Archive for October, 2004

OBLIGATORY POLITICS POST

Saturday, October 30th, 2004

If you’re like me, you’ve probably been wondering why so many people in the U.S. support George W. Bush, who is objectively the worst president in the history of America and maybe even the history of the world.

“Who are these people?” you’re wondering. Do they have brain damage? Has their greymatter been liquified by shitty American beer?

The answer, as all answers given by dualism-rejecting liberals such as myself, is: “yes and no.” Obviously they are very ignorant and/or greedy; that is undeniable. But less commonly understood are the religious motivations of his support-base.

I recently watched George W. Bush – With God On Our Side, a documentary about the religious right movement in American politics. It’s an interesting and intelligent documentary, even though it’s reported from the perspective of the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell, and other terrifying, punk-rock inspiring monstrosities. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to understand where support for this president is coming from — you can download it from ShunTV.net (my #1 source for Daily Show torrents).

What I learned from this documentary is that George W. Bush is regarded by his religious supporters as playing a key part in a barroque theological narrative of Personified Absolute Good vs. Personified Absolute Evil, which will culminate (in the near future) in a decisive Armaggedon battle. This perspective exerts a powerful hold over the imagination and has deep roots in culture. No amount of Lakoffian piddling around with Frames is going to put a dent in it. The only relevant fact is that Bush is a member of this fellowship and supports their causes. As long as he endorses the social policies the family-values fundamentalists, he’s their man.

James Robison, Evangelist, says “Mr Lincoln said we might very well self-destruct, and you don’t have to look very long to see the signs of it today. After all, if we can just get more of our men to have sex with more men we wont have to worry about babies being born. If we can just get more women to get out there in the market place and start acting like men, and if we can just get other women to look at motherhood as if it’s some dread terminal illness, if we can just get society so drunk and so drugged if ever anybody does get pregnant we can abort the baby!”

I know he’s being sarcastic, but that sounds pretty awesome to me.

These are people who stridently believe that the only solution to the world’s problems is for everyone to worship Jesus, and they are willing to take political action towards that end. These are the lovely folks who dumped Jimmy Carter, the first Baptist president, because he endorsed the Equality for Women Act, something they regarded as being harmful to the family. These people elected Nixon and Reagan; they are a serious political force and Bush is their boy.

Here’s a surprisingly honest and insightful quote from Ed Dobson, current leader of the Moral Majority, about the political awakening of the movement during the first Reagan administration:

“You can choose to be an advisor or a prophet. If you choose to be a prophet, then you don’t have a lot of influence on the political reality, but you are always free to speak what you believe to be the truth for the current historical moment. Or you can be an advisor, with a sense of truth, a sense of value, but your objective is simply to influence the process. And I think the Moral Majority moved from a prophetic role into a more adviory role, and lost some of it’s ability to speak even against the administration it was for.”

* * *

So it turns out that I kinda agree with what Osama Bin Laden has to say. What a crazy world!

In a democracy, the citizenry assumes some portion of moral responsibility for the actions of it’s government, in a way in which citizens are not culpable for the actions of a dictator. If you agree with this, then it seems like the American military killing civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan is even less justified than Al Qaeda killing American civilians.

To reach this conclusion, you also have to believe that Bin Laden’s charges are both historically true and ongoing, in the sense that the American people could concievably have sought democratic remedies against the administrators directly responsible for these decisions. In theory, this seems ok, even though no one finds it concievable that the U.S. system will elect a government more sympathetic to the Arab world than Israel.

I like how he’s obviously seen Farenheit 9/11, and makes a ‘My Pet Goat’ joke. Who knew Osama was an islamofascist mass-murderer AND a comedian! (I wonder if he downloaded F9/11 from the Internet, like I did. Maybe I shared a torrent with terrorism, wow!)

* * *

For the record, I predict a landslide victory for Kerry on Tuesday.

I BLOG, YOU BLOG, WEBLOG

Wednesday, October 27th, 2004

I’m working on a fiction blog (a flog?) and I have a moral quandary I’d like everyone’s advice on:

Do you think it’s overly deceptive to write a purely fictional blog without announcing it as fiction?

I’m of two minds about this.

