Friday, December 31, 2010

Paying Attention to TV

In my former life, which I now inhabit temporarily, I'm a holdout for plain-old over-the-air pre-HD TV. Which means I petty much don't watch TV, except for rented movies. But when I do watch, I'm struck with the ads for upgrading your viewing experience. It's not just the 3D, which I witnessed over at Sears and which actually works about as well as at the movies, but it's the various ways to stream the Internet directly to your big screen, or to have the show follow you from room to room, or device to device even onto the diminutive screens we hold in our hands. 

Some of the ads show happy people chasing fight scenes room to room, or waiting in the doctor's office delighted by some romance in ones hand, or maybe waiting for the little woman to finish shopping and cheering for his favorite sports team. You can even leverage your purchase of copyrighted shows and have them boosted out across the Internet for your watching from somewhere else.

In among this noise, I'm reminded yet again of my uncle's memorial service up at SUNY Oneonta, where they now have an annual media summit named for him. I was at the first so-named summit, and remember the earnest pleas from panelists to students to please don't steal this content. There was almost a panic that once the genie was out of the bottle there would be no way to contain and charge for it. And that without pay, there would be no more good stuff to watch or read or listen to. 

Which might be true for all I know, but one does have to question how good any of it really is. And anyhow, the price for entry keeps going up and up, doesn't it? These big flat screens, especially the ones with 3D, aren't exactly free. We still pay for Internet. It doesn't seem a matter of protecting content so much as it does a matter of distribution of the profits. As always, it's not the authors getting the lion's share. Anyhow, the schlockier it is the more likely the distributor will pay you to watch it somehow, either by providing feeds free to the distribution channel, or by ads or whatnot, or just by making the content as lurid as Jerry Springer or Maury Povitch, who are just really really gross.

This all does a pretty decent job of burying the good stuff beneath the noise of commercial distribution. How many really good bands you might catch at a bar get known? How much good writing makes it beyond the Harry Potterish drivel (and they are so greedy they won't even let you read it on your Kindle!)? How many good TV shows? 

Well, I wouldn't know since I don't watch it. I guess there is some really really good TV out there. Mostly, it has a subversive theme, like living off pot sales, or maybe making fun of undertakers. I've heard of such things, but every time I try to watch it I get bored out of my skull since I might have written it myself. 

I like to watch stuff like Mongolian Ping-Pong, which is nothing like anything I could ever imagine all on my own. I don't really like to watch people like me anymore, or sports where you pretty much already know someone's going to win. It isn't that thrilling to laugh at someone who makes jokes like I would make if I could make jokes. Anyhow, being famous seems to make one rich just in and of itself, vis Kardashian (I've heard), and so I really don't see what all the fuss about copyright is. People should just want their stuff all out there all the time. And then they'd be famous and then they'd be rich. 

Well, what do I know?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

No Brainer

I tend to be contrarian, which is perhaps another way to say I'm jealous of people who get credit for saying things I've wanted to say. I find the ways that they are just a little bit wrong. Take this guy, for instance, who talks about how books will disappear beneath reading as a social activity. He goes way further than those who worry that electronic publishing will ruin the book culture by undermining the economics of it, just as has already happened to news media.

I own a Kindle now, and even gave one to my daughter who also didn't want to like it. Even at her tender age, she worries about nice things going away. But the thing I differ with Bob Stein about is that what will change will not be the nature of reading. It will be the economics of reading, along with everything else.

Words worth reading, after all, represent the intense investment not just of time, but of one's self and cumulative learning. They are by their nature static and permanent, and in most ways represent the better part of oneself. The part that is edited and better than sincere and rendered up with care that others might enjoy it. Well, except for narcissistic blogging, which is just plain uncivilized. Sorry, but it's true.

If I were a true blogger, I'd write about stuff I was already known for, or knew enough about that I would be worth reading on a given topic. Then I'd be moving in the direction of social reading, building up my cred and becoming noteworthy enough to be able to make a living on my persona. I could give talks or publish books or get appointed to a nice college, or get paid by a periodical. Instead I'm just another narcissist.

Social reading is so much like conversation - it's here and now and current. Its promise on the positive side is that it might take away the copyright privileges of bogus institutions like the Ivy Leagues, say, which reserve such outrageous right to predetermine who is worthy of attention. People can become known as worthy of attention even without credentials. Which, of course, has its bad side too.

I was taken a bit aback the other day when a young fellow of my acquaintance announced that he would be getting his textbooks at some grey-market site whose name I can't remember, quipping something which amounts to "copyright is theft." Or maybe that's just the way that I would put it. Surely in the case of college textbook publishing, it sometimes seems the case. I'd love to know if his position is well thought out, or just some sort of street-smarts credo. The trouble is that lots of young people don't seem really to enjoy the kind of heavy conversation I'm still into. Even talk is social now to the point of shorthanding predetermined responses.

But imagine if, as Bob Stein predicts, the value of text actually does decrease to zero. What will be the harm? We will move in the direction where China remains and always has been. Those who take the trouble to reproduce texts make a little bit of money on the product, whatever form it takes. Readers pay attention to authoritative sources. Authors get nil, other than position in society, which has been a function of literacy for as long as there has been China. Prove yourself in writing, and we'll give you position. Not bad, actually.

Wouldn't it be nice if we stopped rewarding beauty so extravagantly, or sports prowess, or even intelligence of the sort analogized by computers. Rewarding actual work wouldn't be so bad. Paying writers to write, based on their demonstrated ability might be a better model than to reward the popularity contest of the publishing market as currently construed. Do we really think that music is better by virtue of the recording labels? There are only a few bestsellers, and the rest of the writing world can just go pound salt. Really!

If the value of text reduces to zero, the value of actual writing may skyrocket in ways quite different from those in evidence right now. Which puts me in the mind to talk about healthcare, but I'll spare you that for now . . .

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Acting Out!

"Home" for the holidays, I have to turn on my legacy computer to redo my taxes, since who knows where the TurboTax CD went after my daughter used it, and I don't have a CD player on my more-often-used mini-laptop anyhow. It seems my daughter and I have both claimed her as a deduction, and monetary pain awaits one or both of us but far worse might be in store if one or both of us fails to face the music.

But I'm wise to pain. When I went to hear my nephew play - well OK scream - in a Clash tribute band, I wore my chainsaw earplugs, no matter how stupid they looked. I glanced around and saw quite a few more discreet earplugs among the throngs, but I never did care for cool all that much as you can see . . .

Well hell I also watched Joaquin Phoenix perpetrate a hoax on the whole word of who gives a shit anyhow, like this is authentic acting channeling a nutcakes version of himself that is all too believable and what makes it any less authentic than the version of himself who does Letterman more straight up. What the hell can straight up mean anyhow?

I think my nephew put a bit more into his act than Phoenix did. And he had to do this in front of his entire extended family, and so what can an actor do that a rock star hasn't already done. To abase himself. Although a tribute band is not quite the real thing, I guess. I guess genuinely mentally ill people get no credit for being themselves either. Just now I said the chaplet of divine mercy with my schizophrenic cousin, and neither of us was really acting, although I can't say I think reciting this does a damned thing good for anyone. Well, except for my cousin who is comforted by my recitation.

And as you can see in the previous post, I also helped my bro-in-law pare down a video of his recent Big Wall Climb at Yosemite which is fairly real, but not real in the sense that there's real danger other than to be caught out while having medical issues or something. Or miscalculating on the many layers of redundant protection. It doesn't look all that fun to me, but that's not for me to say. Fun and thrill and danger for me consist in tapping on this keyboard here and now.

So, I guess I have to go and bring my old legacy computer up to date. What a pain!! That must be what it would feel like if you could freeze yourself and then boot up in some future date when there is a cure for mortality. You'd have to update all the virus protection and patches before you could even get to work, not to mention the glitches in the tax code embodied by that version of Turbo Tax which apparently wasn't adequate to get you to do it right in the first place, which along with the notice that all the money I've paid out to keep my VW going beyond any reasonable lifetime is maybe reimbursable since the issues I had were issues that everyone was having but didn't catch in time like I did. I mean I don't exactly feel cheated or did I just cheat death which is what should have happened to everyone who was so victimized by something falling short of perfection and having to be paid attention to in order to remain viable????

Such a drone! But hey, at least I'm not a rock star.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Last Man: the Travesty of Attribution

No real surprise here, Mark Zuckerberg is Time's Person of the Year. Yes, sure, you could say that Facebook changed my life. In some technical sense, without it I wouldn't be on the West Coast and I wouldn't be "in a relationship."

Time magazine, again predictably, distinguishes the Man from the person depicted in the recent and very good film about Zuckerberg at Harvard. Many of us already know that even a documentary about someone's life is not that life. Even an article in Time, reported first person, is not reality in any sure sense of the term. But larger than Life is what the attribution is all about. A person, finally, who has no life apart from his public one. A person whose life is over, with nothing left inside.

