>> Monday, October 31, 2011

So the word is the planet Earth has reached an estimated population of seven billion people today, or will reach it. It's a little funny, looking at the news item on MSNBC--headline, "A child is born and the world's population hits 7 billion", and then a little below it, we see: "Sinkhole opens in man's yard, swallows him"; +1, -1, seems like it would even out, although it actually turns out if you read the story, the man was ultimately disgorged by the devouring Earth. Or maybe that should be "ungorged", to coin a word, seeing as how he got his head out and the local fire department finished the extraction, the Earth didn't willingly give up its prey.

I used to play the roleplaying game Traveller back in the day. This probably seems like a digression, but it isn't really. Traveller, see, liked to break everything down into coded strings for what was purported to be convenience. On the one hand, this really was convenient, insofar as you could get a quick capsule summary of any character, strange creature, vehicle or exotic locale in one line; on the other hand, not so much insofar as good luck remembering what all the letters and numbers stood for and in what order. Anyway, when I heard the seven-billion-people news on NPR when the alarm radio went off, I couldn't help wondering if this would have jostled Earth's Universal Planetary Profile (a.k.a. Universal World Profile); turns out it doesn't, the fifth number of our serial code remains a nine for yet another few years. That's really not as big a deal as the sad fact our starport code remains at "H" if one is exceedingly generous, and will for the foreseeable future, but I suppose that is a digression.

Another thing when I was growing up, aside from the science fiction RPGs, was the fear of the inevitable population apocalypse. Soylent Green came out when I was a year old, so (naturally) I missed it in the theatre, but then it made regular appearances on television through my formative years and the big twist was already a cultural catchphrase before I was ten. That was the campy pop culture version, but there were more "serious" pop culture warnings still floating around through the seventies, like Paul R. Ehrlich's 1968 dire warning, The Population Bomb, which furthered a proud tradition going at least as far back as the 18th Century of promising the world was just a couple of newborn babies away from being completely fucked. This was, anyway, a pressing issue through the seventies and eighties; either we were going to get screwed over by the population being reduced to zero in fifteen-minutes-or-so because somebody mistook a flock of geese for a knife in the back or the next baby was going to reduce civilization to mass cannibalism.

It's a wonder we even made it out of the decade alive. This did not help my mopiness or nihilism as a teenager, no, it pretty much exacerbated my wishing I was dead, which I did quite a lot of in those days for all sorts of reasons. Thinking back on it also makes me wonder if some of the social and fiscal excesses of the '80s and '90s weren't inflamed by living like every day was our last up until the collapse of the August putsch and the realization civilization hadn't imploded, which was immediately followed by a sort-of-unwarranted celebratory party. There's probably some kind of half-baked sociological Big Idea in there somewhere, the kind of thing Tom Friedman or David Brooks could write a horribly simplistic and simply wrong book about; I'm not really interested in aiming that low, but if either one of those guys wants to buy the concept for a modest fee, I'm sure we can reach a nice figure (hell, I've been known to work for beer--just throwing that out there).

One of my best friends when I was in high school was enormously green, as were his brothers. They were all Boy Scouts and liked tromping around in the woods and expressing their sympathies for Greenpeace. They were all basically good eggs; my friend was the kind of guy who would literally walk out of a restaurant with a carryout order and give the food he'd just bought to the panhandler who hit us up for change at the front door (seriously, I saw him do this, he was a pretty awesome guy in those days). But one thing that was irritating was that there was a survivalist streak in those brothers that didn't flatter them. I suspect most people, including most right-wingers, think that survivalism is a fringe right kind of deal, Lyndon LaRouchers huddling in their bunkers with their guns and canned water waiting for the One World Government to swoop in with their black helicopters, smugly terrified that a civilization they don't actually have any use for is about to collapse; truth is, survivalism is really an apolitical form of cynicism and preemptive cashing-out, and whether or not most survivalist-types are right-wingers, there are plenty of left-wing, hard-Green survivalists out there stocking up for the day Mother Nature thwacks the human species back to the pre-paleolithic and then they can say their "I told you so"es to the grunting feral survivors who shouldn't have chopped down that tree or whose baby was the one that pushed the planet into an irrecoverable Malthusian tailspin.

Anyway, what was so unflattering about their attitude towards the imminent apocalypse back in the '80s was the same thing that's unflattering about any survivalist's attitude regardless of where they fall on a political spectrum: not the naïveté of it (or batshit craziness, if you want to be less tactful), but the smugness I already alluded to. It wasn't that these guys seemed reasonably confident everything was going to go blooie in their lifetimes that made them seem like asses on this one particular matter, but their smug confidence that when it did, they would be among the blessed(?) who came up out of their holes in the ground and did a happy dance on the human race's mass grave (or stood beside it tsk-ing and clucking, whatever). They were nice guys, and competent (they knew how to tie knots and start fires with rocks and everything), but there wasn't any special reason to think that, whatever they had set aside for the fall of mankind, they'd be among the remainder of humanity as opposed to some Mongolian goatherd or a bunch of dudes on a Micronesian island bypassed by prevailing winds. Anybody who's seen a Twilight Zone episode knows Fate's a bitch who doesn't need any particular good reason to fuck with you, and wouldn't it just-go-to-show if a wayward nuke just happened to land on your shelter, or all three of your backup can openers also broke, or whatever? Point being, aside from your planning and forethought, what makes you more special than about six billion other people who might or might not be luckier or more deserving? Oh, besides which, second point being: why would anyone especially want to survive the apocalypse, anyway, aside from being able to say "I told you so", I mean? Honestly, I'm not sure I'm up to burying everybody I know, plus I kinda wanted to know how Locke And Key was going to turn out, and if there aren't going to be any more issues, enh.

But, anyway, here we are, seven billion people and no rampant cannibalism, and nobody is worried about the collapse of civilization-as-we-know-it so much as they're worried about economic collapse (which would be terrible, but, silver lining: no rampant cannibalism, so there's that to be grateful for). My old friend and his brothers are people I haven't talked to since college, and I assume they all have families and jobs and have (now that they've grown up, or at least old) invested in human civilization after all. And mostly seven billion just doesn't seem like all that big a deal, whether it should be or not.

I'm looking at that generous "H" again, and I'm thinking that it's a good thing seven billion doesn't seem like a huge deal, and that overpopulation issues remain a regional problem (with global repercussions, to be sure), and not a straight-up-global crisis. Because, you know, another trope of the '70s and '80s was the SF premise that we'd ultimately have to "solve" the population crisis by stacking people on board space arks and sending the extra population away somewhere else to escape the burgeoning hordes of humanity, yada-yada-yada. And let's face it, we just don't have the spaceport capacity to build, launch and lade... oh for cryin' out loud, we can barely keep the International Space Station stocked up with freeze-dried ice cream and Tang, much less send any number of desperate refugees from an overwhelmed world to a hopeful new life anywhere, or even to fire them into the sun and lie and tell everybody they're now living... on a farm, yes, that's it, a space farm on a fabulous new planet with a big yard and plenty of fresh air. (There's probably some kind of half-baked solution for all of humanity's problems in there somewhere; if anyone wants to buy the concept for a modest fee, I'm sure we can reach a nice figure. Hell, I've been known to work for beer.)

But, yeah--a toast to the milestone.


Pavement, "Here"

>> Sunday, October 30, 2011


Genesis, "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)"

>> Saturday, October 29, 2011

Genesis with five members! Peter Gabriel with face paint! Mike Rutherford with a double-necked guitar! Phil Collins with hair! Eeks!



>> Friday, October 28, 2011

This is not, of course, the seventies. Our tasteful professionals aren’t saps shoved down our throats by giant record labels; our sophisticated rock bands aren’t pompous millionaires with silly ideas. (They’re bashful millionaires with sensible ideas, like finding global warming worrisome.) Neither is this the nineties: Acts like Wilco and Feist aren’t slick, pandering constructions. For the most part, they’re independent musicians who’ve scrapped their way to an audience. It's only recently that major labels have figured out how to groom and market acts for this space-—the nook that serves all the purposes of middlebrow adult-contemporary listening, and some of the purposes of indie music, at the same time. That’s one of several reasons music-lovers haven't gotten too punkishly unreasonable about a band like Wilco pouring out inoffensively pleasant music—another being that there are always a billion other things to listen to. But the great "meh" remains in circulation, and [Wilco frontman Jeff] Tweedy’s right that no amount of subtle, well-crafted twists on his format will entirely dispel it.
-Nitsuh Abebe, "Indie Grown-Ups",
New York Magazine, October 23rd, 2011

Or, you know, maybe music lovers haven't gotten too punkishly unreasonable about whether a middle-aged indie band's music is, I dunno, "hardcore" or "edgy" (or whatever) enough because today's audiences have gotten sophisticated enough to realize that debating a band's rebelliousness or authenticity is a mug's game.

