Saturday, October 30, 2010


==>The picture to the left is a politcal commentary on how JP Morgan bailed out the United States of America during the Panic of 1907.

I would at some point like to get back to talking about America under the Articles of Confederation, and, for that matter, the fact that we lost most of what liberties we had gained from the Revolution during the tumultous period from say, 1787-1800, but I've no time. I would observe that the American revolution was completely unique in the history of the world because of geography. In no other country, in no other time, was it possible for things to turn out the way they did. And primarily because of the prospect of unlimited land. Property was rarely mentioned in revolutionary texts precisely because it was so taken for granted. Don't like where you are? Well, all the Injuns is pretty much killed off or helpless before us, move on! Grab some frontier property! It's free! Or might as well be.

That wide open petri dish of a continent for our particular colony of bacteria allowed Americans to spread and breed at the absolute biological maximum, and boy did we ever! And this has never happened in recorded history. I suspect something like this hsn't happened since upper Paleolithic times, when hunter gatherers followed the herds into the New World.

At any rate, I am reading excerpts of Matt Taibbi's upcoming book "Griftopia". (Some may know Taibbi as the man who branded Goldman Sachs the "vampire squid sucking on the face of humanity". With colored prose like that, how can it not be a good read?) It promises to be an interesting read, and there is an excerpt of the book at Rolling Stone magazine.

I would mention that Indiana governor Mitch Daniels is being groomed as the sane Republican candidate for 2012. His (my) home state has been fortunate the past few years for not running a budget deficit, and Daniels is strutting around that. Of course, fortune is the appropriate word. And we will see how it goes if all those dumb Hoosiers vote in the proposition to cap property taxes, like California did years ago. It's not so much skill as luck, and, of course, pawning off state property, like the Indiana Toll Road, to foreign investors, so that he could plug budget holes. The Indiana Toll Road, over the span of  the hundred year lease, is expected to pull in 80 billion in net revenue. Mitch got a whopping 2 billion. Way to go, Mitch! If President, how much could he get for our national parks, I wonder?

I think George Carlin once said "Ever since the invention of priests and bankers, humanity has just been circling the drain". Well, I think he is spot on about banks, I've always maintained that money, like air and water, is something we privatize and commodify at our own risk. I'm not quite a Marxist like the Founding Fathers were but I do think a very good case for nationalizing the creation of credit can be made.

As recounted by the experience of Ben Franklin:

"When he arrived, he was surprised to find rampant unemployment and poverty among the British working classes… Franklin was then asked how the American colonies managed to collect enough money to support their poor houses. He reportedly replied: “We have no poor houses in the Colonies; and if we had some, there would be nobody to put in them, since there is, in the Colonies, not a single unemployed person, neither beggars nor tramps.”  In 1764, the Bank of England used its influence on Parliament to get a Currency Act passed that made it illegal for any of the colonies to print their own money. The colonists were forced to pay all future taxes to Britain in silver or gold. Anyone lacking in those precious metals had to borrow them at interest from the banks. Only a year later, Franklin said, the streets of the colonies were filled with unemployed beggars, just as they were in England. The money supply had suddenly been reduced by half, leaving insufficient funds to pay for the goods and services these workers could have provided. He maintained that it was "the poverty caused by the bad influence of the English bankers on the Parliament which has caused in the colonies hatred of the English and . . . the Revolutionary War." This, he said, was the real reason for the Revolution: "the colonies would gladly have borne the little tax on tea and other matters had it not been that England took away from the colonies their money, which created unemployment and dissatisfaction."

Friday, October 29, 2010

Science Friday

The ISS, the International Space Station is in its second decade in orbit, and has travelled 1.5 billion miles, which, if it had been in a straight line, would put it nearly in reach of Uranus. Yes, I said Uranus. Fucking grow up.
The Tevatron, Fermilab's 2 trillion electron volt proton/anti-proton particle accelerator gets a three year program extension, until 2014. Fermilab will continue its work to look for the Higgs particle, the particle which physicists theorize gives matter its mass. It is not known what the elusive Higgs will look like, but some suggest a strong resemblance to Mr. Peanut – albeit, like, really, really small, dude.
A researcher at the California National Primate Research Center may have contracted a virus which jumped species just like in the Hollywood horror movie scenario. Not much else to say, except, if true, serves you right you monkeyfucker.
On the tech front, the Japanese have moved a step closer to their dream of not just fucking humanoid robots, but becoming humanoid robots. Further revisions to the Actroid-F model 7. Reports coming in vary but the consensus is it is getting to be less and less like fucking Yoko Ono.
And finally, giant dragonflies have been successfully raised in high oxygen chamber in a simulation of late Carboniferous conditions. Biologists report dragonflies with wingspans of 300 feet. Plans are to contract out giant Japanese humanoid battle bots should the dragonflies threaten the warehouse district.

That is All!

The Articles of Confederation

The lesson of history is... no learns it.

Here you've got tough times for the Baby Boomers. It was never supposed to be like this. The 21st century was supposed to be clear sailing right into the time of the Jetsons, living in sky apartments, and driving flying cars, and getting entitled government goodies that no one had to work for or be taxed upon.

Instead, we got a depression, with savings and pensions wiped out,  a less than rosy future. And so these pampered, privileged, worst-day-better-than-the-best-3rd-worlder's-best-day, fat, soft, pink, slow, giantly-huge-buttocked lardasses go and fall on the floor, stamp their feet, hold their breath, turn blue, scream, and have a proper Tea party tantrum. Because We Ain't There Yet!

And I'm picking on the Tea Party Republicans (yes, they are a Republican faction, make no mistake) again and again and again because, quite frankly, they are not helping the nation in any way whatsoever.

They are, in fact, with each dumb decision, with each selfish piggy little grab at power, with each pouty whiny little obstruction, sending the United States of America daily closer to a fascist dictatorship....



You know what? This isn't helping.

