31 July 2006

New developments in monarchy

Some time ago I posted about the Queen of America.

Peter Kurth of Dissident Voice nominates Angelina Jolie.

Not only does America need a monarchy, but, in my opinion, it needs an absolute monarchy.

Not one of those squishy “constitutional” numbers they have in England, for instance, but an honest-to-God, autocratic, crack-the-whip, Russian-style despotism, with all power invested in a single person, whose will is law and who is, in the end, inseparable from the State itself.
And this person would have to be a woman, because, let’s face it, a woman as dominatrix is easier to sell.
Under Bush, most Americans have proved beyond a shadow of doubt that they don’t care a hoot about democracy, but those few remaining holdouts are a hard nut to crack, and only a woman with iron lips can do it.

But the real beauty of Angelina Jolie as queen of America is that her reign wouldn’t change a thing.

Not convincing. But Kurth does address an important point well.
I rush to assure you that, as queen, Angelina’s husband, Brad Pitt, would play no political role apart from Prince Consort and farm stud.
Nice try, but I'm still pulling for Sigorney Weaver.

Hello Vader

Two great tastes that taste bad together. (If he had done Badtz Maru, would anyone have even noticed?)


One of the challenges of making sense out of the war in Iraq is the lack of news about what's really going on in most of the country; journalists are generally confined to the Green Zone in Baghdad. Truthdig has a disturbing article that cracks that problem.
Americans, led to believe that their soldiers and Marines would be welcomed as liberators by the Iraqi people, have no idea what the occupation is really like from the perspective of Iraqis who endure it. Although I am American, born and raised in New York City, I came closer to experiencing what it might feel like to be Iraqi than many of my colleagues. I often say that the secret to my success in Iraq as a journalist is my melanin advantage. I inherited my Iranian father’s Middle Eastern features, which allowed me to go unnoticed in Iraq, blend into crowds, march in demonstrations, sit in mosques, walk through Falluja’s worst neighborhoods.

I also benefited from being able to speak Arabic—in particular its Iraqi dialect, which I hastily learned in Baghdad upon my arrival and continued to develop throughout my time in Iraq.

My skin color and language skills allowed me to relate to the American occupier in a different way, for he looked at me as if I were just another haji, the “gook” of the war in Iraq. I first realized my advantage in April 2003, when I was sitting with a group of American soldiers and another soldier walked up and wondered what this haji (me) had done to get arrested by them. Later that summer I walked in the direction of an American tank and heard one soldier say about me, “That’s the biggest fuckin’ Iraqi (pronounced eye-raki) I ever saw.” A soldier by the gun said, “I don’t care how big he is, if he doesn’t stop movin’ I’m gonna shoot him.”

I was lucky enough to have an American passport in my pocket, which I promptly took out and waved, shouting: “Don’t shoot! I’m an American!”

It's long, but as the saying goes, read the whole thing.

30 July 2006

Not really motivational posters

Okay, this is a particularly geeky post, worse even than Ambush Bug, but I know that I have readers who will enjoy it.

Via MKB's linkblog, I learn of a collection of jokes for gamers in the the form of motivational posters. Most of them aren't terribly good, and precious few of them really make sense as “motivational” posters (or even as de-motivational posters).

Still, they got under my skin. The medium turns out to be kind of interesting. A motivational poster has just three elements: image, title, and subtitle. Within this very tight space, you have to create a juxtaposition that is more than the sum of its very limited parts. A peculiar sort of rhythm emerges, as with other miniature formats like haiku or four-panel newspaper cartoons.

More importantly, though, I happened to see this when I was in just the right state for some very lazy entertainment, so for your convenience I can offer you links to my favourites. A few of them are even funny for folks who aren't geek gamers.

But my favourites of all, I think, were the surprisingly witty posters for the old D&D alignments.

lawful good neutral good chaotic good
lawful neutral true neutral chaotic neutral (!)
lawful evil neutral evil chaotic evil

Oh, and one more for everyone: Snakes on a Plane!

29 July 2006

Miami Vice?

Whaddaya know. Stephanie Zacharek inspires me to want to see Miami Vice!
Miami Vice is good, although perhaps not simply good: This is a fascinating picture, and sometimes a perplexing one, an action picture with a personal sensibility behind it — it's not just driven by the voices of some unseen marketing committee. The picture is almost nothing like the TV show it's based on. Mann defies nostalgia instead of stroking it: The Miami Vice of television was all creamy pastels and sun-drenched vistas, a luxe travel-poster fantasy with just a few sprinkles of danger thrown in. But Mann's movie comes from, and shows us, a very different world. This is a somber action picture, one that understands the thrill of stylish violence but also reckons with the weight and meaning of that violence — its machismo is laced with regret.
As usual, Ms Zacharek is worth going through Salon's advertising wall to reach.

