Overweening Generalist

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Codex Jonesing: More Book Kulchur Schtuff

Can I Help You Find Something?
An unnamed staff writer at the Utne Reader wrote a very short piece for their November/December 2003  issue titled, "How To Find That Book You've Spent Years Looking For." The article itself isn't all that remarkable, but the comments are something you might like. More than eight years later, people are still chiming in, the last, as I write this, five days ago. I suspect the Utne attracts this kind of thing. 293 comments, in fits and starts, never dead, the comment thread that won't die...but might help you find a book or two you've always wanted? 

Bleu Mobley's Creation: Warren Lehrer
Blue Mobley just might be both the greatest and most fecund prison writer of all-time, and he's come up with a book that consists of 101 other books, and he's somehow managed to credibly assimilate typical genre styles, with backstories for his characters that are at times quite elaborate, with interconnections, and actually it seems Lehrer created Mobley, and...and...I have to check this guy out when he gets it published. Lehrer's Mobley and books within books. Lots of fake books make one really good one?

A Most Democratic Model For Your Book Club
The Omni Book Club, which started near Sandusky, Ohio and has spread to a few other <ahem> chapters around the country, is structured thus: instead of some "leader" deciding what book everyone will read and discuss, the Omni Book Club meets on a given day and everyone talks about the book(s) they have been reading, or just finished. People bring their books and talk about their experience reading them. Sometimes you might want to read aloud a passage or two to give the gist of why the book was so cool, or what was weird about it, whatever. Maybe the book disappointed you...but at least it was your decision to read the book. I really like this idea, and still plan to take a page from the Omni and get my own lot of Berkeley weirdos together to do this, probably with herbs, spices, beer and/or wine. I'm thinking the wrinkle in the standard book club model should open up some chances for personal performance of some sort: likely some of the other participants don't know your book or author, and you can really try to "sell" the book in your own way, but I guess I'll have to see.

The Book and Its Re-Purposing: An Idea That Seems Burgeoning
In one of my all-time favorite novels, The Illuminatus! Trilogy, by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, there's a passage in which one of the main characters keeps his stash of pot in a hollowed-out copy of Sinclair Lewis's vision of fascist Unistat, It Can't Happen Here. Nice little joke. I've since found that objects that look like books but are really hinged containers and fit on your shelves (with title, and author, usually looking like a book from the early 20th century) are easily found. Here's a booze-flask camouflage book. Why anyone would need to hide their booze I don't know, but it's witty enough. "It's funny you mention the 21st Amendment. I just happen to have a book on that right here..." And you open it, your pal sees your booze, you have a good laff. Cory Doctorow at boingboing loves this sorta stuff. 

Repurposing books is an artform, and will probably proliferate, because there's just so many old sets of encyclopedias, almanacs, atlases, and other books deemed as ephemera by someone; they're taking up too much space, gathering dust and we're just going to have to dump them at the Goodwill or public library, or...throw them away. Why not make them into furniture or Art? Here we see an example of old cookbooks made into a little shelf to hold...other cookbooks. 

A 34-foot high sculpture of books about Abe Lincoln. There are 6800 or so volumes that have to do with Lincoln, and it's located in the theater where he was assassinated. I wonder if, eventually, there will be enough books on JFK and his assassination to remake New York's Kennedy Center, to exact size?

What? Too soon?

Cut to the chase: you have to see this one in action to believe it: a Rube Goldberg-esque contraption to turn your pages for you. It's totally insane and wonderfully inspired. It's not a repurposing of books, but a zany way to help you read them, possibly on par with making a bathtub out of old books. Not for the practically-minded!

The OG Learns A New Thing: Human Skin To Bind Books?
Sometimes I confess something comes along that makes me think I've led a relatively sheltered life.

Anthropodermic bibliopegy: using human skin to bind books. I saw this article, and, given the tone of the site, I thought, "Every now and then I bet these guys let in a hoax article, for kicks." (Note the person who commented on the article, "The original Face Book.") I assumed this was a hoax. Then I found out anthropodermic bibliopegy was apparently real, and went on up to the the end of Victoria, around 1900, when dissected corpses had their skin tanned. I read the above linked article and the Wiki and it seems not like a put-on to me, but I'm still letting the idea sink in, as to why this was thought to be a Good Idea. The story is just sitting there, in my stomach, undigested, and making me feel a bit nauseated...The idea of the record of a criminal being bound by that very criminal's skin? Ghastly. But apparently a Neat Idea up to the end of Queen Victoria's reign. You have to read this article and then try to believe it. I guess I sorta believe it, but I'm not happy about it.

If you happen to own an old leather-bound book from between 1700-1900, and it has a "bizarre waxy smell" and different "pore size" compared to cow or pig hide...Let's move on, shall we?

Book Porn
No, not porn-porn, but images of books, people reading, great writers at their desks, ya know: book porn. Check this Tumblr site dedicated to this form of porn, which caters to the bibliomane in, I'm guessing, most of us. (?)

Nathan Myhrvold's Molecular Gastronomy Book
                                           Here 'tis. 5 Vols, 40 pounds, 2400 pages.

Here''s Myhrvold making an omelette in a way you probably have not, on the morning Today Show, from around a year ago. I wonder about the people who buy this book and actually get really deep into the finer points of molecular gastronomy. I imagine they're either very fun to party with, or not at all fun. The video is about 4 minutes:

Nathan Myhrvold's IQ is presumably very, very high. You can buy his cookbook(s) for between $400-$500. It delivers "science-inspired techniques for preparing food." Lemme know how this works out for ya. Here's an interesting article on Myhrvold and his cookbook(s).

                               Old books at Basking Ridge Historical Society, New Jersey.
                               Photo by William Hoiles. Wikimedia Commons. I was not
                               able to determine if any of these were bound using human skin.

Sir Thomas Phillips (1792-1872): Greatest Bibliomaniac Ever?
The illegitimate son of an English textile manufacturer, Phillips inherited a sizable estate, and seems to have devoted most of it in the attempt to acquire every book ever published. One who knew him called Phillips "vain, selfish, dogmatic, obstinate, litigious and bigoted."

Vellum is a very fine parchment made from calf's skin, and, as Phillips learned more about the book trade, his propensity quickly ran toward vellum, and he called himself "a perfect vello-maniac" and "paid any price asked."

Actuated by knowledge of various bibliocausts, Phillips wrote in an early catalog of his collection, "In amassing my collection, I commenced with purchasing everything that lay within my reach, to which I was instigated by reading various accounts of the destruction of valuable manuscripts." He liked the idea of having so many rare books that great scholars would be forced to ask him to use his library. And scholars did indeed use his immense, perpetually-metastasizing collection. I imagine it was a tremendous thrill for Phillips.

Phillips was well aware of great collectors who'd preceded him, but they didn't have some opportunities he'd had, history's vicissitudes throwing some fortune his way with, for example the French Revolution. Phillips: "There must be vast treasures upon the Continent in consequence of the dispersion of Monastic libraries by the French Revolution."

