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Wednesday, May 10, 2000
continent-wide conflict

"We are very close to a resumption of hostilities and the outbreak of a new round of fighting, which, if it does take place, immediately constitutes the largest war on the African continent."

ft editorial comment

The Sierra Leone peace agreement signed last July was always going to be difficult to implement. Granting amnesty to rebel leader Foday Sankoh and his Revolutionary United Front, responsible for systematic atrocities against children, and giving him a role in an interim government, was hard to accept. But precedents were instructive. Mozambique's rebel Renamo movement, notorious for maiming civilians, became a respectable opposition that contested multi-party elections. In Rwanda, retribution has had to be limited. The system cannot cope with the tens of thousands held on charges connected with the 1994 genocide.

The reason why the peace deal in Sierra Leone is on the brink of collapse has more to do with its implementation than its design. The UN force is under strength, under-qualified, ill-trained, poorly equipped, and without clear rules of engagement.

Tuesday, May 9, 2000
if ever there was a civilizing force in america, it's gotta be the million mom march! view the tapestry.

here's a nice site for people who want to keep up with public policy issues created through the advancement of technology.

bills in the news!

it's asian pacific american heritage month!

To honor the accomplishments of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and to recognize their many contributions to our Nation, the Congress, by Public Law 102-450, has designated the month of May as "Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month."

it's also older americans month! here's some helpful tips if you're an older american and plan on doing some traveling.

Monday, May 8, 2000
But by our best self we are united, impersonal, at harmony. We are in no peril from giving authority to this, because it is the truest friend we all of us can have; and when anarchy is a danger to us, to this authority we may turn with sure trust. Well, and this is the very self which culture, or the study of perfection, seeks to develop in us; at the expense of our old untransformed self, taking pleasure only in doing what it likes or is used to do, and exposing us to the risk of clashing with everyone else who is doing the same! So that our poor culture, which is flouted as so unpractical, leads us to the very ideas capable of meeting the great want of our present embarrassed times! We want an authority, and we find nothing but jealous classes, checks, and a deadlock; culture suggests the idea of the State. We find no basis for a firm State-power in our ordinary selves; culture suggests one to us in our best self.

i recently saw high fidelity and small time crooks and noticed underlying themes running through both that i thought resonated with matthew arnold's concept of the best self which he describes in culture and anarchy. here's my half-baked attempt at an essay on the subject.

the idea of the best self is pretty old, by it we measure our aspirations and failures. it's implicit in our reckoning of where we are and where we would like to be, of what we have vs. what we want – the difference being the winter of our discontent and i guess, as the world's religions would have it, our suffering. matthew arnold raises the idea of the best self as a basis for culture, whereby i gather internalizing certain ideals leads to a people "united, impersonal, at harmony." (i think impersonal in this case means something like selfless and civilized.)

notably, though, arnold fails to give an explicit definition of the best self. in the words of alan greenspan, "it's impossible to know, except in hindsight" and from hakim bey, "i circle around the subject, firing off exploratory beams…if the phrase became current it would be understood without difficulty...understood in action."

in film and other story-telling mediums the idea of the best self is generally a moving target for the cast of characters involved. what it produces is a "State" in flux and its ultimate revelation demands our attention as we, the audience, cycle through plausible outcomes that emerge with each new plot development until we are led (with a little effort) to a fully realized possibility. amid the half-formed potentials in achieving a semblance of a satisfactory state of affairs, whose best selves are liberally distributed among the principals, lies the emotion that becomes the stuff of drama – triumph, comedy and despair – before the final resolution when we get up out of our seats and walk out to the parking lot.

like ebert says, "a movie's not about what it's about, it's how it is about it." what a movie evokes are a series of possibilities, never brought to fruition, but cascading endlessly in the realms of our imagination. good movies play knowingly off of our wants and desires for a best self in relation to some ideal state of society and in so doing subtly alters our perceptions of reality such that we are more closely attuned to the inner truths – whatever they may be :)

driving the plot in high fidelity is "the very self which culture, or the study of perfection, seeks to develop in us; at the expense of our old untransformed self, taking pleasure only in doing what it likes or is used to do," or simply the socialization of john cusack into a culture of success! using available carrots (love interest and a recording contract) and sticks (loneliness and depression) with appropriate/obligatory hurdles (other interests, having to commit) along the way. thus, the stage is set for a process of self-discovery that he observes in order to obtain his just desserts.

what i found interesting, though, was comparing this to small time crooks where woody allen already possesses a sense of self-satisfied knowledge from the outset! "know thyself" and "to thine own self be true," ring continually throughout the movie. instead of any kind of transformation woody allen must undergo, the plot revolves around holding onto whatever dignity he can muster (in a smart and comic way :) when external, cultural forces beyond his control threaten his ordinary self – that takes pleasure in doing what it likes and is used to do.

how woody allen is about small time crooks turns high fidelity and the conception of a best self on its head. allen points out striving towards a best self is usually ill conceived and folly when it means being other than who you are. the trick isn't to not try and strive towards improving the conditions within and without you, but just to be more aware of what those conditions actually are. i was thinking that the difference between high fidelity and small time crooks was the first exploits our dissatisfaction with ourselves whereas the latter exploits our dissatisfaction with the rest of the world and although its hard to distinguish the two, there's a point where youth meets experience where they might artfully and elegantly be decomposed. now, i'm not quite so sure, i'll have to think about it :)

Sunday, May 7, 2000
here's a cool link. (via the haddock directory)

and another one from ben brown, (via i love benbrown) in which jorn travels down the far shores of a distant reality, a pilgrim on the orthogonal byways of our collected existence.

and 1+1 from the nytimes. (via beebo's metalog - culled for your perusal by consensual consciousness)

Saturday, May 6, 2000
another link from ed! - on the social life of information.

