Archive for university of connecticut

a haitian epistle

disclaimer: so this post is going to have some top quality christian propaganda in it; in my opinion that makes it all the better, but you can feel as you will

over the christmas break, i had the opportunity to take a trip with a group of students from st. thomas aquinas at uconn to the country of haiti.  we spent from january 4th to january 14th doing this, that, and everything throughout the cities of port au prince and jeremie.  this is my account of what it was like.  it is in no way complete and can in no way fully explain what it was like to actually be there.  but here it is.  enjoy (and by the way, it’s kind of long.  i was thinking about doing a “part i”/”part ii” kind of thing, but didn’t.  so just keep reading).

well, before taking my trip to haiti i was under the assumption that it would be a life-changing event that i would never forget. to make a long story short, i was not disappointed. over the course of ten days, i experienced things i never would have expected in a million years, met many inspirational people, and had a wonderful time doing it. there is no possible way i could put into words everything that i felt, saw, and did while in haiti, but i’ll try my best.

our plane took off from jfk airport in new york city, and from that moment on, the adventures didn’t stop. no matter where we went or what we did, something crazy, exciting, or moving always seemed to be happening. even the plane ride from new york to port au prince had some animation, as the flight attendant got in a little verbal scuffle with a haitian man who wasn’t a big fan of what he got for breakfast. once we stepped off that plane, though, we truly were in a completely different world. there were no fancy terminals. no perfectly paved runways. not even a moving walkway for us to glide across to the other side of the airport. what we did find was a packed building with people struggling to get close to the baggage claim area. we found a mass of people speaking a different and foreign language and lots of “helpful” men trying to grab our bags for us in exchange for a little bit of money.

from the airport, where we were met by nick and colleen, the two incredible norwich mission house employees that led us around for most of the trip, we took a drive up to the mission house. sounds simple enough, but trust me when i say that nothing ever was. if you were to envision a pothole in the road and then copy and paste that image until it covered the entire road, you’d be pretty close. by the end of the trip, riding in the car across these roads certainly became as much of a game as a way of getting from place to place. in a way, it was kind of like riding the t in boston. when you’re on the t, you can always tell the visitors from the natives. the visitors are flailing and falling over and jerking around with every stop and start; those who live in the city, however, know how to hold themselves so that it looks like they’re taking a completely different and perfectly smooth ride. these roads were like that. after ten days of riding along them, you had a strategy for staying smooth and comfortable, but that first time with your eyes glued to the window trying to take in every person, building, and blade of grass you were seeing, you were flying around, bumping into everyone else over and over again.

it wasn’t just the ride that was jarring, however. you can read the stories and see the pictures. you can hear about the political unrest and watch the reports on tv. no matter what you “know” about the country of haiti, though, you don’t really know it. we so often hear the complaint by viewers that reality tv isn’t real. they say it’s scripted or led on or overly-produced to the point of being just reality-based fiction. in my opinion, if you took a haitian who had grown up poor and dirty and lived the life that your average haitian wakes up to each and every day and put that person into the united states, he might complain too. he’d say our life isn’t real life. it’s just reality-based fiction. when you or i need food or water, we go to the grocery store. when the electricity goes out, you go downstairs and replace the fuse. when we need to upgrade our computer, the tech guys from the electronics store drive over and have it setup in a jiffy. our lives are overly-produced. they’re scripted. but what happens when you don’t have the money to buy food… for your two-year old baby… for the fifth day in a row? what happens when the electricity goes out and you know it’s not going to come back on? what happens when it’s 100 degrees outside and you only have the option of drinking cool water that you know will make you sick or boiled water that won’t? that’s real life. that’s haiti.

and that’s what we started to see as we took that first drive along the road up to the norwich mission house. to me, it looked like a war zone. the streets were lined with concrete buildings that were half torn down. the houses seemed to be surrounded by any kind of wall that could be afforded, usually with barbed wire along the top. everything was dusty and dirty and drab. it really looked like an army had come through on a mission and just left the place in ruins. i suppose there is some truth to that, though with less of an army and more of a civil rebellion. i would come to learn, though, that the walls actually weren’t half torn down. they were half put up. apparently, a great deal of the time the excitement of obtaining a little bit of money through whatever fortunate circumstance that arises is a little too much for haitians to handle. they’re so excited and ready to start off a new, stronger life that they put their money into building this new, bigger home for their families to live in and things are great. things are great, that is, until the money runs out, and without finishing the home, they’re back to where it all began. we did get to pass a fancy car dealership. the couple of wealthy people around do have to get their cars somewhere. we also drove by the brand new u.s. embassy building. we’ll just say that the beautiful architecture and shiny stonework don’t exactly fit in with the surroundings. those two places could in theory have given a bit of a more homey feel to the experience, i suppose. we were much more akin to seeing those than to seeing dirty streets and broken buildings. really, though, they just added to jarring feeling of the ride. i had yet to really meet a haitian, but i already had a pit in my stomach for them. the amount of money that’s going into that embassy… i don’t want to know. all i can say is that there may be a couple of things in the country that need it a little more.

i’ll have to admit we were spoiled. the norwich mission house, where we stayed, is located more along the outskirts of port au prince in an area known as petionville. it was farther up into the mountains than the majority of the city, and not nearly as crazy as many other areas. the house has walls around the borders of the property, like most of the buildings around it, and there was always a guard on duty at the gate for the protection of the workers and visitors. the guard always had a really big gun in his hands, so with that in mind, we were in a pretty safe place. besides the safety, though, the house was just really nice in general. it had everything you might need and a lovely view from the roof down into the city. the boys slept in a big room downstairs, and the girls slept in a similar room upstairs. we were the lucky ones in that deal; the girls’ room did have a bathroom that had recently been fixed up, but they also didn’t have any screens on their windows. in a country with malarious mosquitoes, window screens can be pretty handy. thankfully, we were all taking our pink malaria pills throughout the trip, so none of us got malaria, even though we did end up with a bunch of mosquito bites.

in addition to the nice accommodations, we also had many home-cooked meals that were made by a haitian woman that worked at the house. as far as how a lot of haitians live each day, scratching by for food and living with their family in a tiny one-room home, we didn’t have to live that way while we were in the country. that made for an interesting psychological situation. we went around for ten days to visit people and places that were often times unimaginable, and we would truly feel for the people we met and saw. at the end of the day, though, we’d go back to our comfortable house and eat the food that was prepared for us. we were trying to understand what these people’s lives were like, but at the same time, it seemed like we were to a certain extent being hypocrites. it was tough.

the streets of the city were a crazy, crazy place to be. the lack of road lanes and, for the most part, stop signs or streetlights turn driving into somewhat of a free for all. those who could afford a car just stayed on their side of the road and passed in and out of traffic however they pleased. the goal wasn’t so much of retaining order but just more simply of getting from one place to the next. those who didn’t have a car and didn’t want to walk all the way across the city to where they had to get would use the public transportation. that’s the easiest way to describe it at least. the vehicles used for this were commonly referred to as “tap-taps”, and mostly, they were these brightly painted pickup trucks with makeshift roofs over the back end. people would stand on the side of the road and hail them, similar to tracking down a taxi, and just hop in the back (or if it was full, hang off the back). when you wanted to get off, you’d just give a little tap-tap (hence the name) on the side of the truck to let the driver know to stop, pay for your ride, and be on your way. the constant entrance and exit of the tap-taps onto and off of the street made the driving even more interesting. this of course was only added to more by the people walking through the streets, many not looking with particular focus on what cars were coming in each direction. that part, at least, made our group feel more at home; it was like being surrounded by the pedestrians on the uconn campus.

our travels took us many incredible places on our trip, and we were able to meet so many selfless people that live their lives completely for others. a perfect example of this occurred whenever we went to a place run by mother teresa’s missionaries of charity. we visited homes of sick and dying men and women of all ages, malnourished and diseased babies, and other sick or abandoned children. the sisters that were in charge of these facilities were incredible. day in and day out they take care of men, women, and children that no one else would dare to touch. their patients have scabies, tb, hiv, and others diseases, and many are thinner than the people in pictures that they show you in health class to scare out away from eating disorders. in visiting these places, we had the opportunity not only to see the hardships that they were going through but also to interact with people and hopefully share a little bit of love with them. we visited the home for the babies on the first full day in the country, and to say it was a shocking start would be quite an understatement. they stopped our car along the side of the road in front of a building guarded by a tall metal wall that looked just like all the other run-down buildings around it. this one, however, had a long line of women holding their babies sitting against the wall. we would come to find out that these women would sit there in hopes that the nuns would let them in and feed their children because they had no way to do it themselves. once inside you were immediately face to face with a large room filled with crib after crib after crib. when you turned the corner, you’d find a similar room, and through another door would be another. the first floor consisted only of several of these rooms, and each one was completely full. the baby boys and girls in the cribs all laid or stood there in their cloth diapers (some with shirts as well), and most were crying. you heart immediately poured out to these children. there was nothing you could do but walk right over and pick one up. for many, the moment they were picked up, they would stop crying. their cheeks and eyes glistened with the streaks of the fresh tears, but when they were picked up, everything was okay. these children needed only to be held to be happy. they just needed a moment of love, even from a stranger that they had never seen before, would probably never see again, and for the most part, had absolutely nothing in common with. the problem was, there were just so many. the very few sisters that ran the home were so busy changing dirty diapers and making sure they were all staying healthy that there was little time for such affection. that was our gift to them, as small as it was. you’d be holding one, though, and have to watch all of the other babies in the room crying. the simple fix would seem to be to put down the child being held and to pick up another; the problem with that was the moment you put many of them down, they would start bawling all over again. you felt terrible putting one down but knew that the others needed your embrace just as badly.