Granted, I do think that the current batch of so-called "libertarians" and "conservatives", having drunk the Neoliberal Koolaid for the past 30 years, are seriously fucking up this country. And in a perfect world, in which a just and wise deity rules and metes out eternal punishment to his beloved creations, the koolaid would have made them all just... DROP DEAD in their tracks at the first sip. But this ain't a perfect world.

The biggest problem is that we do have examples of what happens when government is indeed limited. And a real conservative, one who wishes to conserve the best traditions and institutions of this country, would choose to examine history warts and all. You know, examine our history rather than cherry-pick to justify his fucked up worldview. Honesty is the best policy, and all that.

Kind of reminds me of my own lesson in honesty. I had a job interview once upon a time, where one of the questions I was asked was about a rather large gap in time on my resume.

"I notice you have nothing listed for the period from 1982-1984" said the interviewer, "What were you doing then?"

I could have bullshitted my way through that question, blaming the Reagan recession for lack of employment, or saying I was on sabbatical, or hiatus, but I told him the truth.

"I was an unemployed alcoholic at that time, living in the basement, sponging off my parents, and smoking a lot of dope", I replied.

"Oh! Well, I can't fault you for your honesty!" Got the job, too.

Here's another. I had to attend a meeting with a boss who was just a complete sadistic asshole, if, and here's the qualifier, he found out you were bullshitting him or trying to foist off responsibility. I'd heard that regular attendees would often puke in the bathroom before the meeting. We had a problem closing out the business cycle due to a computer error. Once it was my turn on the griddle, and he asked me why we were not closing the books of the year.

"I fucked up".

"Oh," he was completely disarmed. "What are you doing to fix it?"

I told him what I was doing to fix it, and got out of the meeting unscathed.  So, honesty works more often than you would think.

Okay, so honest appraisal of all data. Ever wondered why, we've never had a Libertarian Utopia? You know, a paradise of privatized social services and limited government? Anyone?

Well, we did.

We tried it. It didn't work. It was the United States under the Articles of Confederation.

It was our missing piece of time that we are embarrassed to list on our resume. We ended up unemployed and  alcoholic, living in the basement.

Look it up.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Kurman's Maxim

In an essay entitled "Theory and Practice of Time Travel", the science fiction writer Larry Niven proposed a law which went:

Niven's Law: "If the universe of discourse permits the possibility of time travel, then no time machine will ever be invented in that universe".

This basically solved the time travel problem for Niven, because, let's face it, you've got a problem with global causality violation the minute you start mucking with time. Solution? Don't allow it. Stephen Hawking, The Pope of Science himself, has made similar noises. It's just not allowed.

Hans Moravec suggested that, if time travel is possible, a way out of paradoxes would be the alteration of the act of travel itself. In other words, if a message is sent to the past, the very act of sending it causes the message to affect the sending of the message itself, in such a way that no paradox can occur. In different terms, let's say you have a pool table, and you hit a ball into a pocket that is a time machine which sends the ball back into the past, changing the shot you made and thus missing the ball. But according to Moravec, this will not happen. In a kind of Darwinian temporal dynamic, Reality will find the most fit solution to this causality violation to avoid a paradox. In the example, you would have actually missed the shot that sent the ball into the time travel pocket, but the ball appears from the future and knocks the ball into the time travel pocket. This is also known as the Novikov self-consistency principle.

In other words, you can't change the past.

In a previous essay on time travel, I came up with something similar. I knew I had called it "Kurman's Law", but I could not remember the exact wording.

Google to the rescue.

Kurman's Law: "Any contingent change of history to alter the outcome of a turning point causes the turning point to cease to exist".

In other words, you, the time traveller, fervently wish that the South had won the Civil War. You go back and modify the conditions then extant so that the Confederacy can win the Civil War. And the South wins the Civil War. Huzzah!

But, traveling back to your own time, you find out that the Civil War never happened in the first place. In order for them to win, you have changed conditions so much that the conflict never occurs in the first place.

Paradox avoided. But, you saw them win. Yeah, well, tough shit.

Well, actually, there's another, better, Kurman's Law, which I found while googling. And it goes like this.

Kurman's Law: "No man is completely worthless. He can always be used as a bad example".

Dude, whoever you are, Kudos and Godspeed. Wish I'd thought of it. (Actually it sounds like something my older brother would write, but... nah).

Therefore, my law will no longer be a law. It will henceforth be Kurman's Maxim.

Please make a note of it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Monkeys on Treadmills - or - More Weird Japanese Shit

Okay, here we go! I'm going to try an embeddence. A few words first. I recently tried to find a video of a monkey riding a treadmill. To my thorough disgust, there are none to be found on the internet.

"Why?" you ask, "do you wish to find a video of a monkey riding a treadmill?"

Well, I read an article on neural rehabilitation, in which they severed the spinal cords of monkeys, wired up the nerve endings, and then set them to walking on treadmills, while the signals to the nerve endings were transmitted via the wires to robots. So, spinal-cord injury monkeys are radio controlling robots. And I wanted to see a video of it, if it existed.

No, I'm not shitting you. I wish I could find the article. In fact, it now makes me wonder about all those kids playing first person shooter and MMPORG video games. They could be the monkeys on treadmills, remotely operating robots, in, say, China, assembling cell phones or something...

Anyway, it really doesn't have to do with the Japanese robot video I am about to embed. Well, only partly.

We've all known for a long time now that the Japanese have rather strange sexual proclivities. They like bondage, and school girls. And pixellating private parts. And virtual girlfriends. And Real Dolls. And the end result of all this, their Final Solution so it would seem is that they want to fuck robots.

Actually, I think it's quite more than that. They not only want to fuck robots, they want to be robots. Look at their anime, their cartoons, their fascination with giant humanoid fighting robots. The fact that they've been in a national depression for nigh on twenty years. Of course they want to be robots. No more aging. No more sad emotions. Just pure utter power. And fucking. With metallic parts. Gotta be it.

Here we go:

Did that work?  It did! Yay!

So, the Japanese are just starting to emerge from the Uncanny Valley . This is only borderline creepy.

