06 March 2018

Ready for Ready

It started with my damn Apple news feed...  An article about Ready Player One, that i did not need to read.  But, it had the promise of classic 80s video games online.

Source: Polygon.com
I do not love the algorithms that know what we will want to read, and present it to us.  I have read (and watched) this all before.  Dystopias come in many shapes and sizes - but a lot of them rhyme.

I knew as soon as it came out, of course, that Ready Player One was going to be a book (and then a movie!) for me.  It's in my lane, but i resisted.  In part, because Vernor Vinge's exceptional book Rainbows End felt like it was being ripped off (at least in the descriptions i heard of Cline's book).

With the premiere of Spielberg's movie fast approaching, i recalled while playing a couple of (dozen) rounds of Joust that i had downloaded the audiobook of Ready Player One (narrated by Wil Wheaton!) a while back during one of my stints of Audible membership.  I knew that if i didn't listen to it before the movie premiere, i would likely never read the book.

And so i dove in a few nights ago... and i am HOOKED.  The geek culture made relevant, and powerful.  It's so good - not great, but tons of fun, and referential.  I've finished a third of the novel - i love the Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey nod, and feel like i may finish the rest in not too many days. 

And then will probably just go straight out and see the movie as soon as it's out too... because because.

21 February 2018

Mike Judge - Prophet

Two of the more brilliant films of all time in my life have been Office Space and Idiocracy

The two films anticipated life on earth as i have come to know it... in many ways.
We all suffer the times that we are born into.  Gandalf, perhaps, said it best, when he explained to Frodo:

Frodo: "I wish the Ring had never come to me. ... Gandalf: "So do all who live to se
Source: https://ktismatics.wordpress.com
e such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

Judge's films imagine eras that seem so familiar, but were both (in their way) revelatory of a future state that we all knew was coming but didn't want to believe. 

I am a man of odd emotional effusions.  Shiva's death on TWD in many ways was in many was sadder than those of the rest of the Kingdom earlier in the episode.  I can't watch or hear any part of Emma Gonzalez' speech last week without crying.  Deep Impact, ID4, Jurassic Park - action movies often work to elicit lame emotional responses (or pile ons), and i am afraid i'm often susceptible to them.  Real or simulated, pop song or news broadcast or Hallmark movie...

Humor, like melodrama / sob stories, are emotional manipulators.  A comedy film allows itself to make extreme arguments without being scrutinized.  In Con Air, Steve Buscemi's serial killer character says that even though he is seen as the crazy one, his definition of insanity is reporting to the same job for 40 years only to be told one Friday that you're redundant, being let go, and left to flounder.  Office Space makes much the same argument.

Idiocracy is a movie that makes the argument that US Americans are de-evolving.  Becoming stupider due to a decades-long anti-eugenics program.  It's essentially Republicanism run amok.  The Trump presidency looks a lot like 2 or 3 administrations prior to President Camacho.  Idiocracy was a funny movie when it came out - and prescient.  It felt right, but now it feels like it's actually unfolding in front of our eyes.

Comedy is an opportunity to say out loud - to scream!!! - everything that you see that is wrong with the world.  When i saw Ricky Gervais a while back, he talked about growing up in a funny family (i was raised in a funny family).  He said there was one rule when he was growing up... that was, "if you think of something funny to say, you must say it."

05 February 2018

John Cusack - AIROAPG

I went last night to see Say Anything in a public venue with (i'm gonna say...) 1000 (300?, i'm really bad at estimating) people.  I've never been one to choose favorites, but the oeuvre of John Cusack's is something worth celebrating.  It doesn't mean that everything he's in or has made is amazing, or even great or even good...

JC said something interesting in the "A Conversation with John Cusack" following the screening.  Tiffany Ogle had the unenviable job of trying to provoke JC into conversation, which he didn't seem inclined to join.  Ogle was asking some fairly banal questions around favorite memories or behind the scene stories of film making.  JC said 2 things that were a bit interesting - that he liked "anything that had worked" and comparing successful film making to a batting average in baseball. 