By the end of his life, writes Nicholas Basbanes in A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books, "The collection Sir Thomas Phillips left was so enormous that a full century of inventories, private sales, and auctions was necessary to sort it out. The bad news, for the British Museum at least, was that the man did not have it in him to give his collection to the nation outright; the nation's error was its failure to make a reasonable offer. But collections serve civilization in many ways. The irreplaceable material Phillips rescued can be found today in institutions all over the world where they serve scholarship. This was not his intention, but it was his legacy. Once the Court of Chancery declared in 1885 that his will was too restrictive, dispersal was possible." (p.122)

What was in Phillips' will? When he died he was bitter, confused, cantankerous and illogical. What reader is surprised at this? He willed that his books all stay in the same house (Thirlestaine), that no bookseller or "stranger" ever be allowed to arranged them, that one of his daughters and her husband never be allowed among the collection (Phillips had disapproved of the marriage), and that "no Roman Catholic should ever be admitted" to his library. He had not left enough money for upkeep of his library; his will toward his books was totally unrealistic. His favored son-in-law, the Reverend John Fenwick, said of Phillips after his death, that the man "pleased no one in life, and I expect he has managed to displease everybody in death as well." (p.122, ibid)

A Quote
"If you want people to read a book, tell them it is overrated." - Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Bed of Procrustes, p.11.

Finally: Time Enough At Last
When I was 12-18 I was obsessed with the old black and white Twilight Zone series on TV, which had its original run from 1959-1964. There's one episode, "Time Enough At Last, in which a meek bibliophile/ardent reader, takes his lunch break in his bank's deep basement vault, where he can read in quiet before going back to work. While down in the depths, a nuclear attack levels the area, and he emerges, like some pathetic rodent, surveying the devastation. The wonderful thing: just as he's about to commit suicide, he realizes the public library's books were not incinerated in the blast (poetic license!), and this meek little guy, played by the illustrious Burgess Meredith, has time enough to read, at last. Here's the ending of the 22 minute episode:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rumination on "Facts," From Dark to Light to Dark

Ever since I wrote about Mike Daisey and the brouhaha over The Lifespan of a Fact, my prolixity surrounding all that, something's gotten in my craw, and I have the need to purge. The idea of "facts" seems very emotionally-laden. They're usually associated with the "cold" and "rational" realm. They are, but let's look at the non-rational aspect of "fact" and see if we "see"... Hell, maybe I'll write my way to something closer to the "truth." Facts and the Truth are both good, right?

We don't want "lies," we say; give us "facts." But I was thinking about Robert Anton Wilson giving an interview, and being asked about his historical novels, and his research for them. He said using one encyclopedia was useless. When trying to ascertain how high the walls of the Bastille were in 1770 or so, one Authoritative source gave one number, another Authority said something else, and a third yet something dissentual from the other two.

And what does a fact-checker do? They work hard to verify that...what will be consumed by its eventual audience "is" true. But how do they know? They talk to someone who was there. Maybe a few people. They consult all kinds of documents: newspaper clippings, web searches, phone books, photographs, recordings, musty old almanacs, competing reports of some...(supposed) event. Are each of the items listed in the previous sentence unimpeachable "evidence"? Are they infallible?

It gets worse.

It turns out, from about 60 years (or you can argue: 110 years?) of cognitive psychological research, that as searchers with skills to ferret truth from lies, and the detection of biases...we're biased and will only perceive that which fits into our reality tunnels. Some may be better at detecting their own biases and seeing a bigger slice of the picture - they have developed alternative models for thinking -  but no one Sees All, or can Determine Absolutely What Went On, how it all "really" went down.

This seems a very unpleasant "fact." And no doubt there is someone who is reading this that is getting so mad at me for denying they can know the Whole Truth that, in this day and age in Unistat...I'm glad my address isn't listed here. Sorry! A welter of empirical data shows we are colored by very ingrained cultural, social, behavioral and even biological structures embedded in neural circuitry. (Biological in that other animals "see" the world differently than we do. This may seem trivial given the socio-cultural aspects that occlude, but I think it's a valuable reminder of our glorious embodiment, and that it prevents us from sensing certain things that come easy to, say, dogs and birds, ants and snakes.)

It seems we tell ourselves "we've ran it through the fact-checkers...looks doubtful we're gonna get sued" and that's probably good enough most of the time. But at a more granular level of "facts"? I think we just all want to pretend that we can definitively know. The documentation is there, man! And the writers of those documents "were" people of fine character. Okay. Maybe.

Nonetheless, it's an important job, lots can hang on it (not being brought down by a libel suit, for example), and as David Zweig argues in a recent article, the fact-checker's responsibilities seem isomorphic to the graphic designer's, the piano tuner for a world-class pianist, and the anesthesiologist: all are unsung, but vital.

And facts are not a trifle; they're simply fallible. In reading, listening, thinking, writing, we must use our uncommon sense, wits, intuition (whatever that is: our non-dominant hemisphere?), our "built-in, shockproof crap detector." And it's gotta be good enough for now. We give it a good shot and move on, 'cuz it's time for Jeopardy!

In a brazen attempt to manipulate your mood - the "Light" in the title above - and steal 10 minutes of your time, here's a short film about fact-checkers, starring Bill Murray:

In a 1942 essay by Wallace Stevens he asserts that "reality" and "imagination" are inseparable. Our "ordinary" reality of today is the hardened, naturalized, codified place where imagination was once new.

And we're to either take imagination - our imaginations - seriously, and practice thinking change and then enacting change, or we shall go on, having our mendacious leaders and our "faith" tell us everything's okay; things will get better. Well, I've perceived what's happened since, oh, late 2000 CE, and this will not cut it. Right-wing billionaires and bank-bought liberals, clownish candidates, endless wars, a crumbling infrastructure, jealous bailed-out CEOs and their "talent" and privilege and unearned, obscene bonuses right out of an Alfred Jarry play, a whole political party operating in a wholly-concocted sham reality-bubble, a craven corporate media, the growing Panopticon, the fact that Unistat tortures and insists it can kill anyone they want, anytime, for reasons of State, in perpetuity..."faith" will not do. More imagination is needed. Can we carry it off? Are there enough of us?

What does all this have to do with "fact-checking"? Just this, my friends: In our Information Economy, the organization of "facts" trumps anything like "truth." The brutal Rationality of the State seems too oriented toward suffering and death for most of us, if not us right now in Unistat, then our friends and brothers and sisters in other lands.

Why should we pay attention to what "the market" did today? What about those unemployment statistics? How about the recent poll numbers for one corporate-bought candidate over the other one? Gross National Product, population trends, demographics...this stuff can make you sick. Are we supposed to follow the numbers and not perceive with our eyes and ears?

Do I have a bloodlust towards the people of Iran? Afghanistan? Far, far from it. Do you think air strikes are the only answer? If so, I must ask you: when did you lose it? Because you have lost it, in my opinion.

Let's use imagination. Maybe Mike Daisey, in his superabundance of imagination, exercised it un-cautiously when discussing how Apple products are made. But really: how truthful is his story, on the whole? And was it all about rhythm? Or human suffering?

I'll end by quoting Wallace Stevens, from 1942:

In speaking of the pressure of reality, I am thinking of life in a state of violence, not physically violent, as yet, for us in America, but physically violent for millions of our friends and for still more millions of our enemies and spiritually violent, it may be said, for everyone alive...A possible poet must be a poet capable of resisting or evading the pressure of the reality of this last degree, with the knowledge that the degree of today may become a deadlier degree tomorrow.

                                          Wallace Stevens, American poet.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mike Daisey and the Lifespan of a Fact

Preliminary Bullshit
Dear Readers: Herein I shall attempt to report only the honest facts - as checked by me; hey, I don't get paid for this blogstuff - and discuss some Current Events and how they might relate to Philosophy. The "stories" I've read and will link to "are" true (I think?), and really, if I hadn't read and saw these items with my own eyes I would have had serious doubts...about...your existence. Or mine. Or the nature of veracity. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me start at what I've decided is the beginning.

