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Ever wonder what an "industry white paper" is? Ever spend your working hours with a motley group of madmen from the new technology community, each with their own peculiar version of religious zeal? Ever obsess over being awarded government grants in order to stay afloat and perhaps one day implement a new technology? Remember, in order to encumber funding one must generate a belief in crisis on the part of the reader, based on the writer's own interpretation of the crisis' many many elements. Notes from the distillation of a ton of legal ink on how to write one of these things:

White papers are asked to focus on areas of critical need before showing any focus on a specific technical solution. Address and amplify a complaint. Do not sell our company or others. Brief examples of R&D projects are okay. White papers are asked to outline a broader agenda in which companies and/or academic institutions would want to participate at a programmatic level. Display thinking in terms of viewing the broader technological community as researchers rather than just our company. Do not actually propose anything. Outline and map the challenges facing the area of critical national need that can be addressed through high-risk, high-reward investments. Include references to any recent/relevant industry activity, published papers, surveys, studies, etc. Always generate precedent. Always justify claims.

Papers should further develop the definition and scope of the "critical national need" suggested by the topic, and should identify and explain specific societal challenges within the areas of civil infrastructure and complex networks, or complex systems (intelligent transportation systems), with external effects on the areas of manufacturing and energy. Papers must have: 1. Map to administrative guidance, 2. Justification for government action, and 3. Essentials for TIP funding. Our company is categorized under "industry assistance" as a small business. The primary mechanism for this research support is cost-shared financial assistance (grants, agreements) awarded through merit-based competitions. Papers must be no longer than ten pages. Paper titles must not exceed 90 characters. Please send no less than three copies.

We must ask ourselves: Does the paper topic justify government attention? Does the paper address the magnitude of the problems and societal challenges that need to be overcome in order to address the topic? Has the paper demonstrated that its societal challenges--those preventing the new technology to move forward--must be confronted or else the overall function and quality of life of the nation will suffer? The societal challenges must be associated with barriers preventing the successful development of solutions to the area of critical national need. Are the desired results achievable by TIP's mission to tackle technical issues? Does research into this solution have the potential to enable disruptive changes over and above current methods and strategies, and to radically improve our understanding of systems and technologies, challenging the status quo of research approaches and applications?

White papers, in addressing a "critical national need" must contain 1. A description of the area of critical national need and its associated societal challenges. What's the problem, why is it a problem, how is it formed, what are the challenges in overcoming it? 2. Why government support is needed and what will happen if that support is not given in the proposed timeframe, 3. High level discussion of technical solutions and an indication of the types of entities/groups who will be interested in developing proposal submissions to fund these solutions. White papers, when addressing "high-risk, high reward research" must prove the research in question will 1. Have "transformational" potential, 2. Address the area of critical national need by supporting/promoting/accelerating US innovation, 3. Is too novel or spans too diverse a range of disciplines to fare well in the traditional peer-review process, 4. Fits within area of technical competence of the program awarding the funds. Overview the following: 1. The research (technologies) to be developed and expected new outcomes/capabilities, 2. A path to achieving stated goals, matching ALL THREE "critical national need" criteria.

And that's just the version one would write for someone in our position, our little corner of the market. Now just kindly apply it to your industry and maybe the Yes Hand will let you in on the pie...
The Light Touch was given to you by the only boy with hands so heavy they’ve gotta be remote-controlled from the moon. And that ain’t cheap, lemme tell ya.”
–Overheard at séance, not attributed to attendants.

“Life is a small price to pay for heaven.” –The Human League

THE FIRST TIME IT WAS HIS VOICE

but the second time I heard Spencer Owen it was his music.

I was going to write a review of The Light Touch focusing on the music itself, but that was when it still hadn’t been released. Now that it’s out I’ve decided to write a preview in the guise of an appreciation focusing on my original impressions of the artist and how they’ve lasted over the years, making it more like a portrait. My original title was, Enter the Light Lunch, but then only Spencer and a handful of obsessive Coen Bros. fans would dig.

August of 2002. I was in the oldest building on the decommissioned Alameda Naval Air Base, the only brick structure on a bleak asphalt plot by the jet engine testing facility where the emissions tower still rises against the border between landfill and island soil. It was one of these windy placeless summers that happen through. You morphed along, college lay ahead, the sun baked your sense of the transitory. I'd spent the day tarring the roof either because the seals had leaked the previous winter or I was avoiding the editing I'd planned for this insane millionaire louse who’d invested in our company and offered me “a job on a picture”.

This meant a doomed sci-fi movie, the kind of project where the director's a Walnut Creek entrepreneur set on producing his own labor of love: a late-baby boomer’s soap filled with psychobabble relationship nonsense, lessons, rising ocean water and a dance-off at the climax—where it would turn out the world was a video game. Fantastic as this idea would have been in the hands of someone who either refused to take it seriously or follow the tenants of any and all traditional narrative, this guy was clearly never going to bring the project to watchable fruition. His direction was sloppy, defensive and combative. His end goal was to make the picture into a multimedia cash cow.

Fat chance. He started shooting on low-end digital video, planning to transfer it over to 35mm for the San Francisco Film Festival, which would have made it the first hyper-pixilated experiment in futuristic B-movie opera—on accident. It never happened. A lot of people like to plan things, spend their money on things, create things for misguided reasons. The guys who really deserve the money and attention and often times end up getting it are generally somewhere else. Basements, art centers, school studios, the backs of record stores, storage containers, tree houses, upside-down dumpsters or, in Spencer’s case, a second-story west Los Angeles bedroom with a unique combination of rock instruments, a 6-track tape machine, supportive parents and tolerant, well-wishing neighbors.

