Monday, December 08, 2003

The Greatest Wall

Information Use and Information Seeking Behavior of Neo Conservatives



"This is truly a great Wall."

~Richard M. Nixon



It should come as no surprise to anyone by now that George W. Bush is intellectually incurious. We even joke about it. Some seem to think it adds to his down home, awe shucks image as a red- blooded commie terrorist hatiní American. He's even gone so far as to admit publicly that he does not read newspapers, nor watch news programs on television but instead relies upon his aids to deliver to him all pertinent information.

Think about this for a moment. Let it sink in.

It isn't just that he prefers to gather his news from the Internet as many of us do (I admit that I prefer Internet sources to print sources myself) but that he receives all of his information second hand. Now we assume that the Leader of the Free World has some smart cookies roaming around the halls of the White House. We shouldn't but we do. And there inlays our problem: We assume too much and let Bush get away, literally with murder, while he pretends he just didnít know any better.

The Bush administration, like all administrations before them, is full of people who have made it their careers to get into a position of power. I will not speculate here about their motives for wanting this power but we've all seen their faces on television and every one of them, from Wolfowitz on down to Condi Rice has that Lean and Hungry Look about them. What separates this administration form others, however is not that they are career politicians with desires for power but that they are, almost every one of them, career business people with extensive experience in the corporate world, complete with the bottom dollar mindset that seems almost genetic in Capitalists. This creates an almost tangible disconnect from reality. They are all overwhelmingly preoccupied with furthering their own agendas that they will do whatever it takes, including misinforming (or in popular parlance "spinning") data when delivering it to the President. All so long as they create the appearance of competitive competence rather than actual integrity.

Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, in their book Illuminatus! call this the SNAFU principle. The SNAFU principle asserts that accurate communication can only take place among equals, that in corporate or governmental hierarchies where equality is secondary (if it exists at all) there is always a subordinate reporting to a superior. And as we all know from our own experiences in hierarchical oriented situations, subordinates do not always report facts accurately to their superiors, especially when the situation is deemed important or there is seen an opening for advancement.

The ramifications of this disinformation bubble are all too apparent on the geopolitical stage. All we have to do is look at the recent Niger Yellowcake scandal to see how voluble and important accurate, authoritative Information really is.

As if this dithering about with false information wasn't bad enough for the President there is also his faulty decision making behavior which creates the real dire situations (See: iraq, illegal war in).

I'm speaking of the Slippery Slope Argument.

This is a classic Neocon philologistic game wherein a Reduction by Inference is made by falsely associating unrelated ideas and building sloppy syllogisms to then back up the asserted conclusions; conclusions that were not reached by logic but were made using ìFaith Based Intelligenceî or according to ideological wish fulfillment. A clear example of the Slippery Slope Argument was made back in April when Senator Rick Santorum (R. Penn) asserted that if homosexual unions were acknowledged by the state, this would lead, somehow, to an escalation in the occurrence of man on dog sex.

The first problem with this sort of thinking is that it is not based on credible logic at all. It isn't even comparing apples to oranges. It's painting the apples orange, dusting them with Tang and then complaining that they diminish the overall Orangeness of all oranges.

The second problem with this sort of thinking is that it occurs all too frequently in the Oval Office and on the Senate Floor.

Truly, this is a great wall indeed.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

That Infamous Sunday



My wife, parents and I spent this past thanksgiving weekend in a cabin on the Eastern Shore. One day we drove up to Salisbury, MD to visit my motherís aunt and uncle. Over lunch, we chatted about the usual family gossip and goings on. It was the usual mixture of pleasant familial nostalgia and awkward inability to relate to elderly family members. Especially when talking with Great Uncle Roy, age 85, who has memory problems. The doctor isnít sure if itís first stage Alzheimerís, the result of a minor heart attack he had several years ago or just the onset of senility. Whatever the case, Uncle Roy would forget my name one moment, call me by my brotherís name the next and then turn around and talk to me just like normal. It was akin to having a conversation with two identical brothers, one sharp as ever, the other very obviously not long for this world.

Uncle Roy may not have remembered my name, but he could not forget where he was December 7, 1941. As it turns out, Uncle Roy was in Savannah, GA that day. My wife and I currently live in Savannah (or rather, Elvira lives there now while Iím in MD attending grad school. Another story for another time). On December 6, 1941, Uncle Roy and a Navy buddy were on leave from the Marine base just across the river in Hilton Head, SC. They came out of their hotel the next morning in search of some breakfast and were stopped by a man on the street who told them theyíd better get back to the base.

ìWhyís that?î my uncle asked the man.

ìWhy?î replied the man, îThe Japs just bombed pearl Harbor!î

We donít call them Japs any more, we call them friends. I canít help but wince every time I hear this story but thatís my problem as a conditioned child of the nineties. I donít want to offend anyone with racial slurs. But then, as little Annie Coulter will tell you, Iím just a treasonous liberal. If I were a true blue Conservative like her, I wouldnít have problems with overt racism from a bygone era.

Uncle Roy, despite his age and senility, will always call them Japs and I donít fault him for it. Because he will also always remember what he was called on to do during World War Two. Not even senility can dull the red hot glare of those memories.

Itís supremely unfortunate that my Uncle is having his Veterans benefits cut by the AWOL coward currently residing in the White House. Youíd think, what with Poppy Bush also being a WWII vet, that George would be a little more thoughtful about where he makes his budget cuts so he can give his rich friends more money. But then, Daddy Bush isnít exactly short of the long green either, unlike my Uncle Roy.

