Sunday, November 30, 2008

Former Army interrogator's treatise on torture

Returned Army interrogator Matthew Alexander, who served in the Air Force for 14 years and later worked as a senior interrogator in Iraq, offers a succinct debunking of torture as a method of obtaining information:

I refused to participate in [Guantanamo-style torture methods], and a month later, I extended that prohibition to the team of interrogators I was assigned to lead. I taught the members of my unit a new methodology -- one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they're listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of "ruses and trickery"). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.

Over the course of this renaissance in interrogation tactics, our attitudes changed. We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shiite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money. I pointed this out to Gen. George Casey, the former top U.S. commander in Iraq, when he visited my prison in the summer of 2006. He did not respond.


I know the counter-argument well -- that we need the rough stuff for the truly hard cases, such as battle-hardened core leaders of al-Qaeda, not just run-of-the-mill Iraqi insurgents. But that's not always true: We turned several hard cases, including some foreign fighters, by using our new techniques. A few of them never abandoned the jihadist cause but still gave up critical information. One actually told me, "I thought you would torture me, and when you didn't, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That's why I decided to cooperate." (Source: Washington Post)

This is a very, very good article and the second page in particular is quite powerful. If we lose our moral character and respect for humanity as a nation then we've lost the only thing the terrorists can truly take from us. I have a very firm karmic (one might say Christian) belief regarding the actions of government and its employees: if we do the right thing, things will work out. Understanding what leads an individual to become a terrorist by shattering their notions of what it means to be an American seems to be an appropriate way of turning people against militant Jihadism. Torture only creates terrorists, leading us up the inevitable war against the Arab world that so many black-and-white misguided moralists see as inevitable. It's more like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Roger Cohen: Gitmo detainees released with sneaky, infuriating language.

Well, with the most recent administration who believed that inalienable rights don't apply to non-Americans on its way out, what of those being released from Guantanamo Bay? Roger Cohen of the godless, koolaid pinko left rag The New York Times gives a wonderful rundown on the collapse of due process under the Bush Administration and the smug, self-righteous confidence that led to abominations like Gitmo. If there's anything that gets me excited about Obama, it's his already manifest desire to appoint some of his critics to high positions in the next cabinet to keep him in touch with reality:

"But back to the law, which is what defines the United States, for it is a nation of laws. Or was until Bush, in the aftermath of 9/11, unfurled what the late historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called 'the most dramatic, sustained and radical challenge to the rule of law in American history.'

There is no need to rehearse here the whole sordid history of the Bush administration’s work on Vice President Dick Cheney’s 'dark side:' the 'enhanced' interrogation techniques in 'black sites' outside the United States justified by invocation of a 'new paradigm' that rendered the Geneva Conventions 'quaint.'


Of the 770 detainees grabbed here and there and flown to Guantánamo, only 23 have ever been charged with a crime. Of the more than 500 so far released, many traumatized by those “enhanced” techniques, not one has received an apology or compensation for their season in hell.

What they got on release was a single piece of paper from the American government. A U.S. official met one of the dozens of Afghans now released from Guantánamo and was so appalled by this document that he forwarded me a copy.

Dated Oct. 7, 2006, it reads as follows:

'An Administrative Review Board has reviewed the information about you that was talked about at the meeting on 02 December 2005 and the deciding official in the United States has made a decision about what will happen to you. You will be sent to the country of Afghanistan. Your departure will occur as soon as possible.'

That’s it, the one and only record on paper of protracted U.S. incarceration: three sentences for four years of a young Afghan’s life, written in language Orwell would have recognized.

We have 'the deciding official,' not an officer, general or judge. We have 'the information about you,' not allegations, or accusations, let alone charges. We have 'a decision about what will happen to you,' not a judgment, ruling or verdict. This is the lexicon of totalitarianism. It is acutely embarrassing to the United States."

