Friday, October 31, 2008



Parric stiffened. “And you are contacting...?”

Djserka gave Parric a sour look. “And just when, exactly, have I had the luxury of free time to do such a thing? Between your special diet and Her Imperial Majesty’s menu changes-- Do you know how difficult it is to recruit enough Peq for a dinner harvest?”

Parric relaxed slightly. “May I be asking how you are to contacting Rapteer?”

“A trans-cosm beacon, of course,” Djserka said, as if Parric had asked the stupidest question imaginable. “I can show it to you, if you think it’s important.”

Parric nodded, and Djserka led him through the kitchens to the staff lockers. “Here it is,” Djserka said, retrieving it from a locker and passing it to Parric. “A low-end design, if you ask me. No provisions for using the beacon as a carrier signal for data. Just a dumb beacon.”

Parric examined it carefully. It was a translucent oblong box that impossibly seemed to spiral in on itself--a typical visual paradox of the multidimensional design. The transmitter hadn’t been activated. It had no dataport. As Djserka had indicated, it wasn’t very sophisticated.

“You and Rapteer aren’t on, shall we say, amicable terms, are you?”

“It is complicating. Actualling, we are never meeting yet,” Parric said. “But no, I’m not thinking we are amicable.”

“Then I feel, in the spirit of full disclosure, that I don’t believe this the only beacon he secreted within the palace,” Djserka said. “Although I am not inclined to spread rumors--as I’ve said, I myself am not privy to any of their discussions--talk about the palace has it that Rapteer departed shortly after His Imperial Majesty learned of his beacons and confronted him on the matter.”

Parric considered the information. “Is this when His Imperial Majesty is beginning collection of Nexial gaps?”

“Possibly. Access to the gaps was restricted the following day.”

Parric bowed his head and rubbed his wing fingers between his three sets of eyes. “I am fearing this is a trap I’m leading Flavius and myself right intoing.”

Djserka gave Parric a considering look. “You have one of the most peculiar speech patterns I’ve ever encountered.”

Parric nodded. “So I am hearing. My I be asking one more favoring of you?”

“That must certainly depend on the nature of the favor requested.”

“Where are the they holding the gaps? I’m fearing we must soon departing quickly, and finding them on my own will be taking much time.”

Djserka glanced to the kitchen then back at Parric. “Well, that would solve my difficulty of preparing your special meals...” Djserka shuffled over to the kitchen. “Em Kleemjun!”

One of the other Naga-ed-der snapped to attention. “Yes, em Djserka?”

“You are in charge until I return. The starlight swim isn’t until midnight, but I want the appetizers arranged and waterproofed by the time I get back.”

“You are having my thanks,” Parric said.

“Don’t thank me too quickly, Crafter. I’m only doing this to lighten my workload. We’re not merely understaffed and undersupplied, we’re grossly so.”

Parric followed Djserka through the kitchen and out a door on the far side. They entered an open shaft with a narrow, spiral stair winding along the circumference. Djserka looped a strand of silk from its spinnerettes to an anchor on the landing.

“Can you follow? Stairs are unpleasant for me.”

“Of coursing.”

Djserka lurched forward and vanished over the edge. Parric followed.

Parric’s wings blurred as he hovered in the center of the shaft. Already Djserka was several floors below, dropping in a controlled, tethered fall that was as much an aerial dance as anything. Parric slowed his wings and descended.

The shaft went on far longer than Parric expected. When Djserka stopped on a landing two levels from the bottom, Parric estimated they’d traversed nearly the entire height of the palace.

Djserka inclined its head as if it knew what Parric was thinking. “The petite dining hall is indeed in the central palace tower. The main banquet hall is six levels below it. Our stores are between the two. It’s not entirely convenient, but we make do.”

“Are we nearing to the gaps?”

“Yes, Crafter. We’re almost there,” Djserka said, leading Parric through a narrow corridor to a small door that blocked the way. “The doors from the central lifts are guarded, but nobody uses the open stairwells other than em Naga-ed-der bringing orders from the kitchen or collecting imported foodstuffs.” Djserka turned and gave Parric an almost conspiratorial look. “You’d never have gotten this far otherwise.”

“Then I’m thanking you again. And His Imperial Majesty will be thanking you, too, as it is his wishings that Flavius and I be departing,” Parric said.

“I’ll take your word on that, Crafter. I’ve learned to avoid direct contact with anyone with ‘Imperial’ in their title,” Djserka said, going through the door.

It opened into a shallow recess, shielded from the larger chamber by a wall. Unnatural, metallic groaning filled the air, setting Parric’s antennae alert. Djserka’s spines bristled. Voices shouted and barked orders unintelligibly. A foreboding energy crackled throughout the room.

“Something’s not right here,” Djserka said, pulling back. “We must go. Now.”

Parric ignored him, sliding forward to peek into the chamber.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of Nexial gaps pulsed in the center of the room, tethered in place by flickering anchor threads. Normally imperceptible to even Parric’s multiple eyes, the sheer concentration of gaps made them fleetingly visible even to more mundane senses. Four technicians with supplemental prosthetic arms manned control stations around the gaps, cursing freely as they rapidly worked. A dozen Eternal Militiamen in silver-streaked turquoise armor stood about the chamber, cuayabs held ready.

Parric pulled back. “This isn’t the terminal I’m arriving at on previous visitings.”

“That’s the public gap access. It’s been closed and that Nexial gap relocated here, with the others. This terminal is more cargo oriented... among other things. Can we please leave now?”

“Yes, I’m seeing all I need--”

“They’re coming through again!” an urgent voice shouted in the chamber.

Parric jerked back around. The collected gaps shuddered and twitched in disturbing ways.

“Steady now,” one of the techs said. “They’re trying a dispersed penetration this time, random across the grid.”

“I’m getting spikes from three of my gaps,” another said.

“Only three? That shouldn’t--”

A shape lunged through a gap, massive and grasping. The unnatural groan turned to a harsh shriek and alarms blared throughout the chamber. It slammed against the floor then rose again, tooth-filled mouth gaping. It was a foothead.

“Compensate! Compensate! Increase the feed to your containment six percent!”

As quickly as it’d broken through, the shape vanished back into the gap.

Parric retreated down the narrow corridor, featherscales ruffled and antennae twitching nervously.

“You know what that thing is?” Djserka asked, chasing along behind Parric.

“Yes. It is being a moironteau.”

“A moironteau? And what’s that?”

“It is proof,” Parric said without breaking stride, “that you are correcting in thinking Rapteer is leaving more beacons in the palace.”


Thursday, October 30, 2008

SFWA statement on Google/Author’s Guild settlement

Wearing my other hat as SFWA PR flack, I thought interested parties might be interested in this:
CHESTERTOWN, Md. -- The announcement on Oct. 28, 2008, of a potential settlement between Google and the Author’s Guild is significant news for many authors, including no few members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). At this time, SFWA has no official standing as an organization in the suit, but it is critical to our mission that we advise our affected members and potential members to the best our ability until more information about the outcome of this suit is known.

The proposed settlement itself is a very detailed document, well over 300 pages. SFWA advises all holders of copyright protected material to visit, and do a search to determine if their work has been made available via Google Books.

There are several potential problems in this proposed settlement, not the least of which is that copyright owners must “opt-out” of the class, rather than opt-in. Put another way, unless a copyright owner chooses not to participate in the class action suit settlement, they will be presumed as a participant. In addition, the notion that the onus of protecting copyrighted material should fall on those who haven’t made it available in an unauthorized form is outrageous. It should be Google’s responsibility to ensure that every text made available on Google Books is authorized prior to it being made available on the site.

The contract issues are not simple: many works assumed to be in the public domain may not be, additional works may have been made available without regard to whether or not a given publisher has obtained the proper rights from the authors, and even more works may have been put online without the author having been made aware of it.

SFWA’s advice to its members, and to others in the writing community, is to review the information online carefully and consult with an attorney prior to deciding what steps to take next. We will certainly be watching to see how the court responds to the proposed settlement. Be advised that nothing contained in this statement should be construed as legal advice.

Procedurally speaking, here is what affected parties can expect:

First, the most-important piece of information: The “official settlement website” is at The various parties have committed to keeping this up to date.

