Archive for March, 2003

kill whitey…nice hair

Of all of the constant sources of amusement in New York, few are as regular and reliable as the “A” train in the wee hours of the morning. Probably because it’s the longest route in the city, and thus offers the most uninterrupted sitting/sleeping time between end-of-the-line roustings, it’s pretty much guaranteed that if there’s one wild-eyed madman to be found in the city at 4am, you’ll find him there.

Case in point:

Sunday night, around 2am, my friend Kari and I were stumbling back from seeing The Kings of Nuthin at the Tribeca Rock Club. After an eternal wait at the Chambers Street stop, we got onto a Brooklyn-bound train and collapsed in our seats.

Directly across from us was a Freaky Homeless Guy, straight from central casting. Black, middle-aged, scruffy (but not stinky), he was lurching back and forth underneath his seat and looking around at things that were pretty obviously not physically present in the train. Underneath his seat, a very pretty, mid-sized, mixed-breed brown dog lolled on the floor, obviously long-since used to his master’s outbursts, trying vainly to get a little rest. As the train pulled out of the station, the guy launched into what sounded like a well-travelled patter, addressing nobody in particular:

(mutter mutter)…a-salaam aleikum…(mutter)…I’m not a “black muslim,” I’m a brown muslim…(mutter mutter)…but that retarded white guy? He’s okay, he’s an okay brother…
…and so on in that vein for a while. As he went on, he got a bit more excited, and started waving his arms around to make his points, and that was when we noticed…hanging on by its claws in the front fold of his jacket, was an adorable, tiny orange tabby kitten, no more than 12 weeks old. The kitten’s eyes were closed, and it hung there, half asleep, as the guy ranted away, getting a little louder:
…(mutter mutter)…kill the white man…yeah, kill whitey! (mutter mutter)…should kill every goddamn white man in this city!
At at this point, several people sitting near to him started to move away to the other side of the car, but it didn’t actually sound threatening: he wasn’t looking at or interacting with any of the live white people in the train, and it felt like a piece of well-rehersed theater, or some pointed reference to a movie or song that he’s seen that none of us had…which was good, because, to emphasize the statement, he made a grand show of reaching into his jacket as if to pull a gun out. The gesture was so hammy that it was obviously fake, but it had the side-effect of dislodging the kitten, who fell out of sight into his jacket for a second.
…yeah! Kill all the white man! Except the retarded guy, he’s okay, he’s a brother…(mutter mutter)…
…and as he tailed off into some quieter monologue, the kitten clawed its way up far enough to stick its head out of his jacket again, and promptly went back to sleep, as Kari and I had to restrain ourselves from cracking up.

A few seconds later, the train pulled in at Jay Street, and as I was getting off, I waved to the guy and said “Salaam Alaikum” — it seemed like the only proper thing to do. He didn’t seem to take any notice of me, and we walked off the train not thinking much of it, but we hadn’t taken two steps onto the platform when a voice boomed out behind us:
We turned and there he was, standing in the door of the subway, suddenly 100% lucid and making direct eye contact with me:
Dude! Is your hair that color all the way up and down?!

Me: Nah man, just up top.

That’s badass! Yeah! Purple hair! Right on!

…and he waved to us, kitten bouncing and hanging on for dear life, as the doors closed.

script kiddies at war, the online arm of the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite news service, is apparently the victim of a massive distributed denial of service attack, which has closed the website down. Postings to the North American Network Operators Group mailing list confirm that not only is off the air, but that their ISP has been forced to null-route even their nameservers in order to cope with the attack.

Ironically, had just this week launched their English-language section (which had originally been scheduled to go live in April). Whether by accident or design, just about the only direct source of live information on the web from the “other side” of this war has now gone silent.

Sometimes I realize all over again that I’m a rank amateur.

What he said.

tie a yellow ribbon

Responding generally to more invocations of this meme than I can really count. If you think I’m talking about you specifically, hell, I probably am.

So let me get this straight: I thought that this war was a bad idea and a criminal enterprise before it commenced, but now that our soldiers are actually committing the acts that I believe to be illegal, immoral and tactically stupid, I should “support” them?

Christ, no wonder people equate “liberal” with “spineless simpleton” most days.

I hope our troops come through this with a minimum of casualties. I hope that nobody I know with friends or relatives in the service loses any of those people. And the battle being irreversably engaged, I wish them a quick and bloodless victory for the simple reason that I’m in favor of as few people on both sides losing their lives as possible. But support? I’ll reserve that for anyone who puts their career on the line to call this farce what it is — not for the people actively perpetuating it.

(And why would any thinking soldier want the support of someone who believed that the battle he was pursuing was completely counter to our country’s best interests?)

I have nothing pithy to say.

