Saturday, November 23, 2013

Laziest Generation

The whole point of these missives, this writing exercise, those monographs is to share some kind of knowledge, some wisdom, some truth hard fought and hard won. You’re supposed to come away having a better appreciation for life and your place in it. The problem is, of course, that there needs something to be said before that writing can occur.
It’s 2:13 a.m. and I’m eating pepperjack and townhomes and feeling as lost and overwhelmed as I always do. If there’s some kind of truth in this, I don’t know where it is. If there’s wisdom, it’s not mine to share. All I can give you is my experience, which is all I can ever give you when it comes down to it.
There’s a narrative in anthropological academia, a narrative that implies that the reason anthropologists get into anthropology in the first place is because anthropologists don’t fit in well with their own culture and have the urge to explore other cultures to better understand why they’re personally wired that way. It’s a good narrative, one that describes a number of major figures. On top of the whole “reformer’s science” subtitle, a great many anthropologists are argumentative contrarians.
It’s sweet and sort of sentimental to read about these figures and discuss loosely what’s going down at the AAA convention, but it’s the sweet of nostalgia and daydreams, since it’s a culture that’s dying out every day – or rather it’s reverting to a pre-G.I. bill era where academia is a locked tower filled with overly wealthy dodderers. I’m supposed to graduate this semester, and really I’m getting out just in time. The budget cuts are deepening and major services are being slashed. The Children’s Center, an entire building on campus, is getting cut. There are fees for withdrawing from classes. There were talks of changing requirements to require transfer students to have to take something like 75% of their courses here; boosting tuition from otherwise (apparently) flighty transfer graduates.
On every campus in America there’s a bunch of clubs and activities designed to engage college students in some sort of collective spirit-building exercises. These constructs are designed purposefully to help ease college freshmen into college life, where they might feel suddenly isolated and uncomfortable removed from the high school they were previously attending. It’s a justifiable goal, though it also serves the purpose of extending adolescence and obscuring the financial cost of college through misdirection. For these clubs and for many Americans, college is just another step in the path to becoming a middle class adult. The thing is: college is also an ancient and erudite institutional method of intellectual development designed to acculturate and reiterate an intellectual class. Even further college is a road towards greater economic security, negotiated by ambitious individuals who still believe in class mobility. College for them represents a contract where in exchange for a series of individually pointless tasks they’ll earn leverage over their employers.
I’ve probably said this before (and I’ll gladly rant about it a dozen times more in person, willing didact that I am) but modern college is some kind of mutated aggregate of an assumed adolescent stage that’ll bottlerocket you off to middle classdom. Combined with our most recent “millennial” trend of victim blaming and the stagnant economy, college is actually a pretty bad deal. You’re paying tens of thousands of dollars to attend a place that treats you as an over-developed horny child in exchange for a piece of paper whose value drops every commencement. Then you’re jettisoned into the “real world” where your vain attempts at demanding recompense for your labors as per the implied social contract are met with cries of “entitlement” or “homeless with iphones” or “laziest generation.” It’s a catch-22 because the world loves catch-22s.
It’s not really worth it to go to college, but the biggest and worst problem is that it’s even less worth it to not go to college, to languish in entry level world as employers use arbitrary notions of “skill” to justify paying as little as they can get away with. Basically we’ve made college the modern indentured servitude, leading straight to the wage slavery constructed in the world.
There’s some argument out there that all the things that capitalism constructs are the same; that the story it tells is the same one over and over again. There’s some argument that all stories we tell are the same story. I don’t know if any of that is true and I don’t know what wisdom there is to curdle from them.

Monday, October 21, 2013

On obsession and desire

It’s eight and I’m at the bar and I’m feeling a little down and I’ve got a whiskey and diet and I’m thinking about him and where it went down and what I should have said

He’s still out there somewhere and probably not even thinking about me and I’m just sitting here and I should contact him. I don’t want to bother him, don’t want to risk making a worse impression than I already have
“I don’t want to apologize”
“I need to know the people around me aren’t going to hurt me”
“It sounds like you’re saying ‘I’m done with you’”
It’s 8:30 and I’ve got another drink and more people have come in and left. Thank god I don’t know any of them I’m not in any shape to interact right now. I’m staring at the tv instead but behind my eyes in my head there’s a play happening over and over and the best/worst part of me is trying to figure out how that could have gone better
I want it to be perfect, I want it to be how I imagine, I want it to be a life worth living, I want all my effort to matter I want to be appreciated I want to be understood
“Are you okay?”
“Hey, sorry we haven’t talked in a while, let’s catch up”
You doin?”
It’s 10:00 and now Tosh is on doing his white guy on the internet routine over and over and I’ve closed out because I’m feeling pretty sleepy and still no one I know is here
I think I get it, I think I just like him because we connected sexually and that is the majority of my feelings here, since he’s so hard to talk to and clearly not interested in the same kinds of things I am and we’re different people. All of this has been really dumb emotional wrenching for something that wasn’t ever going to work out, and I know it. It’s just safe and easy and this way I can build my identity around romantic tragedy and feel sorry for myself instead of ever bothering to grow as a person at all
“Ugh, it’s like rubbing my uncle”
“I can be so mad at you but then you turn around and say something like that and it just makes me want to hug you. I hate it”
“Good night, Tomcat”
It’s 11 and I’m walking home and now my vision is all blurry and I’m weeping as I walk past all of our ghosts and all I can feel is all of the loss

