Saturday, January 31, 2004

We'll always have Paris

Here's a Quicktime clip of Jimmy Fallon interviewing Paris Hilton on SNL a few weeks ago. If you don't know who she is (*I* know who she is and I don't have a television), she's the sadly vapid Hilton heiress who was mostly famous for pretending to be famous until a video of her and her guy showed up on the web, generating more blogger film criticism than the Lord of the Rings. (I haven't seen the movie but apparently the highlights include her continually pushing the guy out of the way so she could get more screen time, and her jumping off the guy and running offscreen to answer her cellphone and chat with her mother.)

Not *my* doom

You've probably heard about the MyDoom virii going around... I've noticed a general slowing of the network in the last couple of days, and I received a bunch of copies of the virus (neutered by my antivirus program) before I finally wrote a filter to weed the damn things out at the server.

If you haven't heard of it: MyDoom sends you an email with an official-looking subject line, and some innocuous text. There's an attachment, however, that (if you are foolish enough to open it) will infect your system and begin sending copies of itself to others, possibly by harvesting email addresses from your machine. (What a great gift for your friends.)

If you practice safe computing, this probably isn't a problem for you. If you use Outlook or Internet Explorer to read your mail on a Windows machine, you could be infected and not know it. (But actually, if you still use those two programs to read email after all of the shit that has gone down in the past few years, you are part of the problem anyway.) If you've noticed your computer slowing down over the past couple of days, or if your cable modem lights have been flashing like crazy, or if you just want to be sure your computer is clean, Network Associates (makers of McAfee antivirus) has a free program to find and kill these virii. (You should already be running antivirus programs, and not clicking on suspect emails, anyway... but it's nice of them to offer this little tool).

If you don't know what a procmailrc is, skip this next bit. If you do, this recipe has so far been 100% successful blocking the virus, with zero false positives (but YMMV, depending mostly on whether you often receive small attachments).

Modify as needed for your system (I use Maildirs rather than mboxes, for instance), and if any matches in the recipe have a high probability of blocking legitimate emails (for example if your work sends you a '' file regularly or somesuch), add a recipe above this one to filter that out... don't delete any one match (e.g. deleting 'data' and 'zip' from the recipe would open up 40 other combinations).

Klaatu Barada Nikto

New Scientist has an interesting interview with linguist Alexandra Aikhenvald about dying languages. She's got a bit of insight into what else is lost when a language disappears... how in addition to losing cultural identity and historical lore, we might also be losing unique ways of thinking about things.

Hrrmmm... I guess it's rather telling that when I think about lost languages, the first two that come to mind are elven and dwarven.

Is that a raygun in your pocket...

... or are you just happy to see Matsushita's new "intelligent screwdriver", that allows you to record acceleration and torque profiles as macros (e.g. start slow, speed up in the middle, then slow down at the very end), so you can replay them with the touch of a button. The drill can also learn to replicate the speed ranges you use the most.

The $700 price tag probably won't even make the weekend warriors blink when they drive up to the testosterone megamall in their SUVs to do their duty as consumers, but I think it's a pretty fair bet that the professionals won't be buying it, given that it looks like a Flash Gordon raygun. Sheesh, you'd get your ass kicked if you pulled that thing out on the job site.

Flash! Aaaa-aaaaaaahhhh!

11. A plot would be useful

Here's a list of 10 common mistakes that writers make, things that are obvious to editors and agents but often not so obvious to the writer.

Patently Obvious

For years there have been online US patent databases that have had arcane interfaces, usually presenting the information in the form of TIFF files. I've spent quite a few hours converting TIFFs into more readable (and more compact) formats when my studies intersect existing patents. Finally there is a useful online tool that automates this process: enter a patent number at Pat2PDF, and it will generate a PDF file on the fly. Now my favorite patents (d437255, 5323867, and 4840394, for the record) are accessible from anywhere.

(Yes, I have favorite patents. Don't you?)

If you use the US Patent Office's website to view patents, Pat2PDF has even got a bookmarklet you can put on your toolbar that will autogenerate a PDF from the patent you are viewing without requiring you to switch sites.

Patrick's 'Diary of Indignities'

As part of my continued anthropological efforts to observe and document the human species in its natural habitat, I present to you Bad News Hughes and his Diary of Indignities:

It all started with one of those rare bouts of sexual intercourse that included participation from both myself and a living, female human being. And, happily, I did not render myself unconscious at any point during the brief consummation of the act. Though I did get a little distracted wondering why girls that act all liberated and dirty and sexually adventurous with their clothes on always turn out to have so many uptight rules when it's naked time: "What are you doing?! Sorry, I don't do that. Don't touch me there! Don't look at me! Just what do you think you're going to do with THAT thing?! Untie these ropes right now! I'm allergic to dogs!" Etc.

Reading further on his site, there is a list of hard-earned-if-somewhat-random lessons he shares for our edification. Apply liberally as needed:

Yeah, I know Sid Vicious wore a lock on a chain around his neck just like that. But the first time you try and pogo with that thing on it's gonna chip a tooth, Road Warrior.

Now that you've climbed up there, it's a lot higher than it looks, isn't it? Dumbass.

When it comes time to pick out that first tattoo, remember: it doesn't matter how much you like that one comic book. There's always a chance that eight years later someone will make a movie of it that stars Sylvester Stallone. And you'll be fucked.

Dungeons and Dragons never goes away. Girls will still sense that shit 20 years later.

Be warned, however: I sifted the contents of the site for the most presentable material. Something on that page is pretty much guaranteed to offend just about anybody. But it's good reading if you're not easily miffed.

Friday, January 30, 2004

In other news, scientists discover that the sun revolves around the earth...

... which is flat.

I think I'll let the AP article speak for itself on this one:

ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- The state's school superintendent has proposed striking the word evolution from Georgia's science curriculum and replacing it with the phrase "biological changes over time."

This disease of the mind is going to be the end of us.

Mars Update, 30 January 04

So Spirit broke... first they thought it was because an electrical storm had corrupted the instructions sent to the rover, then they thought the flash memory on the rover was corrupt, but now they appear to have settled on the idea that the glitch was caused by the filesystem dumping too many files into the flash memory, which put the rover into a sort of perpetually looping reset. At the present time they are working to recover the data that is in the flash, as well as fix the bug so it doesn't happen again. Spirit is sending back pictures and talking to NASA now, so it should be a (relatively) simple thing to reprogram the computer and get everything running again.

Opportunity landed safely, sending back pictures of the little crater it landed in. There are some strange soil patterns around the rover, and marks made by the rover's airbags can be seen nearby. Opportunity is set to roll off its base on Saturday night, if everything continues to go well.

The ESA's program is excellent, as well. The Beagle lander is still missing, but the lander wasn't the most important part of their mission... it was just a sort of interplanetary hitchhiker. The main goal for that mission is the Mars Express orbiter, which is doing quite well, returning some amazing pictures.

There has been some whining and grumbling in the press about Spirit breaking down and Beagle getting lost, which seems to primarily be a reflection of the public's ignorance about just how difficult it is to get a ship anywhere near Mars, let alone land something safely on the surface. Check out the scorecard to see how well Earth's various missions have done against the red planet.

NASA is (thankfully) reconsidering its decision to drop the Hubble telescope, in a reaction to the collective cry of "what the fuck?" that accompanied the news that they planned to let Hubble burn up in the atmosphere once its orbit decays. I'm not sure what they can do about it, however, given that the country's fear of shuttle accidents exceeds its thirst for knowledge. And then of course the whole thing runs smack into the far-reaching vision of our idiot president. The Hubble is still giving us the best view of the beauty of the universe we have ever seen... it's a shame to let that fade away just so some despot can militarize space.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

No they isn't

Speaking to the U.S. Conference of Mayors about the condition of education in America, pResident Bush said wake up at the high school level and find out that the illiteracy level of our children are appalling.

He then went on to talk about his No Child Left Behind Act:

...not only do we insist upon local control of schools, an accountability system designed at the state or local level, we also say that when you see failure early, there's additional money to make sure children aren't left behind. This is an important piece of legislation, and I will resist any attempt to undermine it.

Well, any attempt, that is, except his own: his budgets have consistently underfunded his own program. But looking past all of the lies and bullshit, at least one good thing comes out of it - the program (which was an election-year promise that Bush failed to keep, despite his continued protestations that it is working fine) doesn't work anyway, since the premise it was founded on turned out to be lies. (Anyone surprised?)

