Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Another New Year; Another Bird Flu

How long has it been, dear Reader, since I've found any time to write? I look back and find that I predicted Christmas, now come and gone. Even on vacation, my time is filled. Happy New Year!

I sit now upstairs from Mom, not having slept because I was fool enough to take an espresso after dinner out. Mom has trouble regulating her sleep as others have trouble regulating their bowels and not only in the old folks' home. Dad's language is not regulated and one can't be sure he's all there. Though he is recognizably Dad.

Home for the holidays, back from SoCal to Buffalo and glad therefore to be listening to some actual howling wind behind my head, out the window as the temperature plummets. I wonder if I can write. I wonder how to navigate the divide between what interests me and what might interest you. I think I approach writing as a problem to be solved when you, dear Reader want a story.

I know what loss of consciousness means. I sleep, and I watch others sleep and I've watched as the world closes out when I've lain dying. On the other side of that divide is only a wonderland mirror's image of the zeno approach to infinity which is death in practice. There is no crossing.

No, the hard part is to define what consciousness is. At what point does the self-regulation disappear and get replaced by automatonic processes? One could only know that from the inside. The soul a convenient supposition. It only feels as though there is some I here, I suppose.

There are certain narratives which feel inevitable. The plot is so powerful that it would be just too jarring to introduce such dissonance as would contradict the setup. Most of us can't change like that. All or none? In death, we do stop.

Multiple personalities are debunked, and it's back to being played roles and exaggerated evidence.

And yet we crave narratives to be sucked into. Books once, and movies now morphed into three simulated dimensions as though there were no end to the ways that the self-same plot can be twisted, tortured, torts, not sweet.

I watched the next installment in the Stieg Larsson after-death chronicles of a young girl who must stop the narrative and I recognize the pattern. Males whose need to dominate and impose and instill their narrative since it is the only way they can get off. And there is only one kind of force to stop it and it's female and still you are attracted to her.

The man asks - the foul and cruel and careless murderer - why then do we all fail to run even though our instincts cry out danger in the face of someone who pretends to charm us? Why do we fail to run screaming from the easy fuck? It is not fear of offense or is it?

I think it is the same reason that Mom still internalizes what Dad would have said, in some semblance of anger, about what she should be doing or thinking or feeling about, say, money. And so his actual alive presence is like some paranoid fantasy of ghostly resurrection after unresolved death.

I have no problem at all, you see, with automata in concept. Humanity can ride on almost any machine if it be complex enough. I am only the narrative riding, figuratively now, on my shoulder. The substrate hardly matters except as a strange attractor for those stories. The problem would be to make it attractive, as a focus for some feeling.

I suppose, therefore, I have no problem in principle with ghosts either. There should be enough stuff left-behind when a person leaves on which to ride some narrative continuity. The personage hallucinated must be as real, and surely the perceiver can't be accused of absence quite for presence felt, right?

The literal cartoonish Jesus might be so real. Meanwhile, I promised something about Bird Flu, which I understand has now been studied in the lab and perhaps a strain has been induced which might actuate the life-ending pandemic. It seems prudent, no? To create the strain so that it can be understood ahead of time, except that science - the process - demands a kind of openness and transparency to enable the replication which constitutes an important component of proof.

But if too many labs get the formula or its result there seems to be some kind of inevitability to its release and who knows whether the pandemic will have been induced or inevitable or whether the preparations for it will have been its cause?

Which is approximately or actually rather precisely what is going on with the CERN supercollider. Will the standard model - read "narrative" - of physics be bolstered or undermined by the probability that whatever instrumental artifacts get correlated corroborate or not the existence of this God, so-called, particle?

There are people who are automata. They know how to work your sympathies just as the predators do in that Stieg Larsson series. Like a used car salesman, they know how hard it is for you to be rude back to them when they pander their sweet inducements. In extremis, these are the psychopaths, who probably are still conscious, but in the ways machines might someday be. No emotive center.

I read what I've written previously - sometimes - and find that I no longer inhabit it. It's still familiar and recognizably me but I don't exactly remember it. I opened the door to my Buffalo apartment, still un-let, and found myself still there, the carpet vacuumed only yesterday and the kitchen still ready for activation. I had encountered my own ghost and was glad for the company of my two daughters who enabled a chuckle in the place of a different kind of howling exit.

The story of my life as it gets lived is hardly interesting. The attempts I make, now more and more infrequent,  are as unreadable as any technical manual, but no-one wants instruction on these matters.

I also watched Hugo, you know. The 3D semi-animated or is it  semi-computer-generated film which traces the magic spark that transforms a machine to life. Not bad.

A little late to wish it, but Merry Christmas! It really is too bad that so many who have expropriated Baby Jesus for themselves fail to see the magic anymore. By taking only the literal reading, they fail to see that it is the invention which has been enlivened and not the fact. I take hope that change is possible and that the roles we play will be collectively rendered into something quite watchable. Fictions of ourselves.

Yes mother dearest, the world is an awful place, and there can be no resolution to our lust for stuff. Self knowledge, yet again, will lose us our berth in Eden's paradise for surely that is the plot we now inhabit. But for the inconvenient truth that the earth can't support that particular narrative and stay alive.

The perverse incentives have us all and each trying desperately to stay afloat by finding our little advantage. Our narratives resolve themselves into hunts for the best price, and it's hard to make the connection that this is why, indeed, there are no longer any margins.

Shall it be luck which guides our identity, or shall it be hard work? Do we happen upon the gold mine's coordinates or do we maximize our chances, and supposing that we do what might be the obligation for those who conspired with us in ways small or large?

I hear now finally there is some sense of shared responsibility for the actings-out of those deemed insane by the rest of us. There are no narratives which get constructed individually, in isolation.

Well, gotta go! I say Happy New Year again and here's to some rediscovery of the commons before tomorrow becomes today.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Faster than Lightspeed

Oh dear, I really shouldn't get cute so much with titles, since my writings won't be indexed and no one will be able to get my take on the news of the day. CERN right? That superconducting supercollider or whateverthehell ya whatchamacallit. That border-crossing machine mostly underground where particles, so-called, can be accelerated pretty much the way you might swing a bolero and let fly a rock with more energy than you could get without the windup.

I'd thought they were all about collisions and detecting new particles  - that Higgs boson, again so-called, to be emitted (which really shouldn't apply to particulate matter at all) from the collision of things with more energy than they would ever have "in nature."

But I guess once you have a great machine, there are lots and lots of things you can do with it, and this one let them fling some neutrinos underground through rock to Italy where, with some degree of reliable assurance that the neutrinos arriving at the receiving end bore some relation approximating identity to the ones flung out from CERN, they would be detected.

Do the math, crunch the number and these things seem to have accomplished the transit at something greater than the one bedrock limit we've been pretty certain of up 'til now. Lightspeed wasn't supposed to be transgressable.

Maybe this is just a teaser experiment to be sure we all know that the cost of the machine can be fully justified by the surprising nature of its results.

We're all still looking for surprises, aren't we? Something really cool to get infinite energy into our cars. Some new way to think of money so that we can realize "debt" doesn't really define the condition of all the manipulative power we collectively wield up against the popular sentiment that there isn't enough to pay our bills.

We listen to readings about the economy the way we do the weather, and it fills our days with a cloudy feeling, no matter how much possibility remains for our particular daily outings. These grand science experiments loom also in the background, well beyond our ability to understand their import, but lending a sense, perhaps, of hopeful anticipation.

Where once we got an atom bomb, maybe this time there will be something a little bit less problematical.

Or maybe we won't want to see it because the problem is that we don't have any way to change our mind about what it might mean.

Every day now, I'm faced with my own ignorance about things important to my daily work. These get combine with things I'd really just like to understand to make me feel impressively impotent against the enormity of what I really can't get a handle on.

Like do they have insurance in China now that they have all those cars? What happens to a driver who hits a pedestrian in a system without lawyers and transparent judicial processes? What do the schools really feel like to the majority of kids whose work is never rewarded, no matter the 10 hours per day they must put in? What is really going on with No Child Left Behind, and are we really becoming still more addicted to quasi-quantitative measures for school effectiveness?

Idle questions, surely, but working as I do across cultures, I become impressed that beneath the wreckage of our schools we still allow impressive numbers of self-motivated individuals to pursue dreams toward improvement. Some realize these dreams with impact for the greater good, and not always because they chase after some monetary reward. For my work, I really need to know what the motivations are in China.

Does parental and societal pressure there lead to wonders similar to those we believe that we enjoy over here? Does the implicit intense competition in the face of certain knowledge that there is always someone right behind you willing to work that much harder lead to great accomplishments? Neither here nor there?

I'm getting the sense that Chinese workers, like workers in civilized places the world over, are used to long mid-day siestas, and are a bit baffled by our long workdays and unpalatable cold and hasty lunches. Maybe their Euro-style civilized workday is payback for the relentless pressure they felt in school.

I played and lollygaggled and did my basement science experiments and so now I enjoy the payback of no time in any day to ponder or read a book or consider answers to those many things I remain so curious about. This is what drives the American economy, and I'm almost proud of my hard work. But I'm also wondering if a different kind of productivity is MIA. The kind which led some among my kind to invent this CERN time-machine.

