Recommended Listen: “The Madness of Bill Dobbs: A Tale of Snuff Movies and Cannibal Cults” by Sean Pearce

I pretty much always at least like the stories included on the Pseudopod horror podcast, but boy-oh-boy, is this one spot-on for me. It starts like this:

Eaters is regarded by some as a flawed masterpiece and an underground classic. To others, it is vile, racist, ethically bankrupt, and derivative.

It makes for peculiar viewing. The plot follows the formula of the Italian cannibal movies for which director Bill Dobbs had an unashamed fondness. An anthropological expedition into the Amazon jungle encounters and brutalises a tribe of ‘savages’ in the name of science, and find themselves pursued, captured, and finally gruesomely eaten alive.

(The film was originally going to be released as Dark-skinned Cannibals of the Tropics, though thankfully someone more enlightened than Dobbs suggested the title we now have. It almost goes without saying that Dobbs has been unanimously described as a completely unrepentant racist.) …

And gets much better from there.

Check it out online: PseudoPod 530: “The Madness of Bill Dobbs: A Tale of Snuff Movies and Cannibal Cults” by Sean Pearce

Given my level of ethnic paranoia I’m sorta shocked . . .

. . . that it never dawned on me that the dwarves in Snow White, etc., are Jews—especially because I was already familiar with this and this and a slew of earlier print sources (see e.g., the “Lead” section of Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table, Richard Wagner’s descriptions of Jews, etc.) as well as stuff like this, and so on.  

Anyway, just no idea where my game was at for this one to have given me the slip for four decades.

Continue reading “Given my level of ethnic paranoia I’m sorta shocked . . .”

First Days (or “To Hell with Mitch Albom and his Bullshit Flat-Earth Nostalgia”)

About to board the bus for her First Day
About to board the bus for her First Day

Tuesday was my daughter’s first day of kindergarten. At 4:20, when her bus finally arrived, she didn’t get off.

The driver checked, first calling out from the front, then shushing all of the kids and calling out again, then finally going seat to seat down the length of the big yellow bus.

My daughter wasn’t there.

Don’t worry—this is an “all’s well that ends” situation: Due to a printing error her First Day of Kindergarten name tag didn’t have her bus number printed on it, and subsequently she’d gotten on the wrong bus.  She ultimately wound up exactly where she should have been, all smiles and in fine fettle—albeit about an hour and a half late, following two bus transfers, and thanks to the intercession of three bus drivers, two transpo office workers, four school admins across two buildings, and one teacher. (The second day went smoother—in part because a neighbor kindly took it upon themselves to assign their first grader the job of making sure my daughter always sits next to her.)

You’re probably thinking “You must have been terrified!“, but the thing is, my son (now 11) also never showed up at the end of his first day of kindergarten. I can’t even properly recall how that came to pass, now, just that he didn’t get on any bus at all.  This may have been due to some confusion about aftercare (which required he take a different bus to get to a different locale)—

Retrieving him up at the end of his First Day.
Retrieving him up at the end of his First Day.

but I seem to recall that the geodesic dome he’s on in the pic had something to do with it, too, being strategically located right next to the bus loading area, but on the far side of a hedge tall enough to block the play structure from view, but not thick enough to prevent a kindergartner from slipping through.  An attractive nuisance if there ever was one.

Incidentally, his fish—a beta named “Electric,” given to him by an older boy who’d won it at a Labor Day fair, decided he didn’t want some stupid fish, and had thus stood in a gazebo and called out “Who wants a fish?”—had died that day while my son was gone at his first day of school.  That would be lamely symbolic if it wasn’t just a fact.

Point being, the boy was fine, as you can see in the picture.  He was more upset about the fish, and even that didn’t last.

Anyway, you’re probably thinking “You must have been terrified!

But I don’t know that I was terrified then either, because I remembered the end of my first day of kindergarten.  I remember it clearly, because it occasioned what I now recognize to be the first truly adult thought of my life:

I was the only kindergartener that rode my bus.  The “safety” (one of a small cadre of fifth graders given fluorescent orange Sam Browne belts and tasked with holding doors, keeping the halls orderly, and making sure the little kids found their buses) led me down a long cinderblock-and-linoleum hall, where kids were other kindergarteners were lined up under construction-paper cut-outs of school buses.  He stopped me in front of a red paper bus, taped high above my head on the wall, and said: 

“This is your bus.”

