Wednesday, September 24, 2008

We Are Watching You -Starbucks

The following is an ethnography and analysis of a local Starbucks. It was done in response to a homework assignment. The location of the Starbucks was omitted for my own reasons.

We Are Watching You, Signed Starbucks

The following observations were made at the Starbucks on [redacted] and

[redacted]. With regard to the clerks: their uniforms were nearly identical in color and

style. Each clerk wore a black hat with a Starbucks logo, a black, collared shirt, and a

green apron. Females usually wore their hair in pony-tales while the males had short,

shaved hair. Above and behind the cash registers were black security globes which have

hide in themselves security cameras. The cash registers themselves record each

transaction. Customers line up single file in front of the register to purchase their choice

item of consumption then proceed to an area to pick up various condiments. The clerks

appear to make several errors in making the drinks, making the drink "on the house."

They charge the customer and make the drinks in a robotic fashion, delivering standard

lines to customers such as, "Hi, what can we get you today?"

In Starbucks, the clerks represent the lower (but not lowest) class in a

dystopian society. First, they are under constant observation by the black security globes

(not just for the customers, one can assume that the globes also watch the clerks to

make sure that nothing is stolen). Second, as previously stated, each transaction is

recorded on the register, making sure that it balances out at the end of the day. These

two surveillance measures are similar to the Bentham's Panopticon, that because they

are under constant surveillance, the clerks will (presumably) both perform within

expectations (maybe even exceed them to gain a reward) and act honestly (for fear of

the possibility of being caught in an illicit or illegal act). Foucault would love this as it is a

fulfillment of his writing, that the Panopticon has expanded its aims beyond the

punishment of prisons into daily life. Third, the clerks conform in their appearance both in

the clothing and the hairstyles that they wear. This trait is common in dystopic novels,

certainly 1984, where the outer-party members must wear blue jump suits. Fourth, they

perform their tasks with robotic (though imperfect) efficiency: Take the order, blend the

drink, and call out the name of the customer. The same is with the labor section in

dystopic literature where efficiency for the party/government (in this case the Starbucks

corporation) is key. Lastly, they make the drinks for the customers and give the drink

away for free if an error is made. The customers that come into Starbucks represent the

typical dystopic superior (the Inner party in 1984, the gorillas in Planet of the Apes, and

the high government officials in movies like Equilibrium). They get to wear different

clothing, act in an independent manner, and are served by the lower, inferior class (the

Starbucks' employees).

Eugenics Could Result in the Lessening of Humanity

The following was taken from a bulletin board comment on Eugenics. My response has been updated since then, most of the differences were the correction of typos. The name of the poster has been deleted to protect their identity.

>For once i am the first to write something here. *sinister laugh*. i was wanting to put


>the question about Modern Eugenics. i am certainly not agreeing that what was done in

>the past with eugenics was the right thing to do or that it was in any way founded on

>scientific concrete, but i am very curious to know what other people think of making an

>improvement on the gene pool of humans. for instance, first thing that will have to be

>done is doing away with known genetic diseases that could be passed down to a non

>effected offspring but could still be prevalent in the next generation. this is a very

>realistic thing to accomplish and it would make a whole lot of people happier since they

>are not effected by the disease and that their guardians do not need to have special

>care for them. if we can thin out (humanely of course) the herd through selecting

>healthier attributes or traits of people then over time more and more people will have

>better healthier lives and not be burned with diseases that they have no control over.

>What does any one else think about the creating of a healthier society by naturally

>selecting healthier traits. i know everyone is going to say Hitler tried that, but we wont


>killing millions of people but rather have the best of their genome be expressed

I see several problems with utilizing eugenics, especially with the utilitarian way proposed

here. Disease is horrible. No doubt. But how do we avoid becoming the type of society

portrayed in the movie Gattaca? Following this path would lead to two different

classes of people: the genetically augmented/grown and the naturally born. I realize that

this is a slippery slope, but what would keep conflict between the two classes from

erupting in a sort of war?

Second, and this is going to probably going to start a few fires, but aren't there good

things that are gained from death, disease, and pain? Technologically, the amount we

have discovered today is due to research in the past. Solving once and for all those

problems would stifle innovation. Also, certain problem solving skills come

about from dealing with disease. One could say that we are utilizing those problem

solving skills through eugenics, but aren't we also in the end stifling their evolution?

