Wednesday, December 31, 2003

It's New Year's Eve. I should write something about my plans for the new year, or describe my resolutions or something. Then again, bloggers everywhere will be doing exactly that. Screw it. Here's something else:

Have you ever been in a store and noticed Amish people walking the aisles, appraising "high-tech" merchandise and sometimes even buying some? Firstly, I have nothing against Amish people. If you want to live your life according to the technological standards of some arbitrary historical period, that's all right with me. In fact, the idea is not without a weird sort of appeal. What I find distasteful is when Amish people cheat. In my opinion, shopping in modern stores is a flagrant violation of the rules. It's a matter of principle, up there with "vegetarians" who order steak and attempt to shrug it off as a dietary anomaly. If you're going to do the Amish thing, do it right.

So rather than making a New Year's resolution for myself, I'll make one on behalf of Amish people everywhere. No more cheating. No more fudging. Be Amish or don't be Amish. Make up your damned mind.

And best wishes for 2004!

I got some writing done and read some of "Engine City." The hierarchy of alien intelligences in MacLeod's "Engines of Light" trilogy is strangely plausible. Complex, computer-like lifeforms arise on asteroids and comets, built on a substrate of extremophile bacteria. Planets themselves develop their own bacteria-based minds, but since they're subject to tectonic stress they fail to reach the intellectual maturity of their smaller cousins. (Natural selection in the Asteroid Belt and Oort Cloud is achieved by random outgassing; only the smartest chunks of sentient rock avoid bashing into one another.)

Compared to the asteroidal "gods," terrestrial-style intelligence is downright primitive. The quietly omniscient "gods" lurking in deep space, annoyed by our radio pollution, eventually decide to get rid of us by emailing us plans for faster-than-light spaceships. Human communities obligingly take off for a prearranged "Second Sphere" of stars, each with its own retinue of conspiring "gods."

I like this scenario because it utterly overturns what we think we know about biogenesis. What if far-flung "networked" intelligence can arise long before nodal, meat-based intelligence, gaining an unimaginable head-start on our own attempts to "go wireless"?

Certainly, a sufficiently advanced intelligence could be effectively invisible and still span light-years. Conversely, it could be appallingly obvious. But would our "carbon chauvinism" allow us to recognize it as anything but some seemingly natural stellar phenomenon (i.e., the chatter of quasars)?

For all of our vanity, we might be cosmic vermin -- if that. Somewhere, someone unthinkable might be reaching for a big can of Raid . . .

In my stereo:

"Music for the Masses" (Depeche Mode)
"Watermark" (Enya)
"Fables of the Reconstruction" (R.E.M.)
"Ambient 1: Music for Airports" (Brian Eno)
"Louder Than Bombs" (The Smiths)

Site of the day: Mark Monlux's Lurid Paperback Cover of the Week

"Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us."

--H.G. Wells, "The War of the Worlds"

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

I just returned from Ott's. (I bet you thought I really wouldn't do it . . .) Natalie Portman wasn't there. But Kathleen Lague was; she was finishing her act just as I entered. Beautiful timing. Before I left I said "hi" and got a postcard with her Web address. Not having heard her, I don't know where she is on the genre landscape. From appearance alone, I'd guess anything from "alt country" to punk.

The whole time I was there a remarkably dreary infomercial for a get-rich-quick scheme was playing on an overhead TV (muted, of course). Make money from home by selling ugly little figurines. Really horrific stuff.
I spent a chunk of my day reading a lame science fiction novel called "Wyrmhole." Now I'm at a crossroads. Do I pick up another book and keep reading or do I start writing fiction in earnest? Can I do both and still write effectively? I charged my laptop the other day and put it on top of my stereo where I can't ignore it. Even so, MacLeod's "Engine City" is exerting an almost narcotic pull on me.

I'm all out of groceries -- down to some dehydrated soups. No pop left, so I'm freezing the ice cubes from my last cream soda; they have a faint sugary residue, which is better than nothing. I indulged and ate at Uno's Pizza the other night; now I find myself eyeing Fred P. Ott's out my window and imagining biting into another veggie cheese-steak sandwich. Maybe I should go there. Maybe I'll meet a girl who digs pale, introverted guys who write about Mars. Maybe Natalie Portman will be there . . .

