Saturday, September 18, 2010

Rules are Meant to be Broken

Today my youngest sister told me she was reading a book called "The Rules".  I was only vaguely aware of this book before, but the more she described it, the more I did not like it.

From Wikipedia:

The book argues that in order to attract and marry the man of her dreams, a woman should be 'hard to get'. The underlying philosophy of which is that women should not aggressively pursue men, but rather ought to get the men to pursue them.

I'm very much against the games people feel like they have to play, this whole 'don't let him know you like him or he will value you less' mindset is ridiculous.  There have been several times where finding out a girl was interested in me actually made me look at her more favorably, even made her more attractive in return.

Basically the Rules play off of the bit of psychology that says men want what they can't have, so if you want to trick him into liking you, pretend you don't care for him.  Women aren't the only one to use this play.  Men do it too.  Its called 'Treat the girl like you're a total jerk and she'll end up wanting you more.'  We've all seen the a-hole guy with the girl that's totally into the neglect or occasional abuse he dishes out.  It works.  That doesn't mean its okay.

That's the defense I hear about "The Rules".  They work! Fine..they might.  But if you have to trick a guy into liking you, is that really the guy you should be dating?

To me, the whole story seems very familiar:

Luke: Is the Dark Side stronger?
Yoda: No, no, no.  Quicker.  Easier.  More seductive...

It would be easier to get a girl's interest by mistreating her.  I've gone down that road before.  Its almost sad how easy it is.  But is that the kind of low self-esteem person I want to be with?  While easier, it leaves a hollow victory in the end.

Let's look at some of the infamous "Rules":

2. Don't talk to a man first.
3. Don't talk too much.
4. Don't meet him halfway
6. Don't accept a Saturday Night Date after Wednesday (even if you were planning on sitting at home complaining to your roommates that you're bored, you have to make him think you lead a glamorous life filled with dates and you can only just barely book him if he calls far ahead of you're the freaking Per Se)
12. Stop Dating Him if He Doesn't Buy You a Romantic Gift for Your Birthday or Valentine's Day (make sure he pays the monetary transaction required for his end of the bargain...but you're not a prostitute, let's make that clear)
13. Don't See Him More Than Once or Twice a Week

Okay, so far so good.  Besides setting back women's rights by about three decades, they aren't completely weird.  Just a lot of "pretend you're someone you're not so he'll like you and if you're interested in him FOR HEAVENS' SAKE DO NOT LET HIM FIND OUT!!!".

But then the rules start to get really weird.

23. Don't Date a Married Man (Okay...good advice.  Kind of obvious but if you're reading self-help books maybe it bears repeating)
26. Even if You're Engaged or Married, You Still Need the Rules (Ie: Don't ever let him find out what you're really like, keep pretending to be disinterested or he might grow bored with you. Remember, men love a challenge!)
31.  Don't Discuss the Rules With Your Therapist

Wait....WHAT?!  Does that raise a red flag to anyone else?  There's a whole chapter devoted to not letting your trained licensed professional know that you're following life advice from an accountant and a freelance journalist? How long is this chapter?  Is this like the first rule of Fight Club?

First rule about "The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right":
Don't talk about "The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right".
39. Men Can Handle it if  You are Dating Other Men as Long as You are Still Available for Him (written like a woman who's never been in a relationship with a man before)

And the list of Rules goes on, explaining how you should not leave the house without makeup on, never answer the phone on the first ring, etc.

Here's my rules for dating, from a guy's point of view:

1. Be yourself.  Don't trick a guy into liking a glamorous phantasm you create for him.  Don't try to be what you think he will like.  If you do, that's a mask you're going to have to wear forever, because if you do end up getting married, he's going to eventually see the real you.  You deserve to be dating someone who likes you for who you are.

2. Be honest.  Laugh at his jokes if you find them funny, not because a Rules tells you to.  If you're excited to talk to him, its okay to let him know.  Its okay to beat him at a game you're better at than he is. Its okay to let him know you're smart, maybe even an equal partner to his own intellect, rather than a subservient food making sex machine.

Those are all the rules I can think of.  They probably don't work as fast or as easily as the "Rules", but I think you'll be happier with the end result.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Who is the Scarlet Pimpernel?

I freaking love the Scarlet Pimpernel.  For those of you who have no idea who that is, go read the book right now.

Go for it, I'll wait.

We done?  Okay.  For those of you too lazy to read a book, even an electronic one, let me sum up.  He's the freaking Batman of the French Revolution:  Rich, debonair, but entirely shallow and vapid playboy by day, but by night, he dons a secret identity and saves people from certain death.

This is a hero who survives by his wits, by staying one step ahead of his enemies, and above all, by projecting a foppish facade that serves as a shield against suspicion.  

As someone who often plays the fool, this guy is my hero.  He manages to dance circles around his enemies without them even fully realizing that they've been completely taken.

"I say, I do believe DC Comics owes me a royalty...wot?"

The musical based on the book is playing this month in Ogden, Utah.  My friend is organizing a trip to go see it and I want to go.  Unfortunately, he wants me to bring a date.

"But David, you're in Provo.  There's literally thousands of girls just waiting to be asked out on such a marvelously classy date as going to the theater," you might say. And yes, you are probably very right.  And the last time we made such an excursion, I had no trouble finding one.

