Winning or truth-telling?

August 13, 2003 at 9:18 am | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

Song for the day? How about Back in the USSA by Andrei Sitov, the Washington Bureau Chief of ITAR-TASS News Agency of Russia. (This one, too, via Wood’s Lot.) Reminded me also of my imaginary poll question.

Trails to sleepless nights

August 11, 2003 at 11:01 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Trails to sleepless nights

Via Wood’s Lot, a pointer to Aug.10’s As We May Incinerate by Jonathan Delacour. Apparently, the US is using Napalm in Iraq, although it prefers to call it Mark 77 now. Delacour picked this story up on jill/txt, by a blogger who happens to be a hypertext theorist. The result is Delacour’s amazing post, linking hypertext and napalm in an almost Borgesian way. Delacour’s posting title alludes to this title: As We May Think, a 1945 essay by Vannevar Bush, who was Director of the US Office of Scientific Research and Development. In the introduction, this essay is described as a call “for a new relationship between thinking man and the sum of our knowledge” in the manner of “Emerson’s famous address of 1837 on ‘The American Scholar.'” Although written in a spirit of scientific optimism, it doesn’t however go as far as today’s AI theorists might. Perhaps Bush still believed that there was something organic, not artificial (and certainly not artificially “reconstructable”), about mankind. While he didn’t seem to believe (at least not in this essay) that we can create artificial intelligence as such, he did however look forward to our creating new pathways or trails for human intelligence: “[the human mind] operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature.” The human mind makes connections, in other words, which in turn makes “trails” between subjects. From this follows Bush’s next prediction: “There is a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record.” If you will, bloggers. From here on in, we get to see Jonathan Delacour make connective trails between this theorist of hypertext and napalm, for Vannevar Bush was instrumental in bringing the new discovery of napalm to the military’s attention. Delacour’s post is a garden of forking paths that leaves you wondering at every turn, at every link and every trail, “how did we get here?” Vannevar Bush knew we weren’t artificial, inorganic constructs, which is perhaps why, for years after WWII, he woke up screaming in the night. Perhaps today’s enthusiastic proponents of the inorganic mind have in store even greater horrors than napalm, atom bombs, and the proximity fuze, and know that we’ll need that artificial intelligence to sleep soundly. A follow-up reading — a book, but similar montage style — would be On the Natural History of Destruction by W.G. Sebald.


August 11, 2003 at 7:29 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Offtrack

My trackbacks really don’t work, as Pax Nortona pointed out a couple of days ago already. Wood’s Lot pointed at the fashionista (Avengers) post, and it doesn’t register. They have worked in the past, but don’t seem to do so consistently. How does trackback work and why would it work sometimes, but not at others?

Quiz: R U Contradictory?

August 11, 2003 at 3:22 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Quiz: R U Contradictory?

Doc Searls points to the World’s Smallest Political Quiz, which scored him “libertarian.” It’s rather interesting, if spooky, to be profiled on the basis of so few questions: I came out “left-liberal,” what else? They didn’t have a Rosa Luxemburg category. But I’m still going to leave that imperialist Union Jack from yesterday waving about until it scrolls off the page.

Living plainly

August 10, 2003 at 9:27 pm | In yulelogStories | 6 Comments

A few days ago I said that I didn’t know any HTML, but I’ve been studyin’ a bit. So here’s the secret revealed (click on the flag, there’s a good chap).

Stand up

August 10, 2003 at 7:47 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Stand up

Since those last two pointers to AlterNet, I can only wish millions were just reading the whole issue. But the 2 or 3 of you who drop in here should definitely take a look at Al Gore’s Setting It Right, a transcript of his speech to at NYU on Aug.7. We should be so lucky as to have Al Gore as president of the US, and for the record, I can’t stand Ralph Nader for a whole bunch of reasons, but chiefly because I blame him for the fact that Gore isn’t the president.

Ok, here’s another reason: the Patsy Stone character on AbFab once characterized someone as being so anally retentive as to be afraid of sitting down for fear of sucking up the furniture. While Al might at most manage a Duncan Phyfe chair, Ralph could manage a whole loveseat-sofa-chair-ottoman combo. Plus coffeetable.