The ‘90s left quite a generation gap between folks when it came to thinking about technology. Some became more interested in staying on Earth, maybe because they’d already been living off-planet and didn’t romanticize the awe of space, while others (the older ones) tended to keep fantasizing about what they’d’ been promised growing up. There’s dispersal amongst the generations (how else would the young draw from the past) but that was the climate, and still is to some degree. Maybe we were just promised different things as kids.

So off I went to college, to live with someone whose favorite movie was 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was my mine too. He liked it for the awe of art, not space. I liked it for the awe of provocation. This was someone whose most beloved piece of music as a child was the Disneyland Electric Light Parade song, someone who’d recorded a rocking pop diddy about Buckminster Fuller before he’d even arrived at the dorms. And for the material he took seriously he only used the 6-track. Digital recording, like the digital cinema effects many of us had been growing out of for a few years, seemed too easy, lacked tactility and failed to represent the authentic Spencer Owen.

In terms of official albums The Light Touch is not just his first studio effort—it is his first real digital effort. And it is more than authentic.

When Spencer and his take on the world of creativity entered my life a lot of pipe dreams clogged the air I breathed, not just those of some B-movie director. CyberTran Intl. Inc. was slugging on to save the world of passenger transit with no end in sight. So was my own lofty ideal of a future in film direction.

Like one of my favorite characters Victor Vazquez had inadvertently done in high school, Spencer provided a window into working against the late-baby boomer attitude without sacrificing extremist art and ideas for the sake of maintaining a good nature. Rather, extremist juissance was a fantastic tool against becoming an interpretable human product while retaining the charisma involved in pleasing yourself and others, for the sake of doing just that and, pretty much, only that.

“Success” (whatever that means) was a bad word, something you had to get over in order to make it seem real in the future, which meant, of course, not giving the term any lip service.

Some things change; some don’t. It’s not hard to look to Mr. Owen for consistency. Six years later we’ve come to position ourselves in parallel to that original summer in that we’re both reviewing and working for startups and staring at screens.

2002 still. I was sitting in filthy coveralls at a computer chatting with Spencer online. Having been chosen to share a dorm at Santa Cruz's post-elegant/post-retarded Porter College, we were given each other's phone number. Our first conversation over the phone was our last. Spencer preferred typing to talking; I'd been moving in that direction myself. We never used the phone again. Our in-person relationship took a quarter at school or so to really reach its brightest and poorest periods. Some people learn about their friends quite slowly. We had osmosis. Chatting was online, in-person or nothing. If we weren’t working as roommates, we didn’t spend any time around each other. In a class we shared, if I wrote an essay at the last minute showing I hadn’t read the material, and was awarded for my effort, Spencer would turn in a late, well-conceived essay just to rail against this sort of behavior. Way beyond talking on the phone.

I like to think I’ve learned very little about Spencer since the spring of 2003. He’s been full of surprises, but they were surprises I’d have believed and speculated on further, had someone prophesied them. The piano on The Light Touch, for instance, having been influenced by Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan as much as Spencer’s own oeuvre of organ work, brings an old friend’s boots to the desktop and a squeak to his office chair. Spencer’s fingers had always been confident and quick, his melodies sprawling when compared to most pop, but even in its most frenetic and exciting moments the new record expresses a new power: the unspoken, the restrained.

Not only does Spencer's preferred method of online communication make him a viciously fast typer, he can be (I found from the supposed solace of my dorm cot) quite a key-masher. Online he'd fall easily into these endless discussions about films and albums and existential issues with people he knew, and he'd talk about his performance art and his videos, the music he made, his tastes in things. The clicking. Always his clicking and tapping away. I was a loud motherfucker but the opposite when it came to my fingers: I used one hand to communicate online most of the time. The way Spencer typed was like hearing someone else think.

By the same token he's an intuitive pianist and drummer, equipped with a couple heavyweight bionic arms designed for Bach and flicking around drum sticks. He'd been trained at some kind of undercover moon colony. On getting to know him it was clear he took all these things—his tastes, his output, the heavenly object on which he had trained—deathly seriously, and not without a subdued sense of animated humor with which he could have some strong opinions. I can’t say it didn’t take one to know one. It did.

His music first spoke to me at my old Alameda desk as if from a vacuum either in space, where he was to return from, or the bubble of Los Angeles (which I at the time imagined in great exaggeration). It was the world of a science video without the updated aesthetic (as with Boards of Canada). Corny, I thought, but down to Earth—unlike the majority of the SF Bay Area suburban types I was used to.

While Spencer's vocal content and typing told me a little bit about him at first, his music was more universally outspoken. And it continues to fill in a lot of gaps.

His stuff struck me as sounding like it had actually been composed, which was rare—the guy playing it was reading along or taking direction or something, or I was hearing a computer trained to play down its skills in order to sound human. As a result it was, overall, quite honestly, innocuous to me at first. No matter: I was a bit of a shit at the time. So since it eventually occurred to me that we were too young for things to sound this serious, it made a big effect on me. I eventually reached admiration. Though I didn't really like it, certainly it was clear this was not your average guy with some instruments in a room.

Sure: my aesthetic then was unblossomed and green, like my voice and work ethic now. But nobody would disagree that Spencer's old songs are crumbs to the loaves he bakes today. Having heard his mp3s, at the time I'm pretty sure I somehow or other made my respect known to him and politely laid off the subject of taste due to tact. But talk about what he does today and you've got these incredible bursts of significant work on your hands. So much has happened.

