A Unified National Transportation Policy

- An evaluation/evolution of a nation in motion -


A) the body

Gone are the days of the Super Chief.

The train is in decline, still. Less freight is carried by rail in America. Overtures are made in homage to the train. Trains get speeches, but not new lines, not new passengers.

B) the symbol

It was the symbol of modernism, of the industrial output of Nations, of high speed, of raw power. It was the national might, the national dream. It was America, done up in steel, traveling across its own high-strength flesh grooves carved into the width of a continent.

Now the train is a symbol of socialism. It is the lurching, dying giant of the State. Railroads are subsidized, marking the awkward, geriatric point between lack of State-attention and full privatization. The point between decline, and actual death. Super Chief meant many things, but Amtrak means a joke. A national joke. A Washington joke. It is the failure of socialism, a past age, an idealistic modernism, belonging firmly in the alternate history of Deco zeppelin docking collars on the tops of skyscrapers. Trains have gone the way of World Wars. Of ocean liners, and big red rockets. It was a product of our technological age's teenage exuberance, and youthful idealism. We leave the trains now for the other countries of the world, where idealism is more akin to their stage of development, that is to say, behind the intelligent, older, more mature and advanced-of-ego-age, us. The Chinese might have high speed rail, and perhaps the Euro-rail network is nice for tourists, and the Japanese might love their crowded trains. But Americans will travel by other means.


A) the body

A car crash used to be a perversely beautiful thing.

Everyone was buying cars. Big metal things, leather seats, lots of gas, even more road, radios installed, rock and roll invented and recorded and broadcast, it sounds good lo-fi, lots of treble, the engine takes care of the bass, drinking and driving was not always illegal.

People still buy cars, but the brands are diminished, safety records are tarnished, the price of gas is up, and hydrocarbons are foreign. The roads are broken, the highway design is as ancient as Eisenhower, the clover-leaf is from the age of the bomber gap.

B) the symbol

The car was the way in which we killed ourselves. We loaded it up with friends, we loaded it up with bullets, its metal was the crisp black steel of a hand-gun, the American gun, the gun that tamed the West, the gun with which we protect our homes. We loaded it up with gas, we got loaded ourselves, we got behind the wheel, we got it out on the road. We pulled the trigger, we pushed the petal, we pulled it back into the lane, we pointed the hood ornament West like the reticle on a gun sight.

But cars don't have hood ornaments anymore. We still die behind the wheel, perhaps more than ever. But it's no longer the subject of our rock and roll. The act of transportation is no longer the goal--now the goal is simply the destination. Our music is about where we are driving to get to, not the act of driving there. We get angry at the costs, and the time involved. The human costs, the environmental costs, the economic costs. What was the back bone of our industrial output is now our liability. The subject of the second, second amendment--the American right to own an automobile--is killing itself off. Handguns are better made than they ever were, but cars are prohibitively expensive to buy, poor in quality, unsafe to drive, and expensive to fill with fuel. If only it was the government, keeping us down with their seat belt laws and recalls, or restricting the places we can drive, or refusing to fix the roads. If only... but more and more, there is just little reason to drive. Where would we go? Into snarls of traffic? How many times can you drive to and from work? It is becoming more macho to drive a compact car than to obtusely keep filling that truck with gas.

We are no longer a country on the edge. We are no longer at the frontier, racing engines against fate and time and space. Our egos are bruised, perhaps, but the car just wasn't taking us to the places it used to take us. We're no longer bigger because of our cars. We may yet brandish that weapon, and clutch it in our cold, dead fingers, but we are starting to realize we are in the dark. No one gets rid of their guns--more likely, they just forget where they kept them.

The neurotic drive to express the fact of death through our machines, through our tools, and enact our ego-preserving force upon our environment is perhaps not the most sustainable of psychological traits, but it is only a neurosis. It is a potentially harmful pathway of mental power, but a pathway back to ourselves. We worked through our aggressions by impacting the asphalt, hard. Life is nothing if not self-destruction, a constant progress towards death.

But now, once again, we are beginning to travel by a different route.


a) the body

Suicide is a turning of the future against ourselves.

