Primatologist Jill Pruetz, a Texas State University-San Marcos alumnus who recently recorded the first evidence of chimpanzees using tools to hunt, will speak at the university Monday, Nov. 5.
Pruetz’s speech is titled, “Redefining Chimpanzees: New Research on Savanna Chimpanzees.” The lecture will begin at 7 p.m. in the Alkek Library teaching theatre on campus. The free presentation is open to the public and marks the first in a new College of Liberal Arts alumni speaker series.
Pruetz, an assistant professor of anthropology at Iowa State University, obtained a bachelor’s in anthropology from Texas State in 1989 and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois-Urbana in 1999. Her research on primates in Africa, Central and South America investigates the influence of ecology on primate and early human feeding, ranging and social behavior.
A March 6 issue of Current Biology reports that Pruetz found evidence in the West African nation of Senegal that confirms tool use by female and juvenile chimpanzees when hunting vertebrates. In order to make their observations, Pruetz and her team spent four years getting the chimpanzees accustomed to a benign human presence throughout a 39-mile worksite.
Pruetz’s study, funded by the National Geographic Society, is the first record of chimpanzees hunting with tools and the first account of habitual tool use by non-humans while hunting other vertebrates. It’s also the first report of hunting by female chimpanzees.
While female chimpanzees are known to make and use tools to extract insects from mounds of earth and crack open nuts for consumption, hunting was always considered a male activity. Pruetz documented 22 cases of female and juvenile chimpanzees fashioning tools such as spears to use in hunting smaller primates in hollow branches and tree trunks.
The findings support a theory that females may have played a role in the evolution of tool technology in early humans, including a modernization of hunting and gathering techniques. The evidence comes at a time when our closest living relatives face extinction in many areas of the world.
“The observation that individuals hunting with tools include females and immature chimpanzees suggests that scientists should rethink traditional explanations for the evolution of such behavior in the human lineage,” said Beth Erhart, assistant professor of anthropology at Texas State. “Learning more about the unique behaviors of chimpanzees in such an environment, before they disappear, can provide important clues about the challenges facing our earliest ancestors.”
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Wanting Sumptuous Heavens
by Robert Bly
No one grumbles among the oyster clans,
And lobsters play their bone guitars all summer.
Only we, with our opposable thumbs, want
Heaven to be, and God to come, again.
There is no end to our grumbling; we want
Comfortable earth and sumptuous Heaven.
But the heron standing on one leg in the bog
Drinks his dark rum all day, and is content.
Sunlight Bets on the Come
by Charles Wright
The basic pleasures remain unchanged,
and their minor satisfactions—
Chopping wood, building a fire,
Watching the elk herd
splinter and cruise around the outcrop of spruce trees
As the deer haul ass,
their white flags like synchronized swimmers’ hands,
Sunlight sealing—stretched like Saran wrap—
The world as we know it,
keeping it fresh-flamed should tomorrow arrive.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Friday, October 26, 2007
At NYRB, a fascinating transcript of a pre-war (Feb. 2003) private confab between W. and then-Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar at the weekend white House in Crawford, along with an insightful annotation by Mark Danner. (Note that the text is a translation back from a Spanish translation published in El Pais, so some of nuestro jefe's idiomatic edge may have gotten lost in the process.)
Prime Minister Aznar: Is it true that there's a possibility of Saddam Hussein going into exile?
President Bush: Yes, that possibility exists. Even that he gets assassinated.
PMA: An exile with some guarantee?
PB: No guarantee. He's a thief, a terrorist, a war criminal. Compared to Saddam, Milosevic would be a Mother Teresa. When we go in, we'll uncover many more crimes and we'll take him to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Saddam Hussein believes he's already gotten away. He thinks France and Germany have stopped holding him to his responsibilities. He also thinks that the protests of last week [Saturday, February 15] protect him. And he thinks I'm much weakened. But the people around him know that things are different. They know his future is in exile or in a coffin. That's why it's so important to keep the pressure on him. Gaddafi tells us indirectly that this is the only thing that can finish him. Saddam Hussein's sole strategy is to stall, stall, and stall.
PMA: In reality, the biggest success would be to win the game without firing a single shot while going into Baghdad.
PB: For me it would be the perfect solution. I don't want the war. I know what wars are like. I know the destruction and the death that comes with them. I am the one who has to comfort the mothers and the widows of the dead. Of course, for us that would be the best solution. Besides, it would save us $50 billion.
PMA: We need your help with our public opinion.
PB: We'll do everything we can. On Wednesday I'll talk about the situation in the Middle East, and propose a new peace framework that you know, and about the weapons of mass destruction, the benefits of a free society, and I'll place the history of Iraq in a wider context. Maybe that's of help to you.
PMA: What we are doing is a very profound change for Spain and the Spaniards. We're changing the politics that the country has followed over the last two hundred years.
PB: I am just as much guided by a historic sense of responsibility as you are. When some years from now History judges us, I don't want people to ask themselves why Bush, or Aznar, or Blair didn't face their responsibilities. In the end, what people want is to enjoy freedom. Not long ago, in Romania, I was reminded of the example of Ceaucescu: it took just one woman to call him a liar for the whole repressive system to come down. That's the unstoppable power of freedom. I am convinced that I'll get that resolution.
PMA: That would be the best.
PB: I made the decision to go to the Security Council. In spite of the disagreements within my administration, I told my people that we should work with our friends. It would be wonderful to have a second resolution.
PMA: The only thing that worries me about you is your optimism.
PB: I am an optimist, because I believe that I'm right. I'm at peace with myself. It's up to us to face a serious threat to peace. It annoys me to no end to contemplate the insensitivity of the Europeans toward the suffering Saddam Hussein inflicts on the Iraqis. Perhaps because he's dark, far away, and a Muslim, many Europeans think that everything is fine with him. I won't forget what [former NATO Secretary General, the Spaniard Javier] Solana once asked me: why we Americans think the Europeans are anti-Semites and incapable of facing their responsibilities. That defensive attitude is terrible. I have to admit that I have a splendid relationship with Kofi Annan.
