Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Analyzing Marx

The name Karl Marx conjures up a philosophical medley of isms: socialism, capitalism, communism, Hegelianism, materialism, idealism.  All these isms surround Marx with a multitude of preconceived notions, notions that can sometimes get in the way of understanding what he meant to say.  So in effort to sift through the various conceptions and connotations attached to him, I read some of his essays in The Marx-Engels Reader.  Two particular passages from his essay “The German Ideology: Part I” mobilized the metaphysical regions of my mind.
The first passage reads, “In direct contrast to German philosophy which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven.”  With this, Marx says that traditional German thinking takes its cue from lofty, overarching thought processes and applies them to the experience on earth, whereas Marx looks directly at the earth experience to derive lofty, overarching theories about life.  Marx breaks from the German Hegelian philosophical tradition of using vague general theories to explain human behavior.  He believes that sociological and philosophical truths are found by examining human behavior first and then drawing conclusions about it.

The second passage reads, “The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life-process, which is empirically verifiable and bound to material premises.”  Here, Marx claims that the thoughts and ideas created by human imagination are subject to the interaction between how a person produces their material livelihood and the cognitive processes resulting from trying to make sense out of that livelihood.  This, according to Marx, can be proved by observing identifiable human action and then connecting it to human thought.  Together, these passages reject Hegelianism and other Enlightenment philosophies which emphasize the importance of rational thought as the foremost, supreme determining force of a person’s being.  He reverses the Descartes idea of “I think therefore I am” to  “I am therefore I think.”  Marx argues that the totality of a person flows from their material production, i.e. a farmer is formed by farming, not by a consciousness outside his existence.

Almost every, if not every, major historical figure has a legacy strung together by truths and untruths and this is no different for Karl Marx.  Reverberating from his time to our time, his words have been contemplated and understood by some, warped and skewed by others.  Studying a radical revolutionary figure like Marx presents the challenge of having to disassociate from cultural hearsays and historical assumptions.  Nonetheless, looking at his actual text helps to find that unfiltered part of the mind where words are at least on some level allowed to speak for themselves.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hemingway's first novel

Right from the start of The Sun Also Rises and until the end, Hemingway brims with a hard boiled masculinity. It’s quite apparent that his writing style is that of a man’s man. Aside from kung fu flicks and comic books, few stories channel so much raw masculine energy.

Looking at the way he constructs sentences, without recognizing the deeper meanings, I get the sense that he's throwing flurries of verbal jabs in the form of short, concise, to-the-point sentences.  His persistent, hard-hitting brevity reveals his robust masculinity.

Ironically, Hemingway writes about a guy named Jake who struggles with sexual impotency, and that name also ironically brings to mind one of the most sexually potent people in the Bible - Jacob.  It’s intriguing that a manly man such as Hemingway would create a main character with a physical inadequacy that was in stark contrast to his dynamic, real life persona.  It seems that Jake is a way for Hemingway to contemplate his own identity.  I wonder if he was trying to redefine gender roles.  I wonder if he was trying to make a statement on the underlying powerlessness that exists beneath the surface of man’s supposed masculinity.

Even Jake’s love interest, Brett, exudes masculinity. She bears a manly name, banters in manly ways, cuts her hair in manly fashion, and also refers to herself as a “chap.”  In fact, she comes across as more masculine than most of the male characters. Jake, along with the rest of the men, deals with various insecurities and feelings of inferiority while Brett remains confident and unflappable, basically dominating the others with her flair and promiscuity. What was Hemingway’s intention and inspiration for such a woman? Was he trying to describe the emancipated woman of the 1920s? Was he trying to reassess gender roles? Was he painting a portrait of his ideal woman? Was Brett a manifestation of latent homosexuality?  I don’t know, but I wonder.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

a poem by Juana Ines de la Cruz

(She was a nun in colonial Mexico who lived from 12 November 1651 to 17 April 1695)

To the Matchless Pen of Europe

I am not the one your think, 
your old world quills
have given me another life,
your lips have breathed another spirit into me,
and diverse from myself
I exist between your plumes,
not as I am, but as you
have wanted to imagine me

Found this in Sor Juana's Second Dream by Alicia Gaspar de Alba.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sandra Cisneros

Last week I had the opportunity of seeing Sandra Cisneros (acclaimed author of The House on Mango Street) in person.  My high school English teacher from many years ago had a playful, yet obsessive infatuation with her, so I was curious and excited to see the person he adored so much.  I don't have any pictures to prove the happening of this event, so you'll just have to take my word for it.  She along with other writers were at the University of Houston to talk about poetry and politics.  She had a quirky, down to earth, wise, passionate aura about her.  She read poems from various obscure authors, but before doing that she told us how she was having trouble picking one of her own poems to read because "I couldn't think of one I liked."  After the readings she participated in a panel discussion.  She listened more than she spoke, but every now and then she offered her insights.  She entered the conversation saying, "Politicians sound like mirrors of each other.  They say what people want to hear, and poets say the truth."  She went to describe the poet as the "antithesis" of the politician.  Later the conversation shifted into the moneymaking aspects of poetry, and at that point she said, "It's more important to deliver the poetry than for people to buy it."  Then she offered her unique suggestions to make poetry more prevalent in our everyday lives, "Poems should be on the back of cereal boxes.  Poems should be in bags of Frito chips.  Clothes should have poems for when we stand in line."

