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. . . 2002-03-01

Weblogs and journalism (see also jill/txt)

At a friend's birthday party the other night, someone told me about an airplane flight where they didn't get any sleep because they sat next to a girl who was obsessing about a very difficult decision; see, she had this box of jewelry from Barney's (this one right here) that her boyfriend, the Wired editor, had given her, but he was originally from the Midwest and so he was undergoing psychotherapy now because of an adolescent trauma that he'd admitted to her, to wit having sex with chickens, and she just couldn't stop thinking about that, so she broke up with him, but she still didn't know whether that meant she had to take back Barney's jewelry.

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wrongwaygoback (via David F. Gallagher) is OK I guess, but I like Zora Neale Hurston a lot more. Sorry.

And just to show how goddamned fair I am, I also like the Kinks despite being named Ray Davis.

. . . 2002-03-11

America: Open For Napping

Fresh Nap   Portion of Proceeds
(from the collection of Juliet Clark)

. . . 2002-03-13

Movie Comment: Scratch

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, or a coherent one, and I don't wanna spoil that: kung fu magic fingertips throughout, gangstas begone, and gloriously airheaded interviews in the grand tradition: it's nice to be cheerful at a movie! Happy virtuoso DJ geeks at work are much more cinematic than happy virtuoso computer geeks at work. If the Olympics had included turntablism, I'd've watched 'em. As it is, we'll watch this instead.

Don't go for history lessons, though. The director's never exactly been Johnny-on-the-spot (he started his earlier "Seattle Sound" documentary in autumn '92), and his turntablist interests obviously sprouted very late into a very young surburban life. As a result, he's able to transport us into an altered universe where the hip-hop spirit hippety-hopped from the sullen beats of Afrika Bambaata right over the entire decade of the 1980s into the director's fellow young suburbanites, and where, just to mention the most disturbing skip in the record, Grandmaster Flash -- maybe DJ-ing's greatest innovator and biggest early star, and for sure the first DJ to solo a single -- barely registered.

Instead, the seminal DJ moment is made out to be Herbie Hancock's 1984 "Rockit," I guess 'cause it was played during the Grammies so you could see it on TV with your parents. (MTV wasn't so crazy about hip-hop back in the day.) But, man!, that was five years after Kurtis Blow started recording, three years after Blondie declared "Flash is fast, Flash is cool," two years after The Message hit the mainstream charts and Wild Style played the theaters -- I can't even remember Hancock's single all that well, there was so much crossover popping around then....

The nifty thing is that now we get to understand how disturbing it must've been for 1940s and 1950s rock-and-rollers to hear folks in the 1960s and 1970s call "Rock Around the Clock" the first rock-and-roll song. Like, "Bill Haley!? Who the fuck was Bill Haley!?" And with understanding comes compassion. Or mutual mockery, same thing.

. . . 2002-03-14

Our Motto:

There are two primary ways that a blog can develop: blogs can form as sphagnum moss grows over a lake or pond and slowly fills it (terrestrialization), or blogs can form as sphagnum moss blankets dry land and prevents water from leaving the surface (paludification). Over time, many feet of acidic peat deposits build up in blogs of either origin. The unique and demanding physical and chemical characteristics of blogs result in the presence of plant and animal communities that demonstrate many special adaptations to low nutrient levels, waterlogged conditions, and acidic waters, such as carnivorous plants.

Functions and Values
Blogs serve an important ecological function in preventing downstream flooding by absorbing precipitation. Blogs support some of the most interesting plants in the United States (like the carnivorous sundew), and provide habitat to animals threatened by human encroachment. Blogs are unique communities that can be destroyed in a matter of days, but require hundreds, if not thousands, of years to form naturally.

. . . 2002-03-16

Instructions to a Painter, first

Marcel Duchamp to Jean Crotti, 17 August 1952 (iffily translated from French):