28 July 2006

Comics artist

Alexa Kitchen is a prolific young comic book artist who has a book coming out soon, Drawing Comics is Easy! (Except When It's Hard!). Advance reviews are positive.

In case you're wondering, yes, Alexa is the daughter of comics publisher Denis Kitchen. She's eight years old.

I particularly like her one page comic “New Jersey,” which I'd say is a witty homage to Charles and Ray Eames if I didn't know that she probably hasn't seen Powers of Ten. Dig that fourth panel!


Tim at The Road to Surfdom translates the GAO's assessment of the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq out of beaurocratic language. This offers a few layers of gratification:
  • Tim's biting descriptions
  • The GAO's takedown of the NSVI
  • The review of the NSVI failing to be an actual, y'know, Strategy
Of course the bottom layer, the actual NSVI, isn't gratifying at all.

27 July 2006


The Poor Man offers a parable.
Far away, in the magical country of Epistomolia, there live two peoples. One people, called the Seers, believed that Truth is, that to know Truth requires Knowledge, and Knowledge is gained from observation, and from the application of reason. The Truth is the Truth is pretty much the Truth, the Seers believed, and the only trick was knowing how to see it. These people are, in many ways, much like you and me.

The other people, the Makers, believed that a tribe can create knowledge through the incantation of belief, and, either by overwhelming with volume or harmonizing with the incantations of other tribes, truth becomes. When choosing to harmonize, ancient custom dictates that for something given, something must also be taken away, for the exchange must be fair—always “a lie for a lie, and a truth for a truth” as their ancient saying goes. At first blush this might seem a more generous way of that of the Seers, and in many ways it was. But the deals the Makers made were not meant to last — after you had agreed to meet them half-way, it wasn’t long before they came back a bit stronger and declared you had to meet them half-way to half-way, and then half-way to that, and so on until, after a while, it always seemed like one tribe had exactly what it wanted, and the other tribe had nothing. These people are, in many ways, much like certain people who shall remain nameless.

These two people must live and work together, and, in such circumstances, misunderstandings constantly arise ....

Reminds me of so many things I encounter these days.

26 July 2006

Tree cosy

For my knitting-obsessed readers—and yes, I have a few—a tree cosy. No, that's not a typo.

Big government

While talking illuminatingly about the relationship between Democrats and libertarians, Hilzoy makes an astonishing observation.
Democrats have done a much better job, recently, of reexamining government programs and policies to see which have outlived their usefulness and need to be scrapped. Democrats cut the size of the federal workforce (see graphs here (long pdf; see pp. 8 and 9) and here. As far as I can tell, the last Republican president under whom the workforce shrank was Nixon; the last Democrat under whom it grew was Johnson.)
Looking at the second linked graph, I see that the federal workforce shrank significantly for the first few years of the Reagan administration ... but then nosed back up, and ended up high of where it started. And the only administrations with unmistakably clear trends were Johnson growing the federal payroll and Clinton steadily and vigorously whittling it away.

Of course, since I found this surprising, most folks will find this one impossible to believe altogether.

25 July 2006


I'm less fond of Tristero than of Digby over at Hullabaloo, but I see that Tristero delivers a cracking good brief overview of my thoughts about the Israel-Lebanon situation in the course of a longer post about neocons' reading of Israel-Lebanon being a proxy war for US-Iran.
You get nowhwere, and fast, unless you immediately, and directly, address the proximate issues. In this case, they are (1) The outrageous kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah; (2) The outrageous and counterproductive destruction of Southern Lebanon by Israel; and (3) the unconsionable and wholesale slaughter, on both sides, of utterly innocent civiilians.

The fighting should stop. Now. A United States foreign policy that does not make that central and absolutely clear is not only immoral. It is insane. It is close to an open declaration of war against Iran and Syria. And if Bush persists, it will be a war that will last a generation and will accomplish nothing good for the US.

As for Israel, it is a dangerous illusion to think that turning Syria and Iran into Hobbesian dystopias similar to Afghanistan and Iraq will somehow make Israel safer.

The US still refuses to offer even rhetoric favouring a cease fire.

War crimes

Juan Cole rolls up a bunch of news from the Israel-Lebanon border. It seems that the Israelis are inflicting more casualties than they are taking, but that it's a hard slog. More importantly, it is very, very ugly.
most of the victims of Israel's attacks on Lebanon have been civilians, and that children are dying
I have noted before that it isn't very nice to make people leave their homes and then bomb them as they leave.
If the latter report is correct, and if the ambulance was marked as such, this strike was an Israeli war crime. If the Biqa' factories were not producing war materiel, hitting them was a war crime, too.
Some readers have asked why I characterize Hizbullah's rocket launches as war crimes. It is because the Geneva Convention requires that in war you have to aim at enemy combatants. You can't deliberately target civilians, and you can't endanger civilians unnecessarily. The Hizbullah rockets have poor targeting, and so just firing them endangers civilians. The rockets themselves have apparently killed almost no Israeli troops, and almost all their victims have been innocent civilians, like that poor man who was just driving along in or near Haifa. That is, the Hizbullah rockets have been fired indiscriminately (the only way they can be fired) and mainly hit civilian targets, which a prudent person could foresee. Bingo. War crime.
Let me say again that Cole's blog Informed Comment is the best single source I know for Americans trying to understand news about the Middle East.