I mean, for starters, let's face it: at some point we're talking about mass-produced, pre-packaged edginess, whether we're talking about Virgin Records' Never Mind The Bollocks or Geffen's Nevermind or whatever (surely I'm showing my age by referencing a pair of twenty and thirty-year-old albums, but fuck it). Where did you hear this band? If it was anywhere other than some dingy dive hole-in-the-wall or maybe a white-label self-released cassette or hand-duped CD sold out of the trunk of the lead singer's car, don't'cha think it's been compromised just a little bit? So it came out on Fat Cat and just three people this side of the Atlantic heard it, they sold out to the maaaaaaaaaan, dude.

To steal a line from Abebe, "meh".

I mean, seriously, aren't these kinds of purity tests quaint and retro? Even Johnny Lydon decided he wanted to be a pop star when he grew up, and if you want to call him a sellout for it, well screw off, those were some trippin' cool PiL albums, and good on him and the lads getting to where they could hold a civil conversation long enough to do a Pistols reunion tour even if everybody knew it was a pale shadow of the real thing; we all hope they had fun and it's not like they didn't deserve the money and applause. What else are you offering, anyway? Kurt Cobain decided he couldn't live up to the rock'n'roll aesthetic, and look where it got him. Only a jackass would think sticking a gun in your mouth and traumatizing your already decompensating junkie wife and practically orphaning your infant was somehow more Byronically courageous than settling in for a nice long haul as a cranky troubadour even if you found yourself getting in front of a crowd of forty-somethings to play some acoustic tunes from your new easy-listening album; sure, Neil Young said it was better to burn out than to fade away, but (bless his heart) you'll notice ol' Neil hasn't exactly jumped into his car with an open fifth of bourbon and driven himself off a cliff any time lately.

This is the thing: I think that when there was this distribution bottleneck and everything came down to all you could ever get to hear was what the labels deigned to put out and the radio stations could be paid to play, then, yeah, it was all us and them, you were corporate or you had your fist raised against the man. Except, you know, the rebellious thing almost always ended up having an Ouroboros-ish-ness to it because what happened every few years was that the labels decided youthful rebellion was The Next Big Thing and would co-opt all the fist-raisers by giving them record deals (or they would effectively co-opt themselves: sorry, Dead Kennedys, it is what it is and I'm not being critical--even leftist revolutionaries have to put food on the table and a roof over their heads). So there's your big labels signing your rockers and mods and post-punks and metalheads and flannel shirt grunge crowd and rappers, etc. and buying radio time for them--sorry, we're post-payola: "promoting artists to programing directors with no expectation of quid pro quo"; you know, the kind of thing where we (say for instance) get you into a party at an exotic or exclusive locale with celebrities, groupies, free clothes and mountains of cocaine and thehhhhhhn if you just haaaaaaaaapened to put our new single into heavy rotation, gosh-whilickers, that would be neat-o of you, we feel so grateful for your completely independent and uninfluenced choice to listen to this record and give it a fair chance.

I think a lot of us who are into music have become sophisticated enough to see past the horseshit. This is one of the things I'm trying to get at. Part of it is all the usual stuff about our media-savvy and immersion, etc. Ah, yes, you didn't really get on the radio via hard work and luck, notwithstanding what your publicist said in the press release that was the primary source for the MTV segment and story in Rolling Stone; not to say that hard work and luck didn't play any role anywhere, just that I think we're all aware that this isn't just art, it's also commerce, with all the business machinations and turning gears and calculation that goes along with that. We've seen the making-of specials on VH-1 and read the authorized and unauthorized band biographies, hell, we've been reading the lead singer's blog and following the guitarist on Twitter. We friended your record label on Facebook.

But the fact that the bottleneck has been permanently broken plays a part, too. There's not a lot of point in putting a lot of effort into rebelling against "the establishment" when said establishment is tottering on the edge of irrelevancy, struggling for breath like a dinosaur in an ash-cloud the day after the meteor. Between the hundred-something satellite radio channels (a corporate establishment, true--but one offering dim sum) and the Internet, I don't even know what the Big Four are getting Clear Channel to play on the FM spectrum these days. (I mean seriously, I'm not kidding, I probably ought to take the time to find out at some point except I hate listening to all those commercials). I don't mean this to be bragging or anything: I assume everybody's doing this and I'm always surprised to some degree to find someone who's mostly been listening to commercial big-frequency radio instead of getting their musical kicks from streaming audio or YouTube or (even) one of the college or indie FM channels eking out an existence between Clear Channel's essentially-syndicated format offerings. Whatever. The point is that there's nothing to rebel against anymore, at least not within the context of "over there is the musical mainstream and over here is the bleeding edge cutting against it". I can go online and listen to nothing but the theme songs of Japanese animated TV shows if I want, or tune my car radio into the "'40s On 4" station on SiriusXM if that's my kicks; alternative to what, it's all alternative now, it's all alternative to everything.

This is a helluva good thing. You know, if you go and read Abebe's whole piece in New York, he makes a little bit of a big deal out of bands whose names can't be said in public, because this is the only form of rebellion left when the entire musical realm has become a vast open field in which the former cultural and commercial gatekeepers are struggling to secure the entrance after the rest of the fence has been mostly knocked down. "It's hypothetically possible one of our songs will break through from the indie/online/satellite 'fringe' into the mainstream consciousness the way Cee-Lo Green's 'Fuck You' and Foster The People's ode to school shootings, 'Pumped Up Kicks', did, but at least we can guarantee that nobody on free radio will ever say the name of our band, because 'Pissed Jeans' has got to be some kind of FCC violation, right?" What this is conceding, though maybe Abebe didn't notice it, is that we've reached this wonderful music-lover's nirvana where what matters is just whether or not you like the song, and not whether it has it's proper credentials or is artistically "for" or "against" whatever it is the squares are supposedly settling for; i.e. when the only thing left to posture against is whether your band's name can be repeated in polite company, it sort of necessarily means that people are otherwise actually listening to and judging your songs on their own individual merits as craft and not on who else is listening to them or where they're being played.

Which brings us round to Abebe's claim that Radiohead and Wilco are this day-and-age's adult contemporary, and Stephen Deusner's rebuttal in Salon. Is this even the kind of thing anybody cares about anymore? I'm not so much offended by Abebe's "slam" as I'm a little surprised anybody still cares. Okay, let's say Wilco is "adult contemporary". I'm an adult, the music is contemporary, is the album any good because I haven't heard it all yet, just liked a couple of tracks I heard earlier this month (on the satellite radio, natch)? Similarly, my problem with what I heard off the last Radiohead album wasn't that it was "easy listening" so much as it was "this sounds like a buncha outtakes from The Eraser".

It radiates backwards through time, or maybe I'm just getting old and too mellow; either way, I find that I'm prone to reevaluate earlier epochs of "adult contemporary" with more of an ear for whether I was missing out on something because I was young and stupid or basically right-for-the-wrong-reasons about a bunch of shitty music. On a related score, I'd hate to miss out on some early gem because I was tainted by later, lesser efforts; I'm pleased to say, for instance, that at a tender high school age I was able to get past the awful crap Rod Stewart has put out during my lifetime and appreciate the sheer awesomeness of his early catalogue (I will defend Every Picture Tells A Story, released the year before I was born, with my dying breath if I have to); more regrettably, it wasn't until I was in law school and belatedly discovered Nina Simone that I found a backdoor to the Bee Gees' early awesomeness, being oblivious until then to the fact that an act I synonymized with crappy disco had written utterly devastating and elegant tunes like "I Can't See Nobody" and "To Love Somebody")--my loss, entirely.

