Interesting Times

An ancient Chinese curse goes as follows: "May you live in interesting times."  In this way we definitely live in interesting times lately.

What do people do in interesting times? In this time of instant communication from all parts of the globe, the interesting and the unfortunate are all available for view by Read more>>>

It’s the Infrastructure

wooden bicycle
A great post on the always excellent Sociological Images blog talks about what leads people to different transportation choices as part of their lifestyle.  Car use tracks with how young your neighborhood is, basically.  Our lifestyles, especially how we move ourselves around, are largely determined by the cities and neighborhoods we live in - the infrastructure.  Income also determines this - whether we can afford a car.  Of course in a larger sense, this is infrastructure too:  who is poor and who is rich is largely determined by the structural makeup of society. Read more>>>


Happy birthday United States of America. Happy blow-shit-up and barbecue some meat and get drunk day.desecrated flags

While I acknowledge there are some nice things about this nation that I've been lucky enough to be born a citizen of, today I want to think and write about the common belief held by lots of Unitedstatesians that their country is "the best".  "We're number 1!" we hear them shout. Rah Rah.

Let's get right to it. Where are we, exactly, in the rankings? Are we Numero Uno?  How do we compare? Read more>>>

How Shall We Live Our Lives?

In a New Yorker review of Jonathan Foer's book "Eating Animals", Elizabeth Kolbert provides another poignant and moving look at personal responsibility.   I find the second to last paragraph particularly resonant: Read more>>>

Not Enough Five-Star Bricks-and-Mortar

In the November issue of Harper's, the title story, "Final Edition," by Richard Rodriguez, is about "the twilight of the American newspaper."  He makes a touching and saddening case that we are truly losing something important to our social fabric with the recent closure of so much daily print media in this country.  He is persuasive in arguing that a lot of the fault lies with the newspaper industry itself and the greedy corporate entities that run it.

However, one of the most compelling points is a paragraph toward the end of the article: Read more>>>

Taylor Who?

I just, stupidly enough, wasted about 15 minutes trying to figure out what happened with Kanye West. Something he did made even the president of the United States call him a jackass? Hmm. I finally figured it out (amazing how the entertainment media will always assume you know the background, as opposed to real news that is constantly re-explaining everything as if nobody has any more than a 3rd-grade education) and then found a great post by Mike Hale on his New York Times blog where he really summed the whole phenomenon (not just of what Kanye did but more importantly why it's such a big deal) up nicely:

...just the latest manifestation of our addiction to artificial drama, which has grown stronger as the stuff has become more plentiful and cheap, and the shamelessness with which the media now picks at the scabs of any sort of conflict in order to boost ratings.

Technophilia and Its Discontents

My friend Ryn brought to my attention a very interesting and worthwhile article about the tendencies for social divisions to be duplicated online, concentrating specifically on the class divisions between MySpace and Facebook.
praha june 2007  - 22

I think I have some doubts about some of the author's conclusions, but without seeing her actual numbers and methods, having only the anecdotal examples she gave, I can't argue and will give her the benefit of the doubt that her data supports her points. Certainly, I don't doubt and fully believe the most general points, that
1) different social networking communities are populated by different demographics and are self-segregated, somewhat.
2) technology will not automatically solve the separations and prejudices that exist in the "real" world.

The really interesting thing, to me, is that this has been happening for awhile - these kind of debates and debunkings of popular hype about "new media" were going on starting 14 or 15 years ago when the Web first started taking off, with a flood of rhetoric about the "digital 'revolution'" and the liberatory potential of technology. People were questioning this along various lines, including class and race based analyses. I'd recommend a great anthology called
"Resisting the Virtual Life" and a little later there was a great book
called "Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents".

