Saturday, December 27, 2008

What the hell?

Just got this in my inbox, subject line "A biased ultra-positivist's thoughts." WTF? Weirdest spam evar?

Aren't you looking for someone who understands you? If not, there is no
need to read further as it shows that people who think just like you
already surround you.

You must aim to coerce others to adopt your views.
Or does it appeal to you more to nourish foolishness?

I was trying to marry someone this year as there would have been tax advantages.
They told me they'd only consider marriage for love.
They had no enthusiasm for collaboration.

They think the most wonderful thing is to find what you love to do. They're lying to themselves.
A few per cent of today's employment level would be enough to live comfortably.

People ask how I survive as I work only from time to time.
I question why they compensate talented deluders by donating to the movie industry.
Why do they hunger after motorized transport and single family homes?
Is it not self-evident that they delight in traveling only as long as
it's well-respected by the masses?

They're assured that people can't change. Yet when young, they dreamt about
immortality, ideal relationships, and perfect worlds. We are still that immature.
We'll build a society based on rational thinking.

Don't reply to this message as we won't read it. Use the best internet search
engine to search these words.

arrogant teenage intelligence inexperienced students
light philosophy strategy ideology logic
pure general enclave design insecure
terrestrial solitary personality intolerant defiance
salutation social spiritual art traits
indoctrination Borg substantive monomania clandestine

For best results, search for 3 terms at a time. Hence, there are
a very large number of search possibilities, so only the determined will not give up.

Very strange. Some sort of Google adwords revenue scam? Get people to search those words, get cash from associated ads? Seems like it could be successful. Message is weird enough to not get pegged as typical spam, and it preys on some pretty basic human insecurities. Robots harvesting ad value from loneliness. Great. Welcome to century 21. Welcome to the Network Economy.

Sympathy For the Worthless

Freezer Logo
Originally uploaded by choo_choo_pictures
A picture of an old freezer I found rotting away behind my Father's house. I like to find beauty in Junk. Gives me hope.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Big Yellow Taxi

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got till its gone?
-Joni Mitchell

The above two lines hold a large truth elegantly. In the text below, I belabor the same point. Needlessly, selfishly, and in a most narcissistic manner. But narcissism is the nature of the Internet Medium, I once heard, so I suppose it can't be helped.


Human perception has a cruel flaw. It only sees clearly what is already receding from it. Youth, for example. Or, to name another totally hypothetical example, the kindness, grace, and basic decency of the human being whose door you are walking out of for the last time. When they were present the image was a muddle. Too near the sensor to be resolved, lost in the noise and reflection of everyday existence.

And then they are gone, and everything is thrown into stark relief, as if rimmed by the sharp-angled light of the dying evening sun.


There are things in your life now. Things you aren't seeing. Things you won't see until, god forbid, you lose them.

Try to appreciate those things, ok? Do it for me. For Christmas.

Or be left like me, trying to soften the edges of the brittle comfort of the company of digital bits with a six-pack and a Richard Buckner CD.

And knowing that this is likely to be the basic state of my existence from here on out, until Oblivion finds me, tells me that all these moments I think I have stolen from her she has really just lent me, in her infinite kindness. And that now, of course, she must take them back.

And suddenly, as I lose them, I know what I have lost.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice

Well, we've made it to the heart of the dark time, friends. It only gets lighter from here.

Of course, it'll keep getting colder until February sometime.

Take care out there.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

This Special Holiday Episode of Anti-Capitalist Sockpuppets

Has been brought to you by Toshiba

Happy Holidays comrades.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Chicken Blog!

Tonight I decided to try this recipe for roasted chicken from big shot chef Thomas Keller. It is a very simple recipe, just sprinkle some kosher salt on a chicken and roast at high heat.

I got a chicken:

I set my oven to 450 F, as called for in the recipe, and washed, salted and trussed my chicken.

And then I stuck the chicken into the hot, hot oven. Far too hot, it turns out. Clouds of smoke started to fill my apartment about 20 minutes into the cook time. I opened all the windows (chilly!) turned on the exhaust fan in my bathroom and over the stove, backed the heat down to 400 and continued on, fearful I was making charcoal.

But, when I took the chicken out of the oven it was a nice golden color:

I basted and let rest, as per instructions, now fearful that my reduced heat would have left the interior of the chicken raw. I started my carving by removing the wings and eating, as recommended by Keller. They were delicious! Crispy and salty and perfectly chicken flavored. I cut off a leg quarter and then one breast. The meat was fully cooked and dripping moist. Absolutely perfect. Here's my plate:

Not pretty I know, but hey it was just me. I was so hungry for more of this chicken that I basically skeletonized half the bird looking to find more meat without cutting into my dinner for tomorrow. I have a picture of that, but it is kind of gross.

All and all, I recommend this recipe, but I would suggest cleaning your oven and pans fully and turning on a fan before you get started. The chicken is worth the trouble though. This is one of those simple dishes that develops the flavor of a single ingredient perfectly. Very nice.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Take Three

Ok, its all that but it is also not that.

What Agrippa shows is the process of transition. The single electric light in the rural village, the car and the mule side by side. The automatic pistol, already decades old when discovered by a little boy in an attic in the middle of the 20th century, but of a design still in use as the second decade of the 21st century comes to a close.

Just like the Mid-Century public works project bridge in the middle of the 2008 Ohio cornfield, under the shadow of the stark-white blades of the Wind Turbine farm.

So often it seems, we forget transition. We imagine the past as having occurred in neat periods, like scenes in a movie. 1931 Depression! (Fade-to-Black) 1941 War! (Fade-to-Black) 1950 Conformity! (Fade-to-Black) 1969! Revolution (Fade-to-Black) etc...

Any good history or fiction will explode this view, remind us that we in fact live in an unending messy transition as technologies, social forms, aesthetic schools wax and wane - hybridize and bleed into each other. Agrippa just happens to remind me of that particularly well (and Gibson's Novels and short stories do a similar job for the future).

So the fact that the Floppy Disk Agrippa is now embedded in that transition in a whole new way - as a once cutting-edge piece of digital art now recovered and emulated by later technology is interesting

Or maybe its all interesting. Or maybe I should stop writing about this now.

Take Two

On my thoughts on the Agrippa web-site I just blogged about.

Agrippa, as a poem, is powerful to me for the same reason that much of Gibson's work is powerful to me, because it complicates the Past and the Future in interesting ways. When I was a boy, I had a notion of the past as Agrarian and static - and the future as dazzling and Aerospace themed. I don't know if I can wholly blame the pop-culture industry for this, but it does seem to me that the notion of what the Past and the Future were to look like got sort of stuck in the collective imagination of the Mass-Media for awhile there as well. Feeding us images of year 2000 flying cars well into the early 1990s. Or at least, so it seemed to my very young self at the time.

The past Gibson talks about in Agrippa is rural, but explicitly technological. Old cars and concrete feature prominently - as does an encounter, apparently drawn from Gibson's own childhood, between a young boy and a long forgotten Colt M1911 found among dusty old packages. The automatic pistol as ancient artifact, as the ancestral sword.

Reading Agrippa gives me the same feeling I had when, on one of my first long bicycle rides here in Northwest Ohio, I rode across a crumbling concrete bridge. On its side I saw stamped the diamond insignia with the letters WPA and the year: 1940. A low bridge, crossing nothing more than a drainage ditch, and at the same time a quiet testament to the Great Depression and the attempts to alleviate it. Suddenly, I was overcome with the awareness of the depth and complexity of the past and the many ways it is, as Faulkner said, not even past.

And now the self-destructing floppy disk version of Agrippa, has itself become a similar artifact. A strange reflection.

How am I just learning of this now

There is a whole site hosted by UC Santa Barbra devoted solely to William Gibson's poem Agrippa(A Book of the Dead).

