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Thursday, October 31, 2002
Everybody's posting scary stories. I'm afraid I don't have one. Not even from my childhood. I have funny stories that make people cry, and sad stories that people have laughed at, but I can't think of any scary ones. Except this one, a tale of terror for the 21st century (even though it happened in the 20th). You can tell it's a true story because it's not very good. It also does not take place in the spooky south, but in California.
About five years ago I was working at a remote mountaintop location. There are technicians and administrative people around during the day, but at night it's pretty deserted and very dark. Not only that, but there's a man buried on the site, beneath the building we work in---a rich and famous and rather strange man. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, the elevator rises unbidden to the second floor. We say it's the ghost of this man, making his rounds. The building has an ancient heating system, which creaks and hisses and moans and emits odd banging noises. So it can be very spooky. Sometimes, when there's a storm howling on the mountain, the fog closes in so that you can't see your hand in front of your face, but if you look out the window you can imagine the faces of the damned, crying for mercy. I try not to look out the window during storms. I see too much.
Fortunately this time there was no storm, and I was working with a partner. Now, every once in a while you have to go outside and check on things, and we're doing that when we hear this...noise. It's like a hiss and a rattle and a hum, very strange. My colleague says, "Oh, that must be the raccoons in the trash can. I think they make a noise like that." (This is a city woman who don't know SHIT about wildlife, now, but I figured it was possible she was right, though I should have KNOWN better because of that time in Arizona with the bear...but I digress.)
So we go out again in a couple hours, and we hear the noise again. It seems to be coming from somewhere in the middle of the parking lot, not at the edge where the trash cans are. I shine my flashlight out there and two green eyes flash back at me. "Look! Look, did you see that? I saw its eyes!" But there doesn't seem to be anything out there. Nothing casts a shadow in the flashlight beam. Hmmm...well, might be a rattlesnake. Better be careful where you step when you go outside.
A little while later I go out again, alone. Only this time I don't go through the side door, as before, but out the front. I hear the noise again, and it plainly is there in the middle of the parking lot. I shine my flashlight on it and see this very small...thing on the ground, maybe 20 feet away.
Now here I admit to cowardice, of which I am ashamed. I go and get my colleague. While we stand there (safely near the door) looking at it, we hear it hum again. So we take the flashlight, and, huddling close together, we approach it. It hums again, an awful sound. And as we get right up to it, we see, crouching horribly...
It's someone's damned pager, which they have dropped in the parking lot, which here had me imagining critters and bombs and maybe ghosts. So we picked it up and we laughed about it and the next day my partner turned it in to the admin people and told them it had scared me.
That's it. That's my scary story. Sorry.
Tuesday, October 29, 2002
(Tim Blair will be mentioned nowhere in this post. Er--doh!)
Mostly this is an excuse to tell you about my dream (see bottom of post).
Here's the story of a nice, ecologically-minded company which sought to keep a shopping center from being built on top of wetlands in suburban St. Louis.
Oopsie! Turns out that the company was so eco-friendly because the new development would compete with them. Gosh, I bet that's never happened before!
I don't know that St. Louis needs another shopping mall. It certainly seemed well-supplied with them while I was there (this was one of the good things about living there), but the more the merrier, I suppose. I predict, however, that the river will flood as it has done about five times in the past twenty years, cause a big mess and a lot of damage, and the mall developers---assuming they are not stymied here---will want the government to bail them out. Wetlands flood? Who knew!
But back to our story. The eeevuul Aussie interlopers are at least not being mealy-mouthed about it. No "genuine concern for the environment" horseshit here, no sir:
And the eco-virtucrats don't see anything wrong with it either:
I have an irrational grudge against Westfield, so I hope their nefarious plans are thwarted. Apparently they are taking over the shopping centers of the US as they did those of Australia, including the one nearest me in Sydney, the confusingly-named Westfield Eastgardens. I began to hate seeing their wiggly red logo everywhere.
In March of 2001 I came back to the US and was visiting my parents. I needed something-or-other, and they took me to Crestwood Plaza in St. Louis County to get it. As we approached the shopping center, I managed to get a few words in edgewise to tell them about my dream:
After a few months in Australia, I had a terrible nightmare. I dreamt that I was driving through country New South Wales, which means taking snaky, badly-maintained two-lane blacktops for three or four hundred miles. After a while my mind began to drift, as often happens; I was alert enough to drive on a deserted country road, but not really giving it the full force of my intellect. Then I turned the corner, and suddenly I was in the desert. I saw those white "shield" US highway signs: 66/40 (or it may have been 61/40, or 60/41 --- something like that). I pulled over at a wide parking lot that had been churned mud until the sun baked it hard. This was serving as a rest stop; there were quite a few other cars there. People were getting out and stretching.
I got out and looked around, took a closer look at the people and the cars. I was back in the US! Now, even in the dream, I stopped to wonder why this had happened. Surely, even if one could drive across the Pacific, I'd have noticed it? Big blue thing, full of sharks, marked lack of gas stations... Surely this would have been unmissable, yes? Hmm...
Perhaps, I thought, I'd never actually been in Australia. Perhaps it was Canada I'd been living in. They had awfully funny accents, though.
No matter. I was back home! Yeeee-haaaaa! I jumped back in the car, cranked the radio up real high and took off down that good old American four-lane highway, a song in my heart. I'm home! I'm home! I'm home!
After a while my mind began to drift again, as I drove that wide highway. I was concentrating enough to drive, but not really giving it my full cerebral effort. I turned a corner and was back in New South Wales.
I woke up screaming. The horror...the horror...