"I am the son and the heir of a shyness that is criminally vulgar."

--The Smiths, "How Soon Is Now?"

Monday, December 29, 2003

I have this inexplicable, absolutely senseless crush on Natalie Portman. On some level, my brain has decided that cultivating a doomed attraction to a captivating young actress is a good idea. I don't have time for this. And yet there's a bittersweet aspect to my infatuation that's not entirely depressing. Maybe that's what my psyche needs right now. Maybe the concept of Natalie Portman is fulfilling some pivotal role in my subconscious.

I wonder what she's doing for New Year's . . .
This evening a Dianetics auditor, armed with a disappointingly innocuous-looking e-meter, was giving a free "stress-test" to passersby near the Palace Theater.

L. Ron Hubbard

L. Ron Hubbard's "Dianetics" is one of the only books I've never been able to finish. I've tried. Twice. It's sitting vulture-like on my shelf, daring me to try again.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Thirteen new "coalition" casualties!? But . . . but . . . we got Saddam! "Mission Accomplished" and all that! Could it be that the only people in the world remotely interested in Hussein's capture are right here in the U.S. and that it doesn't amount to anything except a brittle sense of renewed Patriotism(tm) and increased approval ratings for Bush?

Meanwhile, in outer space . . .

A woman named Lynsay Watson has noticed that the "City" area on Mars looks an awfully lot like the Pleiades constellation. Signal or noise?
There's rekindled hope that Bush will announce a manned lunar/Mars mission at the State of the Union Address. Possible, but unlikely. The tragedy is that even if he does, the Democrats will oppose it as a matter of course and we'll end up nowhere. Which is, of course, exactly what's supposed to happen.

Our political system is antithetical to transhumanism.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

One would think a sane society would invest a sizeable percentage of energy and money to the location and prompt destruction of incoming near-Earth asteroids. But no, not us. "Enlightened" Western civilization is just too macho for such things, apparently. Even NASA's official Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking website looks like something thrown together at the last minute by a freshman Computer Science minor.

Even if we happened to locate a "global killer" using the scant resources available, what would we do about it? Have Bush broadcast snide remarks at it? More tax cuts, perhaps? We simply don't have the faintest semblance of an alert/avoidance system.

Compounding the problem, an untold number of people across the world have been trained to expect and even look forward to the End of the World. (Exhibit A: "In Case of Rapture, This Car Will Be Unmanned.") Whether it's a designer virus, climate change, greenhouse emissions, inbound comets, industrial toxins or good old-fashioned nuclear weapons, we'll eventually be done in.

But in the meantime, let's all buy Hum-Vees and watch Monday night football.
At last -- Ken MacLeod's "Engine City" is out in paperback. What's more, he apparently has three new books already written and ready to go. One of the volumes has "Cydonia" in the title. Should be fun.

I picked up "Gormenghast," the second volume of Mervyn Peake's trilogy, at Half-Price Books on Christmas Eve. I should have bought them all at once back when they were in stock; tracking down "Titus Alone" isn't going to be easy.

Friday, December 26, 2003

The good part about all the crashed/disabled/missing probes littering the Martian surface is that they'll provide a lucrative salvage industry for future astronauts (assuming, as always, that we eventually make it to the Red Planet in person). I wonder what the Mars Polar Lander would go for on eBay . . .

I bet that somewhere there's an extremely wealthy person who'd like to have the Mars Pathfinder displayed in his/her office, perhaps as part of a diorama recreating Sagan Memorial Station. 100% real Martian dirt, of course. (Can you imagine what that powdery red stuff would go for here on Earth? My guess is that it would be somewhere up there with cocaine and those military-grade neurotoxins that only Middle Eastern Evil-Doers make.)

By the way, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (popularly know as "Mad Cow Disease") has finally found its way into the United States. Contrary to what you might read in the ever-dour mainstream press, this is great news. I hope this really throws corporate behemoths like McDonald's for a loop. The next time you sink your teeth into a quarter-pounder, stop to imagine thousands of deadly, invisible prions inundating your brain and chewing great big holes in it while you inexorably go insane and die a spasmodic death . . . Not exactly the stuff great ad campaigns are made of, is it?

