Today, I went to do some work back at my undergraduate alma mater
Columbia up in Manhattan’s upper west side. I was able to work and get online at my favorite library of all time and place, east asian staaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrr library. It is one of Columbia’s best kept secrets because they have yet to card for Columbia ID so that anyone, like me can go. And now they are on the wirless grid at Columbia which is far and extensive. So, if you need some quiet time to do work in a really magical space, pay a visit but keep it quiet to keep this one of NYC best kept secrets…
Today, I went to do some work back at my undergraduate alma mater
I am back in the place where I first lived in the US after moving away from Puerto Rico–> NYC. A wonderful time of year to be here (it actually smells wonderful!), I am here for my friend Lisa’s wedding and just to kick back and see some friends. Today Micah and I met up with Mako to hang and so we could work some in person on a paper that we have been working on via IRC in the last couple of weeks. We also met up with his friend Greg who is one of the few techie and lawyer type folks. He has written a paper on the legal history of UNIX which I am incredibly excited to read. We ate some really delicious and “out of this world” food at galaxy. Grasshopper, eel, bubbly cous cous, lemon chutney, crazy bok choy, and the divine plantain. The gluten-free options were everywhere! My type of place.
It probably sounds like I am beating a dead horse saying this but it is so nice seeing IRC friends in person. Even though I have not seen Mako in like 8 months, the pretty constant online interaction made it seem like we saw each other… yesterday. Perhaps it is because we did. And it is I and the collective “we” that has to really let go of seeing IRC as this sort of non-place.
I better get back to the paper and then to sleep. Those red eyes flights are nice on the wallet, killer on the body.
There are times when you know that your “work” is done. As most know, I came
to do fieldwork in San Francisco on free software and as part of the
fieldwork gig, I interned at the EFF for a year.
The EFF folks there are fine, fine people: freedom loving folks that work
hard on many different fronts to ensure the cyber-rights we all love to
have and have to love.
But all along, I knew that something was missing from their lives. I mean
how could you love and work so hard for freedom when you have never tasted
the sweet liberation that is karaoke?
Finally, my mission here in SF has been accomplished. The proverbial “They”
say that an anthropologist always changes the people/society/culture that
she studies and this has formed some substantial and .”right on” critiques
as well as understanding of the fallacy of true objectivity. And indeed sometimes
an anthropologist and the knowledge produced by academic studies can change things for
the worse, but other times, she can clearly changes things for the better.
Like I did last night. I can now leave SF in peace.
For nearly a year I have been telling the EFF crew to get out there, come to
the finest karaoke in San Francisco and finally, they came to their
And let me tell you, I, a seasoned karaoke-goer, was impressed. The finesse,
the heart, the soul, the rhthms were just sinister. But sinister in that
good, deep, spiritually revealing sort of way. And I know they were hooked.
Some spoke of “a next time.” Yes, a next time because as
always, karaoke hooks, draws you in, no matter your age, background,
culture, emotional temperament, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs.
Why the strong pull, the gravitational allure of a seemingly benign form of entertainment?
It was an EFF employee, John, who summed up the power, the true transformative power of
this art form: “karaoke is “laundry for the ego.”
Yes, you have to toss theego away to get up there in front of peers, friends, strangers, and other karaoke-goers and sing songs by Journey, Vanilla Ice, and the Clash. The Ego
just has to vanish as you pound on the floor, play air guitar, and belt out
horrible cheesy tunes. You realize that everything you thought about yourself (that you are really an eduring you), melts like sweet butter on warm toast as you take the persona in play of someone else. The relativity of self,the source of emptimess, the reality of change and process comes to life
as you stare at the screen and become one with the microphone.
I am sure if karaoke had been around the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, the
Buddha would have used the “method of karaoke” as a technique to overcome our
ego attachment. He would have ‘roaked under the Indian night sky and stars,
next to bodhi tree and then would have integrated karaoke sining, in public
of course, as part of ones monkly duties to release the self from the cycle of
rebirth and to alleviate the suffering of all humankind.
It is at once a practice of wisdom (of realization of non ego) and
compassion (as it is a gift to others, the gift of making a fool of
yourself, or letting go of our pride in public). Yes, Karaoke is the
inseparability of the wisdom that is compassion.
