March 16, 2010

More Books to Hunt Down

In addition to finding the serialized second novel in the tales of Candida Smith-Foster, I have just learned (from reading Wikipedia) that another of my fondly-remembered sci-fi series from kidhood, Harry Harrison's Deathworld Trilogy, apparently has four books past the three I knew of! Unfortunately, Wikipedia tells me that these were 'co-written' with other authors and only published in Russian. Hm. Well, still, something to keep an eye out for.

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March 4, 2010

On the hunt

One of my favorite sci-fi novels from my kidhood was a one-off novel by David R. Palmer, titled Emergence. It was a sole-survivor story, a plucky-kid story, and a somewhat shaky superman-hero-fights-evil-empire story. It concerned the adventures of one Candida Smith-Foster, precocious heroine (13 years old, IIRC? Update:Nope, 11) and her voyages across a post-apocalyptic United States. Palmer wrote that book, and one unrelated novel (Threshold) and then disappeared.

However, I have recently discovered that he surfaced briefly in 2008 - to announce that he'd completed a sequel to Emergence, named Tracking. It was apparently serialized in Analog between July and October of 2008.

But that's the only place it exists.

So I guess I need to start hunting Analog back issues...

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February 16, 2010

More Fiction Recommendations from E2

One of my other favorite writers from E2 is a gent named 'Jet-Poop' (don't ask. Or rather, do ask, but ask him/them). He's one of those folks who is really knowledgeable about superheroes - not just the characters, but the universes, the history of the genre, the tropes, the good, the bad - he blogs about them, too.

Anyway, he's writing a superhero-themed story. It's called Metro City Chronicles, and that link is the first episode. If you ever read Powers, Soon I Will Be Invincible or Who Can Save Us Now? and liked them, you really owe it to yourself to check it out.

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August 21, 2009

Justifying console gaming

JC Fletcher over at Joystiq has an excellent closing thought on a post regarding the delay of Battlefield 1943 for PCs - he advises PC users who really don't want to wait to just, you know, buy a console, and recommends:
If you find the idea of spending that much on a console distasteful, just tell yourself it's a really big video card.

Heh. I thought about it. 'S true, that - an Xbox360 Pro costs approximately as much as a high-end gamer video card. And comes with a computer wrapped around it, to boot.

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January 26, 2009

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Hm. I'm getting a bit hazy memory wise. It might be time to start re-reading both Girl Genius and Buck Godot: Gallimaufry over again. Months of enforced three-pages-per-week pace mean I've lost track of the beginnings, a bit.

Good lord, I can't reread all of GG. There's just too damn much of it.

Oh well.

Gotta do something with the laptop while lazing on the sofa.

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January 20, 2009

I Am Moved...

To write:

Yes we can.

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January 5, 2009

Poetry Break

I quite like Wilfred Owen, having been fortunate enough to have been exposed to his work in a college course. After having spent a couple of weeks thinking about weapon systems, I was reminded of one of his poems and thought it appropriate to post here to keep myself oriented.

On Seeing A Piece Of Our Heavy Artillery Brought Into Action

Be slowly lifted up, thou long black arm,
Great Gun towering towards Heaven, about to curse;
Sway steep against them, and for years rehearse
Huge imprecations like a blasting charm!
Reach at that Arrogance which needs thy harm,
And beat it down before its sins grow worse.
Spend our resentment, cannon, -- yea, disburse
Our gold in shapes of flame, our breaths in storm.

Yet, for men's sakes whom thy vast malison
Must wither innocent of enmity,
Be not withdrawn, dark arm, thy spoilure done,
Safe to the bosom of our prosperity.
But when thy spell be cast complete and whole,
May God curse thee, and cut thee from our soul!

- Wilfred Owen, May 1918

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August 13, 2008

Chow Yun Fat + twin Deagles = WIN

 2:37pm jyeo: other news: I saw bulletproof monk because it was free on my cable box thing
 2:37pm jbz: oooh that was awful
 2:37pm jyeo: little known fact about movies:
 2:38pm jyeo: if chow yun fat is filmed from below dualing twin deagles in a wide arc over people's heads,
you say: "Shit, why is chow yun fat dualing twin deagles in a wide arc over everyone's head?" 2:38pm jbz: hahaha 2:39pm jyeo: and then you go find out why by watching the movie, no matter how bad you know it's going to be. 2:39pm jbz: This is quite true. 2:39pm jyeo: dude, tell me I'm wrong 2:39pm jyeo: just try 2:39pm jbz: Because Chow Yun Fat + deagle(s) = WIN 2:39pm jyeo: because I'm not, and that's why you watched the movie too 2:39pm jyeo: I know it is 2:39pm jbz: it totally is 2:39pm jbz: no question about it

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August 4, 2008

I don't know how I feel about this.

I just ran across this story about a white intellectual woman 'losing her innocence' and her 'love affair with Harlem.' How? She was mugged in front of her favorite jazz dive by a black man that she knew - and nobody in the club or on the street would help her or give statements to the police.

I'm not sure which is stronger - my feeling of disbelief that this woman lasted this long without such an event occurring, or my feeling of annoyance at the 'oh my goodness even *I* have been affected and I'm so tolerant!' vibe it projects.

It's made worse by her litany of hints - the man who mugged her was an ex-con who learned hairdressing in prison, so she'd made an appointment with him. The second visit, she's 'sure' he stole her wallet, so she didn't go back. When she ran into him outside the club, he threw her to the ground and 'ambled' off with her handbag.

For fuck's sake.

I'm not even going to comment here, I don't think, right now. There's just so much ridiculousness in this story that I don't know where to start. Lady, this is New York, fuck that it's Harlem. Your behavior is so bizarre to me as a New Yorker (screw my race) that I just can't even figure out whether I feel sympathy for you, pity, or sheer disgust.

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June 13, 2008

Damn subconscious.

In the year I've had my iPhone, I'd dropped it (like, really dropped it a decent distance onto a hard surface) maybe three times. I don't use a case, just keep it in my pocket; I like the phone's sturdy-yet-slim form factor, and cases ruin that. Most also make it harder to get to the phone's controls. Finally, when carrying a bag, I have a phone holster on the strap with a closing cover - and phone cases make the phone too big and/or 'grippy' to slide into the holster properly.

Anyway. My point actually has little to do with that. What's annoying me is that since I wrote my blog post explaining how I'm not going to buy a new iPhone, I've dropped the thing four times.

Subconscious wish-fulfillment is such a bitch. I'm NOT buying a new iPhone, self. Not until there's a 32GB+ storage option. GET IT STRAIGHT.

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May 28, 2008

Fiction, friction and place

I recently started participating in the online Critters Workshop. I submitted the story that just went by here on the blog for its turn in the upcoming queue, and began buckling down to write at least one crit a week while aiming for two. I won't bother to explain Critters - check out the website, it's fairly simple.

This week, I read the book Mirrored Heaven by David J. Williams. It's a cyberpunk first novel, with lots of combat and highly stylized prose.

Then, today, I checked Daniel Keys Moran's website and noted that he had posted a new chunk of the as-yet-unpublished 'Trent the Uncatchable' novel The A.I. War. I read it, devoured it really, and re-read it several times.

These three different events resonated. While reading Mirrored Heaven, I felt myself falling into critique mode rather than reader mode. I suspect that it's to some degree because I wasn't all that enamored of the writing, but mostly because I'd been reading SF to crit it for a couple of weeks straight (I read most of the stories available on Critters even if I didn't crit them). In my head, I was fairly harsh; I fired off imaginary salvos regarding language, technobabble, and plotting.

After that, I ended up reading The A.I. War, which naturally led to rereading chunks of The Long Run which is one of my favorite SF novels.

Then I reread chunks of the novel I keep claiming I'm working on, and cringed.

I know that it's impossible for me to actually evaluate my own work, and that that is why critique-circles are so effective. I just know that I waver between enthusiasm for my stuff as I'm writing it and sheer cringing embarrassment when I later re-read it in an attempt to get working on it again. This is why so many of my stories tend to stop and not start up once more; because that 'refamiliarization' process usually goes so very badly wrong.

I don't know. Part of me wants to think that what I've written is no worse that (and in some few ways, better than) Mirrored Heaven, and that got published. On the other hand, that book has, despite its technofragmentation, more of a structure than I have; its characters, despite being somewhat interchangeable, are nevertheless more readily identified as to motive and makeup than mine. There's part of me that says "this book was once just like yours, but the difference is it absorbed more work and then got finished." Part of me retorts "but if you can't learn to plot past basic structure and Everything2-sized chunks, it won't matter how much work you put in."

How much of this is actual self-evaluation, and how much of it is trying to hold up my favorite SF prose as a 'pass bar'?

I'm not sure where I stand at the moment. I'm also on antidepressants again, which has had its customary effect on my writing - the tap has run solidly dry, SLAM, no exceptions. Still, I'll keep trying. I'm arguing with myself whether I should first replot, then rewrite; or whether the hundred-eighty pages I have so far are enough of an investment that I should try to simply mold them further towards what I think the book should be.

What should it be, though? That's the question I have little trouble answering when writing small bits, and ever so much trouble answering when looking at the whole.


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February 15, 2008

Self-pity, with sparkles of talent

Ironically, I wrote a sentence today that I really like, while describing to someone why I never finish novels and stories and such:
Things tend to peter out, and I find myself wandering in a gritty urban desert, dowsing for closure.

As I told bobbobbob, I'd be proud of it if it wasn't so fucking true.

Oh yeah: Happy fucking Valentine's Day. Now fuck you.

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July 13, 2007

Hydrogen/Gas Combustion and Dreams (with guns)

I was reading again about BMW's Hydrogen 7 and it struck me - I wrote a story back in 1996 about a hybrid vehicle which shared gas and hydrogen combustion in the same cylinders. What's more, I posted it on the web, too.

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November 28, 2006

I've spent a lot of time there, yes.

I write a lot for this other website that I sometimes talk about. It's either in its death throes, or thriving; quality is either in the crapper or stellar; we can't agree, those of us who hang out there. Some of us are obsessed with numbers, despite exhortations to the contrary. This, for example, is an image of the stuff I've written for that site:


Each colored pixel is an article; time is along the X axis, the most recent contributions farthest to the right. The 'reputation' (or 'score' or whatever) of the writeup, as judged by other denizens of the site, is the Y axis. If the writeup has been 'cooled' – given extra-special-useless Gold Star awards by fellow users, which mostly serves to emphasize the writeup for a time by placing it in a 'cool list' on the front page – it's in red, with the size of the halo indexed to the number of times it's been so awarded. If it hasn't, it's blue. Daylogs (entries written under the current date, treated as diary entries and usually subject to less harsh voting) are in green.

What this graph tells me, most of all, is that I've written nearly 1500 articles for the thing, creative writing and 'factuals' and stupid in-jokes and games alike. While it's kept me saner than I otherwise would have been, just imagine what I could have done with that time and effort had I turned it to, I don't know, selfish ends. Of course, then I probably wouldn't have been able to do it.

Ah well.

For those of you who hang out there yourselves and are curious, this was generated from here. More E2 trivia: according to Those Who Know, that little blue pixel high up on the left is AFAIK currently the highest-rated article on there without a C!. Heh.

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July 27, 2006

Keith Laumer, Bolos and Foreshadowing

Heh. So I picked up a copy of The Compleat Bolo for a buck last night, and was leafing through it in nostalgia...and I came across a story I'd forgotten - Rogue Bolo from 1986. One where a new Bolo (sci-fi's first self-aware tank series) is being activated. The project is so super-sensitive that anyone who even looks like they might disagree with it is stuck in Imperial Detention Camps to prevent them from disrupting it.

Why is this funny?

The Bolo is being built in Imperial America. By the Emperor George I.


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July 4, 2005

Two hundred and twenty-nine years since the Declaration

...that announced the nation of my birth. On this day, in this place, where I spend so much time and energy in frustration and anger, I want to spend one day addressing every American who reads this.

Welcome, sir or madam.

We are countrymen. What that means, and what it is worth, I cannot say. What our country means today in the world, I also cannot say. All I can say to you is what it means to me. Those of you who are not American, and who (in the words of a poster at The Agonist "watch, bemused" - we apologize for the interruption in the regular programming of internecine Snark, and beg your indulgence. Regular uncivil discourse amongst the colonists will resume shortly.

Fellow Americans:

Our country is becoming increasingly polarized. Bile and rancor sear both sides of the debate. Frustration runs rampant. All I can try to do from my position is assure you of one thing. I, personally, do not blog my choleric, frustrated rants because I 'hate America.' I don't hate my countrymen serving in our armed forces. Nor, I assure you, do any of my friends who rant as well. On the contrary, we are frustrated because our love for this country has run afoul of what we see as a profound misstep in the path - and we feel powerless to correct it, or even influence the way our country walks, when the only responses we see from those currently in power are blithe assurances that either nothing is wrong, or (worse) that we ourselves must be sympathizers with those who 'hate us.'


Today is our birthday.

Today is a time for fireworks, and grilling, and family. Today I would that I could share a drink with any and all who are or would be Americans, or would simply learn more of America as an American sees it. I would tell you all I could, and I would endeavour to listen with all my might. That is all, really, that I think we can do for each other right now - not just listen, but hear; not just talk, but speak.

Raise a drink with me, please - no matter where you are - to the Constitution of the United States of America. Raise a drink with me to those who would defend that Constitution and the Republic which its ideals have brought forth here on Earth - an idea which binds men. Not a fear which binds men, nor a power which forces them, but an idea which makes them kin - raise a drink with me, brother and sister.

Happy Fourth of July. Many happy returns.

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May 5, 2005

Pace, Decisions, Software.

One of the illuminating things about working for Novell is getting to talk to people from around the company as they (or I) wander offices and locations. I don't do nearly as much of this as other people within the company, but I make up for it by being at least fifteen times as loudmouthed and opinionated as most of those I come across, plus ten times as willing to mouth off about crap that those on the receiving end of my bloviations are quite sure I have no credentials to be talking about anyway.

Recently, the topic of decisionmaking at Novell came up. (Woo! Here's my chance to get fired for blogging!) Fear not, I'm not going to get into specifics about products, organization, people, or anything like that. I'd like to talk about goals, stated and otherwise, and about what Novell is Trying To Do - since that has been a popular topic on blogs related to this company in recent months.

Let me make one thing clear at the outset of this post. I'm not a software engineer. Nor am I a project manager. Nor am I a corporate executive. My views don't reflect those of my employer. I don't have information that is not available to anyone who simply reads the trade mags (at least, not about the stuff I'm talking about). Furthermore, I in no way affect policy (thank whatever you hold holy). So there. I'm an Op. I make shit work, mostly. Sometimes I break it. Sometimes I get up at 3 am and haul my lazy black ass into the office because a server has gotten lonely and decided it needs to feel loved, or because some user has done something that we in the biz call 'stupidwrong.'

I rant about the state of Novell and its Linux strategy from the POV of someone who has now worked within Novell-the-corporate-structure for about eighteen months, and who has worked with Linux the thing and community (note I don't say product) for about seven years. I've worked in IT, part and full-time, for around fifteen years. That's not a claim to Superior Understanding; that's just a statement of my point of view, so you can decide for yourself if you are going to lend these words any credence. I can't tell you to do so; you have to make that decision.

Back to the point.

In any case, I see the tension as follows. Novell is an Old World Software Company. It was the epitome of Old World Software company. It lived and thrived on measured, managed, release-cycle engineering, with Managed Customer Expectations and predictable upgrade revenues. Shipping product on time? Much more important than fanatic attention to detail. Appeasing the stockholders? Absolutely critical. Who were and are the customers that need to be kept completely happy? Large, conservative enterprises - financial institutions, etc. - with conservative, enterprise buying habits.

Not all of this has changed. The latter, for example, is still true. But there's a tension, now. The declared future of the company rests on Linux. Linux is not something that will sit still long enough for you to shoehorn it into your corporation's familiar release cycle. Nor is it something that will permit you to ship it raw to keep the customers happy.

This is not because the final market is so very different. After all, we're not expecting (as I see it) to keep Novell alive by forsaking the enterprise customer! We're planning - and working like bees - to make the enterprise customer stable, productive and functional by utilizing the New Hotness that is linux, rather than by locking them into the death spiral of Netware. Don't take that as a slam on Netware - everything dies. Entropy, you know. Netware is a Grand Veteran of the software industry. In any case, the problem is that Novell isn't there yet. We're working to prove ourselves to our customers and to the industry that we can pull this off. I think we can. The problem is that this means that there is an incredible spotlight on the things we are doing right now - and that products that are being released now matter more than ever.

Couple that with the fact that the Linux world doesn't work like the old software world. The Linux world (I know, there's no such thing as 'the Linux world' - how about 'the new Sofware industry? Nah, no better...I'll keep trying) is one where the community watches, reads, dissects, comments, blogs...everything. No-one is immune. Open Source software, for better or worse, has a concomitant ecosystem of very smart and very dedicated people who spend a great deal of time, sometimes with motivations that 'classic corporations' do not understand, evaluating, testing, improving, commenting on and 'policing' software. Not only software - moves made in the business world that in the 'old' software industry only 'industry analysts' and stockholders would care about.

Plus, the community listens to them - not always, and not unanimously. But linux as a whole, and its uptake and use, can be swayed by the response of these watchers.

In this context, the 'old world' attitude of 'the release cycle matters because stockholders need to see a product out before year's end' is not as important as getting it right. A mediocre product, at this point in our business, is not a simple low point on the release cycle - it's an amplified perception problem. Problems that are being caught in early QA testing yet not being fixed, or being passed over due to limited time in cycle are signs of decisions which are perfectly proper in old world engineering. They are absolutely fucking lethal if carried over into the changeover period.

If cycles aren't adjusted to handle product polish, if design constraints are not mediated or adjusted to take into account the fact that these products are designed not to add 'incremental functionality' but to introduce skeptical conservative users and hyperattentive Linux commentators to a Whole New Way of Novell, then all the work, all the effort, all the Culture Change, all the money in the world won't make this happen.

In some cases, these things are happening. Sometimes, there is a sense that we're performing for the world. Sometimes there is not - there's a sense that we're doing the 9-to-5 job. This difference knows no facility or geographic boundary. It doesn't map to which business unit people are in. It doesn't map to how long people have been at Novell. But it's there, nonetheless.

You can probably guess which side of that difference makes me absolutely fucking crazy sometimes.

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April 20, 2005

Political theater and the dance of faces

First things first. If you haven't yet, please read my previous post since this post concerns it. I'll wait.

Okay? Okay.

Really. I'm serious.

Wow. That was fairly awesome. I'm going to assume you've watched the C-SPAN video, RealPlayer craptastic though it is. There is some fascinating stuff going on in there, and I don't even follow these guys much. For it to be that evident means some severe armtwisting and the like has been happening. Where to start?

Let's start with the tone of the room. The Dems are looking fairly feisty. This is to be expected; this week has seen some of the worst polling numbers for Bush and Co. so far, if not the worst, in terms of popularity. The Social Security overhaul is meeting severe resistance not only from Democrats but from Republicans as well, to the point where the normally secretive Karl Rove has been seen giving television interviews about it. Polling on Terry Schiavo indicates that the American public thinks the GOP rushed in too fast in many cases, and many of the weaker congressional Republicans are feeling the pinch. Perhaps due to all these indicators, despite their two-vote gap in the committee, the Dems are here to play. Joe Biden looks at ease, if fired up; he is passionate in tone and manner but his speech and mannerisms don't look forced. Kerry is much much better than he was during the campaign. When he's not forced to stick to issue lists and talking points, his speeches don't stagger around, and he's a much more linear speaker in both tone, pattern and physical affect. Sarbanes is (perhaps actively) exemplifying the confused grandfatherly meme - 'just explain this to me, please?'

In general, they appear to be well prepared, with a game plan. They are handing off to each other, they aren't stepping on each others' issues or hotbutton points, and they're well staffed up.

Lugar, in contrast, looks awful. He's sitting straight up, with absolute minimal body motion. There's a quarter-smile pasted on his face, and he's sweating. I'm not sure what is going on with him. The remainder of the GOP are hard to read, because with the exception of Chafee, Hegel and Allen they appear to have their backs to the primary C-SPAN camera. They're not talking much. The Dems are getting fired up about Bolton.

The initial attempt, by Biden, to get the hearings closed, fails. There is a deal of speechifying by Dems including Kerry eloquently defending the need to protect both the nominee and those presenting 'allegations'. They are rebutted by Sen. Allen (R-Va?) who speaks quickly about open government. Lugar moves to vote immediately on Sen. Biden's motion to close the hearings, prompting mutterings of disbelief from the Dems as the Reps all vote in line to keep the hearings open. Sen. Biden defuses further acrimony by pointing out the Committee rule which requires closed hearings in the event those hearings might 'damage the professional standing' of anyone involved...but he's smiling! So is Kerry!

My take: that was a setup. The Dems absolutely want all information on Bolton in the public domain. They want every opportunity to read every allegation and reiterate every negative piece of testimony on open camera - so there is no political reason they'd want the hearings closed. The GOP reacted reflexively and instantly to their proposal, with Lugar moving so quickly that no-one even had time to protest before he called the vote. He was even prepared with a precedent (from 18 years in the past!) where the chairman had stifled discussion on a closed-session motion; he apparently expected discussion on a closed-session motion and wanted to stifle it to try to hurry the main vote along. It looks like the Dems trapped him on that one, using his desire to hurry the procedure to guarantee open hearings.

