Sunday, September 30, 2007

Dance party revolution

We had a fabulous time at the music festival. 17 Hippies (below) was out of sight, with fun, genre-mixing surprises in their songs. They had a cinematic feel, combining Central European moodiness with American tough-guy movies. Kind of like Weimar Germany cabaret meets Dennis Hopper in Wim Wenders' The American Friend, all with the rootsy polka-like klezmer sound of Central Europe.

March Fourth Marching Band, from Portland, OR, absolutely rocked our world. Check out their steampunk drum racks here and here. The Marching Band got into some really deep beats, mixing up the Meters funk interpretation of the New Orleans sound with the charisma of a street band. Given the creativity pouring out of these arrangements, I have faith again in the world.

Final comment. I think world music festivals have been known for earnest folk music and pure, authentic roots musicians, and that aspect still remains a part of them. But it's the big, talented, irreverent ensembles that really make a festival. Both of these groups had 15-20 people on stage and they were both super tight. Getting all those people organized and on tour is authentic enough for me.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


The AO took BB into school today rather than putting him on the bus. The object, given her easy schedule on Thursday mornings, was to poke around a bit, maybe get the teacher to talk about how things are going. Since he rides the bus, we feel at some disadvantage because we don't ever see him at school. Well, the teacher did that. She volunteered that she liked having him in the class, that he was a good kid. Then she leaned in, like she tends to do, and said, he is a little emotional. He tends to get frustrated and cry when things aren't going right. But he's working on it, she assured AO.

I don't know quite what to feel. Yes, he is a little emotional, it's true. There's nothing inherently wrong with it. After all, I tended to be emotional too. I could feel existential about it. Why does the curse persist? But we'll try to see if he grows out of it. Usually, he has a harder time when he's hungry or tired. We know that none of the kids eat much at school and that they only give them about 10 real minutes to eat. So this could be contributing to it. All things considered, I think he's been dealing with the stress of starting school pretty well. We spoke with the mother of one of his classmates who said things were going so badly with the disciplinary nature of the room that she was wondering whether to change classrooms. We heard about this. Some boys thrive in this particular teacher's classroom and others are miserable. But she is a pro.

In any case, I have to be careful that I don't try to eradicate this aspect of BB - you know hating in my kid what I hate in myself. Nature gave him the proclivity and he's just going to have to learn to live with it. But trying to eliminate it completely would be like trying to convince a left handed person to be right handed.

Friday, September 28, 2007

17 Hippies

We are planning to attend an annual world music festival in the region, and will be paying dearly for a six-hour babysit. This will be the longest we'll have someone here babysitting both kids. I don't envy our babysitter.

At the festival I'm looking forward to seeing MC Rai, who plays electrified Rai--essentially North African reggae--and 17 Hippies, who are from East Berlin and play something called the Berlin style, a mix of folk music, chanson, gypsy, and klezmer. Party music, in other words, with a former communist exuberance. Let's dance!

MC Rai @ The Chicago Cultural Center

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Free market China

Apropos yesterday's post, I realized that two of my examples of free market effects came from China.  Interesting story. Fresh Air recently broadcast an interview with a journalist based in China, who was detained at a Chinese factory compound while investigating the toy recalls.  What became clear to him while he tried to convince his captors that he wasn't a spy is that the police (both local and national) and the political apparatus had absolutely no power to free him.  His fate was in the hands of those running the factory.  

Similarly, what has people up in arms about the excesses of the private contractors working for the TSA is that they are unaccountable. They can detain you in much the same way.

Of course, it's nothing new. Corporatism and authoritarianism have always gone hand in hand. It reminds me of the good-old Progressive days, when Pinkerton detectives shot labor organizers and strikers.  

City-State Halliburton

I've come across some interviews of Naomi Klein, whose new book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, debunks the assumption that free markets go hand in hand with free societies. She uses the metaphor of torture to analyze how radical free market types use shocks and disasters to create free market zones. Shock events like natural disasters, wars, and revolutions leave a population acting as though it has been tortured, left feeling weak and without a stable identity. It's been part of the Chicago School's program to take advantage of the periods following these shocks to rid a society of its social programs and regulations. They've used this scheme to destroy so-called mixed economies in order to establish pure free markets: ones in which toys are made with lead, for example, or dog food contains melamine or a private security company like Blackwater can massacre civilians.  She claims that it was utilized extensively in South America, like in Pinochet's Chile, and is now being used in Iraq. Here's a short film she made with Alfonso CuarĂ³n, the director of Children of Men.

