31 December 2013

Happy New Year - 1844

Sitting, enjoying some quiet holiday pause, I am reading my way Kierkegaard's Stages on Life's Way, and he unexpectedly had something to say about the New Year, which I thought worth sharing today.

"In case a man in all seriousness surrenders himself to love, he can say that he has lots of assurance, if only he can get any assurance company to take the risk, for a material so inflammable as woman must always make the insurer suspicious.  What has he done?  He has identified himself with her: if on New Year's Eve she goes off like a rocket, he goes with her, or if that does not occur, he has nevertheless come into pretty close affinity with danger..."
-Constantin Constantius 

Source: thedanishpioneer.com
... And now, a bit of context!  Soren Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher with really excellent hair.  His book, Stages, is a collection of 'found writing' purportedly by a variety of different authors, put together into one volume by an intrepid (and equally fictional) book dealer.  The three works, "In Vino Veritas: The Banquet", "Observations about Marriage" and "Guilty/Not Guilty", presents perspectives from the several speakers on love and life.

I find "In Vino Veritas: The Banquet" something of a tough nut to crack.  The premise is fairly simple: several men go off into the woods and get rip-roaring drunk while opining about women.  The present speaker (good ole Constantin) seems to be of the mindset that any sort of congress with ladies is an inherent risk, offering up the novel concept of 'love insurance'.

The book seems an odd collection of conversation and opinions, some or all (or none) of which may be Kirkegaard's (though the notes imply that he was hung up on some woman named Regine, and his thoughts on love and life were heavily influenced by that failed relationship).  In what would become a tradition of existential writers, the text contains what seems to be a simple narrative, with piles of introspection (and in this case elocution), the content of which seems over simple - the meaning of which is to consider simple existence.

Regardless, on this New Year's Eve day a century and a half later, I wish you a Merry New Year (it seems to me that merriment goes much better with celebrating a new year, whereas happiness should be more to do with Christmas (or whatever gift-giving, family oriented holiday you may celebrate).  Make it a good one, and a safe one, though, of course, there can be no assurances...

02 December 2013

and so it begins...

December 2013 marks the start of the as-of-yet-unnamed endeavor, which has been referred to as The Commune -


The first few bylaws follow, but I wanted to reminisce a bit on the history of The Commune and imagine, a bit, the thinking and the dreams:

I was a guest on Ron Felten's podcast, Strangers in My Life, over the weekend, and we talked a little (only a very little, the rest is interesting, I promise) about The Commune (which I unfortunately initially was re-branding the Clan at the start of the show). 

If you've known me for any length of time (and in particular if you've ever shared a few drinks with me), you have probably heard some version of my theory of commune. It was interesting (though only arguably useful) to try to explain it to the ethereal audience of a podcast. The hope in doing so, I suppose, is to fully articulate a concept, which I haven't fully worked out in my head (even after 15 years of jabbering).

I think the renaissance of my communal thinking may have come while Stephen Colbert was formulating his Super-Duper PAC plans – "I don't know" – the over-arching plan for donating to his mass of untraceable money-speech, but the twinkle has been a constant since at least around 2001.

The concept is essentially this: that we (we being anyone who ascribes to this idea and who those of us already inside {so far that is just me} decide they want to bring in) form an elective community, dedicated to the proposition that we all should dedicate ourselves to enjoying all of our lives, including, but not limited to: work, leisure, travel, consumption (the act, not the disease), ownership, business, and politics.

To achieve this seemingly simple goal, I propose that the collaboration of thought, effort and resources is fundamental. Together we can think better and do better, both work-wise and play-wise.

To that end, I propose the following three bylaws as a place to start:

I. Whereas, in the modern era, an organization needs money in order to function and act in the world;
Whereas members of a specific community should be invested and have a stake in that community;
Therefore each member of the to be named organization (which has previously been known as The Commune) shall contribute a minimum of $10.00 per month to a common account.