I hope I'm being faithful to Marianne Moore when she hinted that poetry was an "imaginary garden with real toads" in it. Not sure if I should've put quotes around that...

But we're not talking about "poetry" here. (Or will we?) We're talking about fiction versus non-fiction, journalism and what we think it "really" oughtta be, documentary films, feature films about historical events, artistic license (who evah hoidda such a thing?), and who gets away with what. And maybe why and how, if the lunch bell doesn't ring, in which case all speech should cease while we dash off to fill our pie-holes, of paramount import.

I remember working in a library, shelving books under the Dewey Decimal System. Do such work for 25 hours a week and you're almost guaranteed to learn the System pretty quickly.

I quickly noticed all the books from 200 to 299 were about religion. Okay. But the Bible was in there, too. So: at some point They had a meeting and decided the Bible was "non-fiction"?

                                             Supposedly, this is Carlos Castaneda

Later I read a thick book by a skeptic, Richard DeMille, who had been adopted by Cecil B. DeMille, and was at one time linked to L. Ron Hubbard and John Wilkes Booth, but let us not let any guilt-by-association into this screed. I hate that type of rhetoric.

Richard made his intellectual career out of showing what a con artist Carlos Castaneda had been, and still was, while DeMille was writing his books. I had read Castaneda and thought his tales of interaction with the shaman Don Juan marvelous, almost too marvelous to be true. DeMille pretty much convinced me Castaneda made it all up. (Maybe?) It's a long story. I recommend checking out The Don Juan Papers: Further Castaneda Controversies.

But did this make everything in Castaneda "false"? This story, by its commodius vicus of recirculation, keeps coming back around. And I always enjoy it. I find much of value in Castaneda, even though I doubt he ever went into the desert at all. I don't believe Don Juan existed. I think Castaneda wrote his books in the UCLA library, liberally stealing from other books on shamanism, Taoism, zen, American Indian tales, books on psychedelic drugs, and ideas from a branch of sociology called Ethnomethodology, whose greatest practitioner, Harold Garfinkel, was one of Castaneda's faculty advisors at UCLA. But Castaneda's books - shelved also in the non-fiction section of most libraries - constitute something of fictional gardens with real toads in them. At least for me. Is "poetry" true?

Fact-Checking and Non-Fiction
Richard DeMille's book cited above, 500-plus pages, constitutes an extended fact-check on Castaneda, with plenty of contributions from expert witnesses, some friendly to Castaneda, most not. If DeMille's book does anything truly valuable, it's to add to the High Weirdness that has mounted around the history of Cultural Anthropology, particularly ethnographies.

All of which I find endlessly fascinating, but more recently and more domestically, a book called The Lifespan of a Fact has brought this whole issue of liminality around. Ostensibly the book is a back-and-forth between a writer of a non-fiction essay about a young man's suicide in Las Vegas, and the fact-checker of his "story." If you're not already all over this, pause now and read up on it HERE, HERE,  (an excerpt HERE), HERE, HERE, and if you're not sick of it already, HERE. I don't have the time to go over the minutiae.

My Derived Opinions About Facts as Discussed by Some Critics of the Book About Facts
I have only perused the book and not read it cover-to-cover. My preliminary opinion-feel is that D'Agata is a pretentious tool, and Fingal was just trying to do his job. I'm stunned by how D'Agata wants to abuse his literary license, choosing to defend such trivialities, such as defending 34 because it's rhythmically better than the true 31, etc, many more examples, etc.

I also assume most of the great non-fiction essays - especially the ones by the New Journalists and the so-called New-New Journalists, contain some inaccuracies, emanating from poetic license, or facts that couldn't be verified, or mistaken information the author found congenial to their aims.

It seems to me a matter of degree: might we possibly ask, how vital is this information? If one were to act on the (inaccurate?) information, could it significantly increase harm to someone? If it turns out there are alarming inaccuracies, does it impinge on our abilities to make good decisions in the "real world"? What does it mean to lie, even with poetic aims? This last one is my favorite, because it cuts into the philosophical terrain of "How do we know what we think we know?" and "How is knowledge constituted?" and "How can we tell if something is really true or not?" These un-toothsome queries being mere paraphrastic basic definitions from that wily branch of Philosophy, epistemology. (And in our case here, a sub-branch, "social epistemology.")

I do not find it fruitful to keep separate, via some derived rule, epistemology and ethics, or ethics and ontology, or epistemology and ontology, or...you get the point. My main model of the world as of late March, 2012 forbids such Kantian rationalistic fears of "contamination" or untidy blurring of lines we meme-reified/made up at some point in our neurohistory...

Why do we lie to our kids about Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy? At what point is this lying "unethical"? When are kids ready to be taught that, not long ago, six million people were exterminated because of their heritage? Or facts about the centuries-long Inquisition in Europe? It seems most Unistatians would rather stay closer to the Tooth Fairy when the history of their own land is framed like this: "America was built upon genocide and slavery." Is that last statement "false"?

Stephen Colbert's "truthiness" reigns supreme o'er the land. Senator Moynihan famously said something like "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts." It turns out his..."argument" is losing in Unistat, 2012. But then I'm biased, to some degree, because I have no Archimedean vantage point by which to tell "the" truth, such a Damned Thing exists. All this - this whole Overweening Generalist blog - is me trying, hoping, to get my opinions and ideas across. Not "the truth." But I will tell you what I think, as of that day. I'm always hoping to get closer to something like the truth and assume a vast ignorance within myself.

As for the reviews of The Lifespan of a Fact I linked to above, two passages resonated with me. See if they do with you too, or to what degree they do:

In Laura Miller's piece from Salon, she ends by noting how an implementation of a fact-checking habit in our own lives could be salutary, and writes:

To me, this seems far more likely to break a person open and destabilize his understanding of himself and the world than hopping on D'Agata's magic carpet ride of Art. The pity is that more nonwriters  aren't subjected to fact checking. It may not be fun, but it's good for you.

In the piece by New Yorker fact-checker Hannah Goldberg:

The conceit that one must choose facts or beauty - even if it's beauty in the name of "Truth" or a true "idea" - is preposterous. A good writer - with the help of a fact-checker or an editor, perhaps - should be able to marry the two, and a writer who refuses to try is, simply, a hack. If I've learned anything at this job, it's that facts can be quite astonishing.

My favorite piece on this highfalutin' imbroglio was by Dan Kois at Slate, "Facts Are Stupid." Robert Anton Wilson fans should appreciate this one. Check his links! Note the notes at the end of the piece! This is a piece I wish I would've written...One can spend a lot of time analyzing this piece and its link to its own "inaccuracies," which themselves suggest further "inaccuracies"...Kois, I suspect, is Illuminati.

                                Orson needs to be in the middle of a discussion such as this.

More Philosophy-Lite Jibber-Jabber About <cough> Truth
How to square this with Jean-Luc Godard's bit about film being "lies at 24 frames per second," or Dorothy Allison's "Fiction is a piece of truth that turns lies to meaning," or "Art is a lie I use to tell the truth," usually attributed to Picasso. Oscar Wilde once queried, "Are the critics of Hamlet mad or only pretending to be so?"

