synthetic zero


September 27, 2003

I am in Los Angeles right now. I think most people think of quintessential LA the way it is presented in films, during the day; at the beach or along Rodeo Drive or Sunset, sunny, warm. But I think you can get a better feel for it at night; looking out over the city, driving down the flowing freeways, feeling the sense of movement, speed, always going somewhere, not agitated --- smooth, yet powerful and quick. Reminds me of the lyric from that Soul Coughing song Screenwriter's Blues:

I am going to Los Angeles to see my own name on a screen, five feet long and luminous

As the radioman says it is 5 am and the sun has charred the other side of the world and come back to us and painted the smoke over our heads an imperial violet

It is 5 am and you are listening to Los Angeles.

You are listening.
You are listening.
You are listening.
You are listening.

Every city I've lived in or loved has its own particular frequency for me --- Portland is cool, calm, yet tremendously vivid, each moment promising something new and even more intensely sublime than you remember. New York, deep, brutal, dirty, powerful, yet decaying. This morning I dreamt that Susan and I were going to this party of people who were somehow simultaneously Portland-style artsy slackers and Bay Area-style tech hipsters, at this guy's giant top-floor New York-style loft with a spectacular view over the city (which was, in the dream, supposed to be Portland). When we got to the top floor, it was just the break of dawn, and the red sunlight spilled across alabaster buildings, the color of San Francisco. A strange amalgam of my favorite cities and moods.

September 24, 2003

Deep down I think we all know the right thing to do, but we have so many ways of talking ourselves out of it, and we're so convincing that the right thing often gets drowned out. Sometimes it's better to be less adept at talking people into things.

September 20, 2003

Spent last night out with Rosalee, whom I met via Friendster. We drank a little sake and then went out to a club in Chinatown and sat around and listened to jazz while chatting about this and that.

I went to see Matchstick Men, a Nicholas Cage movie about con artists. Afterwards I talked about con artists with my parents --- I saw the "big con" of the film from a very early point --- I think I think a bit like a con artist myself (this goes along with many other thoughts I've had about me being in some sense a reformed bad guy in some past life or something) --- I have no desire to con anyone but I am always on the lookout for the big con. I have a very suspicious mind... My dad later joked that America was conned into the Iraq war --- it occurred to me that the term "neocons" is weirdly appropriate.

I had a dream early this morning that someone was teaching me how to do slam dunks. In real life I can jump fairly high, but I can just go slightly above the rim of a regulation basket, but can't really dunk. But in the dream I could do real one-handed dunks. I woke up feeling optimistic... Later I had a dream I was having sex with the actress who played James Joyce's wife in Nora (in the dream she was kind of a mixture of the actress and an actual Nora Barnacle). I don't think the dream was inspired by the actress so much as it was by the idea of identifying with James Joyce. The dream fast-forwarded --- later, this woman came to visit me, and she was pregnant with my baby, even though we had only had sex once. It was actually kind of a nice moment, even though unexpected and somewhat disruptive.

September 17, 2003

Even though I'm really busy I have decided to make writing in this weblog a sort of discipline, like meditation, which I will do even if I am tired and out of time.

This past weekend I went to a retreat for a martial art I used to do called Shintaido. I spent many years doing this --- I first started when I was a little kid, eight years old. I stopped for a long while, then picked it up in high school and continued on with it through college and beyond. I drifted away from it for many complex reasons (mostly philosophical and pedagogical differences), but it was nice to see old friends and my original teacher. I surprised myself with how much I still could do after all these years. There were a few things that were actually improved, such as my focus and ability to relax, which I attribute primarily to my other practice (meditation). The whole event was put on by my friends who have begun practicing zazen, so we were actually at a Zen monastery in New Mexico.