Abebe makes a snarky allusion to Sting, but was Sting's sin that he became an "adult staple" (as Abebe puts it), or that Sting's decline into mellow irrelevance forced us (consciously or not) to confront the very real possibility that The Police were never actually as good as we all thought they were, that they were (in fact) a bunch of sleek, well-marketed poseurs? The case against the band is incriminating: two prog-rockers (one of them in his late thirties when he joined the band) and a jazz musician in a "punk" band? That plays reggae? Matching blonde hair after an commercial photo shoot? Songs written in French? The lead singer calls himself "Sting" (because of a hideous coat he used to insist on wearing!) and sings almost everything in a weird faux-Jamaican accent even though he's really a schoolteacher named "Gordon"? I'm not saying I'm persuaded; actually, the case for The Police can be summed up in two words: Stewart Copeland. (Rebuttal: ah yes, one of the two proggers. Surrebuttal: shut up!) No, but really: am I the only one who's noticed that Sting's general suckiness has increased in direct proportion to the amount of time passed since Stewart Copeland last punched him in the face? I'm telling you, I think there's a correlation. The truth is that (a) The Police really were as awesome as all that and (b) honestly, let's face it, Sting has always kinda sucked and (c) Stewart Copeland used to hit him all the time; the logical conclusion is that The Police were awesome because Stewart Copeland beat Sting up all the time, and that the reason Sting's solo albums have been nearly-three-decades of diminishing returns is that Copeland used to beat the pompous twit out of him and now that the domestic violence is out of his life he's free to be as pompous and twitty as he'd like without fear of reprisal. But the fact that Sting's solo career even forces us to have this discussion pushes that catalogue of increasingly dull albums from being mildly inoffensive to being the cause of some surliness, much as Paul McCartney's solo catalogue forces us to confront the ugly suggestion that The Beatles were only as good as John Lennon and any three other guys.*

There's just no margin in being "punkishly unreasonable" anymore. Why bother? I don't have to choose between an inoffensive Wilco album and something avant-garde and/or assaultive on the senses. They'll both fit on my iPod. Am I in the mood for a guilty undemanding pleasure on the way home? I've had the satellite radio tuned in to the station that's featuring Coldplay all week, wishing I liked the new stuff as much as I unironically enjoyed the first three albums (hasn't really happened yet). I confess I don't know Fucked Up, one of the bands-you-can't-name-in-public Abebe cites: I suppose I should check them out on YouTube this weekend sometime. Welcome to the new world order of music consumption: the years of rebellion and civil war are over, we're all free now.

*Kidding! Ringo Starr = made of win!


An open letter to Giulio Morescanti

>> Thursday, October 27, 2011


giulio morescanti

From: giulio morescanti (giuliomatto1@hotmail.it)
Sent: Wed 10/26/11 11:52 AM

howdy cutie, its me from last week! Do you still want to meet up for
some fun? =o) I can email you a couple hot pix if u like!!!hehe Add
madison20blue@hotmail.com on MSN msngr. I'm using it right now if u
wanna to message me. kisses!

Subject: Fwd: FW: Fwd: Fw: Read before opening picture
True or not - this is pretty creepy - & just in time for Halloween!
Subject: FW: Read before opening picture
This photo was taken in a hospital after the patient in the bed was in an
accident where he was responsible for a young woman's death.
It is said that when you receive this image and do not send it to at east
five people, the woman will look for you during the night to collect your
A couple in a western suburb area of Sydney received the message and
deleted the picture without sending it to at least five people. This
couple was murdered by their 15 year old neighbor who claims to have been
possessed by the woman. A 28 year old woman in Whittlesay Road,
Cambridgeshire, England, was run down by a car driven by another female
that fit the description of the woman in the photograph, the police
investigation revealed that the murdered lady had received this picture
only 4 hours before her untimely death and did not pass it on to at least
5 people.
the ministry were of my opinion.

Dear Giulio,

I don't know you. I didn't speak with you last week and I don't know why you'd offer to send me "hot pix" or want to chat with me. And maybe I'm setting myself up for a cruel fate in responding to you, but I also don't want anyone's blood, not even a stranger's, on my hands if I can help it.

You forgot to include the attachment in your message.

I'll confess, my first thought when I read your e-mail was that I was in trouble--I needed to forward this hospital photo--whatever it might show--to five people, lest I suffer some horrific fate right out of Suzuki's Ringu. And then I frankly became frantic when I looked and saw there was no attachment, so how could I form my link of the chain? I was doomed!

Except, see, then I looked at the fine print: "when you receive this image and do not send it...." Aha! I didn't go to law school for nothing! When I receive the image, but I haven't received the image, therefore this vengeful spirit can't hold it against me that I didn't send it on to five more people. I am off! Scot free!

You, on the other hand....

Look, I am really, really sorry to have to tell you this, and I can only hope you read this letter before you get pushed into a cement mixer by a girl who looks remarkably like the woman in the photograph or are bitten by a rabid squirrel she's possessed or suffer some similarly ignominious fate, but you're still on the hook. If you haven't forwarded the image, you're done for. Rules are rules, and while I'm sure you broke them accidentally, that's no more a defense than it would be for a player accidentally going offsides during a soccer game and getting killed by a murderous ghost for of it.

Unless. It strikes me as possible that you sent the attachment, and Microsoft's spam filters stripped it when they sent it to my junk mail folder. In which case, it seems safe to figure that you're safe because you sent the image and I'm safe because I never got it, but Microsoft has received it and now needs to forward it to five people lest the corporation suffer a horrific accident that destroys the company. Perhaps I should be warning them there's a ghost in the machine on a secret journey through the darkness of their server farm, that every little thing she does is magic, for she is one of the spirits in the material world, or do you think that's too much information for them to handle? It's just that I'd hate to be the cause of Microsoft's demolition, man, and dammit, that's all the titles I can think of to cram into that joke, that's the alpha and the omega, man, okay, I forced one more in but you can see for yourself how rotten it is. (Like it's been spoiled sitting all day baking in the heat of an invisible sun? Hoo-ah!)

Where was I? Oh yeah, I was warning you that you're in grave danger. Possibly.

What concerns me, selfishly, is the possibility that by tipping you off, you might send me a copy of the picture (I almost said "another copy", but, obviously, you never sent me a first copy and that's why I have immunity for now.) But, again, I'd feel bad to have your blood on my hands, whomever you are.

Also, while I'm thinking about it, a word of advice. I'm trying to think of how to tactfully but honestly say that I really don't think I'd be interested in a dude's "hot pix". I guess I could forward that one to the Significant Other, because I'm open minded and don't mind her looking or whatever, but then (based on the context) I'm not sure she's the one you want looking at you (I'm assuming the "hot pix" are of you... oh dear gods, please tell me you're not trying to send anybody "sexy" photographs of some bedridden hospital patient... I know there are fetishists who are into that kind of thing, but, still, I'm kind of thinking, "ew".)

But that parenthetical gets to the point, really. Which is that I think attaching an invitation to sexy or flirty chatting and sending of presumably naughty images is probably subverted by packaging it with a story about what I presume is a frightening picture taken in a hospital room. Unless, again, you're trying to appeal to a particular fetish community, in which case... I dunno, have at it? But if you're just trying to appeal to ordinary straight women or gay guys, Giulio (and why am I inclined to assume it's the latter?), you might want to try a different approach. You know, one that's less explicitly creepy and morbid. I say this, mind you, as somebody who loves creepy and morbid stuff, and in fact I was a bit amused by a recent thing I read by Chuck Palahniuk describing the cute-but-repulsively-outfitted girls he saw cosplaying at last year's ZomBCon, because I actually can understand how a woman would still be attractive even if she was shambling around made-up to appear as if she had one eye hanging loose or her ribs protruding from a gaping hole in her abdomen, though we should bear in mind that this is fantasy, people playing dress-up, and not a real corpse walking around, which would (a) look pretty horrific and (b) smell, and really have zero sex appeal and I should probably shut up now before this sounds like something it isn't, if it's not already too late for that.

Again, where was I? Life in danger? No, we did that already. Hang on. Ah, yes, I was making suggestions for how you should go about hitting on people in the future, assuming you weren't killed by a failure to click "attach file" before clicking "send". Yeah, so as I was saying, I think maybe more "Hey, cutie!" and less "FATAL CAR ACCIDENT CAUSED BY GHOST DRIVER!" is in order unless you're just that obsessed with J.G. Ballard. Which I guess you might be. I mean, I still don't know you.

Regardless, good luck. Or my deepest sympathies. Whichever is more appropriate.