in addition to the babies, there was also a group of orphans that lived at the home. it was truly incredible seeing how open and loving all of these children were. with the upbringing that we are given, told to stay away from strangers and to be afraid of things and people that we do not know, it was mind-blowing to walk through a door and immediately have haitian kids grabbing and pulling you here, there, and everything. it didn’t matter who we were. we were people, and because of that alone, they liked us. we also had the chance to help feed the children at lunchtime. the food wasn’t exactly what people in the u.s. would consider up to gourmet standards. they were basically eating something similar to a thick gruel with a rice and beans base to it. it certainly wasn’t the most delicious looking thing in the world, but honestly it didn’t matter. the thing about food is that when you have nothing to eat besides what is put in front of you, you will gladly eat it. this point got reinforced later in the trip when we were hearing about haitians in the countryside making and eating mud cakes because they couldn’t afford anything else. as we sat there spoon-feeding babies, it didn’t matter what was on the spoon. their stomachs were empty and anything would be good enough to fill them.

this type of experience would be replicated many times in our travels around the country. we met with so many incredible people who, no matter their plight or situation, all shared a common need: love. we spent a few afternoons with children from an orphanage called “la maison l’arc-en-ciel,” or “the rainbow house.” these kids were all positive for hiv/aids and could not be supported be their families anymore. in a country where trying to find enough money for food, water, shelter, and clothes on a daily basis is nearly impossible for many, trying to then pay for the medicine of a sick child isn’t even an option. one afternoon we took a bunch of boys on a hike up a nearby mountain. the walk was fun, and the view at the top was breathtaking. the most impacting factor of the experience, however, was neither of those. it was the kids. the fact that they spoke creole and we spoke english made it so communication couldn’t really happen so effectively using our verbal skills. there are only so many “hi! how are you?”s that you can say to a 10-year-old in an afternoon before he realizes that’s all you know. the fantastic thing, though, was that the lack of talking didn’t stop communication. when a kid is dancing up and down the path and has a huge smile on his face, you can assume pretty well that he’s having a good time. when you’re grabbed by the arm and dragged over to a tree to see the fruit that a boy’s just climbed up and picked for you, it’s pretty easy to tell that he wants you to eat it. when it came down to it, and this fact would be pretty consistent throughout the trip, not being able to speak creole wasn’t really that big of a deal. it’s incredible what perseverance for understanding and a little attention to body language can do. being from the northeast where even the person having the best day in the world still walks down the street as quickly as he can with his head looking straight down, you don’t get that a lot. on this afternoon, though, these kids had a ball, and i don’t know that because they told me. i know that because i cared enough to look and see.

we went back to that same orphanage a few days later to play with all the kids, and it was a great time. our group was able to take the experience with a few boys on the mountain and multiply it ten times over. most of the children were still at school when we arrived, but when the truck bringing them back home stopped at the orphanage, they immediately came over and gave all of us welcoming handshakes and hugs. these kids acted as if we were family friends that they had grown up knowing. we were never strangers in their minds, just people, and it was people that they wanted. we spent the afternoon basking in the feeling of acceptance and love and hopefully were able to give it right back to them. being infected with their disease definitely didn’t make them the most popular kids around. we heard stories of other families wanted these children to be put into different schools and how families with hiv/aids positive kids are shunned by the community. it’s not all that unlike here, i guess, but in a world where all you have to rely on is the support and caring of those around you, it’s an awful situation to be in. for the short time we were there, though, you never in a million years would have known that these kids had lived through any problems. they smiled. they laughed. they played. they loved soccer and swinging and music and coloring and anything you wanted to do with them. as long as someone was there to spend time with them, they were happy as could be.

one bizarre thing to witness in haiti was the doings of a typical sunday. we’re all used to america, the freedom-based, most powerful country in the world. one of those freedoms has always been freedom of religion. while a great concept in the beginning, it kind of backfired. instead of allowing everyone to pick whatever religion they want to follow, it instead lets most people pick none. most people around, even if they go to church occasionally, could care less about religion and god and all that. we found out that haiti has that religious freedom thing too. there are plenty of catholics around, but you’ll bump into lots of protestants and those who practice vodou. the weird thing was that no matter their religion, on sunday most people were going to church. they weren’t sitting at home preparing for the football game that night or making sure their roof was fixed (though many could have used the time to do so). they got up on sunday morning and went to church, and they were all in their sunday best. for six days of the week, you saw people walking around in dirty, ripped t-shirts and pants, but on sunday, the suits and dresses came out. suits and dresses? i thought these people were all dirt poor. well yes, they are. that’s why for most, you would probably see the same suits and dresses week after week after week. they just wanted to do their best to praise god and show their respect to him by being clean and well dressed for church. imagine if people in our country cared enough about anything to do that.

there were far too many moments and experiences in those few days in port au prince to even think about writing about all of them here. we met with a pastor who helped translate the bible into creole, merchants whose chance of feeding their families that day depended on you buying a statue or painting from them, a woman who gave her life and money every single day toward feeding all the hungry children in her neighborhood, an american banker trying to bring hope to the island through this thing called micro credit, and students who have had to walk all the way to the hospital just to get somewhere with electricity so that they can do their homework. it was full of so many people, places, and things that i’ll never forget. it was an incredible, incredible experience, and then, we went to jeremie.

jeremie is the fourth biggest, i think, city in haiti. compared to port au prince, though, it’s not much of a city at all. it’s out in the countryside and is a much more rural atmosphere than the “big city” life we had gotten used to. we had to take a plane to jeremie because the road there is winding, unpredictable, and dangerous. one haitian man told us that if we were going to drive, it would take us somewhere between four hours and a few days to make the trip, depending on car, weather, and road conditions. seeing as we were only on the island for a week and a half, we took the plane instead. after getting off our tiny propeller plane, we were met on the dirt runway by bette gebrian, who is the primary health coordinator or the public health director (depending on which website you google to) of the haitian health foundation. we had only a moment to go to the bathroom in the one-room airport, and then we were off into the mountains. it was an interesting ride for sure. the roads in port au prince had been rough and bumpy, nothing like even the worst roads back home. the roads leading up through the mountains of the haitian countryside, however, were nothing like even the worst roads in port au prince. it wasn’t really a bad thing, just a little crazy. i’ve driven up mountain roads before, but never literally up the path of a mountain. it made for quite the ride. we would all come to embrace the motto of “be like gumby”, as if you tried to control yourself over the unexpected turns, bumps, holes, and rocks, you would inevitably hurt yourself more than just letting go and flopping around. if someone had been filming us, it probably would have made for quite a youtube video.

we were driving into the mountains to go and visit one of the villages that the haitian health foundation helps out. basically they go around to towns, villages, homes, and people throughout jeremie and the surrounding area and help promote good health. they focus on teaching things such as proper nutrition, good ratios of food, breastfeeding, and other concepts that will help the poor haitians stay healthy even when the least possible nourishment is available. at the village we visited, the hhf was running a monthly check for mothers and their children, checking things like weight and blood pressure. we also had the change to wash and clip fingernails to prevent diarrhea-inflicting diseases that cause dehydration. before we left, we were able to serve a meal of this stuff called “akamil” to the families that were there that day. akamil is an interesting dish to say the least. if you remember the gruel-like dish that i mentioned earlier, i’ll just say that the akamil made that food look rather appetizing. it was basically a gray mush. i tasted some, and honestly, it wasn’t too bad. apparently, they also have a sweeter version than the one we served that day with more sugars and sweet ingredients. ours, however, was basically made of two parts rice, one part beans, and a few various spices that they found around. the problem with a lot of these rural areas is that when families get a little money for food, they want to get the most food possible with it. the cheapest thing around is usually rice, so they get a lot of rice. even if they fill up on rice and aren’t starving, though, they aren’t getting the proper nutrition to survive. many children end up dying of kwashiorkor, a protein deficiency, because they are only taking in simple sugars and carbohydrates. the akamil that they are taught to make, and that we served while in the village, is a nutrition-based food that, while not all that delicious, provides sustaining nutrition for the haitians in jeremie.

