I’m laid low with a bad case of food poisoning (Chinese takeout). My goals for today are modest: spend most of my time dozing in the comforting embrace of painkillers, and maybe have a bowl of soup. Regular programming will resume when I return to the land of the living.
To revisit an earlier point: Few things provide an undesirable comic effect in an otherwise serious post like the odd practice of refusing to type out FUCK or SHIT in their entirety. Unless you’re concerned that a four year-old might be reading your blog, why bother replacing letters with punctuation marks? We’ve all known these words since we were six years old, haven’t we? (Although, one instance I saw of replacing the U with a V gave FVCK an interesting Roman flavor. Still, when discussing topics like violence and anger, you might want to carefully consider whether you’re trying to make your reader laugh.)
I had already resigned myself to reading plenty of achingly stupid shit about the Giffords shooting, but it’s going to be hard to top this from Jack Shafer:
Any call to cool “inflammatory” speech is a call to police all speech, and I can’t think of anybody in government, politics, business, or the press that I would trust with that power. As Jonathan Rauch wrote brilliantly in Harper’s in 1995, “The vocabulary of hate is potentially as rich as your dictionary, and all you do by banning language used by cretins is to let them decide what the rest of us may say.” Rauch added, “Trap the racists and anti-Semites, and you lay a trap for me too. Hunt for them with eradication in your mind, and you have brought dissent itself within your sights.”Our spirited political discourse, complete with name-calling, vilification—and, yes, violent imagery—is a good thing. Better that angry people unload their fury in public than let it fester and turn septic in private. The wicked direction the American debate often takes is not a sign of danger but of freedom. And I’ll punch out the lights of anybody who tries to take it away from me.
Hello, what’s this? A link to a post on “techno-spirituality”? Well, that sounds potentially interesting — does it have something to do with online cults? Kurzweil-style babbling about “spiritual machines” and immortality through science? Modern-day whirling dervishes who dance themselves into mystical ecstasy to the accompaniment of programmed beats and synthesizers? Aw, it’s just a guide to taking five minutes out of the day to practice breathing.
Spirituality — that ability to stay calm, focused and compassionate in a constant sea of change — is therefore more important than ever.
Am I the only one who thinks it’s extremely odd that we are sending “Homeland Security” agents to Afghanistan? Don’t we have a military that’s tasked with these sorts of chores? And if it’s just a “loan” of certain specialists, why is Janet Napolitano making the announcement instead of the proper foreign service or military spokesperson? Afghanistan isn’t in her portfolio — at least I didn’t think it was. I thought we were going to keep the new Homeland Security forces here in the … homeland.That’s all rhetorical, of course, since it’s been obvious for decades that many of our allegedly “domestic” agencies like the DEA and the ATF are really para-military organizations which are deployed all over the world. But it looks as though we aren’t even going to pretend anymore that there’s a separation between the two. And that means that we have created yet another sacred police/military budget item that will be nearly impossible to scale back.
What has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of our society than with the language we use to justify severe inequality. In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as justification for discrimination, exclusion, or social contempt. Rather, we use our criminal-justice system to associate criminality with people of color and then engage in the prejudiced practices we supposedly left behind. Today, it is legal to discriminate against ex-offenders in ways it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, depending on the state you’re in, the old forms of discrimination — employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, and exclusion from jury service — are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights and arguably less respect than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.…What caused the unprecedented explosion in our prison population? It turns out that the activists who posted the sign on the telephone pole were right: The “war on drugs” is the single greatest contributor to mass incarceration in the United States. Drug convictions accounted for about two-thirds of the increase in the federal prison system and more than half of the increase in the state prison system between 1985 and 2000 — the period of the U.S. penal system’s most dramatic expansion.
Wertheim pointed out that cyberspace had become a new kind of place, where alternate (or at least carefully curated or burnished) identities could be forged, new forms of collectivity and connection explored, all outside the familiar boundaries of the physical world, like the body and geography. It’s not such a long journey to follow those assertions to the “view that man is defined not by the atoms of his body but by an information code,” as Wertheim wrote. “This is the belief that our essence lies not in our matter but in a pattern of data.” She called this idea the “cybersoul,” a “posited immortal self, this thing that can supposedly live on in the digital domain after our bodies die.”…Wertheim, it should be noted, saw the cybersoul notion as both flawed and troubling, and I would agree. Life’s essence reduced to captured data is an uninspiring, and unconvincing, resolution to the centuries-old question of where, in mind and in body, the self resides. At least other imagined versions of immortality (from the Christian heaven to the Hindu wheel of life) suggested a reconciliation, or at least a connection, with the manner in which a physical life is lived; the cybersoul’s theoretically eternal and perfect persistence ignores this concept. Most of all, though, fantasizing about living forever — in heaven or in a preserved pattern of data — strikes me as just another way of avoiding any honest confrontation with the fact of death.
