Friday, October 8, 2010

Getting Off Of Square One

There's a file on my desktop called The Question, James. (It's an .RTF.) Inside are less than 10 questions with what I'm going to be doing with all the free time on my hands this week and how I"m going to use that time to either do something good for me, or get ahead on my work or figure something out about myself.

It's more boundary pushing. Trying to force myself into it. Tonight, I'm going to one of the drinking places in Rome alone or with someone. But I'm fucking going, regardless of who else is or isn't joining me. The place I'm staying just lost 95% of the people there, and I'm one of the few sticking around for the next ten days, which means that I'll either go crazy or do something cool. On the plus side, this means that I'll go to a bunch of interesting places in the guidebook that I wouldn't have time to hit up otherwise.

They say "take advantage of the time", but I'm never really sure what it means aside from go to places that guidebooks like and do thinking that will produce results other people will like or at least find productive. Which, for the most part, is good. I finished another book, and not 2666, either. It's a book called Headspace: Sniffer Dogs, Spy Bees and One Woman's Adventures in the Surveillance Society by a Brit, Amber Marks.

It paints a real ridiculous picture of our State apparatuses, that they're all looking for ways to intrusively investigate as many people as possible in increasingly ridiculous fashion, ranging from sniffer dogs to "sabotage salmon." Yes, really. There were parts about Amber Marks in there, about her friends and acquaintances as she threads her way through security personnel and paranoid, suspicious MI5 types.

(Before I forget, I have to acknowledge how ridiculous it is that I already have a massive reading commitment on my plate and I still find a place on it for a book on surveillance through a non-traditional filter. It is pretty nuts. Bodies are dropping in 2666 like sideways rain and it's getting pretty hard to tell who's dead and who's alive.)

Turns out those surveillance services are all looking to nature for their inspiration, using ideas that just feel too ridiculous for the sci-fi of the 1970's. I don't want to spoil it, so I won't say much more than I already said, it's a funny reveal, chapter after chapter. They're also pretty indebted to pseudo-science, which makes me wonder, if this is what PhDs and smart people believe, what that I take for granted in 50 years will be considered ridiculous? Probably a lot more than is fashionable. I mean, I know I was dumb five years ago, but I'm existentially embarrassed having it pointed out to me. This time, 2015, I know I'll shake my head at what I'm writing right now. Science is always moving, but not always in the right direction, so this book provides a sweet little reminder not to get too excited about what I believe.

I never would have bought it otherwise, but it was on sale (I got that, a book on Al-Sadr in Iraq, by Patrick Cockburn and a copy of A Book of Five Rings, the classic by Miyamoto Musashi for five Euros) and the cover was really unique and the different bright colors lined up nicely. Published by Virgin Books, it's a strikingly informal read, but pretty well researched. Of course, the research isn't cited directly, but placed in the back of the book, which makes it hard to quote.

To be fair to those surveillance services, they live in a world where a threat can materialize out of literally anywhere with heads of state, who, as expressed by Tony Blair (talking to Jon Stewart on the Daily Show), sleep at night with the fear that any kind of chink in the armor will be exploited (or perhaps already has) by terrorists who will acquire any kind of weapons they can get their hands on, the more powerful, pernicious and destructive, the better.

They don't want it on their conscience that they let down the people they're administrating, says Blair. I believe him. I may be naive for believing that. But at the moment, I'm looking from the outside in. And maybe in the next five years, I'll know.

90's godfathers Face To Face playing Jawbreaker's Chesterfield King. Uhhhh, that should be a no brainer, listen to it now. But on the off chance it isn't, Chesterfield King is one of the first Jawbreaker songs I ever listened to. It is about a girl, not being able to kiss her, ending up at a 7-11 parking lot, where the narrator gives a toothless woman a cigarette. Anyway. Listen to it. It should make you D'awww.

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