This guy made an IOS app that keeps you apprised of all (well, really just some) of the horrible shit the U.S. is doing abroad. Pretty great. Brings up some deeper thoughts - what if you really could every moment know everything bad being done to people? Like the enlightened bohdisatvas that can sense people suffering on the other side of the world when a tsunami happens. except you're not enlightened if it's just your phone telling you. you're just overwhelmed. would you just go completely insane? when and how would you start going something to stop some of it? or would you just work on shutting off the stream of data?
Via facebook I recently became aware of another dumb controversy regarding another "misbehaving" celebrity. Apparently Miley Cyrus mentioned Sinead O'Connor as an inspiration, and Sinead blew up with an open letter on her blog lecturing Cyrus about nakedness and women allowing themselves to be exploited, and then 2nd-tier pop star and media gadfly Amanda Palmer got in the act and posted an open letter back to Sinead.
Here's what I think. First of all, I've seen Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball" video that started the whole debate and it seems a really sad, tragic, vulnerable song. Cyrus is either super messed up and struggling, or really really good at pretending to be.. and then to muddle that up further with the bizarre mixed (sex/violence) visual messages of the video is just a trainwreck.
But second of all, should we really care about this Catfight of the Famous? It seems to be the epitome of the Society of the Spectacle that we're all sitting around avidly reading the patronizing letters these rich pop stars are writing to each other about how wide or how level their playing fields are. The basic feminist and anti-consumerist message is great, but i'll already be passing that worldview to my children and i don't need any millionaire musicians to teach me how.(btw I'm purposely not linking to anything I'm talking about above, because that would just feed the click-hungry spectacle machine that I'm talking about.) Read more>>>
"Most parents are so exhausted by parenting that they tend to turn away from social resposibility, and toward convenience. That's just what Madison Avenue wants. Get the juice box. Get the SUV. Get the mollifying toy. I'm not suggesting that we do things perfectly. We don't. But we're trying in the ways we can."
- Steve Almond, interview in Rad Dad
"...for some reason, there seems to be a sort of denigration of parenthood. When you tell some people that you're gonna have a kid, they say things along the lines of, 'See you in eighteen years' or 'Well, you won't be sleeping any time soon.' My favorite one is 'Things are really going to change.' Well, of course they're going to fucking change. That's the whole point! You don't want life to be a static experience. Change is the idea. That's why we're here."
- Ian MacKaye, interview in Rad Dad
"... most parents simply want to get through the day however they can. Amid the inconvenience of children, they don't want the further inconvenience of having to consider themselves moral actors." - Steve Almond, inteview in Rad Dad
A couple of days ago was Paul Miller's first day back on the Internet after being off it for one whole year. Miller is a tech writer and senior editor at a hip web site called The Verge (which I'd only just barely heard of and purports to cover "the intersection of tech, science, arts, and culture."). A year ago he was fed up and decided to quit, and quit the internet, but his boss said don't quit your job too, just go offline, and write for us about what it's like being offline.
The other day he wrote a piece summing it all up. It's pretty interesting, though not, IMHO, fascinating. There's a difference. But if you find the idea interesting, I'd recommend reading the article, and also, if you're a meta type, or a film/media type, watching at least the first 5 minutes of the 15-minute mini-doc about his experience (at the top of the page).
Now here are some of my thoughts about Miller's actual article and year offline:
- A lot things he writes about I am totally on board with. Most importantly, he realized that a lot of his problems or flaws in his personality or life were not caused by him being on the Internet. He didn't fix them just by going offline. He was and is still a depressed, kind of unsatisfied, restless 20-something, adrift in the modern world.
- Still, I would argue that some of his problems ARE indirectly and partially a result of the Internet - not so much him being on it, but the whole society being on it. These things stack up and are compounded by the whole culture, so just taking himself off it doesn't fix it.
- And yet, there's a lot of good things in the Internet, especially about connectedness, that he observes and that I agree with.
- All in all, I take the stunt and his writing to have one central lesson: You don't fix things by radical and sudden cold-turkey removals of one narrow aspect of your life. Moderation in all things, as some Greek philosophers once said. If you think you need to totally quit the Internet, you probably don't. If you think you don't need to quit the Internet, you probably need to at least reduce your use of it to some degree. And you probably have other things to work on too.
