The Null Device
A lot of people thought we wouldn't live to see Chinese Democracy, but it seems that they were wrong. I'm of course referring to the fabled next Guns'n'Roses album, in the works since 1994, MP3s of which seem to have made it into the internet. The verdict seems to be unencouraging: The Guardian's columnist says that it's "like Coldplay meets Aerosmith":
Of the nine songs, only three - Rhiad and the Bedouins, If the World, and a track with an unknown title - had not previously leaked in one form or another. But all of these recordings appear more polished, with organ, tambourine or strings alongside screaming electric guitar and flourishes of electronics.
If the World is particularly indicative of the almost 14 years that Chinese Democracy has been in development. Many musical trends have born and died since 1994, and we get to hear a number of these alongside Axl Rose's familiar shriek. There's a vague industrial chug, ambient electronics, and a bass line that recalls Red Hot Chili Peppers - but more cringeworthy is the song's recurrent flamenco guitar, like a nightingale trapped in a studded leather bag.Then again, perhaps the whole thing is a fake; perhaps there are a number of fake Chinese Democracies, made with or without Axl Rose's involvement, due to be posted to the internet, circulated, and then debunked or dismissed as early demoes, and "nowhere near as good as the final mix", further building up the myth of an elusive, unimaginably brilliant Chinese Democracy, somewhere just out of earshot; a Chinese Democracy which nobody has actually heard, but everybody knows someone who has, with each report being both wildly enthusiastic and wildly different. After all, if Chinese Democracy ever does come out as an actual sound recording, it can only be a disappointment compared to the myth that has built up in its absence.
And Freemasonry's fightback from the brink of extinction continues; the Masons now have jumped on the social networking bandwagon with a "cool new website" named Masonic Planet. Though, curiously enough, the site itself doesn't seem to have any Masonic-specific profile features; there seems to be no entry for lodge affiliation in profiles (though it does have a "Looking for:  Male  Female" section; presumably they hadn't had time to customise the ex-dating-site software yet), let alone making information visible only to people above a certain degree or what have you. And, indeed, anyone can make an account without any introduction or invitation, or any proof of Masonic affiliation.
It does have some kind of "profile music" Flash applet. Perhaps this site wasn't actually created for or by Freemasons, but rather by someone who read about punks, hipsters and other members of prime youth demographics getting into Freemasonry and decided to get a piece of the action?
Kevin Kelly (one of the original WIRED contributors) and Brian Eno (no introduction needed) have a game where they try to come up with improbable trends for the near future and extrapolate them. While some of them are (at least nowadays), somewhat lacking in the "improbable" aspects (computer power plateauing has been predicted for a while, people are avoiding American citizenship for tax reasons, Sao Paolo in Brazil has already banned billboard advertising, a deadly airborne plague has been feared since SARS and bird flu and there are predictions that the end of cheap oil will enrich inner cities whilst turning formerly affluent suburbs into impoverished backwaters), others (particularly some of Eno's) are thought-provokingly out-there:
Everybody becomes so completely cynical about the election process that voter turnout drops to 2 percent (families and relatives of prospective politicians) until finally the "democratic process" is abandoned in favour of a lottery system. Everything immediately improves.
Suicide becomes not only commonplace but socially acceptable and even encouraged. People choose when to die: living too long is considered selfish and old-fashioned.
A new profession -- cosmetic psychiatry -- is born. People visit "plastic psychiatrists" to get interesting neuroses and obsessions added into their makeup.
A new kind of holiday becomes popular: you are dropped by helicopter in an unknown place, with two weeks' supply of food and water. You are assured that you will not see anyone else in this time. There is a panic button just in case.
A highly successful new magazine -- Ordinary People, edited by the nonagenarian Studs Terkel -- focuses only on people who have never done anything in particular to deserve attention.
A new type of artist arises: someone whose task is to gather together existing but overlooked pieces of amateur art, and, by directing attention onto them, to make them important. (This is part of a much larger theory of mine about the new role of curatorship, the big job of the next century.)
Manufacturers of underwear finally realize that men have different-sized balls.
(via Boing Boing)
According to a new book, Americans are increasingly segregating themselves from people with different values or political views, mostly along the liberal-conservative culture-war faultlines:
In 1976 Jimmy Carter won the presidency with 50.1% of the popular vote. Though the race was close, some 26.8% of Americans were in “landslide counties” that year, where Mr Carter either won or lost by 20 percentage points or more.
The proportion of Americans who live in such landslide counties has nearly doubled since then. In the dead-heat election of 2000, it was 45.3%. When George Bush narrowly won re-election in 2004, it was a whopping 48.3%. As the playwright Arthur Miller put it that year: “How can the polls be neck and neck when I don't know one Bush supporter?” Clustering is how.
For example, someone who works in Washington, DC, but wants to live in a suburb can commute either from Maryland or northern Virginia. Both states have equally leafy streets and good schools. But Virginia has plenty of conservative neighbourhoods with megachurches and Bushites you've heard of living on your block. In the posh suburbs of Maryland, by contrast, Republicans are as rare as unkempt lawns and yard signs proclaim that war is not the answer but Barack Obama might be.The Big Sort manifests itself in where people live (another manifestation of Paul Graham's observation that cities reinforce different ambitions; neighbourhoods and communities also reinforce (positively or negatively) political and cultural values), but goes beyond that. Many Americans have retreated into cognitive gated communities; they watch cable news that reinforces their beliefs, meet their mates on dating websites exclusively for liberals or conservatives (the British equivalent would presumably be the Times/Guardian/Torygraph's respective dating sites; in Britain, newspaper preference is an ideological marker), and in some cases, homeschool their kids to protect them from "wrong" ideas such as evolution or homosexuality. (AFAIK, homeschooling seems to be more a religious conservative phenomenon.) According to a University of Pennsylvania survey of people from 12 countries, Americans are the least likely to talk about politics with those who disagreed with them. And then there was the survey of an online book-recommendation service from some years ago, showing clusters of books read by liberals and conservatives, with next to no connection between them.
“We now live in a giant feedback loop,” says Mr Bishop, “hearing our own thoughts about what's right and wrong bounced back to us by the television shows we watch, the newspapers and books we read, the blogs we visit online, the sermons we hear and the neighbourhoods we live in.”The downside of this is that, when people segregate themselves, their own opinions become more extreme and uncompromising, and those of the other side become demonised, making workable political compromise difficult:
Voters in landslide districts tend to elect more extreme members of Congress. Moderates who might otherwise run for office decide not to. Debates turn into shouting matches. Bitterly partisan lawmakers cannot reach the necessary consensus to fix long-term problems such as the tottering pensions and health-care systems.
America, says Mr Bishop, is splitting into “balkanised communities whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible.” He has a point. Republicans who never meet Democrats tend to assume that Democrats believe more extreme things than they really do, and vice versa. This contributes to the nasty tone of many political campaigns.