Monday, November 30, 2009

Beatles 3000

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Week 1

Here are the results from the first week of InaDWriMo. Off to good start, but I'm behind already. I'll need to pick up the pace if I'm going to make it to 10k this time around.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


This mashup of Jay-Z and Radiohead by Max Tannone is part of the current writing project. But it's also really good. Take a listen to Change Order.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Write or Die

InaDWriMo 2009 is upon us! Repent! Flee! Or Write!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Blogging's Barbarisms

In his "Theses on the Philosophy of History," Walter Benjamin writes:

There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. And just as such a document is not free of barbarism, barbarism taints also the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another. (Illuminations, 256)
I'm interested in the ways blogging also exhibits this barbarism. Discuss.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Virtual Sedition

Here's a link to an icky story about an online wingnut game called 2011: Obama Coup Fails. In the game players battle out a new American civil war after the overthrow of the Obama administration. The game comes complete with its own fake history leading up to the war:

Back in 2007, one brave newscaster was the first in what used to be called the 'mainstream media' to ring the alarm bell. That man was Lou Dobbs of CNN. Lou Dobbs was reported missing during the media purges of January and February 2011, when Mark Lloyd and the FCC, on Obama's orders, cracked down on all dissent in broadcasting. Glen Beck, another broadcast media personality who rang the alarm bell before the coup, was found dead of an 'aspirin overdose' in late 2010, after the devastating elections in November.
And its own "future news stories" from the war itself:


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Friday, October 02, 2009

Marx Reading Group: The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation

I've been wanting to join in the Marx Reading Group on Chapter 25 of Capital, Volume I organized by Nate, but haven't been able to focus enough time and energy in that direction yet. In the meantime, I thought I could contribute Hugo Gellert's wonderful 1934 lithographs of Chapter 25.

Thanks to the working of this law, poverty grows as the accumulation of capital grows. The accumulation of wealth at one pole of society involves a simultaneous accumulation of poverty, labor torment, slavery, ignorance, brutalization, and moral degradation, at the opposite pole -- where dwells the class that produces its own product in the form of capital.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Alienation and Happiness

Via. From On Being Postacademic by Kenneth Mostern:

The scariest thing a young faculty member experiences is not, as is conventionally supposed, the “need to produce” and therefore her/his experience is not aided by the “mentorship” of an experienced scholar.  Rather, the young scholar’s fear stems from the fact that no one in the department is talking to each other about scholarship.  Faculty are socializing, going out, schmoozing all the time, and the ideas that supposedly drive the work they do are not being discussed.  The mentor, if assigned, will try to teach the young faculty member how to navigate the minefield of the department, but that is exactly what is alienating.  The mentor, especially when well-intentioned, may be the model for what is wrong, not an aid in coping.  Indeed, if the mentor is really similar to the young faculty member in terms of ideology or social identity, the mentor may be a model for what the young faculty member does not wish to become.
The one conversation everyone is having incessantly is the one about the micropolitical maneuvers within the department.  This conversation is, of course always done with armor on, with an eye toward alliances and enemies already made, with everyone watching to find out which camp the new faculty member will join.  And while there is a relationship between micropolitics and geopolitics, it is far more tenuous, far more mediated by local institutional conditions, than the new faculty first imagines.
Because no one is talking about substance, only alliances, and because alienation is general, a vacuum exists at the center of institutional power which is not filled by talent or argument, but by those who feel most comfortable or justified taking advantage of it.  For those in power, and for those who hope to attain power, the arrival of a new junior faculty member is to be watched closely for his/her schmoozing choices. As a result, it is not simply the case that junior faculty fear senior faculty, but that the senior faculty fear the junior faculty, walking around wondering whether this new person will contribute to their already hatched plan to take over the curriculum.  The fact that the new person was hired with accomplishments and expectations much higher than so many senior faculty members does not help this form of fear, of course.
While it remains true that the power differential between tenured and untenured faculty makes the ubiquity of fear particularly threatening to the careers of junior faculty members, the longer one stays the more one discovers that one’s unhappiness is simply an example of the larger misery of faculty members.  Senior faculty don’t exactly help or support one another either.  Tenure might lead to a sense of security; it surely does not breed happiness.
Happines remains a very odd thing to to try to find through work. But this description of academic life is far too accurate. My own days are filled by interminable discussions of internal politics of interest to no one but those directly involved. Discussions about ideas are something that happen more often in my classes than with my colleagues.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rest In Bits


"For my recently departed brother (long illness, don't smoke!), I thought this nice SPARCstation would be a cool place to spend eternity. Yes, he's really in there (after cremation). I kept the floppy drive cover but for space reasons removed the floppy drive, hard drive, and most of the power supply. I left behind the motherboard and power switch and plugs to keep all openings covered. The case worked quite well at his memorial party. His friends and family were able to leave their final good-byes on post-notes. Anyone who wanted to keep their words private could just slip their note into the case through the floppy slot. All notes will be sealed in plastic and placed within the case. There has been one complication. His daughters like the look of it so much they aren't now sure if they want to bury him. One more thing: the words on the plaque really do capture one of the last things he ever said. Of course as kids we watched the show in its first run."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lumpen Web Comic

Here's today's odd internet artifact. It's a web comic called Goodbye Chains:

"Colin Lord is a cheerful Boston Communist, and Banquo White is a cranky half-Mexican with no philosophy beyond hedonism. Somehow they have become partners in crime, spreading a reign of terror and dialectical materialism across the plains of Colorado. Follow their adventures with explosives and ladies -- and, possibly, men."

The web is a very odd place.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Resisting Infinity

Dead Voles has nice post on the Infinity Standard.