More than anything else, Time's tradition is a recognition that we in the West want nothing more than to attribute things, ultimately to God, and perhaps along the way to folks who can drop out of things the rest of us would almost kill to be admitted to. It goes without saying that Zuckerberg is a "coding genius." I rather doubt it. But the narrative requires it. There's a clue in there as to veracity.

I once taught the History of  Science to a bunch of gifted kids. I was committing a form of abuse in that I was way too busy trying to run the school to pretend that I could devote any serious time to preparing and teaching an actual class. So most of the sessions were bull sessions, and the only one excited, really, was me.

Taking advantage of my privilege to approve whatever the hell I wanted to do, I also remember having a really hard time getting the students to risk any conjectural position for the sake of opening a discussion. They must have been utterly stymied by what it was I wanted from them. Well, that's my excuse for doing all the talking.

And surely no-one shared my intellectual excitement when I offered up the example of  'who invented firearms anyhow?' It's very hard for us Westerners to rid the world of our models for reality where "ideas" are born on some inner side of the boundary of our minds. And then we impose these ideas on the world around us. We express ourselves, and we manipulate the dull stuff of reality until it takes on some shape that couldn't and didn't ever appear in nature without us.

But you know, before there were firearms, there were fireworks in China. Bamboo tubes filled with gunpowder, and plugged on each end. It doesn't take too much imagination to picture one of those stoppers popping out before the bamboo bursts and changing a non-directional percussion into the launching of a deadly projectile. This would not be so much an idea made real as it would be the discovery among artifacts of a new design which might require tweaking if ones goal were to enhance the deadliness of the projectile.

Zuckerberg is no inventor either. He found himself, like some boy who pulls a sword from a stone, at a certain place and at a certain time and exercised coding skills which - contrary to Time's assertion - lots and lots of people could exercise far better than he could. But they weren't where he was - Harvard - and they didn't see the nature of student socializing.

Perhaps like a blind man hearing sounds that no-one else pays any attention to, Zuckerberg decided to embody, in the form of Internet-based code, a machine to facilitate the vectors for socializing that he saw being excercized all around him.

And suddenly we're all back in touch with people we once knew in high school, or in college, and we're pushing the limits of those 150 or so people we have room for in our hearts as friends. But you have to wonder if serendipity is enhanced, or if, once again, we've found a way to channel serendipity, to boost the odds and to make it easier to roll the dice of everyday life to get a kind of seeming serendipity. Blind again to the really strange stuff happening all around us beyond the circle of those who already know us, or once did.

I don't have any strong opinion on the goodness or rightness of what Zuckeberg gets credited with. I think he's a little bit young to be called "Person of the Year" without at least doing that mirror thing Time did a couple of years ago, and crediting the rest of us with needing to be provided with the insights he apparently had about us.

Hell, if we keep pushing the paradigm, Time will have to declare a Baby Person of the Year, and as always, it will be coming up on Christmas where the choice becomes politically mandated. But really now, a couple of thousand years ago it was also the time and not the Man alone which was right for the Crossroads of humans coming to consciousness.

Even artists talking about their work (I've taken an unscientific poll across the years of my entire life so far) can't resist using terms which can be translated back into something approximately identical to 'expressing an idea.' Ultimately, this is an ego move, designed so that we can take credit for the accident of our talent, and our lucky position among social capital which made it possible to manipulate our environment in ways that fellow travelers in these cushy environs will appreciate.

I always listen for the artist who gets the Taoist notion of the uncarved block. The one who recognizes that the "intentional fallacy" is the stumbling block of the entire Western experiment. Artist as expert about the artist's own work is as idiotic as finding in Palin, Stern or Beck some intelligence just because they happen to command an audience. There's nothing there. There's emptiness and a robotic habit to apply the same technique to everything until it doesn't work anymore.

And that won't mean that the person has lost her touch. It just means the world of mankind has grown beyond it. And in the case of the plastic artist, the work really is worth more than the person. It endures as something which always was beyond its creator.

One might easily suppose that if Zuckerberg hadn't coded Facebook, someone else would have. Those other fallen-by-the-wayside attempters can kick themselves for being just a bit off from what we the people really wanted, or they can do what most of us do and be glad that we're not quite the emptied vessel which the accomplishment of perfect expression would mandate that we'd become.

It's OK to be normal, I hope. Being gifted is generally a liability. I mean, if you're a talented violinist, that means you're almost certain to be a failure at being the one people pay money to hear. Should you stop playing?

So, it's not Zuckerberg who can or should be credited with changing the Face of civilization. That was already well underway. He gets to be the focal point, and in a build-up to what Baby Jesus did, he gets to be both more and less than what the rest of us are.

Money is getting ready for post-oil reality, flowing into personalities, flowing into machine embodiments of ideas which never could occur in nature. But it is the nature of Nature to prevail. It is the nature of man, as animal, to disappear with nary a trace left behind. It won't be the words we spread on Facebook which endure. It won't be ethereal friends which take us home.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Will the Real ID Please Identify Itself?!

Some days, I swear, I would just like to have an actual identity. Something I can hang my hat on and call me for the purposes of employment and getting on with getting on. Still, on those days I'm glad I don't have a really real identity like Julian Assange or Liu Xiaobo, whose lives were effectively over the moment they realized that they were in their moment of truth.

There are so many funny things going on all at once these days! You have the whole WikiLeaks travesty, the Nobel peace prize being taken as an indictment of the Chinese government, crooks wearing Hollywood fake identities, and Hollywood re-presenting actual spooks as speakers of truth to power.

It would seem that Assange has fallen into some kind of understandable paranoia in contrast to Xiaobo's serenity, but it's in that strange category of  'even the paranoid have real enemies.' He knows he's targeted and hated by many in power, and he remains in a state of wanting to survive, which must be relatable to wanting to get laid. He seems tormented, or maybe it's his fan-club which is concocting this poison pill fail-safe of the "thermonuclear" trove of still more embarrassing leaked documents that they were apparently too scrupulous to let loose previously. Or were they just preparing their arsenal?

But that still seems a contrast to Liu Xiaobo and you have to honor the Nobel committee for being able to tell the difference unless they're just cuing/queuing up Assange for next year's prize. Liu seems already to have decided, long since, that his life is over: had only one direction to be lived out and that would be the direction of rule of law and (western-style?) freedom for China. Then you have the Chinese government at odds with seemingly the entire Western World about what they think is good for we the people, and granting such vitality to at least one person who can feel that totally alive on his extended reverse-Procrustean death-bed.

On the one side, you have plain criminals who have figured out that they can dress in silicone parodies of stereotyped crooks, and thus automatically deflect attention from who they really are. But you also have this asylum seeker who wanted to look more innocent. You have vigilantes out to get Mr. Leaker, but you also have freedom fighters on his side demonstrating their power against the likes of MasterCard and PayPal, wanting to teach them a lesson about denial of service and having corporate opinions. Or about pandering to perceived patriotic principles when they still accept contributions to the KKK since maybe nobody makes a stink about that and hey, business is business.

I'm trying to sell a car on Craig's list and find that there are more people employed in the art of seducing me into falling for some Internet trap than there are earnest and legitimate buyers. Caveat Emptor becomes something more like sell at your own risk and the employed are now all organized bandits, or was Jerry Rubin always right?

Hell, step out into public and you might be targeted for things you've never even heard about. What would you do if you were to find yourself the one on the hot seat with a public choice between honor and survival? Or even between comfort and turmoil? What if your blog starts getting comments other than the kind which are transparently part of someone else's self-promotion? Or is all you've got to do is to say something everyone in the world wants to agree with or disagree with or gawk at like a train wreck?

I'm making a kind of valiant attempt to rehabilitate my lapsed career as a professional involved with China. Aging transcripts seem to mean as much as what I might know right now, which is not so much a function of current reading and scholarship as it is of  a life-long habit of paying attention to things in ways different because of my once deep and serious study of things classically Chinese.

What's really real in all of this? Sometimes people have to disguise themselves just to be treated fairly at all. One has to pass for whatever the norm is where one wants to be protected and it can be courageous just to dress in native garb when you're out of your element. Sometimes one has to trot out a paper reality to substantiate the real one. Sometimes one just wants, earnestly, to be taken as oneself without, paradoxially, the need to assert some selfness in the process. You tell me! How the hell do I know who I am????

Last night I watched that film about Valerie Plame which I thought was quite well done. Simple recitations of the facts can lead to interesting themes. This guy, Joe Wilson, an ambassador who oddly doesn't seem quite to have it made therefore, marries a quite evident babe who's adept at leading a secret life, the details of which aren't even known to her husband. I guess being an ambassador ain't what it used to be. Maybe it's just a living, the way that working for The Company apparently is. Maybe there just isn't any more natural aristocracy Jeffy.