Did I also mention he fought in Korea?

So yes Anne, you foul mouthed bitch (and all you other mealy mouthed sideways talking Neocons), I support our troops. I do not however support the despicable attempts by Our Glorious Leader to co-opt their achievements and their suffering for crass political gains. That is why I will do everything in my power to remove him from office come next November. Iíll do it for the vets Bush uses only as a cheep photo op and Iíll do it for my unborn children, so they wonít have to grow up in a Neocon police State. I do it for me and for my wife and for everyone else who wants to move this country forward into the twenty First century, not back to the squalor and entitlement-for-the-rich-only of the Nineteenth.

So on this, the most Infamous Sunday, go and visit your own Uncle Roy. Take a moment to think long and hard about what it is you really want out of a Democracy. Then act.

Regime change truly does begin at home.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Traveling Without Moving



Get out your passports, it's a trip through The Commonwealth of Blogosphere States.

First stop is the Democratic Republic of Dohiyi Mir, where NTodd links to a great little Flash Cartoon about The End of The World. It's funny, it's scary, you'll laugh, you'll drink. What Fun!

Over at Counterspin Central, Hesiod opens up a can of worms while comparing the recent beating of an Iranian reformer by hard-line thugs:


Folks, you are witnessing the future of the Bush Fedayeen if they ever feel like they are losing their grip on power. In many ways, the Bush cabal, and the Republican party are like the hardline Iranian mullahs.


Personally, I agree with him. If the Bushies ever feel like they are loosing this is the sort fo behavior we can expect. They don't play by civilized rules. Check out the Kvetches to have a gander at the debate and see what I mean.

Don't forget to hop a camel caravan over to Iraq at a Glance and read about the occupation from a local perspective.

Meanwhile, over at Corrente, fellow Coalition member, the Farmer paints a purty picture.

And in Pandagon, a land far to the East (OK, not that far) there is a list of the Twenty Most Annoying Conservatives. Jesse is a genius.

The Acts of Judges



From The Truth Laid Bear's New Webblog Showcase, Mustang Bobby at Bark Bark Woof Woof discusses the motives and mentality of former Judge Moore and his favorite idol. Go read More on Moore, Who Is No More.

Friday, December 05, 2003

The Liberal Coalition Calls



I'm pleased to anounce that the Invisible Library is now a member of the Dreaded Liberal Coalition. Fear us for we bring progressive ideas! Activist Enthusiasm! Cake!

OK, the cake is disputable. But I hear there is cheese involved, so that's something.

Which Historical Lunatic Are You?




Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.


You are Gaius Caesar Germanicus - better known as Caligula!

Third Emperor of Rome and ruler of one of the most powerful empires of all time, your common name means "little boots". Although you only reigned for four years, brief even by Roman standards, you still managed to garner a reputation as a cruel, extravagant and downright insane despot. Your father died in suspicious circumstances, you were not the intended heir, and one of your first acts as Emperor was to force the suicide of your father-in-law. Your sister Drusilla died that same year; faced with allegations that your relationship with her had been incestuous, you responded, bafflingly, by declaring her a god.

You revived a number of unpopular traditions, including auctions of properties left over from public shows. When a senator fell asleep at one such auction, you took each of his nods as bids, selling him 13 gladiators for a vast sum. You attempted to have your horse, Incitatus, made into a consul and hence one of the most powerful figures in Rome. It was granted a marble stable with jewels and a staff of servants. At one point you forced your comrade Macro to kill himself - in much the same vein as your father-in-law - accusing him of being his wife's pimp. You, of course, were having an affair with said wife at the time.

Things went from bad to worse. When supplies of condemned men ran short in the circus, you had innocent spectators dragged into the arena with the lions to fill their place. You claimed mastery of the sea by walking across a three-mile bridge of boats in the Bay of Naples; kissed the necks of your lovers, whispering sweet nothings like "This lovely neck will be chopped as soon as I say so,"; dallied with your sister's lover and made her pull her unborn child out of her womb prematurely. Towards the end of your reign, you had a golden statue of yourself made and dressed each day in the same clothes you yourself wore. When you eventually died, the terrified people of Rome refused to believe that such a cruel reign could ever end, and believed you to be alive for years afterwards.

Dispatches From an Alternate America:
President Goreís Mission to the Moon



Everyone in the Blogosphere is talking about President Goreís announcement this week to start a new Space Race with China but I want to add my two cents worth to the aether.

Now Iíve been as much a critic of the Gore administration as the next person. He hasnít always followed through on the lofty goals he promised us back in 2000 but he has made a few crucial steps in a progressive direction, like strong-arming Putin into signing the Kyoto accord and not joining in on the war fervor that built up after 9/11. Sure, he sold us out to the WTO but so did Clinton and itís not as if a Republican President wouldnít have either (could you imagine what President Bush would have done? I shudder to think at the depths of Corporate Cronyism that would come with such a bastard administration).

I give Gore credit where itís do, though. Heís made a lot of progress in beefing up port and airline security and heís already set the goal of an Oil Free America by 2012 and despite the attempts by Congressional Republicans, actually put the necessary research money where his mouth is. Handing the reconstruction of Afghanistan over to the UN was a good idea, too, regardless of what the Pundits say. We certainly donít want to look like Laurence of Arabia, forcing our values on an Arab country that is already rife with tribal infighting, especially after the way we blew the hell out of the country looking for bin Laden. And what with the sanctions against the Saudis, weíre running out of friends in the Middle East.

