January 30, 2003

With announcements

Aquarius Records is quite a fixture in the San Francisco boutique record store world; a peacock diskery of the highest caliber. Their mailing list is highly recommended in that it offers succinct reviews of a huge number of new items each week complete with soundclips. However, nearly the entire staff seems to completely despite Stereolab. As the store philosophy is "We only stock what we like," there aren't typically a lot of negative reviews. Which makes comments like "in my opinion, this new album sees Stereolab retreating even further into the wallpaper that they already have become" come off all the more harsh.

I guess when you're a band specializing in 7 minutes of organ drone punctuated with lyrics like:

"True life embodying pleasure

principle's noblest triumph over

the cowering mendacity

of bourgeois Christian civilisation"

you're going to inspire some difference of opinion.

January 28, 2003

Viewers like you

Speaking of Rushkoff, I've really been wanting to catch his Merchants of Cool special for Frontline and, hey, it's available in its entirety from the PBS website. (Altho' not in QT, and part 5 wouldn't play for me in RealPlayer).

The coverage of Total Request Live's rise to dominance is particularly good and the way in which rebellion against marketing has itself been co-opted seems entirely accurate. However, Rushkoff glosses over a crucial question he only poses rhetorically: "Has it always been this way?" He clearly thinks it hasn't and that the marketing of pop culture has somehow become less authentic ... including that of wrestling.

Thomas Frank in The Conquest of Cool makes the best case against this idea in his analysis of the authenticity of the 60's counter-culture. But it's a quote I've relied on too often ... mainly because it bags on Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. Also, I understand Rushkoff's making a larger point about the particular image being propagated by youth marketing today.

I'm interested in the harm of training today's youth to be ever more receptive consumers. But I find it hard to get worked up about teens being sexualized by MTV and South Park or to sincerely wonder "whither the authentic, non co-opted youth culture of today." In the first case, the sexual identities that people adopt as teens are probably not indicative of the sexual lives they will later lead, regardless of what role the media played in the formation of that identity. In the second, Rushkoff points out that the only way new, authentic youth culture gets created is by the co-optation and death of the old. Basically there's always going to be something ... but it's probably pretty safe to say it's been played out by the time it shows up on Frontline.

January 27, 2003

Geometric means

wreck.jpgWhen I was training to become a man, the rabbi told me that my chanting was decent enough that I could pursue a rabbinical path should I be interested. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I wasn't even returning for the Sunday School classes I'd promised to go to the following year, let alone strive for the golden yarmulke. But I mean, come on, it was a Jewish temple with Sunday School. And don't get me started on the stained glass windows.

I thought of this off and on while reading Douglas Rushkoff's Exit Strategy which has a lot to do with Jewish myth, selling out and the ability of the free market to seduce and delude its partipants. The way in which he explores the latter two concepts within the context of a near-future dot-com morality tale is quite interesting. It's the myth part that gives me pause.

The conceit of the book is that the story being told takes place in 2008, but is being published two hundred years hence by futurefolk who've only recently uncovered this testament. This plays out on two levels. The first is that the structure of the story is very much a fable and, as such, there's really no doubt from the early going that the narrator is cruising for a comeuppance. In fact, in doesn't even take that long for us to be able to pretty well infer the exact form that comeuppance will take some 200 pages hence. So that's kind of a bummer.

The second level is that the book was conceived as the first "open source" novel. This means it was first published on the web and readers had the ability to annotate the book as if they were the future scholars studying this found text. Very "Talmud as hypertext" and I'm all for the idea. But in practice it comes up a bit short. Most of the notes end up being jokes of the reverse Caveman Lawyer variety rather than contributing to a genuine, multi-narrative metatext. The note for Reece's Pieces is indicative of the trend: "A peanut butter candy made famous by its paid placement in a Steven Spielberg film about a friendly alien. This was long before extra-terrestrials' true nature had been determined."

The other type of annotation is the one-off political commentary which makes it difficult to buy into any sort of concept of the proposed distant future because the comments are so based in our current political reality. For example, this disturbing note on the Triborough Bridge: "destroyed in the Palestinian Liberation Terror attack of 2004, which poisoned the East River for several years. It is believed that Palestinian Mullah Yasser Arafat ordered the attack shortly before his own assassination in late 2004." Yikes!

