Treasure

Koan :
A monk asked Nansen : “Is there a teaching no master ever taught before?”
Nansen said : “Yes, there is.”
“What is it?” asked the monk.
Nansen replied : “It is not mind, it is not Buddha, it is not things.”
Mumon’s Commentary :
Old Nansen gave away his treasure words. He must have been greatly upset.
Mumon’s Poem :
Nansen was too kind and lost his treasure.
Truly, words have no power.
Even though the mountain becomes the sea,
Words cannot open another’s mind.

Identity

[Further to my not-terribly deep musings about anonymity here and this discussion linked here…]
AKMA is toying with thoughts about identity, integrity, accountability, and anonymity. I know I am probably getting into water that’s deeper than that in which I normally care to wade, or hotter, or something, but let’s press on my mental zit and see what pops out, shall we?
He says :

I started with the premise that “identity” functions as a principle of continuity. That is to some extent a constructed principle; I’m not the same person I was thirty or even fifteen years ago, not by a long chalk.
[…]
At the same time, what about people who decide (for plausible or pernicious reasons) to cultivate more than one “identity”? That is, what about people who deliberately disrupt the continuity that ordinarily characterizes our identity? When a blogger chooses to keep his or her “real name” concealed, so as not to be associated with the observations contained in the blog, he or she may be evading accountability in a way that warrants criticism.

Here, before we even get to the parts that I wanted to talk about, I have to stop, scratch my noggin, spit and ponder a bit. There is something to be said, certainly, for the idea that ‘identity functions as a principle of continuity’. I understand this to mean that the primary persona that the world-at-large identifies as me (and mark that word ‘primary – I want to come back to it) exists and is generally agreed upon as a result (if not in whole, at least in part) of the fact that it has been to some degree consistent over time. In other words, people have certain well-founded expectations and assumptions about me based on the behaviours I have publicly exhibited over time, and are reasonably safe in basing guesses about my future behaviour on those observations they have made.
This public identity is unitary and unique – the very word ‘identity’ seems to point to that. And this is as it should be : if we could not make reasonable guesses about the behaviour of the people with whom we interact, if we were totally unable to predict their actions and reactions, we’d be in a fine mess, now wouldn’t we?
But it seems to me that the leap from this to discussion of integrity, accountability, and anonymity misses an important step. I am strongly drawn to the idea that we harbour a multiplicity of selves, of personas within us, any one or more of which may be our current interface to the world, rather than a single ‘identity’. I’m reminded of the quote from Antonio Tabucchi’s Pereira Declares Jonathon used back in February :

Well, said Dr Cardoso, it means that to believe in a “self” as a distinct entity, quite distinct from the infinite variety of all the other “selves” that we have within us, is a fallacy, the naive illusion of the single unique soul we inherit from Christian tradition, whereas Dr Ribot and Dr Janet see the personality as a confederation of numerous souls, because within us we each have numerous souls, don’t you think, a confederation which agrees to put itself under the government of one ruling ego. Dr Cardoso made a brief pause and then continued: What we think of as ourselves, our inward being, is only an effect, not a cause, and what’s more it is subject to the control of a ruling ego which has imposed its will on the confederation of our souls, so in the case of another ego arising, one stronger and more powerful, this ego overthrows the first ruling ego, takes its place and acquires the chieftainship of the cohort of souls, or rather the confederation, and remains in power until it is in turn overthrown by yet another ruling ego, either by frontal attack or by slow nibbling away. It may be, concluded Dr Cardoso, that after slowly nibbling away in you some ruling ego is gaining the chieftainship of your confederation of souls, Dr Pereira, and there’s nothing you can do about it except perhaps give it a helping hand whenever you get the chance.

I’m not sure if I’m willing to go all the way to ‘Confederacy of Souls’, but hopefully you see what I’m getting at here.
Now, although I will grant that continuity is a principle of identity, I’m not sure that ‘identity’ is the scab we need to pick at here. Taking as seriously as I do the possibility that there may not be a singular me as much as a multiple one, AKMA’s connection from ‘identity’ to ‘integrity’ feels tenuous to me.

I’d like to make a connection between “identity” and “integrity,” so that I can work with that stipulated continuity as a lever on ethical problems. […] That would go along very nicely, so that “integrity” could stand both for “morally reliable behavior” and “personal coherence.”

