Meeting Trent Reznor on X at the Sharon Tate Horror House



The former editor-in-chief of MONDO 2000 magazine shares a new excerpt from the MONDO 2000 Open Source History Project, which is now in its last days of collecting funds by offering attractive awards via Kickstarter.


It was about three months after I'd quit MONDO 2000. We (Mondo Vanilli) headed down to L.A. with a demo tape and this very fun and very silly little Xeroxed package offering music industry behemoths the opportunity to get in on the cutting edge of cyber-absurdism.

Actually, the day before, I'd discovered that issue #8 of MONDO 2000 had come out in my absence. It was the first one without me. I was down at Tower Records off of Telegraph Ave (in Berkeley) and I saw it on the stands. And I actually bought it. I could have gone up to the MONDO house and grabbed a dozen for free, but pride etcetera... you know. And it looked great. The Negativland v. The Edge confrontation (as mentioned earlier, I had walked out of MONDO in an argument with Alison over whether to run it at all) was in it, but it was a much shorter version and it wasn't mentioned on the cover. I read the issue all the way through that night and it was the best issue ever — it was the most flawless and sophisticated issue yet, which was a bit upsetting, actually. I kind of wanted it to totally fall apart in my absence. In retrospect, it's not surprising that it was good since St. Jude and Andrew Hultkrans were still guiding the editorial content.





We were going to stay with Timothy Leary in Beverly Hills and we had a whole lot of really amazing music industry connections to look up. I had connections because of MONDO 2000. And we were going to meet this girl Yvonne, from Chicago, who had gone to art school with (Mondo Vanilli musical force) Scrappi. And she knew all kinds of people in the industry. She was sort of... well... let's just say that Al Jourgensen called her a groupie. I certainly wouldn't pin that tag on her... because she wouldn't accept it and secondly, because she's a great, multidimensional, real human being — but she did hang out with a lot of musicians, let's put it that way. She has been a babysitter for Anita Pallenberg, which to me, was the height of hipster cred. And she knew a lot of people. I also had heard from Billy Idol, who was just starting work on his infamous cyberpunk thing. So I had his phone number to plan a visit.

On our first full day in L.A., we saw a bunch of people. I think the first person we met was Cara Burns, an old friend of Yvonne's. She was part of a very powerful law firm, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. They represented lots of high-powered people in the entertainment industry. And she agreed to take us on, which I think was ultimately our undoing, actually. And we met with this guy who was like one of the top agents representing bands... as I recall, he mostly signed people to Warner Brothers. Our connections were actually too good.

At some point during that day, I called Casey Cannon, a MONDO friend from L.A. who knew everybody in Hollywood. At that time, she was making most of those short two-minute previews you see in movie theaters... and her husband Van Ling was with Lightstorm and was James Cameron's go-to guy on the new technology. I must have called her from a phone booth since, like most people at that time, I didn't have a cell phone. And she told me that we had to go to Trent Reznor's party that night.

As she informed me, Reznor had just rented the ol' Tate mansion. That is, he'd rented the house that had been occupied by Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate... the place where Sharon and all those other people were slaughtered by the Mansonoids. And this was to be his housewarming party.

I didn't have a pen, so I promised to call her back when we got back to Tim's house and get Reznor's phone number. And almost as soon as I got there, she called me. "You've really got to go meet Trent Reznor!" Plus, she noted that Leary's house was right around the corner from Reznor's new place. So I got the phone number and called it right away.

I always have anxiety about calling famous people — a fear of rejection. Particularly then, sort of at the height of MONDO's media hype... when some famous person said, "Who the fuck are you?" it bruised my ego. (Now, it feels like there's less at stake.) But I called, and fortunately, I got an answering machine. And I was able to leave the message that I was staying at Timothy Leary's house. Howdy, neighbor! The Leary name was a first-rate calling card.



The phone rang almost constantly at Tim's house, but at some point a couple of hours later, he came out of his office with his phone in hand and announced that he was talking to Peter Christopherson (Coil, Throbbing Gristle) — who identified himself to Tim as Pighead Christopherson — and we were invited to Trent Reznor's housewarming party. It was all a bit of a synchronicity too, because — at that time — this underground theater group was putting on a play based on a conversation Leary had with Charlie Manson when he was in prison and there were posters and flyers for it around the house. Leary was pretty excited about the play.

Just before we were about to head to the party, Tim came out with a mint dish filled with pink ecstasy tabs, offering them around. Simone (Third Arm — the other member of Mondo Vanilli) took one and I think Yvonne may have taken one. Scrappi and I refused.

But something about the historical resonances nagged at me. What would the small town freak who I had been back in the '70s think about refusing a hit from Timothy Leary before heading up to the infamous Manson horror house to a rock star party. After a few minutes, as we worked on our beers before heading out, I snuck over and pocketed two hits. I went in the bathroom, broke one of them in half and took it. (I guess it seemed more shameful to be a lightweight and take half-a-hit than it was to just refuse it all together, thus the subterfuge.)

I must have had an empty stomach because it came on quick and rather strong for a low dose. Reznor's new home was only a few blocks from Leary's, but it was on some windy roads and getting there became interesting when a red Ferrari started tailgating and some guy began gesticulating wildly out the window. He cut in front of us and made us stop. Out popped Gibby Haynes, shouting. He wanted to know if we knew "the way." He didn't even have to say the way to what. Yes. He let us get in front again and we made our way to the Reznor party.

On arrival, an enthusiastic Gibby jumped out of the car to meet Tim and bragging that the red Ferrari was on loan from Johnny Depp. With the ecstasy coming on, the entire L.A. media world started to seem like a serene and glittery playground filled with happy children playing grownup and I settled into a comfort zone. The world was a friendly place. Relatively speaking, of course.

There were two buildings on the Reznor grounds. One relatively small looking house and another building that looked like a warehouse space. The lights were all out in the house and a sign said to go to the other building.

The scene inside was grunge boy meets Barbie doll. Very odd. The guys — who all looked to be in their thirties — were all in jeans and t's and leather jackets, with long hair and puffy beer faces. (OK... me too... except I had the lambskin, fur collar, floor length overcoat.) And the girls — who looked like they were just about past high school — were all perfect mostly blonde babes with inflated boobs and noses pointed to the sky wearing impossibly short skirts and generally dressed and made up for sex. And for the most part, the guys and girls weren't together.

Gloomy Kraut techno blared too loudly for conversation, and the general mood seemed dour. Everyone carried plastic cups filled with beer. No one was talking to each other. The girls all looked disappointed. No rock stars in sight. This was nothing more than a college kegger with a bit of hipster edge. Where the hell was Trent?

Leary looked lost and confused. Nevertheless he asserted his tribal leadership and brought us all to safety — a place to sit — some benches around an unlit fireplace. Once settled, Tim and Simone found comfort locked in each other's eyes, while Scrappi, Yvonne and I continued to scan the room in search of a glimmer of glamour.

After awhile, I realized I had to move. If I sat there any longer, I was going to trance out for the entire evening into the rather boring pink spongecake that the inside of my head was turning into. Yvonne must have been feeling the same thing. By this point, too bored for paranoia, she suggested we "creepy crawly" around the grounds, which made me laugh.

As we were exiting the building, Reznor appeared and greeted us with a sly grin. He followed us out, and around the corner was Anthony Kiedas. Reznor introduced me. Kiedas asked: "Your name is Are You Serious?" Somehow my ecstasy-displaced ego mustered a response. I looked up at the towering pop star whose face had been on my TV screen a thousand times over the previous decade and smiled and said, "Yes. And who are you?" Kiedas deflated. "I'm Anthony," he muttered, humbly, and we shook hands.

And so, Yvonne and I soldiered on to check the perimeters of the ol' Tate mansion, wondering what walls a creepy crawler would crawl over; what bushes would a Squeaky Fromme creep through (Fromme actually wasn't involved in the Tate-LaBianca episodes). It was all just a funny game and Squeaky was just a famous name... like Reznor or Kiedas or Leary. Somehow the horrible reality of that day some 25 years earlier didn't feel any closer at hand on the grounds of the ol' Tate mansion than it had from any other spot on the planet. If there are ghosts, maybe ecstasy chases them away.

After a good half hour of wandering around, and Yvonne videotaping the arriving party guests (she kept her video camera with her at all times), we noticed a little bit of light now peaking out from behind the curtains of the smaller house. We slinked up to the door. There was a handwritten sign that read: “COME IN HERE TO BE KILLED."



While Yvonne laughed it off, I actually thought it through. Let's see. Reznor is a major rock star with money and ambition. He doesn't want to die right now from a lethal injection, particularly one that doesn't get you off first. Now, maybe if he had spent the last year of his life sucking up to Terry Melcher and Dennis Wilson only to have his song lyrics ripped... achhh! Don't go there. Thankfully, my little reverie was interrupted before it turned into full blown empathy for the devil. Yvonne did the only sensible thing. She opened the door and walked in, camera first.

There they were. Seventeen Illuminati figures, including Marilyn Monroe, George H.W. Bush, David Bowie and The Penguin, all in black robes, huddled over Britney Spears, laying in the center of a Pentagram while Reznor raised his blade.

OK. I just made that up. Actually, it was terribly normal inside. Kiedas and Gibby and Trent were there, and some music industry types, and the hottest of the young girls, clearly selected with care from the warehouse space. Within minutes, Tim and Simone wandered in. Record industry guys came over wanting to ask me about virtual reality. Here I was, in this world historic cosmically weird Manson horror house with Timothy Leary and rock stars sorta situation and I was getting into the same conversations that I would have had back in San Francisco.

There was one moment of vintage verbal violence. Gibby started screaming at some way porno looking girl because she wouldn't believe that this greasy looking longhaired dude with a southern accent was the driver of the red hot Ferrari and that he'd borrowed it from his good friend, Johnny Depp.

"CUNT!" he screamed. "Stupid fucking L.A. cunt!" But it wasn't to be taken seriously. She laughed at him, extended her middle finger and walked out and he immediately turned his attention elsewhere.

And that's basically the whole story. I did see a laughing Reznor waving around a baggie of mushrooms and heading into a room with one of the girls. Maybe that's why he liked the Mondo Vanilli tape so much that he called the next day to offer us a recording contract.

Later that night, Gibby came up to Leary's house and started asking if he'd ever seen any of that real acid... "like the stuff you guys used to take in the '60s." Tim got annoyed. "LSD is LSD. It's just that they make the doses smaller." Then, Gibby started ranting about how nobody tries to change the world by hijacking planes anymore, and Tim got even more annoyed and denounced terrorism in a couple of brief sentences. Gibby paced the entire house in long rapid steps for a few minutes and then flew out the door. I believe they eventually became friends.

See Also:
Part One: Introducing the Mondo 2000 History Project
Resurrecting Reznor's '90s Discovery — Mondo Vanilli (an Interview)
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
Timothy Leary's New Book on Drugs
The Chicks Who Tried to Shoot Gerald Ford

Read More

Introducing the Mondo 2000 History Project



The following is a possible introduction… or possibly one of several introductions or possibly an opening chapter to the Mondo 2000 History Project book. It's my story of particular points in my life that I now see as the run up toward starting High Frontiers magazine which became Reality Hackers and then MONDO 2000. Since I was the sole possessor of the idea to start the initial magazine, I believe there is some justification for this personal narrative being the opening salvo, however I'm not stuck on it and I'm happy to hear all feedback.

Morgan Russell, who is co-editing the book with me, said this text works as an introduction to the book and is "naïve" (in a good sense). I think that's correct. Hopefully, a somewhat more worldly perspective is implicit in my current writing of these memories.

If you like the writing here, please let that be a motivation for continuing to spread the word about this Kickstarter page. We would love to be able to dole out a few dollars beyond the money needed for management of the open source site to pay us and any other super-contributors a little bit for our time; to pay for some transcription of recorded interviews; and to get rights to reuse some already published materials. So keep it coming, please. (And if you don't like the writing here, then you can buy us the time to improve it!)

Besides linking to it, the text below is available to reuse/post elsewhere. I ask only that you give attribution to R.U. Sirius as the author and then link to http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1502076070/mondo-2000-an-open-source-history.


The MONDO 2000 History Project: An (Possible) Introduction

Let the story beginning in the Spring of 1967. I am 14 years old and in 9th grade. It's early evening and the doorbell rings at the suburban house in Binghamton, New York where I live with my mom and dad. It's a group of my friends and they're each carrying a plastic bag and looking mighty pleased. They come in, we shuffle into the guest room (where the record player is kept) and they show off their gatherings — buttons ("Frodo Lives!" "Mary Poppins is a Junkie" "Flower Power"), beads, posters (hallucinatory), incense with a Buddha incense burner, and kazoos. A lonely looking newspaper lays at the bottom of the pile, as though shameful, the only item unremarked.

Without realizing the implications, I happen to throw side one of Between The Buttons on the player. Eventually, the song "Cool Calm and Collected" plays and a kazoo sounds through the speakers. In an instant, newly purchased kazoos are wielded and The Rolling Stones' only-ever kazoo solo is joined by three wailing teenagers, bringing sudden shouts of objection from my famously liberal and tolerant Dad in the living room. It's quickly determined that it's late, Dad's tired, and it's time to send all kazoo-wielding teens packing. As each of the friends moves to retrieve his items, I grab the newspaper to see what it is. There are, I now see, two of them — two editions of something called "The Oracle." It has hallucinatory visuals on the cover and boasts an interview with a member of The Byrds (David Crosby). Vinnie, who had bought it — but who, despite writing poetry — avoids any signifiers of intellectual curiosity as the teen status crushers that they are, feigns disinterest and gives the copies to me.

And that's where it begins, this strange love affair with the periodical, particularly the periodical that has flair and style… where you can almost feel the energy and fun emanating off the pages.

I remember only one thing from the content inside those two Oracles and that's David Crosby denying that he was "some kind of weird freak who fucks ten chicks a day." That stuck in my mind. I didn't know it was possible even to think that, much less print it, much less be in a position to find it necessary to deny being it!

Let the story continue some time in early 1969, I'm 16 and in my junior year at Binghamton Central High School. The student/youth protest movement has fired my imagination — and the more radical the better. The Columbia University takeover with obscenity screaming Mark Rudd! The French Revolution of May '68! The armed black student takeover of the Cornell administration building, just 45 miles away in Ithaca! WoWeeee!

I wanted a piece of it. So I started a high school "underground newspaper" — The Lower Left Corner. Wanting to spring it on the school as a total surprise, I brought in only one co-conspirator (memory fails me, but he was more a collegian liberal type while I hung with the freaks.) Anyway, what we came up with was, I am sure, a completely lame and absurd piece of adolescent indignation. While college students revolted against the war, racism, and authoritarianism in school, we boiled it down to authoritarianism at school. The one thing I remember is that we had a cartoon of a teacher wearing a swastika armband busting a student for smoking in the boys' room. (Eat your hearts out, Brownsville Station!) It was that stupid.

To this day, I consider The Lower Left Corner a great success. Eight pages, Xeroxed front and back and stapled together… we entered the school each armed with a boxful… probably about 80 copies each total, and started handing them out selectively, avoiding the jocks and straights (by the way, straight used to mean "not hip.")

We got to homeroom — official start of the school day. The principle came over the loudspeaker. "Anyone caught with a copy of the paper called The Lower Left Corner will be immediately suspended from school." All eyes on me. Homeroom ends and as the door to the hallway swings open, I step out into my first taste of celebrity. All the jocks that usually threaten to beat me up or cut my hair off are jostling for a copy of the forbidden paper… even thanking me upon receiving. Laughing, I thrust the pieces ‘o' crap into the grasping hands, happy also to get rid of them so that I wouldn't be caught with any copies… and then I waited for the administrative consequences.

None were forthcoming. I had beaten the system… and in two ways. I'd gotten the administration to act out the very authoritarian impulse that we were lamely dithering about in print; and I learned something that served me well through the rest of my career as a high school "sixties radical. " If the authorities think you're political enough to run to the ACLU, they'll leave you alone and bust your intended audience instead!

