Getting word in edgewise

EdgeHandMost of the smart people I know want nothing to do with politics. We avoid it like the plague—like Edge avoids it, in fact. Is this because we feel that politics isn’t where anything significant happens? Or because we’re too taken up with what we’re doing, be it Quantum Physics or Statistical Genomics or Generative Music? Or because we’re too polite to get into arguments with people? Or because we just think that things will work out fine if we let them be—that The Invisible Hand or The Technosphere will mysteriously sort them out?

Whatever the reasons for our quiescence, politics is still being done—just not by us. It’s politics that gave us Iraq and Afghanistan and a few hundred thousand casualties. It’s politics that’s bleeding the poorer nations for the debts of their former dictators. It’s politics that allows special interests to run the country. It’s politics that helped the banks wreck the economy. It’s politics that prohibits gay marriage and stem cell research but nurtures Gaza and Guantanamo.

But we don’t do politics. We expect other people to do it for us, and grumble when they get it wrong. We feel that our responsibility stops at the ballot box, if we even get that far. After that we’re as laissez-faire as we can get away with.

What worries me is that while we’re laissez-ing, someone else is faire-ing.

(An essay by Brian Eno, “We Don’t Do Politics”; Brian Eno
Artist; Composer; Recording Producer: U2, Coldplay, Talking Heads, Paul Simon; Recording Artist; my connection to Eno is rather trivial and indirect: he wrote liner notes for Doug Hilsinger and Caroleen Beatty tribute album “Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy” during my tenure as Waycross manager, “individually, professionally and collectively known as…”)

I found a couple random snapshots from ten or so years ago that I thought to, via my stupid cell phone, swede into this blog. I thought the photo of the defunct nightclub “The Edge” relevant apropos of my recent post about the plans to demolish 260 California to make way for even more office space here. I presume what ocassioned the shot, in March, 1999, was the novelty of the band name, Nashville Pussy. (I didn’t see that show, but caught them once at Bottom of the Hill). I recall being afraid, for example, to book Sex Mob, because of the name. I booked the Matador Recording artists Fuck, into Cubberley, and the facility manager called me into his office to protest. Not the band name, but that the flyer was so poorly done, with hand lettering (my pseudo-Finsteresque scrawl) and featured a line drawing I stole or transformed from a book about P.T Barnum, of a sea creature or some marvel. Gina Arnold marvels on Pussy here in Metro, and thereby earns a “tag” — I am trying to reach her, indirectly, mostly, about so-called Palo Alto Rock and Roll Archive.

Here is relatively recent shot of 260 California Avenue, Illusions nee Edge nee Keystone Palo Alto nee Sophies nee Vortex, also conjuring Abbey Road cover and Lance Armstrong, speaking of illusions.



To arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.

(verse)  `

If we have a million photos, we tend to value each one less than if we only had ten. The internet forces a general devaluation of the written word: a global deflation in the average word’s value on many axes. As each word tends to get less reading-time and attention and to be worth less money at the consumer end, it naturally tends to absorb less writing-time and editorial attention on the production side. Gradually, as the time invested by the average writer and the average reader in the average sentence falls, society’s ability to communicate in writing decays. And this threat to our capacity to read and write is a slow-motion body-blow to science, scholarship, the arts—to nearly everything, in fact, that is distinctively human, that muskrats and dolphins can’t do just as well or better.

The internet’s insatiable demand for words creates global deflation in the value of words. The internet’s capacity to distribute words near-instantly means that, with no lag-time between writing and publication, publication and worldwide availability, pressure builds on the writer to produce more. Global deflation in the value of words creates pressure, in turn, to downplay or eliminate editing and self-editing. When I tell my students not to turn in first-drafts, I sometimes have to explain, nowadays, what a first draft is.

Personal letters have traditionally been an important literary medium. The collected letters of a Madame de Sévigné, van Gogh, Jane Austen, E.B. White and a thousand others are classics of western literature. Why have no (or not many!) “collected emails” been published, on paper or online? It’s not only that email writing is quick and casual; even more, it’s the fact that we pay so little attention to the email we get. Probably there are many writers out there whose emails are worth collecting. But it’s unlikely that anyone will ever notice. And since email has, of course, demolished the traditional personal letter, a major literary genre is on its last legs.

Writing ability is hard to measure, but we can try and the news is not good. Recently the London Daily Mailreported on yet another depressing evaluation of American students:

While students are much more likely to call themselves gifted in writing abilities [the study concluded], objective test scores actually show that their writing abilities are far less than those of their 1960s counterparts.

It’s hard to know how to isolate the effects of net-driven word devaluation in the toxic mix which our schools force-feed our children every day. But at any rate, the Internet Drivel Factor can’t be good—and is almost certain to grow in importance as the world fills gradually with people who have spent their whole lives glued to their iToys.

At the Huffington Post, the future is now; the Weekly Standard has republished parts of a Huff-and-Puffington piece by the actor Sean Penn. Even assuming that Sean Penn is a lot more illiterate than most people, the Post is a respectable site and the Penn piece is eye-opening.

The conflicted principle here, is that which all too often defines and limits our pride as Americans who, in deference to an omnipresent filter of monoculturalism, isolationism and division, are consistently prone toward behaviors and words, as insensitive and disrespectful, while at foremost counterproductive for the generation of young Americans who will follow us.