1.) In the work of doing good, effort causes good. 2.) All possible good should be done, and 3.) all foregone effort is foregone good. 4.) In principle, there is no condition one can be in where slightly more effort is not possible. 5.) With infinite effort, infinite good can be done. 6.) Therefore, infinity is the standard. Anything short is deplorable dereliction.
Reading this sparked the post below on the need for a personal mission statement. My current academic unit has recently been remade by upper-level administrators. What this means in practice is that everything needs to be redone now. The absence of very basic things, like faculty governance, promotion and tenure documents, student degree-checks, and even computer support for faculty, are all starting to become acute. Every one of these gaps is a crisis that needs immediate attention. Part of restructuring of my unit entailed streamlining, so we are now an eighth the size we used to be. This means that all the details of running an academic program have to be recreated by a very, very small group of faculty. We are busy reinventing many wheels.

The infinity standard resonates for me right now. Like the vast majority of academics, we care about our teaching and our students and our research. They are important to us beyond simply being our jobs. This creates many problems, but right now it means that everyone sincerely wants to fix everything and they want to fix it now. It will in fact be good to fix these things, and there is nothing on our to do list that can't be accomplished by just a little extra effort. The problem is that our to do list is so long and we are so few that all those extra efforts add up to more than can possibly be done this year. Trying to prioritize and resist some things in favor of others can feel like, and be perceived as, a dereliction of duty.

Friday, September 25, 2009

I Need A Mission Statement

My university has a mission statement. My college has a mission statement. My (former) department and (current) program both have mission statements. These documents all tend to be vaguely noble, yet also strangely nebulous. However, that doesn't seem to stop all manner of policies from being implemented in the name of these mission statements.

I think I need a mission statement too.

I need a mission statement that "encourages and fosters the growth of" my sanity.  A mission statement that "advances the twin goals" of lowering my blood pressure and calming my nerves through the "creation and cultivation" of peaceful working environments. I need a mission statement that "recognizes the continuing importance" of my ongoing financial well being and "seeks to achieve these goals through the development and implementation of creative and innovative policies and practices."

Do you think I should post my mission statement on my door underneath my office hours?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Facebook International Politics

Via. Excellent internet snark from the Maila Times:

Islamabad, Pakistan: A diplomatic scandal erupted online yesterday when the Foreign Office of Pakistan found out that China, Pakistan’s so called “BFF,” de-friended Pakistan on Facebook. Initially, Pakistan thought that it was just an error, but senior ISI officials, after logging into Facebook through another account, confirmed that China had indeed removed Pakistan as a friend on Facebook.

Reports indicate that China is upset at Pakistan because they have started to become jealous of Pakistan over recent wall posts written by US diplomats on Pakistan’s wall. There were also questionable and scandalous photographs of Pakistani diplomats and US officials flirting in a night of debauchery in a local Chinese restaurant, which may have offended China.

Tensions have recently been high with the “Friends of Pakistan” group, as several of them have started to put Pakistan on limited profile and have ignored reciprocal ‘poke’ requests by Pakistan. Saudi Arabia complained a few days ago that Pakistan just ‘likes’ everything that the USA posts. The Saudi Foreign Minister has characterized Pakistan’s Facebook antics as “whorish,” and thinks that Pakistan is too much of a stalker.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

We're #37

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Happy Birthday Internet!


"I'd like to wish a happy birthday to the Internet! Today marks its 40th birthday! In fall 1969, computers sending data between two California universities set the stage for the Internet, which became a household word in the 1990s. On September 2nd 1969, in a lab at the University of California, Los Angeles, two computers passed test data through a 15-foot gray cable. Stanford Research Institute joined the fledgling ARPANET network a month later; UC Santa Barbara and the University of Utah joined by years end, and the internet was born."

Friday, August 28, 2009

Porn and Activism

I plan to use Ethan Zuckerman's wonderful paper in class this semester.

"Web 1.0 was invented to allow physicists to share research papers.

Web 2.0 was created to allow people to share pictures of cute cats."

"I’d offer the hypothesis that any sufficiently advanced read/write technology will get used for two purposes: pornography and activism. Porn is a weak test for the success of participatory media – it’s like tapping a mike and asking, “Is it on?” If you’re not getting porn in your system, it doesn’t work. Activism is a stronger test – if activists are using your tools, it’s a pretty good indication that your tools are useful and usable."
The tension between the consumption and production of online content is shaping much of the current struggle over what the internet will become. I'm attracted to this simple litmus test of porn and activism as the twin signs of a progressive medium.

My guess is it will provoke some interesting class discussion.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Simple Explanation

Via. Christopher Hayes, Washington DC editor of The Nation, explaining health reform at a Netroots Nation panel.

Monday, August 24, 2009

No Coffee For You

Today was our beginning of the semester General Faculty meeting where, due to budgetary constraints, there was no coffee.

That pretty much sums up the message of the meeting as well: expect more nothing this year.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Faculty Handbook

WTF?! This is what I get when I click on the link to the faculty handbook at my bizarro university. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Monday, August 17, 2009

YouTube on YouTube

Another talk by Michael Wesch about the history and impact of YouTube. Very nice. How best to use this in class though... any ideas?

Friday, August 14, 2009


If you look very, very closely... in the bottom left hand corner of the photograph... I believe there may be a meteor from Wednesday night's Perseid meteor shower. Looking less closely, it's a pretty picture of the big dipper which is also nice.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Recycled Sex

Recycling Your Sex Toys
Finally, there’s an environmentally friendly way to dispose of used or broken vibrators, dildos, plugs, or any other sex toy you may have. Our Sex Toy Recycling program offers you a way to recycle sex toys that you no longer want or use.