There is much presenting of allegation and charges by the Dems in an attempt (apparently) to appeal to those Reps who are not voting on pure partisan lines to consider the nominee's character. They know they only have to flip one, and they're working hard. Lugar tries several times to call for an immediate vote, at one point stating flatly that he has ten Senators who 'are going to vote for the nomination to move to the floor.' Sarbanes shuts him down at least twice, noting that the Senate recessed until 5pm specifically for this debate, and since it's only 10 of 4, what's the point of having the vote? Why not have the debate? Lugar is looking even more uncomfortable; he's got both hands flat on the table in front of him, and he's not turning his head. He's looking around only with his eyes, and he's sweating. This is really interesting. Biden is leaning forward, back, around; Kerry is pensive, then interested, etc. The reps are mostly looking dutifully bored. One (Chafee?) looks somewhat worried, actually

At around 20 after 4, there's a bombshell. Sen. Voinovich (R-Ohio) apologizes for not being in prior sessions with John Bolton present (excuse?) and then states that he's heard enough in today's information alone to feel very uncomfortable voting for John Bolton; at the least, he won't vote to move the nomination to the floor. Boom. The room behind the table gets much more animated. Lugar starts to stutter more. At the same time, however, something very interesting happens - he suddenly relaxes. His hands leave the table. He begins to smile openly, and grin occasionally. His neck begins to work, and he begins using his hands and arms demonstratively. In short, he starts actually emoting - it looks either like he'd been waiting for this or like a gigantic weight has been removed.

This is pure inference, but it reminds me of my own behavior when a deadline is finally irrevocably past; the sort of flip 'ah well, no matter' attitude. Spinning it into a scenario, it looks like to me he has just realized that he has failed to Do His Job, i.e. get the nomination out onto the floor by 5pm today. It's not going to happen. Voinovich has seen to that, and it's not Lugar's fault, really; Voinovich defected (must figure out how/why). So at this point, it's back to business as usual. They start negotiating when to resume hearings and how long to delay the vote.

Barack Obama, in his first statement, acknowledges his junior status and while asking for education on procedure from Lugar manages to get in a zing re: 'what happens if we deadlock, Mr. Chairman?' Nicely done. He's very urbane and smooth, looks relaxed and fresh, and Lugar is still sweaty, rumpled and stuttering, comparatively.

Aha. DailyKos has it. Voinovich is only 2 years into a 6-year term; he's going to outlast Bush no matter what, and he won sixty-something percent of the vote, with Democrats crossing to support him. In other words, he's more popular in Ohio than Bush is.

Conspiracy theory from the same source: maybe he knows something about the Ohio election. Hahahahaha!

Wow. This has been a fun day of observatory parliamentary procedure.

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April 13, 2005

Surreality tax

I can't remember who I was talking to about this, so if it was you, I'm sorry. I'm not trying to steal the idea. But I would be *so* up for paying a surreality tax. That is, a small fee paid to my municipality, or actors therein, by which my day would be made a bit more surreal. Think of that awful movie without the danger or 'intruding into people's lives' or 'personal nature of the intrusion.' A perfect example can be found here. Why the hell don't I live in NYC so I could be involved with this genius? Oh yes, because I'll never be able to afford to live there again, that's why. Sigh.

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April 12, 2005

Lessons learned

The more eyes, the better. This makes me upset that I don't own some form of cheap camcorder. That impulse, in turn, makes me think about the balance of privacy, anonymity and public responsibility. On the other hand, if I want to be anonymous and maintain my privacy, I should be smart enough to not be walking around near large public functions like the Republican National Convention. I object to always-on, government-controlled surveillance of public places. However, I support the right of citizens to record the agents of government doing their job in order to maintain a check on their behavior, because (as this story clearly shows) sometimes those checks are vitally necessary.

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March 18, 2005

101 Years - A life as long as the telegram. Godspeed.

George Kennan, author of the famed-in-international-security Long Telegram and hence one of the framers of the U.S. side of the Cold War, has died at his home in Princeton, N.J. at the age of 101. Of the great deal of verbiage I have been made to read in the field, Kennan's has always struck me as some of the clearest and most strikingly well-formed, serving to convey structured ideas with precision.

I hope that if ever I find myself in as influential a moment and position as he came to in 1946 and 1947, I rise to the occasion with even a tenth the aplomb and wits he managed.

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March 3, 2005


Note: I wrote this several months ago for this other website I sometimes lurk on. I just re-read it, though, and wanted to post it here, under my own name.


The refuge from modern stress that is the black barbershop has received recent adulation in various media. Not least of these is the film Barbershop, a surprisingly good (in my opinion) take on the institution which concentrates mostly on setting the scene and doesn't drape too much external plot over the course of events which cover a single day.

I was in fact raised in Upper Manhattan, but not Upper (or Eastern) enough to patronize a black barbershop while growing up. Plus, my dad is nothing if not completely un-Black in phenotype. That, plus the strained race relations of the Harlem area in the 1970s meant that his taking his son in search of one might have been a bad plan despite the fact that I had hair so curly as to form mini-dreadlocks of its own accord, and a markedly darker skintone than he. As a consolation to me in my later years, I realize that he managed to take me to a worthy substitute which, while not serving as the neighborhood social center the black barbershop can, certainly contributed to my diverse ethnic exposure during my formative years.

In any case, back to the black barbershop. Many years later, my younger brother's son is turning two years old. They live in Washington, D.C. - in the area known as Dupont Circle which, before the gentrification and gay culture renaissance it experienced in the early 1990s, was nice and run-down. As my bro and I are walking over to 'get him a haircut' before the party, I get to marvel at one block of 14th street in particular. This block has (at one end) an enormous Whole Foods market, gleaming and new. Across the street, there is a new huge condo development, with associated advertising. Next to the condo, however, in the middle of the block, is a skeezy, painted-brick front bar ('pub,' my ass) with iron bars over the windows and hand-painted signage, which marks the perimeter of said upscaling. Across the street from that, next door to the Whole Foods - a black barbershop.

We head in. There are five stations, three of which have barbers at them, and three or four folks seated along the wall (which, I should note, has nothing to do with whether they're waiting for a cut). My bro heads for a station in the back and negotiates a quick trim. I'm left standing in the front, marveling at the zillion-layer-brown paint on the frontage and brick; the flyblown and grilled front window, with 'BARBERSHOP' in elaborate, almost circus capitals painted on it.

"What I do you fo', young man?" The speaker is the barber with the front station - traditionally, the 'new man.' He's perhaps in his mid seventies. I stutter something about just being with my brother, and wave about helplessly for a second. He sees the opening.

"Give you a neck shave, den? Trim th' beard?"

I'm done. "Sure." I seat myself in the chair, and my barber snaps the cloth around me expertly. He is no newbie. Inside of ten seconds, he's got the chair adjusted, my head tilted slightly back, and the electric razor in his hands.

"How close you want it, boy?" (I should note I have gray hair in said beard and hair, but am beginning to realize how comforting it is to be addressed as the young guy).

"Oh, up to you, boss." This is the correct answer, I learn from his solid nod, lower lip pooched out in concentration. He turns my head back and forth once, surveying, and starts in with the razor, using short but confident strokes. No overlaps, no hesitation, a steady rhythm.

The radio tied to the shelf between my station and the next (honest, a radio; half a boom box, a handle and single speaker, antenna canted) is playing Robert Johnson, which I can certainly appreciate. At the moment, Robert is crooning about the hounds following him, and the barber next to us (who is in his sixties) says something about "Dat's good stuff, who dat?"

There is - horror - a shock of disbelief. My capillotomist misses a stroke. Doesn't make a mistake, mind, but interrupts the rhythm. Covers by switching blades and looks over his big-ass square glasses at the offender next door. "'Who dat?' God Damn, boy, what the hell you talkin' bout? You got hit on de head as a chile?"

"Aw, shut up, Curtis, don't you be goin' on about knowin' all dat. You only nine years older'n'me, nigger, don't be puttin' nothing on, takin' nothin' off-"

"WHO DAT? Dis man jus' said who dat," he announces to three waiting patrons, all of whom shake their heads in unison and on cue. "Who dat. God damn, Leroy, I swear." He continues to cut my hair, and I risk it.

"That's Robert Johnson, pops. Father of the blues. First recorded Delta Bluesman."

I can't see him, but Curtis (working on my neck) beams. "See? MMMM-hm. Dis boy knows, Leroy! Robert Johnson. Dis boy know his music."

Leroy isn't upset, but continues the argument, which I have come to realize is merely the same as 'conversation.' "Nigger, yo' sister done warn me you was an uppity mo' fo', MMMM-hm, yep, she did. I shoulda lissened, boy."

I realize, at this point (strangeness for a Northeasterner) that I am in the American South. It's funny to realize, sometimes, how far south D.C. actually can be. The hot air from outside ladles itself over my head as another customer enters, the air conditioner laboring wheezily atop the door. Greetings are exchanged; the newcomer takes up a ragged and ancient Playboy magazine from one of the green vinyl chair seats along the wall and settles in after mumbling to one of his neighbors. Curtis moves over to my cheek.

"Leroy, I cain't understand how you c'n not know yo' blues, boy. You be beltin' out dat shit ev'ry day, heah, singin' when we tell you t'shut it, MMMM-hm?"

MMMM-hm. The very phrase has settled into my head. I have to admit that I derive special sensory enjoyment from having a haircut or a beard trim, especially from a skilled barber. The touch of cold steel or swift electric will send a shiver up my spine, starting near my coccyx and dispersing rapidly upwards out my arms to my fingertips, and up my nape to the back of my skull. Unlike most shivers, though, it leaves me cool and dry, rather than nervous or sweaty, and each stroke will send the signal again. I have learned to remain perfectly still in a barber chair, the hum of the electric chattering its soft song into my ears as the teeth slide ever so lightly across my earlobes, or along my jawline. I don't sleep, but I'm not awake; the caress of the steel has my nervous system singing me to sleep in the chair. My consciousness hovers slightly above my body, well-tuned sensorium, and listens:


"...cuz we tol' his old lady that when she come in, remember?"


"' he didn't go anyway, stupid foo'. Hah. Heh heh heh. 'Member she come back in heah, after dat, lookin' fo' him wit' his shit in a suitcase? Wanted to throw him outta her house without gettin' her house broken throwin' stuff at him, dat foo.' "

"MMMM-hm, yup, hah."

The generic acknowledgement, it seems, a grunted but still liquid sound intended to convey the fact that the speaker is, in fact, listening despite being (to all appearances) buried intently in the latest Playboy, or the game of checkers that has sprung up on an unoccupied green vinyl seat along the wall. MMMM-hm. I can feel a laugh, one of those body-wiggling laughs of pure happiness, threatening to well up, but I sit on it firmly - it would only be misinterpreted.

"Hey, boy." Curtis appears to be addressing me, while swiping at my throat with an electric trimmer. I can't resist.


"You evah heah Robert Cray live?"

I'm in. My MMMM-hm passes muster. I feel myself settle slightly deeper into the chair, relaxed, spoiled, home.

The neck shave, beard trim and a ceremonial pass across my 'fro with the scissors (just enough to elicit the shivers) and a spritz of Elixir across my head, and we're done. I pronounce it perfect, taking joy in Curtis' visible satisfaction, and ask how much. He realizes I don't know, and I watch his lower lip get sucked in and gnawed as he debates whether to sting me out of sheer reflex. I won't be offended.

"Four bucks?"

I nod soberly, hand him six, and escape into the world outside of bright lights, modern cars, Whole Foods, and find my bro (finished already) smoking one of the cigarettes his wife won't let him smoke in the house. He tosses it, stands, and we regard each other. He raises an eyebrow.


The laugh is enormous, and shared, and we amble off down the block, two men about our business.

Posted by jbz at 11:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 31, 2005

Heh. And so it begins.

I've actually been waiting for this. One of my more personal problems with this whole process (the Eyes debate) has been the appropriation of the Civil Rights struggle by copyfighters - their comparison (either implicit or explicit) of their cause, methods, opponents, wrongs against which they fight and so on to those endured by the civil rights activists profiled by Eyes on the Prize. Although I have strayed over the line in suggesting this, I think, I've really tried to keep my mouth shut.

So, along comes a commenter and pretty much lays it all out for me. "Reverend Joe," thank you very much. Let's have a good look at your post, which does a good job of laying out the points.

Rev. Joe says:

That said, I would have had no philosophical issue with downloading EoTP from the DHB BitTorrent links that you, in part, got removed from the DHB website, had I the desire to watch it. I have to tell you, you harm your own case when you speak hypocritically about what the supporters of DHB's campaign are trying to accomplish, and also when you call them "theives" and "pirates". Is it just to call the people your Uncle chronicled "criminals" and "unpatriotic" because they broke the law of the land, unjust as it was?
Well, Rev. Joe, I acknowledge that I personally can't do much to stop you from clicking the download links. For the record, the only way I (in part) got those links removed from the DHB website was by conversing with Tiffiniy Cheng. I am not a decision maker nor a rights-holder of Blackside, Inc. Please be sure to get your facts straight. Any decisions involving lawyers, and any conversations involving lawyers, explicitly don't involve me, as I told Ms. Cheng at the beginning of our first (and every subsequent) conversation. Whether or not you believe that is up to you.

I "harm my own case" when I speak "hypocritically" about what the supporters of DHB's campaign are trying to accomplish, and call them "theives(sp)" and "pirates". Um, okay, I'm not sure how that's hypocritical, as I'm not out there copying stuff, but fine. As for it being just to call the people my uncle chronicled 'criminals' and the like, well, that's a whole other issue. First of all, it depends which people. He chronicled a lot of people, from murderers to preachers to folks that might qualify as saintly. Let's take the average protester. Perhaps the ones that took part in non-violent sit-ins. They probably wouldn't technically be 'criminals' but we could indeed call them guilty of misdemeanors, or whatever the penalty for trespass was - I don't know offhand.

My point is that what you call them is a technical term. It has nothing to do with moral justice. I, personally, *do* indicate that I feel what they are doing in this case is unjust. I do *not* feel that what the protesters did during said sit-ins and the like was unjust. If you read my entries, I did try to explain why.

The next paragraph is really my favorite:

You are entitled to your opinion of what "parts of copyright law" should be reformed, of course, just as the KKK is entitled to theirs about what "parts of segregation law" should be kept. Personally, I'd like to scrap the whole lot of copyright laws and start over. But when you insult someone for civilly disobeying a law *THEY* find to be unfair and think should be changed, invoking the name of your Uncle in the process, you're just being a hypocrite. And, if it's true your Uncle would be "fuming at" those downloads, then he was a hypocrite, too. It's fine if you want to say you disagree with our assessment that this part of the law is unjust and should be disobeyed -- but keep your insults to yourself -- or expect harsher ones in return.
Well! Refreshing! This really should fall under some modified form of Godwin's Law. At this point, we begin falling into what I can only assume are attempts to actively muddle the two struggles - civil rights and copyfight - both to vilify me and elevate the copyfighters. I find myself compared to the KKK in the first line. I'm sure that as a Black Jew, the KKK and I would have much to talk about. Reverend Joe notes that he'd like to scrap the entire copyright law and start over. This is perfectly valid opinion, one that should indeed be here - huzzah and more power to you, Rev. Joe. Thanks for your input. I wish you luck in your struggle to do so. I happen to disagree with you, but that's OK. "But when you insult someone for civilly disobeying a law *THEY* find unfair..." um, hold the phone. One of the key tenets of civil disobedience, as I mentioned earlier, was the maxim that it not deprive, harm or involve others in your action, or if so, does so to the minimum amount possible. That's not the case here.

Oh yeh, and what insults? 'Pirate?' 'Thief?' Okay, well, that might be an insult, I suppose, but it's a technical term, and if you say you're not, it's because we disagree on the actual law itself which, at the moment, is the law of the land - and which you acknowledge you're breaking. So 'thief' fits, technically. *I'm* the one who's been compared *somewhat humorously, I do admit) to the KKK. Man, I'd *love* to see their faces if I showed up at a meeting...shades of The Hebrew Hammer ("Shabbat shalom, motherfuckers!!!") Heh. Heh heh. Anyhow, call Tiffiniy - I'd like to think our conversations were carried on with the utmost civility.

Let's jump to the whole next section, where you claim 'Of COURSE it's about MONEY.' Um,, it's not. As I said, although you apparently don't believe me, I don't get any money from Eyes on the Prize. Although I realize you may have trouble realizing this, it is possible for people who own things (and that includes intellectual things) to have an interest in how those things are used. My uncle didn't make Eyes in order to make money, he made it in order to say something. This does not mean he was averse to making money from it when possible - but primarily, he made it to say something very specific for posterity. He was so concerned with the specifics of that message, he made sure there was a teaching plan produced with the film, a laserdisc set to be used with the teaching plan, a book designed to be a companion to the film, and spent innumerable hours of his life giving talks about the film and the surrounding history in the hopes that the story would be told and told consistently. One of the reasons he left the films themselves to his sisters was because they shared, closer than anyone else he knew, his experience growing up. They weren't and aren't filmmakers. They didn't know anything about running a film company. But they went through the same upbringing he did - the experience that led him, in his middle teens, to start thinking about making what would become Eyes on the Prize.

That consistency of message is not something that just happens and sticks around once the film is made. It requires a steward. Someone who decides what the film will be used for, and how. Someone (or someones) who will push for the film, and try to ensure that the film doesn't get appropriated for other fights, ones which (while important) are not the fights which Eyes on the Prize was made to commemorate.

It confuses me how someone who purports to be for a movement which claims to elevate the importance of information over money rights can't understand that there might be motivations other than money for trying to retain control of a work. Finally, this in no way involves 'lording it over the public.' I am the public. The entities my mother and aunt and their agents are negotiating with are not the public, some of them; some of them are. You appear to have this false dichotomy built up in your head where anyone who owns the rights to anything is no longer 'the public.' Strange. Where does it say that producing something means one must sign away one's membership in the 'protected class' of 'the public?' I am being honest, intellectually. I'm sorry if you don't think I am; that's your prerogative. But your sinmple refusal to believe it doesn't make it so.

Moving right along.

Next bit of irony -- you complain that: "even if it is legitimately impossible to identify who owns a particular clip (due to death, loss of records, etc. etc.) it may still be either impossible or prohibitively difficult to ever package, sell or publicly show any work containing that clip again - even if it is a five-second newsreel clip from fifty years previously."

Isn't this rich? Let me see if I can follow this ... you feel draconian restrictions and complete, no-registration-necessary control over everything from a scribbled doodle on a scratchpad to interview archival footage is BAD when it bothers YOU, the documentary maker / heir, but the same sorts of draconian restrictions on the PUBLIC, long after both the author and a meaningful period to exploit the work commercially are long expired, are GOOD policy, because it HELPS documentary filmmakers financially. Hmmm, I think I start to understand your motivations in this debate, finally.

Ha. Wow. I don't even know where to start. Okay, at the beginning.

The quote you offer at the start is me trying to explain some of the things I think are wrong with the system. WRONG. As in, agreeing with you. Next please. I believe in compensating owners for their clips. I don't claim to know what the proper balance is between their rights and the public's right to access them. I never have. That is, it seems to me, the question. I do believe that the creators of those clips have some rights, yes. I believe that in the event an owner can't be easily located ("orphan work") then there should be no restriction on its use, and it should be considered public domain - like a trademark, if no one steps up to defend. But that is all my personal opinion.

"Hmmm, I think I start to understand your motivations in this debate, finally." Oh good. I'm so glad! A day without elementary sarcasm is really a wasted day for me. My brain suffers without the challenge.

"But please don't tell us you're a crusader because you're telling people to steal his hard work."

Let me explain something to you if you're going to continue to engage copy-fighers in this manner. You open yourself to endless abuse with this kind of rhetoric. There is nothing going on in this controversy that involves stealing. As you may or may not be aware, stealing involves taking something away from someone who already owns that thing, so that they no longer have it. What is happening to you / your Uncle's estate is called copyright infringement -- thats what we call it when someone violates the U.S. Law that maintains an artifcial monopoly for one party over the copying of some creation by everyone else. Calling the people who do violate that law for non-commercial purposes "thieves" is about as accurate as call those who violated segregation laws "terrorists". And the motivations behind the two inaccuracies are pretty much the same, as well.

I didn't call them terrorists. Ever. Check carefully. Between that and the KKK accusation, where precisely are you coming from? Is this because of my name?

Anyhow you continue to make my point for me. I 'open myself up for endless abuse?' Great. As I said - the tactic here is to hijack Eyes on the Prize and then utilize both it and this debate as publicity mill for the copyfight debate - which drags Eyes on the Prize not only crosswise into the Copyfight debate itself (which is merely a muddling of its actual intent) but down into the debate level of, well, people like you, sir. And that, truly, is a loss for us all. It don't matter what happen to me, but I don't want this film dragged through 'endless abuse' from 'engaging copyfighters.' It has nothing to do with that.

