Saturday, March 01, 2008

Elastica, In Memory of

For some reason this is one of those albums that hasn't aged really. It still sound just as brilliant now as it did then. Of course, the great bands of the Brit-pop scene tended to have that effect. Perhaps it was the ennui they reflect in their music but it still sound current. Elastica remains on rotation in my car, both in cd and cassette tape forms.

Boogie Nights

Get Fuzzy 3-1-08

Still one of the more under-rated strips out there.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Lukacs and the History of the Personal

One of the things that irked me to some degree with Lukacs' interpretation of history is his focus on the personal but the dismissal of the more cultural or psychoanalytical approach to personal histories. Being a cultural historian myself, of course I find his opinion short-sighted and mistaken. What goes into the creation of a person and how that person acts has a great deal to do with the culture into which they are born. Environmental factors, home life, genetics and a whole host of other elements go into the creation of a personality. If you want to understand the actions of a particular historical character you have to get into their head. Now the psychoanalytical approach does offer some assistance but only so much since most of that kind of history is based on behavior and writings. The cultural approach takes the same evidence and places it in a different context, specifically the world of representation surrounding that individual, what others were thinking at the same time and how particular cultural products were produced, consumed and then reinterpreted in future cultural products.
For instance, using my life as an example, one has to know a great deal of facts about me to even come close to understanding the way I think and why I behave the way I do. If you want to take a mystical, pseudo-science approach to this (of which I hold with a grain of salt, but I do still hold it) then you can consider my astrological sign, year of birth and even my own name. I am a Scorpio, born in the year of the metal Monkey, and given the name Jordan. Now these are perhaps the most coincidental aspects of my existence. These factors of time and pre-decision on the part of my parents had nothing to do with my own free will, environment or genetics. Even so, I was born into a fixed water sign (intensity and confidence inhabit me) during a year that the Chinese ascribe a great deal of creativity and loyalty (also traits of a Scorpio apparently) while the specific year of the Metal Monkey places a great deal of transformative power in me and claims the metals of silver and gold as my architypical metals (which I find strangely ironic since I work as a jeweler). My own name, a Hebrew (note, not necessarily Israeli) name derived from a river and claims the owner of this name to have a deep current running inside them.
So three disparate elements of astrology and superstitious meaning all indicate that I should be an intense, loyal, creative, adaptive and intuitive person while at the same time manipulative, passionate to a fault and given to attacking when threatened, even if the attack comes long after the initial skirmish (still waters and all that).
These are simply elements that exist whether I was born at that specific time or not. They are generalities and hokey ones at that. They give you hints and indications as to who I am but nothing in the way of specifics. Now I will admit that I do exhibit many of the characteristics but whether that is due to my unconscious behavior as ascribed by these supersitious beliefs or reinforced in a sort of feedback effect as I learn more about them I cannot say for certain. Still, they do exist, so while the generalities remain generalities, you can say that they do shape my personality in their own way.
On the other hand (wait for the pun) I am left-handed, relatively short for the average male with long legs but a short torso. I am a combination of both my father and grandfather, packing the muscle of a six-foot man into the frame of a five-foot-seven slender scrapper. I exhibit no strong tendency to the use of one side of my brain or the other and have feet that angle outwards like a penguin. Brown-eyed, brown hair, olive complexion and a "distinctive chin" I genetically in the middle of the pack.
Culturally, I was born in 1980, thus my consciousness of the world did not take shape until around 1992. Imbued with conservative tendencies by my parents I was also subject to an education that repeated the old 'white guys from Boston' history of the U.S. and a belief in the rule of law. A patriotism that was based on individuality (the competing educational interests of liberals and conservatives was the instigator for this) along with a desire to see the best of the U.S. come about informed my politics throughout my teens. College was different as philosophy and history took hold resulting in my transformation from a proto-conservative to a firm GDI (god-damned independent). Language and culture were my mental playground while a sense of the Political continued to take shape.
So those are the basic facts of my life, without getting into personal details. These are facts that one can glean from when I was born, who I was born to, where I went to school and what I wrote during that period. Does this constitute the totality of who I am, of my character and personality? Does Lukacs believe it? I doubt it. For one, how and why I act the way I do is also a product of the cultural elements surrounding me, whether I was consciously or unconsciously aware of them. My personality now is different than it was ten years ago, the product of time itself bearing down on me. How I interpret the world is different as well.
History is the attempt to make the specific general but when you deal with generality solely as your evidence you cannot create an accurate picture of me. This is why I get riled up at the exegetical focus on particular individual like Hitler or Nietzsche as the evidence available of their lives does not offer anything approaching a complete analysis. It avoids the psychoanalytical and the cultural forces at play. It takes the general facts as specific and then attempts to return them to the general. In doing so it offers neither a general nor a specific analysis. I am more than the sum of my parts and so are figures like FDR or Mussolini or Wittgenstein. The fact remains, contra Lukacs, that you still have to find a way to get into the head of the person or people you are examining. Often that requires taking radically different views of things and then attempting to craft a theory around those different perspectives on the evidence available. So while Lukacs argues that we are approaching a turning point in our historical consciousness I believe that we are simply acknowledging the limitations of any one perspective on historical evidence and the need to use multiple points of view to grasp the subjective-objective analysis necessary to understand a historical person or period.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tasting Red

