April 29, 2004

Joints for MPs

Posted by shonk at 11:15 AM in Politics | permalink | 5 comments

Over in Bulgaria marijuana was criminalized. Previously, small amounts of “personal use” dope were legal, but not only did that come to an end, the new law apparently makes no distinction between, say, marijuana and cocaine for punishment purposes. Possession of even a single dose of any variety of narcotic can result in a 3-15 year prison sentence.

Needless to say, a lot of people are pretty unhappy, and today the editors of Edno, a weekly magazine, decided to do something about it. Using their press passes to bypass security at the parliament building, they calmly went about putting a joint in each MP’s mailbox.

Of course, they were arrested pretty quickly (though not before putting about 40 envelopes containing joints into various mail boxes) and their actions denounced as “criminal propaganda” by legislator Borislav Tsekov, but I’m sure it’s going to be a pretty hot topic for the next few days.

I’m not surprised that the only articles by non-Bulgarian press on news.google are different packagings of the same AP release, but it did seem a bit odd that three of the four articles appeared on Canadian news outlets.

UPDATE: See Petya’s reaction for more.

April 27, 2004

Pundits? We don't need no stinking pundits!

Posted by shonk at 12:27 AM in Politics , What the Fuck? | permalink | 12 comments

Ah, politics. Some selections from around the web:

  • JohnKerryIsADouchebagButImVotingForHimAnyway.Com — The URL pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?

  • Stand Up and Holla! — An essay contest for 18-24 year-olds being sponsored by the Republican National Convention. The essay topic is: “Why is the President’s call to community service important and how have you demonstrated it?” Okay, I have two questions. First of all, what the hell is that question even asking? The part before the “and” is straightforward, but how does one demonstrate “the President’s call to community service”? Does demonstrating against it count? Okay, that’s already more than two questions, but I’ve got a second major question. It’s a one-word question. “Holla”?

  • Bush Country Ketchup — What would a campaign be without partisan ketchup? A pretty obvious gimmick, really. Reminds me of the lame anti-Ben-and-Jerry’s Star Spangled Ice Cream, the “Ice Cream with a Conservative Flavor”. Personally, I think you’d have to be some kind of nut to actually want to purchase a flavor of ice cream called “Choc & Awe” (though presumably not a “Nutty Environmentalist”). Seriously, are there any funny Republicans? Even Dennis Miller’s gotten considerably less funny and more didactic since he became an outspoken neocon.

  • My Secret Life as a Prostitute — No, not about politicians. Instead, a rather well-written weblog by a more noble variety of whore. Makes for pretty interesting reading.

  • Hey Crackhead — Speaks for itself:

    I am an engineer. Do you ever see me shaking down bums in the Loin for a calculator and sliderule? No, you don’t. Because engineering is the main thing I do, I went and bought myself a calculator. The main thing you do is crack. How do you get by without a crackpipe? The other crackheads must clown on you non-stop. I mean, the fucking saw you used to saw off my sparkplugs is probably worth five or ten bucks. Why not sell or trade it for a crackpipe? You really haven’t put much thought into this, have you?

April 23, 2004

Penn Relays

Posted by shonk at 11:23 AM in Sports | permalink | 3 comments

The Penn Relays, the best-attended track meet (other than the Olympics) in the world over the last 107 years, have descended on campus for their annual three day duration. Since it sounded more exciting than studying, I decided to take some pictures:

Penn Relays

April 22, 2004


Posted by shonk at 01:04 AM in Blogging | permalink | 1 comment

Just wanted to let everybody know that we’ve been having some weird errors popping up lately. If you try to post a comment and, instead of going back to the comments, end up on a “500 Error” page, don’t be alarmed. Your comment probably was posted and should be visible if you close the comment pop-up window and then re-open it. I want to apologize for these problems, which I’m going to try to fix as soon as possible, but given that finals are currently upon me, it may take a little while. Thanks for being patient.

April 21, 2004

It's funny because it's true

Posted by Curt at 04:32 PM in Politics | permalink | 5 comments

Best “Onion” headline in quite some time: “Cheney Wows Sept. 11 Commission By Drinking Glass Of Water While Bush Speaks.” Though it definitely faces competition from this one from the same issue: “Libertarian Reluctantly Calls Fire Department.”


Posted by shonk at 11:48 AM in Literature | permalink | comment

My good friend George Potter hasn’t updated The Frontierist in a while, but that doesn’t mean he’s not writing. In fact, he’s been busy writing “Roadkilling”, which he calls his “swan song”, his last piece of net writing; he’s retiring from writing for the net to focus on writing a novel. He was gracious enough to give me permission to post the first part of “Roadkilling” here, so it follows below. Also, be sure to check out his parable “The Liberators” and the collection Micropiece (and other tales), available from Lulu.


by George Potter

(for Sean)

“We’re never going to figure out exactly what The Crash was, or all the whys and hows. The Feds and the Phantoms went to war on the Old Net and the Old Net died. Since The Feds were Old Net dependant, they ‘lost’. Since the Phantoms had created and were Overnet dependant, they ‘won’. How it happened really isn’t important. What we’re going through now and where we’re going to end up is one hell of a lot more important.” - Carlton Rose, AGAINST BACKWARDS PROPHECY

    I knew some crazy shit was gonna come down as soon as IKDR started acting weirder than usual. It’s not like he ever acts normal or anything, but he was on a total fucking roll, the lies and nonsense coming thicker and faster than I’d ever known it to — and I’ve known the little freak since he was two and me and my friend Cheffy found him in that garbage dump.
    Line after line of that zipped by. Ugh. I finally just blocked it out, ignored it, and nodded every once in a while at his almost dancing form beside me or said “Cool, bro.”

    IKDR stands for I Know Damn Right, and you can’t blame me for that, either. Cheffy and me decided it wasn’t our place to go slappin’ names on a kid we didn’t even shoot no juice to make. Unfair, you know? So, when he was four, we told him he had exactly one week to make up his own name. That confused the shit out of him, since he thought his name was ‘Kid’ or ‘Dumbass’. So for awhile he told us to call him Kid Dumbass. We did, but we couldn’t stop cracking up when we said it, and he got all pissed. For a while he was ‘Superman’. That didn’t last long either. Then he was ‘Fucknut’ for a bit, ‘cause that’s what I called Cheffy half the time and he sorta idolized Cheffy.
    But, for some reason, about five minutes before the week was up — and hell yeah we were timing it; wouldn’t have been as good of a joke if not — he walked up and told us he wanted to be called IKDR.
    We asked him what that meant. He told us it meant ‘I Know Damn Right’.
    We asked him why in the hell he’d want that for a goddam name.
    He said that it was the coolest name ever. And that we were just jealous and shit.
    So that was his name. Hey, it was a joke, but you gotta stick to the rules you make. If you don’t, life in the Old Strip is pretty short.
    The really funny thing is that IKDR never stopped thinking it was the coolest name ever.

    We were making a pay run, sweetest bit of the job. We had a small but decent haul to trade-off — fiber-o in thick sealed rolls, some blank ID chips, and two boxes of some ammo we didn’t recognize and didn’t fit any of the guns we owned.
    But the best loot was a black disk that looked like a datacard, just bigger. IDKR suspected it was just a vintage data card, but I wasn’t sure. The jobber had sent us to the place for it special, even printed out a fucked up map that wasn’t much help.
    And promised a clean 200 creditchit to place it in his hand. That was a lot of cash for an antique datacard that nobody could probably even read anymore. Hell, new tech was hard to get in Old Vegas Proper, almost impossible to get in the wreck of the Strip. Tech tended to smooth out, everybody using frankenstein creations. Cardreaders were a sort of prize — it was the reading laserpoint that died the quickest, and with a decent toolkit, it was an amateur hack to frank the ‘point from an old model to a newer one.
    I kicked it out of my head. Why should I care what the jobber wanted the damn thing for so long as he was good for the promised loot? That was the only important thing. And I trusted this guy, more or less. As much as I trust anyone who ain’t IKDR or Cheffy.
    O.W. Knoes worked out of a ‘stead on the third floor of what used to be an office building. Or at least he said that’s what it used to be. The rest of it was warehouse space for his goods and living space for the gang he had raised up over the years. Kids mostly, bout IKDR’s age — which was 10, If I had estimated right when we found him.
    Word in the Strip was that Knoes had faced only one attempted invasion in the six or so years he’d been buying and selling from his ‘stead. That had been a year ago, and by the Blackrock mob. Thirty medium to heavy modders had hit the ‘stead in midafternoon. They were all dead and hanging on plasticord from the rooftop by two PM. Knoes let ‘em rot there for months, as a warning.
    Nobody had fucked with him since. Mainly because nobody knew what kind of crazy shit Knoes’s gang was packing. He was one of the few jobbers in Old Vegas who seemed to have a reliable connection to the Texas weaponsmith clan-corps. It only made sense he’d sell the minor stuff on the street and keep the heavy shit for his own gang. What I’d do, anyway.
    Me and IKDR hooked up with Knoes about three months before, doing minor jobs and scavwork. He always paid on time and at decent prices, sometimes even tossing in a bonus if we worked fast or brought in something he had been looking for.
    He also treated us right. Brought us into his office and gave us — believe it the hell or not — coffee! IKDR was addicted to the shit, and got surly when we took offers from other jobbers. But hell, we had to eat.
    The text swirled fast across the interior of the right lens of my comshades. I’d had ‘em for a couple of years and took killer care of ‘em. Easily they were the best and most advanced piece of tech I owned - no more than five years old, top of the line SmartWraps. I knew because the date was proudly stamped by the tiny serial number in the bottom corner of the left lens. Right next to the words ‘NoTreason Silent, Lmtd.’ Fucking-A. The most famous com- corp in the damn world!
    I don’t like thinking about how I got ‘em.
    “You mean you gonna get me to ask him, bro? Knoes don’t wear SmartWraps.” I didn’t say I doubted we could afford any coffee, even with 200 creds, and wouldn’t have anything to brew it in even if we could. That would have just launched one of IKDR’s long manic fantasies about how he’d solve those probs.
    I looked at him. He looked kinda smug, so I figured he was telling the truth. Even though the comp mod in his skull was close to an antique, he was a wizard with it.
    He didn’t look like a wizard. He looked more like a cross between an elf and an orc, right out of the overnet feeds. Skinny as hell, short, bald ‘cept for a bit of fuzz, kind of bucktoothed.
    The eyes were the freakiest thing to strangers, but I was used to them. Dead black orbs of ceramic photoweave. They gave him vision. I wondered about that sometimes. Was it the same kind of vision I had? When I asked him, he shrugged and said he didn’t remember what his vision had been like before.
    The prosthetic arm was less noticeable, ‘cause IKDR refused to wear anything but long sleeved shirts (hell, sometimes a jacket) even in the middle of July. When we found him, his arm had been chopped right the hell off, just below the elbow. He wasn’t bleeding or anything, didn’t even seem to be in pain. The wound was cauterized. Burned tight.
    The vocal chords had been the last thing to go. It started simple — he just got quieter and quieter until he made no sound at all when he tried to talk.
    Cheffy and me had discussed this shit on occasion, about what the hell was wrong with the kid. He didn’t seem sick in the regular sense — he had tons of energy, always on the go, never complained much.
    But one by one his organs seemed to be packing up. It was a mystery we didn’t spend much time on, mainly ‘cause we didn’t have the time to spend. Keeping food in the pot and affording the mods to keep IKDR alive was work enough.
    He was right. Odd shit. Usually at this time the Strip would be bustling with bums and gangers, slinging mods and dope, bumming and begging. I’d only seen a few people and they’d been far between.
    “Just fucking hot.” I said.
    I just grunted back. I didn’t feel like arguing with him. The mod implanted in his jaw that let him sub vocalize to the skullcom and transmit to my wraps was either defective or IKDR just couldn’t sub vocalize worth a shit. The text he transed was always garbled as hell. Sometimes it was completely unreadable, if he were excited and started babbling.
    Which was often.

