Friday, September 26, 2008

Eight years later

Consider whether this bit of now-vintage speculative satire isn't a little too close for comfort to what actually happened.

Catching up with GYWO on the bailout:

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Turning reality up to eleven

Getting ready to lock down the hatch to your bunker in anticipation of the coming societal meltdown forecasted last night by our fearful leader? Looking for some good reading material to take with you? Well, yesterday's mail brought me copies of two different, amazing new science fiction anthologies that include new stories by yours truly, along with a whole bunch of amazing stories by my betters.

Fast Forward 2

Fast Forward 2 from Pyr Books is the latest installment from the guy who is shaping up to be 21st century SF's master anthologist and most innovative editor, the incomparable Lou Anders, as previously noted, the only editor in science fiction who can actually see the future. With his Fast Forward anthology series, Lou has set out to revive the "literature of ideas" promise of earlier periods in the genre, to meet the challenge incisively articulated in the book's epigrammatic quote from Paul McAuley (who also has a story in book):

Science fiction is the holy fool of literature. It can say what it likes and get away with an examination of truly radical and subversive ideas because no one takes it seriously. When it's at its best, we're generally in trouble. Science fiction flourished during the social and economic upheavals of the 1930s, during the Cold War, and during the Iron Age of the 1980s. It should be flourishing now, damn it, but too many people who used to hang out with it have wandered off into some kind of fluffy make-believe world or other. Real science fiction doesn't make stuff up. It turns reality up to eleven. It takes stuff from contemporary weather—stuff no one else has bothered or dared to question—and uses it to make an end run on reality. It not only shows us what could happen if things carry on the way they are, but it pushes what's going on to the extremes of absurdity. That's not its job: that's its nature. And what's happened to science fiction lately, it isn't natural. It's pale and lank and kind of out of focus. It needs to straighten up and fly right. It needs to reconnect with the world's weather, and get medieval on reality's ass.

My story, "The Sun Also Explodes," tries to meet that challenge by exploring what happens when conceptual artists start to play with genetic material as a new medium. Lou's invitation to come up with something for the anthology arrived shortly after I had read Freeman Dyson's mind-blowing essay in the New York Review of Books about "Our Biotech Future," and the imminent explosion of garage geneticists spurring on a new wave of cross-species evolution. It also involves prosthetic limbs, disabled veterans of our global war, the things the very rich to to stave off boredom, next generation professional athletes, weird sexual intrigue, and a tree that grows Prozac.

To give you an idea of the quality of Lou's selections, five of the stories in David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer's outstanding Year's Best SF 13 came from Fast Forward 1. So go get yourself a copy!

Spicy Slipstream Stories

Spicy Slipstream Stories is the genius product of the twisted minds of authors Nick Mamatas and Jay Lake: to see what an invitation to combine the literate fabulism of slipstream with the technicolor plotting of the spicy pulps would produce (see our previous post on the anthology for a complete recap of what remain the most wonderfully insane guidelines for submissions ever written). Through the persistence of the editors and the vision of the folks at Lethe Press, after some false starts the anthology is now on the streets, and what a rare and wondrous thing it is.

My spicy slipstream story, "Wild Tchoupitoulas," explores the science fictional power chord Brian Aldiss calls the "cozy catastrophe," in the context of an alternate post-deluge New Orleans under lingering clouds of Walker Percy malaise and comic book wonder. It is totally, 100% nuts. So why don't you go buy one?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Some running notes on the Continuing Crisis

If McCain actually succeeds in his crazy stunt to suspend the campaign and cancel the debates until the black box crisis is solved, how long before the President comes on the air to announce the elections are going to be suspended until the never-ending War is won?

Okay, time to go watch the purportedly live feed from the Oval Office.

What stimulating times to be cursed with thinking like a science fiction writer.

Department of Homeland Security, Division of Self-Parody

Homeland Security Detects Terrorist Threats by Reading Your Mind
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
By Allison Barrie
Fox News

Baggage searches are SOOOOOO early-21st century. Homeland Security is now testing the next generation of security screening — a body scanner that can read your mind.

Most preventive screening looks for explosives or metals that pose a threat. But a new system called MALINTENT turns the old school approach on its head. This Orwellian-sounding machine detects the person — not the device — set to wreak havoc and terror.

MALINTENT, the brainchild of the cutting-edge Human Factors division in Homeland Security's directorate for Science and Technology, searches your body for non-verbal cues that predict whether you mean harm to your fellow passengers.

(((Dude, how cool do you think those guys feel when they get to flash id and reveal themselves as "Homeland Security. Human Factors division." When is the pilot for that TV show? Can you get T-shirts and ball caps at the DHS gift shop?)))

It has a series of sensors and imagers that read your body temperature, heart rate and respiration for unconscious tells invisible to the naked eye — signals terrorists and criminals may display in advance of an attack.

But this is no polygraph test. Subjects do not get hooked up or strapped down for a careful reading; those sensors do all the work without any actual physical contact. It's like an X-ray for bad intentions.

Currently, all the sensors and equipment are packaged inside a mobile screening laboratory about the size of a trailer or large truck bed, and just last week, Homeland Security put it to a field test in Maryland, scanning 144 mostly unwitting human subjects.

(((Apparently they did not think to install one of these outside the commuter turnstile in Battery Park.)))

While I'd love to give you the full scoop on the unusual experiment, testing is ongoing and full disclosure would compromise future tests.
(((Only at Fox News do journalists say "if I told you the story, I'd have to kill you." Do you suppose they pre-screen their stories with the government?)))

But what I can tell you is that the test subjects were average Joes living in the D.C. area who thought they were attending something like a technology expo; in order for the experiment to work effectively and to get the testing subjects to buy in, the cover story had to be convincing.
(((Hey, Agent Smith, I thought you said we were going to get to see the new Google phones!)))

While the 144 test subjects thought they were merely passing through an entrance way, they actually passed through a series of sensors that screened them for bad intentions.

Homeland Security also selected a group of 23 attendees to be civilian "accomplices" in their test. They were each given a "disruptive device" to carry through the portal — and, unlike the other attendees, were conscious that they were on a mission
(((So you answer a classified ad for test subjects, thinking you might make some beer money; you show up at the appointed time and place, and they put you in a room where a couple of government agents tell you "we need you to carry this disruptor device through the magic portal"...)))

In order to conduct these tests on human subjects, DHS had to meet rigorous safety standards to ensure the screening would not cause any physical or emotional harm.
(((Do you suppose PETA plans to liberate the secret lab in suburban Maryland where Homeland Security keeps its test animals?)))

So here's how it works. When the sensors identify that something is off, they transmit warning data to analysts, who decide whether to flag passengers for further questioning. The next step involves micro-facial scanning, which involves measuring minute muscle movements in the face for clues to mood and intention.
((("Micro-facial scanning" — sounds dermatologically rejuvenating.)))

