Saturday, November 29, 2003

Consumers on the rampage

A woman waiting in line for a DVD-player sale at Walmart was trampled and knocked unconscious by the frenzied press of the post-Thanksgiving-sale-crazed Americans vigorously exercising their right to acquire more lame shit.

Walmart officials offered to put a DVD player on hold for the woman, because they "want her to come back as a shopper."

UPDATE: The woman has been trampled 16 times before; 9 of those times were at a Walmart. Just when you thought it couldn't get any more white-trash...


It seems Drew Barrymore has decided to remake the classic film 'Barbarella' with herself in the starring role.

...this Barbarella will not resemble Roger Vadim's 1968 movie, which starred Jane Fonda. Rather, it will be based on the original French comic books. "We don't have the rights to the original Barbarella," August said. "So not only is it not like the original Barbarella, it's deliberately and legally not very much like the original Barbarella..."

I'm glad it's going to be different... some things are better left alone. And having an evil villain named Duran Duran (from whom the band took its name) just won't fly anymore, I think.

The Red Planet

If it pertains to Mars, it's blogged at Martian Soil. Perhaps the only thing I don't see mentioned there is why we are obsessed with Mars in the first place.

In 1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli documented channels on the surface of Mars. The Italian word for 'channels' is 'canali', which was interpreted in English-speaking cultures as 'canals'. To the Victorian mindset, for obvious historical reasons (such as the industrial revolution, and empire building on the foundations of the Renaissance), the presence of canals implied the presence of canal builders.

Dr. David Schroeder of Catawba College has been studying Victorian ideas about Mars:

Others expounded on Schiaparelli's discovery during the late 1800s and the early 1900s, including American astronomer Percival Lowell. Lowell, in his publication, 'Mars and Its Canals,' propagated the idea that Mars was inhabited by creatures of advanced intelligence who had used their engineering skills to create gigantic canal networks which captured, channeled and carried water from Mars polar caps to irrigate crops located along the canals. Mars, Lowell contended, was far older than Earth and was practically a desert planet from which most water had escaped.

"For his concept of the canals on Mars to work," Schroeder says, "one had to adopt a utopian view of that planet. All the Martians were politically unified, all spoke the same language, shared the same culture and could collaborate on projects of this magnitude. Many saw this as the future of Earth." Lowell's views became popular and sparked debates that have lasted more than a century.

It's pretty interesting that the general cultural fascination with the Red Planet stemmed from a misunderstanding, an error in translation. Of course, the more I study, the more I learn that this is often the way ideas propagate... a meme that might die out if reliant only on its inherent truths may be much more viable if some of those truths are altered to fit the tastes of the target audience.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Acid Logic Presents...

Penelope Spheeris. Frank Gorshin. Kate Bush. Akira Kurosawa. Interesting Motherfuckers and their Motherfucking Masterpieces.

Sisters are doing it for themselves

A gallery of 800 important woman artists from medieval to modern times.

Big picture

In the film The Station Agent, Peter Dinklage shows us the difficult life of a dwarf living in our society. The film has been getting very good reviews, primarily for its sensitivity in approaching a topic more usually dealt with in a comic or vulgar fashion. Erin Thompson lends us her perspective on the film, little people, and our common humanity.

All the news that they say is news

Some of you might think the Orbital Mind Control Lasers aren't real. You think your thoughts are your own. You fail to realize that behind the guy, there's another guy, and that guy is a member of the International Jewish Conspiracy.

Street of dreams

Kurt Wenner - master street painter.

Inferno by Kurt Wenner

Power to the people

Fighting the Orbital Mind Control Lasers, one freeway sign at a time.

Pumpkins revisited

Aye, it's a bit late for this one, but it will probably take you a year to get as good as this guy is at carving pumpkins.

The pathology of 'beauty'

I remember seeing a film in elementary school about some African tribe where the women poked holes in their lips and inserted clay plates to stretch the holes larger and larger. This was seen as desirable, and even in the modern day when young women were becoming more cosmopolitan the cultural bias in favor of this practice was so strong that a woman who did not do this might not find a husband. I recall the post-film discussion, mostly centered around the primitive and provincial world-view that the poor unenlightened Africans were subject to. There was no mention of the correspondingly bizarre practices in my own culture.

We've seen plenty of body-modification in western culture. When I was young, girls would stuff tissue paper into their bras to enhance their breast size. Now they just get implants. And it doesn't stop there: in addition to the whole spectrum of plastic surgery options, you can get cheek implants, chin implants, pectoral implants, penis implants, buttocks implants, and calf implants. Calf implants??!?! How fucked up does your body image have to be before you decide to get calf implants?

American society has turned body obsession into a disease. People are assaulted on every front by unattainable visions of 'perfection'. Making you believe you don't look good enough is good for business, and having a society that can't tell the difference between television and reality is an excellent way to ensure that the companies can continue stringing people along from one fad to the next, forever in search of the purchase that will bring the promised fulfillment. Health and happiness have become commodities. But that sort of beauty is truly only skin deep, if it goes even that far. At the end of the day, none of what you've been sold matters: if you're happy, you're beautiful.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Darwin Award Nominee

Recipe for disaster: (1) inbred redneck, which implies (1) large pickup truck and (0.5) clue. (1) video camera to record stupidity for all posterity. Mix well and add telephone pole to taste. (Windows WMV) - via Stupid Evil Bastard


[De]generativealgorithmicrealtimethreedvisualaudiosynchcutpoetrytypethingy. Their description, not mine. (Shockwave flash).

