Friday, January 31, 2003

Who Needs a Hug?

I'm not sure which is more surprising. Help me if you can: (A) Hans Blix's report is not an unequivocal warrant for war, and it might've been misrepresented by Colin Powell; or (B) Britney Spears got dumped again. Poor Colin Powell -- once this makes its weekly round through the liberal / French quarter of the blogosphere, their darling (relatively speaking, that is) of the administration, regarded by so many as the 'sane' one, is going to be chewed up and spat to the ground like a highly-decorated, discarded sycophantic Myrmidon. Hans could have expected far worse, I would imagine, had he declared, "Let's Roll." So it goes, I guess.

Here at Silentio, though, I extend my embrace of sympathy to everybody involved in this torrid affair. First, to Hans Blix, for being dragged from his Swedish love nest all the way to Iraq, and then to the floor of the UN, where he had no recourse but to mumble through an equivocal address that that the Russian translators are still puzzling over. He couldn't give one lap dance here, to either Iraq, the U.S., or France; no, no, much to his chagrine, because the Swedes are so prudish, he had to entertain them all. Second, to Colin Powell. Personally, I don't think his was an illicit lie, but a circumstantial extrapolation, much like most of the U.S. case for war against Iraq. Sure, I disagree with the terms in which this war is straining to be fought, but sometimes even five-star generals need hugs -- perhaps if only they had more. Third, and maybe most importantly, I think we're all in need of a hug right now, because all this is getting really kind of mind-numbingly confusing, all cloaked in grey and limned by equivocation and pretense, and is coming a little too similiar to a situation I observed in high school between the captain of the soccer team, his girlfriend the third chair viola player with silky soft hair and the stippled nape, the skate-poseur with bad teeth and a knack of writing obsessive letters to viola players with Gazelle-wearing boyfriends, and Mrs. Dick, the Spanish Teacher who had to intercede in the semiological argument that ensued just after the punch that prefaced the "Oww" that came ten seconds after "I was just joking!"

Oh, and yes, a long long hug for Britney, too.

Genetic Determinism

There's a nice essay this week in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Daniel Dennett, entitled "The Mythical Threat of Genetic Determinism". Picking up from Stephen Jay Gould's campaign against genetic determinism, whereby we and the paths of our lives are programmed and dictated exclusively by our genes, Dennett expands the critique to encompass environmental determinism as well. He thus turns the Nature vs. Nurture debate on its head:

Isn't it true that whatever isn't determined by our genes must be determined by our environment? What else is there? There's Nature and there's Nurture. Is there also some X, some further contributor to what we are? There's Chance. Luck. This extra ingredient is important but doesn't have to come from the quantum bowels of our atoms or from some distant star. It is all around us in the causeless coin-flipping of our noisy world, automatically filling in the gaps of specification left unfixed by our genes, and unfixed by salient causes in our environment. This is particularly evident in the way the trillions of connections between cells in our brains are formed. It has been recognized for years that the human genome, large as it is, is much too small to specify (in its gene recipes) all the connections that are formed between neurons. What happens is that the genes specify processes that set in motion huge population growth of neurons -- many times more neurons than our brains will eventually use -- and these neurons send out exploratory branches, at random (at pseudo-random, of course), and many of these happen to connect to other neurons in ways that are detectably useful (detectable by the mindless processes of brain-pruning).

These winning connections tend to survive, while the losing connections die, to be dismantled so that their parts can be recycled in the next generation of hopeful neuron growth a few days later. This selective environment within the brain (especially within the brain of the fetus, long before it encounters the outside environment) no more specifies the final connections than the genes do; saliencies in both genes and developmental environment influence and prune the growth, but there is plenty that is left to chance.

When it comes to humans, and thus self-consciousness, in light of the behavioral and genetic constraints that seem evident and all-encompassing, as though a prison, the important thing is "what we can change whether or not our world is deterministic." There is, after all, for instance, prison security for a reason. The key to self-consciousness, then, is not only the recognition of life's vagaries -- this is but simple consciousness -- but rather the taking advantage of these same vagaries as potentialities of power and/or prevention. Consider, Dennett suggests, the apparent economic and colonial dichotomy between the histories of (and between) Eurasians and Third World:

Accidents of biogeography, and hence of environment, were the major causes, the constraints that "fixed'' the opportunities of people wherever they lived. Thanks to living for millennia in close proximity to their many varieties of domesticated animals, Eurasians developed immunity to the various disease pathogens that jumped from their animal hosts to human hosts -- here is a profound role played by human genes, and one confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt -- and when thanks to their technology, they were able to travel long distances and encounter other peoples, their germs did many times the damage that their guns and steel did.

I think Dennett is representing a very valid perspective here. I have a friend who, whenever he commits a crime, and he often does, he blames a demon. This demon has ranged anywhere from a fallen angel to genetic mischief to a poor childhood. No matter the "cure," though, his demon still exists today because, for one reason or another, he never took ownership of it. Now, I'm not for a second suggesting that every person everywhere is free to solve their problems with a blithe acceptance that it is their problem. No, it's far more subtle than that. Nevertheless, the human will is striving and conniving, and it sinks its teeth into opportunities when and if they arise, empowering chance, or preventing it from, changing the contours of life. The human will, when presented the opportunity, in a sense "revolts" against the determined pattern of their lives, to create new emergent patterns for successive generations to revolt against. This seems as true for biology as it is for history and sociology. We do not create chance, and neither can we anticipate it; but we can, and do, seize it, for better and worse.

Thursday, January 30, 2003


Are you listening? You never listen.

You never talk —

You’re never here.

You never look —

I love you, you know that? Are you listening to me right now? Do I have your attention? Do these words make sense? How can they when you don’t listen? You don’t see what you ought, what you must. I am not unclear here, I am to the point. Are you so blind as not to know that? How could you not? Do you need me to rip open my chest — do you need to peek inside? Am I not transparent enough? You look through me so well, can you not also see inside; is it too dark, too bright?

Look at me!

It’s all the same —

You’re always staring. What are you starting at? Is it me? No, it can’t be me. What is it then? Why aren’t you talking --- you never talk. Are you listening? I’m not talking to myself, am I? You’re doing it again, that staring that I hate. Stare at me, goddammit! I’m here!

You’re not fucking listening, are you? You’re just staring. Stop. Please, don’t stare — just for once, please. What do you see that I don’t?

I’m letting be —

You know you can'tt let go! You’re not allowed. That is completely unacceptable. No. No. Absolutely not. Do you want me to fall, because, remember this, I don’t want to die, I just want to drown. You understand that, right? Of all people, you must. So please don’t let go. Say you won’t let go. Promise me. Look at me — but don’t stare, you’re always staring — and promise me. You owe me this. You know you do. After all that I’ve done, you owe me this. So do it, promise me. Do it.

I’m letting go —

You said it at least once, didn’t you? You said it sometimes, in a whisper. I heard you so don’t try to deny it like you always do — why do you lie? You said it or you wrote it — what’s the difference? Is there a difference? You said it, I know you did. You said it and I was alive. The sun was brilliant and the waves were calm and we were one island, us against them, and we screamed, ‘Fuck You’ as we floated.

What do you need now? Don’t you see that I have it? Don’t you know that I dream of you every night? I dream of ripping myself open, my chest, cracking the breast plate, howling under the weight of the pain, my heart pounding, blood gushing, all for you, begging you to peek inside, and when you do, you gasp because you’re ready to drown in all the blood and the pain and the love, oh yes, the love. And you pull away with blood on your hands, because I did that for you, pulled myself apart so that you might see, and touch, and taste the blood, all that blood and pain for you — you didn’t know a heart could pump so much blood, did you? Did you know this?

Do you know I wake up wanting to dream that dream all over again? I don’t want to wake up. I don’t ever want my eyes to open. I want to dream blind, with my eyes hollowed out. I want only to hear that crack and feel your fingers against me, pulling closer, inside me, your face against the tear, peeking, staring, at the love that gave all this to you.

It’s all the same —

I’m so tired. I can’t deal with any of this anymore. All your staring, your silence, your — Wait, now I remember: you wrote it. At the end of a letter. Do you remember? You said it, I have proof. Ha! I got you this time, don’t I? You shouldn’t write it down if you don’t mean it. Didn’t anybody ever tell you that words mean something, that words are something? You should be more careful with words.