And once againYou’ll pretend to know thatThat there’s an endThat there’s an end to this beginIt will help you sleep at nightIt will make it seem that right is always right– Smashing Pumpkins
The idea of dead scientists engaging in an experiment in eugenics is incredible enough. Yet the most striking feature in this episode – only fully revealed more than 100 years after the scripts began to appear – is the power that is ascribed to science itself. While spiritualism evolved into a popular religion, complete with a heavenly “Summerland” where the dead lived free from care and sorrow, the intellectual elite of psychical researchers thought of their quest as a rigorously scientific inquiry. But if these Victorian seekers turned to science, it was to look for an exit from the world that science had revealed. Darwinism had disclosed a purposeless universe without human meaning; but purpose and meaning could be restored, if only science could show that the human mind carried on evolving after the death of the body. All of these seekers had abandoned any belief in traditional religion. Still, the human need for a meaning in life that religion once satisfied could not be denied, and fuelled the faith that scientific investigation would show that the human story continues after death. In effect, science was used against science, and became a channel for belief in magic.Much of what the psychical researchers viewed as science we would now call pseudo science. But the boundaries of scientific knowledge are smudged and shifting, and seem clear only in hindsight. There is no pristine science untouched by the vagaries of faith. The psychical researchers used science not only to deal with private anguish but also to bolster their weakening belief in progress. Especially after the catastrophe of the first world war, the gradual improvement that most people expected would continue indefinitely appeared to be faltering. What had been achieved in the past seemed to be falling away. If the scripts were to be believed, however, there was no cause for anxiety or despair. The world might be sliding into anarchy, but progress continued on the other side.Many of the psychical researchers believed they were doing no more than show that evolution continues in a post-mortem world. Like many others, then and now, they confused two wholly different things. Progress assumes some goal or direction. But evolution has neither of these attributes, and if natural selection continued in another world it would feature the same random death and wasted lives we find here below.…The fantasies that possessed the psychical researchers and the god-builders still have us in their grip today. Freezing our bodies or uploading our minds into a supercomputer will not deliver us from ourselves. Wars and revolutions will disturb our frozen remains, while death will stalk us in cyberspace – also a realm of mortal conflict. Science enlarges what humans can do. It cannot reprieve them from being what they are.
Speaking of Arthur, it was his birthday the other day, so I sent him a link to this interview with the author of a book on Bach’s cello suites. He’s been a DJ for a classical music program on a local independent radio station before, and he’s forgotten more about classical music than you and I will ever know, so it’s always interesting to hear what he has to say:
Yes, Bach is the only artist who makes a convincing case, to me, for the existence of God, or for the mind of God, which would have to have the qualities of a Bach fugue, infinitely complex and at the same time incredibly clear and perspicuous. Someone in a book on the Well-Tempered Clavier made the point that you never hear the same Bach fugue twice; there are too many paths through the music. On the other hand, any path will do. Unlike the contrapuntal forays of his contemporaries, Buxtehude or Pachelbel, for example, Bach’s fugues never seem merely to noodle. There is always a crystal clear theme or variation (subject or episode, in fugue-speak) guiding the ear through the complexity. And yet the complexity and inventiveness is such that the ear can’t grasp it all at once in any single hearing, and so, far from experiencing satiety, the ear hungers for a re-hearing. Thus the infinite and the finite, the abstract and the concrete, the whole and the detail, exist in harmonious but dynamic simultaneity in his music, as in a perfect aesthetic world, a Heaven of the musical imagination.
The headline – whether page title or link text – should tell people exactly what’s in the article, they say, so that people will know what’s in your article before they even read it. There’s certainly justification for this approach. In tech writing, for instance, it just makes sense. If your article explains how to repair your mobile phone in the field, it’s clearly better to entitle it something like “Fixing Your Mobile Phone On The Road” rather than “When ET Can’t Phone Home” or “The SIM Sins” or “Lost Verizon.”
But not everyone who posts writing on the web is doing so for the benefit of web visitors. Some of us are more interested in readers. Eyeballs are one thing. Eyeballs hooked up to a functioning cerebrum is an altogether different, better thing. It’s a simple concept that seems surprisingly hard for some experts to grasp: there is more than one kind of writing on the web. There are news alerts. There are How To shorts. There is poetry. There are aimless diary entries. There are screed. There are plays, short stories, rants, recipes, verbal fusillades meant to inflame, prose meant to enlighten, verse meant to perplex. Try to make rules about structure and tempo and tone for any writing that appears on paper, and you’ll be laughed out of the one remaining independent bookstore in your county. The Web isn’t a genre. It’s a medium. The Web is paper, only faster and with a higher carbon footprint. Tech pundits and journalism pundits seem slowest to grasp this general point, for some reason, but the vast majority of writing on the web is neither tech writing nor journalism. It’s essay, memoir, epistolary writing – literature. Not all of it’s good literature, mind. But literature.