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

For the well-dressed active lifestyle

Extreme Ironing is an outdoor activity that combines the danger and excitement of an 'extreme' sport with the satisfaction of a well pressed shirt.

A sense of perspective

Art lovers can utilize the genius of those two great icons of art, Picasso and Mr Potatohead, to create their own masterpieces over at Mr Picassohead.

Night of the Living Dead

The State Assembly of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh was recently besieged by hordes of dead people. It's a case of llife imitating art, but in this case the art is the movie 'Brazil' by Terry Gilliam. According to the paperwork (often filed by malicious family members who want to get their grubby little nubbies on the property of the 'deceased'), tens of thousands of people are dead, and the government feels that it's not their problem that these dead people persist in walking around demanding rectification of their plight. In India it is often the case that the only way to get things done is through the liberal application of baksheesh, which the unfortunate dead do not posess.

When I was in India I felt at times that the bureaucracy had acquired a life of its own, had become a living thing that existed independent of any mere rules or the lackeys that enforce them. It seems now that bureaucracy is more tangible, in a very real way, than the people themselves. If the paper says you're dead, you're dead.

The Mark of the Consumer

Applied Digital Solutions of Florida is developing a system whereby people can buy merchandise with an RFID microchip embedded underneath their skin. Since all products will have RFID tags on them in the near future, it only makes sense that the consumers have a tag on them as well... then Big Brother can keep an eye on you in much the same way Walmart keeps an eye on its stock. The biggest advantage will be that you could just walk out of the store carrying your items... the stuff gets scanned, you get scanned, and your credit is automagically charged for the purchase.

There are some valid concerns about privacy when using these devices. And then, of course, there are some simply idiotic concerns as well. About a microsecond after the press release, a bunch of Christian wackos started yapping about how RFID is the apocalyptic manifestation of the 'mark of the beast'. I'm delighted when I see how far we've come scientifically, how far technology has developed... I'd like to think that someday we could use technology to make things better. But then I see the ignorance and fear with which people react to the technology, and I know that we are still absurdly primitive.

All of the knowledge gained in the last 2500 years, all of the social and philosophical and technological progress, and the majority of people in my country still live their lives according to the prejudices, fears, and superstitions of a small group of goatherders who existed in the Middle East a few thousand years ago.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Evil to them that think evil

The County of Los Angeles has notified all equipment vendors that do business with the city that "based on the cultural diversity and sensitivity of Los Angeles County," labeling or describing equipment with the term 'master/slave' is no longer acceptable. By convention, for instance, the primary hard drive on an IDE channel is the master, and the secondary is the slave, denoting that the control path is unidirectional. The implication that this convention is in some way insensitive is absurd... definitely a misplaced application of 'politically correct'.

We've seen this before, of course. In 1999 David Howard, a staffer working for the mayor of Washington DC, lost his job after using the word 'niggardly' in its appropriate context, regarding the miserly dispersal of a fund. And around the same time, University of Wisconsin student Amelia Rideau was so upset when her professor used the same word that she left the classroom in tears. Even after the professor explained to her what the word meant, she demanded that UW implement a speech code which would punish anyone using what she described as 'offensive' language. She even urged the university not to require proof of intent, i.e. to punish professors who make remarks that are perceived to be offensive even when no offense is intended. Fortunately, the University chose to handle this in a sane manner a few months later when they became the first University to voluntarily repeal a faculty speech code that allowed any student who was made uncomfortable by something a professor said to sue the institution. Commenting on the University's decision, author Jonathan Rauch said "In a free society all of us have an obligation to be thick-skinned. We have a First Amendment not because we like offensive speech, but because we disagree on what's offensive."

The part that really gets me is that an ignorant knee-jerk reaction actually reinforces the negative stereotypes more than the supposed insult does. I don't think that people need to tolerate racism; in fact, I think that any racism that can't be eradicated through education should be eradicated through litigation. (I believe it would be even better to have a society that was inherently and self-maintainingly free of such bias, but I'm not so naive as to believe that's ever going to happen, especially in a country that was founded on slavery). But spurious claims of racism based on the ignorance of the supposed 'victims' is just another way to breed hatred under the guise of 'correct' behavior.

Here kitty kitty

Check out the inexplicable adventures of Catcoon.

Freedom from all of this safety

Congress just approved a bill that enhances the Patriot Act by reducing oversight of the FBI and intelligence agencies.

Under the Patriot Act, the FBI can acquire bank records and Internet or phone logs simply by issuing itself a so-called national security letter saying the records are relevant to an investigation into terrorism. The FBI doesn't need to show probable cause or consult a judge. What's more, the target institution is issued a gag order and kept from revealing the subpoena's existence to anyone, including the subject of the investigation.

