How TV flattens time

To the producers of PBS Nova:

I find exasperating your persistent use of the present tense throughout the narration of your program, “The Spy Factory” (as well as others of your programs). For instance:  “Signals intelligence is increasingly important….”  Well, is it still “increasingly important” today, or *was* it only then, in the late 1990’s (with perhaps its importance today being still great, but not increasingly so)? And, is Bin Laden still using an Inmarsat phone, or was he then and only then?

To present past events in present tense is to collapse history. It disallows, or at best confuses, any presentation of events that occurred in complex or non-linear sequence.  Your use of this dumbed-down Discovery Channel technique might be adequate for a documentary about a centuries-old bit of history, but it is inexcusable when the subject has ongoing, contemporary ramifications.

In a broader perspective, this fixed use of the present tense is contributing to a gradual devolution of language. As more and more TV-watching children are encultured into a verbal representation of reality that has only one tense, the subtleties of cause and effect (and of complex or conditional causalities), are increasingly lost.  It’s as though the texture of our common reality is being transmuted from something woven or multi-faceted to something flat and linear.  Everything is now, now, now, or it is not at all.

Not incidentally, I speculate that the current vogue for the expression, “moving forward” is a symptom of this.  When a government official says, for instance, “We will need to examine those issues, moving forward,”  it’s as though she doesn’t trust that what she just spoke in future tense will actually be heard as referring to a future occurrence!  How about, “We will need to examine those issues.” Period. That verb in there should still work just fine.

If you haven’t noticed this phenomenon already, you will. Or, to state this in your own special syntax: If you don’t notice this phenomenon already, you do. (Sic, sic, sic.)

The world is round — stop trying to flatten it!

Not actually a curmudgeon (yet),


Published in: on February 4, 2009 at 2:19 am  Leave a Comment  

Prosecute the Bushies

With respect to criminal prosecutions of Bush officials, we hear from the corpo-pundits and from Obama himself that we can’t afford to look to the past but must look to the future. Such facile rhetoric sounds sensible, but it begs the fact that the pursuit of Justice is fundamentally future-looking. Those who think justice is past-looking confuse it with vengeance or retribution.

One would expect Obama the Constitutional scholar to understand this, but evidently he is succumbing to partisan politics, as he appears to be doing in so many other areas (e.g., his bailing out of banks not the citizenry, continuing extraordinary rendition, siding 100% with Israel, promoting so-called “clean coal,” allowing offshore oil drilling, etc.)

Justice for Bush/neo-con criminal wrongdoing would help keep in check the Executive Branch of future administrations. Internationally, it would generate political capital for the U.S.; otherwise, the World’s current respect for Obama will dwindle quickly. Without justice, the Obama administration would be sending the message, at home and abroad, that the Bush administration was not an abhorrent aberration but rather the new business-as-usual for the United States of Greed and Paranoia.

Whomsoever does not weed before he sows, reaps weeds. If that’s not in the Bible, it should be.

Published in: on February 2, 2009 at 6:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

This Nightmare is Your Nightmare

I just now had a wicked nightmare. In it, I had done some little piece of musical work for a mysterious client; I didn’t know who it was exactly, even in the dream. But apparently they liked it, for the next thing I knew, George Bush was calling to congratulate me. I guess that client must have been someone he knew.

Cut to: Crawford Texas. Searing heat. I’m sitting on the open porch of a weatherbeaten house, in some bleak, nondescript part of Crawford’s “downtown.” George Bush is by my side, an upright piano in front of us. Black sedans are stationed at some remove, patiently waiting on us. A couple of flies are buzzing around in a lazy game of tag. Bush has written a song, and he wants me to help him finish it: “Just polish it up a bit, heh heh.”

He’s excited to play what he’s got. So with my most eager and patriotic tone I say, “Let’s hear it, Mr. President!”

He leans into the piano and starts jamming the most typical three-chord, four-bar phrase you’ve ever heard — IV-I-V-I – striking each chord on every eight-note, ham-fistedly, no finesse, but rockin’, albeit in a weird, slow motion way. No lyrics, no actual melody. He is so proud: “Waddaya think of that, heh heh.”