Of course, the all-knowing folks at McDonald's assure us that there's absolutely nothing to fear. And we all know that giant, politically esteemed corporations never lie or act against the best interests of their clients.

Mad Cow Disease. I'm lovin' it.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Author/critic John Shirley has a new blog. I plan on reading this one regularly.

Beagle 2 appears to be DOA. So now we'll see how NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers fare.
Microgravity sex is so over-rated . . .

I'm up late -- or early, depending on your diurnal sensibilities -- wondering if the British-built Beagle 2 probe has successfully landed on Mars. I just checked the probe's official site and it doesn't look good. Apparently the Beagle was to signal NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft to let it know its status. So far, it hasn't responded. But the game isn't over yet. If I manage to sleep tonight, the first thing I'll do upon waking is check the Net for updates.

Happy holidays to everyone who's taken time out of their day this year to glance over my virtual shoulder. Special season's greetings to eWarrior, Patrick Huyghe, Chris Joseph (Sauceruney), Bill Dash, Vince, Peter Gersten, Bill Eatock, and "Katmak" for helping to keep me informed of breaking weirdness and pointing me toward all-too-frequent outbreaks of postmillennial absurdity.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

A low-budget art movie based off a story from my 1995 book "Illumined Black"? It's possible . . .

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

There's this wildly popular fiddle player here on the Plaza who's steadily grated on my nerves over the years. He tries his hardest to look like Yanni: a pretty distressing fact in itself. He sets up shop outside the coffeeshop I frequent and starts this god-awful hillbilly routine. How "rustic"! Passersby eat it up, of course, and fling little wads of money into his donation basket.

He fleeces tourists and window-shoppers year-round, but holidays are the worst. To get my coffee, I have to pass through a small crowd of fascinated, tasteless listeners. The other night he was squealing his way through a bone-chilling Branson-ized medley of Christmas songs. Members of his audience were literally slapping their knees in time to the music. I wanted to vomit -- as noisily as possible.

Is it too late to add this to my Christmas list?
Oh, the humanity!

Here's an urban phenomenon I don't understand: people who come to abrupt stops in the middle of sidewalks so they can talk on their cellphones. You never see it coming, either. The fat woman right in front of you whips out her "designer" Nokia and commuters are forced to make rapid evasive maneuvers or else find themselves in a human pile-up.

All cellphone use involves is walking and talking. Is this so hard? Is it too much to ask that the self-important drones who must field their calls from heavily trafficked sidewalks (and store interiors) keep moving while they conduct their business? Are Americans so self-centered and solipsistic that they don't realize when they're in the way? Judging from the U.S. presence in Iraq, I'm guessing the answer is "yes."

Here's something else that's beginning to bother me: Why do the Papa John's pizza delivery guys call to let you know your pizza is on its way? Save us both some time and just call me when it arrives! Unless you can't find my address and need help, I don't really give a damn where it is.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Space Monster alert raised to "beige"! Seek shelter immediately and watch lots of TV!

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Uncle Sam wants you . . . to be scared out of your goddamned mind.

The official U.S. Fear-O-Meter has been raised to "orange" due to the usual unspecified "substantial increase" in whatever exactly it is that precedes terrorist attacks. By "terrorists," I assume the government is referring to Muslim terrorists, as it doesn't appear to give a damn about armed psychopaths right here in the USA, like those white supremacists back in May. (Having trouble remembering them? That's because the media obligingly ignored the story.)

So what does this "substantial increase" refer to, anyway? Ex-CIA honchos selling off stock? A sudden, dire need to polarize public opinion against a new batch of faceless Evil-Doers? The guys at NORAD turning off their computer monitors to allow hijacked airliners to fly over major cities unimpeded? Beats me.

Have yourselves a scared-witless-for-no-apparent-reason Christmas.

I finished reading "Titus Groan." Wow. I'll definitely be reading "Gormenghast." For my review, click here.

I'm at loose ends. I slept in late this morning and I'm not especially tired. Maybe a Coke at Fred P. Ott's. Then again, it's probably a carcinogenic melee there right now.

