Friday, January 31, 2014

"Is it me that is stupid? Or are there others not so stupid?"

As Albert Einstein once said, "If you so rich, why ain't you smart"?*

We've had our latest example of the rich and stupid saying and doing things that any right thinking person would regret later (and hoping to chalk it off to inebriation or temporary mental imbalance and thus explain it away), but they just double down on the stupid. Amazing.

The rich are stupid. Or, at least, capable of stupid things. The problem is, like automating a mistake, their wealth compounds the stupidity into something of grotesquely monumental proportions.

So, maybe they aren't stupid. Or maybe, we should stop equating success with smarts. Or rather, perhaps this is a case of not being the fastest runner, but merely being a faster runner than your neighbor when being chased by a rhino. Or a giant running cave bear. Or a giant running cave bear with chainsaws for teeth.

Chuang Tse mentioned (and his quote is the title of this essay) that skepticism is required when evaluating our way of life. If we are in a fortunate circumstance, we are tempted to regard our way of life as better than the ways of others, and thus, perhaps that we are somehow better.

We cannot deny inequality of ability, but still, are we truly superior?

We might be superior. We might even be right about it. But we must recognize that we might accidentally be right. Or at least recognize that a superior way of life may be superior on functionally similar grounds. But you know, the minute the ground shifts under your feet and that functionality is no longer as efficacious as it was... See, that's the fallacy of survival of the fittest, fit for current conditions. And if you are dumb enough to think that the fitness landscape is an unchanging fitness landscape instead of a seascape, well...

In any case, once evidence is out there that your semi-divine heroes are not so super, once that master of the universe is not so adroit or magisterial, once that doubt is planted, once that avenue of inquiry is open, one has to ask, who else is stupid?

Are smart people stupid? I think so. I know so. I've certainly met more than my fair share of compartmentally stupid people. And public intellectuals and pundits certainly have more than their fair share of clueless douchebags.

What about... the Founding Fathers?

They said to themselves, we are the elite, we are the educated, we are the rich, we are the leisured class. Since we are rich, we are not corruptible.
Since we are educated, we are wise.
Since we are elite, we are incapable of error.
And since we are leisurely, we have plenty enough time to devote to good governance.

Oh, wow. Really?

looking back, they worried about the wrong thing, didn't they? Products of the Enlightenment, favored to be educated in classics, they looked to Rome. Big fucking mistake.

By fixating on Rome, they wasted a lot of time worrying about the threat of the standing army, the police and military. But soldiers and police are not the problem, are they? They can be made to be the problem through dumb policy decisions. So let's blame politicians. But politicians are not the problem either, are they? Why are you getting mad at the chess pieces?

So, it's the power players that are the problem? But let's be egalitarian, and suggest that, though a lot of them meant well (and ooh, the lessons of history suggest there's a big problem) and thus, like the idiot with the hammer that sees all the world as a nail, there are many introspective enough to recognize they are there by differing parts cleverness, effort, position, and a huge portion of luck, and so, perhaps there are other alternatives to their way or the highway.

But then there are plenty who are parasitic assholes. Alright, so maybe only some of them are parasitic assholes. So, are parasitic assholes the problem? It is the evolutionary asshole niche that is populated by the stupid that is the problem.

Isn't it?

...maybe I'm being stupid about this.

*No, he never said that, but stupid people love short, false attributions. As Thomas Jefferson once said, "Stop putting shit in my mouth I never said!"

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Junius and Albert's Adventures in the Confederacy: A Book Report

First off, before I get started, a new approach towards Tesla's dream is out there, and I hope it all works out. Okay, that said...

"Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" is, for me, a valid and logical sentiment. Much of the contest of wills - as I see it -  in the US of A comes down to liberals stressing the equality part of the motto, whilst conservatives favor the liberty part. Both fail to give enough attention or support to the fraternity part. 

Junius and Albert's Adventures in the Confederacy: A Civil War Odyssey by Perter Carlson is a likeable and readable book - so likeable and readable that I got his previous K Blows Top from the library.  (It's in the pipe, as I am in the process of reading the lovely Karen Lord's Best of All Possible Worlds and then Redemption in Indigo, and I still have to get to Black Empire...). 

Junius Browne and Albert Richardson are war correspondents for the New York Tribune. Captured at Vicksburg, paroled for return to the Union, they are instead imprisoned for twenty months (no doubt for being Yankee scribblers employed by Horace Greeley's hated abolitionist newspaper, a near lynching offense). They are shuttled in jails, first incarcerated at the relatively benign Libby Prison in Richmond, then the notorious Castle Rock prison, and then finally the death camp of Salisbury Prison in North Carolina. 

I should be quick to point out that neither side in the war had a monopoly on cruelty and brutality. The Confederates had Andersonville, Belle Isle, and Salisbury, to name a few, the Union had Ft. Delaware, Rock Island, and Elmira. All took in relatively healthy men, and spat out wretched, starving, skeletonized, vermin-ridden creatures who barely resembled men. We tend to forget that the horrors of war are not a modern creation.

Serving as hospital attendants, and living in relative comfort thanks to a corrupt warden, Browne and Richardson eventually escape by simply walking out the gate of Salisbury Prison. They spend a hard two month journey through winter Appalachia, making it to the Union camp in eastern Tennessee, helped by an assortment of interesting characters.

It's a well-told tale, with larger than life characters, but there is the one flaw, in that one tends to forget how fundamentally sad it all is. Perhaps it's not a flaw, for the sadness is there, but wrapped up in an adventure yarn.

There were times that gave me pause. We tend to think of that war as black and white, good versus evil, and then are told a more sophisticated outlook is shades of grey. But grey is composed of little tiny fractal pieces of black and white, and this distinction of sophistication really comes to nothing when confronted with the vilest and most despicable - and most noble and gracious giving - behaviors of the actors in this play.