one fantastic part of the haitian culture, in my slightly biased opinion at least, was the importance of music. music is important in the u.s. and is a huge economic force, but in haiti, it’s a huge part of life. not only is music used for enjoyment, it’s engrained in everything they do. when we got down from hiking the mountain with the boys from the orphanage, we ate lunch with them. before we ate, they sang grace for us. when we spent the afternoon at the orphanage, they sang a thank you song right before we left. when we were in jeremie, we heard songs about the signs of pneumonia and the positive effects of breastfeeding (or so we were told at least; they were all in creole). since many of the haitians were illiterate, the workers at the haitian health foundation found that song was the best means to teach, even if the tunes didn’t exactly have the lyrics of a top 40 hit. coming from a country that’s gradually trying to take music out of schools and out of the minds of children, seeing music embraced in this way was wonderful. i even had a few chances to play some authentic caribbean drums with a couple of kids that had so much natural talent and rhythm it was incredible. they tried teaching us their beats, but it was a struggle for sure. as i’m going to school to study music, it was tremendous to see so much music everywhere we went in the country.

before leaving jeremie we had the chance to drive around the city with sister maryann berard. she works for the haitian health foundation, and like many of those that we met along the trip, she was a truly incredible woman. to say she was tough would be quite the understatement. from what we hear in the united states, haiti is supposed to be this hardened, dangerous place that you should stay clear of, but for the vast majority of the trip, i personally didn’t feel in any danger. the welcoming, friendly people that we met along our journey made those ideas seem much more like rumors than the truth. i did, however, feel a bit scared twice. both of those times were under the watchful eye of sister maryann on that drive around the city. at one point, we got out and took a walk up into one of the poorest and most cramped sections of the city. before we got out, she told us that she was glad we were there because she wanted to go talk to the people but didn’t like to go up in there alone. for me, that wasn’t the most comforting thing she could have said, but we all went with her anyway. we found out what she meant as we walked along the tiny path between the tiny shacks. more and more people came out to get a look at us, and soon enough, we were surrounded by forlorn haitians needing money and food. we were never directly threatened, but being surrounded by a big group of desperate haitians yelling and holding machetes can make you nervous. or maybe it was just me. the second event on that car ride happened as we were riding through one of the busier parts of town. carnival was coming up, so every sunday they would have a kind of mini-carnival to get ready for the big celebration. we happened to be driving around on a sunday, and as such, the younger men were out having their fun. a lot of them were totally drunk and had put on masks and covered their bodies in some kind of black charcoal mixture. they looked pretty intimidating to begin with, but the thing that really got me was when one of the guys slammed on the back of our car and then almost immediately another jumped on the back and hung on. i had the luck of being seated right in the back next to the window, so he was probably about three inches away from me. thankfully, sister just kept on driving and eventually he jumped off and we got out of there before anything could happen. it was quite the experience, though. the funny thing was that while all of the young, adventurous college kids were really nervous going through those places, sister maryanne, who is 63 years old, seemed unfazed like it was all no big deal.

the group took a plane ride back to port au prince and basically started getting ready to go home, as we had to leave the next day. we were lucky enough to get to watch a “rara” pass by the mission house that night. it was pretty much a great pre-easter parade which tons of people and really neat music. i thought it was pretty cool. once again, we had a first hand look at the awesome musical culture. the next day, we got a ride to the airport and took our plane back to jfk and eventually back home. it was interesting to see the differences between the customs office at the airport in port au prince and the one in new york. none of us had any reason to be stopped in either one, but as you can probably expect, it took a lot longer getting through in the u.s. than in haiti. we did, however, finally get out and were safety back in the united states of america. it was a very, very strange feeling walking out of the airport to the hustle and bustle of new york life. there was streetlight after streetlight and car after car after car, and as you walked past all these people and all their stuff, you just had a feeling they took it all for granted. i know i had. before the trip i had heard of the starving children in china that forced me to eat the vegetables on my plate. i had heard of the poor children in africa that somehow got on my television screen but definitely needed a few dollars from me every month. i had read about the injustices in the world, and i can assure you that i believed that they were there. i had not, however, gone and seen it, and that made all the difference. the old adage is that you don’t know what you have until you lose it, and that was never truer than with this experience in haiti. the incredible part about it was that it worked both ways. being in haiti, i was able to realize how incredibly blessed i am just to have enough food, water, clothing, and shelter or how fortunate i am to be able to go to an expensive university to learn about the world and then get to go see it. i’ve taken so much for granted in my life, and going to haiti made me realize that fact and hope, for myself, that i can change that. coming home from haiti, however, i also realized what i had lost by leaving there. as i walked down the street, no stranger was willing to look me in the eye and say hello. unfamiliar people were not ready to give me a hug and spend an afternoon in my company. the friendliness and love that had shone from the haitian people was nowhere to be found around here, and while it was nice to get back to the luxuries and comfort of my normal life, that was something to be missed.

there is no possible way to put into words everything that i experienced, felt, saw, learned, and loved about my trip to haiti. reading back through what i’ve written, i’m realizing more and more all the things i’ve left out. that’s okay, though. i can just say that it was an unforgettable experience that, thankfully, will never leave me. if you’d made it all the way to the end of my wandering words, i applaud you. hopefully my stories weren’t too random for you to take out the importance that i saw in them. if you get anything, however, out of what i’ve tried to share, i hope it’s this: haiti is an amazing country. many claim it to be one of the poorest places in the world. i, however, experienced a haiti that was richer than i could have ever imagined. the haitian people shouldn’t be pitied, for they do not want to be pitied. they’re just like you and i. they just want to be remembered and to be loved, and after actually being there, i can promise you that it can truly make all the difference.


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lavoris and the wizard people

well dear reader, it’s been a few days since i wrote anything on here.  last semester came and went. and then winter break (or as i rather enjoy calling it, christmas break) came and went (by the way, i happened to have a quite a fabulous break and did some quite fabulous stuff, but i’ll be letting you know about that later.  it isn’t quite the time for that yet).  and now i’m back here at the university of connecticut for yet another extended period of growth, learning, and education (it happens to be my sixth one of those in case you were wondering).  seeing as it’s a new semester with new teachers and new work and new toothpaste (i’m currently using the “original cinnamon flavor” paste that is sold by some company called “lavoris” [which seems to be owned and/or operated by another company known as “charlesflora consumer products, llc”].  interestingly, the company’s website mentions a bunch of different mouthwashes that they sell, but no toothpastes [you can, however, purchase a tube from cvs online. thank goodness].  even more interestingly, i happened to purchase this wonderful variety of paste at ocean state job lot.  that being said, with consideration toward the lack of representation on the company website, there’s a good chance that it’s toxic and/or carcinogenic.  oops.  but the flavor’s not bad.  you always have to take the cons with the pros, i guess), things have gotten a bit backed up.  there’s probably a good deal of laziness involved as well, but we’ll just blame it on lots of stuff to do.  if nothing else dear reader, it makes me look better, and seeing as i’m the one writing, looking better sounds like a good plan.

that being said, we can move onto the important (yeah…) stuff.  it just so happens that this semester, i’m taking my first ever university english class.  technically speaking, everyone is required to take an intro-level english class when they get into the school, but i took care of that requirement in high school, so i didn’t.  it’s been rather interesting.  it’s a fun little class about the bible.  uh oh… he said bible but didn’t have a disclaimer at the top of the page.  how does that work?  well you see, it is a bible class.  but it’s also called “the bible as literature”.  so it’s not really a bible class.  it’s like a normal english class with a normal english book but with many more biblical allusions (seeing as every word, theoretically speaking, is referencing the bible… because it’s in the bible).  that’s the way it’s supposed to work at least.  faith does creep into the discussions occasionally, often by accident, but those flames are usually quenched in a timely manner.  i must say, dear reader, it’s a really different way to take the bible and read it.  it’s kind of like trying to watch a uconn vs tennessee women’s basketball game and appreciate the good play of both teams from an unbiased perspective (in the terms of the laypersons [so politically correct], that means it’s hard to do).

just this past yesterday, we handed in our first essays for the class.  my decision-making skills were shown to be a bit hazy with this paper, dear reader.  basically, i wrote a thesis that contradicts thousands of years of jewish tradition and literary merit (and because i know you’re all so interested and curious, my paper was about how while abraham [normally seen as one of the uber-cool guys and big time patriarchs in jewish tradition and history] did do a lot of good stuff for the jews and set their big long journey in motion, he also cursed them with his mistakes and led to a lot of israelite woes long after he had died.  does it line up to anything that anyone thinks?  probably not.  but hey, college is all about experimenting).  as far as trying to make a good impression with your first paper goes, that was kind of, in a word, dumb.  but i had a genius idea as i was trying to decide what to write about and went with it.  i suppose we can just see how things turn out when i get it back.

