culture

Against Neo-Environmentalism

City of Rocks state park, new mexico - 57 This is about a bad idea, and a set of other, good ideas, and an essay by Paul Kingsnorth called Dark Ecology in which he writes wonderfully about those ideas.  It's a long (17 page), somewhat slow, meditative, and often sad piece of writing, and you're no doubt extremely busy.  And so I will understand if you don't get to it. You may not even get to this here, as you peruse the title and first few lines of this blog post in your facebook feed.  But I'm writing, here, my summary of it, so maybe at least some folks I know might get the gist.  Still, there's no way I can really replace the original, so if you do feel interested, or inspired, you should click and read.

Who is this for? Is it for you? Well, first of all if you self-identify as an "environmentalist" or as "green" or as someone interested in "sustainability," then this, and Kingsnorth's piece, is for you.  It's also for you if you care about nature and where the natural world is headed and where our society and civilization is headed. Read more>>>

The Sound of Weird Art

I just saw this great, weird little film tonight called The Sound of My Voice. It's pretty thought provoking. The film is about two documentary filmmakers trying to make a film about a cult, but they sort of get drawn into the cult themselves, which is led by a woman who claims she's from the future, and it starts not being clear if she's lying or not.

they let you watch the first 12 minutes of it on the film's web site:


Anyway, it's somewhat good timing for me seeing this film now, having just finished reading a great book about Mormons and fundamentalist Mormon cults, and also in the wake of the bizarre and sad events at Diamond Mountain retreat center a few weeks ago - a place where I helped shoot parts of an ongoing documentary about a 3-year Buddhist retreat.

It also brings up a sort of meta-issue, about "weird movies" or more generally, any "weird" art or cultural work. By weird I mean in this case something challenging, whose meaning or "answer" is extremely confusing and isn't easily apparent.  A head-scratcher, something that has you walking out of the theater wondering what the hell actually was going on in the film, and has you talking about it on the way home.

The issue I want to bring up is, why are some people (like myself, for instance) quick to identify some cultural artifacts like this as just purposeful obfuscation, weirdness just to impart the feeling of mystery and confusion, to give you a sort of high from the strangeness and ambiguity, with no real coherent meaning or solution possible? While others look at the same thing and want to spend time to puzzle it out, decipher and debate and discuss and find "the answer"? And which is the more healthy response?

I remember having a similar reaction to all of David Lynch's last few films, starting with Mullholand Drive, and being actually more and more pissed off and angry at him with each film he made after that one, for, I thought (still think?) purposely fucking with us without any hope of real coherent interpretation.  But then recently I read a brilliant and detailed blog post explaining exactly the entirety of Mullholland Drive, written by the genius Film Crit Hulk. I read that and I thought, "wow, it really does make some kind of sense, I guess, explained this way. Well I'll be dipped." Nevertheless, does that mean there's a "solution" to everything? Not neccessarily. 

On one hand, whether there's a meaning/answer or not to one of these kinds of artifacts, it's a waste to spend too much time thinking about it. Right? (I mean, in a world where people are starving or torturing each other or whatever, can't we put off til later the arguing about quirky movies? I suppose this is a sort of  Adorno-esque, poetry-after-Auschwitz response to the problem.)  But, on the other hand, is it a sign of a sort of hopelessness or cynicism (or is it willingness to let go of a desire for meaning?), to assume that something that you can't figure out quickly has to be nonsense, an intellectual laziness chosen over an innocent enthusiasm to explore a fictional world as a pure excercise in entertaining mental puzzle-solving?  What does it say about those that tend to choose the cynical/hopeless path?  What kind of people take the one approach and what kind take the other?

And what kind sit around writing blog posts about it?  Sigh. I wonder what Slavoj Zizek would say... Read more>>>

Otro Badulaque (another fool of no consequence)

I get a lot of spam, of course, like we all do, but I also get a variety of unsolicited email from people I've never heard from before about various projects of mine that they're interested in or have questions or kudos on.  Rarely do I get totally anonymous and context-free insults out of the blue.  The other day I received this, via my website contact page:

-----------------------------------------------------
This message was sent by someone looking at:
http://detritus.net/cgi-bin/contact
from:  163.192.12.2
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Poor Steev. Must be difficult to be an intellectual when you're not very smart. 
You're a shining example to all who wish to appear to be trafficking in ideas.