Homeland Security has developed a system to recognize, define and measure seven primary emotions and emotional cues that are reflected in contractions of facial muscles. MALINTENT identifies these emotions and relays the information back to a security screener almost in real-time.
(((Do you think we can get these installed in our televisions to screen the veracity and moral intentions of politicians and talking heads trying to infiltrate our brains? Can they do it in time for the Friday debates?)))

This whole security array — the scanners and screeners who make up the mobile lab — is called "Future Attribute Screening Technology" — or FAST — because it is designed to get passengers through security in two to four minutes, and often faster.
(((Someone needs to do a solid etymology of the evolution of government acronyms. They used to be just acronyms, but the current administration, perhaps reflecting the deep embedding of spin doctors into all aspects of government, like the political officers of Soviet Russia, have gotten really skilled, in a totally ham-handed and Stan Lee lexicon sort of way, at coming up with acronyms that are also descriptive words in and of themselves -- FAST, MALINTENT, PATRIOT Act, and now TARP (the unbelievable acronym for the Treasury Department's proposed $700 billion "Troubled Asset Relief Program," which I guess they plan to throw over the whole mess and hope the public doesn't ever lift it up to see what's going on underneath.)))

If you're rushed or stressed, you may send out signals of anxiety, but FAST isn't fooled. It's already good enough to tell the difference between a harried traveler and a terrorist. Even if you sweat heavily by nature, FAST won't mistake you for a baddie.
(((Dig the anthropomorphization of the technology —"FAST isn't fooled." Who knew the deus ex machina was the one from the Old Testament?)))

"If you focus on looking at the person, you don't have to worry about detecting the device itself," said Bob Burns, MALINTENT's project leader. And while there are devices out there that look at individual cues, a comprehensive screening device like this has never before been put together.
(((So I guess now I can start taking my handy box cutter on the plane, as long as the government's intentions-reader is confident all I want to do is cut open my UPS packages from Amazon? What awesomely all-American technological confidence!)))

While FAST's batting average is classified, Undersecretary for Science and Technology Adm. Jay Cohen declared the experiment a "home run."
(((Hey, that doesn't sound classified to me — sounds like he says it's batting a thousand. But how do they test for genuinely bad intentions, as opposed to people play-acting? Do they really recruit people and persuade them they are really acting out bad guy missions as secret government agents? That would be awesome.)))

As cold and inhuman as the electric eye may be, DHS says scanners are unbiased and nonjudgmental. "It does not predict who you are and make a judgment, it only provides an assessment in situations," said Burns. "It analyzes you against baseline stats when you walk in the door, it measures reactions and variations when you approach and go through the portal."
(((Sure, it's a "cold and inhuman electric eye," but it's our cold and human electric eye.)))

But the testing — and the device itself — are not without their problems. This invasive scanner, which catalogues your vital signs for non-medical reasons, seems like an uninvited doctor's exam and raises many privacy issues.

But DHS says this is not Big Brother. Once you are through the FAST portal, your scrutiny is over and records aren't kept. "Your data is dumped," said Burns. "The information is not maintained — it doesn't track who you are."

(((For now.)))

DHS is now planning an even wider array of screening technology, including an eye scanner next year and pheromone-reading technology by 2010.
(((Pheromone-reading!!! Dude, let's get the license of that tech. We can do some killer pyramid marketing through late night informercials and "how to pick up girls" seminars.)))

The team will also be adding equipment that reads body movements, called "illustrative and emblem cues." According to Burns, this is achievable because people "move in reaction to what they are thinking, more or less based on the context of the situation."
(((Nothing will be quite so fun as hacking the body language cue-reader. 2600 will put on its own festival of experimental and improvisational dance.)))

FAST may also incorporate biological, radiological and explosive detection, but for now the primary focus is on identifying and isolating potential human threats.
(((Who needs to worry about WMD when you can read people's minds?)))

And because FAST is a mobile screening laboratory, it could be set up at entrances to stadiums, malls and in airports, making it ever more difficult for terrorists to live and work among us.

(((In case you needed any more reasons not to go to a fucking shopping mall.)))

Burns noted his team's goal is to "restore a sense of freedom." (((If only Stanley Kubrick were around to do the 21st century sequel to Dr. Strangelove.))) Once MALINTENT is rolled out in airports, it could give us a future where we can once again wander onto planes with super-sized cosmetics and all the bottles of water we can carry — and most importantly without that sense of foreboding that has haunted Americans since Sept. 11.
(((The Department of Homeland Security — reading your mind to protect your Constitutional freedom to super-size it.)))

Allison Barrie, a security and terrorism consultant with the Commission for National Security in the 21st Century, is FOX News' security columnist.
(((Only Fox News would have an actual government "terrorism consultant" masquerade as a reporter to peddle the executive branch's press releases as actual news stories.)))

Monday, September 22, 2008

Monday round-up

In Islamabad, while the October Surprise Osama hunt is underway in the tribal areas, the lords of chaos are enforcing a new check-out policy at the Mormon hotel.

Meanwhile, in Hollywood, William Shatner rips off the German supermodel's clothes for laughs on national prime time. They still have the Emmy Awards?

At Advertising Age, the folks in the glass half full department are spinning hard: "Marketers Take Some Solace in the Fact That Consumer Confidence Doesn't Have Far to Fall"

Little wonder that phamaceutical companies have invented new drugs whose incidental side effects include causing patients to have weird sexual dreams about celebrities and co-workers.

Remember David Duke? He's in Putin's Russia, which has apparently become the white supremacist's Ultima Thule. Just what we need — a bunch of FSB spooks training our rednecks in how to go guerilla during an Obama administration. How do you say Turner Diaries in Russian?

And at Ground Zero, they have discovered the secret sub-basements of the World Trade Center — glacial potholes no doubt containing trail marks to the secret core from old Arne Saknussemm. To you suppose the surface world's apocalypse will pass by Pellucidar? Do they have WiFi?

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Depending on what part of a hurricane you experience, riding it out can be easier than recovering from it. Today is a week from the morning Houston woke up after Hurricane Ike. Most of Houston was able to get some sleep Friday night a week ago. Galveston, the Bolivar Peninsula and other seaside areas weren't so fortunate. There everybody who hadn't evacuated spent the night wide awake in awe and dread. I can't speak for the experience of people in those hard-hit places. All I know first hand is what's it's been like in Houston this week.

People in Houston woke up last Saturday morning, ventured forth, and started making terrible and interesting discoveries. Many noble old trees were shattered. Some yards were a foot deep in oak twigs with roof tiles mixed in. Cars that had spent the night out of doors had green measles: leaf shreds tightly plastered onto the paint. And of course, the power was out.

Everybody everywhere in the city swung into action. People poured outdoors to clean the yards, streets and storm drains. On many blocks, no one had ever seen that many of their neighbors all at one time, including men and women, elderly people, and kids pulling rakes taller than they wore.

