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Oct 13: A Performance (21 Days to go) [Oct. 18th, 2016|03:33 pm]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
While I've mostly overcome a lifelong habit of feeling excessive symbolic stress on calendar markers, birthdays require advance work to remain calm. Each day I'll write a post about something interesting related to my day. The goal is to make myself either do myself either do something interesting or view the day as interesting regardless. The point is to head off that "what am I doing with my life" stresshole that tempts me every year.

Tonight I saw a bullshit performance, though I briefly enjoyed it as confirming I've reached the point as a viewer that I can quickly discern between unsuccessful and bullshit. I won't be specific as the performers had staged good work elsewhere.

I will say: if I have to sit through another piece which mostly involves minimalist writhing on the floor very near an audience in flat rows of chairs, meaning only those in front can see enough to appreciate the tableau, I'm going to bean someone with a Stagecraft 101 textbook.

The bullshit involved recycling an installation piece (staged over hours in an empty room viewed through a window) as a dance with zero contextual changes except length.

Upon reflection, the original installation was an ideal for the second space, a small low building in a high traffic area with windows on several sides. So now I'm puzzling over the process which led to a seated audience: was someone concerned not enough people would walk by and look in? If so, was it the venue or the artists? Who knows. I watched the backs of people craning their necks for a while then left.
Link3 said it all|what you say?

Tokens (22 Days to go) [Oct. 12th, 2016|01:40 pm]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
It's 22 days until my next birthday. While I've mostly overcome a lifelong habit of feeling excessive symbolic stress on calendar markers, birthdays require advance work to remain calm. Each day I'll write a post about something interesting related to my day. The goal is to make myself either do myself either do something interesting or view the day as interesting regardless. The point is to head off that "what am I doing with my life" stresshole that tempts me every year.

Last year I found a 1967 50 Kopeck piece commemorating 50 years of Soviet power near the Picasso Sculpture on Daley Federal Plaza. I carried it around, imagining stories of how it got there, feeling like I had a ward against capitalism and eventually losing it. This is part of a longer cycle of symbolic coins or tokens that have passed in and out my pocket.

This morning I was walking along brooding on how much I hate capitalism when I stopped to pick up a pile of pennies on the sidewalk to give it to a nearby panhandler. Speaking in a voice low enough I had to bend to hear, he told me the pile was a test and asked me to give him the dignity of listening to him for a few minutes. It wasn't a hustle so much as just the familiar trawling for a larger donation I've heard from public radio, alumni associations, candidates and any allegedly worthy cause. This pitch acknowledged what it was while pointing out the humiliating need ask for money and respect was still real. I'm resistant to most sales, but an appeal to the obscene divide from which I benefit was hard to resist. 40 bucks, 2 tall boys, a pack of smokes and two blocks making small talk later, we parted ways. As he walked away he paused and threw a coin on the ground towards me. It was a 2 pound coin. I can't tell if it was a gesture of appreciation or contempt, or the street version of a complimentary tote bag, but I'll hold onto it until it inevitably slips from my grasp.
Link9 said it all|what you say?

running underground with the moles, digging holes [Aug. 27th, 2016|11:22 am]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!

Link5 said it all|what you say?

So right now, I was thinking this. [May. 9th, 2016|06:16 pm]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
Over the last week Fort MacMurray, a major city on Canada associated with the tar sands, was partially destroyed by a wildfire which is still burning. It was one of the largest mass evacuations in Canadian history - but not the largest, which wasin 1979 when a chemical train derailed in Mississauga, Ontario forcing 218,000 people to flee (it's now called the Mississauga Miracle because no one died).

It was massive, spectacular connected to climate change and spreading smoke as far as Wisconsin, impacting the weather even further. Meanwhile, Saskatchewan had expressed regrets about not being able to help more due their own wildfires.

I'm up on much of this because part of my daily podcast listening are news break pods from Canada, but it's also been getting major coverage in Australia and Ireland. I suspect this is partially a commonwealth/former British thing, partially a sense of kinship in massive natural disasters that have increased in intensity in recent years (for Ireland floods, for Australia, flood and fire).

