29 December 2010

A Renewal of Vows

It's been nearly five months since my last published entry.  Since that time I've become a "dissertator", seen a few of my best friends in the world who I'd lost track of, come to understand the nature of the universe, and  adjusted my Netflix membership plan.

As such, I feel a renewed responsibility to account for the world around us (that's right, I can explain it to you... just keep reading).  So it is, I will re-purpose Roman Numeral J as an outlet for not only (though still) an anachronistic chronology of my own life, but also a regular, reliable commentary on the culture and society which impacts said chronology.  Therefore, it is my intention to write substantive, complex, confusing, and constructive criticism and commentary on any (random) collections of cultural artifacts.

My goal, then, is to write on a variety of topics (unfinished entries over the last five months include "Did The Secret cause the Recession?" and "Bitter Salt" {an article about Angelina Jolie's summer blockbuster}.  I'll do this at least once a week for as long as this blog continues.  Which means, the purpose and regularity of this blog will be changing.  I'm never quite sure what it will be about, but it will now be about something (again?).

I think what is most compelling me to this change is something I've noticed during my last year and a half of academic work, namely the idea of the proprietarianship of academic ideas.  At my preliminary exam defense, it was suggested to me that I'd naively misunderstood the thinking of an intellectual hero of mine.  I disagreed, but more so, I was offended by the proprietary way a thinker was being talked about.  Furthermore, in discussing various projects I've been working on over the last couple years I've been told alternately that what I was doing had already been done (or was being done) or that someone else wished they'd done what I was planning to do... it gets me to questioning what the point of all this work is exactly.  So, Roman Numeral J will serve, henceforth as a sort of open source theory.  I welcome all contributors, comments, dialogue.  Let's get to work.

14 October 2010

you asked for it...

you, specifically you, Dave Wake...

and you got it.  Roman Numeral J is back, for better or for worse.  It will aim to be a regular, stumbling, but vital contribution to the blrld at large... That's right, the blrld (blogosphere/world) - And so i begin with friendship...

(This is not us) - Source: Flikr
Friendship is such an easy idea to capture I figure I may as well spell it all out for us here.  Modern life deters us from formulating new relationships, new friendships. 

I've never been, and am not, as a rule, good at friendship.  It's not that I don't value it, I do (above almost all else), it's that I tend to assume it, and then inherently believe in it, and then that's it.  In the status-oriented world that we live in (the Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter-verse), we all expect to be touched.  In fact, as the consumer beings that we are thought of (homo decoro?), marketing theory tells itself that 3 to 7 touches are necessary to make an impression.

*  *  *

This post was almost entirely fully finished (or at least formed) on the original writing, but returning to close up the draft in October 2017, it feels continually, significantly true.  I love this picture - it's something I found somewhere on the internet (evidently on a Flickr account).  It's nobody I know, but recalls a time that Dave, Nate and I went to a costume party in Copenhagen as a pirate, cowboy, and Zorro (in particular reverse order).  That night ended wonderingly,,, and was a great night in connecting.

06 August 2010

The Other Guys might be the second most interesting Will Ferrell movie EVER!

I went to a showing of The Other Guys today, which I was actually quite looking forward to. I'm generally in favor of Will Ferrell and Mark Walberg is hilarious. I liked the premise and was hoping (though not expecting) something in the neighborhood of Hot Fuzz. What I found, though, which was entirely unexpected was a coyly intelligent critique both of corporate criminals and of Hollywood (or American mass media more generally) selling us a very specific propaganda which often goes unremarked.

Source: rottentomatoes.com
As the closing credits roll, The Other Guys serves up a bevy of Michael-Moore-y statistics about the recent history of corporate excesses.  This was an embarrassment of under-estimating an audience, but the rest of the film provides a smart critique of bureaucracy, machismo and Hollywood cultural imagining.  This happens blatantly in the "real live" reactions to explosions and (hilariously) in Mark Walberg's ballet expertise, which he mastered to make fun of a neighborhood kid who'd been taking ballet ("You learned ballet, ironically?")  The strongest critique, though, is the parallel to The Untouchables and the history of Al Capone.  For all the big-action excitement, first in the opening sequence with the Rock and Sam Jackson, and later in Mark Walberg's incessant desire for "some action" or constant suspicion of drugs being involved...in everything.

