Thursday, July 31, 2003
(5:58 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
As regular readers know, the chief doctor at the chiropractic office that employs me has been on vacation for most of the summer. At first it seemed to be for health reasons, but I'm skeptical now. In any case, today the doctor who is second-in-command asked me if I had a lot of payments come in the last couple days, because his collections for the month were way down so far. Sadly, I didn't have anything that were likely to affect the statistics significantly. I ran a report on the computer after he went back with patients, and it said that collections from his patients were down by $12,000. Clearly, that sucks, but to put it in perspective, I decided to check the collections for the whole office. It turns out the whole office was down by $14,000, so almost the entire drop in revenue was apparently his fault.
Except that it's not. Since he's been in the office for so long, most of the head doctor's patients prefer to see him; he estimates 75% of them do. This doesn't lead to much of an increase in workload for the lowest-ranking doctor, but it's obviously a big increase for #2. As a result of having to see so many of the big man's patients, he doesn't have as much time for his own, so one of his previous biggest selling points -- that he was very flexible and able to see his patients at nearly any time -- was suddenly gone. So on top of having to do all the head doctor's paperwork and having a lot more patients to treat, now, due to the way the system is set up, he's going to be making less money for doing more work.
Of course, one might argue, it's his own fault for not starting up his own office. If he'd taken the risks and responsibilities of owning a business, then he would make money proportionate to the amount of work he puts in. Let's take a look at this argument, though. First off, the big man is not making money proportionate to the amount of work he's putting in, because he's making at least some money for doing no work. Second, he's not taking any real risk by leaving for just a few months, because he's able to keep up his lifestyle by exploiting his associates. If he keeps it up indefinitely, then everyone's just going to leave, but it's likely that he has enough resources saved up that he could live comfortably the rest of his life. So after a certain point, it would appear that owning your own business is a way of putting the tedium of risks and responsibilities behind you.
I do think that every business needs a boss, and I'm not opposed to the boss getting paid more in proportion to the responsibilities he takes on. I don't think that the boss should be able to set up the system so overwhelmingly in his favor, though. It's like saying, yes, every card game needs a dealer. That much is indisputable. But that doesn't mean the dealer should be able to stack the deck. To extend the metaphor further, it doesn't mean the dealer should be able to use his earnings, derived from stacking the deck, to bribe the card company into changing the rules in the dealer's favor.
Granted, this is a small example, and it's ultimately not that big a deal. I also don't delude myself that I'm going to find a whole lot of companies or work situations where it would be better -- and that's exactly the problem. This is just the way our system is set up. This lazy class of irresponsible rich people, with nothing better to do than exploit workers and exercise hugely disproportionate influence on public policy, is what's holding America back.
UPDATE: Probably no one will read this, but anyway: the doctors don't get bonuses based on collections, but rather on "production," which is the number of charges incurred by the doctor's patients, less any adjustments. The assumption is that collection will follow production eventually, but the longer a doctor goes with low collections, the more likely he will have to either write off a patient's account or send them to the collection agency (both options require a massive write-off which brings production down). I don't think this changes my main point, and I also don't think it's that big a deal whether a doctor gets his bonus or not, but I felt I should be fair to my own employer. If you're sick of my half-cocked diatribes based on only marginal evidence, I suggest you read Slacktivist, who has several good posts up.
Wednesday, July 30, 2003
(1:38 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Wrong Again, Josh Marshall
Josh Marshall, author of Talking Points Memo, has a post that makes the following dubious claim:
As if we didn't have enough signs that the administration's priorities on the war on terrorism are seriously out of whack, now this.
The "this" to which Dr. Marshall refers is evidence that a number of ground-level terrorism prevention techniques (for instance, undercover air marshalls) are facing budget cuts. Apparently Marshall would prefer for us to nickle-and-dime terrorists, rather than government programs, which are the most permanent and insidious enemy of our nation. What he fails to recognize is that this is a war -- it is not a problem to be solved by changes in US policy or by normal law-enforcement measures. When the Germans endangered the entire world order, as Iraq did a few short months ago (for those of us, like Josh Marshall, with no sense of history), we did not increase law enforcement in the homeland. We went to where they were, and like always, we kicked their asses. That's the way a war works.
What he fails to recognize in his implicit dismissal of the war on terrorism is that terrorism, like communism, is a radical problem that needs a radical solution. The Bush Administration's approach to the war on terror helps to finally rid us of both -- the source of terrorism abroad, as well as the communism that has infected the American soul (Social Security, Medicare, federal regulatory agencies, the belief that the President should be the man who won the last popular election, etc.). Since we are conveniently in a war, the military (the only legitimate use of government) cannot have its budget cut, so in order to maintain the tax cuts that are clearly in the process of saving our economy, we will have to cut all those so-called "programs" that sap our national resolve and make us into European-style sucklers of the government teat.
Sadly, we cannot immediately cut those programs, due to the tedious ritual of presidential "elections." Following the teachings of Machiavelli, Bush has appealled to the socialist soul of America by proposing a new entitlement that (conveniently) won't take effect in 2006. He has his "bases covered" and will be able to renege on the prescription drug plan at his leisure after being elected. Then, finally, we will be rid of the last vestiges of communism and be that much stronger as we prosecute the war on terror. Sorry: War on Terror.
Anyway, Josh Marshall is clearly blind to the fact that another terrorist attack is exactly what we need to re-rally the US public behind our president's plan to radically and permanently restructure American society. On this plan hinges our very eternal salvation -- and he's hopelessly stuck on moderate, practical means to prevent future terrorist attacks on America. Now whose priorities are "out of whack"?
Tuesday, July 29, 2003
(5:59 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Finding Market Solutions to Terror
All the market fundamentalists out there should be delighted at the plan of the Pentagon to set up an intelligence community based on the model of a commodities market. Claiming that government agencies have been proven wrong again and again (not in this story, but in a related one I heard on NPR), officials think that those who know their money is at stake will make the most accurate possible predictions. A few points:
- Actual commodities markets predicted back in the nineties that our economy would be absolutely booming right now. I'm pretty sure they were wrong about that.
- I'm not sure how the people in this market would be rewarded -- after all, wouldn't they occasionally be betting on something we want to prevent? Do we really want the government creating a group people with a vested financial interest in the North Koreans attacking us?
- As usual, when someone talks about following the models of private enterprise due to the failure of government agencies, they often fail to note the many ways in which the government was set up to fail. In this case, the government agencies in question didn't even really "fail" -- it's just that their customers were jackasses. As you'll learn from any right winger, it's not the company's fault if the customer is an idiot (regarding lawsuits against companies for dubious injuries, such as the infamous hot McDonald's coffee incident). (On a related note, often when a government charity organization or public service agency, such as public schools, Medicare, or Social Security "fails," it's because it was purposefully underfunded, so that it would "fail," so that there would be an excuse to underfund it further, because you don't want to "throw money at a problem." No, in order to solve the problems with government social programs, it is necessary to radically change them -- by destroying them.)
I think the Democrats who objected to the plan said it best when they called it "ridiculous." What they fail to recognize is that this is the new common sense: Finding Market Solutions. I know a lot of good Christian people whose ears perk up whenever they hear the term "market solutions," because as Jesus could tell you, modelling every human interaction after a system designed to promote and exploit human greed is the only moral and practical way to run a society.
Now please skip to Robb's post on his favorite music, if you have not read it already. That's right: this is a Christian blog, and instead of my normal relentless self-promotion, what we have here is a promotion of the other. This is because I, Adam Kotsko, am a wonderful Christian person.
(1:33 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Effective immediately, at work we are going to become more strict about taking payments. In fact, in some circumstances, we will require prepayment or else turn patients away. I am not comfortable with this for several reasons.
- Personality Flaws: I do not want to confront people about money. I am "in charge" of collecting payments, but I have made it known on many occasions that if a patient becomes at all problematic, I'm just going to pass the buck to someone else. In other words, I am "in charge" (in my own mind) only of payments voluntarily offered to me. I have a recording function, not an enforcement one.
- Deeply-held Beliefs: This is because I think the entire regime of paying for necessary medical treatment is neither a moral nor a practical way to handle the problem of public health. I honestly don't care if people pay or not, because I don't think they should have to pay at all. It makes my job a little easier if they do, and it gives me something to do, but as I said, if a patient becomes a "problem," I wash my hands of the whole affair. I'm in favor of just writing off a patient's account if they fail to pay long enough, instead of sending them to collections. If they put me in charge of that part, that is what I would do, until they fired me.
- Resentment: All this controversy has arisen because the owner of the business, who is also the main draw for patients, has taken the summer off. Business would be bustling, as usual, if he were here, and the same old loosey-goosey policies would get us our paychecks just fine. But since he left, everyone has had to take cuts in hours, everyone has felt as though her job is in danger, and now we have to start being jerks to the patients. I don't have the exact figures, but I'm fairly sure the good doctor has gotten about the same wage -- for doing nothing. The man's probably a millionaire at about age 50, and he wants to nickle-and-dime everyone else because profits aren't as high at the moment. It's capitalism at its finest, right here in Bourbonnais.
