God of the Machine – Page 51 – Culling my readers to a manageable elite since 2002.
Sep 032002

Grokster would be fine, but you used to have to do a little work and swap out a .dll to get rid of the nasty ads and spyware that came with. Now Kazaa Lite does the dirty work for you. Their connection is flaky and you have to suffer through a few popup ads, ironically enough, so you may want to get it from me instead.

Sep 022002

Tim Blair, whom I have been remiss in not adding to the blogroll, an oversight that has now been corrected, eviscerates Lewis Lapham.

“The rights of the individual in the United States have been increasingly diminished and the rights of property continually augmented,” he gripes, as though people have nothing to do with property. Apparently in Lapham’s world property invents itself, then forces itself upon us humans. Go away, house! Leave me alone, car!

Sep 012002

In Slate Marc Weingarten bemoans the Deadhead cult; he misses the point. ‘Twas the Dead killed the Dead. More accurately, the band was still-born.

You can put the entire Dead ouevre on a tape loop and not notice, let alone care, when one song ends and the next begins. It’s rock muzak, so mild that it won’t even offend your parents. Weingarten describes Live/Dead as “lysergic-stoked free rock” and Workingman’s Dead as “space-cowboy country” and Wake of the Flood as “baroque prog-jams.” (These records hail from the golden age of 1965 to 1975, when the Dead were supposed to be good.) What’s the difference? There is no difference. “Baroque free rock” and “lysergic-stoked country” and “space-cowboy prog-jams” would serve just as well.

An ardent colleague dragged me to a Dead show about seven years ago. A Dionysian frenzy? Not exactly. Acid was nowhere in evidence; it was hard to find anyone even drinking beer in the parking lot. Everyone wore nice clean casual clothes that they looked like they’d changed into right after work. Quite a few still wore suits: no time to change I guess. They filed into and out of the arena orderly as you please. You wouldn’t find better behavior at a Christian Youth Conference. The two biggest Dead fans I’ve ever known were a corporate headhunter and an actuary. To blame the “decline” of the Dead on these innocent souls seems rather churlish to me. Of course the crowd is staid: the band is staid.

Weingarten, remarkably, neglects to mention the Dead’s true innovation, marketing. They were the first and still, to my knowledge, the only band to encourage bootlegging, allowing fans to tape concerts directly off the mixing board. The idea was to sacrifice some revenue in the short run to build fan loyalty, promoting album and concert sales in the long run, and it worked brilliantly. I’d listen to them lecture on brand loyalty any day. Just as long as I don’t have to listen to them play.

Aug 312002

In Hamlet the pompous old windbag Polonius sends his son Laertes off with this speech:

And these few precepts in thy memory
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel,
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatched unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
Bear’t that th’opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice:
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgement.
Costly thy habir as thy purse can buy,
But not expressed in fancy; rich, but not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man;
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are more select and generous in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

This speech consists wholly of platitudes, platitudes intended by Shakespeare as platitudes, platitudes then and platitudes now. It’s kitchen-sampler stuff. It is delivered by one of the least attractive characters in all of the plays, one who lacks the virtue to be a hero and the brio to be a villain and can’t even manage to snoop without getting himself stabbed. Yet after “To be or not to be” it is probably the most often-quoted speech in Shakespeare, and always seriously. This is not a happy reflection on the state of literary culture.

Aug 312002

I oppose capital punishment on the grounds that the worst thing the state, with its monopoly on force, can possibly do is execute an innocent person. This, however, is the only argument against capital punishment with any merit. And of all the usual arguments, the worst is that to punish a murderer with death is “retributive” and “barbaric.”

Criminal justice does not operate on the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” principle. It operates on the “two eyes for an eye, full set of bridgework for a tooth” principle. If I hold up a gas station for $200, the judge doesn’t order me to give the $200 back, apologize to the attendant for sticking a gun in his face, and leave it at that. He puts me away for a few years. Otherwise there would be little disincentive to hold up gas stations.

The punishment, as any parent could tell you, must exceed the crime. Not grossly exceed the crime, of course — one doesn’t execute jaywalkers even though this practice would doubtless eliminate jaywalking — but exceed it nonetheless. This does get dicey with particularly heinous, violent crimes like murder, maiming and rape. Still, one cannot accept the principle of punishment in excess of the crime, as most opponents of capital punishment do, and still grow weak in the knees over executing a murderer. It just isn’t logical.