I'll go on the record that I care more about civil liberties (meaning the Bill of Rights) and our country's moral track record and attitude than higher taxes and reduced financial freedom under Obama. Here's hoping our country gets back on track in that regard over the next four or eight years. I'll have more than my share of disagreements with Obama's policies but I doubt I'll have that same sick feeling in my heart while having them.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Semi-Classic Album of the Week #5: Man Man - "Six Demon Bag"

Man Man - Six Demon Bag (2006)

When you're a demented cabaret act it pays to know a goodly number of instruments, and to play each of them like each track is the last you'll ever record. Man Man is a five-member group who plays like fifteen, and this, their second record, is as complete and free-spirited an experience as you're likely to hear outside of one of their concerts.

Man Man plays like they're losing track of each song, carried away by inescapable momentum until they're forced to reboot with a strange transition or a thumping scream-off. Gleeful, twisted humor fills every track, as if they've bought a dozen instruments, taken the spirit of Tom Waits, lit it up and passed it around while thinking of the next trick to play on the audience.

And it's all terrific fun - some of the speedy, lively thumpers plead to be sung along with on the third listen. Early tracks "Engrish Bwudd" and "Black Mission Goggles" can't help but pulsate with their own genius, the glow of people who are having a terrific amount of fun doing what they're doing and don't much care who likes it and who doesn't.

And "Young Einstein on the Beach" is the shortest, most danceable exorcism you've ever heard, almost too heavy to be believed with no electrical guitars and no comprehensible lyrics, until you catch yourself blasting it from your car on the freeway.

But Man Man has heart to spare, and they don't spare it on Van Helsing Boombox or Skin Tension (not to mention the somber opening track), some of the most heartbreaking treatises on desire and loss you're likely to hear this side of sanity. In the nearly three years since the release of this record, Man Man has already fallen off of their creative peak, so check out Six Demon Bag and find out where it's at.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Once again, reality fails to live up to my imagination. . .

I dreamed last night that I was enrolled in a university course for the coming semester on classic literature, taught by Patrick Stewart. Unfortunately I feel winter semester will not be quite so interesting.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Musings on Labels

I've given thought lately to our use of labels in society and how this affects our perceptions of things, mainly other people.

Most of our labels have a moral message hard-coded into them. When somebody uses a term like "racial prejudice", "hate crime", "homophobic" or "anti-Semitism" it's pretty clear how they feel about the word they're using. It's a shortcut of sorts and sends a pretty clear message about the person described by the term.

But some terms don't behave in this way. "Ethnic cleansing" or "purification" must be understood ironically from the point of view of those doing the "cleansing". We don't agree with the concept embodied by the neutered term, but the harsher, more correct term - "genocide" - carries a more appropriate, powerful punch that not all may find comfortable.

My favorite labels are the more ambiguous ones: "Democrat or Republican" doesn't usually provoke strong reactions, but the more vicious "liberal or conservative" labels or anything that ends in "-winger" vary in meaning considerably depending on where you stand and how eager you are to demonize an entire political opposition. Use of these labels almost single-handedly guarantees that other political stripes won't exist, as everybody in our country must be part of an imaginary two-sided "culture war" that nobody can opt out of.

"Culture war." That's another one. The more you use it, the less you need to think about the issues and the easier it is to sound like you know what you're talking about when you call talk radio hosts.

Somebody who crosses the border without filing, jumping through all of the hoops and waiting a decade to help their family find breakfast each morning is an "illegal immigrant" or even an "alien", but somebody who gets paid to fly across the entire world and smash up a country is considered a hero fighting for our freedom (keep in mind that I'm using different language for purposes of analyzing our perception, not necessarily making moral judgments about each and every soldier or illegal migrant worker).

Furthermore, a cheater on a test isn't considered an "illegal student". People who speed and don't pay attention aren't "illegal drivers" even though they're putting lives at risk and aren't contributing to society like the "aliens" we vilify.

