Wednesday, December 15, 2010

YouTube

Web 2.0 had witnessed the rise of citizen journalism and a brand of publishing that reminds me of the wild, wild West, compared to the staid publications of the East Coast with their European sensibilites and, as Norman Mailer put it, their "bloodless, gutless restraint. "

Cyberspace tends to be collective, combative and ideological. And Julian Assange, publisher of WikiLeaks, is one of the most combative and ideological publishers on the web. Assange and the leaked documents and videos he has published are now at the red hot center of the battle to control the flow of information over the world wide web. Although Assange is not the first publisher to make government documents available to the public, his publication of gun camera videos and U.S. Department of State cables is massive, both in terms of its sheer volume and in terms of its buzz. And it is the only leak around right now. In my view, there is nothing on WikiLeaks as sensational as the Abu Ghraib photos, and, in fact, nothing as shocking as some of the videos that have been up on YouTube since the start of the Iraq occupation, but Assange has made the leaks personal, part of a private war with the U.S. government. He has given the publication of leaks a human face. He has become the center of attention. That's too bad. Because it may be too hot at the center for Assange.

When I first saw the gun camera video Assange published, I was struck by the fact that the gunship was adhering to General Petraeus' regrettable rules of engagement for Baghdad. The rules should have been stricter, but at least they prevented the gunships from finishing off the wounded the way this gunship did.



This kind of video, depicting the actual murder of a wounded insurgent, has been available on YouTube for years, along with countless home videos put up there -- self-published, if you will -- by American soldiers and Marines, and also by insurgents. Most of the insurgent videos seem to have been removed quietly over the years on the grounds that they violate YouTube's terms of service. I say "quietly" because YouTube, a publisher whose significance dwarfs the personal soap opera of Assange and WikiLeaks, has never identified itself as a publisher with an ax to grind. In fact, YouTube doesn't pretend to be a publisher at all. Putatively, they are simply providing a forum for the free exchange of information. Therein, it seems to me, lies YouTube's safety, if not legally -- and I don't pretend to understand the legal issues around the free flow of information -- at least morally. For YouTube does not notice us -- unless we draw attention to one another. They have adopted at least the appearance of ignorance and neutrality. Assange has not.

Assange has, in fact, made quite a big deal out of knowing exactly what he's publishing. He has probably been led down that path by the establishment press who are very high on "responsibility" and insist on things like verifying sources, redacting classified information, and making a determination about whether the public's right to know outweighs the danger of exposing operators and operations. Having consented to work with the establishment in making those judgments, Assange has exposed himself to the moral, if not the legal, responsibility to get it right.

I suspect that is something Julian Assange is poorly equipped to do.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

There Must Be Some Way Out Of Here

Two scientists, Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Washington State University and Paul Davies of Arizona State University (ASU again!  What's going on out there?) have proposed making the mission to Mars affordable by making it a one-way trip. 

"The purpose of doing this is to save money, to put it bluntly," Davies told NPR's Audie Cornish.  Read and hear the All Things Considered segment here.

Sign me up!  I only wish I were qualified to go. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Are We There Yet?

What are those ants up there in the header doing?  I never get tired of looking at them.

When I was making art, I was fascinated by metonymy, a figure of speech that substitutes one word for another word that it's closely associated with.  Over time, the crown comes to stand for the king.

It is metonymy that gives documentary film and other forms of sympathetic magic their power over us.  And it is metonymy that connects the unseen and unseeable theoretical concepts of science to their manifestations in the realm of the senses.

In the physical world, films and photographs are instantly metonymic.  The weaver ants in the header stand for actual ants in a completely realistic and convincing way.  The ants in the header may be suspended in time and space, immutable, undying, but, to our minds, they are real.  And they are doing a real ant thing, a thing they were caught in the act of doing by the biologist who snapped their picture and generously gave us permission to use it here.  They will continue to do that one ant thing and nothing else as long as the photograph lasts.  They will not sting us to move us off their trail, they will not turn around and head in the opposite direction, and the major worker will not put the minor worker down.  They will move forward together, always tending toward some place outside the frame of the photograph, but never getting there. 

Now the scientist who took the picture of these weaver ants, Bert Hölldobler, knows as much about ants as anyone alive, and he tells us that what is literally going on in that picture is an example of the division of labor.  What Professor Hölldobler's photograph shows is a major worker carrying a minor worker "to a place where the minor worker is needed for special work, such as attending honeydew-secreting homoopterans or nursing small larvae."

That's the observable fact of the picture.  The denotative meaning of it.  But we do not live by metonymy alone.

Beyond metonymy, there is metaphor, a figure of speech in which a word that literally denotes one thing or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness.  As metaphor, the picture of our ants points to something beyond itself.  It refers to other things that it is like.  And, as a picture that is a metaphor for something else, the more things it refers to, the better it is.

As metaphor, Professor Hölldobler's weaver ants are amazingly polyreferential.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Picking Up The Pieces

The Hive is a mess.  Tunnels caved in, major flooding in the basement, manuscripts in the basement torn and water-logged.  Conversations lost.  We fell apart.

I kept thinking, if we stayed with it long enough, we could improvise our way to something important, some clear statement of what it is to be human. Some reader, years from now, might find that theme in our notes. People were here. They had jobs. They had lovers. Husbands and wives. Some of them had kids. Their world was changing fast. Sometimes, it seemed to be coming down around their ears. But they went to movies, danced, listened to music, watched TV, made it to the grocery store. They read books. They talked about the things they saw and heard. Like you, Reader. They tried to be direct, unmediated and genuinely human in what they thought and said, to keep things and people in perspective. They hung out. And they all had porn star names. But the women didn't like to give head.

