Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke--original Youth International Party slogan...ok, but what's so funny?

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: The header here was originally “Everybody’s in show biz/Everybody’s a star”—Ray Davies of the Kinks, from the album and song of the same name. That was when it was simple. But nothing is that easy. The new title came as the work-in-progress began to coalesce, and it became clear that a lot more was required. Then came the next inspiration, a quote attributed to Richard Burbage, Shakespeare's go-to actor, a last gasp that has come down to us, through the ages, as either perfectly formed or adapted and adopted, whatever, of the apocryphal summation of art: "Dying is easy; Comedy is hard."]

Today marks a peculiar anniversary, one that is probably only familiar to those obsessed by the Yankees/Red Sox feud ongoing since they traded the Babe to the Bronx. In 1774, two weeks after the other one, the NYC branch of the Sons of Liberty threw their own tea party, chucking crates of Tetley, Lipton and Earl Grey into the Hudson. Do you think anybody in the present world of “the rabble” (as many have self-labeled their groups, in honor of the King George view of our rebel forefathers) would care? After all, that is one of the two home fronts (the other being California) of the species Liberalus Elitus, their sworn enemies. Mind you, one supposes that they can now accept the other one, marginally, as South Boston was one of the districts that helped elect Scott Brown.

The Tea Party umbrella covers a legitimate, grassroots, honorable American protest movement…and also a ginned-up, astroturfed, shameful display of wanton childishness and egomania, blind to the assets of the opposition and too forgiving of their own lunatic fringe. These seeming polar-opposite opinions are not given to appear either indecisive or “fair and balanced”. The reason for saying so is only that within these extremes there is very little latitude for compromise or discourse, and it is much the same as our view of the Muslim world and its tepid response to our fears of terrorists. Here, the people with a desire for restrictions on Big Government and grievances at the loss of civil liberties cannot be debated because the only ones being heard, or having attention paid to them, are those who are the loudest, shrillest and generally the most obnoxious of the group.

When my friend Ed pointed out to me that Arlo Guthrie had given some reporter for the NY Times (for the feature “Five Minutes With…”, I think it was called) a reference to support of Ron Paul, he was dismayed to find the son of Woody had gone conservative. I pointed out that it could also be that the reporter was being young and snotty (or “snarky”, if that is the proper neologism—assuming that it is NOT the Lewis Carroll word but more the combination of “snakey” and “arch”) and Arlo just decided to flip-off with a curt blurt. When canvassing during at the last election, there were instructors who told us how to handle lawn signs as indicators of whether or not to approach houses (in that area) and the mention of Ron Paul supporters always brought a laugh (as being so rare) but also was encouraged as these were people who actually THOUGHT about the issues; who made a choice based upon what may be thought of as ultraconservative, but is, as well, almost radically Libertarian. And Libertarians are not people to be scoffed at—ever. Some of my best friends…

What I like, and what everyone must acknowledge, is that these are people who SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER. That’s in uppercase for a good reason: it needs to be set off as the most important thing that we, as citizens and registered voters and taxpayers—whatever label you wish to apply—should do in order to participate in governance. When you talk with these people, it is safe to say you can readily admit that the Healthcare bill is flawed; that regulation is necessary to curb excesses that violate sound business practices but should not be a bar to competitive trade; that the President is not the Messiah or even the Pope; that you take orders from your conscience as much as they do, but will—knowingly—have to bend it, at times, in order to accommodate your ideals to practicalities. At its best, this is truly Democracy in action.

That’s also a discussion that is impossible in the present climate.

In an attempt to get away from the noise of overheated rhetoric and virulent images and evening news clip-loops of rally-monkeys, I read. First, a New Yorker piece on the movement, then a lot of blogs, then a Times piece, and then some more blogs. The best of the bunch was the NYer one. While it did not entirely avoid the kooks, it presented a lot of the arguments from the perspective of ordinary folk, and—outside of being suspicious of anybody from that city—mostly provided a look at it from their side of the fence, and, as well, its evolution (though many would dispute the use of such a Darwinistic verb) from a CNBC reporter’s shout-out on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange into the activist campaign that could replace Teddy, the Lion of the Senate, with Pick-up Truck Scott. What it did offer of value was an historical perspective and some links for investigation.

It's so easy to satisfy curiosity there days: Google any one of the cause camps and visit their websites or blogs and look for patterns. Start with the tech and then check out the chat. As they are also part of the blogosphere of which this site is a participant, assessing the level of manufacture is no trick; we all use the same set of templates, depending upon your particular server’s options. We get frames and fill them with stuff; some of your own generation, others provided gratis to make it look fancier. And yes, the postings are long/short, entered by each date or in one long list [ASIDE: note for all—don’t do that; loading takes too long], with/without graphics, black type or white on colored background but some with differently-colored type mixed in. These are not that sophisticated or loaded with resources (unless you go to something like the big guns, or such); they ARE personal. Then, as equals in the world of open journals, meeting them halfway didn't seem like such a stretch.

