Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: Legacy Content

I came up with the idea for this latest series a couple of weeks ago when I realized just how many cassettes I have stored away in my living room closet. Then yesterday, the New York Times published an article about the demise of the cassette as a viable format for audio books. There seems to be no better time to begin culling through my great audio cassette archive in an attempt to begin digitizing--or just recycling--the music and sounds that brought me safely through the '80s and '90s.

Every cassette has a story to share and is encoded within some biographical context that grew around the musical content of the two-track I was listening to at the time. In sometimes perfect symbiosis, I couldn't always tell where the song ended and my life began.

Each Tuesday, I'll pull out one cassette tape--or perhaps a handful--and begin working through some of the stories that remain encased inside the little plastic coffin.

I invite my dear readers to contribute their own stories and their own musical collections stored away in a box somewhere.

Next week's cassette: K-Tel's Reflections.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Courtyard Catastrophe

Holed up in this hole of a hotel all day has allowed me to transcend my normal, everyday sort of asocial behavior and arrive at a point of pure misanthropy. There's nothing like one angry night in a strange bed with three anxious cats to get the old eyeball a-twitching.

After spending all day yesterday reading the great ethical thinker Levinas, I arrived home to a blast of hot air and panting cats languishing on the hardwood floors. Sometime during the 100-degree heat of the day, the air conditioner konked out. The thermostat was at 93 at 6:30 pm.

After the requisite call to the landlord and a quick packing of overnight necessities, and nearly a 30-minute drive, we checked in to the Marriott Courtyard on the other end of town with three cats and all their supplies, including a litter box, in tow.

Here is the official policy: "For the convenience of other guests and in an effort to help us provide the cleanest and most sanitary accommodation available, pets are not permitted."

Are you serious! After seeing what passes itself off as the American family over the overpriced and utterly tasteless breakfast this morning, my flatulent and flea-ridden cats are the least of Marriott's worries when it comes to keeping the rooms clean or inconveniencing their guests.

Stringy-haired Susie in her stretch-fabric tank top and her little bucked-toothed brother Billy returned no less than four times to the breakfast buffet to fill up on food not fit for a dog. I couldn't even finish the tiny lemon poppy seed micro-muffin because of its epoxy-like consistency.

To worsen my own antisocial nature, I spent almost three hours after breakfast this morning watching "Mega Catastrophes" (or some such series) on the History Channel. If it wasn't a flood of biblical proportions, then certainly the "hypercane"--a souped-up version of our meager hurricanes--was going to destroy life as we know it. Thankfully Obama's rather uninspired and history-laden speech brought me back from hypothetical destructions to those most likely to occur in my lifetime.

Otherwise, I would've actually thrown open the sliding glass door this afternoon and shouted, "All of you ugly people, get out of my pool!" Instead, I just joked about it. The humor lies in the fact that for me there really is so little difference between joking about it and actually doing it. I'm never going to see these people again. Unless later this summer the AC loses its will to go on again. But if that happens, I'm finding some other place to stay. One that doesn't nickel-and-dime their "guests" for every sip of coffee, every drop of syrup. That doesn't have a pet-free policy.

To break even on this deal, I've decided I need to steal something when I check out tomorrow. I thought about emptying the litter box across the carpet, but that would only "punish" the lowly, low-paid Hispanic housekeeper. The arm chairs seem kind of nice. And Malika, the newest addition to our feline family, enjoys scratching at them. I'm sure I can find use for something that's not bolted down in here....

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Antisocial Network

What can the word “friend” mean after Facebook, where it is really a synonym for “coincidence”?
Verlyn Klinkenborg's recent editorial in the New York Times is necessary brilliance and should be required reading--only so that you can later meditate upon his very wise insights.

I've been battling my own inertia in killing off my Facebook and MySpace identities. I mean, do I really need to have people from middle school find me? I find it so disgusting in many ways when I see political or religious affiliations posted on their pages. They should be ashamed for aligning themselves with terrorists!

And the applications that allow me to peruse their virtual bookshelf makes me dream of a virtual library burning. I'll gladly flick the virtual lighted match after dousing the area with a virtual can of gasoline. (Real gasoline is too precious!)

Seeing such titles reminds me of the already ancient truth of basic informatics and computer programming: GIGO, or garbage in, garbage out. No wonder these people are so intellectually and socially stunted! The key reason such people thrive in online communities.

Just so you know, I'll gladly add you to my cadre of "friends" on Facebook or MySpace. But you have to send me your contact information first: I dare not post my real name here for fear my students find out what I really think of them.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sleeplessness is next to crazy

So this is what an afternoon with no coffee feels like. My latest attempt to counter my sometimes-overwhelming insomnia has been to cut back on coffee, effectively eliminating the best coffee of the day: afternoon coffee.