“The Feds were afraid of the Overnet because they were powerless against it — it was impossible to control. Overnet servers did not rest in easily reachable buildings. They rode in the phones and laptops and pockets and packs and — later — implants of ten million individuals. No wires connected them but the dancing frequencies ushered in by the superbroadband wireless revolution. Once again the market had outpaced the State, left it staring slackjawed.

This time though, their laziness was fatal. The other factor was that the Overnet was built from the ground up on an encryption base. The Phantoms had started the revolution after all, for their own reasons.”


    “Eighty creds or fuck off.” Devlin said, slouching back in the swivel desk chair that seemed to be about ninety percent electricians tape.
    Devlin was a fat and nasty motherfucker. He stank. His office stank. His mod-room was filthy — but he was the cheapest and the least likely to ask questions.
    “This shit is old as hell, Dev.” Cheffy said, getting pissed. “For eighty we could afford implants.”
    Devlin laughed his ass off. Fuck. Even the man’s laugh was nasty.
    “You could afford the implants at a better shop. You couldn’t afford the fucking labor. I’m offering a package here, snotboy.”
    Cheffy looked willing to argue. IKDR just sat quiet in the corner, scared as hell, wondering if he’d ever see again. I thumped Cheffy on the shoulder. Devlin was right, and we all knew it.
    Nasty or not, the asshole knew when he’d won. I felt like putting a slug into that smug, sweaty face.But that wouldn’t help the kid.
    “Yeah, the photoweave mods are old — but they’re unused. Good, solid, reliable old tech. The only reason to favor implants over these babies is that the original eyes could be saved.” He started printing out a contract. “What the fuck would the point be? You plannin’ on striking it rich and heading out of Old Vegas anytime soon?”
    Son of a bitch. The idea that we didn’t want the kids eyes scooped out and tossed aside, replaced with those fucking freaky ass black orbs never occurred to his greedy ass. Some goddam people.
    “This is a good deal.” Devlin said as the shoved the contract and a pen at us. “Thumb on the top for a print record. One of you gotta sign. Gang chop is OK. Print is what matters.”
    “We ain’t in no gang.” I snarled, couldn’t help it, as I grabbed the pen. “And I can fucking write. And read. I’ve read this contract dozens of times. It fucks us in the ass but what don’t?”
    Devlin just raised an eyebrow.
    I signed.
    The fat fucker heaved his bulk from the chair. “Take the kid into the mod-room and strap him to the table. Make sure he’s comfortable, ‘cause once I hit him with the gas he ain’t moving for a lot of hours.”
    We led IKDR into the room and did as we were told. Devlin headed for the sink.
    At least the asshole washed his hands.

    We were only three blocks from payday when the shit hit the fan.
    IKDR stopped dead in his tracks, tensed up.
    The font was triple sized and red. I stopped.
    “Where and what?” I whispered. I pulled the Comanche from my backsling and thumbed off the safety. As usual I bitched silently that I only had forty rounds left for it. The non-auto mode held a clip of twenty slugs.
    “Go recon.”
    And he was. Little bastard dumped his full backpack to the ground and dissapeared, clambering up the rusting remains of a scaffold and finding god knows what sort of nook to hide in. He could climb like a monkey — he was lean and skinny, but pure ropy muscle, and the prosth-arm was a hell of a lot stronger than a natch.
    I myself hurried over to the graffiti-strewn building on my right,grabbing the kids pack and dumping my own to the sidewalk beside me, and pressed up against the wall commando style. Then I waited for intel.

    The left lens flickered and caught a transmission. The image sprang to life as soon as I accepted it with a subvoked code. The wraps received both full overnet and had dozens of private channels. IKDR could manipulate them like an artist. That’s how he’d got wind of the ambush — he kept a constant overnet scan running in the background, and the ‘bushers must have let slip some stray frequency. Probably some fucknut checking his mail or today’s odds. Didn’t matter. IKDR had caught it, and slipped in like a thief, counting boxes since the ‘bushers were obviously networked.
    The image stabilized. It was black and white and a little grainy, but clear. The kid could transmit much better, but he was in stealth mode, keeping the frequency and amp to a minimum.
    Three. Medium modders, all Blackrockers. Fuck.
    They were in the alley just half a block ahead. They looked bored, which was a friggin’ relief — they didn’t know we were this close. The angle was high and way to clear to be from anywhere IKDR could have gotten. He must have found an operating survcam and patched it in. Despite the frantic beating of my heart and the sweat that was slicking my body, I had to grin. Little fucker was deadly.
    Knoes had warned us. Since the Blackrockers were afraid of hitting him directly, they were sure to go after his freelancers. Fucking bastards. They were the biggest and clumsiest of all the Stirp gangs, and also one of the meanest. They must have terrorized the bums off the street this morning and cut deals with the other gangers. Just to hit two freelancers who were just trying to put food in the pot.
    Fucking waste of resources, you ask me.
    I subvoked to the kid. WHAT KIND OF POWER THEY PACKING?
    WEAPONS, BRO. WEAPONS. I tried to stay calm.
    I relaxed — a little. If they were typical Blackrockers they were probably stoned to the gills. Without slaving to a decent targeting com, I doubt they could hit the broadside of a building.
    Still..it was three guns to one.
    But I had a little surprise.
    While I watched the gangers lounge in the alley, I dug a small silver cylinder out of one of the many side pockets of my backpack.
    I felt a stupid pang of regret. Microgrenades were hard to come by, and Knoes would have probably paid tastily for it.
    But I had to be alive to get paid.
    I subvoked the plan to IKDR. Told him to take as much cover as he could.
    I took a breath and held it. I was going to have to throw based on the image in my left lens. The fuckers were wearing light armor, so I doubted that the blast itself would do the job. Didn’t have to. I just wanted to knock the fuckers down and off guard.
    I thumbed the det button. Click.
    I released the breath, threw.
    In the left lens, I saw the tiny shape bounce off the side of the alley wall, and roll almost out. Goddamit!
    I saw the Blackrockers start, then jerk to attention, guns coming up.
    The mg detonated, a shuddering whoomp, that knocked me off the building. No fire. No smoke. Just a savage concussive wave.
    The image in my lens died. Fuck. I’d killed the goddam cam!
    I had to go in blind.
    I was up like a shot, sprinting toward the alley.

“Sometimes we forget, those of us lucky enough to have survived the Crash in areas where the Phantoms had roots and power. Those of us in Houston and Austin and San Francisco and Birmingham and Charleston. We forget that in a huge chunk of the rest of the former United States the transition was not a matter of months or a couple of years. That the transition was a hell on Earth and remains a hell on Earth. The populations of Old Las Vegas and Old New York. The smoldering remains of Los Angeles. The hateful city-state of the Chicago Imperium. As we make diplomatic treaties with the tech starved Chinese lords of the rest of the world, as Europe settles into comfortable vassalage to their Chinese masters, we forget. That not one functioning road exists from Nevada to California. That bandits rule there. That the tech we take for granted filters into those areas like miracles in bible stories. We forget.” —Carlton Rose AGAINST BACKWARD PROPHECY

    I fought against going back to Devlin like a wildcat. I hated that piece of shit. After IKDR’s vocals died, we had him use a crude slaved lap top for a while. The problem was that he could barely write. He read like a king, but wrote like a fuckin’ chicken scratching at the ground.
    It was Cheffy who convinced me to go back.
    I really considered just busting in and forcing the bitch at gunpoint to mod the kid. It was a black thought in my head the whole way there, IKDR just acting scared, Cheffy not willing to mess with me in that kinda mood.
    Then the old man answered the door, smiled at us.
    I gotta admit I was a bit freaked.
    “You work for Devlin?” I asked.
    The old man grinned. And goddam was he old. He was so modded he made the Kid look like a teen fashion advert from the overnet.
    “Mr. Devlin is dead — and probably in hell, my boy. Are you here on business?”
    I didn’t know what to say, other than. “Yeah.”
    He ushered us in, and I was stunned to see how much the place had changed. Not only was it clean it was goddam immaculate. Sterile looking. I glanced into the mod-room as we passed and it looked to be completely refurbished. This was some crazy shit.
    The old man was a polite sort. He took us into his office and gave us tea. We all sat there feeling pretty much out of sorts. The old man didn’t seem to mind. Just sipped his tea and seemed content.
    “Don’t wanna be rude, but who are you, man?”
    He looked at me, obviously implanted eyes focusing hard.
    “My name is Stow. And to whom do I have the pleasure?” he asked in return, a smile on his lips.
    “I got the name I gave myself when I was old enough to do so.” I told him. “I’m Foadi. That stands for ‘Fuck Off And Die” plus I.”
    Stow looked delighted. “And why did you add the ‘I’?” he asked, voiced drenched in nothing but curiosity.
    “Because I ain’t a you, I guess.” I told him with a shrug.
    “Quite so.” Stow said, sipping his tea. He seemed satisfied.
    All of a sudden, I liked the old fucker. I hate when that happens.
    He put down his tea cup. “Now, Mr. Foadi. What can I do for you?”

    I explained things, best I could. He nodded and said he had just the thing. He then told Cheffy to take IKDR into the mod-room and get him ready. When I started to leave with him, he put a hand on my shoulder.
    “Indulge an old man for a moment, son.”
    I did. I sat back down grudgingly.
    Stow sighed. “Mr. Devlin — whatever his other faults — kept extensive records. Not long ago you had the boy’s eyes replaced.” A long pause. “Do you have any idea what is wrong with the child?”
    I was wary. I just shook my head no.
    “It seems to be some form of degenerative disease. But the data from his last mod show no signs of anything.”
    I just looked at him.
    Stow nodded. “I was hoping you knew more than me.” he said. “I’ll do my best to find a cause.”
    I thought of something. “Let’s talk cred. How much?”
    He looked at me. Not hostile, no pity. Just an open look. He reached into his desk and extracted a slim plastic card. He passed it over to me.
    I read it. “O.W. KNOES” in a large font. Below, smaller: “Mutual Defense. Trade. Security. Pawn Services. Freelancers welcome!”
    Stow finished his tea, seemed to savor it. “Go see that man, son. He hasn’t been in the Old Strip long, but he’s here to stay. He’s…an associate of mine. Go see that man at your earliest convenience and this mod work is on the house.”
    When shit sounds too good to be true, it usually is. But I couldn’t find even the hint of a game.
    “Besides,” Stow continued with a wink “I’m new here myself. May as well start building a rep.”
    He then stood up and moved toward the mod-room.
    For whatever reason, I decided to trust him.
    But the shit that followed kept us away from seeing Knoes for almost three years.