You're Stupid!

I've mentioned before the four levels of stupidity. Let's recap.

  • Level 1 Stupid: Process stupid. The wiring ain't right. Something definitely wrong with the brain, can't process things right. Automatically absolved of behaviors. Remediation: Supervision. Restraints, if necessary.
  • Level 2 Stupid: Ignorant stupid. Can process information, just doesn't have enough information. Has either been deprived of facts, or unaware of them. Remediation: Inform and educate.
  • Level 3 Stupid: Unreasoning stupid. Can process information, has the facts available, can't analyze, associate, and synthesize to reach a conclusion. Usually under the age of 25. Remediation: Again, inform and educate.
  • Level 4 Stupid: Dangerously stupid. Can process information, has the facts, can analyze, asociate, and synthesize, can reach conclusion. However, if conclusion violates chosen worldview, chooses not to. Remediation: Supervision. Restraints, if necessary. Repeat offenses endangering others: Banishment to the Island of Broken Toys.

Well, apparently there is now a fifth level of stupid: Kentucky Stupid. This involves a guy named Profitt ignoring a huge fucking suite of behaviors that can be used in a confrontational situation, and just going right for the violent reaction. And then providing weasel arguments about how (despite supposedly espousing a conservative policy of personal responsibility), "it warn't actually mah fawlt kausin' the po-lice shood stapped in and kep me frum doin thet".

Is it fair to call it Kentucky Stupid? Actually, I'm quite fond of Kentucky and its inhabitants. Some of the hottest babes I've ever seen were down there. And when I was in college at IU, I subscribed to the Louisville Courier-Journal , and found the paper to be consistently well-written, the articles cogent, the coverage dang near interstellar in its scope.

So, no, it's not fair to call this behavior Kentucky stupid.

However, I do recall a time when a woman from Kentucky confronting a particularly stupid individual, poking her finger into his chest and telling him, in that particular dialect that holds more dipthongs per syllable than most:

"You're stupid".

Beleive me, when you are called stupid by someone with that accent, you are really fucking stupid.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Don't Get All Papa Smurf On Me

I'm not really sure what that means. It's something I said in a dream. I have to assume it means someone was getting paternalistic and patronizing with me. And seeing as I am fundamentally recalcitrant, I didn't cotton well to this.

Speaking of which, I've noted a lot of election event editorials about how "The Left Doesn't 'Get' The Tea Party". About how the Left is alarmed and fearful of a party that, message parsed down, no honest, Means Well.

Hey, Don't Get All Papa Smurf On Me.

You lookin' out for yourself, teabaggers. Not me. Not the nation. Your own interests. How do I know? Because you say you are the inheritors of the mantle of the founding fathers. Because you call yourself patriots. Because you call yourself a party.

Oh, you who never learn history.

Let me tell you what the founding fathers they would think of the Tea Party Patriot movement. They would be gravely disappointed. The founding fathers would look at these soft, fat, pampered pink apes and shake their heads in disgust.

How do I know this? Because that's they thought about post-revolutionary America. They were gravely disappointed in it. How do I know this? They wrote about it. To one degree or another, they were ashamed and dismayed by what America had become. The revolutionaries, from James Warren and Samuel Adams to David Ramsay, Light-Horse Harry Lee, Christopher Gadsden, Thomas Jefferson had all lost faith in the revolution.

Benjamin Rush: "We are indeed a bebanked, bewhiskied, and bedollared nation". Democracy in America "will certainly fail".

John Adams, bewailing the results of the revolution, including the commodification of democracy, the religious revivals and Bible societies of "the bigoted and superstitious", wrote "Where is now, the progress of the human mind? When? Where ? and How? is the present Chaos to be arranged in Order?"

The founding fathers found it difficult to accept that their fate now rested in "the opinions and votes of a small-souled and largely unreflective ordinary people".

George Washington  himself, at the end of his life, had lost all hope for democracy in America. Party spirit, he said in 1799, had destroyed the influence of good character in politics. One could as well "set up a broomstick as candidate", "call it a true Son of Liberty", and it would "command their votes in toto".

Ouch! What would they think of us tiny-brained moderns? Especially those who, living in comparative paradise, complain so frequently and readily.

And who is to blame? Well, one significant part would  be the formation of political parties. The modern political party, a permanent institution to which loyalty to becomes the sole criterion of political worth, goes back to Martin van Buren - the first modern professional politician. Van Buren had no fame, no fortune, no military record, no reputation of achievement, no charisma. He was barely known throughout the United States. What he did do was build the best and most organized political party the nation had ever seen. van Buren's Democratic-Republican party, soon to be shortened to the Republican party*, won him the election.

I deem it no small coincidence that Martian van Buren is classified by historians as the worst president ever. No small accomplishment that. It seems the designation stems from the fact that, during the Panic of 1837, van Buren refused to regulate the banks that defrauded the American people. What else? How about the Trail of Tears?

Partisan politics. The flesh eating bacteria of the American dream.

*(Update 10/28/10) this should read the Democratic Party rather than Republican. I admit my error rather than engage in weasel revisionist editting.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Belief: Part 2 of 2

A friend of mine once told me "It's too bad you are an atheist. I'd really like for you to be up in Heaven with me when you die".

Yeah, he's a childlike idiot. For one, I've told him numerous times I am not an atheist. Being an atheist requires faith. And two, he assumes that some part or all of our personality persists after death. And three, that some region of space and time exists somehow somewhere eternally which would correspond to an earthly idyll. And four, a really big stretch, is that, because he believes in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, all of the awful sins of omission and commission he has performed throughout his long and tawdry life will be forgiven.

Another time, after a very strange and ultimately annoying proselytizer informed me that I was going to hell. Or rather, in her mind, Going to Hell.

I replied, "Honey, I've had job offers".

Again, she assumed that for one the personality, in part or in whole, persists after death. For two, that there exists some type of cosmic justice which closely corresponds with our monkey ethics and morals. And for three that some place exists eternally, in which those not quite up to snuff according to these cosmically ordained monkey ethics and morals, enjoy eternal suffering and degradation.

