Monday, August 31, 2015

pride is no longer a thrill for the super-rich

”What would make him insist on having the company buy his postage stamps?” … “Well, when you have all that money, the only thing you can’t buy is something free. Whereas less extravagantly compensated people often take pride in being able to make purchases from their earnings,” she said, “If you are super-rich the thrill is gone.”

— Nell Minow on the compensation package of Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric.

source: “The Pay Problem” by David Owen The New Yorker “The Money Issue” Oct 12, 2009, v. 85 no. 32

Sunday, August 30, 2015

word of the day: hermeneutics

context:
As for the hermeneutics of suspicion, I begin with Steven Weinberg’s report of an elderly friend of his who (at the prospect of his impending death) says he draws some consolation from the fact that when that event arrives he will never have to rush to his dictionary to look up what the word hermeneutics means. It means interpretation, but hermeneutics sounds more imposing. [italics in original]

The hermeneutics of suspicion is an interpretive device that attacks theses not head-on but indirectly, by innuendo. … In everyday examples, the claimant is accused of wanting to make a name for himself, or to be a provocateur.

definition (from the Oxford English Dictionary): The study or analysis of how texts, utterances, or actions are interpreted. Also: a particular system of interpretation or scheme of analysis for language or actions.

I marked the above passage in Huston Smith’s Why Religion Matters because, like Weinberg’s “elderly friend” I always forget what “hermeneutics” means.

Once I started copying it out I went on and copied out the bit about the “hermeneutics of suspicion” because, why not? I doubt I will ever pop the term into conversation (or an essay), but, as with the naming of fallacies, it’s not a bad idea to know that an abusive rhetorical strategy has been pointed out for shaming by somebody clever enough to do so. Unless its inventor did it cuz she couldn’t get laid.

source: Why Religion Matters: the fate of the human spirit in an age of disbelief by Huston Smith
2001. HarperCollins, New York

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

pile of reading

Why Religion Matters: the fate of the human spirit in an age of disbelief by Huston Smith
I’m reading Why Religion Matters on my breaks at work. I agree with Huston Smith somewhat, he seems a nice enough fellow, but he has yet to lead me to a place where the evils of religion are clearly outweighed by true goodness. It’s not that I’m totally convinced religion is worthless or necessarily monstrous, rather I’m agnostic on the matter. I know there are good and gentle (and fierce) people who are inspired by religious beliefs to do extraordinary and good things. Yet there are so many who seem inspired by their religious beliefs to hack at people with machetes or blow themselves up in crowded marketplaces. As a gay man I pay attention to the role conservative religious beliefs continue to play in forcing people to live inauthentic, stunted, and tragic lives. How mean-spirited many religious seem to be. Still, while genial folks like Smith insist there’s something to it, I will keep open an ear.

In Other Lands Than Ours by Maud Gage Baum
L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz, went with his wife Maud to Europe and Egypt in 1906. Maud wrote letters home. The letters were lively and evocative so they were collected and published (privately, I believe). I downloaded the Pumpernickel Pickle e-book version from lulu.com and am reading the book on my iPad.

Gaysia: adventures in the queer east by Benjamin Law
Law is an ethnically Chinese Australian. He devotes a chapter each to Indonesia (although Law doesn’t explore beyond Bali), Thailand, China, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, and India. I hadn’t heard before that Bali was a gay destination. That seems to be a new thing. But the locals are more friendly to it than you might expect. I am now reading about Thai ladyboys (the term is not an insult, Law is told).

The Bedside Guide to the No Tell Motel: second floor edited by Reb Livingston and Molly Arden
An anthology of poetry themed (but not terribly strictly) to the sensual and interpersonal. No Tell Motel was an ezine that I visited for a while.

A Byzantine Journey by John Ash
John Ash was a visiting poet-teacher at UC Berkeley one of my years there. I took his workshop. Lately I’ve been catching up on what he’s written in the 20 years since. Ash long had a fascination for Byzantium, what’s often called the Holy Roman Empire. Rome didn’t fall, as far as the Byzantines were concerned; it just contracted a little. I’ve read Ash’s poetry books. A Byzantine Journey is prose, travel literature, the kind of thing I’ve gotten a taste for recently. The writer moves about taking down impressions, complaining about food or transportation, limning the locals and the ruins, and weaving in library research.

Eating Fire: my life as a Lesbian Avenger by Kelly Cogswell
The Lesbian Avengers formed in the wake of AIDS activist group ACT UP, eager to put a strong feminist voice on the streets again. For one action Kelly Cogswell teaches herself to spew fire like a circus performer. She and her colleagues make TIME Magazine flaming up in front of the White House.

A Year of Rhymes by Bernard Cooper
I enjoyed Bernard Cooper’s My Avant-Garde Education, which was billed as memoir. I knew I had a novel on my shelf so I pulled it down.