Yet despite fire being high on the list of atavistic fascinations for humans, conversation about this was light on my social feeds. I follow a lot of people, but that conversation involves enough factors (Canadian or paying attention to Canada, paying attention to the news, uses social media to discuss news and/or terrifying/depressing things, has thoughts about a specific event they consider interesting enough to post, posting at a moment when I'm watching feed) cohere into a venn diagram far more rarely than the confirmation bias machines in our heads expect. Instead the social media slot machine coughed up far more chatter on how long it took for the coalition in Ireland to select a Taoiseach. At my workplace, well, the conversation is limited most of the time. My in the flesh friends and family had little to say on this particular item out a million others save "WTF". So I had feels in every direction with no outlet and now the crisis appears to be passing without enough massive devastation to buzz in my circles at least. Which is about the least interesting aspect, but there you are. It's me on Livejournal.

To somewhat coalesce this set of tangents, the most recent news search I did while typing this post produced this comic yet appalling result.

No one died except my profit taking.

The algorithms decided the biggest trending aspect I'd be interested in was how less tragedy than expected was a bit of an economic loser. Capitalism everyone!
Link11 said it all|what you say?

Two Decades Yet Totally Now [Feb. 15th, 2016|04:38 pm]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
Via Twitter, I found out today is the 20th Anniversary of the Shawinigan handshake (that link provides most of the info, except how the Prime Minister broke one of the protester's teeth). It's one of those things which is amusing on one level yet not fucking funny at all.

The guy getting choked was protesting cuts to unemployment benefits. An obscure iconic image from Canada is as much a harbinger of North America's future.
Link4 said it all|what you say?

Quotable from a recommended writer [Feb. 9th, 2016|11:55 am]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
@girlziplocked or Holly Wood is a pseudonymous author writing with energy, wit and creative swearing about politics today. Her work resonates. You can find her on twitter on Medium and tumblr (which includes a link to a tumblr of great quotes she curates). I've got decidedly mixed feelings on twitter's long term utility, but there are a number of great writers, most not dudes and/or white, whom I never would have found otherwise.

Here's a quote from a piece she wrote for the Village Voice:
If I am alarmed, it is by the profound languor of the comfortable. What fresh hell must we find ourselves in before those who've appointed themselves to lead our thoughts admit that we are in flames? As I see it, to counsel realism when the reality is fucked is to counsel an adherence to fuckery. Under conditions as distressing as these, acquiescence is absurd. When your nation gets classified as a Class D structure fire, I believe the only wise course is to lose your shit.
Link2 said it all|what you say?

A mystery. UPDATED: Solved in the Comments [Jul. 27th, 2015|08:40 am]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
I was going over some posts for research recently and noticed someone had deleted all of their comments. Deleting one's LJ account still leaves comments active, so this required active effort.

The posts were over a year old and I cannot tell who they were or when they did it. Contextual cues indicate they were amicable. I have not checked to see how many posts this involves.

I have no idea if it's just my journal or a sign of some mass erasure effort; both are equally plausible.

I suspect one could do a mass scrubbing using the "most recent comments" page. It maxes out at 100 but deleting comments may update the list to the next previous ones (I'm not about to test it).

This is preferable to thinking someone dislikes me so much they methodically went through each of my posts to find and remove themselves. That's a bit creepily aggressive, like reverse stalking.

This is a social network of people I know as text save a very few, yet I was unsettled by this for an afternoon. I've been reading the site very infrequently for months now, and this moment of emotional disquiet makes me think this is a good idea.

UPDATE: There is an explanation in the comments.
Link10 said it all|what you say?

Vague thought from a much longer rant I don't have time to write. [Mar. 20th, 2015|01:29 pm]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
It's kind of weird watching feminists who have previously said patriarchy is systemic and collective activism is a good thing - and have enjoyed the benefits of feminist activism - suddenly start forming a Camille Paglia cover band to write about how women are now complaining too much about sexual abuse, especially too fragile students. It's particularly amusing to read Laura Kipnis denounce allegedly fragile students who allegedly demand an environment free of conflict and risk*, while whining about how 55 year old grown men should be able to get drunk with college freshmen and take them home without worrying about potential consequences or the possibility they are abusing their power. Or how she complains about students denying agency while discussing a case in which the accused is defended as if he were a passive participant, like tripped and fell into bed with a drunk 19 year old or she somehow forced him to do it.