Now playing: "Now I'm Your Mom" (David Byrne)

Saturday, December 20, 2003

The new edifice poised to take the place of the World Trade Center (named, somewhat repugnantly, the "Freedom Tower") is to be topped with tiers of wind-turbines that will provide 20% of the building's energy needs. I suppose the turbines are meant to express U.S. independence from foreign oil, in which case they're essentially a joke on the American people. But the idea is promising. Wind-energy collectors should be mandatory for all new skyscrapers. Imagine the skyline of a near-future metropolis encapsulated in a mesh of steadily whirring turbines. Why, you might even be able to take a stroll without respiratory gear!

Take a look at "Metropolis" magazine's new issue, emphasizing urban design of the next ten years.

Friday, December 19, 2003

A psycho-warfare experiment? Our military should at least study this phenomenon, assuming it doesn't already know all about it. What better way of "liberating" an enemy population than forcing it to self-destruct?

(This mass psychosis is more than a little like the zombie-virus in "28 Days Later.")
Yeah, this is about what I expected in the way of concrete plans for a renewed U.S. presence in space: the same lofty rhetoric I've been hearing for over a decade. Some are clinging to this as evidence of some as-yet secret plan to colonize the Moon; they're in the same camp with UFO researchers who think appealing to the federal government will result in a massive altruistic disclosure of alien activity on Earth. I tend to side with Whitley Strieber: there's no doubt that there is a UFO cover-up, but it's likely the UFO intelligence itself is playing a pivotal role in preserving its own secrecy.
I just got back from a late-night jaunt to Fred P. Ott's. I've lived right across the street from this place for years and this is the first time I've been inside. It's a cramped, cluttered sports bar-type of place. I had a vegetarian cheese-steak sandwich and watched "The X-Files" on close-captioned TV. Ott's is open until 3:00 AM on weeknights. Not exactly a place to take a laptop or a book, but better than nothing.

Now playing: "Head Over Heels" (Tears For Fears)

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Stuff like this is partly why I like the Net so much . . .
This morning I got the best haircut I've had in at least a year. I generally find hair extremely boring. In an ideal world, everyone would be perfectly bald. Think of the time and energy saved.

In the meantime, I bought some styling gel. I'm actually going to start "styling" my hair -- or attempting to -- as long as it doesn't take too long. Nothing elaborate. If it dampens the static charge I'll be happy.

I plan on finishing "Titus Groan" this weekend (or sooner). I really want to read Iraqi cyberpunk Salam Pax's blog-turned-memoir.
Neuromarketing: is this not singularly "Max Headroom"?

Don't t-t-t-ouch that dial. I just heard a loud "wham" from outside. I went to my kitchen window to see a badly mangled car and a handful of milling onlookers. A rescue truck just went by.

In my CD player:

"Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me" (The Cure)
"Uh-oh" (David Byrne)
"Tears Roll Down" (Tears For Fears)
"In Time: The Best of R.E.M."
"Hail to the Thief" (Radiohead)

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Today's the 17th. The big day when Bush is supposed to announce a new manned venture to the Moon so we can beat the suddenly space-savvy Chinese. I previously predicted that it wouldn't happen. And since it's getting a little late in the day without my inbox being inundated with overjoyed "I told you sos," I'm becoming even more doubtful. At this rate, we'll still be gloating over Hussein's convenient capture when the Helium-3 warheads start raining down from outer space . . .

"I think gay marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman."

--California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Two Minutes Hate

"As usual, the face of Emmanuel Goldstein, the Enemy of the People, had flashed on to the screen. There were hisses here and there among the audience. The little sandy-haired woman gave a squeak of mingled fear and disgust. Goldstein was the renegade and backslider who once, long ago (how long ago, nobody quite remembered), had been one of the leading figures of the Party, almost on a level with Big Brother himself, and then had engaged in counter-revolutionary activities, had been condemned to death, and had mysteriously escaped and disappeared. The programmes of the Two Minutes Hate varied from day to day, but there was none in which Goldstein was not the principal figure. He was the primal traitor, the earliest defiler of the Party's purity. All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teaching. Somewhere or other he was still alive and hatching his conspiracies: perhaps somewhere beyond the sea, under the protection of his foreign paymasters, perhaps even -- so it was occasionally rumoured -- in some hiding-place in Oceania itself."