I think the convention of presenting or framing a work as non-fiction puts an onus upon the writer to attempt to be factual to the utmost, all the while we must never forget who we are as humans, and that the Trickster gods are always at play in our Art, whether putatively "fiction" or not. Some of us will always be more possessed by the local Trickster gods and goddesses. This I take as basic fact.

Why Mike Daisey Should Go On As He's Been, and That Ira Glass Is a Tool
First: a gedankenexperiment: JFK really was killed, right? And Clifford Irving really did get caught hoaxing a prominent publishing house by asserting he had a hotline to Howard Hughes and a sure-fire Number One Bestseller. And some painters are such good forgers that some of their paintings have fooled Art "experts" and are hanging in some of the world's great museums, right? And Orson Welles really did scare the bejeezus out of very many people with his "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast, right? Okay now: watch Oliver Stone's feature film JFK, followed by Orson Welles's documentary F For Fake, then decide how much of each film was "really true." For extra credit, tell us why you think Stone and Welles made the decisions they did.

Okay: Mike Daisey. Does he present himself as a journalist? A hard-hitting reporter of "facts"? No, but he seemed to be crossing over into a new territory when he started talking about Apple and the working conditions in China where the Apple products are assembled. If you've had a "life" lately and don't know the story, HERE is an item. And HERE. If you're still into it, HERE. Mike Daisey's blog is HERE. NPR's This American Life Pulls the Apple story.

First off, Ira Glass and the other movers at NPR -  I like NPR and listen to This American Life and I really like the show - seem to me pretentious here. Their show is NOT journalism. There are readings of fiction pieces. They aim to entertain by having people at times answer off-the-cuff questions about personal aesthetics, there's a lot of literary goofiness about the show. Etcetera. And Mike Daisey? Has he earned the right to be a Mark Twain-ish storyteller? Or, as one critic said of Daisey: a cross between Noam Chomsky and Jack Black. (I think this comparison apt if overblown, risking the disappointment of hardcore Jack Black and ardent devotees of Noam Chomsky.) You're not allowed to do that?

(I'd like to see some guy come out as a cross between George Carlin and the Dalai Lama - now you Osho/Rajneesh fans: don't tell me He was it: the jokes weren't there, if ya knowwhattamean - but now I'm rambling...)

Did we forget Daisey's background? A little CONTEXT, please? Was Daisey contrite when NPR called him out? Can Mike Daisey speak for himself astonishingly well? Does he bring into question the ideas about artists pointing out injustices in a way that Just The Facts M'am journalists have not? Possibly because it's unpleasant to face those facts, when you're so goddamned in love with a company's gadgets? (I got a little carried away there, and I apologize, but I say the answer is YES to all the above.)

Now: I consider the form of the comedic monologue to a form of poetry, one of my favorite forms in fact. There is where I stand.

About six years ago, Daisey - Unsitat's most brilliant monologist, as good as Spaulding Gray was, in my opinion - did a talk-piece called Truth, if I remember correctly. Now, earlier today I checked You Tube and found and re-watched two four-minute "teasers" for that show, both hilarious, one on James Frey and one on J.T. LeRoy, but a few hours later, they've been removed from You Tube. Qui bono?, Mike Daisey? I think they bolster your cred! Anyway, I guess he has his reasons.

(There are five errors in the above piece, for which I apologize. - the OG)

Here's Daisey being interviewed in Cork, Ireland, in 2010. It's 4 minutes, 47 seconds.

6 minutes from a Daisey performance called "Invincible Summer":

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Self-Experimentation: Notes and a Few Colorful Examples

A quasi-hallowed, if underestimated and mis-appreciated history attends those investigators who used themselves as subjects. Perhaps the most famous - or most-oft-cited - work on the subject focuses on intrepid medical self-experimenters: Lawrence K. Altman's gripping Who Goes First?: The Story of Self-Experimentation in Medicine

I've found my readings over the past 30 years marked by sudden tales of self-experimentation, and a 900 pager has yet to be done, or at least I've yet to see some compendium on the subject.

What strikes me is the underappreciated nature of the methodology, and I hope to tackle the obvious seeming "problem" of various "biases" usually called into account by those who assert that the double-blind, placebo (if the study can have one) controlled study is the only valid mode of investigation.

Recent years have seen a resurgence in self-experimentation at the level of Psychology, and there's no better spokesman than Seth Roberts, but I'll get to him later. First: a few of my favorite self-experimenters.

Sir Humphry Davy
Let's return to those profoundly painful years of surgery in the late 18th century, pre-anaesthesia. As the retired professor of Marine Biology Trevor Norton puts it, it went something like this:

1. Site the operating room out of earshot of other patients.
2. Be excessively solicitous over the distress caused to the poor surgeon.
3. Strap the patient down securely.
4. Have the patient bite down on the surgeon's walking stick.
5. Slice and saw at speed.
-p.24, Smoking Ears and Screaming Teeth: A Celebration of Scientific Eccentricity and Self-Experimentation, by Norton.

Around the beginning of the 19th century, some medics volunteered to sniff or inhale one or another of the newly discovered gasses. Oxygen, carbon dioxide, and even carbon monoxide were thought to be therapeutic to inhale. Who knows? Maybe these new gasses are miracle cures?
                                      Sir Humphry Davy: fearless chemist, got his friends 
                                      high on laughing gas, sold science as a good idea

Humphry Davy (1778-1829) was brilliant, a good communicator, and a bit of a showman. He gave himself credit for "discovering" Michael Faraday. (Davy died of congenital heart disease at age 50, after writing very popular essays on possible alien life and science and philosophy.) And it seems, Davy was fearless to the point of daftness. (Because he knew heart disease stalked his family? "I'm gonna die early I might as well be a hero?") The guy would try anything on himself, into himself, noting the results, upping the dosage, almost dying, dialing it back a bit, taking notes. His colleagues were relieved to see him show up the next morning, one noting that Davy risked his life, "as if he had two or three others in reserve, on which he could fall back in case of necessity."

Quickly, around the age of 21, Davy began to assume the much-ballyhooed gas therapy was overhyped. He had tried them all himself, finding carbon monoxide particularly exhausting. It had him "sinking into annihilation, and had just enough power to drop the mouthpiece from my unclosed lips...There is every reason to believe, that if I had taken four or five inhalations instead of three, they would have destroyed life immediately." He quickly breathed in some oxygen, and went on, unafraid. A week later he inhaled some solvent that seared his epiglottis and had him choking, but he made sure he kept measuring his pulse all the while. All in the name of Science!

A colorful character who invented the miner's safety lamp, Davy became something of a celebrity-scientist in his time (if you can imagine such a thing when the only mass media were books and newspapers), and helped convince the Ruling Class that they ought to invest heavily in science, because it's the ultimate tool for the production of wealth.

In the weirdness of time, a new gas came along that was creating a bit of a stir. Davy was skeptical - he'd had some very close-calls with gasses - but had to give it a whirl. This stuff was called nitrous oxide. He tried it, and found that it was good. He upped the doses every day, trying this stuff four or five times per day for a week. The verdict from Davy on what we now commonly call "laughing gas": "highly pleasurable... thrilling...I lost all connection with external things: I existed in a world of newly connected and newly modified ideas. I theorized, I imagined, I made discoveries." 

Early Victorian hippie!

Davy was so wildly enthusiastic he turned on his pals the poets Southey and Coleridge, and a guy who was into thesauruses named Roget. They loved it. Soon the cognoscenti and well-off made haste to the Pneumatic Institute at Bristol. (Where have we heard this story before?)

