November 2005

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I ran across a new article in Wired about Ray Kurzweil’s ideas about immortality — using technology to transform ourselves into everlasting containers of our essential being — and it occurred to me that the concept behaves much like the horcrux from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Maybe Arthur C Clarke was right about technology and magic?

I had no idea Google had a repository of all its special-occasion logos.

Google Holiday Logos

Adam Gopnik has an excellent piece on C.S. Lewis in this week’s New Yorker: Prisoner of Narnia.

He reminds us of a few important things to keep in mind about Lewis (he’s viewed differently in Britain, for instance), and discusses his brand of religious belief, and how it kept him in a sort of internal tension between belief and myth.

Gopnik manages to articulate something that’s always bugged me about the Narnia stories as “Christian” allegory:

Yet a central point of the Gospel story is that Jesus is not the lion of the faith but the lamb of God, while his other symbolic animal is, specifically, the lowly and bedraggled donkey. The moral force of the Christian story is that the lions are all on the other side. If we had, say, a donkey, a seemingly uninspiring animal from an obscure corner of Narnia, raised as an uncouth and low-caste beast of burden, rallying the mice and rats and weasels and vultures and all the other unclean animals, and then being killed by the lions in as humiliating a manner as possible—a donkey who reëmerges, to the shock even of his disciples and devotees, as the king of all creation—now, that would be a Christian allegory. A powerful lion, starting life at the top of the food chain, adored by all his subjects and filled with temporal power, killed by a despised evil witch for his power and then reborn to rule, is a Mithraic, not a Christian, myth.

Now who’s going to write *that* story?? I’d like to see it. But, alas, I probably won’t. Instead I’ll see Lewis’ stories further glorified in film.

It’s not that I don’t like his stories. They’re fine, really. Old-fashioned, but fine, and quite inspired and beautiful in places. But I don’t think they’re very accurate or helpful as Christian allegory.

Philip Pullman, the author of the “His Dark Materials” books, has made clear his own feelings on the Narnia books. In the wake of Disney’s working so hard to publicize the new Narnia films, and evidently to capitalize on the huge evangelical Christian market for the stories, Pullman has been pretty strident. In the Guardian:

‘If the Disney Corporation wants to market this film as a great Christian story, they’ll just have to tell lies about it,’ Pullman told The Observer.
Pullman believes that Lewis’s books portray a version of Christianity that relies on martial combat, outdated fears of sexuality and women, and also portrays a religion that looks a lot like Islam in unashamedly racist terms.
‘It’s not the presence of Christian doctrine I object to so much as the absence of Christian virtue. The highest virtue, we have on the authority of the New Testament itself, is love, and yet you find not a trace of that in the books,’ he said.

Well, I think that may be a bit harsh. You do find certain kinds of love, but not precisely the mix I happen to find in the Gospels. In fact, great swaths seem to be missing.

At any rate, I think as fantasy the stories are pretty successful. I don’t hold them in holy reverence like so many do, though. But I think that until I read these articles, I was sort of afraid to admit that out loud, for some reason.

On their book-brand site, John Seely Brown and John Hagel have a nicely articulate PDF up for grabs for anyone who wants to register. The article is called “Interest Rates vs. Innovation Rates.”

Here’s a nice bit:

In their relentless quest for efficiency, companies have tended to shy away from the edge. Edges represent uncertainty, while executives crave predictability. Edges generate friction as employees explore, experiment and tinker with unfamiliar needs and opportunities, while management roots out friction wherever it can. With appropriate management techniques, friction can become highly productive, generating valuable innovation and learning.

I’ve been hearing lots of level-headed, wise CEO’s lately say that they’re not interested in the “cutting edge” or that super-radical “bleeding edge”: that it’s not always prudent to be first or do something for the sake of novelty or hype.

But that depends on how you define the edges. The way they talk about edges, typically, is as a straw-man concept. (Who the heck *does* want to do something new for its own sake?? )

The problem is when that kind of thinking makes us comfortable with the status quo and slow, tunnel-visioned, incremental improvement. What I like about this article is that Hagel & Brown are redefining what “edge” means.

The point is that edges represent the intersection of established ways of doing things with new needs and new possibilities. It is this ntersection that creates a fertile ground for innovation and capability building. Employees are forced out of their comfort zones and pushed to question and refine traditional practices.

Asking hard questions about the edges is a great way to start.

