Monthly Archives: January 2009

.. not to mention learning a new language of acronyms, like OMG, and LOL

In Grown Up Digital, Don Tapscott defines the Net Generation as people born between 1977 and 1997. That would be me, then, (barely), and, after years of research, Tapscott has discovered that I’m awesome. Research shows computer games have made me smart, and, although research also shows I’m no better at multitasking than older people, it sure would make sense if I were, now wouldn’t it? And just look at the online services I use. I’m on the Facebook and the YouTube and the Wikipedia, interacting with my peers in a paradigm shift of empowerment. I’m grrrrreat.

Why, thank you, mr. Tapscott. There’s always a market for telling your readers how smart they are. Malcom Gladwell’s latest book explained that to become an expert you need to practice for 10 000 hours. Want to bet it’s being recommended by people who have been doing their job or hobby for more than 10 000 hours?

In defining the “Net Gen”, Tapscott gives us valuable (and, from my perspective, fairly correct) insights into the values and habits of people who have grown up with the internet. He has done research, and that’s more than most who have commented on the subject.

On top of those insights, he builds a cloud of feelgood fluff that begs for a game of buzzword bingo. You had better not flinch at words like engage, mesh, web 2.0, revolutionize, paradigm, wisdom of crowds, and empower, because he uses them on every single page. The 120 pages I read, anyway.

Hvordan krig blir hverdagsunderholdning

Nyheter er en måte å skape orden i kaoset på. De gjenkjennbare rammene og faste tidspunktene skaper en illusjon av overblikk. Vi vet hva som foregår. Uansett hvor skremmende hendelsene måtte være, er det å få dem overlevert dag etter dag av de samme normale, norske nyhetsoppleserne en måte å inkludere dem i vår verden. De blir tildelt et hjørne av ruten, og der hører de hjemme. Det er nyhetenes funksjon: Å integrere det fremmede og nye i vårt hverdagslige verdensbilde.

Analysen er spesielt viktig. Et bilde av et utbombet hus er ubegripelig. Vi trenger analytikeren for å oversette dette til noe trygt. Så er det ikke et hus med lik i lenger, det er “Midtøsten-konflikten”. Det aller beste er å oversette det til en hjemlig debatt. Er du for eller mot Israel? Er Hamas modige opprørere eller moderne nazister? Se Kåre og Siv brake sammen i kveld!

Resultatet er såpeopera. Ny episode hver dag. Vi blir kjent med karakterene, velger oss favoritter, og skurker vi elsker å hate. Derfor kan man heller ikke bytte ut Midtøsten-konflikten med dekning av viktigere hendelser. Det ville være som å bytte ut Hotell Cæsar med en sør-amerikansk telenovela.

Mitt tips: Gjør et YouTube-søk etter et sted, helst et du ikke har hørt noe fra på en stund. Hopp over analysen, finn rådataene. Videoene rett fra (å)stedet, gjerne amatørvideoer, usensurert og uoversiktlig. Det får du ikke noe overblikk av – og det er nettop poenget.

Verden er stor og uforståelig. Du vet ikke hva som skjer. You weren’t there.

God has given us Kalashnikovs, it is wrong not to use them

AK-47, The Story of the People’s Gun is a biography of the Kalashnikov assault rifle. It’s not a history. That would require a lot more than 200 pages. There are perhaps 100 million Kalashnikovs today, and they’ve killed millions of people all over the world. A history of the AK-47 is a history of the second half of the 20th century. Michael Hodges has instead tried to capture the soul of the AK-47, through stories that illustrate it as a weapon and as an icon:

AK-47, the Soviet gun. Made after the Second World War in preparation for the Third, designed to be simple and durable enough to hand out to millions of poorly trained conscripts.

AK-47, the anti-imperialist gun. Symbol of third world revolution. Picked up by American soldiers in Vietnam because their M-16s were sensitive to the climate.

AK-47, the terrorist gun. For some, a tool for killing, as in Munich in 1972. For modern Islamists, a symbol, a brand they’ve appropriated. The anti-Coca Cola.

Hodges argues that the Kalashnikov is in itself a cause of many conflicts. Once you’ve dropped a few million into an area, they remain for decades, long after the original conflict is over, encouraging people to solve their conflicts with violence. You can’t enforce law and order in a Kalashnikov culture.

There’s probably something to this. But removing cheap weapons is perhaps not a practical road to world peace.

And Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor? He’s still alive, and has his own vodka brand. Not quite the Nobel road.

A citizen of the 20th century

Jerusalem Commands is the third novel in Michael Moorcock’s Pyat Quartet. It opens with Pyat, or “Max Peters”, as a star of silent movies in Hollywood, and takes him through gruesome adventures in North Africa. As always there are two stories, the one Pyat tells us, and the truth. The difference is not always one of facts, but of interpretation. What makes Pyat contemptible is not only his actions, but which events he chooses to emphasize, and which to do away with in a few shockingly unemotional sentences.

