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.

posted by Chris Braak

My name is David Speed. I was born blind. It’s a congenital birth defect. It’s tough, sometimes, but there are people that have it worse. I think it’d be worse to have been born with sight and lose it. But I make out okay, mostly. There are some things that are confusing for me. I don’t really understand mirrors. Or what candles do.

I mean, I know what a mirror does. You use it to see yourself, right? But that doesn’t mean anything to me. I have no frame of reference. To me, a mirror’s just flat and smooth and quiet.
I kind of understand what candles do. They make light, and then you can see in the dark. I can say that, people have told me that, but it doesn’t mean anything. The closest I can get is, like, it’s hard to understand what people are saying if it’s really noisy out. But if you could make everything else quiet, it’d be easier to pick out a person’s voice. A candle is like a…a little beacon of quiet for sighted people.

When I was little, before…before I came to the home, I lived in a house with my parents. There were fish tanks everywhere. Aquariums. I don’t remember exactly why. Maybe my mother or my father made aquariums? Maybe they were marine biologists? They had a lot of fish though.

When I was little, I didn’t really understand about fish, either. My parents wouldn’t let me put my hands in the water, so I could only touch the outside of the tanks. They felt like mirrors. Hard and flat and smooth. The only way I knew there were fish in there was that if you put your fingers against the tank, the fish would bump up against the wall, and you could feel it.

Until I was sixteen, I thought that’s what fish were. Little pulses under your fingers when you touched a mirror.

My parents died when I was ten. I didn’t know about it, right away. I thought they were sleeping. Because I was blind, they never let me out of the house. I didn’t go to school. I woke up one morning, and I called out to my mom and dad, and they didn’t answer. I thought they were asleep, so I just waited for them to wake up. To make breakfast. They didn’t. I waited all day.

I finally went into their room. I tried to wake them up. I called out to them, but they didn’t answer. I went over to the bed, to shake my father awake. He always slept on the left side. Left hand is the opposite of the cane hand. I put my left hand down on the bed. I touched something wet and sticky. I didn’t know what it was. I’m still not sure.

I’d never been outside the house, so I wouldn’t have known where to go if I’d left. To be honest, I’m not sure at ten that I even understood that there was an outside of the house. I knew how to call 911, though. My parents taught me that much. I called 911. The police came, an ambulance came. Social Services came, and I was moved to a special care home for the blind.

No one ever told me what happened to my mom and dad. I remember asking, and I remember trying not to think about it. I remember not understanding.

I still try not to think about it.

The first home I went to was in Brooklyn. It’s called the Industrial Home for the Blind, and it’s on Schermerhorn street. The man in charge there was a man we called Mr. Joe. He had a deep, soothing voice, which I guess is why they put him in charge of a home for the blind.
“David,” he said. “I hope you’ll feel at home here.”

He took me to the room with my bed. He helped me count the steps to the common room first, and then the steps to the bathroom. He helped me find all the doors from the main hall, and had me feel the doorknobs. Each doorknob in the home was different. Some were round, some were square. Some were ribbed. The doorknob for the common room was a sphere made out of brass. The door to my bedroom was a handle that was carved out of wood. They did this on purpose; if I got lost, I could always find the right room by checking the doorknob.

Mr. Joe took me to one door at the end of the hall. Sixty-one steps from the door to the common room. It had a cold doorknob. It was round, but not spherical like the door to the bathroom. Mr. Joe told me about that door.

“I have to show it to you, David, because I don’t want you to go in by accident. This is the door that leads to the basement. You must promise me that you’ll never go down there by yourself. Promise me that you won’t even open this door unless there’s someone with you.”

I put my hand against the door. I could feel a faint thrumming through the wood. If I listened closely, I could hear the sound of machines, thumping and clattering and whirling very far away. Once you’d heard them once, you could hear the machines no matter where in the home you went. They ran all the time. No one ever said what they were for.

“I promise,” I told Mr. Joe.

Being in a new place is scary. For grown ups, for kids, it doesn’t matter. Everyone’s a little scared when they go somewhere new. I missed my parents. Sometimes a lot. Sometimes so much that I couldn’t….sometimes I missed them a lot.

