Guess Who?

Its a bird…its a plane….its one sentence that tries to sum up life, but cant.

I dont have a favourite quote. I was googling quotes today and found a fun one: nothing is so useless as a general maxim. I sort-of agree.

But, then again, certain oft-quoted people do make good points very succinctly. Personally, I feel like in 1B06, our profs strive to teach us to become quotable. They would love nothing more than a memorable turned phrase. Or at least…Browning makes enough of those himself to appear at the back of the yearbook pretty often, and pretty hilariously.

According to facebook, my favourite quotes are Shakespeare’s sonnet 18 and a piece of wizard rock, too epic not to share:

I’m Snape, Snape, Severus Snape, I’m grimmin, I’m slimmin, I wear a dark cape, I’m not a fan of children, but mostly Potter, the arrogant hotshot Hogwarts squatter, he’s got no talent, he’s all dumb luck, they say he’s like his father, yeah they both suck! So anybody with a brain can see, the little brat just….bothers me

And, since it was Jeremy who insisted I blog, I humour him with a discussion of the above quote.

I like things with good rhythm, and I’m pretty sure I laughed out loud the first time I heard this.After googling parts of the quotation, I can sadly say I have no idea where I found it. I find it interesting that even though I’m fairly certain that this was written pre-deathly hallows release in 2007, its not too far off the mark. Snape hates Harry as a person, and everything he stands for, and would have done away with him if not for love for his mother. Also, alliteration in the last line. Just sayin’

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On a more serious note, one quote that resonates most deeply with me is by Sir Edmund Burke, who wrote “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

I think this is particularly pertinent for our generation. We are the lazy children, who gaze up at the world and think it is too big to be influenced by just one person. The generation that has been asked for money to so many good-hearted organizations that they stop caring. But pacifism is a type of acceptance of the current situation.

A long time ago, I wrote thematically on this quote about the crisis in Darfur (then only a few years old) and how this quote reminded me of the famous post-holocaust mantra “Never Again.” When the world sits by the wayside and watches atrocious events happen…they are allowing for the triumph of evil.

This quote has a special place in my heart because I can stem my interest in global politics, humanitarianism, and global development to my interest in the subject as a 13-year-old who went around her school’s lunchroom to find out how many classmates knew what or where “darfur” was. While I am not the same person I was 6 years ago, I certainly have developed my interest in the field and has shaped my aspirations as I continue to forge my own path.

I think that its important for everyone, especially our generation, to keep their heads up and eyes and ears open. We are a generation destined to change the world, or at least…piece together the parts of it as they fall. But having read so many books as kids that show the good guy winning in the end…who really wants to cheer on the bad guys? All it takes is a little bit of action, and a little less pacifism…

Enough of the naive dribbling drool. If you’ve read this far, you should get a reward.

I’ve provided a choice selection of fun quotes for anyone still interested. Once again, apologies for allowing this blog to sink into anonymity and death. No guarantees that I will continue to post again, though!

Don’t get your knickers in a knot; it solves nothing and makes you walk funny.

Never be afraid to try something new. Remember that a lone amateur built the Ark. A large group of professionals built the Titanic.

If you’re standing with one leg in yesterday and one leg in tomorrow, you will pee all over today.

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One Movie Everyone Should See on July 15th

When Alec first posted that last week was supposed to be about movies, I thought I might as well skip writing an essay for the subject at all, seeing as I do not watch movies unless sitting on a long plane ride or in a movie theatre with the friends who brought me there. The only exception I usually make for my movie-watching rule relates to books that have been turned into movies and Disney.

My original answer to last week’s topic would have been Mulan. For some reason, ask any teenager or young adult about making a man out of someone, and they will usually start belting out the words “Lets get down to business – to defeat – the Huns.” There are lots of reasons why I love this movie. It has to do with the Far East, it has to do with fighting, it has adorable dragons in it – and most certainly, it does not get old (no matter how many times I have watched it!) It is, essentially, a must-see movie. While I love other Disney movies, and while I admit that the Jungle Book is ultimately my favourite (and has one of the best messages, too) – if you haven’t seen Mulan, you are missing out.

Nonetheless, while I was attempting to come up with something deep to say about Mulan’s hilarious makeover, I realized that this is my one opportunity to remind people that they have a once-in-a-lifetime movie-watching experience coming up.

My suggestion for one movie that everyone should see only pertains to a short timeframe. If you don’t see it between July 15th and the end of the summer (and I am being generous here), then I don’t really care if you ever see it.

