Wednesday, June 30, 2004

binary complexity

Nicholas D. Kristof:

Mr. Bush did stretch the truth. The run-up to Iraq was all about exaggerations, but not flat-out lies. ...

Mr. Bush's central problem is not that he was lying about Iraq, but that he was overzealous and self-deluded. He surrounded himself with like-minded ideologues, and they all told one another that Saddam was a mortal threat to us. They deceived themselves along with the public — a more common problem in government than flat-out lying.

Fair enough. This is one of the problems analyzed by Surowiecki in The Wisdom of Crowds -- group homogeneity reinforces dumb confidence in insular perceptions. (More on Surowiecki's book here).

But is there some gain in level of complexity in the way Kristof concludes his piece?
It wasn't surprising when the right foamed at the mouth during the Clinton years, for conservatives have always been quick to detect evil empires. But liberals love subtlety and describe the world in a palette of grays — yet many have now dropped all nuance about this president.

or have we simply reconfigured the "exaggeration" so that we have simplified the world, "for the sake of argument," thusly?

In the rhetoric of closure, is there not always the exaggeration of simplification? ("Always" -- as in, is it possible to have closure without some moment of radical reduction? Is it possible to be a pundit without murdering truth?)

Which is one reason Surowiecki is right in suggesting we hold our own illusions at arm's length. (Well, he doesn't come right out and say that, but I do, simplifying his reasoning as I "make" this point about closure.)

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Thanks MOCC

For this greeting from the Sunshine state. As I recall, BigMedia kept trying to recount the chads, recount the chads, recount the chads.

Michael O'Connor Clarke suggestively reminds us of the role of the Supremes in the 2000 election as he detects one of them remembering what it is like to live in a free society:

"...if this nation is to remain true to the ideals symbolized by its flag, it must not wield the tools of tyrants even to resist an assault by the forces of tyranny."

Monday, June 28, 2004

Mr. Zeitgeist

I can't imagine a book more relevant to blogging than The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations by James Surowiecki. It is like the outing of the latent understanding a few hundred thousand people have been chewing on for the past few years, in blogs, wikis, and other minimal barrier modes of publishing.

I'm still reading the book. Certain of its implications - of what it calls cognitive diversity, for example, are broad, fascinating and destined to be upsetting.

Surowiecki argues that the greater the diversity of any human group, the better the collective judgment. So including people who clearly have less than expert knowledge or information about something actually increases the chances that a group will arrive at the best answer. Why? In part because experts share narrow expertise that tends to view its subject through a largely redundant lens. Group homogeneity means less new information, entropy, greater chance of poor judgment.

This goes against much that we think we know about knowledge, intelligence, problem solving. Except that it rings true, so we knew it all along.

Since it is an argument against central authority, it largely works via anecdote and invokes studies across a range of disciplines. Its central insight bears the mantle of no single authority, which makes it a daring tome indeed. It's also very well written.

Here's an excerpt. Here's Surowiecki on his understanding of diversity.

I want to say more about this book, but need to finish it first. Love to hear from other readers.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Manners of speaking

We’re all new to this environment — even Dave — relative to the length of time it takes to build cultural expectations of behavior, and no geographic barriers separate one subcultural sphere (where we celebrate passion and gutsy writing) from another (where everyone always speaks in evenly-measured tones). For now, at least, when one sphere bumps up against another, balls will get broken. - AKMA

I can't argue with the idea that weblogs are manifestations of the human form--they are the "us" that we can touch, hold, hug, love, slap, and strangle from a distance.

And they are also nothing at all. - Jeneane Sessum

Thursday, June 24, 2004

The Recovery

In the past year, more people got jobs at collection industries than got jobs at all industries combined. Austin Goolsby, University of Chicago Business School, on Marketplace.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Hip Hop on Weinberger

David Weinberger to Microsoft:
When it comes to creative works, we are not "consumers," and we are not users. Rather we appropriate creative works, that is, we make them our own. We apply them to our own context. We get them somewhat right or entirely wrong. They become part of us. That's how how we learn and how culture changes.

