Friday, January 07, 2005

Porno, North Dakota

Introduction

It all started spring of 2001, with an article* I read in U.S. News & World Report. This article focused on the predicament of declining populations in the upper Midwest. It turns out certain counties have been losing citizens at rates approaching 30%. People die. Children leave. It’s fucking cold in the winter and humid in the summer, who’s gonna move there? The grim joke among some townsfolk in North Dakota was, “we’re going to have to start importing pall bearers soon.”

This got me to thinking: out there in the vast expanse of North Dakota are isolated towns with say 30 or fewer people. In fact, I have a road map of North Dakota on which towns with populations of 5 can be found, sometimes as the endpoint to miles of unpaved road. Now lets say I get together... fifty friends. The actual number is irrelevant, but we’ll just say fifty for the sake of argument. These fifty friends, myself included of course, pack up all our belongings and caravan out to some town where many many people have moved away. Maybe the town only has a population of 30, but had double or triple that at sometime in the past. We buy up, cheap mind you, all the houses we can afford. We move in!

Now, through the miracle of democracy, during the next election cycle my friends and I get voted into all the offices: mayor, treasurer, sheriff, etc. I get to be sheriff. That’s all I ask, for spearheading this endeavor. I get to be “the law.” My dad’s a cop, it’s in the blood. Anyway, after said elections, my friends and I run this town. If the old-timers don’t like it, they can move out. We took over this place fair and square! Who’s gonna argue with a fair democratic process?

Cue input from others... It’s November of 2001. It’s full-on Wisconsin winter outside but I’m warm and toasty sitting in Patty’s Irish Pub on the East Side of Milwaukee with some friends (Joe, Ani, & Paul). We’re drinking beer and talking about this and that. I regale them with my master plan to usurp some small town in North Dakota. They’re all in! Instantly! With great excitement we begin discussing what we’d do, what laws we’d pass or repeal, how work would be doled out, who’d we’d admit, who we wouldn’t. We go at great length about social harmony and community fabric, a place where we good friends can get on with the business of living and running a town together.

We also talk about what we’d call this place. I believe Ani came up with it and I know it wasn’t me, but we settled on Porno. Why Porno? Well, who would move to a place called Porno? Only someone with a sense of humor that parallels our own, that’s who. And think of the merchandising opportunities! T-shirts with “I love Porno,” on the front and “North Dakota” on the back. Bumper stickers with “Where the hell is Porno” on them. A newspaper called “Daily Porno” declaring Porno Appreciation Day. The possibilities are endless. Endless I say.

I won’t go into any more detail for now. There are a plethora of obvious problems with this plan. I’ll address some in forthcoming passages. In the end, if you take anything away from reading the above: this is more thought exercise than blueprint for revolution. Just sit there and think about this for a few minutes, “if my friends and I ran an entire town, what kind of environment would we foster?”

(I reserve the right to delete or change this passage as I please. Porno has been on my mind in various stages for a long time, and it is an idea that is constantly being tinkered with. Plus, I’m not entirely happy with this explanation, although I feel it is pretty much complete.)

* Jeff Glasser, “A Broken Heartland”, U.S. News & World Report, May 7, 2001, p 16-17, 19-20, 22.

13 Comments:

Blogger Praveen said...

I'm in, but I'll do the devil's lawyer. What do I want from life: to read, think, be with people I like, and enjoy certain pleasures of life (responsibly). In the best of non-Porno worlds, I can get a paycheck from some university that will let me do all that, and post-tenure, with a pretty laid back contract. Of course, there's a lot of crap in this best non-Porno world. Like people I dont like. Like loss of control. OK. Time for an analogy. Would you work at Google or a startup? With Google you get a whole bunch of assurances, and software and hardware infrastructure to actually test out crazy ideas (Google news was done by one person in his extra time in six months), but you might not have complete freedom to do anything, and I'm pretty sure there are some people there who arent all that fun to hang out with. With startup you could be with all your pals, and work on anything you want. The price: you have to spend a large part of your time building infrastructure. Many great things, esp great ideas, arent quite the place for in the the startup. They entail too much infrastructure cost, and you might start running out of money. No startup could do google news. I am reminded of the John Adams quote Mike used to sport:

"I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain."