One can make the case that the Bush administration also tried to do it in the U.S. following 9/11. Remember Bush pushing an "ownership" society? It probably isn't going away. Some days it seems the only thing that can save us from Terror are the many contractors hired by Homeland Security.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Virtual worlds

I like the idea of spending time in a virtual world.  All the media reports I encounter about worlds like Second Life suggest that one can have fun.  There are nightclubs, concerts, interesting architecture, and lots and lots of avatars flying about in search of engaging conversation.  There is even a level of perversity I couldn't possibly find in my real life.  I've read the novel Snow Crash, which apparently inspired the founders of Second Life.  There avatars move through worlds that are both thrilling and challenging.  Like a Hong Kong movie, they battle each other with swords.

But all I ever feel in Second Life is incredibly bored.  My basic avatar has wandered alone through pixelated, monumentally empty spaces without so much as an uptick in my heartbeat.  I can fly, but where is the excitement?  I know I should try something like World of Warcraft, with its guild communities of warriors, but I just don't have the time.  I suppose like any social relationship, a virtual community is only as good as the time you put into it.  Maybe.  I read something recently that suggested people in Second Life don't move out of the basic proscribed roles that one might find in a sorority.   Rather than experiment with different roles, their basic goal is to conform. The object is to buy things and what people generally purchase first are things like big tits and tight muscles. But someone studying the emotional dimensions of the online world, Sherry Turkle, suggests that virtual worlds are places to experiment with one's emotional range.  I'd like to think that this is possible. Unfortunately, I just can't spare the time from the emotional roller coaster that is my reality-based life.

Yellow curbs

What the BB learns in kindergarten, besides how to write his letters and listen to six graders on the bus talk about their boners, are rules.  He tells us that keeping to all the rules (walk only down the right side of the hall!) is hard, but that he hasn't broken a rule yet.  It's gotten so bad that he won't let us park in a yellow zone because he knows it's meant only for loading.  He worries about expired meters, speed limits, a myriad of warning signs.  The world to him has now become a place that proscribes.  Of course, he doesn't take seriously the rules that we've tried to establish in our own home.  Watch how you play with your brother, keep small things like marbles put away in a bin, don't yell at the table.  Insolently, he ignores us.  But here he learns that rules can also be bent.  Perhaps this is how it should be.  

Monday, September 24, 2007


Yesterday, I saw a three-day old baby.  When I was young I didn't realize the thrill of seeing new life.  In fact, I had to have my own kids before being invited to share the experience of the newborn.  Now, I'm let in to the sanctum. (Some readers may know these people personally, so email me if you're in the know.)

Three days old!  What is really odd about newborns is that they look kind of old, wrinkly, wise, and Buddha-like.  They weigh nothing, but all the human things logged into our genetic code are there.  This baby had absolutely beautiful lips.  Every baby has something distinctive, but her little feature made her seem especially cute.

It's a privilege to see a new baby.  Thanks to my friends for procreating.  

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Walking off of chairs

I had both kids on my own this afternoon. They had their usual wind up time, with BB running back and forth throwing and kicking a ball and LB trying to get in his way. A one year old tackling a five year old makes me tense, but somehow they'll eventually learn each others' limits. LB, in particular, needs to learn some limits. He discovered in the last few days that he can crawl up into an easy chair. This afternoon he started standing up and simply walking off the chair. He is starting to learn to walk down steps instead of turning around and crawling backward. But an easy chair is a little different from a step. So over and over I ran over to "save" him from falling flat on his face. I almost moved the chair downstairs. LB thought the whole exercise was hilarious.  My attempts to look grim and disapproving have so far failed.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Wearable art

For better coverage on the woman arrested today for wearing a fake bomb see this boing boing post.   Boston police-types overreact again!   It wasn't supposed to be a bomb, a hoax, or even a stunt.  She's an MIT student and was just picking someone up at the airport wearing her regular hoodie.  The hoodie happened to have painted wire that lights up built into it, but it's simply wearable art.  That's what people do at MIT.  The AP report says something about how suspicious it is that she had play-doh on her hands.  Play-doh!  The AP also includes an official saying she's lucky she's not dead.  Haven't they heard of Tasers?  It's what everyone else in a uniform is doing.   