It’s possible (or, given my track record, likely) that I am misunderstanding, here, in which case see! look at my ass hanging out there in the wind!, but, like Jonathon, the me-as-multiplicity explanation meshes better with my lived experience than any other. I am a boozy wild-eyed country-boy, yes, but I am a reasonably urbane univeristy professor as well. I am a tender and considerate husband, but a merciless opponent to those who attempt to harm to me or mine. I am an occasional misanthrope who donates to charities. (I am the wonderchicken!) I am a multitude, integrated better on some days than others.
Am I displaying less ‘integrity’, in the sense that I think AKMA is using it, when one of those people that is me is temporarily to the fore, as opposed to another? For some people who know me there is more continuity, for example, in the ‘stavrosthewonderchicken’ persona, which first appeared on Metafilter in November 2000, than there is in the ‘Real Me’, the corporeal one, which has lived here in Korea since August 2001.
Are these two people identical? No, not precisely. But then, none of the ‘souls’ swarming within me are coterminous at all points, either. There is overlap, there are spiky bits that stick out and poke you in the eye, if you’re not careful.
The question becomes : is the ‘wonderchicken’ subsumed within the ‘real me’, and if so, which ‘me’, or vice-versa? Or is stavros just another of the continuous, predictable, real elements of myself, the one which is my primary interface to the web, in the same way that ProfessorMan is my primary interface to the world at work, and AngryGuy is my primary interface with people who try to f–k with me?
The next question that pops up is : does the fact that I do not use the name that I was given by my parents, in my writing here and elsewhere make me ‘anonymous’ for the purposes of my interactions with people on the internet, in any real sense?
I don’t feel that it does. Although AKMA is right to suggest that “we may want to take a few minutes to ponder whether pseudonymity doesn’t involve ethical hazards that we conceal when we take them for granted,” and to observe that pseudonymity opens a door for “the malevolent blogger who uses pseudonymity as a device for trolling, flaming, baiting, and generally propounding outrageously offensive codswallop†”, I suggest that these behaviours, like any others, would through their continuity over time lead to an ‘identity’ every bit as valid as the one that the Evil Blogger used in his or her real, corporeal, life.
Of course no one would be listening by then. If an Evil Pseudonymous Blogger blogs on a website and there’s no one around to read it, does it still make a sound?
† I’d just like to mention that I love the word codswallop. It sounds so dirty

To Live Forever

An interesting recent discussion at MeFi. The last few days have been good, there. My favorite comment from the thread, courtesy of vacapinta :

Each of us is an ever-changing chorus of voices, a small tribe of motivations, trying to advance their own desires. Nominally, one of those voices is in control but sometimes overthrows can occur as when we lapse into a cult or fall in love. A schizophrenic is not someone with “extra” voices”, it is someone whose voices have lapsed into anarchy.
I also dont believe that this “self” can be so easily transcribed into a simulation. It is not mere pattern (e.g. neurons+connections) but is deeply embedded into its physiological container. Our minds have deep roots in the soil of this reality with its electromagnetic fields and quantum quirkiness. Any computer that can truly create consciousness and not some cheap simulation will have to be as algorithmically complex as the universe itself. This is not bound to happen anytime soon, if ever. When I die, I die. Death is the absence of change.

I'm trying…

“Lucid dreaming means dreaming while knowing that you are dreaming. The term was coined by Frederik van Eeden who used the word “lucid” in the sense of mental clarity. Lucidity usually begins in the midst of a dream when the dreamer realizes that the experience is not occurring in physical reality, but is a dream. Often this realization is triggered by the dreamer noticing some impossible or unlikely occurrence in the dream, such as flying or meeting the deceased. Sometimes people become lucid without noticing any particular clue in the dream; they just suddenly realize they are in a dream. A minority of lucid dreams (according to the research of LaBerge and colleagues, about 10 percent) are the result of returning to REM (dreaming) sleep directly from an awakening with unbroken reflective consciousness.”

[A Lucid Dreaming FAQ] [Another][Dreaming and Reality][kuro5hin – Hacking Your Wetware][Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep][Dream Yoga][A Buddhist Perspective on Lucid Dreaming][More]

I had no idea…

When the movie Wayne’s World was released in Latin America, a lot of the film’s American idiom and idiosyncratic language didn’t translate well, if at all. As a result, many of the phrases and expressions were translated into something very different in the subtitles or dubbing.
For example, when Wayne exclaimed (much to my amusement, which is a shame with which I must forever deal) “Shyaaa! And monkeys might fly out of my butt!” it got changed to, “Yes, when Judgment Day comes,” or “Si, cuándo llegue el día del juicio.”
What I don’t get is why it was felt that Spanish speakers would find the image of monkeys flying from someone’s butt any less comprehensible or immediately interpretable as indicating a highly unlikely event than Anglophones would. I’m enormously curious now about how that phrase got translated in other languages when the movie was released elsewhere.
Most amusing, as really dumb things frequently are.

