30 June 2008

Dancing

14 months in the making, 42 countries, and a cast of thousands. Thanks to everyone who danced with me.

Ten years ago, video cameras were too heavy and too expensive, video editing was still the province of expensive equipment or software, and online distribution of video to anyone with the wherewithal to have access to a computer was inconceivable. Ten years from now, oil prices will make air travel categorically more expensive.

So “a 31-year-old deadbeat from Connecticut” doing a funny little dance and turning it into a moving work of art is something that could only exist in this moment.

Matt is not rich. Matt also doesn't have some magical secret for traveling cheaply. He does it pretty much the same way everybody else does.

Matt thinks Americans need to travel abroad more.

WhereTheHellIsMatt.com


Update: His Ask Me Anything on Reddit in 2012.


Update: A new video for 2012. It turns out that this doesn't get old.


Richard Dunn's “I'm stuck in the airport” masterpiece All By Myself made me think of Matt.

Variation on the theme: Rick Mereki - Move

28 June 2008

Pride

It's San Francisco Pride weekend, and I'm a little vexed that I won't be there. Some years I go to the parade, some years I don't. My favourite part—except of course for the dykes on bikes, everyone's favourite part—is the local politicians in the antique cars smiling and waving at the crowd.

Damn right. In my town you'd better show up. You'd better be happy to be there.

Synesis, talking about Pride London, puts his finger on a certain ambivalence I feel about the whole event.

There's a lot to hate about Pride. I loathe the insincere corporate presences, particularly the presence of the police and other authorities as some sort of placatory talisman; they're sort of madly grinning, dancing precipitously on a knife edge over a vast abyss of prejudice, pretending it doesn't exist. I hate how easily Pride went running after corporate sponsorship, how affably it integrated itself into the corporate model of overpriced alcoholic hedonism, how any sense of injustice and anger has been gradually effaced by fake tan and peroxide. Most of all — overwhelmingly — I hate the witless grinning parade of dancing boys and drag queens, the sense of being performing monkeys penned in for the ungracious gawping of heterosexual masses.

But then he goes on to explain why he goes anyway. It's one of the big reasons why I love the City, and love it a little extra that time of year.

It matters because visibility is a good thing.
....
It says that forty years ago, you would have told us to be discreet, marry ourselves off, mortgage away our capacity to love under a veil of shame. Fuck you. We're here, we're queer. That's the fundamental affirmation that needs to be made. It's not enough to hide us away. We will dance down the street in our tacky, tasteless grandeur, because it's an inescapable assertion of our simple *presence*. It doesn't matter if it's hollow or makes me roll my eyes. We're here and we demand our rights, and we're going to keep wearing the sequins and the ridiculous outfits until you realise that there's a massive well of prejudice, of centuries and centuries of hatred, underneath our feet and it's up to you to change it and it's up to me to change it. So I'll bite my tongue and join the marches, because to do otherwise would be an abdication of my community, of my family.

I'm just another straight guy, mind you, so I won't claim a share of that “we.” But in a different sense: my community, my family? Absolutely. And proud to say it.

27 June 2008

Bookish

Via Content Love, I see that living national treasure Alison Bechtel's essay Compulsory Reading captures my angst at no longer reading the way I did when I was twelve ... and much more about being the kind of person who is no longer reading the way they did when they were twelve.

26 June 2008

Warhammer 93k

Whaddaya know: someone involved in creating The Dark Future of Warhammer 40,000 is evidently a Thelemite.

Perturabo

When the twenty infant Primarchs were spread across the galaxy by the forces of Chaos, the young child who would become known as Perturabo was discovered on Olympia, climbing the sheer cliffs below the city-state of Lochos. The city guard brought the child before the Tyrant of Lochos, Dammekos. Intrigued by this child, Dammekos adopted him into his family.

Perturabo never trusted the Olympians and, although Dammekos took time and trouble to win the trust and affection of the boy, Perturabo never responded with any warmth. Many saw him as a dark skinned,cold youth, dark and melancholy, but with a mind like a razor. ....

The Horus Heresy

In the midst of the cleansing of the Hrud Warrens on Gugann, matters were brought to a head. It was Warmaster Horus himself who broke the news to Perturabo that Olympia was in rebellion. Dammekos had died and the population had taken up arms. Perturabo was by this time tired of repeatedly having to prove his worth, and the thought of being the only Legion unable to hold its own homeworld appalled him. Horus bade Perturabo to return to his place of discovery ....
Maybe a cranky ex-Thelemite Chaoate?

