Friday, April 27, 2007

Thousands of Japanese Learn Their Poodles Are Actually Sheep

No, seriously. There's this outfit in Japan called Poodles as Pets, which imported sheep and sold them to people as poodles, for only $1,600, which is half the price of real poodles in Japan.

They imported sheep and sold them to people as poodles. And what's more, the pet owners didn't know the difference:
The scam was uncovered when Japanese moviestar Maiko Kawamaki went on a talk-show and wondered why her new pet would not bark or eat dog food.

She was crestfallen when told it was a sheep.

Then hundreds of other women got in touch with police to say they feared their new "poodle" was also a sheep.

One couple said they became suspicious when they took their "dog" to have its claws trimmed and were told it had hooves.

Japanese police believe there could be 2,000 people affected by the scam, which operated in Sapporo and capitalised on the fact that sheep are rare in Japan, so many do not know what they look like.
Like they say, truth is stranger than fiction. I mean, you couldn't make stuff like this up if you tried. Now, next question: can you name me any other country on earth, besides Japan, where something like this could be pulled off on a large scale?

(h/t Steven)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Broken Glass

It happened yesterday, when I was taking glasses and dishes out of the dishwasher and putting them back in the cupboard, and all of a sudden CRACK! Bits and shards broke off from the top of a glass. I'd hit the glass against the edge of a shelf in the cupboard. Not that hard, but sometimes all you have to do is hit it just the wrong way. That was it for the glass. I'm still finding glittering bits on the kitchen counter this morning.

A tall, clear glass, with painted stripes and squiggles running around it, red and blue and yellow and light green. The kind of glass you use for milk or orange juice at breakfast in the morning. I can't remember the last time I broke a glass. It annoys me.

Yet at the same time it also saddens me. That glass was one of four. I remember when I bought those glasses, in a huge cavernous liquidator's outlet down in Durham, North Carolina, back around 1990. I was a student at Duke, living under the poverty of student life, and I needed some glasses. I've used those glasses for years, down South, a couple of different places I lived in Illinois, and now these past going on eight years here in Iowa.

Broken glass. Sounds silly to say I miss a glass. But I do.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

An Indexed List of My Online Fiction

In the blog post below I've put together an indexed list of all the short stories I've written and posted on this blog over the past two and a half years. I've already categorized all these stories as Fiction, and so they can be accessed down on the left sidebar under surface tension; but with as many stories as I've posted on this blog, a listing of the full text of all of them is less than ideal for browsing. Hence the brief indexed list.

While I was at it, I decided to include in the list my older works of fiction, which are available over at my personal website. These stories were written as far back as 25 and 30 years ago; they range in length from short stories all the way up to a complete science-fiction novella.

I wish I could explain why the stories I write are almost always science fiction; but I can't. Years back I read a lot of science fiction, but I read a lot of other fiction too. I've also been asked why my stories are usually so dark and grim; again, I really can't explain it, except that my stories have been that way as long as I've been writing, going all the way back to junior high and high school. I assume there's something there that I'm trying to work out; but I can't readily explain it or even sum it up.

This indexed list will remain available over on the left sidebar, at the top as "My Online Fiction"; and further down, under surface tension, as "Fiction (Indexed)."

Fiction (Indexed)

Most recently written stories first:

Which Dwell in the Ravine — The ranch has been in Jeff's family for generations. And out on the ranch is a deep and inaccessible ravine, a ravine which must always be kept secret from the outside world.

Chimneysweep — Reo Kenner is one of the last humans left alive. Again and again he suffers unbearable ordeals, as the robots, who hate him, send him down the Chimney.

Skeetchee — Various and wondrous are the forms intelligent life may assume. On a far distant world, Skeetchee flies through the morning sky on thousands of wings.

And the Little Rocking Horses Came... — This is the way the world ends... not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with an all-devouring horde of little rocking-horse flies.

"My Name Is Lloyd Vacuum" — "...Double L, Double U." Then he grows another few inches. Every time.

The Luddite Cyborg — An obsolete and long-outmoded cyborg/Marine is mankind's last hope against a brand new, state-of-the-art posthuman/AI symbiosis. An escaped, genocidal posthuman whose IQ is 3000, and climbing rapidly.

The Sadrin — Hanging in the sky above your neighborhood, the Sadrin monitors and records your every word, your every deed, your every nightmare cry in the night.

"I See Windmills by the Sands of the Seashore..." — It is the late 21st century, two generations after the Singularity was permanently but only just narrowly prevented from arriving. And young Thom is beginning to wake up to the wonder and the glory of the world around him.

When Karma Fails, Call for Rob — He travels the corridors of space and time, meting out harsh retribution to everyday bullies. "Vengeance is mine!" says Rob.

Blue Mind of Death — Imagine if Microsoft supplied the "operating system" for your brain, the way they supply the operating system for your computer.

Paranoid Apocalyptic Short Story — Years ago he dropped out, covered his tracks, and retreated to a quiet hut in the mountains. But now conscience calls him to step forth and use his powers again, even at the cost of revealing his existence to Fatherland Security.

