Fog (Part III)

January 28, 2008

The back of the Elmo doll was split open at the seam, and bits of stuffing dangled out of the gaping hole. The man in the dark suit reached his spindly fingers into the doll and removed a small metallic cube. Light glanced off of the cube and glinted in Josiah’s face. The man brought the cube near his face as he peered at it and slowly rolled it between his index finger and thumb. “Information…,” the man said, “is power.” After a long pause the man continued in a monotone drone,

“It’s hard to imagine…such a small object contains so many secrets – the details of so many lives. Not a man has lived in the past 100 years who does not have a record within this cube. With such information one could ravage lives…destroy families…topple governments. You thought you would bury it…do society a favor…very noble of you. But it couldn’t end that way. Mankind’s lust for power is too strong. You knew we would find it. You seem to have borrowed something else from us as well. Something we would like to have back. And you are going to tell us. Where…is the reader?”

“I’ll never tell you,” Josiah muttered through clenched teeth. The man in the dark suit broke into a knowing chuckle. “Oh yes you will,” the man said. The man removed a small device from his pocket and flipped a switch on top. An orange glow lit up the face of the device and Josiah felt a warm buzzing sensation inside his head. Suddenly the man was engulfed in a white speckled mist which rose and swirled around his face like flames licking a log. “You will tell us indeed.”

Josiah found himself standing in a dark wood. Giant trees stretched to the sky and penetrated a thick fog above. As he looked about himself to get his bearings, a dark cloaked figure whisked out from behind a tree and darted into the distance. Josiah took chase. The figure floated over the terrain silently from tree to tree. Josiah called out to the figure, who returned a maniacal cackle. Suddenly stiffness shot through Josiah’s body, and he toppled over into a pile of branches. He was completely paralyzed, but could still see out through the tangle of branches. The figure, faceless, peered from behind a tree and let forth another peel of laughter.

Josiah was sitting on a quilt in the middle of a field. He was surrounded by what appeared to be a picnic feast. Across the quilt sat a pudgy woman who glanced at him with a smile and said, “Aren’t you going to eat your lunch?” Josiah couldn’t have been prepared for what happened next. She lifted her hands from her lap. He had not noticed before, but her hands were twice normal size. With a start she began grabbing fistfuls of food and cramming them into her mouth. Food squeezed out around her hands and between her fingers and dropped onto her dress.

Josiah found himself swimming in a stormy sea. As each massive wave swept by he plunged into the next trough. He reached the apex of the next wave and saw a red light atop a tall metal-framed tower. The tower disappeared as he fell into another trough. He was lifted up and once again could see the tower. It stood defiantly on a small rocky island. The tower seemed strangely familiar. Josiah felt a tug on his feet and was suddenly pulled beneath the waves. The cold dark fury of the sea surrounded him as he drifted out of consciousness.

Josiah awoke. The room was dark, but he could feel the straps still holding him to the table. He pulled with all his strength and the strap around his shoulders slipped slightly higher. Again he pulled and this time met greater success as the strap slid off of his shoulders and onto his neck. In a moment he was free. In the palpable darkness he groped for the door handle. Leaning against the door, he turned the knob and stumbled into the stiff rain outside. The door was at the base of a lighthouse. The lamp slowly rotated above and beamed a sharp column of white into the rain and fog. “Did I tell them where it was?” he thought to himself. “I must get to the tower.”

Nopockets on Trial

January 26, 2008

Although it’s not exactly my turn to post next (sorry Matt), something urgent has come up. This post is a form of Family Discipline, and it will largely be directed at you, Katie (which by the way, even though you’re not one of the authors of Consanguinity, I’ll have you know that the term consanguineous includes you just as much as it does us). This post is strategically made public so that I can guarantee that there will be accountability for you. In order to explain, I must first rewind to when it all started. It began shortly after I posted Part II of the story project. Katie commented:

Good job! So far, so good. Wish I could write like that. I only fooled those silly AP test grader people…. HAHA!