Beliefs


....
They see themselves as titans of old who are loose in the universe, doing whatever they like, knowing that no natural nor man-made law can stop them. They honour the Chaos gods as a pantheon but are not truly devout themselves. Their greatest loyalty is to their daemonic, semi-deified Primarch, Perturabo, who they believe saved them from being sacrificed by the Emperor.

Battle-cry

“Iron Within, Iron Without!”

A monotone chant of “Iron Within, Iron Without” is repeated during the beginning of combat operations.

Saying “Iron Within” to elicit the response “Iron Without” is sometimes used by Iron Warriors to identify each other, especially in confused combat, such as that in tunnels or during combined operations with other Chaos forces.
....
When the Iron Warriors turned to Chaos, this symbol was slightly redesigned, and is now superimposed over the symbol of the eight-pointed Chaos star.

Can someone who knows more about Warhammer 40k help me out here?

And while we're here: In The Grim Future of Hello Kitty There Is Only War

25 June 2008

Numbers

The Los Angeles Times reports some striking poll numbers.
In a two-man race between the major-party candidates, registered voters chose Obama over McCain by 49% to 37%
....
public approval of the president's job performance at a new low for a Times/Bloomberg poll: 23%, compared with 73% disapproval.
....
Even among voters who said they planned to vote for McCain, more than half said they were "not enthusiastic" about their chosen candidate; 45% said they were enthusiastic. By contrast, 81% of Obama voters said they were enthusiastic, and almost half called themselves "very enthusiastic," a level of zeal found in 13% of McCain's supporters.
Obviously, it's a long road to November, but this is awfully encouraging.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

The time has come for my triumphant return to San Francisco. I've been laid off from my San Diego gig, so I'll be moving my life back north in a few weeks.

This also means I'm looking for a new job, ideally in SF or the East Bay, though for obvious reasons I am also looking at points south.

My résumé is available online.

It's built around staying in interaction design, but since I'm also up for weird new career possibilities at this point, I'm obviously going to have to tweak it ...

24 June 2008

Libertarian

Will Wilkinson informs me that libertarianism ain't (necessarily) what I think it is.
Hayek was actually in favor of a guaranteed minimum income and that Friedman basically invented the idea behind the EITC, .... I am ... a market liberal just like Hayek, Friedman, and Buchanan — the same intellectual role models who make me a rabid libertarian ideologue.
This is a big surprise to me. He goes on to explain why.
The 20th century libertarian-conservative alliance was based on anti-communism/socialism. The reasonable, sophisticated consequentialist pragmatism of the great 20th century market liberals seemed an insufficient bulwark against the slippery slope from the liberal, capitalist welfare state to full-on illiberal, totalitarian socialism. (Indeed, Hayek himself made the slippery slope argument powerfully, though unsoundly.) So there was a good deal of motivation for radical anti-socialists to coordinate around strongly categorical prohibitions against state coercion.

Misean economics, disinfected of the open-minded empirical consequentialism of Mises’ Liberalism, and filtered through Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard’s peculiar views of rights and coercion delivers a powerfully moralized brief for capitalism that calls into question even taxation for the purpose of financing genuine public goods. That Rothbardians and Randians have wasted so much time fighting with each other on the question of the minimal state versus anarcho-capitalism obscures their unity on a rights-based bulwark against the slide from the welfare state to socialism. Sadly, “libertarianism” has become identified rather strongly with this ideology — an ideology some of the thinkers most strongly identified with libertarianism, like Hayek and Friedman, never shared.

The death of socialism as a viable competitor to the liberal-capitalist welfare state makes continued slippery-slope-to-socialism thinking look densely anachronistic.

I should have known better to be blindsided by this. It's amazing what you'll find when you go read libertarians' primary sources.

23 June 2008

Exhibitionism

I was recently contacted by an old colleague hoping to do some product research on me. She knew I had done some flash mobbing and was hoping that I was still doing this sort of thing and ... most importantly ... taking pictures.

I'm not doing a lot of street theater these days, and I don't photograph it when I do, so no dice. But I know I have Bay Arean readers who might qualify, so drop me a line if you're up for being researched. It'd be fun, and there's even a little money in it.

No bullshit

George Carlin:

We have no more old people in this country! No more old people. We shipped them all away, and we brought in these “senior citizens.” Isn't that a typically American 20th century phrase? Bloodless. Lifeless. No pulse in one of them. A “senior citizen.”

But I've accepted that one, I've come to terms with it, I know it's here to stay, we'll never get rid of it, that's what they're going to be called, so I'll relax on that. But the one I do resist—the one I keep resisting—is when they look at an old guy and they say, “Look at him, Dan, he's ninety years young.” Imagine the fear of aging that reveals! To not even be able to use the word “old” to describe someone. To have to use an antonym. And fear of aging is natural, it's universal, isn't it? We all have that. No one wants to get old. No one wants to die. But we do. So we bullshit ourselves.