Even more hilarious are those defending Kipnis by pretending she's too fragile to handle some vehement criticism from students who aren't trying to get her fired, just loudly saying she's wrong. How they are denouncing these kids as being melodramatic and oversensitive while simultaneously comparing a protest to McCarthy, Stalin, insert your hyperbolic metaphor here.
*Spoiler alert: They actually aren't doing this.
Link5 said it all|what you say?

T'Pol...T'Pol...T'Pol...T'POOOOOLLLL! [Mar. 15th, 2015|12:43 pm]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
Tried watching Enterprise but stopped after 15 minutes.
I did notice something which explains the whole series.

Linkwhat you say?

Well, shit. [Mar. 12th, 2015|11:59 am]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
Terry Pratchett was one of my favorite authors. Despite knowing he was going to die for some time, the ongoing output of satisfying work means it still came as a shock.

A word like generous is an amorphous cliche when applied to an author, but it does seem like he responded to a terminal diagnosis by leaving behind as much as he could for readers. I suspect he had a hand in the planning the tweets which announced his death.
AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.- Terry Pratchett (@terryandrob) March 12, 2015

Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.- Terry Pratchett (@terryandrob) March 12, 2015
I also think there's a strong chance he took care to ensure whatever material left unfinished by his death would handled carefully in a way which pleases fans. He had started a new series with another author, The Long Earth, and it will be interesting to see where that goes without Pratchett taking an active role.

There's something about Pratchett's work I found personally comforting and insight into the human condition that neither forgave or condemned and usually managed to be optimistic without excessive cheating. Some of the books I read during personal hard times and the light but serious touch was a diversion which (unlike some) made it easier to gather myself and face reality.

Usually I am merely wistful when a well-known stranger I like passes. Today I felt a momentary twinge of sadness. No more books and someone who clearly had enthusiasm for writing and life is gone. But he went out well, so there's that.
Link3 said it all|what you say?

Everything Written on The Internet Summarized [Mar. 11th, 2015|12:18 pm]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
From an excellent essay about the Marine Todd meme (also known as "Just Filling In"):
Of all the things that the Internet could be and all the ways that it could be populated, we’ve wound up with what we have-sort of like a movie set after an apocalypse, maybe, with ragtag survivors hoarding canned Vienna sausages and rifles, banding together against the marauding Others. As befits that state of play, the conversation that results is not so much a discourse as a series of peevish monologues playing nonstop at varying volumes, aimed not at convincing but at shoring up various assumptions, tendencies, and micro-ignorances, and shouting their specifics into the void. Just Filling In is, in the most basic sense, someone wandering in a dark and unfamiliar place yelling out, with strategic menace, “I have a gun.”

Marine Todd and his cousins are not part of a conversation, or even an argument. As much fun as Twitter had remixing and goofing on it, there is really no responding to it. These memes are ways of broadcasting a very particular type of brand loyalty, of announcing — through a bit of graffiti on a Facebook wall or a supportive retweet — belief in a certain view of things.

...For all the ceaseless wheedling dishonesty of the web’s ambient commerce — One Weird Trick, Doctors Hate Him, Free iPads — there is a system to it. Every action is cataloged by business concerns for sale to other business concerns, so that their ads might more effectively follow us around. In a sense, these memes serve that same end — if you “like” Just Filling In, you are broadcasting that perhaps you’d also be interested in Liberal Tears Gun Oil...it’s not so much there to be read as it is to be noticed, to signal a series of allegiances. It’s more advertisement than literature, in the end, and so it fits in perfectly.
Linkwhat you say?

Spam needs to step up its game. [Mar. 10th, 2015|11:31 am]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
Phishing spam has been around so long it's totally tired and unhip. The text below is from a wave of messages targeting an account our department uses to receive online invoices.

"Hello) My name is Olga. I live in Moscow. I found out your page on the Internet and I was curious about you. Tell me, please, what are you doing now and how do you spend your life in general?"

I picture bland offices in some former politburo building, where a few greying dudes wearing NIN t-shirts under sports jackets (clinging to some Neuromancer daydream) oversee a bunch of bored young temps who monitor a rapidly ossifying network of hijacked desktops which pump out this crap to addresses harvested from rather sad sources. The temps wonder who has a desktop anymore and occasionally take a peak, seeing drives where the most accessed program is a copy of Myst or Loderunner and there are still traces of Napster in the registry.
Link5 said it all|what you say?