It is Simple and Easy
Simply drop your clean used toy(s) in the mail, when we receive it in our warehouse we will have it cleaned and disassembled. The rubber, silicone, hard plastics, metal, e-waste and motors will be sent to recycling facilities that process the materials for reuse. Did you leave the batteries in? Don’t worry, we dispose of them responsibly..

Help Your Planet
Now, when you get rid of that old, broken or unused sex toy, you will be helping our environment. You can feel good that you have done one more thing to cut consumer waste, reduce landfills and help eliminate the toxic chemicals that seep into our soil and ground water.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

For those of you who enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies...

Summer School

I'm finishing up my first ever semester of summer school teaching and I've been pleased with how things have gone. It has not been as grueling as I feared for either the students or myself.

One of the surprise hits of the semester has been using Zizek's The Pervert's Guide to Cinema in class. The movie is very long - almost 3 hours - but is split up into three parts each of which provides a nice framework for class discussion. Talking about movies seems to open up discussion much more quickly than simply reading Lacan's "Mirror Stage."

The only downside is that it means I have to inflict on myself almost every disturbing scene from every David Lynch film ever made. That's a lot of disturbing scenes.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Buddy Guy

Nostalgia. I was at this show way back when.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Discovery

Lacan is much more pleasant to read while smoking a good cigar. He even seems clearer.

I think this may have something to do with the fact that he no doubt wrote while smoking. Perhaps it helps produce some sort of chemical affinity with the text. Then again, perhaps it just helps ease the pain.

In either case, it is an excellent discovery.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy 4th!!

Here's a pic I took tonight at my local fireworks display. And just for fun, here's some music for the day from Fry and Laurie as well. Happy 4th!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Unknown Zizek

Here is a video of Zizek speaking on ideology to Google workers. I hadn't seen this one. It repeats much of the material from other talks Zizek gave last year on the heels of his Violence book. But I find the setting of this one at Google's New York offices strangely compelling.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


One summer, I really want to make the trek out to the Smoky Mountains to see this: synchronous lightning bugs.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Academic Squalor

Inspired by Sisyphus' musings on office decor, I've started the task of cleaning out, redecorating, and steampunkifying my office. This is clearly all still part of my ongoing post-tenure and post-sabbatical recovery process, but I think it will help me and I may even enjoy the project.

Over the past 14 years, I've had 10 different offices. Before that, I had moved offices yearly for 5 years. That's almost 20 years of moving offices. I'm really good at moving now. I've had lots of practice. What I'm terrible at is unpacking. I've had no real practice at that. I have boxes which I still haven't fully unpacked from grad school. Partly, this behaviour is simply practical. If you know you'll be moving in a semester or two, then leaving some things packed will simply save time. The boxes will be ready and waiting for the next move. Partly, this behaviour is simply neurotic and my own personal physical symptom expressing the uncertainties that haunt contingent academic labor. Fine. With tenure, though, and with the recent threat of moving buildings yet again lifted, I'm determined to actually unpack and make my office my own. In order to help motivate myself to finish the job this time, here is a "before" picture of my squalid office as it looks today:

Awful. Note the generations of dead computer equipment and office furniture underfoot; the piles of papers; and the clutter on every possible surface. I must fix this. Here is my goal:

This is Freud's Vienna office circa 1938. I'm particularly fond of his desk chair. I don't think I'll quite make this goal, but any small steps in this direction are all to the good.

I'm going to try to be very intentional about the things I include in my office, and ruthless about the things I throw out. I have various objets d'art that I've acquired over the years that have never found a home. Some are very nice. Some have more sentimental value than artistic merit. Others are simply too horrendous to be welcome at home and so have been banished to my office.

I've also given up on having my university buy any furniture for my office. Even in times of flush budgets, that has been very hard to do. Now, it's simply impossible. Plus, institutional furniture is always too ugly anyway. So, instead, I will spend a little money of my own here and there to help things along. Wish me luck. I will need it.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Very Modern Times

This isn't new, but it's new to me. It's an updated version of Chaplin's wonderful nonsense song from Modern Times. I like it.

This video has inspired me to show Modern Times in my Marx class in the Fall. The feeding machine scene, the red flag march, the infamous prison cocaine scene, as well as the classic assembly line breakdown scene are all good grist for taking about capital. In the past, I've shown just pieces from this film, but I plan to indulge myself this time time around and watch the entire movie in class.

As a side note, the dark haired woman in the video with the flower in her hair is evidently Dolores Chaplin, Charlie's granddaughter. Nice touch.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Travel In The Time Of Swine Flu

Our three months in Mexico ends today and we're heading home. I'm not sure what to expect from our border crossings today never having traveled during a pandemic before. I assume we will receive some special attention at customs because we are coming from Mexico, although the state of Quintana Roo where we've been has not had any swine flu cases so far. Going through customs is never my favorite thing, but I imagine we'll make it through eventually. More posts once I'm settled back home. Happy May Day!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cecilio Chi Elementary School

This is Cecilio Chi Elementary School on the town square of Laguna Bacalar.

Cecilio Chi was a leader in the Mayan rebellion during the Caste War in the Yucatan in the late 1800's which was very nearly successful. That there is an elementary school named after Cecilio Chi seems to me a little like passing by Nat Turner Elementary in rural Virginia. I wish I knew more about the local politics that brought this about. I'm sure they are very interesting.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Daniel the Manatee

This is Daniel the Manatee.

He is adorable. He was rescued as an infant off the coast of Belize and fostered by faculty and students at ECOSUR. He's living now in Laguna Guerrero and is almost an adult.