Unfortunately, things have changed (see my last entry).  This is not the Provo of 2008.  Though I see beautiful girls all over campus, I don't know any of them (and I'm not very good at asking complete strangers to drive to Ogden and see a play with me).

Sadly, my life is this:  Wake up, drive to Lehi for work, get off work, drive to the campus library, research my thesis until midnight, go to bed, wash, rinse, repeat.  This leaves precious little 'get out and meet new friends' time, and even less time for romance.  

So I feel like the sailor, stranded on a piece of driftwood, saying "Water, water all around and not a drop to drink" before he dies of thirst in the middle of the ocean.  I'd love nothing better than to buy a ticket for a girl to experience what is without a doubt my favorite musical of all time.  (Okay, I realize its not super manly to have a favorite musical, but don't judge!)  The only trick is...finding the girl!  

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Return of the King

Warning:  In case you couldn't tell by the title of this post, I'm going to geek out a little.  If you're geeky enough to read blogs but not geeky enough to admit you enjoyed the Lord of the Rings movies, you should probably stop reading.  ;)

I have returned from Europe and I now find myself back in Provo, Utah.  It is a very strange feeling.   While I was in France, I listened a bit to the soundtrack in the Lord of the Rings.  I noticed something meaningful in the songs chosen for the end credits.  They all speak of a journey at different stages.

From Enya's "May it Be" (The Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack):

May it be an evening star
Shines down upon you
May it be when darkness falls
Your heart will be true
You walk a lonely road
Oh! How far you are from home...

A promise lives within you now....

Out of context, it sounds like something off of an EFY cd, a metaphor for a Parent's wishes for a child beginning life's journey through this mortal coil.  But in my context, it was talking about my trip through Europe.  Though I did not admit it, I sometimes felt like Frodo- a very small hobbit off on a very big adventure, (only with shoes and with green eyes instead of Elijah Wood's oh-so-baby blues).

You can't tell from the pictures, but I'm actually taller too...
Then winter came, and my contract seemed interminable.  Thanksgiving and Christmas made me realize how long it had been since I'd seen my family and friends, and suddenly Gollum's song became my anthem.

From "Gollum's Song", the Two Towers soundtrack:

Where once was light, now darkness falls
Where once was love, love is no more

Don't say goodbye, don't say I didn't try

These tears we cry are falling rain
For all the lies you told us, the hurt, the blame
And we will weep to be so alone
We are lost, we can never go home

Now, I certainly didn't feel as overdramatic as the schizophrenic Smeagol, but that line "We are lost, we can never go home..." rang true.  But winter passed and the sun came out, and soon my return home was pressing close.  

When the journey was almost over, suddenly "Into the West", from the Return of the King, fit perfectly:

Lay down
Your sweet and weary head
Night is falling
You have come to journey's end
Sleep now
And dream of the ones who came before
They are calling
From across a distant shore
Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see
All of your fears will pass away

Safe in my arms
You're only sleeping

What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea
A pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home
And all will turn
To silver-glass
A light on the water
Grey ships pass
Into the West

This was my favorite of the three soundtracks.  The song is a melancholy mix of hope and wistful regret, a sort of nascent nostalgia as Frodo realizes his journey is over and, while weary, is sad to see it end.  I felt the same sort of thing at the end of my time as a missionary, and I felt it again as I sat in the airport waiting to return to the states.  

So the Lord of the Rings is about journeys, specifically, Frodo's journey to Mount Doom, but also Aragorn's journey to his destiny as King.  These journeys can be perilous in and of themselves, but as Bilbo warned his nephew "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.  You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

Now I find myself, like Frodo, back home in the West, carried by grey ships that fly so high that the water in the clouds appeared as silver-glass.  And like Frodo, I find myself unable to recognize my old haunts.  Did Provo change so much in a year?  So many of my friends are gone, graduated, married, or moved on that where once I could not walk five minutes without seeing a friendly face, now I see only strangers.  Or is it myself that has changed?  I feel that sense of isolation that is so common a trope for the hero of a travel-tale upon returning home.  

Was Thomas Wolfe right when he said "You Can't Go Home Again?"

My brother and I walking our hobbit sized nephew home...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Free Market Mind Trick

People seldom know why they do things.  Oh, most people think they know their own motivations, but few people actually sit down and ask themselves why they say, act, or think the way they do.  For some reason, the shower is the place where I review the previous day.  Something about being in a closed space with no distractions but the routine of cleaning makes me introspective.  Yesterday, I had an epiphany..

I hate free market economies.

Or rather, I hate the innovations that come from them...

More specifically, I hate having to choose between two high price items that both seem equally great.

Here's my dilemma.  Its about time for me to get a new phone, my old one is on its last legs.  For the past few years, everyone has been telling me how great the Iphone is.  My friends, my coworkers, even my own brother and father have been singing its praises.  Its just got so many useful apps!  Its like all of a sudden everyone's got little computers in their pocket, like Penny from the old Inspector Gadget cartoon!  The future is now!  (In this example, the future is a cartoon from the late 80's, but you get the idea)..
You gotta admit, this thing was go-go-Gadget awesome!

My point is that for as long as I've been entertaining the notion of a new phone, the almost universal consensus was 'if you want the best and you're willing to pay for it, get an Iphone'.