Our adventures with TSA include taking itty bitty shoes off a one year old to be scanned.  Having our toy bag (with its plastic dinosaurs and Thomas Trains) searched carefully each and every time we go through security.  And now my laptop always gets tested, turned on, and the like.  I finally figured out that they flag my laptop because last year I took it apart to change the hard drive.   I'm sure that there are little scratches around the laptop's tiny, little screws that give off all kinds of red flags.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The earnest post

I often think that I need a practice.  Meditation before an idol, discipline of the body, celebration of many gods, anything but the Judeo-Christian tradition.  What I'm most intrigued by is some sort of reverence in the face of information, like data from the universe.  

Now, how does one translate this into a discipline?   What would a religion without an earth-centric bias look like? One way would be to take an ascetic path into physics, for which I don't have the math. I don't think it's too far a stretch to take the collapse of space and time seriously, though, to see the universe as continually being recycled, as Tim Ferris suggests in his documentary, Seeing in the Dark.  (Ferris doesn't believe in the Big Bang, for example.) I like the idea that parts of the universe are in us, and we will, in turn, become part of the universe.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Buzz cuts

I took the BB to soccer practice last evening.  Parents around here, and perhaps everywhere, bring their portable chairs and set up what looks to me like their living room scene there on the sidelines.  I refuse to bring a chair.  It's expresses a certain arrogance, I realize, to sit on the ground and read my New York Times.  But I just hate this idea that we have to create domestic comfort wherever we go.  Reading the paper is domestic enough, god knows.  These are families with 3 + kids, so I suppose after the first you decide that you might as well be comfortable.  The way it's done, though, suggests that they are all sitting around the TV.  And they openly remark about how weak or inexperienced they feel a coach is, as though it really were their living room and someone had just gotten up to bring more diet coke or bud light back into the room.   They're bothered she's a woman, of course, and not a guy named Justin or Darren or some other strong midwestern name.  What I really want to say about their kids, though -- to these people who are so obsessed with sports they would watch fleas play basketball -- is that they should stop giving them damn buzz cuts.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

On the play list

One of the less enigmatic videos of Gnarls Barkley.

Danger Mouse is the DJ portion of Gnarls. It's like six degrees of separation for me. Danger Mouse, who made a name for himself with The Grey Album, has collaborated with Gorillaz, who also worked with Dan the Automator (Lovage, Handome Boy Modeling School). Gorillaz is led by Damon Alborn, who was the lead singer of Blur, of Brit Pop fame. Alborn is also the creator of the recent The Good, the Bad and the Queen, which I've been listening to a lot. Alborn apparently lives in Iceland, where things are presumably more chill.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Why Zeno effect?

From Mrs. Teacher's Science Class:

"The very nature of quantum physics is counterintuitive to conventional thinking. Among the many bizarre characteristics is the quantum Zeno paradox, an odd mathematical result that is being debated to this day. Assuming an unstable quantum state, intuition would dictate that eventually, the system will irreversibly decay in certain amount of time, defined as the Zeno time. However if the system is measured in a period shorter than the Zeno time, then the wave function of the system will repeatedly collapse before decay."

I suppose I like the fact that Zeno's paradox has a quantum analog. The pretentious part of me likes to think that my life is equally paradoxical, that I "will repeatedly collapse before decay."

But, more to the point, I like the fact that "Zeno of Elea" was known as the inventor of the dialectic. I call one of my tattoos "the dialectic."  (It looks something like this:  -)(- .)  Now (still!) paradox, dialectic, negative capability, incommensurability, aporia, and the like are what motivate me. It all comes down to doubt. We all believe in something, right? But why?