Across the city, the hurricane responders ranged from residents to law enforcement and tens of thousands of power company people from here and elsewhere: visualize whole convoys of power trucks. Points of Distribution for emergency supplies opened up in civic buildings, parks and church parking lots. The PODs were manned by assorted civil servants, church people and volunteers. Some of the PODS were organized to a T: line of cars snakes through the parking lot or city park; drivers requested to pop their trunks at point A; a a case of Meals Ready to Eat slung into the trunk at Point B, case of bottled water loaded in at Point C, the load topped off with bags of ice at point D; trunk is snapped shut and away goes the grateful recipient.

All in all, the big picture of hurricane response was rather dramatic. Recovery, though, feels more like a string of small beads. The power company gets lights on block by block, hospital by hospital. Schools and places of business locate one employee after another. Restaurants open back up one by one and cautiously extend their hours and their menus just a bit more each day.

I have my own personal recovery string of beads.

  • The morning after the storm, moving my container roses and other plants back out onto the front porch.
  • Confirming that the commode can be flushed by refilling the tank (with a gallon of blue plant food water; the commode needed flushing more than the plants needed food.)
  • Getting water back. It wasn't safe to drink, but it meant the commode worked again.
  • So did the shower.
  • Going to my library day job and having actual hot coffee.
  • Returning home to see that the trash truck had miraculously come and emptied the apartment complex dumpster.
  • Cleaning out the contents of the fridge into that inviting dumpster.
  • Finding that the blackout at my apartment complex had turned into a brownout. The lights came on with a weird early-Halloween glow of little real use. But one eye of the stove got warm enough to actually heat water or soup.
  • The street lights coming on the fence row behind the apartments. If those lights are back on, could we be far behind?
  • The cleaned out, aired-out refrigerator purring to life. Lights! Computer! Action!

I think most other people in Houston have had the string-of-beads recovery experience. One of the food critics at the Houston Chronicle did a nice piece about stepping up from canned tuna and crackers to Meals Ready to Eat. A friend of mine who works at NASA-JSC heard a happy report, about a building that had a leak, "Building Twelve smells good!" My friend and I went out for lunch at a seafood restaurant with a one-page Hurricane Ike Menu. The grouper sandwich was very good.

There are metaphorical storms in life that work the same way hurricanes do. A bad enough storm can devastate beyond hope of recovery. Other storm experiences are bad, but not devastating. They first galvanize a response and then segue into slow, unspectacular recovery. For example: In late 2006 my mother developed Alzheimer's. I didn't know what the hell to do, but being an only child means you're inevitably where the buck stops. I spent the better part of a year and a half in response mode, with some dramatic consequences. My mother is now in Assisted Living, her house was emptied out and sold, and her finances have been sorted out and arranged to last as long as she does. Cherished things from her house are now in my house. Her car has become my car. She still lives in Columbus, Georgia, where I grew up. I still live in Houston, Texas but I spent months of vacation the past year and a half in Columbus essentially doing disaster response.

Disaster response brings out elemental truths. One: you are not as alone as you feel. Family, friends, caregivers, and elder care professionals have helped me to an extent I would not have believed. Two: if you go into high gear with enough practical help and encouragement, things can change for the better much faster that you would have believed possible. A street full of storm-littered yards can get picked up in a morning, half a city huge can return to electrical power in a week.

Maybe there's a third elemental truth too: recovery happens. Bit by bit, bead by bead. After the hurricane, I heard from my cousin in Columbus that my mom was glad I stayed with friends during the hurricane and didn't hunker down in my apartment alone. Hunker down? That's what the Mayor of Houston said for us all to do. It was instantly picked up by the news media. My mom using that phrase means that with her friends and neighbors in Assisted Living, she follows the news. She's an order of magnitude more in touch with the world, not to mention safer and better nourished and happier, than when she was sliding into Alzheimer's while living alone. Meanwhile, I now have in my own home some things that mean a lot to me from my mother's house. Things like my grandmother's favorite chair, which daily brings a subtle benediction to the corner it rests in. Recovery happens: there's a small but growing string of small reassurances that my life hasn't been turned inside out forever by my mother's Alzheimers. Like after a hurricane, the beads are small and familiar but surprisingly pretty or silky or lustrous, and the beaded string seems miraculous. It's not that life will ever be exactly what it was before the storm. And perhaps I wouldn't want it to. But life does go on, and it can be happy again.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Music for an apocalyptic Friday

Last winter, upon learning of the death of composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, I expressed my burning desire to mount a production of his Helikopter Streichquartett. The challenge is getting one's hands on the four military helicopters required, one for each member of the string quartet.

Well, the young geniuses at the Michigan's Digital Music Ensemble figured out a solution. And produced a very well-made film of the event, available on YouTube. Check it out:

Helikopter-Streichquartett has been performed only three times in its original form. A full-scale production requires four large helicopters, each with a pilot, a live musician, and a sound technician inside, as well as an elaborate communications and audio-visual transmission apparatus.

Faced with the daunting task of mounting a performance of even one scene of this huge work, the Digital Music Ensemble decided to stage its own interpretation of the piece. Thus we are using model helicopters instead of full-scale ones, a quartet of electric guitarists in place of a string quartet, and we're adding a live video processing dimension. Sonically, we have taken considerable liberties at variance with the printed score, as did Stockhausen himself on his recording with the Arditti Quartet (1995). We believe we have been true to the spirit of the piece.

Also newly available, clips from a new DVD of the piece from Naxos, including this amazing subtitled interview with the composer talking about his personal dreams of flight:

VÖ in Deutschland: 13. Juni 2008
DVD Video des Labels Medici Arts
Im Vertrieb der NAXOS Deutschland GmbH

Helicopter String Quartet
Performed by the Arditti Quartet
A film by Frank Scheffer
Picture Format: NTSC • 4:3 fullscreen
Sound Formats: Dolby Digital 2.0
Region Code: 0
Languages: German, English, French,
Spanish, Japanese, Dutch
Booklet Notes: English
Running Time: 77 mins
FSK: o.A

Das Helikopter-Streichquartett von Karlheinz Stockhausen ist eines der kontroversesten Kunstwerke der letzten Jahre. Wie vom Komponisten vorgesehen, saßen und spielten die vier Mitglieder des Arditti Quartetts bei der Uraufführung auf dem Holland Festival 1995 in vier separat fliegenden Hubschraubern

For the full experience of the piece with actual helicopters, here is two minutes of video that will crack open your weekend:

Perhaps we can stage a special black helicopter version for the McCain inaugural festivities next January...maybe throw in a few predator drones for improvisational oomph.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008



The aerial waiters swooped down, gathering up the dishes as the tables separated.

“Damn ya, no!” Flavius shouted, swatting at the waiters. He grabbed Parric’s table with a meaty hand to keep it from drifting off. “This other Crafter then, he tosses magic around like I wish ya would?”

“It is not majickings.”

“Damn it, Parric, everything is magic to me.” Flavius strained, to no avail. The tables pulled apart. “Is this Red Crafter as nasty a piece of work as Whistard Holdchau?”