And so, as even more changes in office policies were introduced, to make a tense office more tense, I asked, in an unrelated note, "When does the school year start up again?"
Sunday, July 27, 2003
(8:28 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Can we, at long last, dispense with the word "conservative"? I don't understand what those who deploy the word are supposed to be conserving, other than their own tenuous hold on power. It is time, and past time, for us to bring out the old categories of left-wing, right-wing, and center, and it is time for us to acknowledge the following:
- The Democrats are in the center. They are both classically "liberal" in the sense of generally favoring the deployment of market forces in moderation for the good of society and of generally supporting the basic institutions of democracy and classically "conservative" in the sense of maintaining the status quo of the distinctively 20th Century achievements of American democratic capitalism (the New Deal and, to a more limited extent, the Great Society). Liberal and conservative, in our current context, effectively mean the same thing, but not in the cynical sense that both parties are simply "the same." Even if the Democrats are not finally the party that our country needs and desires, they are also not finally "the same" as the Republicans.
- The Republicans are on the right wing. They are radical nationalists who only support the free operations of capital and the preservation of democratic institutions insofar as it assists their nationalistic ambitions. They are not conservative in any meaningful sense of the word -- their primary ambition is to destroy the hard-won achievements of the 20th century left in order to maintain the United States in a constant state of emergency that will legitimate everything they wish to do. As Lacan points out, the right winger is not afraid to admit that he's a crook, and so we should expect nothing other than lies and cynical manipulation out of right wing politicians. It is neither insightful nor helpful to point out individual lies (such as the Niger thing)--that simply helps them all the more, in that it assumes that in general, they are playing by the rules.
- The left wing is in a state of radical crisis. Slavoj Zizek, Frederic Jameson, Judith Butler, et al. are all wonderful and brilliant thinkers, and their analysis of the contemporary landscape is consistently right on, but I can't really tease out a concrete plan of action. Marx's greatest disservice to us may have been the example of lovingly detailed description, coupled with the sense that history will finally take care of itself. It is perhaps not by accident that Marxism now survives as a primarily academic movement.
We are not in a situation in which the truth will set us free, if by the truth we mean the exposure of the tissue of lies surrounding the actions of our government. It is difficult to imagine, however, what kind of action we could take that would not end up reinforcing right-wing rule. As we've seen, in a movement that is its own legitimation, literally anything can be taken as evidence. Terrorist attacks only serve to strengthen the movement. Criticism "proves their point." As a good leftist, I can only recommend that we wait it out, even if we end up waiting for forty years. We can only pray that the next terrorist attack does not come, since that may very well mean the end of our way of life -- inflicted upon us not from the outside, but by our own leaders.
See below for my criticism of other blogs as hysterical.
(10:10 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
My crippling Internet addiction
Last night, as I was catching up on my subscriptions to Harper's and The New Yorker, I had an epiphany: there are better things to spend my time doing than reading Andrew Sullivan. So, although his web address is easy to remember, I have taken him off my bookmarks and off the "recommended links" to the left. That's one less easy target for me, but as I've shown before, I don't really require an "actual conservative" to comment on -- I'm more than happy to create a straw man and set to work on that. In addition, although everyone enjoys a circle-jerk, I'm starting to think that the liberal blogs are a little too hysterical for my taste. I happen to agree with the a priori judgment that everything George W. Bush does puts our nation on the verge of collapse into either anarchy or fascism, but I'm tired of the rather tedious Atrios contributors (which is not to say anything negative about Atrios himself) and especially Hesiod doing nothing but saying, "Well, here we go again..." every day. If they want to simplify liberal positions for easy consumption by morons (a technique first perfected by the right wing), then I'm all for it -- I just feel like I've caught on and need to move on to bigger and better things.
As far as highlighting the most interesting stories of the day, I think one could do far worse than Cursor. For satire, particularly of Andrew Sullivan, Neal Pollack turns out to be even better than the real thing. And as far as producing some creative, nuanced commentary based on actual inside information (i.e., based on more than just being able to read the newspaper in the morning), Josh Marshall is unparalleled. As of right now, no matter how non-addicted to the Internet I become, I'll probably still read those three on close to a daily basis. In addition, I recommend that everyone subscribe to the Harper's Weekly Review.
There -- I've purged. My strategy for coping with my addiction is to limit the number of sites I visit and hope that those blinders will stay on so that I can feel like I don't have any content left and thus have to do something else. It's a daily struggle.
Robb has a good post below mine that you should read. I always feel guilty posting after someone else, because I feel like someone would read my post, become bored, then just give up on the whole thing.
(5:28 AM) | Robb Schuneman:
I didn't want to bother with Amazon.com, so I'll do it here
I have recently realized that I had the audacity to go off on the entire music business in my last post without ever actually daring to open myself up to the same harsh criticism by telling you, the reader, just what I consider "good", or "the form of the good." I think the quickest way to do this would be to tell you just who I think, in order, are my top 10 favorite bands in the recent past (I leave that disclaimer to prevent my list from being cluttered with the typical "classics" like, The Beatles, Nirvana, Velvet Underground,Wang Chung and Dokken.)
So, without mincing any more words, let me give it to you straight, and talk about it when it's done and we can just roll over and relax:
- Pavement/Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks Okay, I hated Slanted & Enchanted the first 200 listens, officially making me a poser fan, but on 201, somehow the puzzle was complete and the brilliance of Terror Twilight, Brighten The Corners and Wowee Zowee was made manifest only through the different, yet similar brilliance of the earlier lo-fi stuff. It was an epiphany to say the least, one to ensure their already usually occupied spot of best band ever, in my mind.
- Cake A lot of people hate the Cake, and would give them no spot on this list..but it's the most entertaining music around.
- Weezer The old stand-bys who change styles within a certain set "style" at least as much as DC Talk. The difference is Weezer doesn't suck. And doesn't have trouble with spelling words out in their song titles.
- Elliot Smith/Heatmeiser When I am depressed, nothing soothingly hands me the bullet to load in my revolver like Elliot Smith.
- Ben Folds/Ben Folds Five/Fear Of Pop Smart enough to know the piano-bass-drums shtick couldn't last forever, stupid enough to realize it was too dang good to leave behind altogether.
- Radiohead Every album launches a thousand "WTF?!?!?!?!" 's across the sea, before answering that very question with a resounding "Indeed".
- The Eels Sure, they lease their musical "house" from Beck, but I bet he'd make one heck of a landlord, and they always pay the rent on time.
- Guster Call it cheesy "artsy folk-rock" if you will, I shall call it the best music for the car, ever.
- Built To Spill I hesitated to include them as it makes me look "nu-trendy", as dropping the name seems to be the remedy for credibility-lacking posers like myself to gain some ground, but screw you all, I like them. A lot. We'll probably even get married.
- The Dandy Warhols Okay, in this case, it's just one album, namely "13 Tales From Urban Bohemia." I can give or take "Dandies Rule, OK?" and "Dandy Warhols Come Down", but that 1 album is the best album I've ever heard, besides like, The White Album..and it is powerful enough to bring the rest along with it.
Many, many bands deserve honorable mention here, the likes of Spoon, Modest Mouse, Pedro The Lion, Death Cab For Cutie, Beck and the Christian favorites Switchfoot and Jars of Clay..but if I really begin listing artists, it'll just break down into a massively long list of 'bands I like', so we're gonna leave it at these ten.
So, one must ask oneself, what is the common thread? What is the tie that binds these ten artists together, for all eternity? What is it about said artists that mekes me feel especially evil if I burn, rather than buy, their new cd, and thus sends me rushing to the local Music Warehouse on release day?
I think at least 3 things run rather clearly throughout:
- The Music - Every single one of these artist, through whatever the style they use, has the same sort of "I'm totally cool and happy about being morbidly depressed" tone. I don't know what it is, but something about someone expressing their near-tears state to an infectious down beat really "gets me going."
In addition, for probably 86% of the cumulative song productions of these 10 bands, no instrument is left with a boring part. I enjoy that. Rarely is anyone just playing simple chord progressions, rarely is the vocal just singing the bass line. Everyone has their own distinct melody which is radically independent and still entirely conducive to the whole. The vocals aren't just "adding words on top of the song", but actually use the voice as an instrument within the arrangement. The ability to pick out a certain part and listen and hear a totally different song is a greatly added benefit.
- The Lyrics - Not a single band on this list uses the old standbys. Some songs rhyme, some don't, and no one feels any need to be consistent. One line might rhyme with the next, or may even use that clever style where the first of 4 lines rhymes with the last, and the middle to rhyme, but then the next paragraph may not be anything near a rhyme. More importantly, simple standards such as rhyming "love" with "Above" and "Me" with "free" or "You" with "Jew" are seldom used, and if they are, are used in a satirical way. It's refreshing to hear people actually saying something different than what everyone who's written a song has said before, even if what they say is utter nonsense.
