27 August 2008

moderate 3rd quarter growth...

this is a picture of your doom...According to Reuters, today, scientists will soon begin an experiment to re-create a mini Big Bang in a large underground facility.
Does anybody else think this might be a bad idea? Even if it's a "miniature Big Bang" (let's clean that up a bit, shall we?), a "Moderate Bang", we'll have an entirely new universe in some basement in Geneva, Switzerland. What these so-called scientists seem to have forgotten is the primary lesson we learned from the big bang, that universes created in such a way EXPAND.

So, when the world is being squeezed out of existence (or at least life as we know it is being shoved off the surface of the earth {hey, my wish comes true}) don't say i didn't warn you...

on this date in history...

i was feeling crowded, yet empty.

25 August 2008

Happy Happy, Joy Joy

My most recent favorite blogger, jd, wrote today about the Psychology of Happiness and asks some interesting questions about the relationship between money and happiness (as well as suggesting, in the blog's self-help-ian way, 13 Steps to being happier).

His excellent post gets me thinking about my own, academic take on happiness, and in particular about whether happiness is necessarily a good thing, or a desired outcome. The answer to this seems obvious at first glance...yes. Justin Wolfers wrote recently on the Freakonomics blog about how Happiness Inequality is on the decline, while 'overall happiness' remains unchanged since the 70s & 80s, despite rampant economic growth. While i am loathe to buy into much of what such social science studies give us, the "hm, that's interesting value" is worth the read.

I also don't entirely believe the conclusions that jd, like so many others, reach that money can't buy happiness & meaningful relationships is the end-all be-all of getting happy (this is not to say that i DON'T believe those things, just that i don't take them for granted simply because it's what we've been told). I'm curious where the 'common knowledge' of money can't buy happiness comes from (and how much the person who first said it had in the bank at the time).

I certainly don't intend in this post to suggest how to get happy. Others have given plenty of advice on how to be more fulfilled or get less depressed after a huge disappointment (i highly recommend Rebecca Traister's article from just after the 2004 presidential election on the subject).

Instead, i'm most interested in whether getting happy should be a goal. Wikipedia says (for now, at least) that Happiness is "an emotion associated with feelings ranging from contentment and satisfaction to bliss and intense joy", which is well and good, but it seems to me that 'contentment' and 'satisfaction' imply inactive states. Being content or satisfied with the state of things means you likely don't want them to change, which to me seems to be the opposite of how we should hope to feel. Of course, working to enact change begs the question, "which way should we head?" or "what is the right direction for progress?", but let's set that aside for the time being.

What really interests me is the assumption, not that happiness is a good thing, it probably is, but that it should be a main goal. There's even a test you can take to find out how happy you are (followed by a course in happiness building), but it seems to me that to score happy on that particular test doesn't demonstrate happiness, rather stupidity (which are often lumped together).

"Ignorance is bliss" is the conventional wisdom that we all want to push back against... Nay, say we, we'd be happier knowing what we have or what we're striving for... Countless examples construct this argument that we don't need to be simple and innocent to be happy (most recently, in my re-watching the original Star Trek series i came to the episode where they encounter Apollo, "Who Mourns for Adonais?", a classic episode where the crew is captured by a powerful being who'd been to earth 5000 years ago and had waited for them to begin exploring space so they could live in Olympus with him, worshipping him and herding goats. Needless to say, Kirk is against the idea, fights back, and eventually wins their continued freedom.)

The real question, for me, is how do we define happiness?

Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a phenomenal and accessible book about it called Dancing in the Streets, but instead of individual happiness, her book explores collective joy. Happiness as defined as a collective feeling is something rarely, if ever, explored in modern definitions. 'How can I be happier' is what we want to know. At most, the question of 'how can we be happier' is answered in terms of a very small unit, a couple or a family, thus isolating us from our community/society/civilization by defining happiness as an individual endeavor.

So much of our current efforts focus on improving your own, personal happiness (take a stroll through any bookstore's self-help or personal finance section, or take a read through jd's site, which really is quite good), thoughts of communal or societal happiness is almost alien to us. Sure, we have collective feel-good times (look at last nights speeches by Teddy Kennedy & Michelle Obama) where we imagine ourselves to be working toward a 'common good', but politics hasn't been about a true common good for a long time, maybe it never was. Instead, talking heads on CNN & PBS talk about how the candidate (and those speaking on his behalf) needs to demonstrate to voters how electing them will improve their lives (meaning individual lives).