Second, there is no obligation to participate in the settlement, retain counsel or pay any filing fee (or any other kind of fee) to either participate in or “opt out” of the settlement. Only a party who chooses to actively oppose the settlement will be subject to any fees of any kind, and then only in certain procedural respects. DO NOT PAY ANY MONEY OR FEE TO ANYONE REGARDING THIS SETTLEMENT, UNLESS YOU HAVE SPECIFICALLY CHOSEN TO HIRE SOMEONE TO REPRESENT YOU.

Third, parties to the settlement will (or, at least, are supposed to) get a formal notice of the settlement and its basic terms. These notices are supposed to be sent between Jan. 5 and Feb. 27, 2009 (Settlement Agreement, Attachment H, paragraphs 16-18). After receipt of the notice, parties will have until May 5, 2009 to formally opt out of the settlement (id., paragraph 15), or as ordered by the court (but not earlier than that date) to formally object to the terms of the settlement while not opting out.

To “opt out” of the settlement means that a particular party agrees that he/she will not claim any benefits from the settlement; conversely, it also means he/she accepts no responsibilities imposed by the settlement, including any acknowledgement that the settlement might bind or prevent a party from suing independently (or taking any other action). Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party CANNOT be charged any fee for either option. However, if a given individual is within the class definitions and does not explicitly and formally opt out by following the opt-out procedures in the Notice, that person WILL be included in the class and bound by the settlement.

One last note: This settlement is not set in stone. The judge must approve it as fair and appropriate. He may order modifications--sometimes quite substantial--or reject it entirely. His decision to do so will depend, at least in part, on what any objectors to the settlement have to say in their formal filings. This is NOT the time or place to send an outraged note. Objecting to a proposed class settlement is a highly technical matter and requires the advice of experienced counsel--please seek that advice prior to taking any action.

As noted above, SFWA will continue to monitor this matter and as additional information becomes available, we will share that with our membership.


Russell Davis
President, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. (SFWA)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rock to fill the big white spaces

If you're in the Twin Cities (David Schwartz! Tom Kaczynski! Haddayr Copley-Woods!) and looking for a good excuse to bang the head of your Halloween costume, then you need to go check out Friday night's performance at the Turf Club in St. Paul by Zebulon Pike, Minneapolis' finest practitioners of post-metal.

Midwestern art rock!

In the pantheon of well-regarded American regional genres, you don't hear much about things Midwestern. You have your surf music, Southern writers, Tex-Mex, L.A. hardcore, Kansas City Jazz, New Orleans Dixieland, and so on. What about Omaha? As a native of the region, I have always felt this is an oversight. Critical analysis generally misses the things inherently Midwestern about the artistic expressions of those who live there, no doubt because Midwesterners are so good at avoiding drawing attention to themselves, which can be a handicap for rock stars and would-be bestsellers.

Midwesterners, I postulate, are the primary progenitors of the finest vintages of wry sarcasm infecting the American narrative (think David Letterman and his kin). They do irony with feeling — masters of being smart-ass funny and quiet cry poignant at the same time. The kind of people who could articulate a fresh take on the raw emotion of a teenager wistfully listening to an old Neil Young song while simultaneously ridiculing the treacly sentiment with all the biting edge that Germano-Scandinavian farm people reserve for the secret hazing rituals practiced on adolescents when the wind chill is just right.

When wielded by deft hands, the Midwestern emotional instrument is the sharpest scalpel available for flaying the layers of sensibility of contemporary American life. When The Bad Plus take a worn-out AM radio staple like Vangelis' (Theme From) Chariots of Fire, dig deep into its hollow center with the bare tools of a jazz piano trio, apply equal measures of deconstruction and earnestness, and see what happens, they manage to explode the piece from the inside into something insane and new and now, while at the same time rediscovering the emotional potency of the original that had otherwise been diluted with years of crass commercialization and degeneration into cliche.

What The Bad Plus does for pop, Zebulon Pike does for hard rock. Doing honor to their namesake, the early 19th century military explorer who mapped huge quantities of the upper Midwest when it was mostly white space on a map, Zebulon Pike plays big music, post-metal with a clandestine jazz sentimentality, deep shit with a wink, the sound of a mid-continental thunderstorm pounding away at the barren plain, the sound of the town of Albert Lea being leveled by a 1970s cinematic natural disaster, the sound of ice cracking under your snowmobile hauling ass at freeway speeds over the fathoms of a dark lake. Bartok meets Judas Priest in the northbound lane of I-35.

(Unsurprising when you learn that one of Zebulon Pike's frontmen is Erik Fratzke of the punk jazz geniuses Happy Apple (along with drummer Dave King of The Bad Plus and reedman Michael Lewis.)

Check it out, and learn what it feels like when the you can see the horizon across twenty flat miles of denuded farmland washed over in forty shades of dishwater beige, the weather is below zero, the clouds are really scary, and a song comes on the radio that simultaneously captures the awe you are too embarassed to express out loud and makes you smile like turning the channel to a mind-blowing rerun of Land of the Lost.

(Welk-punk? When Lemmy from Motorhead finally gets his chance to fill in for Garrison Keillor on Prairie Home Companion, this will be the musical portion of the program.)

See also, Chicago's Pelican.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Jack me out

Just what you need to hear in the swirling socio-political doom bath of an imminent presidential election: science is identifying the future pathways to feeding digital media directly into your brain:

Scientific American (Nov. 12 issue): Jacking into the Brain--Is the Brain the Ultimate Computer Interface?
How far can science advance brain-machine interface technology? Will we one day pipe the latest blog entry or NASCAR highlights directly into the human brain as if the organ were an outsize flash drive?

...Primitive means of jacking in already reside inside the skulls of thousands of people. Deaf or profoundly hearing-impaired individuals carry cochlear implants that stimulate the auditory nerve with sounds picked up by a microphone—a device that neuroscientist Michael S. Gaz zaniga of the University of California, Santa Barbara, has characterized as the first successful neuroprosthesis in humans. Arrays of electrodes that serve as artificial retinas are in the laboratory. If they work, they might be tweaked to give humans night vision.

The more ambitious goal of linking directly to the hippocampus, a neural structure involved with forming memories, requires technology that has yet to be invented. The bill of particulars would include ways of establishing reliable connections between neurons and the extracranial world—and a means to translate a digital version of War and Peace into the language that neurons use to communicate with one another. An inkling of how this might be done can be sought by examining leading work on brain-machine interfaces.

Your Brain on Text
Jacking text into the brain requires consideration of whether to insert electrodes directly into tissue, an impediment that might make neural implants impractical for anyone but the disabled. As has been known for nearly a century, the brain’s electrical activity can be detected without cracking bone. What looks like a swimming cap studded with electrodes can transmit signals from a paralyzed patient, thereby enabling typing of letters on a screen or actual surfing of the Web. Niels Birbaumer of the University of Tübingen in Germany, a leading developer of the technology, asserts that trial-and-error stimulation of the cortex using a magnetic signal from outside the skull, along with the electrode cap to record which neurons are activated, might be able to locate the words “see” or “run.” Once mapped, these areas could be fired up again to evoke those memories—at least in theory.

Some neurotechnologists think that if particular words reside in specific spots in the brain (which is debatable), finding those spots would probably require greater precision than is afforded by a wired swim cap. One of the ongoing experiments with invasive implants could possibly lead to the needed fine-level targeting. Philip R. Kennedy of Neural Signals and his colleagues designed a device that records the output of neurons. The hookup lets a stroke victim send a signal, through thought alone, to a computer that interprets it as, say, a vowel, which can then be vocalized by a speech synthesizer, a step toward forming whole words. This type of brain-machine interface might also eventually be used for activating individual neurons.

Still more precise hookups might be furnished by nanoscale fibers, measuring 100 nanometers or less in diameter, which could easily tap into single neurons because of their dimensions and their electrical and mechanical properties. Jun Li of Kansas State University and his colleagues have crafted a brushlike structure in which nano fiber bristles serve as electrodes for stimulating or receiving neural signals. Li foresees it as a way to stimulate neurons to allay Parkinson’s disease or depression, to control a prosthetic arm or even to flex astronauts’ muscles during long spaceflights to prevent the inevitable muscle wasting that occurs in zero gravity.

Learning the Language
Fulfilling the fantasy of inputting a calculus text—or even plugging in Traveler’s French before going on vacation—would require far deeper insight into the brain signals that encode language and other neural representations.