So, "Reverend Joe," thanks very much for providing us with a timely demonstration.

Posted by jbz at 4:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 28, 2005

Continuing with Prof. Madison

Professor Madison wonders if in fact the history of the Civil Rights movement that Eyes on the Prize chronicles really is available elsewhere, as I had averred in an earlier post. This is a fair question. Let me clarify my statement, as I have a tendency to write blog entries while sitting at home with a laptop underneath a cat, slugging coffee, angry and channeling the enraged spirit of Spider Jerusalem.

The facts are available elsewhere. The media may not be. That's why Henry put those clips in Eyes in the first place - because he found them to be the most powerful images of the times. Also, he and his colleagues filmed an enormous amount of original interview footage with dozens of participants in those turbulent times which makes up the rest of the Eyes films. The interview footage used in the final cuts of Eyes is certainly not available anywhere else.

However, I am not saying that efforts to make archival clips more readily available should be quashed. In contrast, I am all in favor of them. I'm not suggesting that they be ripped from the hands of their present owners, either! However, especially in the case of 'orphan' clips which were taken by large organization pool reporters and clips whose owners are no longer known, making access to those pieces of visual and audio history needs to be made easier. Note: not necessarily cheaper, but certainly easier. As an example - as I understand it (and IANAL!) even if it is legitimately impossible to identify who owns a particular clip (due to death, loss of records, etc. etc.) it may still be either impossible or prohibitively difficult to ever package, sell or publicly show any work containing that clip again - even if it is a five-second newsreel clip from fifty years previously. That's clearly (to me) ridiculous.

So in that sense, I am in agreement with the copyfighters. Free this media, and this history; 'free' it in the sense of making it easier for us the people to access and distribute it. I would note that Blackside is not in the habit of locking away history from the people; in fact, all of the footage and clips that were not used in the final cuts of the films were retained by The Civil Rights Project, Inc (the non-profit set up for the fundraising for Eyes and its associated projects) and have been donated to Washingon University, where the public and any filmmaker or student is free to access the collection.

As is usually the case, the information that is in Eyes is almost entirely duplicated in those clips. What is in Eyes is a particular assembly of that information - the 'art', if you will. When I speak of Eyes as being different from the history, this is what I mean. This 'art', work, and assemblage, which is qualitatively different from the history and information contained within. Sure, protest the orphan works copyright problem (and, in fact, DO IT NOW - the U.S. Copyright Office is soliciting public commentary on this VERY ISSUE RIGHT NOW! Commentary is due by March 25th, so put those writing and thinking skills to use for the good of us all!) - protest the fact that we can't re-issue Eyes without an onerous amount of nonsense involving fighting these extremely draconian protections for lost and someties nonexistent copyright holders. But please, don't lump in the living, breathing rights to the piece of art that is Eyes on the Prize with the 'orphan works' or with the five to sixty-second newsreel clips from fifty years ago that are the actual history which everyone seems to be so concerned about. Even the interviews themselves which Henry did - the interviews with figures yers later - the raw interview footage is nearly all available at Washington University. Go get it. Make your own version of Eyes. Make a mash-up. Tell us the history in your own fashion. He'd like that.

But please don't tell us you're a crusader because you're telling people to steal his hard work.

Posted by jbz at 2:25 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Commonsizing vs. Copyright II

Ah ha! I get to finally use the trackback feature. Thanks to The Madisonian for engaging. As Prof. Madison notes there:

...the argument really does turn out to be about copyright law, not just about fairness to Henry Hampton and his family. The argument for Eyes on the Screen (the campaign) starts from the premise that the copyright to the film may be owned by Blackside, but the real value of the film is the history, not the film. The history isn’t owned by anyone. Moreover, it isn’t just Blackside’s copyright that’s at issue; re-releasing Eyes on the Prize is complex, and the Eyes on the Screen campaign is arguably appropriate, because of copyright clearance issues that have to be resolved for material that the film borrowed from other sources. No one is necessarily a bad guy here. There are just an awful lot of people with irons in the copyright fire.

Here’s the tie to the basic copyright question: Is protecting these copyrights, including Blackside’s, the best way to ensure that the history is widely known? Or is commonsizing the film – long after it was first broadcast and distributed, and long after Henry Hampton’s place in film history was assurred – a better way to share that history?

I would respond as follows. Eyes on the Prize is not the history. The history is not the film. Rather, Eyes is one filmmaker's idea of a presentation of the history, in one medium. Its execution was the work of hundreds of talented people - I don't want to sound like I'm claiming Henry did it all by himself in a garret somewhere! The film came to be, however, because from the time he was a teenager, he worked towards building Blackside, building a team, and doing that movie with them.

As such, claiming that the importance of the history should grant rights to the people to appropriate Eyes on the Prize strikes me as a bit of an overreach. The history is there. It's available in all manner of places. However, my uncle and his colleagues did an awful lot of work to make it available and accessible in one place, and understandable and emotionally meaningful to viewers who did not live through it. That was their contribution. Claiming now that because the history they covered is so very important that their work should be available to all is somewhat akin to proposing a system of Eminent Domain for information and intellectual property. That's all well and good, but who decides? The mob? And using what criteria? If we take Downhill Battle's example, any group of activists with a website can suddenly then declare Eminent Domain on any piece of intellectual property that they wish, set up a website and a BitTorrent link, and have at it.

Let me approach this from another tack. Everyone keeps talking about how there are old clips whose ancient copyrights keep Eyes from being distributed to a new generation. Whether or not one agrees with this, let me point something out. Sonny Bono copyright extensions or not, Eyes itself was made only around eighteen years ago. Its rights rest not in the hands of Henry's descendants, but in the hands of his sisters - one of whom is older than Henry was. He passed away not due to old age but due to complications from treatment for lung cancer at an early age. So when you are advocating the distribution of Eyes, you're not just advocating the distribution of some fifty-year-old clip in contravention of the copyright laws - you're advocating the distribution of a piece of work which it took my uncle thirty years of his life to get made - and, were it not for lung cancer, he would likely be sitting here fuming at. This is not a dusty piece of should-be-public domain information.

If you truly think that Eyes on the Prize is so important that it should be freely available to anyone without recompense, then again, what is the motivation for the sponsors who originally supported Eyes on the Prize to do so again? What is the motivation for the filmmakers like my uncle, who work for pay and for art and duty, to do their jobs? Not out of fear for their legacy in years to come, but out of worry for their rights to their work if people can slap their work up on a website because someone has judged it 'too critical to let lapse' when they themselves are working to get it rereleased, without even asking if that's the case?

This isn't about money. This is about ownership, pride thereof, and control of one's creation. If Henry had had the money when making Eyes to clear the rights to those clips in perpetuity, you damn well better believe he would have. But he was operating on tight funding, and his choice allowed the movie to be made, aired and sold - if even for a limited time. His thinking was (from what he told me) that if the film was a success (and they didn't know if it would be) that later they could fundraise for additional rights clearances and re-issue the film. That's what is going on today, and that's what this protest movement is jeopardizing.

Posted by jbz at 10:14 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 28, 2004

A spray of darker tone for the delectation of the sighted

The darkness is in matched cones, one forward and one back. Spumes of light and dark. What interrupted the quiet whispers of the pale thin winds then must have been a shock, too solid and too bright - and too soon accepted into the scenery. A night of jarring difference, perhaps, before a dawn of wonderment and awe, replaced by the next which was to bring only the same scene again, bereft of change.

For nearly a year.

Now, however, change has come, and it is curious - sniffing cautiously at the scene of this, its own one-time disturbance.

I have been transported, momentarily - the curiosity and inquisitiveness that made my distant ancestors come down from trees, till the soil, build cities, travel over the next hill - those qualities have suddenly liberated me across the scorched and freezing miles and embodied me in a clicking, whirring form of metal and plastic. I have come to see - and the view is wondrous.

It's unreasonable to be emotionally proud of a small machine, much less one I had no hand in building. But, damn it, I am, of both of them.

Keep rolling, little brothers. Keep seeing.

Posted by jbz at 10:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 21, 2004

At least it's not just me.

After my previous entry, finding a reference to this incident in The Agonist just make me reach for the keyboard.

One 'good' thing about the current 'travel security' idiocy, I must say, is that it affects and angers a broad, broad spectrum of people. Take, for example, former Republican Congresswoman Chenoweth-Hage (R-ID). Described as 'ultraconservative,' this is someone I doubt I would share many positions with. Here, however, is something in which I can find instant identification with her. She was recently taken aside for an 'extra pat-down' at an airport security search under new TSA regulations. When she asked to see a copy of the regulation giving the TSA the authority to do this, that's when the fun started. The following is quoted from Secrecy News, the Federation of American Scientists project on Government secrecy. The content is, in fact, taken from The Idaho Statesman:

"She said she wanted to see the regulation that required the additional procedure for secondary screening and she was told that she couldn't see it," local TSA security director Julian Gonzales told the Idaho Statesman (10/10/04).

"She refused to go through additional screening without seeing the regulation, and she was not allowed to fly," he said. "It's pretty simple."

Chenoweth-Hage wasn't seeking disclosure of the internal criteria used for screening passengers, only the legal authorization for passenger pat-downs. Why couldn't they at least let her see that? asked Statesman commentator Dan Popkey.

"Because we don't have to," Mr. Gonzales replied crisply.

"That is called 'sensitive security information.' She's not allowed to see it, nor is anyone else," he said.

Now, I don't know Ms. Chenoweth-Hage, nor much about her. I don't know anything about Mr. Gonzales other than his quote above. However, I will say this: based simply on that quote, Mr. Gonzales is an indicator of a trend which is, to me, extremely disturbing. While I have no problem at all with the notion of my government having information which the general public should be unable to access for reasons of security, there is no defensible reason to this citizen that the content of a law or regulation used to restrict our behavior, most especially those used to limit our freedoms - of speech, of action, of travel, of association - should ever be hidden from the view of the public. The transparency and public accountability of our legal system is what holds our nation and our system apart from the very things we purport to fight and oppose in this world.

"Sensitive security information?" What the hell is 'sensitive security information?" The fact that they can do it? Well, no longer. The names and identity of those responsible for giving them that power? That would be exactly the reason these things cannot be hidden from the public eye. The 'criteria' for which people can be pulled aside for searches? Note carefully that the Statesman said that that wasn't what the Congresswoman asked for. And their excuse as to why? "Because we don't have to."

"Because we don't have to" is the excuse of thugs, dictators, and sociopaths. "Because we don't have to" is the excuse of people hiding behind rules they have gamed to allow them bad behavior. It is the whining cry of someone who knows they have done wrong but has found a way to avoid making it right. It is the puling of someone who cannot be allowed to exercise power over the average American citizen in the conduct of his or her daily life.

Please don't stand for this. There are ways to express your disapproval. Number one: don't fly if you can avoid it. Number two: write your congressional representative and express your strong disapproval. Number three: learn everything you can about the legal limits of TSA searches, and be sure not to let them trespass over the line. If a TSA employee transgresses the limits of legal or acceptable behavior, do what Penn Jillette did - call a cop, and make a report. Use the bureaucracy against itself. Jam the system. Don't be a sheep.

Back to the original point. There is hope, here. Things like this tend to create coalitions. Congresswoman Chenoweth-Hage may not (I say, again, may not, because I know nothing really about her) understand what it is to be pulled aside for 'random' extra security searches - not once for a humiliating pat-down, but twelve times out of the twelve times you have flown since 9/11, as I have. Why? Well, they won't tell me, because of course the criteria are 'sensitive security information.' Note that I have less of a problem with that than with her case, as I mentioned above! However, if the Congresswoman and I were ever to meet, and if she and I had in the past not had much of anything to agree on politically (this is pure supposition) well, then - the TSA has just given us something. They have given us something on which to build an alliance, and whether it is one of convenience or not is irrelevant - in politics, all alliances are of convenience to some degree. The point is, when people like Congresswoman Chenoweth-Hage, and Senator Kennedy, and Mr. Jon Gilmore, much more than people like myself, all start getting stopped at airports and pulled aside - well, then, we can hope that this small piece of common anger may contribute to bipartisan solutions.

Here's hoping.

Posted by jbz at 9:52 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 19, 2004

Welcome to America, land of the free. Papers, please?

It's a pity, too - I was just starting to really like the Amtrak Acela service, touting it to my friends and acquaintances as a 'civilized' way to get up and down the Northeast Corridor of the U.S. Then they go and completely ruin the thing. This is one of those small things that makes my spine cold; it makes me wonder what I'll tell my children one day when they ask me why I didn't see it coming, or if I did, why I didn't do something.

I remember when the Republicans used to shout that Democrats and Liberals wanted to turn the Freedom Loving United States into the Socialist Paradise of the East, where you had to produce papers just to travel around your own country. Shocking. Where's that outrage now? Bruce Schneier wrote an essay recently on this form of 'safety check' in which he tore all manner of holes in it on simple logical, functional reasons, much less philosophical ones. There simply is no defensible reason to do this kind of thing except to 'make people feel like they're being protected' - when they're really not.

The ultimate ineffectual nanny state.

They want me to produce ID during random checks on an Amtrak train. Why? Not to prove that I'm not on a watch list, or anything like that, no no. They are "not intended to determine a person's identity." Amtrak claims these on-train checks are merely to ensure that "the person who's traveling with the ticket is the person whose name is on the ticket." However, these checks are being made "as a precaution against terrorist attacks."


So my ability to travel inside my country, on one of the most eminently unhijackable modes of transport available, is now subject to 'random' (coughprofilingcough) identity checks that by design won't catch anyone who is intelligent enough to ensure that they actually use their fake ID to purchase their ticket.

That would include, what, any high-schooler who has ever successfully managed to illegally purchase alcohol, I would imagine.

So much for the Acela.

Posted by jbz at 2:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 17, 2004

The highs and lows of America

Yesterday we reached up high. NASA flew the X-43 scramjet testbed at a speed of Mach 9.something, approximately 6,600 miles per hour at altitude - the highest airspeed ever reached by a jet aircraft. The scramjet is one of those technologies that might truly change the world again - imagine traveling from New York to Sydney in under two hours in a sub-orbital scramjet, for not much more fuel cost than a conventional jetliner trip. We're a long way from that, but in modern aerospace 'a long way' doesn't translate nicely into years - the Wright brothers to the Lunar surface was not so very many, after all.

Today, we seem to be reaching down into the depths. I see that the U.S. House of Representatives (Thank you Toby for correcting me) is considering amending its rules in order to allow members under indictment by their home states' legal systems to retain their posts in the national body. This is, as many have noted, a transparent 'thank you' to Tom Delay, who faces a threat of just such a penalty for his recent shenanigans but would (if the measure passes) be able to retain his Senate positions, a measure of payment for the recent Republican gains made during the recent elections from a grateful GOP majority.

This is not just disturbing, it is disgusting.

Without even going into a discussion of whether or not it would be proper for a Congressman to retain his or her positions in that situation, the very timing of this move, and the circumstances which surround it, stink of the worst kind of blatant and uncaring political 'machining' which I (for one) had thought confined to the histories of New York and Chicago ward politics, or perhaps the State Legislatures of more colorful history. I had assumed, especially given the lip service (for that is what it now appears to have been, and I am ashamed to have been taken in) that the GOP offered towards accountability and responsibility towards the system, ethics and leadership during their merciless pursuit of any and all minor transgressions (real and imagined) during the Clinton administration.

There are problems facing this country from without which defy our best efforts to date to solve them. There are problems within which beggar our resources. Handling these challenges will require not only wisdom, intelligence, perseverence and riches but a strong sense of what we as Americans believe to be right, held in each of our hearts. One of the amazing parts of the American system is that it works despite the fact (or because of the fact) that that vision of what is 'right' is not the same for each of us. What must be the same, however, is our commitment towards making things better for all, despite our differing opinions on what 'better' may mean. We have to agree that without our souls, hearts and minds, this experiment will fail.

This is where I take comfort when fights rage over religious beliefs, and over interpretations of the Constitution. I don't let it slacken my efforts in the struggles; not at all! That would be counter to the intent. However, I draw what comfort I can from knowing that that struggle, waged with words and printing presses and voices and even bullhorns and signs and, yes, lawsuits, is what makes us all win, because we don't fight it (mostly) with guns, knives, fists and clubs. We may hate, and some of us have become experts at mobilizing the hate, which is regrettable. However, no matter how close it has appeared to have come, that mobilization of hatred has not, to date, entered mainstream American political discourse as violence amongst ourselves - and to that small, tattered victory I will cling for comfort.

This is what makes the slow decline of our leaders' behavior even more repellent to me - leaders of both 'sides' if there can be said to be sides. In this particular case, the GOP majority (or a subgroup thereof) have decided to leverage the slim popular victory they have won, through whatever means legal or otherwise, moral or otherwise, divisive or otherwise, not for the good of the people of America, but for the rewarding of a crony by shielding him from due process. Mark that - not from due process of a 'blue state' even, or the 'national agencies' that the president seems to feel are full of 'disloyal' people - but from the efforts of his own home state to potentially enforce its laws against him. To, in fact, retain him as a national representative and officeholder, potentially against the 'will' of the Texas legal system - thereby disrupting the legal representation of the Texan citizenry.

This is wrong.

This is what must be stopped.

Couple this with a President who seems to be making more and more personnel and policy decisions based not on facts, on evidence, or even on argument but on 'personal loyalty' - and you have an administration of the United States Government, in both the Executive and Legislative branches, actively working to subvert the very principles on which the system was laid down.

I am a fervant believer in and defender of the United States, and of its system of Government. As such, I do believe that I would do whatever I was able to defend the President of the United States, his administration and the Congress from harm and to carry out their lawful orders, in the unlikely event I found myself in a situation where my actions mattered. As a consequence of being a patriot and defender of the United States, however, I am also a firm believer that it is my right and duty to point out and proclaim abuses and misbehavior on the part of those who hold those offices which I would and will do so much to defend - and thus, here and now, I mouth off.

I love this country. It's cheesy, but true. I weep for it, right now - I'm proud of it, I'm angry at it, I'm ashamed of it and more. I spend a great deal of time trying to determine what I can do to change things, a great deal of time not liking the answers I come up with (heh) and some more time mentally jumping up and down in frustration.

The Democrats lost the election. On the other hand, the Democrats have been so shredded by the recent turbulence in American political thought that it's hard to really even conceive of them as a coherent party, and the GOP obviously knew that. I do think that a large number of the people who voted Republican this past cycle are just frighteningly wrong about a large number of things; people I am ashamed to share my country with, and people I dearly wish I could make go away. On the other had, I also recognize that the large majority of those who voted Republican probably were simply those who felt that the Democrats didn't have a coherent thing to say, much less a better idea; and for whatever they felt about the GOP (like it or not) the GOP did have a single coherent message. Just because I don't like that message doesn't mean anything.

What to do? I think for one thing, the Democrats need to calm down a bit about the whole 'Red State Religious Right Conspiracy.' While there are no shortage of psychos in this country, and while Rove may have in fact won the election by mobilizing a fringe to tip the balance, that doesn't change the fact that the large majority of voters MOST LIKELY (<--note caveat; add 'I believe' to taste) are not radical conservatives, and are not 'blue haters' or the highly telegenic UberChristian psychopaths the media love to troll up and put on TV. They're just folks like us who didn't think our guy had it, is all. No big deal. But every time we mouth off about those few fringe nutjobs, and every time George Stephanopoulos puts one on television and lets him or her froth at the mouth on camera (yes, fuckwit, I'm talking about you) we go into a state of extended victimization where we suddenly believe that the only reason we lost is because the rest of the country is populated by people JUST LIKE THAT.

Bzzzzt. They're like us. A lot of 'em don't even like Bush. Hell, a lot of GOP politicians are heartily embarrassed by the microcephalic little pissant. But they won because that's their job, and because we, frankly, didn't.

So here's my assignment for myself. Not anyone else, because I don't have the authority to assign anything to anyone else (damn, I miss teaching). J.B. - think long and hard about what you do want this country to do, and how you want this country to do it. Think long and hard about what your liberal stance gets you, and what it might get other Americans, that is good. Think about how to explain that to them, calmly, carefully, and as politely as possible. Learn how to cheerfully accept their hostile answers when they tell you to fuck off, and just find another Red Stater to talk to - one who might be more amenable. Success equals Exposure times Kill Ratio. Don't think about how badly Bush is doing - they're smart, and they'll figure that out for themselves. Trying to talk about it just makes you condescending. Talk about what you can offer. Talk about what you and they can do together that the two of you can't do together under the GOP.

Talk about why you love the US. Talk about why they love the US. Talk about why they love where they live. Talk about why you like where you live. We're not that far apart, people. The Mason-Dixon line is important to you, J.B., because you're an arrogant, suspicious, mixed-race New Yorker. Admit it to yourself. Sure, you've been jumped a couple times when south of it, but maybe it's because of that, huh? Talk to people. Make them tell you why you should like the South, or West, or Midwest. Maybe you can tell them something about why they might like the Northeast - at least to visit.

A lot of people in the South and West voted Democrat. More could do it. Find the common ground. Come down off your fucking podium and drink the water.

Be an American.

Posted by jbz at 8:16 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 5, 2004

Biting the hand that feeds...

