Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1794 when he was twenty-nine years old and it - sorta - changed the world. Overnight it made Upland Short cotton into ‘King Cotton’ and elevated the Antebellum South as an agricultural and therefore economic powerhouse. It inadvertently kicked off the Industrial Revolution in the United States. By mechanizing and expediting the tedious process of removing the seeds from the cotton, it also created a greater demand for more raw cotton. Which created the demand for a larger agricultural labor force, which could have been very expensive. But wasn’t. Not the way America did it.
Later in his life, Whitney manufactured muskets for the Continental Army. He died in 1825, when Abraham Lincoln was 14 years old.
In the darkest days of the American Civil War, President Lincoln, a student of history, would sometimes mumble frustratedly to his staff, “This is all that damn Whitney’s fault.” An early draft of the address Lincoln gave at Gettysburg included a section where the long-dead Whitney was to be personally excoriated. The President later decided not to include the section in his speech, “This is the wrong time to speak ill of the dead,” Lincoln told one of his aids before crossing the former battlefield to make his address.
Lincoln’s erstwhile forgiveness was not felt by all Americans however. Sometime in 1867 Whitney’s remains were stolen from the Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven Connecticut, where they had laid at rest since 1825. To this day the Yale-owned cemetery officially denies the theft, however many students and faculty have claimed to have seen Whitney’s unhappy ghost standing impatiently under the Egyptian Revival gateway to the cemetery. Some students claim that he bummed cigarettes from them. The cemetery officially denied this as well and cautioned Yale students against smoking regardless.
A precocious and insomniatic Yale undergrad names Fox Luckner made a short- form documentary about Whitney’s ghost. She interviewed him every Tuesday night for four weeks (he tended to be most corporeal on Tuesday nights). The first two sessions were primarily dedicated to figuring out exactly how to light a ghost. Whitney, imbued with natural curiosity and an engaging mind, offered many suggestions, but owing to his inexperience with electric lights, this only served to annoy Luckner. By the third session Whitney quietly stood off to one side while Luckner set up her lights. He puffed unobtrusively on the Pall Malls that she had brought him.
“Were you aware at the time of the massive repercussions that the invention of the cotton gin would bring?” Luckner can be heard asking in the final documentary.
Whitney’s round, smooth face crinkled a little, “I really just want my body back,” he replied. “I thought you were going to help me get my body back.”
“Surely you must have thought about the ramifications?” Luckner pressed.
“Don’t be one of those people who blames me for the Civil War, okay? I was dead by then. I had nothing to do with it.”
“But when you patented the cotton gin you set in motion a whole series of events which led inexorably to the institutionalization of slavery and eventually the war.”
“Not every place that had slavery had cotton and I kind of resent the implication,” said Eli Whitney’s ghost. “You know, I also invented interchangeable parts, do you want to talk about that?”
“No,” said Fox Luckner.
“Fine. Do you have any more cigarettes?”
The documentary cuts quickly and when it comes back Whitney is reveling in a Pall Mall. He smokes it, it is quite real in his ghost hand, held between his ghost fingers, but after he inhales the blue smoke just billows out and away like a thin cloud.
“Do you have any opinions on the modern age?” Luckner can be heard asking.
“I think that people have no respect for other people’s remains anymore.”
“With all due respect, your body was stolen more than a hundred and fifty years ago.”
“Probably by Jews.”
“You’re anti-Semitic too?” Luckner asked.
“I don’t know what that word means.”
“It is actually not a word, it’s a compound word.”
“Nothing, forget it.” Luckner can be heard off camera flipping through her notes. “Do you know what the internet is?” She asks almost as a lark
“Of course I do. You think we don’t get the internet?”
There is a pause as Whitney smokes and Luckner tries to recover from her shock. “I’m sorry, did you say that you ‘get the internet’?”
“Yeah. Sure we do.”
“Who is ‘we’?”
“You know, all the dead people.”
There is another long pause. Then Luckner can be heard to ask tentatively, “Could you explain that a little more? Please …”
Ultimately Luckner chose to premier her documentary at Cannes rather than peddling it as an academic oddity on college campuses. She would later explain in a NEWSWEEK magazine interview, “I felt that the world at large needed to know about these revelations.”
“How did you feel,” the NEWSWEEK interviewer asked, “upon initially hearing Whitney’s description of the ghost presence on the internet?”
