless".

Now, I realize my error. Fashion is not something to be worshipped or scoffed at. Just as a literary classic or modernist masterpiece cannot define our existence, neither can our clothing style. But, just as we use rhetoric and stylism to refine our language, and just as we carefully pick the color of our living room walls and the view from our bedoom windows, we dress ourselves in the expressions and impressions we want to give.

Fashion is like architecture. Architecture is art that is not at home in a museum. Often it is the museum, and the offices and houses we see and use daily. Fashion is adding art to something that there anyway, and going about our business, part functionality and part aesthetic.

I honestly think it was The Sartorialist who made me realize how cool some people look as they simply walk down the street. I enjoy looking at them more than I do many paintings or sculptures, and the best part is that there is no museum, no entrance fee. It is art and expression that comes to me, in a sense, or at the very least stands on a street corner or sits on a bench until I pass by.

I think that's exactly the point: people can be paintings, or sculptures, in their everyday lives. I enjoy looking at them, and the creative side of me wants to be a painting, too. I am, quite likely, an artist, and this is one of the many media with which I can play. If only I had the money.

2009-10-20

I need this job like I need a shot in the arm

An american friend of mine showed me this article and explained how he, too, was being forced to get this season's flu vaccinations under threat of losing his job.

Isn't this oddly similar to the smoking ban issue, in the sense that one of the strongest arguments for banning smoking in restaurants and bars is to to allow employees the freedom from secondhand smoke? Yes, I realize secondhand smoke and vaccines aren't the same, but some people have legitimate concerns about vaccines, too, such as the woman in the article who is concerned about the mercury used in the one vaccine's preparation, and there are others who may be allergic to various elements.

At first look, it seems like requiring medical staff to inject potentially harmful (even if only slightly) substances into their bodies is a blatant violation of rights. On the other hand, we need to do everything possible to protect patients. Perhaps a series of alternative precautions, such as masks, gloves, and thorough cleansing, can reduce the risk of passing along an infection as much as a vaccine.

But, if the data show that there is no way to reduce the risk of flu outbreaks in hospitals as much as having all staff vaccinated, then steps need to be taken to ensure that the appropriate staff members are vaccinated. Particularly since a person can be contagious before they realize they are infected, hospitals are especially sensitive to outbreaks.

Maybe it's not financially feasible, but what about positive reinforcement instead of negative? Small bonuses or rewards might do the trick better than the threat of getting fired. And, yes, at-risk employees should not be in contact with patients who are susceptible.

Does anyone know more about this, or have a better solution?

I'll tell you where you can smoke

I have smoked one cigarette in my life--because I wanted to blow smoke rings--but I reserve no ill-will for people who smoke. I reserve all of my ill-will in this regard for people who smoke in the presence of others without regards to their wishes or their health. And, yes, smoking in public places has a negative effect on health, according to a[nother] recent study.

The argument about smoking bans is fairly polarized, but there is some middle ground. My own opinion lies in this middle ground, actually, where I have the right to a large selection of smoke-free public places such as restaurants and bars, and where those inclined to smoke also have a reasonable selection of places where they might be allowed to do so. I firmly believe that people should be allowed to harm themselves given that they accept all risks, and they don't impose on others.

The options for partial smoking bans range from the very lenient mandatory "non-smoking section" to the banning of smoking everywhere except in private establishments such as cigar clubs. I don't know how many countries or U.S. states enacted which versions of bans (I wish I had the statistics) but I know that my home state of Ohio went whole-hog. I think that's stupid.

People have a right to smoke, but they don't have a right to blow it in my face. The city and local governments should be able to issue a fixed number of smoking licenses, in much the same way that liquor licenses are distributed. There would be enough licenses for, say, 10% of restaurants and bars to be able to allow smoking. Maybe there could be more. There must be a fair method of distribution. Mechanisms for alcohol and possibly also carbon emissions might be used as models.

The last hurdle would be smoking opponents who say that workplaces engulfed in smoke are not safe for employees. There must be a solution for this problem, whether it be simple monetary compensation, heavy-duty air filtering, or rotational employment between smoky and fresh-air locations.

Smoke definitely bothers me, to the point where sometimes I believe I have an allergy. But then again, some people like that sort of thing, and I'm not above letting them participate.

2009-10-19

An old problem

I ran across this article a couple of days ago. The very short summary is that there is new but as of yet unconfirmed evidence that a certain virus causes what has come to be known as chronic fatigue syndrome.

This topic is of particular interest to me because I had it, and I can't say that it ever really went away.

In August of 2001 I was sick with a fever over a weekend immediately following a hard training session, and my post-sickness fatigue didn't go away for a few years. No amount of sleep, change in diet, rest, doctors' visits, or research could provide a cure for my tiredness. One thing I did know was that the antibodies related to the Epstein-Barr virus showed the pattern particular to people who were recovering from mononucleosis. Other than that, I knew nothing.

But, in May 2005 I found myself suddenly feeling better, and since then I've lived in a delicate balance between near-normalcy and recurrence of symptoms if I overstress myself by running too much, not sleeping enough, or doing other generally unhealthy things.