Unraveling the neural code is one of the most imposing challenges in neuroscience—and, to misappropriate Freud, would likely pave a royal road to an understanding of consciousness. Theorists have advanced many differing ideas to explain how the billions of neurons and trillions of synapses that connect them can ping meaningful messages to one another. The oldest is that the code corresponds to the rate of firing of the voltage spikes generated by a neuron.

Whereas the rate code may suffice for some stimuli, it might not be enough for booting a Marcel Proust or a Richard Feynman, supplying a mental screen capture of a madeleine cake or the conceptual abstraction of a textbook of differential equations. More recent work has focused on the precise timing of the intervals between each spike (temporal codes) and the constantly changing patterns of how neurons fire together (population codes).

Some help toward downloading to the brain might come from a decadelong endeavor to build an artificial hippocampus to help people with memory deficits, which may have the corollary benefit of helping researchers gain insights into the coding process. A collaboration between the University of Southern California and Wake Forest University has worked to fashion a replacement body part for this memory-forming brain structure. The hippocampus, seated deep within the brain’s temporal lobe, sustains damage in stroke or Alzheimer’s. An electronic bypass of a damaged hippocampus could restore the ability to create new memories. The project, funded by the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, might eventually go further, enhancing normal memory or helping to deduce the particular codes needed for high- level cognition.

The two groups—led by Theodore W. Berger at U.S.C. and Samuel Deadwyler at Wake Forest—are preparing a technical paper showing that an artificial hippocampus took over from the biological organ the task of consolidating a rat’s memory of pressing a lever to receive a drop of water. Normally the hippocampus emits signals that are relayed to cortical areas responsible for storing the long-term memory of an experience. For the experiment, a chemical temporarily incapacitated the hippocampus. When the rat pressed the correct bar, electrical input from sensory and other areas of the cortex were channeled through a microchip, which, the scientists say, dispatched the same signals the hippocampus would have sent. A demonstration that an artificial device mimicked hippocampal output would mark a step toward deducing the underlying code that could be used to create a memory in the motor cortex—and perhaps one day to unravel ciphers for even higher-level behaviors.

If the codes for the sentence “See Spot run”—or perhaps an entire technical manual—could be ascertained, it might, in theory, be possible to input them directly to an electrode array in the hippocampus (or cortical areas), evoking the scene in The Matrix in which instructions for flying a helicopter are downloaded by cell phone. Artificial hippocampus research postulates a scenario only slightly more prosaic. “The kinds of examples [the U.S. Department of Defense] likes to typically use are coded information for flying an F-15,” says Berger.

The seeming simplicity of the model of neural input envisaged by artificial hippocampus-related studies may raise more questions than it answers. Would such an implant overwrite existing memories? Would the code for the sentence “See Spot run” be the same for me as it is for you or, for that matter, a native Kurdish speaker? Would the hippocampal codes merge cleanly with other circuitry that provides the appropriate context, a semantic framework, for the sentence? Would “See Spot run” be misinterpreted as a laundry mishap instead of a trotting dog?

Unfortunately, I think the Drudge Report is already feeding directly into my brain. In anticipation of the upcoming digital conversion, I propose that the only media receiver in my home will be a vintage analog television cabinet, tuned to the nearest translator channel, which will display an ambient bath of that color the sky is turning.

Friday, October 24, 2008



Sheepishly, Parric backed out of the way and found a corner beside the open doorway. Djserka stared him down until certain Parric was no longer a problem, then threw itself back into the food preparations.

Parric watched grudgingly as dish after dish made its way over the edge of the balcony, empty plates and stemware coming up on the return trip. Occasionally, he caught sight of a unique delicacy, some rare foodstuff prepared exclusively for the gastric inclinations of a Crafter of Onimik.

Parric’s stomach grumbled as he watched a fluttering swarm of fyrit--tethered to the serving tray by minuscule golden threads--taken down to his simulacrum. Such a waste. The three courses he’d sampled were flawlessly prepared, but they’d been comparatively small. Certainly not enough to constitute an entire meal.

The simulacrum would eat them all dutifully, of course. Then the intermingled mess would be unceremoniously dumped somewhere within the palace once the simulacrum dissipated.

Finally, after an interminably long time, dessert arrived in the form of gossamer-thin orbs filled with aromatic smoke of varying hues. Parric watched with a mixture of exasperation and impatience.

A passing peq caught Parric’s look and shook its head in sympathy. “Empty calories,” it grunted, then ambled on.

With sudden purpose, Djserka turned to Parric and loped forward. “What,” it demanded, “is so important that you feel compelled to barge into my kitchen, unannounced, uninvited, during the single most calamitous dinner of the entire cycle?”

“Now looking here--”

“Yes, yes. You’re a Crafter of Onimik and as such demand that one addresses you with proper respect and deference. I know all about that,” Djserka said with a mixture of contempt and boredom. “I can assure you that as one who’s served as head chef for the feuding Hauptfren Oligarchy for three cycles--three full cycles, not two and some balance of weeks mind you--there is nothing in this, yours or any other cosm that can properly strike fear into me. And I left their employ with uniformly excellent letters of recommendation. Quite a feat, considering the seventeen previous head chefs left their employ as compost.

“So if you have something to say to me, out with it. I haven’t got the time of the stomachs for your posturing.”

Parric opened his beak, thought better of it, then bowed forward in a gesture of supplication, folding his fore wings together before him. “Most skillfulling chef, please be forgiving my intruding manner, but I am somewhat pressing for time,” Parric began cautiously. “On my earlier visiting, we are not meeting, but you--I am assuming--are preparing for my eatings simple foods off your menu that I am not adversing to.”

Djserka grunted. “I remember. No proteins. No citric acids. The list goes on for at length.”

Parric nodded. “Yet this timing, you are very well prepared with not only consumables agreeable to me, but very, how am I saying... upscale entrees. I am wondering if you are preparing meals for other Crafters of Onimik?”

“You mean Rapteer?”

Parric’s antennae straightened despite himself. “Is this Rapteer red by any chance?”

Djserka’s nictating membranes slid over its eyes. “Just how many colors do your kind come in?”

“Mostlying green, out in the cosms,” Parric answered.

Djserka nodded, as if this made sense. “Rapteer is red. Arrived maybe a week after the excitement with your friend and Her Imperial Majesty. Stayed three days. His Imperial Majesty had several long conferences with him. Quite a picky eater, that Rapteer.”

“You are having much contact with Rapteer?”

“Too much. He was quite insistent on the types of food he was to be served. The trouble was, as I’m sure you’ll know, those items aren’t readily available in the easily accessible cosms for us. I had to dispatch half my staff at times to track down enough ingredients for a single meal. Since it appeared to me your kind would be making occasional appearances here, my intent was to build an extensive stock of ingredients so we wouldn’t be thrown into a panic each time one of you showed up to spend a week or so. But then Rapteer departed, and His Imperial Majesty gathered in all the Nexial gaps and sealed them.”

“Waiting a moment... His Imperial Majesty is sealing them after Rapteer is leaving?”

“My reaction exactly. How could I build our stock if my staff couldn’t enter the Nexus for procurement?” Djserka shook its head. “Then they started this urgent ‘Transfer to Eternal Prime’ exodus. Why they can open the gaps to transfer courtiers but not for official staff business is beyond me.”

“Are you knowing why His Imperial Majesty is sealing the gaps?” Parric asked, turning the information over in his mind. “Is Rapteer and the Emperor... hostiling toward each other?”

“No, they seemed cordial enough, but then again I never saw them up close,” Djserka answered. “If you must force me to hazard a guess, I’d say it was most likely because of you.”


“Yes. For some reason, Rapteer was as obsessed with you as you appear to be of him. Hounded me relentlessly with his questions, and as you know, I’d not even met you,” Djserka said with a sigh. “He went so far as to insist that I contact him if you returned to the palace.”


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Scary Thoughts

My mother, who lives in Assisted Living, tells me that they had little school kids today helping the residents decorate pumpkins. Mom's pumpkin got a makeover from a first-grade girl who carefully drew features and hair (!) and then made dots all over the pumpkin. Mom thought this must be a new trend in Jack-O-Lanterns, but the little girl explained, "It has chicken pox."
One of the most inventive Halloween costumes I've ever seen was about a dozen years ago when a biochemist friend of mine showed up at a party as the AIDs virus. She explained how the details of the costume matched the structure of the virus - and added that it seemed more sporting to dress up as something that people are actually afraid of. True, and this year maybe somebody will come up with costumes for Global Economic Crisis and Hurricane Ike.

