the trouble with Ayn Rand…

April 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

There is a part 2 to that interview on YouTube, if you can stomach it.  That first part does most of the heavy lifting for the rest of this post, though.  And this could just as easily been have been a review of that video:

There, of course, one has the essential oafishness of Rand’s view of reality. For her, the world really was starkly divided between creators and parasites, and the vast majority of humanity belonged to the ranks of the latter. ..She had no concept of grace, even of the ordinary kind: the grace of an existence we do not give ourselves, of natural powers with which we could never have endowed ourselves, and of all those other persons on whom even the strongest among us are dependent. She lacked any ennobling sense that what lies most deeply within us also comes from impossibly far beyond us, as an unmerited gift. She liked to talk about “virtue” a great deal—meaning primarily strength of will and the value that one creates out of one’s own native resources—but for her the only important question regarding the relation between the individual and society was who has a right to what. That is, admittedly, a question that must be asked at various times, but it is never the question that true virtue—true strength—asks of itself.

via David Hart, First Things

Indeed.  It is always good to remember that Rand was a child in Russia during the 1917 revolution.   She is understandably inclined to be bitter, but is clearly  applying those lessons to the wrong type of government.

doodling while I listen to you talk is not multitasking

April 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

I read a new piece slagging multitasking – definitely read it if you get a chance.  They find that either multitasking literally hurts your ability to reason or people with terrible reasoning skills become multitaskers.   (Later I saw this back and forth exchange on it)  Of course after reading that, I don’t think I am a real multitasker.  I can only “multitask” for very mundane things…like multiple chat windows or half reading something and half watching something else.  I don’t think that’s really multitasking, though.  That is just the curse of a short attention span being stirred into the background noise.

Like the author at the second link, it was while listening to an audiobook style podcast that I realized how completely unable I was to do anything else that required real mental effort at the same time.  And even small observations, ordinary attention-wandering stuff, would result in a few seconds of mental time travel on the podcast.  It leads me to think that multitasking at work is possible only to the extent that the part of the job that involves engaging with people in chat and email is social animal, instinct level basic.  I suspect if I am  multitasking at a job, it’s because there are big chunks of that job that just don’t take much mental wattage to do and quick response time is more important than problem solving.

Also, it occurred to me that the reason talk radio is irritatingly repetitive is so that you don’t lose your place when you take a little mental side trip.  After reading those articles, I think the beating-a-topic-to-death part of talk radio isn’t about filling dead air time, its so we can leave for a few seconds and rejoin the broadcast effortlessly.  It’s  a feature, not a bug.  I bet people who describe themselves as multitaskers love talk radio and CNN and anything else that plays in a short loop.

Doodling doesn’t count as a “task.”  I have been a doodler since grade school.  Let’s be clear, doodling is not drawing.  Drawing is a conscious, conscientious action.  Doodling is almost muscle memory, it is all about patterns and often the same ones (wine glasses, eyeglasses, and arrows for me) over and over.  I would say that doodling is how I pay attention;  it’s a strategy I use to keep myself engaged and listening.   Driving and doodling are the same thing in that they occupy just barely enough of my mind that my attention won’t drift completely away from the single thought or stream I want to follow.  And driving and scribbling nonsense patterns is a recognizably different sort of attention than, say, when I am taking written notes.  That is more a rote excesize: taking notes is committing an argument to memory rather than trying to find interesting pieces of it to absorb naturally.  I couldn’t tell you which strategy works better in the short term, but I am pretty sure the doodling method is better for putting at least some part of a  lesson into a more permanent toolbox.

nothing cultural is rare now

April 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Does this mean that funny and obscure cultural references imply no shared experience but only some acceptable connection speed?

It’s probably still theoretically still possible for something to become rare—if only a few fans have digital copes of this or that movie, a few years could go by with no calls for it on the torrent networks and it might fall out of sight again. It might take just a few discarded hard drives for it to be come inaccessible. But again, with many terabytes of storage easily available to fans—and now with cloud storage becoming the norm—that’s pretty unlikely.

In a recent issue of the New York Review of Books, the poet Dan Chiasson wrote at length about Keith Richards’ autobiography and made an interesting point near the end, about how scarcity and rarity, long ago, actually fueled artistic endeavor:

“[T]he experience of making and taking in culture is now, for the first time in human history, a condition of almost paralyzing overabundance. For millennia it was a condition of scarcity; and all the ways we regard things we want but cannot have, in those faraway days, stood between people and the art or music they needed to have: yearning, craving, imagining the absent object so fully that when the real thing appears in your hands, it almost doesn’t match up. Nobody will ever again experience what Keith Richards and Mick Jagger experienced in Dartford, scrounging for blues records.”

Point taken—but let’s remember it’s a small sacrifice. I have this or that fetish object—the White Album on two 8-tracks in a black custom case, for example, or a rare Elvis Costello picture disc. And I remember the joy of the find. But it’s hard to feel bad about the end of rarity; didn’t a lot of the thrill come from feeling superior when you had something others didn’t? You really want to get nostalgic about that? We’re finally approaching that nirvana for fans, scholars, and critics: Everything available, all the time. (Certainly Richards and Jagger would approve.) It’s not an ideal state of affairs for a rights holder, of course. But for the rest of us, what is there to complain about?