People, teach your children well; don't rely on the school system to do it. If you leave your kid's mind at the mercy of the American education system, the child whose mind you waste may someday be your president.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Personal Update 27 January 2004

Those who know me have probably noticed that this blog tends to get more and more impersonal over time. This doesn't come from any unwillingness on my part to communicate, it's just that I get tired of trying to find new ways to describe my illness and the severity with which it has laid me low. So, for those who were wondering wtf is going on:

I am out of bed less than an hour each day. Most of that time I am either in too much pain to do much, even surf the web or read >:( , or I am too drugged, with much the same result. Unfortunately the drugs don't actually make the pain go away, and at times I doubt they are helping at all... if they are truly minimizing my pain, then my problem has gotten much more severe, since the pain levels are already debilitating.

The operating theory of 'nerve damage' appears to be falling apart, as that pain spreads to the left side of my abdomen and up into both sides of my chest. In addition to this, one of my most pressing problems is (also) as yet undiagnosed, a sort of cramping seizure that wrenchs my guts every time I exert myself, which is what really limits the time I can be out of bed - a few minutes of activity, and I can barely stand.

The doctors are still approaching the nerve thing as a pain-management problem... I've got a nerve block scheduled for the right side of my abdomen, but as I've said, this is but a small part of the problem at this point. I'll still do it, because any reduction in pain is welcome, but how far can that process go? They are *killing* nerves, as in numb... no pain, no pleasure, nothing. As you can see, the 'treatment' has profound effects on my quality of life that rival those of the illness.

The stomach thing is mostly unresolved... they've given me 5 different drugs, none of which do much of anything except for the new one, belladonna, which does not calm my guts at all but does have the side effect of giving me dreams so painfully psychotic that I usually wake up thinking about death as a preventative measure to keep me from having more such dreams. We've been experimenting with all of the other drugs, adjusting levels and substituting formulations to see whether or not the stomach thing could be primarily an unwanted drug interaction; so far this path has yielded no useful information other than the fact that I am chemically dependent on a couple of my medications and suffer greatly when their effects wear off.

The stomach thing can't be purely the result of the drugs, as it is a problem that I've experienced on rare occasions over the past 8 years or so... but now it happens all day, every day.

All that I have described has done little cheer my mood, so I am not really seeking people out lately... I'm thinking about you, I'm missing you, but I'm in no position to actually interact very well. Anne-Marie is my sole connection to the world; when she goes to work, I usually just sleep those days away, so I might be rested enough to do something with her, like work on the house (for instance), a task that is moving astoundingly slowly due to my inability to stand up for any length of time, let alone do strenuous work. Every couple of weeks there is a day when I can get out of bed for an hour or two; we're using those times to pick away at the remodeling.

In the meantime, we watch a lot of films and just talk a lot, which is nice... we've watched almost all of Buster Keaton's films this month Sometimes I have the same problem with Anne-Marie that I have with the collective you: I've run out of ways to say 'ouch', but that is what I am feeling, se we just sit quietly and talk about other things, dreams and plans for the as-yet mythical future when I am well enough to get my life back.

Any questions?

Minor de-newbification: RSS 0.92

Thanks to the folks at Wytheville Community College, who are hosting a public RSSify script, this blog now has an RSS 0.92 feed. If you don't know what that means, don't sweat it... if you do know and more importantly care, the XML link on the left menu takes you there.

For the record, since I'm doing the low-tech blogging route and don't have (or have need for) a Palm Pilot, I've found a free aggregator that lets you subscribe to RSS feeds for a more condensed overview sort of web experience. Bloglines has given me no troubles, and seems foolproof... they've even got an "Add to Bloglines" bookmarklet for adding pages you stumble across, plus searchable lists of sites with known feeds. Power to the people.

P.S. Unfortunately the feed doesn't pay attention to the titles of my posts... it just gices the first few words of the post as the title. I'll see if I can resolve that issue - it might even get me off my butt to make a real CSS 2.0 feed instead of using the canned free ones.

We'll probably bomb them next

Is anyone surprised that the current Human Rights Watch World Report found that the war in Iraq was Not a Humanitarian Intervention? Well, it might surprise Bush or Cheney, but somehow I really doubt it.

On a related note, I'd personally like to thank CNN for inadvertently broadcasting some truthful news when that annoying 'news ticker' on the bottom of the screen reported the escape of a chimp from the L.A. zoo during the State of the Union Address:

I didn't vote for the chimp

Sunday, January 25, 2004

All in the name of science

To study the effects of granular flow without actually having to get stuck in an avalanche, some Japanese avalanche researchers took 320,000 ping-pong balls up an artificial ski jump, and released them all at once. They've got plenty of pictures and videos to document the whole thing.

Harrison Bergeron alive and well in Nashville

In another case of life imitating art (not very surprising, after seeing the US so quickly adopt standards right out of George Orwell's '1984'), Kurt Vonnegut's 'Harrison Bergeron' has apparently been adopted as an educational model in Nashville. Nashville schools have already done away with honor rolls and are considering cancelling spelling bees because announcing the results might make the people who don't place well feel bad.

It comes as no surprise that the whole thing was started when some parents complained that their children might be ridiculed for not making the honor roll... which got the schools thinking about their legal liabilities, so they talked to the school lawyers, who said that any disclosure of a student's academic results (even in general terms, as with the honor roll) is a violation of the student's privacy. So the screws get tightened just a little bit more, and American mediocrity triumphs once again.

Break out the haggis

Tonight is Burns Night - the birthday of poet Robert Burns, the consummate Scot. A few years after his death in 1796, friends and admirers of Burns began meeting on his birthday for the 'Burns Supper' as a tribute to his memory. Burns Night has since become a tradition celebrated primarily in Scotland, but also in Northern Ireland and other places where people of Scottish descent live.

I first heard of Rabbie Burns through a song of his called "The Battle Of Sherramuir". The song talks about a historical battle fought near Dunblane on 13 November 1715 between the Jacobite army led by John Erskine, earl of Mar, and a loyalist army under John Campbell, second earl of Argyll. The loyalist army was smaller, but they occupied higher ground, and neither army could gain the upper hand. Eventually the battle broke off, and the soldiers just took off running in opposite directions... but when they got to their respective homes, both armies were singing "we won the battle, we won the battle", telling tales about their brave and gory deeds :)

Being vegetarian, and of reasonably sound mind, I'll pass on the haggis... but I might raise a glass and toast a lass (I know just the one) in honor of Burns, and the Scottish spirit that he helped keep alive after words became mightier than swords.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

State of Denial address

I just need to vent some of this stuff before I have a fucking aneurysm. Skip this post if you're already too bruised by the condition of the US to hear any more about it.

My fuckhead pResident gave what was supposed to be a State of the Union address, but turned out to be just a soundbite condensing of his lies over the past three years. Almost all of the reviews I have read about the address are in agreement about the sparcity of actual information, the prevalence of belligerent hype, and lack of cohesion that we have come to expect from Mr Bush, but even so, the 'liberal media' informs us that we are all 'reacting positively' to the speech and we believe that Bush's proposed policies will move the country in the right direction. (The actual content of the address is remarkably similar to another politician's speech style, but in addition to invoking Godwin's Law, such talk apparently violates the Republican copyright on hate-speech.)

Republican staff members of the US Senate Judiciary Commitee infiltrated Democrat computer files for a year, leaking most of what they found to the press. Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah and all-around minion of evil, made a preliminary inquiry and described himself as "mortified that this improper, unethical and simply unacceptable breach of confidential files may have occurred on my watch", but in general Republicans are ignoring the potentially hazardous ethical and moral aspects of the case, choosing instead to focus on the legal aspects, which shouldn't be a problem for them since they own all of the judges and routinely allow the subjects of investigations to perform those investigations themselves. (Ashcroft did finally recuse himself from his investigation; Cheney remains obdurate in his heresy.)

Speaking of Cheney, he recently spoke to the World Economic Forum:

...the attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001, gave all nations "the merest glimpse of the threat that international terrorism poses to us all." Nurturing democracy, especially in the Middle East, is essential to halting terrorism.

"Democracies do not breed the anger and the radicalism that drag down whole societies or export violence," he said. "Terrorists do not find fertile recruiting grounds in societies where young people have the right to guide their own destinies and to choose their own leaders."