This brings us back, as it must, to Jews. In an interview with former NYU debater Julian Sanchez, Rushkoff talks about his ideas on Judaism. He says: "Why don't we just give the best parts of Judaism to the rest of society, then give up being the chosen people, and just basically promote a secular humanism. What I want to do is tell people that Judaism is not a monotheistic religion, that Judaism is basically the process by which people get over believing in god." Certainly a nice idea, and this idea of transcendence is played out in the last 10 pages of the book. But I simply didn't buy it. Instead the resolution works by literalizing the concept of deus ex machina and, without support from the future chorus showing how this world came to pass, it seems pretty tacked on.

January 26, 2003

Just do something you love

There's a great article about the Anticon crew in the latest issue of Wire magazine. It's about as straight ahead a piece of music journalism as you'll find on underground hiphop. Which is amazing because often the artists involved are too busy being aloof and, you know, arty to answer questions sincerely. And usually the writers are too busy stylizing themselves to pieces in order to prove that they get this whole art-hop deal.

I especially like the exploration of Anticon's music as indie punk hip-hop with the focus on DIY and found art. And I love the fact that Dose One seems to live his entire life speaking only in poetry:

"Our lacking in artistic raw talent or schooling is made up for with chance and the willingness to drag a cash register or parking meter back to our apartment because it looks like it belongs there for awhile. It also applies to our sampling nature and open palette collage writing style - basically it's an unlearning adventure in charmed and nervous lives."

January 25, 2003

Gods, what a monster!

Did you feel it?

Still can't access my bank account online. It's like we're living Lawnmower Man, but different.

January 24, 2003


So I've got to live a bit more of a rock n' roll lifestyle from now on. Public expectation and whatnot. But to stay true to my Harper's roots, I'm shooting for more of a rock n' roll intelligencia-type deal. Think Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park. Think Richard Feynman but less dead. Think.

You see how it is.

I've always been here

Harper's published a list of wacky protest slogans seen at the San Francisco peace rally ... the rally back in October, for some reason, not the one just this past week. Anyway, in addition to "Beat L.A., not Iraq! Go Giants!" and "Tango for Protest", their list also includes "Transsexual Lesbian Vegan Epidemiologist Punk for Peace." Funny thing is, I saw the TLVEP in question while waiting for the bus on 16th and Valencia that day. Unless, there was a second one ... which, I mean, come on.

But do you realize what this means?!

My life is being published by Harper's ... the Readings section, sure, but that and the Index are all anyone bothers to read, right?

It's weird being famous.

January 22, 2003

Dean's Date

Ahh, the old "I'm back in school and forgot to do something" dream.

January 20, 2003

Geek Quotient

risk.jpgMy most glaring geek deficiencies: I've never made it past the first hundred pages of Fellowship of the Ring. I've never played Risk. And just hearing the Dr. Who theme song makes me uncomfortable. Recently, I decided to kill the first bird and wing the second with the stone known as Lord of the Rings Risk. My friend Mary bought this for her husband Eugene and the three of us sat down last Friday for a little game of Middle Earth domination.

First off, it's been awhile since I've played a game where the object is to wreck the other people. Although we started off good naturedly, there was some tension as the little elf battalions started dying by the handful . This was probably exacerbated by playing with a married couple ... lots of idle "If you invade Rohan, I'll divorce you" threats. Also, even though we were playing the 'quick' version, it still took over 4 hours. That's longer than the movie, for crissakes. In the end, I lost horribly, Mary almost fell asleep and I think we all learned an important lesson about the futility of war. Except for Eugene, who won, and would do these little dances after successful rolls of the dice.

January 19, 2003

Wild beasts

Since MacWorld, there's been lots of talk about Apple's new web browser, Safari.

"Wow it's superfast."

"Yeah, but it's got no tabs."

And then to a lesser extent, "Hey! This web browser wrecked my operating system."

I spent some time this weekend exploring the minority opinion.

Basically, I got de-metaphor'd. No copy and paste. No drag and drop. And all because a Safari preference file wasn't being parsed properly.

How rude.

January 17, 2003

Unscratchable Itch

Minor disturbance in my geek hemisphere ... I can't find a good video game to get into.

