Thursday, September 30, 2010

Contemporary Art

The SF writer Theodore Sturgeon once said "90% is crap". This has been interpreted in various ways, but my interpretation is that 90% of what is out there is eventually destined for the dumpster. Don't matter what it is - art, literature, philosophy, scientific theory. In our Consumer Age, it is eventually recognized as crap, and tossed. And rightly so. Sometimes it takes longer than other times.

It does not appear so in our Modern times, but I feel the encouraging trend is (hopefully) towards more sophisticated tastes and judgment.

It will take some time before good taste finally kicks in. And so, throughout the Modern and Postmodern periods of Art, we, the viewing public, must put up with the usual symptoms: Self-adoration, leading to self-flagellation; strained attempts to seem "fun" and/or "edgy"; pitifully infantile use of shock and surprise to gain attention; ham-handed use of marketing attempts in 'branding', 'demographics', 'peak saturation', etc. and a confusion of brute force combinatorics and ADHD spontaneity with creativity and originality.

Once again, I am insulted by the latest abuse of my senses by contemporary artists. This particular artist (work off to the right), whom I will not name so as to avoid providing even more recognition, sold a POS* hastily painted plastic skull for almost 20,000 Pounds. I've found it all to be quite embarrassing, to say the least.

*Piece of Shit

These symptoms of disease in many respects ape and echo modern politics and society, and, I think, are really nothing more than an entirely human reaction to future shock. Things are changing faster than artists can comprehend. Science (at least since the atomic age) is much sexier than art, and real life is even stranger than fiction. How can you compete with this?

Obviously, artists are not equipped to compete with this.

Thus these stumblingly inept and awkward attempts at garnering attention. "Look at me! Look at me! ME! ME! ME!" doesn't work anymore. They are just one more voice in an incredibly unruly and even more noisome and obnoxious crowd. They really are, in a freak-show world of Predator unmanned fighter drones, inbred Mormon cult families, cannibal hobbyists, kamikaze Islamic fanatics, gun-totin', fuel-oil-and-fertilizer bombin' White Supremacists, reality TV, always, always at least two steps behind the times. Why, its a wonder that artists even try.

It's not really the art world, is it? It's the world. I think Alvin Toffler was on to something with his idea of Future Shock. There's just too much information, too much acceleration, going on in the world, and anyone who wishes to be creative has either to try to ride the leading edge of the Wave (and fail, always), or find a nice spot behind it.

I could say more but why?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Man Is the Only Animal That Can Choke On His Own Vomit"

Or Needs To!

--to paraphrase Mark Twain.

The title has absolutely nothing to do with the essay, but I just came up with it, liked it, and figured I might as well use it before I forget it. So there you go.

I was asked to predict the way things might be in the year 2030. I could've given my standard response and asked why? Anything I say will be wrong. Totally wrong. As in "Ask A Psychic" wrong. Yeah, that wrong.

Ah, but it is fun to play. Instead of saying how things will be, I will predict Ten Things won't be happening in the year 2030.

1) There will be no supersmart superintelligent computers, like Hal or Skynet . Not because we ban them out of fear, but because we just can't build them. It turns out natural intelligence is hard enough to come up with, the artificial stuff is that much harder. Especially when attempted by beings whose first impulse is to fix things by banging them with their fists.
2) (Easy one). No flying cars. Nope. Not a one.
3) (Another easy one). No fusion power. (But the ongoing promise that "fusion is just thirty year off").
4) I'm bucking the trend here. I was going to say 90% of Americans are obese and unable to move. Instead, I think there will be a return to the good old days. Only the rich will be fat, and will be proud of it. Everyone else will be lean, tough, and mean (although, scarcity might have something to do with it).
5) Oil will be fifty cents a barrel. Everyone will run their electricity off of pure unadulterated cussedness. There will be a hole in the garage that you scream smoking radioactive blue profanities into. That's what powers everything.
6) Japan will be the 51st state. But the deal is, their robots run the show. USA heartily agrees. (contradicts 1? Nope. I didn't say they were smart robots. Just did a better job at running things than Americans).
7) Vegetables are no longer grown in soil. Instead they are made from factory grown test tube meat.
8) You can only join the armed forces if you are gay. (Because it turns out they make the best soldiers. And actually, that's probably the closest prediction to being right).
9) Duct tape is no longer manufactured. (No explanation given).
10) There will be no manned mission to Mars. (People finally came to their senses, and asked, why?)