Wearable Computer for Colorblind Painter - David Pescovitz @ BoingBoing
Neil Harbisson Home Page
Synesthesia @ Wikipedia

I like that the strangeness of synesthesia is used to allow a colorblind artist to see 360 colors as translated by sound. The mixing of our common five senses through the crosswiring of our brains is a personal favorite topic of mine. It combines the physicality of the brain itself with the mind-related perceptions of the world to offer new visions that otherwise would not have existed before. I do not believe that we are done in developing senses and that in the future (whether this is a hundred, a hundred thousand or a million years in the future I don't know) we will have new sense with which to experience the physical world. Of course, how we interpret those sensations and experiences is still dependent on the mind and the brain.
In the case of artist Neil Harbisson, the relay of color information through sound allows him to paint as if he can see colors, even if it is limited to 360 colors. While I'm sure the number of colors will increase with time I do have to wonder what kind of application this technology will have on the truly blind. If you can translate visual data through sound for someone who is merely colorblind when will we see the first use of this tech for the blind, or the opposite for the deaf? Moreover, what kind of mixture of sensation will such blind or deaf people experience? And will making visual data available to the blind affect their other sensations? Will evoloution play a role in how sensory data is experienced and relayed to the brain/mind? And will this relay happen quickly?
I think it's only appropriate to mention again Warren Ellis and his character The Drummer in Planetary in the context of this post. The Drummer had a sixth sense, one that allowed him to read information as if he were seeing sunlight or tasting coffee. When will this kind of new sensory experience come along and will technology play a role in how it evolves? It's fascinating to think of since our lives are ruled by the sensory data we receive and how the brain/mind molds that data into our perceptions.

The Density of Space

Scientists Seek Space Diamonds - JohnOneFive @ Truemors

It doesn't surprise me one bit that there are more diamonds in space than there are on Earth. The extreme pressures needed to create the crystalline structures of a diamond are far more common in certain regions of the cosmos than they are on this planet. Other planets and asteroids may play host to a whole range of minerals, metals and materials that are rare on this planet due to its relative lack of large pressure regions. It's even surmised that the center of Jupiter holds a core of metallic hydrogen--that's hydrogen that has not only been pressurized to phase change into a solid but form the crystalline structure of a metal as well. I wonder though, since there are diamonds on this planet that are harder than other diamonds (albeit not by much) if these diamonds dense cosmic regions are significantly harder than Earth-created ones?

They Just Disappeared Back Into The Jungle

AT&T: NSA Get the Best AT&T Coverage Around - Matt Buchanan @ Gizmodo

I'm a sucker for guerrilla media, particularly the kind with a snarky political bend. The fellows who performed this Fight Club worthy feat are members of the Billboard Liberation Front. I like their style in not attempting to offend while offering a sharp critique of the Bush administration's policies. They avoided the vitriol common with the most leftist of the left and still got their point across. We need more media like this to combat the machine politics and mainstream media games politicians play.