“I’m not knowing. The unpleasantings of Whistard Holdchau are sometimes beyond even my believings,” Parric answered. “But Holdchau is not even close to the same level of dangering as Crafter Not-of-Onimik.”

Flavius strangled a moan of despair in his throat.

“Be finishing your dinner, then go straight to your room,” Parric directed as other tables drifted between them. “And stay out of troublings. I’m having some things to be checking first. Be ready for quick leavings, just in casings.”

“Parric, ya nae need tell me that twice.”

“And stay out of troublings!”

Flavius started to shout something rude in reply, but caught himself. Although he was looking directly at Parric, the Crafter seemed to flicker in the edges of his vision ever-so-briefly. “Beastie’s up to something,” Flavius muttered. “Funny how he’s good at leaving me to the wolves...”

Flavius’ table rotated as a waiter dropped a plate in front of him. Orange and green squares were piled high, opaque, gelatinous things that seemed to crawl about of their own accord without the use of legs. Blue-striped berries rolled between and over the squares randomly. A frothy red liquid now filled his glass. From the gasps of shock, astonishment and delight rising up throughout the hall, Flavius guessed these were more of the Empress’ last second menu alterations.

“A bit ostentatious, serving troesken as the fourth course. I wonder what my debauched wife has in store for the rest of the evening?”

Flavius snapped around just as the Emperor Camargo’s table merged neatly with his own.

“I-- I wouldnae know anything about it,” Flavius managed, watching as Camargo easily speared one of the squares and nibbled around the edges. “All of the foodstuff here are a might exotic for a simple lad like myself. Give me a haggis with some mashed tumshie on the side and I’ve got myself a feast.”

Emperor Camargo stared at Flavius intently for a moment, then smiled. “I have absolutely no idea what you’ve just said, Flavius. I suppose that makes us even.”

Flavius managed a forced laugh. Desperate for any reason to avoid talking with Emperor Camargo, Flavius speared one of the troesken and shoved the entire square into his mouth. The troesken immediately adhered to the entire inner surface of his mouth, knotting itself in particularly aggressive fashion about his tongue. The taste was vaguely chocolatey, with an overriding toasted nuttiness. And heat. What started as a pleasant bite grew steadily into a blazing inferno.

“You never cease to amaze me, Flavius,” Emperor Camargo said, taking a sip from his glass. “Most men struggle to nibble a tiny bit of troesken at a time. I limit myself to a single bite, and a modest one at that. It’s always struck me that women seem to enjoy greater benefits from it, for some reason. But you, I must say, you are a marvel. An entire square! Caution is for lesser men, eh, Flavius?”

Flavius offered a noncommittal nod in response, blinking rivulets of sweat from his eyes.

“You know, there are some here in court who believe you a man of genius. That you are a scheming plotter who makes no move that isn’t well considered a dozen times over.” Emperor Camargo took another bite of troesken. No sweat shone on his lip. His eyes betrayed no hint of heat. “Others think you a fool, a mere pet the T'ul-us Tzan keeps around for its own amusement. Convincing arguments have been made for either alternative. Do you know what I think?”

Flavius shook his head, struggling to part his lips. The troesken felt as if it would burn through his cheeks at any moment.

Emperor Camargo leaned forward. “I don’t think you’re a genius or a fool. I think you’re simply a man, as stupid or as wise as any lesser sentient. You are curiously gifted, though, and your companionship with the T'ul-us Tzan is something that intrigues me--and I’d long thought myself too jaded to be intrigued by anything.

“I’ve not forgotten the service you and the T'ul-us Tzan rendered in the fourth cosm of the Eternal Dominion. Your actions spared us far more scandal than you could possibly know. Which is why you’ve been granted far more privilege in the court than any other lesser sentient could dream of,” he said. “I am going to offer you some advice, which is not something I normally do. Listen closely, Flavius, because I will not repeat myself: Leave the Eternal Dominion. The sooner, the better, for your sake.”

Flavius finally managed to force his mouth open. Immediately, he grabbed the glass before him and gulped at the crimson fluid.

Lightning exploded in his mouth. Flavius jerked back against his chair, his hair and beard a sudden spiky mass. Even the hairs on his arms stood stiff. A faint wisp of smoke escaped from his lips.

“I might suggest sipping ja'na winic in moderation,” Emperor Camargo said casually. “It has the reputation of reacting... aggressively with the troesken.”


Ice Station Gurkha?

Nothing like reading your junk mail to learn that Eskimos are recruiting mercenaries to help fight the GWOT.

Presumably because of one of the many, er, somewhat unusual email lists I have subscribed to, I received in yesterday's post a complementary copy of the magazine SERVIAM — "Stability Solutions in a Dangerous World." A trade magazine for the private military contractors business, with an emphasis on endeavors of social worth accomplished by PMCs and NGOs — Benjamin Franklin's privatized firefighters, US AID entrepreneurship, farmers in the Phillipines "teaming with grocers to grow freedom," and terrorist-free mutual funds, right next to the article about how to conduct private sector PSYOP and the ads for Blackwater blimps.

One of the more interesting articles is "Intelligence Contracting is Here to Stay" by J. Michael Waller, which surveys the provision of outsourced intelligence services back to Lincoln's use of the Pinkertons as his Civil War MI5.

The article includes a sidebar with a 40+ list of "some of the contracting companies currently hiring for intelligence-related careers." It's an interesting list. Plenty of names you'd expect, like CSC, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Perot System. Some you are not surprised but kind of creeped out to see, like AT&T and Verizon. And then lots of outfits you've never heard of, some with generic corporate names like "Operational Support and Services" and others with cool mythologically allusive spy novel code names like "Oberon Associates."

I thought it would be interesting to check some of these outfits out on the web. First one I tried was "Nangwik Services, LLC." Probably because I wondered what the linguistic derivation of the word "Nangwik" was, the most notably non-Anglo-Saxon name on the list.

Google revealed Nangwik is a subsidiary of a company called Chenega. Chenega, it turns out, is basically an Indian tribal corporation -- specifically, an Alaskan Native Village Corporation, created pursuant to Congressional enactment in 1971 to settle Inuit land claims. That's right, an Eskimo village. With pictures of fishing boads, schoolkids, and, um, military helicopters on its website.

An Eskimo village with multiple federal PMC subsidiaries that is currently hiring intelligence analysts in Iraq, forklift operators in Bethesda and El Paso, Iraqi Intelligence Analysts in DC, welders (wheeled vehicles) in Chambersburg, PA, Special Ops Support in San Antonio, and linquists (especially Pashtun and Iraqi Arabic) for Ft. Meade, Omaha, Augusta, and a webmaster in Quantico.

Can you do the math? I want to meet the Northern Virginia lawyer who put this corporate org chart together. In the meantime, I am going to start casting the action movie in my mind, like a postcyberpunk Rambo Nanook variation on the John Woo-Nicholas Cage Navajo Windtalkers flick.

