Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Get Ready for More Bloggy Goodness

Last Thursday, our overlords informed us that they are shutting our portion of the empire down and laying us all off -- over 200 people. Wheeeee.

Don't really have time to write at the moment, so perhaps more about that in a future post. You see, I have until end of day tomorrow to tie up all the loose ends, finalize everything, square everything away clear out my desk and turn in my magnetic ID card. I've got more work to do now than I've had in months.

But as of X-mas day, I will suddenly have nothing to do and nowhere to go, able to coast for at least a little while on a reasonably decent -- all things considered -- severance, and that means mucho blogging-o.

Not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

But for all my regular readers: my job loss is your bloggy gain! Or will be soon.

If you have any specific requests... things you'd like me to write about, issues or problems you'd like me to address... feel free to send 'em my way.

Happy happy!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Someone Made My Invention

A long time ago, I had an idea to generate electricity by harnessing the kinetic energy of people moving through doors. I didn't patent it or nuthin' but I did eventually write about it in a blog-post here. And now, a little over a year later, the thing is for reals! Woo hoo! Of course, it took the Dutch to actually make the thing. We really need to take a page from their book. Several pages really. Maybe the whole book. I, personally, would like to see our 'New Amsterdam' adopt many more of the ways of original Amsterdam. It would be better for all concerned.

Anyway, seeing as how the nifty door thing has magically appeared in the real world (or, the Netherlands anyway) about a year after I wrote about it, here's another thing that really needs to exist, which I don't have the resources to make myself, but which the Dutch could certainly show us the way toward creating/using on a large scale (more of a technique than a "thing") and if they do it a year from now, well, better late than never...

This idea came to me on September 11th, 2001. As you may recall... there were these two really tall skyscrapers, with massive fires raging on upper floors. Firefighters who arrived on the scene went into the buildings from the ground, dragging their gear up the endless flights of stairs, climbing against the tide of people fleeing, which must have slowed everybody down in both directions. They helped many people escape the towers but continuing upward, and upward to put the fires out proved futile. The buildings collapsed. They all died -- over 300 of the bravest individuals our society is ever likely to produce, faced with an impossible task which became a suicide mission, all because of an inappropriate response to a specific problem. How do you put out a massive fire on an upper floor of a skyscraper, hundreds of feet in the air? Conventional firefighting techniques were never intended for such a thing. Men carrying hose from a ground-based pump, up 90 flights of stairs -- simply not right for the job. It's not a matter of good or bad. Only a matter of finding the tool or technique that best fits the situation. You don't use a claw hammer to remove a splinter from your finger and you don't use tweezers to pull a nail out of a board.

The right tool for this particular job would have been a small fleet of water-tank equipped helicopters.

Now, obviously, these already exist. Planes too. They are used primarily to help put out forest fires, wildfires in places with no fire hydrants, etc. They fill their tanks by scooping from lakes, rivers or the ocean, then fly over the fire and drop tons of water quickly. They can also drop other types of chemical fire-retardants which, as I understand it, would've been better than water for combatting the WTC fires, since they were caused by jet-fuel. Still, water would've been better than nothing, as it could have dissipated much of the heat which is assumed to have caused the failure of the steel support beams of the towers -- unless you believe, as some video evidence seems to suggest, that there were explosive charges already in place throughout the buildings.

Regardless. Why doesn't NYC have, say, ten of these firefighting aircraft? Five even. Last I checked, this town, with so many especially tall structures, is built on a bunch of little islands. Lots of water within easy reach of just about all the skyscrapers. It would be perfectly easy to deploy such helicopters to any part of town, at a moment's notice, all filled up and ready to go.

Perhaps even better than having them repeatedly scoop up water, fly to the scene and drop it, the helicopters could be equipped with extremely powerful on-board pumps and massively long hoses that could unspool and either attach to a hydrant, or simply dip an anchored end into the river. You suck water up continuously and spray it at the fire without ever having to stop to refill. If it's the dead of winter and the river is iced over, you build a heating element into the anchor end of the hose, melt your way through the ice to the water underneath, and pump away.

This is too obvious not to exist. It might be expensive to create, maintain and deploy. It would require teams of pilots and firefighters with highly specialized training, which, again, would be costly. But compared to the loss of life and property of a 9/11? A bargain at any price! Without it, the next massive fire that takes place on a high floor of a skyscraper will be just as impossible to counter as the WTC fire was, and more brave men and women will die needlessly. But with such an obvious system in place, they would at least have a fighting chance.

Look for a Dutch company to start up such a program in a year or two.

Instant Holiday Classic

This double-plus-good video entitled "The Seven Levels of Christmas" was created by my friends Lem Huntington and Sean Kaplan, and is certain to worm its way into the creamy center of your mind where it will incubate, gestate, hatch, mature, and then, on the day of destiny it will leave the nest of your head to take its act on the road, whereupon you will know the bittersweet yin-yang fulfillment of parenthood at its most harrowing [cough] rewarding.

HOWEVER: I recommend you do not watch this video unless your cerebral cortex is properly coated in at least one (preferably more than one) fortifying scheduled substance. Should you watch it in your raw, unaltered state, you run the risk of being forever tormented by a recurring nightmare in which you are a space alien trapped inside Bill O'Reilly's reptillian sub-consciousness, struggling to make sense of his twisted mundanity on a level he himself is far too chickenshit to face.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The View

Recently, for my job, I've been researching various "green" technologies, learning about the cutting edge science and newest thinking on many fronts in the battle to create a sustainable way of life for modern humans.

I've also inevitably run across some naysayers, climate-change deniers, people who can't be bothered to go green or think it will be too difficult (especially now that the economy is in the toilet), or who simply don't want to change what they currently have/do, no matter what the consequences.

One example of this, which I find particularly frustrating, occurs around the question of whether or not, and where, to install large, utility-scale wind-turbine electric generators. Some of the places best-suited to this clean technology are at high unobstructed elevations, the tops of rolling hills and so forth, places which can be quite scenic. There are people who can't bear the thought of marring the view of such currently unspoiled natural places with obviously man-made distracting structures -- giant spinning propellers on sticks.

Now, my personal opinion is that these wind-turbines, spinning slowly in unison on a distant hill, mountain or plain, or just off the coast in the ocean, are actually quite aesthetically pleasing. But I'm also a big fan of unspoiled nature and can understand how people would prefer the view of the ocean or local mountain range sans turbines.

The problem is that these people aren't basing their aesthetic preference on enough reality.

Reality, as we humans typically experience it, consists of all this physical space around us. But it also has this other dimension, a "fourth" dimension if you will. Something called "time."

Time, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is that aspect of reality responsible for making us miss our flights. It is also the reason why the number of candles on your birthday cake keeps increasing. And as it turns out, it isn't separate from space. Space and time are actually one thing -- spacetime -- and this makes all sorts of nifty things possible, like...

- motion
- music
- stories
- growth
- evolution
- coincidences
- boredom
- getting the pizza for free

Of course, spacetime (and thus, time) is ultimately an illusion, but that's not relevant to this discussion.

What IS relevant to this discussion is that the folks who prefer the hilltop with no windmills, are only basing that preference upon a regard for space. They're completely ignoring time. As such, they think that the choice they have to make is: "should we go with the view of a lovely unspoiled mountain, or should we opt for the mountain with a bunch of annoying spinny things on it?"

But when you add time back into the equation, the real choice turns out to be between a view of a mountain with a bunch of spinny things on it, versus a view of a barren worldwide hellscape.

Now, just how MUCH time it takes to become the lifeless hellscape is impossible to determine, but if current trends persist, it could happen relatively soon. How relatively? Well... in terms of my relatives: my parents won't live to see it, but my niece and nephew absolutely will. Absolutely.

So, if you know and care about any humans whose next birthday cake will have fewer than, say, 25 candles on it, you owe it to them to take the long view of the scenic view.

Monday, December 8, 2008


This simple and surprisingly lyrical little video was brought to my attention by my friend Brian Pollack. Thanks Brian, and congrats on finishing J-school!


Flying from Sam Fuller on Vimeo.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Happy Repeal Day

Today is the 75th anniversary of the repeal of prohibition. In commemoration, read this.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I would never call myself an "elitist" but part of being truly free and open-minded is accepting that sometimes, an approach you consider outmoded (or even objectionable) may still have application/merit and may indeed be the most effective way to deal with a given task or problem, etc.

I once knew someone whose class-rage was keen enough that she would dismiss out-of-hand any musical expression that smacked of actual training. If a kid's family could afford to give him music lessons, then anything he did in life was automatically crap. The only music worth listening to comes out of slums, ghettos and poor rural areas and is made by untrained individuals using whatever simple tools they can scrounge, giving voice to the concerns and experience of folks the establishment would like to pretend don't even exist.

I totally appreciate that. And I have obviously enjoyed the sheer genius of many many artists who emerge from such backgrounds. We all have. But I also enjoy it when large groups of virtuosic musicians perform blisteringly difficult showpieces that take enormous work and dedication to master. The sheer sound! (Of course, it is possible that some of those musicians could have come from poverty, but it's very difficult/rare to even discover that you have an aptitude for the cello if nobody in the entire county happens to have one.)

Also: If I found out that a loved one needed life-saving surgery, and (all else being equal) I had a choice between a mediocre surgeon who was a really nice person, or totally genius surgeon who was an arrogant sonofabitch prick, I would choose the arrogant genius any day of the week. I imagine that practically everybody else would do the same if Dad's life were at stake.

But somehow, when the life of an entire nation is on the line -- a nation facing huge numbers of widely varying, complex, difficult problems -- millions of people seem to think that being especially smart should disqualify you from being president of that nation. Instead, they prefer, say, a mediocre guy who'd make a good drinking buddy, or even a sorta trashy woman whose responses to the most important issues of the day consist of vaguely flirtatious winking.