Maybe that's why the Hive collapsed.  Or maybe it was politics.  It's easy to have an opinion about politics, but it's mainly a waste of time.  Or maybe there is something about creative people that makes collaboration difficult for them, even impossible.  Whatever the reason, the Hive collapsed, the victim of some kind of colony collapse disorder.  We hardly understood what was happening to us.

When I drained the basement, I found ideas flopping around like fish out of water, and not a single one of them was of any use in finding a way to live better or even to survive in this upside-down, inside-out world of America circa 2010.  Not one article or idea as useful as the articles in The Whole Earth Catalog of the Sixties. 

What we needed badly a couple of years ago were tools for survival. Do we need them still? I'm not sure we do.

Maybe what we need now are better ways to reconcile ourselves to the fact that we survived the social upheaval that destroyed millions of other lives. Maybe we need to turn our thoughts inward and celebrate the personal life in this time of collective discontent, to adopt the attitude that someone has to keep living, as though we have been selected for that task.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Annals Of The Waterboard (An Opera) February 13, 2010

2:00 AM. Bush meets Cheney in the hallway of a cell block. Bush is carrying a surfboard. Marine guards snap to attention as Bush approaches.

Cheney: What the hell is that?

Bush: My surfboard.

Cheney: What an asshole. I said we were waterboarding tonight.

Bush: Whoa! You can't call POTUS an asshole. (To the Marines in the hall.) Grab hold of him. (Bush throws the surfboard on the floor.) Hold him down on that!

Cheney: Goddam it, George, stop fucking around.

Bush: Somebody get me some water and a rag.

Tutti cantano insieme:

The Marines: Sir! Aye, Aye! Sir!

Cheney: Don't board me, George!

Bush: Tube City! Damn! Turn him over now!

Sacrifice I The Sugar

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When I knew him, it was Michael Tracy's intention to make the vestiges of ancient signs visible in the modern world.

Gabriel

video

Sacrifice I Burning

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Maundy Thursday Circa 1975

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Good Friday Circa 1975

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Easter Sunday Circa 1975

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Le Monde Circa 1975

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Michael (Crossed Out)

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The Great Depression January 25, 2009

I was born in a Texas Gulf Coast town during the Depression, right before the war. My grandmother was Italian and my grandfather was an Irish cop. My father was a bohunk from Pennsylvania who was in the Army when he met my mother. He got out of the Army, cut grass and delivered ice until my grandfather got him a job on the force. He went back into the Army after Pearl Harbor and ended up occupying Japan. My mother had a half-brother, my uncle Bill, who was in the Army Air Corps when the war started. He was the toughest man I ever knew.

My mother and I lived with my grandparents in their house down by the docks. During the Depression, my mother says, my grandfather used to bring home groceries and meat he got from the grocers and butchers on his beat. We'd share the food with my grandmother's sisters and brothers and their families sometimes. My mother emptied bed pans at the hospital down the street until she got a job with the Corps of Engineers.

I don't remember any of that. I remember card games in the dining room, listening to people talking and laughing while I fell asleep, a paper jack-o-lantern that caught fire, and falling off the back porch. Later, I remember the lights were off at night along the beach because of the German submarines in the Gulf. When my dad came home from Japan, he brought me a sword.

Japan 1945







The Wolf Of Winter

A long time ago, I told my son, I think he was in the first grade at the time, that Kenneth Patchen's The Wolf Of Winter was about the winter cold killing poor people. I doubt we got into nice distinctions between body and spirit or into the idea that there is a pessimism born of winter that afflicts boys who grow up in the South. A winter depression that settles into your bones and makes it hard to move.

Economic hard times are bound to hit people in the North, in the big frozen cities, harder than they hit people in the South. Finding a way to stay warm, a place to sleep, has to be tough. In Seattle, they open up the public buildings at night and the homeless sleep in the halls. For the poor, winter is hard. During a depression, it's going to be deadly.

The first panhandler of the winter turned up on our street yesterday. It was recycling day, and, in retrospect, I imagine she was working the snow-covered sidewalk for bottles and saw me dragging my little green tub of bottles and cans to the curb.

Her story was one I'd heard before. Just moved into the neighborhood. Family in trouble somewhere. Gas money to get to them. Pay me back in a couple of days. God bless me. Can she give me a hug? We settle for shaking hands.

I've never turned a panhandler down. It's a deep superstition of some kind. The way I buy off the bad luck that stalks me, just out of sight. Like a wolf.

The Girl 2008


Sacrifice I June 21, 2008




Michael Out Of Egypt June 21, 2008


Zyema's Garden June 3, 2007


Memorial Day May 28, 2007

Vietnam Is Where I Found My Family
By Ann Bryan Mariano

"Sometimes an officer would say, 'What the hell is a woman doing here?' and I'd shrug nonchalantly. 'My editor sent me to cover the fighting.' There were struggles with the military over where I could and couldn't go, and what I could and couldn't do. I tried never to back down and usually my dogged persistence prevailed.

"Soldiers offered me pistols or knives, believing that I should have some kind of weapon. Even though I was from Texas, guns made me uncomfortable. I was given a snub-nosed .38 pistol as a farewell gift from an officer in the 1st Cavalry who was returning home to the States. He was sure I'd need to shoot my way out of a Vietcong ambush one day, but of course I never did. I was afraid if I had to shoot anything it would be my own foot.

"I was opposed to the war when I arrived in Vietnam and left as a true pacifist, more convinced than ever that humanity had to find peaceful ways of resolving conflict. Being in the field proved to me that while there are many cases of individual courage and heroism among soldiers, there is nothing about war itself that is heroic. The suffering and deaths of soldiers and casualties among the Vietnamese civilian population were staggering. I had no doubt that America's involvement was tragic and doomed to fail. There was nothing to prepare me for the death and devastation I saw."

