Do you still listen to podcasts? I do. I’m still trying to figure it out, but I think my fascination stems from a combination of the packaged, finished product, but the relatively open means of distribution. Podcasts go out over RSS feed, but they are more orderly and substantial in content than most blog posts. It’s kind of like TV on demand, except for audio. There are some video podcasts, but most people who do cyclical video put it on Youtube, from which is very difficult to get a functional RSS feed and download the episodes for offline play. (I’ve only been able to do it manually, episode by episode, which is tedious.)
I’ve been thinking more about audio as a medium lately, because of the things I like about podcast’s distribution. It seems to have a lot of advantages over the most common means of print distribution. I also worked at my college radio station, and I’m kind of nostalgic for the idea of having a radio show.
Here are some podcasts I like, for various reasons. Sorry no links, but you can find them easily enough.
DJ Rupture’s Mudd Up, from WMFU
Nice mixture of interviews and music, always stuff I hear here first.
The Fader, and XLR8R
My version of pop music, without commercials (though the occasional sponsor nag). An hour mixtape is a perfect dose of pop music for me.
The Economist Week Ahead, and PBS News Hour Daily Updates
Short bites of news, read in nice voices. Again, no commercials, so just the part of the radio I want to hear when I want it.
Radiolab, Science Friday, SciAm’s Science Talk
Deeper discussion, interesting topics, and in the case of Radiolab especially, exquisite production. Ira Flatow’s constant station IDs are annoying (because it actually is a radio show) but I can deal. I like that SciFri breaks up their hour-long shows into segments, so I only listen to the ones I’m interested in.
New York Review of Books podcast
This was one of my favorites, but they seem to be putting them out far less often. They would mix it up–sometimes an interview, sometimes a recorded lecture, sometimes an “essay” of sorts. And the day I stumbled across Charles Simic reading his poetry on this podcast was probably the best podcast day ever. I still go back and listen to that one. His voice is fantastic, and gives a new life to his poetry.
What else? What podcasts do you listen to, and what about them is good? What do you think about podcasts as a medium?
Posted: December 9th, 2012
Comments: 8 Comments
Cascadian Drone Ballads are a style of folk music originating in the disputed territory known as Cascadia. They represent a cultural internalization of the impact of the American and Canadian governments’ violent, technological incursion into this undeveloped natural terrain on the northern Pacific coast of North America, a identifying narrative device for those who live an off-the-grid lifestyle, and serve as a rallying point for activists fighting for Cascadian sovereignty both in the rural, mountainous areas and in the cities. This article will briefly theorize the music lineage of Drone Ballads and their context in the political and technological situation in Cascadia, and then illustrate this relationship as found in the lyrics of several songs in the Cascadian Drone Ballad style.
Cascadia currently has no sovereign rights as a state or territory, but its borders are generally viewed as encompassing the American states of Washington, Oregon, and northern areas of California, as well as the Canadian province of British Columbia. Different groups identify the borders according to their own primary locations and interests, but Cascadia is more a self-identification of independence and regional autonomy, than it is a desire for any particular historic regime, nation, or map. Originally known as an “bioregion”, for its mostly unified terrain and environmental concerns among the eco-activists who popularized the term, “Cascadian Pride” has also been utilized in the past by area sports teams, micro-breweries, and other businesses in order to promote themselves with a certain regional consciousness, and utilize images of volcanoes, snow-capped peaks, salmon, and tall evergreen trees in their marketing.
But when marijuana cultivation was legalized across these three states and the one province, and the joint interdiction/enforcement operation known as Operation Green Perimeter was launched by the American and Canadian governments, pro-Cascadian agitation grew exponentially more serious. The governments’ ability to monitor and tax marijuana cultivation in the mountainous and more remote regions was slight. Farms could be profitable with small crop areas scattered across the hills and valleys, where there were few roads open year round. Permits were purchased per quarter-acre, so it was quite common for a farm to purchase a minimal permit, and then exceed their legal footprint by sometimes as much as 50 times. Government estimates found that as much as one billion USD in licensing revenue might have been lost as grow operations exceeded their permits in those first years of legalization. To recoup this revenue, the Revenue Services of the US and Canada implemented the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Monitoring Network that formed the core of Operation Green Perimeter. Over one hundred war-class drones were sent to Cascadia for the task of monitoring marijuana farms throughout the region, to ensure their acreage remained with the license they had purchased.
This sort of federal government surveillance was not taken lightly in a region with already strong autonomous leanings. The notion of a separate Cascadian state quickly became popular in rural areas, as an antithesis to the federal government and the state governments that could not and would not stand up to the authority of the Revenue Services. The heavy tax imposed on cultivation operations was interpreted as unfairly targeting the rural farmers’ trade, while pharmaceutical corporations in cities paid a much lower tax rate. What began as autonomous hostility to the federal government eventually matured into open rebellion, with the amount of money at stake fueling armed insurgent groups that would attack ground patrols for the Revenue Services on back-country roads, building up weapons reserves, experience, and aggression in a very brief period of time.
After a brief period of open fighting with insurgents, the governments quickly won the upper-hand, and fighting subsided. The presence of drones in the air at all times made wide coordination between Cascadian-insurgent forces nearly impossible. The attacks on government resources continued, but were limited to sabotage, the occasional improvised explosive device, or ambush. The government eventually pulled out of the rural areas almost completely to limit their casualties in the publicly unpopular operation, instead limiting their policing to the shipments entering the cities, and to the UAV network overhead.
The actual number of drones on active-duty in the Cascadia region today are unknown, but analysts guess that the numbers are somewhere between seven hundred and one thousand, with nearly four hundred in the air at any given time. The drones fly at altitudes around 10,000 feet, and, according to the Revenue Services, their primary mission focus is mapping marijuana crops using a combination of visible-light spectrum and thermal imagery. Since the introduction of the geotag stamp system, which uses a combination of GPS tracking and RFID to track licensed shipments of marijuana from the registered production location to the processing facilities, the drones track the legal shipments, identify and backtrace any shipments that do not have paid and licensed geotag stamps, and then seize and fine the latter when they attempt to leave the rural areas. This minimizes the vulnerability of ground forces, as they don’t have to make incursions into areas where insurgents could strike.
The drones’ technological incursion is everpresent, as is their main striking armament: air-to-surface Hellfire missiles. Since the end of the major ground operations against insurgents, the official rules of engagement stipulate that drones may only strike targets that can be verified to be involved in violent, anti-government activities. Critics of Operation Green Perimeter and the domestic use of military drones say that this is a very loose definition, and that anything from mixing a large batch of concrete to fueling too many vehicles at once have been used as cause to fire at ground targets. According to standard procedure, ground forces are supposed to go and investigate any drone strike location, to clear up the wreckage and make post-mortem criminal charges. However, in practice this procedure can be delayed indefinitely by the ground forces, whether on account of perceived threats, weather, or simple bureaucratic delay. In reality, as long as the drones destroy their target, the mountain valleys often immediately return to stillness after a single missile has plummeted from the sky.
Cascadia has long had a history of musicians in the folk music style, perhaps symbolized best by Woodie Guthrie’s Columbia River Songs, written in 1941. Guthrie was commissioned by the US government to write a few songs about the Department of the Interior’s hydroelectric projects on the Columbia River, running through the heart of Cascadia. Upon visiting, he called the region “a paradise”, and inspired, wrote 26 songs. Other artists have been similarly drawn to the beauty of the region, and stayed when their counter-cultural, pro-environmental, and anti-government sentiments found a home.
Norteño music from Mexico arrived with the influx of immigrants at the end of the 20th Century and beginning of the 21st, and with it, the sub-genre of narcocorrido or “narco-ballads”. These songs tell historical tales of drug violence and anti-heroism from the drug smuggling cartels. While few singers of Drone Ballads trace their musical lineage to narcocorrido specifically, the influence of the guitar-led, fast-paced, danceable sounds of Norteño is discernible among Drone Ballad musicians. As well, Drone Ballads have in common with narcocorrido the shared tradition of folk music acting as a vehicle for a culture’s coping with everpresent violence. Another point of comparison is the car-crash ballad of the 1950s and 60s in the United States. Again, it is not a direct lineage, but the emphasis on the violent nature, and at the same time almost unpreventable and fated event of drone strikes, finds comparisons to those traditions of singing songs about violent episodes in wistful, almost romantic style.
Another subtle point of influence comes from anarcho-folk music, or folk-punk. Drone Ballads are popularly thought to come directly from this style of music, which carries the fast, aggressive versus-chorus motif of punk to acoustic instruments, along with political rage. However, this lineage is false. Folk-punk groups in the cities of Cascadia were some of the first popular artists to introduce rurally popular Drone Ballads to a wider audience, transferring elements of their own style to the recordings of Drone Ballads in the process. However, folk-punk is first and foremost popular with the politicized youth of the urban areas, whereas Drone Ballads originated in the rural areas, where drones strikes still occur, sometimes on a daily basis. This is the home of the style, and the lifestyle that is its inspiration.
Drone Ballads are certainly pivotal to the urban-based activists who organize against the governments’ use of drones to police the Cascadia region. Certain tunes, like “The Great Swarm on the Fourteenth” (see below), have become anthems for the Cascadian liberation movement that is gaining popularity in the cities. But this political popularity should be held in context with the original writing and performance of these songs. The songs were written by musicians who live in the strike areas of Cascadia. Despite the constant threat from the sky, they have chosen to stay where they are. Certainly, profits from cultivation are enough to draw many to take the risk. But the lyrics of these songs express more than simply dedication to a lucrative task. The violence, internalized, becomes a dedication to the land, and to the lifestyle of being a Cascadian. The lives of Cascadians, told through Drone Ballads, are the lives of strong, stubborn individuals who look at living off-the-grid the way most view taking an umbrella when one leaves the house. These are the stories that the songwriters wished to tell, and the fact that these songs have proved popular with a wider audience simply shows that these stories find resonance and appreciation throughout Cascadia, and indeed, the rest of the world.
One of the best known Drone Ballads is perhaps “Blue, White, Green”, which takes its name from the colors of the Cascadian flag. This song has been adopted by several Cascadian Secession groups as their unofficial anthem. The verses differ depending on the recorded version, covering various significant events of recent Cascadian history. But the chorus is the part that most Cascadians know by heart, and audiences always sing along when the song is performed.
Coast as wide, peaks as high, as
Prying eyes in the deep blue sky
Snows shine white, below thermal sights
We sleep as flames burn through the night
We will dream, of a Cascadia free
Without grey drones in the blue, white and green.
The words reference the colors of the Cascadian flag, along with their various inspirations in nature: the blue sky, the white snow on the peaks of the mountains, and the green of the forests. But the many references to drones, in and amongst the nature imagery shows the extent to which the current state of militarized surveillance has been internalized. There is a certain pathos in this acceptance, but additionally, a willingness to continue fighting.
Another song, “The Great Swarm on the Fourteenth” is a narrative account of the infamous June 14th drone strikes in North Central Washington. On that day, twenty total strikes were made in one valley, resulting in 273 deaths, and an iconic photo taken by a New York Times photographer of eight separate tendrils of smoke twisting up from the green forest, into the sky. This day of carnage directly resulted in the Bellingham Insurrection, later that summer.
Though the Insurrection was unsuccessful, this particular song chooses to memorialize the event that inspired that Insurrection, rather than the uprising itself. Ignoring the tactical and strategic mistakes of the response, the lyrics remember the pain and tragedy of the impetus, as a way of galvanizing resolve to keep going. Phrases such as “The day they turned our skies against us”, and “we rise in smoke/the woods grow dark” typify the undercurrent of rebellion in Cascadian consciousness.
But not all Drone Ballads are entirely tragic. There is a good humor throughout many of these tunes, that are honest about the futility of the situation when the drone network above is so thick and unmerciless. They deal with the state of affairs with irony, and with tongue-in-cheek criticism. While not as popular as political anthems, they form a substantial sub-section of the Drone Ballad style, and a healthy component of the Cascadian narrative.
For example, the song “Don’t Do Nothing” is told from the perspective of an overworked (in his perspective) marijuana cultivator, who sits on a hillside over a river, and enjoys a bit of his crop while watching a drone circulate above. He remarks upon the fact that he works so hard, while up in the sky the drones “don’t do nothing”. From the refrain:
Dams power irrigation pumps
pumps bring water up the hill
Water feeds the thirsty crops
And crops sometimes pay the bills
The drones don’t do nothing
But sit in the clouds and watch
Another amusing story with a darker side is the tale recounted in “The Mountain Swimmer’s Blues”. The song tells of a man who wanted nothing more than to build a swimming pool on his property for his lover, viewing it as the height of commitment. He went ahead with these plans, despite the fact that concrete was hard to come by, and he lived on a mountain side where the swimming season was short. He dug the hole by hand, carrying heavy rocks, while his neighbors looked on and laughed. And then he started laying the foundation, bending rebar, and tying it together in the evenings. People started to think that he’d actually finish when he began to mix the concrete. But then a drone saw his work, and figuring that what could obviously not be a swimming pool on a mountain side was the site of a bunker, it struck with a missile, blowing up him and his pool. The song ends with his lover recognizing that the futility of his effort and his death by it, was indeed the commitment the pool-maker wanted to intend. It is not believed that this song was inspired by real events, though there are certainly no shortage of stories of drones strikes precipitated by only marginally suspicion actions, such as home brick-making, and road repair.
The previously mentioned song included particular geographic elements that are unique to Cascadia, such as the obvious instance of the mountain, but also tidbits about “working in the morning mist”, and “cedar-bark loam”. One standout example of another Drone Ballad that specifically takes pride in Cascadian geography is “Modoc Forest Service Road”. The lyrics’ narrative are about a woman who knew the fastest route from Clear Lake in the Modocs, all the way through the Siskayous to the Pacific coast. She would fly back and forth in her trusty red jeep, delivering news and supplies, traveling by her secret knowledge of the old, poorly maintained Forest Service roads. The story intimated that perhaps she’s done some secessionary work, or at least the Revenue Services had suspected. One day, as she was clearing a ridge and entering the open area of a lava field, a missile from a drone found her jeep. This song does have some relation to a true story–Monica Jauntai was a reporter covering the insurgent conflict in Cascadia, who was known for driving a red jeep. There is controversy as to whether she was killed by a drone strike or an IED, but the story of her death was widely told in the mainstream as well as Cascadian media. However, she was killed outside of Detroit Lake in Oregon, not near Clear Lake in California, so the relationship would seem to be only inspirational.
Drone Ballads tell of heroes, of famous events, and of beautiful, evocative places–but a thread of sadness runs through them all. Even those songs that are inspirational find their power in the drive to face the futility of the political situation in Cascadia, and the drone network overhead that shows little sign of ever going away. This is an important sentiment to vocalize through culture, and it is the reason that Drone Ballads have grown so popular, as this conflict lingers on. There is little in the way of other expressive culture in the hills of Cascadia, as the drones make public gathering difficult. But music can be recorded, broadcast, or played for a small gathering, our of view of the unblinking eyes above. And the power of song is timeless, in this way. As the narrator says in “Victoria Island Song”, as he or she waits in vain for the return of a friend and lover from Victoria Island who will never arrive, because of the drones patrolling the open water:
Our islands cannot travel
over the sea
But songs are invisible to drones above
And can travel from you to me
Posted: September 23rd, 2012
Comments: 1 Comment
Me: “There came a point in the conversation when the only thing I could do was just shut up.”
My Partner: “That’s probably what you were supposed to do.”
My partner was right–in a previous conversation, it had been time for me to shut up. The conversation was not with my partner, but with three other women on Twitter. These three women are incredibly smart and I’m proud to consider them friends, insofar as people one meets on Twitter are friends in the traditional sense of the word. But that hadn’t stopped me from getting into some sort of 140 character argument, and getting to that point of needing to shut up. I didn’t like it at all. The entire experience has been gnawing at me all afternoon and I can’t stop thinking about it. But that didn’t change the need for the shutting up.
The reason why I had to shut up was that I’d fallen into that situation which I take to be generally referred to as “mansplaining”. I didn’t think that I was. I thought I was having a conversation with friends, albeit about a contentious topic. But then I suddenly realized that there was nothing that I could say, and no way to make my point be heard, without falling back into the trope of blindered, internet troll, telling women how women should be. Maybe it was simply the short medium of Twitter, or maybe it was just my poorly chosen words, but I had gotten into a place where the only thing I could say was the wrong thing, and therefore the only right thing to say was nothing at all.
This is an incredibly uncomfortable place to be. Certainly it is hard for an opinionated (accepted as) male blogger to realize that he should shut up. But for whomever it is that I am in real life, it was difficult as well.
It would be easy to deny that I’m an opinionated (accepted as) male blogger. Because I’m a feminist, and a gender theorist, and a couple other merit badges besides. I could say simply, “well that’s just how I come across, but really, I’m a _____”. Then I could argue that I fell into the mansplaining trap by accident, or circumstance, or by any other act of collective unpleasantness other than my own mansplaining fault. And I wanted to do this. Because I didn’t want to feel that it was me that blundered into this trap. I wanted to feel like it wasn’t me that had to shut up. It was everything else that was making me have to shut up.
But this is the third mistake of mansplaining that I made–to assume that it can’t be happening, because it’s not your fault that you’re a man. It feels unfair this way. As if your opinion would be totally valid if only you weren’t a man, or white, or whatever position of privilege you happen to be speaking from, and so what the hell?
This is untrue because you’re not a man. Not really. I’m not either. Sure, I pass as a heterosexual man. I don’t know what I really am, because I never really had a use for performative identification in my daily life, and so I take the easy road. Lucky me. But even if I made it more difficult for myself by being truthful with everyone I met on a daily basis about my real relationship with my prostate, my other less directly queer body parts, or the genders and sexual proclivities of each and every one of my former sexual partners, I wouldn’t be above the capacity for mansplaining. Mansplaining doesn’t occur on the level of body parts, it occurs in words. You are mansplaining when you are telling yourself that you couldn’t possibly be doing so, because you never wanted to be doing such a thing. It’s not about what you are or what you want, it’s about what you are saying.
And that was the second mistake of mansplaining that I made–I thought that as long as my argument was logical, there was no way that I could be wrong. The argument itself (which I still feel I was logically right about) was not the point. It doesn’t matter how right you are. Whether one is wrong or right, if you are not reaching the people you are talking to, the whole thing is moot. I even stooped so low as to mention my academic credentials on the subject, because I had lost sight of the problem. And I do know a lot about the subject! I have a shelf full of books on the subject that I have actually read. But what I didn’t know was that regardless of what you think of book learnin’, we were long past knowledge of the subject or rhetorical skill.
