Tuesday, March 31, 2009

a funny thing happened on the way to the deli

On an otherwise uneventful trip to the atm and deli I happened upon two things that I felt to absurd/amusing to deny them mention.

The first: on the street next to the man selling dvds of questionable quality and provenance and the man selling hats, sunglasses, & knick knacks for your phone was another man with a table. He was selling 24 packs of socks. Plain white tube socks.

The second: at the deli there was a new computer printed sign up on the glass noting new extras among them cucumbers, carrots and mild/spicy hot sauce. These appetizing extras were all available for only a measly 50€. At the current rate (€1 = $1.3291) that's $66.45 for hot sauce. I guess it pays well that most customers won't notice the €≠¢ until they hit the register.

Advice for the Miserable #4

"There's nothing you can do that can't be done." - The Beatles.

Trusting pop music to be the source of all knowledge and wisdom - that and wikipedia - brings me to the topic today's rambling rant on societal ills as I find them: individualism and the value of the individual.

Personally, I am a big proponent of self-reliance, learning to live completely and everything else puddles in Massachusetts can teach you. Vaguely an anarchist when I wax political enough to spout ideals that have an ever diminishing place in politics, I am all for DIY, making your own way in the world, destabilizing hierarchies, & the triumph of the individual over society. Of course in practice that leads to a great many societal ills and despite what 15 year olds believe and Ayn Rand spouts, greed and self-interest are not going to solve the problems of the world, are not going to keep everyone fed, sheltered, &c. I don't provide many answers. I don't seem to find any. The problems with socializing is that it forces us to help the less fortunate, fostering a sense imposition on those paying in and a sense of entitlement on those being paid. Not that we don't do worse without it. Informertials with sad children do not make most care enough to send money that could be better spent on bills or just ourselves. But it's hard to see how anyone could be regarded as genuinely successful if the species dies out.

I suppose such seeming altruism strikes an odd chord for someone generally full of rage, ranting about plagues to wipe clean the slate of humanity that those remaining may prosper. Which is to say, getting on the subject of plagues shortly, it would be a lot easier to solve humanities problems if there were space to spread out and no shortages of food, clean water, and medicine. A plague that wipes out a large part of humanity (and I am unconcerned about which part, I make no claims to a selection criteria and disavow all selection bias) would make that easier. So would interstellar travel/colonization (gasp! what a hateful word) but a plague seems more possible given the propensity of governments and corportations to play around with pathogens they don't fully understand and cannot fully control. It isn't that I want the world to burn - not unless I'm in a mood - and I certainly couldn't kill individuals, but media innudation with death and destruction (both real and staged for the movie films) has made it easy for me to be so flippant.

Getting back near my original idea, I am all for the individual, the pursuit of individual dreams and desires, no matter how unconventional and "unneccesary" for progress. To an extent. I suppose following that track for too long would devolve into a semantic argument of what is and isn't neccesary and conventional and whose definition of progress. Failing that, I want to return to pop culture. Douglas Adams writes of the Total Perspective Vortex as a torture devise. It forces the individual to see and know their position vis a vis the totality of the universe, to gain some perspective on how insignificant the individual is. Everyone seems to come out of it raving mad. But I always thought of it in a somewhat more positive light. Knowing your insignificance is a rather liberating position. Your failures and shortcomings are meaningless, forgetable and forgotten. True your successes are as well, but those you can keep to yourself. I've always felt that success doesn't need to be shared to be valuable, but failure is all the more cutting when it is known, when one is reminded by others.

I don't think I've made a point yet. I'm pretty sure there wasn't any advice in their either. So let's see what I can sum up before I wander off to lunch. The individual should be measured apart from society, over and above society and not against the rules and norms of society. But only so long as the individual does not then triumph at the expense of society, at the expense of other individuals and their rights. Damn, now it seems I'm a libertarian. Good luck in the next election. But ultimately the individual is free of the strictures of society and regardless we are all insignificant in the big picture, so quit worrying. This is terrible advice. Not because I think it's wrong, but who is coopting my brain with Afterschool Special Bullshit? Next thing you know I'll be telling everyone just to be nice and get along and that sharing is caring (puff puff pass).