Interestingly, in the case of a musician or a band etc., nobody would ever have a problem with talent or genius, but economic privilege (and a lack of street-cred) is seen as a liability. And in the case of the surgeon, coming from an impoverished background would mean such a person could only have succeeded through sheer ability, whereas a child of wealth might be able to fail over and over again without consequence before ever squeaking through med-school. But in the case of a politician, millions of people were willing to ignore absolutely obscene wealth as long as the guy spoke like the dude in the next trailer (you know, Randy, the guy who accidentally shot his refrigerator the other day).

How does that happen? Seriously, can anybody explain that to me?

Clearly, we need to start teaching Civics in school again.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Once Again... Bike Thieves are the Lowest Form of Life


This past Monday morning, heading out of my building to come to work, I would normally have gotten onto my bike. But no... someone had stolen the rear wheel. For those who like to keep count, this is the second rear wheel I've lost to a thief.

The first time it was totally my fault. I hadn't locked the rear wheel which was a quick-release. This time, the rear wheel was NOT a quick release, which means someone with tools came along specifically looking to strip parts off of bikes. I now fantasize about catching such a person in the act and beating them silly. Of course, in the fantasy, I just happen to be holding a 2-foot pipe wrench at the time.

Now, given that I had timed my departure for work based on having a fully functional bike to ride, I was now going to be fairly late, suddenly having to walk like the rest of the chumps. So I didn't bother to take the time to move the half-a-bike to a safer place.

Safer place?

Yeah... there's a sort of "courtyard" behind my building, where the garbage and recycling cans are, and there's a corner where a couple people lock up bikes. You can only access this area if you have a key to the building. So... you're probably wondering why I would leave my bike on the street to be picked over by tool-wielding vultures when I have access to such a place. Because: in order to get a bike in and out of there, you have to hump the unwieldly motherfucker through a gate and 4 doorways. And while that's fine if you only ride occasionally, it is less than fine if you ride all the time. It is not at all fine if you want to quickly run out, hop on and take off. It may be safer (is obviously way way safer) but it turns using the bike from a casual, easy, joyous affair into a discouraging annoyance. I can't have that.

Still, even though I was now going to be late for work, I did seriously consider taking the time to carry the almost-bike through the gate and 4 doorways and lock it up in the courtyard because if people see an incomplete bike locked to a signpost, they tend to think of it as abandoned and therefore fair game. Or like, once the thievery ice is broken, it just becomes a feeding frenzy.

But no, I just left my almost-bike where it was and walked to work, stifling the urge to kill.

When I got home that evening, someone had removed my handlebars, including the brake levers, gear shift lever and all related cables. Probably the same douchebag who took the wheel.

Fortunately, he didn't remove my pedals. You see, the rest of the bike is (was) just cheapo stock components that came with it. But my pedals are special. Seriously. They have blinking LED's in them that are powered solely by the rotation of the spindle that connects the pedals to the crank arms as you ride. They are called "Pedalites" and they work brilliantly -- one of the only consumer products I've ever encountered that I would gladly shill for (I guess that's what I'm doing right now) because I can say without any reservation whatsoever: these things are designed perfectly.

Where most pedals are rotationally symmetrical (the same when you flip them 180 degrees), Pedalites have a specific top and bottom, front and back. This is because each pedal has a white led in front, a yellow one on the side and a red one in back. Just like the convention for all vehicles. They make you super visible at night from up to a mile away, which is both safer for you and more entertaining for those who see you. :) The led's will last 20 years, there are no batteries to change (or go dead on you while riding in the dark) and -- assuming no tool-wielding vultures remove them -- you just leave 'em attached to your bike at all times, so you don't have to remember to take them with you like other bike lights that snap on and off. You also don't have to remember to turn them on at night. They just always work when you're riding. After a few minutes of sustained pedaling, the Pedalites will have stored up enough charge to keep the led's blinking even if you stop pedaling for a while, like if you coast down a hill, or stop at an intersection. And once you get to your destination, they just stop blinking after a couple minutes. Perfect. Truly. Just the right tool for the job.

But when I bought them they weren't sold in America (of course). I had to special order them from the manufacturer in the UK. So getting ahold of 'em took a little while and wasn't cheap. Including shipping, I think the total came to about $70. Still, that's not so bad when you consider how fucking awesome they are. (And at this point I believe there are some US distributors.)

Anyway, you can understand why I was so relieved to see that the asshole had neglected to remove them. Or maybe he simply didn't have the relatively specialized wrench that you need.

So at this point, my almost-bike is locked up in the garbage court, safe and sound, and I'm trying to decide what to do for bike-osity next. Should I systematically replace all the stolen parts? Or should I just get another used craigslist bike and transfer the Pedalites onto it? Or should I actually bite the bullet and get myself a brand new really nice bike fitted to my specific anatomy and riding needs? Obviously, if I go for a new bike, I'm gonna have to just suck it up and deal with humping it through all the doorways to always always always leave it locked up in the garbage court. So maybe that's not the way to go. Systematically replacing the stolen bits will actually cost more (a lot more even) than I paid for the entire bike, and will certainly cost more than getting a whole 'nother used craigslist beater special. But it will provide me the excuse to learn a bit more repair and maintenance skills, as I'd essentially have to rebuild almost the entire bike at this point. And I'd have the option to use replacement parts of higher quality than what was stolen. Though that hardly seems worth the trouble since the frame is still the old crappy frame, etc. And if I use nice expensive parts, I imagine I'll feel compelled to drag the bike back into the garbage court every night and if I'm gonna put up with that it might as well be for the sake of a truly nice bike, which would only cost slightly more than the total of all the upgrades to the old crappy one (parts of which would still be fairly crappy).

Still, I like working with my hands, and I like the thought of being completely self-sufficient when it comes to all future bike maintenance as I have this dream of riding my bike across the entire continental US and back at some point relatively soon (before I die). Actually, the full dream is to ride from NYC down to Key West Florida, then across to San Diego, then up to Seattle, then back across to Maine, then back down to NYC. Four corners. One year. Ten thousand miles. Perhaps I'll spring for a really good bike in order to make that trip. And of course, I'll need to get a few more locks. And maybe a gun. But in the mean time it looks like I'm gonna rebuild the old bike with regular ol' cheapo parts and just keep locking it -- more thoroughly -- on the street.

Arm Injury Update

Arm don't hurt no more.

Still a bit indented, but not as gnarly-looking as it was.

Should recover completely, though might just have to live with the slight indentation. Time will tell.

Still have some of the happy pills left though. Woo hoo!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Republicanism Explained

In psychology, the term projection refers to a defense mechanism whereby one assigns one’s own unacceptable thoughts, motivations, desires, or even behaviors, to others. Projection reduces feelings of guilt and anxiety by allowing the expression of the unacceptable subconscious impulses while shielding the ego from their existence, keeping them hidden from conscious awareness. Projection is related to and dependent upon denial, arguably the only defense mechanism more primitive than projection.

An extremely simplistic example: Two young children are playing in the house. While mom's back is turned, her younger child knocks a flowerpot onto the floor, making a mess. When mom turns around and sees it, the younger child points to the older child and says "He did it!" Denial, and projection.

An example that is almost as simple, but much more annoying and dangerous: A Republican presidential campaign runs TV ads containing shockingly tasteless, misleading distortions and outright lies about the Democratic opponent. They then accuse the Democrats of running the most shockingly tasteless and misleading campaign in history.

Of course, the Republicans do this every election, so there's a chance that they are, in fact, fully aware of what they're doing and so are purposefully shitty human beings.

But seeing as how they've taken almost all their plays from famously sinister historical precedents, I could see how they might need to employ any defense mechanism available, no matter how primitive, to squash a shitload of collective guilt, just so that they can face another day on this earth, or another long night of what should, by right, be a sleepless, demon-haunted torment.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Arm Injury Update

Well, I managed to find an orthopedic surgeon to look at my arm last Friday. He said that yeah, I tore some of the muscle, but since much of it is still intact, it should heal. He told me to keep it iced and elevated and he gave me a prescription for a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory for some reason. Then he told me to come back in two weeks at which point if the arm didn't look at least somewhat better he'd start me on a course of physical therapy. So, that's something. And though it still looks a bit gnarly and indented, it doesn't really hurt anymore (unless I really poke at it or try to lift a car). I just picked up the prescription for the anti-inflammatory pills from the Duane Reade near work, popped one, and it's making me feel floaty and good. Unexpected bonus. But now a little googling has revealed that possible side effects include stomach bleeding. Woo hoo. Modern medicine is dumb.

In other news, I was feeling a bit bummed out about the whole arm-injury thing and just sort of blah about life in general so I decided on a spur-of-the-moment basis to join a small group of friends and go on an Ayahuasca journey upstate over the weekend.

For those who don't know, Ayahuasca is a traditional Amazonian shamanic plant-medicine used to heal illnesses physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, and its reputation as the strongest psychedelic/entheogen in the world is well deserved. The active compound it contains, Dimethyl Tryptamine (DMT), is actually produced in trace amounts in the human body by the pineal gland in the brain, and is supposedly released at certain key moments of your life: the point when your soul "enters" your body as a new human (which, by the way, does not occur at conception), during sex, whenever you get abducted by aliens, when you die, and the first time you eat a bacon cheeseburger.

By itself, DMT cannot be administered orally, as digestion breaks it down into much less interesting molecules. So the ayahuasca preparation also includes a plant that contains harmine/harmaline, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) which prevents the breakdown of the DMT which can then pass into your bloodstream intact. When modern scientific "experts" asked native Amazonians how they were able to determine which two specific plants, out of the tens of thousands in their local biota would combine to produce the remarkable end result, they apparently said something like: "the mushrooms told us."

