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tearing up the tent pegs at civilization's circus.

"Well, let us talk it over. Maybe I can show you that we can be decent and live as decent folks even without growing wings." -Alexander Berkman

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May 6 2005

Disaster capitalism

Naomi Klein in The Nation: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

As in other reconstruction sites, from Haiti to Iraq, tsunami relief has little to do with recovering what was lost. Although hotels and industry have already started reconstructing on the coast, in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia and India, governments have passed laws preventing families from rebuilding their oceanfront homes. Hundreds of thousands of people are being forcibly relocated inland, to military style barracks in Aceh and prefab concrete boxes in Thailand. The coast is not being rebuilt as it was--dotted with fishing villages and beaches strewn with handmade nets. Instead, governments, corporations and foreign donors are teaming up to rebuild it as they would like it to be: the beaches as playgrounds for tourists, the oceans as watery mines for corporate fishing fleets, both serviced by privatized airports and highways built on borrowed money.

via... i forget.

Apr 2 2k5

Robert Creeley, May 21, 1926 - March 30, 2005


Those rivers run from that land
to sea. The wind
finds trees to move,
then goes again.

And me, why me
on any day might be
favoured with kind prosperity
or sunk in wretched misery.

I cannot stop the weather
by putting together
myself and another
to stop those rivers.

Or hold the wind
with my hand from the tree,
the mind from the thing,
love from her or me.

Be natural, while alive.
Dead, we die to that
also, and go another
course, I hope.

And me, why me
on any day might be
favoured with kind prosperity
or sunk in wretched misery.

You I want back of me
in the life we have here,
waiting to see
what becomes of it.

Call, call loud,
I will hear you, or if
not me, the wind will
for the sake of the tree.

-Robert Creeley

Thanks for explaining poetry to me, Robert. Even if we never met.

Mar 17 2k5

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar...

...and sometimes a necktie is just a penis.

jeavons writes: "I’ve been fascinated with business suits for years; with their bizarre blending of the militaristic and the foppish, and with the symbolic role they play in the colonization and subjugation of individuals and the world. The generally ignored outlandishness of the suit: the skirted jacket, the strangely-shaped lapels, the belted pants, the buttons (always on the right side for men; women’s buttons go on the left), and of course that incredible, hilarious, centerpiece; the necktie. Thrusting upwards, so huge and virile that his pants can’t contain it, rearing up, framed by the lapels and silhouetted against the pale torso of the button-down shirt; a bare display of phallic power, so blatant and yet so rarely acknowledged as such. Looked at this way it’s hard not to laugh, walking down the street surrounded by all of these “upright” men with big symbolic cocks sticking up out of their pants."

Mar 17 2k5

Rachel Corrie...

...in memoriam.

No posts in almost a month, I know. Can't believe how fast the last month has gone. Work's been good and plenty for a change, but that means life's been a bit chaotic; this hasn't been a priority. Back soon.

Feb 17 2k5

When history decides to repeat itself, it doesn't send you an email

Orwell's been getting a lot of play lately. No one's holding it against him that he got the year - 1984 - wrong. "War Is Peace," those with the toothpick-propped eyelids shout in mockery of the cowboys crashing through the Middle East as if atop a mechanical bull that's shuddered loose from its moorings.

But those cowboys are proving very hard to mock. "War Is Peace," they declare with a grin as they... well, that bit about the mechanical bull again. And everyone's either too stupi(fie)d, hopeless, or on the take to raise much of a complaint. Bombs bring peace? Could happen. Freedom in the middle of a warzone? Well... sure, why not. Pass me a Bud.

Orwell must be spinning in his grave fast enough to power a small generator. The other day, I caught someone from a right-wing think tank on CNN, scoffing at the fact that no "Weapons of Mass Destruction" - which are different, of course, than the weapons of widespread tickling being used by the US army - were ever found in Iraq. Despite assurances from Bush and Powell that they were definitely there, poised to strike on American soil, and we had to do something, even if they were only just poised to strike all those hippies in the coastal states. "The war was never really about WMD's," he said. "This was about bringing democracy to Iraq, and we said that from the start." Oceania is at war with Eurasia. Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia.

And oh, what a short, short memory we have. All the better for the elites to lead us with. Just this week, Condoleeza Rice declared - with no evidence whatsoever, mind you - that because Syria was behind the recent car bombing in Lebanon, the US would withdraw its ambassador from Syria. It seems pretty reasonable that Syria would have an interest in the bombing, but "seems pretty reasonable" isn't really in the International Diplomacy lexicon. Though it is straight out of the Hey Let's Bomb Irak Iraq playbook.