Welcome to the future!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Just In Case You Weren't Convinced I'm Not Evil...

...keep in mind I laughed out loud when I saw today's headline:

"Segway Owner Dies After Falling Off River Cliff"

Not only did I laugh out loud, I had a hard time stopping. Must have been the visual image.

No. NO! I agree with you. It's tragic.

And once I read the news report, I felt it was tragic. Poor guy. Worked his way up in the world. Self-made millionaire. Recently purchased the Segway company, and given how many fat cops and security guards I've seen on them, given that 75% of Americans are projected to be obese by 2020, I'd say it was a wise investment on his part.

But you got to admit, people do look goofy on them. And there is something spookily comical about people standing up motionless and zipping along on the things. All the more comical if a rider fell off a cliff, rather Monty Pythonesque, if you will.

So there you go.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Man Plans, God Laughs"

That's an old Yiddish proverb. It's also the phrase that my boss Sam had tattooed on the inside of his forearm. The inside of his left forearm. In Hebrew. He's Jewish, in case you need more info.

He had told me a while back that he was going to get the tattoo, in Hebrew characters. When he showed it to me, I squinted at it and read "-one Ring to find them, and in the darkness bind them".

He wasn't happy with that. I could tell from his eyes I'd gotten his goat, so naturally, I kept going.

"I didn't know you was Elvish! That's... that's something!"

Definitely was not happy. So I relented.

"That's nice Sam. That's great. Hey, at least you have a rich cultural tradition to borrow from. I couldn't get a tattoo with any of my symbols".

"What do you mean?"

"What could I get? A swastika? SS lightning bolts? I don't think so. The Nazis polluted it all. And then there's the white supremacists".

"Yeah, gee. Your people have it really hard".

Friday, September 24, 2010

Who Owns That?

Recently, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wrapped his arms around the North Pole and said "Mine!"

And, after having done that, he specified that any divvying up of Arctic resources could be resolved peaceably, which, I guess, involves some kind of Risk game rolling of the dice.

(Yes, I played Risk, and now regret it. I would sorely love to have those hundreds of hours of wasted time back).

Ah, but there are a couple of points here. One thing, an ironic point, is how many global warming skeptics are suddenly warming (ah-ha-ha! funn-ny!)  to the idea of exploiting Arctic resources. Apparently, there is a ton of gas and oil up there, probably enough to get us all the way to the climate of Venus (which, see, is a joke, because, Venus is, like, hot, dude). 

So, suddenly a lot of these conservative business-type deniers seeing the giant dollar signs floating in the sky over the Arctic circle, apparently now think that, gee I guess it is warming up after all, and that's a good thing! 

The other point to notice is just how messy the ownership issue is. The five principal players are Russia, Canada, the US, Denmark, and Norway. There is currently a dispute over the Lomonosov Ridge , and whether it is an extension of Russia's continental shelf. If so, Russia gets just a whopper of a piece of the big pie.

Of course, the others will do just fine - including the Heathen Selfish Socialist Billionaire Fishermen Who Come From the Place Where It Rains Too Much . Kind of makes me feel now, that my poverty-stricken ancestors made a big mistake coming to the US of A, but then Grandmom wouldn't have met Granddad and I wouldn't be here, or somebody else would.

Honestly, not much to do except recognize that Yamburg ("In Yamburg, frost bites you!") may become a port of call and tourist destination. Maybe I should brush up on my Russian? Or maybe I should buy some land up near Seattle - seeing as it will soon be the next Cabo san lucas.

Cabo is so 90s anyway...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I Need To Be More Of A Two-Legged Animal

...and, paradoxically, doing so would make me more human. 

(Because, you know, lately, the boogeyman has been checking for me under his bed).

I'm thinking about that five mile run I did on Wednesday. You know, once I worked myself past the initial discomfort and suffering, and just settled into the whole experience of running, it was... joyful.