So anyway, just as I was telling my parents this, just as I was describing the awful sense of loss and disorientation I felt as I suddenly found that I was not back home, but in Australia still, we turned into the Crestwood Plaza parking lot and I looked up and saw, hanging over me, the giant WESTFIELD sign.
Aaaaaagggh! The nightmares! They begin again!
(That would make a good Twilight Zone episode.)
And I find they've taken over Northwest Plaza in St. Louis, down the street from where I used to live; and Valley Fair, where I used to shop in San Jose. They're after you! They're after all of us! They're here already! You're next! YOU'RE NEXT!!
(Via Christopher Johnson.)
Maintaining the Purity of Essence
Hey, kids! I've just found the coolest idea. It's from a fellow named Tom Coates, who has profound misunderstandings about the nature of gravity---but that's neither here nor there. He's been disturbed lately by unclean links coming into his site. See, some fiends from the stinking, tarry depths of HELL have been linking to him, and he's afraid that anyone coming from those sites will a) be possessed by demons, and b) believe that Coates is likewise one of the Damned. And Coates is a man of virtue who will have no commerce with the Spawn of the Man-Goat.
Fortunately, he is a Priest of the Web, and and can set charms that will redirect any sulfurous links to a purification page, where the offending visitors will be cleansed of blasphemy, and set upon the road to Right Thinking. That is, he's going to set up an Auto-protest Bot that will warn visitors that they are entering the Paths of Glory, and harangue them into shedding their evil ways.
This is so cool. It has long been my dream to seal myself off hermetically from any contact with those who do not fully share my lightest whim. Next job I get, I will immediately inform all my workmates of every detail of my worldview, and warn any who do not agree with me to keep their distance. I will also interrogate the woman who sells me stale cookies at the convenience store, just in case her religious/political/culinary beliefs do not match mine. (Stuffing! Potatoes!) If so I will shun her. (Wonder if I can get T-shirts made up, for the sake of convenience.)
Else, my brothers-in-virtue may see us together and shun my society, for fear of contamination. Yea, verily, first I will have to find some brothers-in-virtue who believe precisely as I do in every facet of life; such people have so far been strangely scarce.
Now, if I may be serious just for a moment (no! really! just a moment) I want to point out that what Coates suggests is not censorship. Oh, no. (Not, mind you, that I've seen anyone claiming that it is. I've only seen Coates's supporters objecting that it isn't.) Coates is only warning other people that the last site they have visited is not on the Rolls of the Blessed. (It's possible that he means to only put up a warning page, from which visitors can go ahead and link to his main site; but he hasn't made that clear.) That's more like...self-ghettoization. Known to some as Making a Silly Hysterical Ass Out of Yourself. Which is his right.
But some might have got the idea he was advocating censorship from this post, in which Coates says:
Well, thanks for inventing the Internet. Sorry our icky free speech has upset your tummy.
Sunday, October 27, 2002
Microsoft Vandalized My Town!
"Reuters" (aka "One Man's News Service Is Another Man's Running Joke That Will Not Die") reports that Clueless Gits, Inc (aka Microsoft) has paid a whopping $50 (that's right, fifty, five-oh, half a C-note) fine for slapping butterfly decals around New York. "Reuters" goes on to note that
Damn right it did. This was a few weeks after September 11 (yes, I'm going to drag 9/11 into it---watch me). One morning a bunch of spray-painted images sprung up around Randwick. They were black boxes with a green logo much like the one on these shoes. In other words, they were like the Xbox logo, except that they did not say "Xbox".
I probably hadn't heard of Xbox, and I certainly hadn't seen this logo. I didn't know it was a logo for several days. I didn't know what the hell it was; for all I knew it was the sign of the Etoiles Verts, an Algerian terrorist organization (that I just made up). After a day or two I noticed that they had a little "TM" in the corner, and I realized they were advertisements for something or other. When the bus shelter ads came out I finally knew what the spray paint was for.
This really pissed me off. Randwick was always being defaced with some shit or other; there was quite a bit of ordinary graffiti, and one Monday morning we woke up to find "$cumbags" stencilled in front of the banks and the shopping center. Down with capitalism! But I figured that surely Microsoft wouldn't have done this without the permission of the Randwick Council, right? Right? Wrong, apparently.
The ads stayed until they wore away, except for the one in front of the Coach and Horses pub; they scrubbed that baby away in a couple days. Hope they billed Microsoft for the work.
In the ordinary course of things, I would love this logo. It's a star. It's in black and lime green---which, as we know, are two great colors that go great together. I might well have bought a pair of those shoes just for the great logo. But not now.
Loose Lips Sink Ships
Instantman links to this Fox News story about the 50th anniversary of the founding of Mad magazine.
On Friday night I caught part of a WWII-era short on Turner Classic Movies. They use them to fill in between movies, if necessary. Golly, I love these. They reveal so much more than they intended. (A couple nights ago I saw part of a short on THE FUTURE! Do you know that in THE FUTURE! we will be able to cook foods with radiofrequencies? Yes!)
Anyhow, this short was a cautionary film of the "loose lips sink ships" variety. Those usually warned people to watch what they say about troop movements, etc, but this was a little different. The film showed a man at a bar ranting to the bartender, while two men at a table nearby tried not to look like they were eavesdropping. The man at the bar says something of the nature, "Blah blah blah our allies are unreliable blah blah blah Brits will fight to the last drop of American blood blah blah blah and those Bolshies don't get me started blah..." One of the men at the table says, "I must tell the boys in the boardroom," and they leave immediately. After they're gone, the blabber and the bartender exchange a hearty "Heil, Hitler." They're Nazzy agitators!