The rains move in eastwards, in waves  of  succession  /  Drawing
lines  of  grey  across the sky / With history just as close as a
hand on the shoulder / In hunger and  impatience  we  cry  /  The
battle  against  corruption  rages in each corner / There must be
something better, something pure / And the call  it  is  answered
from  the  caves to the cities / Come the dealers of Salvation on
Earth / We've seen the restless  children  at  the  head  of  the
columns / Come to purify the future with the arrogance of youth /
Nothing is as cruel as the  righteousness  of  innocents  /  With
automatic  weapons  and  a  gospel  of the truth / Revolution for
ever, succession of the seasons / Within the blood of Nature, all
raised  to rot and die / This purity / this purity is a lie / Now
immaculate conception in sterilised laboratories / How the vanity
goes  on  / Or in the message of the preacher with his morals and
obsessions / The wars that we wage upon ourselves / Purity  is  a
virtue,  purity  is an angel / Purity is for madmen to make fools
of us all / So forgive yourself my friend, all this will soon  be
over  / What happened here tonight is nothing at all / Revolution
for ever, succession of the seasons / Within the blood of Nature,
all  raised to rot and die / This purity / this purity is a lie /
I will always see Brendan at that broken down piano / His fingers
thick  and  red,  shaking  on the keys / Battered by the years of
alcohol and working / Still playing with  the  faith  that  never
leaves  /  So sit us down, buy us a drink, tell us a good story /
Sing us a song we know to be true / I don't give a  damn  that  I
never will be worthy / Fear is the only enemy that I still know.
(—Sullivan, 1990)

Fuck you. Mahalo. I quit.” — Hunter S. Thompson

well…I suppose that makes a certain amount of sense…

I’m afraid this one’s only funny at full size. Click on the image, eh?

A piece of cake?

(Up-front disclaimer: The following is semi-informed speculation based on nothing more than observation of recent publically available information and some idle cogitation. I’m not a soldier or a serious student of military history. Are you one, or do you have a friend who is? I’d love to hear your commments.)

To me, one of the most dubious aspects of the current farce in the Middle East (can we call it Gulf War 2 before it actually commences? has a snappy for-public-consumption operation name been released to the press yet?) is the one thing that seemingly everyone on both sides of the argument agrees on: that the conflict, once it begins, will be brief, and will result in a resounding victory for the US armed forces. This sentiment has been expressed by everyone from Paul Krugman (liberal, vehemantly anti-war columnist for the NY Times) to George Bush and Donald Rumsfield themselves, so it appears to be pretty much a truism.

I have a simple question: what are these people smoking?

As far as I can see, the optimism about the actual militaryengagement stems from a small handful of sources. In no particular order:

1. Gulf War 1 was a complete rout: we ejected the Iraqi army from Kuwait in about a week, while sustaining miraculously few casualties.

2. The Iraqi military has been made even more overmatched in the intervening time by sanctions which have depleted them of supplies and spare parts.

3. We are told repeatedly that the morale of the Iraqi troops is low, that they don’t want to fight for Saddam, and that they may surrender immediately.

1 and #2 are certainly true, but I’m not entirely sure how relevant they are. #3…let’s tackle that now:

At the risk of pointing out the horribly obvious, the terms of this engagement are rather different, and I’m not sure how safe it is to generalize from the last war with Iraq to this one.

For all of Saddam’s rhetoric in 1991 about righting the wrongs of British colonialism and making Kuwait an eternal, indivisible part of Iraq, the simple fact was that the Iraqi army was operating in newly-acquired territory, with a hostile local population. Home was somewhere else for his troops. The emotional attachment of his troops to their newly acquired “19th Province” was likely to be low even among the true believers, and nil everwhere else. The temptation to throw down their weapons and either surrender to the nearest American platoon or try to re-cross the border into Iraq must have been very high, seeing as how many of them did just that. Moreover, they had had only six months to set up their defenses on unfamiliar ground.

But now? We are going into Iraq. Our stated goal is the conquest and overthrow of its government, and the extermination of its loyalists. We have been telling them that we are going to do this for over a year, and any Iraqi official with a pulse has to have known that this was a strong possibility the moment that Bush was inagurated, and a near certainty after 9/11. A year and a half is a good long time to set up defenses inside your own country, to assess your strengths and weaknesses, and to set up all sorts of nasty surprises.

We dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagisaki because the logistics of doing exactly this to Imperial Japan were too horrifically daunting, even when they were clearly in defeat.

Why do people think that this is in any way comparable to the first Gulf War?

Nobody outside of a small coterie of Saddam’s friends and family had much of any personal stake in the disposition of Kuwait. Every Ba’ath party member, every Republican Guardsman, every one of Saddam’s secret policemen, torturers, informers, spies and flunkies stands to lose everything in this war. If the USMC doesn’t kill them, their neighbors will, or they’ll be hanged after the inevitable show trials. They are invested in the ultimate sense, and they have every motivation to fight to the last man and the last bullet.