I am not the first to notice the richness of the Zeno metaphor.  I loved the feints and displacements in Italo Svevo's Confessions of Zeno, which I read in college.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


We had dinner last night at an elite restaurant here, one known for local and regional ingredients and its slow-food ideology.  This was kind of a belated anniversary, which AO and I were unable to celebrate while we were in California with the kids.  The highlights were moule frites, a treat no matter where one is, and fresh Walleye from the Great Lakes.  The romaine salad had an open face duck egg fried on top, with an amazing brioche, and lots of parsley.  After a bottle of wine, port with dessert, and romantic feelings throughout, we ended up on some stone bench in a park reveling in our commitment to each other.  It was nice.  We're having an exquisite fall here, after all.  We tried to go to a bar afterward and were quickly disillusioned, but at least the babysitter said that it was, for her, better than working.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Radio news

We never watch early evening TV. No television news. No blast-from-the-past reruns during the 7 p.m. - 8 p.m. hour. (I've done that hour before, and it may have been the death of my last relationship, when day after day my girlfriend and I ate dinner in front of the television.) The kids watch some Barney or Caillou, but the TV isn't regularly on while they're awake. But what's the early evening without some kind of media?

Instead of TV, what we have on from 5 to 7 every day is NPR. I feel guilty a lot about this, but we can't seem to break the habit. The radio, filled with sounds of gun shots and descriptions of torturous kidnappings, of beheadings and assassinations, of endless war, is the background of our lives with our kids. We think, the radio can't possibly have the insidious effect of TV. But BB, to this day, feels the wind blow a little hard and thinks of New Orleans flooding. Who knows what images he has in his mind, because his whole relation to the hurricane was through sounds rather than images. Maybe television would be better, whose images both excite our deep-seated emotions and dull our sensibilities.

Friday, September 14, 2007


BB is "line leader" this week.  I assume he "leads" the line, but it's not clear at all what he gets to do or what privileges he gains.  What it does mean is that we bring an end-of-the-week snack.  Our contribution this week?  Something healthy, of course, even if it makes him eternally unpopular.  No cookies, crackers, or other empty-calorie snacks from us. Instead, BB and I lugged 25 bananas into school.  His teacher has been teaching kindergarten for 20 some years.  Today, she said, ah, bananas.  We had bananas last night.  Our dog likes bananas, and leaning in she cracked, you know how corgies get fat. There are so many defamiliarizing features to this little exchange I don't know really where to begin.  People eat bananas for dinner?  Feed them to their dogs?  Are bananas good for fat corgies?  I like BB's teacher, though.  I can believe she's from Texas, a place where personalities tend to be bigger.


Among the five or so kids at the bus stop each morning is a six-grader.  Oddly enough, maybe, he's very friendly and is always eager to talk.  (AO has said that this is the age she'd like to teach and perhaps I understand now.)  He shows up yesterday with the hilt of a sword sticking up out of his back pack.  BB has a small sword for his pirate costume (better than a gun, we reasoned), so I pointed to this older kid's big sword.  I'm thinking, do they let them take these things to school, ferchrissake?  But to BB this is straight out of his history books.  So, we have a barely awake, awkward discussion about the heft of swords, the merits of one-handed or two-handed swords, and (from my son) a discourse on a battle won by the "people" defending themselves against the English. (He claimed it was the "Wales," but I'm sure he meant the Scots.) In any case, all of this gets filtered through my own childhood imprints.  We haven't done Star Wars yet, I think, but soon, soon.  And then on to Firefly (cowboys and swords!), sometime, maybe, in the future.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Soccer ideology

The people who run the local soccer program are connected deep with some national league that governs this sort of thing.  Apparently, what I had to say about being a five-year-old jock is all wrong.  Soccer at this age is all about being an individual player. According to the director of our program, in some weird grok there on the field with all the parents, they won't even learn to pass until they're eight, and even then they will only pass to their friends.  So, I say to BB, go for it, dude, you're the best and you should just lay waste.  Of course, he doesn't really want to be this individual, but when I saw him make a goal the other night and run back up the field with his hands high in the air, I could tell that ringing in his ears was Gooooooaaaaaalllllll . . . .

