Tuesday, August 31, 2010

At the Gym

While I was getting a drink of water someone stole a 10-lb plate from my barbell. In ignorance I began my fourth set of bench press with an unbalanced bar and in surprise nearly dropped 195 lbs on my chest. Racking the weight proved difficult--in part because my motor skills couldn't quite figure out how to move this unfamiliar lop-sided thing, and in part because I had an instant image in my mind of how ridiculous I must have looked.

These kinds of images sometimes arise at inopportune moments. I'll notice the comedy of my bruised-strawberry face at the bottom of a squat and my legs will go wobbly, or I'll be struck by the absurdity of the gym in general, or perhaps a particularly-deadly-serious bro will walk by.

Florian and Marianne, my German farmers, heaped scorn on the idea of the gym. They couldn't believe that people spend money to push things around or run in place after work. They, of course, pushed things around and walked and dug and planted and so forth 70-100 hours a week as their work.

Our sedentary economy and our sedentary culture quite literally kill us (we need not talk about creation here). Our jobs and our diets make us fat immovable objects. You need take no action; it will simply happen to you. If you wish not to be a sedentary sack you must act with purpose and dedication. Go out of your way to eat healthy. Run, jog. Join a gym: a place where people run in place, contort their bodies in weird ways, move around large and oddly shaped paperweights, constrict themselves in cords and cables and then try to get out. It's absurd.

I don't want to demean the gym. As I say, everyone in the gym chooses, against the way of things, to be more active and healthier. That's good. But it's a sign of a sick culture that most of us need such a place to avoid killing ourselves.

PS: I just saw a Droid commercial. There's a dude texting. Droid's innovative keypad transforms the fellow's arms into the arms of a Terminator-style machine. The voice-over promises to turn you into an efficient instrument. Hell.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pechorin, Hero of Our Time

I have a guest post over at the Imaginative Conservative on Mihail Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time--more specifically, on Pechorin, the titular character.
I gather that the title character, Pechorin, is or was something of a Holden Caulfield in Russia--the character with whom moody adolescents identify when they wish to cast their hormonal immaturity as the existential crisis of a Complex Personality. Even though, and also because, he is essentially a fool and a brute dressed up as a fatalist, Pechorin fascinates me.

Pechorin the modern hero: undaunted by fear but not, of course, noble or genuinely courageous; witty and provocative; competent; equally skilled in entertaining either the ladies of society or the soldiers when he fancies; following no fancy or standard but his own; wealthy, skilled, and widely read.

He is, as I say, modernly heroic, or is it heroically modern?--which is to say that pervading all his aforementioned qualities is a pathetic and empty windbag. He ruins lives on a whim and then bemoans, seemingly without irony, the cruel fate that has made him a home-wrecker. He is Jimmy McNulty (of HBO's The Wire), serving nothing and no one but himself, and when his appetites earn him the fury of others, he asks, "...**** did I do?"
Read the rest.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Election 2010

I can't vote for anyone. Either I'm voting for the war-wild nationalists who want to destroy the earth--after conquering it for American freedom and all that--or I pick the selfish socialists who think that morality is encouraging people to indulge in their appetites no matter what. Not much of a choice there.

Both of them scramble like mad to assure us that our unchecked consumption need not slow or decline--the former say so because the earth simply cannot be used up, the latter because technology must provide new ways for us to do what we do. Limits don't sell. Jimmy Carter taught us that thirty years ago, and no one on either side of the aisle has yet forgotten.

Jason Peters over at Front Porch Republic recently wrote a brief blog about a New York Times article on alternative energy. "It is predicated," Peters writes
like much of our fantasy life, on the assumption that technology and energy are interchangeable.

(It’s true most of us know this assumption to be false, be we know it to be false the way we know that there’s no monster following us up the stairs from the dark basement, which is to say we don’t know it. Otherwise we wouldn’t be sprinting.)

I’ll grant that the article does attempt to focus on energy rather than on the gee-whizzery by which we get it, but still the underlying assumption is that when we finally crash into the natural limits of ancient sunlight, we’ll simply flip a switch and be on our merry way. We’ll hit the pedal and drive away from the wreck, this time on cotton (which isn’t cotton but “pure cellulose”) or lithium or Lucky Charms or used golf balls popping in popcorn poppers or hamsters running in their exercise wheels.

A second assumption at work in the piece is that of course we’re going to keep the world that we’ve built running. A third is that we’re going to keep it running the way it’s running–at current speed and across great distances: that is, according to specs.
I haven't and won't read the article, but Peters' analysis applies equally well to dozens of other articles on alternative energy that I've perused over the years. Do read the rest of the blog.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

No Warning, New Sufjan

This man's camp is airtight. You never hear any rumors, any gossip. One day nothing. Next day, tour announced. Then nothing. Then EP released.

