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By Ryan

In Roman thought, there were five canons of rhetoric: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.  Invention dealt with the process of developing thoughts that were worth expressing, arrangement with the organization of said thoughts, style with the form and structure those thoughts would be expressed with, memory with the ability to recall the previous thoughts and their arrangement and style, and delivery concerned actually expressing those thoughts in speech.  Most people are better at certain canons than others: some have excellent ideas but struggle to arrange them, format them, remember them, or express them; some have weak or uninteresting thoughts but are really good at either arranging them coherently or delivering them forcefully.  But what about those who are exceedingly good at remembering their ideas and their arrangement?  What value exists in memory in an instantaneous society that relies heavily on technology for recall?

Let me be more concrete.  I have an excellent memory, the kind that recalls details and nuances of situations that themselves have been forgotten by other folks.  (I’m not bragging, it’s just true, and it’s not even worth bragging about, as I’m attempting to prove.)  Thousands of years ago, this trait would have made me very culturally relevant, as those who could retain loads of information were indispensible in a preliterate age.  But, as time went on, and people started keeping track of things and developing things like maps and guidebooks, memory became less important.  However, being able to recall the way certain thoughts were arranged, structured, and presented in the past remained important, because it allowed people to remember the specifics of how certain events unfolded and the human response to those events.  This was certainly advantageous at one time.

Now though, in what some are calling a postliterate society, where written words are becoming less essential and orality (specifically, Walter Ong’s secondary orality) is reemerging as the go-to form of communication in developed societies, memory may be more useless than ever.  Because we spend so much time projecting our thoughts through various electronic means—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs—remembering the details and nuance of events is as simple as recalling them electronically.

Let’s consider an example: say that five to ten years from now people begin discussing and reevaluating the life of Michael Jackson, realizing that the outpouring of love for the pop star has largely overshadowed what some people remember to be a pretty deranged and morally questionable life.  When the MJ defenders are confronted with this, they may argue that this is not true, and perhaps they say that much was made of his shortcomings in the media coverage and public response to his death.

Now, fifty years ago, we would have some newspaper and magazine articles to look at, but we couldn’t really settle this debate without the assistance of people with memories of the incident recalling reactions and responses that happened at the time.  Ten years from now, we’ll simply have to search YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and the blogs, and we can easily start to see a definitive picture of what the popular response to MJ’s death was, and this will certainly hold more weight than the collective memory of those involved with the debate.

Of course, there will always be those who claim, “I remember how it was—I was there,” but this sort of response is becoming less relevant and, certainly, less trusted than recorded electronic sources.  This is not to say that human memory is unimportant, but rather to pose that maybe it is less important than ever before.  This sort of change happens all the time in human history, it just usually doesn’t happen so quickly.  That is to say, I can remember a time when memory mattered.

By Anna

MapBecause I love to bore you with the hairy details of social justice gone awry, complacent Americans, and various people groups around the world, the next few weeks will carry on in that tradition and be all about Eastern Europe, specifically Budapest and maybe a hint of Prague.

Budapest was built on paprika. That’s right, that little spice that makes deviled eggs so delicious. On tables across Hungary sits salt, pepper and paprika. They even have a dish named Chicken Paprikash (which I hope to try while visiting the Paris of the East). And it’s in this little spicy wonder that Buda, Pest and Obuda (Ancient Buda) could coalesce.

According to Hungarian writer John Lucaks, goulash (gulyas), famously seasoned with paprika, was served as the midday meal for cattlemen and shepherds, common among the poor it was rarely served to the middle and upper classes in spite of their favor for paprika. As Lucaks constantly pens, “Hungary is a very class conscious society” and it is my interpretation that paprika crosses those classes and is the one spice most relied on by Hungarian cooks, whether for goulash or for Chicken Paprikash.