    As soon as I hit the mouth of the alley, the SmartWraps engaged.
    All three Blackrockers were down, but were struggling up.
    The wraps targeted and centered. Lines intercepted. I raised the Comanche and put three slugs into the biggest fucker — just above the armor’s collar. He thudded to the ground, dead weight.
    Life went slow mo.
    The middle sized dude was recovering faster than the smaller, who was down on his back and bleeding from the nose and the ears. I concentrated on Mr. Quick.
    Still walking forward I leveled the Comanche. The Wraps processed. Lines intersected. Tiny servo motors in the guns mid-section began to adjust to a million different factors. My movement, air movement, the erratic movement of the target, the imperceptible shake in my hand.
    Three quick pulls on the trigger and I nailed the ganger in the left eye, just below the nose, and blew his trachea into gory splinters.
    Two down, one to go.
    The smallest ganger was up, still a bit dazed, but ready to fight.
    I shifted, aimed, let the slaved gun target…
    The Comanche jammed. Flat jammed.
    I actually screamed: “FUCK!”
    The ganger grinned maliciously, the shotgun rising, as I tried desperately to back track, seeing death walk up…
    Then the small form dropped from nowhere, right onto the ganger. The prosthetic arm grabbed the gun and ripped it away, flinging it down the alley. Strong skinny legs wrapped expertly around the midsection of the surprised ganger, as the other hand flashed and sent a blade across the exposed throat in another expert motion.
    The spray of blood barely missed me. I stared at the gaping hole in the gangers neck, as IKDR rode the body down to a soft landing.
    Lethal little monkey.

    U OKEE BROOO? he transed in a huge, scared font. He wiped the blade of the permasharp fullerene combat knife clean on the still jerking body of the ganger.
    “I’m fine.” I said, a bit shakily. That shit was too close.
    “Grab their guns and any electronics you can find on them, bro. Then let’s haul ass to Knoes before back up arrives.”
    He nodded and set to work.

    I cleared the jam, cursing. My own fault. I hadn’t serviced the gun in weeks. Clumsy shit like that gets you killed in the Old Strip.
    When I was ready to go, I turned to call the kid, only to find him staring down at the body of the ganger he’d killed. He had improvised a sack from some plastic sheeting and had the guns and other loot under his arm.
    “What’s the matter bro? Let’s get gone.” I said, impatient.
    He didn’t take his eyes off the ganger.
    Aww, fuck.
    “So what? Come ON!”
    For the fifty millionth fucking time I cursed Cheffy and my own stupid self for showing him those goddam King Arthur stories.
    “Well it ain’t very fucking chivalrous for fucking bitch girls to try and kill your bro, either is it?” I yelled at him. Goddam..we needed to go!
    He sat there a second, considering.
    GUEZZ NOT. He finally said.
    I sighed, relieved. I had been afraid for a sec he’d insist on burying the stupid skank.
    “Ok! Then come ON..we gotta get to Knoes NOW. They could have back up here in just a few minutes. I’m gettin’ our loot.” I moved quick out of the alley, afraid to resling the Comanche, to grab the packs.
    When I had them, I stopped in the mouth of the Alley. IKDR was actually fuckin’ bent over the bitch, all sad and shit.
    “Goddamit come the fuck on, dumbass! Don’t you realize we’ve started a fucking war?”
    He only paused a second more.
    Then he was up, black blank eyes emotionless, and right by my side.

    We ran, burdened by loot, towards safety.

PART II (FINALE) coming soon.

April 20, 2004

Free-market fundamentalism? Not hardly

Posted by shonk at 11:53 PM in Economics , Politics | permalink | 5 comments

If you really want to get your blood boiling, read “Entrepreneurship Gets Slaughtered”, an L.A. Times op-ed on the Department of Agriculture’s disgraceful decision to prevent Creekstone Farms from testing all its cows for mad cow disease (free registration required):

According to the Washington Post, Creekstone invested $500,000 to build the first mad cow testing lab in a U.S. slaughterhouse and hired chemists and biologists to staff the operation. The only thing it needed was testing kits. That’s where the company ran into trouble. By law, the Department of Agriculture controls the sale of the kits, and it refused to sell Creekstone enough to test all of its cows. The USDA said that allowing even a small meatpacking company like Creekstone to test every cow it slaughtered would undermine the agency’s official position that random testing was scientifically adequate to assure safety.

That is to say, the Department of Agriculture would rather expose Americans to the risk of a rather horrible death from mad cow disease than to admit that maybe, just maybe, they are not as capable of protecting consumers as the private sector is. And that’s their official statement, the one which presumably contains the most favorable rationalization of their actions.

What didn’t get mentioned in their official statement, but which is correctly pointed out in the article, is that the more likely reason for Agriculture’s decision is that most of the meat-packing industry is vehemently opposed to the notion of testing every cow:

“If testing is allowed at Creekstone … ,” the president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. told the Post, “we think it would become the international standard and the domestic standard, too.”

There are three separate issues here that I’d like to address one at a time. First, let me re-emphasize the fact that Creekstone was voluntarily choosing to go above and beyond the required safety measures in an attempt to guarantee that their meat was clean. Apparently, this should come as no big surprise, as Creekstone is known for working hard to reduce the use of antibiotics, for using humane slaughtering techniques and for paying high wages. The point, though, is that the notion that, absent government regulation, companies would produce shoddy, dangerous products is utterly absurd. Sure, many companies would like to be free of government safety regulations, but consumers rather like not contracting diseases from their food, being injured by their appliances, etc. and many are more than willing to pay extra to prevent such things. In fact, the primary way for slipshod, cut-rate corporations to prevent their competitors from luring customers with safer products is through (surprise) government regulation.

Which brings me to my second point: agency capture. From the article:

The Department of Agriculture seems to have only one purpose in preventing Creekstone from testing — appeasing the big slaughterhouses. The USDA has a long history of doing the bidding of the meatpacking industry at the expense of the public. Indeed, in many academic studies, the department is presented as a textbook example of the problem of “agency capture,” wherein an agency becomes so identified with the companies it regulates that it becomes an extension of those companies.

Agency capture is a phenomenon closely related to the rent-seeking that engenders special-interest legislation, pork-barrel spending and all the other so-called “corruptions” of government that are, in fact, the necessary consequences of a government with the ability to control the economic fates of millions through legislative and even bureaucratic actions. In the case of agency capture, both the agency and the currently successful corporations in whatever area the agency is supposed to be regulating have an incentive to maintain something pretty close to the status quo (another example can be seen in the European Patent Office’s ridiculous attempt to destroy e-commerce). The currently successful corporations have that incentive because the status quo is obviously treating them pretty well, and why change anything when you’re getting rich? The agencies have that incentive because the status quo is something they know how to deal with, whereas changing conditions require smarts and adaptability, qualities inherently antithetical to the bureaucratic mindset.

Which brings me to my third point: the economy currently operating in the United States is a pretty far cry from a free market, despite the mindless babble about Bush and his administration being “free-market fundamentalists.” The fact that the Department of Agriculture thought it reasonable to justify their shutdown of Creekstone’s testing on the grounds that it would undermine their “scientific credibility” (as if they had any to begin with) is just further proof of this fact. What we have in this country is a state-sponsored corporatism beloved of Democrats and Republicans alike because it puts the reins in their hands while maintaining just enough freedom to avoid (at least for the moment) the Communist death-spiral. Marx invented the term “Capitalism” even though the system he was denouncing already had a perfectly good word to describe it: mercantilism. Somehow, he and his followers came to confuse the mercantilism against which his writings were opposed with the laissez faire notions being propounded by what were then called liberals and so this strawman of “Capitalism” came to be the symbol of the free market. As such, it should come as no surprise that those who derive their political and economic ideas from Marx confuse the neo-mercantilism of the status quo with a free market, but the real disgrace is that so many purported “defenders of liberty” make the same fundamental mistake, mouthing a dogma of free markets while identifying the corporate-welfare sector as “capitalist heroes”.

Maybe I’m dead wrong about everything. Maybe a free market would be as terrible a thing as the diehard socialists claim. But we’ll never know until the Creekstones of the world are given the freedom to try to produce a safer product without federal regulators, working in concert with the worst of the mega-corps, shutting down their operation.


Posted by shonk at 12:05 AM in Blogging | permalink | 2 comments

Props to JTK for sending me an email pointing me in the direction of the newest web resource with a stupid name, Furl. John Battelle points out why Furl might just be a killer web app, especially among bloggers (link via Brad DeLong. After all, aside from the obvious advantages of no longer having to worry about dead or broken links, there’s one distinguishing characteristic of bloggers: they love sharing links. And the Furl public archive, where you can share your list of links, is basically the lazy man’s version of Jason Kottke’s remaindered links or Brad Choate’s sideblog; no need for any technical knowledge other than the ability to click a button on your toolbar. Which, of course, means that it will be abused by the idiots of the world, but, then again, what isn’t?

Also, there’s got to be a creative way to combine the usefulness of Furl and, say, Kinja, another cool web app with a silly name. Any suggestions?

April 19, 2004

Political correctness harangued again

Posted by Curt at 05:34 PM in Politics | permalink | 23 comments

This screed against political correctness makes a good point that I think the vast majority of commentators across the political spectrum consistently fail to perceive. Political correctness is NOT, as neanderthal religious conservatives seem to consider it, the antithesis of all moral standards or regard for our “Judeo-Christian” heritage. In fact, neanderthal religious conservatives ought to recognize the apostates of political correctness better, for they are their true spiritual kin. Political correctness is really only the latest manifestation of intolerant rule-bound moral puritanism; it is really simply the modern-day secular counterpart of dogmatic religious moralism. And I would say that attitudes in most universities today towards race and racism, for example, are probably just about equivalent to the attitude towards sex in fundamentalist seminaries, if not more unhinged.

