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The Hotsy Totsy Club

2000-03-21. . . Cholly Kokonino reporting

Word of the Day

Oleogarchy: Rule by the low in saturated fats.

. . . 2000-03-22

After twenty years, I conclude:
As long as we work in the software, academic, or entertainment industries, our lives will be controlled by maniacs or idiots.
I don't know what filters and transforms are in place to ensure this, but, whatever they are, they do their job a lot more effectively than we ever will.

. . . 2000-03-23

Christina La Sala supplies this visual aid to our continuing study of Modernism:

Descent of the Modernists

. . . 2000-03-24

Movie comment: Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.

Though Errol Morris has a nose for good stories, the smooth 1000-Strings-stylings of his bigger-budgeted recent movies haven't helped 'em along. They're constantly being interrupted by ads for themselves.

Through the first half of Mr. Death, I thought the perfect match for Morris's weirdly inflationary-but-insulting mannerisms had finally been found in Fred Leuchter. A completely transparent guy with jaw-droppingly clueless aplomb who loves to pose and play-act, Leuchter is a character worthy of a Kurt Vonnegut novel at least, maybe even a Nathanael West novel. The camera loves him like the ax loves the turkey.

From the Shoah-like trains that carted condemned men to the prison where Leuchter's father worked, all through Leuchter's own long and geekily proud career in improving the efficiency of death machines, I was thinking, yes, this is the best American movie ever made about the Holocaust, the only possible American movie about the Holocaust: one which shows how such an operation might find willing just-do-it workers among us regular narrow-minded free-thinking down-home never-admit-a-mistake American folks.

Well, it was the best American movie about the Holocaust till it got to the Holocaust-denial material, anyway. 'Cause then Morris started flailing, dragging in a chorus of disapproval and filming them like a VH-1 production of a PBS pledge drive. I guess he was afraid that he hadn't done a good enough job of letting Leuchter and Co. undercut themselves. Unfortunately, in a movie so focused on smug pomposity, hellfire sermons to the choir aren't likely to sway the unbeliever's sympathy.

Enjoy the Show Not that I'm against attacks on neo-Nazis. But Morris's style is kinder to bare fact than to strong opinion, which is why his most effective hostile witness is the chemist who unknowingly analyzed Leuchter's wall samples -- a genuinely scientific counterweight to Leuchter's amateurish investigator -- and why I wish he could've included the forensic analyses made in 1945 and the surefire laugh-getter that the building we saw Leuchter scraping so many of those wall samples from wasn't an original gas chamber at all but a reconstruction built after WWII. Instead we got a debate between one guy with an accent saying "This is an outrage!" and another guy with an accent saying "This is an outrage!"

A pity about the fumble, then (as David Irving might say about the Russian Campaign), but there's still a great story rolling under the interruptions. Leuchter continues to astound, and so do his new friends, most irresistably that Canucknut Mephistopheles, Ernst Zündel, who seems to remind just everyone of The Producers' Franz Liebkind....

. . . 2000-03-26

Critics rave: "A weblog for the ages. Ages six-to-eight."

. . . 2000-03-25

Neuraesthetics: The Poetic

Many disciplines implicitly assume a distinction between literal and figurative language, with the figurative posited as secondary and "poetic," a hoity-toity exception to the common run of the tongue. However, working language doesn't make much of that distinction. Rather than being treated as optional ornamentation, metaphor and simile are essential aspects of normal speech.

  1. Timing tests show that listeners don't wait until a literal meaning has been discarded before processing for metaphoric meaning. There are no clear differences in pauses or hesitations between literal and figurative speech.

  2. The ability to use figurative language develops long before the ability to rephrase it in terms of "literal" meaning.

    First comes use of figurative language ("my truck died"); then recognition of the correct paraphrases for figures of speech; then the ability to paraphrase; and finally the ability to explain the figures.