His first success to my palette was a genuinely rocking album he released the winter quarter of our freshmen year, six years ago, called Malheur Ln. It seemed the dorms were split between people that liked it a lot and those who hated how much he liked it—and how good it was—so much that they refused to accept it on some level. We won’t name names. I recall one late night having to explain this conceit to Spencer, as I had my moments with it as well. I was green in more ways than youth.

Real talk must be intriguing because that was when his music started to stick with me. It provoked things, for instance, the perpetual and thin nerve ending-like connection that keeps me hanging on some inescapable need to work with music still. Such is the curse when a short distance lies between fertile agents. You can only imagine, then, the effect Ribcage and Meredith later had on me, say nothing of what it did amongst his other music-oriented friends.

I like to think (more non-musically than not) that I made a mark on him too, but we won’t get into that. Like the man says, “My friends, it’s like trying to nail Jello to a wall”.

If we were kindred spirits in anything it was, and continues to be, capacity. When it came to mp3s I listened to my hard drive and his and anyone else's just to get volume in my head. Spencer was a voracious listener but for other reasons. He chased down his pleasures in order of intensity. I was more of a cartographer with special loves, points of interest and a category for Artists That Were Great to Make Fun Of.

Other people's albums are Spencer’s first love. At the time it seemed like his own came in at a close second. That wasn’t me. He liked some really cheesy pop and a lot of noise (things I had avoided until then, and still work to verse myself in now), and all sorts of artistically garish things (garish as one can allow twentieth century minimalism to be—personally I'm giving it a full rating) and he let it all show. I had to love that.

We had a loud room all the time. I'd leave Busta Rhymes on just enough to where we’d hear it coming out our window from the quad, just to hear it on the way to the dining hall. He’d blast the Boredoms.

Spencer wanted his interests to be heard in his music only at the cost of their sounding like he did. I took this to mean that he felt he needed at all costs to be heard within his own work. This endures today, and charmingly so.

During that year, and following Ribcage, Spencer struck out, artistic rigidity in hand, idiosyncrasies at the ready, determined to keep going without a hierarchy of goals. His home recordings over the next several years in Los Angeles, Santa Cruz and Berkeley explored a range of molds into which he could from then on inject his immaculate obsessive ear for harmony; soil pods into which his intuitive approach to rhythm, his tendency to landscape rather than arrange his songs could be sown.

If you want to be technical it's all pop. This says very little, but it covers the greatest range. Can you spell liberty?

As far as “pop” holds weight, he, in his own way, has hit enough of pop's out-boundaries to say he's really explored the realm's diameter, and probably will continue like Beckett’s Lost Ones shuffling around the giant room to scour the lengths of pop—a playing field often scorned for its homogenous tonal limits, that yet provides the most consistently fertile grounds for people who actually like music for what it does to you, not what it might promise to give you. In case you thought it was the opposite, consider this: pop makes itself seen in every genre, thus it’s the flagship category for diversity—not homogeneity.

This relies on how absolute you want to be. I don’t, and neither should you. Let us move on.

Within these expansive confines Spencer, as a songwriter informed heavily by performance and conceptual art, seemed intent on letting his edge show without having to actually performatively lose himself, unlike his friends (John) or his idols (Yoko). He's managed to use an incredibly confident volume of seemingly confused, tenuous...what’s the term for it...inner instability? Trepidation? Vibration? Which isn't to say he hasn't been expressive at his shows; certainly we've seen him in various moods at various times and for various reasons. Generally, however, Spencer's performance has always had a way of holding much back while still getting a surprising amount done. He continues to do this except now he can hit more bases more elegantly.

The variations in his code compose his new output; the code makes its shapes into more nuanced figures.

As an artist he can tend to be surprisingly rational (perhaps Logical) considering his often emotive presentation. But this is dangerous, natural and romantic for him, for Spencer is a man of contradictions and, at times, washes of prolonged confusion. He also loves to throw irrational things into recordings, even when he doesn’t know he’s doing it. This tendency provided the basis for Theresa Rife’s collaboration on The Light Touch.

In that way you can always count on him for new blossoms. He has been erratic only at the cost of the lasso. I think he's comfortable with this now.

The first time I shook his hand in our dorm on move-in day he had a totally different way of holding himself. The event still reflects my understanding of him: he was restricting some sort of physical, nervous energy from shaking his entire body, which took shaking parts of his body instead, namely his wrists, hands and shoulders. This isn't the case today.

While his self-imposed restrictions and active creative side still endure thematically his body adheres to the motion of another star. Maturation is an elusive bitch that makes her presence known only after she has moved on. The violent inner stasis of Spencer Owen, like a star himself, appearing solid from a distance, has a multiplicity of outlets, solar winds, flux; a wealth of coordination far and beyond his early years—a difference as stark as that between the nervy, modest mid-1960s Reich pieces and some of his ‘70s ensemble works. Space is filled, the image has a higher resolution, but it’s still fundamentally pixilated.

At worst Spencer is a wanderlust and lovable genius, and obstreperous as the rest of us can be. At best he is a sort of monk with which one can sip otherwise forbidden tinctures. Today's Spencer is Mark Three, he's calling it. A beast of discipline—to my mind a grotesque revolutionary, a cloaked outlaw in the monastery of hip values, bionic arms still working away as if radio controlled by that remote moon colony of his apprentice years, Mediterranean fur covering his thick mammalian skin, his metal limbs falling heavy.

His work has become smoother, more diverse, more careful and more stubborn than anyone could have realistically asked. Let us hope this continues. The smoothness may be a new trend, but his stubbornness continues to carry its torch through and through.

Enter The Light Touch. The bugger up and decided to impregnate my ex and name the kid The Light Touch. Imagine calling someone's child by italics all the time and you might get the right image of what this thing is.