This was sent using the address LucilleDMcKenzie@teleworm.com, which it turns out is a fake address generated by the wonderful http://www.fakemailgenerator.com - a service I had not known about before and which looks quite useful for various things, so in a way it was worth getting assaulted in this way.  This person clearly didn't wish to engage in conversation but simply wanted to attack me with no opportunity given to respond - when I sent a query asking for more information I got a bounce (the fake email service seems to allow replies, but perhaps only for a limited time, perhaps governed by the life of a cookie it hands out. not sure of the details. at any rate, my reply bounced). My message, btw, noted that I don't recall ever calling myself an intellectual, and therefore would take the statement as at least partially a compliment.

however, I have a pretty clear idea who the sender is because the message is not entirely without context, or drama.  I recently removed from my list of facebook friends a certain Kim Scarborough - I honestly am not sure why I was ever friended by him or recall why I agreed to the friending.  I don't think I have ever met him face to face, though we were both at WCBN, the University of Michigan student radio station, at about the same time and he's from Ann Arbor and knows some other Ann Arbor folks that I know.  I think I recall him being on my Detritus Rumori mailing list and some other underground music related online communities like the negativland Snuggles list, etc. 

But he's the kind of person I would never want to spend time with or be friends with IRL.  He's a computer geek and somewhat smart, but he's also a libertarian, and a devotee of Milton Friedman (who I consider just shy of Hitler or Stalin in terms of the misery he's brought upon the world).  He worked at Playboy as a system administrator, I think, and now does the same at the Chicago Stock Exchange, I think.  (Both worthless, at best, employers.) Most of his facebook posts were  kind of vaguely philosopolitical pronouncements that seemed carefully calculated to produce debate, but which cleverly did not clearly state exactly what he was talking about or believed in, so that later when people argued with him he could change the subject in a weird attempt to make disagreement seem inappropriate. He was also a master of the "straw man" rhetorical tactic and of cognitive dissonance. I eventally just got tired of him, though I spent about a year thinking over and over after every exchange I had with him, "gosh I'm just wasting time reading this guy's posts and getting worked up and trying to engage in conversation."  I resisted unfriending him for that long a time because I believe the "Filter Bubble" effect is a real problem in our society right now, and I felt like I should be exposing myself to opposing worldviews, at least if it was from people relatively articulate and intelligent.  But at some point you realize that even having an open mind is with some people not doing anybody any good. He's got an entrenched opinion of who I am so he's not really listening to me when I say anything; he's clearly just being a troll trying to create online drama and attention for himself.

He lives in Chicago and that IP address above traces back to a chicago network, and the message, which I just noticed today, came in 3 days ago, the day after my last reply to a string of email harrassments that he peppered me with after I unfriended and blocked him on facebook. So this latest attack is pretty likely him. This is an interesting and sad phenomenon, and the truly objectionable thing is his refusal to just give up and go away.  People are going to disagree and argue, and that's fine.  But if one person chooses to withdraw, after repeated attempts at fair and good faith attempts at conversation are met with purposeful obfuscation and intellectual dishonesty, the LEAST that the other person can do is honor repeated requests to cease contact.  But this jackass continued to pester me with emails feigning surprise and shock that I had unfriended and blocked him, asking me stupid questions I'd previously answered and uttering further straw-men style provocations. Then after I blocked his real email addresses he now  uses a fake one.

He must be really invested in a view of himself as some kind of tolerant and friendly guy with a wide variety of social connections, and it evidently bothers him and angers him when someone severs one of those connections.  This is supported by previous and numerous facebook posts in which he complained about other people defriending him, supposedly unjustly and unfairly.  How pathetic. He just can't seem to accept with dignity and introspection that maybe a lot of people consider him an annoying bore at best, a malicious asshole and waste of time at worst, and maybe he should do something about that or else accept it when people give up trying to put up with his bullshit.

It's kind of mindboggling when someone so unknown and inconsequential to me, and so different in terms of politics and belief system, is so set on maintaining contact.  I've already wasted too much time on this guy today with this post but I do it not as some kind of vengeful counterattack but just to note it as an intriguing pathology. Read more>>>

Coffee Grind

So i went and bought a bag of supposedly one of the best coffees in the world, according to this article.  Finca Mauritania, from Aida Batlle's farm in El Salvador.  Roasted just 3 days ago at Counter Culture in Noth Carolina and arrived at my doorstep by USPS yesterday, i woke up this morning and prepared a cup exactly the way this article describes one should, even down to measuring out ~20g of coffee and ~320g of water, pouring the water in the precise amounts and time pattern described, etc. Had a taste. I hate to say it, but I just don't see much of a difference from any other cup of coffee I've ever had. In fact it was kind of sour and overly tangy, to my tongue. Part of the problem, or maybe all of the problem, might be that I normally take my coffee with a little milk and sugar, but Batlle says to really taste the difference you have to drink it black. 