Come to think of it, the message isn't really clear. Is it: "Don't criticize the war effort because it will damage morale"? Or is it: "Don't listen to people criticize the war effort because it will damage morale"? Either way, it makes today's jackbooted dissent-crushers look like Abbie Hoffman.
(This short also has a clip of a Roosevelt speech assuring Americans that they are not "soft", and that the current generation is capable of the same heroism that their ancestors were. It was very, very strange hearing that over shots of WWII soldiers, the same guys whose deeds seem so extraordinary today.)
Friday, October 25, 2002
It Pays to Advertise
Since I read blogs, I don't read the newspaper very carefully anymore, which is why it was up to Niles to notice the little tidbit in this story (warning, link rot may set in quickly):
Yahoo sez there is such a place, at 727 S. Clinton Ave in Trenton.
Stuff that in your X-Files.
Thursday, October 24, 2002
Nothing to see here...
WHAT'S THIS? I haven't been able to get to Charles Johnson's blog for a while now. It couldn't have anything to do with that hate site horseshit, now, could it?
Naaaah. It's just a coincidence. Must be sumpin else.
Tuesday, October 22, 2002
Tales of Future Past
Remember the past? Remember when the past imagined the future, and it looked like this? That's from Lileks's site. I'd love Lileks just for his writing, but he's also fascinated with those beautiful old buildings of tomorrow. Why, as he asks in this picture, shouldn't the world look like this today? It was going to, once, going to look even better---clean, sweeping lines, rounded and streamlined.
Here's another one, also from Lileks. I don't even know what to call this style. It always makes me think of California. I have to rely on Lileks because I can't even google on a style name.
Whoops. Spoke too soon. It has a name, and its name is Googie. Not Google, Googie. Named after a Los Angeles restaurant. Aka Populuxe, Doo-Wop, Coffee Shop Modern, Jet Age, Space Age, and Chinese Modern. (Chinese Modern? That's from an I Love Lucy episode.)
The author of this site says:
*sniff* That's about the saddest thing I've ever read.
But anyway, what I was going to say was, suppose the past's future survived into the future's present. That is, suppose that the Googie future (a little less pink, please) was today. What would it look like?
Why, it would look like this. Best if used with Flash. This, children, is the 59 Diner in Houston, a chain of three restaurants. I had dinner at the Katy Freeway location on Saturday night. The exterior is a bit too self-consciously Googie (sorry, could not find a picture). Yesterday's Restaurant of Tomorrow would have its own animated web site, where you could look up the menu on-line, and find out what this week's Blue Plate Specials are. You only need on-line ordering---and beyond that you only need a tiny little bubble-shaped ship to whisk it piping hot to your door---to find yourself smack dab in a Jetsons episode.
Why don't we have tiny bubble-shaped vehicles like the Jetsons did? Whose fault is it, and can we hurt them?
By the way, I had the meatloaf Blue Plate Special---meatloaf and three sides (mashed potatoes, "lima" beans [they were butter beans], and broccoli casserole) plus cornbread. And a chocolate malt, and yes I was stuffed. The meatloaf was not great, but you don't often see meatloaf on a menu these days, so I went for it.
The Future's here, and it's cool, but it's not as cool as it could be.
For more Googie, check out these sites:
Society for Commercial Archeology
For you home decorators and do-it-yourselfers:
An Amazon book link: Retro Style: The '50s Look for Today's Home
Retro fabrics and wallpaper Some genuine leftovers, some new designs in the old style. I seriously dig the Atomicburst fabric pattern, but I wish they had it in blue background. I need one of those pillows. Jetson White, yeah...
Freebies at an Exhibition
I'm not sure anyone at all will find this interesting.
On Friday afternoon, Niles and I took a trip into THE FUTURE! Which is to say, we went down to the World Space Conference, held in Houston over the past two weeks. It was Riff-Raff Day, which meant the general public could go and look at the exhibits (ONLY) for free.
The primary reason for going, of course, was to collect FREE STUFF from the various nation-states and eeevuuul corporations. More anon.
Didn't see any protesters, although there was a table (outside) for Larouchies, with a sign reading GO TO MARS NOT WARS!
YOU'RE A DOUCHE IF YOU VOTE LAROUCHE
IF YOUR BRAINS ARE SUSHI/YOU MIGHT BE A LAROUCHIE
You never think of these clever things on the spot. Fortunately.
Now, at our professional society's conferences, we sometimes have a few corporate and government exhibitors---NASA, Lockheed, Springer-Verlag, etc, along with a few of the larger universities. They'll have a space with a few chairs, a table with literature, and usually a backdrop with a pretty picture on it. There'll be a bored presenter or four, and they'll be handing out brochures, or posters, to give out---maybe a pin if you're lucky.
Springer, Kluwer, Cambridge U. Press, etc, will sell discounted books!
But that's about it.
Here, however, it was a little different. It was the same idea, but the exhibit hall was enormous. And you could tell a lot of money went into the exhibits. Some of them were larger than this apartment, and contained their own offices. Wish I'd brought my camera. It was kinda like "New York, New York" (the Vegas casino, not the song).
The Italians apparently chose "Our Future in the Ozone Hole" as their theme, which relied heavily on ultraviolet light. They had a huge space with futuristic glass tubes everywhere, lit from beneath by black lights. The big tubes had round TV screens at the bottom, so that you could look down into whatever was playing on them. This produced dizzyness, and nausea in the sensitive (what with the black light and all). Scored one Telespazio package (notebook, pad, pen, and CD). Wish I could've taken the blacklit little magazine stand I plucked it from.