Right now I am in Portland. I just finished helping Miranda July with a performance she gave at PICA's TBA Festival. It went smoothly --- really well. Afterward I went with my friends Jen and Ricardo to Rimsky Korsakoffee House and had their wonderous cheesecake. The moment I took my first bite I was aghast --- it was so much better than I expected. It's not that the dessert had changed --- it's that even though I remembered it as the best cheesecake I had ever had, my memory of it was nothing compared to the direct experience. It's incredible how you cannot really hold on to anything --- no matter how much you try, the present moment slips into the past and becomes a memory. Memory simply cannot compare to reality in the here and now.

September 10, 2003

Painfully obvious common sense by Fred Kaplan:

...here was a moment when the world viewed America with more empathy than it had in the past half-century. An American leader could have taken advantage of that moment and reached out to the world, forged new alliances, strengthened old ones, and laid the foundations of a new, broad-based system of international security for the post-Cold War era --- much as Harry Truman and George Marshall had done in the months and years following World War II.

But George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice did not take that path.

Let's just say that's an understatement.

I'm actually not that surprised that many Americans supported this war, even seemingly level-headed, intelligent people. When the government proposes something, many people naturally tend to assume that the people involved must have some good rationale, even if we don't fully understand what it is. Even in this cynical era, we still want to believe that the folks in power have access to secret information, they know something we don't (in fact some supporters of this war said that very thing to me). This impression is enhanced when those in power act as though they know what they're doing, move confidently forward, and make bold pronouncements and predictions, enlisting a supportive chorus of voices.

This impression can even be fueled by the opposition, much of which is sometimes reflexive and shallow, based more on the general opposition to all American foreign engagements (as is often the case with the far left) or just general suspicion of anything coming from Republicans. There are precious few voices on either the right or the left who have a nuanced view of foreign policy, who support some American actions but not others, who speak to long-term strategic issues, and who have a balanced approach to geopolitical reality. When you have strident voices on both sides of an issue yelling in typically predictable ways, one might throw up your hands and just choose a side, because either seems plausible.

I think this lead to a breakdown in the analysis of this war. Most of the right (with the notable exception of some, like the Cato Institute) supported it, and most of the far left opposed it (but since they oppose every American war, this opposition ended up having no political weight). Few were there to say hey: I don't oppose every American war, but this war isn't like the others, the way we're going about it will lead to devastating consequences down the line for international and domestic security, and the costs (in terms of security as well as treasure and blood) will far outweigh the questionable benefits (of which the only one could well be the deposing of a localized petty tyrant, with only a negative effect on our own security). In fact, I think its very ludicrousness actually contributed to people accepting it, simply because we couldn't believe that normal people would propose something so absurd. The Big Lie strategy: people are more apt to believe a big falsehood than a small one.

The neocons who advocated this war have so far turned out to be wrong in every significant way regarding the postwar effect of this action --- but they had ample warning from intelligence analysts and military strategists that they were careening far off course. That, to me, is a crime: misleading the American people by ignoring what our own professionals were telling us about the likely consequences and costs of this war. Of course, they not only deceived us, they deceived themselves. No wonder they sounded so confident. Living in a fantasy world, one can sound as confident as you like until the fantasy begins to crumble in on itself.

There are, of course, people who think that this is merely a bump on the road, things will right themselves eventually. Well, to them I say, consider this: are you going to continue to trust the same people who've been so wrong so far to be vindicated in the long run? I would suggest it is the opposite: the only thing the neocons were right about was that the initial military victory would be swift. That's generally the flaw in conservative thinking in general: a tendency to skew towards short-term considerations. If they're this wrong already, it bodes very badly for the even longer term future.

September 4, 2003

From Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson:

LABOR IS A RESOURCE and TIME IS A RESOURCE are by no means universal. They emerged naturally in our culture because of the way we view work, our passion for quantification, and our obsession with purposeful ends. These metaphors highlight those aspects of labor and time that are centrally important in our culture. In doing this, they also deemphasize or hide certain aspects of labor and time. We can see what both metaphors hide by examining what they focus on.

In viewing labor as a kind of activity, the metaphor assumes that labor can be clearly identified and distinguished from things that are not labor. It makes the assumptions that we can tell work from play and productve activity from nonproductive activity. These assumptions obviously fail to fit reality much of the time, except perhaps on assembly lines, chain gangs, etc. The view of labor as merely a kind of activity, independent of who performs it, how he experiences it, and what it means in his life, hides the issues of whether the work is personally meaningful, satisfying, and humane.

