Petty Protest

And then there is that strain of liberalism that defies Trump in all his vapid cruelty by– hmm — purchasing a plastic box of electronic waste, likely to end up oozing battery acid at the base of landfill, or scattered in a heap of computer parts in some impoverished portion of India or China, before the countdown clock even hits zero.

Countdown clock until Trump leaves office.

I’m reminded of a passage from Adorno and Horkheimer’s “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception” (1944):

Marked differentiations such as those of A and B films, or of stories in magazines in different price ranges, depend not so much on subject matter as on classifying, organising, and labelling consumers. Something is provided for all so that none may escape; the distinctions are emphasised and extended. The public is catered for with a hierarchical range of mass-produced products of varying quality, thus advancing the rule of complete quantification. Everybody must behave (as if spontaneously) in accordance with his previously determined and indexed level, and choose the category of mass product turned out for his type

Just saying…

12 Weeks of Dylan

To keep myself busy this summer, I thought I’d try to learn, record, and discuss a new Dylan song each week.

Week #1: June 12 – June 18
Mama You Been On My Mind

See lyrics

Perhaps it’s the color of the sun cut flat and coverin’
The crossroads I’m standin’ at.
Or maybe it’s the weather or somethin’ like that.
But, mama, you been on my mind.

I don’t mean trouble please don’t put me down or get upset.
I am not pleading or saying I can’t forget you.
I do not pace the floor bowed down and bent but yet,
Mama you been on my mind.

Even though my eyes are hazy and my thoughts they might be narrow
Where you been don’t bother me or bring me down with sorrow.
I don’t even mind who’ll you be waking with tomorrow.
Mama, you’re just on my mind.

I’m not askin’ you to say words like yes or no.
Please, understand me.
I have no place I’m callin’ you to go.
I’m just whispering to myself so I can’t pretend that I don’t know.
Mama, you been on my mind.

When you wake up in the mornin’ baby look inside your mirror.
You know I won’t be next to you. You know I won’t be near.
I’d just be curious to know if you can see yourself as clear
As someone who has had you on his mind.

This is one of my all-time favorite Dylan songs. It provides a rich and moving glimpse into a relationship that is at a “crossroads”– forced to pivot into a new phase by some unnamed force. It’s a love song that is not cut from a clean template. It’s not about love sought or love achieved or love betrayed or any of those timeless motifs that abound across musical genres. It’s about something subtler and more complicated. It’s about a love that burns but does not consume; love required to exist in ambiguity.

To my mind, the song is doubly tender– tender in its show of affection, and tender in its show of restraint.

Dylan doesn’t say “I need you” or “you complete me” or “baby come back” or anything like that. Instead he sings “I’m not asking you to say words like yes or no, please understand me / I have no place I’m calling you to go … Mama, you’re just on my mind.” It’s a kind of half-hearted resignation. It’s both childish and mature, and ultimately just genuine. And beautiful and tragic.

It’s a song about love that should be acknowledged but not manifested for the time being. It’s about love that should be seen but not touched, like a painting. A song about love differed. I have long been enchanted with the way the words fall together in every verse, and the honest, instantly intimate scene they create.

Taking a stab at data mining Dylan

We know that the freewheelin’ Bob Dylan rambled and roamed all across the United States. He grew up bored and cold in the mining town of Hibbing, Minnesota. When he learned that his musical idol, Woody Guthrie, was on his death bed, he made a pilgrimage to NYC in hopes of seeing Guthrie in the hospital. Once he was in New York, Dylan hung around Greenwich Village for a while, soaking up new musical and lyrical styles from that 1960’s creative hub. He recorded an album, got himself famous, and went on to travel all over the US and the world.