The Future of Science Fiction

Check out the latest Mind Meld at SF Signal. This one's about the future of written science fiction, with remarks from Jeff VanderMeer, Liz Williams, Allen Steele, Mark Newton, Jay Lake, Elizabeth Bear, Paul Di Filippo, Sean Williams, Lou Anders, Chris Roberson, Dot Lin, and myself. Interesting distinctions are made between genre, literature, and marketing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Banksy goes Disney

Weather permitting, tomorrow I am going to check out Banksy's animatronic exhibition at the Village Pet Store in New York (89 7th Ave. South between West 4th and Bleecker). To see for myself fish sticks swimming under their own power in a perfect little fishbowl. Check it out:

NOTCOT: Banksy's Village Petstore & Charcoal Grill from Jean Aw on Vimeo.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The eyes of Vanilla Ice

My story "The Sun Also Explodes," out this month in Lou Anders' Fast Forward 2, imagines a near-future conceptual artist who grows speculative organs from the stem cell material of celebrities as part of a promotional stunt with the for-profit stem cell bankers.

So I was fascinated to read in today's paper about the latest development in open source genomics: the Personal Genome Project, which will publish the complete genomes of participants in an effort to fuel research. Starting with ten notable public participants, including the amazing Esther Dyson.

If you wanted to, say, clone her, the full recipe can be found here.

Taking a Peek at the Experts’ Genetic Secret

Because of the known and unknown risks, Dr. Church required the first 10 participants to demonstrate the equivalent of a master’s degree in genetics. Most are either investors or executives in the biomedical industry, or else teach or write about it, so they may have a financial interest in encouraging people to part with their genetic privacy.

The project has drawn criticism from scientists and bioethicists who caution that even its highly educated volunteers cannot understand the practical and psychological risks of disclosing information long regarded as quintessentially private.

“I’m concerned that this could make it seem easy and cool to put your information out there when there is still a lot of stigma associated with certain genetic traits,” said Kathy Hudson, director of the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University. “There will be new uses of this data that people can’t anticipate — and they can’t do anything to get it back.”

For now, the PGP, which is privately funded, is sequencing only the fraction of participants’ genomes thought to have the most influence over disease, behavior and physical traits. But the question of how much value to place on genetic privacy has taken on more urgency as the technology for sequencing an entire human genome accelerated and the price has plummeted to as low as $5,000, so that it may soon be possible for everyone to possess their own genetic readout.

Sequencing a human genome — the six billion letters of genetic code containing the complete inventory of the traits we inherited from our parents — cost over $1 million just two years ago.

The two scientists whose full genomes were sequenced in the name of research both made them public. But they differ on whether the practice should be widely recommended.

How long before for-profit sites spring up selling access to the genomes of celebrities? Containing the formulae your offshore organ cloning bank can use to generate that replacement part you've been looking for. Of course, in the beginning the pioneers will no doubt be financially tight denizens of the B-list, but that could be kind of cool in its own crazy way.

How about historical figures who left behind sufficient physical material to derive the code? Ideally, ones without living heirs.

Brave New World? The future will be like a cross between Gattaca and a rerun of The Love Boat.

The other wicker men

Monday breakfast with Zippy.

Friday, October 17, 2008



Naga-ed-derParric successfully slipped through the dining hall door, unnoticed. The doorman, luckily, was dressing down a peq in an alcove across the way. Parric quickly slithered down the corridor, not shedding the aura of concealment he’d Crafted until he’d put several turns between himself and the doorman.

His simulacrum would go through the motions well enough to make it through dinner without raising suspicions. That left Flavius, though.

Parric considered this. The Highlander had an uncanny knack for drawing unwanted attention to himself, not to mention getting killed on occasion. It was unfair to abandon Flavius to face the interminable dinner alone without warning him first, but if Parric had told Flavius his intentions, he’d have wanted to tag along. Stealth wasn’t Flavius’ strong suit.

Parric didn’t need Imperial suspicions at the moment. Flavius’ featherscale was troubling, and he needed answers.

A stairwell beckoned. Parric followed it up, up and up some more, testing the air with his antennae at each floor. A trio of peq passing downward gave him no notice. Other than the peq, the stairwell was deserted.

Cooking aromas wafted through the fifth landing. Parric wound his way through a warren of twisting halls until he found himself in a vast kitchen complex.

Four of the same kinds of creatures as the aerial waiters deftly worked a variety of elaborate ovens and grills, pan-searing a batch of popping, bouncing green clusters with one arm, ladling a creamy sauce over another dish with two other arms, while the remaining limbs expertly arranged garnishes on several plates simultaneously. Several peq dutifully assisted each chef, passing along spices and other ingredients as called for.

Amid the steam and smoke and clanging noise, a circular balcony filled the center of the kitchen. Here nearly a dozen aerial waiters worked rapidly, taking serving trays from peq and diving over the edge, tethered by silken threads from their tail spinnerets anchored to the balcony railing.

“Excusing me,” Parric said to a passing peq loaded down with some purple, tuberish vegetable that appeared disturbingly phallic. “I am needing to speak--”

“Ours is only to serve, sir, and we are serving now,” the peq said with a courteous but unmistakably dismissive nod, then continued on its way.

“I...” Parric started, but the peq had already vanished amid the chaos. Clicking his beak in annoyance, Parric pushed his way through disinterested peq to the one chef that seemed to exude the most authority. “Excusing me--”

“Who let this one in here?” the chef grunted loudly without looking from his confections. His orange skin glistened wetly from the steam. “Have the doorman escort it out.”

“The doormen have all been transferred to Eternal Prime in advance of the Imperial court, sir,” the peq answered. “The T'ul-us Tzan let itself in.”

The chef snapped its head around at that, its dark, compound studying Parric intently. Abruptly, it set aside its various cooking implements and loped over to the balcony on stubby, muscular hind legs. It leaned over the railing a moment, then turned back to Parric. “I don’t have enough ingredients to feed two of you.”

“No, I’m not here for eatings.”

“That’s good, because you’ll have to fight your friend down below for what we have. It’s not like we keep the larder full on the off chance a T'ul-us Tzan will happen by,” it returned to its station, casting a sidelong glance at Parric. “Although your kind are more common of late.”

“This is what I’m needing to talking with you about,” Parric said.

“I’m busy now. Come back later.”

Parric’s antennae flattened. Parric drew himself up so he was a head taller than the chef. “You are not understanding. I am talking with you now.”

“No, you don’t understand,” it replied in a rumbling voice filled with the promise of doom. It reared up, towering over Parric, while the long, hairy spines along its back swelled and bristled. “I am Djserka em Naga-ed-der and am charged by Their Imperial Majesties with delivering the evening meal for the Imperial court and unexpected guests. This entire affair has teetered on the brink of disaster with abrupt venue and menu changes, and having come this far I have no desire to face execution because I chose to chit-chat with you rather than ensure Her Imperial Majesty’s saulerant doesn’t overheat and congeal. So if you must have words with me, you will wait until after the digestifs have been imbibed. Do I make myself clear?”

Parric bristled momentarily, then backed down. Kitchen brawls weren’t exactly stealthy.

Fighting would hardly get him the information he sought.

But, most importantly, Flavius would never let him hear the end of it.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The battle was joined... and I was victorious!

California wildfires got you down? Global economic meltdown souring your mood? If so, how about casting your troubles aside and returning to the halcyon days of the 1980s when a B movie actor in the White House reassured Americans with his grandfatherly ways, while an Oscar-winning actor invited young and old alike to battle brigands and dragons in a quest to find the three keys that gain entry to... The Dark Tower!


Working versions of The Dark Tower game currently fetch prices approaching $100 on Ebay. Yet you can now play this wildly addictive game online courtesy of Hot Flash Games. Same sound effects, same damn brigand hordes that drove me crazy all those misspent years ago. Sadly, there is no Flash animation of Orson Wells, although there should be. Check it out. You know you want to.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

America, October, 2008

Have you figured out which panel of the triptych you're in yet? And which one you want to be in when the fires burn out?