The new provision in the spending bill redefines the meaning of "financial institution" and "financial transaction." The wider definition explicitly includes insurance companies, real estate agents, the U.S. Postal Service, travel agencies, casinos, pawn shops, ISPs, car dealers and any other business whose "cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax or regulatory matters."

I was in elementary school in the early 70s, and I remember that when they were indoctrinating us about how great our country was they used two approaches: first, they taught us about the enlightened vision of the founding fathers, and the way they created a Bill of Rights and a system of check and balances to prevent abuses of power. Then they would contrast this with the way 'the Russians' ran their country. I specifically recall that some of the reasons we were to believe that Russia was so bad included

  • the government was corrupt, giving positions of power and business contracts to friends
  • the government could arrest, imprison, and even execute someone without due process
  • to the extent that a government is secret, it cannot be democratic or its people free.
  • the people were afraid to speak their minds for fear of retribution
  • criticism of the government was strictly forbidden
  • the government was spying on its own people

There was more, but I'm sure you already get the point: this country has become a parody of itself, and now has more in common with our old enemies than with the ideals upon which it was founded. And it's not just paranoid liberals who think this: Ashcroft recently went on a speaking tour of the US in which he acknowledged that yes, our freedoms have been curtailed, but he felt that we should be glad to give up our freedoms if we want safety.

"Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear - kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervour with the cry of grave national emergency. Always, there has been some terrible evil at home, or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it."
- General Douglas MacArthur

What is the goal of terrorism? To strike terror into the hearts of their targets? Then theirs has been a tremendous success. We're so afraid we're falling over ourselves in our rush to surrender our freedoms. Much has been said of the people who lost their lives on 9/11, and much has been said of the people who continue to lose their lives in our military of Iraq. But what of the people who fought and died to create this country, to establish the liberties we are now so willing to throw away? There have been generations who were taught that our country's commitment to freedom and democracy made us great... and in the space of a few years we've seen democracy eroded and freedoms dwindle.

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
- Benjamin Franklin

While the ongoing death of my idealism about this country pains me, the attitudes of the American populace - the willingness, even eagerness, to throw away their freedoms - pain me more. People think waving a flag and blindly supporting the government is patriotism. If so, then we approaching levels of patriotism not seen since WWII:

"Naturally, the common people don't want war, but after all, it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag people along whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country."
- Hermann Göring

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Group Hug

Ever wonder what is going on behind the beady little eyes of the people around you? Viddy the horrorshow at

Sardines and Ding-Dongs

Berke Breathed (of Bloom County fame) is returning to the world of comics with a Sunday-only strip called (and starring) 'Opus'. Check out the interview with the star.

Over at they've digitized the debut strip.

Update: Somebody is maintaining an archive of weekly scans.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Hey Ho Let's Go

On November 30th the city of New York is officially renaming of the corner of 2nd St and the Bowery in the East Village 'Joey Ramone Place'. There will be a ceremony at CBGB (half a block away) at 1pm.


Attack of the mutant guppies

Yorktown Technologies just announced that they will soon start selling genetically modified fish that glow in the dark. They introduced the gene that makes sea-anemones glow into tropical zebra-fish, which made the fish (which are normally silver and black) bright red in normal light and fluorescent under UV light. The consequences of releasing this new transgenic species into the wild are being hotly debated.

I recall that years ago a company started selling a plant to tropical fish owners, and that eventually someone dumped the plant into the ocean... where it grew like mad, choking the life out of the seabeds as it grew without bound in an environment that did not contain the natural checks and balances that existed in it's native habitat. I've read a genetics textbook, so I know just enough to be dangerous, but one of the things I do know is that the issue is so complex that the substitution of a single gene can have results ranging from a change in color to a change in viability. These little fish may be harmlessly colored cousins of the unmodified stock, or they could have some as-yet-unknown subtle difference that can fuck up the ecosystem... they could be less viable, they could be more viable, they could be disease vectors, or they could upset the food chain.

Genetic modification is coming. Actually, it's here: Americans bitch about genetically modified corn, yet they drink milk and eat meat from cows that have been modified with steroids. As the world's population grows and our resources dwindle, I suspect that we will look to genetic modification to make existing resources 'better'... but I also suspect that there will be unexpected tragic consequences. The part that gets me is that this little experiment could be the spark that touches off an environmental catastrophe... and they're doing this so rich assholes can have glowing fish.

UPDATE: The state of California has banned these fish.

They just keep going and going and going...

A team of WWII veterans and negotiators have been sent to the jungles of the Phillipines to try to bring home soldiers of Japan's Imperial Army who are still fighting the Second World War. One of the veterans has a deep understanding of what the aged soldiers must be going through - Yoshihiko Terashima, 82, continued the fight against the United States for five years after the official surrender.

If more soldiers are found, it wouldn't be the first time such a thing has happened... in 1974, Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda was discovered in the jungles of the Philippines. He refused to believe the war was over. They eventually flew in his former commander, who ordered him to drop his rifle and surrender.

Think how much the world has changed, since those guys went into the jungle, young men fighting a war for the empire.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Another casualty of the war on drugs... sorta

FORT WORTH, Texas -- A man changing a flat tire choked to death on a bag of marijuana he had stuffed down his throat in an apparent attempt to hide it from police who stopped to help him, authorities said.

drugs are bad, mmmkay?