Our generation’s literary phenomenon comes to a close on July 15th. If you have been a fan in the slightest, even just a movie fan, then watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II as soon as it comes out is an absolute necessity – a bear necessity. I have personally grown up with Harry Potter – I started reading it in the summer of 1998, after Chamber of Secrets came out but before Prisoner of Azkaban had hit bookshelves. As a kid, I was always at summer camp when books or movies were released, and as a result I have never had the opportunity to attend a midnight screening or book release. July 15th is my last opportunity to do so, and it could not be a more fitting close to what I think defines my childhood. Having grown up with Harry, I feel ready to let the series go – but it must go out with a bang.

With over half of the movie dedicated to the Battle of Hogwarts, it promises to be an exciting end to the series. While it may not be that accurate, and while its fight sequence may not rival LOTR (thought I am not sure anything really can), there is no denying that DH Part II is going to be an emotional roller coaster.

Once this movie is released – the series is over. Caput. No book eight has been discussed, no encyclopedia has been mentioned, and the hopes of a TV series seem far-fetched. We are the lucky generation that has grown up with Harry – after this movie is released, anyone discovering the series can sit down and watch the series, beginning to end, in a movie marathon. Like my little cousin, they can devour the books in mere weeks. The culture of the series is dying – and July 15th is its last true breath. Take part in the cultural phenomenon – and go out to see Harry’s last stand.

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One Book, Two Book, Good Book, Great Book…

Firstly: I’ve been an awful blogger. I have procrastinated 1.5 weeks away due to my inability to make a decision. Quite honestly, I’ve been trying quite hard to determine which book I should recommend for everyone to read. I gloriously failed, but I thought I could discuss a few of my top choices.

I am a fan of characters rather than a fan of stories. Once I read all the high-fantasy that I could find in middle school, I got over the epic-ness of a good story. Now I prefer to settle for a nice, interesting persona. What ultimately makes some books great, rather than just good, is how the reader is able to identify with the characters in the novel; there is a certain point in all good books when you become infatuated in some way with a character, and begin building a relationship of sorts with them. When people speak of their favourite books as old friends – I think this is when the connection between character and reader shows its power.

I absolutely love reading, but I feel like picking a favourite book is like picking a favourite child – its impossible! Yes, I enjoyed reading The Time Traveller’s Wife much more than I enjoyed Wuthering Heights, but I cannot possibly pick just one. Some books I associate closely with when and where I read them; Special Topics in Calamity Physics will hold a special place in my heart, since I read it while going through some rough stuff.

My original answer to this question was the bible, but considering I havent read it thoroughly, I didnt think that was a fair choice…

The Typicals

1. Catcher in the Rye

…is the most cliché book I could have picked. But my fifteen-year-old-self loved it, and I still love it to this day. Instead of talking a bit about the book, which I am sure most of you have read, I am just going to post what I think is an interesting, short discussion of the book in 2 parts, a la vlogbrothers (John Green, author of an Abundance of Katherines etc)

Catcher in the Rye – Part 1

Catcher in the Rye – Part 2

2. Harry Potter

…is a story I could (and have) discussed for ages at a time. I love the complex story arcs, I love the uniqueness of characters like Luna, Neville, and Snape, and I love magic like everyone else.

3. The Kite Runner

…was the first (and pretty much only) book that ever made me cry. I love how the book focuses on guilt, and that it is ok for it not to resolve itself in a feel-good way. While the movie adaptation focuses on redemption rather than guilt, I find the book much more evocative, and truly a beautiful story. It’s a beautiful story about friendship, and the pomegranate tree is a beautiful symbol throughout the book. 4. Enders Game …a childhood favourite that I have read over and over again. The original is the best, though the offshoots are good as well. I have always loved Ender as a character, and I also loved the game. Most people have read it, so I wont elaborate.

Personal Favourites

1. Someone to Run With (David Grossman)

…is a beautifully powerful and unique book, which also has a movie adaptation. It is about an awkward teenage boy, Assaf, who works at the pound, and is given a dog (Dinka) that was found on the streets of Jerusalem and asked to go find the owner by following the dog. Dinka leads him around town, bringing pizza to an old nun, visiting restaurants, and getting chased by the police. He unravels a complex story of a girl, Tamar, who has run away from home, shaved all of her hair, and turned her life upside down in order to be picked up by a street performers halfway house in search of her brother, Shai. Planning an escape from the controlling, drug-dealing people that run the house and Shai’s life, Tamar acts out of true love for her brother. It is a love story, a story about finding your place as a teenager, and about the power and spirit of music. While I read it in English, the original Hebrew is supposedly written in uncharacteristically long sentences, as if it too were running.

2. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)

Harrison beat me to John Irving, but I will briefly express my fascination with this book. It has huge religious overtones, but more than that, it’s a discussion of fate, justice, faith…and oddball baseballs.

3. The Hunger Games Trilogy (Susanne Collins)

(The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay)

A great series – many would compare it to things like Battle Royale. I love it because it delves into the question of what is entertainment, and when does it go too far? Survivor was the original idea for reality TV, which essentially included stranding people on an island with minimal supplies and watching them survive by eating rats. Who says taking it one step further and watching children kill each other while betting on them is taking the “game” too far?

The book also discusses using people as pawns and symbols, and the frustration those people feel as icons. Is it ok to be “used” for the greater good, when does communal freedom trump personal freedoms, and is one life really worth anything?

The Hunger Games also discusses rebellion, familial love, romantic love, trust, freedom, and sacrifice. It’s a deceptively simple series! Katniss, Peeta, and Gale are all fascinating characters, and the tension surrounding their relationships is engrossing. Many of the other characters facilitate the larger discussion of appearance vs reality and the role of vanity and a person’s “look” in who they are and how they are perceived. Warning: do not begin unless you have time to read – because you wont be able to put them down.

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The funny thing is, the books that I typically read have to do with political science, development, the world at large, etc – but I couldn’t think of any specific books to recommend. I certainly wouldn’t suggest reading the dense textbook-like books sitting on my bookshelf. Instead, I settled for the books to which I have an inexplicable connection – whose stories made my candles burn low as I read late into the night, whose characters I thought of later still, and whose messages I think about to this day.

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Useless Knowledge and Its Uses

Between books and the internet, there is a vast repository of useless knowledge. What are some of the useless things you know? Why do you bother remembering these things?

I feel it is appropriate to begin by quoting dear old Bertrand Russell, who succinctly explains why I (or anyone) bother learning random tidbits of information. Berty once said that there is much pleasure to be gained in useless knowledge. Sometimes, this seems to be the mantra to my madness.

I take great pride in my useless knowledge. In fact, many of my friends dearly remind me of my ability to recall the countries of the world in song. Now unless I am ever on a game-show or competing in a Sporcle competition, I doubt that I will ever be asked to recall all 195 countries, their capitals and their flags, yet I take great pleasure in having the ability to identify them all. I don’t really know why, either. I just like learning lists – I originally began learning long lists of knowledge when an American friend, years ago, taught me the animaniacs songs for the states and capitals. And then I learned the nations of the world. And the presidents of the USA. Then the Canadian Prime Ministers. Most recently, I decided to learn the top 200 most named Harry Potter characters, because Sporcle told me I could, and my HP obsession told me there was no way I couldn’t.

My obsessive self finds the distinction of “useless” knowledge quite humorous. After all, what is the use of any knowledge? To some, knowledge in an area of expertise is used to earn money. To others, it is a means to better understand the world. In pop culture nowadays, useless knowledge seems to have developed one use – entertaining us on television. In fact, I have no doubt that Ken Jennings would argue that his plethora of useless knowledge is not useless at all! He did, of course, win 74 Jeopardy games in a row, and won (according to Wikipedia) $3,172,700. Not too bad a result for a guy who just stood around, hitting a buzzer, and asking questions that began with “what is…”

While I view certain golden tidbits of knowledge as being fairly “useless” to my everyday life, it seems that most of what I have learned in school could be equally deemed useless. In fact, dear reader, while my geography obsession has helped me in subjects like Inquiry, I am fairly certain that my knowledge of Sir Walter Raleigh’s poem Her Reply will never be of use to me again. Yet it appears that we value this knowledge so much that we bother to teach it to others, year after year.

I do, of course, understand the reason why we teach many useless facts in the classroom that will never be of use to the students who memorize them. Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader has clearly shown us that what we learn in elementary school (or any formal schooling, for that matter) will rarely be of consequence to us later in life. So why do we learn it?

Knowledge of all sorts contributes to our understanding of the world that surrounds us. Having learned about seals when you were 8 may make you empathetic of seal hunting now, even if you don’t remember details about how they mate. Learning about world geography allows me to put news stories I read in a better global context. Reading classics and understanding mythology enriches further reading, tv, and other forms of media when they reference famous material.

And sometimes, finding out which information is useless, and which information may come in handy 20 years down the line, is all just part of the fun.

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One Thing I Understand Better Than Others

May 20th: One Thing I Understand Better than Others
Having humbled yourself with the last essay, take a little time to revel in a subject you do understand. What misconceptions do other people have about this subject? What do you enjoy about it?