If you think this new outsourced branch of the 21st century market state is going away after the elections, keep dreaming. It's a brave new world.

Do you think somewhere in Central Asia, someone is building the Uqbaristan branch of an Indian casino, with attached special ops staging area, intelligence listening post, and mini-Gitmo? That would make a hell of a Sarah Palin photo op stop.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Janis Ian to serve as Toastmistress at 2009 Nebula Awards Weekend

LOS ANGELES -- Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Janis Ian has been named Toastmistress by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America for the 2009 Nebula Awards® Weekend in Los Angeles, Calif.

The Nebula Awards Weekend will be held April 24-26 in Los Angeles at the Luxe Hotel Sunset Boulevard, with the awards presentation banquet to be held on the UCLA campus to tie in with the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

“I will tell you that to be asked to host the Nebulas is right up there with being nominated for a Grammy, in my book. Or books,” Ian said. “I was raised on the ABC's - Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke. My father spent long hours telling me stories of robots that sang, dwarfs who rescued princesses (only to be abandoned by them for a handsome, though toadishly-minded, prince), and other worlds filled with incredible beings who, I was quite sure, were my ‘real family.’ I used to sit in front of my open bedroom window and look up at the stars, wondering when they would come and rescue me.”

Ian wrote and recorded her first hit record in 1965 at the age of 15, and in 1967 hit no. 1 on the singles charts with “Society’s Child.” That year also saw Ian garner her first Grammy nomination with her self-titled debut nominated for best folk album. Her 1975 album, Between the Lines, earned five Grammy nominations, winning two, including best pop female performance. She won another Grammy in 1982 for the children’s record IN Harmony II, and earned additional nominations in 1978 for her collaboration with Mel Torme on “Silly Habits” (best jazz duet) and in 1992 for Breaking Silence (best contemporary folk album).

Ian has also published a number of speculative fiction short stories and co-edited an anthology with Mike Resnick titled Stars: Original Stories Based on the Songs of Janis Ian. Her autobiography, Society’s Child, was published in 2008.

“I believe that science fiction, like jazz, like folk music, like the music I do, is an outsider genre,” Ian said. “Those of us who practice in those genres know what it is to spend our lives with our noses pressed up against the glass, watching everyone else dancing at the ball while our own feet beat out a solitary rhythm no one else can hear.

“I've lived my life as an artist influenced by everything from Kirinyaga to Ender’s Game, from The Ship Who Sang to Bob Silverberg’s brilliant Science Fiction 101 and Bradbury's Zen and the Art of Writing, two books that have taught me and sustained me since they first appeared,” she said.

Ian has lived in Nashville, Tenn., since 1988. She maintains a website at

About SFWA

Founded in 1965 by the late Damon Knight, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America brings together the most successful and daring writers of speculative fiction throughout the world.

Since its inception, SFWA® has grown in numbers and influence until it is now widely recognized as one of the most effective non-profit writers' organizations in existence, boasting a membership of approximately 1,500 science fiction and fantasy writers as well as artists, editors and allied professionals. Each year the organization presents the prestigious Nebula Awards® for the year’s best literary and dramatic works of speculative fiction.

Serbian guerilla art babes rule OK

Tagging Virginia Woolf and Hellboy in Belgrade, courtesy of Jasmina Tešanović:

Stencil Art in Serbia from Jasmina Tesanovic on Vimeo.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

David Foster Wallace, R.I.P.

The ultimate refutation of irony? How very fucking sad.

David Foster Wallace, 46, Writer, Dies

CLAREMONT, Calif. (AP) -- David Foster Wallace, the author best known for his 1996 novel ''Infinite Jest,'' was found dead in his home, according to police. He was 46.

Wallace's wife found her husband had hanged himself when she returned home about 9:30 p.m. Friday, said Jackie Morales, a records clerk with the Claremont Police Department.

Wallace taught creative writing and English at nearby Pomona College.

''He cared deeply for his students and transformed the lives of many young people,'' said Dean Gary Kates. ''It's a great loss to our teaching faculty.''

Wallace's first novel, ''The Broom of the System,'' gained national attention in 1987 for its ambition and offbeat humor. The New York Times said the 24-year-old author ''attempts to give us a portrait, through a combination of Joycean word games, literary parody and zany picaresque adventure, of a contemporary America run amok.''

Published in 1996, ''Infinite Jest'' cemented Wallace's reputation as a major American literary figure. The 1,000-plus-page tome, praised for its complexity and dark wit, topped many best-of lists. Time Magazine named ''Infinite Jest'' in its issue of the ''100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.''

Wallace received a ''genius grant'' from the MacArthur Foundation in 1997.

In 2002, Wallace was hired to teach at Pomona in a tenured English Department position endowed by Roy E. Disney. Kates said when the school began searching for the ideal candidate, Wallace was the first person considered.

''The committee said, 'we need a person like David Foster Wallace.' They said that in the abstract,'' Kates said. ''When he was approached and accepted, they were heads over heels. He was really the ideal person for the position.''

Wallace's short fiction was published in Esquire, GQ, Harper's, The New Yorker and the Paris Review. Collections of his short stories were published as ''Girl With Curious Hair'' and ''Brief Interviews With Hideous Men.''

He wrote nonfiction for several publications, including an essay on the U.S. Open for Tennis magazine and a profile of the director David Lynch for Premiere.

Born in Ithaca, N.Y., Wallace attended Amherst College and the University of Arizona.

"Everything is Green, from Girl With Curious Hair, republished in Harper's, September 1989

"The Compliance Branch", Harper's, February 2008.

1996 Interview, at Salon:

Q: Are you trying to find similar meanings in the pop culture material you use? That sort of thing can be seen as merely clever, or shallow.

A: I've always thought of myself as a realist. I can remember fighting with my professors about it in grad school. The world that I live in consists of 250 advertisements a day and any number of unbelievably entertaining options, most of which are subsidized by corporations that want to sell me things. The whole way that the world acts on my nerve endings is bound up with stuff that the guys with leather patches on their elbows would consider pop or trivial or ephemeral. I use a fair amount of pop stuff in my fiction, but what I mean by it is nothing different than what other people mean in writing about trees and parks and having to walk to the river to get water a 100 years ago. It's just the texture of the world I live in.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Bin Laden Mixtapes

On December 7, 2001, the Taliban evacuated Kandahar.

Among the detritus of their departure, a collection of 1,500+ audio cassette tapes.

Their previous owner? UBL.

The tapes ended up in the hands of a CNN producer and an Afghani translator. They tried to give them to the FBI, which wasn't interested. They ended up at the Williams College Afghan Media Project, which in turn recruited UC Davis Linguistics Professor Flagg Miller, an expert on contemporary Arabic poetry and language in Islamic movements and the use of audio cassette tapes as a prominent medium in contemporary Arab culture. As the UC Davis press release indicates, the tapes turned out to be quite a trove when entrusted to the right ears:

The tapes date from the late 1960s through 2000 and feature more than 200 speakers from more than a dozen countries in the Middle East, Indian subcontinent and Africa. The speakers, identified on cassette labels, include prominent scholars as well as some of al-Qaida's most important strategic thinkers and operational leaders. The recordings include sermons, political speeches, lectures, formal interviews, exchanges between students and teachers, telephone conversations, radio broadcasts, recordings of live battles and Islamic anthems, as well as trivia contests and studio-recorded audio dramas.