I'd actually been idly wondering about this in the aftermath of the election, and happily for me, someone on the internet did it. Here is a brief look at which states receive the least (and most) federal funding per dollar they pay in federal taxes, and how those states voted. I won't spoil the surprise.

Posted by jbz at 1:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 3, 2004

Tinker's Damn

This is a story, born of depression and a recent experience with broken bones. I've been noodling around with it, and it's at last in a state where I can show it without cringing too much, so here it is. I really see it as a Sin City style comic - to that end, someone may be kind enough to contribute art if they have time. We'll see. (note: the brackets are Everything2 links. If you're not reading this directly from my blog, which has a macro to handle them, they may show up oddly.)


Sitting in gin joints was at least one-half my life. Wherever the iron men were, there I was, too. Oh, you wouldn't see me. I'd be around, in the back, corner booth, near the john - you know the type. Couple of beers on the table, couple of shots, all of them clearly on my side of the line. The kind of glassware company that scares off any other sort. Doesn't bother my liver, of course; it's hard as a rock. Maybe harder. Still makes the head spin, though; still numbs pain like old Doc Holliday used to prescribe, they say. The waitress in here was easier to train than most; she just tipped me a professional eye and shrugged, then started bringing a shot and a beer every ten minutes or so. I think she's got a bet going with the bartender. Hope I don't cost her any tip money, though, because tonight, I'm working.

Object of my attentions comes through the door around ten PM. He's down on what little luck he has, and looks nervous on top of that. Has a couple of fast shots of Beam, looks to steady the nerves, then starts looking around the place. I ignore it; he isn't looking for me. Sure enough, his eyes light on me and slide right off. I use the time to wave my shot glass at the waitress who grins at the 'tender. She's probably got her money shorted on me. Oh well. She could've just asked; I wouldn't have lied to her.

* * *

The worst part is when they have to come and ask. I try to tell them that there's no reason they shouldn't; that in fact, it makes it all easier. But they don't listen, or don't hear. I'd been in a bar much like this one, in actual Pitts, when they found me. Was three of them then, literally hats in hands. The bar had been split pretty evenly between the old steelers and the yuppies; these guys had been so out of place they'd crackled. Working ironmen, from one of the small Japanese foundries that had set up shop in the bones of the old plants, using them to experiment and refine techniques; they were the lucky last of a dying breed, and they knew it.

Still, they had pride and family. That's why they'd come.

I don't hide from them. I don't make it easy, but I don't hide from them. If they need me, really need me, they know where I'll be - either near the University or near the mills, near what once was home. In a bar. Like this.

They told me about the man who'd come to town. He was Japanese, like their employers. He wasn't too flashy, but he had a job, and some money to spend. Worked at the plant, so he had to be OK, pulled a full shift and then some. Had some money to lend. Lent it out to a couple of the brothers in need, for the mortgage payments - the new boss liked to pay monthly, and the boys with jobs were still paying off the lean times. Our friend was willing to help. Union boy in Japan; said he was a Union rep, had some discretionary, wanted to spread good will and hoped to see good relations.

I winced. They hunched, knowing themselves for fools, but I nodded encouragement and bought beers.

So comes the day four, five of the brothers are a couple days behind on Shigei's payments, too. Then it comes out. He's Left Hand of the Neon Chrysanthemum - Japanese Yakuza. Yep, he's been looking for a toehold, all right. Still all friendly, though - says all he needs is their mortgages, they can live there for a rent one-half their old payments. Offers them leases and everything. Still, the brothers had some years and pride in those houses, and a couple of them balked, said they'd come up with the scratch. Shigei, he laughed, said sure, take a week.

One got it, One didn't. They found him on the shop floor with a spike through his heart nailing him to a drill press. Cops came in, interviewed everybody, shook their heads.

The next guy late didn't get the one-week extension. They found him spiked to a wall near the slag heap, perfectly through the heart.

So here they were.

I bought them more drinks, sent them home.

Then I went and got the gym bag.

The guys on the shop floor saw me coming through the familiar atmosphere of carbon combustion and tortured metal. Movement slowed in a dozen places, bar stock wavering on its way to diamond teeth while flat plate screamed a more bass note, easing its torment while the operator's foot came off the pedal slightly. I hunched into my trenchcoat, clutching my gym bag to me, and closed the familiar softwood door, the once-bright green paint fading around layers of tan and white into grimy wood grain where hands had worn it down.

Turning left along the wall, I touched the rack of plastic cards for luck (luck always) and kissed my fingertips automatically, even though it had been maybe nine years since I pulled a shift in the shop. A couple of the older guys, though, they nodded to me as I passed, and one or two clutched the bright plastic tags that hung round their necks as they caught my eye, I tried to meet their gazes but always failed, settling for a nod and hunch, scuttling (it felt) along the wall towards the next section, reflexively holding the bag. Most of them gave me my space, nodding and turning away. I might make it through, today.

Not quite.

The whisper came as I was reaching for the knob, almost feeling old, ridged glass in my hand with years of metal dust ground against it. Somewhere outside on Main, a klaxon wailed and a smelter disgorged with a familiar hissing scream that pulled at something deep inside me. I almost missed it, but the thunder from the steel died abruptly and it fell flat into the room. "Who's that, Ern?"

I twitched, hand already on the knob and turning, and another voice cut over in a growl. "Nobody, kid. That's nobody. Eyes on yer drill, dammit." I paused a moment, hoping my gratitude showed in the set of my shoulders, then pulled the door open and marched through.

I wasn't sweating, the shop had good AC; and I couldn't be crying, but my makeup was starting to run.

The second room was quieter, with the muted sounds of power. Hydraulics ruled here, not muscle; where before metal was cut, or drilled, or ripped, here it was crushed and pressed and stretched, science used not as weapon but as persuader. At the moment, there was only one man in it, and he was watching me as I closed the door. I turned to face him. He was probably around seventy, and I had known him since I was an infant.

"Hi there Timmy." His voice hadn't changed. A sad Irish seaman.

"Top of it, Gerry."

He looked me up and down, then shook his head. "Why?"

"Don't ask."

"I ask every time."

"You get the same answer every time."

"It's always the wrong one."

"It's the same as you'll get this time as well."

He limped over the the side of the room and slid a battered gym bench over to where he'd been standing. I moved to it and sat down, shrugging off the trenchcoat and dropping the gym bag on the asbestos-mat floor. I looked up before opening it. He was weeping, silently, but turned away when I looked up. "Your makeup's gone bad, boy."

"I thought it had." I removed a mouthpiece from the gym bag and set it on the bench, then set a fifth of bourbon next to it. The bourbon wasn't going to help me any more than it had Doc Halliday's patients, but the forms must be observed. I adjusted the bench so that my left arm rested comfortably on the machine next to me, then uncapped the flask and drained the bourbon in a convulsive shudder. Dropping bottle and cap back into the gym bag, I moved my arm so that my hand was resting on the work surface. I inserted the mouthpiece, rested my hand flat and examined my knuckles for a moment. No makeup trouble there; they looked worn but serviceable. Hadn't done anything hideous to my hands in months. I spread the hand out flat, the wrist resting over the edge, and nodded at Gerry where he stood by the door.

He turned away, his hand working on the wall.

The press came down.

* * *

My pigeon is still sitting at the bar. He's now had maybe five or six shots of the brown liquor, and now he's nursing a beer. I'm still running through glassware, watching the expectant grin of the waitress droop a little more with each round she brings me as I fail to fall over. Not my problem.

This is a serious steeler's bar. Not like the other night. Guys come in here shaking the dust out of their clothes, and that dust hits the floor with a clang. You can smell the coke and the burnoff on them when they come through under the old faded Stroh's sign with its cracked bell fifteen feet down the aisle past the house-wins pool table. I tried one game on it when I came in, but only the locals will know the hummocks and valleys in that shale; it could be a shag carpet over slag heaps and mine pits in the dark. I move my gaze away from the newcomers, who are heading for a table of friends, back to my own one-way pal. He's just looking at the drinker's friend behind the bar.

Curious, I move to the bar to order a beer, standing just next to him. Our eyes meet once in the mirror, and his look too interested - I look at myself, find a gleam beneath my hat brim, and duck away. The barkeep hands me my beer with a grin, genuine when he sees I'm not staggering. I tip him and take it back to the booth. When the waitress passes again, I order a fresh shot and tip her in apology for the breach of drinker's code.

When the noise level in the bar drops suddenly at the same time as the flat tinkle of the broken Stroh's chime sounds, I know they're here. No need to look. I smooth the leather of my gloves and swig the shot, wishing I'd gotten this one with ice, waiting. The alcohol stings my mouth, a sensation without a taste. Sharp rather than soft, because soft means pain. Time slips backwards again as my palate numbs.

* * *

Among the haze of pain and the complete lack of taste that was the football mouthguard's silicone compound, I could feel Gerry dragging me around on the bench. My hand flopped to the floor, but the pain was already so intense that I just shuddered slightly, enervated by the overload. He'd put my other hand up on the slab, spreading it out flat, and our tears were mixing on my face. I felt hot salt pushing aside the several spots of layered base, flesh tones running down my neck in rivulets of shame and lanolin. Gerry swung my legs up on the bench and I managed to flap my jaw a couple times; he got me balanced and then took the mouthpiece out. It takes him a couple minutes of trying. When it's out, he put his ear to my mouth, where I was biting my tongue to taste the blood, and I managed to get it out between my teeth. "Chest."

He nodded then, looking away, and put the mouthpiece back in. In my memory he moved back to the door. I have several seconds, then and now, to feel the heaviness in my gut and wonder at the time that this sensation makes it through the neural noise before motion caught my eye, and I passed out watching the press slide smoothly down its track again in a ballet of hydraulics and mechanical advantage.

* * *

A clink of glass brings me back, blinking; I've tipped the empty shot glass in my fist. My boy's party is here. There are three of them, and they swagger. One is sharply dressed; Shigei. One is nondescript, with a briefcase; the banker, probably. One is enormous: the enforcer. He's not impossibly big, but he's larger than almost everyone else in the bar. Unlike them, his size is for violence, not hard work, and it shows. He carries only a small case, such as might hold a pool cue. He doesn't drink, nor speak; merely parks himself behind Shigei at the bar while the latter orders a drink. The banker sits on a stool and lays out papers, precisely. My friend from earlier looks down the bar at them. Shigei catches his eye and smiles, beckoning.

Whatever mistakes my quarry has made, he's got brass. He puts down his beer and sidles down the bar. Shigei puts an arm around his shoulders in false companionship; idly, watching, I notice that indeed Shigei has worked Main. He has the burns and calluses of a working steeler beneath his imported silks. He's talking smoothly, easily - he's done this before. My friend isn't playing with the program, though; he keeps shaking his head. Several entreaties to reason, to hope, to harmony follow, me filling in the words across the now muted but still noisy bar. Local boy is afraid, desperate, but adamant - apparently, he doesn't have the mortgage, or can't sign it, or something along those lines. Right on schedule, Shigei gets less friendly, the enforcer starts to look interested, the banker starts stacking (unsigned) papers, and I have to use the bathroom.

This puts me just behind enforcer and my friend as they head down the hall towards the jakes and the back door, local boy's face pinched in pain with one arm behind his back. Nobody's looking, of a sudden. I stagger behind them, my hat down and my collar up, and out the back door, closing it behind me, before turning to look.

The enforcer has local boy up against the wall in the alleyway and looks like he's preparing to administer a suggestion with the lead sap held in his right hand. I clear my throat. Both of them look over at me, one with hope and one with professional interest. I smile and shrug, palms up. Enforcer slowly lowers my friend to the ground, then turns to him and fussily, carefully straightens his jacket and shirtfront. The poor guy looked at him, completely confused, but enforcer just ignores him and turns back to me with a question in his gaze, I bow, shortly but properly. Satisfactory. He nods, then steps back and indicates the door to the local, who looks at him, then at me, panic fighting confusion and hope. I smile and nod once, then remove my hat. He looks at me harder, not quite getting it, so I smudge my face slightly to show the shine. His eyes clear like a dog seeing a duck fly over and he practically soars through the door. Enforcer and I smile at each other and wait.

We don't have to wait long. Shigei comes tearing through it a moment later, dragging the banker. He stops, then lowers the pistol he's holding in one hand to look at both of us. We look back. After a moment of silence, he puts the gun away and hands the enforcer the small case from his other fist. "You are staying for him?"


"That is acceptable."

"Thought so."

"We shall all go to the front, to my car."


The strange parade we are goes around the piss-smelling side of the bar without incident, crossing the moderately busy two-laner and piling into a non-descript minivan. Shigei looks at my face with some interest. "Your face..."


"Is that a fashion here?"

"Nah. Just me. Injury."

"Ah, I see. You are a steel worker? You were?"


He nods, satisfied. Turns around. Enforcer keeps an eye on me as we drive the fifteen minutes to the plant's slag area. Banker stays in the car as Shigei, enforcer and I get out and walk towards the fence surrounding the active slag heap. Heat rolls out at us, despite the last dump having taken place some hours before; the trash metal still glows at the top. I stop at the fence, my back to it. Enforcer has opened his case, and taken out (as expected) a large metal spike.

Shigei cocks his head, every inch the haughty Yak. " You have honor and bravery for an American about to die."

"I'm not worth much." I grin for him. It's not for me.

"Your friend is, then?"

"Sure. More than me."

Shigei just looks a moment longer, then nods. Enforcer raises the spike in what looked like a practiced move and drives it into my chest.

It's akin to being hit by a truck. I stagger backwards, despite being ready for it. There's an earsplitting CLANG and the spike drops. Enforcer screams, his right arm numb and useless, and falls slowly to his knees, looking at the hole in the front of my coat. It's torn now, as is my shirt. I hadn't bothered to put makeup on my chest; there's some blood and meat, but mostly my muscle and visible rib bone where the spike had struck shines dull gold. I grin down at him. He looks up at me, holding his right hand, and I punch him hard in the nose.

My hand breaks through his nasal structure and sinuses, coming to a stop somewhere in the middle of his head. He falls sideways as I pull my ruined glove from the hole, and with the other hand strip it from my gleaming fist. Shigei is babbling at me, gun in his hand but pointed at the ground; I step over to him and say simply "Not my friends," before killing him.

* * *

I had to go back to the minivan and kill the banker, but after that it was just a matter of hauling their bodies onto the top of the slag heap and covering them with metal scraps. I wear fireproof boots, still. Ask the steelers. The minivan might show up, one day, if somebody does a really careful chemical analysis of the next day's meltdown.

After that, it was back to drinking. It takes a few weeks for the brass to fade, heal back into flesh, and it hurts until the moment it's gone. I guess it's better than that disease where you turn into bone and never turn back - but then, I'm not sure. People in those posters always have families around them fighting for them, or doctors hoping to cure them, making it clear they're worth something.

Me? Like I told Shigei, I'm not, haven't been since the day I killed my best friends and family. The guys, I look out for them, and they think I'm worth something. They're wrong, though. Because if they knew the truth, they wouldn't call me what do they when I'm not around, because there's always something not even worth a Tinker's Damn.

Posted by jbz at 4:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 2, 2004


I don't think I have to tell the (likely four) people who read this blog, but if you're an American citizen, then VOTE damn it. This is not a right. It is a privilege. In order to retain the privilege, it must be exercised. If you want this fragile experiment in democracy we call the U.S. to continue, then ACT LIKE IT and go to the polls.

Please note carefully: I am not telling you who or what to vote for. That is a separate message, not part of this one. Vote Bush, vote Kerry, vote Badnarik, vote Nader, vote Alfred E. Neuman. Just vote, damn it. I won't understand you if you vote for some of those choices - but that is my personal opinion, and a matter for debate (if there is any) between you and me if we choose to have one.

We are both American citizens, and as such, no matter who you plan on voting for, I go to the polls with you today as your countryman. VOTE. Make sure your friends vote. Make sure your family votes. Yell at random people in the street and make sure they vote.

Whatever the outcome, the worst of all possible 'morning afters' are the inevitable "if only so-and-so more people had voted..." lines that commentators and spinmeisters love to use, placing all blame for everything on us the voting populace. Don't let them do that. Make sure that no matter what happens, they have to look to their platforms, their ideas, their message, their methods; don't let them just slough off responsibility for a loss on us. Either side.

I will withhold any more partisan political ranting until after the polls close. In the meantime, please, again, VOTE. Thank you.

Posted by jbz at 2:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 22, 2004

Good lord, yes.

I add my small endorsement: go read this. Please. Whatever you may think of Dr. Thompson.

Posted by jbz at 3:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 16, 2004

All hail the Bitchslap

It was refreshing as all hell to hear a heartfelt cry of pain and anger from a man using his hard-gained seat in front of the cameras exhorting the media to at least try to do its job. Kudos, Mr. Stewart, and keep that pimp hand strong.

Posted by jbz at 12:32 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 13, 2004

Imitation life imitates art imitating life, living art. Or something. Ad Astra.

Browsing around various newsbites today on MMORPGs (I am a confirmed junkie of Anarchy Online) I was touched by a recent...don't know a good word. Meme doesn't quite cut it. Fad? Hope not, too insulting. Phenomenon? Maybe. In any case, inside the online massively multiplayer game City of Heroes - which, if you don't know it, is a superhero based game - people have apparently been gathering in virtual flashmobs and leaving their toons online under landmark statues. The pix I saw showed several dozen toons gathered under a Statue of Atlas, all standing in a circle. Most were at attention, saluting; some were on their knees in mourning. Many had dressed their toons in replicas of the original costume of Superman, in homage to the subject of this 'living memorial' - Christopher Reeve, who just passed away.

The sight should be silly - a bunch of virtual people standing there mourning while their 'owners' could be off at work or school for all you know. But it wasn't, to me. Superman lived in that world, a world of shared fantasy, and Reeve embodied Superman to many people. Reeve is being mourned here by many of us. His alter ego, 'the Chris Reeve Superman,' is being mourned by these silent electronic avengers in their patient vigil.

I think he sees them, somewhere, and accepts their respect along with ours. For whatever it's worth, and who am I to say?

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September 29, 2004

Pretty Hate Machine

Fairly depressed. Was surfing various newsbytes, and came a page which offered some English translations of 'man in the street' interviews with Saudi citizens, asking them "Would you shake hands with a Jew?" Their answers do nothing to further my hope for peace, love and understanding.

I don't even know where to begin. I could argue points of view, or reiterate points of fact and reference, but obviously neither of those have any real relevance here. What matters is the situation, not the viewpoints; the causes not the effects. How have we gotten here? How do we get out? I'm not going to cry pithy tears and say that I weep for my brethren in those photos and wish only to educate them; that would be a self-serving and hollow claim. No, I'll limit myself to saying honestly that I want to figure out how we've gotten to this point, all of us; and try to figure out how we get out of it. I want not to go to Saudi Arabia, and I do want to be someone directly responsible for affecting U.S. foreign and military policy towards that nation.

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September 27, 2004


So apparently my employer has finally realized, in another lobe of its elephantine corporate brain, that "Oh my goodness, there's this thing called the internet," and hence we now have an official corporate blogging policy. I wasn't actually aware of this until I happened upon mention of it (ironically) in a co-worker's not-a-blog. It seems to forbid a lot of things. In the interests of full disclosure, I do believe I should set out the juicy bits of it right here and now before going any further.

As I noted earlier, my fun li'l startup (well, not mine, but the one that employed me) was bought by this middlin' large software shop from one of those Mountain states. Ain't sayin' which one, but I will offer the following hint: it has a Pantone color named after it. In any case, here are some relevant bits of the lawyerese that probably now apply to me.

Policy: ------ (my company) encourages personal websites and weblogs, and it respects employees' use of them as a medium of self-expression.


External Websites and Weblogs:
If you choose to identify yourself as a ------ employee or to discuss matters related to ------'s technology or business on your external website or weblog, remember that, although you and the Company view your website or weblog as a personal project and a medium of personal expression, some readers may nonetheless view you as an authorized spokesperson for the Company.  In light of this possibility, please observe the following guidelines:
  • Make it clear to your readers that the views you express are yours alone and that they do not necessarily reflect the views of ------.  To help reduce the potential for confusion, you should put the following notice in a reasonably prominent place on your site (e.g., at the bottom of your "about me" page):


    The views expressed on this website/weblog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

  • Do not disclose any information that is confidential or proprietary to ------ or to any third party that has disclosed information to us.  Consult ACLB1 and ------'s policies concerning confidentiality for guidance about what constitutes confidential information.  

  • Remember that your employment documents give ------ certain rights with respect to concepts and developments you produce that are related to the Company's business.  Consult your manager or human resources if you have questions about the propriety of publishing such concepts or developments related to the Company's business on your site.

  • You may not provide a link from your site to ------'s website. Such a link may cause confusion over the extent to which the Company is associated with or responsible for the content of your external website.  Further, you may not use Company trademarks on your site or reproduce Company material without first obtaining permission.

  • Do not disclose any personal information or opinions that could tip off third parties about ------ business.  For example, if it is known that you are working on an important project at ------ and you announce you are taking a four-week vacation starting on a certain date, it might tip off a product release date.  If you have a strong opinion on a feature of a competitor's product, it might tip off third parties about ------'s product features. 