You know it makes me uncomfortable that I am valued in my work partially because I know the Chinese language. I think that's the easy part of cultural border-crossings. The really hard part is to make contact culture to culture not just for the purpose of making friends or doing business, but for the purpose of making education actually happen.

It no longer makes sense to assume that Chinese want to study in the US because we are that much better at stuff than they are. We aren't. One assumption might be that the only difference in accomplishment is that we are temporarily ascendant - that we have all the money and power - and that visiting Chinese would like to learn as much about us as possible so that they can take over that ascendant role.

But a better assumption, and the one which makes it possible for me to remain excited about my work, is that it is the differences which define the value of the education. The assumption of one party having some advantage over the other leaves the education as more of an economic transaction. Trading for comparative advantage leads to benefits for both parties to the trade for sure, but education is supposed to have a direction from ignorance to enlightenment.

I guess that's the same as the direction implied by economic transactions where the net distribution of goods and efforts means that everyone is better off than before the transaction. Despite the cloudy outlook, more of us than ever before can live in comfort and relative security with full bellies and temperature-controlled dry spaces in which to weather come-what-may.

But the end seems near. Our load upon the environment is going to break the limits of the earth's carrying power. What really will happen when that as yet un-posited limit gets transgressed? Or maybe the question is why we don't identify that limit as a universal constant, the way we once did with lightspeed? It really is the limit between life and death, and we, collectively, act like Cher now, thinking that we can cheat death with technology. Maybe in just the way that we cheated the ultimate limit of lightspeed with this supercollider.

I suspect or maybe just hope that someday real soon some among us will start to awaken to the necessary and fairly obvious conclusion that it isn't the lightspeed barrier which has been transgressed. Instead, we've transgressed a definitional barrier without even recognizing it.

Information has long been known to be unlimited by particulate transmission limits. This falls out from certain principles of quantum physics where identities distributed in time and space can be established such that knowing some characteristic at one end entails instant knowledge at the other. No matter that the spatial separation negates the possibility for the information to be transmitted.

The data is now out for analysis, but the one thing which won't happen because it can't happen is for the scientists examining the data to come up with an alternative framework for the interpretation. They will be looking for systematic measurement errors or calculation effects which caused the results to only seem as though the neutrinos could have beaten light to their receivers.

But if they did consider receiver and sender both to be a part of a single identity to begin with, well then I'm guessing that the measurement of arrival before the expected appointment is really nothing other than a measure of the degree of ambiguity in the extent of thingness of the thing being measured. It's the looking glass that's been transgressed. There will be no Higg's boson, since there is a limit to particulate reality.

The measure was a measure of the predictability of the neutrinos' arrival which turned out to have been something greater than unity; a measure, perhaps, of the extraordinary effort expended in making sure the reception was good.

I mean these neutrinos are apparently capable of a kind of shape shifting and so why can't the cloud within which speed can be detected (someTHING has to be detected to start at someWHERE and finish at somePLACE) be large enough to accommodate the lightspeed excess?

If the lightspeed constant remains intact, and assuming no gross errors yet undiscovered, then this greater than lightspeed measure is not a detection so much as a prediction of detection having enough certainty to be nearly identical to actual detection. Sort of like the perfect translation I long for, where I can 'go native' and really understand what the hell is going on when the discussions become animated and hilarious.

I can feel left out in English too, especially when watching a movie. But we all know that solid sense of being native to what's being said. There are always new expressions or words but negotiating their meaning happens quickly and with assurance. Which also creates lots of trouble.

I watch translators who work for us to provide meaningful lectures from the alien tongue of the presenters. I can get pretty frustrated knowing enough Chinese to tell when the translator just moved ahead with what she assumed was being said, and missed the point entirely because its ironic twists was being signaled beyond the subtlety of the non-native translator.

The fact is - maybe this is the only ultimate "fact" - that we can't really know the nature of reality 'out there.' It will always remain elusive, the way that "foreign language" must, but also the way that any other must. It would after all be pretty uninteresting to live in a social world where no communication was necessary. Probably even more uninteresting than one where it isn't possible.

The impulse to communicate is emotional, I think. The sum total of all the things we know or can know rendered into the vector of an impulse. (and yes, I'm bored with this too. There is no way to bring it home without, well, learning yet another language which it is beyond the span of any possible life for me to learn it in).

And so the time will come before too very long when we will once again examine our impulses. What did we think we would discover by this super-collider, if not the limits of our own ability to go native within whatever it is that still is and must ever remain outside our mind's apprehension. Did we really need this expense of energy and money just to en-state the obvious?

And what if the current model were to remain intact, augmented by the further elaboration of the Higgs boson contribution? When would boredom set in? When would we realize that the solutions we must seek now regard the political impulse to drive beyond all reasonable limits?

The Good News is that the shifted figure of emotion as part of the fundament, allows consciousness a role in transformation. Change your mind and change the world.

Well, see ya next time. It's been a nice languid few hours without work, and never enough time to finish a thought. Maybe Christmas?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

More Virtuous Reality

I do remember as a young boy some friends who had some money and whose parents were more indulgent than mine had one of those itty bitty Sony TVs back when they first came out. Cute was the word which came to mind, that quality of animal life which must make young offspring easier to care for.

Actually the TV belonged to the MD Dad, who might actually have indulged himself more than he did the kids. It might have been a way to watch football without hogging the family resources, this when the VW beetle was new on the scene; markets were breaking across borders, and all of us were enthralled by mini.

I'm certain I was pre-pubescent, so my wanting of that cute little B&W TV was chaste in its way. More in the manner of wanting a stuffed animal than a racy automobile. Though I also remember fantasizing about how to get one. It might have been realistic to scrimp and save from the paper route and buy a small portable for my bedroom, but that would never have passed family muster. We weren't even allowed to watch TV except for certain hours; never after dinner.

I think part of the fascination for this particular little TV was that we might bring it along on canoe trips, which the boys of our families shared. I imagined laying on a sleeping bag in a dark canvas pup tent of the sort you might allow your kids now to erect in the backyard, if you live in a gated community. It may have been brought on one trip once, but either the battery was clumsy, or there was simply no reception up north that far in Canada.

Or my Dad exerted some moral authority about the disturbances which were acceptable in nature.

And now you know I can watch movies on my little iPhone, with a screen of such high definition, and a size and weight and battery life to make that boy I was wither with envy. But no, I imagine now some 3D goggles, and projections up on my field of vision. I would lust for such technology.

I just finished a Netflix film, made only in France, distinguishing virtue from reality - a fine exploration of the danger of lust when it invades the world of polite society. It was daylight behind me, I'm ashamed to say, and the light from the window made an annoying reflection on the tiny screen. My own face would intrude when the scenes were dark. I should have been in a darkened room, watching on a larger screen.

My future goggles will also annoy me when the projection is darker than the actual scene and I make the cardinal mistake to mistake virtue in broad daylight. (someday I would like to drive one of those cars whose instruments are projected onto the field of vision; and would they work so well at night or would you steer into the speed limit?)

Perhaps we do get locked ever more tightly into a world which diminishes, no longer cute, into all the time indoors. Which may also be why there is no Windows © which can secure the fortunes of Microsoft. Hell, even finding that copyright sign, unless you know the Mac-like arcane keystroke, is that much easier on my cellphone.

Because I am supersaturated now with possibilities for my entertainment. Though I don't understand how people cluster on-line. Why would you want to be known as a VW hobbyist by posting your exploits to virtual friends. How long can fascination with wooden boat repair and construction last, when you have to move across the continent for work?

Those who stay put, embedded in the craft of whatever-it-is so rarely now adopt the voice of wisdom online, that I actually do remember back when the Internet was new and generous spirits prevailed.

It is now again the case that you will do better to travel to some shop or seaport and start conversations and eventually find that generous spirit. If he will accept a cup of coffee or lunch he might even indulge your questions. Unless they are trivial enough to be answered while continuing to work, up against the deadline which is having enough to live on.

What is it we presume of one another? Where would I find the leisure, for instance, to try this voice in ways which could be worked into something you might like to read? Could I develop a character? Could I imagine interesting exploits, and explore them for you on the virtual page, and could I make them captivating enough for you to follow?

Perhaps, but I must feed myself and the chase after those wages leaves me just that tired that I am fortunate to take a walk and collapse in sleep, only to face another commute and having only enough time to dress and eat and depart on time if I get up at 5:30 in the freaking morning. Where is the leisure I can take advantage of, with so many options floating now around and about me?

It is simply too much effort even to look, and so I catch a random movie, perhaps on my iPhone, based on some selection process which transcends any sense I could ever make of it.

There are times, in other words, when I don't want to think that hard; when I want to be entertained. No wonder we pay to buy tickets at the movies. Which should make the movies like some sort of performance art. Soon  there will be no more worries about copyright. As with a fine comedian, you won't pay to hear him if the jokes are stale: the recorded version is worthless. Or to put it virtuously, the stale jokes need to be camouflaged with something to make them seem surprising. Is there anything new at the movies?