Ann Bryan Mariano was in Vietnam from 1966 to 1971, reporting for The Overseas Weekly, a privately-owned newspaper for military stationed overseas. According to Women's eNews, she is currently suffering from Alzheimer's disease, and wrote her essay with the help of friends and family. "Alzheimer’s disease blows through my memory like wind through a Buddhist sand painting. Vietnam is still the most beautiful country I have ever seen. But images once so fixed in my mind are now dancing ghosts."

I knew Ann in Frankfurt at the time she left for Vietnam. I remember she took along a little red cocktail dress and a pair of red heels as a matter of principle, and it pissed off the male reporters at the Overseas Weekly that she was the first Overseas Weekly reporter into Vietnam. Even so, the reports she filed from Vietnam were read with grudging respect. I don't know why I thought of the Overseas Weekly today, and, finding a slim archive on line, noticed Ann's name in the masthead and googled my way to her story. I can't really imagine what Alzheimer's disease is like, but I hope Ann still catches glimpses of herself in Frankfurt the way I remember her. She was a good friend who put up with my arrogance and refused to believe I wasn't a serious newsman long after that was clear to everyone else. She taught me the phrase: "I can't even stand the way he ties his shoes," nursed me through pneumonia and sold me her Borgward when she left for Vietnam. I had a letter and a scarab she sent from India, and another letter from Vietnam, but I lost them, and I never heard from her again.

Any And Some May 8, 2007

I began reading Whitehead's An Introduction To Mathematics to K tonight, and was struck by Whitehead's description of personal sensations. "Our knowledge of the particular facts of the world around us is gained from our sensations. We see, and hear, and taste, and smell, and feel hot and cold, and push, and rub, and ache, and tingle. These are just our own personal sensations: my toothache cannot be your toothache, and my sight cannot be your sight." I was trying to remember who said we're condemned to a life of solitary confinement inside our own skin. And I was wishing you could feel what I feel when you touch me; that I could feel what you feel when I touch you. That you could hear your voice the way I hear it; feel my longing when you're gone. And then I read: "Mathematics as a science commenced when first someone, probably a Greek, proved propositions about any things or about some things, without specification of definite particular things," and K, almost asleep by then, mumbled: "That's very interesting."

Red Devil In A White City April 25, 2007

D and P came by last night to record Kate, singing Everything's Different. They're going to do an arrangement, then record her again. I made chicken soup and some guacamole. Tequilla, beer, wine. D, P and S finished a project yesterday, and the mood was gay. Kate has added a bridge to the lyrics: "I don't care if you're a red devil in a white city or a blue angel in a white cloud ..." For the first time I see where one of her images comes from. We were reading Devil In The White City last year, and she probably heard us talking about it. What a concrete image.

Remembering Capa April 18, 2007

I've been thinking about Capa today. Reaction across the web to the cell phone video of police outside the building where the Viginia Tech massacre took place made me think about Capa. Then about Germany in 1965, and the way I decided to lay around Frankfurt, getting high and making love, instead of going to Vietnam as a stringer for the Houston Post, even after A went there. And about how R tried to talk me into going to Nicaragua with him when his marriage was on the rocks. But I had just met S, so I stayed in Austin.

5 Movies

I think it's more about me than about the films. The same films get to me in the same way year after year.

Ghandi


Whatever "moral ascendency" the West may have held over the East was lost at the Dharasana Salt Works in India. It's the image of the two men, holding hands as they walk into the clubs, that makes me cry.

England wasn't as tough as America was in the Sixties. Dr. King had to put women and children in front of the dogs and clubs of the Southern cops before we decided we'd had enough.

MacArthur


In the name of your sacred dead. Strike.

Douglas MacArthur's return to the Philippines is the climactic scene of the MacArthur bio-pic. I don't know if I find the moment when he rallies the Philippine resistance so moving because my own dead are sacred to me, or because I wish they were. My father was among the American troops who liberated the Philippines. He went on to occupy Japan. MacArthur would have known better than to try to move Vietnamese villagers away from the graves of their sacred dead.

The Miracle Worker

She knows!

All of us have been liberated, more or less, from the darkness of mute ignorance by someone. Without communication, we're not human. Life is not worth living.


Tunes of Glory


We do terrible things that can't be undone. Without comrades, we'd be lost.

The Big Chill



I saw The Big Chill when I started dating after the break-up of my first marriage. I was middle-aged and stoned a lot of the time. This scene didn't hit me until I was in the car, getting ready to pull out of the parking lot. I cried for about 10 minutes while my future wife watched me and didn't say anything. We've been together for almost 30 years, and she still hasn't asked me what I was crying about.

Excellence April 17, 2007

Why is it that anything excellent can bring tears to my eyes? I believe I am becoming more nostalgic every day. Everything reminds me of something or someone I miss.

My Last Hope April 9, 2007

My daughter may restore my faith in women.

Everything's Different March 21, 2007

Everything's different,
Not the same.
Can't find me in the hall of fame.
Look into the face of fame.
Look into the face of God.
But most importantly, most importantly,
Look into the face of you.
'Cause, honey, you're the most
Important thing to me.
Everything's different,
Not the same.
Can't find me in the hall of fame.
Woo.

Kate Glad 2006

Friends March 20, 2007

Dropped my cell phone in the snow at A's as I was getting in or out of my truck in his driveway. I didn't realize I'd lost the phone for a couple of days, and it took me a couple of days more to figure out where I'd lost it. By the time I got over there to poke around in the snow for it, A had cleared his driveway with a snow blower. After the snow melted, he found my mangled phone up on the lawn where the snow blower had thrown it.

MT had a friend like that. John lived across the hall from MT on the Strand in Galveston before it was gentrified. MT brought a couple of guys back to his loft one night and they tried to kill him. They had MT up on the top of his refrigerator, trying to hold them off with a paring knife, when John busted down MT's door and beat the shit out of them with a baseball bat. Thing is, the door wasn't locked.