So I guess what I wanted to convey was that "there is nothing you can do that can't be done", "it's all been done before", & "there is nothing new under the sun." But rather than seeing these as reasons to give up and get back to the meaningless grind, I see it as a liberation. If someone else can do it that is not reason to give up something you are passionate about but it is reason to give up something you hate that you are just working for the paycheck and weekend. The insignificance of all we do points in the same direction: if it isn't going to matter in the long run, make sure it matters in the short run. If history won't care or the universe won't recognize, then have fun while you can, do something true, meaningful, beautiful in whatever way you define that and to hell with anyone that says otherwise. Yeah, still a bit Afterschool Special. But that will happen sometimes. Maybe I was distracted by the call of lunch or the edits I have to make to the thesis. Eh. "Any way the wind blows."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Black-necked Crane, a poem

The tibetan plateau, with a small crane
with a black head, red crown
patch, india, bhutan and vietnam. it breeds
on region),
china, himalayan regions of black
primaries and secondaries. both
population in adjacent ladakh,
and as the the black-necked crane, grus nigricollis also
known as tibetan crane is a large patch

to the rear
of the eye. it has sexes are similar.

the black-necked
(55 in) long, 235 cm (7.8 ft)
wingspan black upper neck and legs, and
white bird and medium-sized crane, at
139 cm
crane is distributed
in pakistan (kashmir and
5.5 kg (12 lbs).
it is whitish-gray kashmir.

it has therefore been designated

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
the lazarus corporation text mixing desk

Advice for the Miserable #3

Tuesday again.

America has long been a nation of anti-intellectualism. Studies have been done, go read them if you are deeply concerned with a full picture. Or go watch a couple hours of regularly scheduled television. Now I have problems enough with anti-intellectualism. With a desire to "know nothing" or any number of other pleasant euphemisms for disregarding accepted science and intellectual pursuit for short sighted partisan nonsense masked as "faith" or "for the good of the country" or the ever insulting "keeping the nation safe". But anti-intellectualism in general is not my issue tonight. It is not what "grinds my gears" and I have no advice to offer on the subject at this time. After all, things are looking up. Science is in, as federal funding for stem cells, re-institution of protections for endangered species, and the recent acknowledgment by the EPA of the human impact on the environment. Everything's the flavor of the month once in a while.

Tonight's advice does still go out to intellectuals, though. Because the threat to intellectualism, to reasoned and impassioned debate, does not wholly come from without. Indeed, an often greater threat is waged silently from within the tower, weakening its foundations while intending to strengthen them.

Bad intellectualism, useless intellectuals, failed theory, closed-mindedness, single-disciplinarianism, and, of course, bureaucracy all are threats to the academy. Now, to clarify, I don't in any way care about the academy as academy. Or, what the academy has come to represent, the hierarchies, the power struggles, the watering down of curriculums, etc. I do, however, wholeheartedly agree that there must be secure fonts of knowledge, safe places for thinkers to pursue their individual and group efforts to better understand our bodies, our selves, our life, the universe, and everything. And anything that threatens that is a serious issue.

I seem to be deviating somewhat from my initial outline - to advise embattled intellectuals trying to both educate and relate research and theory to reality as they ward off the slings and arrows of outrageous university bullshit. I suppose I could enter into a full on rant about the American education system, about the possibility of an effective system that doesn't force children prematurely into "tracks" or "castes", and that doesn't do so based on economic or cultural bias. It's a hard enough issue and my plague on all your houses mentality hardly matches with the necessary altruism of a national education policy. So I will try to narrow the issue again.

To the embattled intellectual - probably still a grad student or a new assoc. prof. hoping that you can prove yourself in this temp gig so that you can land one of the fast disappearing tenure tracks: drink more, enjoy and relate to life, read phd comics, drink more. So much of my advice seems to hinge on drinking. It's not really the drinking that is the issue, the booze just tends to be a lubrication for the necessary detachment, for the destabilization of hierarchies, for the attempt to reach/create/remix new knowledge centers. Face it, most of what we do as academics is boring. Even to ourselves. Just think about what Joe Sixpack would say when you recite the 15 word title of your disseratation. Don't take yourselves so seriously. Because again, most of what we do is boring and taking it seriously just makes you an ass. No one likes that. You'll have to drink alone. Which, also, tends to be boring - when it isn't depressing or a possible sign of addiction. Actually, this advice is for everyone (i.e. the miserable) not just academics (i.e. the miserably in debt).