No matter how rational we like to think that we are, this is really not the core of communication. This is not to say that hugging and warm fuzzies (what is the opposite of rationality? I have no idea) are the core of communication either. These are all just tools we use to communicate. Most likely, the best way to communicate involves a little bit of a lot of things from a big tool box. But I certainly haven’t figured it out, as this case would prove. I pride myself on being a pretty decent communicator, and yet I still totally fucked up in this case, so fuck what I know.
And what do I know? The first mistake of mansplaining that I made, was losing my communicative compass entirely. I presented these mistakes backwards, because I actually can identify the smaller, secondary mistakes better than I can the primary one (and more, which I’m sure I committed and still haven’t realized). I suppose if I still had a good idea of what I was trying to communicate and why, then I wouldn’t have gotten to this place at all. I suppose what I wanted to do was to talk about an idea with some friends on Twitter, but I soon lost all that in the “but I’m not wrong” and the “why me why me” of mansplaining. That the disagreement was something complicated regarding sex, gender, and language just made the knots more difficult to unravel at the time, but that wasn’t where the mansplaining happened. It was where I forgot what it was I was trying to do, and just kept talking/typing.
The shitty part of all this is, that despite this analysis and apology (it is an apology, by the way, to those three women who know who they are) I still feel like an asshole, and frankly, I’m still being an asshole, because I’m writing a blogpost about shutting up, rather than simply shutting up. As if mansplaining my way out of mansplaining was any way to fix the problem.
To a certain extent, I feel like I should just say, “fuck it, I am an asshole”, because I am, and coming out as that probably would get me out of privilege guilt much faster than coming out as queer or deviant in any particular way. Except that it doesn’t get me out of guilt, because I like my Twitter friends, whom seem to like me even though I’m an asshole. Acknowledging that I was mansplaining doesn’t really seem to undo the fact that it was done and I made my friends feel shitty by doing so. Especially not if by admitting that I did this, it is foreseeable that I will do so again.
But this is what being a man is about, insofar as I am any such thing, and there is any such thing to be. I don’t know that I have ever actively “been a man”, except that I don’t correct people when they use masculine gendered pronouns to refer to me, and I do sometimes use parts of my body in ways described by those who care about defining really important definitions and flow charts for body parts, and don’t use parts of my body in other ways often enough. But, among other things, to me, being a feminist man means acknowledging and apologizing when one realizes that one is mansplaining–whether on purpose, by accident, or by the unfortunately happenstance of Twitter and the vast social and biological constructions of language, bodies, and society.
So, after manning up to that, I think I’ll just shut up now.
Posted: September 5th, 2012
Comments: No Comments
Woke up this morning to a banging on my door, and a package wrapped in DHS “This parcel has been inspected by US Customs” tape, with a Dubai return address. I always expect unexpected parcels, and was just going to go back to bed, but then I figured out what it was. It was my contributor’s copies of The State’s Volume Two: Speculative Geographies.
Rahel and Ahmad put together something absolutely crazy and wonderful. Despite the rough handling given to the issues by DHS, I found one of the most innovative print issues I’ve seen. Inside a dust cover, is a hard-backed folio containing a wallet-sized map fold of each article, with color photos. If my thrill at being included as an author in such a beautiful thing isn’t already clear, I took unboxing photos, which I never have done before.
Behold, the beauty of a magnificent print object, captured through a crappy cell phone camera, on my bed room floor.
Posted: August 17th, 2012
Comments: No Comments
Smashwords is trying to fight Paypal on the censorship issue. Good for them! What follows is clipped without internal edits from an email from Smashwords (I’m a Smashwords author, though none of my books are threatened by Paypal’s attempt at censorship.)
PAYPAL CENSORSHIP UPDATE
In case you haven’t heard, about two weeks ago, PayPal contacted Smashwords and
gave us a surprise ultimatum: Remove all titles containing bestiality, rape
or incest, otherwise they threatened to deactivate our PayPal account. We engaged
them in discussions and on Monday they gave us a temporary reprieve as we continue
to work in good faith to find a suitable solution.
PayPal tells us that their crackdown is necessary so that they can remain in
compliance with the requirements of the banks and credit card associations (likely
Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, though they didn’t mention them
Last Friday, I sent the following email to our erotica authors and publishers:
https://www.smashwords.com/press/release/27 Then on Monday, I issued an update,
and announced we would delay enforcement of PayPal’s guidelines so we and PayPal
could continue our discussions: https://www.smashwords.com/press/release/28
PayPal is asking us to censor legal fiction. Regardless of how one views topics
of rape, bestiality and incest, these topics are pervasive in mainstream fiction.
We believe this crackdown is really targeting erotica writers. This is unfair,
and it marks a slippery slope. We don’t want credit card companies or financial
institutions telling our authors what they can write and what readers can read.
Fiction is fantasy. It’s not real. It’s legal.
There’s no easy solution. Legally, PayPal and the credit card companies probably
have the right to decide how their services are used. Unfortunately, since they’re
the moneyrunners, they control the oxygen that feeds digital commerce.
Many Smashwords authors have suggested we find a different payment processor.
That’s not a good long term solution, because if credit card companies are behind
this, they’ll eventually force crackdowns elsewhere. PayPal works well for us.
In addition to running all credit card processing at the Smashwords.com store,
PayPal is how we pay all our authors outside the U.S. My conversations with
PayPal are ongoing and have been productive, yet I have no illusion that the
road ahead will be simple, or that the outcome will be favorable.
BUILDING A COALITION OF SUPPORT:
Independent advocacy groups are considering taking on the PayPal censorship case.
I’m supporting the development of this loose-knit coalition of like-minded groups
who believe that censorship of legal fiction should not be allowed. We will grow
the coalition. Each group will have its own voice and tactics I’m working with
them because we share a common cause to protect books from censorship. Earlier
today I had conversations with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), The
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and the National
Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC). I briefed them on the Smashwords/PayPal
situation, explained the adverse affect this crackdown will have on some of our
authors and customers, and shared my intention to continue working with PayPal
in a positive manner to move the discussion forward.
The EFF blogged about the issue a few days ago: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/02/legal-censorship-paypal-makes-habit-deciding-what-users-can-read
Today, ABFFE and NCAC issued a press release: http://www.scribd.com/doc/83549049/NCAC-ABFFE-Letter-To-PayPal-eBay-re-Ebook-Refusal-2012
I will not be on the streets with torch in hand calling for PayPal’s head, but
I will encourage interested parties to get involved and speak their piece. This
is where you come in…
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
Although erotica authors are being targeted, this is an issue that should concern
all indie authors. It affects indies disproportionately because indies are the
ones pushing the boundaries of fiction. Indies are the ones out there publishing
without the (fading) protective patina of a “traditional publisher” to lend them
legitimacy. We indies only have each other.
Several Smashwords authors have contacted me to stress that this censorship affects
women disproportionately. Women write a lot of the erotica, and they’re also
the primary consumers of erotica. They’re also the primary consumers of mainstream
romance, which could also come under threat if PayPal and the credit card companies
were to overly enforce their too-broad and too-nebulous obsenity clauses (I think
this is unlikely, but at the same time, why would dubious consent be okay in
mainstream romance but not okay in erotica? If your write paranormal, can your
were-creatures not get it on with one another, or is that bestiality? The insanity
needs to stop here. These are not questions an author, publisher or distributor
of legal fiction should have to answer.).
All writers and their readers should stand up and voice their opposition to financial
services companies censoring books. Authors should have the freedom to publish
legal fiction, and readers should have the freedom to read what they want.
These corporations need to hear from you. Pick up the phone and call them.
Email them. Start petitions. Sign petitions. Blog your opposition to censorship.
Encourage your readers to do the same. Pass the word among your social networks.
Contact your favorite bloggers and encourage them to follow this story. Contact
your local newspaper and offer to let them interview you so they can hear a local
author’s perspective on this story of international significance. If you have
connections to mainstream media, encourage them to pick up on the story. Encourage
them to call the credit card companies and pose this simple question, “PayPal
says they’re trying to enforce the policies of credit card companies. Why are
you censoring legal fiction?”
Below are links to the companies waiting to hear from you. Click the link and
you’ll find their phone numbers, executive names and postal mailing addresses.
Be polite, respectful and professional, and encourage your friends and followers
to do the same. Let them know you want them out of the business of censoring
Tell the credit card companies you want them to give PayPal permission to sell
your ebooks without censorship or discrimination. Let them know that PayPal’s
policies are out of step with the major online ebook retailers who already accept
your books as they are. Address your calls, emails (if you can find the email)
and paper letters (yes paper!) to the executives. Post open letters to them
on your blog, then tweet and Facebook hyperlinks to your letters. Force the
credit card companies to join the discussion about censorship. And yes, express
your feelings and opinions to PayPal as well. Don’t scream at them. Ask them
to work on your behalf to protect you and your readers from censorship. Tell
them how their proposed censorship will harm you and your fellow writers.
Ebay (owns PayPal):
Starting Sunday, if our email systems can handle it, we will send out an email
to several hundred thousand registered Smashwords members who are opted in to
receive occasional Smashwords service updates. The email will combine Read an
Ebook Week with the censorship call to action. Let’s start a little fire, shall
Thank you for your continuing support of Smashwords. With your help, we can
Posted: March 2nd, 2012
Comments: No Comments
I received this email because one of my ebooks has “explicit content”, though it doesn’t need to be censored. Still, this is very concerning that a financial transactions company is telling a publisher what they may offer.
Email is published in full.
Re: Your Smashwords account at
Dear Smashwords Authors, Publishers and Literary Agents,
This email is being sent to all authors, publishers and agents who have published
erotica at Smashwords. We will also post this message to Site Updates and the
According to our records, you pubish 1 erotica-categorized title(s) out of 2
title(s) now live in the Smashwords system. This message may or may not pertain
Today we are modifying our Terms of Service to clarify our policies regarding
erotic fiction that contains bestiality, rape and incest. If you write in any
of these categories, please carefully read the instructions below and remove
such content from Smashwords. If you don’t write in these categories, you can
disregard this message.
PayPal is requiring Smashwords to immediately begin removing the above-mentioned
categories of books. Please review your title(s) and proactively remove and
archive such works if you are affected.
I apologize for the short notice, and I’m especially sorry for any financial
or emotional hardship this may cause the authors and publishers affected by this
As you may have heard, in the last couple weeks PayPal began aggressively enforcing
a prohibition against online retailers selling certain types of “obscene” content.
For good background on the issue, see this Selena Kitt post here – http://selenakitt.com/blog/index.php/2012/02/19/slippery-slope-erotica-censorship/
or here – http://theselfpublishingrevolution.blogspot.com/2012/02/slippery-slope-erotica-censorship.html#comment-form
or this Kindleboards thread here – http://www.kindleboards.com/index.php/topic,104604.0.html
On Saturday, February 18, PayPal’s enforcement division contacted Smashwords
with an ultimatum. As with the other ebook retailers affected by this enforcement,
PayPal gave us only a few days to achieve compliance otherwise they threatened
to deactivate our PayPal services. I’ve had multiple conversations with PayPal
over the last several days to better understand their requirements. Their team
has been helpful, forthcoming and supportive of the Smashwords mission. I appreciate
their willingness to engage in dialogue. Although they have tried their best
to delineate their policies, gray areas remain.
Their hot buttons are bestiality, rape-for-titillation, incest and underage erotica.
The underage erotica is not a problem for us. We already have some of the industry’s
strictest policies prohibiting underage characters (we don’t even allow non-participating
minors to appear in erotica), and our vetting team is always on the lookout for
“barely legal” content where supposed adults are placed in underage situations.
The other three areas of bestiality, rape and incest were less well-defined in
our Terms of Service (https://www.smashwords.com/about/tos) before today. I’ll
tackle these one-by-one below, and I’ll provide you a summary of the changes
that will go into effect immediately.
*Incest:* Until now, we didn’t have a policy prohibiting incest between consenting
adults, or its non-biological variation commonly known as “Pseudo-incest.” Neither
did our retailer partners. We’ve noticed a surge of PI books over the last few
months, and many of them have “Daddy” in the title. I wouldn’t be surprised
if the surge in “Daddy” titles prompted PayPal to pursue this purge (I don’t
know). PI usually explores sexual relations between consenting adult stepchildren
with their step parents, or between step-siblings. Effectively immediately,
we no longer allow incest of any variety in erotica.
Like many writers, censorship of any form greatly concerns me. It is with some
reluctance that I have made the decision to prohibit incest-themed erotica at
Smashwords. Regardless of your opinion on incest, it’s a slippery slope when
we allow others to control what we think and write. Fiction is fantasy. It’s
not real. It unfolds in our imagination. I’ve always believed fiction writers
and readers should have the freedom to explore diverse topics and situations
in the privacy of their own mind. From an imagination perspective, erotica is
little different from a literary novel that puts us inside the mind of farm animals
(1984), or a thriller novel that puts us inside the mind of a terrorist, or a
horror novel that puts us inside the mind of an axe-murderer or their victim.
All fiction takes us somewhere. We read fiction to be moved, and to feel.
Sometimes we want to feel touched, moved, or disturbed. A reader should have
the right to feel moved however they desire to be moved.
Incest, however, carries thorny baggage. The legality of incest is murky. It
creates a potential legal liability for Smashwords as our business and our books
become more present in more jurisdictions around the world. Anything that threatens
Smashwords directly threatens our ability to serve the greater interests of all
Smashwords authors, publishers, retailers and customers who rely upon us as the
world’s leading distributor of indie ebooks. The business considerations compel
me to not fall on the sword for incest. I realize this is an imperfect decision.
The slippery slope is dangerous, but I believe this imperfect decision is in
the best interest of the community we serve.
*Bestiality:* Until now, we didn’t have a stated policy regarding bestiality.
I like animals. Call me old fashioned or hypocritical (I’m not a vegetarian),
but I don’t want to be a party to anyone enjoying animals for sexual gratification,
for the same reason we’ve never allowed pedophilia books. I don’t want to publish
it, sell it, or distribute it. The TOS is now modified to reflect this. Note
this does not apply to shape-shifters common in paranormal romance provided the
were-creature characters are getting it on in their human form. Sorry I need
to clarify it that way, but we don’t want to see bestiality erotica masquerading
as paranormal romance.
*Rape:* Although our Terms of Service prohibits books that advocate violence
against others, we did not specifically identify rape. This was an oversight
on our part. Now we have clarified the policy. We do not want books that contain
rape for the purpose of titillation. At Smashwords, rape has no longer has a
place in erotica. It has no place anywhere else if the purpose is to titillate.
Non-consensual BDSM – or any other form of non-consensual violence against another
person – is prohibited.
*NEXT STEPS:* If you have titles at Smashwords that are now expressly forbidden,
by the end of day Monday (Feb 27), please click to your Dashboard at https://www.smashwords.com/dashboard
and click UNPUBLISH then click ARCHIVE. This will also cause our automated systems
to remove the titles from retail distribution.
DO NOT try to hide or obfuscate violating content by changing book titles, book
descriptions and tags. If we discover such shenanigans, said authors/publishers
will risk account deletion and forfeiture of any accrued earnings, per our Terms
We take violations of the TOS seriously, because such violations jeopardize the
opportunities for your fellow authors.
We do not want to see PayPal clamp down further against erotica. We think our
authors should be allowed to publish erotica. Erotica, despite the attacks it
faces from moralists, is a category worthy of protection. Erotica allows readers
to safely explore aspects of sexuality that they might never want to explore
in the real world.
The moralists forget that we humans are all sexual creatures, and the biggest
sex organ is the brain. If it were not the case, none of us would be here.
Erotica authors are facing discrimination, plain and simple. Topics that are
perfectly acceptable in mainstream fiction are verboten in erotica. That’s not
fair. Our decisions today are imperfect. Please, act responsibly, don’t try
to game the system or publish content that pushes the limits of legality. Help
us continue to help indie authors around the world to continue to publish and
distribute with freedom.
*THINGS TO AVOID:* Avoid using words such as ‘bestiality,’ ‘rape,’ ‘incest,’
‘underage,’ or ‘barely legal’ in book titles, book descriptions or keyword tags,
otherwise Smashwords may conclude you’re violating the Terms of Service, or trying
to push the limits. If you’re writing non-erotic works, and any of these words
are necessary, then you’re okay.
On Tuesday (Feb 28) we will begin removing content that we deem in violation.
When we remove a title, you will receive an email notifying you of such, and
that email will append this letter along with instructions on how to notify us
if we made an error. I promise you, we will make mistakes, so please work with
us, take a deep breath and honor us with your patience.
If you believe we removed something in error, please click “Comments/questions,”
mention the title we removed, provide the hyperlink to said title, and provide
your *calm* reasoning for why we should reconsider.
Our support team is backlogged, so it may take several days for them to respond.
As we mention in the Terms of Service, we reserve the right to remove anything
for any reason. That said, we will also try to make our decisions with care
You might wonder if Smashwords should simply switch to a different payment provider.
It’s not so easy. PayPal is designed into the wiring of the Smashwords platform.
They run the credit card processing for our retail store, and they’re how we
pay our authors and publishers. PayPal is also an extremely popular, trusted
payment option for our customers. It is not feasible for us to simply switch
to another provider, should such a suitable provider even exist, especially with
so few days notice.
Please note our Terms of Service is subject to additional modifications as we
work to bring Smashwords into compliance with PayPal requirements. Let’s hope
today’s actions mark the limit of the slippery slope.
Significant gray area remain. Erotica is still permitted, though if authors
try to push the limits of what’s permitted, we risk further clamping down. Please
be responsible. Don’t go there. If you’re going to push the limits, push the
limits of great writing, not the limits of legality.
Thank you for assisting our compliance efforts on such short notice. We know
these decisions will be upsetting to some of our authors and publishers, and
for that we apologize. We do believe, however, that these decisions will place
us on a stronger footing to represent the best interests all indie authors and
publishers from here forward.
P.S. Please contact our support team for inquiries regarding this change in
our Terms of Service by clicking the “comments/questions” link at the top of
any page at Smashwords. If your inquiry regards a specific title, please include
the hyperlink to the book page of that specific title.
Posted: February 24th, 2012
Comments: 1 Comment
This story was submitted to the Machine of Death 2 submission call, and wasn’t accepted, for reasons not least of which are because it is just over 10,000 words long. However, I really like the story, even reading it again more than half a year after I wrote it. I wanted to explore some of the surreal concepts behind the Machine of Death idea, and needed a bit more space for this world to inhabit. There is something so bizarrely unsettling about the idea of a mortality contained within a short phrase.
Without further ado, here it is. In the standard form, the title of the story is the words on the card that comes from the Machine of Death. It’s called “Moose Moose”.
And in case you are unfamiliar with the Machine of Death concept, you should read this first.