If you look at the Hip Hop scene, this seems to be precisely how many of the musicians are now operating. Some well known names seem to exist only on other artists' tracks. Or, the "same" song is done with one or more others, then remixed, then laid down again with some other people.

The one-to-one correspondence of artist to "work of intellectual property" that once ruled in pop and rock is, for the moment anyway, displaced. The scene matters more than any single "celebrity." Eminem uses D12 brilliantly to decelebritize himself.
But that means that creators should lose control of their works as quickly as possible. Obviously, creators need to be be paid for their work, but not for every bit of value they create: You shouldn't have to pay me if you re-read my book or lend it to a friend, even though you are getting more value from my book.

Couldn't one argue with equal ease that the book is gaining value by reaching more readers? That a song acquires added value by being performed variously by different combinations of people? The thing about Hip Hop remixes and multiple recordings is, how do they track who gets paid what? Perhaps Microsoft and other DRM folks could look at what is happening there.
...publishing creates the public...

Yes and more than the public -- it creates worlds. It is uncool to be a solo Hip Hop artist right now. One big success is working on stuff under an assumed name - in part just to avoid the tedious syndrome of the former regime of Stars and Hits.

Current Hip Hop recording practices have produced a promiscuous scene in which artists (at least, in appearance) jam freely and openly in some unending mammoth recording studio where small, loosely jointed groups hang, work and create and sometimes develop splendid animosities, giving them fuel for further songs and remixes (bloggers take note).

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

From Goya with love

Update: I was trying out, which seemed to work for a few days, but now I'm tired of looking at the trace of a missing image. Goya's Caprichos can be found here.

Some links before I forget

1. On Blogalization there's a translation of a piece in Arabic that the translator says, "reads something like an Islamic Cluetrain Manifesto." I posted about it here over at the, thanks to Jeneane, reenergized Gonzo Engaged. The original Arabic text, entitled The Islamic Internet, and its translation-in-progress is here. Good read.

2. On JOHO, David Weinberger revisits the question of authentic speech with lots of insightful comments.

3. On Allied, Jeneane responds to the resonance of voice in a maelstrom:

If I can say nothing else, I can say that Dave Winer was himself in this. In his written voice and audio posts, Through all of it. Through the twisted explanations of what happened and why, through the threats and accusations that came after, to the call for the posse. And there's something about that, God forgive me, that resonated with me beyond what was being said. Even about me. There was something that felt just a tiny bit right.

4. At Wealth Bondage, the Tutor ponders how a site devoted to the Gift Economy could rely on anything other than commercial solutions for hosting and code. See also the comments by TV, Gerry Gleason, someone called Harry, and the Tutor to this post.

5. Also at Wealth Bondage, or actually hovering between it and Vitia and this site devoted to stopping corporate harm, and here and here, supplemented by Zuboff ("The Support Economy") and Althusser, Gramsci and many more, lies an insight into the lifeblood of corporations.

At the center of the web of thought one might put this, from Seeing the Forest:
the balance of power between corporations and the average human citizen is way out of whack.

But this is just a bald topical rubric. The thing is, the guts of the insight, a sort of cognitive ledge, is not stated in some final, highly polished way in any one locus, but extends like some holographic virtual mind, or fictim, among these sources, persons and texts. Does anyone "own" this understanding? Can it be copyrighted or licensed? Heh...

Monday, June 21, 2004

A Simple Blog

Robert Stone writes in The New Yorker ("The Prince of Possibility," June 14 & 21, 2004) of an interlude he spent with Neal Cassady and Ken Kesey near Manzanillo, Mexico, after the New York World's Fair of 1964. Cassady became inseparable from a parrot he named Rubiaco.

How the parrot survived its friendship with Cassady is beyond me; as far as I remember, neither he nor anyone else ever fed the bird. Twenty-five years later, on Kesey's farm, Janice and I woke to Neal's voice from the beyond. (The man himself had died by the railroad tracks outside San Miguel de Allende in 1968.) "Fuckin' Denver cops," he muttered bitterly. "They got a grand theft auto. I tell them that ain't my beef." We rose bolt upright and found ourselves staring into Rubiaco's unkindly green eye.