For a Gibson-phile like me this is fascinating on two levels. First there is the role of a site like this in paying fan-boyish homage to Gibson, who seems himself to be a downright otaku in many ways. Second, there is the almost archeological work needed to resurrect the digital form of Gibson's work (which was packaged as a "self-destructing" file on a floppy disk as a comment on text and memory) from the distance past of 1992. The futuristic "hack" of the early 90s is now a museum piece.

The Future of Film Criticism

A blog post over at the Institute for the Future of the Book raises some interesting ideas about film criticism and new technology. Basically it asks the question: "why don't we use video technology to do film criticism? Wouldn't this be superior to trying to talk about film in print, a totally different medium in which we have to somehow translate the moving images and sounds we are talking about into words before we begin to analyze them?"

I'm not a film critic, but some of my friends are, so I post this here for their consideration. It sounds like a good idea to me, but what the heck do I know?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Narrative and Simulation

I can't help but notice that, as I watch the little evolutionary simulation I just posted about, I seem to get invested in the success or failure of the little animated car the algorithm generates. I cheer for it as it makes it over the little bumps and ridges of its simulated environment, and feel disappointed when it flips over and the simulation ends in failure.

So, out of the simulation, I construct a sort of narrative. My colleague Dave suggested that this is a common feature of human interactions with simulation in a conversation we had a week or so ago. For Dave, if I understand his argument correctly, this suggests that authors who argue that the simulation has superseded the narrative as a form (N. Katherine Hayles, for example) aren't quite correct.

Here's the thing though, I may indeed build a narrative out of the interactions I observe between the simulated car and its 2d environment, but that narrative is completely without agency. The algorithm doesn't care what I think, it just evolves the best solution to the problem based on the results of its trial and error process. Granted, the simulations we see today are based on the assumptions embraced by their creators - on the implicit narratives in their heads. The designer of my example had a story of car and some terrain and a desired outcome (car travels across terrain) in mind when he/she wrote the simulation.

That's all true today, but the question is: will it be true tomorrow? Will we see simulations feeding simulations? Will the "man in the loop" (to use the term of the mid-century Strategic Air Command) be finally displaced?

I don't think it is possible to answer that question. Certainly there are some very smart people invested in "Strong AI" (there is pretty good evidence the folks at Google are heavily committed to this project) and all that entails. It is also true, however, that very smart folks have been working on this project for decades with little to show for their efforts.

It seems to me at least possible, however, that simulation may some day be firmly in command. That Tomorrow Google may count the fall of every sparrow, just as Yesterday God did. If that is the case, the very idea of human agency may prove to be a brief historical aberration, a few short centuries of what will surely seem to be madness by the beings inhabiting the later regime.

What will human beings do in such a world - if any should survive? The same as we have always done. Create narratives about the inexplicable world around us.

Around the Web

A few quick things I wanted to share with my friends and blog readers (and those categories are pretty much one and the same).

A great article by David Neiwert on his blog Orcincus (the best liberal blog you aren't reading) on George W. Bush, "Sundown Suburbs," White Privilege, and persistent racial inequality in the United States.

Wikipedia is not a kitten (a funny bit of vandalism to a wikipedia policy page - long since deleted)

Try independent, listener funded, internet radio site Soma FM for a wide variety of streaming music options. The Xmas in Frisco stream is good seasonal fun.

And finally, this little flash application uses genetic algorithms to solve a simple problem by repeated trial and error right before your eyes. Interesting and a little ominous. As the machines get faster, how much supposedly "uniquely human" creativity will they be able to replicate, simply by brute-forcing problems? Forget Foucault - that right there might be the "end of man."

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Is, for all its ikky colonial heritage, one of my favorite holidays. I think this is because it is the most DIY holiday. Who would ever buy a pre-made thanksgiving dinner? It simply isn't done. While Christmas focuses on the commodity baubles available from consumer capitalism, on Thanksgiving the focus is firmly on the meal, prepared by the same community that will later consume it. (Issues of gender segregation in labor here can be solved at the local level. Get off yer butts and cook dudes!)

I've had several thanksgiving celebrations this year, my Girlfriend's family, my mother's house, my father's. I'm at my father's place now, where the celebration has moved on to the musical phase the gatherings of his friends tend to inevitably enter. Another DIY celebration, as semi-pro and amateur musicians gather to play some old standbys and folk songs - simple and beautiful.

I, of course, am no musician, so I will contribute by writing this blog post - sending out a burst transmission of my appreciation of their performance into the electronic post-human noosphere that is my home...

Happy Thanksgiving, hackers of the world.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What the hell was this supposed to teach us

I love good ol Sesame Street, but seriously, where's the educational take away there? No wonder I grew up to be a slacker and a ne're-do-well.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

This Video

Reminds me both of a Romanian friend of mine's disappointment with American Anhedonia and my own:

One of these days I'll throw a proper New Year's Eve party again - then we'll have a good time.

The Last Campaign

The 2008 cycle is not over in Georgia. You learn more about Saxby Chambliss the GOP incumbent senator. In addition, if you link to Saxby Chambliss on your own blog or web page you can help move this important information on Saxby Chambliss up in rank in Google results.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

To Sum Up

Since this political season has ended in a modicum of victory for the forces of good, I feel free once more to set aside my sense of larger social responsibility and return to the calling I really love. That is, to advocate for the meaningless, the wasted, the useless, the trivial, the mundane, the unproductive, the nonsensical, the ridiculous, the pointless, and the absurd.

It is these ruptures, these tiny flights from meaning's vast and busy machinations that save us from the automaton's oblivion. They seemed decadent when the war of meaning was pitched and immediate, but now they seem to me precious once more.

Possible Reactions

To the recent story in the NY Times, revealing that a couple guys with a website faked an entire Policy institute and created a phony adviser to John McCain - and managed to get their phony adviser quoted in the mainstream media a few times.

Mainstream Press: The Internet is full of Nonsense! Of course it is! It is a dangerous sewer of half-truth and innuendo! Any media form without the August presence of our professional standards is doomed to be such. Beware good people, Internet Nonsense threatens to undermine our entire society!

Internet Boosters: Now wait, Nonsense levels on the net are normal and well within historical precedent. We've always had Nonsense! Nothing has changed! Nonsense has always existed! Many eyes are on our valiant new media day and night, rooting out Nonsense and advocating the light of reason!

Me: The Internet is full of Nonsense! I love Nonsense!

All these moments will pass

Rutger Hauer's tremendous soliloquy from the close of Blade Runner:

One of my favorite moments from one of my favorite movies. I think Roy Batty's observation here sums up the problem of mortality (what I still basically believe to be the essential problem of all of human existence, despite the various reasons I know not to) in an elegant and memorable way.

I drop this here because I was thinking of this scene today, and when I found the clip embedded in a BoingBoing story this evening I decided the random nature of the universe had dictated I say something about it.

I had been having a bit of a moment of my own, but unlike the ones Batty wants to reflect on, this moment was totally ordinary. I had gone to Staples to make some photocopies for my job applications, and realized I had forgotten some papers I needed to Xerox in my office. I had to drive back to campus to get them. It was, strictly speaking, a waste of time - but I found (as I so often find) a great deal of pleasure in this moment. The sky was low and slate colored, a perfect November overcast. The air was still warm enough to leave the window rolled open but had begun to taste of Winter. A DJ at the college radio station was playing hip-hop, small label but hardly underground. Driving slowly back to campus, I was stuck behind one of the University's buses. The distinct note of school-bus diesel exhaust and the low, gray light called to mind all the falls of my childhood, the hope and energy of each beginning school year. The anticipation of holidays. Best of all, my mistake had made for me the perfect alibi for my reverie. I could do nothing else but spend my time in this moment. I had not choice but to make this drive. The papers were in my office. Nothing could be done until I retrieved them.

