The Happy Rock

A quote that I stumbled across today from Henry Miller, who helped me to see a few things a few decades ago, a quote that feels appropriate to circumstances about which I am reluctant to speak in detail quite yet, from Tropic of Capricorn :

You are perpetually spending your energy in the act of balancing yourself. You are seized with a sort of spiritual vertigo, you totter on the brink, your hair stands on end, you can’t believe that beneath your feet lies an immeasurable abyss. It comes through a passionate desire to embrace people, to show them your love. The more you reach out toward the world the more the world retreats. Nobody wants real love, real hatred. Nobody wants you to put your hand in his sacred entrails — that’s only for the priest in the hour of sacrifice.

While you live, while the blood’s still warm, you are to pretend that there is no such thing as blood and no such thing as a skeleton beneath the covering of the flesh. Keep off the grass! That’s the motto by which people live.

If you continue this balancing at the edge of the abyss long enough you become very very adept: no matter which way you are pushed you always right yourself. Being in constant trim you develop a ferocious gaiety, an unnatural gaeity, I might say.

There are only two peoples in the world today who understand the meaning of such a statement — the Jews and the Chinese. If it happens that you are neither of these you find yourself in a strange predicament. You are always laughing at the wrong moment; you are considered cruel and heartless when in reality you are only tough and durable. But if you would laugh when others laugh and weep when they weep you must be prepared to die as they die and live as they live. That means to be right and to get the worst of it at the same time. It means to be dead while you are alive and alive only when you are dead. In this company the world always wears a normal aspect, even under the most abnormal conditions. Nothing is right or wrong but thinking makes it so. You no longer believe in reality but in thinking. And when you are pushed off the dead end your thoughts go with you and they are of no use to you.

This quote was one of my buddy Rick’s favorites, too.

What do you do?

You ended up working for people you hated, and you found the massive inflow of cash thrilling but completely unrewarding. You felt like you had pissed away years of your life building some inconsequential piece of software that would never see the light of day anyway. You felt an urge to actually do things for people, to do something that might leave a mark of some kind on someone. On anyone. Something that felt real, or at least realer than the corporate office-politics circle jerk that had turned your sense of work as play into a daily grind as your friends quit, or were made redundant, or just gave up and waited for the foundering ship to finally sink. Endurance counts the most, Bukowski always said, but you were just too damn tired of spinning your wheels 80 hours a week, and getting shunted to the sidelines by incompetent technocrats who felt threatened by you. So you left your freakishly high-paying job, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. People thought you had taken leave of your senses.

And you went back to a place you had publicly reviled, a place you’d spent hours (days? weeks? months?) complaining about, a place in which the swarming multitude of infuriating details that assaulted your senses on a daily basis had driven you to drink for all the wrong reasons, a place where in weaker moments you felt sure that you’d had some of the life drained out of you, unrecoverable, into the smoggy night. But to a job teaching again, chasing the noble dream again, at a university, poorly-paid, yes, but where you could make a difference, you thought, where you might see in the eyes of your students that your labours were appreciated, that you would, at least by a few, be remembered. Where much of your time would be your own, and you could stretch out, grow your mind, cultivate your soul.

Dreamer. Pretty soon, predictably, you grew weary of that, too, and wondered what the hell would ever make you content.

And now, there’s an offer on the table to go back, reverse the clock, and join the racing rats once again. You’re sorely tempted, and you are annoyed with yourself for being so easily led. And afraid that if you don’t grab the ring again, don’t say yes each and every time to the possibilities life offers you, that life will stop offering you those chances, fold closed the kimono, and it will all be over.

And you realize, in your confusion and doubt, that all you really want is to go back to that bamboo hut – the one in Fiji, or the one on Flores, or the one on the Caribbean coast of Quintana Roo, or the one you have kept in your mind like a mantra manifested since you first hurled yourself out on the road – the one on the new-moon arc of powdery sand, beneath the coconut palms, the one you’ve dreamed about over and over again. You can almost picture yourself sitting there again, deeply tanned, drinking a beer, the good hot smell of your own baked-off sweat, the dried-seawater tautness of your skin, natty dread, nothing going through your mind other than the colour blue, a deep and throbbing hum, and a set of gentle animal hungers. In the moment.