  3. Spoken language is richer than literary language.

    Speakers produce an average of 15 novel and 34 cliched figures of speech per 1000 words. One study of 500,000 words of American literature found only 3 novel figures per 1000 words. (A study of English Renaissance literature or hip-hop lyrics might show different results....)

Logical-minded philosophers are pretty much at the same level as folk etymologists when it comes to explaining cognitive processes, which I guess is why the pre-neural-net generation of AI research was such a flop. Doing the research always beats common-sense thinking in these games....

(Data from "Figurative language and cognitive psychology," Pollio, Smith, & Pollio, Language and Cognitive Processes, 1990)

. . . 2000-03-27

Continuing his series of commentaries on Election Year '00, here's Henry Adams with some thoughts about the Microsoft antitrust trial:
"The merits or demerits of the particular interest, -- what Roosevelt calls the good and bad trusts, -- concern particular districts or individuals; but this personal question surrenders the principle; nor can I see, as our society has now fixed itself, any loop-hole of escape. The suggestion that these great corporate organisms, which now perform all the vital functions of our social life, should behave themselves decently, gives away our contention that they have no right to exist. Nor am I prepared to admit that more decency can be attained through a legislature made up of similar people exercising similar illegal powers.

"As long as these people subject me, as person and property, to the arbitrary brutalities of the Custom House Jews in order to make money for private individuals in business, I shall be perfectly willing -- nay! I shall be singularly pleased,-- to see you Spokaners skinned by Jim Hill. None of you dare touch the essential facts. The whole fabric of our society will go to wreck if we really lay hands of reform on our rotten institutions. From top to bottom the whole system is a fraud,-- all of us know it, laborers and capitalists alike,-- and all of us are consenting parties to it.

"All we can hope to do is to teach men manners in wielding power, and I'll bet you ten to one, on the Day of Judgment, that we shall fail."

-- Henry Adams to his brother, September 1900

(Like most turn-of-the-last-century well-to-do non-Jewish Anglo-American intellectuals, Adams uses "Jew" as the catch-all term for anything that he doesn't like about big business, small business, middle European immigrants, bad taste, or urban life. I've never seen him use it to refer to religious practice.)

. . . 2000-03-28

Advances in fake personalized license plates sold in truck stops technology

I'll be released on my own recognizance as soon as I can remember my name. And to help me along is that fine new web service, (via Lake Effect).

It makes me want to record the audio from every movie ever made and then carefully snip out and compress every line that mentions a person's name and then upload them all. And not many web services have managed to do that!

. . . 2000-03-29

The first generation of Web designers came either from the print world or from the software design world. The nice thing is that the two worlds tend to make different mistakes which can be played off against each other. The nasty thing is that they agree on the importance of the Big Dumb Intro Page (or BDIP): a graphically intense page whose only useful element is a "Click Here!" button or a timer script that eventually takes the user where they wanted to go in the first place.

. . . 2000-03-31

Found in a tribute page, this trip from Drury to Dury via a Texas-sized Hawkwind:
"I've been a huge admirer of Ian Dury through his career, went to every gig I could and wrote him a fan letter after seeing Apples at the Royal Court. In my view he was the last great link with English popular culture, going back at least as far as Grimaldi. With all the same hatred of snobbery, hypocrisy and cruel wealth which all the great English popular entertainers have had. That said, he was also one of the greatest rock and roll performers ever, with about the best, tightest band ever. I once had a piss next to him when we were recording at the same studio but I was too shy to say hello. One of my very few regrets in life.

"Thanks for this chance to say a few words about a man who was, with Woody Guthrie and one or two others, one of my heroes.

"Mike Moorcock, Lost Pines, Texas."

+ + +

Congestive heart success

Sating the desire to have let all available space. A voluntary discomfort, like sitting in an odd position too long or lying underneath someone. It delimits, it's delovely. People have outlines; thus growing experiences (e.g., hernias) are painful.

I was dumped where once I filled. Roommatic fever: absence makes the heart grow enlarged.