And then in this film portrayal of something approaching reality you have the White House, the seat of global power, acting for all the world like a lowly grifter, putting forward an image so utterly at odds with the reality that you'd have to really really want to believe - like being in love maybe or thinking you can get rich quick - to go along with their bald-faced lying.

There's another film upcoming about the King of England having to learn to speak in public so that the people can be rallied in the face of unspeakable horror. He has to put on a good false front, and he, apparently from the reality trailers, hires a nobody to do the training. How does this happen in a reality which so trails the movies?

Evidently, I can't really write, right? I have all these brilliant little points of light floating around in the soup of words which passes for my mind, and somehow, for some reason, I lack the discipline or training or self-belief or inborn talent to order them in ways that mesh with something in the future to cause them to crystallize here in the present on what was once a blank space.

I re-read myself as a fool and tip over into a kind of despair at what it is I just can't do, quite. I read the writings of published and accomplished voices and I see myself falling so short. Of young and talented voices. Of natural voices, and I just wish I were the analog of Valerie Plame or King George to be believable on my face no matter what, of substance, was lacking in actual fact.

And yet, I soldier on. Knowing full well that the blank page is always all that's between oneself and ones future. That scientific induction is really just a matter of teasing out the actual connections from the merely metaphoric and that at its root this is a fool's game because, apart from machinery which we construct - and even that doesn't always work flawlessly - all connections are probabilistic at best. There's always room for insertion of intentionality and therefore room to fool oneself.

I look on the blank page as I fill it and find, I'm afraid, even a little less than you might. I look to the fringes of the knowable universe and find nothing there in the direction of certainty, nor even a mirror nor even something very much not me. I am a diminutive jot.

As if there were ever anything other to be. Dutiful like a good Chinaman who still might be jettisoned overboard on his way across the mighty Niagara. Earnest like someone who believes that his word must be kept. Authentic likes someone whose greatest care is to appear not like anyone else. I'll take my chances being me. It ain't always easy. Sometimes I just wish it would happen all by itself.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Allergic to What?

Finally, the other shoe drops on the nuttiness (pun allowed) of certain tony private schools and some public ones in tony locations where no parent can bring in cupcakes anymore, and peanut butter is outlawed. Well, of course peanut butter should be outlawed. It's a known carcinogen! Just not in airplanes.

These are the places where falling short of perfection requires medical investigation, and where it's presumed healthy to hover eternally over your kids for their sake. Anything short of some earthly approximation of paradise for kids in these places is to be eradicated like a disease bug. And heaven forfend that they be warehoused in daycare while parents work.

Play dates might spread a different kind of competitive germ, though. Transmitted among parents and with no immunity in sight.

Oh please may my daughter get in to Yale. But there are crazies out there who actually think that immunizations cause autism. The same ones who believe that GWB and company brought down the trade towers? And just what does divide those of us who rely on scientifically validated medical advice, from those who mistrust everything coming from some sanctioned, as opposed to sanctified, authority?

Could this be it, then? A litmus test, a quasi-scientific way to determine what it is that makes those who love Sarah Palin also hate gay marriage, public schooling, evolution, and immunization? That makes wealthy liberal types certain that their little princeling could do so much better if peanuts were avoided. Look for the allergic reaction and you will find it. Or could we all be overgeneralizing?

Fussy allergies makes you a hard-headed realist about food, while conspiracy theories make you an extremist wacko. Ah, but certainly it is true that information proliferates like a virus and will soon overwhelm our ability to assimilate. We need machines to sort it all out; to predigest the stuff our brains will feed on.  And these machines are, of course, the very paragon of hard-headed neutrality of opinion. Maybe it's information we are overdosed with, and we need hookworms in our thinking to even take our first mental step away from indigestion and inflammation.

Or do we have entirely the wrong notion of what it is that constitutes intelligence? Perhaps there is no equation between man and machine and bits of information. Other than the fact that we relinquish so much of our prerogative to our tools. Perhaps you can't increase the number of words in common usage any more than you can over-elaborate the mind beyond its physical substrate.

Wouldn't it be funny if it turns out that the mind can shape and bring to our attention only so much signal from among the noise, and that the proliferation of so-called "information" is in fact driving us back down the ladder of civilization toward some kind of beastly dumbness?

Well, not so funny really. The proper response to being expected to be a superstar is to shut down and refuse any further input. To show an allergic reaction of the mind. Or perhaps to become like Sarah Palin or Paris Hilton or Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh or any of the seeming hordes of well-placed attention-magnets who snap at certainties or claim the right of celebrity without any more foundation in their prominence than a lizard in the sun. Sitting on a rock. I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rallying for Sanity

As you may know, I've just driven across the country (again!). It's a fairly nutty thing to do, but I had more than a plane trip's worth of stuff I wanted to bring, and I'm not in a position to buy or rent another car. Plus, I rather enjoy the nearly hands-on sense of the vastness of this continent. Although four or five days of driving might be said to indicate still more how much we've shrunk.

There's plenty of time to let your mind wander driving more than a work-day's worth of highway every day. Sometimes you can kid yourself into thinking that you are thinking brilliant thoughts. By the end of the day you realize that driving is hard work, and there's no energy left to digest those thoughts.

I'm  more rested now.I feel the need to take a little time off from my real-world job hunting at the other end of my drive. I even sense some urgency to do this before tomorrow's rally on the Washington Mall. (Whoops! Too late.)

I'm not super-excited about this event, mainly because it's frustrating that the only thing left for the anti-nukes and anti-war crowd is a celebration of irony. Although to me, this is more a collective shout out about how come the only really punchy articulations of rage against the (political) machine can be made via a medium rather more like a political cartoon than like an essay.

I think we really don't know what it is we believe in with any passion worth fighting about, nor certainly worth dying for. We used to be almost willing to die for not dying in Viet Nam, and that was already after we were actually willing to die for civil rights. By the time of the nukes, we were willing to get pretty sure about needing to end their threat, but humor had already started to replace anger as we marched, Jericho-style, around the Pentagon. By now we're starting to think that nukes aren't even such a bad idea in the face of global warming.

It's a confusing time to want to be politically involved. The real worry is not so much that the crazies will take over as that everyone else will stay home. So, in the event, it was nice to see such a large crowd gathered, and John Stewart's earnest finish came as close at we might ever get to articulating what it is we need.

News-media attention grabbing dictates a narrative style which makes you really need to know stuff. You simply can't not pay attention. And now, in almost precisely the same way that we couldn't collectively turn away from SlumDog, that same director brings us a real-life horror story which makes even hardened news-reporters swoon. It's still the cheesy stuff which gets our attention.

Maybe it's because I'm on the West Coast now, but I've just experienced the my first packed movie house in decades, to watch a very well produced Swedish film, whose draw seems to descend from the blockbuster status of the books on which it's based. Strange reversals.

Our attention really is cartoonish. Despite the reasonableness of each of us, almost all of whom would never yell in someone's face no matter how powerful our disagreements, we mostly choose to spend our time - can you call this an investment? - on Crash-style hyper-constructed and and therefore by-definition artificial renderings of reality.

But even our reality is hyper-constructed. We consume a cornucopia whose inputs are being reduced as rapidly and radically as species are being wiped out. The genetic diversity and variety in our foodstuffs is being systematically simplified by well-meaning greeners of our planet who concoct massively profitable ways to coax ever more calories out of an acre of land. Inputs and outputs are being essentialized beyond viability.

Just as happened with antibiotics and surgery and sanitation and inoculations and all the triumphs of Western science, this process has enabled us to overrun our planet. To shrink it down to where I can cross it in five days without breaking too much sweat, or fly by it without any sweat at all. This could yet be a good thing.

I did watch the entire rally to restore sanity and/or fear on the Washington Mall. With or without reason, my mind pairs the event with the film Nashville. These are capstone media observations about media events about media. The danger is that we will never escape from our ironic remove from ourselves to inhabit our actual selves as we actually are. The danger is that we will never depart from politics as usual, that we will always be a SlumDog parody of who in the heck we think we are.

I watched Man on Wire recently, which is more than enough to prevent my wanting to watch 127 hours. I watched an actual tight-rope walker span Buffalo's twin towers, and that never did bother me. But the filmed documentary-style recounting of the actual walking across a rope stretched between the actual spans of the actual twin towers really messed with me.

I don't think I could stand the hyper-reality of a man needing to chop off his hand to escape the predicament into which he's accidentally fallen in a bid to challenge the fates. It would remind me too much of our human predicament, out on a ledge successfully beyond our ability to recover.

As you can see, the problem for me writing is that I seem not to know how to choose or why among the various things which impinge on my life. I seem to have no editorial agenda, which is why, of course, I blog instead of compose. I am looking to get out of the way of my mind. I know that everything important which ever happens to me or to anybody is something which surfaces from beyond those realms which we can and do and even must control.