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Creative Content

Oh man a lot of stuff has happened lately, yet I haven’t written at all. I don’t even know what writing is any more. I’m just hitting buttons and this little counter on the bottom corner keeps going up. I’m already at 42! “Word” is the best game Microsoft has made since “solitaire.”
I keep reading these articles (I read all the articles) about millenials and the generation gap and junk like that and reading about the ways that millenials are terrible or like the world is going to become a hellish collectivist totalitarian state and all individual identity will be absorbed into some kind of freakish union. Dave fucking eggers just put out a book about this. Apparently in some kind of dystopic future privacy will be theft from the people and some megacorporation is going to eat us all. The WSJ, a Murdoch mouthpiece, is hailing it as a The Jungle of our times (while simultaneously promoting policies that created the situation the book described, naturally) and is really excited about it. I think it’s pretty clear that this is some kind of Randian break-point for Eggers, who is probably just pissed that writing is worth shit-all today and totally blames it on some amorphous collection of internet entities disrespecting the individualist right of ownership of ideas and the ability to profit off of those ideas.
Depending on who you’re talking to we’re either on the teetering edge of a massive conservative/capitalist backslide or we’re watching the death throes of capitalism and its mealy-mouthed adherents. I’m leaning toward the latter, as the industry of packaging and selling thought is less and less profitable according to a capitalist system and these are not small industries. They’re too big to fail, or more accurately if they collapse a lot of our economy collapses with them.
Recently there was a government shutdown, a shutdown that was initiated by a group of radical conservatives elected in based on racially charged anti-government fanaticism and a successful system of aggressive gerrymandering. Those conservatives did what they said they’d do, which is oppose the black man in the white house at all costs. They finally did it, the bastards. They damned that dirty ape. Seriously none of what just happened is even remotely okay. This is a situation where in a modern era a group of politicians attempted to seize control of the entire government through rule-changes and absolutely insane stubbornness. The double-talk is just as crazy. Every one of them is either citing this event as a victory or as a painful tragedy invited upon them by a stubborn white house+supreme court+senate that refuses to kowtow to the minority. It’s crazy. They’re terrorists. Everything they say is carefully designed to create more terror to the benefit of their party. They’re not interested in you. They’re not interested in anyone other than their party and their power and they’ll tell you anything they can get away with to maintain their positions. Come 2014 they’re not going to lose the elections. Come 2014 they’re going to win even more seats for their moral courage and ability to believe the shit they’re saying. Come the next debt ceiling or other manufactured crisis, they’re just going to push a little farther, since this has barely hurt their chances of re-election thanks to the insane gerrymandering. We need a new system. We don’t need to fix the old system with incremental reforms or whatever the democrats might push for. We need to throw the system out and start designing a system that from the start recognizes that politicians are people and not rational automatons (or fuck, even neutral advocates for their constituency) and people will find ways to abuse the system in their favor.
Speaking of the breakdown of capitalism, I’ve been reading a handful of stuff by prominent older musicians condemning streaming music sites for paying shittily. Pretty much all of these articles follow a certain tone, one where the primary issues with these site’s poor pay is that it’s hard for new musicians to make any money from them and consequently people who are musically talented will have to pursue their art as a part-time hobby instead of a full time occupation, leading to a dearth of creativity. Or something along those lines. People aren’t being paid what they’re worth is the general gist of these. It’s really odd to me because all of these articles seem to rely on this idea that capitalism can and should be compassionate, that it should pay musicians enough to make a living and acquire food and shelter and so on (say, 40k a year per person). From a purely rational standpoint this makes no sense. If music is not worth 40k a year according to the market, it’s simply not worth it. There’s no such thing as a basic income guarantee under a purely capitalist system. So there’s nothing actually wrong happening here. Music has simply become less valuable owing to its more frequent creation and distribution. The creators of music are more often than not already wealthy so they have the time and energy to learn and create music, but this has literally been the history of all music since the time of poets and lyrists and people like that. Beethoven wasn’t exactly some urchin off the streets. Gottschalk didn’t just up and decide to leave his life farming and go music. So I’m not seeing what’s changing here, other than the profit margins of the handful of prominent older musicians.
It’s especially telling when none of these older dudes decide to actually question the system that creates the situation they seem to be mad about. At the most they’ll make some flippant statement about how terrible the recording industry that made them moderately rich is while ignoring any and all of its influence or the fact that they’ve made a number of conscious decisions to stay in the business and help it thrive. These aren’t just anyone, but people who’ve made their names as “alternative” musicians who hate all that nasty injustice stuff, names like David Byrne and Thom Yorke and Bono. It’s an act. It’s an act borne from a need to protect a system rather than create a new one. Solving the problem where musicians don’t have the time to create music is easy: you create a basic income guarantee, allowing musicians to work on providing their craft without having to worry about providing food or shelter for themselves. It’s a galling idea, but it’s a galling idea only under a capitalistic premise that all money is a zero-sum game and everyone has to fight for it or get crushed (or the premise of the actual system we work under, which is that rich people are born rich, stay rich and die rich, and the poor likewise are poor from cradle to grave). Under a system that gave a shit about people (i.e. not designed by the sociopathic wealthy) this would make perfect sense. Everyone gets to live at some basic level.
Part of this goes back to a complete (and deliberately cultivated, on the part of those with an investment into a capitalist system) misunderstanding of the premise of communism. The idea isn’t that no one works and the state gives you everything, the idea is that you get everything you work for. Sounds kinda weird, right? It’s not nearly as weird once you recognize how badly you’re paid for your actual labor. Say you work at McDonalds, right? You make burgers. Those burgers sell at a rate of around $400 an hour averaged out over the day. Those burgers (and coke and fries and electricity and stuff) cost the store maybe around $100/hour. So between you and your four co-workers, you generate $300 an hour in profit! So that comes out to about $60 an hour, yeah? Oh but there’s the manager, so let’s make it $50 an hour for everybody. Pretty sweet, huh? Oh but hang on the mcdonalds is owned by someone else and he decides to pay you guys as little as possible, since after all he owns the place. You did the work, the manager ordered the food and regulated hours and handled disputes, and the owner did… jack shit. But the owner knows he can get away with paying you guys literally as little as he can because that’s what makes rational economic sense, so you all make $8 an hour and the manager makes $15 so you’ll listen to her and the owner pockets the other $245 and calls it a day.
Massively injust? Maybe, but it’s only rational for the owner to do this. It’s a great way to make money. It’s rational to not provide health benefits, rational to skimp on customer amenities, rational to do literally anything it takes to make more money. The owner put forward the money to open the building after all. The basic premise of communism is to do away with the owner controlling the building and providing the opportunity for people to, if they so choose, work at Mcdonalds and receive /all/ the fruits of their labors (here, $50/hr). Pretty crazy, huh? Anyway that’s the general premise of Marxist communism. There’s a lot more interesting ideas in there (paying women for domestic labor, for example, or paying parents for the work of raising children) but this isn’t really what this post is about.
In this heady modern era, we’re watching all of our information become easily and cheaply translatable to a handful of machine signals, and not just all of our modern information but all of every form of information that can be put into a machine language. One of the core concepts of Marxist theory is that industrialization needed to be able to produce goods on a massive scale, that systems needed to exist to be able to sell millions of burgers per year. At the time of writing, which saw the tripling of crop outputs and an insane influx of available goods, this was a perfectly good prediction. Numbers that were going up were going to keep going up and so on. Here 100-odd years later, anyone with a computer and some spare time can produce a song, anyone with a computer who’s literate can write a book, and anyone with a camera can get their videos uploaded to a potentially gigantic audience. The cost to create and transmit media has dramatically fallen in the last two decades and this is the result of that: a complete collapse of capitalism in the face of virtually nil value for its products. The reality that stuff can be supported solely through advertising and data-mining shitty quantitative userdata reflects the alternate economic reality the internet lives in. The recent phenomenon of not paying writers or artists or photographers for their work isn’t because the internet has made people evil, it’s because writing, art, and photography have no scarcity value and minimal cost to transmit. There are millions out there sharing their stories, drawings and photos simply because they want to be heard and to participate, not because they want money. Millions of people derive value simply in being a part of something greater than them. That attitude does not mesh well with capitalism, and it certainly doesn’t mesh well with prominent older artists who made a living under the old rules and are now defenders of the status quo.
My argument? Pay those motherfuckers for their contributions to society. Don’t pay them what their contribution is “worth” but what they need to survive and keep contributing. Pay them because they worked hard and they work hard every day and there’s no good reason for life to be some kind of rigged competition. Kill the rich and kill your heroes and burn everything down until it’s better.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Look at banner, Michael!

