Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Button on My Desk

Our president took to Twitter last night to compare the size of his button to the size of the button on the North Korean dictator’s desk. Comparing button size seems like Gertrude Stein-thing from a previous gilded age.  Whatever.

The button on my desk is this button:

Image result for amtrak button 70s

I’ve lived in different countries for extended periods, moved around the country quite a bit, run from one home with just what I could throw in a van (read about it here), and this button has followed me. I have never consciously packed / unpacked it or moved it or thought about it much (except that I like trains and always have liked trains in a little-boy kind of way). It is just so much childhood flotsam that turns up in desk drawers wherever I am; an unwitting talisman and fellow traveler through time; a hopeful Amtrak Turbo(!) 1973 button; a visitor and companion; a little button from boyhood that has gathered a kind of personal-historical depth just by sitting in drawers for decades.

If I push it, nothing special happens. Nothing is destroyed except a few minutes of thought for this strange object.

The top five books that I, a PhD candidate in Humanities, read this year.

This year I read one book that was published this year. That book, Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi, was taken as a tonic to soothe a Foulcault-addled brain. It’s about power and gender and sexuality and fighting our own inner-fascist to save what is most human in us…. Really, Scalzi? Must you pepper your slam-bang plots with ideas?

This year I read, I dunno, fifty books not published this year. If by “read” you mean: looked at, considered, sampled, crammed, or flipped through, probably over a hundred books. Out of this sampling of texts, here are the top books that I, a PhD candidate in Humanities, read this year:

  1. Europe and the People Without History by Eric Wolf (1982). Easily the most important (to me) book that I read this year. It is the book that I, now an ABD PhD candidate in interdisciplinary Humanities, should have read in my first semester. Western history is not a story of progress. The “third world” is not more or less traditional than anywhere else. The invisible hand was working long before Adam Smith was born (it was just invisible). This book is going to re-mix and re-jigger your perceptions faster than you can say “Marxist Anthropology”.
  2. Illuminations by Walter Benjamin (1968). I am partial to any series of essays that makes a special, mysterious, almost sacred, more-or-less metaphysical place for art. Heidegger will do that for you, if you’re into that kind of thing, but Benjamin is something you can actually read and enjoy without any taint of kind-sorta Fascist autochthony. Be an idea flaneur with the good guys: Benjamin and Baudelaire.

You, an intellectual: “You are a PhD candidate in Humanities and never read Benjamin before??”

Me, ABD PhD in Humanities: “We all have gaps. How much Scalzi have you read?”

  1. The Art of Haiku: Its History through Poems and Paintings by Japanese Masters by Stephen Addiss (2012). I, an interdisciplinary Humanities scholar, am sometimes in a position to, you know, actually do things related to being an interdisciplinary Humanities scholar. Like teach a class in Japanese Poetry and Philosophy and then go to Japan with some students. Skip the travel guides and read this book: the translations are unfussy and get the ineffable soul of the poetry (ala Benjamin), which lies in its bracing humanity. The history and the translations wrest this poetic tradition from the “5-7-5 + nature” form you learned in elementary school. It’s all war, sex, frogs, farts, and mosquitoes.
  2. Security, Territory, and Population by Michel Foucault (2004). Foucault had to give public lectures each year as part of his job as chair of “History of Systems of Thought” at the College de France. In them, he had to present original research, so no two years between 1970 – 1984 were the same. Pit that against me, a modern ABD intellectual, hoping to find that One Thing I can TED-talk into a career and beat senselessly until whatever money, prestige, and recognition I can get from it is drained from its’ lifeless body. Anyway, read this if you read “Panopticon” and the first chapter or so of Discipline and Punish (with the torture and what-not) and think: I want more. Just read bits here and there, not the whole thing at once. Flaneur the crap out of Foucault’s ideas. Soon you’ll see how governmentality is a use of power that distorts reality in order to control the masses and, well, that’s a nice thing to know as we enter post-America America in 2018. (See also: No news is “fake” in that all news is an exercise in power.)
  3. A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey (2005). I, working on a dissertation in economics and anthropology, need to be able to bandy about the term “neoliberal” with intellectual rigor. To that end, I read four books with “neoliberal” in the title and this is by far the most readable. Here are two thoughts:  1)  Individual freedom is achieved through market freedom. 2) Neoliberal “market freedom” wrests capital from governments and workers and concentrates it in a class of economic elites.Therefore, neoliberalism gives us the freedom to be poor. (This describes the latest       Republican tax cut (fight me!) so don’t confuse the term with ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’. Also, Happy f-ing New Year American working class!) Neoliberalism was generally a project of American foreign policy and the IMF. It was something we did to the “third world”. Now we’re like, “Hey, you know a country that has a lot of capital to loot and a big government to suck dry?” The United States of America!