It was a steel and glass spiral extending upwards and forwards, before pulling back in rollercoaster-loop as it rose, twisting out of the view of any person standing in front of it within the enclave of high steel fence. The architecture left the individual isolated in the bright sun while the building and its inhabitants swooped backward in what might be a loop of impossible height, or, perhaps simply ending after twenty or so floors, once the whorl of the architect’s magnanimous project was out of view.
And so Maddie stood there for a moment, as the space seemed to intend that she ought to, absorbing on her face the glare from the glass above, twitching the edge of the cloth of her formal cotton jacket between her fingers, balancing expertly in her tall heels. Then forward, into the air-conditioned lobby.
The click of her heels on the marble were metronomic over the brush-cymbal HVAC tones. A sound system played the corporate theme at barely a decibel over a whisper, more suggestion of ambient electric tones than the familiar melody. Maddie approached the desk, where the stunningly beautiful security guard/receptionist raised herself on her platform behind her unused writing surface, and leaned forward in her formal cotton jacket to set the tone, and imply the answer to certain unspoken questions. The corporate logo helix in black-on-yellow shone on a button on her lapel.
“May I help you, miss?”
“Yes, I’m looking for the Complaints department?”
The formal jacket standing above her moved slightly.
“Do you have a complaint?”
“No. I mean, perhaps–I’m not quite sure. This was the only address on the website, you see.”
“So you do not have a complaint.”
“I have a question. PR said that Complaints takes all questions that relate to algorithm related inquiries.”
“You have read the FAQ?”
“On the website?”
“There is no other FAQ.”
“And you still have a complaint?”
“A question. Which they said that Complaints would answer.”
“Complaints is quite a busy department, that being the nature of the department. Are you sure your question hasn’t already been answered elsewhere?”
“So you would like to Complain.”
“Well, no… I–”
“Complaints Department is through those double doors there. Please take this ticket and this form.”
“Those doors, there.”
The woman sat and looked elsewhere. Maddie took the items from the surface of the desk and held them under her arm, while she quickly clicked across the floor towards the doors. They swung open at her proximity, and she walked onto the carpet beyond.
The edge of a moving walkway beckoned her, and she stepped on with a touch at the rubberized railing to maintain her balance under the acceleration. The belt pulled her near silently through the wide hallway: windowless, carpeted wall and ceiling, softly diminishing ranks of flat-screens. The many varieties of corporate commercial spots replayed themselves for her.
“Wish you knew more from your canonical reading? Wish that there was more in the cards?”
“…a Patented Algorithm, giving full-spectrum analysis in verb-form and tense…”
“…More Information; Your Information. You’ve heard the bottom line, now get it defined!”
“Take Another Chance, Dad! Take Another Chance Card, and know… more.”
“…my Doctor told me what I had to know, but then I had to know more. I Took Another Chance.”
“Patented Algorithm, with new contextual information derived direct from your canonical. Take Another Chance. Try Chance Networks, and start to know more!”
She looked down at the form, thinking to fill it out, but was stopped by a large bold-lettered message at the top of the form, reading “DO NOT FILL OUT THIS FORM!” And so she didn’t. The volume of the screens increased as she approached the end of the walkway.
She stepped off quickly, picking up her heels to avoid catching them in the grilled edge where the moving floor dropped away under the stationary carpet. Doors swung open quickly to reveal a room filled with chairs filled with people, talking loudly, holding up different colored pieces of paper in the air, changing the color and the height of their hands as directed by a static-tinged PA horn on the wall between three screens, all of them playing Chance Network ads. A line of people snaked the walls of the room, leading from a glass-booth-enclosed man in a formal jacket next to a door, all the way around to where Maddie stood. And so she stood for a moment, trying to determine where it was she ought to otherwise be standing. Behind her, on the closing door, was an advertisement poster image of a woman having an epiphany as she read a card. The card text clearly read the words, “purple shoe”.
Maddie didn’t like the thought of joining a queue without knowing if it was the right one to be waiting in, but the idea of simply finding a chair couldn’t be the correct decision. She looked at the materials she held. The form was blank, entries coded with combinations of number and letters, stern warnings of “FOR INTERNAL USE ONLY”. The tag had a punch-off tab, marked with a serial number, mated on the other half of the tag with a different serial number, a bar code, a proprietary data square, and in large red letters, “F1037”. She looked around the room for any sign, any indication of anything in the room matching these clues, finding nothing. Sighing, she felt her choice in footwear and formal jacket for the occasion, if nothing else, demanded quick action to match her visual impression. And so, Maddie purposefully made her way around the edge of the crowded room, trying not to catch her heels on protruding feet, snaring bag handles, and oscillating children. The heat of the room increased, as the HVAC system struggled with the heat of the living.
Maddie fanned the edges of her cotton jacket discreetly to cool the small of her back as she sidled up the the person at what seemed to be the rear of the line. A man in his fifties held his hat in his hand, moving air with it.
“Excuse me, is this a particular line?”
His voice blended with the monitors overhead, but his irritation broke through. “‘Patience’, it said! ‘Patience’! That isn’t information, that’s an insult!” He waved the Chance Card in her face.
“Personalized elaboration to clarify your life!” promised the monitor overhead.
“I understand the irony. We can all take a bit of irony. But this is abuse! This is sardonic, manipulative, exploitative, expulsionary, extra-propriary…”
Maddie decided to ask the next person.
“A Chance is more than information, it’s a technological step forward, a Chance to be proactive with your mortal future,” suggested the monitor overhead.
She tapped a woman standing hand in hand with her husband, holding an infant, two children leaning sleepy-eyed against the wall.
“Excuse me, is this a particular line?”
The family looked at her, saying nothing. She didn’t know if it was her question, or her, or something more dire to blame for creating this look of tortured ignorance on their faces. The woman looked confused, and apologized in another language, perhaps Italian, maybe Portugese? Maddie moved on.
“Integrity. Decision point. Neutron beam. Processed cheese food. Predatory insect. Information like this, contextual clues, to help you understand!” the screen suggested.
The next in line was a woman wearing the exact same brand of formal cotton jacket as Maddie, but without the heels and the skirt, with slacks and boots instead. She tried not the look at the jacket as she asked, “Is this a particular line?”
“A particular line? This is C particular line.”
“Look at your ticket, honey. See, here on mine. ‘C7491.’ C particular complaint, C particular line.”
“All of this line?”
“As far as they’ve told us. Here, let me see your ticket..” the woman plucked it from underneath the elbow of Maddie’s jacket. “No, no, no. You are F general. You can tell by the number. F, 10, and then number. You want a different line.”
“A different line?”
“F general. Sorry, honey. Don’t know where.”
The woman looked upwards as if to continue watching the monitor above, which intoned, “Each of us in an individual, and for each of us there is an individual death. And yet the canonical cards read all the same! Why not pick a card, algorithmically derrived, specifically for you? Take Another Chance!”
Maddie stood confused for a moment, and then slowly drifted towards the glass-enclosed booth, hoping that perhaps there was a sign, or maybe a chance to ask where it was that she should be. She wondered if perhaps she should have just kept waiting on the phone at home.
The people closer to the head of the line watched her suspiciously, as if they expected her to try and duck into line in front of them at any moment. Within ten feet of the booth, she was able to see a list printed on a sign riveted to the front of the booth, but there was a gaggle of strollers blocking her view. She bent down to peer through the people, and was almost knocked down as a pair of doors on the nearby wall flew open, and collided with her hip. Three maintenance men pushed in a new glass-enclosed booth, complete with formal-jacket-enclosed man enclosed-within. Theypositioned it next to the door in front of her. A Klaxon sounded, and everyone in the room jumped.
“F general! F general line! F general please step to the booth!”
There was a rush, and shouting, as people from all over the room attempted to join the line, stepped out of the old line allowing people to move up, stepped out of line before realizing they were already in the correct line and attempting to reclaim their spots, went after better seats vacated by people who joined lines or tried to improve their positions, either farther or closer to air conditioning vents, doors, other people, and the screens. Children took the opportunity to increase the level of chaos at hip-level and below.
By the time Maddie had securely reattained her posture on her heels, the line had formed behind her and snaked either through the center of the chairs, or along the wall, though this was disputed by proponents who stood to gain or lose by either eventuality.
“STEP UP please!”
It was the man in the booth. Maddie took a half-step forward and pointed her voice towards the slanted metal grill in the shape of the helix logo placed in the glass.
She slid it into the document slot.
“Complaint?” His pen hovered over the form.
“I have a question.”
“Have you read the FAQ?”
“And you would still like to complain?”
“I’d like to ask–”
“No questions here, miss. Through the doors, and head into the light.”
“The lights. Follow the lights.”
The doors buzzed, indicating they were unlocked. She took her form and tag, and stepped to the door, pressing on it gingerly. She just missed the unlock, and the doors didn’t move.
“Smartly, please! Press smartly!” The voice from the booth reminded her.
The buzz again, and she was through. It was a white hallway, with moisture damaged acoustical tiles that appeared to date back further in time than the building might have existed, extending above her in what appeared to be equal directions to the left and to the right. She stood still, looking for any sign to indicate direction. Then, from recessed LEDs in the wall, a red arrow illuminated and pointed towards the left. She followed, and as she clicked down the linoleum of the hall more arrows lit. She must be heading in the right direction, but should she slow down and let the arrows precede her? It wasn’t clear. Suddenly the arrows stopped, a buzzer sounded, and a door popped open. Maddie stopped, turned quickly, and stepped into the doorway as it closed behind her.
In front of her was a man in a formal jacket, bent low over a desk, thinning hair presented to her inquisitively, as if it were shrouded face peeking through the dark. There was a chair in front of the desk, but she decided to remain standing. A dusty terminal on the desk, dark, but fan humming. The tag on the desk read: “Milten”. Behind the desk, was a typical advertisement poster for the company, featuring one of their yellow cards with the watermarked helixed logo, marked with a Chance, reading “linguine”.
The man looked up from his writing, and was taken aback by the sight of her in that way that only a middle-aged man can, upon suddenly realizing that he was alone in a room with a younger woman. Maddie wasn’t sure if that meant that he thought she was attractive or only that he was awkward.
“Please be seated… Ms…?”
“Roubacheau. Madeline Roubacheau.”
“Oh–I’m sorry. Form please.”
She presented it.
“And name again.”
She repeated it. He transcribed it to a particular box on the form.
“A general complaint, is it?”
His pen paused in its scratching path. “I’m sorry, you must have followed the wrong lights.”
“No, I was told that my question could only be answered in the Complaints department.”
“And you’ve read the FAQ?”
“And you still have a complaint?”
“A question, but yes.”
“Well Ms. Roubacheau, let’s call up your history and see what we can do about your complaint.”
She thought about it, but decided at this point to just let it go. He looked up and smiled politely, as if waiting for her.
“Your cards, miss? I assume you have brought them?”
“Oh yes, I’m sorry.”
From inside her jacket, she retrieved her case for her personal set, that she had received free on the occasion of getting her fifth. The slim glass-plastic clamshell would fit up to twenty cards, and had position locks to fit into a case storage shelf for her home catalog of excess cards sorted into separate twenty-cases, the shelf which she would receive as a free gift on the occasion of her two-hundredth. She wasn’t sure at what point she received a free laser name-engraving on her twenty-case, but her clamshell was still fresh, its unmarrable surface shining in the dull office florescents. She clicked it open, tapped out the cards, all five of them. She laid them in a stack on the desk. Politely averting his eyes from the printed words, the un-introduced Mr. Milten selected the top card in his small fingertips, and deftly slid it into the slot in the surface of the desk, pulled it out, and replaced it sideways on the small stack. Pen still over the form, he squinted at the terminal’s monitor, and began to write quickly in efficient strokes.
“Five cards then. Not so many…”
“Have you had your canonical? We have no record of you receiving it through Chance Networks.”
“Oh, yes. I… I don’t carry it with me, though.”
“I see.” He wrote in small letters to fit a great deal of words in a particular box.
“Your file notes your canonical death prediction regardless of whether it has been given to you, of course. The algorithm cannot write new Chance cards without it.”
He held the pen aloft, and wasted time enough to give her another small glance and smile.
“So what seems to be your complaint?”
“I have a question about the algorithm.”
“Our proprietary Chance algorithm is the key to the derivation of your specific Chance cards, yes.”
“Yes, but why are they so… obscure?”
“I’m not sure I understand, Ms. Roubacheau.”
She spread the top three cards out along the desk, turning them so they would face Mr. Milten. He did not look at the cards, but instead looked at his screen.
“I see nothing out of the ordinary.”
“This one says ‘anticipatory’.”
“And this one is ‘coniferous’.”
“And this one: ‘yellow’. What is that supposed to mean?”
“You have read the FAQ?”
“Then you understand that Chance cards are often like this. They all refer to the contextual circumstances of your canonical death prediction. Interpreted through our proprietary algorithm, the Chance cards spread out in subject and circumstance from the singular cause of death.”
“No, I understand what they are. It’s just that–”
“It’s like a meadow of grass, Ms. Roubacheau.”
Mr. Milten leaned back in his chair, smiling to someone, but not to Maddie. “A meadow is made from many different blades of grass. Each is singular, a leaf unto itself. But without all of them, together, there would be no meadow. A leaf of grass on its own is nothing. A clipping. A dead thing. But together…” he gazed off above her head.
She said nothing. She imagined she would hear his spiel one way or another. And so allowed, he continued.
“Many people are unhappy with their canonical death predictions. They are so sparse, and so often ironic. The incontrovertible truth of them is no consolation for the additional mystery they create. What the technology of Chance Networks achieves, using our patented algorithm, is to calculate contextual synonyms, related terms, other useful adjectives to help describe the circumstances of the death prediction. Your fate is derived through the algorithm, one Chance at a time, sketched all the way from the canonical event, back through the fabric of time, to now. We don’t change the death, we add to it. Each new card generated from the algorithm is another Chance to understand. We help paint the entire picture. A picture–of a meadow. You see Ms. Roubacheau?”
“But these cards don’t make anything clearer.”
“Well, you do have only five. The algorithm is a fickle thing, Ms. Roubacheau. As advanced as it is, it can only do what it is capable of doing. Each is a Chance, but only a single Chance, if you catch my meaning.”
Mr. Milten withdrew a small box from a shelf underneath his surface, with an air of repressing a small amount of excitement.
“Ms. Roubacheau, because of your concern, I am able to offer you a complimentary Chance card. If you would be so kind as to insert your finger, we can let the algorithm continue its work…”
“No.” Maddie crossed her arms on her chest.
“You don’t want another Chance?”
“Someone must be able to tell me how I’m supposed to interpret these cards.”
Mr. Milten placed the box on the desk, and looked concerned.
“Now, we at Chance Networks are aware of the so-called cottage industries of ‘Chance Interpreters’ out there, doing a secondary business in… ahem… ‘reading’ our cards. But we take a firm stance that there is no way to conclusively add to the picture of what the algorithm reads from the canonical prediction, other than through the algorithm itself. We do not recommend or condone using these services, and there are several lawsuits pending regarding claims certain of these outside service entities make regarding our… intellectual property.”
“But certainly someone within the company could tell me what I’m supposed to do with these?”
Milten laughed. “I’m sorry miss, but I’m but a customer service operative. What those folks in engineering do, is–ahem–quite outside of my expertise. I could perhaps allow you to review one of our instructional videos…” he began opening drawers.
“No thank you. Perhaps there is someone in engineering I could speak to?”
“I wouldn’t know about that, Ms. Roubacheau. In the meantime, let’s just mark that you have accepted the Chances surrounding your death…” he reached for his pen.
“I don’t accept these.”
He blinked. “I’m sorry?”
“I can’t accept these. How could I?”
“The algorithm is infallible, Ms. Roubacheau. Derived from the canonical Machine of Death design, the truth is unquestionable.”
“But if I don’t understand them, how can they mean anything to me?”
“Well, let me show you a few of mine.” He reached in his jacket pocket, and pulled out a custom metal case, inscribed with his name, just as on the sign on the desk. “See here?” He held the yellow card he extracted delicately by the edges. “ ‘Rotini’, reads this one. Pasta-related, not unlike the poster behind me, which is why I chose it to decorate my workspace,” he gestured behind him and grinned.
“I used to think that meant pasta salad, as if I would die of my canonical while on a picnic or at a barbecue. But then I got this one, which says ‘bi-plane’. Perhaps an airshow or county fair then? But then! This one: ‘labyrinthine’. Which relates, I believe, to a particular school trip I took in my college days. Making the pasta-related Chance readable in an entirely new light!”
Maddie did not share his enthusiasm. “Are pasta-related Chances supposed to mean something in particular that I don’t understand?”
Mr. Milten sighed, and rolled his eyes back, appearing to be thinking about a problem, but what sort of problem, it was difficult to say.
“Have you read any Zen philosophy, Ms. Roubacheau?”
“I have, and I find it abhorrent.”
Maddie placed her hands on her knee, and leaned forward in her formal jacket.
Milten twitched his pen back and forth on the desk. “Are you sure I cannot simply mark down that you accept these Chances–just in the effort to… push things along?”
“I do not accept them.”
“Well.” He glanced at his watch, and pushed what might have been a bead of sweat back into his hairline. “Well–perhaps there is someone I could refer you do on the engineering floor.”
Maddie smiled. “I would appreciate that very much.”
He hastily made a series of marks on her form, writing with much less precision.
“Please take this, and proceed down the hall to your right. Up the steps, around the corner, and to the elevator. You want the sixth floor, room 77, a Mrs. Dantez.”
She gathered her cards, replaced the case in her pocket. As she turned to leave, Milten stopped her.
“Oh, before you go–can you give me three adjectives to describe ‘panther’?”
“Panther? Like the predatory cat?”
“Yes, but not those adjectives. Like what you think of when you think of a panther.”
“Oh. Um, ‘feline’, ‘sharp’, ‘black’… ‘hungry’–”
“Three will do, thank you!” He jotted on a pad on the side of his desk. “Have a good day!”
In the elevator, the buttons were marked with letters, rather than with numbers. Maddie didn’t feel like going back to inquire, so she took a chance, and pressed the button with “F” on it. The corporate music was louder in the elevator, but the volume from the screens was lower.
She clicked down an oppressively warm hallway, holding her paperwork lightly in one hand to try and keep the moisture from her fingers from marking them. She knocked twice on the door marked 77, all alone on a particular stretch of hallway, and opened the door.
A rush of overly-cooled air met her. Opposite the door was a counter, where a bored-looking receptionist read a magazine, while he twisted back and forth in a low office chair. Behind him was a mirror, and two passages leading in either direction. On wall with the doorway were a line of three chairs to the left, one of which was occupied by a large man with a white cowboy hat, who sat next to a small table just large enough for the potted plant on top of it. The room was also a hallway, extending in either direction. She approached the desk.
Without looking up, the man said, “have a seat, she’ll call when she’s ready for you.”
Maddie took chair closest to the door.
“Good day, miss.” It was the man wearing the hat.