Airplanes, or alternatively, aeroplanes, were the future. Heavier than air flight was the impossible dream--space flight almost seems tantamount to leaving the ground in comparison. It's only faster, higher, and with a thicker skin. More money, that's all. But airplanes globalized the world. They crossed the continent again, after the train. But they also crossed the water, and then the ocean, and then time zones. What way better presents the fact of a round globe to any particular consciousness, other than to mess with the Circadian rhythm? The very internal sense by which we understand light and dark was pulled back and forth across the globe like a curtain, introducing a new insomnia into our modern lives.

Or so it was, in modern times. Now things are... different. We have receded from this magic of space and time. Supersonic flight is now barely a dream, in the same category as walking on the moon. It is a relic of a different future, it is a future of our past, and accordingly, it is the past and future of our present. It is one of many dreams. Our dreams are revealed as only dreams. Air travel is more expensive. Airlines are less profitable. Flight is slow, it is the height of bureaucracy, of customer frustration, of the infringement of personal liberty. There is more freedom now on the bus.

And also, so it seems, flying is more dangerous.

b) the symbol

Once, it was car bombings. A vehicle, something we see every day, packed with explosives and parked next to a target. But like our personal transportation, the symbol has moved on. How does the enemy of society attack in this day and age? From the air. The futuristic airliner passing silently and quickly overhead is now an angel of death, and those who have ill intent seek to cause them to rain down upon us, like clouds of fire, like curses, like biblical plagues. In the promise, now lies danger and potential death.

The airlines and airports are now places of suspicion, where one fears to tread. And yet we still have to go, because there is no other way. We have to get there, and so we have to face our fears. The fear, of our future coming to kill us.

It is not simply callus to refer to acts of terrorism as symbols. Because, as acts of terrorism, they are symbols. If one wanted to kill, one plots a murder, an assassination. There is no need for such spectacle. Even for more supremely violent acts against society and people and places, there are more efficient ways. A car bomb, a train bomb, even a misdirected bus has a greater damage capacity. These targets are wide in the open, and could never be fully secured. And yet, terrorists still lust after plane travel. There is no better spectacle, and no more powerful symbol.

The train represented the industrial muscle of nations, but nationhood is passe. The car was once the weapon of the people, which we turned against ourselves. The plane is an inefficient weapon, but one which we turn against others, one which strikes against the globe. In our modern society, in whatever age that it is, the airplane is a symbol--not of self-destructive ego expression, but of our wish for each other's death. It is a homocidal symbol.

This is no longer a neurosis, but a psychosis. Humans have dreamed for millennia of flight, and finally even a child can learn to pilot a plane. But the skill of flying is now a security risk, because those with the power to fly, also have the power to kill. Our dream is a social liability, a hazard, and a threat. Our willful conquering of the air is now a violent ideation, and so it seems, it can lash out "at any time".

America has undergone a psychotic break with reality. Certainly, it is a fact that violence is one of the most eternal laws of humanity. That is fact. But the break with reality lies in the notion that a single, solitary vision of violence will do anything to sway the course of humanity. Or even a string of violent visions, symbols, and acts. We are surrounded by violence everywhere--in our countless other symbols, and in our physical bodies, themselves images of violence, both the capacity for, and the vulnerability to violence we all encompass as human bodies. Our relationships with space and time are constituted within the physical tolerances of violence. Our transportational infrastructure, as the set regimes of physical motion through space and time for our society, are themselves constituted within the physical tolerances of violence. We normally call these "safety", or "comfort", "keeping to a schedule", or "physical possibility". It is the same thing that has guided the rest of humanity through the journey of history. Physical possibility, and the pursuit of safety and comfort. If we have a destiny to manifest, it is letting our bodies achieve what they can, how they can. It is a lot of hard work, pain, and most of the time, results that fail to meet our expectations.

The break is the deviation from this historical path, to think that we can achieve all that we think. To believe that the future we once saw in trains, cars, or planes was anything more than a future we simply envisioned. To think that a future could ever become a present. There is only the present, and all the dreams, symbols, and acts that could ever occur within it.