So this is nothing new: in the absence of religion, people have developed a new set of dogmas just as pointless and oppressive as those that they have supplanted. It takes a bit of intellectual freedom to make the next step, though, and in this I think the author of the article fails. Consider this passage from the article: “In their pursuit of a better, more enlightened world, PC types let an abstract moralism triumph over realism, benevolence over prudence, earnest humorlessness over patience. As has often been noted, an absolute commitment to benevolence, like the road that is paved with good intentions, typically leads to an unprofitable destination.” And then, a little later on, he approvingly cites the philosopher David Stove, who claims:

“A person who is convinced that he has a moral obligation to be benevolent, but who in fact ranks morality below fame (say), or ease; or again, a person who puts morality first, but is also convinced that the supreme moral obligation is, not to be benevolent, but to be holy (say), or wise, or creative: either of these people might turn out to be a scourge of his fellow humans, though in most cases he will not. But even at the worst, the misery which such a person causes will fall incomparably short of the misery caused by Lenin, or Stalin, or Mao, or Ho Chi Minh, or Kim Il-sung, or Pol Pot, or Castro: persons convinced both of the supremacy of benevolence among moral obligations, and of the supremacy of morality among all things. It is this combination which is infallibly and enormously destructive of human happiness.”

I agree largely with this diagnosis of the characteristics and consequences of utopianism, but do either of these men really believe that utopianists, much less Stalin or Mao, are really motivated primarily by “benevolence”? If they do, this must mean that at some level, even if they oppose the abuses of Marxism or feminism or multicultarilism, etc., they have been thoroughly indoctrinated by them. Of course the equivalence drawn between political correctness and the gulag is stupid and offensive, but that is not really the point. That the author seems to believe that Stalin murdered 1/6 of the population of Russia in a spirit of “benevolence” not only shows an almost superhuman gullibility but abuses the very meaning of the word “benevolence” beyond all reason.

Advocates of political correctness do share one important element with die-hard Marxists: utopianism. I have no doubt as to the horrendous consequences of utopianism, and consequently despise idealism of any stripe. But to claim that there is some special element of “benevolence” in politically correct or Marxist dogmas, even if this is supposed to render them especially malignant, at the same time either legitimates them as dogmas at some level or goes much too far into nihilism. It seems to me that the latter is the case in this article. Consider this passage: “The most melancholy of human reflections, perhaps, is that, on the whole, it is a question whether the benevolence of mankind does most good or harm. Great good, no doubt, philanthropy does, but then it also does great evil.”

I don’t really think the question is as fundamental as that, because neither speech codes nor the gulag in my opinion are in the slightest manifestations of “philanthropy.” It seems pretty clear to me that these are just manifestations of greed for power. Those that institute speech codes or run the gulags may cover themselves in idealistic rhetoric, but it seems pretty obvious that it is all a cynical cover to win legitimacy for their oppression of others, just as prude moralists or religious fanatics in all epochs have ever done. There is nothing unique about the abuses of the last century except for the sheer numbers involved. Even when idealistic rhetoric is sincerely meant, it is still all about power: the idealist believes that the ideal he holds in his mind is better than anything which actually exists around him, and even if he sincerely believes it he still means to impose his personal ideal on the outside world. This in my opinion is pure egotism. No, the concepts of benevolence or altriuism themselves are not de-legitimized by these abuses, because benevolence and altruism are not at all the motivating factors. It is John Stuart Mill, strange to say, who has the wisest words on the subject:

“The man who works from himself outwards, whose conduct is governed by ordinary motives, and who acts with a view to his own advantage and the advantage of those who are connected with himself in definite, assignable ways, produces in the ordinary course of things much more happiness to others . . . than a moral Don Quixote who is always liable to sacrifice himself and his neighbors. On the other hand, a man who has a disinterested love of the human race—that is to say, who has got a fixed idea about some way of providing for the management of the concerns of mankind—is an unaccountable person . . . who is capable of making his love for men in general the ground of all sorts of violence against men in particular.”

This is the distinction that I am trying to get at: the idealist prostrates genuine human life before abstract ideas, and in the service of equality or something of the sort is just as liable to level downwards through pure destruction as bring about good for anyone in particular. Whether idealistic rhetoric is sincerely meant, as seems to me the case with many advocates of political correctness, or is simply cynically used as a cover, as seems to be undoubtedly the case with the dictators of the last century, the ultimate motive is ultimately the same: pure lust for power.

p.s. It might do to clarify what I imagine by the word “benevolence” in lieu of idealism. It seems to me that true benevolence, perhaps better described as love, involves a fundamental element of tolerance, for the benevolent or loving person puts themselves at the service of another person or thing which really exists, as opposed to an ideal, which exists only in the mind of the thinker. So true benevolence or love is in fact almost the opposite of idealism.

First they came for the bukkake fetishists

Posted by shonk at 11:28 AM in Politics , Sex | permalink | comment

As a follow up to “Get paid for watching porn,” my post from last week, check out The Misanthropic Bitch’s “Who’s Fucking Who?” While I disagree with her implicit premise that voting will do anything to drown out “the chorus of gibberish from America’s retarded senior citizens,” she aptly destroys the snide yammering about pornography’s “victims”:

Porn does not magically appear. Jenna Jameson DVDs do not swarm around you like a nest of hornets, slapping you around with gigantic jugs until you give into carnal pleasures. I’ve never come home to a television playing Amber the Lesbian Queffer on its own accord, nor have I answered a phone and heard a breathless woman tell me what she’d do to me for $2.95/minute.

One needs to be an active participant. And an active participant is not a victim. An active participant is a consumer.

One more thing to keep in mind: the people who are behind the new crackdown on porn, like the Concerned Women for America, won’t be satisfied with merely going after “deviant stuff”; they want mainstream targets, like hotel chains offering adult features on SpectraVision (what Bill Hicks called “hairy bobbin’ man-ass movies”). And, as TMB points out, it’s a slippery slope from there:

If innocent videos of pre-pubescent girls frolicking in swimsuits had a market, then — oh, I guess they do. Because anything can be made sexual, and if you start with the “deviant stuff,” it’s only a matter of time before they come for the Shannon Tweed flix on TMC.

Maybe it’s time to update Niemöller’s lament.

If you want to send a message...

Posted by shonk at 01:42 AM in Politics , Words of Wisdom | permalink | 1 comment

Curt’s fisking of Voltaire and Chomsky reminded me of that old Samuel Goldwyn remark: “If I want to send a message I’ll call Western Union” (yeah, that’s right, Samuel Goldwyn, not David Lynch, who recently and badly paraphrased it). Which is good advice for any artist, especially in these “the personal is the political” times.

Incidentally, googling that phrase is an interesting experience, one I’d recommend. Of course, there’s the odd writer commentary, but I was surprised to see two different articles on the Drug War pop up. The first, by Vicki Rosenzweig, is really more of a rant than a proper article, but it makes a good point:

I’d like to remind the US government of that principle. Or, if Western Union seems too old-fashioned, call a press conference. Create a Web page. Buy full-page ads in the newspaper, or hire someone to do flashy television ads you can run during ballgames.

Don’t write your message on the dead bodies of the American people.

This in regards to the Clinton administration deciding, circa 1998, not to support needle exchange programs because it might “send the wrong message”. Now I’m against federal funding for needle exchange programs, but that’s because I’m opposed to federal funding of pretty much anything, not because of the message it sends. As Rosenzweig says,

The message from the administration is “If you use drugs, you will die, and we won’t try to save you, because then someone else might use drugs too.” Do they really think people try heroin because they see someone, thin and pale, and think “well, he’s not dead yet”?

On the other hand, drug warrior Lamar Alexander uses the “Western Union” quote in quite a different context:

The political scientist James Q. Wilson has pointed out that when it comes to making policy, a common attitude is “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.” Yet when it comes to illegal drugs, sending a message may be the most important thing we do. If we have learned anything about drug use over the last twenty years, it is that drug use is closely linked to the attitudes toward drug use that prevail at any time.

Which is true, but then Alexander immediately starts fleeing anything approaching reason:

What worries me most about the debate over drug legalization, and the successful efforts to decriminalize marijuana in California and Arizona is the message that is sent. How can we expect our children to harden their resistance to drugs when all around there are voices telling them that, under some circumstances, mood and mind-altering substances are permissible?

That’s not quite the decriminalization message there, buddy. Rather, the message, if any, is that maybe bureaucratic busybodies oughtn’t be able to decree what we can and can’t do with our own bodies. Something Alexander, as someone who thinks that the risk of more people hurting themselves is “too high a price to pay” for freedom. Mind you, that’s not more people getting hurt by others, either through aggression or some other means, that’s more people hurting themselves (okay, admittedly he tosses in some stuff about crack babies and drugged-up drivers, but if that were a major concern he’d be leading the push for the re-instatement of Prohibition, seeing as there are orders of magnitude more FAS babies and drunk drivers than crack babies and stoned drivers).

The healthier attitude, in my book, is Billy Beck’s (wow, two Beck references in an hour; this must be a sign of…something):

And when I see a person “consigning” hundreds of millions of people to all the legal and institutional predations of the war on drugs on behalf of insinuated concerns for dopers — which I don’t believe for a split-second — it’s the most natural thing in the world for me to completely dismiss him as a serious person, because his concern is so obviously misplaced that the very next question goes to his mental competence.

Preach on, brother man.

Nearest book

Posted by shonk at 12:51 AM in Ramblings | permalink | 6 comments

Someone’s trying the ol’ meme-spreading game (via Beck); I’m always game for such shenanigans, so here goes:

  1. Grab the nearest book.
  2. Open the book to page 23.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

Here it is:

The property of being 1-1 means that no two elements of A correspond to the same element of B (no two judges are playing the same position), and the property of being onto ensures that every element of B corresponds to something in A (there is a judge at every position). (Understanding Analysis, by Stephen Abbot).

Technically, this wasn’t the absolute closest book at hand. That honor goes to a calculus textbook, but pg. 23 contains 64 graphing problems and not a single actual, complete sentence. The fact that I was disappointed that the nearest non-calculus book at hand was a lightweight undergrad analysis textbook probably says something about me. Something like, “You need to get out of the house more.”

April 18, 2004

The polemical mind

Posted by Curt at 06:21 PM in Language | permalink | comment

I remember that Sir Isaiah Berlin, in his The Proper Study of Mankind, as a means of trying to explain the basic change in intellectual temperament wrought by Romanticism, contrasts the personalities of Voltaire and Percy Bysshe Shelley via a hypothetical meeting between them. He claims that, while Shelley would undoubtedly be duly contemptuous of the limited range of Voltaire’s preoccupations and the pettiness of his aesthetic pleasures, Voltaire for his part would be appalled by the coarseness and undifferentiated simplicity of Shelley’s world-view. Regardless of the truth of this contrast as a general description, the choice of Voltaire as an embodiment of pre-Romantic bounded, orderly aesthetic sophistication seems ill-chosen in my opinion, because as monotonic polemicist and revolutionary he was at times unsurpassed in his epoch. Did he not end every letter that he wrote during the last 15 years of his life with “Écrasez l’infâme” (“Eradicate the infamy [the Catholic Church])? Granted this was but one phase of his life, but at all points Voltaire proved himself perhaps the most talented writer among the Englightenment philosophers but also undoubtedly the shallowest. In short, while he was indeed a satirist and stylist of genius, in the latter part of his life his intellectual simplism combined with a bizarrely late-flowering radicalism to divert the entirety of his creative activity into a single sustained monotonous and largely humorless broadside against organized religion and sectarian fanaticism.