It was flying. And you would think that the animal reference involves shutting down the front part of the brain, of getting back to some primal experience, when in fact it is nothing at all like that.

It is a sensual experience. You are, formerly just a disembodied and angry ghost, fully re-engaged in your body. But not thoughtless, not the unthinking Be-Here-Now we ascribe to the animal. But fully conscious of your internal and external states. 

The speaking part of the brain is not silenced. Instead, it participates in the experience in kind of a happy babble, like a three-year-old, commenting upon each event. Sights, smells, sounds. Especially smells, the smell of late summer, of growth slowly turning towards autumn, of pungent and fecund life all about you. And sights.

I recall running through a mid-to-young growth park and forest area on the northwest corner of the campus. Parkland, with trees spaced apart among the grass just right, sun and shadow perfectly proportioned, at least according to my evolution-honed senses and aesthetic.

"Oak tree!" I remember thinking to myself.

Now, it seems quite a silly thing to think. Yet at the time, this simple recognition evoked such a profound chain of thought that it is hard to now recount it. It involved such a connection to the world, such a deep affection with all the life around me, the sky, the sun, the air, the shadows, the palpable vitality of the flesh and the earth, that if I could but adequately describe you would possibly weep with joy.

Yes, and it was not simply hedonism, not simply just sensualism, the intellect was fully involved, engaged, enamored, chattering away happily, and in concert with the experience.

If I but had some telepathic way of relating this experience, you'd understand.

But I think, being human, you do.    

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Something Positive, For A Change

I pointed this out to the ceramics professor yesterday, and his reaction to my observation was "Why, I think it is excellent".

So, I tried it again today, with one of my student aides, and his reaction was the same. So what was so excellent?

Witness, I am in the college's cafeteria, having purchased my food and waiting for others to join me. I scan the crowd, and a smile slowly spreads over my face. It is packed in the cafeteria, not surprisingly as it is lunch. And, for the most part, I am struck by what a good-looking group of kids there are in the crowd.  And I also notice that this handsome crowd has practically every nationality and ethnic group represented - African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, Whites, you name it.

But that's not what I'm smiling about. What I'm smiling about is the fact that they are intermingled at every table.

You see, when I was a kid, you would see the same representative diversity - but they would all be segregated at their own tables. Blacks would be at a black table. Asians at their table, etc. And that was a mere thirty years ago or so.

But these kids, they are all... well, they are looking mighty American. What America is supposed to be.

And that's what I observed, what I liked, what I commented on.

It makes me hopeful. It makes me optimistic. It makes me think that it is a very, very good start.

Maybe our country is finally growing up.

One can hope.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Whining Rich

To mangle Shakespeare's Henry V: "If your cause be just and honorable, why the need to fucking lie?"

What is it about conservatives, who, given that they wish to preserve certain institutions and traditions, and should feel a moral obligation to seek the truth and accuracy of historical narrative, are instead willing to suck just any bullshit that validates their fucked-up world view? And shouldn't that apply to current events as well?

Take the latest bullshit from a supposed law professor at the University of Chicago.

My first impulse naturally to even question the existence of the Whining Professor M. Todd Henderson. This reeks as the fiction of some political hack, the particularly frothy bowel product of some cubicle creature.

I mean, the good professor just sounds too fucking stupid to actually earn that kind of coin, let alone have that type of job. Now, UChicago is in infamous for a lot of things, including Where Fun Goes to Die, but it seems to me that their Law School is not in the habit of hiring  drooling slackjawed meatslappers living beyond their means in a vain attempt to ape the super-rich, and unable to balance a checkbook.

But apparently Todd exists, in which case, I attribute all his troubles stemming from using the name "Todd".

On a more positive note, (and perhaps I should avoid politics for a bit as it is making me more than a bit cranky lately), today, September 21st, is my one year anniversary of quitting smoking. Only 34 more years to get back to even.

Not only am I one year younger today, but we've received a gift from the Gulf and the day is warm and pleasant, feeling more like June than late September.

I plan on celebrating by going on a five mile run.

