Monthly Archives: January 2008

To *that family* from the start of ‘Sicko’

In the movie Sicko by Michael Moore, there is an older husband and wife team which have to move in with their daughter due to the crushing expenses of medical bills. I watched as the Mom & Dad were moved into the house, only to find that a) the place they were being moved into had not been cleaned out for their arrival by their daughter, b) the parents were faced with the prospect of having to sleep in bunk beds because the household they were moving into refused to relocate the computer to someplace else in the house, and c) one of their sons had the audacity to complain about the cost in effort and time that it took the family to relocate their parents while in the same sentence belittling the tens of thousands of dollars of medical debt that they had.

Look, I know that you can edit folks to look much worse than they are, but I have to say that the shots I saw of that family made me pretty upset. I understand that not everyone has a good relationship with their parents, and I don’t know the family history involved, but frankly, it was offensive to watch the callous self-centered adult children who half-heartedly welcomed their parents with resentment and attitude. Is that the level of rudeness and express self-interest that our culture has devolved to?

Italian-American Upbringing

Apparently, I’m the exception to the rule nowadays. Although adopted at birth, I was brought up with the strong family values of an Italian-American family.  We’re loud, we’re up in each others’ business too much sometimes, but we love each other and we look after our own as best we could. My partner even said that if my mom and dad suddenly called and needed to live with us, we’d have to make many lifestyle adjustments and living space arrangements (cats would have to go to neighbors and friends due to allergies) but we’d just do it. Without our parents, what life do we have? Don’t complain about your mother with the mouth that she gave to you. If parents become a burden to us, remember that for the first 21 years of life for most of us, we were just as much a burden to them, if not more. Either help them financially to regain independence, or else move the damned computer out of the office and put in a bed for ’em.

Especially in an extended family situation like the daughter was in. Her husband was going over to Iraq as a contractor for plumbing, leaving three or four young boys at home for the mom to take care of . If the daughter was thinking, she would see that the benefits of having mentally and physically capable grandparents around for your children are worth more than the cost of rent, really. Ever try to buy daycare services from someone you trust implicitly?

Small comforts 

Well, I suppose I should just take comfort from the fact that the daughter allowed them to move in at all. But still, the son who complained bitterly about having to help his folks move… he needs to be beaten liberally about the head with a clue stick.

My own parents are in their mid-60s, and part of my own personal stress comes from being the oldest child, and yet still not being able to afford property or a way to make good on my familial obligations to care for my parents as they face their elder years should they require it. And let’s face it, eventually they will. As spry and vital as my father is, time is beginning to take a toll on him and his energy isn’t quite what it used to be. Not macabre doom and gloom, just part of the natural cycle of life. My mother is a few years behind him in age, but she’s getting there too. They’re both getting to the point in life when I would really, ideally, love to be able to start taking over some of their financial burdens and allow them to travel or enjoy life, instead of staying chained to jobs for the benefits.

Must just be the education

I must just be hitting on the adjustments of life and living that happen whenever personal growth is occurring. In sanskrit the word for the temper tantrum of the soul which accompanies personal change and advancement is called a “kriya”. I’ve had them before, times when things in life that don’t quite fit well start to seriously chafe and need to be set aside for new patterns and new becomings. Maybe my criticism of that family on Sicko is an outgrowth of my own kriya-in-progress.

Have to meditate on that for a bit. I hope it settles out, soon. You know you’re having a bad kriya when you can’t stand your own company for long sometimes. 🙂

It’s bad, and getting worse.

Today I woke up to find that the time on the cable box has been replaced with ‘—-‘. Those four dashes are more than just a display change, it’s the shift in wind that indicates a sea change in my life. The cable has been ‘interrupted’. More money now, please, or else it gets disconnected.

Those four dashes have been a constant alarm clock in my life over the past few years. Indicators first of my own forgetfulness, but lately they’ve become the four dashes of the apocalypse.