"Syria is a destabilizing presence!" cries Condi. "They flout international standards! They occupy another country!" And then she steps down from the podium, hops in to her SUV with the "Fuck Kyoto" bumper sticker, guns the engine slickened with Mideast oil, and drives off, leaving the press corps nodding solemnly in her dust like bobble-headed dolls.

Orwell called it doublethink. To hold two contradictory thoughts in your head, and to hold them both to be true - the most important two being that you must exercise doublethink, and that you have never even heard of it. It requires a fine balance. It is the singularly most nuanced thing most of the American middle class will ever do, and they won't even get to know they're doing it.

Of course, they're getting a lot of help from an increasingly controlled mass media, which just happens to be one of the 14 Points of Fascism. Whee, fun!

The image is from Project For An Old American Century, which is a parody of Project For A New American Century.

@ @ @

The strange thing is, most of my writing time is actually spent on local politics here in Toronto, or poetry. The former is "professional" (or as close as I get to it), and the latter never feels static enough to translate in to anything other than scribbles. Nonetheless, I think I'll get around to posting in those veins as well. I may start with a piece on City Council's recent decision to ban the homeless from sleeping outside City Hall, a piece which was assigned then killed by a publication that shall remain nameless. But that's for another time - I'm tired. Sleeping is Waking.

Feb 3 2k5

Our Heroes Are Murderers

"Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. It's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up with you. I like brawling."

- Lt. Gen. James Mattis, US Marine Corps

[Decent people] enter a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if [they] were attending a funeral.

- Chapter 31 of the Tao Te Ching, from Stephen Mitchell's translation

Jan 31 2k5

Express yourself, [but] don't repress yourself

Fascism attempts to organize the masses without affecting the property structure . . . Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life [via] an apparatus which is pressed into the production of ritual values.

- Walter Benjamin, from The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, cited by the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army, via rob

How often do you see Madonna and Walter Benjamin invoked in the same place?

Jan 22 2k5

Intellectual vs. Property

A question that sparked up my rantal-lobe over at Angela Booth's Writing Blog: [H]ow do YOU protect your writing if you're blogging?

Short answer? I don't.

If something gets posted on the web, one of two things will happen to it:

  1. No one will care, or
  2. Someone will copy part of it and put that copy somewhere else.

Putting writing on the internet and then expecting it to remain your "property" is rather like putting a letter in a mailbox and then complaining when you can't come back and retrieve it a week later. Now, believe it or not, I make some of my money off of writing. I sell arrangements of words. But the way I look at it, editors are really paying me for the legwork put in to the story more than the actual words themselves. An analogy might be that a store manager needs their employees to be able to breathe and manipulate physical objects, but only pays them to work. Similarly, magazines pay me to be a journalist, not literate. And besides, magazines and newspapers directly benefit from skilled writers being able to pay rent and grocery bills, and those print institutions are really the only ones that can make sure that happens. (The irony, of course, is they acquire a lot of that money by protecting writing - others' writing, incidentally. But let's not get too complicated right now).

Generally, those entities who who have the money are not going to troll the web for cut&paste copy. And most people who are going to cut&paste don't have money to pay for the text - so I say, given a choice between getting no money or getting no money and being a part of a potentially enlightening flow of ideas, I'll gladly let people spread my writing around. My only request - both for my sake and the sake of the internet as a democratic and intellectually useful medium - is that they cite the source. And on the internet, most people are good enough to cite those they copy. Free publicity.

Certainly I'm against plagiarism, but if someone's going to risk their own credibility and waste their own time by plagiarizing my work, I ultimatey have no recourse. I could plaster my work in thousands of circle-c's and ensconce it behind a lengthy license agreement peppered with references to swift litigation and lakes of fire, and they'll still do it, unless I'm there to personally punch them in the head when they make the fateful decision. Genuinely interested readers, however, will be lost. And none of those reasonable readers will fly in to a frothing orgy of noun-theft upon discovering there is no copyright warning.

The internet isn't a Borders bookshelf, it's a public discussion. It exists to synthesize ideas. Approach it any other way and you will only hurt yourself, either by missing out on the opportunity it affords to workshop ideas, or by wasting your time by, quite simply, using it the wrong way.

To paraphrase Mcluhan, "information wants to be free." And this doesn't have to contradict the fact that writers want to be fed.

Jan 20 2k5


In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.

(...) All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.

Democratic reformers facing repression, prison or exile can know America sees you for who you are, the future leaders of your free country.

The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did: "Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it.

-George W. Bush's inauguration speech, 2005

A protestor is escorted away by police officers after heckling during the inauguration of the U.S. President George W. Bush on Capitol Hill in Washington January 20, 2005.