Here's a horrible irony before I move on to another self-experimenter: Davy soon after suffered from pain from his wisdom teeth. Naturally, he grabbed for the wonder-gas. It worked. He wrote that Nitrous "appears capable of destroying physical pain, it may probably be used with advantage during surgical operations." Oddly, no one urged this on, and surgeries were done without Nitrous for another 40 years! I can't tell you why this happened - I can't find a definitive answer - and this story of prolonged pain in surgery gets even worse.

Around the same time that Davy was experimenting in England, a Japanese surgeon named Seishu Hanaoka (1760-1835) was learning surgery from European books, but he'd turned to Chinese medicine in an attempt to find a solution to the Extreme Pain Problem. He experimented on animals for 20 years with plant extracts that might dull pain and he thought he'd finally hit on the right solution, so he gave it to his wife and she went blind. (Not self-experimentation, aye, but the history of this stuff is also rife with offspring, spouses, and other family members who "volunteered to go first.") Seishu was undeterred and finally hit on a potion of muscle relaxers, sedatives, and analgesics. In 1804 he removed a tumor from a woman relatively painlessly. He then went on to do another 150 operations with this potion, but Japan's insularity toward the rest of the world made Seishu's anaesthesia a secret to the West. The Internet makes this kind of story impossible for our times, doesn't it?
(These anecdotes and more: see Trevor Norton's book, ibid, pp.22-43, "Sniff It and See." Norton's a wonderful writer, and funny!)

                                 Nikola Tesla in his Colorado Springs lab. This is 
                                    apparently not as "shocking" as it looks!

Stubbins Ffirth
I know his name looks like something out of Dickens, but he was oh-so real, and was determined, in early 1800s Philadelphia, to prove that the periodic breakouts of the vicious yellow fever were not contagious. He went to garish lengths to show his hypothesis was sound, in an effort to get his MD. He submitted his copious data eventually and was awarded the degree. Here are some of the things he did to support his idea:

Because the disease was rampant in the summer months but died off in the cold winter, only to return when the warm weather returned, Ffirth reasoned that warm weather overly-excited people, and yellow fever was caused by the stimulation of heat, food and noise. People just needed to calm down! Meanwhile, everyone else believed yellow fever was contagious. To prove it wasn't, Ffirth watched a patient vomit hot black mucus-laden coffee-grind-looking bile, and he filled his cup with some and drank it down. He didn't get sick.

Then Ffirth kept a dog in a room and fed it bread soaked in a patient's yellow-fever vomit. The dog ate it and seemed to like it, never once getting ill. Ffirth - a thorough medical student, this one - made an incision in his forearm and poured more yellow-fever vomit into his wound. Nothing. Maybe some inflammation, which subsided. He made a deeper cut and poured some more in. Still in the pink. He poured fever-vomit into his eyes. (I'm not making this up: see Alex Boese's book Elephants on Acid and Other Bizarre Experiments, pp.195-198) Ffirth heated some vomit on a skillet and inhaled the fumes, to no ill effect. He then created a whole room of yellow-fever-vomit sauna-fumes, basked in the vapors, and felt a headache, "some nausea," and perspired a lot, but it didn't last, and he probably skipped home to a good night's sleep.

He put yellow-fever vomit into pills and took them. He drank glasses of the stuff mixed with water, saying "the taste was slightly acid." He realized he'd become used to the black vomit of deathly sick folk, and even kinda liked it! He even cooked up a recipe for a yellow-fever-vomit liqueur, which I will include here, because some of you (Hey, who KNOWS the type of people who read the OG?) will want to have it, just in case:

If black vomit be strained through a rag, and the fluid thus obtained be put into a bottle or vial, leaving about one-third part of it empty, this being corked and sealed, if set by for one or two years, will assume a pale red colour, and taste as though it contained a portion of alkohol.
(NB the aging process! Don't come to me and complain your vomit bile tastes "wrong" if you don't properly age it!- the OG)

I know what you're saying: this whack-job Ffirth didn't use other bodily fluids from sick patients, or surely he would've perished. Wrong: he made incisions in his arms and worked in the sweat, urine, blood and saliva of very sick yellow fever patients, with only minor inflammation. Ffirth could only assume he'd more than proved his point: yellow fever was not contagious. He was awarded the MD.

Okay: we now know that yellow fever is caused by mosquito bites carrying an RNA virus. The mosquitoes bite in the hot summer months. Ffirth could have gotten sick. Why didn't he? Boese cites an authority on infectious diseases, Christian Sandrock of UC Davis, who thinks Ffirth got lucky, because mosquito-borne diseases like yellow fever or West Nile virus require direct transmission from mosquito to host. It turns out Ffirth got lucky. He was right: you can't get yellow fever from someone else, but he wrong as to why. It's tempting to say he drank all that vomit "for nothing," but science VALUES wrong ideas like this; we now know you can pour the vomit from a patient with yellow fever into your eye sockets and you'll be fine, come out "smelling like roses," so to speak...just don't get bit by a mosquito! Had he picked smallpox, he'd have died quickly.

Still: hat's off to the brave Stubbins Ffirth, and...bottom's up!

[The aforementioned Alex Boese's 10 Strangest Self-Experiments Ever. I like the guy who did his own surgery.]

The Great Generalist, Somewhat Overweening: Buckminster Fuller
Broke and feeling like a loser, in 1927 Bucky decided knowledge and assumptions about what he or others "knew" was probably based in language, and there might be a problem with language getting in the way of solving problems. So he went silent for two years.

"All this was pretty difficult for my wife, because we were in Chicago and didn't have any money. We had an apartment in the least expensive fireproof tenement I could find, because we did have our baby. I really did stop all sounds, and then gradually started wanting to use a particular sound. I was finally pretty sure I would know what the effects would be on my fellow man if I made a particular sound. I wanted to be sure that when I did communicate that, I really meant to communicate thusly, and that this was me communicating and not somebody else."

Words were tools that mankind developed, but like all tools, they could be used unwisely. By going silent he might learn to re-think how to use words to say what he had thought for himself, uncontaminated by received wisdom. And it seems to have worked. (< Have a gander at that site.)

And the way he used words! Anyone who has read any of his books will be struck by his unorthodox verb-ing use of verbs (because physics tells us that "nouns" are, at the pre-verbal level, dynamic, whirling masses of atoms, nothing is static) and the geometric aspect of his peculiar linguistic fluency.

Here he is, talking, 6 minutes:

Alexander "Sasha"Shulgin
Psychedelic drugs. There's LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline and peyote, DMT, and probably a couple more you've heard about but have forgotten and that's it, right? No, there are over 300 other psychedelic drugs, most of them synthesized by a man, now 86, who has worked for the DEA and was Professor of Chemistry at Berkeley. He built a lab on his property not far from Berkeley, and with his lifelong knowledge of pharmacological chemistry, concocts analogs of known drugs, never quite knowing how they'll turn out. Add an extra carbon atom here, some nitrogen over there, and the neurological effects can turn out to be quite different from the original potion. How does he know what it's like? He tries them himself. Then he writes a report later, basing it on notes taken or what someone who was not on the drug observed. And memory of the "trip." The range of effects - extremely erotic for one drug, nightmarish for another, dreamy lassitude with enriched colors and sounds with another, uncontrolled vomiting, temporary paralysis, a feeling that his bones were melting, floating, long-lasting euphoria, etc. 