One can't help to take pause when reading something like:
Ten minutes later, they came upon another slave cabin. When the old man who lived there heard they were Yankees, he said he'd be happy to feed them. He invited them into the cabin, and introduced them to his wife and daughter. Then he went outside and killed two chickens. He stayed outside, on guard, while the women cooked the birds and the Yankees huddled near the fire, their wet clothes steaming... When the Yankees had devoured the chicken and hot cornbread, Richardson took out the bag of tea he'd smuggled out of prison. The women had never seen tea before, so he showed them how to brew it, and then the slaves and escaped prisoners sat down to an odd little tea party. Revived by the food and the tea, the Yankees thanked their host and hostesses and got up to leave. "May God bless you" the old woman said with tears in her eyes. Her husband noticed that Browne had no hat to wear on the long, cold journey, so he pulled off his own and handed it to Junius. The hat was humble - an ancient, shapeless, sweat-soaked woolen sock - but the gesture was grand. Here was a man who owned almost nothing - he did not even own himself - but he was willing to give his hat to a stranger he'd probably never see again".
When I think of Silicon Valley and Wall Street billionaires comparing themselves to Jews persecuted by Nazis, who feel they are not being properly respected, who don't have the first fucking clue what charity is, and I compare them to these grand human beings, I want to bend the rich spoiled brats over my knee and give them such a spanking as they've never had in their lives.

I can't help but think that The Confederacy is one the vilest and most evil human excretions ever exuded. I can't hate the people, though. I can hate some of the people, and mainly the rich merchants who wished to maintain the liberty of owning other people as chattel property. Far too many people of the South were either actively opposed, or involuntarily entrained, in that horrid and wholly undemocratic festering enterprise.

Appalachians, for example, viewed it as a "rich man's war, poor man's fight" (and how often has that sentiment rung down through time?).
"In the South's vast flatlands, society was dominated by rich men who owned large plantations and many slaves, and who considered themselves aristocrats. In the mountains, where the land was unsuited for plantation agriculture, few people owned slaves and most families scratched a living growing corn, raising hogs, and shooting deer. The flatland aristocrats controlled the state governments and mocked the mountaineers as ignorant, uncultured hillbillies. Proud and a bit prickly, the mountaineers detested the aristocrats as haughty, greedy, and arrogant. William G. "Parson" Brownlow, the acid-tongued Methodist preacher who edited the Knoxville Whig, summed up the mountaineers' attitude: 'We have always despised, in our heart of hearts, a hateful aristocracy in this country, based on the ownership of a few ashy Negroes, and arrogating to themselves all the decency, all the talents, and all the respectability of the social circle'. The flatland aristocrats reacted to Abraham Lincoln's election by demanding their states secede from the Union, but most mountaineers didn't see Lincoln as threat to their way of life. In the wave of secession conventions in 1861, most delegates from mountain counties in Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee voted against secession".
It is the worst form of historical irony how those who opposed the Confederacy have, over time been rewarded. Some of the poorest and endemically poverty-stricken areas are those mountain counties,  and let's not forget the plight of the enslaved and their descendents. Multiply this by the comfortable and prosperous lives so many of Secessia enjoyed after the war, and still do to this day. It is a stain this nation will never blot out.

The war never did end, did it? The North may of won the war, but the South won the peace. We are still struggling with the inequities and injustices, and the sentiment I voiced before still awaits fulfillment, ""Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité". 

Did I say fraternity? Hardly, it really should be "sororité". The inescapable fact throughout the book, and history, is that, it may be men who are the breadwinners and fighters most of the time, but always, always, it is the women who are bone and sinew of our society. There is the beautiful Melvina Stephens, who guides escaped prisoners past Rebel encampments. A chapter is devoted to her, but really, not enough mention is made to the heroines in this book. But they are there, holding society together. I pay these redoubtable and truly courageous creatures too short a shrift. They deserve more. 

The escaped prisoners come to a cabin inhabited by Mrs. Welborn and her daughters. Keep in mind they are little better than tramps, their clothes in tatters, filthy and lice-ridden:
"It was a large cabin, divided into three rooms, with white curtains on the windows and pictures cut from newspapers decorating the walls. The girls gave up their beds so the visitors could sleep in comfort. In the morning, Mrs. Welborn made a breakfast while her two youngest daughters, aged four and six, stood guard outside, watching for anybody coming up the road that passed by the cabin. When a local woman of dubious loyalties wandered up the road, Mrs. Welborn and one of her daughters casually stood in the doorway, blocking the view into the cabin while the Yankees scrambled to hide. After breakfast, the girls reported a squad of Confederate cavalry was riding up the road. Mrs. Welborn motioned to her visitors to hide under the beds. Then she walked out to the porch and casually bantered with the horsemen for several minutes, feigning nonchalance, until they rode off. 'All is safe, boys' she announced." 
 In all, as I said, it's a fundamentally sad book posing as an adventure tale, and a buddy story, but you'll get the idea if you read it.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Almost, not quite, pretty close, to done with "The Stockmen"

Today, I chased defects. (Chasing is the term used for taking small tool steel tools that have all sorts of different surfaces and shapes on the end, and using them to hammer down or chisel off blisters, zits, scabs, pieces of foil, or any other thing minute thing on the surface of the bronze that shouldn't be there.

Then, I used an oxidizer to patina the bronze to a darker hue. Then I used steel wool to burnish back a lot of the dark oxidized surface. Then I waxed it all down and polished it with a cloth.

And then I took preliminary photos with an improvised backdrop. Real photos to take place next week.