A protestor is escorted away by police officers after heckling during the inauguration of the U.S. President George W. Bush on Capitol Hill in Washington January 20, 2005.

Michael Lauer, a Capitol Police spokesman, said police had arrested five people for protesting during Bush's inaugural speech. He did not know whether they were men or women, or whether they were the people caught on television trying to unfurl a protest banner.


Some of the items banned from the inauguration by Capitol police include "posters, signs, placards".

A sample of the breaking news posted at DC Indymedia:

# 3:12 Bush motorcade is speeded up to get beyond the protestors on parade route;
# 3:13 Police send a request to the Bush motorcade to slow down the motorcade at 5th and Pennsylvania, as major street battle rages between protestors and police at 14th and Pennsylvania;
# 3:13 Tear-gas being used in street battle between protestors and police;
# 3:15PM: Much of the first 3 blocks of Pennsylvania has a significant anti-Bush presence, hard to pick pro-bush demonstrators out of some segments.
# 3:18 Three sections of fence on inaugural parade route now broken down by protestors; fence blocking off parade route has collapsed; protestors battling police in streets; police still responding with pepper spray and tear gas;
# 3:18 Pepper spray and tear-gas directed at protestors at 15th and Pennsylvania; at least 50 injured protestors; reports from police of "chest pains" in protestor; mainstream media journalists being hit with pepper spray; reports of bleeding from injured protestors;
# 3:20 Two officers reported injured at 14th and Pennsylvania; mainstream journalists being hit and pepper-sprayed by police;
# 3:20 Police snipers appearing on rooftops around 14th and Pennsylvania;

$40 million was spent on the inaugural festivities for the President of a country in which 1 out of every 8 people are in poverty, and in which the top 10% of the population controls 70% of the wealth. The security cost $17.3 million.

Enjoy your new president, America. Exchange only, no refunds.

* * *

I quote the following from today's Toronto Star coverage of soon-to-be-installed Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's confirmation hearing:

[Iraq] does not need a mature economy, but it must be able to show that it can defend itself, she told the senators[.]

I think this is perhaps one of the most potentially revealing things that anyone in the Bush administration has said about Iraq so far. It has got me thinking, and I thought I'd put out a few intellectual feelers here.

The more I read about the occupation of Iraq, the more I come to feel that maybe the American government really does believe it's own press. That they're not so much skilled propagandists as they are monumentally and myopically ignorant. That is, they may actually believe that they are bringing freedom to Iraq, and that an independent state is the best description of what they are trying to achieve.

I'm not naive. The invasion may very well get a spot in future history textbooks beside Germany introducing leidherhosen to Poland, and one of the few things keeping this from looking like outright genocide is the fact that troops don't actually seem to know what they're doing or why they're there. But to the type of people in government, "free" doesn't mean being free from torture, or getting to run your own elections, or create trade unions, or have access to your own natural resources. "Free" means free enterprise. Free from regulation. The freedom to buy and sell your ass. And as far as they and their friends know, it's working out fine at home. Prosperity for all. After all, this administration exhibits an almost pathological ability to make sure it doesn't hear about any of its own mistakes.

So this is colonial aggression, no doubt - neo-colonial aggression. Rice's stated criteria - little economic complexity (ie. little or no economic enfranchisement, and the absence of social programs) save for what would need to be significant military (or paramilitary) spending - are quintessential neo-conservative bullet points. They aren't looking to gain a protectorate, like the old colonial powers, but to establish a free port for capital (with great preference - or deference - given to American capital) and all the privatization that will come with it. That's essentially what the IMF and neocon politicians are attempting to whittle numerous existing states down to. In Iraq, they're trying to build a neconservative state from scratch; imagine how they must salivate of the idea of starting entire social service sectors - pre-privatized!

It's possible that they really do want to get this top spinning and get the hell out of there - but only once they've changed gravity so the top lurches clearly toward them.

Jan 14 2k5

Prince Harry and the Nazis

Many of you have probably already heard of this: In an incident which I'm chalking up to frothing ignorance begat by a long lineage of cloistered inbreeding, we find that Prince Harry thinks Nazi regalia qualifies as "fancy dress." Nevermind for now that there might be a few South Africans or Aborigines who don't see what everyone's so surprised about - the kid's a git.

As this was covered in today's transit rag Metro (Now With Spellcheck!), it was inevitable that I'd overhear at least one conversation on the subject.

"All I'm saying is that I see a huge double standard," said the U-of-T-brand hipster standing in the opposite doorway to a friend. "Why do we get upset about this, but not about kids walking around with a hammer and sickle on their t-shirt?"