But for now folks unlike me remain unjaded, and skip lustily among the virtual daisies, certain that there can be some perfect flower among the weeds, and that she can be had for nearly nothing. Roll me another one, over and over and over again.

I cannot. I know that every time I search for the best deal and pay as little as I do to be entertained I'm ripping someone off. It's not the copyright infringement. It's the rights infringement of people whose labor is aggregated for the enrichment of someone with the right social capital to exploit it properly. I will sell your handicrafts for you where the buyers have real money. And you will get fair market value and I will find a way to live among the gringos on the hill.

Now I must return to searching for the cheapest shocks for my old Vee Dub. I guess I am looking to avoid paying money I don't have to. I guess I'm trying to stay away from people who would rip me off.

But wouldn't it be actually nice if each of us held on less tightly to what we have? We would have to want less, maybe, or want different things from those which cost us money. What if we were to want time with friends more, or time in the great out-of-doors. You know, without the gear. The gear always costs something north of a couple of grand  (in dollars), and then you're committed.

I know these things. SCUBA diving, skiing, biking, rock climbing, hell even just hiking and camping there is a price point which gets calibrated against our desire. I won't even talk about sailing, and certainly not in an old wooden sailboat. Mainly because it would make me very very sad.

So you know, unlike all my very clever friends, I didn't actually bargain very hard for my car. I had no particular resentment about the commission the salesperson might be making, and couldn't really justify whatever few hundreds I might save at purchase time against the lifetime of the car.

Sure, I've spent lots of money now across over 300,000 miles, but I never did have to replace the shocks. or even the muffler, not to mention the bigger stuff. I struggle now about putting any more money in, but I think there is no virtue in polluting the world with whatever it takes to build a new one. There must be junkyards full of engines for when this one bites the dust. The car itself, you know, feels solid. I should just bit the bullet and buy the shocks. No, I should have them put in by someone who knows how to do it.

Bite me.

Meanwhile what the hell does it really matter? We can't resolve ourselves to agree about these things. There seems to be no way to get trains built which would squander that much less money individually. We'd call it government waste and lament the cost overruns.

We could read, or watch our Netflix on our iPhones or get work done by finding new ways to take it home in Dropbox © (it was still on my clipboard!), and who really cares about full Windows interoperability anyhow? Isn't what I've got good enough finally?

I know, if you don't, that all this chasing after bargains can be resolved easily enough into chasing after our mechanized replacements, who can do so much so cheaply now and where is all that leisure that we all once were promised? It is not really fun to drive a car when the driving is on a California freeway.

And so we focus on the luxury appointments on the inside. Which afford that same faraway satisfaction upon purchase. Someday, perhaps, a trip along a winding country road, ending up in wine country to spend some time with friends in pretense that it wasn't frantically purloined from the rest of the daily grind?

All of those bits of time now render upward to those who have so much of it they really don't know what to do with it. There are cruises and exotic spots to conjur the way they were without you. It all of it enslaves and ensnares the ones who are stuck.

But we're all stuck. I in my language and culture where I become nothing but an annoyance among Chinese, because the social imbalance destroys my poise with language and I don't know whom to ask or whom to trust, to navigate the border crossings in my mind.

For sure there is no God but Ah Ha!

Well, back to home-work. Or maybe I'll go to the movies. The day is not sunny enough to feel any loss of virtue.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Flash Mobs

Is it anger when individuals resolve by twitter organization to let loose anomic angst? Is it the resolve of a nation-state when cyber-attacks come in as though launched some superstar conspiracy-director qua Putin?

(Flag wavers need no direction, no do the money-makers)

Has it ever made sense to tie nations together with a currency, the Euro-busters ask. Is it really politely helpful to know my shopping habits and offer discounts for my direction? Who's directing whom here? Price is not my only modifier, I'd like to tell someone.

I anxiously await the screaming match which surely must erupt between Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman, and I assure you that this represents no libidinous displacement on my part. Plastic pneumatic toys do not attract me.

One does have to wonder how Ken dolls Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman stay civil in a room together. I suppose that's latent sexism to wonder. Well, they belong to the same club, the way that Bush and Kerry were both Skull and Bones. Women just don't have such long histories in the paneled corridors leading to the halls of power.

I learned today that selfish genes don't always rule: unrelated wasp queen wannabeeeezzzz can lay in wait to take over an entire colony when its queen dies. No anti-rejection injections required for this tissue transplant!

Reminds me of a joke I like to tell about Albert Kinsey, ideal types and WASPS. "It seems there was this paragon of high-salary one-of-a-kind leadership, who discovered that all of his speeches and memos - internal and external missives - were governed by such easily discoverable rhetorical constraints that a machine could have and probably should have written them. . ."

We pay our highest tributes, in salary or position, to those who can, somehow, channel what it is that's expected of them while still somehow managing the illusion of humanity. Look what's happened to Obama! His degrees of rhetorical freedom have been reduced until there's nothing much to separate him from a corporate CEO, a general's general, or for that matter his idiot predecessor.

I was warned not to fall for him, and it makes me really sad that I was too callow: too enamored of the sometimes great notion that there could be a leader . . .

We have resolved now - those of us who still make the trek to the public arena - into opposing teams. Our certainties have no more depth than do the thumbs up thumbs down of those once playfully and now deadly certain that the home team really should rule and death to the infidels (or was it the Christians?). I suppose that's because there is no way anymore to get to the bottom of any argument and so we go with something like our guts.

* * *

I am nearing the end of an extremely tiring summer. I have been straining to follow lively and highly nuanced  conversations in Chinese. This while I am struggling to master the political landscape of a university that's new to me.

And I do a good enough job that it's almost as if it's no big deal, what I've accomplished. I'm not talking about getting done the job I'm paid for, which has been plenty difficult. I mean that the trouble with being able to speak Chinese is that sometimes you're also expected to know the rules for drinking, for instance, which I don't. So you get measure by what you didn't do, or so the silence seems to tell you.

(Sometimes you run into someone for whom the university make sense, and you wonder how they could have so little sense of irony.)

Chinese drinking rules, it turns out, are incredibly simple. They can be taught with a few sentences as they were to me finally by a lovely young woman who could do it without insult.  Still, I feel vindicated that I hadn't been able to internalize the rules since in Chinese, I learned, they call their habits "drinking culture." Something barbarians like me might have a hard time with.

You might think "culture" would be reserved to describe more exalted activities, by you know the poets drank.In Chinese anyhow.

Strict rules for drinking are mostly observed by business-people for whom showing respect relates directly to deals accomplished. So, the kind of "culture" I'd like to internalize should be rather more nuanced, where rank ordering can shift depending on the honor claimed or bestowed or rebuffed and diffidently returned.

* * *

To hell with rules. But we have boundary issues all over the place now; 50 years after the crumbling of the Berlin Wall there are late discoveries that it also did us lots of good.

But the big bogus boundary is the one which we think keeps our mind within the confines of our head. Somehow - and honestly I can't find the reason - we think that the mind is contained within the brain within the skull. We think that we could freeze the brain, for instance, and then thaw it to find the mind intact.

The mind is composed, of course, of the innerings of various outerances from people all around us. Not just language-dependent, but language-constructed. Written tongues expand the scope, but the principle remains: there is no mind without its partaking communicatively, with myriad others. Which makes its bounding rather more difficult if not harder than the skull.

You know I struggle for compos mentis as much in English as I do in Chinese. Well, of course you know that! And I don't get the privilege in English to be supposed to know more than I reveal that I do in Chinese. In Chinese it's patently obvious that the language isn't harmonizing, quite, with the thought (whatever a thought can possibly be without the language of its expression).

As far as I can tell, I'm of at least two minds about most things. I know people who have more separation than I do between or among their various minds. Twins who split a mind between them also, conversely. And, as I indicted above, corporate leaders whose similarity one from the other might make you think they're clones.

Our striving still for authenticity or originality is misguided and perpetually will be for so long as we mistake self-contained for authentic. We must, of course, relinquish Western archetypes for God. Or at least we must not suppose God is quite apart from us.

We are not angered nearly so much by the thwarting of our will as by the violation of the archetype we inhabit. Neither God.

But, you know, serfer dude [sic] that I am now here in SoCal, I cannot impose by will that archetype on the universe around me. It will rather invest me with something that might become me. Willful people all look the same to me. Can you picture Mitt Romney surfing? Barbie and Ken only flex so far and then it's all dress-up over something which wears fundamentally the same face over the same rhetoric trying very very hard to win you over.

Verizon, amazingly, doesn't answer service calls on the weekends. That must be the best time to start a flash mob. To try for sense beyond sensation. When whatever once was called individuality is felt crushed out by impositions from faceless though differently branded archetypes, what is there to do but give oneself over to the wisdom of the crowd.

Or is it lunacy? Full moon. Full stop.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Holiday Themes

Time was I would post here nearly every day. Not so much anymore, now that I have a place in polite society again, gainfully employed doing something better than supporting the absurdly displaced lust for gadgetry to accelerate our lives.

