Thursday, September 30, 2004

the parallels between my roaches and the Viet Cong can hardly be ignored

When Al Lorentz (who has been a member of the armed forces for 19 years and is currently stationed in Iraq) wrote an essay on Why We Cannot Win the war in Iraq, the administration did pretty much what you'd expect them to: they threatened to charge him with disloyalty and insubordination. There hasn't been a disloyalty prosecution (which can result in a 20-year prison sentence) since the Vietnam War.

The statute that Lorentz is being threatened with prohibits military personnel from 'praising the enemy, attacking the war aims of the United States, or denouncing our form of government with the intent to promote disloyalty or disaffection among members of the armed services'. That 'attacking the war aims' clause is the only bit that applies in this case, but that particular Article of the Uniform Code of Military Justice is at odds with a soldier's constitutional right 'to express their opinions pertaining to the issues before the public', so long as in doing so they do not disclose classified material or cause a security risk. I have been stunned by how many people think that being in the military means you can't have an opinion... so many of the diehard flagwavers seem to think the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were just an afterthought, when they were actually the whole point.

Here's some of what Lorentz had to say:

I have come to the conclusion that we cannot win here for a number of reasons. Ideology and idealism will never trump history and reality.

First, we refuse to deal in reality. We are in a guerilla war, but because of politics, we are not allowed to declare it a guerilla war...

Second, our assessment of what motivates the average Iraqi was skewed... we came here with some fantasy idea that the natives were all ignorant, mud-hut dwelling camel riders who would line the streets and pelt us with rose petals...

Third, the guerillas are filling their losses faster than we can create them. This is almost always the case in guerilla warfare, especially when your tactics for battling the guerillas are aimed at killing guerillas instead of eroding their support.

Fourth, their lines of supply and communication are much shorter than ours and much less vulnerable. We must import everything we need into this place; this costs money and is dangerous... conversely, the guerillas live on top of their supplies and are showing every indication of developing a very sophisticated network for obtaining them.

Fifth, we consistently underestimate the enemy and his capabilities. Many military commanders have prepared to fight exactly the wrong war here.

None of that seems particularly inciting, but it's understandable that a government as astoundingly disingenuous as ours might get upset any time someone points out the differences between their carefully crafted narrative and reality. One of the many sad things about this war is that we are doing the exact goddam thing we did in Vietnam... we don't appear to have learned anything. By the time we get out of Iraq the war will have taken more American lives than the attack on the towers did, and all we will have done is consolidate a loose confederation of warring tribes into a united front led by the terrorists we are supposed to have forgotten about. Anyone remember bin Laden?

The title of this post is from 'The Strawberry Statement' by James Simon Kunen... Lorentz's list reminded me of a list from that book:

Actually, the parallels between my roaches and the Viet Cong can hardy be ignored. There are seventeen parallels. Both my roaches and the VC are indigenous forces, are ignorant, ill-clad and underfed; they both drag away the bodies of their slain, come back no matter how many are killed, move by night, avoid prolonged engagements with the enemy, are not white, are fighting against people who are, have been fighting for generations, are of uncertain numbers, move via infiltration routes, are wily, are out-armed by the enemy, are contemptuous of death, are independent of outside control, are inscrutable, and are winning.

Umm, so what is it we're fighting for again?

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

the human brain: a user's guide

Here are some inter-related links on framing and cognitive symmetry-breaking. Among many other detailed observations, the second article has this to say about taking away freedom by giving choices, i.e. 'framing' the options:

As any good hypnotist, magician, or comedian knows, the offer or availability of freely choosing between alternatives at a given contextual level brings the particularities of choice into the foreground of conscious awareness. This necessarily relegates to the background (i.e. out of awareness and out of the realm of conscious choice) the higher-level context or premise determining the range and meaning of the offered alternatives. The presence of choice (between particularities) at one level masks - and in some sense precludes - choice (between premises) at a more encompassing level.

They also talk about how easy it is for the observer to become part of a system that involves cognitive dissonance:

It is possible to use the idea of 'symmetry-breaking' to model mental illnesses such as OCD. Our theoretical starting-off point is the state of cognitive symmetry, which is where there is no issue, no problem. Suppose you are married to me and you leave the cap off the toothpaste one morning. Now, if I have an issue with this, then there is clearly a right way and a wrong way to it. If I don't have an issue with it then it is not 'right' to leave the cap off, and neither is it 'wrong'. It isn't right and it isn't wrong because there isn't an issue - no one is asking a question and so how can there be a 'correct' answer? Similarly, if I develop obsessive compulsive disorder, and have an issue with the way the tins of baked beans are put away in the cupboard, then there is a right way and a wrong way to do it, there is a distinct lack of symmetry with regard to the spatial orientation of canned foodstuff in the cupboard. The cure is not for me to ask what is the really 'right' way to think about it, because in order for me not to have an issue with it I simply would not think about it at all. There is no right way to think about it! If you reply to my question with any kind of affirming or denying response, you will only confirm that my question is an appropriate one. Your response will be framed within the cognitive symmetry-break which is the source of my difficulty, it will in fact be a manifestation of that symmetry-break.

Some things to think about as the pseudo-debates start up.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

i've lost count

Ok, kiddies, it's time for *this* weeks major Internet Explorer security flaw:

In a harbinger of security threats to come, hackers have exploited a newly announced flaw in Microsoft programs and begun circulating malicious code hidden in images that use the popular JPEG format.

