Monday, December 14, 2009

Phil Agre, Still Missing; Summing up the Aughts

After reading an article a few weeks ago about scientist Phil Agre who has been missing for over a year, but only was listed as a missing person a month ago, I became curious about whether there was any follow-up. I want to learn if anyone's found any clues? Is he off the grid, meditating in the wilderness? Nobody seems to have any new details. On the website for his friends and family, there are pages of heartfelt messages asking him to contact someone; he touched so many lives as an author, scholar, online publishing pioneer, and educator. I am touched by the mystery, the loss, though am two-degrees separated from having any connection with him.

This quote from Charlotte P. Lee, an assistant professor at the University of Washington's College of Engineering, (from sums up what disturbed me most about his situation:
"All of us had lost touch with him over the years. How would you know if one of your friends not only lost touch with you, but had also lost touch with almost everyone they know? You wouldn't."
It made me think of Dee's friend Chris, who despite having a close friendship in the recent past, found that a year passed before she learned about his death. You lose touch with friends over the years, it's a fact; interests diverge, separations emerge, geographically or otherwise. Factoring in the passage of time where one assumes your friend is just living their life, doesn't need you, only escalates the grief and guilt when you learn that they are gone or missing. Was there something you could have done, personally, to have kept them around? Yes? No? Ugh, you'll never know, will you? It's heartbreaking.

Again, nobody currently knows what Phil Agre's status is, although there are clues that rest in the negative: references to mental illness in his medical history, keeping friendships at arm's length, occasional reclusive disappearances. Perhaps he's well and just researching an intensive, scholarly work where being disconnected is necessary.

While searching for some information myself, I found the last posting (in 2005) on his Yahoo! Group, pagre, summing up our decade:
The 2000's are not a decade of breaking news. What is happening now that you need the Internet to understand? The most important story of the 2000's, in my opinion, is the war over language in the United States that I have discussed [on this Yahoo! Group] earlier. And this is a story that happens on numerous time-scales from milliseconds to millennia. Important things are happening literally to the interfaces between the subjects and verbs in English sentences, yet these things are continuous with the arguments between conservatives and democrats in ancient Greece. That, for example, is why Ekaterina Haskins' "Logos and Power in Isocrates and Aristotle," in addition to being scholarship of the highest order, could scarcely be more relevant.
Ten More Things That Piss Me Off
1. skits
2. people who claim that tomatoes are a fruit
3. PBS (i.e., American public television)
4. the brightly inane writing in most tourist guidebooks
5. those Citibank ads
6. the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
7. the verb "to morph"
8. anything pertaining to the "American Songbook"
9. mayonnaise, or as scientists call it, "death slime"
10. the phrase "thanks in advance"
I'd have to agree with the majority of his list (esp. #9!!), as well as some of what he's saying in the first paragraph. He has reading lists of recommended books and papers that can be found through Google Scholar (I never even KNEW there was a Google Scholar!). Just in a brush with his online persona, I have touched on potentially mind-opening information. I do hope more details come to light.

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