  You were asking my opinion on your work, my dear Jean. It's very hard to say in just a few words, especially for me as I have no faith -- religious sort -- in artistic activity as a social value.
Artists of all eras are like Monte Carlo gamblers and the blind lottery sends some on their way and ruins others. To my mind, neither winners nor losers are worth bothering over. It's business, good for the winner and bad for the loser.
I don't believe in painting in itself. Every painting is made not by the artist but by those who look at it and grant it their favors; in other words, no painter understands himself or knows what he does -- there's no outward sign to explain why a Fra Angelico and a Leonardo are equally "recognized."
It all happens through our little friend luck. Artists who, during their life, have managed to get people to value their junk are excellent traveling salesmen, but nothing guarantees immortality to their work. And even posterity is a pretty slut who retracts some, resuscitates others (El Greco), and remains free to change her mind in 50 years.
This long preamble to tell you not to judge your own work as you are the last person to see it (with true eyes). What you see there isn't what makes merit or shame. All words used to explain or praise it are false translations of what takes place past the sensations.
You are, like all of us, obsessed with the accumulation of principles or anti-principles which generally cloud your mind with their terminology and, without knowing it, you are a prisoner of what you think a liberated education.
In your particular case you are certainly the victim of the "School of Paris," that good joke which has lasted for 60 years (the students awarding themselves prizes, in cash).
To my mind there's no safety but in esotericism. But for 60 years we've attended the public exhibition of our balls and multiple hard-ons. The Lyons grocer speaks in enlightened terms and buys modern painting.
American museums want at any price to teach modern art to young students who believe in the "chemical formula."
All this breeds only vulgarization and complete dissipation of the original fragrance.
This doesn't cancel what I said above, because I believe in the original fragrance but like any fragrance it evaporates very quickly (a few weeks, a few years at most); what's left is a dried nut classified by the historians in the chapter "History of Art."
So if I tell you that your paintings have nothing in common with what we see generally classified and accepted, that you've always produced things entirely your own, as I truly believe, that's not to say that you have the right to be seated next to Michelangelo.
What's more, this originality is suicidal, in the sense that it distances you from a "clientele" used to the "copies of copyists" that are usually called "tradition."
Another thing, your technique is not the "expected" technique. It is your technique, you own borrowed from no one -- there again, the clientele isn't attracted.
Obviously if you'd applied your Monte Carlo system to your painting, all these difficulties would have changed to victories. You could even have started a new school of technique and originality.
I won't speak of your sincerity because that's the commonplace most widely spread and least valid. All liars, all bandits are sincere. Insincerity doesn't exist. The malign are sincere and succeed by their malice but their being is made of malicious sincerity.
In 2 words do less self-analysis and work with pleasure without worrying about opinions, yours and those of others.



. . . 2002-03-17

Instructions to a Painter, second

Henry Adams to Mabel Hooper, 21 June 1895:

  Your pictures adorn my wall, so that I look them all over every morning while I meditate on getting up. Don't be disturbed if you occasionally feel a disgust for paint and drawing. You would feel the same for the limitations of sculpture or architecture, or poetry or prose, if you tried as hard to express anything in them. There is nothing new to say -- at least in our formulas. Everything has been said many -- many -- many times. The pleasure is in saying it over to ourselves, in a whisper, so that nobody will hear, and so that neither vanity nor money can get in so much as a lisp. I admit that this unfits one for one's time and life, but one must make some sort of running arrangement on every railroad and even in every school; and if you are to stop five minutes for refreshments in the Art Station, you must have those five minutes clear, as much as though you were a Botticelli. I should say the same of Religion, or Poetry, or any other imaginative and emotional expression.  

. . . 2002-03-20

The English Restoration seems startlingly close, as if a veil was lifted for a few decades and then hurriedly pulled back into place for two hundred more years. Generations of state-church tussling, civil war, and dictatorship had left England a fragmented culture bound together by a tradition of insecurity, uncertainty, and paranoia. Installation of the most tolerant monarch in its history unloosed a flood of free expression: of sexual pleasures and horrors, atheism and fanaticism, financial panic and soured idealism, class distinctions crossed and fetishized, free love and cheating at cards....

All very twentieth century save for the lack of whining. Among Restoration writers, hypocrisy and self-pity were more unforgivable than failure or disgrace, since, after all, failure and disgrace lay so clearly outside an individual's control. Most valued was a slantwise directness of insight and impulse, coupled with a humorously stoic awareness of the probable consequences.

Although newspapers, novels, and television weren't yet in full swing, many other aspects of modernity snapped into focus: science blossomed free of alchemy and astrology; for the first time, women wrote professionally (including all-round woman-of-letters Aphra Behn); diaries and letters and memoirs suddenly became compulsively readable narratives rather than bare inventories of purchases or devotions; William Congreve's comedies (largely predicated on their young heroes' fears of bankruptcy) remain the best in the English language; John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, remains the most exfoliative of English poets.

Poor Nelly For reasons we won't go into, the Victorian era offered little open support to its Restoration forebears, and into the mid-twentieth century much material was more or less supressed. Congreve stayed in print, though, and at present the writings of Pepys, Rochester, and the Female Wits are probably more accessible than ever before. But one of my favorite Restoration relics has never quite recovered its former visibility, and so I decided to produce an online edition.

Now Heav'ns preserve our faith's defender
From Paris plots and Roman cunt,
From Mazarine, that new Pretender,
And from that politique, Grammont.
     -- John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

The memoirs of the Count de Grammont were written in French, but I associate them with the English Restoration since they were ghostwritten by Anglo-Irish Anthony Hamilton, since (apart from some short introductory chapters) they're set entirely in the court of Charles II, and since, most germanely, I know them through a remarkable nineteenth-century English edition aimed at the Sophisticated Gentleman.

