Blue!

David Swenson’s asset balancing tips:

Domestic Equity (30 percent): Refers to stocks in U.S.-based companies listed on U.S. exchanges.
Emerging Market Equity (5 percent): Refers to stocks from emerging markets around the world, such as Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Foreign Developed Equity (15 percent): Refers to stocks listed on major foreign markets in developed countries, such as the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Japan.

Real Estate Investment Trusts (20 percent): Refers to stocks of companies that invest directly in real estate through ownership of property.

U.S. Treasury Notes and Bonds (15 percent): These are fixed-interest U.S. government debt securities that mature in more than one year. Notes and bonds pay interest semi-annually. The income is only taxed at the federal level.

U.S. Treasury Inflation-Protection Securities, or TIPS (15 percent): These are special types of Treasury notes that offer protection from inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index. They pay interest every six months and the principal when the security matures.

The Earmen

A bunny slope version of India was within walking distance from our compound. Each proper Delhi enclave had an Indian antecedent to the American strip-mall lurking along its fringe; the enclaves were roughly circular and the better, quieter properties were clustered around a grassy interior park filled with grass for cricket and shade trees; the marketplace was ugly and crude in comparison, shunned by decent folk and patronized only by domestics or school boys buying liquor from the government package store. A blighted patch barely tolerated as if a horrid thing had been caught in a fence and was kept tame with scraps. I did not bring my gun. All I had was my folding scout knife. Lifting the blade from its hinged cradle distracted me enough to maintain composure.

I took a service road, or servants’ road, one of the thorn-clogged alleyways that ran behind the row of walled houses and the domestics walk to and from the main-road without spoiling our view. A mottled orange cat, with slim limbs and a bulbous head eyed me as he picked his way between the glinting glass lining the alleyway walls.

The market appeared to be a group of shabby municipal buildings. A post-office logo hung above an overhang, and I walked in and realized the and realized the institutional tile was only a façade. A crowd milled around a tea vendor; there weren’t so many of them, there was no jostling. The men wore collared white shirts and wool pants. There were no women except for a lone police constable who followed me around discretely. The others eyed me but no one approached. Beyond the teashops were rows of stalls leading down winding narrow roads. Each stall was a three-quarter cube of concrete, its opening facing the street, dim bulbs coiled around its rim, blinking, attached to bits of rebar, the dealers hawking, or crouched over stoves that reeked of kerosene and frying dough. Wares ranged from gleaming bare metal pots and pans, to live chickens clucking in cages. I chose the one that looked the cleanest and the walls closed in. Clothes, rogue television lines, and frayed flags flapped overhead, casting everything into permanent gloom. Even the walls were marred almost black with soot. The sky was very far away and I felt very alone no matter how much I thumbed my blade.

I became comfortable with the market, and as the days passed I went deeper. In the deepest recesses I found a row of booksellers. Stolen periodicals were the bulk of their trade, other offerings were mostly limited to political tracts, conspiracy, books of bawdy humor, business, self-help manuals and astrology and superstition. Their bind was of a uniformly atrocious quality, the glue contained no gelatin and pages fell out as you read. I bought them by the armload. Hungry to acquire secret knowledge. I planned elaborate seductions using books of body language interpretation, learned how airports function and the way to escape a maze was to always turn right. One day I bought Collier’s Encyclopedia of Omens. A syntax of mind-bending toxin for a sensitive young brain to intake. An index articulating mystical interpretations of any event: how tinnitus signaled news that was either sinister or good, depending on the ear in which it rang; how an odd number of crows was bad, and even number was good. That uncrushed eggshells provoked stormy seas; that spilled salt drained your luck away unless preventative rituals were performed.

One morning I staked out an open section of the marketplace, clutching a notebook and a pencil, loitering in the dusty concrete plaza noting who entered and left. A useless exercise, certainly, I even I knew it at the time, but I needed a tether to reality – or something like that. I was about to leave when three men arrived, a much different group than the predominantly middle class Indians who had been walking to and from the stalls. They were grubby and obviously close to destitution. Not quite peddlers but tinkers of the lowest sort. They spread out mats and squatted, smoking sharp clove cigarettes. Identical kits lay before them, a single candle lit and burning, a long metal spike, and a photo album filled with postcards from all over the world. WHAT A DIFFERENCE THE EARMEN HAVE MADE. Read one. I HEAR CLEARER THAN I EVER HAVE BEFORE. One man menaced me with a spike. I refused his services, but he kept advancing on me, pleading for me to become his lucky first customer of the day; I stood and left, but lingered on the periphery to watch.

