Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Today, June 30th, is the 102nd anniversary of the Tunguska explosion in Siberia. Thought I forgot about it, didn't ya?

It is generally agreed that the explosion, which devastated an area of about 30 square miles, was an airburst of a meteor or small asteroid or comet fragment. Estimates vary, but a general figure of 5 - 30 megatons would have caused the damage - a good-size H-bomb. No crater was found. Trees were knocked down over a radius of 10 miles. The blast was heard 600 miles a away ("eight sharp reports as from a cannon").

Witnesses in the nearby town of Kirensk described the event variously as a "pillar of fire", "a ball of fire, coming down obliquely", "a flying star with a fiery tail". In other words, something fell out of the sky very, very fast.

Various kooks, not happy with the prosaic explanation of a stone falling from the sky, attribute Tunguska to everything from a piece of antimatter to a mini black hole to Nicola Tesla's Death Ray. Suffice to say, I have neither the time nor inclination to explain why these alternate explanations are horseshit, although I will debunk Tesla.

The story goes that Tesla was trying to devise a method of transferring electrical power through the air or earth. With financing from J.P. Morgan, he built an enormous Tesla tower on Long Island. In an experiment, he supposedly contacted Richard Peary to look for unusual events at the North Pole. On the evening of June 30th, he aimed his particle beam death ray at the North Pole, but overshot and hit Tunguska.

Aside from the fact that this sounds like something I wrote in the fucking 4th grade, someone forgot about the International Dateline. June 30th in New York City is July 1st in Siberia. If you draw a great circle from NYC to the North Pole, it comes nowhere near the impact site. And if Tesla had managed to direct a particle beam, the emission strength would be such that Long Island, and most of Manhattan, would have been vaporized. I think someone would have noticed that. Not to mention, I think Santa would have pitched a major bitch about the whole seedy affair.

Face it folks, Tesla was desitute, insane, and showing a distressing tendency of attempting to fuck pigeons at the sorry stage of life when he started talking about his death ray. And the US Government would be using it at every opportunity since 1937. Blah. Blah. Blah.

But you know, plenty of fast moving boulders out there. Something to think about.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Hidden Persuaders (part 2)

When Vance Packard wrote the book in 1957, he presented his case in a more alarmist tone than was necessary. No fool he, he actually, ironically, stole a page from the playbook of the very manipulators he was critiquing. Obviously, advertisers are not as successful as they present themselves, or as Vance presents them. Otherwise, we'd be making a lot more ridiculous purchases and driving ourselves deeper and deeper into debt. Right? Hey, wait a minute...

Some old department store magnate from the 19th century once said "Half my advertising dollars are wasted. I just don't know which half".

What the advertisers lack in target accuracy they can make up for in saturation. Many may try to ignore these messages, but when you are constantly inundated, when you have no choice but to swim in this sea of stuff, it is hard not to pay attention to it - especially when you trying not to pay attention to it.

Even if you manage this task, it is hard not to be influenced or affected by everyone around you who is paying attention to it. Thus, I hardly ever watch TV, yet I know, through interactions with my TV-watching fellow chimps, at least a cursory knowledge of TV land and its celebrity denizens.

It's as if we swim in a sea of plasmids, those rings of DNA information that bacteria swap with each other, and just can't help but bump into them.

Well, nothing new or insightful here, right? And yet one of the themes I choose to keep on hammering on is, despite our seeming complexity in form and function and behavior, we are still quite primitive creatures, illogical, ruled by animal passions, and predictably irrational. Fear. Anger. Comfort. Pain avoidance. Pleasure seeking. It's as if simple biological rules can describe us, our attributes, our boundaries, and all the little receptors that populate them.

And, of course, all designed to move product, which is what life does. That's metabolism. Move it, convert it, transform it, and survive on the energy of transformation.

And one of the most amazing, magical products, one that is protean, chymerical, modularly brandable, massively adaptable is that creature known as the political candidate...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Hidden Persuaders

I have limited time today so let me just cut right to the chase. You know those beer commericals where they feature these really obnoxious guys? Frat boy types? Not very smart? With all the eloquence and finesse of bull seals waddling on a beach? Not very attractive? In fact, below average in looks, with pudgy, doughy, unsightly bodies? And possessed of troglodyte moral standards.

In short, don't you just want to punch their faces back into their brains?

And aren't they always surrounded by hot chicks, or at least with cool toys or a superb abode that they are obviously too fucking dumb to have the means to afford?

And these commercials have been in place for decades. And don't you think the advertising guys know this?

Well, of course they do. They are bypassing your logic circuits and tapping right into your reptilian brain. "Look at these assholes" the advertisers say, "They are obviously losers. Life has played a cruel joke upon them. Much worse off than you. And yet these fucking clowns are turning away super hot chicks that want to fuck them. And the difference between them and you is that they are using our product".