Here are the "dailies", one under florescent lighting and one under incandescent:

At the beginning of the year, I made a half-serious resolution that I would try to entertain myself with my own content. Clearly, that's not entirely possible. I do go to movies. I do go to the library. I do watch some TV. I listen to other people's music.

And it's important to do that. I once had a former English teacher of mine, a good friend of my mom's, berate me for not reading any fiction. I asked why I should, and she told me that it is important to entertain perspectives and worldviews other than one's own. That's.... that was a good answer.

Reading, like travel, broadens one's own experiences and is a good innoculation against bigotry and small-mindedness.

So, I will continue to read and absorb and experience other people's stuff, but I feel I need to start really fleshing out my own internal worlds with narratives and stories and rationalizations and justifications, at least so that there is a coherence to the kind of art I am making. Just so that I've got, for lack of a better term, a ground floor of sanity for all this weirdness.

Doesn't mean I'm going to give you the stories behind these things. That's YOUR job!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Almost Done with "The Stockmen"

And what a headache I have. I know what it's from, it's from forcing myself to get this shit done and out out of the way. I feel like I'm about two miles below sea level, but now I'm depressurizing and the good thing is I have all next week to tinker and fix and fudge and get the pictures right.

I've got surface work to do. Not a problem. I changed the structure some. Originally, the pulling guy was to the side, and that looked crowded and energy stifled. So, I moved pulling guy out to be opposite pushing guy, and I think the flow of the narrative is better. They actually look like they are manhandling this stubborn robot beast.

From a practical standpoint, pulling guy would have been welded to the lazy bee/cow body with just a thin tentacle of metal holding together the heavy (20lb) pulling guy, and the the heavy (10 lb) body. That rod of bronze would have bent or broken. So, I decided not to weld the tentacle cap to the rest of the body.

There is a slight gap, but I seem to be the only one that notices. In any case, I'm glad and sad it's done, or will be done. I guess I better make more.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

In case you were wondering....

....what's going on in sculptureland.

Right now, I have a headache, so I am taking a break and documenting.

Tuesday evening, we (my student aide and I) poured bronze parts for the giant Lazy Bee/Cow. (No pictures of that, sorry, but you seen one molten metal pour, you pretty much get the idea. Unless there is a steam explosion). I hammered off the shell and found only a heat-tear on the tentacles, which is when the metal cools and shrinks, but the ceramic shell investment does not, and shears the metal. I chased and cleaned the figures of surface defects and blisters and zits and oxide shit. Sandblasted all the parts and called it quits about 11pm.

What's today? Right, Wednesday. Did I mention all this grinding and such outside in the patio area? Classes were in session.

Temp was about 15-16F most of the day. About 3pm classes got done and I moved into the wood shop.
I took over a table in the wood shop
That was nice, coming in from the cold, but I got to tell you, that arctic air sure is sweet smelling and fresh. Anyway, I repaired the heat-tears on the tentacles by welding them and  grinding down the welds. Finished surface cleaning on the figures. 
Stuff laid out in parts to be welded tomorrow

To give you an idea of the junk I use...

Air die-grinders for finesse work.
I welded the pushing man's hat on, and ground down the weld with a right angle grinder.

Pushing man needs just the hat worked on

Weld ground down and you can see some spatter on the hat
 Welded the Lazy Bee/Cow's cowl onto it's body, and ground down the weld spots. I will use the air die grinders to clean up all the spatter and make the surfaces seamless.
Cowl welded to body and welds ground down
I have to weld pulling guy and the tentacle onto the tentacle part of Lazy Bee/Cow. Naturally, they did not fit, so I hammered and bent parts on everything until they did fit together.
Lazy Bee/Cow in parts.
Pulling guy needs a few more adjustments, and then I will weld those together.
Pulling guy ready to have hat welded on.
I still have a headache. I'm going to go home and drink ice water. More work tomorrow after sculpture class is done at noon.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday Progress

Burned out the shells last evening. Inspected the ceramic shell and found two that had hairline cracks. Some furnace cement and will let them cure over the weekend and cast them next week. Cast the figures today. Between the two of them, they used 40 pounds of metal. I did not have sufficient metal left in the crucible for the other two molds. I decided not to get greedy and do another heat. Will cast those two with the repaired shells next week.

Here are the figures.
Pushing Guy

Pulling Guy

Pushing Guy mostly decanted

Pulling Guy partially decanted

Tentacles on both came out great

Two hours on after the pour, and the metal figures are still uncomfortably hot to the touch.

I still, after ten years, have a lot to learn about rigging.

I'm getting casting defects that would not be there had I rigged the pieces properly. Both pieces suffer from shrink porosities, where the cooling metal collapses as there is no replacement feed from the rigging. Shrink bobs - large masses on the runner near the gate to the piece - would have ameliorated this defect somewhat. As it is, both of their asses looked like they got chewed up badly.

Either shrink bobs, or I need to add more runners. I hesitate to do this as it means more work removing them and cleaning up the surface where they were attached. But the amount of welding and grinding I will do to fix the defects turns out to be the same amount of work of removing the extra runners. I just have to get used to sacrificing the piece to make the sculpture, like killing the book to make the movie.

The other problem is I rushed dipping the pieces before the slurry was completely mixed. As a result, there were millimeter-sized bubbles like little zits that are now on the surface. I've dealt with this before. They are easy to remove, but waiting an extra six hours would have eliminated this problem, and I still would have been able to cast them today.

I really should keep notes on all this.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Epigenesis may now be my (un)official religion

I've been on twitter since the kickstarter project in May. I was told I needed to use every social media tool at my command. What I found out was social media tools only work if you are already famous.

I have shaved back on my twitter output after reading some of my tweets and realizing I come across as a drunken asshole. That might be because whenever I posted a text message, I was drunk.