First: what is the big deal about democracy? If we had a true democracy, this shitheel and his little president friend wouldn't be in the White House. Second, if you assume for the sake of argument that the US is a democracy, it's not like our record has been particularly spotless. The best that can be said for us in this regard is that we believe that our reasons for killing people are better than anyone elses. I'd argue that the hatred being bred by the conservative right in this country is exactly the sort of ideology that can 'drag down whole societies or export violence'... just turn on the news for confirmation if you doubt it.

When asked about the Christmas cards that Cheney sent out ("If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it likely that an empire can rise without His help?"), Cheney denied that the US is an empire. ('Empire' being just another one of those words that the Ministry of Misinformation has redefined in the past few years, apparently.)

In a report that surprised precisely zero people, Halliburton, which still has Cheney on the payroll, admitted that the Kuwaiti fuel supplier that charged double the going rate for millions of dollars of gasoline was given the lucrative work after they showered $6,000,000 on Halliburton employees. Cheney's take on this: "They get unfairly maligned simply because of their past association with me." Yeah, it could be that... well, it might be corruption so rampant in this administration that they don't even bother to hide it anymore, but you're right, they are probably just 'unfairly maligned'.

This feeling that the conservatives are being picked on is as epidemic as it is absurd. A group of University of Colorado republicans are protesting 'liberal bias' among their professors... even soliciting complaints through a handy online form. (I just watched 'Swing Kids' so I find this subtly and disturbingly reminiscent of the Hitler-Youth "rat on everybody" program). Of course, the T-shirt they are selling to raise money and awareness exposes the true situation:

Republican bullshirt

If my irony-meter wasn't busted I'd think it was funny that the republicans, who are intolerant of hearing points of view different from their own, can simultaneously attack liberal bias in schools while trying to force creationist science, prayer in schools, and 'faith-based' services. But it's gone way beyond funny. It's gone way beyond irony. This is just another sad manifestation of that same impulse that leads conservative Americans to believe that Canadians who wear maple-leaf logos are 'putting America down'. Perhaps some self-reflection is in order.

I was exposed to all sorts of viewpoints in college. I thought that was the whole point.

Another recent example of the poor treatment our ruling class is receiving at the hands of the proles: the American Family Association set up an online poll to determine the public's position on gay marriage. From the start they planned to use the results to show congress that America opposes any form of gay marriage. But when the people spoke, the results weren't what they had hoped for. Their analysis: "homosexual activist groups around the country... decided to have a little fun... to try to cause [the poll] to represent something other than what we wanted it to". I can't speak for anyone else, but as for myself I simply voted my conscience, and as far as I can tell I wasn't under the sway of any nefarious gay activists. Note that they didn't say the poll doesn't represent the facts, they just say that it doesn't represent what they want it to... therefore, it must have been tampered with and as such is invalid.

In his speech, Bush touted US successes in removing WMD capability from Iraq. (What ever happened to Osama?) But Chief US Iraq arms expert David Kay, the head of the team searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, has resigned, saying that the quest for imaginary weapons is wearing him out.

"I don't think they existed," Kay told Reuters news agency on Friday. "What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the [1991] gulf war, and I don't think there was a large-scale production program in the '90s."

Kay is being replaced by Charles Duelfer, a former deputy executive chairman of the UN Special Commission that was responsible for dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, who said earlier this month that he believed the chances of finding chemical or biological weapons in Iraq were now "close to nil":

"I think that Mr. Kay and his team have looked very hard. I think the reason that they haven't found them is they're probably not there," Duelfer told NBC television earlier this month.

You've probably heard about the problems with Diebold voting machines... I just read a recommendation that if this concerns you, you can register as an absentee voter, which leaves a paper trail. Of course, it won't matter much since all of the other votes won't be counted correctly, if they are counted at all.

Which reminds me: I've been hearing a lot of revisionist talk about the last election, which may make people feel better but it doesn't change the fact (yes, fact) that the last presidential election would have turned out different if it weren't for some very shady dealings on the republican side. The sad part is, in the international press this is all old news, but here in the land of the free, a reporter who presses the issue won't be invited to any more press conferences. (The sadder part is that more Americans aren't furious about this.) If you missed it, or if all of the hate flying around made you ignore the whole deal, read 'The Best Democracy Money Can Buy'... you can read the first couple of chapters as PDF files here. If nothing else, read Chapter 1... you may be surprised at how different the documented facts are from the spin that we were given at the time.

Speaking of buying elections, you can now make 'grass-roots' contributions to various presidential campaigns via This is life imitating art imitating insanity, but as such it is very representative of the true state of our nation.

Rant done. I feel a little better now, thanks. Go back to sleep, sheep.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

see the music

MusicPlasma is a visualization tool that lets you enter the name of a musical artist, then shows you the spectrum of artists related to / similar to / derived from / influenced by the artist you chose. I tried it with Califone, and the tree it generated contained a number of other bands that I like... and a few I hadn't heard of before. What a great tool for expanding your musical horizons.

Voices from the days of slavery

The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress has recordings of a bunch of interviews conducted between 1932 and 1975 that capture the recollections of twenty-three people born between 1823 and the early 1860s who were known to have been former slaves.

This collection complements the writing and pictures in the Born in Slavery project that documents interviews with former slaves in the 1930s. These people remember the Civil War, how as children their lives were changed when the war was ended. Some of the people interviewed were over 125 years old in 1936.
Uncle Bob Ledbetter

Monday, January 19, 2004

Fear and loathing in the USA

I have a confession to make: I am not strong enough to handle this world. I've been walking around in a sort of stunned confusion for more than 20 years now, unable to come to terms with the hatred and anger I've seen. Anne-Marie tells me it's post-traumatic stress disorder, which is a reasonable diagnosis given how fucked up my life was when I was young.

Regardless of the cause, the end result is that I have this grim sense of certainty that everything is going to go bad in a big way. And that's how I feel when the world is reasonably calm. When everything gets crazy, like it is now, I usually get pretty depressed, overcome with dread. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out if there's anywhere left on the planet for people who just want to be left alone... and so far the only piece of land I've seen that would give me some peace of mind is a small grassy spot just large enough for a grave.

Is there a word for irony to the point of hyperbole? I can't figure out why people seem to thrive on conflict, clinging fiercely to mental constructs that seem to exist for the sole purpose of creating and maintaining hatred. I've never been very good with the 'issues', because usually both 'sides' seem absurd; often, the very concept of 'sides' seems absurd. If I do identify with a particular side, they are almost always the side I perceive to be more inclusive, less divisive.

Lately I don't know where to turn... everyone seems so polarized, and while I can clearly identify points of view I do not wish to be associated with, I'm having a bit more trouble identifying ideas I support. It seems to me that there is a great madness in this country, a sickness and hatred that is eating the nation from the inside. But the people who claim to oppose this act as though that sickness is nothing more than a call for them to assert their own sickness. It seems like there have been weekly revelations of the perfidy of BushCo, any one of which should fill Americans who actually have any belief in the potential goodness of our country with shame, yet the democrats don't seem to be moved by the dishonor they are inheriting from the government, they just want more soundbites for their commercials.

I spend a lot of time looking at websites, and I am often struck by how nearly universally our 'freedom of speech' is only used to express hatred or scorn. Even among the actual 'press', there has been a profound tilt to the right, but the voices of individual Americans, heard through blogs and personal websites, seem to have gone so far to the right that the John Birch Society look like tree-hugging hippies in comparison. My own rants generate a fair bit of hate mail, which always surprises me... why would anyone take the time to write me over a difference of opinion? Are we no longer free to have opinions that differ from the consensus narrative?

Today while browsing I did find one site that was reasonably sane... although I found it mentioned on a page that suggested the author be tried for treason for suggesting that Bush was forewarned about Al-Queda but did nothing (an assertion that has been confirmed by a number of people in and out of the administration).

George W. Bush is going to run in 2004 on the idea that his administration is the only one capable of protecting us from another attack like the ones which took place on September 11. Yet the record to date is clear. Not only did they fail in spectacular fashion to deal with those first threats, not only has their reaction caused us to be less safe, not only have they failed to sufficiently bolster our defenses, but they used the aftermath of the attacks to ram through policies they couldn't have dreamed of achieving on September 10. It is one of the most remarkable turnabouts in American political history: Never before has an administration used so grisly a personal failure to such excellent effect.