I really wasn't expecting such charisma from an animal called a sea cow. Daniel is more alert, inquisitive, and playful than most dogs I know. He's clearly smarter than any dog I know. He's also beautiful and incredibly graceful. Sadly, habitat destruction is taking its toll on these amazing creatures.

For those of you who can stand the cuteness, there are also baby pictures of Daniel available online. ZOMG soooo cute!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Taken at the Temple of the Masks at the Mayan ruins of Kohunlich:

These masks were covered over when the temple was remodeled at some point during the centuries Kohunlich was occupied. Because of this ancient makeover, these masks are wonderfully well preserved with even some the colors still visible.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Time To Publication

What is the longest time you know about for a journal article to appear in print?

I just had an article come out. I had submitted the article back in 2005 (and just to make me feel better, let's ignore all those years this particular article spent on my desk in the form of various drafts and conference presentations shall we? kthnx.) That's 4 years from submission to publication. This is certainly longer than usual, but I doubt I broke any records.

The article actually whizzed through the initial peer review process at the journal and was accepted pending revisions after only about 6 months. The review process for the revisions took another year. So far, this seems about par for the course to me, although it is probably a little on the long side for the revisions. One of the two reviewers hadn't cared for the article and probably wasn't very interested in reading it a second time around knowing that it had already been accepted over their initial objections. Journals rely on the kindness of faculty to serve as referees and this is exactly the sort of work that is easy for professors to put in the "doesn't have to be done today pile" on the corner of their desk which can then be safely left to gather dust for a year. Still, after 18 months the article had finished its sojourn through the hands of reviewers and the revision process and been given final acceptance for publication.

I truly wasn't concerned that I didn't hear anything more from the journal over the next year.

I did finally send a polite email query about the status of the article. Six months later I received a somewhat chagrined reply apologizing for the delay. It seems they had lost my article, and then lost my email query about the article. Then they were both found again. Then it took close to another year for the article to find its way into print.

Not very graceful, but it worked.

Are there other stories out there about interminable time to publication? I'm guessing I'm not alone.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


When this was put on the table, the waiter made sure to make eye contact with me, the obvious gringo, and say very seriously, "Pica."

Yucatecan food is typically not terribly hot as compared to say Northern Mexican cuisine (or Southern Texas food for that matter). The one exception to this rule, though, seems to be Yucatecan salsas. This particular batch of salsa was basically just shredded habanero chiles and is among the more ferociously hot things I have ever put in my mouth. I imagine the stern warning was directed at me because once upon a time some poor unsuspecting German tourist mistook the small dish for carrots or coleslaw and ate a big forkful. It does look mostly harmless. I liked the heat, but I also appreciated the warning too.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


This is one of the most fascinating news photos I've seen in a long time:

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Writing Technologies

This is just a quick note about the new word processor I've been using while on sabbatical. I really like it. It's called Bean and it's a free, open-source word processor for Macs. Microsoft Word has gotten so large and slow and complicated that it makes me sad just to click on its icon these days. This word processor makes me happy. I find that's important since there are so many other ways for writing to make me sad it seems silly to start down that path just by opening the word processor.

I will date myself here by confessing that I started writing my dissertation using Microsoft Word 1.0 on a MacPlus. That sounds ancient. No doubt it is ancient. In human years, that would be about 1990. I remember really liking Word 1.0 though. It was very simple and very easy to use. Bean takes me back to those halcyon days of my youth when word processors were easy to use. I like this, and not purely for reasons of nostalgia. Time spent wandering through menus is not helpful to the creative process, nor are crashes and freezes. Bean is also easy on the eyes. Literally. One feature that my recently bifocaled eyes appreciate is the simple slider at the bottom of the window that changes the size of the text in the display. Brilliant! I can read what I'm writing again. I'm sure this is an important step forward in the quality of my writing as well. Bean is also free. I like free. If you drive a Mac, check out Bean. It may make you happy too.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

By Special Request

Another soothing, stress-free beach pic. Plus, a bonus iguana shot.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Lumpen Cats

I've decided to stop blogging about Marx, academic labor and the state of higher education. It's all just too stressful. Instead, until further notice, I will be blogging exclusively about cats.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


The unreal blue of the Caribbean as seen from the beach at Tulum...

and the even more unreal blue of the freshwater Laguna Bacalar...

'nuff said.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


This is Dzibanché, the ruins of a vast Mayan city in southern Quintana Roo dating from the Early Classic to the Classic periods (about AD 300-800). The site is still being excavated and has only been open since about 1990. This was my introduction to Mayan ruins, and I fear I've been spoiled. I don't think there are many sites quite so secluded and lush.

There were no other tourists at on this Wednesday morning, so instead we got to share the site with this coati and these howler monkeys along with many, many birds.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lizard Blogging

Sometime ago, Sisyphus requested a picture of the tiny geckos that are so often underfoot here. I've learned more about them as I've lived with them, but one of the things I've learned is that they are very uncooperative about photographs. They are small, fast and shy. I've also learned they are incredibly useful. They seem to live on a diet almost exclusively of mosquitoes and cockroaches. This makes them my heroes. I watched a lizard on the back porch take down a cockroach almost as big as itself. I did finally get this picture of one of these brave and noble creatures:

The reason I was fast enough this time was because I was already busy with my camera and because the rock it was sunning itself on was here at the Mayan ruins at Kinichná:

I'm behind on my photo-blogging, so for the next few days I'll be posting more pictures from the Yucatan. Perhaps if I get this urge out of my system now, I'll be better able to refrain from inflicting my travel photos on unwary friends and colleagues back home. We shall see.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fun At Work

Professor Zero has a very interesting Heretical Post up arguing the easily summarized heresy that:

Writing is fun and publishing is easy.
I like this post very much. I particularly like the concluding remarks about the gatekeeping functions of "so many warnings" and the emphasis placed "on fear and suffering." I do have one suggestion, though, to add about the origins of these academic bad habits.

