RECOMMENDED READ: “Angel, Monster, Man” (with props to @sentencebender and @nightmaremag)

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like this (and the audio version—also free on the Nightmare Magazine website—is really good).  

Nominally a horror story, Sam J. Miller’s “Angel, Monster, Man” is, in fact, a really interesting piece of speculative fiction.  Gets me thinking about how frequently fiction that speculates on a disenfranchised group getting power gets slotted into “horror”—and once you start thinking that way, all horror starts to look like a liberation fantasy as seen through the establishment’s eyes: Is Night of the Living Dead more about zombies, or more about the terror experienced by rural whites and the patriarchy when confronted with a competent black man? Is The Exorcist about demon possession or the threat of women’s liberation (see also, Carrie)?  Is Psycho about a “psycho” or about the terrifying prospect of homosexuals no longer shackled by shame/guilt?

Looking for Something to Call Your Reps About? May I suggest Mick Mulvaney?🇺🇸📞

Long story short: Mulvaney the current head of the Office of Management and Budget, and last week the President also made him acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  This is a little odd, since Mulvaney is on the record calling the agency a “joke” that he’d eliminate—but that’s all just talk.  What’s fundamentally rotten is that Mulvaney received roughly half a million dollars in donations from financial organizations that have been fined muy mucho dinero by the CFPB.

I’m not casting aspersions on Mulvaney or claiming he’s done—or would do—anything wrong; I’m sure he’s a great guy, and plausibly has many good ideas that make him highly qualified to filly two essential 120-hour/week gov’t positions.  But just as a thought experiment, say you had a kid in day care, and that day care hired someone who seemed like a fine pick and totally passed the criminal background check, but had also accepted millions of dollars from a group of notorious and powerful pedophiles.  Would this cause you concern?

Anyway, please take a minute and call your reps, and explain that you think there is maybe a moral hazard here.

*Record Scratch* *Freeze Frame* Yup, that's me; you're probably wondering how I ended up in this situation. Lemme tell ya; it all started…
*Record Scratch*
*Freeze Frame*
Yup, that’s me; you’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation. Lemme tell ya; it all started…

“Of Archival Interest Only” (on artists who behave despicably)—UPDATED

I normally would have skipped this (“Vulture—Louis CK Is Done”), because I don’t particularly care for Louis C.K.’s work one way or the other.  But do yourself a favor and give this article read; it’s bigger than this moment, and starts to get its arms around something that we finally need to wrestle down:

When disturbing stories about respected artists come from the distant past, we treat them dispassionately, as just one detail among many. Present tense or near-present tense revelations hit us differently because we share the same world as the artist, breathe the same air, feed the same economy. We think of them as contemporaries, even as people we know. This kind of revelation changes the relationship between the artist and the art, in a way that places an unasked-for, unfair burden on the audience. This is what’s happening culture-wide. And it’s not the fault of people who didn’t report it, or audiences who aren’t sophisticated enough to separate the art from the artist. It’s the fault of the artists for being secret creeps or criminals, and the fault of the system for making it possible for them to act this way for years without being punished.

UPDATE:If you’re the sort of person who uses storytelling to help them understand the world, then this horror story might maybe help you understand Louis CK right now: “Hello, Handsome

How Samsung, Disney, and You Bankrolled North Korea’s Nuclear Program

If you’ve been wondering how North Korea (a nation of 26 million people with 7x the population and ~1/10th the GDP of the Detroit Metro Area) paid for a very fast-moving nuclear and ballistic missile program—SPOILER ALERT!: You paid for it, asshole.

Episode 800: North Korea’s Capitalists

see also:  “We Have Entered the Zone of Maximum Mayhem

The Last Selvedge Denim Mill in the U.S. is Closing #America

The Cone Mills plant in Greensboro, N.C. has been continuously weaving denim since 1905, and is currently the only U.S. plant producing selvedge denim.  They’re calling it quits at the end of this year.

