Friday, January 14, 2011

"Twitter Users Are Smug"

The raucous two women that form the musical-comedy duo of Garfunkel and Oates have a snarkily culturally-incorrect song about the assumed superiority complex of pregnant women, "Pregnant Women Are Smug." I've been toying with revising the lyrics for power Twitter users, to reflect the sense of closed-circle smugness I've been sensing from power-tweeters of late.

Even though I'm a heavy Facebook user, I'm not trying to launch a new Microsoft/Apple-style culture war. Users of Facebook and LinkedIn rarely lead any passionate defense of their social networks. (Users of MySpace, meanwhile, remain on life support, heading to flatline, as the network laid off half its employees in mid-January.) After all, Facebook is the network with the CEO everyone loves to hate. Few get as worked up over Twitter founders Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone as they do about the junior svengali of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg.

Nor do I have a serious problem with Twitter's notorious 140-character limit for posts, even if the striving for brevity usually leads to superficial thinking. This is the result of any social network designed first and foremost for a handheld smartphone (or even dumb phone) client. No, my main gripe is the benignly authoritarian network architecture of Twitter, and the way its single-direction, one-t0-many multipoint topology is ideally designed for celebrities and PR managers.

Asking followers to engage in layers of re-tweets while urging them to "join the discussion" would not be so annoying if passionate Twitter advocates were up front about the network's limitations. When I call Twitter authoritarian, we should look at the root of that word: authority. Twitter's hub-and-spoke is designed for followers to pay attention to the central authority figures gracing each sub-hub, and to mouth what the grand poobahs of Twitter have to say. Sure, Facebook has plenty of re-postings, people with 1000 friends, and recycled information, but it is designed with a more peer-to-peer infrastructure. If social networks were high schools, Facebook would be the unique environment in which jocks, freaks, goths, and nerds were all on equal planes, while Twitter would be one with a built-in reinforcement of cliques.

Stone and Dorsey are not responsible for the aura or arrogance that populates the network lately, nor are the early Twitter users who have become power-tweeters by default. Rather, we see a new breed of market analyst and journalist promoting others to join a discussion that rarely is as rich as one on Facebook or LinkedIn - and not because of the short tweets. When people complain of Twitter being a confusing cacophony of tweet, they could just as easily gripe about Facebook being a noisy party of pretty pictures and videos, signifying nothing. But many of the Twitter complainers seem to subconsciously understand that they are being fed one-way communications, as evidenced by Twitter's language of followers and followed. Commentators like Grayson Davis were recognizing this funny celebrity-driven atmosphere two years ago, but their critiques were misinterpreted as being directed to Twitter's superficiality. Let me re-state this clearly, I'm bothered by Twitter's fascist network architecture.

Mind you, I don't object when press colleagues at EE Times, EDN, and other engineering sites chide heads-down engineers to use more social networks, with an emphasis on Twitter. God knows such vertical network users could use any improvement in social skills, as could many scientific and academic sub-communities. No, what I find offensive are the media mavens on Twitter who have spoken out in recent weeks against tactics such as cross-posting, assuming that a savvy media user will be Twitter-centric by design. No, not unless one wants to emphasize PR or celebrity life. I'm not going to stop tweeting on occasion, but I will spend the bulk of my time on more egalitarian network architectures. And power-tweeters should understand that they are driving potential Twitter users away by assuming an air of superiority for a network that has some profound issues on how it defines a discussion.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Violent Depravity as a National Pastime

At the time of the Tucson atrocities Jan. 8, I was busy reading Evan Thomas's fascinating book on Teddy Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, and William Randolph Hearst, and their manufacturing of the Spanish-American War, The War Lovers. What surprised me was the degree to which Roosevelt really came across as a profoundly disturbed individual. I'm not talking about pedestrian-level machismo like the formation of The Rough Riders for the charge up San Juan Hill. That level of nonsense is commonplace in U.S. history. I'm talking about Roosevelt's belief that all diplomats were "hermaphrodites", because it was evil and homosexual to aim for peaceful negotiations to solve problems, when the only "virile" way to build a nation was to go to war whenever possible. I'm talking about his belief that it was necessary to instill both hunting and fighting in a child at a young age, because the more gore one encountered, the better. Sure, he tried to shmooze up to the Progressives by 1904, but TR could never escape his Neanderthal, violent, and proto-fascist beliefs he expressed as a member of Congress and Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

It's fair to point out that in the late Victorian Era in which Roosevelt came of age, virtually everyone in the developed industrial world was pretty messed up. Colonialism had gone into hyperdrive in Africa, obsessive adherence to Social Darwinism and eugenics was considered cool, and Sigmund Freud could develop some rather odd theories about dream interpretation, female "hysterics", etc. etc., because everyone in the era Freud lived in was pretty wacked out in their day-to-day lives. Hmm, sound familiar?