My brain takes in and catalogs so very much more than I can be consciously aware of. The more I attempt to control that flow - especially as I grow older and what gets called my re-call ability grows ever more feeble - the more I am aware of the futility of that project. The important books I've read, the important people in my life, the important experiences which define me, the very love that I feel for others whose lives impinge on mine - these are all crossings which I could not and cannot control.

Everyone knows, or should know, that the distinction between fate and the subconscious is at the very best a formal distinction without testable content. Ultimately, one's own mind is as remote from oneself as are those arcane forces of the cosmos which arrange for this person to the be the one you fall in love with, or that accident to befall you at that particular time. Even in principle, not within the purview of conscious willing.

And in that sense the mind is one with its surroundings. To the extent that your perceptual apparatus is functioning, and maybe even when it isn't. Subconsciously, your brain first makes a shape and performs a culling before your mind can get a grip.

Learning then is like cultivation of the otherwise wild inlands of your brain. By words by cultural continuities by all sorts of human in-forming, we transform our brain's potential into something vaguely human, and it would not could not ever take place without some taming of the wild thoughts which would be there left alone.

Fundamentally, this process is narration. I - me, myself - am nothing if not a narrative shaped from the myriad possible narratives which flow through me. This narrative that is me is as much formative of this illusion I have of myself, as I am formative of it. My only human choice is about what I pay attention to among the flow. What I attend to. And to the extent that I allow mediated incursions to pre-condition what it is that I choose from, then I descend to something less than human. I become an ironic simulation of anything remotely possibly human.

That's what I take away, finally, from this rally to restore sanity. I place extravagant hope in mankind's collective ability to move beyond purely Western forms of command and control. I know that we are all made sick of women shouting at their men to man up. I know we're tired of flag-waving which leads to war.

I know that we don't want the insides of our minds to be as essentialized as the cartoonish reality our economic arrangements now increasingly render up for us. We don't all want to be cliches. Do we? Do we want to be cartoons of reality, Disney-like and without flaw?

If we continue to fail so miserably at making the stuff of our collective narrative more human and less machine-like (I love you too R2D2!!) then our passing will have been an event which nobody noticed. Like the brain damage I may have suffered from that most recent obstruction which passed through my brain, how would I know? How will we know? I'm still the guy ridings shotgun on myself. We still think that we're allive. We insist on it. But methinks we do protest too loudly.

I will not be a cartoon version of myself. And yet that is all that you can or will see of me. My presentations and re-presentations and smoothings out and uniform coloring. Ironic, isn't it? What a mess!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A China Primer

I once published a Chinese Primer for my students - I came across it the other day while cleaning stuff out. It was a simple student-friendly compilation of all the Chinese written characters we would come across during the first year course. It was a useful gift to them. It went along with flash cards. I wondered why the textbook publisher hadn't provided something similar, or maybe they had and I was just too cheap. Or having fun with computers.

I generally find metaphor to be more literally useful than analysis, and I finally came across one today which might be more near-to-hand for many Westerners in your struggle to understand China. More near-to-hand than the abstruse arguments out there. As I do, I was reading Information Week on my not-even-in-the-game Windows Mobile smartphone while getting ready to leave the house. This time I'm leaving for good, but otherwise, same old same old.

It reminded me of a famous essay by Umberto Eco, which used to circulate back in the early days of the PC vs. Mac wars. Eco, a seriously brilliant fellow who also writes fun novels, compared the Mac to Catholic and the PC to Protestant. Well, I want to update the metaphor now. Mac is China, and Google is the West. Simple!

China seems increasingly on peoples' minds these days. They make us nervous. The economy is the first thing on peoples' minds this election season, and the first thing people think of regarding the economy is China. We know they hold lots of our debt. Some might also know that Google and China have been involved in a long-standing conflict about censorship of the Internet. Some may be upset about China bowling over Tibetan culture and damming up the Yangtze River, and some may get downright self-righteous about how the Chinese complain that the West, via the Nobel committee as our proxy, awards its Peace Prize to a jailed dissident within China.

No real coincidence that the Church also has a complaint about the prize awarded to the guy who developed and enabled in-vitro fertilization of embryos. These are deep and ingrained cultural conflicts. Some days the evangelicals seem to agree with the Church about things like abortion, and other days they are at odds. Some days Israel lines up with them too, and sometimes they seem like enemies. Sometimes a fellow like Steve Jobs, whose instincts are almost entirely on the side of single party rule, excites the counter-culturalists among us. It's a strange strange mixed up world.

The Mac world is a tightly controlled world. They promise the user a fluid and nearly flawless experience, and neatly hide away all the guts beneath a smooth exterior. Just about half the world is angered by this, since they also hide away lots of flaws and contradictions. They do really arrogant things like taking away the reset button (and then they put it back, and take it away and put it back). They replace transparent menu choices with arcane keystroke combinations, which helps to distinguish the normal users from the elite afficionadi-literati and to sidestep their absence of a command line.

The price wars always favor the Protestants. So naturally the counter-culture types find a friend in Mac. But the irony is just delicious. Opening up the guts to developers - hardware and software - just naturally pushes the pricing down, and businesses require a more rapid and innovative development cycle than can be had inside of some proprietary sandbox. So the PC side of things feels a lot like the establishment, since it gets used by globocorp. Naturally.

Well, now there's open source, which is neither fish nor fowl yet. China embraces it just to tweak the monopolistic masters of technology in the West. It suits their once and only party line against imperialism. Google is an open-source wanna-be, except that they don't seem to be able to help themselves regarding that whole monopoly thing. And then there's the blatant fact that no-one - not a single soul - inside a patriarchal command and control political environment like the one at Apple or the one we think of when we think of China, or lots of those politically explosive places in South America - no one, or maybe only a fool, would search on anything sensitive using the Googles, since we all know the Googles stores everything they possibly can about our behaviors.

We know Google is a bit inhibited about taking full advantage of this, as well they should be. Backlash these days is pretty easily calculable as a risk, and it's a big one. But most of us have absolutely no question that they'll kowtow instantly to whatever government authority tells them that they must. And there's the rub, folks, there's the rub.

Well, so this is a placeholder as I head out the door. I'm going to share it instead of parking it among my drafts, since I won't be able to get back to it for a few more days. Let me know what you think, hey?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Playing the Odds

From the insides of emergency rooms, you'd have to be nuts to drive a motorcycle. From the insides of the insurance industry, you'd have to be nuts to promote the insurance industry, knowing how you are instructed to deny claims at random whim. From the inside of having something wrong with you, you'd be nuts not to think that the paradigms within which our healthcare system works are at their turning point.

Once upon a time a pill had some predictable effect. On the model of antibiotics, it would cure you, even while it might have caused some bad taste along the way. Now, the explanations of the ways these pills work are so couched in obscure in-group language that you have no way to gauge the grip on reality of the person doing the prescribing. You might be able to do the math, to check the statistical calculations, but you would have to endure an entire degree program to learn the shorthand code for the conventions of the math in this particular field.

In the end, what you do know or can know or even must know is that the pills you take now are meant merely to change the odds. And they change those odds very subtly, even while you're somehow meant to imagine that they change the odds on the same pattern as those good old antibiotics used to. Doctors look for what they expect to see in response to bad events. And mostly they find it, the wages of overindulging, and can confidently prescribe the odds-changing treatments of statin drugs or blood thinners or a baby aspirin a day, and if you're smart or if you're susceptible you feel comforted somehow, like being tucked in by Daddy.

But reading through the layers of the esoteric onion, trying to understand at some expert level, you're still pretty sure that the net effect of the pills you're taking is to push the odds off in the right direction, but not really to the extent that improvements in your living habits or in the environment might. But theses are so hard to collate to correlate to find any sense in.

You know that population studies can quantify how many lives potentially lost have been potentially saved, although the statistics for non-compliance - not finishing the course of various meds - are pretty sobering in themselves. Whatever the proximate cause for that, you can be pretty sure it's a proxy for financial distress. Why else would people be too disorganized to take their meds?

The surgery is pretty effective when the inexorable does happen, but even then it's hard to know, isn't it? You can't fend of death forever.

But we're living on a planet now which shows the drastic impact of our lovely selves, gouging out the easy pickings, lighting them up, and looking for all the world like some dread disease process upon the very living planet. We are that, at the very least. A human strain of killer pathogen.

The same math which keeps you from understanding what your doctors (but not your nurses) presumably do understand, prevents you from understanding why we can be so certain that the Earth is warming, and that it's because of our lust for a good life here and now. Which isn't quite, but is almost, the same thing as wanting some reasonable comfort while we do our important work.

The economic arrangements render up our lusts much better and more efficiently than they render up our needs. What was that important work again? Not the paper pushing that you and I do surely, but the important stuff the scientific community accomplishes, maybe.

This ancient and somewhat tired now equation between the guts and the lowly and the brain and the ethereal - where the angels tread - fits perfectly here. It's hard and it's frustrating to be told you're maybe an idiot, but it sure does seem, intuitively, as though the Earth is far too big to be all that impacted by the way we choose to live. So some artist of emotion, some Glenn Beck or Rush or even Oprah, sends down to our guts good feelings which aren't in need of any mental math mediation to know their truth.