the one thing that i really took out of writing this paper, however, was that coming up with ideas (even if they are crazy, and maybe even moreso if they are) and writing about them can be a pretty cool thing.  creativity, in a nutshell, is top-notch.  being in a major of quite a musical degree, dear reader, i don’t get to do that a whole lot.

so wait a minute here.  why the heck does he keep writing the stupid “dear reader” thing?  sure, maybe it’s an endearing thing to say… once.  but saying it again and again is just overkill.  with that thought, i agree.  and as such, an explanation.  i’ve actually been plagiarizing that phrase.  i know, not very nice, but it’s getting proper acknowledgment now, so that makes it okay(ish).  i came across a cute little link recently (with the help of the oh so powerful facebook mini-feed [which i’ve have been known to appreciate and, dare i say, praise in the past]) that happens to incorporate said phrase and that i feel shares and exposes my sentiments on creativity quite perfectly.  plus, it’s got harry potter, so how can you go wrong?  it’s a fantastic multimedia experience by some crazy dude named brad neely.  basically, mr. neely took the first harry potter film (which may involve the stone of a certain sorcerer and/or philosopher) and wrote his own script for it called “wizard people, dear reader”.  simply put, you turn down the volume on the movie, crank the volume on the audio file, click play on both at (approximately) the same time, and let the magic (no pun intended) unfold before your eyes.  i must warn you, our friend the narrator does have a bit of a potty mouth at times, but with exception to that, it’s quite a ride.  i provide you with  the “re-envisioned” (as they call it) audio here so that you can join the adventures of hp, the wretched harmony, and ronnie the bear.  you can “just say no” and leave here untainted or click the dazzling link and go for it.  the choice is yours.  all i can say, dear reader, is don’t choose incorrectly.

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you’ll shoot your eye out

 disclaimer: so this post is going to have some top quality christian propaganda in it; in my opinion that makes it all the better, but you can feel as you will 

christmas is coming.  the geese are getting fat.  please put a penny in the old man’s hat.  or so the lyrics go (those lyrics being from edith nesbit bland’s classic christmas tune “christmas is coming” [though many times the second line is sung incorrectly as “the goose is getting fat”, but we’ll forgive that for the time being]).  this song is in a dandy little collection of songs that i personally like to refer to as “christmas songs”.  that, of course, is based mostly (well, maybe more of completely) upon the fact that they are about (believe it or not) christmas.

 now, i’m not going to be very politically correct in these words.  basically, this post is about christmas.  not hanukkah or kwanza or festivus or boxing day or any of that.  and that’s pretty much because i celebrate christmas and not any of the others.  so why not just talk about what i know?  and for that matter, why not talk about what (apparently) 96% of persons in the lovely united states of america know (according to this article at least [and make sure to please note the fabulous 105% of people that participated in the poll.  i’m assuming that’s due to holiday celebrating overlap, but it would be much, much cooler if they actually questioned 105% of people]).  so from this point on, christmas.

first of all, christmas is pretty much doomed.  as far as being what it should be and is supposed to be, that is.  as far as being a big time money maker and a commercial juggernaut (which as you all know is a lovely english word derived from the sanskrit word “jagannātha” [meaning “lord of the universe”]), it’s top notch.  as far as making people spend lots and lots of their well earned and meticulously saved money, there’s none better.  but (yes, there’s a but)… well, i won’t even say it.  i’ll let our friends at the ever-superb wikipedia(.com) spell it out.  basically, if you had no idea what in the world christmas was and wanted to know, you might go to wikipedia to find out.  if you were to take a quick look at their “christmas” entry, you might only have time to read the first line (and yes, we’re talking about a very quick look).  and if you could only read that first line, you would read the following: “christmas is an annual holiday that celebrates the birth of jesus.” oh dear, they said the j word.

notice, for a moment, what isn’t in that line.  there is a lack of presents.  there is a lack of shopping.  there is a lack of stores in general.  there is a lack of monetary exchange.  there’s even a lack of christmas lights, christmas trees, and christmas cookies.  the only item on the agenda:  jesus.

i touched upon this fact last year, so i won’t beat it into the ground.  i’ll simply leave it in a way that would make my math teacher of a sister proud.

jesus > presents.

and now back to where we started.  christmas music.  the reason i bring this up is because in my travels of late i’ve been going around (mostly, if not always) by car, and during those automotive excursions, i’ve been listening to the smooth sounds of lite 100.5 (which, by the way, is my “home for holiday music” [or something like that.  i can’t remember off the top of my head what their catchy line actually is]).  sadly, they don’t actually play any christmas music on the station.  they play a lot of holiday music.  but no christmas music.  which i think is weird.  even weirder, though, is the fact that the vast, vast majority of their holiday music is about christmas (and to be fair, i’ve decided to consider a song “about christmas” only if the word “christmas” is included at least once in the lyrics [or would be, i guess, in the tunes that are originally wordful but have been covered as instrumental]).

it is now time to be blunt (but not james blunt, as he has yet to release a fabulous christmas or holiday album [or any such album actually, fabulous or otherwise]).  in case you weren’t catching on to the witty sarcasm that was being employed in the above paragraph, i’ll make it easier.  lite 100.5 plays christmas music.  but they want to make everyone happy.  so they call it holiday music.  the end (or “that’s all folks”, as mr. porky pig would say.  your choice).  so is this really a big deal?  of course not.  but if it was, i’m sure i wouldn’t being writing (or typing, rather) about it.

the real problem with the whole “holiday music” deal is exactly the same problem as the whole present and money issue that we’ve already been over.  companies and radio stations and many other places and people have found an incredible loophole and are exploiting it for all it’s worth.  in our world and time (especially in the united states), religion is out and secularism is in.  and that is relfected about as clearly as anything around christmastime.  everyone wants to celebrate christmas (yup, everyone.  see, i told you this wouldn’t be politically correct) either because they like getting presents or it makes for booming business or whatever.  but very few people want to celebrate christmas in honor of what it’s actually there for (see above if you’ve forgotten already).  so instead of celebrating the “christmas season”, we now celebrate the “holiday season”.  but wait, that’s because we don’t want to discriminate against those who don’t celebrate christmas.  maybe.  but no.  first off, that would be 4% of americans (according to the stats we’re using).  this is a very, very slim minority, and if that was the real reason, it would be much more profitable to appease the 96% and push the others slightly aside for one holiday.  and let’s consider hanukkah for a second (or two, or maybe three).  it’s a lovely little holiday celebrating the maccabees and all that cool stuff, but as far as judaism goes, it’s not even one of the most important feast days.  so why then does the entire country bend over backward to make sure the small jewish population is happy around hanukkah but doesn’t pay any attention to any other jewish holidays?

i happened to take a course a couple years ago at the fun-loving university of connecticut with a professor who was an orthodox jew, and during the course of the semester we had at least three or four classes rescheduled because they were originally on important days on the jewish calendar and he couldn’t come to class.  the course happened to be about jewish history (hence the jewish professor), and because of that, a good percentage (probably about half) of the class was jewish.  now, on the days that my professor couldn’t make it to class, i still had to go to all of my other classes.  that would mean that all of the jewish students in the class probably had to do the same.  i’m sure that if they told their other teachers that they couldn’t go because of religious reasons they’d be excused from class, but i ask this:  why, if we’re so concerned about political correctness and keeping all people and all religions happy, didn’t we have those days off from school?  the only answer i can seem to come up with is that we don’t really care all that much (wow, that sounds really mean.  but sadly, may be rather true).  it’s not about being fair and understanding of all holidays during the holiday season.  it’s about dropping religion completely.  and honestly, it’s working.

so the next time you greet someone, think about things for a moment before wishing them “happy holidays”.  maybe you’d rather wish them a “merry christmas”.  and really, who cares what religion they are or what holiday they celebrate at this time of year.  if i was wished a “happy hanukkah”, i wouldn’t mind.  in fact, it would be pretty darn cool.  the only reason all those greetings are there is to say “hi. it’s great to see you” (or a similar variation thereof).  if you want to join in with all of the secularism and destruction of religion and all of that, i guess you’re free to do so.  someone has to do it.  but next time, at least think about it.  all that being said, i wish you all the merriest christmas you’ve ever had.  enjoy the family.  enjoy the friends.  enjoy the love.  and if you don’t get your official red ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot range model air rifle, don’t worry.  there’s always next year.  and you don’t really want one anyways.  you’ll shoot your eye out.