We live in such a quick to sneer culture (a good example was the balcony of the post-Say Anything crowd), and even though film making technologies are less expensive than ever, the risk-taking in film making is at an all-time low.  JC's point was, I think (he needed a lot of interpreting, as he didn't seem inclined to elaborate much at all), that many films made in earlier days would not be made in today's environment.  The larger point was essentially that bad movies - which is to say movies that fail to do something interesting - should be made and the makers and the actors ought not be blamed for doing something that doesn't pull it off.

The act of art-making ought to be a risky proposition.  If you're sure something is going to be a hit, it's probably not that interesting.  Putting something out in the world should be scary - are they going to like it, hate it, get it?

And so, herewith I bestow a new label to my blog - the first in quite a long time - #AIROAPG.  For the name, I owe a debt to Benjamin Katz.  In the comments of this post, will be a retrospective of the complete works of John Cusack.  I've seen many of them previously, of course, perhaps almost all of them, but a fresh viewing seems worthwhile.

06 January 2018

... part of the background

Multiverse theory has been a part of science fiction literature for a long time.  It's part of my underlying philosophy, and, as an amateur theoretical physicist, it is the core of my understanding of the world.

I know "amateur theoretical physicist" isn't a thing as we ordinarily think of things.  Marshall McLuhan (and Robert Oppenheimer) knew that our obsession with specialization and expertise would be our undoing.  As leading experts in each and every field refine their skill and knowledge, their focus sharpens and their view tightens. An entire flowchestra of new ideas and different thinking is lost in this honing. And capitalism pours gasoline on the spreading conflagration of narrowing knowledge.

And so it is that I am an amateur theoretical physicist. As such, I have created a theory of the universe, and in particular, of dark matter, which has yet (to my knowledge) to have been disproven. I devised this theory in the late 1990s, wrote it down on a scrap of notebook paper, and promptly lost that piece of paper – but the theory goes something like this:
We live in a multi-dimensional universe. Sharing our same space are other us-es and more of what is ours and on which we stand, it’s simply not perceivable to us because we are ‘out of phase’ with it in some fundamental way. (This phasic concept is something articulated well in Star Trek: The Next Generation, but it’s not anything that I’m beholden to with regard to this theory).
Source: www.bnox.be
These neighboring universes may well be the product of probability (i.e. each time Schrödinger’s Cat is dead, it’s also alive in the universe right next door). If this is true, then these multiverse are also the product of choice – that is, when I turn left I also turn right and the two near twins split ways. As you continue down that rabbit-hole, all possible (and perhaps impossible?) worlds exist.
It’s also plausible that these neighboring universes are (perhaps also) a copy of our own, but at a different moment in time (this was the theory of that short-lived Terra Nova show, that stepping into the faraway past was not moving back in time in one's own universe, rather it was stepping into a parallel universe, which was existing at that long-ago moment).
Regardless of the makeup of all of these alternate realities, my theory is essentially that all of the matter and energy that makes up all of 'those universes' is perceived (though not seen or felt) as dark matter and dark energy in our own familiar world. The vast amounts of stuff in all the infinities of the multiverse outweighs the somewhat less vast (but not insignificant) amounts of the dark stuff in our universe.  It's 'dark' because our ability to perceive through the veil between universes is virtually non-existent.  The vastness of the amounts of it all gives us the glimpse we have. 
I account for this theory because it is an important part of my background noise.  My purpose in setting out today, though, was to investigate to what extent multiverse theory has become a part of most everyone's background radiation.

Not so long ago, any voicing of serious statements regarding an alternate reality was met with glances toward the wings (expecting madman collectors with those big sticks with hoops on the end to enter, naturally).  Of course still today, it's a scoffed at science, but the conversation can be entered speculatively.

More than any other response, I find that after a bit of mental drubbing - people eventually come to a point with regard to alternate realities where they say, essentially, "well, if they're inaccessible and can't be observed in any way, what difference does it make whether they're real or not?" 

