Category Archives: History

Mishra versus Ferguson

Lord Niall demands satisfaction, with Tom Buchanan as his second.

sure ain’t quetzalcoatl

Kings of Africa

more here

flattery ≠ JLG is 80 today

zadie smith on facebook, on being & representing a self, on being owned

read the whole piece here in the NYRB


When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears. It reminds me that those of us who turn in disgust from what we consider an overinflated liberal-bourgeois sense of self should be careful what we wish for: our denuded networked selves don’t look more free, they just look more owned.


You want to be optimistic about your own generation. You want to keep pace with them and not to fear what you don’t understand. To put it another way, if you feel discomfort at the world they’re making, you want to have a good reason for it. Master programmer and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier (b. 1960) is not of my generation, but he knows and understands us well, and has written a short and frightening book, You Are Not a Gadget, which chimes with my own discomfort, while coming from a position of real knowledge and insight, both practical and philosophical. Lanier is interested in the ways in which people “reduce themselves” in order to make a computer’s description of them appear more accurate. “Information systems,” he writes, “need to have information in order to run, but information underrepresents reality” (my italics). In Lanier’s view, there is no perfect computer analogue for what we call a “person.” In life, we all profess to know this, but when we get online it becomes easy to forget. In Facebook, as it is with other online social networks, life is turned into a database, and this is a degradation, Lanier argues, which is

“based on [a] philosophical mistake…the belief that computers can presently represent human thought or human relationships. These are things computers cannot currently do.”

We know the consequences of this instinctively; we feel them. We know that having two thousand Facebook friends is not what it looks like. We know that we are using the software to behave in a certain, superficial way toward others. We know what we are doing “in” the software. But do we know, are we alert to, what the software is doing to us? Is it possible that what is communicated between people online “eventually becomes their truth”? What Lanier, a software expert, reveals to me, a software idiot, is what must be obvious (to software experts): software is not neutral. Different software embeds different philosophies, and these philosophies, as they become ubiquitous, become invisible.


Lanier wants us to be attentive to the software into which we are “locked in.” Is it really fulfilling our needs? Or are we reducing the needs we feel in order to convince ourselves that the software isn’t limited? As Lanier argues:

Different media designs stimulate different potentials in human nature. We shouldn’t seek to make the pack mentality as efficient as possible. We should instead seek to inspire the phenomenon of individual intelligence.


Software may reduce humans, but there are degrees. Fiction reduces humans, too, but bad fiction does it more than good fiction, and we have the option to read good fiction. Jaron Lanier’s point is that Web 2.0 “lock-in” happens soon; is happening; has to some degree already happened. And what has been “locked in”? It feels important to remind ourselves, at this point, that Facebook, our new beloved interface with reality, was designed by a Harvard sophomore with a Harvard sophomore’s preoccupations. What is your relationship status? (Choose one. There can be only one answer. People need to know.) Do you have a “life”? (Prove it. Post pictures.) Do you like the right sort of things? (Make a list. Things to like will include: movies, music, books and television, but not architecture, ideas, or plants.)

But here I fear I am becoming nostalgic. I am dreaming of a Web that caters to a kind of person who no longer exists. A private person, a person who is a mystery, to the world and—which is more important—to herself. Person as mystery: this idea of personhood is certainly changing, perhaps has already changed. Because I find I agree with Zuckerberg: selves evolve.


…the advertising money that will rain down on Facebook—if and when Zuckerberg succeeds in encouraging 500 million people to take their Facebook identities onto the Internet at large—this money thinks of us the other way around. To the advertisers, we are our capacity to buy, attached to a few personal, irrelevant photos.

state of the algorithm

man from the holler

This man had been in the Klan when young. Later, he supported the candidacy of Obama, opposed the Iraq war, and never soured into the mean-old-useta-be-democrat, southern-i-challenge-you-to-a-duel-coot like o.g. cracker Zell Miller. Lyndon Johnson, in passing the Civil Rights Act, said white American southerners were going to become Republicans and they did. Reagan announced his candidacy in the same county that freedom riders had been murdered, speaking the racist shibboleth “states rights”. Byrd never lost the country even as he quoted Pericles, as we see below:

We wish to point to others who played a different game:

and let’s not forget the roots of Sister Sarah:

Est-il si nul?

In décomplexé Sarkozy France, the deals between business and government leaders seem sweeter than ever. The weekly Le Point’s latest cover asks of the President, “Est-il si nul?” (Can he possibly be so awful?) A fair question, given his record-breakingly unpopular poll numbers. His campaign slogan was “Tout est possible.” Indeed. What everyone’s really asking these days –though this may just be a long-conditioned reflex – is “can things get any worse?” Ben ouais. Liberté, égalité, fraternité? En fuite!

It’s hard to keep track of all the mess, partly because journalists are being harrassed and jailed or silenced by their publisher-owners’ friendships with the Little Big Man. The Right may be décomplexé, but not LBM. In Marseille last year, a philosophy professor uttered, “Sarkozy, I see you!” to a phalanx of police, and was promptly hauled off, then fined, for insulting the president. A morning duel might well have sufficed.

Should we start a wiki of these idiocies? It’s a lot of work to keep up with it, and benumbing. As with Berlusconi, another media-throttling autocrat, the scandals are soap opera machiavelli, and often entertaining. The often-ransacked offices of and canard enchainé bear witness to the sensitivities of the Little Empirer.

(A few of the recent bits? Government ministers appropriating public funds to buy 12 thousand euros’s worth of cigars; L’Oreal Grande Dame Liliane Betancourt skipping out on paying taxes with the aid of the Finance Ministry otherwise busy with diminishing social services and extending the retirement age; the misspeakings of Brice Hortefeux, the revival of the Vichy-era “Ministry for Immigration, Integration and National Identity” headed by the spurned former PS member, cum-Sarkoziste Eric Besson.)

Bush’s nemesis, “Jackass” Chirac, must well have said “après moi, le déluge,” though his little brown-nosing successor seems to have inspired more than nostalgia for the old clown. At least he wasn’t a pauv’con. Ah, Sarko, comme on te voit!

the DDR is watching

Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler

see also here

The Second Coming, W.B. Yeats

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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