Theresa Rife's influence is a tough nurturing. Spencer's calling this his first studio album due to strict working conditions, under which the two came together. Working with an apt engineer/recordist is a first for him. I wonder what it was like to have been there. We know that Theresa Rife's general inclinations towards sound are a different set of defaults than Spencer's, and we know that Spencer's intuition probably battled Theresa Rife's requests often. We also know that the material itself is about Spencer, from both of them and projected out to us.

Like the astronomical body and the second-decade highlights of Reich, The Light Touch maintains its own tightrope walk, its own stasis; a smooth outer shell presenting an intense inner kinesis, for reticence makes itself known in the observance of meditation and a star’s light burns its mark under the magnifying glass.

An indulgent portrait, but I tend to try and not miss the roots for the branches. And Spencer’s great at not missing the branches for the roots. Such are the cosmos and the polis.

Where did the universe start for Spencer? What beginnings, Mr. Owen? Ask him and maybe he’ll improvise something.

In the meantime I offer a concept for a Spencer Owen project down the road: a cover album of Busta Rhymes’ The Big Bang, with the same hooks but all-new verses. The re-written lyrics will loosely narrate the tale of two men. One is the subject of a séance, the other is composer Sandy Owen.

Pro Saluti Te,

Ben

November 2008, Oakland

Spencer's music is available on iTunes and CD Baby. This is his profile at the record label he's on. Much of his work is available for free download here. Here he is at Last.FM. At Amazon you can even acquire a vinyl release of the R&B-inflected Logic, and Norman Records has it too!

Now hunt him down on his blog and make him put up Meredith somewhere.

Two of my own play reviews...

I suppose I ought to start linking to my own stuff, if not out of some semblance of pride then for my own archival purposes. Except my paper's site isn't archiving enough stuff right now and they're low on copy anyway, so I'm stuck with two out of ten reviews here...oh well, more in my print archives at home...

I've been publishing local theatre reviews for about eight months with the Bay Times, semi-regularly. It's a weekly San Francisco paper focusing on a non-heteronormative readership (in other words, the triangular top of the "y" in Bay is colored pink). Why publish at a paper with such a specific bent? Because they'll let me, of course.

Here's a review of The Ballad of Edgar Cayce: A Bluegrass Musical, and here's one of Terrence McNally's Bad Habits. More to come...

Hipsters, Weedpunkers and Lies Lies Lies

It may seem like this is another post avoiding the expression of my inner life. Don't get me wrong, it is.

There is hope in the near future: linking away at distractions can only last so long, before the various risings converge. Soon I'll be reflecting on the last fourteen months, a period of my life dense as the stuff they used to make certain helmets out of. Yes I am typing this note for myself more than anyone else. Only up to this point though.

Pop culture is a funny thing. Allow me to present a wildly opinionated but conceptually and informatively decent article on this thing we call Hipsterdom.

It's not surprising how down the Adbusters guys are on skinny fashionistas and fashionistos who ride bikes around and party really hard in lieu of producing any long-lasting, paradigm-shifting artistic output in their pocket of pop culture. Adbusters tend to think outdoor and internet advertising are fundamentally manipulative, thus, the current trend in Hipsterdom, as a natural outgrowth of the Spectacle of Capitalist Empire (Godzilla noise), suppresses or manipulates--rather than inspires--the human spirit. Very complicated grounds here. The human spirit is far from gone--it just depends on where you're choosing to look--but right and wrong aren't really the issue in addressing how accurate Adbusters is. It's more about where our values lie with regards to their accuracy.

Personally, hipsters (as such) only really annoy me when "they" show that no knowledge- or idea-driven base is maintained beneath their ironic/post-ironic attitudes and casual, cute art, and furthermore, despite this, also hold a kind of hyperliberal righteousness.

In other words, the aesthetics on their own certainly can please me when they're presented with plenty of meat to work with, but this is most often not the case.

We may just have to face the fact that the general level of human intelligence has always been relatively low. Now that inexpensive consumer electronics and vintage tools and a proliferation of media stories and a fevering of the modern imagination have all helped to make more folks more creative and more vain than ever before, we're living in the effect, the splash zone, the plateau of a prior curve. As to whether the issue of intelligence is true of people due to nature or nurture, we can't draw a clear line. Regardless we are lucky to be see so much youthful indulgence and creativity today (however lame and tired much of it seems), because, to me, it expresses a democracy of access filled with the teeming urge to express, create and be loved. A democracy that needs a lot of work, sure, but a beautiful, complex, troubled and carnation-like democracy nonetheless.

Let's say pastiche culture can in a sense be modeled as a List compiling all the individual lists people write on themselves, in order to (consciously or unconsciously) describe themselves to others (and, of course, to themselves). Why not. As in the Mexican and Southwest beatings of "metrosexuals" the claim laid against Hipsters tends to focus on their pastiche nature (constructed from past youth trends or countercultures), and their lack of political righteousness (God forbid).

The Adbusters frustration, in print, is essentially a form of conservative political action, as were the aforementioned beatings. As in the issue of a missing human spirit, I tend to think the political side of this youth trend does exist, it's just not being looked at from any new angles. For instance, we might ask whether nonpolitical action (political nonaction) is in fact the acting prerogative of the quiet majority--which means the majority of democratic actors express their demands not from a voting booth, but from the public display and bartering of lifestyle.

Unfortunately for all involved in this conflict of ideas, the obnoxious Hipster thing is, again, perfectly natural: an outgrowth of an imperial, globalized youth and the information technologies there involved, including the highest acceptance of homosexual and otherwise marginal activities in the Spectacular West since Athens--complete with a tendency to recycle cans, bottles and--most importantly--taste.