Croggling

Cory uses the phrase ‘mind-croggling’ to describe Ray Kurzweil’s writing. I’ve used the phrase repeatedly over the years. It appears all over the web. But it’s not Real English. Of course, that’s never stopped me before.
Will ‘mind-croggling’ eventually become a part of the language, or can it be argued that it already is?

mind-crog·gling (mndcrglng)
adj. Informal
Intellectually or emotionally overwhelming: “a mind-croggling bazaar of talking mattresses and improbability generators”.

The first time I recall ever seeing the phrase was in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy books. I suspect he just made it up, on the fly, as a natural descriptor for the next step beyond being boggled.
I remember with great pleasure sitting on the beach beside the cold cold lake one summer, out back of the house, in my hometown, reading and re-reading a copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide, laughing out loud. One of the first long pieces of writing I ever did, back in my early teens, was in emulation of the gymnastic language and unbridled silliness of the Guide. I’ve gone back to those books every couple of years since, and they’re still dear to my heart.
I loved that Douglas Adams. He had a huge influence in molding the WonderChickonian sense of humour. I guess that he might have preferred more substantial legacies than these, but maybe they’ll do just fine.

A Totally Random Thought

I just had a brainfart, and wondered how many warblogs are actually written by employees of the Office Of Strategic Mind Control as sub rosa propaganda tools.
Has my natural predilection for paranoia gone over the top this time? Are the American propaganda machines really that clever? Are they just the bumbling-halfwits-that-always-seem-to-get-away-with-it, Gilligan-stylee? Or something else entirely, something less reassuring to believe?
You tell me.

Spooky

Do Not Eat Your Own Head
There’s a strange eerie silence out on the wires tonight. It feels like the hush before Something Big happens – it feels like the brief interregnum of silence between the doctor’s slap on the ass and the first juddery indrawn breath and full-throat wail. It feels like the puff of air that precedes the flash flood. It smells like blood, and piss, and it scares the hell out of me.
Then again, it could just be that slightly elderly spaghetti sauce I had at dinner coming back on me.

More, and more lucid : Content != Elvis?

…The preoccupation of decision makers with content and broadcast communication is also not new. In the early 19th century, the explicit policy of the U.S. government was to promote wide dissemination of newspapers. They were regarded as the main tool for keeping citizenry informed and engaged in building a unified nation. Hence newspaper distribution was subsidized from profits on letters…
The policy of the U.S. government to promote newspaper “content” at the expense of person-to-person communication through letters may or may not have been correct. It would be a hard task (and one well beyond the scope of this work) to decide this question. However, there are reasonable arguments that the preoccupation with newspapers harmed the social and commercial development of the country by stifling circulation of the informal, non-content information that people cared about….
A skeptical reader might say that all this historical stuff is amusing but irrelevant. We live in the 21st century, and our high-tech present as well as our future are on the Web, where content is universally regarded as king. Studies of the Internet regularly find that Web traffic makes up 60 to 80% of the bytes that are transmitted. Certainly most of the commercial development effort on the Internet and almost all the attention are devoted to content. Thus even if content was not king in the early 19th or late 20th centuries, it might be king in the 21st.
There are three counterarguments to the above objection, all of which support the “content is not king” thesis. All argue that the dazzling success of the Web has created a misleading picture of what the Internet is, or is likely to evolve towards. One argument, to be discussed in more detail later, is that the future of the Internet is not with the Web, but with programs like Napster or (even more, because of its decentralized nature) Gnutella, which allow for informal sharing of data.
The second argument is that content is not king of the Web. Most of the traffic on the Internet is corporate (especially if we include internal intranet traffic that is not visible on the public backbones)….Because browsers are a user-friendly tool that is ubiquitous, a multitude of services have been squeezed into a Web framework. They help perpetuate the image of the Internet as primarily a content-delivery mechanism. (Note that the Web was invented to allow scientists to communicate with each other and access data, not for content delivery.)
The third and final argument is that even if content were king on the Web now, the Web is not king of the Internet. This may again seem absurd, especially in view of the statistics quoted above, that most of the Internet traffic is Web transfers. However, consider again the U.S. postal system of 1832. Content certainly dominated in terms of volume of data. Newspapers sent by mail weighed about 20 times as much as letters. Further, the density of printed matter is higher than of handwriting, and a typical copy of a newspaper was likely read many more times than a typical letter. Hence newspaper “content” was probably delivering at least a hundred times as much information as letters. But volume is not the same as value. Letters were bringing in 85% of the money needed to run the postal system in 1832. On the Internet in 2000, it is e-mail that is king, even if its volume is small.
– Andrew Odlyzko, Content is not King