I.a On 5 February 2016, a vote was taken at the monthly meeting to increase the monthly minimum contribution to $25.00 per month. Furthermore, individual members may choose to save their contributions in an alternate location from the common account (bank account, cracker box, under mattress), but the location of those funds should be shared knowledge among all members. The sentence immediately preceding this one shall no longer be valid, and will be stricken from these bylaws, once the membership number of the commune reaches 7. 
II. Whereas the organization is in its nature a democratic and communal group;
Therefore all decisions, whether they be monetary, organizational, procedural or enacting change in the world will be voted on by all vested members, requiring a simple majority to make any decision (ties will result in a measure being voted down).
III. Whereas it is good for a community to have members who are fully invested in the organization;
Therefore a member only becomes fully vested with voting privileges after they have contributed a minimum of $100.00 to the community.  Before a member is fully vested, but they are members (a maximum of 10 months), any contributions they have made to the community may not be used in any way, regardless of any voting decisions, except in increasing the amount of money (e.g. interest being paid to accounts, etc.)

So there it is.  It's on.  Let me know if you want in and we'll take a vote to approve your membership (thus far I am the only vested member, but we can only grow from here... unless I quit - note: I'm not going to quit).

11 September 2013

On this Border in History

Rather than choose what day this write-up belongs in, given its border-ity, I choose a historical Roman Numeral J entry dualism, with a 9/10 and a 9/11 entry and want to gain insight from the separations from the two different years.  What might we understand by looking at Joel 2006 & Joel 2008?

Here are some dates in history to try to dig...

2008 - Grad-school

2006 - Just done (and pre-) Grad School

It's useful to understand the way that your thinking has changed over time... My curiosity is whether mine really has.  Certainly I now, as a stooge for the right-est economy, would see my earlier take as a youthful-fool, an un-refined see-er.  That said, I am what I have been.  Radicalism is a situation of convenience.

I am decidedly inconvenient, but am happy to listen...

10 September 2013

Love li'l sandwiches

I love cucumber sandwiches. Saturday I picked up a few weird little cukes (one was called 'lemon' - I don't recall the name of the other one). Some thin-sliced radish, smoked salmon straight from Alaska (thanks in-laws)...

Oh, 1Q84, great book. Also, a celebratory vodka martini in honor of understanding and curing Rex Grossman's summer long meh-ness.  

24 August 2013

The Dangers of Corporate Censorship

On Monday my television received Current TV (though by that time it was mostly showing mostly the penultimate and final days of people like Jim Morrison and Richard Pryor - or maybe it was non-stop episodes of Vanguard, which is has been among the best American journalism in the past eight years or so).  On Tuesday, when that channel had transitioned to Al Jazeera America, it was no longer available for my viewing pleasure.

We are in the throes of a debate about information and the power of information, though that may not be obvious to most of us.  Sure we've all watched the spectacle of Edward Snowden's escape to Russia, though much of our attention has been centered on Snowden's weirdness (he's got sort of a 'foreign vibe', even though he was born in North Carolina... or it may just be a 'geek vibe', though I, myself, am a bit of expert with that and it doesn't usually trigger my odd-radar), but the real debate about who ought to have access to what information and how much that should cost (if anything) is raging.  This debate is also not just a debate, it's a battle and has already had casualties.

In the era of WikiLeaks, the end of internet privacy (at least for people cool enough to have twitter followers or loads of Facebook friends), and corporate data-mining, information has become a commodity (and to say so, a cliche).

The other side of #openInfo, though, is, necessarily, the free dissemination of all perspectives.  Right now, corporations have access to all manner of information about our everyday lives, preferences, and activities (governments may also be privy to the same), however, as soon as a private news organization, with a stated desire to broadcast all perspectives and de-centralize American journalism, begins its broadcast (or even its earlier Western Hemispherical movements), American corporations say, "no, that information is not suitable for your consumption" to its customers.

This has been largely covered by the mainstream infomedia... (the Slate article I link to here focuses on the unusual financial situation of Al Jazeera and raises the "problem" of non-profit news [though I, for one, cannont understand why anyone would think it a problem that an organization whose purpose is to disseminate information is not primarily focused on profits.  To me it's a similar no-brainer to the {non}question of for-profit colleges or health care companies that are more interested in profit than patients]).  