A customer arrived, an elderly Indian woman in a lime green sari and white stripe braided into her black hair. She strolled across the plaza toward them, stooping to examine each book of cards, querying and commanding, until she finally chose an appropriate ear man. She squatted on the mat. The earman perched behind her holding the spike. He was about to insert when she slapped the spike down and I heard a haughty gust of Hindi. He nodded and plunged the needle into the candle for a few seconds then twisted it in his grimy shirt. There was a metallic flash and he jabbed it in and twisted and twisted, pulling her head into the needle and grinding it in.

He removed the spike. A gooey black ball hung from the tip, he waggled it in front of his customer who paid and walked away rubbing her ear. He wiped the wax onto his candle. My ears ached in sympathy.

Writing for Machines

Writers are anxious about the Internet and all things electronic, as we worry these newfangled ways of entertaining ourselves might someday obviate our own work. The solution, perhaps, lies in understanding and adapting to this new medium. Consuming enough that we can master its complexities and render appealingly intelligent confections for our readers. But who are these readers? Are they different online than they are in print? Some of them aren’t even human. There is a new form of reader browsing the Internet. For this is no longer just the age of mechanical reproduction; we now have to contend with mechanical readers as well. [LINK]

White Whaling circa 2011… (Assignment for Prof. Shelley Jackson)

Whaling Implements made by Blacksmiths - from Capelinks.com

[You are encouraged to listen to the NUMBER STATION soundtrack below while you read this, for atmospherics]

Call me McGirk.

Call me McGirk. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing in particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and read the wordy part of the world…

My sincere apologies to Melville.

After a semester traversing a series of literary seas within seas, prying at the “unsayable, the unspeakable, the unknowable, the unattainable” silences within a series of difficult texts, the greatest white whale of all [writing] has yet to feel our [critical] harpoons. That most unknown known remains – the reader. The mysterious diaphane, the field thrown up between the author, text, and reader. What on earth goes through a reader’s mind while he or she takes in a string of words? It is our good fortune that a suite of cutting edge automated ‘readers’ are coming closer and closer to providing an answer.

'Cultural Analytics' from Berkeley

As you navigate the Internet, the Internet – which is to say certain entities using the Internet – navigate you. This isn’t a benign process. They want to learn as much about you as possible so that they can snag your attention; diverting your time into loops of advertisements and possibly even push you through a point-of-sale and taking your money directly. They do this by gleaning information about you. Where you go, what you search for, what type of computer you are using…. Websites leave small tracking codes on your computer called cookies, and each of these transmits data back to homebase. By visiting this site I have already captured your IP address, and can tell which keywords you used to find this site, what type of computer you used, where you are located and a couple of other data-points.

The data I’ve collected is a crude simulacrum of you; an inscription of your desires for an instant (or obligations, as is the case for my only guaranteed reader ). These simulacra have a purpose. Electronic texts can be altered according to the whims of their readers. All writers crave attention. Electronic texts, through their intelligent operators, are aware of their readers, and can quickly respond to being read. By understanding the wants of their readers, operators can better shape content to serve readers’ needs. There are even advanced analytics packages that will automatically generate ‘content’ for users in response to what they ‘perceive’ readers as wanting (in fact this is a multi-billion dollar a year business, or it was until Google tweaked its search results to waterdown these serar)
However, as is the case with traditional pen and ink reader-response, our analytics are incomplete – and at times totally flawed.

ROI on Keywords

Keywords (also known as index terms) are among the most interesting and valuable traces left by users. Most users most often first come across a site by searching for a specific term on a search engine. With this site, jamesmcgirk.com, about 53% of users are directed by a search engine (33% are referred by another site, and the rest come directly). My users mostly come looking for “James McGirk,” “mfa personal statement example,” “maine coon,” and a plethora of business and espionage related-terms I listed to attract interesting visitors. (More on this below) An entire industry has sprung up to interpret these keywords, and another to optimize content online so it can be better read by search engines (this is called Search Engine Optimization). Using search terms as a crude model for a visitor’s mind, weird simulacra have been created. Content is generated automatically at the discretion of computer programs. There are even companies assigning stories to human beings based on the suggestions of algorithims. When you hear the term content farms, that’s what’s going on.

Solaris

As in the simulacra in Stanislaw Lem‘s Solaris, these replications of desire are incomplete. It would take an infinite amount of data (and a correspondingly infinite amount of time to collect this data) to accurately model a human being’s wants and desires. But machines are getting closer and closer.