I’m thinkin’ his tempo is ragged and his playing sounds like a severely retarded version of Jerry Lee Lewis, and his snigger sounds like Butthead, but I say, “Yeah, that’s brilliant. What if I made it a little jazzier – not jazz, right, just a little bit more bluesy color – a real american sound.” He pants like a puppy in anticipation. I lean into the piano and demonstrate by playing a few bars of his groove with a few added 6ths and 7ths. Yes! He sputters. This is exactly what he was writing!

Now I just need to polish it up a bit: a few lyrics here, a little melody there. No biggie.

Cut to: my studio, interior. Evidently I did a good job of ghostwriting Bush’s masterpiece, for he is now here to record it. He’s rarin’ to go: “Gonna have a real hit on our hands, heh heh.”

He leans over one of my synths (he prefers its cheezy sound to that of a real piano), playing the exact same lame vamp he’d played for me back in Texas. He hasn’t incorporated any of my new arrangement (whatever it may have been exactly, I don’t recall). We record take after take of those same plodding three chords. He keeps blowing the performance, but remains determined. He says, “I’m gonna persevere,” emphasizing that last word in that way he has that sounds like he just learned its meaning. Then he explains unnecessarily, “That means I’m dogged, heh heh. But I’m gonna nail this thing.”

Take after take. I begin to sense that the Secret Service agents – who until now have been lolling around on the patio and in the surrounding hills – are getting restless. Like they’ve been through many of Bush’s failed songwriting experiments before.

Take after take, Bush jams on, undeterred. IV-I-V-I. Bb, F, C, F. (Yes, I recall the chords in the dream.) Doot doot doot doot doot doot doot doot……

It’s utterly maddening. In a flash, I realize that I am experiencing nothing other than sheer, unadulterated, literal torture. But I think, “I’ll see this through, I won’t break.”

And that’s when I woke up.

A moment later, in my foggy, sweaty state, I realized that the chords Bush was playing are precisely the changes to Woody Guthrie’s, “This Land is Your Land.” But of course history will probably remember it as the greatest hit George Bush ever wrote.

Published in: on January 24, 2008 at 6:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Seamonster Sounds and Dolphin Prayers

Thurs, Oct. 25, ’07

Here’s my self-indulgent take on the hectic few days of “near-fire experience” that Kim and I went through here in Big Rock, Malibu.

It began on a grueling note, even before it began. I had spent Saturday applying a new coat of roof sealant, sweating under a hot sun. That evening, I was trying to work on a mix in the studio, but kept being distracted by the effects of winds gusting at 80 MPH. Sometime around 2 AM, the wind ripped the rain gutters off one side of the house, tipped over several large plants in terra cotta pots and rolled them crashing into the pool (empty, but for a few inches of rainwater), and randomly blew things around that had no business blowing around, like garden tools and scraps of plywood. At one point, Kim woke up and stumbled outside in a swirl of leaves to see what the commotion was; evidently she too was feeling the wild atmosphere even in her sleep. By 4:30 AM I was ready for bed, dog-tired.

That’s when the power went out. This happens once every few months; usually it’s because some drunk crashed into a power pole on the highway (why does he keep doing that?), but on rare occasions a circuit breaker in the house has been known to trip. I stepped out on the patio to look down at the highway to see if the outage involved more than just our house. Yep, the highway was dark too. At least it wasn’t just us.

I lit a candle (neither safe nor easy, even indoors), plugged in the old-school phone, and called SoCal Edison. Several times in in the past, I’d found that I was the first to report an outage; few people in Malibu are awake in the wee hours, and fewer still would care enough to call. I pushed the phone menu option to have them call me back with status reports. I never heard back — a sign of things to come.

I took another peek at the highway from the patio. I’m not sure why; maybe I wanted another look at my chunk of coastline in complete darkness, without the glow of streetlights and such. I like the primeval quality of it. There’s an excitement when humans are temporarily silenced by physics and nature. Like in the days following 9/11, when no airplanes were in the sky — the whole sky/ocean continuum in front of us was eerily, beautifully quiet.

As I turned to head back in, I noticed a faint glow beyond the ridge, indicating that the lights of central Malibu were still on. Except… was that glow a little more orange than normal?

Adrenaline surge. I jumped in the car to get a better view from the end of our road. It took me ten minutes to get there, as I had to get out of the car several times to drag eucalyptus branches out of the way. Around the last bend, the view hit me as hard as the wind: the whole of Civic Center had been blasted by a flaming meteor, or so it appeared.

