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Seriously considering:
Thursday, March 29, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Whose idea was it to instantiate us in these complicated devices of meat and bone, anyway? I mean, they're really lovely hacks in a lot of ways, but I'd rather have one in my museum than be embodied in one, if you know what I mean.

Which is to say, I have my usual cold. Sore throat, stuffy nose, fever, and really memorable (except that I can't remember them) dreams. Yesterday's work of staggering comic genius was probably at least in part the result of brain temperatures slightly above nominal.

Speaking of irony, Barry Perlman's "Today's Quote" list carried the other day this nice summary from Art Spiegelman (the "Maus" guy). He's talking about Mad Magazine:

"The irony in Mad was a useful device to screen and protect oneself from a deadening mass culture. Now the deadening mass culture uses the weapons of satire and irony to immobilize us. We live inside the ironic spin room watching ourselves get shafted by our politicians, who use the same techniques once effective as a distancing device. They make us feel we are in on the joke, but in the end they are laughing at us. After all, Alfred E. Neuman has become president."

See also the Irony Thread.

We now get four magazines that we never actually subscribed to: we get the Atlantic Monthly because Civilization folded (sniff!) and our subscription was automatically switched over; we get "Book" because it apparently came with our Barnes and Noble discount card (although we didn't know it when we signed up); and we get "Newsweek" and "Yahoo Internet Life" for reasons that none of us can recall.

Does this actually mean something? Is the Web making the print journals nervous, so they're giving away copies in hopes of attracting subscribers?

A reader writes:

I see on the ACLU site that Cato has also come out against Bush's gov't-funded religion plan. Telling. That Cato is willing to denounce an attack on liberty from "the right" while ACLU sits on its hands (or helps the wrong side) on issues like rent control, private property, union dues, etc. explains why I am a Right-Libertarian. All lovers of liberty speak out against theocracy. Only some speak out against socialism.

I don't really see the same asymmetry that you do. Some people on the left who (claim to) love liberty (e.g. the ACLU) are in favor of government intervention that a "pure" libertarian would object to (e.g. rent control). Some people on the right who (claim to) love liberty (e.g. John Ashcroft) are in favor of government intervention that a "pure" libertarian would object to (e.g. the Defense of Marriage Act, the CDA).

No one in the political mainstream would admit to a fondness for either theocracy or socialism. But Pappy Bush has said that he doesn't think that atheists can be patriots, or belong in government. The Republican party wants to use Federal law to impose its religious beliefs about marriage and obscenity on me. Tell me that's not creeping theocracy just as much as rent control and confiscatory taxation are creeping socialism.

If you really think that the political Right in the U.S. is any fonder of liberty than the political Left, I think you're fooling yourself. They differ in the kinds of libery that they value, or that they're willing to allow, but both of them are willing (even eager) to seriously constrain the other kinds.

To end on a somewhat lighter note, a reader writes:

All the little bleemies, stacked in a row;
all the little bleemies, dressed up for show.
When the show is opened, the bleems begin to sing.
Isn't that a pretty bleem to set before a ding?

Where's that box of Kleenex?

Wednesday, March 28, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Meme Patrol

"Boys and girls, we have a Stage Two!"

"I knew it was too quiet."

"What's the chronology?"

"On a couple of fan sites two weeks back, scattered Usenet references since then, mentioned on Metafilter three hours ago, and just showed up on Memepool. We've logged six, no seven, variants."

"Sounds live!"

"I'll alert the weblogs; what's the content?"

"Images of Britney Spears, with George Bush's head Photoshopped on, and a word-balloon with a mangled version of an old Abba lyric."

"That's horrible!"

"A pornographic version just appeared on the Stile Project."

"No surprises there."

"That's variant number nine now."

"Is anyone setting up 'Am I Britney Spears with George Bush's head misquoting Abba or Not dot com'?"

"I'm on it."

"What's the on-deck comic?"

"Ummm, looks like, yeah: 'Family Circus'."

"That's going to be a challenge."

"Old Abba lyrics; my God!"

"Come on..."

"No, I'm serious! Kids this month have no imagination."

"Oh, yeah, like 'Star Wars dialogue with all the nouns replaced with the word "pants"' was real creative genius!"

"Hey, that was great!"

"All your pants are --"

"Enough chatter there! This sucker is now Stage Four!"



"That demographic again?"

"I'll call Akamai."

"Looks like a long night, folks, but you know what you are doing."

"Take off every pants!"

"For great justice."

Tuesday, March 27, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Various readers write on the general topic of modern feminism:

[c] the women you see on tv are so far removed from what real women look like nowadays, that it's like watching NYPD Blue and asking questions about cops. xo, one seriously bad and no-miniskirt-wearing woman [and yes, they're sell-outs]

The interesting questions about cops in the context of NYPD Blue, or about women in the context of exposed skin at the Oscars, are about perception and self-perception. Does seeing those women doing that, dressed like that, empower or oppress? Or both? Real women aren't like that; what do we make of that difference, of the details of the tension between reality and cultural icon?

re the women at the oscars: welcome to 3rd wave feminism! i hope the little daughter never grows up to be like that.