Years ago, I read a book called "The Hidden Persuaders" by Vance Packard. Packard recounts how advertisers teamed up wth behavioral psychologists, and tapped into the vast wealth of the subconscious. Packard wrote the book as a cautionary tale in 1957. The advertisers have become far more sophisticated, as now we have neurologists and brain scanning to tap into.

And the advertisers have moved beyond the manufacturing world to package some of the easiest product that ever was concieved - politicians. I'll have more to say about this as time allows.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Habits of Empire

The term 'assimilation' came to take on a diabolical coloration in 1989, with the introduction of Star Trek's the Borg, the race of cybernetic organisms who, like vampires, prey upon and occasionally convert others not like them.

"You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile".

Prior to this, assimilation, or rather forced assimilation, was given the connotation of a good thing. Something that, here in America, previously unincorporated groups were fortunate to experience. Kind of like being conquered by Rome, and becoming citizens of Rome.  Ah, but America is not Rome. Hell, Rome was not Rome. It was, like the Reagan era a revisionist saga of romantic hogwash, hiding a dingier, moldier, more stifling and depressing reality.

But I don't want to talk about that. At least, not overly so. The metaphor as America as Borg, like America as Rome, has been used too often and too easily. There are some half-truths there, as is the case with all metaphoric comparisons. Any conservative worthy of calling him or herself that, who, if they truly cherish worthy traditions, has a duty to view our history (warts and all) truthfully and clearly. Conservatives would do well to read "Habits of Empire", by Notre Dame historian Walter Nugent. The expansion of America is empire in all but name and title.

But again, that's not what I want to talk about. The fictional Borg, in case you do not know, have as their goal a quest for perfection. Perfection, in their case, seems to be a transformation beyond the limited abilities of the organic, or perhaps the material as well, into a transcendent state of some kind, never really specified. In the process, they wish to "improve the quality of life, for all species". They apparently mean well, provided your vision of well-being corresponds with theirs. In that sense, the Borg are like Neoconservatives, the latest personification of American Stalinism (exporting the revolution), or Manifest Destiny. 

They have impressive technologies. They have a collective, a distributed intelligence, a massively parallel hive mind that, presumably, bespeaks of extremely high intelligence. (It requires that you assume that higher intelligence is simply more stuff, like a Chinese Wave, just throw more brains in the mix and things get solved).  They are homogeneous and anonymous, any individual is representative of all, and as such it is an egalitarianism not unlike slavery. Equality is forced upon them. Conservatives would emphasize this point, calling it Statism. (Conservatives who use this term obviously do not understand participatory democracy, amongst other things and have bought into the Libertarian Fallacy, and all the infantilism that entails). But the point is lost and irrelevant, because here is individuality, flawed, error-prone, limited in reach and scope, replaced with a Thinking State with One Mind, possessed of the wisdom of crowds, flexible, error-correcting. There is no dictatorship of the State because, quite simply, there are no longer any subjects to dictate to. Quite an alien concept).

 The problem with this fictional vision, and the utopian goal, is that the Borg never really seem to DO anything. Oh, they, as the ultimate users, go around and consume civilizations,  accumulate and incorporate new knowledge from their "victims", increase in size and power. But they don't seem to progress. They, not unlike a slime mold, or a culture of bacteria, or a viral infection, consume, metabolize, and reproduce, but that's about all they do. Despite centuries, or hundreds of centuries, of history, despite possessing a supergenius of a hive mind, they don't seem to do much more than that. Granted, they are a fictional bogeyman, and any underlying philosophy has been developed by TV scriptwriters, but still...

So, is this not a proper analogy for the USA, or for Western Civilization, or for that matter, our species, or just Life in general? Is that it? Are we just consumers and breeders? Should we be looking for a loftier goal? Or is merely converting more and more of the universe into stuff that lives and thinks good enough?  

Or is the mere act of introspection about these things good enough? I honestly don't know...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Summer Art

I'm finally working on some new art. Here's a piece I call "Open Source". It is cast glass and wood, about 9" x 12" x 3". I decided to light up this one. My normal inclination is to never light up glass. Seems too obvious a thing to do. But for this one, I felt it wasn't overly gauche to try it.
This piece came together exactly as I wanted visionwise, and almost processwise. Most of the time visionwise there is at least one thing I forgot/fucked up, or a funny little number that our perverse universe threw in the mix that I had to compensate for. All the time processwise.
I stuck my hand in wet plaster just starting to set, held it until it set, and got exactly the right combination of fidelity/rough texture first time out. I could not have asked for a better mold.
The waxes formed off of this mold could not have been more cooperative.
Aside from some compatability problems with the glass, the colors and textures are pretty much as I wanted them. And I like the look and presentation of the piece as well. I'll had to drill and cut and hole in a wall and hardwire the electrical connections and patch the wall back up, but that was fun. All in all an enjoyable and satisfactory experience. Really not much more to say about this piece. I will say that the past two semesters have been irritating, as I've not had time to work on my own art. During the times when I should have worked, I had neither the energy nor the inclination to work. I suspect that I will regret not using the time in the future when I have precious little time left. On the other hand, I also suspect that any art I would have made would have suffered in quality. And then, during the times when I wanted to work, there have been far too many students who either needed the studio space or my assistance. How dare they get their money's worth!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Whitest Show On Earth

I'm not in it, but I've made a cameo. My ancestors on both sides of the family come from near Ground Zero of the Blonde Map of Europe. Don't ask me why I tan so well.