#RachelMaddow has been on a kick of late, focusing on information-redaction in a North Carolina county election board.  She's also been smartly encouraging folks to subscribe to their local newspaper, which is a great idea and the only true possibility today of keeping in touch with actual local news.  The logic runs like this: if you don't subscribe to a hard copy or online pay portal of your local news, that organization will have less money to pay actual local journalists...  So, in addition to the problem of profit motive, this leads to a problem of non-local news (or local news which is more 'earned media' by corporate interests, commentary and fluff than actual reporting).  Sound familiar?

Al Jazeera America reveals another obvious pitfall of American journalism, which is its inherent 'coastalism.'  Coastalism has, necessarily, been a problem of our nation since its inception, but the continual focus on our geographic extremes has lead to our polarized political standing today.  The disintegration of hard news and the 'talking-head-ification' of news broadcasts has re-centered journalism on the conversation and not the content.  Just imagine what it will mean when there are journalists in news bureaus in Chicago, Nashville, New Orleans, and Detroit (DETROIT!) to name a few, who are vying to get their stories on the air.  

AJAm will approach American news, I hope, with a fresh set of eyes, realizing that their is a whole middle of the country, which is under-represented in most American journalism.  Reactionary companies like Time Warner and AT&T should be boycotted as much as possible until they come to understand that restricting the type of information available to people is immoral if not criminal.  In the end, I expect AJAm will be available on U-Verse, but the attempt to destabilize the launch makes AT&T yet another American corporation worthy of scorn.  Not that that's really news to anyone...

02 July 2013

Rex is Rex

Rex Grossman has been feeling a bit under the weather lately (see pic - note: er ist noch am leben - I know it looks a bit  like a chalk outline or some sort of ritual flooring).

He's doing well and we are once again indebted to Dr. Singh (side note to anyone in the Milwaukee Metro with a pet on the brink, Bayshore Vet in Shorewood is the best).  

** Update as of 7/10/13: Rex is back to 100% and acting normally.  We went to see Dr. Singh again today for a final check and his infection seems to have abated.  After a couple of routine vaccines, Rex was good to go, though, the promised 'sleepiness and lethargy' as a result of his shots did not come to pass...

Who's a good dog?

13 June 2013

ooh! ooh!, did you read Joel's new tweet?!

Talking about a tweet you read (or in this case wrote) on a blog is kind of like discussing what you heard on the radio later in the day...

That being the case, I am, and have never been, cool.  I have re-watched the movie, Bulworth, and found it as redeeming as I did when it was first released.

It is my firm belief and desire that you do the same... on both counts.

Let me know.

03 May 2013

What is the opposite of Freedom?

If we take this question at face value we probably come up with some obvious preliminary answers like slavery or oppression. A more etymological answer might try to contend with the idea of free- first, where unfree- would mean something like ‘being subject to someone (or something) else’ and then deal with –dom. “un-dom” might mean being outside the state of (or realm of) free-ness (or in this case un-free-ness). Then the opposite of freedom becomes something like ‘a state of existence outside of subjugation’, which I think we might also define as ‘freedom’.
a picture of freedom generally involves standing with spread arms

I might add to these initial (good) answers the troubling notion that debt might be a very good contemporary answer to our question. Or even commerce or exchange in general. A more radical answer might even be love or friendship or community.

I think what I am most concerned with here is the notion of a presumed value or good.  Freedom seems like something we all agree is good.  We like it.

I'm rereading House of Leaves with my Theories of Revolutions class and on this go-round (it's more of a maze for me now than the labyrinth it once was) it seems to me that the central metaphor of the novel holds that life is a journey... through a labyrinth.  However, there also appears to be a certain amount of cheats built into it, either you can cheat it (break through a wall or imagine new solutions) or it can cheat you by shifting its architecture and 'changing the rules'.

