August 31, 2006

We Are Not Descended From Fearful Men

Keith Olbermann calls out Donald Rumsfeld and cronies on national television.

Watch it. Now.

He speaks well, and quotes Edward R. Murrow to great effect.

Thank you, Mr. Olbermann, for saying something with great clarity and conviction that I am unable to get past my anger to frame properly - and using your position and pulpit to broadcast.

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August 29, 2006

Las Vegas

Las Vegas, to make an entirely unoriginal observation, is the United States of America on its fifth drink having just taken a snort of crystal meth. It is composed of, and brings out, all the worst parts of the American character, carefully nurtured by the most efficient parts of the American business model. Looked at through the eyes of a cautious but supportive capitalist, it is an icon of the service industry; a money filter so efficient that you are tempted to simply drop to your knees and throw the wallet into the wishing fountain and get it over with.

It is also, if you look carefully, a place where the fine old art of people watching can be taken to a high art. It just requires a very effective squelch circuit. New Yorkers are at an advantage, here; the reflex ability to tune out very intrusive people coupled with the recognition that fascinating individuals are lurking in dark corners is just what's needed. I suffered a major dislocation from New York, since I stayed in the Big Hotels; I roomed in the Bellagio, and confined my wanderings to the connected venues of Caesar's, Paris, Bally's, the Imperial, Aladdin (what part of it was open during the renovation), and a few glimpses of the Rio. The problem is that the PTB of Vegas have every interest in making the experience as safe as possible in order to painlessly separate you from your money, so in fact there is a sterility to it all; a sense of risk packaged up in blisterplastic and offered on the shelf, with price tags clearly marked. The signs discreetly offering assistance to 'compulsive gamblers,' the notices that the odds favor the house, the pamphlets and diagrams explaining the various games - as well as the unobtrusive but heavily visible security presence everywhere - meant that the typical New Yorker reflexes were somewhat out of place. Those reflexes are designed to protect life, then limb, then wallet; in Vegas, life and limb are heavily pampered in order to take your eyes off the third. After all, that's what you're here for.

The buildings are impressive in sheer over-the-top silliness. The malls are ridiculous. The services expensive and complete. I intend to return to the Bellagio and spend a ludicrous amount of money in the Spa I visited only briefly, this time. The 'World's Largest Chocolate Fountain' at the bottom of my hotel tower was fun to walk past and drool at.

A plus - I can smoke cigars, here, everywhere except in the hotel tower. Bathroom? Sure. Bar? Sure. There are restaurant non-smoking sections, but that's about it. Well, okay, not in the health club, either. I'm poisoned and I like it.

Gaming - I've decided I'm not a gambler. I tried to learn craps, but all the games in action were fast ones, and I couldn't get the flow. I'm presently up $310 on roulette, but I have six hours before I have to head to McCarran airport, and who knows? Either way, it won't touch what I've spent on the non-gaming part of the trip, but that's OK too. My method is simple: I define my shirt as $80/day, or roughly what I've spent on food/drink. I can spend that. No going to the ATM. Update: This trip, I've lost my shirt. It's kept me entertained, though.

In any case, I've found that (gambling in three casinos, now) if I stay myself, that is relatively quiet and interested, it's possible to meet people with good stories. The gaming tables are self-selecting, mostly; the quiet ones and the loud ones. The quiet ones are split between the hardcore players, those who are relaxing after the 'thinking' games of poker or craps (that's what they tell me), and those, like me, who are here for entertainment and consider their money spent when they sit down. Some of those have fun stories to tell. I've spoken to people from Japan, from England, from the Philippines, Russia, Sweden, South Korea, Pakistan, and Syria this trip. All were pleasant and friendly, and all wanted to trade stories while tempting the devil Chance.

For that, I salute Vegas and will return; and for their sake, I can ignore the desire to punch the people wearing T-Shirts that say "FCK: The Only Thing Missing Is You," "Fuck me, I'm Irish" and similar messages while shouting incessantly. Oh, and McCarran Airport's baggage claim system.

A quick observation: I decided, entirely on a whim, to rate the various hotel/casinos purely by their public restrooms. Using that criteria alone, Bellagio/Caesar's (the MGM/Mirage properties I've visited) win handily with clean, complete and inviting ones. The Bally's/Paris facilities were a couple steps down, with Bally's looking like a bad Loew's Theatres in the mid-1980s. The Imperial...we won't go into that. Rio had OK loos.

Other random reviews...the A. Fuente cafe in the Forum Shops makes a passable Mojito to go with your cigar. An expensive one, but no more than anywhere else around's pricy! The Prime steakhouse in the Bellagio is pretty darn good, but I still prefer Morton's back in Boston. I didn't get to try the Palm in the Forum Shops; would've if I'd seen it sooner :-) Ah well, next trip.

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People should not be afraid of their government...

...ah, you know the rest. This isn't a reversal yet. But are sprigs of sanity showing? How do we nurture them?

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Dissonance Within a Plea

Mickey Edwards warns Americans and their Congressional representatives that the failure of Congress to hold up its leg of the United States Federal Government as a co-equal branch is dangerous. He tells us that partisanship is a danger. And then he confuses the living hell out of me by disingenuously claiming that the reason Joe Lieberman was tossed from the Democratic ticket was because he was seen as 'not a team player' for 'finding common ground' with Republicans.

No, Mickey.

Joe Lieberman was tossed from the Democratic ticket for consistently tossing out the ideals the Democratic party holds forth as its own, and most notably for finding common ground with the Republican party on precisely those actions which you lambaste earlier in your piece as 'rubberstamping' and 'mumbling' at the disgusting actions of the Bush Administration.

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August 26, 2006

Pluto, Pluto, Pluto, whine whine whine.