[more…]
I’m not sure I agree with Mr Odlyzko, entirely, but that may only be a matter of semantics. My feverdream defense of ‘content’ a couple of days ago took as its launchpad an understanding of the word that is broader than the one Mr Odlyzko uses (and in some ways is actually diametrically opposed to it, but that’s a side-issue, I think). Blogs as open letters, as content rather than Content….
One of the things Mr Odlyzko is saying is that the internet is not a broadcast medium. As obviously wrong as it seems, thinking it is was one of the core dumbass mistakes that businesses were making before the bubble burst, one of the dumbass mistakes that’s still being made. AOLTimeWarner indeed. LOLTimeWarner, maybe. (Ba-dump dump tish! Thank you, you’ve been a great audience. I’ll be here until Thursday!)
One-to-oneness is where value (questions there are aplently about the word ‘value’, too) lies, more than one-to-manyness (Mr O talks about letters and newspapers, about email and the web). The bridge between the two concepts is (ta-daaa!) the weblog, of course. It’s not email, but it shares much of the intensely personal nature nature of correspondence. It’s not ‘Content’, at least not in the way that Big Media regards it, as a ‘non-recoverable expense‘. But it is true that blogspace contains some of the most compelling writing and imagery and pure fun that’s available on the internet or elsewhere, ‘content’ that’s constantly renewed by the passions of thousands of individuals singing their individual songs for the pure joy of the singing, and for the comradeship that comes from finding people who hear similar music in their heads…
This message of Mr O’s reminds me very much of the sort of thing that a certain Mr Locke (quoted recently here: “You can broaden the pipe as far as you want, but if everybody can play, it’s not broadcast any more. There isn’t that control of the passes. The channel is out of control and that makes it a different game…”) and his cohort of merry cluesters have been saying for a while, and are still saying.
I like it when things come together like that.

Battleground : God

[via AccordionGuy]

Congratulations!
You have been awarded the TPM service medal! This is our third highest award for outstanding service on the intellectual battleground.
The fact that you have progressed through this activity without suffering many hits and biting only one bullet suggests that whilst there are inconsistencies in your beliefs about God, on the whole they are well thought-out.
How did you do compared to other people?
41533 people have completed this activity to date.
You suffered 2 direct hits and bit 1 bullet.
This compares with the average player of this activity to date who takes 1.30 hits and bites 1.07 bullets.
36.16% of the people who have completed this activity have, like you, been awarded the TPM Service Medal.
8.38% of the people who have completed this activity emerged unscathed with the TPM Medal of Honour.
48.93% of the people who have completed this activity took very little damage and were awarded the TPM Medal of Distinction.

From ‘The Philosopher’s Magazine on the Internet’, it’s Battleground God! Give it a whirl. Just don’t do it after a few beers, like your humble host. That was a bad, bad idea.
The instructions – “the aim of the activity is not to judge whether these answers are correct or not. Our battleground is that of rational consistency” – threw me off a bit, dammit. I think this may be why after a couple of years of university philosophy, I deemed it all a big wank, and henceforth focussed with laser-like intensity on holding forth from barstools. More fun than parsing out logic, ’twas, by golly.
Regardless, an amusing diversion. Enjoy.

Some Numbers

As someone who received 4 years of intense training in mathematics, precisely none of which he is able to recall, I am aware that raw numbers like these are sometimes deceptive. I have not verified these numbers. Nonetheless, I will put a few here, and I suppose if you are so inclined, you can go and have a look at their source, and draw your own conclusions.

In any one year in America:
23,000 Americans are murdered.
85,000 are wounded by firearms.
38,000 of these die, including 2,600 children.
13,000,000 are victims of crimes including assault, rape, armed robbery, burglary, larceny, and arson.
37,000,000, or one out of every six Americans, regularly use emotion controlling medical drugs.
25,000,000, or one out of every 10 Americans, seek help from psychiatric, psychotherapeutic, or medical sources for mental and emotional problems, at a cost of over $4 billion annually.
2,900,000 children are reportedly subjected to serious neglect or abuse, including physical torture and deliberate starvation.
900,000 children, some as young as seven years old, are engaged in child labor in the United States, serving as underpaid farm hands, dishwashers, laundry workers, and domestics for as long as ten hours a day in violation of child labor laws.
2,000,000 to 4,000,00 women are battered. Domestic violence is the single largest cause of injury and second largest cause of death to U.S. women.
700,000 women are raped, one every 45 seconds.
At present in America:
5,100,000 people are behind bars or on probation or parole.
40,000,000 or more are without health insurance or protection from catastrophic illness.
4,500,000+ children, or more than half of the 9,000,000 children on welfare, suffer from malnutrition.
40,000,000 persons, or one of every four women and more than one of every ten men, are estimated to have been sexually molested as children.
12,000,000 of those at poverty’s rock bottom suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition.

