Film Review: Our Daily Bread

Last weekend, Cornell Cinema showed Our Daily Bread (German: Unser täglich Brot) (2005), a German documentary by Nikolaus Geyrhalter. The film examines the modern food industry, specifically its use of mechanized production to maximize efficiency and profit. I expected, as I was walking in to the theater, to see a Michael-Moore-Super-Size-Me-style documentary, complete with director commentary and ambush journalism. Instead, I found myself immersed in a Koyaanisqatsi-meets-The-Jungle film experience, more effective than any politically-driven film endeavor could have hoped to be.
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Like the White Rabbit, with less fat around the edges.

Welcome to the next reincarnation of the White Rabbit, now teejayvanslyke.com. All of my posts from the old site are still archived on this site, but my focus will change slightly from the topics of yesteryear.

I would also like to start doing more non-blog publishing; specifically, my recent fiction endeavors.  I am considering turning my current fiction project, a short novel entitled Self-Immolation of an American Monk, into a chapter-by-chapter series, published to this site incrementally.

The topic of sustainability has also moved to the forefront of “things worth speaking of.”  I am currently working out a proposal to do some sustainable development work in Kerala, India, with the aid of a Fulbright grant.  I am also doing research on the issue of local food distribution, specifically with regard to use of web technologies to automate the logistics of distribution, ordering, and inventory.  Expect updates on these projects as they progress.

It’s great to be back.

I am Jack’s Blue Screen of Death.

One article in particular caught my eye today on Slashdot. It seems that some tech workers in Silicon Valley have started their own boxing clubs, inspired by the 1999 film Fight Club. The fact that this article surfaced only hours after I finished watching Fight Club and researching nihilism is uncanny. Their version of Fight Club is unlikely to start a nationwide revolution causing a prolietariat uprising and the erasure of our debt record (although it would be nice); however, it goes to show that self destruction is in.

Nihilism is a topic that has intrigued me for some time. I have always understood the sense behind disbelief in truth and morality, but could never (and still cannot) accept it. Perhaps it is our inherent need for something intangible to hold on to, whether it be our job, our country, our church, or our marriage. These things are never permanent; they are always fleeting or fading. Yet, there is no denying that a life free of attachments sounds attractive. After all: What you own ends up owning you.

Fall in love.

When you fall in love, the distinctions and priorities that once clouded your mind no longer matter. Being with that person as much as possible becomes a dream, an obsession. The word ‘obsession’ often has an ill connotation, as if passion and desire are ideals which should be avoided at all costs. But then what is there to live for? If being with someone can pull your heartstrings to the point of no return, if being apart from them can propel you into a state of disarray—not unbearable, but oh-so-treacherous—why shouldn’t we cherish it, fight for it, and claim it as ours? That is not to say that love can ever be one-sided; rather, it is to say that all there truly is to live for—to die for—is each other.

But what about “the big picture?” You know, the bills, the boss, the job, church, Wall Street, the Internet, politics? Unravel every one of these to its core and find the answer for yourself. We occupy our cubicles so that one day we will acheive some “pie-in-the-sky” eternal greatness that we cannot yet fathom. We invest in a system of stocks and bonds that promises to yield returns for our retirement. We fill our brains with nuggets of information that will somehow bring us satisfaction. Yet somehow, no matter how hard we work, no matter how much we invest, and no matter how much we know, we are no more fulfilled. What if we ceased our preparations for the future and acted for the moment? Acted for each other, rather than for some faceless abstraction, be it our job, our stocks, or our facts?

That is not to say that we should quit our jobs or stop working altogether. After all, we must provide for our survival. However, in our modern age there is a distinct focus on the intangible. We often find ourselves hanging on to the mental constructions we have fabricated for ourselves, forgetting that everything of significance can be felt in a lover’s touch. Money is the eternal scale by which we evaluate the worth of everything (and often everyone), but those with an overabundance of it are often less fulfilled than those living paycheck to paycheck.

So fall in love. Kisses are cheaper than cars.

Newspeak, here we come.

The U.S. Senate voted yesterday by an overwhelming majority to make English the United States’ national language. While proponents of a national language may point out obvious merits in the legislation of a national language, it represents further homogenization of our world culture and a step closer to the horrific notion of a language that speaks for its state, akin to the Newspeak language in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Now, do not think I am suggesting that this is another conspiracy concocted by Big Brother himself to gain more control over all of us puny commoners. There are distinct economic and diplomatic advantages to language homogenization. It allows us to better understand both our trade partners and avoid misrepresentation within our communities. However, we must acknowledge the consequences of such legislation. While language is a conduit of thought, it also emphasizes a culture’s world view and heritage. It is this diversity that creates culture itself. Likewise, we must evaluate the original intentions and motivations of the English language. English evolved from a predominantly Christian society with a particular metaphysics and understanding of the world. Words like ‘goodbye’ in English have their roots in these religious doctrines. Other cultures do not admit such polar concepts into their everyday vocabulary.

English has also skewed the meaning of several of its “borrowed” words. Take the word ‘karma,’ as borrowed from Sanskrit and Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Many English speakers use ‘karma’ incorrectly. According to its original definition, karma roughly translates to ‘deed’ or ‘destiny.’ How many times have you heard a fellow English speaker say “that’s not good for your karma” or “this will increase my karma” as if karma is some kind of commodity that has a quantifyable value? It is our Western understanding of the world that prevents us from properly conceptualizing such terms.