He walked away.  I stood there, alone, staring up at the two-dimensional red paper school bus, and thought to myself:

“How the hell am I supposed to get home on a paper bus?”

I tried to puzzle this out, and had a brief, vivid moment where I imagined myself shrinking down and flattening out like a Shrinky Dink™, transforming into a big-nosed black-and-white cartoon character (basically the kid from that 1980s Tootsie Pop commercial).  Cartoon me moseyed up to the bus, the door accordioned open—just like the door of the real, steal, three-dimensional bus I’d ridden to school just after eating lunch with my mom (back then it was half-day kindergarten, and I had PMs)—and I climbed aboard. Then the paper bus chugged to life and cruised down the wall in a little Pig Pen-esuque swirl of penciled diesel fumes.

In that moment, and for a moment, I entirely believed in that scenario. It was the only thing that made sense. And then I recall thinking:

Nothat can’t be right.

Soon enough another safety came and lead us kindergarteners, lined up like ducks, down to the turnaround where the real steel yellow schoolhouses were similarly lined up, and I discovered that my bus was identified with a number (that I could not read) written on a sheet of red construction paper—hence the red paper bus on the wall.  So, sort of a semiotics lesson built into that first day of school to, I guess—although it was a bit above my head (pun? joke!

Point being, kindergarten was my first time out of the home place, in a meaningful way.  Going to kindergarten, among other things, meant my first brushes with anti-Semitism, with both the quiet, constant terror of bullying, and the quiet heroism of the few bigger kids who tried to stand up for you.  And it was my first taste of solitude, being left to think my own slow, long thoughts in the intervals between assigned activities—something that I still treasure very much.  I wasn’t me before I was finally left alone to be me.

But none of that was on the First Day.

On the First Day I had to grapple with staying calm when faced wth a seemingly impossible scenario: Here, kid, you’re six now; figure out how to ride a paper bus home.

In a lot of ways, my life has been a series of brief intervals separating moments of distorted, disconcerting reasoning–and in which the only thing that separated me from a Very Bad Turn of Events was that simple first adult thought: 

“No, that can’t be right.  Calm down and think this through.”

It’s the only useful response to the apparently endless string of Kobayashi Maru that make up our lives.

Not that I knew any of that then—for chrissakes, what do you expect?  I was six; it was My First goddamn Day.

“Smart” Guns Aren’t

This is a really fascinating video for anyone interested in the emergent complexities (and edge/corner-case failures) that inevitably arise when folks start fixing social problem with technology.  It’s absolutely mandatory viewing for anyone who thinks they have a “simple” gun-control/gun-safety solution, especially one that involves “smart gun technology” (SPOILER ALERT: such solutions are not solutions at all).

Just as an aside, it seems a little over-cautious for WIRED to call these “potentially dangerous flaws” in the gun’s design:  The gun can be fired by an unauthorized person in possession of the firearm (using magnets available at any hardware store), and it can also be disabled at a distance by an attacker with some minor soldering skills.  Both of these hacks require very little skill (and not even all that much money) to execute now that the flaw is known.  As such, the gun fails at both things it’s supposed to do (i.e., work in an an emergency and prevent unauthorized folks from making it work).  The existence of these flaws guarantees that large agencies (military, law enforcement, etc.) will never use these unreliable solutions, and thus the price won’t come down due to economies of scale. 

This smart gun is, at best, a novelty—and there is no reason to believe that any of the other early generation technologies will be any better until there is a fundamental change in how these are designed and engineered (e.g., the design needs to be open and companies need to start offering very high bounties for finding hacks, so that guys like the fella in the video have an incentive to buy these things as soon as they hit the market and start tearing them down).

We Have Entered the Zone of Maximum Mayhem

Listen: There is going to be a major attack on U.S. soil between now and, I dunno, probably the end of January 2018.  (I personally think it’ll be earlier—possibly by mid-October—but depending on who is attacking, I think they might wait as late as Xmas/New Year’s in order to maximize mayhem).

I’ve been saying this for months, but I think most folks thought I was kidding.  I’m not.

My Reasoning

A disorganized defender cannot defend.  When your opponent is disoriented, you strike.  It’s elementary, and holds in many fields: In business negotiations, in chess, in Go,in court, in bar fights and boxing matches, in battlefields and hardened bunkers.