It is true, though, that chasing after tail the way that IT guys do is good preparation for the insanely busy business of providing meaningful programming for export to Chinese educational tourists, which is what I do now. 24/7/365

It's my birthday though, and I feel positively hung over and wrecked from decompression on this my first day in many weeks with nothing on my schedule. I'm not going to clean the house, and I'm not going shopping unless I let loose some latent desire for new gadgetry. I sure don't want to blog! What a chore . . .

You know, I started my day with the LA Times, which is a new and healthy habit I have along with failing to each much meat and walking the dog for exercise. But there I was, distracted and working against that sense of guilt that I really should flip through the whole thing to find what's happening in the world.

Something about Harvey Milk in there, and I think I really should know if he's dead or alive - I saw the movie - and then glancing at the story there in the Times, I popped my forehead, duh! Of course, remember he was shot dead right there in the movie.

So I lay down the paper, but you know when you've had too much to do and suddenly you find yourself with nothing in particular that must be done right now, the entire mind, body and spirit continuum just lets loose or something and I feel like a really really old man. Or maybe it's just because it's my birthday? And I suddenly am a really old man?

Yesterday on their last day some very sweet Chinese students I'm hosting presented for their final project a look at Bill Gates as one among many "leaders" they could choose to analyze for the leadership qualities they'd come here to burnish. Since we in America now so evidently know so much about leadership the way that the Pied Piper leads little lemmings over the brink, maybe? Leadership! We'll sacrifice the globe for some idea, for chrissakes.

Bill Gates was quoted up on the screen. Stupid stuff like "find yourself on your own time, since no-one's going to pay you to do it." Or "there isn't any summer vacation in real life." He seemed to have a thing against school, you know, as though to listen to music or smell some roses were somehow a sin. And so maybe I sublimated that presentation from those sweet students and watched some music videos as represented by Time online as the best in history.

And you know, I watched a few and realized that everyone else was probably aware of these documents in their time, and I was just a dullard, like Bill Gates, assigning such stuff and nonsense no value. Certainly not enough to watch them through, either the first time or just now. But I think they were worth the investment, to those who invested in them just as Bonaroo might be or so my little-one tells me, though she herself was bored eventually, and hot and sticky and wanting a break.

But still I think I will do nothing. I don't know that Bill Gates has done anything worthwhile for the world, any more than Rupert Murdoch. I don't know why I feel somehow obligated to know the basic facts about what's going on in the world. There's no way to know that much detail and my brain deteriorates, which leaves not all that much for my mind to ride on. There's so much I can't remember, or at least can't call to mind with sufficient alacrity for it to matter if I could.

It must be that my mind does extend into all these little facts which my various smart devices allow me to check. Yes I know the date of Harvey Milk's death as soon as I can type or say the name and pause for facts' return to that little screen.

No doubt now, that Microsoft will soon re-dominate since they have their arsenal of patents and those patents' attorneys to force protection money from the competition, notoriously to the tune of $15 for each Android device. Which is more than Google makes. Which is zilch.

I wonder who's kidding whom? The Grand Narrative of the non-leadership classes would have us believe that government money spent goes down a rat-hole, though it buys us roads and clean water and safety regs. While the money spent on extortion rackets in the name of intellectual property law or real-estate bubble blowing for the sake of even further concentrations of wealth somehow gets to be thought productive!!!???

Yeah, so why bother, right? Why even pay attention at all? Certainly, why pick up the paper with any desire other than to flip to page 3, or where was that sexy music video among the brainy ones?

I know what I need to know, which oughta be enough. But I'm taking a break anyhow, and I don't really feel like going back to edit. So there. Peace out!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Biding Time - Happy Independence Day!

This is really strange. I have more work piled up than I can possibly accomplish, but it's July 4, and there is some sort of mandate to take the holiday. Plus I live in this cool California version of small town USA, and they do up July 4th like nobody's business. I've gotta partake. I can do a compare and contrast with my former digs in the New York State version of Dogpatch where they showed similar devotions from a wildly different context.

So I checked up here on my blog-space, biding time from working, and I found this entry languishing. It had been sitting there for well over a month, waiting for me to have a chance to look it over. I just launched the sucker, and what the hell!?

I never do manage to get things written the way they would be written if I had the right ability. Like I have this new friend who knows how to bend those spaghetti balloons into shapes which are almost too amazing to describe. The results are like what Chinese calligraphic painters can do with their brushes, to where a few practiced strokes might channel the particular qi of a cicada, say or a horse, and then even to a Western viewer, they have a kind of verisimilitude, which is nothing in the direction of photographic. That's what these balloons are like. Evocative of a rose, or a sub-machine gun or an elaborate hair-style.

That's the way I'd like to write.

Sometimes I wonder, what would happen if we named things not according to their phenotype or genotype, but according to the ecological niche they occupy. Hiking up the mountains yesterday, I was transformed and transfixed by the flowers along the path, regretting mildly that I did not know their names. But I wanted a name for the place they grow in, some demarker for the qi which allows their engenderment there.

Would language then deteriorate, or would we ourselves become that much less insistent that the function of our lives is to assemble as much experience to our Proper Name as we can muster. And then still expire disappointed at what we failed to achieve. Like novelistic mastery of the sort Frantzen credits Wallace with whose ex-post-mortem writings now are the subject of some embalmers art.

What if not to succeed that way were still to leave one rights as an instance of that energy which sometimes erupts in florid recognition, and sometimes simply makes the attempt, which some more idealized instance of the type gets picked for (ho ho)?

You know, I muse now that political rhetoric seems only to target those most susceptible to being sold on a slogan. WalMart shoppers, each of whom now has that precious one-person, one-vote and is feeling kind-of uppity about the privilege. We don't need no stinkin' interpretation!

We just bought an antique lamp, with the confidence to know that simply based on its construction and materials, its value was more than we paid for it. It isn't likely to go down, so why not put money there instead of in a bank account which won't even keep pace with inflation?

Most purchases solve problems; whether decorator problems or shelter problems or transportation problems, they lose their value instantly upon the act of purchase. Not so antiques, especially in the ever-new state of California where only aging gays and lovers of old houses and the WalMart flea-market types seem to be patrolling the aisles. Which is my type? What's my context,. what's my niche?

I think I'd like to see a political rhetoric targeted at thought leaders. Something removed from marketing hype enough so that people recognized their own incompetence to judge, the way we might with antique roadshow questions. We might be amazed, were we to have no reason to mistrust the judgments, at the value revealed.

Something we thought we understood well might be revealed to be a pig in a poke, manipulating our certainties the way that a practiced Chinese peasant does with tourists climbing along the Great Wall.

But I suppose my hope is hopeless. Rhetoric has gone the way of all flesh, toward meaningless and useless exercise of reflex desires. If it moves it must be edible.

Remember when libido was channeled into something like a Corvette? Now I see countless ads which have been reduced to the analog of flesh-shots which subliminally once channeled my desire for goods to enhance my style of life. Typically, they show four different flat-screens, one mobile, one tablet, one desktop size and one big screen.

These are the anything contexts. They can display text or flesh or moving pictures or put you in touch with a friend. You can read a book there, and you can let it flow across the screens, and you can let your mind flow, even, if you were to wish it, while walking in the mountains among wildflowers. There is no signal there. Thank God!

Consider the movement of the word, "technology." It has surpassed words like biology where the ". . . ology" denotes 'the study of.' Techniques for getting things done transmute from the study or even the enactment of those techniques to something which indicates some thing itself. Some item meant to embody something universal about techniques.

It's a thinging or reification like that long since done to "Science" as though that were some disembodied thought process which could be invoked in terms like "Science has long since discovered . . ." Long before that it happened, though from the other direction, to God which represented a striving for a Name for that which cannot and probably should not be named.

Technology is an empty construct, working almost the way that entrepreneurship does, which once quite properly referred to the process by which someone not quite scrupulous would work to relieve you of your hard-earned cash and to provide you instead with something rather more like a pig in a poke. As though technology solves any problems. As though it can be any more than an end in itself, to fascinate endlessly, to distract, to name in place of proper naming.

Rhetoric also once referred to verbal maneuvers apart from their earnest truth value. These were techniques for persuasion, apart from the rightness of the speaker's cause. Our politicians now, need it be said out loud, are the personality equivalents of technology, embodying nothing. There is no distinction among the wax figures, Mormon or lipsticked poker faces, one step from Scientological (properly so-called) batshit.

And this is that which I celebrate, blowing up July 4. Sound and fury signifying nothing. Hooray!!

Swirl of Cacaphony

I owe it to my punster bro that this is the name of a new Ben and Jerry's flavor. Artificially sweetened chocolate - fake cacao, get it? Cacao phoney?? With a twist.

I don't do puns. There's something wrong or right with my language black-box. I am back working though, this time using Chinese on a daily basis.

Since the Chinese has lain dormant for at least 15 years, and since this is a new job in a new state (of mind - California) and since I'm doing things which are somewhat new to me, I do sometimes feel as though I'm navigating a cacaphonic swirl.

