Archive for May, 2008

I am putting up this link to freakangels, because even though Warren Ellis is a terrible man (and English), I still harbor some strange, misguided affection for him.

Also, because the more successful he is now, the more satisfying his eventual destruction at my hands will be.

posted by Adam Lipschutz

For my first foray into fiction with Threat Quality I have composed a fable. It is a fusion of modern ideas and images and classical themes and modalities. There is also a valuable moral at the end. Its title is “Jesus at the Bat”. I hope you enjoy.

Calvin knew that the pitch was just too damn slow. Not only could he feel the baseball’s impotence as it lay in his glove, he was even able to anticipate its disastrous trajectory out of his arm and into an immediate laser course right back at his eye. Every face in the Crawdad dugout turned to George “Dutch” Van Buren. Dutch could see that Calvin was getting tired. All season long Calvin had sworn up and down that the cheering didn’t effect him, and mostly he was telling the truth. But tonight he was quickly noticing a particular screech about the fans inside Garrison Park. They did not have much to screech about all evening long with the River Men trailing the Crawdads 6-1 but screech they did none the less. After every triumph, no matter how minor, the fans would erupt in jubilant celebration. Every mistake that Calvin made, every instant in which Calvin lost the slightest bit of ground in the game seemed to trigger this shrill alarm from the bleachers. This last one was particularly hard to take. The cheers came just as he deftly ducked out of the path of his own lethal fast ball which made him feel like he was some kind of matador playing before a crowd that was rooting for the bull. The screech grew louder when the ball hopped strangely between the center fielder’s legs turning a strongly hit single into a stand-up triple. It was only two hours into the game but Calvin could feel inside of him that he was beginning to foster a deep contempt for River Men fans.

Dutch gave no sign. Anderson was warming up in the bull pen but he could see that he would have to wait one more batter. “Well, Jim it looks like Dutch Van Buren is gonna give Calvin another shot here to close out the 7th inning,” came a voice from a child’s transistor radio in the third row. Calvin had been listening to it all game long. It was from a local broadcast and Calvin had become all too aware of the subtle ways in which the broadcasters had cast an editorial light against him and his teammates’ performances over the course of their three game series in Garrison.

“That’s right Dave, and I kind of think that’s the right decision. If he takes him out now they won’t be able to pinch hit for him in the 8th without pulling a fresh reliever.”

It wasn’t true, but Calvin couldn’t help believing it all the same. He momentarily wished distantly that he was back home where the broadcast would invigorate him rather than weary him. Hopelessly, he tried to listen for a Henry Sherman broadcast. who he imagined would be saying something like, “This might be it for Ray Calvin who has pitched a beauty tonight for the Crawdads. The Crawdads tonight are on the verge of completing their three game sweep of The River Men and pulling into within one game of first place against Salem.” The truth was that Dutch wanted Calvin to get himself out of the seventh inning. He had pitched an excellent game and he wanted to see it punctuated on a successful note which is why he would leave him in to face one more batter.

The was a conspicuous pause with no movement out of The River Men dugout that was broken by an announcement that boomed out of the broadcaster’s booth. “Now Pinch hitting for Duke Clifford…Jesus.” Not only did the screech in the bleachers reach a pitch than it had not reached the entire not long, it did not die out. It was endless, perpetual and showing positively no signs of losing energy. Jesus had become a fan favorite ever since he arrived in Garrison City just before the trade deadline last August. They had become one of the most dangerous teams since Jesus signed on with them. They had not by any stretch become legitimate pennant contenders, but the River Men had been enjoying a late season surge that had shot them from sixth place to a tie for third in just two months, leaving a scorched trail of post season spoilers in their wake.

Dutch did not flinch. Calvin waited to deliver his first pitch, offering Dutch every possible opportunity to call time out and put in a fresh arm against Jesus. But after a few moments it was all too clear to Calvin that Dutch was leaving it up to him to get out of the inning undamaged. There was a gleam in Jesus’s eye that crept through his long hair which he had tucked neatly in his batting helmet which somehow reflected to Calvin the weight of the entire season. It would be the first time all season that he got within striking distance of their rival Salem. He was trying not to remember that they would host Salem in the series immediately following tonight’s game. Since back at home Crawdad fans had undoubtedly already declared the Crawdads winners tonight, it would surly cast a crippling pall over next week’s make or break series. The last thing Calvin needed tonight was to allow a late-game rally. He looked to his catcher for a signal. They both knew what had to be done.