- The Consistency - 90% of those bands have released strong album after strong album. They aren't consistently better, because the debuts from each band are as good as their latest album, but each one builds on the last, to the point where listening to Weezer's Green Album without first hearing Pinkerton or later hearing Maladroit seems almost like just reading "The Two Towers", and never picking up the other two sections.
The Dandy Warhols are the obvious (to me) exception to this case, as their first stuff was decent, not great, and the clips of their new stuff I've heard was disappointing. But come on..I'm serious, no album is as consistently amazing no matter time, place, location or mood as 13 Tales. That's all.
That's all for today, I'll probably talk more on this topic later, but being as it's 5:30 and I just woke up about 10 minutes ago, I'm going to go back to bed now.
Saturday, July 26, 2003
(10:25 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The closing of the American mind
This article in the New York Times (requiring a free, one-time registration) highlights the collapsing audience for translated literature in America. The key quote, for me, is as follows:
"It is not an exaggeration to refer to this as a national crisis," said Cliff Becker, literature director at the National Endowment for the Arts. "I am a citizen of the most powerful country the world has known, a country that asks me to be part of its decision-making process on a whole range of things. If I'm not able to experience other cultures, not even from a place that is as easy to reach as the printed page, that is outright dangerous."
It doesn't seem as though the same crisis is affecting translations of theoretical or philosophical work, which may highlight a growing elitism in American literary culture. It has long been my contention that knowing how to read and write and being literate are two very different things. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most Americans are not very comfortable with the written word and view it as a kind of necessary evil to be avoided. Harry Potter might turn that around, but that seems suspiciously like another of those literary "black hole" phenomena, where people who enter the world of literature through Harry Potter will tend to stick with just Harry Potter. (Other black holes include Kurt Vonnegut, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, the entire fantasy genre....)
I agree with the "national crisis" guy -- a powerful nation who approaches the world largely through television, with an increasingly narrow range of opportunities for learning, with most media outlets more focussed on profit and thus on pandering to consumers rather than trying to set standards is incredibly dangerous. It's like the world being ruled by a giant seven-year-old. My main concern, however, is not to educate America in the responsible use of its God-given power. Rather, it is that so many people in America end up living thoughtless, incurious lives. I know that literacy is not a cure-all for evil (witness the aesthetically sensitive Nazis), but it is still a great potential good.
It's wonderful to be able to pontificate instantly like this. Everyone should totally get a blog.
UPDATE: I just realized that the book The Closing of the American Mind was centered mainly on the ways in which the American mind was closed by putting too much emphasis on foreign thinkers. Those neoconservatives are fascinating people.
Friday, July 25, 2003
(7:53 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
I am sick
This week I was all set up to write a teary-eyed confessional that would make the ladies so sad they would literally throw up, but I am sick and can't really concentrate on anything. During the brief periods when I was up and about today, I had to ask Kari to explain to me what was happening on "Jerry Springer." I had to do a little driving today and almost got in an accident because I just couldn't concentrate. I accidentally killed one of Kari's Guinea pigs when I mistook it for my cereal and put it down the garbage disposal. Overall, it hasn't been good. Richard revealed that it's probably his disease that I caught, which makes me somewhat glad -- I thought it was just allergies at first, and if that were the case, I could see no end to my ordeal, since my many allergy medications were doing no good. I should have suspected something was up when my two-day-long "allergy attack" did not include any sneezing.
But here's the main point: when I feel sick, I also begin to feel very guilty. I ask God what I did. I subconsciously repeat the act of contrition. When I feel slightly achy and have difficulty focussing and just want to be in bed and have a runny nose, I equte myself with Job. For that, I officially award myself the Worthless Bastard Award for today.
Thursday, July 24, 2003
(10:35 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
You might want to look at this post from Hesiod. It features something purple.
(9:32 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The definitive guide to what is wrong with American society
I've been very responsible lately, working every day, but today I just couldn't hold out any longer. I have the day off, bringing me down to about 30 hours for this week. Since I am single and don't live alone, I can easily afford to live on a 30-hour-a-week paycheck, especially in the inexpensive environs of Kankakee County. Partly, this is due to my having a head start on things -- no student loans, a fairly new truck given to me as a gift, all the basic furniture provided for me. Barring a catastrophe, I could continue at this pace indefinitely, leaving me plenty of time to read and write and do arithmetic.
Contrast this with the standard situation: someone just starting out in real life after leaving college is burdened by thousands of dollars in debt. I'm sure most people are able to pay them off eventually (I'm too lazy to search for statistics), but this is just one of the many clever mechanisms in our society that make everything about money. Since I know that I'm going to have to make decent money right out of college to pay off my debts, I had better pick a major that will prepare me for the "real world." Colleges largely cease being institutes of higher learning for most people and become glorified vocational schools; the major system ceases to be a way of pursuing specialized study in an area of interest and become the first step along "career paths" (witness the many "what can I do with a major in...." conversations).
This "practical" approach to education is a failure. Instead of being widely educated people who are able to succeed in a variety of jobs, college graduates largely become over-specialized people who will find themselves trapped in one particular field. If it turns out that they don't like the job once they get into it or that they can't succeed in the field, that's really too bad -- unless, of course, one wants to go back to school, incur even more debt, and raise the stakes even higher for the next step.
In point of fact, since many people have developed an over-reaching, debt-based lifestyle, the option of going back to school might not be open to them. Encumbered by their possessions, which they likely do not even enjoy so much as feel like they should have, they become trapped where they are. Except for a few fabulously wealthy people, everyone is always on the verge of bankrupcy and is thus terrified of unemployment. The solution: work more, work harder.
Whom does this situation benefit? Certainly not the vast majority of working-class people. Even the most well-off in that group find themselves in essentially the same situation, except with shinier toys. Certainly not the poor, who are poor largely through unfortunate coincidence: the majority that is working itself to death is likely to do nothing but resent those "fortunate" enough not to work. Since their overworked, stress-filled lifestyles render them uncreative, they are likely to believe that the only worthwhile life is the one they are living and to insist that the poor must work as much as possible (leading to the bizarre policies whereby the poor have to work a certain number of hours to "earn" their government aid).
The people who benefit are the extremely wealthy, who provide over-priced, cheaply made consumer goods that everyone can have, so as to conceal the qualitative difference between the truly wealthy and the middle class, and whose relentless drive for ever more profit leads them to "cut costs" by overworking their employees (among other things). The ruling class also benefits from having a docile, unimaginative public that is too busy and "stressed" to take any real interest in what government does.
The majority of people become convinced that the market is their only salvation, when it is really what is sucking them dry, and that government programs would only increase their taxes and thus force them to work more. In practice, however, we can see that in Canada and Europe, where broad social welfare programs such as universal health care and free university education have been in place for years, people work fewer hours, are better educated, and quite simply enjoy a higher quality of life than their American counterparts.
Whenever I bring this up, some conservative will usually point out that in America, even if we are not all equal, at least we have the possibility to succeed -- that is, I assume, the possibility of joining that small clique of truly wealthy, truly "independent" people. I think that is generally in line with the ideals of the American revolution, but it is an impoverished idea of freedom and opportunity. It is equivalent to saying that the poor should not complain because they have the opportunity to win the lottery. A truly free country will provide genuine freedom of mind and body to all its citizens, and by that standard, America is not a free country.
This concludes my definitive critique. I am off to buy a lottery ticket.
Wednesday, July 23, 2003
(7:32 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Brett and Tara's Cat: Reloaded
Brett and Tara, two of my many roommates, recently purchased a ridiculously cute kitten, whom Brett named Jack. Jack is very small and has way too much hair and always wants to fight. At one point in a fight with Jack, I tossed him across my bed. He started on his back, but landed on his feet. It was then that I decided to try an experiment. I held him in my hands a couple feet above the bed, completely upside-down, then dropped him. The results were definitive: each time, he landed on his feet. In addition, it wasn't as though he somehow flipped on the way down -- the very second I let go of him, he instantly flipped to an upright position. The old wives did not know how right they were.
I'm currently in the process devising further experiments. Brett and Richard have already developed one that tests the distance Jack will slide on the various tile and wood floorings in our house. I am considering an experiment that will test Jack's ability to get down safely from the top of a half-open door. I'll get back with you on the results.
(2:03 PM) | Robb Schuneman:
The Suck Matrix: Reloaded
A lot of fuss is being made in the music world over this new hit-making production crew calling themselves "The Matrix" The story goes like this:
Avril Lavigne was sent to them to be made into the next Faith Hill, but she didn't want to do country, so they helped her change her image and then sent her to the hotel and wrote her album for her. Of course, that cd came out of nowhere and has 3 #1 hits to this date. Due to this, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE is now having The Matrix write their albums. People as wide ranging as Britney Spears and Ricky Martin to David Bowie and Jason Mraz have gone to them to get their hit songs. Heck, even indie-folk hero Liz Phair went to the matrix when she wanted to put out a "radio album" so she could afford her new lifestyle since moving to L.A. And the thing is...it works.