I'm also starting to realize that most people on twitter aren't all that shiny to begin with. I had an opportunity to engage in a (I kid you not) "twitter fight club" event. Twitter fight club is an oxymoron. It sounds like annoying little birdies pooping and cheeping in mid-air, little pin feathers flying about - something that pretty much begs for a shotgun intervention.

Honestly, how can you have any kind of a worthwhile discussion in an SMS format, when the internet can barely provide one through the more expressive bulletin board system?

In any case, after checking out the profiles of the participants, I realized they were all unpleasant, miserable assholes. Which is to say, the very flower of public intellectualism and academia. So, no, pass, and, in words the twits may be more likely to comprehend: "Fuck off".

I am just going to use twitter for pictures and announcements, which is the intended use, right?

Actually, I think George Clooney is correct that famous people that use twitter are morons.  They should let their publicists do twitter for them.

Plus, the twitter app was making my already unstable HTC POS phone even more unstable. I've had to factory reset it twice. If it weren't free, I'd be annoyed.

Come to think of it, I probably come across as a drunken asshole on blogger as well. Thing is, on blogger I've always been sober, so I'm not quite sure how to deal with that realization.

Thing is, in the philosophical contest between epigenesis and preformationism, I've come down firmly in the epigenesis camp. Meaning, in practice, or at least as an informal unwritten rule, I will never do anything more than a first draft in my essays. In other words, any order that unfolds will have to unfold in the unfolding. That was kind of the unspoken ground rule in choosing a random walk theme. If it happens, it's gravy.

Epigenesis has distinct disadvantages. Without a solid plan, things can go pear-shaped quite rapidly. Drains can be circled. Thorny paths plunged down. Take my fiction writing. It suffers from being (partially revised) first draft stuff. And, since I am basically quite lazy, very few risks are taken in the narrative, because messy situations require thought to contrive and resolve. Rereading the stuff, it's all quite boring.

Still, working from just the kernel of a plan is exciting. If only I put more effort into it. Speaking of which, things are going swimmingly with the bronze figures. I've managed, at breaks in the studio schedule, to sneak in and invest the wax pieces in ceramic shell.
Seventh Dip and Stucco Investment

Seventh Dip and Stucco Investment
At this rate, I'l burn them out tonight, which is ahead of schedule. There are still contingencies and complications which can hose up the plan, but that's epigenesis for you! That's why it makes a great religion.

Thursday night update: Shells are burnt out and I may cast metal tomorrow. My camera does not handle heat well.

Without flash (kiln temp 1245F)

With flash (same temp)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Greetings From the Future

-and also from sculptureland. I could tell you the usual blather about work, work, new semester musical chairs, coming down with a cold, behind schedule and scrambling to catch up, yup all this is happening, but first, dig this expiration date found on a packet of frozen vegetables I have in my freezer:

May 2915? Way to preserve shit, Mexico!

Also I found out the stuff I wanted to submit for a show has a submission due date of February 1st. I need to take pictures of the finished bronzes, so I am compressing the process of wax-to-finished-bronze down to two weeks. I considered the fact that that actually doesn't put me under that much pressure, and so thought of procrastinating a week, but, no. Better to anticipate problems (which there will be because there always is), and so I have rigged up the pieces and am in the process of investing them:

First dip and stucco application

First dip and stucco application

First dip and stucco application

I'll probably be done investing them by Friday, and then burn them out on MLK day, and cast the bronzes as early as possible next week. Which gives me a week to finish and photograph.

I found a band called "Shpongle" that I listened to while working. It is electro-psychedelia stuff that allows me to get in the flow and work like a machine right through all the tedious stuff. I need to find more music like this.

I wonder if I'm displaying some kind of maturity in not procrastinating. But you know, I used to think I was a terrible procrastinator until I saw, well, pretty much everyone else. I don't think it is maturity. I think it is discipline. That's what you get being raised by a Navy man. Thanks, Dad.

Other things. I'm starting to think now (referring to the title of this essay), is that Obama's problem may be that he is from the Future. Well, no, he is from Hawaii. But if you think about it, Hawaii is kind of the future, maybe the whole Star Trek war-socialist future. Think about it .

The most geographically isolated spot on planet Earth has everyone there. (And by everyone, I mean every kind of person on Earth is there).

Pick the spot that is furthest away, the antipodes of Hawaii, which is the Kalahari desert in northern Botswana. Go to Hawaii, and you can find a Bushman someplace. Not only that, but that Bushman is probably married to a Sami. Hawaii has the highest percentage of mixed race children and couples of all states in the United States.

Hawaii also has a very generous federal budget, what with eleven military bases there. For most everyone there, Hawaii is a very pleasant place to live. The whole laid-back lifestyle is exemplified there. (Which makes me wonder, where do people from Hawaii go on vacation). For comparison purposes, how about Hawaii versus Florida? You know, Florida, where they just don't like black people, no sir ree.

So, given this relative paradise to be raised up in, is it any wonder Obama has problems dealing with all of us miserable shits out here in the primitive and paranoid world of the early 21st century? I'm thinking, yes, which explains so, so much.

Back to work!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Breach of Trust: A Book Report

Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country by Andrew J. Bacevich

Short review: Read it. It is worth reading.

Longer review: Bacevich is very good at systems analysis, but his synthesis and suggestions are a little shaky. He himself recognizes that.

I've read Bacevich's Limits of Power, and I think he is right on in predicting (if things stay the same) America's eventual collapse through perpetual war, the enrichment of out-of-touch elites (as well as private contractors, and members of the military-industrial-congressional complex, and I leave it to the reader to work out the Venn diagram), and the approaching privatized serfdom of anyone who isn't an elite (I believe the term is "niggerization").

He makes a similar argument in this book comparing the American Imperium's current taste for war to Imperial (and its extension, National Socialist) Germany, which couldn't see an answer that didn't involve shooting at the problem.