I guess I better warn you right now that I'm going to use the "n" word later in a joke. I'm also going use the "j" word as well. If I remember to, I might even use the "r " word too. Hopefully, it will be a not too harmful usage, as it is meant to be a joke, but I'm sure some will be offended regardless. This is a preemptive apology, but we'll see how it turns out.

Anyways, I recently read an article on the US census about how, at least in America, the category of "white" is fairly flexible and amorphous, and increasingly inclusive over time. I'm sure a fictional and revisionist account would go something like "Well, at one time only the Anglo-Saxons were considered white, but then as more and more people immigrated from Europe and insinuated themselves into our society, the category was stretched to include Germans, French, Irish, Poles, Spaniards, Italians (I guess), etc." In other words, it looks like we have to include the non-blonde-haired, non-blue-eyed, light-to-swarthy complected people into the club.

I doubt this occurred in Europe, where pretty much everyone is white, but I suppose if you view white as a class, you might get away with this type of account here in America. 

My own thoughts on the matter? There is the Nation of Islam account about how 6,600 years ago, a mad scientist named Yakub, of the tribe of Shabazz, created the white devil race by sequestering 59,999 black people on the island of Patmos, and slowly breeding the black elements out of them. 

Interestingly, the mutations for light complected eyes and hair are about that old, dating to around 7,000 year ago. I suppose before then, there were no white people. Do I believe that (the Nation of Islam account)? No. I just note the coincidence - with no small amount of irony. 

In any case, it is interesting how such an unscientific term as whiteness can be treated as so real. Well, social constructs are like that. There might be a pseudo-scientific rational behind it, through the use of genetics. I mentioned in a prior entry, how once I participated in the Genographic Project. Turns out my family belongs to haplogroup I1, typically considered the Northern Barbarians.  If you want to talk  about belonging to a fake category of whites, I don't see how you really can get any whiter. If I ever wished to form some dipshit white supremacist club, I could say to pretty much every dipshit white supremacist who wanted to join "Nope, sorry. Not white enough for me".

Anyways, there was some speculation in our family as to whether we were Jewish. It turns out that the name Kurman is, according to all of our Jewish friends, "Jewish as hell". Well, yes, if you happen to be a Kurman from southern Germany, Switzerland, or Austria, then chances are very good you are Jewish.

But we are from the Mecklenberg region of Germany. Up on the Baltic Sea coast north of Berlin, right next to Denmark and Poland. There are Kurmans in Denmark, and in the West Pommeranian district of Poland. In fact, Kurman can be an Iranian name, or a Turkic name, or a Mongolian name. I very much doubt there is a family connection there. 

So, here comes the science to set up the joke. There is, as far as I am concerned, absolutely no doubt that every single one of us humans can trace our ancestry back to Africa, some 60,000 years ago. And there is good evidence that the majority of Ashkenazi Jews have Y-chromosome (male ancestry) that traces back to the Middle East pretty rapidly (3,000 years give or take). One of the genographic tests I took was the Y-chromosome test (male lineage) which showed we were in Northern Europe for the past 20,000 years.

When I got the results back, I told the family: 

"I got good news and bad news". 
"What's the good news?"
"We're not Jews."
"What's the bad news?"
"We're niggers."

Well, it's not exactly a thigh slapper, but it is intended to recognize, in a weird and twisted way, my solidarity with the rest of humanity, a shared origin, regardless of false distinctions. 

Take it as you will, my cousins.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Also known as sortition, klerostocracy, lottocracy, direct democracy. Basically, the idea is we fill representative government postitions by casting lots, in the same way that citizens are selected for jury duty. Ancient Athens occasionally practiced a form of this. I've toyed with the idea from time to time.

