Sunday, January 26, 2003
What It Looked Like
The UN report on Iraq weapons inspections gets filed tomorrow. US war on Iraq to follow. There is a coziness in what's inevitable, and having done my bit by marching up and down Market Street last Sunday, I find myself now wanting to curl up in the momentum of Gulf War II and go to sleep. Here's my espresso, courtesy of Gulf War I. Have a shot:
(Need a double? Click on the photo, then click some more.)
Tuesday, November 05, 2002
George J. Tenet, a Hero for Our Times
These are grim days indeed when the robot-guided blasting to smithereens of six fellow human beings feels like an eminently reasonable response to the terrorist threat. But there you have it: Between the CIA's no-collateral-damage incineration of a carfull of actual Al Qaeda baddies (see photo) and its reluctant refusal to fabricate a connection between Saddam and bin Laden, the Agency has emerged as the closest thing to a voice of sanity left among U.S. government institutions.
Herewith, therefore, I inaugurate a national write-in campaign: "Tenet for Senate." It's catchy, it makes sense, and it's still a few hours before the West Coast polls close. Get out there, Wunderkammer faithful, and make it happen.
Tuesday, October 15, 2002
Plains, and Caves, and Caverns
Reading for the first time The Art of Memory -- Frances A. Yates's classic history of the ancient/medieval ars memoria, a pre-Gutenberg technique for memorizing vast amounts of information through the manipulation of imaginary mental spaces -- I was struck by a quotation I'd seen before. The quote was from Augustine's Confessions, and where I'd seen it was in Erik Davis's marvelous Techgnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information, in a chapter on Cyberspace: The Virtual Craft:
Saint Augustine's paean to memory in the Confessions suggests not only the realms of the artificial memory but also the evanescent grids of cyberspace: "Behold the plains, and caves, and caverns of my memory, innumerable and innumerably full of innumerable kinds of things." Augustine calls this an "inner place, which is as yet no place," piled high with images, information, emotions, and experiences. "Over all these do I run, I fly," he writes, sounding like one of [William] Gibson's console cowboys. "I dive on this side and that, as far as I can, and there is no end."
Reading the passage again in Yates I noted, for one thing, how well Erik's comparison of the ars memoria to virtual reality stands the tests of time and recontextualization. But what really struck me was the oddly repetitive phrase "plains, and caves, and caverns." I am spending a lot of time these days thinking about virtual worlds as they exist now -- not as Gibson's gleaming, gridlike cyberspace but as the goofy, dungeony realms of games like Ultima Online and EverQuest. I also spent a lot of time this summer thinking about the origins of those games in the imagination of an avid caver, William Crowther, who created the underground-exploration game Adventure twenty-five years ago, and about the persistent importance of caves and cavelike spaces in role-playing games both off- and online. That Augustine chose to emphasize "caves and caverns," out of all the types of places he could have used to represent his memory, suggests a key role for cavespace in linking the ancient and postmodern arts of memory. Or anyway suggests that all my thought on the subject wasn't wasted. Watch this space for further thoughts.
Saturday, October 12, 2002
Sad, creepy, and true: Man Dies After Playing Computer Games Non-stop. Thanks for that, Associated Press. You missed the most important part, though -- what games was he playing?
Wednesday, October 09, 2002
Lessig at the Bat
This morning the Supreme Court heard arguments in a copyright case that could bring the first piece of good news for the cultural commons since Sony v. Universal won you the right to tape Survivor seventeen years ago. At around 10 am Eastern, cyberlaw rock star Larry Lessig spoke for the plaintiff in Eldred v. Ashcroft, and if he prevails, the recent 20-year extension of the copyright term (to an obscene 95 years) will be repealed. That would be nice, but what really matters is whether the Supremes decide to give credence to Lessig's bombshell of an argument: i.e., that copyright is a First Amendment issue. No court has ever acknowledged -- let alone tried to balance -- the tension between your Constitutional right to say what you want and some people's Constitutional right to stop you from saying the things they've already said. It could happen today. (But don't hold your breath, say some folks who were in the audience this morning.) (For more on what's at stake, check out Declan McCullough's lucid opinion on the matter.)
Friday, September 27, 2002
Amaze Your Friends, Confound Your Enemies...
...with the arguments you'll find in this brief opinion piece eviscerating the media industries' robotic "antipiracy" consensus. Written by Gary Shapiro, who as head of the Consumer Electronics Association has rather an axe to grind, it is as concise and cogent a set of talking points on the issue as I have seen. Give it up for Gary, ladies and gentlemen.
The music industry has made little effort to look at new business models or provide a viable and attractive alternative to the downloading services. Instead, they spend their time complaining they "cannot compete with free," referring to the free downloading the Internet allows. But the marketplace demonstrates you can compete with free. Purveyors of bottled water do it. America Online does it. Book retailers do it with libraries. Independent online music services say they can do it, if they can clear the rights.
Thursday, September 26, 2002
You Don't Miss Your Water Till the Well Runs Dry
Lawrence Lessig has come up with an anti-spam scheme that is smart and simple and makes me just a little sad.
It's a two-parter: (a) require all unsolicited commercial e-mail to take an [ADV:] prefix in the subject line and (b) offer a $10K bounty to anyone who tracks down violator and proves the crime. Line (a) makes it simple to filter out the spam; line (b) gives line (a) teeth, as current, unwieldy measures for legal action against spammers fail to do. Add line (a) to line (b) and the bottom line is the end of spam as we know it.
Whence my sadness. A few weeks ago I tried for the first time to imagine what a world without spam would be like. I closed my eyes and visualized the dreamt-of inbox: no more penis-enlargement offers, no more Nigerian cons and discount ink-jet cartridges, no more bright, breathless, improbable offers and cajoling, impersonal appeals. Nothing remained but the important stuff -- the pressing business communiqués, the letters from old and distant friends, the dense and relevant postings on my favorite mailing lists. The inbox of my dreams held only information that deserved to be there, that commanded my attention as only that which threatens in some meaningful way to shape our lives can command us.
Naturally, I missed the spam.
And I'll miss it for real if and when Lessig's scheme ever comes to pass. True, it would still be possible for me to leave my mail unfiltered and let all the junk keep coming, but (a) how could such a taming of the spew as Lessig proposes fail also to tame the wild, sleazy spirit of the come-ons that persisted, and (b) what sane person wouldn't turn off spam if they could? I'm not insane. Just not entirely unamused by the carnival of crap that currently dances through my inbox. I'll miss it, and not too much later I'll get over it.