Forgive if I don’t burst into spontaneous songs of praise, OK?
[link via abuddhasmemes]

Those Wacky Kids

Learn something every day : the number 420 is freighted with significance for dope smokers.
I’ve always been aware of pervasive networks of signals and signs, not conspiracies or the illuminati or anything of the kind, mind you, just a background hum of information being passed between people who know how to decode that information, on the streets and in the bars, everywhere. Communication indecipherable, silent, to those who don’t know of its existence. These things have always fascinated me, I think because I’ve always enjoyed experimenting with personas, talking to people from other tribes and taking on protective colouring that exploits those secret signs and passwords. When someone thinks you share at least some elements of the secret language of their tribe, they open up to you in a way they cannot do when you’re the outsider. It’s a way to learn more about people, and something I’ve always instinctively done.
This 420 stuff is an example of that context-hijacking dialogue that goes on constantly under the noses of the uninitiated. Fascinating stuff.

Ad Absurdum

This latest semi-coherent rambling comes in response to the comments at BurningBird’s place here, and some comments made by AKMA here. I apologize if it is facile – I just wanted to get some partly-formed ideas off my chest.
In the comments at ‘Bird’s place, Mike Golby mentions something about Mike Sanders redubbing ‘warbloggers’ ‘lifebloggers’. I couldn’t find any reference to this phrase at Mike Sanders’ blog, so I won’t pursue the dissonance of that equivalence (*ting* the tiny echoes of the phrase ‘moral equivalence’ might now be playing about your mental shell-likes) any further. It may have just been a brainfart on Mike Golby’s part. (But if a warblogger is somehow a ‘lifeblogger’, then mark me down as a deathblogger. Tangentially, does anyone else notice the slow shift of the meaning of the neologism ‘warblogger’ to mean a blogger who supports and cheerleads military killing, by someone or anyone, rather than just someone whose main topic of blogging is things to do with the current American War on Terra? Or maybe that’s just me…)
I don’t say ‘deathblogger’ simply to be contrarian, though such is my tendency. I regard death as less of a Nemesis than many, for reasons stemming from experiences in my young life rather than religious faith, and I do think that some large component of the irrational, deeply-felt response people have to things like the current sh-tstorm over in the eastern mediterranean comes directly from a horror and fear of Death. Isn’t that odd?
Apologies to AKMA may be in order, but : if these people, in the middle east and Ireland and elsewhere, who are killing one another as much because of their religious beliefs as mundane matters of territory and bloody revenge, if they are indeed so devout…well, it strikes me then that their respective religions teach them that their bloodthirsty righteousness will be rewarded in an afterlife of some kind, no?
AKMA says :

..those who adhere to the Way of Jesus have been not just advised, but commanded not to kill–not even to contemplate killing (nor even losing one’s temper at another); those who adhere to the Torah have the prophets’ word that the Eternal summons us to lives of justice and peace, where nation no longer lifts up sword against nation.