This may be for the best as my brief dalliance with CivIII nearly cost me my life, or at least kept me from seeing the sun for a weekend. Of course, this is why I thought Tropico would have a greater draw. The problem is I can't keep myself from playing as the benevolent communist. I'm sure it's fun to throw dissenters in jail and have members of their families summarily executed, but I just keep trying to pass literacy programs. Panzy.

This leads to the problem with Freedom Force. I love real time strategy and I like superheroes okay. It's the 60's style that kills it for me. I've had enough of listening to the main character's pseudo-ironic declarations like "Let's get those Reds" and "I can't hit a woman!" Well, that and the fact that the game will randomly go into Cubist mode in which all the polygonal surfaces are exploded and rearranged hypercube fashion. Not fun.

Jedi Knight II is probably the strongest candidate thus far. You can choke people with the Force, you can shoot purple lightning, and, most importantly, you can go absolutely buck wild with a light saber. Incidentally, I don't know why it took so many Star Wars games until LucasArts realized that without light sabers you've basically got a pile of nothing with high priced theme music. The trouble is that Jedi Knight II is apparently among the buggiest ports to the Mac. There's a forum where a guy is collecting crash logs and the discussion of video tweaks is well beyond my interest.

I think this is where I say I'm going back to Snood and link to the post about giving the little game its propers ... I'm sick of Snood.

January 15, 2003

Sweet dish


Due to his DSL outage, Sutter worked from my place today. Together we managed to finish off a box of Gille Swedish Ginger Snaps which are now my favorite cookie. Okay, I had a head start at finishing them off. But the best part is, you get a giant box of 'em for only $1.50 at the corner store (assuming your corner store has swedish cookies).

As far as scandinavian sweets go, I'm also a fan of swedish fish, but apparently there are some that will summon a plague of flies when opened.

January 13, 2003

This house would reject the culture of death

I didn't have a favorite republican governor until today when Illinois' George Ryan commuted the sentences of everyone sitting on death row. Sure he's on his way out and this is really an extension of the moratorium imposed 3 years ago, but it's an amazing decision - especially coming from the heartland. If you ever wanted to know why the death penality is wrong, here's a pretty good breakdown:

Because our three-year study has found only more questions about the fairness of sentencing, because of the spectacular failure to reform the system, because we have seen justice delayed for countless death row inmates with potentially meritorious claims, because the Illinois death penalty system is arbitrary and capricious -- and therefore immoral -- I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.

Can't sleep / My bed's on fire

I'm a sucker for a good, flaming review of something I've never seen or read. Yeah, yeah, yeah - it's easier to destroy the cathedral than to create it. But if you can create a somewhat smaller, but funnier cathedral out of the rubble of of the first one which was, like, soooo full of itself to begin with ... well, that's the metaphoric religion for me. Here are a few recent favorites:

  • You mess with the hilatron you get the horns

  • "Yeah, the critics are gaga over About Schmidt. But then they loved American Beauty."

  • Here's a meta-foot in your ass

January 12, 2003


cage.jpgJust finished reading Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom and it's certainly the most enjoyable long read I've ever had on a computer (I found the html version much more comfortable than the pdf ... or, you know, you could buy it).

More than that, it's a great sci-fi story that reminds me a lot of Philip K. Dick - a mystery where the identity of the victim is more important than the identity of the criminal. As in Do Androids Dream, you learn about the future through the accumulation of small, fascinating details rather than the expositional dump. This is good. As is repainting Disney World as ubergeek utopia. To wit:

The Haunted Mansion was experiencing a major empty spell: the Snow Crash Spectacular parade had just swept through Liberty Square en route to Fantasyland, dragging hordes of guests along with it, dancing to the JapRap sounds of the comical Sushi-K and aping the movements of the brave Hiro Protagonist.
Everything that goes into the future of Magic Kingdom is a little more interesting than the mystery to be solved, so the resolution doesn't come off as super-satisfying. Still, it's a great read.

