Music is a thing that I like. Music is probably a thing you like, too. Sharing music that we like, well, that’s a fine and beautiful thing to do.
I know there are about a million ways to perform that noble activity on various hand-held devices promoted and sold by various corporations who are interested in drawing you inexorably and perhaps, given their understanding of the way our brains work, irrevocably into their cash-and-credit cloudy chance-of-rain walled garden. And hey, friends and other people who somehow wound up reading this because your favored search engine just doesn’t know what the fuck: that’s just fine. Hell, I own APPLE INCORPORATED DEVICES too, and I’m down with googly android plastic pals who can mediate my experiences as I attempt to make connections with other humans. I’m a PC diehard, I guess.
It’s all good, until it’s not.
Here’s a thing I’ve been thinking about lately: the Mahayana Buddhist doctrine of Emptiness — unlike the ‘traditional’ No-Self doctrine that gravity-dropped straight rectified wisdom-turd out of the Buddha’s ass and I reckon gets it just right, self as process not thing, self as flame not candle — well, that Mahayana Emptiness Doctrine is intellectually indulgent incoherence packaged up in the lame wrapping paper of ‘mystery’. There is no wisdom there, I reckon. Dude, I know the mahayana became the dominant vehicle of Buddhist experience 16 or 17 centuries ago. I know. I don’t give a shit.
Even more disappointing, and, if you sit down and actually think about for a minute or ten, offensive to the Heart Of The Buddha Matter was the introduction of worship-worthy deities — that ludicrous ‘celestial buddha’ bullshit — where suddenly WAAHEY! there are goddamn superheroes in these crazy ‘heaven’ places, like AMITABHA BUDDHA and MAITREYA BUDDHA and SPIDERMAN BUDDHA, to whom you are supposed to pray for boons and interventions. It’s all wrong, it’s all corrupt and compromised, and that over-elaborate nonsense arose and got traction around the same time and to the same degree if not in exactly the same way that the message of the historical Christ fella was and is corrupted and compromised longish and long after the Fact. It disappoints, as every modern (even if by ‘modern’ you’re going back a dozen centuries or more) religious repack does. Fuck that noise. I’m no fundamentalist, but I am annoyed by fuckery of all stripes.
Wait, what was I talking about? Right: music and the sharing of it.
Look, I’m 49 years old. I know Charles Bukowski was an asshole — a drunk and a bastard and a pig. I don’t even like poetry, and I spent long enough years living the life before I figured out that squalor isn’t romantic, it’s just squalor. I’ve long since grown out of needing to have heroes, and long since learned more than enough about the writerly heroes of my youth to be completely disabused of the notion that they were anything but human. Deeply flawed and weak and broken humans just like rest of us.
Every time Charles Bukowski comes up on the internet, though, at least the internet I hang out in, where people at least know who the fuck he was, comments invariably turn to the phenomenon of the young, dumb, drunk anti-bro who LOVES BUK and WANTS TO BE LIKE HIM because BOOZE UNLEASHES HIS CREATIVE POWER and STUFF. There’s nothing wrong with that, even if it can annoy, though. Most of them will grow out of it once they realize that a) the booze doesn’t make you a poet unless you’re a poet already or b) being a poet doesn’t fix your life when you break it with booze. There are people who dislike things because the… enthusiasm of other people who like those same things can get on their nerves — The Big Lebowski fans being a good example — but I do try not to be one of them.
So, like I said, I’m nearly 50, and I still occasionally read or hear something new-to-me or long-forgotten by old Charlie B that just sends chills coursing down my scarred-up old spine, like this poem I’m about to paste down below.
So, calm your shit down for second. Take a breath. Forget about the latest Twitter timeline top-up or Buzzfeed bullshit product placement. Rest your goddamned internet-shattered mind for a minute, and then just read this like you’re navigating the rock-strewn rapids of a river.
Traipsing tonight through old 80s songs I loved while beer hooray and this arrived and I love it so much. It’s Shriekback, from 1985, and it’s a beautiful little song, but the thing I love about it is that it’s a stealth song about life after the apocalypse and the only hint that that is so are two lines
We had some good machines
But they don’t work no more
Some rare Korean summer days like today you stop and you look up and there’s nothing but blue, and you think about that thin envelope of air and how close to your upturned face the edge of space lies, that the sun is a continuous celestial self-sustaining nuclear explosion, how glorious the heat and light that fury of power produces feels as it presses down on you like the soft weight of love, and it is as if your body is being drawn skyward by some gentle tidal surge, and you remember how good it is to be alive.