Selvedge” is a specific style of denim produced in broad strips on relatively narrow shuttle looms using a continuous weft such that the edge is automatically finished—i.e., it produces a “self-edged” bolt of fabric that won’t unravel (if you’re looking at denim and the edge of the seam is white with a single thread of color—often red—then you’re looking at selvedge denim).  Because it’s produced in narrower strips on shuttle looms (and usually with un-dyed weft), the fabric has certain characteristics in how it breaks in and ages, both in terms of fit and coloration.  Some folks dig these.  Other folks just dig putting their money where their mouth is, in terms of “Buying American.”  I kinda like to do both, so I’m kinda bummed that Cone Mills is rolling up.  Certainly the generations of weavers in Greensboro are bummed.

By the end of this year, you’ll only be able to get this prototypically American fabric from Japan.  That’s still great selvedge (hell, it’s made on American machines: Japan bought them up in the 1980s when Levi’s et al. made the shift to larger looms), but it’s a bummer that this once uniquely American product is going extinct.

The only upside:  When you see some Stars-and-Bars waving asshole in blue jeans popping off about “foreign manufacturing” next year, you’ll know he’s wearing jeans from Vietnam, and thus can go fuck himself. He didn’t put his money where his mouth was, and subsequently American selvedge denim died.  That’s how economies work. Way to “Make America Great Again,” bro.

Anyway, if you’ve been thinking about getting into high-quality American-made denim, it’s sorta now or never.  Brave Star is my go-to company on this: Incredibly reasonable prices given the quality, nice cuts, excellent craftsmanship, solid customer service, 100% American made: The denim is from N.C., the hardware from KY, the cutting and sewing in California.

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This is a Kinda Rapey Application of Steve Shaw’s “Psychokinetic Touches”

OK, at first blush, this seems like nothing more than a mildly sexist—but still basically harmless—”invisible touches” routine: Magician has a volunteer stand with her eyes closed as she pays super-duper sensitive attention to any physical contact she might perceive.  He then steps well away—way, way too far to have any direct or indirect (e.g., creating a draft, blowing on her, tickling her with threads) contact.  As witnesses watch (confirming that Magician never makes contact), he is able to make the subject believe she’s been touched (in this case, that her boobs have been squeezed)—simply by the power of his psychical abilities!

Tada!

(Here’s another vid of the same dude.  Note that he puts in our heads the notion of an unambiguous boob squeeze, but that his volunteers consistently describe a tap high on the chest.  That gap—between his implication that he’s honking their boobs contrasted to the women’s implication that this is more of a light tap—is the tell.)

Yes, this dude is a creep, and his impinging on women’s time and space and totally leveraging huge cultural forces that oblige them to smile through bullshit like this.

But it’s still basically harmless, right?  I mean, he isn’t actually touching their boobs while they are defenseless and non-consenting, right?  It’s just a trick.

Accept for the thing is, he is for real and with his actual physical flesh-and-blood hands, touching these women’s breasts without their prior consent, and only getting away with it because he’s manipulating the situation owing to an information (and thus power) imbalance.  And, in a move that’s both cheap from a magic performance perspective and indicative of a guilty conscious on the part of an assailant, he mostly cuts from the video the part where he does the touching.

Because he is indeed a fucking creep of the first degree.

Psychokinetic Touches Background

Back in the mid-1990s a guy named Steve Shaw was selling an effect called “Psychokinetic Touches.”  Shaw himself is a really, really interesting guy (as is the pre-Internet—and even current—market in cheaply printed pro-grade performance techniques like these).  Shaw he designed Penn & Teller’s famous bullet catch, although I myself first got wind of him in the 1980s, when I was a kid and he was a teen working with James Randi to fool some ESP researchers; Shaw caught my imagination then because of how straightforward and cunning his techniques were.

None of that is really germane, accept for the fact that if you maybe spend some time googling “Steve Shaw” and “Psychokinetic Touches”, you’ll dig up a blurry PDF of the old comb-bound booklet explaining his technique (which is marked by the straightforward cunning of Shaw’s work).  If you do so, you’ll note that in the introduction to that work Shaw explains his inspiration: a routine from the early 1900s that is the totally obvious inspiration for the YouTube creepers stunt.