Sometimes when I’m particularly bored or particularly procrastinating, I read about various proclamations of my personality. Partly it makes me feel good about myself (because pretty much all my personality profiles say that I’m smart and sexy and basically awesome, which I am, so that’s cool) and partly it helps me conceptualize myself from a perspective outside my own. I have a problem pretty often where I’m unable to see other perspectives, instead replacing the perspectives of those around me with my own. I expect a lot of people, at least in certain areas, mostly because it’s what I expect of myself. I’ll assume that certain people possess the same knowledge that I do, or the same frame of experience that informs that knowledge. I even often assume a similar vocabulary.
I’m sure I’ve written this before. It’s about the same sort of semi-hubris pridestuff that both fuels and unsettles me. Blah blah I can’t tell if I’m arrogant anymore and I’m not sure I feel bad about it. I highly doubt this is a relatable story. Here’s a more relatable story, I hope:
I’m sitting in a 89 degree house with a single box fan on me at 1:44 in the morning drinking store brand apple soda with a shot of vodka in it. I could probably sleep now but I’m choosing not to for reasons that aren’t wholly clear to me. I’m writing this very sentence instead. How meta. The A/C’s line is frozen, which according to the internet could mean a couple of things, from a lack of Freon to clogged filters. There should be someone out to fix it tomorrow, but in the meantime it’s heat city indoors. Not that I really mind. This isn’t that bad. I’ve got a box fan running now even.
Summer five-ish years ago was pretty hot and I was absolutely mortified of having to pay the electricity for air conditioning because I had little enough money as it was. I just spent a lot of time naked with a floor fan and took a ton of cold showers, since water was free. Same thing in the winter. Cold? Take a hot shower. It’s pretty amazing how well it works.
Three years of New Orleans later and the heat doesn’t really phase me. Sure it’s unpleasant, but I took a walk about 2 miles today just to grab lunch and get back and I didn’t really feel like I was dying.
Anyway before this gets into more rambling about heat, I’m going to get to the point of this essay, which is creativity. The creative process is a tortured sort of thing that works differently for every living being on this planet, including a complete lack of creativity by some. For me, the process is about compulsion. Maybe I’ll be awake one night late into the night staring at personality profiles and feel the urge to write no matter the heat. Maybe I’ll go two weeks without thinking at all about anything past whatever happens to me day to day. Maybe what happened with the unending beaddventure review will happen and I’ll start to write and then peter out and realize I have pretty much nothing to say. Who knows! Not me, that’s for damn sure. On the one hand maybe I should be jealous of people with a good work ethic. The kind of people who can diligently work day after day churning out word after word of a project and ultimately culminate in some kind of impressive finished work. I don’t know. I don’t really think they’ve got a handle on the process either, since so much of it is about forcing themselves to just get something onto the page.
Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe it flows out of them like a broken dam. I wouldn’t know: that kind of consistency is wholly outside my experience. The point is, I write when I can, not when I should, and when I can write is pretty uncommon. Maybe after a drink. Maybe when I’m woozy and halfway heat stricken. Maybe only after 1 am or midnight or something. Maybe only when I’m in love. Maybe only when I’m not in love.
Here is probably a good place for a nugget of wisdom or a peal of truth or a bauble of rectitude. I don’t really have any for you tonight, and I’m not sure I ever did. The more I end up living, the less happy I am with anything anywhere and if I don’t know how to be happy, I don’t know how to make you happy either. Heck it’s not that bad. But it really is. Comprende?
Veering away from relatability again.
I am constantly saving the things I write to various places on and offline, and I’ve kept every school notebook I’ve written in for the last fiveish years. I’m doing this because I hope to one day be so famous and so successful that my myriad writings are considered valuable resources for studying my vast intellect and spurious character. Sometimes I think about convincing people I’m actually immortal and know everything. Sometimes I want to adopt the character of some obscure spirit or foreign god and march about demanding kow-tow (and later reciprocating, of course) and generally make a nuisance of myself.
I have trouble determining whether all of this is delusions of grandeur or just raw ambition manifesting in idle fantasies, but nevertheless on the offchance I do become very famous and endlessly debatable, the endless doodlings and scribbly notetakings and some small portion of the pining that has made it to print will be available for public consumption. At time of death too, unlike Twain’s 100 year clause. The prospect of actually earning that fame fills my mind with dread, though. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. That’s the third reason I read personality profiles: hoping to get some sense of how to make my life, how to make me work. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