Software tools to create the malicious images began appearing last month, and this week security experts saw images employing them posted on adult-oriented Usenet newsgroups.

To get the malicious code, a visitor must download the image and view it using Microsoft's Windows Explorer software, said Oliver Friedrichs, senior manager with Symantec Security Response.

The computer then contacts a server to obtain code that would let an attacker take over the machine remotely.

Are you getting that? Your computer can be remotely compromised by the simple act of viewing a page that has a specially formed jpeg picture. But only if you are using Internet Explorer. Your choice.

personal update 28 September 2004

So I've been intentionally dodging some issues here for awhile... I'm so fucking tired of being ill that even talking about it is wearisome sometimes. But some things have been happening lately, and others are coming up, so it seems like a good time for an update.

For the last week or so I have been experiencing a new personal record pain level. Most days I can't walk, and often I can't even tolerate laying down... this doesn't leave many options. I've had a hard time focusing on anything, really: just coping has become a full-time job. The only thing keeping me out of the ER is that they did fuck-all last time except for drastic wallet-reduction surgery. The only good thing I can think of right now is that it's getting so bad that even the fucking hack doctors should eventually be able to figure out what is wrong.

My friend Richard told me years ago that my tombstone should read 'See, I *told* you I was sick.'

In 2 weeks I see the GI doc again, and shortly after that (assuming I make it that long) I am going in for the gallbladder surgery. Last time I spoke to them about this they gave me 40% odds that I'd see any benefit at all, 40% that it stays the same, 20% that it gets worse... I could have someone one the street flip a coin and give me better predictions than that. Even so, it's getting bad enough that I'll take what I can get.

Yesterday was the start of fall quarter at PSU... I had hoped to take the Information Theory and Cryptography classes, but I'm not in good enough shape to do so. My head is *so* ready, but my body can't get my head to the places it needs to be, so I'm fucked. There's something very depressing about seeing milestones go flying by when you're not sure you're going to be around for the next ones... they'll offer those classes again in 2 or 3 years, but who knows who/what/where the hell I'll be then.

Monday, September 27, 2004

stoned slackers of the world unite... or something

Wonkette has posted the transcript of Jon Stewart's appearance on Two-minutes Hate The O'Reilly Factor. As usual Stewart is brilliant, and compared to him O'Reilly looks crude and spiteful. (It could be argued, however, that O'Reilly is actually a better comedian than Stewart, based on the fact that he calls his all-of-the-spin-all-of-the-time show 'the no-spin zone'.)

You actually have an influence on this presidential election. That is scary.

If that were so, that would be quite frightening.

But it is. It's true. I mean, you've got stoned slackers watching your dopey show every night, OK, and they can vote.


You can't stop them.

Yeah, I just don't know how motivated they would be, these stoned slackers.

Do any of you remember Wally George? His show 'The Hot Seat' was the evolutionary predecessor of both Jerry Springer and Bill O'Reilly. Once upon a time wackos like that were consigned to UHF or the public cable access channels; now they're primetime. I hope somebody is documenting all of this so later civilizations will be able to understand how we went from Mighty Empire to Very Large Trailerpark in only a couple of generations.


E.L. Doctorow wrote this in the East Hampton Star on 9 September 2004:

... this president does not know what death is. He hasn't the mind for it. You see him joking with the press, peering under the table for the weapons of mass destruction he can't seem to find, you see him at rallies strutting up to the stage in shirt sleeves to the roar of the carefully screened crowd, smiling and waving, triumphal, a he-man.

He does not mourn. He doesn't understand why he should mourn. He is satisfied during the course of a speech written for him to look solemn for a moment and speak of the brave young Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

But you study him, you look into his eyes and know he dissembles an emotion which he does not feel in the depths of his being because he has no capacity for it. He does not feel a personal responsibility for the 1,000 dead young men and women who wanted to be what they could be.

There's more, but if any of it is news to you you probably won't get it anyway. Why the fuck are there still Bush supporters? He's killing your sons and daughters, he's already killed the economy, and he and his cronies have just about killed off the Constitution. Seriously, if you're a Republican and you support this guy, you're a fucking idiot... he's not a Republican, he just knows how to appeal to the least common denominator, and that's you.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

compare and contrast...

... the sound and the fury, signifying nothing:

Dan Rather, CBS News Anchor:
  1. given documents he thought were true
  2. failed to thoroughly investigate the facts
  3. reported documents to the American people as true to make his case
  4. when challenged, launched an investigation, quickly apologized
  5. substance of the bogus documents appears to have been true anyway
  6. cost to the world in lives and money: zero
  7. Bush camp conclusion: should be fired as CBS News Anchor

George W. Bush, President of the United States:
  1. given documents he thought were true
  2. failed to thoroughly investigate the facts
  3. reported documents to the American people as true to make his case
  4. when challenged, stonewalled an investigation, never apologized
  5. substance of the bogus documents appears to have been... bogus
  6. cost to the world in lives and money: incalculable
  7. Bush camp conclusion: four more years!

[via SixDifferentWays]

Thursday, September 23, 2004

What, no more subliminable misunderestimation?

Well whaddayaknow... somebody on the news finally did their fucking job.