There's actually more than just these assumptions as to where you can go. The first assumption is the big one, that you persist. What happens after that gets shadier and vaguer, and all pretty much colored and limited by human imagination. But I figure (accepting the first assumption as true) it probably is roughly divided into benign, neutral, and malignant consequences. Perhaps not. If, for example, you are just let lose into the larger universe, without any possible way of interacting with matter, like a ghost or something, where is the fun in that? Or purpose? Or even worse, what if you can't interact with anything? Including other spirits. Not much fun at all.

Oh, it could be fun. Who knows? As is the case for or against God, if you posit an infinite universe, or an infinitude of universes, pretty much anything is possible. Heavens, Hells, Purgatories, Valhallas, Ginungagaps, boring Limbos, and who knows what else?

Because we are constrained by our monkey minds within our monkey bodies to only a small set of what can be. Anthropocentrism as opposed to what else exactly?...

Monday, October 18, 2010

You Forgot About The Nomads

Hank Williams Jr. once wrote a song called "A Country Boy Can Survive" which was probably one of the most arrogant stupidly ignorant post-apocalyptic songs ever written. Survivalists assume that, should the shit ever hit the fan, somehow, life will still be pretty much the same. You know, the soil will still be fertile. The air and water won't be poisoned. There will be plenty of game to hunt. It will simply be a matter of stocking up on ammo, and things will work out.

All pretty dangerous assumptions, I'd say.   If the shit really hits the fan, it could be any number of bad things, none of which preclude being able to live off the land. Space suits, for example, may be required to go outside. Country boys, it may turn out, may have to rummage through the trash and look for uncontaminated canned goods and bottled water just like the rest of us woefully unprepared city folk, which is pretty much everybody in the developed world nowadays.

Perhaps Hank should update the song to "the poverty stricken third worlders who already live in abject squalor and are used to it will survive!" But that makes for a much more awkward chorus. Probably.

Where is this all going? Well, I had a conversation with someone who in turn had a conversation with someone, a particularly well off someone, who mentioned on the QT that a group of millionaires have purchased land up on the UP of Michigan and set themselves up in an enclave. The idea being that, like all survivalists, they've set up well-stocked bunkers in fortress compounds and they are ready for when civilization falls.

Upon hearing this, I snorted, and said "Why, they'll be eaten alive! Literally!"

The person relating this to me, who, until this point, seemed to be possessed of a certain vicarious smugness  - as if he were the wise ant and I were the grasshopper - was slightly offended and taken aback.

"What? What do you mean? They are set! They are ready to ride out the storm, prepared for the worst!"

 "They are ready for what they think will be the worst. Don't they read history? Haven't they at least watched a Mad Max movie? The nomads always win".

"No. They are not trapped. They have escape routes. They told me they have speed boats to take them to Canada if necessary."

"Um. If things are that bad, for some reason Canada will be OK? Granted, the Canadians are very nice and hospitable people, but so are Americans, as long as you keep them well fed. No. The nomads will be everywhere. Not only that, but conditions will make sure that the absolutely righteously most bad-assed motherfuckers of the Righteously Bad-assed Motherfucker Tribe will be in their way. I mean, you know, the professionals".

"Well, we'll just see!"

"No, we won't. You and I will be catfood before then. I mean, unless you want this all to be some kind of absurdly unrealistic hypothetical situation, for which it is kind of pointless to talk about..."

Friday, October 15, 2010

Playing With Hands

It often feels like cheating when I produce an object made from a mold. Of course, it still takes the same skill of rendering, or nearly so, as it does to make something from scratch, but even so, it does feel like cheating.

I made a plaster mold of my hands, each one doing the gunfinger pose. And then I played around with them.

The original idea was just the hand, but then I remembered a ceramics student had made a mold of a toy gun, so I grabbed that and modified my hand. At first I thought "Okay, can't do this. It's just too cute". However, polling various students and faculty, the consensus was, "Nah. Funny, but not cute".

So, I guess I'll use it. I plan to cast the Alien Dude Hand above in glass, then do the usual metal and wood frame border formula. For the gun finger hands, I'll try both aluminum and bronze casts. I suspect aluminum will be better.

*Note the cow skull on the gun handle. I like that.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Steampunk, Dieselpunk, Rocketpunk,...

A common complaint since the advent of mass production is the loss of the artisanal touch on products. That is, the feeling that personal flourishes and attractive additional details, a personal touch, is now lacking  in our manufactured items. Of course, this is not necessarily so. Design plays a huge role in manufacturing. Industrial design, as a formal pursuit, is actually quite recent. It may seem, in today's rather featureless designs, that the human touch has disappeared, but it hasn't. It's just the Bauhaus influence. Form follows function, and all that.

The fact is, we've always made our objects special. Take, for example the very first cast iron bridge ever built, called, not surprisingly, the Iron Bridge. Built upon the river Severn in Jolly Olde, near Shropshire. It contains no welds, no rivets. All the parts are fastened together with blind dovetail or mortice and tenon joints, as if it were a piece of furniture. And a fine piece of iron cabinet making it is. You can see that there is an artistic quality in the bridge that was wholly unnecessary.

There are design movements, primarily coming from the scifi geek side of the realm, that strive to incorporate artisanal elements into product, and do so by drawing from tradition. One such movement, called Steampunk, has received attention from even the general public. Steampunk draws inspiration from the Victorian period of industrialization, say, from 1860-1900 or thereabouts.  To treble up on the geek factor, here is a steampunk rendition of Star Wars figurines:

Steampunk, obviously, envisions objects and people as if today's (or the future's) current technologies existed back in the day of Jules Verne. Polished brass, well-oiled leathers, finely finished rare and tropical woods, matte grey surfaces of wrought or cast iron would dominate the look of things.