I started bullshitting myself when I got to my 40s. Soon as I was in my 40s I'd look in the mirror and I'd say, “Well, I ... I guess I'm getting ... older.” “Older” sounds a little better than “old,” doesn't it? Sounds like it might even last a little longer.

Bullshit. I'm getting old. And it's okay. Because thanks to our fear of death in this country, I won't have to die. I'll pass away. Or I'll “expire” like a magazine subscription. If it happens in the hospital, they'll call it a “terminal episode.” The insurance company will refer to it as “negative patient care outcome.” And if it's the result of malpractice they'll say it was a “therapeutic misadventure.”

George Carlin
1937-2008
Comic

When they arrested Lenny Bruce for obscenity, they took Carlin with him because he refused to show the cops ID. He was the first host on Saturday Night Live. The Kennedy Center was going to give him the Mark Twain award later this year.

He once invented “Frisbeetarianism,” saying that when a person dies, their soul lands on a roof somewhere, never to be retrieved.

Getting older — getting old — suited him so well I sort of assumed he'd be around forever. But he, ah, passed away yesterday.

There are some words for how I feel. But you can't say 'em on TV.

22 June 2008

Pre-trans fallacy

Readers who dig Ken Wilbur (you know who you are) may get a kick out of an exchange I got into about the pre/trans fallacy, over in a LiveJournal discussion group.

True love Waits

Tom Waits interviews himself.
Q: What's heaven for you?

A: Me and my wife on Route 66 with a pot of coffee, a cheap guitar, pawnshop tape recorder in a Motel 6, and a car that runs good parked right by the door.

21 June 2008

Grouch

Via Indri, I learn that a guy named Carroll Spinney has been performing Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch all these years. The New York Times article says:
Spinney says he modeled Oscar on the Bronx taxi driver who drove him to the old Muppet Mansion the first day he played the character, greeting him with a gruff, “Where to, Mac?” In Spinney's mind, Oscar is 43.
Of course.

20 June 2008

Sunshine

Having hunted up an image of the Sun for solstice today, I am reminded that I've been meaning to say something about Danny Boyle's beautiful, flawed film Sunshine since it was released.

I don't give it my unreserved recommendation. A meditative art film in space is not for everyone. But I really loved it, and I'll try to explain why in a way that will tell you if you will love it too.

Most immediately, it's about how the Lonely Spaceship has become one of the major places in our cinematic dreamlands, joining settings like the Old West, the Noir City, Roman Times, Jiang Hu, the Steam and Flame Factory, and so forth. You know this place: it's where Alien and 2001 and Dark Star and countless other films take place. The recent remake of Solaris was a pleasure in part because director Steven Soderberg was obviously having so much fun playing with the familiar visual delights that this setting can offer, and also because of the way this said to us, “You've been to the movies, you know this place, you know the kinds of rules that apply, so now let's go there and tell a story.” Sunshine does something a little different; it says, “You've been to this place, you recognize the kinds of stories that happen there. But do you really know this place? How does it really work?” And by extension, it's asking not only about how the Lonely Spaceship works, but how film itself works.

To which point, film being a visual medium, Sunshine is about beauty. Everything in the picture is gorgeous, including the spaces in the ship and some of the loveliest effects shots I've ever seen. Catch this picture at the rep house if you can; it merits a big screen and the lusciousness of celluloid. The entire cast is intensely cinegenic, each in different ways, most notably the præternaturally gorgeous Michelle Yeoh and Cillian Murphy.

Which brings us very specifically to another thing the movie is about: Cillian Murphy's face. I'm guessing that closeups of Murphy fill at least 20 minutes of the film. That's not a criticism, it's praise: think of Clint Eastwood or Greta Garbo or Peter O'Toole or Katherine Hepburn and you realize that you've spent a lot of time looking at their faces. Mr Murphy is a good actor and an exceptionally beautiful man, but more to this point he has a peculiar screen magnetism, I'd say in the the very top rank with stars like Eastwood and Garbo. It makes the film a meditation on how movies can be driven by the human fascination with the human face.

The best scene in the film has exactly nine words of dialogue, followed by all of the characters looking out the window; half of that scene is just looking at the actors' faces.

This scene—if you've seen the picture, you know the one I mean—conveys the main note of the film: awe. We're not going to Jupiter here, or deep space, or imaginary planet X-23, or even Mars with the hope of Martian life, we're going to the Sun. The Sun. The root of light and life on Earth. There's a deep spiritual tone in the picture, which is brought to a powerful, wordless closure at the climax of the film.

