Emergency Human

The Art of being human is difficult to practice,
difficult even to recall.
Therefore, it's an emergency.
After all, what else is there to do?

GoogleReich and the Radical Laziness of Consumer Society
   Today I was reading an article about Google+, Google's attempt to compete with Facebook. As of this writing, Google+ is a new event, mainly of interest to those who want to be celebrities in what they imagine to be the "community" of people online. It seems that the Googlites are quite adamant that anyone who has an account on Google+ must use their real name. And some people with odd names, under suspicion of using a fake identity, have been auto-deleted by the Google+ automated police force. These people have lost their Google+ membership as well as their GMail and other Google services. That's a dramatic turn of events for anyone who has become enmeshed with online services; as frightening as it is comical. To lose one's online account can now be tantamount to losing the Internet!

   How did such a bizarre scenario take hold? I'm continually surprised by the extent to which so many people will allow these online services to rule their lives. Imagine that a friend invites you over for coffee. When you arrive it turns out that your friend's "place" is a free "social room" in a local shopping mall, known as The Living Room®. It consists of a room with sofas, chairs, cable TV, stereo and perhaps a microwave oven. One can make an appointment to use that room as one's own living room. For free. The catch is that one has to accept ads displaying on the wall. And one has to accept that The Living Room® will record and exploit all conversation that happens in The Living Room®. And one has to accept that The Living Room® will embed RFID tags in one's clothing, so that one's activities can be tracked after leaving The Living Room®. ...And no conversation of a controversial, anti-social, illegal, fringe-political, or sexually "deviant" nature may be carried out in The Living Room®. ("For further clarification please read The Living Room® Terms of Service booklet, which includes the contract that you auto-agreed to abide by through the act of entering The Living Room®.")

   The above is a roughly accurate description of Facebook, Google+, free webmail (gmail, hotmail, yahoo, etc.) and other such services. Why would anyone in their right mind put up with such an affront? Not because it's free. Better email and real webhosting services -- the ability to own a piece of the Web and use it as one sees fit -- are cheap. People use the free services for a very simple reason: laziness. We simply can't be bothered to manage our own lives if someone else offers to do that for free.

   It should hardly be surprising, then, that people are comfortable being called "consumers" or "users". Those words evoke an image of a dairy herd. A corporation maintains a herd of "users" by feeding them a steady diet of trinkets and freebies. That's the cost of doing business; the cattle feed. Profit is gained by milking the herd through advertising, renting the herd to other advertisers, or selling the herd outright. Yet the cows in the herd feel clever to be "users". They're getting free service, after all, aren't they?

   The rise of GoogleReich is "upping the ante" in this strange, widespread experiment in social sloth. Facebook, while vast, is still mainly a social site for those in the peak mating age-range. It's a private club with no true presence online. Twitter is active, but generally irrelevant for anything beyond fan clubs. But Google+ links the biggest search engine, run by the biggest online advertising company, to the biggest webmail service, and now potentially the biggest social website. One could almost live one's life through Google. And one could then have that life ended if the Googlites don't regard one to be a sufficiently profitable, or proper, user.

   Your online life could even be ended simply because the Google Robotic Police Force thinks your name sounds funny. That's because the corporate-hosted life of a user is not your life. It's theirs. Welcome to Google+. And congratulations on receiving an invitation. Not everyone gets an invitation. Only special, qualifying users.

Whole Foods, Organic Food & Cultural Literacy
   Whole Foods, for those who don't know, is a national natural foods grocery store chain. Over the years Whole Foods has become the Walmart of natural food, supplanting or buying out many smaller stores or chains. While Whole Foods is known for very high prices, they do a reasonably good job of supplying quality food to a very large market. And despite their size, Whole Foods is still flexible enough to offer local produce in season.

   It's safe to say that the Whole Foods clientelle is, to a great extent, wealthy and highly educated. These are people with a high degree of multi-paradigmatic "cultural literacy". They know their Red Sox from their Yankees, their Leno from their Letterman. But they also know their tofu from their miso, their arrugula from their kale, their echinacea from their chamomile. They know the popular definition and claimed value of organic food. And presumably they know that the US has, since 2002, had reasonably strict organic regulations in place that finally make the word "organic" mean something.

   According to the USDA, a handful of countries have agreements with the US in regard to organic foods. There is an equivalence agreement with Canada. There are 6 countries -- -- Denmark, India, Israel, Japan, New Zealand and the UK -- with authority to certify organic food to US standards. Then there are a number of countries where USDA-approved certifiers are located: Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Spain, Switzerland,Turkey.
( http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/ams.fetchTemplateData.do?template=TemplateJ&page=NOPACAs)

   Whole Foods carries organic apples from Chile and organic bananas from Colombia. Neither country is on that list. Stonyfield Farms buys organic strawberries for their yogurt from China(!), which is also not on that list. Even with respect to countries that are on the list, does anyone really believe that inspections in 3rd-world countries are not more prone to corruption and bribery than inspections in, say, the EU? Does anyone believe that farming practices can be standardized worldwide? Does anyone really believe that organic food from California or Vermont is the same as organic food from China or Mexico, Argentina or Israel?

   Yet Whole Foods imports a great deal of "organic" produce. They even make light of the distinction between domestic and imported foods, often selling organic avocados that come from "Mexico or Arizona", organic garlic that comes from "USA or Argentina", etc. In light of the foregoing explanations, doesn't it seem very odd that the wealthy intelligentsia in the US are willing to believe that anything called organic by Whole Foods must be so, even when the Whole Foods management doesn't seem to care very much about the origin of their products? Are people willing to pay a high premium merely to buy reassurance? If the natural food devotees -- for whom cost is no object in many cases -- can't be bothered to pay attention to these issues then what hope is there for protecting and improving the food supply, of the US or anywhere else?