Content can be thought of as a diversion, as a product designed to leach time from the consumer. A moment of communication between man and machine. A relationship. Ideally this will be a symbiotic relationship – a user will discover an article that is pertinent to his or her interests or finds a link to a product or service that somehow fits into his or her personal narrative. But this is rare. Mostly these diversions are a nuisance, at times completely parasitical. To the point where some even launch malware to seize control of your terminal and force your attention on it. But most are more subtle than that. Perhaps the most sophisticated technique is gamification; in effect snarling a user in addictive gameplay, the way casinos try to dazzle their consumers until they’re too numb to do anything other than play.

Breton eyeball slice

Literary forms are beginning to emerge in response to automated reading systems, searches, and other more prosaic but no less important technological developments such as archives and instant data retrieval. Online, an age somewhat akin to the pamphlet-strewn amateurism of the 18th Century America is in bloom. The most exotic forms can be found on the Internet’s wild fringe, in its anonymous and pseudo-anonymous chat sites. Here there is a frantic economy of monikers, memes and spoofed identities. In online forums such as the all-text Autoadmit.com and the semi-anonymous Somethingawful users compete to create the catchiest, most innovative forms – most often an evolution of an earlier idea, name or other fragment of an idea. The best innovators become famous within their tiny little spheres. Other fora (or is it forums?) are completely anonymous – the most famous of these being the notorious 4chan/b ‘Random’ board, [NOTE: extremely non-safe for work] – where the only recognition earned is the sheer longevity of a creation. The best of memes were once charted on the Encyclopedia Dramatica. (This is a mirror site, the original was recently closed down after pressure from the Australian government, among other more mundane reasons.) But now there is no reason at all to create but sheer artisitc thrill. Although ‘board lore’ has developed a concept somewhat akin to ‘duende‘ – a dark, nihlistic form of amusement known as ‘lulz.’

Trading

The next evolution of the online literary form – which one hopes will eventually lead to the hypertext equivalent of MOBY DICK, which became a sort of bellweather of American long-format literary fiction – could well come from manipulating these mysterious semantic mechanicals. They offer the opportunity to make writing dangerous again. With the proper keywords, information is taken up into automatic readers belonging to some very interesting entities, to the point where there can be real world consequences. As a way of experimenting with this form I have created a series of posts with keywords that I imagine might appeal to some of the more peculiar gleaners out trolling for information. Among these posts are lists of oil rigs, information about espionage, a fake consulting company specializing in complex shipping orders in the Arabian Ocean (mostly deleted), electronic warfare, and other ‘edible’ keywords. The visitors I’ve received include: hedge funds, multinational banking concerns, the department of defense, oil companies, environmental organizations, the Pakistani government, the Kuwaiti government, the Iranian government, the Russian government, an unacknowledged US military facility, a few mysterious hits from ‘Cabin John, Maryland’ (a park across the river from CIA), Mi5, Mi6, but sadly I have yet to influence any. To my knowledge, all that I’ve managed to do is intensify the feeling that I’m being watched when I type online.

AFTER THE INTERNET WAS SHUT OFF

A year and decade after the turn of the century, things looked dire in the United States of America, but not that dire: the economy was stagnant after an exuberant but lopsided decade of prosperity, job opportunities for graduates and social climbers had dwindled to a few openings changing bedpans for the large, parasitic over-class of aging boomers, and the gleam of enthusiasm following Barack Obama’s presidency had faded quickly. But the fact that *that* and a few years of hardship was all it took for open revolt among the most highly educated, entitled generation of Americans ever to be born would have been quite unimaginable at the time. That the change they got was not at all what they were expecting is one of the great ironies of our age.

Rejection Statistics

I found this list (written by a Christine Harrell on a content farm):

-Cream City receives 300/month, accepts only 6 for each issue.
-Florida Review: 200/month, accepts 4-6 for each issue.
-Gettysburg Review: 350/month, accepts 4-6 for each issue.
-Georgia Review: 300/month, accepts 3-4 for each issue.|
-Hayden’s Ferry Review: 250/month, accepts 5 for each issue.
-Indiana Review: 5,000/year, accepts 50 for each issue.
-Iowa Review: 600/month, accepts 4-6 for each issue.
-Midwest Quarterly: 350/month, accepts 5 for each issue.
-Missouri Review: 400/month, accepts 5-6 for each issue.
-North Dakota: 120/month, accepts 4 for each issue.
-Paris Review: 1,000/month, accepts 5 for each issue.
-Prairie Schooner: 500/month, accepts 4-5 for each issue.

I have a feeling those numbers are high, at Columbia we have about 500 or so submissions for 5 slots, but fill most of those slots with solicited stories. So Paris Review receives 12,000 submissions a year for three issues (I think it’s three), but likely only takes one or two stories a year from the slush pile.