And we’re not talking Birthers, Deathers, Truthers, or any of those specific phobias. So then you start reading and the first thing that you realize is that the references in the article to Liberty Bell (an early “Tea Bagger”—but with the wrong binding metaphor in her call to arms—is depicted in superhero cartoon) is the same one in the article AND she is cited on almost every site. And the prevalence of Ayn Rand Objectivism as the highest sources of philosophical criticism. And the number of slogans and caricatures of Obama, Pelosi, Reid, etc., as well as the photos of demonstrations, and lots of bumper stickers. Finally, because they are there, you start looking at the Comments fields too. (If I had as many as some of these, I would feel very fortunate indeed.)

Once you are hip-deep in the thickets, it all begins to blur but salient points do emerge. The best of them, after authority, utilize arguments based upon such things as polling data from Rasmussen Reports, “The Most Comprehensive Public Opinion Data”, as they claim. And most authorities say they are that good, except there is also another statistical factor they say is important, what is called the “house effect”: that of the systemic differences in the way polls tend, due to their own search for evidence to support their clients’ desired conclusions. This is not “skewing” data as much as nudging a question towards an answer you prefer. The extreme example of this, from Law School, would be something like, ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’ (A better analysis might be found here FiveThirtyEight: Politics Done Right: House Effects Render Poll-Reading Difficult) This does not say they are wrong, but it does indicate that they are probably Right. And if you go to this as your main source of support 5 times out of 10, you aren’t really interested in facts as facts any more than I used to be.

Still, if you are after public opinion, that’s what you do. It gets shakier when you start having to go after independent economic or scientific data, or philosophical slants that are wider afield than your sect. That’s when the volume ramps up alarmingly fast…like the Minutemen on laughing gas. Yes, the rhetoric (if you want to stretch the term to bad English) is nearly 100%, red-blooded, Revolutionary War (or the Colonial War, a designation equally descriptive but with less appeal to virulence and therefore never used in their sloganeering), fire-breathing oratory that wraps itself in all the symbols of the Founding Fathers’ major (ad) campaigns against the British, and talk about uniting again for a “Second” revolution…they just don’t talk about the rest of us. And even though a lot of them use the term “We” a lot (as in, “We, the People”), it sounds just like they’re saying “Me” in the plural.

Short aside for a minor confession. In my salad days, I admit to a similarly rabid turn of mind, albeit from the Left; uncompromising, arbitrary and disregarding as bogus any facts that did not fit in with my world view. (Ok. Almost. Bane of my existence: always looking at both sides of an argument. Only really useful in chess.) I would generalize, sure, but never without some modicum of evidence, and after much analysis and consideration. This is why we were called radicals--our opinions were out of the norm and extreme in their challenges to standards.

What comes through all of the speechifyin’ about the Real America and True Patriots and The Constitution and the Tree of Liberty and Don’t Tread On Me all that, is that the most authentic characteristic they all have in common is a sense of anger and aggrievement. As a rule, this sort emotional character comes from those who have been disenfranchised by a system and only want their fair share of ‘the American Dream’. However, what comes through in the Times article is that these people are better educated, have professional jobs in relatively stable employment areas, and are more affluent than the main. As well, the use of language and tactics is very close to what we used to use, and were often accused of taking dictation from Moscow and Fidel and Mao. When you add it up, then, this is not only co-opting the forms of your enemy but posturing like runway mannequins: they're messages are hollow and empty of any real content; the kind of stuff that's good for marches...but this is no different than what shows up on their blogs. And when you codify this behavior in a psychological/sociological profile, it rates as right up there with spoiled children: petulant and pouting. It is not, as they like to type themselves as the Radical Right, but simply reactionary. This is proven by the plain fact that the Party of No is against everything and proposes nothing new. One might argue that this is the way of any opposition group out of power.

But there's more.

The reason for the original title (the Kinks one) was that we all have realized, at some time or other in our blogging experience, that, with few exceptions, this is a trivial, useless waste of time and energy with no hope of any return of value for the time spent on executing our entries. (Take Ed, for instance. The amount of labor he puts into far and away outweighs the responses he gets for these little gems. And that isn’t counting the cable access show on which it is based.) At all but the most popular music-dl blogs, you can expect maybe 2-to-5 “thank yous” and are grateful for that, especially the idea of return visitors. In the TP world, it is more like 5-to-10 and better. And neither are these simple thanks; they are solid supports and hearty ‘fight the good fight’, ‘keep up the good work’, ‘don’t falter at the altar’-type-of-exhortations which express a vocal message much more than a written one. (Again: bad grammar; terrible spelling.) As well, these are people who tweet and Blackberry and IM lots too! And if you read the previous post, the attraction to this entire social-media networking is just as palpable. It is not generalizing to say that support-group re-enforcement for every impulse, no matter how ephemeral and trivial, which may add to the Foe’s consternation and frustration is trumpeted to the rafters right alongside Paul Revere’s Ride and The Shot Hear ‘Round The World and other iconographic events of the era.