One other site said "Our Elected Dictator President has wielded his executive power with abandon, threatening to destroy the very delicate checks and balances of our constitutional system"... and they were talking about Clinton. This is indicative of the strong correlation between hatred and irrationality that allows, for instance, conservatives to continue babbling about 'smaller federal government and more fiscal responsibility', when under their lead we've set historical records for distance from both of those ideals.

As I have said, I don't know what other people are thinking. I don't understand what drives them. But this continued use of rhetoric and propaganda, and the decoupling of words from their meanings, has led me to believe that most people don't actually believe the things they claim so forcefully to believe (how could they, when they are so nonsensical?)... they merely cling to whatever platform best allows them to express their hatred and prejudice. This practice is so commonplace that it is what comes to mind when I hear the words "the American way".

Hobbits on the runway

At Italian designer Kean Etro's fashion show in Milan, the models were all mutton-chopped and bearded... even the women. This went quite well given that the clothing was all based on woolens, plaids and tweeds of the hobbits and wizards in the "Lord of the Rings."

Personally I think it would rock if this fashion caught on. (The clothes, not the bearded ladies.)

Hobbits on the runway

Absinthe makes the heart...

The Absinthe Buyer's Guide will tell you anything you could possibly want to know about absinthe.

I've only tried it once; two years ago at Burning Man there was this awesome absinthe bar, where you could step up and get a drink of what was quite possibly the worst-tasting liquid imaginable. I decided that as much as the practice of drinking absinthe appeals to me, that meticulous ritual with slotted spoon and sugar cubes, there was no way in hell I was ever going to develop a taste for it.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Hey Rocky, watch me pull a desperate election-year tactic out of my ass

The Hubble Space Telescope, which in my opinion is the single greatest technology NASA has developed, will no longer be serviced because its maintenance is not part of pResident Bush's 'vision' of NASA's future. The Hubble Space Telescope revolutionized astronomy, providing the best view of our universe we have ever had... and it disappears, poof, just because one asshole with a Napoleon complex (and a misguided Reagan-esque belief that militarization is the only good use for space) needs to drum up some press that distracts us from the fact that he has fucked this country more during his reign than any other president ever.

It saddens me greatly that a project with such far-reaching vision (literally as well as figuratively) can be destroyed by such a small man for such small reasons. But on the other hand, it is a bit difficult to get too upset over the damage he is causing to the space program, when it pales so dramatically in contrast to the damage he is causing down here on earth.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

The Decline of Western Civilization, Chapter 37

In anticipation of next week's State of the Union Address, has a downloadable State of the Union Scorecard (pdf). The scorecard lists some facts, and provides checkboxes for 'Acknowledged', 'Ignored', and 'Spun'. You be the judge.

Me? I'm not going to be watching it. I've had too much of that guy's lies, and what little faith I had in this country is rapidly fading.

Gifts for the discerning outdoorsman

Dutch designer Floris Schoonderbeek created a plastic outdoor hot tub that requires no electricity or plumbing and has no moving parts. Fill the 165-lb plastic tub with water, put firewood in the outboard metal fire pit (I'm thinking barbecue), and let natural convection do the job of lifting the hot water up and sucking in colder water from the bottom.

My dream home, which only exists in my head and a few CAD drawings at this point, has a similar setup, with metal coils embedded in the top of a woodstove that heats the water. Yes, I do see the irony of designing my off-the-grid hippie hideaway on a computer, but you use the tools you've got when you have them, right?

Dutch tub

Mars stuff

Maas Digital created the almost life-like animations of the Mars rover Spirit for the NOVA special Mars, Dead or Alive. You can watch the entire show here, or you can see (or even download) just the animated bits here.

For years after the Pathfinder mission, I tried to find realistic models of the Sojourner rover. I wrote to most of the engineers who worked on the project, and though they weren't able to direct me to the data I wanted, they were kind enough to share more information about how the rover worked than I was getting from the media. I finally found out that the reason I couldn't get detailed specs on the rover was that NASA had sold all of the design representation rights to Mattel. Mattel decided to release a fucking Hot Wheels version of the thing that wasn't at all representative of the actual rover, then they sat on the design. (Their propaganda said that the toy "recreates the real robot's distinctive, six-wheeled, 'rocker- bogie' locomotion system"... which it does, in much the same way a cardboard box recreates the experience of a space ship for a small child.) I've written back and forth between Mattel and a number of model manufacturers, to see if some sort of deal could be worked out, to no avail. Score another one for the gray and faceless men.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Bob blogs

Bob Mould, who is still kicking ass years after the bands that got famous copying his Hüsker Dü guitar styles have faded away, has a blog. Apparently it will be moved to his website in the future. He continues to tread new musical ground with his solo projects as well as Blowoff, a collaborative gig with Richard Morel that started as a monthly DJing session in DC that gives both of them space to explore new music, which should eventually be released on a Blowoff album.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Mars update, 15 January 04

The Mars rover Spirit rolled off of its platform onto the surface of Mars without any mishap. Here are views from the front camera, looking out over the terrain, and the rear camera, looking back at the platform. The rover now must use its panoramic cameras to find the sun, so it can figure out how to point the high-gain antenna toward the Earth.

I wonder if the SETI@Home guys ever inadvertently pick up stuff from the Mars missions?

Interesting factoid: the rover's digital cameras are 1 mega-pixel CCDs, and compared to commercial CCDs the individual pixels are quite large.

In the consumer market, the pixels themselves get smaller, which has an impact on image quality.

Why? For one thing, smaller pixels are less light-sensitive.

Also, the lens quality might not support the additional pixels. As the receptors get smaller, a higher quality lens is needed to properly focus light onto each pixel. So where each pixel ought to capture different light information - say perhaps a subtle shading change on the subject's cheek - the same information can get spread across several pixels after passing through a lower quality lens.

Puts the whole marketing driven mega-pixel-madness thing into perspective, doesn't it? The Hubble telescope, which has been giving us stunning images for years, uses an 800-by-800 array of pixels. So when it comes down to it, optics are the most important part of the camera, which was true of film-based cameras as well.

My other cars are on Mars

Andrew Mishkin, a senior systems engineer at JPL, worked on the 1997 Mars Pathfinder mission as well as the current Mars mission. He's written a book about his experiences with Pathfinder ('Sojourner: An insider's view of the Mars Pathfinder mission'). He is currently keeping a blog of his experiences working with Spirit and Opportunity: Making Tracks on Mars.

get your moron

Get your war on

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Score one for the good guys

There have been numerous times that I wish to put a link in a post, but the link is to a site that requires 'registration', i.e. at least nominally a chance for them to get you onto another junk email list. I've personally got throwaway accounts at most of those sites, where I make a bogus hotmail email account, use that email to sign up at the site, then forget the hotmail account. Well the folks at BugMeNot have decided to help you bypass compulsory web registration, by starting a database of open accounts at annoying sites, like the New York Times. I don't go a day without trying to follow a Slashdot link that ends up going to the NYT, and I usually just forget about it over the hassle. If you'd like to donate an open account, go to and enter it into their database.

abstraction :: distraction

I just read an interesting and relevant essay about how we have lost the ability to discriminate between symbols and the things for which they stand.

Modern education could serve to clarify the difference between symbol and thing, except that much of modern education depends on just that confusion -- you aren't in school to acquire knowledge, you are there to get a degree. And mistaking a degree holder for an educated person is possibly the commonest confusion of symbol and thing in modern times...

The true goal of modern education, stripped of all pretense, is to provide a reasonable outward appearance of scholarship -- this is an easy task, it can be done on a small budget, and virtually anyone can be shaped to fit into the costume. As a result, we have "educated" people who know there are three branches to the American system of government, but can't explain why. We have "educated" people who know what inflation is, but can't explain what causes it...

For each fact there is an underlying idea, and it is the idea that creates scholarship, not the fact. A fact only symbolizes a particular example of an idea. But this distinction has been lost -- in modern education, we have replaced idea-based training with fact-based training.

A bit simplistic, but there are some gems in the essay.

Before I went to university I somewhat naively thought I would spend most of my time there learning important ideas. As it turned out, I was often too busy doing the coursework (verification that I had learned the 'facts') to actually absorb the ideas. I remember numerous occasions when I was studying some additional materials, beyond the 'required' stuff, and a sentence or diagram would suddenly make a whole quarter of (for instance) electromagnetic theory make sense. I got A's in everything... but all that proves is that I know how to take tests.