I was asked to write this

A long time ago in the hoary old ages of time when I still shaved regularly and wore even stranger outfits and personally communicated with as few people as I could get away with (colloquially known as “the years I had to move my mid-tower from room to room searching for a wifi signal I could airsnort into”) I got involved in local politics. Mostly I did it out of some residual respect I had for Michael Moore’s blue collar liberalism and a desire to follow through on Moore’s suggestion that every individual should try to get on every ballot they’re eligible for. I still don’t think this is a terrible idea, if only to drive home the weight of the forces guarding that particular gate for those without means. The first campaign kickoff party I ever went to was a by-donation affair ($30), and I agreed at the door to spend some time canvassing for the candidate: a man whose name I can’t remember (Jeff something) but who looked remarkably like Mark Hamill and had a phone number that was super easy to remember (4, followed by 4 fives, followed by a 7 for the total amount of numbers, followed by a fifth five).
This was my whirlwind introduction to (local) politics, a hugely thankless affair where the minimal amount of work I had to do was to hand out cutesy brochures shaped like a cowboy hat (Jeff, the white hat, opponent, the evil greenbelt violating black hat) still lead a ton of people (who had previously agreed for me to visit, apparently) to believe I was there to sell them something or talk about Jesus.
Last week I went to the most recent campaign kickoff I’ve been to and I managed this time to duck both financial and canvassing obligations. Ernest “eddy-baby Freddy” Charbonnet held a pretty ritzy-doo high class affair at the top of the Basin Street Station, a sort of quasi-museum/office building/meeting space at the foot of the particular I-10 overpass exit that gets you to the French Quarter. The party was on the fourth floor overlooking a ton of landmarks, from the Mahalia Jackson Theater to the police station to one of the cemeteries to the old Iberville projects (the new projects down Orleans are obscured by the one windowless facing). The banquet room was marvelous and understated and ultimately a bit small, the six-odd indoor tables occupied by the time I arrived (punctually). There’s some really marvy skylights and an interesting series of paintings with a silhouetted black woman wearing dresses inspired by various famous paintings (mostly van gogh). The open bar was friendly, if a little oddly stocked, and they poured to rival a christmas party. Asking for mixer was a formality, just a willful attempt at deceiving your true beverage from yourself.
I biked to this event wearing black jeans and a Zephyr’s t-shirt along with sandals and my ratty old Goorin bros’ sorta army hat with some serious holes in the brim fabric. Most of my tattoos are covered, anyway. Still have glittery red and silver polish and three fingers of black and the yellow I impulsively put on half of two of my toenails, though. As usual I have no idea if anyone notices, but I’m by far the most casually dressed person there. At some point a few young-ish couples (relatives of other attendees, as far as I gleaned) come in with the guys wearing the bare minimum of a button-up and slacks, but I’m the only t-shirted individual. One guy did have a blazer and what appeared to be a track suit underneath. Professor Chervenak, inexplicably oft-interviewed political science professor at UNO, was wearing exactly the same thing he does every day thereby meeting the obligate monowear standards of professorhood (it’s in their tenure agreements). I had a lot of time to reflect on this and decide whether or not to be embarrassed. By the second drink I decided to simply be serene.
As far as substance, I don’t remember much. I came to this kickoff largely because I still follow a candidate from a previous race who is still heavily involved despite having lost his bid. Oddly enough, he actually remembered my name, despite my only personal interaction with him being a somewhat rude question about his age shouted in a crowded hall. I blame facebook, but I’m at least in part frightened by the prospect of anyone of any importance remembering who I am. It’s jarring, even though it’s something I’ve been interested in for quite some time. Funny enough, Eric Strachan ended up being the only person who knew even remotely who I was (it didn’t help that I botched the nametag) with the man of the hour Eddy Charbonnet very much not paying any attention to me. Which I must emphasize is totally fine, since I was still variegating on whether or not to be embarrassed and by the time I chose to be serene I was wholly uninterested in further human interaction. The point here is that this is all filtered through my head because it was a fairly alienating interaction that I had to stare at through my skull instead of getting lost in interpersonality.
I did spend a little bit of time chatting with a wife of a lawyerly looking guy and some time apologizing to Ed Chernevak for doing so badly in his course, but that was pretty much it. I couldn’t convince anyone else to come and I didn’t have any real strong ties to anyone involved in the campaign. A campaign which, if the short series of speeches was any indication, has about as much substance as my presence did. Strachan got on stage to look a little like a short Aaron Sorkin displaying his endorsement and introducing further endorsements from people I don’t know. Charbonnet got on stage to announce some really broad statements about his belief in the strength of city council as a balance to the executive office, some kind of statement about the two consent decrees concerning OPP and NOPD, and a very clear and strong statement that he’s not running against Stacy Head (who Strachan was the head of legislation for) but for the other at-large seat up for grabs on the council. He then introduced his kids and wife and got off the stage. I don’t want to say the speech lacked substance. Nothing really lacks substance, especially not the appearance of a lack of substance. What the speech did do was tell me very very little about why I should support Charbonnet. He passably hit a few popular beats he knew the crowd would react to and then got off stage. It’s a shame.
Platforms are contentious at best in politics and most major parties specifically write platforms that can be reinterpreted in some way (except of course the green party, which actually has some gonads) because nothing in politics is more dangerous than making a strong political statement. It’s even worse in local politics when nearly all of the players are dependent on a network of already existing players and a system of basic agreements with one another that there’s a certain way things are going to be done. Without Gary Landrieu’s hulking figure stalking about parties and crushing hands how can you expect to get the attention of the rest of the moneyed elite? Ideas are for idealists, the game is already locked up, etc etc. Louisiana is rife with this stuff. We practically revel in how corrupt our system is and our politicians are. It makes for books and great “character.”
It’s not really that democracy is a sham or anything. The system still works and even still produces upsets from time to time. The problem is that the people who’re most heavily invested in that democracy are simultaneously the least interested in it, which is why a person can start a campaign without a single platform or promise, just a party and a plea for yard signage. It’s going through the motions in case anyone is looking real hard but recognizing that the majority of your support is going to be won through back room deals and premeditated political alliances rather than strong popular support of an opinionated stance. That’s why everyone at a free party is in a suit, and why I’m not.
I’m not going to make some conceit about how I remember Huey Long and how awesome he was. That was some 80 years ago and I certainly wasn’t alive then. I will say this, though: for every memory that people in New Orleans have of a corrupt and inefficient government of foppish old-money lawyers and politicians, there’s a memory of a time when Louisiana was the bluest of the blue states, a haven for all the poor southerners and a beacon of public infrastructure in the south. We live in the highest tech city environment since Venice, why do we put up with cracked and broken roads and shoddy streetlight coverage? Why do we let our politicians spend millions on a streetcar line that travels less than a mile from a glut of hotels to the superdome? Why do we sit idly by while our noble leaders pretend to have moral convictions as the city crumbles around us?
We’re New Orleanais; we don’t have to put up with this shabby crap. If we can organize a fucking daiquiri festival because we’re frightened by a few provisos, we can run and elect a few candidates that don’t fucking suck.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Porn Review Special Report: Various Paraphilia