  • It's fair, equitable, egalitarian, and purely democatic. Everybody gets a chance for power.
  • Non-partisan. Allows for more 'third party' influences.
  • Corruption is eliminated at the voting stage because there is no voting. No need for funds. No influence of special interest groups through funding.
  • Voter apathy, fatigue, and non-participation is eliminated
  • It's fair, equitable, egalitarian, and purely democractic. Every idiot gets a chance for power.
  • Allows for more 'third party' influences, e.g whacko minority views
  • Corruption is not eliminated at the governing stage. In fact, it may increase due to service apathy or exploitation of power (this is in some sense a moot point).
  • No accountability.
The reason I discard demarchy would be the big one, idiots in power. Some would suggest, how can that be any worse that what occurs right now? Oh, believe me, it can get a lot worse. Just wait for November.
So, obviously, I'm interested in it from a systemic standpoint. Is there a system of government that has the least amount problems? Is there a way to make government idiot-proof?
And the answer is "No".
Does this make me anti-government? Oh hell no. I mean, there's no way to make anything idiot-proof. Witness Wall Street. And not just September 2008. 1929. 1907. Basically, a Panic and a Depression every ten to twenty years, thanks to "savvy"business types who are not nearly as smart as they think they are. (And please, spare me the "It was the Guvmint's fault!" line of horseshit. The FACTS, and there are whale's buttload of them, do not support that fucking whiny pseudo-libertarian child's excuse of a rationalization. Grow a pair, already, and take some responsibility for your mess, you fucking executive cocksuckers).
Am I anti-capitalist? Oh, hell no. Capitalism is one of the greatest instruments for social change ever created. And if you think about it, only science has done a better job at creating wealth and prosperity.
What am I against? Stupid people. Stupid people in power.
And getting back to the point, come November, you are going to see a lot of stupid people in power. And come 2011, the nation is going to regret. But you know, people get the government they deserve.
You look at the right, because that's where all the stupid people are going to come from, and you see a fucking mess. Long on anger and short on ideas. Fratricidal, divided, cannibalistic, with spokespeople (Limbaugh, Beck, Palin) who I would not trust to wash themselves with a rag on a stick. Theyd' require adult supervision, because they'd do damage with either the rag or the stick, and I don't trust them to wash themselves.
You got the solid core of the right-of-Hitler xenophobic, socially intolerant, immigrant-bashing Southern redneck dipshit faction that views any form of cooperation or compromise as Treason. (Gotta love the South, with their shootin'shit and blowin'stuff'up reeel'good gun and bomb fetishes. So damn quaint, always fightin' the last century's wars).
You got the oxymoronic Tea Party pinheads. They are all over the place, ranging from childishly selfish well-to-do educated idiots, to complete fucking loons, all of whom want to dismantle the federal government, but oh, pay for our social service and fight our wars for us will ya? With no funds from taxes? Thanks!
Let's not forget to mention the incumbents. Rep. John "Who the fuck put the big SPF-15 'L' on my forehead?" Boehner. The truly, deeply creepy Newt "I cheated on my dying wife but at least I'm not a Nazi like Obama" Gingrich. And good ol' boy Sen. Mitch "Fuck you, I got mine" McConnell. Wheezy old John "Geezer and the Dingbat" McCain. Among many others.
Let's not forget Joe "You Lie" Wilson (Seriously, what is WRONG with South Carolina? I know I've met normal people from there, so...???). Farm subsidy whore Randy "Baby Killer" Neugebauer (sounds like a foreigner to me, check his ID). And the latest, Joe "I will, I swear to God, suck BP's dick right here right now before the cameras" Barton. Not a fucking solid brain among any of 'em. Just watery poo in there.
You think country got fucked up from 2000-2008 with the same kind of folks? Let's see what the new crop of pinheads can do in a year!
Please, before it's too late, find some intelligent, moderate Conservatives. They're hiding in someone's cellar someplace.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Corvid Family

You know - crows, ravens, jays, magpies, nutcrackers and such. I was engaged in my cool-down walk on my way home after a run at the end of what was just a fucking spectacular weather day here in the Midwest, and one of the biggest ravens I've ever seen was up on a telephone wire checking me out. As I walked under him (or her, but let's call him a him), I would glance up to see what was happening.

"Please, don't poop on me" I said to him. It wouldn't have mattered as I'm pretty sure he doesn't understand human talk, and I was going to shower anyway. Still, no one likes to get pooped on. And I had his full attention. He was bent down, that livid dark eyeball focused on me like a, well, not like a laser, but really focused on me. He was paying special attention.

I know a lot people are very uneasy around crows. Some can't quite explain it, but I have the answer. They are really smart, and people know it, consciously or no. They are smarter than a lot of people I know, or see on TV. And I can prove it. I very much doubt the people I see on TV could survive on road kill and other sundries. And the people on TV couldn't hide things, or lie, or figure out puzzles as well as some crows or ravens I've known.

It's not like I've known a lot of them, or even made their acquaintance. But I see shit, observe things, get lucky, been around at the right time and place. They are smart fuckers.

I like 'em.

