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September 27, 2006

This Is The End

Here are two articles that, read in conjunction, should scare the festering shit out of you:

"War Signals?":

As a strike group of six US naval vessels prepares to deploy to the Persian Gulf, wary critics of the Bush Administration and members of the military are raising flags that an "October surprise" attack on Iran may be imminent.

"The End Times Hits Primetime":

Karl Rove and Co. may be flirting with selling the public the same thing cult leaders throughout history have sold their followers: the afterlife.

The first article should be self-explanatory. The second claims that many in the current US administration are readers of a novel which claims that bombing the right places is the best way to trigger the Second Coming.

No, I don't know what to do about it. Protesting automatically makes you a member of the fringe and doesn't so much grant you the power of invisibility as force it upon you. Anyway, I'm sure many Democrats wouldn't protest the use of force in Iran because, well, they don't want to be known as the party that kept Jesus from coming back.

I find myself hoping that the nation's military will disobey the nation's commander-in-chief. This may be one of those times when the prospects of the many ride entirely on the whims of the few.

If you think I'm exaggerating: remember a couple months ago, when the main talking point that greeted Israel's invasion of Lebanon was "IT'S WORLD WAR THREE!"? And remember when moderate Condi claimed the Lebanese civilian casualties were the "birth pangs of the new Middle East"? Well, in my bedroom is a pamplet that someone left wedged in my door that shows an evil pregnant lady, captioned "BIRTH PANGS OF THE TRIBULATION HOUR". This is absolute proof that when people talk about birth pangs, the world's children should not be rejoicing.

Even if you subscribe to the doubtful theory that there are some things the current US administration is not willing to do to achieve its ends -- and God knows lately those ends have not included "making itself look good" -- you have to agree that the main wellspring of administration policy seems to be satirical cartoons. Every time cartoonists try to find a way to pointedly exaggerate what's going on, before long that IS what's going on.

You also have to agree that once the administration has convinced itself something is the case, no force on earth can change their minds. Why should they? They already have their one-act script:

Once there was a nation. This nation was called America. And then, one day, everybody hated America because it was free.

Except Jesus. He liked us.


-- and it's too good a script to change at this point in post-production. Even though it's not really the documentary it claims to be.

The idea of a script figures prominently in everything these guys do. A couple of years ago, I planned to write up the ways our war in Iraq resembled the French strategy in World War One. (And, yes, comparing America's leaders with the French is meant to be shocking). Iraq has many fewer dead than World War One (or World War Three), but in both wars three things figure prominently: a continuing conviction at the top that the enemy was being soundly defeated (even though, in France, the Germans were killing twice as many French as the French were killing Germans), the hysterical nationalistic chest-beating in the media, and the corresponding near-complete lack of press access to what was actually going on.

Not that the press minded. It served everybody's interests to claim that the Germans (or the insurgents) were about to be defeated, when real intelligence would have plainly laid out that this was not the case. Nor were the French (or us) interested in the enemy's real strategy, or the aims it was trying to achieve. No, the script clearly stated "The enemy is being defeated", and they were going to get it right if it took all night. Or all their young men.

Still, it's just possible that Iraq has the first insurgency driven by the fact that they hate the occupiers' freedom.

But this Iran thing. You should really think about what script is being followed, and what this administration thinks is going to happen to make THE END appear in big bright letters. And you should think about what to do about it.

And then you should tell me. Because I don't know.

September 24, 2006

Further Ruminations On Eating

I like alcohol, but I've never been a beer person. Since I was so antisocial as a teen, I never got initiated to beer as part of any coming-of-age ritual. So its bitterness remains an unpleasant experience, untainted by feelings of comradeship.

The sensation of bitterness probably evolved to let you know that what you were eating wasn't good for you. So I wonder at what point bitterness evolved from indicating "poison" to indicating "alcoholic oblivion". I think the overall search for oblivion was somewhere in there, especially when the bittersweetness of love just wasn't dragging you down far enough.

I drink wine, but I'm convinced I'm not really a wine person. Based on descriptions of wines, I'm convinced that wine is mostly drunk by people who like to put random things in their mouths and then critique them. If you can say that what's in your mouth has "overtones of slate and petroleum," then it probably ought not to be in there.

I wonder if it's only the English language that describes emotions the same way it describes food. "Bitter", "sweet" and "sour". ("Spicy" isn't so much an emotion as a culture). In some ways this makes sense. If you want to get anything out of English food, you have to induce the correct emotion while you eat it.