Yeah, well! That's part of the reason I think about this stuff. Who was it who said of young girls and their spirit, "you all die at fifteen"? I don't want that to happen to her. Julie Roberts doesn't seem to have lost her spirit. But is she part of a system that doesn't treat her, or large numbers of her compeers, as well as it should?

Issues of true and false consciousness and co-optation are so complex! If the prevailing cultural idea of women is subservient and dependant, it's real easy to target your advertising: offer products to please the masters. If the culture starts to imagine women as independant and intrinsically valued, it's a little harder; but only a little. Subservience and dependency co-opted by advertisers is perfectly straightforward. But when freedom and strength are co-opted by advertisers, odd things happen. What's the status of someone who defines herself as free and strong partly because she uses certain brands and looks a certain way?

(Here's a Third-Wave Feminism site that both considers and poses some of these questions.)

Another reader writes:

Silly boy. Women dress in provocative clothing because of the mind-control lasers. Or did you forget?

There are no mind-control lasers. Mind-control lasers are a myth. Do not listen to anyone who talks about mind-control lasers. There are no mind-control lasers.

Red order. Standard volume. Circularity zero.

That certainly clears things up...

Meme patrol: Is nothing sacred?

Cheney HeartWatch.

"Government-funded Religion: what you should know", from the good old ACLU.

And finally, from Steve, the very cool Invisible Library, bibliography and links on fictional books (not books of fiction, but books that don't actually exist; you know).

Monday, March 26, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

He drew a deep breath. "Well, I'm back," he said.

I'd forgotten how rich and detailed the appendices to The Lord of the Rings are: 150 pages of histories, geneologies, lists and tables and indicies, references and cross-references. They show an amazing devotion to this fictional world, and a great familiarity with the practice of real historical scholarship.

They're also incredibly dull! Someone wake me when it's over!!

I do want to read them, though, slow-going as it is. I have this thing, sporadically, about getting out of a work roughly the experience that the author intended me to get. So I'm going slowly through it, and when my brain gets too numb I'm playing through DOOM II on this new laptop that work's lent me. The program works fine under Win2K, although I haven't found a sound setting that works other than "no music, PC Speaker fx".

Which reminds me in turn that I really ought to post the update to Slige that includes the source mods so it'll compile for SPARC. So many things to do!

The little daughter was reading the back of a box of hot chocolate mix (a girl after my own heart) and she found the following phrase:

Nothing helps magical moments become a little more special than Carnation Hot Cocoa.

She noticed that it made no sense at all, and she showed it to me. Have fun trying to parse it so it says anything they'd actually want to say on the back of the box! *8) Actually it's just missing a "more", or the "than" should be a "like". Still, it says something about the Sad State of Literacy in This Country.

So I watched a few minutes of the Oscars last night; I like seeing healthy intelligent people showing off their secondary sexual characteristics as much as the next primate. I'm kinda puzzled, though.

Years ago, there was this "Women's Liberation" movement, and there were these women who wore comfortable clothes and didn't shave their legs and burned their bras and generally tried to avoid acting the "sex toy of the patriarchy" role. These women seem to have essentially vanished, from popular culture if not from the actual world, and even the most competent and successful and powerful women on TV seem to be aiming at a look somewhere between "Movie Star Barbie" and "Debbie Does Dallas". Female interviewers wear microskirts, and Julia Roberts gets Best Actress for a role played in a push-up bra that (as far as I know) did nothing to advance the narrative. What's happened here?

Presented by Chevrolet Malibu

Is it [a] that these women have sold out, and for a share of fame and wealth they've gone back to dressing as, treating themselves as, sex toys of the patriarchy? Or [b] that these women are empowered by their physicality, comfortable and in charge of themselves and the sexual aspects of their natures, and dress just as they please, and "just as they please" happens to be (by wild coincidence or biological predestination) pretty much identical to "sex-toy of the patriarchy"? Or something else?

I liked the March 17th entry so much that I've given it its own page: The Coder's Tale. Silly, I know. *8)

From The Daily Illuminator at Steve Jackson Games, an interesting Salon piece on the past and future of a gaming company: "Death to the Minotaur: How Wizards of the Coast sacrificed its geeky, Gothic, sex-for-all idealism for Pokémon-size profits and Magic moola".

We wanted families, hipsters, political prisoners, heads of state and space aliens to all play our games, as often as they could, and bring about a smarter world where people talked to each other more often. About goblins.

From Apathy, our Anti-Catholic Rant of the Day, "The Lies And Fallacies Of The Encyclopedia Britanica: How Powerful And Shameless Clerical Forces Castrated A Famous Work Of Reference".

Hookers.com: How e-commerce is transforming the oldest profession.