I'm reminded of some previous blog exchanges about the love of teaching. As in those discussions, the fact that there are often pleasures in writing, just as there are often pleasures in teaching, sometimes runs the risk of over shadowing the mundane fact that what academics do is also still work. Lots of folks outside of the academy enjoy their work. Many also hate their jobs just as bitterly and deeply as the most disaffected academic. All other things being equal, it's certainly better to be one of the folks who enjoys their job, than one who hates it.

The question of why so many academics equate writing with suffering, then, can be answered simply: it's because so many academics hate their jobs. We tend to exhibit this job dissatisfaction in the sour advice we offer to graduate students and junior colleagues, and in the sour blogs we write too. The question of why so many academics hate their job needs more explanation, of course, but I think it remains true that the fear and loathing of writing, or teaching, are simply symptoms of a broader dissatisfaction. It's not really about either writing or teaching. It's about the job. Academics often hesitate at seeing themselves as workers, though, so we tend to look elsewhere for the source of the problem. I think that if morale was higher among faculty in general, you would hear more discussions about the joys of writing. In passing, I'll just note that both Professor Zero and myself are on sabbatical this semester, and I think we're probably both enjoying our work more right now because of it too. Writing is fun and publishing is easy.

My own less heretical one-liner, though, would be:
Teaching is work. Writing is work. It's always good to have fun at work.
It's just important to remember that the fun doesn't mean it stops being work.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Girl Talk

Via. I'm looking forward to watching this open-source documentary, RiP: A remix manifesto, from Brett Gaylor. Alas, my bandwidth is not up for the task while I'm on the road. I do plan on finding some way to use this in class next year though. Here's the blurb from the website:

In RiP: A remix manifesto, Web activist and filmmaker Brett Gaylor explores issues of copyright in the information age, mashing up the media landscape of the 20th century and shattering the wall between users and producers.

The film’s central protagonist is Girl Talk, a mash-up musician topping the charts with his sample-based songs. But is Girl Talk a paragon of people power or the Pied Piper of piracy? Creative Commons founder, Lawrence Lessig, Brazil’s Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil and pop culture critic Cory Doctorow are also along for the ride.

A participatory media experiment, from day one, Brett shares his raw footage at, for anyone to remix. This movie-as-mash-up method allows these remixes to become an integral part of the film. With RiP: A remix manifesto, Gaylor and Girl Talk sound an urgent alarm and draw the lines of battle.

Which side of the ideas war are you on?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Havana Club

Cuban run makes coke taste really, really good. I'm sure I'm not the first to discover this fact. It does strike me as politically very unlikely though: communist rum cozying up to capitalist cola. You would think the two would be ideologically immiscible and separate out, or explode when combined, or something. But no. They go together very nicely. There's probably not any deep metaphorical insight lurking behind this bar-fact, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to resent not being able to buy Cuban rum when I get home.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Amazing Stories

In compiling my stream-of-consciousness list of 25 writers who have influenced me, I found it a little odd that E. E. 'Doc' Smith found his way onto the list so easily. I do remember spending a happy summer when I was about 10, curled up on the couch with his Skylark and Lensmen series, but these aren't books I would have thought of as "influential." I also realized I knew almost nothing about Smith or his books beyond a few fond childhood memories, so I've done a little nostalgia-based online research and what I've learned has me even more intrigued by this unlikely influence.

The books are much older than I ever knew. The first Skylark stories were published as a series in Amazing Stories back in 1927, but he had begun writing them in 1915. These are available online, complete with artwork I've never seen before, from Project Gutenberg. Since I've consumed all the paperbacks I brought with me on sabbatical, I've started to reread some of these Amazing Stories. I'm amazed alright.

The prose is both wonderful and horrible. Here is the start of the first story:

Petrified with astonishment, Richard Seaton stared after the copper steam-bath upon which he had been electrolyzing his solution of "X," the unknown metal. For as soon as he had removed the beaker the heavy bath had jumped endwise from under his hand as though it were alive. It had flown with terrific speed over the table, smashing apparatus and bottles of chemicals on its way, and was even now disappearing through the open window. He seized his prism binoculars and focused them upon the flying vessel, a speck in the distance. Through the glass he saw that it did not fall to the ground, but continued on in a straight line, only its rapidly diminishing size showing the enormous velocity with which it was moving. It grew smaller and smaller, and in a few moments disappeared utterly.
And the dialogue is equally wonderfully-horrible:

"Great balls of fire!" he exclaimed. "What've you been celebrating? Had an explosion? How, what, and why?"

"I can tell you the 'what,' and part of the 'how'," Seaton replied thoughtfully, "but as to the 'why,' I am completely in the dark. Here's all I know about it," and in a few words he related the foregoing incident. Scott's face showed in turn interest, amazement, and pitying alarm. He took Seaton by the arm.

"Dick, old top, I never knew you to drink or dope, but this stuff sure came out of either a bottle or a needle. Did you see a pink serpent carrying it away? Take my advice, old son, if you want to stay in Uncle Sam's service, and lay off the stuff, whatever it is."
I still seem to be highly susceptible to the lures of space opera. Even though it makes me cringe a little, I'm going to read more. What worries me most, though, is that I'm going to still like it.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Digital Humanities Manifesto

Via. Here is an excerpt from A Digital Humanities Manifesto, a jointly-authored document by participants in the UCLA Mellon Seminar in Digital Humanities:

1 Digital humanities is not a unified field but an array of convergent practices that explore a universe in which print is no longer the exclusive or the normative medium in which knowledge is produced and/or disseminated.