Good advices: living in a science fiction universe

>> Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A friend on Facebook was complaining about "How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe"... well, apparently, that should be How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe, because apparently it's a book. I don't know about that, I just know I could have saved my friend a coupla bucks, or (better yet) gotten him to give me some money by offering up the following helpful tips (some of which I've already suggested beneath his Facebook plaint):

  1. Do not go traipsing after the ship's cat.
  2. While it may seem bigoted to presume robots are evil, the fact that a significant percentage of non-evil robots will eventually malfunction and turn evil at some point makes the assumption that they're all evil to start with a safe bet. Ditto for artificial intelligences, automated houses, smart vehicles, and toaster ovens.
  3. Your significant other is at home. Home is hundreds of millions of miles away. What are the odds that (s)he's here beckoning you to follow him/her away from the rest of the team? That's right: small-to-nonexistent.
  4. Do not step on the prehistoric butterfly. Unless you were supposed to. Tell you what, better option is to not travel in time at all; if you somehow accidentally DO travel into the distant past, curl up into a fetal position and don't touch anything. Unless you were supposed to touch something.... Okay, look, on second thought: you're pretty much screwed, you might as well just do whatever the hell you want.
  5. Any sufficiently-advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. There's probably some way you can use that to your advantage. I don't know, like, tell some primitive aliens you're a wizard or something. What could possibly go wrong?
  6. Someone once said you should always know where your towel is. I guess. But my advice is that you drape it over your oxygen tank and space helmet.
  7. Adorably cute ≠ harmless. I cannot repeat that enough.
  8. Adorably cute ≠ harmless. Told you.
  9. Pascal's re-wager: a rational person should treat an alien with godlike powers as if it is God, because if it is not God it can still totally ruin your day but if it is God it will probably be nice to you for humoring it.
  10. Pick a secure, hard-to-guess code for initiating the ship's autodestruct sequence. A good code is easy to remember but uses random symbols or characters. A bad code would be something like your birthday; the name of your cat; or an alphanumeric sequence like, "A-1, B-2, C-3". Using a body part as some sort of biometric identifier is probably a bad idea unless you want evil robots (see #2, supra) or hostile aliens dismembering you until they figure out what you used for ID. (You know, they may not know much about human anatomy, and may assume that something you keep hidden is some kind of secret key. Speaking of which, using that as a biometric identifier is only funny once at best and not at all if your mom happens to be in the room when you need to unlock something.)
  11. Speaking of anatomy: unless you've had a chance to study their physiology, just assume every part of the alien is a vital spot and act accordingly.
  12. Before lecturing the collective hive mind about the awesomeness of human individuality and how you will never submit, blah-blah-blah, ask yourself: "Am I really all that happy existing as an autonomous entity?" I mean, I'm not saying you're not, I'm just asking why burn a bridge now without thinking it over? Hey, could be you've finally after all these years found the somebody/thing who will totally understand you.
  13. You know that old theological question about whether God could make a rock He couldn't move? You might think about that when you're tinkering with genetics/primal forces/cosmic mysteries/fundamental forces/etc. I mean, would God make a rapidly mutating plague virus He wasn't immune to? Open a hole in the universe He couldn't close? Lock himself in a tiny room on the fifth storey of an inaccessible clifftop tower with tons of poorly-grounded high-voltage equipment, a crazy hunchback and a nine-foot-tall hand-stitched homicidal monster? Exactly.
  14. It's safe in here. You have food, water, books, a method for disposing of your waste, and it's hermetically sealed against the mutagenic plague/hostile alien invaders/evil robots (again, see #2, supra)/radiation storm/hordes of feral survivors/inexplicably-reanimated dead. So what'cha gonna go and open the door for? Seriously? It's that important? Sit your ass down.
  15. Suuuurrrre, I'll bet you would look really cool exploring the alien planet in that get-up, but ask yourself: "Is this really practical?" Aside from not being built like a character in a Frazetta painting (sorry, just being honest with you; that's what friends are for), don't you think that thong is going to ride up after a few minutes of walking around? Do you want to be enjoying the weird, uncanny exotic landscape or wishing you'd chosen more sensible footwear? And at the opposite extreme, yes, I suppose there is no way of telling for sure where you'll end up, but which is more likely: that you're going to suddenly find yourself needing every single widget you found a bandolier loop for or that you're going to be wishing you'd packed about a hundred pounds less gear in twenty minutes? Think of it as a camping trip: pack lightly but efficiently, and never more than you can carry.
  16. The time to check the tank gauge is before you step into the airlock, not while you're waiting for it to cycle. On a similar note, always refill before you EVA: I think we can agree you'd feel pretty dumb (for a few seconds, at least) if your last words were, "The light just means I'm low, I have a pretty good idea how far I can go before it's actually empty."
  17. Adorably cute ≠ harmless.
  18. They're intelligent apes. Apes with guns who speak English. Apes with guns who speak English and have "ancient artifacts" that look suspiciously like junk you might have had in your house before you left. You're back on Earth, jackass. (Told you not to travel through time, too, didn't I? See #4, supra.)
  19. Microgravity just means you'll accelerate more slowly, not that the fall won't kill you.
  20. If you don't know what it is, maybe you shouldn't be touching it, then. If you just touched it, you probably shouldn't put your fingers in your mouth. If you put your fingers in your mouth and are now suffering from bizarre anatomical mutations/brand-new psychic powers/a rash/extraterrestrial spawn incubating inside you/et al., please don't go back to the ship and/or return home. And if you do return to the ship/home, and a medical professional is examining your bizarre anatomical mutations/brand-new psychic powers/a rash/extraterrestrial spawn incubating inside you/et al., and (s)he asks you if you touched or ate anything unusual recently--just tell him/her you were stupid instead of getting defensive or muttering "Nothin'" or lying; sure, it's always embarrassing to admit you made a mistake, but nobody's perfect and you'll save everybody a lot of trouble later on down the road. You might even save the human race by being honest, and even if (technically) you were the sole reason the species was in trouble to start with, saving humanity sort of makes you the hero, right?

That ought to get anyone started if they really needed the help. Further suggestions...?


Quote of the day--remember, laws are for the proles edition

>> Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Part of me suspects that conservatives like Bachmann and Cain get all muddled up on the details of what abortion bans would actually look like because they really aren't as invested as their most hardcore followers in a national ban that's strongly enforced. There's a reason why the holy grail of the anti-choice movement has been an overturn of Roe v. Wade and not a constitutional amendment banning abortion. Sure, pretty much every anti-choice candidate out there supports a constitutional amendment banning abortion, but that support has mostly been symbolic. The lion's share of money and time has been spent on grooming a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe. Should that happen, abortion will be legal in much of the country, but not all of it. For instance, my state of New York actually legalized abortion prior to Roe, and would continue to have relatively liberal abortion laws even without Roe in place forcing the issue. This means that the family members of wealthy red state politicians, such as Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain, would have all the access they could want to legal, safe abortion. It's just those of you who can't scrape together the money for a plane ticket, hotel, and medical expenses at a moment's notice that would be up a creek if facing an unintended pregnancy. Poor people make awesome scapegoats for our national anxieties about female sexuality, but the daughters of the privileged, not so much.
-Amanda Marcotte, "Bachmann Slips Up on Late Term Abortion",
Slate, October 25th, 2011

Exactly, and maybe this is something pro-choicers need to be clearer on: at least some of the allegedly "Pro-Life" politicians out there are playing a shrewd game by being opposed to abortion access for poor people, which is what "leave it to the states" really means when you get right down to it. Indeed, there's really an even larger section of the allegedly "Pro-Life" crowd that is implicitly all about diminishing all access to reproductive choice for poor people, possibly because of a certain amount of shoddy or lazy thinking; they're certainly not worried about their daughters having access to birth control, because where there's a will, there's a way, but all those poor people need to stop screwing and if they can't learn that the easy way, maybe they can learn it the hard way by being saddled with an unwanted child as punishment for their transgressions.

Because that'll solve everything.

That's not to say the entire anti-choice crowd is just that cynical; there are, I'm sure, people who are quite sincere about their idea that abortion is an unjustified and impermissible murder. Those would be the folks calling for a nationwide ban and/or Constitutional amendment to overturn Roe and force the states to adopt a single policy. (How do some of them reconcile that with the belief that the Federal government is too powerful? Shut up, that's how.) But anyone who's saying they think abortion access (and other reproductive issues) should be left up to the states either isn't really against abortion and is cynically muddling their message to try to simultaneously (and incomprehensibly) appeal to the libertarian and religious fundie wings of their party, or they're just really, really dumb. States' rights in this context doesn't mean banning abortion, it means forcing poor people in the American South and parts of the West/Midwest have unwanted kids. (Or turning them into lawbreakers who are possibly endangering their own lives. There is that.)

I'm reminded, actually, of Sarah Palin's whole spurious affirming "pro life" story about being pregnant with Trig Palin. Palin ostensibly tells the story of finding out while she was pregnant that her son had a high probability of being born with Down Syndrome, and discussing her options with her physician, for the purpose of showing off her pro-life bona fides. The problem with this story being used for that purpose, as quite a lot of people other than myself have also pointed out, is that all Pro-Choice advocates want is for women in Sarah Palin's position to be able to fairly, truthfully and accurately discuss their pregnancy issues with their physicians and be able to choose between options as Palin was able to, whether their choice is to go through with the pregnancy as Palin did or terminate it for whatever reason. The thing about Palin's Trig story isn't that she discussed her pregnancy with her doctor and chose life, the thing about Palin's Trig story is that she publicly takes the position that no other woman should ever have the opportunity to have a similar discussion with her doctor ever again.