  • Finally, be aware that the Company may request that you temporarily confine your website or weblog commentary to topics unrelated to ------ (or, in rare cases, that you temporarily suspend your website or weblog activity altogether) if it believes this is necessary or advisable to ensure compliance with securities regulations or other laws.

If you have any questions about these guidelines or any matter related to your site that these guidelines do not address, direct them to your human resources manager. 

1: Ass-Covering Legal Bible, or our corporate catch-all behavior guide. Name Changed To Protect The Consultants' Salaries.

It's not that I have all that much disdain for this policy. As corporate communications policies go, it's actually quite liberal for this day and age, I suppose. I'm just driven to sarcasm and needling by our society and legal system's constant need to to patronize, condescend, micromanage, and lay out in excruciating detail things that really could be boiled down in many cases to 'don't be stupid or evil.'

Especially when, as in the case of Sharp Tools, the blog in question does not reside on my company's computers, network, time, physical space, or any other form of resources other than maybe a couple of my brain cells during the day. I logged on to our intranet to find my private blog already happily listed in our directory of employee blogs, right next to this somewhat intrusive notice of expected behavior, despite my never having submitted it for listing there - my company had gone out, found the blog, listed it next to my name, and applied the policy to me, reaching out to my life outside of work without so much as even emailing me directly.

People tell me I'm an arrogant shit for expecting personal attention in situations like this, and so be it. However, some days, I feel that this sort of impersonal cog-i-fication contributes negatively to my attitude (at least) towards the organizations and PTB that make up corporate America, even as I have to live in it.

So, as long as this is my own little space on the web, stick it to the Man, people. Let's have a detailed look at that bit of lawyer poop, shall we?

The first few sentences are reasonably inoffensive. Then we get this gem: "You may not provide a link from your site to ------'s website. Such a link may cause confusion over the extent to which the Company is associated with or responsible for the content of your external website." Oh-kay. Right. So let's just toss out the ENTIRE CONCEPT OF THE WEB while we're at it. We can't trust websurfers to ever understand that a link from a private site to a company could EVER OCCUR without said company's connivance and agreement, oh my no. This is how such rampant stupidity as sites attempting to require legal agreement to link to them occurs. While I might have some respect for this position were I to ever, in fact, claim to speak for my employer (which I don't, to the point of reproducing their witty little disclaimer above) I in fact view it with much the same level of glee I view this little gem of a story.

Moving right along.

"If you have a strong opinion on a feature of a competitor’s product, it might tip off third parties about ------'s product features." In other words, I'm now no longer allowed to wax enthusiastic about the field in which I work, which, I had thought, was the entire point of having a blog in the first place - and, in fact, one of main reasons people who found my blog through that handy directory at my company might ever want to read it. They most likely don't care that my cat has now reached a most improbable curb weight (although he has, that of approx. 21 lbs) or that my favorite word at the moment is sussurate. I like computers and software. That's why I work in this field. I like talking about them, and I have strong opinions. I plan on retaining these characteristics, and I plan on talking about them. In fact, most of the blog entries relating to my immediate job and those of my immediate coworkers relate quite closely to software products and those of our competitors - because we work on open-source software. If your lawyers couldn't even be bothered to learn what open-source software was before handing out this stream of crap, I can't even be bothered to take it seriously before snorting and turning back to my Macintosh.

Thank you very much.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled monkey inanity.

Posted by jbz at 11:52 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 19, 2004


An old schoolmate and colleague of mine Raymond Chen just put up some nicely interesting data on his weblog. He apparently carefully saves every piece of spam that makes it through his corporate spamfilters to his account, preserving them much as a fastidious Englishman might fold his hanky over a juicy piece of sputum before pocketing it, and once in a while he doles out some lovely bits of data such as this.

Ray already goes into most of the really interesting conclusions there on the page. I find myself wondering what a similar graph for me would look like; while I typically save big chunks of spam to train each new generation of heuristic filter, I don't have any unbroken chains anywhere near that long. Data like this is the source of so many of those "Hey, I wonder..." questions that sometimes end up producing the Really Good Ideas, though. Good on ya, Ray.

Posted by jbz at 8:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 9, 2004

Pusillanimous liars and other U.S. Specialties

Go look at this. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one needs to be worth ten million votes at least. The shamelessness of it just takes my breath away. Stack that on top of this and I just don't know what to say. Who are the people who believe these men are a better choice? Why do they believe this? How can we fix this?

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August 25, 2004

His Brain is in an Undisclosed Location

I can't help but gaze suspiciously on the Vice President's recent public straying from the reservation. On the one hand, it could indeed just be a somewhat ham-handed attempt to soften the GOP's stance towards non-far-right 'family values' voters - to allow them to vote for the GOP, if you will. On the other, it might be something else.

Stories have been rife for months now about the drag on the ticket that Mr. Cheney represents, with his poll numbers ranging from poor to abysmal. Could it be that this is the beginning of an effort to divorce him from the ticket? A highly contentious issue in which he describes his difference of opinion with the President wouldn't be much of a story, save for the almost religiously monolithic nature of White House and even Republican party platform and position message to date. On the one hand, it is still before the GOP convention, albeit only a couple of days before; this would allow his removal to occur through the selection of an alternate candidate rather than actually removing him from a final ballot. On the other hand, this late in the game, if such a maneuver were attempted, it would surely raise a furor amongst the delegates (and, one would hope, the party members) who have dispatched their proxy to New York City based on what would be an obsolete platform.

I know, it's all musings, not very likely ones even. Still. I'm not sure how I come down on this issue - as an angry liberal, I would say that anything that makes the GOP ticket less electable, the better. Whether leaving an unpopular VP candidate on or causing the furor is worse is a comparison I don't know how to make. Also, it seems like it would fail at least one 'likelihood' test - especially given this administration's fairly high-handed attitude towards their responsibilities and promises to the electorate, simply waiting until after the election and then replacing Mr. Cheney (convenient heart attack, again) would cause the least trouble.

Unless, of course, they're really worried he's jeopardizing their election chances.

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August 3, 2004

Thought Experiment

A quick counterfactual. Suppose we had a Democratic administration, say, under Slick Willie. Suppose that under this administration's aegis, gas prices in urban U.S. areas went from under $1.50/gallon to over $2/gallon. How many outraged screams from pro-business commentators would we hear about the incompetence of the energy policy, foreign policy as applies to oil, and economic policy of said administration? To say nothing of the calls for releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve? Now think about the past few weeks. Think about the Vice President's steadfast refusal to hand over papers relating to his 'task force' on energy to Congress. Think about the complete silence.

Depressing, isn't it?

Update: As of today 8.4.2004, Cheney has officially blamed the Democrats for rising energy prices because - I kid you not - they have not supported his energy policy recommendations.

Posted by jbz at 1:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 19, 2004

Smile, You're on Bored Fed Camera

Wake up (it's 1984)...

- Oingo Boingo

For those of us who would prefer not to be the subject of law enforcement cameras without a damn good reason, it just got a bit harder to live in Boston.

Essentially, a whole load of existing surveillance cameras downtown plus a bunch of new ones to be installed for the DNC convention are going to be linked together into a giant surveillance net, courtesy of the Federal Government. Whee. Not only that, according to the article over 30 of the cameras will be remaining in place after the convention, where they will be used by the Boston Police Department. Their quote: "We own them now. We're not going to put them in the closet."

Oh, joy. That's a great reason for using them. 'We have them, might as well.'

This is how things start, and more importantly, this is how things get worse. A small little reasonable-sounding bite at a time. Sure, the DNC is going to involve hectic craziness, so sure, it makes sense to have cameras keeping an eye on things, especially protesters. Schyeah.

What can we do about it? I don't know. Sounds like it's too late to protest it, although we can certainly voice our disapproval in local elections and to our representatives. Given the rush to seem 'on board for Homeland Security,' though, I don't know how much good that'll do.

Of course, we can all become jammers. That's one thing we can do.

Just because the cameras are there, doesn't mean we have to ignore them. During the convention, or any time, hold up a big sign reading "YOU ARE UNDER SURVEILLANCE BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT" with an arrow pointing to the camera. Show it to passers-by. I wonder how the Feds and cops will feel about this?

I had an idea a few months back about these things. I recall musing on how expensive it would be to put together a bunch of small adhesive disks, each with a small, center mounted laser diode, mounted in a glob of silicon or gum. Every time I see a camera pointed at me in a public place, find a spot to stick the disk, aim the diode at the camera, turn it on, and leave. Or, better yet, stick around with a camera of my own, and when the Men From Behind the Camera show up to remove the disk, photograph/tape them obsessively.

Fed and BPD cameras, this is probably a good way to get arrested. It probably is worth it. On the other hand, it's a good way to screw with all those random commercial surveillance cameras watching public space, whose tapes the FBI and police seem to have so much fun going to nab all the time. Large buildings with overeager security forces are a prime target.

Hm...I can't see those costing more than maybe a couple bucks each, in quantity 25 or so...heh.

Posted by jbz at 12:16 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 13, 2004

What would make you pick up a gun?

I used to say that it would have to be something unthinkable.

Now, I'm not planning on it. I'm not even expecting it. It's just that I have passed another ideological Rubicon in this strange crusade to power of the Neocons and the Bush administration.

First of all, go read this. I'll wait.

This is an article that, regretfully, I have to trust to foreign news services to give the treatement I believe it deserves. Please pay special attention to the last few paragraphs, reproduced below:

No US presidential election has ever been postponed.

Abraham Lincoln was urged by some aides to suspend the election of 1864 - during the US Civil War - but despite the expectation that he would lose, he refused.

"The election is a necessity," Lincoln said. "We cannot have a free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forgo, or postpone, a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered us."

All I can think of to say, in the face of the overwhelming stupidity of this move on the part of the, Homeland Security department, and through them, the Bush administration,


In the first, most simple and tactical place - you've lost. The very fact that this has leaked to the media has ceded the initiative. As well stand on rooftops and scream the obvious: "We're frightened of you, and we're ruthless opportunists!" Just making these requests indicates that the possibility has occurred to those in charge; ergo, a free insight into their reactions to attacks by others on the U.S. at that sensitive time. Bravo, boys, hand over the battleplan.

There remains the possibility that this is what they might term a 'clever ploy' and that there will later be a press release of frantic spin, something along the lines of "Yes, we were daring them to make a move during the day of highest alert in order that we might engage."

This doesn't indicate strength. It indicates that not only have you not defeated or even significantly slowed the adversary, but that you don't even know where to look for them and hence must clumsily lay ambuscades - ambuscades not around a dry hole, but around your crown in fact. The election, the act and the event, is the Democracy (O much-invoked name) of the United States of America. If a civil war could not rattle it, then how can this? Can this, truly, be worse than that conflict? I think not. We remain strong, free, prosperious despite the best efforts of the current Presidential administration.

If one was truly worried that Al-Qaeda could produce a disruption equivalent in scale to a full-scale civil war - nay, surpassing that - then perhaps planning is in order - but quietly, secretly, behind the scenes, and NOT planning to give away the store. Planning to ensure that the election comes off no matter what happens - defying hell or high water. Such defiance is what gives this country strength! Defiance of adversity, not craven cowering in bureaucratic delay, ESPECIALLY when said delay threatens the very ideas on which the country is built.

What, then, would you do? When would you consider that the line had been crossed? Suppose, for argument's sake, the election is delayed. Do you, personally, feel that a wrong has been done you? Are you a voter? If so, WHY NOT? They have moved to steal your franchise in the name of the Unseen Enemy.

The Germans have a word for this. Putsch.

Do NOT let this happen here.

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July 9, 2004

Singing Supraluminal

the end-all grail and be-all goal since hydrogen first condensed to mist; to overcome the barrier that has been placed by God or Chance or pre-ordained rule.


Know where you are. Know where you're going. Wish upon a star; bring all online and push with legs cross-connected to the vagaries of comp. Squint once, twice; bring lenses back with grav-fields strobing in the dark (arrows to the universe, a turn-signal none can or should ignore) and then taste the different spectrum of the black.


SLAM systems as they jump, the nonexistant nano lights sliding up the tone to green inside your head. Where your head was, at any rate. Glissando in their laugh, ten, twenty, forty-five; a thousand thousand settling down upon your skull a billion points that put all to shame to sing their go-song deep inside the brain.


Slowly, massive, physics jealous guarding its longtime grip. Feel the Hohmann pathways part and listen to the steady silence in the water gap play into your ears. Small blue marble far, far below and then behind; clouds mask its face, the rain weeping to see you go but proud (so proud) of what mankind has wrought. This, you, it, then, now.


Secondaries fully lit, with blazing torches sweeping spacelanes clear. Scything out past the radiation haze, the places back behind alight with glory of the dying matter! Flicker your God-spawned light onto the small dark rocks and imagine (just a moment, then) that small, long-sleeping eyes do blink and open, swiveling to watch you pass. A wordless, soundless, yet still-felt cheer from all the silent denizens of the deep that have watched us for so, so long as you pass by - a rousing hurrah! from planetismals small and large, their winking facets of high albedo pushing back the light we cast. Thinking of them, waiting for those countless years, you sigh a bit and throw a mental wave to all your fellow Solians. Think, then, of the familiar bright and yellowed light that we have shared.


The mains have woken now, somewhere behind; unfathomable Murgatroyds of physics born and magic raised are spinning up. Energies that deities both Greek and Goth would have killed in one of their endless operatic spats if only to control for just one minute - here they are, at last, yours, ours, only to exist to help us go. Rhyming doggerel that sounds your path, whispered in the tearing shriek of too-slow particles across front shields-

Feynman and Einstein shout for von Braun-
Run for the dark as fast as you can.
Schwartzchild, Hawking, Newton, Kaku
Chandrasekhar and Planck will dance for us too
Pull the string, dig the hole, spin it and call:
"With strangeness and charm we'll jump o'er the wall!"

Put words to deed, channel the strangeness and capture the charm; color us spincycle. There is a blaring in the soul, a shouting in the sea of years, a long slow rupture of the universe that sounds (for want of better term) like a tortured bass violin as a bow some light-years long is drawn across its adamantium strings. Colors that never were will flicker then around the front, as starlight is drawn into a tunnel fore and aft. Wave to our patient silent neighbor Jove as we scream through the old God's front yard, tearing several unknown moonlets into component ice and dirt -

some days later those back home will see the show as particles stream down from upabove into the endless sea of Jupiter, their shining beacon suicide reminiscent of Hale-Bopp lo those years ago


parting, sliding, twisting in their darktime cells the mains struggle; titans move beneath our skin in ancient dance of stones. With sudden locking into step and place and time, we vow-

...leave nought but footprints across the EM band and deed to those behind your lightshow concert of the unreal, slip sideways out from up and under...


Posted by jbz at 3:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 29, 2004

Interstitial Elevator

To turn just left of true, a shade right of false, below the knock-head ceiling of the world.


Reasons for pursuit are manifold but less well known. Alighting on the stairs, stepping out into the hall, cutting across the flow of the myriad pedestria cluttering the public ways, they make their turns. Sometimes, some times and in some places, then, they do not go unseen; a longing, insomniac wandering, perhaps a memory strange and unbidden is their momentary undoing.

You have seen them, too, or else you would not still be reading.

Oh, so close; so near and so fine. The emulation of the simulation of the facsimile of anima, other words both useless and prized. Resulting simulacra; deft and lithe, they dance across your vision. It is a rare and subtle moment, that one time you may in fact just...stop. Stop and look; retrace, go back, search, seek, perhaps (in wonder) find. They weren't a vision, nor a dream; rather, sight of the sightless, not unseen for once in oh those many transits of our vision.

Motion normal, action familiar, path plausible, even, but...still. Something that is wrong will gently touch tongue to teeth and tap with hesitation at your will, enough to bring you to a halt (to break the flow of day or night) and send you back. In blandest sweet, the taste of salt; a streak of sour in the sense of time. Into the path of others, yes, they came...without collision, nor disturbance, yet they turned (again) so shortly thereupon and then were lost.

Now we come to it. There was nowhere for them to go. There was nowhere from whence they came; that one small time you turn to look, a dead-blank wall will stare back from the point at which their presence first was known and took you by surprise. A dare, perhaps, to have you see the entrance from their world if only you could tell it from your own; a wall that is (to them) a door, faceless wonders enter our foyer of the real on errands swift and silent call.

What, then, to do?



Eventual, it comes. To you once you have made the switch; evinced a change inside your brain which will not let you let them by but from then on will twitch with notice of the strange. There, that one there; came from the alley 'cross the way WHICH ISN'T THERE and then with nimble trick did dance away again between the two parked cars, without emerging on the sidewalk on the other side. Entranced, you make your way back to the point upon the street from which they did come, and then - brief small trick - there is a flicker, on the wall; a blackness strobing in the deep that brick nor mortar nor the weight of stone can hide. There; there. Touch the place and taste the time, reach out with all you have within-


If then you're fortunate, nay, blessed, a small plain hole may then appear. A tiny point of anti-light which will become the key with which you may unravel all that is dear and plain and, yes, familiar to you now.

Anonymous, without their names but with their selves worn proudly on their belts they walk. Can you join the dance? Can you pick up the motions from the study of the trance of years in which the others walk? Perhaps you can. Perhaps you too will learn to turn hard left into the wall, to slip between where others fall and then to find yourself inside the elevator of the interstitials, level change and static slant where (only there) your name means nought but what you brought. If you're lucky.

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June 23, 2004

Transcendence through Anonymity

There is a beauty and a joy in the blankness that can be attained. A soothing form of balancing, knife-edged and fine in the interstitials of the buzzing hum that is today. Look:

one::one - rejection/ erasure/ repulsion/ destruction - one::one

There. That one, there; the small girl with the brush-cut bristled hair - watch her feel the patterns of the wall with the neurons in her back - the small of which is nestled in the corner near the street. She watches traffic, foot and car, for the one she knows she'll meet inside the witching hour of the day. This day. This night. A lost and then-found treasure; who can say? Perhaps, then, you see the trail of breadcrumbs lost and ragged reaching from beneath her skirt and 'round the corner. Lagged off behind her, pick one up, the morsel of the whiteness in your palm - it's not bread, no, it's paper, plastic white and hologram. Identity, shredded, lost and dropped askew to scatter on the winds until it blows away. No longer true, it cannot hold her caged within, but flutters sideways past the grimy metal of the wasteman's bin into the puddle waiting near the curb. Look:

one::two - acceptance/flattening/leaching/purity - two::one

Farther down the street, a young boy sits. He's perched atop a dumpster, playing absently with a deck of pasteboards so dirty as to be nigh identical, none wishing to betray the winning hand (or, William, the Dead Man's Hand). Instead, the brownish slice of cards that flutter wildly in his grip. Somewhere, somewhen, he's read a book which talks about the freedom that can be found here once one has cast the self out. He has, some days ago. Longer down the trail than the girl we still can see (in the distance) watching the cars go by with still-wet tears of parting for the world. Climbing to his feet, our young man shades his eyes against the rays of the setting sun (which pierce the smog down here reluctantly, if at all). He swings down off the bin, cards magically vanished on his person, heading off down the street for a destination we don't know. His appointments we don't know nor understand, which is the point - he isn't here, nor there, as yet, his blankness just begun to show in the relaxation of his face, which doesn't strain for us. No more. Look:

one::three - recognition/flowering/manifestation/one hand clapping - one::three

Jump up and over, gentles, over cornice and rooftop all as one. Two blocks, nay, three, then fifteen more, across this unknown town to shore of water empty of a name. See, there? On the gravel, near the edge? The older woman there with the dog, who sits and watches out across the black surface of the river with her hand atop the hound's warm head. Tongue lolling, it sits beneath her palm, content to feel her pulse against its closed eyelids while it breathes. The ripples come ashore in train; marching to a distant heart beneath the town which hums and roars and SHOUTS A NAME OUT to the night. Us? We cannot hear it. She couldn't if she wished, but knows it anyhow - so too does her companion, paws, tail, coat and tongue. Ripples tickle at her soles, her paper shoes tapping lightly on her skin. Small bumps in the world, form through distortion, object through precessing packet of energy, they each nip (doglike) at her feet. Her face is light; no features there, just shadows, really, suggesting of the person that once she was. Was, of course; is is not the word this time. A glowing thing or place that is her self. No-one as defined by us and here. Of course there lives within a person unique and pure, unfettered by the chains of name and past; that person has chosen what to let escape and this is what we get: this glow, this light, the beauty that she is with dog beside her watching proof of Brownian motion trickle home. Look:

one::four - D I S T O R T I O N - one::four

a warmth on skin or play of light: that's all. We stop and hesitate, our paths brought short as we travel through the day. We don't know why. A ray of sun perhaps? Or, there, a warm short breeze, a ripple in the day's hot space that shows itself to us (a wavelet) passing by and gone before we could ever gain a hold. The echo of lost and gone-by footsteps tripping off the bricks in reflected soundscapes worthy of a lost and ruined Gothic manse - sound coming back to us in tricks and queer small packets of the world wrapped thin with tissue paper for our daily tasting of the here. They walk by, thus, those who have no they and want no more; they pass among the walkways of our lives in warmth and scent and color, their nonself serving to expose the wonders of their beings, of their selves with which they gift us in their passing ways. A gift which could not survive the cold and lines of the rigid ways and times with which we bind our days. Look. Look.