- Miller's only 27! So young. When the web began, he was about 7 years old. He likely doesn't remember a time when there was no Internet. I put to you that that is one of the most important things to think about regarding his stunt - he didn't "have a real life", because he had never had one (To some extent - though I agree with him that the Internet IS part of our real lives, and our life starts getting "unreal" when we forcibly remove ourselves from it, but that's only because we're part of a whole society that's on it, as I said above. I think that what we really mean when we say "unreal" is that we feel our life has lost its balance - which gets back to moderation). On the other hand, if you're about my age, you'd lived til you were about the age he is now before the Internet began to completely take over all of life. When I was 27, there was no Google, people were just barely starting to buy stuff online, almost nobody had a blog and nobody called them blogs, there was no "social networking" other than the primitive bulletin boards and IRC chat rooms that a few geeks used. We'd lived somewhat full, interesting lives without ever "checking in" or "tweeting" or "yelping" or snapping any Instagrams. EVER.(and yet, also, we were still fucked up people, for other reasons.)
- Depression and the ennui of modern life and the problem of the many ways in which you can fail at being a decent and good human is much deeper than the specifics of which alienating technology is running our lives. People wrote disturbed diatribes about the pernicious effects of television 50 years ago. It's all part of a general, steady trend that's much bigger than "the Internet".
Well, that's about it. I gotta get off my blog and go run some errands in "the real world". Read more>>>
People are always dying, every day, all over the world, even dying too early. Our superconnected, hypermediated world usually rings the alarms and the mourning bells only when someone somehow famous or celebrated does it. I usually am sad when someone at least reasonably not a bad person passes and gets loudly eulogized in the echoing hall of mirrors that is our infosmogged culture, but I try to keep some perspective, because so many suffer and expire without so much as a ripple in that data-pond.
Nevertheless, out of all of the tragic early losses from the ranks of famous cultural workers, there is one that I truly really wish were not so. Not Whitney Houston, Nora Ephron, Kurt Cobain or Amy Winehouse, even Roberto Bolaño or Elliot Smith - yeah, sad, but David Foster Wallace truly stands out above anyone else I can think of as such an exceptional mind that it's literally a huge loss to the world that he will not be around, to continue to grace us with more of what he did. I say this not simply because he was such a skilled writer - which her certainly was - but really more because the wisdom of so much that he wrote and said (i.e. in interviews) is so consistently extraordinary and just plain useful to me as a human being (and I would think to others as well). He combined the gift of stellar talent in his craft with such an extreme intelligence and, most importantly, such an extreme concern and compassion for his audience and humans in general, I just am staggered when I think that we may have had, should have had, as a nation, as a people, as a society, 20 or 30 more years of benefit from having him around, doing stuff. I literally think he was on a level of compassionate, spiritual intelligence comparable to Gandhi, MLK, the Dalai Lama... take your pick.
I confess that I was late at appreciating this. I still have about five-sevenths of his entire output to read. But almost every time I read anything of his I am just blown away and... enlightened, even if just a little bit. There are not many writers that I could say that about. Yes, there are many that are good, and/or very smart, very clever, advance the form, etc. But to also just express things that teach me how to be a better human being - that's rare.
I'm reading his second book of short non-fiction, Consider The Lobster, and what made me want to write this post is his 1999 piece contained in that volume, originally for Harpers, called "Authority and American Usage" (original title, "Democracy, English, and the Wars Over Usage"). You might get a few pages into this and think, so what, it's a really smart guy reviewing a book about another really smart guy being a stickler for grammar and so what. But there's so much more to it, because on the way to explaining why the dictionary he's reviewing is a good one, he swerves and swings out into tangents, as most DFW pieces do, that seem at first to be unearned departures, but turn out to be completely relevant and coherent with his main point. In this review he discusses abortion, racism, classism, child development, his own childhood and the traumas therein, democracy, the crisis in education and especially the teaching of English, white privilege, and more - all in a review of a dictionary! And most striking is his personal discussion of his efforts as a college Lit teacher to get his students to be better writers, so they can go further in our society (and in turn make our society better, also), out of a sincere and deep caring and compassion for those students that is just unparalleled...
He was just super unique and valuable, and I really wish he were still alive and around to care about and help his fellow humans like he so obviously and deeply did. Read more>>>
I saw a friend online critiqueing "the bourgeois" the other day and started thinking and writing about it and decided to post here about it. His point was basically that "bourgeois" people in "America" nowadays don't so much conspicuously show their economic place by what they own, but by what they experience and believe. Read more>>>
I've been not quite sure what to think about this comic strip series, Coffee With Jesus, and the whole Radio Free Babylon group and project that creates it.
