Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On Marquis Hector Oswald

Our search for a greater understanding of our world and its inhabitants hit a stumbling block with this topic. It's rare that we'll admit this, but we have found something beyond human understanding. Still, the conversation was a spirited one and we hope you can pull something from it.  - Patrick


Klint: I've spent my entire adolescence dabbling in various subcultures.  Hell, I still identify with a few in my mid 20's, but there's one that I really don't understand at all.

Patrick: Evangelical Christianity? 

Klint: Close.  Are you familiar with "steampunk?"

Patrick: Vaguely. I see people on the internet talking about it, but it seems to be the same people who are into those cats with the words underneath them so I can't say I know much about it. 

Klint: Picture an entire subset of people who loved the movie Wild Wild West so much that it's influenced every aspect of their being.

Patrick: The Will Smith movie? It meant that much to people?

Klint: I think there's more to it than that.  At least I hope there is.

Patrick: Give me a moment to do a Google image search. I don't want to stay ignorant. 

Klint: I'm going to do some research of my own.


Patrick: Ok, first question:  Is this real?  Like a real thing?

Klint: Well, it has enough of an internet presence to lead me to believe that it's not just some elaborate 4chan prank.

Patrick: Are we sure it's not like that photo with the shark attacking the guy on the helicopter? Totally fake? Because I'm into some pretty square shit and this is even too nerdy for me. 

Klint: Some of this stuff is pretty elaborate.  There's a "Steampunk Name Generator."  According to this, I'd be "Honourable Quinby Belcher"

Patrick: So this is just an aesthetic choice? 

Klint: I think that's how it started off.  Based in some awful subgenre of science fiction.  But, now there's steampunk music and even some sort of steampunk philosophy.  According to Wikipedia

"Other have proposed a steampunk philosophy, sometimes with punk-inspired anti-establishment sentiments, and typically bolstered by optimism about human potential."

Patrick: Is this about glorifying a period in human history where the anemic nerds who are into it would have died of tuberculosis? 

Klint: Sort of, except none of this stuff ever actually existed.

Patrick: And maybe I'm confused, aside from dressing like a jerkoff, what does it have to do with punk?

Klint: I think it's a few steps removed from cyberpunk, which is in turn a few steps removed from actual punk.

Patrick: So this is roleplay?

Klint: Right.

Patrick: Quinby, I'm still confused.  Why does steam power speak to greater human potential? 

Klint: Let's back up.

Patrick: My head is spinning. 

Klint: It's all based off some books a few guys wrote in the late 70's into the 80's.

Patrick: So there is a steam punk bible?  A little red book for virgins?

Klint: Not so much.  It's all bad fiction about what would happen if computers and technology existed in Victorian times.

Patrick: That hardly seems like a full enough world view on which to base your life. 

Klint: Which brings us to why this is all a bunch of crap.  It's just a bunch of weirdos romanticizing a timeperiod that never existed.  It's so idiotic that your average person at a club's goth night thinks these people are losers.

Patrick: I don't understand what makes steam powered gold plated technology any more appealing than "cavepunk" or "iron agepunk"

Klint: I think they assume that if they conduct themselves in a manner they perceive to be befitting of aristocrats, maybe normals will respect them instead of slashing their tires while they're parked outside of the store where they buy Magic cards.

Patrick: Let me refer to the internet for a moment. Someone must have published a Martin Luther-style agenda or proclamation on this whole thing. You and I think we have the "why" of it, but what do they tell themselves?

Klint: Good idea.  I'll look independently

Patrick: Well, here's something. On the community forum The Gaslamp Bazaar, I found the following poll: "Steampunk with or without magic?"

Klint: Wow.  I found a "Steampunk Manifesto," but I think that one simple question upset me even more than this did. 

Patrick: 77% of those polled like some magical and occult influences mixed into their steam punk world view. 

Klint: That makes perfect sense to me. 

Patrick: Klint, or Quinby, or whatever you prefer to be called these days.  I know this is a scholarly blog. 

Klint: Klint, please.

Patrick: I know we attempt to raise the bar and teach ourselves something with each entry.  But can I speak freely here?

Klint: Please do, because I think I know where this is going.

Patrick: I'm not confident there is anything to understand here. I don't think further research will yield any more profound an answer. I think we can sum this up simply: These people suck. Trying to decipher their motivations is pointless. That entry you just shared with me includes the following line:

"Our corsets are filled with safety pins and our tophats hide vicisious mohawks. We are fashion’s jackals running wild in tailorshop."
There is no reason here. Just ugly nerds.  If there is a side against this in the culture wars, I'd like to join. 