Aug 302002

In the walls of the cubicle there were three orifices. To the right of the speakwrite, a small pneumatic tube for written messages; to the left, a larger one for newspapers; and in the side wall, within easy reach of Winston’s arm, a large oblong slit protected by a wire grating. This last was for the disposal of waste paper. Similar slits existed in thousands or tens of thousands throughout the building, not only in every room but at short intervals in every corridor. For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes…

What happened in the unseen labyrinth to which the pneumatic tubes led, he did not know in detail, but he did know in general terms. As soon as all the corrections which happened to be necessary in any particular number of the Times had been assembled and collated, that number would be reprinted, the original copy destroyed, and the corrected copy placed on the files in its stead. This process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound tracks, cartoons, photographs–to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance… All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed as often as was necessary.

I never found this passage from 1984 very convincing. Way too much clean-up involved. First you expunge the files, which is the easy part; but then you have to find everyone who might have a copy and confiscate those as well. This sounds like too much work for even “the largest section of the Records Department,” to which Orwell assigns this job, to handle.

But suppose documents were electronic, and that there were just one copy of every document, sitting on a server somewhere, that many people could access simultaneously from all over the world. Suppose Orwell had dreamt of The Internet, in other words. It certainly would have made life a whole lot easier for the Records Department. Change whatever you like, and no trace remains of what you had written before.

Richard Goldstein and Andrew Sullivan had a little dust-up about this a while back. Goldstein accused Sullivan of calling him a Marxist. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Goldstein is a Marxist.) Sullivan denied it and challenged Goldstein to search the archives. Goldstein countered that Sullivan deleted it from the archives to exculpate himself. In this case I’m quite sure Sullivan is telling the truth because Goldstein is a habitual liar, and Sullivan isn’t. But if you really do want to twiddle your archives and remove some inconvenient accusation, with decent blogging software, like, say, Greymatter, which I use, it’s trivial. You change the entry, rebuild and voila! the previous versions vanish down the memory hole. Web pages are mighty flexible, and flexibility, for obvious reasons, relates inversely to historical “stickiness.”

I’m willing to edit my archives, up to a point. If I find a grammatical error or infelicity in an old post I silently correct it. On the other hand, if I’m adding content or correcting a substantial error, I’ll add it to the bottom as an “update” so it’s clear what I posted originally. Of course I am also reasonably confident that the Rankes and Burckhardts of the coming century will not be counting on me for source material. (I’d be curious how other bloggers treat their archives.) I trust this explains why, if I were editing the Oxford English Dictionary, I’d insist on print citations too, even for a word like “blog.” Not that you asked.

Aug 302002

It might be wise for companies to consult a historian before naming new products. (Not to mention a linguist: remember how big the Chevy “Nova” went over in Mexico?) Calling a sneaker Zyklon really isn’t too bright. Nonetheless the Jewish organizations, predictably aghast, could put a sock in it once in a while. Or maybe they really believe that Umbro intended to cash in on gas-chamber chic.

Update: I am informed in the comments that I have fallen victim to an urban legend about the Chevy Nova. My thanks to my alert readers. It won’t happen again. Until it does.

Aug 292002

Danse Macabre

Who was who and where were they
Scholars all and bound to go
Iambs without heel or toe
Something one would never say
Moving in a certain way

Students with an empty book
Poets neither here nor there
Critics without face or hair
Something had them on the hook
Here was neither king nor rook

This is something someone said
I was wrong and he was right
Indirection in the night
Every second move was dead
Though I came I went instead

–Yvor Winters

Aug 292002

Looks like my “eight-page, ultrasuede-covered ‘photo album'” invitation to Puffy’s post-MTV Video Music Awards party got lost in the mail, although it’s not clear to me how even the U.S. Postal Service could lose an item like that. Damn, and I was stoked to bust out my flyest shit too:

The Dress Code Must Be Respected!

If your shoes are scuffed you’re going to have a problem. If you’re wearing jeans, you’re on the wrong track.

Pull out the flyest shit in your closet, or have your stylist pull something for you.

Definition of fly shit: The top designers i.e. Sean-John Collection, Gucci, Dolce & Gabanna, YSL, Couture, Versace.

Think the Oscars. Think the person you want to marry is inside; think of me at the GFDA Awards, Kentucky Derby, my New Year’s Eve party in Miami or my Hamptons White Party.


Fellas: Haircuts, Shape-ups and clean shaves are a must. Ladies: Hair-dos, waxing, manicures and pedicures are also a must.


OK, I won’t. But can’t I at least taunt the sexy? Or mildly irritate the sexy? Or have my stylist mildly irritate the sexy? Please?