I don't really have a problem with big "do it yourself" stars like Bowie and Phair grabbing some of the money 13 year olds are begging to steal from their parents and give to "follow the leader" artists...heck, if they choose to mix a few formulaic and repetitive songs that sound like Avril Lavigne into their sets for the rest of their earthen lives in order to make untold millions, I think they've deserved that after years in the business. If I needed money and the solution was so very simple, I'd do the same thing. I'm not concerned about them "selling out" or whatever.
What I am concerned about is this seeming merger of the world's music. It was bad enough when The Neptunes took over rap, and basically completely made hit albums for Nelly, Justin timberlake, Busta Rhymes, P. Diddy, Mystikal, Jay-Z, Britney Spears (again), Snoop, Beenie Man and their own group N.E.R.D. That's half of what is played on popular radio today made up by the same sort of R&B wanna-be rap (with a few exceptions in the above group) with a patented "oh, man..Michael Jackson was definitely the greatest innovator in music of all time" response for all of the 2 million VH1's "Top 50" or "Top 100" specials they are asked to comment on, all wrapped in one at first infectious but exceedinly more and more disgustingly nauseating beat carried through a whole song.
No, now from the other side we will get non-stop songs featuring that "I'm a rebel with a sweet melody and a world-winning smile through my kool-aid colored hair" type song with programmed hooks strewn everywhere in the verses rather than the chorus that was originally, admittedly, a little refreshing with "Complicated" but now is becoming the norm.
There. I've admitted it. The first time I heard "Complicated", I enjoyed it thouroughly. It seemed somewhat different from the rest of everything put on the radio, and the verse was surprisingly just as catchy as the chorus. It was good times. It was new.
And this is the thing, it's no longer just people trying to be like other artists that have made it big. It's no imitation. It's the exact same thing written by the exact same people! There's no room for any individual spin to be given to an old idea. It's a matter of monopolizing every song that "the kids" will ever hear into being written by two sets of people with a different face out front.
Oh well, I guess we'll still have that third although seemingly forlorned brand of song/artist, the "I have so many issues and am so pained, can't you tell through my overstrained voice on this SO dramatic chorus? The words I am saying are about as based in reality and relevant as that guy living on/in the cup who used to be featured on Sesame Street stop-motion animation features in the 80s"
(Okay, maybe it wasn't Sesame Street..I have scowered the internet for more information on these brief little 3-4 minute "shorts" that used to be on some children's program, because they absolutely fascinated me. I think it was called The Cups or something like that, if you have any information, please email me at the address to the left.)
(Crap, I just made the guy from The Cups somewhat relevant and thus defeated the purpose of mentioning him in the first place. Sorry)
Anyways, God Bless YOU Linkin Park, Nickelback, Saliva and all the rest of you amazing non-working class heroes, because at least YOUR songs are written and produced by several hit making producers rather than just one, and most of them live over in Sweden, or Belgium..or Jotunheim..or some other mythical place.
(2:28 AM) | Robb Schuneman:
Recently I've been reading Hans Urs Von Balthasar's "Theo-Logic: Vol 1. - The Truth Of The World", in which HUV-B develops his picture of truth to the extent it can be known. Basically, to sum it up in as short a way as possible, he sees truth as "Being" revealed, or unveiled. To this extent, it can never be fully grasped, as each new aspect of knowledge we gain is only a further blooming of many new possibilities for truth. He defines the situation necessary for this unveiling of being as a circumincession between the Subject and the Object.
The subject is any self-concious being. Self-concious being the main point because the only way the subject can measure the truth of the object is to be measured by The Measure and then apply this to measure the object. I don't really think I fully grasp what he means by that, but "measure" is said about every other word for a solid 3 pages.
Anyway, the thing is this. The role of the Subject is one of constant receptivity. It isn't trying to find truth, or going on some quest to find "the answers." The Subject merely is completely open in every situation to what truth can be learned from it. If it refuses the sort of selflessness required for such a task, the sort of putting oneself aside entirely and letting absolutely everything have its space within you, than it shall never reveal being, and thus never find "truth". It is nothing without the object as part of it.
The Object can be another person, or a phrase, or a tree, or anything really, that provides The Subject with an image of being stripped of everything but it's essence. One can be both Subject and Object to oneself, or one can be someone else's Object, while also being a Subject and so on.
By that same measure than, The Object is nothing without The Subject. It can only bloom and reveal further possibility for truth within the space provided for it by the Subject's receptivity. Without that it remains just an object.
I have done this in a brief amount of time, and without the benefit of being through the entire book, or even that specific section, so I didn't do HUV-B justice, but all the same, it made me think about something else which has been troubling me of late, namely, the explicit racism so prevalent here in Oklahoma, and, I perhaps incorrectly assume, the rest of the south.
This came to a head recently today when someone brought up the attacks in Liberia, and one person at work said "Damn, now we have to go from fighting sand niggers to fighting ACTUAL DAMN NIGGERS, which are ten times worse at least." (I assure you, I swear in this public forum only to communicate what was actually said.)
At the heart of racism is closure. It is exactly this closure which prevents us from finding truth. HUV-B talks a lot about how each individual object must be received on its own merits, since if one only is open to groupings of objects and then closed to the specific individual Objects, you close yourself off to the truth held in each object, and take away that objects right to grow within your openness. Not to mention, in refusing openness to the Object, one loses the ability to be a Subject, and thus one really loses self-conciousness..we no longer re-evaluate ourselves, we close off from the world and assume we know all. A very dangerous proposition indeed.
This really saddens me, because truth is one of the seemingly few transcendental concepts in the world (goodness and beauty are the only other two that come to mind off hand.) To see so very many people, perfectly good people who I really enjoy interacting with on an everyday basis, so cut off from any receptivity to truth, is painful. Racism is a desperately terrible thing not just because it is one person treating another unfairly. When people stop being receptive to truth, in whatever form it may take, they cut their own lifeline to Truth, and thus, perhaps, to God. In addition, the object they refuse to accept is robbed of it's rightful place of growth that can only be attained in the oppenness of the Subject. The racist person steals whatever potential growth of truth there was inherent in the individual they reject. Both are terrible and drastic losses, all because of some assinine stereotype. It's incredible how much we give up and steal from others with such actions.
And yet, sitting here far too late on a weeknight, I have no clue how to help anyone avoid this, especially myself. The thing about Truth, seemingly, is that it isn't anything you can ever set off to find. The only way to discover Truth is by already being in it. It's something that you come across, and while in it you start to perhaps recognize it, and then gradually recognize that you have Always Already recognized it. It has always already been in your mind, and it has taken you until now to recognize just what exactly it is in observing it in The Object. So I guess all we can really ever do is to encourage complete openness to truth in people, to attempt to help people begin to put themselves aside and be so radically open to the other that they can help the Other to begin to bloom within them, and in turn, for the Other to reveal some new quality of Being to the Subject. If this relationship is closed at any point, all sides become useless and obsolete.
I think I capitalized far too many words in this post. Sorry.
Tuesday, July 22, 2003
(7:10 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Some of the many reasons I need to quit my job
Due to the immanent departure of one of the chiropractors in the office where I work, I am being trained to analyze X-rays. This consists of drawing lines off of certain points one the vertebrae, or lines parallel or perpendicular with the ground, then measuring various angles, seeing where lines land, measuing distances, etc. I don't mind doing it, aside from the fact that it requires me to learn to do something new without any definite promise of further compensation. I feel like my reading of Freud has already filled my mind with more than enough pseudoscience, and I'm not eager to fill it with any more.
Today I was alone in the office while everyone else was at lunch, because someone apparently needs to be in the office at all times. An X-ray machine repairman was in the office, and when he came up to have me sign the thing saying he was there, he asked me, "Is this your job?" I said yes, but that it was temporary until I got going in grad school. He replied that it was unusual to see a man working in a chiropractor's office. I explained that I had gotten the job through a temp agency. He said, "Well, it's just a little usual -- not that there's anything wrong with that" [emphasis added].
Also, while everyone else gets to make personal phone calls, hawk their stupid Amway-style shit, sort through their Avon shipment, do their make-up, etc., etc., I am absolutely prohibited from using the high-speed internet connection during down times. I don't have phone calls to make, and I don't wear make-up, but I do like to read the news and type on my weblog.
(1:30 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
An Evil Article
At your convenience, you might consider reading this article by Alain Badiou. It's a little old, but my blog is always behind the times -- in a charming way.
Monday, July 21, 2003
(9:59 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Leadership, leadership is what I long for
"Leadership" is part of the sickness of our nation. Within a decade, fully 75% of our population will be made up of leaders. I am tired of hearing about leadership, and I am disgusted by the sheer number of venues in which it is being "taught." I hope never to be a leader.
If we can afford to have so many "leaders," it must mean that we're fairly confident that we all know where to go and just need people equipped to get us there. It is part of the closing down of possibilities that is continuously taking place in America. We know that America and capitalism and all that have failed to live up to their promises, and now we're assembling comforting excuses and training "leaders" to mouth the words to us.
We are living, as Baudrillard instructs us, in a "thoroughly hopeless situation." The only recent opportunity for a genuine turn-around, a real rethinking of what the hell we're doing here, was the series of senselessly brutal events on September 11, 2001, and we let it pass us by completely. Even worse, we're using it as yet another excuse to do more of the same, under one of the most capable "leaders" in the history of our nation.