When I posted a brief observation about TR on Facebook last weekend, a lot of people were wondering about the definition of 'mentally disturbed.' How could TR be so popular if he was so different? I explained that I don't define psychological abnormality by majority vote. If a person believes in theories that would be self-destructive or lead inevitably to large numbers of deaths, that individual is disturbed. If the nation/tribe/society/race/culture buys into that belief, then the group itself is collectively mentally disturbed. Germans certainly fit that description in the era between Bismarck and Hitler, Southerners in the antebellum era all the way up to mid-20th century, Islamic cultures in which a Wahhabist tendency is in the majority, etc. Yes, a society itself can be mentally disturbed.

Which is why pointing the finger at Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck for the crimes of Jared Lee Loughner is only partially correct. The strident and vocal standard bearers in the various Tea Party movements, exemplified in Arizona by the likes of Russell Pearce and Jack Harper, could not develop such a big fan base were they not enablers for a much larger group of people who take the Roosevelt way of looking at the world to heart. Using crosshairs in a gun sight to identify political opponents would not seem that strange to them, because they see politics as a zero-sum game in which one's opponent should be stuffed and hung on the wall next to the deer heads Sarah shows off on her Alaska show. Many progressives want to say that the lumpen proletariat would not be so wacko without a Fox News or Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin to stir them up. I say we can assign a certain amount of blame to the chefs in the kitchen, but we also have to identify the problem at its source.

The Western industrial world and its former Soviet counterpart have lived through conquest and a Sparta-like culture since the Victorian era morphed into World War I, the Russian Revolution, and all that came after. The Asian and Islamic cultures that soon will be assuming planetary dominance from the Westerners are just as dependent on bloodlust. Yes, modern media reinforce these messages of killing and dominance, but those messages are also reinforced by the totality of myths and cultural determinants in all these societies. The peace-loving members of the Enlightenment movement (always a minority, even within the Enlightenment) never stood a chance.

In fact, that definition I gave for mental pathology earlier on, depended on rather unique circumstances - a rationalist, cortex-driven view of culture had to pass judgment on a mind that used its emotional limbic-cerebellar roots ahead of its cortex, maybe without even applying reason to the problem. But cortical rationalism has only been consciously favored since the beginning of the Enlightenment and the formalizing of the scientific method. For millenia before that time, the limbic system won, hands down. So violent depravity is bound to win out, it's got a long and proven history behind it.

You no doubt have seen the sci-fi films and books that talk about the creation of a rationalist clerical order that hides, like the monks in Lindisfarne, to preserve intellectual pursuit from the ravaging of the dogs of war. We're near that point in the preservation of rationalism and the scientific method, let alone the preservation of peaceful discourse. Now, in order to pretend that our society still protects diversity and multiculturalism, "proper" Republicans and Democrats may agree to criminalize a large part of the violent crazy movement. At first, rationalists may applaud, until the efforts turn into a generalized Palmer Raid, and we're living in a hyper-controlled state of the pseudo-rationalists, seeking to suppress our instinctual violence. The problem is, all such states live with violence at their cores, so their efforts to contain crazies are bound to fail. If the contradictions don't come to the surface in Afghanistan or Somalia or Cote d'Ivoire, they'll come to the surface in running gun battles between Tea Party cells and the forces of order.

Yeah, the vast majority of people in the Victorian Era were mentally disturbed. Majorities in many 21st-century cultures are mentally disturbed. And it's hard to envision an easy way to keep the crazies from winning.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Five Recent Poems

Well, well, I've been remiss at re-posting poems of late, here's a recap of work from late November until now, oldest to newest.

Destination Tomah

A POWem per Marilyn Basel's lead

Blinking LEDs a semi-permanent landscape enhancement
"Tomah Road 14 miles" POW
For the love of God, why?
New dimensions in goal-oriented behavior
One KOA campground
The only emergency phone Monument to Castle Rock POW
Any pulloff becomes destination
"Congratulations drivers you have conquered Upper Lake Gulch"
My signs were never elaborate POW
No NY LA DC two-fers
Crossville Grand Ledge Tucson Palmer Divide POW
But each change in compass called home
its own Trail of POW Tears
Allie Hyperbole claims pets survive any move
with their very own squeaky toys.

I followed Upper Lake Gulch long ago POW
An 88 Oldsmobile ready for hospice
Scrub oak and mudbath POW
A forest of parabolic dishes behind hidden mountain.
"On-demand for the home.
We leveled the ponderosas,
but your new Ku-band forest
provides its own feast
, POW, locally grown."
I turned tail for Tomah.

Four semi trailers and 29 cars obliterated Monday
in the suburbs of Tomah.
Not a one passing Upper Lake Gulch POW.
No home destinations of Denver, Cheyenne, North Platte, Salt Lake City POW
Tip the tow trucks, dear, for a KOA side trip,
your photo in Tomah POW POW
Again POW
Sudden POW run of squeaky toys, hot destination.

