The Null Device


Rudy Rucker on William Gibson's new novel, Pattern Recognition. The concepts sound interesting, at least superficially.

Mind you, one of the things I don't like about William Gibson's novels is that his characters are all from the same small set of cardboard cutouts. Everyone is, it seems, either a grizzled mercenary techie of some sort, a future-dwelling mutant geek with special senses or a sassy, butt-kicking teenage girl. In fact, I can't remember the differences between his last 2 or 3 novels, because they all melted into one amalgam of hard-boiled one-liners, snippets of disjointed, future-shocked pop culture and random Japanese things. The review suggests that Pattern Recognition may go in the same direction; we already have a hard-boiled "cool hunter" who's so sensitive to things that she's physically allergic to brand names and the obligatory Tokyo references.

I'll probably buy it anyway; whether I remember anything of the plot afterward is another question entirely.

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A somewhat iffy review of the new Massive Attack album in the Graun. To be honest, I'd agree with much of it; a lot of the songs go on for too long and yet somehow seem somewhat flat, at least compared to Mezzanine. Though it's not all that bad an effort.

Indeed, on the only occasion when 100th Window props itself up and makes a point, you wish it had stayed supine. A Prayer for England concerns child abduction and murder - an issue virtually ignored by the media in recent years and thus in desperate need of the boost in profile that only a protest song on a chill-out album can deliver. It's certainly difficult to argue with the thesis - infanticide is a bad thing - but a point this facile hardly warrants O'Connor's finger-wagging fire-and-brimstone routine. By the second verse, she is addressing God as "Jah", an affectation that recalls a wackily hatted student reaching for his bong. At this point, one's thoughts do turn to murder, but not quite in the way the song intends.

(Is 100th Window the 18 to Mezzanine's Play? Discuss.)

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A left-wing thinktank in the UK has stated that parents should be given extra votes to cast on behalf of their children. (Which would have the effect of further disenfranchising non-breeders, who already subsidise the genetic vanity of the breeding majority with increased tax rates, but that's a different rant.) The Demos thinktank also proposed lowering the voting age to 14.

Under the "baby ballots" proposal, children would get voting rights from birth - with their parents choosing how to use their offspring's vote. When a child reaches 14, he or she would then cast votes for themselves.

(In the US, it is rumoured that the Bush administration is working on a similar plan, only votes will be given to fetuses from conception and automatically allocated to "pro-life" candidates. The Hagel Voting Machine Co. is believed to be involved at a high level.)

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Saddam == Osama (part 2): A recent poll of 1,200 Americans asked a very simple question: "To the best of your knowledge, how many of the September 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens?" 44% said that most or some were Iraqis; only 17% knew that none of them were. 65% of Americans also believe that Iraq and al-Qaeda are in very close collaboration; of which there is scant convincing evidence (or at least that has been made public). It looks like the Whitehouse has succeeded in conditioning the American people to associate long-time Bush family foe Saddam Hussein with the 9/11 attacks, all using psychological techniques: (via bOING bOING)

It is not at all unreasonable to conclude that the suspected national identities of the hijackers -- 15 Saudis, one Egyptian, one Lebanese, and two from the United Arab Emirates -- must have been heard or read by everybody on at least several occasions. From there the raw information must have made its way to innumerable lunch rooms, bars and family dinner tables across the country, where it was debated and discussed. Though it was somewhat subversive and unpatriotic to ask why, there was an insatiable national hunger to know who. Even the realpolitik diplomatic strategy of the Bush administration -- to play down the frequency of dots leading to Saudi Arabia -- should not have penetrated sufficiently to impede free access to information that was clearly in the public domain.

So most Americans knew that there weren't any Iraqis involved, but (if the polls are representative) were persuaded into revising this knowledge by emotional conditioning, and repeated association of Iraq with terror by authority figures; a textbook example of the effectiveness of persuasion techniques at editing the public memory; owing equal parts to Noam Chomsky and Robert Cialdini.

To the behavioral psychologist, the truth about the hijacker's nationalities might seem a victim of a chronic state of inattention. Conditioning has rendered Americans hyper-responsive to emotional and sensory dynamics triggered by the news media, and relatively uninterested in intellectual content. Nobody understands this better than Rupert Murdoch, who has created an empire out of punchy anti-intellectualism. And few understand better how to use it to their advantage than the Bush White House. George W. Bush is, after all, the anti-intellectual's president.
It was a case of psychological transference on a national scale. The transformation came not by cognitive argument, but by emotional association -- Iraq was described persistently in the emotionally charged post-9/11 vocabulary and context, most often by an association with fear, anxiety and alarm.

Meanwhile, the involvement of that staunch bulwark of Truth, Justice and the American Way, Saudi Arabia, has been deemphasised, to the point where most Americans, aware only that the Saudis are Our Allies, would subconsciously edit out any ecollection of cognitively dissonant facts (such as that 15 of the 19 hijackers hailed from the sternly fundamentalist desert kingdom).

(Oh, and remember that British Intelligence dossier which proved beyond doubt that Iraq is guilty? Well, it turns out that it was plagiarised from academic articles about the 1991 Gulf War.)

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Microsoft's MSN deliberately sends broken stylesheets to Opera in order to make the third-party web browser appear defective and unusable. This is an old Microsoft tactic; they did similar things to break DR-DOS under Windows 3.x and (even earlier) to prevent Lotus 1-2-3 working with MS-DOS 2.0.

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Don't feel like celebrating Valentine's Day on February 14? Commemorate Emperor Norton's birthday instead. Hail Eris! (via Slashdot)

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