Burned over

I’m sorry not to have posted here much. I have been very busy, but also approaching the condition of upstate New York, ca 1830, when it was known as the burnt over district because of the continual evangelical revivals which swept over it. Everyone in it had been saved till they could hardly stand up. No possible novelty of excitement could stimulate them any more. It was out of this spiritual charcoal that Mormonism emerged. I do hope I’m not going to invent a new religion. But I have entered the Sargasso Sea of feeling that nothing is new or fresh; all my thoughts feel vague and fleeting. It’s a condition very simply cured by spending a week or so standing in rivers, but that is difficult to arrange right now. In the meantime, sustaining thought for even 800 words seems a gigantic feat. (Another version of this state is described in Koestler’s Age of Longing, where he calls it fatigue of the synapses, and treats, if not cures, it with brandy and benzedrine).So here follow some quickies.

Smuggery: I had 40 or 50 people turn up at the local library for a reading from Fishing in Utopia, along with a chance to buy some of the last ten hardback copies in the wild. This went extremely well, and contrasted with my appearance, earlier last week, on a Swedish TV arts programme looking unbelievably fat and dishevelled, and muttering a helpfully subtitled “fuck!” into a mobile phone when the interview was interrupted.

Nerdery: (This section to be expanded) I tried putting xubuntu on this laptop—that’s to say ubuntu with an xfce interface, which is a lightweight and well thought out window manager without the pretensions of gnome or KDE. It works. The result is quicker and more capable than Windows XP as well as more secure. It does sleep and standby, as well as networking both wirelessly and over 3G without fuss. The only thing I have not worked out is how to get OneNote running, and preferably doing its synchronisation trick with the desktop. Except for that, and Excel to do my expenses, I won’t be going back.

Nerdery: People who say that Microsoft can’t make software should try Onenote. It’s a really good shot at a difficult target.

Journalism: I need to expand this thought, but underlying all the other crises of journalism there is a political crisis: if readers cannot change their lives as a result of what they read, they will not bother. In particular, they won’t demand accuracy; and when what they read seems to have no effect in the real world, they won’t demand kindness, either. The cruelty of modern media is not an expression of innate human cruelty; it’s also an expression of particular political arrangements, and the burning rage of powerlessness. So people trying to rescue journalism in Europe and North America should be looking at what’s happening in India and China—both places where, for different reasons, the potential readership feels there is more to play for. If “readership” is the word. But I think it is. Writing is still for most purposes a much richer medium than video.

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14 Responses to Burned over

  1. Rupert says:

    Journalism: not sure about that. Some of the cruellest ‘journalism’ has been in US political reporting, where people did think that they might defeat the other lot by pure bile. Perhaps the issue is one of populism driven by desperation on the side of the publishers, where journalists and publications are being driven deep into unreason by the fear that without it, they’re not going to be entertaining enough to survive. We still don’t believe as a culture that we won’t survive and prosper by default, so entertainment – and a happiness to focus those fears we can’t ignore onto soft targets – is a pleasant enough pastime. I’m not getting burning rage; at least, no more so than normal.

    On the positive side, good journalism can find a huge audience very quickly. Do you have an example of a good journalist overlooked?

    Nerdery: Microsoft can produce good software. It rarely wants to. And what about your expenses renders them Excel-specific?

  2. acb says:

    what about your expenses renders them Excel-specific? Obviously I would like to reply that it handles scientific notation gracefully – so handy for the client entertainment bills (recent directives inform us that these must all use a minus exponent).

    But there is also the fact that the approved Guardian form comes as a macro-laden spreadsheet.

  3. Sean says:

    I just watched the clip you linked to on Twitter – that subtitled “fuck!” really is quite perfect, and just like the one I have heard on fishing trips.

  4. Oliver says:

    If a religion strikes you as so compelling that you have to found it, I promise to give consideration to converting

  5. Oliver says:

    PS: is there a busted link in the Journalism section?

  6. Hakan Lindgren says:

    Journalism: good point, I think. If there’s one word that sums up our time it may very well be defeatism. We know things will get worse, but we have given up. Defeatism can get ugly very soon.

  7. Keith says:

    I’ve used ubuntu before, attempted to use an old build with a printer and I lost the plot when trying to assemble or something something. I think it’ll be there if you can just double click on something like an executable to install the drivers.
    What is the difference between ubuntu and xubuntu? On the websites they claim both do the same thing “perfect for laptops and desktops…contains web browser etc. and much more”

  8. acb says:

    Keith (why is this name spelled so illogically? surely, following German rules, it ought to be spelled like Wien, or else pronounced “Kithe”. I have been getting it wrong, consistently, for thirty years now).

    The short answer is that xubuntu looks cleaner and simpler and runs on less powerful computers. Ubuntu looks more like Windows, or Windows coated in orange dogshit, and does slightly fancier things with the screen. The technical answer is that xubuntu uses xfce, and ubuntu gnome.

    You can now just about double-click on somehting like an executable to install printer drivers. In fact you can double click on something like an executable to install just about anything. It has hugely improved over old builds.

    Oli, I’ll check.

  9. Oliver says:

    It’s the link to naughton — shows up with a repeated “http”

    replacing “read” and its cognates with “write” has an interesting effect on a dispirited Sunday

  10. chris y says:

    I do hope I’m not going to invent a new religion.

    I was actually considering this as a retirement project. I would document its progress or otherwise as dispassionately as possible and leave my notes to the local sociology department in my will.

  11. Keith says:

    Well it’s a Celtic name if that helps. People often spell it ‘Kieth’ which annoys me no end. I have to explain that the ‘i before e’ rule doesn’t apply to proper nouns.
    I suppose the same rule would apply to Leigh, where you get the same sound from the ‘ei’.
    Thanks for the clarification on the differences between x and non-x ubuntu. I might try putting a new build of it on a very old laptop I have (once I replace the HDD yet again)

  12. acb says:

    Oliver, naughton link belatedly fixed: thanks.

  13. acb says:

    Keith: it really has improved my laptop no end. Not at all sure about its worth on desktops.

  14. Doug K says:

    arrived here from Making Light..

    I just wanted to second that emotion: that standing in rivers is a sovereign cure for anything caused by consciousness. IMO.

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