I find this question both conclusive and inconceivable.  Scientifically, asking a question that may not be able to be answered (because it can't be tested, investigated, or observed) is an empty exercise.  Philosophically, cosmologically, theoretically, spiritually, psychologically, and in most other ways I think any interesting question is worth asking.  Particular when that question is central to the nature of our existence.

26 November 2017


This year, I've driven across more than 2/3rds of the continental United States, from from Glendo, Wyoming to Bonita Springs, Florida; across the great state of Iowa; and around the bottom third of Lake Michigan; a bit around parts of Nebraska, Texas, New York and New Jersey.

   Source: googleMaps w/ Paint!
It's been a strange and sad year for our country, and it's not over yet, but on our recent arrival home from SouthWest Florida, I think that I won't be forging any new roads these last five weeks, so I offer my driving retrospective on 2017.

I love to travel, but a road trip is a special form of tourism.  Driving to or through a place helps you see it in a new way.  Interacting with local drivers (FIBs, the Pittsburgh Left, Georgians who don't like to be passed and speed up each time you move to the left lane to overtake them but then slow down once you're back behind them again, LA Wazers...) provides insight into the local culture. (The only better way to get in tune with a locality is to take public transit - to get around and see how people really live).

Brooke said to me (after we had just driven 21 hours to Florida for Rex Grossman's "Make-a-Wish" trip to swim and play ball in the ocean) that she loves the magic of an airplane ride... waking up one morning with your feet in an ocean, and returning home to sleep in your cozy bed during a blizzard that night (or vice versa).  I agree with this, but even when I do fly somewhere, I like to rent a car and traverse the local streets (see my video from my driving tour of Haiti in 2013 here!).

It seems un-related, but as i drove across this vast and disparate country of ours this year, I was gratified and alarmed to be reminded that we are both the nation of President Trump and the nation of President Obama.  We are such a complicated amalgam of a citizenry, it's kind of amazing that we can function (and have functioned) so well as to accomplish as much as we have.  It's not to say that there aren't massive wrongs that need righting, and injustices and indecencies and indignities that we can and should solve for - there are.  But it's not a small thing that we have created from this nation of mass diversity a grand, awesome, and terrifying power.

In my travels this year, i crossed the Mason-Dixon line, which is not a border (borderlands are thin, desperate places - see Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub for some ideas about this), but is another cultural continental divide of sorts for us.  We once fought a Civil War over this divide, and i've heard it suggested that we are approaching a new kind of civil war in our country.  This one would not be fought along geographical or tribal lines, but a kind of neo-tribalism.  Artificial tribalism.  Managed and created tribalism.

But i didn't see that in my trips.  We are a disparate lot, and i encountered a lot of folks in my travels who were different from me - who were my Other.  But we were also united in common cause of friendliness and decency and civility.  It's not the people peppered across this land who are divided, it is the artificial divisions that are being thrust upon us by richer (not higher!) powers that are divisive.

(i expect there is more to come...)

18 September 2017

Counting Crows @ Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, Tinley Park, IL (9/17/2017)

I love the Counting Crows - unironically, without nostalgia, although somewhat lazily.  It's been many years since I last saw them live, and as much as I love them, I'd forgotten how fantastic the show is that they put on.  Meinetwegen

.5. "Lean on Me" - a verse and chorus, from offstage (or pre-recorded)
1. Round Here - drawn out and meandering. In the best possible way
2. Hard Candy
3. Dislocation
4. Colorblind - a bit of a strange tempo shift. Also weirdly pantomime-y
5. Omaha
6. Miami - weird out of place guitar solo
7. God of Ocean Tides
8. Goodnight L.A.
9. Long December 
10. Elvis Went to Hollywood
11. Mr. Jones
12. Hangin' Around (w/ Rob Thomas)

13. Palisades Park
14. Rain King

23 August 2017

The eclipse, Hegel, and the American Road

I logged 2400 miles of American roads, 14 hours of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, 3 full Brewers game broadcasts (all the enemy radio feed on XM), and 1 total eclipse as seen from Glendo State Park in Wyoming.

I woke up on Sunday morning and decided to forgo my Midwestern eclipse experience plans because the weather looked uncertain for optimal viewing.  En route to Deadwood, SD, I listened through the Preface (very familiar!), the Introduction and the early parts of A. Consciousness. 