* * *

Wingmen — For centuries they have been hated, feared, and conscripted as a human air corps. Now the wingmen are coming back home to the Caucasus.

Chinese Columbus — In thirteen hundred ninety-two, Meng Ling-ch'u sailed the ocean blue. An alternate history of America.

Beneath the Wheeling Metal Stars of Night — The world revolution has come. "New Justice" reigns on earth. Imagine a boot stamping on a human face— forever.

And Usher in These Latter Days — Jilted and mocked, college biology major Cal Miller carries out the ultimate act of bioterrorism.

Yellowstripes — You befriended a creature from beyond. Now you live in a darkened basement, while the world fears and loathes what you have become.

Bearing Light — They roam the galaxy, seeking to corrupt innocent alien races. They are professional serpents in Eden. Like Lucifer himself, they are bearing light.

The Golem — A skeleton named Skeptre is draining the world of its colors, one by one... while Janos labors to build mankind's last hope, a statue of clay.

Monday, April 23, 2007


One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but rather by making the darkness conscious. —Carl Jung
The robot guards brought Reo Kenner into the Chimney Room. Reo was in chains. Already the circular gallery around the Chimney was filling with robots come to witness the spectacle, come to witness and rejoice over Reo's latest ordeal.

Reo saw dozens of robots glaring across the Chimney Room at him, glaring at him with hatred in their eyes. For the robots hated Reo with a white-hot molten passion. The robots hated Reo with a raging transhuman fury.

The robots hated Reo Kenner because he could do something none of them could ever do: Reo could go down into the Chimney, and there endure trials no robot could ever know except dimly and vicariously. The robots hated Reo because he was an unmodified baseline human, one of the last unmodified humans left alive. Too late had it been realized, when robots and AIs and transhumans swept Man from the face of the Earth, that there are certain depths only unmodified Man can plumb.

So now a gallery full of robots glared at Reo, with a burning hatred hotter than the fire of a million suns. The guard robots had loosed Reo of his chains, and were fitting him with his body harness, with neck collar and wrist cuffs and ankle cuffs and crown above his fontanelle: ten contact points, from Kether to Malkuth, strung out across Reo's body to generate his energy armor, the energy armor of a Chimneysweep. The robots all hated Reo Kenner, for no robot or transhuman could ever be a Chimneysweep.

No robot could ever be a Chimneysweep. The best a robot could do was watch from the Gallery, patched into the Web and vaguely suffering what the Chimneysweep suffered: vaguely, dimly, as if in a glass darkly. Only a Chimneysweep could suffer the Chimney face to face. The robots could but witness from afar; witness from afar, and perhaps hope that, like a race car driver from times of old, the Chimneysweep might wipe out and suffer a spectacular, painful, blazing death down there in the Chimney.

Now the crane overhead was hooked to the back of Reo Kenner's body harness. It lifted him up in the air. Then the crane swung over until it held Reo suspended directly above the open circular metal mouth of the Chimney.

The gallery was full. The robots glared and muttered and snarled curses at Reo Kenner. Reo looked out into their eyes, the malevolent eyes of the Chromium Robot, and the Transhuman Cheetah-Man, and the Steel Druid, and a brace of L400 Construction Robots, and the CyberMantaRay, and the Six-Eyed Liquid Quicksilver Man in his life-sustaining bubble, and so many more. They had all transcended humanity, all except for Reo. Unlike the robots, Reo had never been up on the scorched and blasted surface of the Earth, where robot triads and octads performed unspeakable obscenities amidst ozone gales beneath a burnt sienna sky. But Reo could hope one day to ascend to the surface. Whereas no robot here could ever hope to descend the Chimney, as Reo was now about to do.

A robot voice over the loudspeaker: "First-stage armor activation has commenced." Reo heard and felt the electric buzzing of his energy armor like an invisible shroud all around him.

The robot loudspeaker continued: "Lowering the Chimneysweep into the Chimney." Now the robots in the gallery were galvanized. A multitude of discordant voices swelled in chaos excitement. The winch began unwinding, and Reo Kenner began lowering down, down, down into the Chimney.

Down, down into the dark and narrow confines of the Chimney. Not enough room to spread his arms more than a few inches to either side. Dark. Claustrophobic. The robot voice came to Reo over his body harness comm link: "Twenty meters and descending... forty meters and descending... Second-stage armor activation..." Now Reo's energy armor buzzed louder, crawled on his skin until it felt like ants crawling all over him...

"One hundred meters... One hundred fifty meters..." Reo knew that, in ordinary space-time, the Chimney was almost two hundred meters deep. But the Chimney was not confined to the ordinary space-time metric. Now they were about to spring Reo Kenner loose from ordinary space-time and into the infinite-dimensional manifold of Chimneyspace.

The robot voice: "Countdown to quantum phase transition has begun... Third-stage armor activation has commenced... twenty-four percent... twenty-two percent... nineteen percent... approaching quantum phase transition, Chimney is unfolding into eleven dimensions... twenty-six dimensions... five hundred and three dimensions... six point three times ten to the seventh dimensions... five, four, three, two..."