This may indeed be the case, but it seems to me in practice that the ‘thou shalt not kill’ edict has often been, and still is relaxed, by the man (and woman) on the street, is it not, when it comes to killing in the name of God? Leaders both religious and secular invoke the name of whichever almighty they imagine to be their benefactor, to strike down the enemy, to lend strength to their killers out on the bloody plain. The people who listen to these leaders take up their guns and cudgels secure in the knowledge that smashing the skulls of their enemies or putting bullets through their hearts are actions mandated and approved by their deity and his representatives on Earth. We’re talking about the reality of belief here, not the ideal. I assume this is somehow mystically reconciled in their minds with the ‘God is Love’ mantra of more peaceful times – call it Tough Love, I guess.
I say this not to ridicule Christian belief. I find the metaphors embedded in the faith, as in others, to be rich and rewarding. Though countless lives have been lost in the name of God and Christ, Mohammed and Allah, countless deeds of mercy and kindness have been performed, as well.
But back to the Fear of Death. I’ve always thought it odd, and it’s always been one of the things that I couldn’t really get my head around, when it came to Christianity : it seems hard for a devout Christian to justify anything other than feelings of joy when a presumably heaven-bound relative makes the Big Swan Dive into the abyss. There’s self-pity, of course, or fear for a more lonely, or poorer, future here amongst the living. These grief-triggers I understand. But I have a little difficulty understanding grief unleavened with what should be happiness for the deceased, for the spirit drawn unto the bosom of the Lord, among the devout.
The ritual wailing and moaning, the tearing out of hair, the sackcloth and ashes that some cultures indulge in as a ritual response to death : these, I understand, too, as catharsis, as closure. Ritual response to events of great magnitude in our lives help us to cope with those events without thinking too much about them, and help to incorporate those events in the fabric of our community.
I catch a scent of the ritual response to death in the response to the killing in the Middle East at the moment.
There is, as always, division into camps amongst the not-very-clever : Side A is right! No, you bastard, Side B is right! Amongst others, there is a weary acceptance that both warring sides are right, and amongst a subgroup of those, an awareness that both sides are also equally wrong. But even within this camp, there are those who call for warfare and those who call for ‘peace’. There are also a large number who, through laziness or bodhisattva-like equanimity, through utter misanthropy or through dirt-stick-stone stupidity, via ‘good’ or ‘evil’ intention, modulate their outrage, or accept what is as inevitable and thus good.
There are some who believe that the raging, naked ape in us will keep the tribes at each other’s throats for a good long time, if not until the last of our species stands over the lifeless body of the unlucky penultimate one, triumphant. There are some who would welcome ‘peace’, who would work for it each day of their lives, who are also certain that it is a chimera.
There are those who see the arguments among the observers as fractal, self-similar meta-examples of the bloodletting amongst the combatants, and grow more pessimistic about there ever being an end to warfare.
The question is this, perhaps : whether a life spent working for this idea of ‘peace’, always aware that such a goal may never be reached, in one’s own lifetime or beyond, is a life well-spent.

Sargasso Seas?

This is tacking much closer into the Sargasso Seas of blogly circle-jerking (from which few emerge!) than I usually like to venture, but : Tom Matrullo deftly and pyrotechnically weaves my post about an oceanic metaphor for the web, which was mostly just a late evening braindump while drinking beer, into a tapestry much deeper and more vital than I could have anticipated. My thanks to him, and to Jeneane and Jonathon also, for taking my thoughts a little further, and helping me better understand this crap that seems to emerge sometimes, unbidden, when I put hands to keyboard.

Famous last words

Famous last words : In the spirit of refusing to get involved (as I have nothing to add) in all the gonads and strife floating around lately (eek! floating gonads!), and striving for a laugh or two, I present to you the dying words of two great poets :

Walt Whitman : “Hold me up; I want to sh-t.”
Dylan Thomas : “I’ve had eighteen straight whiskeys. I think that’s the record.”

I can but hope, in my terminal moments, as I lie (-in a feather bed, on pure white linen, surrounded by my loved ones / drunk and drooling, unnoticed on a barroom floor, in a puddle of my own urine-) that I can come up with a legacy for the world as touching, as illuminating, as perfectly revealing of the deeper nature of our existence on this planet.
[via this amusing Metafilter thread]

Your famous last words? comments.

Spiking The GooglePunch

Jeff at Visible Darkness led me through to this piece about the Dark Side of Blogging. (Insert “Use the blog, Luke!” and related unfunniness here) Questions about how marvellous and whiz-bang this new medium really is, and indeed how “stupid and repellent, sometimes crypto-genocidal” some warblogs can be, for example. Pushing back against utopian paeans to the organic growth of communities that even I, surly wonderchicken, have been guilty of propagating :

But when I suggested that there was something inherently suspicious about online “community,” I had in mind a radical thought experiment that forces its way across this divide. Something like: suppose we took warblogs, or even stormfront.org and its satellites, as the model of a weblog “community.” Should the kinder and gentler blogrings find that thought sobering? Don’t dismiss the comparison too quickly, not if you want a real assessment of the medium in all its potentialities.
Community vs. “strength”: Maybe I meant that there should there be more consideration of how to seek individual autonomy through community. That task might be different both from the mindset that one sees in the attack blogs and from the communal sociology of the more benign “clusters” and dialogic blogrings.
Or maybe I could put it differently this way: it’s not so much that I disagree with the celebration of the positive, even the wondrous qualities of weblogs. It’s just that I suspect they’re living on borrowed time.