In my opinion, the announcement that we are ramping up our Space program again will be the shining moment in the Gore Administration. And I donít say this sort of thing lightly.

Goreís speech at Kitty Hawk was a nice touch as well:


Itís time to stop living in fear. Weíve seen the face of terror and found that it is not some demon with a tongue of fire but an all too human enemy, one with the same weaknesses and failings as all people who would use fear as a weapon to halt civilizationís progress.


Fancy rhetoric aside, a good, friendly, competitive race to the moon with the Chinese would benefit both countries in two ways:

First, as a positive goal for us as a nation. Weíve all been in a funk since 9/11. It was a black eye, to be sure but grandiose visions are what make America great and thereís nothing quite as grand as returning to the Moon. It gives all us Space Cadets a Buck Rogers hardon: daydreams of shiny domed moon cities, space suits with fishbowl helmets and the rush of liftoff! America was at itís noblest when we were striving for something greater than ourselves back in the sixties. Kennedyís call to have a man on the Moon by the end of that decade gave Americans and the whole world hope that the future could be not just bright, but luminous as a star. And this New Space Race could do that again.

Secondly, it will help us cement friendly relations with China. They'd help get us back on track as a country and get our head out of our ass, and we'd help them become more open and democratic.

There are the usual opponents to this space age dreaming and is anyone surprised that theyíre all Republican? Senator Cheney thinks we need to have big olí tax cuts for the rich, to drain off that annoying budget surplus. Voodoo Economics didnít work during the Reagan years, what makes Dick ìIíve got the heart of a baboon heart and the brain of a pigî Cheney think itíd be anything but a way to waste money now? Personally, I think using the budget surplus accrued from the Clinton years is just the way to do it, no matter what Governor Bush thinks (That blowhard is just sour over having his ass handed to him back in 2000 and loony to boot. What the hell is with his blathering about a need to invade Iraq? Hello, George, it was your boys the Saudis that pulled down the towers, not Saddam. Or did you not read your copy of the 9/11 report? Go back to Crawford and peddle that Oedipal nonsense to the lump in the bed).

And yes, I admit it. I have personal reasons for wanting to see a shiny new space program: Iím a big Sci-Fi geek. (Have you seen the Generation II Space Shuttle?!) I grew up watching Buck Rogers and Star Trek with my father on Sunday afternoons. It shaped the way I look at the future. And I donít think Iím alone when I say that Iíve dreamed of living on the Moon since I was a kid and now that itís finally the twenty first century, we should be doing everything we can to make sure those sorts of dreams come true because they ennoble us all.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Music of the Spheres



Before Thanksgiving, the 2blowhards were discussing Greats I don't get, art, film, books, etc that are lauded as culturally significant but, for whatever reason just sort of fly over your head. The discussion was lively with a lot of similar entries: abstract modern art (which I love, personally), rap, James Joyce (who I wish I could enjoy but canít) and a few other obtuse luminaries. I admitted for the first time, publicly, that I don't get the Beatles.

Sure, I understand their significance in the greater scheme of Rock and Roll history, how they have influenced pop music, etc. I even like some of their songs. But I never have understood why my parents' generation considers them the end all, be all of Rock music. The proto-shiznit, if you will. I chalked it up to just having been born in the wrong generation.

When I met my wife, she added a different perspective on the Beatles. Apparently they aren't all that in the Hispanic community. Just a bunch of Anglos pretending to be soulful. My in-laws are decidedly in the Elvis camp. He's like the world's greatest mariachi and for one simple reason: you can dance to his music. Put on Rubber Soul and just try to dance.

Now some people say my generation doesnít have a Beatles.
I once had a discussion with my mother, to the effect that none of the bands around then had the staying power or the influence. I sheepishly agreed then but think differently now.

At the time of that particular conversation, I was fourteen or fifteen, which would have been... (Counting on fingers) around 1990, '91. The Eighties were barely over. Grunge was just happening and Punk and Ska were still underground. It was also before I knew anything really about music. I now have a larger perspective on the matter and can say that while we didn't have any band that was ìBigger Then Jesusî i.e., hyped all to hell as the second coming, we did have our Beatles. And Our Eagles and even our Herman and the Hermits.

Like the Fab Four, the Beastie Boys started out pigeonholed in one particular genre of music, urban hip hop (as opposed the British Invasion Skiffle Rock). They quickly evolved though, becoming something unique and other than the usual eighties hi hop band. Paul's Boutique is their White Album. It introduced the world at large to sampling, which is arguably a good or bad thing; good when it's done well, bad when it's used as an excuse to rip off someone elseís guitar riff or beat (*cauph* Vanilla Ice *caugh*). Also, the Beastie Boys are still around, twenty years later and rumored to be coming out with another album soon. Plus they didn't run off to India and become Yogis. Sure, AdRoc became a Buddhist and the band plays Free Tibet concerts, but it's more a form of activism rather than just a trendy dip in the Eastern Spirituality pool.

Other bands from my generation that are still around: They Might Be Giants, the Cure, Sonic Youth. Siouxsie left the Banshees but her new project, The Creatures is even better. The Pixies broke up but they're reuniting next year proving, as the Eagles did, that occasionally Hell freezes over (Or Kim Deal can get out of rehab).