If everybody's happy & content with what they have, as jd (and others) suggest is a real goal, then we have no motivation for change or impetus for collective action. And so i would suggest, dear reader, that Bobby McFerrin had it half right...

Don't Worry, and Don't Be Happy...

23 August 2008

... you think that was something

Okay, so nobody was terribly excited by my HUGE scoop last week...

Well, Roman Numeral J has another one... Something big is brewing this week, for Obama's campaign. My source was unwilling to spill too much, but i have a feeling it's going to be HUGE. Somewhere out west, a big little city, my hunch tells me Denver... Stay tuned.


in other news, i spent Saturday playing tourist in my own town yesterday. Seeing the Milwaukee River Walk, including Milwaukee's newest tourist attraction... the Fonz!

It's really short. I think it's actually life-sized (Henry Winkler was evidently a little guy). The whole cast of Happy Days was on hand last Tuesday to unveil the statue.

It's a bit overly smily & the teal pants are, well teal. But now, finally, milwaukee will be a major tourist draw... As much as i hate the term "Stay-cation" (i throw up a little in my mouth each time i hear it), i think exploring your own environs as an outsider (buy a map, tool around the streets, look up at the buildings, drink in the early afternoon, and hit up those museums you always drive by the signs for... wear shorts & tennis shoes!)

19 August 2008

Post-Poli Poli-post

Roman Numeral J has learned some MAJOR BREAKING NEWS regarding the presidential campaign...

But first, i'd like to voice my own response to the 'Rick Warren' charade. At first i was taken aback late Sunday night as i watched the forum re-air on CNN. I understood why the candidates felt the need to appear with Rick Warren (though i shouldn't be able to understand it), and Rick Warren's interview was, for the most part, laughable (as pointed out succinctly by David Waters). And so i watched in a stupor of disbelief as Obama continued to treat Warren's questions seriously and McCain provided applause-fodder. But the substance of the interviews isn't necessarily what interests me...

It occurs to me that, despite whatever personal distaste i have for the fact that candidates need to (or believe they need to) pander to people who literally believe that an omnipotent being genuinely cares and interacts with them on a daily basis, i think i am actually in support of what Rick Warren has done here.

Think about it, before the CPD hijacked the debate procedure and allowed campaigns to eliminate any debate from debates we had a somewhat fairer presidential debate system. While i am entirely in support of Open Debates' project, i think something even more democratic is called for, something not entirely like what McCain proposed early on in the campaign, a series of small, collective events where the candidates discuss issues together in a variety of formats (not just the townhall meeting).

If both Obama & McCain truly want to re-invent the political climate, they need to start by re-inventing the Election Game. This isn't a new idea to me, in fact David Brooks points to McCain's realization that he can't play the game the way he had wanted to, but i think he can, if he can convince Obama to agree to the same thing... which is why i'd like to announce:

The First Quadrennial Roman Numeral J Presidential Debate

Friday, October 3rd at 6pm
in my back yard.

All presidential candidates polling at 3% in or higher in mid-September are welcome to participate. Press passes will be distributed when schedules are confirmed. This forum will represent an opportunity for candidates to demonstrate a desire to be post-politicians and refuse to be forced into running the exact same campaign that's been run by every other major party candidate for the last 30 years.

And, finally, the news you've all been waiting for... Finally, i can stand up to Big Blog with the scoopiest of scoops. I have it on good authority who Barak Obama will name as his vice presidential running mate. His VP pick, to be announced Saturday (we'll see if he sticks to that timetable) is Joe Biden. You heard it here first. My source, understandably, wants to remain anonymous, but s/he's trustworthy. So, go print it...

14 August 2008

Tell you What... TellUride

South Milwaukee has a "new" bar... Finally a bar, for south milwaukee.

But seriously, Telluride, at 2155 S. Kinnickinnic is a great new find on the south side... For a neighborhood where you can find a small-time, local watering hole at every... well everywhere... Telluride provides an (evidently) eco-friendly, inviting experience. Modeled after a Coloradian resort bar (though any theme-i-ness is very understated) the bar has been in operation a couple of months according to co-owner Luke Grant, who was tending bar.