“Well, I was quite taken aback, as you might imagine. I mean, when you watch the documentary, you can hear me stuttering.”
What Whitney had described while puffing agitatedly on his Pall Mall, was the remarkable confluence of the afterlife and the internet. “I can pass more freely from my dead state to the internet than I can from my dead state to this one, where I am at with you right now.”
“You’re not always in a ‘dead state’?” Luckner had asked.
“Not at all. Do I seem dead now?”
Luckner had not responded.
“It is all just …” Whitney took a long drag, thought and then went on, “… energy. It is all just energy. The flicker of a candle, or a ghost or those light things you have so much trouble setting up. The internet too.”
“What do you do on the internet?” Luckner had asked.
“Mostly we watch all of you. It is amazing how much you can be aware of when you don’t have a physical body to limit your perception. We watch you buy things, we watch you type to each other. Sometimes we just watch you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, all your computers have those cameras on them now. Sometimes I like to just sit there and watch.”
“What do you mean?” Luckner asked again, her voice had the sound of little creaks and waves in it.
“Just that,” Whitney puffed, “we can see you, through the cameras. Next time you sit down at your computer, spend a second to let you eyes flick up to that little camera lens up there above your screen. You can’t see past it, but you never know, one of us could be there. Looking out at you. Watching you. Maybe it is someone dead who loves you, who is watching over you. Maybe not. There are a lot of unpleasants out there, floating in the ether, watching you. All of you.”
Luckner said nothing. It is the most tense moment in the documentary.
Finally Whitney said, “Look, are you going to help me get my body back or not?”
At that point in the documentary it cuts to Luckner racing back to her dorm room (she always claimed that she hadn’t realized that the camera was still recording, that it was a happy accident discovered in the editing process) where she covers the camera on her computer with a piece of electrical tape.
Following the release of the documentary a mild hysteria ensued. The sales of electronics dipped for two straight fiscal quarters. The U.S. Congress passed multiple laws seeking to restrict the access that ghosts had to the internet, though none of the laws offered clear technical suggestions as to how this might be down. People started unplugging their computers and wireless routers at night. Google promised to make their websites more secure against ghosts.
Eventually the hysteria subsided. Luckner went on to make another documentary, this one decrying the habitual properties of high fructose corn syrup.
Soured by his experience with Luckner and the newfound modern fame that she had brought him, Whitney refused to grant any more interviews to anyone who couldn’t help him find his body.
Interestingly, Whitney’s sudden notoriety gave rise to new debates over whether his invention of the cotton gin had in fact lit the long fuse to the Civil War in America. Without fail, whenever these discussions took place online the websites always crashed.
The Editors here at Standard Kink would like to apologize if that last poem was offensive to any of our blind readers. Obviously it was meant simply in the spirit of whimsy. We here at Standard Kink are adamantly opposed to making fun of those with disabilities and we certainly do not habitually make inappropriate sexual gestures at blind people on the street, no matter what that cop said that he thought he saw that one time.
Hello, yes, it has been awhile. So long in fact that maybe we need to get to know each other again? You know, before we get in too hot and heavy into all of this blogging. Maybe you’ll sleep in the guest bedroom tonight? That way neither of us feel any … pressure … you know? Thanks, that’s super cool of you. I really appreciate your being understanding; it has just been awhile … since we blogged last.
So what have you been up to lately? Really? Well that is just fascinating.
Me? Not much. Working mostly. Although I did recently participate in the alleged theft of some rocks glasses from a local bar … I went to see the very cool The Heartless Bastards.
Also, I have been reading a lot. I FINALLY got around to reading Neil Gaiman’s very very long “American Gods” (it was quite good, though I never quite got behind a protagonist named “Shadow”) and I just started Gideon Defoe’s anarchic “The Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists” (Basically it is about some pirates who hang out with Karl Marx on an adventure. Here is a snippet I particularly like from page 92”:
‘Really? I didn’t know that,’ said the albino pirate. ‘You see, wax is basically bee sick.’ ‘What if there aren’t any bees about? Bees get all sleepy in winter,’ said the pirate who knew a bit about nature.
The whole book is like that!).
I have been bi-polar-ly seesawing lately between being in love with everything in the world and hating everything in the world. I think I’m not eating enough fruit or something.