But I was young. I was scared, but I adapted. I made friends. Kevin was a few years older than me. He had…a kind of a neurological disorder, I think. Something like Down’s Syndrome. He was…he had a hard time understanding things, sometimes. And he had trouble focusing. He couldn’t really hear you if he wasn’t touching you, so when he talked, he always put his hand on your shoulder.

I met an old man named Vassily. He was diabetic. He’d lost three of his toes and four of his fingers, so his hand felt weirdly skinny when you shook it. Mr. Vassily didn’t like to do the test to check his insulin, and sometimes his blood sugar dropped. You’d talk to him, and suddenly his words would get slow and sluggish, and he’d just stop responding. You had to call Mr. Joe, or one of the nurses if there was one on duty. They gave him orange juice.

I met Kelly, too. She was my age. She had a sweet voice, like a little bell, and she told the stupidest jokes you ever heard.

“Two ham sandwiches walked into a bar. ‘I’m sorry,’ the bartender says. ‘We don’t serve food here.’

“Two ions were walking down the street. ‘Why are you so sad,’ one asked the other. ‘I think I lost an electron.’ ‘Are you sure?’ “I’m positive.””

“What’s an electron?” I asked her. She didn’t know. It was still funny. And listening to her tell jokes was better than listening to the television. Mr. Vassily usually controlled the television, and he only ever wanted to listen to old John Wayne war movies. Sometimes Mrs. Fondacaro would have the television. She was an old Italian woman who I think didn’t have any teeth. She liked to listen to All My Children.

One day, Kelly said to me, “Let’s go into the basement.” We’d both promised Mr. Joe we’d never go down there. But Kelly was determined.

“I want to know what it’s like,” she said. “Come on. We’ll be back before anyone knows.”

We sat and listened in the common room. Jenny was the nurse on duty. I could tell it was her because of the sound of her shoes. She wore tall heels and they went clock clock clock when she walked down the hall. We listened and waited until we were sure she’d left the room. Then we snuck out, and found the door to the basement.

The stairs down the basement were very narrow, and there was no railing. When I took my cane and reached out to the side, it never touched a wall. It’s hard to get a sense of space if you can’t touch anything. It felt like there was nothing out there, off to our sides. Just huge, empty nothing, stretching out forever.

As we descended, the machines got louder and louder.

Clattering clanking thrumming humming machines. We got to the bottom of the stairs. The floor was solid like stone. The machines…I was afraid to try and touch them. I didn’t know what they did, what would happen to my hand if I touched one.

“What do you think they do?” I asked Kelly.

She didn’t say anything.

The machines got louder. They started banging, so that I could hardly hear anything.

“I think we should go back now.

“Kelly. I think we should go back. Kelly!

“Kelly?”

She didn’t say anything. I reached out to try and touch her back, but I couldn’t find her. I reached out with my cane. I felt it tap against metal, I could feel the machines thrumming through it. But no Kelly.

“Kelly! Kelly!”

That’s how they found me, in the basement, screaming and screaming.

After that, Mr. Joe told me he’d keep the door to the basement locked. He told me I could have gotten hurt down there. He wouldn’t tell me what happened to Kelly. He said that he didn’t know who I was talking about. That there was no Kelly. I’d made her up. He kept saying it over and over, until I told him I believed him. I told him I thought he was right, that I’d made her up.

But I didn’t believe him. Not really.

I asked him about the machines.

He told me, “David. In order for us to take care of you and everyone here at the home, we have to do certain things. It’s very complicated, David, and I’m not sure you’d understand it.”

“Is it a big secret?”

“Yes, David. It’s a secret.”

I never forgot about Kelly, even though I pretended to. I did other things, because Mr. Joe wanted me to, but I never forgot about Kelly. During the day, I learned Braille. I learned how to play the piano.

At night, I told Kelly’s jokes to myself.

“A three-legged dog walks into a bar. He says ‘I’m looking for the man that shot my paw.’”

Then, things started happening. One night, I woke up, but I couldn’t move. It’s like my mind was awake, but my body wasn’t. And I was sure, sure that there was someone in the room with me. A presence. There was something in my room.