Note: Before you mention it, yes, it’s embarrassing that this list is five white men. Please take that up with the PhD program in Humanities where the curriculum includes (as I recall): Margaret Atwood, Donna Haraway, Carolyn Merchant… and, um, probably others? In my own research I lean heavily on Dorothy Shineberg (you’ve never heard of her unless you are into the sandalwood trade in the 19th century) and was big-time influenced by reading articles by anthropologist Micaela Di Leonardo.

Opening Evel (Age 4)

Opening-Evel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The year: 1974. The question: What will I get for my birthday?

Opening-Evel-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Answer: Evel Knieval stunt cycle. Ooooooh, yeah.

For more, check out this page on Ideal Toys (the manufacturer of fine Evel products.)

The above linked page comes complete with non-PC quote from Evel himself: “You wind it up, it goes like a little bugger, goes across the floor, grabs this little Barbie doll, throws her on the floor, gives her a little lovin’, jumps back on the motorcycle and goes whizzing out the door screaming, ‘G.I. Joe is a faggot!’

This quote is disturbing. I loved my toy back in the day, little realizing it was some kind of homophobic, wind-up Barbie ravisher. I just liked the vroom-vroom sound it made, man. And, honestly, most of the time it just kind of plopped over limply after you wound it up.

I -do- actually have home video of the toy in action. I’ll save that for another post!

Common Core Standards and the End of School

The insane graphic above describes the wonders that will be worked in public education by the Common Core Standards. I found it on this post by Ellie Robins at Melville House. Basically, the Standards launch a Cyberman-style attack upon your child and encase them in a robotic shell called “measurable output.”  Ellie’s post and the Washington Post article it is refers to are both enlightening.

Here is my own version of this graphic. WARNING: I suck at graphics and did this quickly on MS Publisher. MS Publisher is a frustrating program for those wishing to do things. It ended up looking like washing day for the Illuminati. If you’re better at graphics, please improve upon it!

Here’s a guide to this graphic:

We will begin with MS clip-art boy in the cross-hairs. This boy is engaged in Free Voluntary Reading. He is lucky: he has access to books!

People don’t give a shit about what you think.” – quote from David Coleman, an architect of the common core curriculum standards and president of the College Board.

1. Poverty and Poor Health Care (see here, and for more numbers, here)

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2. Poor Academic Performance (see here and also Krashen here.)

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3. Blame Teachers (Find your own link. Well this one is OK.)

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4. Hire Companies to Produce Tests and Standards (The College Board, ACT, and ETS are the players. See here.)

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5. Pay Millions to Testing Companies (Should say BILLIONS!)

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Complete the cirlce — you are back to poverty and poor health care! Why? Because creating Common Core Standards has not addressed any Core issue.

Big overlapping circle says, “1st: Claim schools are broken.” But are they?

Other overlapping circle says, “2nd: Fix Schools with Tests.” Which is what this is all about: the guy selling you the “cure” also created the disease. A classic scam on an epic scale!

-Final arrow leads to —

“Have you considered moving to Finland?”

Finland does not have standardized testing. They also have one of the best educational systems in the world (first in reading, top five in science and math). (link)

See also: Anything by Diane Ravitch.

Kindle Paperwhite Review

First of all the name seems as horrible as iPad used to seem (remember?) because of course you are going to call it a “paperweight.” So I began ridiculing the product even before it arrived.

Name: 2 Stars

Paperweights
Paperweights

When my Kindle Paperwhite finally came (I waited about a month), it came, ironically, in a black box. Amazon has taken a cue from Roku, Apple, and others who make box opening part of what they call the “user experience.” (I just call it life.) I know this is manipulative because, of course, what do I really care what the box looks like? Still, I am a total sucker for this kind of thing. I think it’s a genius move to make opening the box “special.” Now I’m stuck with a strange box, though. I could use it to wrap up Xmas gifts, I guess. But then the giftee would think they were getting a Kindle and be disappointed by the slightly burnt Xmas cookies the box actually contained.

Box: 5 Stars

Kindle in the box.