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disclaimer: so this post is going to have some top quality christian propaganda in it; in my opinion that makes it all the better, but you can feel as you will

i hate things that i don’t understand.  i don’t like change.  i’m a horrendously (slightly) obsessive compulsive creature of habit.  basically, when things go from being one way to being another, it scares me.  not in a boogie man scary way or anything like that, but it creates a strange and different unknown.  and fear of the unknown is one of the biggest fears around.

it’s for that reason (amongst others, i suppose) that i’m a really big fan of both my faith and my religion.   both have been around for a long, long time, and for the most part haven’t changed all that much.  the faith part, some might say, has been around since adam and eve.  they were made by this guy named god and listened to what he said.  they did make one little oops by listening to the snake in the garden, but after having god yell at them and getting kicked out of eden, they straightened out and started listening again.  and if you don’t care to go that far back (whether or not you think we’re monkeys who wear socks), belief in jesus has been around for almost two millennia.  in my book, that’s a hefty bit of time.  and then the whole religion thing.  some would say that catholicism started with jesus dying and the apostles going around saying that he was a pretty righteous dude.  others would disagree and say that original christianity was not by any means the same as original catholicism and that those practices were really started as a more strangling form of religion that was placed upon the roman people by the power of the first council of nicaea in 325 (which may or may not have been imposed upon the church of the time by the oh so powerful emperor constantine [the great]).  personally, i’m all about the first option, but regardless, both points of view leave some sort of catholic teaching beginning between 1,700 and 2,000 years ago.  once again, i’d say that’s a hefty bit of time.

and that’s pretty cool.  in my eyes at least.  it seems firm and steady.  the foundation was put down so well way back when that even through a great religious exodus (often called the protestant reformation [and by the way, i’d like to wish you all a belated happy reformation day!  for any and all of you who were not aware, the 31st day in october [though it can be changed around to a different day if desired, making it more like one of those crazy “observed” holidays that never really make a whole lot of sense] is celebrated by many [especially in the lutheran tradition] as what is very formally called “the festival of the reformation”.  it’s a day to celebrate the great work of martin luther and his theses [there were 95 of them] that sparked the protestant reformation way back in 1517.  now, it was on that day [october 31st] that luther posted his theses [which by the way, were a big list of things that he felt the church was messing up on] on the door of castle church in wittenberg, germany.  as our friends at wikipedia[.com] put it “reformation day… coincides with halloween, but there is no direct relation between the two holidays.”  there are some more conservative thinkers in the christian world that aren’t big fans of halloween because of its pagan [and dare i even say just a touch satanic] history and background.  and that’s brought up a bit in a different wikipedia article that states “some christians do not appreciate the resultant de-emphasis of the more spiritual aspects” of the day.  regardless of how you view halloween, be impressed by the fabulous political correctness with which the writers handled the situation.  it’s well played]) and some crazy situations like having three popes at once or having some rather unfortunate sex scandals plastered across the television screens of the world, the catholic church has stood its ground.  the tradition has held, and simply put, it’s not going anywhere.  for me, that’s actually a huge part of what i believe and why i believe it.  it’s just like the bible.  you can’t can’t claim the bible’s a fake.  it just doesn’t work.  there are so many contradictions and bizarre things in there, that it would be the worst fake job in history.  but it’s still around and still gets occasionally read, so you have to figure that it’s not. and the catholic church is similar.  so many stupid and terrible things have happened in the history of the church, that if it wasn’t a legitimate and solid religion with some real spiritual basis behind it, it would have folded a long, long time ago.  but it hasn’t.  and people still occasionally go to church, so you have to figure that it’s not too bad.

and rather interestingly, that’s what so much of my life is.  habit and tradition.  and most of the time, i love that.  it’s a safe way to work with life, and i like safe.  but then i heard something.  well, i was told something actually.  more in conversation than in eavesdropping, so we’ll go with the “told”.  i was in church.  kind of.  here at the university, there is a student center back behind the church, and on sunday mornings at 10:15 am, they have a mass in the big room in there instead of in the normal chapel.  honestly, i don’t know why it’s in there or when they started having it in there, but they do.  and seeing as i often can’t make it to any of the other mass times offered, i go to that one a lot.  so i was in the student center (which by the way, is often just called “the center” when they make announcements about events and activities that will be happening in it.  that, of course, always makes me think of the “boy meets world” episode when shawn starts hanging out at “the centre”, which turns out to be a cult.  it always settles a little weird in my mind, but what can you do), and it just so happened that there was a silent auction going on in the lobby area of the building to support a couple groups that are involved in trying to help out the people of haiti.  those running the silent auction were walking around making sure everything was alright and that people knew how to make bids and things like that, and a wonderful man named bob (who is one of the guys that kind of unofficially run the church.  every church has those people that are just involved in absolutely everything, and at this church, bob is definitely one of those guys) came over and stood next to me.  we stood observing the scene for a moment, and he said “the money changers are in the temple.”  and he smiled at me and walked off to do something else.

it was really simple and really quick.  and for most people, it probably would have meant next to nothing.  but for me, it packed quite a wallop.  if you didn’t know, that line was a reference to an episode in the new testament gospel accounts of jesus often simply referred to as “jesus and the money changers”.  it’s found in all four gospels (matthew 21:12-17, mark 11:15-19, luke 19:45-48, and john 2:12-15), so that considered, there’s a decent change it happened.  for the sake of space (and goodness, we all know the internet is running low on space), i’ll just give you one of the four.  and i like matthew (it’s a good name), so we’ll go with that one.  the dandy new american translation states, “jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those engaged in selling and buying there.  he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.  and he said to them, ‘it is written: “my house shall be a house of prayer,” but you are making it a den of thieves.'”  that only includes verses 12 and 13, but for our little chat that’s really all we’ll need (and on another fun note, john’s version talks about jesus making an impromptu whip to help get people out, which is pretty cool.  though, the fact that the story is given so early in that one gospel [chapter 2] and none of the others gives some scholars the inclination that they may actually be two different events.  my thoughts?  i had no idea about that until i just read it online, so you’ll have to ask someone else for more information in that regard).

there it is.  a lovely tale.  but why bring it up?  why now in the midst of talks of habit and tradition and all that jazz? well basically, because that’s exactly what was going on.  jerusalem was being a big huge creature of habit.  in a nutshell (and a very, very vague and simple one, to say the least), it was close to the jewish festival of passover and all the jews needed to go to the temple and make a sacrifice to god for the festival.  to do that they needed an animal to sacrifice, which they could very conveniently buy in one of the outer courtyardy areas of the temple. however, they had to buy these animals with special money (per the jewish law) that they didn’t normally have on them and had to go to the money changers first to exchange their money.  basically, it was like this:  they had money.  they changed their money to the proper currency.  they bought an animal to sacrifice.  they went and had it sacrificed in the temple.  and now i repeat: very, very vague and simple.  the thing was, jews had been doing this for a long, long time.  jesus and his family had probably done this themselves plenty of times.  plus, the setup was really convenient.  everything these people needed was right there.  in a (really strange) sense, it was the mcdonald’s of passover.

which brings us back to storrs, connecticut.  bob and i were standing there watching this hustle and bustle going on around us with lots of people worrying about making their bids on items and how much money they were willing to spend and all that.  and as bob walked away smiling, i realized that he was so right.  it was exactly the same.  and that confused me so much.  all these people were at church, there to celebrate god, and yet all of the focus was on what was happening outside in the lobby.  instead of being focused on faith and spirituality and listening to the word of god, it was all about bidding and donated items and money.  the thing is, it was all for a great cause.  the money that was being raised was going to end up going (in some way or another) to haiti, which happens to be the poorest country in the western hemisphere.  those people need all the money and support that they can get.  so it was a really good thing.  the catholic church has a list of “corporal works of mercy” that are: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.  by supporting the auction, those things were going to be able to happen.  but at the same time, i stood there thinking about it, and the one thing that ran through my mind was the overdone and taboo (but if truly thought about and used, oh so perfect) line “what would jesus do?”.

wwjd.  i’ve seen it on posters, necklaces, t-shirts, bracelets, stickers, and a zillion other things.  does it actually make people think about what jesus would do?  maybe.  does it then make people act like jesus would have acted?  maybe.  i really can’t tell you that.  but i can tell you that for once, that line meant something to me because i really had to stand there and contemplate it.  regardless of what kind of swindling and overpricing the money changers and animal sellers were doing around the temple in ancient jerusalem, it was a decent service.  people got what they needed, where they needed it, when they needed it.  money was being spent on the outside, and sacrifice (which i guess could be the equivalent to modern “worship”) was happening on the inside.  it was a tradition of sorts.  a habit, definitely (if not the former).  it was the safe way to do things, so people did it.  and then jesus came in and started knocking over tables and thrashing around his whip.  the obvious question i had to ask myself was whether or not jesus would have done the same in our church.  now there’s the dumb debate over what kind of house of worship jesus would go to if he was around today, seeing as the christians worship him and the jews don’t…but he was jewish…whatever.  that’s not important.  what’s important is what he would have thought and done if he had, for whatever reason, shown up to church that day.  bob was right.  the money changers were definitely in the temple.  they were doing it for a good (even great) cause, but at the same time, the focus on god and worshipping him was totally being averted.  the minds and hearts were being dragged in the wrong direction.  and so i just stood there.  contemplative and downright confused. was what we were doing a bad thing? even though it was in an attempt to help the poorest of the poor? can good things occasionally be not so good? can they even be bad? oh dear. i was perplexed.