Posted by jbz at 12:35 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 22, 2004

Presidents real and imagined

Giving in to gross fantasy is something I have long been unable to resist. Tonight is no different, but it struck me that the fantasy was not so much a happy one as a 'less sad' one. Watching The West Wing, I witnessed the composite personality known as Jed Bartlet (a creation of writers, directors, actors and others) suffer the loss of a secret team of U.S. Army commandos on a rescue attempt inside Colombia. While the moral problem that the fictional Commander-in-Chief struggles with is the main focus of the episode - that of the choice between military action with uncertain results and negotiating with criminals - I found my attention caught by the final images of the show.

In that sequence, President Bartlet is shown waiting at four in the morning, in the rain, at Dover AFB for the bodies of the slain commandos to arrive home. As each coffin is carried off the Coast Guard C-130, dress-uniformed soldiers carry it away from the airplane and pause directly in front of the President before slowly turning and carrying it off.

The rub is this: I cannot, for the life of me, put George W. Bush's face on that fictional president, in that scene. I cannot see that man standing in the rain at night in secret, where no camera will ever see, greeting each of those silent accusations for no other reason than a sense of duty. Every time I try it, I see his attention wander; his feet shuffle, his gaze travel away - the perfect image of a bored ten-year-old who doesn't understand why he's been brought somewhere and why he's supposed to remain solemn.

I recognize this is fantasy. I recognize it is built solely on my image of my President, as wrong and incomplete as that image most likely is. But that's how it is.

Posted by jbz at 1:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 12, 2004

We need to stop bickering and be the citizens we need to.

This is a rant I posted to Brad Delong's blog in a comment thread (and later to Everything2) regarding a Sy Hersh speech. The entry is here.

This is a personal exposition from an American who has long been against the war and Bush. Please don't think I'm saying this to excuse myself. Quite the opposite is true. What truly upsets me about the arguments here is that, in fact, there is something positive about them that should be encouraged, not drowned in ideological sniping or personal attacks.

I'm sorry, that came out accusatory, and it wasn't meant to be. I'll try to be more clear. On both sides of the fence, above, are examples of people (Americans and others) stating that they are in the process of re-examining their positions based on new information coming to light. Others are realizing that their long-held concern has been correct, but that they have not matched actions to their worries or even their words.

Yes, some may have started from (or even remain in) an ideological position you dislike, or detest. However, I'd like to exhort all here to remember one thing - unless we all think, and pay attention, and examine not only the 'evidence' and 'information' coming from media and other sources, but examine our own thoughts, feelings and ideas on the matter - then we've already lost what may be the most important fight. That is the fight to remain the United States of America - not a 'morally superior America,' not a 'feared America,' not a 'responsible' America, or even a 'secure America.' It is fairly clear that all of those things have fallen away in the minds of many people here and around the world.

But what made the United States wonderful - and what has made many other nations wonderful institutions in the past, I'm not claiming we invented this - is the capability to learn and change

Even if you think that the Bush administration is on the right course, even if you think that this is a 'left wing circle jerk,' I ask you (as an American) to try, please, to retain your sense of civic responsibility. The one that our country's founders had in such great quantity. Never allow your government to think it is above its people. Never allow those in the U.S. Government to think that they are 'above' the rules which placed them there.

After all, if the liberals are wrong, then truth will out. Why? Because you, as a supporter of the administration, should be carefully watching everything with firm attention. Watch the left, and watch the right. Watch the press. Don't take anything for granted. THINK. If the liberals (yes, I am one) are in fact trying to take down an administration unjustly, then LOOK AT EVERYTHING and try to prove it. Don't try to tear down the liberals for trying it; they're doing their JOB. The attempted impeachment of Bill Clinton was something that infuriated the liberal establishment, such as it is in this country, but I (personally) feel an opportunity was missed, in the fury - the chance to try to rise above 'not-me' and reach 'us.' Whatever we thought about the attempt to impeach Clinton, more of us should not have tried to counterbash the Right by claiming they were simply playing 'partisan politics.' That's their role as citizens and members of a party. Our job was, and we blew it, to try to take our opponents to the table and say (essentially) "Okay. You have these things you say have been done that are wrong. We want to sit down here now, and define what, really, would qualify as impeachable - what was breaking the law. And then, together, in teams, we need to go look for everything. If, after that process, we are going to deadlock on if something was right or wrong - let's at least agree to have a common view of what we can establish happened.

I'm sorry, I'm straying. I'll wrap up here shortly. I realize that the United States has some unbelievable work ahead of it to regain the trust of the rest of the world, should that be something the US decides it wants (and I'm for it). I would ask that:

Those who are not Americans, and are watching us, urge us to take responsibility for our own nation and have real civil oversight. If after the paroxysm of democracy that is surely coming, you feel we have not gone far enough - that's your opinion. Tell us then. In the meantime, whenever an American tells you in open forum that they are having doubts, or changing their mind - don't bash us for where we started out. Help us learn to change our minds, to strive for the truth. There are good people in this country; I (PERSONAL BELIEF) think that most people here are simply average humans making their choices influenced by their surroundings, and are not 'evil.' I don't even really know what those are, in truth, good and evil. But I do know that I'd rather be in this kind of mess because I made a mistake than because I didn't try or do anything at all, and hid my head in the sand.

To all sides of the debate, liberals, conservatives - don't bash each other for our starting positions. Do whatever you can, please, to encourage everybody, on all sides, to push for full disclosure of what happened 'in our name' and for full punishments or rewards for those who deserve it. Reach out to those who tell you they are wavering in their 'faith' or their commitment to one side - because those are the ones who are thinking. Those are the people performing their duty as citizens. They are paying attention and accepting data.

Not everyone is 'swinging' of course. To the liberals who are digging in their heels - it doesn't matter if you were right earlier. It doesn't make you better. It makes you uniquely positioned to try to convince the other side that these flutterings they feel are the right thing. Even if a conservative or neocon tells you that they are flatly behind the President, that's their right. Ask them if they are interested in a full disclosure of what happened at Abu Ghraib. Convince them that while loyalty to the President is not a bad thing in itself, loyalty to a President, or a nation, or a person without the acceptance of constant new information and the analysis of that information is indeed a bad thing - it is an obsession, not a position.

I'm sorry to go on so long. I thank everyone here who has made an effort to ensure that the facts come out - and everyone here who is doing what they feel is best for the United States, so long as they are doing it because they feel their own position, viewed in a vacuum (i.e. not compared to the other side) is a 'right' or 'proper' one.

We're never all going to agree on what we should do. That's what makes us American. Let's try to agree that we need to be Americans, and that we need to take up the reins and responsibility that our founders and our predecessors and our teachers, who after all came from all over the world, left in our hands.

Thank you.

Posted by jbz at 1:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 16, 2004

Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan - What's Missing?

Retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, former commander of CENTCOM and critic of the war in Iraq, offered his take on the current debacle recently at a speech at Notre Dame. Referring to Donald Rumsfeld's recent expressions of 'surprise' at the uprisings and high casualties of the past weeks, not to mention the lack of benefit, progress or positive indicators of any kind, Zinni is quoted as follows. ""I'm surprised that he is surprised because there was a lot of us who were telling him that it was going to be thus...Anyone could know the problems they were going to see. How could they not?"

This is not surprising. Stories of military predictions, planning and warnings being brushed aside by Rumsfeld, Cheney and the President prior to the Iraq invasion are legion, although there have been remarkably few follow-ups on it in the press. We really need a Special Commission on the Iraqi War, it seems, at least as badly as we need one on 9/11. At least 9/11 was instigated by another party; the Iraq war is more costly in terms of lives, money and credibility and was hatched right here at home. Recently proving that he is unable to even parrot single-sentence memorized (irrelevant) answers to questions during his recent press conference, President Bush continues his trajectory towards his crowning as America's most remote-control president ever. He didn't so much dodge a question on why he and Cheney would have to appear before the 9/11 commission together as he did blunder straight through it, emerging on the other side with a vapidly triumphant look that no-one, including his advisors, could see a reason for.

The press deserves no little share of blame. Even now, the questions being lobbed at Mr. Bush are just to the left side of 'puffball.' The press conference (only his third since assuming office!), a rare chance to get answers directly from his mouth rather than having it filtered first through Karl Rove's large intestine, was mostly squandered, frittered away on questions that were either irrelevant, too complex for him to even to attempt answering, or simply not shoved hard enough to force him to attempt engagement.

It's pathetic that this man is President. But no more so than the United States seems bent on proving itself to be. If you're out there, and you end up facing the President and his cadre of puppeteers, be sure to ask them the hard questions, and keep asking them until you get an answer.

The government isn't impersonal, in this case. It is embodied in these few men, and they are the ones who have stolen and discarded your rights as an American voter. Make them pay.

Posted by jbz at 5:37 AM | Comments (0)

April 3, 2004

What else happened in Fallujah?

This is purely a personal musing, and answers wouldn't have any impact on the horror and gruesome nature of the Fallujah killings. However, I find myself wanting to know what else was going on in Fallujah while the ambush was occurring?

I ask because the situation is (to me) a bit strange. The 'civilian contractors' who were the victims were, it was quickly acknowledged, employees of the Blackwater Security corporation, which is composed mostly of former U.S. Military Special Forces personnel, consulting in their newly civilian life. Three of them were ex- Navy SEALs, and one was an ex- Army Ranger. These are highly trained men experienced at dealing with dangerous surroundings.

However, when they were attacked, there were four of them in two Mitsubishi SUVs, travelling in a known hot zone. I don't have any information on whether or how they were armed, but I would be shocked if they were not at least carrying submachine guns such as the ubiquitous Heckler & Koch MP5 or MP6 and pistols. Yet, there is no information that they returned fire. This is plausible if one considers the situation - multiple assailants, in a planned maneuver, approached their vehicles and sprayed them with AK-47s simultaneously. In each car, one man would be driving, leaving only one other to provide security; and in an urban environment, one person 'riding shotgun' is not enough to secure a large vehicle when there are so many avenues of approach. Even if these men were armed and tried to return fire, machine pistol rounds would likely not go through the bodywork of the car with enough energy to cause harm, whereas the heavier rounds of the AK-47 would pass through with ease. Even if both sides opened fire simultaneously, the men in the cars would be at a dreadful disadvantage.

The configuration, two to a car, would indicate to me that they were expecting to utilize their mobility as their defense, rather than planning on shooting it out should they be attacked. It appears that their vehicles were boxed or lured into an area with unexpectedly limited escape options, and then ambushed.

This leads to the next question. What were they doing there? As I've stated, the configuration of men and vehicles might make sense for a highway convoy escort, but not for inner-city work. Why were they travelling in such small numbers in such large cars, presenting such an obvious target (foreign SUVs in Fallujah at present are almost guaranteed to be occupied by foreigners)? The answer I keep coming up with is that they were doing something which required the SUVs size that couldn't be done with military forces - force which, in the hours after the incident, made it quite clear that they were attempting to avoid entering Fallujah in bulk and inciting incidents, even in the aftermath of such an attack.

Next question - what was it that was either in the SUVs before they were attacked, or what would have been in them had they completed their task? Here, I have no real evidence, just a gut feeling, but my feeling is that they needed the empty seats. I strongly suspect that these vehicles were either on the way to pick up additional personnel who were on foot, or had just come from dropping them off. This would be one strong argument as to why the 'two-man-per-car' problem might not have been as bad as it sounds.

So, finally - what else was going on in Fallujah that day?

Posted by jbz at 10:11 PM | Comments (0)

March 26, 2004

The Morbid Fascination of a Train Wreck

...that must be it. This must be the reason I am so completely engrossed, these past few days, with the daily transcripts of the White House Briefings. I have been grossly negligent in following the subtle nuances of what is going on around me over the past few months, but thank God for Mr. Clarke and a return to insanity.

As far as I can decipher the spin from the 24th, Scott McClellan seems to be trying to explain to a bevy of remarkably skeptical reporters that Mr. Clarke's credibility as an independent analyst, speaking for himself in his recent book and in testimony, is in doubt. Why? Because he, in a conference call to media in 2002 made in his role as White House counter-terrorism lead, provided information to the reporters on that call that contradicts his recent testimony and book. Moreover (and here's the good part) McClellan manfully tries to explain to these obviously dense reporters that this prior testimony was not, in fact, Clarke briefing the media on the Bush White House's current party line, but was really Clarke briefing the media on his own opinions.

Of course, in that call, Clarke (who was, by the way, not identified during the call save as a White House expert) introduces his speech by saying he has "some talking points." He then goes on to describe some vaguely positive perspectives on the Bush White House's actions concerning terrorism. McClellan, after denying that the White House 'dissembles' or otherwise 'plans spin' on their daily briefings (!) says the following in his briefing:

"This goes to his credibility, and I think that those are questions that Mr. Clarke needs to answer...You cannot square Dick Clarke's new assertions with his past words. That's very clear."
(note: the phrase "This goes to his credibility" appears at least thrice in McClellan's briefing this day with regards to Clarke).

Um. Let me get this straight. You are telling me that Clarke is of dubious credibility because, in 2002, as a Bush White House employee assigned to give a briefing to the press, his statements do not match those made recently, months after leaving Government employ, and accusing the Bush White House of not handling the counterterrorism task properly? Well, um, I should *hope* that the words don't match, because otherwise he's not telling us anything we need to hear. Furthermore, those first words - the ones McClellan is trying to deceive us into believing are the ones that make Clarke less credible - are the ones that the Bush White House wrote for him, into "seven talking points." Unless, as McClellan states ("These are his own words") we are to believe that the Bush White House placed someone on a conference call with reporters, introduced them as the White House staffer on record, and then happily allowed them to make up what they were saying on the go, or to mouth off their personal beliefs without so much as a vetting.

I'm sorry, this is just getting pathetic. So Clarke is not credible, and has an ax to grind, and is a disaffected Liberal? Well, no; he's a Reagan appointee who in addition to working for both Clinton administrations worked for Bush's dad, and is a fairly severe hawk.

What I've just written is nothing new. Various web commentators, at least, have been writing more eloquent versions of this since McClellan's briefing. I am not writing it to convince, just to place on record so that later, when I recall the level of my disbelief as a past fact, I have some indication of the depth of the feeling.

We need to bring these fuckers down.

One day, sometime soon, we'll hear from the grand jury impaneled in the Valerie Plame affair. If we're lucky, they'll tackle Karl Rove and bury him for five-to-ten in a large moldy cell in that wonderful state of Texas, and let him have all the booze he wants - just no new liver.

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

March 7, 2004

Fr3sh pr0n v~i~a~g~r~a 4 maKe m0nee f4st!

Now, I really can't say I support banning porn sites from the internet. After all, I'd be lying if I said I'd never fired up a browser in search of some quick free pictures of attractive women 'round the age of, say, 25 or so, disrobed and playing about. Nope nope. However, I am baffled by this crew of completely venal losers who have unleashed upon us the vile spew of guestbook/blog comment spam. I just don't get it.

I mean, while it's one thing (that I don't agree with, but will admit it's a separate issue) to send me a private email offering me unsolicited services, it's a whole other step to start dropping links to child porn sites onto my public presence on the web. That's just beyond the pale. Even harder to understand? The comments that show up, with innocuous text ("Hmm...nice sitez...") with links to porn sites in their sites that don't even bloody exist. I mean, what the fuck? At that point, you can't even tell me you're getting paid to do this, it's just, I don't know, random? For fun maybe?

Sigh. Well, at least a few of them have sites that have registered owners. Which means, of course, someone who can be gotten to. Heh heh. In so many entertaining ways. And now that they've been kind enough to leave their names invitingly on my website, well...

Posted by jbz at 6:48 PM | Comments (0)

February 23, 2004

Please, Mr. Nader

Mr. Nader -

Although it is a dismal set of affairs to consider, we have ended up with a Democratic field of candidates who are being judged overwhelmingly on a single criteria: ‘can they defeat George Bush in 2004?’ Whatever the answer and whoever the winner of this primary fight will be, your candidacy will only serve to distract Democrats at a time when they must band together to defeat an incumbent President who has proven himself worse through incompetent action and lack of both sense and morals grounded in reality than any of them could ever prove to be through dullness or even inaction. Your previous campaign pulled precious electoral votes from Al Gore’s campaign. While I do not dispute your right, or your decision at the time to run, I am asking you now - for the sake of defeating George Bush and cronies, refrain from entering the presidential race in 2004.

Thank you,

Jacob Zimmerman

Massachusetts Democrat unhappy with all his choices - but more unhappy with Bush.

Posted by jbz at 5:24 PM | Comments (0)

February 11, 2004

Lies, Damned Lies, and the Bush Administration

It's a strange world I find myself reading about these days. O'Reilly is coming close to repenting his steadfast and yammering support for Bush. Russia is announcing that it will be conducting a large nuclear warfighting exercise, stressing its drawn-down forces, in response to a perceived attempt by the U.S. to 'lower the threshold' on the use of nuclear arms in a conflict. The head honchos of the Army, Marines and Air Force are publicly concerned before Congress on the possibility of the Administration pushing off any requests for supplemental funding for the concurrent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan until after the election. This would force them to draw heavily on readiness and training resources in order to support what are becoming increasingly politicized and expensive operations. Microsoft announces another critical security vulnerability in Windows that it apparently has known about for a while - oh, scratch that, that's not a surprise.

Even as the Botox-huffing Kerry thunders to what looks like a commanding lead in the Democratic primary, the sad thought lingers: perhaps the only thing that qualifies this man to run for President against George W. Bush in my mind is that he might actually win. Not because he is in any positive way superior, or better; simply that he seems to have not expended enough energy (or has exercised his brain a little too much) to be as absolutely hideously unfit for the job as the current President.

That's an awfully weak reason to garner support for that office.

Stories come in 'suddenly discovering' (now that the media is conveniently able to point to a slew of political weaknesses) that Americans abroad are (gasp) embarrassed by their President! (Where were these reporters when the actual war was being orchestrated?)

I am enough of a romantic to still believe that, were I to actually meet Mr. Bush, I would address him as "Mr. President." I would probably rise when he came into the room. Not because of who he is, but because of the office that he holds. No matter what I think of the man and his policies, I cannot in any good conscience claim that I believe the Office of the President of the United States is something to be embarrassed about. It is a source of pride to me, daily, as is my country. I firmly believe that there is no better option to an inhabitant of this planet who wants to achieve, thrive and survive than the United States - however naive that belief may be.

The current holders of office, and the current direction of the country - these are causes for alarm, objection, civil disobedience perhaps, and certainly frenzied campaigning for change. They are trying, I believe, to pervert and corrupt the system that is the source of my pride. Ashcroft and company's efforts make me nearly physically ill - and yet, I refuse to believe the system itself has been corrupted by their actions so far. It is still correctable. The people who make up our nation can still achieve what their intentions have been written to be, in those documents under glass.

I only hope that they will seize the chance to do so, and that they will expend the effort required to correct our course. With hatred, with admiration, with indifference, with animosity - the world looks to this country just because of what and where it is. With that scrutiny and privilege comes what politicians are fond of calling an 'awesome responsibility.' However, that responsibility is not laid upon their shoulders, ultimately; nor is it laid upon the system itself. It is laid on ours, the people who hold their jobs in our hands, and who (at least notionally) hold our nation's policy in our ballots.

Thus goes my romanticism.

For the nonce, it outweighs my blinder anger at current events. Keeping that true is my daily task.

Posted by jbz at 4:01 AM | Comments (0)

January 21, 2004

Here Comes the Comedown

Well, it’s official. Us fat people can now join the ranks of intravenous drug users, smokers, and other ne’er-do-wells in one critical way - we’ve been identified as a ‘significant cost to the taxpayer.’ CNN tells us (under the headline ‘CDC: Medical Cost of Obesity $75 billion’) that a report due to be published from that organization will explain how us overweight types cost $75 billion per year in health expenses.


While I understand there are legitimate epidemiological reasons for pursuing such data, in the hands of the news organizations, it simply provides more grist for the relentless ‘CONFORM’ mill. Now, in addition to worrying about the problems my overweight condition causes me, I must now contend with the stigma of wastrel being applied via news service headlines.

One point - if 64% of the adults in the US are overweight, as the study claims, how much ‘more than average’ do overweight people cost the medical health system? How can that ‘average’ be controlled to not account for them? Sure, there are clean statistical methods of doing so - but I feel like I’ve been lumped into the drug user and smoker categories just by this damn headline. While you can argue whether or not food is an addiction problem, it differs from smoking and other drug use in one significant way - namely, we need to eat to survive. The problem of obesity has many roots, but at base, you can’t say that it derives from purely destructive behavior (and before you get on my case for ‘deriding’ smokers and drug users, I will say out front that I enjoy a cigar from time to time).

This, by itself, isn’t a big deal. But there’s this awful trend towards blame-fixing for societal shortfalls - and it’s that form of obsessive fix-the-cost-on-the-individual’s-fault behavior that will, in the end, bring down any system based on collective action, such as ours is.

Posted by jbz at 7:58 PM | Comments (0)

Keep them frontmost...