Friday, September 28, 2012

What is Enlightenment?

Many times throughout my life, I’ve heard about this age called Enlightenment, and how important it was for the development of Western Civilization.  Whenever I hear the mentioning of that age, names like Descartes, Kant, Locke, Newton, Rousseau, and Voltaire jumble around my brain.  It’s well known that these people contributed much to our western, modern, rationalist ways of understanding the world around us. 

Kant, in particular, tried to describe the essence of Enlightenment in his essay “What is Enlightenment?”  The first sentence of that essay goes right to the point. “Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage.”  With this, Kant says that Enlightenment has to do with the wherewithal and will of us, the people, to free ourselves from authoritative, institutionalized teachings that we allowed to dominate our thought processes throughout our lives.  It’s a call for us to throw off the shackles of society, to break the prison of tradition, and to embrace our own mental capacities.  This freeing of the mind isn’t something that will just spontaneously happen over time, it’s not something that’ll just be given to us.  It’s something we have to actualize through intellectual strength.  Reading Kant reminds me a lot of the Matrix movies because those stories show such a deep, existential struggle for freeing the mind, body, and spirit from the constraints of a computer generated world.  Unplugging yourself from an artificial life is one of the main themes, and that seems to echo what Kant is trying to get across to us.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


This Hercules of the Bible has intrigued me ever since I heard about him from my father when I was a little boy.  I remember being awed by his immense physical strength – slaying a lion with his bare hands, and defeating an army of one thousand men with just the jawbone of an ass.  Samson eventually loses all his strength after breaking the Nazirite vow three different times by touching an animal’s unsanctified dead carcass, drinking wine, and cutting his hair.  (By the way, I think I could be a good Nazirite.  I don’t enjoy touching dead animals.  I don’t drink alcohol.  And I don’t like cutting my hair.  Now if I could just get my hands on some super strength.)

Samson encapsulates the Jewish people and their relationship with God - their struggle of making and breaking covenants.  But what strikes me most about Samson is how he dies.  So dramatic.  Samson loses everything because he loses his relationship with God.  He stands blinded, shackled and powerless between pillars, before a mocking crowd of Philistines.  And at his most vulnerable moment he appeals to God for one last favor, asking Him to “remember me.”  God grants His spirit back to Samson, and in a he-man moment (“I have the power!”), Samson pulls down the pillars, destroying everyone, including himself.  Why God considered it right to allow Samson to kill everyone is beyond me, nonetheless it still makes for an epic ending.  

(Narrative found in the book of Judges chapters 13-16.)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cherokee Proverb

A Cherokee grandfather talking to his young grandson tells the boy he has two wolves inside of him struggling with each other. The first is the wolf of peace, love and kindness. The other wolf is fear, greed and hatred. "Which wolf will win, grandfather?" asks the young boy. "Whichever one I feed," is the reply.

A friend passed this wisdom on to me.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

For the Polar Bears

I recently watched “To the Arctic” in Imax 3-D.  The story details the general plight of the polar bears, and specifically follows the journey of one particular mama polar bear and her two cubs.  It’s one of those stories that not only tugs at your heart strings, it rips them out.  Tears for sure.  It shows how global warming has dwindled the Arctic ice over the past 20 years, and this affects the polars because they use ice as their main hunting grounds, so the less ice, the less hunting, the less food.  The ice situation is so rough that one mother bear swam for 9 days straight searching for food so her family could eat.  That’s an expression of love so powerful, so beautiful that even we humans can respect and admire, but sadly that example of love is indicative of the pollutional abuse wrecked upon this our one and only earth.  After watching the film, I felt so troubled, so bothered because solving this problem seems way too daunting, it seems like a foregone conclusion.  I still feel that way, but I also don’t wanna give up, even in the face of impossibility.  Besides, I’m not alone in this struggle.  If our accumulated individual actions brought the world to this point, then maybe our collective efforts can bring the world to a better point.  Lots of little things can add up to big things, like eating less beef (because methane from cows and fertilizers used in farming contributes to the warming of the ozone), and writing government people about environmental issues (i.e. you can ask your city officials to ban plastic bags), and using more efficient means of transportation – carpooling, mass transit, bicycles, walking.  It might be too late for any of this to matter, but if a polar bear can swim for 9 days straight without giving up, then the least we can do is make some small sacrifices here and there. 