And I loved that.  My world was simple.  Easy.  Goal: Get a great phone.  Solution: Get money, but an Iphone.  It couldn't be less complicated.

Then one day, out of nowhere, suddenly everyone is talking about this phone called an Android...or a Droid, for short.  Apparently, what it lacks in app support, it makes up for in other cool features, like the ability to play certain kinds of media files that the iphone can't, or the fact that its name makes me think of Star Wars.

Now all of a sudden, my world is cast into doubt and confusion!  I have to actually RESEARCH this stuff and find out what the best item is.  Its not like when I bought a handheld video game player and the Gameboy DSi was the big dog in the yard.  Suddenly there are two contenders and I can't get good odds on either one.

They're both so expensive that I really don't want to make the wrong choice and have to regret it later....because, like this stormtrooper, it would haunt me forever:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Carriage Wit Classics: Non-Smokers : The Oppressed Majority

Today's Carriage Wit Classic comes from four years ago, during my days as a corporate wage-slave.

"Cover for me for a few minutes, I'm going to take a smoke break."  If I had a dime for every minute I covered for a co-worker so he could go outside and fill his lungs full of tar, I'd be making a lot more than minimum wage.  A LOT more. 

With new scientific evidence pointing out that second-hand smoke is EVEN MORE HARMFUL than originally thought, I wonder why at jobs we actively encourage smoking by letting people take five minutes off of work whenever they feel the urge to light up a cancer stick?

"But David, they feel so much more relaxed after a smoke."  Well yeah..that's called getting a five minute break from a stressful job.  Let me go stand outside for five minutes without anything to worry about and I'll be a lot more relaxed too.

"But David, they're so addicted that its impossible to go any period of time longer than an hour without smoking something."

Wow. That's really sad on a lot of levels.  Fine, let them take their smoke breaks.  But as a nonsmoker (and thus as an employee who doesn't tire as quickly, has better breath and teeth for customer service, and is far less likely to get cancer and suck up sick leave or company life insurance), I deserve to take five minute breaks whenever I'm sick of my job too.  Instead, I stay behind and have to cover the job of two people, instead of just myself.  Do I get paid more for my efforts?  Nope.  Its just part of the job.  Its what I get for not sucking on a stick of burning chemicals.

Another thing I was thinking about today as I swept up literally dozens of cigarette butts from the front of the store...Why does smoking give you a carte blanche on littering?  If I were to walk by and throw a candy bar wrapper on the ground in front of people I'd get glared at at best, and forced to pick it up and throw it away at worse.  But when someone finishes a cigarette, its perfectly acceptable to flick the toxic stub casually onto the sidewalk or road or wherever it is you are standing.  Anyone who's ever volunteered to clean up a highway can share my frustration here.  JUST BECAUSE YOU'RE TURNING YOUR BODY INTO AN ASHY JUNKYARD DOESN'T MEAN YOU CAN TRASH THE OUTSIDE WORLD TOO!

Its bad enough you're giving us cancer just by walking by, but do we have to do your jobs and clean up your cigarette butts too?

Why is it that whenever a restaurant is forced to prohibit smoking on the premesis it makes the papers and causes a huge fit about civil rights, but everyone accepts the above incidents like its just the natural part of life?

Your rights end when they infringe on mine.

(This has been a public service announcement from our good friend Common Sense)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Manly Library: A Reading List (Part 1/4)

Just because school is soon to be out doesn't mean we can neglect reading for three months!  Consider this my public service message for reading! The more you know!

Butterfly in the sky...I can fly twice as high! Take a look! Its in a book! Its


On the Art of Manliness website, I have discovered a list of the 100 Books every man should read.

Being both a man and literate, I decided to see how I am doing thus far in my man-life.  It seems I have quite a bit of reading to do before I die.

100. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald                    Status: Read
I remember reading this one in high school and finding it tolerable.  It does, however, teach the man-lesson that often times the wanting is better than the having.
“He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles… It faced–or seemed to face–the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.”

99. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli                                Status: Read
Loved this one.  Machiavelli gets a bad rap, but really he's just putting forward a neo-realistic's guide to gettingn power and keeping it.

"From this arises an argument: whether it is better to be loved than feared. I reply that one should like to be both one and the other; but since it is difficult to join them together, it is much safer to be feared than to be loved when one of the two must be lacking."

98. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut                       Status: Unread.  Want to Read.

I think I'm the only person in the world who didn't have to read this book in high school.  From what I heard, I missed out.

97. 1984 by George Orwell                                                 Status: Read

Loved  this one.  Rarely is a book so influential that the author's name becomes an adjective to describe an entire concept, but 1984 introduces the "Orwellian" future dystopia to modern readers.

“But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”

96. The Republic by Plato                                                 Status: Read

I not only read this, I was a student teacher for a class based around it.  Every man should be a philosopher, and there's no better place to start than with Plato, the foundation of western thought.

95. Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky              Status: Unread. Ambivalent.

This one is mostly intimidating by its bulk, though thankfully its not War and Peace.  I hope to get around to this one eventually, but its not high on the priority list.

94. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger                    Status: Unread. Ambivalent.

I think I missed the window of opportunity here.  When I was 16 or 17 I might've had enough angst and cynicism to be on board, but that ship has sailed.

93. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith                     Status: Read

Another gem of my college education, this little book of common sense set the wheels of modern economics turning.  