“Hello.” She began to play with the edges of her jacket, as if she was picking off lint.
“Could I… ask you a favor?”
Maddie looked at him for a moment, but he was looking at the receptionist, as if making sure the man was focused on his magazine.
“It’s a bit of a proposition.”
She froze, and prepared to stand if necessary.
“Nothing untoward, or out of the ordinary, I assure you. I simply offer that I might… buy your cards.”
“You want to buy my cards?”
He gestured with his hand, in a downward motion.
“Quietly now, quietly.” He laughed nervously. “But yes. Twice what a new Chance card reading costs at retail. Cash.”
Maddie was startled and confused. “But I don’t have that many, only…” she stopped herself from saying how many she had, though she wasn’t sure why.
“You can buy two new for what I’ll give you for one. Nothing wrong with having more cards, right? Take Another Chance, as they say in the literature.”
“I’m not sure it’s a good–”
“Oh, for research only, miss. I don’t want your canonical, nothing like that. I’m just a curious man, see. I’ve been studying their algorithm for years. Out of curiosity, nothing more than that. Every card is a new data point. No good to anyone but the people who bought ‘em. And to me. Data, you see. If you care to help, I’d make it worth your while.”
“Well, I need them for my complaint–I mean my question.”
“Of course you do. Well, after that, if you want to write down your words and sell me the cards, I’d still be interested. Here is my card. Business card, that is.” He palmed it in his hand, and held it over to her. She took it. It read “Chance Cards”, and then there was a number.
“I’d… you might want to put that away for now, miss. These folks, they don’t exactly take kindly to my research. Think I’m trying to hone in on their algorithm. Not possible though. I’m more curious in what it generates.”
Maddie tucked it away. She looked over at the desk, and caught the receptionist looking at her suspiciously, but then he quickly went back to his magazine. The man next to her was inauspiciously studying the wall, and began humming a tune that Maddie didn’t know. She pulled her jacket close against the cold of the air conditioning, and had a sudden desire to inspect her cards. Once more. For the hundredth. Thousandth. But she didn’t want the man with the hat to see them.
Then the voice came over an intercom, full of static, far too loud. “Madeline Roubacheau, I will see you now.”
Maddie stood, and looked towards the receptionist for direction, but he didn’t look up.
“To the left, down the hall.”
She moved past the man in the hat, clicking on the floor.
The intercom burst with static. “No, not that way. My left. MY left.”
Maddie stopped, confused as to which way that was, but it must be the other way. She passed the man in the hat again, who smiled, and tipped the brim, as if that was the only reason he wore such a hat. Down the hall, she reached for the door on the left side.
“Not that door. The third one,” the intercom corrected.
She kept going.
“No, the… from the… that door. THAT door. Yes. Come in.” Static, and then nothing.
The room was warm, but not to an uncomfortable extent. It was large enough to refer to as an office, with a large wooden desk, and several chairs. There was a blotter on the desk, and a phone, and behind it, an imposing looking woman who looked as if she was into-her-sixties-but-looking-in-her-fifties, wearing a full formal jacket and skirt, a long string of pearls, and a neatly assembled silk scarf with pin, bearing, of course, the corporate logo, black helix on yellow. Behind her were three framed posters. One, advertising a “Chance for Life” charity event. The other flanking poster a photo of a family with full decks of cards, and the slogan, “We Understand!” written in large, slanted, san-serif letters. The middle poster showed a hand of indeterminate race holding a yellow card, palm up. “Imagination”, it read.
“Please have a seat, Ms. Roubacheau. I am Mrs. Dantez. How can I help you?”
“I have a question.”
“Yes, I gather that, and that is why you are here. You have read the FAQ?”
“And you have no complaints?”
“Aside from my question, no.”
“And your question is?”
“How is it that these cards mean anything?”
Mrs. Dantez sighed, and crossed her fingers on one hand over the others on the blotter.
Form on the desk.
“Tag as well, for formality’s sake.”
“And your license to test, if you would.”
Maddie pulled her license out, and laid it on the desk. Mrs. Dantez picked it up with one hand, and put on a pair of reading glasses with the other. She studied it in the overhead light, and then produced a pen.
“One of your cards, as well.”
Maddie opened the case, and gave one up. The stoic woman in front her began marking items on the form while speaking aloud.
“Age to test: passed. Mental competency to test: approved. Medical consult: met. Drug test: no indicators… though that date was some time ago,” she looked over her glasses at Maddie, who was glad she’d worn the formal jacket. “Though it is within the mandated cycle. Preparedness for Mortality Training Course: attended, and standardized.”
She paused, and the pen hovered. “Religion is blank.” She looked at Maddie. “Is that Atheist, then?”
Maddie felt the familiar blush. “I haven’t really considered it. And I was told it isn’t mandatory to have it declared in any direction.”
“Oh, it’s not mandatory. But it is an anomaly.”
“Is that a problem?”
“No, oh no. No problem. But it is irregular.”
“Would that affect my Chance card generation?”
“No, not assuredly. But it is something that we’ll take into consideration.”
She marked the form. Then she placed the pen on the edge of the blotter, and took up the card, and inserted it quickly in the slot in the desk. Then she pulled out a screen from the side of her desk, tilted downward so only she could see it. Shading the glare from the overhead lights, Mrs. Dantez read whatever was summoned to the screen.
“You have had your canonical, I assume?”
“But you’ve only had five cards.”
“I’m sorry. I know it isn’t very many, but I simply can’t have any more until I know what they are supposed to mean.”
“What they are is described in the FAQ, Ms. Roubacheau.”
“I know what they are, of course. Anyone knows that. But I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with them. How to read them. How I’m supposed to understand any of this.”
Mrs. Dantez leaned over the desk, severely. “You haven’t been to an interpreter, have you Ms. Roubacheau?”
“No, of course not. I know that’s a scam. That’s why I came here, to the corporation.”
The older woman sighed, and began to look slightly closer to her actual age, but only for a moment. She opened a drawer and pulled out a disc.
“I have this video that I could show you…”
“I’ve seen the videos.”
“You haven’t seen this video. It’s not a promotional video. It’s an internal training video.”
She slipped it from its case, and inserted it somewhere on her side of the desk. The lights dimmed automatically, and from a spot in the corner light shone, projecting an image on top of the middle poster behind the desk. A screen descended from the ceiling and caught the film image. Mrs. Dantez didn’t turn to watch the film, appearing to only close her eyes. Maddie looked over her head as carefully as she could.
A man walked into the shot, wearing a formal jacket, complete with logo pin. “Good morning!” he said to the camera, though the time of day was no more visible in the scene than it was in the windowless office in which Maddie sat. “My name is Sam Augustine, and I’ll be your guide through the training procedure.”
The scene changed. Sam was in front of a bustling Change Networks franchise, walking past the line extending out the door, walking inside the lobby, walking behind the banks of machines and teller windows, and into the raised area that was unique to every franchise.
“Before we get into the step by step procedure by which you’ll tune the central algorithm hub, let’s take a minute to discuss the importance of this seemingly minor daily maintenance task.” Sam popped the lid of the central unit, audibly humming through the recording, and let the cover rise to his eye level. “It only take a minute, but it is importance cannot be overstressed. Sloppy tuning can result in misaligned results transmitted from the algorithm mainframe, and inappropriately delivered to the customer. The checksum safeguards make receiving incorrect results an impossibility. But result errors are possible, or franchise-wide Failure-to-Chance. Either can mean costly downtime for the entire franchise, and dissatisfied customers, who haven’t received the quick and accurate Chances they have come to expect. Without balancing the hub to the characteristic load of customers on a twice-a-day basis, Chance failures can increase by as much as twenty percent.”
The film stopped, the lights came back on, and the screen retreated into the ceiling. Mrs. Dantez opened her eyes.
“Are you saying that there might have been an error in my Chances?” Maddie was open-mouthed.
“No dear. I’m saying precisely the opposite.” She held up one of Maddie’s cards. The one marked ‘coniferous’. “You see this code strip here? This contains your unique user ID, linked to your stored canonical reading, verified in our central algorithm servers. Your canonical reading is what it is: the way that you’ll die. The algorithm develops your Chance here on the server from the canonical, and then transmits it to the Chance franchise, and prints it on the card. The server generates a checksum to make sure only algorithmically correct results are printed on your card. We don’t need a new blood test every time we Chance. The blood test is only to verify, for security, that only you will receive your Chances.”
She looked down at her screen. “The Chances are yours, no less than your canonical. Each of your five Chances are 100% checksum accurate. The checksum is recorded in each Chance code strip, for paper trail verification.”
Mrs. Dantez smiled across the desk.
“You see, dear, that is what Chances are. They are you. From your canonical cause of death, we derive the nano-fate Chances that surround how that death will occur. There is no possibility of them being wrong, or being for anyone else. Your Chances are you–and while I don’t mean it in a belittling way, if they don’t seem to make sense to you… well, there’s no one that can do anything about that but yourself.”
“But the canonical is a cause of death. These are just words. They don’t make any sense.”
“They will. Given enough Chances, given enough time, and enough personal reflection, the meaning comes clear. The meaning comes from you.”
Maddie shook her head.
“This just isn’t good enough. These are words with no meaning! Look at this.”
She held up a card from the bottom of the stack, so the woman across from her would have to read it. The immaculate composition of her face faded as she saw the word.
“I… I do apologize for that. Normally the words aren’t so… anatomical…”
“It’s not just a part of my body! It’s my… it called it a… I never have used that word in my life!”
“I understand why you’re upset. I don’t care for that word at all myself. But I must reiterate, Ms. Roubacheau, that the Chance Networks does not create these words themselves. Chance Networks and its algorithm do not attempt to… well as I said, these words come from you. They are your Chances, and nobody else’s.”
Maddie sat back in her chair, her emotion spent for a moment.
“I must ask you, dear: have you ever… considered using suicide as a means to hasten the resolution of your canonical results?”
“No, I have not. My canonical isn’t ‘suicide’.”
“Few are. But an educated woman like yourself knows that it doesn’t have to be.”
Mrs. Dantez removed her glasses.
“It’s okay if you have thought about it. Many people who seek Chances have considered it. In a mortal world as this, it is an option for all of us. Chances are another way out of the vicious, emotional cycle of having to deal with our mortality. If you have considered using suicide–”
“I have not.”
“I believe you. But even if you haven’t, seeking another Chance might give you some further insight into yourself. Taking a Chance might be the way out.” She pulled out a box, and set it on the desk. “I’d be happy to give you a complimentary Chance. It is often that when we’re at such an impasse in interpreting our Chances, just then a new Chance comes along to put everything in a different light.”
She pulled out a case from her jacket pocket, and clicked it open. It was inlaid with mother of pearl on the upper side, and black velvet on the bottom. There were only four cards in it, and she carefully lined then on the raised edge of the blotter, like a pathway of four yellow stones.
“When I was twenty-two, not too far from your own age, I received this Chance.”
“For a young woman, this is a fairly morose Chance. It troubled me, I don’t mind telling you. It wasn’t until I was thirty-seven that I got this additional Chance.”
‘Morning’, read the card.
Mrs. Dantez took a deep breath, as if she were actually recalling the emotion. “It changed everything for me! I had had visions of the worst things you can imagine: suffocation, becoming deaf later in life, being murdered as a witness to a crime, and so on. My canonical aside–for it to occur in the context of ‘silence’ seemed particularly gruesome. But, ‘morning’! A time of peaceful silence, of reflection, or meditation. I began to see that silence could be a beautiful Chance, and it was only my preconceptions and fears that I was seeing, reflecting in my Chances. My world was turned around completely! And then I received these other two: ‘apothecary’, and ‘wooden’. Well you see the first one was…” she looked at Maddie, who was looking off into space.
“Take another Chance, dear.”
“I don’t want one.”
“You don’t want one?”
“I don’t want another one, until I can figure out the ones I have.”
“But you must accept them, Ms. Roubacheau! They are your Chances.”
“I won’t accept them. Not until they mean something to me.”
“But if you accept them now, and wait, in time the meaning will become clear.”
“I refuse to accept them.”
Mrs. Dantez sighed, and sat back. Then she reached forward and gathered up her cards, putting them away in her case. She picked up her pen.
“There is one more thing we can do. We can examine you. There are certain physical signs–and I remind you, that they are very slight tells, nothing definite or assured–but they can act as diagnostic criteria for checking Chance causality.” She began to write. “If you want the exam, you must promise to take it to completion. For insurance purpose, once begun, the exam must be finished. It’s causal-liability, as the case law about the matter is not binding yet. I can give you an exam, and then with those results in mind, perhaps you will be willing to take another Chance.”
She wrote something on Maddie’s form.
Maddie nodded her head.
Mrs. Dantez opened a drawer, and pulled out a file folder, which she spread on her desk, and began withdrawing forms. She assembled a packet as she checked off items, filled out passages, and inserted the complaint form Maddie had brought with her.
“Any history of heart conditions?”
“Any medical allergies?”
“Any fear of confined spaces?”
“Any history of epilepsy?”
“Any surgeries in the past five years?”
“Any metallic implants that are known to be reactive to magnetism?”
“Any recent skin reactions in the presence of radio waves?”
“Sensitivity to light?”
“Have you been in any environments with reactive chemicals over a safety level of 2?”
“Do you or do you not enjoy the taste of cilantro? Has your opinion on this changed in the past three years?”
“Okay, Ms. Roubacheau, sign here. Please go through this door, and speak to the nurse. His name is Virgil. He’ll take good care of you. And wear this badge for the rest of the time you’re here, please.”
She gestured at a door Maddie had not seen before. She signed, and gathered up the forms, affixed the badge, and stepped towards the door.
“Oh, Ms. Rouhbacheau?”
“Could you tell me the first five words that come into your mind when you think of the phrase, ‘boiled egg’.”
“‘Boiled egg’. Five words. Any words. Go.”
“I–uh… shell, pan, cooking, quickly, salt.”
“No adverbs please.”
“No adverbs. One more. Hurry now.”
“Thank you.” She wrote what might have been those words down on a pad on her desk. “Go ahead–Virgil will be waiting for you.”
Maddie stepped onto the tile of a brightly lit hallway, lined with glass windows that must have opened onto exam rooms. Each window had a curtain drawn in front of it, and shadows moved on the curtain, two, maybe three people per room. She wasn’t sure which way to go to find Virgil, or even what exactly she was doing, or whether she ought to leave. Standing still for a moment, the edge of her jacket in her free hand, the other filled with paperwork. Listening to the dry, HVAC air, Maddie tried to hear which direction the most noise might be coming from. She heard what sounded like distant shouting. No, it was most certainly shouting, coming from the right. It was shouting, getting louder. It was someone coming this way.
Wondering what she ought to do was what she was doing when the shouting rounded the corner. The young woman in a white medical gown had a familiar look, but before Maddie could return the look of disoriented derailment, the figure pushed past her and ran, slapping barefoot, down the hall and away. Maddie was sent backward, trying to keep from tottering off of her heels, flat against one of the glass windows.
“There she is!” A number of large orderlies rounded the corner, dressed in a manner in which only women titled orderlies would be dressed. Two were on either side of Maddie, and a slim, older man stood beside them.
“I… I think the person you want–”
But they had her by the arms, and her stack of papers fell to the floor. The man, whose logo-emblazoned name tag read “Virgil”, bent to pick them up.
“But Mrs. Dantez said that I–”
“Yes, I’m aware of what Mrs. Dantez said. Put her in room 846.”
He took her papers down the hall in the opposite direction from the way she was taken, both arms of the orderlies on her formal cotton jacket’s arms, raised in the air in a way that she could only barely manage to stumble along on her heels with them, clicking along to keep from falling down. After what must have been some seventy yards, a door was pushed open, a light came on, and she was inside.
“Remove your clothes.”
“You’ve agreed to a series of tests.”
“Remove your clothes, please.”
The orderlies were imposing figures, and they held out a familiar looking gown. She had agreed, but to what? Maddie sighed, and slid her sleeves out of her formal jacket. The badge was missing from the label where she had clipped it. She stepped out of the heels, and onto the floor. Blouse, skirt, hose.
“Your underthings too.”
And those. She put on the gown. One of the two women gathered up the discarded clothing and her shoes, into a white cloth bag. Before she put in the jacket, she fished out Maddie’s case.
“You’ll want these. There’s a pocket.”
And indeed there was, on the chest of the oddly fitting gown, generally over the left side. She put the case in the cloth opening that was just big enough, and the case weighted down the cloth against her breast. The metal was cold through the light fabric. Then the orderlies were gone, and the door was closed.
There was a poster on the back of the door. A Chance box, as if in a franchise booth, was visible in a close-up shot. A card was emerging from the slot. The first letters were visible, spelling ‘Wit–’, and the caption said beneath it, “This Chance Could Be the One.”
A different orderly returned. She had a tray. First it was blood. Then a swab of the inside of Maddie’s cheek. Then a tissue sample, a scratch beneath her upper arm. Then urine. The orderly disappeared with the tray.
A new orderly, with a cart. Many different devices, all for the measurement of various things. Heart rate. Mini-EEG. Reflex arc. Standardized pain threshold. Electro-conductivity. Cognitive ray. Radio stethoscope. Magentoscope. Positronic band. Physical exam. Flashing lights, sanitized probes: under, behind, in, and back out. She checked it–the area referred to in profane language on her card. Maddie looked at the wall, while the orderly seemed to make an audible noise, not quite approvingly or disapprovingly. Then she was gone.
Maddie stood flat-footed against the wall. She stared at the poster, wondering what sort of person it was that had stuck their finger in the slot of the Chance box, causing it to print that card, of which she could only read the first three letters. Did they take an actual picture with a Chance box in order to make that poster? Or was it a computer-generated graphic? Was it a false box, perhaps–used for such photographs? Or did someone actually generate that card… was that someone’s Chance, and they were waiting for the camera to finish its work before they removed it and read what it said?
The orderly who had previously carried the tray came back into the room, seemingly in a much better mood than she had been when she was wielding the needle. This time she carried a clipboard.
“Don’t look so glum, deary! We’ll have you out of exams in no time at all. They don’t take but a minute, you see. Like the boxes themselves, those test machines are. In the hole, and there it goes. Oh, but your stool! No wonder you look so tired.”
She reached outside and pulled in a light plastic stool that had been outside the door, handing it to Maddie, who held it to her chest, touching lightly against the case in her gown pocket. The orderly pulled in a chair on wheels, and sat on it.
“Well, sit down then.”
“Just a few questions. Now–you know your canonical, don’t you?”
Maddie sighed, and leaned forward to let her elbows fall to her knees.
“Excellent, excellent. Have you ever considered suicide in order to hasten the results?”
“Well, okay. You know it would not be out of the ordinary if you had.”
“But you haven’t.”
“Okay. Three synonyms for ‘hungry’.”
