Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Big Brother 12

big-brother-poster I realize I’ve been posting up a storm lately (by my standards), and I apologize if what you like about this blog is how infrequent and therefore unobtrusive it is, but back in January when I reviewed Dead Set, I wrote:

(confession: I never miss Big Brother in the US, but in my half-hearted defense, the differences between the two shows make the US version much more of  a strategy game and much less of a schadenfruede party...I could say much more but maybe I'll save that for a post in the summer when the show returns).

Well…here it is summer and Big Brother 12 is premiering on Thursday.  I’ve actually been considering doing a weekly update sort of thing, but we’ll take that as it comes.  What I want to accomplish in this post is to give a brief overview of what about the show works for me, in part by contrasting the US version with its International cousins.

Season 1 and the International version:

In a sense, the second season of Big Brother US, when they introduced the Head of Household competitions, is the first real season of Big Brother US.  Season 1 (which aired in 2000, so we’re talking the very tip of the reality game show spear here) was formatted in the same way as the International versions that preceded it.

Ten contestants enter a house wired for 24-hour surveillance.  For the duration of the show, no news from the outside world reaches their ears (9/11 was a unique and understandable exception to this prohibition in season 2, particularly as one contestant’s cousin was killed in the attack). 

Each week, the contestants individually and secretly nominate two of their fellow houseguests.  They are not permitted to discuss their nominations (which would lead to strategizing and alliance-forming) with any other contestants.  The two contestants receiving the most nominations are placed “on the chopping block” to be voted on by the viewing public.  Whomever the public votes against leaves the house, and so on week after week.

This show format made Big Brother 1 a popularity contest par excellence.  The contestant whom the largest percentage of the voting audience wanted to win would invariably win.

What was somewhat interesting about this season was that the participants themselves didn’t really know what to make of what they were experiencing.  Survivor had also just recently commenced, so the closest analogue that they were likely familiar with would have been Real World, which had been in production since 1992.  But Real World was a very different show that emphasized conflict rather than competition.  What worked for participants of Real World translated strangely and haphazardly into the game show atmosphere of Big Brother 1.

The HOH and the rise of Will Kirby:

But then in Season 2 the producers (known as the TPTB, or The Powers that Be, in Big Brother online forum parlance), made the first and most significant of several format changes: they introduced the role of Head of Household.  Instead of secret nominations from each of the houseguests at the end of each week, at the beginning of week the show would hold a Head of Household (HOH) competition, the winner of which would have the sole responsibility for nomination.  Furthermore, instead of having the public vote on which of the two nominees would be evicted, the houseguests themselves (excluding the HOH and his or her two nominees) would cast a secret ballot to make that determination.

Let the strategizing and alliance-making begin, basically.

Also, Big Brother US is no longer purely a popularity contest; it is not at all the case that the character whom the audience most favors is guaranteed to win.  In fact, it is quite possible that the contestant whom the audience most despises might win, should his or her strategy prove superior.  Instead of being a show about popularity and humiliation, Big Brother grew to be about loyalty, betrayal, hubris, revenge, duplicity and paranoia (and popularity and humiliation).

Season 2 also saw the rise of Will Kirby, the young doctor from Florida who ended up taking home the prize (which was then and has remained a half a million dollars).  Will was so well-suited to the game, such an effortless liar with such a trustworthy face and such an intuitive grasp of group behavior that almost every self-styled “strategy player” to enter the Big Brother house since has been laboring under the anxiety of his influenceEveryone knew that Will was a liar, but no one ever thought that Will was lying to them.

BB8FloorPlan Season 8 and the Live Feed:

Season 8 was both a high-point in the show and kind of a low-point in my life.  CBS sells access to a 24-hour live internet feed, and in season 8 they were offering a free month of access as a promotion to get you hooked.  In season 9 I actually paid for a month of access.  I’m better now, but for a while there, I would wake up, turn on the feed, and mostly watch people sleep as I was preparing to teach my introduction to literary theory summer course each day.  Actually, because the house is on the west coast and I’m on the east coast, and because that Season 8’s houseguests liked to do their scheming really late into the night, chances were often good that a few of them were still up and talking as I was waking up.

It’s hard for me to defend a viewing practice that on the face of it looks so pathetic, but the best I can say is that there’s something about the pace of real life—it’s tediousness and monotony—that the edited, prime time version couldn’t hope to capture—that in fact the prime time version specifically omits.  If you can’t stand the work of Samuel Beckett, then I can’t expect you to understand, but if you can, then maybe you know what I’m talking about.  Malone have mercy on us both.


I have more things to say, but in a few minutes I’m taking off for a few days, and I wanted to get this up before the live premiere airs.  So expect a few more ruminations as well as my thoughts on this season’s cast on Friday or Saturday.

BONUS: Mose Allison, “Big Brother”

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Eating Less Meat: It’s surprisingly easy to do.

Vegetables are delicious.  I bet it was the meat and dessert industry that started spreading the meme that kids had to eat their vegetables if they wanted dessert, as though it were a chore to eat vegetables.  And then kids started to believe it. 

After reading James McWilliams analysis of the rift between animal rights advocates and sustainable farming advocates on the subject of synthetic meat at the Atlantic, I thought I might write a bit of an update to the post I wrote way back in December about roughly the same subject. 

I concluded that post by confessing that I ate all the usual meats without much in the way of guilty feelings.  Since then I’ve pretty drastically reduced my meat intake.  My decision to change my diet was not based on animals’ capacity to think or suffer but because a little over two months ago a few friends of mine and I were discussing the carbon costs of our diets.  Heh… Just writing that makes me feel like such a caricature of a liberal yuppie.

But anyway, my friend was pointing to some research he had read about that suggested, persuasively to him, that given the carbon costs of industrial meat production, going vegetarian was one of the most effective ways for an individual to reduce his carbon footprint.  I don’t mean to evaluate that argument here, but you can read about it at New Scientist

thaistirfry Now, my friend is not a vegetarian, so it’s not like he was judging the rest of us, but partly because by this point in the evening we were already several beers in, I decided to call him on his mild hypocrisy.  I told him that if he went vegetarian, I would too, thus doubling the environmental impact of his dietary decision.