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.” 

92. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway        Status: Unread. Curious

Hemingway is one of those authors so manly that even his semi-auto-biographical adventure books turn out to be rather tame compared to the adventure that was his actual life.

91. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde           Status: Unread. Want to read.

For all of you dapper gents and debonair swashbucklers, this book is full of impeccable wit and clever one-liners guaranteed to put the Bond back into your game.  Its a novel about pure decadence, and that's straightup interesting.  Its one of the reasons I loved "Dangerous Liaisons".

90. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck                 Status: Read.

Another high school English book, I remember it being long and dry, perhaps not unlike California grapes left too long on the vine in the sun.  It does have some manly qualities, most notably the lenghts a man will go to provide for his family.

“Fear the time when the strikes stop while the great owners live – for every little beaten strike is proof that the step is being taken…fear the time when Manself will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one quality is the foundation of Manself, and this one quality is man, distinctive in the universe.”

89. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley                       Status: Unread. Curious.

I'm always a sucker for a dystopian future..

88. How to Win Friends and Influence People  by Dale Carnegie             Status: Unread. Ambivalent

I've never been a fan of self-help books, but this one pre-dates that craze.  This is a subject I've never had much trouble with, thanks to a liberal dotage of wit and  charisma, but there's always room for improvement.  

87. Call of the Wild  by Jack London                            Status: Unread. Ambivalent

I'm a little tired of the 'man vs. nature' survival novel, but if I were to go back and read one, I'd select this one.  I love me some Alaskan sled dogs.

86. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris                 Status: Unread.  HOLY CRAP THIS BOOK EXISTS?!

Theodore Roosevelt is the manliest American president ever! Even his biography doesn't have a lame title like "The Life of Theodore Roosevelt" or even "Theodore Roosevelt: Bear Killer".  Its the RISE of THEODORE ROOSEVELT.  Like its the ascension of a new epoch of manliness and mustaches, which, in a way, it was. I can't believe I never knew about this book!

85. Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss                          Status: Unread. Ambivalent

I might've liked this one as a boy but the magic of building tree houses and fighting pirates is something that doesn't quite grasp my imagination anymore.

84. Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac                                                 Status: Unread. Curious.

A book about escaping the pressures of modern life and getting back to appreciating the simple things.  I'm basically living that life right now in my poverty...after reading this book I can say its more of a beatnik disdain for wealth and stability and less the result of student loans.

83. The Illiad and Odyssey of Homer                                            Status: Read

(2 for 1 special). The first thing I did after learning how to read was devour all the Dr. Seuss books in the kindergarten library.  Once that was done, the SECOND thing I did was wander into the Mythology section and start reading everything I could get my hands on in Greek and Roman mythology.  I've loved it ever since, and these two books do not disappoint my thirst for the epic.

82. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller                                                      Status: Unread. Curious.

Another book that influenced modern terminology.  Don't be a Michael Scott and use this phrase without a passing familiarity of its origins.  

81. Walden by Henry David Thoreau                                           Status: Read

This one goes back to my teenage years, sitting outside in a tree in the summer waxing philosophical and even sentimental about the tranquility of nature.  Though I'm not totally on board with the Transcendental movement, I think ever man deserves a sabbatical from the this modern life at least once.

80.  Lord of the Flies  by William Golding                                   Status: Unread. Want to read.

Another high school classic that I missed out on.  I've always been fascinated by sociology and human behavior, as well as what happens when you strip the veneer of civilization from our brutal natures.

79.  The Master and the Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov        Status: Unread. Curious.

My exposure to Russian literature is sadly lacking, but this one sounds good.  The devil visits Moscow and makes fun of their enlightened skepticism. 

78.  Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut                                              Status: Unread. Curious.

Written as a fake autobiography, its supposed to be a hillarious take on abstract art that makes fun of the inflated self-importance of the artists and the high brow elite who consume it.

77.  Atlas Shrugged by  Ayn Rand                                           Status: Read.

An intimidating read at 1,084 pages, this was the perfect companion for one of my trans-atlantic flights to Europe.  The fundamental concept is that our world falls apart when individuals stop seeking their own satisfaction through personal achievement and feel a sense of entitlement to the accomplishments and work of others. This book challenges us on many levels…you may find it conflicting with your value of other people, her treatment of God, or any other beliefs you already hold. Yet, who can argue with “The most depraved type of human being … (is) the man without a purpose.” 

76.  The Metamorphosis by  Frank Kafka                                Status: Unread. Curious

A man wakes up in his bed finding himself transformed into monstrous vermin? Interesting premise..

Considering the bulk of my university education has been based around French literature, I'd say I'm not doing too badly.  Still, there's a lot left to read...  Next post I will look at 75-51 on the list.  In the meantime, what books have you read? Are there any on the list that I haven't read that you think aren't worth the read?  Men, what books on this list are on your "to read" bucket list?  Which ones have you read and enjoyed?  Which of my unread books should be highest on the priority list? Lowest?

Ladies, what about you?  Its a Manly Library, but there's no surer way to learn how we think than to read the compilation of literature on the subject of manliness.