Here’s the very best part of my “user experience” / life with the Kindle. When I took it out of the box the Kindle appeared to have a clear plastic covering of the sort you find on your new iPhone. Upon inspection (i.e. trying to lift off the plastic sheet with my fingernail) it turned out that this was the actual screen in sleep mode. It still kind of freaks me out. It’s very very cool how sharp the resolution of the screen is and also how the screen feels course or matted rather than smooth and reflective like an iPhone screen. After attempting to remove the Kindle screen because I thought it was a physical object (and in doing this I felt a bit like my dog must feel when he barks at the TV) I had to admit it: this thing is amazing. It’s practically like paper!

Screen: 5 stars

Dog vs. Pig
Dog vs. Pig

The Kindle feature that made me finally take the plunge: the Kindle Lending Library. I’m the sort of guy who reads a lot of things in the public domain: 19th Century novels, mostly, and other things of that nature that I expect to be able to get out of the library or pay, perhaps, a dollar for at a used book store. So what a killer feature: I would be able to borrow this type of book for free on my Kindle! A library! Of books!

Except that it is not a library. Read the fine print.

The first thing I did on the kindle store was to try out the lending library. I downloaded a book of links to free sci-fi novels on Amazon Prime (yes, I took that plunge too!) Why would somebody pay money for a book of links? I don’t know. Doesn’t Amazon have an easy way of navigating it’s free content? (Answer: No.) I perused the links a bit and then returned the book. When I went to borrow my next book the button for downloading into my library was grayed-out and unusable. I had failed to read the fine print: in Amazon’s “library” you can only borrow one book a month. God, I’m such a sucker.

When someone uses the word “library” I have a network of associations with that word — hot librarians, shelves full of books for the taking, smelly bathrooms, free wifi, etc. What I don’t think of is a place that allows you to check out one book a month, even if you only had that book for a grand total of twenty minutes. Ugh. What a sucker I was!

Amazon is besmirching the word library. They must be stopped.

Kindle Library: Negative One Million Stars (Until they call it “one free book a month out of a selection of mostly unpopular books” instead of a “library”.)

P.S. — There is still free content that is non-library related. I downloaded Thomas Hardy for free. Other books, such as Middlemarch, are available for $.99. So that’s cool. It’s just not a library.

Actual Library
Actual Library: Have a book!

Yes, the Kindle is just another money suck. If I had known that going in, rather than being duped by their “library,” I would not feel so burned. I am in the process of re-calibrating my expectations. As such, I have begun reading a book on the Kindle (Spillover by David Quanmen). Each day my score for the device crawls a little bit higher out of the dumps. After all, it did have a cool box!

Total Score: 4 stars (with lowered expectations)

Note: I have a book coming out in Dec/Jan. It will be Kindle only — so buy your Kindles now!

 

 

 

Choosing To Be Taxed is a Rational Choice

File:It Takes Taxes and Bonds - NARA - 534022.jpg

Recently I was looking for a place to live and was reminded of the “veil of ignorance” as popularized (?) by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice. If you had to choose where to live from the “original position” (one presumes missionary, but I could be wrong) from behind a veil of ignorance – that is, you did not know what status you would have in society– where would you choose to live? In a country where a few have wealth? Or in a more egalitarian society? Keep in mind that you have no choice of what rung of the societal ladder you will be perched upon. Rational minds go with the egalitarian society. It is the safest choice because even the lowest of the low in such a society will be better off than most people in a very unequal society. Better to be on the dole, in other words, than on the street.

If you pose this question in a classroom there is always a dude who wants to gamble that he will end up in the 1% and chooses an unequal society. He is confident that he will wind up on top because he is a good guy and a business major taking Introduction to Philosophy because he heard it would be easy. In this thought experiment there is no moral dimension to being poor, since it is randomly assigned, yet it is quite difficult to explain this to American students. It takes some imagination, in other words, to think of a place where the poor don’t deserve to be poor. This is, I think, what keeps this particular sort of student from choosing the egalitarian society.

Which brings me to taxes. If you had to choose from behind a veil of ignorance, in the original position, where to live, would you choose a place with high or low taxes? The automatic reaction might be low taxes. Low taxes means more money for me, right? Yet when enacting this thought experiment in reality while looking for a place to live, I found myself drawn to the places in America with the highest tax burdens. The reason: they are almost invariably the best places for a family to live. Better schools, better roads, better parks, better health care, better arts, better police, better services… As a lower-bracket kind of guy, working for non-profits and married to someone working for non-profits, I am happy to sneak into your high-tax district and take advantage of the rich-guy services you require. You can be as snooty as you like to my daughter while she takes advantage of your superior public schools.