Drinking ayahuasca is unpleasant for most people. But most people are wimps. I am not a wimp. I don't mind bitter sour horrible gook. Until I'm puking up buckets of it.

And that's one of the main things you have to know about ayahuasca: it is a strong purgative. It reaches into every fiber of your being, down to the level of your very soul, grabs onto the impurities and forces you to expel them through either the beginning of your digestive tract or the end of it. On top of that, it renders you shakey and dizzy and barely able to speak or stand, much less walk.

It is not a party drug.

All your senses are sharpened, but you spend most of the typically 6 to 8 hour trip just lying motionless until struggling to crawl a few feet in the grass to hurl. I gotta say, the ayahuasca may be nasty to drink, but it's even less pleasant coming back up violently while your sense of taste is elevated. As for the occasional need to shit, well... the closer the toilet the better. Some people even do these "rituals" wearing Depends undergarments.

Of course, most of the time you're lying motionless, you're having a pretty intense mental/spiritual experience, and supposedly, the more you let go and just let the brew clean you out, the more amazing the visionary experience can be, as the plant intelligence gets to work with you on higher and higher levels of being.

The whole thing seems pretty geared toward crushing your ego. It automatically reduces you to the level of a newborn baby, puking and pooping and unable (or barely able) to walk or talk, which is obviously humbling and comically frustrating for the typical thinking adult, but the rewards can be as intense as the ordeal is difficult. And I can say that this was completely true for me personally. Modern medicine: feel good now, feel crappy later. Shamanic medicine: feel crappy now, feel good later.

The most interesting part of my experience was the impression of being "scanned" -- having some kind of energetic intelligence systematically examine and evaluate every part of my personal, um, energy matrix. Maybe that's how it knew what I should puke up later. Hah.

I was also involved in a friendly dialogue which gave me little bits of advice here and there. Nothing too earth-shattering, but definitely helpful. I was hoping to really zone out at some point and go into a completely other dimension (a fairly common ayahuasca experience) maybe meet the bio-mechanical elves who would dance their little dance and then take me to meet the all-knowing Turnip King, but there were external factors that prevented this.

You see, given the fairly harsh nature of the experience, it is traditional to do it in a very controlled, very serene nurturing setting. You do it after nightfall, under the stars in the jungle surrounded by nature and warmth and quiet, with supportive expert guides to help you in a pinch.

We, however, went to... Camp D.

[Explanation of the Camp D. experience coming soon.]

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I don't have time for this shit

Greetings from the Mount Sinai Hospital emergency room. I'm just waiting for a doctor to come look at my arm. Last night, I was "doored" while riding my bicycle home from work. Coming up 10th avenue, I passed by a cab that was letting two passengers out. The door on the sidewalk side of the cab opened, so I figured, "Good... they're getting out on the safe side like they're supposed to and I'm clear to keep going." But just as I was about to pass, the door on the traffic side of the cab flew open with no time for me to react and I simply smashed into it.

The idiot got out and asked if I was okay. I was a bit dazed and infuriated and suddenly too hopped up on adrenaline to realize how much my right arm hurt and just said, "Yeah I'm fine" with an accompanying withering scowl. But my right bicep had borne most of the brunt of the impact, hitting the top edge of the open taxicab door, hard. Once I got home, I noticed that it hurt like a motherfucker, and that I couldn't move it much or use it to lift anything without severe pain. So I rolled up my sleeve to examine it and saw something I've never seen before, on my body or anyone else's... The skin wasn't broken, but there was this weird-looking indentation in my bicep at the point of impact. It looks and feels like I partially tore the muscle. Which could conceivably require surgery to correct.

And now, even though I have health benefits, I'm running headlong into medical system bureaucratic red-tape and runaround nonsense.

It's later. I'm home now.

The Hospital made me get some pointless x-rays. And they were all, "Well, the x-rays look fine" and I was like, "no shit assholes! I could've told you that they'd come out looking fine, because I can tell that there's nothing wrong with my arm bones. It's the MUSCLE that's fucked up, and everyone knows that soft tissue doesn't show up on bloody x-rays!" It was maddening. But, you know me... I don't like yelling at people who are at least attempting to help me, even if totally incompetently. They were just following SOP and even though I really needed to be looked at by an Orthopedic Surgeon, they couldn't even ask one to come down unless I had first gotten x-rayed. Which also has to do with properly milking my insurance plan. I'm surprised they didn't order an MRI, a CAT scan, a PET scan and a colonoscopy.

Actually, an MRI might've been slightly useful, as it does resolve soft tissue to a certain degree.

Anyway, even after getting the x-rays taken, they couldn't convince an orthopod to come down and look at me. But they did give me a Percoset (and a prescription for same) and the phone number of an orthopedic surgeon affiliated with Mount Sinai. By then it was too late to reach anyone in his office to make an appointment, and also by then, my coworkers (God bless 'em) had come up with a list of much better specialists to go see. So I'll call tomorrow and set up an appointment to get looked at for reals and hopefully this can happen sooner than later. A good specialist in high demand -- who knows how long it'll be before he can squeeze me in? I just hope I can book the appointment before my arm heals like this permanently, leaving me with diminished use of it (not to mention slightly deformed).

Though, even if that happens, I'm still gonna ride my bike everywhere.

Bikes rule!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I'm feelin' a little punchy today

I'm sure turducken tastes good and all, especially deep-fried in a giant vat of bacon grease like they do it in the fat states, but I simply cannot abide a foodstuff with the word "turd" in its name.

Though, I must admit I do seem to have a morbid fascination with turduckens and spend a goodly amount of my day wondering about things like: If you successfully shove a turducken into another turducken, could you destroy the universe? Or just the red states? I guess we won't find out until next spring when the large hadron collider comes back on line.

Top 10 Points of Comparison

Between the Republican Party and the Third Reich (just off the top of my head)...

1. Masters of the Big Lie

2. Scapegoating

3. Responsible for the deaths of large numbers of innocent people

4. Strong adherence to false beliefs

5. Willingness to blindly follow incompetent leadership

6. Causing economic ruin of their own nations

7. Leaving behind a massive rift in their own societies (Berlin Wall, red/blue divide)

8. Claiming to be on a mission to improve the world

9. Rigid control of media

10. Prescott Bush (Dubya's grandfather) (Okay, not really a point of comparison, but simply a direct link.)

11. Racism

12. Oops. I meant to stop at 10.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I've been meaning to start up a regular yoga practice of some kind for a while now. Like, 10 years. Yesterday, I finally took the plunge. Bikram. The hot yoga.

At first the heat felt kinda good. A somewhat humid 105 degrees. And the first few postures didn't seem too terribly strenuous. The guy teaching the class called out instructions peppered with a continual rapid-fire stream of little tips and motivations and information about the benefits of the postures, etc., and though this made him sound like some kind of crazed new-age county-fair auctioneer, it was actually pretty helpful and inspiring. I thought: "90 minutes of this? No problem."

After maybe an hour, I felt like I was being ass-raped by Satan.

I was pouring more sweat from every square inch of the surface of my body than I thought possible, and gradually I could feel the blood-vessels in my extremities constricting and my brain shutting down. Ah... severe dehydration. I had brought a decent-sized (or so I thought) container of water with me (they also sell large bottles of smart water), but I'd finished all of it and there was still plenty of class to go. And they don't let you leave the hot room under any but emergency situations. I wasn't sure if my situation qualified as an emergency, but that's probably only because my mind had ceased functioning. So I just sat down on my sweat-soaked towel. Then I curled up into fetal position on my side for a bit, trying to see if I could get some feeling back into my strangely tingling arms and legs. And face.

Lying down wasn't so unusual. Looking around, almost everybody in the class had to stop at one point or another. But they all still had water left to drink. So they weren't necessarily dealing with dehydration, but rather were just a bit overcome by the heat and the exertion. In my case, the heat and exertion weren't the problem. I had simply underestimated how much water I'd need to drink, didn't bring enough, and now I was dying. But the crazed auctioneer thought I was just slacking and so encouraged me to push myself. I did what I could, but it's not easy to do the postures on numb legs. But since my brain had gone numb too, I didn't really care.

After the class, I somehow managed to drag myself into the men's locker room. I went to the bathroom, and drank some tap water from the sink. It was just enough to return a tiny amount of limb and brain function, such that I could shower and put my street clothes back on. On my way out, I bought one of the smart waters and drank the entire liter down in one go. I immediately felt completely better. Suddenly I could think and walk and speak again like a normal human.

But I was a bit wobbly and cold on my bike ride home.

And today, I'm a bit achey, though not as bad as I feared I might be.

I'm not going to a class today. Still thirsty from yesterday's class. But I'll go tomorrow after work. And I'll buy two liters of smart water to bring into it with me. Maybe three.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Time for a Change

Conservatives who run for office like to invoke moral heroes of the past, specifically the Founding Fathers of the United States, and, you know, Jesus. Somehow, they don't see any hypocrisy in the fact that these heroes were all flaming liberals of the very highest order. Revolutionaries in fact. Invoking them appeals to conservative voters' desire for comforting familiarity, (even as they miss the point of what they find comfortingly familiar).

Despite the shortcomings of Jonathan Haidt's lecture (and an article of his that my friend Chris recommended), it is largely thanks to them that I am reminded of the need to find common ground with people whose views I find difficult to accept, or even understand. Conservatives. People who strongly resist change (despite the fact that change is the only constant).

