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“The Henry Rollins Effect” – What Happens When You Think Your Hero Sold Out

10 April 2011 Leave a comment

The recent Verizon commercials have had a disturbingly familiar quality to them. For me, it was the voice of Henry Rollins. It’s no secret that I have been a huge fan of Henry Rollins since I was an impressionable teenager. It’s also no secret that I have something of a deep-seated dislike for Verizon after a long string of negative customer service experiences. My first thoughts were along the lines of “Rollins sold out!” Then I took a step back and thought about it more seriously. He was doing a voice-over. He wasn’t appearing on camera as himself shilling Doritos like some kind of hack comic or something. I have forgiven Mr. Rollins for this imaginary transgression against me, but it has me thinking about what it means to sell out and how that affects artistic credibility.

Let’s start with some comedians. George Carlin famously hung a lantern on his role as a spokesman for 10-10-220 in his bit “Advertising Lullaby.” I think he managed to keep his crediblity as an artist and as a commentator by acknowledging the fact that in the real world shit is complicated and it can lead to cognitive dissonance.

Jay Leno was called out on the commercial above by Bill Hicks in his bit “Artistic Roll Call.” Leno took a lot of shit from the comedic community in the early ’90s. Rightfully or not depends on your perspective. Taking Hicks’ hard line perspective, Leno was worshipping Mammon. He didn’t need the money since he had the cushy Tonight Show gig when he did those Doritos commercials, but he did them anyway. I think this hurts Leno’s credibility as an artist, but can we articulate why this is the case?

In the case of comedy and music, I think it’s a bit more clear cut. In any profession where you have a platform to make incisive statements about the world, and especially when your public persona is built on those kinds of incisive statements, it can cause the public to question what you’ve said. If you’ll endorse a product for money, you’re being clear about how loose you’ll play with your words. How trustworthy can you be with all that you’ve said before, if you’ll hock Doritos at the drop of a hat? And I think this is a unique quandary for musicians and comedians. Do athletes, models, or actors take this credibility hit when they do commercials? I don’t think so. As I said, when your public persona is based on taking shots at the establishment or claiming that what you do is pure and an art, you’ll take a hit in your credibility when you admit that you’re just like everyone else.

And that’s what hurts when you hear “Black Dog,” “Revolution,” or “Are You Experienced?” in a commercial. That’s what hurts when you see Willie Nelson in a Taco Bell commercial or hear Henry Rollins talking about “America’s fastest 3G network.” It’s that you realize that someone you admired or idolized is just like you.

But at the same time, they’re just like you.

Gurus, Wizards, and Computers – A Brief Semantic Battle

6 April 2011 Leave a comment

I hate being referred to as a “guru.”

This is something I hear in work on a regular basis. “This is Rory. He’s our computer guru.” “Hey, you’re a Mac guru, aren’t you?” This irks me to no end because of my firm stance that “words mean things™.” A guru is a Hindu holy man, or more generically a holy man in any of the languages in the Indo-Aryan language family. Granted, it’s literally someone who imparts knowledge or is a teacher, but that doesn’t change the fact this usage belies some subliminal thought patterns that aren’t terribly helpful.

It hinges on implied Orientalism. The East is an exotic, inscrutable place. Computers are an exotic, inscrutable thing to a lot of people. See where I’m going with this? People are unwittingly setting themselves up for perpetual failure on this one. If you think that you need someone to help you understand computer, then you will. If you think that you’ll never understand computers, then you won’t.

On the other hand, wizard bothers me slightly less. Wizard, or its little brother “wiz/whiz,” has a different connotation. In our culture it implies someone who has devoted himself (or herself) to arcane things, hiding in isolation, acting with borderline fanatical dedication. This is definitely an accurate description of a lot of people I know. While it still has a certain sense of apartness, it feels different to me since it’s not an appropriation from a different culture.

I think I spend too much time in metacognition.

Privacy Under Threat

29 September 2010 Leave a comment

This makes me want to vomit with rage. There’s not much for me to add since this is a surprisingly well-balanced piece.

I do want to say that strong encryption is important to maintaining privacy in the digital age and that any attempts to undermine strong encryption are blows to personal privacy. I can’t help but feel that the sorts of people that are so opposed to Roe v. Wade are opposed to it not only because it’s about personal control over a woman’s body, but also because the opinions states that there is a right to privacy and affirms Griswold v. Connecticut in this regard.

Authoritarians are as authoritarians do. I advise everyone to follow this story and alert your congress-critter to your opposition when it shows up in the new year. Rest assured I will be following this story.