You’re so fucking blind sometimes. You don’t think. I sometimes think you’re dead. I look at you, and I see an axe through your head, or a bullet in the wall behind you, having passed through your stomach, kidneys, and spinal cord, leaving you crippled at first, crumpled and alone until I show up too late, and I see you lying there, looking alive, eyes wide open. Staring.

Why can’t you see? Why don’t you look? You never look. If you’d look just once, just a peek, you’d see the tear -- right here. It’s sad, isn’t it? Tell me it is. You did that. It’s your fault, all your fault, all yours. How does it feel? Feel it . . . feel it . . . touch it . . . taste it . . . just a sip . . . just a peek . . . look at it . . . think about it . . . its yours . . . you did it . . . now do it again.

Every day it's the same —

Oh God, I’m sorry. You know that, right? You know that I didn’t mean any of that? None of those words, none of those words that hurt. I mean only good, only the best You know that, right? Of all people, you should. If not you, who? You know me better than those words. They’re only words, right? I take them all back. Give them back, please; let go of those words. They’re mine, not yours. You shouldn’t have them. Please, I need them back.

Listen, don’t listen to me — none of this. Because if you’d just look at me you’d see the truth. You’d know that I love you. Isn’t that so clear now? Surely, by now, you understand.

You know, you said it yourself, didn’t you? I thought you did. Wasn’t that you? Who would say that? Nobody. Nobody would say that. That’s why it had to be you. Nobody else. I knew it all along. You said it, now say it again.

Even today —

It’s funny the things that scare a person. Being alone, being forgotten -- being alone and forgotten. Being ordinary, the same — part of the crowd. At ease, patient — sleeping well. These are the things I want to tell you, that I keep trying to telling you, but I’m not sure you’re listening. You’re just staring. Those eyes — What do you see that I don’t? What do you feel that I ought? You're beautiful, and yet — those eyes — but, you’re staring.

What are you thinking? What are your fears? I know you have some — you told me once before. I know what they are, but fears change, right? Fears are like people. We aren’t always afraid of our fears. If only you’d just look, really look, without staring, I’d know that I shouldn’t be scared. Why do you want to frighten me? Is this some sick thrill? How can you be so cold?

You’re dead, aren’t you?

You’re silent —

I keep losing track of what it is I — Are you still staring? Jesus Christ, this is getting old. I mean, I can’t —

You’re blind —

I don’t know what you want. I’d stare back, but all I see is me — too much me — all me — Where do you begin? Do you have any idea what it’s like to see yourself in another? Do you know? Do you have any clue?

All you ever do is stare.

* * * * *

Found this on my harddrive. It's pretty old -- I wrote it a couple of years ago. In some some ways, though, its narrator, who I suspected from the beginning was never completely me, still provokes connections that have nothing to do with the reason I first wrote it.

In Good Form

George Saunders, of CivilWarLand in Bad Decline semi-fame, a new story in this month's New Yorker that picks up on one of my posts last week about neuromarketing. I know that some of you are thinking, "Well, obviously one has absolutely nothing to do with the other." You who are thinking this, the one in the corner, yeah, I see you, are probably right, but, as is the case with people like you, you shall be ignored. It is obvious that Saunders stole his idea from me.

If you don't know anything about him, George Saunders is one of America's most imaginative short story authors right now, and, even if you don't think his is particularly good fiction, you'll probably think it's at least engaging to read to the end with a fully-formulated opinion; in other words, if you dislike you, you'll probably really really hate it, and sometimes this kind of emotion, especially when it is directed at something like literature, in an age when nobody is really reading literature, is kind of healthy. His story here is no different. Check it out.

All things Europe this morning

One simply cannot get enough of Belgium -- whew, I tell ya. Just when you think the nuttiness has crested, WHOOSH, it crashes right over you again. Don't believe me? Well, via a really old post by Vaara (hey, I just started my blog a couple of weeks ago, lay off), we find Lyle Zapato's thought-provoking piece, BELGIUM DOESN'T EXIST!; or, Land of Sprouts and Chocolate, I Think Not. Be afraid . . . if it can happen here, it can happen anywhere. If we don't stop the madness now, the next thing we know there's going to be a "Republic of Ireland!" How silly of me.

Also worthy of note on Zapato's site, by the way, as it brings to mind my primary European home, Glasgow, is the very important, though its truly criminal that I haven't yet found a similar Kids Club for Maxwell and his Demon, Kelvin's Kids Club: For Thermo-Dynamic Kids.

Hi Kids! My name is Kelvin and I'm your Lord! I'm here to tell you that Entropy isn't cool... well, technically it is, but not in the good way! If you worship Me, I can conserve you from that mean, old Entropy. Plus, it's fun to worship Me! To see how fun, take a look at the Fun-Time Kelvinic activities below!

Click, learn, and, most important of all, always remember, perhaps even being so bold as to wear a bracelet or t-shirt to remind yourself, WWKD (What Would Kelvin Do?).

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Dubya is Gonna Tap That Ass

Christopher Monks is filling in for Neal Pollack over on The Maelstrom, and he's in fine form. It is your duty as a sexy citizen of the world to get bump 'n grind your sexy self over there and read his estrous odes to the President's State of the Union address last night. A sample:

The Course of Our Lovemaking

The course of our lovemaking
Does not depend
On the decisions of
So I shall
Tap, Tap
Tap that ass

You can be confident
That in a whirlwind of change
And hope
And peril
Our faith is sure
Our resolve is firm
And my need to go downtown on you is strong

God Bless America
Let's go have some hot sex.

When you've finished that, check out his blog, too. The story of his mix tape from 1992 is absolutely priceless.

Lions, Tigers, and Bears

Oh my! On Saturday, you guys might want to peel yourself away from the section of the magazine rack with Maxim and slip down furtively to the Nature section, where, if there are any left, you'll find the first annual National Geographic Swimsuit Issue. One might imagine a koala bear in an ass-compressing bikini, or maybe an air-brushed, languid-eyed tit mouse covered in sand shadowed by a tropical sunset -- shame on you if you had such thoughts, pervert.

So as the United States girds for war and weathers a shaky economy, here comes Hanna Hobensack, a fashion design student in Sydney, Australia, who posed for the cover shot in Hawaii wearing three scallop shells and partially submerged in slightly sandy water.

The cover is one of the few pictures specifically shot for the special large-format edition, Allen said. Most are from the magazine's archives, showing how people dressed for swimming over the last 100 years.

[. . .]

One of the earliest photographs is from 1900, showing a Red Cross swimming instructor demonstrating strokes while propped up on a stool, wearing the cover-up swimsuit of the day, with only her head and arms uncovered. When wet, such a costume would have weighed about 22 pounds (10 kg), the magazine said.

Hmm . . . methinks this maybe isn't so good after all. Oh, but wait! We read further:

A pair of bare backsides from Cable Beach's ``clothing optional'' zone at Broome, Australia, is a more modern archival image, from 1988. Two more posteriors were shown in a 1908 shot of surveyors near a rocky pool along the Canada-Alaska border.

A photo from 1917 showed two bare-breasted women from the Marquesas Islands, ``where women dressed simply for the Polynesian weather -- to the dismay of Western missionaries.''

Hell's bells! Just as John Ashcroft's subscription is hitting the flames, a generation of new subscribers is bound to be fanning the flames of their own fire down below very soon.

Armchair Commander-in-Chief

If you're anything like me, this Iraqi crisis has you by the balls, doesn't it? If you care too much, then you're bound to feel rather alienated because, let's face it, nobody, especially the leaders of the allied countries, really seems to care about your two-cents. It's not an election year, after all. On the other hand, if you don't care at all, then, when it invariably arises in the conversation amidsts your camarilla of fried cheese eating friends, if you have friends, you're left holding your tongue because all you really want is the conversation to get back to the topic of Super Bowl commercials, because you've just come up with a killer quip that'll slay them all. The trick is, of course, to have an opinion of substance, but not one that overwhelms most people's torpid interest in foreign policy. Perhaps something rooted in the region's history, but only, at the most, the past twenty years. If you're feeling especially prophetic, or perhaps just feeling the strain to keep the conversation from moving on to CSI: Miami, because, damn her, your girlfriend wanted to rent Ghost Ship instead, you might want to have a prognosticating perspective on the situation, whereby you not only divine the future but also provide a clear analysis of the recent past.