If something has a particularly interesting effect, his wife will try it too and report on the effects. They note the dosages, how long the trip lasts, how long after ingestion it takes to feel effects, what the "peak" of the experience is like. There is an underground of knowledgeable "psychonauts" who will gladly assist in probing a particular drug. Shulgin re-discovered methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, or "Ecstasy," and it then became a Big Deal.

Why does Shulgin try these things himself? 
"I take them myself because I am interested in their activity in the human mind. How would you test that in a rat or mouse?"
He thinks we have the right to experiment with ourselves, and when Unistat tried to keep his knowledge from the public, he published it in books, and if you ever get a chance to sit for an hour or two and page through (the at-times admittedly dauntingly technical) PIHKAL or TIKHAL, it ought to be an eye-opener. Recently a documentary on Shulgin was released, but I have yet to see it, as I write this, although I just now noticed the full 90 minute doc in on You Tube, so I'll include it at the end of this blogspew. For those without the 90 mins to spare, here's a one-minute trailer:

Democratization of Self-Experimentation
This DIY idea has been quietly catching on, and I recently maxed out my library card and brought home titles such as Mind Hacks: Tips and Tools For Using Your Brain, Upgrade Your Life, and The Road To Excellence: The Acquisition of Expert Performance in the Arts and Sciences, Sports and Games by K. Anders Ericsson, who tested Joshua Foer's performance on cognitive abilities, including memory, which I mentioned HERE while discussing Foer's road to using a 2000 year old "memory palace" technique in order to win a "mental athlete" memory competition. 

The number of books that report on the author's experience in spending a year (or so) doing a particular outre thing has cascaded in the past ten years. I think of rock critic Neil Strauss falling in with a bunch of not-so-great looking guys who are intensely interested in techniques that work for picking up women (The Game), and Strauss's more recent true-tales of the extreme lengths he went to to become a survivalist because of what happened in Unistat after 9/11, Emergency!:This Book Will Save Your Life, or Beth Lisick's hilarious Helping Me Help Myself, in which she wakes up on New Year's Day with a killer hangover, disgusted with herself, then spends a year by reading and following a different self-help guru each month. There was some bright young guy who mined metal ores and eventually made his own toaster by hand, whose book I have not read. There are many more. 

Scientific Methodology and Problems With Bias
Seth Roberts, emeritus professor at UC Berkeley and some university in China, seems to have had quite a large influence on this...self-experimentational movement
                              Seth Roberts: found a way to manipulate 
                              his own weight via unorthodox methods

Roberts seems to have started off testing his dermatologist's recommendation that he use tetracycline and benzoyl peroxide for his acne. (He's 58 now, so this was a while back.) He took more of the antibiotic than recommended, then counted his pimples. He took less and counted. He was told by "experts" that diet has nothing to do with acne. He assumed the over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide was a sham, but when he finds out what works for him, after looking at his data: tetracycline doesn't work (and he'd assumed it would), and the OTC cream did work. So: he found out what he didn't expect, and this gets at what his critics charge: self-confirmatory bias makes self-experimentation worthless. You must have well-controlled double-blind placebo studies. Seth says: maybe. 

An interesting self-experimenter who's been influenced by Seth is Timothy Ferriss. Here's a link to Ferriss's blog, but note that Seth Roberts argues for the self-experimental method very well in the text below the two videos, said text appearing in Ferriss's book The 4-Hour Body. (Note his points on Mendel and Darwin.) Roberts also defends the "unreasonable effectiveness" of his methodology HERE. Seth's blog is HERE. Libertarian economist Tyler Cowen has been on board with Roberts since 2007.

What do you think? Is it all part of Operation Mindfuck?

This blogspew is dedicated to the first person to eat an artichoke; Kevin Warwick, who wants to be the first cyborg (see HERE and HERE); Morgan Spurlock, who ate supersized McDonald's food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 30 and made McDonald's re-think some of their menu; and some never-to-be identified primitive homo sapiens who, while standing with a friend, poked him in the ribs and said, "You see that white thing coming out of that chicken's ass? Call me crazy, but I'm eating it!"

Here's the Shulgin doc, Dirty Pictures (2011 Etienne Sauret):

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lee Israel's Forgeries and a Shem the Penman Writer's Consciousness

"One cannot even begin to post figure out a statuesquo ante as to how slow in reality the excommunicated Drumcondriac, nate Hamis, really was. Who can say how many pseudostylic shamiana, how few or how many of the most venerated public impostures, how very many piously forged palimpsests slipped in the first place by this morbid process from his pelagiarist pen?" - Finnegans Wake, pp.181-182

Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger, by Lee Israel (2008)
I'm a sucker for tales of forged diaries by mass murderers, hoaxes played on pretentious postmodernists, massive advances paid for hoaxed inside stories of reclusive billionaires, even how vile proto-colic hate screeds forged metastasize memetically over a century and more. As a writer, I admit a fascination with another writer putting one over. The stories never play out quite the same way as any other time. But then there's the at-times grotesque places writers find themselves, almost forced to ply their art in the service of fraud, and almost always for money. But not always. Lee Israel's story was about money, and money will serve as impetus well enough every time.

I just finished Israel's tale, a slender book at 127 pages, and breezy, funny, dark, and oddly inspiring. Israel had written two critically-acclaimed and successful biographies, one of Tallulah Bankhead, and the other of Dorothy Kilgallen. She probably loved the lavish publisher-paid lunches in Manhattan restaurants a tad too much. ("I was imprudent with money and Dionysian to the quick. Having worked so long and hard on the last book, I took many months off to play." - p.15) Her Estee Lauder bio, a rush job for reasons she gets into in the memoir, fell flat, and soon her money ran out. Her desperation eventually led to an audacious career as a forger of personal letters from the likes of Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, Noel Coward, Louise Brooks, Edna Ferber, even Aldous Huxley and Humphrey Bogart. She sold these to dealers of memorabilia across the country, and was eventually popped by the FBI, got a very good lawyer, and was lucky enough to not do a day in stir.

Israel, a lesbian, utilizes a hilarious intellectual-rogue's style, which reminded me in voice of Fran Lebowitz, with tonalities that at times made me reminisce over S.J. Perelman. What gave me the garish thrill as she so candidly described her lurid, desperate, and intrepid tales of life as a forger was her uncanny artistic attention to detail. Two of her forged letters turned up in a book edited by an "expert" in the writer's life and style, later removed when the ruse was exposed. She describes buying period typewriters, paying absurdly close attention to the writer's actual letters, paper/stationery, typing styles, typical errors, letterheads, odd spacings, dates and travel locations, and other minutiae. Through sheer desperation she invents an ingenious way to forge these famous peoples' signatures, using old unusable televisions.

Have you ever tried to copy your favorite writer's style? Have you ever written something that you, in some odd situation, might attempt to pass off a piece as if it "really were" written by a famous writer? Perhaps after an intense immersion in their collected works, you find their rhythms, their word choices, references they seem likely to make, that odd thing called "tone"...rubbed off into your own writing, if only for a few days? I've tried it.  I can fake it for awhile, but it's hard! Hence my delight in her tale.