 The real quality of a movie like The Other Guys, or any good comedy, really, is in its realism.  The best jokes are funny because they state real, important truths.  The best comedy is good because it says things that need saying.  This movie is not just good because it satirizes action films, nor because it rightfully critiques corporate criminals.  The movie questions our very enjoyment of the films it pokes fun of not because it thinks they are bad products (they are and they aren't, but that is irrelevant).  Rather, it is the complex relationship that any major motion picture has to the underlying rampant capitalism that is being critiqued that makes this movie worth another look, a closer look.

31 July 2010

No Thing Theory

This morning I abandoned my bike next to a gas station.  I also threw the old sheet i've been sleeping on the last week down a garbage chute.  I'm planning to leave a dying pair of sandals and the toaster I bought when i got here too.  Temporary status is an odd experience... one that I quite like, but i'm not sure i fully understand yet.  To live in a situation which is definitely fleeting is, in some ways, a contradiction.  It doesn't seem like it should be, i mean, we all do things temporarily - take a vacation, go to school, rent an apartmant, i mean even your whole life, right, is a temporary arrangement.  Depending on your persuasion, it might brief layover, one of a sequence of repeating scenes, or the whole shebang, but it's temporal limitations are unavoidable (at least so far).

But to be stably fleeting in this already fleeting existence has been an odd experience over the last several weeks. I've always been a person who likes things - ephemera - objects, but since arriving in Miami none of my stuff (except my books, always always my books) matters much because it's 'miami stuff'. Stuff I will leave behind, or even if i don't, it's stuff I could leave behind.

I'm not sure what this adds up to necessarily, but it seems to me there's some sum worth discovering. Of course there's the cringe-worthy cliché about not letting your things own you or caring more about the people around you than the things around you, but ideas like these are clichés precisely because they are so wildly uninteresting. I'm also not the first to come to this less-than-brilliant conclusion. In the introduction of his recent bookThe Art of Life, Zygmunt Bauman discusses the same phenomenon as it relates to living arrangement and happiness. I've not read it all yet, but his thinking about the state of happiness seems somewhat in line with my own.

I've lost all track of what originally inspired this post, but i know it's something that means a lot to me.  And i'm sure it's terribly important.

26 July 2010

Bitter Salt

I love summer tent pole movies as much as anyone.  I enjoy it when I'm blown away by one (say, Dark Knight), pleasantly surprised by them (Iron Man), or even when I just get what I expect out of it

*   *   * 

December 2017
Gosh, i do vaguely recall this summer that i spent in Miami while studying at FIU.  I saw a lot of movies.  Salt which i honestly recall not at all except that i think it was a movie that Angelina Jolie was in...

I remember telling my Haitian Creole class the following day during some Q&A exercises that i had gone to see Salt, and everyone thought it was pretty funny, because it was presumed i'd just gone to see Angelina Jolie in the movie... I think i went to see the random action flick because i'd seen pretty much all the movies that summer living alone in West Miami.

Also, i presume Salt was going to be the movie that i got what i expected out of it... If not, this was poised to be a much more complicated post than i originally thought.

10 June 2010

On this date in history...

it seems I was feeling it might be all over.  maybe I was right.

12 May 2010


The stress is on the "Pursuit" in Pursuit of Happiness...

Zombie Narratives as Cultural Reset Buttons

*  *  *

May 2018
In the interest of publishing the stagnating drafts and have full release (in the non massaganistic sense) of the blog, i present two headlines... Perhaps they were both meant to be posts in and of themselves one day (they certainly have the resonance for it).

They're both ideas that i've worked out a bit, but not that i've written out fully in any way.  Happiness is not guaranteed in America in the same way that Life and Liberty are.  And Zombies help us think about the future and what we might do differently.

14 April 2010

The Bird Contract

Odd Side-Note: This post was actually written (but evidently not published) in April 2010, but when I went to post it it changed to yesterday's date.  Not sure why this is as typically when I've done this, it posts on the date the post was originally written.  Just an FYI if blogger has changed something and there start appearing oddly timed posts... [Solution Solved!]

Yesterday as i was walking from my parking spot to campus, i watched two male cardinals having a mid-air fight. They were frolicking, swooping, diving - seemed to be having an all-round good spring time together (or at least as much fun as I assume any wild animals have on a given day in an urban environment).