I can’t really know what the nitty-gritty experience of imprisonment is really like. The endless days confined in a small dreary space knowing that there is no escape, no matter what one does. I felt like I had a taste, a small nibble, of what what a spirit breaking experience imprisonment is yesterday when I finally left San Francisco for an all day hike at the palomarin trail near Bolinas, in Marin. Well, of course the hike was the antithesis of confinement but the contrast to the normal hum-drum of my life as of late, made me realize that I have spent WAY too much time indoors lately, only going out for errands and socializing at night, basically not leaving the city since my snowshoeing expedition in February. After awhile, it comes to weigh on you.
This has been one of the longest periods that I have spent confined to one space: my room, metaphorically chained to my computer or bed. And on the one hand, my space, my so-called confinement is really luxurious and I have nothing to complain about. It is warm, large, sunny, safe, and secure. Yet it is relative too. If I am used to getting out, and heading in and through a completely different environment where the idea of walls is totally ludicrous, it makes me appreciate that space that I do spend the majority of my time in.
But it makes you realize what a luxury “movement” and “difference of experience” is. Sure there are parks in a city, green zones and spaces, but for one to get out of a city, it takes time, it costs money, and there are other cultural knowledge that comes with that territory.
And this hike was one of the most luxurious of day hikes that I have ever been on. There are not many hikes where different bodies of water (waterfalls, freshwater lakes, and the pacific ocean) merge over the course of 3 miles in what is an already a very diverse landscape with endless flora to admire (and for some on our expedition, fondle). And then to top it all off, there were some irresistible seals bobbing in the waves curiously ogling at the “land creatures” as we, or at least I, ogled them in total delight.
Part of the freedom of being outdoors, as you stare at the large rocks in the Pacific ocean as waves crash indiscriminately against then, is that you feel, part of the “All” of the world, a sort of connection that at once makes you insignificant (as you are just such a small bit of “da world”) but there is a huge liberatory satisfaction of being just a small part of it. It makes you realize that there is a nearly endless range of experiences that you can tap into and expand yourself out to even if momentarily which makes you appreciate your small place in this world. A small place that has the ability to change and move depending on your position, you orientation, your emotional disposition.
With confinement comes many things from boredom to lack of physical movement but one of the most troubling aspects is that it makes it much harder to connect with the wider world of humans, objects, and nature that makes one’s spirit feel insignificantly special.
So I was going to blog about some serious stuff like No Free Lunch which is this great org that is trying to get doctors to STOP the MADNESS of the relationship between drug companies (and all their freeeeeebies) and doctors. But instead I found something much more amusing to report being that it is so late at night. I knew there was a reason that yoda was such a peaceful dude. You see if only doctors would smoke more of the yerba and take less freebies from the drug companies, they would be much more pleasant to be around.
Sometimes as an anthropologist, I am envious of literature as a means to convey the worlds of meaning that we try to put forth in academic analysis. I just finished reading Drown by Junot Diaz/ which is on the “Domincan” immigrant experience, an experience that happens just as much on the soils of the DR as it does in the sordid neighborhoods that Diaz chillingly depicts in this collection of stories. Wives and children left behind in the DR are thrust just as much into the experience of migration and immigration as those that have already crossed into another supposed realm. It is another place, yet the similarities (like that “wedge” of avocado that accompanies lots of Dominican dishes which he so carefully marks) are endlessly different. The plate of sancocho with the wedge of avocado connects this world with that world but a disconnect is also still there. Though “fiction” they clearly stem from life experience and speak a million poignant words of the incredible, daunting, and often dire condition of being an immigrant, a condition that marks generations, genders, and different cultures. The book is simple but so very potent because it lets dark stories pregnant with emotions (that are rarely spoken and seen in the intercourse of real life but always really present) do the speaking instead of the intricacies of language. He brings us the depth of meaning and emotion that anthropologists try to arrive at in our fieldwork and often do. But then I feel we lose a lot of that richness when we have to force it under an academic facade. Literature bypasses that veneer of “academic analysis” and lets the reader plunge right in and swim away… Or in this case, drown, as the title suggests.