We created and "printed" one more issue of The Lower Left Corner. As I recall, it was on an antiwar theme and we paid more attention to the quality of the text and design the second time out. This time, we handed them out without any attempted interference. Teachers even used it as a source for classroom discussions. And of course… no one cared.





Let the story continue in Fall of 1971. I'm 19. I meet Tommy Hannifin at a rally against the killings at Attica State. He's shouting the not-so-secret codeword… YIPPIE! We converge and excitedly share our mutual love of the Yippies' funny and fun acid-infused, prankster, wild-in-the-streets take on The Movement as a Youth Culture Revolution. I tell him that I want to create a Binghamton Chapter of the Yippies and start an underground newspaper. And so we did.

I should be clear. I had never thought… even for a moment, about journalism as a craft and/or a career. It didn't even occur to me that I should think about it in those terms. Indeed, to the constant worry of Mom and Dad, I never thought about career at all. I assumed that The Revolution would render those issues moot. I simply reached for the print medium because it seemed like a tool that was accessible. (It was… relatively speaking.) I seem to recall that Tommy, at least, knew something about layout — that you had to get these boards, type out the text, get visuals and paste it all up. And so, we pasted together Lost In Space, Binghamton's little underground newspaper, ripping off a few frames from an underground cartoon titled Nancy Kotex: High School Nurse for the front page. This thievery was utterly naïve. The idea of copyright and intellectual property was unfamiliar to me — like so many things in life that seemed obvious to so many, it hadn't occurred to me. The cartoon just struck us as funny, and when we imagined people getting all upset and offended by it, it became twice as funny. And so I learned about the double scoop of pleasure you get from prankster humor that confounds or freaks people out. You get to laugh at the joke… and then you get to laugh at the over-reaction to the joke.

Like The Lower Left Corner, Lost In Space (changed by issue #2 to Space because movement types told us Lost In Space sent a negative message) was a piece of crap. And unlike the underground papers of the bigger urban centers and hip college towns like Madison Wisconsin and Ann Arbor Michigan, we had no tributes to George Jackson and Ho Chi Minh; we had no quasi-sophisticated neo-Marxian analyses of the movement; no major statements from Robin Morgan about the rise of militant feminism; and probably not much news. Like The Lower Left Corner, Space was locally focused, reflexively against all authority, and juvenile. But it was probably a bit more stylishly written… and it certainly had a puckish sense of humor.

Let the story continue in 1980. I'm 27 years old and a Junior at the State University College at Brockport, New York, near Rochester. (The Revolution having left me stranded.) My friend Brian Cotnoir wants to start an avant-garde art newspaper. He calls it Black Veins — which comes from an interpretation of a line from Lautreamont's epic proto-surrealist misanthropic horror poem Maldoror (Les Chantes de Maldoror) — and he signs me on as co-editor. The paper features dark, perversely angled bits of poetry and fiction, but I bring something else in. Since the mid-1970s, I have been nursing a growing obsession with the neuro-futurisms of Dr. Timothy Leary and Illuminatus author/philosopher Robert Anton Wilson.

For the first issue, I have a written exchange with Wilson, performed by the soon to be archaic means of letters sent by mail. (As best I recall) the exchange essentially involves me wringing my hands that the world is a terrible place and that his optimistic weltanschauung may actually be a dangerous diversion. (I would later get letters like that myself at MONDO 2000 and, generally, respond with dismissive quips intended to communicate my lack of commitment to an optimistic — or any — point of view.) My letter includes a pretentious, portentous quote from a Village Voice review of Hans-Hurgen Syderberg's 6 hour film, Our Hitler.

And then word comes that Dr. Leary himself is coming to Rochester on his "stand up philosophy" tour. Brian, his girlfriend Ellen, myself, and our ex-girlfriend Liz pile in Ellen's car for the 30-minute drive to Rochester for the Sunday afternoon performance. Our goal is to interview the Dr. after the show for the second issue of Black Veins and then to film him. I plan to try and incorporate him into an 8mm movie called Armed Camp I'm making for a film class. (Incidentally, that's camp in the Susan Sontag sense.) The film involves, among other things, some 20-somethings playing poker in pajamas using the Aleister Crowley Thoth Tarot deck and then dancing to The Archies "Sugar Sugar" 45 rpm played at 33 (makes the vocals sound sort of like Jim Morrison). There is a vague narrative structure to this odd little attempt and I have reworked it so that it required Timothy Leary to say a few lines.

My posse — myself excluded — is negative about mind-altering drugs and cynical about Leary, and this makes me anxious. As we take our seats, the end of the Pink Floyd album The Wall blasts out of the loudspeakers and the cover of Leary's book The Intelligence Agents — which shows multiple copies of the same baby attempting to climb over a brick wall which appears to have no end — is projected onto a screen on stage. Then comes Side 2 (The "1984" side) of David Bowie's Diamond Dogs. Given his recent byzantine adventures with prison, exile, revolution, and compromise with the powers of state, it seems as if Leary is trying to tell us something. To the final echoes of Bowie singing "We want you, big brother," Dr. Leary walks on stage. Liz mutters a bit too loudly, "Ohmygod, it's Johnny Carson!"

The performance is not particularly impressive or funny, but Leary agrees to be interviewed. He unleashes that famous laser beam smile on each of us, one at a time, and the vibe immediately changes. Instant intimacy. Timothy Leary is now our special pal and we're his co-conspirators. We move into the restaurant attached to the club, order drinks and peruse the menu. Liz, a slightly moralistic vegetarian, asks Leary if he eats meat. "I'll eat anything!" he says directly to her, smiling. It's something that has been said a million times before by both jackasses and geniuses, but it comes out like a blast of freedom. Everybody feels this.

We all have a roaring great time interviewing Leary about life, drugs; his hatred of followers, his futurist theories, and the 1980 Democratic primaries ("If I'd done a better job, you wouldn't have all these pasty-faced white guys running around New Hampshire.") We're all dazzled, feeling like the host of Planet Earth's party had lifted the velvet rope and let us in. As we finish the conversation, Ellen urges me to ask Tim about appearing in Armed Camp. I'm feeling shy, but I share the script — such as it is — with him and point him at his two-sentence part. "What's it about?" he asks. A bit flustered, I blurt out, "Nothing really." He laughs and looks at my friends. "Thaaat's wonderfullll, isn't it? Nothing. Isn't thaaat wonderful?" Everybody laughs, including me. He won't read the lines but he will let me ask him a question and film his response… which turns out to be useless for my movie, but a treasure (that I will soon lose) nonetheless.

As we wrap up, Tim asks for a ride back to his hotel. He shrewdly picks Brian to dismantle and pack up the photo projector he'd uses to backdrop his talk. As we head to the car, night has fallen. Liz is pawing Dr. Leary, while they both gaze up at the stars. He points and describes a constellation or two. In the car, Liz continues to stroke and flirt, offering to come up to his hotel. Leary tells her she is very beautiful and wonderful, but he's married. As "Sympathy For the Devil" pops up on the mainstream rock radio station, we pull up to a raggedy-ass little hotel that's near the Rochester Airport and the good Dr. takes his leave of us.





Let the story continue in early November 1983. I am 31 years old and have just recently moved into a weirdly straight (see above) shared household in Mill Valley, California, a 'burb of San Francisco. The house is made up mostly of sedate 50-something recent converts to new age philosophies — an oddly pale white man who emanates a bland but likeable passivity seems to be the eminence grise of the household scene. And then there's a Hindu Hippie couple around my age that lives in the back room. They smoke pot (I can smell it) and they pretty much keep to themselves.

I have moved from Brockport, New York to the San Francisco Bay Area (starting off in Berkeley) with a "note to self" in my pocket — the only thing I could write during several months of writer's block, after a briefly successful academic and small town rock and roll career as a writer of fiction… and writer and singer of song lyrics. The note contains my California to-do list: "Start the Neopsychedelic Wave. Start a Neopsychedelic band. Start a Neopsychedelic magazine."

In late 1980, having written two darkly comic short stories to great local academic approval, and even winning a scholastic award (best fiction) for one of them (titled "Glib Little Holocausts"); having written darkly comic lyrics for a punk-tinged rock band (called "Party Dogs") and performed to some approval in both Brockport and Rochester; and looking ahead vaguely to either trying to make a run at a career as a rock and roll eccentric or hiding in obscurity as a writing professor; I came in for an odd reckoning — an interruption, really. It was a really good LSD trip.

Two days after the murder of John Lennon, laying in a room in a small apartment in which the heat pipes played oddly angelic music that had gone heretofore unnoticed, my girlfriend Lisa and I laid face to face, took the clean 250 microgram doses of liquid LSD-25 we had gotten from the colleges' hippyest Deadhead and made off for the cosmos.

Up until then, even my best trips had been fraught with ambiguity. My friends and lovers were weird. My hometown was relatively small… and contained parents who worried, and hostile lawmen and jocks who knew who I was. There was always at least the hint of trouble or shame — the feeling that my neurological nakedness was something to hide and someone lurked around the bend ready to give me a bad — or, at least, a strange time.

Now, there I was, safe and high and with a girlfriend who I actually liked and felt comfortable with, primed by my readings of Leary and Wilson to tap into an elegant symmetry, a generosity, even a sense of frivolity in the heart of all-that-is.

At first, the acid hit strong. It jolted up and down my spine like kundalini lightening, then shooting out the top of my head in a glorious explosive overabundance — an excess of multicolor wow! and then it smoothed over into an endless and sumptuous multidimensional layer cake of pastels filled to the brim with warm congratulations at having arrived. Later, it took me into deep space, and the heat pipes, which had been playing a pleasant kind of Tuvan throat music drone started, instead, to play John Lennon's hit song, "Starting Over" and, well… the message seemed clear. What the Lizard King had said was true: "Everything must be this way."

The aftermath of the trip found me disastrously happy, playful, optimistic, frivolous and energized… and writing about the coming of a Neopsychedelic Wave in lyrics and fiction. In the real (small) world of Brockport, New York, I'd shifted into a master's course in Fiction Writing, and attempts to give expression to my new head in that context weren't working. What came out was the sort of gibberish that has been produced before and aft by so many in the throes of psychedelic wonder — shards of flashy words that tried to convey – no, make that impart the energy of being aliver than thou to the recipient with FLASHY CAPITALIZED WORDS. Finally, after a couple of floundering semesters, I heard the siren call: "California is the place you oughta be!" There was really, after all, only one state from which to start a Neopsychedelic Wave.

So I'm sitting in the living room here in Mill Valley in 1983 just sort of gazing out the window when something bordering on an apparition appears. The Hindu Hippies plus their friend, a tall thin man in white robes — a visitor who occasionally slinks in and out of their room to use the bathroom — are opening a side door, and walking with them into the very back yard that I am gazing upon is a tall, thin, curly haired man, speaking something not quite audible in a familiar, nasally voice.

I recognize the man. I had attended a lecture he gave at a place in Berkeley a few months earlier. It was something about magic mushrooms and UFOs. In a nasally voice that reminded me of Jello Biafra, the man — Terence McKenna — had woven an astounding linguistic spell, rich with references ranging from Learyesque projections of future space architectures and superhuman amplifications to McLuhanistic media meanderings and, to top it all off, erudite descriptions (damn, why couldn't I do that?) of psychedelic experiences… including one that involved something along the lines of forty days and forty nights on mushrooms in the Amazonian Rain Forest during which he "channeled" a message from the logos that was calling us forward through time and using the acceleration of technology and consciousness and social crisis to bring us to some kind of psychedelic singularity in which exteriority and interiority would trade places!

Well… far out! But what the fuck is he doing at my house with the Hindu Hippies!? Here am I, on cosmic assignment from something or other to start the Neopsychedelic Movement and feeling meek and quiet and ill prepared and there's this McKenna guy at my house. They quickly retreat into the back room. It takes me a good half hour to work up my nerve and tap on the door.

What happens next is (like an alien probe) wiped from my memory. Let it be said — and many will attest to this — that Mr. McKenna always brought the powerful fucking weed with him when he came. All I know is that, somehow, at the end of the visit, which probably lasted all of an hour, Mr. McKenna is handing me a baggie with 6 grams of dried psilocybin mushrooms and a joint of his way-too-strong pot and telling me (McKenna familiars… hear the nasel): "Eat these on an empty stomach. An hour later, go into a darkened room and smoke this joint. That will get you where you want to go."

So it's about a week later, and it's Monday, the start of a Thanksgiving weeklong break in my job selling season ticket subscriptions by phone for various Bay Area arts organizations. I have decided that tonight's the night. I will take the 6 grams of mushrooms late that night and lie in the dark in silence in my room and I will make contact with The Others — the alien intelligences that Mr. McKenna says are available on the Psilocybin frequency (when you take enough) — or I won't… and either way, it will be a groovy trip.

I have decided to try a borderline fast — nothing but toast and water (and my morning cup of coffee) all day. It's a big mistake. It's around 5 pm and I'm heading home after strolling into town and I start to pass the McDonalds on the corner when the hunger overwhelms me and the biological robot commandeers my brain. By the time my brain returns to ordinary consciousness, I have downed a bag of Chicken McNuggets and a small bag of fries. Now I'm unhappy with myself and I'm deciding that I've blown the opportunity. No trip tonight.

I get back to the house and, oddly, it's empty. It's a large household, yet no one is home. A thought grips me. If they all stay away for an hour, I have a chance to get off on the mushrooms alone, having the run of the house during those energetic, intensely physical early moments that occur when you first come on to psychedelics. Then, I can hide out in my room with the lights out for the remainder of the trip. The time is nigh. I chew down the biggest batch of ‘shrooms in my life by far and I find myself pacing the house, nervously. Suddenly, after about 20 minutes, it slices through me like a shard of angry glass. A shattering angry splintery energy thing is outside me lacerating me and I am in everything's sights and all-that-is is pissed at me. The house cats start scurrying around yowling, running furiously, scratching at and trying to climb the walls. The suburban Mill Valley street suddenly looms very small and enclosed and conservative, and me… Mistra Inappropriate… not in control of my basic social signals and I'm now being lacerated by demons from a peculiar occult/Rolling Stones mirrorworld for abandoning them back in Binghamton, New York. Multiple car engine noises scrape the insides of my gut (In reality, it's around 6 pm, the time when people in the suburbs get home from working in San Francisco) — each one of them very likely carrying narcotics cops or agents of some hostile control system and, worst of all, I see it like it is now… They're the good guys and I am cast out, having done wrong; having eaten magic mushrooms on a corporate McDonald's stomach… heedlessly. I stare out the front window expecting incoming — hoping merely that the inevitable death is not too tortuous. And then it happens. A car actually stops right in front of the house. This is it. It's over! But wait. The doors open and several clearly preoccupied corporeal and painfully ordinary humans emerge — all my housemates. They are opening doors and the trunk and picking up grocery bags. In an instant, things shift. The immediate danger lessens but does not disappear. I still may be attacked by angry beings, but right now I have another challenge. I have to act normal. I shuffle to the front door and open it, thinking that the best strategy is to wander out and offer to carry grocery bags. I take one step outside. Can't handle it. I go back inside and close the screen door. Now I've given myself away. But the roomies walk in the house, preoccupied with their normal activities and blandly saying hello, to which I manage a normal sounding reply. All, that is, except for the Hindu Hippie guy. He makes a beeline for me and looks me right in the eyes. Quietly, he says, "Oh boy. Come with me" and, with his girlfriend, leads me by the hand into their back room. I start to tell him what I've done but he already knows. "You've taken Terence's mushrooms." The thin man in the white robes is lying on his side on a cot looking calm. He has been sitting in there all along. They say very little at first. They bring me a cup of warm tea; have me lie down on a cot, and the Hindu Hippie girl gives me a shoulder rub. I mutter something about demons from a Rolling Stones mirrorworld and start to explain about the friendship I had with a strange and charismatic guitar player who was fanatically and uncannily tapped into Keith Richards almost to the point where the evidence suggested a mystical connection and how we spent five months together in borderline isolation learning the entire Rolling Stones catalogue, and how he played it better than anybody alive except maybe Keith (better than Ronnie, by far), and how we talked long into the night about the occult dimensions of The Rolling Stones and the gut level pagan authenticity of the sex and drugs and rock and roll left hand path to enlightenment and how this friendship had all the elements of an intense sexual affair but without the sex and he started talking about Rimbaud & Verlaine and how it made me self-conscious and I couldn't handle it and then I gave him my song lyrics to start writing originals and he said he lost them and laughed at me and I left town and never spoke to him again.





