Strange thought

December 31, 2019 at 11:39 pm (Uncategorized) ()

Every work of literature springs from the same impulse as a baby’s cry.

[UPDATE] Or, differently put: writing is just fancy crying.

Or laughing.

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Song found by accident

December 31, 2019 at 11:37 pm (By Amba) ()

and liked.

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Rare Praise for an Airline (… oops)

December 31, 2019 at 6:48 pm (By Amba) (, , )

How often is it that you have anything good to say about your experience with an airline’s customer service?

I have flown to Chicago on American enough times to have enough miles for half my trip to Miami and back for the jazz cruise to be award travel. But the AA website’s page for booking award travel was hopelessly byzantine. It looked as if I could only use award travel for roundtrip, and in that case, either fuhgeddaboudit or “buy miles,” which has always seemed to me to cancel out the whole point. Why would you do that?

With a sinking heart I called the 800 number, expecting to speak to someone reading from a script in a call center half a world away. Now, I’m glad for that person that they have a job. It’s their turn to be the middle class. I can see without too much rancor that someone benefits from almost any situation someone else objects to. (For example, if Trump does win the election—which I don’t think is a done deal by any means—I’ll at least have the consolation of knowing that a few friends of mine, like Mike Castellaneta, are happy. And then I’ll have the consolation of Schadenfreude when things go deep south. 😜) When I’ve had time and patience, I’ve had conversations that were little windows opening on Manila or Bangalore. But when it comes to making a domestic U.S. plane reservation, it’s hard to imagine that that person can begin to imagine what goes on here. Any question that’s not on the script, and you have to ask for a supervisor. I often start out asking for one.

But, no. It was a smooth and gracious-voiced all-American, who spoke like an idealized 1950s air hostess. She sounded blonde. We chatted; turned out she had grown up in New York City and is now in Raleigh. She was extraordinarily efficient, friendly, and helpful. She said that under today’s circumstances she was grateful to have her job, and loves it—loves solving people’s travel problems. She was certainly good at it. With her help I could indeed book half my trip as award travel and pay for the other half. The outcome was that it’s costing me $150 roundtrip to fly to Miami.

I could hardly believe it. What a smart corporation, I thought, focusing on human, homegrown, interactive customer service. What a pleasure. They’ll beat the pants off their competitors with this approach.

Gradually it dawned on me that she was on the elite award travel desk. She must have dealt all day long with Platinum Club members. I was just getting crumbs from the rich people’s table.

That said, American is pretty good. They don’t punish you for flying “Basic Economy” the way United does. You get a free carry-on AND a personal item.


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December 31, 2019 at 2:38 pm (By Amba)


saw a big spike in pleasure and pain. You can’t have one without the other. I guess I’m alive, after all.


somebody gave me a great gift to go forward with. “The way you changed my life—they can’t take that away from me.”


our country is flirting with the devil’s no. 1 temptation: despair.


my new year’s resolution is: Resist despair!



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The Good Side of Facebook

December 31, 2019 at 11:37 am (By Amba) (, )

I’ve been focusing on its insidious and evil aspects, which are real, to get myself off it. Now that that’s settled (with the proviso you’ll find at the end of this post), I’m strolling around there feeling nostalgic, getting a good look at what I’ll be missing. Anticipated distance has already given me perspective.

In an age when we are so scattered physically, it’s how we have community. It might be disembodied community, but it isn’t illusory, the word I was first going to use. Unlike the one-to-one, spoke-and-hub communications by which we otherwise maintain our long-distance connections, FB is a collective virtual space where we can have a shadow of that comfy tribal feeling we evolved with, the solidarity of many bodies nearby, sitting around the fire.

And—this may be crucial—we can have it without the inconvenience and conflict that unavoidably comes with the presence of actual people, in their bodies, with their moods, needs, neuroses . . . we can have it stripped of most of that, even stripped of a lot of its “otherness” and turned into our own mental content. (The immune system comes to mind, with its snuggling up to everything “self” and suspicious bristling at “other.”) As incorrigible humans, we still manage to get into hurts and fights on FB, we still need to work at maintaining and repairing the relationships we care about, but it’s all carried so much more lightly, those “surly bonds” are more easily slipped. We can withdraw, unfriend, or just tune out. We can “turn on” presence like a TV show when we’re in the mood for it and not have to deal with it when we’re not. It’s less substantial, but more controllable.

This is the part that’s scary to me. Some commentators have worried that our animal instincts for relating directly to others will atrophy and our cultural skills for doing so will be lost. I’m not very experienced or good at relating to people on a day-to-day basis (I started out shy and unconfident and then, for almost 40 years, for all practical purposes, related to only one), and so it’s too easy to retreat into a solitary real life populated with a virtual community where I can vamp in my avatar of words, definitely my best foot forward. Yet the things I want and need most to do (if I’m not to die feeling I haven’t lived) are the things I’m not good at and am awkward and afraid of: real writing, Feldenkrais, intimacy. If I’m getting enough pseudo-hits on FB I may never get around to risking them. (I’ve got another post in the works on “the comfort zone,” how it is a needed nest to rest in but can become a comfortable coffin to dream in.)

But this was supposed to be a post on what’s GOOD about Facebook. It’s a hive mind, where we all fetch and cross-share bits of information and wit with a rapidity and richness that is impossible alone or one-to-one. This may be the wave of the future. Participating in such a hive mind, with such good other minds as you guys, is a privilege, a chance to make a small, often unsigned contribution to creating the world and the future. To retreat into 19th-century “Individuality” and try to create alone, with a byline, feels regressive and vain. It may call on my capacities more deeply, which will be privately satisfying, like a good workout, but the results are also likely to lie uselessly off to the side of the real conversation.

