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Wednesday, September 27, 2006
the mold of yancy

"Yancy is a synthesis," Sipling explained. "A sort of composite person. No such individual actually exists. We drew on basic prototypes from sociological records; we based the gestalt on various typical persons. So it's true to life. But we stripped off what we didn't want, and intensified what we did want."

Broodingly, he added: "There could be a Yancy. There are a lot of Yancy-like people. In fact, that's the problem."

"You deliberately set out with the idea of remolding people along Yancy's line?" Taverner inquired.

"I can't precisely say what the idea is, at top level. I was an ad writer for a mouth wash company. The Callisto authorities hired me and outlined what they wanted me to do. I've had to guess as to the purpose of the project."

"By authorities, you mean the governing council?"

Sipling laughed sharply. "I mean the trading syndicates that own this moon: lock, stock, and barrel. But we're not supposed to call it a moon. It's a planet." His lips twitched bitterly. "Apparently, the authorities have a big program built up. It involves absorbing their trade rivals on Ganymede - when that's done, they'll have the out-planets sewed up tight."

"They can't get at Ganymede without open war," Taverner protested. "The Medean companies have their own population behind them." And then it dawned. "I see," he said softly. "They'd actually start a war. It would be worth a war, to them."

"You're damn right it would. And to start a war, they have to get the public lined up. Actually, the people here have nothing to gain. A war would wipe out all the small operators - it would concentrate power in fewer hands - and they're few enough already. To get the eighty million people here behind the war, they need an indifferent, sheep-like public. And they're getting that. When this Yancy campaign is finished, the people here on Callisto will accept anything. Yancy does all their thinking for them. He tells them how to wear their hair. What games to play. He tells the jokes the men repeat in their back rooms. His wife whips up the meal they all have for dinner. All over this little world - millions of duplicates of Yancy's day. Whatever he does, whatever he believes. We've been conditioning the public for eleven straight years. The important thing is the unvarying monotony of it. A whole generation is growing up looking to Yancy for an answer to everything."

"It's a big business, then," Taverner observed. "This project of creating and maintaining Yancy."

"Thousands of people are involved in just writing the material. You only saw the first stage - and it goes into every city. Tapes, films, books, magazines, posters, pamphlets, dramatic visual and audio shows, plants in the newspapers, sound trucks, kids' comic strips, word-of-mouth report, elaborate ads ... the works. A steady stream of Yancy." Picking up a magazine from the coffee table he indicated the lead article. " 'How is John Yancy's Heart?' Raises the question of what would we do without Yancy? Next week, an article on Yancy's stomach." Acidly, Sipling finished: "We know a million approaches. We turn it out of every pore. We're called yance-men; it's a new art-form."

"How do you - the corps, feel about Yancy?"

"He's a big sack of hot air."

"None of you is convinced?"

"Even Babson has to laugh. And Babson is at the top; after him come the boys who sign the checks. God, if we ever started believing in Yancy ... if we got started thinking that trash meant something-" An expression of acute agony settled over Sipling's face. "That's it. That's why I can't stand it."

"Why?" Taverner asked, deeply curious. His throat-mike was taking it all in, relaying it back to the home office at Washington. "I'm interested in finding out why you broke away."

Sipling bent down and called his son. "Mike, stop playing and come on over here." To Taverner he explained: "Mike's nine years old. Yancy's been around as long as he's been alive."

Mike came dully over. "Yes, sir?"

"What kind of marks do you get in school?" his father asked.

The boy's chest stuck out proudly; he was a clear-eyed little miniature of Leon Sipling. "All A's and B's."

"He's a smart kid," Sipling said to Taverner. "Good in arithmetic, geography, history, all that stuff." Turning to the boy he said: "I'm going to ask you some questions; I want this gentleman to hear your answers. Okay?"

"Yes, sir," the boy said obediently.

His thin face grim, Sipling said to his son: "I want to know what you think about war. You've been told about war in school; you know about all the famous wars in history. Right?"

"Yes, sir. We learned about the American Revolution, and the First Global War, and then the Second Global War, and then the First Hydrogen War, and the War between the colonists on Mars and Jupiter."

"To the schools," Sipling explained tightly to Taverner, "we distribute Yancy material - educational subsidies in packet form. Yancy takes children through history, explains the meaning of it all. Yancy explains natural science. Yancy explains good posture and astronomy and every other thing in the universe. But I never thought my own son ... " His voice trailed off unhappily, then picked up life. "So you know all about war. Okay, what do you think of war?"

Promptly, the boy answered: "War is bad. War is the most terrible thing there is. It almost destroyed mankind."

Eying his son intently, Sipling demanded: "Did anybody tell you to say that?"

The boy faltered uncertainly. "No, sir."

"You really believe those things?"

"Yes, sir. It's true, isn't it? Isn't war bad?"

Sipling nodded. "War is bad. But what about just wars?"

Without hesitation the boy answered: "We have to fight just wars, of course"

"Why?"

"Well, we have to protect our way of life."

"Why?"

Again, there was no hesitation in the boy's reedy answer.

"We can't let them walk over us, sir. That would encourage aggressive war. We can't permit a world of brute power. We have to have a world of-" He searched for the exact word. "A world of law."

Wearily, half to himself, Sipling commented: "I wrote those meaningless, contradictory words myself, eight years ago." Pulling himself together with a violent effort he asked: "So war is bad. But we have to fight just wars. Well, maybe this -planet, Callisto, will get into a war with ... let's pick Ganymede, at random." He was unable to keep the harsh irony from his voice. "Just at random. Now, we're at war with Ganymede. Is it a just war? Or only a war?"

This time, there was no answer. The boy's smooth face was screwed up in a bewildered, struggling frown.

"No answer?" Sipling inquired icily.

