Monday, February 28, 2005

Not quite Nerdotopian, but close enough.

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The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls

The Sound of Silence
Paul Simon

Hello darkness, my old friend,
I've come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.
In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone,
'Neath the halo of a street lamp,
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence.

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dare
Disturb the sound of silence.

"Fools" said I, "You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you,
Take my arms that I might reach you."
But my words like silent raindrops fell,
And echoed
In the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning,
In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, "The words of the prophets
are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls."
And whisper'd in the sounds of silence.

Paul Simon wrote those words in 1964, and I was humming the tune on my way to work. It was used in the soundtrack of the 1965 film The Graduate starring Dustin Hoffman, where presumably, it talked about alienation of the kind Hoffman's character felt in the movie. When I started thinking about the lyrics, it dawned on me that Paul Simon might have had a vision of...the World-Wide Web.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Dr. Livingstone, I presume? =CHOMP!=

Dr. Livingstone recounted his encounter with the wrong end of a lion in Africa in 1844 (from Travels and Researches in South Africa by Dr. David Livingstone):
Starting, and looking half round, I saw the lion just in the act of springing upon me. I was upon a little height; he caught my shoulder as he sprang, and we both came to the ground below together. Growling horribly close to my ear, he shook me as a terrier dog does a rat.

A horrific run-in as one would imagine. Jaws clamped on flesh, shaken 'like a Polaroid picture,' one imagines what unspeakable pain the good doctor must have felt. A lion's jaws can generate up to 950 pounds of pressure per square inch, and at the point of those carnivore teeth, the pain must have been excruciating. Couple that with the lion's box-cutter claws, 5 on each front paw, it'd be like being crammed into a wood-chipper, right?

Not quite. Dr. Livingstone continues:
The shock produced a stupor similar to that which seems to be felt by a mouse after the first shake of the cat. It caused a sort of dreaminess, in which there was no sense of pain nor feeling of terror, though quite conscious of all that was happening. It was like what patients partially under the influence of chloroform describe, who see all the operation, but feel not the knife. This singular condition was not the result of any mental process. The shake annihilated fear, and allowed no sense of horror in looking round at the beast. This peculiar state is probably produced in all animals killed by the carnivora; and if so, is a merciful provision by our benevolent Creator for lessening the pain of death.

Dr. Livingstone, devout man that he is, attributed this almost blissful near-death state to the Creator's design. And it is quite comforting. On the Discovery channel and the National Geographic channel, you see footage after footage of lions, leopards, and cheetah running down prey, hooking them with claws, and clamping their vise-like jaws on the poor creature's windpipe, throttling it. One imagines what horrors the poor creature feels as 900 pounds of pressure crush the life out of it. Hyenas and African Wild Dogs don't even bother to strangle their prey first. They disembowel it, fastening their claws on the prey's belly and groin and pulling and yanking til the animal is brought down, then proceeds to eat while the prey is still alive and fully conscious while its innards are being devoured, til it succumbs later to massive bleeding and damage to its vitals. Dr. Livingstone's account is a consolation, albeit small, that the prey animal feels no pain. In fact, it is quite possible that the animal finds the ordeal blissful; an out-of-body experience that frees it from all worries and pains of staying alive in an earth-bound existence.

Which brings us to pain. Pain is good. Pain tells you youre not going anywhere. Pain tells you youll survive. Whenever you can still feel pain--any pain--it means youll live. Love-hurts may be the most painful hurts of all but try welcoming it. Try feeling it in all its, for want of a better term, glory, and youll find yourself strangely alive. Being able to feel something so deeply is a gift. Maybe Agent Smith was right. Humans as a species are defined by misery. Or maybe he got it half right. I think humans are defined by their ability to rise above misery. To plod on even on the faintest of hopes. Not rising above misery only makes one sub-human.

Not feeling misery, not feeling pain, at all, is not a good sign. It means that soon youll be dead. And there are different kinds of dead, the worst of which is being dead while still alive.

Thursday, February 24, 2005


Ive never met a poet. I mean a real poet. Or somebody who aspires to the life of a poet. I imagine a poet as a dour sort of chap. He has to be. He's someone who, as a matter of course, lives in a different plane from the rest of us. And he's this way because of frustration with our plane. A poet's life is one of frustration. He chooses a living by communicating, or attempting to communicate, the incommunicable. He doesnt have the tools to do so except words. And words are ill-equipped to handle the job. Think of painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with a ballpoint pen. He strains and cranes. He pleads and cajoles and threatens the words to do his bidding: Paradox, parable, and allegory. Personification, anthropomorphism, and zoomorphism. Metonymy, synedoche, merism, and hendiadys. Simile, metaphor, and a partridge in a pear tree. Blood from stone, it just doesnt happen. The poet slinks away in defeat. Heroically he tries again, hoping against hope that one day, magically, humanity would evolve in such a way that they would discern meaning beyond the words, but knowing deep down in their heart of hearts that the odds are against it. But they hope. Hope springs in the poet's heart like a spring in a desert oasis, watering his soul, giving him strength. He plods on in his fool's errand, knowing he can't win. But he has his words. They'll live on. That's what the poet is counting on. And that is enough.

I've never met a poet.