We just got one step closer to the age of nanotech. As reported in New Scientist, researchers have used E. Coli bacteria DNA and carbon nanotubes to self-assemble transistors. This could be the limit for the low end of transistor size. There is a significant amount of work that must be done before they can self-assemble entire circuits, however... combining many of these transistors together to make a useful device will likely involve protein folding techniques, which are some of the most intractable problems in science at this time.

Researchers have already used DNA to self-assemble patterned nanostructures, circuit elements, and a sort of nanodevice scaffolding that could be the first step in the creation of nanotech machinery. These approach the size limit for any physical device... building devices one molecule at a time, in contrast to almost all other small-scale assembly techniques which remove matter until the desired structure is all that remains.

The inherent ability of DNA to assemble complicated structures (like you, for instance) has also been used to solve mathematical problems such as the Hamiltonian path or 'travelling-salesman' problem and prime number factorization, the latter of which is of critical importance in cryptology... almost all 'secure' computing relies on the near-impossibility of finding the prime factors of absurdly large numbers in a short enough time that the encrypted data is still relevant. (At today's computing speeds, some of the algorithms would take tens of thousands of years, or a really lucky guess, to crack).

DNA isn't particularly fast. DNA computers (as seen on the level of logic gates) are therefore not very fast. But the advantage of DNA computing is that billions of very complex operations can take place simultaneously in a test tube, and well-understood methods can then be used to extract the correct answer. Our brains are slow: some neural process take on the order of milliseconds, whereas the computer I am now typing on can perform a single operation in half of a nanosecond. But the parallel structure of our brains makes short work of many complex problems. Nature has evolved an incredible supercomputer (hell, nature is an incredible supercomputer); I'm glad to see that we are starting to incorporate some of that brilliant evolution into our own creations.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Fucking USA

North Korean politipunk commentary... check it out, this is how parts of the world see you. Another gem from Rob Pongi. (Requires Quicktime.)

I know adults who don't have this much focus

Check out Mo Kin, the three-year-old North Korean xylophone wiz. Sings and dances, too. As shown on Japanese television and translated by Rob Pongi. (Requires Quicktime.)

The Return of the King

Stupid Evil Bastard has a list of things you should NOT do during the movie "Return of the King".

Some highlights:

6. Finish off every one of Elrond's lines with "Mr. Anderson."
8. Talk like Gollum all through the movie. At the end, bite off someone's finger and fall down the stairs.
12. Every time someone kills an Orc, yell: "That's what I'm Tolkien about!" See how long it takes before you get kicked out of the theatre.
13. During a wide shot of a battle, inquire, "Where's Waldo?"
17. When they go in the paths of the dead, wait for tense moment and shout, "I see dead people!"

Robin Banks

'Robin Banks' (pun intended I'm sure) or 'Banksy' is taking vandalism to a whole new level. Personally I'm glad to see someone out there trying to make a statement with this art form... it's more common to see 'tags', the young male primate equivalent of pissing on trees. Tagging is empty narcissism, not social commentary. If you're an aspiring vandal and want to take things to the next level, Banksy shares some of the do's and dont's.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Happy Birthday Alan Moore

Today is the birthday of the wizard of Northampton, Alan Moore. Moore redefined the comics world with works like Killing Joke, Watchmen and V for Vendetta, and has been making music with David J, formerly of Bauhaus and Love & Rockets. Officially today marks the end of Moore's career in comics, so he can study magic full-time...

When I was 40, I decided to become a magician, for various reasons. Most people get to 40 and have a midlife crisis, and that's just boring. They bore their friends by going around saying, "What's it all about? What's the point?" I thought it might be at least more entertaining to go spectacularly mad and start worshipping a snake and declaring myself to be a magician. It's been immense fun. And, more than fun, it's been illuminating. It's probably at the stage now where I see almost everything in my life, and in the world around me, in magical terms.

Thanks for sharing some of that magic with us, Mr Moore. Happy Birthday.

Alan Moore, the wizard of Northampton

File sharers beware

The marketing branch of the RIAA/MPAA U.S. Senate are proposing a new copyright bill that would make sharing pre-release movies a federal felony with a fine of up to $250,000 and a 3-year prison term. In an interesting twist, the bill is worded such that actual copyright infringement isn't a precondition of guilt - if you have the file available on a shared folder, Web site or FTP site, you are guilty, regardless of whether or not it was shared with anyone. The bill will conveniently assume that the mere presence of the file implies that at least 10 people have downloaded it. The copyright owner is not required to prove that any violation of their rights actually occured.

Look at that again: The copyright owner is not required to prove that any violation of their rights actually occured. A person can therefore be sent to prison without actually commiting a crime. Sheesh, during the Reagan years I thought Orwell's 1984 was prophetic... I had no fucking idea how bad it was going to get.