I can’t compete in this economy any longer. I haven’t been able to make ends meet for a long time, and what’s worse, I’ve been employed full time as a communications professional during that time. The effects of watching what was, in the late 90’s, a lucrative and engaging career choice in advertising and graphic design slowly grind down to sweatshop business models and dehumanizing lack of mental engagement have cumulatively taken a massive toll. Tons of promises, an almost equal number of horrifying financial and remunerative disappointments when those promises were supposed to materialize. And the slow build of horror as all of the fun, creativity, and innovation became ground out underneath the heel of horrible business and strategy decisions implemented by stupid-assed Baby Boomer senior managers who are so completely insulated by their own self-selected ignorance and carefully cultivated ineptitude that they no longer seem to be able to even recognize the horrible price their decisions have exacted on the talent pool of employees and the so-called ‘best practices’ of the industry.

Time is running out.

My time is almost up. If not for the expected arrival of student loans within the next month or so, I would be facing the prospect of giving away my cats, filing for a divorce from my completely-dependent civil union parter, selling all my stuff and checking myself into a mental hospital for the massive breakdown which is coming. Which has been coming for a while now. As it is, it’s going to be a case of holding my breath against the crushing economic pressure while struggling to last until the payments come… I’m betting sometime in April.

And the scariest part of all of this is that I’m sinking very quickly … and I’m working full time still. My current gig, which readers will recall I have just tendered notice on, is not paying enough for me to live off of. My landlady speculated heavily in the real estate boom and was attempting to single-handedly ‘gentrify’ our neighborhood, but the rest of the neighborhood resisted such an effort quite successfully. The result is that she’s got tons of recently refurbished rental property listing at prices that no one in the current neighborhood can afford. Everyone who might be tempted to move into the neighborhood takes one look at the loud neighbors and strange twisted local drama in this ghetto-esque barrio and say, “Too expensive” and move on. The result? She’s feeling the crunch of the real estate bust, and shit rolls downhill to us. We are now being nagged to death, and we’re also having trouble coming up with the rent on time. We never go more than a week or two at the most behind, all part of the juggling act required to keep heat and electric and internet connected, but that’s beginning to get her agitated in the extreme. And yet, she can’t seem to attract anyone but Section 8 folks to come and take a look at these beautiful apartments, because the neighborhood is so shitty. (And frankly, the landlady went for surface looks over actual refurbishings, and at heart she’s still a slumlord wondering why the hell her professional tenants complain so much.)

The allure of academia

Going back to school was an economic decision for me. Change or die, really. I’ve been suffering the breakdown and erosion of my livelihood for the past three years, bouncing around from job to job seeking desperately a situation where the compensation was sufficient to live off of. People look at my salary on paper and wonder how I could be making over $50,000 a year and still struggling to get by, but with one full unemployable dependent (going to school for undergrad on full scholarships to fix that), a debt load from hell, and rent and cost of living prices in Fairfield County, Connecticut that amount on paper doesn’t really translate into anything remotely resembling wealth or survivability.

Unfortunately, grad school is much more expensive than my undergrad education was. If I weren’t already seeing the benefits of this education on my job prospects I would have quit after the first semester, but there’s real value in the perceptions of the marketplace today with having a professional Master’s Degree. Unfortunately, the corporation I’m running away from screaming right now wanted to offer me…. $55,000/year. Yes, that’s right. The same salary ballpark as I’ve *been* making since 1995. Only with over $20K in educational bills to look forward to repaying.

Ummm…. no. Absofrigginlutely not.

This is part of the problem for me. I look around at the job market and wonder whether or not I’ll ever be more than a corporate serf. And when I actually dare to say something about it during salary negotiations or job interviews, *I* am the one with the problem, or so I’m told.

I’m coming pretty close to just giving up entirely on life and letting myself become a homeless person. Or else maybe commit some victimless crime in an attempt to crawl inside the penal system. Use the time inside to hone my criminal networking skills, earn some street cred, get in shape, and come out in a few years with the contacts and connections to begin handling cybercrime for the druglords. I mean, work smarter, not harder, right? Prison has become a vehicle for economic security and potential future career work for those intelligent enough and motivated enough to work the hustle and cultivate a rep for reliability and discretion.

Nah…. I don’t look that good in orange.

Hyperbole aside, it’s bad. Really bad. And getting worse.

I watched The Secret. Hell, I even own a copy. For a while, it was the only thing that helped me to cope with the massive depression that greeted me every morning. There comes a point when all the positive thinking in the world just rings like more hollow promises and unfulfilled opportunities. I loaned it out to a friend and haven’t seen the dvd since. Which is fine by me. The ‘gratitude rock’ I’ve been carrying around since watching it has become a talisman of futility for me, and now serves as a reminder to not be suckered by false hope, but instead insist on cash on the barrelhead.

