Archive for August, 2003

Salam Pax, Superstar

Salam Pax has a book coming out with the Guardian Press. Salam’s self-deprecating humor about the whole thing is refreshing. Who will they cast when “Salam Pax: The Movie” comes out? I’m seeing an Adrien Brody-type. Any suggestions?

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Small Town Campaigning in the 21st Century

Interesting article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (really!) on the ability of Howard Dean’s online campaign to reach small-town America. Matt Towery notes that less-populated communities often rely heavily on the Web for entertainment and information, making Dean’s blog a useful campaign tool for reaching those voters. Living in Atlanta and working on a university campus, I have a difficult time gauging what is going on outside the Perimeter (or OTP in the local parlance), so I don’t really have a strong basis for understanding the full effect of Dean’s Internet-based campaign. Still, I think the full effects of this type of campaigning are waiting to be measured (other candidates with campaign blogs clearly aren’t using Dean’s techniques nearly as effectively).

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Dubya Action Figure

I’m not sure how long this link will last, but this George W. Bush Air National Guard Action Figure is the hottest collectible on the market today!

Might be a nice companion piece to this “Elite Force Aviator” for sale from KB Toys.

Update: The [first] e-bay link is now gone. The “action figure” consisted of an empty box. Wish I’d saved the selling script now. It was pretty funny–you have to believe me.

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Upcoming Time-Bending Films

Reading Cinescape, I was happy to disocver that it looks like I’ll have plenty of material to write about in the next few months:

  • The Butterfly Effect: A young man haunted by childhood memories discovers a technique for traveling in time, creating huge changes in the future. It’s supposed to be pretty dark, along the lines of Twelve Monkeys.
  • Paycheck: Based on a Philip K. Dick story about a man who has his memory routinely erased. The good news: John Woo is directing. The bad news: Ben Affleck is starring.
  • I, Robot: Not time-travel, but still looks promising. Alex Proays, one of my favorites, is directing. Also sounds like they’ll use CGI in an interesting way: Alan Tudyk, playing Sonny, will have his features enhanced to make his mannerisms appear more mechanical.

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Truth and Blogging

I’m still in the process of collecting links about the ethics of blogging. I think it is an important topic in terms of defining blogs. In my original post, I commented that “My own tendency is to avoid revising.” Oddly enough, I ended up revising that entry a couple of times before publishing it, in part due to my own developing thoughts on the topic.

As I was writing, I was struggling with clarifying the distinction between my personal practices and the habits of other bloggers and the expectations I have for them. Like Liz, I don’t want to establish anything like a prescriptive set of rules for other bloggers. I think that Jonathan Delacour’s reference to Dave Rogers is relevant here: calls for authenticity are often wrapped up in desires to appeal to an Authority in order to silence people whose opinions might be different than yours.

I do think that audience expectations are a major part of writing. Matt’s comment about the social quality of all writing seems relevant here. My writing has certainly changed as my audience has grown and changed from a few close friends to some close colleagues and beyond. I want to produce something interesting and thoughtful for them to read, and I hope I’m doing that. I also recognize my position as both author and audience member and hope that I can learn something from what I write (my blog has served me quite well as an “external memory” tool and as a means for becoming a more confident writer, for example).

I also find that Jonathan Delacour (in the same entry as above) has articulated nicely one of the issues at stake in calls for accountability in blogging: the distinction between Rebecca Blood’s frame of reference in journalism and other frameworks, such as academic blogging. Again, I think that one of the central questions here is audience–a “journalistic” blog’s readers will have much different expectations than an academic blog’s (assuming that these categories are at all distinct). I’ll likely correct my mistakes if–or when–I make them (but only if someone in my audience calls me on it), but because my blog generally involves my effort to track ideas, I prefer to see that evolution unfold as it happens on my blog.