These moments pass perhaps even faster than those remarkable moments that Batty eulogizes in his speech. It seems ludicrous to even try to record them. Who wants to know about my joyful encounter with overcast and bus exhaust? But, for me, these useless and mundane moments are a tremendous source of life's joy and even its meaning.

Which of course, makes me think critically, and perhaps a bit apprehensively, about the project I am involved in as a New Media scholar. In a conversation the other day, a colleague paraphrased Clay Shirky's hope for the possibility of the Internet connected masses. If we contribute to Wikipedia or Free Software, he said, we are no longer wasting time like we would watching television. Instead, our idle moments can be harnessed, can be made "socially useful." All these moments will be used - like processor cycles in the SETI@home cluster.

I am being a bit unfair to this argument here - TV time is not usually a source of reverie and joy, more often a source of consumer-zombie stupor. I've been an advocate for FOSS and Wiki for years now, I'm not condemning them. Still, I wonder. Do we leave the door to the Social Factory, to the Taylorization of Everything open if we implement our Participatory Culture in the wrong way? Does there need to be a voice to defend the idle, the useless, and the wasted moments - in a culture that seems ever more interested in making every moment count, every moment produce, every moment matter?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A fitting quote

Alongside the modern evils, a whole series of inherited evils oppress us, arising from the passive survival of antiquated modes of production, with their inevitable train of social and political anachronisms. We suffer not only from the living, but from the dead.


Maybe, just maybe, last Tuesday night we finally made some progress in putting down a few of our inherited evils. Maybe a few of the specters that have haunted us have been dissipated in the light of day.

Let us steel ourselves then, to do battle with the living.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Campaign Season

First really solidly cold night here. Went out to have a cup of tea on the walkway and found everything with a light coating of ice. Another winter approaches.

And the four year cycle of government grinds on in the last week of this endless campaign. As a Democrat, of course, I watch the persistence of good news in the polls with a superstitious disbelief, sure that as soon as I turn my back they will all shuffle numbers around and we'll have lost again. I stare at the thin blue line of the composite obsessively, trying to make it hover above the 50% mark by sheer force of will.

And, of course, if Senator Obama manages to make it through the election, we still have clowns like these to worry about.

I am not a person of faith. I do not pray. I wish I could now. If you can, please do.

Good Night, oh you handful of friends who tolerate my pompous and self-important prose

And Good Luck.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Thomas Friedman is the wrongest man ever

I'm sure someone has pointed this out already, but I haven't seen it anywhere, so I thought I would point it out.

I was reading this post over at the Anthropology blog Savage Minds, which brings up Friedman's so called "Mcdonald's theory" which posits that no country with a Mcdonald's restaurant will invade another country with a McDonald's.

At little late, I know, but just to point this out:

Mcdonald's Moscow (one of many)


McDonald's Tbilisi

So much for that theory.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Someday we'll look back on this...

A few years ago, when I was living in Elmira, New York, the building next to mine burned.

It was a two-story wooden apartment house, long and narrow, with green wooden siding. It was separated from the only slightly less ratty apartment house I lived in by only a narrow driveway, barely a car width across.

And, of course, it was flammable as tinder.

I was awoken early Sunday morning by the shouting of my neighbor, who had started a kitchen fire while fixing breakfast. A thin thread of smoke issued from his back door. It didn't look too serious. Just to be safe, I went and gathered up a few papers and things from my apartment, things I couldn't afford to lose, and moved them to my car. Of course, it being my apartment I wasn't sure I had found everything in the mess. Then I waited in the street to watch the excitement as the fire department arrived.

Arrive they did. They attacked the fire with an extinguisher, but it wasn't enough. Then they ran a hose to the nearest hydrant for water... only to discover this hydrant had been disconnected because of work on the water main. They had a small supply of water in the tanks of the truck. It gave them a small spray like something out of a large garden hose. The smoke grew thicker and blacker, and started issuing from my neighbor's window. They began to evacuate the other tenants from the building. I asked one of the fire fighters if it would be safe to return to my apartment and gather a few more things.

"Yes," he said, "but hurry." And he motioned for one of the police officers on the scene to accompany me.

I remember standing in my cluttered apartment, the police officer at the door, thinking how strange it was that everything was completely normal, utterly unchanged in my small, cluttered living room, even though I might never return there again. I gathered all of the student papers I could find, a few cherished books, not in a panic but in a surreal state. Everything was so normal, I was in my own living room, it seemed impossible there could be any danger. And yet I knew, I knew that next door a fire was starting to burn out of control. I could smell the smoke. From my bedroom window I could just see flames starting to lick through the window of the other building.

Sometimes I am struck by that feeling now, the feeling of cognitive dissonance between the danger we are hearing about, this impending recession or depression or what have you, and the way our lives are continuing on as if nothing was happening. But not that often. I think it is because the danger is not yet as real to me as that fire was. I wonder if some day we will look back on these days and have this same surreal feeling, remembering how we lived in such comfort while the system that sustained us burned.

That day in Elmira, the building next to me burned to the ground. Nothing remained but blackened beams that stunk of sulfur and ash for weeks. It still wasn't cleaned up when I left town months later. My building was spared, though the heat was so bad it warped the vinyl siding. Small blessings, I guess.

I made a big batch of pintos and rice tonight, a taste I acquired while in the Southwest for a while last year. Simple food, tasty. A small blessing. Hopefully the supply of canned tomatoes, dry pinto beans, and onions will not go away any time soon.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Palin Q+A: The (even) Short(er) Version

GOP Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin just answered questions from reporters for the first time as VP candidate (for the record, Joe Biden has met with and taken questions from national and local press 86 times since his nomination). You can read the transcript here. For those of you unwilling to read 4 short questions and answers, here is the short version:

Q: Governor Palin what would you do differently than George Bush with regards to fighting terrorism?
A: Nothing
Q: Will you endorse Sen. Ted Stevens?
A: I'm gonna wait and see how his trial goes first
Q: Will you vote for Sen. Stevens?
A: [does not answer]
Q: What do you think about the bail-out package?
A: I'll support it only after John McCain fixes everything with his magic!

Ok, that last one was LONGER than her actual answer...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Why Fringe Doesn't Work

And I'm truly sad it doesn't. I like many things about the set-up, and I think the performances being given by Anna Torv and John Noble are actually pretty good. That said, there are several problems, which I think all stem back to one basic issue.

JJ Abrams has clearly never played a role-playing game.

I don't just say that to be a nerd-supremacist. When you play a role-playing game, you learn what makes a character too powerful for the story he or she is in. In role-playing parlance, such a character is called "broken."

Dr. Walter Bishop is very badly broken.

He knows the answer to every mystery, and furthermore he knows these answers based on special knowledge available only to him. Why the hell am I, as a viewer, supposed to be interested in the mysterious substance-on-the-bus or hypergrowth baby or whatever if I know he's just going to look at it and say, "ah yes, I invented this in 1984 and here is how it works."

Compare this to the X-files' Scully and Mulder, who were as much in the dark (if not MORE in the dark) as the viewer was. Hence we could have some connection to them as they solved the mystery.

I also think Fringe proves once and for all that William Gibson's pronouncement on JJ Abrams, that he is not "a native science-fiction mind." The technological melange Fringe presents doesn't make any sense, share any central theme, or tap into any key anxiety about the path of our contemporary society. The anxiety that "science and technology are getting out of hand" doesn't cut it. If that were the thesis of an undergraduate essay turned in to me I would hand it back marked "too vague! revise!" Mary Shelly was concerned about "science and technology getting out of hand" so was William Gibson, but they wrote very different (and equally great) books because they had much more specific concerns based their particular historical moments, and personal interests.

All THAT said, I may well continue to watch the show. Why? I'm a mystery junkie. Show me a weird macguffin and I'm likely to just watch along to see where you are going with it, even if I think you are full of crap. In fact sometimes that will make me even more likely to watch, as I attempt to answer the question "will they really go there?"