The way out.

It’s a long shot climb, but I’m aiming high. I’m aiming to own property before I buy property, meaning a house before a headstone, if you catch my drift. I’m going to keep trying to take the project gigs I get as they come, keep going to school (although the gas prices it takes to commute up to Quinnipiac every time I need to get online will eventually kill me, I’m hoping the money comes in just enough to keep me afloat until the semester refunds restore online service at home). I’m going to press on with my education beyond QU. Next semester I will start taking Chinese classes, and try to continue those language studies into my PhD studies as well. Armed with a PhD an a rudimentary fluency in spoken Chinese, I will be in a prime position to either

  • a) finally land that cushy senior management job I’ve seen other people flubbing,
  • b) emigrate easily to a developing nation, leveraging my language skills and my advanced degree to land a government job as an attaché between said developing nation and China, who will be providing the economic assistance the US once did to developing nations, or
  • c) manage to eke out a tenure track position in academia, earn tenure, and live a life of relative poverty but incredible job security.

A or B seem most likely. And if all else fails, there’s always:

  • d) get a law degree and become a Big Law document reader because that’s the only position available and give myself a heart attack through overwork or else build up enough despair and despondency until suicide becomes, finally, an improvement on life, passing on my massive educational debt to my named next-of-kin, my old landlady. 😉

Well, it can’t be all bad. The sense of humor is still working. But I’ve got to figure out a way to get through these next couple of years, because otherwise, I’ll be making my homeless-assed way down to the steps of the capitol building and chaining myself to a pillar until something is done to fix the shit that Bush and Dick have left us with. If nothing else, it’ll earn me 15 minutes of fame, a headline, and a footnote in history.

What I don’t understand

What I don’t understand is… if things have gotten this tough for *me*… how the fuck has everyone else managed to get by? I was making a nice bit of cash before the economy made it less than the cost of living. What the hell is going on with the folks for whom $50K annually is nothing more than a pipe dream? Where’s the social revolt? The uprising? The call to arms and solidarity? Why aren’t we storming Sing-Sing like the French did the Bastille? No calls for the head of Laura Bush by the starving masses? How are -they- getting by? I mean, fuck… Connecticut is one of the richest states of the union, and if things are so goddamned miserable here…. wow. It just boggles the mind.

I’m scared, man. I’m scared for myself, and I’m scared for the world. Time is definitely running out. You can tell by the dashes. ‘—-‘ No time left. Just dashes.

Blurred lines of communication

Blizzard crested 10 million players of Warcraft this week. Statistically still a small portion of the 6.5B people that are currently drawing breath, but it’s the leader of the pack when it comes to online entertainment right now. A phenomenon this large tends to have some spillover effects into general online culture. Witness the South Park episode featuring Warcraft from last season, for one. There were a couple of articles talking about how the folks who organize and coordinate Warcraft Guilds (Guild Leaders) are claiming those positions as accomplishments on their resumes because of the people-managing skills and communications skills it requires to organize a group of volunteer strangers to accomplish tasks and form social bonds.

 A birth announcement, Warcraft style

Speaking of Warcraft cultural bleedover, Guild leaders, and the population of the planet, the following is a birth announcement from the leader of my own guild, posted on the guild forums.  Emiraven is the guild leader for DIRE BEEF, one of the largest (and oldest continually running) Horde guilds on the Dark Iron server. Ashai is his real-life wife, and also a member of the guild.

“Alexander”, a lvl 1 Droolkin, has joined Emiraven and Ashai in their den in Azeroth.

Naturally, he’ll be playing Horde. He rolled with the following stats: Weight 7lbs, 9 oz, length 19.7 inches. Born 11:37pm Tuesday. No word on talent build yet; my plan is to powerlevel him but we’ll see.

The raid on the Labor Halls took 14 hours and a few tries, but eventually we downed the end boss. Drops to be linked later but I’ve read up and the loot table includes [Syrup-like Stools], [Endless Drool], and  [Cry of a Thousand Sleepless Nights].