PMA: He shares your ethical concerns.
PB: The more the Europeans attack me, the stronger I am in the United States.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Still, I'm very pleased, considering that the reviewer throws brickbats at a couple of other books. The Post chose to run a black-and-white cover detail from my book's cover, which testifies to the excellent work of cover artist Brian Dow.
I'm also pleased that Hurricane Moon has been enjoyed by a fair number of people who usually read mainstream, mystery, or romance books. It seems to appeal to various readers for varied reasons. It was even a 4 1/2-star Top Pick in the September issue of Romantic Times. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd venture that the romantic stage-setting was what the Post reviewer didn't care for. To each their own!
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
For the tactically inclined toddler on your Christmas list, you would have a hard time finding a more charming elfin product for an apocalyptic age than this Blackwater baby grizzly, courtesy of Blackwater USA's online store. Yes, ladies, they do have a line of pawed apparel just for you, and yes, Jayme, they do have custom drone Zeppelins available (you know, if you win the lottery). And, if you are feeling the need for some inspiration in the cubicle today, you might try a selection from their gallery of combat Successories.
(I especially dig the Gandalf-worthy face in the sandstorm, just like the horses in that Rivendell river -- further evidence that Osama and fellow white-robed poets of doom are typecast as Istari in the meta-meme.)
Monday, October 22, 2007
Teaching may soothe his soul, but Hollywood still paid the bills.
“Now this,” he said, as the PowerPoint projected a grainy, black-and-white image of nine chummy men posing in front of shrubbery, “is one of the infamous Sochi photographs. I trust you’re familiar with them? The techniques used were crude by today’s standards--some may say airbrushing is a lost art, but I’m pretty sure the airbrush artist wished he’d lost this phantom hand as well.”
The image switched to a different version of the first, this one lacking the tall, dark-sweatered man in the middle. All that remained to mark his existence was a disembodied hand resting on the shoulder of the man to his immediate left. Laughter rippled through the room.
“The secret to history is that it’s an illusion, but that doesn’t mean you can be complacent. You’re all experts at Photoshop, but when all is said and done, that software is little more than a fancy airbrush. There’s still plenty of room for human error, and you’re going to be doing considerably more than retouching a few old black and white snapshots.”
That sobered them in a hurry. Good, he thought. They need to understand the power he was bestowing upon them.
“Today’s explosion of multimedia presents far greater challenges than ever. Digital imagery has revolutionized photography, and while that has made it far easier to manipulate photos, by the same token it has made it easier to detect alterations.” George forwarded the PowerPoint to an embedded video. This was one of his favorite parts, yet he couldn’t help the fleeting bitterness that he hadn’t thought of it first. “Content aware imaging is only the latest advance in photo manipulation. See that person on the beach? Gone, just like that. The central algorithm literally breaks down every pixel in the image, assigning them informational value. When the time comes to subtract these ‘unwanted elements’ from the scene, the program does so in most expeditious manner possible, while simultaneously preserving the maximum amount of information. In short, the altered image not only looks authentic, it feels authentic, too.
“This is it. This is the revolution, and we're in the middle of it. It's a great time to be alive. I don’t have to tell you how happy I was when my team succeeded in applying the process to digital film. The great advantage of digital content awareness is that it works equally well with visual or audio.” He scratched his beard for dramatic effect as the image of Ron Howard and Cindy Williams leaning against an Edsel appeared on the screen behind him. “Take, for example, American Graffitti. A little outside your cultural touchstones, I know, but bear with me. Originally, I had the Crystals’ ‘And He Kissed Me’ featured prominently in the film. We ran into some licensing problems with that one song when it came time for the DVD release, and I said to myself, ‘Why are we going through this hassle?’ Ultimately, we were able to do an audio search-and-replace and nobody ever noticed the difference. I think ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love’ was what we finally replaced it with. And if you look closely, you can see a 16-year-old Tom Hanks there in the background. He wasn’t in the original, of course, but I thought he’d get a kick out of--”
The door opened, flooding the room with glaring light. “Comrade George?”
George raised his hand to shield his eyes. “I’m in the middle of a class here, Dmitri.”
“Sorry for the intrusion, Comrade George,” the dark-suited Dmitri answered. “President Putin requests your presence. It is urgent.”
“I thought Sergei--“
“Nyet. The President was quite insistent that your... ah, particular vision is needed.” Dmitri dropped his voice ominously. “It involves Kasparov.”
“Oh,” said George, then brightened abruptly. “Oh! I see. Yes, well then, can I bring my class along? This is what they’re here for, after all.”
Dmitri looked ill at ease, then nodded abruptly.
“Class, you’re in for a treat,” George announced, positively beaming in his trademark flannel. “You’re about to see why the ability to checkmate Magerramov is insignificant next to my quest for immaculate reality.”
© 2007 Jayme Lynn Blaschke
At the New York Observer, an interesting bit on the mystery of Edgar Allen Poe's rattling and perhaps tumorous gray matter:
Poe’s Mysterious Death: The Plot Thickens!
by Leon Neyfakh
'[T]he articles confirmed that Mr. Poe’s body had been exhumed, 26 years after his death, so that his coffin could be moved to a more prominent place at the front of the cemetery.
'More to the point, a few of the articles suggested that the great man’s brain had been visible to onlookers during the procedure.
'The first of these was an undated letter to the editor of The Baltimore Gazette, which claimed that “a medical gentleman” had seen “that the brain of the poet Poe, on the opening of his grave … was in an almost perfect state of preservation,” and that “the cerebral mass, as seen through the base of the skull, evidenced no signs of disintegration or decay, though, of course, it is somewhat diminished in size.”