And this makes perfect sense to my Hindu Hippie friends. I mean, christ… they were California hippies. They were probably at Altamont as teenagers! Demons sent from a Rolling Stones mirrorworld made perfect sense. And then, as I settled into a state of calm, the thin man in the white robes told me his story. Vijaya was a former leader of the American Hare Krishna cult. He had left the group because they had started to behave — as do pretty much all cults — like gangsters, with all the corruption and violence that implies. He still believed in Hare Krishna's brand of Hinduism, but he was part of a renegade group of psychedelic Hare Krishnas. And the Hare Krishna cultists had tried to kill him… and he was hiding out. So here we were, me hiding out from mirrorworld Stones demons and him hiding out, ostensibly, from Hare Krishna assassins, both of us in the back room of a very bland Mill Valley shared household.

While the LSD trip that had sent me to California was a "good trip" and the trip on McKenna's shrooms was a "bad trip," they both propelled me on. A couple of days after the psilocybin trip, the resolve to go forward with the creation of a psychedelic magazine took hold of me. I contacted Will Nofke, a new age radio host who had done a series of interviews about psychedelics with Albert Hofmann, Timothy Leary, Terence McKenna and Andrew Weil on Berkeley's Pacifica station KPFA, and asked him for the tapes to transcribe and publish the content. He sent me the tapes and granted me the permission. On New Years Eve — as 1983 was becoming 1984 — I stayed home alone. I finished transcribing the last of the tapes — the Leary interview — while watching the avant-garde video artist Nam June Paik host a very special New Years Eve 1984 show titled Good Morning, Mr. Orwell on PBS' Alive From Off Center, featuring many of my culture heroes: Laurie Anderson, John Cage, Allen Ginsberg, and Paik himself. Later I would have my first date with my wife Eve at a Nam June Paik exhibit in San Jose, California and I would co-create a TV show proposal and sample titled "The R.U. Sirius Show" for the consideration of PBS with John Sanborn, the Producer of Alive From Off Center. When the show ended, I channel surfed and found Timothy Leary on a silly, long forgotten entertainment talk show (I have mercifully forgotten the host). It was lame, but still, it was Timmy on network TV. A great signifier for the beginning of a new life. As 1984 dawned, I started reaching out to find compatriots to be part of a magazine that would be called High Frontiers and later Reality Hackers and then finally MONDO 2000.

See Also:
Counterculture and the Tech Revolution
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert - and Other Pranks
Robert Anton Wilson 1932-2007
Neil Gaiman Has Lost His Clothes
Is The Net Good For Writers?

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Eight Druggiest Rock Star Stories



The following is an excerpt from Everybody Must Get Stoned: Rock Stars on Drugs. The book was inspired by Paul McCartney on Drugs, an article I wrote for 10 Zen Monkeys in January of 2007.

In researching this particular section, I relied heavily upon two great sources: Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk (An Evergreen book) by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain and High Times magazine. Other major sources for the book included Celebrity Stoner and a great book titled Waiting For The Man: The Story of Drugs and Popular Music by Harry Shapiro.






During the latter half of the twentieth century, rock stars were privileged with the opportunity to experience just about every imaginable thrill. They were young, they were aggressive, many of them were wealthy, they were in a culture where thumbing your nose at authority was the rule rather than the exception, and they were treated like sex gods by members of the opposite or desired gender. And, of course, there were plenty of drugs around to get crazy with. These are some of the twisted highlights or low-lights of rock star behavior related to drugs.





1. Blood of the Stooges

In 1969-1970, Iggy Pop and his seminal proto-punk band the Stooges lived together outside Detroit in a house they nicknamed "Fun House." (They also named an album for it.) Besides writing and recording music, they were injecting massive amounts of drugs, mostly heroin. When setting up a hit, the Stooges would squirt the blood out of their syringes and shoot it all over the walls and ceilings. After a while, enough blood had accumulated on the apartment's walls to create a sort-of degraded smack addict's Jackson Pollock mural. Ron Asheton, the only Stooge member who was not a junkie and who lived elsewhere, described it "...a lot of times there would be fresh stuff. Then it would dry on to the table or on the floor.... I wish I was smart enough to take pictures of it because it would have been a masterpiece."

2. Sid Goes to the Toilet

Dee Dee Ramone found himself at a party in London, hanging out for a few moments in the bathroom snorting great quantities of speed. It wasn't the sort of place you'd want to hang out for too long, as Dee Dee quickly noticed that the bathroom was disgusting — sinks, toilets, everything was full of vomit, piss, and shit. Sid Vicious — a key figure in the London punk scene but not yet a member of the Sex Pistols — wandered in and asked Dee Dee if he had anything to get high on, so Dee Dee generously gave Sid some of his crank. Vicious pulled out a syringe, stuck it into a toilet filled with puke and piss, and then loaded it with speed and shot himself up.

3. Brave Ted Nugent, Rock Warrior

The right-wing rocker Ted Nugent is known for being very antidrug and very prowar. The Motor City Madman happily calls out any pussy-ass traitor not ready to grab a gun or a bomb or a nuke and show those towelheads that we mean business. But back during the glory years of the Vietnam war, this most macho chickenhawk in the Republican firmament went to extremes to make sure his own pussy ass didn't end up in Vietnam, and he used drugs to do it.

In a 1970s High Times interview, Nugent related the story of how he avoided the draft. For 30 days prior to his appearance before the draft board, the hairy and bearded Nugent stopped brushing his teeth, bathing, washing himself, or combing his hair. He ate nothing but junk food and high-fat foods and drank nothing but Pepsi and beer.

Then, a week before his physical, Nugent pulled out all the stops. He stopped going to the bathroom. "I did it in my pants. Shit, piss, the whole shot. My pants got crusted up." Then three days before the exam, Nugent started staying up with the help of crystal meth.

When he finally went in for the army physical, Nugent was so sick that he passed out during his blood test. During the urine test, he couldn't pee. And when it came time to give them some excrement, he pulled down his pants and it was all there and ready. In fact, he got it all over his hands and arm. Nugent bragged to High Times, "...in the mail I got this big juicy 4-F. They'd call dead people before they'd call me.... I just wasn't into it. I was too busy doin' my own thing." Didn't Dick Cheney say something like that? (Nugent has recently claimed that he made this story up.)

4. Can You Tell the Difference Between Tripping Out and Nodding Out?

In 1967, rock guitarist and notorious smack addict Michael Bloomfield, who had played with Bob Dylan on his classic mid-sixties albums and as a member of Blues Project, had his own band of fellow musician-junkies. They called themselves the Electric Flag. They were hired by B-movie master Roger Corman to create the soundtrack to Corman's LSD movie The Trip (starring a young, acid-gobbling Jack Nicholson).

The band was invited to the film opening, where they took the front-row seats that had been set aside for them. But the lads had arrived so loaded down on smack that they were nodding off and spacing out throughout the film. In a High Times interview, Bloomfield added that the band was also encouraged to sleep by their positioning in the theater: "We're sitting in the front row, and we're like one inch from the screen — we have to sit at a 90 degree angle just to see the movie..."

When the movie ended, everybody filed out except for Bloomfield and his coterie of stoned musicians, who were glued to their seats, some with eyes closed and the others glassy-eyed. Confronted by members of Corman's crew as to why they were not leaving the theatre, Bloomfield had enough presence of mind to come up with an excuse that would be socially acceptable at that time and within this particular milieu. "We all had a lot of acid," he told them. In 1967 Hollywood, at the screening of The Trip, this had to be respected. Not wanting to bum the fellows out during such a sensitive event, the crew members left the musicians alone in the theater. It took them several hours to pry themselves from their chairs.

5. Waste Not, Want Not

Japan has a reputation for searching rock stars for drugs. Most famously, Paul McCartney spent some time in jail after going through Japanese customers (see also the chapters: "The Beatles on Drugs" and "Big Busts and Big Deals"). So when Guns n' Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin was warned by his manager to get rid of any drugs he might have before going through customers in Japan, Stradlin put them someplace he knew he wouldn't lose them — in his stomach. He must have had quite a stash, because he wound up in a coma for 96 hours.

6. Jim Morrison's Excellent Adventure

In Please Kill Me, Ronnie Cutrone, an artist and denizen of Andy Warhol's 1960s Factory scene described a typical night out with the Doors' lead vocalist: "Jim would go out, lean up against the bar, order eight screwdrivers, put down six Tuinals on the bar, drink two or three screwdrivers, take two Tuinals, then he'd have to pee, but he couldn't leave the other five screwdrivers, so he'd take his dick out and pee, and some girl would come up and blow his dick, and then he'd finish the other five screwdrivers and then he'd finish the other four Tuinals, and then he'd pee in his pants, and then Eric Emerson and I would take him home."

7. But Why Is Elton "Still Standing?"

In his mid-1970s heyday, Los Angeles declared "Elton John Week." To celebrate, the glam rock pasha invited his relatives out to L.A. to celebrate. Allegedly, Elton took 60 Valiums, jumped into a hotel pool, and shouted, "I'm going to die." His grandmother was heard to comment: "I suppose we're going to have to go home now."


8. When Ozzy Got Some of That Good Government Cocaine

In a 1999 High Times interview, Ozzy talked about the time he had the best coke he'd ever had. He said, "I'm lying by the pool one day and I met this guy and I ask him, 'You want to do some coke?' He goes, 'no no no.' I'm whacking this stuff up my nose, it's a brilliant sunny day, and this guy's sitting there with one of those reflectors under his chin getting a suntan. I say, 'What do you do.' He says, 'I work for the government.' 'Uh... what do you do with the government?' 'I work for the drug squad.' I sez, 'You're fucking joking.' He shows me his badge. I fuckin' flipped...flames were coming out of my fingers, man. He says, 'Oh you're all right. I'm the guy that got you the coke.'"



Buy the book!


See Also:
Paul McCartney on Drugs
Ed Rosenthal: Big Man of Buds
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
Willie Nelson's Narcotic Shrooms

The QuestionAuthority Proposal
Bush Administration’s Greatest Hits (To Your Face)
Catching Up With an Aqua Teen Terrorist
Don't Go There: Top 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Candidates

Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks

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Bush Administration’s Greatest Hits (To Your Face)


Everybody who is paying attention – and who is not in deep denial – knows that there has been an intense and radical assault on civil liberties in the United States during the Bush Administration. In fact, the blows against the Constitution and the Bill of Rights have come on so fast and furious that few of us have been able to absorb them – or to try to get a complete picture of the damage done. Too many outrages tends to fog the mind against recalling the details of each or of any. Indeed, this tactic – relentlessness – is one that has often been employed by authoritarian regimes.



Working on behalf of the incipient QuestionAuthority organization and the MondoGlobo Social Network, Phil Leggiere has put together what may be the only complete timeline that delineates Bush's Greatest Hits against our rights, as well as relevant Supreme Court decisions, and Acts of Congress.

The Bushies started rockin' hard right out of the gate – well before 9/11. Taking office in January, 2001, the administration introduced it's paranoid style — immediately broadening the scope of documents and information that could be classified, and within a couple of months they had the NSA monitoring domestic calls and internet traffic.

We all tend to remember the big hits. The Patriot Act of 2001. The Military Commissions Act of 2006. But how many of us recall deceptively clever little mindfucks like when the FBI and DOD routed around US law by contracting with private companies to provide them with information on US citizens? And how about the time the Justice Department gave the FBI permission to monitor US religious and political groups? And not to be outdone, the Supreme Court showed off it's own chops in 2006, deciding that it was OK for drug-sniffing dogs to search your car when you're stopped for a random traffic violation. (Full disclosure: I've dated a few drug-sniffing dogs in my time!)


You may think that the biggest hits – the most damage – came in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Perhaps they freaked out — understandably — and it inspired the Bushies to go mental for a few years. Or maybe you would assume that the Bushies would have chilled after his popularity sank to Nixonian levels.

No way! In October, 2006, the Congress, acting in consort with the administration, gave the president the power to – in essence – declare martial law and round up troublemakers. To quote Leggiere, "The 'John Warner Defense Authorization Act' is passed. The act allows a president to declare a public emergency and station US military troops anywhere in America as well as take control of state based national guard units without consent of the governor or other local authorities. The law authorizes presidential deployment of US troops to round-up and detain 'potential terrorists', 'illegal aliens' and 'disorderly' citizenry." And then in May, 2007, El Presidente issued a directive that allowed him or his successor to take charge of all three branches of government in case of "a disaster resulting in extraordinary casualties."
There have been so many awesome hits! I have only scratched the surface here. Collect them all! Check out the timeline here!

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The QuestionAuthority Proposal


This proposal is meant to be considered alongside, or in conjunction with my other recent Open Source Party proposal. They can both be discussed within active, dedicated groups at the new MondoGlobo social network, along with related issues.

A dark cloud is passing over America. We've witnessed, in recent years, the death of many of our constitutional rights and liberties. We've also seen increasingly authoritarian trends in daily life and culture.

Those of us who would prefer to keep our freedoms have been relatively powerless as the events of 9/11 have created an atmosphere of fear and acquiescence. Everybody knows the litany: the virtual death of habeas corpus, the legalization of surveillance against all Americans, the lawlessness and usurpation of powers by the executive branch, ad infinitum.

It is time for all those who oppose this gathering trend towards the worst type of authoritarian governance and culture to put aside their differences and join together in a coalition that can act as a counterforce to this gathering threat to our liberties. It is time for QuestionAuthority (QA).

1: QuestionAuthority — A Coalition

QuestionAuthority is an educational and advocacy project dedicated to defending and extending personal and civil liberties and encouraging free expression. Our goal is to create a broad-based coalition of non-authoritarian groups and individuals who may currently be working in relative isolation on single issues, for political organizations and candidates, or in relatively isolated ideological cohort groups. As a cohesive force, we can do more than just stem the tide one issue — or one court case — at a time. We can exercise political and cultural influence by uniting the vast numbers of Americans who believe that the country has taken a radical turn in an authoritarian direction.

2: QA Platform

We ask you to please endorse the QA Platform below. You can demonstrate your endorsement of the QA Platform by joining the dedicated group on the MondoGlobo Network, and by so joining, you'll send a message to the nation and the world.

1) We call for the resurrection of all basic liberties and protections – including protections against pervasive surveillance – taken away by the federal government and by the executive branch of the Federal Government resulting directly, or obviously, as the result of reactions to the events of 9/11

2) We call for maximum state transparency (an end to excesses in state secrecy). This would include a generous and resilient usage of the Freedom of Information Act; procedural oversight that can bring sane boundaries into the process of classifying materials; and a movement towards the greatest possible realistic use of open source information-sharing and problem-solving in areas related to defense and intelligence.

3) We call for the restoration of a robust system of checks and balances and separation of powers, meant by the Founders to keep concentrated growths of political malfeasance shaken and unable to take root.

We are particularly concerned about centralized power within the Executive Branch of government. In this context, we emphasize a return to active use of "The War Powers Act" in which substantive military campaigns have to be approved by the US Congress.


4) We call for an end to the so-called "war on drugs." This drug war has resulted in frequent violations of limits against search and seizure and an abhorrently large prison population, among other forms of abuse by authorities. (There is room within QA for those who would like an outright end to prohibition as well as for those who prefer more cautious approaches like reform and medicalization to bring to an end the more draconian aspects of the "drug war.")

5) We call for continued vigilance in the defense of free expression, both in the technical legal sense and in a broader socio-cultural sense. There must be a vibrant, vital dialogue around possible contemporary threats to free expression that might not strictly fall under the rubric of censorship. Issues worthy of dialogue and debate include excesses in copyright, hypersensitivity, pressures wrought by corporate media consolidation, state intimidation (such as Congressional hearings) and intimidation of discourse during times of war or during the buildup towards war.