Hooray for me!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Carrington Flare

I lost power this past Saturday morning. Fortunately, since I have an electric stove, I had already made coffee. Fortunately, since I have a flashlight with batteries, I was able to brush my teeth and take a shower in my pitch dark bathroom. Fortunately, since I had to work, I did not have to spend any further time at home, with no TV, no computer, no music, no lights to read.

It made me think, as every power outage does, how woefully unprepared I am for being thrown back into the first half of the 19th century. But I don't worry about it over much, because I live in the 21st century. No big deal, right?

Oh, well, provided we don't have a solar superstorm, like the 1859 Carrington Flare.

Named after the British solar astronomer who witnessed the five-minute-duration superflare emerge from a huge group of sunspots, it was the single largest solar eruption in record history. An aurora borealis, so bright you could read at night,  was seen as far south as Cuba. Telegraph wires, overloaded with charged particles, went haywire. Spark discharges shocked telegraph operators. And that, in 1859, was about that.

Oh, but if it happened today? Well, all the satellites, all 900+ of them up there in orbit, are hopelessly fried. There is nothing we can do to shield them from the x-rays, charged protons, and detached magnetic loops that would fry them. The only thing to do is replace them. So, say good bye to cable TV, satellite radio, Internet, GPS, long distance phones for several years.

Power lines and transformers would be overloaded. Say goodbye to electric power for (depending where you are) several weeks to several months. Let's hope its not during the winter.

Like to drive? Got a generator? No gas. The pumps at the station are powered with electric motors. Like to drink water? Same deal. Like food? Same deal. In fact, technological civilization in the developed world is down for the count for at least several weeks. Probably several months.

But then, if you watch one of those ghoulish masturbatory programs on Discover or History channel, you probably have already been spooked by this.

So why bring this up now? Actually, this particular essay resulted from a conversation with particularly arrogant bonehead software engineer, who feels particularly invulnerable about his position in life right now. He has no sympathies for those less fortunate in the current economic climate. He considers them parasites, a ball and chain on successful hard-working Americans. He'd rather be "dirt poor than accept a government handout".

In short, he's an asshole. Been raised as an asshole by assholes. Will always be an asshole and as already spawned asshole progeny. He and his selfish dipshit ilk will one day be responsible for the end of civilization as we know it.

A solar flare would be just the thing to take him down a peg or two.

Ah, but like all assholes, he's not worth it, nor would he learn from it.

Certainly not worth the end of civilization to get an "I told you so" out of the deal.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Slaves in All But Name?

Will Durant once said "Civilization exists at the consent of geology, subject to change without notice". Anyone who doesn't believe or understand that..., well, let's hope Yellowstone doesn't blow up to empirically validate that statement.

I offer a corollary: "Your job exists at the whim of the market, subject to change without notice".

Do you owe rich people your job? From my perspective, that is a poorly disguised rationalization of feudalism. That's something a serf or a slave would say. "Oh, thank you for my job, my lord" with a tug of the forelock and an averted gaze kind of argument. That is Corporatism, which is just another version of Statism. 

My response to that argument, quite logically and bluntly,  is Bull-Shit. 

Market demand created your job. That rich person was merely a conduit of money. If you really beleive that rich people and corporations created your jobs, go and lick boots, you lackey, you hunchbacked henchman, you dung-covered stooge. Go back to Year 880 where you belong. You got no self-respect. You can't even admit the worth of your own labor. 

Anyone who insists that they were successful solely based upon hard work is a complete ignoramus.  They got a lot of explaining to do, starting off with how they managed to pop out of thin air with all of their talents developed, their faculties in full bloom, their knowledge intact, and the aching void of the market and society miraculously vacant - that empty seat at the banquet to be waiting just for their soft watery buttocks to show up and fill that special place.

I'm sorry, no. Hard work alone did not get you to where you are. Luck. Luck is at least 70% of what you are. Lucky to be born in the developed world. Lucky to make it into adulthood. Lucky to be sound of wind and limb. Lucky to have the right kind of parents, teachers, mentors, coworkers, partially sane bosses, chance encounters, kind strangers, family, friends, neighbors that all lead to opportunity; in short, lucky to live in an egalitarian and lawful human society that nurtures and sustains you. If you refuse to recognize that, well, maybe we should ship you to Somalia or Mexico so you can truly understand your good fortune, what tyranny really means, what real hard work is like. No, I mean really real hard work. Really real hard work like really real starvation. Not "I haven't eaten all day" starvation. So, maybe, just maybe, you owe something back, and probably a lot more than you think you owe. 
Which suggests still another maxim: "The market exists at the consent of the governed". 