That's not to be confused with the climax of the story, which unfortunately is simply a failure. I'm not giving anything away by revealing that the movie, true to the Lonely Spaceship genre, comes inevitably to a confrontation with a monster, which turns out to be so unsatisfying that a lot of the air leaks out of the film. I respect what the picture was trying to do, but it just doesn't work.

But hang tough. The real climax comes after—the other best scene in the movie—and if you're up for an art film about spiritual awe, it delivers. A friend who has been hit with the Big Zap while deep in meditation told me, after seeing Sunshine, “Yeah, that's pretty much how it feels.”

Solstice

Thanks for everything, Dad.

18 June 2008

Music! In! Spaaace!

Via Warren Ellis: Design and Implementation of the 1st Theremin Concert for Aliens
Abstract
The idea and project of the 1st Theremin Concert for Aliens were stated in the Arecibo Proposal “One-Dimensional Radio Message for Blind Aliens" (AP number Zaitsev000704074140) on July 4, 2000. Unfortunately, this Proposal was not accepted by Arecibo reviewers for realization because of their misgiving that such interstellar radio transmission may be a dangerous affair. Next, the ground and description of this Project were presented at the SPE-2000 Conference in Evpatoria on September 11, 2000, in order try to transmit this Concert from the Evpatoria Planetary Radar (EPR) as a part of the SPE events. But only the third attempt to implement the Theremin Concert was successful – music for potential Extraterrestrial was firstly broadcasted from the EPR to 6 nearby Sun-like stars on August-September, 2001, during transmission the TAM (A Teen-Age Message to the Stars at the http://www.setileague.org/articles/tam.htm).

A review will be given of the theory of interstellar musical radio transmission, the collaborative processes between scientists, engineering, musicians, amateurs of astronomy, as well as, the plans for future development.

Of course a theremin. You cannot make this stuff up.

17 June 2008

Decisions

I first ran across Newcomb's Problem when I was a teenager. Eliezer Yudkowsky at Overcoming Bias describes it thus:
A superintelligence from another galaxy, whom we shall call Omega, comes to Earth and sets about playing a strange little game. In this game, Omega selects a human being, sets down two boxes in front of them, and flies away.
  • Box A is transparent and contains a thousand dollars.
  • Box B is opaque, and contains either a million dollars, or nothing.
You can take both boxes, or take only box B.

And the twist is that Omega has put a million dollars in box B iff Omega has predicted that you will take only box B.

Omega has been correct on each of 100 observed occasions so far — everyone who took both boxes has found box B empty and received only a thousand dollars; everyone who took only box B has found B containing a million dollars. (We assume that box A vanishes in a puff of smoke if you take only box B; no one else can take box A afterward.)

Before you make your choice, Omega has flown off and moved on to its next game. Box B is already empty or already full.

Omega drops two boxes on the ground in front of you and flies off.

Do you take both boxes, or only box B?

Me, I take only box B, no doubt. But this is a pretty vexing problem in decision theory. Mr Yudkowsky describes the classic arguments thus:
One-boxer: “I take only box B, of course. I'd rather have a million than a thousand.”

Two-boxer: “Omega has already left. Either box B is already full or already empty. If box B is already empty, then taking both boxes nets me $1000, taking only box B nets me $0. If box B is already full, then taking both boxes nets $1,001,000, taking only box B nets $1,000,000. In either case I do better by taking both boxes, and worse by leaving a thousand dollars on the table — so I will be rational, and take both boxes.”

One-boxer: “If you're so rational, why ain'cha rich?”

Two-boxer: “It's not my fault Omega chooses to reward only people with irrational dispositions, but it's already too late for me to do anything about that.”

He goes on to observe something I didn't know.
“Verbal arguments for one-boxing are easy to come by, what's hard is developing a good decision theory that one-boxes” — coherent math which one-boxes on Newcomb's Problem without producing absurd results elsewhere.
I can see how that might be. He then goes on to dig into what the heck we mean by rationality in the first place, and to quote Miyamoto Musashi. Very cool, if you like that sort of thing.

Scary

Stan Winston
1946-2008
Monster maker

He was the best creature and make up effects guy in Hollywood, with an endless bag of tricks using latex, wire, and a hundred different kinds of goop.

He was one of those better-than-everyone-else-put-together guys.

The Terminator, Predator, Jurassic Park, Edward Scissorhands, and a hundred bad movies where the only good thing was Winston's effects. Plus John Carpenter's The Thing, the yardstick by which creature effects are measured.

They use computers for all of that stuff now, and while he did some of that, he also knew when doing it the old fashioned way was just better. I'm going to miss him.

16 June 2008

Kiwi

Animator Dony “Madyeti47” Permedi made a little video about a kiwi bird and published it on YouTube. It's good, and a zillion people have watched it.