Pyat always insists on his own brilliance, dignity and innocence in whatever he does, but his words betray him. He is a pitiable human, a grotesquely tragicomic character: Both a Jew and an anti-semite, both a victim and a friend of great tyrants. A believer in chivalry who betrays his friends, a visionary engineer whose inventions never work. He fears Islam as a great enemy of Christianity, but worships Allah when expedient. And he hints at even darker memories than the ones he is willing to share.

Pyat is a glorious hypocrite, but, for all his contradictions, he is a coherent character. He lives. He strides through the 1920s like he owns the place. He is the perfect man to represent the era.

As the novel ends, it is October 1929. We know that Pyat is headed for close friendship with Goering. We also know he’ll end up in a concentration camp, a yellow star on his clothes. The fourth novel will close the story.

How to be happy

Psychiatrist Raj Persaud talks about the secret of happiness:

Or as Lin Yutang wrote in The Importance of Living:

All questions of living in heaven must be brushed aside. Let not the spirit take wings and soar to the abode of the gods and forget the earth. Are we not mortals, condemned to die? The span of life vouchsafed us, threescore and ten, is short enough, if the spirit gets too haughty and wants to live forever, but on the other hand, it is also long enough, if the spirit is a little humble. One can learn such a lot and enjoy such a lot in seventy years, and three generations is a long time to see human follies and acquire human wisdom. Anyone who is wise and has lived long enough to witness the changes of fashion and morals and politics through the rise and fall of three generations should be perfectly satisfied to rise from his seat and go away saying, “It was a good show” when the curtain falls.

For we are of the earth, earth-born and earth-bound. There is nothing to be unhappy about the fact that we are, as it were, delivered upon this beautiful earth as its transient guests. Even if it were a dark dungeon, we still would have to make the best of it; it would be ungrateful of us not to do so when we have, instead of a dungeon, such a beautiful earth to live on for a good part of a century.

30′s movies marathon – part 13

The Devil is a Woman (1935, USA) – Marlene Dietrich teases her admirers to madness, offering only smiles in return for their favors and money. Dietrich’s exaggerated doll-like acting and the Spanish carnival setting makes the whole thing surreal. Watched it all.

(1935, USA) – Almost like several good musicals I can think of, in the same way that a false note is almost like an accurate note. Watched: 14 minutes.

Becky Sharp (1935, USA) – The first three-color feature film, meaning that, not only is the sound poor and the story bad, it looks dreadful too. Watched: 12 minutes. IMDB reviewers say Becky Sharp is an elusive lost treasure, and, in its defense, it did win the award for Best Color Film at the Venice Film Festival of 1935, against stiff competition.

The Last Outpost (1935, USA) – Those rascally genocidal Kurds are no match for a pair of stout British officers. Hooray! Watched: 13 minutes, then fast forwarded to the end where the officer who isn’t Cary Grant dies gloriously. The film reused footage from a silent film shot at a different speed, which is why the Kurds move with super-speed.

Dracula’s Daughter (1936, USA) – Dracula’s daughter wants to be a good girl, but that’s difficult when you’re constantly walking around in the mist, spellbinding gentlemen with your hypno-ring. Unfortunately the other characters aren’t as interesting. Watched: 19 minutes.

Store og små Midtøsten-meninger

Jeg er lei av de store meningene om Midtøsten-konflikten. Gi meg heller mange små.

Stor mening: “Israel gjør helt rett i å svare på angrep” / “Palestinerne har vel ikke noe annet valg”

Liten mening: “Det er ordentlig fæle forhold for folk som bor i Gaza, og har vært det lenge, krig eller ei” / “Israel lever med en reell fare for et nytt Holocaust” / “Alle i Midtøsten ville tjent på fredelig sameksistens”

Forskjellen er at en liten mening kan etterprøves, og at en stor mening reduserer alt til et enkelt for eller mot. De store meningene er behagelige, derfor handler alt om dem. Enhver liten mening vil derfor bli besvart med en stor. (“Det er fælt i Gaza” => “Ja men det unskylder vel da ikke ..?!”)

Løsningen på Midtøsten-debatten (men ikke konflikten) er å slutte med store meninger.

“Jammen .. da kan jeg jo ikke lenger være for eller mot!” Ja nettop. Så går verden fra å være klar til uklar, og i stedet for å dømme blir du nødt til å lytte og tenke.

Snark, for and against

This looks like an interesting book: Snark, by David Denby, the film critic. He warns that cheap sarcasm is becoming the voice of the internet.

Here’s an attack on the book.

And here’s a defense.

Both sides make interesting arguments, but for now I lean towards Denby. I think there’s something about the way writing works on the internet that encourages well-formulated, empty cynicism. It’s easy to write, fun to read. And yet .. there’s something liberating in that voice. Perhaps, as Adam Sternbergh’s says, snark is a way of calling bullshit on the powerful. Not the best way, but a way. Anyway, I’ll read the book.

Links via Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the intelligent gaming site.