Here's a steampunk lap top:

Another movement is called Dieselpunk, and harkens back to the era of perhaps 1920-1945. If Steampunk is retro futuristic, then Dieselpunk has been called futuristic retro. The idea being that things in the future, utilizing a early mid 20th century aesthetic, would look like this. Of course, that's wrong. Dieselpunk is Steampunk, just evoking a different desing era. I've really found no good dieselpunk images that are as charming as stemapunk, but think Terry Gilliam. I would say Terry's Brazil has not only got dieselpunk down pat, he invented it.

The world is one of a combination of both exposed and hidden infrastructure, depending upon whether the inner workings are considered "elegant' ro not. Throw in a judicious use of Orwellian packaging, and you are on your way. In fact, the 1920s and onward was the start of the era when packaging was more important than the actual product. Add in one further introduction to desing, known as the "kludge" which is a modification used to fix and obvious problem, which in turn becomes a feature. In other words, a bandaid is foisted off as a attractive enhancement.

Or 12 Monkeys. You get the idea:

Well, might as well keep going forward. The next stage doesn't have a name as far as I know, so I'll give it one. Rocketpunk. Design from 1945-1970 or so.

I chose the end point of 1970, because after that you start to see touch sensitive buttons and LED indicators. Analog clock dials and chunky pushbuttons start to disappear. If you grew up with me, a boomer baby, through the late 50s and the decade of the 60s, you know exactly what I mean. Any scifi movie or TV show, and spy film is Rocketpunk. Computers with lots of flashing lights and tape reels on them. Star Trek. Lost In Space. That's all rocketpunk.

What's next? Electropunk from, say, 1970-1985 or 90? Well, that's a music genre. I don't know.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

More Stupid Ideas

A friend of mine told me that over in Jolly Olde England, there are surveillance cameras everywhere now. And that, a friend of his sits around in his apartment watching feed from cameras that are in a department store. If he happens to catch a shoplifter on the telly, he phones it in for security at the store to nab the malefactor. If the shoplifter is caught, the watcher receives a reward, which is a percentage of the stolen item.

So, all I have to do is find out who is watching what, have an accomplice, who stops by the watcher's apartment and distracts him by, oh, I don't know, pretending to be a Jehovah's Witness or something.

Meanwhile I, trench-coated and wearing a fake beard and a pony tail wig, grab everything that isn't nailed down in the place.

No? Well, actually this rather peculiar occupation, security watcher, or what would you call it, gave me another stupid idea.

Robots and computers are very good at performing tasks for which a specific and detailed rule set can be laid out - playing chess (Big Blue), welding and cutting metal (CNC lathes and factory robots). What they are terrible at are tasks that have ambiguous or nebulous skill sets, generalized things that require adaptive thinking, or a sense of nuance or intuition, or are dependent upon context. Tasks like translating languages, or rearranging a living room, or mixing a drink to taste, or exploring. There are lots of things like this that human beings are supremely good at, and probably will be for a long time to come.

So, for example, a gentleman's gentleman sounds like a good job for a robot, but robots would be absolutely terrible at it. Ah, but a remotely piloted robot, one that is operated by a person, would actually be a pretty good butler.

"Well, that's just fucking stupid, John" you say, "Why not just hire a real butler?"

Well, yeah, but butlers aren't used all the time are they? And some guy sitting on an oversized couch in his soiled undies in an apartment, wearing video game gear and multitasking perhaps four or five butlers might be cheaper. Don't you think? Even make it a game that you get paid for. The perfect skill set for today's slackers.

Serisously though, I think you will see a lot more of these remotely piloted devices, and not just for the boneheaded purpose of bombing people using unmanned drones. The deep sea remotely piloted submersibles used in the BP fiaso is a good example. Allowing people to perform dangerous tasks without risk, and giving robots an intelligence and mental flexibility they will never possess, seems like a win/win to me. Think of the Chilean miners they are rescuing. What if they had been piloting mining robots? Why not?

*FYI: The picture is a portrayal of a famous automaton called The Mechanical Turk. This was a chess-playing robot of the 19th century which actually had a human operator hidden within it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Zina Saunders

About a week ago, I happened upon a little gated community for artists and illustrators called Drawger. Just as I found the place, one of their members was being booted out. Don't know why, and don't actually care.

What I do care about is she is here on blogger now and I encourage anyone who reads this to check her out.

She also as a website.

I remember a friend of mine talking about a sidewalk artist he found in Vegas who could whip up your portrait in less than a minute. He eventually had his portrait done and proudly brought it home to show friends and family.

It was fucking awful.

And I should know, because as a fairly unsuccessful artist I have done some fucking awful things and know what it takes to do that. And this portrait was just fucking awful. My friend had somehow sprouted a Richard Simmons hairdo, and developed a gap in his front teeth that David Letterman would have been proud of. And his body was wearing his head. (Like the one time I drew a guy whose hat was wearing him). Now, this guy has a pretty fat face, but this was, like, genetic anomaly. Even if the intent were caricature, it would still be fucking awful, because it did not even look like him. It belonged in the Museum of Bad Art. I just wish I had a picture of the guy with his portrait. That would have saved a whole paragraph.

At any rate, that's not what Zina does. She does good art. Which is good, because otherwise we'd have to roll up a newspaper and hit her saying "Bad artist! Bad!"

Please have a look. I'm sure you will enjoy her stuff.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

So, here's the deal...

It's getting to the point where I can't remember if I've written about something or not. I think maybe I should start going through all of my essays and label them so that I can remember what I did and did not say while there is still a manageable number of them. 

Yeah. Right.

I suppose it's now only a matter of time before I go all Uncle Ed on you guys. My Uncle Ed used to tell about the same dozen stupid ass stories. And when we reminded him that we'd heard it, h'ed say "Ah, but I haven't told you the details!" And then we'd all roll our eyes at each other and pantomime firing revolvers into temples.

It also occurs to me that, for a online journal called Random Walks, I pretty much stick to one subject within the confines of an essay. I mean, it seems right about now I should go all wild ass stream of consciousness and talk about braided streams, or the color magenta, or rare earth elements or some kind of shit.