I sped home, honking all the way to wake up the neighbors, second-guessing myself — am I overreacting? I thought of Paul Revere. Yes, I’m doing the right thing. Anyway, some of these neo-suburbanites could stand to have their cages rattled a bit. Oddly, I also thought of a poem recited by Bulwinkle (inexplicably still encoded in my brain cells since childhood):

Wee Willie Winkie
guns up and down
on his souped-up Harley
waking up the town

If you think that Willie
makes a racket, mister
Wait ’til Willie’s brother
turns on his transistor

Disaster drives ones consciousness into all sorts of little-used corners of the mind.

I got home, woke up Kim, and tuned the battery-powered radio to KNX. Nothing but a gameshow litany of typical things that blow down in the wind. (“What is ‘the neighbor’s fence,’ Art?”)

I called the Sheriff. After about ten rings, a gruff, harried voice answered, “Major emergency, gotta go,” and hung up. Not a good sign. I must’ve been patched through to the Headless Chicken Desk. What if I had been the Mayor calling? Another sign.

I tuned to the City of Malibu’s emergency station, AM 1620. Nothing but the pre-recorded exhortation that I tune to this station in an emergency. Yes… and then? I tuned back to KNX. Eventually — eons — they reported that a fire was burning in Malibu Canyon.

Okay, that’s about six miles away; that would give us a few minutes to think. We tried calling Judie Graham-Bell, our neighbor across the canyon; no answer. (“Ms. Graham-Bell, pick up the telephone!”) Kim went over to wake her up — not least because she would have a better view of whatever might be coming our way. Kim had to go around and bang on her bedroom window (for which Judie was later grateful).

I called my mother in Ojai — she regularly gets up insanely early — and asked her to turn on her television and be our eyes and ears. I directed her man Laszlo to a website for wind and weather info. Nothing too definitive yet.

Kim and I discussed what we should pack in the car if need be. She pulled out our pre-packed emergency suitcases and the cat carrier, while I stayed with the radio, listening between the lines for any clues about the scope of the danger.

The key factor was wind direction. If it were a west wind, we might have half an hour before the fire would be blown upon us. That’s how the 1993 fire had moved so quickly from Malibu Canyon to Big Rock. On the other hand, if the wind were blowing straight offshore to the south, as it had in the Malibu Road fire last year, it would never reach us. Most of the night it had seemed like it was blowing from every direction all at once.

Now the sun was up and we could monitor what was rapidly becoming a monstrously huge plume of smoke. It appeared to be billowing straight out to sea from the Civic Center area. A good sign, we thought, though the angle could be deceptive. Closer down below, the ocean was dead flat — not because there wasn’t any swell, but because the offshore winds were literally pressing it down. A herd of dolphins shimmied close to the shore, weaving gregariously, making good time towards the fire — they seemed excited to see what the humans had messed up this time. Each fin breaking the surface exploded in spray, the droplets on it instantly blown away, little flurries of comedic spit-takes. I guess fire can be a thrilling adventure when you live in the water.

Still no power, no TV, and virtually no meaningful info on the radio. No hot coffee for Kizzy.

The day before, I had been contacted by a Pepperdine freshman interested in recording at Seamonster Sounds. I realized that I should call him now. He was new to L.A., didn’t know the geography at all, and Pepperdine would be right in the thick of things. Maybe we could help fill-in each others’ blanks. I informed him that, according to the radio, students had been evacuated. He told me that, no, he was still right there, and also that the Presbyterian church was burning. He didn’t know exactly where the church was, and I told him that it was about 500 feet up the road from him. That also gave me a better sense of where the fire actually was. When we hung up, he thanked me for giving him a clue, and, being a good Christian, urged me to pray.

I did the next best thing. I took inventory of my studio, prioritizing which few instruments and gear would get to go for a ride, to transcend the storm. The techie version of The Day of Judgment. This thought process was a little too much like asking, “which of your children do you love the most?” I can’t bear to reveal the sordid details.

Kim took a moment to make sure the garden hoses weren’t knotted. I grabbed from the carport the particle masks and goggles, and set them with the flashlight and buckets. I put a swiss army knife in my pocket.