I am hugely in awe of anyone who starts a business, particularly one so close to my heart, and my liver. At first sight, the bar was clean & somewhat spartan in its decorating... and sparse in its patronage, though it was a Thursday afternoon... it was also southSide Milwaukee.

But they had good beers on tap (including Pilsner Urquell & some Colorado beers like Flying Dog Pale Ale) & poured some decent cocktails (no Rehorst on hand, despite the fact they're moving into the neighborhood). But the real highlight of this place was the outdoor seating/gaming area. They've got a great patio, some attractive landscaping & fencing & LADDERBALL!

In fact, you can choose from two types of ladder-ball, traditional (though with golf-balls) or 'football themed, with yellow goal-post style targets & overly bouncy football Bolas. They've also got two different types of Bags targets... Maybe I should introduce them to hippie horseshoes as well...

The other two great features of Telluride are that it's smoke-free (without needing a city ordinance to tell them to) & you can bring your dog & hang out in the patio... Finally Rex Grossman won't have to sneak drinks while we're at work...

Located at the north tip of Bayview on Kinnickinnic, Telluride also has the added bonus of getting a lot of drive by traffic each day. In fact, that's the only reason we ended up checking it out, was because we'd seen the outside seating area when i drove by for work each day.

On a side-note, this looks to be the first in a series of Milwaukee Southside entries coming up soon, as another new joint is opening right near us TONIGHT! (The Sahara Cafe) & i've heard a recent rumor that Rehorst is going to start selling Bourbon (as soon as sits long enough in the barrels)

12 August 2008


Last Wednesday afternoon i attended my first ever Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Having recently developed a keen hatred for the Cubs & Cubs fans (where before there was a deep, abulic indifference), i thought the event might be uncomfortable, awkward, or even dangerous (though, less so once i decided not to wear my shiny new Prince Fielder t-shirt).

They were playing the Houston Astros, in a rubber game on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon. We got to the stadium just before first pitch & grabbed snacks & beers on the way to our seats. I'd heard the food at Wrigley was simply abysmal and the "brat" i was served definitely backed that up. On the upside, they had Old Style available at about half of the concession stands.

We got to our seats, which were the cheapest we'd found on stubHub & were impressed to find we were very close to the field along the left field line (near the foul pole). Alfonso Soriano (literally "big jerk") was close by when the Cubs were in the field and he joked back & forth with the Bleacher Bums (at one point after Fonzo had misplayed a fly ball, they pointed to Right Fielder Fukudome's snazzy catch as an example of something he might try).

Our seat-neighbors were cordial for the most part, decidedly un-Chicagoan. Then the 3rd inning started. The Astros took a 4-1 lead, scoring the last 3 on a home run by Carlos Lee (el Caballo, literally "Carlos Lee"). Actually you can find the entire game, obsessively blogged by some guy listening to the radio broadcast. Down 4-1 the fans starting turning. They became the cynical, slightly jerky (but still harmless) Cub fans i've come to know...

At that point, Nathan & i decided to get out of the sun, stretch our legs, and see the stadium sites. We wandered back around the stadium and walked through some better infield sections. It's amazing how close to the action you feel at any of the lower deck sections at Wrigley. It's also astounding to think how long people have been walking these same sections - Wrigley is a really old (at least relatively) feeling place to see a sporting event (i suppose the Colosseum in Rome might put this into perspective, but still).

As we were headed back we were accosted by a guy trying to get us to sign up for credit cards (or checking accounts) in order to get a free t-shirt. Nathan quizzed the guy about damaging his credit score by running a credit check, but the guy assured us that as long as you don't do it all the time you had nothing to worry about... We (surprisingly) declined the offer, but as we were finishing up a conversation with him the Cubs hit a grand slam.

We continued back toward our seats, but it suddenly came to us that the reason our food might have sucked was due to the wrong type of food... In Milwaukee, you order a brat at the game, in Chicago, a Chicago style dog. We grabbed dogs & more beer (loading up with hot peppers & a frighteningly green relish) and headed back to our seats. While we were in our respective lines, the Cubs scored 4 more runs for an 8-run bottom of the 3rd. We got back in time to watch Theriot ground out to end the inning.

The fans in our section were in high spirits by the time we came back.

"Did we miss anything?" we asked.

"Nooo. Nothing, you didn't miss anything. Though, if the Astros start scoring again, you're going to have to leave again," They replied.