The Dutch had an extremely orange exhibit, as you might expect. Niles (who was a Real Attendee, and not just riff-raff, like me) said they used to have a huge wooden shoe hovering over it, but that was gone by Friday. They had no freebies to give away at all. (Once upon a time, in America, they had a reputation of being stingy. You see it in old movies and books sometimes. Huh.) I did, however, grab a little card that featured a yellow wooden shoe sporting a telescope and solar panels, riding into space on an orange carpet. Most undignified. But cute.
The Chinese exhibit looked like an aquarium---a blue glass tunnel to nowhere. I was afraid I'd go in and be beamed to China, so gave it a miss.
The Lockheed exhibit was an enormous, mostly-empty space. They had some freebie posters which were snatched up by roving packs of foreign teenagers. Really, it was like locusts---groups of four and five would descend on some site, grab all the goodies, and swarm off, giggling. Remember, the Americans are the rude ones.
They were worse than me, even.
Japan's contribution was boring except that 1) they gave out paper fans, which came in very useful for cooling off after snatch-and-grab raids, and 2) they are developing a module for the International Space Station called the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) or---and this will only be amusing to Usenet veterans---"Kibo". (Hey, kids! Did you know that before there was googling, there was kibozing?)
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics had a full-scale model of the Wright Bros plane set up, with a full-scale model of Orville, as well.
The best exhibit there was the Planetary Society's mock-up of a Mars rover, made of LEGOs. This was a joint exhibit with LEGO, and featured real dirt and walls made of translucent Sojourner pictures of the Martian surface. Sadly, the LEGOs making up the solar cells were not real photovoltaic LEGOs. I asked. That would've been cool.
The LEGO half of this exhibit which contained two LEGO robots that you could operate by remote control. They gave me a brochure, but unfortunately I can't find a good picture on-line. Here is the same sort of thing. The ones on exhibit were radio controlled, ran (at least partly) on solar power, and had little cameras attached so you could see what you were doing. Your assignment was to pick a rock up off the ground, grab it, and place it on a ledge. I was successful! Here is the LEGO Mindstorms (the name of the product) web site, but I couldn't find pictures of the rovers on the brochure.
Now we move on to the issue of KEWL STUPH you can get. Besides several posters, the notebook, and the fan, I also picked up a bunch of bookmarks and stickers. This doesn't sound like much, but sometimes the bookmarks are very pretty, with pictures of astronomical objects on them. The stickers are instrument or shuttle mission patches. I keep them because I'm always thinking that I will soon be out of the science business, and I'll need them to remind me that I once worked in a semi-glamorous job. I've been thinking that for about 15 years now.
A great deal of design thought is put into these mission patches. If you've ever had one of these stickers, you see that its iconography is detailed on the back, outlining what every element means. Sometimes, though, you gotta wonder what got into people, as in the WORF mission patch. Aaah! In my dreams! Winged eyeballs! (This is what WORF actually is.)
I thought of Lileks when I picked these up. One day some future Lileks will want these, some guy who's charmed by the quaint obsessions of an earlier age. (Just imagine what kind of high tech toys he'll take for granted. Interactive business cards that play tiny movies, maybe. [Foreshadowing.]) He'll love the solar powered wooden shoe card, and the bookmark in the shape of a thermometer giving handy-dandy melting points for tantalum boride and rhenium. This means I must keep the bookmarks and brochures crisp and clean for the future Lileksian. They'll clutter up my abode for the next 40 or 50 years. I hope the little bastard's grateful.
I was delighted to grab a pin from my much-missed former employers in California. It has, for no damn good reason, a blinking LED on it. I figure it's supposed to induce hypnosis and make you...um...well, it can't make you buy their product, because it's not the kind of thing you can buy unless you've got a spare million or two.
The LEGO people were giving away little LEGO astronauts. It turns out there were two kinds: a man and a woman. I only got a man, but Niles got both. And how can you tell them apart?: the woman has makeup on. No, I'm not kidding. Lipstick and false eyelashes. I guess they figured the old standby---breasts---wouldn't show through a spacesuit, but makeup...er...would.
Then there's the NASA antenna ball, for the antenna I don't have. And several much-appreciated additions to Fridge Magnet World. I have yet to blog about FMW; suffice it to say it's our retirement plan.
Now, throughout the ages---well, at least since the early '90s---organizations in my business have been handing out CDs. It used to be CDs with tables of boring yet useful data on them. Now it's professionally-produced CDs extolling the virtues of whateverthehell it is they do (e.g. "A Tour of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory" or "Space Shuttle 2020").
But at this meeting they gave out these little doohickeys---obviously mini CDs cut on two sides to the size of a business card. I thought it was just a funny way of making a business card, though it did seem wasteful to cut up CDs just for that. Then we noticed they had system requirements on them, and Niles stuck one into his computer. They work!
There's one for the National Science Digital Library. That site has an interactive tour, maybe the same one on the little CD (it requires Flash). Hope so, because then you can hear the scary woman who sounds just like the disembodied voices in any number of science fiction movies from the '70s (the ones with British art directors---brrr).
Then there's "Naval Space: Putting Space into the Combat System" (couldn't find a link), which shows how satellites identify targets for aircraft. There was an exciting little movie of Things that Go Fast and Explode, complete with terse phone conversations, war rooms, and a pilot shouting, "Wooooeee! I think we nailed 'em!" Good stuff.
