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Monday, June 19, 2006

Watch The Philip K Dick Robot On Comedy Central. Brought To You By Red Lobster. 

I just finished reading A Scanner Darkly by SF grandmaster Philip K. Dick. Richard Linklater has made a movie version -- stylistically similar to his Waking Life -- which comes out next month. (Check out the trailer. But don't go to the official site; see below.) I'd never read SD, so I gave it a whirl.

Like a lot of PKD's books, it's engaging and extremely thought-provoking -- even while the plot drags considerably at first, and the characters are rather cardboard. Dick is clearly brilliant and does a great job of painting a complex picture of complex situations. His work deserves the attention people give it, and I encourage my students willing to give it a try to read PKD. But I think I'd prefer to steer those looking for good thoughtful SF toward Stanislaw Lem, for a variety of reasons.

First of all, Lem gives us more story and less headtripping. After all, no one is going to make it through VALIS without being extremely confused, at least the first time. (I don't believe anyone who says otherwise, so you can save your breath.) Of course I think PKD knew he was losing it, and so if we can make that leap of mentalism, we're fine. But Lem is accessible even for the sane among us.

Lem also works harder on character and story. Ijon Tichy is at least as central to The Futurological Congress as the cryptochemocracy he stumbles into. And Peace on Earth delivers a solid kick in the teeth, accompanied by an "Oh, wow!" moment. The only "Oh, wow!" moment I ever got from PKD was The World Jones Made. Obviously there are a great many fine books which don't deliver any "Oh, wow!" moments, but the SF which sticks closest to me provides.

Irregardless, SD is a fascinating read, and I'm very keen to see the movie version. It looks like they've done some nice work on the blur suits and the scanners themselves -- and the animated format allows for some intriguing possibilities. I'm not going to get myself all worked up, because the gods know how often I've done that only to be vastly disappointed. But let's just say that if this isn't the best movie I've ever seen, I'll pour salt in my eyes. (TPCQ: "Always pour salt in your eyes!")

Red Lobster: The Apogee of Mediocrity

As many of you know, I shared a very special discussion with my father soon before he died. We went out to eat and had this talk, and he allowed me to choose the restaurant. Because I was an imbecilic 15-year-old, I chose Long John Silver's. (TPCQ: "I hope you know you're sponsoring a celebration for a muderous pirate!")

Anyway, since his death I've gone to LJS or some other similarly wretched seafood restaurant every year on Father's Day and write a letter to dad. Since Madison has no LJS restaurants (thank the gods), I go to Red Lobster. This past Sunday I made my yearly hajj there, and I realized that it is the absolute crystallization of mediocre dining. The scallops, for instance, are rubbery and all stuck together -- like they were defrosted after being chiseled off from some huge clump. (They probably were.) At least their clam chowder is okay. (TPCQ: "Chow-dair!? Chow-dair? It's CHOWDAH! Say it right!")

Here's how bad it got: I was asked by my very friendly waiter (more on him in a second) whether I wanted a garden salad or Caesar. I didn't want either, but I momentarily flashed on Glass Nickel's delicious Caesar salad, I indicated the latter. It was hideous, with sugary-sweet dressing and sickly squishy lettuce. Then, as I read back through the letters I wrote in previous years, I found this sentence, written in the very Red Lobster one year previous: "You know, I think this is the worst Caesar salad I've ever had." Man, I'm stupid.

TPCQ: "Red Lobster is the IHOP of shellfish. That is not upscale."

My waiter was really into my being there. He kept alternating between calling me "man" and "sir", neither of which put me anywhere near at ease. When he brought the main course, he asked "What brings you to Red Lobster today?" I should have just said "bad seafood" and started eating, but my annoying Polite Genes kicked in and I told him about dinner with dad. He nodded like Matthew McConahay in Contact (man, he sucked in that) and said it was "really cool" that I did that. Then he told me all about how his mom died when he was younger, so he got the same tattoo she'd had, "surrounded by my own tribal," and since mom loved balloons, he goes with his brothers every year into the cemetery and releases balloons with little notes in them. "We know she gets 'em," he assured me.

It was a special moment.

It's Not Funny

You know what really infuriates me about Comedy Central? They owe a great majority of their success to The Daily Show and Chappelle's Show (and South Park). And yet all their new shows are hideous ripoffs, only not funny -- Mind of Mencia? Gimme a break! And Dog Bites Man? Bleagh!