We made a few concessions on the spot to make the challenge realistic and decided it would last only 6 months (actually until November 5th, because it’s so easy to remember).  We were permitted fish for two meals a week, some other meat for one meal a week, but beef only once a month because it’s apparently the worst, environmentally speaking.  Other than that we would abide by a strict vegetarian (though not vegan…eggs and dairy are allowed) diet.

Since then, 2 months in, I’ve got to tell you, it has been surprisingly easy and I feel really healthy and good about it.  Here are some ways that my eating habits have changed (or not):

  • I order vegetarian meals in restaurants (easy)
  • I don’t eat fast food (a little tough at first, but there’s no way I’m wasting a precious beef credit on a Big Mac, now it’s easy)
  • I never realized how many hoagies I ate.  On average, I probably ate between 2 and 3 hoagies a week before.  Now I eat more peanut butter sandwiches, potato chips and fruit.  (moderately hard)
  • I eat tofu sometimes, like in a delicious stir-fry (easy)
  • I’ve been a recipe experimenter for a long time now, and if anything, contrary to what you might think considering that a vegetarian diet only reduces the number of ingredients I have to work with, my diet has grown more interesting, because instead of getting stuck in the old beefporkchickenpastabeefporkchickenfish rut, I’m trying all sorts of new recipes.  (fun and easy)
  • I’ve experienced no loss of energy; if anything, I feel less sluggish than I used to
  • I save money, especially on lunches, which I can then spend on expensive steaks once a month

So anyway, so far so good.  There’ve been only four or five minor slip-ups so far between my friend and I, and already I think we’re having a positive impact on the environment.  Just kidding, but seriously, significantly reducing the amount of meat I eat has been surprisingly easy for me and it’s delicious. 

There’s still four months ago, but I have a feeling that the eating habits I’m developing now will extend beyond Guy Fawkes’ day.

BONUS: Make this.  It’s easy, customizable, and you will like it.

Monday, July 5, 2010

“One long racking chronicle of change”* (in a good way): A Review of Schismatrix Plus

3742-1Title: Schismatrix Plus
Author: Bruce Sterling
Year: 1996, the collection published; 1982-1985, the novel and stories;
Rating: 3.5/5 levels of
prigoginic complexity
Cyberpunk, Sci-fi-losophy, New Space Opera
Back Cover:

In the last decade Bruce Sterling has emerged a pioneer of crucial, cutting-edge science fiction, his work lauded by critics and contemporaries alike.  Now for the first time in one volume comes every word Bruce Sterling has ever written on the world of the Schismatrix—where the Shaper revolutionaries struggle against the aristocratic Mechanists for ultimate control of mankind’s destiny.  Experience the classic full-length novel, Schismatrix, plus thousands of words of mindbending short fiction from a storytelling master in overdrive.  It’s tough.  It’s timeless.  It’s vintage Sterling.

Despite growing up as a fan of science fiction in the 1980’s and 90’s, I managed to avoid for the most part the science fiction of the 1980’s and 90’s.  My dad bought a lot of sci-fi in the decades before I was born, and my tendency was always to head out to the garage rather than the library when I needed something fun to read.

As a result, Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix is one of the only “cyberpunk” novels I’ve ever read.  (Film and television is a different story, of course.  I’ve seen loads of movies that you’d characterize as cyberpunk and/or that were based on cyberpunk novels.)  On the other hand, Schismatrix and the other stories included in this volume don’t necessarily strike me as ordinary cases of the genre. 

Certainly, Schismatrix is a novel that explores the way that technology might dissolve political and social institutions as well as the “natural” cohesion of the human species, which is (according to Wikipedia) a common trope of cyberpunk works, yet whereas most examples of the genre take place on some dystopic, near-future earth, Sterling’s novel is set almost entirely in outer-space habitats over the 200 years between 2186 and 2386 (the life-span of its main protagonist, Abelard Lindsay). 

Furthermore, while it may be typical for cyberpunk authors to borrow stylistic cues from the detective and noir archives, Schismatrix seems, especially in the first third of the novel, to borrow heaviest from the swashbuckling adventure tales that informed the space opera sub-genre of sci-fi’s golden age (or, what may be more likely, Sterling is borrowing directly from that sub-genre).

Indeed, the plot of the first part of the novel, in which the hero, a young and rebellious aristocrat, is betrayed by his best friend, subsequently exiled from his homeland and stripped of his high status, and must rely only on his wits and charm to survive all manner of dangers ranging from assassins to space-pirates, reads almost like something out of The Count of Monte Cristo or Kidnapped. 

What all that swashbuckling serves as a vehicle for, however, is Sterling’s fantastic speculations about the various forms that human life and society may adopt as those forms, with the help of gene manipulation, surgery, drugs, and cybernetic prosthetics, grow ever less constrained by accident and ever more into the deliberate manifestations of our ideals. 

The two main “factions” of post-humans, mentioned in the back-cover blurb, are the Shapers and the Mechanists.  The Mechs accept the accidents of birth but accoutre their bodies with all manner of prosthetics, monitors, optic implants, seratonin drips, etc. to make up for and exceed any imagined lack.  The Shapers, on the other hand, aren’t so much born as made, having opted to make intelligence and planning rather than mechanical advantage their forte.  Designed from the gene up to be not only free of defects and beautiful but also super-intelligent, Shapers typically undergo rigorous training programs to develop their mental skills and ingest complex drug cocktails to enhance their senses and focus their minds.

The technologies employed by each of these factions are not incompatible with each other, of course, and most of Sterling’s characters operate outside of pure Shaper or pure Mechanist designations.  On the contrary, what keeps the two groups distinct and at each others throat throughout much of the novel is no more or less than ideology.  The Shapers, for example, in addition to their skill-acquisition programs, also endure ideological conditioning that prejudices them against the Mechanists.  They are made to view with disgust the flawed, stinking bodies of the “unplanned.”

But if there is one ideology described within the text that seems to rule them all then it must be the Posthumanism that Abelard Lindsay ultimately advocates.  Borrowing terminology (if not the actual science) of Ilya Prigogine’s theories of complex systems, Sterling characterizes Posthumanism as a schema that organizes existence not in terms of species, race, or function but in terms of complexity.  Specifically, the text describes four levels of complexity and speculates on a fifth.  The first is the simplicity of the primordial, pre-causal, pre-continuum universe.  The second level of complexity is Space-time.  The third is Life and the fourth is Intelligence. 

