February 15, 2016

Technoccult News: ABQ-->ORD is just one part of the incantation to get us home.

Let's start at the end, here: Woke up at 0640 (yesterday). Got dressed. Took the car back to the airport rental place. Took the shuttle to the airport. Realised, in transit, that I'd lost my phone. took the shuttle BACK to the rental place. Retrieved my phone. Shuttle back to airport. Missed boarding for the 0845 flight, and currently stuck here until 1130 local time. Should betting back home at 2230 (8:30pm) EST. Will have then been in airplane-related transit for 12 full hours. Stopped writing this to go through the security checkpoint, and, in process of waiting for our turn to be lightly irradiated, ran into John Flowers.

And that's how this last day in Albuquerque, New Mexico is going.

Hello from the Southwestern Corner of These United States.

-=A Conference SHOULD be the Collective Noun For Academics, but It Isn't.=-
It's "Faculty." Anyway, as you know, Alex, I'm in Albuquerque for The Southwest Popular and American Culture Association's 2016 meeting. I presented in the panel Consciousness, the Self, and Epistemology, along with Craig Derksen on "The Silver Bullet of Fictional Certainty" and Burcu Gurkan, on "A Constellation of Knowledge: Popular Culture, Identity and the Self." The panel was amazing, on the whole, with every panelist's paper actively fitting into everyone else's.

Craig talked about the ways people use epistemologies—theories of knowledge and understanding—as the grounds for building beliefs, both within and without narrative structures, and the difference and interplay between Fictional Epistemologies, with their internal and external rules of construction and operation, and Personal Epistemologies, as rules of belief in our own lives. He talked about how additions and subtractions of evidence and justification can change the status of the beliefs, and how they operate in the structure, and then went on to show the disconnects between Fictional and Personal, and the hazards of letting them overlap.

There are certain conceits we accept in the bounds of the Fictional Epistemologies—shorthand that we take as read and given—which we find completely unacceptable in the "real world." However, one thing that bleeds over is this "Silver Bullet" ideal: There is One Thing that will Solve The Problem™ or tell us The Answer™, Forever. In fiction, when House solves the problem, we see the CGI cut of The Cure actually doing the work. When Sherlock Holmes tells us that he solved the thing "Because Deduction" then we know it's solved, because we, as the audience, know that these cues are signifiers of Solutions—of certainty. This can also be seen in establishing shots like in Days of Future Past, where Wolverine sees the Once Great Xavier Mansion In Such Disrepair—that is, he sees a busted sign, out front. But with that one shot, we know that the whole mansion is in bad shape.

Anyway, the problem, Dersken says, is when we think this is how real life works. If you need a clear picture of this, ask yourself how many juries started asking for CSI-Style DNA and Forensic evidence, with the proliferation of those shows? How many people expect the trial to end with a "Guilty/Not Guilty" verdict, rather than the truth of the vast majority of plea bargains and deals being made? This is deeply reductive, as we also apply it to ourselves. We think there has to be The Thing we are, and if we're not great at something, rather than thinking we need to practice and try harder, we say that We Are Bad At This. Think of people who say "I'm Just Bad At Math." No room for the messy nuance of the fact that, unless you have an actual form of Dyscalculia, then you probably had a bad experience with math, and have a fucked up mental association with it, and haven't yet been presented with the right tools, in the right way, to help you overcome it.

Nope, instead,that Silver Bullet moment of failing at that thing has proven to you that you're bad at it, forever.

Burcu Gurkan, who is Turkish-Canadian and whose name is pronounced more like Burjsha Gu'kan, started off by reminding us all that The Personal Is the Political, and spoke on the difficulties of Defining the Self, when one is constantly being defined as Other. Teaching other people how to pronounce your name, when you're in a different linguistic culture, expectations of linguistic capability, depending on which of your two native fluencies you deploy first (in Turkey, Turkish/English bilingualism is seen as improbable, and so they will default to whichever you use first). And then the odd moment of being recognized by someone—such as via seeing your name and just knowing the correct pronunciation—who then engages you directly, in a mode most similar to your own. She asked the question of what it means to be recognized or marked out by others in ways we don't expect or understand.

Identity, Gurkan says, requires an interoperator—we need another person in order to be recognized—and so the absence of that other who can recognize us is a special kind of space, and can act as a text to be read. The silence in that lack presents the potential for Difference, and a space for the self to reveal itself, absent expectations. She spoke of a study in which women were asked to interact with women and men, and while the women talked a camera would project to a screen images of their face, their bodies, or the room at large, providing only audio of the conversation. Women who spoke in the Body condition—that is, no facial identity—while speaking to men would subsequently reduce themselves, both in terms of literal amount of space they took up, and in terms of their voice and amount of speaking. Asked about their impressions, afterward, women stated that the Body Condition with Male Interlocutor was the one they disliked the most.