I called JP, who would know Malibu terrain well enough to identify a specific sumac bush shown on TV for three seconds. He was waiting for a bus to go play baseball, somewhere in this hemisphere. When he got there, he had one of the players call someone else who was home with a TV, who called me. Inconclusive. But man, Verizon must rake it in during disasters. Make a note to follow the money.

After an hour of gabbing with neighbors and my mother (who couldn’t discern much from the TV coverage), it seemed that the wind was indeed blowing straight out to sea, and therefore the fire might not be headed our way soon. But of course it could shift at any time, and with gusts still hitting 80 MPH, no news was not necessarily good news.

Around 10 AM, the power came back on and we saw our first TV images. In its general scope, the fire was as I imagined it. Some of the specific images were shiver-inducing: a few buildings at the edge of my elementary school were blazing away; the superstructure of my bank (my money!) was toppled (as if my money were actually in there).

As the faux castle on the hill burned away, I saw its floorplan for the first and last time ever. We’d always considered that place cheesy and nouveau riche — it was supposedly built by a guy who made his nut selling floral arrangements and Hallmark cards — yet now the TV drones were referring to it using words like “famous”, “priceless,” and “tragic.” Whatever.

Since I’d been up all night and was now double-dog-tired, and the event could evolve into an ordeal of several days, we decided that I should get some sleep. Kim would continue to monitor the news for any shift in the status quo and wake me if there were any. I hadn’t showered after my day of roof work, so I did now. Here are a few thoughts you never want to have in the shower: “Am I criminally reducing the precious water pressure for fire fighters?” “Should I plug the drain right now to get a head start on filling up the bathtub with ‘spare’ water?” “While I stand here all wet, might there be an ember sparking on the roof above my head?” It was a nice shower. For one brief surreal moment, it felt like the start of a great day. I felt as safe as a dolphin.

Brushing my teeth, I wondered whether I should sleep in my clothes. I opted to live dangerously, donning only underwear. Fresh underwear in a disaster, I always say. I dropped into bed, not knowing whether I would get six hours of sleep or have to jump up 20 minutes from now.

Kim woke me four hours later, around 3 PM. The wind had shifted. The frontline of the fire had covered half the distance to us and was now three miles away. She’d heard on the news that Big Rock had already been “evacuated,” supposedly. It was time to actually pack the car.

Choosing what to take was easy; choosing what to leave behind wasn’t. We pulled out computers, papers, a few of the most irreplaceable pieces of audio gear and instruments, some clothing and the cats’ carriers (the cats not in them yet). I placed all my hard drives in a box and threw in their adapters on top, a tangled mess that might never sort itself out later. With the music stuff, I had two criteria: what’s the bare minimum I’d need to keep making music, and which items have the greatest resale value. I still can’t write about my choices, but I’ll say this: the process had a wholly inappropriate reverse-psychological human-nature aspect to it, whereby the less I labored over my decisions, the less likely it was that the fire would come. Sort of like that phenomenon where you’re not supposed to predict that a basketball player will hit his next freethrow, because if you do, you’ll telepathically jinx it. There’s got to be a clinical name for this sort of impossible superstition that humans engage in all the time. If we’re ready for the fire, it won’t come. How did humans evolve this kind of thinking? Maybe it happens in the same part of the brain that reifies “the afterlife,” against all common sense. *If something is beyond comprehension, it’s probably true.* It’s like a form of denial expressed as the exact opposite of denial. One non-clinical word for it: faith.

Maybe the dolphin’s party was their form of prayer.

Back on this planet, here was the plan: If the fire got to the second ridge away from us, Kim would take the car and the cats and drive to MA’s house in Ojai (taking the long way around through L.A.). I would stay behind, on the roof with the garden hoses, ready for any stray embers that might spark up. Only if the main wall of flame were to reach the ridge across from us would I hightail it out of here. Kim didn’t like this plan at first, but thankfully she was quick to see its merits — sharp thinking in tense moments. In Malibu fires, houses with well-cleared brush, like ours, generally don’t burn unless an ember falls right on or beside one. If the fire dept isn’t right there, that one spark can destroy the whole house. With our narrow road and driveway, I wasn’t expecting to see the fire dept camped out here, waiting for a spark that might or might not show. Have hose, will not travel.