In the novel it becomes clear that the metaphor is just a shell game, but my title question occurred to me as I was reading this earlier today:
Another resource to help us think this through a bit might be the actual definition of freedom and what the entries seem to think freedom might not be.

Without confine or constraint, what do we have to do but stand, arms spread wide, trying to take up as much space as possible.  It seems to me that we need the limitations if for no other reason than to have common space on which to start a conversation (or relationship).  I think Marcuse/Hegel's point is that we need to be able to think outside of those limitations, but inevitably cannot actually act outside of them.

*As a side note, I think this quote also does a fairly good job of articulating why people tend to not enjoy talking to me at parties or late at night...

01 May 2013

Waiting by the Vent

I'm standing in the hall as my students complete what will very likely be my last UW-M evaluation and it occurs to me that this phase of my life is rapidly coming to a close.

Of course I have my dissertation to complete (pesky detail) and I fully (though perhaps mythically) believe I will land back in the throes of academia soon, and finally (and finely), but my time of first and foremost defining myself as 'grad student' is done.

Oops, they're calling me back in.


30 January 2013

On this date in history I think I thought I knew what I was talking about, though now I think I did not. Now I know what I'm talking about, but don't know that I do (so I might not, really).

Also, I think it wasn't so recently as 2009 when I seemed so sure of my nonsense - this is likely a piece I wrote during the fall of 2005.

Nowadays, I tend to think that Althusser is kind of full of shit, but Fanon, he's it.

25 January 2013

Matt Damon

The LA Times has posted a video history of the spectacular feud between Jimmy Kimmel and Matt Damon in celebration of Matt Damon's takeover of Jimmy Kimmel Live.

It's a quick relive of a pop culture phenomenon that offers a smart critique of Hollywood pomposity.  Enjoy!

10 January 2013

Dork Philosophy

Let’s imagine that multiple worlds theory is a serious scientific phenomenon. There are plenty of pseudo-scientific and somewhat scientific debates to at least think about it, but of course, being a humanist, I will concern myself primarily with the Star Trek research data.

Source: eng.wikipedia.org
The fundamental question at hand has to do with choices. My dork philosophical question is this: in a multiverse full of every possibility of every choice in every life, how can deciding to do one thing versus another make any difference whatsoever? What I mean by that is, with every given choice that we make, theoretically, we create an alternative (or a thousand alternatives – my first critique of my student’s work is about showing ‘both sides’, but never considering why there are only two). What that must mean, then is that each decision you might make in a given situation has already been made, so whichever one you happen to be a part of, is just one of many.

I think this is in fact what is so troubling (and comforting) about Star Trek.  It is the lack of individuality, of ego, that makes humanity (or at least Roddenberry humanity) great. The sense of history that Star Trek series (and films) exude, are universal. Universal history is, in fact, an important piece of my dissertation work. Whether we can believe that a historical truth (perhaps not a psychological truth or philosophical one) can be applied across times. That is, when we make a movie like Lincoln, or Django Unchained, and we absolutely must leave historical authenticity aside, whether we can still say something about our own existence, while at the same time trying to better understand their own.

When we make history, I don’t think our efforts are that different from when we make science fiction. We extrapolate, from the only place that we can (the present), and try to imagine what another place and time might be like. Even when not separated by the caverns of history, people do this same thing with geography. In 1811, shortly before he decided to enact a suicide pact with his lover (insert name here), Kleist wrote "Die Verlobung in St. Domingo". The story tries to imagine what Haiti is like, by a young German Romantic who has never been to war and never been to the Americas.

But somehow Kleist captures it. He does understand what that world is like. It is something different from when he writes about Chile. In "Erdbeben in Chile" the world is very much like Europe. A city, devastated by natural disaster who looks for someone to blame, so they choose a young couple in love who may or may not have produced a baby (who is in fact he legitimate baby of someone who was crushed by a wall or some such). In his story about Haiti, however, Kleist minimizes the drama and makes the romance a background piece. The two unlikely lovers (a white Swiss soldier and a mulatto adopted daughter of a black slaver) finagle their way into love and only become a part of the story once they've succeeded (in betrothal at least).