Sometimes relationships are like that. Wires get crossed somehow. Takes a while to figure that out. You have to watch your ass.

Climbing Down June 7, 2006

I had the strangest dream about me and S last night. We were in Washington, D.C., walking down a dark alley, and we came to a place in the alley where the pavement fell off into a deep ravine. There was a tree in the ravine, and its top was level with the alley. S and I stepped into the treetop and climbed down the tree. At first I thought she wouldn't be able to make the climb down. It was too steep and slippery. But every time I thought we were stuck, we found another foothold, another branch or another knot on the wet trunk.

Breathing Under Water May 22, 2006

I dreamed I could breathe water. I dreamed I was in a pool, swimming with K and S, and I could breathe the water into my lungs and stay under water as long as I wanted to. I could feel the water going into my lungs. I had to breathe in very hard to get it to go down. It caught at first, as though something were covering my airway and keeping the water out. But when I breathed in as hard as I could, the water went down and I was all right. It was a powerful feeling.

She Got One! May 25, 2005

Princess Zyema got her first mouse last night. I found it on the porch. She had chewed it until it looked like a black turd, lying next to a small pile of purple and black guts.

Hello Kitty Admires The Baby Jesus March 8, 2005



My daughter hasn't quite got the hang of religion yet.  She wanted a nativity scene, and we got her one from Saint Vincent DePaul. She called it her Jesus set, and mixed in Hello Kitty and farm and jungle animals. I figure the Mary I grew up with wouldn't mind that much.

Jasmine March 14, 2005

My Night Blooming Jasmine has started to bloom already. I have two big plants in pots in my sun room. I bring them inside in the Fall and put them back out on the porch in the Summer. They've never bloomed this early before. It's amazing to sit in my sun room in the evening, look out at the moonlit snow and smell Jasmine. I just have one little cluster of about 10 flowers on one plant, which is lucky, since my wife hates the smell. But I grew up with it. One whiff transports me back to hot summer nights in Galveston, Texas, reminds me of the warm waters of the Gulf Of Mexico, brings back the heavy scent of the perfume on the necks of the Mexican girls I held in the back seat of my old man's Pontiac. I worry about what kinds of smells my young daughter is going to remember from her childhood, growing up in Wisconsin. Wood fires maybe. Other Winter smells. But Jasmine, too, come to think of it. She loves it. She tears off one flower every night and takes it to her room.

Deformed Monarch Butterfly March 9, 2005

Past Tense March 5, 2005

That afternoon, he was looking at a Polaroid picture of his wife and him that he took twenty years before, and he found himself trying to remember who the people in the picture were. They had been standing in front of a bathroom mirror. He had been behind her, with the camera in his right hand. In the mirror, it appeared to be in his left hand. He had reached around her with his other hand to touch her stomach, just below her breast. She had tilted her head back a little and smiled. He missed that woman. He wondered if she missed him.

Resignation February 23, 2005

He was sixty-five when he realized he would never be happy again.

Princess Zyema January 3, 2005

Princes Zyema Velvet Kitten sits on my lap, purring, and kneads my stomach, while I consider this post. She slips behind me on the chair, rubbing her face against my back. This is my daughter's cat, rescued from the Humane Society. She's too young to hunt anything except her little, rabbit-fur mice. She leaps into the air, back arched, tail curved, and comes down on them with all four feet. For some reason, she likes to drop them in her water bowl. There are no mice in the garden now. Everything is under 6 inches of snow. Do mice hibernate? I picture them in their little burrows, sitting in rocking chairs, knitting, sipping tea or smoking pipes. They have no idea what awful deaths await them in the Spring.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

That Place Between A Woman's Legs

What do you call that arch between a woman's legs? Why do some women have it and others don't?



Mary J. Blige has it.




Lingerie mannequins have it.

Megan Fox has it.

Megan Fox for Emporio Armani by Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott

But not Norma Jean.

Is it called the pubic arch, or does it have another name, something more poetic? And what about adjectives? Wide? Flat? I like the way it looks, but I don't know what it's called.

I tried to write about filming a singer with the light shining through that space between her thighs, and I couldn't think of the name of that arch.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Father's Day

I was born in a Texas Gulf Coast town during the Depression, right before the war. My grandmother was Italian and my grandfather was an Irish cop. My father was a bohunk from Pennsylvania who was in the Army when he met my mother.

When my father got out of the Army, he cut grass and delivered ice until my grandfather got him a job on the police force. My mother divorced him right after that.  He went back into the Army after Pearl Harbor and ended up fighting in the Philippines and occupying Japan.

My mother and I lived with my grandparents in a house down by the docks during the war. My mother emptied bed pans at the hospital down the street until she got a job with the Corps of Engineers.

I remember card games in the dining room, listening to people talking and laughing while I fell asleep, a paper jack-o-lantern that caught fire, and falling off the back porch. Later, I remember the lights were off at night along the beach because of the German submarines in the Gulf.

My father sent me a little vinyl record from the Philippines.  A scratchy and tinny sounding recording, reminding me to be a good boy.


When he came home from Japan, he brought me a sword.

He lost most of one lung to a fungus he contracted in the Philippines.  The army didn't know how to cure the fungus, so they just cut the infected part of his lung out. The surgery essentially ended his real life. He lived the next 50 years as an invalid, then died from cancer at the age of 85.  

He died in the winter. He was in a hospice in Mississippi, where he had a warm room with big windows and four women to change his pajamas and his sheets every night, laughing and singing while they put the old man to bed.

When he lapsed into a coma, we drove over from Houston, and he was still alive, but breathing in a labored way that lifted his shoulders off the bed with every wheezing breath.