Don't believe that? Read up on the French or Russian Revolution sometime. Or the downfall of the Soviet Empire. Those were a revolt against economic conditions. Markets swim within an ocean of government. There is no such thing as a free market. Markets do not exist without rules and laws of behavior. And, unless you are one of those goo-goo-eyed wobble-headed Libertarians of that crypto-anarcho-capitalist stripe that live in candy cane houses on gumdrop lane in candyland village and believes that everyone can get along and practice self-restraint, you recognize that markets are neither efficient, nor rational, nor self-correcting, and a certain amount of government restraint is necessary. 

The question then is how much. Which, on the five to ten dimensions of political identity, boils down to the merit vs. equality axis. What is fair? As a liberal, I appreciate merit more than a conservative could possibly know or admit, but I side on equality more than merit. 

The statement (amended to the more modern statement): "All people are created equal" is a statement so easily disproved, you wonder what was going through Jefferson's head. What a starry-eyed dreamer! Why the very idea of "fairness" is childish, no?

Uh, well, no. It's the whole fucking foundation of what it means to be a civilized people. It's about time we got back to that.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Take America Back!

A common refrain from the New Right is that they want to "Take America Back".

The question is, to when?

1880? 880? 80? Prehistoric times? I've got to wonder. They sure seem like they want to wipe out modernity. They are not comfortable in the 21st century. Why even one their greatest humorists  doesn't seem to be at all comfortable in the present day. I've given him the benefit of the doubt, I read his stuff, ready to laugh, and, honestly, I can't see how he's funny. I mean, maybe he's funny if you like your humor corny and cornfed, and wearing a straw boater and spats, with an affinity for smallpox, patent medicines, child labor, diphtheria, and coal smog. I don't know, maybe life was funnier back then, or maybe humor was simpler. Like, setting fire to cats, and pitting bears against a pack of dogs was funny back then. Maybe that kind of funny.

And now it turns out that perhaps the reason they all wish to return to the past is because one of their ilk, a particularly backward-thinking individual named Dinesh D'souza, has discovered Obama's Dad's Time Machine .

Yes, Obama's dad had a time machine, and Dinesh is now convinced that Obama is trapped in it. That's what he says: "our President is trapped in his father's time machine".

I suppose Dinesh would prefer he get the President out (no doubt fulfilling a juvenile fantasy in the process), and use Obama's father's time machine for his own infernal ends.

Perhaps to send all of us back to a simpler time? A time before all this infernal complexity made life so difficult? Perhaps the Stone Age? Or maybe stop the mating of Kenyan goatherds, so that Obama is never born, and thus save the future, which is the present, from an economic collapse?

Well, we will never know, as Dinesh is obviously and unquestionably insane.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Electronic Drugs

I've written before about electronic remediation - how our technology threatens to add a layer to reality, especially the electronic gadgets that we filter our senses through.

You know, actually, this all started innocently enough out of a quasi-drunken discussion around a bonfire this past weekend. It started out with video games. One parent was amazed at how his kids could play video games with a controller that had about "three hundred buttons, switches, arrows and knobs" on it.

I mused "We had, like, a joystick and a button".

"Yeah, and now, I can't figure any of it out at all. I've just given up on trying to play video games with the kids". 

"Yeah, well, they been playing them since they was two. It's second nature to them."

"Well, look at remote controls on TVs. fifty, sixty, buttons. I'd much rather have an Iphone interface with symbols and pictograms, like I'm a chimp."

"Well, with electrodes and computers, the trend will head towards direct control through the brain. They are getting to the point where not only can you control machines with your brain, your thoughts can be read with computers ".

"I ain't wearing no bicycle helmet."

"Oh no. It'll be like a baseball cap or something".

"Oh, fucking great. Electronic telepathy. Like I can keep up with the kids now".

(Guy grabs baseball cap off his head, looks at it, throws it on the ground) "I can't get my hat to work! Goddamnit!"