Happy Labor Day

6 September 2010 Leave a comment

Today is Labor Day. A day to celebrate the hard work and brow sweat that goes into making our country what it is. It would appear that there are people out there that don’t get this.

This holiday originated as a conciliatory act on the part of the US Federal government. The Pullman Strike was put down by 12,000 Federal troops acting on the orders of President Grover Cleveland resulting in the death of 13 and the injury of 57. Cleveland made reconciliation with organized labor a priority in the aftermath of the event, especially after the constitutionality of the act was called into question.

Organized labor is a topic near and dear to my heart. My grandfather spent the better part of his adult life working on behalf of the working man as an organizer for UFCW. He even met my grandmother on a picket line. For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard about the good that unions do. While I realize that unions have something of a bad rep, especially in light of demands from UAW and the fallout from that in Detroit, but their time has not passed by a long shot.

If you enjoy 8 hour workdays/40 hour work weeks, in a safe environment, with health benefits and paid time off, you can almost certainly thank a labor union for that. If you don’t have that, you might be in an industry ripe for organization.

What most people don’t realize is that minimum wage, even after its recent hike, is not a living wage. Now, more than ever, workers need an advocate. Events in my own backyard remind me of this fact on an almost daily basis.

Happy Labor Day, everyone!

Haiku Blogfest Entry

3 September 2010 14 comments

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t consider myself much of a writer or anything like a poet. I do love haiku as a form since it involves an unusual form of wordplay for the English language. Hence, I have decided to enter this blogfest.

Newcomers, I am sorry to disappoint if you were expecting something of literary merit. Mostly you will find ramblings and musings on technical and philosophical topics. If you find them interesting, so much so the better. If not, I apologize and wish you well.

My haiku:

Wittgenstein said that
“Die Welt ist alles, was der
Fall ist.” Yes, but no.

I wrote about 7 haiku in preparation for this blogfest, but chose this one because it was most relevant to the spirit of my blog, even if it is at odds with the spirit of the haiku form.

The quote is the first main proposition of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. It translates most often as “The world is everything that is the case.” The “yes, but no” is a reference to a particular interpretation of the TLP that states that it is but a means to an end and that if one truly understands what the TLP is presenting, it is reduced to non-sense. I’ve heard it referred to as a ladder that is discarded when one reaches the top, because once one has reached the conclusions that Wittgenstein has, one will see the world as more than a mere collection of facts. This is something that put Wittgenstein at odds with certain Vienna Circle members, but that is a story for another time.

Categories: Philosophical

Why DIY?

25 July 2010 Leave a comment

Inspired by helping my wife paint our bathroom and this article.

As I’ve stated previously, I’m a firm believer in DIY ethics. If I have the means and skill to do it myself, I’m going to do it myself. If I don’t have the skills, I’ll get them. Only if I don’t have the means do I consider passing it on to someone else. However, I don’t think that’s all that DIY encompasses.

For me, DIY is about getting the most out of everything. Even in our modern age of disposable everything, not everything need be disposable. Since I work in the technology field, technology is the first place where I took doing it myself seriously. It’s a lot easier to get started in areas where you have skills.

The question then becomes: what are the benefits? Why should you pursue doing things for yourself?

Obviously there’s the cost factor. Most people get into DIY to save money. With a few basic tools and a book or two, you can handle most common home and auto repairs yourself. Likewise, with even fewer tool, a little knowledge, and a positive mental attitude you can handle most computer repairs yourself. There’s no reason you should be paying Geek Squad* $40 to “optimize” your computer or $200 to remove a virus. A quick Google search and a thoughtful post or two in an appropriate online forum and you can probably get everything handled at the cost of a few hours of your time.

More abstractly, there’s the satisfaction from having done something yourself. I’m beginning to think that there are a lot people in the world who don’t get satisfaction from a job well done, given the sorts of slipshod work I see on a daily basis. However, I will go out on a limb here and say that there are few fruits sweeter in life than the fruits of one’s own labor.
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*In most cases, I would seriously advise against letting a third-party like Geek Squad touch your computer. There’s a reason that the Consumerist has an entire category devoted to the Geek Squad. If you need to let someone else fix your computer, find a local small business that can’t afford to have too much bad press.

Linux On The Desktop – When?

10 March 2010 2 comments

Why is Linux still on the fringe of desktop computing?

It has gained considerable ground in areas such as webhosting and enterprise infrastructure, but it remains in single digit percentage points on the desktop. Ubuntu and OpenSUSE have both made tremendous strides in hardware compatibility and user accessibility, but Linux continues to be an also ran for the end user. Why might this be the case?

Read more…

Categories: Linux, Philosophical, Tech, Windows