If you don’t understand the slang… well, probably the most obtuse reference is to “the raid on the Labor Halls”. In the end of Warcraft, players gather in large groups to go and tackle certain dungeons and high-powered bad guys… called “bosses”, in order to get a chance at rare, legendary loot. The loot that the boss provides once the 10-, 25- or 40-person group defeats her is selected randomly, so everyone wants to know what loot the boss was carrying… what has ‘dropped’. The rest should be easier to figure out.

Congratulations to Ashai and Alexander, who participated, and Emiraven, who was a supportive spectator. 🙂 Blessings on ’em all, and wishes for a long and happy life for Alexander.

Classes begin today

Technically they began Tuesday, with the two online courses starting up. But tonight begins the face to face stuff. I was going to go out and buy another 5-subject notebook for course notes this semester, but I still haven’t filled up the notebook from last semester. I’ll use the excess space I have from the classes that were notes-light last semester and port over to a new notebook later much.

Or I could just use one notebook and transpose the notes to Google Documents afterwards.

In any case,I’m trying to actually keep research notes as I go this semester. I’m trying to get into the habit of working online as much as possible, using Google Documents and Google Notes for right now until I find a different/better solution for collaboration online.

We’ll see how long all of this lasts. And for my ICM504 class, which is tonight, I’m going to try and keep the notes in a quad notebook (graph paper) for any layout sketches or work that needs to be done.

Eyes Wide Shut

Remember that movie, one of Kubrick’s odder forays into postmodern life? Well, there’s a great line from that movie which struck a chord inside me when I watched it. At first I didn’t like it because I felt it was a character flaw to identify with that sentiment. As with many things in life, adulthood has revised my opinion of it slightly.

Tom Cruise’s character interacts with a friend of his from Medical School that he runs into playing the piano at a NY Society party, later much. Tom asks the guy why he never finished, and the guy responded, “Because it feels so good when I walk away.”

Obviously not a personal motto

It’s not something that gets done all the time. But I gave notice at my freelance gig today and I have to say… it feels so good when I walk away.  With that one decision, a major source of stress in my life just disappeared. No, I don’t have another gig lined up yet, but I do have options and projects in the pipeline. Perhaps the timing on the day of the stock market plunge is ill omened, but the fit here was bad to begin with and getting worse all the time. I’m leaving on good terms… as good as you can leave on and still leave, I suppose.

Not every difficult task is a challenge to be overcome. Some of them are guides to show where you’re supposed to turn aside.

Maybe I’m getting too picky, but I own the fact that this is a major force in my professional life. I’ve done the schtick of paying my dues and earning my way in. Time to step into a new role. I’ll have to earn a new set of dues, but they’re the ones with a higher paycheck attached and better use of my knowledge and skills and experiences.

Whatever. I’m really unconcerned about it. Three weeks until final day. Feb 8th.  14 work days to go, and counting.   I have nothing solid to leap into, but I do have confidence in the idea that by taking the first step which feels so right I will quickly see the next ones.

And it will feel so good when I walk away. Or rather, toward whatever comes next.

Turning a wall of separation into a reminder of humanity

I (almost) have a BA in Anthropology. (All but two classes passed. Senioritis after 5 years in undergrad is a powerful force on a 22 year-old.)  This colors my view of human beings because I look at a lot of the strife and politics happening all the time and blame it on the animal side of humanity wreaking havoc.  Where we find nations fighting I see generally speaking a few troops of hominids battling over food and mates. We’ve rationalized it into other reasons, but the primary motivation of warlike behavior I personally find in the inability of humanity to rise above instinctual impulses of the biological nature… organization into hierarchies, aggression against neighboring hominids. We’ve moved past the point at which the color of skin or general appearance of the rival troops of hominids is the defining characteristic. Now we’ve invented religion and culture to serve as unifying and identifying marks. But we’re still fighting each other because the animal Homo sapiens sapiens comes hard wired to organize into social hierarchies of some kind and to react violently to intrusions or invasions into whichever arena of society any particular band of Homo sapiens sapiens happens to feel ownership toward.

It’s why team sports have played such crucial roles in societies of every kind. It’s an outlet for the hard-wired aggressive behavior, it triggers the identification with a particular tribe or troop, and it sublimates the instinctual desire to kill interlopers or competitors into socially sanctioned controlled emotional release.