All well and good, but what is the relevance of any of this? Of course, on one level I have in mind certain contemporary Voltaires like Noam Chomsky (Bertrand Russell was another). Both Russell and Chomsky, very much like Voltaire, became (Chomsky is still becoming) more radical in their old age, which is very much the opposite of the trajectory of most people. Old radicals have none of the charm of young radicals: generally their anarchism has little idealism and is instead characterized by bitterness and ennui. The fact that they were not so radical when young proves yet further that their radicalism is primarily a product of the bitterness of age rather than the idealism of youth. Voltaire’s insistent cry of “Écrasez l’infâme” has no wit or humor in it, as his younger works did: it is simply pure destruction intellectually manifested. And all of these men seemed to virtually forget their earlier intellectual concerns: do an amazon.com search on Noam Chomsky, and one will find perhaps two of his remarkable early tracts on linguistics among the first 20 results; the rest are all political pamphlets on capitalism, terrorism, etc. that look to have been churned out on a weekly basis during the last three years.

But even these contemporary parallels still only get at my real point very indirectly. I think that to a large extent one’s thoughts and works are defined by one’s preoccupations. When Voltaire became utterly obsessed with destroying the institutions of religion, it signalled his death as an artist: all of his work became constricted down to that single repeated cry “Écrasez l’infâme.” In the same way, Noam Chomsky, for his all his pose as martyr of truth and opponent of propoganda, in his total absorption in the cause of opposition to the capitalistic-imperialistic mechanism which he sees as exploiting the entire world has shown himself to be entirely dominated by that idea (or myth), and in the service of that idea to have reduced himself to a pure propogandist as well. This is the substance of the reason behind Stefan Zweig’s refusal to speak out against the Nazis, which I explored a couple of months ago. Quite simply, although Zweig loathed the Nazis, he felt that if he became an advocate against them, even in opposition to them he would have allowed them to dictate his activities to him, would have in fact have allowed them to take over his mind, even if in hatred rather than obedience. His aloofness, then, was not the mark of passivity but rather of intellectual independence and freedom from totalitarianism.

I think there is some truth in that. I think that any idea which excessively preoccupies our minds will eventually cause our minds to more and more resemble it, no matter what our feelings are towards it. For example, though I know that this example will likely be offensive to many, I find a perfect example of the specific effect which Zweig feared in Holocaust memorials and art, which in my opinion have adopted many of propoganda tactics from the Nazis, for example in their excessive use of symbols, preoccupation with numbers and size, implicit diminishment of the individual in favor of the group, emphasis on group solidarity and ties, visceral emotional manipulation, and and implicit or explicit imputation of guilt on those who do not have the reaction or emotional response that the work intends to evoke. In both cases it is emotional thuggery, in that docility and submission to the work’s purpose, rather than individual critical evaluation, are encouraged as the appropriate responses on the part of the audience. I certainly do not at all mean to imply that Holocaust art is as reprehensible as Nazi art, simply that fixation with one particular subject has caused its creators to, in my view, become unduly influenced, even corrupted, by their subject. This is the sort of emulation born out of antagonism which Nietzsche had in mind, I believe, when he claimed that the greatest exemplifiers of “Jewish” ressentiment in his own era were anti-Semites. Of course I am aware that as an example I have picked a topic which it is virtually impossible to think calmly and rationally, but for that I think we have to thank in part that intellectual totalitarianism which has seeped, like a creeping disease, from one barbaric movement into the minds of its opponents. And this, I think, is the danger when one allows one’s conscious opposition to something to become an obsession and then a defining component of one’s own identity.

Hope he found what he was looking for

Posted by shonk at 03:55 AM in What the Fuck? | permalink | 1 comment

We have a new winner in the “Most Disturbing Google Search to Land Someone on Selling Waves” category. Today, someone searched for:

“read long about people being forced to get naked then opening someone else’s belly and lay in it until he entered his body then killing him by cutting his heart out”

and ended up here as a result. I don’t know which is more worrying: the fact that selling waves is number 8 on the list of pages that came up, or the thought that maybe the guy found what he was looking for.

We're sorry...

Posted by shonk at 03:47 AM in What the Fuck? | permalink | 1 comment


Seemingly innocuous care instructions on a computer sleeve, until you read the part in French more carefully. The last three lines say:

Nous sommes desoles que notre president soit un idiot. Nous n’avons pas vote pour lui.

Which translates to:

We are sorry that our President is an idiot. We did not vote for him.

I don’t know what’s funnier, the apparent appeal to French sanity or the fact that there are plenty of Americans (see linked post) who are so pleased to have their prejudices validated that they’re willing to spend their money on bags they don’t need just because the bags come equipped with a derogatory reference to the president written in French.

If you’re interested, t-shirts are also available. If you follow the link, you’ll note that the manufacturer is claiming that the whole thing was a joke on the company president, not a criticism of Bush. Now who here actually believes that?

April 16, 2004

A blast from the past

Posted by shonk at 08:38 PM in Geek Talk , Literature | permalink | comment

Today, I stumbled across this Wired article on gopher, the internet protocol developed at the University of Minnesota way back in 1992. The article brought back memories, because I remember gopher from my middle school days when we spent all our time using Lynx to access gopher and read blonde jokes instead of improving our typing, learning HyperCard, or whatever other useless pursuits the teachers had in mind. Given that the paradigm of the day was the BBS, gopher was quite a revelation. Now, of course, everyone is used to everything on the internet being a mere mouse-click away, but that was all-new 12 years ago.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that not only is gopher still kicking, but a few people are actually trying to bring it into the 21st century. For example, John Goerzen, in addition to maintaining supposedly the largest active gopher server in the world at Quux.org, thinks gopher could be used as dynamic data exchange protocol like XML-RPC and SOAP. He also sees it as a good alternative to current PDA and phone browsers:

“Consider this example: Port-a-Goph, a gopher client in development for Palm OS. Cameron Kaiser wrote this in his spare time and got it working quickly on his own Palm,” he said. “Contrast that with the state of Web browsing on handheld devices: Despite many years to improve them, I still regularly run across websites that simply do not render at all, or render so poorly that they are unusable.”

He’s probably right, but, for whatever reason, people seem to like to re-invent the wheel instead of just re-using proven wheels, so gopher probably will never be more than a tiny geek niche. That all having been said, there’s a lot of good stuff available on gopher servers like gopher://quux.org/, which you can access directly through nice browsers like Firefox. If you’re on IE, your best bet is probably Floodgap’s public gopher proxy, which translates gopher pages to HTML. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably go immediately to the jokes pages, which are filled with a vast assortment of predominately nerdy material.

On the subject of internet protocols and the like, I should mention that last night I finished Neal Stephenson’s latest, The Confusion, which just came out in bookstores this week (for those that don’t get the connection between internet protocols and a historical novel set in the 17th century, I’d suggest a thorough perusal of Stephenson’s other work, including Snow Crash or Cryptonomicon or, if you’re too cheap to spend money on books, the essay “In the Beginning Was the Command Line”). The Confusion is quite good, interleaving or “con-fusing” the two main stories much more seamlessly than did its predecessor, Quicksilver, which I’ve already reviewed. Though I’m not particularly in the book review mood right now, I will say that this trilogy is really growing on me and I’m definitely looking forward to September, when The System of the World comes out. One thing that really stands out about The Confusion is that among the diverse topics with which it deals, one of the primary issues is that of money and markets, especially how they arise and how they work. For more on that, check out the Wired interview with Stephenson (via Catallarchy).

April 13, 2004

That tired topic

Posted by shonk at 11:29 AM in Economics | permalink | comment

Over at mock savvy, Neil uses the “tired topic of outsourcing” as a jumping-off point for a somewhat more generalized thesis. Definitely read the whole thing, but here’s a sample:

What is troubling about the whole affair is that somehow, as a society or whatever, artificial standards of living have been set that muddle the idea of voluntaryism. Again, this is not to say that benevolence is bad—I think it is crucial that social support structures exist (I am not talking about government-sanctioned welfare programs)—but across the spectrum of wealth distribution, from the disgustingly wealthy to the dirt poor, the notion of arbitrary entitlement is so destructive yet so pervasive as to be deeply troubling to anyone who really considers the consequences. It fosters a sense of complacency that propagates such that a society, although perhaps not destined for complete collapse, experiences a spiritual vacuity that undermines the sense of self-worth vital for anything that is to resemble harmonious operation.

April 10, 2004

Standing in the kitchen, feeling stupid

Posted by shonk at 11:37 PM in Language , Words of Wisdom | permalink | 44 comments

In reading through Douglas Adams’ sadly posthumous Salmon of Doubt, I came across this little gem about the creation of The Meaning of Liff:

So, the vaguely uncomfortable feeling you got from sitting on a seat which is warm from somebody else’s bottom is just as real a feeling as the one you get when a rogue giant elephant charges out of the bush at you, but hitherto only the latter actually had a word for it. Now they both have words. The first one is “shoeburyness,” and the second, of course, is “fear.”

We started to collect more and more of these words and concepts, and began to realize what an arbitrarily selective work the Oxford English Dictionary is. It simply doesn’t recognize huge wodges of human experience. Like, for instance, standing in the kitchen wondering what you went in there fore. Everybody does it, but because there isn’t—or wasn’t—a word for it, everyone thinks it’s something that only they do and that they are therefore more stupid than other people. It is reassuring to realize that everybody is as stupid as you are and that all we are doing when we are standing in the kitchen wondering what we came in here for is “woking.” (pgs. 11-12)

Now, admittedly, this is a sort of thin premise on which to base much of anything, but bear with me. I think what Adams is talking about is actually rather a deep phenomenon. Not that it’s a new one, or anything, but Adams puts it a hell of a lot better than most linguists and social commentators. The idea, of course, is that language defines, in many ways, our reality and that it does so through omission every bit as much as it does by inclusion.

When concepts, feelings, etc. are unnameable, they are, in a very real sense, less, well, real. And so when we experience these unnamed and therefore less real feelings or thoughts, we naturally think that we must be weird, unusual, or even unique. Which is why everybody can so immediately identify with the cliché “Normal is what everybody else is and you’re not”. Because normal people would never even have unnamed, unreal feelings and experiences, let alone spend so much time thinking about them. After all, if normal people had these feelings, they’d give them a name and talk about them.

Well, okay, that sounds good, but who cares? I mean, standing confused in the kitchen isn’t exactly a life-changing even (well, not usually, anyway). But we don’t just not have names for these sorts of crises of memory, we don’t have names for all kinds of basic concepts. For example, Adams was a self-proclaimed “radical atheist” and had a keen interest in evolution, but there’s no good word for the whole spontaneous-generation-of-complex-structures-from-simpler- building-blocks-with-no-intervention-from-higher-powers concept that lies at the very heart of the basic idea of evolution. Sure there are terms like “spontaneous order” or “emergent phenomena” or whatever, but these are all artificial phrases, vaguely technical and unnatural.