All that considered, I’ve decided to deactivate my FB account—for a contractual year—before I decide whether to delete it. Maybe after a year in solitary I’ll be fit for a better balance. I love you guys. Hope to see some of you in “the real world.”

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The Lab Rat’s Revolt

December 29, 2019 at 3:46 pm (By Amba) ()

This article by Douglas Rushkoff is one of the best things I’ve read about the virtual unreality we’ve been lured into. Rushkoff more than anyone puts his finger on what’s driving me off Facebook.
I feel myself being experimented on, my mood and behavior manipulated, and not even by a sadistic sentient being. It’s AI with an electrode in my brain—a monstrous feedback loop between my own nervous system and an automated commercial imperative. If I click more when I’m sad (or mad), the algorithm will fiddle with my feed to fine-tune a mix that makes me sadder (or madder). It’s not even the sacrifice of privacy that bothers me (my “secrets” are boring!) so much as the theft of neurological autonomy.
“What happened to us in the 2010s wasn’t just that we were being surveilled, but that all that data was being used to customize everything we saw and did online. We were being shaped into who the data said we were. The net you see and the one I see are different. Your Google search results are different than mine, your news feeds are different and your picture of the world is different.”
“{We are] living in a new sort of environment. It’s an environment that remembers and records everything we have done online, every data point we leave in our wake, in order to adapt itself to our individual predilections – all in order to generate whatever responses or behaviors the platforms want from us. The digital media environment uses what it knows about each of our pasts to direct each one of our futures.”
“We can no longer come to agreement on what we’re seeing, because we’re looking at different pictures of the world. It’s not just that we have different perspectives on the same events and stories; we’re being shown fundamentally different realities, by algorithms looking to trigger our engagement by any means necessary.”
“We’ve spent the last 10 years as participants in a feedback loop between surveillance technology, predictive algorithms, behavioral manipulation and human activity. And it has spun out of anyone’s control.”
“We may be benefiting from the internet’s ability to help us find others with whom we share rare diseases, hobbies, or beliefs, but this sorting and grouping is abstract and over great distances. We are not connecting with people in the real world, but gathered by our eyeballs in disembodied virtual spaces, without the benefit of any of our painstakingly evolved social mechanisms for moderation, rapport, or empathy.
“The digital media environment is a space that is configuring itself in real time based on how the algorithms think we will react. They are sorting us into caricatured, machine-language oversimplifications of ourselves. This is why we saw so much extremism emerge over the past decade. We are increasingly encouraged to identify ourselves by our algorithmically determined ideological profiles alone, and to accept a platform’s arbitrary, profit-driven segmentation as a reflection of our deepest, tribal affiliations.”
Related articles: Our version of China’s social credit score;  excerpts from Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Also a dead-on video by Aaron and Melissa Dykes; this is patrons-only, and can be accessed, along with other prescient early warnings, by donating $1 a month.

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Welcome, intrepid Facebook friends.

December 28, 2019 at 11:08 pm (By Amba) (, , )


I have low expectations that anyone will show up, and no idea, at this point, how enticing I’ll make it.

But, less often and with a higher bar than on Facebook—because more effort is involved than just hitting “share”—I’ll still post links and photos, write thoughts and commentary, share music and other videos, anything that clears that higher bar. I may find stuff you in turn would like to share further. And if you send me something irresistible (most of you know how to reach me), I may post or link to it. It’s “slo-mo, remote Facebook.” It’s how we lived before there was Facebook.

(Just in case anyone shows up, I’ll try to shape up and write as clearly as I sometimes managed to do on Facebook. I don’t always bother when I’m just talking to myself.)

I have several neglected blogs—Purr View, for cat stuff; Cloven Not Crested, about women; A Cold Eye, a dark-themed scienceblog; The Compulsive Copyeditor for word nerds—but YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW THIS. This main blog, Ambiance, will be the bulletin board (as well as the place for anything personal, political, musical, or hysterical), and I’ll post notifications and links on this blog if and when I post on any of the others.

I’m told there is a “Follow” box to check in the lower right corner of this blog’s homepage, and by checking that you can receive an email when I post something. (I think the email actually contains the whole post, so you won’t even have to navigate.) I’ll also see if I can put an obvious “Follow” widget in the sidebar for proper internet redundancy.

If you “follow” the blog you will also be able to comment. (If you ever wanted to write your own post[s], or just copy a FB post you like over here, that too could be arranged. Ambiance started out as a group blog.)

Or, you can just come over here now and then and see what’s new.

All this is whistling in the dark, but it will be my place to vent and to share any irresistible links, images, ideas, or laughs I come across. That was the good part of Facebook . . . that and “seeing” you guys.

BONUS: Whether you come here or not, go to Time Goes By and look at posts called “Interesting Stuff.” Ronni Bennett finds better links than most Facebookers. I’ll be sharing her finds and so can you. Here are two:

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The Future Is Yours

December 1, 2019 at 10:37 pm (By Ron, Uncategorized) ()


You are incomplete, unfinished.  As goes your self, so go your actions;  half finished plans, dreams delayed,  your heart a field of broken toys.  The world in its wisdom has brought you to this point and the full depth of your sufferings and failures transcends the sugar spun follies of youth.

But as someone who has lived a panoply of lives you know an even deeper truth:

The World Is A Lie.

The world lies to you for its purposes which rarely — if ever! — align with your own.  It wants you simple, practical, ordered, humble, but not humble as an alloy of your strengths with deeper hued wisdom, but humble as a making lame, a cutting of tendons so that you may not go further!

There is no victory in this; you must create the World for Yourself.   This day reminds you of this!  Struggles against the Coalitions of your worst aspects will be driven from the field on this day!


Never forget that all may be accomplished, that the Grande Armee of your soulcrafting can bring you only triumph on this your Austerlitz Day!


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