And so let us pray: Glory be to America, and to Capital, and to the Republican Party. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. Alleluia.
(2:06 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
I'm really tired of Andrew Sullivan
Okay, so now he's apparently blaming the corrupt, thoroughly biased journalism of the BBC for the suicide of that British intelligence guy. He's also whining about a "notebook" piece in the (corrupt, thoroughly biased) New York Times that took -- get this -- a patronizing tone toward the president. The format of the piece is intended to let the reporter's personality shine through! Come on!
I continue to read him because I am fascinated by how a bundle of petty resentments and half-convincing poses can continue to be regarded as a reputable commentator. He did write me back one time that I e-mailed him, though, so whatever.
Friday, July 18, 2003
(2:07 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
I am tired of Paul Krugman
That's right: I am tired of Paul Krugman. He forcefully lays out the administration's misdeeds (alternately known as "everything the bastards have ever done, ever"), then asks why no one cares or hopes for the final day of reckoning. It's a pleasing template, yet it does no good. Paul Krugman's rantings have not caused even the slightest change in the administration's policies, any more than Noam Chomsky's lovingly detailed accounts of American sin have caused us to change our foreign policy. All of these facts are known to everyone, and the truth has not yet set us free.
Maybe rather than "speaking out," we should be actually doing something. Maybe these columnists should be giving us instructions on how to do something other than feel outraged and really a lot smarter than all the Moron Americans out there.
The question with all this talk of "doing stuff", as Jon Stewart pointed out in his recent interview with Lewis Lapham, is, "Will we need guns?"
(1:45 AM) | Robb Schuneman:
I am completely unoriginal, yet want to post something in order for Adam to feel no pangs of conscience over continuing to post away, so I figured I'd share some more song lyrics which have captivated me of late. These come from Desaparecidos' "Read Music/Speak Spanish" This band also may be known as "Connor Oberst AKA Bright Eyes' non-solo act." Anyways, I don't know, the album is meticulously brilliant. What Napoleon was to Austerlitz, Desaparecidos is to music. Also, according to 9 out of 10 Amazon reviewers, the words violently attack our modern complacency, and I'm cool with that.
"The Happiest Place On Earth" by Desaparecidos
I want to pledge allegiance to the country where I live
I don’t want to be ashamed to be American
but opportunity no it doesn’t exist it's the opiate of the populace
we need some harder (turds) now the truth is getting around and each public school is a halfway house
where the huddled masses sober up and up
enough? There’s not enough to fatten the cows and feed all of us.
Its just a rationing of luck what can’t be bought gets raffled off
oh god good god shed greed on thee,
your shining sea turned a dirty green from the industry
off the shores of new jersey
I got a letter from the army so I think that I’ll enlist
I’m not brave or proud of nothing I just want to kill something
too bad that nowadays you just point and click
swing low satellite hot white chariot in the computer’s blue glare the bombs burst in the air
there was a city once now nothing is there
our freedom comes at their expense it makes sense, does it? dollars and cents.
they’re stretching barbed wire across the picket fence that is surrounding your housing development
just in case you lack the confidence
oh god my god give strength to thee
these amber waves purple majesty are nothing but backdrops for Disney
well look up close it is superimposed on a blank blue screen
it is fantasy, (freaking) magical.
The dream floats like a chemical through each snapped synapse.
Our television past that is beautiful no more. no more. No More.
Thursday, July 17, 2003
(8:09 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
I received a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble for my birthday, and I just got back from using it. I have a wide variety of philosophical issues related to the appropriate way to spend a gift certificate, particularly for books. The dilemma is accentuated in this case by the fact that the gift certificate was enough for just one book --- the pressure was intense.
The first issue is that a gift is not quite a gift if it isn't surprising. During my youth, birthdays and Christmas were pretty well a done deal by November -- for whatever reason, Hannah and I were encouraged to write detailed lists, and we always got what we wanted, in detail. I often asked for too many things in the hopes that I would be surprised at least by what I didn't get, but the gap was always somehow closed. I know this might sound like I'm whining because I got too much for Christmas, but I'm not sure how much good it really did me. It trained me to be very uncomfortable with genuinely unexpected gifts, because unexpected gifts usually came from relatives who barely knew me and thus ended up sucking hardcore.
I have very rarely gotten a sincerely thoughtful, decentering type of gift, one that wasn't already taken into account in advance, with a place reserved for it. In my old age, I am able to simulate this with gift certificates to book stores. I attempt to surprise myself, and it usually ends up working. First, I cannot buy anything that I already know I "should" read. I am tempted to do so, because as regular readers know, I am following an obsessive course of self-education. I have demonstrated to myself that I am capable of dutifully wading through any number of unappealling books, whether I enjoy it directly or not. So some rejected books included Bleak House and Capital.
I thought about getting a book about science or math or something I don't normally read about (since I'm apparently only able to read dumb philosophy books), but as soon as I picked up A Brief History of Time, I realized that Barnes and Noble's selection was not amenable to spontaneity. Due to the lack of notably "cool" books, I would be entering into a new topic by dutifully reading the canonical books.
The only section that has many "cool" books is the "Literature and Fiction" section, so I went there. I first checked out Don DeLillo's Mao II, but it started to feel like a piece of my abortive quest to read the Complete DeLillo, so I couldn't do that. I picked up Proust's second volume of In Search of Lost Time, as well as Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, remembering some good emotions associated with both of the authors, but I didn't think a gift from myself should be some hackneyed attempt to recapture the past. Kundera lost out as well, because he is too canonical -- of course I wanted to read his Big Book, which showed I was more interested in having read the book than in actually reading it.
I finally settled on Independence Day by Richard Ford. It's contemporary white male American fiction, an area with which I am already sufficiently familiar that I don't need to read only canonical books, but that I am not so tired of that reading in that area feels like a chore. It was recommended, indirectly, by Dr. Belcher back in my undergraduate heyday, so I did not decide entirely on my own that Richard Ford was someone who needed to be read -- I had to trust someone else. Plus it completely messes up my reading pattern, which was previously going to be an alternation between hardcore German theology and hardcore leftist psychoanalytic-influenced theory (essentially an alternation between letting Craig Keen and Slavoj Zizek be my guides).
I feel like I came close to simulating a gift. Maybe after a few warm-up rounds with gift certificates, I'll be able to handle the emotional pressure of receiving an actual gift directly from someone else.
(6:47 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Lack in the Other
I only discovered Slacktivist through Atrios a few weeks ago, but I've been very consistently impressed, particularly with the sample post in the link above. A crucial point in that post is that the social justice group he is talking about focusses on building relationships with the poor, without necessarily having a program or a forecast of a particular end product.
As you might have guessed from the abstruse title of this post, I have a Zizekian axe to grind on this issue. To greatly simplify his theory for the sake of the blogosphere, there's a certain gap, or a certain opacity, that is a necessary part of how things are. It goes under many different names (the subject, jouissance, the Lacanian term object a, das Ding) and is covered over by various other phenomena (primarily the Lacanian phallus or the "master signifier"). This lack is experienced as a deadlock or obstacle, and the key thing for most people is to get rid of it, get past it, get it off me.
I'd say there are at least two ways of going about this. The first is to imagine the other (a particular other person, or the "big other" of the symbolic order) is complete in itself (not lacking) and that the other possesses the necessary means to fill in my lack. Often someone in this situation will feel as though the other has stolen her most precious possession and keeps trying to do whatever it takes to get the other to get it back. The second is to imagine that I am already complete and that the other is the one who needs the deadlock removed. The pervert (in psychoanalytic terms) attempts to remove the lack in the other by giving the other exactly what she wants. The racist or anti-Semitist becomes more malevolent and sees the lacking other (the Jews, blacks, whomever) as the real deadlock in society that must be either strictly policed or destroyed.
What's the solution? Well, first I have to become a hysteric who constantly asks the other why I'm not happy, then I have to get "cured" -- that is, I have to recognize the lack in the other. What you have in common with the other is not a positive set of interests or characteristics, but it is ultimately simply the lack, the deadlock. (This is illustrated by foreign exchange students: what they have in common is not so much that the experience of Kenya and Russia and India are all uniformly the same, but rather that they are not Americans.)
To enter into relationship with the other, a real relationship not based on some fantasy, is to enter my lack into relationship with the other's lack. For example, it is to go out to the poor as a broken, divided person who is never going to get it right. I don't think I do violence to Zizek's work to connect it to Christ, since he does so himself -- the Christian tradition gives us a God, a Savior, who ends his life as a broken failure. We have a God who becomes one particular, "miserable" (Zizek's constant adjective for Christ) person, who not only doesn't make the world a better place, but arguably makes it worse, at least for those who cannot forget the profit and the loss. (See Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity.)
I write so much about Zizek right now because I'm thinking I need to rewrite my Zizek Trinity paper and try to get it published, since now I actually feel like I know what I'm talking about.