Okay, but that’s just the loyalists, right? Will the rank-and-file actually fight for Saddam? Our press keeps assuring us that this is ridiculous. Heck, even I don’t think it’s all that likely. But…invasions are funny things, and they do funny things to countries’ psychologies. By the time Operation Barbarossa (the Nazi invasion of Soviet Russia) began, Stalin had already murdered literally millions of Russians, either by direct imprisonment and execution, by working them to death in slave labor camps, or by enforced starvation. Millions more on top of that died during the German invasion as a direct result of Stalin’s military incompetance. Yet Russians by the millions more fought and died for him, resisting the Germans to the last bullet, and when bullets ran out, using knives and their bare hands — often despite the fact that their parents, siblings, children and lovers had been taken from them by the same Russia that they were fighting for.

And…rational estimates of the enemy’s strength, morale and resolution are things that over the last 50 years, our government has been caught time and time again refusing to share with the press. Daniel Ellsberg’s leaking of the “Pentagon Papers” revealed that the Pentagon had known for years that the Vietnam was was essentially unwinnable, yet they continued to publically insist that victory was at hand nearly right up until the end. (Indeed, Lyndon Johnson pronounced the NVA as incapable of winning just a month before the Tet Offensive.)

So…what if it turns out that the Iraqis do want to make this a stand-up fight? Aren’t they completely overmatched anyway?

Sure, if they fight our war. A massive air and armor battle in the Al Ijarah desert would end up in another massacre, but I think it’s safe to say that at least a few commanders in the Republican Guard may have figured that part out by now. But what if they get creative? The plains and marshes are obviously lost to them the moment serious American air power comes into play, but they can make us fight for the cities block by block. We’ve told them we’re coming to Baghdad and Tikrit: we should expect that they’ll bewaiting.

I don’t want to range far afield in thinking up scenarios where this war could bog down: there’s plenty of places where you can find that, and absent any direct military experience on my part, it’s basically just warporn-wanking. But suffice it to say that there are plenty of ways in which it could happen, and that we seem to have set up this situation to give them every motivation and (more importantly) opportunity to see that it unfolds that way.

Our experience in Mogadishu demonstrated that while we can certainly fight that kind of war, we can’t do it without getting our hands substantially dirtier than we usually prefer. Also: Iraq has had ample time to study the Mog engagement and learn from it. (Lesson number one: torture any American troops you capture. Do it in public and make sure that Al Jazeera gets videotape to air.)

Obviously, the point here is not that we are likely to lose. What’s bugging me is that both sides of this debate have accepted the scenario that we will win quick and pretty, when it seems likely to me that we will have to win ugly and slow.

On the eve of this war, the President has finally begun to speak publically about the probable loss of American life. That’s a start, but it ignores what might be a more problematic issue: the number of likely Iraqi casualties. Our ability to prosecute this war is likely to rest entirely on how many Iraqi civilian (and irregular militia) deaths we’re willing to see on CNN every night. The numbers are likely to be higher than anyone expects, and I see no effort to prepare for that at all. This is classic hubris and overconfidence, and I fear that we are going to pay a heavy price for it.

no rant today…

…rant tomorrow. Meanwhile, with thanks to Heather Havrilsky:

“The threat to the free nations of southeast Asia has long been clear
… In recent months, the actions of the North Vietnamese regime have
become steadily more threatening.”

— President Lyndon B. Johnson, Aug. 5, 1964

“Saddam Hussein is a threat to our nation … I think the threat is
real, and so do a lot of other people in my government. And since I
believe the threat is real, and since my most important job is to
protect the security of the American people, that’s precisely what
we’ll do.”

— President George W. Bush, March 6, 2003

“It’s naive and even irresponsible for a grown-up today to get her or
his information about foreign policy and war and peace exclusively
from the administration in power.”

— Daniel Ellsberg, Salon, Nov. 19, 2002

Still 20 Minutes Into the Future

“…except for a few particularly sendentary viewers, who literally, ah, explode.”

The Shape of Things to Come

Things that I expect we can look forward to in the next few months:

  • A show trial in which it is proved that Saddam was developing anthrax, ebola, sarin, VX, nuclear weapons, satellite-mounted railguns, and sharks with frickin laser beams on their heads.

  • Donald Rumsfield announcing that we are winning the “hearts and minds” of the Iraqi people during the bombardment of Baghdad

  • Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA (I’m Proud to Be an American)” played about 50,000 more times.

That’s a short list. I’m soliticing suggestions.

return to the Gernsback continuum

I don’t normally bother making posts that are just a link to a site. This one’s worth it:

Am I getting every last one of those posters? Yes yes, oh yes.

six years later, it’s still mental masturbation

For the first time since…god…1997 or so, I have completely re-done my homepage.