24 July 2006

Ambush Bug

Okay, it's difficult to imagine a geekier subject than Ambush Bug, who is a peculiar and very silly inside joke in DC superhero comics. But Professor Fury at Pretty Fakes makes a game attempt at saying something almost serious about him.

See, the folks at DC comics are currently making yet another attempt to make sense out of grand narrative of the universe of all of their superhero comics. If you are a hardcore superhero comics reader, it's satisfying when the Joker drops by Metropolis to give Superman a hard time in Adventures of Superman #67 and there's some dialogue explaining that Batman isn't on the case because he's busy in Istanbul fighting Ra's Al Ghul at the moment—which is what you're reading about in Batman #114, published that same month. Now you remember that in Batman #113, you caught a glimpse of the Joker in his cell at Arkham Asylum when Batman was there questioning Poison Ivy, so obviously the Joker escaped after that. The trouble is that if you then read in Batman #115 that Batman has returned to Gotham after foiling Al Ghul's lastest plot and the Joker is still locked up, well, that's kind of annoying.

After a few decades of the heroes teaming up this way and that, and travelling the world, and visiting parallel universes, and getting into time machines, and so forth, this stuff gets really tangled and maddening. Yeah, it's only a superhero comic, but either Lex Luthor has met the Swamp Thing or he hasn't, okay? Let's get our stories straight, here!

So, the Prof reports, DC are cleaning things up.

DC has (supposedly) finally consolidated all its multiverses and hypertimelines into one earth, New Earth, a stable and coherent place where everyone’s origin makes sense in terms of everyone else’s origin, where history flows in a clean, straight, single line. Smooth surfaces, sharp angles, and hospital corners—that’s the new DC. For now.

Of course, the Redactor tried this trick in rolling the stories of E and J and P and the gang into the Torah, and look how that worked out.

But unlike the Torah, the DC Universe actually contains a character who recognizes and enjoys the inconsistencies in the story. Ambush Bug.

He’s a walking, talking, teleporting, trickster reminder of the foolhardiness of attempting to maintain a stable, consistent shared universe in a medium as persistently ramifying as superhero comics. There are thousands of events happening every month, often with the same character having simultaneous adventures written by different creators in different contexts, and no attempt to force all of these divergent stories into one large narrative can ever be entirely successful. There is always excess, something left out or left unattended, some contradiction that doesn’t make sense, and Ambush Bug is the symbol of that excess, as well as a kind of lay historian of the characters, stories, and even storytelling styles that are constantly being eliminated from the official history of the DCU in favor of an alleged coherence. Ambush Bug points out the bumps and cracks and fissures in a historical narrative that strives to present itself as smooth as glass.

The Prof describes Ambush Bug as sort of the personification of the wacky, dusty corners of the DC universe's inconsistencies. If you have any love for superhero comics, do follow the link; some of the examples of the Bug's adventures are surprisingly witty.

All of which makes me wonder: maybe the Redactor should have included Ambush Bug in the Torah. And more importantly, is there an Ambush Bug out there clowning with the inconsistencies of the real world?

23 July 2006


Via an excellent post about the Bush administration's boneheaded foreign policy thinking by Ezra Klein, I learn that Chris Albritton of Back to Iraq describes the counterproductive effects of the Israelis' bombing and shelling of Lebanon.
Before this damn war, Hizbullah was losing support. It wasn’t draining, but it was ebbing. The political process was stuttering along, but it was moving. Many people here hated Hizbullah… Many people also loved it. The society was split but there was a consensus the problem had to be settled judiciously and politically because no one wanted another civil war.

When the first Israeli bombs fell, some Shi’ites even blamed Hizbullah. I met a guy in the southern suburbs last Saturday, just four days after things started. He’s a Shi’ite from Nabatiyeh in the south and hated Hizbullah. He thought they’d screwed up big-time. These days, when I talk to him, he says he hopes Hizbullah rips the Israelis apart. Another friend of mine, one of those upper-crust Christians, told me last night that as much as he hates Hizbullah, he hates the Israelis even more now.

The Lebanese are closing ranks in the face of an external threat, just like people all over the world do ....

He also has an illuminating thumbnail description of the historical relationship between Hizbullah and Lebanon, if you need a taste of that.

22 July 2006

Back on the air

Sorry to drop out for a bit, faithful readers and friends. I've been on the road for a gruelling round of work. I'll be trying to catch up ...