And then the phone rings.

tulum.jpg

Between The Lines

Death of an English teacher

On April 19, Matthew Sellers, an English teacher in Seoul, was scheduled to fly home to Birmingham, Alabama. At 35, Mr. Sellers had been teaching in Korea for 10 years. He was, by many accounts, free-spirited, happy-go-lucky and fond of the young children he frequently taught. Though he seemed to relish Korea, on April 10 he bought a one-way ticket back to the United States, vowing not to return to the peninsula.

Mr. Sellers never made it home.

[more...]

What really happened to this man will no doubt remain a mystery. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d venture (judging by what’s said in that report) that it sounds like he was deep in amphetamine psychosis – “… the officer gave Mr. Sellers a piece of paper so that he could write his name, which Mr. Sellers did in a quivering hand, and in fact, ended up writing an entire personal history” – but hell, who knows? He was disturbed, it’s clear, which is odd in someone who is claimed by everyone involved to have been level-headed. Regardless, how did he get to that point? It might be a story worth telling, if one could unravel it. One assumes that whatever else may have happened, though, he died as a result of bungling. And so it goes.

Of this I’m sure : every expat living here in Seoul who reads this sad and unsurprising story comes away with an entirely different picture of the realities of what happened to this guy than someone who has never lived here. Little tidbits like “Mr. Shin, who speaks English, at first glance took Mr. Sellers for a homeless man” ring so false as to be laughable. There aren’t any non-Korean ‘homeless men’ in Korea, as any policeman would know. Stories fly off from offhand sentences in the linked article like fleas from an electrocuted dog. Chasing them down would be more trouble than it’s worth, for me at least, but every second or third line in there rings a J Arthur Rank gong in my brain, and sets me to imagining in technicolor.

But it also makes me think about how difficult, how doomed from the outset is any attempt to tell anything like a true story, ever. How locked into the bone cages of our own skulls we are in the end, and how far from reality even the most carefully worded tale-telling leaves us.

And it makes me think about how many of us will probably die : anonymous, shoeless, babbling, gripped by rage and despair, surrounded by people who can’t understand what we are saying to them.

Which is as it should be, perhaps, and the sooner we come to terms with it, the sooner we can start having some goddamned fun.

Hopefully Matthew had a little fun before he died.

Edit : This thread at the ESLCafe Korea Forums, with posts from some of Sellers’ friends and family and a whole lot of speculation from everyone else, is worth reading, if you are interested.

CBC Home Delivery

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is running a push-technology trial called CBC Home Delivery, incorporating content from across the range of CBC media outlets. Everything old is new again.

Unlike good old Pointcast (remember that?), this freaking rocks. I’ve just received the first dispatch, and it is amazing, and includes a long and well-done piece on North Korea. (Edit : And Peter Gzowsky interviewing Iggy Pop – two heroes for the price of one.) Give it a go! It started in February, and will unfortunately end, at least in the trial phase, in June, but it’s worth it.

Cesspool

Yeah, this isn’t much of a surprise, but it does steel my reserve to get the hell out of this cesspool of a city as soon as possible. Seoul was recently found to have the worst air quality of any OECD city. I shudder to think of the crap that must be circling around my bag of blood.

In a study led by Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, in collaboration with the Environmental Working Group and Commonweal, researchers at two major laboratories found an average of 91 industrial compounds, pollutants, and other chemicals in the blood and urine of nine volunteers, with a total of 167 chemicals found in the group. Like most of us, the people tested do not work with chemicals on the job and do not live near an industrial facility.

Scientists refer to this contamination as a person’s body burden. Of the 167 chemicals found, 76 cause cancer in humans or animals, 94 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 79 cause birth defects or abnormal development. The dangers of exposure to these chemicals in combination has never been studied.

[more...]

[via Mefi]

Clock Tower

Some days, you just want to climb to the top of that clock tower and start picking those f–kers off. Some days, the world seems like a private hell created expressly! for! you! Some days, your loathing for every single human face you see makes the bile back up in your throat. Some days, you just want to smash.