I'm running out of horsemen

I've been counting the horsemen of the apocalypse as they rumble past, and my count has gone way past four. They're either circling, or the doom we are headed towards is so huge that they needed to call for reinforcements.

Ed Koch announced his defection from the Democratic Party, and his intent to vote for Bush in the election.

I am a lifelong Democrat. I was elected to New York's City Council, Congress and three terms as mayor of New York City on the Democratic Party line. I believe in the values of the Democratic Party as articulated by Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and by Senators Hubert Humphrey, Henry "Scoop" Jackson and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Our philosophy is: "If you need a helping hand, we will provide it." The Republican Party's philosophy, on the other hand, can be summed up as: "If I made it on my own, you will have to do the same."

Nevertheless, I intend to vote in 2004 to reelect President Bush. I will do so despite the fact that I do not agree with him on any major domestic issue, from tax policy to the recently enacted prescription drug law. These issues, however, pale in importance beside the menace of international terrorism, which threatens our very survival as a nation. President Bush has earned my vote because he has shown the resolve and courage necessary to wage the war against terrorism.

We truly live in a world of symbols, that dazzle and distract. A thing is no longer a thing - there are layers of abstraction and interpretation that manage to convey a sense of consistent logic regardless of any supposed connection to the truth. Seen from a slightly different viewpoint, the very essence of a thing can become twisted or even inverted with respect to arbitrarily close neighboring viewpoints.

This whole terrorism thing is just the most recent, pressing, and apocalyptic example. When I first heard the words "War on terrorism" I thought it was a pretty good idea... and I thought the best first step would be for the U.S. to stop supporting, encouraging, and arming terrorists. If we'd just stop creating warlords like Noriega and Hussein, we wouldn't need to deal with them later. And if we want to pretend we have some moral superiority on this issue, if we want our alleged altruism to be believed, perhaps we should just once take down a dictator in a country that isn't sitting on resources we want to rape. (Of course, it isn't always our puppet dictators that commit acts of terrorism... sometimes we skip the middleman and do it ourselves. Of course we never call it 'terrorism', but it probably looks a hell of a lot like terrorism to the people on the wrong side of the guns.)

We've been a major investor in terrorism for most of the last century. Even longer, if you really think about it: the 'Independence' we so patriotically celebrate each year was in every way an act of terrorism. This isn't just my interpretation... the US has shown its position on this issue very clearly by military intervention in a number of identical circumstances, even going so far as to use force to remove democratically elected 'independent' governments to restore the status quo. The Phillipines, Guatemala, Chile, Peru, Nicaragua, and Panama have all been the targets of US military actions that we would have condemned as terrorist were they committed by someone other than ourselves.

It is precisely our support of such methods that made us the target of those methods. The 'war on terror' is really a war OF terror, designed to keep US citizens scared enough that we continue giving more power to the government, thereby further enabling them to inflict more terror on the rest of the world while war profiteers like the Bush family and Cheney's Halliburton continue reaping astronomical profits from the military-industrial complex. And we'll just keep waving our fucking flags, and branding as 'coward' or 'traitor' anyone who exercises their democratic responsibilities by questioning the actions of the government.

Apparently the average American will support any atrocity, as long as 'our side' wins. I'd argue that 'our side' should be defined a little more loosely, and we should learn to get along with other nations rather than dealing death everytime we don't get our way, but I know from experience that the current consensus narrative isn't tolerant of such talk (free speech being just one of the many parts of the Bill of Rights we seem so eager to throw away in our quest for 'safety'). But even more than that, my own personal sense of honor and what is 'right' tells me that in order for an action to be considered honorable, it must be accepted that if the situation were reversed, the result would still be fair (even though it might be less desirable).

This is basically the 'Golden Rule', people, it's not that hard. Many laws and practices spring from this ideal... like the Geneva Convention, which the US is currently ignoring in its treatment of the (still uncharged) prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Under Bush's 'rule', we've repeatedly scoffed when other countries have complained that we are ignoring the conventions of proper behavior. I don't even need to use my imagination to wonder how loudly we will whine if we are treated the same way... I need only look to recent history to see the difference between our behavior when something happens to us (like when Iraqi television showed 5 US prisoners of war on television, and Donald Rumsfeld insisted that "it is against the Geneva Convention to show photographs of prisoners of war in a manner that is humiliating for them") versus when we are on the dealing end (such as when the US paraded the Guantanamo Bay prisoners before television cameras IN EXACTLY THE SAME FASHION just a few months later, or even more horrendously, when Americans rejoiced over seeing the mutilated dead bodies of Hussein's sons on the television, or more recently, when we did the same thing to Hussein himself).

Double standards are not standards at all... they are an evasion, a way for the weak to justify their own behavior while condemning others. Seeing so many Americans support these double standards, seeing our continued antagonism towards any country (even our allies) that dares to question our madness, I don't see a safer world. I see power corrupting the minds of men. I see a nation that has an astounding lack of perspective. And sadly, I feel that my nation will have plenty more opportunities to reflect on these issues, when the hatred we have bred comes back to us.

The Golden Age of the Grotesque

I think it's pretty funny that the webpage where you can buy Marilyn Manson's 'Watercolor Fine Art Editions' has the familiar "Add to cart" web sales interface... for those who wish to purchase a $50,000 grotesquery on the web.

I was a little surprised to find that some of the paintings were understated and reflective, where I had expected only gore.

the enabler, by Marilyn Manson

Mars update, 14 January 04

The Mars rover Spirit is expected to drive off of its platform Wednesday night or early Thursday morning... NASA finally cut the final connection between the rover and the platform, and rotated the rover towards the exit ramp. Analysis of satellite photos as well as those taken by the rover has helped the engineers to plot a course for the rover, and provided NASA with more information about the landing itself:

The spacecraft came to rest only about 250 to 300 meters (270 to 330 yards) southeast of its first impact. Transverse rockets successful slowed horizontal motion seconds before impact, said JPL's Rob Manning, who headed development of the entry, descent and landing system. The spacecraft, encased in airbags, was just 8.5 meters (27.9 feet) off the ground when its bridle was cut for the final freefall to the surface. It first bounced about 8.4 meters (27.6 feet) high, then bounced 27 more times before stopping.

30 feet off of the ground when they cut the cord? *Whew*. They hadn't planned it to be quite so close... that's only 1½ airbag diameters off of the ground. Fortunately engineers had made some last minute changes to the descent to accommodate unexpected weather patterns:

Plunging toward Mars at 920 mph, Spirit's parachute deployed at an altitude of just 4.6 miles - a mile lower than expected - and its braking rockets fired a scant 34 stories or so above the surface in a flawless, but hair-raising descent that engineers are just now coming to fully appreciate.

The parachute deployed later than predicted because of a dust storm on the other side of the planet that affected the density of the atmosphere above Spirit's landing site. Engineers had instructed the lander's computer to take that into account, but they were surprised at the magnitude of the adjustment.

This makes me wonder if the reason we haven't heard from the Beagle is that they didn't make those last-minute adjustments... current thinking is that Beagle is in a crater that is right in the middle of the calculated landing zone, but it might have dug itself a hole if it too had such tight parameters on its landing.

Of course, the biggest question yet to be answered is the still-unresolved issue of whether or not the 3 Yemenis who claim ancestral ownership of Mars (dating back to 3 millenia before NASA even existed) will succeed in their lawsuit against NASA.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Snakes and frogs

Two animations, for those with broadband access:

'An Irresponsible Use Of Frogs', a 10-minute CG animation created by Philip Child for his art degree. (Downloadable Quicktime and DivX formats.)

'Snakes', a 2½-minute animated film based on a woodcut by M.C. Escher. (Streaming Quicktime format.)

Both websites have still-image galleries and a 'Making of...' section.


A collection of opium images, with some relevant quotes, as well as a history of well-known opium users and a history of opium from ancient Sumeria through the modern discovery of synthetic opioids.

like some precious only son

A couple of weeks ago I started reading reports that maybe Elliott Smith's 'suicide' wasn't as simple as it looked. Coroner and autopsy reports (which have been posted at Smoking Gun) imply that it's possible Elliott was killed. The coroner noted that the orientation of the knife wounds was consistent with self-affliction, but that some details (stabbing through clothes, possible defensive wounds on hands) were more consistent with homicide. I chose not to post on the story, because I think there's too much sensationalism going on; things that matter get ignored, things that don't matter get front page headlines. I also assumed that Elliott's girlfriend, Jennifer Chiba, had had enough trauma without the additional burden getting attacked in the press.