The comic and everything else they do seems really carefully calculated to be hip and funny, in a sort of Get Your War On, Tom Tomorrow way, but to not be overtly critical of Xtianity or the religious. At first I thought it was clearly a satire that was making fun of Xtians, and clearly, folks who are really conservative and orthodox and easily offended will be offended.
However, what they're doing is really just harnessing the now-common tropes of hipster, countercultural humor, without neccesarily taking a clear stance. The idea of no stance politically or morally is common to hipsterist media products, but these people don't even seem to take what I would call an existential/emotional stance. The common position that is implicitly assumed by those who peddle "cool," is at the very least a sort of nihilistic, cynical, jaded viewpoint. This comic, though, despite the appearance of cynical critique by the use of 50s clip art (or evoking the look of 50s clip art, at least), isn't really deeply critical of much. It has a certain surreality to it, featuring Jesus in a business suit, drinking coffee, talking with Satan and the Easter Bunny and variety of Ward and June Cleaver types, but there's nothing that really states any serious problem with belief in a bearded supernatural guy who supposedly died and rose from the dead for our sins 2000 years ago. There's some gentle chiding and fun made at the expense of some foolish, dogmatic characters, but nothing truly biting or deep. The FAQ on their website is also very careful to not say anything in any detail about what they believe or want. Even their name is carefully ambiguous - is it the standard pirate/community radio station meaning, like Radio Free Berkeley, a free transmitter from a bastion of Freedom? Or is it that they're "Radio" (media producers) that wants to free "Babylon" (code for the sinful society)?
To make my realization about these folks it took me a few weeks of looking at these strips and the other media that RFB makes. But it's pretty clear now that this is the work of some subtle Christian propagandists. They never address any truly controversial topics of the day, like abortion, women's rights, taxes or gay marriage, nothing to truly tip their hand. It's all these kind of relatively innocuous little jokes relating to matters like churchgoing and harmless bible matters and Xtian holidays. So I think this is some very strategic marketing going on by some relatively liberal/moderate, young Christians with some cleverness and media-savvy. It's similar in spirit, I think, to the work of Rob Bell, a young Christian writer/preacher who wrote a book called Velvet Elvis:Repainting the Christian Faith, (which my evangelical stepfather sent me a copy of and I have yet to do more with than flip through). The idea, of course, is to get young, hip, smart people to start getting into Jesus again.
I'm not, although I admit that I used to be, one of those angry atheists. Furthermore, I certainly recognize there are some social, cultural, and psychological benefits to religions, and clearly other people see this too, including the celebrated theorist Alain de Botton, whose new book is called Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion. In this he argues that the question we should be asking is how we can fulfill those needs for people without resorting to systems and worldviews that involve belief in the irrational, supernatural claims of religions. To be sure, neither capitalism, communism, consumerism nor Big Science have provided for those needs or become a worthy replacement. So, these are things to think about, and it's worth examining what Christianiy gets right, what comfort and succor it gives to people and can they be given that in other ways, or enlightened/educated/healed to a point where they don't need that anymore.
But I cannot abide intellectual dishonesty and underhanded viral marketing in the name of even a kinder, gentler, hipper, more modern religiosity. Attempting to fly in under the radar of the cool kids to make your pitch in stealth mode is not acceptable, and is still lying, whether you're selling sneakers, gasoline, or Jesus. Read more>>>
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: 126.96.36.199 ----------------------------------------------------- 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>>>
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>>>
So yesterday, as you're aware, Brother Camping was proven wrong once again about when the world would end. To commemorate this I put together a little DJ set of relevant music and sound and broadcast it on ustream. While "spinning" I also played some old vhs tapes on a tv and pointed my webcam at the screen in an attempt at improvising some kind of video element without too much preparation. You can watch/listen below, and below that, read the playlist. I like how i managed to make the set tell a little story, introducing the situation, looking at the people going and the people "left behind" from both perspectives, then getting into the nature of evil while also criticizing the assumptions of the Dispensationalists that believe wackos like Harold Camping and others like him throughout history... then examining the armageddon situation as it would continue, and then some final jabs at Christianity and the worst of those who believe it, and finally it all dissolves away and everything is ok... or is it?
Playlist: Read more>>>