No evil shall escape my sight

Matthew Yglasias worries that war hawks have been reading too many comic books.

As you may know, the Green Lantern Corps is a sort of interstellar peacekeeping force set up by the Guardians of Oa to maintain the peace and defend justice. It recruits members from all sorts of different species and equips them with the most powerful weapon in the universe, the power ring.
Suffice it to say that I think all this makes an okay premise for a comic book. But a lot of people seem to think that American military might is like one of these power rings. They seem to think that, roughly speaking, we can accomplish absolutely anything in the world through the application of sufficient military force. The only thing limiting us is a lack of willpower.

What's more, this theory can't be empirically demonstrated to be wrong. Things that you or I might take as demonstrating the limited utility of military power to accomplish certain kinds of things are, instead, taken as evidence of lack of will. Thus we see that problems in Iraq and Afghanistan aren't reasons to avoid new military ventures, but reasons why we must embark upon them ...

Even if Osama bin Ladin is a bit like a comic book villain, that doesn't mean that the world works like a comic book. In fact, I've talked about this business of demonstrating Will and Resolve before. It's corrosive to the effectiveness of US foreign policy and the sanity of domestic political culture.

18 July 2006


James Woods is apparently going to be starring in a new TV series, Shark. Warren Ellis has seen the pilot, and has some well-sharpened words you may enjoy if you have a taste for Mr. Woods, or have dreams of good TV.


Via The Wild Hunt, I learn of a delightful interview with J.C. Hallman on Bookslut, flogging his new book about peculiar religions, The Devil is a Gentleman. As you might guess, he talks about Satanists ... as well as Scientologists, atheists, and more. Hallman refers a lot to William James' book The Varieties of Religious Experience.
James believes that in the individual mystical experience you get a sense of the divine. Ironically, and almost invariably, the atheists reported a moment of clarity that told them “there was nothing out there.”

Bookslut: They saw the light!

Right. But they probably wouldn't like it put that way.

Hallman also reports that a survery revealed that the American population of Christians fell 9% from 1990 to 2001. Can that really be true?

Well, yeah. USA Today reports on this—revealing also that spiritual-but-not-religious and not-religious are coming on strong. (While we're on the subject, Digby has some sharp-edged commentary on the political implications of these figures.)

17 July 2006


Via Monkeyboy's Linkblog, Edward Hasbrouk tells yet another scary tale of anxious folks with guns and badges at the airport.
When anyone who ask questions is suspected of being a terrorist, and subject to detention, interrogation, and search, we've got a problem.
He carefully and astutely lays plain the privacy and civil rights implications in each little step in the process. The crux is the Airserv folks who check your ID before you get to the TSA checkpoint.
... the TSA has crafted its procedures so that the demand for identification credentials is made neither by the TSA itself nor the airline, but by a third party whose identity and authority are entirely unverifiable to the traveller, and who is accountable to the traveller neither through government legislative and regulatory procedures nor through enforcement of contractual rights (since they have no contractual relationship to the traveller).

To give an added frisson of resemblance to countries with corrupt or dysfunctional police and governments, the people in uniform demanding people's credentials are lying about being government employees. The real government employees watching them don't care. And if, like me, you so much as ask a few polite questions about what is going on, you are detained, threatened with arrest, searched, investigated, your papers copied by the government for your permanent (I can only presume) dossier, and the unaccountable third party (and, in the case of an RFID passport, anyone else within range with a reader in their luggage) left with the unregulated legal “right” to use and sell any data obtained from its government-coerced scrutiny of your credentials.

Hasbrouk's implicit message is in part that airport security proceedures are poorly thought through, in ways with disturbing implications. I'd add that this is in large part a result of a a weird place we've reached in left-right politics in America.

Liberals believe that activist government is an appropriate tool for addressing a range of problems. Thus a lot of liberal time and attention is devoted to the question of what policies will actually work, without creating unwanted secondary consequences. So there's lots of liberals hanging around asking questions like, “if we have the federal government fund health care for million of Americans, how do we do it in a way that neither permits costs to spiral out of control nor compromises the quality of care that people receive?” Policy wonkery.

Conservatives believe that government is inherently inept and screws things up, so activist government is a bad idea. So they don't do a lot of policy wonkery, because they see it as a doomed project. So they're not very good at thinking through the consequences of policies; in fact, they're often not terribly aware of this being a kind of question you might consider stopping to think about. So in a weird paradox, though conservatives are more worried about the unhappy consequences of government meddling, they're less well equipped to prevent it when they agree that some government meddling is called for.

And you may have noticed, conservatives are running things now.

16 July 2006

Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries

I've been meaning to blog this, one of my favourite bits of web art, since I started blogging. Somehow I never got around to it.

Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries Presents is a collection of simple Flash animations. Each consists simply of text synchronized with some jazz. You'd think that this would be only a clever little gimmick, but it achieves one of the classic goals of art, creating a rich range of effects with a very simple formal vocabulary.

