Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A new(ish) way of considering Historic Preservation

I still have a blog, really!

Part of the reason I haven't been writing more is that I've become really really busy again. I've gone back to graduate school, this time for Historic Preservation. My girlfriend is trying grad school out for the first time; she's doing Architecture and working 16hr days, 7days/week. I don't know how she's doing it, but she is. Luckily, our programs are in the same building so we can eat lunch together.

Engaging with the philosophical and ethical aspects of Historic Preservation is somewhat new to me. My previous experiences have been practical/material, or legal/policy-related. However, a lot of the philosophical/ethical issues have been addressed in past classes I took on anthropology and museum studies, so this stuff is fairly comfortable, just not exciting.

Something that came up in a random research dive is the Ship of Theseus Paradox, or more simply the Theseus Paradox. In it's shortest form, the philosophical paradox reads:
"If an object composed of multiple parts gradually has its parts replaced over time, at what point does it cease to be the original object, and becomes a new object?"
I was absolutely gobsmacked that I had never encountered this concept in its named, simply-stated form, as I had been unwittingly been addressing this paradox since my first year of college! The first class I took as an undergraduate was called "Primitive Skills in the Modern World," where we demonstrated and discussed traditional skills like pottery, woodcarving, and hair-braiding to each other. My undergraduate adviser is a renowned expert in the making and throwing of stone-tipped spears, and he guided my senior research in non-synthetic, traditional adhesive recipes.

More after the jump...

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Fiona the hippo

The Cincinnati Zoo's social media strategy over the past year has been fascinating. Last year, the loss of their gorilla Harambe became so deeply viral that the Zoo was effectively unable to do anything online without being spammed or hacked.

Luckily, they've had some replacement news, now that "Team Harambe" has accomplished its goals of making people miserable before getting distracted.

Fiona, a Nile Hippopotamus, was born several weeks premature, but besides her medical care, her social media presence has been brilliantly managed by the zoo, with various multimedia being posted on a consistent basis on multiple websites, including her own http://cincinnatizoo.org/blog/2017/01/25/premature-hippo-baby-updates/

While being naturally photogenic (she loves to photobomb her mother), I think that her web presence has been brilliantly-managed.

Since hippos vulnerable to habitat loss/fragmentation as well as poaching, she and her parents are excellent spokeshippos for conservation in Africa as well!

While I wish I could've gotten a picture of myself with Fiona (probably the most famous Cincinnati resident right now), the line to see her up close was quite long, and she was hiding behind her mother.

But that's okay. As long as she's happy, and we all learn what matters most in life from her - enjoy your time with those you love, and to protect nature.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Anti-Utopianism (is this even the right term?)

In my last entry, I briefly mentioned my drifting away from Utopian idealism as I became an adult. Right now, I'm working to formulate a theory of anti-Utopian government. In my last blog entry, I said:
  • "As a youth, I was definitely a starry-eyed Utopian liberal, but have since seen the error of those ways. A perfect society cannot be created out of inherently-imperfect individuals. Instead, politics is an eternal contest between forces that adapt to each other, and everyone aligns themselves with those forces based on incomplete or false information."
I'm going to try and elaborate on that a bit more here.

Basically, every time someone thinks they have the way to create a perfect society, or return to an idealized previous social state, bad things happen. Much of the mass death of the past 100 years are due to Utopians of various stripes - Fascists, Communists, Nationalists, religious Fundamentalists, etc, etc.

Therefore, the best society is one that acknowledges the impossibility of perfection. Striving for an ideal state/State is worse than pointless, it's dangerous! Better would be something that is adaptable to changing circumstances, because nothing forms in a vacuum. Historically, governments are among the most static human institutions, as they are either based upon the decree of a ruler or a code of written laws. However, corporations, religious groups, and militias are increasingly running circles around government, siphoning resources away from the latter. What can be done?

I've read some pieces that seem to be stepping in the direction I'm looking for, but so far haven't found anyone that's out-and-out blasted Utopian thinking overall. Chuck Marohn and Steve Hilton seem to be going in the right direction, in that both advocate a nimble, responsive, bottom-up approach to governance, especially at the municipal level. However, I'm not sure if either of them are still caught up in the Utopian paradigm of free-market capitalism, i.e. that "the free market will solve problems," or that "government should be more like a private business." Remember Americans: market capitalism is not the natural state humans! It's an invention, just like weekends and banking!

Many historical dystopias arise out of an effort to create utopia. American society today could be argued to be a dystopia, a product of trying to create a capitalist utopia - see Kansas and other states going down the path of privatization, government shrinkage at all costs, etc.

What really got me into thinking about Anti-Utopianism was reading about the origins of Salafist Islam in Vali Nasr's The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future.
Salafi Islam is supposedly based around emulation of the "devout ancestors" (Salafim). How it was originally formulated as an Islamic response to modernity in the 19th century. The idea was to integrate a few of the "best" elements of "Western Civilization" with Islam's "original/purest" values
It was ultimately co-opted by Wahhabi Islam (the often-violent sect that the Saudis export everywhere), as returning to the "pure original" values came to mean Quranic literalism, wiping out folk beliefs, killing people who disagree with you, etc. If these things sound familiar, it's because it's another Utopian ideal, just like Communism, Fascism, and manifest destiny capitalism!