All those issues that don't seem to be a part of an information delivery system, like judgement, adaptability, and socialization, are what people actually want.

qualities which i think people would agree are manifestly human.

The most important fact of life is our common humanity, and its greatest tragedy is the failure to recognize this. --bill clinton

Friday, May 5, 2000
i heard this guy speak at this conference the other day. he was a bundle of contradictions, skating the edge, not unlike aeon flux.

sign up for his spew!

been trying to get through culture and anarchy, by matthew arnold. he could've used a k.i.s.s.

Thursday, May 4, 2000
"Is it literature?"
     "I think so."
     "So what's literature?"
     "Literature is where you read a book and feel you could put a little mark under every line because it's true."
     "Because it's true? I don't get it."
     "When every sentence is simply right. When it reveals something about the world. And life. When every phrase gives you the feeling that you would have behaved or thought exactly the same way the character in the book does. That's when it's literature."
     "Where did you get that from?"
     "I just think so, that's all."
     "You just think so? Then for sure it's shit. I bet a literature professor would say something else. How many books have you read already anyhow?"
     "Maybe two."
     "Maybe two? And you're telling me about literature?"
     "Well, you wanted to hear it, and besides, the whole thing's too complicated. Not even the people who're supposed to understand it understand anything. So why should we beat our brains out? Let's just read for the fun of it, and for the fun of getting it, and stop wondering if it's literature or not. Other people can take care of that. If it really is literature, all the better. And if it isn't, who the fuck cares?"

--benjamin lebert

I kept walking around the big room, pulling books off the shelves, reading a few lines, a few pages, then putting them back.
     Then one day I pulled a book down and opened it, and there it was. I stood for a moment, reading. Then like a man who had found gold in the city dump, I carried the book to the table. The lines rolled easily across the page, there was a flow. Each line had its own energy and was followed by another like it. The very substance of each line gave the page a form, a feeling of something carved into it. And here, at last, was a man who was not afraid of emotion. The humour and the pain were intermixed with a superb simplicity. The beginning of that book was a wild and enormous mircacle to me.
     I had a library card. I checked the book out, took it to my room, climbed into my bed and read it, and I knew long before I had finished that here was a man who had evolved a distinct way of writing.

--charles bukowski

As early as 1973, you said you were "tired of thinking," that "it didn't seem to help very much." Is there a little of that attitude in your retirement?

Well, yes. I guess it was either Camus or Sartre who said that because of technology, we no longer make history. History happens to us -- the new weaponry, the new communications and all that. I don't much want to play anymore. I enjoyed the game as a young man, but I don't enjoy it now. Early on, I would think of writing plays, for instance. But Broadway has so changed, there's no longer an opportunity.

You once said you were going to give up writing novels entirely and devote yourself strictly to plays.

I did write a couple. What's good about plays is you get extended families, and you can smoke backstage. [Laughs.]

No co-workers as a novelist, I guess.

No, it's a very lonely business. I knew Jack Kerouac at the very end, I knew Truman Capote at the very end, and they were all alone.

--kurt vonnegut, interviewed by salon

Wednesday, May 3, 2000
been reading about false dichotomies and their resolution through complex adaptive systems on synthetic zero! (apr. 29) and i got to thinking about bayesian statistical analysis, which has an intriguingly obscure founder and is apparently pretty useful when applied to a lot of stuff.

i want more eggposts!

andrew & eggposts sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g
first comes diaryland, then comes pitas, then comes... :)

do you ever get the feeling that andrew is carrying on some inside joke with himself that we're all a part of? i'm reminded of the sandkings.

i was visiting my 'post pals' - other pitas that post the same time as me, my neighbors really - and i came across bluesky, the private confessions of a canadian co-ed party kid! take it to diaryland sister!

Tuesday, May 2, 2000
on writing

I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living. They are:

(1) Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen -- in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all -- and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

(2) Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.

(3) Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

(4) Political purpose -- using the word "political" in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples' idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

Monday, May 1, 2000
chicago matters

i was watching wttw the other day and found myself absorbed in this show on balanced and restorative justice (BARJ), narrated by none other than scott turow! it's part of a series on 'seeking justice' and is re-airing beginning tonite through wednesday at ten.

i guess the idea behind BARJ is that contrition cannot be achieved unless a relationship is re-established between the individual, who committed some discrete wrong, and the rest of the community concerning its relevant context and causes. simply removing an offender from society is not an ideal solution, it requires a healing process. the show does a really good job of linking education and justice to create a framework for understanding how effective government and healthy societies operate. as one hall monitor so eloquently put it, "you have to believe in the system to make it work."

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