I have also forced myself to stay awake all day. No naps when one has slept as terribly as I have over the past several months are a sure shortcut to anger management issues.

Perhaps the best thing I’ve done for myself is to stop taking the sleeping pills prescribed by my neurologist during my last appointment. Fairly often, I have a fear of things randomly falling from the sky and crushing me. With these new pills, however, that sensation was taken to a whole other level.

I was practically frozen with fear during my quasi-wakeful states during the night, sensing the silhouette behind the blinds or the bullet that would, any second now, come bursting through the window straight between my eyes. The only thing more paralyzing was the constant barrage of nightmarish scenarios playing in my head as I actually slept.

The only thing worse than not sleeping is sleeping badly.

Not surprisingly, the best thing for me has been the over-the-counter sleep aids à la Tylenol PM or its generic equivalencies. Usually one tablet is able to trick me into falling asleep. Staying asleep throughout the night is yet another trick that I hope to learn someday.

I looked up my symptoms—insomnia + paranoia—on one of those online medical advice sites. It seems I am suffering either from epilepsy or marijuana withdrawal. Funny, but I don’t remember stopping....

When I suffered through my horrible sleep study a couple of years ago—which involved the racist technician marking my scalp with a red pencil and me wearing about 20 pounds of sensory equipment that had to be unplugged when I got up to pee around 3:00 AM while trying to sleep with that damned green light shining in my eyes the entire night as I lay on the stiffest bed in the world—the skewed results were somewhere between insomnia and narcolepsy.

And people still believe everything the doctor says despite the fact that medical science—except for the white coats—is no different from Haitian voodoo. Perhaps I should just walk down the street and visit the shopkeeper at the Chango Botanica. Hell, even the hoodoo princess has her own web site these days! Now who’s the medical professional!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Describe your g*d

“Emptiness is loneliness, and loneliness is cleanliness
And cleanliness is godliness, and god is empty just like me.”

–Smashing Pumpkins’ “Zero”

I am wholly incapable of describing my g*d for my g*d de-scribes my all-in-all-actuality-as-possibility. The only g*d worthy of that name—as Name (ha-shem) itself—is the g*d that remains nameless. Yet such namelessness is neither privation nor poverty of g*dliness as such.

Instead, like Heidegger’s translation of is as both empty and surplus, Irigaray’s critique of Lévinas’ faceless g*d begins to point toward a g*d whose emptiness and surplus efface such objectively present presencing of one’s own face(lessness) qua identity.

Such ethical demands call for(th) the other in its own fully formed alterity beyond all notions of ipseity. I do not face thee except through my own confronting, (self-)effacing, apophatic selfhood.

It’s funny—in that graduate school sort of way—that the title of my paper for an upcoming conference was improperly and incorrectly titled on the schedule. In my very well thought-out “The Apophatic I and the Effacement of the Other,” the word apophatic was replaced with apophantic. Horror of horrors!

Apophasis: “Go there where you cannot; see where you do not see; / Hear where nothing rings or sounds, so are you where God speaks.”

Apophansis: to let things be seen from themselves as they manifest themselves as objectively present manifestations always already present-at-hand [vorhanden].

My g*d is the former; thy g*d, most likely, the latter. But since we’re talking about not thine but mine…

… if I were to describe g*d, he would look an awful lot like my great nephew Michael.

Friday, July 11, 2008

On this day...

... twenty-nine years ago, Skylab--the US's first space station--began its own crash course across the Australian desert.

Bliss

In an attempt to show my dearest (and some of my oldest) friends some love and support, I decided to jump on their bandwagon a bit this Friday and post an ancillary to their posts on bliss.

I've been fortunate enough to have shared many road trips with Road Trip Girl. The worst one took us to east Texas, bored and at wit's end trying to find particular cabins in a particular state park that never materialized. In defiance, our next trip took us from Dallas through Denver and Missoula to the Pacific Northwest down through Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and back home by way of the Grand Canyon and Albuquerque. Our next roadtrip begins this afternoon as we head to Austin for the weekend.

Our co-pilot (besides God, of course) to Austin will be everyone's favorite--and not just because of those spicy cream-cheese roll-ups he made for our last road trip to Santa Fe: Shmonk, the man responsible for the majority of bliss in my own life.

Here's a little jovial song I wrote several years ago, in another life as another person, but with my own full share of personal bliss. If you like it, feel free to download the mp3. At the very least, the retro-electro-pop synth sound should put a smile on your face.



