31 October 2011

A Confession

There is an Eastern fable, told long ago, of a traveller overtaken on a plain by an enraged beast.

Escaping from the beast he gets into a dry well, but sees at the bottom of the well a dragon that has opened its jaws to swallow him.

And the unfortunate man, not daring to climb out lest he should be destroyed by the enraged beast, and not daring to leap to the bottom of the well lest he should be eaten by the dragon, seizes a twig growing in a crack in the well and clings to it.

His hands are growing weaker and he feels he will soon have to resign himself to the destruction that awaits him above or below, but still he clings on. Then he sees that two mice, a black one and a white one, go regularly round and round the stem of the twig to which he is clinging and gnaw at it.

And soon the twig itself will snap and he will fall into the dragon's jaws. The traveller sees this and knows that he will inevitably perish; but while still hanging he looks around, sees some drops of honey on the leaves of the twig, reaches them with his tongue and licks them.

So I too clung to the twig of life, knowing that the dragon of death was inevitably awaiting me, ready to tear me to pieces; and I could not understand why I had fallen into such torment. I tried to lick the honey which formerly consoled me, but the honey no longer gave me pleasure, and the white and black mice of day and night gnawed at the branch by which I hung.

I saw the dragon clearly and the honey no longer tasted sweet. I only saw the unescapable dragon and the mice, and I could not tear my gaze from them.

And this is not a fable but the real unanswerable truth intelligible to all.

Strunk/White




























It's true.

In other (probably nsfw) news, this.

29 October 2011

da, da, da




Datta

For the flesh, because the flesh desires possessions, da means datta - that is, to give. To be charitable. Not only with one's material goods, but with one's emotions, with one's time. With one's feelings. To have no more than you need. Datta is charity, and this is its meaning for the flesh, because this is the opposite of the flesh.


Dayadhvam

For the flesh, because the flesh desires to have power and to use power, da means dayadhvam - that is, to be merciful. Do not be cruel. Control your anger with mercy. Do not be hard-hearted. Dayadhvam is mercy, and this is its meaning for the flesh, because this is the opposite of the flesh.


Damyata

For the flesh, because the flesh desires pleasure, da means damyata - that is, to control one's desires - that is, to be restrained. To live moderately. Do not become addicted to pleasure, do not seek it out. Damyata is self-control, and this is its meaning for the flesh, because this is the opposite of the flesh.


Shantih
shantih
shantih

28 October 2011

Dead Flag Blues

The car's on fire
and there's no driver at the wheel
and the sewers are all muddied
with a thousand lonely suicides
and a dark wind blows.

The government is corrupt
and we're all on so many drugs
with the radio on and the curtains drawn
we're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine
and the machine is bleeding to death.

The sun has fallen down
and the billboards are all leering
and the flags are all dead
at the top of their poles.

It went like this:
the buildings toppled in on themselves
mothers clutching babies
picked through the rubble
and pulled out their hair.

The skyline was beautiful on fire
all twisted metal stretching upwards
everything washed in a thin orange haze
I said, "kiss me, you're beautiful
these are truly the last days."

You grabbed my hand
and we fell into it
like a daydream
or a fever.























We woke up one morning
and fell a little further down.

For sure it's the valley of death.

I open up my wallet
and it's full of blood.

26 October 2011

Wall Street Isn't Winning - It's Cheating

Here's an excellent article from Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi that absolutely demolishes the main conservative critiques of the Occupy movement, while laying out some of the reasons that the protesters feel things are unfair. A few of the highlights:


And we hate the rich? Come on. Success is the national religion, and almost everyone is a believer. Americans love winners. But that's just the problem. These guys on Wall Street are not winning – they're cheating. And as much as we love the self-made success story, we hate the cheater that much more.

In this country, we cheer for people who hit their own home runs – not shortcut-chasing juicers like Bonds and McGwire, Blankfein and Dimon.

[...]

When Joe Homeowner bought too much house, essentially betting that home prices would go up, and losing his bet when they dropped, he was an irresponsible putz who shouldn’t whine about being put on the street.

But when banks bet billions on a firm like AIG that was heavily invested in mortgages, they were making the same bet that Joe Homeowner made, leaving themselves hugely exposed to a sudden drop in home prices. But instead of being asked to "suck it in and cope" when that bet failed, the banks instead went straight to Washington for a bailout -- and got it.