'The second was an 1878 article in the St. Louis Republican, noting that “the sexton who attended to the removal of the poet’s body” had lifted the head during the exhumation and reported seeing the brain “[rattling] around inside just like a lump of mud.” The sexton reportedly thought that “the brain had dried and hardened in the skull.”'
Friday, October 19, 2007
"Melborea Moronica: New ‘Depraved Species of Electric Flora’ Found Growing in Melbourne, Australia
"As far as Western societies go, Australia is still the WILD West, still lawless and green, still new and unformed and built on a tradition of bloodshed that goes right back to the very birth of the nation, a psychic schism that still festers like an open sore. The big Australian cities, like Sydney and Melbourne, despite their affectations of worldliness and cosmopolitan charm, are like the suburb of Brooklands in Ballard’s Kingdom Come writ large: an immature, isolated culture (just as Brooklands is sealed off from London by the motorway system, Australia, as a whole is sealed off from the Western world by distance), fuelled by prejudice, media hatred, blind loyalty to sport (and I’m not a hater of sports per se, just the culture that surrounds it; don’t forget the bozos in the YouTube footage above are proudly displaying their team colours), and unthinking, jingoistic nationalism that is able to be tapped, diverted and funnelled into ‘us and them’ dichotomies as needed — motorists vs. cyclists, for example, sports fan vs. sports reporter. The sense Ballard gives in Kingdom Come of sporting fans supporting violence rather than any notion of ‘team’ or ‘community’ is hyperrealised here in Australia. The big football teams in Melbourne all play out of the same two grounds; there’s no suburban specificity, no sense of individuality, just a differentiation predicated on sponsors’ logos. The dystopian cliche of a One World Government effacing all nations under a fascist regime finds full expression in the microcosm that is Australian football, in itself an expression of wider society."
Fortunately for me, I live in Texas, where we don't have such problems, being able to pacify the urges of putatively fascistic fans through the soothing televisual wonders of the Godzillatron. Hook 'em Horns?
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Speaking of Tora Bora Ted, another unsolved mystery of the halcyon early days of the GWOT: Just who were the pranksters who managed to get the mainstream media to post pictures of a GI Joe being held hostage with his own plastic rifle as an actual mujahideen hostage video? And why don't they have their own entry in the latest RE/Search tome?
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is…". Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:
- You can leave them exactly as is.
- You can delete any one question.
- You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question. For instance, you could change "The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is..." to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is…", or "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is..." or "The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is..."
- You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is..."
You must have at least one question in your set, or you've gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you're not viable.
Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the blog you got them from, to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions.
Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.
1. The best near-future novel in SF/Fantasy is...
Firestar, by Michael Flynn.
2. The best romantic movie in historical fiction is...
Shakespeare in Love.
3. [deleted original] The best opera recording in classical music is...
Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, Sir Georg Solti/VPO.
And here is my contribution to the cause:
1. The best post-apocalyptic novel in SF/Fantasy is...
A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
2. The best romantic movie in historical fiction is...
Shakespeare in Love.
3. The best opera recording in classical music is...
Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, Sir Georg Solti/VPO.
4. [new question] The best animated installation art in SF/Fantasy is...
The Iron City by Matthew Ritchie
I'm certain I mucked that up somehow. Now, my unsuspecting victims in this unending chain of meme-infliction are: Lou Anders, John Klima, Chris Roberson, Mikal Trimm and Danny Adams. Have fun, folks!
Monday, October 15, 2007
From the Tora Bora Ted files of October 2001, check out this video of Donald Rumsfeld and Tim Russert's deadpan assessment of the really cool Detective Comics Batcave cross-section of Osama's Blofeldian mountain lair, which was exactly how my inner twelve-year old would have drawn it, except maybe he would have added a game room and some Heavy Metal babes.
(For the real thing, check out my very favorite Osprey manual for military modelers: Afghanistan Cave Complexes 1979-2004. I got my copy at the local hobby shop, where I plan to recruit some of the Tamiya junkies along with some of the model railroad landscapers to make our own 1/72nd scale Tora Bora in the basement. That would seriously be my kind of Make magazine feature.)
Saturday, October 13, 2007
I shall be conducting research into this issue during my copious free time-travel, but any assistance will, of course, be welcomed.
Friday, October 12, 2007
One of the finest uses of Photoshop I have yet witnessed: Planet Hiltron, where celebrities are remade as ordinary American folks you might see at the office or the mall. As it might have been.
Of course, I also daydream of revolutionary paparazzi staging moments of maximum celebrity ugliness:
The windshield fills with white as the Monte Carlo punctures the left drivers’ side door and rear quarter panel. Elegant forms of sheet metal assembled with attentive precision by North America’s most diligent factory robots krush, crumpled like the aluminum foil of the Gods. The busted hymen of new car virginity rended in an act of loving violation.
“To free the world, we must rape the Spectacle,” says Avineri in the Prison Blog.
Tinted windows shatter and blow, exposing Jessica as she screams, the secret sphincters of her facial muscles contorting her pampered dermis into a horrifying rictus a hundred times over, once for each of the dilating shutters excitedly popping off in her face—our half-dozen cameras and those of the true paparazzi excitedly seizing upon the sudden scene.
The best of our photos and video clips will be posted on one of 0z0’s myriad websites that bounce from host to host as the cybercrime brigades hound the ISPs. The straight paparazzi images will end up in checkout counters and dinnertime television broadcasts. Percy usually manages to sell a few of our choicest illegally procured spots to the same outlets, financing our future efforts with the fruits of our transgression. The best of the celebrity accident photos will go for a few thousand bucks; clean video can reap five figures.
'PUYO' is a Japanese onomatopoeia that expresses the sensation of touching the vehicle's soft body. It is meant to convey a warm, friendly impression.