"Why, uh," the boy faltered. "I mean... " He glanced up hopefully. "When the time comes won't somebody say?"

"Sure," Sipling choked. "Somebody will say. Maybe even Mr. Yancy." Relief flooded the boy's face. "Yes, sir. Mr. Yancy will say." He retreated back toward the other children. "Can I go now?"

As the boy scampered back to his game, Sipling turned miserably to Taverner. "You know what game they're playing? It's called Hippo-Hoppo. Guess whose grandson just loves it. Guess who invented the game." There was silence.

"What do you suggest?" Taverner asked. "You said you thought something could be done."

A cold expression appeared on Sipling's face, a flash of deeply-felt cunning. "I know the project ... I know how it can be pried apart. But somebody has to stand with a gun at the head of the authorities. In nine years I've come to see the essential key to the Yancy character ... the key to the new type of person we're growing, here. It's simple. It's the element that makes that person malleable enough to be led around."

"I'll bite," Taverner said patiently, hoping the line to Washington was good and clear.

"All Yancy's beliefs are insipid. The key is thinness. Every part of his ideology is diluted: nothing excessive. We've come as close as possible to no beliefs ... you've noticed that. Wherever possible we've cancelled attitudes out, left the person apolitical. Without a viewpoint."

"Sure," Taverner agreed. "But with the illusion of a viewpoint."

"All aspects of personality have to be controlled; we want the total person. So a specific attitude has to exist for each concrete question. In every respect, our rule is: Yancy believes the least troublesome possibility. The most shallow. The simple, effortless view, the view that fails to go deep enough to stir any real thought."

Taverner got the drift. "Good solid lulling views." Excitedly he hurried on, "But if an extreme original view got in, one that took real effort to work out, something that was hard to live... "

"Yancy plays croquet. So everybody fools around with a mallet." Sipling's eyes gleamed. "But suppose Yancy had a preference for- Kriegspiel."

"For what?"

"Chess played on two boards. Each player has his own board, with a complete set of men. He never sees the other board. A moderator sees both; he tells each player when he's taken a piece, or lost a piece, or moved into an occupied square, or made an impossible move, or checked, or is in check himself."

"I see," Taverner said quickly. "Each player tries to infer his opponent's location on the board. He plays blind. Lord, it would take every mental faculty possible"

"The Prussians taught their officers military strategy that way. It's more than a game: it's a cosmic wrestling match. What if Yancy sat down in the evening with his wife and grandson, and played a nice lively six-hour game of Kriegspiel? Suppose his favorite books -instead of being western gun-toting anachronisms - were Greek tragedy? Suppose his favorite piece of music was Bach's Art of the Fugue, not My Old Kentucky Home?"

"I'm beginning to get the picture," Taverner said, as calmly as possible. "I think we can help."
interview with steven soderbergh
BLVR: What sort of porn are you watching?

SS: I’m not interested in the well-produced porn with good lighting. That ruins it. Maybe there are people for whom that takes the onus off. I like the amateur stuff. It’s fascinating—as much of it as there is around, in our culture at least, it’s still so powerful. The portrayal of these acts, the documentation of these acts—people are sort of numb to watching violence, but sexual activity is still as strong as it ever was in terms of generating response.

BLVR: Do you think that’s just in the U.S.?

SS: No… and in a way you could see that as a good sign, I suppose. You wish people wouldn’t become so numb to violence. Everybody has sex, but not everybody is experiencing violence. I feel like porn is such a better marker… if I were to have a political party—and I think we do need a third political party—porn is such a better way to determine someone’s mindset than whether they’re Republican or Democrat. We should have a political party, and the things that make people a part of it should be more interesting than “Are you pro-business, or pro–health care?” Let’s make it more interesting, more personal. We need a third party. We’d need some money and some friends—or maybe we don’t… maybe now with technology where it is we don’t need that much money.

I’m trying to come up with some names, because that’s the most important thing.

BLVR: And the mascot.

SS: What about calling it the Life of the Party Party? That’s too glib. It’s got to be something you like saying a lot, but it shouldn’t be serious.

What I need to find out, from someone like Malcolm Gladwell, is how do people change their minds? What is the process by which a person changes their mind about a deeply held belief? What’s the thing that clicks over for them? I have no idea. Clearly people do change their mind about things, but how does that work? Is it gradual, sudden? Is it through a peer? What’s the source of the information? I’d love to know how that works. You might be talking about ideas that people from either side might find a little odd or dangerous. I could figure this out! I’d love to know the mechanism by which people decide they now think differently about an issue. We’ve got to figure that out first.

BLVR: Is it going to be one particular issue?

SS: No. You have to determine what people will listen to, who they’ll listen to. What resonates with them? What kind of information resonates with them?

BLVR: A lot of people are just shut off.

SS: I think it’s because, and both sides are guilty of this—which is what this party is getting rid of—marginalizing, ignoring, or denying any factual information that doesn’t line up with your belief system. Truth and facts have to trump partisanship. There has to be something that’s true regardless of what your angle is on it. There’s always plenty of blame in both directions when you get into politics, and I have a problem with that. I have a problem with having to toe the party line because it’s the party line, even though there are factual reasons that maybe disagree. This is the thing we’ve got to solve.

I’ve got to do my homework. What’s the process in starting a third party? You’ve got to get on the ballot. You need signatures to get on any ballot.

BLVR: You need to come up with a style that will resonate with people. I’m struck by how political commercials always seem twenty years out of date even though there’s so much money behind them.

SS: First of all, they shouldn’t have the candidate in them. That’s going to be the whole point of our party—the ideas are bigger then any one person. It’s not about somebody’s face.

BLVR: How do you condense all the ideas into thirty seconds?

SS: You do a whole series. They might have to be sixty seconds.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006
over long swathes of empty stretches
he collected coincidences

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