Readers of a certain age will recall that the success of the 9/11 attacks was widely attributed to a “failure to connect the dots” within the Executive Branch (especially within intelligence and foreign affairs agencies).  Why did we fail to connect the dots?  Because there were empty seats throughout the administration, and the folks in many of the filled seats were still coming up to speed.

Rewind 11 months from 9/11, and you’ll recall we had an insanely close presidential election that ultimately needed to be decided by the Supreme Court.  As a result, when G.W.Bush took office, his team had significantly less time to pull together their nominations than was the modern norm.  100 days in, he was still behind, with only about 35 confirmed nominees (there are several thousand positions that need to be filled by any incoming president, of which about 577 are considered vital by experts).  200 days in GWB had 294 nominations confirmed, roughly half of the most vital positions.  In other words, on day 200 in office, G.W.Bush still had 283 empty seats in vital parts of the Executive Branch, and many of the seats that were filled had folks sitting in them who’d only had a couple months—maybe just weeks—to digest, consider, and route huge amounts of intel.  About a month after that we notably “failed to connect the dots” and 19 dudes crashed four airplanes with the net result of 3,000 humans being cooked and crushed in the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania farm field.

I was teaching school that day, back in my old life.  I stood in a room with a bunch of troubled teens and watched folks jump out of the World Trade Center towers rather than burn inside. I walked outside with a coworker.  Our school was under several flight paths, but the sky was perfectly clear above us, no clouds, no contrails, no planes, because every plane in the nation was grounded.

But, man, that sky, so blue.  So clear.

Within a year I was on a “selectee list.” For the next eight years every time I flew I was pulled out of line, searched, patted down, swabbed for explosives, questioned, stripped down to socks, pants, and undershirt. But, you know, whatevs, right?  Terror.  Safety.  Patriotism.  #America.

But my mind wanders.  All apologies.  More to the point:

How’s Trump Doing?

How’s Trump doing, in terms of getting the right folks in the right seats, and thus preventing another major attack and loss of life on U.S. soil?

art by DonkeyHotey https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/
(art by DonkeyHotey)

Not great.  In fact, he’s doing cataclysmically poorly.  He was behind Bush on Day 100, and he’s now even further behind:

As of August 4, when the Senate left town for its August recess, Trump has nominated 277 people for key posts, has had 124 confirmed, and has withdrawn eight of the nominations, according to CNN’s tracker.

The Partnership for Public Service has identified 577 executive branch positions as being particularly essential — and Trump has only successfully filled about a fifth of them.

We got smashed in the mouth in 2001 because we only had 294 folks in 577 vital seats.  Today we have about 124 folks on deck.  Among those seats that remain empty: Most of the undersecretaries of state, assistant secretaries of state, assistant secretaries of defense, an undersecretaries of defense, and most of our ambassadors.

FUBAR.

Nuclear_Blast_Animation_Blinding_Light

So Who is Coming to Hurt Us?

It’s a three-way coin toss, in my humble:

  1. North Korea
  2. Actual International Terrorists (like 9/11)
  3. Domestic Terrorists (I group someone like the Tsarnaev brothers or the Pulse Nightclub Shooter alongside Timothy McVeigh and Buford O. Furrow, Jr. as “domestic terrorists” for the reasons outlined in this very enlightening interview over on Slate: “Profiling White Supremacists Won’t Stop White Supremacist Terrorism)

If I were a gambling man (and we all are now, here in the Zone of Maximum Mayhem) I’d put my money on #3. 

Yeah, North Korea seems like an obvious choice: They can hit the U.S. mainland with any number of missiles, and they have a nuke small enough to mount on such an ICBM.  They probably don’t have the reentry ballistics quite right just yet, which means the nuclear device won’t detonate properly, but a goddamn intercontinental ballistic dirty bomb plowing into D.C. or NYC is 1) well within N.K.’s capabilities and 2) not something you walk off.

But launching such an attack is actual suicide for that country—especially with our current PotUS—and regardless of what we say about the Kim regime, he’s not an actual lunatic; he has a country to run and a dynasty to maintain.  Given how he’s behaving now, and in the absence of us launching a pre-emptive strike, I don’t see N.K. nuking us before Xmas.  (See also North Korea’s latest launch designed to cause maximum mayhem, minimal blowback

(All of that, of course, assumes the tests they’ve been firing have indeed been tests, and not a killdeer-like misdirection.  If N.K. can cripple us in a first strike—say, by nuking LA, NYC, and DC in a single salvo—well, then I imagine they will, and probably sometime this fall.)