Samsung Means To Come is the best-known YHCHI work; it was circulated a lot a few years back. The use of music is particularly fun, and the story it tells is funny, witty, and spicy. My personal favourite is Dakota, a sort of Beat tale of adventure that would have made Kerouac proud. But I think that the hightest acheivement in the collection is Bust Down the Doors! It starts out being about something painful and timely, but be patient with it—it turns into something different, something timeless.

As I said, there's spicy and painful stuff in there, so depending on the tenor of your workplace, some of it may not be work-safe.

15 July 2006

A reason to go to Vegas

Cirque de Soleil + The Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band of All Time


Brad DeLong's post Greg Mankiw Explains Why Economists Favor Immigration is not only incisive on the subject of immigration. As is often the case with Professor DeLong, he also offers us a tidy view into the minds of economists.

If I knew then what I know now, I might well have studied economics in college instead of physics.

14 July 2006

Middle East

When there's news in the Middle East that's obviously complicated enough that watching the news just makes me more and more confused about what's really going on, I turn to Juan Cole's blog Informed Comment. He's on top of this new, scary round of border fighting between Israel and Lebanon with a long post which includes this scary little comment:
Yes, I am saying that Wahhabi Saudi Arabia and the Bush administration Secretary of State are the adults in all this.
That's the closest thing to good news that he has to offer, I'm afraid.

13 July 2006


Thomas Disch reflects on some peculiar ethical dimensions of war.
she seemed to think it was unfair that more than half of Palestine's population is under the age of 21, or maybe 14. and therefore innocent in an a priori way. It's an interesting ethical question.
He has more interesting ethical questions there, if you like that sort of thing.

Beautiful world

Once upon a time, I was fourteen years old and hoping that the next video would contain pretty girls. Instead Devo taught me the power of montage.

11 July 2006

Shine on

Syd Barrett
Crazy diamond

If pressed to make these kinds of invidious comparisons I'll admit that—mock them as you rightfully may—the Rolling Stones manage to remain the greatest rock band in the world. Of course the greatest rock band ever is ... and probably forever will be ... the Beatles. Though much as I will forever love the Beatles as all wise people do, my personal all-time favourite band is really the Velvet Underground.

But there's nothing else like first love, and the first band I truly loved was Pink Floyd. The first album I ever bought was Dark Side of the Moon. I haven't listened to it in a few years but I feel confident that I'll go to my grave having listened to it more times than any other recording.

Part of teen love for a band is learning the band's legend. And Floyd's legend is a proper epic, full of audacity, drugs, infighting, Tchaikovsky, hubris, and madness. And a spectre.

Haven't you noticed that rock bands tend to have a spectre in their legend? Maybe it's a echo from Buddy Holly's untimely death ... maybe it's rooted in whatever force gives us the story of Prometheus ... but wherever it comes from, it's something the rock gods seem to demand of their supplicants: that guy from the early days of the band who was central to their genesis and identity but who was spun away by tragic circumstance.

Keith Moon. Brian Jones. Stuart Sutcliffe. Pete Best.

Syd Barrett.

Syd was Pink Floyd's spectre, and they were unusually haunted by him. Maybe that's because it wasn't death that transformed him into the rôle but madness. The truth of the story is of course rather more complicated than that, but it's the legend that matters, right? Especially with a rock band.

So the legend: Syd was the drug-addled wild-man genius who gave the band it's sound, style, and sensibility ... but finally went so batty that he and the band parted ways before they found stardom ... and who was the inspiration of some of the band's best known music.

Well you wore out your welcome
    with random precision
Rode on the steel breeze
Come on you raver
    you seer of visions
Come on you painter
    you piper
    you prisoner
And shine

Business processes

As an interaction designer, I'm most interested in working on systems that are either consumer products or specialist tools for folks like doctors and scientists. Alas, I barely get to do that about half the time, since there's so much bread-and-butter work to be done with business processes of one kind or another, and hey, my studio has to pay the electric bill—and my salary.

But I'm a dilettante, interested in everything, so it usually turns out that I can find almost any domain completely fascinating, at least for the length of a project. My favourite book when I was seven years old was Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day? In it, you see a house under construction, firefighters cleaning their gear after fighting a fire, a crew building a new road, and so forth. I liked seeing how stuff worked, how stuff got done, and I've never outgrown it.

So while the core business of business—squeezing nickels out of an uncooperatve world—is pretty tiresome, the details can be very interesting indeed. One of the most interesting projects I ever did involved accounting for convenience stores. It turns out that it's a deeply weird business, not least because it uses different accounting methods from almost every other industry in the universe, because of their unique inventory control problems ....

I bring all of this up because I stumbled across this article about how they label cases of stuff for shipping to retailers.