Why are there no simple words to describe the spontaneous order/emergent phenomena concept? Because, as Adams brilliantly points out by way of an analogy with a puddle of water in “Is there an Artificial God?” such things simply don’t jibe with how we perceive reality. On the other hand, there is a very simple, very concrete, almost tangible word for an equally daunting and directly imperceptible concept; I’m speaking, of course, of “God”. Now we could argue until the cows come home about why this concept has such a definitive name (for example, Adams the radical atheist says its because we created God in our image, others would argue exactly the opposite), but the why is sort of beside the point. The point is that the one concept has no good name while the other does and the fact that the concept which is, to some extent, actually verifiable is the one without a name is what makes this phenomenon all the more interesting.

To tie this in with another main theme of this site, I would point out that another major area which manifests the spontaneous order/emergent phenomena paradigm is the market. One might be inclined to argue that part of the reason most people are leery of the free market as a political or economic ideal is that the closest anybody’s come to concisely expressing the basic concept is Adam Smith’s lame “Invisible Hand” metaphor. That’s right, lame. The metaphor is lame because it stimulates exactly the sorts of fears and delusions it was intended to dispel: bring up an “invisible hand” in the context of greedy businessmen and most people hear “conspiracy” and “collusion” (the whole Black Hand thing didn’t help, either).

Of course, things get even worse when institutions, intentionally or not, start appropriating perfectly reasonable and useful words. Nowadays, “cooperation” is something you do sullenly, because your first-grade teacher made you. People hear the word “cooperative” and immediately start thinking of government, which is ironic because government is anything but.

And now, for those that just wanted to read Adams quotes, here’s a few from The Salmon of Doubt, each worthy of its own entry:

A few years ago—well, I can tell you exactly, in fact, it was early 1994—I had a little run-in with the police. I was driving along Westway into central London with my wife, who was six months pregnant, and I overtook on the inside lane. Not a piece of wild and reckless driving in the circumstances, honestly, it was just the way traffic was flowing; but anyway I suddenly found myself being flagged down by a police car. The policemen signalled me to follow them down off the motorway and—astonishingly— to stop behind them on a bend in the slip road, where we could all get out and have a little chat about my heinous crime. I was aghast. Cars, trucks, and, worst of all, white vans were careering down the slip road, none of them, I’m sure, expecting to find a couple of cars actually parked there, right on the bend. Any one of them could easily have rear-ended my care—with my pregnant wife inside. The situation was frightening and insane. I made this point to the police officer, who, as is so often the case with the police, took a different view.

The officer’s point was that overtaking on an inside lane was inherently dangerous. Why? Because the law said it was. But being parked on a blind bend on a slip road was not dangerous because I was there on police instructions, which made it legal and hence (and this is the tricky bit to follow) safe.

My point was that I accepted I had (quite safely) made a manoeuvre that was illegal under the laws of England, but that our current situation, parked on a blind bend in the path of fast-moving traffic, was life-threatening by reason of the actual physical laws of the universe.

The officer’s next point was that I wasn’t in the universe, I was in England, a point that has been made to me before. I gave up trying to win an argument and agreed to everything so that we could just get out of there.

—pg. 22. I, personally, think this ties in nicely with my article “Legality is not Morality”, but I may be biased.

That is also why it’s impossible to divorce pure science from technology: they feed and stimulate each other. So the latest software gizmo for transferring an mp3 sound file from one computer to another across continents is, when you peer into its innards and at the infrastructure that has given rise to it and that it, in turn, becomes part of, is, in its way, every bit as interesting as the way in which a cell replicates, an idea is formed within a brain, or a beetle deep in the heart of the Amazonian rain forest digests its prey. It’s all part of the same underlying process that we in turn are part of, it’s where our creative energies are being poured, and I’ll happily take it over comedians, television, and football any day.

—pg. 125

“Kate, you think I’m talking nonsense, but I’m not. Listen. In the past, people would stare into the fire for hours when they wanted to think. Or stare at the sea. The endless dancing shapes and patterns would reach far deeper into our minds than we could manage by reason and logic. You see, logic can only proceed from the premises and assumptions we already make, so we just drive round and round in little circles like little clockwork cars. We need dancing shapes to lift us and carry us, but they’re harder to find these days. You can’t stare into a radiator. You can’t stare into the sea. Well, you can, but it’s covered with plastic bottles and used condoms, so you just sit there getting cross. All we have to stare into is the white noise. The stuff we sometimes call information, but which is really just a babble rising in the air.”

“But without logic…”

“Logic comes afterwards. It’s how we retrace our steps. It’s being wise after the event. Before the event you have to be very silly.”

—pgs. 244-5 (Dirk Gently and Kate discussing Dirk’s investigative method). I’m amazed by how many people don’t realize that this is exactly how logic works.

More Vamps & Tramps

Posted by shonk at 01:52 AM in Feminism | permalink | 3 comments

Finished reading Vamps & Tramps today, and all in all I’d have to say it was a good read. Paglia has some excellent things to say, especially about feminism, but also about sex, art, culture and even education. What’s especially enjoyable to about what she says is that, although a harsh critic of political correctness, mainstream feminism, post-structuralism and the like, she bears no resemblance to the more stereotypical opponents of such things. She attacks those exponents of leftist ideology not as a conservative, but as an old-school radical who feels that liberalism has been betrayed by these stiflings of free expression and the quest for truth and understanding. Which isn’t to say that she’s a starry-eyed Marxist, either; a self-described “libertarian Democrat”, she chastises her favorite targets for ignoring history when it comes to their economic and social analysis:

The 1960s failed, I believe, partly because of unclear thinking about institutions, which it portrayed in dark, conspiratorial, Kafkaesque terms. The positive role of institutions in economically complex societies was neglected. The vast capitalist network is so efficient in America that it is invisible to our affluent, middle-class humanists. Capitalism’s contribution to the emergence of modern individualism, and therefore feminism, has been blindly suppressed. This snide ahistoricism is the norm these days in women’s studies programs and chi-chi, Foucault-afflicted literature departments. Leftists have damaged their own cause, with whose basic principles I as a 1960s libertarian generally agree, by their indifference to fact, their carelessness and sloth, their unforgivable lack of professionalism as scholars. The Sixties world-view, which integrated both nature and culture, has degenerated into clamorous, competitive special-interest groups. (pg. 99)

Which isn’t to say that she’s a cheerleader for the bland corporate institutions that only a Republican could love, as evidenced by the railing against the “puritanical and desensualized” corporate culture that “fetishiz[es] the white Protestant persona”. She, instead, identifies with and revels in the strong pagan strain that underlies much of American culture, with special emphasis on the Roman and Greek tradition and especially on the Dionysian paradox. Relentless developments of this theme serve as a unifying element to what is otherwise a very non-homogeneous book.

Actually, I really only have two major complaints about the book. First, Paglia’s constant egomania and conscientious iconoclasm can grow old, especially if you’re the sort of person, like me, who devours a book like this in two or three days. Even for a collection of essentially essays, the book is a bit too author-centric, if that makes any sense. One never forgets that Paglia is speaking (and at a tremendous pace), nor that she’s an iconoclastic figure and loves it. Admittedly, the book is intended to be read within the context of her other work, the scholarly (though apparently X-rated) Sexual Personae and her first essay collection, Sex, Art, and American Culture, neither of which I have read.

The second complaint is that this collection really only contains three or four stand-alone essays and the only real highlight among those is the excellent, novella-length “No Law in the Arena: A Pagan Theory of Sexuality”. The transcripts of various talk shows, TV specials and short films are certainly interesting, especially “Sex War” and “Glennda and Camille Do Downtown”, because they show Paglia, for better or worse, in what seems to be her natural element, verbal warfare, but they suffer from the shift in medium. Similarly, the book reviews were generally insightful and resulted in a couple of additions to my “need-to-read” list, but having only ever heard of one of the books being reviewed and having read none, they didn’t do much for me in terms of opening up my eyes to new interpretations.

That all having been said, I would definitely recommend the book to anybody with an interest in feminism and culture, either as a critic or a standard-bearer, because Paglia is, ultimately, a very penetrating critic, forceful writer and original thinker.

And now to round out the collection, some more quotations from the book:

I suspect most women are genetically more empathic, not as a moral value (in the tedious Gilligan manner) but as an intuitive faculty of infant care. Women’s well-documented superiority in reading facial expressions, as well as their hormonally produced, hypersensitive thinner skin, supports this. What I see is not a world of male oppression and female victimization but an international conspiracy by women to keep from men the knowledge of men’s own frailty. A strange maternal protectiveness is at work.

—pg. 47

Sexual harassment guidelines, if overdone, will end by harming women more than helping them. In the rough play of the arena, women must make their own way. If someone offends you by speech, you must learn to defend yourself by speech. The answer cannot be to beg for outside help to curtail your opponent’s free movement. The message conveyed by such attitudes is that women are too weak to win by men’s rules and must be awarded a procedural advantage before they ever climb into the ring. Teasing and taunting have always been intrinsic to the hazing rituals of male bonding. The elaborate shouting matches and satirical putdowns of African tribal life can still be heard in American pop music (“You been whupped with the ugly stick!”—uproarious laughter) and among drag queens, where it’s called “throwing shade.” Middle-class white women have got to get over their superiority complex and learn to talk trash with the rest of the human race.

—pg. 51 (If any women are reading this and disagree with the above, keep this is mind: for better or for worse, Paglia is elucidating almost exactly the male perspective. We can argue about whether it’s genetic or social conditioning, but the simple fact of the matter is that the majority of men, even if only subconsciously, do identify “[t]he message conveyed by such attitudes is that women are too weak to win by men’s rules and must be awarded a procedural advantage before they ever climb into the ring.”)

The campus is now not an arena of ideas but a nursery school where adulthood can be indefinitely postponed. Faculty who are committed to the great principle of free speech are therefore at war with paternalistic administrators in league with misguided parents.

—pg. 101

I hate the victim-centered nature of contemporary feminism! It’s loathsome to me. I believe woman is the dominant sex, okay? And that everyone knows this, everyone knows throughout world culture that woman dominates man. Everyone but feminists knows that! And I think it’s absolutely perverse and neurotic to insist that history is nothing but male oppressors and female victims. This is ridiculous, all right? They want to make women small! (_She angrily gestures with thumb and index finger_.) Is this feminism? To make women small, to make them into victims? This is absurd!

—pg. 240 (dialogue from part one of the documentary “Female Misbehavior”)

I’m saying that men go from control by their mothers to control by their wives, and that is the horror of men’s life. And that feminism refuses to see this.

—pg. 265 (dialogue the short film “Sex War”)

April 09, 2004

Get paid for watching porn

Posted by shonk at 12:59 AM in Feminism , Politics | permalink | 7 comments

Think you might like to get paid for looking at porn? No, this isn’t one of those e-mails you delete from your inbox without even looking. Rather, if you’re wanting to get paid to look at porn, you might want to consider applying for a job in the Department of Justice, which is cracking down on pornography for the first time in 10 years.