But what about the fourth flavor? Can you ever really describe your feelings as salty? Salt is more of a preservative than a food or emotion. This makes sense for pirates, whose lifestyle demands that they hide their true feelings beneath a crust in order to get along. But does it make sense to anyone else? Perhaps, since those of us in the First World are creation's most rapacious pirates. The world is our menu. Yes, thank you, I'll have the Mineral Rights a la West Virginia. And please pass the salt.

On an anthropological side note: was blood the prehistoric equivalent of ketchup? Like ketchup it's both sweet and salty, with the plus that it's a lot easier to get out of the container. That is, once you manage to pin the container down, and you have something sharp. Blood really goes with everything, especially in school lunches.

Time for breakfast.

September 19, 2006

Survey #2

If you could meet yourself twenty years ago, what would you say?

The Future of Eating

People are always saying, Wow, fast food is fast! But how can we make it faster?

Someday, someone really smart will realize that valuable time is lost killing live food before it can be cooked and served on a bun. They will briefly consider serving live food, but then will discard that option in favor of a solution with greater commercial potential. One that will make customers, shareholders and PETA happy. The slogan will be: "Patty Palace. Where we don't kill our patties 'cause they're already dead."

I think you know where this is going.

Zombie cows.

I know it sounds strange, but in the future everything is strange. Just hear me out.

Face it -- you just can't mistreat a zombie cow. You can keep it in the smallest pen imaginable, and it won't care -- or lose muscle tone. You can inject it with all the antibiotics and bovine growth hormone you want, and it will have no effect. But there wouldn't be a point. The cow can't get sick because it's dead.

One thing the cow WILL do is get hungry. Fortunately, like now, you can feed it other ground-up cows. In fact, this is the only food it is likely to eat. But unlike now, the zombie cow has no chance of going mad.

And the taste? Just like dead cow that used to be alive!

There is no downside.

Except, once management has tasted the benefits of an undead food source, they will start to consider the benefits of an undead labor pool as well.

Chained to a dairy-treat dispenser, your average zombie will perform at least as well as your average high-schooler. But instead of being deadened by raging hormones, the zombies will be deadened by raging death.

One benefit of raging death is that it leads to nonexistent turnover among employees, along with low probability of sex in the walk-in freezer.

Unlike teenagers, undead employees don't rebel. Every zombie, no matter how long or lush its hair, is equally willing to wear a hairnet. This will make common health code violations a thing of the past.

If your zombie employees started off as regular teenage employees, they'll even provide their own uniform!

And we won't even mention the pay that zombies are willing to work for. Or the food.

Of course, zombie line cooks will present some small danger to customers. If you're smart, you don't want your customers to accidentally become part of your zombie-food supply chain! At least the customers who have the money to keep coming back.

Here's where a few well-placed campaign contributions can work real magic. Sprinkle a little zombie dust, and soon enough Congress will establish a fund to match medical costs for any millionaire who opts to have his skull replaced with titanium.

Sure, it seems corrupt at first whiff. But don't think of it as pork. Think of it as a way for our nation's most productive citizens to avoid becoming the OTHER white meat.

Or, if you like, think of it as trickle-down health care. The better protected the brains of our nation's best are, the better protected everyone else will be from having to need their own brains.

But the problem remains -- how do you feed your undead workforce? The solution will cost just a few more contributions to your representative's warchest.

Suddenly, bankruptcy reform will become the topic of the day. To prevent abuse of the system, a law will be passed which mandates that anyone filing for bankruptcy must enter a lottery in which they and their immediate family become eligible to feed their brains to undead-American workers. Workers who, unlike the bankruptcy filers, keep this nation functioning.

Really, it's the most humane solution. Those bankruptcy seekers are pretty much going to be denied anyway. If the family breadwinner refuses to straighten up and succeed like a real American, what prospects do his family have? This way they will at least serve a vital cause.

Eventually, US lawmakers will adopt a softer stance, and vote to outsource zombie-food production to China. Since Chinese authorities are currently hard-pressed to enforce the "one child per family" rule, they are likely to welcome the opportunity to ship extraneous newborn citizens overseas. Especially girl citizens. The future of China can only be glorious if eighty percent of the future is male.

But some problems will always be with us. For every hardworking zombie suppurating his "special sauce" onto an almost-completed Bitey Burger, there will be at least ten illegal immigrants looking to steal that job. Like now, the best solution will be to build a wall on the border. A wall to protect our hardworking undead-Americans from the greed and desperation of the living. Especially the living who are different from us.