*Of course, I don't want to be caught stealing from the collective unconscious. So I'm doing research in my recently-copious spare time to see if these ideas really are that original, or whether I'm blinded by the myopia of specialization in only one cluster of intellectual disciplines, rather than being a Renaissance man. Of course, being a Renaissance Man is basically impossible these days, but whatever.

If anyone knows about anyone discussing such an impulse against Utopian idealism please let me know!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A new(er) world disorder

I've been sitting on this essay for a couple months. However, recent events provoked me into correcting it and posting it.
It's political, so avoid reading it if you don't care for that sort of thing. If you disagree with my opinions, that's fine too. Just don't embarrass yourself over it.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Mushroom gravy (vegetarian)

Honestly, I'm putting this up here so that I remember to use it again!

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1-lb. container of mushrooms, hacked to pieces
  • 1 normal onion, hacked to pieces
  • Several minced cloves of garlic, to taste.
  • 2 cups of water or vegetable stock (or reserved soaking water from dried mushrooms)
  • Liquid addition(s): can be Soy Sauce, Tamari, Worcestershire Sauce, or a similar source of concentrated savory flavor. This supplements the natural flavors of the mushroom.
  • Thickener: a tablespoon corn meal/starch, potato starch, or flour.

  1. Cook butter over medium-low heat until melted and the color starts to change.
  2. Toss in garlic, cooking until golden in color. 
  3. Toss in onion, spreading around the pan into a thin layer. Stir every minute or so until onion changes in color, or keep going for awhile until it caramelizes. If you want caramelization, it's over a quarter-hour of consistent stirring. 
  4. Toss in mushrooms once onion is a satisfactory color for you. Increase heat to medium-high, stir a tablespoon of Soy /Worcestershire/whatever sauce. Keep stirring until all liquid present evaporates, mushrooms dry out and change color. 
  5. Add the thickener plus enough water/stock to make a roux or slurry, then cook on medium until the thickener changes color. 
  6. Pour in the rest of the water/stock. Bring to boil, then simmer until liquid is reduced and feels thickened. Serve hot. 
This is really good with anything involving potatoes or other tubers. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

More on colleges and superhumans

A follow-up to my earlier entry on the Massachusetts Intercollegiate Mecha League.

At least since Jack Kirby and Stan Lee created the X-Men, a secluded private school for young superbeings has been a staple of the Superhero genre. The X-Men are located in Westchester County, New York, an affluent area north of NYC.

As a college student in rural Iowa, I considered that the many small liberal arts colleges that dot the Midwest would make excellent fictional settings for superhero stories. The Midwest has many virtues for such stories - a combination of centrality, proximity to major cities like Chicago and Minneapolis. Fairly flat terrain allows for a proving ground of various genre elements like super-speed, exotic vehicles, and human flight. After all, Superman is originally from rural Kansas.

Writing about a college with either an overt or covert school-within-a-school for supers would be pretty fun, especially if it combines with the typical hi-jinx associated with normal teenagers and disaffected twenty-somethings. Perhaps Hero High fits the bill? Or maybe the sillier GURPS I.O.U?

Underground training facilities and research labs lurking beneath the prairie soil is a must!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Part 2, I guess??

In the 1950's, we reached the point where a single individual could induce global catastrophe through atomic weapons. We have been living under that Sword of Damocles for over half a century. However, we are now reaching the point where a private individual without state backing could achieve nearly the same effect, whether through pathogens or computer malware. A fairly small cabal of determined individuals could also achieve the same ends through acquisition of existing nuclear weapon stocks in Pakistan, North Korea, or Russia. 

Regardless of the how or why, we're approaching a point where genocide can be accessible to the common man. And what is our response to this inevitability? Openly, we ignore it, just like we've ignored the atomic weaponry scattered around the world for 60+ years. Privately, I suspect that the curtailment of civil liberties and increase in surveillance states this century is in part a response to those existential threats. The fact that private information is also a medium of exchange among the new, data-driven elite is just a market incentive to accelerate the ascension of the digital police state. 

Does the line from Ben Franklin "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety" still apply in an era where existential threats can only become more numerous and deadly? Should every human have the freedom to potentially kill millions, if not billions?

I don't think I'm going to like the answer, regardless of whether the question can be answered.

However, that doesn't prevent others from formulating an answer.
Authoritarianism, thought to be on the wane at the end of the last century, is definitely back in vogue. Countries like China have long proven that economic freedom and individual freedom are separable, and the authoritarian-populist-nationalist wave sweeping the globe shows that such ideas have appeal for the under-employed masses, with the traditional excuse of "If you're not doing anything wrong, you don't have anything to be afraid of" sufficing for many.

The genius of data-gathering smartphone apps lies in the fact that, not only have we consented to being watched, but that we seek it out and will pay for the privilege of privacy violation. Who knows? You might go viral and make millions! Who cares about privacy? It's insidiously brilliant.

Of course, I too use a smartphone and have a car with a GPS tracker in it - most cars newer than a certain vintage do. I don't see myself as a hypocrite for pointing all these things out - merely that one should be aware of the underlying reasons why, for instance, social media websites are free (Answer: they sell user data).