Endorse Platform here


3: Action Agenda for QuestionAuthority

The action agenda for the QA is simple.

1a) We will monitor, inform about, and coordinate public educational responses against any further assaults on the basic constitutional liberties of Americans, and will organize information and educational responses to civil liberties already lost to the "war on terror."

1b) Imagine every authoritarian absurdity and outrage carefully explored and catalogued on a single website. Imagine networked groups that can spring into action to alert and educate the public the next time authorities savage the Bill of Rights

2a) We will do everything in our power to bring non-authoritarian and anti-authoritarian thinkers and speakers before the public and particularly before youth.

2b) Imagine a QA publicity/speakers bureau that would get a wide variety of QA types onto college campuses, on the various media talk shows (let's change the dialogue from Right v. Left to Authoritarian v. Non-Authoritarian) and before various civic groups.

3) We will encourage, initiate, and provide an online place for a wide-ranging discussion among supporters of the QA principles. We envision a QA virtual library of various "question authority" texts, videos, audio files, blogs and other media forms that give expression to diverse non-authoritarian and anti-authoritarian views.

We envision QA members organizing meetups, regional meetings, local forums and perhaps an annual or semi-annual QA conference. We envision QA members and supporters expressing these concepts in their own style through their own websites, wikis, blogs, videos, podcasts, and through other forms of communication directed towards those who are not online.

4: QA FAQ

Q: What is the difference between QA and other organizations and candidates that fight for our rights?

A: First of all, our goal is to create a broad-based coalition of non-authoritarian groups and individuals who may currently be working in relative isolation on single issues, for political organizations and candidates, or in relatively isolated ideological cohort groups.

Also, in cases where civil liberty types of issues are involved, people tend to sit back and let them be fought out in the court. As a cohesive force, we can do more than just stem the tide one issue — or one court case — at a time. We can exercise political and cultural influence by uniting the vast numbers of Americans who believe that the country has taken a radical turn in an authoritarian direction.

Secondly, look again at what we promise to do in terms of organizing informational and educational materials. If these things were being done by anyone else, we wouldn't need to do them. QA proposes to be dynamic and participatory in ways that other organizations are not.

Q: Why should non-authoritarians want to unite in a big centralized organization?

A: They should unite only to the extent that it's necessary to show our numbers to the nation and amplify our influence as a way to counteract the influence of well-organized authoritarians.

How many times, in recent years, have you heard folks wonder why people don't "do something" when major, fundamental outrages against basic constitutional liberties are committed by the state? Now imagine a large, networked group of "question authority" types who can spring into action the next time something of this sort occurs to educate and advocate. Next time, do something! Additionally, the "myth" of a grand QA with a large membership filled with both influential and diverse people could have power to influence media and political discourse.

Q: How will the QA be organized?

A: QA will seek tax-deductible non-profit status. We imagine a very minimal centralized "bureaucracy." Everything about the actions of the QA as an organization, including its use of funds, will be open and transparent. For a brief period, QA decisions will be made by a Board of Directors. It will be comprised of people representing a wide variety of political (and perhaps "anti-political") views. We would hope to move quickly towards making decisions via open source, democratic processes.

We also imagine that many QA activities, right from the start, will be decentralized and taken by local and cohort groups.

Q: This document calls for action to educate and alert the pubic about basic losses of essential liberties. Isn't it time to move beyond education and into activism?

A: The rules guiding the creation of an educational organization and the rules around activism are subtly different. There is room for activist types of activity in an educational context, and those kinds of responses can be discussed and debated by the group. Also, some people will be more comfortable joining an informational/educational project than an activist project and we want a big fat sassy coalition.


Q: Who will join the QA?

A: We hope everybody who agrees with our platform (or who agrees, but with minor quibbles) will join us, so that our numbers and influence will act as a powerful counterforce against the authoritarian activists. Let's let them know we're here.

But let's be blunt. It's obvious that many of those who agree with this platform will tend to be people who are labeled "liberal" and "libertarian." Beyond that, we believe that this coalition will appeal to an even larger disenfranchised group of Americans who believe in questioning authority, but who have very few ideological certainties.

Finally, let's be excessively blunt. We want all the nation's most influential anti-authoritarian individuals and organizations to join in this coalition. We want the ACLU and the Cato Institute; Bob Barr and Mos Def; the EFF and the People for the American Way; MoveOn.org and AntiWar.com; Hitchens and Chomsky; Penn Jillette and George Carlin, Reason magazine and Harpers magazine; Howard Stern and Amy Goodman; Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich; Paris and Nicole… (OK, maybe not.) Anyway, by now, you get the point.



5: CODA

These days, those of us who question authority find ourselves shocked and astonished by the actions of the state – both small and large – on nearly a daily basis. As individuals, we find ourselves wondering, "Why isn't there mass outrage?"

Of course, there is quite a bit of outrage. It's distributed all over the web and all over the culture, but this sense of outrage does not have the coherence it needs to be perceived as a player on America's political stage. We can no longer afford to let that be the case. We need to act now.

Visit our newly re-purposed MondoGlobo Network to get more involved with this idea and/or in a social network for people who question authority.


See also:
Is It Fascism Yet?
Detention and Torture: Are We Still Free Or Not?
Catching Up with an Aqua Teen Terrorist
Art or Bioterrorism: Who Cares?
Homeland Security Follies
Prior Permission Required by Government Before Each Flight
Anarchy for the USA: A Conversation with Josh Wolf

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The Open Source Party Proposal


This proposal is meant to be considered alongside, or in conjunction with my other recent QuestionAuthority proposal. They can both be discussed within active, dedicated groups at the new MondoGlobo social network, along with related issues.

The duopoly will have its way again in this year's election.

Ralph Nader and whoever the Libertarians and Greens nominate as their candidates will drag their asses around the country, sometimes saying interesting and important things, sometimes not. Many of us will wish, once again, that there could be a dynamic discourse about the many real issues and problems that get ignored; and then we will vote (or not) for the one who has at least a fingernail grip on sanity, or for one of the sad and hopeless alterna-candidates.

But we could make the political season less depressing by using networking tools to create a very large and dynamic discourse about the things that we believe really need to change, and we could evolve a new political organization that would be ready to kick up some noise by the time the next political season (2010) rolls around.

In that spirit, I propose a Liberal/Libertarian/Other unity party that will develop ideas and solutions to America's political problems through an Open Source process that will be engaging and fun. We will have online conferences, social networks and wikis, we will have meetups, we will have parties, we will create games that model likely real world responses to our proposed ideas, we will field candidates starting in 2010, get "crazed" anti-authoritarians on TV and radio, and maybe change a few things before the apocalypse, the Singularity, the second coming, the complete conquest of the world by Google, the election of another generation of Bushes and Clintons, or whatever other event you may be expecting.

There are two ways to go with an Open Source Party. One way would be to just throw it open to everybody. Everyone gets to pour their ideas into the maelstrom whether they're anarchists or fascists, conservatives or moderates — or if they just miss Ross Perot.

But I'm not an absolute believer in the wisdom of crowds and all that. I prefer another idea. I would bring together people who feel they are in agreement with at least 5 of the 7 points in the party platform below – giving us a starting point from which to launch activities on the basis of the platform and to have interesting fun in a democratic process that adds to or subtracts from the platform.

We ask you to please endorse the Open Source Platform below. You can demonstrate your endorsement of the Open Source Platform by joining the dedicated group on the MondoGlobo Network and/or by contributing money to the "establishment campaign." By so doing, you'll send a message to the nation and the world.



Here, then, is the Open Source Party Platform...

1: Let's Have A Democracy

It's a wacky, wacky idea that may have started in early Greece and was cautiously revived during the American Revolution in 1776 when voting rights were granted to property owning white males living in most states of that Union. Since then, the hint of democracy has grown and spread, but the actual practice has been far from complete. Recently, many citizens of the US have questioned whether democracy is still in practice here at all. It's an excellent question. The Open Source Party suggests two steps to ensure actual democracy.

A: One person/one vote: Every US citizen over 18 has a Social Security number. Many activities on the internet are protected from fraud by strong data encryption. Surely, computer geniuses thinking together in an Open Source process can come up with a way that every person over 18 can use his or her number to effectively and efficiently vote once and only once. Citizens can vote from their homes or they can vote from public polling stations using social security numbers tied to data encryption. If this solution isn't possible, let's brainstorm others. Shouldn't actually having a democracy be a priority for the world's oldest "democracy"?

B: Demolish the duopoly: There are dozens of rules and regulations designed by the two political parties that have had a virtual monopoly on power for many decades that prevent other political parties and independents from competing on a fair playing field. We should eliminate all those barriers that give unfair advantage to the ruling parties.

NOTE: There are a number of other ideas that we are not now advocating — including direct majority voting on presidential elections; run-off votes when candidates fail to win 50%; various scenarios to control or change campaign finance and media access in the electoral process; and even direct voting on legislation — that will provoke controversy and discourse within the Open Source Party. Some of these ideas may be added to the platform following a radically open and democratic process that will be suggested at the end of this statement.


2: Let's Have Civil Liberties and a Bill of Rights

Here we have yet another notion that only cranks subscribe to — that civil liberties can survive crime, mind-active substance use, and even terrorism.

For starters, we seek the return of civil liberties, rights, and basic, sane conduct by the Executive branch of government that has been lost in the post 9-11 environment. This includes the reform or repeal of the (mostly) unnecessary Patriot Act; the return of Habeas Corpus; the end of essentially infinite surveillance rights for the federal government; limits to privilege and secrecy in the executive branch; the end of — or the imposition of judicial limits onto — presidential signing statements. (What have I forgotten? You tell me.)

We support strong free speech that includes an end to implicit censorship through government intimidation, and an end to the so-called "War on Drugs," which has resulted in frequent violations against limits on search and seizure and an abhorrently high percentage of US citizens imprisoned.

NOTE: There is plenty of room here for dynamic, open debate among Open Source Party members, including whether to reform or repeal The Patriot Act and what kind of surveillance is necessary and appropriate for the defense of the nation. Also, ending the "drug war" could involve anything from reform of draconian policies and medicalization of illegal drugs, to an outright end to prohibition. Again, we will follow a radically open and democratic process that may add to the party platform.


3: Let's End the Imperial Foreign Policy

Or, if you prefer, let's stop playing the world's policeman. However you phrase it, we should no longer invade or attack sovereign nation states, either directly or indirectly, that haven't attacked us by force of arms. The emphasis of American foreign policy needs to change from "defending our interests" to "defending our sovereignty."

NOTE: Here we can have a dynamic discussion about many possible aspects of defending the US, including, the size of the military budget and the interests of what President Eisenhower called a military-industrial complex; what to do about weapons systems and weapons testing (including nuclear); whether we should provide weapons to other nations and under what circumstances; whether to allow mercenary groups to operate out of the US; whether and when to participate and help in peace negotiations among other nations as a humanitarian act; whether and when to participate with other nations in interventions in extreme cases of genocide; whether or when to intervene in extreme cases if and when another nation launches repeated interventions of its own and seems clearly bent on regional or global conquest in the tradition of Genghis Khan, Napolean and Hitler; how to cope with the development of nuclear weapons by other nations (and by our own); whether or not to have military alliances and what our degree of commitment to them should be; and whether and when to cooperate with the UN.


4: A New "Energy Task Force"

A tremendous number of energy pioneers have been thinking and working for decades on energy solutions that don't involve oil, natural gas or coal. These organizations include Rocky Mountain Institute, Pliny Fisk’s Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, and the folks at WorldChanging, ad infinitum. Let's bring people like these together to map out how best to bring us as completely into the age of clean energy as possible within 10-20 years — whether through the state, the market, decentralized voluntarism, or all three.

NOTE: Obviously, there's nearly infinite room here for debate and discussion about these solutions, but we imagine a passionate discourse about whether the transition can happen primarily through encouragement of the market or whether it should emphasize government solutions. We also look forward to an interesting debate among Open Source Party members over whether to develop and deploy more nuclear power.


5: Let's Explore The Possibility of an Open Source Monetary System

Monetary policies and systems change all the time and it is always necessary to remind ourselves that "money" is a symbol (presumably) of wealth, and not an actual material value. We should encourage and empower a public discourse around how money should be issued, understood, defined and valued. Ultimately, we may want to think in terms of an "Open Source" monetary system and we may want to encourage "alternative" forms of currency.

NOTE: Again, there is nearly infinite room for new ideas and debate here, including questioning the essential premise — thus the "let's explore" aspect of this part of the platform. Open Source currency may be achievable through networks of trust, through virtual money (like Linden Dollars) or simply by removing the state from the equation and then publicly encouraging a multiplicity of exchange signals. We are most of all intrigued by ideas that might lead toward a post-scarcity monetary system.


6: Let's End Corporate Personhood and Other Rules that Unfairly Advantage Corporations

Corporations today have the rights but not the responsibilities of persons, and our laws are riddled with other advantages that tilt the balance of economic and political power in favor of these giants. This platform suggests a simple libertarian approach toward disempowering what some have called the corporatocracy by removing their state advantages.

Note: There is tremendous room for discussion and debate about other measures to rein in corporations, including — no doubt — discourse about whether to simply take away corporate advantages or to regulate them, democratize them, utilize the corporate approval process to punish corruption and/or anti-social activities, ad infinitum.


7: Let My Web People Go!

Digital stuff exists in a land without scarcity. It is natural and spontaneous that when people reside there, they tend to share and to re-purpose content without guilt. On the other hand, "content creators" need to pay bills just as much as programmers and other virtual laborers do. We need to support the natural evolving ecology of copying and sharing on the web. At the same time, we need to find a way to sufficiently reward creative content.

Note: This requires lots of real creative thinking and there is lots of room for discussion and debate around the nuances of netiquette and law.


Democratic Processes Within an Open Source Party

We suggest that decisions to take on "official" activities and to make additions or subtractions to and from the Open Source Party platform would take place along the lines of "near consensus." We would suggest a 75% yes vote among registered members would be requuired to adopt any action or platform point. We also suggest that the democratic process would include serious campaigning and some degree of hilarity.

We suggest that erecting a pay wall would be instrumental not only in helping to finance a dynamic organization but necessary to keep out all but the most motivated griefers, and help us to verify the legitimacy of voters, who would vote only once. Naturally, we would hope that enthusiasts who can would contribute substantially more.

Final Thoughts

We imagine that this in-group, Open Source, participatory democratic process could be a way in which people who have been more or less on the fringe of American politics can encourage one another to think clearly in terms of actually making policy. It's very easy to stand outside the system and protest or call for some absolutist ideological solution ("Anarchy, dudes!"), but it's more interesting and valuable to try to realistically envision the consequences of policy. We also want to emphasize again the ample potential to keep this playful — to create dynamic virtual worlds (in Second Life, or wherever), games, fanciful as well as serious candidacies, videos and podcasts, songs, etc. Such media can now be created by a large proportion of the general internet public, so why not do it?

Note: Special thanks to Jon Lebkowsky for help and encouragement with this document. The Open Source Party is currently a gleam in the eye and not an extant organization.

Visit our newly re-purposed MondoGlobo Network to get more involved with this idea and/or in a social network for people who question authority.


See also:
Don't Go There: Top 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Candidates
The Future of America Has Been Stolen
DC Sex Diarist Bares All
Libertarian Chick Fights Boobs With Boobs
Detention and Torture: Are We Still Free, Or Not?

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Catching Up With an Aqua Teen Terrorist

Mooninite Terrorist Zebbler
January 31, 2007: a day that will live in infamy. The great city of Boston was brought to its knees by the appearance of unexpected L.E.D. placards in places where they didn't belong. Alert to potential connections between terror and anything a wee bit unusual, stout citizens and government officials alike in the land of the free and the home of the brave peed their metaphoric pants. The L.E.D. character was described in a CNN report as "a Mooninite, an outer-space delinquent… greeting passersby with an upraised middle finger." Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley was quoted in the same piece as saying, "It had a very sinister appearance." The horror. The horror.