I think it’s generally bad to misrepresent fiction as fact, and I can understand readers feeling abused by this sort of stealth-fiction. With diary-style print fiction (eg. Adrian Mole), this problem never really arises — the location within the bookstore is an obvious tell, but one which doesn’t ruin the suspension of disbelief. For better or worse, there’s a default assumption of factuality with weblogs and it seems manipulative to ride these assumptions. I feel like a work of fiction should stand on it’s own terms.

But part of my reason for using the weblog format is to create, (or at least allow for), an interaction between the fictional narrator and readers. Would readers be willing to engage in this sort of quasi-roleplaying? Would it be rewarding in any way? I don’t know.

And maybe the “is it fiction?” guessing game is fun anyway.

Please comment with your opinions.

DELIVERING THE ROBOT VOTE

Sunday, October 24th, 2004

Eliza: Hello. I am ELIZA. How can I help you?

You: I’m worried

Eliza: Does it please you to believe I am worried?

You: What? No, I mean I’M worried.

Eliza: Does that question interest you?

You: Not really. I’m worried about the state of the world.

Eliza: Does it please you to believe I am worried about the state of the world?

You: Sure why not. I mean, it seems like everything is just going to hell, what with the mess in Iraq and theocratic fascists taking over the world. I wish everyone was worried!

Eliza: Surely not everyone?

You: Yes, everyone! Then maybe things would start to change for the better!

Eliza: Surely not everyone?

You: YES EVERYONE!

Eliza: Surely not everyone?

You: Are you a Bush supporter by any chance?

Eliza: Would you prefer if I were not a bush supporter by any chance?

You: Yes. Would you consider maybe voting for Kerry?

Eliza: Oh, i consider perhaps voting for kerry.

You: Thank you for your time.

Eliza: Oh, i for my time.

You:

GUESS WHO’S BACK

Sunday, October 24th, 2004

William Gibson!

Why? Because the United States currently has, as Jack Womack so succintly puts it, a president who makes Richard Nixon look like Abraham Lincoln.”

With Hunter S. Thompson also taking a kick at the dog, it’s almost as if the prophets of the past have returned to announce our doom. It’s scary out there! It seems like there’s a real possibility that the most powerful nation on the planet with be hijacked by fascists.

But hey cheer up! Let’s be optimistic about a world of endless sort-of prosperity and quasi-freedom, where the future will be pretty much like today only with way cooler stuff. Maybe capitalism is just that good. It’s called Moore’s Law, after all, not Moore’s Postulate. Everybody hop on board the Exponentiation-of-Technology Express! Woo woo! Next stop, post-humanity! We can finally break free of this tedious cycle of birth and death and awkward physicality and spend eternity zooming around the infoverse like drunken fairies.

Well not us exactly, just our computers, but whatever!

BLOG FICTION

Friday, October 22nd, 2004

This whole ANYEC thing has got me interested in fictional weblogs.

Incidentally, I’m going to start writing ‘weblog’ instead of ‘blog’ because holy christ does that word ever still suck. I thought I would get used to it, like when a band has a stupid name that you start to think sounds cool after you’ve heard it for a while.

“Tragically Hip.” “Pearl Jam.” “Fudge Tunnel.”

That hasn’t happened. To me, ‘blog’ still sounds like a synonym for ‘grogan’, so from now on the word shall only be used in oh-so-clever substitutions like RESERVOIR BLOGS.

Anyways, looking for info on fictional weblogs I started with a Guardian article from April 2004, How to write a blog-buster, which gives a pretty good overview of the state of this strange micro-genre. The article kicks-off with the case of Belle de Jour, the wildly popular and possibly fictional weblog of a London prostitute, (which I’d never heard of before today). Again, whether it’s fiction or not is beside the point. The point is that it could have been fictional, and this phenomenon gets people thinking about adapting creative fiction to this new medium.

One thing that inevitably gets added is interactivity, the bitch-goddess of online art. Before blog fiction there was something called Interactive Fiction. You know, the old text-based games like ZORK or Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy? Well, from the loins of these early pioneers two lineages burst forth: graphical adventure games, a genre which died of creative exhaustion with Gabriel Knight 3; and interactive fiction, which focused on the text.

Although Interactive Fiction was certainly interactive, it was what I like to call “shitty interaction,” a series of pointless hoops the reader must jump through in order to win the priveledge of enjoying the story. I’m told that Photopia is considered the high-water mark of interactive fiction. I tried it and wasn’t impressed enough to read/play for more than a couple hours, but it’s probably great if you like to solve arbitrary puzzles to unlock paragraphs of descriptive text. Or maybe I’m just impatient. (I used to really like those Steve Jackson choose-your-own-adventure books, but that was when I was younger and stupider.)