So - my question. Do labels come from meaning or do we create meaning from our labels?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Viral Marketing: Bike Hero

I've always been one to appreciate so-called "viral" marketing, at least when it avoids the cliches or the darkest lies of the genre. At its worst, it's merely misleading - merely duplicating the flashing lights and crappy cameras of YouTube clips doesn't quite overcome the suspicious fact that most of these ambitious "filmmakers" only have one video on their accounts. Hmm. . .

Anyway, this one follows the formula to a T (it was produced by prestigious advertising firm Droga5 and plainly sponsored by Activision), but the whole thing is so slick and well-produced that I'll let the fakey "Lol my friends made this" pretensions of the thing slide. The particularly observant among us may want to count the number of times that they use camera tricks to make it look like they did it in one take.

EDIT: There's a chance these videos have been taken down. No doubt YouTube expects payment for free advertising and Freddy's response video was murdered through association. I'll check it out tomorrow and repost if needs be. If you'd like to watch it now, I'm sure some shifty YouTuber has already stolen the clips.

Even better, this guy (star of the infamous YYZ contest entry) has made a video response, which begins "What's up, viral marketing douchebags?" and promises "no closed roads, no CGI, no planted cars or joggers, no hidden cuts in camera moves. Just Dragonforce, a pair of wheels, and cojones [sic] the size of grapefruits."

Hey, it can't be civil rights and copyright every day.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Somewhere this experiment is actually being run.

You'll have to admit this is pretty darn strange. Though I think it's better to go into something like this without any clarifying context (in fact, you should play it while completely bewildered), I will tell you that you must click and hold to move.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Basic Instructions

Scott Adams has been hyping the half-webcomic Basic Instructions for some time now, and it definitely echoes the wit of some of the earlier Dilbert books like the amazing Clues For the Clueless.

It's pretty consistently goofy, but as soon as I read this strip I ran right to Blogger. You can thank me later.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fully Interactive Panoramic Video

My friend Jeff sent this to me. I like it. (Hint: Click and drag.)

The company's website has more. I like the scuba diving one. This definitely has some potential.

The Changing Music Model - Codified

BoingBoing is such a handy receptable of copyfight news that it should come as no surprise that I tend to pull from it quite often. Today they've put up a fantastic, heartwarming address from Ian Rogers about the changing music industry, which codifies the way things are changing quite nicely (and reprints all of his slides to boot!):

The gist of this is a shift to a more intimate commercial model - one which offers far more freedom for artists and consumers, as well as offering a space for smaller-scale musicians to eke out a modest living without needing a record label or even complete albums to get started. Naturally, the record companies, who are rapidly finding themselves less and less useful as music becomes more and more consumer-driven, are trying to impose artificial boundaries and ridiculous business models in place to continue to consolidate their power. It's a house of cards that has already fallen, and they don't even know it.

All this as the actual value of music begins to decrease. People are listening to more and more music and have a greater ability to find out what they like and don't like before making a purchase, meaning that an individual album is no longer the investment that it used to be and people have the chance to pay much closer to the actual worth they see in a record. It's the same reason movie theaters offer "overpriced" popcorn and candy. Some people really do enjoy the film enough that a $3.75 Coke isn't that much of an investment. It allows the theater to fill in the cracks while keeping tickets relatively affordable. If movie theaters began searching movie patrons for outside food and drink they'd see an immediate decline in attendance.

The best part of this is that this shift is inevitable. For the first time artists have the freedom to make most of their income from shirt sales or concerts or digital donations or any other number of products they can offer. Fugazi has been doing it successfully for years, only now we have an entire worldwide technology platform dedicated to communication, sharing. Record labels still have their uses, but they're no longer as relevant to the market as they used to be, and no amount of consumer-diddling will alter the fact that things have changed forever, and changed for the better. There's no reason to get frustrated at the RIAA, DRM, labels or music moguls. It's over, their days are numbered. Creative expression and people will win out in the end. The alternative is trillions and trillions of dollars of lawsuits to fight inevitability, like trying to build a dam by pouring jello mix in the Colorado River.