I.e., not only is dude a creepy perv, but he’s also an unoriginal creepy perv.  *sighs*

(I myself got acquainted with Shaw’s PK Touches after seeing this bit on Penn & Teller’s Fool Us, which is basically 100% textbook Shaw, and an overall better effect and performance.)

At any rate, here’s an overview of Shaw’s “Psychokinetic Touches” routine:

Effect

The performer selects a volunteer from the audience, and explains that blah-blah psychic blah-blah ghosts blah-blah From Beyond—and for that reason, he is able to physically touch a receptive individual with nothing more than his mind.  He then makes some gestures to “clear the volunteer’s aura” (or whatever) and steps far away.  Now, standing much too far away to conceivably physical reach the volunteer, and in full view of an audience (who can be surrounding the pair on all sides), the performer makes his cooky touch-touch gestures—and low and behold!, the astonished volunteer can confirm that she has been touched(!!!)

Technique

I won’t spoil the whole thing, but SPOILER ALERT!!! [1]: Dude is not a psychic or ghost wrangler or whatever.  Here’s the basic schtick:  The performer gives his little spiel, then has the volunteer close her eyes.  At this stage he explains a few more things—reminding her to be “psychically receptive” and super attentive to even the lightest contact.  He shuts up, does his little “aura cleansing,” and steps away to do his mambo-jahambo magical passes and psychic touching, singling out certain parts of the body (the right shoulder, the left elbow—whatever).  N.B.  Everything he’s done since advising her to be super attentive and receptive has happened in absolute silence.  The next time he speaks is to ask “Have you felt any contact?”  He than has her indicate where that contact was on her body.  Lo and behold, she reports being touched in all the right places.  OMFG!  How did he do it?!  And here comes the spoiler:

HE TOUCHED HER DURING THE “AURA CLEANING.”

From the audience’s perspective, this isn’t part of the trick yet, so they are not being super diligent; he has an easy pass to brush her gently.  But remember, he’s fallen silent and the volunteer’s eyes are closed: She has no frame of reference for what’s going on, and thus from her perspective everything from when he stops talking on is part of the trick.  Her perceptions are temporally out-of-synch with the audiences’, and they have no easy way to rectify that, even after the fact.

Here is a more benign version of PK Touches, and the tell is more obvious. Watch carefully at 1:55: when the performer waves his left hand in front of her face, he surreptitiously taps the back of her left shoulder with his right hand.  This is largely obscured owing to how he’s positioned the volunteer relative to the audience and cameras—blocking Shaw suggests in his PK Touches.  The waving-arms misdirect is also straight out of Shaw’s PK Touch.  (Peter Boie uses Shaw’s exact stage business at 3:13 in the Penn & Teller video I linked up above.)  Once you know what to look for, it’s pretty easy to spot the Creep-o-Perv Magician moving into the “magic passes”(/secret boobie poke) portion of his routine around the 0:34 mark in the video embedded above, when he squares up the girl’s shoulders.

Bad Touches and Bad Jokes

And I’m gonna come correct right here: I don’t know what annoys me more:  A skeevy dude using a decades-old store-bought routine to non-consensually poke girls’ in the bust, or the fact that he has so little respect for his craft that he resorts to cheap “camera tricks” to pull it off.

Naw, I take it back:  What annoys me most is using a third-rate performance of a first-rate effect to make a jokey pantomime of sexual assault in order to cover up the actual sexual assault you just perpetrated, ’cause it so clearly gets to the heart of what enrages me about the “Lighten up; it’s just a joke!” attitude toward minimizing the crazy-making reality of microagressions:  The problem isn’t the stupid joke, but the very real assaults the jokes conceal.

Continue reading “This is a Kinda Rapey Application of Steve Shaw’s “Psychokinetic Touches””

“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.

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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?

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Photo Aug 18, 3 22 26 PM

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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“)