Temperature is falling

It’s finally cold here in San Francisco, after a bizarre stretch of almost two solid weeks of “real” summer (the kind we usually get at the end of September, but missed this year). I have been quite distracted these past weeks (yes, good weather makes it harder to sit at the keyboard) and not terribly inspired to write here. So I took a break. But today I’m feeling the itch, and I’m freezing, and Juan Cole gave me the impetus with his thoughtful comments on the current Sy Hersh story about the U.S. replacing ground troops with air power and his uncharacteristically hilarious attack on Bush:

I guarantee you, George, that historians are going to be unkind to you. You went into a major war over a non-existent nuclear weapons program. Presidents’ reputations don’t survive things like that. Historians are creatures of documents and precision. A wild exaggeration with serious consequences is against everything they stand for as a profession. So forget about history and destiny and the divine will. You are at the helm of the Exxon Valdez and it is headed for the shoals. You can’t afford to daydream about future decades.

It’s a common enough madness these days, to get lost in endless perambulations of the internet, from blog to blog, hopping around hoping for insight, humor, breaking news, what?… Somehow we’re in one of those irritating gaps between major events, and we’re all waiting with bated breath, knowing that the shit IS hitting the fan, but what color is it? Who’s throwing it? Who is getting it full in the face? It’s a version of gossip and celebrity fascination, albeit couched in terms of worldly affairs and history, news and politics.

I was turned on to a couple of blogs that are really outstanding: Firedoglake is by far the best place (if you have the time!) to keep up with all the breaking legal scandals engulfing the Cheney regime and its congressional allies. It’s written by three different former prosecutors so they have a helpful background and insider’s knowledge of how this stuff works. Effect Measure is another blog being written by 3 or 4 people on the topic of public health, and proves to be one of the more sensible, challenging, and sober places to keep track of pandemic news, crumbling public health infrastructure, and all the thoughts that pro health care folks are having in the midst of that.

I don’t think either of these two blogs, nor the other regulars (billmon, Juan Cole, Global Guerrillas, all linked at right), are gossipy per se, but there is a way that the recycling of news reports and current events fills my hours and is precisely analogous to how other people read People magazine or watch daytime TV or… I also read a huge pile of magazines, not closely, but again it takes up some serious hours every week (The Economist, Harpers, New Yorker, NY Review of Books, Mother Jones, Earth Island Journal, Bay Nature, Orion, Left Business Observer, Nat’l Geographic, even had the Financial Times coming for a few weeks–yeesh!).

I’m also deep into writing the next book, a project that promises to stretch out well into next year just to finish a first draft. A lot of the delay in writing it comes from finding so many spots that I feel I need to read one or more books I have or have heard of, before I can finish my own thinking on the topic. That’s a lot of fun, intellectually, but it just takes time. And not all my reading is instrumentally focused on my writing needs, so taken as a whole, my 20-40 hours a week of reading are a luxury and a necessity and an indispensable foundation and a huge waste of time!

1 comment to Temperature is falling

  • Your point about gossip-fascination is well taken. But there’s more to it than gossip.

    My journey to the blogs began with the birth of Indymedia but got much worse in the 2000 elections and then with 0.81818 (that’s 9/11 in decimal form). Soon I stumbled on Tom Tomorrow’s blog, my first. Through that period of 1999-2001, I my day-job grew more boring and the office Internet hookup was fast enough that I could click just one more link. Just one more.

    There seemed to be so much information hidden in the minds of regular folks — in Seattle, New York, Central Asia, academia, and later Iraq — information I could find if I just look hard enough. The blargosphere always promises to peel back the veil, revealing pure information just under the surface.

    Normally I don’t like to get so obsessed with anything, but in the case of politics, I feel it’s necessary — these people want to kill me. I need to defend myself and those I love from those, like the President of the United States, who would kill us over a golf bet.

    But that’s a justification. Because when I really let myself feel it, I know that the feeling of clicking through the web is identical to that of flipping channels, hoping that somewhere in there will be some hot sex, a belly-laugh, sex, a revulsion, or maybe some sex. While visiting family (they have digital cable, I don’t even have a TV), I have spent hours holding a remote control, my hand losing its body heat to the night, waiting for something to break my stupor, even as a frigid moon reflects off the snowy trails just outside, where I could go with almost no effort, for real thrill, for something that raises the pulse through direct experience rather than simulacra.

    I have read that web-surfing causes dopamine releases in the brain in the same way as gambling and other instantly rewarding activities (other than vacuum-cleaning). I believe it. At this point I believe I am an Internet addict. And that’s ok for a while. Now is past a while. It is 1:21 am, my alarm is set for 6 am, and I have a full day of work ahead tomorrow, which is now today. It is getting self-destructive to even have Internet in the house.

    Not that it’s an option. We were cut off for a few weeks, but I found that from the couch in my bedroom, an unusually strong open network across the street just barely makes it to me. Sometimes, sitting on the couch, I must hold my laptop over my left shoulder to get reception, but that’s nothing compared to tying a strap around the leg and tapping a vein.

    What I wonder about myself — and about you — is how much of the information hunger is not aimed at revealing truth but hiding it. So long as I can keep myself turgid with a constant inflow of information, I can ignore the decaying skeleton of faith in myself that would otherwise maintain my posture.

    Fixing my mind on external threats, I ignore the grief and doubt and terror of mediocrity that leach strength from my joyful spirit, leaving it osteoporosic, on the verge of fracture.

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