Category Archives: Culture

Paper vs. plastic

I was eating some yogurt while reading a book.  And I wondered: why is it that we put food, meant to be stored for only a few weeks at most, in a plastic container that will last at least 100,000 years, whereas we put words, transmitters of all our culture, on thin strips of pulped wood that will last a few decades at best?

A homely enough question.

The answer?

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I think Nagai would have approved of The Road

Doubtless Nagai Kafu was being sarcastic in his envisioned movie plot, but I think he would have approved of Cormac McCarthy’s earthshattering uber-post-apocalyptic The Road being made into a film.  After many long delays, it is evidently set for US release on November 25, according to Imdb.  Evidently they’ve hewed closely to the plot, meaning the movie has a chance to follow in the book’s footsteps and become possibly the darkest and finest production of the 21st century. cmccarthy_theroad

The trailer seems to indicate as much.  I was stunned into a state of despondency by the book, yet I immediately turned back to Page 1 to re-read.  Anticipating the movie, I’ve never been excited to be made so gloriously unhappy.

Technical difficulties prevent me from embedding the trailer in this post.  You can watch it here.

The kids are alright

People worry a lot about how kids today are _(insert worrying term here)___.  I don’t.  They’ll muddle their way through, just like we’re doing, most of them getting in line like everyone else, some being more interesting.   Most will quietly embrace the pieties they were raised on; some will rebel for a while before doing so; a few will chart whole new ways of doing things.  Just like in every other generation before or since.   And so the world will spin on.  Hell, don’t worry about the kids.  They’re alright.

Sidenote: I’ll never understand how this could be the same group that produced that war crime against vinyl “Behind Blue Eyes.”  Classic schlock rock at its very worst, to which I was subjected to endless hours of while working various summers with oldheads about the same age then as I am now … guess these kids didn’t quite turn out alright.

There goes that theory.

The twittification of America ushers in a golden era of aphorisms?

I wonder if all this twittifying is going to cause hordes of people to perfect their little statements into gems of intent, meaning, clarity? As in Nietzsche and La Rochefoucauld and Marcus Aurelius and Oscar Wilde?  I don’t tweet myself but I’ve seen enough of them to be hopeful.  A legion of master aphorists: wouldn’t be a bad legacy for American culture to leave.

Interesting, isn’t it, that owing to their ephemeral online nature, you “see” a tweet, not “read” it.

Working with your hands a-ok?

In one of my earliest blog posts, I speculated that the best way to get by in life is to get a trade.  You know, something like carpentry or computers that allowed me to get by while leaving plenty of time and mental space to pursue my real interest, writing. I’m still looking.

Get thee to medical and / or law school, young man.

Screw the post office.

The great philosopher Spinoza, who inspired this blog in name and substance, set the template.  He was a lens grinder, a pretty high-end trade in the 1600s.

Later on I read that Faulkner advised much the same thing: since there is no space in American culture for writers, he said, you need a trade.  So be a doctor or a lawyer.   Faulkner himself had a brief stint as a postmaster.  He didn’t last long.  For some solid reasons:

I reckon I’ll be at the beck and call of folks with money all my life, but thank God I won’t ever again have to be at the beck and call of every son of a bitch who’s got two cents to buy a stamp.

Now the New York Times is getting in the act.  Matthew B. Crawford, holder of a Phd in Political Science from the U of Chicago, has taken up motorcycle repair as a vocation.

The trades suffer from low prestige, and I believe this is based on a simple mistake. Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid. This is not my experience. I have a small business as a motorcycle mechanic in Richmond, Va., which I started in 2002. I work on Japanese and European motorcycles, mostly older bikes with some “vintage” cachet that makes people willing to spend money on them. I have found the satisfactions of the work to be very much bound up with the intellectual challenges it presents. And yet my decision to go into this line of work is a choice that seems to perplex many people.