I don’t see this as a demeaning view of humanity. In fact, I find it rather liberating, because it allows us to own our own failings. It’s not so popular with the Judeo-Christian mindset of humans as somehow being separate from or above the natural realm, but I’m not Judeo-Christian.

Attempting Communication with “Other”ness

The reason that I bring that up as a preface to the actual meat of my post is because we human animals produce more than just violence and strife… we also produce communities and bonds. What is it that triggers the antagonistic/warrior violence response from a troop of hominids at any scale, as opposed to groups and individuals which instead trigger community-building instinctive responses? Not every neighbor is a target. Not every relationship between groups and organizations, political or otherwise, is antagonistic.  There are certain behaviors and methods of approaching a group which can be used to diffuse the violent/interloper response and heighten the community/respect response. If we can learn what those behaviors are, then we can use them when approaching groups when our purpose is communication. Encouraging receptivity to allow for minimal barriers to communicating.

The most important step in the process requires recognition of the similarities in the Other hominids standing before you. Recognition that even our own culture and way of living is but one hominid strategy among thousands which are possible. Recognition that the concept of ‘superiority’ really only applies to how well any group’s culture deals with that culture’s environment, as opposed to some Platonic ideal of “better” or “worse”.  Once the qualitative judgment is reduced to a relative status, as opposed to an absolute status, communication begins to become possible. With communication can come the shift in emphasis from the differences to the similarities.

The Writing on the Wall

There’s a website being run out of the Netherlands which attempts to use graffiti and the web as a means to help turn the wall in Palestine into a vehicle and a medium for messages of hope, support, solidarity, and the community/connectivity portion of human instincts.  It’s called SendAMessage.  For €30 (about $58US) peaceful Palestinian graffiti artists will spraypaint your message of humanity or community (nothing negative) on the Palestinian wall and send you a digital photo of the artwork.  SendAMessage.nl seems to have done their homework in setting it up so that they are not funding weapons or insurrections, in fact they have clearance for their activities from the Israeli government agencies, according to their website.

Send a Message sample of wall art

Open ID, Data Collection, and the Cost of Convenience

Good title. Better keep this in mind as a possible paper topic. 🙂

I’m talking about Yahoo! joining OpenID, a blurb on today’s tech news. The idea behind OpenID is an online ID service which establishes a single identity that subscribing websites use instead of forcing you to log in all the time. The fact that Yahoo! has joined up with this service is what brings the subject to national attention. According to the Brandweek article, several sites and online services, such as AOL.com, already participate in OpenID, typically without their users really being aware of it.

It’s the unforeseen consequences that get ya

I don’t know of anyone who would be opposed to having to log in only once instead of over and over again, if only from the convenience angle of things. I know that I’m a bit wary of any sort of ID service from two perspectives, the immense security risk to individuals, and the immense loss of privacy potential in the system. I don’t think that OpenID.org is up to nefarious purposes, but whenever data is collected it becomes very important to ask some followup questions. Who is going to use this information? What are they going to use it for? How will we know?

The internet has been hailed as a democratizing, liberalizing force on society, but in reality the opposite is just as true. When every move and action that we take is recorded, stored, and available for review without our knowledge or consent, the internet can be a tool which removes personal liberty and curtails individual freedoms quite effectively as well. In fact, I remarked in one class last semester that by inventing the internet, we had actually created the until-then parental bogeyman of “the permanent record” which would follow us all of our lives.

The going rate on personal information?

I’m reading Yochoi Benkler‘s Wealth of Networks right now, and in it he discusses the networked information age, and the economic principles behind collaborative “non-market” efforts. It’s an interesting read, and I’m still working through it, so I’ll leave off the commentary for later. However, he does bring up some very important questions regarding the economy of information, which leads to the question of how much our individual personal information (Name, Address, Phone, email address, website, etc.) is worth. It would be nice if the companies which collected our data were legally responsible for reimbursing us for a percentage of any profits which were generated from studies that used that data, but I live in the real world where such things never happen.

At the very least, the Brandweek article is worth the short read. We may not be able to put an actual going market value on what our personal information is worth per person based on the money made off of it directly by marketing and research firms. We certainly can put a value on our own information to ourselves, though.