Chiba, who was present when Elliott killed himself and who is the subject of all of the speculation about a possible homicide, recently spoke to the press to address the suicide issue:

"Up until now I've chosen to remain silent because I want to maintain some sense of privacy for Elliott and his family and myself in this really difficult time. But I want people to know that I'm not keeping quiet because I have anything to hide. If I was a suspect, I would have heard from the investigators, for one thing. Another is that his sister and his parents and everyone close to him knows the truth, so I'm not worried about it."

I last saw Elliott perform on 20 December, 2001 at the Crystal Ballroom, his final show in Portland. He looked frail and unhealthy. He played alone, staring at the floor, forgetting some of his lyrics, skipping over the tricky chord progressions. It was very different from some of the shows we'd seen where he just exuded this beautiful energy, very intimate and playful... like the show where he played George Harrison's "Give me love" for an encore, or the show with Quasi where he closed with Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't fear the reaper".

Elliott was beautiful, but he was very sad, and he was pretty fucked up. His frailty and essential humanity, and his ability and willingness to share these in his songs, were what attracted everyone to him. They were also a source of pain so great that death by a fucking steak knife through the heart seemed preferable to continued heartache. As for the telltale evidence that clouds a confident declaration of death by suicide, I don't think it would be too hard for anyone familiar with Elliott to imagine him holding a knife up to his chest during an emotional argument. Elliott had been killing himself for years; he simply finished the job on 21 October last year.

Let him rest, people. Let Jennifer rest too. Elliott burned brightly... and then he burned out. In the meantime, he shared much beauty with us. I'd like to remember that beauty, and not some soulless legal proceedings, when I hear his music.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Time, and the radiant heavenly city

This is what I get for falling asleep listening to The Germs - M.I.A. anthology... (does anyone else find it strange that the listing for this album says "Buy this album with Group Sex by the Circle Jerks today and save!"?) I wake up and there is a memory sitting on the edge of my bed, and it won't go away.

When I was 13 I was this incredibly desperate poser. I'd been living in Utah, but it felt like I was on another planet... I had zero connection with anyone I knew. Life behind the Zion Curtain was boring and strange - that whole 'Stepford Wives' thing they had going on was fucking creepy. I had no friends, partly because most of my human interactions consisted of getting the shit kicked out of me by my mother's second husband, partly because I made the decision that I didn't want to know the little zombie kids they were breeding without end in my neighborhood.

Each year I would get shipped back to California to spend the summer with my father, at least nominally... I really hardly ever saw him, and when I became a teenager he had zero clue how to deal with me, so I was pretty much on my own. Luckily, it didn't take long for me to fall in with the wrong people, and my life soon got better when I met the neighborhood 'problem teen', Darren. I knew who he was long before I met him... he lived near the local quicky-mart, and many times as I cut through the parking lot of the apartment complex he lived in I'd hear great music coming from his apartment, stuff that was different from what was on the radio.

I don't remember how we finally met, but it wasn't long before I started hanging out with him and Elizabeth and the two or three other punks in San Dimas. He had 'cool' friends, who would pick us up and take us into the city to go dancing - there were some clubs that got around the whole curfew issue by just locking everyone in until morning when the curfew was over. I had no idea what I was in for... I really was the town mouse, and I wasn't just hanging out with the city mice, I was hanging out with the punk, goth, bondage, drugged, beautiful, and above all interesting city mice, and my mind was blown. The city was radiant and alive, which I guess is the same thing as saying 'I was young and happy', but we never really notice these things when they are happening.

These people would come in from LA, bringing with them handfuls of zines and stories of the gigs they had seen since we last met. They had to dress me up before they'd be seen in public with me... I was still dressed like the 70s, in corduroys and tennis shoes (which made me look like someone from the Partidge Family), while they were more like boots and leather and black hair dye. Darren lent me his spare boots, and Liz showed me how to put on eyeliner (shut up, it was the 80s). Somebody lent me the requisite black clothes, and we piled into the car and drove off into memory.

When I went back to Utah, I was still a major nerd, albeit one with burgundy hair and black boots. Some small part of my California experience had rubbed off on me, and I found that what would have been lame and unhip in LA might as well have been from another planet in Utah, even in the diluted and derivative form it retained after my insecurities and essential uncool got through with it. Unsurprisingly, this led to almost complete ostracization in my neighborhood, which is really the best thing that ever happened to me, because it drove me out into the world to find my people.

I think it took me a long time to stop being a poser and figure out who I really was (actually I'm not sure I'm really done with that process). I was way too insecure to even know who I was, let alone express who I was openly. Luckily I had some friends who didn't go away, and after awhile I was able to figure out what parts of me were essential, and which were just wrappings.

I hope you didn't read this far looking for a point. There's no 'happily ever after' here. I'm fairly happy with who I am, except for the bit where I'm laid up in bed 23 hours a day with chronic pain, which gives me a lot of time to really stretch out my midlife crisis. I can't imagine how people went through things like this before the web... as it is, when memory coughs up little vignettes like this post I can google on phrases like "Darby Crash" and "Missing Persons" to find sites like this brilliant online collection of LA scene articles from the early 80s that help to minimize the lapidary effects time is having on my memories.

(BTW, the title of this post is lifted from Alan Moore's 'Promethea', which I was reading before I fell asleep.)

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Alien alphabets

The Alphabet Synthesis Machine is a Java applet that uses genetic algorithms to evolve an alphabet based on an initial 'seed' letter that you draw on the screen.

The Alphabet Synthesis Machine is an interactive online artwork which allows one to create and evolve the possible writing systems of one's own imaginary civilizations. The abstract alphabets produced by the Machine can be downloaded as PC-format TrueType fonts, and are entered into a comprehensive archive of user creations. The products of the Machine probe the liminal territories between familiarity and chaos, language and gesture.

You can view some examples, browse the archives, or get started making your own alphabet.

Mars update, 10 January 04

The rover stood up and rotated its front wheels into place. Further attempts to move the airbag out of the way of the front ramp were not successful, so it is most likely they will rotate the rover 120° to the right to drive off of the right-hand ramp. Early images from the miniature thermal emission spectrometer (mini-TES) show the presence of carbonates, but it's too early to tell whether they are the result of atmospheric moisture of evidence of an ancient waterbed.

NASA has released the first data pack for Maestro, the software that lets you follow the Mars mission in much the same way as they do at NASA. There are some very cool pictures in this datapack.

Read about how Bill Nye the Science Guy talked NASA into including the 'MarsDial' on the rover (more info here), then visit the Planetary Society to find out how to build your own EarthDial.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Another undeniable link between television and stupidity

Charter Communications, a cable TV provider, gave Timothy Dumouchel more than four years of free service when they failed to actually disconnect his cable at the time he canceled his account. Dumouchel blames Charter for his TV addiction, his wife's 50-pound weight gain, and his children being "lazy channel surfers". And since he's an American, he's doing something about it: suing the cable company.

Charter employees called police to the local office... after Dumouchel showed up with a small claims complaint, reportedly intimidated an employee and made "low-level threats" to employees' safety, according to a police report.

The report states Dumouchel gave an employee five minutes to get a supervisor to talk to him or their next contact would be "in the ocean with the sharks."

According to the report, Dumouchel told Charter employees he plans to sue because his cable connection remained intact four years after he tried to get it canceled.

The result was that he and his family got free cable from August of 1999 to Dec. 23, 2003.

"I believe that the reason I smoke and drink every day and my wife is overweight is because we watched TV every day for the last four years," Dumouchel stated in a written complaint against the company, included in a Fond du Lac police report.

"But the reason I am suing Charter is they did not let me make a decision as to what was best for myself and my family and (they have been) keeping cable (coming) into my home for four years after I asked them to turn it off."

Anne-Marie had a great idea: anytime a judge determines a lawsuit to be frivolous, they should sentence the plaintiff to community service. She's a bit more compassionate than I... I was thinking something more along the lines of a trap door, a dark chute, a dank cell, and some hungry ferrets.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

New York judge Robert Hamley told a plaintiff in a domestic abuse case that

all domestic violence cases were a "waste of the court's time" and he also told a law enforcement officer that most women enjoyed being abused and asked to get "smacked around"...