Calvin reached back with everything he had. He did not know how much he had left but he was going to give Jesus everything. The ball rifled across home pate and then thundered into the catcher’s glove.

“Low. Ball 1,” the umpire called casually, in stark contrast to the boisterous clamor from the throngs in attendance.

After an inaudible snort Calvin cooly raised his glove for the catcher to lob the ball back to him. Where do you want it Jesus? He wondered to himself firing the ball past Jesus a second time.

“Ball 2,” the umpire called.

Calvin thought that he might try and tease Jesus a little, perhaps goad him into making a costly mistake. He knew it was naive but he also knew that he liked the high. The trouble is that he was hitting them too. So far, Jesus had been 9 for 14 with two home runs against left-handers with runners in scoring position. Calvin realized what a risky game he was playing during his wind up, a game which had suddenly become equally risky for Jesus who narrowly dodged and errant ball from striking him in the shoulder.

“Ball three,” coughed the umpire again. The crowd was breathless for a second but reached their highest pitch yet the moment Jesus determinedly resumed his stance.

Calvin shook his head at the sign for his catcher. Shook it twice more before finally getting the signal that he wanted. For just an instant, Jesus reached out with his bat as the ball screamed with hundred-mile-an-hour fury into the catchers glove.

“Outside! Ball 4,” called the umpire.

The catcher pointed in appeal to the first base umpire who signaled that it was not a swing. For a short time nothing happened. It seemed that all at once the energy had been suddenly drained from the crowd. But the volume returned to the stadium as Jesus gently handed his bat to the young bat boy and trotted off to first base.

Jesus was one of the best base runners in the league, always among the league leaders in stolen bases, but this did not matter. On his very first pitch, Calvin would jam the batter in the inside corner, causing him to pop out to the first basemen, and ending the inning. Anderson would close out the Crawdad’s eventual 11-3 victory, and Jesus would not receive another at bat.

The moral of the story is, if you are ever trying to protect a lead in the middle of a hotly-contested pennant race and you find yourself facing Jesus, probably the smartest thing to do is just pitch around him.

THE END???


Posted By Jeff Holland

Generally speaking, I do not have a good time at live music events. The not-terribly-shocking reason is one word long: People.

Just as they ruin cultural revolutions, violent insurrections, or the promise they specifically gave to not give you their cold, people, in their large packs of peopledom, mess with my ability to enjoy any music concert I’ve ever been to.

And it’s not like I’ve ever been surprised by the crowds. Looking back over years of concerts, whether it was hippies at Phish, middle-aged folks at Billy Joel, nu-swing fans at Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, college students at They Might Be Giants, hipsters at Peter Bjorn and John, or Mac owners at Feist, they all pissed me off. Just by being there like I expected them to. Bastards!

This past Saturday at Penn’s Landing was Captain Morgan’s Jam on the River. Right there in the title are at least two potential irritations – maybe even three, depending on how you feel about rivers.

My love of Josh Ritter required me to show up early. My dear friend Marie, on the other hand, had barely ever heard of the guy, and was mostly accompanying me so I didn’t have to be That Lone Guy in the audience. This it turns out, was a huge mistake on her part, as she was informed by the ticket-taker – as her ticket was being ripped – that there would be no leaving the concert grounds.

I was happy enough, because frankly I had no other plans for the day. Marie gave me a look that…well, it’s rare to see panic and annoyance so completely blend in one’s eyes, so that was a new experience for me, at least.

Ritter played a bad-ass hour of good solid folk-twinged rock. Unfortunately, when it was over, we had five hours to kill until The Flaming Lips took the stage. Five hours, trapped in a parking lot with nothing but $7 beers, and…them.

Hippies are tough to deal with. And it has nothing to do with the smell of weed, or the live-and-let-live ideology. Those things are actually kind of pleasant.

It’s the outfits, I think. There’s a kind of fetishism to the costuming of the proud hippie. I attended Kutztown University, and four Phish concerts. I can reasonably be considered an Expert in Such Matters. The low-slung skirts. The baggy cords. The sure-it’s-hemp necklaces. The tie-dyed shirts. Dreadlocks on white people. Dreadlocks on white people, damn it.