It is not merely a mutual admiration society, though. This is not a small thing either. The idea of being ‘loud and proud’ may have come from James Brown and filtered through to Gay rights but it is squarely something the former ‘Silent Majority’ want…and they want it NOW! When you read the blogs, and the comments, you immediately notice that they are not out to make any arguments, compile any logical supports, create any plans to supplant that which they oppose (and believe me, this is something I recognize well from my own intemperate past) based in economic or demographic evidence. And, despite the Scott Brown victory (and the Hoffman defeat in upstate New York), they do not want to follow the strictest dictum of the game: ALL POLITICS ARE LOCAL. No, they must make an impression on the National stage, otherwise they won’t get their most sought-after prize: a 10-second loop on CNN. Think I’m exaggerating? Try this: one of the people in the New Yorker piece asked the writer if he knew who won the Battle of Saratoga. It wasn’t a pop quiz; it was to get to bring up Benedict Arnold. “One of the reasons he turned traitor was because he didn’t get the recognition he deserved.” (You may now insert a Rodney Dangerfield cut-away of tie-adjustment, shoulder-hitch and the “I don’t get no respect” grumple.)

They want to be famous…just like everybody else, if only for a minute…or 10 seconds.

When you live in a media capital, it is not uncommon for your waitstaff to have both Food Handler and SAG cards. On the other hand, what with the proliferation of “Reality TV” competitions and ‘unscripted’ family docu-soaps, more and more Average Joes and Janes are getting their moment in the spotlight as well. What differs from the past is that when you were on, say, Password or Jeopardy or Concentration, it was confined to daylight, workday hours. (Let us omit What’s My Line?, The Match Game, The Dating Game, etc. and those of their ilk as they would be either one or two a week, tops, or syndicated on the fringes of prime time.) Today, you see schulbs & bubbas, goombahs & goombettes, sluts & studs, nerds & cheerleaders, Six-Pack Abs & Joe Six-Pack, NASCAR Dads & soccer/hockey moms, all having their moment in the public eye. It does not matter to them that they are also being used in the same capacity as a freak show by venal carny barkers/programmers who have figured out how to garner the maximum advertising revenue stream from the least investment of capital. Nor should it matter; if what you want is to be able to sit around with the grandkids and point at a screen and say, Look! There’s ME!—that's fine. Performance art is a good place to start...but remember: drama, comedy, tragedy--it belongs on a stage.

Now to the substance of the subsequent title.

Spend some time with Stewart or Olberman and you will hear the subject of Comedy brought up: by the former as an explanation of what he does; by the latter as a critique of Fox News and their common-taters. Everyone knows that "The Daily Show" is on Comedy Central, but that doesn't stop a lot of people going after it as if it were a newsgathering organization with an editorial division. More than once he has explained--explicitly--that he is NOT "fair and balanced" BECAUSE THIS IS SATIRE. "Countdown" labels Bill-O the Clown, and Rush and Glenn as comedians, saying 'because that is what they are', in the main. So what we have, on one end, is a self-described humorist (I think that's safe enough to tag John, which gives him a point spread from Mark Twain to Will Rogers and leaves room for whatever heaviness may come from dealing in provocative ideas). He gets a lot of laughs, first and foremost, and he's happy. If someone wants to take something he says and start a crusade, he'd be the first one to tell them to seek professional counseling.

On the other, most prominently, are an ex-journalist and two radio-originated broadcasters offering views and opinions on the events and issues of the day, never claiming to have any authority or responsibility. No, they are just asking "why", arent' they? And here's the nut: they may be as described, but nobody treats them like that. When you see their summations, given as blanket statements echoing the deepest beliefs of those people on the aforesaid blogs, you have to wonder "why" as well. When it comes to public discourse, especially on the subject of the future of the governance, the last thing we should pay attention to are such vain, self-obsessed aggrandizers masquerading as patriots. Their broadsides are the permission slips for juvenile minds, inviting them to join a pre-packaged protest movement that looks like the old Vietnam/Free Speech/Ban the Bomb days without bothering to go through critical examination, the questioning of means and ends and motivations and desires, or ever reaching a conclusion on their own that does not eschew all doubt.