We know he went lots of places. But which places did he sing about? To answer that question, I made a tentative foray into text mining with Python and its web scraping/ natural language processing modules, then mapped the results with Carto.com. Here’s the result, so far:

Continue reading “Taking a stab at data mining Dylan”

Notes on Forming a Bandana in College

Excerpts from my diary, on the process of forming a bandana in college:

January 14, 2015
I was in a bandana for a while back in high school, but then I graduated and I guess we just sort of went our separate ways. I imagined getting into a bandana again once I started college, but I’ve had trouble finding one that really suits me. None of the bandanas around here are really my style, ya know? Oh well.

February 8, 2015
A friend of mine pointed out that I don’t have to wait around until I stumble upon my dream bandana– I could form my own from scratch! I think this is a great idea. I already put an ad up on Craigslist, and made posters to hang on bulletin boards around campus:

College student looking for some dedicated, yet laid back fellas to help me form a bandana! I already own most of the necessary equipment… just need a few bandana mates willing to meet a couple times a week and make this thing happen. Call me!

Exciting stuff!

Continue reading “Notes on Forming a Bandana in College”

Love Is [Poem]

love is admiration
of the essence
of another

at best, it inspires —
compels you to contort
like a vine, twisting and turning
as it climbs to new heights

love is always a delusion
but it’s a healthy, vital delusion
like optimism
like purpose
like self

The Insult and Absurdity of ‘Make America Great Again’

A "Make America great again" hat.

Of the many dangerous untruths espoused by the Trump campaign, perhaps none was so flagrant as the one embedded right in the campaign’s central promise, “Make America Great Again.” That phrase seemingly asks us to recall a period when the United States still offered freedom and prosperity to all– when the American Dream was alive and well, unmarred by today’s excesses of bad regulation, Washington elitism, and so-called “political correctness.” But when was that time? When was America great?1

  • Was America great in 1917, when President Wilson asked congress for a declaration of war against Germany, asserting “we are glad [to fight] … for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples? 1917, when suffragist Alice Paul was being force-fed raw eggs through a tube in the psychopathic ward of the DC District Jail, for the grave offense of suggesting women should be allowed to vote?2
  • Was America great in 1962, when President Kennedy rallied support for the audacious national effort to land a man on the moon? 1962, when US troops plodded through puddles in Vietnam, burning the huts of the rural poor, and Americans were “faced with the cruel irony” Dr. King would later remark “of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools?”

The United States has harbored an abundance of great ideas, great individuals, and great moments. But they have always existed in tandem with profound and unconscionable violence, oppression, and anguish. Moreover, the freedoms and liberties of American life have always fallen disproportionately on the white, the male, the straight, and the wealthy, while the nation’s crimes and atrocities have always fallen disproportionately on the black and brown, the non-straight, the female-bodied, and the poor. For these reasons and more, we cannot nostalgically label as “great” any period of American history.

Continue reading “The Insult and Absurdity of ‘Make America Great Again’”

Make New Humans (A Meiosis Song)

For my genetics class, we were tasked with reviewing meiosis and then producing evidence of our review. To that end, I give you: “Make New Humans (A Meiosis Song).”

Lyrics:

Double-stranded DNA
Gets undone by helicase
But you don’t really care about interphase, now do you?
The subject here is meiosis
The first prophase the cytokinesis
The process by which we make new humans

Make new humans [x4]

Well mitosis works pretty well
For cloning autosomal cells
But if you want real evolution, baby, it just won’t do you.
But imagine if during anaphase
Cohesin kept the chromatids in place,
So homologous chromosomes were the ones split by microtubules

Microtubules [x4]

Now when you’re making up haploid cells
Independent assortment is swell
If you wanna guarantee your progeny don’t look just like you
But why not pick up even more variation?
Through interchromosomal recombination
“Crossing over” helps us make new humans

Make new humans [x4]

[For lyrics with chords, click here].

Little Differences: Some Observations from Europe

In an iconic scene from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, John Travolta’s character (Vincent) says to Samuel L. Jackson’s character (Jules) “you know what the funniest thing about Europe is?… It’s the little differences. A lotta the same shit we got here, they got there, but there they’re a little different.” Many of the Europeans I have met know the exchange by heart.