September 14, 2006

Survey #1

I'm home sick at the moment. So this seems like a good time to invite the first comments ever on this weblog, now that it has a comments feature. Here's a survey for y'all. Enjoy, but don't get too worked up about it.

Question 1: What's the weirdest occupation for someone to be called out of retirement from?

In the movies, some emergency is always causing some rogue physicist or profiler to be called out of retirement, to work grudgingly with the former coworkers who prompted his departure in the first place. But does this ever happen with, say, rogue pet groomers?

Question 2: What emergency would call the ____________ from Question 1 out of retirement?

Question 3: What job would the retired ____________ be leaving to go back to his/her old job? Would they miss him/her?

Question 4: Once back at the old job, would he or she fall in love? Because, really, that's all that matters.

Question 5: Oh, right. The emergency. How'd that work out for everybody?

September 12, 2006

Intrinsic worth

Over on the alt.slack Usenet newsgroup, Reverend Ivan Stang mentioned the possibility of trade with the bottled city of Kandor.

This got me thinking. What kind of currency would a bottled city have?


Because -- really, what else is there?

This isn't as farfetched as it sounds. In some ways, this system is a lot like ours. For example, in the nineties Kandor had a tech bubble too.

Like in our world, Kandorians are usually encouraged to invest in one bubble at a time. After all, a bubble represents a whole New Economy that will only get bigger and bigger! Buy shares now, because the stock will split for sure!

Like for us, this approach works until it doesn't.

Once a bubble has popped, everyone gets on their soapboxes about how silly the whole thing is. Meanwhile, speculators have already started speculating whether or not there'll be another bubble, and how much its presence or absence will be worth.

And then there are always a few sensible folks who claim the popping of the bubble is proof that the world is flat.

It always amazes me what people will consider as having intrinsic worth. For example, gold. You can't eat it, breathe it, or build anything out of it -- except a little protective band for the base of your third left-hand finger. This is apparently what you get in exchange for marriage: reasonable protection for a tiny portion of your anatomy.

Gold has two advantages that I can see: it's shiny, and it's heavy enough that you can't carry very much of it. This way, if you're out jogging and get attacked by bandits, they can only make off with so much of your wealth.

But you know what else has the twin virtues of sheen and weight? A wet whale! Where's your intrinsic worth now, huh? Then again, maybe this explains why whale snot has a fancy name -- ambergris -- and fetches twenty bucks a gram.

September 11, 2006

Fixing Afghanistan

In honor of the fifth anniversary of 9/11, here is my plan to fix Afghanistan, AND win the War on Drugs -- for almost nothing.

Afghanistan, as you might have heard, is expecting a bumper crop of poppies -- enough to exceed world heroin demand by 30%.

With that in mind, here is the plan we should follow.

1) Leave Afghanistan.

2) Let the Taliban come back into power and burn the poppy crop.

3) Sit back and watch as the world's entire population of junkies applies for visas to Afghanistan.

4) Grant said visas, and provide the junkies with slow boats to Asia. On the journey, seasickness should crank their frenzy and desperation to Sean Youngian levels.

5) A few flatscreen TVs and high-tops may be stolen by the more desperate junkies on their way out of your country, in a pathetic bid to have some kind of bargaining chip with the Taliban. This is OK. This is a free country, and things like this happen in a free country.

6) Watch as the world population of junkies floods Kabul. Listen for the faint collective scream as they realize they cannot petition the Taliban with high-tops.

7) Watch as the junkies overthrow the Taliban and take control of the means of production. Soon they will set up efficient assembly lines for the production of both heroin and filthy mattresses, and consume their entire annual output of same.

8) The Taliban is vanquished, and so is the problem of opiate addiction within your borders.

9) Your turn. Fix Iraq, Lebanon and Israel.

September 10, 2006

It's Official

I'm back in bidness.

To prove it, I've been uploading new, QUALITY "What Jail Is Like" radio-show MP3s to this website. The radio-show link on the front page is updated too, if for some reason you prefer to use that.

More shows will appear as time permits. You should really, really listen to them.

I updated the What Jail Is Like FAQ, but currently it's in plaintext because...well, because the old ways are the best. Even if your browser can't handle the old ways and refuses to word-wrap the paragraphs. That's entirely your browser's fault -- the old ways are blameless. They were old when browsing was young, and they will still be old when browsing is dead and gone.

Someday I will fix the word-wrap issue, but in the meantime feel welcome to scroll horizontally.

God, I love this job.