Then, as I watched, the one cardinal (who I've come to think of as 'evil cardinal') chased the other (innocent cardinal) toward the road and he was summarily hit by the windshield of a Toyota Camry.  The erstwhile bird came to rest not 10 feet in front of me.  A few of you may recall that this is not even my first run in with a bird dying at my feet.  Needless to say i was taken aback and the rest of the day had a heavy quality to it, but nothing else really took place, but I am on notice.  One bird tragedy is nothing to get worked up about and a second may just be a coincidence, but were i to find myself present at a third bird massacre I would feel compelled to take action.

10 March 2010

ri bondye

I'm reading Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo (1972) and came across an interesting point. "Nowhere," he says, "is there an account or picture of Christ laughing" (97). This struck me as essentially true - nowhere in my recollections or 10 minutes of google-image searching is there a (canonic) picture of Jesus laughing, giggling, or even much of a smirk.

Of course 'Jesus is love', right, and I assume love is happiness, joy, happiness, laughter, 'good-ness in general', right?

*   *   *

May 2018
In returning to this post so much later, I am immediately reminded of Buddy Christ (which i've added in hindsight - it occurs to me that many of my drafts that i finish retroactively remain colorless and uninteresting, because they almost never have pictures!).

I think this post was going to be a diatribe on religion, or an early public embracing of atheism or perhaps an early exploration of the relative joys of the Vodou pantheon and the disparate personalities you find in the loa as compared to the relative hemogeny of the holy trinity.

Although my personal belief system has only solidified more since starting this post, i am more and more often flummoxed by public atheists' open hostility to religion writ large.  I very much understand the social, historical, anthropological, cultural, psychological and even physical (not to mention psychical) reasons that people take part in religion.  The desire or push by non-believers to try to dissuade those who believe is in some ways reciprocity (anti-evangelical), but i don't see it as supporting the goal of atheism - which i generally think to be truth-seeking.

Part of joining (most religions) requires expressions (publicly or privately) of faith.  That being said, part of the joy of taking part in religious events, services, etc. is the very simple act of joining.  Years before i even started this post, i read Barbara Ehrenreich's excellent Dancing In The Streets, which traces the history of collective joy from medieval dance manias to modern rock shows or live sports events.  America especially, but modern western life in general, too, has gotten bad at being together (see Bowling Alone and even EPIC 2014 to understand this more fully).

Much of joining (only less than youth-ful indoctrination) is that the world as-is, is a pretty frakking depressing place to be.  Religion can help that.  I enjoy attending religious ceremonies mostly for the anthropological ambiance.  It's fascinating to see how people (your own people included) worship, and how far afield it feels from my life, but how lovely it is that it seems close to the lives of others.

17 February 2010

did The Secret cause the Recession?


*  *  * 

January 2018

The title of this post was one of my proudest moments writing this blog.  I remember when i came up with the premise, and it's the reason that i continue to punch keys on this little corner of inter-obsolescence. 

It's a tweet, before there was twitter.  (was there Twitter in 2010?  anyway, i didn't know about it if there was).  A forum to posit incomplete thoughts and premises, and pass them off as modern wisdom. 

This thought was the underlying absurdity of American Capitalism and our (sadly not unique) taste for mumbo jumbo. 

The Secret was a dumb book that was massively popular for a time, particularly when i was a Barnes & Noble bookseller.  The premise was essentially that if you believed in the Secret, you could use its powers to magically make whatever you want to have happen happen.  This is called manifesting.  It's dumb, but kinda fun to think about.

The Secret at its core is a concept about selfishness.  We like to pretend (in magic, but also in capitalism) that we can win, but that there is no one losing on the other end of our win.  Capitalism (again, like magic!), is very good at making things invisible.  In particular the lines that connect things.  You win in capitalism when you find a cheap cool sweater (or a $1 hamburger), and it's easy to pretend that the worker who made that sweater or our entire ecological system aren't losing in that deal.

American capitalism - American oligarchs - are at their core about that same selfishness.  Oligarchs pretend they have magically manifested something that no one else could have, and they are therefore owed what they have taken.  In reality, the world is more McLuhanistic (or Benjaministic?), and most things that are would have been eventually anyway... probably, but in a new way.