He goes further to suggest that U.S. foreign policy has undergone Israelification: anticipatory defense, preemptive war, and a display of a take-no-guff pugnacity. Considering Israel is a small country surrounded by hostile neighbors, and America is an immense country with no enemy even remotely close to it, one wonders how we arrive at this policy. But here we are, and, combined with the Pentagon's desire for full spectrum dominance, results in America looking like the biggest, most oppressive goon on the planet.

He places America's chickenshit behavior squarely at the feet of an indifferent American public, as well he should.  But the method, the displacement of the citizen-soldier for a volunteer professional army (as result of which, he contends, America, once a nation reluctant to enter into foreign wars without some personal stake on the part of the citizenry now freely engages in adventurism), I need to work that over a bit before I agree, if I do.

A corollary to this thesis is that all the failed wars America has waged (and in Bacevich's view, all wars after 1945 are failed wars) are the result of this public indifference, and I would agree with this. Consider the public reaction to the first Gulf War, which supposedly broke the back of Vietnam Syndrome, piling on to the mood of  unthinking triumphalism, followed by disaffection with a mild recession, ultimately resolved with still more consumer distractions, with most of the public ignoring the actual situation:
"Yet facts evident at the time ought to have warned Pentagon leaders against nursing utopian expectations. Those facts included not only the Somalia debacle (the true preview of things to come) but also the survival of Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad; the failed uprising by Iraqi Shiites and Kurds after Desert Storm that saddled Washington with unforeseen enforcement and protection responsibilities; the emergence will-nilly of a "dual containment" policy directed against both Iraq and Iran; and the establishment of a large scale military presence in the Islamic world, inducing lethal blowback in the form of terrorist attacks directed against U.S. forces  and American interests. The actual legacy of Desert Storm was to plunge the United States more deeply into a sea of difficulties for which military power provided no antidote."
However, though the fault of America's unfortunate foreign escapades must surely be place at the feet of John Q. Public, I am not convinced that the systemic problem is entirely through abandonment of the  the so-called citizen-soldier militia. In fact, save for occasional dissent (and even that usually after the fact and sometimes with the outcome going badly) Americans have displayed a remarkable bloodthirstiness, bellicosity, and full-throated approval of kicking the shit out of (almost invariably) lesser opponents.

The Mexican War, the hundreds of Indian wars, the Spanish-American War all serve as examples where a citizen-soldiery stood ready to exercise a vigorous belligerence, with nary a thought as to the consequences.

Bacevitch suggest some form of return to the draft, perhaps a national service requirement with only some (presumably vetted) portion of young people seeing military service. Public apathy being what it is, Bacevitch doesn't hold out much hope for it. I would agree, and I would suggest there is no systemic solution to his complaints.

Uncorrelated Dog Ears from the book:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt surely must stand as the second greatest (behind Lincoln, possibly) president we have had. It was he who brilliantly took a jug-eared, slack-jawed rube of a nation, and turned it into a jug-eared, slack-jawed, world-striding titan. This really is worth an essay all on its own.
"...although achieving victory would require shared sacrifice, the president would seek to limit the pain and suffering that Americans would actually endure. The price of defeating the Axis promised to be high. Yet FDR intended, wherever possible, to offload that price onto others, the while claiming for the United States the lion's share of any benefits... the outcome of World War II turned, above all, on two factors: in Europe, the prowess and durability of the Red Army; in the Pacific, the weakness and vulnerability of the Japanese economy".
On the ineffectual and blinkered views of both the left and the right:
 "Yet a people who permit war to be waged in their name while offloading onto a tiny minority responsibility for it's actual conduct have no cause to complain about an equally small minority milking the system for all it's worth. Crudely put, if the very rich are engaged in ruthlessly exploiting the 99 percent who are not, their actions are analogous to that of American society as a whole in its treatment of soldiers: the 99 percent who do not serve in uniform just as ruthlessly exploit the 1 percent who do."
Where it stands now, and has since at least 1917. Again, the centenary of that conflict deserves any number of essays:
"Having forfeited responsibility for war's design and conduct, the American people may find that Washington considers that grant of authority irrevocable. The state now owns war, with the country consigned to observer status." 
"...efforts by intellectuals (or quasi intellectuals) eager to do the bidding of power more than offset the efforts of those intent on holding power accountable... (the essayist Randolph) Bourne bitterly opposed U.S. involvement in World War I. A great majority of American intellectuals had shared that position - until President Woodrow Wilson declared it incumbent upon the United States to join hands with Great Britain, France, and Russia in making the "world safe for democracy". With that, the intellectual stampede in favor of war commenced. Wilson depicted the war as a contest pitting civilization against barbarism. Not buying this line, Bourne took out after intellectuals who did. "Only in world where irony is dead" he wrote, "could an intellectual class enter war at the head of such illiberal cohorts in the avowed cause of world-liberalism and world-democracy"... to believe otherwise was to allow a faux patriotism to eclipse independent judgement. Yet once Congress declared war, a demand for slavish compliance swept through editorial offices and faculty lounges like a hurricane. "In a time of faith" Bourne wryly observed, "skepticism is the most intolerable of insults"."

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Winter Killers

I made it back from NW Indiana this past Friday. Good timing. Between the twenty-five inches of snow and the -16F weekend freeze, the whole region was shut down. Not that that mattered to me, as the college was closed yesterday and today because of the polar vortex.

Sunday night, I had to find out for myself just how cold it was, so, maybe a little liquored up, I stepped outside barefoot wearing t-shirt and jeans. Wind about 20 gusting to 40, temp at -15 = wind chills of -45F with occasional -50F. It was fan-fucking-tastic! REALLY amazing. Like a reverse sauna!