For a brief moment recently I had completely forgotten about the fact that I totally want a pet goat! But I was reminded of it recently by my roommate Rainbow Chrysanthemum. For your edification and my amusement, here is a picture of a goat in a taxi cab:
While stumbling aimlessly across the internet the other night I happened across this painting and was kind of struck by it. I’m not saying that it is the Mona Lisa or anything, but it seemed familiar and weird all at once. Sort of calm and restrained but still freakish. Like if Salvador Dali did a Kafka book jacket.
I will try to keep this short and sweet because I know you did not come here to read about my (probably unhealthy) fixation with something called “Ultralight Backpacking”, however, I recently stumbled ass backward across a fairly stunning (yet somehow super-obvious) metaphoric connection.
(“Ultralight backpacking” is just regular backpacking but with a Base Pack Weight (BPW) of ten pounds or less. BPW is all your gear and stuff less “consumables” like food and water.)
See, I have been extremely stressed out over the past month or so, work has been simply out-of-control-legitimately-unreasonably-unhealthily-stressful and some things in my personal life have not gone EXACTLY how I wanted them to (you know how that annoys me) and so I have been feeling it in my neck and my shoulders and my back and my general sense of exhaustion. However, what I have found most relaxing lately is to make a simple dinner (usually chicken and vegetables) and eat it while I read blogs about ultralight backpacking. While I do that, I have a spreadsheet open and I add up the weights of various things to assemble various “systems” (that is what the backpacking-blog-people call them). I have even found a system that I think will work for me, at an anticipated weight of about six pounds. How does one achieve such a low BPW, you exclaim? Well, by being dangerously unreasonable about what they’re willing to sacrifice! I mean, come on, if you subtract the wine out of my life, I basically lead a largely ascetic existence (My breakfast and lunch are both of the meal-replacement variety and I already described my dinner. I barely even eat cookies anymore and only actually sleep in my bed when I’ve had a really good day.)
But by this point in this blog post you’re getting bored, right? Well then I will get to the point … the way you get down to six pounds is by not having a tent (which usually weighs 2 – 6 lbs). I will be using a bivy sack (16 ounces) for shelter (some people only use tarps and I used a hammock in the Grand Canyon) also, instead of a sleeping bag (30 – 50 ounces) I’m going to use an Adventure Medical Kits Escape Bivy (8.5 ounces). And instead of a regular backpack (2 – 5 lbs) I am modifying an Embark laptop backpack from Target (20 ounces). These are all decisions I have made recently, while sitting at my kitchen table. I haven’t gotten to use any of this stuff yet, of course, but it is still pretty cold here in Southern California (yeah, laugh it up Alaskans). The reality is that I will probably use this “system” once and freeze my ass off so bad that I come home and jump into the hot tub and simply refuse to ever leave it ever.
Oh! But have you caught onto the metaphor part of all this yet? Well here is it: the more and more and more stressed out I am by the simple act of living my life, the lighter and lighter and lighter my theoretical weight is getting. This is what those of us in the numbers business call an “inverse relationship” (actually, it is what everyone calls an inverse relationship). I realized this the other day when my 8.5 ounce sleeping bag-replacement arrived in the mail (it is basically a very special and fancy metallic emergency blanket) and the first thing I did after taking it out of the Amazon wrapping was weigh it.
So the cogent and cognitive part of my brain laid on the brakes and went, “Woooooah there buddy, is it possible that you may have gone round the bend?” But the sensitive and humanistic part of my brain was saying, “Look, this I what everyone does. People buy sports cars to feel cool, go golfing to feel active and become cops because they have mother issues (that’s 100% true BTW), so why should you feel bad that thinking light weight helps you enjoy life more?”
The problem, of course, is that this particular psychosis is all leading toward an inevitable night where I am alone on the side of a mountain somewhere freezing to death or getting attacked by a bear and not having a proper camping machete with which to fend it off. So I suppose there is some actual danger, but, you know, what’s life without a marginal but appreciable amount of danger?
So that’s it! That was all I had to say about all of that! I can talks some more about the various nuanced aspects of ultralight backpacking, if you want, but I think that really you would just feel obligated to keep reading out of some misplaced sense of politeness and I would feel obliged to make things increasingly more interesting and so would have to start lying about things (“I hike with no clothes on and just one match, that’s how light I go!”) , only you would know that I was lying and it would just become embarrassing and uncomfortable for both of us.