"You know, if they can read your brain, can they write to it?"

"Oh man! The ultimate video game! THAT WOULD BE AWESOME!"

"Would it?"

Now I'm starting to wonder just how far in the future electronic drugs are? And I would define - since Google doesn't know about it - electronic drugs as the electromagnetic manipulation of the brain to provide alternate or modified experiences, emotions, and possibly... personalities.

Think LSD on Acid.

Techniques such as transcranial magnetic stimulation utilize magnetic impulses to stimulate or suppress nerve cells in the brain. This is often used as treatment for depression. Electromagnetic devices have also been used to possibly alter a person's moral compass . I'm assuming that as the technology advances, smaller and more specific brain regions can be modified. The ultimate progression would be technology that has complete and precise control over exact brain regions so that, say, the experience of playing with a puppy can be electronically simulated, or a bungee jump,  or the smell of a flower, or thrill of fear, or an impulse to steal, or, well, you see where this is going.

On the one hand, it means creating the ultimate video game, the Mother of all Addiction. Or mind control. Or who knows what? Scary, huh?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Long before, or perhaps at about the same time, James Lovelock came up with his Gaia Hypothesis, Gahan Wilson wrote an essay about "It".

Gahan Wilson, who I am surprised to find is still alive, is a cartoonist in the same genre of dark, grotesque humor as Charles Addams. In his essay entitled "It", Wilson speculated that the Earth as a whole was an organism, which he called "It". He did Lovelock one better in assuming that this organism was teleological, that it had a will and a consciousness. (Lovelock, I think is careful to not assign any conscious will to the Earth, to avoid seeming a bit too New Agey and kooky).

Wilson - since the essay, as I recall, was published in the National Lampoon - was under no compulsions to be all serious and scientific-like. His argument was that the Earth had decided to reproduce, and so "It" decided to evolve creatures that could move out into space, and take a baby "It" with them. "It" probably tried and failed a few times with evolving things. If the creatures didn't work out, the creatures would be folded back into the mix and a new attempt made. "It" doesn't really care so much about the creatures so long as they do what "It" wants, which is to develop space-faring technologies. If the creatures need to tear up parts of the planet, lay waste to some of the landscape to get at metals and resources and stuff, well, no problem. It's not like "It" hasn't been through worse throughout the course of Her 4 billion-year-plus lifetime.

Wilson speculated (this is the 70s mind you), that the reason humankind was building megamalls and developing disgusting processed food was to get used to the cramped and unnatural living conditions expected in the journeys through space. Funny thing. Wilson came across something that may actually be true to explain trivial fads. (Although the processed food shtick is still going strong).

I for one think Wilson may be on to something. I'm not all that serious about it, but it's an idea I can entertain. Not necessarily that "It" has any specific proposal in mind for us (or if it does I can only hope that it is sufficiently ironic and grotesque to satisfy my Wilsonian sense of humor). After all George Carlin speculated that maybe the Planet wanted Plastic, and the sole purpose of humankind was to give the Earth plastic. And now that we have done this, the planet is pretty much done with us, and we will all "be shaken off her back like a bad case of fleas".

But I do think that "It" being the vast, lava-gutted, rock-hided, giant monster organism that "It" is, makes no small plans.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Was Kennedy Snookered?

It is not even October yet. It is not even fifity (fifity? fifty) years yet. The 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis is still way off in 2012. But I like to try and stay ahead of the pack.

For a certain person of a certain age, the Cuban Missile Crisis is firmly implanted in their memories. It is a What If scenario that haunts them. A distant nightmare that has, like so much of life during the Cold War, warped and twisted their growth and development. Oh, not in any visible way, not in any traumatic emotional or experiential way, but in a cold, dry, academic way.

Had matters gone slightly askew, many of us would not be alive. Many of us would have had a vastly different life than the life of comparative ease and plenty we have enjoyed. Many of us would have grown up stunted, brutish, and feral, in a post-nuclear landscape. Those of us who had survived. Those of us who had not been incinerated, buried, suffocated, irradiated, or mangled in the exchange of nuclear fire. Those of us who made it through the years of starvation, famine, plague, and predation by our fellow citizens. Those of us who, due to the circumstances and necessities of mere survival, were not quite entirely human anymore. It is a world that can be discussed, possibly even envisioned, but in no real way imagined. It is a mythology we can all do without.