The PUYO represents a new idea in mobility that brings together 'clean', 'safe' and 'fun' functionality in an environmentally responsible, people-friendly minimalist design featuring an ultra-high efficiency, small frame and fuel cell technology to please both users and onlookers alike.
The development theme for the PUYO exterior was to create a cornerless, 'Seamless Soft Box' form that is kind to both people and the environment. The goal was to create a personable design with the feel of an adorable pet, while taking advantage of the maximum spaciousness of the box-shaped design. The PUYO's 'gel body' features soft materials to promote greater real-world safety. Moreover, the body has been made luminescent to guide people into the proper operating position and notify them of the vehicle's condition, facilitating a more intimate relationship between people and their cars.
Developed to have a 'Silky Feel', the PUYO's interior is designed to provide a refreshing, people-friendly space imbued with a feeling of transparency. Features such as an instrument panel monitor, controls that take advantage of the elastic qualities of cloth to rise up when the vehicle starts up, luminous fluid meter displays, and a joystick for intuitive operation are all designed to gently support occupants' senses and sensibilities.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Doris Lessing Wins Nobel Prize in Literature
By MOTOKO RICH
October 11, 2007
Doris Lessing, the Persian-born, Rhodesian-raised and London-residing novelist whose deeply autobiographical writing has swept across continents and reflects her deep feminist engagement with the major social and political issues, won the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature today.
Announcing the award in Stockholm, the Swedish Academy described her as “that epicist of the female experience, who with skepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilization to scrutiny.” The award comes with a 10 million Swedish crown honorarium, about $1.6 million.
A good reason to check out the Canopus in Argos books if you haven't already.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Dragonfly or Insect Spy? Scientists at Work on Robobugs
By Rick Weiss
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Vanessa Alarcon saw them while working at an antiwar rally in Lafayette Square last month.
"I heard someone say, 'Oh my god, look at those,' " the college senior from New York recalled. "I look up and I'm like, 'What the hell is that?' They looked kind of like dragonflies or little helicopters. But I mean, those are not insects."
Out in the crowd, Bernard Crane saw them, too.
"I'd never seen anything like it in my life," the Washington lawyer said. "They were large for dragonflies. I thought, 'Is that mechanical, or is that alive?' "
That is just one of the questions hovering over a handful of similar sightings at political events in Washington and New York. Some suspect the insectlike drones are high-tech surveillance tools, perhaps deployed by the Department of Homeland Security.
Others think they are, well, dragonflies -- an ancient order of insects that even biologists concede look about as robotic as a living creature can look.
No agency admits to having deployed insect-size spy drones. But a number of U.S. government and private entities acknowledge they are trying. Some federally funded teams are even growing live insects with computer chips in them, with the goal of mounting spyware on their bodies and controlling their flight muscles remotely.
The robobugs could follow suspects, guide missiles to targets or navigate the crannies of collapsed buildings to find survivors.
The technical challenges of creating robotic insects are daunting, and most experts doubt that fully working models exist yet.
"If you find something, let me know," said Gary Anderson of the Defense Department's Rapid Reaction Technology Office.
But the CIA secretly developed a simple dragonfly snooper as long ago as the 1970s. And given recent advances, even skeptics say there is always a chance that some agency has quietly managed to make something operational.
"America can be pretty sneaky," said Tom Ehrhard, a retired Air Force colonel and expert in unmanned aerial vehicles who is now at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a nonprofit Washington-based research institute.
The Defense Department is trying, though.
In one approach, researchers funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are inserting computer chips into moth pupae -- the intermediate stage between a caterpillar and a flying adult -- and hatching them into healthy "cyborg moths."
The Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems project aims to create literal shutterbugs -- camera-toting insects whose nerves have grown into their internal silicon chip so that wranglers can control their activities. DARPA researchers are also raising cyborg beetles with power for various instruments to be generated by their muscles.
"You might recall that Gandalf the friendly wizard in the recent classic 'Lord of the Rings' used a moth to call in air support," DARPA program manager Amit Lal said at a symposium in August. Today, he said, "this science fiction vision is within the realm of reality."
A DARPA spokeswoman denied a reporter's request to interview Lal or others on the project.
Now, what will be really cool, is when teenage hacker dudes start growing their own cyborg insects in the basement and unleash them on the establishment...
Update: More on DARPA's cyborg bugs here, courtesy of the BBC.
Anyway, from everything I've seen in the nifty trailer and heard in talk both online and off, the filmmakers took maybe the first quarter of Unka Stevie's book and translated it pretty faithfully to the big screen. Then they added things like paladins, Samuel L. Jackson, other jumpers and a worldwide conspiracy (can't have an action movie these days without that, can we?) to give us a final product that has very little in common with the brilliant source material. No matter. Steve's going to sell many more books because of the flick--he even managed a clever deal to write and original tie-in to the film based on his book, so how meta is that?--and truth be told, the trailer looks pretty darn good for what it is. Anything that furthers Steve's career is fine by me.
Oh, and did I mention I've actually published the august Steve "That's Mister Gould To You"? True. Back in my time as RevolutionSF editor, I conned him and Rory Harper out of their collaborative horror piece Leonardo's Hands. Betcha they could sell it to Weird Tales or some similar for lots of money today. Hahahahahaha!
Why Aren't U.S. Cities Burning?
"African Americans’ entrance into the Consumers’ Republic is full of irony. Consumption demands—equal access to public accommodation, entertainment, shopping, and transportation—were key goals in the civil rights movement. They also helped precipitate the civil disorders of the 1960s. The national welfare rights movement made full membership in the Consumers’ Republic a major demand. But the Consumers’ Republic also undermined black protest by shifting the focus of black demands to public accommodation and market access, thereby linking African American goals to mainstream American aspirations and subordinating alternatives based on black nationalism or social democratic visions of economic justice. Among both black and white Americans consumption masked widening inequality, environmental degradation, and heightened insecurity with a blanket of inexpensive goods available to nearly everyone through the magic of credit. The result was consumer debt and bankruptcy that reached previously unimagined heights, rather than mobilization expressed through politics or other forms of collective action.