Peering and dis-peering

disparage (di-SPAR-ij) verb tr.

1. To speak slightingly; to belittle.

2. To lower in rank or estimation.

[From Middle English, from Old French desparage (to match unequally), from dis- + parage (equality), from per (peer), from Latin par (equal).]

But see: [OF. desparagier, F. d['e]parager, to marry unequally; pref. des- (L. dis-) + F. parage extraction, lineage, from L. par equal, peer. See Peer.] 1. To match unequally; to degrade or dishonor by an unequal marriage. [Obs.]


A unit of communications hardware or software that is on the same protocol layer of a network as another. A common way of viewing a communications link is as two protocol stacks, which are actually connected only at the very lowest (physical) layer, but can be regarded as being connected at each higher layer by virtue of the services provided by the lower layers. Peer-to-peer communication refers to these real or virtual connections between corresponding systems in each layer.

To give a simple example, when two people talk to each other, the lowest layer is the physical layer which concerns the sound pressure waves travelling from mouth to ear (so mouths and ears are peers).

Source: The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © 1993-2004 Denis Howe

Saturday, June 19, 2004

The voice of USian memory

Correction: The text of the Presidential response to the latest beheading actually reads as follows:

"The murder of Paul shows the evil nature of the enemy we face," Pezident Bush said. "There's no justification whatsoever for his murder, and yet they killed him in cold blood. And it should remind us that


...painfully long patch of dead air...

then remainder of spew.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Host-age and hostage

Thanks to Rogers Cadenhead, Steve Kirks, Lawrence Lee and Dave Winer for creating in what seems like an impossibly short time, now hosting over 3,000 former manila blogs, including my own commonplaces, now found here. I can only imagine the amount of work these people put in, on short notice, and their solution seems at once pragmatic, generous, and fully in working order. Here's the faq, here's the Yahoo Group, here's where any former user can back up hizzorher blog. Tutti bravi!

I now face the predictable quandary posed by being on a network. People have just gotten done updating their links to find me here. I mean, here. Now I am able to move over to the new old blog, here, requiring the same people to yet again update links. But this new move is itself potentially temporary, as I, like a smart consumer, should evaluate a number of competing options, including one of just moving to my very own domain. So another round of link changes could lie ahead.

So it's a puzzle. Right now, so far as I am aware, the old link to my former blog is dead, no redirect. In the interests of keeping things simple, I am inclined to keep on here, I mean here, for the interim.

I am most open to suggestions. What would you do?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Me Myself and My Blog

All the bellyaching over Dave Winer has eroded an ever deeper hole in well-worn channels of Winerbashing. But, step out of the arroyo, and more interesting implications and complications emerge.

For example: Dave's gesture unsettled not only a few thousand blogs, but a bunch of unquestioned assumptions about the mode, habits, residence, control, property rights, host and parasite obligations of blogs, bloggers, and coders. Many of these questions are still unadjudicated about general matters on the web, as Professor Lessig keeps reminding us, so why should we start from anger derivative of a host of assumptions about what Winer owes us, or we him, and what blogs are anyway?

Why not imaginatively interrogate some of the deeper folds inside the car crash choreographed by Winer? Who owns a blog? and what ever gave us the idea that blogs, the most ephemeral of writing modes, are supposed to be permanent, or even to enjoy the stability which is necessary for permanence to exist? We're talking about bubbles in a limitless amazon of code.

Why do we write venemously from the standard, tedious, bourgeois position of proprietary homesteaders? I might be wrong. I was under the impression this entire experiment -- at least before MS and AOL thought it was cool -- was supposed to expand how we, our texts, our persons and languages and extensions might become, interact, change, and otherwise autopoetically expand and revise and connect in an exploratory mode. What we have mostly accomplished instead has been to establish a space for egos to exercise their matchless but up to now sadly underappreciated skills in punditry.

Aaron Swartz registers this disappointment in his own suggestive way:

So what is the coolest, newest use of the Internet? Why it’s weblogs, of course, where people can clog up the Web with daily emissions of static documents written by one person. We’ve come a long, long way together, indeed.