So, with haste and a measure of desperation, you ask twice, having been ignored the first time due to your nervous habit of coughing nervously to get attention, "So, what do you think this new, compelling evidence of Bush is gonna be?" One friend, the token liberal you each kind of hate but also, ambivalently, admire for her ability to feel moral outrage about something as boring and out-of-touch as AIDS killing half of Africa, hisses her incredulity at first, which then recede a bit, upon conceeding that the token conservative is right and that, yes, maybe the White House does truly have something good up their sleeve, but simmers anew into frustrated dismay that we should feel encouraged by leadership that so willingly allows, nay, encourages, its allies to look silly. Seeing your chance in the quiet aftermath, realizing that you need to get in your perspective before that of the the Conservative's because his always revolve around Bill Clinton as the cause for all America's messes in the first place -- and because, though none of you would admit it, you each not-so-ambivalently hate him because of his tendency to make more money and the consequent ease with which he can buy more cheese sticks each week and refuse to share, not even the leftover marinara sauce! -- you regain the conversational floor you ceded minutes ago with the question, ready to assert your perspective on all things Iraq, as the gist of the original question matters very little after the Liberal's paroxysm. The floor is yours: what to say . . . what to do?

Here at Silentio, I respect these kinds of situations. Hell, I've been in them regularly. I'm here to help -- enter Idleworm's Gulf War 2. In the designer's words:

This is a projection of the most likely outcome of a new war in the Gulf. I used sophisticated temporal algorithms and historical semiotic analysis to achieve an accuracy rating of 99.999%. It's the mother of all Flash games.

Presto! Your conversation is saved. An instant opinion, one whose apparent, offsetting depth can be saved easily by prefacing (or post-scripting) it with: "I read this on the internet."

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Mine ended up looking like a square-dancing maneuver

This is not nearly as raunchy as it might sound, but it's certainly funny as hell. Over on Instant Kama Sutra you can see an outlined demonstration of ten or so positions, a couple of which are flat-out doozies. That level of edification is meagre to the fun you can have creating your own positions that test the laws of physiology, geometry, physics, and perhaps, if you're really deviant, and would you really be clicking on the link if you weren't just a little, the limits of morality.

Something for your free time

Get your pens and paper ready, kids, 'cause Cyprus needs your help. Yesterday, the UN began advertising a worldwide competition to design a new flag and national anthem for war-torn Cyprus. "Oh, I couldn't . . . where does one begin with such a daunting task," I hear you say! Rest easy, ye intrepid Cypriots, the UN assures us:

The flag should be easy enough for a child to draw and the anthem need not have lyrics, just a catchy tune between 30 and 60 seconds long.

Sounds easy enough! So, while you're huddled around the television this evening, soaking in its iridescent glow and the dim pallor of a prattling president, counting, if you can, the number of smirks, self-congratulation and references to "this is a good nation," use the inspiration gleaned to win yourself a lasting moment of glory. No sense in having your entire evening ruined, right?

Back to the Continent

Later today I'm heading back to Belgium for a week. Not sure how often I'll be able to blog since the cost of internet access is so high there. We'll see. Either way, blog or not, I'm hoping to check out the new, improved Van Abbemuseum in, otherwise quite boring, Eindhoven. It's been getting some really nice write-ups since it re-opened a couple of weeks ago. I'll let you know what I think when / if I'm able to hitch a ride over there.

Monday, January 27, 2003

And for the smokers....

While I'm not a smoker, at one time in my life most of my friends were. Whether or not they're still smoking, or even alive, though, is, in many cases, left to the unknown. Nevertheless, there's always been a special place in my heart for the Zippo lighter. I have pudgy, little hands, so all I could do was marvel at the finesse with which several of these iron lung bound friends could light their cigarettes, and then of course blow the smoke in my direction. So, while this site does me very little good at all, I dedicate it to all those smokers in my life, present smokers, ex-smokers, and dead smokers. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

This has been a public service announcement from the Air Sickness Bag Virtual Museum.

I for one know that my grandpa loved his smack

Anti-drug legislation is, not surprisingly, in constant evolution throughout the western world. For instance, when morphine, cocaine and heroin were first discovered by our forebears, they were thought to cure all that ailed ya -- and how! Sadly, with the advent of the twentieth century, and with addiction become more of a problem, well, products like Coca-Cola and Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup were replaced by street corner pushers. Not much has changed, in some respects. For a fun, fact-filled ride through the drug-addled history of consumerism, the University of Buffalo's Addiction Research Unit has provided us with Before Prohibition: Images from the preprohibition era when many psychotropic substances were legally available in America and Europe.

If You Thought Losing Your Tits Was Bad...

I've been doing some web research about the philosophy and history of museums, but I've actually been spending more time goofing around in the various online museums I find along the way. If you've been bothered at all by the Bush administration's effort at tort reform, and, by the way, you should, or if your interest is just a twisted case of schadenfreude, check out The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices Online. Personally, my favorite is Dr. Foote's Timely Warning, which guards against the messy effects of "amorous dreams".

An amourous dream is indeed practically an involuntary act of masturbation. It has often been remarked that no exercise is so tiresome to the muscular system as to kick or strike at nothing. All know, too, how it wrenches one to step down a foot or two while walking. What this wrench is to the muscular system, an amative dream is to the nervous system. A volley of nervous force is gathered up from all parts of the body, and directed with the greatest impetuosity toward a supposed companion in th sexual embrace, and it passes off with violence and is lost, while the compensative nervous or electrical volley from the supposed companion is not received. In men this nervous loss is accompanied with an expenditure of some of the most vital fluids of th system- those secreted by the testicular glands, and which are composed of the most vital elements of the blood. This nervous waste - the nervous shock - the wrench of the magnetic system, as such as will, if frequently repeated, prostate the nervous energies, destroy the memory, and weaken all the faculties of the mind.

I don't know about you, but I'm sold!

Sunday, January 26, 2003

You Gotta Love Belgium

This is just too weird for words.

A lot cooler than some of the museums I've been to

It's very likely, given the number of hits this already site has, you've already seen this. But hey, it was new to me. All the same, it's a fun diversion from the real work you'll have waiting for you on Monday:The Museum of Hoaxes.

A Convoluted Coil, This World

Having recently read Mark C. Taylor's book The Moment of Complexity: Emerging Network Culture, I've lately been pretty fascinated by the weird worlds of emergent and complexity sciences. Somewhere in-between -- connected, appropriately enough -- you have one of the latest fads in academic circles, quite possibly due to the academy's generall embrace of inter-disciplinarity: networks.

The basic idea of network theory, as you might guess, is the study of the phenomenon and implications of the interactivity between multiple nodes, agents, individuals, etc. If you're philosophically inclined at all, think of the Kantian distinction between machine and organism. In the former, the whole [i.e, the machine] is a sum of its individual parts, with the parts forming the properties of the whole; in other words, it is externally defined. In contrast, organisms, Kant claims, are governed by an "inner teleology," in which it exists for its own sake; or, in other words, the parts and the whole constitute one another, internally. Now, jump ahead two hundred years or so, and you still have philosophers, mathematicians, biologists, physicists, economists, social scientists, literary critics, and even theologians thinkering with the complex dynamics that this kind of thinking sets in motion.

The focus of network theory is similar, but, in effect, it steps back and examines the larger matrix in which such an "organism" exists for and by way of other organisms, who are, of course, themselves interconnected similarly. When one starts thinking globally, like you might if you were, say, an investment firm, it all begins to sound like mass chaos. Here's the thing, though, our friends, the network theorists of the world, say that it's not. Saturday's New York Times has a pretty helpful survey of some of the recent literature and thoughts:

It wasn't until the mid-1990's and the advent of powerful computers that network scientists were able to analyze real-life networks of significant size and complexity. And in doing so, Mr. Watts and his colleagues made some tantalizing discoveries. By 1998, they had found that networks as diverse as actors, power grids, the World Wide Web, the proteins in a human cell and the neurons of a wormlike organism called C. elegans aren't random at all but obey the same simple, powerful rules.