[“Exhumation (Part II)” Jan. 21: 3:26 p.m. ]

Now, this comment was generally positive, Katie, since you were trying to applaud me for the hard work I had done, but I obviously wasn’t very happy with the latter part of the comment, because of how I replied less than an hour later:

Thanks. I’m flattered, but I also happen to have read samples of your own writing, and I know that you’re an excellent writer. It’s just the case that it’s really easy to be critical of your own writing, so whenever you read something that someone else wrote, you praise the very same kinds of things that, had you written them yourself, you would have considered flaws.

[“Exhumation (Part II)” Jan. 21: 4:10 p.m.]

I wrote this, assuming that you were just cheapening your own verbal skills in order to kindly augment mine, and I didn’t expect the problem to persist. To my surprise, when Allison and I returned home last night from her parents house (they just got an awesome new piano we were checking out), I found the following comment recently posted on Consanguinity:

[…] The number is currently at 526 hits, which is quickly approaching my blog’s 1,607 when you consider that mine has been there for over a year accumulating regular hits. I personally tend to think that it is a combination primarily of 1) the fact that your topics are exponentially (as indicated by aforementioned numbers) more interesting than the things I tend to post about, and 2) that you advertised your site in a different way which warrants more often checking of the site. I also think that another thing played a part in people’s interest which was 3) the consanguineous watching of B20 and the discussions which followed. Kudos to your early success in this project. [….]

[“En Garde: Church and State” Jan. 25: 8:46 p.m.]

I greatly appreciate your support. It is true that Consanguinity has been relatively successful in its first few weeks (more than I think that either Matt or I anticipated), and it is kind of you to point out how many hits we have been getting. In fact, a few people have even strayed onto the website from Google. I have to agree with your points 2 & 3, namely that the consanguineous hype associated with B2.0 and the fact that Matt and I are corresponding publicly via Consanguinity have greatly contributed to our numeric success. I must quarrel, however–nota bene for those reading this post, that it is not stylistically acceptable (and I see a lot of people doing this these days) to begin a sentence with the subordinating conjunction “however;” instead, it should be inserting in the middle of the sentence as I have done above–with your statement that our topics are, how did you put it, “exponentially (as indicated by aforementioned numbers) more interesting” than your own. First of all, the numeric success can be primarily attributed to reasons 2 & 3, so it is not clear how much our numeric success supports the conclusion that our posts are “exponentially more interesting.” In the following section, I aim to render this claim doubtful.

My first point will be an ironic one. What you didn’t know when you posted that comment is that over the past few days I was growing almost irritable over the fact that you hadn’t posted anything on your blog. You see, before Consanguinity, I rarely even read other people’s blogs. But now, having been dragged into the blogging world, I am much more aware of what is going on in other people’s lives, and I can tell that it has already made me a little more others-focused than before, which is a good thing. The negative side-effect of this, however–see, I did it again–is that I am beginning to depend on the blogs of our family members. So, the mere fact that I couldn’t wait for you to post again undermines your argument that Consanguinity is more interesting than Musings of an Outdoor Addict. I was delighted, by the way, to see this morning that there were TWO new posts on your blog. (HOO HAH!) Also, your blog always has awesome pictures that accompany your posts, which gives it a “one-up” on Consanguinity. That candy photo looks like it came straight out of Good Housekeeping. I seriously wanted to lick my computer screen.

Secondly, after reflecting some on our recent exchange about what it means to be defined by our siblings and family members, I realized that I wouldn’t be anything like who I am today if it weren’t for you. I was thinking about this last night, and quite frankly, it started to scare me, because when I looked at Allison, I thought: “Oh my gosh, if it weren’t for Katie, I might not be married to Allison! I could be married to someone terrible.” Although this is a highly hypothetical realm of speculation, there is some truth to it. For instance, I know for a fact, that if you hadn’t started your own blog, I would never have thought about starting one with Matt. So in many ways, deferring some of the credit to B2.0, you provided a significant impetus to Consanguinity.