Don't click that link just yet.

Because YouTuber BlueInfernoDisco came along and understood this cartoon better than Mr Permedi did, and thinks, “I've got an idea for a song that would go perfectly with this video.” It's not an entirely original idea, but it's a very good one. The result—Kiwi—is a poignant little gem. I strongly recommend that you watch that version first.

It makes me think about the nature of artistic creation. The second version of Kiwi is obviously really there, waiting inside the original. But I don't think Mr Permedi knew that; dig this interview with him in which he's awfully unreflective:

Kiwi is not based on any personal experiences that I know of yet ... at least I know I wasn't reaching into my soul or anything for this story. Who knows, maybe I may relate to this Kiwi someday. Really, I just wanted a story that would allow me to be expressive and play with different emotions like happiness or sadness. I decided on this story, because I wanted to create a character that people will like, and then do something to that character, and see if the audience reacts strongly to it.
I saw an earlier, cruder, stranger effort of Mr Permedi's, Pony. It's a very dark little fable. But again in the interview, he shows he's not terribly articulate about it.

He's obviously very talented, but I suspect that he would really benefit from finding a smart collaborator who knows how to help turn his instincts into fully realized work.

14 June 2008

Just when you thought it was over

The “Journal” story on xkcd is back.

It spoils it, just a little bit, to tell you that there are five of them. They didn't come out all in a row; I assume that each was intended to be the last, but he just kept having ideas ...

Journal 1 2 3 4 5

That last panel in 5 is a killer.

13 June 2008

The Voice of God

It turns out that San Diego isn't a total cultural wasteland. I spent last Sunday afternoon at a performance of Bach's Mass in B Minor.

When I was a teenager my folks took me to a performance of it by the LA Philharmonic and some enormous choral group. Awesome, in the proper sense of the word. This week's show was a small orchestra using period instruments and just about two dozen singers. Vivid, beautiful, and moving.

I'm inclined to agree with the folks who say that Mozart was the greatest of the Western composers. And I actually spend more time listening to Vivaldi ... Gershwin ... the Beatles ... Chuck Berry ... Portished ... and countless others. But only when I listen to Bach do feel the awe of it seeming impossible that an actual human being could have just sat down and invented something so perfect.

They recorded the performance, and you can hear it on the other side of the link.

12 June 2008

En garde!

You know how you'll sometimes read something a little wrong, getting a bit of brain poetry? I just misread this gem:
mind-body duelist
It gave me this image of René Descartes roaming the streets of Paris bearing a sword inscribed with the word corpus and a dagger inscribed with the word mens ....

Dice and bad acting

Somehow, I missed this one. If you don't get it, never mind.
Favorite FRPG:
  • Real Men play original Dungeons & Dragons
  • Real Roleplayers play RuneQuest III
  • Loonies play Toon
  • Munchkins play anything by TSR
Favorite SFRPG:
  • Real Men play Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game
  • Real Roleplayers play Space Opera
  • Loonies play Teenagers From Outer Space
  • Munchkins play anything by TSR
Favorite Post-Holocaust RPG:
  • Real Men play Twilight 2000
  • Real Roleplayers play The Morrow Project
  • Loonies play Paranoia
  • Munchkins play anything by TSR
Favorite 1920's RPG:
  • Real Men play Gangbusters
  • Real Roleplayers play Call of Cthulhu
  • Loonies play a variant Spawn of Fashan
  • Munchkins play anything by TSR
Lots more if you follow the link. And more seriously, I think there's more than a bit of an anticipation of Ron Edwards' seminal GNS theory here.

Also, the games referenced remind me that I'm an old man. Those White Wolf games that are now passé had not been invented yet when this list was compiled. I particularly like that “Real Roleplayers” favour games with badly designed rules that I once loved.

11 June 2008

That magical time of the year

Neil D Paris has an instructive perspective on Mercury retrograde.

If life is about balance, how do you know if you're IN or OUT of balance with this particular phase?

Mercury Retrograde is quite simply a ‘reversal of thought energy’.
....

Your mental energy starts becoming your worst energy. Everything forces you in some way, big or small, to SLOW DOWN. That's when you get the infamous COMPUTER CRASH, plane/train/bus/car delay or breakdown. Your cell phone cuts out.

And notice what you do — you keep calling, you keep pushing, you become frantic and your mind continues to buzz. Who knows — it's possible your own mental electricity causes the malfunctions to begin with — computers are very sensitive to their regular users.

More breakdowns ensue forcing the necessary reflection that you didn't NEED to get there on time, you don't NEED to send that email, that it is best to wait, and that you need to chill the *&%! out and breathe.