Everywhere I turn on my blogroll, I see someone lamenting the recent unpleasantness about Pluto's planetary status or lack thereof. People, get the fuck over it. Pluto hasn't changed size, nor shape, nor position, due to this ruling. It is still right where it is. The fact that it was a 'planet' of our solar system is due to the fact that we, as semisentient apes, saw it and named it thus. That's it.

So if you want, keep right the fuck on calling it a planet. I think I might.

Yes, people will argue and whine about consistency and other bodies and blah and blah. Look, until we actually have a conversation with people from somewhere else (and I don't think the Pioneer plaque counts, but the sentiment of that post rules) then what the hell does it matter? Look, I'm all for precision in science. I'm all for the triumph of science over blind belief. But let's be honest, here - whether Pluto is a 'planet' or a 'subplanetary body' or a 'pluton' (shudder) is completely irrelevant to the workings of life on Earth, how humans interrelate (unless they're having a discussion about grading Solar bodies) or basically anything else 'real world.' Sure, it'll be 'incorrect use' but who really cares? Do we really, honestly think we've found everything of interest that orbits our Sun? Bet you a dollar we haven't. So why start getting paranoically revisionist about our textbooks and solar system diagrams at this point?

Calm down. If you were raised with nine planets in the goddamn Solar system, then don't worry. You woke up the morning of the ruling, and they were all still there.

If Pluto is feeling upset about this, tell it the next round of beers is on me.

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August 24, 2006

The Conflating of Bad Intelligence and Bad Policy

I was struck fairly hard by a passage from a New York Times article I read today. In it, the tension between U.S. policymakers and legislators on the one hand and the intelligence community on the other is presented. The former seem to feel that the latter are being 'too cautious' in their analyses of the threats posed by Iran. Here is one passage:
The consensus of the intelligence agencies is that Iran is still years away from building a nuclear weapon. Such an assessment angers some in Washington, who say that it ignores the prospect that Iran could be aided by current nuclear powers like North Korea. "When the intelligence community says Iran is 5 to 10 years away from a nuclear weapon, I ask: 'If North Korea were to ship them a nuke tomorrow, how close would they be then?" said Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives.

"The intelligence community is dedicated to predicting the least dangerous world possible," he said.

I'm not sure where to start with this one. Let's start at the top. The first sentence points out that the consensus in question involves how far away Iran is from building a nuclear weapon. The pols apparently feel that that question 'ignores' a potential threat axis. Let's think about that for a second.

If you employ analysts, you have a serious responsibility. You need to ask them the question for which you want the answer. Later in the paragraph, we find that in fact the reason that the pols are angry is that a question which the first sentence indicates was not asked is not being answered - namely, not "what is the threat of Iran building a nuclear weapon?" but "what is the threat of Iran assuming it is given a nuclear weapon?" This is a dramatically different question. Arguably, it is in fact a completely different question from 'the threat posed by Iran' because, realistically, it is 'the threat posed by a nuclear weapons transfer between North Korea and Iran.'

That latter is a much, much more involved set of circumstances. For one thing, you have to assume that North Korea has, in fact, a functional nuclear weapon. Then you have to assume that they are willing to export it (which thus builds in the assumptions that, for example, either they have enough of them to export, or they don't want to keep the one/few they have for their own use). Then you have to assume that North Korea would find an advantage in allying itself with another pariah nation in what would be an incredibly negatively-viewed transaction, for which they gain no defensive advantage and all manner of negative consequences. Then you have to assume that this export would, and could, be done without being detected and forestalled by those who wouldn't want it to happen - namely, most everybody else on the planet.

Now, after all that, you can ask: Is a North Korea/Iran functional nuclear weapon handoff, assuming it happens, a threat to the U.S.?

That is a completely different question from 'is Iran and its domestic attempts to secure nuclear weapons and/or nuclear weapon technology a threat to the U.S., and in what timeframe?' So yelling at the intelligence community because they seem to not be addressing the latter when answering the former seems counterproductive, stupid, fearmongering and just plain ridiculous.

Or, of course, an attempt to run up support (or break down resistance) to adventurism in Iran. Heaven forbid.

By the way, given that a NK/Iran nuclear transaction would, really, represent the ultimate failure of administration foreign policy - whose job it is to cope with such threats to the U.S. as multiple foreign nations maneuvering to present coordinated problems for us - do they really want an answer to that question?

Now, if what they're saying is that the NIE in question explicitly doesn't address the possibility of foreign technical assistance with a domestic nuclear program, I'm a bit confused - Iran's nuclear program has already benefited from a deal of foreign assistance. However, if in fact they are concerned about wholesale NK involvement in Iranian nuclear weapons construction, there are still questions they need to address. For example, one of the salient restrictions on Iranian weapon construction may be a simple bottleneck in fissile material enrichment, given the state of Iranian production facilities. If this is not the case, then do Mr. Gingrich and Co. really want to be yelling about precisely what we know about the Iranian enrichment program? I thought their party liked to call for lynching (politically at least) of people who did stuff like that, such as (heavens to Murgatroyd) release 'sensitive information' about spying on our own citizens, much less information about actual intelligence work on opposing countries' nuclear programs. If it is the case, as has been discussed at length in open literature, then the constraint is not really one of expertise (at least, not solely) but one of engineering resources and material - in which case the delay cited would not be affected by NK assistance short of a large materials transfer. In that case, again, they really should look to their own failure to properly specify the question - and, as well, to formulate policy that addressed this much less likely and more complex opposing maneuver on the world stage.

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August 23, 2006

I beg to differ!

Boing Boing links to a list of typos published by Monochrom, which is cool. However, they include the 'typo' "New Zork" - at which I must protest! As any good IF aficionado knows, New Zork is base for that most excellent publication, the New Zork Times!

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August 22, 2006

James Brown, Bitch!

Red Meat frigging rules. Even home-made Red Meat.

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And on that private, non-corporate political note...

As Corrente calls it, The Mother of All Walkbacks.