When I first decided to do these reviews, I only had one particular work in mind for a review. That work is the Unending Breast Expansion Add-venture, a collaborative choose-your-own-adventure style interactive erotic fiction document (whew) that debuted in 1998 as a paraphilia-themed version of other popular collaborative fiction projects. As the name would indicate, the primary paraphilia on display was breast expansion, which we covered in the last report. This is by far not the only paraphilia contained in the beaddventure, and I felt it would be disingenuous to introduce the work without a broader picture of some of the paraphilia at play.
(Trigger warning: Some transphobia, pathologization, what could be considered a form of bestiality, pervasive objectification of women)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

User Generated Content

The other evening I wrote a short twine game to try and decompress the emotional impact of spending any amount of time online. It's not particularly subtle.

You can play it right from your browser here.

Monday, July 15, 2013

How to do Things with Video Games review

A few weeks back I read and reviewed a book by Dylan Holmes called “A Mind Forever Voyaging,” which billed itself as a history of narrative storytelling in video games. The book has a particular political bent, which is legitimizing the study and cultural importance of video games as a whole. Ian Bogost here in his book “How to do Things with Video Games” has the same political bent, but the difference in tact is night and day. Where Holmes is cloying and earnest, Bogost is meticulous and lofty. Where Holmes relies on personal parables Bogost relies on the work of his own studio to make points.
It’s an unfair comparison, really. Holmes is a few years younger than I am and has barely established himself as a blogger in some extremely interesting but still relatively obscure websites. Bogost, on the other hand, is a forty something professor of media studies who also founded a reasonably successful games company and has written several books before this one. I remember reading his writing seven and eight years ago in fairly mainstream gaming blogs and I’ve played a number of his games. Bogost, in many respects, is where Holmes wants to be. In this political movement, however, it’s a comparison that’s gonna get made.
Bogost’s book is part of a series called “Electronic Mediations,” which is a typically self-serving series of academic liberal arts books designed to explore the appreciation and usage of the digital in a discursive cultural context, essentially the sort of legitimacy that Holmes is looking for.
But that’s academia, not the real world. In the real world we’re on the cusp of yet another console generation, $500 machines designed to take what a game is and make them yet bigger and yet better in a march of technological innovation. At the same time we’re watching a medium on the cusp of breaking free from its antiquated industry and reach a broader audience on more platforms than ever before. New models of payment have proven wildly successful and new forms of funding doubly so. Change is in the air, but it’s not quite clear what that change is as 2006’s console war starts anew with a fresh crop of corporate devotees eager to defend the honour of their favorite computer and its associated iconography and handful of exclusive titles.
Cynicism aside, Bogost’s book is actually very refreshing in its approach. The book is divided into chapters based on an answer to the question “what can video games be,” ultimately building an argument not for simple cultural consideration, but for creativity, making the final point that games will achieve the sort of social status they’ve recently been yearning for once they find themselves encompassing a breadth of human expression rather than simply as entertainment products or “timewasters.” He describes examples of each expression, from pranks to drills to relaxation, and advocates for new and more varied ways games can be used in those categories. One of the strongest arguments he makes is that the inevitable taming of gaming’s wilderness, the appreciation of gaming as a medium and not a particular entertainment vehicle, will inevitably lead to the destruction of the “gamer.” Once we reach the point that the average person has some modicum of gaming literacy under their belt and games are used in a variety of contexts for a variety of purposes, the notion of “gamer” will lose its relevance. All people will know how to game, so all people will be gamers.