That feeling is one I remember from my younger days, and I love to feel it again before I have to go back into the office, where I type these words.
Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the twins best known for their part in the history of Facebook, filed a proposal with securities regulators on Monday that would allow any investor to trade bitcoins, just as if they were stocks. The plan involves an exchange-traded fund, which usually tracks a basket of stocks or a commodity, but in this case would hold only bitcoins.
If they don’t call the fund ‘Facebuck’ they’re out of their minds.
Last night I dreamed that some time in the future, humans had figured out how to build distributed computing platforms complex enough to upload consciousness. As part of the bootstrap uplift into digital immortality, some members of our species began to migrate to self-assembling clouds of smart matter — tiny, networked, neuron-equivalent autonomous computing devices that in aggregrate provided enough googol-flop grunt to serve as personality substrate. iCloud, for reals.
The next logical step, of course, was for some of these cloud-personalities to migrate into the solar system, and by downshifting their time-sense to compensate for light-speed limitations when the distance between ‘neurons’ became thousands, then millions, of kilometers, then astronomical units, become brains that encompassed the entire solar system, but whose thoughts were occurring on much longer time-scales, as neuron-equivalents fired at intervals of hours and days rather than milliseconds.
Our solar system became a cloud of billions of overlapping brains, their tiny components wheeling around the sun like starlings, thinking slow thoughts.
And then, because why not, a migration to galactic scale. Slow down the subjective timescale even further, with computational neurons circling far-flung suns, brains spanning tens of thousands of lightyears, thoughts forming on geological timescales, our galaxy a circling glorious hive of trillions of overlapping slow intelligences who might experience the epochs until the heat death of the universe as comparable in length to a human lifespan, totally invisible to organic life.
Then I woke up, because I hurt my back washing the car yesterday, and that was a disappointment.
Cloud To Butt™ is a browser extension for Firefox | Chrome | Safari that changes all instances of ‘the cloud’ to ‘my butt’. View its mind-shattering magnificence in some screenshots here. Now this is something I can get behind.
Here’s your Superbowl-and-circuses, Citizens™! Please enjoy the clash of these broken, opiated gladiators we have assembled for your pleasure. You will also enjoy these messages exhorting you to buy more products and services. Because the awareness that you have no value as anything but Consumers may upset, you are encouraged to treat our crass blandishments as entertainment. More entertainment to entertain you! We have been assured that there will be no shortage of websites that will fall all over themselves to give you a chance to watch our ads online, just in case, heaven forfend, that you were unfortunate enough to miss the opportunity during the game itself. We aim to please, as long as pleasing means you’ll like us more and buy more of our useless garbage.
Our Dionysian rites, on screens big and small, are littered with more Products more!, sometimes so risibly over-the-top as to temper the bite of tragedy with some welcome if undeliberate corporate comedy. And music — oh terpsichorean muse — we enlist your aid in winging ever more goods into our hands. Goods, I say, because goods and products are the same, and they are Good!
OK, enough faux-classical silliness. Yes, the cranky old man has a wild hair up his butt again. But all of these things and more boggle me right upside my head.
I love books. I love to hold ’em, I love to smell ’em. I love taking them into the bathroom and having a long, relaxing poop. I love riffling through their pages and letting the gentle dusty breeze of received wisdom waft across my face. I grew up with three or four paperbacks splayed open on the floor beside my bed at any one time, and shelves and teetering stacks of them all around my room. As much as anything else in my life, the books I’ve read form the threads that link who I am today back to the boy I was. Reading has, for nearly 5 decades now, probably been the one unalloyed pleasure I have had, and the pleasure is undiminished today, even though there are so many more things to invade and occupy my mind. I’ve always said, half-jokingly, that I felt uncertain if I could trust someone until I drank with them, but I think my real Voight-Kampff test is whether someone is a Reader or not. I need to read.