--George Orwell, "1984"

Someone at the party last night was playing Information Society on a Sony boom-box. Remember Information Society?

This evening, I caught my first take of mainstream media coverage of the Saddam thing through the plastic partition of a Kansas City Star vending stand ("Special Coverage" emblazoned in blood-red letters). I could really care less. At this late stage in the Iraq mess, capturing Saddam Hussein is so much light entertainment. The Baath regime is no more; we obliterated it as thoroughly as we obliterated Baghdad. Thrusting a grizzled, beleaguered Hussein into the limelight is creepily similar to broadcasting prerecorded footage of Emmanuel Goldstein in "1984"; we need to be reminded who to hate lest we begin evaluating this whole massively absurd situation for ourselves.

Hussein certainly deserves to stand trial, but I'm not interested in BushCo's inevitable theatrics. USA Today loudly reports that Bush wants a public trial. Of course he does. I imagine he'd also endorse a public stoning.
The apartment Christmas party was this evening. A handful of us stayed late drinking wine and eating chocolates. I'm not a wine fan, but I liked the stuff I drank tonight. If nothing else, I should sleep well.

I'm afraid any profound thoughts I had in mind for tonight's installment will have to wait for tomorrow.

Monday, December 15, 2003

I'm not saying this is an indisputably authentic photo of an alien. But as far as alleged photos of aliens go, I think there's a better-than-usual chance it might be.

For more esoteric phenomena, see my website.
We finally got Saddam Hussein. And it only took 8,000+ dead civilians. This is roughly akin to the police chasing down an escaped murderer -- moreover, one who is unarmed -- and accidentally taking out a small town in the process. I urge anyone who thinks this is a "success" to stand in front of the nearest speeding car.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

I just received the following:

You may find it interesting that in choosing our Top Ten list at Blogger Forum for this week, you came in #14. Our top ten list is based on Google rankings of BlogSpot hosted sites for the prior week period. You can see what I mean at in the right-hand column.

Better luck next time, you were really close.

Not only that, but in a Google search for "posthuman" the other day I ranked #9.

OK, enough nerdish bragging.

A UFO photograph from 1929?

I bought a LatteLand coffee mug and thermos as Christmas gifts. As I was sitting at a table in the coffeeshop doing nothing in particular, the barista on duty reminded me that both items came with a free drink. I had no idea. It was like being awarded a prize. I got a cup of coffee to go and got a ticket for my next one, which I'll use tomorrow. How about that?

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Now that the Hollywood "Lord of the Rings" saga is nearing its climax, I've decided I'd like to read the books, beginning with "The Hobbit" (which I read when I was very young and would probably enjoy much more now). Amazingly, the Barnes & Noble down the street doesn't have any of the "Rings" books in mass-market editions -- just trade movie tie-in editions. I could swear I saw the relatively cheap mass-market editions at a Borders not long ago.

I suppose if I've waited this long to read Tolkien I can wait a while longer. I need to see where this flirtation with Mervyn Peake takes me. And I still haven't read the definitive edition of William S. Burroughs' "Junky."

Things I want for Christmas:

1.) A high-capacity digital voice recorder.
2.) A digital camera.
3.) One of those mechanical ergonomic massage chairs from The Sharper Image.
4.) My own habitat module aboard the International Space Station.
Google the search term "miserable failure" and see what comes up as the number-one match.

(I wonder what happens if you enter in "sadistic fuck"?)

I've been reading so much hype about Bush committing NASA to a return to the Moon that I'm beginning to doubt there's anything to it. I do expect the obligatory Lofty Comments about human destiny 'n' stuff, but I will be extremely surprised if anything concrete materializes. Meanwhile, there's a big meteor in space with our name on it . . .
A week ago my watch missed 10-15 minutes. I assumed the battery was going dead -- even though it's a fairly new watch -- and have been waiting for it to start lagging again so I'll know for sure. Now, of course, it works perfectly. The problem is that I can no longer trust it. So I'm constantly checking other time-pieces for a "second opinion."

Maybe it's not the watch's fault. Maybe I accidentally lifted the stopper . . . Maybe I was in a time-warp . . .

I really need to let this go.

Now playing: "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" (R.E.M.)