The political agenda of those in the novel who espouse posthumanism is to engender leaps to ever higher levels of complexity, hence their advocacy for such large-scale projects as terraforming Mars (thereby “catalyzing” the Third Prigoginic Leap from inert matter to amoebic life).


While Schismatrix and the other stories collected in this book are far from literary masterpieces, they are nevertheless imaginative and engaging works that I highly recommend, particularly to the reader who may be interested in the limits of humanity and the constraints of ideology, which are often one in the same.


* from p. 214:

The history of the Schismatrix was one long racking chronicle of change. The population had reached nine billion. Within the Ring Council, power had slipped from the narcotized hands of the Zen Serotonists. After forty years of their reign, new Shaper ideologues embraced the aggressive schemes of visionary Galacticism.

The new creed had spread slowly. It was born in the interstellar embassies, where ambassadors broke human limits in their struggle to grasp alien ways of life. Now the Galacticist prophets stood ready to abandon humanity entirely, to achieve a Galactic consciousness where mere loyalty to species was obsolete.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Like the Da Vinci Code (but without the Stupid Puzzles): a Review of The Dead Man’s Brother

cover_big Title: The Dead Man’s Brother
Author: Roger Zelazny
Year: 2009 (written ~1971)
Rating: 2/5 phallic machetes
Categories: Unchallenging Thriller, Male Fantasy
Back Cover:

Once an art smuggler, now a respectable art dealer, Ovid Wiley awoke to find his former partner stabbed to death on his gallery floor.  That was strange enough—but when a CIA agent showed up to spring him from NYPD custody, things got a lot stranger.

Now the CIA is offering to clear up the murder charge, but only in return for a favor: They want Ovid to fly to Vatican City and trace the trail of a renegade priest who has gone missing with millions in church funds. What’s the connection? The priest’s lover, a woman Ovid knew in his smuggling days…

When I was about 13 years old, I found a collection of short stories in the library of the Catholic school I attended that contained something that you could almost consider a sex scene.  The collection was Unicorn Variations and the thrill of juvenile transgression it engendered—that sweet, hot blush of shame that only the lapsed Catholic could ever understand—seems to have transformed me into a Zelazny fan for life.  So when I heard that a previously undiscovered Zelazny manuscript, unpublished for close to 40 years, was going to see a posthumous printing thanks to the excellent Hard Case Crime series, there was never any doubt that I was going to read it.  You could hardly even call it a choice…more of a compulsion.  A wicked sin I was helpless to resist.

Zelazny won 6 Hugo Awards and 3 Nebula Awards for his science-fiction, and as far as I’m concerned, he deserved them all.  But early on in my enjoyment of his work, it had become obvious to me that there were almost two Zelaznys.  There was the experimental Zelazny, the student of literature, who used his novellas and novels to explore themes like mortality, will, and our relationship to myth and story, who tested the limits of his genre and helped to define the New Wave of American sci-fi in the late 60’s and early 70’s, AND THEN there was the indulgent, five-finger-exercise Zelazny, who (imaginatively, at least) articulated the rambling adventure fantasies of 13 year old boys.

The Dead Man’s Brother, though it was allegedly penned shortly after such masterpieces as Lord of Light and Isle of the Dead, was regrettably written by that latter, lesser Zelazny who vomited up such guilty pleasures as Damnation Alley and a good portion of The Amber Chronicles

While Zelazny often made a point to walk the line between sci-fi and fantasy, The Dead Man’s Brother is the only published crime novel he ever wrote.  I’m not sure if I hope there are more undiscovered crime novel manuscripts or not.  I’d read them, of course.  The problems with the novel, however, do not stem from any lack of familiarity or facility with the genre.  In some respects, Zelazny’s writing style is extremely well-suited to crime.  His heroes have always been a bit hard-boiled.  They’re often noir-ish, selfish smartasses who won’t hesitate to deliver a cheap shot if given the chance.  They’re often motivated by revenge when it does not conflict with self-preservation. 

The problem with the novel is that there isn’t anything to it except the selfish smartass.  The plot (which consists of the hero tracking down, under duress from a blackmailing CIA agent, a renegade priest who has disappeared deep into the Brazilian jungle with loads of Vatican cash) moves along quickly enough but without any real development.  The hero is the same at the end as he was at the beginning.  No literary experimentation.  No genre deconstruction.  No intellective engagement.  None of the characteristics that identify a novel as Zelazny operating at his peak, and at about 250 pages, especially for a slow reader like myself, you could hardly categorize The Dead Man’s Brother as a quick read.

So read it if you’re a fan of the author or a 13 year old boy, but otherwise you should probably steer clear.

NB I’m not making any excuses for the retro cover art painted by Chuck Pyle for Hard Case Crime, though.  That’s unconditionally awesome.

Goal: Post more reviews (like at least one a week).

the-road-to-success In my post yesterday, I mentioned that I had a number of reviews to type up, and what I meant by that was that I read a lot of novels and watch a lot of movies and tv--(those are basically some of the main things I do and in my more despairing moments it seems to me that the supreme good of my education has been merely that I have learned how to be entertained)--and I’ve been thinking about posting reviews of what I read and watch more regularly, both to help me develop better habits of reflection and also because it seems to me that a blog should provide some kind of service.  While I confess to having fairly narrow interests and some unusual tastes, I think that the reader who might share those interests and tastes to even a small extent might also appreciate my suggestions and recommendations.

I considered having something like “movie monday,” or “tv tuesday,” but I’m not quite ready for that kind of regularity.  If I can manage two non-quote blog posts a week on anything I’ll be happy.  What I will do in the interest of conformity is see if I can’t devise some categories (Thinkers, Fun Reads, etc.) and some kind of rating system.  We’ll play it by ear.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Draper-Cooper Continuum of Subjectivity

I apologize for posting so lightly over this past month.  I’ve got a couple of movie, book and television reviews to type up, but I thought I’d dip my toe back into the blogging pool by noting a few sort-of-related observations about subjectivity inspired by some dots connected by James Fallows and one of his readers with regard to Facebook and the recent resignation of Dave Weigel from his position as conservative movement correspondent at the Washington Post.