Having been “evacuated,” officially if not in real life, we knew that once either of us left, we wouldn’t be allowed to get back home, as the PCH was closed even to residents. Ironically, this policy of the Sheriff and Highway Patrol produces the opposite of its intent; at least in our case it did. Rather than leave right away, perhaps unnecessarily, and risk running into a Sheriff at the bottom of the hill who would doubtless not let us back in, we were compelled to stay here until and unless we had absolutely no choice but to leave. Incidentally, the evacuation policy is not favored by the Fire Department, as they’d just as soon have gutsy residents stay and help them in the fight.

It’s not like we had nowhere to go. Several friends, including reporter Michael Collins, offered their homes as possible crash destinations. But leaving now would be the opposite of prayer, creating a cosmic loophole that the fire would eagerly exploit.

With our gear in the car, we couldn’t do any real work. We sat down and watched a lot of fire on TV, burning other peoples’ misfortune into our memory cells, both for what we might learn from it and for there not to be enough space left for our own. We’d get up every few minutes to scan the sky for changes in the smoke and to scan the ground for signs of embers. Occasionally we’d get a glimpse of topography in one of the TV images, enough to gauge that the fire had not yet progressed further east towards us than Carbon Canyon, three miles away. In the ‘93 fire, the house next to us burned down when the main body of the fire was still five miles away. One can’t be too careful. Or can one?

Soon, other fires started popping in “the Southland.” (A phrase used only by the media, denoting the geographical region once served by broadcast antennas, and vague enough to persuade impressionable viewers to imagine that a crime or hazard 100 miles away might actually be occurring in their own neighborhood. I always thought it sounded like a Confederate themepark.) Coverage of Malibu began to dwindle. That which remained was largely anecdotal and of the infotainment variety: “Look at these stunning before and after pictures!” (of a house that burned many hours ago). “Look how noble it is that these people are actually rescuing their own horses!” “Look how great it is that the Ralph’s store is feeding the fire-fighters!” (and keeping a running tab). Missing were any maps of the area burned so far, the direction of the wind, or pretty much anything else that might help residents decide how to react.

Meanwhile, twelve hours after the fire started, still no City emergency radio info. Nothing on the emergency hotline. Nothing on the City’s website (accessed via the one computer not in the car). Funny, just a few years ago the City spent a bucketload on an emergency preparedness system, but evidently they forgot to build in any redundancies. Funny, not fun. One might think that after Hurricane Katrina, and its lesson that emergency communication systems need to be better integrated, maybe someone at City Hall might have taken the hint. Don’t pray too hard.

We began to feel that we and a few neighbors were all alone.

We learned that my mother had set up beds for us, made a special place where her dog couldn’t reach our cats, and had gone out and bought cookies for us. By making such preparations, she was in her own way ensuring that the fire wouldn’t reach us. Cookies as prayer offerings — and she’s an atheist.

By Sunday night, the fire was one mile away. There it would stay for the next three days, flaring in pockets, from the PCH to the top of the SM Mountains. Fortunately, the prevailing wind remained easterly (not westerly, as President Nimrod declaimed on Tuesday), holding the fire back, two ridges away from us.

As the media gradually assumed that the Malibu spectacle was over — even while incongruously reporting that it remained “10% contained” — Kim and I stayed on red-alert 24-hour vigil. We slept in shifts, taking turns patrolling the perimeter for flare-ups — none ever came, though we did get lots of particulates that played murder on the eyes and lungs. Periodically, we’d run out to the end of the road to get a better view of where the hotspots in Las Flores Canyon now were. Every few hours, we’d update a neighbor or two, or vice versa, and hash through the same fears and speculations all over again.

Kim and I had planned to go to the store on Sunday morning. Oops. For the next few days we ate a lot of couscous and beans. We nearly ran out of good water, as thirsty as we were in the 5% humidity. We broke down and tapped a plastic bottle of Fresca that someone had brought to a recording session here months ago, forgotten in the back of the fridge. When this high-fructose-free household goes for the soda pop, you know an existential dilemma is in progress.