Friday, December 12, 2003

Peake's "Titus Groan" is surprisingly funny. It's exactly the sort of book Edward Gorey should have illustrated. Next up is "The Secret of Life" by Paul McAuley -- about ecological holocaust and life on Mars. (Strangely, the cover depicts the surface of Venus; evidently the art department didn't think anyone would be able to tell the difference. Oh, were they ever wrong.)

I got my free Archie McPhee 2004 calendar in the mail the other day. I could go nuts in that place.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

While we're wiping out children, why not kill a dog or two just to be thoroughly bad-ass?

Yes, I think there is an ethical difference in euthanizing a canine and slaughtering human families. But one would think the combined might of the U.S. military -- the same entity that flew Air Force One into enemy territory for footage of Bush holding a baked turkey -- could have found this dog a home. Offing Apache certainly wasn't good for the soldiers' morale . . . and isn't Supporting Our Troops Priority Number-One these days?

The cold weather has apparently driven the street preachers indoors. What kind of "faith" is that? Shame on them! Nothing would warm my heart like some idiot with frostbite trying to hold onto a giant wooden cross. Get out there and rant, you bastards!

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Not to be harsh, but I don't think the Art Department at Pocket Books knows what it's doing. They came up with a catchy first draft of the cover for my new book but it's been downhill from there. Today Simon & Schuster wrote to inform me that the image of the Face on Mars featured on the cover is too low-resolution to use, failing to mention that I had discouraged them from using in the first place. Moreover, it's technically impossible to get a high-resolution version of it, since it was taken by a low-resolution camera.

You can't magically create a high-resolution image from low-resolution data. However, a committed graphic artist can use her imagination to overcome minor technical obstacles like this. I have no doubt that the book will end up with a cool cover, and I'm happy to help in an advisory capacity. But it's up to professional digital illustrators to actually create the thing.
Valiant U.S. troops managed to blow away another six children in Afghanistan. I suppose the logic is that if we kill them early there's less chance of them growing up to be Evil-Doers.
Kansas City is experiencing its first noteworthy snow of the season. It's beautiful and a bit more conducive to "Christmas cheer" than the gray, drippy weather I'm accustomed to. I look forward to waking to a fat cushion of fresh snow tomorrow. Meanwhile, I might make an instant cappuccino.

Apparently NBC isn't using its footage of me in "Average Joe." So all two or three of you who might have wanted to catch my cameo can stop setting your VCRs.

Since this blog is approaching its one-year anniversary, I've sorted the archives by month instead of by week. My own take on myself after skimming the last year's entries is that I tend to sound elitist and whiny. But then again, so does Bill Griffith, and "Zippy the Pinhead" is laugh-out-loud hysterical. Of course, I'm not a satirist of Griffith's caliber. I'm probably not even a very articulate guide to my own psyche . . . But there I go: whining again.

My advice to any bored Web-surfers inclined to experience the year 2003 as perceived by an angry young science fiction writer: Don't take anything I write too seriously. Except the tirades against Bush; I meant every word of those.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Bruce Sterling's obsession with international pop divas knows no bounds! (I need to read "Zeitgeist" . . .)
How come you've never heard of this?

Because the perpetrators aren't Muslim. BushCo needs to keep a certain critical level of anti-Arab sentiment stoked so it can prolong its illegal war for as long as possible. The "War on Terror" needs nice, neat polarized "good guys" and "bad guys." This leaves no room whatsoever for real terrorists with real explosives if they happen to be home-grown white boys.

No, "terrorists" are from the Middle East and worship Allah. Everyone knows that.

Monday, December 08, 2003

My name is Senator Victor Kassim Oyofo, the chairman of the Senate committee on Pension,insurance and manpower development in the National Assembly of the Federal Republic Of Nigeria.

Jesus! Why is this crap always (ostensibly) from Nigeria? "Nigeria" is synonymous with "spam." You'd think the brains behind these spam campaigns would relocate. How refreshing, for example, to get some spam from Brazil or Syria or Haiti.

On the subject of extorting money: I've been fielding numerous telephone calls from the Fraternal Order of Police. My position on this is very simple: the police are not some shoe-string volunteer outfit held together by bonne homie and the desire to keep neighborhoods safe from crime. They're a tax-funded entity. Their officers are paid salaries, usually for little more than pulling random cars aside and extorting yet more money in the form of dubious "traffic violations."