Twenty of the audiocassettes contain recordings of bin Laden; 12 of these include material previously unpublished in any language, according to Miller

No word on whether there is any Rush, Abba, or Lionel Richie mixed in there.

Here's a sample:

Osama bin Laden poem
From audiocassette dated 1996
English translation

Tomorrow, William, you will discover which young man [will] confront your brethren, who have been deceived by [their own] leaders.

A youth, who plunges into the smoke of war, smiling
He hunches forth, staining the blades of lances red
May God not let my eye stray from the most eminent
Humans, should they fall, Djinn, should they ride
[And] lions of the jungle, whose only fangs
[Are their] lances and short Indian swords
As the stallion bears my witness that I hold them back
[My] stabbing is like the cinders of fire that explode into flame
On the day of the stallions’ expulsion, how the war-cries attest to me
As do stabbing, striking, pens, and books.

From the NY Times report:

While Mr. bin Laden’s evolution from opposing Saudi Arabia’s ruling dynasty to running an international terrorist organization has been detailed before, said Flagg Miller, an assistant professor at the University of California, Davis, who spent five years translating the tapes, the recordings provide a more spontaneous look at Al Qaeda than what is available through the carefully choreographed messages it releases.

“These are back-room conversations of Al Qaeda’s key operatives as well as fresh or potential recruits who are trying to figure out what the heck is going on and what their role in it is,” Mr. Miller said.

On one tape, a dull roar growing louder stumped Mr. Miller. Finally he discovered it was the sound of a gas stove being used by low-level recruits cooking breakfast with a famous Egyptian-born cleric, Abu Hamza al-Masri, now in a British prison fighting extradition to the United States on terrorism charges. The cleric tried to inspire them by comparing frying eggs to fighting jihad.

“These small moments tell us what the core of being on jihad was like,” said Mr. Miller, who teaches religious studies. “It is boring. While they are waiting, they create ways to make jihad urgent and imminent, so they develop this fanciful narrative comparing breakfast to going out on a raid.”

Mr. Miller released his findings in Davis, Calif., with a more complete explanation scheduled to be published in the October edition of the Journal of Language and Communication.

Another UBL sample:

"Safe Base"
From audiocassette dated 1996

English translation:

But by the Grace of God, a safe base is now available in Khorusan on the summit of the Hindu Kush; this very summit where, by the Grace of God, the largest infidel military force of the world was destroyed, and where the myth of the superpower withered before the Mujahidin’s cries of Allahu Akbar (God is Greater).

Happy anniversary.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Playing the Queen of Diamonds

A lot of prisoners had it much worse—a lot of—a lot of prisoners had it much worse than I did. I’d been mistreated before, but not as badly as many others. I always liked to strut a little after I’d been roughed up to show the other guys I was tough enough to take it. But after I turned down their offer, they worked me over harder than they ever had before—for a long time—and they broke me.

—John McCain, in his acceptance speech

Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America, and he’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights?

—Sarah Palin, in her speech the night before

(Courtesy of Ken Silverstein at Harper's.)

The most surprising snippet of last week's Republican National Convention for me was the one black dude I saw. It must have been Wednesday night that featured Cowboy Troy, the bling-buckled dude from Dallas who straddles the train-wreck sub-genre of rapping country -- so-called "hick-hop." If you don't believe me, here's the misogynistic video for his hit Hick Chicks (Barn Dance Remix), which features goats, hay, and cage-dancing white chicks exploring some weird zone between Li'l Abner and a vintage Robert Palmer video, until things just get creepy with the handcuffed pie-eating contest:

I was pretty fascinated with the Cowboy Troy concept after I saw his Hick Chicks (Dance Mix) video last summer following the bizarre installment of a neglected reality show I somehow surfed my way into, in which diminutive rodeo cowboy Ty Murray (accompanied by his girlfriend, the Alaskan singer-songwriter Jewel) teaches a handful of has-been B-grade celebrities how to bull ride, including the guy who played Nitro on the original American Gladiators, Leif Garrett, Stephen Baldwin, and, I shit you not, Vanilla Ice.

Cowboy Troy is like the antimatter Vanilla Ice. So I was kind of bummed when I saw Cowboy Troy remixing the Pledge of Allegiance with white country stars Gretchen Wilson and John Rich during the convention.

Because I really think there are few things as un-American as the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Pledge of Allegiance is a loyalty oath, something a free people do not need mandated by their government. The subliminal fascism of such a practice is evident in the photos showing the original version of the flag salute, a tribal declaration of thoughtless identity, a rote recitation that conditions the mind of the child, like a secular variation on the Lord's Prayer. An anti-communist catechism that seems especially meaningless without the Cold War context in which it originally became widely mandated (with the addition of the "under God" part for good measure).

(For some reason I feel more tolerant of the even nuttier Texas variation that is also recited in our schools here — probably because I enjoy hearing first graders say, yes, "one state, indivisible.")

Cowboy Troy wasn't the only one mouthing the pledge during the Republican Convention. I swear I saw three or four variations, including one especially creepy version by a couple of red-dressed old ladies from the Stepford chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. (See it for yourself at around 2:30 into this C-SPAN feed of day 3:)

Appropriate, perhaps, that a tribal gathering devoted to the invocation of a grizzled P.O.W. hero be so rich with the tropes of nationalistic brainwashing. For the P.O.W. theme encodes within it all the darkness and duality lurking behind superficial narratives of patriotic heroism and sacrifice and wartime suffering.

The P.O.W. narrative is inextricably linked with the idea of brainwashing. This dates back to the Korean War, when Chinese techniques of torture and political indoctrination were credited with the high rate of defections among American prisoners of war. Early 1950s news reports noted the use of the Chinese communist phrase "xǐ nǎo" ("wash brain", 洗脑) to describe the party's techniques for turning dissidents, and the application of similar techniques to prisoners of war.

The methods of thought-control proved extremely useful when deployed for gaining the compliance of prisoners-of-war. Key elements in their success included tight control of the information available to the individual and tight control over the behavior of the individual. When, after repatriation, close control of information ceased and reality-testing could resume, former prisoners fairly quickly regained a close approximation of their original picture of the world and of the societies from which they had come.

Richard Condon wrote a brilliant satirical thriller on this theme in 1959, The Manchurian Candidate, filmed in 1962 by John Frankenheimer. The scion of an American political dynasty is captured in Korea and brainwashed along with the rest of his platoon, serving as a robotic assassin helping implement plans for Chinese infiltration of the society. The ringleader, it turns out, is his own mother, who is scheming to catapult her McCarthy-esque husband into the presidency. The story is told through another member of the platoon, a career officer played by Frank Sinatra in the film, who begins to hack his own programming. The performance is full of jet black melancholy, an aging soldier carrying the emasculation and identity obliteration of the male soldier torture victim.