Perhaps the most dangerous consequence of language homogenization is the degree of control it places in the hands of those in power. Ask an average American what communists believe and you’re bound to get an answer that strays distant from the truth. Likewise, ask an average American to identify their notion of Islam and they will almost undoubtedly include terrorism in their response. These examples do not suggest Americans are ignorant (okay, maybe a bit), but it does show the effect the generalization of these concepts has had on our world view. However, ask a dedicated Marxist their notion of communism or a Muslim their notion of their faith and culture and you will receive quite a contrary response. Language is an instrument of control that states will use to their advantage if given the opportunity.

There’s some goodthink for you.

Giving Rails its own GUI

Ruby on Rails is an amazing framework for building web applications, but that doesn’t quite help us in the world of the desktop. Yesterday I sought to do away with this limitation and create a self-contained application that starts WEBrick, creates its own “browser” window, and knows how to terminate itself as well. Allow me to enlighten you…

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It’s summertime.

Spring 2006 ended with an abrupt halt, as if a well-lit brick wall at the end of a tunnel of doubt, curiousity and triumph.  I am currently unemployed, and that is more of a relief than anything could ever be.

I picked up a book of Bertrand Russell’s essays and have found myself greatly admiring his work; in particular, The World As It Could Be tickles my socialist fancy.  Some of the truths of the perils of capitalism Russell brings out are both astonishing and inspiring.  However, the ideal world he presents seems tantamount to a utopian dream.  Someday though, we will have Russell’s perfect society.  Until then, we can remain in our McWalMart subservience as our parents tell us is proper.

Is our fate as a corporate oligarchy inevitable, or is it a self-fulfilling prophecy that can be untangled given the time and effort?  Personally, I don’t think we’re far from a revolution.  It has to happen sometime… at least that’s what history tells us.  And boy, history hasn’t lied yet.  Who knows… Iran might be Bush’s Poland.

On a not-so-political note, this summer has also shown me the beauty of frugality.  Not being employed at the moment has left me without the affordances of past, but has had not a mark on my happiness.  The world is beautiful when viewed through the eyes of the poor and powerless.  If there is nothing left to lose, there’s nothing left to fear.

Now go play in the sun.

The rise of the neo-green revolution.

Last month’s Wired focused on the advent of a new revolution in environmentalism that eco-pundits are calling the Neo-Green Revolution. At the forefront of this new movement is none other than 2000 president-elect Al Gore, who believes that the solution to our dependence on dirty fuel is not to change our lifestyles, but to put our technological strides to use in creating more efficient, eco-friendly solutions.

I couldn’t agree more with this philosophy. There is no reason we cannot overcome our dependence on fossil fuels through advances in technology rather than a recession of lifestyle. In my opinion, a sustainable future relies on the following coming to fruition:

  1. Tighter vehicle emissions standards. Car companies are currently getting away with eco-murder with SUV’s that leave an immense footprint on our environment and drive gas demand through the roof. As much as I disagree with big government, these regulations are necessary to curb automobile emissions and fuel usage. Hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles need to replace gas-guzzling vehicles.
  2. Environmentalism goes chic. In order to generate enthusiasm for our lowly environment, it needs to have a strong marketing department. Western society needs to shift its frame of mind from “bigger is better” to “greener is better.” This includes marketing campaigns advocating the immediate advantages of green products, as well as public service announcements denouncing industrial gluttony.
  3. Computers, meet the environment. Computers have been used in every facet of industry, from mechanized production to accounting to marketing and beyond. Their role in environmentalism is equally important. On an industrial level, computers can be used to schedule power usage and create more efficient factories and offices. Such “green facilities” would curb energy usage by using advanced scheduling techniques to determine what parts of a building are in use and power them accordingly. This can be mirrored in the home, with “smart houses” partially powered by solar arrays dominating the mainstream. These solar arrays can be connected to our current power grid, creating a decentralized energy infrastructure.
  4. Organic synthetics. Companies like Fabri-Kal are already creating organic solutions to our plastic addiction. Synthetics companies need to begin researching eco-friendly solutions to the disposable products we use on a daily basis. The foodservice industry is not going away and we need disposable tableware that doesn’t take millenia to decompose.
  5. Renewable energy (duh). Oil is dirty. It is the single most deadly drug that has ever plagued the human race or the Earth, yet this often goes unheeded because we love our Hummers so much. Wars with oil as their motive kill thousands every year, and this number is growing. If we can turn to cleaner, renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, and biofuel, this madness can cease and we can find something else to fight about. Watch for these industries to explode in the near future.
  6. Government and corporate support. This may go without saying, but there’s no hope for change without support from those with the power and money to foster it. World governments (the United States, China, and India, in particular) must realize the dilemma that we currently face and act accordingly to curb our reliance on dirty fuel. Contact your congressmen and voice your concerns!

Cyberwar On Terror… or The Long Cyberwar?

Two articles on the BBC caught my eye over the course of the past couple days:

  • Planning the US ‘Long War’ on terror — apparently, the War on Terror isn’t going away, and the government wants us to know.  From here on out, the War on Terror will be known as the Long War.
  • British ‘hacker’ fears Guantanamo — As a proponent of the hacker ethic, this could be one of the most horrendous events I have heard in a long time.  This just goes to show that information is the world’s new commodity.

iranisnext.org

Today I put together a web site with some information and links about the nuclear standoff with Iran. Many people are unaware of the possibilities, and even fewer of the implications even a small-scale nuclear strike on Iran could have on the world. Take a look at the page — constructive criticism is always welcome. If you have an event or link you would like promoted on the site, please let me know.

Iran is Next…