Hmmnn.

Before I go sit zazen to quiet my mind, may I offer some Mercurial snark guessing that Mr Paris is reminding us to look on the bright side because he, too, is having a rough Mercury retrograde?

10 June 2008

Bee

Grace under pressure.

Good news

My soul sister is fond of telling a story about the winter and spring of 1993. We were sharing a place and working boring McJobs, and I'd often pick up the San Francisco Examiner to read on my BART commute home. (Back in those days, the Ex was a real newspaper. Not a good one, mind you, but at least a real one.)

We were lefties (still are) and Ronald Reagan had been elected President when we were in Fourth Grade, so often I would get home waving the newspaper. “Look,” I'd say, pointing to a story about something the new Clinton administration was doing, “there's good news.”

The honeymoon didn't last, but it was a heady time. Certainly the Recent Unpleasantness makes that era look like a garden of roses, in retrospect.

She's been telling that story a lot, since it looks like we really will see a Democrat in the White House again. It won't look like the parallel universe in which Al Gore is President or like Google Good News, but still ... what's the word ... ?

HOPE

09 June 2008

Two Buck Chuck boycott

Via Elusis, a boycott on Charles Shaw wine:
Maria Isabel Vazquez died May 16 in hospital after severe heat exhaustion and heat stroke caused by unsafe conditions on West Coast Grape Farming Vineyard in Farmington CA. She was 17 years old, and 2 months pregnant. She is survived by her mother, father, and fiance, who all tried to get her help without the foreman’s original assistance.

West Coast Grape Farming made workers labor in 95 degree weather without water for over 4 hours on May 14, 2008. When water was finally provided, it was in a stationary location at least 10 minutes walk from many of the workers, including Maria.

West Coast Grape Farming provided no shade for workers either. Nor training on heat exposure for workers or their foremen.
....
What You Can Do:

  • The United Farm Workers have set up an online system to offer your condolences to the family. Please take a moment to send Maria’s family your support by clicking here.
  • DO NOT BUY “Two Buck Chuck” from Trader Joe’s, as this is made by the same wine company responsible, and ask Trader Joe’s in your area to pull the wine until there is justice for Maria and ensured compliance with state mandated working conditions for all of Bronco Wine’s employees.
  • Please also take time to write the company about their work conditions and failure to provide adequate safety or care. West Coast Grape Farming is owned by Bronco Wine Co. Address your letter to Safety Director Debbie Barry (see what I mean about not all women being for all women’s rights) and Fred Fanzia, the CEO of Bronco Wine, the 4th largest wine company in the US. contact info: address: 6342 Bystrum Rd. Ceres, CA 95307 phone: 209-538-3131 or flood the fax: 209-538-4634
  • Donate to the family to pay for Maria’s return to Mexico and her funeral. For information, contact her uncle, Doroteo Jimenez, at (209) 329-3692 or Luis Magaña, an activist with Proyecto Voz, at (209) 465-4265.
I know it's tempting to go a little nuts with boycotts. I remember the big push to get Coca-Cola products off my college campus because of their South African investments ... as though PepsiCo were the Good Guys. But this one certainly seems worthy.

Where's my jetpack?

At Modern Mechanix (“Yesterday's Tomorrows Today”) I find a glimpse into the world of 2008 according to 1968:
2008 transportation is among the most important factors keeping the economy running smoothly.
... or not-so-smoothly ...
Private cars are banned inside most city cores. Moving sidewalks and electrams carry the public from one location to another.
Whaddaya know, the clogged Edge City was not impossible to anticipate.
The housewife simply determines in advance her menus for the week, then slips prepackaged meals into the freezer and lets the automatic food utility do the rest. At preset times, each meal slides into the microwave oven and is cooked or thawed. The meal then is served on disposable plastic plates. These plates, as well as knives, forks and spoons of the same material, are so inexpensive they can be discarded after use.
Hmmnn.

Housewife?

Computers also handle travel reservations, relay telephone messages, keep track of birthdays and anniversaries, compute taxes and even figure the monthly bills for electricity, water, telephone and other utilities.
....
To shop, you simply press the numbered code of a giant shopping center. You press another combination to zero in on the department and the merchandise in which you are interested. When you see what you want, you press a number that signifies “buy,” and the household computer takes over, places the order, notifies the store of the home address and subtracts the purchase price from your bank balance. Much of the family shopping is done this way. Instead of being jostled by crowds, shoppers electronically browse through the merchandise of any number of stores.
Whoa! Spot on!

Except about how this will be achieved ...

Not every family has its private computer. Many families reserve time on a city or regional computer to serve their needs.
And, of course, the capper:
People have more time for leisure activities in the year 2008. The average work day is about four hours.
Okay, not so much.