   Then again, these are the same people who buy Dasani water -- shipped by the Coca Cola Co. from India in plastic bottles -- because they are afraid to drink the clean, tested and relatively free water from their own tap. They fear their tap water because it's unofficial. It's not on TV. It doesn't come in a commercial, logo-festooned dispenser. What, then, is education in America? Is cultural literacy only the ability to function as a consumer? Shouldn't it also include the ability to intelligently interpret the cultural medium... to competently parse the semiotics of marketing and the modern world in general?

Upgrading Motherboard/CPU
   Few people need to be concerned with upgrading a CPU, but for anyone who does, the details are obscure. If you decide to replace a motherboard and CPU, leaving an installed copy of Windows, it's important to know about two things:

1) If the new motherboard is going to be different, some versions of Windows will refuse to function with the old IDE drivers. Windows will boot to a blue screen unless you first uninstall those drivers through Device Manager and install the generic MS drivers.

   If you fail to do that and get stuck at a blue screen, all is not lost. Reboot to a recovery disk, such as UBCD4Win. Running Fix HDC and/or Fix IDE might solve the problem. If not, open a remote Registry editor tool. Go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\ControlSet001\Enum\. Delete any values connected with IDE controllers.

2) If you update from a single-core CPU to a multi-core CPU, Windows may not see the extra cores. When Windows installs it picks a copy of hal.dll from the store of system files. If Windows is installed with a single-core CPU it will use halacpi.dll. For multi-core it uses halmacpi.dll. To check whether all cores are recognized, use CPU-Z. If Windows sees only one core you need to do the following:

• Have on hand copies of the hal*.dll files for your version of Windows. (For instance, if using XP SP3 then be sure that the driver cache from the SP3 install is available.)

• Download the Windows DDK (driver development kit). The DDK is a CD ISO that must be unpacked or written to CD. If you download the Server 2003 version, find the folder named common. In the common folder find several CAB files named TOOLS_devcon*.cab. Looking at the respective .INF files will explain which of these CABs you need for your version of Windows. Extract devcon.exe from the appropriate CAB file.

   If you download the Windows 7 Driver Kit, unpack the ISO and find the WDK folder. In that folder find 3 CABs with matching MSIs, named setuptools_*. From the appropriate CAB extract the devcon.exe file. (It will have a corrupted file name due to the MSI packaging protocol, but the file will be obvious.) Rename that file to devcon.exe.

• Open a console window, CD to the devcon.exe parent folder, and run the following commands:
devcon sethwid @ROOT\ACPI_HAL\0000 := +acpiapic_mp !acpiapic_up
devcon update c:\windows\inf\hal.inf acpiapic_mp

• Once that's done, Windows should ask for halmacpi.dll and then reboot twice. By that point the multi-core CPU should be recognized.

Consistent Spiritual Hobgoblins
   I know a New-Age sort of person who is fond of a popular expression: "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." When I first heard this expression it seemed odd to me. How could such things as consistency and dependability be the mark of inferior people? My New-Age acquaintance is a person who has never really needed to work for a living. He's never known the tedium of working at low paying jobs, nor the fear of being laid off, nor the risk of being fired, losing his livelihood due to poor work habits. So perhaps his point of view was merely a convenient swagger? In other words, he could easily afford to be a "creative type".

   More recently I discovered that the expression is actually a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, and that the New-Age version leaves off a critical part. The full sentence is: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." What a difference two words makes.

   Emerson's writing is poetic, archaic and long-winded. Yet there is a striking resemblance between his exposition of Transcendentalism and the New Age spiritualism born of the social changes that took place in the 1960s and 1970s. Both are critical of the reductionistic materialism that naively takes the life of the senses to be no more and no less than Reality with a capital R. Both intuit that simple scientific materialism is not sufficient to the human spirit. Both idealize a vaguely defined quality of intuition, loosely connected with an idealized "Nature", that is posited to be superior to materialism. Both, too, are born out of the uniquely American psyche, in a country that was founded by people suspicious of traditions and rituals. The first Pilgrims were people who had decided it was time to start fresh. Again and again, Americans in America have started fresh. Individualism and freedom from the weight of history became ideals.

   Fresh start vs consistency. Emerson points us to the value of living life fresh, meeting each moment fully, rather than living in the safe cocoon of reassuring purpose that habitual living provides. His foolish consistency is just that cowardly retreat to rote behavior. The New-Age rewrite of Emerson's quote goes further. It idealizes a vaguely defined, mystical spontaneity opposed to habit. New-Age thinking tries to capture that alleged spontaneity by acting impulsively and idealizing the "natural" behavior of non-rational creatures like animals and babies. Spontaneity presumably feeds intuition while intuitive, nature-centered living is presumably expressed through spontaneity. (Spontaneous dancing, stream-of-consciousness poetry, and deliberate breaking of conventions are all typical New-Age expressions of "openness".) What both the Idealists of the Transcendental movement and the New-Agers miss, however, is that they are applying a formula; a kind of consistency. There is no one more conforming than a non-conformist. Non-conformist behavior is defined in terms of conformity. Likewise, the behavior of the "spontaneous" person is arguably the most consistent of all. It is consistently non-consistent; predictably unpredictable.

   So often spirituality is the most intractable obstacle to spirituality. Hobgoblins, indeed.


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