This ain't no "feeling very strange." This is big change. Hyper-tectonics, windows of opportunity opening up like Texas sinkholes. What are you going to do about it?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Regarding political rumors

Once you finish being indignant, it's hard not to love the well-crafted political rumors that whisper their way virally through the culture during silly season, sometimes engineered by campaign hacks, other times merely encouraged along the way after appearing in some bizarro populist germination.

The best political rumors, like the best urban legends, speak truth to the collective subconscious -- the primitive fears and tribal affiliations and suspicions of the powerful that lurk beneath the mainstream media narrative. And a quintessential part of the American discourse.

Some of the best I have personally come across over the years:

- Bob Dole's war wounds were self-inflicted (attributed to Lee Atwater, Iowa caucuses, 1988 campaign).

- Howard Dean is on happy pills to keep his crazy temper under control (attributed to Kerry campaign operatives, Iowa caucuses, 2004 campaign).

- John McCain fathered an illegitimate black child (attributed to Karl Rove, South Carolina primary, 2000 campaign).

- George H.W. Bush is gay, and carried on affairs with his tennis boys when he was ambassador to China (attributed to Dole operatives, 1988 campaign).

- John McCain is the Manchurian Candidate (attributed to P.O.W./M.I.A. movement members, spread widely during 2000 campaign)

- Sarah Palin is Trig's grandmother (various, current)

- Barack Obama is the Manchurian jihadi (current -- see below).

Today's NY Times identifies the source of the "Obama is a Muslim" rumor swirling through the red mobs. Amazing stuff:

The Man Behind the Whispers About Obama

Published: October 12, 2008

The most persistent falsehood about Senator Barack Obama’s background first hit in 2004 just two weeks after the Democratic convention speech that helped set him on the path to his presidential candidacy: “Obama is a Muslim who has concealed his religion.”

That statement, contained in a press release, spun a complex tale about the ancestry of Mr. Obama, who is Christian.

The press release was picked up by a conservative Web site,, and spread steadily as others elaborated on its claims over the years in e-mail messages, Web sites and books. It continues to drive other false rumors about Mr. Obama’s background.

Just last Friday, a woman told Senator John McCain at a town-hall-style meeting, “I have read about him,” and “he’s an Arab.” Mr. McCain corrected her.

Until this month, the man who is widely credited with starting the cyberwhisper campaign that still dogs Mr. Obama was a secondary character in news reports, with deep explorations of his background largely confined to liberal blogs.

But an appearance in a documentary-style program on the Fox News Channel watched by three million people last week thrust the man, Andy Martin, and his past into the foreground. The program allowed Mr. Martin to assert falsely and without challenge that Mr. Obama had once trained to overthrow the government.

An examination of legal documents and election filings, along with interviews with his acquaintances, revealed Mr. Martin, 62, to be a man with a history of scintillating if not always factual claims. He has left a trail of animosity — some of it provoked by anti-Jewish comments — among political leaders, lawyers and judges in three states over more than 30 years.

He is a law school graduate, but his admission to the Illinois bar was blocked in the 1970s after a psychiatric finding of “moderately severe character defect manifested by well-documented ideation with a paranoid flavor and a grandiose character.”

Though he is not a lawyer, Mr. Martin went on to become a prodigious filer of lawsuits, and he made unsuccessful attempts to win public office for both parties in three states, as well as for president at least twice, in 1988 and 2000. Based in Chicago, he now identifies himself as a writer who focuses on his anti-Obama Web site and press releases.

Mr. Martin, in a series of interviews, did not dispute his influence in Obama rumors.

“Everybody uses my research as a takeoff point,” Mr. Martin said, adding, however, that some take his writings “and exaggerate them to suit their own fantasies.”

As for his background, he said: “I’m a colorful person. There’s always somebody who has a legitimate cause in their mind to be angry with me.”

When questions were raised last week about Mr. Martin’s appearance and claims on “Hannity’s America” on Fox News, the program’s producer said Mr. Martin was clearly expressing his opinion and not necessarily fact.

It was not Mr. Martin’s first turn on national television. The CBS News program “48 Hours” in 1993 devoted an hourlong program to what it called his prolific filing of frivolous lawsuits. He has filed so many lawsuits that a judge barred him from doing so in any federal court without preliminary approval.

He prepared to run as a Democrat for Congress in Connecticut, where paperwork for one of his campaign committees listed as one purpose “to exterminate Jew power.” He ran as a Republican for the Florida State Senate and the United States Senate in Illinois. When running for president in 1999, he aired a television advertisement in New Hampshire that accused George W. Bush of using cocaine.

In the 1990s, Mr. Martin was jailed in a case in Florida involving a physical altercation.

His newfound prominence, and the persistence of his line of political attack — updated regularly on his Web site and through press releases — amazes those from his past.


A more plausible scenario

More timely vintage Flash Gordon from King Features Sundicate's Daily Ink.

In other news, the Times of London meets The Bad Plus, and is not entirely sure how to digest that certain Corn Belt take on life, in which everything is simultaneously earnest and self-parodic.

On the new album coming out later this month:

The album, For All I Care, is inspired by the John Coltrane band’s record with the vocalist Johnny Hartman, according to the band’s cerebral pianist Ethan Iverson. Except that Coltrane never mixed up the Bee Gees’ How Deep is Your Love with Wilco’s Radio Cure or Stravinsky’s Variation d’Apollon. A postmodern mess? Actually no. With the discipline of having to back a singer, the band have reined in their more chaotic impulses and delivered one of their most convincing sets.


Reid Anderson, the bassist, calls the record “a kind of unifying statement that all these diverse musics can live in the same world”. They accept that the jazz police might not get it. “What we’re trying to do is be real. We’re not trying to please everybody but we have to please ourselves. But it’s a misconception to say that we’re antijazz or not serious.”

But isn’t it at least true that the band have played some tunes for laughs – as when they used to beat up Abba’s Knowing Me, Knowing You? “We don’t relate to this idea of irony even though it’s something other people may see in us,” Anderson says. “We don’t start from a place where we say these songs are worthless. We like the way they connect with our life experiences and the life experiences of people in the audience.”

But what about that hyperbolic Black Sabbath cover? “When we met Geezer Butler, who wrote Iron Man, he said it was the best Sabbath cover he had ever heard,” King says. “He came to tell us that. He felt it was a very powerful rendition. He didn’t see it as a joke.”

Iverson dislikes the snobbishness that views rock songs as less valid than jazz tunes. Too many jazz musicians are playing by rote. “Jazz education has turned out a zillion players that play this B-flat moderate jazz and it’s terrible for the music. You can’t tell anyone apart.”

He leans forward and says carefully: “It’s really important for musicians to know a lot about jazz – then choose not to play jazz. Too many people learn just to ‘play some jazz’. If you’re not bringing surrealism, a sense of ‘other’, the creative imagination . . .” he tails off and adds: “I can get quite angry at times.”

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Socialist Republicans of the World, Unite!

Did anyone see the first season of 24, back in the weeks after 9/11? The central plot device was a plot to assassinate the first African-American candidate for President of the United States. Kiefer Sutherland frustrated the plot, orchestrated by mysterious factions with moles inside the U.S. government, at the cost of his own wife's life.

Seven years later, the plot device of the first African-American candidate for President of the United States is the sinister theme of the first campaign advertisement to openly model itself after an episode of 24, complete with the dark digital horror track music and the creepy associations with covert agents of terror lurking in the house next door.

In a similar tone, the Drudge alumni over at Breitbart conduct a lengthy McCarthy style "investigation" of Obama's relationships with a bunch of Chicago-area lefties — trying to scour the Web to determine whether or not Obama was a "member" of "the Party."

The shocking revelation is that some of these folks Obama was close with at the beginning of his political career in the mid-90s espouse socialist views. They may even believe that our banks should be nationalized?

No wonder they're mad as hell in the red precincts of Waukesha:

There were shouts of "Nobama" and "Socialist" at the mention of the Democratic presidential nominee. There were boos, middle fingers turned up and thumbs turned down as a media caravan moved through the crowd Thursday for a midday town hall gathering featuring John McCain and Sarah Palin.