Israel showed she had a pitch-perfect ear for her writers. And she studied them, too. Often, she took delight in piecing together bits from three or four actual letters, adding a flourish of something plausible gleaned from a biography about the writer(s), and was able to palm them off and keep herself afloat. I admit to a frisson when reading true stories like this. (Note to Total Information Awareness folk: I'm NOT going to commit a crime, okay? Think of me as the Walter Mitty Type. - the bogus OG)

But there's always the neurosis of my kind of writer. It's always there, along with the "I can write anything! I'm one of the best in the business..." thing. Call it a paralyzing doubt. Your mileage may vary. James Joyce probably knew he was the greatest writer in English since Shakespeare, but he was occultly candid about the other side of the writer's life, which I'll get to shortly.

Israel writes, "I've spent my life in a state of high anxiety, waiting for the Cossacks. I am always worried.  When cause of worry exits my skull it is immediately replaced by another. They meet shoulder to shoulder, one entering, the other exiting the cave leading to my tympanic membrane." She's worried the Feds may be onto her, and she can, with hindsight, drop into a hardboiled vernacular out of Hammett if she wants. The book replicates some of her forgeries, describes her late night dash to dispose of as much evidence as she can when she realizes the jig is about up, taking an industrial elevator down with her old fashioned typewriter collection and dumping them: "[...] woke up my gang of typewriters. I deposited them, one by one, along a mile stretch of Amsterdam Avenue, watching the traffic to see if I was being surveilled." When Lee Israel had bought the olde-timey typewriters she had been asked what they were for, and she replied she was going to donate them to the homeless. And that lie turned out to be true!
                                  Sunny Jim, nailer of the archetypal Shem the Penman,
                                  passoffably due to makes one to Nolan?

Shem the Penman and Archetypal Deep Structure For (Some?) Writers
Jim the Penman was a very successful play from 1886 by Sir Charles Young, a baronet and lawyer, who ironically exaggerated the life of James Townsend Saward (b.1799, criminally active in Victoria's England, 1830s-1850), a "real-life Moriarty," who was also a barrister, and the great Victorian forger who fenced the gold from the Great Train Robbery. Young has Saward forging letters in order to marry into high society, which didn't actually happen in Saward's life. Saward started off forging checks, and went from there, running a ring of fraudsters. His character probably influenced Dickens's character Arthur Compeyson from Great Expectations. A great, great, great, great granddaughter of Saward's, Jennifer Carnel, PhD, came out with a book last year titled James Townsend Saward Criminal Barrister: The True Story of Jim the Penman. I have not read it. No doubt Joyce read Young's play, and many other books and tales of forgers, fakes, and other literary frauds.

In Joyce's writing, we see him fictionalize himself as the young intellectual Stephen Dedalus, who must escape-fly from his labyrinth (Dublin) to another world in order to realize himself as an artist. Another version of James Joyce shows up in the dream world of Finnegans Wake, as Shem the Penman, who makes ink from his own excrement, and writes on his own body. The not-so noble aspect of Joyce's life as artist/writer shows up in visions influenced by ideas extrapolated from Vico, Freud, and Jung, and no doubt many others, including Giordano Bruno, who the Catholic Church burned at the stake in 1600. (Joyce once described himself to Carl Jung as "A man of small virtue, inclined to extravagance and alcoholism.") Shem's brother is Shaun. Shem is the artist archetype: dreamy, bohemian, dissolute, drunken, imaginative, and a failure. Joyce goes to comic lengths to show Shem as the "lowest of the low." His brother Shaun (like Joyce's actual brother Stanislaus) is materialistic, pragmatic, a bit intolerant, and successful. Shems are notorious for knicking their Shauns for a loan until paydays which never quite arrive on time, if ever. In Bruno's - and Joyce's - cosmology, these opposites must unite in one person to make them whole. In the "Shem the Penman" chapter of FW (169-195), we get a rollicking, wildly exaggerated view of Joyce's writer-self at its impossibly worst, who yet uses his imagination to overcome the obstacles, to fly over the walls.

Afterall, Joyce was bourgeois. There had to be some sort of reunion of opposites.

But the fun is in the dreamy-tale of Shem, which hyperbolically hypostatizes the world Lee Israel found herself in and seems built-in to the writer's - or artist's - life, or at least some of it.

Shaun later in the book calls Shem a "pixillated doodler" (421) Robert Anton Wilson was much taken by the Shem character - for obvious reasons - and used him in his own novels. See Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy, p.449, where he's "Mr. Shemus de la Plume, Naval Intelligence's ace handwriting forger." In FW, we see a book (or books?) titled "Wine, Women and Waterclocks or How A Guy Finks and Fawkes  When He Is Going Batty, by Maistre Sheames de la Plume, some most dreadful stuff in a murderous mirrorhand..."(171)

One Shem-based snapshot life of the writer full of blarney, a marvelous bullshit artist with the gift of gab, talking and talking and trying to impress a galley of interlocutors, really hits home, and I'll end a yet another fartoolong post withall:

(We join Shem amongst other revelers midstream):

"[...] giving unsolicited testimony on behalf of the absent, as glib as eaveswater to those present (who meanwhile, with increasing lack of interest in his semantics, allowed various subconscious smickers to drivel slowly across their fichers), unconsciously explaining, for inkstands, with a meticulosity bordering on the insane, the various meanings of all the different foreign parts of speech he misused and cuttlefishing every lie unshrinkable about all the other people in the story, leaving out, of course, foreconsciously, the simple worf and plague and poison they had cornered him about until there was not a snoozer among them but was utterly undeceived in the heel of the reel by the recital of the rigmarole." (173-174)

Mutt: Whose he on about?
Jute: Finn Macool?
Mutt: No. Try again.
Jute: Shun the Punman!

An hour or more of Robert Anton Wilson talking about Finnegans Wake from a 1988 interview; RAW also reads two sections in Part 2.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Rushkoff/Lakoff/Markoff: A Take-Off

[First let the OG pre-empt any wiseacres in the peanut gallery by admitting he's a "jackoff." Now: let's see if any of you can come up with a better one. And on with the show!]:

Douglas Rushkoff's Plan To Save The 1% From Themselves
The video (sorry about the mersh) pretty much covers the article, but the article spells out a bit more. It's basically a precis of Rushkoff's vastly underrated (so far) and avant book Life, Inc: How Corporatism Conquered the World and How We Can Take It Back and it's guerrilla ontological (note the cluelessness of the commenters on the CNN website), counterintuitive, astoundingly well-informed about the history of capitalism (for Rushkoff, no 1776 Adam Smith, but medieval landlords as the 1%; Rushkoff really surpasses Noam Chomsky here, methinks. Noam never put together a narrative about do-nothing/create-nothing aristocratic "wealth" like Doug does here and in his book), speaks to the diffuse and legion brain trust of the Occupy movement, and...might be a tad too sly and witty for many people to "get."

What I like so much about Rushkoff is his considered and nuanced ideas about value versus money. I find it stupefying how many otherwise intelligent and well-read people accept that some corporation "must" pay its CEOs $45million bonuses, or they will lose the "best talent." You mean there isn't someone out there who could do a better "job" for half that? Okay? Now: I say there's a person who can "perform" just as well if not better for half of that. Let me then iterate this idea five or six more times. It's a con-game! They produce ZERO wealth!

(And in these pig-iron days, there are some egregious glaring examples that are far worse than not creating value, but just sucking money from everyone else while ruining lives. For example, see Matt Taibbi's piece on Bank of America.)