As I've mentioned before, it's one of my favorite books, largely due to its internal linkage. But I'm finding it a bit intractable to both online publishing and online reading: luxuriant sentence structure, multipage paragraphs, and gargantuan notes all work more efficiently in paper technology than in computer hypertext, and the tiny none-too-tidy print clogs OCR.

A bit at a time seems the best way to proceed. And so, contrary to my previous practice, I'll be issuing the Memoirs in serial fashion.

Of this initial installment, I actually slighly prefer the bizarre Victorian wrapping to the contents proper, although Hamilton's declaration of methodology, Grammont's Sgt.-Bilko-like account of seventeenth-century warfare, and his easy socializing with both king and rebel during an armed rebellion all hold their charms.

Next in the hopper, though, is his introduction to the English court, and then we'll be cooking with gas!

. . . 2002-03-26


We'd always maintained that the man who is tired of London is tired of prats. And yet, three argyles (strong ginger tea gently criss-crossed into a tumbler of scotch, thank you, George, you're a wonder) into the wind, his ship of state of mind floundering through the Strait of Doldrums -- yes, even allowing for breeding and physiognomy, Lord Trough was in a ghastly mood.

Not exactly flush with breeding or appearance myself, save for the latter, and then only around the snozz, I wasn't sure I had a strong right arm to offer his hour of need, especially if it lasted the full sixty minutes: I'm not the Oxford crewsman I used to be, nor was I ever. But noblesse obliged, quickest mended; and I set about pummeling his shoulder with a manly open hand: "Here, old blot, what's the cringe about?"

"Hasn't it struck you with somewhat the same annoying persistence with which you're striking me that there's very little decent prose-writing in weblogs? Our Club spirit dwindles, I fear, and the spirit of the Empire with it."

I ruffled his beaver affectionately. "Ah, but there's a new spirit abroad, my dear (in the most manly way) chap. Haven't you tossed a squint at that list of weblogs-I-follow (or weblogs-I-follow-on-IE5) which tops (or sidles) every page I post?"

"To tell truth, in recent years I haven't even seen my own navel."

"That's neither here nor there, which may be why it remains unseen. Our format has recently grown plump and rosy as my very proboscis with interesting essayists. Permit me to single out some writerly compeers. (Although I can't in good faith do so without also singling out the more readerly wood s lot and Follow Me Here, any stout fellow's invariable departure points.) Ruthie's Double has already been around long enough to go on hiatus; other harbingers of dawn included the increasingly (though still not sufficiently) well known Eclogues, Visible Darkness, and UFO Breakfast."

"Perfessors or some such creatures, aren't they?" queried Trough.

"Of good stock, though; of good stock. Also boiling over the academic burners, I suppose, would be Alex Golub, metameat, bhikku, and the delightful Nordic smörgåstrophe of jill/txt, thinking with my fingers, Dust from a Distant Sun, and Field Notes. Not forgetting the specialized study of Philosophical Investigations, or the professionally scholastic but personally diarish Mad Monk, whose serial drama has enthralled me like no other on the web.

"Poot-poot-pootering with him along the diary route are clinkclank and How to Learn Swedish, while a more free-form sort of sphagnum blankets Open Brackets, Eeksy-Peeksy, Fireland, and litter in the streets.

"We can watch editors experience the simple pleasures of the unedited at Splinters, the prickly Electrolite, and the less-prickly and therefore less-prolific Making Light. Utopian web punditry more genteel than the Old Skool is being maintained by a professional pundit at JOHO and a professional parson at AKMA. Speaking of punditry, since the unpleasantness of last September --"

"Unpleasantness? What, did the tabloids catch that awful coney Charles snick-snicking at another wench?"

"A long story, I'm afraid. To return to the more pressing topic of weblogs: the price-conscious consumer will find their political commentary non-euro well spent at Busy Busy, Sideshow, Looking Glass, and tedbarlow -- our benighted American cousins would do well to heed Mr. tedbarlow's recent health-care summary, for example."

"I've always thought the knighting of Americans a disgraceful practice."

"Our own Club's Protocols of Miscellany are upheld to the highest standards by Cheek. And Lagniappe finally fulfills the longstanding need for a weblog of science commentary by a professional scientist -- although there's room for plenty more change in those slots. Also needed: more comedy! misterpants can't keep doing it on his own! Please, won't someone help misterpants?"

"Missing pants, you say? Good heavens, you're right; no wonder I felt debagged. George!"