So, if I take the time to get used to drinking my coffee black and learn to enjoy it (I do sometimes have espresso black, but not drip coffee), and then do another test, maybe i'll be able to discern the "intoxicating flavors of butterscotch, pastry, and sweet chocolate" that "infuse the cup and create a profoundly complex, satisfying coffee experience," as the tasting notes on the bag describe.  But that's one of the issues brought up by the article - is it really worth my time and effort to train my palate in this way, so that then I'll not be satisfied without the daily extra money and time spent on this gourmet affectation? Especialy when, after all, in a couple years the tastemaking coffee gurus will probably declare that some other method is better and everyone doing it otherwise is a philistine?  and when people made coffee in Ethiopia, where it came from, for thousands of years by just boiling grounds and water in a clay pot over a fire?  How can one cabal of foodies say this other way involving burr grinders and pre-flushed paper cones is more authentic or "right"?  And besides, coffee without milk is bad for my digestive tract!

In the end, the most important thing about the coffee world is that the farmers and the ecosystem are treated right.  Direct trade and other 'better than even Fair Trade' practices as well as organic and shade-grown growing, go a long way.  But really, the logical extension ends up, to my mind, here:  we shouldn't be drinking coffee at all.  We should be helping those coffee farmers convert their farms back to mostly just growing food for themselves, just like we should be growing food for ourselves in our own locales, and maybe some of us could grow our own coffee plants in greenhouses and hydroponic setups if we're really capable and dedicated. But for the most part, when you get down to it, coffee, for most people, is just a vector for a chemical stimulant that we really don't need.  We should be changing our culture (which involves our work habits and entire lifestyle) so that we don't think we have to have that stimulant every morning and often throughout the day, so that we then don't need to have this global commodity market that forces poor people to grow this cash crop to the exclusion of being self-sufficient in their own local communities. Coffee culture is really just, at its roots, the same as crystal meth culture - a social pathology brought about by the fetishization of work, productivity, and intensity. The  social pressures that lead poor working class double-shifting meatpackers in rural Iowa to get hooked on meth are really the same social pressures that white-collar infoworkers in cubeland turn into a daily cuppajoe addiction. The gourmet coffee waves and trends are just a surface layer of genteel sophistication over the top of this sordid reality.

To be fair, I love my coffee.  But I recognize that, like a lot of unfortunate activities in my modern life, it's not something that really matches my values and ideally i should stop or at least lessen it. Read more>>>

Maybe Not

I've always liked this song by Cat Power, "Maybe Not."  I first heard it when I got it from the Protest Records website 7 years ago. It seems appropriate to blog about it today, especially because it popped up on my ipod shuffle while running this morning, and i had just been listening to a bunch of Cat Power yesterday.  The song has many interpretations, and many video adaptations by fans, of varying quality, in addition to live renditions, covers, and a really mediocre "official" version. This is my favorite:

The lyrics are worth reading and thinking about:

There’s a dream that I see, I pray it can be Read more>>>

Freedom

I look forward greatly to reading Jonathan Franzen's new huge novel, "Freedom," his work of the last 9 years, just out this month.  But until that time, here's something about freedom that I love, from David Foster Wallace's own magnum opus, "Infinite Jest", which I'm nearing the end of (well, I still have about 200 pages to go, but on a 1000-page book that's something!). Here, a Quebecois separatist double-agent is speaking to an intelligence agent from the U.S.:

Always with you this freedom! For your walled-up country, always to shout 'Freedom! Read more>>>

Please Tell Me I'm Wrong And That People Will Get The Satire

I keep hearing about Lady Gaga all the time and even reading articles about her in the New Yorker, like the one about the hat that superstar architect Frank Gehry designed for her. But I'd never heard any of her songs till this morning in the car when I happened to have the radio tuned to some crap mainstream station. timecode 1:51I knew it was her, just guessing based on the weirdness of it and the fact that part of the odd gobbledegook chorus was a repeated "ga-ga-oh-la-la" or something.  I was so struck by the track that when I got home I looked her up on youtube and found the music video. It was called "Bad Romance" and when I watched it I was so disturbed that I literally cried. I don't mean cry as some kind of metaphor for frustration or anger or whatever. I mean I actually was so sad and upset that I started to break down and weep.

Now before I explain why let me make clear Read more>>>

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