1. In Praise Of Leo Kottke.

    If — at its most reductive — jazz gifted Jack Kerouac his style, then Leo Kottke poses an interesting question to rhetoric all his own. We don’t even have to look to his between-song patter — “And he asked me, ‘Would you like to kill a chicken?’ And I said, ‘Sure.’ So — you know how they are — they’re all mobbing around your feet: ‘Kill me, kill me, kill me”; “I met Bob Dylan when he was recording Blood on The Tracks. And I talked to him for about an hour and a half … but I didn’t know it was him”; “my first job was in a morgue. I was a volunteer” — as there is enough material in the music alone. I’m not talking about the marching band-styled bass line you sometimes hear beneath Faheyesque chimes, nor am I talking about the hammering he sometimes likes to do when — like a car with its blinker on — he signals the fact that he’s about to shift from a major key to a minor key, as is often the case with a song like “Ojo.” So — to paraphrase James Stockdale — why Kottke? Why is he here?

    Is Kottke’s primary lesson for rhetoric Bahktin’s dialogic — that is, the idea the creative acts can be conversational, too? I lean towards ‘no’ with this. A state of general polyphony isn’t a grand exception to music, so why should it be a grand exception to rhetoric?

    And why “Taps” at the beginning of “
    Vaseline Machine Gun?” As a wink and a nod towards his time spent on a submarine? Why alternate between ‘regular’ fingerpicking and ‘Carter-styled’ fingerpicking on “Last Engine Steam Train?” (A song which — I should add — Kottke first thought he stole from John Fahey, who — in turn — told him that he was actually playing an old Sam Mcgee tune, who — when this was told to Chet Atkins — told him that Sam McGee had never played such a thing in his life.)

    Which is why I return to the phrase ‘honest polyphony’ I carry around in my head, even if I’m abusing the literal definition of polyphony — you know — just a bit. There is something honest in wringing an acoustic guitar’s neck. Part of me wants to cast Léonin or Pérotin as Kris Kelvin/Donatas Banionis driving his son into the anonymous city in
    Solaris — that this seems to be a suitable analogy for “honest polyphony” rings true to me. (Though I don’t want to get all Greil Marcus on you and claim that — for instance — Caesar’s assassination directly led to the creation of drop d tuning and snack food.)

    I also think that the answer to these plethora of “why’s” can come from Kottke himself, who —

    found that, without resorting to rubato or an implied rhythm, it’s possible to give the thumb a larger and less didactic role. (“Ojo” is a good example of liberated thumb and of the melodic twists available to it.) Rhythm expands, the tune deepens, and the predictable, patterned sensation that comes from much of a syncopated, right hand guitar disappears.

    The syncopated rhythm disappears. Perhaps it’s not so much about honest polyphony as it is about vanishing syncopation. Or maybe it’s the dynamic between the two. Syncopation — after all — is no slouch. The idea of syncopation disappearing into something else suggests a larger structure, a great continuous ringing in a hallway filled with bells and chimes. And you don’t get that from diving into free verse right away, if we’re to return to the fact that this is about gleaning some sort of lesson for the writing profession from his playing. You don’t dive into the deep end of Mallarmé dancing his way across the page right away. You don’t hop out of bed and ask Alice Toklas about a rose being a rose being a rose. The idea — the thing — seems to be in the fact of disappearance, and that’s important for those of us who salivate like Pavlov’s dog at the possibility of finding a gap in a text’s armor. It gives us a way out — a rabbit hole to fall through. Most of us have a pretty good intuitive sense of semantic analysis, I reckon, and the idea of finding that threaded needle of relief in something howlingly obvious is appealing. Would that mean linking two languages with fairly different grammatical patterns together with more frequency? What amount of comparative philology equals a disappearing syncopation a la Kottke? You don’t really get it with Eugene Jolas, do you? It’s certainly part of what’s compelling about Finnegans Wake, though it’s certainly not the exegetical key to that city.

     Above: Airproofing, featuring both the thumb and the ‘turn signal.’

    What makes a ‘boring,’ syncopated text disappear into something else? Would it work if I shoehorned Turkish into English, where grammar is — in part — determined by the suffix of the word? It would sound odd at first, but maybe people would get the hang of it hızlı hızlı. (Repeating a word can render an adjective into an adverb. In this case, ’quick’ becomes ‘quickly.’) Would that be a sufficient ‘thumb,’ or would I need to look elsewhere?

    For this question — and the stream of answers it implies — we have Leo Kottke to thank.