What’s more, I think most Americans with families would be happy to make this choice – more taxes for better services. But somehow we have added a moral, or I guess an immoral, dimension to taxes. High taxes are bad, I suppose, if you consider the money completely wasted. Yet, one can see that in the high-tax areas (not to mention high-tax countries with free health care) people live longer, are happier, are smarter, and are currently strolling in a safe park while their kids play on the new swing set. I guess I am saying, with my move, that you should please tax me and in return I will get to live in an awesome place.

Of course, it is possible to both pay high taxes and get little to nothing in return. Take Cook County for instance where the poor pay more and services only trickle down to them eventually. (One only has to note which neighborhoods are plowed after a snowstorm to see where the revenue goes.)

So where did I end up moving? Connecticut, just south of Taxachusetts.

From the National Archives, a 1040 form from 1913. Considerably easier. Also, lower taxes. But note that the rich are taxed at many times the rate of the poor.

From An Abandonded Research Article Concerning the Hashtag

File:Hash.png

Introduction

In this paper the semiotic meaning of the common hashtag will be considered through a post-structuralist lens, as soon as the author figures out what that means.

Method

The author described the historical meta-narrative of the hashtag to a kindergarten class through the use of hand-puppets. Of the twenty children in Mr. Brophy’s morning group, 18 played tic-tac-toe on the researcher’s field notes, one urinated upon a carefully worded questionnaire, and another quietly picked her nose while straddling a large, stuffed Clifford the Big Red Dog and crying for “wawa juice”. As is apparent from these results, the common hashtag has burst through the semiotic prison of “search organizer” and is now used symbolically by American youth as some kind of “game board” and as a feature of their nascent performance art.

Mr. Brophy’s afternoon class was not available for study because the researcher was called away to answer a few questions at a local police station. After a three hour disquisition upon the phenomenology of epistemology in response to the query: “What is your name?” the author was let go without further questioning and with the strong admonition to always remain within 100 yards of a humanities department.

My New Rig

Perfect blog fodder: my new rig! Well, about 70% new. I got a new tower. I moved up from a mid-size tower to a full-size tower. Why? My eyesight is going and fishing screws out of tight places is no longer the joy it once was. Anyway this is the case: Cooler Master HAF 932 Advanced Full Tower Case with SuperSpeed USB 3.0. It feels a bit like the adult diaper of cases but nevertheless I like the case.

Despite the wheels on the bottom,the HAF 932 is the opposite of portable — I like this. It makes me feel grounded and steady. The only feature I don’t really love is the top fan-exhaust. This is great for sucking the hot air out of the case and freaking out the cat. It will be not so great when, inevitably, a child spills something on top of the case and Mountain Dew Red spritzes all over the motherboard.

The cylon-eye red light on the bottom is great. The top features a searing blue light whenever the thing is on. This means retina scars if you’re sitting back and watching a movie — I’ll probably unplug or change the blue lights on top to something less penetrating.

My last mobo (ASUS P5E3 Deluxe) featured a lot of bells and whistles that, frankly, I neither understood nor used. So I went with a slightly stripped down package this time — an ASUS P8Z77-v LX. It was cheaper than the top-of-the-line and still featured everything I needed (except the built in wi-fi, which I appreciate in a mobo). It’s got the Z77 chipset which I think is cool. Right? Anyway, so far so good.

I got an Intel Core i5-2400 3.10 GHz 6 MB Cache Socket LGA1155 Processor — this seemed to give the best price/performance balance.

That’s the new stuff (oh, except I got a new power source too (750W!) but I’ll leave that story for another time, when I have some distance).

The rest of my rig is:

6GB RAM
Seagate 7500 750GB Hard disk — this is the next item to replace and the thing that’s slowing me down.
Radeon HD 6850 (Sapphire)

And all the other things I’ve had for awhile. The monitor I recently fixed myself with a solder gun and fairy dust. The printer and speakers and such are ancient (meaning more than three years old) and not worth mentioning.

So far this rig has been solid and efficient. My windows experience score is all 7.7 except for the aforementioned hard disk which is bringing it all down to a 6.1. So, for a summer gift you can get me a solid state hard disk or whatever those things are called.

In the meantime, just stay away from my rig if you are carrying a liquid of any kind — seriously, this thing has HOLES on the top.