Apparently, GW thinks the way to win votes in November is to indict a few high-profile porn distributors. Now, maybe that will consolidate the conservative fan-base, but it’s not like the fundies are going to vote for Kerry anyway. Really, it’s all about reminding the people who’s got the guns and the power. In other words, the bureaucratic equivalent of “flexing nuts”, as we used to say in middle school.

God knows it won’t have any impact on porn itself. Good luck shutting down the massive online presence and good luck trying to convince jurors who never miss an episode of “Sex and the City” that sex on TV is bad.

At least, that’s my hope. The Puritanical strains of American culture never cease to amaze me. The whole porn debate should be as simple as this: as long as people who don’t want to see it aren’t being forced to, then what’s the big fucking deal? And no, having porn available for subscription on your cable service does not qualify as being forced to view it. Neither does the availability of every sex act imaginable in high resolution online. If you don’t want to see breasts, penises, vaginas, anuses and various combinations thereof, stick to AOHell and Dilbert. If you’re too dumb to be able to avoid porn online, well, send me an e-mail and let’s talk about some real estate deals I’ve got to offer.

Apropos my last post, I think one of the good insights that Camille Paglia offers on feminism is how the attitudes of, say, the Catharine MacKinnons of the feminist movement echo so closely the stance of “the reactionary, antiporn far right”. Paglia’s everpresent libido and love of porn is a bit over-the-top at times, but I think she’s exactly right to call out MacKinnon et. al. for hijacking feminism into prudish moralizing and for saying things like “The pornographers rank with Nazis and Klansmen in promoting hatred and violence” (cf. especially the essay “The Return of Carry Nation: Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin”, originally published in Playboy, October 1992; also on topic is Wendy McElroy’s “A Feminist Overview of Pornography” and, presumably, her book XXX: A Woman’s Right to Pornography).

I don’t mean to sound like Randy Pan the Goat Boy, but come on with this legislating porn crap (a point for you if you recognize the reference). Hell, if anything, we should be subsidizing porn. After all, we all hate the French and you can see naked women on TV and in the newspapers in France. Shouldn’t we be trying to do them one better? Instead of cracking down on porn, I say GW should make a speech to the effect of “Look here you French pansies, we’re going to show you how to do porn.” Then maybe he’d get my vote (okay, not really, but it would make for great TV, wouldn’t it?).

April 07, 2004

Vamps & Tramps

Posted by shonk at 12:12 AM in Feminism , Words of Wisdom | permalink | 2 comments

As is my wont when I can’t think of anything to write about, I’ll let someone else do the talking. As such, some quotes from Camille Paglia’s Vamps & Tramps (for those that don’t know, Paglia is a lesbian, a feminist and a civil libertarian as well as being a harsh critic of the “feminist establishment”):

When the office—by which I mean the whole complex of word-based, smoothly cooperative white-collar work, in business or academe—becomes the primary paradigm of new female achievement, women have cut themselves off from the risk-taking, rough-and-tumble experiences that have always toughened men. Women will never succeed at the level or in the numbers they deserve until they get over their genteel reluctance to take abuse in the attack and counterattack of territorial warfare. The recent trend in feminism, notably in sexual harassment policy, has been to overrely on regulation and legislation rather than to promote personal responsibility. Women must not become wards and suppliants of authority figures. Freedom means rejecting dependency.

—Introduction, pg. xii

Fundamentalist reading of the Bible is far from passé. On the contrary, religious faith, in particular evangelical Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, is spreading around the world. The goals and reputation of progressive politics have been harmed by the juvenile arrogance of the liberal establishment toward institutional religion, which may oppress by rules but which is also a repository of spiritual experience, as well as fold wisdom about life, far more truthful than anything in French poststructuralism.

—pg. 21

There is such a thing as seduction, and it needs encouragement rather than discouragement in our puritanical Anglo-American world. The fantastic fetishism of rape by mainstream and anti-porn feminists has in the end trivialized rape, impugned women’s credibility, and reduce the sympathy we should feel for legitimate victims of violent sexual assault.

What I call Betty Crocker feminism—a naively optimistic Pollyannaish or Panglossian view of reality—is behind much of this. Even the most morbid of the rape ranters have a childlike faith in the perfectibility of the universe, which they see as blighted solely by nasty men. They simplistically project outward onto a mythical “patriarchy” their own inner conflicts and moral ambiguities. In Sexual Personae, I critiqued the sunny Rousseauism running through the last two hundred years of liberal thinking and offered the dark tradition of Sade, Darwin, Nietzsche, and Freud as more truthful about human perversity. It is more accurate to see primitive egotism and animality ever-simmering behind social controls—cruel energies contained and redirected for the greater good—than to predicate purity and innocence ravaged by corrupt society. Nor does the Foucault view of numb, shapeless sensoriums tyrannically impinged on by faceless systems of language-based power make any more sense, in view of daily reports of concretely applied and concretely suffered random beatings, mutilations, murders, arson, massacres, and ethnic extermination around the world.

— pgs. 25-6

I envision two spheres: one is social, the other sexual and emotional. Perhaps one-third of each sphere overlaps the other; this is the area where feminism has correctly said, “The personal is political.” But there is vastly more to the human story. Man has traditionally ruled the social sphere; feminism tells him to move over and share his power. But woman rules the sexual and emotional sphere, and there she has no rival. Victim ideology, a caricature of social history, blocks women from recognition of their dominance in the deepest, most important realm.

—pgs. 30-1

Until recently, most societies had a clear idea of what constitutes “uncivilized” or “ungodly” behavior and punished it accordingly. Today, in contrast, there is a tendency to redefine the victimizer as himself a victim—of a broken home or abusive parents—and then, ironically, to broaden criminality to areas of consensual activities where women are equally responsible for their behavior. When feminist discourse is unable to discriminate the drunken fraternity brother from the homicidal maniac, women are in trouble.

—pg. 33

The dishonesty and speciousness of the feminist rape analysis are demonstrated by its failure to explore, or even mention, man-on-man sex crimes. If rape were really just a process of political intimidation of women by men, why do men rape and kill other males?

—pg. 33

April 04, 2004

Don't use Flash to display your art

Posted by shonk at 11:20 PM in Art | permalink | 1 comment

Does anybody else get really annoyed by Flash galleries? Now, I’m not talking about flash intros, which I think we can all safely agree are annoying. Rather, I’m talking about making photo galleries in Flash. For example, the “found type gallery” over at Typophile (which is itself an excellent site). Now, I loved looking through the gallery and there were a couple of pictures in there that I thought were really excellent. Unfortunately, since the gallery is in Flash, I can’t directly link you to the pictures I especially liked; I can only say “you should really check out the pictures from Calgary and from Vandalia, Illinois”. Another example would be the various galleries over at [KUNSTCAMERA], many of which are truly excellent. Again, though, I can only say “check out the third picture in the gallery called ep03.02” (to choose just one example), rather than providing a direct link. In my mind, this is a bad thing.

I know when I’m reading a weblog or some other site and someone says “this picture is really cool” and then provides a link, more often than not I’ll click the link and, if I like what I see, I’ll check out the rest of the content at that site (the same, of course, goes for other types of content). On the other hand, if someone says “this gallery is really cool”, odds are I’m going to see less of the content at the linked site. Why? Well, there are several reasons.

First of all, psychologically, following a link to an entire gallery implies a sort of commitment to view that entire gallery, or at least a significant portion thereof, whereas clicking a link to an image implies a much smaller commitment. All other things being equal, I’m going to follow the link that’s going to require a smaller time commitment.

Second, if I do follow a link to a gallery, there’s a pretty good chance that none of the first 5 pictures in that gallery is the one that the the link was supposed to highlight. In fact, it’s pretty likely that those first 5 pictures are going to be very different than the one the person making the link really wanted me to see. And the simple fact of the matter is this: if I follow a link to a gallery and the first few images don’t grab my attention, I’m probably hitting the back button.

Finally, even if I do click the link and make it through enough of the gallery to see the image in question, I’ve already probably devoted 5 or 10 minutes to that site. Unless I’m really blown away by what I see, I’m probably going to say to myself “okay, that was cool…let’s see what’s going on at mock savvy”.

My point is this: I suspect most of the traffic at sites like Typophile and [KUNSTCAMERA] is driven by links from weblogs and other dynamic sites around the web. So they’re really doing themselves a disservice by making it less likely that people seeing those links will actually view their content. I understand that there are certain advantages to using Flash for galleries: you can’t right-click-Save-Target-As so “stealing” images is harder, Flash allows “pixel-perfect” manipulation of the content, which allows better integration into navigation elements, etc., but I think those benefits are outweighed by the cost of lower traffic and, therefore, lower visibility. And I haven’t even mentioned the number one drawback with Flash: in many cases, all the download time is upfront, so the viewer must wait through, say, a 2.5M download at the beginning rather than waiting for each 100K image to load when the user clicks “Next”, which means right off the bat you’ve excluded all but the most dedicated of dial-up users.

Please don’t get the impression from this that either Typophile or [KUNSTCAMERA] is a bad site; I single them out because both are excellent sites, but the tools they’re using are frustrating and even counter-productive to enhancing the experience of the reader (this reader, anyway). Which I think is a shame.

New metablog

Posted by shonk at 02:02 PM in Blogging | permalink | comment

Just the other day, Gina and company launched Kinja, where you can create what they’re calling a “digest” and what JTK and I have been calling a “metablog”. I like Kinja better than Rollup for several reasons, so I’m switching the metablog link at left to point to my Kinja digest.

So why is Kinja better? Like I said, several reasons. First off, I’ve been reading the weblogs of a couple of the people who developed it, so I feel like by using it I’m supporting people I know. More importantly, though, the design is much cleaner: nice graphics, including a small, individual icon for each weblog, a useful right column and, best of all, much better excerpts that actually make some semblance of sense. Most important of all, though, is the fact that, unlike Rollup, people not using IE on XP can actually use Kinja. Which means I don’t have to use someone else’s computer to edit my account.


Posted by shonk at 01:41 AM in Geek Talk , Literature , Words of Wisdom | permalink | 8 comments

Some weird coincidences today: I finished reading The Illuminatus! Trilogy, by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, and kept stumbling across various web pages related to the book in some way during the course of my daily web browsing. Which itself ties into one of the book’s main themes, that of synchronicity.

Anyway, over at Wikipedia, the featured article of the day is that on Emperor Norton I, a thoroughly interesting, though most likely quite insane, San Franciscan from the 19th century who declared himself Emperor of the United States and even issued his own currency. Norton gets a bit of play in Illuminatus! as a sort of Discordian hero and he seems to keep popping up in my reading. Of course, his most famous connection to literature is that he was supposedly the model for the King in Twain’s Huck Finn.