"It is absolutely vital that you take it to Obama, that you hit him where it hits, there's a soft spot," said James T. Harris, a local radio talk show host, who urged the Republican nominee to use Barack Obama's controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., and others against him.

"We have the good Reverend Wright. We have [the Rev. Michael L.] Pfleger. We have all of these shady characters that have surrounded him," Harris bellowed. "We have corruption here in Wisconsin and voting across the nation. I am begging you, sir. I am begging you. Take it to him."

The crowd of thousands roared its approval.

In recent days, a campaign that embraced the mantra of "Country First" but is flagging in the polls and scrambling for a way to close the gap as the nation's economy slides into shambles has found itself at the center of an outpouring of raw emotion rare in a presidential race.

In case you hadn't figured it out from the rabid rallies screaming for blood, negative ads work, tapping all of our deep, evolutionarily-wired fears and tribal affiliations. Advertising Age just did a study (three-minute video podcast here) of the impact of different types of political advertisements on viewers, relying upon the "facial coding" techniques of Dan Hill of Sensory Logic, a firm that specializes in analyzing the psychological responses revealed by facial muscles (apparently even blind people exhibit the same basic facial expressions as the sighted for different emotional responses, demonstrating that these things are physiologically wired products of our long evolution). The study had a group of viewers watch two ads from each candidate, one positive and one negative. The positive Obama "hope" ad received a much better response from the viewers than the McCain "change" ad. But the negative McCain ad (specifically, the Britney Spears ad) was five times more effective than the positive Obama ad. One can only imagine the impact of the Osama, I mean Obama, sleeper agent friends with terrorists Chicago machine dark alley ads.

(I am waiting for the October Surprise that Obama's real father was Symbionese Liberation Army commandate Cinque, the one who turned Patty into Tanya.)

Interestingly, the facial recognition folks maintain a "Face of the Week" blog that analyzes figures in the news. See, for example, the March 2008 clip from Ben Bernanke revealing that, as he told Congress he believed the economy would pull through without a recession, he didn't really believe it.

While the elite GOP counterrevolutionary cadre tries to pump its coagulated Reagan-era rhetoric through the pneumatic tubes, the Republican Treasury Secretary is using his newly conferred powers to nationalize the banking system and significant chunks of the capital markets, and the mainstream media is openly dusting off the Cliff's Notes copies of Das Kapital stuffed in with the other 1970s college textbooks and questioning whether Western-style capitalism has run out of gas.

Remember the End of History? Yesterday, coming on twenty years later, the leaders of the West were sitting around a table talking about whether they should indefinitely suspend the financial markets while they figure out if they can get the needle back on the record.

If they could get John McCain to suspend his campaign again, I'd be all for it. Or at least turn down the fascist incitement campaign meme currently ratcheted up to 11. Today's NYT:

Crowds in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have repeatedly booed Mr. Obama and yelled “off with his head,” and at a rally in Florida where Ms. Palin appeared without Mr. McCain, The Washington Post reported that a man yelled out “kill him.” At the same rally, a racial insult was hurled at an African-American television cameraman.

It's not the end of history. But it is the end of the anachronistic white man's fantasy of an eternal 1950s version of America. And it's an ugly thing watching this cultural toxin work its way out of the system.

"Country First." WTF? What kind of alternate reality Bizarro America are these people occupying, Sarah Palin as some kind of cross between Jeane Kirkpatrick and Ted Nugent?

Among Palin's most notable recurring soundbites is her weirdly naive vaunting of American exceptionalism.

"But even more important is that world view that I share with John McCain. That world view that says that America is a nation of exceptionalism. And we are to be that shining city on a hill, as President Reagan so beautifully said, that we are a beacon of hope and that we are unapologetic here. We are not perfect as a nation. But together, we represent a perfect ideal. And that is democracy and tolerance and freedom and equal rights."

-- Governor Sarah Palin, October 2, 2008

In case you didn't know that Ronnie was on the Arbella. It goes without saying (though Col. Andrew Bacevich says it very eloquently) that, Governor Palin, you're no John Winthrop. More broadly, this overarching campaign theme reveals the intellectual exhaustion of the once-vital neo/conservative ideology that coalesced during the Reagan years. You can see all three of the generic varieties of exceptionalism running amok in the McCain-Palin movement:

1. supernaturalist explanations which emphasize the causal potency of God in selecting America as a "city on a hill" to serve as an example for the rest of the world,
2. genetic interpretations which emphasize racial traits, ethnicity, or gender, and
3. environmental explanations such as geography, climate, availability of natural resources, social structure, and type of political economy.

(-- Dorothy Ross, in Origins of American Social Science (1991))

Do you suppose Hank Paulson subscribes to any of that? I suspect he's more likely to agree with old liberal Roger Cohen in his recent NYT column:

To persist with a philosophy grounded in America’s separateness, rather than its connectedness, would be devastating at a time when the country faces two wars, a financial collapse unseen since 1929, commodity inflation, a huge transfer of resources to the Middle East, and the imperative to develop new sources of energy.

News flash: the City on the Hill is crumbling under the weight of its own rhetorical fabulism, collapsing like Mordor on the foundation of its own explosive weaknesses. You don't need the Weathermen to blow up the State when it's blowing itself up. The most remarkable thing about the current crisis is the extent to which it demarcates a dramatic undermining of any idea of the post-World War II superpower version of American exceptionalism. The government owns your mortgage. It may soon own your bank account. Together with our sons of Churchill allies. There's even odds the big three American auto companies will not survive past Christmas, at least in their current form. Our Constitutional system is evolving to harbor a structure more like Putin's corporatist state than Ronald Reagan's New Federalism. Goodbye nation state, hello market state, welcome a realigned world of governance by a coalition of sovereign hedge funds protected by corporate mercenaries.

The Kwisatz Haderach and his Democrat Archons, as much as they try to represent the future, are just about as dumbfounded as the Bushies, dusting off Walter Mondale fantasies that there's no problem a little Washington regulation can't fix. This chaos isn't about what "leaders" do. It's about the hundreds of millions of decisions each individual makes about how to respond to this opportunity for change in they way they live their lives.

Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker? Perhaps this collapse of the late twentieth century American meta-narrative is the opportunity for a 21st century remix of old school American ideas of individualist liberty, a more libertarian variation of the system that gives up on trying to preserve the Ward Cleaver anachronism in a multi-colored, multi-polar globalized world. When Viggo and the kid find the ruins of Pleasantville, no doubt they will improvise a new version that marries the past with the future. What will life be like on the other side, in our New Tocqueville?

The real culprit

Courtesy of Flash and Dr. Zarkov in today's DailyInk installment of vintage funnies over at King Features Syndicate — the global financial collapse is being engineered by market manipulators from the undersea realm of Atlantis!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Is it time for Recess?!

For the folks who have been pounding away at Adbusters for years, the current crisis is a golden opportunity. Heck, they are even inclined to take credit:

Strike, Collapse, Rethink
A general consumption strike is behind the coming economic collapse. Culturejammers must use this opportunity to usher in a new world.

For years, culturejammers have been warning that the logic of capitalism is unsustainable and that sooner or later a system based on limitless, ever expanding consumption will fail. Not content to merely whine, we embarked on social campaigns, such as Buy Nothing Day and TV Turnoff Week, to demonstrate that a decrease in consumption means an increase in the enjoyment of life. And we witnessed, with growing satisfaction, that each year our movement grew — until even the mass media could no longer ignore our advances.

Taking the lessons of Buy Nothing Day one step further, many culturejammers began advocating a General Consumption Strike as the appropriate tool for reshaping the basis of our economies. Two years ago, Paul Ariès wrote the Manifesto For General Consumption Strike. In his manifesto, Paul called for a collective refusal to be consumers that would contrast the “bulimic economic logic with the goal of living with less goods but with more relationships”. ...

The manifesto circulated widely: it was printed in the pages of Adbusters, emailed to friends and discussed in cafes. And now, at the brink of an economic collapse, increasing numbers are joining the Consumption Strike. Already our actions are having profound consequences. The New York Times reports that consumer spending is down sharply, the first quarterly decline in two decades link and that consumer borrowing fell for the first time in a decade. And according to the Wall Street Journal our general decrease in consumption is putting retailers out of business and pushing mall vacancy rates to their highest level in seven years.

