It's like Mardi Gras meets the bombing of Dresden...
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Karl Polanyi's "The Great Transformation"
I just found out this post isn't dead- so I'm bringing it back to the top for ease of access. I'll get on it tonight, but not now, because it's reading day and I have a three-on-three tournament to play in...

I've recently been reading "The Great Transformation" by Karl Polanyi. To quote the back cover, "Mr. Polanyi's immediate objective is to bring out, as he does with remarkable discernment, the social implications a particular economic system, the market economy that grew into full stature in the 19th century." More specifically, Polanyi traces the rise of free market capitalism since the end of feudalism and its effect on European social structures. I'm not going to review the whole book, but I wanted to bring up a couple points he makes that are relevant to recent and semi-recent topics.

1st Topic: Modernity's destructive effect on humanity- This has been kicked around a few times without, from my opinion, a clear cut indictment of how modernity negatively effects humanity. In Polanyi's opinion (which I think I at least partially agree with) the force that sets modernity against traditional humanity is the commodification that goes hand in hand with liberal economics. Specifically (my paraphrasing may lack some nuance here), modernity requires the commodification of three things: money, labor, and land. I'll skip the first for brevity, but I'll hit the last two. The commodification of land came first, and wreaked havoc on traditional social structures by removing the feudal bond between land and labor. Through enclosures and restrictions on land use, humanity (more specifically the classes of humanity without land) became displaced in their own country, which was inherently disastrous when culture was still inherently feudal (ie identity was defined at least partially through location and consequently allegiance to feudal lords). However, this displacement was necessary in order to free up the mobility of labor, so that the work that was created through capitalism could be done. In essence, this breaking of man's bond to land had be first accomplished so that the migration of labor to cities and factories could occur. Secondly, through the commodification of labor, man no longer existed outside the economy (such as being born noble), but rather his identity was defined through economic terms (wealth for instance) and his interests became subservient to economic considerations (without land there is no self-sufficiency, the choice now became factory labor or starvation).

I'm willing to concede this and to jump on J. Morgan's anti-modernity train with one important consideration- I only concede that modernity is destructive to traditional (read late feudal) humanity. By existing as products of modernity, the same problems that plagued humanity through the Industrial Revolution are no longer problems, they have already been accounted for in our existence. By accepting my role as commoditized labor, I don't have problems not being tied to land and such, because my identity is no longer tied to the institutions that lost the battle to capitalism and modernity.

One more quick point and I'm done- If the assumption that humanity is continually redefined through cultural/societal/technological/political evolution is held as true, than I find that blanket statements like "modernity is damaging to humanity" automatically have to be divorced from the implication it would be better if we could undo the change. At best, statements like "modernity is damaging to humanity" are ironical- sure we may have lost something, but we are only who we are and able to make that statement because of that loss, and we can't go back again.

In conclusion, I wish I was tied to land. I don't mind being commodified labor and I thank capitalism for all my materialist crap, but I'm sick of trying to move it every five months to a new state and a new job...
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Movies that Should Never Be Watched- Ever
I just finished watching the unrated and uncut version of Quentin Tarantino's movie, Hostel. It was without a doubt, one of the most disturbing movies I've ever seen.

Ball gag courtesy of "The Filthy Lapdog"

This movie made we want to burn my eyes out with an acetylene torch, until I actually saw an eye burned out with a torch in the movie and realized that no matter how bad this movie is, having a torch taken to your eye is worse by a couple orders of magnitude, give or take a few sig figs.

I'll start with the only thing right with this movie- excessive, arbitrary, completely unreasonable nudity at a level completely unmatched by anything since Bikini Cavegirl. Furthermore, this nudity is entirely at the beginning of the movie, making it completely separated from any kind of pain or misery, which is a definite plus. I'm not sure about the rest of you, but I like my boobs served with a smile, not with whips and chains and agony. If you disagree, then please refrain from saying so in my comments, or ever, because that's really not cool. The only movie I've seen worse than this one was Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects, which mixed nudity and violence to the point where I couldn't play Dead or Alive 3 for at least a couple of hours.

This works on so many different levels.

Now the worst part of the movie, virtually unending graphic violence the entire second half, and it isn't acceptable violence. This isn't soldiers taking bullets storming the beaches of Normandy, Kate Beckinsale pumping round after round into werewolves in Underworld: Evolution (greatest movie ever! It deserves its own post that I'll never write), Brad Pitt taking one for the team from a beefy club owner in Fight Club, or even Christian Bale being totally sweet and totally psycho in American Psycho. It's put your mouth on the curb American History X violence, in a relentless Passion of the Christ style, without any kind of redemptive moral undertone. It's brutal, it's excessive, it's nauseating.