For example, whether the network has nearly a billion nodes (the estimated number of Web pages) or just half a million (roughly the number of actors in the Internet Movie Database), the paths between any two nodes tend to be extremely short — such that, for example, any two movie actors can be connected by an average of less than four links.

And this is the really eerie, or perhaps it's just exciting, part: there is no discernible reason for any such "small world" order to manifest itself the way it generally does in closed systems. In 1999, for instance, two researchers at Notre Dame

found that many of these small-world networks are also what scientists call scale-free. Many natural phenomena, including traits like height and I.Q., tend to cluster around an average (producing the familiar bell curve distribution). By contrast, scale-free networks go in for extremes: a few hubs — nodes with lots of links — and many more nodes with hardly any links at all. (Think of Google, the search engine, as a hub, and your personal homepage — which probably has just a few links — as an ordinary node.)

Some of the possible benefits for all this, outside of the academic-masturbatory rites it has incited throughout doctoral programs, is the potential many people think it may hold for any number of practical fields, from city and highway planning, intra- and inter-business models, psycho- / spiritual-consciousness expansion, AIDS and cancer research, and even to counterterrorism.

Just when I think I'm Done With Iraq, They Keep Pulling Me Back In!"

I don't mean for this blog to live and die by the Iraqi war, but sometimes one cannot help but comment on the ballyhooed opinons of Thomas Friedman. His op/ed piece today, about how conservatives understimate the cost of a war in Iraq boded well, I thought, considering he was trying to balance his last interesting, if not altogether convincing, piece from earlier in the week. Alas, whereas I was simply disagreeable to that one, the vapidity of this one beggars belief, let alone an opinion to its content. No exaggeration, it very well might be one of the most banal perspectives on a war I've encountered in quite some time (and I live in Britain, where you only really hear the same shrill "NOOOOOOOO!" over and over again). Friedman's two-sided perspective is, obviously, supposed to offer a modicum of complexity and nuance to an issue that has, sadly, been missing from the official voices we hear from Washington (and London). However, the danger of such an approach is, when it is not done well you end up using many more words than necessary to say absolutely nothing at all.

On the bright side, at least this time he's not advocating war for oil.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

Who Needs Tolkien

I'm not normally a science fiction / fantasy fan, but something got into me the other day while I was at the bookstore. I'd recently read about a new edition of Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword, but my interest was not piqued at all until I was roaming through Waterstones looking for a book about skin (that, however, is for another post). I read through the first two chapters and, wow, it's pretty damn good. Much darker than what I expected, given that I was expecting something very Tolkienesque. Might be worth a look if you're into Nordic mythology. For a good review, see here.

There's some true in here somewhere, I just know it . . .

"In order to understand someone, you first have to be more intelligent than he is, but then also just as intelligent and then just as stupid. It is not sufficient to understand the real meaning of a confused work better than the author understood it himself. You must also comprehend the confusion, including its principles, and be able to characterize and even reconstruct it." (Friedrich Schlegel)

Easy Answers

I don't like easy answers any more than I like hard questions; generally, due to my general loathing of argumentation -- this does not help one in the midst of writing a PhD thesis either! -- I prefer all debate to revolve around my admittedly rather obscure terms, which is, I guess, why I have blog now. If there's anything I wish had an easy answer, though, it's the Middle East situation. However, as much of history seems to bear out, this has also been the perspective of many before me as well; unfortunately, they didn't have a blog, so they replaced that voice with administrative authority, thus fostering along the situation we have today.

Rewind the clock about twelve hours --- in my haste to sign off and go to bed, I forgot to comment another another very interesting article in yesterday's Washington Post that focuses upon Iraq's neighbors and their perspectives of how a war might impact them.

The nations fear a flood of refugees, disrupted economies, the prospect of agitation among their own ethnic minorities – and even the possibility of a more democratic government in Iraq, which could undermine the region's autocratic regimes. And without Saddam, Iraq's oil riches would be unfettered and might flood the market.

After reading this, I knew some of the thoughts sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn't put my finger on what exactly I was looking for. A evening of sleep has done trick.

Fast forward twelve hours, back to the present -- Douglas Rushkoff has two fine posts in his blog archive that reminds us of the complexites and nuances that ought to underlie much of Western thinking about the Middle East. The first is here:

Bush and his regime are businesspeople, who are doing business with fellow, powerful businesspeople in other parts of the world. They trade mostly in oil, which is why they need to maintain global dependence on oil (rather than helping to develop alternative energy resources). They monopolize these transactions through the exploitation of the poor, which is why they need to implement economic policies (in the US) and dictatorial policies (in the Arab world) in order to maintain power.

The main difference between the tactics of the Bush regime and those of their partners in the Arab world is the particular methodology through which they keep their people stupid enough not to fight back. In the United States, citizens are led to believe that Bush and his team are part of an anti-elitist, populist backlash against the over-intellectualized and effeminate liberalization of government by homosexuals, feminists, anti-Christians, and other democratic party members. Bush will also be 'strong,' and defend us against dark peoples, everywhere.

(Even the wealthy in the United States - the people who advise me at my own bank, in fact - use self-imposed stupidity and denial in order to bring themselves to the point where they can support Bush. It is in their short-term economic interests to do so. So they use whatever mythology they can to convince themselves that Bush's leadership actually makes sense on some Judeo-Christian, ethical, or democratic level.)

In Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia, the people are kept stupid mostly through anti-Semitism. "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" is published not by an undeground Nazi press, but by the government. Prince Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s minister of the interior, still tells his people that the 9/11 attacks were part of a Zionist plot. (Of course, the Saudi government also supports Al Qaeda, but this is only to keep the attacks pointing at regimes other than their own. If Israel were to disappear, the Saudis would be attacked next. That's why they need to keep the Jews in everyone's mind as the #1 enemy.)

He then rounds out this particular post with a bit of refreshing, at first glance, just before the frustration sets in, simplicity:

As soon as people can understand this very simple equation:

Bush says Arabs bad.
Arabs says Bush bad.
Bush and Arabs make business deals together at the expense of their people.

. . . things could get interesting.

The second post, an older one is here. It's difficult to excise quotes from it, though, without straining their context, so I'll leave it to you to take a look.

Friday, January 24, 2003

Are we at the punchline of this joke yet?

The Guardian is reporting that Hans Blix is going to tell the UN that inspectors have not yet found anything. (Big surprise there, eh?) Meanwhile (are you ready for another doozy of a surprise?), the U.S. is claiming to possess "very convincing evidence" to the contrary, which, of course, is far better than anything else they've thus far claimed to be either convincing or evidence. When asked by Helen Thomas why he didn't authorize giving this information to the UN so that a peaceful solution might be achieved, Bush replied, after being nudged by a nearby aid, thus ruining the memory, albeit foggy, of his last alcoholic bender cum quim fest before he found Jesus, "Make no mistake, I found it first."

With Friends Like These...

Europe, as you'd probably expect is still positively steeming over Donald Rumsfeld's "Old Europe" vs. "New Europe" jibe" yesterday. Couple of things one ought to remember, though. First, perhaps in spite of himself, Donny's comment is a pretty shrewd political move, in light of the furrowed brow of resentment many of the smaller European countries have toward the renewed Franco-German alliance, which, by the way, if you've been in doubt recently, still pretty much is the impetus behind Continental Europe. The second thing to remember is that between the two, only Germany is unequivocally against a war with Iraq; whereas France, on the other hand, damn them, is holding the torch for the position taken by most of America's allies, not to mention most of America -- namely, by insisting that inspectors be given more time to suss out the degree to which Iraq is complying with UN resolutions. Nobody is seriously advocating writing a blank cheque here, despite the fears of those who most eager for get the war started, though one gets the feeling that there are more practical concerns at work; there will unquestionably be a compromise-laden "deadline," should the US allow that to happen. If representing the sentiment of much of the free world is a "problem," then more people would wish to see a more problematic president in the Oval Office than is already there. To my mind, Germany's position is a problem only if two things happen: (a) it is proven to the satisfaction of the rest of the free world that Iraq does in fact have weapons of mass destruction, and (b) that Germany shares a measure of culpability in Iraq's possession of such weapons. For now, though, they are a sovereign country, and I don't think they will suffer irreparable harm from being on America's shit list for a spell.