And this, dear readers, is probably how JJ Abrams got to where his is today.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Networks and Narratives

Someone I went to high school with died this week. He was a Marine, killed on convoy duty while serving in Afghanistan.

He was no one I knew well. I have only a vague memory of him, and of the girl who, the article marking his death in my hometown paper tells me, became his wife.

The article in the paper, which I will not link to here, since I don't know if the deceased or his family would approve of what I am about to say, gives a short outline of the dead Marine's life over the decade since I was acquainted with him. I could not help but be struck by how sharply our lives had diverged over the course of those ten years. He had three children, the oldest of which would have been born when he and I were both twenty years old. I, at the time, was drinking too much, playing Dungeons and Dragons and Half-Life for hours on end, and trying to learn how to become a fiction writer. The most difficult thing in my life was probably waking up for my 9:30am Spanish class, which I earned a C in because of my absenteeism. Meanwhile, my former classmate was training to be a Marine, and becoming a father.

The wars my classmate served in (he was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan) were for me largely media events. I remember the shaky video images of bombers over Afghanistan in the first days of that war, the triumphant reports of our warlord allies sweeping the Taliban from power in what seemed a classic, lopsided American victory. I was in a class on Faulkner at the time, taught by a complete blowhard of a professor who shall remain nameless. The professor was actually much like Faulkner, a man frustrated by the fact that he was a man with only scant experience with violence living in a culture that equates violence with masculinity. He loved to repeat stories to the class about his few fleeting encounters with physical confrontation. In particular, he claimed to have once been shot at - though he wouldn't give the circumstances - and to have confronted what he believed to be a ghost with a loaded shotgun. It took me a long time to realize he was a windbag and a very sad and incomplete man, probably because I shared many of his insecurities as a 22 year old manchild who had never so much as thrown a punch in anger, though I had spent countless hours in dazzlingly detailed simulations of armed conflict. The professor and I traded quips on war, violence, "human nature." Sometimes I corrected his military nomenclature, "no, no Professor, that would be an assault rifle, not a submachine gun."

Meanwhile, my classmate would have been in Base Housing somewhere, with his wife and his 2 year old, knowing what all this meant for them. I wonder, what did he feel? Was he excited to be called to do the duty he had volunteered for? Was he afraid? Would I really have been able to understand his feelings, if he had told me about them?

I remember watching the first day of the Iraq war on the dorm room floor of a young woman I was hopelessly, unrequitedly in love with (still a victim of unrequited love! how childish! my classmate's second child had been born by then) as the great sticks of bombs fell on Baghdad, sending spouts of fire into the sky. The young woman and I talked about politics, history, the great waste of it all. My major concern was demonstrating to her how wise, carefully considered, and impeccably humane my political positions were, in the vain hope this would win her heart. A few days prior to this, or perhaps it was afterwards, I can't remember, I participated in one of the handful of Anti-war protests that was held at my school, a mid-size liberal-arts University in the SUNY system. At one point, I accidentally threw up the heavy-metal rocker's devil horns instead of the hippy's peace sign. Later, I would find myself leading the chorus of chanting, booming out the ancient, overused call "What do we want?" and receiving back from the crowd around me "Peace!" I remember sensing the power and pleasure that came from using my voice this way, the ease with which I discovered I could project my words through the small crowd and the electricity I felt when they responded to them. It was then that I began to sense that I wanted to teach (and loudness, sheer force of vocal presence, remains a primary tool of mine in the classroom, to this day).

I cannot be sure where my classmate was during all this. The brief newspaper article does not give me enough enough information to say for sure. Since he was a Marine, and served two tours in Iraq, there would seem to be a good chance he was in Kuwait, waiting for the Air Force to do its job and the ground war to start. Would he have been speaking or listening while he waited for the orders to cross the border? He attained the rank of Sergeant by the time of his death. Would he have already had a position of responsibility by the Winter of 2003? Would he have been responsible for organizing a platoon or a squad, reassuring them and advising them as they faced uncertain times ahead? Or would he have only been sitting and listening while generals boomed out orders and enthusiasm, and Lieutenants presented assignments and objectives.

I do not compare my life to my classmate's life, now ended, to criticize my own academic life as shallow shallow, cynical, or "unreal" while romanticizing his family life and service as "authentic" and meaningful. Only to point out how we built our lives out of (and were ourselves built by) two profoundly different networks of deeply interlinked things, ideas and people. In my case, the academy, my colleagues, a great raft of books, a thousand forms of media. In his case, many of the same things (note the iPods so often present in videos and pictures sent by by troops in Iraq) but all connected with the institution of the Marine Corps, his family, and of course the opposing network of people, ideas and things (call it what you will, international terrorism, Afghan resistance, whatever) that ultimately took his life.

These networks are complicated, and vast. Everything in them is profoundly active, nothing is passive, just transmitting effects from point A to point B. (To give credit where credit is due, without junking things up with unneeded academic-ese, I'm drawing here off of the "Actor-Network theory" of Bruno Latour). Neither my life, nor my classmate's, was entirely determined by technology, by politics, by the economy, nor by the stories we as humans tell ourselves about these processes in order to make sense of them. Rather, all play a role. A sudden trauma, like death in wartime, makes it easier, perhaps, to recognize the complex play of interlocking networks. Who can doubt that the roadside bomb, that the sniper, speaks? Who can refute that technology, society, human agency, all help to compose their utterances? Is it not clear that both I, and my classmate's family, will try to make meaning of this, and that our meanings may be profoundly different?

A few day ago, I wrote about a political blog started by a colleague of mine, a project I still hope to contribute to. He has called his blog, Its the Narrative Stupid. As a fellow humanities scholar, he wants to make salient the central role of narrative, that key process of meaning-making, in our political life. I agree completely. I only want to point out, through this long and probably far too wordy exercise, that narratives are always located in networks, and that while they touch every part of that network (and vice-versa) they are not synonymous with it (Baudrillard not withstanding). The map may be the only way we may know the territory, but it is not the territory.

This is something I think we are generally aware of as scholars, I'm certainly not accusing my colleague of making this mistake, but only pointing out that we must walk a careful line. We are right to argue for the importance and power of symbols, but we must guard against letting them float free from the Networks they always circulate in. When we forget that Narratives have networks attached to them, we lose resources we need to understand how those who exist in Networks quite different from our own may be making meaning. This, I think, may have dire political consequences. I am not saying that we must bow to the meanings others have made, only that we must understand what those meanings are and how they are working within their networks if we are to be able to talk to them, to share our ideas with them, and to expand our coalitions. This, ultimately, is the only way (IMHO) to successfully advocate one's position within a Democracy.

If You Know Union Members who are thinking of Voting for John McCain

Please show them this:

Monday, September 22, 2008

Things Andy Finds Fascinating Chapter 1,493

In which a Japanese shipping company gives a Panamax Roll-On-Roll-Off of car-carrying vessel a name which would seem to befit a country-western Album.

Presented for your approval: the Texas Highway a 17,000 ton vehicle carrier in the service of Taiyo Nippon Kisen Co. LTD. of Kobe, Japan. Her sister ships include the more internationally flavored Tianjin Highway and Baltic Highway as well as the Indiana Highway and Kentucky Highway which sound like they could be a Springsteen album and a Bob Denver album, respectively.

I just find all of this a fascinating example of the multicultural melange of mixed-up symbols our late-capitalist culture serves up in the even in the most mundane and under-examined spaces. A mix of symbols in which even historically powerful "western" culture can be re-mixed and re-contextualized.

Oh and when the container ship in the next lock over pulled forward two frames after this one, she revealed herself to be the Maersk Dallas.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hypertext formatting a Public Domain document

I've taken a stab at starting the project I described in my last post: creating a hyperlinked version of a public domain text. I've added the text of John Locke's Two Treatises of Government to the wikibooks project where it can have links to wikipedia articles and other gloss material added to it.

You can check it out here. Any help would be much appreciated.