Peter Jennings on ABC World News Tonight, 21 September 2004:

We were struck today by a very pointed attack by President Bush on John Kerry. First of all, this is what Mr. Bush said:

[begin video clip]

We agree that the world is better off with Saddam Hussein sitting in a prison cell.

And that stands in stark contrast to the statement that my opponent made yesterday, when he said that the world was better off with Saddam in power.

I strongly disagree.

[end video clip]

And this is what Mr. Kerry actually said:

[begin video clip]

Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in Hell.

But that was and of itself, a reason to go to war.

The satisfaction...that we take in his downfall does not hide this fact:

We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure.

[end video clip]

Trying to keep track of the Iraq debate.

Not that I think it will do any good, having such things pointed out... I tried for a long time to maintain a sort of 'relative truths' approach to politics and religion, but I finally had to surrender and admit that there is overwhelming evidence that a large number of people are complete idiots. This might explain why there are so many people who don't see anything wrong with tampered elections and faulty voting booths: democracy must be working, from their point of view, because they are so ably represented... the Grand Poobah of all idiots currently resides in the White House (well, except for the record 40% of the time he is out of the office).

[via The Gamer's Nook]

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

peace train sounding louder...

... ride on the peace train. Or maybe not. A United Airlines flight from London to Washington was diverted to Maine after it was discovered that musician and peace-activist Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) was on board. Islam was denied entrance to the US on unspecified 'national security grounds'.

Islam's presence on a governmental watch list probably didn't have anything to do with his vocal advocacy of peace and his opposition to US imperialism in Iraq and elsewhere, uh-uh, nope. I'm sure glad we traded so many of our freedoms for a Big Brother that will protect us from FUCKING TREEHUGGING HIPPIES trying to enter the country.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

it's not like I didn't already know I was screwed

In my unending quest for any information that might shed some light on my chronic pain issues, I've read volumes of stuff ranging from stuffy neurology journals to holistic hippie health mags. Given the complete failure of western medicine to address my health problems, I cast the net out further and further in hopes of catching some useful tidbit of information that might improve my quality of life.

Unfortunately the information I dredge up usually looks like this:

"We now have research indicating there's a memory of chronic pain," said Dr. Doris K. Cope, director of chronic and cancer pain for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

"It changes the genic code sometimes, it changes the biochemistry, and it causes new proteins to be formed."

That means even if the pain in the original problem area is cured -- or eliminated by amputation -- other nerves will have pain, she said. Therefore, it's crucial to treat acute pain to keep it from growing into a chronic problem.

Ok, I knew that already, it is pertinent information but it provides no hope, especially since the only thing the docs can even suggest is that they remove my gallbladder and hope for some improvement. So I keep digging:

"We believe that the pain no longer originates with the tissue that was originally damaged, but that it actually begins in the central nervous system, in the spinal cord and the brain," says Yang, a professor in the Departments of Anesthesiology and Pharmacology and Physiology.

"The experience changes the nervous system, just like learning. It's like a memory of pain that recurs again and again in the nervous system."

Yang says that because of past experience, the nervous system has been primed to transmit pain signals more efficiently: Small pain signals may be amplified, resulting in a sensation of pain way out of proportion to the amount of hurt one would normally experience. And more nerve cells become involved in the process.

Okay... this sounds a lot like what I am going through, and could be the explanation for why my symptoms continue to get worse without any corresponding increase in the severity of the few diagnosable physiological problems I am known to have.

But wait, there's more:

In people with red hair, the cells that produce skin and hair pigment have a dysfunctional melanocortin-1 receptor. Liem says this dysfunction triggers the release of more of the hormone that stimulates these cells, but this hormone also stimulates a brain receptor related to pain sensitivity.

Alright, now this is just getting absurd, it's like 'The Truman Show'. I fully expect to see research in the near future that shows that electrical engineers named Michael have a higher susceptibility to chronic pain.

I suspect that whoever is watching The Michael Show is getting very little out of it, because from where I stand it looks like it's all re-runs.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

fi'dolla milkshake

The folks at have got an animation [3.2MB SWF] that blends the movie Pulp Fiction with the current political situation in the US. One of the better parodies I've seen.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

the boy who cried bullshit

You might have seen this picture in the news, accompanying the story about how this peaceful Bush supporter and his precious little kids were accosted by Bush-haters at a Kerry/Edwards rally, who tore up the family's pro-Bush signs and threw the pieces at them.

phil parlock is a dipshit

The part they probably didn't tell you on the news was that this guy is a serial victim who, if what he says about the assaults he has received is true, has a habit of repeatedly endangering his children in his quest for peaceful political expression. It's looking more likely that his real quest is to foment self-righteous hatred. What a fucking knob.

17 September 2004

A Republican family attended the rally to show support for the Bush-Cheney ticket. Phil Parlock, a Barboursville resident and strong Republican, said his family was accosted by some Kerry supporters. "We do it peacefully and quietly to show respect. And, we don't want to get kicked out of anything," Parlock said.

After standing on the tarmac with the Kerry supporters, Parlock and three of his children moved down to the airport road near a parking lot exit. With Parlock were sons Phil II, 21, and Alex, 11, and daughter Sophia, 3.

Parlock said a Kerry supporter yanked a Bush-Cheney sign out of Sophia's hands, making her cry. As they stood along the road later, someone threw the ripped-up remains of the sign at them as they passed.