The related note here, which I'm not even sure I need to point out, is that if abortion had been effectively illegal in Alaska and Palin had wanted to terminate her pregnancy, it seems reasonably likely that she would have taken a plane down to one of the states in the lower forty-eight and done whatever it was she felt she had to do, and that she wouldn't be using it as an inspirational yarn, either.

The message, I guess, isn't so much about the sanctity of life or the importance of personal responsibility as it is that you shouldn't do anything unless you're rich enough to game the system. So it's sort of like everything else Republican politicians do and say, come to think of it. And some people will accuse them of being inconsistent!


SMBC: "Genie"

>> Monday, October 24, 2011

Nothing else coming to me today, how about some classic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal?


Occupy Wall Street: "This Little Light"

>> Sunday, October 23, 2011

Occupy Wall Street protesters, including Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger, enjoying a beautiful moment of solidarity this weekend:


Fetchin' Bones: "(I Feel Like An) Astronaut"

>> Saturday, October 22, 2011

For some obscure reason, what I really wanted to post today was "Chicken Truck", an awesome old Fetchin' Bones song about the day the chicken truck wrecked and all the chickens got free and the driver walked away and got a ride to the Chicken Shack.

He had wings. Finger. Licking. Good.

But I can't find it at YouTube to save a puppy's life. (And he's an adorable puppy, ohmigosh, you should see this little guy.) Which is a gahddamn shame, is what it is, because I am reasonably certain that at some point in the 1980s, bassist Danna Pentes' brother, Dorne, filmed some kind of video or video-like thing for it way back in the day which I would swear was aired on some public-access show I saw in either junior high or high school (and this was how I fell in love with the band, actually).

But that was a long time ago. (It seems like it was another century, even, which can't possibly be true.)

Here's "(I Feel Like An) Astronaut", instead. And my thanks to the Bones, in all the places they are now: you guys rocked. I only got to see you when you did a reunion show in Charlotte a number of years ago. You kicked ass. When you gonna do it again?


That word doesn't mean what you think it means

>> Friday, October 21, 2011

Republicans, including former Massachusetts governor and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, pounced on the idea that Obama was "leading from behind." Romney told talk radio host Hugh Hewitt that the president was wrong to condition his Libyan action on an OK from the Arab League or the United Nations.

"Without a compass to guide him in our increasingly turbulent world, he's tentative, indecisive, timid and nuanced," Romney said.
-Scott Horsley,
"Does Libya Offer Clues To An Obama Doctrine?"
NPR, October 21th, 2011.

"You won't hear a lot of shape-shifting nuance from me," [Texas Governor Rick] Perry told Republicans gathered in Las Vegas on Wednesday, hitting Romney anew the day after the two sparred onstage during a debate.
-Kasie Hunt and Philip Elliott,
"GOP Primary Contest Getting Nasty And Personal", Associated Press, October 19th, 2011


noun, plural -anc·es

1. a subtle difference or distinction in expression, meaning, response, etc.
2. a very slight difference or variation in color or tone.

Origin: 1775–85; < French: shade, hue, equivalent to nu(er) to shade (literally, to cloud < Vulgar Latin *nūbāre, derivative of *nūba, for Latin nūbēs cloud) + -ance

Related forms
nu·anced, adjective
un·nu·anced, adjective

Synonyms 1. subtlety, nicety, hint, refinement.

Gods know, I should be used to this by now. This has been a staple talking point for a certain kind of politician for years now--I would say mostly on the GOP side, but I won't rule out the possibility that some Democrat somewhere has said something similarly stupid. I shouldn't rise to the bait, anyhow. Every time some jackass says "nuance" like it's an expletive, I ought to just roll my eyes and roll over, move on to something that's more obviously worth getting tetchy over.

But it annoys the piss out of me.

It was the first quote up there that did me in today. I'm lying in bed after the alarm clock has gone off, listening to the NPR and trying to overcome the immense weight of sleep and apathy sitting on my chest holding me down; it's cold, too, and warm under the blankets, so there's that. And here's this NPR Morning Edition piece from Scott Horsley with the sound bite from Romney, and as soon as Romney says "nuanced" like an expletive, I'm growling and gnashing my teeth. I mean, not really, not exactly, though I may have ground the teeth a bit.

And then I'm looking for the Romney quote so I can gripe about it, and here's the Rick Perry line. Sure, we'll include that one, add it to the list.

Thing is, I know that Republicans are using nuance as a pejorative as a way of chumming the waters for their base. They think their core voter is somebody who likes action, directness, black-and-white, right-and-wrong, yes-and-no, up-and-down binary, get-right-to-it doing (not thinking). Gods help us if they're right. They might be. So they go out and they accuse their opponents of "nuance", by which they mean "weaselly".

Which, of course, isn't what the word "nuance" means in the first place. That's "a". "B" is: whatever happened to the days when being subtle and cunning scored points, was considered virtuous as long as you were one of the good guys? It wasn't that long ago; I mean, not to be even dorkier than usual, but remember how Obi-Wan Kenobi told Luke Skywalker his old man was a "cunning warrior... and he was a good friend," in the movie Star Wars? I.e. "Your pops was pretty slick because he was smart, kid." This was before we knew Luke's dad was Darth Vader and well before we knew that what Obi-Wan meant by "cunning" was "whines a lot about stupid shit like how much he hates sand" (putting Obi-Wan's definition of "cunning" on the same page as his definition of "true", I guess).

If it was just the abuse of the word, I don't know that it would be as aggravating. Words evolve, change meaning, senses shift. But this isn't really a shifting, is it? It's a misuse, yes, but it's also a propagandist assault, using a word to mean something different from what it really means to create a negative impression. But that's not really the problem, either, or the whole problem. The big problem I have here is the negative impression itself: the idea that being sophisticated and smart is a bad thing. That's the part to get angry about and shake your rhetorical weaponry at, because the abuse and misuse of the word "nuance" is, really, a symptom and cause of the horrible dumbening of America.

Clever people realize the world is nuanced and requires nuanced approaches to its perils and problems. They may not like it: a major part of the appeal of escapist entertainments of any sort is that they're usually set in relatively simple worlds where everybody can agree on the big stuff--Sauron's ring needs to be melted, Hans Gruber deserves to be dropped out a window, The Joker belongs in jail, the Princess is too pretty and sweet to be left rotting in any Koopa castle (regardless of whether or not it's this one), insert your own examples here. The relative lack of ambiguity in these diversions, sometimes condescendingly trashed, is in fact a feature and not a bug (even in a slightly more ambiguous and ironically-titled fantasy, we probably all hope and agree that Angel Eyes belongs in the ground before Blondie and Tuco, however truly rotten and worthless the latter pair are).

But we all know those are fantasies, right? Right? The real world doesn't end at a hundred thousand words or eighty-eight minutes, real issues aren't soluble in the thirteen minutes following the last commercial break and we'll be back with a brand new (and equally agreeable) crisis next week, folks. The real world messes with us and keeps messing with us; good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people; the enemies of our enemies aren't necessarily our "friends" but sometimes they're our trade partners and/or allies; and sometimes our friends have really shitty friends. Sometimes people who like children and dogs really are all-that-bad. Sometimes one size doesn't fit all. Sometimes it's not "shades of grey", it's an infinite number of infinitely un-quantizable hues from which an infinite multitude of wavelengths can be tweaked until, when you do reduce it down to a single photon, you're stuck with knowing where it is or where it was/will be, but never both. Sometimes the only thing you can bet your next month's rent on is that the Law Of Unintended Consequences is a real bitch.

So how do you cope? You cope by being subtle, by being sophisticated, by being flexible. By being able to change your mind. By being philosophically bendy when you find out you're wrong. By being nuanced. Not the same--it shouldn't need to be said and tragically has to be because we've gotten so collectively stupid--as being unprincipled or unmoored. Not the same as being directionless; the idiot who really, truly thinks being nuanced is the same as being rudderless is probably the idiot who just crashed into the side of that jackknifed chicken truck on the highway because his GPS said he was supposed to go straight for fifteen miles and, by God, he knows how to take directions and "straight" does not mean "swerve" or "stop" or "pull off the goddamn side of the road before you run into a chicken truck, you idiot."

A fellow who really doesn't believe in being nuanced shouldn't be trusted to lead a campfire singalong, much less a nation. A fellow who says he doesn't believe in being nuanced when, in fact, he knows better and he just thinks his intended audience is stupid and ought to remain that way shouldn't be trusted, period.