This idea isn’t new. It’s actually along the lines of what Bogost and a few others have been writing for years. This idea is, however, novel. The games industry as it exists today is very much focused on one thing: making a ton of money for everyone involved. They do that of course by creating focus-tested entertainment products that have a massive overhead and ergo can’t risk innovation or creative expression beyond those expressions that are at least fairly likely to make money. The traditional concept of the industry is in a bad way. Over the last console generation development costs for an average run of the mill game ballooned from 5 million to twenty million plus, meaning that even a few flops can seriously damage the financial standing of a mid-size publisher. And damage it has with the last 5 years party to more layoffs and studio closings or mergers than any time since the video game crash of the 1980s. Part of it has to do with a decrease in consumer spending (and ultimately the long decline in consumer spending power brought about by stagnant wages) and another part has to do with the rise and proliferation of mobile gaming, introducing a platform that traditional publishers were slow to embrace or understand and largely unlimited by the old deals that industry leaders have bargained amongst each other to cut newer publishers out of the big three consoles.
Anyway I’m rambling and my point is this: publishers are shit fucks at taking risks and they have a lot of good reasons for it. Where else can we go? Why, the indie market, of course! Indie games have had a number of shots to the arm in the same timeframe that old-money has had a number of shots to the gut. Stuff like humble indie bundles, the runaway success of Minecraft, Kickstarter, the proliferation of digital storefronts like Steam and Green Man Gaming et al, and most importantly a general sense of disgust, of fed-up-ness with the traditional models. So the Indie world is thriving, with more and more kickstarters for alt-consoles with open platforms and hippy philosophies.
Problem is that many (though definitely not all) of the games that are coming out of this movement bear no small resemblance to the typified entertainment product model of gaming. Games are new and interesting twists on 2d platforming or music games or shooters or 3d brawlers or whathaveyou, but they’re (frequently) not trying to say anything new in gaming. It’s a morose situation, especially when compared to the versatility of other media. In writing, for example, a person can write an instruction manual or a love letter or a novel or a doctoral thesis or a letter to the editor or a news article or a review or a stream of consciousness expression of the internal mental states of anxiety or so on. Games are just as capable of that kind of breadth but historical industrial constructions and the social understanding of games are holding them back from this.
Or so Bogost’s argument goes.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


I’ve been on the bus for just over two solid days now. I have slept for a total of perhaps 4 hours, owing largely to my personal inability to sleep upright. Much of today has been punctuated by accidental microsleeps, closing my eyes and following my mind down some irrational track.
I traveled out of New Orleans on a bus headed for Shreveport, wide eyed and bushy tailed. The bus was crowded, but quickly became less so as people left. In Shreveport, though, the connecting bus to Dallas was about 2 hours late as the earlier bus broke down and a new driver had to be found to make the trip. More delays in Dallas meant the trip through texas had much smaller breaks than indicated on the little itinerary slip. Consequently I was able to see much less of Texas than I wanted.
What I did see a lot of was poverty. Greyhound serves millions of travelers each year, but thanks to its low price, long travel time, and simple amenities, Greyhound also serves what is essentially the lowest classes of people, the homeless, the destitute, the working poor. The construction and execution of air travel has always been an upper/middle class endeavor, with servants and in-flight entertainment. Even the modern conceit of commuter air still holds the trappings of former affluence; food amenities drastically pared but still extant.
When airline travel is threatened, it becomes national headlines. When these symbols of decadence are twisted and used against still other symbols of decadence, it sparks war. Air travel is the bourgeoisie, air travel is a target. No one assaults a bus line, since there’d be nothing to prove. There’s no message in killing the oppressed when you yourself are oppressed. No one ever looked into my bag, despite large regulations thereof. No one checked my carryon. The driver is “protected” by a frame of plexiglass and a door and the same legal statues that protect your municipal busdriver.
Compare this to traveling across New Mexico, in the highway closest to the border. We were stopped en route at a specific border patrol checkpoint. Other cars and automobiles simply have an officer stand outside and glare into the car, hoping to determine citizenship with a piercing glow and gut instinct (and license tags). He then waves them on, those droids being not the ones he was looking for. For our bus, though, two armed men entered the bus and began down the row on either side asking each passenger one simple question: “Are You a U.S. Citizen,” only slowing to look at the one Canadian passenger’s details and to glare more thoroughly at the handful of Hispanic passengers. Then they left, our freedom obtained and secured, jobs protected, taxes mad sacrosanct. A large wooden sign advertising for people to join the border patrol and a handful of shiny less-than-three-year-old cars painted in the green and white of the force closed out the scene.
The most common rhetoric in anti-immigration literature and arguments is some kind of variant on “they’re going to take our jobs” which is a fear generally based on the fear of loss of resources. The sheer poverty of the border fuels this fear, since there is so little success to be had, giving up any must feel like a zero-sum game, where any loss on your part is at a clear gain to the other and vice versa. But even still, even as the dead empty scrubland of Texas cringes softly at the concept of an invading force (of people who originally owned and occupied the land, and who constitute the majority of its residents), the destitution persists and the unequal relationship between the maquiladoras of Chihuahua and their NAFTA enabled goods shipping across to El Paso and massive warehouses and onward to supply America with things to buy maintains a steady parasitism. No amount of border patrol agents are going to stop the influence of money and tantalizing hopes of a middle class American lifestyle.
One of the things I notice most about New Orleans as a whole is the utter lack of Hispanic people and the ensuing paucity of Spanish being spoken in public places. Churls and pedants will be quick to note that the city does have a Hispanic population, though largely relegated to suburbs or generally marginalized by their low proportion of the population. Louisiana in general is not much different, Dallas similarly so, but as our bus crossed Texas the concept of what was “American” and what was “Mexican” blurred and merged and created whorls and eddies of symbolism. Former Spanish Catholic missionaries became town halls and meeting sites, rancheros proudly advertised their allegiance to the U.S. of A. Midland, Texas has a sign celebrating the town as the hometown of President George W. Bush and Laura Bush; the town is comprised of at least half Hispanic people.
By the time we arrived in El Paso, the transformation was complete and I was the only white monolingual I saw for the entire hour I aimlessly wandered outside the station. The rhetoric at this point becomes useless. If there’s an invasion, they’ve won. If it’s a hostile buyout, they’ve made the best offer. They don’t just take American jobs, they’re making the jobs in that part of America. The city itself is very nice and clearly has had a good deal of effort put into transforming it into a major player, with tourist destinations and nice hotels and fairly clean streets, all of which serve as a jarring contrast to Juarez, just on the other side of a very persistent fence . Juarez is a scrabbled together city built out of adobe houses erected on top of and to the side of dirty, ungreened hills. Juarez is the city famous for pancho villa and famous for a perpetual and ongoing gang war that leads to weekly shoutouts on public streets. The police are either shockingly corrupt or obviously afraid and the entire town is built on a framework of hoping and praying that the next day isn’t the last.
It’s poor, and it’s the kind of poor that we as Americans like and need, since they’re poor enough to make our clothes for dirt cheap while we deport their families and maintain the system that keeps them in the maquiladoras. A day later we drive by the American Apparel factory with a big sign that declares it to be “la compania rebelde.”