This is what reminds me of something I said earlier, about how the most important thing we can do is speak truth to power. If the news organizations want to show them making noise and raising hell, they should also acknowledge that these are empty, unconsidered statements, at best; and no less than professionally-produced simulacra/clones of our best aspirations towards the nobility of humankind and sanctity of the individual via Mad Ave-quality scripts and graphics for end-user industry lobby efforts to increase profits, suppress actual dissent and escape consequences of actions made possible only by continued manipulation of policy and regulatory agencies.

The worst is, these are people who literally do not think. Another generalization that seems too overarching? On Maddow last night, a perfect example: a Tea Party-identified woman was interviewed (or polled) and asked whether or not she approved of “big government”. She, of course, replied in the negative. Then she was asked if she was on Medicare or receiving Social Security. She answered yes. Then she was asked whether or not she approved of them. This caused her an actual conundrum, almost an Orwellian doublethink, wherein she had to confront her blanket statement of the TP line she had dl’ed to her frontal cortex for a knee-jerk response, but at the same time having to face the facts that her best interest lay with two programs that were emblematic of governmental intervention. She then had to say, “I don’t know, but I guess I’m changing my mind as we speak.”

See? These people are not dead between the ears; they CAN think, they just don’t want to ratiocinate. The problem with reading those blogs is how easy it is to feel superior to them, if only for one’s ability to run rings around their arguments. But smugness ill becomes anyone, and I would rather have a dialogue than talk to myself (despite what this particular blog appears to be doing). These are not evil devils doing bad as much as frightened and marginalized everyday folk who want what they see on TV to conform to something in their lives. Warhol’s most quoted line is “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes”; most from the ‘burbs would settle for a blurb.

Am I immune? Yes and no. For me, this blog is a means to organize my thoughts, so to speak, in an open forum. I do not invite comments but neither do I reject them. This is first and foremost a journal of what goes on in one mind towards one end that may or may not be meaningful or purposeful. Whatever ‘fame’ I had was in the past; enough so that, in mine own little circle, I found some sort of admiration and popularity. But that’s what youth is about; on a bunch of grey retirees on pensions and middle-age guts and secretary spreads, it looks kinda sad and pathetic. What makes it ugly is that everything they ask for—like not leaving this debt to our grandchildren and such—is only making it worse.

One last quote. “Do not go gentle into that goodnight/Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” I know what John Donne meant, but it sure don’t look like they do.

First you have to see the light.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I’m losing status at the high school.— “Status Back, Baby”—Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention

I’m losing status at the high school.—
“Status Back, Baby”—Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention

Of late, it has crossed the mind that there is a new form of behavioral control being proscribed upon the socio-cultural sphere with brand new set of obligations as subtle as any Japanese court politesse, as tightly-bound as Emily Post in Moroccan leather, and, as finely delineated as B.F. Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior. And, amazingly enough, the metaphor comes built-in with the subject matter!

It is, of course, the Web. It is also, The Net. It is as well, not to stretch a point, an electromagnetic attraction. (Why do all these apply, and so aptly? That is something unponderable at this moment; suffice it to say—worthy subject for a follow-up.) Thus, as anyone can see, these all have built-in restraints and constraints and dynamics in their very definitions, let alone their poetic usages and implications. Here & now, though, they transcend those definitions to become…(we’ll get back to that…)

The exact instant this rose above the level of background processing (and yes, I know: too many computer metaphors for “thinking”? READ THE OTHER BLOG!) and began to consume major RAM, was after seeing an episode of “South Park”. Normally, this cartoon is off the radar as it is sort of boring (disgusted bus non dispute tandem bicycles), except, on this occasion, as the advertised subject was Facebook. It must be admitted: curiosity got the better of me. The influence of this phenomenon has not gone unnoticed, if only for the Marshall McLuhanesque aspects of it. (cf. SEE ABOVE, then BELOW) No novice here but hardly an acolyte, the prospect of seeing the world’s most popular (arguably, but not by me) social networking site reduced to a series of topical gags as appreciated by a gang of hyperactive 4th graders would, of necessity, strip away the overarching aspects of its place in the world of media and render it its essential functions. (Forget the potty-mouthed aspect: anyone who wasn’t at that age was raised in a vacuum, bubble or commune.) And that is enough of an introduction.

Though it is possible I am living in one of the aforementioned containment vessels, I have managed to get by without ever having sent a text message or engaged in an online chat. A cheapo cellphone only came into my life a year or so back, and I only signed on for a FB account to look at an e-mail sent by a friend. From this it would be easy to conclude the identity of a reluctant Luddite with a hard-on for hard disc space, or something. Well, were that true, why off earth would I have a blog? (Case closed.)