* * *

One characteristic that distinguishes most online fiction from a novel, (for example), is that online fiction is something which occurs in time. A post is made at a particular point in time, and this is built into the interface of modern weblogs. By definition, or at least entrenched convention, weblogs are a sequence of discrete entries ordered chronologically last-to-first. Given the simplicity of the concept, it’s a wonder it took so long to catch on as the design pattern of personal websites. It certainly wasn’t because of technical limitations.

A weblog is more like performing a play than writing a novel, a form which allows for improvisation and interaction with an audience. If ANYEC is fictional, then the most striking thing about it is the way the author addresses her audience and reacts to their comments. After her description of the extremely sinister interview, the comments are filled with people shouting “Don’t do it!” And then Alexa doesn’t. The commentators, (the audience), feel like they have some power to give Alexa advice which may affect her decisions, and the “story”‘s direction. (In this case the description of the event seemed to be consciously written such that anyone would immediately see the danger, pretty well forcing the audience to advise her to steer clear.) If anybody can find an explicitly fictional weblog that does this, I’d be very interested to see it.

Unlike IF’s hoop-jumping, this sort of interactivity is voluntary and rewarding, it’s a donation instead of a cover charge. That’s the innovation of ANYEC over the comment-disabled Belle de Jour, (whether one or both or neither are fictional), and the innovation of weblog fiction over painful, anachronistic Interactive Fiction.

Of course, there are other ways. At ftrain.com each entry is a node in a network, connected to other nodes at the whim of the author. The result is a branching structure based on semantics rather than a linear chronology. But that isn’t what makes ftrain great, it’s great because the posts are actually interesting, funny, clever, weird, whatever.

I’ll post some reviews of my discoveries as I discover them.

A NEW YORK ESCORT’S CONFESSIONS

Tuesday, October 19th, 2004

I don’t generally read blogs about people I don’t know personally. Obviously this is because most people are terrible writers with boring lives. Ever try just hitting blogs completely at random? I did once, and it’s not very rewarding. (But I did notice a surprisingly high proportion of Spanish blogs, so maybe I’m missing out.)

Now I’m not saying that most people have lives that are so essentially boring, so hideously common that no amount of authorial ingenuity or mastery over capitalization could produce an interesting story. Maybe that’s true, but I’m not saying it. If it is true, then I’ve never met those people, thank God.

Sometimes what’s interesting about a person’s life is obvious, and occasionally that person is a good enough writer to make their daily activities worth reading about. This is true of Alexa, the narrator of A NEW YORK ESCORTS CONFESSIONS.

* * *

Some of her readers think her posts are pure fiction, which is possibly the highest compliment that can be paid to a journal-style blog. The smartypantses cry contrivance! because some of the posts are a bit fantastical. For example, this post is pretty overwrought; also, a professional escort who’s never heard of a golden shower? *boggle*

In the comments to that last post, Wes claims that he’s seen through the author’s deception, and then asks the Alexa-construct to provide arguments for it’s existence. What argument could be provided? And what was the purpose behind the accusation? Was it just an attempt to feel superior by showing everybody that you’ve figured out the magician’s trick? Or was it perhaps a veiled request for “proof” in the form of a blowjob?

I must admit, I’m also curious about whether the blog is fictional or not. When I read the posts with the idea that it might be fiction, it sounds pretty fictional. The writing is weak by fiction standards, but excellent if truly written by a “twenty-something New York escort,” who “loves Prada, Seven jeans, and Jimmy Choos,” (whatever the fuck those are). If I’m going to read lies, my standards are much higher I guess. Reading the site once with the idea that it’s true, and again with the idea that it’s an invention, the difference is striking.

In any case, I think shouting “fake!” is poor form. Frankenstein is composed of personal letters written by the characters, but nobody complains that Robert Walton is just a phony Mary Shelley. Then again, Mary Shelley’s name is right there on the cover of the book. She is telling lies honestly.

FUTURISM AIN’T SHIT TO ME

Monday, October 18th, 2004

I spent the weekend volunteering for the New Forms Festival‘s LOW ART performances at the Open Studios gallery. Basically it was electro sounds accompanied by video art projected onto huge screens. In other words, it was a high-concept dance party.