And another thing -- we used to get commercials for other good Comedy Central shows like South Park during the breaks on Daily Show. But now that DS is so popular, the ad space all goes to moron horsecrap like Disoronno. (You know, the one where the lady smears the ice cube all over her face.) So now I have no idea what's on South Park this week. Bastards.

Death to the Video Game Dorks!

I realized something else about Video Game Dorks recently -- they're making all the games for TVs that are too freakin' big! (TPCQ: "Gus. Why is the fire so big?") If you have a normal human-sized TV, you'll have to squint and sit right up against the screen to see the words or numbers. This is a problem in Gun (how are you supposed to play poker if you can't tell which cards you have?) and Star Wars Battlefront II (where the leaderboard at the end is now composed of tiny little letters and numbers -- I can never tell the 2s and 0s apart).

And there's no reason for it! You can make a sleek, cool-looking game without having to use tiny little type. The same thing, of course, happened with websites -- for a few years, all the cutting-edge sites like SlashCo and EdgeCom (TPCQ: "How about CompuGlobalHyperMegaNet?") were putting up sites that you couldn't read without a magnifying glass. Good call! I love not being able to read your idiot filler text garbage.

Stupid Websites

Speaking of stupid websites, I really can't stand two trends going on in the Interlink these days:
  1. Sites with too much crap happening all at once. Hey morons! Some of us don't have Athlon XXIII processors in our PCs. Some of us are going to go into your severely overloaded Shockwave/Flash/Java-heavy sites and watch as FireFox freezes, and we lose the first two paragraphs of a very pithy blog post. You suck!

    (Still, the BBC's Virtual Replay feature is way cool. (WARNING: Slow-loading Shockwave site.) You can watch the moron from Italy kick a goal into his own net during the recent game against the USA, which we totally deserved to lose, even if the refs were too harsh with the red cards except for that one Italian guy who elbowed McBride in the face, after which he went right back in, making him way hardcore.

  2. Stupid Moron Viral Marketing Websites That Don't Appear To Be Advertising Stupid Garbage But Are. Those who read The Onion might recall seeing recently an insipid ad masquerading as an edgy slacker-style cartoon called "Flocking Hell," all about this renegade flock of sheep and their digital personal stereos. So if you read this and find it to be "amazing ... brilliant ... [and] ridiculously silly" (like the site says -- perhaps they're being self-consciously sarcastic .. oo, tricky), you may go to the URL given in the cartoon, iDon't, which offers independent-minded consumers a way to rebel against Apple's technocratic marketing hegemony.

    And we can "break-free from restrictive formats" and express our individuality by .. buying a different mp3 player. Which one, you ask? Why the Sansa e200, of course. Look at it! It's completely different from the iPud. Whereas Apple's product is white, this one is black. (A white case is also available.)

    I also hate Taco Bell -- even though I love them for finally doing right by the Immokalee farmworkers -- because of their moronic 4th Meal website. First of all, the last thing we in the USA need is more regular eating times. Secondly, you stole the idea from The Simpsons. (TPCQ: "I discovered a meal between breakfast and brunch.")
Okay, enough of this crap. I've got comics to read and video games to play. I'm on vacation.

Oh yeah. The photo is of the Philip K. Dick Android. The Red Lobster thing comes to us from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which is urging RL to join the boycott of Canadian seafood. The Comedy Central Logo is from Comedy Central.


I don't think I ever posted this nifty YouTube video about How Vinyl Records Are Made. If I did, tough crap.

Today I'm listening to: DI Breaks!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

We Need a Revolution on the Way to the Revolution 

As a nonviolent revolutionary, I am forever heartened by visions of profound social change. Fortunately, I see many such visions in the world today -- examples (hopefully) need no citation here.

Sadly, however, there remains a mindset among some activists that says: "Once we achieve our great objective, we can address the other, lesser, concerns." This paradigm is emblematic in the USA, to some degree -- ours is a nation founded by white male slaveowners who claimed equal rights for all under the law. But even in the struggle for abolition, for instance, there was rampant male supremacy at work. And racism reared its head in the women's suffrage movement.

Hours and Ours

Today, many of those waging war on tyranny, discrimination, and injustice continue to operate in the way of "our revolution first, all others second." Ralph Nader once busted a union at his publication Multinational Monitor, and said of the dispute:
I don't think there is a role for unions in small nonprofit 'cause' organizations any more than ... within a monastery or within a union [itself]. People shouldn't be in public-interest groups unless they believe in it and are ready to work for it. [Early in my career] I worked weekend after weekend after weekend... Now people come here and say they want to fight polluters and unresponsive agencies, but not after 5 o'clock and not on weekends.
First of all, I daresay most of the people involved in such an organization probably do devote their evenings and weekends to progressive causes -- but they may want to diversify where their time goes. (I teach during the day and work for ETAN at night and on the weekends, for example.)