We tried to keep the cats (we have three now) inside the house, lest we not be able to find them on a moment’s notice. This was not easy. Zee, the old trooper, would meow incessantly; eventually we’d relent and let him out, convinced he wouldn’t stray far. Then he’d want right back in. Over and over, he’d need to go in, then out, then back in. He sensed that something was wrong. Apparently he thought that he could escape whatever it was by going through a door, one way or the other. Perhaps this was the feline genuflection, his instinctual method of measuring the rosary beads. The kittens, Mazie and Puzzle (now almost 6 months old), were fairly unfazed, even by the heat. They never faltered in batting their little wads of paper around the living room — an activity which we refer to as “doing their paperwork.”

Throughout, the colors of the sky and sea ranged through every shade in the “Special Apocalyspe Edition” of the Crayola box (the deluxe one with 666 hues). Thankfully, the moon waxed more towards full each night, making the perimeter patrol progressively less hazardous.

At one point, Kim reported that a City Councilperson wished on camera that “Mother Nature would act more like a nurturing mother.” Okay, I can go with that, as far as it goes, which is to say not far. Then, in a moment when I was silently cursing the City’s failure to provide any useful information, I got an email from another Councilperson — the first communique from anyone at City Hall — in which he urged me (and everyone else on his spam list) “to pray for God’s strength and love in helping our brothers and sisters rebuild… join with us in invoking the creative and healing power of the Lord.” Actually, I’d have felt more healed if he were praying for a new improved emergency system.

What would Bulwinkle do?

Tuesday night, we heard from a neighbor that the Highway was now open to residents. So, after one last refreshing dose of Fire TV, I ventured out for the first time, in the still-packed car. With almost nobody on the road, I had that “life during wartime” feeling, familiar from the various slides, rains, and other fires I’ve gone through. Now abnormality felt reassuringly normal. I made it all the way to Vons and back without encountering a single fire truck, Sheriff or Highway Patrol car. Go figure.

I felt justified in splurging on some ice cream, lactose intolerance be damned.

My mother is happy we’re alive, but her secular soul is now tortured for all the cookies she has to eat.

Even by Wednesday night the fire was not fully contained. The fire dept says that they’ll have to keep crews on the slopes for two more weeks, in case of flare-ups. But we unpacked the car today, and just now hooked up the computers, rack gear and hard drives. While it took us five minutes to pull everything out, it took four hours to hook it all up again.

That I’m able to write this now helps me to feel that our near-fire experience is indeed over, notwithstanding the hundreds of firefighters apparently still posted in the hills.

What have we learned? That Kim can keep a level head when the checkers are flying all over the board. That we can work well together when the shit hits the fan, even as the fan is being blown down by the wind. She learned firsthand what the Malibu fire lifestyle is all about. Maybe we both learned that God plays a more significant role in the workings of this city than either of us ever imagined. These days, even a maelstrom won’t separate church and state. And maybe that cataclysm and catechism have more in common than how they sound.

So, we’re all okay. If you prayed for us, your prayers were answered. Either that, or Zee-Zee’s ritual dance in and out the front door made the disaster disappear. Or maybe the joke just wasn’t funny any more for the dolphins.

Can I get an amen for that onshore flow!

Published in: on October 28, 2007 at 2:39 am  Leave a Comment  

PBS’ NOVA: losing its balance

Thursday, November 16, 2006
I just watched a Nova doc on PBS that was maddening in its lack of scientific rigor. The show was a parade of hokum and bogosity such as one might associate with the Discovery Channel, but not public WGBH, fer cryin out loud. Here’s my screedulous letter to them (posted here for no compelling reason)….

WGBH writers and producers:

Your doc, “Family That Walks on All Fours,” almost found a simpler explanation of the Turkish childrens’ condition, but fell short of the mark. In my decades of experience with dogs, I have become familiar with what’s known as “canine vestibular disorder” (CVD). Its classic symptoms are all displayed by those children: lack of balance (obviously), persistent tilting of the head to one side, frequent inability of the eyes to “track” accurately (instead, the eyes often fall into a semi-random “scanning” motion).

While the cerebellum may well play a role, CVD has been traced (in dogs) to a breakdown in the bundle of the nerve fibers that connect the inner ear with the eyes (which work together in maintaining balance). Typically CVD occurs in elderly dogs (and is often confused with stroke); whereas the Turkish children appear to have a congenital form of it. Perhaps, in them, that nerve-linkage developed poorly or incompletely.