Some of my work involves making animated models. I feel a strong temptation to put my resume on a little CD, including all my papers and some semi-published work and nice animations. I couldn't hope to match the professional ones, but I could get out my little GIMP and make lots of pretty pictures. Hmmm.... It'd probably have to run off PowerPoint... Hmmm.... That way I could be having lots of fun while pretending to be job-hunting.
Well, so the future's here: interactive business cards containing tiny movies. Who knew, eh?
Sunday, October 20, 2002
Nine Days in a Black Hole
Nine days?? I've been away from my blog for nine days? Surely not. It's only been a couple-three days. Four at the outside. No. Nine, huh?
Well...I've, um, I've...I've been in a black hole, yeah, that's it. And when I came out I found that the Commonwealth had fallen and I put it back together again through sweat and blood and sheer force of personality. Yeah. And then I nobly refused to lead it, so I could go gadding out among the stars, which as we all know gets better ratings than policy wrangling, and is a lot more fun. And now every time I turn around the newly-restored fascist Commonwealth is sending out its jackbooted thugs to bring me in for murder, or its coddling war criminals. How did it get a bureaucracy so quick? And why doesn't it ever send me any reports or instructions? Did I fall in another black hole or something?
[Anyone for whom that doesn't make the slightest sense could go here, but it's probably better if you don't.]
In this post I mention the Black Hole of Calcutta in passing. Heather Mallick sort of seems to believe it was the British who perpetrated it, but it's hard to tell, because she mentions it in passing too.
A couple of years ago a colleague was writing a popular article about black holes, and he asked me to look it over (specifically because I don't know nuttin about no black holes). For some reason he decided to mention the Black Hole of Calcutta, and his little explanation also assumed that it had been the British who had forced Bengali prisoners into a small, airless room, where many of them died overnight---rather than the other way around. (Here is the Straight Dope on the subject.)
I was a bit indignant when informing my colleague of that. Turns out he'd checked into it after he'd given me the paper, and found out the truth. I said that it was an interesting example of bigotry---he naturally assumed that an instance of barbarism in India must have been perpetrated by the British. How different from the assumptions of previous eras!
He said it had sounded wrong to him, too, but a book on black holes he'd read for background had the BH of C story in it with the British as villains. He showed me the book. It was French. Now all becomes clear!
"I'm an American tired of American lies" is the title of this piece from noted pot smoker and bridge climber Woody "Woodenhead" Harrelson. Me too, Woody! In particular, I'm tired of the kind of lies you spout in this Wanker article. But giving it too much attention might suggest that Woody was someone worth paying attention to. I just want to comment on this bit---what Woody would do in Bush's shoes:
"I'd take the rest and pay the people teaching our children what they deserve."
Listen carefully, children: You deserve to starve to death in the cold and dark until a terrorist can get around to killing you. Have a joint while you wait.
So, what do I get paid for that? Is it as much as Woody got?
Also via Damian Penny.
That's what we need.
Damian Penny brings us another treat from the alleged brain of Heather Mallick. She works herself into posturing tizzy about the coming US takeover of the planet. All I can say for Heather is that one is liable to come up with anything once one has fused history, movies, and memory as she has here. (Affronted by a picture of the Queen in her local post office, Meryl Streep uses a guillotine to cut off the hand of King Leopold, and then presents it to the Italian husband of her widowed daughter-in-law in exchange for their baby, which is then killed on the way back to England. This prompts the Bengalis to spread tales of the dreaded Black Hole of Calcutta, secure in the knowledge that future historians and dumbass Canadian columnists will assume that it was a British atrocity.)
Allright, Mallick's a twit. Not really any need to harp on what a twit she is, right? But I am interested in the aspect of her twittitude illuminated by these passages:
She then goes on another fevered rant---I assume it must be fevered, because, as Damian says, it ain't funny. We will discreetly draw a veil over the rest.
(Don't tell anyone, but Niles does not have an SUV, and I don't even have a car! And neither of us have credit card debt; but this does explain our lack of friends, if such debt is a "social asset".)
But what of these phrases:
...American prefabricated picket fences...
...white plastic patio furniture...
...their slogan "We want stuff and we want it cheap."
This is another wonderful example of snobbery. What is it about the picket fences that irritates them so? That they're American? Prefabricated? Picket? Is it the whiteness or the plasticity of the patio furniture that troubles Mallick? Or is she just envious that most Americans can use their patio furniture more than two weeks a year?
Somewhere I have a dreadful biography of Jane Austen which swoons over the 18th century, when people had beautiful things instead of cheap, mass-produced crap. But the idiot author doesn't stop to remember that only a relatively few people had those nice things---most people had to do without many beautiful possessions because they were costly in labor in materials. No doubt this author assumed she would be among those who could afford beauty, and as for the rest, well, self-denial is good for the soul, you know.
Since September 11 I have read---as have all of you---many justifications of why America "had it coming". Those referencing various foreign policies at least have the virtue of being amenable to rational argument, although there's been precious little of it. But there have been many commentators blaming resentment of the spread of American culture, especially consumer culture.
One particular galling aspect of American culture seems to be its universality, that is, it doesn't appeal specifically to an elite. Mass production says, to anyone, "You deserve useful and presentable things at a reasonable cost, and we're going to sell it to you." If it weren't for that awful mass production I'd have no belongings at all---not furniture, nor clothes, nor reading material nor music. All hail cheap mass-produced crap!
And what's the beef against Wal-Mart? You walk into a Wal-Mart, and you can buy practically anything the average person might need or want. You might not have an enormous amount of choice, and not all of the stuff you find there will be the most beautiful of its kind, but you can still obtain it, at a reasonable price.