[...]

Millions of people have been foreclosed upon in the last three years. In most all of those foreclosures, a regional law enforcement office -- typically a sheriff's office -- was awarded fees by the court as part of the foreclosure settlement, settlements which of course were often rubber-stamped by a judge despite mountains of perjurious robosigned evidence.

That means that every single time a bank kicked someone out of his home, a local police department got a cut. Local sheriff's offices also get cuts of almost all credit card judgments, and other bank settlements. If you're wondering how it is that so many regional police departments have the money for fancy new vehicles and SWAT teams and other accoutrements, this is one of your answers.

25 October 2011

I am free

Top Five Halloween Costumes for the Antisocial

For some people, Halloween is a joyous occasion in which they get to act out a little bit, or a lot, loosing their metaphorical inhibition girdles (like that image?) in a Bakhtinian celebration of inverted social norms, tight and/or revealing clothes, and alcohol.

I hate you fuckers.

For normal people, Halloween is a treacherous, unfamiliar social terrain, to be navigated with the utmost care. Is that a cop, or a stripper, or a person pretending to be a cop, or a person pretending to be a stripper? Will I get pepper sprayed if I tuck a dollar bill into that cop's waistband? Is there a way out of this evening that doesn't end with me crying in a corner, abandoned and alone and OH MY GOD GET IT TOGETHER MAN. Or possibly woman. Or possibly something else - I can't be sure, because I've consumed way too many substances, and the makeup involved in my Sexy Vampire costume has defamiliarized me from my own features. Plus, I'm pretty sure I don't show up in mirrors now. Or is that ghosts? I can never remember.

You get the point.

I've put some thought into it, though, and decided that there's no reason that this so-called holiday has to be terrible. There's no reason that we have to suffer through the indignities of awkward encounters, too-small (or too-large) department-store monstrosities, and Attempting To Dance. Here are five easy do-it-yourself costumes that are guaranteed to keep you from getting maced, or rejected, this Halloween.


1. Waldo


Wear a striped shirt, a striped hat, a scarf, and blue jeans.
Stay at home. They'll never find you! Best Waldo ever!



2. Emily Dickinson


Wear a white dress. Part your hair down the middle. If you feel like being very authentic, write a long series of dashes on a pad of paper.
Stay at home. Stand in front of windows and scare the neighborhood children.



3. The Dread Pirate Roberts


No, not that Dread Pirate Roberts. The one before him. The one who retired, and who never appears in the film. You will be talked about, but mostly irrelevant. Hey, what do you know - it's just like every other day of your life!



4. Zombie


Paint your face, and maybe your hands, to look like decaying skin. Rip some of your clothes, and put fake blood on them. Bonus points if you have the makeup acumen to create realistic bite wounds. Feel the hunger for BRAAAAAIIIINNNNSSS building within you.
Realize your zombie self doesn't know how to open doors. Stay at home all night bumping into walls.



5. Willy Wonka




You have your choice of portrayals here, but the essence is the same. Wear a top hat, crazy hair, and a funky waistcoat. Fill your every motion and word with delightfully eccentric, uh, eccentricities. Invite a group of strangers to your home. Give them chocolate. Torture them until only one remains. Make your escape. Find yourself beloved by generations of adults who have forgotten the nights you haunted their dreams, and who cheerfully bring their children to you for further trauma.



There are, of course, innumerable other options open to you. You are limited only by your imagination.


And the secret horrors which lurk within your soul.

Happy Halloween!

24 October 2011

The War of 1812




Yes, yes, I know, two YouTube videos in a row. Whatever. The last one was awesome in an intense kind of way, this one's pretty hilarious.

19 October 2011

We Are the 53%

Okay, so actually, I'm not, since I make, you know, about $100/month more than the poverty line. Still. If you've been following the "We Are the 53%" rhetoric, you're familiar: it's a bunch of people holding up cards talking about how they're tired of subsidizing the lifestyles of poor people, and how said poor people should get over themselves and start contributing to the tax base like everyone else.


"Suck it up you whiners" is a pretty decent summary of the argument from most of these. Also, "Nobody helped me, I did it myself, so should you."