September 09, 2006

The Punchline Is On 21-Hour Delay

In the last paragraph of the last entry, I left out the last part of the joke. It is: "That could get you at least ten cents an hour more than you're making now."

(I filed this post under the "Trepverter" category. "Trepverter", Yiddish, n.: a comeback that you think of as you're walking down the stairs, retreating from the argument you just lost.)

September 08, 2006

Labor For a Day, Be Uncool For a Lifetime

I just want to note that Monday was Labor Day, but if you snuck home from work and turned on the teevee you wouldn't have known it. Unlike Memorial Day, when TV falls all over itself to let you know Hollywood made some war movies, TV gots nothin for Establishment chattel.

Instead, the History Channel ran something about food, and the Food Channel ran something about history of food. Even the Running Channel ignored Labor Day and showed something about running. Or cutting and running. Or maybe it was about noses. I don't remember -- I was watching war movies.

The theory goes that, unlike work, war is exciting. People already see way too much of work, so that by the time they finally finish a workday and straggle home with nothing to look forward to but doing the same thing tomorrow, the idea of seeing a documentary about people fighting for the right to work seems like a bad joke. Instead, working audiences want to see people fighting for the right to kill each other. Marches and strikes are passé; parades and airstrikes are the Bomb.

Unlike overwork and underemployment, war is exotic. Anyone can pick up a tool and get paid a pittance to use it, but hardly anyone in the whole world takes up arms against anyone else. See -- unlike work, war is forbidden. This makes it incredibly cool.

If you doubt, consider war's capacity for helping its participants to get in touch with themselves. Close your eyes and imagine what has really happened in so many combat epics: you're in a war, lying in a ditch, and some heavy-caliber round hits your helmet and spins it around 360 degrees without touching your skull. You're still alive.

All of a sudden, you realize how much life it worth living. You want to stand up, take a deep breath, go home, tell your wife how much you love her, and inform her that she must start making babies. But first you have to kill all these Germans.

In all the world there is no greater miracle.

Now compare that life-enhancing bullet to a ten-cent raise. A ten-cent raise is appropriately named, because it raises you very, very slightly from the dead. At least enough to find some uncontaminated liquid to wet yourself down with before you shamble off to your double shift. But not, fortunately, enough for you to be driven crazy by how little your employers think of you. Being driven crazy requires brains, and zombies are always hurting for lack of those.

Even when TV and movies can tear themselves away from armed combat and show something about work, the shows tend to focus on jobs that are so cool you would do them for free. Take CSI. If you're like me, you just can't wait for the next drug-war victim to get garroted so you can draw some chalk lines, tote the body home to your "lab" and fire up the old ultraviolet. Strictly for medicinal purposes, understand.

But these shows gloss over the grotesque working conditions, such as the stress and strain of dealing with evidence of violent crimes. For example, in LA, heavy smog can taint blood samples with trace amounts of exotic materials, making every death look like the work of a highly skilled assassin. Christ, you mean I have to go track another ninja? Why do these guys kill so many other people's shrewish ex-wives?

Not to mention LA's miasma of amorality that seeps into everything and turns every crime scene into the meth-fueled beating of a single parent with the skull of his or her own trick-turning eight-year-old. Who, of course, had a spec script that was THAT CLOSE to being read by Spielberg's assistant. Yes, criminal stereotypes are a terrible thing. But lack of appropriate monetary compensation for dealing constantly with criminal stereotypes is an even more terrible thing.

Sadly, no CSI investigator is ever going to petition for a ten-cent raise. In fact, the only time they'll ever see a dime is when they find five or six pre-1965 silver dimes lodged in the bodies of a kitchenful of fast-food employees. At first the investigators will assume the employees planned to smuggle the dimes out of the restaurant safe, in locations that would be missed by your run-of-the-mill employee strip-search. But then things will take a dark turn when the employer falls under suspicion of hiring illegal-immigrant werewolves for five cents an hour, then killing them with silver and frying their meat -- with the aim of turning his customers into werewolves! Fortunately, the manager's proven parsimoniousness will save him, since he wouldn't spare one silver dime to kill his sainted mother, let alone a kitchenful of illegal werewolves.

See? Penny-pinching is a virtue!

What was I talking about? Oh, yes. The fact that labor isn't exciting. I'd talk a lot more about this, but it's Friday and I have some serious forgetting to do. Not to mention pennies to pinch. It's not cruel. They love it, really.

P.S.: I have never watched an episode of CSI. Really? You could tell? Wow -- you are such a detective!

September 07, 2006

I'm still here.

Or I was at the time I wrote this, anyway.