We sat with him for nine or ten hours, talking to him and wetting his lips with a piece of gauze, soaked in cold water.

I was holding his hand when he suddenly opened his eyes and squeezed my hand, and I said hey, he's awake, then no, he's gone as he died. And I felt that something had just left that body. Took one last look and moved on, leaving me next in line.

For an entire year after that, I had a recurring dream. I dreamed I was being roasted slowly, like a pig in a pit. The strange thing about the dream was it really hurt. I could feel the intense heat from the coals, charring my skin. It took a year for the fire to burn my skin away and prepare me to carry on in my father's place.

And he was a very ordinary man.

The End Is Near

Or maybe it's a couple of years away.

Today is the day the physicists at the Hadron Collider on the Swiss-French border got up to speed.  Or at least the protons whizzing around the collider, some to the left, some to the right, got up to speed.
Protons are beginning to collide at speeds that produce enough energy to be interesting to physicists who hope to create and observe some natural events they haven't been able to observe before.  Like the creation of black holes.

Most news sources report on the possibility of black holes at Hadron with a reassuring blurb.  Something like the AP's:

"The experiments will come over the objections of some people who fear they could eventually imperil Earth by creating micro black holes — subatomic versions of collapsed stars whose gravity is so strong they can suck in planets and other stars.

"CERN and many scientists dismiss any threat to Earth or people on it, saying that any such holes would be so weak that they would vanish almost instantly without causing any damage."

Apparently, scientists are so convinced the black holes won't get out of hand that they have absolutely no plans to deal with that contingency. 

How long would we have, anyway?  If a black hole at Hadron grew, how long would it take for Michigan, say, to disappear?  Would I even know the black hole had happened?  Or would I simply disappear in mid-something or other.  One moment I'm here, and then I'm gone.

I remember reading about some fission experiments that led up to the atomic bomb. In one of the early ones, physicists constructed a guillotine device and took some plutonium, about the size of a critical mass, and divided it into three parts. What they did was rig the guillotine so the middle part of the mass fell down between the other two parts, creating close to a critical mass for a fraction of a second, while the middle piece slid through. Then they took the contraption down into a mine somewhere in New Mexico, turned on a gieger counter to measure the radiation emitted, dropped the guillotine, and fried themselves.

And I vaguely recall that physicists kept buckets of cobalt solution around to throw on a nuclear pile under Chicago's Soldiers field if the chain reaction got out of hand.

Sounds funny now, but the physicists at Hadron don't seem to be even that well prepared.



It strikes me that it takes a peculiar kind of individual to poke a hole in the universe.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Anti-Vaccine Doc Gets The Boot

The British doctor who claimed to have found a link between vaccines and autism has been banned from practicing medicine.

England's General Medical Council struck Dr. Andrew Wakefield from the country's medical register after finding him guilty of "serious professional misconduct."  When Wakefield's research was published a dozen years ago, the AP reports, British parents abandoned the measles vaccine in droves, leading to a resurgence of the disease. Vaccination rates have never recovered and there are outbreaks of measles in the U.K. every year.

A while back, the AP reported that one in four U.S. parents believes vaccines cause autism.  American parents' concern about the safety of vaccines stems partly from Wakefield's 1998 study that was retracted by a British medical journal after Britain decided Wakefield acted dishonestly and unethically, and partly from continued hype by celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, and, long before McCarthy, NPR shock jock Leonard Lopate.

And yet, there is more actual evidence suggesting a link between cats and autism then there is between vaccines and autism.

Toxoplasma is a parasite, typically carried by cats. People who catch it may develop toxoplasmosis; which is usually a minor illness, although it can be serious when it is passed on by pregnant women to their unborn baby, and it can cause problems in people with impaired immune systems when it infects the brain. That's why doctors don't want pregnant women, kids and people with impaired immune systems emptying litter boxes.

The toxoplasma parasite has been linked to schizophrenia, and, as far back as 2006, biologists in the UK may have discovered why. It seems the parasite produces an enzyme that increases the production of the brain chemical dopamine, which appears to be involved in schizophrenia. And dopamine may also be involved in? Yes. Autism.

By making not only a statistical link between cats and a mental disorder, but also coming up with a physical explanation for the connection, these UK scientists have already linked cats to disorders like autism far more convincingly than anyone has been able to link autism and childhood vaccinations.  The link between cats and autism is far from being proved. The suggestion that there is a link may be poppycock. But, if parents of young kids aren't worried about their cats, they probably shouldn't be worried about vaccines.

Monday, April 19, 2010

5 People I'd Like To Interview

Terry Gross

For my money, Fresh Air is the best program on radio. And Terry Gross is the best interviewer in the world. Nobody follows-up the way Terry Gross does. My favorite interview? Divine, explaining how John Waters talked him into eating a dog turd and what he did after he ate it. If you can get your nerve up to interview Terry Gross, you're ready to interview anybody.


Riverbend



I don't know who River is, but Baghdad Burning is a brilliant blog. It's out in book form now, complete with introductions and assessments by foreworders, but I like to read it on line better, the way I read it first. When River left Iraq and stopped blogging, I felt an important voice of Iraqi nationalism had been silenced. I may never know who River is, or even whether she is a woman or a man. I may never know if her blog is one of the finest examples of citizen journalism I've read, or just clever propaganda. For all I know, River is an Iranian agent. Juan Cole seems to believe she's authentic, but, for all I know, Dr. Cole is an Iranian agent himself. This is cyberspace. It's worse than Chinatown. Nothing is as simple as it seems.

Norman Schwartzkopf

I keep this picture on my desktop to remind me that I know less than zero about what's going on most of the time.