Learning to relate is a must. If your disseration is only going to be read by three people and only interesting to five, none of which will ever read it, you might have a problem. Either face up to the pointlessness of it and keep on trucking till something else comes along (the route I ended up taking) or write something more interesting, something that you can relate to in your private life (if you don't have one, get one), something that you won't be embarassed to talk about when trying to pick up strangers at the bar (if they don't understand what you are talking about, you should be embarassed or you are already drunk and then it doesn't matter, ask someone about it in the morning). Video games seem to be popular these days. And comic books. But maybe I'm just too much of a fan of low culture. Someone needs to study the mating habits of porcupines. Of course, I can think of several ways of working that into polite conversation.

So this has rambled on long enough. Chances are I will spend time enough ranting about education in the years to come, so more on that later. I guess it really boils down to this: know who can learn and who will learn and who wants to learn and forget the rest. Know how they learn and how they want to learn and teach that way. Stay relavent, stay interesting, and stay impermanent. Otherwise you'll just get lazy and dull. There are far too many terrible thinkers and terrible ideas in the world. Don't add to them.

And if you want the easy life, quit now and marry rich.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What do you mean "Last Call"?

Due to the profuse complaints about St. Patrick's Day, I got to thinking. Not wanting to get into a political or religious argument (Why the Irish would celebrate a man who came in and destroyed their heritage and why they would celebrate it with drinking and green, etc) I will limit this to what I know.


The main problem that most people seemed to have with St. Patrick's Day was the lack of decorum. Drunks wandering around making asses of themselves and the world as the boot green and rally by falling into some strangers silicone rack mumbling "kibs me imasdjkl;;oisdf'po ... drunk". That St. Patrick's Day is an excuse to drink past tolerance, vomit publicly without style, and engage in consequence free lewd behavior is primarily due to one thing: America has a terrible drinking culture.

Primarily I blame the temperance movement, the puritans, and the rest of the holdovers from prohibition. I'd like to blame MADD but they probably wouldn't be such a problem for me if people weren't driving drunk, which wouldn't as prominent if America had a decent drinking culture.

Let me explain. I went to Dartmouth College. If you learn nothing else at Dartmouth, you learn how to drink. How to drink well and plentifully. How to maintain composure, how to drink past excess and still stay safe, how to deal with a situation that has gone past your control, and so on. The palette, not so much. But that can always be developed. The basics are much more difficult.

I don't know why it is that Americans have to feel ashamed of their drinking, have to hide away their desire for the sauce, have to restrict their drinking to specific days. Especially in New York where there is always a designated driver in a cab and subways a plenty. I can understand a desire to avoid the calories, but that precludes beer not all the plethora of booze. Really its the puritan shame of alcohol that has forced drinking to be kept hidden, to remain silent, and only to rear its ugly head on drinking holidays and spring breaks. Clearly a drinking culture would not prevent the coeds from taking off their tops for beads and cameras only to blame their fathers and the frozen margaritas when they get back home, but it would at least give the rest of society perspective. The problem with spring breakers is not their hedonism, it's that they aren't any good at it.

If people learned how to drink, were taught from a much younger age how to handle their alcohol, how to handle themselves in public before during and after drinking, how to handle someone who has had too much and someone who has had too little, we would be much better off.

But drinking is just another aspect of America's culture of subtle repression. The same one that says men always want sex but can't tell that to women. The same one that asks us all to lie about everything because it will somehow make society function better or at least look better for suburban TV. The same one that says set the alarm for 5:30 am, I have to be at work early tomorrow, btw I hate my job and my boss and they are asking me to take a pay cut or a pink slip.

No wonder we stayed in last night, drinking often and well.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Advice for the Miserable #2

God, it's good to be indifferent.