Of course I resent my condition for basically ruining the second half of my college running career, but dealing with it has also changed my perspective, in some cases for the better. I can name a few things that I would never have done had I not been prevented from running, and had I not been extremely tired for months on end. It wasn't all bad, but I still would rather be without it. That's why it's exciting for me to hear about possible progress in the research, and the founding of an institute for related research.

Go science.

2009-10-14

The language post

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine told me that there are lots of cases and tenses in the Latin language, more than in any of the modern languages which came from it. Thus, for those and some other reasons, Latin is more complex than any other languages in its family. I think the same holds for ancient Greek, though I am no language scholar, so I might be oversimplifying the situation.

This leads me to believe that languages have become simpler in the last two thousand years. How can this be? Languages can't always become simpler, because I know for a fact that language developed from single words into the phrases, tenses, sentences, and cases that we know and love today.

That means that since spoken or written language first developed tens of thousands of years ago, there was a period of ever-increasing language complexity, as speakers wanted to convey ever move complicated thoughts. Then, there was a peak some time and somewhere, whether it was Greek, Latin, or otherwise, at which point it all began to simplify.

The way I see it, there are three possible explanations. The first is that ancient Latin and Greek were artificially complex; i.e. they were created by academics who wanted a fully-expressive formal language. Second, there might be some other factor of language which has picked up the leftover complexity, such as context, tone, word order, etc. And lastly, it could be that geographic and cultural differences determine which language features are important in a particular locale, and other are left away as extraneous.

The first is supported by the concept of vulgar latin, spoken differently by uneducated people in various locations, and classical latin, which was explicitly agreed upon by prominent scholars. The second possibility above is extremely difficult to measure, though intuition and reasoning lead me to believe it is nearly identical with the third reason, meaning that speech in a given city or countryside automatically brings a stronger context with it than if it were studied from the entire country or empire. It would seem both of these explanations double as motivations for diverging language. People want to be special, and they want to be able to communicate as easily as possible with those people they see most often, and so their language may develop locally. I doubt that it is, according to Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, a curse placed on humans by a demigod, prohibiting language convergence.

However, one element of Snow Crash's explanation of languages hits the nail on the head: there are many parallels to be drawn between written languages and programming languages. Stephenson tips Sumerian as machine language, and offhand, one might call C computer's Latin, with BASIC, Java, Perl, Python, etc. all specifically and contextually powerful variants on the language tree.

It really makes me wonder which way language is going. Since we live in the Information Age, I'm tempted to think that in a thousand years, everyone in the world with grow up like the Irish: learning one common language and possibly also a somewhat obsolete colloqial one, which in their case are English and Gaelic. I'm not sure yet if I'd be happy or sad about that.

Are there any language scholars out there who can point me in the right direction?

2009-10-11

Post-ironism

Irony is a confusing concept, not just because it implies a double meaning or intention, but because the definition of the word itself is a bit hard to grasp. You can check out the Wikipedia page to see what I mean. There are multiple types of irony, on which people disagree, mainly concerning what is "actually" irony, and what isn't.

And then there was the great debate about whether Alanis Morissette's song, Ironic, actually contained irony.

What intrigues me the most, though, is the association of irony with emo kids and hipsters, which give an example:

For example: a person who wears, say, a Legend of Zelda t-shirt, but who does it ironically in the hipster sense, is being self-aware of the irony of their situation — they are in essence saying "Man, isn't it so ironic that someone as cool as me would wear such a geeky shirt?" Thus it is that emo kids and hipsters get away with wearing and participating in a lot of what is otherwise considered "fringe" or uncool behavior.

So, what I was wondering is, since we all obviously define our styles based on emo kids, have we moved on to post-ironism?

In about 1999, a man wearing a pink shirt was obviously gay. Perhaps it wasn't 1999 that was guilty, but in fact the age of my friends at the time. By 2001, however, the pink shirt had been run through the dredges of irony in the sense of, "Look at me! I'm wearing a pink shirt and I'm not gay!" A side-effect of metrosexualism, most likely, and before long every self-respecting frat boy wore a pink shirt at least twice a week.

Now, I wonder out loud, can I wear a pink shirt without proclaiming my bubbly heterosexuality? Can I wear a Zelda t-shirt because I actually like Zelda? The answer is: of course I can; I always could, and I don't really know why I'm asking that question.

Now, the more important issue is that I thought I was founding the post-ironism movement, but I have just noticed that "Post Irony" is, in fact, a section of the Wikipedia article on irony.

Isn't that ironic? (I mean, that trying to found a cultural movement led me to realize it has already been founded.) No, probably not, huh? I don't really know.

Well, anyway, as a warning to all sensitive people out there: don't take my post-ironic statements the wrong way. If I say "women can't drive", it doesn't mean that I don't think women can drive, or even that I'm making fun of people who say that women can't drive, but instead making fun of people who make sweeping generalizations. Got it? Good.