But I don't do that.

And starting now would seem so contrived and artificial.

Hey! Speaking of  contrived and artificial, I completed two wax figures and am not at all happy with them. For a time I was going to cast them in bronze, but now... I don't think so. I guess my problem with them, well, actually I have a lot of problems with them. They are too stiff and lifeless for one. And they are not particularly interesting, in either the depiction or pose. And the proportions are off and they are not particularly well rendered. The hands and feet are too small, and add to the doll-like look. This I can fix, but... I've run out of energy for them. And the scale is wrong. They are about 17" high. The scale is such that they look even more doll-like, and they look doll-like enough. I honestly don't know what to do with them. The woman is awkward, but the guy, the guy is just a dork.

Wax is hard for me to photograph so the photos themselves also suck but here you go.

The couple together:

Another view:

The woman's backside:

I have a feeling I will just make molds of them and then move on. Maybe something will suggest itself later.

I will use the man for a rigging demo in my bronze casting class where I show the students how to put the cup, sprues, runners, and vents on their wax pieces.

Friday, October 8, 2010

"Let All The Poisons Hatch Out"

"Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out"  Romans 1:18-25

I've decided that the best thing to happen to this country is for all of those bat-shit crazy Teabagger and rabid social conservative Republican candidates to get elected and sent to Congress.

This will serve two purposes:

1) To show the American public the difference between governing by principle, and governing by pragmatism. In other words the letter and the spirit of the law. Granted, a lot of these candidates (Rand Paul, Christine O'Donnell) have toned down their bat-shit craziness to get support from the GOP, but others (Sharron Angle, bless her) have gotten even nuttier, if that's possible. We've already got the likes of Jim Demint, Michelle Malkin, Newt, oh wait, forget that dipshit has-been, others in Congress to show us all how its done, just how fucked up government can get under them. We need a lot more of this. As P.J. O'Rourke said "Republicans believe government doesn't work. Then they get elected and prove it". This is not to say the Democrats can do better, but at least they try to govern, even if they fuck it up most of the time. But Republicans? What did they have, a decade in power? And did a single agency, department, bureau or division disappear? Not one! Lazy, incompetent, stupid-ass motherfuckers! Bring 'em back! Finish the fuck-up already! Take us back to the year 2! Assholes!

2) We, the American public, will finally find out just how many of us are ape-shit insane, how many terminally fucked-in-the-head dipshits actually populate our land. And, if I had my way, deportation proceedings will start immediately depending upon their vote. And then we will proceed to bring in smart, savvy, industrious, clever, brilliant worthy Americans from China, India, Africa, Latin America, Mexico, and the rest of the developing world to take their place.

Why, the collective IQ of the US of A should immediately jump 50 points. And all those useless whiners that do nothing for this country will be sent back to whatever shit-hole in Europe they got kicked out of in the first place. You want to see a true meritocracy? Send 'em back! Those fat, slovenly, pampered, privileged, butter-bunned lard-heads will get the crap kicked out of them!

And so, I actually am looking forward to November, and the government shut-down in 2011. "Vote the Dipshits In!" is my bumper sticker of the moment.

And then... and then... well, I'll worry about that later!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Horror Stories

In literature, in fiction, the formula is a) Build up a reader's familiarity with the scene, set, setting and character of the protagonists and then b) something bad happens.

That's basically it. The consequences of something bad happening determine whether the story becomes comedy or drama, but the something bad is usually bad even when it is good. And the something bad happening is, just like in real life, usually unexpected. Even if the something bad is a planned action, the consequence is unexpected. If it wasn't, there wouldn't be much of a plot. So, the unexpected happening kind of suggests that the most general category of fiction is the horror genre.

Horror because events are unexpected, and our little brains just naturally produce fear as their first reaction. It's just the way things are. You've got the primary conduit of sensory data pointed right at the amygdala, the seat of fear, and then a secondary, slower conduit to the forebrain, to the part that impedes our actions. Which, really, is what free will is all about. Not about the power to do things, but the power to restrain yourself from doing things.

From an evolutionary standpoint, from a fitness standpoint, this makes sense. Don't take chances. See a stick on the ground, the core brain says "Snake!" and you instinctively jump back. Then the forebrain evaluates things, figures out it is a stick, gets all embarrassed, and sends signals to the rest of the brain to calm down.

The horror element is merely dependent upon how much information you get, and how much is left to the imagination. No information at all, and you are unaware of the danger. Doesn't matter if there is a scaly giant lizard in the basement if you have no knowledge of it. Similarly, too much information and you know about it, you understand it, you might even empathize with it, and so you are not scared of it. Ah, but just the right amount of information, just enough so you know enough to be afraid, that is, like so many things, an delicate spell.

I think perhaps this is why psychological horror works best of all. No need for shocking visual images, no need for blood and gore. The suggestion of these things is more than enough. Radio horror stories are perhaps even scarier than TV or movies, because they take place within the theater of the mind.

As a kid, one of the movies that nearly made me shit my pants was a movie called "The Haunting" . Directed by Robert Wise, a masterful manipulator  of dramatic action, it contains perhaps only two or three scenes of visual special effects. All the rest is atmosphere, music, sound effects, and, oh ,what do you know, acting.  Robert Wise wisely lets us scare ourselves into a panic.

Kind of like the political climate. Visions of the future. Either dystopian or utopian. I submit that the utopian version is scarier.

There are three likely paths humanity can take. The first path, the one everyone needlessly worries about, is collapse.  Scarcity, peak oil, the end of civilization, anarchy, war, pestilence, famine, plague, all that good stuff. That's dystopia, a dystopian future. We are intimately familiar with this. This is all known to us. There is nothing to fear here.

The next two paths are utopian. The post-scarcity future. This is a future partially known to us.