Reading as I do, as often as I can, about corvids, I came across the fact that they can recognize individual human faces. That's quite an accomplishment. And the question is why? Why do they need to have this capacity? What happened back there in the dim mists of time that our paths crossed so often that this talent was selected for? Because we are predators? We leave behind kill? And certain human predators were more skilled or lucky at killing? And it paid off, evolution-wise, for a crow that could recognize a gifted hunter, versus a crow who just saw us as those shambling apes that sometimes leave behind tasty and nutritious treats, but you know, they all look the same to me? I guess.

I've yet to get a tattoo. Doubt that I ever will. But if I did, it would be a crow or a raven.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"A Volcano of Oil"

I watched the speech our President gave last night on the continuing BP oil gusher nightmare. Though he tried to present the crisis in the best light, I noticed there was a fidgety unease in his demeanor. I think the prez is sitting on something. Just between you and me, I think he should have given us the worst case scenario.

"But, they got it under control, right? He said they'd be recovering 90% of oil soon!"

Well, yes, assuming nothing goes wrong.

I am a firm believer in Murphy's Law: "Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong". Actually, the term "belief" is a pale and shallow descriptor of my conviction in this statement. This goes beyond fact, beyond faith. This is a universal physical principle.

And so, in light of reading through what may be the worst possible scenario, that the well casing is well-and-truly fucked, that oil and sand mixture is rapidly eroding the parts down there like a high pressure sandblaster, that the wellhead and blowout preventer could very well pop right off and the whole monstrous flow turn into a literal volcano of oil, I think we all need to steel ourselves for this eventuality.

It could very well be that the entire oil reservoir, between 2 to 4 billion barrels of oil at minimum, could devastate the Gulf. It would be an American Chernobyl, times ten.

There's no point in planning. Just get your mind ready for it. Just in case.

Hope for the best. Expect the worst.

Alive! Alive! Danger Geeks!

Well, it looks like harmless Star Wars geeks can finally do some damage.

I'm telling you, if I see one of them with this laser, I am preemptively kicking them straight in the nads.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

June 15th is June 2nd!

I published an entry today which I started composing back on June 2nd. Blogger published it for June 2, 2010, so if you want to read today's entry, you can find it here.  

Act of God Destroys Touchdown Jesus

Really not much to say about this: Touchdown Jesus

My thoughts? God does not like styrofoam.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mark Your Calendars: June 13, 2010 is Doomsday

Oh shit! Wait! That's today!

First, a brief announcement. I am ending the Friday Happy Happy Harmless Everything is OK theme. I am doing so because it is:
  1. Cramping my style
  2. not making me happy. I'm happiest when I'm sour.
  3. threatening to make me lazy. I could just embed videos of kittens or puppies or chuckling babies.
  4. kind of an artificial tradition in a journal which really hasn't been around long enough to merit one, and thus:
  5. when these entries finally Jump the Shark, I'll introduce a cutesie theme again.


Today is the date that the Japanese space probe Hayabusa and its sample return capsule is scheduled to make it back to Earth. The spacecraft and capsule travelled to, and touched down upon, the near-Earth asteroid Itokawa five years ago. After travelling a total of 1.25 billion miles, it is returning to Earth with a piece of that asteroid.

Unfortunately for us, and in a variant of Crichton's "Andromeda Strain", or Vonnegut's Ice-Nine, it turns out that Itokawa is composed of the death crystal. Yes, folks, the death crystal, your average everyday run-of-the-mill, death crystal, as opposed to the Death Crystal, which is, obviously completely fictional as it is capitalized.

So, naturally, the spacecraft and return capsule have had their material rearranged and crystallized into a seed of death crystal. And it will impact South Australia today and then the death crystallization of all matter on the planet will commence.

When it reaches your area, the transformation should be easy to spot. There will be a noise like plastic being crumpled, kind of a squeaking and cracking sound, as forms are converted and frozen into place. And things will get a little hot, because freezing things into place that were formerly in motion releases heat. And all that matter that is rearranged retains its form, but has a kind of sickly, grisly, translucent, purplish-grey cast to it. You should clearly see, feel, and hear the wave approaching.

Here's what I advise. The death crystal transformation wave only affects matter that is above a certain density and is in close contact with. If you time it right, all you have to do is hop in the air when the death crystal wave reaches you. The wave will pass beneath you and you will not be transformed.

Problem is, there won't be anything to eat and drink after the wave passes, so you basically grant yourself a slower version of death.

Okay, so maybe hopping isn't the thing to do.

Good luck!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Grocery Shopping

I've always allowed myself one impulse buy. I'm not a snacker, so chips, pretzels, trail mix, etc. are out. Invariably it is something sweet. Sometimes it is healthy and sweet. Most often, not.

Lately, I've been grabbing bottles of chocolate shake. Creamy chocolate milkshake. I've known for some time that I will succumb to death by dairy. I'm a cheese hound. I like raw milk. Cream is the best. Butter. And, of course, ice cream.

Mm. Ice. Cream.