Now, of course, America is not at a loss for allies, as Colin Powell is quick to point out. Jeremy Bransten's rundown of America's "Patchwork Coaltion" is a helpful guide -- I can't wait for the playing cards! In America's corner, the United Nations be damned:

  • A no brainer, of course, first and foremost, is Great Britain. Tony "I have either the biggest or small balls on the planet, depending on the angle" Blair is going against much of his country's press, much of his party, and most of his people, and placing the biggest bet of his political career on this war. Unequivocal success, though the definition of that has yet to be defined, I don't suppose, should mean good things for Labour and quite possibly Britain's acceptance of the euro. Roll the bones!

  • Then there's Australia. Much the same can be said of John Howard's situation here, with a reported 62% of his country being against a war without UN approval.

  • The U.S. regards Italy and Spain as unquestionable allies, despite the nearly hyperbolic public sentiment to the contrary.

  • And then there's Poland and Estonia, each of whom have wonderful economic reasons to stay in the good graces of America. Easy to forget in Donny's "New Europe" are Slovakia and Slovenia, each of whom, come referendum-time in March, may actually reject their NATO memberships because of the war the U.S. would like for you to think they support.

  • And from there, it's wide open. The Czech Republic and Hungary are ambivalent, though helpful; Turkey is hamstrung, though defiant.

When all is said and done, the final word on the matter might very well be Romania's daily newspaper Currentul, which -- you can almost hear the sigh of an entire country -- carries the headline "Romania Doesn't Want to Go to War With Iraq, But Will Do What the U.S. Says."

And I lost my keys, too

I'm presenting a paper in a few weeks on the fiction of Egyptian Nobel Prize Laureate (1988) Naguib Mahfouz, so I've been re-reading some of his fiction, perusing websites, and dusting off various editions of the Journal of Arabic Fiction. It has been about eight years or so since I last read any of his work, specifically, Children of Gebelaawi and Adrift on the Nile, so I guess I can be excused for having forgetten a few good lines here and there. One line of particular note, though, is in the latter.

"Last night I believed totally in eternal life -- but on my way to the office I forgot the reason why."

Ah yes, indeed.

You Are Where You Live

Since people tend to hang out with, and live amongst, people who are kind of like them (this, by the way, still doesn't excuse the lily-white world of Friends), demographic information is actually a pretty sound marketing tool, despite our postmodern gripes, "I'm not a label, man! Fuck you and your metanarrative, too!" Yeah yeah, whatever. Cry me a river, you are too a label -- probably wearing it proudly this very moment, as a matter of fact. If you're curious how marketing gurus label you and those who live around you, or you are just kind of curious of who lives around you, should you not get out too much, take a look at Clarita's "You Are Where You Live". Just type in your zip code, and then peek into your neighbor's window, well, sort of. (Via Calpundit)

Thinking the Impossible

“When the dead weep, they are beginning to recover,” said the Crow.

“I am sorry to contradict my famous friend and colleague,” said the Owl, “but as far as I’m concerned, I think that when the dead weep, it means they do not want to die.” (Collodi, The Adventures of Pinnochio)

In this life of ours, yours and mine alike, ebb and flow, that’s what, and that is all, we really have. The river that I watch now is not the same it was last year, last month, yesterday, or even my last blink. The Stoics believed that fire, one of the fundamental elements of the cosmos, consumed each moment, annihilating it, only then to re-create it: annihilation and creation, beginning and ending, were thus, they concluded, inextricably linked. Since then, philosophies have come and gone and a recurring element therein, in my opinion, finds a certain level of agreement with the Stoics. In sum, the question that so many cannot help but ask, no matter how repeatedly, and the one that I find far more interesting than most anything one might find in what passes for much of analytic philosophy today, let alone theology, is: What is life without death; decay without birth?

Our wish, which typically takes the form of an assumption of truth, is that we might reach the heavens -- and many have tried, literally and metaphorically -- so as to extend our purview over this littered land of oscillation, of beginnings and endings, that is, moments that come and go, but mostly just seem to go because they’re gone before you’ve had time to stop and say hello; in effect, by way of knowledge, which is power, ask any storyteller, to balance the existential tandem on which we carom, perhaps a bit recklessly at times, between living and dying. However, neither depth nor height escapes the circularity that invariably renders such an “objective” vantage point of meaning elusive, indeed, ephemeral at best, like the River Clyde flowing, and thus also changing, beginning and ending, below me; or, if you prefer, like the breath or the echo of a long-lost god’s laughter.

“Man thinks. God laughs,” such was the thought not his own to which Milan Kundera could not help but return as he sought the words to accompany his thoughts about the modern European novel. The thought, as though an isolate, transient people, like its Jewish origin, was followed by a question: Why? “Because man thinks and the truth escapes him.” “Because,” Kundera continues, “the more men think, the more one man’s thought diverges from another’s. And finally, because man is never what he thinks he is.” The joke, in other words, is on humanity, Jew and Gentile alike, in its expectations of structure, of beginnings and endings that stabilize and congeal meaning and significance, that seek to fill an absence; the joke is on humanity, as it continues to think, thus missing the “sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing” that Kant ascribes to laughter.

This anterior “nothing,” as it turns out, strains our sense of beginnings and endings, of our beginning and ending, and is thus also the condition of life itself and the seemingly endless array of possibilities that any one life entertain. We must begin; indeed, as evidenced by your reading this right now, we have always already begun.

Maurice Blanchot, ever elliptically, almost in passing, digressively, whispers the point I am trying to make:

Now, in this night, I come forward bearing everything, toward that which infinitely exceeds the all. I progress beyond the totality that I nevertheless tightly embrace. I go on the margins of the universe, boldly walking elsewhere than where I can be, and a little outside my steps. This slight extravagance, this deviation toward that which cannot be, is not only my own movement leading me to a personal madness, but the movement of the reason that I bear within me. With me the laws gravitate outside the laws, the possible outside the possible. . . . I am the origin of that which has no origin. I create that which cannot be created.

I don’t think that one needs to be religiously inclined to believe in something that is completely – can there be any other? – other. Perhaps, for those who are bold enough to think it, and this typically excludes the most ardently pious, as the ramifications do not bode well for religion or thinking religiously, perhaps this other might be called God. If so, and if we might actually find such frightening boldness, the joke that keeps this God laughing, and that keeps humanity writing, Kundera compels us to add, is the “starting from nothing, and with nothing in mind” that sustains, ironically enough, all thought, and thus all life, as “the nothing we hardly know.”

This nothing, which Blanchot refers to as “(pure) exteriority,” not only calls us, as he suggests, to write an impossible text, but also to live impossible lives; or, to be a bit clearer, but only a bit, to live – that oscillation of beginnings and endings – on the razor’s edge of the impossible. This, of course leads to one final question, one which sets us each on a path, one that somehow manages to be both different and identical from all the others: What next??

Addendum: The really odd thing about this post is what I was determined to write something about the Iraqi war build-up. Neither here nor there now, I suppose. I might try again after dinner.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Exhibit E(rotica)

Yeah, I know it's risque and all, but I couldn't resist the urge to end this exhibition of the frivolities that fill my day without a link to an anthology of Swedish dirty book covers.

It's probably just as well to get this second link out right now, otherwise a theme might develop. Via Textism, where, incidentally, I found the above link, I also uncovered a site devoted to an underground lesbian pulp series from the '50s and '60s called Strange Sisters. The titillation-factor here is about as high, or should I saw, simply, "as low," as with the Swedish porn. All the same, consider it a bit of culture to your day.

Now that I think of it, I wonder if my girlfriend wil buy the "culture" argument when, or if, she sees this post, where I've also been surfing online, and how I spend my time when she's not around.

Exhibit D

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration's (OSHA, to you and me) Accident Report: Fatal Facts.

It's a veritable danse macabre, I know, but it's also damn interesting reading. (via Geisha)

Exhibit C -- I would laugh if I didn't have to pluck mine each week.