See Also: Eureka Lost!

I dried myself in the air of crime. I played sly tricks on madness

April 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Once, if I remember well, my life was a feast where all hearts opened and all wines flowed.
One evening I seated Beauty on my knees. And I found her bitter. And I cursed her.
I armed myself against justice.
I fled. O Witches, O Misery, O Hate, to you has my treasure been entrusted!
I contrived to purge my mind of all human hope. Of all joy, to strangle it, I pounced with the stealth of a wild beast.
I called to the executioners that I might gnaw their rifle-butts while dying. I called to the plagues to smother me in blood, in sand. Misfortune was my God. I laid myself down in the mud. I dried myself in the air of crime. I played sly tricks on madness.
Et le printemps m’a apporte l’affreux rire de l’idiot.

Rimbaud, A Season in Hell

being ironic is kinda funny, but not subversive

April 21, 2011 § 1 Comment

So, is it still true: “If you’re not a rebel in your twenties you got no soul…and if you’re not a sellout by your thirties you got no brains.”  Was it ever true? Are there any subversives left out there?  Or is it just an ocean of smirking hipsters?

I think I get it.  The baby boomers thought EVERYONE could be a rebel, that pop culture could be subversive.  Of course it was sold out, because it was all pop and no culture after a very short while.   They really did change the world though — the problem is that the change came from the afterparty counter-revolution…so  the changes were completely godawful.  There was an insatiable hunger for law and order, mass marketing conformity, the need to chop down anything alive to get one more inch ahead.   It’s as if all the promises you made to the toilet when you threw up drunk came to pass.  Just Say No next time, right?

Xers got stuck with the boomer hangover but also caught a couple breaks.   The rise of the conservative counter revolution,  the plague of HIV, and the art of turning everything counterculture into mainstream was enough to make us suspicious and angry in a vague, even surly way.  But for a brief moment in 89 or 90 it was all crashing down.  The Cold War and Apartheid and maybe even Mao and hair bands…LA was on fire— Maybe everything could change.  But it didn’t.  All the students at Tiananmen Square are dead, College radio became Alternative rock , Russia is some sort of organized criminal enterprise and our kids will probably eat the last fish.   So,  we didn’t accomplish much of anything, but we documented our lack of progress on film in fine detail.  Which is cool. We invented entire genres of music, piercing and tattooing,  traveling and dropping out and slacking.

Then we figured out a medium to keep in touch with everything everywhere and maybe that’s why it all got so…self referential.    Does the internet dissolve our personal identities the same way pop culture corrodes counter culture?

So, back to the original question.  Kids these days — where is your subversive soul?  Do you have any heart… or are you just born to pay taxes and live in the burbs?  Handlebar mustaches are funny, and paying 9 bucks for a PBR really is ironic, but there isn’t anything revolutionary or original about it.  Don’t mistake pop culture for anything it isn’t.  Like you,  we always knew that hair bands, preppies and wifebeaters are so uncool it’s funny.  Just like Gaga and Emo, right?  So please, I beg you,  do something to offend and challenge us old dipshits or your kids won’t even enjoy mocking you very much.

Don’t take my word for it, here is one of your own, reviewing a decent hipster folk song by Fleet Foxes:

Having embodied his generation’s longing for a political identity, he had no right to turn away into solipsism and empty artistry. I speak of course of Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes, who in the first two couplets of the band’s single “Helplessness Blues“, released two weeks ago, seemed to capture a distraction-addled post-ideological generation’s desperate longing to lose its smirk and engage, only to drift into confused wistfulness over the course of the song’s third stanza, and finally to execute a mid-song mood shift to an entirely different timbre, kick in an electric guitar, and start mumbling about going off and living on a farm. The fizz-out that took the Baby Boomers from 1963 to 1970 to accomplish takes Mr Pecknold about two and a half minutes.

We are every bit as solopsistic (this self absorbed little essay is a case in point) and frustrated as you guys are, we just didn’t seem so entirely pleased with ourselves for it.

link vandal 4/20

April 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

The link between taxes and growth is a myth.  I agree with this, especially because there is zero evidence otherwise.

assisited suicide by roller coaster?  o man.

there is a story in these images.  somewhere.

An open letter to the hipster here.  I wrote some more about it here

This is from the first concert I saw at the Cow Palace.  I’d only been in SF a few months, and Nevermind was the soundtrack of the Lower Haight and the Mission.   This was recorded New years eve, 1991;  Nirvana and the Chili Peppers.  We were late and missed the opener, Pearl Jam.  I guess they got to be kinda famous too.  Who knew?

You know its a great show when you can find the bootleg on Youtube 19 years later.

artist cribs

April 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

This is Patti Smith’s digs in NY, 1974.

William Burrough’s  “bunker” at the YMCA, NYC, circa 1978

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