And with that, I'm off to go sit in the park and read.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

French Folklore: Bluebeard

Ostensibly, one of my projects out here has been to research French folklore for the thesis I am writing.  I like looking at the legend and then finding out what parts of it come from history and which parts are myth.  Unfortunately, in the case of the story of Bluebeard, the truth is far more disturbing than the fiction...

Warning: The true story is deeply disturbing.  If you have a weak stomach, stop reading when the fairy tale ends.

The Legend (as summarized by wikipedia):

Bluebeard is a very wealthy aristocrat, feared because of his "frightfully ugly" blue beard. He had been married several times, but no one knew what had become of his wives. He was therefore avoided by the local girls. When Bluebeard visited one of his neighbours and asked to marry one of her two daughters, the girls were terrified, and each tried to pass him on to the other. Eventually he persuaded the younger daughter (Perrault does not name the woman, but many versions state her name to be Fatima) to marry him, and after the ceremony she went to live with him in his château.

Very shortly after, however, Bluebeard announced that he had to leave the country for a while; he gave over all the keys of the chateau to his new wife, including the key to one small room that she was forbidden to enter. He then went away and left the house in her hands. Almost immediately she was overcome with the desire to see what the forbidden room held, and finally her visiting sister, Anne, convinced her to satisfy her curiosity and open the room.
The wife immediately discovered the room's horrible secret: Its floor was awash with blood, and the dead bodies of her husband's former wives hung from hooks on the walls. Horrified, she locked the door, but blood had come onto the key which would not wash off. Bluebeard returned unexpectedly and immediately knew what his wife had done. In a blind rage he threatened to behead her on the spot, but she implored that he give her quarter of an hour to say her prayers. He consented so she locked herself in the highest tower with her sister, Anne. While Bluebeard, sword in hand, tried to break down the door, the sisters waited for their two brothers to arrive. At the last moment, as Bluebeard was about to deliver the fatal blow, the brothers broke into the castle, and as he attempted to flee, they killed him. He left no heirs but his wife, who inherited all his great fortune. She used part of it for a dowry to marry her sister to the one that loved her, another part for her brothers' captains commissions, and the rest to marry a worthy gentleman who made her forget her ill treatment by Bluebeard.

This story comes to us from Charles Perrault.  It is one of the folk tales he chronicled in his Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passé. It is believed to have come from the Brittany region of France.  On the surface it seems to be just another tale of feminine curiosity and how dangerous it can be.  (Eve, Pandora, Lot's Wife, Psyche....even Belle from Beauty and the Beast couldn't keep her nose out of that West Wing).  

However, the historical inspiration for this tale is even more ghastly.

The History: 
Gilles de Rais was a man of contradictions.  A wealthy lord, baron, and Breton knight, he fought alongside Jeanne d'Arc and was a deeply pious man.  He was also one of the most prolific serial killers of children known to history.

He became a war hero, most notably during the Seige of Paris, where he was granted the right to add the royal coat of arms to his own, and specifically commended by the king for his "high and commendable services", the "great perils and dangers" he had confronted, and "many other brave feats". 

Once the war hero retired from military life, he began to spend his money lavishly.  Much of it was drunk away during wild parties, but he also spent a small fortune constructing the Chapel of the Holy Innocents, dedicated to the young boys killed  by Herod.  This choice would prove tragically ironic, as de Rais had innocents of his own to slaughter.

According to his testimony and that of his associates, it was during this time that de Rais began dabbling in the occult.  He testified that he began sacrificing children to the demon "Barron" in order to regain his squandered fortune.  It is likely that this explanation was fed to him by the court in an effort to understand how a former hero could sink to such depravities. 

He killed hundreds of children, mostly young boys.  He tortured and raped them as he killed them, laughing as they died.  

In his 1971 biography of Gilles de Rais, Jean Beneditti tells how the children were put to death: 
"[The boy] was pampered and dressed in better clothes than he had ever known. The evening began with a large meal and heavy drinking, particularly hippocras, which acted as a stimulant. The boy was then taken to an upper room to which only Gilles and his immediate circle were admitted. There he was confronted with the true nature of his situation. The shock thus produced on the boy was an initial source of pleasure for Gilles."
Gilles' bodyservant Etienne Corrillaut, known as Poitou, was an accomplice in many of the crimes and testified that his master hung his victims with ropes from a hook to prevent the child from crying out, then masturbated upon the child's belly or thighs. Taking the victim down, Rais comforted the child and assured him he only wanted to play with him. Gilles then either killed the child himself or had the child slain by his cousin Gilles de Sillé, Poitou or another bodyservant called Henriet. The victims were killed by decapitation, cutting of their throats, dismemberment, or breaking of their necks with a stick. A short, thick, double-edged sword called a braquemard was kept at hand for the murders. Poitou further testified that Rais sometimes committed his vices on the victims (whether boys or girls) before wounding them and at other times after the victim had been slashed in the throat or decapitated. According to Poitou, Rais disdained the victim's sexual organs, and took "infinitely more pleasure in debauching himself in this manner...than in using their natural orifice, in the normal manner."
In his own confession, Gilles testified that “when the said children were dead, he kissed them and those who had the most handsome limbs and heads he held up to admire them, and had their bodies cruelly cut open and took delight at the sight of their inner organs; and very often when the children were dying he sat on their stomachs and took pleasure in seeing them die and laughed...”
Poitou testified that he and Henriet burned the bodies in the fireplace in Gilles' room. The clothes of the victim were placed into the fire piece by piece so they burned slowly and the smell was minimized. The ashes were then thrown into the cesspit, the moat, or other hiding places.The last recorded murder was of the son of Eonnet de Villeblanche and his wife Macée. Poitou paid twenty sous to have a page's doublet made for the victim, who was then assaulted, murdered, and incinerated in August 1440.