Two Lines: world writing in translation issue 22
In earlier issues Two Lines featured introductions to the English versions written by the translators who talk about what attracted them to the task, what special challenges were faced, and some biographical info about the non-English-writing author. The intros have been dispensed with, mostly. I miss them.

Variety Photoplays poems by Edward Field
I bought this a long time ago. I even got Edward Field to sign it. But, as much as I like Field’s poetry, I held off reading Variety Photoplays because so many of the poems contained spoilers to old movies. Field basically retells the plots of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein and SHE, and I hadn’t seen them! I still haven’t seen SHE — and now I don’t have to! I had a hankering to read Edward Field’s newest book, After the Fall: poems old and new, but when I opened it I remembered that I hadn’t yet read Variety Photoplays. So I’m reading Variety Photoplays.

Selected Poems by W. H. Auden, edited by Edward Mendelson
I’ve said before that I won’t read a selected when I can read a complete. I have the feeling I’m going to renege on that commitment more often than I’m going to comply. I’m reading Auden rather the way I read Emily Dickinson. I read at least two pages at a sitting. I read at least two pages so I can physically turn a page and know when next I open the book I will be reading a poem new to me. I was doing that thing where I open to the placemark and find myself rereading the poem I read last time then stopping because one poem was all I could handle. One does need to move along.

The Flayed God: the mythology of Mesoamerica by Roberta H. Markman and Peter Markman
I’ve returned to The Flayed God after a long pause.The worldview of the Mesoamerican empires can be, well, unsettling. The Aztecs are known for human sacrifice, but did you know they would strip the skin off a victim and wear the skin around for a month? I know there are intense, world-preserving mystical justifications for this, but — shudder — it still looks like butchery, doesn’t it?

The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon translated and edited by Ivan Morris
Sei Shonagon was a contemporary of Murasaki, the woman famous for writing what may be the first novel, The Tale of Genji. In her Pillow Book Sei Shonagon records anecdotes, impressions, and likes and dislikes. For instance, in a list titled “Depressing Things,” she mentions, “A dog howling in the daytime. … A cold, empty brazier. An ox-driver who hates his oxen.”

From the Other Side of the Century: a new American poetry 1960-1990 edited by Douglas Messerli
An 1100 page anthology. I’m going to be at this one for quite some time. Messerli’s project focuses on the experimental, the innovative. Lyn Hejinian, yes; Robert Hass, no. Allen Ginsberg, yes; Robert Lowell, no. Rae Armentrout, yes; Louis Gluck, no.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

the ragged strip that was left

Once I was sure the librarian [of the junior high school library] was distracted in the stacks, I quietly tore out the article in Life and folded it into my shirt pocket. I hadn’t so much as stolen a candy bar before that day. I’d been taught never to write in the pages of a book from the library or to tear out the pages from a magazine in a waiting room. My mother demonstrated the concept of respect for others’ property one day in the dentist’s office when she found a recipe she wanted to tear out of Good Housekeeping had already been torn out. “Don’t do this,” she said, showing me the ragged strip that was left. Despite the admonition, I kept the stolen pages of Life in the nightstand next to my bed and furtively eyed the article every night, the saturated color raising my pulse, the effect of Pop art nearly pornographic.

source: My Avant-Garde Education: a memoir by Bernard Cooper

At the Claremont Branch of the Berkeley Public Library the newest issue of Scientific American would be short of articles soon after it arrived. Someone was neatly and precisely snipping out pages because, I don’t know, he found the science “nearly pornographic” and couldn’t live without secreting the formulas in the “nightstand next to [the] bed”?

We put that magazine (and Consumer Reports and The New York Review of Books) on a shelf behind the Information Desk and only handed them over if presented with a library card, which we held onto until the magazine was returned and its contents reviewed.

I’m pretty sure I was the one who ID’d the culprit, although I made the mistake of handing him his library card before I flipped through the magazine. When I discovered that pages were missing I went up to the mild-mannered retiree, who did not look familiar to me, and asked him if he had noticed that articles had been removed. “Oh no, really?” he said.

We were trying to catch the person who’d been doing it, so if you could let us know when an article is missing, I said to him, we would appreciate it, as though I were earnestly enlisting his support in the project. It’s been several months now since an article has been snipped from Scientific American. Nor have I seen the fellow around. But would I recognize him anyway?

This is my third DIR post about authors confessing in memoirs to filching from libraries. See also Ode to Joy and another memoir, another library thief.

Monday, August 03, 2015

“I don’t want to watch boys masturbating.”

Excerpt from a Berkeley Poetry Review interview with Steve Lance and Lyn Hejinian:

BPR:
How does that unpredictability and surprise relate to what you were describing earlier about how we are over-inundated with newness and we can’t place as much value in encountering new things anymore?