Thirdly, I must point out a flaw in the general flow of your logic. It can be diagrammed in the following way:

  1. Consanguinity is really amazing.
  2. Nopockets is less amazing than Consanguinity.
  3. Therefore, Nopockets isn’t really amazing (1,2).

This line of reasoning is generally valid, except for the fact that Consanguinity (as quoted above) says, more or less “Nopockets is really amazing.”

So, the argument now must be formulated:

  1. Consanguinity is really amazing.
  2. Consanguinity says that Nopockets is really amazing.
  3. If X is amazing, then what X says must be amazingly true.
  4. Therefore, it must be amazingly true that “Nopockets is really amazing” (1-3).
  5. Therefore, Nopockets is really amazing (4).

Clearly, Katie, you have tried to make the weaker argument the stronger, and although you may be guilty of sophistry, you’re definitely amazing, and I look up to you a lot. So basically, don’t forget to be awesome!

En Garde: Church and State

January 23, 2008

I have to say that I resonate with the purpose statement that you proposed. It may be vague, but I agree that this suits our goals well, since we want this blog to have flexibility. I have added this statement to our “About” page, which was an embarrassment to our website, since it said nothing. I also think that the short story project is an excellent idea. Not only is it entertaining to read (and write), but it buys us about a month to get prepared for writing more academic posts that will probably require more careful thought and planning, although I found it sufficiently challenging to continue a story that you had started. It will be interesting to see how the process goes for you. Based on the positive feedback that we have already gotten on this Fiction Project (you haven’t been here to actually hear how much people have been talking about it), I think that we will probably find ourselves returning to this kind of project again, probably between topics. We should probably also brainstorm what other kinds of entertainment we can provide to balance out our more wordy threads.

Having scanned over your proposed topics, I think that we should try to start with a topic that is not overwhelmingly large, but more manageable. For this reason, I think that Religion and Politics is fitting, particularly given the upcoming elections and the large role that religion will undoubtedly play in them. This topic will also help stretch me personally, since I have a hard time keeping up with politics. Hopefully it will force me to engage the news more and actually process the information that I receive. This topic also encompasses a field of questions that I have had for the last several years, namely:

  • How should my religious convictions affect the way I vote or participate as a citizen?
  • When presiding over a court case, is a judge supposed to rule with his own personal convictions in mind, or try to interpret the laws and constitution to mean what the authors intended?
  • Generally stated: there are necessary conflicts between being a citizen and being a Christian (or an adherent to any religion), and how does a good citizen reconcile these conflicts?

Anyway, I think that the accessibility, contemporary relevance and general appeal of this topic (Politics & Religion) make it a prime candidate for a starting point. We don’t necessarily have to begin with the group of questions I have listed above. There are plenty of others that we can pursue in this arena:

  • Should a Christian vote for a promising Mormon candidate on common social grounds, despite the enormous disparity in theology?
  • Is it ethical for a presidential candidate to gain popularity simply because of his religious views, turning religion into a selling point?

Those two questions just popped into my head, and I’m sure you have others in mind, since you proposed the topic in the first place.

To the readers: we greatly appreciate the support that we have already gotten from you. It is encouraging to know that someone is actually reading what we are writing. We want to make this blog accessible, entertaining, and highly educational for all of us (by the way, I just used a rhetorical device known as ascending tricolon, or tricolon crescens in Latin; ascending tricolon lists three things of increasing significance and verbal length, which creates a climactic effect–I just had to include that tidbit, since I learned it yesterday).  Bear with us as we are slowly publishing the next two segments of our short story, and gear up for some more thought-provoking material. Also, if there is a particular question that you would like us to address, feel free to post a comment. We don’t just want feedback from each other, but from you as well.