My fashionista

August 9, 2003 at 10:09 pm | In yulelogStories | 4 Comments

Nearly a month late, but happy birthday “Mrs. Peel” (July 20, a significant date). If I could have been anyone, I would have been her in ridiculous pointy pale shoes, traipsing around London forever, and it would have been The End of History for me. But that only happens on tv. This is still one of my favourite series, and I haven’t stopped watching it because it’s so much fun. Il faut etre absolument moderne et on doit avoir les chaussures chouette. For a really good primer on Avengers fashion, see Reading between Designs by Britton and Barker.
Click on the pictures to explore other Avengers fashion sites.

Truth or dare

August 9, 2003 at 12:02 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

Thinking about those last two entries (re. Pierson & Dean) made me wish for a national — no, international — poll with the following question: What’s more important: being a winner or telling the truth?

Further questions. Is it dangerous not to be a winner (i.e., to be a loser)? Does one have to be a winner to have material security in the world? Does one die sooner if one is a loser? At what stage would you avoid telling the truth to stay a winner? In winner-oriented America, does calling someone a loser amount to talismanic dismissal and outright censorship? Have the terms become supernaturally charged with the ability to protect or damn, and has truth-telling, the foundation of the US, become another configuration, tolerated if it facilitates winning, but avoided in the face of loss? Many more questions follow, but think of the Hollywood described by Pierson: who is going to tell the truth there if it means financial ruin and getting run out of town? Is telling the truth more possible in countries with a stronger social safety net, where being a loser doesn’t raise the threat of going begging on the streets (Europe) or do truth-tellers go to jail (totalitarian states)? Does the notion that winners can’t tell the truth without risking loss of status help account for the boring sameness of US culture (movies, tv, pulp fiction), and is there greater variety of perspectives in some other countries, or not?

If truth is sacrificed to success, what’s the point of success?

Free Hollywood

August 9, 2003 at 11:14 am | In yulelogStories | 1 Comment

Frank Pierson, president of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, former president of the Writers Guild of America, West, director of A Star is Born and other movies, writer for Cat Ballou, Dog Day Afternoon, Cool Hand Luke, etc., gave the commencement address to the 2003 USC film school graduating class, and AlterNet reprinted it Up Close and Personal. Pierson starts at the beginning — he’s an old man and he reminds the class that everyone he went to school with is dead already — and pauses in the 60s and 70s, to describe this period as a Golden Age of cinema in the US. Whereupon things changed:

Then, on Wall Street, it began to be noticed that a single blockbuster movie could make in a weekend what a substantial business made in a year.

Corporate ownership and high debt forced the industry “to play to the least critical audience: Teenage boys with disposable income.”

What has happened in Hollywood has happened to us all, because the focus of international business has shifted from production to distribution. And further – whoever controls distribution shapes what is produced – to what will fit under the seat or in the overhead compartment.

(…) Watch the odd, the old, the personal, the traditional, the idiosyncratic, the family made or the regional disappear from supermarket shelves that are rented by the foot to international companies that then stock them with their own water and sugar products.

Read on and watch Pierson quote a “rancorous idealist living in London during the Industrial Revolution.” He salvages the critique, even if its prescriptions, carried out by Communist regimes, resulted in societies that were repressive and “as dull and one-size-fits-all as the one [that] globalopoly threatens to smother us with now.” But now he’s on a roll, asking the USC class for nothing less than their imaginations:

Somehow we need to keep alive in our hearts the vision of community, shared interests and understanding of our neighbors’ needs, the sense of connection this fractionated society is losing.
We need to recapture the spirit of Main Street. Up close.

And personal.
That is both your challenge – and your opportunity.
Godspeed and good luck.
We count on you.

It’s a rousing call to rally and show some backbone, in the mode of JFK, by a guy who’s been around for a long, long time: Ask not what your cinema/culture/independent production can do for you, but what you can do for your culture. Hooray for old men like that.

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