Back from The Hideout, reading Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking

Time doesn’t pass when I’m at The Hideout in Chicago. Last night I went for the fall’s return of WRITE CLUB: Chicago and goddamn was it good. Just incredible performance and writing. Match-ups went all in, tooth and nail and pen.

Actually, phone. Several writers read their monologue off phones, an interesting medium that didn’t hinder their performance at all. Wyl Villacres actually took a picture from the stage of the audience watching him just before he began, and the move had bravado, swagger and an endearing quality, just like his writing.

Sick stuff. And time began once again after I stepped out of The Hideout, back to my apartment here in Chicago, at summer’s end. Like I said, time doesn’t pass when I’m at The Hideout, but now I’m back from my absence and excited to share some writing and reviews.

Currently reading “Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking” by E. Gabriella Coleman, and I am digging it.

An early taste:

“I argue that F/OSS draws from and also rearticulates elements of the liberal tradition. Rather than designating only a set of explicitly held political, economic, or legal views, I treat liberalism in its cultural registers. Free software hackers culturally concretize a number of liberal themes and sensibilities–for example, through their competitive mutual aid, avid free speech principles, and implementation of meritocracy along with their frequent challenge to intellectual property provisions. Indeed, the ethical philosophy of F/OSS focuses on the importance of knowledge, self-cultivation, and self-expression as the vital locus of freedom.” (p3)

I’m excited to share more soon.

A demand for the demand of privacy-protecting tools

This isn’t an argument for capitalism or vegetarianism, but it starts that way. I first began warming up to capitalism when I learned more about Michael Pollan’s idea to “vote with your fork” and choose each of your three meals with consideration for what impact you’re having on the environment, on workers, on animals, on limited resources, etc. It’s a mindful way to live that requires more effort, education and money, but it also has the real impact of creating a market-as-a-movement to change the very structure of the American food chain and empower consumers.

For instance, a friend of mine is largely vegetarian unless he buys from his local butcher who’s supplied by a local farm that raises their animals fairly and humanely. He’s not contributing to the demand that causes many big food producers and animal processing plants to put quantity over quality. Instead, he’s showing the market that there’s a demand for humanely raised meat, and that he’d rather spend more money for an occasional cut than buy poor-quality, poorly raised meat at the lowest cost.

But he’s also fortunate that food justice, alternative diets and farm-to-table practices now have a place in mainstream society, and that he as a consumer has options available to him.

Julia Angwin, author of “Dragnet Nation: A quest for privacy, security, and freedom in a world of relentless surveillance,” was not so fortunate when she took on a mission to live privately in our digital age and was met with an overwhelming demand for consumer data and little demand for tools to fight against it.  Continue reading

Hector and the Search for Happiness – François Lelord

Hector and the search for happiness(Penguin Books 2010)

Told in the mild and affectionate manner of a bedtime story, Hector and the Search for Happiness by François Lelord is a sweet and sometimes simple tale of a psychiatrist’s quest around the world to discover what happiness is.

Hector takes a vacation from his psychiatry practice to understand how people come to be happy and what that means to them, and to do so, he travels from Paris to China to Africa to the United States. During his travels, he meets a variety of characters who are more than happy to chat with him about their lives (he is a psychiatrist, after all) and explain to him what they consider happiness. While an interesting idea for a book, the earnestness in the writing was sometimes too much to bear. Complex issues like economics, drug and human trafficking, and medical/emotional depression were simply referred to finitely as “globalization” and left at that.  Continue reading

My American Unhappiness – Dean Bakopoulos

My American Unhappiness(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishg Company 2011)

The almighty, wonderful, incredible, amazing, hilarious, insightful Kurt Vonnegut gave a lecture that described the three shapes stories can take in literature, and drew a chart that showed their storyline patterns (see the video here). He explained that all books we read are re-interpretations of one of those models. I’m not entirely sure what to do, because I can’t imagine Kurt Vonnegut every being wrong, but I do believe that we found a fourth story shape.

Dean Bakopoulos unleashes a book as massive and iconic as the Mississippi River, sharing the hopeful and hopeless relationship the Midwest of America has with itself. My American Unhappiness is a memoir/confessional/journal/collection of field notes of Zeke Pappas, director of the project, “An Inventory of American Unhappiness,” who canvases the Midwest (specifically Madison, WI, where he lives), and asks, “What makes you unhappy?” The responses he gets are beautiful examples of Bakopoulos’ under-the-radar humor that streams in political sighs, daily routine eye-rolling, quirky annoyances, profound realizations of sadness, insightful shallowness and the relief of being able to lighten your burden with confessions to an anonymous ear.  Continue reading

Lobster – Guillaume Lecasble (trans. by Polly McLean)

Lobster(Dedalus 2005)

Friendship. Revenge. True love. Lust. Destiny. Religious irrationality. Vulnerability. Strength. Suicide. Life. All the classic, traditional dramatic themes—all delivered in a new and wild fashion. The French surely know something we don’t about passion and life, and Lobster is an intriguing example.

The night the Titanic sinks, one tragedy in particular stands out. Just before the iceberg is hit, Lobster watches his father boiled alive and eaten by Angelina, and is soon taken out of the aquarium to meet the same fate. However, when the ship crashes, Lobster escapes his death and emerges from the kitchen bright red and sexually attracted to Angelina, his father’s murderer. Lobster gives Angelina her first orgasm before they are separated, when he falls into the sea and she is kept safe in the lifeboats.  Continue reading

Wakefield – Andrei Codrescu

Wakefield(Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill 2004)

One day the Devil shows up. “I’ve come to take you.” 

With this casual ease, Andrei Codrescu’s opening line could quickly be mistaken for a joke with a bad punchline about being married or spending time with the Pope, but don’t be fooled. There’s comedy in this book, but never at the expense of stale one-liners or crass stereotypes.

Wakefield is living out his middle-aged years as a divorced man-turned-bachelor and impromptu motivational speaker, when the devil appears to him and announces the end of his life. However, Wakefield bargains with the devil (yes, like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Wakefield), and is given one year to find an authentic, true life.  Continue reading