Reo was deafened by the electric buzzing in his ears, his skin burning like an ant horde eating him alive... A thousand pinpricks pierced him through... Now he was smeared out as a probability distribution over an infinite spectrum of Fourier coefficients... infinitely many dimensions intersecting in a blinding WHITE monopoint, then spinning off away from the central core, spinning off into uncharted Chimneyspace...

CHIMNEYSPACE Tumbler 712.3.5194.40.12.12394.79 Monad Odor of Attar
Reo looked out over the vast, gently rolling plain. Countless thousands of walking boxkite creatures, ambling in formation. Each boxkite creature a solid color, whether blue or red or yellow or green or black or white or... violet! Violet corrupted the sequence. Violet must be removed.

Reo flew and skimmed over the plain, a flitting figure of light. It came to him as if in a word of knowledge that there were three violet boxkite creatures which must be removed. Three. Reo reached down and snatched one violet boxkite creature by its rigid backfin. Then sailing and, there, another! Now up over this next gentle rise, and... there, the third one!

Now mercy and severity warred within Reo, for these three violet boxkite creatures were not the guilty ones. Deposit them there... atop that butte? But that only removed them, it did not eliminate them. And every sequence in this world with violet boxkite creatures culminated in some horrible volcanic apocalypse.

With sorrow and tears, Reo Kenner flew deep into a volcanic vent, carrying the three creatures. Howling and sobbing, he plunged along with them into the molten lava.

CHIMNEYSPACE Tumbler 51.889.148.13.8714.312 Monad Taste of Quinine
Reo stood there on the pavement outside the all-night diner, along with his best friends Tag and Ivy. (Tag and Ivy? He had never heard of them before this sequence... but he kept forgetting that.) Laughter, joking, the joy of youth on a late-night outing, the blinking of colored neon from the sign above the diner.

It could have been the late 1940s or early 1950s. Reo caught his own reflection in the diner window, thin face, horsehide leather jacket. Tag wore a similar outfit. As for Ivy, she was dressed in a white blouse and blue jeans.

There was a car parked alongside them, Chrysler, 40s vintage. Colored diner neon shone and reflected off the gleaming polished maroon finish, pink on maroon, yellow on maroon, lime green on maroon...

Reo cried, "No, Ivy, don't look!" Suddenly Reo had a long, heavy crescent wrench in his hand, a wrench two feet long, and he swung it hard at the front fender of the car. Swung the wrench hard again and again. Ka-WHOOM! Ka-WHOOM! A sound like an empty oil drum caving in and then popping back out. Ka-WHOOM! Ka-WHOOM! It had come to Reo that this was the car fender finish, neon light reflecting, that could capture a gaze hypnotically, hold a person's gaze captive for 3,192 hours, for days and weeks, like a narrative slown down to a crawl, a simple description of the fender and its reflections could run on for up to 189 pages of dense narration, like something out of Kerouac's Visions of Cody.

His eyes closed tight, Reo swung the wrench blindly, by dead reckoning, into the car fender again and again. When he dared look again, he saw that he had saved Ivy and Tag from the perils of car fender hypnosis. But they were both staring at him, wide-eyed, as if at a madman.

CHIMNEYSPACE Tumbler 30.2995.1.31 Monad Color of Magenta
In this short and simple sequence, Reo was coming up over the rise, dead of night in this blacksky world. Coming toward him on the road was the Purple Cactus Man. Reo turned up the gain on his energy armor a notch, and tore into the Purple Cactus Man, beating the purple cartoon monster into dismembered chunks.

CHIMNEYSPACE Tumbler 173.31883.1209.40.28892.309.6002 Monad The Quality of the Emotion upon Contemplating a Fine Mathematical Demonstration
Reo stood by the entrance to the alley, skyscrapers towering around him in the night. A bum in a long overcoat came walking down the streetlit sidewalk. The bum accosted Reo and bellowed at him: "The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason!"

The bum swayed unsteadily on his feet. Reo said, "Sir, this is no longer a physics lab or a middle-of-the-night dormitory-lounge bull session. These are now the streets of a great and ancient city. This way, sir." Reo directed the bum into the alleyway, and the bum tottered down the alley out of sight.

After a minute there was a roaring sound from down the alley; the bum's wounded howls of incredulity; crunching and snapping noises; and a dismembered bloody arm came flying out of the alley, still clad in the sleeve of an overcoat.

More drunken bums came walking down the street. One yelled, "I have never seen a situation I could not reduce to the equation ax + y = bz!" Another gargled angrily, "If I can't think it out without emotions, it doesn't exist!" Reo directed one bum after another down the alleyway. Again and again came the shrieks of terror, the noise as if of a garbage disposal, the flying bloody body parts.

At long last Reo stepped over and looked down the alley. He faced squarely what stood there within the alley, a calico giraffe with a flaming mane. A calico giraffe, all patchwork white and orange and black. The giraffe's mane burned but it was not consumed. The calico giraffe raised its long neck, turned its head to the night sky, and bellowed a loud roar. A loud giraffe roar.

Reo said, "Giraffe, Giraffe, burning bright, in the alleys of the night, what immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?"