Update
Here are two more pieces on the theme of bliss: FireFlower68 and Vox Minerva.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Roll Call, or Lax Americana

Welcome to Amerika, where everything is so easy ...

So easy. So easy for a democracy to vote itself out of existence. So easy for self-righteousness to point toward terror. So easy for a government to misuse its powers and abuse its own people. So easy for corporations to usurp liberty from citizens.

Sixty-nine un-Americans out of a hundred agree.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Nothing Worth Knowing

When you’ve been in school for as long as I have, you reach a certain point—especially after a few years of teaching—when you realize that the majority of your own teachers were pure shit and should never have been allowed in a classroom.

Such is the case with Überpedant Professor J. Perl. I studied twentieth-century literary theory under him at that “experimental interdisciplinary campus” all those years ago and learned nothing about twentieth-century literary theory except how pretentiously flawed high modernism can be. We didn’t read Derrida; we didn’t read Blanchot. Instead, he read Mallarmé’s poetry to us in French and talked about attending the opening of Cats with Valerie Eliot (T.S.’s widow), dismissing it as “people wearing pajamas jumping up and down, yelling, ‘Cats, cats, cats!’”

The only authentic moment that semester was when he brought Fielding, his sick English setter, to class. I sketched a picture of the dog beneath his desk instead of taking notes that evening. I think that sketch is all I still have from that course. That and an abiding distaste for Eliot’s criticism as well as his poetry.

But Perl is not the only one to completely turn me off to reading poetry for the subsequent decade. We can always place an equal measure of blame on yet another lackluster professor: P. Cohen.

I studied twentieth-century poetry with Cohen during a short summer semester as an undergraduate. I passed all his reading quizzes and his comments on my term paper included, “One of the best researched and most interesting papers on Eliot I’ve read.” But I was forced to take an incomplete and eventually accept a B for the course because I did not have the minimum number of required sources for my essay.

My rewrite consisted of randomly adding one phrase from a completely arbitrary source to meet the requisite number. Such sophistry and lack of imagination are virtues in the sciences, but in the humanities, they are simply the death knell for intelligent students pursuing their interests.

Yet these professors continue teaching and being awarded accolades as teachers. What they need to have on their precious CVs, however, is the statement, “Responsible for a student not reading poetry for ten years.” That’s one educational legacy that should be publicly declared.

Submitting my grades yesterday was a good time to remember what Oscar Wilde said regarding education: “Nothing worth knowing can be taught.”

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Natural Order of Things

When Stalin was in power, the preferred method for getting rid of him was the biological solution: someday, no matter how far in the future, the bastard would have to drop dead. Today, all thinking and feeling human beings can collectively sigh in relief that yet another bastard has bitten the dust.

Jesse Helms’ lackluster legacy during his 52 years in public disservice includes fighting civil rights, human rights, women’s rights, reproductive rights, gender and race equality, art, aid to developing nations, humanitarian relief, the general public of Cuba, economic rights, social safety nets such as welfare for poor Americans, as well as AIDS research and treatment. The list could go on.

In honor of his sweet, blessed death today, let us all look deep within our hearts to see what we—unlike Helms—can do to actually make our world a better place. And while we’re at it, let’s take one last peek at Helms’ greatest fear of all:
Even Dr. Freud would agree that sometimes a black penis is just a black penis. There's no reason for such alarm.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Nuevo y nueve

So, nine years.

This blog began while I was living in Japan as a way of keeping in touch with friends and family around the globe. It was originally called “PolMach”—short for “political machine”—because I also used it to keep tabs on and stay connected to my elected officials back in the US. Yeah, I used to care about politics and such. I’m still in recovery.

Later, this site took on the name of one of my online identities until I eventually left off “Skajlab”—the Polish spelling of the space station Sky Lab that crashed back to earth in 1979—and kept just “Crash Course.” For the past few years, I’ve been changing the number to reflect the total of years I’ve maintained the blog. In my banner, I used to always include an image of the satellite.

Back then, I didn’t have my own URL, so everything was carefully typed out in HTML (version 4, I believe) using WordPad and uploaded to the free server on Angelfire. There were no widgets. No web cam. No such thing as RSS. Even the word “blog” had yet to be invented. I didn’t know anyone else at the time who did such a thing. The only thing that has remained consistent in the online world is pop-up ads.

Now we have all the technology we could ever ask for. It took less than an hour to arrange my new page, including purchasing the domain name. Back when I could only use embedded frames, I would end up tweaking the design for weeks. So, I finally “splurged” on my very own blog URL: http://mycrashcourse.net/. I decided I wanted to disassociate it from my business site altogether. And hell, my little blog deserves its own web address: it’s lasted longer (and has been more interesting) than most relationships I’ve known!