A pair of young Bostonians were arrested for perpetrating this dastardly act as hired guns in a guerrilla marketing campaign to promote the upcoming movie, Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie. The two lads, Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens were charged with "placing a hoax device in a way that results in panic," a felony, and disorderly conduct. At a news conference, Berdovsky and Stevens refused to talk about the case but expressed a willingness to opine at length on '70s hairstyles. They were not taken up on their generous offer by the gathered media.

Berdovsky, known popularly as Zebbler, has plenty of hair to think about – long dreadlocks down to his waist. He also has a reputation in Boston — and increasingly around the world — as a popular VJ, video artist, performance artist and painter. Sentenced to 80 hours community service for his crime, he made the most of it, painting a delightfully trippy mural for Spaulding (physical) Rehabilitation Center. He was also recently voted the #12 VJ in the world by London-based DJ Magazine and was named Boston's Best Artist by Improper Bostonian Magazine. Zebbler also recently appeared in Berkeley, Caliifornia where his surround sound HD projection set was part of the opening reception for RIP.MIX.BURN.BAM.PFA at the Pacific Film Archives — an exhibit that "celebrates the cultural and artistic practice of remix."

Meanwhile, the film that brought down the city, Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie was, undeservedly, a commercial flop. (Maybe if they'd shut down more cities, people would have noticed.) But it is now out on DVD, so don't wait to discover what happens when Carl gets strapped into the insane-o-flex. Like the cartoon, the movie is, at times: ridiculous, stupid, hilarious, clever, and – of course – composed of cheesy bad animation. Rent it. You can't go wrong.

I interviewed Berdovsky aka Zebbler by email.

RU SIRIUS: Most people who read this will probably just know you as the guy with the long dreads who got caught up in the big Aqua Teen Terrorist scare of 2007. Were you in any way prepared to get caught up in anything that absurd?


ZEBBLER: Well it depends. I never expected anyone to freak out over the L.E.D. placards. However, I recognize people's perceptions of me. I behaved in a manner that was consistent with my knowledge of how I am perceived, although there were definitely a few unknowns. I have never seen a guy with long dreadlocks in a situation like mine. People's reactions were pleasantly positive. On the streets, in airports, stores, events — people who recognize me are generally very positive and curious.

RU: I've known a couple of people who have wound up in situations with Homeland Security basically around technologies that were not understood. They found themselves facing a veritable platoon of armed agents and various other types of hostility. How was your treatment at the hands of law enforcement, homeland security and so forth? Did anybody on that team say or do anything particularly bizarre or interesting?

Z: Yeah, there were lots of interesting statements from them. My interrogator gave me nothing but carrots to eat. I cooperated fully — since I had nothing to hide — but at times it was uncanny as to how convincing he was. He made me want to tell him my deepest secrets — a genuinely weird feeling. I had to snap out of it a few times. He promised to give me back all of the mooninites they have confiscated from me. It was a lie and I knew it as he was saying it.

The biggest surprise was from one of the older state police person. On the way out of the holding cell where we were held in overnight, there were whispers about us being famous as a result of what happened. One of the higher-ups came up to me as I was being led away in shackles and said: "My daughter is a huge fan of you. She watches the show and knows all about what happened. She was so excited that I get to see you." He paused for a second and added: "So... did you really mean to blow up Boston?" I think I just growled with disbelief after that statement and walked out to face the press staking out the holding cell in the bitterly cold morning.

RU: You're a pretty well known video artist and VJ. What do you try to do with the medium and tell us about a few high points in your career?

Z: I am moving more and more in the direction of solo surround sound custom HD video performances. I have spent several years creating custom psychedelic content in my resolution. To my mild surprise, it's starting to be recognized by the fine art community. I recently performed solo at Berkeley Museum of Art (California) as part of their RIP.MIX.BURN.BAM.PFA. There are also talks about performing for the Anchorage Film Festival (AK).

I tend to get physical in my performances. I am known for wearing costumes and masks during performances and potentially more than other VJs I have been mistaken for DJs during many shows.

Right after graduating from Mass College of Art, I went on a major US tour providing custom video projection performances for Ozric Tentacles. That was pretty great. A lot of work (25 shows in 30 days all over US) — but a great introduction to the industry and craft of live performance in big venues.

RU: You also worked recently with Alex Grey, the painter who is much known and admired in psychedelic circles. How have psychedelics influenced your work... and do you think your experiences helped you maintain your sense of humor throughout the whole Aqua Teen Terror crisis? You guys were pretty gracious and disarming when you went on Fox with Geraldo.

Z: Mmm... that's a big question. Psychedelics were a major part of my inspiration to create art. As a teen, I read a lot about human psychology and heard about the sensory deprivation experiments, where people are faced with nothing but their inner world. It inspired me to seek similar experiences. Probably, it was my desire to seek the unexplained, the otherworldly. It was a yearning to prove to myself that there's something outside the box. I have since learned to differentiate between genuine revelations and delusional mind tricks. I am not as intensely into mental experimentation these days — instead I'm trying to recreate a lot of the feelings, concepts and sensations through my art.

A life-changing psychedelic experience is an honest slap in the face with a realization of our own arbitrary position in the universe. Regular societal roles become unglued. Personal impulses reveal their egotism. It did not seem to offer a path to salvation, just a widening of perspective.

One doesn't need psychedelics to achieve those kinds of realizations however. While it helped my sense of humor to a degree — I think ultimately it's my personality that's responsible for my sensations and behavior during the Aqua Teen Boston Bomb Scare. When I am faced with an uncontrollable situation, I let go of trying to control what's beyond reach, and focus on what I can change. Both Sean and I didn't want this case to intimidate or frighten people. We were sick of media spinning stories to make them scarier. So we came up with a way to disarm the media — first with our press conference.



RU: Tell us about your video show, "I Wash My TV in Fear"

Z: It was my reaction to seeing so many fear-inducing messages constantly on our TV screens. Since the news became a business, they realized that fear creates the need to watch. The TVs at my performance were literally awash in fear. I recorded a day or two of television news and selected the most frightening messages to create a hyper saturated barrage of FEAR that I then perform live on multiple screens with custom music/edits/animations.

RU: So what did you think of the Aqua Teen movie? I thought it was pretty hilarious nonsense but you may disagree. And do you think it's weird that all the publicity didn't create any curiosity for the flick?

Z: I thought it held up strong with a hilarious start and beginning/middle. But, ultimately I was hoping for a more intelligent ending. Instead, it all just went to hell. But so be it — I had a good time. And it was a little strange that it didn't get that much attention. I attribute some of it to the execs freaking out and backing off from the promotional opportunity that this event gave them.

See also:
Is It Fascism Yet?
Burning the Man with Hunter S. Thompson
The Great Wired Drug Non-Controversy
10 Worst Spiderman Tie-Ins
Art or Bioterrorism: Who Cares?
Lost "Horrors" Ending Found on YouTube
Homeland Security Follies
Prior Permission Required by Government Before Each Flight

Read More

Prior Permission From Government to be Required for Each Flight


The Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security are quietly pushing for a set of crazy new rules. All travellers in the U.S. will be required to get government-issued credentials and official clearance before every flight, both within the United States as well as internationally.

And Monday we received a new political action alert from Edward Hasbrouk, The Practical Nomad blogger who's been fighting the plan (and who testified about it at a TSA hearing). "The international Advance Passenger Information System rules were published, as 'final' effective February 19,2008, with no further opportunity for public comment even on the changes from the original proposal."



Hasbrouck sees this as a very ominous development. "The Department of Homeland Security can now evade debate on the similar elements of their Secure Flight proposal by claiming that it's needed to 'harmonize' the domestic and international travel restrictions — as though travel within America was tantamount to and subject to the same government restrictions and controls as crossing international borders."

The stakes are high — and air travel may never be the same. "The Secure Flight proposal also includes new and odious requirements that travelers display their government-issued credentials — not to government agents, but to airline personnel (staff or contractors), whenever the Department of Homeland Security orders the airline to demand them… " That alone will create a huge potential for abuse. "The proposed Secure Flight rules would leave travelers hopelessly at the mercy of any identity thief who claims to be an airline contractor (subcontractor, sub-subcontractor, etc.) demanding 'Your papers, please!' anywhere in an airport."

But your personal information faces an even bigger risk. "In addition, the proposed rules would leave the airlines free to keep all the information obtained from travelers under government coercion, even after they've passed it on to the government. Your personal data would continue to be considered, at least in America, solely their property. Not yours..."

According to Hasbrouk, the Identity Project — an organization defending our right to travel freely in our own country — has made requests under the Privacy Act and they "have uncovered many more details (and many more problems) with the U.S. government's dossiers of travel records, which include everything from what books travelers were carrying to phone numbers of friends and associates to whether they asked for one bed or two in their hotel room."


Unfortunately, Monday, October 22 was the deadline for posting public comments on the proposed rules.

But it's never too late to express your outrage... against another act in the continuing project to turn the United States into North Korea.

See Also:
Homeland Security Follies
Is It Fascism Yet?
Art of Bioterrorism: Who Cares?
Anarchy for the USA: A Conversation with Josh Wolf
Venezuela: Dispatch from a Surrealist Autocracy

Read More

Reverend Billy Wants You To Stop Shopping

Reverend Billy Wants You To Stop Shopping
Photo by Fred Askew

You may want to start shopping more, just to increase your chances of running into the brilliant and hilarious anti-consumer performance artist Reverend Billy and his mad crew.

But if you're averse to hanging in malls, you now have another option — you can watch What Would Jesus Buy?, a new film directed by Rob VanAlkemade and produced by Super Size Me director Morgan Spurlock. The film follows Billy and his "Church of Stop Shopping choir" on a trek across America, between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2005, as our protagonists try to inject a little bit of genuine holiday spirit into the frenzy of the Xmas shopping season. (You know — love thy neighbors, help the needy, give peace a chance...)



To accomplish this, Billy and the choir tweak the harried shoppers with some good-natured, mock-Biblical preaching and singing that challenges them to put away their credit cards and get with some spontaneous, joyful, and real human experiences. Reverend Billy is Bill Talen, a seasoned performance artist who moved from San Francisco to NYC in the late '90s — and if the prospect of an hour or two of typical lefty agitprop leaves you dry, don't worry. He's a funny man who could charm the pants off of Scrooge.

Naturally, when I had the opportunity to interview him, I had to give him a bit of a hard time. Sorry, Reverend, I have a lot of ambiguity about the tendency of some people on the left to tell us how to live – and the anti-consumerist left may be the worst of them all. Of course we may indeed need to change how we live, but there's something too finger-pointy about the whole thing for my taste and it makes my right knee jerk. (That's my libertarian knee. My other knee is left.)

But what the hell. I can't walk down a city street without dozens of signs trying to persuade me to start shopping. (And someone is trying to persuade you to shop right in the middle of this very article!) So I've got to make some room for Billy and his choir, even though I'll shop wherever and whenever the fuck I want. (Though that isn't very often!)

In addition to the film, Public Affairs has released the bookWhat Would Jesus Buy: Fabulous Prayers in the Face of the Shopocalypse, which contains some of Billy's finest rants, including a description of The Church of Stop Shopping's historic visit to Disneyland at the end of the '05 tour.

RU SIRIUS: So tell us a bit about yourself, Rev Billy. Before Bill Talen was ordained as a Reverend in the Church of Stop Shopping, did you do other types of performance? Can you tell us a bit about them?

REVEREND BILLY: For a long time I was a storyteller and bodybuilder who hitchhiked. In other words, I was a simulation Beat Poet who arrived at least 20 years, maybe 30 years late.

I had long Conan-style hair, and I would stand up on the Interstate with my thumb out. At truck stops I would write rhapsodic poetry on napkins. I loved the dark world behind truck stops, the hidden world of small towns with white clapboard facades and strange hedges. Then I would get a job on someone's ranch, fall in love with their daughter, stay for six months.

Once I performed one of my monologues at a truck stop, which was unusual because usually the two worlds didn't mix like that — but they gave me a big ham as my pay!

RU: How did you hook up with Morgan Spurlock? Did he come to you or did you come to him?

RB: Morgan and I lived for a long time in the East Village about a mile apart. I was preaching in a community garden on Rivington in 1999, and he was there being an NYU film student at the time. So this is an argument for staying in the neighborhood. Do the work, shout in a garden, and the world eventually sits in the seats.

RU: But did you ever have much attachment to brands or have a tremendous lust for shopping?

RB: Gandhi said, "Become the change you seek." I think I could do better at not shopping.

I've been touring lately, so recycling becomes difficult. In fact, being on jets and in motels, I end up surrounded by containers — plastic mostly, boxes and packages and bags. I'm constantly stuffing garbage into cans while sitting down with my computer, and some gentle human being from Winnipeg is confessing to me that she is shopping too much. It won't do for me to preach Stop Shopping and then be covered with the wounds of fossil fuel.

RU: OK, let me lay my balls on the table. We have many similar political ideals and I appreciate your entire shtick. I think corporations have way too much power and I think we can do better than a society that's entirely centered on production and consumption.

But I never could get much of a hard-on over consumerism. In fact, even before I heard about your magnificent preachings, I wrote, "Consumerism is the original sin of the counterculture." I think that's true, and everything that implies follows. Fundamentalist anti-consumerists have sinful things they can not do to follow the way — to feel righteous and like they're doing good works. They get to feel morally superior to those heathen, unenlightened, brainwashed shoppers. And they get to preach the word.


Honestly, after hanging out with really hardcore anti-consumerist types, I always wrap myself up in furs, buy a tub of genocidal chicken from KFC and settle in to watch Flava Flav pick a new girlfriend.

Ok, not really, but isn't there something a bit too preachy about the whole thing, Rev?

RB: Oh yeah, god. We are all sinners, and keep laughing — definitely! Jesus. I've never had the temperament to be ideological or religious (we say we are post-religious) but I know these limits are just defenses.

I do respect, though, the people who resist consumption in a more thorough way than I do. We need that end of the spectrum — the rigorously maintained compost heap in Vermont, the freegans and their dumpster raids in the cities. I regard such people highly, and where would we be without them?

On the other hand — human suffering from fundamentalism as such, from Mao to L. Ron Hubbard to the Atkins diet to the Khmer Rouge — let's face it, an unbending law is probably wrong. We proceed then, laughing and singing.

RU: Laughing and singing, indeed. Tell us something about your cast of characters. You must have had some great, strange, creative people on this traveling tour...

RB: Well the choir and the band are like the 7 Train in Queens. From all over the world. We have folks from Nigeria and Korea and Sweden and Venezuela.

Consumerism is a worldwide malady, it hits us all. So for our message to make sense we need the world's citizens there to testify. The serious deadly report of global capital's empire comes from all these different folks, whipping up their "Change-a-lujahs."



RU: I was once asked to describe what brands I was unreasonably attached to, and I couldn't really come up with anything, unless you count decrepit rock stars from my youth in the sixties. Do you think the strong sense of branding — and conversely against branding — is more of a GenX and post-GenX theme?

RB: I'm more concerned with the ambient presence of logos, the simulated sex-life while walking through a canyon of supermodels, the nano-science that leaves smart people well-paid because they reported on the neuro-switch in our brains that makes not buying impossible, the impulse inevitable.

So — brand loyalty isn't so much the question when we walk around inside these totalized environments. We don't have to love them anymore like that, like in the 50's when a Chevy was your iconic permission to be wild.

RU: Do you enjoy the fame that you have?

RB: Well it's all so new I don't know it very well. I'm in the East Village now and "Hi Rev!" rings out, but I've done real work here with Savitri D and the singers and musicians. Community gardens, and little bakeries and 53-year-old indy shops and the tenement house where Edgar A Poe wrote "The Raven" — we defend these places. So this is more like real fame, community fame where individuals choose to like us — not some Machiavellian media thing...

We're constantly amazed by Morgan's savvy, and appreciate the fact that from it we'll be able to go to community groups and help them with funding and press as they try to stave off a supermall or something... The book and the movie will help us with this work.

RU: But it also seems that hip "bobos" enjoy consuming media stories about "culture jamming" of various sorts, say, on the pages of Wired or even Wall Street Journal.


I think lots of people who don't share your views probably feel more amused than threatened. Do you ever feel yourself entering into the proverbial Society of the Spectacle, and does it matter?

