Wednesday, February 18

Here is my new favorite idea for a band name or maybe the title of a book of poetry no one is ever going to read:

"Melancholy Industrial Complex"

Great, right?

Yeah, I tell you what, I'm gonna use that, so don't even think about stealing it.

You bastards.

Wednesday, February 11

So I finished Anathem the other night. It's the first of Stephenson's novels I've read in its entirety since somewhere around the first volume of The Baroque Cycle.

I don't want to get very far into spoiler-land, but I think this is an important book. It can almost be read as Stephenson's answer to The Dispossessed, or at any rate to many of the problems that animate it — both are about gifted people in a tradition-bound, deliberately constrained social order which is at once admirable and deeply flawed, and both ask questions about science, research, intellectual progress, and the individual's place in a communal order.

I don't mean to say that Anathem has quite the emotional depth or power of The Dispossessed; it doesn't. In part this is just because Le Guin is very good at what she does, and it doesn't mean a whole lot to say that a book affected me less than The Dispossessed. Most books do. That said, I think it's also because so much of Anathem is concerned directly with transcribing its characters' dialogs (frequently in the formal sense) about various facets of reality, and with situating a whole bunch of real-world ideas in a kind of coded and moderately shuffled other-world history.1 Which is generally fascinating.

If you've read the book, it's worth checking out the web-based acknowledgments, which aren't the detailed footnotes I'd really like, but do point in all kinds of interesting directions.

1 Of course, I guess Le Guin does this too, but it's generally more Bakunin / Proudhon / Kropotkin than Archimedes / Socrates / Gödel.

Monday, February 9

I observe without further comment that New Zealand banned the sale & use of BZP last year.

Sunday, February 8

Up until 5 this time. Still have not finished the book.

Friday, February 6

Henry Farrell, Partisanship, Ideology and Loyalty:

The second problem that Brink points to is real again, but is similarly more general than partisanship. It isn't only partisans who have incentives to shade the truth to protect comrades, or to avoid punishment by their peers. It's anyone who works within an organization or coalition. The New Republic — a magazine which has on occasion criticized leftwing bloggers for their over-eagerness to toe the party line is a good example. I suspect that many people who write for the New Republic believe that their editor-in-chief, Martin Peretz, is both nasty and crazy. Yet (perhaps with a couple of exceptions) they aren't going to say this in public places, because they don't want to be fired or blacklisted. Loyalty and compromises are again, not a specific problem of parties.

I feel like it's self-evident that there are enormous problems with political parties, particularly in America, where thousands of people routinely use a term like "bipartisan" while somehow keeping a straight face. Regardless, this is well worth reading. It clicks in my head a bit with ideas stirring around in the first couple hundred pages of Stephenson's Anathem, which I was (naturally) reading until about 4am.

Thursday, February 5

Split Lip Rayfield last night at the Fox. What an amazing band. This is the first time I've managed to see them outside of the campground stages at Winfield (7 & 5), an environment which is at once something like perfect and probably an incredibly difficult place to project anything much at all. You can't help knowing that Kirk is missing, which I guess everyone who writes anything about them for the rest of time is going to mention. But you're glad they're playing. At least I am. Maybe in part because of all that.