Third, coping skills come through dealing with these problems. By taking a shortcut

through the use of eugenics, we will be eliminating an important stage in their


Fourth, random occurrences also help develop those coping mechanisms. If we eliminate

random occurrence from our development, we become nothing but a predictable machine,

albeit flesh and bone instead of wires. Somehow, this seems to degrade our humanity,

and in this case, the end of disease does not justify the means we use to get there.

That brings me to my final point:

Who are we to determine how humanity ends up? We can barely look past our noses.

Do you want to trust eugenics with our future?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Star Trek Generation: It is about time. Multi-touch desks for school=LCARS

via The Guardian UK:

"...The interactive multi-touch desks look and act like a large version of an Apple iPhone...

'The new desk can be both a screen and a keyboard. It can act like a multi-touch whiteboard and several students can use it at once,' said Dr Liz Burd, who led the university's Technology-Enhanced Learning (TEL) group that developed them."

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Response to Howe and Rorty; 312; 1984

The Readings:

Howe. "1984--Utopia Reversed"

"The Last Intellectual in Europe: Orwell on Cruelty"'s+%

What I find interesting about Howe, is that most of his "inaccuracies" about Orwell's "novel" are simply conclusions that were reached based on studying history.

"No ruling class, at least within Western society, has yet been able to dispense with ideology..."

"[In 1984, the proletariat was] "so helpless and demoralized that the state need no longer fear them. Now we have no right to say that this never could happen, but we must also observe that it has not yet happened."

An appeal to past events is not adequate support for what may happen in the future. However, this is exactly what Howe does.

I wonder how many could have envisioned a world where not one, but two world wars would be fought back to back? I realize that Howe leaves room for the possibility of Orwell's future, but that he would call it an inaccuracy seems to be the wrong word, and in a discussion and a book where words themselves are up for debate, this seemed worthy of mention.

On Rorty:

"If we take care of freedom, truth can take care of itself. If we are ironic enough about

our final vocabularies, and curious enough about everyone else's, we do not have to

worry about whether we are in direct contact with moral reality, or whether we are

blinded by ideology, or whether we are being weakly 'relativistic'" (176-77).

I am going to play devil's advocate on this one.

The first line is laughable. To take care of freedom first assumes that freedom is an important moral reality, the most important as it is first to be considered, without first qualifying it as such with Truth (Truth with a capital T is necessary, because in this sense we are talking about an absolute truth). What Rorty is saying is that by the very nature of freedom, the truth, moral and otherwise, will come about as a course of nature. We live in a society where free speech is not only allowed but (at least by the public) exhorted, yet how much closer to the truth is each individual, or the whole social organism, because of the allowed freedom? I am not extolling totalitarianism or downplaying the importance of free speech to find that truth, I am just trying to point out the logical inconsistencies by Rorty.

"Orwell helps us see that it just happened that rule in Europe passed into the hands of

people who pitied the humiliated and dreamed of human equality, and that it may just

happen that the world will wind up being ruled by people who lack any such sentiments

or ideas" (184-85)."

I don't think Orwell helps us see that the world may end up being ruled by a kind-hearted people who want nothing for themselves, at least by humanity's design. The opposite is true. Orwell tells us that even with the best of intention, eventually those who have a desire for power and to rule for power's end will rise to the top of society. Such people tend to flaunt solutions to economic and social problems, and often only deliver a twisted version of the promise. This isn't to say that a benevolent ruler cannot come to power, merely that benevolent rulers are more rare than malevolent rulers, and that it seems only a matter of time (because of this statistic) before the latter rises and either seizes or inherits that powerful position.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Freewrite poem

Whatever pain is around the
Whatever joy is around the
I will praise my
My Healer, My Friend.

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Class 308. Second Short Story. Rough Draft

Hey all. This is my SECOND piece of prose due in my English 308 class. Give it a read. Let me know what you think

Updated 9/8/08 at 6:43 AM

It was boring. So boring. For some reason, some high-and-mighty official deemed this rectangular room with walls painted white fit to be called a classroom. I, Mike, was the creative type. Give me a black-bristled paint brush or a green coloring pencil and I could turn this room into something brilliant. Instead, reading, writing, and arithmetic were the order for the day, every day. If the teacher, Ms. Birch, could have had half a brain, the right side, then maybe I would have listened more.