I have little to say about Nirvana, who many in my generation adore. Curt Cobain is placed on the Icon Shelf along with Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin simply because he died at the same age. Sure, Nevermind was a pretty good album in its day but it has not aged well. You put it on and hear 1993 all over again. Yuck. Besides, they so wanted to be the Pixies. I'd say they are our Herman and the Hermits. They had one or two catchy songs but none of the staying power of some of the other bands of the day. But that's Kurt Cobain's fault. Or Courtney Love's, depending on which way you take your conspiracy theories.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

"He Ain't Kinky, He's My Governor"



As political campaign slogans go, it makes about as much sense as whatever the Bush/Cheney slogan is for '04 (last time I checked it was, "Vote Republican or else" but I could be wrong). But this is no mere flimflammery of a candidacy. This is Kinky Friedman, running for Governor of Texas.


...Kinky Friedman, the irreverent Texas author, songwriter and salsa maker, and self-described "Gandhi-like figure" at the animal rescue ranch he runs here in the Hill Country west of San Antonio, says the message could propel him into the governor's mansion in Austin.

*snip*

...the job ó heavy on ceremony in Texas, where the real power lies in the lieutenant governor's authority to control the Senate agenda ó does not daunt the curly-mopped Mr. Friedman, whose real name is Richard and who gives his age as 59, though adding, "I read at the 61-year level." Given those who have come before him, he said, "how hard could it be?

Still, garbed in cowboy black, bearing a large silver Star of David on a chain and tooling around in an old white Nissan pickup with a Don Quixote statuette on the dashboard and chewed stubs of Cuban cigars in the ashtray, Mr. Friedman does acknowledge some ambivalence about his quest. This is his second run for elected office; in the first, he campaigned in 1986 for justice of the peace in nearby Kerrville, where "my fellow Kerrverts returned me to the private sector."

*snip*

This is a man who, once he makes up his mind, is riven by indecision. So, he is often asked, is he serious? "Serious is not a word I would use, because I'm never serious," he said. "Some things are too important to be taken seriously." But, he said, "an alarming number of people think I could win."

"The question," he added, "is whether my candidacy is a joke, or the current crop of politicians is the joke."


He's got a point. I mean after the debacle in California, which gave us Governor Schwarzenegger, how could this be any worse? In my opinion, it would probably be better but than I'm a fan of the Kinkster, who's been a progressive activist since the sixties and genuinely likes people, horses and armadillos. Plus, being Jewish it's extremely unlikely that he would make any offhanded compliments about Hitler.

Snarky jokes aside, Governor Arnold has opened the proverbial box of Pandora, and whether we like it or not we now have to seriously consider the reality of Governor Kinky, Senator Jerry Springer, President J Lo and whatever other nonsense comes our way. Some say this is the end of Western Civilization or the collapse of our Democratic Process. At the very least, it is the Interesting Times of the old Chinese Curse. Personally, I think the advent of Celebrity Politicians will finally show just how ludicrous politics always has been. They certainly can't be any worse than the legions of lawyers and failed businessmen who have co-opted our policy making for the last two hundred years.

And if it really is the end of Western Civilization as we know it, all the better; wouldn't you rather we went out with bread and circuses instead of the long feared and hoped for atomic pissing match?

Monday, December 01, 2003

Scientific Method



We all had a gut feeling but in this crazy modern world, faith is not enough. Thankfully, Google offers conclusive proof: George W. Bush is a miserable failure.

Lament of the Unread



John Lennon (no, not that one, this one) talks about being the dreaded pariah that is a midlist author. For those of you who don't know what a midlister is, it's an author that is not a best seller, just a consistent seller. Ray Bradbury has for many decades been the king of the midlist authors. And we bow to him, humbly. J. Robert Lennon's books don't fetch the ey-popping advance dollars with all the zeros that Stephen King does but he's considered to be an up and coming voice in literature. So why the big discrepency? if he's so great why isn't he on the best seller shelf next to the Likes of J.K. Rowling and Michael Chabon?


"The sort of books that critics admire and the sort of book people want to buy are sometimes the same thing but often are not," he said. "Hard-nosed satirical dark comedy does not sell too strongly these days ... it's hard to break out beyond a few thousand readers with that type of hero."

On top of that, Baker said young male authors face a bigger obstacle -- the majority of fiction readers are middle-aged women. "More than 60 percent of fiction is bought by women and most of that by women aged between 35 and 55. Men are not big fiction readers."

Some authors of dark satire, like Chuck Palahniuk and Irvine Welsh, have managed to notch up best sellers. But they typically rise to star status after their books become hit movies like "Fight Club" and "Trainspotting."

*snip*

Lennon's "The Funnies" has been optioned by New York director Tom DiCillo known for "Living in Oblivion," but it remains to be seen whether it ever makes it to the screen.

Changes in book selling has also made it harder for unknown writers to reach the top. Publishers now have to pay thousands of dollars to chain book stores to get titles prominently displayed in stores and featured in newspaper ads -- a dynamic that forces publishers to focus marketing budgets only on authors they are almost certain will turn a profit.


The little bit about how publishers are beholden to chain stores is really the point. When books are seen as just another commodity to be sold, like hardware or, as has increasingly become the case, a luxury item with a hefty price tag, often times publishers at the request of Booksellers will promote less capable but more palatable authors, in order to raise the profit margins. Now there is a fuzzy area where art and commerce at least shake hands and agree to get along for the sake of the children but it's a difficult balance to strike.


"I have a great idea for a murder mystery," Lennon said. "But knowing me ... I will have to have some sort of literary conceit going on in the book. I'll ruin my bestseller possibility by page 10."