What's happening here is Norman Schwartzkopf, the first general to double envelop an enemy army since Hannibal, and an authentic genius with an I.Q. of 168, is telling the leaders of the Iraqi army he destroyed that they can keep their helicopters so they can massacre the Shiites down around Basra when the Shiites revolt. The Shiites in the South were Iran's way into Iraq, you see.

Schwartzkopf's version of the event is that the Iraqis fooled him. I saw him say that in an interview. He said it with a wry smile. He thought they wanted those helicopters to fly to business meetings or something like that, he said. The Iraqis fooled Colin Powell, Dick Cheney and George H.W. Bush at the same time, of course.

This is Schwartzkopf's envelopment of the Iraqi army. Look where the 24th Mechanized Division is. You tell me if you believe Schwartzkopf could be gulled by a bunch of Iraqis.

Madonna




When Camille Paglia started writing about Madonna back in the Sexual Personae days, I had a hard time keeping their life stories apart. It was never clear to me if Paglia was writing about Madonna or about herself. It's not hard to tell these days. Apparently, Paglia doesn't approve of the way Madonna has chosen to age.

I always figured it was a bad idea to talk about anybody's body parts, but Paglia and the British press are into the contrast between Madonna's face and her legs. Paglia says Madonna looks like a dissolute old streetwalker. Maybe Paglia has written about Madonna so much she thinks she owns her. For Paglia, writing has become a kind of sympathetic magic. She uses the written word instead of a voodoo doll.

I'm more interested in Madonna when she was starting out, when she was dancing and posing nude for Lee Friedlander.

How did Madonna become Madonna. That's what I want to hear about.

An Unknown Soldier

He was probably a Russian, though he might have been Polish. He was among the first Russian Army soldiers to enter Auschwitz, one of the first to liberate a concentration camp with living prisoners. On January 27, 1945, he found 7,000 survivors at Auschwitz. Like the prisoners at the other camps on the Eastern front, the rest of the Jews and political prisoners at Auschwitz had been killed or relocated as the line of battle moved toward Germany.

Thornton Wilder constructed his novel The Bridge At San Luis Rey around the collapse of a suspension bridge in Peru. Wilder asks why some people ended up on the bridge that day, while others escaped death.

If one of those Russian soldiers is still alive, I'd like to know how he ended up at Auschwitz that day. Exactly how did history choose him for that great honor?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

I'm Barring Michael Savage, Too

AP reports that the U.K.'s law and order chief, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, is barring popular American talk-radio host, Michael Savage, who broadcasts from San Francisco and has called the Muslim holy book, the Quran, a "book of hate." Savage also has enraged parents of children with autism by saying in most cases it's "a brat (Ed note: with a cat?) who hasn't been told to cut the act out."

Savage told the conservative Web site WorldNetDaily.com that he was considering legal action against Smith for defamation.

"She's linking me with mass murderers who are in prison for killing Jewish children on buses? For my speech? The country where the Magna Carta was created?" the web site quoted Savage as (Ed note: petulantly?) saying Tuesday.

Apparently, Smith figures Savage is a hate monger. Not a bad reason to keep him out of the country. But I have a better reason for keeping him out of The Hive. He's an asshole. The kind of asshole who would walk all over other people's privacy and rights, then make a federal case out of someone considering him a persona non grata. I may have to put up with hogs, eskimos, atom bombs, music critics, armored elves, wing nuts, lurkers and scantily clad women around here, but I don't have to put up with the number three asshole on conservative talk radio. Quack nostrums or quack ideas, it's all the same third-rate crap. Limburger and Vanity are welcome. But if Sewage wants to hang out, he has to get his numbers up. Or bring Ann Coulter with him so I can try to diminish her mental capacity further.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

5 Comic Books That Changed My Life

There were more than 5 that changed my life, of course, but these are the ones I remember best.

The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet and Cato 

He had it all.  Biomimicry, gas gun that made a wierd sound, a big, fast car, called the Black Beauty, an Asian sidekick and The Flight Of The Bumblebee.  I listened to The Hornet on the radio; read the comic book; watched the movie serial on Saturdays.  Van Williams played the Hornet and Bruce Lee played Kato on TV.  There's a great scene of Lee taking a Green Hornet set apart in the Bruce Lee bio-pic: Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story.  Looks like a Green Hornet feature film is on the way.

Frontline Combat

Frontline Combat 

One of the EC comics I read religiously.  It was published during the Korean War.  I was waiting at the Interurban Queen news stand in Galveston, Texas, when it came in every other month.  I had to have the first copy.  I elaborated on the stories and tried to draw like Jack Davis.  By today's standards, it was politically incorrect.  But it, and its companion comic, Two-Fisted Tales, often showed the futility of war.  They provided some balance to the rantings of my father, who was convinced we should drop the atom bomb on China.  The guy on the cover is "bugging out."

R. Crumb

The Devil Girl and R. Crumb 

The Devil Girl is my favorite Crumb character.  She has a fantastic body.  The Crumb movie is a terrific film, especially if you like to get creeped out and can get into kinky sex with big women.  

Wonder Wart-Hog

Wonder Warthog 

Gilbert Shelton's Hog of Steel.  800 pounds of pissed off hog.  In the 60's, when things got dicey, we asked each other what Wonder Wart-Hog would do.  Usually, it was beat the hell out of somebody.  Pound somebody's face into strawberry jam.  Twenty years ago, I found a couple of mint-condition Wonder Wart-Hog comic books at a shop in Haight Ashbury. 

The Punisher

The Punisher 

Comic Book noir.  In my mind, I consign my enemies to an issue of The Punisher instead of to hell.  The movie was a letdown.

No telling who I might have been if I hadn't read these comic books.

