Academic life.
kitten   July 26, 2005

Professors are dead-set against the internet as a research tool, and I've yet to figure out why. It is the single most revolutionary tool of academic research since the invention of the library.

Yet instead of allowing students access to this marvel, professors expect their pupils to physically travel to the university library in order to access a poorly organized, difficult-to-use, highly restricted propietary system, the information in which will be orders of magnitude less illuminating than what can be found on the internet. The student will usually have to wait in line for the privilege. Alternatively, they can beg and plead at three different departments for a login to access aforementioned system remotely, but it usually won't work.

The professors' sole argument seems to be that any two-bit schmuck can make a website, and they don't want their students relying on shoddy information. This seems fair on the surface, but is extremely misguided, for it is only by allowing students to sift through the detrius that they'll develop the skill to detect bullshit when they see it. By artificially constraining students to a sheltered electric bubble, they're denying one of few chances in the academic world to excercise any amount of thought at all. The "research paper" becomes nothing more than an example of how well the student can regurgitate prefabricated, school-approved information without the need for synthesizing any of it into a cohesive whole.

Of course, as a student myself, I cheat. I cheat every chance I get. I write the majority of my paper before I do any research, and look for "sources" afterwards to supplement myself. I used quotation marks because, naturally, I am not using the sources I cite, but rather gathering enough information on Amazon that I can create the bibliography for the book I allegedly referenced, using MLA-approved format (or Chicago, or APA, or whatever equally arbitrary means of citation the professor wants this time). I use the internet for any reasarch I actually do, and more often than not, it provides me with exactly what a source should -- a concise discussion of the topic at hand, often with an angle I wouldn't have thought of on my own and would never have been able to find in a library without sifting through twenty books for seven hours. If the professor wants copies of the sources, I muck about with it in a word processor to the point where it looks like what I could get from their atrocious incomprehensibly-acronymed database. The result is a well-written, insightful paper that appears to play by the rules, but the professor never notices the difference, and I usually get high marks.

The irony is that I feel I am actually learning more, and doing so faster, with this method than I would be capable of by strictly conforming to the rules. Of course, since the topic is likely as not some ridiculous nonsense I have zero interest in and which will never have any applicability to my life, it quickly fades from memory, but at least I can congratulate myself for learning how to manipulate the system -- a lesson far more valuable than any treatise on The Grapes Of Wrath can ever be.

Lead us not into Temptation.
kitten   July 18, 2005

It's called The Best of New Order, but it really isn't. Too few of the band's truly evocative songs, and in a misguided effort to bring early 80s synthpop into the more modern world of dance hits, remixes abound that abuse the originals. From the moment you hear Blue Monday starting with a bizarre horror-movie laugh, you know this isn't going to be pretty.

But most of all, Temptation isn't on it.

I first became aware of New Order in 1998, thanks to the mostly-forgettable yet still enjoyable movie The Wedding Singer, the soundtrack to which I promptly bought after seeing it with my then-girlfriend who, unbeknownst to me, was shortly about to give me the "It's not me, it's you" speech that I have become so very accustomed to. Rolls off me like so much sulfuric acid these days. The endless amounts of disco music I had in my collection (along with vintage polyester and a Travolta-inspired pompadour -- I was in high school, okay?) weren't bringing me any comfort on my long and lonely midnight drives as I attempted to find some consolation.

They say no man sings better than he who drives alone on a Saturday night, and by that reckoning, I was well on my way to becoming a world-class basso profundo.

The soundtrack, which fit nicely on a double-sided cassette, contained two songs of note for the sort of post-breakup melancholy I found myself in: I Am Human, courtesy of The Smiths, and New Order's Blue Monday.

Oh, sure, The Smiths are in the standard repository of rejection music, along with Depeche Mode and The Cure, but at the time, I knew nothing of such things, and didn't care to. Until Blue Monday, which captured me in some expressive way, and was likely my first experience with attempting to fit personal meaning into song lyrics. "How does it feel," it asked, "to treat me like you do?" A rhetorical question, certainly, but one that stuck with me. These days I interpret this quite a bit differently, but at the time, a broken eighteen year old needed the obvious meaning.