Yes, I like these toys but I also like CONTENT. As said in the last post, I prefer to emulate that sterling pedestrian equestrian of palomino persuasion, Mr. Ed, and not fritter away my time with drivel and doggerel. Yet the fascination with Facebook needs to be grappled with at some juncture. An attorney at the firm said that he found a witness he was looking for via FB. Now how modern is that? No skip tracer, no bondsman, or private dick—all you need to do is hunt him down…by his profile or…whatever.

And this is where the “South Park” show entitled, “You have 0 Friends”, came in handy. For those not in the know, of which I number myself, the enormous fan base has created its own language. Herewith, I intend to employ SP-ese—the shorthand and (I suppose) txt-version of conversation garnered from webchats and the like, whenever possible—but with a translation: such as refs to the “ep” (episode).

The boys have a new craze, Facebook, and as usual, are doing it to the exclusion of all else. Stan (the level-headed one, primarily, or at least, the killjoy of the bunch), loses his temper and says: “Why are you guys wasting your time on Facebook? We’re supposed to be out playing videogames!” As is common amongst them, their idea of a prank is to make him an FB account, against his express wishes.

Somewhere along here, the example of someone named Kip Drordy is mentioned as a complete social failure: he has a FB account with 0 friends for six months. (Hence the title of the episode. Kip is a one-time character.) He is seen sighing and staring at the screen of his computer; he has a sad clown picture on the wall behind him. (This is almost genuine pathos, here.) Then, suddenly, he is “friended” by Kyle and becomes renewed, focusing around this new addition to his life with utter infatuation. As soon as Stan’s father, Randy, finds out he has an account, he begs Stan to “friend” him. Then is told to friend mother and grandmother.

Kyle (the one whose hat has earmuffs) is playing a FB game called Farmville. (There are others, I gather, called Mafia Wars, Vampire Hospital, Pet Salad, and possibly Farkle and Super Farkle, and Bejeweled Blitz and Jungle Jewels. There also may be Yahtzee…but more on that later.) It appears to be some kind of group participation game where you can earn points when people visit it and do things like water crops or harvest or such. However, inexplicably, Kyle begins to lose friends (his counter showing them dropping off.) There is a cut-away to a Cartman podcast where he offers instructions on how to get friends on FB in a Jim Kramer parody called “Mad Friends” wherein stock and a friend count are equated. “Chick friends are worth almost triple what dude friends are” in his promotional view. Kyle decides to go to him for advice.

Meanwhile, Wendy (angry-looking girl with mouth-braces) confronts Stan about Susan92's post "I think you look cute in your bunny costume", not interested in explanation that this is his grandmother. She also demands he update his status to "In a Relationship". Later, he is walking down the street when a random stranger stops his car, accosts him for not “friending” him and then says: “I'm just a guy that gets ignored I guess!”, then, enraged, spits on him and speeds off.

The second half shows Stan trying to get his homework done but neglecting to respond to his FB friends, his father telling him "Stan, poke your Grandma!" Then, Cartman, schooling Kyle, suggests he go on Chat Roulette to gain new friends. Kyle demurs, saying, “It’s justa bunch of guys jacking off!” And, sure enough, that’s what they encounter one after another, leading to Cartman’s pithy summation: “To find a good friend, you've gotta wade through a lot of dicks.”

Then comes the adventure part of the show, wherein, Stan, frustrated by the waste of his time, tries to delete his account and becomes literally sucked into FB a la the old computer game fantasy movie, “Tron”. In that movie, the master CPU turned programmer—“user”—Jeff Bridges into a game piece and forced him to compete in his own creations, with the threat of elimination of his actual reality outside of the game. The games were all in glowing neon and featured high-speed grid running or “Space Invaders”-type shooters. Here, however, Stan has to play Yatzhee—an old school board game with dice—and wins every time. He is told that, in order to get out of FB, he has to find and battle his own “profile”, and, in order to do that, he has to find it. Here, Stan goes onto Kyle’s FB page and tells him to locate it for him, but first has to do something to help out on his farm. Instead, Stan begins kicking the crops until Kyle tells him he is hosting an online chat party for all his “friends”--almost 1,000,000 people—at CafĂ© World.

Meanwhile, there is a cut-away to Kip enjoying quality time with his new “friend” by taking a laptop to the movies and putting it on the next seat. (Poignant and creepy.) The climax is Stan—again—playing Yahtzee, only against his monstrous doppelganger, and winning with one throw. Shortly thereafter, he reappears in the material world and, when confronted by his father as to why they are no longer “friends” tells him to fuck off. Then, Kyle “un-friends” Pip, leaving him near-suicide when suddenly, all Stan’s friends are given to him.

And that’s pretty much it.

After all that, you’d think: “Oh, this must be a terrific fan in disguise to have gone into such detail.” No, all this was culled from chat rooms on the ep. The fanbase is rabid and ardent, but also varied. Within this world, I found slavish devotion, curiously unbalanced perceptions, petulance, and as well solid critiques and even a bit of historical perspective. And a lot of bad spelling.