Certain people have lived in such an anomalous time, when they lacked for nothing. Well, not entirely. Some labor still had to be performed. Some things earned. But few are aware of such a state of affairs. Generally, the few examples of this have suggested that people are still dissatisfied, are prone to delinquency and hooliganism. It may be, in a future of no lack of need, a future of no toil, that people will not know what to do with themselves. it may resemble the movie "Clockwork Orange" . The State, in finding a way to keep them docile, may resort to creative destruction. A channeling of these natural anarchic destructive forces into a sanctioned and planned vandalism. Again, this is somewhat familiar. Nothing really unknown here, and therefore nothing to fear.

Which leaves the last utopian path. This is a path totally unknown to us. A future where, again, all lack for nothing, but then all desire nothing. All needs are fulfilled. How frustration of desires is eliminated is unknown. Perhaps we are cybernetically or genetically or surgically altered so that the desire itself is suppressed. Perhaps the desire is channeled into harmless activities, virtual reality perhaps. Perhaps the darkest desires of murder, rape, torture are fulfilled in a cybernetic game zone, and we all become torpid creatures living out fantasies. Or perhaps technology advances to the point that there is no death, or at least no permanent death, and we are allowed to actively pursue our most base fantasies upon each other. It could be that we become completely safe from harm, completely immoral, completely sadistic, vile, loathsome immortal creatures. Demons in Paradise.

That would be the scariest thing of all.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Belief: Part 1 of 2

belief: 1. The mental act, condition, or habit of placing trust or confidence in another 2. Mental acceptance of and conviction in the truth, actuality, or validity of something 3. Something believed or accepted as true, especially a particular tenet or a body of tenets accepted by a group of persons.

(From Middle English bileve, bilevento believe; of Old English gel-aefa; see leubh- in Indo-European roots.)

(leubh- Indo-European root: loving, desiring, caring. Related words, love, beloved, libido.

So, obviously, beliefs are something cherished, something to wrap your arms around and snuggle, something to get you all mushy and sentimental. That's a strange way to feel about something as nebulous, unresponsive, unrequited, and intractable as an idea, or a set of ideas. It's like having feelings for a stuffed animal. Let me get back to you on that.

When I started, I was raised as a Lutheran, which isn't that far from being a Catholic. So, the usual right? Tri-partite Godhead, Father Son, Holy Ghost. Loving personal God, omniscient, omnipotent, all that stuff. Then, of course, curious young lad notices logical inconsistencies and paradoxes. These in turn evaluated, discussed, and any questioning summarily dismissed by religious authorities both local and distant. With the observation of the imperfect state of the world combined with the obvious ignorance and hypocrisy of said authorities resulting in the inevitable cynical conclusion that There Is No God and all by about the age of fourteen years old.

Of course, it turns out that the atheist's position is just as philosophically and empirically untenable and unprovable as the theist's. The statement "There is no God" is a positive assertion, a statement of fact as subject to the burden of proof as the statement "There is no more toilet paper in the bathroom". Anyone who tells you different (especially atheists) are either intellectually dishonest or just yanking their own pud in public.

So, in response, I've modified my position to that of agnostic. It's not the weak weenie-boy "I Don't Know" type of agnosticism. It's more the "I honestly don't know, and I doubt that you know either. So if you are going to get all rabidly serious about it, best to keep it to yourself unless you want your primitive superstitions and monkey gods to be made fun of" type of agnosticism.

On the one hand, it's a big universe out there. Look at the picture. That's billions of light years, billions of galaxies in that picture. That's a huge amount of space and time, a truly scary yawning vast abyss of who-the-fuck-knows-what out there. It could even be infinite. In which case, seems like there is plenty of room for doubt against the Case Against God. On the other hand, there is no reason to assume there is a monkey shaped god giving us the gunfinger, the wink and the nod.

Just for the heck of it, I once entertained the notion that there really was a loving personal god out there, looking after me, keeping an eye out, in my corner. The flood of warm relief that passed through me was pretty remarkable. But then, I went back to my normal way of thinking, and that wonderful warm feeling passed away soon enough. And there I was back to living in uncertainty. Back to, you know, the normal state of human affairs, which is generally one small emergency away from a full-blown panic attack.

So, what's a person to do in this situation? I don't know. I guess I choose to live life as it comes. I choose to love life as it comes. For good or ill. That's my belief. My beloved.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Beyond Iron Man

So, Raytheon is working on version 2 of their exoskeleton suit. This is a hydraulic powered metallic frame that a soldier can wear like a suit, and perform superhuman feats of strength. The buzz from the technogeeks is, "Geewhiz! Just like Iron Man!"

The plan is that the military will have these suits to use in the field in three to five years, with a autonomous suit in five to ten years. (Since the suit is powered by hydraulics, pipes must be run to a large generator/compressor). Now, the stupid bonehead intention is that these be used for lifting/loading stuff and/or war fighting capabilities.

Of course, I'm betting  the marketing boys at Raytheon realize that the real market for these suits (a non-military version) is for the handicapped/infirm/obese/elderly crowd. I mean, you can probably produce 2-3 million for the armed forces, but 200-300 million for the world's mobility challenged.

Think of those hover chair commericals where they say you can go to see the Statue of Liberty or the Grand Canyon, now perhaps update it with a Glenn Beckian "Clydie Clyde" hateful morning zoo voice taunting grandma that "Yeah, but you can't climb the steps in your hoverchair!".

Although, I'm sure they will present it in a more friendly version.

And speaking of which (the taunt), who is the woman who does the poisonous green gossipy bitch voice in all those negative political ads? It's the same woman's voice, all the time, I swear.

"What do you for a living my dear?"
"I'm the venomous cunt voiceover in paid political advertisements".
"Well, I hope it pays well!"

Oh, it does, it does.

Happy Harvest?

What? Happy Harvest? What is this crap?

I've noticed, on my runs through the neighborhoods around me, that the Halloween decorations are going up. The inflatable displays are starting to get quite sophisticated - moving beyond the ghosts and pumpkins. They are quite fun. But I've also noticed that "Happy Harvest" signs are starting to sprout up.