Moving up to eleven-ten

>> Thursday, October 20, 2011

I surrendered this week. In my defense, I should have been writing, and updating my desktop machine to Ubuntu 11.10 was easier than writing. Writing, don't let anyone tell you differently, is terribly hard. Americans got to the moon faster and with less trouble than I'm having getting one goddamn paragraph to stick to the screen without begging to be put out of its misery like an incubating second-stringer in an Aliens sequel. I'd like to tell you this is what happens when you get remaindered pixels from an outlet store, but there's nobody to blame except my stupid, inferior brain.

Contrary to what you may have heard from the ancient Greeks, the Muses weren't a bunch of lovely young women plucking harps and brandishing scrolls, no. That may be how ancient Greek sculptors depicted them for the sake of not pissing them off, these lying sculptors may have been attempting flattery, I'm saying, but the real Muses are vicious, shrieking subhuman demons that latch onto a person's back and scream in the poor victim's ears and clawing at the victim's face from their perch behind. In spite of their gaunt frames, they weigh several hundred pounds apiece and their highly allergenic hair sheds more than a cat's as they whip it about trying to get strands into the prey's eyes, nose, throat, where the filaments lodge like spun fiberglass and eventually cause cancer of the soul. The bitches are tricksy, too; they'll do things like seemingly calm down for a bit and croon like doves as you write a particularly long and clever bit, only to laugh and howl like banshees when you get to the bottom of the page; worse still, they'll often grab your head again in their nine-inch-nailed paws and force your head up to look at the part they're shrieking at and force you to look at your own fecal slop, sometimes pushing your head to the screen as if they want to rub your nose in it.

Sorry. Where was I?

I surrendered, I said. This blog's faithful may recall a few months ago, when I made the upgrade to Ubuntu 10.10 UNE on the netbook and had reservations. By "reservations" I mean I sort of hated it. But later I upgraded the netbook to 11.04, and 11.04 seemed to markedly improve upon some of the issues. And then a couple of weeks ago, I updated the netbook to 11.10; although that's technically something of an interim version in Ubuntuland, 11.10 (I had to confess) was kind of awesome as far as how well Canonical had integrated everything together. Also, I have to confess with a poorly-defined sense of shame, I found myself adapting to working the way Unity (the Ubuntu user interface) wanted me to work over the way I was used to working. Sure, I didn't like the idea of everything being auto-maximized and having a global toolbar, but wasn't I already doing something similar on the main machine by maximizing applications myself and pushing them to different desktops so that Writer's Café was at home in one space while Firefox was in another and the open document in another and my music player in yet another? Didn't the global toolbar actually make a certain amount of sense and make it easy to find things a lot of the time? Wasn't that idiotic launcher pretty useful after you stopped cursing at it and grumbling at it and just used it? Isn't that some downright tasty Flavor Aid in my paper cup, here?

My desktop-replacing notebook's working environment had gotten long in the tooth, too. It had lots of little nooks and things that were so familiar they'd become contemptible, really. Lots of little apps that were never used or rarely used, lots of clutter here and there and a number of obsolete and unsupported applications that I just wasn't paying attention to. The irony being that I didn't much want to do a clean reinstall of the OS even though I have the drive partitioned to make that easy, still, doing the update would clean up the dross and shine some light on some of the dustier bits that needed junked. And as easy as it is to knock eye candy as being gratuitous--what really matters is functionality, right? and whether you can do the job you need to do with the tool at hand--I have to confess it's nice to have some shiny shiny chrome in your workspace.

So I enabled the updates in the update manager and updated from 10.04 to 10.10 to 11.04 to 11.10, because trying to go from a Ubuntu x.04 release to an x+y.10 release tends to be very bad; I learned that the hard way one time when I tried doing that a couple of years ago before discovering you weren't supposed to do that because it would do what happened to that installation, which is it broke just about everything and created a horribly disfigured, unstable system that hid out in the basement of an abandoned house and plotted gory revenge on the team of surgeons it blamed for its disfigurement. Well. Half of that happened, anyway. You can go, I think, from one Ubuntu x.04 to the x+1.04 release--this is upgrading a long-term-support version to the next long-term-support version, as they say in Ubuntuese, but it just seemed better given the age of the installation to take things incrementally.

Which, at any rate, mostly worked. Mostly. I found myself with an unstable 11.04 installation that wouldn't boot into the graphic interface, which was an interesting experience because I was actually able to solve this by plugging the machine directly into my Internet connection, getting into the terminal from the recovery mode boot menu option, and updating from the command line. Which I mention not because it's actually a big deal--this is something that any computer grognard has done, possibly in the midnight darkness during a category five hurricane with no power except what he could generate turning a hand-cranked generator with his scaly, hairy foot while improvising a network connection using the clipped end of a parallel port cable connected to the computer held in his teeth near the frayed end of a 120-year-old telegraph cable similarly held, his own tongue serving as a conductor/connector between the damaged wires. Fixing a broken update from the command line and proceeding as if it had never even happened wasn't anything special, and that's actually the point and the reason I'm mentioning it for the benefit of computer users who might be interested in Linux but find it intimidating or something: basically, any idiot who finds himself with a stalled and derailed Ubuntu upgrade has a good chance of fixing it if he can find is way to a terminal prompt by typing, "sudo apt-get upgrade" (no, don't let that throw you: think of it as magical gibberish, like "abracadabra" or "hocus-pocus" or "abacab"), whereupon the machine picks up where it was and finishes what it was doing. Actually, I had to do this twice, with the second upgrade attempt also needing to be aborted at one point near the end and the machine having to be told to update a few more odds and ends whereupon it rebooted exactly like it was supposed to and popped up the graphic interface and login prompt. It was very clever and I had to wonder if people upgrading their Windows have anything nearly as awesome as an upgrade process that fixes itself when there's a problem without the whole computer having to be thrown out a window, initiating a completely different kind of upgrade procedure that may require getting in a car and driving to Best Buy.

This is the kind of thing that has one hedging even though one wants to be gleeful and glib. Seriously. The whole general process of upgrading from Ubuntu 10.04 to 11.10 through two intervening versions was almost (but not quite) as easy as tripping over a stick and falling face-first into the ground despite the fact the process failed at least twice while I was doing it. This is marvelous, because while we all hope our upgrades go without hitches (and I've had massive operating system upgrades of similar scope go completely hitchless), the fact that failures were so easily recoverable is just magical. Which isn't to say that the Internet isn't full of people asking what they should do when a Ubuntu upgrade completely freezes their system like any other upgrade of any other operating system might for no particularly obvious reason. I'm just saying that Canonical has done a magnificent job of making at least some failures No Big Deal And Nothing To Get Excited About, which contributes to a particularly stress-free user experience and novice users shouldn't let themselves be intimidated. Kudos.

Of course, not everything has been smooth since successfully upgrading. This is, really, mostly my own damn fault and illustrates why clean re-installs really are better if you can bear it. I've had things like missing icons, for instance, and duplicate launcher entries, both of which could be traced back to custom menu entries I'd created while using 10.04. If you're missing an icon in your taskbar or launcher, for instance, and you did an upgrade instead of a fresh install, you might want to launch the old menu editor and see if you used some fancy custom icon back in the day; resetting the icon may fix your problem when you reboot. Similarly, deleting duplicate menu entries using the old menu editor may get rid of redundant launcher entries. Couldn't tell you why, just that it's mostly worked for me. And Banshee seems to be crashing a bit much for some reason.

There's also been some little things missing here and there. I cannot get the fancy eye-candy Alt-Tab switcher to work (I only get the old bleh one), and there are a few other things missing that seem to work alright on the netbook installation. There are also some customizations and tweaks I'm working on here and there, and it's just like me to go and want to muck things up for the sake of "personalization". But I'm not unhappy yet, is the big thing, and I do have to hand it to Canonical that this is mostly proving to be a far better user experience than, say for instance, any experience I've had with That One Operating System (You Know The One) Made By That Company In Redmond.

In fact, there's really only one major problem, come to think of it....

I've solved a lot of the tweaks and little issues like getting the ATI card working properly again. I've downloaded a few extras and mods to make things more functional and to customize a little bit of this and that. Which means I'm just about done, or as mostly-done as anyone ever is who likes to tweak and poke their computer's OS and interface....

Oh gods. I've totally fucked myself, haven't I?

I'm going to have to start writing again.


The orange standard

>> Wednesday, October 19, 2011

We are replacing the current tax code with oranges.

See, here's the thing: fiat currencies just don't work because they're not pegged to anything real. Now, a lot of people will say we ought to go back to the gold standard. And I respect that, but the fact is the gold standard has a lot of short-term volatility, plus at this point we have more money in circulation than we have gold to back it, so switching over would crash the economy. So, you might say, gold isn't the only precious metal out there, instead of crucifying the United States on a cross of gold, why not base currency on gold and some other metal, such as silver? But that really doesn't solve the basic problem, see, which is that the economy is bigger than that.