I've been issued an iPhone. It works enough better than the Windows Mobile phone (the one I've been trying to talk myself into loving for so long now), that I almost can't credit it. I don't want to like a smartphone that much, but it handles Chinese natively, which is still a little better than I do, and moves seamlessly among tasks. I think they were smart enough to close off "multi-tasking" since you can only look at one thing at a time on a phone, and it keeps its state way better than Windows did, which was always trying to give me my cake and let me eat it too.

The Windows phone would try "intelligently" to decide how much memory I needed, but to a human there was no predicting when a backgrounded app would be closed according to some kind of better judgement, and its state might or might not be kept depending on the talents of the programming staff. At least Apple exercises some control over what will be allowed on their platform.

The one thing I do miss, however, is that Swype way of entering text. It's quicker, and I haven't learned to thumb on a virtual keyboard. But even still, there are limits to the turn of phrase one will attempt on such a tiny platform. I wonder when they'll make one I can dictate to reliably (ouch, turns out there's an app for that!)? Or something which can monitor my nerve endings maybe the way Kinect does my body movements. So I could just waggle my typing fingers, and the phone would take the cue.

'Till then, there can be no question that the language that we use is being lowest-common-denominatored. I've found that when I'm speaking English to someone I've spoken Chinese with, my English has become that kind of simplified that I often wish they'd use with me in Chinese. It's not that hard for a speaker to bring his language to within what can be followed with certainty, and not to do so would be some kind of rude.

And then if I email the same person, I find that I can't even access my native English stylistics, such as they are. I seem only to have a kind of pidgin - clear enough and precise, but lacking in the nuance which I do so enjoy while writing an email to someone I know well enough to skate the edge of sense with. Gentle Reader.

There's lots of celebration of the Twitter now, for the discipline imposed by such a compact package. No possibility to build any context from which the Tweet can be removed.

Once upon a time, we all learned to be careful with our emails since something about the medium prevented the careful tone with which paper letters once were invested. And bosses and colleagues and would-be lovers would take or give offense meaninglessly, because of a context wrongly inferred.

This defines our political discourse now, no?

Discourse is, of course, far too lofty as a description of what passes for it. Grand notions are reduced now to advertising slogans, obliterating all and any hope that opposing sides might be brought toward some kind of respect for the opposing position. At least I find that some familiarity with the origins of a position, and with the experiences of the people that hold it changes a lot about how you regard those people and that position.

Ad hominem becomes the order of the day, and so you match opposing viewpoints against what amount to cartoon caricatures as offered up by what passes for journalism. Photo and video mediated of course.

Our likes and dislikes are generated in the instant, upon first vocal and visual impression. How absurd to accuse the Obama haters of racism, when whatever happened happened in the same instant that we all formed our opinions of Sarah Palin. And I do try and I have to confess that, well, when I really try I can find Glenn Beck likable. I understand where he's coming from. I get Palin. I know they each connect with people who aren't making connections otherwise. Who feel excluded.

But to like someone is not to evaluate their job performance, right? And when someone else makes that mistake, then we hate them too. We generalize. We fill in all the context because the language we use simply isn't rich enough to provide for context.

And I guess that will have to be enough for this re-entry to my little private blogosphere, after a different kind f re-entry to the world of work. I'll end with a visual pun. I came across it during the course of my new work, where it behooves me to stay abreast of developments in Higher Ed.

I've been aware of modern logistics and warehousing operations for a while now, because of my work in IT. Big box distribution stores now use scan codes and robotics to store and retrieve pallets from their precise slots in massive warrens.

The California desert is dense with such places, each one employing very few humans, while the goods are moved from semi-trailer to shelf and back again using artificial intelligence to minimize latency on the shelf where money can't be made. But the shelves are valuable when they can facilitate volume purchase or taking advantage of price fluctuations. It must be a beautiful thing.

And now the University of Chicago, short of space, has built its new library underground, where books are bar-coded and stacked in crates. Robotic retrieval systems can move the crate to where a human can retrieve his written quarry. And it must be a beautiful thing.

But I have to wonder, and don't you? If the word is the thing, then why does it even matter that the physical object be brought to hand? This feels to me like some sort of bizarre and obsolete gold standard, and I feel my context-building prejudice machines resenting all the money spent to fetishize rare objects.

Shouldn't all this robotic intelligence be used to digitize the books before they're lent? Maybe it is and will be, but shouldn't it also and at the same time be made available to anyone anywhere, and not only to the folks at the University of Chicago with library privileges?

I remember when CD jukeboxes were state of the art, because so much data could be made accessible so cheaply. And now they just seem silly up against data stores so massive that the capacity is given away just for the asking. This library would seem the same kind of future obsolete, as new-age and high tech as it is.

I wonder if they will take my advice to call this travesty what it is - the Dead Letters Office from the long gone age of the missive. When people who wrote took upon themselves also the burden to create a context, and when readers were similarly obligated in return.

There is a design field of which I'm newly aware. It's called Ux or usability experience. It's masters design the interfaces between man and machine, and when you think about it, this is a very important business. One wishes that they would go to work someday real soon on the interface sported by the office copier/network printer/scanner/fax machine, but meanwhile these designers have become the analog to what teachers used to do.

They frame your interactions, as on my new iPhone now I'm constantly amazed at the generous gestures built in for my more fluid interactions. It's wordless, this framing, and therefore multi-cultural. Certainly, there's no need for translation, or, um, has it already occurred by the time the user interface is useful? Is the inter-language translation radically redundant by the time a "user" gets the interface?

Let me think here. Is the instrumentation on the user interface really somehow analogous to the role of the teacher? Some kind of formalization and channeling of the moves which might be made. And what of notions of active learning, or engaging the students with one another. Does that just go right out with the Windows?

There must be a difference between digital reality and real reality.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

an iPhone for Your Thoughts

I have gone over now to the dark side. I'm working and I've been issued an iPhone, a thing I never would have bought myself. I'm distressed at how much techo-lust remains in me.

I find that it does Chinese in ways that Microsoft's stuff automagically drops out in their striving to rob everyone else's feature set, and skipping effort on the stuff which stays on most peoples' shelves. Or is that what Apple does, with their sweating of all the details of look and feel and I'm just suckered in with all the rest. What do they not want me to be able to do?

I feel a touch of sadness now to be retiring my old Windows smartphone, but I just can't imagine that I'll be using it anymore. Though its "push" email was a tad more alacritous than the iPhone's. I could customize in ways the iPhone won't allow. But I'm afraid it's the Apps. The pinch to zoom and the slick way the parts all integrate.

I suppose I should be worried about the tracking, but, well you know I just learned this fascinating little tidbit I've been puzzling about since I moved to California and have to navigate these massive Mighty Niagara (nostalgic nod to canoeing in Buffalo) traffic flows. Doesn't everybody wonder? You know, how does Google maps get "realtime" traffic information?

I feel embarrassed. I'd been imagining hoards of recruits who call in their observations, and maybe money changing hands to pay for some company which has a service to monitor roadways with cameras or traffic detectors (it's true, there are such things! Which travel to your TomTom over FM channels or some such malarkey). Maybe the government makes a little money off its police reports?

But no, it turns out that this is a really cool form of crowd sourcing, where all these drivers with their location-aware phones are sending up their movements to the mother-processor, and rest assured, we're all anonomized in the cloud because, as usual, they only care about us in aggregate.

So now while I'm fighting off my urge to get an Android in my hands so's I can see how Google's anti-style stacks up against my iPhone, I ponder this: why does it feel so dangerous to question the morality of offing Osama Bin-laden without so much as a nod to a military tribunal? Is it just simply that safe now for our Commander in Chief to read our minds?

In a court of law, would there be mitigating circumstances for the radicalization of a man who'd once thought he was our friend? If he ordered the killings, then surely he must die, but what about specialist Manning now rotting in his cell for aiding and abetting the enemy? Shall we just not bother to hold our leaders accountable to the higher standards of law, since they know what we would want anyhow?

What really worries me though, is that everything has been turned into a kind of digital on-off to where you're either Republican in your thinking or Democrat and these trends tend to polarize us even internally. What happened to leadership whose job it was to raise the level of discourse to where each side could see the reasoning of the other? Isn't that what Obama promised in and by and during his campaign?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not terribly bothered that Obama's been dispatched, but I am bothered that the reason for his dispatch is about the same as the so-called birthers' reason for hating Obama. They just do. But now isn't Obama guilty of extra-judicial killing? What's the statute of distance between a man and his exalted position and the actions committed in his name or by his order? Policemen aren't allowed to shoot someone even though they might have directly witnessed a capital offence. What should we allow secretly to be done in our collective Name?

How do we feel assured that the narrative about the events as they occurred wasn't being tweaked according to our reaction, and facts trickled out or altered according to the traffic flows. There sure are a lot of stories about our enhanced investigative and other special ops techniques. We crow, we crow!

Oh yeah, and I heard this (on NPR, of course, or no, maybe it's in that podcast I refer to above): there is this new virtual french-kissing device that someone's rolled out for fun. You put a virtual tongue in your mouth and then while you're face-timing with someone you'd like to kiss and they have the same device in theirs you can feel each others' wiggles in your respective mouths. Ew!