He makes a very good point. We would never tolerate ironic Uberkitsch (try to imagine art-school morons wearing t-shirts of a posterized Hitler and putting posters of stylized Nazi progpaganda on their dorm-room doors). But somehow posters of Mao, CCCP tees, and commisar hats can give you po-mo cred. Even worse is that in some of the more atrophied limbs of the Left, this goes on with a complete lack of irony (irony was officially excommunicated in 1965, along with levity and two synonyms for the word 'perpendicular'). I still shudder to think back on the sight of a guy I'd been conversing with before an antiwar march unrolling a large Soviet flag. We argued. He said something about "comrade Stalin." Failing to disintegrate him with the wide-eyed fury of my shocked silence, and struck with an increasing fear that he was, quite literally, a robot, I walked away very quickly and almost got myself arrested in an incident which is not at all relevant and involved a hawaiin shirt.

But back on the subway, I noticed that this person across from me was wearing a Union Jack lapel pin. Well, if we're talking about double standards (or if you're talking about them and I'm eavesdropping), let's talk about that pin, bearing as it does the insignia of one of the most murderous empires in history.

For that matter, why are people angry at a British royal for wearing a Nazi armband, but perfectly alright with him being a British royal? What exactly does this boy do to justify being rich other than lounging around being descended from other rich people, who made the vast bulk of their fortune off of multiple genocides?

And while we're on a righteous roll, we can't forget how the government right here in Canada has only been too happy to pick up the slack since achieving un-dpendence. Many comparisons have been made between South Africa's apartheid regime and Canada's Aboriginal reservation system. These things are rarely talked about, as are all the other millions of deaths that have resulted and will result from various business routines in the New World (Order). But history teachers fall over themselves to teach us about the rise of the Third Reich, probably because none of us are implicated. Oh, and, well, there was that war.

I didn't say any of these things to him, and I'm not sure why. I'm reminded of a slogan once printed on backgrounds similar to that of his pin - Loose lips sink ships. It's equally true that, today, tight lips can help loose ethics.

Jan 9 2k5

A brief exercise in empathy

Consider the following paragraph.

"It was really distressing picking up dead bodies from destroyed homes, especially children. It is the most depressing situation I have ever been in since the tsunami relief effort started."

Consider how it makes you feel. Why does it make you feel that way?

Now read the paragraph as it was actually written in a January 4th Reuters news service article.

"It was really distressing picking up dead bodies from destroyed homes, especially children. It is the most depressing situation I have ever been in since the war started," Dr Rafa'ah al-Iyssaue, director of the main hospital in Fallujah city...

Do you feel different now? If so, why?

Jan 7 2k5

Obituary For Western Sorrow

Another blogger commenting on those who are commenting on the tsunami: a powerful piece called An Obituary For Western Sorrow.

Jan 6 2k5

After the tsunami, a presumptuous aftershock

I didn't have much of an emotional response to the tsunami, until this morning. Tossing in bed at 9am (that's early for me) with half-dream anxiety, trying to grapple with the fact of 150,000 people. Swept out to sea. Crossed out like an entry in a ledger. I find that, just like September 11th, or the mounting number of massacred innocents in Iraq, or the mounting number of unknown, unheeded, worse-than-forgotten dead in Sudan or anywhere else, there aren't emotions big enough. Maybe all the buildings crowd them out. And I can't shake the feeling that there's simply no good reason that I and everyone I love shouldn't be dead right now. Just thank or curse the roll of the (admittedly weighted) dice.

That being the case, I'm about to embark on a rant that may be ill-timed. So be it. But first, a bit of advocating.

Believe it or not, deforestation and systemic poverty are probably driving the tsunami death toll higher. A project you may want to keep track of when need for immediate, emergecny aid decreases is the Mangrove Action Project.

As for relief donations, another group to add to the list is Via Campesina, who are endeavouring to get funding and supplies to landless peasants, farmers & fisherfolk, and indigenous communities. These are people who are not always considered a priority by the local bodies - such as the Indonesian military - who may ultimately be co-ordinating much of the aid.

* * *

I'm sitting at my favourite falafel joint, taking some shelter from the strange winds passing through the city - winds that have picked up death and empathy and come here to mix them in to a snow storm. But there's plenty of hot air by which to keep warm; reading a discarded paper, I learn that some North American reporters have taken to referring to the recent tsunami as "the Boxing Day disaster."

There is no Unicode character set which could ever be invented to properly communicate my anger at this. The arrogance. The bloated, blind, bilious, near-blasphemous arrogance. "Boxing Day disaster?" 150,000 dead. In a region of the world where most of the people are not Christian, and you're crying about how it's such a sad, sad Boxing Day? Simple ignorance is obviously at work here, but I think there's also an even deeper myopia. "How tragic," our culture thinks - because I'm sure few of us are consciously thinking this way as individuals - "that those people should have to suffer right after Christmas. And that we should be confronted with such horrible news footage on our beloved Boxing Day. I am wracked with empathy and human etc."