It does seem plausible, as your doc suggests, that the condition is an expression of a recessive gene (or a particular combination of such genes) carried by both parents. However, all of the air-time you devoted to speculation about “the origins of bipedalism” was way off base, and doubtless confusing for anyone who didn’t follow your storyline with a fine-toothed comb. Instead, it would be simple enough to suggest that a congenital vestibular disorder would produce offspring who have difficulty in keeping their balance, so by force of circumstance would be limited to walking on all fours. The apparent similarity to natural quadrupeds (past and present) is coincidence, and the exploration of Lucy’s smaller cerebellum a red herring. Your writers would do well to acquaint themselves with Occam’s Razor.

Dogs can have successive episodes of CVD lasting days at a time, between which they will often recover their balance — a sense of balance which they have spent a lifetime practicing. But a child “born vestibular” might never have the opportunity to practice such activities as would otherwise be required for balance development. It may be that the children didn’t master the “ladder” of balance acquisition only because they were unable to clear the first rung. (In this regard, the guy who attributed it to “culture” might have been correct in a way that he didn’t realize.)

Whatever the precise genetic and neurological bases, your having given air-time to the guy who pointed to “reverse evolution” was recklessly irresponsible, having no basis in light of what you did eventually learn about the condition. Talk about muddying the waters — what were you thinking? Was that just a CPB-mandated effort to be “fair and balanced” (a la Fox News, no pun), just to given the creationists a bone to chew on? Yeesh.

In future, when teaching a scientific topic, don’t confuse viewers with sensationalist ideas that you later demonstrate to be bogus; do show us the threads of your (and scientists’) investigations that do appear to pan out. Perhaps Stephen Colbert’s concept of “truthiness” has spread more deeply in our culture than any of us realize.

Published in: on October 28, 2007 at 2:35 am  Comments (2)  

Handbook of “The Threat Society”

Friday, October 20, 2006

I recently found a pretty good description of what “terrorism” is all about. See if you agree:

“The basis of terrorism rests in the ability to affect the will, perception, and understanding of the adversary through imposing sufficient terror to achieve the necessary political, strategic, and operational goals…” [19] “Terrorism means the ability to move quickly before an adversary can react [and] to destroy, defeat, and neuter the will of an adversary to resist… Clearly, deception, confusion, misinformation, and disinformation, perhaps in massive amounts, must be employed. The key objective [is to] paralyze or so overload an adversary’s perceptions and understanding of events… An adversary would be rendered totally impotent and vulnerable…”[xxv] “Terrorism creates fears, dangers, and destruction that are incomprehensible to the people at large, specific elements/sectors of the threat society, or the leadership.” [110].

Nope, not a quote from Bin Laden. But if you found yourself nodding your head, then you just agreed that the Bush Administration is a terrorist organization. Because if you replace the word “terrorism” with the phrase “Shock and Awe,” then you were just reading from Harlan K. Ullman’s seminal “Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance,” written in 1996, and one of the true Bibles of the neo-cons.

Wait — that last line: “The threat society.” Was Ullman talking about Al Qaida or Americans? Well, actually he was talking about Iraq, as he goes on to make clear. And it didn’t take the neo-cons long to realize that Shock and Awe could play in Peoria just as well as in Fallujah, if not better, given Americans’ unique brand of credulity.

The very next line reads: “The ultimate military application of Shock and Awe was the use of two atomic weapons against Japan in WWII… The Holocaust was a state policy of Shock and Awe.”

I wonder whether Ullman ever loses sleep wondering whether 9/11 might have been partly his responsibility.

If you have any doubt that the Iraq invasion was growing like meningitis in neo-con brains as early as 1996, here’s Ullman’s example of the perfect case for deploying Shock and Awe:

“Suppose a Desert Storm-type campaign were fought 20 years from now based on a plan that exploited the concept of Rapid Dominance [Shock and Awe]. Further assume that Iraq has improved (and rebuilt) its military and that, in a series of simultaneous and nearly instantaneous actions, our primary objective was still to shut Iraq down, threaten or destroy its leadership, and isolate and destroy its military forces as we did in 1991. However, two decades hence, Rapid Dominance might conceivably achieve this objective in a matter of days (or perhaps hours) and not after the 6 months or the 500,000 troops that were required in 1990 to 1991. Rapid Dominance may even offer the prospect of stopping an invasion in its tracks.