But wait, there's more:

28 October 2000, Charleston Daily Mail

Phil Parlock didn't expect to need all 12 of the Bush-Cheney signs he and his son Louis smuggled in their socks and pockets into the rally for Vice President Al Gore.
But each time they raised a sign, someone would grab it out of their hands, the two Huntington residents said. And sometimes it got physical.

"I expected some people to take our signs," said Louis, 12. "But I did not expect people to practically attack us."

The two said they didn't go to the Friday morning rally to start trouble.

"I came to support Bush and try to change some people's minds," Louis said.

It's like deja-vu all over again:

27 August 1996, Charleston Daily Mail

Phil Parlock's experience was less calm. The Huntington man said he was knocked to the ground by a Clinton supporter when he tried to display a sign that read "Remember Vince Foster," the deputy White House counsel who committed suicide in a Washington, D.C., park. His death has become the subject of much debate among Clinton opponents.

"It must have been a strict Democrat who did this," Parlock said, feeling the red abrasions on his face. "Everyone with the exception of him was real peaceful about our protest."

Parlock said some of the crowd tried to make other anti-Clinton demonstrators feel unwelcome. He estimated that about 150 Dole supporters attended the rally, but their signs couldn't be seen for most of the rally.

I've got an idea: fuck the Republicans. Fuck the Democrats too. Ditto for Nader. This country clearly doesn't want (and can't handle) the responsibility of a democracy. Let's set up a nice little theocratic dictatorship so all of the extreme-wing fucktards will be happy and leave the rest of us alone. We'll also probably get more accurate news from a state-run media than we do from Murdoch's Minions; at the very least we won't get any non-contextual factual information with which to compare the bullshit.

more little buttons

If you're using Firefox as your web browser (and if you're not using it or Opera: what the fuck?), there's a new extension called Foxytunes that lets you control your favorite media player from little buttons in the status bar.


Thanks to all of the new Google hacks and Firefox extensions I have about half as many windows on my desktop as I did before. If only there were similar hacks for the rest of my life.

[via SixDifferentWays]

Friday, September 17, 2004

work in progress

Whatever I did to hose up the comments system has been fixed now... I was trying to force Blogger to generate validatable XHTML and CSS, but it doesn't wanna, so I'll stick with the invalid code until either they change something or I rewrite the entire page using javascript document.write() commands.

For the record Blogger's response to any concerns about validatable code is:

Thanks for letting us know about this validation issue. However, unless it is actually breaking functionality somewhere in Blogger or causing true accessibility issues, it will likely be treated with a low-priority.

This translates roughly into "use Internet Explorer, bitch".

It's not like I can really complain about the little details of this free service (actually I am technically still a paying customer, but all of that flew out the window when Google bought Blogger... luckily a whole bunch of Good Things flew in shortly after), but just for a sense of perspective here the changes required to make Blogger spew out valid code involve deleting 4 characters from one CSS file and making trivial changes to four lines of code in their page generation scripts.

i found some of your life

You are unknown to me.
Your camera's memory card was in a taxi; I have it now.
I am going to post one of your pictures each day.
I will also narrate as if I were you.

Some New Yorker's life story is being told by a complete stranger who found a compact-flash card with a year's worth of pictures on it in a cab. There are 227 pictures, dated 25 July 2003 through 24 July 2004, so there will be 227 posts, each accompanied by a plausible-enough sounding first-person story about the picture contents.

It probably helps that the pictures are of white preppie wanker guys who wear backwards baseball hats (one of which says 'Jesus is my homeboy') with oxfords and ties so they look 'edgy', and the girls actually wear Izods, pink sweaters draped over shoulders, sleeves folded tastefully in front, charm-school smiles with preternaturally white teeth... these are Ivy League folks who party in the Hamptons and will probably run the country some day. Commence quaking in fear in 3... 2... 1... now.

The person doing the narrative is brilliant... what a creative idea.

FOLLOWUP, 20 September 2004:

Some boring websleuths at Slashdot found the people in the pictures, and the tale has come to its end. The person running the site removed the narrative and apologized for any hurt or embarrasment he may have caused, but it turns out the Barbie Dolls in the pictures are in the Kappa Delta sorority at Vanderbilt, so in this case the satire was probably more charitable than the truth.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

no facts, no filters: just the words

Check out this Daily Show version of Bush's campaign ad [6.2MB MOV]... the last few seconds are priceless. Jon Stewart has the easiest job in the world, all he has to do is report the exact truth with a straight face and the absurdity makes people laugh more than the most well-crafted joke would. Of course, they are laughing to keep from crying, but what the hell.

[via farkleberries-usa]

oh the wind and... dust

Pics from Burning Man this year:

dusty mk

I looked like this pretty much all week.

american gothic

The obligatory "we'll need this photo when we have Alzheimer's" shot.


I got a Caitlin for my birthday. Surprise!


This guy just came for the chicks...


... he apparently had no idea what he was getting into...

rock on

... but he sure got into it once the party started.


He was pretty burnt out by the end of the night.


... but kick their asses out first, please

As of yesterday, 1025 U.S. soldiers dead in Bush's dirty little war. Hold them accountable.

[via The ZehnKatzen Times]

hey ho let's go

Yesterday, three months after this, Johnny Ramone died of prostate cancer at age 55. My guess is that Tommy Ramone is starting to get nervous.