There’s a glowing paean over on AlterNet (via Common Ground) on ‘Howl’ at Fifty, about Allen Ginsberg’s first public reading of his seminal poem.

The article says he “brought American poetry back to life,” but I’d have to disagree. The Beats certainly helped things along, but American poetry was doing quite well already, thank you. The Modernists had kicked plenty of ass before WWII, as had the Fugitives (who, if you count the critics who were born of their numbers, were unbelievably influential) and then after WWII (and somewhat before) the Black Mountain School was powerfully influential, setting the stage for a lot of what the Beats celebrated.

Evidently what he means is that the Beats “… brought poetry down from the sacrosanct halls of the academy. It took poetry off the musty printed page into the lives of listeners.”

It engaged more regular folks on the street? That would seem like an odd way to define “back to life” — we don’t hold other art forms to that standard. Charlie Parker injected new life into American music, but only people who loved Jazz “got it” at the time.

This is terribly ignorant … poetry was far from sacrosanct and academic. It was thriving in America, in journals and small magazines and readings, correspondence and publishing. There’s something about the Beat-to-Hippie cultural event that allows people to glom onto it and not think any more about anything else. Because everything else is “musty” or “academic.” Hey, maybe I sound like a curmudgeon here, but that’s just lazy thinking. And it’s the sort of thing for which Ginsberg would’ve cuffed you about the ears.

I met Allen Ginsberg, and had the blessing of spending a couple of days in his company, about 12 years ago. He was downright spry, and in constant search of macrobiotic food (“for the diabeetus”), and furtively snapping pictures with his Leica. He wore a suit the whole time.

He ran a poetry workshop on campus one day (yeah, a campus, one of those musty academic ones) in which he drilled everyone on basic poetics and referred to some very old examples of poetry as models. In fact, he mentioned none of his contemporaries when discussing the best influences for poetry, that I remember. And when he performed his poems, he took about 15 minutes of the reading to sing some of William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience” with his little squeezebox for accompaniment.

I love the Beats. I just don’t worship them as the one great thing to happen in literature in the last 60 years. And I don’t think any of them would welcome the sort simplistic sanctimony in which so many little beatlings hold them.

So, when I find myself hearing a lot of “populist” poetry — say, for example, the stuff on HBO’s “Def Poetry” — I realize that the most successful poems, the ones people respond to the best, still hold to the same practices that all those musty poets used in their best work: specific, arresting imagery; effective rhythm; original and provocative insight. Yeah, this happens in many forms and styles, but it doesn’t happen in a vacuum, whether the writers/performers and audience know it or not.

All that said … “angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night” is still pretty dang cool.

Roswell castle house

Originally uploaded by inkblurt.

A friend sent me a link to some info about the house that’s almost as much fun as the house itself. The page on the DuPont Castle website (which has lots of info on other American castles, it seems) has a picture of the house along with tons of emails with various wildly differing stories about the house and its history.
There are some bits of information that sound more accurate than others.
It’s located on the corner of Cagle Rd and Hwy 140 in Roswell, GA.
I looked it up in Google Earth, and lo and behold, found it. Here’s a snapshot from Google Earth (links to the bigger version in my flickr stream).
From the overhead picture, it’s now clear that yes, indeed, there is a real swimming-pool moat around the whole structure.

wacky castle house

Originally uploaded by inkblurt.

Last time I visited my folks, on my drive between their place up around Canton, GA, and the Atlanta airport, I ran across this strange castle-like house, tucked in the midst of semi-rural suburbs.
I’m dying to know what the heck this thing is.
It appears to have a moat around it, because in the front there’s a railing that looks like it goes into a pool (from my vantage point outside the gate, it was hard to tell).
Out back, it has a weird little smaller castle house like a pool house, maybe? And some creepy cartoonish character sculptures.
It must not be a very new house, because it has a gigantic TV antenna sprouting from one of the conical roofs. (I forgot the word for those things.)
There are a few more pics in the flickr stream, linked from the picture.
(Edit: See the new info on the house in this post)

A while back, I couldn’t help myself, and made a little badge for my link to the IA Institute:

And now it’s popping up in really cool places like Japan! (Noriyo Asano’s IA Spectrum).

Yay badges!

(Yeah, I know they’re somewhat tacky … somewhere between pink flamingos and happy meal toys, but like I said I couldn’t help myself.)