My copy of Phenomenology was safely at home on my bookshelf, sitting right next to Susan Buck-Morss' excellent Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History (which I have read in its entirety!).  I bought a used copy (originally Elizabeth Trejack's it seems) at a book shop in Minnesota.  It was highlighted and underlined in a few very specific sections (it opens automatically to Lordship and Bondage), and otherwise appears largely untouched.

I first learned of the existence of a fellow called Hegel and his friend "Geist" on my first day of classes at the University of Chicago.  I read the greatest hits from Hegel's masterwork, and nodded knowingly when his influence on later theorists was discussed.  On arrival to UW-M, I heard less about Hegel (though there was quite a lot more mention of Foucault, who I only heard come up once at UChicago, and that was in a joke from a Zadie Smith reading about introducing someone at an academic party as "... she likes Michel Foucault and costume jewelry"), but dutifully put Phenomenology and Buck-Morss' book on my prelim reading list.

Naturally, like most good reading lists, I did not read most of most of the books on the list, but excel at the academic art of talking about books you have not read.  I have also not read that book, though I've held it in my hands, and skimmed through bits, and I know people who have read it.

During my long drives of the last several days, I've read through the first 513 paragraphs of Hegel's work, starting and stopping and occasionally paying more and less attention as one is wont to do when reading or listening or existing at all, I suppose.  I think this might be the best way to read Phenomenology, not as one's only or deep reading of the text, but as a way to have read through it all.  As I drove, I would make notes of paragraphs I wanted to return to (don't worry, the highways of South Dakota and Wyoming are sparsely populated, even when there's an eclipse on!).  When I was first reading Shakespeare (or first reading it in college, I can't remember which), someone (either Jerry Davis or Mary Hull Mohr) gave me the advice to "just keep going" when you're reading it and not sure you're absorbing.  It's reading as muscle memory, and the deep read of certain sections can come later (or earlier!). 

Hearing "of Lordship and Bondage" after reading through the entirety of Consciousness changes the focus of the passage.  It makes the easy reading of Hegel as writing the heroic history of Haiti less easy and fancy free.  I've come to trust Buck-Morss, and don't think her reading is at all off the mark.  That said, I think it is important to remain aware of our academic practice of the use of texts to suggest meaning and significance.

*.  *.  *

I first learned of the Great American Eclipse earlier this year, and almost in the same moment committed in my mind that I would be there to see it.  I took a few days vacation, but made few other plans, except to choose Beatrice, Nebraska as my viewing sight.  Tim & Jen & the kids live in Omaha, and actually lived in Beatrice shortly after they got married.  When the day got close, weather across the Midwest started looking dicey, and I headed west.

A total eclipse is an awe-inspiring sight, truly an opportunity to see the most awesome, magnificent vision available on earth.  An eclipse is also a random conflation of events - a new moon that aligns with the earth and sun; a sun for a planet that is about 400 times larger than the planet's moon, which is about 400 times closer than that same sun (so they take up about the same amount of sky space).  Also, we also happen to be in the small window of time, cosmically speaking, that allows this confluence.

I've been struggling to describe what I saw, or what the experience was like, or why it was worth the trip.  Finding significance in the random confluence of hunks of rock hurtling through the galaxy is what we do as humans.  Making meaning from bringing texts, histories, moments - that's what humanists do.  We live in a strange confluence of psychology, philosophy, astronomy, physics, history, sociology, geology, chronology and on and ology.

My thoughts of late have been turning back toward the super-modern, and the importance of the small.  I'm still working at making meaning from the experience of the eclipse, and from reading Hegel on the way to and from seeing the eclipse, and the observations and thoughts I had about Americans and Trump and Mt. Rushmore and history on the way to and from seeing the eclipse.  I expect that I will continue to try to build this meaning for quite some time.

What I learned or have built or have decided for now is that my phenomenology of totality has provided me some perspective on our present American experiment.  We are a strange and strained people, but I still think this is all just crazy enough to work.