However, that’s not the point of this.

As said up top, what has come to mind is how demands are made to participate in completely superfluous events because it is expected, and anticipated. Just not by you. By others. It is not even that these activities are not important to those others either. They can be. Stepping out of the SP view of FB and into a rather limited, first-hand, brush with the site, one thing came clear immediately. The service called “update status” or “profile update”. It comes, seemingly out of nowhere, unbidden, and arrives on your computer (or PDA or phone) with all the authority of a stop sign. It may not MEAN, “PLEASE RESPOND”, but neither does a ringing phone MEAN “ANSWER ME!” And neither of them means “PAY ATTENTION TO ME! I’M IMPORTANT TO YOU!”

But they do, don’t they?

And this is where those metaphors come in handy as perfect cliches: like the stickiness of the Web, the inescapability of the Net and the magnetic pull of polar opposites. Any competent writer could create extended metaphors from more obscure forms but these are so natural, they would seem made for the job. (This is where the transcendence part comes in again.) I’d like to think it was all McLuhan’s doing—from the premise that all media are extensions of the human organism, senses and capabilities in particular—but he wasn’t around when the Internet was created in 1972. Still and all, we’ve learned to appreciate how present concepts can anticipate future developments beyond their immediate application and follow language to that place, and some of that was from him. I mean, he wrote “The Medium is the Message” before changing it to “The Medium is the Massage”. Was he seeing the way newscasts would become ego-stroke-books or was it just a “hands-on” approach?

In order to appreciate the prescience of the Marshall, you need a bit more post-science too.

Which brings up the story of “mands” and “tacts”. In the world of Behaviorism there are two giants which most people know: Pavlov and B.F. Skinner—the former for the dogs, the latter for the rats. But there’s more. In 1957, Skinner published Verbal Behavior. With this ambitious volume, he wanted to apply his form of operant conditioning to language learning, saying that a sentence is merely part of “a behavior chain, each element of which provides a conditional stimulus for the production of the succeeding element.” So, part of that is figuring out just what those elements are, and here are two salient ones. Mands (short for deMANDS) are defined as utterances (note: whimpers and groans communicate just as well) that are reinforced by the elevation of deprivation. Utterances (note: they can be grunts as well) that are produced when the speaker is not deprived are called tacts (short for conTACT). Tacts are verbalizations (or sounds) that the speaker produces to provide information instead of attending to states of deprivation. While on the surface, tacts and mands may seem similar, their underlying motivations (stimuli) and their reinforcements are different. When a mand is reinforced, the need is sated. When a tact is reinforced, there is no need to sate.

Yes, and that and $2 will still not get you any closer to a Tall Starbucks Regular Blend.

You see, this is EXACTLY what this whole shebang has been about. When you break it down to wants, needs and desires, the Individual doesn’t require attention; it just WANTS, and feels a lack of satiation. Mands need, but sometimes don’t need anyTHING. Tacts are more tactful, similar in many respects to eye conTACT or a head-nod, a tip of the cap. Nonsense, and not necessary, but nonetheless… And this has been proven time and again under strictly-controlled laboratory conditions and in multiple orders and environments. It is approaching a Law of Behavior, ok?

(After his book was published and critiqued by Noam Chomsky, Skinner failed to respond immediately to the issues and problems raised. His slow response coupled with both a growing disdain for the behaviorist paradigm and the influence of technology, computers, and information processing led to the strengthening of the cognitive movement in psychology and other social sciences. In other words: he was definitely right as far as that went, but HE LOST STATUS!)

So, is a Tweet more of a mand than an FB update is a tact? Or is it the other way round? That is not the question, however. It is more like: Why bother?

There is little more ephemeral than electronic communications, but also little difference between a mand or tact, in e-mail form, than a whim or even an impulse, despite the fact that one satiates a need and the other doesn’t. Such thoughts, without composition, are no different than autonomous functions; a gesture barely one step up from a knee jerk. And just because you think something needs to be said, it doesn’t mean it needs to be heard.