Those are my words. Now read Ian's. And read this while you're at it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What are the cereal mascots saying?

"It's a symphony of SUGAR!"

I think it's odd that the "Trix Rabbit" is identified by name by the product that society keeps from his perpetual grasp. Using this frustrated guy is like having Rosa Parks advertise the front of the bus.

And for the benefit of those I've argued with, Trix did ship in fruity shapes when I was a kid. I guess they didn't have room to write "New Boring Shape!" on this box.

"Cocoa Puffs: It's Like Smack in Your Veins(TM)!"

This is easily one of the most intense mascots I've ever seen. He's usually skateboarding on a chocolate ramp near a chocolate volcano spewing chocolate waves of magma over a chocolate landscape, taking bites of a chocolate cereal during a particularly-intense 900 under a chocolate sky.

"What have I told you kids about hanging out with that junkie bird?!"

This guy is probably the more well-adjusted of the bunch, despite the fact that he's always bashing through walls, leaving his tigerlicious outline in the now-weakened concrete.

Just once I'd like to see him go "They're not just good, they're GrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRAAAAAGHHHH" and go on a feral rampage. That would be some fine television.

That's all. This won't be a regular feature.

Semi-Classic Album of the Week #4: The Pixies - "Doolittle"

I've been feeling a little down for the last couple of weeks and haven't felt like doing this feature. Well, music sounds good again so now I'm back. (C'mon - it's just a blog.)

The Pixies - Doolittle (1989)

I haven't been selecting these albums in any particular order, so if I had to choose a second-favorite all-time record after Mr. Bungle's last effort, Doolittle would sit at the top of a very short pile. The Pixies never released a bad record during their heyday (and the reception to their one unambiguously bad comeback single killed the chances of a reunion record which could have gone either way), and Doolittle is raw, melodic, immediate and, most importantly, it sounds like nothing before or since.

Much has been made of The Pixies' trademark ability to counterbalance loud and soft bits - shrieking choruses interspersed with quieter verses or vice versa - but I've always found their understanding of dissonance and melody far more compelling. What would a song like the epic "Monkey Gone to Heaven" be without the pretty bits, and what would it be sans the shrieking? It wouldn't be The Pixies.

Of special interest are the unambiguously poppy tracks - "Wave of Mutilation", "La La Love You" and "Here Comes Your Man" - which sound so smooth and agreeable that you might not even notice the offbeat guitar work continuing unabated, or the fact that they're still so muddy most people will never give them a chance. See, The Pixies mine melody from shrieking and catharsis from off-kilter chaos. Nobody's ever done it better and I don't think anybody ever will.

A BB Double-Whammy: Silly Corporation Tricks

Two highlights from Boingboing today:

Halliburton has apparently decided to be extra evil lately, reserving the exclusive right to break the patent system by trolling for patents. (The exact practice being "patented": "patent acquisition and assertion by a (non-inventor) first party against a second party.") This isn't even subtly evil - it's blatantly evil. How can you patent being a system-exploiting dipwad?

Secondly, some pinko lunatic left-leaning Harvard professor is suing the RIAA for the rights of citizens to feel safe from corporate prosecution for socially-accepted activities. Dirty liberal.

Cory Doctorow: Why I Copyfight

I won't be publishing an excerpt from this article for Lotus Magazine written by illustrious consumer crusader Cory Doctorow, mainly because I think that you should read the whole thing. It's a fantastic examination of the copyfight from one of the chief agents in the side of freedom and rationality, right up there with Michael Geist and Charlie Angus in bringing this issue to higher prominence.