     

  2. Technology & Time.

    You can order a taxi through an app on an iPhone — but — as other companies emerge citing Uber as a model — it may become much more than that. “Swifto” wants to be the “Uber for dogwalking.” Medicast and Ringadoc want to be the “Uber for health care.” Shyp wants to be the “Uber for shipping.” ServiceRoute wants to be the “Uber for snow plows.” The “Uber” cup runneth over.

    Language and rhetoric doesn’t always follow Moore’s Law. It just doesn’t work that way. Words persist for hundreds of years, taking everything that’s thrown at it, whereas — by contrast — the number of transistors one can put on an integrated circuit — that is, the amount of stuff you can put on a chip — doubles every two to three years. But: what would happen if truly deliberative rhetoric actually did track with Moore’s Law? What if it even outstripped it? What if language led and technology followed? I can’t help but think of this when I read about new technology and think of recent attempts to keep social tabs on it, i.e., Zadie Smith’s “Generation Why,” Douglas Rushkoff’s Present Shock, Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not A Gadget, or Christoper Mims’s “How The Internet is Making Us Poor.” I say this because — even though there are worthwhile things in each — there’s a quality of datedness with writing about technology that almost always asserts itself with remarkable, double-take-inducing speed.

    Take Rushkoff’s early assertion in Present Shock that it took Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell to turn storytelling itself into a commodity. Or — if you’re reading Lanier’s book — re-read the sentence when he says that “consciousness is attempting to will itself out of existence.” Both claims are deeply absurd (and I especially don’t think a Freudian gloss is the world’s most accurate arrow, anyway), and yet both works strive to be a suitable exegetical reaction to the current technological now. How could we let ourselves be this inaccurate or inchoate? Or what of youths — those darn kids texting on my lawn (the way darn kids do) — abandoning Facebook for Tumblr and Instagram? Where does that leave Smith’s essay?

    Do we turn this, then, into a re-examination of E.B. White at the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, where his “ethmoid sinuses broke down … and this meant I had to visit the Fair carrying a box of Kleenex concealed in a copy of the Herald Tribune” and “the exhibition is cock-eyed enough to fall, as it naturally does, in line with all carnivals, circuses, and wonderlands?” Do we pivot to Eastwood and listen to Lawrence regale us with tales of striking miners making their way to a football match spotting pit ponies who were “inert, unused to freedom. Occasionally one walked round. But there they stood, two thick lines of ruddy brown and pie-bald and white, across the trampled field. It was a beautiful day, mild, pale blue, a ‘growing day,’ as the men said, when there was the silence of swelling sap everywhere?” Or what if we picked up Chekhov describing a doctor as having an exterior “coarse like a peasant’s, his face, his beard, his flat hair, and his coarse, clumsy figure, suggest an overfed, intemperate, and harsh innkeeper on the highroad. His face is surly-looking and covered with blue veins, his eyes are little and his nose is red. With his height and broad shoulders he has huge hands and feet; one would think that a blow from his fist would knock the life out of anyone, but his step is soft, and his walk is cautious and insinuating; when he meets anyone in a narrow passage he is always the first to stop and make way, and to say, not in a bass, as one would expect, but in a high, soft tenor: “I beg your pardon?”

    Here’s why I’m asking this: what would happen if I ordered a doctor off of Medicast or Ringadoc? Would we ultimately revert to the Chekhovian Doctor of “Ward 6” if these businesses proved successful? If we lived in a world where language led and technology followed, would we still have the same result, or would there be a little more innovation and a little less disruption?

    Because that’s the big cut of Mims’s thesis and why I cited all these app-based ideas at the beginning: in the U.S., Mims notes, “between 2000 and 2010, the jobs of 1.1 million secretaries were eliminated, replaced by internet services that made everything from maintaining a calendar to planning trips easier than ever. In the same period, the number of telephone operators dropped by 64%, travel agents by 46% and bookkeepers by 26%”; in Europe, “two-thirds of the 7.6 million middle-class jobs that vanished in Europe were the victims of technology.”

    If language sufficiently predicted and debated technology — if we didn’t feel too severe a whiplash between an English town supported by mining and an English town where the miners were union-busted away; if we didn’t feel too severe a change between iPods, iPhones, and Google Glass; if we look at the 2013 equivalent of the World’s Fair with White’s well-balanced sense of self, reflection, and general comfort (cold aside) — would we be okay?


    The Global Language Monitor asserts that 14 new words are coined every day (which is a super dubious claim, but bear with me), and how many of those lead to a debate about the balance of market regulations protecting this industry or that industry on the storytelling level? How much of it leads to talking about start-ups skirting state regulations, as Chris Dixton notes? Do they compliment Joseph Schumpeter’s view of monopolies as a necessary evil or argue against it? This paragraph — including these words — roughly amounts to 107 words, and how many solutions have I offered? Would I really want to wait a week for this paragraph to naturally emerge?