2 Like all media revolutions, the first wave of the digital revolution looked backwards as it moved forward. It replicated a world where print was primary and visuality was secondary, while vastly accelerating search and retrieval. Now it must look forwards into an immediate future in which the medium specific features of the digital become its core.

3 The first wave was quantitative, mobilizing the vertiginous search and retrieval powers of the database. The second wave is qualitative, interpretive, experiential, even emotive. It immerses the digital toolkit within what represents the very core strength of the Humanities: complexity.

4 Interdisciplinarity/transdisciplinarity/multidisciplinarity are empty words unless they imply changes in language, practice, method, and output.

5 The digital is the realm of the open: open source, open resources, open doors. Anything that attempts to close this space should be recognized for what it is: the enemy.
As a practicing member of the academic bloggeratti, I was intrigued/entertained by thesis 11:
11 Among the highest aims of scholarship: entertainment; entertainment as scholarship: a scandal that is now no longer a scandal. To speak to an audience.
Read more.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

From Seuss To Zizek

I have been tagged by Professor Zero to join in the 25 writers meme "in which you name 25 writers who have influenced you. These are not necessarily your favorite writers or those you most admire, but writers who have influenced you. Then you tag 25 people." I will tag the first 25 volunteers.

I'm not sure what sort of influence was originally intended by this meme, but since I don't self-identify as a writer I will have to construe the influence more broadly. I also find that many on my list, while certainly influential, aren't primarily admired for the beauty of their prose. I was going to do a list in no particular order, but I find that my list does have an order after all. It is in chronological order, starting with those writers that influenced me first. Here goes:

  1. Dr. Seuss
  2. P. D. Eastman
  3. E. B. White
  4. Roald Dahl
  5. Maurice Sendak
  6. E. E. 'Doc' Smith
  7. Isaac Asimov
  8. Ray Bradbury
  9. J. R. R. Tolkien
  10. Lewis Carroll
  11. Ursula K. LeGuin
  12. Joseph Heller
  13. Friedrich Nietzsche
  14. Ludwig Wiggenstein
  15. Martin Heidegger
  16. Jacques Derrida
  17. Karl Marx
  18. Sigmund Freud
  19. Herbert Marcuse
  20. bell hooks
  21. Judith Butler
  22. Luce Irigaray
  23. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
  24. Trinh T. Minh-ha
  25. Slavoj Zizek

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Digital Things

N Pepperell and Jodi left some useful comments for me on the Useful Thing post below, including one simple suggestion to try the term "digital thing" in place of "digital commodity" when needed. I like simple.

I've been writing a little on exchange-value this week and came to Marx's list of commodities in his section on the "Total or Expanded Form of Value." It goes like this:

z commodity A = u commodity B or = v commodity C or = w commodity D or = x commodity E or = etc.

20 yards of linen = 1 coat or = 10 lb. tea or = 40 lb. coffee or = 1 quarter of corn or = 2 ounces of gold or = ½ ton of iron or = etc.
Now I want a list of some digital things that might be at home on an updated list of digital exchange-values. Here is what I have so far:
20 mp3s = 1 ebook or = 2 weeks of DSL service or = 10 weeks of WSJ online or = an 80 minute Skype call to Azerbaijan or = 1 knickknack from eBay or = one month of WoW or = etc.
What other kinds of digital things should be on the list? Tell me more.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Lumpen Words

This month's wordle pic of the manuscript so far: 9184 words and counting.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Laguna Bacalar

Last weekend was spent cooling off on the shores of the redonkulously blue and beautiful Laguna Bacalar.

It has all the shades of turquoise water found in the Caribbean, but in a fresh water lake. No salt. No rip tides. No sharks. And the cool water is so clear it's almost invisible when you swim out into it. This was taken off the pier looking down through about three feet of water. There's water in the picture. Honest.

There's a small community of American expats that have washed up on the shores of Laguna Bacalar and they all seem very happy with life. The food was good too. Here's what the pescado frito looked like. I was honestly expecting something more like fish and chips. This was better.

We're planning a return visit soon. This has been everyone's favorite spot so far on the trip. And as it starts to get hotter here, I think we may need some more lake time.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Useful Thing

I've been working steadily on the manuscript on digital commodities. It was far from obvious to me that travel would really be compatible with writing, but so far I've been pleasantly surprised. In spite of, or maybe because of, the vagaries of meals, laundry, shopping, taxis, water, heat, humidity, bugs and all the other unexpected tedium and adventure that travel brings, I have been writing steadily.

I've run afoul of one passage in Marx, though, that is troubling me. So I'm going to post the passage here along with some thoughts in the hopes that some kind readers may donate a comment or two to help nudge me along in the right direction.

The passage is from the end of the first section of Chapter One of Capital, Volume I where Marx writes:

A thing can be useful, and a product of human labour, without being a commodity. He who satisfies his own need with the product of his own labour admittedly creates use-values, but not commodities. In order to produce the latter, he must not only produce use-values, but use-values for others, social use-values (And not merely for others. The medieval peasant produced a corn-rent for the feudal lord and a corn-tithe for the priest; but neither the corn-rent nor the corn-tithe became commodities simply by being produced for others. In order to become a commodity, the product must be transferred to the other person, for whom it serves as a use-value, through the medium of exchange). (131)
My aim is to write about the ways digital commodities (like an mp3 song for example) fail to fit easily within the boundaries of commodity production as they are usually drawn and then use this as a way to approach some of the recent haggling over things like digital copyright and online piracy. This passage seems directly relevant. Yet it also seems to run the danger of derailing the whole project by defining digital commodities as outside of the bounds of commodity production from the very outset. I would like a graceful way to discuss this bind.