As far as the Weigel debacle is concerned, it seems to me that the Post wanted an uncritical hack but with Weigel they accidentally got themselves a real reporter smart enough not to suffer fools gladly.  That’s a bit beside the point I’d like to get to though.

As Fallows notes, Michael Zuckerburg, the evil boy-genius behind the plastic police state that is Facebook, has been catching some heat lately for the way the website nudges its users to exhibit themselves as much as possible to as large and public an audience as possible.  One good reason to gently corral the privacy options of facebook users in the direction of greater access is obviously to market that access to advertisers.  However, for Zuckerburg, profit doesn’t seem to be his only motivation.  According to some recent comments, he appears to think that his timely innovations have catalyzed nothing less than a revolution in subjectivity.  Witness the audacity of youth:

“You have one identity,” he emphasized three times in a single interview with David Kirkpatrick in his book, “The Facebook Effect.” “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.” He adds: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” (quoted at Crooked Timbers)

His comments reminded me of a favorite exchange from the first season of Twin Peaks between Audrey Horn and Special Agent Dale Cooper, who is surprised as he enters his hotel room at the Great Northern to discover Audrey naked in his bed.  Coop does the right thing (of course).  He resists the sexual advances symptomatic of Audrey’s father issues and resolves instead to be the comforting, emotionally present confidant/analyst she needs:

cooperfacebook Cooper: Now I’m going to go down and get us two malts and some fries downstairs. Then I want you to tell me all your troubles.
Audrey: That could take all night.
Cooper: The night is young. Now I’m going to get the food and you're going to get dressed.
Audrey: I can’t tell you all my secrets.
Cooper: Secrets are dangerous things Audrey.
Audrey: Do you have any?
Cooper: No.

That “no” at the end, the lack of pretense, of masks, and of secrets is the essential mark of Agent Cooper, it seems to me.  That disciplined, deliberate authenticity is what distinguishes him so radically from nearly everyone else in Twin Peaks and what enables the viewer to rely upon him so securely and without reservation throughout the series’ run.  It is the reason we find the conclusion of the show, rushed and weird though it was, so strangely devastating.

But Zuckerburg’s remarks also made me think of what I have previously written about Mad Men’s Don Draper:

Like Hitchcock's mad north-by-northwest man, Roger O. Thornhill (What's the O stand for?), there was nothing at Draper's core...nothing to resist or belie the succession of masks he wore.  Though he appeared selfish, Draper was in fact only the other of others.    Each mask was like an advertisement, modelled on someone else's desire, loving the one it's with.

So I guess what I’m getting at is that Cooper and Draper might define the two extremes of a sort of spectrum of subjectivity, ranging from the radical cored-ness of Cooper to the radical masked-ness of Draper.  Each represent such pure examples of each type so as to be capable of existing only in the abstract of fiction.

I’ll also observe that each extreme possesses its own form of psychosis: 

In the case of Agent Cooper, psychosis takes the shape of the paranoiac, whose every movement of thought, every fleeting whim, is rendered visible.  He surveils himself and keeps nothing private.  Does Diana, his confessor/secretary, really exist?  Does the guard at the center of the panopticon?

The form of Draper’s psychosis, on the other hand, is that of the schizoWho he is changes to fit the rhetorical situation.  His “true-self,” should such a thing be imagined, would be the obscure totality unknown to itself.  Its name is legion.

I may revisit this thoughts later, but this will suffice for now.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Le plaisir d’objet: Quote of the week (month?)

the-third-man-sewer Like deep-burrowing, mythological worms, power lines, pipelines, and pneumatic tubes stretch themselves across the continent.  Pulsing, peristalsis-like, they drink of the Earth and the thunderbolt.  They take oil and electricity and water and coal-wash and small parcels and large packages and letters into themselves.  Passing through them, beneath the Earth, these things are excreted at their proper destinations, and the machines who work in these places take over from there.

Blind, they sprawl far away from the sun; without taste, the Earth and the thunderbolt go undigested; without smell or hearing, the Earth is their rock-filled prison.  They only know what they touch; and touching is their constant function.

Such is the deep-buried joy of the worm.

-Roger Zelazny, The Dream Master (1966), pg. 98

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Marijuana prohibition isn’t just stupid. It’s deadly.

1973_Colt_AR15_SP1 President Calderón of Mexico is visiting the United States this week, speaking with President Obama about a range of issues including the controversial new Arizona anti-immigration law, the North American economy, border violence and even climate change.  But there’s something that the two statesmen are unlikely to discuss (via Drug
President Obama calls Calderon Mexico’s Elliott Ness…but Elliott Ness never stopped illegal liquor. The lifting of Prohibition did. Similarly, the only solution to the drug trafficking and violence on both sides of the border is to legalize drugs. (Edward Schumacher-Matos, The Washington Post, 5/19/2010)

I have been meaning to author a drug war-related post for a while now, and the occasion of Calderón’s visit seems as good a time as any.  I don’t think I have anything to add to the discussion that hasn’t been explored in much greater depth at Drug, a site which I regularly monitor and highly recommend.  So I guess mainly I’d just like this post to direct traffic there.

Because I don’t think that President Obama is an idiot, I find it hard to imagine that he could identify Calderón as a “Mexican Eliot Ness” without also thinking through the historical parallels that would lead him to conclude that the real problem is not some harmlessly euphoric plant but Prohibition itself and the entrenched paramilitary and propaganda institutions that owe their existences to it.

Obama, at least, spouts relatively less drug-war nonsense than previous presidents, and I’m actually hopeful that if he wins a second term he might opt for spouting sense.  After all, even as thousands have died and are dying needlessly and uselessly in Mexico since Calderón ordered the first 6,500 federal troops into Michoacán in 2006, there have also been positive changes both in law and in attitude in the US.  A bill that could allow seriously ill patients to benefit from medical marijuana (a good start, though full legalization and regulation is really the only sensible policy) has even been introduced in my home state of Pennsylvania (HB 1393).

Nevertheless, it seems that even among my primarily liberal and informed friends, when I occasionally note in conversation that some medical marijuana law has been introduced, or when I point out some politician’s support for either legal reform or the drug war as a point for or against them, there is this smirking sense that ending prohibition isn’t really a serious cause, or rather, that what motivates and organizes my thinking is merely a personal, even selfish, desire for legal weed.  As though the only people victimized by marijuana policy are a bunch of funny, college-age stoners having to watch their cartoons and eat their sugary cereals in secret.