What is even more surprising are the demands for authenticity in fiction writing, with the discussion of William Gibson’s qualifications for describing amphetamine use being a prime example. I think Gibson’s response to this question is rather apt:

As someone else points out, I’m not experientially qualified to describe what it feels like to be a woman either, but I persist in doing that as well.

In part, I think this desire for authenticity might be a response to our hypermediated culture. Or it might derive from the challenges posed to our interpretive faculties by new technologies–we want new media to resemble familiar older technologies. In the long run, I do think that blogs should be given space to become whatever they are going to be. I enjoy the experimentation the form allows, and if I have any sense of accountability, I think it comes from that desire–the wish to provide something entertaining, interesting, or informative to my audience.

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Photography as Memory

I really like Miles Hochstein’s “Doucmented Life,” a year by year autodocumentary in photos. It will hopefully fit nicely into my planned discussions of documentary, archive, and narrative in my English 1101 course. His reflection on photography and memory in his 1999 entry is particularly striking:

1999? It is far too recent for me to remember anything. […]

But actual memories? I’m afraid I don’t have any… just photos.

Hochstein’s autodocumentary brings me back to two related film thoughts. As usual, I can’t avoid thinking about Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil in which the fictional filmmaker, Sandor Krasna (a stand-in for Marker), reflects that the images he captures with his camera are his memory.

The other is the 1995 Paul Auster and Wayne Wang film, Smoke, in which the film’s central character (it wouldn’t make sense to call him a protagonist in this amazingly decentred film), Auggie takes pictures from the front of his Brooklyn cigar store at 7 AM every day. Beautifully preserved in several volumes of photo albums, Auggie has an autodocumentary of his little street corner. At one point, Auggie shares his hobby with Paul, a novelist (played by William Hurt) impatiently flips through the albums insisting that they are “all the same.” At Auggie’s insistence, Paul slows down and looks closely at each photo, at which point differences begin to emerge (some of which I’d rather not reveal to people who haven’t seen the film). It’s a powerful meditation on the relationship between photography and memory, between photography and cinema. I have to see it again soon.

Perhaps the fact that 1999 is too recent to “remember” is what is at stake for Hochstein. It hasn’t fallen into a clear narrative yet, still caught up in the anticipation of the future, of narratives that are, as yet, unresolved (thanks to Jill Walker for the link to “Documented Life”).

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Six Degrees

Came across Duncan Watts’ Small World project on Blogdex today. Watts was trying to test the “six degrees of separation” hypothesis–the idea that humans are separated by less than six links. I was somewhat surprised by Watts’ conclusions–that the Internet has not significantly increased the social networks that reduce these links, essentially making the world “smaller.” I do have some questions about his methodology: People were instructed to try to link to several targets, but links that appear to bring two people closer might actually fail to do so. But I’m not sure I disagree with his conclusions. The “six degrees” phenomenon (and its variation, “The Kevin Bacon Game“) felt like narratives designed to explain the vast scope of cyberspace, simultaneously making it larger (it covers the whole world) and smaller (so we’re really one big community) at the same time.

[Brief aside: How cool is this? Now they have an Oracle of Baseball based on the Kevin Bacon game that links “any two major league players by a shortest possible list of teammates.”]

A good article summarizing Watts’ “Small World” results apears in New Scientist, inlcuding the rather interesting observation that “messages were also more likely to reach their target if they were forwarded to someone of the same sex.”

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Beam Me Up, Howard

Check out the latest group to offer their support for Howard Dean (via Atrios).

Meanwhile, Bob Graham’s campaign has been keeping a blog for nearly a month now (with several entries by Graham himself taking Bush to task for neglecting “Osama bin Forgotten”). Given Graham’s penchant for recording his experiences, blogging may quickly become a useful medium for him.

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Self-Indulgent Teaching Resource Post

I’m polishing off my syllabus for fall semester (yes, I know the new school year starts in ten days!) and blogging will be major component of the course, so I just wanted to list a few useful resources for class discussion on blogging etiquette by Jonathan Delacour, Jill Walker, and Rebecca Blood. In addition Matt has an interesting entry (with discussion) on “blog flutter.”