Cory Doctorow: Why I Copyfight

You Crazy, Francesco

I don't think I've ever seen something like this before - a cartoonist doing a parody of his own strip on his webcomic. The possibility of a sweartastic Sally Forth just got that much closer.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Follow the Leader

A succinct clip from Wonder Showzen, a show which hit its peak when it went for commentary rather than scattershot vulgarisms:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Trans fat

This isn't a problem with Drudge specifically, but symptomatic of the sensationalistic, dishonest tactics of nearly all news media. The headline:

Even the ABC source uses the "pregnant man" grabber. Regardless of your political opinions on the gender status of a transexual, you have to admit that it's hardly unusual or newsworthy for a biological woman to be giving birth. Considering that this "man" sports all of the applicable lady bits (they even put "man" in quotes the first time this story came up), I wonder what headline something like this would prompt?:

"Dog Walks, Takes Pictures, Dresses Self For Halloween!"

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Penn Jillette on Libertarianism

(photo credit: NPR)

Libertarian publication reason did a nice interview with Penn Jillette (of the illustrious magic/skeptic duo Penn and Teller) on government, libertarianism and Election 2008. I've always found Penn intelligent and open-minded, regardless of my opinion of the issue he's discussing at the moment, so rediscovering his fervor for individual rights was once again invigorating.

The exciting thing about libertarians is that they can be gun nuts, hippies, Conservatives, communalists, atheists, skeptics or peaceniks, but they're united by a common philosophy. Their shared belief in small government doesn't smooth over their other beliefs or force them into some kind of homogenous mess the way a party affiliation can. In our society libertarians (and their little brothers, constitutionalists) are the real outcasts, shunned by two competing philosophies of government expansion, so it's nice to read somebody who's excited and principled and maybe a little nuts.

Liberty Maven, where I found the interview, has the selection I'd like to reproduce so you can click through to the article if you wish:
reason: But you’d enjoyed the Paul movement (or moment)?

Jillette: I was just thrilled! I love it when people are seeing a point of view that they’ve never seen before. I had people coming to me and explaining RP’s positions in a way that I couldn’t explain them. I loved that! I love listening to somebody talk about liberty so much better than I ever had. I am such a believer in marketplace of ideas. What troubles me most about politics is this feeling that you shouldn’t waste time with anyone but the frontrunners. The fact that we had this little glitch in the system, that people might listen to somebody else who wasn’t at the top of the polls, it just fills me with such incredible joy to think about it. There were people who considered me a nut for not going with one of the two major party candidates who were, all of a sudden, supporting Ron Paul.

The thing is, I don’t think any of libertarian ideas are very far out of actual spirit of our culture. The reason I use the word “nut” positively is that I think a lot of people really do believe in libertarianism, and small government, and they just need to be told that it’s OK. Paul found ways to say talk about it. I don’t think winning or even running a good race was that important. I don’t even think the million-dollar fundraising days were important. What was important was people being able to say in their own words stuff I agree with about individual rights. I think we need somebody that has charisma and clarity to make people think that’s ok. I have always, like the singers and songwriters of country western music, identified with the losers. A lot of people are not like that. A lot of people watch the Olympics to see people pick up medals.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

From the magical world of Facebook

Wait a minute - are some of those little Darth Vader helmets? Don't try to tell me that's supposed to be a feminine hairstyle:

Smoke-filled rooms. . .

Bush is angry that Obama's people have leaked details of a conversation between the two involving auto industry bailouts, rather than keeping these types of conversation in the smoke-filled rooms where they belong.

"Senator Obama would be wise to keep close counsel," a top Bush source warned.

It kind of sucks that Obama wants to bail out yet another corporation, but I view this step toward transparency as an unambiguously positive sign. Is there a chance that we could have Obama himself discuss his plans and policies next time (those not directly involving national security) rather than hearing about them through anonymous leaks? The Bush administration has been about as transparent with the American people as a lead-lined bunker, so even leaks are a step up.

Monday, November 10, 2008

More evil plans. . .