I know the guy who has a patent on that. I'd better alert him, as though intellectual property could actually belong to someone anymore (I'm of mixed mind!). Meanwhile, you know where this is going, right? While we're all distracted by making virtual love to some Candy-2000 model hot body, the government will already know what we think we want, and then they'll give it to us without our even asking. Click to sign-off, and hey, you can't complain.

Like the other day when I got my free credit report DOT COM and then I stupidly signed up to get my free score because I could cancel at any time. But it took holding for over an hour before someone finally  answered and the scumbags still have my credit card information. Which was a pristine new number since I'd had to cancel the old one for apparent fraud.

Oh yes, I am so thrilled now with my new iPhone!!!

What a world!!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

That Last One!

That one was sitting there for weeks and weeks, while I got into the swing of working again. I'm almost there. Look, ma, I'm writing again! Wheeee!

I went to the LA Times Book Fair at USC yesterday, and stood in line, standby, to hear Patti Smith and David Eggers talk about the writing process. I was flanked by professionals. That was cool. Although I was distressed that Patti Smith seems stuck in the specialness of being an artist, and the ridiculous notion that artists strive to realize things which come to them clear in their minds. And then they do the work to realize those visions.

But Eggers, you know, quietly put the lie to that and talked gently about his teaching process, and I think he was a lot more honest about how the medium pushes back and so does the reader, even if it's you the writer that's standing in for the reader, and he seemed to think that anyone can write, which pretty much dethrones the Artist as some kind of special person.

Patti Smith was talking about how artists are burdened by having to be commenting all the time in their head, as though writing stories about what they are living through, as though that's not actually the human condition and doesn't distinguish her from anyone on the planet. It doesn't, but I haven't read her stuff, and it got a big award, so I'll have to grant that she's as good as all that, and I'm glad to have heard her, but even more glad to have heard Eggers, because I think we're all really congratulating ourselves still for recognizing cool when we see it, and he seems to have moved beyond that.

I like this Chinese semi-dissident writer I read about in the LA Times this morning, who criticizes Ai Weiwei for maybe mis-taking that New York state of mind where everything has to be edgy all the time to be legitimate, as though just being shocking were being free.

And I'm certain that I love and support Ai, even though I don't know his work either. But I do think he's too much into the idea that information just wants to be free, which is what Ariana Huffungton thought so that she could make millions off the backs of bloggers who just wanted the exposure her site would give them.

Here's how free I think information is. When we think information is free, we cheapen it to the point that it's meaningless, just like when we think that we need to be credited for inventing things which were in the air, but we got there first, we make of ourselves a fool against eternity. Information is what you do with it, and so HuffPo descends, sometimes, into the realm of the National Enquirer when it used to be all that, and sometimes random lonely bloggers without an audience have things to say. But I self-aggrandize, and so . . .

For instance, I think when we email we are doing something like what I've been doing talking to people whose English is about as good as my Chinese. I simplify. Not just my vocabulary, but my tone and pacing, and if I'm writing an email to someone I don't know, I take out all the nuance such as I would use to a compadre who knows me well.

If I write to a friend, I could write freely, writing to someone who knows me well, and fill my writing with what I consider style and feel pretty good about how much I managed to pack into a phrase, though even then most times people won't bother to read it closely.

Still I'd rather my writing over-reached, than was always forced to strive for the lowest common denominator so that it will certainly be understood or at least not misread to the detriment of all. And while I'm writing this pidgin style I find that I no longer can tell how I might change it. I can't find the style I would have used if I weren't cramping it so much.

Like, you know, when I'm writing to someone with whom I speak Chinese, but neither of us is as good as native in the other person's native tongue, then my own writing descends into a kind of reduced form, and I can't even come up with natural phrases and so everything looks Chinglish, even my own writing. I think that's about the state of the world of language right now. The opposite of Babel is not perfect harmony. It's the loss of any communication with anyone at all because we're all saying the same thing all the time.

Well, as always, that's worth about two cents.

Stunned Silence

I watch the cat, asleep, the tip of her tail moving like a creepy worm, as though it were a different animal altogether. You won't be reading much here. I'm back to work. I am overwhelmed by too much to read and to digest. I have to dive in to the deep waters of Chinese again. There isn't much time. I'm tired. I can't think through the haze of pain from repetitive stress, or stress, or a pinched nerve, wages of age.

I remember the first time someone showed me his cell phone, and I couldn't believe it. I hadn't realized that it might make sense to distribute the towers such that this radio would always be within reach of one. I hadn't yet worked for the power utility which already had such a system to hand off signals among antennas so that linemen could always be in touch.

I watched an HD movie last night, streaming over the Internet, because I had nothing left in me to do a single thing more. Work is exhausting. It robs me of my mind in just the way that there is no presence among the endless swells of well-crafted writing, mediated by enough capacity to stream high-def video, and probably 3D if I were to care about that. There is no sense in trying to make sense. There's too much.

I care about what David Foster Wallace writes, even if he wasn't around to put it together this tax day. I care about what John Stuart has to show me, and us, and them, about what people are saying in the world around and about me that is so mind-numbingly stupid that all that is required is a context and it speaks for itself.

It's charming, or it would be, how many people hold on so earnestly to opinions and even certainty which make about as much sense as to read the Bible for literal Truth. But they do. And David Wallace didn't care to keep us company, walking off the stage because no one cared anyhow, and the show was what was to each side of each of them and not where the spotlight shone.

Left, right, center, people hold onto beliefs and opinions and certainties like dictators holding onto power in the face of awakening masses of humanity. Which won't be managed until enough of them shut up already about stuff they believe in which makes no sense. Like that regulation of our predations hurts us in the end. That rich people didn't get lucky and shouldn't be taxed for it. That we have to be bankrupt and it isn't our arrangements for modulations of emotions through financial transactions, like how much would you pay for that experience?

And I am a cellphone now, a robot, my power is all distributed and I am just a receiver, and can transmit only as far as the nearest repeater. Sometimes I wish I did have a tail which would wag itself while I sleep. It could signal that I still live.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Camera Front and Back

As with the true depth of the snow when I was little, I have no way to know how my memory is being distorted by age. I am more engaged with the news than I used to be, but I'm also having a hard time remembering my state of mind as recently as when we all turned the Y2K corner.

I love having a smartphone which I can use for instant references: Names and historical data; definitions and showtimes - and I'm certain that it's making me a kind of 'as-if' smarter. But what's it doing to my consciousness? What does it mean when I can and will and must check in about every little question and curiosity?

Driving past bus stops now or walking along the road, it seems that everyone with an idle minute is looking downward toward something in their hand. Fiddling with it. But strolling through the glorious Balboa Park in SanDiego there was a lone man slouched backwards like some iconic take of John Muir, engaged with the landscape and looking homeless. I could repose in mind with him.

Through txting now, there will be video chat, perhaps, though you can't do that under your desk in class. I want my 4G phone and I want it now. I want all my screens united and I want the biggest one to envelope me. (the "I" will disappear in the end through and by and with this process)

So, two things happened recently: One, I finally shlepped my phone into Verizon for a replacement since my touchscreen has  been referring touches to random other parts of the screen from those I intend. I could fix it by "coloring" in the screen until it re-established sync, but it was getting worse and worse, and this was my way to defer wanting something cooler and newer. It's always better to wait a while, and no-time more so than now. Two, I randomly remembered Superman the movie and then there it was on Dish. I'd forgotten the part at the beginning where the Kryptonite criminals are exiled onto a 2D screen. I'd thought it made nice symbolism at the time.

The funny thing is that now that I have a brand new replacement obsolete phone on its way, the one I have started working again. I feel guilty for burdening the globe with more junk, although it's hard to trust it just because I worked it over good trying one last time to fix it. And the movies now are poised to go 3D, and that's being touted as the "new color." As though we'll all look back on 2D the way we do on black and white or silent.

I'm not so sure.

You know, here in California, they've had some success bringing city centers back to life by enticing in the mall brands. I'm thinking of Pasadena and San Diego, but I also saw the same thing in Spokane Washington. (one has to wonder why Buffalo can't do it?)

But then you find these cute little specialty stores, located in architecturally interesting little retro establishments, all going out of business because you'd have to know they are there and frequent the place enough to go there when you think of wanting something they sell. Which brings me right back to the consciousness changes happening with all the mass mediation of what we ponder and think we know.

There's only so much room in the brain, you know? Keep us distracted by too much information, keep us daily tied to news about the Middle East or world-threatening disasters, and we'll only have room for the mall, or the mall-like downtown, and its limited brands. Familiars.

And we don't even know our neighbors, and wouldn't want their low skilled artisanal outputs which are what national branding and interchangeable parts (right down to the food we eat) were all about in the first place.

The bats are dying and so are the bees, and we weren't really thinking of them when we thought we could go it alone on the planet. But we can't. It's so easy for me to envision mass transit on rails for getting to work each day, but much harder to imagine the political shifts which would have to happen first.

The disastrous outcome of nuclear energy proliferation seems inevitable in retro, in particular because if even the Japanese can't work it out on the corruption front, how do the rest of us expect to do so?

Well, you won't likely get the answer from me, since I go back to work on Wednesday (insert Hooray track!). Just like the rest of us, I wish there were actually a way to direct my efforts which did good for the planet.