As for actual International Terror, believe it or not that’s on the wane in the Western world.  When you stop calling everything involving a Muslim “international” and actually look at the facts of the recent attacks in the U.S. and Europe, you see that the last several “Islamist” terror events in the U.S. have a lot more in common with White Power hate crimes than 9/11.  (Pulse Nightclub is a solid example of this.)

-7ab6fc43f523b282So that leaves us with Domestic Terror.  I’m thinking it’ll be White Supremacists.  The PotUS has done a lot lately to make them feel empowered, and those among them with basic arithmetic and reading comprehension skills absolutely understand that there will never again be a White Majority in this country.  But that doesn’t mean it won’t be “Islamists” born in Newark or Peoria, or Antifa/Black Blocers looking to head off the impending pogroms, or good ole Militia/Sovereign Citizen folks (who despise the PotUS just as much as the Antifa folks do).  They’re all in the same gang, at heart. FullSizeRender (1)

But who fucking cares, right?  People are going to die—your friends and neighbors—at the hands of your other friends and neighbors, and a lot more are going to suffer, and we are locked in on those rails now, inextricable.  These are how these dots connect, and it is far too late to do anything about it before it happens.

(Alternately, listen to and consider this: Episode 790: Rough Translation in Ukraine  ’cause maybe I’m wrong, and we’ll go with a whimper, not a bang.  And maybe we’re already gone—or, hell, maybe I’m the misinformation that stumbles out of Bethlehem to be born. Your call.)

Jesus!  Dave, What Should I Do!?

I have no clue.  Stay safe.  Don’t hurt any one.

usa-american-flag-waving-animated-gif-26

Not to be ungrateful or anything, but here’s the thing about neo-Nazis and antifas…

…They both make me feel like my life—and those of my son, daughter, wife, and co-religionists—are these little bullshit plastic tokens in some game they’re playing.

All the fists and spray paint sorta feel the same to me. They all make me think “Who’s coming to hurt us?

-7ab6fc43f523b282

FullSizeRender (1)

Photo Aug 18, 3 22 26 PM

FullSizeRender

Photo Aug 18, 3 22 34 PM

(Just to be clear: All of these pics are from the last week in my home town, Ann Arbor, MI.)

(see also: Profiling White Supremacists Won’t Stop White Supremacist Terrorism“)

The PotUS, Confidence, the Markets, and the Future

I hung out with Amal Graafstra at a Penguicon a few years back (we were both there on the DIY Track: He was installing RFID and NFS chips in people’s, I was teaching folks to build little synthesizers), and so this snippet caught my eye while I was reading this article about the shelf-life of homebrew technological body modifications (e.g.,  installing a magnet in your fingertip or a chip in your hand):

For me, though, the metaphorical value is the point. The magnet was a little piece of the future, and its slow loss coincides with a period of pessimism that’s much bigger than me. To get a sense of how popular biohacking hardware still was, I emailed Dangerous Things, which produced my NFC implant and sells a variety of other chips and magnets. Founder Amal Graafstra told me that sales had been going up, until the 2016 presidential election — when no one bought anything for a full week.

Shaken, Graafstra sat down and thought about who was buying his products. “Really it just comes down to people that are excited about the future in a very basic sense,” he says now. “I think one way or another, people lost faith in humanity, and in a sense lost faith in the future. And had much more pressing current concerns than, ‘What am I going to do with this cool implant?’”

This got me thinking about the President, and his extremely high level of confidence that recent strong performance in the markets is because we are so confident in him.

Consumer confidence is purportedly at a 17-year high (other figures put it at a 15-year high, but close enough), and business confidence may be at an 8-year high, but look at a chart and you’ll see it was at a 5-year low twice, first plummeting after Trump entered the race and then again after he won and then making a huge recovery in Q1 of 2017.  To me, this looks a lot like folks being really relieved that, even though the Worst Thing had happened, the world didn’t end—and that certainly matched my experience, as a small businessperson, and the timbre of conversations I had with clients (even those who theoretically “won”).

The long, gradual climb of the S&P 500 from the Great Recession to the 2016 election (blue line).
The long, gradual climb of the S&P 500 from the Great Recession to the 2016 election (blue line).

Meanwhile, although he likes to kvell about how good he’s been for the markets, I’ll note that he’s taking credit for a trend that started in the first quarter of Pres. Barack Obama’s first term, and has continued ever since.