James, the younger brother

Exhumation (Part II)

January 21, 2008

Josiah felt his heart pounding, and as the muscles in his chest and face tightened, the sound of the breeze blowing gently through the field and the waves breaking on the sandy beach were drowned out by the deafening silence in his mind. He lay lifeless on the ground for what seemed like hours, while the same thought gnawed at him relentlessly: did they see where he buried it? Although he did not want to chance being seen, uncertainty consumed his thoughts. On hands and knees he clambered away from the highway until he crested a small hillock, which would afford him the vantage point he desired. Slowly he raised himself onto his knees to risk a glance back toward the beach. Josiah noticed that the tide had come in considerably since he fled the seashore. He had no sense of how long it had been, but he hadn’t expected to see the waves crashing into the inhospitable bluffs to the north, at least not for another hour or two. Josiah turned his head the other way and let out a deep sigh. Every wave smoothed over another pair of his anxious footprints, which emerged from the place where he had buried it, now about six inches under water.

Suddenly sand shot up from part of the beach nearer the cliff that was obscured by the ground. Josiah collapsed on the ground once again as the sandy clumps sprayed into a frothy wave. When he heard the familiar sound, there was no longer any doubt. The door of his VW Bug slammed shut. In just a few moments, the tables had turned. “It must not be disinterred,” he thought to himself. With nothing to lose, Josiah sprang up to his feet and burst into a full sprint. As he neared the cliff’s edge, he could see the waves slapping the far side of his VW Bug and a spidery man wading out into the shallow brine. He halted precisely above the site of the inhumation. Extending almost seamlessly from the man’s black coat-sleeve was a short shovel. When Josiah reached the top of the ravine where he had previously scrambled up, he briefly shot a glance out to sea. What he saw both perplexed and unnerved him. There were thousands of them, if not millions. Small white speckles cloaked the surface of the sea like seagulls. What were they and where had they come from? As he crouched down to begin his descent, Josiah felt a sharp pain in the back of his head. The man in the dark suit, the mysterious spots on the ocean and the dark, stormy sky swam in front of his eyes as he flopped onto the ground for the third time, this time involuntarily.

It was already 10:15 in the morning, and he was late. Josiah flew down the city-sidewalk. He knocked into a blond lady carrying a tray of flowers and didn’t even look back as she fought to regain her balance. He had to get there before the trial started. The court house came into view as he rounded the corner, but Josiah stopped dead in his tracks. A man wearing a black suit was standing directly in front of the large glass doors leading into the court house. He knew he recognized him, but from where. “You actually thought you could escape our notice, did you?” a mellow, but cynical voice inquired. Josiah’s mind was clouded, and he felt a throbbing headache coming on. The street had vanished, and he found himself lying on his back, strapped to a table. The man wasn’t across the street, but leaning over his face and eclipsing the bright light on the ceiling. A wry smile spread across the thin man’s face as he extended his hand into the light. In it he clutched the tattered Elmo.

Interring the Subterfuge (Part I)

January 16, 2008

Finally, he had buried it. As he stepped back another wave crashed down and shot a thin film of water out over the disturbed sand. Soon all signs of his being there would be erased. A stiff wind blew in from the ocean. A storm was coming. Josiah thought back to the day when it first began. He had been jogging along a path overlooking the coast when a flash of orange caught his eye. As he got close, he realized what it was, though his puzzlement only grew. It was a stuffed Elmo doll with its hands tied behind its back to a post. “How strange,” he thought to himself. Elmo was tattered and stained with dark patches of dirt as if he had been through a war; his mouth was agape as the mouths of Elmo dolls so often are. It was a strange beginning indeed. Fate weaves a weird and intricate cloth.

Now, standing on the beach with the wind whipping salty mist off of the waves, that sunny day seemed so remote. Another wave crashed, this one a little further up the beach than the last. The tide was coming in. Checking that no one was around he turned to face the cliffs; the fractured and wave-beaten rock was rumpled in a set of sharp folds. Down the center of one of these folds dropped a steep gully which broke the cliff face and allowed access to the top. Josiah set off toward the gully with a quick and purposeful gait. As he reached the base of the cliff he turned back to watch another wave finish the job of concealing his handiwork. With a start, he swiveled to face the cliff and began scrambling up the gully. The rock holds were polished by the many hands and feet that had passed there before.