So, last time it seems I exhorted the world to drink itself into oblivion, suck it up and deal with the sweet taste of hypocrisy, or take an extended trip away from responsibility in the vain search for something better. Seems good advice to me. Hard to improve on. Hopefully you listened. But is regular Tuesday post. So let's start with an easy one:

Marriage: Everyone seems to know the divorce rate runs at about 50% so it's fairly clear that something is wrong. Personally, my guess is that people are idiots. It seems a fairly accurate answer to most of the problems of the world. In this case, it is a matter of people not really knowing who they are, what they want, or how to be happy on their own.

It used to be a case where it was expected that you marry. That you reserved sex until marriage. The Churches may still want this to be the case, if only we could go back to the good old days when people were afraid of hell and excommunication instead of just terrorists and a bad economy. But these days, it's not as expected. Plus, a woman can lead her own life now (she could have a job!). And so the black and white image of a man and his dog and his house and his wife and his kids is fading slowly into the background. And perhaps marriage should go with it.

Moreover, the issue of gay marriage is tearing this poor country apart. But as was raised in a recent Time article, that would be handily solved by dissolving the legal status of "marriage" and leaving that to the faiths. The State could join people in some manner of civil union or domestic partnership that extended all the legal benefits of a shared household to anyone willing to enter in. The Churches could then restrict marriage to a man and a woman and even go back to forbidding miscegenation and re-instituting class barriers if their filthy little hearts desired. That way a Church could actually be accountable for those they marry and no longer have to suffer the embarrassment of a Britney Spears Quickie being placed alongside one of their tried and true "Obey your man and the sting of his belt" routines. And if the gay couples weren't satisfied with a government issued civil union, it's not like every Church hates them just because some of them do. There are plenty willing to bless a loving union.

There is a certain finality bound into the whole marriage pact. Generally remembered as the "Till Death Clause". A finality that resonated when the world was young, you died at 30 and you were lucky if one kid in ten outlived you. When the furthest you got from your house was the far barley field and the number of women you saw in your life that weren't related could be counted on fingers and toes, it wasn't such a difficult prospect. These days are nothing but possibility.

It's long been dismissed that one only loves once, that there is only one person for each of us and most of you won't find him/her, that you can only love in one way or once at time. Love is damn hard thing to figure out and leaving it to the chemists and poets to explain is still going to leave stones unturned. Love exquisitely defies totalization. Which brings me back to the issue of marriage. Most marriages are built on lust, obligation, expediency, naivite, ignorance, and convenience. No wonder they all fail so spectacularly. And frankly I think the time has come that we all stopped lying to ourselves and decided what it was we wanted out of life, out of love. And then didn't settle until we found it. A woman doesn't need to get married in order to be supported or get ahead in the world anymore. A man doesn't need a wife to get a job (or at least not most of them, and the ones that still do - politics, et al - are fast disappearing). A couple doesn't need to be married to start a family. So quit with the bullshit already.

I guess my main point is this: love is a precious commodity and marriage used to mean something. I'm not saying that marriage should be abandoned, but rather brought back to the sacred rite and ritual marking a love and union blessed by the god(s). For anything else, just quit the bitching, the expectation, and the bullshit. Fuck each other while it's good then move on. Take the good, the bad, the indifferent. Make eachother better if you can, or don't. And quit thinking it's something its not. It's time to be serious with ourselves and each other. And past time that oaths before the Lord were considered to have weight and meaning.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Advice for the Miserable #1

Yes, you are miserable. But good news, everybody! You probably don't even realize it. Won’t realize it until you hit your late forties and buy a sports car, run off with the secretary, and catch the herp from that cabana boy that was just meant to be a “one time fling.” Won't realize it until your lying there on your death bed thinking of your funeral realizing that you found no value in anyone you ever knew and anything you ever did. Bummer.

Which means you have plenty of time to get another beer and wash away the sunlight. I'm sure there's something boring on television.

Hell, you might even think about quitting your job, leaving your loveless marriage, and finding something someone anything you care and are passionate about and sticking to that like your life or at least your pursuit of happiness depended on it. Might think about admitting that your a hypocrite. Might think that if the responsibilities chafe, there's no time like the present to leave them to someone who cares. No time like the WORST CRISIS SINCE THE HISTORY OF SLICED BREAD OR THE PRINTING PRESS OR WORDS to think about a major change in lifestyle. "Just going to buy a $25 pack of cigarettes to smoke out in the cold, honey."