One of the major issues at stake here is whether or not it is appropriate to revise your posts once you’ve published them. My own tendency is to avoid revising. If I’m not confident about something I’ve written, I’ll usually save it as a draft before publishing it in a public space. Once something I’ve written is “out there,” I usually feel ambivalent about avoid taking it out. I like the idea of the blog as “externalized memory” for what I was thinking at a certain time, on a certain day, even if I change my mind (or even if it has the effect of making me more forgetful!). If I find something particularly embarassing (or if I get a fact wrong), I’ll add an update. I’m aware of the fact that because it is externalized and public, a blog isn’t a full or complete reflection of my experience, but I think it can be a useful tool for tracking my thoughts and ideas.

I was also intrigued by Dave Winer’s comparison between television and weblogs:

Now that people have set up a system to record everything on Scripting that I post within five minute intervals, I don’t think I’ll be writing any more of that stuff here. I guess it’s time for weblogs to become like television. Polished and politically correct. Impersonal. Commercial. That’s what they’re really saying. When there’s no room to change your mind, there’s no way to take a chance. That’s about it. They found a way to stop me from taking chances.

Of course, Winer’s position on revising differs considerably from mine (although his arguments are becoming more persuasive as I write), but I think the comparison with television is interesting, especially the suggestion that this recording technology will reproduce the apparent banality of TV in the blogosphere because people might not “take chances.” Because blogging is usually informal and less profit-driven, I do think there is more room for experimentation than on NBC’s Thursday night lineup, that audiences will be more forgiving of people taking chances. Of course, the important distinction is that TV “forgets” (the credits roll, the show ends, a beer commercial comes on…) and archives don’t.

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Taranto Likes His Grapes Sour

I’m thinking that one of the projects in the Freshman Composition course I’m teaching will be a rhetorical analysis of a weblog. With that in mind, I might ask them to read this article by James Taranto from the Wall Street Journal Online that claims that political blogs are not well-suited to the medium because they are not sarcastic enough:

Blogging, in short, thrives on sarcasm. Politics doesn’t. So it’s hardly surprising that Dr. Dean’s blog is earnest to the point of sanctimony, all we-can-make-a-difference and let’s-build-a-better-America.

It’s pretty clear that Taranto has his own goals in dissing Dean’s blog, and he’s making a hasty generalization or two about the blogosphere. After all, Dean’s blog seems to be working pretty well, thank you very much (note: in the fifteen minutes I composed this entry, at least ten new comments were added to Dean’s blog). And pardon the sarcasm deflation, but since when did believing that one can make a difference become a bad thing?

Still, the editorial might serve as a useful starting point for talking about audience, argument, that sort of thing. Howard Rheingold also has an interesting comment or two about Dean’s grassroots use of blogging.

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Sei Shonagon

I’m working on an article on Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (probably my “favorite” film, for reasons I can’t quite explain), and it occurred to me that Marker’s film is thematically linked to Greenaway’s Pillow Book through the figure of Sei Shonagon.

Greenaway’s film is loosely based on her eleventh century text, The Pillow Book, while Marker uses Sei Shonigon’s book as a recurrent motif for thinking about his cinematic meditation on/construction of everyday life. I haven’t seen the Greenaway film in a long time (maybe since 1996, when I thought about writing a paper on it), but there seems to be an important connection to be made here.

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New Theory of Time?

Via Blogdex: I’m generally skeptical of any theory that offers itself as “ground-breaking,” but Peter Lynds’ “Time and Classical and Quantum Mechanics: Indeterminacy vs. Discontinuity,” soon to be published in Foundations of Physics Letters is apparently making waves, specifically for the Lynds’ apparent resolution of two of the most famous of Zeno’s Paradoxes.