And Glenn Beck or Rush, but not Oprah, encourage you to rationalize your rage and frustration that you just can't understand what they're talking about, and you're pretty sure they're just trying to get theirs, since it's pretty demonstrable that all those Ivy egg-heads are only after theirs or else why would they insist on driving the ego cars and living in the ego mansions and squiring the ego-trophy-wives. That just makes sense to your guts, your lusts, and so your anger is justified, and you do so desperately want to go back to the way it was when you were safe and snug and warm and didn't really have to worry about your impact-by-proxy rendered up to disease proportions for the whole globe.

That same esoteric barrier against understanding prevents you from getting why it is that evolution is established fact and not some fanciful theory. You don't really buy that it has to be survival of the fittest, since if that were the case, then all these efforts to find the cure for this or that should be halted right now so that the fittest might survive, which just sounds an awful lot like what Glenn and Rush and those creationist cretins want us to believe. That God will guide that proper survival, and we should just stay out of it and let the unfortunate among us die out. Which just sounds a lot like traditional high-handed cruelty from the inside of some castle, but there you go!

Still on some level, you get that the great diaspora across the earth of man out of Africa is now coming to some conclusion. That even while we madly cater to the fears of each of us that we might just die unfairly, the so-called races are mixing it up again, which likely would be good for the longevity of the whole. Ideas are mixing, cultures are rubbing off on one another, and whole new categories of beauty to lust after are getting created.

And at the lowest level, which might really just be at the highest level, since who can know what these encodings might really mean, the DNA is mixing it up. The genes are mixing it up and the memes are mixing it up and the semes are mixing it up, and up and up and up until you might even get the wrong idea that the best among us are the ones meant to survive and define the brave new racist humanity.

Which isn't, I'm pretty sure, the way that evolution works. It might be the quirky ones which mesh best with the changed environment, but now the environment is almost all ours and no longer what might by reach be still called natural? Nutty people study ways to improve the human race, as though we might live forever or make our better selves still better, based, presumably on some normative exam of what it means to be best. Hire in ETS, which just sounds a lot like Hitler.

So one thing we do know is that we can't all survive the pressures from the environment which have been created by the pressures from us, which have been rendered up in proxy from our lusts and not our needs. You can count this pretty neatly just by counting heads, or mouths the way the Chinese like to do.

That's a guaranteed outcome of lusts, on the level of population studies, provided that you have something on the right side of a cruel civilization to catch the babies, which might be a toss-up most of the time. The ones who survive will be the lucky ones or the unlucky ones depending on the circumstances, as we can reflect by watching any one among umpteen movies or reading the end-time books.

Or if you read the Good Book, then it will be the ones who are saved and like to Jesus. But no question that those scientific methods have allowed and maybe even encouraged the survival of that many more of us, no matter their physical fitness for survival. No matter yours and mine.

Odds are we've blown it, and you might as well believe in fairy tales, since what else have we got?

Well, it was pretty odd in the first place for us to be here. Those, mathematically speaking,  odds are precisely one. Which is a funny mathematical sort of artifact when you think about it, which you won't want to do too much since it will make your head hurt. There's not really anything awfully pretty about that artifact, since it's just by very definition. Which it's really really hard to escape from, definition.

Still, for so long as there is life and lust and breath, it seems that the Earth might stand a chance. It would seem a crying shame if it were only the earth and no so-called consciousness, however. I mean, it's taken umpteen million years just to get here. You'd think we could start to take it easy after all. But after all, we can't and there remains so much important work to do.

Drive responsibly!!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Automatic Self-driving Cars

Not so incredibly, Google has been working to wed its incredible database of roadways and GPS points to some kind of camera feedback loop to make cars which drive themselves. There are a zillion ways in which this is a good idea.

Driving along the highway myself these days, I can already feel the murderous rage around me as we all fail to sync our cruise controls. You pass a car just at what you have decided is your own personal safe margin over the speed limit - no question now that the highly automated highway cops are out in fullest force - and inevitably someone creeps up behind you, angry seeming from the look on their grille, and you fear their headlight flashes, and surely won't make eye contact. But you absolutely don't want that ticket which might await you over the next hill, already knowing perfectly well that the officer will not be interested in your perfectly reasonable story about your diligent efforts for the greater good.

You sense the road rage when the saturated flow naturally bunches up to read those automagic digital roadsigns. Or to rubberneck some tragedy. Cops now seem to have license tag scanners, just like at border crossings, and their control panels must flash or beep at them when they spot a live one. Any excuse, right? Just not on my side.

The main thing with these Google self-driving cars will be that we can sync our cruise controls and optimize the intervals and never bunch and hardly ever brake. Plus, if we all drive Priuses, like the Google test car, then we can regenerate at those rare intervals when we need to slow.

You do wonder at what will inevitably be the rage of families when the entire system does crash as by the laws of mathematics it inevitably must. I mean, consider the mass hysteria and anger toward Toyota for its boneheaded equation of ignition with digital power. It must have seemed like good idea at the time, that universal power symbol. Costly in retrospect.

Turning on now is so much identical to being real turned off and defenestration prone and frustrated to the point of busting an artery. As with airplane disasters, it seems so much more extreme when it isn't anybody's fault. Plus then, as with the miners or with New Orleans vs. Buffalo, say, or with the trade towers or even with bus crashes, there's so much more room for people already in power to posture as heroes. To slather on some real money, based, one can only guess, on the PR returns on the dollar. Heaven help the person pegged with fault.

I mean, would it matter to you if the overall rate of mayhem is that much lower if you are the one caught in the system crash? By that time, the new ways would be normalized and the old ways would look gruesome and troglodyte, like Chinese or jihadi beheadings. We will have progressed that much in our outrage. Imagine accepting that much risk that willingly. Taking responsibility for the wheel of so much hurtling metal. With only the vaguest promise of exploding airbags which you surely never hope to experience. Such ringing in the ears.

Trains might work, or are they just too low tech? Is physical connection just that much less exciting than the virtual kind? Is fantasy sex the only good kind, Lust, Caution, even face to facebook? Is it only cool if the cars of the train magically adjust to our individual pods, no mechanical anything, and we become as fish in a pond or birds in the sky, or leaves floating down the bluster as I was so pleased to witness yesterday on the impossible to navigate back-roads of Pennsylvania?

Because there is no data service to power my Google maps in them thar hills. Because there is no sense to PA route numbers. Because a map looks like hungover eyeball capillaries, and there's no getting there from here apart from the Interstates, and no wonder those intersections are what defines the addresses of the Big Boxes, since everyone in PA seems to crave a life of seeming wilderness. The real money is in the outback.

Is that really where we still want to go? Back to that future, built upon a long-lost bankrupt mined out past?

I mean really now, if we are going to act and behave and insist that we must each of us control our own high-tech wombspaces - hurtling, stationary wombs-with-views (r) -  Wouldn't it be enough (Hoover Blanket subliminal messaging) to program in the relationships and do away with the centralized repository of data? Is there really a need for a central brain analog?

I know Google's really really on the side of the angels, but still there is too much concentration there. And too much concentration leads inevitably as the sun follows the night to absolute corruption, right? Something like that. And it's so utterly unnecessary! There is only the most marginal advantage to having your self-driving car wired in that tightly to some central database. There would have to be so much temptation for the Big Brother. The limit beyond which you wouldn't even dare to think . . . . .

Well, think about it, since pretty soon it will be already way too late.

Friday, October 15, 2010


I do apologize, Gentle Reader. I know you depend on me to offer inscrutable yet possibly (hey, anything's possible!) incisive takes on the things going on these days, both near-in and in the wide wide world, but I've been tongue-tied. There's just too much. You'll be wanting me to make sense of China, which I swear I've been pounding away at the keyboard trying to do. It's hard though, what with the Nobel committee sending me softballs almost every day. Then there are those miners, which just remind me again about how we like dramatic disasters so that we can ignore the more important ones. It's all about mining life's riches, you know?

Then the Church can't help itself from weighing in on the other Nobel prize from another direction. Plus there's all that stuff I simply can't remember from almost every other point of the compass.  The election coming up - here in NYS we have this nutjob from my home town who's gotten rich by skimming or is it scamming the Peoples' tax pool, and who thinks he can stir up anti-tax anti-government anger to get elected. Well, he can and he does and he is. All the angry people now who just can't or don't want to believe that you really can't suck all the stored up energy under the earth and burn it up at a rate which equals an atomic bomb in geological terms and not have an impact.

Frankly, I'm scared. I breath in, breath out, and I'm scared that we're killing off the plankton that we still don't even know about which is the main source for my breathing in and breathing out. I'm scared that we won't stop turning our industrial-strength cleverness against what used to be the wild. We tear off mountain tops now to get our black-gold, and we clearcut the ocean bottoms for our fishes and we manufacture want and need among the populous to sell Facebooking Viagra Cholesterol fears and desires.