“Shutting the country down would entail both the physical destruction of appropriate infrastructure and the shutdown and control of the flow of all vital information and associated commerce so rapidly as to achieve a level of national shock akin to the effect that dropping nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on the Japanese. Simultaneously, Iraq’s armed forces would be paralyzed with the neutralization or destruction of its capabilities. Deception, disinformation, and misinformation would be applied massively.” [13]

Apparently, Bush and Rummy stopped reading at page 13, because when you turn the page, the text continues uninterrupted:

“This level of simultaneity and Rapid Dominance must also demonstrate to the adversary our endurance and staying power, that is, the capability to dominate over as much time as is necessary, lest an enemy mistakenly try to wait it out and use time between attacks to recover sufficiently. If the enemy still resisted, then conventional forms of attack would follow, resulting in the physical occupation of territory. Control is thus best gained by the demonstrated ability to sustain the stun effects of the initial rapid series of blows long enough to affect the enemy’s will and his means to continue. There must be a staying power effect on the enemy or else they merely absorb the blows, gain in confidence and their ability to resist, and change tactics much as occurred during the WWII bombing campaigns and the air war over North Vietnam.”[14].

And certainly the neo-cons didn’t read as far as p. 111:

“How to apply elements of Shock and Awe against rogue states, terrorist elements,international drug and crime cartels, as well as in the more traditional MRCs and LRCs needs much further study and analysis.”

In other words, the neo-cons should have known that Shock and Awe terrorism might not work against other terrorists. Duh.

In the end, we can’t hang too much blame on Ullman. Right in his introduction he “notes for the record” (and presciently highlights in all italics) that Shock and Awe couldn’t do the job alone:

“We note for the record that should a Rapid Dominance [Shock and Awe] force actually be fielded with the requisite operational capabilities, this force would be neither a silver bullet nor a panacea and certainly not an antidote or preventative for a major policy blunder, miscalculation, or mistake. It should also be fully appreciated that situations will exist in which Rapid Dominance (or any other doctrine) may not work or apply because of other political, strategic, or other limiting factors.” [xiii, emphasis in original.]

Talk about CYA. But he was all too right.

So, welcome to America, land of the free-for-all, and the home of The Threat Society. Don’t be shocked that it’s such an awesome country.

BTW, have you seen Wag The Dog lately?

See: Dept. of Defense – Command and Control Research Program.
There you’ll find downloadable PDF’s on how to win wars, including Harlan K. Ullman’s seminal “Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance” — the handbook on Bush-style terrorism.

Published in: on October 28, 2007 at 2:27 am  Leave a Comment  

For those conflicted singer/songwriters about to rock

Saturday, October 14, 2006

These days, a lot of popular music is singer/songwriter material buried in irrelevant, redundant sonic power. Countless times I’ve heard music that was affecting and intimate when performed by a solo singer with guitar, but later, when bass, drums and electric guitar were slathered on, it became a wash of aimless sludge. The lyrics and the personality were lost in the barrage. (I’m talking mainly about live music, not necessarily recorded music.) Often, the bass just doubles the low note on the guitar (the chord’s root), and the drums mimic the guitar’s strum pattern. Often there’s little sense of arrangement or development, the qualities that make a piece of music feel like it’s actually going somewhere.

Don’t get me wrong, I love huge powerful bands when the impetus for putting multiple loud instruments together has something to do with the fact that they’re multiple and loud. Do you want to rattle chest cavities or get booties shakin’ with that high-powered sound? Great, it works for that — pure energy and bliss. Or, if you want to build an arrangement of shifting tone colors, layers, grooves, rhythmic and melodic interplay and so forth, then yeah, you’re talking about a band. But when the idea is to put over a subtle, intelligible lyric, an evocative voice and a catchy tune, why bury it? If you could take a hi-res photo of your personality, would you scribble over it with crayons?

So when you’re putting together a band, think twice about what its purpose will be. Consider how the scale of the instrumentation affects your basic purpose. Intimacy can be more powerful than power itself.

Published in: on October 28, 2007 at 2:16 am  Leave a Comment  

Be a Seamonster Whisperer

Thursday, January 12, 2006

This blog page is new. Please consider it a place for you to post a comment on anything relevant. Remember to wait 30 minutes after eating.

Published in: on October 28, 2007 at 2:09 am  Leave a Comment