and here it comes, the answer.  well, no.  once again, i have no answer for you (it seems like that’s happening more and more often.  either i’m getting more deep or just less intelligent.  i’m definitely going to have to go back to the simple, stupid stuff.  it was a lot easier).  i was perplexed about the issue, and i remain as much so. and yet, i guess the only “answer” i have is to tell you not to worry about answers all the time.  i have books and books of catholic teaching, catholic laws, catholic thought, catholic history and most anything catholic you would ever want to know.  but i can promise you that none of them, even if i did look (which i’ll be honest and admit i didn’t), would have an answer to this question.  in this situation, all of that tradition and all of those teachings still leave us empty-handed.  so when you think about it, the safe way isn’t all that safe.  even with tradition, you can still lose.  for someone who is so big into these long-standing, changeless traditions, that kind of stinks.  but alas.  it happens.  sometimes all we can do is take it in and make our own decisions and opinions.  and sometimes (gasp), that may involve change.  as scary as that can be.

so go grab your wwjd bracelets. put on your jesus t-shirts and wear them proudly. and the next time you do something (anything, really), think about what you’re doing. think about it from all sides and angles. it’s incredible what you can find out when you take a look around the back corner of an issue. and if you find something a little scary, just go with it. it’s the tough things that make us grow and the changes that make us learn. even when we have no idea what jesus would do.

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return of the tooth squand

well… believe it or not, summer is long gone.  long gone-ish, i guess.  i’ve been at the lovely university for a week worth of class now and was here for a week of band camp (yup, this one time… well, i’m sure you already know the drill) before that, so to me personally, summer’s been done for a while.  and i’ll just put it out there (i don’t like making big speeches.  i’m a straight shooter.  i call them like i see them. what you see is what you get.  ain’t nobody gonna break my stride.  ain’t nobody gonna slow me down. [that’s from the ever-chuckle-inducing “not another teen movie”, by the way]).  i like summer.  a bunch.  i like being at home and not having a million (and a half) things to worry about every moment of my day.  so the end of summer, for me, is a bit of a sad time.but anyway.  the start of school does have it’s perks.  one such perk just so happens to be the purchasing of a brand new, shiny (or not so shiny) tube of toothpaste.  i scoured the shelves of walmart for the best paste possible and ended up going back to the old favorite, crest pro health.  but!  it now comes in several delicious flavors.  so i’m now the lucky owner of cinnamon flavored tooth squand, instead of the obsolete minty tooth squand.  such excitement, i know.thankfully for you, however, today’s words will be about more than just tooth squand (though trust me, i could go on and on about it).  today’s wonderful focus will instead be on rules.  yes, rules.  specifically, how they are dumb.  now, not all rules are dumb.  take the “you can’t call timeout as you’re falling out of bounds” rule that was recently instated in the game of college basketball.  that’s a solid rule.  you can’t be diving for a ball, have little or no control of your body, and also claim to have enough possession to call a timeout.  it just makes no sense.  so yes, definitely a good rule.the problem is that many rules aren’t as logical as that one.  so many times, “the man” (as we will hereby refer to anyone deserving such recognition) will formulate rules for ease of control and administration that are downright silly. and believe it or not, the reason i’m bringing up this regulatory topic is that i have recently found such a rule. an unjust and unnecessary rule that the man has tossed into my path (not to mention the paths of so many others) for no reason but to scoff at me (and/or us). this rule is about candles. it is found in section 18, paragraph g of the university of connecticut housing contract and reads as such: “the burning of candles and/or incense is prohibited in all university-owned housing. candles and/or incense are prohibited in all university-owned housing. residents found responsible for burning candles and/or incense may be removed from university-owned housing.” ridiculous, i know. now to make sure that i’m not hiding any true feelings or biases about the issue, i’ll come clean right here from the get go. i would like to have and burn a candle in my dorm room. it would be nice. otherwise, it’s going to have no chance but to smell like dirty laundry, sweat, shoes, and other not-so-pleasant things. the only real smell-producers are bad ones. so a good smell to counteract those would be fabulous. especially if it was something like a fruit smoothie scented candle (which i may or may not have purchased at the beginning of the year before being informed of the newfound regulations). it’s not like i’m asking for the world. just a decent smell to live in.but no. i can only live in filth. this is what the university students pay for. living in filth. of course, i do understand the initial reasoning behind this new rule (and by the way, the whole rule isn’t new. you were never allowed to light candles [or anything else for that matter] in your room before. but they added the complete candle ban this year). if there are no candles then there are no lit candles. if there are no lit candles then there are no burning candle wicks. if there are no burning candle wicks then the fire safety issue (for candles, at least) disappears. it is a bit understandable. but then again, it just goes back to the man trying to make it easier on himself. i have never had a candle burning in my dorm room. and that unlit candle has thusly never caused a fire. so why should i be punished for doing what i was told? seems a little sketchy to me.and since we’re on the topic of lovely section 18, paragraph g, i’d like to take a step back and look at it a little more closely. it first prohibits burning candles and incense in your housing. alright. and toward the end, it states the punishment, that having a candle in your room can get you kicked out of your housing. sure. but how about the middle line. “candles and/or incense are prohibited in all university-owned housing.” um… wait a second. if you can’t have a candle, how are you supposed to burn one? seems like with line two there, line one becomes a wee bit redundant. yeah. oops for sure. kind of. for you see, this is from the 2007-2008 housing contract. a quick look at the 2006-2007 housing contract (which is substantially less stylish than its descendant) shows us where our little problem comes from. the older version states only as follows (in what was at that point section 15, paragraph g): “the burning of candles and/or incense is prohibited in all university-owned housing. residents found responsible for burning candles could be removed from the residence halls. possession of previously burned candles is prohibited.” you see, they only had the burned (or “burnt” depending on your grammatical preference) candle bit. they had to add the sweeping candle ban line because of the new sweeping candle ban rule. so they did. of course, they could have been intelligent students of writing and removed the unnecessary line afterward. but why? that would make too much sense. what do you think this place is for? smart people?while we’re here, i think it would be helpful for us to take a peek at section 18, paragraph t. it’s a doozy. within this portion, there is a small bit found within parentheses. as anyone who has read any post on this blog knows, such parenthetical use is found mostly (if not always) in unneeded times of overkill and repetitiveness. so for your sake, i will leave that part out. with that addendum, it reads as follows: “any activity which could cause personal injury or cause damage to property is prohibited within university-owned housing. snow ball throwing and/or fights is prohibited in or around residential facilities.” if you happen to disregard the snow ball portion (which seems really strange and random, considering that it is the only activity mentioned on its own), you are left with quite a statement. “any activity which could cause personal injury or cause damage to property is prohibited within university-owned housing.” wow… so we had a “welcome back” floor meeting the other day, and the hall director told us to be careful in the shower because someone had cut his hand somehow while in one of them. now i’m thinking that slicing open my hand sounds a bit like personal injury to me, so according to the rule, showering is now prohibited (thank goodness i’m already living in filth anyways or i might have been a bit upset). just thinking about it for a moment, i’d have to say that basically anything “could cause personal injury”. it probably won’t. but it could. and that’s what the rule says. oh unfortunately, i cannot continue our lovely sharing time. apparently, staring at a computer screen for too long isn’t really very good for your eyes. i hope nobody finds out i’ve been looking at it. i’m not sure where i’d go if i got kicked out. though, on the bright side, i could probably bring my candle. and that would be nice. regardless, i leave you now with this line of inspiration by the fabulous jack black from his performance in the cinematic classic “school of rock”: “give up, just quit, because in this life, you can’t win. yeah, you can try, but in the end you’re just gonna lose, big time, because the world is run by the man. the man, oh, you don’t know the man? he’s everywhere. in the white house… down the hall… ms. mullins, she’s the man. and the man ruined the ozone, he’s burning down the amazon, and he kidnapped shamu and put her in a chlorine tank! and there used to be a way to stick it to the man. it was called rock ‘n roll, but guess what, oh no, the man ruined that, too, with a little thing called mtv! so don’t waste your time trying to make anything cool or pure or awesome ’cause the man is just gonna call you a fat washed up loser and crush your soul. so do yourselves a favor and just give up!”true story. ish.