Klint: I'd agree.  Things like this are an affront to all that we, as learned men, stand for.  They're using misplaced SAT words to make their garbage subculture appear elegant and intellectual.

Patrick: Ok, shoot straight here: Would any of these people be involved in this if they were physically attractive?

Klint: It's possible, but unlikely.  No intelligent people could be involved, and for an attractive person to get into this, they'd have to grow up as ugly ducklings.  Maybe a big girl who loses a lot of weight, or a formerly acne ridden late blooming male.

Patrick: Do you think people will raise children as steampunks?  And do you think those kids will make it out of middle school without serious trauma from their peers?

Klint: I don't envision steampunks as effective breeders, but if a child is raised and sent to school in "steampunk attire," I forsee them being severely beaten and chastised.  

Patrick: This can't end well. I vote we close the topic for fear we'll let more of this idea into our lives. 

Klint: I agree.  I'm actually visually agitated by all of this.

Patrick: I mean, I'm impressed with people building computer mouses out of gold foil and balsa wood, but it also fills me with a particular sadness. 

Klint: As if there was something wrong with their brand new Dell 17" Inspiron laptop, that they had to open it up and rehouse it in polished walnut and brass.  So much wasted time and crafstmanship.

Patrick: Maybe they could build a time machine next. Go back to another era and be disliked there as well. 

Klint: I could see the LARP crowd really wailing on steampunks with their foam swords.

Patrick: I respect LARPing. Steampunk doesn't even have swords. 

Klint: True.  Final words?

Patrick: Should we expect hate emails from steampunkers or will it all arrive via carrier pigeons wearing brass goggles?

Klint: I picture them being written with quills on tattered parchments with a lot of flowery language that doesn't mean anything, sealed with a dollop of red wax that they pressed their class ring from vo-tech school into.

Patrick: That says it all. Tallyho, Quinby. 

Klint: Ugh.  Tallyho.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Submissions

If you'd like to submit a question or a topic, you can now do so at learned.men.blog@gmail.com.

On the Likeness of the Prophet

This is the first in a series of discussions between Patrick and I in an attempt to learn more about topics foreign to the both of us.  Feel free to continue our exploration in the comments section.  - Klint


Patrick: Klint, I know this is dangerous territory here, but I'd like to tackle a question I've been wondering about for some time now.
Klint: And what's that?
Patrick: Well, you probably remember that big hububalo about the cartoons of Muhammad. If I understand correctly, the issue wasn't that he was depicted as an asshole, but that he was depicted at all. I'm curious why muslims care so much.
Klint: I've heard about this, and always sort of wondered the same thing. Religious art is something that has a long tradition in any faith, so why is Islam the exception?
Patrick: I have a religious studies degree and consider myself fairly knowledgeable on that broad topic, but I don't have a fucking clue about this particular hang-up. So I was thinking you and I could do some heavy research, dig deep, and get to the bottom of this.
Klint: I think that's a reasonable idea. Hopefully we can crack this open.
Patrick: Let's break for a moment and independently collect some knowledge here.

Klint: So I started with Wikipedia to gather some background information.
Patrick: A reliable source. I like to change baseball players' stats at random on wikipedia, so I trust it.
Klint: I once made myself the mayor of Riegelsville, PA. I think it still says that I am. But, on topic, the Qur'an says:
"Behold! he said to his father and his people, "What are these images, to which ye are (so assiduously) devoted?" They said, "We found our fathers worshipping them." He said, "Indeed ye have been in manifest error - ye and your fathers."