A bomp bomp bompa
a bomp bomp bompa
I wanna be sedated

RIP Johnny... say hi to Joey and DeeDee for us.

Followup: Over at Crooked Timber somebody posted the guitar tablature of Johnny Ramone's guitar solo from 'I wanna be sedated':


I remember sitting down at the record player (remember record players?) with my guitar and the Ramones first album (which had already been out for about ten years and was still more than relevant) and being shocked when I got to a song that required a fourth chord.

driving while black (and muslim)

Bilal Mahmud, an African-American Muslim who served as a Marine in the Vietnam war and has been a commercial truck driver for 28 years, has had his commercial driver's license revoked by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for posing a 'security threat' that they refuse to specify. The DHS’s Transportation Security Administration can preclude individuals from holding a hazardous materials endorsement on a commercial driver’s license if they feel that the person is a security risk, and they are not required to justify their decision.

When I was in elementary school in the 70's my teachers would take the time right after the pledge of allegiance to tell us about how the evil mean old Russians did shit like that, and doesn't that make us glad we live in the land of the free? It saddens me to see how willing this country has become to throw away every freedom for the illusion of safety. One part of Europe or another has been bombed pretty much continuously since the Luftwaffe rained hell on Guernica in 1937, but one attack on American soil and we surrender all of our rights to dipshit demagogues. Long may she wave, indeed.

... and they'll tell two of their friends, and...

Infinite: Bigger than the biggest thing ever and then some. Much bigger than that, in fact, really amazingly immense, a totally stunning size, real "wow, that's big" time. Infinity is so big that by comparison, bigness itself looks really titchy. Gigantic multiplied by colossal multiplied by staggeringly huge is the sort of concept we're trying to get across here.

    —Douglas Adams, "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe"

Raju Varghese has a thing about exponential growth and division. He's written up a few examples to try and get the point across about just how quickly a process as simple as doubling a number can shoot up towards infinity. I'd heard the one about putting grains of rice (or coins) on the squares of a checkerboard, but I did not know that if it were possible to fold a piece of paper in half 100 times the resultant stack would be approximately the same size as the radius of the known universe.

He gets the final number wrong, but when you're talking about light-years I think it's safe to just be in the ballpark. Or even in the galaxy. He assumes a paper thickness of 0.1mm, so

2 * 0.1mm = 126765060022822940149670320537.6 mm
= ~126765060022822940149670320 m
= ~422842725492523698 light-seconds
= ~7047378758208728 light-minutes
= ~117456312636812 light-hours
= ~4894013026533 light-days
= ~13408254867 light-years

That's ~13.4 billion light-years... it is currently believed that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, and therefore the distance from the 'center' to the 'edge' (whatever the hell those mean in this context) is 13.7 billion light-years.

An interesting side note is that this is an even more abstract mental exercise than it appears to be, because until a few years ago it was believed that it was physically impossible to fold a sheet of paper in half more than 7 times. Try it with a normal sheet of paper... after the seventh fold, the stack of paper is taller than it is wide and there's no way to fold it again... in cross-section the stack is 128 layers thick. Newspaper: same deal. Tissue paper: same deal. Try it.

In 2001 Britney Gallivan, a high-school student, figured out the mathematical formulae that describe the limits of this folding process, and in doing so she discovered a way to fold a sheet (or in this case a 4000-foot roll) of paper in half 12 times. People have been talking about this for a couple of hundred years, and a high-school student figured it out for extra-credit in her math class. I realize this isn't a world-changing discovery, but I still hope someone gave her a scholarship or something.

Monday, September 13, 2004

be afraid... be very afraid

Bush's plan is working very well... there are so many Amerians pissing themselves over threats that are severely overstated or nonexistent, like last week when Orange County 911 got a report of people of Middle Eastern descent filming a tractor-trailer weigh station, bridges, and overpasses:

Authorities from the Orange and Durham counties and the Federal Bureau of Investigation reviewed the tape while the family stood outside by the minivan.

Durham County Sheriff's Maj. Lucy Zastrow said the tape in the video camera was harmless and contained nothing of a suspicious nature.

"The guy was videotaping his family... he taped the sunrise, which was really quite pretty this morning, and he taped his speedometer, which was up around 90."

The family turned out to be Mexican, and authorities had to wait until a Spanish-speaking interpreter arrived on the scene.

Sometimes I'm just ashamed to be an American. This wasn't as blatantly stupid as the airline stewardess who saw the letters "BOB" written on a bag and decided that this must of course mean "Bomb On Board", resulting in an emergency landing, but in some ways it is even worse: the stewardess was operating out of fear and a hyperactive imagination, but whoever turned in the Mexican vacationers was operating out of fear and prejudice and the considerable amount of ignorance that has become the hallmark of American society.

Remember when all of our politicos were constantly spouting off about how if the explosions downtown changed the way we live, the terrorists have already won? Under that criterion, they have won so decisively that they can now just sit back and watch us terrorize ourselves. Somebody in Al Queda probably got a fucking promotion for that. America didn't want to admit to any culpability in the airplane attacks, and now most of the country (led by the single-most stupid, embarrassing, and unAmerican president we have ever had) can't wrap their little brains around the idea that they themselves are perpetuating this climate of fear. I think they probably need to continue believing in the boogeyman, because if they don't they'll have to face the deep dark truthful mirror.