It also - as it was Birdseye frozen food conditions - got damned cold very quickly. In retrospect, not the smartest move I made. I was on the phone to eldest brother in California at the time, giving him an up-to-date report on the outdoors. He suggested I get a double handful of snow and apply it to either side of my scrotum (meaning, he thought I was a knucklehead). But honestly, I was out maybe two minutes max, and frostbite don't kick in until after about ten minutes.

And then I did it again last night. I managed about two minutes before I came back in. But same experience, really kind of a wonderful exhilaration, with the promise of a warm retreat in the offing. Ah, but to be out there, improperly dressed, again, for a supposedly bright person, pretty much a bonehead move.

But, you know, I've always like experiencing extreme weather events. I can remember much colder winters than this one. I did a quick check, and Chicago had -23F, 29 mph winds = -83F windchill temps on Xmas Eve, 1983. I was out in that too.

So, I guess I'm turning into a fat old cat that likes his cozy warm spot. Can't handle it anymore, I guess.

But you know, we have all become quite the comfort-loving creatures over the past 10,000 years or so, no? I mean, my ice-ape ancestors were out and about through 100,000 years of ice. Hell, we humans are winter killers. In fact, most North hemisphere predators are winter killers. How did we get to be such wimpy weenies?

Well, we all know the answer to that, don't we?

Stay warm!

Friday, January 3, 2014

That Titanium Nail

It's not right for an alien monster to have such sexy eyes. That's what creepy about the Kraken, their beautiful eyes. Eyes that are invariably beautiful, soulful, with a clear white sclera, fantastically colored irises, the most gorgeous human eyes I've ever seen. 

Now, I'd seen the Kraken on television, going back to 1978 when one of their city-plus-sized, lit-up-like-Vegas-neon starships first appeared in orbit above our heads. But meeting them in person, that's a whole different thing, considering they are real alien monsters, and not the cartoon everyone is used to seeing.

Clark The Kraken was an '80's children's cartoon involving two children named Becky and Josh and their alien monster friend Clark the Kraken. The premise of the show was that Clark would get the children involved in off-world adventures that invariably put them in danger. Clark (who was responsible for putting them in harm's way) would find some clever way of saving them. Clark was depicted as manic and maniacal. He could perform miracles, but rarely did. Clark was really just out for fun, fun, fun. In other words, he was completely insane. There were some diplomatic worries about the character, but the Kraken loved the show. They paid for it's revival in syndication when it was cancelled. 

Except for having eight tentacular limbs, Clark the Kraken really didn't look anything like a real kraken. At first glance, you'd think a kraken was a fur coat - a really big fur coat, like what maybe a big barbarian Viking would wear. 

The fur is typically a rich golden brown, and you are tempted to stroke the fur. But you realize no one is wearing the coat. The coat is standing on its own, and has six extra arms, which aren't arms, but tentacles. Peaking out from the underside of the tentacles are rows of black talons. The incongruity of this soft, fuzzy, furry creature with tentacles and nightmare features, a slavering vagina dentata of a mouth filled with rows of sharp, black fangs makes your brain say, yup, this is an alien monster

My first very up close and personal meeting involved about thirty of the monster bastards constraining my limbs as they pierced my skull with a titanium nail.  

Did I not tell you about the titanium nail embedded in my brain? Ah, well, let me start back on Earth.

There I was, 1980, fresh out of college, with a BFA and no job prospects. Not that there weren’t jobs aplenty to be had. Humanity was in the midst of the great migrations to the far-flung stars. Detroit - nuclear rocket city - was booming. They couldn't build housing fast enough. The wormhole transport centers: Houston, San Diego, Las Vegas, Newark, Knoxville, were begging for workers - skilled and unskilled. Plenty of jobs for all, unless you were a painter that favored a garish fantasy genre, or a poet, or a musician. I was the slacker prototype, or stereotype, literally living in my parent’s basement, smoking a lot of pot and dabbling with alcoholism.

At the insistent urging of my father, who wanted his basement back, I took the emigrant aptitude tests for a colony berth, and an evaluation for NATO’s peranoscopy program as well. Rejected on the former, accepted for the latter, to everyone’s respective expectation and surprise. The emigrant tests were based upon NATO selection criteria, where you basically had to be able to rebuild Western civilization with your bare hands. It was assumed that the peranoscopy tests were for those that made the emigrant cut, the best of the best, but were actually Kraken-developed tests, measuring... what? No one knew. 

So, shipped off to Lemont, IL to live for six months in a shit-box apartment with a truly awful roommate. Some called the training "hippie boot-camp", if sitting in cubicles in a strip mall office, practicing lucid dreaming and meditation skills, writing out counterfactual stories, reading texts on everything, doing crosswords, word problems, Scrabble on hallucinogens, having your brain remotely manipulated via transcranial magnetic stimulation, being harassed by lab-coated pricks for reasons not entirely clear, is your idea of hippie boot camp.

I came out the other end a trainee peranoscopist. Which is basically someone who can pierce the veils of space and time to scry the reality on the other side. Want another term? How about oracle, or seer, auger, sage? Or soothsayer, provided, the soothsayer wears an electromagnetic cap seated over their visual cortex, being fed data from the averaged-out Planck areas from the Gödel boundary of an Everett wormhole aperture.

Then I was stationed at Nellis, outside of Vegas, a civilian in name and title and in nothing else. I spent  twelve hour shifts in an air-conditioned trailer, ‘scoping the heavens for candidate worlds and smelling other people's farts. 