Consumer packaged goods (CPG) are generally sold in standard case packs across most retail channels. For example, a standard case pack might contain 12 bottles of pancake syrup, packaged in a corrugated shipping container. For each base product sold in a standard case pack, there are often dozens of variations, such as different flavors, colors and seasonal promotions. Even though the length, width and depth of the boxes might be exactly the same, each product variation still requires its own unique corrugated shipping container, or shipper. The UPC code and product description are printed by the box manufacturer, with maple-flavored, butter-flavored, blueberry and sugar-free syrups each requiring its own unique shipper even though all four products are all packaged in the same size bottle ...
It turns out that the grubby details of this very mundane problem are actually pretty interesting. Just like everything else.

More torture

Torturing a madman to get him to support Bush administration policy with fake intelligence. Really.

Go read. It's even worse than it sounds.

10 July 2006


Via Miriam I learn that something truly astonishing is happening today: arcology advocate and all-around mad architecture genius Paolo Soleri is receiving an award at the White House. He has a few remarks prepared.
To put it succinctly, the insularity of the American nation, which cause-effect is xenophobia, has generated the Empire USA. It owes its existence and its triumph to Homo faber opportunism—industriousness and determination, but in the process, we westerners have been trapped in the cage of materialism, our invention.
Life is too magnificent, anguished and noble to be prey of a theocratic, technocratic empire idolatry. The immense reservoir of good will and excellence stored in the American people cannot, must not be wasted in a run into well padded triviality.
Soleri is a Great American.


Join Improv Everywhere for Mission: Best Buy.
The reaction from the employees was pretty typical as far as our missions go. The lower level employees laughed and got a kick out of it while the managers and security guards freaked out.
Security guards and managers started talking to each other frantically on their walkie-talkies and headsets. “Thomas Crown Affair! Thomas Crown Affair!,” one employee shouted. They were worried that were using our fake uniforms to stage some type of elaborate heist.
Good clean fun.

09 July 2006


Via Miriam, I learn of a Stephen Colbert interview with Congressman Lynn Westmorland. You gotta watch it to the end.

Jed Bartlett could have answered that question. In Latin.

For those who protest that Bartlett is a fictional character, do you think Bill Clinton could do it? Jimmy Carter? How about George W. Bush? Be honest.


Oh, golly. I could play with TypeNavigator all day. It lead me right to a dozen gorgeous fonts appealing to my tastes.

08 July 2006


MKB's linkblog points us to Infilitration, “the zine about going places you're not supposed to go.” It's full of advice. Consider this, from the infilspeak dictionary:
credibility prop n.
an item such as a clipboard or briefcase, carried or used by an infiltrator to reduce suspicion
As many people know, you can get away with a lot just by carrying a clipboard and looking like you know what you're doing.

07 July 2006

Mercury in retrograde

I don't believe in astrology, but astrology believes in me. My phone battery just went dead for two days, during which time I accumulated a dozen messages.

Mercury went retrograde in Leo on Independence Day.

I'm gonna pay some attention to astrologer Rob Tillet, who I keep at the bottom of my blogroll as “Mercury watch.”

Mercury retro in Leo gives confusion regarding high ideals and aspirations. People tend to be outspoken or quick-tempered, and their kind-hearted impulses can be misplaced, due to getting the facts wrong. Leaders and those in high places are subject to delusion and error, especially as nebulous Neptune is in opposition and lordly Jupiter is square. They tend to appear haughty, proud and passionate. Individuals find dramatic ways to communicate and are quick to refute ideas that disagree with their own. A love of children and a fondness for pleasure should not be allowed to get out of hand. Love affairs can be fickle and inconstant, due to egotistical presumptions. Avoid gambling and those who display a low and sensual nature. Attend immediately to back and chest pains.

When Mercury moves back to Cancer on July 11, the need to revisit emotional commitments will become more present. Family issues are likely to arise and you may need to review decisions regarding your residence and any career moves you have in mind ....

But that's not the end of it. Mercury doesn't go direct until the 29th, and won't return to station until August 12th.

Hang on.

Math and homelessness

Ezra Klein, writing at The American Prospect, finds Bush administration policy worthy of praise: some counterintuitive but very pragmatic policies for handling homelessness that appear to work. He points us at a fascinating New Yorker article which explains the logic of the policy, which we're trying here in San Francisco with our notoriously big homeless population.
The current philosophy of welfare holds that government assistance should be temporary and conditional, to avoid creating dependency. But someone who blows .49 on a Breathalyzer and has cirrhosis of the liver at the age of twenty-seven doesn’t respond to incentives and sanctions in the usual way. “The most complicated people to work with are those who have been homeless for so long that going back to the streets just isn’t scary to them,” Post said. “The summer comes along and they say, ‘I don’t need to follow your rules.’ ” Power-law homelessness policy has to do the opposite of normal-distribution social policy. It should create dependency: you want people who have been outside the system to come inside and rebuild their lives under the supervision of those ten caseworkers in the basement of the Y.M.C.A.
What's this about “power law” vs “normal distribution” social policy? It's math, but easy to understand. Check out the New Yorker article for an explanation ... and an exploration of the tricky moral implications ... and a look at what the principle means for not only homelessness but smog testing, police oversight, and more.