Some days, you want to make a difference. Some days you nurture and you shelter and you teach and you cherish. Some days, the air smells clean, and you have a good sh-t. Some days your head clears, briefly. Some days, it seems like the future might actually be better than the past. Some days, the sun comes out and it doesn’t burn.

Some days.

Other days, you just can’t be asked to give a f–k.

I treasure the pleasure of torpor

There’s some lovely filth down here, Dennis!

Some more fun stuff I found today. Bob Black is my new main man :

Liberals say we should end employment discrimination. I say we should end employment. Conservatives support right-to-work laws. Following Karl Marx’s wayward son-in-law Paul Lafargue I support the right to be lazy. Leftists favor full employment. Like the surrealists — except that I’m not kidding — I favor full unemployment. Trotskyists agitate for permanent revolution. I agitate for permanent revelry. But if all the ideologues (as they do) advocate work — and not only because they plan to make other people do theirs — they are strangely reluctant to say so. They will carry on endlessly about wages, hours, working conditions, exploitation, productivity, profitability. They’ll gladly talk about anything but work itself. These experts who offer to do our thinking for us rarely share their conclusions about work, for all its saliency in the lives of all of us. Among themselves they quibble over the details. Unions and management agree that we ought to sell the time of our lives in exchange for survival, although they haggle over the price. Marxists think we should be bossed by bureaucrats. Libertarians think we should be bossed by businessmen. Feminists don’t care which form bossing takes so long as the bosses are women. Clearly these ideology-mongers have serious differences over how to divvy up the spoils of power. Just as clearly, none of them have any objection to power as such and all of them want to keep us working.

You may be wondering if I’m joking or serious. I’m joking and serious. To be ludic is not to be ludicrous. Play doesn’t have to be frivolous, although frivolity isn’t triviality: very often we ought to take frivolity seriously. I’d like life to be a game — but a game with high stakes. I want to play for keeps.

[more...]

RU Sirius is, as always, a most excellent individual as well :

CTHEORY: A favorite example being William S. Burroughs in a Nike ad.

RU: You said it! Would I do a Nike ad? I would! And does that weaken my stance? It does!

CTHEORY: And do you care?

RU: I don’t! Really, heroism is a spectator sport. f–k spectators. Anybody who doesn’t factor a need to pay rent and to have pleasures into whatever expectations they have of anybody else can go to f–k. I hate expectations of any kind.

CTHEORY: Subversion never completely succeeds but neither does the attempt to squash it.

RU: Subversion by its nature parisitizes whatever it attempts to subvert. But subversion isn’t really subversive any more. I mean, you can do the most outrageous sh-t, and people’s ability to react is just flattened. The greatest hope for subversives is William Bennett and the Christian Coalition and all that. They are trying their best to make subversion subversive again… god bless ‘em!

CTHEORY: You seem to be into paradox. Leading cyberculture while slamming it, practicing raw capitalism while critiquing it in the process. This paradox seems to run through much of the culture jamming stuff.

RU: Well, anybody who doesn’t believe that we’re trapped hasn’t taken a good look around. We’re trapped in a sort of mutating multinational corporate oligarchy that’s not about to go away. We’re trapped by the limitations of our species. We’re trapped in time. At the same time identity, politics, and ethics have long turned liquid. It seems that what we have, at least among the sort of hip technophile population, is an experimental attitude. An experimental attitude is one of not knowing, otherwise it’s not really experimental.

Also, most people try so hard to put their best face forward, right? I mean, if you’re writing a righteous political statement on Monday and you’re hyping your ass and talking to the lawyers on Tuesday, you’re not going to emphasize Tuesday. You’re not going to emphasize your own corruption. Except I tend to, because the deal is what’s real. If I can make one claim, it’s that I’m the most anti-purist motherf–ker around.

[more...]

Mimesis

This piece on the attacks of September 11th and their aftermath was a link offered in this equally interesting (if slightly wanky) discussion at Metafilter, and although the two only seemed tangentially related at first glance, the more I think about them the more they seem to be rooted in the same piece of fertile ground.

