June 16, 2016

Tight Sainthood, Continued

Tight Sainthood has moved to a new location on Medium, where I'll basically be doing mostly longer pieces in the same vein, and where some of the stuff here might end up regurgitated.

I'll be leaving things here untouched for a long while yet, if only as a historical record.


January 03, 2016

Guns and Vaginas

One of the more irritating self-congratulatory and triumphal progressive memes doing the rounds on Facebook lately is a picture of (I think) Rachel Maddow, with a quote beneath her saying (it varies a bit in the retelling) “New Rule: If you don’t have a vagina, you don’t get to make laws regulating them”.

Imagine substituting “gun” (or even “car”) for “vagina” and see where we get…. The trouble is, so many of the people addicted to this sort of self-stroking, self-satisfied and ultimately self-defeating stuff just don’t have that imagination. They’re in the Bubble, and all that matters is what confirms their prejudices or their sense of themselves as special or perceptive.

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December 13, 2015


In an article in a recent NYT on Trump (and others) and the WWII Japanese internment camps (a.k.a. concentration camps — when will we have the guts to call them that?), Robert Matsui, one of the congressional sponsors of 1988's formal apology and reparations act, is quoted as saying back then that the acknowledgment of wrongdoing “demonstrates the true character of America in a way that the whole world can recognize”.

It’d be nice to think so, but the original actions — the concentration camps, the displacement, the reflexive racism, etc. — all also demonstrate the true character of America in a way that the whole world can recognise. And the fact that they’re back in everyday political discourse as a possible “solution” to “The Muslim Problem” also says a lot about the true character of America.

But surely the truth is that there really isn’t one “true character of America”. It’s a ludicrous idea, a national myth. In fact, perhaps the true character of America really just revolves around a rather passionate and credulous belief in unifying national myths…. But that's hardly unique to America, is it?!

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November 26, 2015

The Permanent Brink

The world seems about to go up in flames again, or at least totter around on some sort of semi-permanent brink. A world increasingly shaped by the respective Visions of fundamentalists and twenty- and thirty-something techies.

After The Catastrophe there will be so many stories to tell and nowhere to tell them. Or we'll all be watching our words so carefully the stories will all sound the same, and only tell of things between the lines.

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October 18, 2015

The Age of Outrage

The dominant mode of expression in the Internet Age seems to be outrage. This isn’t an original observation, I’m sure, but it’s always striking how social media (taking their cues from precursors like Usenet) encourage a sort of self-righteous outrage to take over individuals, groups, discussions, and forums. Many people seem willingly-defined (and even self-defined) by their particular outrage triggers (e.g. cultural appropriation, meat-eating, and big game hunting, to name just three I’ve already seen today at first hand), and by the way they express that outrage.

Judging just by my Twitter and Facebook feeds, there seems to be something deeply pleasurable in feeling outraged (I suspect it’s a species of the pleasure people feel in self-righteousness); and the sort of technology underlying so much modern interaction seems to be unusually congenial to expressing that outrage — and to making that outrage and its effects felt. Never before has it been so easy to channel or broadcast your outrage so widely and publicly, and to have it turn into the sort of satisfying mob justice-at-a-distance that so many seem to crave. Never before has an individual’s sense of outrage been so powerful — and so easily and effectively deployed against mostly-innocent people and in the name of mostly-trivial causes (that line itself will cause outrage).

If you define yourself by — and / or get high on — outrage, you don’t want it to stop, you need a constant source of outrage to get through life, to keep you standing out from others, to give you a purpose in life.

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October 03, 2015

The Holy Trinity

If you inculcate in people the idea that they're entitled to anything they want, and that it’s their fault if they don’t get it (or, alternatively, that it’s The Conspiracy’s fault), and then give them easy access to the firepower to get it by any means necessary (or to go out in a blaze of glory and publicity (probably the same thing as far as they’re concerned)), then some things are probably inevitable….

(I don’t usually link to external articles on politics here, but this is something that struck a chord with me yesterday).

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September 04, 2015


There’s been a great deal of outraged and sometimes gleeful gloating on the (relatively) progressive side of the news, and, especially, on my Facebook feed, about Kim Davis being jailed for her disinclination to do her job (i.e. issue marriage licenses to properly-qualified couples) because of her belief that her God or the Christian bible dictate otherwise. For example, this Daily Kos article appears several times in my timeline today; it’s pretty typical.

The trouble is, while the forwarded tweet is succinct and accurate — Davis isn’t being jailed for practicing her religion, she’s being jailed for using the government to force others to practice her religion — it’s preaching to the converted, and no one not already convinced of that will either be listening or likely to convert to that way of thinking. It's just, well, gloating.

The issue is fairly clear — if she can’t do her job for religious reasons, she should resign. But her jailing is turning her into a martyr for the so-called “religious freedom” mob — it plays right into the more lurid fantasies of the right wing religionists about Obama jailing people for their beliefs, or outlawing the practice of religion, and it’s had its intended effect: she’s now a willing martyr to “religious freedom”, and an iconic rallying point for the angry and disaffected, being actively compared to MLK Jr.

Gloating about it or going on about her duty to the constitution won’t make any difference at all to those who believe that God either helped write the constitution or that the constitution derives from God’s authority, or that Biblical authority always supersedes secular authority; in fact, it’ll mostly help persuade them even more that they’re right (never mind, as so many point out, that a) the bible doesn’t say anything much about gay marriage, but b) says a lot about divorce, something Davis has actively experienced several times…).

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August 07, 2015


“This is the talk radioization of politics in its most pure form, totally divorced from reality, where the only true currency is fact-immune outrage.” — Ed Brayton on the effect of Donald Trump on the Republican primaries in Josh Marshall Says What I Wish I’d Said About Donald Trump.

No, I think it’s more the Internetization of politics, that great public bringing to the surface of every id and subconscious that the internet enables and even encourages (but I’d definitely recognise talk radio as the precursor of the internet in all this). The net’s about mobs and bubbles, just like politics, just like the subconscious, except writ very, very large. And very public. And — like everything mob-infected — deeply contagious. Trump, et al, are the subconscious of much of America; and much of the American public loves the resulting thrill of recognition.

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July 17, 2015


[Redditors are] “a swath of angry young men who think they are the new Sons of Liberty for calling Ellen Pao tyrannical” and “people who will defend to the death not the right to free speech, but the obligation of a private company to provide server space for hate speech.” in Reddit needs a real leader

The fuss over Reddit illustrates one of the weird disconnects in the techno-libertarian mindset: the simultaneous belief that free speech on the net is so important and powerful that it should never be abrogated, and that this free speech is basically harmless (and that the very real victims of absolute free speech aren’t really suffering (“it’s just the Internet…”) or don’t deserve any sort of compensation for the harmful effects they actually suffer, because, you know, libertarianism and all that…). Anyone familiar with Usenet (which is in so many ways Reddit’s direct ancestor) as it outgrew the university-only stage could have predicted the mess of unfettered racism, sexism, misogyny, and sheer hate that quickly infested significant parts of Reddit. Give a bunch of young guys free, anonymous, and basically unmoderated access to worldwide forums — what could possibly go wrong?

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July 15, 2015

The Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades

The latest IEEE Spectrum has a really good survey article (written by a couple of Kaiser researchers) on some of the pitfalls of augmented reality (AR) for untrained or unsuspecting users — principally distraction and obscuration. But — as always with these things — they don’t discuss the most obvious likely future abstraction, advertising — or that for many AR implementers, that distraction will be the whole point of AR. AR will primarily be used to sell you something — either directly (are you looking at a car? Oh, have we got a car for you!!) or indirectly (a lifestyle or sense of belonging).


January 28, 2015


Sinclair's "The Jungle" (I can't believe I haven't read this one before): luckily, there's not too much of the "Withal he was a goodhearted fellow" sort of writing. In fact, when he leaves dialogue behind, it’s mostly fairly good straightforward omniscient detached narrator writing, and although it’s a necessarily grim story, it’s not maudlin or too schematic.

A sort of Atlas Shrugged from the other direction, but mercifully much shorter — everything just shudders to an end with the thudding long speech(es) about Socialism and All That in ways that I guess were meant to be inspirational or at least enthusiastic, but have all the impact of having to listen to someone else’s dreams recounted in all their tedious glory.

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January 03, 2015

Enhanced Interrogation

“Selma’s” Ava DuVernay is quoted in a recent NYT as saying people should “interrogate history” for themselves over whether LBJ was a positive or negative influence on black voting rights in light of the movie’s apparently rather negative depiction of him and his actions. Apart from the leaden associations of that over-loaded word (all that transliterated French from so long ago, right up there with “inscribed” and “contested terrain”), inevitably for me nowadays it also has the connotation of torture: “torture history” (or, maybe, “harshly interrogate history”, or “use enhanced interrogation on history”). Rather, explore history — mapless or otherwise — and understand that generally, you don’t go into the interrogation / torture room (or history) without a strong idea of what you’re looking for or want to find….

(I tend to the wishy-washy view that LBJ was an important part of the positive reaction to things like Selma and earlier black action and struggle — I doubt that the legislative side of this would have come together when it did without him.)

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December 19, 2014

Real Reporting

"But, as Rosen notes, thanks to the internet these days, newspapers are increasingly having trouble with this kind of lazy "safe" journalism. Because the public will call them out when they avoid reporting the truth, favoring a false narrative instead.” in Techdirt’s Real Reporting Is About Revealing Truth; Not Granting 'Equal Weight' To Bogus Arguments.

But being called out here for not “reporting the truth” means only that the more vociferous of the paper’s audience (and maybe just drive-by Truthers of whatever variety) decide “the truth”. There’s a reasonable spectrum here between letting readers decide completely on their own, and laying down the “truth” heavy-handedly by editorial fiat, but truth by popular fiat isn’t much of a truth, it’s more a sort of tyranny of loudness or the drowning out of alternatives — yet another thing tech encourages. Mobocracy.

(Note: I've always strongly agreed with the general thesis that good (rather than "real") reporting is not about equal weight approaches; it's the idea that somehow mob-sourcing "Truth" is a good idea that I'm less enthusiastic about...).


October 15, 2014

Medium Cool

Advertising isn't an add-on to modern media; advertising is a medium — perhaps the most dominant medium of all today. It's the medium for selling your self, your products, your soul.


October 12, 2014


“For me the engineering challenge of the 21st century is to reboot education, intelligence (decision support), and research simultaneously. How can we create a global “World Brain” and autonomous Internet that can’t be censored or shut down, that puts into any handheld device anywhere the truth about any topic?” — Robert David Steel in “Robert David Steele on OSINT”, IEEE Computer, July 2014.

We will all be borged into this World Brain, I presume, as little brain cells, whether we want to or not. Inclusiveness, is, after all, all about playing along, about obeying the rules and absorbing the culture of our tech overlords; inclusiveness doesn’t welcome (or include) those who don’t buy into the central Vision, I guess.

And "the truth about any topic”? Gawd, whose truth? If there’s anything the internet has done, it’s surely to teach us that there are as many truths as internet communities — as I’ve said endlessly elsewhere, the net is Postmodernism without the twee irony. Robert David Steele seems to be (unironically) pining for an authoritarian Modernism (without the irony). 

And that same omnipresent omniscient Giant Brain will be doing its fair share of tracking — without you being able to shut it down or stop it from watching. 

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August 03, 2014

The Art Of Darkness

Pace The Art Of Darkness: part of me wants to point out that it’s almost besides the point to look for meaning in (e.g.) Lacan — for many Lacanian acolytes (and others), Lacan’s writings serve as provocations rather than clear reasoned arguments based on observable evidence, and for them asking “what does that even mean?” misses the point completely. Rather, you should be asking “how did that affect you?” or “what did that make you do or think?”. Like Zen koans, I guess. Or Nietzsche. Allusion's the word (rather than illusion).

Of course, Lacan — and many of his followers — actually claim some sort of scientific and logical rigor to his writing, but if you don’t take all that on face value (and how can you?), well, what else is there?

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July 12, 2014

Searching For Truth

I can’t get beyond the first sentence of Groys’s “Introduction to Antiphilosophy” without objecting. He writes: “Philosophy is generally understood as a search for truth.” Perhaps; but that’s definitely not my understanding of philosophy (maybe if he’d written “Religion is generally understood as a search for Truth” (note that capital T), it’d be more congenial to me). Regardless of any etymological arguments which might suggest it’s the search for wisdom, I think for me it’s about explorationunderstanding, aided by logic, experience, evidence, and intuition. Truth? That’s for the religionists and theologians, surely.

(The rest of that first Prologue page — a discussion on truths and their economy, etc. — is congenial and very readable, though). 

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June 23, 2014

The Truth

“The truth is, Deleuze and Guattari explain, ‘sexuality is everywhere: the way a bureaucrat fondles his records, a judge administers justice, a businessman causes money to circulate; the way the bourgeoisie fucks the proletariat; and so on. […] Flags, nations, armies, banks get a lot of people aroused.’” (from Wikipedia's Anti-Oedipus page).

I just love the way they slyly slipped that bit about fucking the proletariat into this (that’s metaphor, dummies! I want to shout). Actually, the truth is I find this sort of writing fairly congenial, as is the idea that desire or sexuality underpins everything in a fundamental way rather than being part of the (Marxist) superstructure. And the Wikipedia page is actually pretty damn good as far as these things go. But Anti-Oedipus itself was always almost unreadable for me, a luxury spread of inedible all-you-can-eat gnomic pearls. Maybe that was the point (you don’t want the rubes satisfying their desire for meaning too easily). For me it’s also way too full of the usual shell games, slippery evasions and weightless ideas, and (scientific) signs taken for metaphors. Sometimes a word is just a word.

(Compare this to the quote from David Cooper in the same article: “[Anti-Oedipus is] ‘a magnificent vision of madness as a revolutionary force, the decoding, deterritorializing refusal of fixity and outside definition by schizophrenia (they insist on this term) as opposed to a paranoid-capitalist pole and as a depassment of the oedipian, familial neurotic state of non-existence (paranoid-fascist as opposed to revolutionary schizophrenia - but clearly showing that 'the schizophrenic' is not 'the revolutionary', nor the revolutionary schizoid). These authors effectively used the psychoanalytic language and the discourse of Saussure (and his successors), linguistics against itself in what is already proving to be an historic act of depassment.’” Depassment?! Historic?! This sort of writing could be described as Anti-Desire…).

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June 15, 2014


Those infallible indicators of urban squalor, at least around here: omnipresent (and oppressive) graffiti; homeless camps; garbage in the parks, streets, and strewn across the sidewalks; and discarded junk everywhere (ranging from small car parts through furniture and fridges to entire old trucks). All of these now dominate public spaces in my neighborhood; all of them are all-too-tangible symptoms of an almost completely broken social safety net and a deeply fractured, fragmented society where social services and policing (etc.) have basically disappeared.

On all counts my neighborhood’s one of the worst in Oakland (which is saying something); on all counts it’s gotten a lot worse in the past four years. I can’t walk the three blocks to Kefa Coffee any more without having to squeeze past several huge broken abandoned old trailers full of junk, or to walk past or through at least three rat-infested homeless camps (there are two well-hidden ones on our block alone), to wade through garbage (especially at the intersection of East 7th and Kennedy or at the end of the little 29th Avenue under crossing as it emerges (past a homeless camp) onto the Streets Of Jingletown Proper (straight across from the huge battered old abandoned trailer on 29th), or to pass under ten-foot-high graffitied tags on every wall I pass (and sprayed or carved at smaller scale into many of the trees as well).

It all feels like some sort of creeping apocalypse, but we can always tell ourselves that at least the murder rate is only about a third of what it was twenty years ago, when the streets were cleaner and the homeless far fewer. Well that’s the optimistic view, anyway. 

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May 29, 2014

Vignelli's Map

Massimo Vignelli dies, and his NYT obit prominently features The Map — his early 1970’s reworking of the New York Subway system map, a thing of beauty I’ve admired for years. But the obit also notes that many of its intended users disliked it, and it was quickly withdrawn by popular demand — surely the very symptom of a poor design (as opposed to art).

And yet the obit makes it clear that the design community holds it up as canonical good design:

"The architecture critic Paul Goldberger, writing on The New Yorker magazine’s website about the map’s revival, called the original Vignelli design 'more than beautiful.'

'It was,' he said, 'a nearly canonical piece of abstract graphic design.'”

Indeed so — with the emphasis on “abstract”, I guess. Really good design is surely about persuading even the most obstinate skeptic that the design is worth it — without the skeptics even noticing they’re being persuaded. Bad design is surely about hitting the user over the head repeatedly and telling them they’re wrong to feel pain because the aesthetics are so cool.


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