Interruption Science is the study of what happens when one activity is presumptively halted (usually by exterior forces) without explanation or consideration, in favor of another. In the modern world, this has become epidemic, as more and more we attempt multi-tasks that require the monitoring of many activities simultaneously—like the magician trying to keep a dozen plates spinning—all it takes is one lapse of attention and BANG! Schnabeleens… Not to get too pedantic about it, but to give you some statistics, it has been calculated that when you are on the computer and working on some project, you can get an e-mail or phone call or someone walk-in and say I need this right away. So you go ahead and TCB. However, that isn’t the end of it. You are just as likely to spend no more than 11 minutes before that one is interrupted, and those are as likely to be some three-minute segments as well. Then you want to get back to where you were, ok? This is not to say you can’t just jump back in, BUT, in clinically-tested studies, it averages out to 25 minutes before you can, given the complexity of the task as well. Now that is a heavy toll on efficiency, sure. Then consider our buddy Coleridge. “Kubla Khan” was a poem he was composing in the midst of a drug-fueled paroxysm of creation, and was interrupted by “a person from Porlock.” For being only some ten lines which he could remember, it is still one of those pieces most often quoted (and an inspiration for the Canadian Rock gods, RUSH to write “Xanadu”…and maybe even “Closer To The Heart” as the chord progressions—uh, I don’t want to start something else right now…) and most speculated upon as to what the rest of it might have been like…had not that person from Porlock come a-knockin’.

To return to something said earlier, there is a factor in thinking which I call “background processing”. It is, in other terms, as well, “day-dreaming”, “idling”, “a brown study”, “woolgathering”, “meditating”, “musing” and even just “fucking off”. You’ve heard about it before, in various places and such guises aforesaid, but what it really means is sort of like ‘thinking about nothing…to think about something’. This is how scientists come up with those “Eureaka!” moments when they have theoretic breakthroughs. It is all about how you fill the head with as much intelligence and data as you can, and then—well, the process really is something similar to letting a pot come to boil. No one can tell you exactly how they got from A to B, but they are just as frequently A to Z—it’s almost that startling, in many cases. Of course, if you call up Newton and say, Yo, Ike, whassup? and Ike says, Nothing, whas by you, dog?—he may have been on the verge of falling asleep, true, but just as possibly on the verge of starting the Enlightenment.

You don’t have to be in an opium trance to write a dream, but it helps…and more if you can languidly stretch out your arm across satin pillows and poppy-smoke billows to finger quill, ink and parchment at the ready to begin following a delicate-yet-rhythmic line of image-into-text as it flows from the soft tissue where dawn and dusk hide in hyperbolic arcs until BANGBANGBANG! ALLOALLO! MRCOLERIDGEYOUINTHERE? And Ike was probably going to find his way to a theory of optics, anyways…but maybe not on that particular day.

A while back, one of the entries quoted John Donne’s meditation 17 ( so a further cite is off limits., but this still goes as far as the connectivity thing aforestated herein: the spider’s Web, the drag Net, the way positive charges can’t escape from negative charges, etc. I need inputs of all kinds from all sources; that’s a given. But there are stretches when I must ignore EVERYTHING that is not part of…something else—but specifically “THAT” [which stands in for “EVERYTHING that is part of”]. And this does not mean I do not want that contact or input, but JUST NOT RIGHT NOW! When it look most like I’m wandering about aimlessly, it MAY be so, but is just as likely that I’M NOT EVEN HERE. If it is really important, make it fast and I’ll deal with it. But if you want more of my time than a scan-&-reply, be prepared to wait.

It should be clear by now where this came from and is going. No point in prolonging. On the Simpsons, I’d be Lisa not Bart. In Warner Bros. cartoons, I’d be Daffy more often than Bugs, sorry to say. In SP, Stan. I don’t want to tell the world (or Randy) to f*ck-off…but yeah, I do.

So how is this all related to FZ’s song?

Everything else is just status. Long ago I figured that the rich, thin, and famous were always going to be at the top of the pyramid and then found out it was for no good reason other than people paying attention to them. It may have meant something to me in high school, but I am so far from that now I can’t even remember whether those brown spots on my back are incipient melanomas or acne scars. It is almost the definition of the term “juvenile”…as much as SP is today, what “Beavis & Butthead” were before, and on into the past of our animated doppelgangers, and, allowing for convention and adaptation of formulas, on into puppetry to “Punch and Judy” and beyond. Like Commedia del’Arte, they may wear the cloaks of buffoons but are just as certainly our stalking horses for the limits of social intercourse. (Here you may insert a snickering simpering Butthead…)

The impression I got from SP (as well as a funny bit done by Dimitri Martin on “The Daily Show” a few years back) is that what counts is the number of “friends” you have—not whether or not you could hold a decent conversation with any of them. (“Chick friends are worth almost triple what dude friends are,” don’t forget!) Of course, both were done as jokes, right? So nobody takes that seriously, right? And why are jokes funny? It is of many opinions that they tell some essential truth about ourselves, but in such a manner that the recognition factor is turned and the burn of embarrassment becomes sublimated into a gasp of astonishment which produces laughter.

So, it’s stupid, but true, right?