So, how will Porno support the poets and musicians and armchair philosophers? Or, are you shunning these, and calling for a life closer to the real world, away from refined tastes like philosophy and single malt?

12:51 AM  
Blogger Skitz said...

As the great Henry Miller said, "

11:28 AM  
Blogger Skitz said...

As the great Henry Miller said, "I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive." I am starting to believe that this is the only true way to be happy. Henry Miller left for Paris with $10 in his pocket, and begged for food, slept with women, and wrote literature in his free time. He is the extreme, but happiness takes extreme measures.

I for one will not be happy working a status quo job for the majority of my life making more money for the executives, while they give me just enough to make me think I am going somewhere. That life is for the average Joe...are we not the elite (at least in our minds)? I have come to the conclusion that the only way to truly be happy is to answer to no man, whether it be a tenure board committee, a boss, an advisor, etc. To truly be free, you must lose dependence on having possessions such as a car, a house, a high paying job, and just live day to day. The best work comes through when you have nothing.

The only difference is that the resources that we have our cheap. We need a few computers, Internet, some rent money, enough to eat occassionally (this includes beer, cigarettes), and some good ideas. I would rather, as the p-dawg has nicely stated, read good books, think, be around people that I like who also think, and go after the big ideas that pay off. In the meantime, while going after the big ideas, it would be a hell of alot of fun trying.

The reason I haven't been looking for a job very hard, is because I don't want one. I want as little obligations as possible, and would rather spend my time thinking about the big ideas. If this means I have to learn to bartend, then so be it.

In addition, we can always support ourselves with little consulting jobs, such as building the local gov's website, etc. Lets just try to pick a place that has some natural beauty...mountains, streams, wildlife. I'm sick of flat!

It would help to have a PhD on board, so P-dawg, hurry the fisizzle up! As for me, I am now funded quarter by quarter, so I might have to start bartending school in March right in time for St. Patricks Day.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Skitz said...

To comment a bit on what Praveen said about startups,

"Many great things, esp great ideas, arent quite the place for in the the startup. They entail too much infrastructure cost, and you might start running out of money. No startup could do google news."

You might be a bit pessimistic about what a startup can do. Remember that google started in a garage with a couple of computers, a couple of guys, some rice and ramen, trying to build a new type of search engine, when the market was already saturated with bad search engines. I believe that a proof of concept can be built without infrastructure. To prove that google works better than other search engines, you don't have to crawl the whole web, but just some portion of it. The same could be true to build google news...couldn't you prove its worth on say 10 news sources, instead of 10,000 of the news sources. Whether the idea is good and will scale when deployed would be for a venture capitalist to decide. Again, a venture capitalist is like having a boss and relenquishing control, so the best option is simply to sell your prototype to google, and get on with the next one.

A more compelling idea (I think), is to start a non-profit, think-tank, where we look at issues that are close to our hearts. If I were to go back for the PhD, I see myself in more of a policy research setting, working for someone like Eszter Hargittai, where I believe the research might make some difference. The shit we do over here in CS/ECE makes no difference whatsoever...the game over here is to find some small thing that noone has done and do it. It actually makes no difference to anyone really.

I think in some way or another that all of us are big into policy research, or we at least want to be. I can see Mike working on alternate power sources, and educating the public on the evils of driving an SUV. I can see Praveen working on a whole multitude of issues, but one certainly would be exposing the evils of the American media and the propaganda machine. I could be working on bringing about more debate in the world.

The more I think about it, the non-profit, think tank in Porno, ND is the way to go. Think tank to me, basically implies that we just think about issues, publish them, apply for grants, etc. We are not affiliated to anyone, and our grants pay our salary. It is much easier to hire cool people that we would probably like very much when you are in the non-profit arena.

Also, we can have other side businesses for more money if we come up with great ideas along the way. To get a think tank started, we need to come up with one big idea in policy research that people care about. Whether it be alternate fuel, media, debate...we need public exposure to bring in a grant. We would need to become more active for awhile to get some publicity. This would help cover the fact that none of us have degrees/experience in policy research.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Praveen said...