Cry me a fucking river, power suit. Your bad day is just a blip in a few hundred years of bad joke being played on the global south. The real Boxing Day disaster is when thousands of us go out and return all that expensive electronic hardware like so many sandwiches made with the crust pieces, hardware that was pieced together for pennies by the slave labour of the people now being washed out to sea because their countries couldn't afford the early warning systems.

It occurs to me that there were already plenty of images of Sri Lankan, Thai and Acehnese suffering for CNN to whore out like a privatized horror flick, going back years. There were also plenty of predictable, and even intentional, disasters being wrought upon the region by the IMF and Western corporations. But these current images, at first glance, don't warrant investigation. There are no hard questions to be asked of Western governments and corporations, the International Monetary Fund, or corrupt local officials which they support, because they don't control the weather (yet). And in the coming years, will any questions about further tough-love economics imposed by the West be silenced with intimations that we aren't sympathetic to needs for reconstruction? I hope not, but I'm not going to waste too much time in the hoping.

"Boxing Day disaster." Unbelievable. We're even colonizing suffering now? If you haven't already, O Clever Punditry, put your money where your mouth is. Donate to aid work now. And if this all manages to hold your attention long enough, start demanding debt relief and living wages later. Until then just shut the hell up and mourn.

Jan 5 2k4

Because sneaking is always appropriate

Two fascinating stories - one disturbing, one inspiring - about people sneaking in to places and doing things they're not supposed to. The first is told by a man who helped design a fictitious non-lethal weapon - the ID Sniper - and then pretended to be an arms dealer at a Chinese weapons fair...

I now realise that this is an environment where basically EVERYTHING GOES. I could be selling gas chambers dressed up as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and people would STILL smile and hand me their business cards.

...and the other by a man who snuck in to Apple computers every day to develop a program:

In October, when we thought we were almost finished, engineers who had been helping us had me demonstrate our software to their managers. A dozen people packed into my office. I didn't expect their support, but I felt obliged to make a good-faith effort to go through their official channels. I gave a twenty-minute demonstration, eliciting "oohs" and "ahhs." Afterward, they asked, "Who do you report to? What group are you in? Why haven't we seen this earlier?" I explained that I had been sneaking into the building and that the project didn't exist. They laughed, until they realized I was serious. Then they told me, "Don't repeat this story."

Jan 1 2k5

My Friend Meta #1

Orange and purple. For a public washroom. It's refreshing. Almost nourishing. Why aren't more designers so adventurous?

That's the watchword for this little tour, which has now taken us, both decidedly male, in to the women's washroom. No one seems to mind. In fact no one seems to be using the facilities - people apparently come here to hang out. Maybe it's the decor. Even the urinals are orange.

Wait. Urinals? In the women's washroom. Come on, subconscious. Get in the game, here.

"See, that's just strange," I say to my companion. "Are you visualizing them too?"

"Well, yes and no." he says. "I'm part of the dream myself."

"Oh, right," I respond half-presently, jotting down some notes on whatever it is I'm supposed to be taking notes on. Unnecessarily attractive females mill about as if they're at an office. "Well, they seem pointless to me," I elaborate, as much to my subconscious as to my guide. "Just using up memory, you know?" One of the women laughs, as was doubtlessly my desire. Thank goodness this isn't one of those dreams where I'm not funny. Never understood the point of those.

"Maybe not," he responds. I still can't see his face - I mean I'm incapable - but you get used to these things. "You feel that?"

"What do you..." Oh, hell. I feel it now. That's the bladder, banging on the ceiling. Alright,

alright. I'm up. And stumbling out of bed to piss. And already feeling nostalgic.

Hmm. Maybe I should paint in here.

Dec 31 2k4

Keep your eye on the eye of the storm

At least the tsunami is something the corporate media can't lie about. But there are things they can neglect to mention:

The disaster is killing thousands in Aceh but the Indonesian military has been doing that for years. Now activists fear the Indonesian military will use the disaster as a cover to further the killing of the Acehnese and that the Pentagon may use the disaster as an excuse to restore aid to the Indonesian military...

The above was referenced in Putting A Disaster In Context.

Dec 28, 2k4

Shrapnel is not generally considered a suitable gift for children

Found this at some right wing blog:

But they didn't want to help this one.