"By facilitating the rise of the Consumers’ Republic, the private sector developed an indirect mechanism for deflecting the potential for civil violence. Public authorities also deployed more direct mechanisms. In 1968, Congress passed the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, which created the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA). The LEAA, according to one historian, “provided a law-and-order alternative to the social, cultural, and economic perspective of the Kerner Commission.” Operating mainly through block grants to states, the LEAA gave money to police forces and other parts of the criminal justice system. The legislation specified that no more than one-third of federal grants go to personnel—a requirement that excluded manpower-intensive programs, including those that focused on community relations and social service. But the police easily fulfilled the law’s mandate by purchasing hardware such as antiriot tools, helicopters, and vehicles. Thus, until its abolition in 1980, much LEAA money supplied technologies of repression and control."
For the perfect musical accompaniment, here's Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys performing "Riot" in 1984 (yes, I actually saw them on this tour).
Monday, October 8, 2007
On the way to work on a clear evening not long ago, I noticed three things that made it well worth my while to go to work. (Besides the paycheck.) First, driving eastward on
Crossing campus, walking through the tall brick archway in the molecular biology building, I glanced through the window in the arch. Inside, in a wide, brightly lit hallway, stood a bulky machine swathed in thick plastic. It looked like a brand new analytical instrument—sophisticated, pricey, and delicate. Photocopied notices festooned the plastic wrappings. BEFORE DRIVER LEAVES REMOVE PLASTIC AND INSPECT FOR DAMAGE.
Hello? This was 8 PM. The driver was long gone.
Approaching the library, I passed a Buddhist monk on the sidewalk under the oak trees. He's one of the graduate students, and a scholarly, pleasant person; his brown-robed presence on campus is a grace note of timelessness amid the flux of undergraduate fashions in clothing. This particular evening, in the shadows under the trees, a cell phone in his hand gave off a blue glow. Timelessness intersected an acutely timely little piece of technology.
Later in the evening, I had occasion go up the stairs near the library circulation desk where I work. On the landing between first and second floors I discovered part of the new art installation in the library. The installation has components in different locations. Each consists of a large number of old hardback books, elaborately stacked against a wall, spines facing out and painted with pictures of animals and other things. Two lofty, curvy trees rise against the flat faces of high columns near the front door. Near the back door, a woozy clutch of skyscrapers rests against a wall; a cartoon horse sits or slides on the slanted roof of one of the skyscrapers. In the stairwell, four mice scamper around a white giraffe.
Some of the book spines ended up under paint. Others are unpainted or only partly painted. You can see, or guess, what the books are. It's a yard-sale hodgepodge of titles by forgotten or famous or infamous authors. All in all, this is an interesting example of modern art, a literary whimsy, heavy on the whimsy. Too much whimsy for some library-goers' tastes. One patron acerbically said, "there's a giraffe painted on a book by Winston Churchill!"
Wonderful world we live in. A world with plenty of wonders, as in, wondrous things. Also things that make you wonder what they mean. And sometimes you just wonder what somebody was thinking.
Friday, October 5, 2007
No doubt this bit of commercial satire is already widely virally distributed to the far corners of the interwebs, but, being one who really doesn't watch TV (unless, you know, it's Polski Ragga-Bhangra) or browse YouTube, I just discovered it. And it's too perfect a weekend chuckle not to share. Andy Samberg's love song to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- "like a very hairy Jake Gyllenhahl to me..."
"They call you weasel
They say your methods are medieval
You can play the Jews
I can be your Jim Caviezel"
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Just in case you've been under a rock for the past 40 or so years, here's the rundown... on second thought, never mind. Rather than invest precious time writing up bios about these folks, I'll just link to their websites and/or blogs, which will empower you good readers to educate yourselves.
Kelly Persons (sorry, but I couldn't find anything other than the scads of cons she's worked on)
Joe & Gay Haldeman
There. That should distract you from work for a few minutes.
In the "why am I not surprised?" department, comes this off the front page of today's NYT:
Secret U.S. Endorsement of Severe Interrogations
By Scott Shane, David Johnston and James Risen
Published: October 4, 2007
WASHINGTON, Oct. 3 — When the Justice Department publicly declared torture “abhorrent” in a legal opinion in December 2004, the Bush administration appeared to have abandoned its assertion of nearly unlimited presidential authority to order brutal interrogations.
But soon after Alberto R. Gonzales’s arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Department issued another opinion, this one in secret. It was a very different document, according to officials briefed on it, an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.
The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.
I look forward to the appearance of the original document in glorious PDF. If you haven't read them, the previously released (and apparently kinder gentler) memos are masterpieces of invisible literature for the new century.
My favorite highlight when I first read this was Rummy's hand-written annotation of his approval in the winter of 2002 of new "Counter-Resistance Techniques": "Approved -- However, I stand 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours? D.R." Nothing like a little dry wit, SECDEF style, to lighten up those lawyer memos.