Love in Disguise
Humus Where the Heart Is
(via Beth Rust)

. . . 2000-04-01

Mud-and-gun-slinging Movie Comment: If they'd only mentioned this particular example of Preposterous Casting in the print ads, I woulda gone seen it!
"... Sharon Stone as a gunslinging mole in Gloria ..."

. . . 2000-04-02

Frances Farmer Action Figure
"The gentleman reader cannot fairly be expected to work up a professional interest in a woman who picked up threads and ate them." -- newspaper review of The Shutter of Snow by Emily Holmes Coleman
Well, that's obviously changed. The Shutter of Snow must be the twentieth-or-so "woman goes crazy but eventually gets out of the institution" novel I've read. Which is the kind of number I'd a priori only expect from plotlines like "boy gets girl" or "detective solves mystery."

Let's take it for granted that insanity is interesting. Why the gender gap, then? Why the Padded Ceiling?

One obvious reason is that well-educated women are (still) more likely to be institutionalized than well-educated men. As the old formula goes, women are institutionalized, poor men are jailed, and the rest of us pretty much do what we want.

Another (not necessarily unrelated) reason is that story-consumers and story-makers prefer that protagonists who show weakness be female. And going crazy and recovering are both pretty obvious signs of weakness. When I was trying to write fiction about loonies I've known, most of whom have been male, I felt immense internal pressure to turn them into female characters instead. (Like, try imagining Repulsion with a male protagonist. No, I mean it: try. It's good for you.) The standard storylines tell us that women go into institutions because they go crazy and men go into institutions because they're rebels. Women get better and men keep insisting they were right. (Sylvia Plath vs. Ezra Pound; The Shutter of Snow vs. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest....) Men-going-under stories tend to be about addiction rather than madness: appetite, not fragility.

But there's another reason for the twentieth century having produced so many of these stories: the number of untold and unrecoverable stories left over from the nineteenth.

"My mom says that when she was growing up in New Zealand in the Fifties, there were three career options for women: emigrate, become an airline stewardess, or go crazy." -- Juliet Clark
Take out emigration and airlines, and you're left with the options for the nineteenth-century Anglo-American upper class. In feminist-backlash post-abolitionist late-1800s America, good girls had achieved Stendhal's proto-feminist dream: women were being educated but only so that they might be fitter companions to educated men. In the post-feminist era, it wouldn't be tasteful to try to be anything else. A nice New England woman in politics? Laughable. In literature? In art? Etc.
"Any woman learning Greek must buy fashionable dresses." -- Henry Adams regarding his wife, Clover Hooper Adams
The Civil War, with its bandage-making and fund-raising, was the high water mark of usefulness for the Adams/James generation of American women. Afterwards, if you were lucky, you could have children till you died in childbirth. If you weren't lucky, you either (like Alice James) shrunk into a mockingly dense point of invalidism or you found yourself over an abyss.
"We are working very hard, but it is all for ourselves." -- Clover Hooper Adams
An abyss-swimming man might clutch for a job; a woman could only be headed for the bin. And in the nineteenth century they tended not to come back out.
"I shall proclaim that any one who spends her life as an appendage to five cushions and three shawls is justified in committing the sloppiest kind of suicide at a moment's notice." -- Alice James
As a girl, Clover Hooper swapped dark comparisons of the hospitals that swallowed up her female relatives and friends:
"I wish it might have been Worcester instead of Somerville which is such a smelly hideous place."
As an adult, after almost a year of depression, she poisoned herself with her own photo-developing chemicals rather than face institutionalization.
"Ellen I'm not real -- Oh make me real -- you are all of you real!" -- Clover Hooper Adams to her sister, a few months before her death
A hundred years' worth of vanished victims seems to call for at least fifty years' worth of survivor testimony: It is possible to come out of the bin; it is possible to describe it....

Of course, the downside of so much survivor testimony is that the survivors are likely to get fetishized. And then a demand naturally develops, and the supply of survivors has to be periodically replenished....

Step Inside

... an' anotha thing ...... then again ...

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
All other material: Copyright 2000 Ray Davis.