Via Bookslut

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Super Secret Update: The Iraqi National Library



You may recall the debates that raged shortly after our invasion of Iraq concerning the looting of the Museum and the destruction of the National Library. There was some discrepancy concerning what was stolen, what was destroyed and what was lost. It was estimated that as many as 30,000 pieces were looted form the museum, while some claimed that "only" 30 were stolen. As if "only" 30 were somehow better. Imagine of the Smithsonian Institute had "only" 30 pieces stolen from it. It was pretty quickly determined that no, in fact, 30,000 was an inaccurate estimate, however it was a lot closer to the mark than 30 pieces. Whichever way you slice it, large selections of archeological and cultural artifacts, all of them of an historical weight and heft, were missing. As for the Library, it was feared utterly destroyed.

However, I've just received an e-mail from Lynne, a friend who works at the Library of Congress:


We just had the Iraq report from our three person investigative team now returned from Baghdad. It was fascinating. In the National Library building, the books (stacks) were messy and neglected, but not burned. Looters mainly took computers and furniture.A very specialized force (from the Baath party) had infiltrated and incinerated all of the archives relating to Saddam's regime. Go figure.

There is a remarkable story of librarians saving the rarest and oldest, the Islamic archives. They moved 50,000 manuscripts from Saddam's House of Archives into a bomb shelter. They enlisted the neighborhood to help with security. Women would sit on balconies and ululate if strangers approached and the men guarded the facility at night. They were completely saved.

Most of the Ottoman records were stored in a basement full of leaking sewage. Those have been removed to freezers and about 20% were destroyed.?Not a fun cleanup project.

Two clerics removed quantities of modern archives (1920's-70's) and machinery to several mosques. Those items are now being returned. The new National Library of Iraq will be housed in the former Senior Officers Club. A large, opulent building full of marble and sculptures- a better use to be sure.


So it's good to see that someone was looking after the priceless historical treasures from the cradle of civilization. Notice, however that it wasn't George II, King of the Philistines or any of the Visirs in Washington but the Iraqi people. You know those backward folk who had to have Democracy foisted upon them at gunpoint. Of course these are the same people who left the Ministry of Oil building completely unguarded, forcing our brave soldiers to completely encircle it. Otherwise I'm sure they would have sent more than just one tank and two PFCs to guard the Museum and Library.

It's all about perspective.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Creating the Digital Peasant




If anyone had any vision in this godforsaken city, they'd order the main branch of the Free Library at 19th and Vine streets gutted. Pull up a fleet of dumpster trucks to the front and throw in all the passe books written by the long since dead and decayed--books that nobody looks at anyway.

Once loaded, the fusty tomes would be transported to Altoona or Erie or North Gipip--someplace where they could be stored for cheap.

No one's saying the books should be set on fire or anything. In fact, they ought to be made reasonably available to the two dozen or so contrarian throwbacks who still get their kicks opening up crusty volumes of outdated prose. Let's just get all them the hell out of harm's way so the building can be put to some real use.


No this isn't Adolph Hitler's cryogenically frozen head or even Captain Beaty from Fahrenheit 451. It's Tim Whitaker, writing in the Philadelphia Weekly. Mr. Whitaker seems to think that now that Amazon allows you to scan the text of books for free, that libraries (and librarians by association) are obsolete. Like a modern day Theodosius, he suggests gutting the Libraries of the Western World (starting with the venerable depository in Philadelphia), replacing books with iMacs and handing over the keys to IT people. That's right because IT people know where to find everything! They are the new Gods of this Brave New Digital World!

Let me say for the record that TimWhitaker is an idiot.

Have you ever tried to communicate with someone from IT? You'd get more sense out of a half rotten pumpkin. Here at the University of Maryland we have our own Office of Infernal Torment, staffed by the most socially degenerate and uncommunicative people this side of Tiger Ridge.

As he points out, Amazon has limited the search to 120, 000 books and then only excerpts. But surely that's enough to do any sort of research Tim can imagine, therefore it should be good enough for everyone!

Now I'm not poopooing the Amazon Free Search. As a Student Librarian, it's a great idea and very handy for finding some of those quotes in books that I'd otherwise have to order through Interlibrary Loan (poor Tim's head must surely implode at the notion of Librarians shipping whole books to one another, paper and all. You mean, no little ones and zeros zipping over a telephone wire?). But it's not the New World Order it's hyped in this article or by others who can't wait for the demise of the printed word. The Amazon Free Search is little more than what academic databases have had for years, the ability to search text of journal articles. And if you use ERIC or Worldcat you can even search the whole journal article not just excerpts, making this Amazon Free Search a second string resource, at best. If this is alitterate mankind's savior from the tyranny of print, I say good luck to you, bub. You'll need it.

As a secondary thought I'd like to address this creeping alitteracy that seems to be spreading like the plague through our country. I can't speak for Europeans, Mexicans or Canadians but in the Good Old US of A, half the population gets all of its Information from a handfull of networks owned and operated by Draconian Neocons who gleefully stifle dissent and smash Dixie Chic records by the bushelfull. If ever there was an argument for not just keeping the Libraries open but expanding them, it is this. Unless you like your peasants stupid AND poor. And what Dictator doesn't?


__________
I've just touched briefly on this matter here. Once the semester is finished and I have more free time I'll elaborate on this matter further.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

The Evil That is Kitty Porn



Over at Corrente, The Farmer warns us about the evils of kitty porn, or as he rightly calls it, feline exploitation curiosa.