Many of the privileged, middle-class, members of my generation, who grew up during the Reagan administration and graduated in elementary school from laughable D.A.R.E programs will allow that marijuana might make you lazy but is mostly harmless.  According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 41% of Americans over 12 years of age have at least tried it, and I doubt that many of them would conclude from the experience that the outright lies constituting anti-drug fear campaigns are justified.  best-magazine-covers07But surprisingly few will associate marijuana prohibition with the cartel war in Mexico because their perspective as end-users obscures the illegal market dynamics that connects their enjoyment of Pink Floyd and soft-serve both to a prison/enforcement-industrial complex and professionally trained cartel security forces armed with AK-47s and R-15s. 

Hmm.  It sounds a little like I’m blaming the user here, and that’s not at all my intention.  I just watched a commenter on CNN do just that.  He invited any drug users who were watching to “just stop and think” about the “real” costs of your “ounce for Saturday night…as harmless as you think it may be.”  This reminds me of that National Lampoon magazine cover that threatened to shoot the dog if you didn’t buy the issue.  The illegal market dynamic that connects drug use to drug violence is no more natural or necessary than the dynamic that might associate magazine sales with canine stays of execution.  Prohibition policy is what transforms American drug demand into something from which both the DEA and the Sinaloa cartel can benefit.  So it is the legislators and enforcement agencies that should “just stop and think” about the “real” costs of their preoccupation with how people spend their leisure time. 

On the other hand, what I do want to impress upon recreational drug users as well as non-users is that until these drug policies are reformed, we are all complicit in drug war violence.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Cyborg Aesthetics

sheep Writing is technology, and the reader is a cyborg.  Through (or with?) the text one establishes zones of contact (thought tendrils) between two systems (at least two, why couldn’t it be more?), one strange…alien…and initially outside, and the other familiar, adapting the familiar to fit the strange (which is also changed by the operation).

The cyborg reader is a decentered subject.  It does its thinking in different places.  In the brain but also out of the brain.  In the eyes, the hands, and the skin, but also in the ink, the paper, and the screen.  Cyborg thought has no absolute outside.  This makes an aesthetics built around the sovereign judgment of an autonomous cogito impossible.  The aesthetics of the cyborg are instead a function of estrangement and utility.  Its art is mutation and disruption; its sublime is ugliness; its harmony is efficiency.

It isn’t always useful to see the particular substance of objects or to be deliberate about every activity.  Sometimes it is better to see empty forms.  Sometimes it’s better to shuffle along like zombies.  But not always, and art snaps you out of your sleepwalk and renders difference visible. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Elephant-men of Avatar 2

Here were trunks, spines, tusks, fangs, claws, tails, paws.  Here was fur, and here was smooth hide.  Here was flesh flowing at will and seeking new shapes.  Here were dark chambers, lit only by flickering fungoid-glow, in which no firm distinction of species existed (Downward to the Earth 165).

Downward-to-the-EarthWord on the street is that James Cameron won’t make a sequel to the award-winning 3D spectacular, Avatar, unless “he feels strongly that the script is excellent enough.”  Sufficient excellence is a funny sort of concept, and I’m not exactly sure what it means, but he could do a lot worse than to adapt Robert Silverberg’s Downward to the Earth (1969). 

I had pretty serious reservations about Avatar before watching it.  I'd read that it was racist, that it staged the conquest of fantasy over sci-fi, that it worshipped a death-god (Douthat, you're awful, but sometimes hilariously so), and that like Titanic it will be unwatchable in 10 years

The consensus among friends of mine whose opinions I respected was that it was visually awesome.  Not worth thinking about, but worth watching.  Initially I resolved not to watch it at all.  Movies can be good and have awesome computer effects, I said to myself, so I’ll wait for them… 

But then I was kidnapped! by this team of insane scientists who were researching methods of coercion and torture.  Seriously!  It was frightening.  They took me to a secret underground laboratory and told me that they would electrocute one kitten for every hour that I resisted watching Avatar.  Innocent, defenseless kittens!  Now, I am a man of strong principles and iron will, but I am not a monster.  So reluctantly I agreed to watch it.  Tell me you wouldn’t have done the same.   This really happened.  I wouldn’t have watched it otherwise.  My time is far too valuable.  Honest.

Well, turns out it sucked.  It totally sucked.  I wasn’t offended by the politics or anything.  The nature-worship was sort of cheesy, but the idea of a sentient biosphere was cool, and I’m positive that Cameron meant well.  But it was still 10 lbs of CGI in a 5 lbs bag.

However, Cameron could totally redeem himself in my eyes if he took a serious, long look at Downward to the Earth as possible source material for the sequel. 

Why, you ask? 

Downward to the Earth, as it happens, is a novel about redemption.  In the far future, Earth has established a far-reaching colonial empire spanning inhabited alien worlds.  Holman’s World (or Belzagor, as the natives call it) is one such planet.  But liberal activists on Earth stir up enough anti-colonial sentiment to successfully lobby for the relinquishment of all colonized planets hosting sentient life back into the possession of their indigenous populations.  The plot of the novel follows Edmund Gundersen, a former sector administrator of Belzagor, who returns once more to his outpost eight years after Relinquishment to atone for his past sins.

Strangely, there are not one but two sentient races on Belzagor, the Nildoror and the Sulidoror.  The Nildoror are massive, elephantlike beings, herbivorous and passive, whom the earthlings exploited as beasts of burden.  The omnivorous Sulidoror, on the other hand, are large, furry bipeds, about one and a half times the size of a man.  Throughout the many years of colonial occupation, the Sulidoror mainly kept to themselves in the mysterious forests of the northern mist country, but Gunderson is surprised, on his return, to find the Sulidoror living alongside of the Nildoror, even in the tropics where he had been stationed.

The Nildoror have this thing, like a religious rite, called Rebirth, that Gunderson has heard only whispers about.  They pilgrimage to the mountain of Rebirth, deep inside the mist country, to undergo it, and Gunderson, racked with guilt, has become obsessed with the idea of participating himself.  But on the way to the mountain, Gunderson comes in contact with one of his former colonist friends, a “dark and chilling saint” named Kurtz (an explicit reference to Heart of Darkness) who has already attempted Rebirth and came out of it writhing in pain, his body a deformed mess of alien biology equipped only for suffering.  “River…death…lost…horror…river…cave…warm…lost…warm…smash…black…go…god...horror…born…lost…born…” he feverishly repeats (116). 