And speaking of mythology, quite a few myths sprouted from that crisis. Perhaps the biggest myth of all is the classic line from then Secretary of State Dean Rusk "We were eyeball to eyeball and the other guy just blinked". Well, movies have been made, books have been written, information declassified, and the tapes of the cabinet meetings released, and we now know that statement, like so much of American Cold War history, is pure and utter horseshit.

To cite just one example, and there are many, the crisis was resolved by a secret agreement between Kennedy and Krushchev to remove recently installed American missiles from Turkey in exchange for the removal of Cuban missiles. No macho posturing. No staring eyeball to eyeball. It was, in the final days of the crisis, Kennedy, against the wishes of his trigger happy cabinet, doing some horse trading with Krushchev.

Not all that surprising. Kennedy, after being bullied and lied to by the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Bay of Pigs fiasco, was understandably distrustful of them. Militarily, as Commander-in-Chief, he did exactly the minimum necessary amount, but no more. In the final analysis, the men in Kennedy's Cabinet, the "best and the brightest", were not so bright after all. And just as well!

But here's the thing. All attention is paid to Kennedy, but hardly any to the guy who precipitated the crisis, Nikita Krushchev. Most people think of him from his visit to America. The blustering, bad-tempered, Russian circus bear of a buffoon. I mean, who else but a buffoon would listen to Castro, manufacture a crisis by foolishly deploying Russian nukes right in America's backyard?

What kind of a buffoon? Why the kind of buffoon that managed to survive Stalin. That not only survived Stalin's inner circle, but managed to rise of power after his death. Someone that can do that is not a buffoon.

Which makes me wonder. All the evidence was from aerial photographs. All of the Russian nuke missiles are there, but there is no evidence that they are armed with nukes. Is it possible that a smart old chess player in Russia decided that he might just be able to get something for nothing out of a young and inexperienced President?

How do we know there were any nukes at all there? Did Krushchev snooker Kennedy?

Well, the evidence now is that a handful of tactical nukes were in Cuba, and that's it. Those tactical nukes had a battlefield range, and yield (a few kilotons). But there is no indication that there were any strategic nukes in Cuba. I think the wily old Russians pulled one over on us. You know, sometimes you get the Bear. Sometimes the Bear gets you.

And thinking about it, would Krushchev want to grant Fidel Castro access to strategic nuclear weapons?

Not even a circus bear would do that.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Making A Ring

This is going to be a picture post! While documenting some of my work this past Wednesday evening, I happened to notice that the instructor in the jewelry class was going to cast something. So I followed him around. Here he is gabbing an invested flask out of the burnout kiln. The flask is made from half a soup can, contains a mixture of plaster and silica flour, and used to have a wax ring in it, which has since had the wax melted out:

And here he is holding the invested flask with some tongs. The flask temperature is around 1100 degrees F. (I don't think he realized I was taking pictures of him, otherwise he'd have sucked in his gut:

The next series of pictures is loading the invested flask onto the centrifugal caster. This is an arm attached to a spring which is wound up and, when released, will spin around. The metal (silver) will flow from the crucible into the flask. Centrifugal force is needed because the hollow parts in the mold are too tiny for metal to flow and air to escape with just a gravity feed. The very last shot is the ring!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Love in the Electronic Age

It just gets weirder and weirder. One of my student aides broke up with her boyfriend completely through texting. I'm surprised the whole relationship wasn't over Facebook. Hey, no chance of diseases, unless you count a computer virus as such.

And now this weirdness.  "Resort attracts Japanese men with Virtual Girlfriends". Virtual? What the fuck? I mean, do I really even need to spend a paragraph or two making fun of them? I thought not.

And naturally they are Japanese. I've heard of the pathetic Japanese guy who has a Real Doll for a girlfriend. That's just super creepy. I mean, what is it with the Japanese anyway? It's not like they don't have a lot of fine-looking women. They do. So, what, what is going on? Why this supreme weirdness?

I need an explanation.