What I'm saying we need, y'all, is something that has intrinsic value, that doesn't force us to rely on the Federal Reserve, a renewable resource that exists in enough bulk to match the vibrancy of our economy. And something that has a nice color to it, like gold and silver.

I'm talking about oranges.

Now, this may be where you're thinking I've lost my mind. You're sitting there, thinking, "This man has lost his mind, or he must be joking." I am not joking and I am completely sane. You have to hear me out, you have to consider what I'm saying here, and you have to realize that we are talking about a comprehensive solution to all of the ills that are facing this country.

Wikipedia tells us the orange is a fruit that originated in Asia and was brought to the New World in the 16th Century. This news may surprise you, for the orange has done so well for itself in Florida that the place has become synonymous with oranges. I walk through my grocery store juice aisle, I see that they have juice from Florida, named after Florida, made from Florida oranges. And I go through my fruit aisle in the same supermarket, and I see that there are oranges from Florida on sale there. I would have thought the orange was the native fruit of this land, but like so many of us, the orange is a fruit that emigrated here long ago and has put down roots in this great nation. Or, I should say, the trees upon which that fruit grows have put down roots, for the orange itself has no roots, being a pocked spherical object exactly the right size and shape to be held in the hand. It has a thick skin, a rind, they call it, and if it is a navel orange it has a dimple or hole up at one end. You cut into this fruit, or dig your fingers in, and you find it is juicy and easily divided into sections.

This ability of the orange to be divided into sections is key, and we will come back to it.

The orange grows in sunny places, and its siren call has been heard throughout the land. If you have read John Steinbeck's The Grapes Of Wrath, or seen the fine movie adaptation by John Ford, starring Henry Fonda, you may recall how surprised you were to discover that there are not actually any grapes in the book, but there is a lot of talk about how all the Okies will pick oranges when they reach California. This is a crucial point, as well: the grape has a thin skin, like the honorable Governor Perry, and is as easily crushed as Representative Bachmann's presidential aspirations, and is not in the least a suitable candidate for a fruit-based currency.

Yes, that is the crux of this, my friends. I have let slip what I was building to, so let's come out into the open.

The dollar has failed. It is not a criticism of America to say that the dollar has failed, for we all know that it's the fault of the Democrats for selling this country to the heathen Chinese, although we have to point out that while former President Bill Clinton was doing so, the House Speaker of the House Of Representatives was (for much of that time, anyway), Mr. Newt Gingrich. Americans find themselves sitting on top of mounds of useless currency, or on nothing, and yet the entire time the supermarkets and fruit stands of this great nation are full of succulent, sweet, juicy oranges. The dollar may not grow on trees, but the orange does, and this is part of its value and charm.

Which brings us to something else. Governor Perry and former Governor Mitt Romney have, as they have pointed out to each other, something of an "immigration problem". They argue between themselves over which is worse, hiring a firm that hires illegal aliens for yardwork or giving scholarships to the children of illegal aliens while opposing a border fence, and in doing so they both miss the more important point. That would be the fact that what many of these immigrants are coming into our great nation to do is to pick oranges, because under our current, warped, inefficient, ineffectual economic system, these laborers pick oranges which are handed over to "growers" who sell them to juice companies and fruit wholesalers.

Now, think about this: the logical thing to do here is to cut out the middleman, isn't it? Why are we encouraging illegal immigrants to come pick our oranges so they can be traded for pieces of paper? When we could, instead, be assigning the value directly to the oranges themselves, with the result that millions of Americans would be flocking to California and Florida, not to attend theme parks, but to willingly and voluntarily work in the orange groves where they could grab the new national currency from the branches and immediately go and spend their shares. They would, of course, share part of their profits with the entrepreneur who invested in the land, trees and water (that's only fair), but they would have, literally, the fruit of their own labors to spend as they see fit. There would be nothing for the illegal immigrants to do, and they would return to their homelands, their mission to steal American jobs a failure, and millions of unemployed Americans would be back to work.

And consider that there would need to be an infrastructure to support the accumulation of wealth, and that this would put still more Americans to work. Bank vaults are not, I don't think, climate controlled or designed to hold vast piles of oranges; now they would have to be. The mesh fruit bag industry alone would be expected to explode, as ordinary wallets aren't designed to hold lots of spending fruit. American engineers would need to figure out how to redesign cash registers and ATMs.

And let us talk about virtues that Republicans are so often and wrongly derided for supposedly lacking: empathy, compassion, a feeling for the destitute and hungry. We all hear about the mother who can't feed her child because she doesn't have enough money for food in this tough economy. Democrats will tell you that she needs a handout. I'm telling you that she needs a hand-up (patent pending on that phrase)--a hand up to grab a piece of currency off the nearest tree which she can immediately peel and feed to her starving child. When food is money, y'all, nobody can starve unless they're too lazy to lift an arm. And do I even need to point out that oranges are rich in Vitamin C, an "essential nutrient" that fights scurvy and is popularly believed to improve health and immunity in general?

We have eliminated the Federal Reserve, we have solved the immigration crisis, we have eliminated poverty and want and we've solved healthcare--all with the simple expedient of making the most perfect fruit God has blessed us with the national currency.

Now, some of you may be saying, "It can't be that simple. It just can't be. What about counterfeiting?" And I'll ask you, what rhymes with orange? Nothing. You cannot counterfeit an orange, you cannot make a duplicate or simulation. An orange is an orange is an orange. And you may say, "But what about Tang?" And I'll say to you that Tang is tasty but nothing rhymes with orange. And you may say, "What about that awesome orange drink they used to sell at McDonald's?" And I'll say to you, nothing rhymes with orange. And you may say, "What about orange Sunkist?" and at that point I will tell you to shut up because orange Sunkist may be sweet and it may be orange in color, but nothing, I tell you, nothing rhymes with orange.

And don't try any of that "approximate" or "soft" rhyme guff, because everybody knows that's cheating and doesn't count.

And some of you may be saying, "But what about denominations?" And here is genius folks, here is where the brilliance of replacing our currency with the orange standard truly shines, people. You remember, perhaps, that I pointed out earlier in this essay that oranges can easily be pried apart into sections? That's right: oranges are perfect for making change. Somebody--we will assume this to be possible, however un-American it may seem--somebody might say, "I am sick and tired of eating all these oranges. My hands are sticky and my belly hurts, and flies keep landing on the front of my shirt. I think I would like a chicken." And there might be somebody walking past who has a chicken but is wishing he had some oranges, and this person might offer to trade the chicken for, say, five oranges. And the first person might say, "I don't think your chicken is worth five oranges, but I will give you two-and-a-half." And this, you see, is perfect. Other fruits are difficult to divide. Apples, for instance, are indivisible, and while a banana is easily broken, the bottom part will never be quite symmetrical to the top part it was sundered from. But oranges are easily sectioned, and our orange-for-chicken capitalists might, off the top of my head, decide the fair price of a chicken is three whole oranges and two slices, with the change easily being made by prying an orange apart and dividing it appropriately.

And you might say, "Why not give mandarin oranges a different value from navels?" And that system, I reply, would be too complicated. I am looking at instituting a flat orange--well, a round orange fiscal standard.

And someone might say, "Well what about tangelos?" And I will say that that is exactly the kind of stupid and irrelevant proposal I would expect from Rick Santorum, and if that's the kind of candidate you want, maybe you should go Google him right now.

Now, you may say that I am clearly being influenced by Herman Cain, here, and I will say, yes, didn't you see the quote that started this essay. And you might say, "Well, how do you feel about Mr. Cain's 9-9-9 tax proposal, then?" And my response is that while I am not formally affiliated with the Cain campaign, clearly he and I are on the exact same page. This April, 53% of Americans will sit down with piles of forms and try to figure out how much tax they owe and whether buying a yacht can be deducted if you had a business lunch on it, and they will tear their hair and despair. When it would be so much fairer if they simply knew that they were supposed to put nine oranges in an appropriately-sized shipping container and mail them to the IRS. And the lazy, good-for-nothing 47% of Americans who shirk and whine? They'd have no excuse for being freeriders: if you can occupy a park, you can occupy an orange grove and pick nine oranges for Uncle Sam. And if you can't, you can be shot.*

We will replace the tax code with oranges.

This is the dream. This is the vision. A nation of Americans no longer divided along partisan lines, separated by class warfare, estranged by religious and ethnic divisions: a nation stuck together by the sweet residue of our bright, juicy economy. Join me. Join me in supporting Herman Cain for President.