The depressing majority of earthlike worlds (or superearths, as they are known) are too massive to be habitable. Of the less massive worlds, most are venus worlds, hellish and waterless. The remainder are waterworlds, with hundred kilometer-deep oceans covering them. It seems that, despite the common abundance of superearths, very few have just the right amount of water, mass, and distance from their star. Of those, only a tiny percentage have evolved life, and a tiny percentage of those have evolved life compatible with ours - life that won’t eat your skin off after a few minutes of exposure, or cause a hyper-allergic reaction, or induce permanent psychotic states, or any of a thousand other grisly ways to die. 

It turns out, within the particle horizon of the local universe, some 96 billion light years in diameter, or some 13.7 billion years back into the past, there are only nineteen worlds suitable for human colonization.

Only nineteen.

We did not know that. The Kraken eventually informed us of this. I do not know why they waited until some twenty million of us were forever lost to the universe to tell us, but... before the Kraken revealed this fact, I found one of those nineteen worlds, which is why you are reading about me. When I did find that world, I was informed by my unpleasant Navy captain boss that I was invited to have an super-advanced alien device implanted in my brain. A super-advanced alien device that was, in every way, indistinguishable from a three-penny nail made of titanium.

Actually, the way unpleasant captain put it was: "Eight Ball, you got lucky. You get a chance not to be a fucking magic eight ball stuck on this base for another five years. You want to go to the stars, visit other worlds? Go get the nail in your brain".

I accepted. I was immediately whisked down to the Las Vegas transport dome in a helicopter no less, pretty cool. I was taken inside the dome through a warren of neutral-toned office corridors under fluorescent lights. The walls of the corridors were occasionally adorned with pictures and plaques. 

Many pictures were of the EGERbridge tower site at Argonne National Laboratory - the very first wormhole aperture, now a World Heritage site.  In one picture, Pat Nixon, a beaming Dick Nixon beside her, cuts the ribbon for the power-up ceremony.  In other pictures, astronauts, or the ships used in exploring the other side of a wormhole aperture. Many pictures were of The Five: (Lovell, Mitchell, Roosa, Mattingly, and Haise), standing in front of a scale model of their nuclear-powered ship Columbia. Ship and all hands lost now, disappeared down an Everett/Gödel wormhole throat, never to be seen again. Lost to the Cosmos But Not Forgotten. 

(It is a historical irony that two of the most miserable miscreants in American history, Richard Nixon and Hugh Everett III, gave humanity the stars. My own peranoscopery studies of the past tell me it was John Archibald Wheeler who was the linchpin. Had Wheeler not gotten Kurt Gödel to read Everett's many worlds paper, none of this would have happened. When the technology caught up to E/G theory in 1968, Nixon cancelled the Vietnam War and the Apollo Moon Program, and the rest is history).

I ended up in a fake wood-paneled waiting room with a metal green door. The green metal door opened, and a guy in a white boiler suit said "You're next". 

Beyond the green door was a prep room with a big airlock door opposite. Beyond the airlock, the wormhole dome itself. The airlock door was windowless, a disappointment. There’s not even a view of the wormhole aperture, which, I’m told, looks like a 100 foot round glowing molten metal droplet hovering in mid-air (except it’s vacuum) above and below two giant metal cylinder heads. 

In the middle of the prep room was a stainless steel box, lid open, looking like a coffin. 

"Get in", ordered white boiler suit. I din't really think about it, I just got in. But then I thought wait, airtight coffin for the vacuum, no air tank for me. 

"Hang on, no air supply?" I asked.

"You got thirty minutes of air in there, you big baby. If you're not out before then, you got bigger problems than suffocation!" sneered white boiler suit. 

"But I still suffocate!" The lid was closed and dogged secure on this protest.

And then I was on the planet Gnomon, somewhere in the Horologium supercluster. (get it? Horologium? Gnomon?)

The Kraken chose Gnomon as an enclave for human contact, surrounded by countless trillions upon trillions of Kraken-inhabited worlds within the Horologium supercluster. We humans, in our arrogance, assumed this world to be the homeworld of the Kraken, only to find out that their planet of origin was swallowed by its sun some half a billion years ago, and some 300 vigintillion light years away from Earth. 

Gnomon is where you go to get a super-advanced alien artifact that looks like a titanium nail driven into your skull. 

It was local dawn when I am decanted and let out of the admin building, the sky turned from black tar to a sullen cherry, the color of a cooling branding iron.  Above, at the zenith, was a gigantic Halloween moon - the gas giant Gnomon orbits, a hot jupiter circling a red dwarf star. 

(The palette of the planet Gnomon is limited. Red light kills color. It turns yellows and oranges into a uniform red hue, and makes green and blue look black. Even red is not immune. Yellow-reds turn into blue-reds; dark reds turn into brown). 

The admin building was a pre-fab pole-barn structure that houses the wormhole aperture, and looked slightly more permanent than the other buildings in the human town. Hardly a town, and more of a joke, a trailer park really. The majority of the structures were trailers and intermodal containers, limited by the size of the wormhole aperture. Here and there streetlights provided a half-hearted attempt to produce yellow sunlight, but did little to relieve the gloom. Beyond these lonely, humble structures were low black hummocks and hills that clumped to the horizon. I had not much time to "admire" the view before an army sergeant in a jeep pulled up to meet me.

"Get in" he said, which I assumed I would hear until after the insertion procedure, after which it would be "Get out".

"What, no ID check? No paperwork to fill out? I just get in the jeep and we go?"

"Are you Kurman?" I nodded. "Get in! And this is not a jeep. This is a MUTT, an M151 Military Utility Tactical Truck. Got it? Not a jeep".

"And you are?" I asked as I climbed in.

"Camarena. Sgt. Camarena. We don't have far to go". 

We took off with a lurch towards the low hills. After about a half hour on a gravel road, we passed over a gloomy ridge, I thought I spotted a brightly lit area, and it was green. Vivid green.