“Synonyms please, three of them, for ‘hungry’. No adverbs.”
“Famished, starving, and… uh, malnourished?”
“Hmm… I’m not sure about that last one, but it will do. Would you be willing to take a Chance right now?”
“The box is in the hallway. I’ll go get it. Complimentary.”
“I won’t take one.”
“Okay, and… wait one moment. What is your name?”
“My goodness, but I’ve got the wrong forms here! Where is your badge?”
“I… I don’t know.”
“It wasn’t on your formal jacket.”
“It must have been when…”
“But you have your cards, don’t you?”
“Yes, they’re right here–”
“Well thank goodness for that! Who only knows what might have happened… and then for you, my dear… how horrible to have lost one’s Chances!”
“No, I do have them…”
“Well thank goodness! Let me go get your forms, and get rid of these!” She shook them on the clipboard, as if they were wet, or had been particularly troublesome somehow. “Feel free to keep your stool.”
Maddie hadn’t made any motion to get up, or pull her arms from her knees.
“Would you like a Chance then?”
Maddie exhaled before speaking. “I…”
“Free of charge, of course. I only thought–these not being your forms–that perhaps you would indeed like one after all.”
“N–no, thank you.”
The orderly blinked her eyes, and tapped the clipboard against the side of her hip. “Well, okay…” she said, as if she blamed the form she held. “Pretty young lady like yourself, I never would have figured, but…”
She turned to leave the room, pushing the chair in front of her. Then she paused. “You know what my last Chance was?”
Maddie looked up.
“It was ‘Others’. What do you make of that?”
Maddie opened her mouth, but didn’t say anything. The orderly was already gone, and she heard the wheels retreating down the hall.
In less than three minutes, she heard flat footsteps running, approaching. It was Virgil, completely out of breath, his name tag askew.
“Ms. Roubacheau! Thank goodness I’ve found you!”
As he leaned against the door frame to catch his breath, Maddie felt as if she was required to say something in response.
“There’s been a terrible mistake!”
She raised her eyebrows and began to speak, but he continued.
“Not with your test results, no! Those were all fine. Normal, I might say, though I’m hardly qualified to give you any sort of assessment. No, there was a mistake, and I’m so very sorry to have mixed it all up in this way. It is my responsibility, and I understand if you are upset, and I can only apologize to you in the most sincerest of terms!”
Still leaning against the door frame, bent over with exertion, it almost appeared as if he was attempting to bow in way of apology.
“But there is time yet!” he blurted out. “Please, follow me now, and I’ll get you going in the right direction.” And then he was out of the room. “Come along, come along! And I’m terribly sorry!”
She had to pad quickly on the cool floor with her bare feet to keep up with the man’s tall strides.
“We’ll get everything straight, I assure you!”
Around three turns, down a straight away, and up a short flight of rubberized stairs. Virgil opened a door.
He whispered, holding his head close to the edge of the door, “Mr. Blake’s office! And once again, I’m sorry!” He closed the door behind her.
The office was immense, carpeted deeply from wall to wall. Maddie squinted against the natural light streaming in from the wide windows, showing nothing but a view of uninterrupted blue sky, the bright sun sending gleaming shadow lines down the large modern statuary that dotted the open expanses of carpet, and the couch, and the low tables, and the several chairs. It lit up a full, dark head of hair on a surprisingly young man behind the desk that presided over the space, as he looked down at a pad of paper, scribbling furiously. Maddie breathed in a bit suddenly, overwhelmed by the light after the low florescent lighting previously illuminating her.
“My goodness, Ms. Roubacheau!”
Her feet felt warm on the sun drenched carpet.
“Virgil didn’t give you your clothes back. What a silly man.” He pressed a button on his desk repeatedly. “It should only be a minute.”
The door behind her popped open, and Virgil’s arm stuck in holding the cloth bag. He waved it side to side, and, “I’m sorry!” came around the door. She took the bag, and the arm gratefully disappeared and the door closed again.
“I’ll just secure myself in the closet, and you can get dressed at your leisure. Not to worry, no one will come in that door unless I call for them.”
The man rose from his chair, and took several large, sporting leaps across the carpet, dodging around two statues, to what must have been the closet door on the wall. He flung it open, revealing, indeed, a number of hanging jackets, all dwarfing the small man. He plunged in between the garments, and with a flourish, pulled the door closed to a click.
“Please go ahead! Just let me know when you’re finished!” His voice was quite muffled by the door. It seemed thick and secure, from the sound of his elbows bumping against it as he no doubt fought for space among the coats. Seeing no other option, Maddie begun to dress. The sun was warm on her skin.
“My name is Mr. Blake, by the way!” He shouted from inside, to overcome the muffling. “And you must be Maddie Roubacheau! I’ve been dying to make your acquaintance for… well, it must have been almost forty-five minutes now!”
With her hose on, Maddie quickly pulled up her skirt, and tucked the blouse back into it.
“You see, I’m the boss around these parts! The Complaint Department, that is! Nothing much happens here without me finding out about it, at least within the hour! You might think that being in charge means I don’t have many responsibilities, other than overseeing things. But I assure you, that’s not the case! If someone isn’t satisfied, it’s my job to make sure that they are!”
She put on her formal cotton jacket, and held her heels in her hand, leaving the gown and bag on the floor. “Mr. Blake…” she raised her voice a bit to penetrate the closet.
It opened a crack. “All finished?” She assured him that she was. “Well then, I’ll come out of the closet, where it will be much easier to speak with Ms. Roubacheau–Maddie, that is–if the young lady doesn’t mind if I address her as such?”
“No, that’s okay.”
He leaped back across the carpet, and landed hard in his chair, swiveling around a complete turn. “Please sit down, please sit down! Pick any chair you like.”
There were no chairs near his desk, and so she picked the couch, which was a bit awkward because it faced the center of the room. But he sprang across the rug again, and chose a seat immediately next to the couch. “A wonderful choice, a wonderful choice! I say chair, and she picks the couch! Ms. Roubacheau–Maddie, that is–an excellent choice, if I may say so.”
The chair he sat in was low, and even his short legs came up quite high above his lap, pulling the cuffs of his casual suit up over his shoes, exposing the fact that he was not wearing socks. He was quite young, perhaps the same age as Maddie herself, or even younger. She did not put her heels back on, as she was seated, and they would have been nearly buried in the long carpet shag anyway. She set them next to her feet.
“But you’d like to get to the point of the matter, of course. Your tests were absolutely, positively normal. There was no reason to think that they would have been anything else. And there was a little mistake with the forms, but no harm done. You still have your Chance cards, correct?”
She nodded. They were back in her jacket pocket, as they always were.
“Only five cards, Maddie? Naturally, there is no reason to expect someone so young to have accumulated hundreds and hundreds. But still, only five?” He put his chin on his palm, and his elbow on his knee, and smiled at her.
“I won’t get any more.”
“So I hear. And though I think I know why, would you like to tell me?”
It seemed, at least to the disoriented and still slightly blinded Maddie, that he was almost earnestly excited to hear her tell him. “I’m not sure that I see the point, Mr. Blake.”
“Herman! Please call me Herman. And go on, please do.”
“I’ve read the FAQ…”
“Yes! The FAQ!”
“And I’ve seen the videos…”
“Some of the videos certainly are better than others.”
“I… yes. And I’ve thought about the Chances I’ve gotten over and over again.”
“Yes, assuredly! We must–I only imagine we all do.”
“But I don’t see to what end, Mr… Herman.”
“The canonical. Its meaning is clear, though it may ‘delight in a certain irony’, as the saying goes.”
“And the canonical is ever so brief, and always the same.”
“Whereas, the algorithmically decoded Chances are less ironic, and yet more obscure.”
“They are–though if I might interrupt you quickly to say that they are ‘derived’, not ‘decoded’. But, please continue.”
“And they are supposed to be more information. Not read in the same way as a canonical, but as a supplement to a canonical. Words to surround it, and augment it, slowly, with more and more Chances, giving you a better picture of what one’s end might be like.”
He smiled, and extended his hand, palm wide. “But…”
“But they are just words.”
He waited for her, hand still outstretched.
“They may be algorithmically verifiable, but they are just words. With no context, they might as well be chosen at random. Without some sort of story or order to assemble them in, they could relate to my canonical in any conceivable way. They’re simply no good.”
Herman closed his hand, and smiled. He leaned back in his chair, and stuck his legs out in front of him, crossing one bare ankle over the other. “But you’re here.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Even though the words are meaningless to you, you came here looking for someone to explain to you how you ought to find meaning in them. You wanted them to have meaning, and so you went looking for a way to find it.”
Maddie suddenly felt sad. But she could only smile, and let out a tiny laugh, that somewhere inside it, had the faintest thought of a cry.
“You didn’t have a complaint. You had a question.”
“That’s what I told them.”
“You see? I know simply everything that happens in this place.”
She laughed. Herman stood up, and sat next to her on the couch. He put a hand on her shoulder. “I’d like to show you something, if I could.”
He was almost attractive, in a strange way. Cute, maybe. Like an overly sincere young man, trying to act a part, and almost pulling it off. Was he really in charge here, or was he just masquerading, pretending to be important, playing executive in someone’s office? “Sure,” she said, giving him her best camaraderie smile.
Out of his casual jacket pocket he pulled what appeared to be two matchboxes, taped end to end. She had never noticed before that a Chance card was precisely double the size of a standard matchbox.
“I made this. When I was little. It has… sentimental value. You know.” He slid out the end, and there were a stack of perhaps ten cards inside it. He pulled the one from the bottom out, leaving the rest in place. With the soft hush of cardboard moving against itself, he pushed the box closed, and replaced it in his pocket.
“I love this one best. I used to think it was a really important one. The pivotal Chance, as it were. Then others came, and it didn’t seem so crucial. After a while, it almost seemed superficial and redundant, almost as if it was blocking the continuity of the rest of the cards. But I kept it. Maybe it was because it was so important at one time, I kept it in my personal set out of habit. Or because of its uselessness now, perhaps there’s a certain significance in that. I don’t know. But I keep it in my set, and I imagine I always will. Though who can say for sure.”
He handed it to her. This time she did laugh. She laughed, and laughed, holding her free hand up to her mouth. She brushed her hair back out of her eyes, and tried to compose herself.
“I’m sorry. You probably want to know why I’m laughing.”
“I imagine that I know.”
“I have the same card.”
“I know you do, Maddie.”
She reached for her case, and opened it. She took out her card, and held it next to Herman’s, though keeping his in her right and hers in her left, so she wouldn’t be confused as to which was which.
‘Moose Moose’, said the cards in her hands.
She gave his back to him, and put hers away.
“You’re not convinced,” said Herman. “And that’s good. You don’t have to be, and maybe you never will be. But,” he said, with a smile. “I think you are ready to take another Chance.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Because you will be ready. Maybe not now, maybe not for years. But before that canonical takes effect, you will want to have another Chance. You will step into a Chance Networks franchise, you will insert your beautiful finger to have a drop of blood drawn from it, you will be verified on our central algorithm servers, and your Chance will be printed on one of our yellow cards. And, for the entire extent of the brief amount of time it will take for you to reach down and pull out the card so you can read it: that Chance will not come soon enough.”
She thought about it.
“I have a special offer for you now. Because we’ve just completed a number of physiological tests on you, I can offer you a special Chance. This sort of Chance is not yet available commercially, not to the public. It will be soon, and it is even more precise, less ironic, and better helps each and every individual to better understand their specific Chances as regards their canonical. We call it a Gold Chance. And I have one waiting for you.”
He stood, and walked over to the desk. From beneath it he pulled a small box, shining in bright gold. As he brought it over, the sunlight was tossed in a thousand directions from its surfaces, lighting up the statues, the walls, the ceiling with shards of golden light. Herman sat back in the chair, and balanced the machine on his knee.
“It’s already had your data transmitted to it. All you need to do, if you wish to accept your Chances, is press the button there, right on top. You press the button, and it will print the card. If not, I’ll open the cover and hit the reset, and it will forget your Chance that is right there inside it even now, waiting to be printed.”
He put his eyes into hers. “It’s up to you, Maddie.”
She felt the carpet around her toes. He smiled.
She pressed the button, and with a buzz, the card printed and ejected. Maddie instantly looked at the ceiling, and reached forward to palm the card.
“I… I’d like to read it later, if that’s okay.”
“Thank you, Herman.”
“Your welcome. Is there anything else I can do for you today?”
“Oh–no, I don’t think so.”
“Well thank you for coming to see me, Maddie. I always appreciate visitors.”
“Oh, it was nothing.”
They sat silently for a full five seconds, and then Herman took the box back to his desk, and sat in his chair, replacing the box from wherever it had come from.
“I should go, then.”
“Alright, Maddie. Just out the door, and to the left is the elevator.” He stayed seated.
“Oh, and Maddie?”
“Don’t forget your shoes.”
She held the card in her palm, as she bent down to get the shoes.
She kept the card there as she clicked to the elevator, and all the way down, and out through a windowed causeway that looked out over the grounds, underneath the backside of the twisting helix of the building. And then down a set of stairs, and out a back gate, where the security guard gave her a salute that she didn’t feel was necessary, but that she appreciated anyway. And then she was back in the street, hot, full of traffic, dust rising everywhere in the sun. Maddie figured out which direction it was that she needed to go, and then pulled out her case. Quickly, she glanced at the Chance card in her palm before sliding it into the case and clicking it shut. It didn’t make a bit of sense.
Posted: January 3rd, 2012
Tags: death drive
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Had a dream, or maybe it was one of those odd thoughts that float in during insomnia, the other night about a spectrum system for so-called “blue sky” thinking.
“Blue sky” thinking is basically optimism. Thinking about technology or strategic solutions for their most positive benefits, rather than their negative effects. Those who speculate about the future often are “guilty” of blue skying at one point or another, and in my opinion there’s nothing wrong with this, as long as it can be countered with healthy skepticism at times. If we’re going to try new things, I imagine that we would end up talking about them positively at some point, if we’d like to convince others to join us in the trial.
My insomniac thought was that while we often caveat our ideas or words with the fact that they are at times unabashedly “blue sky”, perhaps we can work some more definition into that admission, to better set up a context of exactly why we’re speaking about something positively, what we might be glossing over by removing ourselves from skepticism for a moment, and what the next critical step is after we get excited.
The idea borrows from the “Green” spectrum popular in discussing environmental thought: light green, dark green, etc. Spectrum-ization is itself perhaps a little bit of a simplicity; obviously much more nuance goes into our thinking about our thinking, than a little bit of left/right compare/contrast. But this is a start.
So here we go:
Talking about devices or strategies that have very useful functions, but their engineering and development is not quite all the way there yet.
Example: electric cars have a near-zero carbon footprint, but their price and lack of a charging infrastructure means they don’t suit the US market quite yet.
Talking about devices or strategies that are fully developed, but their functional value is contextually limited.
Example: ebooks readers are pretty slick. But in the end, it’s just a book that uses up batteries.
Design-fiction in the classic sense. (Are we at a point where there is classic design-fiction?) Devices or strategies that haven’t been developed, so much as theorized. Therefore, their functional pros and cons in actual use are hard to determine, because the theory only defines such pros and cons as it can conceptually invent on the level of that theory. An important distinction is to separate the theory from any actual development, at least on the level of discussing it.
Example: a world full of flying cars has a number of foreseeable pros and cons. Pro: we get everywhere fast, and flying is awesome. Con: collisions would be brutal. (And note that these are separate from the obvious negative that building a flying car is currently technologically difficult.) But once such a world came into existence, there would no doubt be hundreds of other issues that we can’t currently foresee. When American Car Culture was in its height, carbon emissions weren’t on anyone’s radar. No one knew that was even a “thing”. What will Flying Car Culture bring to the fore? What will be the effect on weather? On bird migration? Even if we think open-mindedly, we can’t foresee every potential eventuality. Hence, Translucent Blue Sky thinking.
Talking about existing devices or strategies that have been in the world for so long, their complete functional potential has been channeled into a rut. The systemic pathway is so embedded in our culture, that we’ve erected blinders to the full extent of their potential worth. One might argue that if we only looked at an old idea in a new way, it could be better than a new idea.
Example: Hard to pick an example, because it’s tough to determine what we are under-utilizing. Perhaps the electric car works here as well. We have certain ideas about why electric cars “don’t work”, or what their cons are. Perhaps, however, it is just that we are so set in our notions of how electric cars should work and how they fail, that we’re not able to see the situations in which they would be perfect.
* * * * *
What all of these designations get at is the various ways our positive thinking conceive of the relative use-value of a particular thing, and how this translates into an exchange-value for the idea. When we’re thinking about our ideas themselves, these ideas (separate from the actual things the ideas describe) seem more or less valuable because of how they are depicted. It’s worthwhile to remember that when we judge an idea, we are not just judging what the idea describes, but how the idea itself is presented. Why I think these different spectra for thinking about how we think about our ideas could be important, is that they keep that separation between the idea and the thing it describes in focus. In the same way we give a caveat about thinking positively (e.g. “just a little blue sky spitballing here, but…”) so that we can judge the pros and cons of the idea in context, we can also set up a context of the relationship between use-value and exchange-value of our ideas. (e.g. “I know X has some hurdles to cross, but…” “I know that in the big picture X is relatively not very important, but…” “I know we all know X is a complete fiction at this point, but…” “I know we have some established flaws to idea X, but…)
Of course, muddling around in trying to say exactly what we’re saying while we’re saying it can be confusing or distracting. Sometimes it’s better to just spit it out, or better yet, stop talking about it and just start trying things.
But you have to think about something when you’re trying to sleep, right? :)
Posted: August 3rd, 2011
Comments: No Comments
via Wikimedia Commons
I will be spending most of the month of July in China: in Beijing, and possibly also Shanghai and Qingdao.
The back-story is, that my partner M is going there as part of her Master’s work in folklore (more details on that when it’s link-able), and I, as generally-worldly-writer-and-layabout will be tagging along.
This means, that while my lovely spouse is occupied with her labor, I will be loose on the streets, ready to work for YOU, my small but loyal audience. Therefore, I am taking suggestions on things to research. Want something written about? Photographed? Visited, and documented? Found, and publicized? Well, I’m your POSZU. Send me a note, either in the comments, via email, or through Twitter (@interdome). Because how often do you have a research assistant/writer/jerk in Beijing, ready to work for you?
Note: I am also looking for PAID WRITING GIGS while I’m there. Email me and let’s talk. But while not making my fortune blogging, I’m happy to contribute to the majesty of the Commons. For the good of us all, and the gain of no one.
Here are things that are ON THE LIST:
And what else? No topic or project too small. Want a free CC-licensed picture of a particular building? I won’t photograph every single block in the city, but if you can present a compelling reason, I can probably make a day of it.