I have not found a true passion in which to develop an expertise. Like the chronic plague of artsci, I consider myself one of the oft-quoted “jack of all trades, master of none.” I know a little bit about a lot of things, but I don’t know a lot about a few things quite yet.

My original cop-out answer to this question would be myself. I hope to be the world’s leading expert in the field of my own life. But, then again, I suppose some people know themselves better than I know myself. And I suppose, then, that I truly am not an expert in “myself” quite as much as they are experts in “themselves.”

So I need another answer. I decided to go with something fun and trivial.

I suppose I understand a few small things better than others, and others being “the general (artsci) population.” One of those is karate. I was thinking that this is a fairly boring topic to discuss, but I thought I would clear up a few misconceptions while it was on my mind.

1. The Karate Kid – The Movie

The moves in the original karate kid are actually Goju Ryu movements that do work. Yes, last weekend I practiced washing on and off, and brushing up and down. Wash on, wash off teaches you to keep your elbow in when doing a circular block. The purpose of Goju Ryu is re-directing energy, kind-of like aikido or other martial arts. Don’t get me wrong, though – their sparring/fighting at the end is very weird. I wouldn’t try to jump-front-kick someone in a match, unless I wanted to be swept to the ground.

2. Breaking Boards

…is actually really easy. I always kid that a monkey could break a board with their elbow, if they swung hard enough and kept their palm facing downwards. If someone is holding a board properly for you, and you swing your elbow (using your hips), a white belt could easily break one. It’s not that impressive. Punching and kicking take a bit more technique, but mostly it just looks cool.

3. Karate is an art – it’s a martial art – and I personally think it’s really similar to dancing. There is proper technique, but everyone puts their own unique spin on things. Especially katas – forms – that are akin to certain dance routines (but with practical applications), but whose timing and style change person-to-person.

4. Along the same vein, karate is always evolving – it’s not a 2000 year-old thing that is unchangeable – in the last century it has developed tremendously.

5. The best defense is to not get involved in a fight. When I was younger we always had a sensei who used to teach us, whenever someone grabbed you, to ask them “please let go” before initiating any self-defense.

6. If you have to hit, hit your attacker where it hurts – the groin is not a cheap shot. In fact, it’s a very good shot. So are the nerves in the groin area.

7. Other good targets to aim for:

  1. Knee – it only takes 4 pounds of pressure to break if you stomp on it downwards from the outside.
  2. Thigh – Charlie-horse someone. Strike their thigh hard.
  3. Neck – not only inwards, but also downwards, behind the collarbone. Try it gently on yourself with 2 fingers. ‘Nuff said.
  4. Jaw / mouth – bloody messes are never fun.
  5. Nose – either smash it in or push hard from the underside upwards.
  6. Eyes – in a dire situation, gouge them
  7. Ears – in an awful situation, put your thumb behind and tear if forwards

8. Karate was actually developed in Okinawa, not Japan. There’s a huge difference.

9. Karate was meant for people around my size. People 5 feet tall. Then again, they were fighting other people around my size. In general, native people to the islands/that part of Asia are shorter, even the men. While tall, lanky guys look awesome doing karate, and while people think its ridiculous that I would be able to defend myself vs. a 250lb ripped guy, I take solace in the fact that it was initially developed for me.

10. Punching and kicking – thumb on top of your fingers, punch using your first 2 knuckles. Wrist stays straight. Punch from your hip, and use your hips for momentum. Never kick with your toes, pull them back like a ballerina if doing a roundhouse kick or pull them up like you’re standing on your tip toes for a side kick or front kick.

If this bored you, I’m sorry. I was going to talk about something more abstract, how even though we think people from around the world are so different but in reality they are actually very similar, I didn’t have that much to say on the topic. This was easier, more mechanical, and less abstract. Just remember – I am nowhere near an expert in the sport. I am quite a novice, actually. I need about 50 years more training to become a bit more adept and knowledgeable. Hope you enjoyed these few tidbits, though!

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The Mystery Inside My Head

One Thing I Wish I Was Smart Enough to Understand
No one understands everything, but everyone wants to understand something. Spend a little time discussing one of those fascinating subjects which you just don’t get. Why does it interest you? What don’t you understand?