Patrick: Is that it? Like, from that I'm supposed to pull that Muhammad is above being depicted?
Klint: Not exactly. I think the practice exists to discourage the worship of Muhammad's image instead of his words. Which aren't even his. They're just the regurgitated words of Allah.
Patrick: Like if I'm at the Jersey shore with Muhammad and I want a cute caricature of the two of us from a boardwalk vender, that shit is haram?
Klint: No, they have ways around it. Sometimes they veil his face or just depict him as a huge ball of fire.
Patrick: So fire is ok, but as we learned from that whole Danish debacle a bomb is not ok. How stylized can I get with this ball of fire?
Klint: I'm not really sure. Apparently the word of God is full of loopholes, so it can be pretty abstract.
Patrick: Like if I want to make the ball of fire look like the Mac Tonight McDonald's mascot from the 80's, is that shit cool?
Klint: Sure. Just leave the face blank, like this.  For all we know, he could look like the Noid.
Patrick: So, Ghost Rider?
Klint: I think motorcycles are haram.
Patrick: Most interesting about this, to me, is what it says about likeness. Clearly, a cartoon is not a realistic likeness of Muhammad. But Muslims took it as such.
Klint: It begs the greater question, what constitutes likeness?
Patrick: How abstract and removed from actual likeness can we get before a fundamentalist Muslim would have to throw in the towel and admit it was ridiculous? Like if I drew a carrot and said, "This is the prophet!" Would I be in hot water?
Klint: If someone worshipped the carrot, I think so. Or what if i spray painted Muhammad on the side of a barn?
Patrick: So we're in the clear provided that no one takes my childish doodle and prays to it?
Klint: Maybe? Or it might be a matter of merely attempting to depict the prophet. Regardless of skill level, I expect it's still a transgression.
Patrick: My intent is what matters here?
Klint: That seems the most reasonable interpretation. Because if a child tries to draw Muhammad, it's probably not going to look much like him, but it should still be forbidden. Or else you get into arbitrarily judging how much it looks like a man no one has ever met or seen an actual picture of.
Patrick: Hm. I was impressed with that probing bit of research you did by using Wikipedia, but I wanted to push further into this topic. Posing the question, "Why do Muslims hate cartoons?" to www.Ask.com yielded this
Klint: Watching that doesn't really answer your question, but I'll say I find the video to be reassuring, only because it proves that Muslims are consistent. If they hate the Dutch, they're not going to support the Dutch in any way.
Patrick: Is Muhammad the original Keyser Söze?
Klint: I'm not familiar enough with The Usual Suspects to really tell you that. I will say that Muhammad is the original Wilson.
Patrick: I know a guy is really angry that I owed him $30 for three days in 2003. I think Muslims are a lot like that guy.
Klint: Explore that idea.
Patrick: He IS Wilson. Holy shit. They both give scary, but attractive, truths from behind a veil of visual anonymity. I think we've gotten somewhere with that. That is really cutting to the core of the matter.
Klint: I'm glad we've been able to dig into it. I suggest a reader pick up from wherever we leave off for their dissertation.
Patrick: Agreed. People have strong views on religion and it might be best for everyone to give themselves a primer on the details of various faiths. If only for your own safety.
Klint: It's true. You don't want to accidentally serve a Jew a BLT or draw the prophet.
Patrick: Klint, can we safely say we got to the bottom of this? I thought the video was a spicy visual aid.
Klint: I think we have. The video was a nice touch. I'll include a few links for further exploration at the end, as well.
Patrick: Peace be upon you.
Klint: I'd like to thank everyone for joining us on the inaugural discussion for Learned Men.   All praises due Allah.

For further reading:

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Salutations

“If ignorance is blissfulness, that must make me a genius.”
-Michael Vogelsang

Access to education is one of the finest luxuries we, as modern men and women, can enjoy. To enter each day with a combination of universal and specialized knowledge and the desire and capacity to implement and expand upon that is truly a formidable tool in the human chest of drawers. Unfortunately not everyone shares such motivation or potential. That’s where we fit in.

Some of you may know me already, but for those who don’t, my name is Klint. By virtue of being a reader, a traveler and a student, I consider myself to be a smart and learned man, though through my interests and frequent journeys, I often find myself in the company of people who don’t share the same thirst for the academic. Thus, Learned Men was born. At the urging of my good friend Patrick, we’ve embarked on this joint venture to present discourse, dialogue and experience from and between civilized men who reside within a frequently uncivilized world. Our discussions have taken place behind closed doors for long enough. Now is the time for the mundane to be privy to, and potentially partake in, the magnificent.

Patrick here,

Being smart has fewer benefits than you’d think. It doesn’t ensure an interesting or high-paying job. It sure as hell doesn’t throw vagina your way. All being smart guarantees is the resentment of your peers and a lasting feeling of alienation. Being intelligent isn’t a choice or vocation; it’s a calling at best and more often a curse.

As sharp as Klint and I believe ourselves to be, there is much we don’t know. This blog, in part, exists to further our education. Anything the reader pulls from it is of secondary importance. We’re paddling our way to the headwaters of the river, you’re wishing us the best from your place on the shore.

I’m Patrick and I thank you for joining us.