Shocking Literally No One.

Gurkan then went on to discuss less direct modes of Objectification, like socialization into sexual objectification, and how individuals become equated to and conflated with the sexual parts. In a study titled "That Swimsuit Becomes You" (which is such a fucking brilliant title that I wish I'd thought of it), women were asked to wear either swim suits or looser-fitting clothing like large sweaters and jeans. They were then presented with a room in which there was a table of food that could be eaten, and another table at which they were asked to take a brief math test. Women wearing the swimsuits actively avoided the food and did far worse on the math tests. Think back on that study published this week, that showed that female coders on GitHub were ranked substantially higher than men, but only if their gender was hidden. Yeah. That.

Women, Gurkan says, bifurcate the subject/object dichotomy, being required by society to be both, at once. They must produce and engage the world as subject—emotional expectations, etc—but in their doing of this they are necessarily objectified as subjects. In this way, traditional epistemological modes are specifically constructed to exclude women, and even more especially women from non-western cultures. That is, objectification for a non-western woman is "different in kind and degree," creating a "palimpsestic limbo where her identity is constructed for her." As such, post-colonialism doesn't go nearly far enough.

"Women's Bodies are the First Colony." - Burcu Gurkan

My presentation went pretty well, i think, as two people asked me to write and publish with them on the work I did, there, concerning machine and nonhuman consciousness, human augmentation, and narrative foundations for the perspectives we build into the world. I'll have an audio version of the paper/talk available, when I get back.

We saw several other panels, but that conference is HUGE and there are literally more than a dozen panels happening in any given time slot. I made special time for

Women, Gender, and Sexuality 7: Cinematic Representations

The Geek and Pop Culture 1: Geeks & Identity.

Both of these panels were amazing explorations of various perspectives on their topic

-=I started to think I'd died in Albuquerque, and that ABQ was Hell.=-
Remember that flight I mentioned, up there? The one to replaced the one that got missed as a result of my losing my phone? Well, that flight got massively delayed due to ice and snow in Chicago, and we didn't take off until 445pm, Albuquerque time. As I type this, it's about 6pm Mountain, and this flight is still in the air. Don't know what the situation with our connecting flight is, because the gate attendant said they were hearing that everything out of ORD was delayed, but the airport website said everything was on time. So this'll be fun. More updates as I type this out and have them.

-=Repeating your words is disrespectful to words.=-
As you probably know by now, US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has very suddenly died, and already the Republicans are talking about blocking or delaying the confirmation of any appointee made by President Obama. Their hope is that they can use this window to get another far-right Constitional originalist on the bench; someone to directly replace Scalia's vote on the court. Only problem with this strategy is that it puts them in the position of once again being "The Party of No," during a presidential election cycle, and the general voting populace is about to start paying very real attention to what's going on out there. The literal best thing the Republican Party could do for themselves, right now, is work with the White House to very hastily broker a nearly-toothless centrist; someone who is, as Toby Zeigler once said, not the best choice; not the worst. "A paean to mediocrity." Not doing so means that the Republicans are making two risky bets:

1) That people won't notice that Republicans' publicly stated obstinacy is the thing that's keeping the Supreme Court depleted for the longest period of time since the US Civil War, and that 2) Those same people won't vote their asses out of all power for their choices.

And those two bets didn't work so well for them, last time. If they try to play this out until the election, Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are going to start running all the anti-choice, far-right, religious dogma they can get their hands on, all the decisions about voting rights and privacy in which Scalia was a major vote—not quoting him, of course, but highlighting the decisions—and they're going to tie this to the voting, speaking, and policy records of the Republican field, and they're going to tie themselves to President Obama's appointment of Justices Kagan and Sotomayor, and they're going to ask the mostly-Center-Left American Electorate, and "Can we really afford to have more of the Republican Picture of Justice?" Visuals of the first Latina on the Bench, the first black President, the passage of the VRA, to Civil Rights, Abortion Rights, Women's Rights, and Gay Rights Marches, of the last half century. "Or do we want Freedom and Justice, for all?"

And they're going to run that ad, or others like it, until 1159pm in Hawaii on November 1st.

At least, that's what I would do, if I wanted to win.

-="Aliens Welcome Here"=-
We went to Roswell, NM, yesterday, because it's going to be at least another year before we're back in this state, and I figure, if you were an adolescent in the 1990's and are less than 3 hours' drive from Roswell, you gotta go. You just Gotta. In addition to seeing the UFO Museum, which was fantastic, we had some of the best Mexican grilled chicken I've ever had in my life. Made by what appeared to be a family of six on huge grills, by splitting a chicken in half at the spine, and seasoning the whole thing with what might have been just salt and pepper, but might have been actual cocaine. holy crap it was good. Served the whole thing with tortillas, beans, rice and onions, and a drink, or whatever combination of those things you want.