Down the Rabbit Hole

First Peek Into Deepest Recesses of Human Brain - Science Daily

I still see a problem with overstating the physical role of the brain in our conscious thought. While the hard sciences have continued to make advances in our understanding of how the physical brain works and how those workings affect our mood, disposition and perception, I still haven't seen any attempt to bridge the mind-body gap that metaphysical philosophy has long dealt with. Wittgenstein did overturn Descartes' cogito ergo sum with his theory of language but that still hasn't produced a working metaphysical theory of how the mind interacts with the brain and whether there is a separation at all. I tend to believe there is, but it's hard to prove in an real way. Even so, I like these kinds of studies as they take apart the brain bit by bit. Once the hard sciences have had their way with the brain I get the feeling that they will still need the help of philosophers to understand just what the hell it all means.

Anti-Torture Propaganda

From FDR to GWB - Andrew Sullivan

It's humbling to see such a reminder of our moral past as a nation that respects human rights. Without poster propaganda like this I don't think we could have come out of WWII as a nation with serious moral standing to go along with our military and economic might. The Vietnam War was a serious blow to that moral standing but President Reagan was able to restore some sense of right over might during his term, even if his overall platform didn't help the country economically or socially. A President Obama would, I think by virtue of him just being president, would cause many of our allies to at least give us the benefit of the doubt again while making our enemies worry that they will no longer have just a white elitist U.S. to contend with but one that gives even its most downtrodden citizens a chance to wield the power of the presidency. Even if you remove everything that makes him physically and culturally significant in this race you still have a man who acts with cool reserve and calculated responses. As he has often said, Sen. Obama would use the full array of tool at our disposal on the foreign policy front, with military options available as well. He's not a President Clinton who was afraid to commit troops or a President Bush who was all too willing. Instead, Sen. Obama is a person who would see both the strategic picture and the the tactical implications of his policies. Moreover, a President Obama would end the ridiculous, Kafkaesque attitude the current administration holds on 'enemy combatants.' Both as a Senator and as a law professor, Sen. Obama is a believer of the rule of law and would, I think, commit his administration to upholding that. You can tell, if campaigns are any metric to judge by, that Sen. Obama would not stoop to the level of his enemies.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Your Desk in Motion

So I've always taken an interest in what people consistently keep on their desk mixed with the everyday stuff that lands there. I'm not speaking of your desk at work, but the one at home where your real work begins. A desk isn't a requirement though. Coffee tables, floors, beds, countertops, or just anywhere in general where you compose, create or just lounge. I hold this strange belief that what you find on this space at any particular moment reflects a great deal of who you are and what kind of personality you keep.
This is my desk. This is where I spend a great deal of time writing, smoking and playing with media. But it also reflects some of the regular elements of my daily life, whether over the long term or the short term. A glass of water next to a prescription bottle is a regular thing while the dispenser of surgical gauze is reflective of my amazing week in personal injury. Coffee, smokes, cds and dvds are commonplace and travel with me most anywhere I go. What makes this picture of my desk so important is it's representation of the space I produce for myself, whether simulated or real. Each object has their own meaning, a myriad of meanings in fact. But in relation to each other what do they say? What does the totality of these objects reflect about myself and how I produce my reality, my space?
So, what does your creative space look like? If you send me pictures and brief descriptions then I'll post them, sans names and such if desired. I want to see how other creative spaces are produced and what they mean to the producer. So click away.

From 0 to Whore in Six Seconds

Glitter Gun: For the Times When You Want to Get Whored Up Really, Really Fast - Jason Chen @ Gizmodo

I'm think of more alternative uses for this sort of thing. I mean, what's better than aiming this bundle of joy at your favorite politician just before they give a speech or perhaps your sleeping grandmother. I wonder what the ballistic physics of glitter is?

Tattooing as a Business Expense

Taunting Touchscreen Tattoo-phone - Zoetica Ebb @ Coilhouse

This is the kind of body-mesh with technology I like to see. I see a couple of problems with it however. While they may have solved the power problem, the saving of information is something that I don't know how they will successfully achieve until large memory storage chips that are super thin are produced. Another problem is more stylistic than functional for me. I would imagine having the tattoo on the inside of your forearm would better suit the needs of the user. Perhaps they can go with a clam shell design and have flip pads on both sides. Moreover, I wonder how this would compete with designs that incorporate the phone into the eye and ear, allowing the user to see in full color and not have to speak into their arm? It's all very Transmet though, so I love it anyway.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I hear your band has sold your guitars and bought turntables

Robotique Majestique - Ghostland Observatory

An hour of listening and I can already tell this album will make it onto my regular car rotation. Now if only they would play a proper Dallas venue.