JULES Examples?

VINCENT Well, in Amsterdam, you can buy beer in a movie theatre. And I don’t mean in a paper cup either. They give you a glass of beer, like in a bar. In Paris, you can buy beer at MacDonald’s. Also, you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?

JULES They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?

VINCENT No, they got the metric system there, they wouldn’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.

JULES What’d they call it?

VINCENT Royale with Cheese (…) you know what they put on french fries in Holland instead of ketchup?

JULES What?

VINCENT Mayonnaise.

JULES Goddamn!

Continue reading “Little Differences: Some Observations from Europe”

Travel Update

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN — Today marks exactly 100 days of traveling in Europe. I’ve been backpacking alone, taking classes, and spending time with family. I cycled through Amsterdam and hitchhiked through the Highlands. I learned Swedish folks songs in Uppsala and sailing fundamentals in Norfolk. I swam in the Gulf of Finland (saunaed for warmth) and in the Sound of Raasay (drank whisky for warmth.) I caught free jazz in Copenhagen, Dresden and Hamburg. I got to see an ecovillage in Scotland (and help out in the kitchen) and a refugee aid operation in France (and help out in the kitchen.) I made a bunch of mistakes and handful friends. I’m grateful, grateful, grateful.

Hey, here’s a map of where I slept for the past 100 nights.

What next? Now I’m in Gothenburg, Sweden, embarking on an internship with a small, clean-tech startup company. Next term I’ll go back to school.

From London, With Love [Poem]

I walk in London
Among immense, impossible
spirals of glass, and fantastic, slanting
protrusions of office-bearing stone
Impressive testaments to the city’s ingenuity, modernity
–Or, rather, its wealth

Magnificent, ostentatious temples
like those of Ancient Greeks and Egyptians before

Power symbols of the rich
containing the misery of the poor

When will we learn to wear simple clothes?

When will we measure the strength of a society
Not by the grandeur of its elements
But by the scarcity of its pain?

In thinking of future cities
We must let our imaginations pan down
from the flying cars and floating gardens
of tomorrow’s magnificent skyline
To the darkest, most neglected part of town
– Is it safe there?

[Click here to read as PDF]

Suggested Grammatical Conventions for Leftists, Progressives, and Radicals

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once wrote “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” I would submit the corollary claim: “We mean what we say, so we must be very careful about what we say.” The way we use language reflects and informs how we think. Thus, I propose a few grammatical conventions to be adopted by those with leftist, progressive, and radical inclinations.

1. Refrain from capitalizing “american” and other nationalities.

The rise of Donald Trump, among other world events, suggests a resurgence of WWII-era nationalism; wasn’t “Make Germany Great Again” Hitler’s campaign slogan? It was no good then and it’s no good now! De-capitalize, de-emphasize, de-nationalize! Be proud of your country, but not too proud. Celebrate what’s good and criticize what’s bad. See yourself primarily as a citizen of the world, no more/less important than anyone else, and no more/less deserving of safety, dignity, freedom, and respect. (Eg. “My name is Dustin and I’m an american living on Earth.”) 

2. Exercise caution when using “we.”

“We” is a multifaceted pronoun that can be evoked (implicitly and explicitly) in a variety of forms. The collective we can be a powerful tool for generating feelings of solidarity and resilience within a community, and should be considered correct under the radical-grammatical framework (Eg. “We shall overcome” as a slogan of the american civil rights movement).