Indeed. He who made winos put giraffes in their grasp.

CHIMNEYSPACE Tumbler 4534.778.90371.22.995.0 Monad The Quality of the Feeling of Love
This was a checkerboard world, Reo hovering over a grid of gigantic frosted glass plates, shifting and moving effortlessly in the dark over a vast plain of frosted glass. No sense of direction, no up or down. Each glass-plate square lit up from within, behind each plate a distorted body seen floating in fluid dimly behind frosted glass.

Now Reo's energy armor punched through shattering glass, amniotic fluid pouring out over him in icy cascade. Quick! Reo reached in, throttled the horrible insect thing, must've been eight feet long. Tore it limb from limb.

Now flitting with diagonal bishop moves over the grid of frosted glass. Halt over another glass plate, Reo shattered the glass. This time something with a dozen hacksaw legs, already alert, came pouring out with the fluid, attacking Reo, opening wide its maw with a thousand needle sharkteeth. Reo wrestled in the dark, wrestled against the hacksaw sharkteeth monster, wrestled for his life. His energy armor buzzed and crackled and popped like an electric bug zapper. Slowly, straining, Reo fought against the monster until he bent and snapped its neck.

Shifting, zooming over the checkerboard array, Reo smashed another glass plate, then another, and another. Behind each plate, in cold salt fluid, lay another horror. Writhing tentacles. Billowing man-o-war mantles of sickening jelly. A whirling, whining, high-speed dervish. A thing like a headless man, armed with sword and axe. Each one, Reo had to fight and overcome. Fight and kill. For it was kill or be killed.

At long last, after more than thirty rounds, Reo paused, breathing hard. From far and wide across the checkerboard came the sounds of glass shattering in the dark. This world had been brought up to speed. From now on the monsters would shatter glass, and hatch, and feed on one another in the perpetual dark.

CHIMNEYSPACE Tumbler 343.39.8840.14.12439803.76.17998.831 Monad The Sound of a Railway Whistle
Reo came down and landed on one knee, knelt on soft soil in the dark of night, with two moons in the sky overhead. A larger ivory moon, a smaller tawny orange moon. Reo inspected the contact points of his energy armor. All ten sephiroth were still intact and transmitting.

Silence. Reo listened. Looked around him in the pitch black. Listened. Then, over there, in the dark... the rhythmic drumming... Reo walked cautiously around the bend... his eyes now adjusting to the dark... There, there, over there...

Not ten yards away it stood. The Dancing Iron Deer. A wrought-iron deer standing upright on its hind legs, standing upright and dancing, dancing like an antlered wrought-iron shaman. The Dancing Iron Deer, with flickering flame inside its skull showing through its eyeholes. The Dancing Iron Deer, dancing and swaying to the drumbeat: (thump) He won't be coming (thump) back again (thump) (thump thump)... He won't be coming (thump) back again (thump) (thump thump)

The Dancing Iron Deer swayed, it stamped its wrought-iron hooves in the dirt, it shook a rattle held in one forehoof, dancing in regal indifference to the presence of Reo Kenner. (thump) He won't be coming (thump) back again (thump) (thump thump) Reo knew that a frontal attack was out of the question. This was big medicine. The moment he directly attacked the Iron Deer, Reo would be blown away like a candle in a hurricane.

Now the Dancing Iron Deer picked up its pace as the drumbeat quickened, tossed its wrought-iron antlers in the moonlight as the flame inside its head flickered through its eyeholes. (thump) Oh no, (thump) he won't be coming (thump) back again (thump) (thump thump)... He won't be coming (thump) back again (thump) (thump thump)

The Iron Deer picked up its pace. It was building up to an attack; and when it cut loose, Reo wouldn't stand a chance, for never had he seen power like the power of the Dancing Iron Deer.

Not a moment to lose. If not a frontal attack, then... Reo spread his arms skyward, embraced the moons. Now Reo began multiplying the moons, until there were dozens and hundreds of moons in the sky, little blood-red moons, large golden moons, weathered grey moons, moonlets, moon of mystery moss green, moon of smokey blue, moons twinned and moons in crescent and half-full phase... Reo made each moon different, trying to make some of the moons more attractive, like word forms in varying dialects of some Plains Indian language... Reo multiplied the moons until the sky was filled with moons.

And then, just as Reo had hoped, the Dancing Iron Deer found some of the moons more attractive, and the Dancing Iron Deer bound the light of certain moons to its wrought-iron parts, left ankle to blood-red moonlight, right ankle to smokey blue moonlight, shaken rattle to moonlight of light moon-green moonlets, antlers to large golden moonlight, and flickering flame within to moonlight of an angry crimson and yellow moon like a moon on fire...

Now, channeling the power of a thousand moons through the ten sephiroth of his energy armor, Reo Kenner worked the intricate calculations, worked the calculations in Yesod, and... all perfectly coordinated in a vast celestial dance... the moons began going into eclipse, all of them at once, a thousand moons going into simultaneous eclipse, moons eclipsing moons, world eclipsing moons, eclipse by contagion, moons slipping behind the ecliptic, moons falling out of the sky like shooting stars, moons eclipsed by the quasi-planetary motion of the ascending and descending nodes, moons spontaneously eclipsing themselves, moons suffering multiple eclipse from a dozen other moons at once, a cascade of lunar eclipses, the awful night sky of a thousand moons all going into eclipse at once...