Welcome, Willkommen, Bienvenue, Witaj, Irashaimasu, Bienvenido, Dobro pozhalovat'! And please update your links.

Yours,
François

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Wicked Mermaid of the West

It was announced earlier today that beginning this year, St*rbucks is going to close 600 stores. All of them in North Dallas. The remaining 600 stores will simply double in size to accommodate those poor lost souls who now must drive an extra 1.6 minutes to get their venti frappuccino fix.

Actually, St*rbucks is becoming a bit more acceptable since I’ve started micromanaging the baristas. I stand at the counter for at least a full sixty seconds listing the desired characteristics of what should be a simple latte. My order sounds something like:
I’d like a large (or “medium,” or “small”—I’ve never really been fluent in the St*rbucks idiolect) non-fat latte in a ceramic mug with no foam and not burning hot.
At Torrefazione—the last of the great coffee shops in Dallas—all I had to say was, “Double non-fat latte,” and it would be perfect every time. And served in a hand-painted ceramic mug. With a flower design in the ever-so-thin layer of froth.

But that was before St*rbucks completely bought up their competition in Dallas and closed it down. Now at the only St*rbucks I go to with any regularity—the one in Casa Linda, where Saturday mornings between 5:30-8:30 I read while more active people are training for a marathon at White Rock Lake—they’ve begun selling the Torrefazione mugs with the hand-painted Italian designs.

But they still won’t serve you in them. They won’t serve you in any ceramic mug unless you specifically ask, despite the fact that I’m there every Saturday morning asking again and again to be served in a ceramic mug. With no foam. And not burning hot. You know: a regular fucking latte. So much for knowing your regular customers! (When I bumped into the barista from Torrefazione at a concert about a year after they were closed, he still remembered my order.)

In Europe, even at the St*rbucks, you are automatically served in ceramic. So civilized. And eco-friendly. I wish more St*rbucks would close and make room for some decent coffee houses to take their place. If the other options in Dallas are any indication, however, I’ll end up standing at the counter telling the barista to hold the Jesus. I only want a fucking latte; I don’t want to be proselytized! Or listen to crappy Christian pop music while I’m trying to read.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Lost Summer

Very rarely do I ever get caught up in an hour-long drama. Broadcast television, PBS excluded, typically sucks too much for me to tune in to more than the mindless thirty-minute comedy a couple of nights per week. I readily admit to faithfully watching X-Files and the first two seasons of Desperate Housewives, but aside from those examples, I really can’t name any that I’ve watched with regularity. I can barely name any other examples themselves!

So when a coworker lent the first season of Lost, I initially thought there’d be no way I would ever get through it. Despite the misperception that academics are free all summer, I, like most of my colleagues, am usually too busy catching up with old projects (finishing Gadamer’s Truth and Method, for example) or preparing for future ones (beginning Heidegger’s Being and Time) to realize that summer has already disappeared. But then the miracle of jetlag occurred.

After returning home from the all-too-short trip to Istanbul, there were already so few things to do—particularly mindless things—between 3:00 and 8:00 am, that I actually decided to pop in the first DVD. Although the plot, despite being entirely unbelievable, was mildly interesting, I still can’t find myself concerned at all with any of the characters, even nine episodes into season two. Oh! the hours wasted watching this postmodern Gilligan’s Island that I don’t care about.



Here are the most annoying things so far, in no particular order, because what would this blog be without a list of annoying things?
  • The totally artificial and overwrought tension between Jack-qua-man-of-science and John-qua-man-of-faith.
  • The tedious pop-culture allusions to things literary and philosophical. I’m waiting for a character—perhaps one of "THE OTHERS"—to be named Immanuel Kant!
  • Michael’s baby-mama being the only African American women in the world that does not want the biological father to be a part of their child’s life. Yeah, it could happen, I suppose.
  • Claire being willing to fly all the fuck to L.A. to get rid of her baby but being all dramatic when someone finally comes and takes it away from her on the island.
  • Sayid being totally willing to sell-out his best friend to get the address of some girl he had the hots for his entire life but after only a few weeks is willing to kick it with the overly sensitive yet excessively shallow Shannon.
Perhaps the best thing about it is the harsh critique of the American (and hence world) economy predicated by the necessity to keep pushing the button to prevent the world from collapsing. Finally, there’s something both Jack-qua-man-of-science and John-qua-man-of-faith can agree on, but that’s probably something I’m reading into the story. I can’t imagine the writers of these lame characters and histrionic plot points to be that perceptive regarding reality. Nor can I imagine myself getting through the entire second season.

Should I continue watching Lost? Please cast your vote in the sidebar poll.