06 July 2006

Liberal media

I doubt that any of my readers believe the guff about a “liberal media bias,” but just in case, let me point out Jamison Fosers article that makes clear how actually, the river flows the other way.

Snakes on a plane

As part of our ongoing Snakes on a Plane coverage, I offer you an interview with Christa Faust, author of the Snakes novelization.
What was it like working with Samuel L. Jackson’s character? Does he swear a lot in your head when you’re envisioning his dialogue?

The big problem is that, now that he’s settled in up there, I can’t get him to leave and he keeps eating all the motherfucking Red Vines and leaving the goddamn toilet seat up. You try telling Sam Jackson to get the fuck out.

She really gets the spirit of the thing.

05 July 2006


As y'all have probably caught on, I have a fondness for Roger Ebert's film reviews. It seems that he had a scary medical emergency a few days ago; he's apparently in a bad way, but stable, and with a good prognosis.

His wife Chaz has a charming request for concerned folks.

I am asking you to pray for Roger during his period of recovery and to visualize him being enveloped in healing light.

Roger would also want you to go out to the movies. He gives you permission to see even those movies that don't have his personal “Thumbs Up.”

Looking for something good? If Brick is showing in your neighborhood, like Mr. Ebert, I give it a thumbs up.

Aquatic ape

Back in high school, I read Elaine Morgan's The Descent of Woman, which argues that there was a key recent period in human evolution in which humans lived in an environment where they did a lot of swimming, and thus became well adapted to it. It's a charming, well-written book, and the hypothesis accounts for a number of human morpological peculiarities—the very weird distribution of fur on our bodies, and the peculiar structure of the human nose, for instance. I was a casual aquatic ape booster for a long time; it's a seductive idea.

But a few years back, I had the hypothesis debunked to my satisfaction. Charming as the theory is, it's just wrong. Lindsey Beyerstein of Majikthise reports a similar recent disenchantment, as a result of a very impressive site which debunks the aquatic ape hypothesis very thoroughly.

Sigh. I don't believe in Julian Jaynes' Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind any more either: an even lovelier idea, but utterly impossible to really demonstrate. And the neutrino turns out to be a disappointment, too. And Lovecraft had no connection to Crowley.

Next you're gonna tell me that Oswald really did act alone.

04 July 2006

Independence Day

In honor of my nation's founding, a few things:

First, my annual rap on why I love the holiday.

Independence Day is the High Holy Day of American political identity. If you think about it, the Fourth of July is a strange choice of date. Consider the French equivalent, Bastille Day, which commemorates the storming of the Bastille and thus the event which demonstrated that the French monarchy was over. By similar reasoning, we should be celebrating when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown on 19 October, the battle of Lexington & Concord on 19 April, or (my favorite as an occasional lefty activist) the Boston Tea Party on 13 December.

But we don't. We celebrate the day that a bunch of guys signed a piece of paper.

Second, some more Independence Day goodies from me, including a little sentimentality about the American flag ... which you'll also get from this Jon Carroll story that I found via MKB's linkblog.

03 July 2006

Today's quote

From Gavin M. of Sadly, No.
you can often learn more about a genre of music by studying the bad records than the good ones. The reason is that you can see mistakes of judgment and technique that lay bare the artist’s intentions. The artist can’t hide from you as successfully as a craftier, more practiced and opaque artist would be able to. Most good art is in a sense alike in that it’s able to speak to something more intrinsic than base culture, something cross-platform or common to the human condition. (Neil Young calls it ‘the spook’; a great song has the spook in it.) Most bad art is concerned with trying to be a successful example of itself, or of a genre or movement — with trying to operate its own cultural tools correctly. Bad art struggles to express its difference.
He goes on to apply this principle to the writing in Right Blogistan to good effect, but it's the principle itself that I felt compelled to share.

02 July 2006


Yes, this photograph was taken in Kansas.

Two futures

What with gasoline on the high side of $3 a gallon, Al Gore doing his rap, the US embroiled in a horrific quagmire in the Middle East because of our oil interests, and the hockey stick graph, the buzz is finally on about what we're gonna do about our current oil dependency being totally unsustainable. James Howard Kunstler and Chairman Bruce Sterling are two folks who have been thinking about this for a good long time already. You'll find them both lurking in my blogroll.

This week, they both happen to be talking about the possibility of fueling cars with alcohol ....