. . . 2002-03-23

G O    F I S H

d o g
p o l e s t a r
c a t

. . . 2002-03-27

Remember these names

The Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (CBDTPA) prohibits the sale or distribution of nearly any kind of electronic device -- unless that device includes copy-protection standards to be set by the federal government.... Joining [Fritz Hollings (D-South Carolina)] as co-sponsors of the CBDTPA are one Republican and four Democrats: Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), John Breaux (D-Louisana) and Dianne Feinstein (D-California). At a hearing last week, Feinstein showed her colleagues a pirated movie that she said an aide had downloaded from a file-trading service.
One of them sort of springs out, doesn't it? Few South Carolinians outside Senator Hollings himself are likely to feel particularly tied to either movie-corporation or software-corporation money. But Senator Feinstein continues to betray the commercial interests of her Bay Area home base (not to mention such non-bottom-line interests as intellectual freedom, consumer rights, and cultural history) in favor of entertainment moguls. Isn't it about time for the computer and networking industries to start supporting legislators who'll protect their rights and the rights of their customers?

Then there's Feinstein's tired dog-and-my-little-nightmare-pony show, the exact equivalent of saying "I recorded a movie from cable on my VCR last night, and therefore VCRs should be illegal," probably because the RIAA used exactly that argument back when they wanted to ban VCRs.

God, I'm sick of Feinstein and her RIAA friends flaunting their lives of crime. She might just as well brag about parking in a disabled-only space before insisting that all car engines be stoppable by remote control, or about shoplifting from a used book store before insisting that no bookstores be allowed to operate without strip searches, or about stealing candy from a baby before insisting that babies not be allowed candy, or about letting her vicious untrained dog bite a caterer before insisting that caterers buy and wear padded clothing at all times. (Actually, according to a caterer friend, that last one is true, except that Feinstein didn't suggest the padded clothing, just told the caterer to get back to work. Actually, from what I've heard of Feinstein, she's probably done all those other things too.)

Earlier in the month, I wrote to California's other senatorial product of the Bay Area Democratic political machine, Barbara Boxer:

I have been a lifelong Democratic voter. But as a writer, an engineer, and an American citizen, I am concerned enough by this issue for it to decide my vote in future California elections.
Boxer is a liberal on other issues, so I wouldn't enjoy voting against her. Feinstein's a different kettle of day-old fish: she would be a Republican if she'd started from anyplace other than San Francisco, where her initial power-grab was only made possible by the assassination of Mayor Moscone. She's propped by corporate funds, and some of the funding should migrate.

United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary "User Comments":
0 arguments for; 186 arguments against

. . . 2002-03-28

Critics rave

"If you link to me then I will link to you." -- received via our response form

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Speaking of weblog community, right after I extruded that list of new and writerly weblogs, I found another one: synthesis. I suppose this will keep happening, damn it.

And yeah, when I claimed that there was only one clown in the car, I was just yankin' your chain. And hoo hoo, you should've seen your expression! Where's an X10 camera when you need one? For that matter, where's the world's largest online casino when you need one? Anyway, I sure didn't mean to forget young Toadex or put old Cardhouse down. But with Fred Metascene and Helen Razer semi-retired, I still think more clowns are needed. Especially professional scientist clowns.

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...low nutrient levels, waterlogged conditions, and acidic waters...

Here's a perfect example of weblogs' parasitic dependence on print media for original content: while I've been sitting around moping, The New York Times has broken another big story!

Old hat "We lost our sense of wonder," he said. "The Web is old hat."

Just 11 years after it was born and about 6 years after it became popular, the Web has lost its luster.[...]

"I remember sitting there for hours thinking it was so neat," said Jason Gallo, an office manager in Washington who discovered the Web in 1994. He said he would often get lists of favorite sites from his friends, which he called "quirky islands of fun."

"I don't see that anymore," he said.

Lisa Maira, a computer network administrator at the University of Buffalo, designed the Mr. Potato Head site with colleagues in 1994 (the name was later changed to Mr. Edible Starchy Tuber Head to avoid trademark infringement). It allowed viewers to dress up an online version of the toy. The site attracted thousands of visitors and a dozen "best of the Web" awards.

"It was just amazing," Ms. Maira said. Now, not only has the site fallen into disrepair, with broken links and missing game pieces, but many of the sites that gave it accolades are also out of business.

That kind of Web activity "doesn't impress people anymore," Ms. Maira said, adding that she counted herself among the disenchanted.

Welcome, Ms. Maira! I'm just sorry you couldn't have joined us in 1994.

Next week's headlines: "My Armpit Noises Didn't Land Me That Promotion After All," "Frat Boys Complain: The Spark Is Gone From Drunken Vomiting," and "'Which X Are You?' Quizzes Somehow Seem Less Accurate Now That I'm Divorced with No Health Insurance and Two Children to Support"!

. . . 2002-03-29

Dedicated to ToT:

I needed to get it out of my system. I hope it's out of my system. No one wants a system. Everyone looks for a system. Everyone looks for it in their system. To get it out and make a system. That kind of system no one wants to need to get it out of.

. . . before . . .. . . after . . .

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
All other material: Copyright 2002 Ray Davis.