*We might have to amend the Constitution for this part.

I'm not officially affiliated with the Cain campaign and so I can't promise anything and I'm not promising anything, but there could be free pizza in it. Doesn't hurt to ask. Just throwing that out there.



>> Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I hate it when this happens. You have this idea for something you want to do a post about, you start opening up tabs and dropping in links to various references, tap-tap-tapping away at the keyboard, and several paragraphs later--paragraphs filled with grotty HTML code for your various points of reference and support--you discover you're even more full of shit then you thought you were and you have nothin'. Nothing. Nada, zilch, bupkis. A big fat goose egg of a post.

And you look at it in the preview window--paragraphs, I'm tellin' you, paragraphs I'd written, here--and you don't hit "delete" immediately. Oh, no. Denial, you see, is the second stage here. Denial, and somewhere in there is negotiation. "I could salvage it." "I could come back to it." "Maybe if I hit it from a new angle." You go back to the previous screen and sit there looking at it a bit, then you go and you hit "delete".

Because the post was crap, see?

I know, I know, there's good odds you're thinking I was hard on myself. I could have let the piece rest overnight, come back to it later. But, see, the problem wasn't that it was badly written. I'd like to think that I'm a not-too-terrible writer and that the piece was fairly well-written for what it was, a blog post written here and there during the day and posted hot without a lot of editing or proofing. (Because that's how I do this blog, right? I know some people put in a lot more editing and proofing, but for me this is the hot fix, not a short story or, usually, a serious essay.)

The problem was that the position I was writing about was... is, frankly, a little incoherent. Or it's based to some extent on gut reactions and instinct and it's easy to find counterexamples, exceptions that don't just test the wannabe rule but in fact give it a good box around the ears before grabbing it by the back of its trousers and tossing it out the door to land on its ass in the snow. In fact, part of the problem was that the thing itself (no pun intended) is really an exception to the rule, which presents complications as you're writing.

And now you're possibly thinking, "Pun not... what pun?"

What I wanted to write about, and what I might come back to, was the seeming glut of remakes, reboots, reimaginings, prequels, sequels, etc. of movies that you seem to see these days. The impetus or inspiration for this was a review of the new prequel/reboot/remake of The Thing over at io9, or (more precisely) a comments thread there that had some interesting argument over whether there really is a dearth of new stuff coming to silver screens or whether this is just business-as-usual in an industry that has been recycling old material practically as long as its medium has existed (among the first films to have any kind of semblance of a plot: a 1900 Sherlock Holmes film (sort of), a 1901 partial adaptation of A Christmas Carol, a 1902 adaptation of Gulliver's Travels and 1903 saw the release of adaptations of Alice In Wonderland and Uncle Tom's Cabin. What I wanted to say in my abandoned blog post was that while it's true, yes, that the re-(imagination/telling/boot/make) has a long and ancient history (yes, Shakespeare stole plots and characters shamelessly; or go back further, why not, and point out that Virgil rebooted Homer as a Roman nationalist myth with an unauthorized and unasked for sequel to The Iliad, right?), there was something qualitatively different about the recent spate of derivative works.

Except, y'know, I'm not sure that's actually true when I think about it. It feels true. It feels like re-whatevers used to be more clever or more vital, or at the very least less-inessential than re-whatevers these days, but there's probably some unconscious cherry-picking going on in my head, there.

It doesn't really help my case, logically speaking, that John Carpenter's The Thing is, itself, a remake that was widely panned when it first came out. These days, it's considered something of a classic; I would even say it eclipses Howard Hawks' original, though that's a bit speculative on my part and/or drawn from anecdotal evidence, I haven't gone and researched it and this sense may reflect my own prejudices. (I think Carpenter's movie is vastly-superior on numerous levels.) For all I know, in twenty years the only Thing anybody will be talking about will be the 2011 one.

And yet I just can't help not liking the new one's mere existence. Somewhere on a gut level, it offends me. And I can tell you why, but that's where we get into the whole thing where I can rattle off exceptions and counterexamples to my own arguments while I'm making them, which makes the whole thing seem futile right there before I even post it. Why bother?

I won't be seeing the new The Thing in the theatre. I know, I know: io9 mostly liked it, my friend Jim said he liked it (though Jim and I tend to like different kinds of movies, I think), it could be the most awesome movie released this year. That's not really the point, though. There's just something about the idea of the new one being made at all that I somehow find offensive, which (when I think about it) is purely irrational. Fact is, I can remember lots of reviewers saying the same thing about Carpenter's Thing in the 1980s. I won't rule out seeing it as a rental, then. Heck, I will grumpily concede that I'm not going to rule out liking the stupid thing against my better judgement.

Anyway, since my first post imploded and I deleted it, I figured I'd just put up a video post and call that the end of it. So. Here.


Jackson Browne, "The Pretender"

>> Monday, October 17, 2011

I'd present with a comment if I could think of one. Please enjoy anyway.


Counting Crows, "Angels Of The Silences"

>> Sunday, October 16, 2011

Do you know, I found myself upstairs the other night, listening to CDs because I hadn't done this in a while. Oh, I listen to music all the time, right? But so much of it's MP3 now, so much of it's streaming digital audio, whether it's satellite radio or Internet radio or listening to things I've bought from Amazon via the cloud. But actually going and turning on the CD/DVD player, the amplifier, popping in a CD--choosing a CD, even. Funny how things change: there was a time when the act of putting a CD in the tray seemed like a cheat compared to the ritual of cautiously sliding a vinyl LP from its inner sleeve, gently blowing both sides, slipping it over the spindle and carefully cleaning the disc before lowering the needle to the groove. I don't mind the convenience of choosing an album from a list, pressing a button and never having to worry about my favorite song being destroyed by an errant grain of dust that wasn't dislodged by my wind or picked up by the cleaning kit, but there's inevitably a sense of missing something, a sense of nostalgia when recalling the tactile experiences that came with vinyl. Popping a CD from the case was already a cheaper experience than vinyl, as far as tactile experiences went, and now it's all-but-gone, too.

Well, that wasn't what this post was about.

Where I was meaning to start was that I was upstairs doing some writing, or a facsimile thereof, and found myself wanting some music and then picking a CD. And I wasn't sure what I was in the mood for when my eyes fell on Counting Crows' second album, Recovering The Satellites up on the shelf and I realized I hadn't listened to that record in a really long time, so that went in the machine that fired lasers at it and turned the reflections off the disc back into noise.

I used to listen to a lot of Counting Crows in college, or a lot of their first three albums. After This Desert Life I sort of lost track of what they were up to; there were other things I wanted to listen to and I guess I didn't hear anything from them that grabbed me the way that first album did. I suppose, regretfully, I may have been influenced by the backlash a little, too: CC came on so strong and had such incredible word-of-mouth and August And Everything After really was such a good album when it came out, but then nothing could quite follow that up and the band seemed to get so self-serious (there'd always been a vein of that in the music, of course, but it worked in that milieu); and "Mr. Jones" got so overplayed and there was just something kind of off-putting about Adam Duritz dating starlets, though I guess that isn't fair, either. Anyway, as it so often does, when the rubber band snapped back to where it was, it snapped hard, and even someone like me who'd defend August to the death and loved Satellites would find himself worn out by it all, to the point that it didn't even quite seem worth it to pick up whatever the new album was. Probably makes me a fool, but in my defense, there really was something else all the time, something else old-and-just-discovered, something new over here.

It's funny, though, thinking about those tactile experiences with music, those associations. So I was in college when the first album came out and law school when the second followed it, but it's college that dominates: somehow, I can't think of Counting Crows without thinking about the dark, dank, wood-veneer-paneled apartment house I shared in college, this mildewed place with a dark carpet and a coarse couch held up by boards (I remember those boards more than I remember the color of the couch--which I can't remember at all, but I want to say it might have been olive...ish--because I broke a toe on that fucking thing; my little toe, and there's nothing you can do about your goddamn little toe when it's broken, so I set it using a band-aid and the toe next to it as a splint and limped around in pain for a time). I associate August And Everything After with mildew, in short, and somehow there's nothing wrong with that. I ought to associate Recovering The Satellites with the chalk-white cinderblock walls of the dorm room I had to live in during law school, but somehow that one is mildew, too. I don't really have an association for This Desert Life, sorry to say, and that may be one of the reasons I accidentally stopped listening to Counting Crows, actually, and too bad.

I should listen to those albums more than I do, I shouldn't let them be neglected. There's so much to listen to, yes, but those are a couple of great records and I'm missing out when I leave them alone for so long. Here's "Angels Of The Silences":


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