...the questions that George W. Bush and company have refused to answer. Remember them, repeat them, and demand answers every chance you get.
  • Who outed Valerie Plame?
  • Where are the WMDs?
  • Why hasn't Cheney completely severed his ties with Halliburton, especially given the number of contracts (and scandals) they've been involved in?
  • Why was the 3rd Infantry Division so unhappy with their support and planning in Iraq?
  • What happened to that nice space initiative, and if it was that fragile, why was it pushed as a priority?
  • Precisely when does the PATRIOT Act expire, Mr. President, especially given your administration's attempt to pass PATRIOT II?

...I'm sure you can think of your own. In the blizzard of media glitz and other flashy crapola that all parties are going to snow you under in the coming campaign, find your questions. Hold them tight to you. Cherish them. Wait for the moment.

Then ask them.

Posted by jbz at 1:55 AM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2004

No evidence of Iraq and Al-Qai...oh look, Mars!

Perhaps I'm just a terminal cynic, but I couldn't help feeling that the story on of Colin Powell admitting publicly to a complete lack of hard evidence linking Iraq to Al-Qaida both before and after the war and the timing of Bush's GRAND SOOPER SPACE EXPLORASHUN PLANZ wasn't a coincidence.

How was that for a run-on sentence?

The Mars lander had just phoned home. Pictures were flowing back down in grandiose and possibly dishonest color, but gorgeous pictures nonetheless. 'We're back!' enthused NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, pouring champagne for the Mars Exploration Rover team on live T.V. Suddenly, Americans turn their attention to space for a happy reason, a good reason; maybe for the first time since Columbia's deep burn.

"Let's go to the Moon! And Mars!" shouts Dubya, outlining a bold plan involving manned space exploration. This from the administration that has kept attempting to smash the NASA budget - advocating a plan that actually seems to make little sense even on first glance. If you're going to Mars, why do you need a base on the moon? Why fight *two* gravity wells to get there? Why bother putting people on the Moon, where every last bit of supply must be shipped up? Why not simply assemble a transfer vehicle in orbit and launch from there?

Well, see, it doesn't really matter. Dubya's Brave New World isn't supposed to have humans actually leave the rock until around 2014 or so - long after he's comfortably retired.

But Colin's admission of complete fraud on the part of the Administration - no WMD, no evidence of them, Valerie Plame's hubby's report, and now no Al-Qaida links - is safely ' below the seam' on the second or third page of CNN, happening as it did the same news day as the announcement. Hordes of Americans ignore the dreary political news and rush happily to the dreams, lapping it up as Dubya tries to cover himself in a JFK/Apollo-esque cloak.

Of course, Apollo may have only happened because JFK got shot, and no-one in Congress dared kill it after that.

Posted by jbz at 2:20 AM | Comments (0)

January 4, 2004

Strange New Worlds

It's 2:33 in the morning here on the East Coast of the United States, and I'm watching a crappy, pixelated webcast feed from NASA TV. There are fifty or more people crammed into a relatively small room, looking intently at screens which are stubbornly showing small calibration squares and static data and not much else. A few hours ago, we waited and agonized with the JPL/ NASA crews as their robot child stopped talking to them for re-entry. I listened to the frightening numbers read off in the quiet nervous room - twelve thousand two hundred miles per hour, one hundred fifty three miles above the Martian surface, preparing to decelerate at up to 6 gee- I chewed nails and watched, preparing to settle in for a long night of waiting and the likely disappointment. The lander phoned home, and we all sighed in relief.

Now we wait; all we know is that the Mars Odyssey orbiter has captured around 24 megabytes of data during its 12-minute overflight of the landing spot, and is preparing to relay the data back to earth.

" Flight, imaging; we had a loss of signal during the transmission and we had to modify the download priority tables, and we're now showing an ETA of hour seven minute 28."

"Imaging, flight; roger. We'll be happy to wait another five minutes for these."

"Flight, imaging; thank you all for your patience."

The wait continues. I have time to get a Diet Coke from the fridge, taking a quick run to the loo before dashing back to my computer and locking my reddened eyes to the screen again. Fortunately, my computer has a nice screen, minimizing my eyestrain.

More waiting. Half the Coke gone.

-there is a burst of noise, and people are jumping up from their seats-

"Wow. Wow wow wow. We're getting pictures, pictures from the surface of Mars - this is, these are thumbnails? That's the first picture-" it looks like a smudged circle and dark shape "-and it's the calibration target."

More cheering.

"Wow." That word will become almost a constant companion. Pictures start to flow in.

Suddenly, there's another burst of cheering - an image has popped up on the screen with a bright band across the top, and it becomes clear even through the crappy webcast - that's Mars. It's a part of Mars humanity has never seen. It's only the fourth time humans have managed to get imagery from the surface of the planet, and the first time from anywhere near this spot.

The Coke is gone, and I'm smiling like an idiot.

More cheering and wows. The mast has extended and a series of images from cameras atop the mast are popping up now - and then, finally, a mosaic is pieced together as we watch, and we are looking out past the black boxy shape of the rover and at a horizon with rocks on it. Final touch: a polar projection, an image assembled to look 'down' from the mast, blending the nine images from the mast cameras.

From a perch six feet above three hundred million miles, I stand and look down on this small voyager as it prepares to go to sleep with the sunset, and I swear it looks back at me with an expression of pride and satisfaction.

This is a good way to start a year.

Posted by jbz at 3:01 AM | Comments (0)

December 13, 2003

Asocial Insecurity and Jamming

This is a transplant from the newly-revived Everything2. I wrote it a while back during one of my more anarchic-leaning days. I still subscribe to the notion wholeheartedly.

It is written in honor of various rabble-rousing publications that, in the past, have proffered suggestions on how to best screw with The Man. It also is meant to emphasize a completely personal peeve that I have regarding the intrusion of Big Brother into far too many aspects of my American life.

Social Security Numbers. Your serial number. Your ID Code. Your asset tag. Whatever. The U.S. Government, through the prima facie motive of being able to provide for you in time of need, has (in the process) created a mechanism by which any organization, good, evil, or completely venal, can uniquely identify you. This makes the Men In Black File Clerk's job so much easier! Furthermore, there is almost no way (other than being foreign, and even then they getcha with a Taxpayer I.D. Number) to escape its evil clutches. Want to go to college? Fork over your serial number. Want a bank account? Ditto. Want to simply receive medical care, even if paying with cash? Bend over for the Big Hot Iron Stamp, please.

So what can we do?

As suggested by several publications, prophets and pundits, I endeavor to jam the system whenever possible. Join me! It's fun! Next time someone asks you for your SSN for what you perceive to be no good reason (like, say, those supermarket discount cards that track your capitalist participation track record) then smile sweetly...

...and give them Richard Nixon's. It's 567-68-0515.

Posted by jbz at 4:38 PM | Comments (0)

November 28, 2003

Federalism vs. Segregation and President Bush's 'Democracy'

President Bush’s recent speech regarding what The Economist calls his ‘crusade’ to spread democracy in the Middle East raises at least as many questions as it answers. In this entry, I want to reflect on the one that bothers me the most at this particular moment - if you find yourself forced to partition a country along racial lines, can the resulting entities ever in fact attain a democratic system along the philosophical lines of what the United States would like to believe is its own model?

Looked at one way, the dissolution of ‘artificial federations’ such as the former Yugoslavia and the decolonial dissolutions of Northern Africa are the natural cancellation of sovereign entities which were imposed by fiat from without. The wreckage of the First and Second World War and of course colonialism meant that in many cases nations were constructed with the stroke of a pen or sword, intended to serve strategic purpose either for a region or for a central power. The Yugoslavia in existence after World War Two was held together for most of the second half of the twentieth century by the foreign pressures of the Cold War and the iron hand of a government whose policies were empowered, if not legitimated, by those pressures.

However, once those foreign pressures eased, the internal schisms could not be contained, and the drive to dissolution was greater than any remaining trend to federation. It could be said that if, in fact, the various populations of those sub-regions in fact desire the dissolution of the greater state, then democracy is indeed being practiced. The problem is that since there will never be (and has never been) unanimous agreement on the eventual partitioning, there will be displaced and/or disenfranchised populations whose simple racial minority in a region after the redrawing of borders rob of political power. While this may be an unavoidable consequence, let us look at it in the light of President Bush’s expressed mission.

The partitioning of Iraq along religious lines may come either de jure or de facto. The already-existent strong religious and racial splits in that nation have been picked over at great length, especially in recent times. So let us suppose that the Iraqi population, handed the franchise, votes to partition the country - the most legitimate version of this chain of events in the forseeable future. At that point, you may have a democratic system - but you’ve diverged massively from the American model, and not just in path-dependent but in philosophical ways!

The United States fought the Civil War for any number of reasons, but at least part of the reason was due to a publicly-stated dispute over the interpretation of the Constitution of the United States - and the Federal Government went to war against its own ex-members with the position that their secession went counter to the Constitution. The notion of racial superiority was explicitly rejected, as was the ‘rights’ of a homogenous racial subgroup within a region to make binding sovereign decisions for all inhabitants of that region.

Partitioning of Iraq along religious lines, while perhaps popular both locally and in the United States for its expediency, essentially will validate the position espoused by the Confederate States of America and explicitly rejected by the Federal Government of the U.S. - namely, that the goal of short-term peace and security can be allowed to supersede the philosophical basis of the Constitution to the point that avoiding a war (or preventing one) is more important than remaining true to the principles of inclusion and equality put forth in the document which underlies the entire experiment of Democracy here in the United States.

While it is true that I would wish for peace and security in Iraq, I cannot say that I would wish for it at the expense of the philosophical basis of the United States’ democratic model if, in fact, that is the reason we are stating for being there. I have problems with Bush’s Crusade as a retrograde justification for this expedition in the first place - and the partitioning of the country, which may turn out to be the only available road to quietitude if not peace, will run directly counter to the principles that Bush is invoking in order to justify it.

So what, then, matters more? That our forces and people come home safely and well, and soon? Or that the Iraqi nation does, in fact, get a shot at democracy as I understand it? Or is the notion of ‘democracy’ pliable enough that a version which we, here, rejected at the cost of blood and treasure is ‘good enough’ for those abroad?

There really aren’t any good answers to this, and it bothers me on a constant basis.

Posted by jbz at 10:24 PM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2003

An Open Letter to G.I.s in Iraq

This is a letter written by Stan Goff from the website TruthOut. It is a letter written from the perspective of experience, pain, anger, and revelation, and while I know nothing of the author or even the website from whence it came, I can recommend the words to you wholeheartedly. For the sacrifices of many of my countrymen both older and younger than I, I have never had to face death in a foreign land with a gun in my hands (or even without one) and I have never gone to bed with fear for my home and family at the hands of an invading army - this, despite the best efforts of Ronald Reagan and cronies, and their propaganda. So here's the letter. Please take from it something that stays with you.

Saturday 15 November 2003 An Open Letter to GIs in Iraq

     Dear American serviceperson in Iraq,

     I am a retired veteran of the army, and my own son is among you, a paratrooper like I was. The changes that are happening to every one of you—some more extreme than others—are changes I know very well. So I'm going to say some things to you straight up in the language to which you are accustomed.

     In 1970, I was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, then based in northern Binh Dinh Province in what was then the Republic of Vietnam. When I went there, I had my head full of shit: shit from the news media, shit from movies, shit about what it supposedly mean to be a man, and shit from a lot of my know-nothing neighbors who would tell you plenty about Vietnam even though they'd never been there, or to war at all.

     The essence of all this shit was that we had to "stay the course in Vietnam," and that we were on some mission to save good Vietnamese from bad Vietnamese, and to keep the bad Vietnamese from hitting beachheads outside of Oakland. We stayed the course until 58,000 Americans were dead and lots more maimed for life, and 3,000,000 Southeast Asians were dead. Ex-military people and even many on active duty played a big part in finally bringing that crime to a halt.

     When I started hearing about weapons of mass destruction that threatened the United States from Iraq, a shattered country that had endured almost a decade of trench war followed by an invasion and twelve years of sanctions, my first question was how in the hell can anyone believe that this suffering country presents a threat to the United States? But then I remembered how many people had believed Vietnam threatened the United States. Including me.

     When that bullshit story about weapons came apart like a two-dollar shirt, the politicians who cooked up this war told everyone, including you, that you would be greeted like great liberators. They told us that we were in Vietnam to make sure everyone there could vote.

     What they didn't tell me was that before I got there in 1970, the American armed forces had been burning villages, killing livestock, poisoning farmlands and forests, killing civilians for sport, bombing whole villages, and committing rapes and massacres, and the people who were grieving and raging over that weren't in a position to figure out the difference between me—just in country—and the people who had done those things to them.

     What they didn't tell you is that over a million and a half Iraqis died between 1991 and 2003 from malnutrition, medical neglect, and bad sanitation. Over half a million of those who died were the weakest: the children, especially very young children.

     My son who is over there now has a baby. We visit with our grandson every chance we get. He is eleven months old now. Lots of you have children, so you know how easy it is to really love them, and love them so hard you just know your entire world would collapse if anything happened to them. Iraqis feel that way about their babies, too. And they are not going to forget that the United States government was largely responsible for the deaths of half a million kids.

     So the lie that you would be welcomed as liberators was just that. A lie. A lie for people in the United States to get them to open their purse for this obscenity, and a lie for you to pump you up for a fight.

     And when you put this into perspective, you know that if you were an Iraqi, you probably wouldn't be crazy about American soldiers taking over your towns and cities either. This is the tough reality I faced in Vietnam. I knew while I was there that if I were Vietnamese, I would have been one of the Vietcong.

     But there we were, ordered into someone else's country, playing the role of occupier when we didn't know the people, their language, or their culture, with our head full of bullshit our so-called leaders had told us during training and in preparation for deployment, and even when we got there. There we were, facing people we were ordered to dominate, but any one of whom might be pumping mortars at us or firing AKs at us later that night. The question we started to ask is who put us in this position?

     In our process of fighting to stay alive, and in their process of trying to expel an invader that violated their dignity, destroyed their property, and killed their innocents, we were faced off against each other by people who made these decisions in $5,000 suits, who laughed and slapped each other on the back in Washington DC with their fat fucking asses stuffed full of cordon bleu and caviar.

     They chumped us. Anyone can be chumped.

     That's you now. Just fewer trees and less water.

     We haven't figured out how to stop the pasty-faced, oil-hungry backslappers in DC yet, and it looks like you all might be stuck there for a little longer. So I want to tell you the rest of the story.

     I changed over there in Vietnam and they were not nice changes either. I started getting pulled into something—something that craved other peole's pain. Just to make sure I wasn't regarded as a "fucking missionary" or a possible rat, I learned how to fit myself into that group that was untouchable, people too crazy to fuck with, people who desired the rush of omnipotence that comes with setting someone's house on fire just for the pure hell of it, or who could kill anyone, man, woman, or child, with hardly a second thought. People who had the power of life and death—because they could.

     The anger helps. It's easy to hate everyone you can't trust because of your circumstances, and to rage about what you've seen, what has happened to you, and what you have done and can't take back.

     It was all an act for me, a cover-up for deeper fears I couldn't name, and the reason I know that is that we had to dehumanize our victims before we did the things we did. We knew deep down that what we were doing was wrong. So they became dinks or gooks, just like Iraqis are now being transformed into ragheads or hajjis. People had to be reduced to "niggers" here before they could be lynched. No difference. We convinced ourselves we had to kill them to survive, even when that wasn't true, but something inside us told us that so long as they were human beings, with the same intrinsic value we had as human beings, we were not allowed to burn their homes and barns, kill their animals, and sometimes even kill them. So we used these words, these new names, to reduce them, to strip them of their essential humanity, and then we could do things like adjust artillery fire onto the cries of a baby.

     Until that baby was silenced, though, and here's the important thing to understand, that baby never surrendered her humanity. I did. We did. That's the thing you might not get until it's too late. When you take away the humanity of another, you kill your own humanity. You attack your own soul because it is standing in the way.

     So we finish our tour, and go back to our families, who can see that even though we function, we are empty and incapable of truly connecting to people any more, and maybe we can go for months or even years before we fill that void where we surrendered our humanity, with chemical anesthetics—drugs, alcohol, until we realize that the void can never be filled and we shoot ourselves, or head off into the street where we can disappear with the flotsam of society, or we hurt others, especially those who try to love us, and end up as another incarceration statistic or a mental patient.

     You can ever escape that you became a racist because you made the excuse that you needed that to survive, that you took things away from people that you can never give back, or that you killed a piece of yourself that you may never get back.

     Some of us do. We get lucky and someone gives a damn enough to emotionally resuscitate us and bring us back to life. Many do not.

     I live with the rage every day of my life, even when no one else sees it. You might hear it in my words. I hate being chumped.

     So here is my message to you. You will do what you have to do to survive, however you define survival, while we do what we have to do to stop this thing. But don't surrender your humanity. Not to fit in. Not to prove yourself. Not for an adrenaline rush. Not to lash out when you are angry and frustrated. Not for some ticket-punching fucking military careerist to make his bones on. Especially not for the Bush-Cheney Gas & Oil Consortium.

     The big bosses are trying to gain control of the world's energy supplies to twist the arms of future economic competitors. That's what's going on, and you need to understand it, then do what you need to do to hold on to your humanity. The system does that; tells you you are some kind of hero action figures, but uses you as gunmen. They chump you.

     Your so-called civilian leadership sees you as an expendable commodity. They don't care about your nightmares, about the DU that you are breathing, about the loneliness, the doubts, the pain, or about how your humanity is stripped away a piece at a time. They will cut your benefits, deny your illnesses, and hide your wounded and dead from the public. They already are.

     They don't care. So you have to. And to preserve your own humanity, you must recognize the humanity of the people whose nation you now occupy and know that both you and they are victims of the filthy rich bastards who are calling the shots.

     They are your enemies—The Suits—and they are the enemies of peace, and the enemies of your families, especially if they are Black families, or immigrant families, or poor families. They are thieves and bullies who take and never give, and they say they will "never run" in Iraq, but you and I know that they will never have to run, because they fucking aren't there. You are

     They'll skin and grin while they are getting what they want from you, and throw you away like a used condom when they are done. Ask the vets who are having their benefits slashed out from under them now. Bushfeld and their cronies are parasites, and they are the sole beneficiaries of the chaos you are learning to live in. They get the money. You get the prosthetic devices, the nightmares, and the mysterious illnesses.

     So if your rage needs a target, there they are, responsible for your being there, and responsible for keeping you there. I can't tell you to disobey. That would probably run me afoul of the law. That will be a decision you will have to take when and if the circumstances and your own conscience dictate. But it perfectly legal for you to refuse illegal orders, and orders to abuse or attack civilians are illegal. Ordering you to keep silent about these crimes is also illegal.

     I can tell you, without fear of legal consequence, that you are never under any obligation to hate Iraqis, you are never under any obligation to give yourself over to racism and nihilism and the thirst to kill for the sake of killing, and you are never under any obligation to let them drive out the last vestiges of your capacity to see and tell the truth to yourself and to the world. You do not owe them your souls.

     Come home safe, and come home sane. The people who love you and who have loved you all your lives are waiting here, and we want you to come back and be able to look us in the face. Don't leave your souls in the dust there like another corpse.

Stan Goff

Allow me to add my own postscript. When you come home from Iraq, I will salute you. If you fall victim to the sickness that Mr. Goff describes, I will salute you with gratitude, with sympathy and the desire to help you if I can. If you come home without it, having kept your humanity despite the awful vise it and you have been placed in, I will salute you with tears of pride, with gratitude for bearing a burden I cannot know, and the with desire to emulate your courage, your loyalty to your countrymen, your country's ideals, and above all, to your brothers and sisters who shared it with you.

Come home safe. But by the oath you swore to protect the United States Constitution and the ideas it embodies, come home human, above all,and know that this American, at least, wants to see you come home whole.

Thank you.

Posted by jbz at 7:39 PM

November 15, 2003

Happy Harry Hard-On

Made the cardinal mistake of watching Pump Up the Volume while in a generally ticked-off at the world mood. When you flick off your home electronics to find that Christian Slater has been talking to you, you know you're in the shit and it's time to break out the bourbon.

Knob Creek, then, and here's to ya.

See, my problem's different than his, now. I looked up from my screen the other day and I was the fucking problem - older, grayer, haven't done shit and now spending too much time and energy bemoaning those facts. On drugs to keep my mood stable, and on food to keep the drugs stable.

Usually at times like this, I take a long drive to nowhere at all just to feel the wind on my head, but the wind tonight is somewhere down near freezing, so it probably isn't a good idea. Besides, now I've had bourbon, and shouldn't be driving at all anyway.

Harry had it easy, though. He had an identifiable System, and it was staffed by visible people. Parents, teachers, guidance counselors, principals, the FCC (hey, wait, that one resonates...fuck the FCC, man!) and the only people he had to talk to were the misfit freakazoids present in every high school.

What happens when you graduate and join the machine? Who do you talk to then?

For now, Knob Creek. Talk hard, stay hard, and for Christ's sweet sake, bring down the fucking RIAA.

Posted by jbz at 12:22 AM | Comments (3)

November 6, 2003

Whose democracy?