(Like little purple harem outfits bedecked with tinkly "gold" coins, which we saw at Wal-Mart last night. Not that I bought one---that doesn't bear visualizing---I'm just sayin', is all.)
If I were not constrained by a rudimentary sense of logic---not to mention a disinclination to look as stupid as, oh, Heather Mallick---I might be tempted to declare that this bizarre grudge against American material culture is due to the fact that the masses seem to like it better than some benevolent and fair arrangement under which we all have the same amount of nothing.
Or perhaps it's some old-fashioned elitist idea that you must wait and work and slave away before you acquire nice things, so that cheap things which look halfway decent allow the proles to live in a dignity they have not yet earned. Destroys their natural proletarian character, you know.
Or, possibly, complaining about what the brain-washed lemming-like sheeple do makes Mallick and Thoreson believe they are clever and literate.
Friday, October 11, 2002
B-Day, aka Operation Overload, came off smoothly the other day. Its high point was when the man at the U-Haul place chose to take my California license over Niles's Texas one because, as he said to me, "You look like you're over eighteen."
This comes perilously close to lack of tact. Southern gentlemen just aren't what they were. But forget that. Niles hasn't been eighteen for twenty years. Ye gods, I've known him for sixteen years, and he was a grown man when we met. But it's true that he does look youthful. He's been on scientific review panels where the fate of millions (of dollars) is decided. Once, after a hard day's fund allocation, he went with a group to a restaurant where he was carded when he tried to order a drink. His colleagues, needless to say, were most amused.
I think he bathes in the blood of undergraduates.
More than once I've been mistaken for his mother. Fortunately, the dire humiliation of these incidents is overshadowed by their comic potential. Whenever this mistake is made I'm always tempted to beam with maternal pride, then put a lip-lock on him. Right now, the apparent difference in our ages is just slightly embarrassing/amusing. People must wonder if he's my toy boy. If this keeps up for another twenty years, though, and Niles continues to look eighteen while I age like a normal person (or perhaps faster), it's going to start looking downright creepy. "Come give yer ol' Granny a smooch, ya little studmuffin." Aaiiieeeee!
As for the actual box part, that was OK. They managed not to lose any, and only one box was broken open, and another cut open. Fortunately the weather was cool---only 80 degrees on Tuesday---so that wrestling with the boxes did not cause heat stroke. When I left California we drove the last 30 hours or so without sleeping, and immediately had to unload most of the stuff into the storage unit. It hit 100 in Houston that day, and I began to exhibit signs of hyperthermia. Niles had never had it, and thought I was faking. "Cold? What do you mean, you're cold? How the hell can you be cold?"
Once again I wonder where did all this crap come from. I bought hardly anything in Australia, for a variety of reasons. Where did I get all this junk?
"How did I get all this crap, Niles? Why do I have to have this crap? I should've just dropped it in Coogee Bay."
"Well, it couldn't have been like the other day, when we passed a Book fair. 'Oh, look! Book fair! Book fair!' And then all the books jump on you and beg you to take them home. 'Love us! Buy us!' They never say, 'I'm heavy and boring and will never get read!' No, they say, 'We're books! Buy us! Buy us! Buy! Buy! Buy!' "
There was a long pause.
"Maybe I should just let you write my blog from now on."
This is so true. I've had books gang up on me---twenty, thirty at a time, at the Silicon Valley library sales. They ambush me and drag me to the sale table. One gets out my wallet and pays, and then they force me at page-point into the car. The sale people, of course, pretend not to notice (they're trying to get rid of the little thugs, after all). Then they'd make me dust them, and buy shelves for them, so that my apartment was made up almost entirely of book shelves. Horrible.
Man, I wish I lived in Silicon Valley again.
Sword of the Red Sheik
This post contains cheap character analysis, careless and sweeping generalizations, embarrassing secrets of the female sex, and trace amounts of whining.
Tim Blair unearths a simply breathtaking specimen of idiot, in the person of John Carroll, a sociologist at La Trobe University in Melbourne. Said idiot has written a book, which Tim is breaking into its constituent moron atoms, rendering it safe for the environment. The above link is to Chapter 1; Tim also has an update and a go at Chapter 2. He promises more chapters to come. I hope he's more successful at this than at his "Lie on Every Page" series on John Pilger, where he only got through about the first half dozen pages.
Tim contents himself with mocking Carroll; I'd rather he attempt a more serious rebuttal or analysis, but if he did, there wouldn't be anything for me to do.
This little scrap reminds me of two things. The first brings back a wave of nostalgia, along with the nausea. When I was a teenager my literary diet was based on science fiction, fantasy, and books on the occult. My best friend and her mother, however, had a different menu, which consisted of stacks and stacks of romance novels:
Ewwww. Do you have any idea how much it hurts to write like that. Pardon me while I collect myself...
Ahem. Yes. The other thing this brought to mind is this classic:
This, of course, is from Robert Fisk's famous column on his beating by Afghan refugees, in which he concludes that it was OK for them to beat him up because, poor things, they had been psychically brutalized by the West for millenia. Fisk talks about his wounds for paragraphs, culminating in this lurid example. What I thought at the time---and still think---is that Fisk has a martyr complex: the emphasis on the rich blood spilling all down his face, his hands, his disconnected thought that he might die, neatly wrapped up at the end by the conclusion that he deserved all this, that the West deserved it, that he was standing in for the west. My blood will wash away the sins of the West...