Dedicated to Aquadoodiloop

Aquadoodiloop devotees, along with it's creator, and, most importantly, his wife, must check out Davezilla's Tarot of the Blogger: Tech Support. Mirth and amusement abounds today on Silentio.

Exhibit B

Elvis fans take heed: Velvet Elvis Art.

For the sake of my reputation

I don't want to give the impression that I've forgotten about my puerile roots. Exhibit A: The Absolute Bottom 50 Euphemisms for Doin' It. I was asked to leave the university research centre, due to my repeated guffaws.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Miscellanea of Food

Food is making headlines!

  • "Judge Rejects Obese Teenagers' Suit Against McDonald's": You on American side of the Atlantic have no idea how much fun Europe had with the obesity suit against McDonalds. The feeding frenzy (ha!), I'm sure, will begin anew, starting tomorrow. To the credit of the American cariacture -- is it really a cariacture that, though, when such an obscene number of people are, in fact, over-the-top obese? is it reflective, do you think, that even I have to qualify a degree of obesity? -- the European press was going to pounce on this either way the judgement went. Though, really, the British press should think twice before they laugh.

  • "Group Says It Will Begin A Boycott Against KFC": Now this is a protest and/or legal-battle many a European can support, thus arming well-intentioned Americans with their cariacture of Europe.

  • "Silly Burgers": This one defies cariacture, I think, except that the line between obese law losers and obese rich fucks is negligible.


I forgot to post anything about the Bush-brainchild, National Sanctity of Life Day, on Sunday; it's a good thing there's Mark Morford to pick up the slack, bitch slap it a few times, and then hurl it into San Francisco Bay. Look, I know that abortion is a divisive issue, that between my friends and I, I'm one of the few tham am actually pro-choice -- what can I say, I attended, and thus made most of my adult friends at, a Midwestern Bible college, where the inclusion of televisions in dormrooms was a new thing the year I arrived -- so I'm going to steer my comments, for now anyway, along with the shaper edge of Morford's vitriol, away from the specifics of that issue (click the link if you crave more), and direct them upon an easier target.

Morford first goes for a series of bodyshots:

Both giddy with the knowledge that 100,000 more US troops have just been shipped to the Gulf to prepare to kill roughly 500,000 Iraqis and generate roughly 900,000 refugees, with millions more destitute and in need of aid (as estimated by the U.N.'s recent analysis of an Iraq attack called "Likely Humanitarian Scenarios"), the sanctity of whose life, apparently, don't matter in the slightest.

Dubya actually said it. He actually went so far as to pledge his administration's commitment to "build a culture that respects life," saying this with a straight face, no violent lightning bolt striking him dead on the spot, no gnarled filthy hell-beasts reaching with clawed fingers up from the ground and dragging him under, isn't that just the sweetest thing and don't you just feel the sentiment deep in your heart? Or perhaps your colon?

He follows this up with an illegal headbutt:

This is the Bush message. This is the smirky, self-righteous dogma. Life only has any sort of sanctity if you are, you know, unborn, as in fetal, and belonging to a nice blandly married Republican couple somewhere in Ohio or Colorado Springs, blindly supportive of both the multiple ongoing wars and the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the creation of the Homophobia Merit Badge for the Boy Scouts.

Ending it all with a fatal Yokozuna:

So there it is. National Sanctity of Life Day. The perfect opportunity for the rest of us sentient, sexually attuned self-defined being on the planet to declare each of the other 364 days of the year either "Pipe Down And Keep Your Whiny Religious BS Out Of My Sex Life Day," or "Spank an Uptight Anti-Choice Groupthink Dinkmonkey Whilst Embracing And Sucking The Toes of Your Own Funky Gorgeous Ability to Think For Yourself Day," -- either of which, I think we can all agree, will look absolutely fabulous on a greeting card.

Ah, my weekdays would be very dull without The Morning Fix. Do yourself a favor and sign up.

Be ready for the next CNN pollster

Want to air an informed opinion about the possibility of a war in Iraq, should CNN, or maybe even, if you're lucky, The Seward Phoenix Log, contact you for one of their polls, but you yourself don't have one, or at least don't know what it is? Save precious time, as we could all die in a nuclear inferno tomorrow, and ignore all those newspapers and magazines purporting to contain perspectives and facts; instead, take an online personality test, specifically, Wild Monk's Iraqi-War Personality Test. Unfortunately, as I always try to imagine myself as far more left than I probably am, except on those days when I feel like I'm far more right than I probably am, and thus not really that surprisingly, I fell smack dab in the middle of the poles (anti-US / pro-US), and answered my questions with a score of 8 (out of 10) in the rationality department, whatever in the hell that means.

I guess I don't have an opinion anymore, but don't let that stop you!! The polls of the world need you!

To prove a point

Some of you, you know who you are, think that I do very little over here at Glasgow, what with my regular trips to Belgium, my newfound interest in the blog, and the tedious tales of my boredom abroad. Not so, I say. I can't even read an issue of The Atlantic without being reminded of my research. In this month's issue, for instance, one finds the delightfully-named Jebediah Purdy and his article on suspicion in contemporary America. The upshot of his essay is:

We know that in the 1990s, without faith in government, trust in business turned out to be groundless. The question now is, If we don't trust one another enough to keep civic culture strong, will our growing faith in government prove equally misguided? Then we could fall back only on the weak reed of our solitary selves.

Benign enough, right? Perhaps even something you church-going folk find a bit edifying, inspiring even. My lot in life, however, is to bear the weight of odd, burdensome synaptic connections. While reading Purdy's essay, I couldn't help but think, I swear, it really was against my conscious will, of the August 18, 1849 edition of the Literary World, wherein one finds the purloined perspective of the Merchant's Ledger on the subject of con men and duplicity -- 'purloined' insofar as the academic citation of the article has been, at least since the 1960s, the last time somebody bothered to look, the Literary World, due to the fact nobody's been able to track down a copy of the latter. You still with me? If not, or regardless, try this on for size: consider, merely that, the implications of the following; or, if not the implications, whirl whimsically about your room as you think, perhaps with a bit of haughtiness, as though you were onto the secret that, yes, the cliché is true, "Some things never change":

That one poor swindler, like the one under arrest, should have been able to drive so considerable a trade on an appeal to so simple a quality as the confidence of man in man, shows that all virtue and humanity of nature is not entirely extinct in the nineteenth century. It is a good thing, and speaks well for human nature, that, at this late day, in spite of all the hardening of civilization, and all the warning of newspapers, men can be swindled.

The man who is always on his guard, always proof against appeal, who cannot be beguiled into the weakness of pity by any story -- is far gone, in our opinion, toward being himself a hardened villain. He may steer clear of petty larceny and open swindling---but mark that man well in his intercourse with his fellows -- they have no confidence in him, as he has none in them. He lives coldly among his people---and when he walks an iceberg in the marts of trade and social life -- and when he dies, may Heaven have that confidence in him which he had not in his fellow mortals. (his emphasis)

What's the point of all this? That question is not nearly as rhetorical as you might think, as I'm in danger of forgetting myself. My point . . . it isn't to say that the opinions of Purdy and the Merchant's Ledger are one in the same, that 150 years converge at the blink of an eye, at the flick of a literary critic's keystroke; though, I must admit, the similiarites are striking. No, the point, the only point, of all this, besides linking you (once again) to an interesting article in a typically very good magazine, is to get, or at least to attempt to get, no matter how invariably vain the attempt, a handful of people off my back that I never actually get any work done.

Granted, it was all last year, but that's grossly beside the point, if there ever was one to begin, or end, with.

Are you a SNOOT?

David Foster Wallace is; after reading this, I think I am, too. How about you?

Note: The first page is a little off-setting -- it was a lot easier when I read it in Harpers -- so you might just want to skip to page two. Even if you have absolutely no interest at all in the subject, and you probably don't (no, I'm not saying what it us, otherwise you may not click on the link), DFW has a good way of defusing anxieties and drawing you into his subject. As Fat Albert says: "And you might just learn something, too."

Sorry to remind you about tax season

The Washington Post has an interesting analysis of the emergent GOP realization, at the state-level anyway, of the economic reality that tax cuts are an economic stimulus only if spending increases as well. When your state constitute doesn't allow deficit spending, well . . . case in point, Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne:

In a turnabout that echoes nationally as states face their worst fiscal crises since World War II, the governor who cut taxes 48 times in his first term opened his second one by calling for increases in state cigarette and sales taxes.