I'll be the ruthless pragmatic realist this time. I am getting used to this role-playing. Ok. Think tanks have a very tough time getting any money, and any attention. Even when they are led by university professors or ex cia officials or politicians or celebrities or new york times editors or whatever bigshots. It will suck to be not only not hungry, but also not be heard. That kind of thing *has* to be done as a secondary thing, as a hobby, as a labor of love, but not the main thing. Unless everybody's listening to us. Which they arent. Talkingpointsmemo is being heard to. Now he can say things which other people will listen. He did it singlehandedly with no grants. But he is good journalist and had lots of contacts. If we can make a good impact and have some cool things to say, lets start by saying them here. If something is really cool -- try publishing it in Op-ed columns. Most newspapers have op-ed columns (not letters to editors, nobody much reads those) that are open to external contributors. I think we should do that. Lets see if we can get people to listen to us. But it will be hard. We dont have a hell lot of resources. Non-profits have a very tough time. Plus it doesnt help that our views are too radical (there is at least a 3:1 ratio of think tanks funded by right to those by left, source: George Lakoff, Dont Think of An Elephant).

I agree with Jason completely about not living a life of monotonous paying off to execs. I want to make a change. But it seems like the way to go is to do the really cool things as a side project, until it gets big, and not the other way.

2:15 PM  
Blogger Praveen said...

Just meant to clarify: in my last comment I was not against chasing great ideas in general, but specifically against the think-tank kind that Jason mentions. For example, I am for an SMS based technology that will enable a new kind of communication. As for the think-tank kinds, I am not against chasing them. On the contrary. I am suggesting we talk, think, and understand the issues in making the world a better place. The only thing I am saying is, lets do that a secondary, cause I cant see if we can sustain doing those as the primary activity right now.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Skitz said...

One last comment, which is just an observation about me that might apply to others. I really don't do much of anything if I am comfortable. I tried for five years to work and do better research on the side that might lead to a company. It doesn't work...you're typically exhausted from the 8 or so hours you put in at your job, and now you just want 4 or 5 beers, a book, a bitch and eventually some sleep.

I think that all I am trying to say here is that the only way to do something is to risk something...meaning throwing away day jobs, living poor for awhile (which we're all used to), and sort of wondering where the next beer will come from. A little pressure to perform goes a long way. I mean, what do you really need to sustain the life we are currently used to...$2000 a month? Mike is hopefully significantly higher. This money can be made many ways...consulting 10 hours a week is probably the best way if this can be found.

I also believe we have some big ideas that could be furthered if we had time to work on it *primarily*. Secondary work should be a means of money, not the other way around.

People that have the entrepreneurial spirit tend to start something, and figure out its direction as it goes along. What if we worked on our ideas primarily, and as a side project started a computer consulting company for living money. We could easily price cut places like best buy, circuit city and all the other tech crap out there...because we're not greedy. We install memory, install OSs, install hard drives, teach applications, and write software for people. I get at least 5 or 6 computer related phone calls from friends every month. I have never charged any of them except for Gus, since it was work for his law firm, but word of mouth can go pretty far. Here is a profitable company doing something related to what I am saying.

http://thetechtherapist.com/

As far as I can tell, these yeahoos found a niche market, and are making money off of their find. Look at their CVs.

The point is *to do*, and *to risk* primarily. Otherwise I fear nothing ever really happens.

2:49 PM  
Blogger $mike said...

C.C.C.U.

The Porno Council on Foreign Relations has declared that the following words cannot be used to describe their fair town:

Compound

We are not a compound. We are not fencing ourselves off from the outside world nor are we keeping some sort of arsenal. No guard towers. We pay our taxes, remain American citizens, and so forth. Once you become a compound, the FBI, ATF, and various other state and local agencies surround you and sooner or later gun you down like dogs. We’re looking to remain inconspicuous here.

Commune

We are not a commune. No one is sharing spouses (I mean, unless you’re cool with that), raising children in common, or putting all their pesos in a pot to be proportionally portioned out among the population of Porno. I think capitalism works fine on a small scale. No one’s making you behave in a generous fashion. But being friends, you have to expect some socialism to occur. We help each other out. Nothing wrong with that.