"Is that where we are going?" I asked, but just then, over the next rise, appeared a huge square of vivid green, a bright day-lit field as if we were back on Earth. I looked up in the charcoal sky, and there were no lights to account for it. Taken against the color of Gnomon, or rather the lack of it, the field was a riot of florescent green, impossibly green, all verdant green grass and scattered bush. Animals grazed within this hallucinatory field of green. Some animals I did not recognize or know. Giant lumbering shaggy things, droves of deer-and-elk-sized things, shoals of small quick things that browsed upon the grassy fields. Other animals I did know - cows, sheep, goats, possibly a giraffe in the distance. 

Interspersed among the animals, shaggy octopus forms wheeled about lazily. These were the callows, the Kraken young. Around this magical plot of land was a barb-wired fence, homely and worn wooden posts spaced out to suspend the rusting wire.

“You’d think, a billion years ahead of us, they’d have something more than a barb wire fence? I guess you go with what works." observed Camarena, and nodded. "There’s your reception committee.”

Behind a section of fence were three adult kraken. One motioned me forward with a disturbingly human finger crook with the end of its tentacle. The barbed-wire drooped down to let me pass, then snapped back into position behind me.

"Greetings! Welcome!" exclaimed the middle kraken in a shower of spit. It's English pronunciation, naturally, was flawless. "We will begin in a moment, but first, observe!"

With this cue, a kraken callow climbed upon the back of a nearby cow. It quickly wrapped a tentacle about the cow’s neck, and then, as if pull starting the cow like a lawnmower engine, whipped the tentacle hard and backwards. The cow’s severed head dropped to the ground. An impressive gush of blood issued from the neck. Within seconds, dozens of callows swarmed over the headless standing cow, and it disappeared beneath a mass of squirming fur and writhing tentacles. Soon, only a spot of crimson remained. The callows stood about at attention.

“And now your turn!"

“Jesus! Wait!” but the callows were upon me. I struggled and thrashed, kicked and punched, but the horrid little fuckers pinioned my arms, immobilized my legs, wrapped their tentacles around my limbs and torso, and then I felt sharp little talon stings when a tentacle slithered around my neck.

"Don't struggle", I heard one of the adult kraken say. "You'll just get cut to pieces if you do".

I froze then, surrendered. All I saw were sharp black talons and fur, and an eye that peered at me. A beautiful eye.  All I heard was the chatter of the kraken in, I supposed, their natural tongue: bronx cheers, shrieks, hisses, screaming gargles. All I smelled was a horrible marine stench, the kind of stink you smell when you dig into the anoxic ooze layer of a tidal flat.
I heard a cheerful "Here we go!". A seering pain in the top of my head cancelled out the thousand or so pinpricks and razor cuts I felt over the rest of my body, and then...  

and then.. 
and then,
and then... I felt vertigo, then nausea. I heard air raid sirens, saw black and white static. The sirens were replaced by a whistling tea kettle on a stove that circled around me. I saw pieces of color in the static, sometimes resolved into little fractal dragonettes or spinning mandelbulbs, and then dissolved, replaced by geometric shapes, lines and lace, mandalas, cartoons, mechanical elves, each image fleet and meshed into the next. 

My eyes felt as if they had swiveled backwards in their sockets. The nausea returned. Space inverted itself, the nausea and vertigo passed. Cold purple spaces and stars appeared. Jittery little borders surrounded the stars, pieces jinked and flitted around in orbits. The stars swam away in a whirlpool, an armageddon, an apocalypse of fireworks, a receding pyrotechnic snowstorm. I beheld the entire universe, each and every star expanded into a sun, tiny detailed worlds about them. 

The tea kettle sound became louder, almost unbearable. I'd have stopped up my ears with my fingers had I had hands, but I don't think I did.  Overwhelmed, I managed to shout for it to all stop, but all that came out of my mouth was hissing, spitting, screaming gargle.

And then I was laid out upon the grass. Kraken and callows stood and stared at me as if I were making an embarrassing scene, or had had a seizure, which I had been. And ah, of course, I realized, the titanium nail was in my brain.

"We never tire of watching that", said one of the kraken, ejecting oozing snot from spiricules in appreciation.

"You made it," noted Sgt. Camarena, as he held out a hand to help me up. "Congratulations".

I swayed on my feet a little and then said "Thank you, Sergeant".

"Call me Ernie. You ready to go?"

I looked down at myself and saw I my clothes torn and covered in blood. "Jesus, I'm a mess", I observed.

"Superficial cuts. We'll clean you up back in town".  

The kraken and callows let out kind of a soft-palate squawk or screech, which I recognized as "See you later!",  and I got back into the jeep with Ernie.

"What was that crack about I made it?" I asked him, as we turned around on the gravel road and back over the rise.

"Oh come on, Eight Ball. You would have chickened out had we told you there was 20% survival rate", Ernie pulled a clipboard from under his seat. "Now's the time for paperwork. Uh, and, just so you know, once we are all done here? You can't go back to Earth."

"What? Why not?"

"Look you got a alien device in your head now. We can't be sure of your loyalty to the species. You may now be naturally beholden to the Kraken, and so can never be fully trusted ever again". He held up his hand in anticipation of my protests, and continued "yeah, the Kraken have acted all benign and beneficent and given us some kickass technologies and advice, but, for all we know, they may be grooming us for cannon fodder".

"... or smallpox blankets" I returned. 

Sergeant Earnest Camarena turned and stared very hard at me. "Would you have thought of that before you had a nail in your head?" he asked.

"...probably not" I admitted.

"and that's why you can't come back to Earth. But we got a nice place set up for you on Alterra. It's in galaxy NGC6264 out Hercules way, some 450 million light years from Earth".

"I know where it is" I said.

"I know you do" he said, pointed at his head, and nodded slowly.