Wednesday, July 16, 2003
(11:58 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Best Birthday Ever
Complaining that my last birthday was the worst day of my life (girlfriend broke up with me the day before; roommate left town; people I planned to hang out with that night were all in Chicago; my mom didn't call) really paid off -- I got a wonderful party tonight from the people living in Richard and Adam's Homeless Shelter for College Educated Middle-Class Persons. (The current count stands at six: me and Richard, the permanent residents; Kari, Richard's fiancee; Brett and Tara Smith, facing some bizarre housing problems; and Kevin Crimmins, back in "the Kank" to tie up loose ends before settling in New York City for the next year.)
If you missed this party and would still like to buy me something, that is very possible. Since my actual "birthday" is July 19, you might want to pick one of the more expensive shipping options to make sure it gets to me on time.
Just remember -- Andrew Sullivan gets $80,000 a year in donations from his lame-ass web site. The least I could get is a copy of one of Lacan's seminars.
God bless America! Good night everybody!
(1:24 AM) | Robb Schuneman:
Doesn't It Feel Good To Think Less
I just watched "The Legend of 1900", and it got me to wondering...why is there a general conception that all feel-good movies suck?
"1900" was an exception to this rule, a glaring one. It was a movie so very good at its purpose that it got a coveted 5 stars in my Amazon ranking. I didn't even give "Clockstoppers" 5 stars!
Please don't fail to understand what I mean by "feel good." Don't rent this with your family and expect to just be gushing about it and giggling while quoting lines for days afterwards. My sister cried at the end, there's a lot of swearing at times, and you don't really feel all that much better about life when it's over..so feel-good is a horrible term for it, but I could think of none better.
What I mean is this: the movie wasn't really that intellectual..there is one monologue with some "weighty" subject matter, but mostly, you aren't pondering questions long after. There aren't any real twists. What's more, the art of the movie isn't all that great. The acting of Tim Roth is, of course, outstanding, but the music, direction, cinematography, and general feel of the movie isn't really anything above plain. The acting outside of Roth is decent at best.
Again, don't misunderstand me, all of these things are good and don't detract from the story at all, they are far from stand-out. What does make its mark is the very story itself. It's pretty original, extremely well told and makes the movie thouroughly one of the more enjoyable experiences I've had in a while.
I just am wondering, I guess, why the movie industry, movie critics and reverse-elitist movie goers seem to regard good storytelling as a faux pas? Art and intelligence and original twists are all great, and I'm not downplaying movies that feature any of those for their own sake. I just wonder why amazing storytelling seems to be hustled into the same category as films the likes of My Best Friend's Wedding or The Air Bud Trilogy
Is it so very wrong to simply tell a story without it being an amazing feat of art or a revolutionary new way of communicating a thought?
I'm not really sure what the point of this post is, except to say that I am tired of feeling guilty for liking movies that don't always end up with a closing scene in a flash of brilliant colors, perfectly framed through a jungle gym or some other commonplace yet terribly poignant object, revealing that all along the monkey's uncle really was the monkey himself and making me think about the true resilliency of the old catch phrase "he was a monkey's uncle" and what it might mean for our society today.
Right here, right now, tonight at 1:30 A.M. Central Standard Time my only hunger is for entertainment, dangit! Alright, entertainment and sleep...and maybe the ability not to have the time of my post shown. But mainly entertainment, and I shall not be denied any longer!
Alas, as they say, Qui Dort Dîne, so who knows what tomorrow will bring.
(yeah..I worked the whole time to fit Qui Dort Dîne in there somehow, sorry it shows so badly.)
Tuesday, July 15, 2003
(2:08 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Lord's Mercy
- The weather has been extremely rainy in Kankakee County lately, with the Kankakee River rising to very high levels. Last night there was a serious storm (during which my driver-side window was down). A co-worker told me, however, that they're saying the rain should get down to more reasonable levels fairly soon. I said, "Yes, maybe the LORD will relent." She laughed, because she had just read the story of Noah recently. This was her take: "I was pretty impressed. I had never really read the Bible before, so I just kind of knew the stories from going to church. I didn't realize how much it really rained back then."
- Never, ever get an account at First American Bank. I feel like I'm in a Kafka novel every time I walk in. Unless I bring the perfect paperwork with me every time, I have to go up to the tellers to ask for a deposit slip, and then they always want to direct me to the ATM to get money out, even though I am standing right in front of them! I think I maintain my account there because I feel like I deserve to be treated that way.
- The other day, while playing Washoos (a game that deserves a post all its own), I was talking with Kevin and Brett and the topic of my moral caliber as a person came up. Up to that point, I had been playing fairly well, but when they both concurred that I was actually a good person, accepting of others, never using my positive qualities as an occasion to put others down, etc., etc., my game completely fell apart. I'm not sure exactly what Freud would have to say about it, but such a complete turnaround suggests that it wasn't a coincidence. I guess I didn't want to hear it.
- Thinking about Robb's morbidly embarassing incidents: If Jesus is really what it means to be God, and if Jesus really was a broken, flawed, "normal" human being just like us, then it would seem that we are closest to God in those morbidly embarassing incidents where our small imperfections cause us to hate ourselves the most. I knew exactly what Robb was talking about, even if my examples can't rival his in number and quality, and I know that I am really, really hard on myself for those kinds of things. And if Jesus is God, then those moments are what God loves most about us. God saves us precisely in order to be broken, flawed human beings who need each other, not to make us into perfect, tranquil drones who have our acts together. That is really hard for me to take a lot of the time -- I don't think I truly believe it most of the time, in terms of actually acting on it.
- Craig Keen, who has taught me all I know about theology over the past two years, preached in College Church this past Sunday. His message was about bodies -- he said that from the point of view of the gospel, the idea of an immaterial soul as the "real you" trying to get out of the unclean body is a lie. He literally said it that strongly. Even though I agree with him 100% on an intellectual level, I still recoil from the body. When he talked about the materiality of the bread and wine, the real bodily presence of those who are serving us, the smell of people, all that kind of thing, I still couldn't convince myself that that's it, that that's the thing. Foucault says the soul is the prison of the body, and he's right: I'm still in that prison. I'm still trying to escape the body, when Jesus wants to make me more and more a body in contact with other bodies.
- Even the appreciation of physical beauty isn't necessarily a love of the body as much as an appreciation of the "form of beauty" that the beautiful body represents: symmetry, self-discipline, smoothness, perfect geometry. Just take a quick read through Plato's Symposium--love of "human beauty" is ultimately another way of trying to get away from the body. It's a denial of the human to demand perfection--if another person's body is only something to enjoy looking at, it's really something to enjoy looking through.
- A good, if strange, model of loving the body's imperfections is James Joyce's relationship to his wife, Nora. I learned from last weeks "Savage Love" (available in the Onion, as well as various "alternative" papers in big cities) that Joyce wrote at great length about enjoying Nora's farts. He felt he could pick her farts out of a lineup and that they were the best farts in the world. An English professor verified this account.
Just didn't want to end heavy.
Monday, July 14, 2003
(2:08 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Reverse Snobbishness Alert
From the lovely Andrew Sullivan:
POSEUR ALERT: "Neoformalism posits that viewers are active—that they perform operations. Contrary to psychoanalytic criticism, I assume that film viewing is composed mostly of nonconscious, preconscious, and conscious activities. Indeed, we may define the viewer as a hypothetical entity who responds actively to cues within the film on the basis of automatic perceptual processes and on the basis of experience. Since historical contexts make the protocols of these responses inter-subjective, we may analyze films without resorting to subjectivity . . . According to Bordwell, 'The organism constructs a perceptual judgment on the basis of nonconscious inferences.'" - film theorist Kristin Thompson, quoted in the Los Angeles Times.
Wow, that's so insightful. Since she is talking in academic terms, she must be hiding something (i.e., her utter lack of knowledge). In reality, it's not that difficult to parse out, and even if it were, what's to say it wouldn't be worth it?
Why is it a virtue to prefer the writing style that allows you to be the laziest possible reader? Why is it a virtue to dismiss the entire academic culture due to the use of jargon (mainly in communications meant primarily for other academics, which increases the efficiency of communication among highly elite groups)? Would he "call out" a computer programmer for having written a paragraph that used technical terms from computer science? How about a mathemetician? Or a biologist? Probably not, right? Well why's that? Oh, I know, because he thinks academics are all "irrelevant leftists". He already knew they were poseurs to begin with -- he could quote their grocery list as evidence.
The real intellectuals are those who grapple with the most difficult texts of all: transcripts of Ari Fleischer's daily press briefings. It might be rough going, but there are some real jewels in there, as opposed to, say, the average text by Jacques Derrida or Frederic Jameson.
(1:46 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
An open letter to the guy who brings his wife to the chiropractor at about 9:00 a few days a week
Let me first acknowledge that I understand the circumstances that bring you to our office multiple times per week, even though you are not yourself a patient. Your wife cannot drive herself, and in any case, you want to be with her as she goes about her daily life, especially when she is receiving treatment for her spinal subluxations. I also understand your desire to socialize with the office staff. In fact, we are gratified that you feel comfortable in our office, since we make our best effort to create a friendly, open environment for our patients and their families.