Loring Wirbel
Nov. 18, 2010

Initial Denial Authority

(My friend Bill filed a Freedom of Information request which was passed to a Pentagon office called "Initial Denial Authority". This explains a lot - and not just in terms of the federal government.)

The rigged Magic 8-Ball
calls home the negated universe
wrapped in icosahedral die.
Furies of abundance affirmation fertility
have stoppered the djinn in the orb of always no.
Shake for a sign.

A worthy conceit of favor returned
You, the one we were waiting for
Watch the facet of luscious,
Surely this pear can be plucked
But for a panel of Simons and a textbook committee of no.
Very doubtful.
Shake again.

A false-memory childhood abduction
Legos left behind, half-whispered "daddy".
When is joint custody sign of a tesseract tear,
When a promise of future food for giraffes?
Reply hazy, try again.

Tongue mango moi
st by sting of epoxy
Labia perma-seal a known docking station
Watch every sunrise from inside her eyelids
Surely fluids, minds merge
Nice try, my sources say no.

Then call upon fury for a splendor of gratitude!
Each day another measured victory step, minute source of joy.
See it? Absorb it? Engage or engorge
Infinitely, truly in love with each cell.
Very doubtful.

Call upon fury for perpetual ecstasy!
You may tremble, still loving,
Of the father's love begotten,
World without end amen.

Call upon fury to acknowledge, be fearless!
This day won over

This monster vanquished
This terror, cartoon
Following thread through the thousand-step labyrinth
Getting to yes.
Icosahedron tips in dense milk.
Let's not and say we did.

Loring Wirbel
Dec. 2, 2010

Pestilence of Dark

Taste me
Gale winds pummel the triple solstice bloodmoon virgin birth
Windows hum
One harmonic short of shatter

Smear your eyelids
Cross-stitch the lashes
Not one of 72 silent red diodes
is left to pierce a catastrophic retinal pixelslip of nought.

O holy light enough on a clattering lawn,
but none in your four-wall artifice,
silent box of black.
We let dreams leak this way -
The dark smudges any linear reference,
leaving the passage on a sea of chocolate,
dancing shadish with kindergarten blanket pals and TV celebrities,
as real as the tumble over sleeping dog that scars the forehead.

Taste the 72 percent cacao dark,
where fear is the nougat at a random wrapper's center.
Name your playground bully Dada,
anoint him proudly incoherent.
We know better.

Daybreak casts sequential shadows,
prettified intermittently in directional time,
but presented as offering in a stronger wind.
Red-tailed hawk plays Red Queen,
stationary hover, stay-in-one-place in a maelstrom of dazzle.
Rabbit stares intently, malevolently
from the downed ponderosa branch
mere hostel, never home.

"Her name was never La N
Only one cage was left open.
She returns when the zookeepers abandon this place.
Our dance of liberation scarcely begins
when the layer of dark asperges blesses and condemns us.
Zookeeper remedies are nostrums elixirs placebos false flashlights.
You have done enough damage for this side of night."

Loring Wirbel
Dec. 21, 2010


Storage space exhales hantavirus dust
Through portholes of a beached container ship
Forgotten relics of that final millenium year
Where cash bled from each orifice,
Where failure to defraud was a sinful act.

These days I take tenor in a vast choir of Iron Chef ramen modifiers
Hantavirus dust spreads across a nation short of work, hope
We shut a locker to gain another $100,
Recovering evidence of credit-default swaps in an archaeological dig.
A winter breeze snatches the premiere issue of Darwin magazine.
Quadruple return on investment with non-existent web applications.
Imagine that.
This cough brings blood.

Loring Wirbel
Dec. 29, 2010

K-Day in the Trading Pits

A funny song spun from falling asleep watching CNBC commodity traders praise Freeport-McMoRan

Tantric buzz CNBC
Squawk Box copper commodity
Fast Money, rare earths,
Finding rare money in a fast, fast earth,
If we dig, K?

Freeport-McMoRan, all-time share high
Freeport, wasn't he -
JimBob Moffett, didn't he -
Time's a-wastin', polar cap meltin'
Explore is expand is exponential extraction
If we dig precious things, K?

Rio Tinto your target today
Who needs a Zuckerberg IPO?
Natural gas, coltan, gold in them hills
Open-pit silver, coal, heavier oil
Stripping another benzene ring
Is coming is coming is fracking the earth
If we dig precious things from the land, K?

Open sea lanes, Alert Bay to Petropavlovsk!
Full fathom five, bye bye to icebreakers!
A free Arctic sea for swapping the hydros
No rare earth as rare as a range war deferred
And the stock price ballistic, your hands never cleaner
We hide the dirt better than standoff-war blood
And her skin is stripped layer by carbon-ring layer
"If we dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster."

Loring Wirbel
Jan. 4, 2011