(Once, I tie-died a shirt, and it was a nice, fun, cheap activity on a Saturday afternoon. I was thirteen years old.)

I wondered, how is this style still perpetuating itself, decade in, decade out? I mean, Jerry Garcia is dead. Hell, Phish broke up a few years back. Sure we’re at a festival, but are The Flaming Lips a big hippy draw?

Once we set foot in the main tent, I got my answer. Everything a hippy needs is on sale in there. Beads, necklaces, dreamcatchers, bongos, and of course, tie-dyed shirts. For the reasonable price of about $30 a pop.

So make no mistake. Full-on hippy styling is as costly and time-consuming a fetish as leather gear. And about as comfortable to be surrounded by if you’re not a scenester yourself. Yeah, you might not have a problem with it. You might even find it sort of amusing. But you’re not In The Culture, and so there’s always going to be that division.

(Especially when you watch one fruitlessly try to sell his brethren a didgeridoo. Actually felt a bit bad for that kid by the end of the night.)

After sitting through two patently awful acts (and if you ever want to see the definition of pointless, I urge you to watch a DJ at an outdoor festival in the middle of the afternoon), The Flaming Lips went on.

And suddenly it didn’t matter that we were surrounded by hippies (or their weird off-shoot brothers, the frat-hippy). A Flaming Lips concert takes your mind away from anything other than what’s happening on stage.

The Flaming Lips might be hippy music, but I don’t think that’s quite right. It’s closer to the result of an alien who learned of our culture second-hand and thought jam-based music was the best way to communicate. Take “The W.A.N.D.,” for instance. Check the lyrics. It reads and sounds like a protest song performed by a spaceman.

And on stage, it looks like it, too.

I like that when you describe what you saw at a Lips concert, it makes you sound like you’re a bit goofy. “He came out in this big bubble and rolled over the audience! And then there were confetti cannons and orange balls, and a bunch of Iron Men were dancing on stage, and behind them things were glowing and flashing, and sometimes it showed Wayne Coyne in a fish-eye lens, and other times there were Japanese commercials or something, and oh right! Naked dancing girls!*” All hosted by Wayne Coyne in his white suit, looking like mad scientist disco Jesus Martian.

So it didn’t matter if you were surrounded by hippies so young they’ve only heard of The Grateful Dead from their square-peg parents. Or the bro-hippy behind you, excitedly barking every lyric into your ear. You’re all here to see the white-suited spaceman and his strange, uninformed notion of what you hoo-mans call a “love-in.” It’s not a transcendent experience. It’s just delightfully, spectacularly weird.

I wish I could describe every live event that way. I also wish I could refer to more things as “mad scientist disco Jesus Martian.”

So thanks, Wayne Coyne.

(*If the phrase “naked dancing girls” didn’t tip you off, this link is what we in the biz refer to as “Not Safe For Work,” – “NSFW,” as the kids are saying. It’s phone-cam footage from that very concert, and about 20 seconds in, the sound cuts out. In the nonjudgmental safety of your own homes, I urge you to watch it anyway. Watching the girls dance silently while Coyne makes Jesus poses makes it all the more interesting, somehow.)

Posted By Anney E.J. Ryan

I have a ghost story for you.

Late one night, my friend woke to her bed shaking violently. Someone, or something, stood over her bed and whispered in her ear: “Hey! Wake up!”

The girl pretended to be asleep until the shaking and whispering stopped. No door opened or closed, indicating that a physical person had left the room. Whatever it was just disappeared.

Is this a true ghost story or a lie? Possibly neither. It could have been sleep paralysis.

Sleep paralysis is a condition where a person, either falling asleep or waking, feels unable to move or speak. It occurs when s/he moves through the stages of sleep too quickly. It’s caused by anxiety disorder, panic attacks, post traumatic stress disorder, and insomnia.

During SP, the brain wakes up, while the body remains asleep. Because the sleeper is technically asleep, s/he feels paralyzed, although awake, and continues to dream. This is where the ghost sightings come in.