So you know how much I like it when good things happen to me which required absolutely no effort on my part? Well this week I was offered a totally free digital SLR camera. It is a hand-me-down and not bleeding-edge top-of-the-line or anything (it is a several years old Olympus E-500) but that is fine because I would have absolutely no idea what to do with a bleeding-edge top-of-the-line digital SLR camera. As it is, I will have virtually no idea what to do with this thing once I get it. I haven’t actually set an F-stop since I was a senior in high school (which, in case you are keeping track, was seven hundred years ago). However I am VERY MUCH looking forward to receiving this thing and am hoping to find a community college class to take over the summer to learn how to use it!
Between you and me, I had actually been saving up some money to buy a Rebel or something, you know, a quaint entry-level digital SLR. In the past year I have adventured to Catalina Island and New York and into The Grand Canyon and to several very interesting other places and I was often saddened by the fact that I didn’t have the ability to take any really good pictures along the way. Now, do not misunderstand me, the pictures I will be taking for the next year or so will probably look like this:
However, I am a quick learner and will probably be able to take pictures that are at least this good in pretty short order:
The truth is that I once dated a very very talented photographer and so never worried about whether or not there would be good pictures of a trip, because I knew there would be. Well I have felt a real lack over the past couple of years because I enjoy having good, stylistic, artistic photos around. And I did always like being able to point at the wall and go, “Yeah, that one is from a trip to Boston …” stuff like that.
Now I know that the proliferation of camera phones and crazy good digital point-and-shoot cameras has created a world wherein a person can have really cool pictures without having to commit much energy to it, but there is a part of me that wants to learn the art of a good picture. So many settings and dials and things to know! Part of me wants to climb up the side of a hiking trail somewhere just to get a picture of a flower and actually know how to dial in the focus. There is a delightful steampunk-ian combination of archaic mechanism and imaginative whimsy that go into the making of a good photograph, and I want to learn how to do it. For the same reason that I would like to own a very nice old typewriter.
So, anyway, this is just a warning shot I guess. Please get used to seeing a large amount of very very poor quality photos of my cats.
As you probably know, I play the variable-speed blender in a very progressive and completely fake band. The members are real (I let anybody in, I’m kind of a whore) but our resolve to practice or actually learn to play music is very much not real.
However, just in case that ever changes, I keep lists of song titles for our next album (not to blow my own horn, but word on the street is that this next album will be our seminal work). Here are the songs which you will (or won’t, it is up to you) be rocking out to soon:
The Investment Banker from Norway
A Pedantic Gadfly
Some of These Ideas are Not Yet Well-Formed
I Would Like to Hang Out with You in the Water Closet with Just a Cardboard Box Between us While We Play Guitar
I Will Cut You
Nurture, Tortilla Chips, and Fear
No Breaking Dishes Here
Absolutely No Dress Code Enforced; Black Tie Preferred
I Left My Virginity at Your Summer Camp
Nelson Rockfeller’s Secret Children
Your Mom was the Special Guest Star Last Night
I Did Not Intentionally Look Up Animal Porn*
Well I Can Invent a Helicopter that Doesn’t Work Too, da Vinci.
* This was actually said out loud by my roommate Colossal Blossom during a game of “Is it a Website?!” which, if you have never played it, is one of my favorite games, as described below. . . .
If I recall correctly this game was invented back when I lived in San Diego. Here is what you need to play:
- A few fun people - Some booze never hurts - A laptop with internet
Here is how it works: You think up web addresses that may or not be real. You type them in. You find yourself constantly amazed, delighted, appalled, transfigured.
That’s it. That is the whole game. It is perfect in its simplicity. I understand that right now you don’t think much of it, but go get some people together, pop open a bottle of wine and try playing. It is simply and always (seriously, 100% of the time) a super fun way to kill an evening.
And hey, maybe along the way your roommate will be forced to defend herself for looking up animal porn.
Since moving across town and across the street from a small shoping center (complete with a grocery store, a hamburger place, a Chinese place, a Mexican place, a dry cleaners and a Honey Baked Ham store!) I have found myself finding excuses to walk over there simply because I love being able to walk over there. I will be sitting around the apartment bored out of my mind and thinking, “You know, I would really like some peanuts, I should walk over to the store and get some peanuts.” And then, you know what happens? Yeah, I walk over to the store and get some peanuts.
On a recent weekend day which I had dedicated to doing absolutely nothing but reading (I actually ended up reading and also drinking wine and hanging things up around the apartment, which I’m sure pleased my roommates to no end) I ended up walking over to the store like 5 times. Just to get stuff that I kept thinking of. Luckily I refuse to let myself buy truly frivolous things, so I’m basically always walking over there for cat food or canned green beans or some such banality.