A mimetic war is a battle of imitation and representation, in which the relationship of who we are and who they are is played out along a wide spectrum of familiarity and friendliness, indifference and tolerance, estrangement and hostility. It can result in appreciation or denigration, accommodation or separation, assimilation or extermination. It draws physical boundaries between peoples, as well as metaphysical boundaries between life and the most radical other of life, death. It separates human from god. It builds the fence that makes good neighbors; it builds the wall that confines a whole people. And it sanctions just about every kind of violence.

More than a rational calculation of interests takes us to war. People go to war because of how they see, perceive, picture, imagine, and speak of others: that is, how they construct the difference of others as well as the sameness of themselves through representations. From Greek tragedy and Roman gladiatorial spectacles to futurist art and fascist rallies, the mimetic mix of image and violence has proven to be more powerful than the most rational discourse. Indeed, the medical definition of mimesis is ‘the appearance, often caused by hysteria, of symptoms of a disease not actually present.’ Before one can diagnose a cure, one must study the symptoms – or, as it was once known in medical science, practice semiology.

[more...]

My next stop was Baudrillardville . All aboard who’s getting aboard :

Simulation is precisely this irresistible unfolding, this linkage of things as if they had a meaning, so that they are no longer controlled or regulated except by artificial montage and non-sense. It is the putting up for auction of the event through radical disinformation, the price-tagging of the event instead of gambling with it, instead of investing in the stakes of history. If, on the other hand, should there be a stake in this, it remains occult, enigmatic, and resolved in events that have never really taken place. And I am not talking about ordinary events, but of the events of the East [Eastern Europe], of the Gulf War, etc. What the Agency otherwise specifically aimed at was to oppose this simulation with a radical dissimulation, to lift the veil from this non-happening of events. It has also occultized and enigmatized itself in their image in order to open up and clear to the way to a particular void, to a certain non-sense – unlike the media which remains relentlessly bent on filling up all interstices. Its aim was to manoeuvre itself in the void of events like Chuang-Tzu’s butcher proceeds in the interstitial void of the body. This surreptitious, sly intervention in the meaning of the void against grotesque infatuation with information and the political scene, evidently could not amount to more than a dream and because of its assumed occult and enigmatic nature, it ended up not taking place like the events themselves. It fell into the same black hole, into the same virtual space as the non-events which it should have addressed (secretly however, and without anyone knowing, it remained operational in the image of these new events which were either mediatized or not). An apparently insolvable paradox. The idea, though, is not dead.

[more...]

Make of that what you will, friends.

Keep on Truckin

Jo Jo’s Jacket – a Steven Malkmus video, starring Yul Brynner. Sort of. [other Steven Malkmus videos, with bandwidth selection]

There’s some other groovy music video stuff on offer there, too, including Smog, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, and Sebadoh, amongst others.

Also, music. Including one of my all-time faves from Smog – Dress Sexy At My Funeral.

Share and enjoy.

[requires realplayer, via the site that shall not be named]

Random Observations

Observation the First : This post from a while back (“AntiAmerica”) has been attracting googlenauts like flies to poo, and although I keep thinking about closing it to comments, I am compelled (the power of crap compels you! the power of crap compels you!) for the moment to leave it open. It’s fascinating to watch the comments accrete in layers as the weeks go by. Super-terrific-happy-fun-post activate!

Observation the Second : Rageboy stopped drinking at almost precisely the same time I started doing it with any degree of diligence. Funny, that. One of the thrillingest moments in my early blog career was when he linked to a post of mine and opined that I might actually be able to write my way out of a wet paper bag. And I hadn’t even started sending him monthly cheques at that point.

Observation the Third : There is no Observation the Third, but I’m into the beer again, so we’ll see how the evening develops.

Observation the Fourth : This deserves more link-loving. Or maybe it already got the love, and I missed the buzz. I dunno. Way cooler than the last 5 or ten mind-crogglingly cool things I’ve seen, though [alternate view]. Go implant some GeoURL tags in your index pages now, friends, or I’ll hunt you down and give you some serious noogies!

Not an observation at all, really : This one’s for Kaf :

shotmybaby.jpg

OhMyNews? Bah.

So Tom asked me about OhMyNews.com, which has been popping up recently around blogistan and generating some buzz.