Saturday, June 29, 2013


My dad once told me that the reason he quit facebook after his very brief time using it was because he wasn’t a narcissist and didn’t think anyone should care to hear about whatever random thing pops into his head or whatever. This is sort of fitting with his generally reticent and private approach to life and is not something I really on any level understand. I know some people do eventually end up becoming great friends with their parents and I imagine some even learn to comprehend their reasoning, but that’s never really been an option as far as I’m concerned. My dad is a bit scary and unfathomable and I always feel guilty and odd and generally uncomfortable around him. Not really a Kafkaesque terror of him and his virility or superiority or anything like that, just the sort of unease around someone who is or was or has been something of a distant relative for most of your childhood while you were raised by someone who was vituperatively in opposition to him, popularly blaming him for behavioral mishaps or occasionally summarily labeling you as “just like your father” when you don’t think you did anything particularly wrong but anyway it creates a lot of odd tension there.
It’s not to say I don’t like my dad, in fact I like him very much. It’s not to say I don’t emulate him either, it’s just a weird uncomfortablility. Like a scar that didn’t really heal right so now you can’t quite flex your middle finger without some awkwardness or you can’t fully curl your toes or putting your knees on the ground just so causes you intense pain.
Personal writing gets compared to masturbation a lot, with the same connotations of the sort of thing you should do in the privacy of your bathroom or not at all and sharing it is kind of privately looked down on. It’s a sort of “keep it in the family/stop snitching” thing that serves as a social force actively preventing expression. The idea that no one wants to hear what you have to say or that you’re just repeating other people but worse or the idea that you’re whoring yourself out for attention and on and on. They’re all constructs of the mind; excuses and rationalizations and justifications for the sublimation of your self or your ego or your character or your internal monologues.
And they’re understandable. Nothing in the world is more understandable than insecurity. Literally every being who has ever lived on this planet grapples with some form of insecurity. Insecurity is just the difference between your mental idea of what you should be and who you are and no one lives up to their internal idea of who they are. And we can only blame ourselves, ultimately. Every single day we wake up and go literally or metaphorically outside and expose ourselves to image after image after icon after symbol of perfection and beauty and moral rectitude and every single day we go outside and get ourselves into vicious knife-fights with each other about how badly we’re failing to live up to standards and we invent news standards by which to appease ourselves about the other being that much worse so at least even if we’re failing to be perfect we’re more perfect than they are and it goes on and on until we’re all aged and infirm and judging each other in the gated communities right up until they find us dead in the kitchen trying to eat a 100 calorie yogurt cup or sitting in front of The Real Life mouth open midway through complaints about the imperfections of kids these days.
It’s a wonder anyone gets out of bed at all and not at all surprising when many of us don’t or would like not to except for our need to feed ourselves and cover our surroundings with distractions from our imperfection.
So I don’t know what to tell you. Insecurity is a force in your head and it’s a force that paralyzes you with fear, more or less, and stops you from achieving the full expression of your personhood. Yes it does bad things but it’s not like it’s for me to tell you that you should stop it or anything so trite as the idea that since it’s only in your head then it’s somehow any less real or physical or deadly. Conceptually this is just me describing the problem, attempting to find its true name so it can be bound or banished like any other demon or spirit.
Personal writing has benefits, chief among them being the sort of organizational power they can have for your thoughts. Through personal writing you can discuss a certain set of emotions you feel and read them back to yourself on paper and think about them in a new way and come up with new conclusions. With personal writing you can synthesize information that flows through your brain on your daily slog through underachievement world and turn it into something coherent and meaningful. With personal writing you can escape the flesh and bone and keratin shell you’re trapped in and at last interface with the world around you, if only in an instantaneous, photographic way.
It’s also a weak point. A vulnerability, a sort of handing keys to your car to whoever happens by except those keys are to your feelings, or if you’re at least a little more guarded it’s like exposing a tiny bit of yourself underneath the armor you wear out of doors as you walk through the hell-world that is social interaction, not enough to get seriously wounded but enough to hurt and enough to bleed and enough to keep you awake until you bind that wound or eventually forget about it or find yourself attentively deleting every attack and rationalizing away every attack and booting them all out of your restaurant because they hurt you and your world. It’s admitting to the world that beneath your armor and behind your façade and below your cool you are “only” human and “only” human in a way that denies or disrupts or destroys your pretension otherwise. You are “only” imperfect, despite all the attempts to say and prove otherwise and everyone is there to steal your perfection from you, cutting you down and making you that other because it’s the way to become more perfect.
I understand, I know there are things about yourself don’t say. You don’t say them because you don’t want to deal with their implications or their complications or their consequences. I am bisexual and I don’t say it to gay men because it turns into a conversation about inevitability and I don’t say it to straight people because it becomes an inevitability and I don’t say it to the progressive enlightened because it becomes a conversation about the injustice rendered by what they assume to be bisexuality, the transphobia that they insist it implies, so it becomes another conversation about inevitability, that ultimately I must not be bi but homo/hetero/pan. So I say nothing and let what assumptions will pass wash over me. Better this than to listen to an endless litany of nonsense and overt erasure. Dan Savage would be mad, but then Dan Savage thinks I don’t exist anyway, since Dan Savage has invaded my brain and determined for me who I am or am not attracted to.
But that’s not really much of a thing. Depression is another one of those things. You don’t tell friends or family members about your suicidal ideation, really, because it’s not likely a ton of people are really going to understand it and their attempts to do so are usually inadequate at best and it’s not like they can actually do anything other than suggest debilitating drug regimens and a cavalcade of well-meaning but ultimately terrible professionals that act out a devised script based on a handful of academic theories loosely derived from a crackpot with way too much influence. People who do talk about depression are inordinately brave, since there’s always always always someone in the crowd who is gonna yell “why don’t you just get over it, loser?” or you grow up with a parent who thinks you should just willpower your way out of all the problems she described you as having and all the problems you actually had and then later a pre-jilted lover tells you “wow it’s a wonder you don’t hate all women” because all of literary criticism theory and much of semiotics is based on that same crackpot and his weird obsession with children’s relationships to their parents.