This is the sort of thinking one expects from a bored, cloistered schoolgirl, fed on overheated tales of the martyrdom of the saints...NOT from grown men of the world, who have travelled and studied. My "analysis" of Fisk's writings is (well, somewhat) tongue in cheek. But Carroll's prose continues to be over-ripe, as well as fragmented (though this might be Tim mining for stupidity, where he has found high-grade ore) and---not quite sure of my word here---surreal. Here (as in so much of the airhead Left these days) muddy economic theory flows sluggishly into architectural criticism before plunging into a sunless sea of psycho-babble until finally gurgling up into a sewer of terrorist apologia.
[Come to Metaphor Manor, metaphors for all occasions. At Metaphor Manor, we never metaphor we didn't like.]
In Carroll's case, specifically, he seems to have a wee fixation on death:
This harks back to Fisk's schoolgirl crush on martyrdom, and Carroll's earlier, swooning description of Bin Laden on horseback.
There is a streak in the female psyche that longs for sacrifice, for martyrdom for some ideal, for a subsumption of identity in that of a cause, very frequently personified by a man. I will not try to claim that this is common to all women, as I have not surveyed all women; but it certainly has produced a rich literary vein. It will not have escaped the reader's attention that men, too, have sometimes been keen to sacrifice themselves, probably keener than women, but I don't know if those men conflate sex and death to the extent that women do. (Or maybe I should say "to the extent women are described as doing"; it's possible that a lot of the literature I'm thinking of has been written by men.)
What I'm saying here is that Fisk and Carroll are a pair of girly-men.
I have promised a splash of whine: Carroll is on the faculty of the Sociology Dept at La Trobe University in Melbourne. Now why is it that a man who writes and reasons so wretchedly is on the faculty of a university, whereas I am not?
Don't answer that. Part of the reason is that I foolishly majored in a hard science notorious for Known Facts and Right Answers, instead of sociology, where apparently thought has not progressed beyond personal omphaloskepsis wrapped in a Harlequin Romance.
BY THE WAY: You have Google Have-Not Natalie Solent to thank for the writhing pile of nonsense that is Consuelo and the Bad Man. I wrote that yesterday, and was going to post it, but thought maybe I'd re-write the drippy romance paragraphs. But no! Natalie also mis-spent her youth, and correctly identified Carroll's prose as belonging to the heaving and thrusting bosom genre. So...um...somehow that means I had to post it without re-write. You see.
GET OUT OF MY BRAIN, NATALIE!
Free Peace Prize Inside
As most of you will have found out already, Jimmy Carter has carted away the Nobel Peace Prize.
OK. Whatever. I really don't have anything to say about that.
I do, however, have something to say about this:
Dear Gunnar: You are a pathetic drooling halfwit. That should be taken as an insult, by the way, and a kick in the ass.
Look, it's impossible to honor someone with a Peace Prize without an (at least) implicit jab at someone else. If someone is working for peace, then there must be some who do not want peace. That's how it works in principle, anyway, though the situation clouds when you start handing Peace Prizes to the likes of Arafat.
You want to hand Jimmy a trinket as a subtle jab at Bush? Fine. But the key word here is subtle. The Prize Committe should nominally be apolitical---though see the paragraph above on the impossibility of this. This is not apolitical. This is not even the appearance of apolitical. This is blatant, naked politics---worse than that, it is pique. It is childish. It is the gleefully self-righteous pose of a man who feels that he has a sacred bludgeon, and intends to use it. It is unworthy of the Nobel Committee.
Or, at least, it was. That was before they started handing out Peace Prizes to minor butchers, and then wishing they could revoke the prizes of men of good intent who had failed.
There was no need for the Committee to make these remarks, nor the remarks about Shimon Peres. It's time to send the Peace Prize to that land of happy bunny fairies where all the good ideas go to die after they've been poisoned by the embrace of idiots.
Monday, October 07, 2002
B Day: The Eighth of October
Tomorrow is B Day. B is for Box. That's when we have to go up and retrieve a metric tonne (literally!) of crap I have shipped from Sydney. That's when we have to find room for nearly four cubic meters of garbage in our abode, and our storage unit (still holding my stuff from California sigh). Pity me.
I will have bad words for the shipping company in a couple days, but not today. Today I had to go up and pay over $400 I didn't think I'd have to pay, and collect random and mysterious bits of paper, tokens of power, which then had to be carried in state to the Customs office, several miles away.
Now, the shipping company had given me some forms for Customs. These ran two or three pages and included a form for listing all your belongings, and their value, and for all I know every place you've ever lived and what you had for breakfast on June 13th, 1985. Oy! Fortunately, we'd done that in Sydney already, and had the list with us. It was my intent to just say "See attached list", and attach a copy of the Sydney list.
But first I had to get new forms, because the ones I was given had been xeroxed so many times they were illegible. There were boxes to check if certain statements applied, but I couldn't read what the statements were:
___I am bringing plant bark and seeds into the United States.
___I am bringing endangered tropical birds into the United States.
___I am bringing extremely potent narcotics into the United States.
___I am bringing illegal aliens into the United States.
___I am bringing extraterrestrial aliens into the United States.
___I am bringing nuclear weapons into the United States, yankee pig-dog.
___I will soon be the great and powerful ruler of the United States. Bow down before me!
For all I know, that's what these boxes said.
At the Customs office, they have a window with two seats and a divider between them. One side is for personal effects (what I was doing), the other was for a bunch of other things, such as general inquiries. I figured, "May I have more forms, please?" was a general inquiry.
Customs Lady: May I help you?
Me: I'm trying to ship in some personal effects...
This is the personal effects window over here.
Yes, ma'am, but the shipping company gave me these forms, and...
You need to go to this window here.
...and they're illegible so I was just wondering if I could have some new forms, please?