I'm telling you, heed this admonishment, do not allow yourself to be lured by the fervent milksopian glow of feline exploitation curiosa dependence. Once you've got that kitty on your back theres no telling how far you will go to satisfy any slavish maudlin craving. You'll start out with one kitty cat, and the next thing you know you'll need another kitty cat, and another and another and yet another. Nothing will satisfy your hunger and pretty soon you'll have kitty cats dangling from the draperies and crawling out from under the French settee with carved mahogany swan heads and your head will fill with spectral yowlings and incorporeal ululations as if your home were bedeviled by a thousand ruttish ghouls haunting a heathered moor!


I must admit, I am a recovering addict.

Once I was just a lad who enjoyed the company of dogs, those trusty tride and true canine companions that have guarded us against the dreaded night and aided our hunting expeditions since time immemorable. But I strayed from the pack, as it were.

First it was a growing atatchment for my friends cats, then my wife and I aquired our own precious, Lucy. We hadn't intended on becoming feline exploitation curiosa producers. That happened gradually, as Lucy grew from a mere puff of fur with giant ears to a sleek and agile creature, capable of knocking down even the heaviest glass vases. A regular feline newton, this one. If you catch her at it, I swear you could see her calculating tragecteries, so that the vase or glass of tea hits the floor just right.

But you see how easy it is to get swayed into this dastardly underworld? Fisrt it seems harmless. But before long you have framed pictures of your own Lucy, sitting pretty in a rocking chair hanging from the walls, sitting on the book shelves. It's madness I tell you! madness!

I'm sick. Help me.

What's the Frequency, Bernie?



Bernie Goldberg was just on the Daily Show promoting his new book, Arrogance: Rescuing America from the Media Elite which from what I gathered from his blathering, is about how Dan Rather lives in a Liberal bubble. Apparently Bernie thinks that Mr. Rather and the rest of the Big News Mannequins are insulated from the world and out of touch. While that may be true to an extent (what celebrity isn't insulated from the harsh realities of an existential world?) it hardly seems accurate to say that some of the most respected journalists in the world are collectively twiddling their thumbs and ignoring the real issues. The only person living in an insulated bubble seems to be Bernie "Darn that Liberal Media!" Goldberg. He told John Stewart that he's an Old Fashioned liberal, you know the kind who hasn't changed his ideas or expanded his domain of knowledge in thirty years and thus has become as entrenched in his beliefs as any conservative.

Pardon my snark but I'm a bit underwhelmed by all the talk of the Liberal Media. We live in an effective one party Conservative Dictatorship with a compliant media that is willing to sit on stories about Bush that, had they been about Clinton would have been front page headlines and garnered round the clock coverage, accompanied by the most rabid of howls from the Uber Powerful declaring an end to civilization as we know it. Hell they did do all of the above when all Clinton did was get a blowjob from someone not his wife. Meanwhile Bush has lied us into an illegal war, trashed our economy, turned our foreign policy into apathetic excuse for looting sovereign nations and generally undermined our civil liberties.

So, to the FBI agent assigned to read my Blog, I say excuse me if I don't take Bernie's ramblings about a Liberal Bias in the media seriously.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Monkey House Politics, Again



Over at Eschaton they're arguing about the economic pros and cons of Bush's recent bid to bribe American based Multinational Corporations to send British Jobs to the US, once again, proving that Bush never hesitates to lean our allies over the most convenient chair and bugger them silly, all the while shouting, "How's that for a stimulated economy, bitch! Yeah! I'm from Texas! My daddy baught me the Presidency when what I really wanted was a pony! Yehaw!" And so forth.

Also, Mustang Bobby discusses the Infamous Feith Memo which some Neocons are waving in the face of Liberal AntiWar skeptics saying, "Nanny Nanny Boo Boo! We were right and you were wrong!" Except that the memo is practically a shopping list of bad Intel, already debunked pipe dreams and hearsay. If this is the best "proof" they can give us, I'd hate to see their lies... Oh, wait... That's right the whole iraq debacle is based on one Big and several smaller but equally poisonous lies.

Meanwhile, Margaret Cho made us all a mix tape.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

President Bush Invades Visits England



It seems the Queen Mum was none to pleased at President Bush's request for additional security at Buckingham Palace and various other London environs.

Perhaps Queen Elizabeth took his requests, which included, "rebuilding part of the palace to blast-proof it and having a heavily armed Black Hawk helicopter hovering overhead," a bit personal. I guess she doesn't like it when foreign dignitaries insinuate that HER FRICKIN CASTLE isn't secure enough.


Britain has been placed on its second-highest state of alert, coded ``severe general''.


Which makes me wonder, why? They apparently haven't had any threats (other than the veiled ones that come from Bush and his staff every time they open their mouths) so what is with the heightened security? Maybe Bush was flipping through the channels one day and caught the tail end of the History Channel showing a documentary about the Blitz. It's OK, George, the Nazis haven't dropped any bombs on London recently. You don't need all the artillery, which includes:


    150 National Security Advisors
    250 Secret Service Agents
    200 representatives from other US Departments
    50 White House Political Aids
    15 sniffer dog teams
    Personal Chef and his team of 4 cooks
    two identical Boeing 747s
    Sikorsky Sea King helicopter
    The aforementioned Blackhawk
    And two identical motorcades of 20 armored vehicles, including limousine


And you thought your wife packed too much for that trip to London last spring.

The British public don't seem to happy about Bush or his numerous security requests, which include shutting down part of the Tube, creating "Free Speech Zones" (just like the ones he has back home, you know, so he doesn't get homesick)and roof-top snipers:


The You Gov survey found just seven per cent of people believed he was a good leader, while almost 40 per cent said he was ``stupid''.