Maybe he wasn't smiling enough.
Or maybe he was. Maybe he was in one of those "look how free and happy and blessed with functioning limbs Iraqi children are" photos just a day before he was eviscerated in an American air raid.
Wait. Is that it? Is it that the marines want to help him, but the air force wants to kill him? Maybe that's it.
Or maybe there's no fucking sense to anything at all.

(The boy pictured is Ali Ismail Abbas, whose story was widely covered by the mainstream North American Press. He was dismembered in an American air raid. Given the nature of modern warfare - and especially this one - it's an impossibility that his situation is anywhere within a parsec of unique.)

Dec 24, 2k4

Putting Herod Back Into Christmas

From Sojourners, an article worth reading which touches on the dark side of Christmas and the often overlooked radical in Jesus:

We Christians like to talk about putting Christ back into Christmas, but let's not forget to put Herod back into Christmas.

Herod represents the dark side of the gospel. He reminds us that Jesus didn't enter a world of sparkly Christmas cards or a world of warm spiritual sentiment. Jesus enters a world of real pain, of serious dysfunction, a world of brokenness and political oppression. Jesus was born an outcast, a homeless person, a refugee, and finally he becomes a victim to the powers that be. Jesus is the perfect savior for outcasts, refugees, and nobodies.

Obviously I disagree with that last sentence. But it should resonate especially with those of us living in colder climes, where for the unprivileged, the 25th of December is just as likely to be the day you freeze to death on a street decked in the tidings of wealth. At least Jesus - who was born homeless - didn't have to worry about freezing rain.

So, the article's worth spreading around, perhaps with some caveats. People talking about "putting Christ back in Christmas" is what a high school teacher friend of mine would call a "teachable moment," and this article speaks their language.

If I had any bandwidth to spare I'd also put up an mp3 of NoMeansNo and the mighty Jello Biafra doing "Jesus Was A Terrorist," but I'll have to settle for the lyrics:

Jesus was a terrorist / Enemy of the state / That's what the romans labeled him / So he was put to death /

He died for his beliefs / What's changed today?

According to the Pope, not much has changed at all - he's still begging jesus not to abandon humanity:

Pope John Paul II appealed to Jesus during his Christmas Eve homily, asking him to "stay with us forever" because "all humanity, with its burdens of trials and troubles, stands in need of you."

JP. Face it. He's not returning any of your messages. This clearly leaves us three possibilities.

  1. He's a dick.
  2. He moved and changed numbers and forgot to tell you.
  3. He's dead.

And I read the Bible. I think. Well, at the very least I had it summarized for me at various points by actors of varying talent. So I'm quite sure that it's not #1.

This is about as Christmas-y as I get.

Dec 20 2k4

Never ending math equation

Jailed, he was forced to kneel with his hands tied behind his back for 4 hours at a time with 15 minute breaks. This was how he spent each and every day. The penalty for moving or swaying was a beating from an armed guard who was constantly over his shoulder.

Is it just me, or does this passage - about a Chinese student jailed after the Tiananmen Square massacre - describe two prisoners?

(The title is from the Modest Mouse song I happen to be listening to right now. Seems appropriate.)

Dec 19 2k4

Racism and the antiwar movement

Puppets, Pageantry and Protest Politics: White People and the Anti-War Movement from APOC's booklet, Our Culture, Our Resistance (vol. 1 | vol. 2):

Ewuare Osayande, who I have cited earlier, has offered an alternative view on the question of where people of color are in the anti-war and "global justice" movements. "White people will start to see people of color when white people start doing the work that people of color have always been doing. The question people of color ask is: Where are the white people?"

Dec 14 2k4

Right of what?

A bit of good news for angry motorists and Frogger enthusiasts alike.

According to traffic laws in Ontario (stay with me here), the only place that a four-wheeler has to yield to a biped is at a crosswalk - simple enough, except they don't actually have to yield until one of those peds is on the ground directly in front of them. Pedestrians must indicate that they would like to cross the road safely by stepping out in front of a moving vehicle. But the truly fun part is that this scenario, as it sits on the books, is then played out with each lane of traffic. None of the other motorists are legally obliged to acknowledge that you have commenced the act of crossing and might like a corridor free of hurtling steel and glass.

In other words, after you stop that first car, you're back at square one - except now you've got a short-tempered SUV driver referring to you as "some fucked up slow-moving fleshy thing with no chassis" in their cell phone conversation beside you in square two. Same deal, of course, if you decide to turn back out of fear of bouncing off someone's hood (known in Montreal as "hailing a taxi").

How did humans ever come to design a society for ourselves in which we are strictly incidental?

Dec 11 2k4

In the future, we're all saying "Cheese!"