So it's a cliche. Sue me.My only addition at this point is to tangentially woolgather : is it only a matter of time until Hollywood starts regularly hiring hundreds of blogtemps to fire up new weblogs, post furiously and praise to the skies the latest piece of crap opus by Jerry Bruckheimer or some other purveyor of soul-destroying cinematic garbage, interlink to themselves and a few ‘a-listers’, start offering large cash incentives to Kottke and Rageboy and other high-traffic blognodes to link back to the rent-a-bloggers, and watch the Google rank for their new Product soar? Or record companies to promote their wares? Or governments? Are recent, highly-successful experiments in spiking the GooglePunch like the recent one by Matt Haughey the tip of the iceberg? How soon before big business catches on, before the Office of Strategic Mind Control realizes the subtle power (if they haven’t already) of the interconnectedness of blogs and begins working blogspace like the infopimps they strive to be? Before this ‘place’, too, becomes branded and corporatized? (Forget the stone-knives-and-bearskins, bandwidth-wasting crudity of banner ads – savvy marketers will work the medium, pimp the actual hyperlinks, and tickle Google till it quivers, moans, and page-ranks, gratefully. Linkwhoring could become a serious business. Perhaps we could form a mafia, a Blogga Nostra, and skim a little of that corporate cream off the top, broker linkage deals, extort flame-protection money.)
Of course it may become moot, if Google fine-tunes their page ranking system for blogs. For now, though, please hold my hand. I’m a little scared.
(Edit : I see that Doc talked about this, recently, grumpily, kinda. Whoops.)

This blog entry has been brought to you by the new film from Tom Green : “Somebody Kill Me Now”. In theatres next week! comments.

There was a point

There was a point, not long after I finished university, and spent 10 months or so holding forth nightly, Ouzo-and-water in hand, for the entertainment of the patrons on the porch of Stavros’ Irish Bar in Mykonos, Greece (where I spent some time writing software for a small hotel and making sure that the owner’s VIP gun-running buddies and their mistresses had clean sheets and plentiful champagne) that I stopped thinking that I actually had anything to say. Or that there was any point actually saying it to anyone. Well, not exactly that, perhaps – I made a deliberate decision to Stop Thinking So Goddamn Much. I think it had something to do with the fact that the other straight guys (of whom there weren’t really that many on Mykonos during the Season) were by and large not the Thinking Type, and it seemed to me that they were perenially achieving much more demonstrably significant levels of romantic success with the Swedish stewardesses, French public servants, and other maddeningly delightful examples of European femininity that constantly littered the beaches and bars, confident of their hetero groovethings amidst the heaving seas of Mykonian man-on-man action.
Ka-chunk – spurious causal connection made : reduce cerebration, increase fornication. But with my regularly scheduled rocket-fuel rants on the porch of Stavros’ place on the nature of life, the universe, or why the hell the Man in The Moon scared the sh-t out of me so badly, and my almost complete lack of wonderchicken-booty shaking disco action, the young ladies I tended to attract, if any, were more of the cerebral variety, who, without putting too fine a point on it, tended to be less carnally-inclined. Or English, which was worse. At least that’s how it seemed to me, sad, mad, alcohol-soaked bastard that I was. My tendency after a certain point in the evening to stagger over to the bar and do stately (if somewhat legless) sirtaki dances with portly, 50 year old Stavros put even them off. Stavros always had one or two young women under his arm, a fact looked upon with an amazing lack of remonstration by Effi, his long-suffering wife. Didn’t do me any damn good, regardless.
Left : After. Right : Before.What was I talking about? Oh yeah : there was a whole nexus of things that made me turn from the life of the mind (“I will show you the Life of The Mind!”) to a life lived in the moment. Not that I stopped reading, or thinking, or even talking massive quantities of sh-t to my friends while drinking beside bodies of water and trying to figure it all out, during my twenties and early thirties. But I did consciously do a trade-in of introspection, bookishness, and analysis for random danger, booze and swashbuckling, and spent the balance received on plane tickets to wherever it might be, eyes closed, that my index finger landed on a world map. And I’ll tell you, my friends, I had one hell of a ride.
All of this, in sub-Mike Golby-long-story-long fashion, is meant to leave a minotaur-fearing trail of crumbs to the point of this post : I don’t feel as if I have much to say today. Or for the last week, really.
‘Cause sometimes the habits of a decade and more well up, lapping gently around my brainpan, and I find myself saying to myself, as of old, “f–k it. Crack a beer, sing a song. Let the accountants fritter away their lives on the details.”
But blogging has been good for me, I suppose, and though I find myself logging into Blogger, ready to say : “Well, I’m tapped out. Go read Jonathon or Mike or Tom or Shelley (except she’s also tapped out at the moment) or any of the other fine and fascinating folks in the neighbourhood,” well, here I am, a long-ass post later, and I’ve ended end up talking about Swedish Stewardesses (oh dear lord, the Swedish stewardesses), and had an enjoyable time doing so.
That, from where I’m sitting, is a Good Thing. I hope you agree, gentle reader, but if not, well, the hell with ya.
(Oh, and the ‘Me Tarzan, You Jane’ stuff? Didn’t work worth a damn. You just can’t fake being good-lookin’ and dumb as a post. Live and learn.)