Will Gunderson continue on his pilgrimage or turn in horror from this fleshy manifestation of the deep, twisted darkness he fears he and his kind have imposed upon the planet?  You’ll get no more spoilers from me, but at its core, Downward to the Earth is about the cruelty of Western civilization, the arrogance of the human race, the possibility of redemption and the virtue of estrangement (and maybe also the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs).  These themes match well the message of Avatar, but with an important difference: the natives of Belzagor have no use for human saviors. 

Cameron really wouldn’t have to change much.  Swap out the Sulidoror for the Na’vi and maybe instead of elephant-like aliens, he could have some Pandoran equivalent of the blue whale play the role of the planet’s secondary sentient race.  

Friday, May 7, 2010

Laughter and Reason: Quote of the Week

“It [the belly laugh] does not just escape analysis by refusing to be an object for an analysis: in so doing, it deprives analysis of its rational subject.” -Michael Holland, “Belly Laughs,” Anatomy of Laughter, 42.

Thoughts on Lexx, Part 3

earthdestroyedI have finished up with all four seasons of Lexx now, and this post is going to contain some spoilers.

In (what has turned out to be) this short three-part series on Lexx, I have been attempting to think through my sense that by offering up a parody of Star Trek:TNG, Lexx inadvertently distills a humorous, posthumanist antidote to the humanist poison of that much more well-known series.  I wanted to write of Lexx what Sørina Higgins has written of Cary Wolfe’s What is Posthumanism? (2010) in her recent review of the book, “Posthumanism: A Christian Response”:

it seeks to problematize humanity’s unique existence; it calls into question universal ethics; it interrogates our assumptions about rationality; and it destabilized distinctions that are essential to religion, such as nature/culture, presence/absence, and human/nonhuman.

Now, I haven’t said anything about Lexx’s treatment of religion, of course, and there’s probably something to be said about it.  TNG, while secular, at least tended towards a multicultural tolerance of diverse faiths, I think, whereas Lexx was quite a bit more antagonistic, particularly in the first season, in which the primary villain was His Divine Shadow, the tyrant ruler (actually an insect-spirit in disguise as a anthropomorphic god) of the so-called “Light Universe” (there are two universes in Lexx until the one is destroyed) and in the third season in which the Lexx spends 12 episodes orbiting two planets that turn out to be forms of heaven and hell existing without apparent purpose.

But I’m less interested in what satirical barbs Lexx may or may not direct at religion than I am in the ways it makes the human body mutable, the individual divisible, the human spirit both complex and indistinct from its machine, animal, and alien environments.

However, like the crew of the Lexx, who might occasionally swap genders, re-grow limbs and other organs, or die and be reborn,  the series undergoes sometimes drastic transformations from one season to the next.  Unfortunately, not every evolutionary adaptation proves viable, and, regretfully (to me), it seems the writers opted in the end to contrive the triumphant return of the human.  Alas.   Each of those characteristics that I initially found so interesting…so “problematiz[ing],” to use Higgins’ phrase, “of humanity’s unique existence”  is ultimately undone in the final episode. 

The fighting spirit and contempt for the non-human that comes just so naturally to our species finally overwhelms Stanley’s hitherto un-

Kirk-like cowardice.  The undead Kai, whose catch phrase had once been some variant of “The Dead do not feel,” is restored to life so that he may lay down his life for his friends.  The profundity of longing professed by the robot head, 790, is belied by the coldness with which he calculates how to destroy the earth and kill all living humans.  Only Xev, in the end, comfortably in her lizard-skin outfit, still acknowledges her hybridity.  But one wonders, any more, whether her Cluster-Lizard DNA could still manage to unbalance her, as it once had led her to kill and eat a series of human mates, or had she learned finally to master it, to colonize her reptilian self, to make it subservient to her human control-center? 

I fear that, passing through the crucible of post-humanity, the crew of the Lexx emerge not reconfigured but purified, and I’m left feeling gratified but no stranger.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Thoughts on Lexx, Part 2

next_generation_crew04 lexxcrew-1024x768

In part 1, with some help from Elaine Graham, I argued that Star Trek:TNG mounts a defense of “human distinctiveness, premised upon clearly demarcated boundaries between humans and others” (Graham 148), that Lexx undermines.  I have also previously discussed the ways that robots and zombies often serve as a means to manufacture the characteristics we like to think of as uniquely human (by embodying the negatives of those characteristics).  In TNG being “human” means being rational (Picard), being compassionate (Troi), and having independent judgment (Riker)1…characteristics that representations of robots and zombies often lack. But consider the crew of the Lexx:

  • Stanley H. Tweedle, occasional Captain (by virtue of the fact that the “key” of the Lexx, an “energy being” capable of inhabiting living bodies, found him in the right place at the right time): a selfish, unattractive coward motivated most often by fear or lust; a kind of anti-Kirk who once refused to steer the Lexx out of a potentially dire situation because he was busy throwing a tantrum over his missing hat.
  • Zev/Xev Bellringer: raised in a box by holographic tutors on the planet B3K to be a perfect wife and run halfway through a machine designed to convert her into a love-slave (a cluster-lizard attack interrupted the process and got caught in the machine, the result being that her body was modified and her libido enhanced according to plan but also that she was able to escape the mental conditioning component of the love-slave program and her DNA became mixed with cluster-lizard DNA).
  • Kai: last of a race of stoic warriors; killed by the half-human/half-insect tyrant he was destined to destroy but then modified by the tyrant’s “bio-vizier” to run on “proto-blood” and made to function as a highly-skilled assassin for two-thousand years before shaking loose from his programming and joining the crew of the Lexx; the least desiring of the cast, Kai’s catch-phrase is that “The Dead do not…[want, love, dream, sleep, eat, etc.]”.
  • 790: the disembodied robot head who received the mental conditioning component of the love-slave program meant for Zev and so spends most of the series writing lewd love poems to Zev (and later to Kai) or else scheming how to get rid of the rest of the crew so that s/he can be alone with his/her beloved.