Steve Lance:
Well novelty is weird now. Novelty itself is commonplace. I don’t just mean in a sense of aesthetics, but do you guys know about Chatroulette? You go to a website and click “connect me” and you have your video going on, and it connects you with a random stranger. And about a third of the time it’s a guy masturbating. There are a lot of penises in this. But almost every single time it’s just people who say “hey” and that’s it. And they’re just looking to be amused by this crazy new thing. It’s totally wild, totally insane but totally boring. It’s just boring. It’s either boring or a guy masturbating.

BPR:
That’s funny because I was about to say that novelty is so pornographic now. It’s just the speed of amusement, and complete commitment of your desire to that quick amusement.

Steve Lance:
Well, we should go on Chatroulette right now.

Lyn Hejinian
I don’t want to watch boys masturbating.

I’d never heard of Chat Roulette. (Probably more accurately I should say, if I ever had heard of Chat Roulette everything about it has slipped from memory.)

So I looked for more information and found a couple Hot New Thing articles about Chat Roulette. It was the Hot New Thing in 2010! Sam Anderson’s article at New York Magazine describes his experience:

I entered the fray on a bright Wednesday afternoon, with an open mind and an eager soul, ready to sound my barbaric yawp through the webcams of the world. I left absolutely crushed. It turns out that ChatRoulette, in practice, is brutal. The first eighteen people who saw me disconnected immediately. They appeared, one by one, in a box at the top of my screen—a young Asian man, a high-school-age girl, a guy lying on his side in bed—and, every time, I’d feel a little flare of excitement. Every time, they’d leave without saying a word. Sometimes I could even watch them reach down, in horrifying real-time, and click “next.” It was devastating. My first even semi-successful interaction was with a guy with a blanket draped over his lap who asked if I wanted to “jack of” with him. I declined; he disconnected. Over the course of an hour, I was rejected by what felt like a cast of thousands: a teenage girl talking on her cell phone, a close-up of an eyeball. It started to feel like a social-anxiety nightmare. One guy just stared into the camera and flipped me off. Another stood in front of his computer making wave motions with his hands, refusing to respond to anything I typed. One person had the courtesy to give me, before disconnecting, a little advice: “too old.” (I’m 32.)

Anderson pushes on, bringing in a male friend, asking his wife to participate, and he has some fun after all:

The default interaction on ChatRoulette is roughly three seconds long: assessment, micro-interaction, "next." This might seem like yet another outrage of the Internet era—the Twitter-fication of face-to-face interaction. But I was surprised (as I was with Twitter) by how much pleasant communication—joy, interest, empathy—can occur in these tiny chunks. The quest to connect becomes lightning-quick. A few seconds is plenty of time to wave, or give a thumbs-up, or type “EMO HAIR,” or elaborately mime the process of smoking marijuana, or jovially flip somebody off. (Middle fingers are extremely popular on ChatRoulette, and somehow seem affectionate.)
Eventually, I realized that clicking “next” was not so much a rejection as it was pure curiosity, like riding a train past an apartment building at night, looking briefly into as many lit windows as possible.

The New Yorker’s Julia Ioffe wrote about Chat Roulette at about the same time:

The point is to introduce you to people you’d never otherwise meet and will never see again—the dancing Korean girls, the leopard-printed Catman, the naked man in Gdansk. More than a million people, most of them from the United States, clog Chatroulette’s servers daily. To “next” someone has become a common transitive verb. Catman is an Internet celebrity, as is Merton the improvising pianist. Brooklyn bars throw Chatroulette parties, an indie band has used the site to d├ębut an album, and the Texas attorney general has warned parents to keep their children far, far away.

Sam Anderson mentions the dancing Korean girls, too.

My Google searches for Chat Roulette aren’t returning much that’s current. Perhaps I should end with a quote from salon.com’s “What went viral 5 years ago today: Chatroulette, social media’s short-lived penis empire”:

[B]efore the webcam service was declared officially dead at the tender age of eight months, the website did provide us a fascinating window into human nature in the digital age. And by that, of course, I mean penises.

According to an RJ Metrics survey from March 2010, 89 percent of Chatroulette users were male. Many, many of those men were baring it all on screen, apparently, prompting the site’s Russian teen founder to, at one point, threaten to turn the naked offenders into the cops. The absurd nudity problem quickly became part and parcel of the Chatroulette experience.

Chatroulette.com is still online. You have to register to use it. Maybe you didn’t five years ago. The articles don’t mention that. Back in 2010 there was no age limit. Now there is. And now, officially at least, no dicks:


1. Broadcasting or offering nudity is not allowed.

2. If you are under 18, you can not use the service.

source of interview quote: Berkeley Poetry Review Issue 41
2010. UC Berkeley, California