Haidt starts his lecture pointing out that "openness to new experience" is a psychological trait, and some people rate highly in it, and others less so. Those who rate highly tend to vote liberal, and those less so tend to vote conservative. So it's no wonder that the conservative Republican base got so excited by Sarah Palin. McCain is a slightly "new" experience for some of them, and Obama is obviously shockingly new for them, whereas Palin is almost exactly like a female version of who we already have in the White House. Ah... comforting. Familiar. And even though it doesn't take a genius to see that the Republican leadership is systematically destroying the country, conservatives fear change so much that they would have more of the same despite the fact that "staying the course," sets the stage for truly calamitous changes later: full-scale socio-ecomic upheaval, etc. Their inclination to self-delude in service to their comfort-zone is so strong that they've actually tried to convince themselves that the country is going down the tubes because of the liberals in Congress, who, after all, have had a slim majority for the last two years (as if the manifold horrors and lies and outrages of the last 8 years all occured in these last 2, and somehow originated in the Capitol Building instead of the White House).

Unfortunately, change really IS the only constant and denying or putting it off only causes it to be more painful when it finally does happen.. The skill is in knowing when to push for it, when to simply let it happen, and when to push back a little, perhaps to redirect it. Nothing you do can stop it though. Might as well try to prevent your children from growing up. Oh sure, you can keep insisting that there's a Santa Claus, well into their teens. Or you can try to shield them from ever learning about human sexuality or anything else that might lead to a loss of innocence. But one day, your daughter is gonna get her period. And little Billy, well, sure he might be a bit slow, but even he's gonna figure out that Santa was really Dad all along.

In our case, as Obama has stated repeatedly, we are desperate for change. Wholesale, comprehensive, cleansing, corrective change. The Karl Rove / Dick Cheney / Monkey Boy administration has been like an enormous brain tumor slowly killing the United States while inducing disturbing personality alterations and interfering with mental faculties and overall competence. The change we need is nothing less than life-saving brain-surgery for an entire country. But you know how it is... people are afraid of hospitals/doctors/surgery. And that's understandable. Surgery is a bit scary. So even though it makes no sense, there are people who would prefer to see how the brain-tumor "plays out," rather than risk cutting open our head and removing it. But if we leave it in place (and vote for more Republicans) it will definitely kill us. If we vote to remove the tumor, (enter Dr. Obama) we're not sure what the outcome of the surgery will be. Though he seems highly intelligent and highly skilled, we don't know this doctor so well. Unless you're very "zen," uncertainty isn't easy. No matter what happens with the surgery, we can assume that the recovery process won't be easy either. But at least we won't have a terminal fucking brain tumor anymore!


One last thing and then I'm going to sleep...

As difficult as it is for me to fathom how people can take their group cohesion and loyalty (positive traits) and blindly apply them to such obvious liars and thieves as Cheney/Bush, I have to say, the problem isn't the conservative voters. It's the liars and thieves. The Republican party. If the Republican leaders actually lived and governed according to the moral values they claim to hold dear (the values their supporters certainly DO hold dear) then we would not have been lied to about Iraq, because if you're loyal to your group, you don't lie to them. And we wouldn't be in the absolutely sickening financial disaster we're experiencing. Would actual fiscal conservatives ever have allowed conditions to persist that could lead to the unmitigated debacles in the home-loan industry, at AIG, Lehmann Bros., Merrill Lynch? I just found out that my bank might be up for sale (Washington Mutual). I'm sorry, but the people that conservatives vote for don't actually have conservative morals. For them to have conservative morals, they'd have to have morals.

Good night.

Jonathan Haidt TED Talk

This video explains a lot. But it doesn't go far enough. Gravesian Spiral Dynamics theory is more comprehensive. Still, this is definitely worth watching, especially with the election coming up so soon...

Friday, September 12, 2008

If McCain Wins

If John McCain becomes the next president of the United States, whether through voter fraud, rigged voting machines, cops barring black people from entering the polls, or whatever nefarious means, then here is my timeline of the future...

January 20, 2009 -- 12 noon: John McCain sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America.

January 20, 2009 -- 12:01 PM: John McCain assassinated. Suspect is caught and declared to be an Islamic Fundamentalist, but is in actuality a Republican operative.

January 20, 2009 -- 12:03 PM: Sarah Palin sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America.

Over the course of her first year in office, the US launches unprovoked military strikes on: Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, Cuba, France, the international space station, and the sun.

The ideological split of the populace of the United States increases sharply. Hostilities flare up. All our armed forces including the National Guard, all reserve units and all private mercenary forces are spread too thin around the world to intervene domestically and local police forces are overmatched. Seeking a better life for their children, people of differing views relocate in order to live with folks they find more agreeable, until North America effectively turns into this:

(remember that?)

2010: Sarah Palin agrees to let certain areas officially secede (the ones with all the gays, blacks, hebrews and what she calls "book-readin' types.") The economy of Canada skyrockets, based on the enormous infusion of intelligent, creative talent and innovative thinking that immediately takes place.

February 2011: The only thriving industries left in Jesusland are: weapons manufacture, factory-pig-farming, NASCAR, Fox-Propaganda, tobacco, beer and privatized prisons.

April 2011: Sarah Palin announces a plan to create a million new jobs constructing a 50-foot thick, 100-foot high, 6000-mile long concrete wall on the border between Jesusland and Canada. She will claim that this is a security measure to protect all the faithful citizens of Jesusland from the filthy heathen terrorists of Canada, and it will be overwhelmingly supported. In truth, it is to prevent Jesusland's slaves and women from escaping.

June 2011: NASCAR, factory farming, Fox and the prison-industrial complex partner to create "Deathrace" and "Soylent Green". Starving Jesuslanders are killed and secretly fed to other Jesuslanders in the most entertaining way available.

2012: Despite the forced teen-pregnancy policy, the population of Jesusland continues to dwindle. Nevertheless, its consumption of fossil fuels keeps increasing. Global climate change effects turn much of the heartland, what had previously been the breadbasket of the world, into lifeless dustbowl. Coastal cities drown. Wildfires scorch the southland. Mass starvation, riots, soylent green!

Meanwhile, to the north, on the Canadian side of the "Freedom Wall"...

Every citizen receives free comprehensive health care and free education up to any level one wishes to pursue. Marijuana is legalized, and becomes an enormous source of revenue for the federal government. Crime is virtually non-existent. Canada quickly achieves the highest standard of living in the world.

2010: Global climate change effects alter much of Canada's coastline, but turn vast areas of previously uninhabitable frozen wasteland into lush temperate zones. Canada begins constructing the world's first completely self-contained carbon-neutral domed city above the arctic circle. The Canadian solar and wind-power industries thrive. The Canadian electric car industry is second-to-none. Canada dominates pop-culture in music, film, TV, fashion, publishing, etc. etc.

2011: Using some of Canada's vast wealth, the entire Canadian side of the "Freedom Wall" is covered in a solar powered ultra-hi-resolution LED display. A trompe l'oeil image of an imense unspoiled wilderness is created to make it seem as if Jesusland doesn't even exist. A yearly design competition gives artists from around the world a chance to create something for the "world's biggest canvas" and the winning entry will run for a month before the usual landscape image returns.

2012: Canada is a shining beacon of hope and people flock there from every corner of the globe. Except of course, from Jesusland. The few who make the attempt to either climb over or tunnel under the wall, are killed immediately and all record of their existence is expunged by the Government of Jesusland. Fox never reports these incidents.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

New Camera

Just got me a Sony DSC W-200. Consumer Reports liked it. I know they ain't exactly photography experts, but they ranked this particular camera way high, said it took nifty shots in low light (which is something I like to do) and I found a great deal on a used one (they don't make new ones of this model anymore).

It may be just a nuthin' little point-and-shoot, but here's what it did when I aimed it at the stuff I can see from my roof...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Origin of the Republican Playbook

"Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don't want war ... That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
--Hermann Goering (1893-1946) Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, President of the Reichstag, Prime Minister of Prussia and, as Hitler's designated successor, the number 2 man in the Third Reich. Quoted on April 18, 1946 at the Nuremberg Trials.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Okay okay... I know, I've been away for a long time. Well, to that I say: it's summer. And staying inside sitting on your ass writing blog posts during summertime is idiotic. Therefore, I'm on strike! Okay, just taking a break.

If you have abandonment issues, please rest assured that I will return to blogging full on... eventually. Someday.

In the meantime, I'm trying to channel what meager creative energies I can actually muster into the book I'm writing. Yes, that's right... a book. (It's an amazing technology. You can read it without using any electricity whatsoever!) Of course, just because I'm writing it doesn't mean anybody is necessarily publishing it. But if my legions of blog readers all band together and start a letter-writing campaign, I'm sure we can convince some publishing company hack to buy my nonsense and distribute it to the word-starved masses out there. It can't miss! It's gonna be on the NYT best-seller list so long it's gonna make the Harry Potter books look like they were written on gum wrappers (even the ones that weren't).

Now, I know what you're saying... you're saying, "Oh honey... the masses aren't starved for words. They're starved for candy and pizza." And then you add something about the fact that 3 blog readers don't equal "legions." Yeah yeah.

Well, never you mind what does or does not add up to a legion. Or who is or is not starving and for what. As a back-up plan to the whole book thing, I'm inventing candy pizza. Or pizza-candy. So one way or another, I'm gonna be on Easy Street soon.

I wonder who my neighbors will be down on Easy Street. Well, I guess it depends on whether I'm on East Easy or West Easy. (West. Definitely. Better restaurants. Much more fashionable douchebags. Etc.)

What is this "book" I speak of going to be "about" you ask? Simple: it's a guided tour of all the famous places in New York City where I've ever taken a dump. Genius, right? Don't steal it! Lousy book idea stealers!

Anyway, the book ain't gonna write itself, and there's only so much writing-energy in my body at any given moment, so the blogging will continue to be spotty-at-best for a while. I do apologize. If you don't want to have to keep checking all the time to see if I actually post something new, just do what the most tech-savvy of my legions of readers have done, which is subscribe to the RSS feed that all blogger.com or blogspot.com blogs automatically, um, have. My friends who do this assure me it is extremely simple. So simple that only a 6-year old can explain the process to you. If you need help, let me know and I'll put you in touch with my niece. She wants to be the little mermaid when she grows up.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A New Thing

On my way to work this morning, I saw something I'd never seen before: a yuppie woman in an expensive-looking business suit riding a bad-ass motorcycle to work.