I subsequently went out and got ahold of Substance on double-CD, widely considered New Order's most thorough compilation of hits, and with good reason. Third on the tracklist is Temptation, and it sounds ridiculous the first time you hear it. Fades in nice and quiet to falsetto male voices, like they hadn't bothered figuring out how the words should go.

Heaven, a gateway, a hope
Just like a feeling inside, it's no joke
And though it hurts me to treat you this way
Betrayed by words, I'd never heard, too hard to say

This, I would quickly discover, was standard for New Order -- over the synthesizers and acoustics, simplistic and vague lyrics that nevertheless had a certain poetic quality about them. Simple, yes, but balm for the teenage angst-ridden soul, it was. And in my car, endlessly pounding on the center console in time to the beat:
Up, down, turn around
Please don't let me hit the ground
Tonight I think I'll walk alone
I'll find my soul as I go home
During this time my friends and I were occasionally called upon to DJ parties, although that's really a glorified term for what we did, which was set up a pair of CD players and headphones connected to a mixing board someone had picked up along the way, and drag the whole setup to whatever warehouse had been rented for the evening in order to host a racuous bunch of drama-club students, football players, and assorted freshman raver wannabes. We did our level best to keep the crowd entertained and the equalizers adjusted, but most times it wound up with people ignoring the playlist and DJ schedule in favor of requests and threats, along with a healthy dose of Trying To Look Important as we fiddled with knobs and switches even though the tuning was as good as it was going to get.

Requests are a DJ's sighing point. You're supposed to work with the crowd (sound familiar?) but, goddammit, you were put in charge of the music and now any two-bit schmuck can waltz up and demand you stop playing dancable synthpop in favor of whatever flash-in-the-pan rapper-featuring-guest-rapper garbage currenly in vogue this week with privileged suburban white kids? Most of the time I refused, insisting that I didn't even have whatever song they wanted, even if I could have grabbed it from somewhere, but a cute girl's smile could sway me with a quickness.

And so it was one night, in a smallish warehouse behind a sleazy jewelry store, that a dark-haired socialite approached the improvised setup I was currently manning -- really just a foldup table with our equipment on top -- and smiled. I smiled back, anticipating the polite noises I'd make as I turned down her appeal for Bone Thugz or Busta Rhymes or I don't even know what.

But instead, in a shy voice, she asked, "Do you know who New Order is?"

"Yeah," I said, trying to act nonchalant; a bad habit around pretty girls that would be years hence in the breaking. "I know who they are."

"Maybe you could play something from them?"

"I'll see what I can do." kitten, the King of Cool.

"Thanks," she said, and vanished back into the strobe-lit darkness.

I rifled through my CD book -- this was before the days of mp3, you understand -- and came up with Substance. I could have played Blue Monday or Bizarre Love Triangle, and probably should have, but after making an ass of myself with yet another cute woman, there was only one thing for it.

Thoughts from above hit the people down below
People in this world, we have no place to go
Dozens of fists pounded the air in rhythm, just as I'd done in my car, in the night, alone. I suddenly felt less stupid for it.

It wasn't long before I met another girl at a birthday party. In that awkward way teenagers go about their mating rituals, we arranged to "hang out"at a mutual friend's house to watch Trainspotting which I'd never seen before, and down cheap vodka -- conveniently purchased for me by a coworker -- as an excuse to get drunk and personal with each other. This was New Year's Eve, the dawn of 1999. By my third or fourth screwdriver, mixed heavy with inexpert flair by our hostess, I was no longer paying attention to the movie, or much of anything else, save for the girl. Neither was anyone else, it seemed, people having already broken up into respective couples and sectioned off in various parts of the house. I was muttering glib nothings through an alcoholic haze, when the sound of the movie caught my attention.

Oh, you've got green eyes
Oh, you've got blue eyes
Oh, you've got gray eyes
"This," I told her, indicating the television, "is the greatest song in the world."

"I think you might be drunk," she said.

"I surely am, but I'm also right. About the song."

"I really can't argue with that," she said, and took my hand, "come on. Let's go outside."

Deep winter in Atlanta isn't a place you want to spend a lot of time outside in, but her lips opened into warmth.

Thoughts from above hit the people down below.