Then there's Weedpunk which, I mean, is just another outreaching limb from this tree of cultural claiming. Go for a laugh, stay for the smell. Is it possible our generation will be known as the last wave of people who were great at using the past to make shit up? One can only hope.

Burroughs on Scientology

William S. Burroughs was one of the first popular writers (if not the first) to critically take the "science" of L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology on in print.

Having published and/or completed the most significant chunk of his prose work in the '50s and '60s, Burroughs entered the next decade experimenting, primarily, with scriptwriting and nonfiction, though other media worked their way in as well up towards the '80s.

By 1970 his scientific "reading lens" and authorial persona were those of a 'new journalist', taking his own perspective into account and using his own experiences with Scientology to put a story together that would clear up any unanswered questions as to his involvement with the cult.

The piece encapsulated his own well-known research in psychiatry, Hubbard, Leary, Castaneda, cybernetics and whatever musterable contemporary brain science lay about for him to nip at.

What ties Scientology together with these other topics? Why, a discussion involving the battle between institutional control vs. institutionally protected access and democratization, of course. Enjoy.
Le Hombre Invisible in his prophetic youth:

When a depressed psychotic begins to recover, that is, when recovery becomes possible, the illness makes a final all-out attack, and this is the point of maximum suicide danger. You might say the human race is now at this point, in a position for the first time, by virtue of knowledge which may destroy us, to step free of self-imposed restrictions and see all life as a fact. When you see the world direct, everything is a delight, and boredom or unhappiness is impossible.

The forces of negation and death are now making their all-out suicidal effort. The citizens of the world are helpless in a paranoid panic. First one thing and then another is seen as the enemy, while the real enemy hesitates--perhaps because it looks too easy, like an ambush. Among the Arabs and the East in general, the West (especially America), or domination by foreigners, is seen as the enemy. In the West: communism, queers, drug addicts.

Queers have been worked over by female Senders. They are a reminder of what the Senders can and will do unless they are stopped. Also many of them have sold out their bodies to Death, Inc. Their souls wouldn't buy a paper of milk sugar shit. But the enemy needs bodies to get around.

Also there is no doubt some drugs condition one to receive, that is, soften up for the Senders. Junk is not such a drug, but it is a prototype of invasion. That is, junk replaces the user cell by cell until he is junk, so the Sender will invade and replace until separate life is destroyed. Nothing but fact can save us, and Einstein is the first prophet of fact. Anyone is free, of course, to deliberately choose insanity and say that the universe is square or heart-shaped, but it is, as a matter of fact, curved.

Similar facts: morality (at this point an unqualified evil), ethics, philosophy, religion, can no longer maintain an existence separate from facts of physiology, bodily chemistry, LSD, electronics, physics. Psychology no longer exists, since a science of mind has no meaning. Sociology and all the so-called social sciences are suspect to be purveyors of pretentious gibberish.

The next set of facts of similar import will most likely come from present research on schizophrenia, the electronics of hallucination and the metabolism of insanity, cancer, the behavior and nature of viruses--and possibly drug addiction as a microcosm of life, pleasure and human purpose. It is also from such research that the greatest danger to the human race will come--probably has already come--a danger greater than the atom bomb, because more likely to be misunderstood.

Tangiers, 1955
From "Their Finest Hour, or, Triumph and Tragedy (1909)", a chapter towards the end of The History of Electricity, the first book of You Bright and Risen Angels (1987):

As the bug - which seemed to be a beetle of some kind - recovered, it came to evince so fond and loving a disposition for me that I decided to bring it back to the United States when I returned. We quickly learned to communicate with each other, for it was a very intelligent bug and understood that it could never escape and would be severely treated if it did not make a good-faith effort to obey my instructions.

According to von Fritsch, the language of bees consists of signs like that of our poor dumb and deaf population; and different varieties have different languages, "perhaps as far apart as French and German." These beetles have apparently established an insect Esperanto which must come in quite handy for instinctive aggression. Being no linguist, I insisted that my prisoner speak English. The conversations took place in a small hut kept at my disposal.

"What are your true aims?" I asked. "Are you fighting against reaction or the human race as a whole?"

It waggled its feelers. "You hurt," it wrote, "beetle hurt, you kill and we die you..."

"Will you become our shock troops against the reactionaries?"

"You feed us, no hurt, and we do for you..."

"What is the composition of your Central Committee?" I asked, my spectacles flashing with excitement.

"Great Beetle hurt when we hurt, fight electricity make you die..."

"And do you think that the Great Beetle will agree to bolster our forces?"

"Hurt all beetles, we burrow click and pinch, we hurt, certainly sir make you die..."

Pg. 134

Tomorrow is Already Here

Beginning to Use Computer 'Robots' for Menial Tasks

Why build expensive robots when you can slap a face on a flatpanel monitor and store its functions in a small computer? Yet another awesome effect of the microchip: making cheap replacements for jobs nobody'd be happy at anyway.

A generation of accountants and engineers cried out in droves when they witnessed what the calculator could do to their work hours. Fields of sweat lay behind them and a cool glistening six-inch deep pond surrounded by wood nymphs waited ahead. But did they fall below the daily grind? No! They started using their time better, dagnabbit. The utilitarian dream still lives on in pleasureland. Thank you, lord microchip. Thank you.

Kites Are Fun!



See my kite, it's fun
See my kite, it's green and white
Laughing in its distant flight
All that's between us is a little yellow string
But we like each other more than anything
And we run along together through the field behind my house
And the little drops of rain caress our face and wash my blouse
And we'd like to be a zillion miles away from everyone
Cause Mom and Dad and Uncle Bill don't realise

Kites are fun, kites are fun, kites are fun
Kites are fun

- "Kites Are Fun," the Free Design
This was in the Wall Street Journal yesterday...