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Well, it's plain to see which party my company's execs pander to.

I'm not saying the man is a current candidate. I'm not saying that he did well. However, this kind of gratuitous insult of a presidential candidate by a corporate executive - and not even as a direct comment, but as an icon of ridicule - sort of ignores the possibilities that some of his employees might, in fact, have supported that candidate and that party. Regardless of how well that candidate did, the tactics utilized might have disgusted said employees, whose efforts and support the executive(s) presumably need.

Or, of course, it could actually be a statement about what sort of viewpoints and employees they really want inside their company. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt, here.

Plus, does said exec realize he's talking about the senator that represents his corporate headquarters' state?

Addendum: in re: feedback - yes, I realize I do not much more than rant about politics here myself. I'd like to point out that on this blog I do not represent Novell, and no part of it is hosted on their machinery or network. Nor are statements I make here intended to convey Novell policy of any sort. This is a *critical* difference. If the Exec in question had made this statement in a personal venue, more power to him. He, however, made it while being interviewed by the press as 'Novell's CTO' - which is a vastly different thing.

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August 17, 2006

In Touch With Your Greener Self, Bitch

This is one of those small annoyances that after several years has rubbed me the wrong way for long enough to warrant a kvetch. Why the hell do desktop software designers feel the need to provide us with an icon of a 'recycle bin' rather than a trash can? What prompted this sudden switchover? I mean, if there's one place where we shouldn't have to fucking worry about whether or not our paper is going to kill the planet if we throw it away, it's on our virtual fucking desktops. So the one place we can enjoy a bit of freedom from the goddamn nanny impulses of the green/politically correct/ultra-crunchy/hipper-than-thou forces of modern tolerant society, i.e. our own private virtual metaphors, have been invaded. There's even a stupid recycling icon on the can icon just to remind us that we're being good.


IIRC, Windows started this execrable practice with Windows 95 or Windows 98. Now I see it's invaded my company's contribution, with SLED10. In a particularly nauseating shade of green, yet.

What the hell is wrong with a trash can, anyway? Sometimes you throw stuff away, because you want it to go, you know, away. Given that the whole point of a metaphorical iconography is to ensure that your task is carried out with minimal confusion by representing a proces with minimal ambiguity, why would you use a recycle bin? The entire point of a recycle bin is to point out that 'trash isn't always trash.' However, the premise of that statement is explicitly based on a real-world assumption - namely, that you care what you put in the trash is made of. Since a computer document isn't made of anything, WHY THE FUCK DO THIS?

God, this makes me angry.

Which of course means I just need a life.

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It Is Better to Light A Single Candle Than Curse The Darkness

Judge Anna Diggs Taylor strikes a flame.

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Ah, homesickness...

You have to respect an article that uses words like 'fetor.'

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August 15, 2006

So Prepackaged Fake News Wasn't Good Enough

...they've decided to move on to prepackaged fake pundits as well.


Oh, and a big fuck you to Ms. Erbe. Thank you for helping destroy PBS.

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Stupid Is As Stupid Does.

America, America...sigh.

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August 14, 2006

Things that feed the poison in my soul

Michigan, you're up.

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August 11, 2006

It's All About The Butt

An excellent and funny tip on the creation of cartoons as an art form, from one of the modern masters:
"Even Walt Disney, who is mostly anti-cartoon loves a good old butt violation. All real cartoonists think the butt is the funniest part of the anatomy and tend to do an inordinate amount of butt poking and crack exposure in their cartoons. If you are ashamed of buttcracks, you are probably ashamed to be drawing cartoons and shame on you for doing it."

-John Kricfalusi (creator of Ren & Stimpy)

John K.'s blog is a fascinating and ever-educational look at the craft of cartooning. He offers personal anecdotes, history lessons, step-by-step tutorials, and advice honed by years of experience in the trade - all with tons and tons of drawings to back up his words. The man knows more about cartooning than I could dream of knowing about anything. His tale of how, as a kid, he could tell each of the animators who drew Fred Flintstone apart from looking at the character and how their interpretations differed from the designer's drawings is awesome.

Throw in lots of 'lost material' presented there, stuff his friends do, and it makes a fun ol' place to spend part of my blogrounds.

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August 10, 2006

MiniFear is at it again

It's not just us.

What was that the Cato institute said? And, my God, why the hell am I referencing them? (stretches hand out window, waits for airborne pig poop)

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August 9, 2006

I Reached Out and Touched The Soul of Douglas Adams

I had a moment of understanding tonight, lying in bed with the CPAP strapped to my bean. The sadly-not-immortal Douglas Adams wrote a book titled The Long Dark Tea-Time Of the Soul, about which title he did in fact offer a bit of an explanation. It never made much visceral sense to me before.

Bear with me, this is from scattered memory and I don't have a copy of his words handy. I am sure I could find them if I asked the miracle of the internet, but this being a daylog, this isn't really about precisely what he said - it's about my understanding of what I thought he said. The Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, Adams said, is in many ways exactly like a Sunday afternoon when the weather is somewhat gloomy - not bad enough to be noteworthy, just not good - when one has nothing interesting to read, it's past lunch but not yet time for dinner, there's no good reason to change out of one's pajamas and one has already taken all the baths one can profitably take.

I have been intimately familiar with this form of malaise on a grand scale for quite some time. With the assistance of pharmacology and friends, sometimes more the former and sometimes more the latter, I endeavour to keep on keeping on. It's not always successful, and I think at the moment this is one of those times.

In any case, lying in bed a few minutes ago and realizing that I was (again) exhausted but not tired and hence not going to get to sleep past the artificial overpressure in my airway and generally viola-tuned muscles, I felt something strange happen.