A seagull cried as it glided above him, jerking up and down in the pulsating wind. Josiah topped the gully and looked out to the east. The cliffs were crowned by a vast sea of grass which propagated waves with each gust. The grass ran for miles in either direction, punctuated here and there by freshly plowed fields. A highway paralleling the coast bounded the grass. These, and a farmhouse that graced the distant horizon, were the only sign of man for miles around. As he parted the grass and reached the edge of the highway, Josiah dropped suddenly to the ground. He had left his VW Bug parked there, but now it was gone.

Statement of Purpose

January 16, 2008

James is correct that at the beginning of any discussion it is important to define one’s terms. However, definitions alone will not suffice; for if an endeavor is to be successful it must first have a purpose. I will take up where James left off and attempt to state the purpose of Consanguinity. In recent days I found myself writing a different sort of statement of purpose, the sort that I suspect James has been writing recently as well. As I approach the end of my PhD program – long, dark tunnel that it is – I am looking out toward what lies beyond. As most (if not all) of you should know, I am about to finish a dissertation in theoretical astrophysics. However, I plan to leave the field and enter a career in karst hydrogeology (basically studying caves, how they form, and how aquifers that contain caves transmit water and contaminants).

Making this sort of shift at this point in my career is non-traditional to say the least. There are two apparent paths for such a transition: 1) I can search for a postdoc position in karst and hope that this will give me enough credibility as a geologist to find a permanent position in geology, or 2) Go back to grad school to pursue a PhD in Geology. Currently, it isn’t completely obvious which of these paths is best, or even which of them will be available to me. So, in addition to looking for postdoc positions I am applying to several graduate programs. For these applications I must write a “statement of purpose,” and for my situation one of the chief issues that such a statement must address is “Why in the world am I applying to enter a PhD program when I will already have one?” To address this question I began my statement of purpose like this,

Two major passions have played an important role in my life: geographical exploration, and uncovering the inner workings of nature. While related in spirit, thus far these passions have occupied separate compartments of my life. To satisfy the latter passion, I have pursued an education in Astrophysics. For the former I have undertaken a considerable program of expedition caving. However, upon nearing the completion of my PhD I realized that these passions could be combined into a single pursuit – studying the genesis of and processes that occur in karst aquifers.

Realizing that when writing something like a statement of purpose it is often easier to start with a previous similar statement, or possibly a form, I will attempt to modify the above passage to suit our current needs.

Two major brothers have played an important role in the Covington Family: Matt, and James. While related by blood, currently these brothers occupy distant localities within the United States. To satisfy his passion for language, James is trying to finish his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Arkansas. Meanwhile Matt has undertaken a significant program of Physics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. However, upon nearing the completion of their degrees these brothers realized that they could be combined into a single pursuit – writing a blog, in which they could discuss, entertain, and share each other’s lives.

While I think this is a good start, it may be that James does not. James, feel free to edit, add, rewrite. As stated in your post, our first purpose is to figure out our purpose. Additionally, this statement is relatively vague, but I think that it is appropriately so. We want to leave it relatively flexible, but it still touches on what I see as the main purposes of Consanguinity. We will discuss interesting (relevant?) issues, entertain ourselves and our readers (i.e. our family and friends), and tell a little bit about what’s going on in our lives.

Now I realize that this may not have gotten us much further toward the task at hand. To address this concern I will make two additions. First, we really need to be thinking about what we want to discuss. Therefore I will toss out several possibilities. You can bite, or toss back.

  • Religion and politics
  • Free will and responsibility
  • Faith and science
  • A good book
  • Mormonism

Second, at the risk of starting multiple threads, I propose our first project. This project will mainly satisfy purpose number two, namely entertaining ourselves and others while we figure out what we’re doing. Shortly I will submit the beginning of a story. James will write the next segment. I will respond with a third segment, and James will provide the final installment. I suggest that each of us stick to approximately 500 words per segment. Let the fun begin!

Matt, the elder brother

Definition of Terms

January 9, 2008

When starting off, it is important to make sure that everyone is on the same page. At the beginning of any philosophical treatise, it is necessary to define the key terms that the writer plans to use to express his ideas. Otherwise the reader may drastically misinterpret the writer, and all simply because he failed to explain what he meant by the word “is.” It may sound tedious, but setting the proper foundation of definitions can save hours of banging your head against the wall.