Still mostly the same old boring crap, but at least it’s no longer gouge-your-own-eyes-out horrible to look at, and contains links to stuff I actually, you know, do.

This should hold me until 2009, I think.

today’s fascination

My short-half-life obession du jour: Friendster. (Access currently requires a direct invite or a ‘beta code’ — let me know if you’re curious.)

The concept appears to be something like the old (except minus the constant spam), mated to some of livejournal‘s better interface ideas, by way of except with a (so far) substantially lower mortification factor, all pitched as a sort of even-more-hip Nerve Personals.

The implementation…could use some work. Their servers appear to be very flaky; suspected a naive, cache-less database design, and I have to concur. They’ve swiped livejournal’s “interests” hotlists, which is good, split them out into some broad categories, which is even better, but then failed to point out to their users that they’re asking for a list of nouns rather than sentence-form descriptions, which is bad, and arbitrarily cut off each one at about three lines’ worth of entries, which is worse. There’s an in-house BBS system, but it’s a horrible joke (no threading, no topic organization, just a single constant stream of inanity), and there’s no way to put in active links to, say, your own web pages, which is either a lame attempt at stalking-prevention or just total laziness in re sanitizing incoming html for their database.

The technological ‘twist’ about Friendster, which I am not entirely sold on, is that while it looks a lot like Livejournal, the end-users’s view of the universe is controlled dynamically by who is in your immediate web of ‘friends.’ The limits appear to be: you can see the profile of (and converse with) users no more than 4 links away. You can see people who are 5 links away in people’s friend-lists, but you can’t see their profiles. Anybody more than 5 links away is invisible. Really invisible, to the point that you won’t see their posts on the BBS or their comments in other users’ profiles. And, of course, they don’t show up when you’re searching for potential matches. An aggravating side-effect of this is that there is no way to search for users directly by name or ID — if you’re both on friendster, but too many of your mutual friends are lame to establish a short path between you, the only way to mutually identify is for you to “invite” your friend via email.

The interesting part of this, for me, is that it suggests a possible solution to Livejournal’s eternal cash shortage. There is only one thing that is even more consistantly profitable on the web than porn, and that is dating services. If Friendster can take a slight spin on what is basically just Livejournal’s profile system and pitch it as a matchmaking device, there’s no reason whatsoever that LJ couldn’t set up “” as a fee-added service — all you’d need to do is add some extra searchable fields (age, gender, orientation, etc) to the profile DB for people who wanted to play. As a bonus, unlike traditional matching services, where all you have to go on is a picture and a few short lines of text that probably represent several nights’ worth of sweating-to-be-clever, LJ can provide what no other dating service could: actual insight into the person you’re about to meet.

Hm. Maybe I should actually drop a line to

a lap dog is the best dog to have

Last week, I dutifully updated my Bush Press Conference Clock to reflect the fact that our dear leader had actually, for the first time in almost a year, actually gone in front of a bunch of reporters to answer a few questions about his pet plan to declare war on a defeated country.

I’d sort of hoped to see the clock turn over a year, but I didn’t make much of it — I figured it would be at most six months before I could point to the ever-increasing numbers and start sniggering again.

Silly me, I underestimated the Shrub’s determination to keep me amused at all costs. It turns out that I’m going to have to add an asterisk (at the very least) to the page, since it turns out that the whole “question and answer” section of the evening was in all probability scripted ahead of time.

multicultural faux pas

A small definition of panic: realizing that a pair of fresh-off-boat Russian emigres are about to start moving a very heavy, not to mention delicate and expensive appliance into your apartment…and there is a huge poster of Lenin in your entryway.

I think I just set a land-speed record for redecorating.

In case anybody’s wondering: no, I’m not a Leninist, or any sort of communist. I found the poster left behind in an old apartment, and it’s a great example of Soviet agit-prop art: heroic workers, Lenin’s bust in a sunburst, “The Way of Peace is the Way of Socialism”, etc etc etc. Still, it’s good to occasionally remember that one man’s kitsch pop-art is another man’s psychopathic dictator who sent all his relatives to the Gulag.

And yes, this means that my condiment collection (or what’s left of it after some drastic pruning) has a functional home again.


There’s nothing quite like the sudden and total failure of your refridgerator to lend
some entirely unwelcome insight into certain aspects of your own character.

My Fridge's Contents

How embarrassing. A fridge full of condiments and no food.
(—Fight Club)

(n.b. there actually was a fair bit of food in it; that which was salvagable is now sitting in a box in my back yard, hoping that the new fridge shows up before either the temperature goes above freezing again or the local neighborhood critters discover it. But obviously the condiment collection is long overdue for some purging. Oh well, at least for once it’s an appliance failure that is officially the landlord’s problem, financially.)

bear witness