Made of Win [Mar. 3rd, 2015|10:47 am]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
An amazing post by the amazing blog A Good Cartoon. As pointed out by theweaselking.

The Cartoonist Has No Idea How Net Neutrality Works
by A Good Cartoon

More Here. Discussion Here.
Link1 said it|what you say?

Sad Thought [Feb. 4th, 2015|03:40 pm]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
Perhaps one reason LiveJournal is in decline is people aren't getting into huge arguments anymore. Racefail occurred at a time when LiveJournal uproars could attract hundreds of participants and involved some actual activism and ultimately, positive energy.

Now that action has moved over to twitter where far more people take part, because LJ was never that cool.
Link8 said it all|what you say?

The problem with leftists is they always resort to broad generalizations. [Jan. 30th, 2015|09:07 pm]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
When I was a bright eyed leftist fresh out of school I moved to the Uptown neighborhood and ended up being a volunteer for Alderman Hellen Shiller's campaign.

Shiller was an independent alderman, opponent of the Daley Machine and as much of a Marxist as an alderman could be openly. Uptown was a truly diverse place - as was her staff and supporters - and my presumptions about class, race, gender, etc. were challenged as I did this.

One day I was canvassing with a white woman who was a bit stiff and earnest, but a truly devoted neighborhood resident who knew an astounding (to me) number of people by name. She and her husband had spent their lives doing low paying social work and always rented.

We had talked our way into one of the increasing number of condos in Uptown. In recent times the poorer sections had been gentrifying to the delight of some wealthy long time residents and consternation of far more non-wealthy locals.

It turned out the people who had let us in were a middle class African American couple who had just moved in. They were interested in Shiller's campaign, but they had questions. They said they chosen Uptown because they wanted diversity, but hostile anti-condo and anti-gentrification graffiti was freaking them out. They understood what it meant, but it still reminded them of the sort of harassment which had long kept Chicago segregated.

We were not prepared to talk about this. My colleague was clearly flustered and defaulted to a speech about how she had known the people who had been displaced when this place went condo and the tension had reasons. It did not go over well. I stepped in to say Uptown's uniquely mixed population could make it intense, but Helen Shiller took care to provide service to all residents equally even as she worked to protect the less powerful. Or some babbling to that effect, then we handed out flyers and left.

I were Fredrick deBoer, I could write how I Watched That Happen: A Black Couple Who Just Wanted To Understand Were Berated For Their Privilege By A White Lady and I Didn't Know What To Do. I could describe the black couple in depth and my colleague as a left wing cliche who Ruins Everything.

It would not, however, be the whole story, just one which fit into scoring points against the powers of Political Correctness.

As we walked away from the building, I hesitantly suggested that might not have been the best thing to say. To which she replied defensively what she said wasn't untrue - that condo had come at the expense of renters. I said yes, but their earnest yet friendly concern over spray painted threats was not unfounded given Chicago's history. She pointed out this neighborhood had areas where lower class blacks and whites had lived for decades and now they were being pushed to areas far from the lakefront and trains. After a few moments of very midwestern tension and muttering, we agreed it was awkward and someone non-white should do a follow up.

We never canvassed together again but over time the tension eased as we were next door neighbors. She had many positive qualities and the doctrinaire attitude which dismayed me in that moment was a strength in others. I realized how much effort is required to get anything done and long term fighters can be inspiring and insufferable at different points. I also realized I wasn't so different.

After 15 years of fighting the good fight, Ald. Shiller tried to make a deal with Daley to get more affordable housing and ended up playing the fool. Then she retired. I don't actually have a conclusion to this story.

DeBoer presents his anecdotes with a dramatic flair ("I have seen, with my own two eyes") which draw attention to what's left out. When this 19 year old passionate white girl ran from a classroom in tears was it his class? Didn't he have power to address this? Did he talk to those who upset her? Did he talk to her? Is it possible her reaction was as overblown as theirs? He dramatically proclaims "I watched that happen." but "that" is a vague, evil Them vs. idealized Her. (Also, how does he know the woman in the other incident had $300 shoes? Did he ask or just assume?)

I appreciate a well formed essay. Generalizations are not inherently bad - they are a key part of communication. Even what we deem rhetorical fallacies can be used to convey truth. Yet...