The International Business Times has put out a really nice little article talking about why that rhetoric is ridiculous. Some of the choice quotes:

The creators of the blog either do not understand taxation, or they simply do not care. Even the 47 percent of Americans who did not pay federal income taxes in 2009 still paid state, local and payroll taxes -- so, saying that only 53 percent of people paid taxes that year is a lie. Even the poorest Americans, those who make an average of $12,500 a year, still pay about 16 percent of their small earnings in taxes, according to Citizens for Tax Justice.

Moreover, data from the Institution on Taxation and Economic Policy indicates that in every state except for Vermont, the poor pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than the wealthy. In Alabama, families making less than $13,000 a year pay almost 11 percent of their income in state and local taxes, compared with less than 4 percent for those who make $229,000 or more.

[...]

The contributors often boast about how they have worked themselves to the bone, often without vacations or benefits, but still have never turned to government social programs, implying that the kind of people who support the 99 percent movement simply want a free ride.

It would be interesting to see how many of those people have received unemployment insurance, Pell Grants, home-mortgage-interest deductions or any of the other government programs that many people have relied on as stepping stones to get to the state of financial independence the "53 percent" celebrate.

What they don't seem to understand is that the 99 percent movement is demanding those same things -- namely, the ability to receive an affordable education, affordable health care and a livable wage -- in short, all of the things that allow Americans to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" (whether all of the protesters' demands are actually possible right now is another story).

16 October 2011

Why People Hate Cops

So, after last night, in which cops prodded me awake and mocked me every half-hour while I was camped out at Occupy Seattle, after the cops spent the entire night driving around and shining headlights into peoples' tents (we made shadow puppets, but it was still annoying), I felt it appropriate to share a couple of quotes from Derrick Jensen's brilliant 2007 essay "Why People Hate Cops."

The essay itself is wonderfully written, and well thought out, and does a good job of portraying sentiment from people on the ground every day. There are broader structural arguments to be made - and Jensen gestures towards them - but the essence of this piece is in the realm of feeling. I'd certainly recommend reading the entire thing. Some quotes that I feel are appropriate in light of last night, and my general experiences with cops thus far in my life:

Pretend you see a cop. Pretend you’re doing nothing illegal. Pretend you don’t need police protection. You’re minding your own business, and BAM, you see a cop. What do you feel? Right then. In your gut. On a scale from minus five (fear or loathing) to zero (nothing) to plus five (warmth, comfort, safety).

For more than a decade I’ve asked hundreds or even thousands of people this question, and the long-term average is about minus three.

[...]

In no way do I romanticize ‘lawbreakers.’ Just as in other categories of people, some are good, some are mediocre, and some are scum. And to the degree that police or anyone else protect me or those I love from sociopaths, I’m grateful.

But police also break strikes and protect politicians, CEOs, and WTO representatives who sell out the people (and who, even from a straight-up, patriotic, ninth-grade civics perspective, are arguably committing treason, and should be hanged for their crimes). Why are police never sent in to force capitalists to come to terms with strikers? That’s a huge problem (and not a rhetorical question). The sociopaths the police arrest are for the most part sociopaths with no power, and especially with no political power. The sociopaths who cause the most harm are almost never arrested, and are certainly never imprisoned or otherwise punished commensurate with the harm they cause, in great measure because these most dangerous sociopaths run governments and corporations, with the direct assistance of the police.

[...]

She doesn’t say anything for a very long time. At last she says, “But I think in some ways your question—why do so many people hate the police—is much simpler than either you or I are saying.”

“How so?”

“I think a lot of people hate the police because the police hate us first.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Think about the stories you just told me. Think about how the cops treated you. Think about their perspective on you that they kept trying to get you to see? What is it about that perspective? What are they feeling toward you? Think about all the cop shows you see. What do the cops feel toward those they encounter? Contempt, at best. More likely hatred. Think about the looks on cops’ faces when they walk up to give you a ticket. Think about all the stories you have ever heard about the police. Yes, we all have a good story here or there involving police treating us well, but think about your experience and the experiences of those you know. What do all of those stories have in common? Think about the question you asked: why do so many people hate the police? I think the answer is staring us in the face, especially when it is cops who are doing the staring. I think a lot of people hate the police because the police hate us first.”

I think a moment, and sadly, find I cannot disagree.