10 February 2010


When did everybody start saying "—right?" as a response to everything?

Has anyone else noticed this? There came a time (i think) when everyone decided that "right" was the appropriate response to just about anything.

I'm not sure exactly what it is, but suddenly everyone can say "right" after anyone says anything... and it's not just saying "right" it's asking, sort of, "right.

Anyone else noticed this? I thought it'd started just with a couple I'd met (Val & Sean - seriously, where did you get this), but now suddenly i found everyone saying "right?" after most everything i'd said...

Is this new, or just new to me?

17 January 2010

"Building a New Country"

*Note: Obviously, first and foremost, when talking about Haiti today, we need to think first about what we can do to help. Please go to www.clintonbushhaitifund.org or the American Red Cross to help...

In an interview this morning on Meet the Press, Bill Clinton (alongside W.) stated that what our project (or perhaps 'their project') in Haiti really is, is not so much "rebuilding their nation" after this most recent disaster, but more about "building a new nation". This distinction gets washed out in parsing out the term 'nation-building'. Given Haiti's unique history, from its founding, its early isolation, the crippling "debt" it incurred for revolting against French Slavery the idea of the United States imposing on Haiti any kind of political plan for moving forward is at best problematic. I'm not sure Haiti can fit into traditional models of 'development', 'democratizing', or 'nation-building' and attempts to apply cookie-cutter methods have resulted in (and will continue to result in) an undermining (an erosion, I suppose) of what is essentially Haitian.

It seems what's troubling, perhaps moreso in Haiti than elsewhere, is the familiar post-colonial critique of developing determinism, that is, the idea of a developed nation helping a less developed nation become more like the developed nation. With critiques of Haiti's very culture (from both the certifiably insane & purportedly credible) coming swiftly on the heels of unimaginable devastation,

During the interview, Bush was smiling way too much. And he used the word "Scheister"... He said that the advice that he'd pass on to the Obama is to not be discouraged by the fact that you can't always get aid moving quickly.

Meet the Press' historical setup of the U.S.' relationship with Haiti started in 1934, at the end of the U.S. occupation. It then goes on to 1994 when Clinton sent troops in to Haiti to re-instate Jean Bertrand-Aristide to power, skipping over 60 years of intentional ignorance - most of which involved the Pop & Jr. Duvalier regimes, which the US allowed to exist because it generally allowed us to institute our contemporary agricultural bill, which created favorable tariffs (for us, not them, natch) and convinced Haiti that its future was in 1) tourism 2) sugar cane (i.e. rum) 3) coffee or cotton or some crop that the US doesn't want to grow and sell you and heavily inflated prices (i.e. rice).

06 January 2010

Untold Richness: A Knee-Jerk Review of Alan Lomax in Haiti

Even on picking up this 10-disc, 2-book boxed set of the music of Haiti recorded in 1936-7 by folklorist Alan Lomax you are impressed by its weight (both literally and figuratively). The front cover sports the statement "Recordings for the Library of Congress". On the back, a sticker on the shrink wrap is the promise of the box' contents, books, music discs, a map with Lomax' original travel notes, and film footage of their visit.

But as with all good boxed sets, it is in the actual opening and exploring that you get most of your value. The first thing you notice opening the over-sized cigar box is the smell. There is a scent of sweet tobacco (already, unfortunately fading in mine) as if the box had been found and repurposed by Lomax himself and sent straight to you from 1937. The Notebook: Haiti 1936-1937 is attached to the cover, in a separate sleeve. The title is handwritten and the book looks like a bound notebook. It is a collection of letters, notes, and commentaries written by (and to) Lomax during his travels.

The second book contains the liner notes, written by Gage Averill and consists of lyrics (translated and in the original Creole), notes and pictures. A foreword is written by Lomax' daughter (?), Anna Lomax Wood and the entire project is impressively intricate and rigorous. The map (as well as two mini-photos, which seem tossed in as an afterthought) provide an oddly exciting tactility to the experience of listening to the lo-fi recordings.

On the whole, the set is an invitation to a lost time, just a few years after the U.S. Occupation ended (1934), and in being transported, you're also given the opportunity to understand that world thanks to the copious notes and commentaries.