If I were the God of Blogs, would I be tempted to open a few spigots in the sky?

As for who owns a blog, or the work of the blog, again, the prevailing notion has all but obliterated any discussion of other views. Iago, stimulated by comments by Jeneane Sessum, points to Seb Paquet asking who owns a weblog's content, where a lively discussion surrounds the argument of whether Invisible Adjunct has the "right" to make her work disappear. Iago frames it this way:

Seb Paquet questioned the blogger as a source of value and treated the blog itself as a separate object entirely, one deserving of respect and preservation, precisely because its development over time resulted in something that is not simply a product of a single blogger but of a network of relations in which the blog itself was an important actor with whom people had constructed meaningful and important relationships.

These considerations deserve some reflection. Instead, they mostly get slammed down by self-appointed Regents of the Blogosphere whose blistering authority is beyond reproof. It is this drive to closure - a sort of instant orgasmic finalization of every question the newness of blogging has raised - that has, I believe, helped reduce the interest and diversity of the mode to a normative state of middle class torpor. I swear. It's almost as bad as television.

So there. And that's why I am not entirely having fits over Dave Winer. We blather on about disruptive techologies, but when someone actually disrupts our precious bourgeois soapbox, Katie bar the door. Even RB is getting on Winer's case. What happened to "Break your company"?

Angry dispossessed bloggers have begun threatening Dave Winer with class action suits (see comments here). So Dave is on target, according to RB's admirable business plan:

"The second milestone in the Stage One process (and the really important one) is the shareholder lawsuit."

By this metric, Dave's just been sticking to the program. This morning's promise of relief might not win him new friends, but is sure to derail the Titanic Deck Chair Rearrangement Model. Just when we were getting somewhere.

Supplementary and divagational

eWeek covers Winerama. I was asked to comment, then my quote didn't make the cut. Since we are all doing "journalism" now, here it is, a supplement, invaginary or otherwise, for eWeek readers.

eWeek reporter Matthew Broersma asked:

On your new blog it sounds like you're pretty resigned to the whole thing. Has it caused any inconvenience? Do you think it's to be expected?

I replied:

I am not in the least "resigned," if by that you mean passively accepting. I am intrigued. There is very likely more to the story than has so far been reported, or articulated by Dave Winer or anyone else. Dave has consistently operated from an individual perspective that has stood in tension with cliched norms of business, communication, and camaraderie. I find this challengingly valuable, even when it impacts me directly.

As for that impact, it took me about two minutes to create a new blog, which says something about how Net routes around outages. If there is damage or loss of past information (and there is no certainty that there will be any permanent loss), there is, untouched, the web of people, ideas, interests and connections constructed over time, whose value - past present and future - easily transcends the deletion of any particular subset of my blog entries. And besides, google cache* makes
even this "deletion" more a matter of inconvenience than anything more dire.

(*Along with the venerable Wayback Machine, as Ray Davis points out in an email.)

Speaking of Ray, he has observed Bloomsday in a way that brings the book we ought to remember to mind. Unlike the strangely abstracted T.S. Eliot, who, despite all the Tutor's craven efforts to rehabilitate his cultural centrality, seems ever more marginal. I mean, if T.S. was having trouble with contemporary culture 80 years ago, what figure blogging must he be doing in his even more wasted wasteland now. Here he is talking about Joyce's use of the Odyssey:

In using the myth, in manipulating a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity, Mr. Joyce is pursuing a method which others must pursue after him. They will not be imitators, any more than the scientist who uses the discoveries of an Einstein in pursuing his own, independent, further investigations. It is simply a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history. It is a method already adumbrated by Mr. Yeats...

Bringing together chaos and science, anarchy and method, in one easy Eliotic grimace - sounds good, but what exactly does Mr. Eliot mean by words like "myth" and "method," not to speak of "signficance"? We don't get much chance to find out, because he's more interested in his oxymoron than in putting us in touch with the potency of Joyce.