    And what would language matching or outpacing Moore’s Law look like, anyway? Would we need a new word every time someone added to the latest transistor count? Should we have 2.6 billion new words in the language ready and rarin’ to go? Would there be a word to describe the digital and analog back and forth, where people switched from LP’s to CD’s in 1989, and then started to switch back again some twenty years later? (Saltabunt? Vovamos, itself being a corruption of ‘Volta vamos?’) Would there be a word to describe the switch a young writer makes from a computer to a typewriter as the transistor count goes up and up? (Ståndaktig? Entschlossen? Or — perhaps — أنا ذاهب الى البيت.) What are the set of words that make us say when something new appears, “Oh, right, this?”

     

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  6. Today’s travel companion.

     

  7. "The impact of losing these pieces–especially in the age of the internet–is trivial. Works of art are not sacred objects."
    — 

    Oh, good. So David Yanofsky wouldn’t mind if we burned everything in the Met, MOMA, the MFA, and the Tate to clear up space for low-rent housing? Since — you know — people have taken pictures of it? Why should we care about real life when we have the internet to look at ar — oh, look, a new tweet! One moment.

    Update: 12:56PM: I asked Yanofsky if he worried about a sentence like this being taken to the kind of logical extreme I illustrated. He wrote back: “Never! [as in, ‘I’d never say that.’ — EF.] I’m arguing that the loss of small amounts of work is not a tragedy when there’s still enormous amounts of surviving work.”

    Which is true.

     

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  9. Looks like Israel really is going to release prisoners as part of these upcoming talks. (According to Die Welt, at least.)

     

  10. "We think the motivation is to convince people that a deeply unpopular program is in their self-interest, I.e. it will allow for more resources to go to their children, you will get more ipads, community gardens, safe passage programs, etc."
    — Jackson Potter of the Chicago Teachers Union in reply to my earlier query in which I wondered out loud why the plan to close 48 schools was pitched as a deficit-reducing program when — in fact — it doesn’t do that at all.
     

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  12. "There is no First Amendment testimonial privilege, absolute or qualified, that protects a reporter from being compelled to testify by the prosecution or the defense in criminal proceedings about criminal conduct that the reporter personally witnessed or participated in, absent a showing of bad faith, harassment, or other such non-legitimate motive, even though the reporter promised confidentiality to his source."
    — This is lousy legalese for a variety of obvious reasons — via.
     
  13. reuters:

    Detroit filed bankruptcy, which may force creditors to settle with less than they are owed in order to resolve $18 billion in city debt.

    Detroit was once synonymous with U.S. manufacturing prowess. The auto industry switched to making planes, tanks and munitions during World War Two, earning the city the nickname of the “Arsenal of Democracy.”

    Now a third of Detroit’s 700,000 residents live in poverty and about a fifth are unemployed.

    "Maybe bankruptcy will help. I don’t know," said lifelong Detroiter Damien Collins, 68, outside his east-side house surrounded by abandoned homes. The retired autoworker said he had given up hope anything would bring back Detroit. “Nothing else has worked, so why not try it?" he asked.

    The murder rate is the highest in nearly 40 years, only a third of its ambulances were in service in the first quarter of 2013 and nearly 78,000 abandoned buildings create “additional public safety problems,” Michigan’s governor Rick Snyder wrote.

    Forty percent of street lights were non-functional in the first three months of this year, while the police took an average of 58 minutes to respond to emergency calls, more than five times the national average. The city government has been plagued by mismanagement and corruption.

    Though — as John Cassidy notes — there was also “a revival of the auto industry [underway], the gentrification of some neighborhoods, and an influx of capital from real-estate firms snapping up cheap commercial properties.”

    A Judge was also planning to block a potential bankruptcy filing when the bankruptcy filing came through, so we’ll see what happens.

     

  14. This story confuses me. After repeatedly saying that the closure of some 54 schools would help bring down the deficit, it turns out that the closure of some 54 schools will have no impact on the deficit, and yet things like this keep happening in that city, so what’s the motive here?

    (And I was confused twice over when Rahm Emanuel went on Charlie Rose and spoke about the new schools the kids were going to having air conditioning as sufficient reason for the change.)

    (Source: nbcnightlynews)

     

  15. "Of course, the State of the Union speech would be the longest in history."
    — John McCain on a theoretical Biden Presidency — via the ubiquitously linked to GQ piece.