Though the outlying village was aware that something evil was taking place in the castle, none dared try to stop him, even as their children began to vanish.  Peasants had been complaining for months that their children who went to the castle to beg never returned.  However, it wasn't until de Rais kidnapped a cleric that an ecclesiastical investigation was sent and his crimes were unconvered.  

He was charged by both ecclesiastical and secular courts of heresy, sodomy, and murder.  It is difficult to know the exact number of his victims, because their remains were burned after the deed, but it is estimated to be anywhere between 80 and 600 victims between the ages of six to eighteen.  He was sentenced to death by hanging followed by burning, and throughout the trial and to his death he seemed concerned about the welfare of his soul, terrified of going to hell.  He was allowed to have a last confession, and just before his death, exhorted the throngs with 'contrite piety' before telling his accomplices to 'die bravely and think only of salvation'.  On the 26th of October, he was hung and set aflame, though his body was cut down and buried before it was completely reduced to ashes.

This is one of those instances where the legend is far less horrific than the truth.  

Benedetti, Jean (1971), Gilles de Rais, New York: Stein and Day,
Wolf, Leonard (1980), Bluebeard: The Life and Times of Gilles De Rais, New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc.,

Friday, March 19, 2010

Guest Blogger: Zach Parker

Former roommate and worldclass playboy billionaire Zach Parker has posted something very interesting on his blog.  Head over there and join in the discussion.  Its a conversation about faith, God, science, and above all, logic.  Go weigh in!

Also, some housekeeping:  In the interest of thwarting the ever-present threat of spammers, I've enabled comment moderation.  This will keep us spam-free, as well as give me the chance to make sure the conversation stays civil here.  I encourage debate and disagreement, but personal attacks and knee-jerk emotional reactions should be reeled in.  A blog is a forum for sharing opinions, not hate, and I've seen too many other blogs comments sections turn into private flame-wars between two people that aren't even relevant to the post.

Without further ado:

The God Delusion’s False Conclusion

2010 MARCH 19
by Zach
Since the beginning of sentient man’s existence, people have wondered where they, as well as the universe, came from.  For the majority of people, the answer has been simple: God (or a god, or gods) put it there.  We really had no other way to explain the world.  As time passed, and mankind developed science, the body of collective historical knowledge accessible to us grew.  As more and more of the processes we witness were explained in technical terms, instead of as “miracles,” many began to believe that there was ultimately no reason to believe in a God; all natural phenomena could be dissected and explained.  To these atheists, people who believed in any kind of supernatural or higher power were generally ignorant and easily manipulated.  Religions existed for the purpose of uniting and controlling the masses.  Moreover, religions weren’t just the quaint stupidities of the weak and simpleminded.  They made enemies of peoples who didn’t worship the same God, leading to wars and acts of terrorism.  An appeal to an authority higher and more important than any one person inspired people who were willing to kill and die to please their bloodthirsty God.  Blind faith in an “invisible friend” would especially be dangerous when held by political leaders, who would therefore not govern rationally, but rather impose their beliefs on their subjects.
A fortunate or unfortunate fact, depending on one’s outlook, is that we cannot prove the existence of God.  To do so would require the use of an alternate, “control” universe, in which we know for a fact that there is a God.  By comparing our results, we could either lend credibility to, or disprove our hypothesis.  We must remember, however, that “the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff,” meaning that not proving one hypothesis does not in itself prove its antithesis.  The fact that my colleague cannot prove it is raining outside does not mean that I have proven that it is sunny.  Likewise, the fact that atheism cannot be proven does not prove that there is a God.
However, the opposite of this statement is also true, because we do not have a control universe in which we know there is no God.  In this case, atheism become the plaintiff case, the positive assertion of the nonexistence of God, wherein lies the burden of proof.  If neither case can be experimentally proven, then the default state, or rather, the only conclusion at which we can arrive relying solely on fact we absolutely know, is that of agnosticism, the assertion that we cannot know whether or not there is a God.  Aside from that, all we can do is rely on evidences for the existence or nonexistence of God, and arrive at our conclusion, just as a judge must weigh evidence for and against a given case in order arrive at a verdict.   For the deistically inclined, these evidences can include personal, spiritual experiences. However, this verdict relies to some degree on faith – believing in something you can’t prove – regardless of how strong as the case for or against may be.  This is a notion that the religious are used to and comfortable with, but that atheists will definitely have difficulty with.  In order to satisfy ourselves with a conclusion of theism, the belief in the existence of God, or atheism, the belief in the nonexistence in God, we must rely on some amount of faith, contingent on the various empirical evidences we might have.  Various arguments postulated over the centuries, from the teleological argument for the existence of an intelligent designer, to the problem of evil and its implications against the idea of an all-powerful and all-benevolent God, are merely evidences to support the feasibility of a conclusion.  That conclusion, however, is ultimately sustained by faith.
The other arguments made against religions are subject to examination as well.  Religion, especially national or otherwise organized, can lead to manipulation of the masses, discrimination against those “heathens” who do not share the faith, and even wars and terrorism.  Leaders will govern by religious opinion, rather than by rational principle.  These may be true, but looking closely, we can see that these implications could be true of an atheist society as well.  The Reign of Terror under Robespierre and the Soviet Union under Stalin are two prime examples of atheist societies where discrimination, persecution, and terrorism occurred in the name of an enlightened, Godless, new order.  Modern atheism, with its militant (or shall we say “evangelical”) approach can be every bit as bigoted and discriminatory as some manifestations of Christianity have been.
Furthermore, these arguments are true of any factor that divides people by party lines.  Perhaps as notoriously divisive as religion throughout human history is the issue of race.  Countless wars have been fought in the name of asserting one race’s dominion over another.  We have no further to look back than the Rwanda crisis of the early 1990’s to see a society divided by race tearing itself apart.  Yet abolishing race is certainly not the answer to solving this type of crisis.  Religion, like race, is not the factor that turns brother against brother.  People of diverse races and religions can coexist peacefully.  A manipulative demagogue, looking for a bogeyman with which to scare the masses into unified submission, will never be at a loss for such divisive factors to separate factions, whether they be religion, race, socioeconomic class, political leaning, etc.
Vilifying religion and campaigning to eliminate it will not end religious strife.  Majorities have always historically persecuted minorities.  They are different and therefore threatening.   And, as demonstrated above, neither conclusion can be unequivocally proven.  Belief is in the eye of the beholder.  Closed-mindedness is the condition wherein a person is unwilling to entertain the idea that contrary views might be right, not just “those who don’t agree with me are wrong because I have SCIENCE!”  The important thing is to be secure enough in one’s own belief as to not feel threatened by the beliefs of others.  That is the true way to peaceful coexistence.  At least, that is what I believe.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