I'm sure they do have new forms, but you'll have to ask them. Just ring the bell.
Yes, ma'am. Thank you. Rassenfrassen miserable grumble zither compartmentalization blither feeble bop hafta fill out a form to get a new damn form.
This was a little old lady in ordinary office clothes. When I rang the bell a big beefy man in a uniform with gun swaggered up to the window.
Sgt. Rock: May I help you?
YesI'mtryingtoshipsomepersonaleffects *breathe* andtheshippingcompanygavemetheseforms *breathe* butthey'vebeencopiedsomanytimesthey'reillegible *breathe* socanIhavesomenewonesplease? *gasp*
You got your release form from the shipping company?
You got your bill of lading?
You got some sort of ID?
Got my passport.
You bringing in any food or alcohol? Vehicles? Anything purchased within the last year?
No and no, I wish, and no.
*Xerox, xerox, stamp, scribble.* Here you go, ma'am, you're all set.
What, that's it?
Why *flutter eyelids* thank yew, suh! Yew jes too kind to little ol' me!
And we escaped before they decided they needed to charge us money.
Homeland security! Apparently I could've brought anything in as long as it wasn't food or alcohol, a car, or less than a year old. "No, nuclear weapon I bought from Soviets is older than that. Traded all vodka and caviar for it. Did not come with mobile rocket launcher, so no vehicle."
Now all I have to do tomorrow is hand over one last piece of paperwork and fling money in random directions until we can prize my stuff from the grasp of yet another company and stuff it into a U-Haul.
Gonna be a long day.
Saturday, October 05, 2002
There's a "speed metal" (whatever that means) band that plays songs about science fiction writers. It's called BloodHag, but of course that should have some umlauts randomly sprinkled in it. This review from the Seattle Times says, of their name, "Think about it." I have thought about it, and if there's a hidden meaning there, it's escaping me.
Their song list contains songs about most of your A-list science fiction authors. You can hear some of them, but not the one on Lovecraft, which I hope they took special care with. Nor can you hear the Henry Kuttner/C.L. Moore. I'm sure that's a love song.
Songs I'd like to hear:
H. Beam Piper
James H. Schmitz
The Seattle Times review says that they throw books into the crowd during their act. Man. Where were they when I was young?
I have just finished reading Fred Hoyle's The Black Cloud, and feel like making my own song about it:
You are a boil
On the cheek of science fiction
Your scenes are talky
Your characters chalky,
Linear in depiction
In this excretion
You neglect accretion
Rendering your cloud a disk
It's terribly convenient
But I won't be lenient
I'm on you like flies on Fisk
(That's got a kind Carmina Burana thing going, doesn't it?)
Yeah, OK, it needs work. But I might not be getting any scientific work if anyone sees this, so I'll have lots of time.
Link via Gary Farber, who mercifully does not fill us in on his adventures as Joanna Russ's houseboy.
I swear, there's a joke in there just screaming to get out.
Friday, October 04, 2002
Anyone Out There?
All the blogs are down
My pals have gone away
I'm tryin' not to work
So come out and play!
Why's the Net so clogged?
Is it the Western MAE?
On such a boring day...
Blogspot's on the fritz
(It is frequently)
I'm beginning to think
There's no one here but me
If this keeps going
I'll be asleep by three
On a slow-loadin' day
No point writing down this song
Cause I won't get through
Guess I'll get back to work
There's nothing else to do
Hey look a blog has loaded!
I am born anew!
On a high-traffic day
On a slow-loadin' day
On such a boring day..
Tuesday, October 01, 2002
The Usual Suspect
Jonah Goldberg takes on the idiotarian anti-war arguments in a handy-dandy article you should clip and save for future reference. He is especially good on the "We must have UN approval" argument:
People who think we must go through the U.N...think the U.N. is where the nations of the world put aside their petty self-interest and do whatever is in the best interests of humanity.
In other words, it's likely that cajoling the Security Council is going to cause more suffering than the US going in alone.
Now, let's review. Back when Iraq invaded Kuwait, the US wanted to go in and push them out.
No blood for oil! Hell, no! We won't go! We won't die for Texaco!
But we went in anyway, chasing the Iraqis back into Iraq. Saddam Hussein's still alive, a dangerous man. Do we go after him?
No! He's contained now, he can't hurt anyone! If you go in there will be a blood bath! Inspections!
Saddam jerks around, then tosses out, the inspectors, thereby abrogating the agreement which ended the war. Do we begin hostilities again?
We impose sanctions. They don't seem to be harming him much.
Sanctions are killing the Iraqi babies! Stop the sanctions!
So we should go back in and remove Saddam?
No, you warmongers!
So what do you suggest?
Leave him alone!
But he's working on WMD in there.
You don't know that!
Yes we do. Here's some proof.
What?? He has weapons even after all those years of sanctions? Your sanctions killed thousands! War criminals!
(This last from Robert "My Blood Will Wash Away the Sins of the West" Fisk, the other day.)
Now, the same people are saying that the only way that military force will be legitimate is if it's approved by the UN. If the US manages to horse-trade its way to approval, it's quite possible that blood will be spilled and oil will flow for it.
And in five or so years, those very same people who opposed force---who insisted on, then opposed, sanctions, who this time insisted on UN approval---will notice that this approval was bought with someone else's suffering.
Now. Who are they going to blame?
Are they going to blame Saddam, for being a vicious bastard in the first place?
Are they going to blame the UN for not being the Justice League of Earth?
Are they going to blame the French/Russians/Chinese for their greed and callousness?
I say no. I say there's one more group they can blame. See if you can guess who that is.