But the real point is this: Our goal, if I may be so bold and succinct, is a world where no one has to work more than a fair and just 40-hour workweek. Right? So why can't we make that happen now? We can! We should.

Surely there's no organization doing more important work in the USA than Acorn; and yet I've heard it said that they require a standard 60-hour week from their employees, with many weekends tacked on as well.

The last thing I want to see is a fleet of burned-out, overworked, overwhelmed ex-revolutionaries who feel that the life of social change is just too exhausting. Besides, what sort of conception of a progressive life does this present to the next generation? Sacrifice everything or be a sellout. Some choice!

The thing is this: Of course we have to sacrifice some things. You can't drive a Hummer and drink mimosas every day if you want to call yourself a revolutionary. But we can -- we should -- be entitled to a decent life! We deserve time to relax and have fun! Article 24 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
Our world is wealthy enough -- those of us fighting for truth, justice, and democracy are resourceful enough -- to wage a conscious struggle in a conscious way.

Of course there is an algebra which must be calculated such that the maximum effort must be put forth to defeat the forces of darkness and suffering. But ultimately the level of sacrifice and dedication are personal decisions that must be made by each individual -- any excessive attempt to enforce such at an organizational or institutional level threatens to make us into the very darkness we despise.

Not Just Economic

This problem takes other forms, too -- in the labor movements of US history, many women have complained that their struggle for equality has taken a back seat to what they're told is the "more important" fight for fair contracts. The burgeoning (and vital) media reform movement is perilously leaving out the perspectives and contributions of activists of color. And of course lesbians and gays still can't find the kind of widespread inclusion they deserve.

At New College I was lucky enough to work with Paul Buchannan, who taught a class on Modern Revolutions (and had fought in the trenches of Argentina). He said -- I'll never forget this -- that the true purpose of a revolution was not merely a seizure of power, but rather the elevation of every person's level of consciousness. If the only result is a shift of power, then the same traps of repression and corruption continue -- the only difference is which small elite stands to benefit. But if everyone comes out with a higher level of consciousness, then the structures of power themselves can be altered.

This is what we must strive for. The point, therefore, is that we are all -- every one of us -- students in the class of consciousness. We must all be aware of our privileges and oppressions, and take conscious action to overcome them and/or keep them in check. More to the point, it means that while a more diffuse revolution may take longer and be infinitely more complex, it will also be more lasting, residual, and effective in the long run.

[For those who don't know, the pic up top is of The Coup, whose new album Pick a Bigger Weapon, is very good. Not their best work ever (coughcough Genocide & Juice ahem), but it contains some solid tracks.]


Is there any way to draw comparisons between global politics and the World Cup? Yes!
Millions of people around the planet love talking about the World Cup. In Paraguay fans will pick over that own goal; in Japan they will analyse last night's contest with Australia. Everywhere people are dissecting the games, revealing an intimate knowledge of their own teams and many others. Tongue-tied teenagers suddenly become eloquent and dazzlingly analytical. I wish we had more of that sort of conversation in the world at large: citizens consumed by the topic of how their country could do better on the Human Development Index, or exercised about how to reduce carbon emissions or HIV infections.
You go, Mr. Annan.

Check out these incredible balloon sculptures! (Warning: Lots of pictures, takes a while to load.)

How about this nifty optical illusion?

Greg Palast wrote a good piece about Ken Lay's conviction.
Lay and Skilling have to pay up their ill-gotten gains to Enron's stockholders, but what about the $9-plus billion owe electricity consumers? The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Bush's electricity cops, have slapped Enron and its gang of power pirates on the wrist. Could that have something to do with the fact that Ken Lay, in secret chats with Dick Cheney, selected the Commission's chairmen?
You know what'll bring peace to Israel? Shelling a beach in Gaza, killing seven civilians, including three children! You know what'll help the USA's standing among muslims in the Middle East? Refusing to condemn the attack, stating that "Israel has the right to act in self-defense"! Take that, anyone who believes that a nation waging a self-proclaimed "War on Terror" has some sort of moral obligation to condemn state-sponsored terror as well!