Saturday, September 11, 2004


Last Sunday, the last day of Burning Man, I went to a round table discussion with Larry Harvey and John Perry Barlow at Otter Camp. The event was supposed to be a discussion about whether BM would continue to be relevant in the future, whether it is relevant now, and whether the oh-so-far right actually (despite their very vocal protestations) think BM is useful, especially this year when 35000 creative and expressive people were effectively neutralized out in the middle of the desert instead of protesting the RNC or whatever.

My first intimation that things were not right was when Barlow and Harvey entered the shade structure and a couple of hundred people got to their feet and gave a standing ovation, with numerous people running up to hug, kiss, or frotteurize them. Umm, 'no spectators, only participants', right? Where does the hero worship fit into all of that? I can understand people being thankful for the opportunity and the space to be and do what they want to be and do, but the crowd's reaction was way beyond that. I mean, it's not like we went to the circus and were applauding the ringmaster... we are the circus. We bring Burning Man with us to Black Rock City, and we take it with us when we leave. Larry Harvey is a facilitator, not a deity. He commoditized 'radical self-expression'... and it looks like there are a lot of people whose primary connection to BM is that of the consumer, not of the participant.

[Side note: In the late 80's, around the time Larry Harvey was first gathering his friends on the beaches of northern California for a yearly fire ritual, the Salt Lake City punk crowd would pack up each summer for a trip to the deserts of southern Utah. In the San Rafael Swell near Goblin Valley we would set up camp in one of the slot canyons with generators for the instruments and microphones and lights and have some of the most glorious gigs out under the stars. 'Out here in the desert we is stoned, immaculate'... these 'Infest the West' trips were our opportunity to express who we were without having to worry about the strictures of life in the Holy Land. People have been making their own rituals forever... and many of us continue to do so, even within the larger context of Burning Man.]

It's a problem of abstraction, like so many others these days: too many people have convinced themselves that they are participating, conveniently neglecting to notice that their participation isn't actually getting anything done. This gap between walk and talk keeps people feeling good about themselves without effecting any real change, and people don't want to hear that - they want a little microcosm consensus narrative that affirms their belief that they are doing something good while simultaneously shielding them from any actual risk.

This was rather evident when Barlow spoke about the political mess our country has become: the crowd seemed confused that his words were mostly devoid of rhetoric, but they reacted positively when he complimented them.
... we are just as guilty of demonizing the right as they are of demonizing us...
... we need to take more personal responsibility for the mess this country is in...
... but I do see some of the most intelligent and creative people in the country here today, and I know we can change things if we try...
(high-fives all around)

The crowd seemed to respond best to "they've got the guns, but we've got the numbers" sort of talk, but they seem to have forgotten that as of the last elections the numbers don't mean fuck all, but the other side still has the guns. I'm pretty disgusted by the Bush administration, but then again it's to be expected that they would be evil. What I want to know is where the fuck has the opposition been? Standing there in Otter Camp listening to these people talk it was pretty clear what the majority of the opposition was doing: patting themselves on the back and waving their dicks in the wind.

I did see political activism at Burning Man, but it didn't do much to ease my mind. I was happy to see the guy who had brought voter registration forms from 47 states, but I was totally dismayed by how many people took him up on it. Where the fuck have these people been? The election is in less than two months, the thousandth US soldier was just killed in Iraq, the assault weapons ban expires this week, they're reinstating the draft (with new conditions that extend the age range, and even outside of that you're fucked if you've got technical or language skills)... did the last election so demoralize this country that apathy has trumped the desire for change? How bad do things have to get before people decide to participate in the democratic process?

If you think that the elections are rigged, or that your vote doesn't count, the Declaration of Independence has some advice for you:

...all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Whatever side you are on, if it's security you really want, take a closer look at the Bush administration's handling of terrorism. And if you're on the 'anybody but Bush' side, get off your ass... the despots aren't going to remove themselves. I'm hoping that a little radical self expression can go a long way this year.

if i ever leave this world alive

I just found out that Aaron Hawkins from Uppity Negro committed suicide. He had been missing for a few days, and there was much speculation as to his whereabouts. I found Aaron through his comments on other sites; his sense of humor and intelligence and geekiness and social awareness immediately reminded me of my friend Scott, who committed suicide two years ago.

Aaron's death has prompted a lot of the people he affected to talk about depression and suicide. Sour Bob says it straight:

Aaron killed himself.

I didn't know him as well as some, but even so, I know enough to answer one question: I can tell you why.

Suicide is what happens when the pain someone feels outweighs his or her ability to deal with pain.

... all I can do is to admit the paralyzing fear that comes over a depressive when another of his rank takes his own life, the ominous message that seeps in about fighting depression, about fighting the urge to take your own life:

You might lose.

And this from Don Fox:

To the outside observer, suicide can often look like a spontaneous act, like a spur of the moment thing. But I believe it's actually one of the more premeditated things a person can do. It isn't just something that pops into your head one day without any warning. It's something you think about over and over, day after day, week after week, month after month, maybe even year after year. You turn it over in your mind, look at it from every angle, until the day arrives when you know just exactly what it is you have to do.