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harry potter is a pansy

that’s right.  i said it.  harry potter is a pansy (which, by the way, is defined as “any of various plants of the genera achimenes or viola, having flowers with velvety petals of various colors”.  though, i’m actually more referring to the slang definition, which is given on as “someone very pathetic and wimpy, generally used as an insult against both sexes” [with a dramatic visual representation offered here]).

now please don’t misunderstand what i’m saying. kicking the v-man’s butt over and over is pretty sweet.  finding the sorcerer’s stone (or philosopher’s stone, if you’re feeling worldly), chamber of secrets, and everything else that’s been found isn’t particularly shabby either.  i could go on.  but there’s no need.  we’ll just leave it at the fact that when it comes to doing impressive things with a british accent, harry potter’s right up there on the list (notice that i didn’t say he was first on the list.  in my eyes that spot is still held by the one and only hugh laurie. though in all actuality i’m not sure if all his impressive deeds as dr. house [of the acclaimed medical drama “house, m.d.”] count because he has to fake an american accent in order to do them. so that debate is up in the air, but anyway).  between what he’s done and how he talks, it’s safe to say that he’s a pretty cool cat.  and in order to be utterly truthful, i’ll have to admit that i did spend the past week reading “harry potter and the order of the phoenix” (book review:  buy the book.  rip out the first 400 pages of the book. burn [or destroy in whatever way you feel suitable] the first 400 pages of the book. the remainder is now a good book) in preparation for the cinematic release of the aptly titled “harry potter and the order of the phoenix” movie on the 11th of july (which happens to be this coming wednesday). so when i throw around a word like “pansy” it’s not out of disrespect.  just out of… a slight bit of chutzpah, if you will.

because, you see, in this potter-ridden world (which will officially become super-crazy-harry-potter-mania-land once the new movie and new book have both been released), it takes such a slight bit of gall to make that kind of floral remark (pun noted).  and i stand by it.  but why, you ask. why must i say such blasphemous things about “the boy who lived”?

the answer lies within a blog post that i just so happened to write last year (that would be 2006, for all the laymen and women out there).  on the 27th of september.  it happens to be entitled “hoboken, new jersey“.  click the link. read it.  then come back and we’ll talk.

 good, you’re back.  now, of course, you understand my issue with mr. potter (though if your first thought was just “but what does ‘pizza’ have to do with anything?”, please click the back button on your browser and try reading it again). one of the most intriguing (or at least heavily written about) situations thus far in the series of extremely long novellas (and no, there is no possible way to make a case for any of j.k. rowling’s magical books being called novellas, but i like the word. so i’ll use it) is harry’s head.  more specifically his forehead.  and even more specifically the scar upon it.

we could talk about what people think of the scar or how the scar got there or how dashing the scar looks when harry throws back his hair in the wind, but we’ll leave those for another day. today’s issue is how the scar feels. and most of the time for harry, it hurts (well, moreso the older he gets and as things progress, but this isn’t a spoiler. it’s a botanic discussion [pun noted, again]). basically, the more and more you read out of these books, the more and more excuses, reasons, and explanations you are given about why this pain occurs. for brevity’s sake we’ll skip those and simply move ahead to the real explanation (which also happens to be my explanation).  two words: migraine headaches.

yes. it is that simple. harry is no more special than the rest of us (leaving the whole being a wizard and saving the world repeatedly thing aside). he simply suffers from a not-so-rare condition of aching head known commonly as a migraine. but where’s the proof, you say. well, right here. unfortunately, all that can be viewed without paying lots of cash is the abstract.  but apparently, this article was kind of a big deal a week or two ago (it even made an appearance on

before we proceed any further, i would like to make a statement of thanks to doug.  he was my psychology lab t.a. last semester, and i didn’t really like him all that much.  i think that i more didn’t like having to go to a pointless psychology lab once a week, but i vented that frustration onto doug. but thanks to him, i now know how to use all of the scholarly databases that the wonderful university of connecticut pays for and thus was able to obtain a copy of the full article “harry potter and the curse of the headache”.  so thanks doug. you’re a good guy.

anyway, i can’t post the full article because i might get sued and/or arrested. and in my opinion, getting sued by the people at a journal called “headache” would be too ironic to even live through. you’d probably just spontaneously combust. so to avoid that, i’ll just recap the important points (and just so you know, this article is fantastic. it’s wonderful to see that a bit of humor and fun-poking still exists in the “real world”, as can be seen in this portion from the extended version of the abstract referring to the pain from [or in] harry’s scar: “the major and perhaps only trigger is proximity, either physical of legilimental, of harry’s arch enemy, he who must not be named. [well, we shall be brave … lord voldemort!! there, we said it.]”

the “research” was basically one of the dudes wanting an excuse to re-read the harry potter books again.  out of the many times that harry is dumbstruck with scar pain, nine instances that offer the most vivid and discernable descriptions of the situation are chosen. thankfully, right off the bat the researchers make sure to rebuke the claim that the headaches (and just so you know, the terms “headache” and “scar pain” are pretty much interchangable from this point on) are simply caused by post-traumatic drama from the attack on baby harry.  this can’t be the case, however, since the first recorded headache (which is assumed to be the first experienced headache) does not occur until eleven years later. if the headache from trauma-induced from that occurence, they would have begun to occur much earlier in harry’s life. this, instead, leaves the door open for alternate explanations, and with established symptoms such as extended periods of pain, nausea and vomiting, photophobia, phonophobia, unilateral location, and severe pain intensity, the most logical explanation becomes a migraine.

some nay-sayers have made the claim that this is untrue. many say that harry’s ability to feel the sharp pain one moment and then lose it a moment later is an indication of something other than a migraine.  i, however, disagree.  i think that such a situation never actually occurs. when harry’s pain recedes, it does not go away.  it simply backs off.  especially in his later years when he has been experiencing such pain for a long time, he has learned to deal with it.  the sharp pains do come and cause excessive debilitation, but in between, the pain still remains, be it at an “manageable” level.

basically, i read the “phoenix” book and (just like all the rest of you who have read it) had to deal with harry’s whining for several hundred pages.  and whenever his scar hurt, he complained about it.  he often tried to be “manly” and act like it was no big deal, but he always made a point of getting it out there. now if this mysterious pain from his scar was really some incredible thing that linked him with the voldster, i might pay attention.  but in my opinion, it has nothing to do with that.  the kid stays up half the night doing homework, gets himself tons of detentions, and is, overall, a giant ball of exploding stress.  and he wonders why he has migraines?  when you really think about it, the whole thing is kind of ridiculous. why keep writing about it? it’s just a headache. and if you want to push it all a step further, you could make the claim that it gets worse when he’s around ‘morty simply due to a subconscious psychological reaction caused by his brain’s recognition of his one-time attacker.  all in all, it’s quite simple.

so the next time you’re sitting there thinking that harry potter is all that and a bag of potato chips, you might want to rethink.  i’ll admit that he might be all that.  but the chips?  not so much.  luckily, i still have both “harry potter and the half-blood prince” and the oh-so-close-to-being-released “harry potter and the deathly hollows” left to read. my hope is that being a good and upstanding member of british society, j.k. rowling will at some point in one of these books come clean with the issue and admit that harry simply suffers from migraines. and when that moment does finally come, you’ll all be able to join me in a rousing rendition of “harry potter is a pansy”.  or he could just stop whining about everything. that would work too.

until then, i simply leave you with this.

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the big dance

i don’t know what kind of person you happen to be. especially considering that the “you” that is being referred to is actually an infinite number of people all believing that i’m talking directly to them. but that doesn’t really matter. because it’s me we’re here to talk about. and i do know that i happen to be the kind of person that likes to watch the university of connecticut huskies basketball team play (believe it or not) basketball. the soccer team is cool and the hockey team isn’t too bad either. and football…well, we’ll just say that they’re not quite “on par” as of yet. but the basketball team, that’s top notch fun. i’ve grown up watching both of the teams (men and women) since i was but a wee little youngster. and it’s good stuff.

i’ll let you know that i’m writing these wonderful words of praise in the midst of having watched many ncaa tournament games in the past couple of days, and interestingly, one thing that has been conspicuously absent thus far has been any presence of uconn players on the court. of course, that conspicuosity will be ending later this evening when the uconn women take the court against the basketball super power known as the university of maryland – baltimore county retrievers at the hartford civic center sometime between 9:00 and 9:30 pm (it’s marked differently depending on which newspaper, television station, or website you happen to be checking. plus, it really just depends on when the game before it ends, so there is actually a very slim possibility that it will start much later). but after the women take the court tonight, the absence of the uconn men will continue. and it will do so throughout the college basketball postseason, as those same men had a bit of a rough year and didn’t exactly get into either of the postseason tournaments. and i remind you that this was a men’s team that began the season as the eighteenth ranked team in the country and climbed all the way up to to the number nine ranking in the espn / usa today poll courtesy of their 10-0 start. sometimes, though, reality sets in and really blows. unfortunately, they had to start playing mediocre (and occasionally good) teams instead of bad teams and went into a bit of a freefall throughout the rest of the season, finishing up with a rather un-uconnesque 17-14 record. so no tournament for those boys. i guess they’ll just have to go back to stealing laptops or whatever it is they do in the offseason.