Sorry for three Orwellian posts in a row, but this scary stuff is all around. This one from Kotaku is just as evil but far more trivial in its application:
Downloadable content as a weapon against second-hand resales is, nothing new, but Epic's Mike Capps has heard other ideas for how it can be used with devastating effect. If you hated the idea of DLC weapons in Bad Company, well, you're really going to hate this.

“I’ve talked to some developers who are saying ‘If you want to fight the final boss you go online and pay USD 20, but if you bought the retail version you got it for free’. We don’t make any money when someone rents it, and we don’t make any money when someone buys it used - way more than twice as many people played Gears than bought it.”

Any such game would ship as an incomplete copy, forcing you to download a crucial part of the experience online, essentially screwing over anybody who doesn't buy a new copy. So why not sell a record that forces you to give a license code and download the last four tracks online? Why not sell a textbook whose glossary is restricted to an approved download?

Rather than reiterate my old arguments I'll just link them here and summarize my main point, not that I know anything:
Whaddya think? It seems to me that the give-and-take of the market takes care of any issues that secondhand sales create. For example, if Halo was only worth $30 to a consumer but retails for $50, then that individual might buy it and later resell it after getting their money's worth of playtime. The buyer understands that the game is a used copy and pays less than they might for one from the factory. It's a central principle of capitalism.And do I have to mention that every used copy that somebody buys creates one less used copy, forcing somebody who might have bought a used copy to buy the game new?

But that's not even the main issue at hand: Mere "lost sales" (of new products) cannot be equivocated with theft or ripping off creators. Whenever an individual buys something other than Halo, they're spending money that might have been given to Bungie's developers. That doesn't mean that anything needs to change. Every time something perfectly natural happens that's good for consumers but less-than-optimal for creators and publishers of material, industry heads bitch and whine about lost profits. Who cares? Why must the advantage fall by default to suppliers and not to consumers? Maximizing profits by butting into the rights of others is inexcusable. I hope that for every higher-up who sweats over every lost opportunity there's somebody who respects consumer rights.

"Location aware" doesn't sound that scary, now does it?

Webmonkey reports:
"Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 7 plans to offer developers location tools [tools that know your geographical location] at the operating system level and the company doesn’t seem to think users care about control or privacy.

Before you freak out at the thought that Redmond will soon be tracking your every move, keep in mind that the new features will be disabled by default. That’s the good news."

Sure, allowing one of the most bloated, patronizing corporations in history to know exactly where you are sounds like a bad thing, but. . . actually, I'm not sure how to finish that sentence.

Feds Refuse to Identify Over $2 Trillion in Illegal Loans

Anybody who thought the $700,000,000,000 bailout was the end of massive misguided government handouts to failed businesses under the cloak of helping our economy should prepare to be disappointed - according to Bloomberg, the Feds have squirreled away nearly $2,000,000,000,000 of our tax dollars and, as usual, don't feel any particular need to share the specifics with us. (And don't worry - Barney Frank plainly doesn't feel penitent for his hand in this.)

Here's a mere $315 billion for reference (from here):

The miniscule dot near the corner of the stack is a person. The larger shape is a car. This stack is 450 feet tall (38 stories) and 25,000 square feet in area. To turn it into 2 trillion dollars, either imagine 6.4 stacks just like this, or enough dollar bills to wrap around the Earth's equator 5.1 times. That's how much your government is taking (actually, let's just call it "stealing").

Alternatively, you could use $20 bills and merely imagine a football field buried in sixty-three feet of cash, or 300 dollars for every single person living on this Earth. That's not quite as bad, right?

The stack depicted in the image represents only the cash spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, money the president is legally authorized to approve (I won't get into the ethics of this spending today). This $2 trillion, on the other hand (let's write it out again: $2,000,000,000,000) is not only unethical and shortsighted, but completely unconstitutional.