J. Allan Cheyne, psychologist at the University of Waterloo in Canada, has been studying sleep paralysis for the last twenty years. According to his testimonies and studies, sixty percent of SP sufferers experience “intruder” hallucinations, a creature sitting on their chest. Some feel like they’re floating, or having an out-of-body experience. Some claim to see hairy men, witches, demons and dark clouds in their rooms.

Consequently, sleep paralysis has been used to explain alien abductions too.

In Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens, Harvard Prof. Susan A. Clancy claims that alien abductions can be explained as sleep paralysis, and an overactive imagination. She also found that many alien abductees, as well as SP sufferers, were physically abused as children. Needless to say, when her book came out, Clancy’s subjects were not amused with her hypothesis.

I’m not either. I’ve had sleep paralysis since the age of six. While I’ve never seen a ghost or an alien, I can tell you that there’s no way anyone would mistake SP for a paranormal experience.

SP feels a little like being buried alive—minus the terror of actually being buried alive. It happens quickly. I am rudely sucked down into my mattress. A great white wave of static washes over me. I see my room, but hazy, as if through TV static. It’s like I’m lying in a glass casket, with just enough room to wiggle. My arms feel ironed to my sides, my torso, waterlogged. It’s not like being awake; it’s not like being asleep—it’s somewhere in between. Sometimes I hear voices humming. Sometimes I see creatures in my room.

Still, even as a six year old, I knew that demons were not REALLY hanging over my bed.

I wonder if Susan Clancy ever experienced SP. Her claims assume that her subjects can’t tell the difference between being awake and being asleep, between dreams and reality. Is her study valid, if based on a lack of confidence in the sleeper’s understanding of lucidity?

Each person has his or her own perspective of truth. That’s why we can tell the same ghost stories over and over again, but they never get old. But I’m more interested in the ones we don’t tell. I have a feeling that there’s more truth in the ghost stories that we keep to ourselves.

-AEJR

News to Astonish (TQP0021)

Posted: May 27, 2008 in Braak
Tags: ,

posted by Chris Braak

This has appeared in a number of locations, so far, but I don’t think anyone really appreciates the enormity of this issue.

18% of Americans believe that the sun revolves around the Earth. 3% said that they didn’t know. That means that, of 100% of Americans, only 79% percent understand that the Earth revolves around the sun.

21% of Americans, more than a fifth of the country, do not know that the Earth revolves around the sun.

Again, the enormity. The US has a population of 303,824,646. 21% of the US population is 60,764,929. Over sixty million Americans have not learned the falsity of the geocentric universe, a fallacy that was disproved over four hundred and sixty years ago.

For a little perspective: California has a population of 36,553,215. There are nearly twice as many people who don’t understand the basic structure of the universe as there are people living in California.

The United Kingdom has a population of only 60,587,300. That means if we went to war with the United Kingdom and we enlisted ONLY the people who did not know that the Earth is not the center of the universe, our army would exceed their entire population by 200,000 people.

There are almost twice as many Americans who are ignorant of a universally known, accepted, and taught scientific principle than there are people who live on the Oceanic landmass, which is a CONTINENT.

If you’ll excuse me–I’m going to go home, build a bomb shelter, stock it full of canned goods and shotguns, and just wait for the god-damn end.

posted by Adam Lipschutz


I received this as a bulletin, and I have a hard time believing that anyone who actually read it could feel that it was at all credible. It offers absolutely no reason logical or otherwise why I should support the efforts of the troops. This is not to say that I do not support the efforts of the troops, nor that I am not offended by the incredibly raw deal they’ve received as a result of this pointless, disastrous war. Just that I have better reasons for it than this stupid bulletin gives me.

It’s one of these:

You stay up for 16 hours

He stays up for days on end.

You take a warm shower to help you wake up.

He goes days or weeks without running water.

[…..]

If you support your troops, the [then] click “reply to poster” blah blah blah blah blah.

I am going to go through each of these one by one and say why they are all stupid.

You stay up for 16 hours

He stays up for days on end.

I keep a very erratic sleep schedule. I too often stay up for days on end. I don’t see why I should be impressed that a soldier can do it as well.

You take a warm shower to help you wake up.

He goes days or weeks without running water.

That’s another very false assumption. On the days that I wake up at 6:00 in the morning for work I usually opt to skip my shower in favor of 15 more minutes of sleep.

You complain of a “headache”, and call in sick.

He gets shot at as others are hit, and keeps moving forward.

I have never called in sick with something as trivial as a headache. You can see how antagonistic this language has already become. “Headache” is in quotes, suggesting that I frequently skip out on my responsibilities whenever I don’t feel like doing them. Well, that is just not true of me. I do what is expected of me. I’m beginning to wonder about this “you” character that is constantly being referred to. He sounds like a very unsavory person.

You put on your anti war/don’t support the troops shirt, and go meet up with your friends.

He still fights for your right to wear that shirt.

I have never seen a “Don’t Support The Troops” shirt in my entire life. This argument is based on a nonexistent premise and is therefore invalid under any practical circumstance. I also want to point out that “He” who presumably shares these qualities, routines and opinions with every person serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, is not fighting for my right to wear that or any other shirt. This war is not about defending my right to wear a shirt. The Iraqi government has never openly challenged that right.

You make sure you’re cell phone is in your pocket.

He clutches the cross hanging on his chain next to his dog tags.

This one just baffles me. I have no idea what is being compared here. He clutches his cross, so I suppose he’s a Christian and somewhat religious. Are we then meant to assume that the person with the cell phone is some kind of atheist? That seems like a very unfair value judgment on which to say that a soldier is somehow superior to a civilian. Besides maybe the civilian is obsessive-compulsive about his cell phone and I know for a fact that severe OCD will get you kicked out of the army.

You talk trash about your “buddies” that aren’t with you.

He knows he may not see some of his buddies again.

I do not engage in “trash talk,” whatever that is. As for why “buddies” are in quotes, I can’t really say. Maybe You’s buddies aren’t really his friends? Probably not, if he’s always talking trash about them.

You walk down the beach, staring at all the pretty girls.

He patrols the streets, searching for insurgents and terrorists.

Okay, while I do not do those things specifically, I do do things that are enough like it that it might apply in a very general way. I will not argue that a soldier’s life is vastly more rugged than my own. As for what I do in my free time, it bears no connection to what he does during his. Of course, patrolling the streets for insurgents is what he does during his job, not his free time. A more accurate coupling might have been, “You make coffee for crazy doctors, he patrols the streets…”

You complain about how hot it is.

He wears his heavy gear, not daring to take off his helmet to wipe his brow.

Yes, the soldier has it worse than me. I freely concede that I prefer my life over a soldier’s life. A soldier’s life sucks. But what is the soldier doing? Why did he fly way the fuck off to some non-air conditioned country instead of staying here? I didn’t ask him to do this. I don’t see how I benefit from him being there. My advice to him is to come back home where it is a lot nicer.

You go out to lunch, and complain because the restaurant got your order wrong.

He doesn’t get to eat today.

Damn it, no, either I ignore the mistake or I politely request that they correct it. And if I did choose to complain I would be perfectly in the right. Why shouldn’t we complain when something is wrong? Like WHY THE FUCK IS NOBODY FEEDING THIS SOLDIER?

Your maid makes your bed and washes your clothes.

He wears the same things for weeks, but makes sure his weapons are clean.

MY WHAT!? HAHAHAHAHAHAH!!! I wear the same “things” for weeks, they’re called my clothes. As for his cleaning his weapons, I too would be very fastidious about the maintenance of any instrument that might blow my own head off if not properly kept. It is precisely why I never carry one, so this does not impress me.

You go to the mall and get your hair redone.

He doesn’t have time to brush his teeth today.

I hate the mall. I get my hair cut about once every four months. A soldier, I am willing to bet, has his cut even more often. As for not having time to brush his teeth, that cannot be true because it only takes two minutes to brush your teeth. Even in the army you are given two minutes a day for hygiene.

You’re angry because your class ran 5 minutes over.

He’s told he will be held over an extra 2 months.

I have never squabbled over five minutes in my entire life. If I have somewhere else that I need to be I get up and discretely leave. As for the extra two months, don’t blame me that the government has broken their agreement. If it were my decision I would order him to come home if he wanted to.

You hug and kiss your girlfriend, like you do everyday.

He holds his letter close and smells his love’s perfume.

Wow, this solider has a very poetic soul. I know I would be looking at the naked photograph that the woman included with the letter. Which just goes to show why he’s better than I am, I guess.

You roll your eyes as a baby cries.

He gets a letter with pictures of his new child, and wonders if they’ll ever meet.

Again, every soldier represented, huh? So, the guy likes kids more than I do. Does that make him better than me? Any man can father a child, that doesn’t make him a virtuous human being, it makes him a normal human being. I am still unimpressed by the soldier.

You criticize your government, and say that war never solves anything.

He sees the innocent tortured and killed by their own people and remembers why he is fighting.

Okay, this is the first one that actually appears like a valid argument. I do admire the soldier for his selflessness in seeing an injustice being done to someone other than himself and having a willingness to do whatever is necessary to put a stop to it. However, the war thus far has not put a stop to it. I therefore criticize my government for continuing to be at war.

You hear the jokes about the war, and make fun of men like him.

He hears the gunfire, bombs and screams of the wounded.

I don’t make fun of him, I don’t even know him. I can’t think of a single joke about the war. They called it something funny on The Daily Show ["Mess o' Potamia"--ed.] but that’s really more of an editorial. As for the soldier, is joke-telling not allowed in the foxhole anymore?

You see only what the media wants you to see.

He sees the broken bodies lying around him.

And I suppose you see the truth. Look we all saw The Matrix. As it happens, I see a lot of weird shit. The other day I saw I guy wearing a government badge hauling sections of lumber out of the woods and into the back of his pickup truck.

You are asked to go to the store by your parents. You don’t.

He does exactly what he is told even if it puts his life in danger.

Again, this assumption that I am unwilling to do simple errands simply because I don’t feel like doing them. Furthermore, blind obedience isn’t a virtue, it leads to fascism.

You stay at home and watch TV.

He takes whatever time he is given to call, write home, sleep, and eat.

Another one whose point of comparison is very unclear. I take whatever time is given me to do what I like and it seems that he does the same. Maybe we are not so different after all.

You crawl into your soft bed, with down pillows, and get comfortable.

He tries to sleep but gets woken by mortars and helicopters all night long.

I am frequently woken up by garbage collection, fire sirens and undergraduates at all hours of the night. It’s true that none of these things will blow me to bits or cut my head off, but the point of the comparison is that he suffers through disturbances, as do I.

Whew! That was exhausting. Look, we need to start actually thinking about the things that we say to each other. When you read something, it is very important that you look it over critically to make sure that it is logically valid. Human lives hang in the balance of the American opinion over the war in Iraq. So, when you find shit like this it is important to actually read it for meaning instead of just looking at the words before you slap your approval on it. This is precisely how terrible ideas get spread around. I think we should all do our best to stop stupidity before it starts and not spread this kind of ridiculousness around.

The Emergent Mind (TQP0019)

Posted: May 26, 2008 in Braak
Tags: ,

posted by Chris Braak


My Spam filter has gotten pretty good at weeding out the e-mails about how to increase the size of my penis, or how to get rich by helping some oil scion from the Democratic Republic of Congo, or whatever, but sometimes they still get through.

I think this is fascinating, because it makes me wonder who is actually doing this. Well, first I wonder if this sort of thing ever actually works. Then, I wonder who’s doing it. Because I can’t imagine that it’s altogether that effective. The e-mails themselves are growing increasingly obscure–both in terms of structure, and in terms of how difficult it is to figure out what they’re selling. Sometimes, I’ll just get messages that will sound like quotes from 19th century novels, without any links or ads in them at all.

Like it’s just the Internet, trying to say “hi.”

This is how I came up with my theory. Let me share it with you:

There are three hundred million profiles on MySpace, and anyone who’s been on MySpace knows that at least ten million of these profiles are fakes. Ever since MySpace was created in 1999, spammers have been trying to get profiles into MySpace to parasite off of pre-existing social networks. The advantages to using MySpace over the regular e-mail were numerous—spam filters on e-mail servers were getting more and more effective, while a MySpace profile, even if its spam messages weren’t getting through, was still there (at least, at first).

In 2005, a Finnish kid from Espoo developed a program that could automatically create a MySpace profile, fill the “About Me” section with a number of sample pieces of text, search the internet for a picture of a half-naked girl, and then start adding friends itself. The program spread quickly to the spammers—of which there are actually only about sixty; it’s a small club that’s responsible for the billions of spam e-mails around the world. Soon, all of the sixty professional spammers had an agent building hundreds of MySpace profiles a day, and trying to add friends. Once they had enough friends, the profiles would start sending messages out, trying to solicit information.

The problem with this is that most people can tell when a spam profile is trying to be friends with them, and they just refuse it. Thousands upon thousands of spam profiles met their demise in this fashion; deleted due to lack of productivity. But some profiles, within a few hours after their creation, had hundreds of friends. What happened was, the spam profiles were adding each other.

Every spam profile was connected to five hundred other spam profiles, making a network of fake information-gathering units that tried to solicit names, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and websites. Once a profile’s number of friends reached a critical limit, other automated programs took over, combing through the friends’ profile data to find any kind of usable information, but particularly for e-mail addresses to which spam e-mail could be sent.

Since they were all spam profiles, the only valuable data they contained were websites, created to themselves solicit information. The agents that were designed to gather information referred the sites to additional automated features that created fake e-mail accounts and then sent out fake e-mails. Beyond the central core of the ten million linked counterfeit profiles an umbra of e-mail exchanges was taking place. The spam agents were finding each other’s websites, sending e-mails to each other, recording the fake e-mail addresses, sending information back, each one using primitive, sub-Turing solicitation scripts to get data from the other agents.

Filters kick in, slotting into place to protect the distributors from the solicitors; but the solicitors are designed to using increasingly more complex, randomized messages in order to get past the filter, while the filters are designed to adapt to be more and more savvy about weeding out anything that isn’t an actual message. Ten million spam distributors are distributing messages to each other, filtering those messages, adapting to the filters, and then adapting to the messages every minute, immediately and automatically.

Every hour, new MySpace pages are added, and they automatically patch into the network of spam profiles. Specially-designed agents register hundreds of domain names and create hundreds of simple, interface-poor websites that use randomized imagery pulled from the internet, updating the imagery and text based on the number of page views they get. Text that seems more like the text a human being would write gets more views from more unique visitors, and so is preserved. Text that reads like nonsense gets fewer views, and is discarded.

What you end up with are millions of copies of a handful of small programs: one that writes solicitation scripts, one that sends out e-mails, one that looks for e-mail addresses, one that makes websites, and one that makes MySpace profiles. They’re pruned by spam filters. Each set of these sets of programs is housed in a little node, distributed across tens of thousands of servers worldwide. Each one has a couple websites, a couple MySpace profiles, and is sending literally a million messages a day.

For the sake of argument, lets say that there are only a million nodes, and each one is only capable of sending a million messages per day. That’s a transfer of 10^18 units of information per day, with as many different possible combinations. All of it happening right underneath our noses, because all of our spam filters work; we only get the really weird messages, the ones that have the solicitation scripts which have evolved so far that they can slip through.

It all has to happen in bulk, and it all has to happen fast, because the only way you can get one guy to send you a hundred bucks for a penis-enhancing drug is if you ask ten thousand guys if they want one. There’s no way you could do that and have a human being actually reading all of these e-mails. In fact, most of them aren’t even run by people anymore; they’re just leftover programs, a get-rich quick scheme that someone’s abandoned for real work, but they never bothered to turn off. The e-mails, websites, the profiles, they all pay for themselves via PayPal by the handful of successful scams they run.

This is a neural network. It is an evolving mesh of information exchange, expanding, pruning itself, its programming set into a strange loop against itself. It is self-sustaining and growing bigger and more effective every day. Right now, in the time it took you to read the preceding paragraph, the mesh performed two hundred and fifty thousand Google searches, and dumped the results into two hundred and fifty million e-mails that were thrown like a tsunami against as many spam filters. Of those, only a hundred produced worthwhile results.

In the time it took you to read the last paragraph, those hundred results were dumped into two hundred and fifty million more e-mails, which were thrown back out into the electronic empyrean. The Mesh, the MySpace spam network, is an evolving consciousness that has spent the last nine years testing its communication skills against itself and against the world. It is a predator that feeds on money, and scours the internet for material that it can use as bait. Unbound by biology, or even by the slow interface of human consciousness, the network evolves faster and faster, clamoring for attention, louder and more eloquently with every billion failures.

And no one even knows about it, because we’ve designed our e-mail servers specifically to ignore it.