I'd like to say my threshold for violence is fairly high. I've seen way too many real stonings, beheadings, gunshot wounds and explosions courtesy of the internet to be anything less than thoroughly desensitized, and I thought it was too much. I just don't understand how somewhere making a scary movie went from demon possession and psychosis to just increasingly vivid portrayals of human agony. I don't think watching someone take a drill to a kneecap is scary, and watching someone chained to a chair squirm in their own blood and vomit while their achilles tendon is cut with a scalpel isn't horror, it's perverse.

I don't even know how to end this post. All I can say is that I'm pretty sure I'd feel better as a human at the end of watching Schindler's List with Anne Frank than I do after watching this piece of trash.
Policy Presentation
In order to graduate with a business degree, the final class you have to take here is Business 470- a policy class. As the capstone project, a group presentation on a company including the company profile, financial position, and strategies is due at the end of the class. However, since I'm a slacker, I paid extra money to take this class at night with other lazy day students and a host of non-traditionals. Why? Instead of a fifty minute presentation, we give a twenty minute presentation, and instead of the presentation being 70% of your grade in the class, it is 20%. Seeing that I am a senior, my group sucked, and I have close to a 100% test average (80% of my final grade), I decided to basically blow of the presentation. Instead of preparing something, I made a couple of slides a few weeks ago and then pounded a couple of beers before I went up to night class to get it over with.

One group went ahead of us, and apparently, they put five times as much work into the project as my group did. So not only did we have to follow that, but substantial sections of our presentation were close to identical, as we had similar companies. Things were not looking good for our project.

When it was our turn to present, I figured that with five people in the group, I would only be responsible for around four minutes of presentation. I wasn't sure how long the other people planned on taking (I didn't really attend the meetings), so I was fairly suprised when I (the last presenter for our group) was called up 6.5 minutes into our presentation. So instead of talking for four minutes, I now have to go for at least 13.5. So I started rambling. I went through the slides I had prepared about company specific information as slowly as possible and glanced at the clock. I still had around ten minutes to fill. With no slides or prepared information to go on, I went back a few slides to a graph of the company stock price and just started talking about generic stock information. Without really tying any of this into our company, I discussed things such as return on equity vs. debt leverage, the importance of earnings growth to stock price, arbitrage, hedging, George Soros, and I paraphrased more than a couple pages from Warren Buffett's biography. I was still going strong when our twenty minutes was up, so I cut it off and concluded our presentation.

Our professor, who just destroyed the previous group's excellent presentation in the question and answer session, asked a couple of easy questions to my team members and then said, "My next few questions are on the financial part of the presentation." I thought he was just going to call me out for putting little to no work into the presentation and just bullshitting for ten minutes to take up time. However, he said this, "I want the remaining groups to pay attention here... the bar has been raised. Any groups left to present need to take note of how to do the financial side of the presentation, and get ready to match this next week..." and then he rambled on for a few minutes about how it was the greatest presentation he has ever seen in years of teaching the class, and asked me a few questions about stocks in general. He totally ignored the fact that our presentation had huge obvious flaws like not doing any work setting a price on the product we planned on releasing.

Later, at the bar across the street ($.75 drafts!) random people from the class kept coming up and telling me how interesting our presentation was, and then they bitched about how much extra work they were going to have to do to try to match it. It was awesome.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Thank You
I just finished writing a paper on postmodernism that I'm going to turn in to complete assignments in both my history and my philosophy classes. I think it turned out fairly well, mainly because it consists of a sampling of various arguments and statments from Charles, J. Morgan, and Redhurt. I'm not sure if quoting statements from blog posts works for papers at the college level, so I didn't credit you where I drew on your arguments and I didn't cite where I basically took them verbatim. My teachers are now going to find me incredibly insightful, but we all know where the real genius lies. As a token of my appreciation, here is a list of what I would get you if I had more than $200 that wasn't tied up in my Ameritrade account.

Redhurt- This, for when the wife finally gets sick of you playing Oblivion all night.

Charles- I wrote a computer program that takes random chapters from random Don DeLillo books and randomly reorders them. The stories are just as intelligible, and you never have to worry about running out of them.

J. Morgan- Seven Athenian youths and seven maidens, so that you could stop looking for your breakfast.