So now you’re asking yourself, ”Why do I care?”
Well listen, jerk, no one is forcing you to read this blog!
But if you stop now you will miss out on the super awesome playlist I was about to tell you about … yeah, see, now you care.
Well when I walk over there I put my iPod on and since I am normally walking over there shortly after I get back from work, I am still all super stressed out. I realized the necessity of having a de-stressing mix for after work. So I made one and it is awesome. Here it is, enjoy:
Under Pressure – David Bowie and Queen (Just classic and never wrong)
Crazy in Love – Snow Patrol (Yeah, Snow Patrol covering Beyonce. It is the coolest/creepiest thing since The Flaming Lips covered Kyle Minogue)
Hey Ya – Michael Schulte (A slow, sweet, acoustic cover of OutKast’s “Hey Ya!”. Hilarious and also, somehow, very good and touchingly sad)
We Are Young – We Are Young (I WISH I could claim to have heard this song before it was used in that Super Bowl ad with the cars doing stunts, but I cannot. Anyway, this is one of those songs that’s so good that you have to forgive it for being so pop-tacular)
Alphabet Pony – The Kills (The Kills are an aggressively weird band and this is an aggressively weird song. Kinda sexy, kinda mean, kinda occasionally spastically arrhythmic)
After Hours – We Are Scientists (If you do not know "We Are Scientists" just think of a really cute man who is also talented and funny and genuine and just an all around awesome guy who you would totally hate except that he’s so fucking cool. Well this is what his life sounds like. [His slightly less cool younger brother sounds like Vampire Weekend, BTW])
Kiss With a Fist – Florence & The Machine (Everybody knows and loves Florence by now, but this is, I thought, the most wickedly catchy song on her first album. I have had relationships that this song might as well be about)
Out of the Races – The Rapture (Oh, The Rapture, they were one of those 90s bands that was always on the cusp of becoming the next big thing, sadly though they never quite made it. That fact aside, they are consistently one of my favorite bands in the world and this is kind of their flagship song. I structured a whole novel around this song once!)
Blah Blah Blah – Ke$ha (Yes. Ke$ha. Deal with it. This is the dirrty song on her first album)
Sweet Disposition – The Temper Trap (Hey! Remember when “500 Days of Summer” came out and this song sort of changed your life for a second? Then remember how it was used in a Diet Coke commercial that tried to make drinking Diet Coke seem cool? Side note: I have become pretty certain that “500 Days of Summer” is about me and I just never realized it)
Boom Boom – The Animals (A charming and delightful friend of mine recently turned me on to The Animals. Of course I had heard of them, but had never really paid any attention. Well they are old - school, kinda dirty and all around undeniable)
London Bridge – Fergie (Chuckle all you want, but this song makes me happy! Side note: I actually happened to be in London when this album first came out and was walking across the actual London Bridge and guess what had been put up just at one end of it? Yeah, a giant billboard for this single. The perfect symmetry of place and shameless marketing)
This Fire – Franz Ferdinand (Does it get cooler than Franz Ferdinand? No, no it does not. In my imaginary life I go out at night to dark LA ultra-lounges and wear a trim-ly tailored pinstriped gray suit and somehow emit the sound of Franz Ferdinand)
Senorita – Justin Timberlake (Look, at this point if you still scoff at Justin Timberlake’s talent, then you’re basically the same as a Holocaust denier. You and the nation of Iran should have a good time hanging out, because I will be busy listening to this song with a giant grin on my face.)
And then, when this playlist is over, I do not feel stressed out anymore.
Although, all that above being said, today when I walked to the store (for cat food, Aloe Vera juice, microwavable chimichangas and a Rock Star) I didn’t feel like listening to the Under Pressure mix and so set the iPod to shuffle and it spit out Vivaldi’s Four Seasons Op. 8 No.4 : Winter, which I have now decided is probably the most perfect piece of music ever. But what do I know? I publicly admitted to creating a playlist with “London Bridge” on it.
Out there in the ether of our culture I imagine that there are people having arguments about whether it will be the robots or the hyper-intelligent primates who take over the world (these are probably the same people who concern themselves with the inaccuracies of vampirism in “Twilight”). Well, if you’re keeping score, the primate people are now winning!