Tomorrow:  5 Blondes Who Changed My Life

5 Dreams That Changed My Life

For a long time, I thought Fritz Perls had the best way to look at dreams.  Everything in the dream is you.  I used to write whatever I could remember of my dreams down, then play the different parts.  If I dreamed of a woman walking up a flight of stairs, I'd be the woman, then I'd be the stairs.   This one came at the end of a marriage.

It's 4:00 A.M. and I'm sitting in a hotel room with a friend and his wife.  She has lifeless eyes.  The number on the room key is 434.  I could never love you, I tell my friend's wife.  It's the eyes, she says.  I leave the hotel, end up walking down the street in Georgetown.  I pass a corner grocery, look in the window, see four cops inside.  I open the door.  A cop looks past me at something across the street.  There's a wino over there, drinking from a bottle inside a brown paper bag.  Cop says: What's that say?  The wino slips the bag down the bottle and I read: "Mateus Rosé."  Cop says: We better get some people on the street.  I see I'm standing next to a cart of groceries.  I can't find my wallet.  A blond woman says:  See that wall? Guy in cowboy boots kicked it in when I asked him for money.  Are we going to do that, Mr. Glad?  I say no.  She says:  Do we have an appointment at 12:15, Mr. Glad?  Her name tag says Rosa.  When I get home, my wife is pissed off.  I say something.  She says: Does your friend count?  Has he been coming on to you? I ask. I've been giving him an opportunity to, she says.  He's been carrying me around on his back on a ladder, and I've been sliding up and down on it.  It turns him on.

I never lose in my dreams.  I can be running in mud or water up to my knees, get lost, get tied up, try to wake up and can't, but I never wake up until I win.

I'm running down an alley, something is chasing me.  It's a couple of ugly guys, driving a big combine.  The blades are right behind me.  I'm running out of breath.  All of a sudden, I dance up the blades like Gene Kelly, doing a little dance on every blade.  I grab the guys and toss them into the blades.  Blood and gore hit me in the face and I wake up.

Now that's a good dream, if you don't analyze it too much.  I like the feeling of that gore hitting me in the face.  I like being me and the combine and the blades, even the alley.  But the two guys?  Not so much.  I had that dream in the middle of a negotiation to settle a contract dispute.  It cost the other side an extra million bucks. 

I'm carrying  my own body around, eating on it.  Across streams.  Under bridges.  There's a castle full of women, eating carry-out orders from a restaurant.  I lose my body; find a stray dog in the basement. 

I awoke from that dream feeling too disturbed and elemental to understand the simplest rules of human behavior.  I wrote: Nothing is true.  Everything is permitted.

Nowadays, I think most dreams are so straightforward they don't need free association to make sense.  Suppose you're making love to a woman.  You reach down and feel teeth inside her vagina.  That's the old vagina dentata.  The vagina with teeth.  I've had that dream a time or two.  It's a good dream if you like to wake up scared. 

My father died in the winter. He was in a hospice in Mississippi, where he had a warm room with big windows and four women to change his pajamas and his sheets every night, laughing and singing while they put the old man to bed.

When he lapsed into a coma, I drove over from Houston, and he was still alive, but breathing in a labored way that lifted his shoulders off the bed with every wheezing breath. I sat with him for nine or ten hours, talking to him and wetting his lips with a piece of gauze, soaked in cold water.

I was holding his hand when he suddenly opened his eyes and squeezed my hand, and I said hey, he's awake, then no, he's gone as he died. And I felt that something had just left that body. Took one last look and moved on, leaving me next in line.

For an entire year after that, I had a recurring dream.

I'm being roasted slowly, like a pig in a pit. It hurts.  I can feel the intense heat from the coals, charring my skin.

It took a year for the fire to burn my skin away and prepare me to carry on in my father's place.

I had another recurring dream that lasted a couple of months.  It was the kind of dream you can wake up from, go back to sleep and pick up where you left off.

I'm a prince in exile on another planet or in another dimension.  There's not a vestige of the modern world.  Everything is medieval,  10th Century maybe.  We fight with swords and bows and arrows -- with axes.  I have a wife and a couple of kids, and a band of loyal followers.

Sometimes I feel like I fell to earth.

Up next:  5 Inventions That Changed My Life, Including Female Condoms

 

5 (Make That 6) Inventions That Changed My Life

The Salk Polio Vaccine

The Salk vaccine is one of the great success stories of Immunology.

I grew up in the time of polio. I remember the desperate pseudo-science that mothers and fathers held onto. I couldn't eat bananas or play outside in the heat of the day. I saw kids my age in iron lungs. And, suddenly, it was all over. It turned out polio wasn't caused by bananas or heat exhaustion. It was caused by a virus.

In spite of the success of the polio vaccine and other vaccines, the debate about childhood vaccinations seems no closer to a resolution than it was when my son, now a father himself, was a child. As a concerned parent who has had to make decisions about childhood vaccinations over the course of two generations -- my grandson is older than my nine-year-old daughter -- I can say I chose to have both my children vaccinated, but I have no idea how I would feel about that decision if one of them had turned out to be autistic. And I don't know how I would feel if I had made the other decision and one of them had died from the complications of measles or any of the other diseases we routinely vaccinate against.

I recent poll, conducted by the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, found most U.S. adults are either reluctant or unsure about whether they or their children will get vaccinated for the flu formerly known as swine.

Swine Flu Virus

Another poll shows the opposite. According to a survey by the Harvard School of Public Health, more than half of U.S. adults say they will get the vaccine for themselves and 75 percent will get it for their children.

Television

Without television, I would never have seen a political convention, McCarthy would have ruined even more lives, the Vietnam war might still be going on, and Richard Nixon would have been elected 8 years sooner. Without television we would have had no way to recycle books, magazines, plays and films the way the World Wide Web recycles those things and television to boot. What will recycle the World Wide Web remains to be seen. Something will for sure. My first browser was Mosaic. Since I first used Mosaic to access the card catalog at Stanford's library from my desk in Houston, the web hasn't changed much. It's fast, vast and glitzy, but it's still just an information retrieval system with chat rooms here and there.