My Plan to Escape the Grip of Foreign Oil
By T. Boone Pickens
July 9, 2008



One of the benefits of being around a long time is that you get to know a lot about certain things. I'm 80 years old and I've been an oilman for almost 60 years. I've drilled more dry holes and also found more oil than just about anyone in the industry. With all my experience, I've never been as worried about our energy security as I am now. Like many of us, I ignored what was happening. Now our country faces what I believe is the most serious situation since World War II.

The problem, of course, is our growing dependence on foreign oil – it's extreme, it's dangerous, and it threatens the future of our nation.

Let me share a few facts: Each year we import more and more oil. In 1973, the year of the infamous oil embargo, the United States imported about 24% of our oil. In 1990, at the start of the first Gulf War, this had climbed to 42%. Today, we import almost 70% of our oil.

This is a staggering number, particularly for a country that consumes oil the way we do. The U.S. uses nearly a quarter of the world's oil, with just 4% of the population and 3% of the world's reserves. This year, we will spend almost $700 billion on imported oil, which is more than four times the annual cost of our current war in Iraq.

In fact, if we don't do anything about this problem, over the next 10 years we will spend around $10 trillion importing foreign oil. That is $10 trillion leaving the U.S. and going to foreign nations, making it what I certainly believe will be the single largest transfer of wealth in human history.

Why do I believe that our dependence on foreign oil is such a danger to our country? Put simply, our economic engine is now 70% dependent on the energy resources of other countries, their good judgment, and most importantly, their good will toward us. Foreign oil is at the intersection of America's three most important issues: the economy, the environment and our national security. We need an energy plan that maps out how we're going to work our way out of this mess. I think I have such a plan.

Consider this: The world produces about 85 million barrels of oil a day, but global demand now tops 86 million barrels a day. And despite three years of record price increases, world oil production has declined every year since 2005. Meanwhile, the demand for oil will only increase as growing economies in countries like India and China gear up for enhanced oil consumption.

Add to this the fact that in many countries, including China, the government has a great deal of influence over its energy industry, allowing these countries to set strategic direction easily and pay whatever price is needed to secure oil. The U.S. has no similar policy, because we thankfully don't have state-controlled energy companies. But that doesn't mean we can't set goals and develop an energy policy that will overcome our addiction to foreign oil. I have a clear goal in mind with my plan. I want to reduce America's foreign oil imports by more than one-third in the next five to 10 years.

How will we do it? We'll start with wind power. Wind is 100% domestic, it is 100% renewable and it is 100% clean. Did you know that the midsection of this country, that stretch of land that starts in West Texas and reaches all the way up to the border with Canada, is called the "Saudi Arabia of the Wind"? It gets that name because we have the greatest wind reserves in the world. In 2008, the Department of Energy issued a study that stated that the U.S. has the capacity to generate 20% of its electricity supply from wind by 2030. I think we can do this or even more, but we must do it quicker.

My plan calls for taking the energy generated by wind and using it to replace a significant percentage of the natural gas that is now being used to fuel our power plants. Today, natural gas accounts for about 22% of our electricity generation in the U.S. We can use new wind capacity to free up the natural gas for use as a transportation fuel. That would displace more than one-third of our foreign oil imports. Natural gas is the only domestic energy of size that can be used to replace oil used for transportation, and it is abundant in the U.S. It is cheap and it is clean. With eight million natural-gas-powered vehicles on the road world-wide, the technology already exists to rapidly build out fleets of trucks, buses and even cars using natural gas as a fuel. Of these eight million vehicles, the U.S. has a paltry 150,000 right now. We can and should do so much more to build our fleet of natural-gas-powered vehicles.

I believe this plan will be the perfect bridge to the future, affording us the time to develop new technologies and a new perspective on our energy use. In addition to the plan I have proposed, I also want to see us explore all avenues and every energy alternative, from more R&D into batteries and fuel cells to development of solar, ethanol and biomass to more conservation. Drilling in the outer continental shelf should be considered as well, as we need to look at all options, recognizing that there is no silver bullet.

I believe my plan can be accomplished within 10 years if this country takes decisive and bold steps immediately. This plan dramatically reduces our dependence on foreign oil and lowers the cost of transportation. It invests in the heartland, creating thousands of new jobs. It substantially reduces America's carbon footprint and uses existing, proven technology. It will be accomplished solely through private investment with no new consumer or corporate taxes or government regulation. It will build a bridge to the future, giving us the time to develop new technologies.

The future begins as soon as Congress and the president act. The government must mandate the formation of wind and solar transmission corridors, and renew the subsidies for economic and alternative energy development in areas where the wind and sun are abundant. I am also calling for a monthly progress report on the reduction in foreign oil imports, as well as a monthly progress report on the state of development of natural gas vehicles in this country.

We have a golden opportunity in this election year to form bipartisan support for this plan. We have the grit and fortitude to shoulder the responsibility of change when our country's future is at stake, as Americans have proven repeatedly throughout this nation's history.

We need action. Now.

Mr. Pickens is CEO of BP Capital.

The Stakes: Urban vs. Rural?

This may or may not be true or relevant forever...but it deserves consideration for now:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/29/us/29pollute.html?ref=us

Berlin

Ah...(sipping)...well, there's a reason they're not famous for their coffee. The sausages, on the other hand, you'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. The flavor is simple but the effect draws from the momentum of a few hundred years, and with that kind of velocity the Germans mustn't find it difficult to produce such a deceptively unique product. And these were only the little dinky things that came with breakfast! More later on the big ones.