In the business world, this is called "disintermediation" or, colloquially, "cutting out the middleman." Somewhere between Alex and his girls, the traditional roles of the pimp and madam have disappeared. There is no violent control of the women, and they don't have to fork over most of their profits. The physical security that the traditional pimp used to provide to his girls has been replaced by the physical security provided by high-end hotels, the traceability of e-mail, and by the generally less violence-prone clients to be found toward the top of the economy. Neither Veronica nor Anne Marie has ever been ripped off or hurt by a client.

Have you ever taken a sip of what you thought was one thing (chocolate milk, say) when it was really something else (orange juice, say), and it tasted incredibly strange? An expectation thing, of course, but instructive. (M says this has never happened to her; this is because she is at all times aware of the external world. Must be a useful skill!)

Friday, March 23, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

A reader writes:

Commenting on your March 19 entry about the human voice: I was at a workshop on Shakespeare some years back, where the Shakespearean scholar John Barton was among the teachers. He was very interested in hearing Shakespeare spoken in our own language(s) (most of us were Danish), not because he understood it, but because he was inspired by hearing the words he knew so well spoken in other languages. Maybe he was looking for the common melody, maybe he listened to the emotions, maybe he was fascinated by the global nature of the experience of Shakespeare. It was anyway inspiring in itself to witness what inspired him!

Extremely cool! If anyone can find me streaming audio of people reading Shakespeare in Danish on the Net, I'll be extremely grateful.

Another reader, believing he has cracked our code, writes:

Re: Orbach article. When you say "why I reamin at bottom a pinko" what you mean is "Freedom for ME is great. If others are going to choose crass materialism, though, I'm having second thoughts about freedom for THEM." What an abominable notion. Being in favor of freedom to do those things we agree with is easy. It is when you can grant others the freedom to do things you hate that is hard.

If I may say so without offense (for I really am grateful for this reader's input), this reminds me of one of the reasons that the Libertarians have done so poorly as a political party. Some ordinary person will comment that he thinks toad sucking is sort of gross, and smoke will immediately begin to pour from the Libertarian's ears.

"You statist jerk!" he will exclaim. "Liberty is great for you, but when somebody else wants to do something you don't like, you want to clap them in irons! You'd have legions of jack-booted thugs breaking down people's doors, and taking innocent toad-suckers off to be thrown into iron boxes with spikes on the inside!! Well, LISTEN UP, MR. STALIN!!! The only way your government goons will take the toads away from the FREEDOM-LOVING TOAD-SUCKERS OF THIS GREAT COUNTRY is if THEY PRY THEM FROM OUR COLD DEAD FINGERS!!!!!"

The ordinary person shakes his head, and mutters "I only said I think it's kind of gross", and walks off, convinced that libertarians are fruitcakes.

And the sad thing (or a sad thing) about it all is that the ranting libertarian actually has some justification for his reaction. All too often, people do want to (and even manage to) get their own personal preferences enacted into law. Uncomfortable with the human body in a non-reverent setting? Ban nude club dancing! Offended by certain opinions? Enact a campus speech code that forbids expressing them! Think the companies in your industry should cooperate on an advertising campaign? Get the government to collect mandatory fees for you! So it's not entirely irrational to suspect that when someone says they don't like something, they may mean that it ought to be illegal.

But that's not true in this case. I'm a libertarian (and even a Libertarian) myself, and I think that as long as it doesn't involve force or fraud people should be able to do what they want, even if it's crass materialism or something really bad like Marxist literary criticism or reruns of "Three's Company". When I say I'm a pinko tree-hugger, I mean that I'm a left libertarian, in roughly the Hagbardian sense: I think that in a society where the government properly kept its nose out of places it doesn't belong, people would (or should, or could) co-operate more than compete, use metaphors of community and growth more than marketplaces and war, and work with the Earth rather than against Her. Forced to choose, I prefer socialism to theocracy, and when there's no third alternative I tend to vote for Democrats rather than Republicans.

Left libertarians don't get much respect. The traditional left considers us Dupes of Big Business, while rightwing Libertarians (who are for whatever reason more numerous, or at least more vocal) suspect us of crypto-Statism. But we persevere, pale and lovely in our martyrdom, our long hair flowing behind us in the wind as we walk gracefully beside the romantic dark waters of woe. *8)

Joel on Software has a nice contemplative piece on the fate of ArsDigita and the (partial?) departure of very smart person Philip Greenspun. One of those rare bits of Industry News that's actually worth reading...

I'm swimming in a sea of useful-looking pointers gleaned from the latest Agent News and the latest Red Rock Eaters pointers. I recommend scanning both of those for good stuff, and I apologize for not having already culled them for you. *8)

The bizarrely-named site of the county government here, westchestergov.com, has an article about and the text of a new bill banning the use of cellphones while driving unless you're using a "hands-free device" (can't bring myself to write that without the quotes; dunno why). I'm not convinced that this is terribly wise legislation; do we know that people who talk on the phone while driving are more dangerous because of their hands, rather than their minds?

Congress Adds 'All Your Base Are Belong To Us' Amendment To Bankruptcy Bill. Indeed.


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