But, "That's so un-Republican," they scream from all sides of Lake Coeur d'Alene. Alas:

"I have done something that is absolutely not part of my fiber," Kempthorne said in an interview last week. "But I'm not going to dismantle this state, and I'm not going to jeopardize our bond rating, and I'm not going to reduce my emphasis on education."

Same goes for Republicans Sonny ("Whistling Dixie") Perdue down in Georgia, Mike Huckabee in Arkansas, John ("No New Taxes") Rowland in Connecticut.

For more detailed reading about the financial pickle most of our states are in-- amaze your friends! -- check out the National Conference of State Legislatures budget report, and then, to remind yourself of the financial pickle you're in, check out the excellent analysis of local and state tax burden over at Who Pays?

Update: By the way, very good articles in yesterday's New York Times and Slate about "double-taxation', and its levelling effect on the tax rates for all income levels. Something to keep in mind when you're reading Forbes, or talking to somebody who does, and are nearly convinced that a flat-tax is the way to go.

Don't Look Now

Kevin Drum has a good, level-headed post, for anyone remotely interested in contemporary surveillance technology.

In short, there will be hundreds of data points about you that are stored and indexed every hour, and this makes it possible to reconstruct your movements and your actions every single minute of the day, every single day of the year. And remember: this technology is already more advanced than most people realize. It's not science fiction anymore; ubiquitous surveillance is only a few years away.

The general counterargument Kevin's alarm is that if you haven't done anything wrong, then you've no reason to worry about being watched. In the best of worlds, yes, perhaps. But in a world with these jokers running around, a hint of dubiety is not extremism:

Needless to say, this information is of great value to law enforcement — including legitimate counterterrorist programs. But it is something we should fear anyway. Yes, initially it will be used only to target criminal behavior, but it's a certainty that "criminal" will eventually be relaxed to include "suspicious," and then again to include "anti-social" — while corporations will need no reason at all other than the information's sheer commercial value.

As they say, know your enemy.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Buyer Beware

Been thinking about marketing today, and came back across some pieces I'd heard about a couple of months ago. These gool ol' boys from Atlanta, the Brighthouse Institute for Thought Sciences want your mind. Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, and General Motors, well, they just want your wallet. When the two meet, you have Neuromarketing. The idea, according to Adam Koval, an executive at the Brighthouse Institute, is that it may be possible, damn near easy in fact, to determine what a prospective client wants to know about a product or campaign, and then develop a test that can use any one of the five senses to determine what subconscious stimulus it will take to win another customer. Koval rubs his hands sweaty palms together, his bug-eyes glazed, as he explains:

"What it really does is give unprecedented insight into the consumer mind. And it will actually result in higher product sales or in brand preference or in getting customers to behave the way they want them to behave."

The difference between this and any other marketing plan is obvious, it seems, and is one that Koval is willing again, once he sips his glass of newly-drained blood, to point out:

“I’m not interested in whether or not you like my ad. I’m interested in whether or not it’s effective in helping you either buy, or become more loyal to, my brand.”

For better or worse, Koval isn' t out to capture your interest, which every advertiser knows is ever-waning; no, he's out to capture you. "We can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way," Noval could be heard hissing in his car, staring intently into the mirror, flexing his neck muscle as his nostrils flared. Meanwhile, a television blares: Have a Coke and a smile.

The Green, Green Grass of Home

Well, the bonny green hillocks of the Scottish lowlands anyway. After a month in Belgium, I'm returning to my adopted home, under the pretense that I'm actually going to work harder than I did while I was here. Riiiiiiiiiiight.

Arse-Jamming Culture

Straight from the bookmarks of same friend who a few years ago directed my attention to Adbusters -- a friend who, by the way, wishes to remain nameless and faceless, to you, whoever "you" might be, if there is indeed a "you", the Silentio-blog reader -- is the virtual museum for the culture-jammers of the world: I'd never heard of "subvertising" before I moved to Scotland, during my first May Day demonstration, which I accidentally got caught up in on the way back from a scrumptious curry dinner. Maybe its mainly a European thing, which would, by default, interestingly, also include Canada and parts of the American Northwest (Ryan Conrad-country); or, and this is just as likely, if not more, my Midwestern past life might very well have shielded me from this delightful desecration of public advertising. Neveretheless, love them or hate them, or even just think they're silly and irrelevant, the subvertisers of the world are, a tendency toward extremism notwithstanding, trying to take back the public space, which is, of course, rapidly becoming merely a commodified amusement park, and replace it with a hint of ironic art. If the cost of this kind of vandalism is a few extra dollars for a pair of pants at the Gap that I'll never buy, well, then good on the lot of them!

Monday, January 20, 2003

Now, that's subtle . . .

I guess, given Bush, Jr.'s recent poll numbers, anti-war demonstrations that draw hundreds of thousands, and a racist Majority Leader was deposed, good ol' American dissent is back. Where ya been!? Things ain't been the same without ya! Granted, I'm pessimistic enough to think that once CNN and Fox News provide us video of shit blowing up in Iraq that things will return to the Bizarro World-normalcy that is life during the Bush Administration (don't you miss stories about blowjobs?).

For now, though, let's enjoy the not-so-subtle, hyperbolic rumblings of discontent. Of course, you're not going to find it on television; and only occasionally will you unearth it in the American press. Ah, but thank God for the internet!

More From Dekkers

One more -- the last -- citation from Midas Dekkers' The Way of All Flesh to get your week off to a rousing start:

The classical 'Stairway of Life', with its uniformly high and beautifully symmetrical steps, seemed to suggest that we grow old gradually, at a steady walking pace. But nothing could be further from the truth. By the time you get your first grey hair and are convinced you're on the slippery slope, the worst is behind you. You did most of your ageing when you were very young. With their bald heads and toothless gums, newborn babies not only resemble old men [sic], in some senses they are old men [sic]. They age more rapidly then than they ever will again. Not only is their body feverishly constructing, it's also feverishly deconstructing. . . . Their [tissues'] regenerative powers are forever decreasing. In old people the vigour's gone and they die. But it's not their fault. It was their younger body, not their older one, that used up all the vitality. During a single month in a baby's life, the ability to replace old cells with new diminishes more rapidly than during one whole year of an old person's life. "Our notion that man passes through a period of development and a period of decline is misleading,' wrote Carles Minot as early as 1908. "In reality we begin life with a period of extremely rapid decline, and then end life with a decline which is very slow and very slight." An old person shuffles towards death inch by inch, whereas a baby gallops towards the grave. An older person is slower at everything -- even dying. (20)

Now, it's high time I send this book back to the library. The $20 fine ain't going down anytime soon.

Sunday, January 19, 2003

Brothahs and Sistahs, I feel the groping of the Lord!

With it being a Sunday and all, the Day of the Lord, if you will; and with our existence as righteous Americans -- is there any other kind (well, except for treasonous liberals like those in the media!)? -- in peril because of the dastardly, megalomaniacal misdeeds of Sadaam Hussein -- is it just me, or has he put on a bit of weight since our last war --and his eleven empty chemical weapon casings, I thought that perhaps I, a man of the cloth, as it were, preferably silk, should take pause for a moment and think of the children. Yes, the children. Thank heavens, truly, for our friends at Truth for Youth. Where would today's youth be without the complex ballast they provide in world gone mad. Shrewd as snakes, their richly colored tales belie the black and white world we followers of the Good Book can see and judge the world. Praise be He who provides Truth for Youth with their stencils and inks. Surely, God is on our side in the forthcoming battle. He must be, right?

Update: Slushfactory has the article about these comics that I've been looking for since Sunday. If you found the comics interesting, enlightening, redemptive, or appalling -- any or all of these -- take a look at Brian Jacks' analysis.

Tick... Tick... Tick...

The Telegraph is reporting that UN inspectors have uncovered proof of a current nuclear weapon program in Iraq.

Acting on information provided by Western intelligence, the UN inspection teams discovered a number of documents proving that Saddam is continuing with his attempts to develop nuclear weapons, contrary to his public declarations that Iraq is no longer interested in producing weapons of mass destruction.