Our economy renders up only lust and where's the love? We are human because we once did learn to cultivate. And now we equate eating cows, which never even existed in the wild, with eating tuna which can't exist anywhere else. And some people feel virtuous eating tuna, but would never ever eat a cow.

There is still such exuberance to rape the earth. So much money to be made, and so much technology to deploy and to be proud of. As if its occasional deployment to save some symbolic miners can make up for all the thousands sacrificed before them and in the same Name. Progress was it? We'll make these ones rich - they've won the lottery, and the rest of us will indulge them and adore them, and wonder when they get divorces or drink themselves to death. Or maybe they'll discover that they really are more intelligent and deserving than their rescuers? Hey, there's always hope.

We are all rapists by proxy, and none of us has a choice. You can drive a Prius, but you're in the self-same pool with those pumped on steroids Hummer girly men. You can buy local, but you're still lusting after calamari appetizers, because you've had them, and you see them on some technicolor screen, and there are limits to what you want to know or hear about. There sure are limits on what I want to think about, but I have no choice either.

We will shortly grow really really testy with one another. We are dividing ourselves off into the ones who can stand Bushism and the ones who primly can't. We will grow murderously angry with one another. Everyone thinks they're too civilized for that, but look at Rwanda, look at Lebanon, look at Israel for Chissakes, and look at the recent history of China. You don't have to look very far.

Things change and people get confused, and they need to be angry about something and at someone or some group of people. Yes, the Nobel committee absolutely had to award the prize to a notable Chinese dissident who happens to be in jail. Yes, the Chinese had no choice but to respond the way that they have. The Church has no choice but to express its distress that the Nobel had to be awarded to the man who developed the technology which will make lots of adoring couples way more happy than Institutionalized Jesus ever could.

They had to! And so we have to become more enlightened. We could start by letting Jesus out  from the prison house of Words. We could start by trying to see things in Chinese terms for the sake of the planet. We could find some way to talk across the things which divide us, instead of always to fire salvos from some dug-in position of false certainty. We could.

And I could learn to write. It's far more work than I ever imagined, but I'm trying, I'm very trying as I joke with my kids. Speaking of whom, it's the birthday of one and old home day for the other as I celebrate leaving town.  Buffalo is far too much the microcosm for me to stand it any more. We will always elect Jimmy Griffin or Carl Paladino even though these people who seem to be like us aren't the ones to lead us. It's not like the legacy children of great men are the ones to lead us either. Bush, Cuomo, Brown, why are these the best we've got??? Even when and if they are better than their celebrity Dads. What's wrong with this picture, people?

We need to learn trust, and to stop trusting winners as though we have no choice. Winners in this economy of lust are almost always kingpin rapists who've talked themselves into seeing themselves as lovers. Nobel winners are a step in a better direction. But Jeezus, we have to give the real leaders a chance to lead. (It would be nice if they could keep their pants zipped). I'm rooting for a woman, but not in the style of Margaret Thatcher, or some other Palin Whitman Fiorina clone drone masturbation-phobe man-up femme fatale who wants the ball. Not them, please oh please oh please.

I still do pray for a groundswell come election day for those on the side of my main man Obama. I don't mean those Dumbocrats who are caught in their oily machine. I mean the thinkers and the doers and all the rest who aren't afraid to engage although it will make them look dirty. It will make them dirty and still they engage. That's who I'm rooting for, and there's not a single Tea Bagger among them, if you want to know the truth. Know-nothingism targeted below the belt is not a stand-in for intelligence. It's not. It's not that hard to make yourself cry and then release the anger. That's the beastly part, and we all have it. But for heaven's sake, let's not celebrate it!

Anyhow, sorry sorry and sorry again. I can't seem to rise above the noise and the filth msyelf. I can't seem to make the words crystallize into anything worth reading. But I'm trying. I'm really trying.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Role Playing Games

Of all the strange things! I end up watching Fellini's 8 1/2 right after watching the Social Network and then end up listening to some talk on NPR about that suicide from Rutgers. Not so strange? Lots of you were doing the same thing? The only strange thing is that I will weave a thread among goings-on so utterly disparate that they shouldn't have threads woven through them. Well, that's what I do. I have a track record to keep up.

So here's what's bugging me. The assumption during the discussion on NPR is that this guy is "gay." Apparently, it would be entirely wrong to suppose that maybe he doesn't see himself as gay, and that's the problem. As painful as it must be to be gay in "our society," I'm pretty sure that lots of people have sex with all sorts of genders and still fall short of self-classification in one category or another. Lots of people want to project roles which, if the truth were told, don't entirely become them.

And then the "Obama Administration" gets tagged with pushing for enhanced wiretapping powers and I get this powerful feeling of cognitive dissonance, like what? Hunh? Isn't that more characteristic of the Bush Administration? Isn't Obama the friend of civil liberties? It reminds me of an other thing the "Obama Administration" tried to pull off maybe a year ago, about executive privilege or state secrets or something like that. I wish my memory were any good.

I remember talking myself down then, that he (whoops, I said "he" and I really meant the "Obama Administration") was trying to bring something into the light of day; to engender debate about something which was being kept in the dark, purposefully, so that it could be exploited under the radar. Maybe it was a posture? Maybe it was a careful and clever political move; announce yourself on the side of your adversaries just to stimulate the right kind of above-board debate.

I'm sure the old wire-tapping law needs updating. But the way the debate was being framed made it sound as though they wanted to enshrine in principle the idea that no kind of information technology should be developed which it would be impossible for the government to pry into. Hunh??

Just because it was fairly trivial to tap into a circuit-based phone conversation doesn't mean that the government has some sort of fundamental right to keep that avenue open. What went from aligator clips on the very circuit which carried your voice, had to be abstracted to catching your conversation at the point of connection among increasingly complex and highly virtual switching equipment so that the encrypted and segregated digital stream between you and your interlocutor can be patched out to a government sanctioned eavesdropper.

But it was easy enough to do, and we already knew that the phone company kept track of how many minutes we had talked and to whom. It's the only way that we can trust them to bill us accurately. But now what about when talk is not only cheap, but utterly free??!!! Why would we want them to track us at all? Maybe so that we can remember who we talked to and what we said? I sure could use some of that.

On some television discussion, I heard the proposed expansion of the law likened to the notion that all bathrooms should be constructed with a built-in peephole for government use only, and only with a court order. Yucky, creepy, disgusting and ridiculous. If some important criminal or terrorist plotting is going to get done in a bathroom, let the government spooks go to the trouble of installing surveillance equipment, please! And then make them document its removal so that we may go about our business in privacy again. Just be careful about your roommates!

Same with any kind of digital communications developments. Let them break into your house or your computer and install the same kind of spyware which terrifies us all now, because it might get onto our computer by some kind of web-site drive-by, or some phishing expedition we fell prey to. The government doesn't need some kind of company-provided way in.

We need them to help us keep the bad guys out, and the bad guys always seem to find a way to use those built-in peepholes, and everybody mistrusts the government these days just as much as they do the so-called bad guys. But do you trust your spouse? Check with Fellini on that one.

If we can be comfortable that even the government can't get into our private and confidential information, then I think we can be a lot more comfortable about conducting our businesses by means of electronic technologies. The government should be helping us to get that done, and not getting in cahoots with the bad guys who want to sneak into our private affairs.

So, back to that poor supposedly gay fellow at Rutgers. I don't think we exactly want to ascribe the ability to make a person commit suicide to anther party apart from oneself, do we? Precisely the same societal confusion would attend this fellow if he were gay or if he were afraid of being considered gay when all he desperately wanted was to be attractive to the hot females who were immune to the charms of a violinist.

Back in my day, sexual experimentation was almost a political mandate. Now, you have to be committed to your role, even when you won't commit yourself for more than a night to your sexual partner-in-crime. Does anyone else see something wrong with this picture? Is it all just role play? Is actual leadership even possible?

Obviously I know nothing and want to know even less than that about this particular case. I'm not outraged at the breech of privacy - it seems fairly inevitable, given the gender-role extremes which our culture gravitates toward. Hotness in women is now some kind of imperative. Or has it always been? Fellini depicted a world-class film director capable to have any among the starlets he might cast. The Social Network depicted a callow nerd coder not allowed in to the network of cool. So he took it over, this network of cool, and then he had the sense to make himself sexually exclusive. Cool!

With the unerring radar of the socially autistic which we celebrate so severely now in our economic arrangements, Zuckerberg sat back and observed the animal behaviors of the best and brightest among us at Harvard. He heard what they said about themselves, and then observed their behaviors and placed his bet with the stuff which they, embedded within the social imperatives from which he had been excluded,  could not admit to themselves about themselves but were allowing themselves to be driven by anyhow.