He goes on to enumerate the various dignities to be associated with getting your hands dirty for a living (“I once accidentally dropped a feeler gauge down into the crankcase of a Kawasaki Ninja … When finally I laid my fingers on it, I felt as if I had cheated death.”) as contrasted with the indignities of the cubicle experience:

Managers learn the art of provisional thinking and feeling, expressed in corporate doublespeak, and cultivate a lack of commitment to their own actions. Nothing is set in concrete the way it is when you are, for example, pouring concrete.

Insert Zen and the Art of blah blah blah joke here

Insert Zen and the Art of blah blah blah joke here.

Crawford has thought about this a lot.  He’s  written a book about it. Upshot: we can’t all be motorcycle mechanics, but we can re-evaluate the value of real, hands-on work.  Given our current woes, the field for productive labor looks wide open.

He’s right, of course.  There is an inherent dignity in actual work, the kind that sees you projects progress on the power of your own hands, solving problems, getting cuts and bruises and the job done.  But.  I’ve dabbled in various trades, most recently farmwork since I’ve been back in the purple state.  And the main thing I’ve learned is that I don’t want to to keep on doing them for a living.

Maybe the article failed to resonate because I loathe all forms mechanics.  (The work, not the people.  Good mechanics are miracleworkers in my opinion, or at least wizards.)  I don’t like engines, and they can’t stand me.  For the most part we’ve agreed to stay away from each other.  It’s better that way.

I should have attended.

But I’ve also been about as far from the workshop as you can get in the trades, working as a surveyor.  Yes, surveying in property lines on a remote Wyoming ranch is pretty cool.  But standing at a tripod for hours in a frozen field in the middle of a Colorado January is not only a pretty good recipe for frostbite, but also leads to high likelihood of job dissatisfaction.

So I’m still looking for the ideal trade to get a living for my family and get some good writing done.  Narrowing it down somewhat, I think, but with all due respect to Mr. Crawford, I don’t intend to be shopping for mechanic’s jumpsuits any time soon.

gThe trades suffer from low prestige, and I believe this is based on a simple mistake. Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid. This is not my experience. I have a small business as a motorcycle mechanic in Richmond, Va., which I started in 2002. I work on Japanese and European motorcycles, mostly older bikes with some “vintage” cachet that makes people willing to spend money on them. I have found the satisfactions of the work to be very much bound up with the intellectual challenges it presents. And yet my decision to go into this line of work is a choice that seems to perplex many people.

Of National Malls and mule tracks

A couple weeks ago I spent about 6 hours in our nation’s capital, taking in the sights.  Let me tell you: you’d have to be one serious America-hater not to be moved by the Lincoln Memorial.  In Japan they say you should ascend to the top of Mount Fuji at least once in your life.  In America you should climb to the feet of Abe.

To say nothing of the Vietnam Wall and the Korean War Memorial.  Memorials to the men who paid the ultimate price to get democracy’s dirty work done.

But step away from the marble and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in a run-down county fairground. Sure, you get your postcard shot:

Note rusting wildlife fence.  Secret Service budget cuts, too?

Note wildlife fence.

But not even two blocks from where BHO holds the fate of the world in his sinewy hands, you find what appears to be a mule track:

Infrastructure.

Infrastructure.

I’m going to refrain from drawing any symbolic conclusions.  Do draw your own if you’d like, though.

And we haven’t even gotten to the National Mall.  Its shabbiness really is disgraceful.  In the rare places you can find grass it’s about to be devoured by dandelions and all of it looks like it hasn’t been mowed any time in ought-nine.

It's not even this nice.

It's not even this nice.

I’m told stimulus money is on the way to pretty the place up.  Let’s hope so.  As it stands I’d rather let the scioness run and play in the city park of Phanat Nikhom, Thailand than the National Mall.

UPDATE:  Well, look at this: Mall to get millions for park renovation package.  How did they know back on 23 April that I was going to write this post on 15 May?  Democracy in action!