7 Things I Hate (That Most People Love)

Everyone's got a few things that everyone seems to love but you.  Thanks to a bout of insomnia tonight, here are mine:

7. The word "anyways".  It is always wrong.  Always.  Just say 'anyway'.

6. Sports movies.  Am I missing something here?  I just don't buy into 'winning the big game' as something that the audience needs to be emotionally invested in.  And they're so formulaic.  Loser team gets a new coach/quarterback/captain/funny animal player and suddenly they start winning.  The underdogs (sometimes with a literal dog on the team) make it to the finals against Generic Bad Guy team who has been winning all season.  Team Underdog wins at the last possible moment.  Everyone hugs.    There's no tension! You KNOW the outcome of the game before it even starts.  Somehow watching a movie ABOUT a sport is less exciting than watching the sport itself.  Think about that a moment.  You're watching a movie about something that is actually less interesting than watching the thing itself. Imagine if Diehard was less exciting than a real office Christmas party.  I saw Invictus last week with some of my students.  Every person in the theater but me walked out of there thinking it was cinematic brilliance.  Really?  It was just like every other sports movie ever, except that rugby also cures racism.  We already knew that American football cures racism, or am I the only one that Remembers the Titans?  News Flash: Morgan Freeman playing the 'wise old black guy' and a team of underdogs winning the big game is not treading new ground.

5. Harry Potter: I tried to give this book a chance, I really did.  Back when every book club in the country was devouring this little series I picked up the first one and gave it a go.  I got about to the part where Harry makes it to Hogwarts when I realized I had read this story before as a child, except it was called Matilda.  "My family is mean to me but its okay because I'm really a special child and I can use my magic powers to make everything better."  Its a fun story..when you're a child.  And Harry Potter works really well on that level.  I just don't get why adults are camping outside waiting to find out what happens to a bunch of prepubescent British wizards.  I'd put Twilight on the list too but thankfully I'm not nearly as isolated in my hatred of that literary abomination.  And unlike Harry Potter, Twilight doesn't even work on the 'quality children's literature' level.

4. Apple: Not so much the products.  I myself have an Ipod.  The computers are fine if you don't mind that most computer games aren't going to be available and you're paying a lot more for the same specs a PC would give you.  Its the whole idea of buying into a culture.  Its like some kind of strange hipster title that you pay for.  You get to call yourself a 'mac user' and smirk knowingly to other people who paid too much for their computer.

3. The Olympics:  Honestly, this is another thing I don't get.  Why in the world do we set aside a week every four years to pretend to care about sports that we never pay any attention to otherwise?  Do we feel guilty that curling players (what are they called anyway...curlers?) are completely ignored when not competing for immortal glory?  Does it have some kind of geopolitical significance I'm overlooking?  Near as I can tell, aside from a platform to make the obligatory political gesture of boycotting the Olympics (take THAT, China's human rights policies!), they don't serve much of a function.  Hitler attended the Olympics, and while it did give him a platform to make racist excuses for American gold medals, it didn't do much to stop World War II from happening.  Great, so we finally can settle the question of which country produces skaters who can speed skate in a circle the fastest...Unless Jamaica is winning a bobsled race (you know how those underdog teams tend to surprise you), I'm not going to tune in.