I don't have a very full schedule these days - work, mostly, and that mostly placeholder stuff - but I try doggedly to keep at least three or four personal things in my organizer over any given two week period just so I'll have some form of event to break up the time and anticipate. Movie releases, visits with friends, dinner with relatives, pick up the TR from the upholstery shop where she's getting a new top, etc. If it's something that I can tell myself is fun, extra credit.

Lying in bed, I was thinking about the several things I have coming up over the next few weeks, which include a trip to Vegas for a wedding (i.e. sheer stupid silliness) - and I wached all the psychic buoyancy of those little mental flotation assists evaporate.

That's new. I have often had periods where I've thought about my schedule and realized somewhat dully that there's nothing in my life that I look forward to - and that's how I can usually diagnose myself as 'being in a depressive period.' To the best of my knowledge, though, I don't think I've ever caught myself observing an actual inversion - actually thinking about upcoming things and having their status go in my head from 'anticipated' in a smooth sine curve over to 'who the hell cares.'

As I lay there, I had a sudden and immensely strong image of a Sunday afternoon with clouds and a teacup holding only cooling dregs. The newspaper contained nothing but bad or boring stuff, and I'd finished it (even the crossword) and had bathed for so long that my bathrobe felt like sandpaper. I walked back into my bedroom to lay down for a nap, and the act of assuming a supine position woke aches in my muscles which felt that they hadn't had any exercise since their last recline - and I was in no way tired.

The long, dark, tea-time of the soul.

I'm not going to be able to see the psychopharm for five weeks, and the last three times we tried adjusting the dosages it only made things worse.

Damn it.

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August 4, 2006

An Icon, She Renders The Things Which Are

Fia saved her evening walk for stress relief; a time outside. Outside. Capital letters, quotated, in parentheses, as a wise man once said. Her Inside life would tug about her hips in shapes of nanoform carbon fiber and light metals, hanging off her body, leeching, self-assured as only symbiont can be. She would cover it with sweaters when the air was cold enough, or with artfully draped carrybag if not; sometimes the belted gear sulked beneath scarves or shawls or - God forbid her 'nan see her - windbreakers tugged down past her shoulders to ride around her hips. Still, it was there, always with her, the speed and grace compact and held within to taunt her while she looked up to breath the air.

Her apt was small. She needed very little. Her long dark hair, which used to cause her mother such clucking delight with the tortoise brush, spilled past her shoulders in a blur of small tight braids, each tipped with its own small charm to hold the ends in tight. She'd found the cracked, dead phenol slab outside an abandoned office block, dark since before the Downtime from the looks of it. Even then, it must have been antique; the chips weren't surface mount but socketed, long rows of black and slightly glittering enigmas on their acid-etched home. She'd taken it up, admiring the regularity of it. Nanoform logic had none of the art deco looking lines and corners, the artistic-seeming grids at pains to fit their cryptic meaning into the piece's lines.

At home, she'd pulled the chips out of it one by one, carefully, with a tweezers scavenged from the hulk of a drugstore ten blocks over that was under reconstruction as the reurbanification wave passed her neighborhood over in a plasteel flash flood surge. The half-burnt once-soaked piles of rotted waste that had been tossed out of the sterilized ruthless cube of the store, now awaiting the robots and the nanoform cleanercoaters to renew it from an empty place into one just eagerly waiting to once more be, had mostly been mulch and trash. The tweezers, though, had survived, the cheap electroplated chrome protecting them against the years of Downtime rains.

With eighty-three chips sitting on her coffee table (five had broken off at the antique aluminum legs, an amazingly small number) she pondered for a time before opening a jar of crafting plastic and dipping each in carefully. Their little steely tines thus clearcoats, Fia had sat and braided her hair obsessively into exactly eighty-three braids, securing each by bending the I/O pins of an ancient KLS series packaged circuit into the ends where it would hold on tight, a tiny crystal tick of logic and stubborn resistance against entropy and dissolution.

Sometimes she thought she could feel her chips ticking quietly around her head, transistors in them flipping states in secret patterns as energy flowed around her.

Today she walked from the subway to home, as always; the sixteen blocks that brought her from the scarred plascrete bunker of the train to her door would frighten most of her downtown co-workers but were what she was used to. She was of this place, and it knew her; the eyes that lurked behind fences and around corners knew her, too. They saw her every day, and while that wouldn't change their nature, it would change hers when they lit upon her form. She was a person to their owners, not just a shape or movement-signals- prey. Sometimes, she'd see the jackpacks gathered round the corners, see a face or two she knew from younger days, and nod, get a nod back in return - no condemnation, here. Folks did what they did to keep the power on.

Downtown, that was someplace she had a Day Pass to. A salary that was massive by the standards of her home, but she left it Downtown when she clocked out, in a bank and not in coin. It came with her only in those strange shapes on her belt that marked her out as Outside when she walked. But most folks here would look at them and shrug, not knowing what that meant, nor caring when in fact more urgent matters called in voices of small children hungry cold and ill.

Fia walked on.


She jumped, startled out of her routine by the unexpected direct address. Nettled to realize she'd put her back to a hulked car without thinking, she cast her glance across the sidewalk at the voice. "Como?" The Portuguese was reflexive. "Yes?"

A small girl moved timidly into the fading daylight. She was probably around thirteen; her skin was the same dark gold as Fia's, but the tone was poor. Malnutrition, Fia thought clinically. It was a familiar pang. At least it wasn't acute in this case, however; although sallow, the young girl was alert and active. She stopped once she'd reached the edge of the sidewalk and stretched a hand tentatively out, fingers splayed, to Fia. "You are the witch?"

Oh, no.

"Girl, I'm not a witch. Who told you that?"

The child's upper lip trembled. Her face crumpled slightly in what Fia recognized with despair as hope, faint, crushed. "He...the spirit. He tell me you can help me and my sister."

"The spirit? Where you talk to spirits, hon?"