The national we, however, tends to impose a sanitized collective history and a simplistic collective will over a hugely diverse group of people, thereby erasing many individual’s narratives and needs. For example, in resigning from the 2016 Presidential race, Ted Cruz echoed a conventional claimthat “we were founded on… [the idea] that each of us have a right to find and use our god given gifts, a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” In reality, of course, america’s founding slaveholders (to use Nathan Schneider’s term) made pallid efforts to extend such rights to most americans– namely those without property, white skin, a penis, or any combination thereof.1 Thus, this usage is not grammatically-radically correct and should be avoided. Continue reading “Suggested Grammatical Conventions for Leftists, Progressives, and Radicals”

On “Permanent Revolution”

Karl Marx famously evoked the term “permanent revolution” in urging the disenfranchised working-class to rise up against their capital-owning oppressors. He was beseeching those suffering under the nascent system of industrial production to mount a sustained resistance against capitalist exploitation, and never settle for a compromise that made life slightly more tolerable but failed to alter the underlying power dynamic of their time.1

Things are different now– at least in much of the global north. The lines between ‘proletariat’ and ‘bourgeois’ are more ambiguous. Factory work has largely been replaced with service work and knowledge work. Many people now experience some degree of sovereignty and pleasure towards their jobs, even if they are not CEOs. Moreover, technological change has brought many comforts and securities to huge masses of people that were largely or entirely unattainable in the past.

Under these conditions, the notion of revolution may sound unpleasant and undesirable. The word might conjure up images of 18th century French revolutionaries beheading politicians, or Cuban revolutionaries ousting Batista through guerrilla warfare. Even poor Americans–living paycheck to paycheck, working multiple minimum wage jobs– are unlikely to desire that kind of revolution.

The fact is that revolution does not always need to be violent. But it does need to occur. Continually.

Continue reading “On “Permanent Revolution””

Unpacking Dutch Tolerance

AMSTERDAM– In the two weeks I spent in the Netherlands, I repeatedly encountered the Dutch vocab word “gedogen.” This cherished verb– which one pronounces by issuing a flem-clearing throat rasp at the appearance of each ‘g’– roughly means “to tolerate.” It describes a kind of pragmatic tolerance, often expressed to me as ‘turning a blind eye’ or ‘seeing it through the fingers.’

It can be used to describe minor, everyday occurrences and major policy positions alike. For example, when a classmate of mine asked if he could eat his apple in the public library, and the librarian replied “No… But I won’t see it,” she gedogd it. The term is also evoked to describe the Netherland’s (restricted) decriminalization of prostitution, soft drug use (including marijuana), and the use of euthanasia for assisted suicide. As Yasha Lange explained in a 2001 article published on BBC News, these activities are permitted because the government believes they will occur regardless of their legality, but pose a lesser threat to individuals and society as a whole if they occur openly instead of in the shadows. Pragmatic tolerance. Gedogen.

In the optimistic understanding of this term, gedogen alludes to an admirable tradition of respecting difference within the Netherlands. That is to say, the concept of gedogen both reflects and reproduces various forms of tolerance, including tolerance of religious difference, artistic expression, sexual orientation, and more. Gedogen becomes a banner flying high above the country that reads ‘everyone welcome’ and illuminates the Netherlands as an uncommonly progressive nation.  Continue reading “Unpacking Dutch Tolerance”

Encountering Amsterdam: First Impressions, People, and Bikes

AMSTERDAM – Hello from Holland, this strange and exciting land renowned for its windmills and waterways, its tulips and tolerance, its pot, pedal-power, and prostitution. The language is Dutch, the currency is the Euro, and the affordable home goods & grocery chain of choice is Hema. Waffles are ubiquitous, ordering “beer” usually means ordering “Heineken,” and fries are by-default served with a hearty dollop of mayonnaise.

I arrived in here on Wednesday June 15th and spent two nights in a youth hostel in Noordjwik. I briefly explored Leiden and Rotterdam, then came to Amsterdam to embark on a two-week urban studies program offered through the University of Amsterdam (UvA) titled “Amsterdam Creative City: Media, Art and Urban Culture.

Houses on the canal in Amsterdam
Houses on the canal

Continue reading “Encountering Amsterdam: First Impressions, People, and Bikes”