Cult

We are not a cult. No brainwashing, no harems (I mean, unless you’re cool with that), no suicide pacts or Messiah Complexes or other such nonsense. You come and go as you please. We’re not gonna try to convince you your family sucks. You’re a big girl/boy, you should have figured that out yourself by now. I have no problem with you practicing your religion. Go for it. Just keep it out of my face though. Alright? Alright.

Utopia

The title of our forthcoming book describing the ins and outs of Porno will be “Porno, North Dakota: The New American Utopia.” But don’t use utopia to describe Porno. The fucking moment you use that word, everything is bound to come crashing down around our ears. Seriously. Don’t. Utopias by definition are bound to fail: any place or state of ideal perfection. Everyone knows ideal and perfection to be synonymous with not-gonna-happen. So just keep that filthy word out of your vocabulary. OK? OK.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Skitz said...

Maybe to take the pressure out of wanting to describe Porno as a utopia, the title of the book should be "Porno, North Dakota: The New American Utopia?". The question mark implies that we are unsure (plus we don't want the wrong people flocking there). Let the reader determine if it really is a utopia. The words hardly matter to us since we are sure happy with it whatever it is.

Maybe to avoid the flocking phenomena, it should be given a fictitious location. Maybe the town should be named something generic for books and press articles like Smithstown, ND which shows up on no map. What does though, is the small town of Porno.

11:39 AM  
Blogger $mike said...

Economics

One great glaring problem with Porno, North Dakota, is economics. There is a simple equation to describe the situation, provided by the Committee for Porno EcoNomIc Stability:

Needs + Wants – Self Sufficiency = Outside Employment

Thus, whatever it is that we need or want but cannot (or choose not) produce ourselves, will have to be paid for with capital obtained by working for outsiders in some fashion. Minimize needs and wants, maximize self-sufficiency, and you decrease the need for outside employment.

Needs

We need energy, two kinds in fact. The first kind of energy is for biological functions, our own and any animals we might have. That can probably be taken care of via self-sufficiency. Gardens, fields, pastures, and such can provide us with a bounty of horticultural products. We’ll need to have some people involved in Porno who know this shit. We don’t want to screw this up. Hunger is not blissful.

We are also going to need energy for our machines; to be more specific, electricity. The purists out there are going to argue we don’t *need* it. To them I respond: get real. We need radios for weather and warnings and news, we need pumps for water, lights in the dark, heat during winter, power tools, and so on and so forth. We don’t need to be inefficient though, and we can be self sufficient in this capacity, in the form of wind turbines for instance. The link following this paragraph shows the wind power density classes in North Dakota. Most of ND is covered in class four, with swaths of class five here and there. Class three is considered suitable for wind farms. This requires a large up-front investment of capital though.

http://rredc.nrel.gov/wind/pubs/atlas/maps/chap3/3-12m.html

Wants

Well, what can I say? You want something we can’t produce? You’re going to have to pay for it. All three of us contributors love a good beer. We could probably brew a decent batch with what we can grow. I also love scotch, as does the illustrious P-Dawg. It might not be so easy to make that. I also need, ahem, want, fast Internet access. So it’s obvious there are going to be commodities for which we will need capital.

Self Sufficiency

I’ve covered our food and electricity. We’re assuming housing is procured at the start. How else can self-sufficiency help us decrease the need for outside employment? It can be argued that exports are a part of self-sufficiency. Thus the question becomes: what can we export?

The first thing that comes to mind is surplus food and electricity. We could also export the idea of Porno, North Dakota, in the form of merchandising as outlined in the introduction. Tourism is a possible “idea export”, but to tell you the truth I’d rather not have too many outsiders milling about my town. Tourists are the worst kind of visitors, especially the American version.

One hair-brained scheme that Ani came up with was miniature bison. Who wouldn’t want a darling two-foot tall bison running around their backyard? We could raise bison and selectively breed them based on size and temperament. After a few dozen generations we might get a bison small enough for the suburban home and docile enough for the kids to play with. It’s a veritable prairie-fed gold mine...

Outside Employment

Another export is time, in that some people are employed by outside entities. We’d like to minimize this, but it will be necessary I’m sure. The best method would be telecommuting. Writers, editors, programmers, designers, and innumerable other occupations can be done over the Internet. In fact, we could have everyone not involved with Porno self-sufficiency telecommute and thus a microeconomy would form. The outside-employed would set the bar for everything else in the community, including internal Porno wages and commodity pricing. I’m not willing to make any speculations on how that would work right now though.