And does anybody really think that this type of thing will stop under any administration?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A Brief Guide to Infuriating Personality Types

A Brief Guide to Infuriating Personality Types, Modern Edition, 3rd Revision

(NOTE: Previous personality guides have focused on codification of all human beings, leading to skepticism and often rejection of the personality color-coding system as a whole. I feel that this problem can be solved by focusing only on personality attributes that deserve scorn and contempt. Every human being possesses some level of dysfunctionality, so identifying dangerous or shortsighted behavior may be one of the first steps to a cure. Despite similarities with other models, the following represents only my opinions and may not map onto the real world in any significant way):

We start with a relatively pleasant personality type and move on to the bad ones:

Blue Non-confrontational and good for friendship. Though they may appear introverted, Blues are observant and emotional people. Blues don't treat other people like enormous prats, ergo they are generally seen as weak and unambitious. A Blue is not generally prone to attaching him/herself to new ideas, causes or organizations unless he/she sees a particular reason to do so, so they are often in passive-aggressive conflict with the next personality type:

Red A natural leader. Aggressive and shortsighted, very talented at deflecting blame. The Red's confidence and insistence upon following an irrational personal code creates the illusion of competence and inevitably leads to social capital and success. Reds get itchy and discontent if they aren't drafting a plan or a system for something, for which they inevitably create a slogan and a banner. If a Red doesn't remember something, it didn't happen.

Grey A dead-eyed, reactionary individual. The color "Grey" represents a diversifying of the pejorative "White Trash", as ignorance and anger know no racial or geographical bounds. A Grey's world is very small and is experienced very passively, so Greys inevitably expand their world by attaching themselves to rash causes and opinions. Greys can often be found in supermarkets yelling at their children for trifles, determined to perpetuate their anger and ignorance onto the rising generation through vindictive punishment and irrational behavior. Greys are fond of ascribing ulterior motives to anybody different than themselves, leading to hatred of (among other things) immigrants, entire political parties and anybody who reads books. Greys are incapable of thinking without attaching labels to each and every person and idea they encounter. A Grey/Red is one of the most dangerous human beings on the planet Earth.

For information on the "other" personality types (green, atomic tangerine, chartreuse and russet, the really bad one), send a SASE to the Foundation For a Better Life. They'll hook you up.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

"This is how I feel today. This is my baseline."

"This is how I feel today. This is my baseline.

That's a trick. I learned that from an actor. I had asked her how she grounded herself, how she got rid of anxiety before she walked on stage. She said that there were certain things that were very difficult to control, and that how she felt at that moment was one of them. For her it was less about getting rid of that anxiety - less about subtraction - and more about recalibration.

She would pause for a moment to take what seemed to be her emotional temperature - a pause to feel the anxiety, the excitement, the sadness, whatever it was that day. She would try to do this without judgment, without separating out the bad things from the good things with an eye to change them, but rather taking them at face value.

Instead, she would recalibrate. The total of what she found would become her normal, the new baseline from which she would experience the world. Certain emotions can feed on themselves. It's easy to become anxious about being anxious, become more depressed about being depressed. The goal of the recalibration was to normalize these feelings, to make them things that you didn't have to apologize to yourself for, or worse beat yourself up about.

I like this idea, this idea I stole from the actor. It's the idea that you're constantly in flux.


This is how I feel today. This is my baseline."

- Ze Frank [slightly edited and shortened]

Musings on Age. . .

Barack Obama will be the first U.S. President who is younger than my father. I wonder how it will influence my opinion of the then-current president when the same thing happens to me.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Time to go. . .

Whoever your current pick is for the next president (tomorrow!), if you're like the vast majority of Americans you won't miss the current one very much. It took war, death and destruction to keep Bush's poll numbers up from 2001 to 2003 - poll numbers which quickly dropped when it came time for him to actually govern and the American people got a glimpse inside his head. Finally, we arrive at five years of sub-50% polls that culminated in the lowest presidential approval ratings of modern history, and for good reason.

Bush hasn't had much time lately to work on what his team calls "legacy stuff", so let's do a little recap for his benefit:
  • A 58% increase in the federal budget, the largest since the last two-term "conservative" president, Ronald Reagan.
  • Little to no transparency in government, defense of cabinet members who have committed felonies and made gross errors in judgment, and a belief that going with your "gut" is the same as doing the "right" thing. This leads to excuses, redefinition of words and outcomes, demonization of countries and individuals who don't prescribe to your worldview and a dangerously shortsighted view of the world at large.
  • A massive increase in the American military industrial complex all over the world, with all of the lapses in responsibility that this entails. Equivocating the deaths of soldiers with a jingoist fight for "freedom" that results in hundreds of thousands of dead on their side, thousands dead on our side, and a huge economic and moral burden on our country, all while undermining American freedoms and liberties at home.
  • Dragging irresponsible Blackwater goons into war zones and New Orleans.
  • Doing much to undermine the moral character of our country by endorsing and authorizing torture methods prohibited by international conventions and basic decency, performed on people in secret prisons who have had no charges levied against them, all in the name of freedom and liberty. Assertion of the States Secrets Privilege whenever your actions are questioned, effectively removing any recourse your citizens or other branches of government might have to question your methods.
  • Secret unconstitutional wiretapping programs undertaken with private corporations, massive unconstitutional powers given to the TSA and a million-name-strong terrorist watch list that burdens the lives of ordinary Americans, most of whom are innocent and have had no formal charges pressed against them.

Most of us should agree that, whatever their faults, neither McCain nor Obama will do as much to damage our country as Dubya managed. Still, it worries me that both candidates seem very, very sure of themselves and their moral prerogative toward election (arguably W's greatest failing). Whatever DailyKos might say, Election 2008 isn't really a choice between an unambiguous nincompoop (four more years of Bush!) or a perceptive, miracle-working Golden Boy sent from above to assuage the memory of Bush. (As much of the tired Obamessiah rhetoric you hear from the Right, it's hard to deny that Obama seems that much more appealing to America after a failure like Bush.) Still, it's a testament to the appeal of Bush that despite his knowing participation in modern travesties of liberty and due process, I still like the guy personally.

All in all, the hipster pseudo-swap meet was more fun than it actually was. . .

My hipster roommate dragged me yesterday to what I can only describe as a hipster pseudo-swap meet. It was pitched to me thusly: bring a well-formed object of your personal possession that has lost your interest (or you no longer need) and take something that someone else has left. The "pseudo-" descriptor indicates that traditional scheming and bartering were prohibited.

The full spirit of the thing precludes holding on to your item of interest until something else that you want comes along, and we participated accordingly. I brought a couple of Japanese phrasebooks and a small dictionary, my other roommates a keyboard and a couple of other books and we left.

"Underground liberals in Utah County?" So I was excited. After an hour the tables were covered in clothes, a few books and a nice vegan (of course) curry the organizer of the event had brought with cashews and what my roommate described as a kind of Indian bread.

All in all, anybody looking to come out of the event with something very nice would have been disappointed. I got a pretty neat green necktie and a small meal out of the event. But scientists have proven that it's more therapeutic to go into a transaction with limited choices then with all of the caveats and loopholes that modern society provides, and what could be more limiting than giving up irrevocably something that you own for something else to be determined upon arrival? I hope this thing expands by a reasonable amount, but not too much - making this into a bona fide event would attract the opportunists and ruin the spirit of the thing.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

My first truly original joke. . .

Okay, so the Joker's walking over to this guy, and he's wearing these fabulous handknit scarves, and he says - get this - he says: "Would you like to know where I got these scarves?"

That one's going in to the Reader's Digest. Google confirms that I'm the first to think this up, for some reason. Groverfield might not have been the most original idea, but See Spock Run was untouched by search engines at the time of its inception. Good night and happy Día de los Muertos.