As you might have noticed, however, I have not been at the front desk as often lately when you've come in, and I have to be honest with you: I am avoiding you. Sometimes I act as though there is urgent filing to be done; in reality, filing is never an urgent priority. Sometimes I go to the bathroom. Failing either of those, I simply stand in the back room until you leave. For that, I feel I owe you an explanation.
Simply put, sir, you annoy the living shit out of me. Your jokes are not simply unfunny, but actively anti-funny. Your "humorous" attempts at making puns based on common foreign phrases are obnoxious enough the first time, and they become more and more so each time you repeat them. Your hackneyed jokes, decades old and long since faded into obscurity and irrelevance, help to create an oppressive atmosphere in the office every time you walk in. Your insistence on calling one of our office staff members "Heide Ho" displays a shocking ignorance of contemporary slang. Your insistence that Heide's name must be "Eve," given that I am "Adam," confirms your abyssmal lack of creativity.
A genuinely humorous comment is welcome in almost any social situation, especially in the relatively superficial relationships that one develops with the staff of a doctor's office. You, however, are obviously incapable of any form of wit, humor, or wry observation. The last attempt you made to develop new material was apparently the purchase of a "joke book" in 1952. Your delivery is as stilted and artificial as that of a prisoner of war reading a statement prepared by his captors.
In short, your very presence makes me long for death.
I hope that explains why I have avoided you for the last few weeks. If you could wait in the car while your wife receives her treatment, that would go a long way toward making my world a better place. In time, we in the office would forget the horror accompanying your actual physical presence and begin to tell each other stories along the lines of "Hey, remember that dumbass who...." Our distant memory of your ineptitude, banality, and idiocy is your best chance at being an object of genuine mirth in our office.
Have a wonderful day,
Sunday, July 13, 2003
(3:00 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Perchance to dream
The growing scandal over the Bush team's assertions that later turned out to have been false and may or may not have been known to have been false at the time they were uttered (in English: lies) has given me some hope that George W. Bush may turn out to be a one-term president. It's still far from clear, but I think that "forceful leadership" is starting to look like "dogmatic idiocy" to a lot of people.
Here's my interpretation of the Bush presidency so far. The general theme is to make grandiose assertions and hope that the facts eventually catch up. Thus, Bush declared victory early in one of the closest elections in history and never, ever backed down. It wasn't that he "wanted it more" than Gore or something, but that he believed he already had it, as if by right. If I were in Gore's position, I can see myself being shocked by such behavior, and most normal human beings in an uncertain situation would not make a similarly absolute counterclaim. Thus Gore looks like a wimp, and Bush looks like a strong, confident leader. The thing to remember, though, is that if Bush had turned out to lose the election in some clear way, he would have looked like an utter moron (I won't go into the casuistry of whether or not Bush won the election -- he's a legitimate president, but just barely). That has basically been the pattern the entire time: acting in faith that the war with Iraq would retroactively justify itself, Bush declares a trillion reasons for it, several of which turn out to be false (and some were even reasonably close to being known to have been false at the time). He hoped the evidence would catch up with his statements -- after all, that's how it's worked with the rest of his presidency.
We should not be surprised that such a man would run up huge budget deficits. He's been borrowing heavily against the future for quite some time now, and at this point, the stakes are very, very high. And as I'm sure we know from high school math, things start to get pretty shaky once you need a lot of relatively improbable things to happen in a series. Let's say there was a 50% chance that Bush won the election outright and Gore would be exposed as a whiny little bitch: maybe making the wager in that case was somewhat reasonable. But then let's say there's a 50% chance that we can bring order to Afghanistan, a 50% chance that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, a 50% chance that the world will come to its senses once the war is over, a 50% chance that the number of true "gambling" statements about Iraq will significantly outnumber the "gambling" statements that turn out to be false, a 50% chance that the economy recovers, a 50% chance that economists will somehow determine that massive tax cuts for the rich will help the economy, a 50% chance that the money for a new prescription drug benefit will fall out of the sky -- by the time you get done, if you need all of those things to happen, your odds stand at 0.78125%, by my math (and the figure of 50% is very, very optimistic on many of those items). By my calculations, the Bush administration has made a wager of at least the magnitude I have described, and the final reckoning might come a lot sooner than they thought it would.
They might make it through the next election, but their luck will run out at some point, and if there's any justice in this world, we'll end up with our third presidential impeachment trial within the next three years. Clinton was very popular when he was impeached for much less serious offense, so I don't think that Bush's popularity can provide a shield indefinitely. In fact, it's looking like Bush doesn't even need a particularly aggressive opposition movement -- his behavior is so brazen that he might just self-destruct on his own, even with perhaps the most spineless opposition party and the most supportive media culture that any president has ever enjoyed.
And so: let us pray....
Saturday, July 12, 2003
(10:15 PM) | Robb Schuneman:
An Article In THE TIMES
To make up for my long post, here is a short one.
According to a New York Times article, 2.6 million jobs have disappeared from the United States in the past 28 months. 90% of those jobs were in manufacturing where black workers were dominant. As a result, unemployment among blacks has risen at twice the rate it has of whites.
(9:41 PM) | Robb Schuneman:
Sometimes When Life Is Starting To Suck, You Just Have To Expose Yourself
So, recently I've been pretty unhappy with the stagnant nature of my life. It isn't so much that anything negative has happened..it's just that nothing ever happens. Normally this would lead one to merely be bored or at most discontented, but not really unhappy. The thing is, for some reason, every day something triggers a memory of one of the many instances of complete stupidity and sheikish embarassment I have had in my life. It can be a word, a phrase, or someone else's story, but suddenly I am thrown back to the time of whatever incident it is, and my cheeks get all red again, and I feel horribly embarrased for about the next hour.
These are things that I'm sure no one else involved remembers, things no one in their right mind would remember, and yet I remember them all too vividly. I can't remember that I need to buy a new razor and shaving cream when I go to the grocery store, yet I remember something stupid I once said when I was 6. Incredible. In turns, these thoughts make me laugh out loud, blush, want to kill myself, and smile endlessly.
Anyways, in an effort to finally expel these demons, and to hopefully humor you, I figured I'd make a bulleted list of these things which in all seriousness have lived to haunt me at least once a week. Feel free to laugh without worrying about my feelings, because if you don't, instead of being "funny" it becomes "pitiful." So, best back up, I'm about to get philippic on y'all, in roughly chronological order no less.
- When I was 3 I fell in to the toilet, ever since then, for some reason, I've felt it necessary to show the pictures to everyone I've ever known.
- Girls. Any contact I have ever had with any girl in my entire life.
- The numerous times I thought I had been following my dad in shopping malls, airports and other places as a young one, and gone to give him a hug, or hold his hand or something, only to find that it was a total stranger dressed in a similar shirt to my dad's.
- I used to routinely come out of restrooms with my pants at my knees screaming my parents names when I couldn't get them buttoned as a 4-5 year old.
- The first dinner my parents had at their new church in Flint I had said "I hate that" whenever any food dish was passed my way. This of course was terribly embarrassing for the new pastor's family. He told me to politely say "No Thank You" next time instead. The next sunday at another couples house, when we were done with prayer I pointed to everything on the table, one by one, and said "no thank you, no thank you, no thank you."
- The VERY NEXT sunday we had about 4 families from the church over. I was in my room and wanted to try and impress them, so I thought I'd tell them all a poem I had heard from school and thought was religious. The poem was thus: Adam wore a fig leaf, Eve wore none at all, The fun began in autumn when the leaves began to fall.
- At Kindergarten one day I was telling Danny Murrow about the cool new Pogo Balls with various animal heads. He demanded that I buy him one. Tony Michael overheard the conversation and demanded I buy him one too. Both threatened no longer to associate with me if I didn't make it happen. I went home and desperately begged my mom to buy me two..she interrogated me about why in the world I'd want two of them, and then said no, which sent me into the worst crying fit of my life.
- At Danny Murrow's house later that year I was playing in the woods and got a branch..not a splinter, but an entire branch of a tree gorged in my knee seemingly 2-3 inches deep. It was probably about 2 feet long and shaped like a javelin. His mom somehow got it out, and asked me not to tell my mom or I wouldn't be allowed to play with Danny again, who I hated anyway.. I never did tell her, unless she's reading this now. My right knee to this day always hurts. Lord knows how infected it must be.
- I always walked to school with Megan Williams in 1st grade because she was probably my best friend. The older kids never got tired of asking whether she was my girlfriend, since in fact, she was a girl, and undeniably my friend.
- I got in a fight with Jason Zudell over who had known Rebecca Case the longest, with Stephen Case officiating, as he was her cousin, and thus the clear winner. I don't know why this happened. I've never really known Rebecca that well, even when we were younger, though, of course, she's a great person from what I do know.