Anyway, when Matt and I happened upon the name “Consanguinity,” inspired by the cosmic train-wreck of coincidences last semester, when Matt suddenly found himself in what he described as a “consanguineous vortex,” a phenomenon which, for our family occurs more frequently than you would imagine. After weeks of electronic silence from Northwest Arkansas, it happened that every one of his immediate blood relations communicated with him electronically within a single day’s time. Most thinkers of this age would just attribute such a singularity as mere chance, but as a Covington, I cannot resign myself to such an unsatisfying explanation, particularly when I know for a fact that this strange occurrence in the life of my brother could only have been caused by a consanguineous vortex.

Now you might be thinking at this point that I am not really playing by my own rules, since I started this entry explaining how important it is to define one’s terms before ramping off on some tangent about some strange coincidence regarding the world wide web and I haven’t really answered the question that must be on the tip of your tongue: what exactly is a consanguineous vortex, anyway? Well, let me tell you.

First we must come to an understanding of what the word consanguineous means. Whenever one wants to learn the essential meaning of a word, it is often beneficial to understand the roots from which that word derives. In this case, consanguineous comes from the Latin words (con + sanguis, sanguinis, m.), meaning “with” “blood.” Considering that “sanguis” can also be used to denote a blood-relationship, we can easily arrive at a coherent definition of the word “consanguineous.” How about “with [common] blood-relationship.” (Nota bene: it is a corollary of this line of reasoning that the word “consanguinity,” then would be “the state or property of [common] blood-relationship.”) On the other hand, the word “vortex” is another form of the Latin word (vertex, verticis), which, in turn, derives from the verb “vertere,” meaning “to turn or spin.” So a vortex is a spinning, whirling, or eddying thing, such as a whirlpool or tornado. In the case of my brother Matt, it is used an abstract sense, considering that hurricanes and tornadoes don’t propagate through the Internet, at least not yet.

Although I don’t know exactly what it feels like to be caught up in a whirlpool, I imagine that it inspires a certain feeling of chaos, or being driven by the Fates. I suppose that this sentiment is captured in Vergil’s immortal lines:

Unam, quae Lycios fidumque vehebat Oronten,

ipsius ante oculos ingens a vertice pontus

in puppim ferit: excutitur pronusque magister

volvitur in caput; ast illam ter fluctus ibidem

torquet agens circum et rapidus vorat aequore vertex”

[One ship, which was bearing the Lycians and trust Orontes,

the huge sea bore crashed down upon from its height before the eyes of the man himself;

the ship’s commander was and turned on his head and cast out upside-down;

woe that ship! Four times the VORTEX whirled it, leading it around in the same place

and rapidly swallowed it up.]

Aeneid I.113-7.

Anyway, if you picture Matt in the place of Orontes, thrown out of his ship while his crew is swallowed up by a giant whirlpool, then you probably have a good idea of what he meant when he said that he was experiencing a “consanguineous vortex,” when he received a whirlwind of e-mails from this part of the country in such a short period of time.

Well, as you can guess, Consanguinity is a new endeavor that Matt and I have chosen—no, dared!—to embark upon. As brothers, we thought—nay, deemed!—this title proper, fitting and worthy of our proposed task. We are entirely uncertain as to what exactly we are going to write about on this blog, but we will not let such measly details hinder our progress. In these first few weeks of Consanguinity, you, the readers (probably just members of our family, at least those who have time for such nonsense), will have to put up with us discussing the proper etiquette and protocol for this electronic correspondence. Once we get going, though, you should be able to expect a post from one of us (alternating) each week. Also, I can promise that you won’t have to deal with the kind of tom-foolery that I have set before you in this initial post. I promise to try not to bore you to death, but I cannot personally vouch for my brother. I also vouch to present the finest scholarship in terms of orthography. If I misspell something, please let me know, so that I can correct it.

James, the younger brother.