I wonder if that has anything to do with the still-relatively-newly-high price of gasoline.

I know most people who read this are fellow New Yorkers, who don't generally drive cars and are only affected by high petroleum prices when paying for certain well-traveled food items at the grocery store, or when booking a flight to the west coast or overseas. (I myself am allowing the high price of jet fuel to deter me from going to Burning Man this year. Not that I needed a strong external deterrent. I'm now leaning most heavily toward using my vacation days for some kind of relaxing writing retreat.) But I do have plenty of friends out there in the hinterlands who've got to drive a car pretty much every day.

And it's not like this whole oil thing is a temporary condition. Exxon just posted the largest quarterly earnings of any company in US history, and the amount of oil in earth's crust is still finite. Even if Obama wins, and even if we stop fighting wasteful wars, and even if we implement a strong energy policy, and start demanding justice and fairness from the oil-industry, the high cost of petroleum-based transportation is never going to improve significantly. It only stands to worsen, really.

Which is obviously a huge pain in the ass for all the folks out there who rely on gas-guzzlers to make a living (or to get pussy, etc.). Yet, it is ultimately a good thing, as it will discourage us from emitting carbon, and encourage us to find creative solutions to this whole 'a to b' problem.

I've got one of them creative-type solutions bouncing around in the back of me noggin' and I'd like to share it with all y'all (though if anybody gets rich off this idea, it should be me!)...

Electric cars!

Okay, I know plenty of purely-electric cars already exist. And people don't like 'em because...

1. it takes too long to recharge their batteries (using today's common technologies)
2. their range is too limited (using today's technologies)
3. golf-cart aesthetics

Well, first of all, for 90% of the driving that 90% of Americans do, the short range and low speed of even the cheapest all-electric cars would be perfectly fine. You'd use your car the way you currently use your cell phone. Wake up in the morning, unplug your car from the wall outlet (in your garage, say), drive to work. Work. Drive to the supermarket. Drive home. Plug your car in. Eat dinner, watch TV, go to sleep. Repeat ad infinitum.

Ah, but the reason why the market doesn't go for that, is because of the other 10% of the time, when it's the weekend, say, or other leisure time, and a longer trip up the California coast to Big Sur, say, is desired. From LA to Big Sur is about 300 miles. There ain't a single all-electric car ever made that could do that trip on a single charge. And look how great it is at Big Sur. Don't you just want to be there? There's really no way to get there except by car (unless you're an even more dedicated cyclist than I am, which most Americans definitely are not).

So, how can you get from LA to Big Sur in an all-electric vehicle, even a really good one like this?

Well, some companies suggest using a small internal combustion engine (ICE) to power an on-board generator, which will trickle-charge the car's batteries as you drive, thus extending the range by several hundred miles on not too much fuel. It's basically a form of hybrid, only a little different from the hybrid cars currently on the roads. But such range-extended electric vehicles (REEVs) still need fossil fuels and still emit carbon.

Some people suggest creating recharge stations all over the highways. Which is fine, except people still don't like the thought of having to stop for a long time to recharge before heading back out on the road.

SO, the Jon Levin solution is as follows: tow a flatbed trailer of solar panels with your electric car. A flexible power cable runs from the flatbed to the power-socket on the car. The flatbed would only add a small amount of weight and could be designed to induce as little aerodynamic drag as possible. It might have to be really long in order to have enough surface area for photo-voltaic panels sufficient to generate the electricity needed to continually trickle-charge the batteries in your electric car, but so what? Once you're out on the highway, who cares how long the thing you're towing is? Maybe once you get to your destination, the thing collapses, accordion-style, to take up less room. Or maybe it can be reconfigured to fold up over the car, while parked in the lot of the local Wal*Mart, say. Keeps your car shaded, keeps your batteries full, doesn't take up extra room in the parking lot, especially if the car you're starting with is a Smart Car.

But what if it rains?

Come on, don't be stupid -- who wants to drive up the California coast to Big Sur in the rain?

You heard it here first!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Glory of Health Benefits

Personally, I think it's wrong that in order to afford even minimal health care in this country, most of us have to play drooling lackey to the corporate ogre. More even than that, we have to be among the lucky lackeys -- on the ogre's good side, at least enough to be invited to join the ogre's health club. The health benefits club. Membership has its privileges.

Of course, the fact that I find our "system" a shameful and disheartening mess in no way stops me from finally going to see what that horrible pain in my neck has been about all these years, now that the ogre has embraced me to his sweaty bosom for a time.

So, with health club membership card in hand, I went on over to West Side Chiropractic on 43rd st. (right near my apartment) and the good doctor Mark checked me out, asked me a bunch of questions, etc. etc. Then he sent me across town to get a set of spinal X-rays.

X-rays kind of creep me out. Radiation in general. Ever since I saw that old (1957) B-movie, "The Incredible Shrinking Man" on TV when I was a kid. The guy gradually and embarrassingly shrinks down to the size of an insect, is attacked by a spider that's much bigger than him, and has to stab it in the thorax with a sewing needle. And then he just keeps right on shrinking! The movie ends with some vaguely overblown claptrap about him inhabiting the sub-atomic realm. (Thanks to Michaelson for rekindling my enjoyment of the word 'claptrap' by the way.)

But I got the X-rays taken, and brought the prints home with me. I don't feel any worse for wear, and am seriously looking forward to bringing the spinal snapshots to the Chiro-dude and having him snap and twist and crunch me back into proper alignment, which I probably haven't been in for over 10 years -- ever since I foolishly tried to do a headstand while riding the Cyclone. That first drop man...

I wonder what it'll be like, to wake up in the morning without pain... will I see rainbows and fairies and unicorns shooting out of that eye on top of the pyramid? I bet I will.

To look at me, you probably wouldn't know that I've been in more-or-less constant pain for years. I'm one of those guys who just sort of ignores pain. Until it kills me dead. Then I say, "Oh... should I maybe have DONE something about that horrible pain I was in all those years? Huh..."

I'm just so used to feeling a constant dull ache and sharp stabbing pains in my neck/shoulder/back area whenever I try to do anything crazy, like turn my head to either side, or look up, or, you know, down, etc., that I sort of just forgot that I wasn't supposed to be in pain. Apparently, normal people don't feel this way, and don't tolerate such a thing for years on end if they can help it. Of course, I was never on the Ogre's good side long enough to make it into the club before. So, there's that.

Supposedly, being out of alignment, with bits of your central nervous system all constricted, hampers all sorts of routine, um, stuff. I mean, for all I know, I'm supposed to be a dynamic motivated individual, instead of a lazy sack o' crap. Maybe, when the electrical impulses traveling along my spinal cord get going properly again, I'll be able to finally, finally, begin realizing my lifelong dream of becoming a fashionably tormented vigilante superhero, and really start kicking some ass! Or begin realizing my other lifelong dream of sitting around in no pain (ass kicking optional).


I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, July 28, 2008

New York's Finest

My co-worker, Tamara told me about this Youtube video that's also up on gothamist.com. You know... I want to be okay with cops. I've known a few personally, and they were perfectly decent human beings. They've clearly got a difficult job and I certainly wouldn't want to be in their shoes, so I try to cut them some slack, even when they over-react to trivial things.

But then you see something like this...

What the fuck? Am I missing something? On some level, I probably shouldn't be surprised by this, yet I am. And I find myself taking it personally.

I've never participated in a critical mass ride, but looks like I'm gonna have to start. Should probably get some body armor first though.

So Much More Existential... and Funnier!

Nothing to report.

Go check out this extremely funny thing which my friend Mikael just hipped all his facebook friends to.

That is all.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Power of Suggestion

A friend of mine (and a very wise man) once said, "The power of suggestion is very fuckin' powerful!"

I get two "daily horoscope" emails sent to me every day, one western, one Chinese. Now, it's not like I'm Ronald Reagan, making all my decisions based on Astrology, but I do get a kick out of reading horoscopes and seeing if they happen to match up with my life, etc. And I happen to know some very intuitive (even psychic) astrologers who definitely have uncanny insights to share. But the daily email ones are purely for a fun little diversion. Of the two, the western one is usually fairly vague, as you might expect, while the Chinese one is usually very specific, and weirdly so, like telling me what color shirt to wear or whether or not I should seek financial advice from a professional. (I think the Chinese mystical realm assumes I've got some serious money to invest. Which, if I lived in China, perhaps I would.) For the most part, the two are always in reasonably close agreement about the general tone of the kind of day they predict I'm gonna have. But not today...

The first one to arrive in my inbox was the western one. It said:

You're in a very good place right now, emotionally speaking, and ought to be able to share your affection with those who are closest to you. It's a good time for intimacy and quiet fun.
I was like, "All right, I'm awesome!" and it immediately put me in a good mood to start off my lovely sunny Friday. A minute or two later, the Chinese one arrived. It said:

Today will be an unfavorable day for you. When faced with situations that require action, remain a spectator as much as possible. It's in your best interest to not get caught up in the action. Your lethargic and possibly depressed mental state may cause you to react inappropriately.
I was like, "Aw crap, I suck! This day is gonna blow chunks!"

Then I caught myself and was like, "Heeeeeyyyyy... a minute ago I was on top of the world. Granted, this was only due to a silly little gimmicky email thing, but now, due to an equally silly email thing, I feel lower than a wad of chewing gum stuck to the bottom of the shoe of a hobo whose shoes were stolen by another hobo (a clear violation of the hobo code) who upon noticing the gum, used a sharp stick to scrape it into a dumpster, whereupon it landed inside a container of spoiled cottage cheese.