Tina said something relevant the other day:

There has to be a way to rise above it all, or go deeper into it somehow, or in some way come to some kind of peace with all the suffering. What always comes to mind when I'm trying to get to a peaceful place is: my own death. Not that I'm in any hurry to go, and I don't think I'm the kind of person who would ever actually kill myself for any reason. But when I'm at the end of my rope, it really is the only thing I can think of that seems to hold some hope—the knowledge that someday I won't have to keep on being here anymore. Knowing that helps me hold on.

I know my situation gives me a grim outlook sometimes, and that I myself get pretty down sometimes, but FUCK could we please go a week or two without someone good killing themselves?

these one-way streets are killing me

This morning I was fine, but since about 4pm I have been in the most severe pain. I took some vicodin (no effect), my sleep meds (no effect), and a valium (it's 3:15am and I'm still wide awake; when my neurochemistry gets screwed up it doesn't do things halfway). Now I'm playing the waiting game - waiting for the pain to pass, or sleep to come. Or for a meteorite to hit the house.

There's something positively glacial about time when you've got chronic pain. Good times, on the other hand, just seem to fucking whiz by. Is this just subjective experience, or is it another side-effect of living in a universe that has increasing entropy? Malicious diety perhaps?

Friday, September 10, 2004

even more GMail

I've got some extra GMail invites if anyone needs one.

A few interesting GMail hacks have appeared recently:

Gallina presents your GMail account as a blog, where original emails are shown as entries and replies to those emails are shown as comments. It's a proof-of-concept app and it's been slashdotted all to hell, but the idea that you should be able to abstract data into whatever form you are most comfortable with is a good one. I've been using Eudora as my main email client for over a decade, and the API they publish is about that old, making it astoundingly irrelevant and unusable, so there are precious few plug-ins for Eudora and little chance of making new ones. Google, on the other hand, published a hacker's wet dream API right up front, and the innovation that resulted from that continues to grow. There's a lesson in there somewhere.

Gmcp (gmail copy) is a Perl script for abstracting your GMail account into a file backup system. It Must Be Cool Because It's Perl™.

But GmailFS takes the idea even further... GMailFS is a Python app that creates a mountable Linux file system that uses your GMail account as a storage medium. Ummm... wow. This guy wins, I think. Talk about abstracting the data.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

normal service has been resumed

Followup to an earlier post about Heather from

Heather is back home and everything seems to be back to... normal... or whatever.

Best wishes to Heather and Jon and Leta and whateverthehellthedogsnameis.

the #1 reason the rest of the world thinks we're deaf, dumb and dangerous

Check out this article in which Garrison Keillor tries to explain (to people who most likely won't be able to hear what he is saying) that Bush and friends aren't Republicans, aren't telling the truth, and aren't doing anything but raping the country. He's obviously being charitable, because anyone with more than two or three functioning neurons should be able to see that what Bush says and what he does are precisely 180° out of phase. How Republicans (remember "smaller federal government" and "state's rights"?) can follow this guy as he leads our country down the shithole astounds me, until I remember that the majority of Americans now get their news from FOX.

(Choice of news source has become a good litmus test in recent years: if you think there's such a thing as a 'liberal media' on the television or in print, you may be a fucking retard. If you think that FOX News is 'fair and balanced', you are definitely a fucking retard. Their lack of objectivity isn't my opinion, it is a verifiable matter of public record... here's a recent example that made the list of the top 25 censored/un(der)reported news stories of the past year. Remember when people would argue about the relative liberalness/conservatism of ABC, CBS, and NBC? Today something like half of the country thinks all three of those networks are extreme leftist rags.)

Quoth Keillor:

...George W. Bush is running for reelection on a platform of tragedy - the single greatest failure of national defense in our history, the attacks of 9/11 in which 19 men with box cutters put this nation into a tailspin, a failure the details of which the White House fought to keep secret even as it ran the country into hock up to the hubcaps, thanks to generous tax cuts for the well-fixed, hoping to lead us into a box canyon of debt that will render government impotent, even as we engage in a war against a small country that was undertaken for the president’s personal satisfaction but sold to the American public on the basis of brazen misinformation, a war whose purpose is to distract us from an enormous transfer of wealth taking place in this country, flowing upward, and the deception is working beautifully.
There is a stink drifting through this election year. It isn’t the Florida recount or the Supreme Court decision. No, it’s 9/11 that we keep coming back to. It wasn’t the "end of innocence," or a turning point in our history, or a cosmic occurrence, it was an event, a lapse of security. And patriotism shouldn’t prevent people from asking hard questions of the man who was purportedly in charge of national security at the time.

Once again, before you fire off the shitty hatemails to me: this isn't about Bush vs Kerry or Nader. This is about Bush vs America and the environment and common sense and honor and our place in the world and just about any other good thing you can think of, unless your definition of 'good' revolves solely around the lining of rich white guys pockets with money that your unborn great-grandkids will still be struggling to pay back, unless Bush spares them this fate by causing a Major 'Nucular' Shitstorm before then.

Personally I think that the rift this guy has driven into our society is irreparable; under his watch hatred and fear and ignorance have become a way of life (they were just popular hobbies before), and even if we do manage to get our shit together domestically the damage he has caused to our position in the world seems too great to repair in our lifetimes. I hope I'm wrong on this, I hope that things change for the better, but in the meantime I'm not holding my breath and I'm not travelling out of the country because I couldn't stand the shame and I don't feel like being the ambassador from Dipshit Nation.