Let the police take their little crusade to the sidewalks like a respectable charity. I want to see them grovel.

Now playing: "Shoplifters of the World Unite" (The Smiths)

Sunday, December 07, 2003

There are others like you. Sign the Media Carta manifesto.
Viva Vivisimo! This new search engine has a "clustered" links feature that I really like. The only problem is that it's difficult to turn "Vivisimo" into a verb, like "Google" or "blog."

I browsed the newsstands tonight. The new print edition of Adbusters is a killer. In fact, it's downright frightening. Francis Fukuyama may have the last, bitter laugh: we may indeed be turning into posthumans, but of the terminally medicated, ineffectual variety prophesied in his book.

The icon of 21st century society may not be the paternal visage of Orwell's Big Brother, but the looming televised geisha from "Blade Runner," who drops a pill on her pixellated tongue and smiles with the faintest suggestion of smugness. "A new life awaits you in the Off-World Colonies!" Meanwhile, it rains endlessly and we lock horns with the demeaning logic of our own genes.

"Rolling Stone" is featuring the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time." For what it's worth, here are my own five favorite albums of all time, in no particular order and subject to change:

1.) "The Queen Is Dead" (The Smiths)
2.) "Fables of the Reconstruction" (R.E.M.)
3.) "Dummy" (Portishead)
4.) "Disintegration" (The Cure)
5.) "Edward Scissorhands" (soundtrack by Danny Elfman)

Oh, and I finally saw a picture of the guy who will probably go up against Bush in the next election. He looks like he's sculpted out of plasticene, utterly synthetic. I don't trust him. The Democrats offer sterile anonymity while Bush offers the culmination of our deepest masochistic wishes.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Dinner at Panera. They'd moved the soft-drink dispenser, causing me to do a double-take. I read the first 100 pages of "Titus Groan," the first in Mervyn Peake's "Gormenghast" trilogy: offbeat and decidedly creepy. Peake is China Mieville's stated inspiration. I would have made it to "Titus Groan" eventually, but Mieville piqued my interest (pun not intended). Peake's strength is his ability to evoke an implacable affinity for the most dismal scenery: ruinous corridors, ancient, flaking ceilings, uncounted acres of derelict architecture. And he makes it read like a fairy-tale.

Apparently the Gormenghast trilogy's eccentricity was overshadowed by "The Lord of the Rings," which is probably why you've never heard of it (I hadn't until a year or so ago). Even so, I think there was a film adaptation, which I plan on avoiding like the plague.

My computer finished its 153rd SETI@home work unit tonight. What's your screen-saver been up to?

Now playing: "Exhuming McCarthy" (R.E.M.)

Friday, December 05, 2003

Three essential websites for your edutainment pleasure:

1.) (The name says it all.)

2.) Metatech (Are world political leaders actually alien reptiles? I mean, besides Rumsfeld and Blair?)

3.) Beagle 2 (This ingenious British-built planetary probe has been coasting through space for the last year and is scheduled to land on Mars on Christmas Day.)

I finished reading Zubrin's novel. You can find my review here.

In my CD player:

"Singles" (The Smiths)
"Roseland NYC Live" (Portishead)
"Staring at the Sea" (The Cure)
"Document" (R.E.M.)
"The Essential Simon and Garfunkel" (disc two)

What I'm reading:

"Our Living Multiverse" (Fred Adams)
"The Invisible Country" (Paul J. McAuley)

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Here's an excerpt from an interview I'm doing for a fringe science website. I've taken the liberty of correcting some of the stupid errors in the version I emailed.

There has been a lot of discussion across the Internet regarding Planet X. You've been a strong researcher in the field of Mar's [sic] Artifacts and have always provided well researched reports on the subject. Hot off the presses lately it seems is the notion that Planet X is in-bound and will wreak havoc upon our planet. Why do you feel the main stream population appears to either not support the Planet X concept or doesn't even know about it?

I suspect that the rather heavily mythologized version of "Planet X" encountered on the Net doesn't exist -- but that's not to say that something isn't out there.