The IBM OS/360

If you're looking for the origins of the web, the IBM OS/360 is the place to start. It was the first commercially successful time-shared, multi-user operating system. Everything started there. Without the success of OS/360, Fred Brooks wouldn't have been a success and I wouldn't have read his The Mythical Man-Month. Without Fred and his mythical man-month, I wouldn't have made a good living rescuing projects by cutting back their scope instead of hiring more programmers.

Versed

Without Versed, we'd remember the horrible things doctors and dentists do to us. As I grow older, I get poked, prodded and explored more all the time, and I've come to appreciate drugs like Versed and inventions like CT-Scans, MRIs and tests that have virtually eliminated "exploratory surgery." If you want a real treat, the next time you have Versed, go home and watch a complicated action-adventure film.

Female Condoms

Female condoms are the lastest invention in a long line of products, dating back to the contraceptive sponge, that have given women more control over their bodies. Women used sponges in the 19th Century. The tiny hat was introduced to America by Margaret Sanger at the turn of the century. It was followed by the pill, IUDs and an improved version of the sponge that led to the creation by Seinfeld of the "sponge worthy" man. Woman-initiated contraception made it possible for me to date and marry a different kind of woman than the men of earlier generations did.

Now, a new female condom is coming on the market.

Female Condom

The FC2 Female Condom from Female Health Co. is billed as the first woman-initiated device that protects against both pregnancy and STDs like AIDS. The new version is quieter than it's squeaky predecessor. The original version failed to gain a foothold in the male condom-dominated U.S. marketplace in part because it was noisy to use.

Too noisy? Quieting them down is heading in the wrong direction. Why not make them even noiser, but with better sounds?

How about the Flight Of The Valkyries?

Or something wet and squishy, like rubber boots slogging through the mud of a rice paddy?

Proton Therapy

Proton therapy, which MD Anderson describes as a "190-ton cancer-killing machine that can zap a patient's tumor with sub-millimeter precision while sparing healthy tissues around the tumor and causing very few if any side effects," is a relatively new and expensive treatment option.

I had 38 treatments for prostate cancer at MD Anderson and, so far, I can vouch for the "few if any side effects" claim. Time will tell if my cancer has been killed or not. With cancer, there are no guarantees, and it's possible that some cancer cells had already spread beyond my prostate before I started treatment. That's the nature of the beast. But, if that's the case, at least proton therapy will have saved me from suffering the effects of debilitating and futile surgery. Proton therapy is painless. I didn't even need Versed.

Coming on Foodie Tuesday: 5 Cookbooks That Changed My Life


5 Cookbooks That Changed My Life

The Talisman Italian Cook Book was my first cookbook.  I bought a copy when I moved out of the dorm my first year in college, and I still refer to it now and then.



















Ada Boni's recipes were different from the ones my grandmother gave me.  Boni uses carrots in her chicken cacciatora.  We used celery.  We never cooked with wine, and my grandmother skinned the chicken before she browned it.

Mastering The Art Of French Cooking by Julia Child, of course.  The only Child recipe I still do is her roasted chicken.  She thought roasted chicken was the true test of a cook, and I agree.  Except for slow smoking and an occasional bird done standing up with a half-full beer can in its cavity, I don't do whole chickens any other way.
















Julia's book led me into French wine, and Alexis Lichine made French wine fun.
















The Minimalist Cooks Dinner was my introduction to Mark Bittman.




















In the trade-off between time and taste, Bittman strikes just the right balance for me.  By now, everybody in the world has linked to Bittman's New York Times article about Jim Leahy's no-knead bread recipe, but one more link can't hurt.

Everyday Greens by Annie Somerville was my bridge into Vegetarian and Vegan cooking. 
















Express Lane Meals by Rachael Ray is my daughter's cookbook. 
















Because of Ray and the other Food Network foodies, I have a 10-year-old who eats everything and concocts her own recipes, including interesting dressings, some of them actually edible.

5 Science Fiction Novels That Changed My Life

Glory Road by Robert Heinlein is unforgettable.

I read Glory Road, Starship Troopers and The Puppet Masters at about the same time. There is a certain pomposity and chauvinism to Heinlein's writing, and he never got down with the drugs of the '60s the way Herbert did -- I always picture Heinlein dropping acid in a hot tub with a bevy of beauties -- but magic, heroes and exciting dangerous worlds, entered through secret portals, is the stuff great adventure stories are made of.

Count Zero by William Gibson is the second book of Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy.


Gibson's references in Count Zero are more physical and violent than his references in Neuromancer or Mona Lisa Overdrive -- Survival Research and Voodoo, for example -- and his cosmology is more complex. I missed Molly, though. When she came back in Mona Lisa Overdrive, she'd lost her edge. Neither Gibson nor anyone else has created a woman like the Molly of Neuromancer.

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? is the best of the five.


The Ridley Scott film, Blade Runner, based on the Dick novel, was a travesty, devoid of the deceptive innocence that characterized Dick's novel.

The Dosadi Experiment is Frank Herbert's most interesting work.


Compared to the free play of imagination in Herbert's lesser works like The Dosadi Experiment and Hellstrom's Hive, Herbert's Dune and its sequels read like encyclopedia articles.

The Mote In God's Eye, a collaboration by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, is another book I re-read every couple of years.

Niven and Pournelle can be as pompous as Heinlein, and, like Heinlein and Herbert, they carry the baggage of vestigial royalty and militarism into the future, but their Moties are fascinating. Moties are the most perfect aliens, the most intelligently crafted "opposite of us" in all of science fiction.