I've made the case elsewhere that J.D. Salinger was precisely that kind of autist. Bill Gates surely is, as is his understudy Steve Ballmer. Steve Jobs, the lot of them, all make plays on the stuff we can't admit to ourselves about ourselves, and then they marvel that we allow them to accrue so much power. Imagine the amazement the ragheads (I wonder what nice things they call us?) felt when they saw the trade towers come down. How could it have been that easy? It couldn't have been that we built the towers that much too tall with that much excess hubris?

I suppose it could have been an administration plot, but why bother looking for that when you have their behavior all on record. The actions of 18 or so uneducated plotters were "allowed" to divert the national agenda of the most powerful economy on earth? Or is this what the power brokers had in mind all along? Come on people, it's not that complicated!

Anyhow, it makes me nervous now when all the educated and enlightened and politically correct people start calling for the prosecution of these college freshman for the commission of hate crimes. They all sound like Glenn Beck, sanctimonious about our collective values, while overtly talking about sending people to hell and back for transgressing them. I hate to see that kind of thing among liberals, but there you go!

I have to wonder why we can't get our act together. Why we can't be reasoned and reasonable and why the ones at the pinnacle of our society still want more and hotter and newer every day all the time. Why we want to have strong opinions about stuff we not only don't have any way to know all the facts about, but which we wouldn't be able to understand even if we did. I wonder, will we ever be able to trust our steroid soaked leaders, or will we always suppose that they are just the same as we would be with that much good fortune?

And anyhow, someday soon, not only will we take our privacy back, and not allow the Googles of the world to store that much private stuff about us to tempt the powers that be into snooping them. They posture against the Chinese so-called Communist single-party government which is all hepped up on conflating the sexual and the political as a way to keep people scared about exercising liberties. Maybe we will actually figure out how to trust one another. Yeah someday real soon. Meantime, let's all keep yelling at each other about how stupid and narrow minded you are.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My Smartphone!

Microsoft will now "come out" with its new Windows 7 Mobile OS. It won't matter how good it is, only how many apps get created for it, if it doesn't get in the users' way, and if they don't succumb to the temptation to bottle it up with Microsoft-branded services. It could be a winner. Well, unless it still takes as long or longer to load than my Windows 7 laptop.

I use a version of the Windows Mobile OS which nobody likes. But I can't figure out what's not to like. It hardly ever crashes compared to the previous version of Windows Mobile I had. It does Google just fine, and I can pretty much ignore Windows Live, though it would sure be nice to have everything slick and interlocking. Or not. I'm not terribly interested in controlling my house, watching TV on my phone, or Microsofting my entire lifestyle.

It does have fewer useful apps built-in compared to my previous Windows Mobile smartphone, presumably because of some intellectual property battles or squabbles with developers about stealing thunder: My old phone used to be able to announce by voice who was calling, which was actually useful on the job, but pretty embarrassing socially. It had one single app which would read documents, images, and seemingly anything else without installing endless other specialized apps to do stuff you're never going to do on a phone. For instance, it would read Adobe Acrobat, or MS Office, or browse pictures or the web, all from one single app, but you couldn't edit. Fine. Perfect. And its memory management, which is probably why it crashed more often, wouldn't always be closing open apps in the background to drive me crazy. But other than that the newer OS is a strong improvement over the old one!

The big problem with Windows Mobile overall is that the one I use still has a pressure-sensitive touch screen. I thought that's what I wanted, having grown up on the Palm OS, but now I'm just so jealous of the iPhone which seems so much more, you know, alacritous in response to my fingers. The new Windows Mobile will have capacitive touch, so don't worry about that. The lawyers will figure out about pinching and multi-touch, in the background. Money will change hands.

So, OK, fix the touch, fix the memory management, make it multitask so that you can do one thing while waiting for another to finish out of sight, but mainly you're going to have to fix the politics, since Pandora won't bother to support my Windows Mobile phone, and neither will Skype, even though Verizon promotes cost-free unlimted Skyping, or at least they used to.  Hmmmm. I wonder if I should sue Verizon over that?

Then there's the whole 4G thing. The real excuse I need to hurry up and wait.

I definitely endorse cutting Steve Ballmer's bonus, but considering his salary is but a drop in the bucket of his investment earnings each and every day, I have to wonder how he really responds to symbolism. Or maybe that's all he responds to? I'll just bet they can't resist going head-to-head against Google.

They could take the high road, but that would be a first. If they did, and made their phone work just as well with Google's cloud services as Android does (I swear my current Windows Mobile can make that claim) and if they were to somehow force the issue of iTunes on Windows Mobile, and if they were to subsidize the production of all those apps now ghettoed out (I mean really, if you want market share, you have to buy it!), it would be the perfect platform.

Microsoft let go of the Zune competition to the iPod, even though the iPod powered Apple's actual competitiveness in Microsoft's neighborhood. If it lets the phone go, it will be toast. Toast! Well, that's been said before too.  Microsoft's toast and I'm a bejillionaire. Maybe the game's just fixed. I'm pretty sure that the Zune was a technically superior platform, but why would I bother to find out? The crowd was moving another way, and my daughters would have been crestfallen if I'd done the test on them (I only get to try these things after my kids grow out of them).

OK, so here's the biggie. They should just convince Verizon, my carrier du choix, not to burn in some image. They should leave it wide open so that I don't have to start with what they bundle, and so that I can upgrade the quickly obsolete apps they bundle it with, and so that I can just do whatever I want with the phone. But that would be so un-Microsoft. And come to think of it, so un-Verizon.

Well, maybe I should spend some time thinking about things that really matter. Yeah, I'll try that. Tomorrow.

Monday, October 4, 2010


Sometimes it can be fun to play with lost memories. I know that I did recently use a paintbrush to clean my screen. It's all dusty again, and I'm too smart to wipe it off which just makes permanent smudges and little scratches.

I know that it was mine, and what it looked like and I can remember placing it back into its cellophane wrapper after shaking clean the dust, but I can't remember when or where I must have been since there is no place around this apartment now where I would put a paintbrush. It must have been at my sister's house. It must have been a paintbrush I'd left there. I try not to touch the screen and smudge it and make it something less than pristine.

Dust gathers in all the most annoying places, and I can hardly imagine someone having the patience really to disassemble furniture and displace wall hangings and get at all the dust. Although it is only the existence of vacuum cleaners which makes even the attempt seem possible or worth essaying. And then you have to clean the filter, which I did already, before turning on the heat for the first time of the season because I don't really want to stir up dust until I clean. But cleaning out the vacuum cleaner is itself such a dirty business.

Still, there are times when I do enjoy tinkering with my thoughts, and chasing down memories and sometimes I do have the energy to get into all the crevices because I need to get my mind off something else, or am looking forward to the enjoyment after. But it never helps to make it an onerous chore, flecked with guilt, and so the dust mostly gathers. My mind grows old.

I cling to my subjectivity. Who among us would toss that away so carelessly as a song, and not regret in anticipation the moment after it all was just too late? Sure, if it were our child whose life we'd save, or maybe if there were some kind of wholesale emergency and everyone was dying and no way out. Perhaps then we'd throw ourselves in front of some bullet or onto some grenade if it seemed as though there were any hope left at all. Perhaps if there were some massive epidemic, we'd let go of our individual fear. Bad luck for all and some would live.

Screen projections of needless death are so sad. Projections of ourselves. Still, once towers of such complexity get built that their collapse is more likely than their staying erect, who shall you blame for their tumbling down? Must it be somebody's fault? Must there be an error at the root of every conflagration or might it be that we just weren't trying hard enough?

What is modernity but the collapse of subjectivity into the illusion of control and so if it does arrive before it's time, then death is always unjustified and terror permanent, until such time as there is no purchase of love any longer and the dust returns? Why do we not try our hardest at every single task before us? Why is that regret not so great? What about a college application or a job application? What if the game is rigged and trying hard isn't going to get it for you anyhow?

What is after this modern phase but waking up to the illusion of control and yet and still we don't do so quietly. Something not quite random would be nice, although it would be nice to win the lottery too. The intentional fallacy is what happens when you invest your talent with that of you that you would like to be proud of, but what is left but for verisimiltude to what you're not, or what you would have been without any you at all to it, but raw talent raw mimesis, clean of any dust.

Is there really anything at all to love in the very best among us, or do they just belong to the ages, to the recording media to something not quite perfected not quite clean but superficially so, airbrushed, who among us can resist tumbling into bed with a willing quarry?

And so what is there to hold onto except money honey? At least that can be counted. At least that counts. What is there to regret more than mis-spent or wasted money, and even rich people seem to have to invest something more like emotion in the money that counts, at least to the giving it away if not to the hoarding of it, or the calculating of the best values. It would not be fair if you didn't have to work for yours!

When you have a lot of it you can seem important to everyone who knows that you have lots of it, but do you feel safe? Isn't there a different kind of terror that maybe you're an asshole and that no-one would love you no matter how much money you might have?