13 October 2011

Leonard Cohen - A Thousand Kisses Deep



My thanks to NB, who introduced me to this poem (and Cohen's poetry more generally) a couple of years ago... and I'm so glad to have found this recording.

Cohen's voice is stunning, amazing, chilling, wonderful. I've been thinking a lot lately about the way that performance interacts with poems - and this is, I think, a pretty excellent example of that interaction. Without Cohen's voice, the poem is nice, but somewhat formulaic or familiar. With it? It becomes something profound and lovely.

In other news... sorry I haven't been posting much so far this month - I've been (1) busy working on my exam reading (hurrah for theories of resistance and locality!) and (2) getting over a beginning-of-quarter cold and cough. One of my colleagues just came into my office and expressed concern over my "consumptive hacking." While the hacking is still pretty evident, most of my functionality has returned, and I should be posting with greater substance and frequency in the near future.

All y'all have a lovely day!

07 October 2011

04 October 2011

Benjamin Wallace - How Two Scammers Built an Empire Hawking Sketchy Software

This article is from Wired.

I'm of two minds about this piece. Or, rather, about my own reaction to it (the piece itself is solid, well-researched, and an interesting read). If you haven't clicked through yet, it maps out the development of IMI, one of the leading lights in the scareware industry. All those fake antivirus programs? Blaster? Yeah. That's these guys.

On the one hand, the article talks about the company's founders as two smart guys who got led in weird directions, sometimes not entirely at their own behest.
Jack Palladino, the private investigator and friend of Jain’s, says that the two cofounders weren’t responsible for the worst excesses. Instead, he blames rogue affiliates, overzealous middle managers, and the pressures of hypergrowth. “This wasn’t them riding the tiger,” Palladino says. “The tiger was riding them.”

On the other? These dudes are job creators, right? They generated $180 million in sales in 2008, they hired a bunch of folks to work for them (some of whom have since been arrested, but isn't that the fault of overzealous regulators?), they've been, as the article points out,

"an engine of innovation. The team was constantly experimenting, tweaking its security software packages—which ranged from antivirus programs to registry cleaners to firewall software—and marketing them under new names, like WinFixer, ErrorSafe, and DriveCleaner. The company tirelessly refined its marketing, sending customers ads for a variety of products and then conducting sophisticated statistical analyses to see which approach was most effective."

C'mon, now, these guys embody the American Dream! Sam Jain is the son of an engineer. He graduated from Penn State in three years and, through constant hard work and keen insight into gaps in the market, made himself into a multi-millionaire.
Using nothing but pop-up ads and their own online distribution, Jain and Sundin succeeded in selling $40 software to untold millions of users. Over the better part of a decade, they built and then ran an organization to write and market that software.

It's hard for me to read this article and not want to be like these guys. Isn't this the way the market is supposed to work? The best advertising wins? The consumer's choice reigns supreme? The consumers chose these guys, didn't they?

03 October 2011

On Maybells and DARE

Taking a quick break from the political stuff that I seem to have been getting sucked back into lately, I'm offering up here a link to an article from Humanities Magazine.

The article, which commemorates the passing of the Dictionary of American Regional English, points out some of the ways that language flows around us and through us. While the author (Michael Adams, of IU-Bloomington) does not say so, it is a lovely argument for some of the ways that humanities work can be quite practical.

According to this dictionary, a Wisconsin native may know a flower called a maybell, and so may a Michigander, but if they talk flora over a drink in Chicago, it may take awhile before they realize they are, in a sense, speaking different tongues. In Wisconsin, maybell means ‘lily of the valley’; in Michigan, it means ‘marsh marigold.’ The dictionary knows this because fieldworkers surveyed Wisconsin speakers with the question, “What are other names in your locality for the lily of the valley?” and Michigan speakers with the question, “What do you call the bright yellow flowers that bloom in clusters in marshes in early springtime?” Maybell was an occasional answer, a word some of us share that nonetheless underscores differences in how we know and name the world around us.

Anyways. The article is quite short, and definitely worth a read.

I'm off to go teach and attempt to avoid infecting my students with whatever horrible head-cold bug I've acquired. Cup of noodles, followed by dayquil, should beat down the sneezing and hacking long enough for me to get through class. Hurrah.