The mass media would like to write off the widespread decrease in consumer spending as uncoordinated fear and irrational behavior, but the truth is that there is a growing movement behind this conscious consumption decrease, and we won’t stop saving our money until the whole system is rethought.

Ours is not a purely nihilistic campaign, we do not revel in economic collapse out of spite but instead because we believe that only after an economic decline will it be possible to bring about the necessary changes to capitalism that will assure a sustainable future. We are also taking steps to insure that the money we save by decreasing our consumption goes to organizing mutual aid societies that will provide services to our needy compatriots.

To join the General Consumption Strike is easy: spend less, live more. Consider doing without your high-speed internet, cell phone service, beer or wine, restaurants, gasoline, new clothes, fancy electronics and tourism. Think of the money you will save, the fewer hours you’ll need to work, and the more time you’ll have to live. Tell your friends that you are consciously taking part in the General Consumption Strike and prepare yourself for the moment of truth: when the corporations will fall and the local communities will thrive. But beware, as Paul Ariès warns, “the system will react. It will use blackmail with employment, it will threaten with firing; the shopkeepers will cut prices and manipulate consumers.” Stay strong, this is a once in a hundred year opportunity!

It is an interesting perspective, to suggest that the global financial meltdown is in fact healthy, a failure of an exhausted system that will produce positive social change. And that, perhaps, a suspension of the dromological intensity of contemporary life for those of us plugged into the warp of capitalism at hyperspeed might actually produce an improvement in quality of life — even if our 401(k) portfolios and our dreams of a future leisure, living out perfectly coupled and pharmaeutically prolonged lives walking together on the beach by our summer home like the couples on those Cialis commercials, have vanished in an enveloping abyss of Nietzschian uncertainty. While I am not sure I think the folks at Adbusters have a coherent prescription, I do share their sense that this moment of widespread cultural crisis and imminent radical change represents an exciting opportunity to try to improve our lives. In an essay earlier this year for Timmi Duchamp and Eileen Gunn's Wiscon Chronicles, I tried to articulate my own take on the latent revolutionary impulses simmering in the psychic super-soup of the Spectacle and evident in pop cultural product like Adbusters, The Matrix, Fight Club, V for Vendetta:

Who does not yearn, in this age of War and Prozac, for the end of the alienation that characterizes life in the industrialized West? And who does not feel essentially helpless to enact any change, a prisoner of their own physical and aesthetic comforts?


In The German Ideology, Marx describes a fully realized communist society (with all the social scientific certainty of Fourier) as one in which the division of labor has been obliterated and replaced with total freedom as to how one expends the productive energies of adult life. In this paradise where all passions are expressed with vocational worth, “it is possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.” A dream that today’s pampered proletariat of hyper-specialized knowledge workers chases in the form of Fidelity-funded and Viagra-assisted healthy, wealthy retirement.

The ubiquitous ads showing happy and free silver-haired couples walking at leisure are ample evidence. Our society already is based on the dream of the liberation from work, as anyone who has worked for stock options or bought a Power Ball ticket can attest. But one in which that freedom is a rarely dispensed reward for those who win the game through competition and chance, providing a baiting mirage for the toiling grey-collar masses who aren’t so lucky. And, of course, the freedom to golf, or to enjoy the golden years at leisure, is not as existentially promising as the freedom to be productively engaged in socially beneficial self-expression throughout adulthood—to live a life that has broader meaning and worth than its quantified contribution to capital. Though wizened grown-ups may accept the Churchillian aphorism that our system is the worst one except for the known alternatives, why shouldn’t we keep striving towards undiscovered improvements in the collective happiness? Perhaps not so much radical political change, as a regime change of our collective consciousness? When you learn that your mind dedicates an individual neuron to the recognition of each celebrity, you can’t help but want to wipe some of it clean.

In his first published short story, "Prima Belladonna," J.G. Ballard envisioned a languorous near future society of people exploring the interiors of their own consciousness “during the Recess, that world slump of boredom, lethargy and high summer which carried us all so blissfully through ten unforgettable years.” Maybe it's finally coming. What are you going to do with the opportunity?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Legends of the West

Courtesy of illustrator, archivist and pataphysician Michael Carter, the amazing political work of illustrator Derek Chatwood:

When Governor Palin entered the conference room, it was already full. She was confused. Steve Schmidt, John McCain's Campaign Manager, sat Sarah down. The room grew quiet. He just said it straight out, and told her McCain left. Palin looked confused. Steve told her that McCain didn't think it was going well for him, with the recent setbacks. His last act of unpredictable impulse, was to bolt. He was holed up in one of his Sedona ranches, his Secret Service detail dismissed and sent away. He wasn't coming back. Steve looked at Sarah, and asked her what they should do.

"Those things that we stand for that we can be put to good use for a force for good. Consummate maverick." Sarah said, looking confused. Steve agreed with her, that they would have to contact the RNC right away and contact republican congressional leaders as well as the Attorney General, and hash out what the proper steps were for a candidate replacement this late in the race. Tucker Eskew, McCain's campaign advisor, told Sarah he was on it, and moved to a corner of the room with his blackberry, hands a blur.

"Joe six pack, hockey moms, Todd, in great state of Alaska, you betcha." Palin blurted, confused. The other Tucker, McCain's spokesman, nodded. A comprehensive media plan would be critical in the next few hours, he agreed, and he was getting something together for her.

Appearing confused, Sarah continued. "Maverick maverick. Maverick maverick, maverick, and also." Steve looked at Lieberman, who nodded. He told her That was absolutely correct; those articles of the Constitution are crucial to their next decision, and he agreed with her interpretation of the 7th and 14th amendments. Joe told her if that's what she wanted to do, he thought they would be on firm legal ground. Steve nodded.

"In the great state that I am the executive of, tap into that surge that is working. Drill Baby Drill!" Sarah said loudly, with much confusion. Steve jumped up from the couch, clapped his hands, and told everyone to get going. He reminded everyone that they've got less than four hours to find a new VP candidate, clear it with the RNC, get congressional approval, and constitutional cover. "Todd Bristol Trig Track, kitchen table, Putin rears his head," Sarah added, confused. Thankful of the reminder, Steve added that they have to have the whole thing wrapped in a big bow for a cross-media branding launch, internet, cable and print. He then told everyone they had their orders, let's get it done.

The room quickly emptied. Palin sat alone, confused. She said quietly to herself, "I can see Russia," winked, remembered she couldn't see herself wink, and sighed.

Aww, c'mon guys. I want to be "Maverick". McCain was cranky. His Secret Service detail gave him a list of codenames, and he didn't like any of them. Why can't I be "Maverick"?

Agent Donovan fidgeted. He didn't like being on a subject's bad side. But sometimes it had to be done, and he was lead agent. Sorry sir, he started. Codenames can't be reused. And as it happens, Tom Cruise spent considerable time doing charity work for Bush Sr. in the 90s. He uh. He was "Maverick".

Silence. McCain was thinking. or Stewing. After a period of silence that Agent Donovan hadn't yet determined was deep concentration or senior confusion, McCain offered, ok fine. How about "POW"? That should be easy to remember. I say it often enough. Sorry sir, Donovan said. We can't use letters for names, it takes too long to say. I'm afraid you're going to have to go with one of our options, sir. McCain squinted, red appearing where veins should be on his face. Ok, he gritted. What are they?

Ahem. Well sir, ok. We need something instantly descriptive, that all agents can quickly picture as you in any situation. So. um. We suggest "Septegenarian". Or "Old Man". Or "Not Palin".

Ok, come on. McCain said, shaking. That is simply not fair. I'm not that old.

Donovan coughed. Ok, sir. Well, how about "Carrie"?

What? Why "Carrie", Mccain asked.

Well, sir. You seem to have sort of um. A multiple personality. Sometimes you say you believe one thing, and then you say or do another. Often. Donovan looked skyward.

Look, McCain said, loudly. You have to understand my position. I'm being pulled in a lot of different directions. The evangelicals want this, the moderates want that. I can't always hold onto my strict views and positions.

I understand, Donovan said. I think I know what to do. Command, Donovan said clearly, into his sleeve. This is Agent Donovan. I have a go for Candidate McCain's codename.

It's "Captive".