From these descriptions one can plainly see how the series seems to delight in subverting the familiar dichotomies between human and other presumed and reinforced by TNG.  Those clear lines that TNG draws between reason and instinct, learning and programming, organic and mechanic, operator and apparatus, etc., Lexx happily inverts or irremediably blurs.  In Lexx, zombies deliberate instead of hunger while robots jealously scheme instead of coldly calculate.

(to be continued)

1This list of characteristics is not meant to be exhaustive, merely exemplary.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Permutations of the Human: Thoughts on Lexx, Part 1

Thanks to the wonders of the new internet, I’ve recently been working my way through a science-fiction television series that aired back when Geocities represented a predominant paradigm for thinking about web content and community, a fact that is aesthetically confirmed by the late 90’s amateur web-design of the few, untended, zombie fansites still up (though not really running).

The 61 episodes of Lexx, recently made available through Hulu,  originally aired in Canada from April 1997 to April 2002.  Though the series is first and foremost a silly kind of scifi comedy about a misfit starship crew that inadvertently destroys everything it comes in contact with, I find it most notable for the way it provides an articulate contrast to the rational humanism of Star Trek: the Next Generation (1987-1994).

enterprise.jpg Lexx

While I was never a huge fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), there was a period a few years ago when TBS aired something like a three-hour block of the series every weekday afternoon.  I should probably be ashamed to say it, but I caught quite a few episodes, and I’m not ashamed to say that part of the reason for this was that I enjoyed them immensely.  But the following strikes me as incontestably true: Captain Picard, with his elegant diction and love of Shakespeare and Reason, symbolized the sovereign intellect, spontaneous and free (and White and male), that was the ideal of the Enlightenment humanists…the ideal of humanity to which Data aspired, often laughably but always hopelessly. 

In this context, Elaine Graham, in Representations of the Post/Human (2002), persuasively argues that: 

The Federation’s anxieties about the Borg therefore rest in the cyborg body as anathema to the humanist self because it is compromised, hybrid, profane – monstrous….  The fundamental telos of the series is to protect the integrity of human distinctiveness, premised upon clearly demarcated boundaries between humans and others. (147-8, my emphasis)

Human skin, rather than space, is in fact the unacknowledged “final frontier” of TNG, and though the crew of the Enterprise, in the name of bold humanity, invades and often transforms the strange worlds of space, the series ultimately refuses the alien (whether organic or machine…another distinction the series rigorously defends) such freedom of movement or such mutational power. 

But Lexx is scifi pastiche – a mutant to the core – and suitably disrespects almost every formulation of “human distinctiveness.” 

(to be continued)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Quote for the Week

A real post will follow shortly.  I promise.
If one day, with one and the same concept, these two incompatible concepts, the event and the machine, were to be thought together, you can bet that not only…will one have produced a new logic, an unheard-of conceptual form.  In truth against the background and horizon of our present possibilities, this new figure would resemble a monster.
Jacques Derrida, Without Alibi 77 (qtd. in Cary Wolfe, Posthumanism 9-10)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Story of the Week: The Gadarene Swine

26They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. 27When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me!" 29For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

30Jesus asked him, "What is your name?"

"Legion," he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

32A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into them, and he gave them permission. 33When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus' feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

38The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39"Return home and tell how much God has done for you." So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

Luke 8:26-40

Monday, April 5, 2010

Quote for the Week

Truth as Circe: Error has turned animals into men; might truth be capable of turning man into an animal again?
-Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Virtue of Indifference: a review of "Stalker" (1979)

Stalker (1979), like many of Tarkovsky's films, proceeds slowly and thoughtfully through familiar landscapes made strange.  The plot is allegorical: two men, one a scientist and the other a writer, engage a "stalker" to guide them to the heart of the "Zone."  The Zone looks for the most part like normal countryside, except that there are burned out tanks and a few ruined, Soviet-style bunkers laying about.  It was cordoned off by the military of the small, imaginary country in which the film is set, after a few units of soldiers had mysteriously disappeared.  But rumors have it that in the heart of the Zone, there is a room that grants the deepest desire of those who step through its door.  

The Zone represents the Unconscious, and the film is an investigation of the logic of desire.  Its argument is that desire invents its own objects (success, revenge, meaning, escape) but can never be satisfied.  A desiring existence is unbearable--endlessly deferring and disappointing.  

Not until the conclusion of the film does Tarkovsky seem to suggest two alternatives to the manacles of desire.  These are presented by the wife and daughter of the Stalker.  The wife, speaking directly towards the camera, attempts to make suffering into a universal principle, something to be accepted even.  But whom is she trying to convince?  Her eyes, her nervous way of smiling, clearly belie her desperate rationalizations.  The stalker's daughter, on the other hand, never says a word.  In the final scene, her father places her at a table (she was born crippled...or perhaps without the desire to walk); when he leaves, she lays down her head and with a disinterested, bored look on her face seems to push three glasses across the surface with her mind...or at least appears to.  She, it seems, is wired differently, with a mind that does not desire nor accept but rather rejects and destroys indifferently.

Free at Last: a review of "The Unincorporated Man"

I am unfortunately that kind of person who has a hard time not finishing a book once I've begun it, even after I've decided it's worthless, but thankfully I'm finally free, free at last! from the nearly 500-page long The Unincorporated Man (2009) after putting it down and picking it up over the course of about a month and a half.  I'm almost exactly a year late with this review, as Annalee Newitz at io9 already said just about everything I have to say about it back in March of 2009, but I feel like I have to do something to recoup the time I lost reading it, so I'll waste just a little more time writing a blog post about it.

But I won't be as mean as a feel I could be, partly because this is the first novel written by brothers Dani and Eyton Kollin but also because, according to Dani's personal blog, their mother passed away this winter. condolences.

The premise of this novel is that a brilliant industrialist from our time, Justin Cord, is un-frozen three hundred years in the future into a world that, having survived both the Grand Collapse of the global economy and a plague of Virtual Reality that almost wiped out humanity with sloth, has become a utopia spanning the solar system thanks to the wonders of nanotechnology and society's universal embrace of an extreme form of market capitalism in which people themselves are incorporated and split into shares.  The (very limited) government owns 5% of an individual's stock, one's parents start out with 20%, and another 50% can be sold to whomever cares to invest in that individual's future productivity.  Most people own less than a majority of themselves.