A professor of mine at CalArts told me back in 1996 how excited everyone (well, artists and activists, at least) was in the early 70s about the radical and democratic potential of video, but things didn't really pan out how they hoped, so she was a little skeptical about the same sort of talk regarding the web. Basically people have always been scared of, hopeful for, hyping, and debunking new technologies, probably since the wheel and fire, certainly on into film, TV, radio, home computers, etc. I'm glad that some are bringin' the noise on this round, but it's helpful to remember that it's a continuous loop.... and a continuous fight, to make sure that the pernicious effects of any new technology are minimized and the beneficial ones are amplified and widespread...


Wired Magazine reports that we're all writing more, because of the internet. I've thought about that before. It's quite remarkable, but easy to forget. I've always been someone who writes, not just in school, but for a long time that was rare. Now it's not.

Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn't a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they'd leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.

To me that makes me think, wow, what a bleak life, to never write. So it really is great that people are encouraged to construct paragraphs now - even if the paragraphs are cluelessness comments like

you really want to clean up the border??? put down the water bottles and grab a shovel and rake...Ive got a ranch in three points that needs serious help...but you dont care about my property do you????

Get Thee To a Cardboard Box

This post is one of those non-personal musings (rants?) about current events, rather than a detailed explication of my recent activities.

What I'm musing about here is Bernie Madoff, after reading something about him and his "victims" in the latest issue of Harper's. (why do I instinctively put "victims" in quotes? Read on...) In this short entry in the Readings section of the magazine, the editors provide a selection of Victim Impact Statements sent to the judge during the sentencing phase of Madoff's trial. This one particularly struck me:

Madoff deserves no better than to live under a bridge in a cardboard box, scavenging for food - the existence to which he has undoubtedly consigned some of his victims.

Now, is this complete hyperbole, or is this writer actually claiming that some of the people who invested money with Madoff are now literally homeless paupers because of his betrayals?

How could this be? Of course I sympathize with any innocent people and organizations who were cheated by this guy, especially non-profits who were affected. But let's get real: anyone who put all their eggs in one basket sort of, at least somewhat, deserves whatever they get. I mean, c'mon! You gave Madoff ALL your money? Every cent, other than the $1000 you spent on that magnum of champagne you drank the night before he got caught? Did you even give him the Rolex on your wrist?

Everyone with a brain understands that you should diversify your investments. You put something in high risk, high yield ventures but keep some in something solid, like treasury bonds or, hell, maybe you might just want to keep some of it back in an FDIC-insured savings account, for a rainy day? You don't just hand everything you have to some fast-talking guy named Bernie. Even poor people understand this. That's why they have multiple kids.

Or "invest" in friends and family so that you'll have someone who'll take you in on their couch when you lose your home, maybe.

The thing is is that this "impact statement" and all the others elide a certain unspoken truth that very few are talking about, regarding Madoff's scam but also applying to the general financial crash we are all still reeling from: you can't get something for nothing, and if you think you can and you put everything into your something for nothing scheme, then you're a fool. And there have been an awful lot of fools, of various types, getting the other shoe stomping on them.

And if you're rich enough to be investing in the first place, in anything, you're on a level, you're in a class, far above many many people in the world. A huge number of people even in the U.S. make barely enough to stay out of poverty, and in the wider world, the numbers are even grimmer and "investing" means having enough kids so that after half of them die you'll still have enough able bodies to till the fields and take care of you when you're old.

Madoff certainly had no right to steal your money, oh "victim," but where did you get that money in the first place? Was it really yours? What gives you the right to have all that money to invest, when most people in the world struggle every day just to feed their families? You are the beneficiary of a global, millennial ponzi scheme called Late Capitalism, and you're too stupid or in too much denial to know it, and you're now whining because you were too stupid to at least stash a little emergency funds away somewhere safe?

You're on the karma payment plan.

High and Dry

I went to a little party just a few hours ago in a little hidden gem of a beautiful villa right off the main hipster drag of 4th Avenue. All the drunks and college kids never know this place exists. There was a pool and food and drink and a guy recording whatever you wanted to say or sing or play, onto a laptop, and looping it and mixing it with whatever anyone else did before, and then playing it back on the PA. It was a cool little collaborative-interactive touch. and there was poetry and music. Read more>>>

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