It's a bright, white lighted morning on the Stuttgarter Platz, a few meters north of the rail line and half a block West of Kaiser-Friedrich Strase, facing South. The hostel is relatively secure and clean, and sits in the far Western section of Central Berlin where condos, offices and shopping form an international outdoor mall. The hostel's breakfast is standard continental fair. Somehow, though, the warm rolls so casually set out at European tables are awesome. Their crisp, flaky outer shells collapse givingly to fingers eager for warm and glutenous interiors. The butter is always sweet, the orange juice always unnaturally thin and tangy (yet somehow refreshing), the deli meats far less salted than those in America (yet accompany the cheese options more appropriately).

Familiar fragrances both floral and carbon linger in the sunlight. But the air is right. The blue above is tinted by a white gauze of precipitate. It's sorta hot. The aspen trees are familiar; the fashion laid out on the bodies of young women and men doesn't seem foreign. In turn, I can't seem that foreign around here, until maybe when I open my mouth. Apart from the confused look I've most certainly been giving all the German-coded signs and billboards. Maybe if eleven hours of extra travel time hadn't been tacked on unapologetically by American Airlines--the trip totaling 27 hours from my door to the hostel's--I'd have the energy to make sense of this German phrasebook and dictionary I bought. In response to getting here Theresa and I walked out for cheap glasses of Orvieto white and pizza Gorgonzola (not so German).

The sun was setting when we arrived at our room. The back windows open onto a wide and escapeless light shaft; an alleyway without an entrance. The moss made it pretty. I sat my butt down in the window box and leaned out backwards to begin unwinding. The sounds of German voices above me bounced around the concrete walls in a music whose code I had no business comprehending. The effect continues this morning.

Places we want to visit round these parts before heading to Rostock and Hamburg, and, perhaps, Frankfurt: 1. The Berlin Film Museum, 2. The Potsdam Film Museum, 3. The TV Tower, 4. The Tiergarten, 5. The Victory Column, 6. Checkpoint Charlie and the remains of the Berlin Wall, 7. The Dora concentration camp and Mittelwerke rocket factory in Nordhausen, 8. The bunker where Hitler killed himself, which is near that giant expanse where he'd deliver inspiration to thousands of soldiers and officials, 9. The Brandenburg Gate, 10. The Government Quarter...and, of course, the rumored-to-be-splendid East Berlin nightlife.

I'm getting kicked out of the breakfast room. More later on bicycles and "The Sun Also Rises" by ol' Ernst Hemin'way. Auf Wiedersehen!

The Shift

GM is phasing out its SUVs, light trucks and possibly its Hummers. They haven't turned a profit in years. Four plants have been closed. Sustainability for the previous powers now means "sustainable profits".

Last.FM In This Piece

Tags:

Jumper | Emo Kid Thrashings

As I left my neighborhood for work this morning with a mouthful of gyro and tzatziki, I noticed a line of police motorcycles and an ambulance parked between the northernmost Kaiser building (my Piedmont Ave. locale sits on the north side of the various central Oakland medical buildings) and Bay Wolf, a snazzy restaurant. This is all right outside my door.

A jumper had decided to plummet six or so stories from a Kaiser parking structure into an alley. The guy at the gyro joint told me he was dead. I passed by while the police casually walked away from the body. It lay covered under a colossal wall. The amount of cops made me think foul play was a possibility, but I have no idea how cops really work so maybe it's normal that like twenty of these guys show up for every jumper.

I thought about falling six floors; whether that would be spectacular enough for such a vainglorious event as suicide. Then again maybe this guy had a family member who just died in the hospital. Maybe he got to his car, looked over the edge of the structure, considered whomever he had lost inside and saw release in the cracked asphalt below. Unnoticed weeds struggling upwards to his fall.

Anyway. Stuff. I got back to the front of my building later in the afternoon, making an extra sidestep to drop off a recently purchased travel guitar and some LPs fresh from the dusty bin. I had the company car. I was listening to some NPR, which is sounding more like softcore leftist porn every day...(I don't recommend listening to their entertainment interviews, at the very least) and BOY did I hear some relevant shit:

In Mexico, more and more cases of "emo bashings" are being recorded. This is where macho guys, drunk guys, homophobic guys or even metal heads beat someone up, at times in mob form, because they look "emo". Keep in mind that Mexico was primarily, like the rest of the Rocky Mountain and high-desert American states, a cowboy culture. Also keep in mind that girls, not just little dudes, are victims of this sort of violence.

A number of interesting ideas arose in the radio conversation. One is that for those who want popular or subcultural aesthetics to reflect a political culture, much of those with "indy" rock or pop embedded in their psyches are going to disappoint. Some Mexicans committed violence on the grounds that apolitical folks deserve it. Another facet to the situation seems to be political in a different sense of the word: many accuse the "emo" style (the more knowledgeable refer to this as the "hipster" thing) of unfairly jacking styles from other subcultures, other styles of music, and other generations of "hip".

For one metal fan, justice meant beating up someone who was clearly weaker than them, thinking "Frankly, how dare they have pride in touting a pastiche image". Translation: MY identity is authentic. THEIRS isn't.

Is there an older false dichotomy than the pastiche vs. the pure?

Finally, globalization entered the debate, as someone pointed out that these styles had all arrived in Mexico after punk, post punk, hard rock, indy, metal and everything else under the sun spiraled its way outwards from the American/British center...

Then again, if you don't see the overall exchange going on between the USA and Latin America these days [read: PEOPLE], I don't know where you're looking...

New Coen Brothers Flick!!!