When left Canada in my 20s, there was no public internet to speak of. Laptops weren’t — unless you count the suitcase-with-a-7-inch-CRT luggables. If you were a reader, you read printed words on paper. At any given time during my wander years, I was lugging around a few kilograms of books in my backpack, and I read whatever I could trade with other backpackers in hostels and bars. Hell, I picked up a copy of the Bible in Glencoe, Scotland, when I was there, to read through it again, even though I was (and remain) utterly uninterested in being a Christian. (Well, with one brief and odd exception, which is a tale for another day, perhaps.) Back in the day, when you were a wanderer, what you read was a matter of serendipity, and you learned to feel a deep love and gratitude for people who had left behind Actual Good Books in whatever tatty hostel common room you’d washed up in.
[Crossposted from Full Glass Empty Clip] It’s 1977. I’m 12 years old. It’s a gorgeous Northern BC summer day, one of those glorious fleeting perfect days that are all the sweeter in the frozen north, because the memories of mud and slush barely fade before the leaves have already begun to turn again. Utterly pure blue sky, sun warm on the skin, grass a deep impatient green, a light breeze off the lake that is so invigoratingly packed with oxygen and piney perfume it might as well be aerosolized cocaine. I’m playing third base, it’s what we’d call little league if we called it that in Canada back then, I’m just beginning to feel the awkwardness of adolescence, but the sheer pleasure of being alive and standing on that dirt under that gigantic bowl of sky on that day is more than enough to let me ignore my self-consciousness. I’m a big, strong kid, and even if I’m more bookworm than jock, I enjoy sports.
That green field just below center, a bit to the right? That’s where I was, all those decades ago.
One of the kids on the other team strikes out, and our gang begins to jog back to the chickenwire fence behind home plate for our time at bat, where there are a few parents hanging out, maybe drinking a beer or three in the sun. I get about three or four loping steps along the baseline before my left leg folds up, with no warning whatsoever, and I go down into the dirt. I try like hell to get up, but my leg just doesn’t seem to want to bend correctly. I don’t remember it hurting as much as I remember being confused, trying to figure out why my leg suddenly didn’t do what I told it to do any more, and then horrified and embarrassed, when my stepdad came out onto the diamond, picked me up, and carried me off.
Turns out that I had Osgood-Schlatter syndrome. I was just growing too damned fast, apparently, and bits and pieces of me couldn’t keep up. The dumbass semicompetent smalltown doctor told us that I’d have to have the left leg put in an ankle to hip cast for six months, and then the other leg — once again, ankle to hip — for another six months after that.
That was pretty much the end of sports for me, at least team sports. That was the beginning — after that long, itchy year, when my first my left and then my right leg emerged, atrophied, pale, and, to my horror, looking like a limb grafted on from a much smaller, sicklier young man — of my lifelong habit of riding bikes with my headphones on down empty highways. And that summer, when the doorway to baseball and swimming and many other things I loved closed, at least temporarily, that the door into computers and the games you can play on them opened. When I learned that it was possible to go places without actually going anywhere. That was the summer my parents bought me my first computer, a TRS-80 Model III.
I just read Patton Oswalt’s Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to Die, which I enjoyed, and I’ve got something to say. Several somethings, in fact. As I set out, I’m not entirely certain what those somethings are, but I’m sure we’ll have some fun finding out.
I’m a little uncomfortable with it as a semi-serious piece of word stuff, and with the inevitable ensuing Metafilter thread. Underlying everything is an assumption that goes for the most part unquestioned: that nerds, or geeks (or otaku, but to hell with that, William Gibsonisms notwithstanding
The otaku, the passionate obsessive, the information age’s embodiment of the connoisseur, more concerned with the accumulation of data than of objects, seems a natural crossover figure in today’s interface of British and Japanese cultures. I see it in the eyes of the Portobello dealers, and in the eyes of the Japanese collectors: a perfectly calm train-spotter frenzy, murderous and sublime. Understanding otaku-hood, I think, is one of the keys to understanding the culture of the web. There is something profoundly post-national about it, extra-geographic. We are all curators, in the post-modern world, whether we want to be or not.
because I’m weary so weary of the appropriation and repurposing of poorly-understood Japanese words) are to be defined by the cultural products they (possibly obsessively) consume. It’s the common usage, sure — we talk about star wars nerds and comics nerds, about gaming geeks and movie geeks. We’ve wired into our brains a default mode where a nerd is someone who nerds out over some New Bauble, and a geek geeks out about their Precious Thing. We’re a little too accustomed to defining ourselves by what we consume, which is just what The Business of Entertainment wanted. Except for that whole part where we can get almost anything made of information these days without really trying. Or paying.