So, dairy products will kill me some day. And I don't care. Besides, I'm Northern European. I've got that mutation that allows adults to digest lactose. So, I'm using what Nature provides, and the heck with you. Especially you weirdo health nuts.

Anyway, I finally noticed the ingredients in the milkshake. Reduced fat milk. Hey, that's good. Sugar. Cocoa. Cellulose gel? Cellulose gum? Xanthium gum? Carrageenan. Disodum phosphate and natural and artificial flavor.

Okay, carageenan is made from red kelp. It's like a wax, right? The xanthium gum is the biofilm scum produced by bacteria. It's dead bacteria and their surrounding scuzz. Xanthium gum sounds better.

Cellulose gel and gum and made from wood pulp. Well, I've chewed on wood before. Nothing wrong there. It's the sugar that's the killer. I don't care.

One other thing, on a somber note. There is an old deli guy at the grocery store. He's got the cancer. About a year ago, he developed a huge bump on his cheek, and the surgeons removed it. Since then, they've mangled him, whittled down his face with subsequent operations.

I look him in the eye and pretend there is nothing wrong. I'm not sure if that's the right thing to do. I mean, he's really hideous and disfigured, so what else to do but look him in the eye, let him know that I still consider him a fellow human being? That's the decent thing, right?

He's gonna die.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Random Walks

Some things that have occurred to me, in no particular order:

I find that walking, or running, unleashes the chatterbox in me. It may be the endorphins. (In fact, after making some truly hideous judgement calls after running, I've given up on any decision making then. The endorphins make the absolute worst decisions look good). I think it may be that the run shuts the talkie-talk part of the brain off for awhile. When all you can think about is drawing the next breath, you don't have much to talk about.

My mother had cataract surgery this past week. The surgeon put an intraocular lens in her bad eye. She is amazed at how well she can see, and can't wait to get the other eye done. This after me and the family hectoring and berating her to get the surgery done.

At one point, she mentioned to me how she could see a traffic sign "", which, by that point, we were past it (I was driving). "For fuck's sake, Mom!" (yes, I said that, because I was mad), "Get the cataract surgery!".

At another point, she asked me to look at a picture attachment on her email. She had received pics of her grandson at an elementary school function up in Wisconsin. My nephew is seated on a tractor. "Look at that!" she asked me. "Is that Josh's penis showing?" "...that's a fold in his pants", I replied "But if it was his penis, the boy is being taken care of. Jesus H Christ, get the cataract surgery, will ya, please?"

We got a new gas kiln at the college. It's a Geil kiln, with venturi gas jets, so it is super quiet. We fired it the first time to cure the bricks and mortar and drive the moisture out. I walked into the room and said "Smells like pool shock in here. Kind of like chlorine". The ceramics professor couldn't smell anything. I pulled out the fiberfrax plug stuffed into the stinghole (the peep hole) and let him sniff it. "Wow, you got a good nose!". Actually I do. Even when I was smoking, I had a good sense of smell. Now, since I quit, I'm smelling stuff that, well, I'd rather not smell.

Speaking of which, I succumbed to temptation at a party last weekend. Heavy drinking will do that. Make you want a smoke, that is. Rather than bum a smoke, I snagged a drag off someone. They were smoking those American Spirit cigarettes. The taste was delicious. But the buzz (from one short drag), was awful. I was dizzy and nauseous, and regretted it. I think I'm done smoking.
I'm gearing up to see a movie. I only go to movies if they merit a big screen experience. I haven't found one yet, but feel the need to just get the hell out of the house. These working seven days a week schedules with twelve hour weekdays are starting to be a drag - after only ten years! But coming home at 9pm and slumping down in front of the TVis getting old for some reason.

However, I am reading. I won't bother to put down a reading list, as I go through 2-3 books every two weeks. Right now, at this exact moment? I'm reading "Crow Planet" by Lyanda Haupt", "Deliver Us from Evil, The Slavery Question in the Old South" by Lacy K. Ford. I'm reading the crow book because I really like crows and ravens. And they seem to like me. Remind me to tell you my animal stories sometime. I'm reading the slavery book because I ran into a complete and total butthead (a Teabagger, naturally) from Georgia who insists that the Civil War was about State's Rights, not slavery.

On a different note, since he thinks government is the enemy, but for some reason wants us to kick the rest of the world's asses with our military, I asked him how he manages to keep that cognitive dissonance partitioned. I mean, if government sucks, and the military is part of the government, how does the military not suck? Why don't private companies take care of all that?And how can you have limited government with a military that has a budget equal to the rest of the world's combined? The boy can't seem to reason it out.

But honestly, I'm really starting to get worried about conservatives. I think they've just completely given up on thinking. If they go any further to the right, they might as well start learning German - 1930s German.