I've never understood the need to see a(n often poorly camcorded) film before it is released... most films suck so bad lately that I don't even want to see them after they are released. But imagine this scenario: Little Skippy gets a computer. Little Skippy learns to write virii that take advantage of the dozens of unpatched security vulnerabilities in Micrsoft's Outlook and Internet Explorer. (Melissa, SoBig, ILoveYou, Nimda, you know the drill.) The virus has one primary goal: find unsecured shared directories on the hard drives of unsuspecting idiots who still haven't clued in that thay are part of the problem. Once these shared directories are found, the virus acts like a peer-to-peer filesharing app, transferring copyrighted material all over the place. Little Skippy could even include a feature where, once a file is complete, the virus removes itself after notifying the MPAA that the (still unsuspecting) owner of the computer has copyrighted material on their publicly-accessible drive. Even if the case is eventually thrown out, the targeted person would still have been subjected to the ever-more-draconian machinations of the American legal system.

And what of public FTP sites? This sort of legislation can only make the net more closed, the same way the rest of this government's legislations are making our society more closed. The funny thing is that this specific legislation doesn't even seek to address the specific loss of money due to copyright violations. It seeks to limit the damages that occur when the public finds out, in advance, how bad an upcoming film will be. This past summer the film industry blamed the poor (relatively, I assume) income from their films on teens using their cellphones to almost instantly tell each other how bad the films were. Did you notice that 'Matrix Revolutions' was released at the same hour in every part of the world? That was so people would spend their money before they had a chance to find out from their friends that the movie sucked ass.

Monday, November 17, 2003

The Elegant Universe

In his book The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene explores string theory, parallel universes, and the quest for the 'Theory of Everything', the Grand Unified Theory that unites the strong, weak, electromagnetic, and gravitational forces. Physicists have been trying to come up with such a theory for the last century.

Physics breaks down, to some extent, at very small or very large scales. If you throw a ball, Newton's physics can calculate where it will land, how high it will go, how hard it will hit the ground. But subatomic particles (even atoms themselves, they've recently discovered) don't follow the rules of 'classical' Newtonian physics, so we look to Einstein's theory of relativity and Feynman's quantum physics for answers. And on the scale of galaxies, there appear to be some problems too; our theories of gravitation don't add up correctly, leading to theories involving 'dark matter'.

A Grand Unified Theory, if one exists, would tidy up our perceptions of the universe, giving us a greater understanding of how it all works. The breakdown of scale and the breakdown of what is believed to be a single unified force into the strong, weak, electromagnetic, and gravitational forces represent our largest obstacles to understanding more about the universe. There is a lot of speculation about the possibilities, however. NOVA recently aired a documentary based on The Elegant Universe. If you're like me and don't watch television, you can watch The Elegant Universe online. There are 24 segments of streaming Quicktime or RealVideo, the entire 3-hour show.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

David Lynch, saving the world? (For what?)

The Guardian has a list of the world's 40 Best Directors, and David Lynch is at number one. Ok, I'm hip to that, but it turns out that (surprisingly) the strangest thing this guy is up to is happening off-screen: he wants to build 100 meditation centers in America, as part of a plan to build 3000 centers around the globe. Personally I think that developing focus and engaging in a little quiet introspection would do most of the world some good, but unfortunately I think this is the wrong way to go about it. The centers are all to follow the ideas of Transcendental Meditation, which, though a good idea in and of itself (once again in terms of focus and introspection), has turned into a parody of itself with offers to teach you 'Age Reversal' and 'Yogic Flying', all for one low low price, special for you today only.

I learned TM when I was 16; my mailman had studied with the Maharishi in Rishikesh shortly after the Beatles made the whole thing fashionable. (The story of how and why I ended up learning meditation from my mailman is too long and complex to include here, perhaps I will write it up another day). By the mid-80s, it was no longer fashionable, but my friends and I were on some sort of spiritual quest (why oh why weren't we just trying to get laid like all the other kids?). TM is a useful practice for developing mental focus, but there are many such practices. (Turning off your television would be a good first step). The amount of good such a practice can bring, however, is largely offset by the image of wacko hippies bouncing around on the ground and calling it flying.

So: interesting films? Check. Building places where people can go to develop focus and calm their minds? Check. Flying hippies? I think I'll pass, thanks.

Degree Confluence

The Degree Confluence Project aims to visit each of the latitude and longitude integer degree intersections in the world. These visits are documented by photos of each location, which are shown on the site. There is a confluence within 49 miles (79 km) of you if you're on the surface of Earth; discounting confluences in the oceans and some near the poles, there are still 13,528 to be found.

Fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity

I don't know why all of today's posts are political.

Bush plans a visit to the UK (our dearest allies, remember?), and requests that they turn Britain into a police state like our own for the duration of his stay. Britain ever so politely declined many of the more absurd requests.

Home Secretary David Blunkett has refused to grant diplomatic immunity to armed American special agents and snipers travelling to Britain as part of President Bush's entourage this week. In the case of the accidental shooting of a protester, the Americans in Bush's protection squad will face justice in a British court as would any other visitor, the Home Office has confirmed. The issue of immunity is one of a series of extraordinary US demands turned down by Ministers and Downing Street during preparations for the Bush visit. These included the closure of the Tube network, the use of US air force planes and helicopters and the shipping in of battlefield weaponry to use against rioters.