"Today, the technologies of deception are developing more rapidly than the technologies of verification. Which means we can use a television camera, plus special effects, plus computers, etc. to falsify reality so perfectly that nobody can tell the difference. And the consequences of that eventually could be a society in which nobody believes, everybody knows that seeing is not believing, and nobody believes anything. With the exception of a small minority that decides to believe one thing fanatically. And that's a dangerous social/cultural situation.

One of the consequences of living through a period like this, which is in fact a revolutionary period, is that the entire structure of society and the processes of change become nonlinear. And nonlinearity I think is defined almost by the statement that 'small inputs can have large consequences.' While large inputs can sometimes have very small consequences. That also means in a political sense that very small groups can, under a given set of circumstances, achieve power. And that is a very threatening idea for anything remotely resembling what we believe to be democracy. So we're going into a period, I think, of high turbulence and considerable danger, along with enormous possibilities."

(From an interview with futurist Alvin Toffler, via William Gibson's blog.)

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend a while back. I think that, potentially, something of even greater concern than technologies of deception is the ability for manipulation of those who use the tools.

I'm not necessarily speaking of manipulation of people, but manipulation in a broad sense - including the (relatively) simple manipulation of visual elements to create a piece of artwork.

People's ability to do this relies on more than just what technology is available. Graphic designers and animators are becoming increasingly savvy at convceiving of and implementing convincing and immersive displays. While this is made possible by developing technologies - you can only do what your tools allow - those technologies can't make people creative. They can only respond to the skills and needs of their users. The required capabilities of future technologies in development are only known to developers because those who will use them in the future know what they want to be able to do with them.

If you look at advertising from the early 1990s, you can usually tell when it came from, and have a basic sense of what visual elements make it so dated and, by current standards, clunky and almost embarassingly earnest, like a suburban high school teacher in a Wu-Tang Clan shirt. Today, with advertising and visual art pumping out so many love children, and with more artistic freedom given to monied advertisers and more financial options (but less freedom) given to artists, the crass and the sublime have been hybridized. Given that through web design, visual design has found its current apotheosis in the sugar-coating of information with visuals, and given that design paradigms (and the levels of design subtlety) change about seven times a week, thanks to the internet, I think advertising will be less and less dated by visual elements, and more simply by the technology (which is now developing more along a rapid continuum rather than in disparate eras).

In other words, technology is only part of the story - we are also simply getting quite good at figuring out how to fool ourselves, and while technologies to detect manipulation are being developed, the human brain isn't developing the ability - or, crucially, the desire - to watch for how we fool ourselves, or make clear distinctions between the real and the virtual.

That inborn ability to change psychic channels isn't, in itself, a bad thing - it's what give us lucid dreams and mushroom trips. But the waters have even more mud photoshopped in to them if you consider the rise of so-called augmented reality and augmented reality games, which will become increasingly exploited by advertisers in the future, and enthusiastically consumed by people increasingly enthusiastic about being, well, consumers.

Now don't go wagging your finger at the monitor and saying, "But I'm reading this on your website! A website which you just redesigned!" First of all, you look silly. I can't hear you. But I'm also not inherently opposed to technology, only the degree to which it's become an ideology. If I wanted to avoid every technology with harmful or potentially harmful effects, I'd be living in the woods in a hidebound tent - and probably a lot happier for it, but as long as I want to be a journalist and an activist, I'll just have to keep an embodied awareness of the dangers of all our shiny new innovations. After all, you can't effectively dismantle a machine unless you know something about it.

This also reminds me that I bought one of Toffler's books about ten years or so ago... never read it. No pictures.

Dec 10 2k4

Subterranean subzero submissions

Trying a new design. Hit Ctrl-R if you can't see it. Thanks again to Krystal for the photo. I've also trimmed the blogroll substantially. If your blog was there but now it isn't, that doesn't mean I don't like your blog - it's just that I've also substantially reduced the amount of time I spend netsurfing (if people even call it surfing anymore. I kind of hope they don't, actually), and I feel like I should only reccommend things that I still read on a regular basis.

Nov 28, 2k4

This made me cry

In the course of some research for an article on TASERs (50,000 volt electric shock guns used by various police departments), I came across this November 20 Detroit Free Press article on a 14 year old given an electrick shock for goofing off in class:

According to a report filed in Wayne County Family Court by Lincoln Park Police Sgt. Charles Kaminski of the youth bureau, the boy was sent to the assistant principal's office because he refused to stop playing his Game Boy when the teacher told him to stop.

The principal asked the kid to hand over the video game, which, understandably, he didn't do. The principal called in the school's "liaison officer" - which I assume is one of those police officers or special constables assigned to schools. This constable proceeded to search the student, who - again, understandably (and technically within his rights considering the search was not legal) - physically resisted. Two uniformed officers were called in, who shot the kid with a TASER.