(thump thump) He won't... (thump) be....... (thump)...

The Dancing Iron Deer's drumbeat lurched, skipped a beat, halted. Even the flickering flame inside the Dancing Iron Deer's head had gone out, quenched, a smoking wick; for the light of the angry crimson and yellow moon had been eclipsed.

The Dancing Iron Deer stood there, frozen, motionless, like a gigantic lawn ornament of an antlered deer-shaman standing upright on its hind legs. Reo walked up and touched the cold wrought iron of the Dancing Deer. Now snowflakes were beginning to fall in the night, slowly at first, then fast and thick. Reo looked up through the swirling snowstorm at the night sky, where lunar eclipse had passed and there were now only two moons, a larger ivory moon, and a smaller tawny orange moon.

Snow was accumulating on the ground, and on the motionless Dancing Iron Deer. Reo Kenner stepped back and mentally tripped the release circuit within his armor.

CHIMNEYSPACE tumbler sequence completed, retrieving the Chimneysweep.

The crane was winching Reo back up out of the depths of the Chimney. His energy armor sparked and buzzed as it went through its shutdown sequence; but Reo no longer needed the light of his armor to see by, for he was now lighting up the Chimney from within by his own light.

When the crane lifted Reo up out of the Chimney, he saw the robots seated in the circular Gallery around the Chimney. He saw the look in their eyes, hatred now mingled with fear, fear and abject terror. The robots always were terrified of Reo when he was first brought back up out of the Chimney, his face shining with a blinding light, light blazing from his face so bright that it shone like horns from his forehead.

The robots were terrified of Reo now, for in these first minutes after he was brought back up out of the Chimney, Reo Kenner blazed with enough power to destroy them all. He could destroy all the robots here in the Chimney Room without effort. When he was first brought back up out of the Chimney, Reo shone with such unearthly light that he could well have cut loose and destroyed this entire underground anthill robot city.

But what then? What then? There was yet the whole world, and a single Chimneysweep could not hope to stand against an entire world of robots and posthumans and AIs, an entire world in which there were only a handful of unmodified humans left.

Reo hung suspended over the open mouth of the chimney until the shining light from his face gradually faded. Then he was taken down, stripped of his body harness, put back in chains, and led away. The robots in the Chimney Room jeered and hurled hate-filled invective at Reo as he was led from the room.

The guard robots led Reo Kenner back to the holding area. There they beat him and kicked him and struck him, and mocked and reviled him. Then they locked Reo in his cage, and flung his food in through the bars after him.

Reo lay on the floor of his cage, sobbing and weeping. One of these days... One of these days... Almost enough power this time, from facing down the Dancing Iron Deer... One of these days Reo would cut loose, and level the world... At times Reo thought he would level the world, or at least destroy this underground robot city... At other times Reo thought he would suffer, just suffer all the ordeals the Chimney could throw at him... Bear all the sufferings of a Chimneysweep, bear all the robots' glaring hatred, bear all the endless agony with patience and submission...

Reo ate some tasteless dry food. Then, aching and hurting, Reo cried himself to sleep. It would be another three days before his next descent into the Chimney.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Possibility #3

Back home from vacation, on which I discovered yet a third possibility for (not) blogging on vacation: I had Internet access, sort of, within limits; but I was just too exhausted. Just too wiped out. So I spent the week in real-world pursuits. Mostly just resting up, sleeping by night and taking naps by day.

Visited with my folks; my brother; and also my grandmother, who turned 102 a few weeks ago and is doing just fine, thank you.

At an antique mall I discovered a Samba set, with instructions: Samba is similar to Canasta, only played with three card decks instead of two. I wonder if there will ever again be a game craze over a classical game like Contract Bridge, Mah Jongg, or Canasta: somehow something in the culture no longer feels favorable to it. Nowadays a hundred flowers bloom, and conditions are no longer favorable to the blooming of a single rare blue flower.

I got new leather boots, to replace my old leather boots on which the soles were worn through and literally flopping loose: old leather boots too badly worn out to be worth resoling. Since I wear my leather boots something like seven days a week, getting a new pair was a necessity. Hope these new ones (Frye boots) will last me a good many years.

While I was at it, I also got some sandals. Birkenstocks. Yes, Birkenstocks. Now (with apologies to Rod Dreher) I am a genuine Birkenstocked Burkean crunchy con. ;-)

Oh, and another piece of fiction is in the pipeline. Soon. Maybe tomorrow. Surely by the end of the week. This one has been building in me for a long, long time.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Vacation Is When You Vacate

I'm going to be heading out tomorrow afternoon on a week's vacation. Same drill as usual: I don't quite know whether I'll have Internet access on vacation. If so, blogging will continue at a reduced vacation pace; if not, I will surface here next circa a week from Monday.