The pitch for alcohol is that you can use it as a fuel to run internal combustions engines very similar to the kind you see in existing cars et cetera. You don't dig alcohol out of the ground like you do with petroleum, you make it from grains like corn. This is appealing because there isn't a fixed supply in the earth to run out, you just grow and brew more every year ... and the carbon in the fuel comes from carbon dioxide in the air metabolized by the plants, so it doesn't contribute to the greenhouse effect.

The trouble is that when you add up all of the energy costs of making alcohol—the fuel in the tractors in the cornfields, cooking up the corn mash to ferment, running the distilleries to turn it into fuel, and so forth—you actually come out behind. You have to put more energy in than you get out. That doesn't stop Big Agriculture from thinking that alcohol fuels are a great idea, of course.

You do the math.

James Howard Kunstler, the only man in America who who hates the suburbs more than I do, sees the fascination with alcohol as a refusal to accept that car culture is soon to be over.

Chevron and British Petroleum (or Beyond Petroleum, as BP wishfully styles itself) have both run ad campaigns acknowledging the oil-and-gas crunch, and the mainstream media has joined the campaign to pimp for bio-fuels. But all the talk is driven by the assumption that we will keep running WalMart, Disney World, and the interstate highway system just like we do now, only with other “alternative” liquid fuels.

The more naive members of the environmental sector have been suckered into this line of thinking, too -- especially the college kids, who imagine we can just divert x-amount of acreage from Cheez Doodle production and re-direct it to crops devoted to making liquid fuels for Honda Elements. They need to get some alt.brains.

Nobody is talking about the much more likely prospect that we'll have to reduce motoring drastically, and make other arrangements for virtually every aspect of daily life, from how we get food, to how we do business, to how we inhabit the landscape. The more we resist thinking about the larger agenda for comprehensively changing daily life, beyond our obsession with cars, the more likely we will veer into hardship, political trouble, and violence.

Bruce Sterling, presumably hoping that we will find a way to make alcohol production more efficient, sees something else.
So okay, get this pitch: it's the American solution to climate change. It's all about giant, hybrid, boozy SUVs. These SUVs carry, not dainty little hippie batteries, but COLOSSAL REPUBLICAN batteries, batteries big enough to power your house. At night, you plug in the batteries and suck clean wind-power out off the grid. You drive around your neighborhood on Texan and Kansan wind-power. Wind is always a patchy resource, but GIANT AMERICAN CARS become the STORAGE UNITS for American wind. You run your HOUSE off your car battery when the wind isn't blowing. The huge American car fleet is America's un-interruptible power supply.

While away from home, you buy American booze, i.e., recycled Iowa corncobs, and even weeds off the side of the road, all enzymatically cracked and turned into white-lightning car fuel that you can DRINK AT TAILGATE PARTIES. And since these grasses fix carbon into the soil (through their roots), THE MORE YOU DRIVE, THE FASTER THE GREENHOUSE EFFECT GOES AWAY!

Furthermore, in order to cure the atmosphere quickly, you definitely want to drive a BIG car. A really big American WHALE of a car. You might want to consider dumping your house entirely and moving all your possessions into a giant, booze-fueled, wind-powered Recreational Vehicle.

Okay, this isn't a universal solution to climate change. But it's the first solution I've seen with *American national characteristics.*

Honestly, I want Kunstler to be right on the future, because I think he's right about the past; on balance, cars have been a terrible blight on our society. But reading the two of them, I think that the smart money is on Chairman Bruce.

01 July 2006


I expect that most of my readers are familiar with artist damali ayo, or at least Rent-A-Negro.com, her famous art project. (If you aren't, follow the link. It's real, it's smart, it's good, and it's good for you.)

I recently learned that she has added TOKENS, a terrific site of Cafépress merchandise. While she didn't have folks like me in mind with the touch your own hair t-shirt, it did give me an extra laugh.

The right to arm bears

This blog salutes you, Troy Hurtubise.
In pursuit of his off-kilter dream — creating a suit of armor that can withstand the attack of a grizzly bear — Troy Hurtubise has endured much: Slugs in the chest from a 12-gauge shotgun at a range of 20 feet. Falling, on purpose, off the edge of the 150-foot-high Niagara Escarpment. Assaults from burly friends and relatives all too willing to cuff him repeatedly with road picks, knives, bows and arrows, two-by-fours. Eighteen times he has stood in the path of a three-ton pickup doing 30 miles per hour, and 18 times the truck has knocked him from here to next week. On several occasions, he has stood at attention while a 350-pound log, winched 30 feet up in a tree, swung down broadside to topple him like a human bowling pin.

In each of these encounters, Hurtubise explains over oil-slicked restaurant coffee, he was safe inside his invention: the Ursus Mark VI Bearproof Suit, 147 pounds of titanium alloy, rubber, plastic, and chain mail standing seven feet, two inches tall. “I sustained a headache one time coming down the mountain,” he says proudly. “And a bruise on my right arm. After all the tests, that's it.”

You cannot make this stuff up.