*snip*

Up to 100,000 protesters are expected to converge on Trafalgar Square as the Queen and Prince Philip greet Bush at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday.


Via Hesiod at Counterspin Central.

Number of the Beast



Most people know what 666 means. At least they think they do because it's been used in every mediocre horror movie of the last thirty years. Few people realize however what the numbers actually mean or that there is a whole area of esoteric study called Gematria that delves into the numerical relationships behind words.

Regular visitors to the Library may have noticed the little sign in the right hand column declaring that this site is certified 45% evil. The curious may have even clicked on the button and visited the Gematriculator, where you can have various blocks of text and even whole websites scanned for their content of good and evil. But how do they know? Well:


Basically, Gematria is searching for different patterns through the text, such as the amount of words beginning with a vowel. If the amount of these matches is divisible by a certain number, such as 7 (which is said to be God's number), there is an incontestable argument that the Spirit of God is ever present in the text. Another important aspect in gematria are the numerical values of letters: A=1, B=2 ... I=9, J=10, K=20 and so on. The Gematriculator uses Finnish alphabet, in which Y is a vowel.

Experts consider the mathematical patterns in the text of the Holy Bible as God's watermark of authenticity. Thus, the Gematriculator provides only results that are absolutely correct.


The Gematriculator is based on the work of Ivan Penin, a russian Numerologist who notticed something interesting while studying the Bible:


In the original languages of the Bible, mostly Hebrew and Greek, there are no separate symbols for numbers, letters of the alphabet are also used to indicate numbers.

The numeric value of a word is the sum total of all its letters. It was curiosity that first caused Dr Panin to begin toying with the numbers behind the texts. Sequences and patterns began to emerge. These created such a stirring in the heart of the Russian that he dedicated 50 years of his life to painstakingly comb the pages of the Bible.


Gematria actually goes back much further than Mr. Penin, as there is lengthy debate about the various numerical relationships between words in a lot of Alchemical and Kabbalistic literature of the middle ages. Some of it is quite fascinating. For instance, there's the Kabbalistic Idea that all words that have the same numerical value are thus metaphysical synonyms, that in fact they are the same thing. This can get you into some thorny theological territory when you discover that the Hebrew word for Serpent has the same value as the Hebrew word, Messiah. This implies that the snake that offered the Fruit of Knowledge to Eve was Jesus in disguise, or the same metaphysical entity.

Some schools of Gnostic Christianity believe that Jesus and Christ were two separate beings, that Jesus was a man and Christ the Holy Spirit, who inhabited him for a time on Earth, which is why he could do all the miracles. Christ left Jesusí body while on the cross, right before the man, Jesus died leading many a Gnostic to believe that when Jesus asks, "Why have you forsaken Me?" that he isn't talking to God, but to the Christ Spirit. This further implies that Christ both instigated and redeemed the fall of Mankind.

So you can see what sort of wild theological notions this sort of numerology can inspire.

Now if youíre like me and donít put much stock in theological games, donít worry. Gematria ìworksî just as well with any text.

Some examples:


ìMother died today.î (First sentence from The stranger)= 1390 (1+3+9+0= 13); 43% evil, 57% good.

ìHe gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.î (Last paragraph from 1984) = 27040 (27040=13x13x160 2+7+0+4+0= 13); 97% evil, 3% good.

ìStately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on a mild morning air. he held the bowl aloft and intoned: Introibo ad altare Dei.î (First paragraph from Ulysses) = 2425 (2+4+2+5= 13); 53% evil, 47% good.


See what fun you can have with useless knowledge?

Friday, November 14, 2003

Taking The Queen's English Out Back for a Spanking



Margaret Cho responds to a letter from an audience member who was offended at her use of expletives at her show at the University of Texas in Dallas.


I understand that you may have a lot of anger built up inside about the world and what it has become. I even think it's a good idea to point these things out, poke fun at them and have a good laugh. I mean you're right; the Terminator is governor of California. But why add to the already vulgar world we live in? If you're so much against all these bad things why not make fun of them in a clean way? To me, you have less credibility when you use such offensive language. Many of the students that will one day make a difference and perhaps create a "revolution" for the better are not the ones that cuss and use vulgar language.


Yes, that's what is really wrong with the world today. It's not the infinite corruption infesting the White House, the dubious wars fought for God and oil or the disperate devide between the haves and the have nots, it's a commedian that decides to talk like a real person, instead of a fifties sit com character. The ghost of June Cleaver, inhabitting the body of an eighteen year old college student lamments, "But if only Miss Cho would keep it Family Friendly, then maybe all the world's problems would just shrivel up and blow away!" Right. And if Osama Bin Laden would only get himself baptized, there'd be no more terrorists. This disgusted Undergrad mentions how the offended had to cover their ears and quietly leave the auditorium. She goes on to say that there are even college students who don't know what the word "pussy" means. Margaret's response:


I appreciate your fucking righteous attitude and thank you for being so fucking honest. I really think that it is weird that pussy is something that kids don't know. What do they call the vagina then? Or would they rather pussy just didn't exist?


First off, I find it hard to believe that there is anyone outside of Amish country that doesn't know what the word "pussy" means in all its beautiful, nasty, and multipurpose connotations. I've been to Texas. They are some pussy loving motherfuckers down there. If you think a sailor's vocabulary could peel paint, you should go to Austin and get yourself educated in the art of the swear word. Now maybe out on the Farm in Poteet or New Brunfals this sheltered little Undergrad might not hear the Queen's English getting worked over like Jenna Jameson in a hot tub but she'd still have to hear that awful nasally twang.