The only problem with this passage is that it is gibberish. The average ten-year-old hasn’t fallen this far yet. But the threat is real, is way under the radar and likely to stay there; prognosis: grim.

David Gelernter. “Worry About Internet Drivel”
Computer Scientist, Yale University; Chief Scientist, Mirror Worlds Technologies; Author, America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled our Culture (and ushered in the Obamacrats)
I found my way to Edge dot org because there is a lecture coming up at Stanford about “Buddha and Green Goo” which is a reference to Eric Drexler and “grey goo” and he contributes to this site from which I so shamelessly pilfer. It is true these 1,200 words of mine are devalued relatively to say, writing for the Gunn High Oracle in 1982, but in the moment I find it useful, absorbing and fun. I still think of it as a notebook more than a broadside. I was meaning to revisit Faulkner/Williams/Newman and “Barn Burning” and to look again at whether the meandering style is just nuts, or, worse, mixed nuts, but found this a nice digression, and a use for the photos. Fittingly, if there are gods out there who care about where I park my carcass or peck my keyboard, directly after I asked the guy next to me to document me for this purpose, I knocked over my water glass, here at Peet’s and maybe fried this little purloined Macbook. Also: I want to cross the street and shoot the mosaic of a harp in the sidewalk, at University and Kipling, recently site of Apple Store but formerly a music store. Isn’t there a constellation of the Harp? See also “Welcome to Dopeland” which I call “Touch of Grey Goo”.
STARBUCKS ON THE WAY . . . Those craving a coffee fix as they drive along The Royal Way in Palo Alto will soon be able to pull into a new Starbucks at the corner of El Camino Real and Stanford Avenue. The new coffee house will be occupying the old Mountain Mike’s pizza building at 2000 El Camino Real. Starbucks plans to improve the dark brown building with new storefront windows, colors, signs, outdoor seating and landscaping. The Architectural Review Board is scheduled to discuss the improvements on Thursday. Starbucks’ other Palo Alto store is on University Avenue. (Palo Alto Weekly, August, 1998 — I have fond memories of that pizza parlor being the official post-game headquarters for Gunn basketball, 1980-81, but had never heard of Ai Weiwei or his “Studies in Perspectives” at the time I shot this):
I like Peets but hate the other guy

I like Peets but hate the other guy

regarding Gelernter, well said. I do think of the writing here at “Plastic Alto” like not just a notebook that I am merely leaving open for you to peek at, but also like a rough draft. What is the point in bash-bash-bashing away at deeper thoughts if this is not actually being fixed in ink somewhere? Also, there is this thing about going back and finding links, competing with, displacing, finding better ways to nick and tuck in my flow per se. Ginsberg has its impact on me, but also Rauschenberg, and David Shields. Although I can also still here the paternal and reassuring voice of Chauncey Loomis on audiotape (itself presumably lost, except in my head, my mind’s ear) telling me “now you are really writing” as I explicate some sophomoric assertion about Milton “Paradise Lost” — or was he just being nice? Flash forward to Harry Connick last night telling off Randy Jackson about the singer being both “original” and more like the Etta James version, versus the Lena Horne version of Arlen’s “Stormy Weather”, and also recalling Teddy Conway saying that as a freshman at Cardinal Newman Connick was bullied and transferred out. Or me, in the first row at the Orpheum in SF in 1991, spitting out four words almost on key of Queen “Death on Two Legs” and getting Harry’s hand, a high five, speaking directly of my sub-theme here of all things digital. (Harry was saying that at one point before he got into Cole Porter he was a “yat” and liked stoner rock, and arena rock, as I did — I also wrote him once via his manager’s office about whether or not he was Jewish and got no response — it was the year that I commissioned Elizabeth Hutchinson to make me a “5751” New Years Card, reclaiming the swastika, the four descenders linked, like a yad — years later Connick did come out as black, I mean gay I mean Jewish, as if it makes a difference.


The coda six hundred words later has links back to Gelernter’s paintings, and a picture of

The Author

The Author

in the moment and I think Daniel Kahneman is his name.

If we have a million photos, we tend to value each one less than if we only had ten. And here I’ve added five more to the mix.


This is my old Forerunner, Andy Heller's LDR rig and a mystery rig, loading into Cubberley Theatre, Earthise Productions' Palo Alto Soundcheck, circa 1999, and tip of my thumb, 2013

This is my old Forerunner, Andy Heller’s LDR rig and a mystery rig, loading into Cubberley Theatre, Earthise Productions’ Palo Alto Soundcheck, circa 1999, and tip of my thumb, 2013

edita, two minutes later but two hours all-in: Drexler has a wordpress blog and his sample of Kahneman drew me in then led me to, if we really care to know how my mind and the internet work. I have a clip from a while ago on Kahneman and the rationale for artists to make art, that I wanted to research and comment on…


About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player, and blogger; he also sang in local choir, fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32 Reads 'Howl' and owns a couple musical instruments he cannot play
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1 Response to Getting word in edgewise

  1. Harry Angus says:

    Hi Mark,
    I’m writing The Encyclopedia Of Jerry Garcia Music Venues. I’m interested in locating a hi res photo of Sophie’s/Keystone, Palo Alto. I’d need it at least 1mb or larger.
    Please email me at

    Thank you
    Harry Angus

    I guess you mean better than the picture i took of the marquee from the 1990s. I’ll keep my eyes open. Thanks for writing. –MW

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