In fact, somehow, the fans, not just the game, were extremely enjoyable. At the end of the game, winning soundly, fans were in good spirits. DoucheBag Cubs fans & Drunk Bleacher Girls were cultivating meaningful relationships in the last couple of innings... Singing "Take Me Out To the Ballgame" at Wrigley was something special, even if it was Ron Santo singing... Then they sing some "go cubs go" song when they win...

Overall, i was actually somewhat disappointed by how accommodating & not-overly-douchey the Cubs fans were... And while everyone was laughinghavingagoodtime and singing their songs, i actually saw what might drive someone to being a Cubs fan. There's a good-timie-ness to it that is almost unavoidable. By the end of the game, i was even cheering for the Cubs and i'm a fucking Brewers fan.

I mean, i still hate the Cubs & hate Cubs fans when they come to Milwaukee, for sure, but Wrigley... actually kinda cool.
thanks, gilk, for getting me to wrigley, finally.

08 August 2008

The hottest, newest, internetiest sites

Welcome to the internet¹, or my most recent exploration of it (and by exploration, i mean when people email me to tell me to go to specific websites & provide links & i'm terribly bored so i click on them).

Over the past few weeks, Roman Numeral J has added some 'features' to the right side links, which you should explore & i thought i'd draw some specific attention to a few of them:

First off, the exquisite Jackie Willey has fanangled her way to Japan, the country. She is teaching through the JET program and is chronicling the entire experience at Jackie Hits the Road.

My brother, tim, also recently came onto the blogging scene with his occasional blog A Dad's Reflections.

In addition to the new blogger friends i've added a few "Frequented Sites":

First off, miron's friend 'jd' is a real blogger, who, like, writes blog entries at Get Rich Slowly about getting rich over a slightly long period of time... JD's a good writer & a fine blogger (you may remember jd from such fame as giving me an earlier start at his erstwhile comics blog, which i should have written harder at...)

JD pointed me to (via his wildly successful blog) a site called fuelly (which isn't permanently linked on my site), with which you can track your mpg & see similar (or other) cars' mpg real ratings. The catalog of cars is still small, but growing, and it's an easy way to have someone else do the figuring for you...

Fuelly is similar to my summer favorite, golflink.com, with which you can enter all of your rounds of golf and eventually figure out your handicap automatically.

Perhaps the most exciting new addition to Roman Numeral J, (not necessarily due to content, but more because of the source) is famouslocations.com, which is a website cataloging where movies were filmed... I'm not entirely convinced, but it marks Roman Numeral J's first official "reciprocal link"... not that i don't have previous reciprocal links (w/ Toads in the Hole, rssl, & Sara & Josh), but here is the first instance of a complete stranger requesting a reciprocal link with me...
Though, actually, i haven't found my site linked to from their website yet, so maybe i'll tell you not to go there tomorrow...

I've also added the 'got a brilliant idea' link, which has been here for a while... The idea is the sharing of brilliant ideas that you don't/can't implement yourself. All proceeds (see note) will be funneled into the franchise commune.
And finally, the ArFives, which is also a link that's been on the side for a while, but i'd like to draw some attention to... as it's a trace of, sadly literally, what i've been up to lately.

1. Lundeberg, Shane. Facebook. (comment on wall of Brooke Sahlstrom). 2008.

03 August 2008

A Comparative Review of The Midnight Meat Train and Charlotte's Web

I'm guessing this will be the only one.

Yesterday i had one of those rare days where i watch two movies in one day. While i love these days, i don't often get the opportunity to have them as it blocks off a significant portion of waking hours. I also find that the two movies become, in some way, permanently conjoined in my mind and as a recovering English major, i find myself trying to find connections, comparing themes, finding a mutual story in two separate films.

So it was, when i found myself watching the newer take on Charlotte's Web, i was looking back at Ryuhei Kitamura's latest offering, The Midnight Meat Train. I've never seen any of Kitamura's work (though my office mate Allan has suggested him to me on numerous occasions) and had very few expectations going in. Similarly, i somehow missed a fundamental portion of my childhood and have never, to my memory, read or seen Charlotte's Web. I knew it had to do with a spider & a pig (just as i knew Kitamura's film would have to do with a train and a butt-ton of blood)