I don’t want to think about this stuff. Status is only good for making one feel superior to another, and it only exists in a universe where there are values more important than mine. I don’t mean Laws or Morals or Ethics—just Values. (Now I know why this sounds familiar: it was one of the entries in the Brain blog.) Is this selfish? You bet. Is it wrong? No way. If I give you my time and I place no value on it, then I am giving you nothing and saying, by implication, you are worthless as well. On the other hand, if I do place a high number on the word count/face time, you are getting a really good return on your investment of a couple of minutes or hours. (As opined earlier: “To find a good friend, you've gotta wade through a lot of dicks.” Sage counsel, indeed. I would hesitate to call him the Buddah of the show, but he does exhibit some of the insights of Bacchus.) And that’s better for all concerned.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

...after the thaw...

Being that it has been a while since posting, the best explanation one may offer is that of Sir Thomas More who, when asked, by the royal inquisitors, why he had not voiced approval for King Henry the Eighth's divorce and remarriage, was said to have remarked: Silence implies consent. You may then say: Consent to what? OR what is this sh*t? And be quite right to do so.

However, if that don't grab you, then appreciate, if you will, the sage counsel of a 60's tv icon:”People yakety-yak the streets/And waste their time away/But Mr. Ed will never speak/Unless he has something to say...”

Which brings me to my next post...

Uh...that is getting waaay too far ahead.

The subject of the return to the blog is, sort of, where it all began: politics. Or, rather, the struggle of certain public initiatives by individuals of some merit and groups of some influence to wrest the destiny of this country back from those who would govern by consensus of financial cartels and theocratic aspirations. On reflection, though, it might not really be that as much as a sort of celebration of participation. One of the tags on the accompanying video is “civics 101”. This is not an attempt to be arch or coy but more in the same vein of something Zappa once said. When asked why he, a musician, chose to get involved with politics and international relations he shrugged, “That's just what I learned in my high school civics class.” That is what is so striking. Some of us were actually paying attention then. Why was that?

The e-mail was one of those press-gang attempts to get anyone to respond to a call for volunteers to “March for Healthcare Reform”. It was, unfortunately, for a Monday. Then again, the timing was perfect, coming right as the debate in Congress was reaching a fever pitch on the subject aforesaid. It hit exactly where a personal level of outrage had reached someplace near the autonomous function, touching the soft palate at the back of the mouth, inducing a gorge reflex.

So, rather than vomit, we signed on. After all, it was a beautiful weekend to be in our nation's capitol. There were only a few cherry blossoms out but the ones on the trees fairly quivered in anticipation of the next dawn, or two.

Oddly enough, it was also the weekend of a big march for Immigration reform! So all Sunday it was huge with Mexican and Latino families and banners for SEIU (hospital workers—coincidentally). Despite that turnout, they all left with the sundown.

The real drama was on the Hill. We missed the Tea Baggers trying to intimidate the Majority leaders entering Congress and then linking arm-in-arm (and no, the comparison with the heydays of the Civil Rights movement was not lost on most observers) to walk through them, and, as well, the bear-baiting by the extremist members for them to get in the gallery and disrupt proceedings. No one disputes their rights to make their voices heard nor their right to peaceful assembly and even loud protest, but things started from this have gone beyond that and—well, no more of it will be mentioned here. The final act was the end of the debate in fury and vitriol of a sort that is rare among the Right, and sounding more than ever like petulant children. And then, way past midnight, some twenty blocks from our hotel, you could swear you heard the chimes of freedom flashing. (Why couldn't you hear the hurrahs and hallelujahs from the street, like when the Yankees won? Hard to figure, but Washington IS another country.) Then on come the Man himself to make the announcement (excerpted here) and you get a sudden spring shiver, what the Elf calls a “Kyoto chill”, not from the weather—which, bytheby, shows showers all day tomorrow—but from the occasion. History is being made all around you.

Upon arrival at the gathering point, it becomes clear that the march was primarily for the medical community, as the banners indicate. Nonetheless, they are most welcoming to any and all who would care to go along, but “lab coats in front please!” To make matters just more interesting, the bus from New York, the one with all our other recruited compatriots, is stuck in traffic and probably an hour late. Scheduled marches wait for no man or vehicle, and the clouds grow ever darker overhead. By the time the gathering speeches are even started, those who have not already encased their placards in plastic are wrapping, and also tearing holes in the corners of garbage bags for improvised ponchos. (The Elf, as ever, has her own faux leopardskin one.) As we turn up Pennsylvania Avenue, it is pouring, and hard to keep any chants going as the line gets strung out at the street crossings. Breaching the Capitol precincts, we are given canned beverages and a waxed cardboard box lunch for the equally daunting leg to the Hart Office building. There is quite a scrum at the doors because of the number of umbrellas trying to pass through security...”AND YOU CAN'T BRING IN YOUR SIGNS! PASS THEM TO THE COLLECTORS OUTSIDE!”...but someone apparently forgot to place collectors there.

Ah, the rest is self-explanatory.

...but one post-script: this is what change looks like...