Monday, November 27, 2006

making ordinary things ordinary

Why can't things just be made in an ordinary way anymore?

Why the death of appliances in favor of more complicated lives?

As I look into buying a new computer this Winter, most of my search is consumed with everything but the computer. Warranty, customer support, security, software...blah blah blah. For my computer to be any use to me for any length of time, I have to become enmeshed in all of this other crap. I have to be willing to give up some measure of my freedom, my peace of mind, my personal preference and always my anonymity.

And that's what they want.

Products don't just do what they do anymore. Ownership isn't a simple good faith transaction. Purchasing is merely the entry point into the global consumer network. It is the hook to reel you in.

When I seek to own, I am allowing others to have some ownership over my future life; in a very direct way, ownership of my identity and credit information; indirectly, onwership over my future buying decisions as I am steered by keeping my "stuff" current and usable while the market creates obsolescence pressure.

Electronics, clothing, food...all of these products offer the same lure.

Everytime I see a new housing development go up with a strip mall with the same stores and the same products, I see the power of being a participant in brand and ownership. In the macro, the companies I lend my business to turn those dollars toward ways of reducing competition, edging out smaller, local, independent producers and then ultimately telling me what products I will buy and at what price once the market is devoid of competitors.

The title of this post is taken from a William Gibson blog of this weekend. Making ordinary things ordinary is all about having to make choices to have ordinary things in one's life. And having to make an extraordinary effort to have that lifestyle.

It is all one, whether we are talking about eating locally to preserve a culture and lifestyle of local, artisinal foods and growers, or we are talking about buying a shirt that is made by someone whose goal is to make a shirt as it should be, not to make a simulacra of a shirt as cheaply and quickly as can be.

That may seem like an abstract idea until we step back and question what it means to savor a great meal or luxuriate in a soft fabric. When we step back and ask those questions about what kind of life experiences are satisfying, then we can start making conscious choices about how to enable them.

Here is what Gibson has to say and then follow the link to read about Loopwheeler shirts. The idea of them is very attractive. And I imagine the effort to own them, costly.

posted 3:39 PM

I've never seen a Loopwheeler sweatshirt, but this tour of their manufacturing process has me sold.

Such a perfectly simple philosophy, yet how difficult (indeed, how splendidly impractical) it is to actually produce such "ordinary" things. But "ordinary" in this sense means something like "the things of which most other things have become simulacra". Almost all denim jeans, for instance, are now simulacra of "ordinary" denim jeans, which have become almost impossible to find (as new product). The simulacra-ization of jeans now means that the "distressing" process (faking the result of "ordinariness" + wear) probably takes longer than the actual manufacturing, something I find quite spooky. The downside of making something in the "ordinary" way is that the "ordinary" product winds up being quite expensive, by virtue of how genuinely difficult it is to make -- though still not as expensive as high-end "designer" products that we're expected to pay a great deal for by virtue of their supposed remarkable unordinariness. Yet the "ordinary" garment invariably possesses a higher literal unordinariness quotient. The odds of your finding the "ordinary" at the mall are nil, and there aren't even any Loopwheeler products on eBay today (I just checked).

Thursday, November 09, 2006

was i just talking about engagement?

The other day I was talking about engagement with neoconservatives.

This, from Senator Barak Obama, is more along the same lines.

...You can have the best agenda in the world, but if you don’t control the gavel you cannot move an agenda forward. And, when you do control the gavel, not only can you move an agenda forward but you can actually [move them]. I constantly see opportunities for collaboration across ideological lines to get stuff done. But you have to be the one who’s dictating how the compromises work. If it’s somebody who’s not interested in compromising who’s in charge, you can come up with all sorts of good ideas, and they’ll stiff you. If you’re the person who somebody else has to come to, you can actually engage, and that’s how, for example, we got the death-penalty reform. We set up the first videotaping of interrogations and confessions on capital cases. We were in the majority at that point, but I still reached out to all the law-enforcement folks, and we just sat down in a room. And that is, by the way, the most gratifying feeling in politics, for me: when you hit that sweet spot where everybody concludes that the law that we’ve just passed works and is going to make things better, and everybody across party lines has to confess that we’re probably better off with this thing than not...

So, I am not averse to reaching out to the fallen in political dialogue. As long as the gavel is in my hand, I at least can ensure fair debate.

Beliefs are beliefs, but what you believe about process is the difference-maker. If you believe in good-faith process that enables the best decision, the best law and the best government to emerge fairly, then you are in my way of thinking.

My hope for the Democratic Party is they won't run away from that idea. It is part of why they puff up with superiority, but it is also what makes hope in the political process possible. If both parties veer toward cynical governance, then 'the terrorists have won' as people are wont to say these days.

flattery: don't export your best peaches

If you haven't figured it out by now, I do my best work when I am simply plagiarizing someone else' best work.