I'm downloading it this second, which is about ninety seconds after I found out it existed.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Another Campus

I am currently sitting in a big mess of snazzy computers in the basement of the library here at the University of Arizona. This morning I attended a mostly pointless orientation for new graduate students, waited for nearly two hours to be told that I was in the wrong place, and turned in a form to certify my residence in Arizona--something I did not realize was in doubt until the college tried to charge me thousands of extra dollars.

I am one of 1600-1700 first-year graduate students at Arizona this year. That's right. 1600+. As in 30%+ more first-year graduate students than there are students at Hillsdale.

 I made a sweaty mess of myself multiple times biking around this huge, abominably hot campus.

Contrary to the tone of this post, I am pleased to start classes on Monday. I will be taking Advanced Studies in Modern European History by an Ottoman-Empire specialist, an upper-level German course, and a class on historiography by Dr. Susan Crane, my probable future thesis adviser.

Caffe Lucé made me a rather delicious Americano, which I enjoyed while studying German and reading Lukacs and Mihail Lermontov's A Hero of our Time (which I really enjoy... the translation is by Nabakov and the cover art is by Edward Gorey... fantastic).

Well, now, I just love Titus Andronicus' Civil-War themed album, the Monitor.

"A Quick One While He's Away" reminds me that the Who were once known for bad-ass rock rather than embarrassing old-white-guy-half-time-show entertainment or background music for inane forensic-crime procedural dramas. Is it just a bit cliché if I now consider the soundtrack for Rushmore my third-favorite soundtrack?... after the Royal Tenenbaums and Snatch? Okay, I admit, those are the only three soundtracks I own.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Porter Perkins

Henry Porter Perkins always went by Porter, except when he went by Cy. He was a hunter and a gatherer, a schoolteacher, a builder of custom wooden speedboats, a naval engineer on the U.S.S. Biloxi in the Pacific Theater of the Second World War, a nuclear engineer, a carpenter, a talented accordion player, and an amateur historian.

As a child of poor farmers, he hunted game and gathered berries in the Maine woods. He was color blind, though he did not know this until he entered the Navy, and he would sometimes return home with no berries but with red juice all over his hands, and he would receive a verbal thrashing for eating the berries he could not see in the leaves.

He married just before shipping out in the Navy, and his daughter was born to his young wife a few months after his departure.

When the Biloxi broke down in the Pacific, he crawled through hundreds of yards of pipes and engines and grease until he found the broken piece. Then he spent three straight days machining the replacement out of a block of steel on a lathe.

He saw the original flag-raising on Iwo Jima. He stood in the devastation that was Nagasaki only weeks after its destruction and had dinner with a Japanese family.

A few years after the war he moved to Pittsburgh with his family and became Porter Perkins from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

He designed and built the beautiful grandmother clocks in our house. After retirement he built his own house on Dauphin Island in Alabama, a gorgeous three-story wooden house on stilts.

He wrote and self-published two books. One was a memoir of his time in the war called A Bilge's Eye View; the other, A Vertical Slice of America, something of a cultural history.

He traced our family history back to Henry Perkins, who sailed to America in the 1630s. Henry Porter, my grandfather, was the 11th generation of his family in America, and I am the 13th. I am Mark Porter Perkins.


I have relocated and renamed my blog for a variety of reasons. For one thing, LiveJournal makes me feel like a tween. The design options are enormously limited. Though I am clueless about such things, there were a few small things I wished to tweak and could not. I can also link my Google identity to my blog, which has a nice unified feel to it.

I cannot migrate my old posts and comments here right now. There are a few programs for doing so, but it seems that LJ changed their code earlier this year which has screwed with all those programs, and no one is updating them. I hope in the future to move the five years of posts at LJ here, but for now you'll have to swing back to the old blog for those posts.

I chose the name Porter Perkins in part because it links me to my family history in a way my first name does not. Additionally, finding a markperkins.anything domain is impossible, whereas porterperkins is always available.

I shifted, you'll notice, the title of my LiveJournal to the subtitle here. It is, as I have said, from Willa Cather's My Ántonia, a great book.

So here I am. I will probably tweak some minor design issues over the next few months, and I will probably be posting here a little more infrequently as graduate school begins. Thanks for reading.


'It makes me homesick, Jimmy, this flower, this smell,' she said softly. 'We have this flower very much at home, in the old country. It always grew in our yard and my papa had a green bench and a table under the bushes. In summer, when they were in bloom, he used to sit there with his friend that played the trombone. When I was little I used to go down there to hear them talk--beautiful talk, like what I never hear in this country.'

'What did they talk about,' I asked her.

She sighed and shook her head. 'Oh I don't know! About music, and the woods, and about God, and when they were young.'