Now, if you really want to go deep in on this stuff, you need to read the KUBARK Manual of Counterintelligence Interrogation, which may qualify as the Necronomicon of the Episcopal Inquistion. Written in 1963, declassified in 1997, reportedly still used as a core source by the illuminated. My personal favorite on this menu:
'Spinoza and Mortimer Snerd
'If there is reason to suspect that a withholding source possesses useful counterintelligence information but has not had access to the upper reaches of the target organizations, the policy and command level, continued questioning about lofty topics that the source knows nothing about may pave the way for the extraction of information at lower levels. The interrogatee is asked about KGB policy, for example: the relation of the service to its government, its liaison arrangements, etc., etc. His complaints that he knows nothing of such matters are met by flat insistence that he does know, he would have to know, that even the most stupid men in his position know. Communist interrogators who used this tactic against American POW's coupled it with punishment for "don't know" responses -- typically by forcing the prisoner to stand at attention until he gave some positive response. After the process had been continued long enough, the source was asked a question to which he did know the answer. Numbers of Americans have mentioned "...the tremendous feeling of relief you get when he finally asks you something you can answer." One said, "I know it seems strange now, but I was positively grateful to them when they switched to a topic I knew something about."'
New book pitch: A pop management tome for neighborhood chains and airport racks -- a book applying CIA interrogation and psychological warfare techniques to everyday white collar office environments. "Management Secrets of KUBARK."
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Now, courtesy of the outstanding Daydreamthief, here's Channel 4's full television documentary version of same. Absolutely, mind-blowingly, un-fucking believable.
Like a cross between the X-Files and 24, with a healthy dose of Soldier of Fortune magazine, starring the cast of Monty Python, and filmed by Christopher Guest. Except it's all true.
As in, watch current Special Forces soldiers try to use telepathy to stop the hearts of goats.
Mandatory viewing for postmodern cultural literacy.
P.S. - Speaking of Daydreamthief, check out his wonderful riff on the echoes of Count Zero in the minions of Erik Prince.
I guess that's why, this morning, I can't get that tune from Before and After Science out of my head. It would make a great C-SPAN duet to be sung by Henry Waxman and the Veep, don't you think?:
There were six of us but now we are five
We're all talking
To keep the conversation alive
There was a senator from Ecuador
Who talked about a meteor
That crashed on a hill in the south of Peru
And was found by a conquistador
Who took it to the Emperor
And he passed it on to a Turkish Guru...
Was slated for becoming divine
He taught her,
He taught her how to split and define
But if you study the logistics
And heuristics of the mystics
You will find that their minds rarely move in a line
So it's much more realistic
To abandon such ballistics
And resign to be trapped on a leaf in the vine."
Perhaps they could use that in the made-for-TV movie.
Guess I need to break out the vinyl tonight...
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Pic: Videodrome (1983): Sleazy UHF broadcaster Max Renn (James Woods) finds himself recast in the pirate snuff channel of his waking nightmares.
Via Ballardian, a great Washington Post interview with David Cronenberg that explores the director's prescient knack for spelunking the dark, not-so-subliminal intersections of sex and violence lurking in our mediascape:
<<<[I]n "Eastern Promises," Cronenberg emphasizes the onus of severing a human throat -- an idea that occurred to him after watching a terrorist beheading video. The would-be assassin in Cronenberg's movie is "not very experienced at this," he explains. He discovers the human body is "a complex thing with sinews, muscles and tendons. It resists destruction to the last drop of blood. So it's not a nice clean cut. It's messy and horrifying for him -- and us."
...Cronenberg says he has not watched the grisly "Saw" or "Hostel" films, which he describes as nothing more than "torture movies" -- a theme he explored in his 1983 film, "Videodrome," in which a sleazy cable television owner (James Woods) broadcasts a pirated video of torture and mutilation, only to discover the violence on it is not staged. Cronenberg's work is different, in that instead of shock for shock's value, he's using the form subversively against itself, to promote nonviolence.
...The filmmaker is "unafraid of intimacy with violence and sex," says Holly Hunter, who played one of the characters in "Crash." "He takes you on the inside track of it, which is nothing to do with slickness or glamour, and it can actually be quite blasphemous and macabre. . . . There's a coolness to David's movies -- cool in temperature, I mean -- and in that way, they're not pornographic or thrill-seeking."
Told of Hunter's comment, Cronenberg responds: "I think people are curious, drawn, attracted, repelled and afraid, all at the same time, about violence, and they're right. There's an eroticism involved, certainly in 'Crash,' and I really saw that in the beheading videos. They looked like homosexual gang rapes with all the chanting and so on. It was pretty obvious to me, though [the terrorists] would be in total denial about that. There are strange, perverse elements to violence.">>>
Pic: The auteur theory of the mujahideen hostage video? Still from the Alan Berg beheading (2004).
Eastern Promises is much more digestible fare than Videodrome or Crash, but a perfectly constructed thriller with subtle, lingering power. Now, imagine Cronenberg marrying these two threads of his work to explore the dark territories of the GWOT...
Monday, October 1, 2007
The new McSweeney's 24 smells like cordite, having been assembled while fighting off the hordes of Comanches attacking the city. Perfect reading for that bar in Tenerife.
Having spent a good bit of time this year pondering what a proper Blackwater-infused slipstream might look like, imagine my pleasure at opening this placid blue cover and having it explode in my face like a surprise present from the Unabomber of the subconscious, with this perfect story by soldier/author Christopher Howard, "How to Make Millions in the Oil Market," a hyper-kinetic daydream that reads like Tom Bissell covering Generation Kill:
"They took a corner and a white Nissan pickup backed in front of them and stalled. The middle-aged Iraqi inside swatted the steering wheel in frustration.
Not another one of these idiots, Gerrera said. He braked. He considered the pickup and shook his head. What folly these primitives be up to. He'd give the pickup a few moments to restart before backing up and pulling around. Traffic had grown geometrically worse over the months since the official war ended.
You know what this place reminds me of, Duane? Gerrera said. That desert planet in that Star Wars movie of yours. Tattoo.
Tattooine, Wilson corrected him. Come correct or don't come at all.
He remembered watching the trilogy over three consecutive nights with Dana after the girls had been put to bed.
The smoke trail of an RPG lanced across the hood.