What is that potency? I do not think it lies in the spectacular granularity of everyday life that some make much of: Soap in one pocket, lucky potato in the other. Or not solely in that static mode, which boasts the primacy of the photographic, and therefore is difficult to see as anything other than nostalgia for the stable sensory load of a Past lying stately, plump and intact in memory and desire. Then again, the Odyssey is a nostos, and that homeward drive does seem to impel Joyce's characters.

Not that the extreme particularness of the book isn't a wonder in and of itself. But those rare details must be taken in tension with, say, the macro level lovefest the book is having with large literary genres. Joyce wants us to feel the soap, but through a vocal phantasmagoria of strangely familiar modes and odes and ballads and pratfalls and catechistics and theatrics, a drunken revel of eternizing forms, irreducibly formal and common and echoic and general. The dizziness of that dynamic can be seen in Ray's selection, where every word is highly denotative and entirely formal in the same poynted semantic moment:

But beshrew me, he cried, clapping hand to his forehead, tomorrow will be a new day and, thousand thunders, I know of a marchand de capotes, Monsieur Poyntz, from whom I can have for a livre as snug a cloak of the French fashion as ever kept a lady from wetting.

and where the play of voices and genres with and against one another offers a music alien to the staid banality of dogmatic realism. The loveliness of that tension. Who knows, perhaps that's what Eliot was getting at...

stately, unplump*

What I'm learning from Dave Winer:

"Personal" includes relationships of memory, sensibility, risk, heart, mind, humor.

Contracts do not inhere in scripts, scriptings or scripture, but in live performances whose success depends upon the persons who live and breathe their performance.

Jeneane, AKMA, Tutor, Joe, Halley, David, Doc, Craig, Ray, Marc, Dorothea, Suw, Dean, RB, Michael, Frank, Mr. Semulent, Jon, Alwin and all you other persons to whom the absence of commonplaces brought precious evidence of your presence - thanks.

Bloomin' good day to yall.

(*Lost nearly 30 lbs in Mexico...mebbe get raptured quikkker thet way...)

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Back in the USSA

Welcome to This is where my former blog, commonplaces, will hang for a while. It is perfectly in keeping with a more general sense of dislocation to be, if that's the word, here.

I will also note that, given my persistent view that matters of property and propriety are essentially contested conditions at best, it is satisfying to find this position ratified, as it were, by an act, if not of God, then of someone not far from that job title in the world of blogs.

I'm kind of busy putting my life back together. My "real" life. The road back to Florida from Mexico, elongated by a few detours, ended up being 2,830 miles long, nearly every mile of which (so far as my limited patience was able to determine) was eerily accompanied by one or another ceremonial moment of fictional mourning for the fictional leader par excellence, Ronald Gaylord Jehosophat Reagan, thanks to the choral castrati at NPR and related media.

Where other cultures, e.g. Mexico, have long living memories, large historical imaginations, small routines and rituals and styles that bind together collectives into communities, what we we have heah in the US of A appears to fall into the category of media psychosis: A glacial world of aberrant reaction formations born of fear, (especially infantile nostalgia for Great White (or Orange) Fathers), usurping all that could be known in ecstatic longings for a world that isn't ever to be known. Blotchy burning suns set in plush radiowave velour, suitable for framing.

It was amid this more pervasive sense of displacement that I discovered that my blog, along with some 3,000 others, was no longer available to me or to anyone else, at least for a while.

As I was saying, US media perhaps never was, and certainly is not now in touch with nonfiction. Dave Winer's gesture is difficult to fathom -- gratuitous, seemingly arbitrary, and rife with questionable logic -- yet for all that, it is an overt, above-the-belt expression of mere power, unvarnished, unfake, unassailable.

So if what we have heah is a problem of communication, I say, better the power you know -- even if you can't understand or control it -- than the wattage of NPR, aspiring to shape our wishes, dream our dreams, and weep our tears. Winer might have unceremoniously arrested the shared flow of thought and attention that he helped create, but as far as I know, he hasn't so far presumed to ventriloquize me.

If you happen to have a recommendation for hosting an exported Manila blog, or just want to say hi, I'd be very happy to hear from you.