It's in the cards

Somebody please take away this damn Solitaire.exe away from me! Im addicted!

I tried deleting it... TWICE... Saw the damn exe file in the Recycle bin with my own two eyes, hit Delete, clicked Yes to the confirmation message, and saw it flushed down the cybertoilet...but it's still here!

It's mindless. A complete waste of time. It asks for no commitment in time and energy from me for I can take it or leave it. Click, click, click. Im not even trying to win. Hit Deal and let the cards fall where they may. Click-flip, click-flip, click-flip. I come to a dead end, fine. I win, fine. Makes no diference. Click-flip, click-flip. My mind shuts down. Im somewhere else. Click-flip.

I like it. Take it away from me.

Nerdotopia 2

Carnap said metaphysics, like all literature, can't be right or wrong. It can only be good or bad. But here is where it gets fuzzy: Art itself has gone beyond good and bad, and has moved into the realm of Art and Not-Art, where Art has taken the place of 'good' and everything else is Not-Art.

What is Art? It is whetever the cabal known as The Art World says it is. The Art World is that network of gallery owners, art professors, and patrons who controls the tastes and opinions of the rest of us. A work can be so downright ugly to those outside the inner circle, but could get The Art World's imprimatur, baffling us outsiders, and that's the way they like it.

The only rule seems to be: Art has to have a family resemblance to what the cabal has already declared to be Art. You cannot be so out there, so avant-garde, that you lose all connection to what has already been sanctified.

There are times when an artist attempts to break free, attempts to work outside the cabal, and does his own thing. This poor, misguided creature could get a following in the world of Underground Art. He can achieve that by being so obsessed, so prolific, so addicted to the work, that the patrons on the fringe realize that he isnt going away. Eventually, gradually, the denizens of the Underground begin to replace the entrenched cabal, as they always do, sometimes with a struggle, but sometimes with nary a belch of protest. Our artist then begins to be recognized, hailed as a pioneer, declared to be ahead of his time; the new Art World beating its breasts in apology for having neglected him for so long. If our artist is lucky, he'd still be alive by the time all this happens.

Take a gander.. better yet, take the goose, too. Nerdotopia!

After reading Mr. Big by Woody Allen this morning (it's in his book Getting Even), I realized Rudolf Carnap was right. Metaphysics really belongs to literature. It is art, not sciencd. You could get creative with it. The only difference is that you could choose to live your life based on it. You could rearrange your personal reality based on the metaphysics you, or anybody else, just created. And a lot of people do. They say 'Im an Existentialist" the same way someone else might say "Im Catholic." It's the only art piece where you could do that. Try basing your reality on Munch's The Scream and see where it gets you.


I cant help but notice how some ancient tribal rituals have a lot in common with rave parties: driving, repetitive rhythms, gyrations... and mind-altering drugs.

The forerunners of the rave parties were the so-called Acid Tests; those LSD-25 influenced parties run by Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters chronicled by Tom Wolfe in the book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Today, the parties run on Ecstasy and electronica instead of LSD and psychedelia, but it's basically the same thing. And on the surface, one would be hard-pressed to spot the difference between a rave party and a Brazilian umbanda ritual, or an American Indian vision quest ritual. If you didnt take into account the designer outfits and the heavy use of power amps.

But there is a huge difference. In the ancient rituals, the participants are trying to connect with something: the earth spirits, the gods, whatever--something beyond oneself. All the rave participants want to connect with is whatever makes them feel good. The lights and the music all serve the narcissictic purpose of hightening whatever theyre experiencing for its own sake.

LSD was synthesized from the naturally-occuring substance in the sacred peyote mushroom used by the Native Americans in their vison quest rituals. The gift of the earth spirits have been stolen by technicians in labcoats to be used in treating mental illness and even mind-control experiments, and make a tidy profit in the process. What was once a direct line to the gods is now just another chemical in a beaker. Anybody who wants to can access the visions that were once restricted only to the worthy. With LSD and Ecstasy, one can now connect... to what? The god theyre connecting to is dead. What's left is its festering remains.

Post numero uno. Hola, peregrino. Bienvenido.

Probemos esta cosa.

A sea otter's life in a land-locked glen. Which way to the sea?, I ask thee. My home beckons. The sound of the waves on the surf, they carry me. Alas, 'tis but a dream. The sea is naught, and I am adrift. 'O wretched man that I am!' Who shall rescue me from this body of death?'

My brain on the web...

I thought this might be a good exercise. Nothing scares me more than a blank page I have to fill.. and Im supposed to do this for a living. Of late Ive found a way to handle that fear. And that is by procrastinating. Enough! Discipline is what I need. I hereby resolve--with the help of the muses Calliope, Clio, Erato, Moe, Larry, and Curly--to confront my fears and put pen to paper, so to speak, and start a web log to record my musings, fusings, perusings, abusings, and whathaveyousings. For me. Not for posterity. That is too much to ask from a website in a world where the next dotcom bust is always upon us.

Now then, my first post. Parables is what you should take all subsequent posts as. ("Yoda? Is that you?" No! He's in the next blog. Leave me alone.) Parables, so seeing you may see, and perceive not; and hearing, you may hear, and understand not. Ive got people to protect; mostly me. So onward!