Well, I was young, OK? comments.

"Worldwide interstimulating inscription"

“Worldwide interstimulating inscription” : Who will be the executor of your e-state, the beneficiaries of your last blog and testament? If I kark it tomorrow (which is never outside the realm of possibility), of my few and meagre works in this life, these bits and bytes right here might well remain the longest. Maybe I should install that Dead Man’s Switch after all, and rig up a script to make the bastard launch a Terminal Comments Thread, where my dearly beloved could hold a virtual wake, trash the place and pelt me with rocks and garbage one last time.
That’s a little morbid, perhaps, but it is interesting to think that thanks to things like archive.org and the mighty GoogleBeast, our children and theirs and so on in serried ranks into the future will be able to experience the textual voices of their long-dead ancestors, us, and read about the minutiae of their lives, their thoughts, and the truth about which f–king member of Radiohead they apparently resembled thanks to yet another online quiz. I wish I were able to read the journals kept by my grandparents, or my father, when they were young (and alive), and learn what made them tick. They might be disappointingly puerile, but on the other hand, they might not.
It’s a mind-buggering world we’re building. There are big bobbing icebergs of implication to all this technology floating around out here, and I for one am still bashing my head against them on a regular basis.
Ouch! f–ktacular. Just did it again.

Eulogize! comments.

Myth and Metaphor

There is no way I could say it better. Joseph Campbell, from Thou Art That : Transforming Religious Metaphor :

A mythology may be understood as an organization of metaphorical figures connotative of states of mind that are not finally of this or that location or historical period, even though the figures themselves seem on their surface to suggest such a concrete localization. The metaphorical languages of both mythology and metaphysics are not denotative of actual worlds or gods, but rather connote levels and entities within the person touched by them. Metaphors only seem to describe the outer world of time and place. Their real universe is the spiritual realm of the inner life. The Kingdom of God is within you.
The problem, as we have noted many times, is that these metaphors, which concern that which cannot in any other way be told, are misread prosaically as referring to tangible facts and historical occurrences. The denotation—that is, the reference in time and space: a particular Virgin Birth, the End of the World—is taken as the message, and the connotation, the rich aura of the metaphor in which its spiritual significance may be detected, is ignored altogether. The result is that we are left with the particular “ethnic” inflection of the metaphor, the historical vesture, rather than the living spiritual core.
Inevitably, therefore, the popular understanding is focused on the rituals and legends of the local system, and the sense of the symbols is reduced to the concrete goals of a particular political system of socialization. When the language of metaphor is misunderstood and its surface structures become brittle, it evokes merely the current time-and-place-bound order of things and its spiritual signal, if transmitted at all, becomes ever fainter. It has puzzled me greatly that the emphasis in the professional exegesis of the entire Judeo-Christian-Islamic mythology has been on the denotative rather than on the connotative meaning of the metaphoric imagery that is its active language. The Virgin Birth, as I have mentioned, has been presented as an historical fact, fashioned into a concrete article of faith over which theologians have argued for hundreds of years, often with grave and disruptive consequences. Practically every mythology in the world has used this “elementary” or co-natural idea of a virgin birth to refer to a spiritual rather than an historical reality. The same, as I have suggested, is true of the metaphor of the Promised Land, which in its denotation plots nothing but a piece of earthly geography to be taken by force. Its connotation—that is, its real meaning—however, is of a spiritual place in the heart that can only be entered by contemplation.
There can be no real progress in understanding how myths function until we understand and allow metaphoric symbols to address, in their own unmodified way, the inner levels of our consciousness. The continuing confusion about the nature and function of metaphor is one of the major obstacles—often placed in our path by organized religions that focus shortsightedly on concrete times and places—to our capacity to experience mystery.


Comments? comments.