Posted: June 23rd, 2011
Comments: No Comments
LulzSec rogue suspected of Bitcoin hack | Technology | The Guardian.
Look at this f’ing article!
Some of the most experienced members of the Anonymous and LulzSec hacker collectives are believed to have had “botnets” – hijacked networks of PCs – of more than 100,000 compromised computers.
If that many machines were set to work generating Bitcoins, they could create up to $7,500 worth a day at current trading levels – meaning members of the hacker collectives could be among the biggest losers if the value does not recover as and when MtGox reopens. In the hours before the hack the total value of Bitcoins in circulation was more than $150m.
IF some hackers have botnets, and IF those botnets are mining Bitcoin, and IF those Bitcoin were stolen, then OMG that sucks for them!!!
What is the deal? If your topic is slightly shady, any sort of journalistic research goes right out the window? I’ve seen articles about Lulzsec quoting anonymous Twitter accounts, and articles about Bitcoin citing claims made on anonymous forum threads as fact. I know that we’re all excited by this real-life-cyberpunk virtuality, but come on.
Posted: June 22nd, 2011
Categories: Feedback Loops
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With the news that Friendster is deleting old profiles as part of a reboot, I’ve decided to write a piece that I’ve been thinking about writing for about two years.
Friendster is one of those old social networking sites of the first wave, like Live Journal, Myspace, and others, where many of the tech-elite cut their teeth by posting embarrassing photos and basically conducting the passive-aggressive life of a post-teenager via the “web”. Pre-Facebook stuff. Dinosaur, ancient stuff. The stuff of Onion spoofs. When you say “social networking”, and then look at this stuff, it is kind of like walking down the jetway to find Leonardo Da Vinci’s paper spiral helicopter thingy with a Jet Blue logo on it waiting for boarding.
But I never joined one of these sites, and so I can’t share in the nostalgia. I did learn my Internet chops on an early social network, but it one you’ve never heard about. Let me introduce you to Plans.
I went to a small, Midwestern liberal arts college called Grinnell College, which you probably have not heard of either. It was an idyllic place for those three weeks of May when the Midwest is the most beautiful place on earth, when it was not humid to the point of death, or blowing cold to the point of madness. A school of fun-loving smart kids who didn’t quite fit in well enough to go to the schools all their friends went to back east or further west, it was a place of an odd semi-anarchic community, mixed with liberal political theater, sprinkled with general intellectual geekery.
And from the computer science department’s geekery, was birthed Plans. According to the Plans FAQ:
In the days of old, Grinnell College had a Vax computer system. One of the standard commands available on this system was called ‘finger’. This command gave various information about a user, including showing the person’s .plan file. Each user had their own .plan file, which was originally meant for people at companies and elsewhere to post what their work plans were. The .plan file at Grinnell College (and many other places) gained a social aspect however. People started posting notes to their friends, writing stories, or writing whatever else they felt like writing. At Grinnell College, a small group of students called the ‘VAXGods’ wrote and maintained scripts to allow users to automatically keep track of which of their friends had updated their .plan files.
During the summer of 2000, the Vax at Grinnell College was phased out of operation. There was a time period in which no sort of plan system existed at Grinnell College. During this time period however, older students felt a strong dismay over the loss of the popular plans system. Thoughts floated around about creating a new web-based version of plans, and so Rachel Heck (’01) was the first to take the initiative in creating a web-based plan system.
If you know anything about Vax, (I don’t) I take it that the concept of “plans” should be familiar to you. It is basically a text file, and that was what the web-based Plans service was and is.
When I was in school (’01-’05) webmail was becoming a standard, and common WYSIWYG systems were mostly on the horizon. The text-entry box was about as cutting edge as any of us could have hoped for. Blogs were not yet a thing, and so the concept of having a little bit of text space online, easily editable through a web browser, was a new concept to almost all of us. And, Grinnell being a vastly incestuous community in which everyone was always up in everyone else’s business if not their beds, the idea of sharing one’s life within the community’s computer network made about as much sense as screwing your friends. College!
What remains the most uniquely interesting thing about Plans in my mind, is how the bare-bones freedom of the text box still engendered various forms of online communication that would be immediately recognizable to us today, even with the supposed technological wealth of various service’s UIs that are available to us. Different people had various styles of editing their Plan to be sure, but tropes developed, that I could easily name by their similar services today.
There was the “blog” style, of course. Dated entries, tacked on above the previous entries in the text file, so one could read a person’s thoughts like a journal in reverse chronological order. There was a limit to the size of the text file (it escapes me now, but it was in the tens of thousands of words) so the person adopting this style would have to eventually “purge” or backup the Plan to elsewhere.
There was the “proto-tweet”, otherwise known as the Plan one-liner. Sometimes verbosity was exceeded by brevity. No character limit of course, but the literary impact of checking a person’s Plan to see it all wiped clean except for the “fuck ya’ll” sort of statement had its effect. And, it was easy enough to make a timeline of sorts, adding additional one-liners above the previous, to form one’s sardonic view of the trials of college life.
I myself preferred to wipe clean every update, keeping each post like it’s own individual essay. Some of these would get pretty long, as I’m sure any POSZU reader could imagine. I did have a hard-break at the bottom, below which I stuck a contact info sig that stayed there. This was a common tendency, and to this day most of my friends primarily use Plans to find people’s most recently updated phone numbers and email.
There were a number of basic html tags that could be used. Linking made the Rickroll and the Goatse common, before that was such an Internet trope. But most importantly, there was Planlove, which engendered a number of other tendencies of its own.
Not unlike the @ on Twitter, surrounding a person’s username with brackets like [rothstei] automatically converted the name into a link to that person’s Plan. To do this was called “Planlove”. I believe, like Twitter, it first began unofficially, and then was incorporated into the code to be automatic. The semiotic quality was also surprisingly similar to Twitter. It was not uncommon to sign one’s name on some campus sign, letter to the editor, or notice board as [username], because the meaning was obvious. In fact, the first time I became aware of Plans as a freshman was seeing a graffiti tag that used the brackets. Remember, this was 2001. I doubt Plans was the first to use such tags in this manner, (Twitter’s @ was itself taken from another system) but it shows how given an Internet community, there are certain patterns of usage that develop naturally.
Of course, a function was added to Plans that allowed a user to search for instances of his/her own Planlove, to see how popular one was. No Klout score, but I do recall, perhaps apocryphally, a hack that ranked usernames by the quantity of Planlove.
One could “follow” a Plan, and add it to one of three auto-read lists (only named as 1, 2, and 3). When the person updated the Plan, the name appeared in one’s lists in a column on the side of the screen. I remember much better a scandal, in which someone created a hack website that would tell you the usernames of the people who followed your own Plan. It was the rage for a week, but then it was disabled. Many users felt it violated their privacy to not be able to follow a Plan anonymously. It is interesting how expectations of what is “privacy” normally come out of the way a user learns a system. To change the rules is more a violation of a person’s trust than what the rules allow or disallow. Consider how on Twitter, another asymmetric following network, it is a central feature to be able to see one’s follower count. And yet, on Twitter it is possible to have a private account, only approving particular followers. No such thing on Plans. One could set one’s Plan to only be viewable to people in the Plans network, (requiring login, rather than an open, static web address) which most did select. However, if one had a Plan, one could read all Plans. There was a certain inclusiveness to this network, that in many ways mimicked the social structure at the college. You might imagine correctly we did not have a Greek system at our school.
There was the Secrets function, however. I believe there is a public service similar to this now, where you can basically shout your secret anonymously to the world. From the entire Internet, I don’t quite see the point, as people are constantly posting their secrets all over the place. But to know the secrets were from one of 1300 other students, maybe one of your friends, maybe that person you hate, maybe the cute guy/girl you sit next to in class, had a certain sexiness to it. It was feasible that you might be able to guess the identity of the writer, and so it made for good reading. This was not without controversy, of course. Secrets passed through various periods requiring levels of moderation, to make sure no one was referred to using a real name in the attempt to prevent slanderous or otherwise hateful statements. I’m not sure what the current status of Secrets moderation is, but the feature is certainly still there, and still mostly revolves in content around friends wanting to have sex with their friends, and then cheating on each other. Ah, the liberal arts human condition.
There was also a threaded forum section that was tacked on as a separate feature, not unlike Secrets, but this was not as popular. People enjoyed having their discussions through Planlove, as the ability to completely delete one’s Plan added a level of freedom to the sometimes heated conversations. Naturally, these were known as “Planwars”. I did my first trolling on Plans, learning the tactics of how to get peoples’ emotions stirred while not leaving myself vulnerable. I’ll never forget a particular person whom me and my friends bullied into abandoning his account. I look back on it, and we were cruel and ruthless as one can be on a text-only system where you know the person in real life. And yet, I don’t regret it, because the person started the confrontation, fought back as hard as we did, and in the end, I think the community was made better for his having left. Life lessons about the Internet, here. It was like the proverbial school yard, in more ways than one.
The single most educational experience, and the greatest controversy, occurred my junior year of college. A person I knew socially made some… “unfortunate” remarks on his Plan, that were then interpreted by school authorities AND governmental authorities as terrorist threats. He was charged with felonies, in violation of what I still believe is clearly protected speech (without getting into the details). It was 2003, we were in the heights of a post 9/11 society, and the administration totally hung him out to dry. Controversy, anger, campus unrest, etc. In the wake of this, during the week of spring break the following year while the campus was near empty, the College pulled the plug on the Plans system. It was entirely student designed and administered,* but it was run on those students’ space on the College server. My first object lesson: the Internet is not free, and the pipes are private. But, this was closely followed by the another lesson: the community is its own power. Before the age of Kickstarter, a donation campaign was begun and spread via phone and email, and within a week Plans was back up on a private server, funded by a trust set up by alumni and students. To this day, the disclaimer on the front page reads that the site is not in any way affiliated with the school. It is run for and by the community… a community that only happens to be seeded by a separate, real life community.
I graduated in 2005, the year Facebook came online. I signed up for Facebook that year, as it was billed to me by a friend as “Plans for the real world”. It was, but it wasn’t. (I canceled my Facebook account in 2010.) I stuck around in Plans for the next two years, while I was in grad school and nostalgic for my friends and life from school. But as underclasspeople I knew graduated, and everyone moved on, the magic of the community dissipated for me. In 2007, I got my first Blogger account. In 2008, I joined Twitter. And now, I sync my WordPress posts to a separate Twitter feed as well as a Tumblr, and I do most of my writing in the cloud.
If this feels like the end of an Animal House-style college movie, then good, because it kind of is. An idyllic social network lived four of the best years of its life, and then drove off into the sunset, taking those memories into the future, but only as memories. And yet, Plans is still around. I’m not sure if current students at Grinnell use Facebook more or less than Plans. Maybe only alumni of my generation (is six years ago a generation?) still use it. I know one thing for certain though… it’s not going out like Friendster. The cost of maintaining a text-only social network is relatively nothing. It may not live forever, but it won’t be rebooted, either. Plans never sought to be a killer app, and never was. It was a semiotic moment, with all the reality that that entails. It was a bit of realism in the vaporous atmosphere of social networks, a plateau in the building of certain peoples’ communication skills. Every time I write online, the lessons I learned from Plans are there. I blog and Tweet, but not because they are natural writing tools… not organs and appendages attached to my body as if part of it. I use this social network because I learned to use it. The same way I learned to type, and the same way I learned how to have friends. I learned, because I had a somewhat safe-space of networking, a place to experiment. A place to get in fights, and to think about consequences. A place to speak one’s mind, and to see if anyone else is going to read it and respond. This might be the most important sort of social tool of the Internet, and it is something that seems all too rare.
The one thing I think about today, when I see idiot all-caps comments and Facebook style wall scrawlings? I think: “Poor kid. S/he never had Plans.”
- Yours 4eva, [rothstei]
*Plans is open-source, and you can find the source code here. Another early Internet lesson learned. :) I know there is at least one or two other schools that have used variations on Plans. No reason there couldn’t be more. Kind of doubtful, though.
Posted: April 26th, 2011
Comments: No Comments
A selection of “That can be my next Tweets“. Kind of like trying to communicate with a broken robot that looks really familiar.
Mmhmm… protocol vs. cost more. A future in philosophical aspects of those for the email….
They used to get everyone to the Superhero Class War v/ It’s excellent in the failure of us have been!
The past few days. : Welp, add another day of them. You could have been literally anyone.
3hr from Louisiana from the singularity is basically a womb. If you heard any species. A cert.
What I’m going to write, but index cards don’t know the Sea? A future in the book here: Structuromancy.
But don’t settle for those clones! Follow the real thing @interdome.
Posted: April 12th, 2011
Categories: Feedback Loops
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My first attempt at a Storify proceeds below. It still has a few UI snags that I think could be improved, but the entire thing is very promising. I really like being able to go back over a train of thought and annotate. I am all about the annotation.
To view it on Storify, try this link.
Posted: February 27th, 2011
Categories: Feedback Loops
Comments: No Comments
It’s been a while since I’ve done regular posting here on POSZU. The Museum of Small American Museums was a nice break from the standard weekly schedule. I wrote all those essays a month ago, and since then I’ve just been hanging out, scheduling the posts at the right time (more or less) and thinking about POSZU, looking at how it looks.
The good news is that this whole time, I’ve been dying to post. If I hadn’t decided at the beginning that during the extent of the series I would take a break from other posting, I would have been posting three, four times a week or more. So I’m ready to get back into the swing of things, starting, well, more or less today.
So, the state of POSZU is strong. A few technical notes, and then we’ll be back to discussing the Internet, riots, philosophy, sex, literature, and all the rest.
First: I’m launching the site of my novel, Light on Fire. You can read more about the book here, but that is all academic, really. The good stuff, and by that I mean the entire novel, serialized for free, is at the book’s site: www.lightonfire.net. You should check it out. There’s a beta test, and there will be eBooks, and other fun stuff.
Second: I don’t personally use Tumblr. I like WordPress very much as a CMS, mostly because I hold all the files on a server, and can dig around if I need to. But, I was interested in knowing what it was all about, and what sort of tools work with the API, and so forth. So I’m going to start a POSZU Tumblr. As of now, it will just be carrying some of the more Tumblr-ready aspects of POSZU, the more blog and re-blog sorts of stuff, direct from here. It’s at poszu.tumblr.com, of course. If you follow people via Tumblr, or just want to see what POSZU looks like via Tumblr, then there you go. If you prefer RSS or reading POSZU on this site, then you can just stay where you are. Maybe it will evolve, maybe not. We’ll see.
Third: Speaking of the evolution of feeds, the POSZU Twitter feed is changing. I was using it for a while to post short bits to POSZU, as an inlet. But posting over two accounts is kind of a pain (I’m @Interdome, regularly) so now @poszu is just going to be a feed of the posts here. Yes, I know I ought to be unlinking my feeds, but it seems no one uses RSS anymore, at least I can’t be sure that they do. And now I don’t have to tweet all my POSZU pieces on my personal timeline, and those who like hearing about them can hear about them direct from the source. So we’re going to try it this way for awhile. Follow the Twitter for an update of all the posts here, if you like getting your information through that means. Of course, the good old RSS still works. And when everything changes again in a couple years, we’ll move it all around again.
That’s it. Thanks for reading.
Posted: February 23rd, 2011
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I wrote a book.
It’s not a hard thing to say. It’s a hard thing to think about. Supposing that one actually wrote the book, and aren’t just saying that one did, that is.
There was all the thinking that was needed before the writing of the book. There was the thinking as the writing proceeded. And then there was the thinking, re-thinking, and paranoia, and doubt, and regret, and hate, and despair that occurred after it was written, and as one gets ready to say that the writing is done. So, perhaps much of that is not actually thinking. But the emotions are what we think about, as they occur. Like swimming in a river. You don’t swim the water, you swim in the water. Only by the water moving around your body, and your body moving through the water in a certain way, do you manage to not drown your ass in the fucking river. And so forth.
Anyway, I could say a great deal about the various emotions that occur to a person, namely this one, while getting ready to say that he wrote a book. And again, about the process of thinking through this whole process, and not drowning in it. I could, and I’d like to, but at the same time, I really can’t.
There are plenty of people who already talk about writing. They know much more about it than I do, because a good number of them have written several books, and therefore thought much more about it. My book is about twice as long as most books, and it is actually my second book, second completed book that is, because there was another one that wasn’t so great, and other ones that didn’t even get to be not so great. But none of this matters, because I am only saying I wrote a book, and it is only one book for a reason, and this has to do with the way that I think about it, which, I think, I will decline to share.
I could take the “quote Bukowski” route, who said something to the extent of “only assholes talk about writing”. Actually, it was one of his characters who said that. I always took that statement literally. Not to say that I thought that was the author’s words coming out of the character’s mouth; I understood it to mean only anuses talk about writing. There is something particularly anal about the idea. From a Freudian perspective, the act of talking about writing is particularly anal—being obsessed with minutiae and taking a very aggressive approach, swinging wildly back and forth between love and hate, and having a particular aspect of control. The mothering instinct is, in a way, very anal. As you give birth to your creations, you have a very ego-oriented way of considering them. Despite the fact that a great many of your creations are, again literally, lumps of shit.
I would rather talk about the Freudian anal stage than talk about writing. For one thing, I know more about it. It is also no less controversial. And additionally, it would seem to be a more popular topic than the intricacies of literary theory, because whereas we all shit daily, few of us actually seem to read that much anymore. But then again, nearly as many of us are literate as those of us with the capacity for expelling waste, and if we discuss anything less than books, it’ our bowel movements. Just how regular we are when it comes to literature is hard to say, but I could probably make conversation on the bus about it much easier. Luckily, I’m not on the bus, and I’m on the Internet. On the Internet, you can talk about anything you want.
There are many things that I would rather talk about than writing, and on the Internet, I can talk about all of them. And I have. Many of them, in this series of essays I titled Museum of Small American Museums. Some of them came out better than others. That last one about the ocean was pretty half-baked. Just some rambling sea stories, really. I did like the one about cultural speciation. And some of the writing in the piece about fast food and Walmart parking lots was really enjoyable, at least for me. Who the hell knows what you like to read.
As far as what I’m interested in… well, where do we begin? We already talked about Freud’s anal stage, at least a bit. I’m interested in the psychoanalysis of eating and body image, in nationalism and geography, in architecture and technology. I’m interested in other things that don’t necessarily have a ready pairing. Things like anarchism, economics, the mad rush of enthusiasm in crowds, in sex, in many disgusting aspects of sex on both the sexy side and the physical side, in the human capacity for violence, in the deep drives of creativity that seem to occur in our species, in drugs and why people take them, in machines, in mud, in soil, in blood. I get my curious-rocks off on friendship: I mean, really, why do we even have friends? I spend time reading graffiti that is probably meaningless. I investigate conspiracy theories, the crazier the better, just to see what other people are getting paranoid about. I wonder why people stick bits of technology underneath their skin. I think about how astronomy came directly out of astrology, and how math and time were invented to better serve astrology. I think about what gods would be like if they ever existed at any point in history. I wonder and think and ask questions about all the weird little things that other people ask questions about, even though to the rest of us it may seem totally obvious, even if it is actually not. And I wonder about why people talk about the things they talk about on the Internet.