I'm familiar with Sitchin's ideas, and while I suspect he might actually be onto something in a general sense, I've always winced at his science. The Planet X he describes follows a wildly elliptical orbit that takes it out of the observed Solar System and then dangerously close to the Sun. I have difficulty accepting that a humanoid intelligence could evolve on such a world, or would choose to inhabit it (if it came from elsewhere).

On the other hand, there's some fascinating speculation about the potential for life on frigid, interstellar planets. It's conceivable that radioactive decay and the pressure from a dense hydrogen-based atmosphere could produce surprisingly balmy weather despite the absence of sunlight. But the chances of terrestrial-style biochemistry on one of these planets is vanishingly small. To say nothing of humanoids.

Elements of the mainstream science community are warming to esoteric possibilities. The discovery of "extremophiles" here on Earth has forced us to acknowledge that life is hardier and more ubiquitous than we ever thought. I personally think that we'll eventually find lots of life on Mars, for example, or Europa . . . and possibly elsewhere. Comets would be high on my list of places to look.

In fact, "Planet X" may take the form of a comet. The Oort Cloud is massive; we don't really know what's out there. But I think the online "Planet X" panic has less to do with astronomy than the hideous state of affairs here on Earth. Apocalyptic fictions and predictions are circulating at a rate unprecedented since the Y2K scare. And I think this is ultimately because of the September 11 attacks.

We've entered a new epoch, and our fears have been transplanted to the skies. It's fallen on our collective unconscious to seek out patterns in the noise and confusion. But the human mind is more than willing to register false alarms. Thus the modern myth of Planet X, destroyer of worlds.

Of course, none of this is to say we're safe and have nothing to worry about. Sooner or later a big chunk of rock and ice is going to slam into our planet; the only question is when. So if the possibility of a Planet X encourages us to pay attention to the solar neighborhood, then it will have served a very useful purpose.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Someone in a nearby apartment has heated up leftover Thanksgiving turkey. Even though I'm vegetarian, it's making me hungry as hell. I haven't had this craving for poultry since I stealthily inhaled cold fried chicken leftovers in the break-room at my old job.

I've hardly eaten anything today, now that I think of it. Two Pop-Tarts, a cup of black bean vegetarian chili and ginger ale. And a $4.00 fruit smoothie called "Lucille's Paradise." With a name like that, I expected at least a modest dose of psychoactives, but no such luck.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Neal Stephenson actually has a cool website. It's a rather corporate "buy these books" type of site, but better than his user profile. There's even a site devoted exclusively to "Cryptonomicon," one of the best fiction books of the last five years.

Paul McAuley, like China Mieville, has beaten me to the punch with several unadulterated Cool Ideas that I thought were somewhat original to me: genetically engineered drones used for bloody arena combat spectacles, corporate warfare over genomic copywrite, etc. (OK, so I didn't come up with the quietly brilliant scenario in "Gene Wars," but it's mathematically inevitable that a version of me in some alternate universe did.)

Did you know that Jeff Goldblum Is Watching You Poop? I ran across this site a few days ago. Through some act of divine synchronicity, a friend emailed today to tell me that flyers espousing the Goldblum/defecation theme had been sighted in his parking garage. The Internet has an almost magical way of spawning these Thomas Pynchon Moments.

In my CD player:

"Portishead" (Portishead)
"Earthling" (David Bowie)
"Green" (R.E.M.)
"The Essential Simon and Garfunkel" (disc one)
"Hatful of Hollow" (The Smiths)

Monday, December 01, 2003

I've upgraded my website to handle increased traffic. And a generous reader has "tipped" me $7.00 via PayPal. Not bad! And impeccably timed.

I finished "The Universe Next Door." Great book. The scientist featured in the final chapter even dares to address alien artifacts, although I think his logic is timid and terrestrially biased.

I've resumed reading Robert Zubrin's "The Holy Land," which has been getting rave reviews on Amazon. Why, exactly, I'm not sure. This novel started dragging a long time ago and I'm only half-done. Zubrin might have to wait a while before I write the review I promised him. (This is a delicate position for me since I think a great deal of Zubrin's nonfiction. I'm not going to trash "The Holy Land," but I'm certainly not going to compare it to Vonnegut. Someone on Amazon actually did this. Bizarre.)