Hamley resigned after deciding he could not successfully defend himself against charges brought against him by the commission... not so much an admission of guilt, just a good-ole-boy way to make the problem disappear.

Philadelphia judge Mark Pazuhanich took his oath of office in private (after county officials asked him not to attend a public ceremony) just weeks after being charged with fondling a 10-year-old girl at a teen pop concert... but was barred from hearing any cases.

''We have no intention of assigning any cases to him,'' said Ronald E. Vican, the county's president judge. "People here have a right to have their matters resolved in dignity and aplomb, and that can't happen in this environment.''

Right... so this guy is getting punished by being given a salaried position with benefits and no actual work to do... that should teach him the error of his ways.

In Atlanta, Judge Nina Hickson, a Juvenile Court judge who has presided over cases of child neglect, is being investigated after her 4-year-old daughter was found alone and wandering the street late at night in November. It's ironic that this is the sort of event that Judge Hickson can use to decide custody and neglect cases... when some other parent is involved.

It's pretty sad that we live in such fucked-up times that issues like these are hardly a footnote in the news... it's almost like sleight-of-hand: we stare in disbelief at some blatant abuse of power, which only distracts us from other abuses. It's even sadder that in the past few years there have been significant reductions in judicial oversight and the sort of accountability and 'checks and balances' that supposedly made our system the flagship democracy.

Keep your eyes open... you can't fuck the bozos if you don't know who they are.

A much needed technology

Swearsaurus can teach you "a vast array of swearing, profanity, obscenity, blasphemy, cursing, cussing, and insulting in a massive 133 languages - because it's good to experience cultural diversity!" Another fine service from InsultMonger, the fine folks who brought you a comprehensive index of insults and the ever-popular Ask-a-sociopath column.

If you are interested in a less offensive exploration of languages, the Speech Accent Archive examines the accented speech of speakers from 395 different language backgrounds reading the same sample paragraph.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

If you missed Mars...

If you missed tonight's NOVA episode about the current Mars mission, Mars Dead or Alive, don't fret... NOVA is placing the entire one-hour program online on January 8.

UPDATE: they've moved it to January 12th.

mmm... brains

Attention beefeaters:

does it bother any of you that Alisa Harrison, the spokesperson for the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture who is holding all those press conferences about how American Beef Is Safe™, was previously the director of public relations for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association?

Alisa Harrison has worked tirelessly the last two weeks to spread the message that bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, is not a risk to American consumers. As spokeswoman for Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, Ms. Harrison has helped guide news coverage of the mad cow crisis, issuing statements, managing press conferences and reassuring the world that American beef is safe.

For her, it's a familiar message. Before joining the department, Ms. Harrison was director of public relations for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the beef industry's largest trade group, where she battled government food safety efforts, criticized Oprah Winfrey for raising health questions about American hamburgers, and sent out press releases with titles like "Mad Cow Disease Not a Problem in the U.S."

Ms. Harrison may well be a decent and sincere person who feels she has the public's best interest at heart. Nonetheless, her effortless transition from the cattlemen's lobby to the Agriculture Department is a fine symbol of all that is wrong with America's food safety system. Right now you'd have a hard time finding a federal agency more completely dominated by the industry it was created to regulate. Dale Moore, Ms. Veneman's chief of staff, was previously the chief lobbyist for the cattlemen's association. Other veterans of that group have high-ranking jobs at the department, as do former meat-packing executives and a former president of the National Pork Producers Council.

You can read the rest of the article here... hopefully it will give you something to think about next time you are making burgers for your kids.

Sit back and watch the blinkenlights

About 15 years ago my friend Sandro and I, with the help of a number of other friends, made some weird videos by pointing a video camera at the television that was displaying the camera's output. This formed a feedback loop that created psychedelic patterns. We found that we could manipulate the patterns by holding a mirror in front of the screen and aiming the camera near the juncture of screen and mirror. I think it is safe to assume that we all had a lot more spare time in those days...

Fortunately, there are a bunch of other people who have a lot of spare time, in addition to which they have something we didn't have back then: webpages on which to show their video art. Some of them also have quite a bit of chaos theory and nonlinear dynamics and iterated functions and fractal math to describe what's going on. Check them out at The Ultimate Video Feedback Page.

We are stardust, we are golden

The Mars rover isn't the only thing happening at NASA these days... a couple of days ago the Stardust comet sample return mission successfully captured particles streaming off of comet Wild-2. There is more information about the mission here, as well as a countdown to when Stardust will return to the Earth (just over two years from now, on 15 January 2006). This is the first mission to retrieve anything from beyond the orbit of the moon.

Stardust was launched on 7 February 1999. Since that time it has traveled over 2 billion miles. On 2 January 2004, it came within 149 miles of the comet (damn good aim, that). Travelling through the halo of material ejected from the comet, Stardust captured particles of matter in a trap made of aerogel, which is a solid with a density very close to that of air. Aerogel also has some extraordinary insulating properties, which were utilized in the WEB (warm electronics box) portion of the Sojourner rover and the two current rovers.

Color images from Mars

The 'Spirit' rover has just sent back its first color images of Mars. You can keep track of the daily photos at the 'Mars Planetary Photojournal'.

The Guardian has a nice gallery of pictures from this mission as well.

Truth in advertising

The 15 finalists in the 'Bush in 30 seconds' contest have been chosen... you can view them here. The winning ad, which will be aired during the week of the 2004 State of the Union address, will be announced on 12 January.

What's that slapping my ass?

December 13. You remember, the day they caught that guy that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, but we all felt safer anyway? I remember seeing the news that day, and it was all 'spider hole' and 'coward'. The thing I don't remember seeing on the news that day was something that speaks more directly to 'freedom and democracy' than the capture of one of our old puppet-dictators gone bad.

True to his weasely coward nature, pResident Bush used the media flurry to quietly sign key portions of the Patriot II act into law. The 4th amendment is basically gone, and the concept of judicial oversight is significantly diminished. (This should not be a surprise... remember that Bush and his cronies have shown scorn for the 'checks and balances' built into the system throughout his reign... such as when Congress voted to surrender their right to declare war, placing that power solely within the hands of the president... a situation that parts of the constitution were explicitly drafted to avoid).

The Act included a simple, yet insidious, redefinition of "financial institution," which previously referred to banks, but now includes stockbrokers, car dealerships, casinos, credit card companies, insurance agencies, jewelers, airlines, the U.S. Post Office, and any other business "whose cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, or regulatory matters"...

While broadening the definition of "financial institution," the Bush administration is ramping up provisions within the 2001 USA Patriot Act, which granted the FBI the authority to obtain client records from banks by merely requesting the records in a "National Security Letter." To get the records, the FBI doesn't have to appear before a judge, nor demonstrate "probable cause" - reason to believe that the targeted client is involved in criminal or terrorist activity. Moreover, the National Security Letters are attached with a gag order, preventing any financial institution from informing its clients that their records have been surrendered to the FBI. If a financial institution breaches the gag order, it faces criminal penalties. And finally, the FBI will no longer be required to report to Congress how often they have used the National Security Letters.

I know I'm a bit pessimistic about these things, but between the economy (which went from record surplus to record deficit in the last three years), world opinion of the US (which went from tolerance to disdain, where it isn't outright hatred), an out-of-control federal government (brought to you by the 'smaller federal government' party), and the fact that the average American doesn't seem to give a fuck that their president lies and directly causes the deaths of hundreds of Americans in addition to the thousands of people killed in our bombing raids, I'm pretty sure we're fucked.

(If you're still operating under the delusion that this guy isn't tanking the whole country, check this out... they compare things Bush has said to what he has actually done. He's batting pretty close to zero.)

Monday, January 05, 2004

I can hardly wait

Fellow sinners, rejoice! The annoying Jesus-freak in the next cubicle, the missionaries knocking on your door, and the bitchy neighbor who is always giving you the stank-eye are soon going to do you a big favor and get the hell off of this planet. But don't be alarmed... they are caring folk, in their own self-righteous way, so they've gone to the trouble of leaving a message behind for you to ponder during your eternal damnation:

Dear Friend;

This message has been sent to you by a friend or a relative who has recently disappeared along with millions and millions of people around the world.

The reason they chose to send you this letter is because they cared about you and would like you to know the truth about where they went.

This may come as a shock to you, but the one who sent you this has been taken up to heaven.