- The time at Camp Meeting when Stephen Case and myself happened to be in the snack bar while this girl had just broken up with her boyfriend. She was probably 16 or 17, and decided she'd start calling us, 2 grade school kids her "boyfriends." From then on she'd come running out of her campsite anytime we rode by on our bikes yelling "SMOOCHKUMS!!!" and we would peddle as fast as we possibly could.
- In about 2nd grade I got in a fight with Josh Lucas (I think) during Vacation Bible School and told him my dad could kick his family out of the church if I told him to. I called it "Excrunation" or something similar. Sorry Josh.
- Every time I ever told Stephen Case to do something or I "Won't be your friend anymore."
- In the 3rd grade someone, I still believe it to be Jason Shultz, left a note in Jessica Vore's box saying that I liked her. I adamantly denied it, and as only can happen in a "gifted/multi-age" classroom, an elaborate court scene was set up at recess since we had a red flag (meaning it was raining out.) Ed "Bulldog" Harris was the prosecuting attorney and brought all this evidence against me and I broke down in tears again until the counselor, Mrs. Neal, came over the PA and asked me to come down to her office. The kids thought I was in need of counseling due to their harrasment and all lined up to tell me how sorry they were as I walked out. It was actually just a regular yearly appointment where once a year each kid went down to her office and played Chutes & Ladders while talking about stuff, but I never told anyone that.
- While staying the night at Randy & Tony Klink's house with about 8 other friends his dad so scared me by yelling at us not to wake him up since he had to get up for work at 4, that I actually refused to go to the restroom even though I desperately had to, and instead fell asleep. I awoke to, of course, a puddle of my own urine, and the entire love seat I slept on dampened. I somehow got everyone out of the house without them noticing, but then 2 days later I made fun of Randy on the bus and he retorted with "At least I don't wet the bed on other people's couches! WE HAD TO THROW THAT LOVE SEAT OUT! GROSS!"
- The first time I saw a cricket close up I screamed with enough power to bring my mom and dad in from the backyard all the way down to the basement. I was probably 8 or 9.
- My parents went away on vacation and left me to stay at Justin Baker's. He was 3 years older than me, and thus the benchmark of coolness. I got mad at him for some reason when we were swimming in his neighbor's pool, and continued to dunk my head in and out of the water so that I couldn't hear him trying to apologize.
- Mike Munoz once came downstairs and caught me watching "Tailspin." For about 2 months afterwards he'd give the opening call of "OH EEE OH" from the Tailspin theme song about every time he saw me.
- When in the 3rd or 4th grade I was dropped from our neighborhood gang, "The Furgenstones," because I couldn't hang on Seth Dicaire's playset using only my fingertips for the required time. Not so much the act itself, but the fact I cried for about 24 hours straight afterwards.
- Immediately following the above incident I convinced Mike to form a seperate and rival gangwith me, "The Bros" and the laughable gang war that ensued until the eventual re-merging. Too many incidents are included in this to really go into detail.
- Okay..just one. Jacob Breckinridge, my next door neighbor and leader of The Furgenstones just got a new Machette and threatened me with it. I ran back into my house and grabbed a butter knife and made threatening motions with it until I got tired of everyone laughing at me.
- While jumping ramps on my bike with Jacob and Nathan Breckinridge after the reunification, I tried to do a complete flip and landed on my face. Which left a "ghotee" of scars around my mouth for about 6 months.
- In about 5th grade, for some reason the question of the neighborhood was whether or not I liked Lisa Boyce's cousin Stacey who had come to live with Lisa at her Grandma's for a few weeks. It eventually broke into 6 of my neighborhood friends circling me and chanting "Y OR N? Y OR N?!" (as in Yes or No). I tried to be witty and say "Why?" which succeeded only in sending everyone running into the house yelling "ooooooooohhh" and "HE LIKES HER HE LIKES HER!" and trying to get her to come outside.
- When playing baseball once, my babysitter, Chris Baker, told all my friends that the Desitin in the bathroom was for me. Which it was. DANGIT.
- In Sixth Grade I dressed up as a female, dress and all, for the role of Minerva in the classic retelling of the King Midas story, "A Touch Too Much."
- I was once "sock fighting" Ben Ramirez..meaning we both loaded up one sock with other socks, and accidentally got my sock stuck in his braces. Not realizing this I yanked it back..nearly ripping the whole thing out of his mouth, and costing his dad a fortune in dental work.
- I lost my two front teeth in a tragic Marco Polo incident while vacationing at Disney World. In addition, the bootleg dentist we had to go to down there gave me silver caps. I had to wear them for nearly 3 months. Take that Snoop.
- Ben's mom had a vase filled with about 8 ceramic flowers. Slowly but surely I managed to break every one of them somehow or another.
- In 6th grade 5 of us kids from church were going to go as the crew from Star Trek: The Original Series for halloween. I couldn't afford the real deal replica uniform, so I got the iron-on patches and a gold shirt to go as Captain Kirk. Unfortunately my mom put the patch on upside down, and I didn't even realize it till I was already at the party.
- When a few band kids in high school somehow remembered my 5th grade basketball nickname of "Shotgun Schuneman"
- During a marching band competition we came to the last set of the last song and everyone stood still. I was five yards off and slowly and dramatically marched over there in complete silence, at the front of the field, for the world to see. Our director rewound the video at least 5 times the next monday in class.
- Late as usual for church one sunday, I tried to tip-toe in during a video presentation. All of a sudden I tripped on something and fell to the ground and yelled "CRAP". Everything went silent, as what I had tripped on was the cord of the movie projector, thus shutting down the film. Everyone turned and looked my way as I got up and plugged it back in, and then they gave me a standing ovation.
- Sophomore year of high school I forgot my locker combination a total of 6 times. Upon the 6th time the secretary actually said "You have to be one of the dumbest kids ever to walk these halls."
- Desperate for a fourth player in the Gus Macker tournament, my friends and I went through AOL profiles looking for anyone from the Flint area with "basketball" in their profile and asking them. We actually got someone to say they'd play, and he gave us his number. Ron Blunt dialed the number and let it ring once before throwing the phone to me. The following conversation was about the most awkward thing in my entire life. To top it all off, none of us felt like going when the day came to play, so we just let him go up there by himself.
- At my senior Sadies Dance I accidentally danced the last dance with a girl other than the one I had came with. I also lost my boutanieer that night somehow before we even got to the dance, and I said practically nothing the entire time we danced because all I could think about was that I needed to say something. I think this might be why I hate myself the most.
- I called pirated computer software "Juarez" instead of "Warez" for about 3 years.
- While rooming with Adam Kotsko sophomore year I always shut my music off the second he'd walk in the door, out of fear of offending him. Of course, doing this offended him far more than any music ever could have.
- Summer after sophomore year Mark Miller went as if he was leaving my room, but slyly re-opened the door. I hit my chair with some force, making it do circles and yelled out "WOO!" and made a funny sort of dancing type motion before I realized I was being watched.
- I picked up the phone at work one day a few months ago after having a "theologic" discussion with a coworker and said "Impressions Printing, this is God, can I help you?"
- Just recently when I had not mowed the front lawn in so long that my neighbor across the street had his grandson come over and do it for me.
Okay, there's 40 morbidly embarrasing moments I could think of in one fell swoop. and I quit there only so that there might still be a slim chance you will actually read them. I feel purged, and I'd like to thank you all for letting me do whatever I can to get it out here. Please don't take this as some sort of "pity me" ploy..I really think I've started to take a sort of pride in my stupidity. After all, the only way to become humble is through constant humiliation.
(1:29 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Some Strange News
Somehow my article I'm a Roman Catholic ended up posted on the Free Republic site. I've never visited this site myself, before now, but all references on the blogs in my links to the left seem to indicate that it is a forum filled with various shades of hate speech. Needless to say, I'm ambivalent -- it's not the audience I'm really trying to reach.
Since I'm just posting a link, here's an interesting article by Dr. Andrew Sullivan. Apparently his opinion of Bush has changed diametrically since 2000. The only reason I can figure out is that Bush is now in power, whereas before he wasn't. (Link via Sullywatch.)
(10:55 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
I know a lot of my readers enjoy taking online personality tests and basing their lives around the results. For those of you in that group, I propose you visit SelectSmart.com's Presidential Candidate Selector Tool. By answering a variety of questions, you too can learn to your despair that the only candidate you agree with is the Rev. Al Sharpton and that everyone else is diametrically opposed to your most heartfelt concerns.
I ended up agreeing 100% with "Green Party Candidate," 88% with Dennis Kucinich, 87% with "Socialist Candidate" (a point of pride for me), and 83% with Howard Dean. The link to learn more about "Socialist Candidate" was fairly amusing to me, showing how irrelevant the treasonous left really is in our nation. I agreed 10% with President George W. "Sugar Britches" Bush, slightly more than my 7% agreement with Pat Buchanan.
So I guess I have to vote for the "Green Party Candidate" next election, thus making me, in Orwell's charming turn of phrase, "objectively pro-fascist" (i.e., a vote against the Democrats is a vote for Bush). Sometimes I regret taking these online tests, because the voyage of self-discovery, of gnosi seautov, is always dangerous -- but following the Socratic injunction is the only way to grow as a person.