Conservatives look like their letting those frontal lobes rot into cheese from lack of use, and emote with their scared little animal brains. You know, thinking with their gut. And when you think with your gut, all you manage to do is stain your undies when you voice a liquid brown opinion.

Alright, enough. I'll save political talk for another time.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

QR Codes

If I've done this right, you should see a peculiar looking graphic that you may have seen on packages or boxes or cartons. It is called Quick Response Code, or QR Code for short. It is a code originally designed in Japan to track packages. The goofy black and white patches are a 2-D equivalent of a bar code. A computer can read the code and determine the contents and or location/destination of a package.

Well, now QR codes have taken on a new functionality. If you have a smart phone (I don't), you can download an application which will read QR codes. And since QR codes can encode URL information or text, the code can be used to point to destinations on the internet. In fact, that is what they are being used for now, especially by google.

Well, that's fine. I've got to wonder, when will an evil hacker use this stuff. Set up a code to direct your phone to a website that will upload some malicious software. I'm sure it has already happened, since I just now thought of it.

But the code I set up. Don't worry. If I've done this right, it just points you to this particular electronic journal entry.  

Friday, June 4, 2010

Outer Space

Back when I had a real job, I was working briefly at a bloated plutocratic international corporation, doing work on Inventory. I knew the company had a satellite in geosynchronous orbit, so I looked it up. The computerized inventory system required that the location of all the physical assets be listed. In other words, the system required that the satellite have an address. Some data processing clerk, to get around this requirement, listed the satellite's address as "Outer Space".

A couple of years ago, I was watching the local nightly news. Mars had just passed through its closest approach to Earth, in something like a once in seven thousand years event.

The meteorologist was slotted to deliver this bit of news about Mars. The producer picked him, I suppose, because Mars is up in the sky, where the weather is.

So, once he'd done his bit, there was an awkward pause. (Let's face it, news people are not exactly deep thinkers. So I suppose everyone's brain was churning trying to think of something to say without seeming a completely ignorant buffoon).

Finally, the anchorman (Ron Magers) quipped "Well, at least there was no invasion".

Ron Magers is a funny guy.

I laughed, but then I was given to pause. I had a little thrill of fear. It was a good thrill of fear. I think I was hit with the impression of all that dark deep space out there. Outer Space. You know, we really don't know what's out there.

When I was a kid, the planets were all just points of light. Or maybe a fudgey smudge of a circle. Mars just might have life on it. And Venus was thought to possibly be a swamp planet, with maybe dinosaurs and blonde Amazons living on it. This was a time when a Three Stooges in Orbit movie held equal scientific weight with actual scientific knowledge.

Times have changed. Those points of light have, through our intrepid robotic probes, become whole worlds. Vast worlds. And there have been people on one of them. I remember that. I remember a nice summer evening, looking up at the Moon, and saying "There's people up there!"

So, maybe we've become a bit jaded. We have pictures of these places, and think we know all about them ("we" being the public, scientists can never get enough information). It's kind of like seeing pictures of all the major sites in Paris, and thinking we know all about Paris.

But we don't. It's a big scary place out there, even just in our own Solar System.

But I think it's a good scary.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Fermi's Paradox

Back in the 50s, during the flying saucer craze, a bunch of nuclear physicists were sitting around the lunch table at Los Alamos, discussing current events.

Curious and speculative creatures that they are, they wondered whether intelligent life existed out there in the universe?

Naturally, the pens and pencils came out, napkins and table clothes were scribbled upon, guesses were posed, assumptions and suppositions quantified, equations formulated, numbers calculated, and the answer turned out to be "Yes".

Not only was the answer yes, there are aliens out there, but yes, there should be a LOT of aliens out there, and they should have visited us by now.

And so one physicist, by the name of Enrico Fermi, aksed the question "Where are they?"

That's Fermi's paradox. Given the age of the universe, the appropriate number of stars and planets that could harbor Life (and not necessarilly our kind of Life), the (supposedly) inevitable evolution of intelligence, and from that a development of technology, then aliens should be all over the fricking place. But they are not. Where are they?

Hundreds of explanation have been offered. Ranging from:

  • We Earthlings are too primitive/violent/creepy/icky for contact

  • We Earthlings are the first race so far

  • The aliens are really, really, really far away

  • They are here, in disguise

  • etc

None of these explanations are completely satisfactory for one reason or another. Let's ignore the fact that the whole issue is question begging anyway. We have only one example (if you are liberal and tolerant enough to grant humanity this) of intelligent life. There's no reason that aliens have to be like us. None whatsoever.

But I've figured out the answer. Ready? Shh. Come close and I'll whisper it to you.

Time travel.

Yeah, that's why they ain't around. Paradox solved. Once you have time travel, you are God. You can do anything you want, go anywhere you want, know anything and everything, change anything and everything. Whoever invents time travel first, gets to be God.

So, sometime in the future, people can travel in time. And all those aliens? We got rid of them all.

