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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?

Episode 156

Well, My Favorite Amendment is the Nineteenth

     There are a number of benefits of going to college. Higher education most certainly enhances your career potential. The college environment allows late- and post-adolescents a final chance to develop their individuality without the pressures of complete independence. People actually learn things, from the difference between Prakrit and Sanskrit, to a complete understand of the writings of Immanuel Kant, give or take a categorical imperative or two. Often children are separated from their parents for the first extended period, which if it's viewed as a positive value by the children, is viewed as heaven on earth for many of the parents. And often collegians form their first serious romantic attachments during these years of maturation, adding another level of mystery and magic to the process of growing up.

     But all of these pale against the greatest benefit of all, the sine qua non, the end-all be-all, the one reason to go to college so overarching that if it were the only reason, it would still be worth going.

     High-speed internet access twenty-four by seven.

     No more busy signals calling AOL. No more logging on at 28800 bps. No more parents throwing down the telephone bill gauntlet. You are now online all day, every day, provided your computer is turned on. You can reach out and be reached at any time. Web pages load in seconds, as many web pages as you want.

     And if you're really really really lucky, your school won't automatically block Napster.

     Disney Davidson is sitting at his desk in his dormitory room at Northeastern Agricultural Institute, rambling through Napster lists, trying to decide which version of "With or Without You" is the most worthwhile to download, when Gloria Fudless IMs him. It is a little after five in the afternoon, and Disney's vegan stomach has already begun growling, even though he probably won't think about eating for another couple of hours; he has a bag of carrots and a loaf of macrobiotic bread with the density of a lead ingot waiting for him, and there's no point in rushing it.

     G: Yo.

     D: Yo.

     G: How's it going? [Actually, she writes hows it goin, but written communication of the sort you're reading now requires a level of sophistication quite a few levels higher than the random typing fugues that pass for spelling and grammar in IMs and emails. This entire conversation has been freely translated for the benefit of preserving what little is left of structure in the English language.]

     D: Good. I'm surfing through Napster, downloading stuff.

     G: Cool. I've never done that. It would take hours to get one song.

     D: It takes about ten minutes here.

     G: Amazing.

     D: The joys of the internet.

     There is a couple of minutes where Disney has no idea what to say next. He has been putting off IMing Gloria all day, thinking that it would be best to try her in the evening. He had recollected that he would be the one to IM her, not the other way around. And now here she is, and he's barely prepared for it.

     G: I've been on the internet myself for a while. Doing a research paper for school on feminism. Trying to find stuff. Any ideas?

     A girl asking a guy about feminism during the inaugural stages of their relationship is like opening his brain with a meat cleaver and dropping in the litmus paper without so much as a how-do-you-do. In some cultures it is considered courteous to wait a few minutes before subjecting prospective beaus to questions with no correct answers.

     D: You could try searching on Google. I like them.

     G: You don't know any feminist sites yourself offhand?

     There are times when not having 24 by 7 high-speed internet access would be a boon, so that you could log off and claim that AOL cut you off all of a sudden, the sneaky bastards.

     D: Afraid not.

     G: No big deal. I'm starting to get an idea of what my premise is. We can talk about it next time we see each other. Are you going to be at the Venerable?

     D: I don't think so. With Nighten Day out of business, I'm not really in the judge pool anymore.

     G: Too bad. Maybe Mrs. Nutmilk will hire you. No, wait. There's only four of us going, and the ratio is four to one, so she doesn't need anybody. Damn.

     D: Double damn. I'd like to see you again.

     G: How far away is Naggie?

     D: I don't have a car, so pretty far from Bisonette.

     G: Oh.

     D: I could try to get somebody else to hire me though. People are always looking for judges. I can post something to the listserver.

     G: That would be cool.

     D: I'll do that. I would like to see you again. I'd like to really talk to you this time.

     G: I'd like to talk to you too. For real. Not on the computer.

     D: Yeah.

     G: Yeah.

     And so forth and so on. If IM conversations aren't exactly the pinnacle of usage, they are even less a vehicle of humanity transfer. Electronic cocktail party conversation is approximately the average level, and since we've gotten what knowledge we need from this particular electronic communion, we'll let the two incipient romantics natter on in private.

     If they do get back together, you'll be the first to know about it.

Mr. Edo


     The samurai is perhaps the most interesting figure of study in feudal Japan.

     In a society built of castes -- lords, lieges, peasants -- it was the samurai who acted similarly to the knights of western history, protecting the lord, doing battle, enforcing the hegemony over the peasants. The samurai, answering to their code of bushido, took on the aura that accompanies the skilled warrior class in any historical period. The samurai didn't simply go out and bash heads: they studied toward the mastery of their swords, and the swords themselves reflected a mastery of craft mixed with the mystery of spiritualism investing the steel blades with an animistic existence all their own. Samurai swords were probably the last blades to survive as pure weapons; while officers of western armies carried blades as signifiers of rank while their minions carried guns as signifiers of might, the samurai were the last to take to the dull efficiency of the bullet over the sweet choreography of the sword fight. Guns arrived in Japan roughly when westerners arrived, hardly fitting into the samurai's way of bushido. Sooner or later enough well-placed shots outweighed their well-placed thrusts, and even in Nippon the sword took on merely symbolic attributes, but not until the very end, the last possible moment of history.