"In church. Durin' day. When Mem no' home and Irinha tell me to go find help I go to the Church still workin' and I look for help. The spirit man find me and he say talk to you. He give me this." She reached a hand into her shorts and came out with two slips of 'fax, one of which she passed to Fia, who took it and looked.

It was her picture. Straight off her Downtown lockzone pass. She hissed, caught herself as the child shrank back, and forced a smile onto her face. "Sorry. Sorry, girl...what's your name?"

"Brisida." Small voice.

"Brisida. Sorry. You surprise me, is all. That's all. Can I ask you a couple questions?"

A nod. If Brisida's form shrank into itself any further, Fia wasn't sure her face would even be visible, so she stepped closer to the girl and squatted down, patted the sidewalk after giving it a dubious look. The old concrete was weathered but clean; they sat.

"Brisida, when you say you went to church, what church you go to?"

"Oh." The small face brightened at something she could answer. "Not Church like Mem say we go on Sunday, but the Church on the corner. We call it that 'cuz it still talk to us, even though none of the others do, an' you can see Heaven in it sometime. Sometime spirits talk to you, but not usually - usually bad ones yell at you, so you have to come home and try later. I only went 'cuz Irinha need help bad, and I pray real hard, and a good spirit talk to me. I know he a good spirit 'cuz he see me, and talk to me, and ask my name and everything. Then when I tell him what I need, and that it not for me, he tell me to find you and that you help me. He say you a witch who can help with things on earth. Well, he say a lot of things first, but I don't understand all of them; he finally explain you a witch and you can tell me what you need to make it right."

A terrible suspicion was growing in Fia's brain. She caught herself gripping one of the carbon fiber modules with painful intensity and forced her hand away. "I see. Brisida, can you show me this church?"

"Sure! It's only a couple blocks. But it maybe not talking now. Probably not. They're sun spirits and it's night."

Fia pulled herself up and offered the girl a hand. Together, they turned off the dilapidated but familiar street and onto an overgrown trail that moved off at an angle, snaking between the hulks of old buildings and weaving down into low areas. It took her a few moments to see a nearly hidden sign with a bicycle glyph on it to realize what it must have been.

After a few hundred meters, the bike trail opened up into a small glade which, it turned out, was caused by a concrete surface where the trail had passed under a bridge. The bridge seemed to have fallen in, but the rubble and the concrete roadbed that had lain beneath it had prevented wholesale reforestation of the trail, and the industrial origins of the site were plain.

Brisida pointed and pulled at Fia's arm. "There, senhora. There."

Along one ivy-creepered wall was an enclosed box, roughly the shape of an upright coffin. Kudzu and ivy had almost completely covered it, but Fia knew, now, and she swept the vines away from its side to expose industrial metal etching still visible these years since the Downtime which read PUBLIC NETWORK ACCESS POINT and knew, without looking, that even if the batteries were long dead the solar panel on the roof was still working. She sighed and turned to Brisida. "Brisida, who was the spirit who told you to see me?"

The young girl dug in her pocket again and silently handed her the other 'fax. Fia took it, turned it over, and looked at the dark, inhuman planar face that regarded her from the picture, mirrorband across its eyes somehow searching and glittering winglets behind its ears cocked.

Mikare. You son of a bitch.

* * *

Later, as Fia followed Brisida into the smell of frying and met her suspicious mother, she was still seeting at Mikare's fucking gall. But there was nothing she could do about that now, and she was needed here. It took all her native assurances to calm the mother into letting her meet Irinha, and then her worst fears were confirmed, because Irinha was hiding in the girls' bedroom. She bore no scars, and Brisida swore up and down that their mother had no boyfriend or husband - so it wasn't domestic abuse. But Fia could read the fright and shame in the arms that hugged themselves, and in the knees locked tight together when the eleven-year-old finally was coaxed out of her bed. In that moment of rage, she gave word to the thing that she had sworn she never would, and - she realized in a slice of clarity - that Mikare knew she already had.

"Hello, honey. It's okay. My name's Fia. I'm gonna help. You can talk to me, and maybe I can help things happen."

The witch's words.

* * *

It took two days. Two days of Full Time Off from her job, taken for health reasons - fortunate, then, that she had a week and a half accumulated with the Bank. They asked no questions; she couldn't complain about her employers, for as employers went, the Bank was impersonal but very, very fair. Since she had the days to take, there was no fuss; since she called in sick the night before, approval was murmered for her thoughtfulness, she was urged to recover fully before coming in for her sake and for her co-workers', and - wonder of wonders - her doorcom blipped that first day out to reveal a nervous delivery man holding a complete decadent lunch, from her supervisor, with a commiserating note.

Meanwhile, she teased the story out of Irinha. It was familiar, tawdry, and all too predictable, and it involved a man (of course) from Downtown with a shiny car. It involved (she could have wept at the cliché) a box of candy. And it involved things that made her eyes turn flint hard, that made Brisida quail back from her until she patted the girl's arm awkwardly while Irinha cried into her breast.

"Irinha, honey, now, you need to do something for us, okay?"

"What I need to do, Fia lady?" Irinha was sniffling and hiccuping.

"First, you gotta tell your mem."

"I can't, Fia, she scream and she...she think I'm dirty...I..."

"Ssshhhhh. No, flower, no. No she won't. Here's why. You going to tell her, you and Bri. And you going to tell her that you took care of him, okay? You going to tell her that you told me and that I'm going to work it."


"It's okay honey. When you tell her, then she know that you didn't do it because you wanted; she know you were made to do it, and she know you fought. Right? She know you brave, and that you telling her after you already done something on your own."


It wasn't that simple. But, of course, it was. It just took time.

"Bri, listen to me, girl."

"Yes, Lady Fia."

"Now, you know how all this works?"


"That's right. I'm going to tell you. I need something from him."

Her face split in a grin that would, Fia thought, have men surreptitiously checking to make sure their testicles were still in place for years to come. "Yes, Lady Fia. Something of him, right? Something you can show the spirits."