Or, more probably, they got rid of us.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cock's Spur on Rye

What you are looking at is an ear of rye grass, and the creepy looking rotten banana thing on it is an ergot. The French think it looks like a rooster's spur, and so the title Cock's Spur on Rye. The ergot is a fungal parasite, and replaces a grain of rye. The fungus is called Calviceps purpurea. Until the 1850s, it was assumed that the ergot parasite was part of the rye plant.

Ingestion of ergot causes a condition known as ergotism. In Medieval, and probably ancient times, it was known as the Holy Fire, or St. Anthony's Fire, due to the symptoms of convulsions and painful burning in the extremities. The symptoms were caused by a variety of mycotoxins - toxic alkaloids that the fungus produced. Along with the pain, the toxins produced ghastly hallucinations in practically any animal that ingested it. There are two kinds of poisoning: gangrenous ergotism, in which blood is cut off to the extremities due to constriction of the arteries and capillaries.

Convulsive ergotism is characterized by nervous dysfunction, where the victim is twisting and contorting, trembling, shaking, and experiences wryneck, a more of less fixed twisting of the neck, which seem ot further stimulate convulsions and fits.

Modern pharmaceuticals have been derived from these poisons, including one much abused substance derived from the compound of ergotamine - LSD.

But that's not what I want to talk about. The really creepy thing about this fungus is its lifestyle - how it propagates. I mentioned that it is a parasite, and parasitism in Nature is so pervasive that - if you happen to believe in Intelligent Design - you'd be hard-pressed not to be convinced that the Almighty loves parasites.

The ergot is the nonsexual over-wintering form of the fungus. In the spring, it sprouts stroma, the sexual forms, like little mushrooms, that release the spores. The spores have evolved over time to exactly imitate the pollen of the rye flowers. Once a spore settles down on a rye flower, it destroys and replaces the ovum of the flower, and sends out insidious tendrils into the plant that take over the feeding tubes that would nourish the seeds. Once established, it can also produce a secondary infestation of the ear of rye, by producing honeydew, a sticky, sweet amber liquid that contains asexual clone spores. The honeydew is picked up by insects, which spreads the parasite further.

All in all, just some really, truly, deeply creepy behavior.

Why bring this up? The New York Times recently had an article about the Singularity, found here. They've presented a rather optimistic view of what all will happen, once the Singularity begins, the human age ends, and all bets are off.

I've mentioned in a prior essay that I'm sure we can predict what these superhuman machines, or machine/human hybrids, or who-knows-what will do, because they will now be alive, and likely to repeat all or most of the behaviors of living things.

Well, there you go. This is one behavior. I can find a lot more examples. But I guess you could say I'm lately leaning towards a dystopian view.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Nuke That Hole!

Well, I'm gonna tell you right now. Pop up the popcorn. Because the long running horror movie of the summer is getting started. What started out as a spill, or a leak, has now turned into a plume.

BP doesn't like that word. "Pl-ume?" they inquire with a wrinkled nose and with a fruity Brit accent. "Oh, no, no old sod, old bean, old custard pot. That's something noticeable. That's something not minimal. We won't have that word bandied about".

So, while BP is handling language control, they are now on Plan R.

And in a sure sign of desperation, they've asked for advice from the public. The public, mind you, who elect representatives to Congress. The public that voted for Rand Paul. That reads People Magazine. The public that watches TV.

Yeah, that public.

So naturally, the time has come to talk about that most American of problem fixers -nuking things.

"Let's nuke it" say some. Actually, it was more like "YE-AHH! YEE-AHHH! NUKE IT! NUKE IT!! NUKE IT!!!!" Or something like that.

Because, honestly, if you think rationally and calmly about it for a moment, that's really about all the Federal Government could do. They surely don't have the expertise that the oil industry does. Or do they?

No, they don't.

Which makes it doubly viciously ironically humorous to hear the powerless conservative pundit types harping about how government (which is the problem, not the solution) should solve this mess now. (Oh, please at least try to be consistent, you enormous fuckheads. Or better still, shut the fuck up).

But back to nuking things. Oh, I suppose we could. It really comes down to the lesser of two evils. Six months of oil washing up on beaches (yes, come on now, get real, six more months minimum), or an irradiated oil field and sea floor that BP can't pump oil out of. Or possibly set off a chain reaction of methane hydrate ices buried under the sea mud that bubble up from the world's sea floors and then (because it is the most powerful greenhouse gas) raise global temperatures in a matter of weeks to, well, a AlGorean proportion. (And have you noticed the boy is getting plump?)

I mean, the Russians would do it. Probably have. But they have nothing to lose.

Swell. Tell you what. Since the experts can predict and manage risk about as well as a differently abled chimpanzee wearing a diaper, lets' just flip a coin and be done with it.

Heads, we nuke....