RB: The condition of voyeur-Boboism is not a static one. Many souls come over from that kind of consumption, when they are ready.

So it is our job to keep dancing, keep preaching and singing, and especially to go to the activists in the communities we visit, and take the hit with them. Always pull the spectacle screaming toward the political change; drag the entertainment toward the activism.

More and more people are walking with us.

RU: Can you say more about your chorus members from all over the world? Do they have different approaches to the "Stop Shopping" theme? What have you learned from them?

RB: Well, Adetola's parents are Nigerian, whereas Urania is Greek-American, and Mi Sun is getting her residence visa after growing up in South Korea. Taking these three folks — the religion from their childhoods is more or less fundamentalist, if you go back far enough, but also internationalized and humanist, if you come forward. Adetola, Urania and Mi Sun seem to have found a spiritual home in "backing away from the product" (ed: a church ritual) judging from the fervor of their singing, and our personal sharing about it while we perform and tour.

Many Americans find it unbelievable that denying the impulse of living-through-more-stuff can be so powerful as to be called "spiritual." Those are the folks that underestimate how powerful advertising, packaging, and all those happiness schemes really are. Consumerism is a virulent fundamentalistic system. Our souls wait to be free of it.

RU: But do you think consumer culture can actually be liberating to cultures that are escaping various forms of puritanism like Iran or China?

RB: Lots of things can be. We have to be careful that our natural born American chauvinism doesn't start making excuses for standard imperialism.

If you are asking — "Is the globalized economy a necessary step in an evolution toward freedom?" Absolutely not. Usually the exact opposite. The puritanism of product-loving is more insidious, but not less anti-sensual.

The way out of the puritanism of systems like those in Iran and China might be better accomplished by rejecting "Free Trade," the American celebrity tradition, etc. Many re-find their own indigenous cultures, and then come back to the international community by contacting other parallel movements abroad. This is happening in the World Social Forum — under-reported by our commercial press — but a worldwide phenomenon nonetheless.

RU: You're writing and rap seems to advocate a return to place — the village life. I spent my teens and some of my twenties in a smallish town in Western N.Y. (I think the only corporate stores were J.C. Penney's, Woolworth's and Macys). It sucked. It was drab, dreary, ignorant; and small towns enforce conformity.

That's why bohos move to San Francisco and New York. Couldn't mobility actually be a lot more progressive and liberating than place?

RB: The defense of the First Amendment Rights of public space, embodied in the commons of a village or the streetcorner of an urban neighborhood — the idea of a child's unmediated sense of wonder coming from nature and neighbors... this line of reasoning doesn't have to take you back to a Norman Rockwell small town.

We are simply looking for ways to describe a healthy community, which certainly also exists in the cafe society of San Francisco and the village in New York — where the Stop Shopping Church is most popular.

The thing that is more drab, dreary, ignorant and conformity-enforcing is the mall, the privatized street, the vapid landscape of traffic jams and the toxic-coated no-humans-land of the suburbs. We go into those "seas of identical details" with our singing and preaching. We wade into traffic jams and motorists — god bless 'em — roll down their windows to say hi and get info. The Consumer-scape isolates us, and the new media that the corporations fear most is the media of talking and listening between citizens.

Change-a-lujah!

What Would Jesus Buy? is opening on Friday November 16 in eight cities, including New York, Denver, San Francisco (Lumiere), and Seattle.

The premier in NYC will be attended by Morgan Spurlock, Reverend Billy, Savitri (director of the performance and activist events of The Church of Stop Shopping) and director Rob VanAlkamade, and not least: The Stop Shopping Gospel Choir and the Not Buying It Band. The 7 PM NYC screening is a fall fundraiser.


See Also:
Has The Man Infiltrated Burning Man?
Kneecaps, Eyeballs and Livers for Sale: The World Organ Trade
The NoSo Project: No Social Networking
They’re Dreaming of a Boobs Christmas

Read More

Is The Net Good For Writers?

Gutenberg and the Internet

"Writing as a special talent became obsolete in the 19th century. The bottleneck was publishing."

That bold statement came from Clay Shirky when I interviewed him for the NeoFiles webzine back in 2002. I never got around to asking him if that was an aesthetic judgment or a statement about economics and social relations.

But here's a contrasting viewpoint. Novelist William Burroughs met playwright Samuel Beckett, and after some small talk, Beckett looked directly at Burroughs and said, propitiously, "You're a writer." Burroughs instantly understood that Beckett was welcoming him into a very tiny and exclusive club — that there are only a few writers alive at any one time in human history. Beckett was saying that Burroughs was one of them. Everybody writes. Not everybody is a writer. Or at least, that's what some of us think...



Now the web — and its democratizing impact — has spread for over a decade. Over a billion people can deliver their text to a very broad public. It's a fantastic thing which gives a global voice to dissidents in various regions, makes people less lonely by connecting other people with similar interests and problems, ad infinitum.

But what does it mean for writers and writing? What does it mean for those who specialize in writing well?

I've asked ten professional writers, including Mr. Shirky, to assess the net's impact on writers. Here are their answers to the question...

Q: Is the internet good for writers and writing?


Mark Amerika

The short answer is yes, but as I suggest in my new book, META/DATA, we probably need to expand the concept of writing to take into account new forms of online communication as well as emerging styles of digital rhetoric. This means that the educational approach to writing is also becoming more complex, because it's not just one (alphabetically oriented) literacy that informs successful written communication but a few others as well, most notably visual design literacy and computer/networking literacy.

As always, RU, you were ahead of the game — think how easy it is to text your name!

It helps to know how to write across all media platforms. Not only that, but to become various role-playing personas whose writerly performance plays out in various multi-media languages across these same platforms. The most successful writer-personas now and into the future — at least those interested in "making a living" as you put it — will be those who can take on varying flux personas via the act of writing. (And who isn't into making a living... What's the opposite? Conducting a death ritual for the consumer zombies lost in the greenwash imaginary?)

Think of this gem from Italo Calvino.
Writing always presupposes the selection of a psychological attitude, a rapport with the world, a tone of voice, a homogeneous set of linguistic tools, the data of experience and the phantoms of the imagination — in a word, a style. The author is an author insofar as he enters into a role the way an actor does and identifies himself with that projection of himself at the moment of writing.

The key is to keep writing, imaginatively. As Ron Sukenick once said: "Use your imagination or else someone else will use it for you." What better way to use it than via writing, and the internet is the space where writing is teleported to your distributed audience in waiting, no?

Mark Amerika has been the Publisher of Alt-X since it first went online in 1993. He is the producer of the Net-Art Trilogy, Grammatron. His books include META/DATA: A Digital Poetics and In Memoriam to Postmodernism: Essays on the Avant-Pop (coedited with Lance Olsen). He teaches at the University of Colorado in Boulder.



Erik Davis

In the face of this complex, hydra-headed query I'll simply offer the evidence and narrow perspective of one writer in a moderately grumpy mood: me.

I began my career as a freelance writer in 1989, and by the mid-90s was a modestly successful and up-and-coming character who wrote about a wide number of topics for a variety of print publications, both esoteric (Gnosis, Fringeware Review) and slick (Details, Spin). I got paid pretty good for a youngster—generally much better than I get paid now, when my career sometimes looks more and more like a hobby, but also less driven by external measures of what a “successful” writing career looks like.




I cannot blame my shrinking income entirely on the internet. My own career choices have been largely to write about what I want to write about, and my interests are not exactly mainstream. The early to mid-1990s was a very special time in American culture, a strange and giddy Renaissance where esoteric topics freely mixed and matched in a highly sampledelic culture. So I was able to write about outsider matters in a reasonably mainstream context.

My first book, Techgnosis, which was about mystic and countercultural currents within media and technological culture, fetched a pretty nice advance. But once the internet bubble really started to swell, leading to the pop and then 9/11, that era passed into a more conservative, celebrity-driven, and niche-oriented culture, a development that relates to the rise of the internet but cannot be laid at its feet.

Many of the changes in the book industry and print publications are more obviously related to the rise of the internet. One of the worst developments for me has been the increasing brevity of print pieces, something I do blame largely on the fast-moving, novelty-driven blip culture of the internet and the blogosphere. When I started writing for music magazines, I wrote 2000-plus-word articles about (then) relatively obscure bands like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. Now I write 125-word reviews for Blender. I don't even try to play the game of penning celebrity-driven profiles in mainstream music mags anymore, where feature lengths have shrunk all around and the topics seem more driven by the publicists.

Shrinking space has definitely worked against my job satisfaction. I'm basically an essayist, though I often disguise myself as a critic or a journalist. Either way, it means that I am a long writer guy. I like to develop topics, approach them from different, often contradictory angles, and most of all, I like to polish the shit out of them so that the flow and the prose shine and bedazzle. On and offline, I find the internet-driven pressure to make pieces short, data-dense, and crisply opinionated — as opposed to thoughtful, multi-perspectival, and lyrical — rather oppressive, leading to a certain kind of superficial smugness as well as general submission to the forces of reference over reflection. I do enjoy writing 125-word record reviews though!

I also like to read and try to produce really good prose — prose that infuses nonfiction, whether criticism or journalism or essay, with an almost poetic and emotional sensibility that ideally reflects in style and form the content that one is expressing. But nonfiction discourse online is almost entirely driven by Content — which includes not only news and information, but also opinion, that dread and terrible habit that is kinda like canned thought. People have reactions, and yet feel a need to justify them, and so reach for a can of opinion, pop the lid, and spread it all over the bulletin board or the blog.

I'm really sick of opinions and of most of what passes for online debate. Even the more artful rhetorical elements of argument and debate are rarely seen amidst the food fights, the generic argumentative “moves,” the poor syntax, and the often lame attempts to bring a “fresh take” to a topic. This is not an encouraging environment from which to speak from the heart or the soul or whatever it is that makes living, breathing prose an actual source of sustenance and spiritual strength.

But it's all about adaptation, right? Though I'm still committed to books, I now write more online than off. I've been enjoying myself, although my definition of “making a living” has continued to sink ever farther from anything halfway reasonable. I've enjoyed writing for online pay publications like Slate and Salon, but the rates are depressing. As for my own writing at my Techgnosis.com, I'm still struggling to develop traffic in an environment that rewards precisely the kind of writing I don't really do. Some people really love the stuff I write there, but I take a lot of time on my posts and generally don't offer the sort of sharp opinions and super-fresh news and unseen links that tend to draw eyeballs.

At the same time, it's been enormously satisfying to find my own way into this vast and open form, and to elude the generic grooves of the blog form and really shape it into a medium for the kind of writing I want to do. (Don't get me wrong—some of my favorite writing and thinking anywhere appears online; BLDGBLOG is just the first that springs to mind.) It's been delicious to explore possibilities in nonfiction writing that all but the most obscure and arty print publications would reject, and to do so in a medium that is bursting with possible readers. I'm not into “private” writing; I write for and with readers in mind, and I think its great how the web allows linkages and alliances with like minds and crews (like 10 Zen Monkeys, or Reality Sandwich, or Boing Boing). And I know that readers who resonate with my stuff now stumble across it along myriad paths.

At the same time, I find it tough to keep at bay the online inclinations that in many ways I find corrosive to the type of writing I do — the desire to increase traffic, to post relentlessly, to write shorter and snappier, to obsessively check stats, to plug into the often tedious and ill-thought “debates” that will increase traffic but that too often fall far short of actually thinking about anything. I've met amazing like minds online, and participated in some stellar debates, but frankly that was years ago. Today things seem to be growing rather claustrophobic and increasingly cybernetic.

For example, I chose to not have a comments section on Techgnosis.com, because I didn't want to deal with spam. Plus I find most comments sections boring and/or tendentious and/or tough to read for one still invested in proper grammar. I figure that folks who wanted to respond can just send me emails, which they do, and which I have long made it a rule to answer. I'm pleased with my choice, though I also feel the absence of the sort of quick feedback loops of attention that satisfy the desire to make an impact on readers, and that, in an attention economy, have increasingly become the coin of the realm. But that coin—which is certainly not the same thing as actually being read—is a little thin.

Especially without some of the old coin in your pocket to back it up.
Erik Davis is author of The Visionary State: A Journey Through California's Spiritual Landscape and Techgnosis: Myth, Magic & Mysticism in the Age of Information.

He writes for Wired, Bookforum, Village Voice and many other publications. He posts frequently at his website at techgnosis.com



Mark Dery

Who, exactly, is making a living shoveling prose online? Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds? Jason Kottke? Josh Marshall? To the best of my knowledge, only a vanishingly tiny number of bloggers are able to eke out an existence through their blogging, much less turn a healthy profit.

For now, visions of getting rich through self-publishing look a lot like envelope-stuffing for the cognitive elite — or at least for insomniacs with enough time and bandwidth to run their legs to stumps in their electronic hamster wheels, posting and answering comments 24/7. As a venerable hack toiling in the fields of academe, I love the idea of being King of All Media without even wearing pants, which is why I hope that some new-media wonk like Jason Calacanis or Jeff Jarvis finds the Holy Grail of self-winding journalism — i.e., figuring out how to make online writing self-supporting.

Meanwhile, the sour smell of fear is in the air. Reporting — especially investigative reporting, the lifeblood of a truly adversarial press — is labor-intensive, money-sucking stuff, yet even The New York Times can't figure out how to charge for its content in the Age of Rip, Burn, and Remix. To be sure, newspapers are hemorrhaging readers to the Web, and fewer and fewer Americans care about current events and the world outside their own skulls. But the other part of the problem is that Generation Download thinks information wants to be free, everywhere and always, even if some ink-stained wretch wept tears of blood to create it.

Lawrence Lessig talks a good game, but I still don't understand how people who live and die by their intellectual property survive the obsolescence of copyright and the transition to the gift economy of our dreams. I mean, even John Perry Barlow, bearded evangelist of the coming netopia, seems to have taken shelter in the academy. Yes, we live in the golden age of achingly hip little 'zines like Cabinet and The Believer and Meatpaper, and I rejoice in that fact, but most of them pay hen corn, if they pay at all.

As someone who once survived (albeit barely) as a freelancer, I can say with some authority that the freelance writer is going the way of the Quagga. Well, at least one species of freelance writer: the public intellectual who writes for a well-educated, culturally literate reader whose historical memory doesn't begin with Dawson's Landing. A professor friend of mine, well-known for his/her incisive cultural criticism, just landed a column for PopMatters.com. Now, a column is yeoman's work and it doesn't pay squat. But s/he was happy to get the gig because she wanted to burnish her brand, presumably, and besides, as she noted, "Who does, these days?" (Pay, that is.) The Village Voice's Voice Literary Supplement used to offer the Smartest Kids in the World a forum for long, shaggy screeds; now, newspapers across the country are shuttering their book review sections and the Voice is about the length (and depth) of your average Jack Chick tract and shedding pages by the minute.

So those are the grim, pecuniary effects of the net on writers and writing. As for its literary fallout, print editors are being stampeded, goggle-eyed, toward a form of writing that presumes what used to be called, cornily enough, a "screenage" paradigm: short bursts of prose — the shorter the better, to accommodate as much eye candy as possible. Rupert Murdoch just took over The Wall Street Journal, and is already remaking that august journal for blip culture: article lengths are shrinking. Shrewdly, magazines like The New Yorker understand that print fetishists want their print printy — McLuhan would have said Gutenbergian — so they're erring on the side of length, and Dave Eggers and the Cabinet people are emphasizing what print does best: exquisite paper stocks, images so luxuriously reproduced you could lower yourself into them, like a hot bath.

Also, information overload and time famine encourage a sort of flat, depthless style, indebted to online blurblets, that's spreading like kudzu across the landscape of American prose. (The English, by contrast, preserve a smarter, more literary voice online, rich in character; not for nothing are Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens two of the web's best stylists.) I can't read people like Malcolm Gladwell, whose bajillion-selling success is no surprise when you consider that he aspires to a sort of in-flight magazine weightlessness, just the sort of thing for anxious middle managers who want it all explained for them in the space of a New York-to-Chicago flight. The English language dies screaming on the pages of Gladwell's books, and between the covers of every other bestseller whose subtitle begins, "How..."