Reading stuff on that site makes me think of science fiction writer and critic Samuel R. Delaney's thoughts on four root science fictional settings.

W.H. Auden makes the point that you have four modernist world views: one Auden called New Jerusalem. New Jerusalem is the technological super city where everything is bright and shiny and clean, and all problems have been solved by the beneficent application of science. The underside of New Jerusalem is Brave New World. That's the city where everything is regimented and standardized and we all wear the same uniform. The two may just be the same thing, looked at from different angles. It's not so much a real difference in the cities themselves as it is a temperamental difference in the observers. In the same way, Auden pointed out, you have a rural counterpart to this pairing. There are people who see rural life as what Auden called Arcadia. Arcadia is that wonderful place where everyone eats natural foods and no machine larger than one person can fix in an hour is allowed in. Throughout Arcadia the breezes blow, the rains are gentle, the birds sing, and the brooks gurgle. But the underside of Arcadia is the Land of the Flies. In the Land of the Flies, fire and flood and earthquake—as well as famine and disease—are always shattering the quality of life. And if they don't shatter it, then the horrors of war are always in wait just over the hill to transform the village into a cess ridden, crowded, pestilential medieval fortress town under siege.

But once again, Auden points out, fundamentally we have a temperamental split here. Those people who are attracted to New Jerusalem will always see rural life as the Land of the Flies, at least potentially. Those people who are attracted to Arcadia will always see urban life as some form of Brave New World.

For some years, I thought SF could generally be looked at in terms of a concert of these four images ....

Obviously most of the predictions of the past are trying to describe a New Jerusalem, but my eyes read them seeming a lot more like the sterile Brave New World.

08 June 2008

HETFET

Film director Guillermo Del Toro, of Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy fame, has joined HETFET, Humans for the Ethical Treatment of Faires, Elves, and Trolls.. In a press release, he says:
HETFET methods may seem extreme— but their raids to medical labs have libertated more pixies and Tooth Fairies than decades of negotiations with the Food and Cosmetics industries. Troll skins fetch extraodrdinary prices in the Eastern European black market and this money finances illegal Troll Farms and many sordid activities perpetrated on the Fairy Folk. On the other hand, every time HETFET manages to have a fundraiser, their tally comes up to a pittance. Their only resort is activism. We must not rest until the last Troll can feel the moss of the Old Country under its webbed feet, in freedom, in acceptance and in peace.
If I was given to wearing t-shirts, I'd go for a Stop Tooth Fairy Cruelty or a Support Troll Markets t-shirt.

07 June 2008

Che

Che t-shirt

Trisha Ziff and Luis Lopez have made a film, Chevolution, about what may be the most popular photograph in the world. Amy Reiter of Salon asks:

I'm kind of curious about all the man-on-the-street interviews with people wearing the Che T-shirts who have no idea who he is. I'm wondering about the process of finding those people. I'm guessing it wasn't very hard to do.

Ms Ziff responds:

We went to gathering spots. At Venice Beach, we waited about five minutes for a Che T-shirt to come along. Maybe we were very lucky, but they happened pretty quickly in London, in different places. What happens is once you become sensitized to the image, you hate it, because you start seeing it everywhere. You realize our world is saturated by Che T-shirt wearers. So it wasn't that difficult, but it was interesting the level of ignorance.

I would say it's culturally specific, too. Because if you were to walk through the streets of Belfast or Dublin or Mexico City and you ask people “Who's on your T-shirt?” they'd know. I think it's quite culturally specific to the United States and to education in the United States and what people are taught and not taught in the States. It's quite mind-boggling as a non-American.

On my way to New York for the festival, I sat next to a Tibetan monk on the plane and I was looking at some of the early reviews with the Che image on them. He leaned across and he said, “I see that man in so many countries, but not in my country, not in Tibet. Is he a musician?”

Witty image via horrifying conservative t-shirt store Those Shirts.

06 June 2008

Wow

Ganked whole and entire from Bad Astronomy:

Emily has what is simply The Coolest Picture Ever. It is that simple.

That is exactly what you think it is: Phoenix descending to the Martian surface underneath its parachute. This incredible shot was taken by the HiRISE camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. You can easily see the ‘chute, the lander (still in its shell) and even the tether lines!

Think on this, and think on it carefully: you are seeing a manmade object falling gracefully and with intent to the surface of an alien world, as seen by another manmade object already circling that world, both of them acting robotically, and both of them hundreds of million of kilometers away.

Never, ever forget: we did this. This is what we can do.

Head On?

Apply directly to forehead?

Seth Stevenson at Slate explains. Sort of.