So I said to myself, I said "AH!"

Because I had realized something.

I had realized that in my early morning checkin'-my-email-fog, I was still half asleep which is probably a highly suggestible state. So the suggestion-power of the little horoscope emails was magnified and clearly having too great an effect. Look at me! I'm king of the universe! No, I'm rancid shit in a dumpster!

I am neither. (And BOTH!) (No... I prefer neither.)

But seeing how correct my wise friend was when he pointed out how powerful the power of suggestion is, I now suggest making my own suggestions to myself to tap into their especially powerful power. New-agey people call these "daily affirmations" and I can't help but mock the crap out of them, even as I attempt to embrace them. This ain't gonna be easy. OH! And there I go, already undermining my ability to embrace them by suggesting that this ain't gonna be easy! Well, clearly, I'm right! I mean, look how bad I am at this whole affirmation thing! Aargh! There I go doing it again!

Okay, so clearly, the first affirmation for me needs to be: "I acknowledge the fact that affirmations aren't total bullshit, because the power of suggestion is very fuckin' powerful."

Second affirmation: "I'm fine, thanks."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

My Speech to the Graduates

In "Side Effects" one of his books of short funny pieces, Woody Allen wrote a short funny piece called, "My Speech to the Graduates." Not a speech he ever actually delivered (?!) but quite entertaining. Made me wonder what I'd say to a graduating class of high school or college kids should I ever be called upon to do so -- me, a guy who dropped out of every school he was ever enrolled in.

I'm tired today, and I don't have much to talk about, so I'm going to turn this space over to special guest blogger, Patton Oswalt, an extremely talented comedian, completely without his knowledge or permission. If you're not already a fan of his, I humbly submit that you damn well should be.

What follows, is the text of the actual speech (copied from his website) which he gave to the most recent crop of graduates of the northern Virginia high school from which he himself graduated back in '87 (making him only a year younger than me, which probably contributes to how strongly I relate to his take on things)...

First off, I want to thank the teachers and faculty of Broad Run High School for first considering and then inviting me to speak here. It was flattering, I am touched and humbled, and you have made a grave mistake.

I’m being paid for this, right? Oh, wait, there’s some advice, right off the bat – always get paid. If you make enough money in this world you can smoke pot all day and have people killed.

I’m sorry, that was irresponsible.

You shouldn’t have people killed.

Boom! Marijuana endorsement eleven seconds into my speech! Too late to cancel me now!

It’s dumb-ass remarks like that which kept me out of the National Honor Society and also made me insanely wealthy. If I move to Brazil.

I graduated from Broad Run High School 21 years ago. That means, theoretically, I could be – each and every one of you – your father. And I’m speaking especially to the black and Asian students.

So now I’m going to try to give all of you some advice as if I contained fatherly wisdom, which I do not. I contain mostly caffeine, Cheet-o dust, fear and scotch.

I know most of you worked very hard to get here today but guess what? The Universe sent you a pasty goblin to welcome you into the world. Were The Greaseman and Arch Campbell not available?

So, 1987. That’s when I got my diploma. But I want to tell you something that happened the week before I graduated. It was life-changing, it was profound, and it was deeper than I realized at the time.

The week before graduation I strangled a hobo. Oh wait, that’s a different story. That was college. I’m speaking at my college later this month. I’ve got both speeches here. Let me sum up the college speech – always have a gallon of bleach in your trunk.

High school. A week before I graduated high school I had dinner, in Leesburg, with a local banker who was giving me a partial scholarship. I still don’t understand why. Maybe he had me confused with another student, someone who hadn’t written his AP English paper on comparisons between Jay Gatsby and Spider-Man. But, I was getting away with it, and I love money and food, so double win.

And I remember, I’m sitting at this dinner, with a bunch of other kids from the other local high schools. And I’m trying my pathetic best to look cool and mysterious, because I was 17 and so into the myth of myself. Remember, this dinner and this scholarship was happening to me.

And I figured this banker guy was a nice guy but hey, I’m the special one at the table. I had a view of the world, where I was eternally Bill Murray in Stripes. I’d be the one with the quips and insights at this dinner. This old man in a suit doesn’t have anything to teach me beyond signing that check. I’ve got a cool mullet and a skinny leather tie from Chess King. And check out my crazy suspenders with the piano keys on them. Have you ever seen Blackadder? ‘Cuz I’ll recite it.

And then this banker – clean-shaven, grey suit and vest – you’d never look twice at him on the street – he told me about The Five Environments.

He leans forward, near the end of the dinner, and he says to me, “There are Five Environments you can live in on this planet. There’s The City. The Desert. The Mountains. The Plains. And The Beach.

You can live in combinations of them. Maybe a city in the desert, or in the mountains by the ocean. Or you could choose just one. Out in the plains somewhere, perhaps.

“But you need to get out there and travel, and figure out where you thrive.

“Some places you’ll go to and you’ll feel yourself wither. Your brain will fog up, your body won’t respond to your thoughts and desires, and you’ll feel sad and angry.

“You need to find out which of the Five Environments are yours. If you belong by the ocean, then the mountains will ruin you. If you’re suited for the blue solitude of the plains, then the city will be a tight, roaring prison cell that’ll eat you alive.

He was right. I’ve traveled and tested his theory and he was absolutely right. There are Five Environments. If you find the right combination, or the perfect singularity, your life will click…into…place. You will click into place.

And I remember, so clearly, driving home from that dinner, how lucky I felt to have met someone who affirmed what I was already planning to do after high school. I was going to roam and blitz and blaze my way all over the planet.

Anywhere but here. Anywhere but Northern Virginia. NoVa. You know what a “nova” is? It’s when a white dwarf star gobbles up so much hydrogen from a neighboring star it causes a cataclysmic nuclear explosion. A cosmic event.

Well, I was a white dwarf and I was definitely doing my share of gobbling up material. But I didn’t feel like any events in my life were cosmic. The “nova” I lived in was a rural coma sprinkled with chunks of strip mall numbness. I had two stable, loving parents, a sane and wise little brother and I was living in Sugarland Run, whose motto is, “Ooooh! A bee! Shut the door!”

I wanted to explode. I devoured books and movies and music and anything that would kick open windows to other worlds real or imagined. Sugarland Run, and Sterling and Ashburn and Northern Virginia were, for me, a sprawling batter’s box before real experience began.

And I followed that banker’s advice. I had to get college out of the way but once I got my paper I lit out hard.

Oh this world. Ladies and gentlemen, this world rocks and it never lets up.

I’ve seen endless daylight and darkness in Alaska. I’ve swum in volcanic craters in Hawaii and saw the mystical green flash when the sun sinks behind the Pacific. I got ripped on absinthe in Prague and watched the sun rise over the synagogue where the Golem is supposedly locked in the attic. I stood under the creepy shadow of Christchurch Spitafields, in London’s East End, and sank a pint next door at The Ten Bells, where two of Jack the Ripper’s victims were last seen drinking. I’ve fed gulls at the harbor in Galway, Ireland. I’ve done impromptu Bloomsday tours of Dublin.

I cried my eyes out on the third floor of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, all those paintings that Vincent and his circle gave to each other as gifts because they were all broke some cold Christmas long ago. I’ve eaten crocodile in the Laneways of Melbourne Australia and ortolans on the Left Bank of Paris, France.

I’ve been to Canada.

I’ve been to every state in this country. I’ve been to hidden, subterranean restaurants in New York with the guys from Anthrax and eaten at L.A. taquieras with “Weird” Al Yankovic. I held the guitar that Hendrix torched at Monterey Pop and watched Woodstock ’99 burn to the ground. I’ve lingered at the corner of Bush and Stockton in San Francisco where Miles Archer took a bullet in The Maltese Falcon, and brooded over the grave of H.P. Lovecraft in Providence, R.I. I’ve hung out with Donny Osmond and Jim Goad, Suge Knight and Aimee Mann, Bill Hicks and Don Rickles.

I’ve done stand-up comedy in laundromats, soup kitchens and frat houses, and onstage at Lollapalooza and Coachella. I’ve toured with bands, been to the Oscars and the Superbowl, and been killed in movies by vampires, forest fires and air-to-air missiles.

And I missed the banker’s lesson. 100%, I completely missed it.

In my defense, he didn’t even know he was teaching it.

Telling me about the 5 Environments and urging me to travel? That was advice. It wasn’t a lesson. Advice is everywhere in this world. Your friends, family, teachers and strangers are all happy to give it.

A lesson is yours and yours alone. Some of them take years to recognize and utilize.

My lesson was this – experience, and reward and glory are meaningless unless you’re open and present with the people you share them with in the moment.

Let me go back to that dinner, 21 years ago. There I was, shut off from this wise, amazing old man. Then he zaps me with one of the top 5 pieces of information I’ve ever received in this life, and all I was thankful for was how it benefited me.

I completely ignored the deeper lesson which is do not judge, and get outside yourself, and realize that everyone and everything has its own story, and something to teach you, and that they’re also trying – consciously or unconsciously – to learn and grow from you and everything else around them. And they’re trying with the same passion and hunger and confusion that I was feeling – no matter where they were in their lives, no matter how old or how young.

I’m not saying that you guys shouldn’t go out there and see and do everything there is to see and do. Go. As fast as you can. I don’t know how much longer this world has got, to be honest.

All of you have been given a harsh gift. It’s the same gift the graduating class of 1917, and 1938, and 1968 and now you guys got – the chance to enter adulthood when the world teeters on the rim of the sphincter of oblivion. You’re jumping into the deep end. You have no choice but to be exceptional.

But please don’t mistake miles traveled, and money earned, and fame accumulated for who you are.