I've read several essays which say Chait's essay was band but he still has a point. Each one ends up indulging similar reductive narratives and annoying sanctimony they decry. They exaggerate the sins of PC which points to the unspoken larger context of the severe injustices these PC people are talking about.

As John Hodgman observes: "there are toxic, pointless arguments all over the Internet since internet began. Social justice is just one flavor of contentiousness."

Chait's essay conflates mean Facebook comments and the murder of cartoonists. Boer disagrees but then says Chait has a point by describing a student upset by thoughtless peers as "shellshocked" and "burned terribly" and uses rhetorical flourish like "This is where I live" and "I am out of fucking ideas" as if he had been tending the wounded in some war on a distant front no civilian has seen or could understand, rather than a guy who's spent a lot of time in college.

If DeBoer doesn't know what to do, I suggest start by admitting the mean students are also "being typical clumsy kids" who aren't perfect. Try being a grown up who can defuse drama and address assholes calmly, not use two paragraphs for the condescending, trolling prediction "the same pack of self-absorbed media liberals will herp de derp about it". Because that's what one writes not to get answers, but to demonize some people to rationalize whatever agenda is unspoken.

An answer: once one is over 30 it becomes harder to relate to students or anyone who seems like they should be more mature than they sometimes are about things. It can be exasperating and exhausting to deal with the same immature bullshit over and over, but if one is to work in a university perspective is part of the job. At the very least, recognize that toxic stridency isn't exclusive to right or left, but an eternal human failing to be understood, especially within oneself.
Link6 said it all|what you say?

RIP [Jan. 29th, 2015|09:31 pm]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
Y'know, when the last article has been written, the last movie made and the final rocknroll hit turned out about the Beat Generation - somewhere around 1965 I should think - will they finally let us out of the cage?

Linkwhat you say?

Νίκη για την εργατική τάξη [Jan. 26th, 2015|10:59 am]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
Today we are one step closer to the only economic policy that matters.

Link5 said it all|what you say?

Actions speak louder than words. [Jan. 21st, 2015|06:22 pm]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
Obama supports fast track for the anti-democratic Trans Pacific Partnership. It's a treaty the public is not allowed to read that grants unprecedented power to private corporations over elected governments and he's asking to pass it without even the ritual of debate and scrutiny from our elected legislature.

No matter how impressive one might find his other words, this makes most of it hollow bullshit. It's almost worse because those other words mean he knows on some level this shit is wrong. Alas, loyalty to the ruling class means more than whatever regret or guilt he might feel over such things.

Maybe if he's defeated on this issue, he'll end up accomplishing the higher minded parts of his speech just because that's what's left on the agenda.
Link2 said it all|what you say?

Who needs magick when you have amusing serendipity? [Jan. 15th, 2015|10:05 pm]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
I really enjoyed Love Is The Law by Nick Mamatas, a classic noir story which incorporates Marx, Crowley, Punk and Harriet the Spy. Adding to the fun was excellent packaging - a truly pocket sized paperback (similar dimensions to classic pulp editions) with an awesome cover.

Recently I was looking up classic 80s tunes and discovered that the Suburbs were not the only band to release a song titled "Love Is The Law". It was also the title tune on an Toyah Ann Willcox, a new wave pop star who had 8 hits in England but was new to me.

The cover of her album has a very slight resemblance to the book (as Dark Horse and illustrator Jemiah Jefferson are very clever, this might be intentional).

Toyah does not resemble Nick's protagonist. She grew up middle class in Birmingham and embraced punk as emotional rather than political rebellion. She acted in Jubilee, Quadrophenia and Derek Jarman's The Tempest. She's now married to Robert Fripp. She made a point of saying she wasn't a fan of Crowley "but I thought the phrase 'Love Is the Law' was possibly one of the most beautiful to ever be uttered because it crosses every social and tribal divide".

Then I took a look at her videos - they remind me of Nina Hagen with a dash of Bowie - and found this bit of raw 80s:

"IEYA...Zion, Zuberon, Necronomicon!" The story of the song is fascinating and includes neo-Nazis. I swear, I'd think she was fictional if there wasn't extensive documentation.

She's also the first actress in this scene from Jubilee (a film very worth watching):

Link3 said it all|what you say?

Wow. [Jan. 14th, 2015|05:40 pm]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
Apparently the Jerk Store had a sale today and my workplace bought the entire supply.
Link6 said it all|what you say?

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