Fia winced, but kept it to herself. If that was how it had to be, that was how it had to be. One thing at a time, she thought, you can fix the world. "That's right. Something of him. But listen good, girl. Its gotta be something that talks to the spirit world, you understand? Something he use to talk to spirits too. That way they can know his smell. They don't live in our world, and they can't smell in it. But if it's something that touches their world, then they can find him."

A nod. "I understand, Lady Fia."

"Fine. Get your sister home. Don't let her tell your mom until after you get me the thing, now."

* * *

It only took a day, and that made her grind her teeth. He was probably coming out here every day, looking for his little candy eater. It was all Fia could do to avoid walking the neighborhood looking for Downtown cars, but she realized that whoever the predator was, he probably wasn't stupid enough to bring his car into the neighborhood. She forced herself to wait at home until the light blip came. She opened the door.

Brisida stood there, a look of solemn triumph on her face. In her outstretched hand was a pen.

"Where is he now, girl?"

"He's at some restaurant over near the train. He think I coming to get Irinha for him. I told him I need the pen to prove to her he waiting."

"Smart girl." Fia took the pen. "Sit." She pointed at the couch. Brisida clambered up onto it and sat, eyes wide and solemn. Fia looked at her for a moment, then sat across from her and looked at the pen in her hand before looking back at the girl and nodding once. Turning away, back to her desk, she closed her eyes and shuddered as the carbon fiber took her back Inside.

The pen was still there, hanging in the edge of her consciousness. It was a slight flicker, datastreams merging from it to the localnet of her apt. She watched the thin dribble of binary into its space for a moment, stretched taffy thin Inside but microseconds out in Realtime, and then dove into it, 'fingers' fluttering delicately across it. The pen squawked in electronic indignation and then gave up its virtue, device address and authentication keys unspooling across the secured link to her desk and into her flickerjack. Clotho wrapped a finger around the crypto spilling from the pen and drew it in, applying tools from her 'jack to it. Ticks later, a private key and device address lay before her, and armed with those, Fia-who-was-Clotho looked Inside, leapt-


-into the Street. She felt the bodyrocking click as her Desk made contact with her local Tile, socketing into place, and then she opened the door to her apt and stepped out into crazyquilt madness. She looked back at the frozen face of the child sitting on her couch, unmoving, and then jumped through five passing avatars (two of whom startled at her flight) and skipped nimbly across the top of a passing autobuss. Her code contacted solidly with its hull and she clipped, flew up over its roof and went feetfirst through the familiar Door of the Vibank branch across the Street from her. Ignoring the nearly imperceptible delay as her Desk contacted the Vibank server and opened a stream, she continued into a tuck-and-roll across an incredibly excessively high-resolution lobby (she could see grain in the virtual marble as she pushed out of the somersault. I mean, really) and hit the reception desk with both feet, pushing her right back out the door again to the surprise of the six patrons who were waiting to talk to the staffbot. At the doorline, her flickerjack interceded and she popped out in Downtown, the angled sides of the Entryhedron visible in the distance. Instead of Doorhopping, she turned and smoothly ran down the Street, letting her avatar stretch its not quite legs, feeling the packetstream smear as her flickerjack began to play its games. Scenery and avatars blurred past, but before she could really begin to enjoy it like she always did the black shape of the Bank loomed up and she leapt for the walls.

She wasn't here to work, and she wasn't here in her work clothes.

The defenses came online as she crossed the Wall boundary, the Bank's private server cluster realizing it wanted no part of her, but it was far too late. She was scaling the wall of the Bank's representative gridscraper already, and her client had a firm grip on the Bank's gridspace - ports had been opened, even if only long enough for the computational network equivalent of fuck off, that was just too long. Like a drunk for whom that insult is an invitation, Clotho's flickerjack had cheerfully begun gabbling its tissue of lies and bullshit to the Bank's servers already, and as they staggered at its breath she slipped right past.

It was over before it began, and the poor thing never had a chance. The problem with having Government getting its mitts into corporate transactions, Clotho reflected as she ambled away from the Bank's gridscraper and watched interestedly as the flashing iconography of a major Enforcement action began to converge, is that it lets anyone who can fuck with the Company fuck with the Gov.

Fia opened her eyes with an imaginary click, feeling the chipstate of her hair settle into a new equilibrium. Brisida was still looking at her with an air of quiet expectancy.

"Bri, it's okay. You can go home now."

"What did you do, Fia lady?"

Fia smiled. "I didn't do anything. A friend of mine did. Her name is Clotho. Do you know who the Greeks were?"

Brisida shook her head. "They was a long time ago, right?"

Fia smiled wider. "That's right. They were."

"So is she like a ghost?"

"Yes, Bri. She's like a ghost."

Outside, there were flickers in the cobalt sky. Red and saffron descended, lawcraft settling from the privileged Heavens in their search for the owner of a pen about whom they now knew an awful lot. Some of it was even true. Some of it was not, but that was Clotho's fault, and she weaves men's fates.

Posted by jbz at 5:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

This is a good use for a military.

We need a task force for this, stat. Moreover, I think Rumsfeld should be in personal command.

Seriously, though, drop birds not bombs, baby.

Posted by jbz at 1:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 2, 2006

Risque and funny.

It's all about the payoff.

If you're uptight, don't watch it.

Thanks to gorozco!

Posted by jbz at 6:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More money than sense, but balls.


Stefan Eriksson, eat a dick.

Posted by jbz at 11:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 1, 2006

Why medical science fucking sucks.

I have 'Severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea.' In layman's terms, this means that at night, my airway collapses and I stop breathing for ten seconds or more an average of 85 times per hour. That was as measured by two sleep studies in hospitals, in which they wired me up with all manner of sensors and fixed visible/lowlight cams on me and watched me sleep - so I'm reasonably sure it's not hypochondria. I have had a surgical procedure called a UPPP, or uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, along with a tonsillectomy. Neither of them has fixed the problem.