I would be happy with a better political arrangement, so that at least I might be assured that the actual leaders made it into leadership positions, and that the thoughtless classes weren't so much in charge. Without reverting to some sort of aristocracy.

Maybe I'm asking too much? I don't really think so. It's all about trust and education and finding ways to put the two together. Maybe the smartphone and other devices can help with that. Maybe it will be the wearable computers. For sure, we need to get back our commuting time and not spend so much energy on the virtual but highly stressful reality of the freeways.

That would be my vote anyhow. But you know, before I get a chance to vote, we the people will ourselves have been turned into interchangeable parts. Hooked on "authenticity" as on a drug. And isn't that simply the most poignant irony of all?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Paying for the Times

Of course you knew it was coming. While all news organizations have been carefully calibrating their strategies to deal with the burgeoning Internet, no organization has been more deliberate and thorough than the New York Times. They have enough cash and clout to have nurtured their "brand" across these long and scary years of freebie access, and now seem confident that they will be able to charge top dollar for web access without losing their spot.

The news comes at the very moment that public broadcasting is being nixed. So recently after the fortunes of public radio were boosted by the need for all of us commuters to be in some kind of reliable touch after the events of 9/11.

Crises have a way of ratcheting up the power of the powerful, while winnowing out the small fry. How many local news outlets will be able to charge a fee for online access now that the news-reading public might have to make budget decisions about how much news they can afford? And who can afford to be without access to reliable and vetted sources of information?

It is possible that the Times has miscalculated, and that their move will boost the power of blogger aggregaters like HuffPo, on the Google model of keyterm auctions to game your profile and free or slave-wage content provision. It's also possible that everything will go the way of Rupert Murdoch, where no holds are ever barred to gain audience share. What you mock on the entertainment side, where the apparently liberal politics of the Simpsons or Glee merge with that strange libertarian Howard Stern schlock humor, is balanced by what makes you angry on the NewsCorp side if you digest the news at all.

As quickly as we have all forgotten how essential the reliable reporting of NPR was during our national disaster, we have also forgotten pandemic fears from SARS or H5N1 (or was it H1N1, or was it avian or was it swine flu)? It all has something to do with China and their horrid public health standards, right? Or is it the fact that they have dismantled their social health network in the same kind of thoughtless imitation of our wild capitalism which has them buying more Buicks now than we do?

It could be that public health requires society-wide approaches to healthcare now more than ever. It could be that flood and earthquake insurance should not be allowed brokerage on the open market, since those companies drag their feet or declare bankruptcy anyhow when the disaster is broad enough. Government political swings almost guarantee moral hazard, even as they insure that only those too big to fail will be protected against failure because the only safe bet is to go as big as you can as fast as you can.

* * *

Microsoft rolls out IE9. At first blush it hangs for me and so I'm back to Chrome. But their Windows Live services start to look and feel and behave with a little bit more slick compared to the hacker feel of Google. Bing has fit and finish, as the Internet turns away again from wildness. I'm having Bigness Blues.

Let's hope the Times will also flesh back out its news rooms and its international bureaus and that it will act in the public interest because that's what the lettered elite who form its main readership will demand. There are distinct advantages to not pandering to the unwashed masses the way that Fox does, albeit in the interests of the same economic ranks those Times elites belong to.

I for one would love for actual leadership to replace the purely moneyed definitions which now seem to have the monopoly on determination of who's elite and who's the hoi polloi. But leadership depends on trust and a servant mentality from the top. Our market structures presume that we should mistrust our leadership, especially now that our leadership is marketed too.

I'll pay for the Times sure, just like I'll pay for PBS. But I do have to say that I'd prefer that we all share the costs. For reasons of our public safety and our public health and our public rhetoric and the relative safety and peacefulness of our public squares, I certainly prefer that we work to decrease rather than to exacerbate the divide in means between the have-it-alls and the have-almost-nothings.

And it doesn't help that we export so much of our grey to China. I look forward to technologies which really do green the entire globe. Which instead of nuclear power-plants, make it attractive for us to mine our extravagant wattage waste in favor of less bloated bodies and homes. But that also will depend on public moneys being drawn away from subsidies to Big Oil and Big Corn and Soy.

It's a worrisome time right now. We're all going to end up paying for these times. That's the only certainty.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Borders on my Mind

Not the closing bookstore, or the  political boundaries around a state, but the larger concept; that thing which defines the inside and the outside of me, or the sense and the nonsense of constructed narratives. Sanity, insanity, sensory deprivation, the supernatural and the natural. Fiction and history That kind of thing.

If I neglect diligence in locking my doors, I'm a fool. If you open them, you're still a criminal regardless of how hard it was to do so. If a nation succeeds in the internalization of walls, the way the Chinese have, or the way that each of us individually does when we inhabit the fiction of our unitary, authentic self, then the walls can dissolve again to the level of symbolic. I belong, therefore I am.

Walls as tourist attractions, like the great wall of China, or the sexy skin of one of Charlie Sheen's porn star buddies, refocus the self on the inside as one who wants to conform and lay claim to pride of place. The perceived need to build robust real walls, or to buff out or to clothe the physical self, announce the invisibility or transparency of any and all shared definition. To be willingly naked is to trust in consciously shared boundaries, maybe. Let's not be silly.

Graffiti, or punk-style, or, once upon a time, rock and roll, define these boundaries by challenging them to make them visible and opaque. I can punk my way into your screen, and I might become an anonymous superstar, and then because you know me too well, I will no longer know myself. No wonder superstars take drugs. Alternate between sunglasses and outrageous designer statements.

We need walls along the border with Mexico because we are ambivalent in almost all of our collective actions about who should be in and out. Rhetorically, we agree, but in practice, build the wall since we can't contain ourselves! Clothe the naked body, and if necessary make it uniform which makes it hot for some people. Weird!

F-bombs bleeped out routinely on public channels (although I thought I'd paid for them) announce some walls I just can't find, and when they joke freely about threesomes and the actors act without shame I'm thinking maybe we've already been transported back to the border-less world of Eden, but nobody told me. It just doesn't feel like paradise.

Who was the nutjob who thought we could contain nuclear reactions anyhow, or is it simply our Grand Narrative which also allows no real distinction between truth and fiction if you spread it on a timeline. That center of opinion has been swinging wildly even in my own mind, if I can call that "in."

Have you ever experienced a muscle twitch, acting all on its own without your conscious intervention intention? Just now, it felt as though someone was poking me in the side, but no-one was. Rebellion, like Charlie Sheen in need of help, feels dangerous if it gets out of hand. Bring in the tanks, the tranquilizers, the muscle relaxants.

Oh, how I do envy those of you who inhabit your life's mission and are glad for it. If you stick to it, you'll accomplish something. You have a mission as a scholar or a musician or a dancer or a worker-bee, but you have a mission and you've found a way to pay for it.

I have a string of jobs. My mission is hopeless.

Meanwhile, I continue to navigate the divide between literate culture in China and over here. What I find most interesting at the moment is how differently the Chinese written form mediates between machine and human forms.

Machines represent strict cause and effect and therefore exclude serendipity except by design. Once they build themselves as 'games of life' from mathematical primitives, they will be proper life forms, but not so useful for that. Well, I mean not so immediately trustworthy, the way that machines are as perfect slaves.

The Chinese written form encodes radically fewer sound morphemes than does English, for example. Although by the laws linguistics as I understand them, it must be, in principle, possible to speak the written language with full fidelity, in practice there is just so much more history to the visual forms than is the case with alphabetic and phonetically transcribed languages.

Sure, our spelling "system" (unsystem?) preserves much of a word's history, but there is a certain kind of compactness to written Chinese which pretty much reserves full literacy to those who have mastered great bodies of textual context. You can look up words in dictionaries, but you are much more likely to require an index of actual usage.

Because each written graph can be represented by no more than one vowel sound  (although the number of distinct vowel sounds is enhanced by meaningfully different intonations), plus perhaps a leading consonant, a string of opening sounds can be sufficient for the computer to render up an entire multi-graph word or phrase.

Using the sounds of the characters, plus a computer tabulation of the likely combinations, one can get radically more complexity from rather fewer keystrokes. I imagine it's about like what a court reporter can get from essentializing the sounds of English to some set of single-impact keystroke combinations.

The more one relies on the computer to interpret phonetic references, the more faded-memory distance one develops from the "original" calligraphic form. (I use quotes since the calligraphic form was itself an elaboration or simplification of earlier forms, whether made by stylus or knife or something else)

It seems uncontroversial that written language is the sine-qua-non for consciousness. OK, it's controversial, but I take it as settled fact. For sure, it's the sine-qua-non for civilization and what Foucault calls the entry into history of humanity.

It's also common place enough to understand that thought (if there is such a thing) is the innering of dialogic habits accomplished between and among minds, but also mediated through texts. Reading was once done aloud, and neurological experiments demonstrate that those regions of our brain are still exercised while reading to oneself.