Oh geez, McCain wheezed. Have you guys seen this one? She didn't give back the money. The "Bridge to Nowhere"? We have her doing the "maverick" thing and saying she canceled the bridge project, but she kept the $320 million and just used it for other stuff. How is that "fighting pork-barrel spending", exactly? McCain paced around their temporary command center, a kindergarten classroom.

His aides fidgeted in their tiny chairs. They tried to explain that it no longer mattered. Their bungled vetting, one embarrassing revelation after another, was no longer their priority.

No longer a priority?! McCain fumed, waving his arms as high as they would go. How are a pattern of actions that are the opposite of our platform, not a priority? How are beliefs that are so outside of the mainstream, even our mainstream, not a priority? Abstinence-only education? How do we sell that as a positive when her own daughter shows how ridiculous it is? Book banning? Since when is banning books part of our platform?

The aides looked at each other. The one who drew the short crayon stood. Palin is more popular than you, sir, she said hesitantly. If you haven't noticed, we kept her with you on the campaign trail all week, instead of letting her go solo. That's because no one was showing up to your events. And thousands were asking about hers. There's uh, there's talk about flipping the ticket.

Flipping the what? McCain asked. How is that.. what?

Yes sir, the aide continued. Turns out, she's very cutthroat and crazy ambitious. She's been talking to senior party people, making her case. She feels her newfound popularity would give the party a better chance at winning, and that you're just bringing the campaign down. And they're listening. Apparently there's some old rule that can be invoked.

Speechless, McCain sank down into his very tiny chair, and felt very old.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

More Serbian Guerilla Art Babes (this time in English)

Actually, just one. The amazing 21st century concrete sprite, Belgrade's TKV.

From the Pretty Cool People interviews series.

TKV is the artist name of Sashka (1988), a Serbian street artist, living in Belgrade. Doing stencil art is a basic need for TKV: she has to go out and leave her creative marks throughout the city. It’s as essential as eating or sleeping.

Since graffiti – like in most places - is prohibited in Serbia, TKV has to be very careful not to be caught by the police. That’s the reason why we filmed her in a matter that makes her less recognizable.

Although TKV is extremely concerned with the social situation of her country, this doesn’t mean she loses herself in political slogans. On the contrary: she wants to add something beautiful to the world, she wants to surprise unsuspecting passerby’s and make her fellow citizens smile. Albeit for a moment.

In upgrading her hometown TKV focuses on the dirty alleys and rundown street corners. Monuments and historic buildings are left untouched. ‘These have their own value’, she explains.

Not unlike a fairy queen she roams the streets at night using a spray can as a magic stick to transform the appearance of the city. Hence her artist name, which is an abbreviation of The Queen of Fairy (The Kraljica Vila). Changing the world with artistic magic, you can dismiss it as hopelessly naive, you can also admire the persistent optimism. We hope the latter attitude will appeal to you the most.

We joined Sashka on one of her nightly trips during which a strange confrontation sets her off on a passionate account about the current state of Serbia.

Pretty Cool Crew: Commissioning Editor for SubmarineChannel: Geert van de Wetering, Interview & sound: Jessie van Vreden, Camera: Pierre Rezus, Editing: Jessie van Vreden, Axel Skovdal Roelofs.

Previously : Serbian Guerilla Art Babes Rule OK.

Black Belt Vlad

From the Daily Mail, the latest installment of the action czar.

First we saw him shirtless while fishing.

Then he was pictured at the wheel of a massive racing truck and shooting a tiger in the Siberian forest with a tranquiliser.

He has also appeared operating a train, sailing on a submarine and co-piloting a fighter jet.

Now Vladimir Putin - the world's most manly leader - has released yet another display of his own masculinity: a DVD entitled 'Let's learn judo with Vladimir Putin'.


The original publication of the fishing photos made Putin a national sex symbol.

At the time, the Russian mass-market newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda published a huge colour photo of the bare-chested president, under the headline "Be Like Putin".

The picture illustrated a guide to the exercises needed to build up a torso like that of the Russian leader.

The paper reported that women who visited its website posted comments on Putin's 'vigorous torso' and said they 'were screaming with delight and showering him with compliments.'

Russian gay chatrooms and blogs were particularly intrigued by the photos.

You heard it here first.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Mercury... as you've never seen it

I love this stuff. You know, the whole "Exploring strange, new worlds" thing. That's probably the single biggest factor that got me interested in science fiction in the first place, and I suspect that holds true for a few readers of this blog as well. We, as a species, may not be able to travel to distant worlds, but that doesn't mean NASA's robot minions can't do so. New Horizons is currently well past the orbit of Saturn on its way to Pluto, and at the opposite extreme of the solar system, Messenger is getting a tan to die for as it shoots pics of the never-before-imaged side of Mercury:

Helpful NASA has put out a press release on the subject. Don't you know this'd be a job I could excel at in fine fashion? Too bad I'm not the the market to relocate.
When Mariner 10 flew past Mercury three times in 1974 and 1975, the
probe imaged less than half the planet. In January, during MESSENGER's first flyby, its cameras returned images of about 20 percent of the planet's surface missed by Mariner 10. Yesterday, at 4:40 am EDT, MESSENGER successfully completed its second flyby of Mercury, and its cameras captured more than 1,200 high-resolution and color images of the planet - unveiling another 30 percent of Mercury's surface that had never before been seen by spacecraft.

"The MESSENGER team is extremely pleased by the superb performance of the spacecraft and the payload," said MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. "We are now on the correct trajectory for eventual insertion into orbit around Mercury, and all of our instruments returned data as planned from the side of the planet opposite to the one we viewed during our first flyby. When these data have been digested and compared, we will have a global perspective of Mercury for the first time."

Today, at about 1:50 a.m. EDT, MESENGER turned to Earth and began transmitting data gathered during its second Mercury encounter. This spectacular image - one of the first to be returned - was snapped by the Wide Angle Camera (WAC), part of the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) instrument, about 90 minutes after MESSENGER's closest approach to Mercury, when the spacecraft was at a distance of about 27,000 kilometers (about 17,000 miles).

The bright crater just south of the center of the image is Kuiper, identified on images from the Mariner 10 mission in the 1970s. For most of the terrain east of Kuiper, toward the edge of the planet, the departing images are the first spacecraft views of that portion of Mercury's surface. A striking characteristic of this newly imaged area is the large pattern of rays that extend from the northern region of
Mercury to regions south of Kuiper.

This WAC image is one in a sequence of 55: a five-frame mosaic with each frame in the mosaic acquired in all 11 of the WAC filters. This portion of Mercury's surface was previously imaged under different lighting conditions by Mariner 10, but this new MESSENGER image mosaic is the highest-resolution color imaging ever acquired of any portion of Mercury's surface.

Additionally, some of the images in this mosaic overlap with flyby data acquired by the Mercury Atmospheric and Surface Composition Spectrometer and Mercury Laser Altimeter instruments, resulting in the first time that these three instruments have gathered data of the same area of Mercury. The combination of these three datasets will enable unprecedented studies of this region of Mercury's surface.

This image, acquired about 89 minutes before the craft's closest approach to Mercury, resembles the optical navigation images taken leading up to the flyby. The resolution of this image is somewhat better than that obtained by the final optical navigation image set, and the surface visible is newly imaged terrain that was not previously seen by either Mariner 10 or during MESSENGER's first flyby.

However, the added resolution is not the main scientific advancement that will be provided by this image. This WAC image is one of 11 viewed through different narrow-band color filters, the set of which will enable detailed color studies of this newly imaged area. In addition, the Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) acquired a high-resolution mosaic of most of this thin crescent view of Mercury at a resolution better than 0.5 kilometers/pixel (0.3 miles/pixel) that will enable the MESSENGER team to explore this newly imaged region of Mercury's surface in more detail.

About 58 minutes before MESSENGER's closest approach to Mercury, the NAC captured this close-up image of a portion of Mercury's surface imaged by spacecraft for the first time. It is one of 44 in a high-resolution NAC mosaic taken of the approaching crescent-shaped Mercury, as seen at lower resolution in the optical navigation images and the approach WAC color image set.

As the MESSENGER team is busy examining this newly obtained view, data from the flyby continue to stream down to Earth, including higher resolution close-up images of this previously unseen terrain. Collectively, these images and measurements made by other MESSENGER instruments will soon provide a broad range of information for understanding the formation and geologic history of the innermost planet.