Speaking of Twain, while fooling around with MathWorld, I came across an interesting entry on the beast number, 666, which couldn’t help but remind me of The Number of the Beast, an excellent book by Heinlein, an inveterate admirer of Twain’s. In The Number of the Beast, Heinlein posits a “multiverse” with 66^6 different universes contained within it, many of them (perhaps all of them) created by novelists and storytellers. Which is a conceit mentioned briefly in Illuminatus! and central to another Wilson trilogy, the Schrödinger’s Cat Trilogy.

In fact, I’m a bit surprised, given the numerological bent of much of Illuminatus!, that Shea and Wilson don’t devote any attention to some of the interesting properties of the beast number. For example, 666 is equal to the sum of the squares of the first seven primes, the sum of the numbers from 1 to 6 * 6 (i.e. the sum of the numbers from 1 to 36) and

phi function

where phi denotes the Euler phi, or totient, function

Of course, I think my favorite beast number property is that, writing the parameters of Coxeter’s notation side-by-side, the bimonster can be denoted by 666. Which is interesting because the bimonster is the wreathed product of the monster group by Z2. For those that have no idea what I’m talking about, just take it on faith that the monster group, as one might guess from its name, has a sort of mythical cachet among (certain types of) mathematicians.

Anyway, back to something resembling the English language. Another big theme in Illuminatus! is that of immanentizing the Eschaton, a concept somewhat badly explained in the book as “to cause the end of days”. Now, those hip to the blogosphere scene may recognize “Eschaton” as the name of the name of the blog run by Democratic cheerleader and fellow Philadelphia-dweller atrios. However, I was somewhat surprised to note that the name of the blog is a David Foster Wallace reference; though I can’t stand the blog, I have to give atrios serious props for naming it after the tennis-academy bombardment game from Wallace’s brilliant Infinite Jest (to tie this in further with the math-speak above, I should also mention that Wallace has a pretty good math book called Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity, which would be, I think, challenging but comprehensible for an interested layman).

And now, in a desperate attempt to salvage some semblance of thematic integrity from this post, here are some interesting quotes from Illuminatus!

“We’re anarchists and outlaws, goddam it. Didn’t you understand that much? We’ve got nothing to do with right-wing, left-wing or any other half-assed political category. If you work within the system, you come to one of the either/or choices that were implicit in the system fro the beginning. You’re talking like a medieval serf, asking the first agnostic whether he worships God or the Devil. We’re outside the system’s categories. You’ll never get the hang of our game if you keep thinking in flat-earth imagery of right and left, good and evil, up and down. If you need a group label for us, we’re political non-Euclideans. But even that’s not true. Sink me, nobody of this tub agrees with anybody else about anything, except maybe what the fellow with the horns told the old man in the clouds: Non serviam.”

— Hagbard Celine, pg. 86

“Just remember: it’s not true unless it makes you laugh. This is the one and sole and infallible test of all ideas that will ever be presented to you.”

— Hagbard Celine, pg. 250

(And Semper Cuni Linctus, the very night that he reamed his subaltern for taking native superstitions seriously, passed an olive garden and saw the Seventeen…and with them was the Eighteenth, the one they had crucified the Friday before. Magna Mater, he swore, creeping closer, am I losing my mind? The Eighteenth, whatshisname, the preacher, had set up a wheel and was distributing cards to them. Now, he turned the wheel and called out the number at which it stopped. The centurion watched, in growing amazement, as the process was repeated several times, and the cards were marked each time the wheel stopped. Finally, the big one, Simon, shouted “Bingo!” The scion of the noble Linctus family turned and fled…Behind him, the luminous figure said, “Do this in commemoration of me.”

“I thought we were supposed to do the bread and wine bit in commemoration of you?” Simon objected.

“Do both,” the ghostly one said. “The bread and wine is too symbolic and arcane for some folks. This one is what will bring in the mob. You see, fellows, if you want to bring the Movement to the people, you have to start from where the people are at. You, Luke, don’t write that down. This is part of the secret teachings.”)

— pg. 324

The most thoroughly and relentlessly Damned, banned, excluded, condemned, forbidden, ostracized, ignored, suppressed, repressed, robbed, brutalized and defamed of all Damned Things is the individual human being. The social engineers, statisticians, psychologists, sociologists, market researchers, landlords, bureaucrats, captains of industry, bankers, governors, commissars, kings and presidents are perpetually forcing this Damned Thing into carefully prepared blueprints and perpetually irritated that the Damned Thing will not fit into the slot assigned to it. The theologians call it a sinner and try to reform it. The governor calls it a criminal and tries to punish it. The psychotherapist calls it neurotic and tries to cure it. Still, the Damned thing will not fit into their slots.

— Hagbard Celine, from Never Whistle While You’re Pissing, pg. 385

It was the chains of communication, not the means of production, that determined a social process; Marx had been wrong, lacking cybernetics to enlighten him.

— pg. 388

“Everybody was lying to the FBI and CIA, sir. They were all afraid of punishment for various activities forbidden by our laws. No variation or permutation on their stories will hang together reasonably. Each witness lied about something, and usually about several things. The truth is other than it appeared. In short, the government, being an agency of punishment, acted as a distorting factor from the beginning, and I had to use information-theory equations to determine the degree of distortion present. I would say that what I finally discovered may have universal application: no governing body can ever obtain an accurate account of reality from those over whom it holds power. From the perspective of communication analysis, government is not an instrument of law and order, but of law and disorder. I’m sorry to have to say this so bluntly, but it needs to be kept in mind when similar situations arise in the future.”

— Fred Filiarisus, pgs. 423-4


FREE MARKET: That condition of society in which all economic transactions result from voluntary choice without coercion.

THE STATE: That institution which interferes with the Free Market through the direct exercise of coercion or the granting of privileges (backed by coercion).

TAX: That form of coercion or interference with the Free Market in which the State collects tribute (the tax), allowing it to hire armed forces to practice coercion in defense of privilege, and also to engage in such wars, adventures, experiments, “reforms,” etc., as it pleases, not at its own cost, but at the cost of “its” subjects.

PRIVILEGE: From the latin privi, private, and lege, law. An advantage granted by the State and protected by its powers of coercion. A law for private benefit.

USURY: That form of privilege or interference with the Free Market in which one State-supported group monopolizes the coinage and thereby takes tribute (interest), direct or indirect, on all or most economic transactions.

LANDLORDISM: That form of privilege or interference in the Free Market in which one State-supported group “owns” the land and thereby takes tribute (rent) from those who live, work, or produce on the land.

TARIFF: That form of privilege or interference in the Free Market in which commodities produced outside the State are not allowed to compete equally with those produced inside the State.

CAPITALISM: That organization of society, incorporating elements of tax, usury, landlordism, and tariff, which thus denies the Free Market while pretending to exemplify it.

CONSERVATISM: That school of capitalist philosophy which claims allegiance to the Free Market while actually supporting usury, landlordism, tariff, and sometimes taxation.

LIBERALISM: That school of capitalist philosophy which attempts to correct the injustices of capitalism by adding new laws to the existing laws. EAch time conservatives pass a law creating privilege, liberals pass another law modifying privilege, leading conservatives to pass a more subtle law recreating privilege, etc., until “everything not forbidden is compulsory” and “everything not compulsory is forbidden.”

SOCIALISM: The attempted abolition of all privilege by restoring power entirely to the coercive agent behind privilege, the State, thereby converting capitalist oligarchy into Statist monopoly. Whitewashing a wall by painting it black.

ANARCHISM: That organization of society in which the Free Market operates freely, without taxes, usury, landlordism, tariffs, or other forms of coercion or privilege. RIGHT ANARCHISTS predict that in the Free Market people would voluntarily choose to compete more often than to cooperate. LEFT ANARCHISTS predict that in the Free Market people would voluntarily choose to cooperate more often than to compete.

— Hagbard Celine, from Never Whistle While You’re Pissing, pgs. 622-4

April 03, 2004

Future-proofing: one tip

Posted by shonk at 09:57 PM in Blogging | permalink | comment

If you’re going to try to use my technique for future-proofing your weblog, make sure all of your old entries actually have titles. Not all of mine did, and it caused me a week’s worth of 500 errors before I figured out what the problem was (at least, I hope that was the only problem). Anyway, all the pieces seem to be working now, or at least working as well as they ever did.

And I apologize for the lack of updates this week. Between the mysterious server errors and the fact that I spent 18 hours each on Tuesday and Wednesday working on math (and then needed Thursday and Friday to recover), I didn’t have any time for writing. Hopefully, I’ll get back in the swing of things this week.

Artificial Law

Posted by shonk at 05:32 PM in Politics | permalink | comment

I got an e-mail from Lee Killough yesterday which I thought made an excellent point on the notion of “natural” vs. “artificial” consequences and ties in nicely with some of the ideas I’ve been trying to express. Plus, I’m always a sucker for math jokes. With his permission, I’m reproducing it here:

(Legality != Morality) <=> (P != NP)

Proof: Morality is NP-complete because every human action can be considered a moral action. Legality can be tested in polynomial time by nondeterministic finite “state” machines. Therefore Legality != Morality iff P != NP. QED.

Seriously, I liked the piece:


Especially the “artificial” vs. “natural” words.

I’d go further, and say that government laws create “artificial consequences”, as opposed to natural consequences.

When a child playing with matches burns their hand, that’s a natural consequence. When a child playing with matches gets their hand slapped by a parent, that’s an artificial consequence.

Similarly, when a person loses consciousness or suffers withdrawal after taking drugs, that’s a natural consequence. When a person loses liberty and is thrown in jail after taking drugs, that’s an artificial consequence.

Artificial consequences are, ostensibly, society’s attempts to prevent more serious natural consequences (like house fires or drug overdosing). But they always involve some loss of liberty.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve heard people abuse the terms “consequences” and “responsibility”, making them lose their value.

For example, people often use “responsibility” to mean duty or moral obligation according to their own value system, rather than simply being responsive to a situation.

What exactly does being “responsible” to military conscription mean, for example? In ordinary usage, I suppose it means obeying it. In the true sense of the word, being “responsible” to being drafted could mean anything — burning a draft card, for example.

I remember 15 years ago hearing a Hugh Downs “Perspective” commentary on the radio commenting against the drug war, where he went into this very issue of the word “responsibile”, and how being “responsible” means responding to a situation, such as stopping after a car accident, and not the more common meaning.

“Consequences” is even more loaded with baggage than “responsibility is”. You hear things like “you’ll pay the consequences”, or “it’s your choice but you know the consequences”, which really means: You’ll agree with me, or else.

Whenever I was punished as a child and told to remember the “consequences of my actions”, I would pretend to agree with the adults to get out of trouble, but in reality I knew that their version of “consequences” was artificial. The only consequences which I thought were worth paying attention to, were the natural ones — the real ones.

Whenever I hear “natural law” discussed, I don’t hear enough about the opposite, “artificial law”. And until your piece on “natural” and “artificial” words, I’ve never read anything which comes as close to my idea of “natural” and “artificial” consequences.

Keep selling waves,