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I'm trying to work out a section on trust.  Since affect is one of my primary topics, I've come across some good material on how trust produces pleasure in those trusted.  Of course, Giddens and Luhman have their theories in relation to the need for trust in modern societies.  But theirs are mostly institutional analysis.  Many years ago I worked on a small breach of trust case and did some legal research for it; it's pretty obvious that trust makes the world go round in one way or another (what made Enron such a shock). What trust makes me think of most, though, is of being on buses, subways, or airplanes, surrounded by many strangers, all of whom you must trust.  Usually, it works.  This may be part of the reason why terrorist attacks, like 9/11 but also bus bombings and the like, bite into our consciousness so deeply.  On a very deep level we generally trust others.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


It's probably occurred to every parent in the last six years. But when 9/11 happened we were less than a month away from having our first child and just two months past the death of one of his grandmothers. Truly, it was a moment when I thought, what kind of world are we bringing a kid into? Of course, now I think it every day as the War drags on and the US government seems incapable of imagining a political solution for anything.

Regardless of what happened that year, and the actual horror it was for those whose family and friends died on 9/11, 2001 was the year the BB was born and the year that his grandmother just missed seeing her first grandchild.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Goats

BB starts a community soccer program this evening. For a five year old he is sure smitten with the idea of being an athlete - being the best. I was never much of a jock, so I'm not sure how to deal with it. No, I say, you're playing for the team, your skills should be in the service of your team winning. I can still be the best, he responds. Sigh. This the attitude that makes reading so treacherous. He isn't the best right out of the gate. Let's hope it doesn't make soccer equally treacherous once he's on the field with others trying their best.

His local team is named after a professional team in southern California that translates as "the goats." A great name, in my opinion. He drew the team uniform with appropriate colors this morning and carefully folded it into his school back pack. I think, who spawned this child?

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The gift

LB was hanging out with me last evening in the basement. He came back and forth, from the open area of the basement into my office, to hand me things. Chalk, bottles of finger paint, whatever detritus BB has managed to stash away in the basement. He also likes to bring me my own papers and books lying about. I don't think this is the same as fort/da, where a young child makes something disappear and reappear. According to psychoanalysis, fort/da prepares and reaffirms the child's ability to live without his or her mom. But what does the gift do? Is it some kind of extension of fort/da, or does it develop another ability or strength? Perhaps the power to give is greater even than language. Interestingly, he's bringing me material -- stuff to draw and paint, to write with or write on -- that he knows we'll have a mutual interest in.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Cowboy songs

BB's new love is cowboy songs.  These sorts of passions develop slowly.  First, he liked a little classic country, like Hank Williams.  Then we got him a CD from the library of Charlie Daniels talking and singing about cowboys.  I'm not such a fan of Daniels' jingoism, so we've expanded the range and included some more traditional versions. Here's the latest song list: 

Whoopi Ti YI Yo, Don Edwards
Get Along, Little Dogies, Tex Ritter
Saturday Night In Abilene, The Charlie Daniels Band
John Henry, The Charlie Daniels Band
Back In the Saddle Again, Gene Autry
Mule Train, Frankie Laine
Riders In the Sky, Vaughn Monroe
The Old Chisholm Trail, Don Edwards & Peter Rowan
Home On the Range, Gene Autry

It's a thrill to hear BB singing "Get Along, Little Dogies" under his breathe while he's playing at other things.  He even reaches for Tex Ritter's hooting twang while he's singing.

Friday, September 7, 2007

William Gibson

William Gibson is resisting the future.

Forthcoming essay

I've heard now that my resubmitted essay has passed the first round of editorial review, and the essay should be forthcoming. It has only one more round of peer review to go through, and this should be a formality. This is great news. I spent a month working on the revisions, which is really time that I shouldn't be taking away from getting the actual dissertation done. The journal issue will be a special issue in my field, so it's even better to be included. Time to celebrate . . . oh yeah, this is AO's night to work during the evening. Kids, what can we do for fun . . .