[. . .]

Although UN officials say that they have no comment to make at present on the documents found at the scientists' homes, a Western diplomat closely involved with the investigation into Saddam's nuclear capability yesterday confirmed that the documents showed that Iraq was still attempting to develop its own atomic weapons.

If this proves true, it will be interesting to see its effect on the anti-war effort demonstrated yesterday across the country. What do you think -- is the possession, or at least pursuit, of nuclear weapons the sole criteria for a justifiable war? More importantly, is our current administeration able to competently lead us through a justifiable war?

UPDATE: The Guardian is saying the same thing. Once the American press gets out of bed, they'll be on it, too.

UPDATE 2: Inconclusive, so it would seem. All it teaches, Hans Blix tells us "is that they are not declaring meticulously what they should have been declaring." Ah damn, and I had my gas mask and canned goods all ready for the bunker!

Saturday, January 18, 2003

Keep an eye on this

Douglas Rushkoff linked to this New York Times article earlier this week, but he is not alone in thinking it could prove to be a watershed indicator for the direction of America's economy. The gist:

After a three-year bear market, many major American companies are spending large amounts to shore up pension plans that have deteriorated, sometimes drastically. Many companies are also considering ways to reduce their pension obligations to workers, possibly undermining benefits for millions.

[. . .]

At the same time, unusually low interest rates are further undermining pension plans. The effect of the bond rates is on the financial calculations used to determine the present value of the pension liabilities, not on the pension funds' return. Falling rates make future pension obligations look bigger on current balance sheets. To meet their obligations to workers, and to stay in compliance with pension laws, companies have been forced to set aside more money.

When the big-boys like I.B.M., Honeywell, Johnson & Johnson, Ford, Lucent, Boeing, and Delta start putting aside upwards to $4 billion for their pension obligations, it isn't apocryphal to extend one's thoughts to the interesting ramifications this might have on an aging economy. Factor in the impending war and a presidential stimulus package that isn't even intended to help the economy until 2004 (gee, in time for an election) and then falter again in 2005 [note: if you don't have a screenname for the Los Angeles Times, feel free to use mine (screenname: blanchot75, password: afro1975). Don't say I never gave you anything!], and you have America's sense of self-worth, fiscally-speaking, if nothing else, taking a knock.

ADDENDUM: For more on the incredible contracting economic plan of 2003, see Kevin Drum's post on the matter.

Yikes, Things Very Well Might Get Worse!

This just in from Belgium: A Belgian pathologist is theorizing in the latest New Scientist that the banana's chastity might very well be its undoing. Indeed, if the glansular fruit doesn't busy soon, with a little outside help from science, it could be extinct in ten years. Too many jokes abound in all this: have fun at your leisure.

From the it could be worst files...

You just can't get enough of penis freezing stories.

Getcher Links!

The links on the right should work; though I'm not even close to offering a guarantee. If anybody happens to click on one and it doesn't work, at any point now or in the future, just let me know.

The Way of All Flesh

Way back in October, while I was back in the States, I checked out from the library Midas Dekkers' The Way of All Flesh: The Romance of Ruins. I had anticipated reading it on the plane and then shipping it to Cincinnati once I was settled back in Scotland; but, because of other books that I either had to read for my thesis along with those I simply found myself reading after a quixotic career of the university library when I couldn't find something I had to read for my thesis, I ended up only sporadically perusing it over the past few months. However, on the train yesterday, as it manouevred its way like the arrow of time toward Genk, the terminus for that particular track, I decided that because life, like that 90-minute postprandial journey, is too short, and because the book was already grossly overdue, it was time to finally begin reading it in earnest. Since quickly re-reading the first 150 pages on the train, I've since not been able to put it down. Granted, the only competition for entertainment around here, upon arriving at my destination, was Belgium's version of Pop Star, Pop Idool, but that says more about the state of Belgian pop culture than the book's Dutch biologist-author (the Netherlands' "most popular writer-biologist," so says the book-flap).

In addition to recommending the delightfully genre-blurring book, I thought I'd get my weekend off to a rousing start with an inspiring quote from the book. Hope you enjoy:

"Organisms that only reproduce once in a lifetime are called semelparous. This is in contrast to human beings, who are as iteroparous as rabbits. You don't need a short life to be semelparous. However old a salmon or an eel may become, it makes only one journey to its spawning grounds, where, after depositing its eggs, it dies from exhaustion -- not just because of the long journey through the ocean and up the river, however tiring that may have been. Salmon are already no longer themselves by the time they reach the mouth of the river. The males develop thick hooked jaws and hunchbacks. After spawning, they become covered with fungus that begins to eat away at them, while inside, one organ after another starts to give way. Hormones no doubt play a part here. The same hormone system that drives the creatures to spawn also creates their death. Sex and death are faithful allies. Seventeen-year-cicadas, otherwise known as periodical cicadas (Magicicada septendecim), live chastely underground for 17 years until they emerge from their cocoons to claim in one night all the sex they were meant to have in a whole lifetime. It's a long run for a short jump, but a productive one all the same. . . . Predators that have their sights set on these cicadas should themselves have at least 17-year-cycles if they're to benefit from this mass nuptial celebration. Although eaters of 17-year-cicadas would live in greater uncertainty every 2, 4, 8, or 16 years, they would also have the chance of an unforgettable feast. Which is precisely why 17-year-cicadas don't exist. Whoever becomes available as prey at predictable moments has to take part in the struggle more frequently and in larger numbers. You can set your clocks (or thermometers) by mayflies. When, as usual, they rise up in their massive nuptial flights -- in the right temperature on the right day at the right time -- and then later cascade down again exhausted, ponds and lakes teem with fishes having the time of their lives. Some fishes have even adjusted their mating season to accomodate this. Because of this phenomenon, mayflies don't even live out their one day. A perfect symbol of ephemerality, you might say. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Mayflies live not for one but for 100 or 1,000 days. Of these, though, 99 or 999 are spent in water. As with 17-year-cicadas, their stairway of life is one high, narrow step up, with one low, very wide step down. Pity isn't appropriate here. Creatures with such long larval phases have, after all, the key to the most coveted of all secrets. Mayflies have eternal youth -- with the exception of that one hellish day." (15)

Kinda cool, huh?

Friday, January 17, 2003

Affirmative Action

Been reading a lot about Affirmative Action this week, what with the impending Supreme Court consideration of the case against the University of Michigan. I've loads of links, and a few thoughts here and there, to devote to this issue, but I'll wait until the weekend. As it stands, though, Bush's description in a recent address -- ever notice how his handlers never let him answer questions? -- of U. of Michigan's practice as a 'quota system' is a gross misrepresentation of the actual admission system in place. The root problem I find in many of the anti-Affirmative Action arguments is not that it proves unbeneficial to individuals from time to time; I think a potent case could be made that it, in fact, does. Hence, the conservative argument against it. At the same time, these arguments also tend to idealize the college admission process, making it purely about test scores and other means of ascertaining one's relative ability to function as a college student, refusing to discuss the disadvantages this places upon a large portion of the population. Even more poignant, though, is the inability, or unwillingness, to recognize that 'color-blindness' is a myth, that race is a fundamental component of individual and societal life for most Americans.

Alas, though, my time has run short; and thus, so will this post. If you and your friends never talk about this kind of thing, and youre remotely interested, take a read through the comments of those who do over on Atrios' and Michael Yglesias' blogs.

UPDATE: Derrick Jackson at the Boston Globe echoes many of the thoughts to which I furtively alluded above. Very recommended reading. I'll comment further later.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Slowly but surely . . .

Things seem to be shaping up, even though I wouldn't dare believe anybody is actually visiting the site yet. Hopefully, if I continue to remain completely unmotivated to get any other work accomplished this weekend, I'll fine-tune the beginning stages of this blog a bit more over the weekend.


Hey, this is my blog, SILENTIO. If you don't know the reference, don't worry about it; all will be unveiled shortly. Well, maybe not all, but at least enough to know what I'm talking about, that is, until I make another obscure reference. I'll try to keep those at a premium, though. Like an unknown word, you can either ignore it, or search out the referent. For now, though, sit back, surf to another site, and return next week. I promise to have oodles of stuff for you then.