I’ll admit it: I waste a lot of time that I could put to better use reading, exercising, or learning something new. I blame my bad habits for my lack of understanding of how computers work (my brother can certainly attest to my utter incompetency in the field), why current global affairs are in such a depressing and confusing state (I don’t understand half of the major political stories plaguing the news today), or what makes Charles Dickens so wonderful (certain volumes are sitting on my bedroom floor, and have been for well over a year). I could very easily write another list of things that I don’t (but probably should) understand. Then again, I could also list reasons why most of those things don’t even matter. I mean – who really cares if I understand the celebrity world (I don’t think I could name even 1 celebrity couple), or what the newest pop hit is, or whatever.

Instead, I wanted to profess my deepest confuzzlement of a subject I’ve spent the last two weeks thinking about – the brain. I suppose I should probably clarify that I mean the mind, rather than the physical brain. But in a way I really mean both. What really confuses me is why we have those two very distinct words at all – why is there a difference between the mind and the brain, and how does our understanding of the brain contribute to our understanding of the mind?

I must first confess that I have never taken a psych course, and I’m sure one would probably clear up some of my current problems with the subject. But from my research over the last two weeks, I have learned a great deal about the composition of the brain, how nerve impulses are sent and what synapses are, yet none of this helps explain more clearly why I think. Sure, the frontal lobe is responsible for my personal quirks, but when I dissected an animal’s brain in grade 12 all I saw was a pile of beige coloured mush, in which all the parts of the brain looked largely the same. I could not begin to explain why the wrinkly, mushy cerebellum in the back near the brainstem keeps me balanced and coordinated is any different than the wrinkly, mushy part on the side that allows me to remember grade 12 at all because its responsible for my memory.

I don’t think I understand the mind any more than I understand the workings of the brain (though more schooling may help me in the second category). I most certainly don’t understand many peoples’ brains in particular, but I didn’t want to claim that I don’t understand people. I think I understand them enough that I can function acceptably in modern society.

I think where my real confusion lies is how everything I learn in science classes translates to real life. Why is it that electrical impulses shooting up my leg result in the pain I feel when I stub my toe? I don’t understand this sensation or thousands of other phenomena that relate to the brain. But I don’t think anyone does. I don’t think that anyone is necessarily going to, either. To me, this seems like one of the fundamental questions of life that we are simply unable to answer. It seems like one of those questions that our brains are simply unable to comprehend.

We can examine the nervous system as much as we want, to the extent that we can recreate pain, pleasure, and movement, but I don’t think we are ever going to develop artificial intelligence. I think intelligence is something more divine, something that our brains are incapable of understanding.

It is something I do not understand, and I don’t think that it is something that I am capable of understanding. It is simply incomprehensible. And I accept that limitation.

A closing (and related) note: writing this reminded me of one of my favourite Harry Potter quotes. “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

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Who I Am – Part 2

I hate this question. Alec, you started us on an awful topic for the first week.

I suppose the easiest answer to the question would be to tell you my name – for the record, it’s Sarah. With an H. Lots of people forget that sometimes, especially some of my professors. But my name really is not complete without it. I’m named after two people in my first name alone, and both of them certainly spelled it with an H. In fact, I’m Sarah Silverberg II, I suppose, since my great-grandmother was also Sarah Silverberg.

Being a Sarah is not very exciting. All my life, there has been another Sarah in my class. In fact, until I reached university, I had rarely ever been the only Sarah S. When I was in kindergarten, I was dubbed “Sarah Sil,” in order to differentiate me from my peer “Sarah Sap.” When I reached high school, there were then three Sarah S’s, but by that point I had given up responding to my name when it was called. I am no more unique than an ant, in a colony of hundreds. At least, it appears as such at first glance.

After all, there is more to who I am than a name. Shakespeare famously wrote that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. I would probably be the same person even if I had another more unique name. In fact, it may be a function of my completely bland and uninteresting name that I have gained such a weird, eclectic set of interests. I think that I am more interesting than my name, and I hope you do too.

I like to do a lot of things. I rarely like doing “nothing.” If I had to have a super power, I would want to be able to stop time, or else make my days stretch as long as I’d please and extra hours into everything. I like frisbee and skiing and swimming and field hockey and karate. I also like reading through piles of books and solving rubik’s cubes and memorizing ridiculous lists of countries. In fact, most people tell me I’m crazy because of those last few.

If I were to have a credo for life, it would be: why not. A lot of people comment that I care too much about schoolwork, but the care I put into my schoolwork is no less than the effort I put into other commitments. WHY NOT try your hardest in class and see how well you did? WHY NOT take the time to actually read the texts? You may actually learn something!

That seems to be the last coherent thought I have for the afternoon. If you are bored this summer and come across something that seems like it may be worth a try, go for it. Why Not? What have you got to lose?

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