The idea of the P.O.W. in the post-WWII United States encodes a broken heroism. It's no longer the old boys sporting game of Steve McQueen headed for the border on his liberated motorcycle, the All-American pulp hero citizen soldier fighting the good fight for earnest values. The P.O.W. stories of the Cold War era carry corruption on both sides of the battle lines. The American government is revealed as the willing exploiter of the young men used as pawns in wars fought to protect more amoral material interests, and the system of values revealed as surprisingly vulnerable to attack from the putatively communist enemy — the American soldiers usually break. Welcome to the new century: Gary Cooper is dead, replaced by Kiefer Sutherland of 24.

The convention wrapped itself in red-white and blue, but it's subtextual flag was the black P.O.W.-M.I.A. flag. Something of a paradox considering McCain's role in the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs back in the early 1990s. McCain was lambasted by many of the P.O.W. activist community for his service as the government's poster boy for normalization of relations with Vietnam, getting into famous rows with some of the members who wanted to run down the live sighting reports and other evidence. From a 1994 report by Sydney "Killing Fields" Schanberg:

These revealing passages [regarding evidence of pilot distress signals from photo surveillance of Indochina], however, belied the true nature of the Senate committee. It was dominated by a faction led by its chairman, the charismatic John Kerry of Massachusetts. This group wanted to appear to be probing the prisoner issue energetically, but in fact, they never rocked official Washington's boat, nor did they lay open the 20 years of secrecy and untruths. Thus, in their final report, issued in January 1993, after more than a year in operation, the conclusions as to men left behind were watered down and muddied to the point of meaninglessness.

And although a skilled and tenacious staff of committee investigators had managed to weave into the 1,223-page document sizable chunks of potent data that went a good distance toward exposing the POW story, some of the material never made it into the report. Significantly, the staff made the following finding, using intelligence reports that covered sightings only through 1989: "There can be no doubt that POWs were alive ... as late as 1989." This staff document was never released.

Two senators, Bob Smith and Charles Grassley, refused to go along with the majority finding in the final report that said there was "no compelling evidence that proves that any American remains alive in captivity in Southeast Asia." But their dissent was relegated to a tiny footnote. The footnote said the two could not accept this finding "because they believe that live-sighting reports and other sources of intelligence are evidence that POWs may have survived to the present."

Revealing that for McCain, "Country First" means giving primacy to the institutional interests of the military. Unsurprising for a third generation Naval officer who transitioned into politics by serving as the Navy's uniformed lobbyist in the Senate. He may not have been brainwashed as a P.O.W., but it is fair to be worried that a childhood as the son and grandson of Admirals, schooling at Annapolis, and subsequent career as a Naval officer produced a Starship Troopers-worthy paladin who equates patriotism with Pentagon. Recalling the Founders' admonitions about the essential need for civilian control of the professional military.

What would Chuck Norris do?

Monday, September 8, 2008



Flavius looked at the crimson featherscale, then back at Parric. His mouth curled ruefully. “Why’d I ken ya were going to say that?”

“You’re not as dumb as you are appearing, mostly,” Parric said.

“Thanks for the kind word.” Flavius prodded the food before him dubiously, then pushed it away. A surreptitious glance confirmed that the Empress Malinche had seen, and was frowning. She gestured to one of the aerial waiters, giving it complex instructions once it reached her table. Another menu change, no doubt. Across the hall, Emperor Camargo watched, stony-faced. “Er, what do ya ken my chances are of getting something to eat here that’s nae the vital part of some beastie?”

Parric offered a sympathetic kack.

Flavius nodded. “Right. Cheer a doomed body up, then. Tell me all the ways this here featherscale is bad for us.”

“That featherscale is coming from a hai-dlo Crafter,” Parric answered simply.

Flavius raised his eyebrows, waiting for more. “And...?

Parric swallowed the last of the spiny purple eggs, but did so without enthusiasm. “Knowicent is referring to me as a Crafter of Onimik. That is as gooding a name for my kind as any. Onimik is not a placing, although we are all of the same cosm. Onimik is more of a sharing... destiny of sortings. It is being more than a philosophy. A discipline is more accurating.”

“Beastie, ya may be telling me something profound, but I dinnae ken head nor tail of it.”

“We are not sharing this with outsiders, Flavius. But I’m not considering you an outsider for a longing time now,” Parric said.

“Right. Yer secret’s safe with me.”

“Is not a secreting-- No matterings. Let me explaining this way...” Parric paused, his antennae agitated. “You’re having three stagings in life: Immature, mature and aged. They are blending together, so you are not knowing where one begins and the other ends.

“My kind are differenting. Crafters of Onimik have five stagings. When we are reaching the third staging, hai-ona, we are departing our home cosm.”

“And yer hai-ona.” Flavius nodded. “I ken yer under some kind of exile.”

“It is not exiling. It is hai-ona. That is what it is being, what I am being,” Parric explained, choosing his words with care. “Understanding this: When a Crafter is molting into hai-ona, the Crafter is departing from the cosm, into the infiniting of realities. The cosm, from that pointing on, is hiddening from the Crafter. A Crafter is not finding it again until the discipline of restraining is achieved. Returning to our cosm triggers the hai-dlo molt.”

“Wait, back up there a mite. This discipline of restraint, is that why yer always bellyaching about nae using yer magic?”

“Is not magicings.” Parric’s antennae twisted in annoyance. “Try to understanding. What you’re calling magicings use some forms of a cosm’s latent energies to manifesting an effect otherwise impossibling in that cosm’s reality. Craftings remake the cosm’s reality so that the desired manifestation is possible.”

“Yer arse,” Flavius said, chewing over Parric’s words. “If what yer saying’s true, that’d make ya a... a god, or somesuch.”

“Some are calling us gods, but we are always preferring Crafters.”

“Yer nae having me on, are ya?” Flavius scrunched his face up, eyes clinched tight. When he spoke, his voice was strained and low. “Ya mean to tell me that all of those tight scrapes we was in, all those times I staggered out of a row, knocked around something fierce, all of them wagers I lost-- ya mean to tell me ya could’ve fixed it in our favor with a flick of those bristle stick on yer head? It’s all just a damn game to ya. A damn game.”

“You’re not listening.”

“The hell I am. Twenty-seven times, Parric!” Flavius’ voice rose in the hall. “Twenty-seven goddamned times ya let them beasties shred me to pieces at Culloden, when ya coulda turned the lot of ‘em into smoke, or--here’s an idea--put them after wheover sent them in the first place. End the problem right then and there!”