It was back in September, and the Korean doctor was running the ultrasound wand back and forth across my lubed-up abdomen, shaking his head and looking stern. “Patty Ribber” he repeated, three or four times, pointing at the monitor, on which I saw nothing but the usual indecipherable patterns of amorphous grey blobs. I nodded like I knew what he was saying, which is my usual strategy. After nearly 15 years since I came to Korea, I’m still not that great at parsing things out when I’m in an unfamiliar situation.
The doc sat back down behind his desk while his disconcertingly attractive nurse wiped the lube off my stomach, and started talking at my wife, in the arrogant tones that Korean doctors favour. I was catching one word in three, as usual, but when she grabbed a piece of paper from a stack on the shelf beside her and handed it to me at his behest, and I saw the picture, “patty ribber” suddenly resolved in my brain to “fatty liver” and my blood ran cold.
Let me tell you a little story that may not seem to have much to do with this, but does, somehow, in a way that’s not entirely clear to me. Maybe in the telling, I can work it out a bit.
It was the mid-70s, I think, another glorious short clean summer in Northern BC, one of the ones that stay with me in my memory, and my aunt, uncle and two cousins were visiting us.
We had taken our river boat ten or fifteen kilometers up the lake, up to one of the rocky beaches under the ridge of Mount Pope, inshore from Battleship Island. We set up our outpost on a long expanse of thumb-size pebbles rattling under a broad unclouded vault of sky, stands of jackpine and spruce at our backs clustered beardlike around yellow stone cliff outcroppings. Clear deep dark green water, hot dogs cooked on whittled birch sticks over a fire pit. It was the kind of day that makes you feel glad to be alive, especially when you’re 8 or 10 years old and all is right with the world.
I remember at one point my cousins and I were ranging up the shingly beach, just exploring, when we came across the biggest snake I’d ever seen. It was glistening and black and in the water, and it took off like a shot as soon as it saw us, undulating frantically as it headed along the rocky verge, trying to escape.
We were curious, or at least I was, and we started throwing driftwood and rocks in its path, trying to get it to turn around, or slow down, so we could get a better look. I’m not sure, of course, what my cousins were thinking, but I don’t think they had any more malicious intent than I did. We were curious. The missiles we hurled at the poor beast got progressively larger and we got more excited, and the inevitable happened. One of the rocks or sticks landed square on the snake, and killed it. It uncoiled and floated, light belly up.
As we’d been hollering and chasing the snake, my uncle, presumable alerted by our excitement, had come up behind us just as the fatal stone did its work. All he saw was hooting boys killing an innocent creature.
He wasn’t furious, he was disgusted, disappointed. I still remember, as clearly as if it were yesterday, the look on his face. I don’t think anyone had ever looked at me like that before.
Several people have sent me links to news items about the execution of the Bali bombers in the past few weeks, and each time, I’ve had to tell them that I just didn’t know what to feel about it, much less what to think.
I find as I grow older that every year I am certain about less and less.
I’ve said to some folks who asked that although I do not believe that more killing is a good response to killing, if I were handed the gun, or set down in front of the switch behind the one-way glass, or just put into a room with the bastards, I wouldn’t hesitate to exact vengeance for the death of my friend. Pull the trigger, press the button, beat them with my fists. I’ve said to my friends that I am an ape masquerading as a man.
I don’t know if that’s true or not, I really don’t. It sounds good, I suppose, and I’ve always been about the dramatic pronouncement over the measured interpretation.
Is the world a poorer place without my friend Rick Gleason living in it? Yes, it is, and the same is no doubt true for the friends and family members of each and every of the other 201 people killed in the bombings. Is the world a better place without their killers living in it? I think it probably is.
We tell ourselves a lot of stories about ‘the sanctity of human life’. We seem to mean the lives of those we know and love when we talk about it, and that’s not surprising or wrong. We find it hard to care about strangers, and harder to care about strangers whose tribe is different, and even harder to care about those strangers who would do us harm if they could, or leave us to die without compunction. People get all misty about their Jesus and his injunctions to love one’s enemies and turn cheeks.