Because now I understand how the miraculous, horrifying and memorable lurk everywhere. But they’re hidden to the kind of person I was when I graduated high school. And now – and it’s because of my traveling and living and some pretty profound mistakes along the way – they’re all laid open to me. They’re mine for the feasting. In the Sistine Chapel and in a Taco Bell. In Bach’s Goldberg Variations and in the half-heard brain dead chatter of a woman on her cell phone behind me on an airplane. In Baghdad, Berlin and Sterling, Virginia.

I think now about the amazing thunderstorms in the summer evenings. And how – late at night, during a blizzard, you can stand outside and hear the collective, thumping murmur of a million snowflakes hitting the earth, like you’re inside a sleeping god’s thoughts.

I think of the zombie movies I shot back in the gnarled, grey woods and the sad, suburban punks I waited on at Waxie Maxie’s. I think of the disastrous redneck weddings I deejay’d for when I was working for Sounds Unlimited and the Lego spaceships my friends and I would build after seeing Star Wars.

I think about my dad, and how he consoled me when I’d first moved to L.A. and called him, saying I was going into therapy for depression, and how ashamed I was. And he laughed and said, “What the hell’s to be ashamed of?” And I said, “Man, you got your leg machine-gunned in Vietnam. You never went to therapy. Humphrey Bogart never went to therapy.” And my dad said, “Yeah, but Bogie smoked three cartons of cigarettes a day.” And how my mom came down to the kitchen when I was studying for my trig final, at 2 o’clock in the morning, and said, “Haven’t you already been accepted to college?” And I said, “Yeah, but this test is really going to be hard.” And she asked, “What’s the test for again?” And I said, “Calculus” and she closed my notebook and said, “You’ll never use this. Ever. Go to bed or watch a movie.” And how when I got my first ever acting gig, on Seinfeld, my brother sent me a postcard of Minnie Pearl, and he wrote on it, “Never forget, you and her are in the same profession.”

I didn’t realize how all of these places and people and events were just as crucial in shaping me as anything I roamed to the corners of the Earth to see. And they’ve shaped you, and will shape you, whether you realize it now or later. All of you are richer and wiser than you know.

So I will leave you with some final advice. You’ll decide later if this was a lesson. And if you realize there was no lesson in any of this, then that was a lesson.

But I’d like all of you to enter this world, and your exploration of the Five Environments, better armed then I was. And without a mullet. Which I see you’re all way ahead of me on.

First off: Reputation, Posterity and Cool are traps. They’ll drain the life from your life. Reputation, Posterity and Cool = Fear.

Let me put that another way. Bob Hope once said, “When I was twenty, I worried what everyone thought of me. When I turned forty, I didn’t care what anyone thought of me. And then I made it to sixty, and I realized no one was ever thinking of me.” And then he pooed his pants, but that didn’t make what he said any less profound.

Secondly: The path is made by walking. And when you’re walking that path, you choose how things affect you. You always have that freedom, no matter how much your liberty is curtailed. You…get to choose…how things affect you.

And lastly, and I guarantee this. It’s the one thing I know ‘cause I’ve experienced it:

There Is No Them.

I’m going to get out of your way now. Get out there. Let’s see which one of you is up here in twenty years. If you’re lacking confidence, remember – I wouldn’t have picked me.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Don't Be Scared

This past Saturday night, while semi-drunkenly riding our bikes back into Manhattan from Williamsburg, I semi-jokingly asked my buddy Nat if he wanted to join the "team" I'm assembling to ride out the apocalypse. After all, a man of his talents (just got his PhD in ethnobotany / can identify edible, poisonous and psychoactive plants in the wild / makes his own chocolate bars) would be highly useful to have around should shit strike fan.

He seemed a bit freaked out by my asking him, even if only in jest, because apparently several other unconnected people had also just recently asked him the same thing. Pretty creepy. Except for the fact that I am Mr. Zeitgeist, so it's okay.

Then I wrote up my previous blog post, about Burners surviving the end of the world as we know it, due largely to Black Rock City's remoteness, the timing of the annual pilgrimage and the unique resourcefulness of that particular community.

And here's my horoscope for today (honest to God): "You're focused on the future right now and ought to be able to plan things out much farther ahead than usual. It's a good time for you to recruit assistance that will come in handy later on."

Is it just me, or does that sound an awful lot like me putting together my team to ride out the apocalypse?

Now, I don't mean to alarm anyone. After all, the word "apocalypse" simply means "revelation." Of course, I understand that lots of people associate the word "revelation" with the Book of Revelations, famously known as the scariest shit in the Bible, but actual revelation of the truth is a good thing. A healthy thing. Depending on what truth is being revealed, it might be psychologically painful at first, but ultimately good for us. Better to know than not know, right? Obviously, the sort of revelation germane to this discussion is that of the true spiritual nature of things. Kind of like when Neo sees the artificiality of the Matrix at the end of the first movie and so realizes he can do whatever the fuck he wants within it. He, as an individual, comes to that knowledge only after suffering through some harrowing crap. And I think a common assumption is that for all of humanity to arrive at a similarly liberating enlightenment in this real world of our actual shared experience, we'd all first have to go through some pretty crazy fire-in-the-sky shit too.

But that need not be the case at all. Maybe it'll be as simple as the revelation -- on a mass scale -- of the truth behind what the greedy political elite have been doing all these years, which finally motivates the common people to put aside their superficial differences and come together in peaceful unity (instead of continuing to allow the greed-elite to convince us to keep killing each other). That would touch off a huge shift in consciousness. The heads (and talking-heads) of Fox News Channel might lose their lives, but their sacrifice would serve the greater good. A gigantic, paralyzing illusion would be dissolved and a new social harmony could be reached. Not that I advocate killing (ahem) Rupert Murdoch and Bill O'Reilly. And Sean Hannity. And Ann Coulter.

Of course, it is easy to imagine that if certain wings of the greed-elite maintain any sort of hold on popular opinion, we could end up with world-wide Biblical craziness. Fortunately, 80% of Americans already think we're going in the wrong direction. Which is only fitting after the last 8 years. Though, that last 20% does represent tens of millions of individuals who somehow still think things are on track. That's a lot of sick sick people who desperately need help (a small percentage may be beyond help). Not sure what will have to happen to reach them. Can you imagine what it's like inside their heads?! Good God!

Personally, on some level, I've been contemplating the end of the world since I was a small child. I don't think I was particularly morbid or anything, but I did used to have dreams about the end of civilization. Note I didn't say 'nightmares' -- except I do remember a particularly vivid and exciting one wherein I was being chased by mutants for much of it (apparently, they blamed me for the world-wide collapse -- and they were pissed). I woke up out of breath with my heart racing. Was probably 10 or 11 years old at the time.

I had other dreams about surviving alone in the woods or on a desert island, etc. And then I started enjoying many similar idle daydreams. At the time, I figured it was just my way of escaping the soul-alienating boredom of, say, junior high.

And I've always been especially drawn to / fascinated by people who strive to live as self-sufficiently as possible. My Side of the Mountain. Into the Wild. Etc. Any off-grid types. There was an old PBS documentary showing a lone guy building an entire house in the wilderness with nothing but simple hand tools and materials culled from the immediate landscape. And it wasn't some tiny run-down shack. It was a large comfortable house with a stone hearth/chimney. Serious shit.

And then there's my own uncle. During the 70's, he escaped from NYC's rat race and now lives in a super-insulated house he built himself up in the Catskills, growing all his own produce in two giant vegetable gardens. The land he lives on was purchased by his parents, my maternal grandparents, during the days of the "Borscht Belt" culture. They originally built summer-only cottages for Lower East Side tenement-dwellers who wanted to beat the city heat for a few weeks at a time. When gambling was outlawed up there and air-conditioners became more common and that culture died out, the entire resort-based economy of the region dried up. A great many bungalow colonies and almost all the large hotels were abandoned. Driving up with my folks to visit my uncle when I was a kid, we'd pass plenty of buildings that had quite literally collapsed due to sheer neglect. It wasn't unusual at all to see structures being sucked back into the earth by gravity, growing over with weeds -- former hotels, now compost heaps. Nature. I loved it.

My uncle spent years fixing up the abandoned bungalows on his family's property, making them suitable for year-round occupancy ("winterizing" them) which wasn't easy since the area experiences pretty harsh winters (though, as Nat jokingly pointed out, if climate trends persist, it'll all be balmy ocean-front property someday). Eventually, my uncle even managed to find a few tenants, as a huge yoga/meditation ashram opened up 5-minutes down the road, and some of the devotees wanted more affordable places to live. So, he's been able to really make a go of it.

When my grandparents passed away, the entire property (only a small portion of which was ever built on) passed down to their children -- my uncle, my aunt and my mother. My mother's portion consists of a few acres of nothing but trees right now. Barring the unforeseen, those woods will pass down to my brother and me. I don't think my brother gives a crap (he'd be psyched if gambling were re-legalized and the large casino-hotels all came back, possibly to have property near them, but possibly just because it could conceivably increase the value of our undeveloped land, which he might simply want to sell under such circumstances). I, on the other hand, consider the land the basis of my apocalypse contingency plan.

The Plan:

1. Make a ton of money somehow.
2. Spend some of the money on several modest pre-fab off-grid homes perhaps like these, and stick 'em in the forest upstate.
3. Install some wind turbines to generate additional electricity for things like: all-electric car, all-electric tractor, you-get-the-idea.
4. Build a greenhouse to grow vegetables year-round.
5. Invite people with right attitude and valuable post-apocalypse skills to come up and enjoy surviving in relative ease and comfort. Short list would clearly have to include folks like...
  • gardener/horticulturalist
  • multi-talented fix-it people/mechanics
  • engineer types
  • chef
  • brewmaster/distiller
  • musicians / DJ's
  • yoga instructor
  • healers of various modalities
  • surgeon
  • dentist
  • psycho-pharmaceutical chemist
  • writer/historian/archivist
  • artists of all kinds
  • dancers
and obviously
  • healthy women of child-bearing ability
  • zombie-fighters
But mostly, we're gonna need people who can simply live in the now and not be crushingly attached to all that will obviously be lost. (Materialists, shop-a-holics, etc. need not apply.)