while it would be nice to have a male team in the march madness mayhem (hooray for alliteration), it’s been quite a learning experience for me. being in the women’s pep band and getting to travel wherever they happen to travel throughout their tournament, i’ve been anxiously awaiting tonight’s game and the (hopefully) awesome couple of weeks that it will kick off. but the way they set up the tournaments, i had to wait through a couple days of men’s games before getting to the women’s games. and i’ll admit, i wasn’t too excited about the men’s tournament this year. usually i’m all over the whole filling out brackets and trying to be the cool kid that picks all the crazy upsets of the year (like back in the 2005 tournament when i watched kevin pittsnogle single-handedly carry my bracket with number 7 west virginia beating number 10 creighton and then upsetting number 2 wake forest and number 6 texas tech in the albuquerque bracket). and i did that for the women big time. i went through and checked out the teams and filled out the maximum five brackets in the tournament challenge and all that (though it’s tough with the women because you always want to pick good upsets but not as many happen in the women’s tournament). with the men, though, i filled out one bracket and was in a definite “whatever” kind of mood about it. without my team in it, the whole thing seemed a whole lot less exciting.

and then the tournament started. luckily, i had signed up for “march madness on demand” from cbs (which lets me watch any and all of the men’s ncaa tournament games live on the internet) back before the big east tournament when the uconn men still had a chance to get into the ncaa tournament (if all of the other big east teams had eaten bad shellfish, causing them to become too sick to play and thus giving the huskies the big east title [and the corresponding automatic ncaa tournament bid] by default). because of that luck, i was able to watch the games if i wanted to. and it just so happened that back on thursday, when the tournament started, i had a project that i wanted to procrastinate on. so i decided to watch a game. so i did. and then i watched another. and pretty soon i was jumping back and forth between games, and well, basically, i got sucked in.

by the time the evening came and the duke/vcu (virginia commonwealth [because we all know that virginia is technically a commonwealth and not a state] university) game was on, i was gone. i had caught the tournament bug. and it just so happened that in my one bracket i had picked vcu to upset duke. so i’m sitting there watching the fuzzy internet feed of the game, while listening through my headphones (because somewhere in the several hours of watching, my roommate had come back and was doing something else), and loving it. of course, i could have walked over and turned on the game on the actual tv and my roommate wouldn’t have minded at all, but i was too into it to move. i probably even stopped blinking at some point. it was that cool. if there had been any chance of me just watching the tournament that day and then deciding it was just a one-hit wonder of a day for me, this game crushed any thought of that. as i watched vcu strategically tire out duke in the first half and pull to within two points at halftime (after having been down thirteen early on), i just couldn’t wait for the second half.

now you have to understand. i go to uconn, so i’m a uconn fan. but way beyond that, i’ve always been a uconn fan. my parents are big uconn fans, and i grew up with my normally calm and composed father sitting there screaming at the televsion during uconn basketball games. so i just kind of grew up with it and grew up into it.

if you hadn’t noticed (and/or this happens to be the first post of my weblog that you find yourself reading [and if that’s the case, salutations]), i also happen to be a somewhat religious kind of person. and with these two things (namely uconn basketball and christianity) being rather formative in my childhood, i’ve learned that life can be lived in it pretty legitimate (if not very good) manner by following one simple instruction: “you must love one another as god loves you and love your neighbor as yourself, unless she is a tennessee volunteer.” i’m really not much of a bible scholar or anything, but i think that’s in the book somewhere. and if not, it was probably just edited out due to length issues (i mean, you had to milk a lot of squids to get enough ink back in those days). but anyways, the rivalry between the uconn and tennessee women’s basketball teams is pretty much unquestionably the greatest rivalry in women’s basketball. regardless of rank or team status, it’s a great game whenever those two teams get out on the court. unfortunately (for whatever reason), many more people go to watch men’s basketball games (in general) than women’s basketball games. being in the pep band and going to the games, i got to witness firsthand how few people went to a lot of the women’s home games (both at gampel pavilion and the hartford civic center). but let me tell you, when tennessee came to town back in january, the civic center was packed to the brim and people were going nuts. it was cool. (at this point, you may have no idea where i’m going with this paragraph, but here it comes, the tie-in.) so with such an incredible rivalry on the women’s side of things, it would be hard for the men to match that. and honestly, they don’t come close. syracuse is a big east rival, but it’s nothing like tennessee. in my opinion, the closest that the men have to such a rivalry is with duke. it is true that the uconn and duke men don’t play each other all that often. but it’s also true that when they do get to play each other, it’s almost always a game to remember. in addition to having live feeds of all of the tournament games, the “march madness on demand” webpage from cbs that i mentioned earlier also has a “historical highlights” section with twenty-five classic tournament highlights spanning from 1983 to 2006. if you take a semi-close look at those clips, you’ll notice a few things. first of all, uconn and duke are the two teams with the most number of highlights (five and four, respectively). second, they are the only pair of teams that have multiple highlights playing each other (one from 1990 and one from 1999). does that tell you something? maybe. maybe not. something else to remember is that the two times that the uconn men have won the basketball national championship (in 1999 and 2004), they’ve had to go through duke to get there. in 1999, they played each other in one of the grittiest national title games (dare I say) ever, and in 2004, they played in a semi-final game that basically everyone in the country agreed was pretty much the title game (with the winner just having to beat a decent, but not great, georgia tech team in the final). so with all that in mind, i don’t know about you, but i smell at least a bit of rivalry.

and finally, that brings us back to thursday’s matchup. as i sat there, it was great. even though they’re now j.j. reddick-less and aren’t all that duke-like this year (along the same lines that uconn wasn’t very uconn-like this year), it was still a pretty nice feeling to watch them struggle against the eleventh-seeded vcu. those darn blue devils came out in the second half and gained their lead back and it was a little depressing, but with around eleven (coincidence, i think not) minutes remaining, the vcu rams decided to stage a comeback. and they did. and it was darn exciting. as i sat their watching both the minutes on the gameclock and the duke lead dwindle, the madness had taken full control of me. in the game’s final minutes, there were several occasions when i cheered and pumped my fist in the air in excitement, and my roommate probably thought i was nuts (considering i was still watching the fuzzy internet feed with the headphones on, and he couldn’t see or hear any of it). but it was worth it, big time. basically, vcu: 79 – duke: 77 says it all. if i couldn’t watch uconn win on that day, watching duke lose was definitely the next best thing.

so i guess i have to thank the virginia commonwealth university rams for reminding me about how ridiculously awesome college basketball can be. even when your team isn’t in the mix. unlike the pros, college basketball is about teams that are like families. it’s about school pride. it’s about those kids on that virginia campus now being able to talk about that one game for the next twenty years. the players and the coaches aren’t there because they get paid millions and millions of dollars. they aren’t there to become superstars and set records and do all those things that the professionals get caught up in. the college players are there to grow up, play basketball, and enjoy themselves along the way. while i’m still about as anti-tennessee basketball as anybody, the two coaches at that school (pat summitt and bruce pearl) showed this season exactly what i’m trying to say. in short, they get it. in an age where a lot of coaches like to stick to their suits and offices, bruce showed up to a women’s game shirtless, painted orange, and cheering as loud as anyone in the front row of the student section. pat summitt then thanked him by showing up to a men’s game dressed like a cheerleader, leading the arena in the school’s unofficial fight song “rocky top”, and climbing to the top of a cheerleader pyramid.

Bruce Pearl

Pat Summitt

that is what college sports are all about. and basically that’s the reason why i love college basketball and could care less about the nba. it’s just not the same. and so with the uconn women’s opening round game fast approaching, i just hope that they’ll be able to make up for the men’s rough season. watching them win the national championship from probably about ten feet away from the court (which is where the band gets to sit [or stand, rather, as it’s way too exciting to sit]) would be pretty incredible. though as long as they win their first two games and i get to skip some classes and fly out to fresno, california, for the third and fourth rounds, i guess i won’t really be able to complain all that much even if they don’t win it all. and who knows, maybe we’ll get to play against tennesssee for the championship.

but regardless, march is here. the madness has ensued. and i’ve caught the fever that is “the big dance”. i don’t know what the prescription is, but i don’t think i’d want it anyway. luckily, my pep band doesn’t use a cowbell.

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