The driver's side window disappeared. Gerrera jammed his hand against his neck like slapping a mosquito. He stomped the accelerator. Wilson heard someone firing full-auto bursts, but the scenery was a blur. The Land Rover surged, smashing the corner of the pickup, sending it spinning. They teetered drunkenly as Gerrera lost control. The hood crumpled against ancient brick. Rainbow-shimmering CDs exploded across the interior.
There was a deep stillness as if the whole world was stunned.
A rifle bullet came through the windshield cleanly and slapped Gerrera's skull."
The other stories in the first half of the issue all share some kind of repurposing of men's adventure tropes, and the three I've read thus far are beautiful. The other half (literally, due to some ingenious kind of double binding) is devoted to the very worthy task of rectifying the insufficient attention given to Donald Barthelme.
The editorial note explains that the issue number -- 24 -- got them thinking of Kiefer Sutherland from their perch over Valencia Street "...and then all yelling 'Ah-ha!' at once and tumbling down, thousands of feet, executing perfect tuck-dives into pools of bright clear water?"
I anxiously await the upcoming Wholphin, which I am told will bookend this issue's Russian "Married with Children" with a lost episode of "24" ghost-written by Barthelme's ghost.
Go buy one now while supplies last!
Week before last I had the good fortune to accompany a friend to the new and improved theatrical production of GET YOUR WAR ON by Austin's own Rude Mechanicals, back in town from taking the show on the road after a national tour and a well-received participation in Edinburg Fringe. First-rate smart-ass agitprop that gets away with shooting easy targets on the raw strength of its comedic insight. I was convulsed in even more intense paroxysms of laughter than when the production first appeared two winters ago. There may still be time to catch this iteration if you are anywhere near Espoo, Finland.
The play is an adaptation of the brilliant Internet comic by David Rees. In otherwords, a cover. Of a cartoon. An Internet cartoon, comprised of clip art and word balloons. What better minimalist foundation for budget-conscious indie theater than these three panel haikus that capture the feeling of American life for thinking working people during this grey collar apocalypse better than anything else out there?
The play also features a kind of cover, a playback within the play, of the David Bowie song "Life on Mars?" A song which, I suspect, was thrust into the consciousness of the cultural cogniscenti when Wes Anderson ingeniously got Brazilian Seu Jorge to do an acoustic Portuguese language cover of it (and an album's worth of other vintage '70s Bowie) for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou -- not just for the soundtrack, but as a character, a member of the ship's Calypso-like crew, playing the songs as part of the actual filmic setting, on the deck and the dock. In a movie which, as it happens, was basically a cover of a 1970s Jacques Cousteau documentary, as reinvented by a guy who grew up watching those undersea adventures in the forgotten world before cable (and uses the opportunity to add some of the elements his 12-year-old self would have wanted -- guns, pirate raids, topless French chicks, and so on).
"Life on Mars?" is also covered on this summer's release from The Bad Plus, Prog (along with Rush's "Tom Sawyer," Burt Bachrach's "This Guy's In Love," and Tears for Fears "Everybody Wants to Rule the World"). The trio's prior album, Suspicious Activity?, featured, as it happens, a cover by David Rees lifted straight from Get Your War On.
Looking at this very small sampling of recent cultural consumption of artistic product by like-minded members of a common generation, one might observe that it seems excessively reliant on the incorporation of winking references to pop culture of the 1970s and environs. You know, how much irony can you beer bong into your brain before the intellectual hangover finally hits? (I can relate, having committed such culture crimes in my own work as incorporating excessive references to bad 70s television into short stories that try to rework men's adventure tropes in service of political satire.)
At Do the Math, all three voices of The Bad Plus did an outstanding job of answering that question last week, in a short essay that addresses the issue in the context of their own work, but in a line of argument that I think would apply to many other artists. After quoting a bunch of reviews riffing on the band's ironic jazz covers of contemporary pop/rock standards from Iron Man to Smells Like Teen Spirit to Chariots of Fire:
'...these 10 quotes illustrate a basic misapprehension about the band, which is that we play the covers as a joke or in a non-serious way. This is not true. We are serious about all the music we play, the covers included.
They are NOT a joke.
With the rare exception, TBP doesn't choose to improvise on music written from 1920 to 1965. Instead, we find it really interesting to search for ways to make rock, pop and electronica songs vehicles for contemporary improvisation. One reason that this material is not "standard" is that you can't call "Iron Man" at a jam session and pull off a mediocre interpretation of it the way you can with "All the Things You Are." There simply isn't a common language for it.
But just because the non-original songs we play can't be called at a jam session isn't the reason 10 English critics think it's a joke. Why do they think it is a joke? There are two possible reasons:
A) The original music itself is a joke: in other words, Nirvana, Blondie, Aphex Twin, ABBA, Neil Young, The Police, David Bowie, Burt Bacharach, Tears for Fears, Black Sabbath, Pixies, Vangelis, Rush, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Radiohead, Bjork, The Bee Gees, and Interpol is just inferior and not at the level of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood. Implied is the phrase "rock is not worthy of the jazz tradition."
B) The way we play the covers appears like parody or at least highly ironic.
Both are wrong.
It follows that if TBP loves these songs, we love playing them. As far as irony goes, let's dismiss our versions of Nirvana, Bowie, Aphex Twin, and Pixies right now: there is nothing but respect in our reworkings of them. But at least three of our covers could generate confusion: "Tom Sawyer," "Iron Man," and "(Theme from) Chariots of Fire." Until you hear us play those three pieces, it is fair to think we are being totally ironic.
Tom Sawyer. Rush is unsexy and Ayn Randian. (The lyrics to "Tom Sawyer" are an easy target.) But Rush is also feel-good music: when this song comes on the radio, even girls like it. And we respect Rush for creating a universe with their bare hands, carving out their Monstrous Math Rock from the granite quarries of Toronto. There is also an intimate connection between TBP and Rush, since Reid Anderson and Dave King bonded over them when they first met. Face it: whatever you dig at 13, you will dig for the rest of your life. (See also this post for more of Dave on Neil Peart.)