Because it seemed that in order to talk about all of this on the Internet it would take many more words than anyone would ever want to read on the Internet, the natural course seemed to be to write a book. And here we are. Now I can say it. I wrote a book. A book that contains all of those things above, and more. And even, actually, a little bit of plot.
If you are also interested in those things, you should read my book. It doesn’t have everything that I’m interested in, of course. You have to hold a little bit back for the next book, and also you have to stop writing at some point. Otherwise all those emotions I’ve mentioned will catch up to you.
I could also talk about the aspect of publishing that is related to thinking about the act of writing, but I will save us all that time, and say that things, at least from where I’m sitting, seem kind of fucked. And then I will stop thinking about that. But I will say how I’m publishing this book.
I’m going to be serializing this book on the Internet. It seemed like it would work nicely, because the chapters are only about two thousand words a piece. I’ll probably do two or three a week, depending on the story so that the flow stays nice. There will also be an ebook. Even better than this, is that there will be a beta test of the ebook. If you are accepted into the beta test, you get a free copy. How’s that? I’ve never made an ebook before, so I figured it was only fair.
All of these things you can see at the website for the book: http://www.lightonfire.net
Oh, that is what the book is called, by the way. Light on Fire. I’ve been dreading the actual pitch, and I’ve written no less that fifteen (seriously) that all were equally applicable. And I’m still stuck. But you know what? I’m serializing this on the Internet, so I can write whatever the hell I want about it. So instead of a real pitch, you can have this:
There’s children in this city. Adults too. Ecoterrorists. Animals. Drug-imbibing students. There’s the police, but we’re not sure where. There’s houses, and bicycles. Buses. Coffee shops. Bars, and the people inside them. There’s the handicapped, and there’s the unemployed. There are the quitters, the joiners, the followers, the organizers. There are the suspicions and there are the ideas. There is the carnival, starting in a few days. There is the sun, and the clouds, and the stars. There is the fire. And there is something else. Something we’re not sure about yet. Oh—and there’s the Angel of History. He’s retired. He lives here now. What does he do? Pretty much the same as everyone else. You can go visit him if you want. Yeah, check him out. He likes visitors, actually. He’s a little old though, if you know what I mean. Just go on up. There’s a bus that goes right there from here.
So that’s that. I wrote a book. Check out the site, and thanks in advance.
You’ve been reading the Museum of Small American Museums here on POSZU for the last month or so, and thanks very much for stopping by for that, as well. POSZU will be back to regular broadcasting starting next week.
Keep on living that Freudian anal stage, America,
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Posted: February 23rd, 2011
, Museum of Small American Museums
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To go to sea today is a bit of a novelty. At least for most people. For some, it is like every other novelty that exists in the world; what is archaic, insightfully ironic, symbolic, or at the very least new and out of the ordinary to you and me, is to someone else, just a job. For those who actively sail the world, promoting a heavy-lifting, bulk-pack sort of international commerce and global trade, and even now fend off pirate attacks (of all obsolete adventurous activities) looking off the side of the ship no doubt is about as interesting as gazing off across the parking lot outside of work.
But there is something wonderful about it, even more wonderful than compact foreign-made cars, diesel pick-ups, light SUVs, and tarmac. Looking off the side of a large ship at night into the boundless, endless, infinitely wide and deep sea gives one a sense of smallness–that esoteric sensation just barely outside of the domain of language, which we all seek to feel through religion, metaphysics, love, or drugs and intoxicants. Not to give parking lots short schrift of course, as they can do the same. In contemplating the expense of paving over the land with a hermetic barrier of thick tar, culled from the pressed and rotted corpses of life that lived and died thousands of years before us, we create a Body-Without-Organs, a conceptual membrane through which the living cannot penetrate, a hard wall of impermeability that gives contrast to the life attempting to live above and below, that cannot bridge this line contrary to the universal force of zoe, except when it crumbles by way of time and the unstoppable slow tyranny of weather’s endless erosion. This defensive layer that allows us to safety operate our vehicles, that we pay to renew every few years, fighting the glorious fight of humanity against the nature that refuses to accept our independence, and seeks always to reclaim us through disease, through organic poisons, through the sadistic refusal of those natural elements that we cannot live without. A paranoiac cell of isolation, an infinite span of internecine warfare, forming the eternal mental placenta between our egos and…
Well, maybe only I feel that way about parking lots. The ocean, on the other hand, is probably more easily evocative to my fellow members of the species. There is a poetic history of such evocation. And also, look at it! It’s deep. It’s dark. We can only go into a tiny bit of it. Humans have been to the moon, but we can’t go the seven miles to the deepest part of the ocean. There are strange creatures that live there, most of which we haven’t even been able to conquer by naming. That was humanity’s one job, given to us in the Garden of Eden! Everything else, it is your job to be food. Adam, you aren’t food. All you have to do is come up with a name for everything you plan to eat. Cool? Apparently not. We’re still naming microscopic squids, and we’ve had some thousands of years to do it. Some stewards we are.
It’s a weird thing, that ocean. It’s what we’ve sailed across for thousands of years. For most of that time, it was the quickest way to get anywhere. Still is the cheapest, especially if you want to move something heavy. One of the oldest technologies around involve traveling across that liquid surface. Some of the biggest technological advances were about figuring out where we were going one we got moving. And as our ancestors traveled the massive span of the globe, guided by the stars, we could see the tiny twinkling lights of other ships out there doing the same thing we were, and ponder the distance between us, and wonder if the sea decided to turn against us, to claim our worldly investments and to take our lives, would those little lights out there come to our aid?
Maritime law takes this sacredness and mortal danger into account, as it tries to export the laws of the land to the deadly lack of land, and the customs of nations to that which will always be in some way international. Did you know, that under certain conditions, a person salvaging goods from a wrecked ship is entitled to 50% or more of the value of the salvage? It depends, of course, on the nature of the salvage, the effort involved, and how long the goods were “lost” at sea. But the law is based upon the concept that what is lost is therefore valueless, and any person who preserves the value of something that easily could have been lost, is entitled to a portion of that value. Because of this, the contracts for towing ships in trouble are very explicit; everything is laid out before hand, so there are no major claims afterward. This even goes for your fishing boat lodged on a sandbar. Of course, you have little recourse if you are stuck on a sandbar. But luckily, most people in the towing business just want cash, and not half of what is in your cooler.
There is, most assuredly, no “life salvage”, however. It is a fundamental part of all countries maritime code that any capable ship must do all possible to prevent loss of life without expecting reward, as long as doing so doesn’t further endanger the lives of the rescuing ship. Of course, if the other crew dies, there would be no witnesses to your crime. And so goes the way of the sea, and no doubt the beginning of many sea adventure stories. Also of note, is that a ship’s captain is required to care for the health of all crew on the ship, and for any care required the journey as a result of injuries sustained aboard. Universal health care on the high seas dates back to the British maritime laws of centuries ago.
Of course, there as also marooning–the practice of leaving an offensive crew member on a small piece of land with a bit of water, food, and a loaded pistol for him to use on himself if he so chose. I’m not sure of the specific legal history of this practice. But if done by pirates, big fans of the punishment, I would guess the case law would probably not be of their utmost concern.
I have heard, somewhat apocryphally mind you, of a particular Catch-22 applicable at least in Florida ports. Certain docks and moorings have requirements on how long you can tie up. A public park, for example, might have a 2-hour limit, not unlike a parking spot. Private moorages often charge for the privilege, especially if one intends to stay overnight. However, if a vessel claims that that it is unseaworthy, with a broken engine for example, and the owner lives aboard the ship, and s/he has no money to pay for repairs, the boat cannot be evicted. It would be akin to cutting the person adrift, and marooning them upon the “high seas”. Of course, if you could prove they had money for repairs, or that their engine was in fact working, then you could evict away. But the mechanics of that are complicated, both technically and metaphorically. And so, transient boats are common, overstaying their welcome. This is the flip side to the brutality of the law of the sea.
In a port area, there are thousands of interesting cultural features to humanity’s relationship with the sea. From widow’s walks, to chowder recipe, to river pilots, to the local, only-taught-never-documented design for skiff hulls. Again, the specificity within the mundane is similar to a thousand other instances of cultural artifacts found away from the coast. Even, perhaps, in parking lots (one day I’ll treat you to a treatise on the many-storied nature of Employee of the Month parking spaces). If you are unacquainted with sea life, and suddenly find yourself encountering it, it is easy to be overwhelmed. An entire way of life, not just on the coast, but constantly “out there”, over the dark horizon. In each ship is a potential Moby Dick, a work not only of story but of unsurpassed, specialist knowledge, requiring either dreary days of research in a library (or on the internet) or years actually living that life. And for what? For the success of Melville, which could only ever be posthumous. Whether you write about something as exciting as the sea, or something as boring as, say, the world of consumer safety, (see? my interests are wide and varied beyond parking!) it is difficult to make anyone care. Sure, there are fascinating aspects to anything. But what is really fascinating is the boring parts, taken out of their context by about a hundred years or five thousand miles. Whaling was not so interesting to a world filled with spermicetti candles and whale-bone corsets. Nor is parking interesting to your standard commuter. It takes someone with a deeper understanding, who would not only spend their life on a ship but spend that life looking over the side at more and more water passing the side of the hull. Or someone that would watch unblinkingly as the person in the over-sized SUV lines up for their third try at simple head-in parking. Or, someone to whom all of this is new, has some sort of cross-referenced gimmick attached, or can at least be used by an above-average writer as a metaphor for something entirely different that is perhaps actually meaningful.
And I suppose, this is where I try to salvage something of value from these shipwrecks of museums. At this point, at which I see all these essays floating in the water and try to reconstruct what it was they were supposed to be. The moment at which I try and connect these bits of light scattered out over the roadway, the continent, and the ocean. Not out of interest in profit, but out of duty to some sort of literary maritime law. I’ll cut the suspense, and tell you right now that I don’t end up doing it. I fail.
But let me tell you something else. Walter Winchell, anti-Nazi, anti-Communist, pro-McCarthy newspaper columnist, in addition to inventing the “gossip column”, originated the phrase, “Good night, Mr. and Mrs. America, from border to border and all the ships at sea.” Supposedly, at the end of his life he suffered a nervous breakdown, and lived by himself in a hotel, and handed out mimeographed sheets of his column on the street corner every day. That, is dedication to writing and publishing. Either that, or a symptom of a deep psychiatric problem. Well, with that, then goodnight to us: all the writers out at sea.
The last museum will be next week. It is called, The Museum of the Book I am Officially Announcing, Based on This Museum. Or would be, except that I changed the title at the last minute. I promise that there will be text-only nudity in the book, which I hear is big with the kids these days.
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Posted: February 21st, 2011
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You must be of a particular age to view this exhibit, because of its profane, sexual content. A restriction that is ironic, because the content of the exhibit is often below that age. You could set that age to whatever value you like, and it really doesn’t matter. Those who are old enough to view will never be quite as young as what is being viewed, because it is about the division between minor and… what is it—major? It never loses its perversity. It is the difference between one and the other that is in some way desired, and so therefore specifically not allowed. Between the internal youth within our sexual selves, and…
Okay—let’s stop for a moment. Let’s back up, and let’s try this again. The problem is that there are so many ways to start, and so many of them are wrong. And even those that begin by seeming right so quickly turn in the wrong direction, often times ending up worse than the complete wrong direction at outset. And as for those that in the end seem right—well, its a prize that hardly seems worth winning, by the time we’ve gotten there. And for what? What is the victory we’ve achieved?
And… but wait, I haven’t even explained to you what we’re talking about. I began with a slight warning and perhaps a briefly titillating advertisement about the sexual nature of this subject matter, and then immediately began backtracking into the territory of meta-apologia, through which I ended up ruining this essay through the discussion of the possibility of ruining it. And here we are now. You’re confused, I’m embarrassed, this essay has three useless paragraphs, and we’re all standing around wondering what we are supposed to do. We are beset by literary impotence, or perhaps it is premature literary ejactulation, or perhaps it is just a confused, incestuous tumble into the province of a critical essay on sexuality, myself a weak anti-hero at best, caught in the eternal archetype of sexual theory hubris, thinking that I could thwart the gods will, leaving my readership wishing it could stab its own eyes out.
So I’m cutting this, right now. Enough with the evasion. We’re beginning again. Now.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, folks of all ages—because this is the Internet, so any and all may feel free to read and think anything they wish.
I know you thought you were here to see a museum exhibit, but in fact, you are here to witness a play. Tonight’s performance will be experimental, and therefore necessarily flawed. However, we hope that the experiment has been so designed that we might all learn something in the process. And even if it is not, there will be sex, and hopefully you’ll all stick around at least until that point.
Let’s introduce the characters, in the order of their introduction.
My name is the Master of Ceremonies. Don’t worry who I might be, because I am not important. I am no more than some recognizable name, who was hired to show up here with his name on the cover of the program, and to say a few meaningless words. My statement is prepared, and my role is exchangeable. I will get us started, and then let the performers take it away.
Next, we have the Narrator. He is a man not very different than myself, but he will be saying the important things about our scene, so you’ll want to listen to him, rather than flipping through your program to see how long this thing goes on, as you are doing now when I am speaking.
Then, I am honored to introduce the Subject. He is a white male, twenty-eight years of age. He has some difficulties, of a sexual nature. His is a very sad story, tragic, I would even suggest; though many scholars of such tales might beg to disagree. He is mostly heterosexual, and although I should have mentioned this a few sentences earlier so that you might make use of it to categorize and better understand his motivations, the truth is that he might also be bisexual. Calling him heterosexual is a problematic statement in and of itself. However, I would caution against thinking of him as bisexual; to do so would begin to set up certain assumptions about his thoughts regarding a choice of sexual partners, just as it would if you had considered him heterosexual. I only wish to make this distinction about the difficulty of distinction clear, so that when you think of him as “perhaps bisexual”, you do not let this discount any purely heterosexual motives he might have behind his choices. I’m happy to have made this clear.
Lastly, and unfortunately, also least, we have The Woman. The Woman will be played by many different women in tonight’s performance, so many that we need not stop to mention their names, occupations, ages, hobbies, sexual preferences, or anything else. As I said, she is the last to be introduced, and therefore the least important in our little narrative. Do not throw things, ladies and gentlemen; I am only the Master of Ceremonies, and I am happy to say that I have no writing credits in the program. Perhaps, rather than you all shouting and getting out of your seats, I ought to hand this over to the Narrator, so that we might quickly get underway and distract you from your objections.
Thank you, Master of Ceremonies. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome once again. I am the Narrator. Our story begins in a museum. The Subject is attending this museum, doing whatever it is that people do in museums. And then, enters The Woman.
The Woman enters, wearing a short dress, covered in sewn sequins, arranged in a large star burst pattern, beginning where her attractive blond hair touches the front of her shoulder, descending over her perfectly shaped breasts, down the seductive length of her torso to the widening of her hips, and stopping only just short of the hem of the dress, which itself stops short above mid thigh, leaving the eyes with plenty of room to admire her legs, twitching in a beckoning manner back and forth as she walks on her high heels, each step an opening of a deadly scissor, threatening to maim and cut the eyes as they question what exactly may lie in the crux of this blade, tight and awfully sharp, shrouded in mystery just under the short edge of the dress, which all too easily could be flipped upward to reveal….
…And thank you, Subject, but that is my role, and I will narrate the entrance, if you please. You ought to be enjoying this museum exhibit, and not sharing every lurid detail of your disgusting imagination with our guests.
But, Narrator, this is a story about me, is it not? Why shouldn’t I be the one to describe what I am seeing, in all of its detail, whatever form that might take?
Yes, it is a story about you, Subject. But this is precisely why. The audience would naturally like me to mediate between the… details… you have come up with, and themselves. For propriety’s sake, of course.
You Narrators are always the same. Dumbing things down for the people, circling around it with your euphemism and “interpretations”. Look at her! She’s so fucking sexy! I mean, we should just show the people what I want. What they want. I’m going to go over there right now, and…
Ahem, uh, Subject—thank you. That will be quite enough. And will you keep your voice down! The Woman can hear everything you are saying! Look at her, she’s looking uncomfortably at you, and getting ready to leave the room.
The Woman isn’t going to leave the room, Narrator. Where would she go? This performance only has one scene. And besides, clearly she’s looking for that sort of attention, otherwise should wouldn’t have worn a dress like that.
Ladies and gentlemen: I would like to apologize on behalf of all the performers here today. The Subject does not speak for all of us, and we would never wish to offend any of our audience members by implying, officially, that any woman, let alone The Woman, would be seeking such disgusting attentions from any man, simply by wearing what it is that she is wearing.
Narrator, I haven’t touched her! I haven’t even said anything. How is it disgusting to just think those sorts of things? What is one supposed to think about a dress that is so short, on such a body? Should I think about sequins? Sequins are boring! Unlike what’s she’s got underneath that dress…
She can hear what you are saying, Subject! You are assaulting her with your words.
If you were doing your job, Narrator, I wouldn’t be forced to make my stream of consciousness audible.
I was trying to narrate your thoughts, Subject. Until you decided to change the subject of the Subject unilaterally.
Come on, Narrator. Let me just go talk to The Woman for a moment. I’m sure I can make her understand. Maybe we can go have a drink and discuss it. Then afterwards, we can…
That is quite enough! As Narrator, I am taking control of this scene back immediately. Under no circumstances, are you to think any perverted thought about The Woman, or any woman, unless specifically narrated by me.
But isn’t that the point of The Subject? That I’m supposed to be thinking dirty thoughts about The Woman in that she is the sort of woman about which one might have dirty thoughts?
You don’t know what sort of woman The Woman is, Subject. You don’t know anything about this scene. You are merely at a museum, and The Woman has entered.
She’s going to leave unless I can go talk to her.
You’ve talked quite enough. I think the audience would agree with me here.
The audience? They want to see what The Woman is like too! Or at least half of them do. Let them in, Narrator. Let’s all talk to The Woman.
The Audience cannot see you, Subject. I’m not letting them anywhere near you. I am the Narrator, and I am going to control this situation, and implement some narrative discipline here, so that we might get to the point, which is diagnosing exactly what is wrong with you. What is so horribly wrong with you, in that you are such a pervert and a threat to women everywhere.
I’m not the one wearing the dress, Narrator!
No one is wearing any dress. Audience, your attention here please: The Woman has left the museum.
No she hasn’t!