At first glance these two films probably don't seem to have a lot to do with one another, but that's probably just because not a lot of people see both in close proximity (or see them both, period) to one another. Both films are clearly pro-vegetarian, and present the case thoughtfully and, more interestingly, visually. Shots of sizzling meat are presented as subtle reminders and foreshadowing in both films, but both films resist using the images simplistically. In Charlotte's Web, the family eats a hearty farm breakfast of bacon & eggs each morning, all the while marvelling at the "terrific & radiant" pig across the street. Decreasingly vegetarian photographer Leon Kauffmann (Alias' Bradley Cooper) assumes the 'non-judgemental vegetarian' role, bringing his own tofu to his local diner in Meat Train and having it cooked for him on the same grill as the steaks & burgers being cooked for other patrons. The films present a two-pronged attack on
cannibalismcarnivorism, with Meat Train making a case based on sanitation in the meat-production industry, while Charlotte gives us the cute-fuzzy (& intelligent)-pig argument.

In both films the place of meat production is a horrific focal point for characters to discover/avoid. The smoke house is for Wilbur & Charlotte, a constant reminder of what's at stake, though we never see the inside of it, we know we don't want to. Kitamura brings us into the butcher house where visual echoes of the hanging corpses of Kauffmann's imagination/memory hang in the form of cow carcasses. The place is clearly one of danger, but also profit. Kauffmann photographs his surroundings and lands himself a high-profile art show thanks to one shot in particular, which captures serial killer Mahogany (Vinnie Jones) at work, but turning to catch Kauffmann in the act of snapping the photo.

What is most interesting in The Midnight Meat Train, i think, is the way the film explores the photograph and the camera while following the trail of a fairly familiar (until the last 6 minutes, that is) psycho-thriller. Kitamura is clearly interested in framing (see movie poster) and we often get murder scenes reminiscent of almost anime-styled violence. Roland Barthes' notion of 'posing' for a photograph also gets complicated when characters realize they share a frame with the murderous Mahogany. They pause/pose in front of the murderer, who pauses in kind (presumably to heighten suspense), but both are also 'posing' for the film's camera, as if for a single frame of a comic.

Barthes' idea of 'posing' complicates the documentary or evidentiary idea of the photograph. The poser's awareness of being in a photograph creates a doubling of meaning in the photograph, the actuality of the 'what-has-been' alongside the altering of the moment with the presence of the camera. What has changed because of the presence of the camera? Kauffmann seems to save model Erika Sakaki (Nora) by photographing and pointing out the surveillance camera to would-be assailants, but when she catches her train because of his intervention, we are no longer so sure. Mahogany is clearly an evil psychopath. That's at least clear until we experience the Lovecraftian (or Clive Barkian, if you prefer) final 6 minutes of the film. A shift in perspective makes us question not just who's good & who's evil, but who are we to judge.

Similarly, Charlotte's Web is also a film all about perspective. One the surface, of course, it's about rethinking preconceptions. Charlotte is a spider, and therefore ugly & evil...but she makes such beautiful, prescient webs. Wilbur is a pig, and therefore lesser & tasty, but his ability to bring the barn's occupants together truly makes him "some pig". On closer examination, though, the story is also about the perspective of what is sad (what is tragedy) and what is not. Charlotte dies, at least in part, because she saves Wilbur. But her offspring live. While Wilbur lives a long life, surely it's not as long a life as Dakota Fanning will live, but this, too, can't be read as a tragedy at the end of the story, both because we don't see it in the narrative arc and because Wilbur lives a long life from the perspective of a pig (just as Charlotte likely has from the perspective of a spider).

But this perspective can again be turned on its head by thinking about the one-at-a-timin' principle of heroes. We are led to believe that Wilbur is special, and that Charlotte is special, and that even Templeton is special, but do we extend this to all of their kind? Is the long-life-d-ness of these creatures only a 'good thing' for them, or does the fact that all this effort is expended to rescue 'just one pig' a waste, because, while we don't see it, there's still surely bacon on the family's table across the street. And as to Charlotte, ask a geriatric fly how he feels about the continued existence of every spider. The questions that both Charlotte's Web and The Midnight Meat Train are asking are ones about whether surviving, on an individual basis, is really the ultimate goal. Some pigs have to die, in order to have enough food for all the humans, right? Or, if not, wouldn't all the surviving pigs constitute an undue strain on human food supplies... And what makes us assume that we are the ultimate end of the decision-making. Clive Barker has a possible answer, but i'm not sure you're going to like it...