Disease Mongering Engine

"Why let the drug companies have all the fun? YOU can invent diseases too!" Then get the FDA to approve your new dangerous and dubiously effective drugs, and make billions off of them!

Now you can run amuck just like Big Pharma! Yes, it's the Disease Mongering Engine!

(h/t Dwight A. via Greg W.)


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Opera 9.20 Is Out

The latest version of the Opera browser is out. Opera 9.20 has some cool new features including "speed dial." You can download it here.

We live in an era when there are so many fine browsers out there— Opera, Firefox, Safari, and more. I myself have been using Opera for six years now, dating back to the days of something like Opera 5.11.


Duke Lacrosse Players Exonerated

So I receive an email this morning from the chair of the Duke University Board of Trustees:
Dear Member of the Duke University Community,

I write to you on behalf of the Trustees of Duke University.

Today the North Carolina State Attorney General announced that all remaining charges against David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann have been dropped and should never have been brought. This announcement explicitly and unequivocally establishes the innocence of David, Collin and Reade, who with their families have suffered an unimaginable year of accusation and public scrutiny. They deserve our respect for the honorable way they have conducted themselves during this long legal ordeal that ends with their exoneration.

The Attorney General determined that there was no credible evidence to support the charges that were brought, with so many statements of certainty, by the Durham District Attorney last spring. Many have suffered from his actions, these three students and their families most of all. The Attorney General's investigation places responsibility for this miscarriage of justice with the District Attorney, and we now look to the proceedings of the state bar to call him to account before his peers.

Much as we wish that these three young men, their teammates and their families and indeed the whole community of people who love Duke could have been spared the agony of the past year, we believe that it was essential for the University to defer to the criminal justice system. As imperfect and flawed as it may be, it is that process that brings us today to this resolution.

Throughout the past year President Richard Brodhead consulted regularly with the trustees and has had our continuing support. He made considered and thoughtful decisions in a volatile and uncertain situation. Each step of the way, the board agreed with the principles that he established and the actions he took. As we look back and with the benefit of what we now know there is no question that there are some things that might have been done differently. However, anyone critical of President Brodhead should be similarly critical of the entire board.

In closing, we express our relief for today's outcome and recognize the character that our three students, their teammates and all of their families have shown over the past year. Furthermore, we hope that the resolution of this unfair, divisive and painful episode can serve to unite us all. There is much to learn from the events that we have lived through, and we intend to put this learning to use. Duke is a great university that steps up to challenges and opportunities, and together we will use this moment to make our community stronger.

Robert K. Steel, Chair, Duke University Board of Trustees
Thus speaks the stiff, rigid, correct, suit-and-tie'd, soulless university functionary.

It's been obvious for a long, long time now that this was a trumped-up case, and I've been pretty well disgusted at the behavior of many of those involved. Including that sociopathic District Attorney Nifong: I hope they throw the book at him. Including Duke President Dick Brodhead (what an appropriate name), who as the case proceeded was always a swaying weathervane in the breeze. Including some of the Duke faculty and their politically correct hangers-on, who have given new meaning to the phrase "rush to judgment."

As a Duke alumnus (Ph.D., Dec. 1991), I've been pretty well disgusted with the way Duke University and its assorted flunkies have conducted themselves throughout this case.

Though the absolute low point for me came not too far into the proceedings last year, when late one evening I received a phone call from a pollster. Ordinarily I don't bother with telephone polls, but seeing as this one had to do with Duke, I went along with it. Poll ran 15 or 20 minutes, endless questions, all having to do with the breaking Duke lacrosse case, and the burden of the entire poll being, more or less: Given what you've heard about this case, would you as a Duke alumnus now be less likely to make donations to Duke University?

Right. The world is tumbling down around their shoulders; either a heinous crime has been committed, or else three innocent young men have been framed; and the main concern of Duke University is whether enraged alumni might shut off the vital flow of $$$.

As a Duke alumnus, I cannot begin to convey just how disgusted I am with Duke University and the self-serving flash-mob opportunistic way they've conducted themselves over the past year.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Just an informal observation. Many a time over the years I've noticed a two-person dynamic which can arise within a group. Two persons within the group, call them the Good Cop and the Bad Cop. Or call them Mr. Mellow and Mr. Uptight. Or Velvet Glove and Iron Fist. Or Goodfellow and the Drill Sergeant.

The interaction (and sometimes sparring) between the two of them can color the atmosphere of the entire group.

And what I've observed is this. None of us have complete insight into the dynamics of a group we're a part of; all of us have our blind spots. But that said, my suspicion is that one hardly ever encounters a Bad Cop, a Mr. Uptight, an Iron Fist, a Drill Sergeant, who has any real insight into, or conscious awareness of, the two-person dynamic I've just delineated. The Uptight Drill Sergeant is flying blind, the puppet of psychological forces he can neither acknowledge nor recognize, whether in himself or in the group.

Whereas when you do find insight and awareness on this front, it will usually be found in the Good Cop, Mr. Mellow, Velvet Glove, Goodfellow; or also, just as often, in other members of the group who are bystanders and witnesses to the goings-on.