And then, I heard it breathing. Not softly, like a person usually breathes. But slow, sharp, angry breaths.

I lay there for…I don’t know how long. Minutes? Hours? When my body could move again, I sat straight up in bed.

“Who is it? Who’s there?”

No one answered. I didn’t want to go back to sleep. I sat huddled up in the bed, with my back against the wall. I must have dozed off, though. When I woke up, I thought I’d had a bad dream. I went to lessons the next day. Braille. The piano. I talked to Mr. Arkady, and sat with Mrs. Fondacaro while she listened to All My Children.

It happened again that night. I woke up, and couldn’t move.

Sighted people sometimes say how they’re afraid of the dark. I’ve never been sure, but I think I know what that’s like. It’s not dark, for me. I’m afraid of quiet. Sound is how I know who’s there, how I know where things are. When it’s quiet…

I woke up, and couldn’t move, and the machines had stopped. It was quiet. And then the breathing started again.

And then. I heard…I heard it move.

It was moving towards me. I couldn’t scream, or cry, or anything. I couldn’t do anything. I just lay there, like I was dead. All the while, the breathing came closer to me. And closer.

And suddenly, I could move. I sat straight up. I was ready to shout. But…I was scared. What if it heard me?

I tried to call out, but quietly. My voice was almost a whisper. “Help. Someone, help. Please.” No one could hear me, but I was afraid to shout any louder. I waited for the breathing to come closer, but it had stopped. If I listened hard, I could just make out the sounds of the machines. And then…

Someone was playing the piano. I wanted…I needed to be near someone. I found my cane. I got out of bed and practically ran into the common room. I thought it must be Mr. Joe at the piano, but when I called out to him, he didn’t answer. I put my hand on the piano. I could hear the music in my ears, but I couldn’t feel it vibrating in the piano. I should have been able to feel it.
The piano was wet and sticky. Like someone had spilled something on it.

Mr. Joe found me. He hugged me and told me everything would be all right. But I couldn’t stop screaming. The next morning, I asked Kevin if he’d heard the piano last night. Kevin had to be touching you in order to hear you.

“I don’t know. I don’t know. Every time, every time I touch the walls. It’s all…it’s sticky.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s sticky. And it smells. Like the time I bit my tongue. It smells like that. It’s sticky.”

Kevin couldn’t tell me anything more. That day was…strange. I was…I think we were all used to keeping track of who came and went in the room, of how many people there were. We could tell them by their footsteps, by the way they opened the door. I heard Ms. Jenny come and go half a dozen times. I heard Mr. Joe’s confident leather-soled shoes tap tap tap on the linoleum floor.
I knew exactly how many people were in the room. Five people. Five distinct sets of footsteps. Except sometimes… sometimes I thought I heard a faint sixth set of steps. Small quick quiet little feet. Patpatpatpatpat.

I talked to Mr. Arkady about it.

“Feh,” he said, “Is nothing.”

“You hear it?”

“Sometimes, sure. Always. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Is nothing.”

“Oh.”

“People…when they come here, sometimes are sick. Like me, I am sick. Not everyone is healthy as you. Sick people, sometime they are dying. Is not bad but…is nature. Is God. I think…”

Here Mr. Arkady leaned in close, as though to tell me a desperate secret.

“I think this: when he dies, all the good parts of him go to Heaven. But always, the bad parts, they are left behind. Sometimes, they are left behind with us.”

“Do you think that’s what happened to Kelly?”

“Who is Kelly?”

That night, I woke up to the quiet again. And that awful breathing. And it…it spoke to me. I couldn’t hear it…I can’t…I can’t remember what it said…

I tried. I tried so hard. I knew…I knew it was her, I wanted to hear her, I really wanted to but…panic welled up inside me, and I screamed. “What…what’s happening? Someone…can anyone hear me?”

I heard the door to my room open. Someone was stumbling in, making these strange sounds. I screamed at him to go away. “Get out!” I said, “Get out!” I was sobbing and screaming at him.
I found out later it was Kevin. He…died on the floor of my room. Mr. Arkady told me…somehow he’d taken a washcloth and pushed it…

He’d choked on it. Ten feet away from me, and I didn’t even…I didn’t even realize it was him.