(Just as a trivia-question aside : the ejaculation ‘Oh my god!’ is one that you hear almost constantly here in Korea. It was the tagline of a popular comedian a while back, and even young Koreans who don’t speak any English other than the always-useful ‘OK!’ and perennial favorite ‘Do you like kimchi?’ know it and use it with grating regularity. I assume the URL is a reference to that, although I might well be wrong. It happens.)

Well, OhMyNews is pretty neat, sure, and apparently did have some influence in the election of Noh Moo Hyun recently (which is a whole other story), but I don’t think it’s either quite as democratic or as elegant as it’s being chalked up to be. The basic gist of the Korean boilerplate at the site (according to my wife) states that you can send them an article anywhere up to ten ‘pages’, for which you are held personally (and legally) responsible in terms of veracity. If it’s acceptable, they edit it and pay you for it. Discussions are hung off the individual pieces that make it to the site. It doesn’t seem as if there is any reputation system or moderation beyond once-off editorial filtering and smoothing of language.

So not quite as groundbreaking as has been suggested, perhaps. More like a less-sophisticated kuro5hin.org for the Korean non-geeknoscenti, in my humble. Interesting, but more as a concept than a reality. And the concept is a pretty cool one.

We – the few, the involuted, the snarky! – at Metafilter got all hot and bothered about the idea few months back, and spent a good while trying to figure out how to build our own and entirely too much time talking about what to call the thing. Even so, prototypes were made, discussions were held (since disappeared from the server where they were hosted, sadly), thoughts were thunk, a corner of the MeFi Wiki was reserved, and then the two (much beloved, but nonetheless daunting) 800-pound gorillas in our metamidst, Rusty from kuro5hin.org and Matt from Mefi itself revealed that they were planning to build their own version of a collaborative journalism site, and in spite of their exhortations to us to carry on without their direct involvement and just keep bashing away at our plans, the enthusiasm of our little ad-hocracy kinda dissipated. After all, if there are two people out there who have the experience and know-how in the granular details of building and finely balancing the vagaries and conflicting tidal pulls of large online communities, it’s them.

[/brownnose]

Matt recently mentioned in an unrelated thread in Metatalk that they were hoping to have something to show the world by July 1st. I hope this is not a premature outing, and that I’m not pissing him off too much by talking about it now, but I really want to see this thing, and the comments he and rusty have made about it are a matter of public record, so you heard it here first, folks.

Unless you read Metatalk, of course. Then you heard it here second.

Ohmynews? Bah. I’m waiting to see the real thing.

Public Service Announcement

Though most people know of them already, I’m sure : like The Memory Hole, the deliberately unbloglike UnderReported is a good way to try and keep track of the sh-tstorm of lies and propaganda howling around our heads, as of course is the excellent and more weblogesque cursor.org. These sites invite you to draw your own conclusions, an invitation we too rarely receive these days.

Though undeniably entertaining, reading the ranting of bloggers is less rewarding, perhaps. Your mileage, as they say, may vary. Which is not to say that I’m going to stop ranting any time soon, but rather to note that you, dear reader, should most assuredly take it for what it is worth, which is bugger-all other than a bit of (hopefully) amusing wordplay.

It must be said, too, that there are times when one has to stand back and point, with some small measure of humility, at some of the diamond-bullet stuff bloggers are pulling out of their hats, ranty or otherwise, like this little juxtapotato from a certain maniacal South African down the block :

“These despicable acts were committed by killers whose only faith is hate and the United States will find the killers and they will learn the meaning of American justice. Anytime anybody attacks our homeland, or our fellow citizens, we will be on the hunt. We will bring them to justice. Just ask the Taliban.”

- George W. Bush, President of the United States, Indiana, May 13th, 2003

“We had a great day… We killed a lot of people.”

- Sgt. Eric Schrumpf, Fifth Marine Regiment, March 29th, 2003

Killer Scum and Candid Camera

“We have become a Nazi monster in the eyes of the whole world – a nation of bullies and bastards who would rather kill than live peacefully. We are not just whores for power and oil, but killer whores with hate and fear in our hearts. We are human scum, and that is how history will judge us. George W Bush does not speak for me or my son or my mother or my friends or the people I respect in this world.”