This September, only two can win. Most likely they will be Ethan and Joel. Hopefully. Here's to this one not stooping to the level of their pre-No Country For Old Men/post-Man Who Wasn't There streak. Stay strong, Brothers Coen.

So Kenneth James, a Cornell undergrad, asks Delany about the influence of poststructuralist theory on his work, expressing a tendency to find it suspicious. "I understand that ideas can be complex and difficult to express," he says, "but the notion that some ideas are so complex that you practically have to reinvent the language in order to express them seems pretty suspicious to me. No idea is that complex; it just can't be."

To which Delany responds, "What you've brought up is the whole problem of "difficult discourse"--I've often wondered if it shouldn't be called the problem of "complex rhetoric."...Our country values "common" sense and "simple" language. It's part of our whole democratic notion--part of a necessary vision of democratic workings. What this means, however, is that to speak or write a complex rhetoric is to speak against the American grain, as it were--to speak outside the American tradition. This is one reason difficult discourse initially raises our suspicions and distrust.

Delany continues his response...Collapse )

BLADOW - Ellen Degeneres feat. John McCain

It happened! Yes, it happened.



My personal opinion...is in my last comment regarding the previous post...
The media's probably flogged this dead horse long enough, but for those of us who tend to rob the grave when the topsoil's still fresh, here're some extra swings at the carcass.

McCain said:

"And the belief that somehow communications and positions and willingness to sit down and have serious negotiations need to be done in a face to face fashion as Senator Obama wants to do, which then enhances the prestige of a nation that's a sponsor of terrorists and is directly responsible for the deaths of brave young Americans, I think is an unacceptable position, and shows that Senator Obama does not have the knowledge, the experience or the background to make the kind of judgments that are necessary to preserve this nation's security."

Now personally, this quote alone makes me ready to stand behind the possibility of an Obama turn in foreign policy. Here are the thoughts that provoke me towards feeling this way:

1. The fact that a nation as strong as the United States has allowed its "brave young"ins to be slain by nations filled with those whom we have always been willing to kill ourselves (purely on nationalist principles) says to me that prestige is an honor such "terrorist" nations clearly deserve. If someone can play on your level, you ought to sit down with them for a little chat--especially when you have similar interests and conflicting strategies. Sidenote: I don't believe it is in the conscious interest of any Middle Eastern government to promote a divide between the East and West. In my view we are capitalists so that trade and bartering, monetary or otherwise, may replace the old, primal urge to violence that centralized power uses to start wars.

2. In the world's eyes--and this is foreign policy we're talking about here--our own prestige would be enhanced by opening talks with anyone, whether they're a nation that harbors terrorists, or they're terrorists themselves. Talk is cheap, conflict's expensive and you motherfuckers spend my tax money. Do my pocketbook--and my local economy--a favor and let your lips do the work for as long as possible before jumping into shit. Please. It's simple math.

3. When did Obama ever speak against "strong" talks, a term often thrown around when old guys with a military background discuss middle east negotiations, and why are "communication", and a willingness to achieve it, unacceptable? Man. That was really some cold shit to say, John. Also, you used to think talks were necessary in the middle east.

4. I don't hate McCain and he might not screw up our country, but seriously, I for one am tired of the rhetoric his generation has roped us up with for the last half century. Y'all grew up during the cold war and you still haven't recovered from the veil of bullshit you grew up behind. A post is on its way quoting legendary and award-winning science fiction author, post-structuralist academic and all around fascinating person Samuel R. Delany. His opinion on the relationship between American nationalism and simple rhetoric (versus "difficult" rhetoric) is so illuminating that you just gotta toss a pair of mirror shades on to read the shit.

5. Security. Security. Security. You know what a whole lotta talk about security says of the people who're so fervently talking about it? INSECURITY.

6. If this offends the intelligent Republicans out there, apologies for the blanket statement in advance, but I just don't believe that any your leaders have fulfilling enough sex.

An Argument for Public Transportation

Okay, so if you thought traffic was shit in places where freeways and sprawl reign supreme, try ever-developing Goliaths such as India, or high-density squeeze boxes such as China. Not only would freeways NOT solve this issue, they'd make it worse. Plus they just look tacky from outer space.

Watch the rather farcical video below for an example of why high-capacity public transportation ought to be of the highest priority in urban development--before capacity needs becomes unmanageably high, not after.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlZya6Vu7Hk&NR=1

Sea Communities of the Future

My friend just hooked me up with this link:

http://www.wired.com/science/planetearth/news/2008/05/seasteading#

And that's not sci-fi. If you're a Californian, and care to read into the Silicon Valley material of the article the way I do, that is, to imagine these things being occupied by down-home, escapist rich folks who've made their money on a primarily abstract plane, here are some lyrics from a favorite songwriter of mine, Stephen Merritt, to help the imagination visualize updated models, which will surely include such amenities as sand, and, of course, coconut trees:

I'll be the madness that carries you away
I'll be the sadness to light your darkest day
I'll be the desert island where you can be free
I'll be the vulture you can catch and eat

Desert island love is all around
Desert island where you can laugh aloud
Desert island everywhere's a beach
Desert island that's what I wanna be.

We'll develop muscles from cracking coconuts
Let our clothing drop off feel each other's butts
Start a better country where we can get things done
Make a fortune turning sand to silicon

Desert island love is all around
Desert island where you can laugh aloud
Desert island everywhere's a beach
Desert island that's what I wanna be.

While we're still holding on counting days until we're gone
Can we spend some time alone in our free love zone

Desert island love is all around
Desert island where you can laugh aloud
Desert island everywhere's a beach
Desert island that's what I wanna be.

-"Desert Island" from Holiday, by the Magnetic Fields

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