Project Idea

Does anyone know of any project working to convert public-domain e-books (like those available from Project Gutenberg) into a wikipedia-like hypertext format? That is to say, into a format where proper nouns, references, and terms the reader might not immediately know are linked to some resource (wikipedia entry, original source, etc) that might help the reader gain a better understanding? I love how this has been done with the Orwell Prize online adaptation of Orwell's diaries. Just think of how useful it would be with a dense philosophical or historical text. We all end up searching wikipedia for the references anyway.

If no one knows of a project like this already ongoing, would anyone want to help start one?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Blog Bifurcation

Actually more like trifurcation. I'm trying to sort out my academic, personal and political blogging. Personal stuff, my take on various bits and pieces of pop culture, reflextions on quotidian existence, will remain here on greatconcavity. I'm biting the bullet and starting a dissertation blog with the same title as my dissertation, Hackers, Cyborgs, and Wikipedians, where I will be posting fragments of my ongoing dissertation. Finally, the next time I have something I think is worth saying about the current election cycle or US electoral politics in general, I'm going to try to put it up on It's The Narrative, Stupid a new political blog organized by a colleague and twitter-buddy.

See you around the internets.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dumb Like a Fox

I assume by now we've all seen this:

and we're ready to get to work spreading the meme.Sarah Palin is unready to be Vice President! She didn't even know what the Bush Doctrine is! What a dummy.

I'm not sure that's going to work. Here's why:

What it looks like the Republicans are going for with the Palin love-fest is the same sort of identity politics they always play. They want white suburban, exurban, and rural America to look at Palin and say, "hey she's a member of my community, she's like me!"

Thus, when media outlets and liberal commentators pick out Palin's flaws, a large, powerful segment of the electorate hears the media picking on them. Race, religion, and other crude markers of identity are clearly central to this trick, but when the criticism pertains to issues of knowledge or intelligence, I think there is an additional factor in play that renders this trick particularly effective. Forms of knowledge, skill and intelligence possessed by great swaths of the electorate have been devalued by the corporate de-skilling and outsourcing of work. Thus, these voters are already primed to react defensively to the proclamations of "elites" possessed of knowledge that the market, and our larger society, still grants some value and tokens of respect.

The great trick of the GOP, of course, has been to turn this defensiveness into a weapon to bludgeon exactly those people who might try to blunt the worst effects of this capitalist process of de-valuing the knowledge and skills of working people. The Dems try to point this out, but of course, since the corporations ARE the media, they are always fighting an uphill battle (and the fact that they themselves dare not directly confront capitalism doesn't help any).

My suggestion? Leave the gaffes alone. Concentrate on the war with Russia stuff. By next week the Obama campaign should have ads in heavy rotation repeating Palin's statement that she would "go to war with Russia" and playing it over stock footage of the Crossroads-Baker Atomic test. Basically the "Daisy" ad all over again. Would it be a little dirty? Sure, but to hell with it, they've been waaaay dirtier than that and paid no price for it. If Obama's goal is to lose with a clean conscience, he should think about the very real, very terrible effects a McCain/Palin administration ticket would have on the country.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I'd just like to point out

That by Heart's own admission, the titular character of the song "Barracuda" is not really supposed to be a good person. Submitted into evidence, these lyrics, the only ones repeated during the course of the song:

If the real thing dont do the trick
You better make up something quick
You gonna burn burn burn burn it to the wick
Ooooooh, barracuda?
Yes, the GOP has stolen a song about a habitual liar to brand their VP candidate. Who is a habitual liar. Wow.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Kick-Ass Obama Ad

YES! Its like my point 4 below with the Unhealthy Politically Induced Rage(TM) removed. Nice! I want to know if anybody see these up on the air. We gave 'em the money, now they better spend it.

Dear America: WTF? An Open Letter

Yes, time for another open letter from me. Because I'm very fond of my own opinion. This one goes out to the Electorate to the US of A

Dear America*,

The polls currently suggest you are responding to the recent ad campaign (referred to in the press by its trade name "convention") staged by the Republican party. I would like to ask you one, simple question:


I have always prided myself on standing up for democracy, for advocating for popular sovereignty, but this really shakes my faith to the core. Here's why. The McCain campaign is based on a number of lies totally removed from anything resembling reality. Lies so stunningly untrue that if you believe them, voters of America, I will be forced to seriously reconsider the notion that you are capable of making an informed decision about where to go for lunch, much less who should control the nation. Let me enumerate these lies here:

1. Non-existent American Oil: Ok seriously folks, seriously NO ONE believes there is enough Oil in the US to make even a teeny-tiny dent in Gasoline prices. Even the Republican politicians admit that, when they aren't saying misleading things about "energy independence" in front of cheering crowds. Furthermore, continuing Oil consumption at our current rate endangers the global climate and ensures continued dependence on that political bug-a-boo "foreign oil." See, even if we did increase domestic production in the short-term, in the long-term those supplies run out (remember they aren't very big) and, since price incentives never drove us to reduce consumption, we're back at the Saudi spigot. "Drill baby Drill" is the most blatantly false mantra an American political party has embraced, possibly ever. It promises you, the American voter, that you will be able to continue your way of life unchanged if we just sweep the environmentalists out of the way and let the Oil industry off the leash. This is untrue. The Gasoline economy is coming to an end, the hard physical limits of size of existing oil reserves and the ability of the atmosphere to absorb CO2 make that an inescapable reality. Our only choice is to run off the edge of this cliff full-speed or start thinking about how to make a controlled landing. Furthermore, how much less of a leash do you think we can really give the Oil industry. Have you not noticed the Oil-Man-In-Cheif we've had for the past 8 years?

2. Non-Existent Tax Cuts/Non-Existent Tax-Hikes: Let me make this perfectly clear. Barack Obama will only raise taxes on people making $250,000 a year or more. How many times does he have to say this? And he'll only raise them back to the level they were paying taxes under the Clinton administration, you know, those 8 terrible years of peace and prosperity. So the next time you hear McCain say "Barack Obama wants to raise your taxes" I want you to ask yourself "do I make $250,000 a year?" and if the answer is "no", just tell yourself "he isn't talking to me, he is talking to some McMansion owning rich fuck I can't stand." Either that or he is, you know, lying.

3. Non-Existent Job Creation Plan: McCain insists, insists that his plan to give giant tax breaks to Very Wealthy People(TM) will "create jobs." Newsflash America, this is the exact tax scheme we've had for the last eight years. The same one! With the same plan, let the rich become ultra-rich and they will bestow their prosperity on all of us through the magic of trickle-down economics. How well has that been working out for us so far, eh? Am I the only one who noticed that unemployment jumped UP recently? Cutting taxes on the rich is not a job-creation plan. Scratch that, it is a job creation plan, but it isn't one that will work.

4. Non-Existent Reformer Credentials: If I hear a major media outlet call John McCain a "maverick" one more time I'm going to hit my head into a wall until I pass out. I swear to God, America, you watch me. John McCain has voted with President Bush 90% of the time during his administration. He has endorsed all of the President's major policies in his own policy proposals. Sure, he has his name on a major piece of campaign finance reform legislation, but that was only AFTER he was investigated in a major scandal involving a campaign donor that apparently tapped senators he had given multi-million dollar contributions to for favors. Handy way to clear your name after being caught with your hand in the cookie jar, huh? Don't even get me started on why calling Sarah Palin a "reform" candidate is a laughable notion. Ok, now I'm started, so how about this list: her close relationship with corrupt Alaska senator Ted Stevens, her blatant gaming of Federal earmarks to win $12 million in federal money for an Alaska town with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, her support for the so-called "bridge to Nowhere" before it became a political hot-potato (she literally had a T-shirt supporting it), her blatant cronyism and disregard for professional employees while running Wasilia... see! I told you not to let me get started.