05 June 2008

When news breaks

The Project for Excellence in Journalism takes a long, hard look at The Daily Show. No joke.

My favourite bit:

“My students tell me they read the news for facts, but they watch Jon Stewart for the truth,” Professor Steve Lacy of Michigan State University has observed.

04 June 2008

Eros and Thanatos

I haven't the foggiest notion if any of my readers who aren't also San Francisco sex-positive feminist fellas of my generation will find it at all compelling, but Thomas Roche's rambling brief memoir and reflection Panic for Satan: How I Learned to Freak Out and Wrote Lots of Porn Anyway hit me right where I live.

My own life misadventures match Mr Roche's in no specific particulars ... save a shared mortification at seeing the Ms. magazine cover story. But the fundamental story, of trying to figure out how the heck a responsible, feminist, girl-crazy fella lives a responsible and fulfilling life, rings true.

02 June 2008

Mercury in retrograde

Aha!
At 15:49 UT (Universal Time), on Monday, May 26th, 2008, Mercury the cosmic trickster turns retrograde in Gemini, the sign of the Twins, sending communications, travel, appointments, mail and the www into a general snarlup! This awkward period begins a few days before the actual turning point (as Mercury slows) and lasts for three weeks or so, until June 19, when the Winged Messenger reaches his direct station.
Astrologer Rob Tillett goes on to say ...
Mercury retro in Gemini tempts us to leap into something new and untried, or to escape to some other place. Although Gemini is the sign of the mind and of communication, the retro period can see us swamped in a mass of detail, especially if matters that should have been completed in the past return to haunt us. An unduly fluid state of mind can lead to indecision and confusion, mainly through a breakdown in communication, or related equipment such as phones, computers, fax machines and the like. Judgements are unclear and fickle, and it's hard to know good value when you see it. Frustration arises in connection with information and ideas that come your way. Resist the temptation to take offence at criticism, especially if it wasn't meant to be taken personally.

Preconceived opinions can damage business transactions and consultations of all kinds, especially with salespeople, lawyers and advisors. Be very sure to check the fine print and do not sign important contracts unless you are absolutely clear on what they entail. In particular, matters connected with literature, media, sales, draftsmanship, linguistics and music are inclined to be blocked in some way. Writers and salespeople can experience significant blocks to their energies. It's a good time to chill out.

It's a good thing I don't believe in astrology, else I'd be spooked by how this corresponds to my last few days' misadventures.

Bride of Frankenstein

In the course of a terrific essay about Bride of Frankenstein, Neil Gaiman describes the strangest, most beautiful scene in this strange, beautiful film.
Ernest Thesiger's Dr Pretorius, a far madder scientist than our Henry, strides into Henry Frankenstein's life, like a man bringing a bottle of absinthe to a reformed addict. Dr Pretorius, waspish, camp,unforgettable, trolls in from a world much more dangerous than Henry's. He's sharp and funny, steals scenes, and has a marvellous sequence with bottled homunculi – lovers, a king, a priest. This has something to do with his own alchemical researches into creating life, and, I find myself thinking whenever I watch it, nothing at all to do with the film at hand. It sits in the mind like a dream, inexplicable, a moment of movie magic. I find myself fancying director James Whale as Pretorius here, the homunculi his actors, ready to lust or lecture or die as he desires.
Of course, you can see it on YouTube.

01 June 2008

Else we should grow too fond of it

Via Ken MacLeod, I learn that The Yorkshire Ranter reviews Watching the Door, Kevin Myers' memoir of the Troubles in Ireland. It reminds me very much of Chris “War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning” Hedges and Norman O. Brown's Love's Body.
Myers admits that his younger self, the RTE journo in Belfast, was at worst little better than a war tourist getting off on the bang-bang, the gangster glam of the paramilitary underworld, and the sexual opportunities the war provided. Not just that — but he admits that he happily let actual journalism slide, in favour of attending to his own self-obsession.

On the other hand, though, what are the accepted moral standards in a society like early-70s Belfast?
....
It's also a book about youth; when you're young, shame, scepticism and responsibility are not particularly big concerns. They weren't for Myers, for his many girlfriends (like the one who let the IRA know his car registration after an unsatisfactory threesome), or for the new men of the paramilitary world. One thing that stands out is how many of these people were enjoying themselves — the transition from ordinary routine, Catholic morality or Protestant propriety, to intrigue, violence, and nervous hedonism was clearly a liberation for a lot of people. In many ways, it was yet another version of the 1968 generation; just conditioned by history to be a peculiarly horrible one. Here, under the combined influence of sectarianism, a particularly dense conservative power-structure, and an existing thug culture, the liberation turned out to be the liberation from freedom that militarism has always offered directionless young men.