The most famous involves an arrow being fired toward a target. Zeno argued that the arrow should never reach its destination because before it does, it has to travel half the distance to the target, when it again must travel half that distance, and so on. Lyndes’ solution to the paradox is that motion cannot be derived from freezing objects in a single instant:

According to both ancient and present day physics, objects in motion have determined relative positions. Indeed, the physics of motion from Zeno to Newton and through to today take this assumption as given. Lynds says that the paradoxes arose because people assumed wrongly that objects in motion had determined positions at any instant in time, thus freezing the bodies motion static at that instant and enabling the impossible situation of the paradoxes to be derived. “There’s no such thing as an instant in time or present moment in nature. It’s something entirely subjective that we project onto the world around us. That is, it’s the outcome of brain function and consciousness.”

I may be misreading Lyndes’ argument slightly, but it sounds similar to Bergson’s critique of Zeno–and by extension–the cinema for attempting to re-create movement from static instants. Zeno’s paradox transforms the movement of the arrow into its trajectory, the line that it follows through its course, which as Doane points out in her discussion of Bergson’s critique of Zeno, is infinitely divisible. In short, “movement cannot be reconstituted from immobilities” (174).

Lynds does extend this logic to suggest that there is no necessary progression of time, that time is essentially directionless, which is a much different conclusion than the one Bergson (who is highly invested in duration) makes, but I’m not sure this is an entirely new position either. I’m just not ready to tackle it right now.

The article touting Lynds’ discoveries has the language of a press release, which only adds to my incredulity, and part of the “fantasy” embedded in the tone of the article emphasizes Lynds’ status as an “untutored” genius, the next Einstein, whose ideas were not acceptable within the mainstream academic and scientific establishments. A copy of Lyndes’ paper, “Zeno’s Paradoxes: A Timely Solution,” is available online in PDF format.

I realize I’m coming across as a little harsh here, and I don’t mean to be. I still feel more like a dabbler when it comes to theories of time, and my main interest in cinematic constructions of time focuses more on the ideological implications of these temporalities. In fact, I’m not sure that I disagree with Lynds’ reading of Zeno; I’m just not sure these ideas are entirely new (lively discussion available at Slashdot).

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Two More Political Bloggers

After Howard Dean’s recent campaign success in the blogosphere, two more Dems, Senator Tom Daschle and Representative (and Presidential candidate) Dennis Kucinich have started blogs.

Daschle’s “Travels with Tom” focuses on his “unscheduled driving tour” (even Daschle uses scare quotes here!) of South Dakota during the August recess. His project feels more like an online diary than a blog (no room for comments, etc). So far, Kucinich’s seems to be a more conventional campaign blog, focusing on his voting record and celebrity endorsements (Willie Nelson) and such. Still, both should prove to be interesting reads.

While I’m at it, there is an interesting article in today’s New York Times about the Fedreal Writers’ Project, especially the discussion of the sheer volume of materials produced by some of the most important American writers of the twentieth century, including Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Saul Bellow, and Zora Neale Hurston. The Writers’ Project was eventually derailed by Communist witchhunter, Representative Martin Dies Jr., the subject of one of my favorite recent films, Tim Robbins’ Cradle Will Rock. I forget who said it, but the reviewer who praised the film’s final shot is absolutely right: it’s “brilliant.”

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And while this happened…

Another cool concept via Elouise and Jill: Tinka’s investigation and undoing of the paratexts of blogging. Tinka has already toyed with the author’s autobiography, but she also has dispensed with the date stamp on her entries. Her title for every entry (at least on the front page), “And while this happened, another thing ocurred,” calls attention to the afterimage effect I was trying to think about the other day, that separate entries imply an artificial separation between ideas, when, in fact, our experiences, our thinking is never truly that discrete. I think that’s where my discomfort with that kind of “segmentation” arises.

In other news, George is coming to town. Cool!

Update: Hmmm…the title of each entry in Tinka’s blog seems to have changed.

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