Concerning the Dreamer

Given the above, I will address the Brown Hornet’s concerns about lay-abouts calling themselves artists and philosophers. I never meant this to be some haven for deep thinkers and daydreamers. “But our work provides energy for the mind and soul,” one might say. Yes, but how do we measure that?

Maybe the answer lies in everyone being an artist or philosopher. I’ll have no freeloaders in Porno, perhaps that ought to apply to the humanities as well. Every person, in addition to providing some needed service to Porno must produce some body of work to be shared in a cultural manner. If your art or philosophizing brings in money from the outside, wonderful! Two birds with one stone is an enviable outcome. I imagine there would be a lot of crappy art and bad theses in Porno, but at least we’d all be trying. Can’t hardly argue against that.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Praveen said...

Question: Will Porno have a school? A university? Cause that solves some of the concerns. Layabouts can be worthwhile by teaching. Thats what they do in the rest of the world. But a university is too big an undertaking, and given the size of the place it doesnt make sense.

8:58 AM  
Blogger $mike said...

Education

There will of course have to be some sort of Porno public education, at least K-8. Such instruction will probably hearken back to the one-room schoolhouse of old. I believe we had visions of classrooms in a wing of our grand Library of Porno.

High school is going to be harder nut to crack. Of course you could extend the one-room schoolhouse idea to include 9-12. But I think it may come to pass that the teens are shipped off to some sort of university preparatory school on the East Coast or possibly in Switzerland (at least, thats what I’m gonna do with my kids). They get a good education, and we get a town free of willful snot-nosed punks.

This brings me to a mandate that was agreed upon by the framers early on in Porno’s history. I’m having trouble putting in the more succinct words or legalese, but the essence of the rule is that children must leave Porno upon reaching adulthood. That’s right, once you make the transition from child to adult in Porno, you must move away. For most, that will mean going away to college. For some, the military or some other national service, or maybe just to find a job elsewhere in the world.

The point is, you cannot spend your entire life in the loving embrace of a community of friends. You must go out into the wide world and make your own way for a time, to understand the beauty and harmony of Porno. You can come back if you desire, maybe in six to eight years. But you must leave. You must learn that Porno is not everything.

It’s interesting that you bring up the idea of having a university in Porno. Obviously, Porno University, or PU, is just too rich a joke not to implement. But the joke has much merit besides the sidesplitting hilarity of resumes across the nation sporting Porno University on them. Think about it: universities are moneymakers! Tuition, research grants, stipends, federal and state funding... the list goes on and on. In reality, a university doesn’t have to be that complicated. There are bullshit universities all over. Just check your Inbox for spam offering degrees for life experience.

So many of the university’s daily operations could mask true usefulness. Our botany and horticulture department could grow grains in the fertile upper Midwest soil and more exotic species in greenhouses. The zoology department will get to work on those mini-bison we’re all waiting for. If you sit and think about it, you could probably come up with an academic department to house just about any activity Porno might need. Plus, the lay-abouts claiming to be artists and philosophers can make a pretty penny by imparting their wisdom on fresh (tuition paying) minds. Win-win!

In fact, there was talk a couple years ago of organizing the whole of Porno around a university. Many universities have infrastructures that mirror towns. They have food services, living quarters, administrations, clans (I mean, academic programs), and so forth. This plan was concocted when it became clear no one really wanted to move to North Dakota, and that we all like being in cities. So the idea was to form a university, buy a few buildings, and all live in the vicinity. The campus would become a community center of sorts, a vehicle to bring us all together. To date, this is actually the most feasible plan to implement Porno. It lacks the romance of a freethinking wind-swept town on the Great Plains full of easy-going xenophobes, but has many practical aspects nonetheless.

9:27 AM  
Blogger $mike said...

Anti-Porno, South Carolina

Check this shit out:

http://www.christianexodus.com

All I want to know is, where do I donate? I can think of nothing better than putting all the right-wing fundementalist Christians in one place where I can keep an eye on them, with the added benefit of concentrating/confining their influence in federal issues to one state.

9:25 AM  

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