One of the the things that I liked the most about the book is that the stories did not unfold chronologically. Some of the first ones were from the period of childhood in the DR, then the stories moved to the States, and then future stories brought the reader back in time to the past with different characters. “Molding Experiences That Never Leave You” that is what Diaz writes of, which though very culturally specific, still hold universal questions. They never leave a person even if they are “left” in the past. They come back always and it this return that Diaz captures well.
Last night I saw a movie about the Black Panther Chicago chapter leader Fred Hamptom, “The Murder of Death Hamptom” by Mike Gray. The movie was mostly raw footage of the rawness in its best form that was the personal vibrancy of Fred Hamptom and the rawness in its worst form that was his murder by the Chicago police department as part of a larger FBI conspiracy.
The movie which was basically a lot of footage without any narration captured what was most unique about Fred Hamptom. He seemed to be everything at once and it was in his conversations and speeches in which that everythingness came to be. He was witty, biting, sarcastic, endearing, angry, compassionate, confrontational, engaging, very humane, and a revolutionary all at the same time. I guess that is pure charisma a pure power that scared the daylights out of US intelligence.
Organic food is good. It tastes better, it is more ecologically sustainable, it is healthier, and you can generally feel good about yourself when you buy and eat organic. But do you feel good about yourself when you buy organic food at the local “Safeway” market instead of the local cooperative?
So today I went to Safeway for the first time in like a year only to discover a large natural foods and products section with a diverse range of things like toilet paper made from recycled paper, colon cleansing herbs, gluten free grains, the token Amy’s frozen food dinners, and all sorts of weird organic teas.
I was a bit shocked to see all these products that I associated with coops, Whole Foods, and small health food stores in the monolith, big, bad, Safeway. Hell, the modern supermarket sucks. I think one of the more revolutionary acts would be to do away entirely with the supermarket. But I have to say that I am on the whole ok that Safeway carries these types of products because it exposes a whole other set of people to the powerful message contained within organic foods.
One of the large problemsof politics is preaching to the choir, something that worries seth quite a bit within his political world. I think it is one of the most fundamental problem of any sort of politics–> how to sing outside the choir. The problem is that most people don’t want to be sung to because it is not the song of their own choosing.
So one solution is reaching them via stealth mode. And it is this steathliness that I find important in the relatively large scale presence of organic/natural products at a mainstream market. It is in this way that people who have never really thought of going organic might be exposed to this world and in the process learn enough about it, to actually care so that they learn about the isssues surrounding large scale unorganic food production is all about. It is only when people learn and really viscerally care about something that then one can break out into some preachy tunes.
But in the end, I see it only as a possible stepping stone, in which people, through exposure are brought to greater consciousness about an issue and then go beyond the Safeway and into the coop. I know that for many in Safeway, having natural products will just be an added convenience and they will not switch out of the “supposed” safe zone of the supermarket which is really full of unsafe stuff. But I think it has the potential to reach a greater mass of people, a fraction of which will hopefully migrate over 3 blocks west and 2 blocks north to Rainbow, San Francisco’s worker owned food coop…
I get so stressed every year around tax time. It is not only season for coughing up $$$ to a government that you don’t believe in but also grant time and spring time so all you really want to do is be outside. Last year, my taxes were a nightmare: I had worked two jobs in two states and had two grants to account for, grants that had not withheld any money so I had to pay a lot. This year, with only a part of grant that was taxable, I had to pay the nice sum of $0 dollars. Given that my school’s health insurance was a whopping $1700 for the lousiest coverage in the world, I was relived that I was not giving more money that was going to nuthin. You see, I am not against taxes. But I am against what we use taxes for in this country, especially now. Surprise surprise.
Anyway, one chunk of my stress has vanished and now I have only like 2 or 3 more to go. I am soon leaving San Francisco and have so much to do before I head out to Puerto Rico where I will be living for three months (exciting!!!)
I doubt I will be updating the blog much as these days all I have been doing is sitting working on the computer and alternating with ill health that leaves me bed bound. I have drafted a pretty good dissertation outline which perhaps I should post here.
Of course, I have allowed for some entertainment in my life such as by watching some “good movies” like Old School. Yes is not one of those movies one raves about but like others in its genre (“Detroit Rock City,” “Dude, Where is My Car” “Road Trip”) it does not hold any pretense of being clever and it usually does the trick and makes me laugh….
Oh and thanks to Seth for help today and I think he is finally feeling better after a month long ear infection. Double yay!