“Flavius, pleasings,” Parric said, his voice soft. “These things I cannot be doing. I shouldn’t be doing even the small Craftings you’ve seen. These are my failings. Try to imagining a sequencing of cosms filled with Crafters altering reality with no restraint. Where every whiming is reweaving the fabric of being.”

Flavius snorted. “Dinnae give me that. There’s nae such cosms.”

Parric nodded. “No, there’s not. At leasting, not anymore.”

Flavius’ eyes narrowed. “Go on.”

“My cosm is unique.”

“Ya told me there were nae unique cosms.”

“All cosms have infinite varyings, yes. But the varyings of my cosm are gone. There are gapings in the Nexus surrounding it. The next closest cosms do not have any tracings of Crafters.”

“So what’re ya saying? They’ve all gone hiding?”

“I’m saying they’re destroying themselves. And their cosms.”

Flavius let out a low whistle.

“The only surviving Crafters are of Onimik. Are you seeing? The discipline of Onimik is the only thing restraining Crafters from self-destructing. Until I am learning this restraining, my cosm--”

“Stays hidden from ya, and ya cannae have yer hai-whatsit molt.” Flavius sighed, scratching thoughtfully at his beard. “Well. That kinda puts my being killed twenty-seven times in perspective, eh?” He frowned, then checked on the Emperor and Empress. They were both--along with half the dining room, apparently--watching Flavius and Parric with entirely too much interest. “So... tell me about this beastie what shed this featherscale, then. Ya said two of the three possibilities were bad. Start with the good.”

Parric eyed the featherscale warily. “If we are extremely luckying, the featherscale isn’t from a Crafter at all.”

“Oh,” Flavius said, nodding. “Right, there is that. I’m sure there’re lots of other beasties throughout the cosms with featherscales like this, aye?”

“No,” Parric answered, antennae drooping. “Not manying at all.”

“Lad, yer going to kill me one day with so much optimism...” Flavius sighed. “Is there a bad one that’s less bad than the other?”

Parric sagged. “For us? Maybeing. If we are very luckying, this other Crafter is just a survivor, a refugee from the destroying of my cosm.”

“Damn, Parric! Ya cannae be serious! Yer whole cosm? If we’re lucky?” Flavius picked up his glass and drained it. “And if we’re nae lucky?”

“Then this Crafter is Not-of-Onimik,” Parric answered. “It is a Crafter with no restrainings.”


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Jeff Vandermeer's Goat Variations

The new election-themed issue of Steve Erickson's Black Clock has an absolutely amazing new story by Jeff Vandermeer, Goat Variations Redux, a beautiful lunatic chamber music orchestrating a cinematic dance of our crazy 21st century political-pop cultural semiotes. Like uncovering a secret tome of Mike Resnick's Alternate Presidents with contributions from Burroughs, Kafka, and Donald Barthelme, dedicated to the bathysphere exploration of the fathoms of cultural narrative negative space lurking within and beyond the moment when the 9/11 attacks were disclosed to our current president.

Here's the opening:


I: He's wearing a black military uniform with medals on it, sitting in the chair, reading. He's much fitter, the clothes tight to emphasize his muscle tone. But his face is contorted around the hole of a festering localized virus, charcoal and green and viscous. He doesn't wear an eye patch because he wants his people to see how he fights the disease. His left arm is made of metal. His tongue is not his own, colonize the way his nation has been colonized, waging a war against bio-research gone wrong, and the rebels who welcome it, who want to tear down anything remotely human, themselves no longer recognizable as human. His aide comes up and whispers that the rebels have detonated a bio-mass bomb in New York City, now stewing in a broth of fungus and mutation: the nearly instantaneous transformation of an entire metropolis into something living but alien, the rate of change becoming strange and accelerated in a world where this was always true, the age of industrialization slowing it, if only for a moment. "There are no people left in New York City," his aide says. "What are your orders?" He hadn't expected this, not so soon, and it takes him seven minutes to recover from the news of the death of millions. Seven minutes to turn to his aide and say, "Call in a nuclear strike." What will happen? What will change? He doesn't even care, just wishes his metal arm would stop throbbing.

The piece continues with vignettes of alternate McCains, Hillaries, and Obamas, like this:


2. President Hillary Clinton is one of the first into Kansas City, at the head of an armored column of tanks, mobile missile launchers and prisoners of war, stripped of their Ecstatic insignia. It's largely symbolic, since Clinton took the Heartlands by rendering vast stretches of it uninhabitable through tactical nukes and ceding special reservations, mostly in the Western states, to the Doberzees, so she could stop fighting a two-front war. But she takes an unguarded, well-earned satisfaction in the pageantry, the bodies of the defeated lining the route forced to display the smiles and waving of a people being liberated

The best example of political fabulism I have seen. And the whole issue is full of similarly powerful fun stuff, like Sean Howe's "Haldeman Agonistes" and Lynne Tillman's "Madame Realism's Conscience."

The perfect antidote for cathode ray political mind pollution. If only we could arrange for it to be read live on prime time, with individual sections performed by Anderson Cooper, Bill O'Reilly, and Larry King.

Go buy it!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Friday night videos

One of the better of the hundreds of DIY RNC protest videos now online:

1980 interview with Borges:

Crazy Norwegian garage rock from Cato Salsa Experience:

Clandestine video of Cato Salsa collaborators The Thing performing last year in Moscow:

Monday, September 1, 2008

Vlad's tranquilizing vacation

Those who enjoyed our recent recap of Pootie-poot's shirtless Siberian vacation last summer will no doubt be impressed with today's reports about this year's version. From the Daily Mail:

As Europe's leaders agonise over what to do about Russian aggression in Georgia, Vladimir Putin was busy showing the world that he's not a man to be messed with - not even by a tiger.

The Kremlin strongman, widely seen as the driving force behind the invasion of Georgia, shot the big cat with a tranquilliser, apparently saving the lives of a group of TV journalists...

European disapproval seemed far from Mr Putin's mind as he strode through the Siberian forest in his combat fatigues carrying a tranquiliser gun to arrive in the nick of time.

Accounts from Moscow suggested that ex-president Putin, now Russia's prime minister, saved the TV journalists after a tigress escaped from a harness. What is more likely is that the crew, who were standing 15ft away, were in place to capture the heroic shot.

Mr Putin had flown to the spot by helicopter, before transferring to a 4x4 and finishing the journey on foot - arriving at the exact moment the animal broke free.

'He immediately fired from a special gun which scientists use to immobilise animals, and hit the tigress in its shoulder blade,' according to one reporter. 'The tigress was immediately sedated.'

Mr Putin was visiting scientists in the Ussuriyskiy reserve which harbours rare Amur tigers. After putting the tigress to sleep, he helped attach a tracking collar.

The stunt was clearly designed to enhance Mr Putin's macho image. Last year he was filmed fishing bare-chested in Siberia...


Vlad's Siberian Vacation, August 22, 2010

A Scenario for the 2010s, August 23, 2007

Do you think they're still calling him Pootie-Poot on Pennsylvania Avenue?, August 12, 2008