Okay, enough of this. I'm on vacation. And for those of you complaining about losing your precious SynCast*, go listen to my dramatic reading of two selections from The Liberator. More are on the way!

* I do appreciate the fancomments. I apologize for any pain and suffering you are experiencing as a result of my slackiness.


Check out Animator v. Animation. Xiao Xiao meets Harold & The Purple Crayon. Plus a little Fred's Escape, imho.

Today I'm listening to: Black Elephant! (Any disc which starts off with a sample from Malcolm X is making it into my collection. Conscious hip-hop from Milwaukee -- solid.)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Consider the Possibilities 

I've been thinking for several weeks about how lucky I am -- we all are. The standard conception of this idea says: "We're lucky to be here. The odds of sentient human life on this planet is [some incredibly small number]." The religious view is basically the same, but with some phrase involving "[name of deity]'s infinite love".

But that's not what I'm talking about. Obviously we are lucky in that sense. I know I'm also lucky in a geopolitical sense -- born with an arsenal of privileges and benefits that most humans don't enjoy. (This brings additional responsibilities, of course.)

But I don't mean even that sort of thing. I've been fantasizing about all the incredibly wretched possibilities that could possibly exist, which would make life much more difficult for us humans. Take something as simple as climate. We enjoy, on our home planet, a very temperate range of weather conditions. I live much of my life in absolutely paradisical conditions when it comes to weather. But what if it were different? Think of the worst winter blizzard hellstorm you've ever been through. Now imagine if every day were like that.

There is an infinite number of similarly hideous possibilities that we could be subject to. Come with me as I explore some of them.
  • Suppose every day for five hours, flaming boulders fell randomly from the sky, crushing buildings and incinerating people.

  • What if every morning at 8:00 AM -- whether you are asleep or awake -- a huge venomous lizard spawned from your neck?

  • Imagine being enslaved by mute titanium robots from another planet, who communicated only through painful electroshock punishments.

  • What if every three years every person experienced total and complete memory loss?

  • Suppose Spontaneous Human Combustion were definitely real and a part of our world on a regular basis. At least once a day you watch someone burst into flames on the subway -- and you thank the gods it's not you.

  • Imagine waking up every day as a different species. One day you're a human; the next, you're a cockroach. Suppose you retain your memory through it all. "Damn, I hate being a cockroach!" or maybe "Awesome! I love being a cockroach!"

  • Picture this: Some humans -- for an unknown reason -- generate electricity. Would individuals rent themselves out as free-agent power suppliers?

  • What if the only food we could find tasted like rat vomit?

  • Imagine if our limbs just randomly fell off. You'd be walking down the street and it's goodbye, arm! And then when you go to pick it up, your other arm falls off.

  • Suppose our stomachs couldn't move -- we had to keep them in one place all the time. Then we'd have to bring food to it. Restaurants wouldn't exist. And what if the place you had to keep your stomach were in a cave? Or a really creepy basement?

  • What if The Simpsons had never been created?

  • Suppose our most fleeting desires all became uncontrollable urges? You imagine eating a strawberry scone for some reason, and then suddenly nothing else in your life matters even a little bit. And what if you were performing brain surgery when this idea hit? ("Doctor, where are you going?" "Strawberry scones!")

  • What if our eyeballs were attached to our head via very thin, fragile strands twice the length of our bodies? We'd have to invent some sort of cup to keep them in, strapped to our heads. And when you want to look at something, you'd have to take them out of the cup and point it toward the object. Or maybe we'd get lazy, and eventually only point one eye. Let the other one stay in the cup.
I'm sure I could come up with more, but the Daily Show's about to come on. Post your own in the comments!

I'm not trying to be morbid, I swear. I could just as easily come up with a list of incredibly bizarre positive possibilities as well. (Suppose rain tasted like ice cream.) But that would be sappy and boring after a while. Besides -- as I said -- I think we owe it to ourselves to give thanks for just how good we've already got it.

(Pic from this page, which appears to be a blog written by meteors. How odd.)

End of an Era

I've decided to end the regular pattern of doing a Deviant SynCast every week. Alas, it's become such a big chunk of my Sundays (average of three hours if I want something I can be satisfied with), and I feel like I'm stagnating with them. (You all heard the last few.)

I'll still do a show once in a while if I get a good idea and/or adequate free time (the summer is approaching quickly), but I've got other projects I'd like to work on, instead of feeling attached to this "show" which reaches maybe five or six people.


What if EBN made a video called DreamMaster? Weird!

Today I'm listening to: DI Ambient!