Those who have experienced the psychotic break cannot understand why the present is not the future they have already envisioned. Why is America not what it's supposed to be? They do not understand why their dreams are not already reality. Reality is a stratification made from dreams, but in this way it is nothing but absolutely real--it is never wish fulfillment. Those who have experienced the break do not seek to express themselves in repair of their egos, to alter their own egos with actions and with objects, to better deal with the inconsistencies of reality. They seek to effect the same break on reality that reality has broken within them, to widen the gap by breaking the reality of others, and in doing so they seek to pick one particular symbol to represent the violence they feel, and thereby re-constitute the reality they have lost. They throw their entire lives into this symbol, and in return, expect a redemption of their lives in the act of violence.

But in the end, it's just another act of violence. It's just another passage from here to there--another physical spasm in a huge stratification of physical spasms. It is one more symbol in a massive dream-dimension society of symbols, and another confounding truth of human reality. It is not human work, it is human futility. And in this way, it's also our fate.

We haven't seen the last breath of our unified national transportation policy.


Video in Space


The past's response videos to the future.


The youth of today has no way to learn to dance.

Broadcast these videos into space!


You wouldn't know it, but the dolphins jumping in front of the bow of a ship are actually on Dolphin Soul Train.

If there is no more broadcast TV, how will these images get to alpha centauri?

There is not one ironic kid in the Soul Train Gang.

Remember, these people were alive when humans were on the moon. Did you live in a time when there were humans on the moon? No. So you are obviously from the past, and this is the future.


Atemporality Onward and Always Inward

I'm glad to see the atemporality thing is taking off.

Bruce Sterling gave a keynote last week (or thereabouts, I mean, it is atemporality, right?) which was the sort of the coming out party for atemporality. I've been tracking the Twitter search on #atemporality for some time now, "listening to the aethers", so to speak. It was mostly Bruce, after the initial minting (or, thereabouts) of the concept by William Gibson a while back, with me and a few others throwing in every now and again. And of course the retweets, trickling down through the matrix like drops of condensation on a window. But now atemporality seems to have blossomed, with a mushrooming of traffic, and several new original contributors picking up the hash tag with new links, etc.

It's atemporality in action!

As I was discussing with M earlier this evening, this is a term that's philosophical time has come. It's a natural extension of several things going on in philosophy, history, and other relevant disciplines. After the end of grand narratives and post-modernism, we need a place to pick up the narratives that remain. Atemporality is simply a coined term for the various technological phenomena we're currently witnessing as our semiotics continue to transform themselves. It's an extension of the resurgence of interest in Bergsonian time, and the investigations of Foucauldian information and technological theory in the age of the Internet, and the aesthetic applications of Deluzian thought regarding desire, society, and information by the next generation of information theorists, and a philosophical grafitti technique being wielded by the post-Burroughs and ex-Dadaists, and estoterics, and occultists, and artists, and writers, all looking for the next new thing, and trying to find something a bit more concrete to explain what the hell we're all doing on the Internet all day long.

And other stuff too.

Of course, the thing about a new, interesting concept like this, is that it can all of a sudden be everything, and we can draw diagrams of the microcosmic and macrocosmic universes from an atemporal angle, play atemporal samples in our DJ sets, and cook atemporal pizzas. Or it can be nothing, and just be a flash in the pan Internet meme.

Well, its all in the usage really, and we'll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, I think it can bear some fruit in various guises, (especially in the atemporal pizza category). There are more than a couple academic disciplines that could use a new buzz word to play with too, and might even get some good work out of it.

But where it really gets interesting, I believe, is when we push the concept. So, now that the term might start being deployed, we shouldn't just add it to our jargon tool box, and take it out on weekends to parties. It is time to take it out on the road, and see exactly what this baby can do.

From my perspective, it's not just the next buzzword. All of those philosophical names I dropped a couple paragraphs up are stuff I've been working with for about five years now, and trying to pick up the wires, test the connections, and figure out where they lead. I'm a bit invested in the concept from a metaphysical and semiotic philosophy perspective, and I think it could really be the ground of some heavy work, if I ever get back into the philosophy game seriously. In the meantime, it is some heady stuff, man, and it's freaking me out.

Of course, not everyone will use the word like that, or maybe no one will be me. But still, I think there are some experiments we could all try at home.