This class-conscious society has historically borrowed from Western European ideals and styles. Once known as Austria’s junior partner, Hungary takes what it likes and adds a little of that high vitamin C bearing paprika to make it its own.

paprika-molidaAfter 1900, cooking with paprika made Budapest famous. Writer Alexandre Dumas “praised the Paprika laced dishes” (Lukacs) and Edward VII had a Hungarian chef. In the wake of Hungary’s struggles to find its own niche, constantly borrowing architecture from Spanish Baroque, balancing Magyar and Jewish cultures, maintaining Turkish influence from their invasion in the 13th century and competing with Vienna for superiority in Eastern Europe, Hungary discovered herself in paprika.

400px-Budapest_Chain_Bridge1Though some might disagree and say the building of bridges across the Danube to connect Buda and Pest or the invention of the locomotive (they claim to have done it first, but we all know that it was surely done by a Westerner–Richard Trevithick perhaps?) were what gave Budapest its fame, I claim it was paprika!

So as you’re reading about my travels abroad to a country I know very little about (I hope to educate you as I educate myself) drop your morning OJ and take in more paprika instead.

Compiled by Ryan

The links:

-Some White Stripes news: Meg’s getting married, and Jack says things with the band are back on track, and that a new album may be out next year.

-Check out the poster for the Woody Allen-directed Whatever Works, starring perhaps the best personality in the world, Larry David:


This Slate piece on the politics of 30 Rock was well-written, well-argued, and very interesting; a must-read for fans of the show.

A Will Forte interview is always a treat.

-Is Mindy Kaling (The Office) a big enough talent to carry her own show?  We’ll soon find out.

-Total dork pieces are the best: this Guardian article explores the possibility that Van Gogh’s ear was cut off by fellow artist Paul Gauguin rather than by VVG himself.

New music spotlight:

Akron/FamilySet ’em Wild, Set ’em Free

Akron/Family are an experimental type of group, so describing them is somewhat of a tricky task.  I liken them to a more rootsy Cloud Cult, a more-acoustic Animal Collective, or a sort of backwoods version of The Flaming Lips.  Either way, good stuff.  You can pick up any of their albums, know it’s them, but not have any idea where the music is going, which is a pretty nifty trick to pull off with any degree of success.  I really like this song from their new one:

Akron/Family – “River” from Set ’em Wild, Set ’em Free, out now on Dead Oceans

Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley BandOuter South

No matter what he does, Conor Oberst will always sound like Bright Eyes: that trademark warble just isn’t going anywhere.  Since he’s abandoned that moniker, Oberst has tried to move in a new direction:  less squeamish lyrics, an increased emphasis on music, but, ultimately, a more generic sound.  Here’s the opening cut from the new album:

Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band – “Slowly (Oh So Slowly)” from Outer South, out now on Merge

By Anna 

It started out with one day, March 8, and blossomed into a month of feminist misery.  womenshistory

Segregating a month out of the year as an excuse for public (and private) schools to talk specifically about what women have done in the world’s history is objectifying.  The pontification of Walt Whitman in “Song of Myself” is feministic.  He is “maternal as well as paternal” because he understands the equality due to all.

Though I respect the goal (and agree that women’s roles should not be ignored) of minister and teacher of women’s history, Jone Johnson Lewis, in the “hope that the day will soon come when it’s impossible to teach or learn history without remembering these [women’s] contributions,” it won’t be possible if the majority of U.S. history teachers are white men.

Throw us a bone so that we will sit in silence like we did when the drafters of the constitution left us out, or when we patiently waited to vote or when we opened our vaginas to life and disease (infections, monthly shedding of our vaginal walls, etc…) and yet we are given one month.  As if the white male majority in Congress needed merely to shut up the bitching wife, who demanded she be heard.

In the words of matriarch Margaret Fuller, “inward and outward freedom for woman as much as for man shall be acknowledged as a right, not yielded as a concession.”