Well, there you have it, America, a few of the Big Lies of this election cycle. Could I enumerate more? Probably, but I really need to get back to work now.

Please, don't buy into this crap. Show me democracy is not a horrible, farcical mistake? Please?



*Sorry Canada - it just has a better ring to it than "Dear United States"**
** Additional apologies to Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands, Falkland Islands, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela - props to Colin, who apparently has been playing that "name the countries" game on

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Andy's Linux Hacks for NOOBs - Phun with screensavers edition

I'm more-or-less a novice user when it comes to linux. I'm pretty proud of having put together the little hack I'm about to describe, but I realize it is kid stuff for those of you who administer commercial grade servers and write kernel patches and stuff. Still, I thought I would share what I did for the benefits of my fellow NOOBs who might find the information useful. Sharing is what FOSS is all about, right?

I've always been fascinated by the variety of real-time and near-real-time information you can access with a networked PC. I remember the first time I found a Full-Disk GOES image on the web. I was amazed, there was the "big blue marble" of the earth, just like in the famous images from the Apollo Missions (except in black-and-white and higher resolution) and I was seeing it as it appeared just a few hours ago! Since then, I've discovered a variety of live or almost-live feeds of interesting images, like the Kennedy Space Center launch pad, or weather radar images, images from traffic cameras on local highways, or from the SOHO satellite monitoring the sun.

Yesterday it struck me that I had all the tools I needed to set up my Linux desktop box (running Ubuntu 8.04) to automatically download images from these feeds and display them as my screensaver. Here's how I did it.

Ubuntu ships stock with a screensaver called glslideshow that displays a slideshow of image files on the screen. I decided to use this to display my images. First I had to modify the settings for the glslideshow screensaver to pull images from a directory other than its default and to forgo panning and zooming the images it displayed. Sadly, Gnome doesn't give you an easy way to do this from the GUI just yet, so I had to go in and edit a couple of config files. First I had to modify the glslideshow config file to get it to display the images the way I wanted to. This file is located at:

The line of this file beginning with:

gives the options that the glslideshow screensaver program will be executed with. I set mine to:
Exec=glslideshow -root -duration 5 fade 1 -zoom 100
Which basically tells the program to show images for 5 seconds at a time with a 1 second crossfade between them, and to display the images at 100% screensize, which prevents any panning or zooming effects. You can read the man page for glslideshow to learn more about the options if you want.

For some reason, to set the location the screensaver will use as the source for its images, you have to edit a different file. This file is called .xscreensaver and is located in your home directory. You may or may not have one. If you have one edit it. If you don't have one, create one. In any event add this line to .xscreensaver:
imageDirectory: [Path to Files]
Substitute the location you want to use to store your files for [Path to Files] I used a subdirectory in my home directory so I used
imageDirectory: /home/MyUserName/Pictures_For_Screensaver

Once you get that set up, throw a couple images into the directory you are going to use and go to the "screensaver" entry under the "preferences" menu and enable the glslideshow screensaver to give it a test run. It should randomly display your test images on the screen.

Next, I set up my machine to download images from my sources at set intervals. To do this I used the program crontab, which tells the computer to execute a specified command at a specified time, to automatically run the program wget, which fetches a file from the internet.

You set up crontab by writing a text file with entries that tell the computer when you want it to execute a given command. This can be a little tricky to understand at first. I'm not going to go into detail about how to use crontab. It is a very powerful little program. If you want detailed instructions on its general use, go here. For our purposes, all we need to know is how to set it up to issue our wget commands at regular intervals. You do this by creating a text file and adding lines in this format
*/[Number of Minutes Between Downoads] * * * * wget -O [Path_to_File/Filename] [URL of File to Download]

Ok, what does all that mean? It means that to tell crontab to have wget grab the file at and save it to /home/User_Name/Pictures_for_Screensaver every 30 minutes you add a line reading
*/30 * * * * wget -O /home/User_Name/Pictures_for_Screensaver/gevs.jpg

What's the deal with all those "*" symbols? Its complicated. Seriously, read this or take my word for it, you need 'em.

Add a line to the file for each of your image sources. Have the computer grab more frequently updated images more often, and less frequently updated images less often. I ended up grabbing images from the following sources:

Which gives me an interesting mix. Some local webcams, some silly stuff, a couple of satellites, weather radar...

Once you have your text file done, save it as a plain text file under any filename you like. I saved mine as "cronfile." Then issue the following command from the command line:
crontab [filename]
Replace [filename] with the name of the text file you created.

And voila! Your own auto-updating webcam screensaver! I'm watching mine right now. It is showing me traffic on I475 in toledo and the slow march of the "crawler" vehicle bringing the space shuttle to the launch pad at Kennedy, as well as the most recent GOES and SOHO images, local weather radar, and the current Aurora activity forcast from the space weather center.

Useful? Time will tell. A nerdy thrill from having a "magic window" out on various parts of the Earth and Outer Space? Hells yes.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Post-Modern Meta-Irony

Art collective monochrom continues their attempts at culture jamming:

The thing that makes this really interesting is the context. has been one of the most visible sites distributing monochrom's work. Yet BoingBoing is a site with a strong libertarian bent - sometimes trending towards anarcho-capitalist. So the video above - which is a monochrom project distributed via BoingBoing's "BoingBoing TV" - ends up being a truly weird hybrid: art collective members commenting on the difficulty of being subversive under a late-capitalist regime that relentlessly transforms speech into commodity, interspersed with ads hawking the Microsoft corporation's new "crowdsourced music platform."

What I can't decide is, who wins in this exchange?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Amy Goodman Arrested

They arrested radio journalist Amy Goodman in Minneapolis today. This, after days of random raiding of homes and meeting places of peaceful protesters. What has this country come to? Do we arrest journalists for the crime of covering the news now? This is unacceptable. As has become my habit, I wrote the Obama camp to complain and ask for action. I doubt I will get any, but I had to try.

Here is what I wrote:

Dear Senator Obama,

I know, you get too much mail from me. This one is important.

Senator, they just arrested an independent journalist, the well known and widely respected Amy Goodman, in Minneapolis. The actions that have been taken by the police in that city in the days leading up to the RNC: rounding up peaceful protesters on vague warrants, raiding meeting places in force with guns drawn, and now arresting a journalist who was covering a news event, are unacceptable. Senator, you have the eye of the media. You can speak out against these excesses and the nation will hear you.

Senator, I understand that the conventional wisdom is that you must stand silently by while the Minneapolis police shred the first amendment by disrupting American Citizens trying to exercise their First Amendment rights to free assembly and freedom of the press. I understand that politics as usual would say that speaking out against these excesses would make you look "weak" on crime, or terror, or something...

Senator, saying nothing here makes you look weak on protecting our constitutional rights. Are we to understand that this is what we have come to in the United States of America? That we now arrest journalists for the crime of covering the news?

Please speak out. Please reassure the nation that this is not your vision of what the United States should be.

Thank You.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Fellow Gentlemen of the Democratic Party

Please do not attempt to attack Sarah Palin in the following ways:

- Making innuendos about her appearance (ex: a friend of mine's away message "sure she's hot, but is she ready to lead?")
-Snide comments about her beauty pageant experience (ex: Paul Begala on CNN "she seemed very poised, probably got that from her beauty pageant days")
-Any observation on clothing (the only acceptable outfit for female politicians is the pantsuit, its not their fault, its the society)
-Suggesting she is a vapid ditz (

Sarah Palin, on her own, will not draw many democratic women away from the party. The sight of male democrats dusting off a suite of sexist tropes to attack her, might.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hyper-Real moment of the Night

And this was the first night of the Political Convention season, a decidedly hyper-real time:

Paul Begala: "The buzzword this year is authenticity and Michelle Obama definitely has it" (a brief moment of recognition in which Begala catches himself), "that is, its not just a buzzword, she really has it"

Why the GDP is Madness

I've read some analysis like this before, but this short piece in a recent Harper's really does a good job of making the case for the insanity of subordinating all other priorities to the cash economy.