For instance, I had this idea about the mail recently. Atemporality? Well, not strictly about time. But what we're starting to realize, as more and more people read and listen to the idea of something so formerly concrete as TIME and then say to themselves, "hey, there might be something to that" is that the things we thought were concrete, level, and plateau-like might actually be as flat and hard as the surface of the ocean. Which is hard, when smacking it after a large fall, but is also easy to penetrate if you know how to do it, has currents of its own, and also, also sorts of crazy creatures living in an ecosystem beneath it, totally invisible to someone about to drop onto it from a few thousand feet. Not that the mail has creatures living in it, but the fact is, it is much more than simply sending a letter from one place to the other. It is a massive infrastructural force, employing a large number of people spread across an entire continent, able to do amazing feats of physical transport, wasted almost completely on sending junk mail. So what is the postal system, really? What could it do? What if we re-envisioned it in light of our current technology, and the current way we are learning how to use our current technology? What might happen then? Well, it might be a stunt, or it might make something new and really useful. It's hard to say.

What else can be re-envision? What, pray tell, after our metaphysical and conscious assessments of the fabric of time itself, could we think of in a new light? And is it just a re-evaluation? A new perspective? It is not just a new look, more of the same look, with a new ruler. Or measuring, without using a ruler at all. Measuring something that does not require space, or quantify in such units. It is not a new perspective, so much as all of a sudden being able to see multiple perspectives at once. To look towards the future and back at the past with the same feet that are currently standing in the present. An extension of a point in time, a leaking of nowness, into and through always and forever. Singularity in terms of entirety, and multiplicity in terms of universality.

Sure, it sounds out there. But there are two sorts of infinite, that of the very large, and that of the very small. And in this case, while the universe at large and quantum physics might be an interesting place to look, I'm more particularly interested in those things that we think are important, such as time, space, technology and philosophy (big things) and those we are willing to overlook, like literature, numerology, folk songs, music video dance moves, the sorts of paper we write on, the words we still won't say in public, what objects vandals select to break windows with, and the verb tenses in poorly written street graffiti (little things). This is not pulling atemporal rabbits out of every hat, finding examples of the meta theory in every little cultural studies scrap and crumb. It is finding the new things. Who has done things in the name of atemporality? Who has thrown a brick with the word "atemporality" written on it? Anyone? What if they did? What sorts of paper support the sorts of atemporal writing that we already have been doing and will continue to change the way that we are doing in an atemporal way?

We are not looking for old artifacts of atemporality, or proposing new atemporality research. The whole idea is that what we are looking at when we are looking at atemporality is exactly what we're already looking at. Atemporality is not something new we're figuring out and we're trying, it is what we're always already doing. It is seamless with seamlessness, and continuous with continuousness. It is outside the old strata of time with starts and stops, with beginnings and ends. Therefore, it is outside outsidedness. It is inside insidedness. It is not irony, but the conditions under which anything could be ironic. And in this sense it's the same as it's always been. Except that things now are different. Irony doesn't mean the same thing as it used to. It never does. It never did. The meaning of things is always changing. The meaning of meaning is always changing.

So let's keep looking after it. Anything atemporal going on, make sure to report it to the usual non-authorities. Take pictures, if you can, and geotag them. Hashtag them. Upload them anonymously to sites with no links that will only retweet them six months later. If you find any evidence of anything, sequester it, buy space on a throw-away for-profit satellite, and fire that sucker into orbit. Feed it to a giant squid, and upload the video of the squid on YouTube, and then put the squid in orbit. Blog it all, and then force Google to delete your blog, and then tweet about it until it comes back. Echoes are everywhere. Try to drown them out with new noise. Events have not been planned.

Can someone crowd-source me the mailing address to send for an automatic digital atemporal pizza delivery? No? Well, let's keep looking until we can.


Mailing List

Had this vision a couple days ago, and thought I'd share.

I was imaging a time when all relevant advertising is done online, either through sponsored site ads, or generated through your free services, email, and etc. As they get better and better at targeted web ads, either to your particular online identifier characteristics or simply to location and demographic, the idea of targeted direct mail seems pointless.