How far we've come. You used to just get a rap on the knuckles for denigrating the inherent excitement of penmanship! and igneous! rocks!, but these days, if Canterbury Tales can't get your hair standing on end, 50,000 volts definitely will. Scary. What really terrifies me, though, is the mop-up job the Free Press did for the police:

Police in Lincoln Park had to use a Taser gun -- twice -- to subdue a kicking and screaming 14-year-old boy who wouldn't stop playing his Nintendo Game Boy during class.

They had to shock him.

Wait. Why did they have to shock him? The rest of the article doesn't really support that assertion. I've touched on this before, but it bears mentioning again - pay very close attention to the lede (increasingly spelled as lead - it's the first paragraph) in any piece of written news. It's where you'll often find the editorial or authorial slant of a story or publication (journalists are usually trained to write top-heavy when doing hard news, partially to get people interested, but also to get what they think is important across quickly since people often don't read articles in their entirety) or an indication of the unconscious cultural assumptions at work.

Let's go with the latter. As alluded to in my last post, I've been reading Derrick Jensen lately, and this story immediately brought Jensen's musings on a culture of abuse to my mind. Coming from an abusive childhood himself, Jensen makes a convincing case for the abusive household as a microcosm of civilized society as a whole.

This incident is a fine example of Jensen's point. An abuser will generally change the rules on the fly - giving always shifting but rational-sounding reasons for the meted punishment. This is done, though usually not consciously, because the real reason for abuse is not punishment, but control. If the rules were consistent, people could learn those rules, follow them, and presumably avoid punishment. But if the rules constantly change and contradict each other, or if beatings are "for your own good," there will always appear to be cause for retribution, keeping the abuser in power (and in a position to rationalize the abuse to himself) and the abused trapped.

Consider the mixed messages that anyone in the position of the electrocuted Game Boy Terrorist receives daily, which, while originating from superficially competing sources, are all properly described as missives of Power (especially from the point of view of disempowered children). Buy our video games, it's what kids do. Video games are bad for kids. You live in the Land Of The Free(TM), so do what you want and have fun. You have to live in the Real World(TM), so quash your desires and do what others tell you. Never let a stranger touch you - your body is yours. Always do what grown-ups say, especially if they're police and they want to search your body.

The kid made the Wrong Choice, choosing to stick with his story - school sucks (which it does) and video games are the best way to spend my time (which they aren't) and I should get to do what I like (which he should, within ethical bounds) - rather than changing realities each time a grown up flipped the switch. I submit that this is the real reason he was given what amounts to uncertified Electro-Convulsive Therapy, though all the authorities involved would probably justify it as being in service of the officers' safety (sure there were three cops, but the kid was playing Nintendo - he might have recently powered up with a flame whip or something!) or even in the boy's best interests.

Or maybe not. The kid was brought up on charges of "resisting and obstructing a police officer" (a police officer who didn't really seem to be operating within the bounds of the law, which, to me, just makes him an asshole with a hat) - and the truly disturbing possibility is that, maybe, that's enough for people. Maybe the abuse in America has gone so far that people have internalized it, and, dovetailing nicely with the "original sin" foundation of the ever-rising religious fundamentalism, have bought in to the idea that they're just bad people, and deserve to be punished, especially if they resist the punishers.

Another thing that's pretty clearly established about people who survive abusive upbringings is that without a massive undertaking of healing, they're pretty likely to act out the same patterns of abuse on their children. Beatings for love, bombings for democracy. Sometimes, the more sense things make, the more worried I get.

* * *

I'm willing to admit the possibility that the layout is warped in Internet Explorer if you're willing to admit the possibility that Internet Explorer isn't a real web browser. At any rate, I'll fix it soon.

nov 23 2k4

On Choice

One method the Nazis used to control Jews was to present them a series of meaningless choices. Red identity papers were issued to one group, while another received blue. Which will permit my family to survive another selection? Are identity papers with or without photographs safer? Should I declare myself a shoemaker or a clothier? When the line splits, do I step to the left or the right? In making these choices victims felt the illusion of control over their destinies, and often failed to reject the entire system. Resistance to exploitation was limited.

—Derrick Jensen, A Language Older Than Words, p.106

If the freedom so many generations have fought and died for is best exemplified by a man in a voting booth, who checks a box on the ballot before returning to work in an environment no more under his control than it was an hour before, then the heritage our emancipating forefathers and suffragette grandmothers have left us is nothing but a sham substitute for the true liberty they lusted after.

-From Beyond Democracy by Special Agent Rolf Nadir, CrimethInc., via Where We Are Bound.