Instead, the tall, thin teacher with black rimmed glasses wouldn't stop droning on about how some culture (because that was the word the book used) eight thousand years ago, give or take a millennium, slaughtered another culture. Not that this was a boring topic, you see, it was just that I had my eyes set on someone special, someone who made going to school worthwhile.

Her name was Katie. Katie was smart and beautiful. Whenever the teacher posed a particularly peculiar question to the class, Katie's hand was always the first to shoot straight up. Often, she would stroke her long, black hair, look at me with her emerald-green, cat-like eyes, and smile. When she smiled, I soared. I was in love. So what if I was only thirteen years old?

"Class, please open your textbooks to page 140. Get with a partner and work on the exercises on that page," said Ms. Birch. "Katie, would you please help out Mike with this exercise?"

This was my lucky day, or so I thought.

Katie slid out of her chair, picked up her heavy history book, and walked toward me. My heart pounded hard, trying to escape my chest and meld with hers. Any second now I would have the girl of my dreams sitting next to me, talking to me, reading with me. Katie approached my table, showed me a smile with snowy white teeth and luscious lips, and sent me straight to heaven.

"May I sit here?" said Katie, pointing to the chair on my right.

Her words, like an angelic melody, landed softly on my beating heart.

Sit here? I thought. Of course you can sit here! I would never deny an angel!

Unfortunately, my carefully crafted words spilled out of my mouth in a garbled waterfall of nonsense, their syllables in shambles as they hit the rocks of my immovable tongue.

Still, she smiled. Oh, what a smile! Then, like a graceful doe, she walked around the desk and folded her legs beneath its table.

"Okay Mike, open your book to the page," she said, pointing to my still unopened book. "Page 140, just like Ms. Birch told us to."

Katie took my book from the table, opened it to the page, and pointed to a paragraph that wanted us to write a summary of the chapter's "key terms." Key terms were boring and writing with a pencil was particularly frustrating, but Katie made the experience exhilarating.

"Mike, take the pencil like we practiced and write out the definitions. Here, it's easy, watch me."

Then, I had an idea. I would show her my true feelings. The people in the movies mom and dad watched always did that.

I grasped the pencil that that was laying on the right side of my desk, opened the wide-ruled notebook, and began to scratch out in long, thick carbon markings what my mouth never seemed to be able to say. I checked to make sure Katie wasn't watching. Sure enough, her head was facing some guy in the corner of the room twirling a small, plastic football. I wrote my heart onto the paper.

The letter read, "Katie, I wanted to tell you that I love you. Since the beginning of the school year, I have not been able to stop thinking about you. When you look at me, my heart stops. When you smile, it starts again. Please be my girlfriend. Love, Mike."

I looked at the paper. Not all of the letters came out but the message was clear. Now it was time for the finishing touch, the
pi├Ęces de r├ęsistance, the drawing.

I took out a thin, red, colored pencil and began with several light, curved strokes. Then, I switched out the red for a deep, forest-green, and connected a few leaves to my red outline. It was almost done. I colored in the rose with an even deeper red, which was labeled, "ruby red," and finished the drawing. It was just like the movies.

I looked up from the picture and my eyes met Katie's.

"What is that Mike? Is that for me?"

I shook my head, dumbfounded, my face a brighter shade of red than that picture.

Katie took the paper and studied it. Light as it was, I was impressed that something so thin could contain all of my hopes and ambitions.

Katie turned to me, smiled wide, and said with her angelic voice, "Mike, that is so sweet. I love how you wrote your letters and the picture is absolutely beautiful. It's just that you're not exactly my type and I don't think that my boyfriend Tim would like it very much if I was your girlfriend."

I didn't understand. I told her my heart, like in the movies, and while the rose I drew her wasn't as real as on those films, it was real enough. I thought I had done it all right.

She was always so kind to me, helping me when I didn't understand math, smiling at me when I couldn't speak, helping me when I couldn't write.

She gave me back the razor-thin paper. It nearly tore in half as I took it from her. So this was what hell felt like.

All rights are reserved. No publishing, reproducing, altering, or distributing any portion of this without the author's permission.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

On The Burrito Prayer Movement

Read this from Randy Bohlender's blog. Convicting. Inspiring. All of the above.