Some of you will think I'm wrong here, but please, as an exercize, take a week and think about it from Rushkoff's and my POV, and if you still think some asshole making "executive" decisions and fucking up and losing the company money or making some, probably by laying people off, undercutting competition, getting lucky because the true innovators and scientists made a breakthrough, or dumping pollution on poor people's heads, then fine. I have looked at the Harvard MBA stuff: there is some technical minutiae that needs to be met according to the rules of the Game, but executive "decisions" that net hundreds of millions of dollars? I cannot buy it. Look at how many of these Type-A fuckwads lose their company money...and they still give themselves massive bonuses, 'cuz it's written in the "rules" that they can! (CEOs often write the rules, having so many cowed by their "expertise.") There's no WAY in hell the CEO's "skill" or "knowledge" is worth thousands of times more than the guys driving the fork lifts over in the warehouse. What a con!

But I still say: read Life, Inc. (And lemme give a shout-out to the greatest generalist of the last 150 years, Buckminster Fuller, and his GRUNCH of Giants, where he shows how, the non-value-creating landlords and aristocracy and CEOs are history's "Great Pirates" who traditionally hired the truly talented and then absconded with the wealth/value the "wizards" created for them. Fuller and Rushkoff complement each other very well here...)

A bit of a tangent: In my university town, the chancellor of U.C. Berkeley just announced his last day will be December 31st, 2012. He makes $450,000 a year in salary. I wonder how he created value? Let's compare that to the 24 year old "adjunct professor" who just got her Master's and is working towards her PhD. She's - I'm not kidding here - getting roughly what a manager at Burger King gets. With no benefits. She's teaching the freshman and sophomore "Intro to Whatever" classes. Tuition has skyrocketed; the protesting kids aren't stupid. Our adjunct is working her ass off, and her student loans are massive, and will remain massive through her defense of her PhD. And if she gets that PhD, she gets kicked to the curb as far as being an adjunct. Because now she's worth more, with a PhD. But then no one will hire her, because the economy sucks. Meanwhile, we get stories like this one... I wonder how she and her boy-toy created value?

Professor George Lakoff On "The Santorum Strategy"
Read it HERE.
Lakoff is a tenured professor at Berkeley who's created more than enough value for me than I can possibly repay him for. Well, I buy his books. And I spend a lot of time clarifying his ideas in comment sections on the Internet, because many otherwise smart people seem to have just as tough a time understanding his ideas as they do Rushkoff's. This same piece ran on Huffington Post and I felt compelled to clarify the cognitive linguistic basis of neural networks and metaphorical thought there. Hell, George can't explain all that in his role as Public Intellectual. And I confess to being a major student of Lakoff's, though I haven't taken a class with the guy. I have attended enough of his talks that he seemed to think I was one of his old grad students once, but I digress...

If anyone reading this wants to quibble, or even cavil, on one or more points Lakoff makes in this article, let's get it going in the comments section. Of all the academic ideas about semantics out there, Lakoff's (and many of his brilliant colleagues, like Mark Turner, Gilles Fauconnier, Mark Johnson, Eleanor Rosch, and hell, I'll mention old Charles Fillmore) ideas make the most sense to me, by far. Meanwhile, Noam Chomsky never did account for why poor people who hear "death tax" want to vote against it, etc. (But I think I went over this in all those Chomsky Problem blogs, eh?)

Three things that I want to point out that didn't show in this piece, and which readers seemed to have a tough time with:

1.) It takes self-discipline and practice to frame your values in your own way, and not in the phrases you've heard or read in the media. When you begin to practice this, you will - I hope - begin to understand how overwhelmingly regressive the corporate mainstream media has been in Unistat, throughout your life. That it's a "liberal" media qualifies as much of a Goebbels-esque Big Lie as anything that might compete with it.

2.) Lakoff and a few others have shown that the Right is at least 30 years ahead of the liberals, progressives, libertarian socialists, and thoughtful rank and file small "d" democrats in using knowledge about language, imagery and the unconscious to sway minds of the electorate. Lakoff says it pretty much started with the Powell Memo, and it's only been in the last ten years that non-right wingers have begun to devise ways to frame their messages. All along it's been the Right using knowledge from the history of PR and advertising on the electorate, while the "Left," valuing their university educations, has assumed the electorate are rational actors, products of the 18th century Enlightenment, and that they will respond to reasonable discourse. And they were wrong. In so many ways. For much more on this history, see Lakoff's Moral Politics and/or The Political Mind. And, for extra credit, see this recent, timely, witty and articulate blog post on fear and the activation of semantic frames.

3.) Many non-right wingers want Lakoff to tell them what to say. I've argued countless times with folks online and face-to-face that Lakoff has made suggestions in his short books on freedom and how you ought not think of an elephant, but he's really an academic. People want Lakoff to step up and be "the Frank Luntz for the Left." I've seen this many times. Lakoff is an academic. A damned good one. I have some problems with him, but as you can probably tell, I think he's really important. He's one of the great cognitive neurolinguists in the world, and he's always been a passionate political animal, but he's more of a cognitive scientist/professor than a hired gun like Frank Luntz. On the surface Lakoff looks to people like the Bizarro World Frank Luntz, but that's not Lakoff's role. He really wants YOU to be the Left's Frank Luntz.

John Markoff On A Silicon Valley Start-Up
Markoff, one of my favorite journalists covering computers and the hi-tech industry in general - see especially his signal contribution to the history of the 1960s counterculture and how it influenced computers and the Internet, What the Dormouse Said -  has published an article that dovetails with my recent blogspew on life extension.

See this article on the recent very rapid acceleration of genomic sequencing techniques and what it might mean for knowledge about how to extend human lifespans.

The gist: over the past six months, there's been a ten-fold increase in genome sequencing, with performance from new techniques coming in tandem with a dwindling cost, to the point where it looks like, very soon, mapping your own genome will cost around what a blood test does now.

This has potential implications for startling discoveries that could apply to human health, concomitant with a bewildering array of problems with ethics, information sharing, the right to not know if your genes have a nasty turn in store for you, what to do when you know but can't do anything at present about your disease, how insurance will come into play, etc, etc, et freakin' cetera!

Caveat: Markoff, covering a start-up, is one smart reporter, but these freaks with multiple PhDs in computers/biology and medicine, or "bioinformatics" might be making the story look rosier than they know it really is, because they want investors at some point.

Still, this stuff seems like it could really have a huge impact, but it's impossible to forecast, it seems to me. But even if it's half as good as these guys make their new techniques out to be, it's exciting. The very idea of a personalized medicine based on your unique genome. The idea of industrial digital cameras that "read" small sequences of DNA.

What Markoff doesn't point out is that one way we're going to learn a lot with this cheap and very fast technology: we sequence hundred or thousands of genomes and see what they have in common. For example: take ten thousand people with an autoimmune disease like lupus, and see what they all have in common, then zero in on those commonalities. Or similarly: sequence 3000 genomes from people who are 85 and still healthy, active, running around, writing cello sonatas or still making inroads on the neurobiology of memory. (See Kandel, Erik) There's no way we can NOT learn valuable stuff in this way!

The two huge problems with all this knowledge that loom large for any layperson like myself and my Dear Readers is still 1.) how to interpret the data, and furthermore, 2.) how to interpret it in light of the explosion of new knowledge about epigenetics, and the complex role of RNA, and DNA methylation, and the dizzyingly dense difficulty that has certain genes activating due to inner and outer environmental triggers, and other genes turning far-flung genes off, etc. It's still a hard problem, but it seems like the information detonations, with more scientists working on these Hard Problems than ever before in the history of the planet...well...stay tuned.

Here's 5 minutes of John Markoff talking about psychedelic culture and the rise of computer technology: