December 31, 1999
Well, today (New Year's Eve) is the day we find out whether the Y2K crisis
will have any sort of major systemic impact on our
civilization. Y2K will begin to hit at the
Date Line, many hours before it hits
Europe and then the United States. As I am writing this, it is
still about an hour before midnight in eastern
New Zealand, and thus an hour before we find out
for the first time whether this will turn out to be
nothing at all, a minor annoyance, or a major snafu.
By the time you're reading this (if you can read this!)
the Y2K line will have probably already travelled a considerable
way around the world, so we'll already know from news reports (or the lack
thereof) what the impact of this will be.
Morning Update: looks like hardly any impact in either New Zealand or Australia ---
and midnight about to pass in Tokyo... fizzle! The only Y2K fireworks so far seem to
be of the intentional variety.
December 24, 1999
Had a conversation with my brother about implicit
learning. Studies have shown that people can learn tasks without having explicit knowledge
of what it is they have learned. For example, in one well-known case, people were shown
a sequence of lights and asked to try to anticipate which would light up next.
Unknown to the participants, there was a complex, semi-random pattern to the lights.
When interviewed, the participants expressed no conscious knowledge of any pattern,
yet over time they nevertheless got better at predicting the sequence. They claimed that
after a while they would get a "feel" for the machine, even though they were
unable to express exactly what that was.
There is power to explicit knowledge, but we also seem to have this ability to
get a sense for complex hidden patterns in the world, whether we know about it or not.
Certain patterns may be too diffuse, complex, or uncertain to formulate into clear rules,
yet we can still learn about them unconsciously or semi-consciously,
and improve our ability to deal with the world.
December 19, 1999
Went to a party yesterday; Jen (recently back from the Peace Corps in
Cameroon) came with her
friends Sara and Gaston; Gaston happens to be from Cameroon. At the party he danced heartily
and quite intensely with a large number of women there; by Cameroonian standards this is
quite normal, and not meant as a sexual come-on, but the American women tended to
interpret his actions sexually, and in general they seemed to like it very much.
One woman in particular was reportedly "all over" him, and eventually
Gaston had to sort of get her to cool it, because she was crossing even his Cameroonian
boundaries. There was much gossiping about his dancing. Jen explained to me that
his dancing was totally normal for Cameroon (she said Cameroonian men and women
dance with everyone that way).
Some people found it difficult to believe that he was even from Cameroon; they
speculated that he might really be from New Jersey.
When Jen told him about this he decided to start introducing himself at the next party
he went to by saying, "Hello, my name is Gaston, I'm from New Jersey."
Jen and I spoke later about differing cultural standards, and how
uptight we tend
to be here when we dance. In Cameroon, apparently, when people party, they tend
to party literally all night, and as mentioned above, are very physically demonstrative
when doing so. Jen said she actually went dancing practically every weekend when she
was there. Gaston has decided to just keep dancing the way he always has, even
though he knows that people tend to dance much more stiffly here.
Also spent a little bit of time speaking with the brother of my friend Ellen.
He's an aspiring writer. He dropped out of college (though he was having no trouble
there) in the
middle of his junior year, in order
to focus on his work (much to the horror of his family). Now he wants to spend five
months in Michigan just to write. I later
told Ellen that I feel strongly that
people ought to follow their dreams; if he doesn't at least try to make a go of it now,
he will certainly regret it later. It's hard to be an artist or a writer, but if
he felt strongly enough about it to drop out of college, he's got the determination,
and that's a necessary ingredient. What he's trying to do is difficult but
that's not a reason not to do what he really wants to do; it's just a reason for
him to stay with it even when the inevitable difficulties happen.
December 14, 1999
In reference to my last entry, David sends me a link to
review of The Invention of Tradition, on this subject. For example, the book
notes that the kilt was actually invented by an Englishman in 1730, and also discusses the
invention of many other traditions in other cultures and places.
This whole subject reminds me of the time when I lived in a group house in
Berkeley. When we moved in, we purchased some old furniture and a washer-dryer together
at some garage sales and thrift stores. To pay for this, we invented what we called
the "furniture deposit"; when anyone in the house moved out,
they would get their portion of this "deposit" refunded, and the new person
moving in would pay the deposit.
Several years after we moved out, a couple of us went back to visit. The house was
still being occupied as a group house. The current residents let us in and we looked around
and they were still using the same furniture. None of them knew how the house
had started, who had bought the furniture, etc. What's more, however, they were still
collecting the furniture deposit and dutifully refunding it to people when they left, but
they didn't have any idea why; they just did it because that's how they had
"always" done it. We explained to them the mysterious origins of that
particular ritual; they were amused and surprised.
December 12, 1999
Martin tells me that many supposedly Scottish rituals were actually invented by
the English, such as competitive
Highland dancing, made up during the Highland revival of Victorian Britain,
apparently. I started thinking about traditions and how they tend to become
weirdly self-perpetuating because of the news that the Empress
of Japan is apparently with child.
My first thought was, "poor child!" I'm not one of those virulently anti-Imperial
Family folks, mind you. I mean, my own family traces its lineage back to the Imperial
Family, to the Emperor Seiwa. But the Imperial Family of today bears a heavy
burden to carry on this ancient symbolism. Their every move is regulated by the Imperial
Household Agency. They are powerless to live their lives freely, yet they hold
no political power, either.
There was a time, a little less than a thousand years ago, when being Emperor
actually meant something. Since then, however, governments have been run
by a succession of different leaders, all of whom paid lip service to the idea of
the Emperor, but who reigned entirely independently of them. By the mid-nineteenth
century, many peasants didn't even know there was an Emperor. Then, a
revolution happened, and to legitimize it, they resurrected the old legends around the
Imperial Family and brought them back into official prominence (although they still
ended up serving little more than a ceremonial function).
So almost all of what is currently thought to be the ancient tradition and
ceremony surrounding the Imperial Household was really just sort of resurrected,
like competitive Highland Dancing in Scotland, about a hundred and thirty years ago.
That's not very long by Japanese historical standards, yet people act as though
all this stuff surrounding the Emperor has been ongoing practically forever. Yet
just last century the Imperial Family was in near total eclipse.
It really isn't a great fate to be Emperor of Japan. A family literally trapped by
the forces of tradition, which in Japan can really be nearly crushing.
December 9, 1999
I am so glad that Heather Anne turns out
to be alive (last sentence in December 8 entry). I really was getting
to be worried! Heather Anne is now in Los Angeles, where I just was and will be again soon,
and she is supposed to be there for a week, which means she is scheduled to leave
just before I arrive. Arrgh!
Furthermore, I will be travelling to New York, and I have no guarantee that she
will be there then either. Oh well.
Lara, a friend of Jen's, works for Literary
Arts here in Portland, an organization that puts on a well-known
lecture series, among other things. She invited us
to see a lecture tonight by Russell
Banks, author of
As both of those novels have recently been made into films,
he decided to make the subject of his talk the curious difference between
the Hollywood of old, despised or barely tolerated by writers like
and the new film world, which seems to be a much more friendly environment for
literary writers, who not only are having pleasant experiences having their work
turned into film, but who are sometimes also becoming screenwriters and
even directors themselves, without feeling that they are necessarily having to
compromise the quality of their work.
He argued that the main reason for this is the rise of the independent film
industry. He also cited the lowering production costs enabled by digital technology.
In The Sweet Hereafter, for example, the
scene of the dramatic bus crash was constructed on a computer for a fraction
of the cost it would have taken to actually shoot that scene. He also cited films
Celebration, and he believes the trend towards putting more power in the hands
of independent filmmakers for less and less money will only accelerate.
December 8, 1999
Been having a lot of conversations about the inconceivable.
We can't conceive the
inconceivable, but it is obvious that there is that which cannot be conceived. For
example, just consider everything that is happening in our bodies right now: we
can't possibly conceive it all, the operation of every last cell, every capillary, every
organ. Not to mention the inconceivability of what goes on in our minds
beneath the surface of consciousness.
But the conversations are not just about the inconceivable, but rather also about
the intrusion, as it were, of the inconceivable into our picture of the world.
It isn't really an intrusion at all: we build our little pictures and try to
fortify them against the unknown, but the unknown always steals in, unbidden and
unexpectedly. We can choose to ignore it or we can choose to notice how it frays
the edges of our seemingly comfortable worlds, the places where we feel we can sleep
without worry. What we should be worried about is the fact that we are asleep and
we don't know it. At the very least we ought to know it.
So what is this intrusion of the inconceivable? We try to force the world to
conform to our pictures, but the world, reality, is beyond us, and always must be.
Yet we can open up to it, be prepared to notice all of the contradictions, be ready
to see and feel what is actually happening around us
at any given moment. We can't really know the unknown (though we can know shadows
and reflections and fragments) but we can try to wake up from our dreamworld. We can surf the unknown. This is kind of
related to what I was talking about last month regarding finding a source of
movement and engagement with the world which goes
beyond small conceptualized goals.
December 4, 1999
Been a bit under the weather; haven't quite had the energy to write entries here this week.
July came over and spent the afternoon transferring video clips to DV and then
capturing some stills on my new nonlinear video editing box. We had a very pleasant
afternoon looking at clips and chatting about various subjects from failed million-dollar
interactive video projects to boyfriends and girlfriends, sexual freedom and
some of its limits, and the different communication styles of men and women. It was fun.