If you too would like to have a letter sent to your sinner friends after you are taken up by the Rapture, go to

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Aliens, global warming, and horseshit

A year ago Michael Crichton gave a speech at Caltech called 'Aliens Cause Global Warming' (don't let the title throw you off), in which he examined the way that the practice of science has been undermined by policy and public perception. Crichton takes the path of most resistance, showing how ideas like 'nuclear winter' and 'second-hand smoke' have less of a scientific foundation than we might expect given how pervasive these ideas have become. He then talks of the ways that 'consensus science' differs from hard science, and offers some suggestions for putting science back on track.

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had.

Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period.

In addition, let me remind you that the track record of the consensus is nothing to be proud of. Let's review a few cases.

In past centuries, the greatest killer of women was fever following childbirth . One woman in six died of this fever. In 1795, Alexander Gordon of Aberdeen suggested that the fevers were infectious processes, and he was able to cure them. The consensus said no. In 1843, Oliver Wendell Holmes claimed puerperal fever was contagious, and presented compellng evidence. The consensus said no. In 1849, Semmelweiss demonstrated that sanitary techniques virtually eliminated puerperal fever in hospitals under his management. The consensus said he was a Jew, ignored him, and dismissed him from his post. There was in fact no agreement on puerperal fever until the start of the twentieth century. Thus the consensus took one hundred and twenty five years to arrive at the right conclusion despite the efforts of the prominent "skeptics" around the world, skeptics who were demeaned and ignored. And despite the constant ongoing deaths of women.

The rest of the speech is pretty thought-provoking... even when I disagree with Crichton, I must admit he presents a very well-reasoned viewpoint. He seems to have a knack for finding some vantage point that offers a sense of perspective:

...only if you spend a lot of time looking at a computer screen can you arrive at the complex point where the global warming debate now stands.

Nobody believes a weather prediction twelve hours ahead. Now we're asked to believe a prediction that goes out 100 years into the future? And make financial investments based on that prediction? Has everybody lost their minds?...

Look: If I was selling stock in a company that I told you would be profitable in 2100, would you buy it? Or would you think the idea was so crazy that it must be a scam?

Let's think back to people in 1900 in, say, New York. If they worried about people in 2000, what would they worry about? Probably: Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do about all the horseshit? Horse pollution was bad in 1900, think how much worse it would be a century later, with so many more people riding horses?

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Kill a commie for Jesus

The supposedly 'liberal' media has once again, as it always does, failed in its liberal agenda and somehow accidently fulfilled the conservative agenda. But instead of recognizing that we do not have a liberal media, Americans just assume it is liberal and inept. Fucking sheep.

I've seen proof of this with my own eyes, on more than one occasion. I've noticed that the 'liberal media' meme is so strong that if you even dare to contradict it, you're immediately branded a wacko. Better a wacko than a fucking sheep.

Recently the folks at Penny Arcade (a website devoted to computer gaming) organized a drive to collect toys and games for children at Seattle Children's Hospital. They were immensely successful: in four weeks, $200,000 worth of toys and over $27,000 in cash were donated by gaming fanatics, and a bunch of kids who have the misfortune to be stuck in the fucking hospital got unexpected gifts. Media coverage for this effort: 1 newspaper and 2 websites. (See for yourself.)

Based on the little contact with the 'news' I've been able to stomach, I've noticed that there are basically only three types of news stories: "they suck", "we don't suck", and "cat stuck in tree". The Penny Arcade story seems like great material for the "we don't suck" pages... if not, it surely should at least qualify for the "cat stuck in tree" un-news that keeps all your little minds busy with inanities. So why the total lack of press coverage?

The reason can be found by checking for other news that pertains to gaming... where you'll find articles like "Violent video games are training children to kill", which assert that

  • If a parent wanted their children to develop attitudes like Gary Ridgway, the confessed killer of at least 48 women, these games might provide a good training ground;
  • These video games are not spectator activities, like going to a violent movie. They use simulation techniques that are used to teach people to fly a plane, drive a car or fight wars;
  • Parents cannot trust their neighborhood stores to not sell hyper-violent video games to young children.

That article is only one of thousands that have been printed over the last year decrying violence in games, a number considerably higher than that of articles that call for parents to actually raise their fucking children or those that decry violence in the real world. This leads me to the conclusion that I was wrong: the Penny Arcade news doesn't fit into the three classifications I listed above, since the consensus narrative dictates that 'games are bad'. And if games are bad, and there is a story about gamers doing good... it's too confusing for the sheep, so we'd better not print it.

I'd love to rant about this some more, but I think I just had a fucking aneurysm. So I'll make it short, just a few requests and observations:

  • Raise your goddam kids, or stop breeding. Putting them in front of the television or X-box so they'll quit bugging you doesn't count as raising them... and if that's the only parental guidance you're going to give them, you lose the right to bitch about what your kids are exposed to. A child raised proactively by intelligent caring parents will probably be more capable of drawing the line between fantasy and reality, and therefore less likely to try and act out things they have seen on the TV or in a video game. A child that is ignored and given no guidance... anything can happen, and it's the parents fault. Quit trying to shift the blame... television and video games are not a suitable replacement for parental guidance, and therefore can't be held to the same standard that applies to parents who don't do their jobs.
  • Quit calling it 'news'. It's not 'new', it's the same old shit, over and over. If you want to call it 'news', report on what is actually happening, free from bias.
  • The lack of explicit government censorship does not automatically imply freedom of the press. When a dozen companies control all of the news outlets (a condition the Bush administration has fostered by reducing FCC limitations on monopolies), that old adage that "freedom of the press only belongs to those who own one" is startlingly true. Quit yapping about freedoms if you aren't actually going to use them.
  • Give credit where credit is due, and quit trying to manufacture it where it is not. The folks at Penny Arcade did a great thing, something for which they deserve positive recognition. The parents who don't teach their children the fundamental skills required to discriminate between right and wrong did a horrible thing, something for which they deserve more negative recognition. The makers of video games are ethically neutral... they're just following the American Dream to its logical conclusion.
  • Isn't it a little bit hypocritical to be simultaneously bombing the fuck out of other countries and preaching about violence? Does putting a flag on it make it acceptable? The US military seems to think so... they've even put out a FREE (if you don't count the tax dollars that were used to develop it) first-person-shooter video game called America's Army that is as violent as any out there... but which received rave reviews from the media. Think about it: the only game maker that explicitly hopes their game will teach kids to kill gets positive reviews, while the makers of innocuous (if somewhat mindless) video games get grilled on the front page.

Mars attacked

About 20 minutes ago, the 'Spirit' rover landed successfully on Mars, and it's even right-side up. (Woot!) You can follow the progress of the mission here. Even cooler, NASA has released Maestro, a free downloadable public version of the software that scientists at JPL use to operate the Mars Exploration Rovers. Now if only I could hack it to let me drive the rover...

This rover, 'Spirit', has a twin named 'Opportunity' that is scheduled to land on 24 January. Keep your fingers crossed.

BTW I am getting this information by watching NASA_TV online... you can get the stream here.

God Smites Iran

Wow... shitty year in the Middle East. A meteorite hit northern Iran on Friday morning, and it only took a few hours before some American fucktard exhibited his Christian brotherly love™ by babbling about how it was a sign from 'above'.

Obey Broog

Ever wonder what aliens would think if they saw our movies? Now you can find out: Broog, alien film critic.


...Broog will not seek to interpret this film on your behalf, but he will come round to your feeble dwelling and sow your fields with salt, stampede your tiny offspring, and wear your housepets as slippers if you do not avail yourself of the opportunity to see the movie. Rarely would Broog say that a cinematic offering from your miserable world is fit for export to his home planet, but this picture is a noble exception.

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

The mighty cinematic edifice which is the human Jackson's rendering of Tolkien's classic novel grinds to its imperial conclusion in the third film, "Lord of the Rings: The Fat Jolly Hobbit Saves Middle Earth And Everyone Is Nice To His Whiny Friend". The movie follows the exploits of Sam as he hauls his limp and apparently pointless companion across the dark desolation of Mordor, struggling against hunger, despair, orcs, giant spiders, Gollum, and what must surely be an overpowering desire to slap Frodo until he resembles a hubcap.

Friday, January 02, 2004

Human stupidity analyzed

Mentalsoup has got a pretty good grasp of The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity, courtesy of the Whole Earth Review, 1987. Still amazingly relevant.