When one month gives me equal pay, gives me respect in coed sports, gives my husband paternity leave (which some jobs allow, though it is not law like in Spain), gives me equal opportunity to education (only 23 percent of women complete a bachelor’s, whereas 27 percent of men do), keeps me above the poverty line, gives me equality in the church and gives me the White House, I will stop this rant.  One month isn’t justifiable; it’s offensive and pejorative.

By Ryan

“They’re out for presidents to represent them; you really think a president could represent you?”

Minneapolis hip-hop artist and social-genius P.O.S.

In honor of President’s Day, I thought we’d dishonor the highest office in the land by taking it down a few pegs.  The following are confirmed myths of the U.S. Presidency:potus

MYTH: George Washington was honest beyond expectancy, famously admitting to chopping down a cherry tree.

FACT: Because cherries where commonly believed to be grown underground in Washington’s day, a young George thought his coked-out father was just talking crazy.  John Adams overheard the remark and began spreading rumors.  By the time Washington was running for office, he found it necessary to engage in an early incarnation of spin-control, going on Meet the Press with his now-famous “honesty” gimmick.

MYTH: Lewis and Clark brought Thomas Jefferson some grizzly cubs, which the President kept as pets.

FACT: The animals were actually dogs belonging to Jefferson’s slaves.  Upon returning from their trip with only a t-shirt proclaiming “My appointed explorers went all over the country and all I got was this stupid shirt,” Lewis and Clark were pressed for more gifts by the President.  Being the quick thinkers they were, they quickly rounded up some pups from the White House slave shed and gave them to the delighted leader.

MYTH: Commodore Matthew Perry continued the giving-the-president-dogs tradition when he gave Franklin Pierce two tiny dogs from Japan called “sleeve dogs.”  Pierce gave one of the dogs to Jefferson Davis, who later became the leader of the Confederacy.

FACT: If, indeed, two dogs had been the best of friends, traveled from Japan to the U.S. together, been torn apart by politics, and found their owners on either sides of a civil war, clearly this tale would have been made into a movie.  As it stands, we have no reason to believe such an event occurred until it is optioned as a screenplay.

MYTH: Ulysses S. Grant smoked as many as twenty cigars a day.

FACT: A pretty-boy athlete from the fluffy West Point academy, Grant wanted desperately to have the badass image of his predecessor, Andrew Johnson.  While VP Schuyler Colfax severely botched the big Reconstruction project, Grant and Secretary of State Elihu B. Washburne schemed up ways to make the president look cool.  The South is still paying repercussions and, presumably, reparations.  How else do you explain it?

MYTH: Benjamin Harris and his family were scared of the newly-installed electricity in the White House.

FACT: Pre-1900’s electricity relied heavily on eels and nude drawings of Nikola Tesla.  Anyone brave enough to face either would have been considered clinically insane, and thus, unfit for the office.

MYTH: Theodore Roosevelt coined the term “White House” as a nickname for the executive mansion.

FACT: Teddy was simply messing with reporters, encouraging them to visit the “official presidential website,”, snickering as he said it under the long-held assumption that the site was pornographic in nature.  “Not dot-gov,” he would always add, “dot-com.”

MYTH: William Taft once got stuck in the White House bathtub.

FACT: It was actually Dom Deluise who got stuck in the President’s tub.  In order to not embarrass the legendary comedian, Taft courageously took the blame himself.  To this day, Deluise refuses to include Taft jokes in his set even though they are among the best Presidential jokes of all time.  In a related myth, Warren Harding’s famous gambling exploits are actually those of star basketball player Michael Jordan.

MYTH: Herbert Hoover approved “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem.

FACT: Hoover pushed long and hard for Andre 3000 (Outkast)’s “Hey Ya!” to be the national anthem.  A millionaire who loved the bling-bling lifestyle promoted by rap music, Hoover was ultimately defeated in his efforts by the player-hatin’ Congress, many of whom were collectors of vintage Francis Scott Key LPs.

These are just a few of the thousands of myths surrounding U.S. Presidents.  Take time this President’s Day to remember those men who have fooled us all with their crazy tales in our nation’s confusing history.