Or, if I am feeling not particularly lazy, I will use it as my canvas or reflecting pool. My own thoughts emerge take shape in social co-generation, so when blogging I just pretend these other amazing people are having a conversation with me.

Since they are pretending that I am in the audience when they write, I consider it a fair exchange.

My friend Patti over at 37days was talking about "don't export your best peaches."

And it reminded me of Sarah Hempel's blogging on eating locally.

In a literal way, eating locally is about tasting the goodness from your area instead of buying things imported from others. It is a goodness and it promotes many goodnesses.

Not exporting your best peaches is about cultivating goodness and beauty where you are. And learning to appreciate what is around you. Same themes.

For my own part, I love hand-made food. There is a pride and joy in making it. One controls the ingredients. And the sharing of it is a personal act of giving. I am giving you the vessel of my creativity, my skill and my caring.

Taste is more about scent and memory than it is about salt, sour, sweet, bitter and umami. Eating is more than simply about buying and swallowing.

Our sense of smell gives meaning to the combinations that flow over our taste buds. And our sense of place and communion gives us affiliation and belonging.

Eating good and well and locally becomes a celebration of who we are. (Try eating in any part of France or Italy without getting a dose of that!)

So value good food, give your patronage to purveyors of good food and lay your table with good food.

This Thanksgiving, remember that as we come together around good food.

And don't forget to brine your bird using the Martha Stewart 2004 recipe. With local carrots, onion, and celery it is a very. good. thing.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

let's conspire...

"My life,
You electrify my life,
Let’s conspire to,
Ignite all the souls,
that would die just to feel alive."

– Lyrics from the song “Starlight” by Muse

A ha, once more jer, uh...ME! is writing a paper for school. At some point I imagine I'll need to publish this stuff because I am becoming less enamored with laborious citation et al.

If there is irony in this life, I am in its clutches as I try to describe innovative thought in a constrained, ill-matched structurally, standardized sort of way.

I think I am actually losing my mind over it as I try to let my thoughts take wing while reigning them in and losing the essential point in the cramming of square pegs.

Alas. We all have such burdens. At least I am grappling with this one instead of a dull half-life without challenge.

That was supposed to make me feel better. :?p

I put up the Muse lyric above because it is the soul of what I am writing about with diversity councils and full-membership and action-orientation and representation and a million other details that are their own versions of bringing icarus back down to earth.

At the heart of this diversity thing, I am really just trying to be the co-conspirator to help electrify the lives of others and ignite passion.

Maybe I'll go down this musical path a ways as I get into my thesis. Seems like music strikes more deeply and quickly than just about anything else (chocolate excluded). How to bring it into the delivery of core feelings and attitudes around interculturalism. Hmm. I've got some reading and some listening to do...

Friday, November 03, 2006

bailing on the prez

Neo Culpa

I found this article interesting for its direct interviews of neo-cons and their reflections on the defining neo-con event: Iraq.

Now, there's a lot to say on all sides of this and plenty of blame to share. They tend to lay it all at the feet of the prez and their own participation attains more of a stupified, "how did it go wrong?" air.

If you follow my political grumblings, you know my leanings. I think many of this crowd were the ones pushing pushing pushing, then trusting someone else would make it work. That same quality describes, I think, ideological thinking in general. It pushes, but it doesn't dwell on the mechanics.

These folks had big ideas lofty ones, in some ways moral ones if you just squinted hard enough, then averted your gaze while they ramrodded them through without the least whiff of moral compunction.

Some of the ideas themselves are interesting if one could 'just make them work' to paraphrase Kenneth Adelman.

What I want to know is - is redemption possible? On a human level, can people see the light? Can the cast down, once arrogant neo-cons apply themselves in different ways going forward? (or for that matter are they really once-arrogant, or is this some form of acting?)

These are arguably still people of some intelligence, with insights and perspectives. A great deal of collective experience. And with some scars. They could be cast away and relegated. That is certainly deserved. Or maybe there's some tempered wisdom. Some alchemical quality that is only attained by pride and fall that leaves one better able to see than even those who held a different, somewhat vindicated perspective.

Hard to say and hard for me to say. I've been selfishly wishing for them to get their comeuppance. But now that it is nigh, the other part of me still says the best way is to meet in the middle of the idea arena and bring along the God-like apprehension of Hamlet.

Are they really chastened? And can the chastened learn and accept being welcomed back into the area by onetime adversaries? Javert couldn't do it.

What interesting and thoughtful works we do do if redemption were possible and ego would accept it.

But I fear the modern political machine and the pride of the powerful will continue to keep people apart. Pride and humility do not go often together.

Well, I hope "my side" uses their time in the sun to take their ideas out for a spin. Maybe they will work a little better.

But I still think all ideas should go into the arena and be considered in good faith. (that's the little faith in or goodwill toward others today)

And in the end, that is what a big part of being a liberal means to me.