That I have the problem doesn't piss me off. What does is the following. This problem first became really noticeable to me immediately after college. At the time, I was working out religiously, and weighed roughly 240 lbs. - I was in better shape than I'd ever been, and in better shape than I have been since. This period of high athleticism lasted two and a half years, until my return to grad school - but it was already on the wane by then, hampered by my increasing difficulty in getting restful sleep.

As of now, I'm pretty overweight. What really bothers me, though, is that no medical professional I can find seems able to actually accept the fact that my problem began before I became so. Their answers all are, initially, something along the lines of "Oh, you just need to lose around a hundred pounds." Well, fuck you and the horse you rode in on. For two reasons. First of all, they all say this, despite the fact that there's no way I could lose a hundred pounds safely. As I said, when I was working out three or four times a week, and in good enough shape to run a half-mile without really losing my breath, I weighed 240. I weigh 320 now. So really, 80 lbs. is my 'grail' maximum.

The problem is, though, that they have these fucking 'body mass index' charts that some thumbsitter in the guv'mint gives that that says that I, as a 5'11" male, 'should' weight around '185 lbs.' Before they look at me, even after they see me, that number is sitting in their head, and my weight is nothing more than a delta from that 'ideal' - no matter what my physiognomy. Never mind that whoever they studied for that ideal weight had nothing like my body shape.

Anyway. So here's the second fuck you. See, one of the symptoms of sleep apnea is - wait for it - weight gain. Yes indeed. And one of the 'risks of weight gain?' Sleep apnea! Whoohoo. Those AMA charts are doing us a fuckload of good, aren't they? So what's always their advice? "Um, lose weight."

That'd be nice. It'd be nice if I could, say, perform more than five minutes of physical exercise without becoming exhausted - and I don't mean the nausea-related exhaustion of being out of shape and out of blood sugar, but the I need to sleep NOW exhaustion that reminds me that I haven't really had a good night's sleep in, oh, maybe three or so years, which was when I had the surgery. That, mind you, is with using the damn CPAP religiously - because if I don't, I wake up with cold sweats and aching joints that tell me I've gone lethally hypoxic, and the pounding in my temples that tells me my blood pressure probably hit two hundred plus systolic while I fought for air.

A more general and final fuck you is reserved for this otherwise good summary of my condition. Why? Because it uses my favorite fucking phrase ever, which every doc I've ever been to about this has slipped into using at one point or another. Really, I love it. The "noncompliant patient."

Get it?

I'm the problem.

It's my fault. Their fucking literature tells them so.

And people wonder why heavy weapons fascinate me.

Posted by jbz at 3:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Five flavors of awesome sauce

I don't know which is cooler/funnier; that they actually decided to call the new T passes Charliecards, or that everyone I've talked to knew what the reference was and why they did it as soon as it's been brought up - even if they weren't from Boston.

Yeh, I know I'm all late with this, but I just took the T and hit my first set of the 'new gates' and went 'huh?'...which led to finding all this stuff out. I'd been using tokens, not passes, so I wasn't in the loop.

Posted by jbz at 2:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Chase Too

There wasn't much left of the God Road that had, long ago, been U.S. Interstate 91. It stretched north in a jumble of cracked tarmac and broken median, winding its way through the verdant hills and occasional Scar with the gentle undulations of a dancer. Draped across the shoulders of the hills rather than the tops, curving around the peaks, it was visible from the air but not unless one thought to look for it.

I was counting on that.

"Topher, where the fuck are we going?" Chit's voice was tight with control. Pain, fear and anger pressed at that restraint, but his eyes moved outside the car, not looking at me, which meant that - so far - he hadn't decided I was crazy enough to be a threat. At least, not a threat high enough on the priority list that I should be dealt with as a hostile.

"North, Chit. Fucking north. Trust me."

"I trust you or I wouldn't be in this car, man." There was silence on the intercom for a few moments. Another few miles skittered past beneath our fans. The road was flat enough, up here north of the Troubles, that it might even have supported surface traffic, but I wasn't about to find out. The fans were a constant shriek, locked onto thrust mode, out of ground effect. Rear turbines were an omnipresent thunder. I could hear our fuel screaming away into the night behind us, energy in blazing flares of heat and sound. Chit could too, but he apparently had convinced himself I had a Plan.

I sure as fuck hoped I did. It wasn't really what you'd call well-formed. It was more a feeling. The kind of thing that, in those myriad moments you have when your life is normal and people aren't trying to kill you, you muse over to pass the time behind the wheel. Where would I go if...?

If was now. I-91 snaked away beneath us.

Coming around a blind chicane, maybe twenty feet above the surface, I saw the angled barrier of the overhead sign. Somehow by a miracle of overengineering one pylon was still up; the scaffolding was angled across the roadbed. Chit hadn't seen it. I twitched the yoke; software corrected, blipping the left-side fans and angling us over the obstacle with two or three meters to spare. The sudden tilt caused a slide out to the right, and I flicked the 'hat to correct; the Toyota shuddered back left and came back level, wobbling in its disrupting aerodynamics. Chit swore and clamped visibly tighter on the gun in his lap.

I tried not to look at it. I don't like guns. Until a few weeks ago, I'd never held one. Until a few days ago, I wouldn't have known what that one was; now all I knew was that it was big, illegal, and lethal as all hell, and I hoped he had enough control not to twitch off a burst inside the cabin.

"Top, not to get on your tits, man, but they're still back there."

"I know, Chit-" brief purple glare from the trees ahead and to the left, brightening to the orange of flame as we rushed past. They had heavy ordnance on their fucking flitters, naturally. Chit had his multifunction automatic talisman in his lap, and I...I had my obsessive H2Head mods and my racing license.