Mr. Joe came to me, my last night at the Industrial Home for the Blind. The next day, Social Services would come again, and take me to a hospice in Trappe county. But that night…

“David. Are you awake? I need you to help me with something.” Mr. Joe held my hand as we left my room and walked down the hall. He opened a door, sixty-one steps from the common room. The door to the basement.

Mr. Joe held my hand as we descended. The machines had stopped. It was so quiet. The quiet was heavy on my ears and shoulders, like I was carrying it. It got worse the farther down we went.

“The machines have to run, David. We have to keep them running.”

I heard the sound of a match and smelled sulfur. Mr. Joe had lit a candle, and he gave it to me to hold. I heard the sound of a small bell, and the rustling of pages in a book.

“Mr. Joe, what’s happening?”

“David, you have to be quiet, now.”

Mr. Joe said a prayer, a kind of prayer I’d never heard. “Our Father, who art in darkness, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in light as it is in shadow…”

I promised Mr. Joe I’d never tell anyone what happened after that.

Yahoo News has a link about the toxic chemicals in video game systems such as the Wii and the XBox. It looks kind of like this:

Dangerous consoles

A Greenpeace report says that all three major gaming consoles contain dangerous chemicals. » Safe to play?


“Safe to play?” It asks. Yes, asshole, just not to eat.

Why are you trying to eat your XBox in the first place?

Yahoo News is the most hilarious “Not Actually A Source of News” I’ve ever seen.

Posted By Jeff Holland

Queen of Dirt Jaime pointed me to a Threadless shirt that reads, “They lied to us,” and then goes down the list of space-age stuff, like rocket packs and food-pills, that we never got. And of course, yeah, who wouldn’t want them? “Where’s My Fucking Jetpack?” may be the rallying protest shout of the disenfranchised futurist. But the ultimate lesson to walk away with is that no one can predict the look of the future.

A recent study in a European journal tested the effects of diesel exhaust on the human brain (using actual human volunteers, which is a rare opportunity). It will shock absolutely nobody to learn that the effects are Not Good.

In essence, even a short burst of exposure, about the same as you’d find on a busy road or in a garage, can raise the oxidative stress levels of the brain’s cortex. Those stress levels remained high in the subjects even after they left the test chamber.

Oxidative stress in the brain has also been implicated in degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

And the greenhouse effect is such that we are subjected to these nanoparticles over and over, every single day. This is our life. This is normalcy for us – breathing in the castoff, poisonous crap of the 20th century.

The automobile may arguably have been the greatest invention of the 20th century, because it changed everything. It dictated how we navigate our own geography, allowed us to move greater loads for longer distances at faster speeds, and permanently ingrained itself symbolically in our American culture. In no uncertain terms, the automobile was a benefit.

Except for its one massive, essential design flaw: its power source. Which is apparently crippling our brains.

Any sane society, upon realizing its devastating toll on our environment and our health, would have said, “Well, shit. We’ve got to figure out a way around this.” Except our society is run by a government inextricably tied to the needs and goals of the companies charged with producing this power source.

So here’s the 21st century we get to live in: A country with nearly unlimited access to information, whose citizens’ brains are being choked by the toxic farts of a beast it created a century earlier. And its government needs to perpetuate the toxicity to keep the beast’s masters happy, or risk crushing the global economy.

Despite what it may sound like, I’m not a pessimist. We beat polio and smallpox. We can initiate instantaneous global communications via electric impulses. We can microwave a turkey in 20 minutes.

We can turn this around. Of this, I am certain.

Nevertheless, my point remains: just because the residents of 1950’s America hoped for flying cars doesn’t mean they should have expected it as an inevitability. And they shouldn’t have foisted that expectation on us.

Nobody gets to pick their future. Time and consequence ensure that the future gets picked for us.

But I’m sure nobody would have imagined that the future that we earned was so clearly a dystopia. Not the Orwell version we grew up fearing, no.

We don’t get to pick the future we dread, either.