But we don’t really believe that human life, in the abstract, is sacred, even if we’re willing to go the extra mile and define what we mean by sacred, do we? Not really. We make war, we ignore the roots of violent crime and turn away, we spend millions on blood-fiesta movies and video games and tell ourselves that it’s about catharsis. The best we can reasonably claim to believe is that some human life is sacred.
We’re not bad people, of course, most of us. Actual, personal violence we find shocking, unacceptable, abhorrent. We are traumatized by the headless corpse behind the steering wheel sitting in the puddle of blood and piss in the twisted plastic and metal of the Friday night wreck. We’re dutifully frightened by the TV news items about violent crime that are intended to keep us dutifully frightened and at home watching the sponsor’s messages. But we do love our serial killers and the movies about them, we love our torture porn, we love our Schwarzeneggerian one-liners before the shotgun skullpop, even while we guard our vulnerable citizens against violence domestic and corporal and sexual and even emotional. We righteously and rightfully do our best to end the social conditions that allow such things to happen. And we support our troops. You know, if we have any. We compartmentalize.
I don’t think most of us are all that clear on these things, and I suppose I’m no better than anyone else. See, if we admit that by executing those bastards, and we accept that violence has its place in our attempts to make the world better, we have accepted that violence has its place. This has consequences.
And if we’re not trying to make the world better, then we’re just acting out another episode of the woeful old Jehovahriffic vengeance.
I’m not against vengeance, though I’d rather be a man than an ape. I have to admit that there are times when I want to bare my yellowed fangs and rip out a throat and feel the hot pulse of blood wash across my cheek.
Thirty years later, having returned to the memory many times over the years, I don’t think I wanted to kill that snake. But I’m not certain that that was actually the truth at the time.
[Update: I’d just like to say that after watching the first season that that Californication I mention below show is pandery crap, with only sporadic flashes of not-suck. I won’t be going back. I’ve got to guess it’s either written by committee or by dartboard, because it veers from pretty good to laughably bad, seemingly at random. Too bad.]
I’ve been downloading and cycloptically watching the new series Californication because a) David Duchovny amuses me b) he plays a hard-drinking writer c) the pilot episode was so blatantly and manipulatively packed with prettily wobbling female flesh that, well, yeah and d) the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Shut up, I like the old stuff, OK.
Since then, sadly, the per-episode count of nipples’n’bottoms has dropped precipitously, perhaps because Australian grannies spit the proverbial dummy (but then Austrlian grannies aren’t really the target audience, here). Or, more likely, the sexy sexoring was just a cynical out-of-the-gate attention-grab ploy. So it goes. The series hasn’t lived up to the promise of the pilot, but it’s something to play up in the corner of my monitor while I’m metafiltering or fiddling with design stuff. Lets me vicariously be that guy that I’d already tired of actually being by the time I was 30, but who I still miss, sometimes, a bit.
Anyway, all that’s preliminary to a plot thread from a couple of episodes ago that left me scratching my head a little, wondering if either I was out of touch with what’s actually happening to the language in America, or if the writers are.
See, Duchovny, playing boozehound and improbably-lucky-with-the-ladies author Hank Moody, is impelled into spasms of disgust and despair at the decline of Culture (the backstory being that he is blocked, thus drunk, and whoring himself out to a corporate blog for cash) when one of his recent conquests actually says ‘LOL’ out loud. In, if I recall correctly, barefaced unironic response to some bon mot he comes out with in the sack.
Do people actually say LOL now? Out loud? (And by people, I mean, you know, adults.) Do kids even do it? Am I that old?
See, the thing is, I’m almost willing to believe it, because listening to the quite entertaining Totally Rad Show podcast the other day, Alex, whose giddy wordplay I usually enjoy, came out with ‘[Name of somebody] FTW!’
FTW means ‘for the win’, for those of you even crustier and more clued-out than I.
But he didn’t actually say ‘for the win!’, he said ‘FTW!’ ‘For the win’ has three syllables, even after a dozen beers. ‘FTW’ has five. The combination of vowels and consonants are bumpier and harder to say. It just doesn’t make any goddamn sense.
WHAT DID YOU SAY MY CATS ARE NOT FREEBALLING GET OUT OF MY KITCHEN YOU KIDS WHO TOOK MY MEDICINE OH MY ACHING BUNIONS
I don’t know. I guess I’ll just go and have a nice glass of Metamucil or something.