Let's take the word ' democracy.' If there's anything we should know from experience, the term is most imprecise, as it refers to a political tradition and school of civil order rather than to an exact concept. Arguments over 'how much democracy' various nations, especially the United States, enjoy have been raging since their inception and show no sign of slowing down. What form of democracy, then, is our President looking to install in the Middle East?

I can't really answer that, despite relatively careful reading of the public policy statements coming out of the administration - because they're careful not to go into specifics. So that route to explaining my deep-seated uneasiness with this policy may be a non-starter. Let's try something else, something that bothers me.

The United States was established as a democracy in 1776 with the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the completion (if not full ratification) of the Constitution a few years later. It has evolved into what George Bush (presumably) is holding up as a model for these other nations to emulate, in spirit if not form. However, if one looks carefully at the 'Democrats' of the early United States, it becomes clear that they resided in and presided over a system which if anything would simply exacerbate the societal pressures and problems which are being expressed as anti-American sentiments. Consider: In that democracy, the vote was limited to property-owning white males. Women need not have applied, nor anyone of color. Is this the form of democracy George Bush would like to see emplaced?

While it may be easy to say that we could expect to press a more 'advanced' form of democracy on these peoples and states, consider that it took the United States nearly a hundred years, and its most ruinous war, just to abolish slavery within its borders - slavery based essentially on racial discrimination. It took roughly another hundred to strike down Jim Crow - and this was in the most advanced democracy available.

Can one really'jump over' that painful part of the democratic evolution and tell or ask a people or state to adopt the 'end state' that we have arrived at over two hundred years of internal disagreement to the point of armed struggle? I contend that it is unrealistic. The democracy we have now, far from perfect (and, some would say, far from working even) is, whatever else it is, the result of those two centuries of evolution in the institutions prevalent in the U.S. and its people. The people are what matter. Even now, there are large groups who will, if given the chance and in some cases anonymity, explain that they remain convinced that equality among races is a bad idea, and Bad For America. While it is a sign of our progress (I believe) that they increasingly will only admit this when anonymous, it's an extremely sobering reminder of the constant fight that democracy requires in order to make it viable.

Daily, we have to fight for it. If we slack off too hard, we end up with John Ashcroft, Joe McCarthy and his modern-day Pollyana, Coulter; we end up with David Duke, and we end up with Al Sharpton and Malcolm X. We end up with extremists on both sides attempting to hurry the evolution of our society through force, as well as those who would simply mire us through unswerving conservatism. It's our fault that Ashcroft and cronies are in charge of our civil life; both those of us that voted for Bush and company and those of us who didn't fight hard enough because we believed that (for example) "nobody would elect someone that stupid."

In any case, back to the Middle East. We are now being told that this endeavour (I shudder to use the term Crusade, because some of the architects of the misadventure seem to apply that term with relish) as an attempt by the U.S. to 'show the region what democracy means.' My classmate Ken Pollack said today on CNN:

"Whether you wanted to go into Iraq or not, whether you thought it was right or not, the simple fact of the matter is, that the entire region, the entire Middle East is now watching to see what unfolds in Iraq.

For the longest time, they basically had two options. They had the autocracy offered by their government and they had the Islamic republics offered by the Islamic fundamentalists. And here comes the United States and says, "We've got another idea. We've got another way of doing things, and that's democratization."

The U.S. is trying to do that now in Iraq. We're doing it with 130,000 troops and 100 billion of our own dollars. The rest of the region is watching to see if it succeeds. And if it succeeds, there is the chance that others will start to accept and start to move in that direction. If it fails, every Arab is going to look at it and say, the Americans tried, they tried with $100 billion, and 13,000 troops, and if it can't work in Iraq, there's on way it can work here. "

CNN 11/06/03

Much as I respect Ken's smarts and experience (which, in this field, are nearly unparalleled) I have to take issue with some of his points. For one, it's difficult to look at this effort as a 'third option for the peoples of the region' - which he implies - when it's happening as the result of a foreign conquest initiated by the U.S. For this to 'work' in his terms, the people watching who wanted to try it would have to somehow maneuver the U.S. into taking down their government and then being willing to spend the $100 billion on their nation as well.

While I don't think it would be a bad investment at all to spend the money if there was a decent chance of a positive return (positive in the sense that a more eqalitarian society based on more liberal principles emerged, not necessarily positive in the narrow U.S. National Interest sense) I have to question the viability of this course. Even if we succeed in this particular case in offering the Iraqi people a viable choice of a working democratic/capitalist social, economic and political system and they accept that choice and put such a system in place, maintaining it themselves...then we still need to ask: what made it palatable for the Iraqi people to accept now, at this time?

Was it simply that they needed the repressive force of the Ba'athists removed before they could make that choice? Or was it that the system was forced on them in such a way that it still doesn't fit right despite glowing reviews? Or that adopting the system was tied to such immediate needs as working infrastructure, food, water and medicine that it wasn't really a 'choice' at all?

And then, even if Iraq comes out of this as a functioning Western-style democracy, how sure would we be that these conditions also exist in other nations in the area, and that they would be tappable without first spending a couple of years and billions of dollars bombing the existing government structures into remission?

This isn't really fair to Ken Pollack, who was asked to respond narrowly to the President's speech. Ken did mention, later on, that there is a real onus on the U.S. and the President as our symbol and leader to prove that 'we really mean it this time and we're not going to leave you swinging.' While it's heartening to hear that our past failures or abandoned efforts are not forgotten in all camps, it raises another problem in my mind - that of entanglement.

Even here, in the position of an analyst that I in general respect and agree with, and even in his 'best case,' we now have a situation in which it is becoming more and more difficult to extricate the United States and its military from the day-to-day operations of the Iraqi nation. The President has successfully, by invoking the goal of democratizaion, tied the American people's faith in and loyalty to their system's ostensible political ideas to a continued presence in Iraq. No matter what happens, now, he can point to this speech and say "But are you going to let these setbacks deter you in the quest for democracy?"

That's a blatant and dangerous hijacking of American political will. Why? Because we were not asked this question before the war began. This was not part of the original reasons stated for going into Iraq! Therefore, no matter what the 'justness' or 'goodness' of this reason for continued U.S. occupation, the mere invocation of this reason alone is a corruption of the process by which we, the United States and its citizens, are supposed to decide how to wield the power of this country we've built.

The converse of authority is responsibility. It's difficult for the American people to induce their government to act responsibly when they are not given correct, proper or complete information on how and why the government is acting in the first place.

Moving back to Iraq specifically, I'd like to take up a thread I previously 'straw man'ned out of sight. What if, in fact, the acceptance of a modern U.S. style democracy actually is predicated on the experiences that the U.S. and U.S. citizens and society have had over the past 200 years? If that was the case, then we couldn't really expect anything better than a Jeffersonian democracy in the best case - one of privileged, homogenous, misogynist definitions of 'who matters.' Is that what we want? I had thought that the 'other option' (thank you, Ken) of Islamic fundamentalist republics was undesirable in part because it involved all of those characteristics. Perhaps a society has to 'decide' for itself to move past value systems of that manner in order to operate under rules of the game such as those we take for granted today.

So, if that's true (and all I am noting is that we don't know it's not) then the notion of 'democratizing' Iraq, in our image or otherwise, is extremely unlikely to succeed, perhaps even not for any opposition directed at us - it may just be structurally incompatible. Certainly, the recipe of economic prosperity and modern technogy coupled with strong defensive and economic ties to the United States hasn't moved Saudi Arabia past that critical point towards a 'democracy' - despite furious, vehement objections and loudly-parroted extolling of the U.S. - Saudi alliance by members of the House of Saud whenever anyone in the U.S. publicly begins to wonder at the structure and/or actions of that regime, which we support as it sits stop several million Arab MIddle Easterners.

I just can't help but think that our nation, our military, and our people have been sucked into what is essentially a game stacked against us with widespread and lethal consequences for not only failure, but even playing. Worse, that it has occurred strictly so that our President and his advisors can prevent or derail any debate over the initial decision to go to war in Iraq in the first place, rather than because of any actual belief in and solid plan for actual political change in the Middle East.

Posted by jbz at 3:01 PM | Comments (0)

November 2, 2003

9/11, Liberty, and the American Way

Alt. title: On Big Brother, terrorism, Little Bush's New Domestic Order and the nature of liberty.

A grandiose title, I know. I just wanted to attempt to gel several threads of musings I've been having on the whole terrorism vs. civil rights vs. law vs. enforcement vs. surveillance - I don't want to call it a `debate' because it's been too damn one-sided; I suppose `debacle' will do.

This is a rant written for my other home, Everything2, some time ago. I've been revisiting it in my head a lot.

9/11 brought with it a number of fairly horrific consequences, some of which were swiftly foreseen, some of which were not. Many of them have been extremely troubling to me on several levels; the one I'd like to focus on here is the relationship between American citizens and their governments. Note the plural: I specifically include here Federal, State/Commonwealth, county, city/town and any other intervening levels I have missed (boroughs?).

To be American is to be free from a great deal of the stress that most peoples of the world endure in their day-to-day dealings with their governments. Part of this is by design; part of this is by tradition. The `by design' part doesn't, to me, appear to be working as intended. Originally, interactions with the government were to be managed by simple minimization; government wasn't to intrude on the citizen except in areas and times of need, hopefully great need. The country was founded, after all, on the notion that people as individuals and groups had the right and ability to remove themselves from the purview of a government they didn't like. The original design, Locke-ian as it was, was informed overwhelmingly by the then-current secession and the desire to avoid not the ability of the people of the U.S. from doing it again on a smaller scale, but to minimize the reasons they would have for doing so.

Of course, the Civil War (or the Late Great Unpleasantness, or the War of Northern Aggression, depending in which of its combatants you were schooled) put paid to a great many notions of the philosophical grounding of the U.S. governmental system, and acknowledged to a large degree the Realpolitik nature of the entire game. For the first time in practice, the `United States Government' acted as an entity separate from the will of the member States, arrogating to itself the ability to determine the legitimacy of State choices (i.e., the choice to secede). Since the defeat of the CSA (which, make no mistake, I personally consider a Good Thing if for no other reason than my Black/Jewish heritage) the ability and `right' of the Fed to act on its own agenda and initiative separate from those of the states themselves has never really been seriously questioned. The requirement for a year-to-year financing of the military, enacted by the Founding Fathers as a hedge against a standing army, suffered when it became clear that the United States was indeed going to fight foreign wars (something the original design actively discouraged), requiring forces to exist on a constant basis. The maintenance of those forces became less of a political stumbling block with the advent and subsequent maintenance of the personal income tax during and following the First World War.

We are protected from our Federal military by two remaining provisions: one, the 'Well regulated militia'1 or the state Guard units, and two, posse comitatus which makes it illegal to deploy the U.S. Armed Forces inside the United States for combat against its citizens, arrest, search, seizure, etc. etc. As we have seen since 9/11, both of these provisions suddenly look a lot less certain than they did a decade or so ago.

Guard units, since the Vietnam War, have been increasingly integrated into the Federal military structure. At this point, they are considered a vital and necessary element of the U.S. Armed Forces TOE2. Following the disasters of Vietnam, in which the armed forces suffered the consequences of being forced to fight a war with little or no public support (rampant drug use, inane personnel policies, rigged drafts, poor morale, information gaps and more) the then-Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Creighton Abrams, deliberately set about revamping the armed forces specifically to make it difficult if not iimpossible to fight a major war without utilizing the Reserve forces, thus forcing the American polity (they hoped) to decide whether any such war was really in their interest.3 The primary means of forcing this choice was to move as much of the Combat Support tasking as possible from regular to reserve units. Thus, while the President certainly can deploy the military by Executive fiat, those forces can't (theoretically) continue to operate in the field for much longer than a month or so at any kind of `combat' tempo without the mobilization of their matching Combat Service Support units - i.e. the reservists/Guard units.

While this has, in fact, made it commendably difficult for Presidents to fight `private' wars, it has also had the secondary effect of binding the Guard/reserve units more and more tightly into the integrated (Federal) military command structure. These units identify themselves more and more as `U.S. Military' and less as `Tennessee National Guard' (for example) than ever before. Even if the units do, in fact, retain state-based identity, their very weapon systems, supply, support and transportation are supplied by the central Armed Forces. They simply could not, by any stretch of the imagination, stand up to the main Armed Forces of the U.S. for the simple reason that in the case of the Guard, their weapons and equipment are supplied by the Army; in the case of the Reserve, most of the ready Reserve units are Combat Service Support and not warfighters.

So, returning from a long digression, 9/11 came about after a long-standing existing shift of power, the power to exercise military force (either in a positive or negative `veto' sense), from the people of the U.S. to the Federal Government of the U.S. Even when citizens are performing their duties by carefully examining the actions of their government, the very nature of conflict in modern America (especially after the Cold War) means that those citizens are routinely and continuously denied the information that they need to make informed choices. As an example, can you tell me how many civilian casualties the U.S. has caused in Afghanistan since 9/11? I don't think the number is out of proportion with our response, but the point is, we don't know it. We have watched our military move from denying attacks occurred to admitting their occurrence but defending their targeting to finally beginning inquiry into events on the ground. All of this points to the mammoth information gap that splits the U.S. polity from the Federal government's decision-making. This is dangerous for democracy and the American process; while, indeed, much information can quite rightly be set aside in the name of `operational security' the reflexive Cold War response of burying information by default and forever, at least until it is forcibly exhumed, means that as an American citizen, I do not know what my Government and my military is doing.

I'm fairly sure, in this case, that even if I did know, I would still be wholeheartedly supportive. The problem is that due to the institutionalized paranoia of the government, added to the desire to remove itself from political control, I don't know what we're doing.

This is unacceptable.

This lack of knowledge about the government's activities segues nicely into my next musing. As I and others have commented in the past, there is a very great danger (which, sadly, appears to be coming to fruition) that the U.S. Government or persons therein will utilize this tragedy to further erode its citizens' rights to privacy, anonymity and indeed general freedoms. A more frightening complication is that at present (at least) the vast majority of the American populace seems to think that this is just fine, as long as it keeps them `safe.' What, precisely, `safe' means is a fairly hotly-debated question among the small group that actually cares.

Well, one might say, why are you concerned? It appears that, contrary to your first argument, the people are actually getting what they want! Perhaps. On the other hand, `what they want' is not necessarily what they're getting. They want to be safe, and they want the government to provide that safety. The information gap I discussed, however, means that a vanishingly small number of people actually have an idea as to the price that they are paying for said `safety.' The remainder, a large majority, are content with the platitudes of "The government is working in your best interests." I find this amusing, as many of these are the same people that bitch so loudly come Tax day!

The Fed (here meaning the federal law enforcement system, not the bank) is attempting to acquire as many tools as possible for its job. On the one hand, this is laudable; it means (perhaps) that the people who make up the system are aware of the magnitude of the task they have before them. On the other hand, it might also be viewed as a sharp jump in a depressingly constant gathering, over the years, of more and more means of access and/or intervention in everyday life and society by said law enforcement arm(s).

Americans have really been too secure for too long for this to work any other way. The degree of personal safety from organized or disorganized violence in the U.S. has been such that in general the citizenry has been spared the necessity of carrying weapons or relying on non-governmental enforcement methods. Note that this doesn't mean people don't carry guns; it just means that it has been possible and reasonable, as a U.S. resident, to carry out one's daily life without the need for personal weaponry. Naturally, some choose to carry such protection anyway; likewise, there are certain occupations (law enforcement, security, courier for large sums, bodyguard, others) where weaponry is accepted and, indeed, expected. However, the Social Contract is doing quite well in the U.S. compared to most parts of the world.

By this, I mean the assumption made by each citizen that in return for their surrender of the right to violence to the state, the state will protect them and prevent the need for them to use violence to protect themselves. Does this always work? No, of course not. However, it works well enough that the great majority of Americans still feel that in the course of their lives they have no need to carry weapons or attain martial proficiency in order to make it through the day. The odds of them suffering harm or privation are low enough to make the risk worthwhile.

This state of affairs rests on a pyramid of trust; the citizen trusts the police to respond, trusts the courts to punish and incarcerate, and trusts the state (in some cases) to execute capital punishment, and so on. Law enforcement is primarily concerned with the prevention and punishment of crime as opposed to the prevention of citizens from taking the law into their own hands. This does, of course, happen; but much more rarely than in the past. Consider, for example, the Western Expansion; many Federal Marshals were employed not so much to capture or kill criminals, but to prevent local law enforcement from running roughshod over the stated rules of the game. This wasn't always true; in many cases, Marshals performed their (ostensibly) prime function of pursuing criminals across state lines. In some cases, though, the local law enforcement (sheriff, etc.) was enough of a problem that the presence of a Marshal was required in order to maintain the expected, trusted behavior of the government vis-a-vis maintaining order.

This is relevant because in those days, many more folks than today in the U.S. chose to carry weapons, and be proficient in their use. While gunplay wasn't nearly as prevalent (nor as effective) as seen in Western films, the weapons were there and were there for use in situations where the Government was unable to adequately maintain its veil of protection. In other terms, the citizens of the Western U.S. found that they weren't yet able to completely relinquish the right to violence to the government. Tacit admission of this, on the government's part, can be found in the tradition of `deputizing' civilians, or forming posses led by lawmen for the purpose of enforcing the law - the civilians' participation was required due in part to the `thinness' of government at that place in those times.

Fast forward. Today, part of the problem of combating terrorism is that in our society the simple willingness to carry high-power weapons and use them, coupled with the lack of concern over one's `criminal record' or future punishment make those who have these attributes formidable challenges to protect society from. Examples are numerous; the Los Angeles bank robbers with body armor and high-powered weaponry, for one. The hijackers of 9/11 were able to capitalize strictly on the will to live of those aboard the aircraft they hijacked; once they had decided they themselves did not need to live, there were little means available to prevent them from completing their plans (although, forewarned of their intentions, the passengers of Flight 93 apparently did just that - showing that once all parties were aware of the nature of the endgame, that death was the planned result, numbers did prevail).

The Government is less able today to rely on societal norms or even situational conditions to keep potential wrongdoers in line. When it is a fairly safe bet that most of the citizens around you aren't armed, and that probably all of them would rather let you go about your plan and wait for the government to help them if it means a better short-term chance of survival, then the demands on law enforcement to predict events and behavior and prevent through interdiction (rather than deterrence) are much, much greater. To do this, i.e. to stop crimes before they happen (which in the case of 9/11 is what you'd have to do) is not normally what police departments or even federal law enforcement normally does. In past times, they have been responsible for ensuring the capture and punishment of those responsible, as well as the safety of any bystanders involved; the latter was important enough that deferring the capture of the actors was acceptable if it meant saving lives.

Now, of course, you can't wait until after. You have to try to find people like the al-Qaeda hijackers before they actually board the plane; before they can park the Ryder truck, etc. You have to find them when they may not, in fact, be presently committing or have yet committed overt crimes. Here, then, is the crux of the problem - in order to stop events such as this, we have `raised the bar' for our law enforcement system so high that the only chance in hell that those responsible for it have of carrying out the wishes of the polity (for `safety') is to throw out progressively larger bits of the freedoms so cherished by our forebears as protected from those very arms of government.

What, then, to do?

That's the question. That's the thing to ask and ponder. It's not necessarily that the U.S. government is venal; a large portion of the drive towards `Big Brother' can be traced directly to the enormity of the task pushed upon it by those same citizens who just `want to be safe.' So it's not even a given that the way to preserve liberty is to fight the government - in this case, the government may actually be following the will of the people. We have to fight not only the patronizing, condescending and superior attitudes of scumbags like Ashcroft and Little Bush (Hooray for Iraq for that moniker); we have to fight the unknowing press of our fellow citizens as they provide the impetus and excuse for these same seizures of our rights.

Which is why this might get ugly. Traditionally, Governments don't give up prerogatives they've seized. Look at the income tax.

As Benjamin Franklin has been(mis)quoted and paraphrased, "Those who desire security over liberty deserve neither security nor liberty."4 Just because the masses want to remain asleep doesn't mean they should be allowed to do so. The government actually, in a strange twist, needs the help of all us skeptics and self-appointed watchdogs - without our help, it simply cannot possibly avoid making the changes that have already started and still satisfy the citizenry. We need to come up with better ideas. It's not Somebody Else's Problem - it's yours, and mine, and your friends and neighbors' as well.

What are we facing? Stories abound. A federally-run database of all airline passenger information, including marital status, living arrangements, address and religion of passengers? Does anyone see a problem here? Or the linking of the Dept. of Motor Vehicles of each state to create a national ID card, without having to actually get the notion past voters? This, too, is underway. I don't know why you went and got a license, but I assure you, I didn't do it in order to join a national databank. I understood at the time that the data would be available to law enforcement and others; however, I wasn't told and didn't assume that the data would be available to a central authority even if I wasn't the subject of an investigation.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

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1. From Amendment II to the Constitution of the United States of America: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Recent interpretation (sources, anyone?) has taken the WRM to include all males of military age, whether or not they are enrolled.

2. TOE stands for "Table of Organization and Equipment," which is shorthand for 'the structure and composition of a military unit or organization."

3. The reader is encouraged to check out the history; one example can be found at the Air Force Association:

4. The quote is from "Historical Review of Pennsylvania," written by Mr. Franklin in 1759, and reads: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Posted by jbz at 12:31 AM | Comments (0)