For more info check out polar bears international and this care2

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Liebster Blog Award

Well, Bonnee Crawford from The Blogging of an Aspiring Writer was kind enough to nominate me for this award thingy.  There’s a few rules to the award, but I’m not gonna follow all ‘em because I like to rebel here and there.  That said, I’ll follow the rule of sharing 11 facts about myself.  So here ya go:

1.   When I was born, I weighed 10 pounds 6 ounces. 
2.   Now I stand 6 feet 2 inches, and weigh 215 pounds.
3.   I don’t know how to play any musical instrument, although I kinda wished I learned the harmonica.
4.   I’ve ridden a camel once in my life. 
5.   I listen to Beethoven’s moonlighting over and over when I study for a test.
6.   I own two fedoras, four baseball hats, and countless bandanas.
7.   I saw the smurfs movie, the one that came out last year.  I consider that a great example of patience.
8.   I’m not allergic to anything, as far as I know.
9.   I drive a 2007 Toyota yaris. 
10. I just read the Planet Hulk comic book series, and next I’m gonna read World War Hulk.
11. I recently tore my rotator cuff while lifting weights.  Hope it heals soon!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

the insightfulness of Bruce Lee

Someone once asked Bruce whether or not he had a black belt, to which he responded, "I don't have any belt, whatsoever.  That is just a certificate.  Unless you can really do it - that is, defend yourself successfully in a fight - that belt doesn't mean anything.  I think it might be useful to hold your pants up, but that's about it."

came across this quote in the book Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting by Vijay Prashad.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bags bags go away, come again when 100% biodegradable.

[written by anonymous friend and edited by me]

What would our world be like without plastic?  When I walk down the aisles of giant chain stores, most everything is composed of or contained in some form of plastic.  Limiting the use of plastic is one of the main ways in which I try to make environmentally conscious decisions.  I even rinse my plastic utensils at work so I can reuse them. I drink coffee every morning using a straw but at the end of the day, I rinse my straw when I clean my cup so I don't have to toss it after one use.  In many cities such as Toronto, grocery stores charge you for bags.  It was only recently that the idea of banning plastic bags began to take effect in the United Stated albeit less than 10% of all states have implemented such a law. I don't always remember to take my reusable bags to the store but on many occasions (when the items are small enough) I've asked the cashier not to bag my things.  Do I really need a huge plastic bag for a small bottle of nail polish?  Or a birthday card, and two packets of personal wipes? No, I just put them in my purse after paying for them.  I also will almost always ask not to put any tissue papers in my bag because what happens to them later? Trashed. Until bags are made of 100% biodegradable material, then I will be more comfortable with idea of bagging my store bought items. Many places are now allowing you to return plastic bags after using them, but wouldn't it be more economical to eliminate the need for them in the first place, so we won't have to recycle them?  I realize that it may not be economically feasible to make all bags biodegradable right this second, but the idea is to speed up the reduction of plastic bag usage.

For more info on these kinds of matters check out -

Friday, July 20, 2012

starbucks vs. starbucks

The other day I was driving around the city of my birth (Houston, TX).  I was cruising around one of the the affluent, upper scale parts of town, just kind of hanging out, killing some time.  And then I happened upon these two competing coffee houses...
Hmm... which starbucks should I go to, the one on the left, or the one on the right?  Tough choice, life is full of tough choices.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

a poem by tupac shakur

legendary rapper, american icon (1971-1996)
my handwriting, tupac's words.  found this poem in his book poetry, The Rose that Grew from Concrete

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Prometheus movie review

the good
Stunning visuals.  It has an interesting origins story angle for fans of the Alien series.  We finally learn how and by whom the monsters were made.

the bad
Suffers from a boring, slow moving start, and flat, static, one dimensional characters.  The filmmakers try to raise some deep philosophical questions, but they don’t seem to be well versed enough to really dive into those questions.

and the grade
B for effort, D-minus for execution

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Exploring Toronto

Well besides graffiti, here's some more of what I saw while in Toronto.

a great setting for a street brawl movie scene

thank you mr. bear holding the door open

pez galore!

bixi rental bikes.  when you wanna ride in style, ride bixi.

friend ern in serious mode, while friend dave uses the laptop.

sleeping beauty?

dave reading hope on a tight rope by cornel west

ed the modern man, hard at work

from left to right: asad, ern, ed, and dave playing our preferred game of choice, monopoly deal

down goes toy soldier!

walking to the prince's gate

the lawless renegade

from left to right: ern peeking from behind the tree like an assassin, asad using the tree to hide his identity, dave the tree hugger, and ed standing next to the tree.  i like how each of them has their own unique way of posing and interacting with the trees. 

"Hi-yo, Dog!  Away!"

attack of the cat people!

I'm used to signs prohibiting behavior, not promoting it

this is what happens when asad gets angry.

asad, dave, and ern meditating in the field with the CN tower in background

apparently this was a haunted lighthouse, but it seemed just cool to me.

friends forever

dave's just catching a few z's

dave and asad chillin'

we happened upon the set of dino dan, whatever that is.

the real duck tales

"I have the power!"

french fries + cheese + gravy = poutine =  toronto delicacy 

me attempting to become woody woodpecker

come back dave!

Monday, June 18, 2012

canadian graffiti

Some friends and I recently journeyed to Toronto.  Little did we realize we would stumble into the third circle of graffiti heaven.

friend dave poses with the deranged smiley face

run jerry!

friends dave and ern try to become the art

me leading the polar bear charge

earthworm jim!

a new development on the formula e=mc square.  einstein would be proud.

friend dave shows his love for the joker and harley quinn

friend ed poses with mega man

friend asad chillin' with the swan

if there was ever a dragon to hug, he'd be the one.