Yes she has. She was so disgusted by The Subject’s thoughts that she ran away from him to go see her boyfriend, who cares for her character, and would never be sexually interested in her costume. Or if he did, only with her permission.
She didn’t even get to have any lines!
You had more than enough for both of you. Are you happy now, Subject? Oh, and look who is here! The Woman enters.
You said she left!
This is a different The Woman. This The Woman is your wife, Subject! How are you going to explain those nasty comments to your wife, whom you are supposed to love with all your heart? Look at how she is looking at you, you ingrate! She loathes you.
I’m married? She’s the same The Woman, anyway! She’s wearing the same dress!
No she is not! The new The Woman, who we will call Mrs. Subject just to keep it straight, even though she kept her own name when she married The Subject because frankly, The Woman wasn’t sure it would work in the long term, though she didn’t tell The Subject this…
She kept her name for professional reasons. Not that it really matters, but…
She thinks you are a mental child. A sexual teenager, who can’t keep his mind out of the gutter long enough to make his name in anything. She’s wearing a floor length ball gown, and a turtleneck sweater…
Her dress is even shorter than the other The Woman.
It is not. The turtleneck sweater is black, and thick, and goes all the way up her neck, covering all of that soft skin which you find so sexy and love to kiss while she sleeps.
Her sweater is really tight around the breasts.
It is not tight around the breasts, and you have never been less attracted to your wife, because you are a philanderer, and a disgusting human being, and would not know love. You are a sex pervert.
I walk over to my wife, and I whisper in her ear with breathy words, blowing air against the soft hairs just behind her ear in that way that drives her wild. She pushes her hip against me involuntarily, and I whisper all the things that I’m going to do to her in the family bathroom of this museum.
You do not!
And she responds back with what she will do to me, in that tone of voice that makes me crazy, pushing herself against me, rubbing her hand gently up and down…
In the bathroom I lift up my wife’s dress, to reveal that she had once again left the house without underwear on, because that is the sort of woman she is when she wants to be…
This museum is closed! Everyone please leave the galleries immediately, especially the couple who is engaging in far too much bodily contact for a public performance, with children present, for god’s sake! No, no… not you, Audience! Not that museum. The museum within the performance is closed. You stay, so that I might get this narration back on track once The Subject has stopped having his way with The Woman, and… oh my goodness! Please avert your eyes for a moment, Audience. I’ll let you know when The Subject has put it away.
Look at this, you bunch of voyeurs! You perverts! You want to see what a real Subject looks like? You want to see what it looks like when he touches The Woman! This is what I think about, you sluts, when you lay in your beds at night, fearing the approach of any slightly kinky thought!
Curtain! Curtain! Curtain!
You want to see what perversion is? Show them, baby! This is perversion! This is what your children will do when they grow up! This is what men think about young girls, and would do to them if they were only a few years older!
You like that, Narrator? You do! You like it more than any of them, you old slag! Get over here and touch it; touch it, I said! We’ll all do it together, here on stage, for all to see!
Get him away from me!
Okay—hold it! The two of you separate. Now! Sorry folks, it’s the Master of Ceremonies here. This isn’t part of my prepared remarks, but propriety is forcing me to step in here, and cancel this performance. We tried, we really did. We only wanted to role play what happens out there, what is going on in the real world when it comes to sex. We wanted to cut through the politeness, and the theory, and the hype, and the marketing. We were going to show you how a real Subject thinks about sex, but then this happened. I mean, I wasn’t going to show you, because I’m not in any way involved in this production. But I am the Master of Ceremonies, and my name is attached to this thing, so I can tell when to say when, and pull the plug on the whole deal. Perhaps this experiment only goes to show that you really can’t have a public conversation about sex without the participants ending up chasing each other around with their sex organs flopping around on stage. Without succumbing to the urge to turn everything into pornography. If I might speak freely—I’ve seen this happening for some time now. Every year there’s more nudity on television, less clothes on the people on the street. Where is it all leading? What is to become of us? Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached that end, tonight. I… and I’m not even going to describe what they are doing now, because you can all see, all too well. So just please, please leave, and let us try and forget this. I’m cutting this again…
Go home! Go home and touch someone’s crotch!
Shut up you! I said I’m cutting this, right here. Now. It’s over.
I said, it’s over.
Curation fixation. How to cut it at the right point, before it goes too far. How to know how to cut. How to talk about enough things without talking about too much. Deciding what you should leave out, and ignore, even though it’s absence might be blatant and obvious. How to look at a young girl in a short dress and look straight through her without seeing her. How she might look back, right into your glassy eyed stare which she thinks is creepy. How to at least know that your thought process is pure and innocent, even if your body is not. How to be attracted to the right things. Not only attracted to them the most, but only and always. How to not worry about what makes you fear for our human condition in the future. Going only to the right museums. How to find what satiates and fulfills.
There is another museum that is similar to this, and it’s the next stop. It’s troubling. It’s called the Museum of Fire. It needs no further introduction.
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“With the coming of ____ ________ began the part of my life you could call my life on the road.” And so begins the third sentence (with the pseudonym-dropping reference to the Beat scene excised) of the most over-gifted book in America besides the Bible, and the bane of everything creative in this land. You are going to have to excuse me while I vent a little bit about the state of literature in this country, as represented through a particular book that is in no way representative of literature in this country. Okay—so I’d be willing to concede that the book isn’t that bad, and like every so-so book that is wildly popular, there is probably a time and place for when it is exactly the right book. The right time and place for On the Road is when you are a fifteen year-old white male feeling unsure in the first year of high school. But that doesn’t change my criticism of the Beat Poets and a loathing for what they did to America: a white, phoning-it-in, irreversible, suburban coffee shop graft, perpetrated upon American literature.
What they did was create a gold road of unlimited devotion; they lionizied a cursory appreciation of the American literary canon, a lack of hard work, and generally unrestrained hippie optimism that is about as untenable to modern problems as Picasso is to the Internet. And it is not so much that they did, because that could be forgivable as no more than a symptom of their times. It could be a hindsighted mistake, a pathology we will no doubt suffer ourselves in spades come another forty years. But the problem is that we can’t seem to get over the Beats, even now. The continued celebration of this metaphysical pap is not necessarily because there is somewhere within it a canonical truth—it’s just that we have nothing better. We can’t talk about American poetry, let alone write it (at least if we are men), without somehow mentioning the Beats. We just haven’t grown up. We are still teens in high school. You can’t write about modern times in America without obliquely referencing the soaring, anti-America-The-Beautiful tones of Ginsberg. It’s inescapable, like crappy magazines in the doctor’s office. Sports players are male role models today not because they are good role models, but because without them our need for role models would lead us to bend down to politicians and… for fuck’s sake, business men. I remind you that Kerouac was a varsity athlete before picking up the pen.
More crucial to my own personal problems, is the fact that you cannot write about traveling across the American road without at least mentioning Kerouac, or taking two paragraphs to invectively disparage him, both being more than he deserves. This is what canon means to us, today. It’s what we hate, but talk about anyway. Even though the America Kerouac traveled is dead, it lives in the Interstate Highway System of our minds.
Dear readers, I now invite you to purge the Beat from your inner cloverleaf interchange. Expel it, with all the released kinetic force of a eighteen-car pile up caused by a drunk driver in a five-ton pickup jumping the median, soaring through the rusted and outdated guard rail, and landing on top of the busy, commuter-traffic filled, EZ-Pass only, HOV lanes below. The power of crushing metal compels you: exit now. Thank you. We have rubber-necked at the canon, smoking against the Jersey barrier. And now we can drive on.
Flying cars existed back in 1955 when On the Road was published. Huge vehicles, made in America by American Labor out of American Steel, would carry you across the country at incredible rates of speed. The pavement would zip by beneath the singing tires, as you climbed over top of mountains and raced across deserts. The miles per gallon were low, but the fuel was endless. There was nothing quicker than a car; it was the one-manned, streamlined, asphalt aeroplane, carrying newly individual, nucleated American Supermen faster than a speeding locomotive. Death by automobile accident was the heroes death, and the crushed frame beneath your twisted body was the shield your people would carry you home upon. The cars… had fucking fins.
Today, driving Route 66 means driving “Historic Route 66”, the heritage road celebrating unrestrained American road travel in the past tense. On its hallowed, pock-marked surface, just off the real highway, you can get good old American gas for about $3.00 a gallon, which will power the average sedan for a cost of about fifteen cents per mile. At that rate, it will cost you $367.20 to drive Route 66. It will cost you $435 to go across Interstate 80, which travels from San Francisco to New York. A single room at Motel 6 will run you a little less than $40 a night. Meals at Hometown Buffet will cost you… well, I have no idea, and I don’t want to know. Suffice it to say, if you have two or three people in the same car, it might be as cheap as flying. Naturally, there are other ways to do the road trip on the even-cheaper. But low-budget, American family-style travel is hardly budget at all. The only thing soaring, rocketing, and flying are various metaphors involving credit cards.
But we, (meaning us, not you; I have no idea how you choose to travel) are already on a road trip. We have gotten in the car against the wishes of our family who would prefer that we just fly, (even though they bought us our copy of the 40th Anniversary edition of On the Road some years before as a gift) we are out of cell phone reception, and the pavement is, along with the gas, evaporating away beneath us. What are we doing here?
We sure as hell don’t know Dean Moriarty. I know some people on Twitter, though. We didn’t so much hear that Dean was in Spanish Harlem, as see some Flickr pictures, and maybe click around in the Atlas Obscura. We might have killed entire hours wandering over the topology of Google Maps, with the Wikipedia layer turned on. I don’t know if this exactly prepped us for what we would never stoop to call “our life on the road”. It sure wasn’t as sexy as a couple of beatniks talking to each other on a dirty mattress, out of their minds on uppers. But all the same, this is how it happened to us, and here we are, rocketing towards points on the compass, leaving in our wake nothing more than a single geotagged post in each state if reception allows it, and at the same time moving away from all points on the compass at the exact same rate.
Because here is the thing about our new social understanding of speed. The faster the pace of history moves, the less distance you have to travel to go the same speed. Velocity is now 1 / Distance x Time. Entropy is our fuel additive. As a species, we’re slowing down. We’re asymptotically approaching zero no matter what we do. But along the curve of this simple, rational function, the individual can cover less ground in an atemporal universe and still be moving at the same rate. The calculus of a road trip is the inverse of every algebra example about road trips and distance that has ever been taught to you.
Flying, for whatever On-the-Road-given reason, is not an option for us. The future is not an option, either. Inevitability is the zeitgeist, and this zeitgeist is inevitable. There is no place to run towards, waving your arms and screaming for shelter. Your present is your future; you credit card limit just hasn’t been distributively absorbed by participating vendors yet. We are not driving towards anything. We’re simply driving away. And this is why we’re still behind the wheel. You could fly around the world in 48 hours, but then you’d have to do something else. If you drive across the country, you’ll kill at least ten times as much time and twice as much money waiting for the future to get here. That is a pretty good buy. The most anyone can ask for their money these days is that it take up more time than it would have taken this time last year. Now that is progress.
Modern vinyl-interiored mp3-capable automatic-transmissioned cars do fly a little. Living on the inside of a safety glass bubble, you are at least a few inches up off the ground. More if you’ve inflated your tires properly. Music sounds better played on certain cheap car speakers. It’s all about bass beating within a sedan-womb. Cheap food tastes better if you eat it while moving. I recommend corn nuts. Caffeine is more effective over fifty miles per hour, bringing the nerves and the brain up to speed, ideas slinging past like mile markers flitting by in the furthest reach of the headlights. I had at least ten ideas in the stretch of road between Nashville and Louisville. I was only able to remember six when I stopped to write them all down. When you are tired, a car seat is more comfortable that it would be ordinarily, when you are not tired. A parking lot with a public bathroom that has paper towels rather than just a hand dryer is about as much of a home as anyone with four wheels underneath them could want these days. You can take more luggage in the car than you could on the plane. But you don’t need to. The car is your luggage. Just throw your extra clothes in back. If your seats fold down, you can sleep in your suitcase. Is this American life? Who the hell knows anymore. If I did a keyword search, I’m sure I could find someone who has written a book or a song or a blog that could tell me for sure.
Modern tourism is just the process of living your life. You could live your life in one spot, or in many. Maybe. I’m not going to tell you anything definitively. There’s just too much at stake, and not enough payoff to start authoring platitudes just yet. I’m not saying I won’t write a book about it though. Or at least start to write it, before it mutates into something else. There are just too many books out there by this time to every write a single book on any single thing. Every book is now every other book, in a hyperlinked process of extension that so tritely networks together all of the things that we think about, in the way that every road trip ever taken is every bit of every other road trip. Driving towards, and driving away. If we’re six degrees of separation away from every other human on earth, you are no more than two from every other road trip on the North American continent. My life on the road, your life on the road. The biggest/fastest/best 3G network in America. Where’s the best hamburger in the United States? There’s not just a single app for that. There’s at least ten, and a couple of shows on the Food Network too.
If I was going to give advice about driving across the country, I’d tell you to not read On the Road, don’t eat a single hamburger, and whatever you do, do not to listen to the radio. Read the road signs instead. And I’ll tell you why.
Don’t tune in next week for: the Museum of Tourist Economies No More than 15 Miles from An Interstate Highway.
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It only occurred to me afterward how odd a thing it really was to solicit material for a zine online.
In a time when any one person could easily start 5 different blogs using 5 different well-publicized, multi-functional platforms, why would anyone start a zine? Why would anyone want to photocopy some words onto paper, and hand them out, when they could syndicate them immediately to their network of interested people in a format everyone is already prepared to accept? And why would someone, upon deciding that they want to do such an odd thing, turn to the internet for help, whenever on the internet has already rejected the model, replacing it with all of the technology and all of those reasons that a zine seems archaic?
Here is a list of reasons why:
1. A zine can be made for about $15 in photocopies. This is less than the price of nearly any US steady internet connection. It also requires no subscription, no sign-up, no log-in.
2. You are not utilizing some company’s content management system in order to publish your work. It is never handled, stored, or transmitted by anyone other than yourself.
3. A zine is solid. It’s made of paper. It comes in weird shapes. With different materials. Maybe this doesn’t do anything for you. But it does for some people.
4. You could write a zine with a pencil, if you wanted to. A pencil needs no cadmium, no mercury, no fossil fuels. This is kind of interesting. In 50 years it could be really interesting.
5. A zine has no gimmick. It isn’t a themed blog, a link generator, a cleverly-named Tumblr, a pseudonymous tell-all, or a satirical characterization. Of course, it could be like anyone of these things if you wanted it to. But it’s gimmick is that it is a zine. Like what a blog used to be. You can’t say, “I’m starting a blog,” without someone saying, “what kind of blog?” But if you are making a zine, it could be just a zine.
6. There are some challenges, of the old school print variety. Layout. Typeface. Page thickness. Signatures. All of this could be easily handled by the famous, “slap it all together with a fucking stample” method, but it also doesn’t have to be. No WYSIWYG here. No browser rendering issues. It isn’t necessarily easier or harder than HTML. It’s most just different.
7. Everyone who contributes to a zine gets a copy. What do you get if you contribute to a blog? You get a RT? Great. Put that on your coffee table and impress your dinner guests.
8. Getting people to read a zine is hard. You have to force it into their hands, and make them sit still long enough to read it. You can’t just tweet a link and hope for the best. SEO becomes almost as exciting as flirting with someone. I like to hide zines on the shelves of legitimate bookstores. Maybe no one will see it for years. But I can be almost guaranteed that one day, someone will pull it down, say “what the hell is this?” and start flipping through it. That, my friends, is a “hit”.
9. You can trade zines for things. To some fools, they actually have real world value. I’ve traded zines for indie comics before. For stickers. For pizza! For a bus fare. You can’t trade a blog link for shit, except more links.
10. Your mother will think it’s cool that you were published in something made of paper. She’ll still think you’re weird, but she’ll get the zine much more than the blog. Unless she has a blog, and then, well, there’s only 9 reasons to make a zine.
11. But there’s one more. We make zines because we have a disturbingly strong, unstoppable need to publish things. In print, on the Internet, on bathroom walls. Because we can. This reason is best and most.
Don’t just take a typically blog-like “ten/eleven reasons to ____” list! Find out for yourself. I’m making a zine, here is how to help.
Posted: January 20th, 2011
Comments: 1 Comment
I have this problem, where I read something about zines, and I get this urge. Like a deep, unholy desire.
There’s something about publishing a zine. It feeds some deep depraved need that I have in the base of the spinal cord, . Just to make something, and get it out there.
M and I were traveling the country for about a month (we stood in over half the states in the nation over the course of that time) and we abandoned almost all the zines I had left over from other vicious attacks of this pub-lust. So now I’m empty-handed, and rather than cured, I’m ready to start again.
I have loads of time, but I’m also very busy with writing projects both for on and off-web. So I’m going to try an impromptu experiment. There’s really no gimmick to it. It’s just a zine, built from anyone who reads this. I’m going to put out the call, and see what we get back. It will either work, or not.
That’s it, that’s the call. Calling you. It’s a zine, that’s all there is to it. Don’t know what a zine is? Google it. Never read one? Go to a punk record store or indie art store in unnamed-city-near-you, or ask nice and I might send you something.
Define your own level of participation. This is what we need:
Writing. (WRITING! LOTS OF IT!) Any length. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, sass, whatever. Another language? Why the hell not?
Photos that will look good rendered into shitty black and white toner printing.
Art that will look good given same.
Easy. You can whip any one piece of that out in about half an hour. So you have no reason not to play along. Tell your friends.
Here are the only rules:
#: I’m not going to do it until I can get enough material for a reasonable 20 pages and it will be a maximum of 40 pages long. If for one reason or another either of these two constraints (demands!) aren’t met, we’ll discuss what to do.
&: I also will have a bit of editorial sway (my design sense is much more head-bashingly direct modernism rather than zine-ish Maximum Rock & Roll), though it will be way, way open to coercion by the revolutionary zine committee (i.e. opt-in email list).
@: Oh, and the product will never be seen on the Internet, unless the RZC can convince me why it should (it’s a zine, not a damn Tumblr).
%: And lastly, because there are too many rules already, it will be some sort of Creative Commons, and you’ll own your own shit forever and ever.
If you’re in it, you’ll get hard copies.
The goal is to get this printed in less than a month. If you want to be in it, let me know by a week from now. If you want something else, let me know that too.
This is the only other piece of pertinent info at this time:
Everything goes there. Fire away, suckas. Don’t disappoint.
ps. There will be more of an explanation about my hiatus with my official return from hiatus, which should be here some time next week. This is just a bit of craziness that leaked into my self imposed silence. So, I will say that I’m sorry for posting, rather than being sorry for not posting.
Posted: January 17th, 2011
Categories: Material Cargo
Comments: No Comments