     There were many aspects of the samurai that still spark the imagination, in addition to the wonderment of their swordsmanship. The concept of hari-kari (or, more properly, seppuku) is hard to forget. A samurai, overwhelmed by shame, would take his own life by disemboweling himself with his short sword. A friend would stand poised with a long sword, so that if the samurai showed the slightest bit of flinching as his innards came outward, his compatriot would swiftly cut off his head to allow him an honorable death (considering that he wouldn't be killing himself in the first place if his honor weren't already at stake). Women who committed hari-kari, by the way, few and far between though they may have been, were allowed to slash their throats rather than their bellies, for the sake of an easier demise: one goes much quicker if one cuts the jugular as compared to opening yourself up in the middle and taking the long way home, a speed that befits the weaker sex (weaker as perceived by the feudal Japanese, and not objectively weaker -- the last thing we want is letters from Gloria Fudless impugning our dedication to feminism).

     Self-disembowelment, by the way, is frowned on in modern Japan. And the British no longer hang sheep thieves, and the last we heard, the Inquisition is rather passé on the Iberian peninsula. Americans, on the other hand, seem to be making quite of go of reinstating the death penalty over the objections of virtually all their more civilized cousins around the world -- apparently there's no joy that compares with seeing someone toasted on Old Sparky a week or two before the DNA evidence comes in clearing him of every crime within a hundred miles.

     God Bless Vespucciland…

     Meanwhile, back in the floating kingdom, the samurai did pledge his allegiance to his lord, and that pledge, in some of its most dramatic moments--at least if you watch a lot of Kurosawa films--led to seppuku when the lord lost in battle and his minions willingly followed by their own hand. There is a special name for a samurai without a master, and that name is ronin. A ronin is a maverick, a liege without a lord, a knight of no kingdom. The cinematic seven samurai are ronin, the 47 ronin are famous ronin, half of American culture is drenched in the concept, if not the knowledge, of ronin. The paladin is a paradigm of knighthood; the ronin is the disenfranchisement of knighthood, but still a knight in every way. A knight without a lord.

     Rent a few John Ford films if you want to compare the east and the west, the Orient and the Western.

     In the realm of forensics, it is not a stretch to think of teams as feudal entities, replete with all the complex connections of fealty and liegeship. Depending on one's point of view, however, one might dicker over whether, for instance, the forensicians are the samurai or the peasantry. If one is a perennial judge, let's say a college student slash former debater semi-dependent on the fairly regular income of fifty or so dollars a day for filling out ballots, one might consider oneself the knighthood and the forensicians the toilers in the field. If one is the person standing in the front of the room, overflowing with the specialized knowledge that makes one a member of this very small speech and debate fraternity, one might consider oneself a member of the elite, the intellectual samurai, and think that everyone else is either a former samurai or not, as the case may be. Undoubtedly every person in the forensics universe -- coach, judge, forensician, parent, acolyte -- considers that they are the pre-Copernican center of it all, but regardless of who is correct, they are certainly all essential (with the possible exception of the acolytes, the functionaries that appear a various events throughout the year and perhaps occasionally send out a membership bill of some sort but who are affiliated with no team in particular). But there is a certain weight worth giving to the argument that it is those college judges who are the true samurai, tempered by years of training, and truest to the code of bushido (or, in this case, the code of forensics). Are there any believers more true than former forensicians? While the forensicians themselves are fully fired by the strength of their beliefs, that fire almost inevitably dims toward the end of senior year. But a handful go on through senioritis and past graduation into a new realm altogether. One could make the argument that they are the high priests of the activity, but then one would have to go back and rewrite a whole bunch of paragraphs, and that just isn't going to happen, so stick with the metaphor and stop trying to argue every little point.


     It would be absurd to expect that the feudal entity of the Nighten Day School team has somehow disappeared from the face of the earth. The daimyo, Tarnish Jutmoll, may be disenfranchised, but he still maintains his interest in the activity, and intends to keep his hand in by helping Amnea Nutmilk run the Monadnock tournament. The peasants, the forensicians themselves, have mostly yet to pass the initial stage of denial, but at least one of them, Camellia, is already making plans to sow some seed in a different valley. And the samurai, the team judges, or more to the point, the team judge, has now become a ronin, and in order to actively build his relationship with Gloria, has put himself on the block for the Venerable.



     Re: Judge available

     If anyone is looking for a judge at the Venerable Bede tournament this weekend, please backchannel.


     Disney has never judged before for anyone but Nighten, but there's always a first time. His reputation as a debater may be slightly less than Combat of Champions caliber, but his reputation as a knowledgeable and fair judge is, he trusts, well known. If someone is willing to pay transportation, plus fifty bucks a day, he is theirs. For that matter, if they'll just pay the transportation or the fifty bucks a day, he is theirs.

     Because mostly he is Gloria's. If he can't see her again on Nighten's dime, he will do it some other way. But do it he will. He is not going to miss this chance. Not this one. Not this time.


Will Disney get hired to judge at the Venerable?

Will Gloria get her paper on feminism done on time?

Will they ever repeal the nineteenth amendment?

Will those New Yorkers ever shut up about the $@%$@# subway series?

Will we ever be able to afford a tank of gas again?

There's going to be couscous on the Spruce Goose in our next episode: "Land of the Rising Sun, or, Back in Nagasaki Where the Brothers Chew Tobacky and the Women Wicky Wacky Woo."

Go to the next episode due ,Nov 1 2000.