Another fit of spleen: This ghastly notion, popularized by Masters of Their Own Domain like Jeff Jarvis, that every piece of writing is a "conversation." It's a no-brainer that writing is a communicative act, and always has been. And I'll eagerly grant the point that composing in a dialogic medium like the net is like typing onstage, in Madison Square Garden, with Metallica laying down a speed metal beat behind you. You're writing on the fly, which is halfway between prose and speech. But the Jarvises of the world forget that not all writing published online is written online. I dearly loathe Jarvis's implication that all writing, online or off, should sound like water-cooler conversation; that content is all that matters; that foppish literati should stop sylphing around and submit to the tyranny of the pyramid lead; and that any mind that can't squeeze its thoughts into bullet points should just die. This is the beige, soul-crushing logic of the PowerPoint mind. What will happen, I wonder, when we have to write for the postage-stamp screen of the iPhone? The age of IM prose is waiting in the wings...

Parting thoughts: The net has also open-sourced the cultural criticism business, a signal development that on one hand destratifies cultural hierarchies and makes space for astonishing voices like the people behind bOING bOING and BLDGBLOG and Ballardian. Skimming reader comments on Amazon, I never cease to be amazed by the arcane expertise lurking in the crowd; somebody, somewhere, knows everything about something, no matter how mind-twistingly obscure. But this sea change — and it's an extraordinary one — is counterbalanced by the unhappy fact that off-the-shelf blogware and the comment thread make everyone a critic or, more accurately, make everyone think they're a critic, to a minus effect. We're drowning in yak, and it's getting harder and harder to hear the insightful voices through all the media cacophony. Oscar Wilde would be just another forlorn blogger out on the media asteroid belt in our day, constantly checking his SiteMeter's Average Hits Per Day and Average Visit Length.

Also, the Digital Age puts the middlebrow masses on the bleeding edge. Again, a good thing, and a symmetry break with postwar history, when the bobos were the "antennae of the race," as Pound put it, light years ahead of the leadfooted bourgeoisie when it came to emergent trends. Now even obscure subcultures and microtrends tucked into the nooks and crannies of our culture are just a Google search away. Back in the day, a subcultural spelunker could make a living writing about the cultural fringes because it took a kind of pop ethnographer or anthropologist to sleuth them out and make sense of them; it still takes critical wisdom to make sense of them, but sleuthing them out takes only a few clicks.

Do I sound bitter? Not at all. But we live in times of chaos and complexity, and the future of writing and reading is deeply uncertain. Reading and writing are solitary activities. The web enables us to write in public and, maybe one day, strike off the shackles of cubicle hell and get rich living by our wits. Sometimes I think we're just about to turn that cultural corner. Then I step onto the New York subway, where most of the car is talking nonstop on cellphones. Time was when people would have occupied their idle hours between the covers of a book. No more. We've turned the psyche inside out, exteriorizing our egos, extruding our selves into public space and filling our inner vacuums with white noise.

Mark Dery is the author of The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink and Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century. His 1993 essay "Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of the Signs" popularized the term "culture jamming" and helped launch the movement.

He teaches media criticism and literary journalism in the Department of Journalism at NYU and blogs at markdery.com



Jay Kinney

It's a mixed blessing.

If the hardest part of writing is just making yourself sit there and write, and what used to be a typewriter and a blank sheet of paper has been transformed into a magical portal to a zillion fascinating destinations, then the internet can be a giant and addictive distraction.

On the other hand, it's a quick and simple way to do research without ever leaving your chair, and that can be a real time-saver.

So, on those counts at least — color me ambivalent.

Jay Kinney is the author of Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions (with Richard Smoley), and The Inner West: An Introduction to the Hidden Wisdom of the West. He was the editor of CoEvolution Quarterly and Gnosis magazine.



Paul Krassner

For me as a writer, the internet has become indispensable; if only in terms of researching it saves so much time and energy. Google et al are miraculous.

Word processing has changed the nature of editing, and without the dread of typing a whole page again; I can change things as I go along, surrendering to delusions of perfection.

I have become as much in awe of Technology as I am of Nature. And although I blog for free, occasional paid assignments have fallen into my lap as a result.

Better than lapdancing.

Paul Krassner was Publisher/Editor of the legendary satire magazine, The Realist.

He started the classic satirical publication The Realist, founded the Yippies with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin and has written billions and billions of books including his most recent: One Hand Jerking: Reports from an Investigative Satirist. Krassner posts regularly at paulkrassner.com



Adam Parfrey

The internet has made research much easier, which is both good and bad. It's good not to be forced to go libraries to fact check and throw together bibliographic references. But it's bad not to be forced to do this, since it diminishes the possibility of accidental discovery. Physically browsing on library stacks and at used bookstores can lead to extraordinary discoveries. One can also discover extraordinary things online, too, but the physical process of doing so is somehow more personally gratifying.

The internet has both broadened and limited audiences for books at the same time. People outside urban centers can now find offbeat books that personally intrigue them. But the interest in physical books overall seems diminished by the satiation of curiosity by a simple search on the internet, and the distraction of limitless data smog.

The internet has influenced my decision as a publisher to move away from text-only books to ones with a more multimedia quality, with photos, illustrations and sometimes CDs or DVDs.

I like the internet and computers for their ability to make writers of nearly everyone. I don't like the internet and computers for their ability to make sloppy and thoughtless writers of nearly everyone.

Overall, it's an exciting world. I'm glad to be alive at this time.

Adam Parfrey is Publisher with Feral House and Process Media, and author of the classic Apocalypse Culture, among many other books.



Douglas Rushkoff

I'd say that it's great for writing as a cultural behavior, but maybe not for people who made their livings creating text. There's a whole lot more text out there, and only so much time to read all this stuff. People spend a lot of their time reading text on screens, and don't necessarily want to come home and read text on a page after that. Reading a hundred emails is really enough daily reading for anyone.

The book industry isn't what it used to be, but I don't blame that on the internet. It's really the fault of media conglomeration. Authors are no longer respected in the same way, books are treated more like magazines with firm expiration dates, and writers who simply write really well don't get deals as quickly as disgraced celebrities or get-rich-quick gurus.

This makes it harder for writers to make a living writing. To write professionally means being able to craft sentences and paragraphs and articles and books that communicate as literature. Those who care about such things should rise to the top.

But I think many writers — even good ones — will have to accept the fact that books can be loss-leaders or break-even propositions in a highly mediated world where showing up in person generates the most income.

Douglas Rushkoff is a noted media critic who has written and hosted two award-winning Frontline documentaries that looked at the influence of corporations on youth culture — The Merchants of Cool and The Persuaders.

Recent books include Get Back in the Box: How Being Great at What You Do Is Great for Business and Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism. He is currently writing a monthly comic book, Testament for Vertigo. He blogs frequently at Rushkoff.com/blog.php


Clay Shirky

Dear Mr. Sirius, I read with some interest your request to comment on whether Herr Gutenberg's new movable type is good for books and for scribes. I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about the newly capable printing press, and though the invention is just 40 years old, I think we can already see some of the outlines of the coming changes.

First, your question "is it good for books and for scribes?" seems to assume that what is good for one must be good for the other. Granted, this has been true for the last several centuries, but the printing press has a curious property — it reduces the very scarcity of writing that made scribal effort worthwhile, so I would answer that it is great for books and terrible for scribes. Thanks to the printing press, we are going to see more writing, and more kinds of writing, which is wonderful for the reading public, and even creates new incentives for literacy. Because of these improvements, however, the people who made their living from the previous scarcity of books will be sorely discomfited.

In the same way that water is more vital than diamonds but diamonds are more expensive than water, the new abundance caused by the printing press will destroy many of the old professions tied to writing, even as it puts in place new opportunities as yet only dimly with us. Aldus Manutius, in Venice, seems to be creating a market for new kinds of writing that the scribes never dreamt of, and which were impossible given the high cost of paying someone to copy a book by hand.

There is one thing the printing press does not change, of course, which is the scarcity of publishing. Taking a fantastical turn, one could imagine a world in which everyone had not only the ability to read and write but to publish as well. In such a world, of course, we would see the same sort of transformation we are seeing now with the printing press, which is to say an explosion in novel forms of writing. Such a change would also create enormous economic hardship for anyone whose living was tied to earlier scarcities. Such a world, as remarkable as it might be, must remain merely imaginative, as the cost of publishing will always be out of reach of even literate citizens.

Yours,

Clay Shirky, Esq.

Clay Shirky consults on the rise of decentralized technologies for Nokia, the Library of Congress, and the BBC. He's an adjunct professor in NYU's graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), where he teaches a course in "Social Weather," examining ways of understanding group dynamics in online spaces.

His writing has appeared in Business 2.0, New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Wired, among other publications.


John Shirley

The internet has some advantages for writers, which I gladly exploit; it offers some access to new audiences, it offers new venues... But it has even more disadvantages.

A recent study suggested that young people read approximately half as much as young people did before the advent of the internet and videogames. While there are enormous bookstores, teeming with books, chain stores and online book dealing now dominate the book trade and it may be that there are fewer booksellers overall. A lot of fine books are published but, on the whole, publishers push for the predictable profit far more than they used to, which means they prefer predictable books. Editors are no longer permitted to make decisions on their own. They must consult marketing departments before buying a book. Book production has become ever more like television production: subordinate to trendiness, and the anxiety of executives.

And in my opinion this is partly because a generation intellectually concussed by the impact of the internet and other hyperactive, attention-deficit media, is assumed, probably rightly, to want superficial reading.

I know people earnestly involved in producing dramas for iPod download and transmission to iPhones. Obviously, productions of that sort are oriented to small images in easy-to-absorb bites. Episodes are often only a few minutes long. Or even shorter. Broadband drama, produced to be seen on the internet, is also attention-deficit-oriented. I've written for episodic television and have known the frustration of writers told to cut their "one hour" episodes down to 42 minutes, so that more commercials can be crammed in. Losing ten minutes of drama takes a toll on the writing of a one hour show — just imagine the toll taken by being restricted to three-minute episodes. Story development becomes staccato, pointlessly violent (because that translates well to the form), childishly melodramatic, simple minded to the extreme.




All this may be an extension of the basic communication format forged by the internet: email, chatrooms, instant messages, board postings, blogs. Email is usually telegraphic in form, compact, and without the literary feel that letters once had; communication in chatrooms is reduced to soundbites that will fit into the little message window and people are impatient in chatrooms, unwilling to wait as a long sentence is formulated; instant messages are even more compressed, superficial, and not even in real English; board postings may be lengthier but if they are, no one reads them.

Same goes for blogs. They'd better be short thoughts or — for the most part — few will trouble to read them. The internet is always tugging at you to move on, surf on, check this and that, talk to three people at once. How do you maintain long thoughts, how do you stretch out intellectually, in those conditions? Sometimes at places like The Well, perhaps, people are more thoughtful. But in general, online readers are prone to be attention challenged.

Reading at one's computer is, also, not as comfortable as reading a book in an armchair — so besides the distractions, it's simply a drag to spend a lot of time reading a single document online. But people spend a great deal of time and energy online, time and energy which is then not available for that armchair book. Occasionally someone breaks the rules and puts long stories online, as Rudy Rucker has done, admirably well, posting new stories by various writers at flurb.net. But for the most part, the internet is inimical to stretching out, literarily.

The genie is out of the bottle, and we cannot go back. But it would be well if people did not misrepresent the literary value of writing for the internet.

John Shirley was the original cyberpunk SF writer, but he also writes in other genres including horror. He wrote the original script for The Crow and has written for television including Deep Space Nine, Max Headroom, and Poltergeist: The Legacy.

His books include the Eclipse Trilogy, Wetbones, The Other End and his latest — a short story collection Living Shadows: Stories: New & Preowned. He writes lyrics for Blue Oyster Cult. Shirley's own online indulgence is his site Signs of Witness.


Michael Simmons

Concerning the internet, yes, many thoughts. None of them good.

The advent of personal computers has been ruinous. Empowering, my ass. Suddenly everyone's a writer. As someone who's been a professional writer my entire life, I now sit for hours every day and answer e-mails. I don't mind if the subject has substance, like this, but the onslaught of e-media, e-spam, e-requests for money, stupid e-jokes, e-advertisements, etc., is painful. I'm chained to a machine. Editors say they simply can't respond to all the e-mails they receive. Telephonic communication was quicker and easier.

Used to be I sat at an alphabet keyboard (called typewriters in my day) when I had an assignment or inspiration. Now it's all I do. Go to a library? Why? You can get what you need on the internet. Which means I've been suffering from Acute Cabin Fever since 1999 (when I tragically signed up for internet access). Sure, I could get off my ass and go to a library, but the internet is like heroin. Why take a walk in the park when you can boot up and find beauty behind your eyelids or truth from the MacBook? (Interesting that the term 'boot-up' is junkie-speak.)

I only got a word processor in 1990. I used a typewriter until then. My writing was no different before I could instantly re-write. I had to think about what I was going to write before applying fingertip to key. Now I'm terribly careless. I make mistakes that I never made pre-processing. Certainly literature hasn't improved (nor has art, music, film or anything else). Instead of reading Charles Olson or Rimbaud or Melville or Voltaire or Terry Southern, now people spend all day playing with their computers and endless varieties of applications.

I hear my friends — all smart — kvelling about some new piece of software. You'd think they'd cured cancer. We're a planet of marks getting our bank accounts skimmed by Bill Gates and Steven Jobs. Gates and Jobs (and yer pal Woz) ought to be disemboweled — yes, on the internet — and their carcasses left to rot on www.disemboweledcyberthieves.com.

Furthermore, I get nauseous thinking of the days, weeks, months I've spent on the phone with tech support. All these robber baron geeks are loaded, yet they can't even perfect the goddamn things.

The world of LOL and iirc and this hideous perpetual junior high language has not encouraged quality-lit. Have you looked at my former employer the L.A. Weekly lately? It's created by illiterates promoting bad and overpriced music, art, film, etc. There's a glut of so-called writers and if they're 22 and have big tits, many editors will give them work before I get any. It's no coincidence that my payments and assignments for freelancing have diminished in the last 8 years.

I was a happy nappy-takin' pappy 'fore the advent of these glorified television sets. Now my eyes hurt at the end of every day from the glow of the monitor. RU, I'm not happy that you — a brilliant man who has kept Yippie spirit alive — promote these contraptions. I didn't even have a phone answering machine until 1988 when I was 33. Everything was better before this glut of machinery entered my life. It's quadrupled my monthly bills and swamps me with useless information.

No, it hasn't fired my imagination but, yes, I can't get no satisfaction.

Michael Simmons edited the National Lampoon in the ‘80s. He has written for LA Weekly, LA Times, Rolling Stone, High Times, and The Progressive. Currently, he blogs for Huffington Post and he and Tyler Hubby are shooting a documentary on the Yippies


Edward Champion

The Internet is good for writers for several reasons: What was once a rather clunky process of querying by fax, phone, and snail-mail has been replaced by the mad, near-instantaneous medium of e-mail, where the indolent are more easily sequestered from the industrious. The process is, as it always was, one of long hours, haphazard diets, and rather bizarre forms of self-promotion. But clips are easily linkable. Work can be more readily distributed. And if a writer maintains a blog, there is now a more regular indicator of a writer's thought process.

The stakes have risen. Everyone who wishes to survive in this game must operate at some peak and preternatural efficiency. Since the internet is a ragtag, lightning-fast glockenspiel where thoughts, both divine and clumsy, are banged out swifter with mad mallets more than any medium that has preceded it, an editor can get a very good sense of what a writer is good for and how he makes mistakes. While it is true that this great speed has come at the expense of long-form pieces and even months-long reporting, I believe the very limitations of this current system are capable of creating ambition rather than stifling it.

If the internet was committing some kind of cultural genocide for any piece of writing that was over twenty pages, why then has the number of books published increased over the past fifteen years? Some of the old-school types, like John Updike, have decried the ancillary and annotated aspects of the Internet, insisting that there is nothing more to talk about than the book. But if a book is a unit transmitting information from one person to another, then why ignore those on the receiving end? For are they not part of this process? Writing has been talked about ever since Johann Gutenberg's great innovation caused many classical works to be disseminated into the public consciousness, and thus spawned the Renaissance.