Iron Man. OK, this is a pretty weird choice: Science fiction lyrics (He was turned to steel/In the great magnetic field/Where he traveled time/For the future of mankind) and the original Birmingham headbangers. Look, though, that is a powerful riff. When we kick this song, we AREN'T JOKING. We really try to bring the doom with just our poor little acoustic instruments. Our earnestness was rewarded with the ultimate compliment: Geezer Butler put our "Iron Man" on the Black Sabbath iTunes "celebrity playlist" with the comment, "Has to be the most original cover version of any song ever! Saw them at the Knitting Factory in L.A. -- mind-blowing!"
(Theme from) Chariots of Fire. Choosing to play this song is unquestionably ironic, especially if you check out Vangelis' original video, one of the corniest things ever made. But there is more than meets the eye here. First of all, this was one of Ethan's showpieces when he was 11. He loved it then and he loves it now. Also, it IS really a good tune. Soho the Dog just wrote about it:
"If you're a really honest composer, then you know that the question isn't so much whether or not you'd give up a body part to write an earworm as indelible as the theme from Chariots of Fire, but rather, how many, and which ones."
Finally, our exploration of "Chariots" is an embrace of grand drama to express complex emotions. After the blackest, most dissonant free jazz we can play, the tune rises at the end in a mighty crescendo. The feeling is "WE CAN WIN!" There is no irony in this feeling. It's one of those moments where you can put a lot of people together on the same page: We remember an outdoor performance of "Chariots" in Prospect Park for several thousand people that went particularly well. The massive roar of the crowd afterward was not "that was a successful snark, guys!" but one of pure joy.
Irony -- and its allies: surrealism, sardonicism, and dementia -- do occasionally play roles in our music, just as it does in the work of many artists we admire. Consider some famous performances of jazz standards: What is more ironic than Thelonious Monk's "Just a Gigolo?" What is more surreal than Duke Ellington's trio version of "Summertime?" What is more sardonic than Charlie Parker's quote of "Country Gardens" at the end of many ballads? And what is more demented than Django Bates' "New York, New York?"
But just like with those artists, irony is just a small part of the story in The Bad Plus. Here's our real story: We love songs. We believe in the power of song. We write songs as well as we can. There is not anything in TBP's repertory that is not based on melody, originals included. Thinking that we are not serious about the melodies we play is incorrect.
Once, a very straight-ahead jazz player came up to us after a gig and said, "You know, I'm surprised! 'Heart of Glass' is actually a good song!" Hell yeah it is.'
In otherwords, earnest irony? Right on. Turn it up and pass the cathode ray beer bong.
So it comes to pass that the one story I've ever written that is blatantly, if not shamelessly, influenced by by Tiptree has been published. You can read it now, in fact. Just click on over to HelixSF and take a look-see. I'll wait. Or, if that seems like too much effort and you remain unconvinced, here are a few of the opening grafs, to give you a taste:
Four billion years. That's how much the universe had invested in crafting women into the epitome of perfection.
So I could be forgiven, I think, for taking a certain well-founded pride in the fact that every day I did evolution one better.
Hell, who was I for false modesty? I did evolution five or six times better. I loved women with a driving passion, and it showed in my work.
Kris St. Joy, for instance. When she first came to You-Genes, Inc., she wasn't hard on the eyes by any means, but nobody was mistaking her for a model, either. Now, eighteen months later, she could turn every head from Houston to El Paso without breaking a sweat. Her breasts were particularly gorgeous, with areolas that sported complex bioluminescent Celtic knotwork.
I didn't mind admiring my work, even bragging about it. My portfolio was filled with my patients' success stories. Kris, for instance, went with our popular Courtesan package — general vaginal tightening coupled with a fifty percent labial reduction and a hundred percent clitoral enlargement. She also opted for a refinement of her buttocks, to create a more "heart shaped" profile (her words), as well as an extra two inches added to her legs, increased joint flexibility, and an overall five percent metabolic reduction in bodyfat — brand-new tits and ass excepted, of course.
In my younger days (back when I had a social life) I got to be casual friends with a bartender at one particular night spot I frequented on occasion. One evening, I witnessed a terse, icy exchange between him and an attractive woman who'd just ordered a drink. The night before, apparently, they'd met, gone home together, had a prodigious amount of sex and parted ways the next morning. He was indignant and insulted by her obvious regret. "What does she want from me?" he groused. "I asked her phone number this morning--not that I was ever going to call her--and she wouldn't give it to me. What a bitch."
He was offended because she saw through his insincere facade of chivalry. Or rather, what passed for chivalry in his worldview. I found the whole affair depressing, a feeling which has intensified over the years as I've slowly come to the realization that I, myself, am capable of the same brand of self-centered cruelty and perpetrated such behavior more often than I care to admit. Nothing so ham-fisted and crude as by former bartender friend, but no less unpleasant.
"The Makeover Men" was (and remains) the most difficult story I've ever written. Technically difficult, because it took years to write. There were untold numbers of blind alleys and discarded drafts written before I hit upon this final form. I gave up on it several times, but it kept calling me back. More than that, however, was the psychological difficulty of it. To make it work, I had to force myself into some unpleasant places that I don't like to admit exist.
All writers expose themselves to a certain degree through their work. There's no denying that I invest parts of myself into everything I write, be it "Cyclops in B Minor" or "The Final Voyage of La Riaza." But this time, perhaps because the work in question is considerably more confrontational than what people would normally expect from me, I feel correspondingly more vulnerable and exposed. Not unlike that woman from the bar all those years ago. I just hope my efforts are worth it in the end.