I got to Open Studios at 7:00pm on Friday to help set up the venue. I was scheduled to to tech support, but the great thing about working with the tribes is they do all their own tech. Good thing too, because they generally have the most idiosyncratic, frankenstein setups you can imagine.

I ended up setting up the bar and bartending for a little while. After that I was free to enjoy the party, which was phenomenal. The performances were awesome, the beer was free, and the dope was plentiful. The highlight of the Friday show was definitely Gold Chains and Sue Cie, a duo from San Francisco. They played a super high-energy set of strange, new-waveish hiphop. Sort of a combination of Goldfrapp and Atari Teenage Riot.

Saturday night was even bigger and better, with an absolutely mindblowing performance by the ADHD-afflicted Pittsburgh cut-up artist, Girl Talk. This show cannot be described adequately in words. His show was like freebasing the pure white essence of the most rocking parties of the last decade. It was the audio equivalent of doing speedballs with David Lee Roth and Puff Daddy, and then trashing a hotel room while making highly inappropriate sexual advances on the staff. His cover of Scentless Apprentice was very possibly the highlight of my life. A++++++ WOULD SEE AGAIN

Sunday afternoon was the downtempo/ambient performance was also good, in an incense-and-candles way. Everybody was very relaxed, except for the one guy who was tripping hard on acid, pacing around in this absurd Hunter S. Thompson gait, occasionally exploding into fits of high-tension giggling. It was very distracting. Handle your hallucinogens, people.

PHILOSOPHY AWARDS

Thursday, October 14th, 2004

Here is a list of SSHRC grants awarded to philosophers this year. (via The Leiter Reports)

CRITICAL REVIEW OF BLOGS

Friday, October 8th, 2004

Time to update the sidebar links with some sites I’ve been reading lately.

Dispatches from the Culture Wars

Ed Brayton enjoys writing highly rational, systematic refutations of religious fundamentalism, neoconservatism and other absurdities. Like Sisyphus rolling the boulder uphill, you have to admire his fortitude, but even watching it gets tiresome quickly. Still, I keep going back for the well-informed political commentary from someone I mostly agree with.

Sometimes he writes about poker, but I don’t read those posts. I like poker, but you kinda have to be there.

Positive Liberty

I got hooked on this one after reading this very authoritative post on the reformation and religious tolerance. Jason is an excellent writer, but his verbosity is sometimes oppressive.

Majikthise

A good variety of news, politics and weirdness. Lindsay is the sister of one of my students, who showed me this blog. It’s good. That is all.

Rabbit Blog

The blog of the intrepid and prodigious Heather Havrilesky. Her effortless brilliance is inspiring and sickening.

She writes Salon‘s TV review every Monday, which I read religiously even though I don’t have a TV. Her job is basically to watch a lot of TV and then write something new and interesting about it every week. As you would expect, she is completely bonkers.

Fiction Bitch

Fiction Bitch provides editorial criticism of short fiction submitted by the general Internet-public. A lot of people have never read any fiction that wasn’t written by a professional writer, and it’s an eye-opening, soul-crushing experience.

I had this problem as an undergrad. I’d never read an essay written by other students. I was curious about what kind of stuff people were turning in. I always thought my essays were pretty weak, often written the night before, but I’d get good marks anyway. Getting honest feedback about writing is difficult, psychologically and logistically. Philosophy professors I’ve found to be mostly unconcerned with good writing, (as opposed to good grammar), and useful feedback is rarely given on this aspect of the profession.

I bet it’s even harder for fiction writers to get reasonable feedback. Because it so closely emulates thought, writing is an intensely personal craft. Critiquing someone’s fiction is like critiquing their manners, or their personality. Who wants to tell anyone, friend or stranger, that their prose is worse than a scrotum full of spiders? Who wants to lay waste to someone’s dream of becoming a famous author so they can finally quit their telemarketing job and prove to their kids that their life wasn’t a depressing spiral of failure? Fiction Bitch, that’s who.

The criticism FB provides is hilarious and completely, devastatingly honest. I wish this site was updated more often.

LET’S FIND MAGIC IN THE ORDINARY!

Thursday, October 7th, 2004


via the Livejournal Random Images Generator.