2. Gyms: Someday, our descendants are going to look at this period in history and wonder how gyms were so successful.  Here is a business where you pay to go do manual labor with a bunch of strangers.  You know you live in an pretty decadent society when manual labor has somehow become a luxury item.  We're literally so pampered that any kind of exercise has become something we'd pay for.  And pay we do.  Gym memberships are notoriously complicated contractual black holes that are nearly impossible to escape from.  Combine that with gym representatives who are more pushy than a used car salesman to get a commitment out of you, and joining a gym is a very high pressure experience.  What I hate most of all about gyms, though, is the industry that it is a part of.  This is an  industry that is worth billions of dollars and is based on the fact that we have very low self esteem.  Magazines in the grocery store checkout aisles, diet pills, male enhancement, plastic surgery, weight loss programs, cosmetics, fashion, and gym memberships all have the same marketing plan: 1) The customer is unattractive and will die alone without our product.  2) Do we even need a step 2? Did you READ premise one??  And so, like vultures that prey on the rotting carcasses of our self worth, these businesses grow bloated on vanity and broken dreams.

1. Democracy.  Yeah, I said it, and I'm only halfway kidding on this.  Democracy, by its very definition, is rule by the average.  That bell curve of intelligence puts the very smart in the minority.  What does this mean when the majority is making every decision?  It means that politics becomes theater, and the real issues of substance are watered down or forgotten in favor of impressing the slack-jawed masses.  There's this cultural idea that you have a civic duty to vote, even if you have no idea what the issues are or what the candidates stand for. So when MTV 'rocks the vote', you get a bunch of people voting on things they are only vaguely aware of.  What happens when decisions are made in ignorance?  Is it good or bad for the country when policy is determined by people who are voting because they feel they have to, even if they don't know what they're voting for?   I understand that democracy is better than other forms of government, but that's not really saying a lot.  Some time in recent American history, it has become cool to be stupid.  People are proud of their ignorance.  Intelligent people are marginalized as 'elitist' and 'out of touch'.  People would rather vote for the guy they could get a beer with then for someone with a high IQ (in some cases they would vote for that guy for 2 terms...)  Politicians begin to sell empty buzz words like 'dream', 'change', 'hope', and 'rainbow' because the people that are voting want to feel reassured but lack the intelligence to demand substance.  I could rant about the problems of 'rule by the average' all night, but the fact is, what is considered average seems to be getting less and less intelligent... I'd prefer to live in Aristotle's utopia or Plato's Republic to Obama or Palin's democracy...

There you have it...six things I hate that you probably love.  And now that I've channeled all that rage into my keyboard, I can finally get some sleep.  If I offended anyone...too bad.  Insincere apologies would be number 8 on my list if I cared to go back and add it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

How I Met Your Mother

A friend of mine recommended this show to me and, though he rarely takes my recommendations to heart, I certainly trust his taste.  Thanks to my ridiculously awesome brother, I am now in possession of four seasons of it and so far I'm loving it!  At first I was skeptical...I am NOT a fan of canned laughter.  It really makes the jokes less funny for me somehow.  Its like I think if they have to put a laugh track in, then the joke wasn't good enough to stand on its own.

However, after the pilot episode I got over it.  This is one of the smarter written sitcoms I've seen, though it isn't exactly a genre where there's a lot of competition (seriously, I challenge you to sit through a whole episode of Two and a Half Men).  Its got one of my favorite people of all time: Neil Patrick Harris, and the other actors are great too.  The character of Marshall, played by Jason Segel ("I Love You, Man") is great, as is his fiancee, the always adorable Alyson Hannigan (Willow of "Buffy" fame).

Its also a show that chronicles the romantic misadventures of a father recounting to his children how he met their mother (the show title doesn't leave you guessing).  Its a show for anyone that's ever been the single friend watching his best friends get married while he feels single, constantly worried that it won't ever happen to him, but also strangely hopeful that it will.  What is great is that you know it eventually happens to him; its a love story told in reverse.  You know there's a happy ending, so you can enjoy all the pitfalls along the way.

It made me wonder, wouldn't life be great if we could live it like that?  If all of these experiences we slog through now, all the heartaches, the disappointments, the comedic mishaps...they're just stories you're telling your kids that have grown humorous with the distance of time and the wisdom of perspective?  I'd still prefer not to have canned laughter for mine, but...its a nice thought.

Why do I bring this up now? I just watched episode 12 of season 1, The Wedding, where this guy calls off his wedding because he wants to be single again.  He wants his freedom, to be able to do what he wants.  Being in a couple is hard and he's not sure if he wants to do it.

Ted, our protagonist, needs him to go through with it for his own selfish reasons (he is planning on taking the girl of his dreams as his 'plus one').  He asks his friend Marshall, the engaged guy, to talk him into it.  Marshall says something very profound.  He says not to marry her.

Marshall: Being in a couple is hard. And committing, making sacrifices; it's hard. But if it's the right person, then it's easy. Looking at that girl and knowing she's all you really want out of life, that should be the easiest thing in the world. And if it's not like that, then she's not the one. I'm sorry. 

I love that quote, it sums up exactly what I lacked the eloquence to explain in my last post.  Its moments like this where I realize the show has both wit and soul...a rare thing on network television.  Funny and thoughtful... Maybe that's why I'm enjoying it, we have so much in common!

As a sidenote: Neil Patrick Harris is awesome.  Nathan Fillion, Neil Patrick Harris, and, surprisingly, James Franco, are my current favorite people in Hollywood.