If I was lucky, I had one more thing, but the way the evening was going, my luck was shit. I'd made the 'net call, twenty minutes back over old New Hampshire. Nobody had answered, but I'd left a message anyway. I hadn't expected an answer, but I'd hoped for one.

Sixty-file miles to go, old-style. I risked a quick look back at the cams; two shapes behind us, silhouetted against the blue-to-orange twilight. Fuckers had anticollision strobes running, that's how confident they were. I snarled, once, but had no breath for it; flicked the Toyota through a left-right-left in order to keep us below tree level and took another glimpse. Our pursuers had fallen back a few more meters, remaining a good hundred meters above the treeline. They appeared content to let us run - after all, where could we go? A hundred miles more and there was the Old Can Border. I couldn't tell, but I was willing to bet they had friends there, silicon or meat.

I wasn't interested.

The Toyota bleeped at me, a familiar sound. The rallycomp was warning me that I had just over one hundred fifty klicks of fuel left at current consumption rates. I might make it.

"Top, can I open a window?"

"I wouldn't, man-" -pause to hop a collapsed treeline - "-the slipstream wouldn't let you do much useful, and it might screw us up."

"You do have a plan, right?"

Savage grin at the glowing blue and red of the instrument cluster, sweat in my beard. "Trust me."

Silence. Then, "Fuck."

I stole a glance at Nav; another thirty-plus miles, fifty klicks? I could see the valley on the nav screen, topo showing the old Road dipping into the swale for three miles of low-down meander. Almost there.

"Car, phone tools."

*click* phone tools are online

"Dial Riis again."

dialing. signal acquired. line busy. retry?

Busy? All my life I'd never heard of Riis' line being busy. What the fuck. "No. Message. Send our sponder code."

done. terminating call.

"Top, this friend of yours had better have some major EM gear, or military-grade AA. Those flits are lawcraft level at least, and they have shielded fans. We're not gonna be able to pop 'em from beneath, and they're gonna see the EM sig of any fan motors up ahead, we're not gonna ambush 'em either."

"Trust me, Chit."

"Damn it, stop saying that."

Fifteen miles.

Another purple flash, off to our left. I jerked the yoke in reflex, causing us to slide right and wobble; even with the carcomp muttering under its electronic breath and slapping my hands away to Fix The Problem we almost lost straightline and tumbled. A sudden shriek from the back firewall, spooling down just as quickly, told of the stresses on the gyros. "Fuckers, fuckers..." I was panting in both fear and nerves now. A clutch of lights slid past on the right; probably Peacham, if I wasn't horribly off-base in my nav. Houses full of people living their lives and wondering what the hell the three screaming flitters were doing over the God Road this time of evening. Probably assumed we were joyriders.

I could see the mountain on the right that showed the entrance to Riis' valley. There were lights strewn up its side, candyspun; a ski lift or three, with associated lodges and buildings, brighter than the constant small flickers of homestead and villages that had flashed beneath us since we'd crossed the Connecticut a hundred-plus miles back. God, Riis, be there.

I looked back. Two shapes, still. They'd turned off their running lights as we entered a more populated area; the Scar around Dartmouth had made them reckless. No witnesses. Now, though, they were dropping closer, trying to stay with us. They were still trying to run us out of fuel, though; they'd stopped shooting, probably not wanting to draw even more attention.

Three minutes. The valley entrance was a blaze of light, Riis' farmplex and storage domes lit with solar and windpower. I pulled the nose slightly to the right, off the God Road, and aimed the Toyota for the glare. Just like old times. Chit was mumbling something apprehensive; the Toyota was aimed between two of the larger ag domes and I wasn't climbing. I risked one quick look; they were still with us, but dropping up and back slightly, unsure if the farmplex was a threat or just an obstacle.

Brief glare of flourescent light and white stylic domes and then we were through. I winced. Riis would probably tear a strip off me if my slipstream tore the domes, but I couldn't worry about that now. The valley was ahead of me, comfortably dark but familiar. I felt it settle into the muscles of my fingers and began the chanting rhythm, punching the Toyota into the turns-


"WHAT THE-unh-FUCK-" I hadn't had time to warn Chit. I hoped again he didn't lose the gun. The two shapes were still above and behind us, but dropping back. Almost there. Almost there. Almost-


I flicked the strobes to full and blinked the front laserlumes three times fast. I hadn't forgotten the timing. Just ahead of me, the line of abandoned grain silos rose impossibly fast, the third from the left collapsed in a heap of rusted metal. I twisted, stood the Toyota on its side, and felt it begin to drop as it slid through the gap, yanking it back flat before it could touch the ground; our pursuers broke higher in surprise as their radar and light showed them the danger-

-and there was a howling scream of a dragon dispossesed, a tail of chattering flame and anger, a blue flare of hydrocarbon thunder that rose from the pastures directly ahead of us in a storm of speed. Chit finally did drop the gun and yowled, something scatological in his shock, but I was whooping in my glee, pulling the Toyota into a sharp climbing turn-

And the ancient P-51 Mustang bowled past us on a directly opposite heading, the flames of its exhausts swirling in its wake. I had a microsecond's glimpse of the yellow-and-scarlet helmet in the cockpit as it went past, then I was concentrating on getting the Toyota around in time-

But I'd missed it. By the time I did, there were two orange-and-black smudges in the sky, and the Mustang was climbing straight up for the heavens in a smirking roll through the wreckage of the flitters that it had killed.

"Welcome home, Top. Stop bringing pests with you." The antique aircraft fell off the top of the hammerhead and waggled its wings past me, blaring off towards the God Road to make sure there weren't any others.

"Thanks, Riis." My whisper was wrung dry. I slapped AUTO pads all over the dash and told the carcomp to put us down at the farmplex; my hands were shaking too hard to even hold the flitter level.

Chit didn't speak to me until after dinner.

Posted by jbz at 12:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack