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September 8, 2006

oh nothing

I received a few e-mails regarding my stumbling across Pete Townshend.  It is very nice to hear from everyone.  I will endeavour to stumble across Pete Townshend more often.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:46 PM

September 7, 2006

yes, pete townshend

I ordinarily refrain from this kind of stalkery.  The interface between celebrity and the rest of the world is only interesting to me in a pathological sense.  Plus also I've lived in NY for years, have worked in fields that are peopled with celebrities, etc.  So, yes, no starfucker, me.

But on my way to lunch just now I walked past Pete Townshend getting out of a Town Car.  Pete God-damn Townshend.  And he looked good, too -- fit, bespoke, energetic.

(To you youngsters -- Pete Townshend: Who?)

I guess I still listen to CMF in my heart.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:03 PM

armchair torture experts, unite

The idea of an open, public debate about torture is making me laugh heartily, to myself.  Oh, the debate about the morality is one thing -- well, it's not much of a debate really.  Torture is immoral, regardless of the possible beneficial effects thereof.  And don't gimme your "good of the many versus the good of the few" line, Trekkies, because that little situational ethics lesson is about sacrifice, and not pulling anyone's fingernails out.  Torture is wrong.  If you'd like to turn this into a valid debate, then wonder to yourself to what extent a nation is willing to commit immoral acts.

No, what's making me heart-laugh (to myself) is when the open public debate edges up to discussion of the efficacy of torture and various torturous techniques.  I laugh because everybody shut up now.  There are only a very few people on the planet who know for sure what works and doesn't work as far as interrogations go.  You are not one of them.  It doesn't matter how many Tom Clancy novels you've read, and it doesn't matter how many times a day you click on StratFor.  All the black ops shit is very much over your head.  It's fun to say "waterboard", but you really have no functional understanding of how its effects differ from an Indian burn, or even a nice backrub.

And neither do I.  Which is why I can only laugh.

In fact, based on my limited understanding of history, if it is publicly known that the military is using certain interrogation techniques, etc., then you can be very certain that there are other, blacker techniques out there, and you can be sure that they are not performed in the presence of any half-wit Guardsman with a phonecam.  They got a corps of precogs, they got a doctor ready to read memory off the cortical folds, they got Chthullu on line one waiting to speak to the prisoner.

So, please, more discussion on the nuts and bolts of torture, and why it works so well.  Maybe the citizenry should be given the opportunity to vote, on 1-900 phone lines.  I will continue to laugh.  I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:54 AM

September 6, 2006

bye, cathy; don't be dipping into my butter

It's sad when things change.  I noticed in the most recent print issue of The Onion (which has had the benefit of a recent redesign) that they had expanded the comic strips included.  One of the new strips is Cathy, although, wait for it, it is in Spanish.  (Or Portuguese, or something decidedly non-English -- don't have it in front of me.)  The inclusion of this translated comic strip, I presume, is for the ironic self-regard of a nation of cynics.  For example, even my own personal ironic self-regard felt a tug or two upon discovering the non-English Cathy.

That's the good news.  Our ironic self-regard marches on.

The bad news is that, in the past, when writing a post that included actual bitching about the job, I would usually try to deaden the banality of another white guy whining about his desk job by invoking both Cathy and Dilbert.  (I would look for examples, but searching through your own archive can feel like editing your obituary, and the day is too young to risk it.)

So now, on a going-forward basis, when I get all writey with the anecdote about the co-worker who left two coffee mugs half-full of milk and cereal on top of the refrigerator for untold weeks, I will not refer to myself as "getting all Cathy on it".  Also, when I threaten that I will indeed find out who it is who has been dipping into my butter, and I will passive-aggress them into a state not unlike uncontrollable sobbing, no Cathy at all.  And no Dilbert either, because Dilbert without the leavening effect of Cathy is a bit too much to take.

I will think about a replacement of the Cathy/Dilbert signifier.  (Because it I bitch about work without a signifier, then the terrorists will have won.)  No clear winner yet, but the leading candidates are "Brenda Starr/Wizard of Id" and, simply, "Blackjack Mulligan".

I'll let you know.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:17 PM

number stations

Complacency is the pinata of the day.  Or at least of the post.  Why?  As usual, because of the President of the United States of America.  He is currently so concerned about our complacency that he found it the right time to reveal who it is we are fighting in Iraq - the ghost of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.  And through our American resolve, there will be no ghost left standing, in Iraq or in any other place with ghosts.

Because if we don't fight the ghosts over there, then we'll be fighting them in our own cities!

Personally, while we find America's complacency with ghosts shocking, we are more concerned with too much complacency in the public towards general weirdness.  It's true, the world is much more weird than you think, and it's your own fault for not keeping up on the weirdness.

So here is a free taste of weird, because I am a kind and judicious pusherman.

Number stations.  Yes, numbers stations.  What are number stations and how could they be weird?  (After all, "number" and "station" are two of the least weird words in the English language.)  Number stations are low power short-wave or AM radio broadcasts consisting of nothing but random series of numbers (or, in some cases, letters).  I've never heard them with my personal ears, but this is a place you can go to listen to examples.

Why do they exist?  Well, everyone pretty much agrees -- spies.  The theory is that the numbers are a ciphertext, broadcast generally so that the location of the spy, who will decrypt the message with a one-time pad, cannot be easily deduced.  However, until a spy knocks on my door and admits to being behind number stations, the jury is out for me, except for the verdict of weirdness.

So, all the time, as you walk to work, or cook up those good chicken wings, or settle into an evening of your favorite professional athletics, there are numbers stations out there, whizzing signals through your own personal corpus.  In fact, if you take into account all the man-made invisible waves whizzing out there, remember that a certain portion of them have a mysterious and foreboding origin, of which only few are aware!


Posted by mrbrent at 12:47 PM

he's one busy retiree

I'm trying to stay away from the headline thing.  It was starting to feel about as novel as making fun of a classmate because you can see their underpants.  So, to demonstrate my reluctance, I will lay it straight and leave the nonsense out, for once:
• Delay puts Iran closer to U.N. sanctions

Having a public figure whose surname is also a noun can create little syntactical car crashes in your head.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:45 AM

September 5, 2006

we've met the enemy, and he is, um, darth vader

I can never figure out who the "enemy" is in Iraq.  For a while after the invasion, it seemed obvious -- Iraqis, in general.  But that idea wasn't exactly moving a lotta merch, if you catch my drift, so the powers-that-be decided it was time for some semantic realignment, but fast.

For a while there, the enemy became "those who hate freedom".  Conveniently, they also wanted to "destroy our way of life".  What this had to do with Iraqis, whose nation was invaded, and who suffered tens of thousands of civilian casualties, I could not figure out.  But it sounded good.  After all, how could you sympathize with freedom-haters?  Or even them with a hard-on against our way of life?  (Which is what, exactly?  Irrational consumerism?  Shit-headed representational democracy?)

And then there was that whole period where the enemy was "the insurgents".  That was a hot one.  No one, not even the good guys, not even girl scouts career-tracked for divinity school, like the insurgents.  Except for the insurgents in Vichy France, or 1980s Afghanistan, or those other insurgents, fighting, valiantly, against an occupying force.  Except for them, "insurgents" was a very wise way to cast this nameless "enemy".

Fortunately, the past few weeks have brought exciting new enemies that we never knew we were fighting in the first place.  I distinctly remember when the enemy became "Islamic Fascists", or, for short, "Islamofascists", which had all the awkward racist appeal of "Negroe Communists".  Oddly, that was abandoned after a few days.  On the heels of that, the President implied that the enemy, over there in Iraq, are Nazis, and nobody doesn't like kicking Nazi ass.  Nobody.  I was hoping they were going to stick with Nazis, because then we would know exactly who we were fighting -- eighty- to ninety-year old Germans.

But then yesterday we discovered that it was not Nazis we were fighting, oh no -- we are fighting the Confederacy.  Yes, the South did rise again, and now we get to fight them in Basra, Fallujah, etc.  Because, leaving Iraq now would be like accepting the truce of Gen. Robert E. Lee or something, which may have ended the Civil War, but deprived us of the opportunity to crush the Confederacy, to march through Georgia like Sherman did, um, or would have done much better, or something.

It's been so confusing, keep track of this enemy, who is so talented at morphing into increasingly threatening cartoon characters.

The beauty of this array of enemies is that they are very generic indeed.  Interchangeable, even.  While it's fun to compare, none of the comparisons implied are grounded in any kind of fact, and the purpose of all the negative associations is to argue against the ending of any old generic war, not this specific invasion and occupation of Iraq.

This whole thing is probably a lot more clear outside of the confines of the U. S. of A., but I hardly want to invite any accusations of heresy or traitorism or any of those others that are flung around like pancakes these days.

Posted by mrbrent at 7:54 PM

i got all my panicking done in the 90s

Looks like someone got their Orwell in their Leo Strauss again.   I am referring to this morning's AP story headlined White House: U.S. safer but not yet safe.  Which of course invites a whole species of "Everything is fine, so keep freaking out" comments.

It is a unique position the administration is in, trying to simultaneously convince the electorate that the competence of the administration will protect them from a scary world -- a world so scary, in fact, that it is impossible to protect them.  Of course, a weary, poor and not very bright electorate will stumble across the inherent contradiction contained in the headline, and then repeat it back to you as gospel.  For there is no precept of logic strong enough to withstand the pernicious rhetoric of the Bush Administration.

I'm coming to the belief that any news story that reports the news of some shit somebody says is not much of a news story at all.  Anything like, "[Party A]: [Propaganda]", or, "[Utter lie], [Party A] says".  That's not news, and it's not even reporting.  There are supposed to be those five one-word questions that all begin with "w" behind a news story, not just a functioning tape recorder.  I think I've come to this belief before.  Whatever.  I was right then; now look at me go.

The story does contain legitimately scary news though, as follows:

Asked about [the latest al-Qaida videotape] Tuesday, Fran Townsend, a special assistant to President Bush for homeland security and counterterrorism, said she did not think the tape suggested another strike.

That would be the first time that the Administration has interpreted an al-Qaida tape to not suggest an attack since September, 2001.  I do believe the megachurches and the shopping malls of the greater Midwest area should commence panicking.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:51 AM

September 4, 2006

steve irwin

I'm glad the news of Steve Irwin's untimely death broke on Labor Day.  The sound of a million bloggers struggling between earnestness and ironic detachment would have been deafening.

Enjoy your day off, million blogers.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:31 AM