After lunch, and checking out the historical documents and the gift shop (I picked up a report on Majestic 12), we were going to go to this mineral shop but realised that it was called "Ancient of Days" and that it had some very far-right, fundamentalist iconography going on in the windows. We then noticed that that was true of a lot of the cars and trucks driving around, as well. We didn't go in that shop.

We did not go to Carlsbad, even though literally everyone we told about our Roswell trip recommended it. It was too late, and too tired, by the time we were done. But next time: Carlsbad and White Sands.

On the way out of Roswell, it was dark and so we listened to David Bowie and pulled off the road, at one point to watch the stars in the deep dark desert. We were joined, at a distance of maybe 100ft (~30 meters), by a coyote. Ravens were everywhere in New Mexico. The whole place had a very Trickster-Friendly vibe, to it. For instance, at one point, last night, while I was thinking about the racial politics of ABQ (most of the black people I saw were homeless, and a lot of people seemed to get tense and terse when they saw me, even when I was in a suit) a homeless man walked up to us and asked to borrow a few pennies. When I gave him all the pennies I had, he told us about how his sister had made the smart choice and escaped, and how he wasn't racist, himself; he even had quite a lot of African ancestry. I've been thinking about ABQ's history with slavery, since then.

Anyway, I got a ridiculous amount of pictures of that Roswell, and the mountains around it. We'll see how we post them, later.

-=You gotta try the green chilies.=-
Weird fact: Albuquerque has a lot of Italian food, and specifically New York-Style Italian food. The first place we ate, on Wednesday, was called the New York Pizza Department. Thought it was a quirk until we walked down central, and saw like three more NY-style pizza joints/restaurants.

We ate at a really great place called Lindy's Diner, on Central and 5th, right next to the KiMo Theater. They do a variant on the traditional town dish, "The Albuquerque Turkey." The original is a turkey club with green chilies. Lindy's adds avocado. Solid dish. Only complaint is the lack of staff. One person running around trying to accommodate everybody gets a little harrowing, I would think, and can make for long wait times.

Friday night, we met up with someone I've known for over 12 years, but have never met in meatspace. We went with her and her husband to the Marble Brewery, which is literally just a brewery that serves their own beer. Weird concept to me, as every brewery I've known has had food. But this is actually a brilliant strategy, as set up outside the brewery was a Taco Truck. Really simple, truly Mexican tacos, at like $8 for 4 of any kind you want. Asada, carnitas, pescado, pollo, and all freaking amazing. They also did quesadillas, which were more cheese anything. Like, so much cheese that the structural integrity started to go. Great stuff. If you're in ABQ and see the Chicharroneria Don Choche truck, do go to it.

We stayed at the Mauger Estate Bed and Breakfast, which is a historical landmark in the city. Extremely nice staff, gorgeous accommodations, and the breakfast was delicious. Something different every morning. Thursday, for instance, was banana pecan French toast with a cinnamon and sour cream cheese topping, chicken apple sausage, pork sausage, strawberry compote, banana walnut muffins, fruit salad, an array of cereals, and yogurt. Delicious. They even made us a little to-go bag of breakfast this morning. Walking distance to everything related to the conference and most of downtown Albuquerque. Do recommend.

-=If by Shy you mean tired, then Yes.=-
Made it into Chicago about two hours ago (10pm Chicago time), and the only flight left home is out at ~6am. Going to have to cancel classes, tomorrow.

Found out that, right after I got back from getting my phone from the rental car place, this was happening: "Bomb on Rental Car Disarmed at Albuquerque Airport." So that's terrifying.

-=I Guess We're Calling this A Day=-
No links, this week, as I am utterly exhausted, and I don't feel like putting commentary together. I will say that I wrote a thing for Eris Magazine about Beyoncé's "FORMATION" Working. The thing itself and my piece have stirred of some strong reactions. Take a look, see what you think.

I'm I've been in the interstitial airport condition for well over 14 hours, now, with about 8 more to go. Depending on the disposition of bags, &c, it is entirely possible that we will have spent a full 24 hours on planes and in airports before we get home. So that's something very different.

[Pictures of Chicago Tarot Spread Should Go Here, but uploading them didn't work out.]

Made it home. Managed not to be in the Airport Condition for a full 24 hours, but it was a BARE thing.15 minutes shy.

Going to go charge all my machines, including the meat-based one. Pretty extremely tired.

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