The Americans had also wanted to travel with a piece of military hardware called a 'mini-gun', which usually forms part of the mobile armoury in the presidential cavalcade. It is fired from a tank and can kill dozens of people. One manufacturer's description reads: 'Due to the small calibre of the round, the mini-gun can be used practically anywhere. This is especially helpful during peacekeeping deployments.'

Ministers have made clear to Washington that the firepower of the mini-gun will not be available during the state visit to Britain.

Freedom and democracy my ass.

Chicken Hawk Down

Speaking of people yapping about the government on their blogs, Tom Tomorrow has a relevant toon.

Gore Speaks

The LA Weekly has published an interview with Gore. That would be Gore Vidal, not Al 'the bore' Gore. This guy has been around since Truman, and he's got some interesting and salient things to say about where this country is going:

But Gore, aren't you still enough of a believer in the democratic instincts of ordinary people to think that, in the end, those sorts of conspiracies eventually fall apart?

Oh no! I find they only get stronger, more entrenched. Who would have thought that Harry Truman's plans to militarize America would have come as far as we are today? All the money we have wasted on the military, while our schools are nowhere. There is no health care; we know the litany. We get nothing back for our taxes. I wouldn't have thought that would have lasted the last 50 years, which I lived through. But it did last.

But getting back to Bush. If we use old-fashioned paper ballots and have them counted in the precinct where they are cast, he will be swept from office. He's made every error you can. He's wrecked the economy. Unemployment is up. People can't find jobs. Poverty is up. It's a total mess. How does he make such a mess? Well, he is plainly very stupid. But the people around him are not. They want to stay in power.

I don't share Vidal's optimism on this point... the past few years (few? Since Reagan anyway) seem to be an exercise on the part of the government to see just how far they can push things before the people wake up. Before we 'elected' Bush the Lesser, this exercise took the form of "if we do these things behind their backs, they'll be none the wiser, just keep them busy with bread and circuses", but the genius of the Bush administration (clearly not the man himself, he's obviously a fucking idiot, but all of his daddies friends are there with him) was the realization that they could pull most of their shit right out in front of the people, and no-one would care, because the programming worked: the people believe that we are this golden democracy fighting for freedom and justice. It's no wonder that dissenting voices get shouted down (in a country where rebellion and 'Independence' are supposedly valued highly). The people continue to wave their fucking flags, as long as they have their SUVs and their television, even though the country that flag supposedly represents hasn't been around for a long time, if it ever existed at all.

We are an empire. Empires fall.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Spam again?

The bright assholes at AT&T have just been granted a patent for circumventing spam filters. The patent covers "A system and method for circumventing schemes that use duplication detection to detect and block unsolicited e-mail (spam.)" Just what we need... more offers for Viagra and the secrets of 'length extension'. Of course, I don't think the problem lies entirely with the spammers; after all, they are merely exercising good-old-fashioned American rape-and-pillage capitalism like they have been taught. The real problem lies with the fucktards that actually buy the products/services or even respond to the fucking email at all. If it wasn't for these dim and confused (but apparently very optimistic) idiots, the spammers would have dwindled away by now. The economics of large-scale mass-mailings dictate that it only takes 1/1000 or even 1/10000 responses to a mailing to turn a profit... so if we can't take out the spammers, I think we should take out the people responding to them. Personally I suggest a plague, though I realize that others might find that a bit extreme. Education would be a useful exterminator of this particular kind of vermin, but they've been breeding education-resistant strains of Americans for a long time now.

SLC Punk

My generation is the generation of the procrastitutes: those who wait as long as they can before they sell themselves out.

When the film SLC Punk came out, I watched with some trepidation, because the film is set amidst the people and places of my teenage years. I read a review of the film that said 'placing the story in Salt Lake City strained the credibility of the film', which says a lot about the near total saturation of the dominant culture in SLC, that one of the most active punk scenes in the country would be thought a myth. We were living behind the Zion Curtain, and if you were young and rebellious I can't think of a better place to be... what the hell did you have to rebel against in L.A.?

Much of the film is dead on. Some of it is out of whack, but hell, it's a film. The characters are loosely based on real people, even if some of the things they do and say would never have happened. Heroin Bob and SteveO are real, and no, Heroin Bob didn't die, I think he OD'd but recovered in the hospital, and he's still in SLC. He has a brother named Kim who was always somewhere nearby when Bob was around. SteveO didn't go to Harvard, he went to LA with Karl Alvarez (whose band 'Massacre Guys' was awesome) to join 'Descendents' and later, 'ALL', when Milo quit singing for punk bands and went to work as a biochemist. They basically pegged Sean Fightmaster (strangely enough that is his real name)... his epic trip was the stuff of legend, even if he couldn't really remember it later :)

They left out a few people that should have been in there: John Boyle, Janet Tunney-Peck, Brad Collins and Daphne of Raunch Records, Robin, Natalie, Brooke... and that was just the old guard - the year the movie takes place there was a whole new generation of punks, a very diverse community of people that were really quite socially aware, with whole subcultures of vegetarian/vegan/militant-vegan punks, straight-edge punks, goths, everything from civil disobedience to outright anarchy, plus the inevitable destructomatic bald jocks who thought they were skinheads. On 3 Sept 1984 there was a huge 'Rock Against Reagan' show, right across the street from the hotel where Reagan was staying during his SLC visit... I don't remember just how many people were there, but it was big. The people that are missing from the movie are the real story... the story in the film is just a fictionalized sidenote.