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Up at night

Last week both BB and I came down with the stomach bug that crested like an evil wave through the family.  I was already up for the night on Thursday with bad stomach pains, at about 2 a.m.  BB got up to pee marveling that he was the only who hadn't gotten sick.  And then it happened, all over the bathroom floor, in the sink, on me.  Everywhere but the toilet.  Of course, sick as I was, I then responded in kind.  Ugh!  We spent the rest of the night watching recorded episodes of Sesame Street and Barney, while he occasionally bent over a big bowl.  I don't know that I'll ever have the opportunity to watch all-night TV with a five year old again.  Eventually, I got both of us to bed just before sunrise.  

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Egyptian writing

The BB is struggling a bit with his writing (it's only kindergarten, but they say it's the new first grade).  He's frustrated that he can't make his writing look right.  So, among his many inventions to deflect any issues that come up in school, he claims that he is writing Egyptian when no one else can decipher it.  His imaginary friend, Wing, a cobra, can of course read it.  Likewise, most of his narratives about school involve an elaborate imaginary soccer game that include his fellow students, other classes, and sometimes even his teachers.  He'd rather "make it up," and that's OK with me.  Most five year olds aren't good at remembering a whole day at school anyway.  

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Yard pool

Sunday, Labor Day weekend.  We could have gone to an art fair, to another soccer tournament, to the University's pool, which closes for the season after Labor Day. Even a hike, which we've missed since returning from vacation on the West Coast.  But it was mid morning today, beautiful, sunny, and we couldn't decide on the direction of the day. Why get into the car, we suddenly thought?  It turned into a yard pool day.  BB knows how to (barely) jump safely into a yard pool from a lawn chair; LB can still use his floaty thing in the yard pool.  To our benefit, BB got into it and set out to create a "day at the beach." He brought out a blanket and beach towels, hung his play parrot where the bird feeder lives, and supplied us with drinks and snacks.  And AO and I read while the kids played in the pool. Truly a day at the beach.  

Can't go out

I've been to the actual cinema to see a movie twice since BB was born. That's twice in five and half years. Yeah, I've been to a film festival since he was born, but that kind of event is worth a babysitter. The grubby, popcorn movies, twice. Some things you have to sacrifice.

But we learned to make-do with other things. With BB, we pretty much always went out to eat. It was easy when he was little because he mostly slept through a lunch out. When he learned to walk, he got a little more difficult. There was one time, when he was about one, we were at a trendy, out-of-the-way place and the service was abysmal. We waited a half hour to order and then another hour for our food. We learned that there are places that will work, and we were usually able to avoid spending the whole time taking turns outside with the kid. BB crimped our style, yes, but he were still able to do a lot of the things we wanted to.

With LB things have been different. He's more stubborn, more demanding, and just not interested in our thing. He's also a bad traveler and cries on planes like BB never did. So, now we don't really go out to eat either. Of course, we've created ways of getting decent take-out, but even good food tastes mediocre out of a container. I think it's time to get a babysitter.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Sunny, dry, and warm

Here in my part of the midwest the weather has been more like my native California. We haven't had real rain for at least a month, maybe two, and we have dry, gorgeous blue skies right now day after day. All the lawns are brown and we've been watering our flower beds almost every day to keep things alive.

So, since it's Labor Day weekend, I plan an event for BB and family to visit a soccer tournament at a local park. BB can't get enough of soccer and in two weeks will be joining a club league for the first time. But five year olds have strange sensitivities. The scene was admittedly pretty crazy at the park, with high school teams from all over the region there to play. (Not something I would have visited before BB, but the kid is into sports-what can you do?) Turns out that BB found the whole thing alienating. For one thing, he was worried about the way I talked my way into parking without paying. It's a public park, so in reality you don't need to pay. But if you were attending the tournament, you were expected to pay. I figured, we weren't really going to watch a full game, so why pay? The parking attendants bought it. But BB is worried these days when we park in a yellow zone, so he got it into his head that we weren't supposed to be there. He simply wouldn't watch or even look at a single game. This is like soccer heaven, something like 10 simultaneous games going on at once, and he wouldn't look at one. He made a point by using the park, and he played in the kids' playground the whole time we were there. He made his point. LB started to cry. We headed home. BB and I went later to Starbucks on our own for coffee and a chocolate milk.