The rest can see what's coming down. But in the Ballad of Goodfellow and the Drill Sergeant, the Drill Sergeant is always the last to know. The Drill Sergeant is always the last to recognize his own role in the unfolding psychodrama.

Actually the Drill Sergeant, the Bad Cop, is often fairly effective within the group, and can make valuable contributions. Just that along with his effectiveness comes a peculiar blindness and lack of self-insight.

Just my informal observation in a variety of different group settings down through the years.

April Blizzard

Overnight the rain changed to snow, and now this morning I awaken to a winter wonderland. Coming up on mid April. We've got a few inches on the ground already, and the forecast up here in northern Iowa is for nine inches of snow by this evening.

Ordinarily this time of year the snow is gone, or just about. Gone till probably next November. If we do get snowfall this late in the season, it usually doesn't amount to much. But now here we are today, April 11, and expecting nine inches of snow.

Climate has gone plumb crazy.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Playing Cards and the Fifth Suit of Eagles

suit of eagles
For a good 40 years now, complete game fanatic that I am, I've been wondering what the fifth suit of eagles looked like. Well, now at long last I know. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I know what the suit of eagles looked like.

See, back in the 1930s they briefly came out with a 65-card deck which included the usual spades, clubs, hearts, and diamonds, plus a fifth green suit known as eagles. Back when I was a kid, grade school, early or mid 1960s, I ran across this fact in the glossary at the back of my Dad's dogeared copy of The Official Rules of Card Games: Hoyle Up-to-Date, 46th edition (1948).

A fifth green suit of eagles! I was galvanized. Already at that age I had awakened to the aweful platonic mystery that burns at the heart of all games. That there had once, however briefly and fleetingly, been a suit of eagles... to me, this came as a mystic revelation on par with news of a fifth element ranking alongside earth, air, fire, and water.

Over the years I kept an eye out for any further notice about this fifth suit of eagles. I'd run across mention of it every now and then, usually in some book about card games. Always the mention was terse and nondescript. What did the suit sign for the suit of eagles look like? Other than that it had been green, no description.

Around age 12 or 13, I sent a letter to the United States Playing Card Company in Cincinnati, asking if they had any five-suit decks with the suit of eagles. They wrote back to me that their stock from the 1930s was long since exhausted, and they didn't know where I could obtain a deck.

suit of eagles
I made a few attempts myself at designing a suit of eagles. The two cards on the left are from a complete 13-card suit of eagles I drew up, possibly in my junior high years, possibly earlier. All 13 cards, including some abysmally drawn face cards— suit signs were always more my forte. Note the simple and almost geometric green eagle suit sign.

I was very much into the idea at that age that suit signs, wherever they wafted out there in Platonic hyperspace, had to be iconic and at the same time archetypal in some deep, resonant sense. I assumed (as I still in some sense assume) that "deep" suit signs are real, real in some almost Platonic sense, and that our task is but to intuit them by seining and dredging deep within. (As you can tell, I have never been altogether brought over into the realm of deracinated Western modernity: there is an atavistic premodern streak in me a mile wide, and I have always been quite at home with it.)

Then some time into my high school years, early 1970s, I made another try at designing a green eagle suit sign. Note the card on the right, the seven of eagles with the swirling, curving abstract eagles. Much more of a piece with the curving, abstract design of clubs, spades, hearts, diamonds. My curving eagles looked like triskelions, only four-armed: three arms swirling counterclockwise and the fourth arm curving the opposite way, clockwise, to form head and wings and tail. I think I was onto something here.

(And if I remember correctly, this playing card— with swirling green eagle suit signs and blue clouds in the background— came to me originally in a dream.)

suit of eagles
And there matters stood. For decades. Wondering what the suit of eagles looked like, wondering but never knowing. Brief references, never any description. No description, not even in James Blish's science-fiction novel Jack of Eagles, an earlier and shorter version of which was entitled Let the Finder Beware. (Hence the name of my blog.) Even when I eventually got on the Internet, I searched and searched but came up empty: hundreds of brief references to the fifth suit of eagles, sounding most of them pretty much alike; but no pictures, no descriptions.

Until just the other day, when I stumbled across a picture on the BoardGameGeek site. Then that picture led on to several more, to pictures of old playing cards, 1930s vintage, with the green fifth suit of eagles. I was electrified! After 40 years, here right in front of me was the original green fifth suit of eagles! It seems a single user uploaded several pictures of the American green fifth suit of eagles, and the British blue fifth suit of crowns.

You can find a large, full-sized picture of the suit of eagles here, and all the assorted fifth-suit pictures here.

suit of eagles
I must confess, I never would've guessed what the suit of eagles looked like. I like the design, but it's more complex, not as iconic as I would've expected; and yet at the same time rather suit-sign abstract, in ways that only really sink in after you look at it a while.

And after 40 years and more, a longstanding burning Platonic mystery has been unveiled to me. Long have I dreamed of that fifth green suit of eagles; and now at long last my eyes have beheld it in its original form.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

"But on the First Day of the Week..."

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise." And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home wondering at what had happened.