I haven't really been paying attention, so I went to That Which Will Soon Know All (the unborn little 'g' god known as google) to find out what's up. Ah, I see. It is a Christian alternative to Halloween. As one website put it "many Christians have voiced their concerns that Halloween does not bring glory to Jesus Christ, and have chosen to celebrate the season with different kinds of festivities".

Okay. Fine. As a "heathen", I've got no problem with any kind of silly religious claptrap so long as it is not in my face. Whether its weeklong orgies at the Eleusinian Mysteries, or filling the air with incense during Vasant Panchami, I don't care. Although I think I draw the line at human and animal sacrifice. All of that silliness is fine with me, who has no religious sentiments whatsoever (and as a presentiment, I suspect I'll soon write something about my beliefs).

It's not surprising, given that the more rabid zealots here in the US are trying vigorously to turn us into a Christian nation, and from there into a Pat Boone approved Holy Dictatorship. (Which I am not in the least worried about, as Americans, being the primitve and parnoid lot that we, are sniff tyranny on the most distant breezes, and won't allow anyone that type of control).

So, Happy Harvest. That's fine. Want to set up a harvest display on the lawn, go for it. Just don't get in your neighbor's face if they want to practice the black arts, or honor the world of  the dead, or engage in a pagan ritual as part of their revelry. Okay? Seriously, dont' be pulling that shit. And remember that freedom of religion does mean freedom from religion as well, despite what the creepy authoritarian Republicans say.

I think what I am more worried about is fireworks. Have you noticed that fireworks are starting to crop up for practically every holiday? I'm not sure, but again, given how primitive we Americans are, with our love of blowing shit up and making pretty explosions, you'd think we'd have fireworks every night.

But I am concerned about this. If we are going to have fireworks for every holiday, can we at least make them holiday themed fireworks? You know, green and orange fireworks, pumpkins, witches on brooms and shit for Halloween. Candy canes, Santa and his sleigh, red, green and white fireworks for Christmas. That kind of stuff? Thanks.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Suspension of Disbelief

I'm sorry readers, but I have to geek out on you. This is a geek moment I am not proud of. This essay is essentially going to be the public washing of my metaphorical Speedo undies with skidmarks in them. I'm afraid it will end up being an imaginary discussion, but so be it.

On another comment forum of a neighboring electronic journal, a participant asked for suggestions about a science fiction story he was going to write which took place in the year 2030. He provided a synopsis of the setup, starting off with the fact that the US suffered a bioterror attack in the year 1996-

"Whoa, wait! A bioterror attack on the US in the year 1996?"

"Yes. It is a water-borne attach that wipes out 25% of the US population, and whites are suddenly a minority".

"So it's an alternate future history?"

"Well, wait, some of the survivors of the Christmas Plague, as I call it, become psychic".

"Okay, so it is an alternate future history fantasy".

"Um, yes, and President Gore attacks Iraq in retaliation".

"Ah, so Clinton dies in the attack".


"Just wanted to make sure. Can you kill off Newt Gingrich while you're at it?"


"Well, here's the problem. Aside from the fact that, if this was science fiction, it should have been written prior to 1996, it doesn't really seem that original of a scenario, don't you think? Terrorist attack - wait, domestic or foreign?"


"Okay, that helps. I could go all nerd on you and question just exactly what kind of disease organism we are talking about that can kill off 25% of Americans. Let alone the delivery method if it is water-borne, which would be quite complex and sophisticated and require large groups of people, precise coordination, a huge amount of communication somehow ignored by our federal agencies, split-second timing, and all the other unrealistic Hollywood movie script tropes that never work or even occur in real life".

"Well, urban water supplies are hit with a bacterial weapon, something that pumps an enzyme that messes up neurons".

"What did I just say about Hollywood plots? Look, 25% of 1996 US population is (googling) 66 MILLION people! And you are going to accomplish this by poisoning the water supply of urban areas? That's like practically every city in the US down to, places like, Sheboygan, Kansas City. That takes a lot of people to do that. And then there's your pathogen. That can only be a Soviet bioweapon. And the Soviets aren't around in 1996, and they didn't have anything remotely like that when they were around. And the Iraqis could not have come up with that. Even the bioweapons divisions of the Soviets, in their prime, in the 80s, would have had a hard time coming up with an effective water-borne pathogen, at least, one that is not virulent. You put something in the water that works the way you want, and kills of 25% of the US, it ain't gonna stop there. That is, as they say, a slate wiper."

"Well, see, they develop a vaccine, and -"

"No. No. Stop. Just stop." I uncross my eyes after coming out of nerd fugue.

"Have you any conception of what the reaction would be to the deaths of 66 million Americans? Do you have even the slightest notion of the history of our nation? Any clues at all as to our national characteristics? Did you notice what happened after, say 9/11? Have you, perchance, thought about Pearl Harbor? Remember the Maine? Remember the Alamo? The Boston Massacre? Any, oh, I don't know, consistent pattern of behavior come to mind in any of that?"

"...the Spaniards didn't blow up the Maine-"


"...well, I said we went to war with Iraq. Gore has a lot of the same problems Bush had..."

"Yes, yes. You did say that. So, 66 million dead, the largest death toll ever, in a cowardly, dastardly, sneak attack, and with the US military machine completely intact, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines practically tearing their teeth out in a white-hot urge to revenge themselves, with both conventional and nuclear forces unscathed and ready to be released in righteous wrath and anger against whoever did this, whoever is standing near whoever did this, for that matter, and you don't think there will be some over-reaction on our part? A nation that, in the best of times, is constantly teetering on the brink of isolationism and xenophobia, with a paranoid streak the size of a continent, and a sense of remorse worthy of a North Korean dictator? You don't think some mighty big smoking holes won't appear in the crust of the Earth? No. NO! All Hell would be unleashed. Rethink your story line".

"...yeah, but, see, if-"

"No. No. I don't buy a single bit of it. Go away!"

Phew. Sorry. I really should be more passionate about more important things. You should see me after I watch a really bad movie. Or maybe you shouldn't.