What I think I need to say here, only in clear and persuasive language, is that: Digital commodities always run the risk of no longer being commodities because they always carry with them the possibility of changing hands in ways other than by exchange on the market. Digital commodities get spread by peer-to-peer networks, or emailed, downloaded, or given away freely online in any number of other ways. In each of these cases the digital commodity remains a useful product of human labor, but when spread outside of market exchange it no longer functions as a commodity. It no longer serves to accumulate surplus-value for capital.

The place where I balk is where I find myself writing that "digital commodities" cease to be "commodities." This seems unnecessarily ugly to me. Perhaps I'm just being too squeamish though. Marxian theory can surely accommodate yet one more awkward bit of prose. Or perhaps there's some other mistake I'm making here that I'm not seeing.

Part of the trouble I'm having may simply lie in the parenthetical. It was inserted by Engels later on and sometimes I find his helpful comments less than helpful. However, his addition is certainly right, so I really ought to be able to accommodate his feudalism example too.

Enough for now. Comments welcome.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Name That Bird

Perhaps this will be regular feature for the next couple of months. I need my readers help with identifying some of the birds here. So far, I've only successfully identified the obvious urban birds of grackles and pigeons.

While at lunch the other day, with my camera handy, I snapped these two pictures of local Yucatecan birds unfamiliar to me. The shots aren't very good and are already enlarged as far they go. No doubt, both of these birds are dead common, but they are new to me. What are they? The yellow one was largish -- bigger than a robin. The black one was larger still -- almost crow size and behaved obnoxiously like a blue jay or steller's jay.

Can you help me name that bird?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Colorful Repast

A colorful late morning meal outdoors near the bay at the university's cafeteria after a morning spent dutifully writing in the library. Yum!

enchiladas de molé

agua de sandia -- watermelon juice.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Recycled Colors

At the parque ecológico. The planters are made from plastic water bottles cut and painted.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I´ve started writing. But I´ve run into one completely unexpected difficulty here. There is no coffee.

I seem to be living in one of the few small pockets in Latin America where people don´t really drink coffee. It´s not that coffee is completely absent. You can order it in a restaurant. It´s not unknown. It´s more that no one really cares about their coffee. And finding things such as coffee filters can be difficult. Since going without coffee isn´t really an option for me, I´ve been reduced to drinking instant coffee. Nescafé is easy to find. It even seems to be what some of the restaurants serve.

The truly upsetting thing about this whole situation, however, is discovering that I don´t mind instant coffee. I like the Nescafé just fine. This has shattered my self image as someone who knows and appreciates good coffee. Perhaps there have been great strides in instant coffee technology in recent decades of which I am unaware. Or perhaps I really can´t tell good coffee from bad. In any case, I may just surrender and buy a jar of Nescafé for my office when I get home.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Piña Con Chile

My most interesting taste adventure to date - a paleta de piña con chile. This would be a pineapple popsicle with chili powder and big chunks of fresh pineapple frozen inside. Wonderful!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Sun, palm tress, Belikin beer from Belize and tiny geckos scurrying underfoot. Life is good. The trackpad on my laptop managed to quit working the first day here. Ah, well. Oddly, I had packed a mouse along so I'm still set to work. We're not quite settled in yet, but hopefully in a few days I'll have a routine where I can write most mornings. In the meantime, I shall play tourist!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stimulating Unemployment

Limited, Inc. has very lucid post on the crisis and current economic stimulus plans:

So the only argument about the stimulus is this: should the government absorb the extra unemployed or not? That is, should the government grow 3 or 4 percentage points?

The argument against this is not an efficiency argument. That is a stupid argument. The argument is, rather, that somehow, business can absorb the extra unemployed. Which means that the right is saying that, in the next year, the private sector can expand 4 or 5 percentage points to assume its usual standing in the economy.

Do you believe this? Does anybody? No tax break tax cut bullshit should take anybody’s eye off that ball. The question is: how can the private sphere possibly expand to absorb the 4 to 5 percent of the unemployed?

In reality, the right is saying, let the unemployed grow. And underneath that is the notion that if we can actually diminish the salary of the average worker, then businesses will be inclined to hire them.
Very clear. And exactly right.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Just In Case...

... you haven't seen this yet. You too can play along with Barack, Paper, Scissors.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Over the break, I watched the anime series Akagi with my oldest lumpkin. The plot consists solely of mahjong games being played out as if they are epic battles. I know nothing of mahjong, yet I found the series gripping. Below is a fan video composed entirely of the stunned reactions by minor characters to the various mahjong tiles being played during the matches. I think it's hilarious. I may be the only one though.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Our Digital Archive

This is from an interesting article in the recent New York Review of Books:

Google will enjoy what can only be called a monopoly—a monopoly of a new kind, not of railroads or steel but of access to information. Google has no serious competitors. Microsoft dropped its major program to digitize books several months ago, and other enterprises like the Open Knowledge Commons (formerly the Open Content Alliance) and the Internet Archive are minute and ineffective in comparison with Google. Google alone has the wealth to digitize on a massive scale. And having settled with the authors and publishers, it can exploit its financial power from within a protective legal barrier; for the class action suit covers the entire class of authors and publishers. No new entrepreneurs will be able to digitize books within that fenced-off territory, even if they could afford it, because they would have to fight the copyright battles all over again. If the settlement is upheld by the court, only Google will be protected from copyright liability.
Basically, the issue is that Google has won a monopoly on all digitized books and articles because they had the deep pockets to weather a gigantic class-action suit representing all the copyright owners. No one else on the horizon has the resources to replicate either the technical feat of digitizing our print archive, or the legal feat of settling with all copyright holders. Sadly, this massive privatization of our print heritage has unfolded this way because current copyright law has extended the copyrights for everything published in almost a century -- and not just for the small amount of things which stay in print that long. Nothing passes into the public domain any longer. This terribly short-sighted public policy has now inadvertently created a mammoth new monopoly which may not be easily undone. It is an unfortunate way to have dealt with our digital heritage. One can imagine much better ways to set public policy.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hey, Hey!