 —Luke 24:1-12



  Most glorious Lord of Lyfe! that, on this day,
  Didst make Thy triumph over death and sin;
  And, having harrowd hell, didst bring away
  Captivity thence captive, us to win:
This joyous day, deare Lord, with joy begin;
And grant that we, for whom thou diddest dye,
Being with Thy deare blood clene washt from sin,
May live for ever in felicity!
And that Thy love we weighing worthily,
May likewise love Thee for the same againe;
And for Thy sake, that all lyke deare didst buy,
With love may one another entertayne!
  So let us love, dear Love, lyke as we ought,
  —Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.

 —Edmund Spenser (1552-1599)


Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday

Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise."

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, and said, "Certainly this man was innocent!" And all the multitudes who assembled to see the sight, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance and saw these things.

 —Luke 23:32-49


Christ and Our Selves

I wish a greater knowledge, then t'attaine
The knowledge of my selfe: A greater Gaine
Then to augment my selfe; A greater Treasure
Then to enjoy my selfe: A greater Pleasure
Then to content my selfe; How slight, and vaine
Is all selfe-Knowledge, Pleasure, Treasure, Gaine:
Vnlesse my better knowledge could retrive
My Christ; unles my better Gaine could thrive
In Christ; unles my better Wealth grow rich
In Christ; unles my better Pleasure pitch
On Christ; Or else my Knowledge will proclaime
To my owne heart how ignorant I am:
Or else my Gaine, so ill improv'd, will shame
My Trade, and shew how much declin'd I am;
Or else my Treasure will but blurre my name
With Bankrupt, and divulge how poore I am;
Or else my Pleasures, that so much inflame
My Thoughts, will blabb how full of sores I am:
Lord, keepe me from my Selfe; 'Tis best for me,
Never to owne my Selfe, if not in Thee.

 —Francis Quarles (1592-1644)


Wednesday, April 04, 2007


"Discursive reason makes a good servant, but a poor master." —George Santayana.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Busy Week

This is the busiest week of the year for me. Busy. Blogging will be light.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Manor of Buchhorn: A European Micro-State

map of lake constance
Fig. 1: Map of Buchhorn and Lake Constance

A "postage stamp" country ruled by a knight who lives in a castle— Buchhorn is so small and fragmented, that it is usually omitted on maps of Europe, and even in surveys of European "micro-states."

The Manor of Buchhorn (German: Rittergut Buchhornes) is indicated in gold on the map above (BH). It consists of two islands and four disconnected enclaves, located around Lake Constance (German: Bodensee), with Germany (D) to the north, Switzerland (CH) to the south, and Austria (A) at the east end of the lake. The climate is mild. The peaks of the Swiss Alps dominate the sky to the south across the water.

flag of buchhorn
Fig. 2: Flag of Buchhorn

The flag of Buchhorn, known as the Octal Gyron, consists of a red cross on a black and yellow background.

The history of the manor began when a knight of the Order of St. John, returning from the Crusades, was granted by the Holy Roman Emperor the Island of Mainau in Lake Constance. There, in the 13th century, the first knight of the Mainau line built a castle which still stands today.

Intermarriage brought the adjacent coastline, as well as the enclave of Wangen, under the rule of the House of Mainau.

At the time of the Protestant Reformation, the island abbacy of Reichenau also came under the protection of the Ritter von Mainau, the only German Knight of St. John to remain Catholic. It was also in this period that the port city of Friedrichshafen, and the surrounding enclave of Buchhorn, sought the protection of the Ritter and his army.

The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) recognized the sovereignty of the Manor of Buchhorn.

The enclave of Horn was purchased from the Swiss canton of Thurgau in 1786.

Buchhorn was the only one of the German petty states to resist absorption into Bismarck's Germany. It remained neutral in both World Wars. Buchhorn today is known for its manufacture of automotive and aircraft parts, its orchards and vineyards, and its tourist industry. It also has a "pocket navy," the Weissbodenseeflotte, a tourist, commercial, and coast guard fleet which patrols Lake Constance.

karl adam iv
Fig. 3: Johanniterritter Karl-Adam IV von Mainau

Karl-Adam IV, of the ancient knightly house of Mainau, was created a knight and invested with the Sword of Office in 1980. Since the late 18th century, the Knight of Buchhorn has been created by the Bishop of Constance and the Hospitallers' Grand Prior of Vienna.

location of buchhorn in europe
Fig. 4: Location of Buchhorn in Europe

Name: The Manor of Buchhorn (German: Rittergut Buchhornes).

Area: 38 square miles.

Population: (2000 census) 74,000.

Capital: Friedrichshafen (pop. 42,000).

Ethnic Groups: German, 100%.

Language: German (official), Swabian German dialect.

Religion: Roman Catholic (official), 93%; Evangelical & Reformed, 6%.

Head of State and Head of Government: Johanniterritter Karl-Adam IV von Mainau, Knight Hospitaller of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.

Legislature: Diet of 18 members, 6 appointed, 12 elected.

Currency: Thaler (= DM 1.33). 1 Thaler = 100 Rappen.

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