Which brings up a point where the film is wrong: SteveO continually refers to himself and Bob as the 'two original punks' in SLC. No such thing. Of course, it is the nature of young rebels to strongly identify with their tribe, and to heap scorn on all others, so while it is theoretically possible that SteveO felt the way Lillard portrays him in the film, it is rather more likely that James Merendino (writer and director of the film) only saw the small part of the scene he had attached himself to. (Merendino was 14 in 1985, I think... things were already starting to fall apart by then. The last show at the Indian Center was in the spring of 1985.)

I myself wasn't an integral part of the core punk scene... they were all about 5 years older than me, which puts me in the 6th grade when the punk scene got ramped up in SLC. A few years later, when I left home, I went to a gig at the Indian Center and afterwards to a party at Hell House (SteveO lived there, as did some ever-changing-but-usually-large number of other punks), where I was a crash-pad grommet for a few months... though I didn't know him, Merendino must have been in the same room as me a few times. I took the scene for granted, which is a shame, because I had no fucking idea just how boring life was going to be later on.

Anyway, having that film exist is like having other people find out your dark little secrets... I have many fond memories of those times, but I've never been able to really express what it was like to people who weren't there. The film is a good first step, for at least now there is some record of that time. BUT: imagine my horror when I saw this. I've also seen quite a few young people who have adopted the name 'Heroin Bob' as their online persona, and I've seen "Heroin Bob is Jesus" and "Heroin Bob's not dead" t-shirts and bumper stickers. There's also a band called 'Deathstar' (comprised of young guys that weren't even zygotes when the movie takes place) who have written a song about Heroin Bob.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Squeal like a pig *wreee* *wreee*

Remember the kid on the porch in the movie 'Deliverance'? The banjo boy? When Tim Burton was working on his new film, he decided he had a role for that guy, but nobody knew where to find him. In the end, it took two crew members driving around Georgia asking people if they knew 'where the banjo boy lives'. They finally found Billy Redden, 47, washing dishes in a cafe, and offered him a small role in the film, which he turned down because Burt Reynolds had treated him poorly during the filming of 'Deliverance'. Burton finally got through to him though, and he agreed to a cameo in the movie.

I'm cool with that, just so long as they don't bring Ned Beatty into it too.

Thursday, November 13, 2003


... takes a long time, and sometimes the boredom is worse than the pain.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Subversive Cross-stitch

Subversive Cross-stitch. When you care enough to embroider your scorn.


Modern Times

Charlie Chaplin's film Modern Times has been restored and is going to be released in theaters on 26 December.

James Baldwin

Fifty-five years ago today James Baldwin took a one-way flight to Paris. As a black person in the States, he had always felt himself to be outside of society, never part of it, and therefore he assumed that he could leave all things American behind. In Paris he discovered that his behavior, his speech, and his dress all completely identified him to the Parisians as an American, which astounded him: he said he was "alchemized into an American." Three and a half years later, Baldwin returned to the US with the manuscript for 'Go Tell It on the Mountain', which he characterised as "the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else." His return to the States would not last long, however: he left for good after the assassinations of his friends Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

There was quite a community of writers in the Left Bank in those days, including many of our best black writers who left to escape racial oppression and lack of respect. Regardless of the reason, many were drawn to the sense of freedom in postwar Paris... in addition to Baldwin, Richard Wright, Gertrude Stein, Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus all found Paris cafe life to be fertile ground for their writing. These writers weren't the first or last for whom this was true: their experience in Paris echoed that of the Lost Generation (Hart Crane, e. e. cummings, John Dos Passos, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thornton Wilder, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Thomas Wolfe, etc) and foreshadowed that of the Beat Generation (Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, Richard Brautigan, Charles Bukowski, LeRoi Jones, Ken Kesey, Kenneth Patchen, Gary Snyder, etc).

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Oolong rides again

You may know of Oolong, the Japanese rabbit. For years we were entertained by pictures of Oolong balancing things (usually pastries) on his head. Well, the good news is that Oolong's human has a new rabbit, so the tradition continues. Stop by and say hello to Yuebing.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Happy Guy Fawkes Day

After Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, the bitter feud between the Catholics and the Protestants grew even more intense when the Catholics realized that the new king, James I, was not going to be more tolerant of their religion. Some of them decided to do something about it...

Guy Fawkes and his friends decided that the most effective way to influence politics was to start blowing things up (remarkable how little things have changed since then, really), and they figured that they might as well get right to the point and blow up the Houses of Parliament. Alas, one of their numbers became concerned that innocent people might be killed, and sent an anonymous letter warning a friend to stay away from the HoP on 5 Nov 1605. The warning letter was taken to the king, whose soldiers stormed into a cellar of the parliament to find Guy Fawkes sitting on 36 barrels of gunpowder.