- Hunter S Thompson

Paul Theroux on Hunter S Thompson [via RobotWisdom]

What are the conservatives doing with all the money and power that used to belong to all of us? They are telling us to be absolutely terrified, and to run around in circles like chickens with their heads cut off. But they will save us. They are making us take off our shoes at airports. Can anybody here think of a more hilarious practical joke than that one?

Smile, America. You’re on Candid Camera.

And they have turned loose a myriad of our high-tech weapons, each one costing more than a hundred high schools, on a Third World country, in order to shock and awe human beings like us, like Adam and Eve, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

The other day I asked former Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton what he thought of our great victory over Iraq, and he said, “Mohammed Ali versus Mr. Rogers.”

What are conservatives? They are people who will move heaven and earth, if they have to, who will ruin a company or a country or a planet, to prove to us and to themselves that they are superior to everybody else, except for their pals. They take good care of their pals, keep them out of jail – and so on.

- Kurt Vonnegut, in a lecture for the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut.

What has steadily, insidiously improved since then, of course, making humanist arguments almost irrelevant, is the technology. We must not be too distracted by the clunkiness of the means of surveillance current in Winston Smith’s era. In “our” 1984, after all, the integrated circuit chip was less than a decade old, and almost embarrassingly primitive next to the wonders of computer technology circa 2003, most notably the internet, a development that promises social control on a scale those quaint old 20th-century tyrants with their goofy moustaches could only dream about.

- Thomas Pynchon, in his new introduction to Orwell’s 1984.

The Next Big Thing Is The Last Big Thing

It is an ancient Blogger,

And he stoppeth one of three.

By thy long beard and glittering eye,

Now wherefore stopp’st thou me ?

Conferences, conferences everywhere. Mathematics degree or no long-forgotten mathematics degree, I don’t know a power-law from a goddamn cheese sandwich, and I’ll tell you, all these conferences and symposia and self-congratulatory bloggeriffic circlejerkathons lately, unfailingly dotted with laptop-lugging constellations of the Usual fat-end-of-the-comet Suspects, these cadres of neo-imagineering big-brained rent-a-pundits traipsing around telling everyone how breathtakingly important and revolutionary it all is… well, sometimes it just seems a little forced to me, and more than a little reminiscent of the frenzied bandwagonesque me-too (and the gimme-gimmes) of the leadup to the collective technojizz and detumescence and smoking rubble of the fin-de-siecle bubble. Just trade ‘revenue streams and ROI calculation’ for ‘creative renaissance and DIY journalism,’ and everything old smells new again. But it doesn’t smell much like teen spirit to me.

here we are now/entertain us

Not to get off on a rant or anything.

Then again, maybe I’m just bored of living in Korea again, and feeling left out and a bit jealous, dejectedly imagining the wild, drunken and sexually challenging parties that erupt spontaneously when all those pent-up wordsmithing blogtypes get together. Conferences, conferences everywhere, and me becalmed. That could be. But just ’cause I consider some of those blogorrheic pundits to be Virtu-pals™ (‘your digital friend who’s fun to be with!’) doesn’t mean I can’t poke ‘em with sticks once in a while.

At least that f–king war’s over, eh?

Anti-Intellekshuel

I’m feeling one of my periodic bouts of knee-jerk anti-intellectualism coming on, during which I customarily have a tendency to gibber and howl, slap my belly and dance and drink and sweat and swear and look at pornography, so if the next little while amongst the bottles is characterized by determined, single-minded stupidity and you, dear reader, find that to be either annoying or contrary to the Loftiness of Blogocratic Discourse and the general air of ‘I’m-smarter-than-you’-iness we occasionally see around the blogs, I invite you, o kind and gentle soul, to either crack a beer and play along or, you know, go away and come back a little later. It’s party time!

“The intellectual tradition is one of servility to power, and if I didn’t betray it I’d be ashamed of myself.” – Noam Chomsky

“The course of every intellectual, if he pursues his journey long and unflinchingly enough, ends in the obvious, from which the nonintellectuals have never stirred.” – Aldous Huxley

“What does it matter how one comes by the truth so long as one pounces upon it and lives by it?” – Henry Miller

“Every man with a bellyful of the classics is an enemy to the human race.” – Henry Miller, again

Nyah nyah