Three Days Later - Review: Finally Punk

So I went to check out the Melodica thing Saturday night and was pretty amazed by the turnout. I only made it to the Amsterdam but between Tree Wave and Finally Punk I was pretty pleased. The girls of Finally Punk were great and didn't even throw a bottle at me despite me hitting them with a flash ever twenty seconds or so. It was satisfying to the soul to hear a proper 30 second song. That and the ability of the band members to swap places constantly was just a sign of great talent. If you get the chance then check out their web page or if you're in Austin go see them play.

Hyperrealism, The Production of Space and Dialectic Materialism

Since I've been reading Henri Lefebrve's The Production of Space along with some minor research in the fields of hyperrealism and supermodernism, I've had to relearn the dialectical and the differences between Hegel's notion of the dialectic and Marx's dialectical imperialism. I know, I know, I should still know this but I tended to avoid anything that smacked of Marxism when I was in school. Now the off-shoots and intellectual movements sparked in response to Marxism I've been all over. Lefebrve, in writing on the production of space, is taking it from a Marxist perspective, sort of. Thus the dialectical is important. For Marx, the dialectic was the attempt to transcend the contradictions of the material world in order to attain a new height of history and human experience. Lefebrve believes this kind of attitude towards space (space meaning social space, mental space and material space) overlooks the necessity of both the distinctiveness of different kinds of space while admitting their intertwined relation.
For me, this attempt to span the contradictions of the human experience shows a misunderstanding of what the human experience really is. Camus spoke of this in The Rebel as the concepts of freedom and justice are constantly at odds with each other, neither existing without the other but without any foreseeable way of reconciling that conflict. It's a matter of not 'transcending' the contradictions of the world but allowing those contradictions to exist as is. The gap exists but it isn't a failure of philosophy. It's an acknowledgment of the limitations of the human mind. The dialectic originally meant, in the pre-Hegelian sense, a way of reasoning to arrive at a truth. Hegel and Marx turned it into some world-historical method to achieve a more perfect form of history and humanity when none was needed. Even though the dialectic has allowed us to realize the limitations of human logic it is not a system that one should take too seriously. Instead, I think the dialectic is a starting point for understanding those limitations and realizing how production in the Marxist sense is only one way to look at things. Postmodern, it may be, but it also fits within the realm of the hyperreal as attempting to expose the contradictions of the simulated reality of hyperrealism is an important task for futurists as well as philosophers.

Ohio Debate Recap

I think Sen. Obama succeeded quite nicely in parrying Sen. Clinton's thrusts while not appearing to draw too much blood from her. Moreover, I think Sen. Clinton inflicted her worst wounds on herself (her snark about receiving the first question and whether Sen. Obama needs more pillows for his ass was particularly stupid). It was good that the debate over healthcare was dispensed with first as it has dominated the last couple of debates. Refreshing arguments over foreign policy, campaign tactics and rhetoric were welcomed.
Sen. Obama owned the first half of the debate but had a weird return after the commercial break. Sen. Clinton looked far more composed after that break which leads me to think that perhaps the 'kitchen sink' routine her campaign was promising wasn't so promising a tactic. Still, Sen. Obama kept his professorial air about him and never seemed fazed by some odd questions. His response to the Louis Farrakhan endorsement, while a little stilted, was appropriate and segued nicely into his potential problems with the Jewish vote. I think Sen. Obama could go a long way to repairing the divide between Jews and blacks in America. On the other hand, Sen. Clinton's 'me too' addendum to that question was rather self-serving.
The NAFTA question and the foreign policy questions were clearly Sen. Obama's best arenas. He struggled a bit with the public financing pledge, parsing his words carefully in a way I wasn't quite comfortable with. But I do take comfort that the way the Obama campaign has gone about raising fund through small donations goes a long way to supporting him philosophically if he doesn't take public financing, since, in a way, he already has.
Sen. Clinton had few moments to shine. Her closing remarks were good but not as good as in Austin a week earlier. Her defense of not releasing her tax returns was strained at best and her decision to continue hammering her 'fighter' aura was strange considering who the Democratic nominee will face in the general election. But at least she finally recanted her AUMF vote. I doubt that will do much good now but at least she made the effort.
I did like how both Russert and Williams continued to pressure the candidates for more direct answers and kept them within a certain set of time limits. The moment that Brian Williams had to cut off Sen. Clinton was both snarky and brilliant all at the same time. Overall, I enjoyed the MSNBC moderators better than CNN's. While there were a few good questions in the last debate, Sen. Clinton derailed them too often. This time around she wasn't able to do that and thus wasn't able to score some serious points over Sen. Obama.
In the end, Sen. Obama didn't exactly blow Sen. Clinton out of the water but he did continue to do what he has done in ever other debate. He remained claim, considered and composed at whatever was thrown at him while Sen. Clinton seemed to struggle at times once the healthcare debate passed. It was a good debate and Sen. Obama's refusal to let himself get drawn into a pissing match allowed him to maintain his presidential look. If he's able to keep this kind of attitude during the general election debates then there's no reason why he can't overwhelm the more antagonistic Sen. McCain. But there's still next Tuesday to get through and we'll see who has the nomination locked up by then.