Friday, June 21, 2013


I climbed slowly up the cliffs, my hands grasping cold stone in the moonglow, the road below me further and further away. The snow hadn’t touched the cliff, fortunately, and after a few terrifying moments my hand grasped the plateau and hoisted my body up and over. There before me lay the temple I sought.

Surrounded with snow-covered ornamentation—a fountain and some decorative steps—the temple was grand in its scale and yet simple in design, hearkening to Greek design. I knew not what I would find inside, yet I would not have been surprised to find a massive statue of Zeus or a smaller statue of Lincoln.

As I walked through the ornamental steps and ascended the pathway, I was struck with an overwhelming feeling of déjà vu. I’ve been here before, I thought to myself. But it was different now, covered in snow and forgotten on a cliff-side.

I stepped into the grand archway that marked the temple’s threshold and found myself in a small room softly lit by a golden glow that resonated well with the room’s gold leaf and red velvet walls. It felt an infinitely warm and comforting contrast to outside’s dark indigo and silvery-white moonlight reflected on the cold snow. The room and the room beyond it were filled with dioramas housed in glass cases gilt with gold trim. 

They each depicted a different sort of battle scene, playing out silently in mechanical clockwork. Here tiny golden tanks fired glittering explosive shells into a field. There small airplanes dropped golden bombs onto a small dingy city. In the next room tiny soldiers fired tiny machine guns into each other, mortar exploding around them and grenades being thrown, all perfectly quiet.

At the end of the second room was a door, simple and brown compared to the splendor around me. As I saw the door I realized I had indeed been here before, in another time, perhaps another life. I recalled beaming with pride at the diorama here, having built it to demonstrate the genius and inevitable success of the Third Reich. Before, these walls lay bare and rooms empty. He was someone else, though. From somewhere else. Still, the door remained.

I opened the door only to find a yet smaller room, just wide enough to hold a couch and a computer desk and a small television with nondescript images flickering across the screen. The room was brown with cheap particle board paneling, the couch a nondescript grey-yellow-green color. Inside the room was an older man, hair white but still standing tall and proud. I barely paid attention to his outfit, which appeared to be a dark blue robe with silver trim. He spoke to me and asked if I had found some evidence for humanity’s continued survival, for its redemption. I thought for a moment and as my attention wandered I found myself at the crest of a hillside overlooking a quiet coastal town, night illuminated by the sharp moonlight, city glowing softly with human lights.

The port, I could see, was at the end of a ship-filled lagoon, beyond it a glittering ocean. The sight was beautiful, the small wooden ships gently rocking to the waves, the town below me laying in silence. I found myself walking to a nearby building, a restaurant, small and well-worn, a light layer of grime attesting to its habitation. Inside, I knew, was a woman I also knew and loved from the lowest depths of my heart. But she was not there, and in that moment I was returned to the study. “Well Belphegor?” said the man to me. “Have you found it?” As he spoke what I was not aware was my name, his appearance changed, becoming something less human and more indefinably alien. I saw myself change as well—into a reflection of him.

I sat on the couch, brainstorming what I would say, what argument I would give. As I did the door of the study opened and in walked the woman. My heart yanked as she smiled her beautiful warm smile at me, said a few quiet words to the man and then left again. “Have I always known her?” I asked myself. The man stared expectantly. I drifted over to the computer desperate to build an argument that would satisfy his questioning. I mulled over reports of human kindness, human hope, human courage, human love. I built my case thoroughly and meticulously and began to present it soberly and intensely.

But as I spoke my mind began to drift and I thought of the cruelties and the injustices and the greed and the malfeasance. I thought of war, of perpetual endless war. I thought of hate, justified and rationalized and reproduced again and again. I thought of fear and loss and grief and wounds and scars and destruction. I began to weep, to cry openly. I choked with fear and sadness, I stopped my argument and spoke instead: “I don’t know. I don’t know if humanity deserves to continue. I don’t know if it’s redeemed. I don’t know.”

The man smiled a warm, knowing smile.