And as a writer, no word is off limits. Words are our tools and sometimes you need a rusty screwdriver instead of a shiny little wrench. I've been all through this with my mother, who is a third grade school teacher and wishes my prose wouldn't conceal the occasional blinding rosy red fuck. Now certainly, Mom shouldn't tolerate a nine year old swaggering around spitting out "Goddamn!" and "Shit!" and "Suck my dick!", but for adults, especially ones who make a living (or dream one day of making a living) describing the world in purple prose, their can be no off limit words just because your grandmother or some sheltered nitwit in Texas with a pristine ear and unsullied mind might want to cover her ears and think about kittens whenever someone says the word "pussy."

Now, I generally do keep the cuss words to a minimum but not out of a desire to beautify the world with my hygienic prose. I'm more subversive than that. I keep the cussing to a minimum so that when I do whip out the four letter word, it shines like a lighthouse on the page, confronting the reader with all the preconceptions of that word and its context. But that's simply a stylistic choice, one I typically reserve for my longer works. Here on the blog though, it's a different story. I roll up my sleeves and get dirty from time to time. Fuck anyone who thinks it should be otherwise.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

You Didnít Just See That




For more than 30 years the Shortwave radio spectrum has been used by the worlds intelligence agencies to transmit secret messages. These messages are transmitted by hundreds of ìNumbers Stations.î


I didnít know this until a few months ago, when my wife brought me home a printed out PDF version of the Conet Project Book. Itís a fascinating concept, using a code based on a quantum algorithm that is unbreakable unless you know the specific number sheet being used. Because even if you sit down and crunch through all the possible combinations even in a known Number Code you end up with at minimum, two distinct answers. Just like Schrodingerís Cat. And each code is used only once and is unreplicable.

Perhaps this is too technical an idea to wrap your mind around. Maybe youíre sitting there reading this, saying to yourself, ìSpies using an old fangled unbreakable code, sounds like a Tom Clancy Novel.î

This is exactly my point.


Shortwave Numbers Stations are a perfect method of anonymous, one way communication. Spies located anywhere in the world can be communicated to by their masters via small, locally available, and unmodified Shortwave receivers. The encryption system used by Numbers Stations, known as a ìone time padî is unbreakable. Combine this with the fact that it is almost impossible to track down the message recipients once they are inserted into the enemy country, it becomes clear just how powerful the Numbers Station system is.


Various governments have been using this system of low frequency radio communication since the Cold War. Even today, in the age of digital broadband and supercomputer laptops, these Number Stations, which are only little more advanced than Marconi and Tesslaís own radio experiments, are still in use. Not only that, since the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Cold War, use these Number Stations have not decreased. It has increased.

The most disturbing fact about Number Stations is that only one Government even admits to using them, The Czech Republic. Everyone else, from the US, to China, Russia, Britain and most mainland European nations does use them. But why do they use them? And why donít they admit to using them? In Great Britain, itís technically illegal to even listen to them, despite the fact that they broadcast on common low frequencies, audible to anybody with a shortwave radio.

Since the purpose of the Number Stations is unknown, we can only speculate as to just what sort of Information is being gathered and disseminated over them. And why have they become more used after the Cold War than during? I could screw on my tinfoil hat and speculate until the Moon turns to green cheese but it wouldnít get me closer to the truth (something Moulder should have realized around season five of the X-Files: the Mystery is always more intriguing than the truth, no matter how far out that truth really is).

My wife and I have been discussing this off and on for the last few months, as itís really a creepy and strange modern mystery (fans of Wilco will know what Iím talking about, as they sampled these eerie transmissions on their album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot).

Iíd like to think that it isnít part of the US Governmentís increasing stagger towards a Police State. That the mailman is really just listening to a walkman, not keeping an eye on me or anyone else. But then I read about the latest attempt by Bush to install his Total Information Awareness plan and I canít help but reach for the tinfoil.

Once, while driving along I 295 in Maryland with my uncle, who works for the National Security Agency, we passed the NSA campus. We happened to be on an elevated ramp and so had an unobstructed view of the rooftops of the compound. I spotted a strange antenna cluster protruding from the top of one building and pointed it out to my wife, as it resembled several pictured in the Conet Project Book.

My uncle looked at us both and said, ìYou didnít just see that.î

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

A Light Has Gone Out



Neal Pollack is quitting the blogosphere. I don't blame him, it's a tough thing to find something interesting and witty to say every single day. Dad after day, night after night... Who would want to put up with this tedium for longer than they have to?

But seriously, his blog was one of the ones that got me started on this wild thing called the internet and he'll be missed.

Via Atrios.

Monday, November 10, 2003

I've Been to East Molesey and No Sheep is truly Safe There



Neil Gaiman has the goods on the Prince Charles scandal. Maybe. It's a fascinating situation that the British libel and slander laws have created. Every reporter in England, plus their Shropshire Sheepdog knows what the Prince of Whales did or didn't do. But they can't say it outright. So they elude. Insinuate. Some might say, titillate?

From an Information Use perspective, this is a nightmare. How can anyone be expected to make any sort of meanignful reference the the events without obfuscating the known variables further? I certainly pity my counterparts in the British Library System. Is 'Naughty Prince' a Boolean descriptor in the Eric Thesaurus or would that be a Natural Language search?

The questions are endless.