Some of my colleagues may disapprove of the way the piece seems tinged by a certain nostalgia for the "traditional" family. They may object to this as essentialist, or as a call for the return of a way of life that was patriarchal, homophobic, and disapproving of many other forms of difference.

I think all these criticisms are meaningful, and would hope that we can work toward a future in which the non-money economy is not founded on unrecognized drudgery by women, and in which closely knit communities are not based around principles that insist on homogeneous aesthetic choices and sexual practices.

However, at the same time, I think we cultural studies scholars, especially those of us who work on popular culture, have an unfortunate tendency to valorize a variety of consumption-based practices and cultural forms simply because they seem "radical" or like something that would shock the oppressively square church-going denizens of middle America.

It may be fun to feel edgy and hip, but so long as our cultural forms are based on consumption, they only serve to hand over to capital ever more power to make decisions about what is best for our society as a whole. And capital, as this piece points out, is systemically incapable of giving a damn about anything other than ever more profit, and ever more production. If we want to introduce any other values at all back into our political discourse, we're going to have to enter into discussion with our neighbors... even if those neighbors may hold values that make us uncomfortable.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Some actual text and analysis by me

To go with that last video. I think it is great that Obama is finally hitting back against McCain on the economy, and pointing out the position of economic privilege that McCain holds, and connecting that to his lousy, benefit the rich and screw everybody else policies. Its smart economic populism and I hope it will go far.

That said, charges of "elitism" always seem to stick more to Democrats than to Republicans, don't they... I'd like to advance a theory as to why.

Maybe its about gender.

The McCain campaign hit back against Obama's remarks by calling him "someone who worries about the price of Arugula" and thus is more "out of touch with ordinary Americans" than his fellow millionaire, John McCain.

I think that says something about how Republicans craft their message on "elitism" and what cultural codes they depend on it activating. I think they are trying to cash in on a long tradition of depicting the upper-class as effeminate - and therefore weak - and the working-class as strong, robust, and masculine. Arugula is expensive, sure, but more importantly it is a salad green - very fem. Rich folks who eat that stuff, like those who spend their money on haircuts (John Edwards) windsurf rigs (John Kerry) hybrid cars (Al Gore) or chardonnay (liberals in general) are effeminate, possibly gay, and therefore disgusting. Rich folks who buy prime steaks, massive SUVs, toy cattle ranches, and sports cars are just ordinary (macho straight) Americans.

One hopes this sort of blatant manipulation of prejudice has a limit, and that the electorate will not respond to it forever. Especially since the policies it enables are now so clearly screwing over the vast majority of the country. Sadly, history would seem to suggest that may not be necessarily so.

I apologize for posting endless video clips

But there are so many good ones out there these days.

Here's Obama, finally throwing punches...

Right on! Hit 'em!

Best Mash Up Evar

Ok, well, best Mash-up this week anyway...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Attack of the Giant Chavez

The above image, from a Reuters article about an upcoming attempt by the Venezuelan gov't to launch a mapping satellite, kinda looks like a giant Hugo Chavez is attacking a satellite dish. Sloppy composition, but hilarious...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Great Indy Campaign Ad

Everyone who supports Obama should put this on their blog, IMHO.

Where to find

The last Lun Class Ekranoplan - a massive Soviet aircraft designed to fly a few feet off the surface of the sea carrying a frigate's complement of anti-ship missiles - on google maps:

View Larger Map

Oh wikipedia, the things I waste time on because of you...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I'm not sure

How much help a recommendation from a site full of marxist rantings and profanity like this one will be for somebody looking for freelance writing/business consulting gigs, but Mike over at is a really sharp student of technology and pop culture looking for work. He groks the networked world... if you need somebody to write up your web 2.0 project or give you some insights into contemporary technologically mediated culture, drop him a line.

Monday, August 11, 2008

14 Ways to look at an international conflagration

Well, not quite 14, but as an experiment (and to satisfy my curiosity) I've been watching to see how many different points of view I could get on the Georgian conflict via the internet news sources I routinely monitor. Here's what I've found:

Two articles from the NYT: One broad overview, one more "on the ground"

Some unabashedly (and predictably) Pro-Russian coverage from Pravda

Several short videos from Reuters... good for some sense of what things might look like:

This article critical of what the author perceives as Pro-Western bias in other reports appearing in The Guardian

That's what I've found so far...

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Orwell's Diary as a Blog

These folks are posting George Orwell's diary online as a blog. Posts will go up exactly 70 years after they were written, starting today with the entry from August 9, 1938.

I'd just like to take this opportunity to remind everyone of my attempt to get folks to call Orwell "The Democratic Socialist most likely to be cited by Authoritarian Capitalists"

Thursday, August 07, 2008

We're also apparently down with

Holding prisoners in tiny wooden boxes

Human Rights(TM) only available for Citizens of the United States* void wherever they would be a bother

*Some rights, especially those protected by the 1st and 4th amendments,no longer available. Supplies of other rights are running low! Get yours today!

Automating the Army

Just in case some of you were hoping the debacle in Iraq would finally convince the United States to abandon the use of military force as a way to pursue its interests, I bring you today's Very Depressing Link (TM).

How will the United States continue using military force around the world when folks get upset about American casualties? Simple! Use Robots for the dangerous combat jobs!

Of course, if we gave a fuck about killing other people
we might be deterred by that... but all the evidence I've seen suggests the US electorate is willing to kill virtually unlimited numbers of "enemies" (including "collateral damage") so long as "our boys" are safe. I'm sure it doesn't hurt that the enemies are usually brown or yellow.

Yes America, we can continue our lifestyle of rampant consumption unabated, and send in the Kill Bots to quell any resistance to our appropriation of resources or labor! Happy Day! Let freedom (for consumption) ring on every (ok, not really every, since the poor and the black won't be getting a cut of this pie, and will be targeted by second-hand Kill Bots in the hands of the Police) American hillside!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

They Built a Desert and Called it Peace

Or, in this case, they built a prison and called it peace. Great documentary work by an Iraqi reporter for The Guardian on the current state of Baghdad. The short answer: there is no peace there... just a civil war on hold.

Via the always excellent Juan Cole

How to explain why Capitalism is fucked up in jargon free English

This video by Austrian art collective monochrom is a great, straight forward skewering of Capitalism and Market economies. Nobody's done it better since Marx.

Granted, their simplicity leaves out some important nuances, but hey you can't have it all.

The fact that I can only find this via the increasingly hyper-capitalist and ad-crufted is just a bit of irony to top it all off.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

On the same basic lines of my post below

A recently, an episode of the "PhD Comics" webcomic was published that depicted fictionalized versions of some members of my department. The folks depicted were pretty pleased with the comic, and I suppose publicity for the school (since the program has been conflated with another program here, either to protect the anonymity of the folks in the comic or by mistake) is a good thing.

You can read it here.

However, as much as people seem pleased with the comic, I must really, really take issue with the way that my discipline is depicted in this cartoon.

There are a bunch of things I don't like, but right now I'd like to single out the way my colleagues are apparently quoted as saying that, in humanities scholarship, there are "many truths." This sort of simple, pluralist line reinforces what I think is an important mis-representation of what we as humanities scholars do (or at least should be doing, in my opinion).

To say that doing humanities scholarship is about showing that "there are many truths" is like saying that doing environmentalism is about showing that there are many species. Yes, there are, but that is not the point. The point is what is happening to those truths and species under the systems of power at work in contemporary capitalism. Namely, they are being tossed into its gaping maw, shredded, and shat back out as commodities.

And what about the wonderful, snowflake "truth" that our smirking jock-boy conservative ass-clown depicted below lives in? Is it important for us to understand that it exists? Oh yeah. Does that mean we respect it as a co-equal member of the smiling community of truth? Hell no. Our duty is to confront it, to challenge it, to limit the effects of its toxicity where ever we can.