A general fallacy still has currency that Chinese is written with "ideographs" which would mean, essentially, that there is no mediation by the as-if sounds of spoken language. In its extreme manifestations, this fallacy would have it that the "idea" of a word's meaning makes it directly into the mind of the reader. I take it that neurological testing, while uncovering interesting differences in the precise regions of the brain activated, affirms the commonality among all written languages, graphic or phonetic.

Readers of Chinese also internalize at least pseudo soundings-out. I say pseudo, since one of the attractions of the notion of ideographs is that the same written system has been used by mutually unintelligible natural languages. If one is in the habit of supposing abstraction to be a method to resolve differences in particulars, then one naturally supposes that what's "meant" is what is read, rather than the sound of the word.

But it would seem that abstraction of that sort takes place outside the brain, at least, if not outside the mind. The meaning is a communal creation, shared by sense-makers and never quite abstract-able from spoken language.

Until early in the twentieth century, Chinese of whatever dialectical origin always used a highly formalized written language which would itself be recognized as distinct from the normal manner of speaking of any language group. Self-consciousness of this distinction is long-standing in China, and was crescendo-ing for some time leading up to the adoption of more natural spoken forms to writing.

Naturally, there is a tendency to join the formal written language to the spoken language as used by mandarins in the capital. Priests to Rome conversing in Latin, one might analogize. Where Italian pronunciation feels as though it comes the closest to that language not actually spoken any longer.

Abstractions take meaning out of time and of course it's tempting to give them historical origins or to remove them from time altogether. When, in fact, they exist with the same sort of precision as my mind does, located somewhere that you can identify as me, but amalgamated from those various times in my life when you might have known me. Including me in the future according to your imaginings or mine, and based on misgivings as much as on aspirations. Trust and confidence. Predictability.

I am foretold, though accident might intervene. Machines are always the same for all time, and only wear down. Their future state is given by their present disposition, apart from breakdown or unforeseen environmental impacts.

Operator failure caused the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island. There was insufficient training and drilling and understanding about how to read the instruments, which were doing their reporting in ways counter-intuitive and misleading. Anyone who's ever done mechanical systems troubleshooting (including computer systems) understands not just the tendency, but the necessity to be stuck in ruts. In order to solve problems, you have to settle first on an interpretation of the basics, and if there is a mistake at that level, then the solution will never be found.

When time is of the essence, catastrophe can result as it did at Three Mile Island, which was a more robust (pressurized water) reactor design than the ones now melting down  in Japan (boiling water Mark I GE designs).

In the case of Three Mile Island, the man-machine interface broke down. In the case of Japan now, there was an environmentally induced catastrophe which requires that the human operators operate within a much more slim margin for error. One hopes that the man-machine interface has been improved. One hopes that the instruments present their readings in properly intuitive fashion. One hopes that the drills have gotten better, and that economics hasn't whittled them down to complacency.

A writer of Chinese might be utterly lost without the machine now. A writer of English would likely be able to carry on, even though, as in the case of my handwriting, the resulting forms would not be pretty. The complexity of Chinese written forms moves in the direction of machine constructs, which, like any kind of fancy printing, take more talent than one might like to exercise to bother forming them by hand.

So on the one hand, the computer provides more leverage for the efficient writing of Chinese. On the other, it removes more of the human from the process of deploying the tools of writing. Though the machine can find them and render up a virtual concordance, must it not be mind which hears the echoes of writing now in writing then. Computers can only write poetry, to be construed as such by mind. They don't do so well at making sense.

Dispositionally, I confess to a preference to hand tools over the power kind. They are easier to control, they make less noise, and although they may require more practice to master, it seems as though there's much less prospect for disaster in their operation.

I suppose that there is an analogous difference between handwriting and word-processing, and that the boundary would be placed differently for Chinese writers as compared with writers in English.

I don't propose that this distinction be tested, but only that it provides a kind of conceptual scaffolding for what I consider to be the more important assumption that there is less temptation by abstract concepts among those within the Chinese linguistic sphere of influence.

We're the ones who posit God, and we're the ones who, borrowing from the Japanese who nearly use them that way, mistake Chinese written forms for ideographic representations of raw ideas. I think that for the Chinese, written forms were much more thing-like, and that what they excited "in" the mind was not so much the abstracted referents of truth and beauty as the more concrete transformation of the world about one, according to received wisdom about what one might see if one is educated.

And thus in place of dreams of scientific law to enforce agreement among intellectuals, or political law to enforce civilized and civilizing behaviors, the Chinese have traditionally emphasized shared reading. The mind changes not so much by contact with new "ideas" as by innering the privileged point of view of poets: makers who put the written words together in ways actually to heighten the raw stuff of nature; which is built of yin-yang interactions. Couplets dancing on the page move the mind in apprehension of life as it gets lived.

So why all this shorthand, shorn of adequate reference and proper scholarly apparatus? Why the rush?

Well, because it still is that man-machine interface which is doing us in. It is dreams of immortality, or machine-based consciousness as though our human consciousness is the same as it ever was and will be. As though by the time that we can design a machine on which to host consciousness our human consciousness will have remained the same but for its better apprehension of more elaborated scientific principles.

This dream, by deferring what we need to do right now, is killing us. It is past time already to acknowledge that there is no set reality apart from our interpretation of it. There is no discoverable political or economic system which can handle our collective responsibility not to destroy the ground on which we stand.

Or rather, there is no way that we will find it for so long as we continue to defer our responsibilty until the proper laws are discovered or promulgated which will either force or entice is to live, collectively, within our means. Each of us must act as the co-creators that we are, and not throw up some prayer to abstraction.

And though there is and should be much resistance to acknowledging it, there does exist already a natural turning point in the discoverable laws of natural science.

Starting with Einstein's testable and fully demonstrated positing that the speed of light is a universal constant, not relative to the motion of any observer, and followed on by the discovery of the quantum quality of matter and energy (as previously equated by that famous mass-energy formula E=mc²) whereby energy is always exchanged in discreet packets or particles, and mass is always propagated wave-like, as if unlimited by restrictions of location or momentum . . . Starting with Einstein, it was already apparent that there was required a further change to our common ways of describing reality.

This further change has proven to be the most difficult; the one we are all most reluctant to accept (as if it was easy to get our heads around the changes urged post-Einstein!). It requires that we abandon the expectation that all of reality will ever be describable in terms of natural and discoverable principle. It requires that we finally do abandon any notion of our innocence, as though we are the random byproducts of some natural processes which have led to life on earth.

We have to stop thinking that we are as entitled as any other species to fight for our all. We are, in fact the responsible species, and the only one whatever you might like to argue about what other species laugh or talk or make emotive expressions of their faces.

OK, so this feels pretty far afield from where I started, right? Why all that talk about differences between Chinese and Western written forms. And borders, and natural law?

First because my own mind would not have cracked without the study of Chinese having done it to me; the realization that there isn't only one way to read the world, and that many sensible statements in English, such as "there is a God" simply don't work in Chinese.

And in physics I felt the paradoxes of the Standard Theory to be a slap in the face. Matter couldn't travel faster than the speed of light, but apparently information had to. So for some thirty years now I've been running around like Chicken Little trying to get at least one other person to understand that it makes no sense to talk as though "mind" were only a human quality, evolved with us from chaos.

It makes no sense to dismiss emotion as some sort of charming epiphenomenon of human consciousness, or icing on the cake of thought. Emotion gets in the way of scientific understandings. It's that process which provides the most clear and present danger to rational thinking, and leads nuclear power-plant operators to make fateful mistakes in their behaviors.

But while there have been attempts to develop theories of emotion and to build them in to designs for Artificial Intelligence, to my knowledge - and I've been looking really really hard - there has never been a statement which has been other than silliness, that emotion is also a cosmological constant which, like mind, was not awaiting humanity's evolution to be manifest.

Emotion is simply that configuration of mind which knows before it happens that there will be a perceptual impingement - an energy implication - between "things" which are only conceptual before they make contact. Concepts, in other words, are things held only "in mind."

And so why all this verbiage now? Well, it's nothing new. It's a reiteration of what I've been saying all along here. But the trouble is that I've run out of time and living space (which means I've run out of money). I'm hopeful now that I'll gain employment within the week. All the stars seem aligned.

But it will cut sharply into my writing time, which might provide some relief to you, gentle reader, but it won't do a thing for this rather desperate need that I've had for all these years now to find someone to "get" what the hell I'm talking about.

Of course it is possible that far from learning how to write better, I've actually gotten worse and worse and that nothing will do more for my expository style than to let it rest. But for the fact that my mind and body age, right along with the course of our fine Earth as we send it to hell in a handbasket.

Or I could learn how to tell stories better. The trouble is that they always end up being about Howie. Plus it may just be that story tellers are born and not made.

Well anyhow, please wish me well as I make my crossing to that great beyond, over the border from freedom to employment, where my time will be my own no longer, as though it ever was!

and, and, and, don't you think it's really really silly the way that we all act as though life here on Earth in a solar system in a galaxy in a universe in a cosmos all somehow descended from a Big Bang is all there was and ever will be? Don't you think that there's something rather more interesting than that going on? We act as if normal has been disrupted! But what could possibly be normal about our very human existence? The Earth is being gentle with us still for but a moment longer.