Needless to say, they quickly tied him to a stake and lit him on fire, which was common enough back then. And for the 398 years since that day, each November 5th Britain has celebrated the defeat of the Gunpowder Plot by lighting huge bonfires, many of which are topped with effigies of Guy Fawkes.

I've asked my British friends what they think of this, and some of them are of the mind that the point of the ritual is to remind people that, once upon a time, people would get off their asses and try (however misguidedly, and for however absurd a cause) to change things. Of course, the rest of the rest of the populace is celebrating the fact that those who tried to upset the Way Of Things got their due.

Alan Moore, whose writings often explore the history and mindset of his native Britain (as in the movies 'From Hell' and 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen'), has written a great story called 'V for Vendetta' that revolves around a character styled on Guy Fawkes. (Not to be confused with the lesbian math-rock divas of the same name.) The Wachowski brothers (think 'Matrix') are working on a screenplay to turn 'V for Vendetta' into a movie.


The old blog,, has died. The new blog,, takes its place. I don't know what that means in terms of content, but it sure as hell is easier to type.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Broadcast flag

The FCC today adopted the MPAA's 'broadcast flag' recommendations... which means that all media-enabled electronics produced in or for the US from this time forward are required to implement hardware that detects the presence of the flag and, if the flag is found, restricts the operation of the device (digital rights management, and all that). What does this mean for you? The first thing that comes to mind is that those fancy PVR's/DVR's that can strip commercials out of broadcasts will lose that ability. The second thing that comes to mind is that companies are already making CDs that can't be played in your computer (and even in some CD players)... what will they do now that they have been given free reign to limit your hardware's ability to perform as you wish it to?

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Goodbye for ever once again: music that tears itself apart

I never thought I'd hear myself say these words about a man with an accordion, but Jason Webley was awesome... brilliant and inspired. The string quartet and brass section that accompanied him were excellent, as was his handling of the crowd: he doesn't just play music, he performs, and he does a damned good job at it.

In the beginning of the show, some puppeteers walked out a little (2 or 3 feet tall) simulacrum of Jason, which sat on a little chair, tuned up its little guitar, and sang the first song, then slowly walked off the stage. The puppeteers returned, opened up a chest that had been sitting in the middle of the stage the whole time, and lifted a stunned and primordial Jason from within. Only when some other puppeteers dressed Jason in his trademark trenchcoat and fedora did he regain his stage persona and get down to the business of blowing people's minds.

The show kept returning to interpretations of the first song (which I'd never heard him play before), between which all hell would break loose. Somewhere in the middle of each of these interludes Jason would tell a story about a little boy who had a heart full of feathers (who made people feel something in their hearts like a fluttering of wings), or a heart made of string (to which people would tie their own hearts), or a heart that was like a balloon (that grew whenever he loved)... then he'd work the accordion or guitar or piano or crowd for awhile, returning after a few songs to the main theme.

I didn't clue in to the 'why' of the stories until the end of the night, when we got to the point in the evenings festivities where Jason dies. The wild and primordial spirit of Jason was placed back in the chest in the middle of the stage; the old shell of last-years Jason (in the form of the puppet) was placed in a coffin that was carried by two solemn bearers dressed in white. They led a procession out into the city, winding its way to a small park. On the way, each person received a helium ballon from silent greeters. When we caught up with the bearers, they were holding the coffin next to a leaf-strewn burial mound of jumbled stones. A few hundred people slowly gathered around, until the air was thick with balloons. Then a couple of women came out into the crowd carrying metal hearts, each of which was connected to a single feather by a string. Everyone in the crowd tied their balloons to the hearts, and...

[... then the security guards came, and demanded to know what the hell was going on (turns out we were on state property in a park that closed at dusk), but when they were told they looked like it was better that they just forget it and they wandered off after calling in on the radio and informing the cops that no, they were pretty sure we didn't have a license, but no, they didn't think it would be necessary to call in the Seattle Police Department...]

... then the hearts, bouyant with all of our balloons, were tied to Jason's empty shell and lifted it off into the night.

I can hardly wait for Jason to die again next year, it was so much fun this time around.

Check out the great interview with Jason.

PS: We were walking to the car this morning to leave Seattle, when Rex pulled up, on his way to work. We went for a walk and talked for an hour or so, it was great seeing him again.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Life or something like it

It's been awhile since I made a personal post on this blog, so here goes:

I'm still not doing very well... I've been in and out of the hospital, had more fucking needles in my arm than I care to think about, and have become rather familiar with the view from inside a catscan machine. I'm rarely out of bed, and when I am I usually need pain medication. Every once in awhile, I get a day when I am able to move around... a couple of afternoons ago, AM and I went for a walk on Mt Tabor, watched the sun go down.

We're in the process of buying a house, and this time it looks like it's going to stick. The owners are having some work done before we move in, and we are going to do some of our own (refinish the wood floors) as well. The house sits on what is almost a double lot... 80'x100', with the house pressed up against one corner of the lot so the remaining yard is huge.

I'm going to Seattle for the weekend... it's been awhile since I've been anywhere, and Jason Webley is having his yearly 'last show ever', which I have wanted to see for years. I'm going to stay at the Green Tortoise hostel, and hopefully see Rex, who runs the place (and was one of our drivers on the Baja trip we took in February).