The conflict is that Justin Cord views personal incorporation as a form of slavery and so refuses to comply with it, remaining instead the titular "hero."  This singular attitude of resistance threatens to resurrect once more the fractiousness and internecine strife characteristic of the "pre-GC" civilizations and shatter the supposedly dynamic and adaptable harmony of corporate culture.  (What would they have done if they ever met up with aliens?  Maybe you'll find out in the sequels.  I won't, but maybe you will.)

In spite of how nakedly Heinleinian the novel is in its masculine advocacy of self-righteous libertarianism, and also in spite of how fanboy-ish the tone of the novel was when it came to the practical magic of nanotech, I definitely enjoyed a lot of the world-building aspects.

Most of the standard tropes have been done better and more insightfully in other places.  For example, Pohl and Kornbluth at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum had a somewhat more adventuresome take on what happens when corporations take the place of nation-states in The Space Merchants.  Damon Knight, in Dio, thinks more deeply about the relation between freedom and death in a world where technology makes us virtually immortal than the Kollin brothers are probably capable.  And Harlan Ellison, when it comes to examining the cultural relativity of taboos (as the Kollins do primarily through through the "perverse" relationship between Justin Cord and his re-animationist/love interest, Neela), beats these fledgling writers hands-down in "The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World," in which it is no industrialist but Jack the Ripper who finds himself awake in the far future.

Nevertheless, personal incorporation is a pretty novel idea, and the Kollins for the most part do an acceptable job thinking through the details.

But there are, regrettably, at least three major flaws that mar this debut work:
  • The protagonist is completely unlikeable.  Scifi has it's bastards...the work of authors like Zelazny and Gaiman is chock full of them, but Justin Cord is just a whiny, charmless Harry Potter or the girl from the Twilight Series. Childish.  Also, unconvincing as an eccentric billionaire industrialist.  He brought a box of Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch with him to the future because it was his favorite cereal.  That suggests to me that Cord is a little too transparently based on the lives of the scifi fans who wrote him.
  • The narration is about as childish as Cord.  It is uncertain whether the narrative voice is from the past (our time) and therefore partially justified in calling so explicitly and so often on 9/11 as a cultural frame of reference or from the future, and the result is awkward, superficially sci-fi idioms like "stop on a credit" instead of "stop on a dime."  I guess I should be grateful that at least they're not eating space-burgers and washing them down with space-beer.
  • Lastly, and most infuriatingly, the "freedom" Cord so values is never really articulated.  According to one character, Cord's definition of freedom "wasn't just semantic, it was intrinsic" (187), but Cord's calls for freeeeedoooom! never amount to more than post-Braveheart sloganeering.  You're really comparing incorporation to southern slavery?  I'd compare it to having credit bureaus.  
So, all in all, pretty crummy.  But you don't have to take my word for it.  The second book in the series, The Unincorporated War, comes out next month.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Politics: My "Meh"-nifesto

A few days ago, Herman Berliner authored a brief post over at Inside Higher Ed about the complaints he occasionally receives as an administrator about faculty members who blog about politics.  Berliner has no trouble separating classroom performance from political belief:
Faculty are very smart individuals and there is no shortage of political (and other) opinions emanating from faculty. And often, I find that my opinion is different from and at times in total disagreement with positions taken by individual faculty. But it would be a bad use of my time and energy to confront opinions which faculty have every right to have. As an educator, I choose to focus on the educational forest, not the opinion trees.
Good for him.  Still, my decision to blog anonymously is at least in part motivated by my hesitation in having the things I write here associated with my professional identity.   In class I tend to keep my political and other beliefs from the students.  That seems proper to me, as well as rhetorically wise...because what if they've been raised to disagree with something I claim to believe?  That might cause them to turn off to any future lesson, regardless of its content.

I accomplish this near-neutrality by telling my students, usually early on in the semester (if not on the first day then the first time we discuss something overtly political or religious), that they shouldn't necessarily believe that I mean anything I say.  And, in fact, I often play devil's advocate or argue an issue from multiple, conflicting sides.  In my comp-rhet classes I'll even make deliberately flawed arguments designed so that my students can call me out, overcoming any automatic deference they might maintain towards my authority.

But the real reason I link to Berliner's post is not to occasion some meditation about partisanship and neutrality in the classroom context, but because I've been thinking of becoming more explicitly political in this context.  I waste a depressing amount of my time following American politics and reading the analyses of various commentators, and while it's not my intention to fashion this blog into one more surface for the echoes to bounce against, I thought some sort pronouncement of political convictions was in order.

To begin with, I'm not much in the way of a political scientist and I don't have any principled convictions about tax policy, deficits, interest rates or really any of that shit.  I guess I don't make enough money yet, or else I don't value enough the money I have.  I also don't have any principled preference for "big" or "small" government, except that it seems to me that any institution, large or small, that is too inflexible to adapt to changing circumstances will inevitably fall before them.  And it could probably go without saying that I don't think much of what is described as "left" and "right" in the US.  "Thinking" and "unthinking" would be a meaningful way to divide politicians for me, but it certainly doesn't map onto left and right.  Exhausting the usefulness of labels in politics, I probably see myself as a "left-libertarian" in the style of these guys.

I suffer from a few ideals, I suppose, though they are unfortunately the sort that tend to lack deep-pocketed advocacy.  I support civil liberties.  I think that the drug war is a shameful, murdering farce that empowers criminals (both federal and other) and fuels an ongoing multi-polar fire-fight on our own continent.  I wouldn't particularly mind if the US disbanded its army.  Also, it would be great if you could be an atheist in public and still get elected here.

But although there are occasional moments when the difference between is and ought causes me some pain, I also see myself first and foremost as a pragmatist and admire that characteristic when I rarely observe it in a politician.

Well, that's going to suffice for now.  Hardly a manifesto, and in fact, despite its brevity a little tiresome.  I promise that my next post will be more interesting.  I was planning on reviewing Tarkovsky's 1979 sci-fi thinker, The Stalker, but I just watched Alex Rivera's 2008 sci-fi thinker, Sleep Dealer, and I liked it and it feels a little bit more relevant, so I might do that first.