Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Random Notes

Back in the late 1990s I was writing and publishing a Web diary, as the prototype of blogging was then called. In that journal I recorded the minutiae and trivia of a graduate student's life, an academic gossip column. Some of those diary entries contained impersonal expository portions couched in personal narrative.

I've always trafficked in ideas and found them more interesting than the little day-to-day dramas we endure. I keep a little virtual notebook of blog ideas inside the jurisdiction of Google Keep, and some of these ideas, while interesting, don't warrant filling out to the length of a full blog. So I'm throwing a handful of these together into a single blog, and we'll see what happens. I also hope this will give me a chance to get to bed before dawn without having to write all night—I love doing that, frankly, but the all-nighters take over my life until I'm doing very little else.

So far in this blog I've written about impersonal topics, but I'd like to strike a balance between the impersonal and personal because there are aspects of my personal life that would have universal appeal. So that's really two directions in which I want to reach out: more personal episodes documented here, and also posts that serve as anthologies of little ideas, hopefully interesting, but not worthy of a full blog entry.

Traveling and Eating
Fishermen in Acapulaco, Mexico, 8 November 2013.
© Tomas Castelazo, / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0
When I was in India I thought it was interesting that food vendors who worked on the platforms of train stations and sold food to people both on and off trains packaged the food in plastic bags. That worked well enough, especially since most people in India eat with their hands. I watched and concealed my envy as a fellow traveler seated in a seat facing mine happily gobbled down a curry and rice. My guess is that before the proliferation of plastic the vendors wrapped things in banana leaves. I never bought food on the train myself because, as a rule, I fast when traveling. At most I'd carry some chocolate as an ad hoc energy bar.

Once I get where I'm going, I eat. One travels by foot and tongue. After they invented language, the first question was, "What's for dinner?" Food has always been the first concern. French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan equated language and culture, so we can safely say that the root of culture lies in how and what people eat. I suppose there may be people who travel to see geology or some other feature of the world that is void of humanity, but even they must eat, and I think even they, except for the extreme misanthrope, must get drawn into the romance of culture. If, for example, I'm traveling along the Mexican Pacific coast, my meals comprise shrimp sautéed in butter and garlic, fish soup enriched by onions and tomatoes and an oily broth rich in the essence of marine life, and a full complement of tortillas. This palate of rich primal flavors tells me the story of a people who live close to the land, immediately close to the tomatoes, onions, and chilis that they grow—this food does not pass through a factory on its way from the earth to the kitchen; and the story of a people who go down to the sea every morning before dawn in open boats with nets to fish. They spend their afternoons mending their nets. If I'm lucky enough to engage a local person in conversation, I quickly learn how the culture of that food spreads out, like the nets the fishermen cast on the sea, to involve every aspect of human endeavor from birth to death.

Was Darrin Stevens a Drunk?

Darrin Stevens (Dick York) flanked by the women in his
life: Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) and Endora (Agnes
Moorehead). Cast photo from the premiere of the television
series Bewitched, 17 September 1964. ABC Television.
Source: Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.
One ritual of the Stevens household was that Samantha had a pitcher of martinis ready when Darrin worked into the house from work. As I recall, the recipe for a martini is roughly 99.9% gin and 0.1% vermouth, and that pitcher could easily hold a fifth of liquor. Ergo, Darrin drank a bottle of gin a day. Maybe alcoholism was the price of having tormentors Larry Tate by day and Endora by night.

Krazy Kar Konsortium

Rush hour in Miami, 15 June 2012. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
There's a plethora of industries—banking & insurance, car manufacturers, maintenance shop chains (e.g. Meineke), and, biggest of all, petroleum, which is another consortium in itself, and we can call all that the Krazy Kar Konsortium. Given that the car consumes roughly 15% of a typical working person's budget—second only to housing—the KKK has a vested interest in cars remaining the primary, culturally sanctioned mode of transportation.

Cars come at a great cost beyond that 15% of the budget: more die in cars than in wars. Fracking is turning the planet into a chemical waste dump. Emissions contaminate the air and are heating the climate to create raising sea levels that will create a historically unprecedented crisis. Cars dictate horrid architectural and urban planning rubrics that lessen the quality of life. Cars and the infrastructure of roads, bridges, and intersections on which they run are noisy, dirty, dangerous, and ugly. (By comparison, those rare urban areas that focus on the pedestrian rather than the car are so much more pleasanter to visit.)

This madness continues because making money takes precedent over safety—after all, the rich will always be able to afford air-conditioned houses on higher ground, and they will be able to afford food even as most of the planet dies of starvation. At the end of the world only the cockroaches and the wealthy will survive. We speed relentlessly down this suicide track even though the bridge is out because the wealthy are Control. Politicians, those high-profile personas who stage on ongoing farce of leadership are really only employees of Control. Politicians are lying whores of the most morally dissolute fiber, and, once they are hired, they work for the same company, Control. There is no significant difference except in rhetorical style between a Hillary Clinton and a Donald Trump. Bernie Sanders might be different, and I would register to vote for the first in forty years if there was a chance he might win.

The KKK has convinced us that the car is so essential to the human ego—it is an extension of fashion, legs, penis—that for many people life without a car is unthinkable, and those people who don't have cars are not full-fledged members of the human race. The KKK is working on self-driving cars rather than better mass transportation. Self-driving cars will take care of some of the problems with cars like congestion and collisions due to human error, but it won't change the overarching rule of cars dictating the design of cities at the expense of quality of life. And in terms of getting people from their A to their B in the city and back again, even a self-driving car is the worst possible solution. We should live in cities that are built first to satisfy the human, the human condition, our humanity, the quality of our lives. Instead we live in cities that are built to facilitate traffic & the profit margins of the KKK.