And that means our job is to reach conclusions, to take stands, and to advocate for some truths and not for others. Not because they are the sole truth, but rather quite the opposite, because what truth will prevail is always at stake.

Behold the Modern Conservative, or, Way to Go Boomers

Yes Boomers, remember back in the 1960s, those radical times when you got all radical and challenged the system? Well, at least you challenged the system until it stopped killing you in a misbegotten war in South East Asia and started paying you really well. Then you decided the system wasn't so bad after all and moved out to the suburbs and made sure no Black Folks followed you there. Not that you had anything against them, oh no, you just needed to maintain your home value.

Behold what you have wrought, the modern conservative dude, captured in his natural habitat - the mind bogglingly awful facebook page.

Thank God for your brave sexual revolution Boomers! You made sure Conservative dude could be utterly unabashed about his appetites. But you left the systems of inequality that let him treat his partners as cattle totally untouched. Dismantling those would have been no fun. I understand.

Oh and thank god for the brave war you fought on naughty words, allowing Mr. Douchy-McDouchebag here to express his vile notions of racial supremacy and basic disregard for all human life that doesn't immediately serve or entertain him (aw, lets face it, he doesn't have much regard even for them) with cutting, edgy prose. How fun!

Yes, the conservative dude, the ultimate product of vapid pluralism. Behold his unique and wonderful truth. Is it not beautiful?

You fought for freedom and liberated the powerful from any sense of responsibility for the rest of us. Now voices scream freedom in every direction and justice in none.

What really scares me, Boomers, is I'm pretty sure we Internet Kids are doing it all over again.

Monday, July 28, 2008

If you were a fly on the wall during the making of "Diary of the Dead"

I think you would hear something about like this:

Production Assistant: Mr. Romero, this is the internet

George Romero: By Gum, there's pictures in them tubes!

Production Assistant: Yes anyone can put them there, even with just a cell phone

George Romero: I need to remake Night of the Living Dead! And comment at length about this new media environment!

(Outside the As The World Turns casting call)

George Romero: Its ok if you didn't get on the TeeVee folks! Come be in my Zombie Movie!

(In the writing room)

George Romero: More Exposition!

Writers: This movie already has more Exposition than Ghost in The Shell

George Romero: Exposition is the best vehicle for biting social commentary!

(During Filming)

Black Actors: Why is every Black person in this movie hanging around a warehouse with an M-16?

George Romero: You were at the International Black Folks meetin' when the Zombie Crisis struck!

Black Actors: ummm, sure...

(In My Apartment)

Me: What the fuck was that?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Ok, And if that Other hit from Vancouver is Mr. Gibson

I understand about the Dorotea, I really do. I meet people like that all the time. They are annoying. We're not all like that!

(sigh) Great, now two of my favorite authors think I'm a tool. What a monday.

That or somebody with a proxy server is having fun with me.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

If that Google hit from Torino

Searching for "Bruce Sterling," is in fact Bruce Sterling or someone affiliated with Mr. Sterling can I, um, mention that I really loved Schismatrix?

A lot?

Maybe my, um, tone was a bit harsh... sorry?

Academics love the Cyberpunk authors

But the cyberpunk authors HATE academics. Sure, William Gibson's occasional snotty remark about using us as his inspiration for the villain in Patter Recognition is one thing, but Bruce Sterling's blatant mis-representation of the argument being made in an, admittedly snotty but not unusually so, call for artwork is just mean.

Yeah, Bruce, cause there is nothing to the notion that creative professionals overlook the labor of the less-hip, less well paid, less visible workers who feed, clothe, and pick up after them. Nope, nothing to that at all.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What do you get...

When you cross Barack Obama's anglicization of "si se puede" with those ubiquitous cheezeburger craving kittehs?

Yes we can has


Sunday, July 06, 2008

The last four days

Have, for me, been all about taking part in a novel political experiment. The Get FISA Right group has been trying to find ways to push Senator Obama, and the rest of the senate, towards protecting our civil liberties and voting down the so-called FISA compromise. We've managed to stir up some attention. Obama's campaign had to issue a response to us, though the response wasn't quite what we wanted (he basically re-iterated previous positions). Now we've crafted an open letter in response to his response. I've included that below.

I'd like to encourage everybody on here to get active and speak out on this important legislation. Starting tomorrow, the Get FISA right group will be starting a phone campaign to put pressure on the Senate to fix this bill. Follow this link for easy action steps you can take.

An Open Letter to Senator Obama
From the 20,000+ members of the group
"Senator Obama – Please Vote NO on Telecom Immunity – Get FISA Right"

Dear Senator Obama,

Thank you for taking the time to respond to us with your post “My Position On FISA” dated July 3rd, 2008. In your response, you pledged to "listen to [our] concerns, take them seriously, and seek to earn [our] ongoing support," and in that spirit, we would like to continue this conversation. We ask that you help transfer our passion and political activism into getting the FISA bill right -- now.

Senator, as a legal scholar who has done extensive study of our country's constitution you know that the FISA re-authorization bill currently before the Senate (HR 6304) threatens the rights guaranteed to American citizens in the Constitution, especially the Fourth Amendment.

One of the most troubling parts of this bill is its provision to provide retroactive immunity from civil lawsuits for telecommunications companies that may have assisted the Bush administration in violating the civil rights of Americans. You wrote in your statement that you “support striking Title II," which provides this immunity, "from the bill, and will work with Chris Dodd, Jeff Bingaman and others in an effort to remove this provision in the Senate.”

We ask that you back up your words with action by addressing your constituents on the floor of the Senate with the same oratorical power you used in Philadelphia to lay out your vision of a 'More Perfect Union.' The American people have just as much right to know of the dangerous precedent this Congress would be setting by granting retroactive immunity to those who "may have violated the law" and allowing spying on law-abiding citizens as we did to relearn of segregation and Jim Crow. The arm of government oppression reaches far and wide, Senator, and we must beat it back on whatever front we find it.

We ask you to reconsider your current position on the bill as a whole and strongly oppose a bill about which you said, "I know that the FISA bill that passed the House is far from perfect. I wouldn't have drafted the legislation like this, and it does not resolve all of the concerns that we have about President Bush's abuse of executive power." In your statement you also wrote, “In a dangerous world, government must have the authority to collect the intelligence we need to protect the American people. But in a free society, that authority cannot be unlimited." We agree. Our nation just spent the holiday weekend in celebration of our independence from unlimited government authority. America in 1776 wished to be strong and free. Much has changed in 232 years but Americans will never consciously abandon freedom.

Senator, while you wrote that not passing this bill would result in the government “losing important surveillance tools," these important surveillance tools are in fact blanket surveillance programs already underway solely due to the passage of the Protect America Act, which you rightly opposed and voted against. This is only one example of how, even without the provisions for retroactive immunity, this bill is still dangerous to the civil liberties of American citizens.

As we understand it Senator, your oath to uphold the Constitution requires you and others in the Congress to vote against HR 6304.

We appreciate your willingness to continue the discussion. We represent a large and vocal part of the movement you have nurtured and that has nurtured you during this campaign season, and include many of your most active and ardent supporters. As you have said time and again Senator, "we are the ones we have been waiting for," and we are here, working to bring about real change in Washington. We have grown to over 20,000 strong in the space of just a few days. We are lobbying our representatives, and working to get our friends, relatives and neighbors to do the same. We are organizing support for removing the immunity provisions for telecommunications companies and building opposition to this dangerous bill in its entirety.

Working together, we have a better chance to assist Senators Dodd and Bingaman, and can achieve what your commitment to us, your supporters, has been before your recent change in position. Together, we can protect our civil rights and continue to keep America safe. Please join us and let's work together to Get FISA Right.

If you would like to join us, please call your Senator, join the group on myBO and Facebook, and help get the word out!