There's nothing more transitory than a mailing address, these days. Mail can be lost or damaged. People move. Mailing lists accumulate over such a long period of time, that often it's the people themselves that are changing.

But people have their cell phones everywhere. Even if they don't pick up your phone call, they'll probably listen to your message right away.

And email is even better. Machines can read email. Machines tell you what is important and what you should look at, in the days of the wide, wide, atemporal web. If you can appeal to a machine, you're message will definitely be read. In some time period, it might be more important to have a machine read your message than any human.

So, perhaps the mail will be abandoned. People mail letters less, but in the amount of weight going through the mail industry, the real customers to abandon the industry are the mass mailers. Postcards and newsprint are going through the mail by the ton per minute, all in the hopes that maybe you'll see it. Fruitless! It's only a matter of time before all advertising is online.

While this may sound like a death dial tone for the mail industry, it could also be its rejuvenation. As people get bills online, ads online, and news online, they will no longer guard their mailing address as the gateway to their ad-free souls. Already, I readily give out my phone number and guard my email address, just because an email address is so easily passed around, and ads are sent by script. I know someone is unlikely to call me with crap when they can email much more cheaply. They'll email me every damn week. But I can easily screen my calls, almost easier than I can sort through spam. Maybe there is a time when the email address is portal to the individuality, and the mailing address is as casual as a Twitter username.

This could be the rebirth of the postcard--the original technologically truncated global communication. Replacing the @ with the Airmail stamp. Hell, it only costs half an iPhone app to send a PHYSICAL PIECE OF PAPER with writing or whatever on it clear across the continent, if not the world. People could opt-in to mailing lists, where they get weird, semi-promotional musings at irregular intervals. Why? For entertainment? For social networking? For world-wide democracy? Who knows why. Maybe just to bitch about what we're watching on TV.

Sure, no one writes letters anymore. But never has anyone written quite enough letters. How many emails have you received lately that totaled over a hundred coherent, properly spelled words? But wait a minute, people write philosophical essays on blogs! (At least some of us do.) Why do they do it? Because we're crazy. Because for some reason, the human race loves to communicate with people not in the immediate area, but will not make eye contact with strangers. Because people used to make pamphlets and hand them out even though it was against the law. Because people read stuff that ends up on their door step.

Because paper is a really freakin' weird device. Okay, get this--no phone, no 3G, no CAMERA, yet a remarkable resolution, fully-interactive surface over the entire object, and depending on what sort of input device you use, you get completely different results. It has been said that no one writes on this thing in the same way! Although it is easily recyclable, it can be made nearly indestructible, and even if it is totally damaged, it often still works like new. You can fold it, bend it, glue it, tear it, EAT IT, and repurpose it for any number of uses, from building bicycles to spitting it at your little brother. It's really cheap, too.

So maybe, in some hypothetical time period, when everyone is communicating instantly via Device X and Service Y over Network Q, all the really hype kids are mailing each other printed picture postcards of their sex organs, sharing the new slow-net meme, or even sending the track they just recorded with their band, "crimped" to paper via their DIY groove printer.


Here's some stuff the Post Office could be doing to make this time period not just a time period, but a SOON--some of it which I can't believe they don't do now.

- Create unique postal addresses (UPA) for each person in the country. Make it a twenty-four digit number, or some hex code. Nobody has to remember all their friends numbers, or even their own. They can still mail to a so-called "street address", or other such mnemonic. But the mail service looks up the actual client via a reference database, not unlike a DNS database. You can change your mnemonic via the database anytime you want (or "move", as they once called it) but as long as the mnemonic and the physical delivery address are still linked via your UPA, the mail is delivered. I may not be the only Adam Rothstein in town, or the only person ever to live at 4835 SE Sherman Street, but as long as my mnemonic handle, "Adam Master of the Interdome Rothstein" is on the envelope, I still get the mail. Sure, I chose the name when I was sixteen and it's silly, so it's only for personal mail now. Business mail goes to my business handle, "Adam Corporate Jerk Rothstein", which is also connected to my same UPA, and therefore both coming to my home address, even though none of the senders know where I actually live. Or maybe my UPA listing filters mail from certain senders to certain physical addresses. The database handles all of this, and all I have to do is update my record. Did you know that when you fill out a change of address form at the Post Office, you get a postcard to both addresses to confirm the change? It might as well say, "Please click on this link to confirm, and do not reply to this address as this email was auto-generated." They just need to take it a step further, and give you an IP address.