Now, don't get me wrong... I'm no prophet of doom. If society keeps chugging along, perhaps making small incremental strides towards peace, nobody would be happier than me, after all, I'm Mr. Happy Fun Guy now. Of course, should my contingency plan be required, I am planning for my post-apocalyptic utopia to be an extremely fucking fun place. After all, we probably won't have any assholes breathing down our necks, and there's something undeniably sexy about surviving the end of the world.

So... who wants in?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Burning Fiction

"Paradigm Shift"

An elderly man and a 6-year-old boy walk side by side. They are dressed in matching garb: lightweight breathable silver jumpsuits and silver goggles. The old man's outfit also has a cape. This makes the pair look like an intergenerational (intergalactic!) superhero duo. They both have long-ish hair, the real color of which is hard to determine due to the fine dust that coats it. As they walk, the boy looks up at the man and says: "Grampa? Would you tell me about when you were a kid, back when they used to burn the man?"

"Well... okay," Grampa clears his throat, "When I was a young man, Black Rock City was only here for one week out of the year."

"That's all?" asks the boy.

"Yep. It was a very special week, full of celebration and meditation, art and humor and all kinds of fun. The climax of the week came on the second to last night, when the giant man would be burned down, and we'd all dance in the light of the fire. A day or two later, we'd pack up all our stuff and split, taking care to leave no trace that we'd ever even been here."

"Where did everybody go?"

"Well, back then there were lots of other places where we all lived. We had a much larger society, which we called 'Default World' and we Burners came from our various homes in all different corners of Default World to be here. But that larger society had many problems. Many problems which we don't have now."

"What kinds of problems?"

"Oh... all kinds. People didn't know how to share--"

"WHAT?! But HOW--"

"I know, I know it sounds crazy. And in many ways it was. Default World was marked by insanity in almost every aspect of daily life. Since people didn't know how to share, there was great competition for resources, everything from food and shelter to land and energy."

"Energy? But that's the easiest thing in the world for everyone to get! Why would anyone compete for something that's free and unlimited?"

"That's a little complicated, but back then, most people didn't bother to harness the wind and the sun the way we do now. We can generate much more electricity than we'll ever need just from those two sources, but we happen to be living in a very sunny, very windy place!"

"That's for sure!" says the boy.

"Without generating energy from the wind and the sun, most people got their energy from what we called 'fossil fuels.' There used to be this black oil that came out of the ground which could be burned to generate heat, electricity and to make fuel for all sorts of vehicles. It was also used to make plastic."

"Hahah... nobody MAKES plastic! We just harvest and recycle it!"

"Yes, but where do you think it all came from originally? Someone had to make it."


"So with oil from the ground being used for so many things that people depended on so much, it became the most valued resource in the world. But it wasn't like the sun and the wind. It wasn't unlimited. And by the time I was your age, we were already running out of it."

"What happened?"

"As supplies got smaller and smaller, and demand for oil got bigger and bigger, people started fighting over what was still left in the ground. Actual wars were fought over it!"

"What are... worz?"

"Oh, right... you wouldn't know about them, would you. Well, a war was a terrible thing in which large numbers of people would try to kill large numbers of other people."

"People tried to kill each other?!"

"Sad but true. It was not a very good time for humanity."

"I'll say!"

"The oil war era was a painful and difficult time for many, but we Burners kept right on doing our thing, coming out here to the desert to celebrate and remind ourselves that nothing lasts forever. I think our attitude and yearly pilgrimages helped prepare us for the big changes that were to come."

"What sorts of changes grampa?"

"Well, things went roughly like this... after 8 years of the worst leadership the modern default world had ever known, the people elected a new leader, a very nice man who was very smart and who promised positive change. And things did start to change for the better, surprisingly quickly. It was remarkable to see the entire mindset of the United States of America shift."

"United States of America?"

"That was the name of the country that used to span the continent we're standing on."


"The whole thing."


"Yeah, it was pretty impressive for a while there. And even though the new leadership accomplished a great deal during its first four-year term in office, and even though the overwhelming majority of people around the entire planet were happy with the changes that were taking place, there still were a few people who wanted things to continue the way they had been going under the bad leadership."

"Really? Why?!"

"Because they were bad, greedy people. We used to call them 'motherfuckers' or 'assholes.'"

"Haha! Assholes! That's funny. I have an asshole."

"Yes you do. And what comes out of it every day?"


"And what is poop like?"

"It smells BAD!"

"Which is exactly like everything that came out of the people we used to call assholes."

"Haha! Yucky."

"You said it. Well, when the next election rolled around, the bad people decided to try a very mean thing to gain support for the leader they wanted to install in power."

"What did they do?!"

"Well, they wanted to make it seem like the other leader, the nice smart one, wasn't any good at protecting the country from enemies, so they waited until his political party was having a big convention, and they unleashed a terrorist attack on the city that was hosting the convention."

"What's a terrorist attack?"

"Well, it was a kind of fighting that was meant to scare people, so that you could get them to do what you wanted. Most people thought terrorists were a real threat who came from far away places, but it turns out the worst terrorists were just sneaky bad people in our own country who only made it SEEM like their attacks were done by the far away people. Then after the attacks, they said 'You see! We told you there were still great dangers! You need to put OUR guy in power or else there will surely be more terrorist attacks!'"

"But THEY were the ones doing the attacks!"

"Of course. But not that many people could tell. Most people thought it was the far away people doing them. Unfortunately, the bad people chose a form of attack that hadn't been tried before, because they figured it would be extra scary, and things kinda got out of hand."

"What did they do?!"

"They released a highly contagious disease into a city. This was where the good man's convention was taking place, remember?"

"I remember."

"A few people in that city died right away. It was terrible."

"Whoa. Were people scared?"

"Yes. Very. The disease was supposed to kill people very quickly, and run its course. But the bad men who created it made some mistakes, and most people carried the disease for a couple days without knowing they had it before dying of it themselves. Since people had come from all over the country for the good man's convention, when the convention was over, they brought it back with them to every part of this land. People started dying everywhere. It was so terrible that eventually, one of the bad men responsible for the original plan revealed the truth about what was going on, in the hopes that it might make it possible for people to figure out how to stop the disease. But by then it was too late. Many people had already carried the disease to other countries. It spread quickly all over default world. Whole populations were wiped out as the disease quickly ran through its life-cycle."

"How did we survive?"

"It all came down to good timing, really."

"What do you mean?"

"The Democratic National Convention of 2012, took place at the same time as the first few days of the Burning Man festival that year. When the news broke that people were dying in every single state of what had been the United States of America, it was Saturday morning. That night, when everybody gathered at the giant man, which was the only time when everyone at the festival would all be in one place, instead of burning the man down, an announcement was made. The news about the disease affecting the rest of the country was revealed. The organizers of the festival then suggested that people stay in the desert for a few more days, to wait and see what would happen. We never did burn the man that year, or any time after that, to this day."

"Did people stay here?"

"Most of us did. A few felt they had to go, to return to loved ones, or try to help out at hospitals. But a strong feeling passed through the entire community that we were supposed to stay right here and wait. It was very difficult at first."

"Because you were scared?"

"Well, yes. Nobody knew if the disease would be able to reach us out here. But also difficult because in those days, Black Rock City was only meant to be temporary. Fortunately, by then, we had developed some centralized solar and wind power for the city, and many Burners either hooked into it or had their own solar and wind generators. Biodiesel was also big at the time. Water was scarce, of course, but a miraculous thing happened."


"It rained."

"And you collected the rainwater?"

"Smart boy. We sure did. We collected it in every kind of container you can imagine. The rainwater kept us going long enough to get word from the outside world that the disease had run its course. There were small pockets of survivors, mostly in remote places. All major cities had been decimated, and most suburban areas too. The plague had spread like wildfire, but once it ran out of fuel, or victims, or hosts, it just sort of burned itself out. That was the first major change."

"There were more changes?"

"Well sure. With so many people killed off so quickly, those of us who survived couldn't go back to the lives we were used to. There was no economy, there was no industry. Even though it soon became safe to go back to the cities and towns of default world from a disease standpoint, in many many places the survivors of the plague turned to violence, and lots more deaths occurred. So we stayed put out here in the desert for a little longer, monitoring the situation via radio and internet. Eventually those sources of information fell silent. Gradually, we sent expeditions out into the surrounding areas to find out what was left of the world we had once known and hopefully bring back news and supplies. When they returned, they came back with food, water, some medical supplies, some good drugs and even some composting toilets."

"Like the ones we use today?"

"Almost the same! Whenever there was news of interest to every Burner, we'd all gather around the man, to hear the announcements--"

"That's what we do!"

"That was when the tradition started. So we gathered to hear what the expeditions that returned had to tell us, and we learned all about the devastation of default world. But they also said it was relatively safe to move freely about, as long as we had vehicles that could run off of either electricity, or vegetable oil. For most of us, this meant our range of travel was fairly limited, so we knew it would be difficult to return to where we'd come from even if we had wanted to, even if there had been anyone left in those places. So we organized many supply runs, and prioritized the things we knew we'd need most. After food and water, more composting toilets was first on the list! Then came the materials we needed to start building the greenhouses. It was the beginning of our long-term settlement here and the whole society you know. Some people did decide to try their luck back out in default world. We never heard from any of them again. Interestingly, the theme of that year's Burning Man festival was 'Paradigm Shift.'"

"What does that mean?"

"A big change in the way things are."


[to be continued]