January 11, 2003


The other day, I saw a minivan with a vanity license plate that read "CAMUS". This is:

  1. Funny, if not ironic, since Camus died in a car crash

  2. Ironic, if not funny, given the minivan as symbol of normative, suburban living

  3. Intentionally absurd

But I wasn't in Footloose

Some network maps I have known and loved:

In the case of the first two maps on this list, the network is created explicity; it only exists because of the opt-in of its members. With the Ryze map, the members signed up and provided their own list of links which were then translated by hand into the network map. And you'd like to think that some amount of free choice was invovled in gaining membership to the sexchart network. In other words, these maps serve as mirrors for the members of the network. You look a the map to see who's connected to you; to find your place in the overall network. And, of course, to find out if you accidentally kissed your sister by virtue of the transitive property.

With the second two cases, the creator of the map is trying to uncover the implicit connections of the underlying network. This network isn't created because of the opt-in of its members, but because of the question the creator wanted to answer. So, instead of a mirror, you have a window into the system. And a somewhat hackneyed metaphor.

What if you could automate the creation of these maps such that they didn't rely on explicit opt-in, but also shielded the results from the influence of the creator. For example, maps based on the collaborative filters of Amazon or the All Music Guide. Instead of just seeing lists of "People who liked this also liked" you'd generate a map showing the web of inter-related items. More interestingly, what if DayPop used a similar tool; showing connection between blogs based on the similarity in links that they post.

Well, you'd have a pretty cool map, that's for sure.

January 09, 2003

Whole Again

Back online after being lost in the wilds on the other side of the digital divide. At one point, I was trying to hook up Speakeasy dial-up ... when I realized I didn't have a long enough phone cord. But thanks to the UPS guy who was still delivering past 8pm, I'm back together again.

January 06, 2003


Sutter informs me that the hype about the iMac being discontinued was untrue. Now the news is that Apple will unveil a computer that can change color. And maybe one that hovers.


All the hard work and determination have paid off ... as of right now LemonNut is #1 of 168,000 Google results returned for "great big fat pig."

January 05, 2003

How lovely are thy branches

Lessons learned by a pyromaniacal jew this post-holiday season:

  • Christmas trees do, in fact, burn well

  • But only briefly ... the needles burn off like they're covered in hairspray, the rest of the tree stays behind

  • Trees with a little tinsel left on them are preferable. The tinsel goes off like a string of firecrackers

  • Trees with ornaments should be avoided. They will probably blind you with exploding shrapnel

  • Trees with the angel still on top ... man, even jews find that too angsty

  • If you want to toast marshmellows over a burning christmas tree, be quick. Also be ready for turpentine flavored smores

  • Lighter fluid ... really just overkill

  • If you run out of christmas trees, trying to substitute various leafy trees will not work. Walk away gracefully

  • People who water their christmas trees are no fun

January 04, 2003

And cursed be he that moves my bones

Christopher Marlowe is the 16th century dramatist best remembered for being played by Rupert Everett in Shakespeare in Love. But more than that, he was also an Elizabethan secret agent who worked to uncover Catholic plots against the crown. This is apparently true.

What's less certain is whether he ran afoul of the notorious Star Chamber for being an atheist and decided to fake his own death to escape torture. Assuming that he did, there are those who further believe that he fled for Italy where he continued writing. These pseudoposthumous plays, some set in Italian towns, others about exiles, were sent back to England and published by the man we know as William Shakespeare.

Now, I heard about this by watching Michael Rubbo's documentary on Frontline. When this documentary first came out last year, Rubbo himself posted about it to Metafilter ... but only identified himself as the filmmaker in comments.

So, this is the guy we're meant to believe in an authenticity of authorship debate?

January 02, 2003

Big Head

imac-shadow.jpgI didn't realize that the 15 inch iMac had been taken out of production until I saw the news that the same thing had happened to its bigger brother. It would seem highly unlikely at this point that Apple would introduce a 19 inch version as was rumored to happen at SF MacWorld.

Certainly glad I got while the getting was good. This is unquestionably the best computer I've ever owned.

January 01, 2003

Astride a grave and a difficult birth

The closest thing I've seen to a production of Waiting for Godot is kd lang's Constant Craving video ... which is to say, not very close. So too bad I missed the beginning of the PBS version which aired tonight in honor of the 50th anniversary of the play's debut. It's certainly strange to see all those stage directions acted out, and to feel the effect of all of those pauses.

As nice as it was, I don't think I'll be spending $150 on the 4 DVD box set containing filmed versions of all 19 of Beckett's plays. How big is the market for that deal?