Well, the memory goes anyhow, and so it might be worth investing some derring-do in something better than just to survive, just to make money, just to be clean or beautiful or even healthy.

The memory goes and with it the subjectivity and with that any claim to knowledge that isn't common. Although the common kind can make us feel secure.

Friday, October 1, 2010

How Sick Am I?

Not sick enough to worry about it, but sick enough that the "medical underwriters" will likely consider me to have a pre-existing condition and not give me any health insurance after I move. I had an accident, right? I sat too long in my car and got a clot which traveled to my lungs. So the docs prescribed Warfarin - rat poison - but people on Warfarin are not considered good risks. Should I be worried? I thought the medicine was supposed to make me all better. Catch-22, right?

Plus I seem to have had another clot, on the completely other side of my circulatory system where it passed through my brain to produce symptoms of a TIA. And then there's my genetic condition which got uncovered. That super-secret private aspect of myself which only I should be allowed to know. Now it's hanging all out in public like my credit score. I tell you I can't for the life of me figure out what was so great about the health care reform I heard all about. But what I really can't tell is why anyone wants to turn it back to what was still worse before it. Weird.

So now what do I do? Should I negotiate the TIA down to a migraine? It might have been an ocular migraine, but you can't be too careful.  Maybe I should sue them for a needless diagnosis which now becomes a part of my permanent record. How dare you overdiagnose!!

At least someone's not holding out against life-saving procedures until I show proof of ability to pay. Not yet anyhow. I've had a lot of tests, and they all come up clean, but not clean enough to be insurable? Can I trade my genetic inclination for clotting for their genetic idiocy on the open market, or can we share? Don't they want payback on the tests? These things might be remediable, you know? I'll teach you how to reason, and you pay for my rat poison. I've been tested clean, I tell you!

It's kind of like if you make a claim on your homeowners' anymore, then your rates go up and so most of the time, according to what people I know say they do, you still have to decide if it's "worth" making that claim. If it's really catastrophic, you have no choice, and then you end up paying for it on into the future. Same with car insurance.

Maybe instead of a credit score, we should all get a morality and decency score, you know, the way they give buyers and sellers ratings on eBay. Then you could get insurance if everyone you deal with likes you, or if you're the head of eBay you can follow the body builder into office, who followed the Hollywood actor who followed the son of the former guy who lived in the house that Jack built. I'm telling you, there's no conspiracy! This is the way God meant for things to be.

They say there's a lot of insurance fraud. People wanting and getting more than they need or what about being careless driving or playing with matches or with the deadbolts? We could just have a sliding scale, or wait, isn't that exactly what we do have? Just try being poor and see how easy it is to get what you need, and nevermind healthcare. Ands it's always your own damn fault for not knowing how to behave yourself, you genetic deviant you!

In my case, there was never any choice on offer. There was no-one giving me some assessment of my odds, and so I got the same set of tests as if I were mortally ill and on death's door. Which I was, of course, but once they knew what it was that nearly killed me, the actual treatment could have been really cheap. But really cheap was never on offer. And now I apparently have to run around hoping nothing else happens since I can't get any insurance I can afford unless I stay put. Well, that horse already left the barn. But looking ahead with hindsight, I can see what more sensible people would do.

This is really really weird in a country which doesn't like to restrain trade. At least that's the story. Restraining the movement of workers is apparently not a restraint of trade? The "system" ought to prefer unafraid nimble workers who are willing to take risks. But to risk going commando - without health insurance - is to risk not death exactly but financial ruination because the healthcare system doesn't have any reasonable options. You're either all in or you're all out, and how many people forgo sensible healthcare for the same reasons and in the same fashion that they don't bother to make claims against homeowners' policies?

Everyone knows that the political system is controlled not by "the system" but rather by that subset of huge corporations or interest groups which can tilt the research and the flow of information and the fear mongering and even the electorate against our general interests. What's good for the health insurance industry is hardly ever what's good for you and me, but somehow they've got an entire Tea Party thinking that it actually is. Weird!

I'd like to be a tea partier myself, since it's obviously time for another revolution. But I'd like to be part of a positive revolution which looks forward instead of a scared revolution that thinks you can turn back time. Don't they get that you can't go backwards in time, Humpty Dumpty??? And I surely don't want to have the flames of my emotions fanned by interested parties who know exactly how to push my buttons.

I just don't think it's all that mysterious what's going on here. You might suppose that it is all some kind of grand conspiracy concocted by the MSM, or the Richie Riches or the fat cats at the top of some empire, and that would all be true. But in the end, each of these powerhouses is composed of people so glad to have a job that they all say Yes Sir! about the company program. Reporters just want to get their writing sold, and editors pick among stuff for what will be the most eye grabbing, and folksy folks like Glenn Beck just know how to get your attention and keep it, pushing buttons including their own.

And in the end all the different ways that have been invented to check on our health and to find serious conditions which might be latent and all the profits to be made on all those ways - all these things pretty much do compose a grand conspiracy. If you're scared, you want to know, right? I mean, who among us is willing to say aw shucks go ahead and take care of the next bloke and let me go. I'll take my chances against the odds and against the laws of nature.

And if you're in a car accident, you don't want them checking your wallet before they save your life. But on the other hand you don't necessarily want to be stuck with the bill either, considering that there aren't really any boy scout first aid options on the menu, even though that might be all you need.

So we're all in this grand conspiracy against each other, but the ones that have the resources keep getting more of them, and you and I keep getting stuck in a kind of state of perpetual terror, not exactly about the monsters and the dread diseases and the slings and arrows of outrageous ghosts since life has never in the history of mankind been more mild-mannered as it is in these United States; but it's like we can't ever get ahead and enjoy a minute of Mom and Apple Pie anymore.

We live in terror of being stuck without health insurance, or stuck with a house underwater or stuck without the ability to pay for the car insurance, and then we end up just plain stuck in jobs that we might hate, except we can't leave them because our pre-existing condition might prevent us from getting covered elsewhere. This is no way to live.

How is this good for the economy?? I know it's good for a few sociopathic aggrandizers of  epic portionsof wealth who can use and abuse and take full advantage of our slave labor, when they can't for whatever reason take the work offshore where there really is real terror. But how is it good for the whole?

I'm just asking . . . I'm a reasonably intelligent person, but damned if I can figure it out. And damned if I can figure out why people want to give back any gains we've gotten.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pop Hubbert's Pimple and Liberate Your Inner Alpha!!

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly ImprobableThe Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great book! The guy makes important points. But what a jerk. He thinks he has the right to call everyone else a jerk or a stuffed shirt or an empty suit, but who the hell does he think he is? He's a gamer and a huckster and just plain lucky but he wants you to believe he has that kind of outlier genius which the rest of us are not even supposed to believe in.

He says the world just is the way it is now and get used to it. We live in the state of Extremistan, where the BIG EVENTS which will shape our destiny are fundamentally unpredictable. This is better, he implies, than to live in the state of Mediocristan, led by the high preisthood of the fraudulent Academy which is just too stupid to stop imposing Platonic forms and retrospective narratives on the stuff of raw reality.

Well buddy, where the hell would we be if we hadn't started with those forms? Mathematical thinking has done a pretty good job of giving us a handle on the raw reality of nature. And show me a single aspect of reality which can be communicated without some narrative. Show me a truth which isn't metaphor, and I'll show you a fundamentalist dyslexic nutjob.

Lots of normal people think that that civilizing influence has been really really good. Lots of us would rather move away from a wolfish pack where only the alpha dog gets to mate or fly high or sell books, and we're not all that terrorized that we might be more like ant-clones, socially organized around survival of the hive.

You won't let someone pin you with your own personal narrative, growing up as you did in "Lebanon," that fictional state which only melted down after the Platonic Ideal of the Nation State got imposed on it. But then you want to claim that the state of Extremistan is the true state of nature, and nothing we can do about it but to hang loose, like a huckster, ready to pounce on any opportunity which comes our way.

Admit it, Taleb, you stole our money when you were a quant, and you deserve our anger for the supposed Black Swan of our recent meltdown. Funny you don't mention that one in your book, so backward looking are you in imposing your narrative on history that you miss what's staring you down. Were you afraid you'd get pinned with it?

Well, I stole your book, so there! I would have borrowed it, but the brave new world of Kindle doesn't allow for that and I hardly wanted to pay for another book which would expand a thought which could be stated in a single page. There are enough civilized people out there who see right through the administrative fiction of intellectual property, thank the gods.

There are enough people who understand that there is no choice but to impose narratives on our history. That the only choice is which not whether. There are enough people who understand that our collective choice is to smooth the bumps or die collectively in one last great Black Swan event.

Sorry you won't join the party. Jerk!

OK, sorry sorry. Got carried away there. Really, read this book. It's great. Just don't get too carried away with it or you'll start believing that there is an actual reality out there that you have nothing to do with. The metaphor of a-causal fractals is so much more real. Trust me on that.

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