Keillor is always writing about Wobegon, an cute and amusing name because it sounds like 'woe be gone', which seems like a good sentiment. This most recent article of his has an edge not often seen in his writings; I think even the indefatigably optimistic Keillor is starting to realize that unless things change soon, woe might be here to stay.

talk amongst yourselves

Things that happened while I was gone:

Lindsey 'Lynn' Gleins, friend to Julie and her family, died in New York last week. Julie was hit pretty hard by this, as were her husband and kids... how the hell do you explain something like that to a child? Given my attitude towards death I am notoriously bad at condolences, but I can understand things like 'Julie is hurting' even though I am almost as powerless to change this as she is to change the fact of Lynn's death. The only thing I can say is that Julie is in my thoughts... I wish I could say 'the pain will go away' or 'this too shall pass', but it won't, not if she keeps her heart open (and I can't imagine her any other way). It will, however, become easier to bear. I still don't know whether or not this is a good thing.

Tina made a valiant effort to relinquish her Burning Man Virgin status, but real life interceded. (I think she might have gotten to second base.) As a result, I didn't see her there, though as a sort of consolation prize I did get to enjoy a lovely salad made from the fresh greens she left at my old camp. The fallout from Tina's adventures is documented here, but the gist of it is that her travel partner went bugfuck and needed to vacate the premises shortly after they arrived. I saw a documentary a few years back about a guy who was training inner-city kids in NY to box... when they asked him what he thought of the new guys who were all bluster and bravado and full of talk about how they were going to rule the ring, he said "everyone has a theory until they get hit". Unfortunately Tina's friend had some theories that had not yet intersected reality, and when the hit came Tina got tumbled as well.

Apparently I have an Evil Twin. (Hi evil twin.) He's an Oregonian (check) computer nerd (check) named Michael (check) married to Anne-Marie (check) who is a nurse (check). He's got a chronic illness (check) and if I'm reading this post correctly he lives in a geodesic dome (I'm a Bucky Fuller freak, models of domes lying around the house and I just picked up a proof-sheet of the new Bucky Fuller commemorative stamps today) and has goats (don't even get me started on Anne-Marie and the fucking goats). This just goes to further reinforce my belief that there are only like twelve people and they are just all over the place, slight variations on a theme like good jazz.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

sandstorm prayers and pealing bells

Burning Man is over and we are now on our yearly 354-day pilgrimage into the 'real' world. As always we are equal parts spiritually refreshed and physically exhausted. And dusty. Mustn't forget the dust, precious, as if you could when it is embedded in your skin and hair and everything you own is covered with a fine white powder that sucks the moisture out of your skin when you touch it.

It was an interesting year... we camped out in the suburbs again, and it was again a good choice. A few too many SUVs in the neighborhood, but what can you do. Our experimental PVC structure performed it's main trick (not blowing apart/away) quite nicely, and also had the useful side effect of shielding us from the sun and wind. Our poor little car was so loaded down with shite that the back wheels were all up in the wheel-wells, but it was a trooper and got us there and back again. I completely expect it to die about a mile from our house, which will turn out to have been burned to the ground. I guess maybe I'm not too excited about being back.

The first 4 days were very mellow, as many of our friends didn't show up until Thursday and the weather was weird: Wednesday was like 60 degrees cooler than Tuesday. Of course 'mellow' is a relative term - it's not like there wasn't already a whole bunch of shit on fire, and the party was underway when we got there on Sunday... it's kind of hard to explain exactly how people who are dancing and making (and being) art and blowing stuff up can be seen as sedate, but I didn't feel like I was in any life-threatening situations until Saturday, whereas in previous years I'd already been through all of that by Wednesday or so.

Connections: some missed, some made. We ran into Rex and Bill (the drivers from our Green Tortoise trip to Baja), failed to run into Tina (her related notes should be required reading for newbie burners), and serendipitously hooked up with Caitlin, our beautiful friend from the aforementioned Baja trip who is currently studying law at Berkeley. We met a bunch of new people too, including Jacqui and her son Beau who were quite nice. On Friday Anne and Jim showed up - Anne has the same birthday as me (which incidentally was that very day) and has chronic pain problems that are literally identical to mine... I wish she had an online journal, it would be interesting to compare notes/rants/whatever.

The burn itself was a good ritual - not quite as powerful as in previous years, but still useful for those of us who belong to no specific tradition. I'm a little red from spending too much time dancing around and in the fire, but I choose to think of it as a purifying alchemical flame and overall it was definitely worth it. Anne-Marie and Caitlin and I went out dancing after the burn at a nice little funk place (she's a brickdootdoodootHOUSE) that wasn't too close to raverville, and wandered around checking out the amazing art. Caitlin and I climbed up a 4-story scaffolding in something like 30mph winds and sat looking out over the city (I didn't tell her that the same scaffolding had fallen over the year before, but this year the thing didn't have a huge cloth sail attached to it and looked pretty well staked down. Not that any of this prevented Extreme Testicle Retraction or anything, mind you.)

Healthwise I had a rough day on Wednesday and some severe pain Saturday night, which given the amount of activity I was engaged in basically means I had a free ride. This Is Good.

Anne-Marie and I spent a few days camping our way homewards, stopping at Goose Lake and the Summer Lake hotsprings before camping 2 nights at Trapper Creek and hitting McCredie hotsprings this morning. Note the water theme? Remember the dust? Aaaahhhhh.....