The quantification of labor in terms of time, together with the view of time as serving a purposeful end, induces a notion of LEISURE TIME, which is parallel to the concept LABOR TIME. In a society like ours, where inactivity is not considered a purposeful end, a whole industry devoted to leisure activity has evolved. As a result, LEISURE TIME becomes a RESOURCE too --- to be spent productively, used wisely, saved up, budgeted, wasted, lost, etc. What is hidden by the RESOURCE metaphors for labor and time is the way our concepts of LABOR and TIME affect our concept of LEISURE, turning it into something remarkably like LABOR.

The RESOURCE metaphors for labor and time hide all sorts of possible conceptions of labor and time that exist in other cultures and in some subcultures of our own society: the idea that work can be play, that inactivity can be productive, that much of what we classify as LABOR serves either no clear purpose or no worthwhile purpose.

At any given moment, we tend to think we know who we are, what we have done, what we want to do, and what we can do. We think we could write it all down on paper, organized into lists. But actually, the possibilities of what could happen at any instant are incredibly vast. Consider this: you could pick up any book in the world and start reading, and have a different experience with each one. Your mind is capable of going in a nearly limitless number of different directions, far beyond anything you could enumerate in a list. Similarly, we are at least theoretically capable of generating new ideas and movement in any number of nearly infinite combinations. And that's just dealing with ideas --- it doesn't even touch all the possibilities inherent in our physicality, in our connections with others, with the rest of the world, the universe. Our circumstances, no matter how oppressive, are not nearly as limiting as we imagine; without even leaving the room we are already in a space much more vast than we conceive.

September 2, 2003

I swapped the InFocus X1 for the Panasonic PT-L300U; though the X1's picture was stunning, I couldn't get past the DLP rainbow effect, which gave me a slight headache feeling while watching many scenes. The Panasonic is an LCD projector (no rainbow effect) with exceptional contrast for an LCD (800:1) and it produces an impressive, smooth, color-rich and sparkling image (when the ambient light is close to zero). It includes a birefringent crystal that dramatically reduces the "screen door" effect, as well.

We rented Tarkovsky's Solaris and watched it on the projector --- I didn't realize what a difference it would make to see the film projected. I have always seen Solaris on video; although I've seen it on an excellent TV, there is a unique quality to seeing a film as it is meant to be seen, projected large. Psychologically it has a much greater impact. The PT-L300U renders the color and contrast with remarkable fidelity; you lose the sense that you're watching a video --- the feeling is very close to watching a film. I highly recommend front projection with a high quality projector --- and they've gotten remarkably cheap. If you've never seen some classic films in the theater, this is close to a theater experience, and it can add a surprising amount to the total effect of a film.

Slate's cover story today on the current mendacity of the Bush Administration is remarkable:

[quoting Condoleeza Rice] ..."Germany was not immediately stable or prosperous. SS officerscalled 'werewolves'engaged in sabotage and attacked both coalition forces and those locals cooperating with themmuch like today's Baathist and Fedayeen remnants."

....Donald Rumsfeld noted, "....They plotted sabotage of factories, power plants, rail lines. They blew up police stations and government buildings, and they destroyed stocks of art and antiques that were stored by the Berlin Museum. Does this sound familiar?"

Well, no, it doesn't. The Rice-Rumsfeld depiction of the Allied occupation of Germany is a farrago of fiction and a few meager facts.

Werwolf tales have been a favorite of schlock novels, but the reality bore no resemblance to Iraq today....

In practice, Werwolf amounted to next to nothing. The mayor of Aachen was assassinated on March 25, 1945, on Himmler's orders. This was not a nice thing to do, but it happened before the May 7 Nazi surrender at Reims....

....According to America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq, the total number of post-conflict American combat casualties in Germany --- and Japan, Haiti, and the two Balkan cases --- was zero.