Best Live Blog Quote

10:32 — "Barack: You know what I regret? Meeting God when I was 22, and becoming divine and immortal. Sometimes I want to live among the humans, you know? They have such nice things." The Wonkette

Monday, February 25, 2008

Like LBJ, Sometimes My Dick is the Answer

This post both confirms and denies my academic/nerd cred. I changed my own brakes yesterday on all four wheels. Six hours of sweating, unbolting, clamping down, plugging in, fitting, sitting, and seating. My hands still hurt and my knuckles look like I've been in a fight, which in a way I was. Not only did I save money I put higher performance brake pads on. Now I just need to find some big money for slotted rotors. What is it about taking things apart and making them better that appeals to me? I do it to my computer, to philosophical theory, to history, to just about everything. I guess it's just a character flaw in me, obsessiveness and single-mindedness. Maybe that's why I'm terrible at answering phone calls or IM's.

Being a Grammar Nazi

Clinton: Obama is to Foreign Policy as Bush was to Foreign Policy - Marc Ambinder

“We’ve seen the tragic results of having a president who didn’t have neither the experience nor the wisdom to manage our foreign policy and safeguard our national security. We can’t let that happen again.”

Now I'm not one to nit-pick (actually, I am) but the first sentence is really bad: "didn't have neither"? I can understand when giving speeches one can get their words a little mixed up but for someone like Sen. Clinton to make a freshman mistake like that is just silly.
On a more serious note, Sen. Clinton just made it easier on Sen. McCain on the national security front. If an election between Sens. Clinton and McCain was decided solely on foreign policy experience alone then Sen. Clinton would find herself beaten a foot into the ground by Sen. McCain. It's simply stupid of her to go on the attack on foreign policy when she doesn't have much of one and to claim experience in the matter when she will face a giant in the public's mind on national security.

One-Armed Political Fighting

The Foreign Policy Failure - Matt Yglesias

Yglesias makes a salient point here concerning the foreign policy positions of the two Democratic candidates. Sen. Obama has made it clear for some time now that he has put together a serious and dramatically different foreign policy than Sen. Clinton, who has attempted to avoid any deep probing of the issue. More than just the issue of meeting with our enemies are the issues of weapons technology and nuclear stockpiles. Yet the mainstream media has failed to grapple with the issue in any real way, most conspicuously in the arena of op-ed pieces. Yglesias points out that in the case of the Washington Post their op-ed staff lack someone who would tackle the foreign policy issue of the Democratic candidates in anything approaching even-handedness.
This lack of attention becomes a problem for the candidates, most particularly Sen. Obama, when their is little distinction between their domestic agendas. While Yglesias makes the point that the president has a greater freedom of movement in the foreign policy arena, I think the more important point is that the lack of foreign policy discussion has allowed not only Sen. Clinton to avoid any serious embarrassment during a debate, it has allowed Sen. McCain the opportunity to go unopposed when he turns his attention to foreign policy in his speeches. For a presumptive front-runner like Sen. Obama to have half of his entire policy agenda ignored is strange and potentially harmful when it comes to countering Sen. McCain's policy points. Outside of the regular blog readers, the majority of the public has little in the way to assess Sen. Obama on national security, an important issue for many still.