While searching YouTube for inaugural music for the post below, I ran across this wonderful video of Big Bill Broonzy playing "Hey, Hey." I had no idea that film existed of Big Bill playing. Take a look.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Songs for the Next Eight Years

Limited, Inc. sent a new meme my way: "10 Songs to scare away the evil spirits of the past eight years, and welcome the new spirits of the next eight." I love this meme. Anyone else want to play along? Here's my playlist:

Get Happy (Judy Garland's version)
This Land Is Your Land (Woody Gutherie version not owned by HBO)
Bourgeois Blues (a song about DC which is now no longer true)
The Great Leap Forward (Billy Bragg)
Dancing In The Streets (Martha & the Vandellas)
What a Wonderful World (The Ramones' version)
Ain't Gonna Study War No More (Sister Rosetta Tharpe)
Exaltation (Matisyahu)
Black, Brown and White (inspired by Joseph Lowery's benediction)
Wang Dang Doodle (Koko Taylor)

Happy Inauguration Day!

A screenshot of our new White House website.

Monday, January 19, 2009

This Land Is HBO's

Un-fucking-believable. HBO has scoured the web clean of videos of yesterday's inaugural concert - including the YouTube video I linked to in the post below. Evidently, Pete Seeger singing Woody Gutherie's "This Land Is Your Land" on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial is the property of Home Box Office. Those lines in the song about "Private Property" were more prophetic than we knew.

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn't say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.
"This is to notify you that we have removed or disabled access to the following material as a result of a third-party notification by Home Box Office, Inc. claiming that this material is infringing"


Two highlights from the pre-inaugural festivities yesterday. Pete Seeger and the Boss singing Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" complete with its most subversive verse; and the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, giving the invocation at the opening inaugural event at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C., January 18, 2009:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn't say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will...

Bless us with tears -- for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger -- at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort -- at the easy, simplistic "answers" we've preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience -- and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be "fixed" anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility -- open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance -- replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity -- remembering that every religion's God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln's reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy's ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King's dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters' childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we're asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand -- that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Examined Life

Here is the trailer for Astra Taylor's new film Examined Life featuring Cornel West, Avital Ronell, Peter Singer, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Hardt, Slavoj Zizek, Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor.

I hope the dvd for this comes out soon. I have a class this summer I would love to use this film in.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

And the Winner Is ...

... LumpenProf! Dr. Curmudgeon has kindly bestowed the coveted blogger Inspiration Award on yours truly. I am deeply touched. It is heartening to know there are people who can find inspiration in the writings of a bitter and disaffected academic. Or, perhaps, I only inspire curmudgeons. Either way, I am truly honored.

I find the idea of viral awards to be oddly subversive. An award that is propagated like a ponzi scheme seems to undercut the scarcity which gives most awards their value. Blog awards seem to operate by a different logic and gain value as more members of the community come to share in them. So I will happily pass along this award to others who have inspired this cynical and pessimistic blogger. With deepest apologies, my winners are:

  1. What the hell is wrong with you for inspiring me to write by hosting InaDWriMo.
  2. Poet's Musings because I find it inspiring that there are poets still.
  3. Abject Learning because it inspires me to learn that sometimes my luddite tendencies are actually cutting-edge.
  4. What in the hell... for his inspiring sub-zero activism.
  5. Limited, Inc. for inspirations too numerous to mention.
  6. Baudrillard's Bastard for inspiring books and music.
  7. Academic Cog who inspires me to care more about my teaching.
Finally, here are the rules as handed down with the award:
  • Please put the logo of the award (above) on your blog if you can make it work with your format.
  • Link to the person from whom you received the award.
  • Nominate 7 or more blogs.
  • Put the links of those blogs on your blog.
  • Leave a message on their blogs to tell them.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

No Comment

Here's an example of the kind of crap the LumpenProf won't be commenting on while on sabbatical:

In its agreement with the university, dated March 14, 2008, BB&T agreed to give WCU $1 million over seven years. ...

The agreement called for the establishment of a new Distinguished Professorship of Capitalism. “The Professor shall work closely with the Ayn Rand Institute and have a reasonable understanding and positive attitude toward Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism,” it stated. ...

Another concern lay with BB&T’s requirement that Atlas Shrugged be required reading for at least one course, and that a free copy of the book be provided to all juniors. ...

Faculty brought their concerns to the university administration, which agreed to address them even though the agreement between the school and BB&T was already in place.

Friday, January 09, 2009

On Sabbatical

The LumpenProf is officially on sabbatical now. My first ever. W00t! I'll be leaving soon to spend three months in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Writing. In the sun. If anyone out there has any recommendations for me about things to see, or eat, or drink in that part of the world please pass them on.

I expect to be able to blog while on sabbatical, although I'm going to lean towards research and photo blogging posts, and stay as far away from academic politics as possible. I need the break. Look for pictures of sunny, tropical things here soon!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Epidemiology of Wal-Mart

Watch how quickly the Wal-Mart pandemic has spread from a single outbreak in Arkansas in 1962.