- It gets even easier now that you can print a custom barcode on any piece of mail with your home printer, using the online UPA database, very similar to a DNS whois. In a barcode there's nothing to misspell. The barcode is, naturally, instantly readable to anyone with a camera phone.

- Stop home delivery. Or, charge for it on the receiving end. Businesses pay for mail delivery, of course. Everyone else can do their correspondence by email... via the free Webmail client the USPS now provides, if they like. People with disabilities and the elderly get free mail delivery. Mail can always be picked up at the post office with a private 24-hour box also costing money, but not as much as home delivery. Picking up mail at the window of your local branch is free. Post Office boxes and branch storage has an expiration, of course. After a certain physical amount of mail taking up space, you either have to pay for an upgrade, or it gets "deleted" (recycled into USPS mailer material). Just like your free email account in the distant, limited digital storage past. All the more reason to do important business by email now, because our email inboxes hold just about a terabyte, keeping personal records of bills and other annoying number series for our entire lives, without ever having a potentially compromising personal mailing to shred.

- The frequency of delivery is increased. Once you are paying for home delivery, you can avail yourself of all the different service plan options. You can pay per delivery, perhaps once a week, either prepaid, or with a credit card on net terms. Or pay for unlimited service, up to three times a day. As the quantity of bullshit mail decreases, the speed of service should increase. Especially if you pay for it.

Each of those bullet points contains numerous changes, but all have the same general inclination: the USPS should start re-envisioning itself as a Mail Service Provider, in overlapping silhouette of Internet Service Providers. There are clients with certain but varying hosting needs, physical networks of transmission, and of course, the content to be provided. Landline ISPs provide data packets over a network that has changed a certain amount, but also stayed roughly the same for a while. There is datahosting, packet transmission, and the sale of services. Mobile ISPs are new to the game, and are starting to pick up the product end of things. Comcast will skin you to rent you a cable modem, but AT&T partnered with Apple on the iPhone, which was probably their smartest and most customer friendly move ever. They still have a way to go, obviously, and many more milestones to pass before they are less of a "telecommunications company" and more of a "network access company". But they're starting to get the idea. The USPS has much further to go. The idea that they are delivering "mail to addresses" should go the way of the AOL portal and national news magazines. MSPs are delivering content to customers, and should totally redesign their service and distribution network around this. If my location-aware cell phone can tell I'm at a cafe in New York this week, why the hell is my mail going to my house? They need to make some network choices here. Maybe redesign a standard uni-mailer, into which all correspondence must fit, and is addressed and sold only directly at USPS kiosks, auto-printed with unreadable barcodes that will never be touched by human hands. If it improves service, people might complain, but they'll buy in. Apple knows it. Hell, people still fly on airlines, so they'll put up with whatever is necessary to get from here to there.

But I'm also going to do my part to further this transition to a redesigned, "Post-Net". (great name, no?) I'm starting a mailing list, after the old style, when it was the only way to swap pornography, or read the latest conspiracy theories, or to get the good music, books, and comics. Not for any of those things necessarily, but to send and receive. All you have to do is send me your old fashioned, obsolete format mailing address. If it's your friend's address or your work address, that's fine. If its a PO Box, that's even better. Just somewhere where you want to receive unsolicited mailings on a basis as irregular as the mail. Email me your address, and start checking your mail box again. Really. Do it.

Or mail me!

4835 SE Sherman St.
Portland, OR 97215

Through codec and bitrate, and gloom of social media, nothing will stop mail from pointedly plodding from one place to somewhere else. Except for no delivery on Sundays.


Hello Reactor!

via this blog


I find a certain resonance with this.

When I was a child, I used to think of my future in terms of various ideals: what I was going to do for a job, where I was going to live, etc.

These days, I see bizarre or odd things, and then I think of myself as an old man, and I think, "yeah, something like that."

In this case, it's Graham Champman in this sketch. Especially his facial expressions.