What we are now experiencing may have an altogether different scale, but it is not different in effect. The profusion of written thoughts and emotions is certainly overwhelming, but the true writer is likely to be a skillful and highly selective reader, and thus has many jewels to select from, to be inspired by, to be wowed by, and to otherwise cause the truly ambitious to carry forth with passion and a whip-smart disposition.
Edward Champion's work has appeared in The LA Times, Chicago Sun-Times, and Newsday, as well as more disreputable publications.

His Bat Segundo podcast — which you can find at his website at edrants.com — has featured interviews with the likes of T.C. Boyle, Brett Easton Elllis, Octavio Butler, John Updike, Richard Dawkins, Amy Sedaris, David Lynch, Martin Amis, and William Gibson.

Contributor Books

Mark Amerika
Erik Davis
Mark Dery
Jay Kinney
Paul Krassner
Adam Parfrey
Douglas Rushkoff
John Shirley


See Also:
How The Internet Disorganizes Everything
When Cory Doctorow Ruled The World
David Sedaris Exaggerates For Us All
How The iPod Changes Culture
Thou Shalt Realize the Bible Kicketh Ass

Read More

Art or Bioterrorism: Who Cares?

Strange Culture film

The Emergency Response Team might have thought they'd stumbled upon an underground bioterrrorist's laboratory.

On May 11, 2004, 911 received a call from SUNY Buffalo University professor and artist Steve Kurtz reporting the death of Kurtz's wife Hope from heart failure. The responders entered the home where Kurtz worked on his projects for Critical Arts Ensemble (CAE) — projects which explore and critique bio-issues like our contemporary use of biotechnology for weapons programs, reproduction, and food. The responders noted a table with scientific equipment and peculiar substances that are an essential part of Kurtz' work.

The FBI detained and questioned Kurtz for 22 hours. His house — and his wife's body — were confiscated. Kurtz' entire street was quarantined while agents from numerous agencies, including Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, descended on his home in hazmat suits. Everything was confiscated – computers, books on bioweaponry, garbage, posters with "suspicious" Arabic lettering on them… everything.



After about two days, the authorities had tested the biological materials and declared that no toxic material had been found. On May 17, Kurtz was allowed to return to his home.

Whoops!

So did the authorities apologize to the grieving professor before busying themselves with pursuing real crimes and threats? Not on your life!

Despite the Public Health Commissioner's conclusions about the safety of Kurtz's materials, and despite the FBI's own field and laboratory tests showing they weren't harmful to people or the environment, the Justice Department still sought charges under the U.S. Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989, as expanded by the USA PATRIOT Act — Prohibitions With Respect to Biological Weapons.

A federal grand jury rejected the charges, but instead handed down indictments with two counts each for "mail fraud" and "wire fraud." According to the CAE, the charges "concern technicalities" about how Kurtz obtained "$256 worth of harmless bacteria for one of CAE's art projects." (Robert Ferrell, former head of the Department of Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Public Health, and a collaborator on several of CAE’s projects, now facing charges along with Kurtz) In this interview, Kurtz characterizes the charges even more bluntly. "The Department of Justice can drop a major felony on someone for filling out a warranty card incorrectly and mailing it."

To bring more attention to the case, film director Lynn Hershman Leeson (Teknolust, Conceiving Ada) has released a unique new film, Strange Culture. Starring Tilda Swinton, Peter Coyote, Thomas Jay Ryan, and Josh Kornbluth — plus Kurtz himself — the film effectively communicates the story while also reinventing the documentary genre in Leeson's unique style.


Strange Culture was screened in the virtual world of Second Life as part of the 2007 Sundance Festival, a first for the festival. The film has also been screened in Los Angeles, Albequerque, Chicago, Buffalo, Seattle and Minneapolis and is just finishing up showings in San Francisco and San Rafael on September 27. The film has not gone into conventional release, but future showings are planned for New York City.

RU SIRIUS: Describe the project you were working on that caused you to have the materials that caused law enforcement officials to go nuts.

STEVE KURTZ: Three projects seemed to really bother law enforcement. Critical Art Ensemble was working on a biochemical defense kit against Monsanto’s Roundup Ready products for use by organic and traditional farmers. That was all confiscated.

We had a portable molecular biology lab that we were using to test food products labeled “organic” to see if they really were free of GMO contaminant. Or, when in Europe, to see if products not labeled as containing GMOs really had none. We'd finished the initiative in Europe and were about to launch here in the U.S. when the FBI confiscated all our equipment.


Finally, we were a preparing project on germ warfare and the theater of the absurd. We were planning to recreate some of the germ warfare experiments that were done in the '50s (which were so insane that they could only have been paid for with tax dollars). We had two strains of completely harmless bacteria that simulated the behavior of actual infectious diseases — plague and anthrax. To accompany these performances, we were in the middle of a manuscript on the militarization of civilian health agencies in the U.S. by the Bush administration.

Everything described was confiscated. We had to start from scratch on the project and the book. Happily, we did eventually do the experiments, and published the book — Marching Plague: Germ Warfare and Global Public Health.

RU: Would you say that originally, they authentically suspected they had found some sort of bioterror weapon, and once they realized they hadn't, they found other reasons to remain hostile?

SK: What I think they thought was that they had a situation, along with a vulnerable patsy, out of which they could manufacture a terrorism case. After all, the rewards that were heaped on the agents, prosecutors, and institutions that brought home the so-called “Lackawana Six sleeper cell” case — another railroad job — were witnessed by others in these agencies and noted. This made it too lucrative to pass up turning anything they could into “terrorism”.

They also had plenty of other reasons to be — and remain — hostile.

RU: Could you describe the scene of the raid? Did they use a lot of weaponized overkill?

SK: I really don’t know any more than anybody else about that. At the time of the real action, I was at the Yes Men’s compound in Troy, NY. (Due to the initial media circus, I was told by my lawyers to leave town for a few days.) From what I can tell from the news footage and the reports of neighbors, the entire alphabet soup of the federal investigative agencies was launched. Each took a turn entering my home wearing hazmat suits with guns drawn, and proceeded to do their “bioterrorism” exercises.

RU: Oh, I had the impression that the entire situation involving your wife's death, the discovery of the materials, and the raid all happened fairly instantly. Did this scene stretch out over days?

SK: It did stretch out a ways. Even though I was illegally “detained” for 22 hours the day after my wife’s death and they had confiscated my house, the raid didn’t begin. It took a few days for them to assemble all the troops and to obtain a search warrant.

RU: And did they think you were trying to avoid arrest since you were hiding?

SK: No. I was out of town on advice of my attorneys. I had already been in custody and released. They knew they only had to contact my lawyer and I would self-surrender.

RU: This must have all been a tremendous strain, coming as it did coupled with the death of your wife. Can you describe some of the thoughts and emotions you had around all this?

SK: I think all adults know the feelings of intense grief and depression that are brought about by the loss of a loved one. My feelings were in no way unique. But when you spice it with the adrenalin and the hyperanxiety of being attacked by the full weight of federal forces, which in turn causes all your survival instincts to really kick in, you have a bad trip from which you are not going to come down for a long time. In my case, it was six months or so before I started feeling anything approaching normal. This close proximity to mortality stemming from two different extremes (loss and attack) creates a feedback loop that turns your brain into static. Patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior deconstruct and seem to lose any identifiable point of origin. I was a zombie— an animated organic mass with modest brain function.

RU: Have you run into particularly Kafkaesque scenarios given this cases' attachment to The Patriot Act and Homeland Security?

SK: The case has been a hyperreal, bureaucratic grind, but I have yet to wait endlessly in any hallways not knowing why I was there or what I was charged with.


RU: Explain a little bit more about the project you were planning around these materials related to biological warfare and theater of the absurd.

SK: We did the projects. You can see them at our website at critical-art.net. We just recreated a couple of the experiments that different militaries did to see if germs were viable candidates for weaponization.

For the British Plague experiments, Critical Art Ensemble went to the Isle of Lewis in Scotland where they had originally been done. The British tests started south of this location and were land-based, but the results were so appallingly bad from a military perspective that they began to believe that the only way infectious disease could possibly be of use militarily was as a tactical ship-to-ship weapon. To test this idea they moved to an even less populated area (the Isle of Lewis). They put a bunch of monkeys and guinea pigs on a pontoon and started shooting germs at them in both powder and wet forms from about a mile away — a very difficult shot in the blustery weather of Northern Scotland.

The infection rates were again poor, and included a fishing vessel that unsuspectingly sailed through the experiment. The British Navy had to follow the vessel to make sure it didn’t land or make physical contact with other ships until they were sure no one on the boat was infected. No one was. The only conclusion reached from this experience was to move the test to the colonies — in this case, the Bahamas.

Critical Art Ensemble did the same thing, only we recreated the harmless simulant tests (not the actual plague tests), and only used guinea pigs overseen by the SSPCA — no monkeys. Our results were just as bad, so it seems as if we reliably replicated the test. CAE went to the end of the world to shoot bacteria at guinea pigs.

Can there be a more absurdist gesture than that? Well yes — one: Bush reinitiating a failed germ warfare program at public expense and at the cost of civilian interests in world and national health policy. The Bush administration is usurping public civilian agencies (such as the CDC and countless universities) and using them to play out the administration’s fantasies of a terrorist germ warfare attack. The resources to study infectious diseases are limited, and it's criminal to use them for a remote “what could be” scenario at the expense of real, ongoing health crises like AIDS, TB, hepatitis, malaria, and other diseases that are killing millions every year.

RU: I never thought of CAE as a really obscure project, since I'd read various manifestos or statements by you and seen stuff about you here and there. And yet, outside the avant-garde art community, very few people know about this bizarre and outrageous case. Do you think this says something about our cluttered and diffuse culture.

SK: I think you have stated the situation as well as I can. Information is ubiquitous and overwhelming. Only so much can be processed in a day. And when you think of how many outrages are occurring each day because of the war and the current U.S. constitutional crisis, who has time to follow one of the many ridiculous court cases brought by the Department of Justice?

One has to be motivated by a very direct interest in the case to take notice, no matter how precedent setting the case might be. In my case, the Department of Justice is attempting to completely implode civil and criminal law, but if you are not in the arts and sciences, there’s too many other events and situations to worry about.

RU: Is there some way we can make it more difficult for arbitrary authority to pick off people who are on the so-called fringes?

SK: I have no idea. The FBI has been a Dr. Jekyll/Mr Hyde type of institution from its inception. While I am happy for its work against organized crime, for example, I have always been completely outraged by its continuous assault on those individuals and sometimes entire communities (as with the current attack on peoples of Islamic faith) who openly express ideological difference. The FBI has worked against socialists and communists from the 20s through the 60s, and against the equal rights movements of the same period.

The COINTELPRO operations of the 60s and 70s are basically back, so exercising our rights is more risky than ever, but it’s for that very reason we must. Rights are won and kept through struggle, and in our struggle to preserve our Constitution, it pains me to say that the FBI is and has always been one of the anti-democratic enemies.

RU: What do you think abour Lynn Hershman's film, Strange Culture?

SK: It’s inspirational and well worth seeing. It has brought awareness about the case to new audiences.

RU: Did you participate in the creative direction at all?

SK: No.

RU: What kind of effect do you expect from it?

SK: Exactly what it’s doing — bringing an awareness of the case to people and communities that otherwise would not hear about it.


RU: According to the CAE defense fund FAQ, you were originally charged under prohibitions on biological weapons, but a grand jury instead handed down indictments related to "wire fraud" and "mail fraud." And then it also states that the terrorism charges could come back to haunt you.

I wonder how your attorneys are coping with all this. Are they simply trying to get across the absurdity of the whole mess, or are their any legal fine points?

SK: What they have been arguing in motion hearings is that the Department of Justice is making an absurd interpretation of the mail fraud law. The DoJ has thrown away its guidelines (which state my case should not be prosecuted) and interpreted the law in a way that is unique for my situation.

My co-defendant Bob Ferrell and I are the first citizens to ever be indicted for mail or wire fraud because we supposedly broke a material transfer agreement. The “defrauded” parties do not believe we did anything to harm them — the crime is a DoJ fantasy that they hope to prove. We’ll see at trial if rationality prevails.

If it doesn’t, the case will set a precedent that will mean that the Justice Department can drop a major felony on someone for filling out a warranty card incorrectly and mailing it. This will be a major tool for them. Talk about being able to pick off people at will!

Lynn Hershman Leeson invites 10 Zen Monkeys readers to sponsor showings of the film. For sales and exhibition information contact: [email protected]

Strange Culture Screenings
Critical Arts Ensemble Defense Fund


See Also:
Homeland Security Follies
Halluncinogenic Weapons: the Other Chemical Warfare
Is It Fascism Yet?
Detention and Torture: Are We Still Free, or Not?

Read More

Rodney Brooks’ Robots are Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control

On September 8 the world's geekiest geeks gathered at San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts to talk about what happens if/when we make machines that are smarter than we are. 10ZM.TV was there just in case The Singularity came early, though as far as we could tell, things are more or less the same as they were a few weeks ago. So we think it's still safe to flip off your TV when Geraldo comes on.

We captured several of the guest speakers on video, as well as several esteemed members of the audience, and we'll present them here over the next few weeks. For our first presentation we snared Rodney Brooks, a Professor of Robotics at MIT and co-founder and Chief Technical Officer of iRobot Corporation.



Professor Brooks strolled into the Singularity Summit with a headful of robots. For the last twenty years there's been a squadron of 1,000 one-kilogram robots in his head, capable of doing the work of NASA's two-ton Mars Explorer robots. In the decades that followed his influential paper — "Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control" — he's grappled with a coming robotics revolution — and its implications for humanity.

Will robots be weaponized? Will their personalities adhere to the Geneva Convention? And what about the dangers of nanotechnology machines?

10ZM.TV captured Brooks' thoughts on artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, and the ultimate question — what makes something alive?


See Also:
Rudy Rucker on Computation
"Dear Internet, I'm Sorry"
Why Chicks Don't Dig The Singularity
How the Internet Disorganizes Everything
Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death
Whatever Happened To Virtual Reality?

Read More

Ed Rosenthal: Big Man of Buds

The Big Book of Buds

From a certain perspective, Ed Rosenthal may have caught a break when Judge Breyer sentenced him to just one day in prison plus time served when he was convicted for growing hundreds of marijuana plants in Oakland, California. But it would be difficult to argue that his trial was anything short of Kafkaesque. Rosenthal had been deputized by the City of Oakland to grow medical marijuana. But after being busted by the Feds, he was not even allowed to mention his relationship to the lawful government of Oakland nor was he allowed to present witnesses who could talk about it.
So after his conviction, Rosenthal took his case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and won. His conviction was overturned, but it was overturned on a technicality. Then, in a clear case of vengeful prosecution, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California who prosecuted the case decided to bring up charges again, adding new charges to the original. Again Rosenthal was not allowed to present the obvious defense — his deputization with the City of Oakland — and he was re-convicted.



Before Rosenthal became one of America's best-known martyrs in the "War on Drugs," he was legendary for his work advising pot growers on how to produce the finest gourmet cannabis. His books have included the legendary Marijuana Grower's Handbook and the recent Big Book of Buds, Vol. 3. He wrote the popular "Ask Ed" grower's advice column for High Times during the 1980s and '90s. Rosenthal continues to write "Ask Ed" for the Canadian magazine, Cannabis Culture.

I was joined in conducting this interview for the RU Sirius Show by Steve Robles and Jeff Diehl
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: So how long have you been stoned?

ED ROSENTHAL: Well, I only smoke when I'm alone or with people. And I only smoke when I'm awake. I also do food fasts because, you know, life is speeded up. So instead of doing a 24-hour fast, I do, like, 6 hours at a time over a four-day period. It's sort of a fast fast.

RU: Let's talk about your own personal experience with pot. When's the first time that you tried it. How old were you?

ER: Um, I was...

RU: You can't remember!

ER: I was 21.

RU: What year was it?

ER: '65.

RU: It was weak back then, was it not?

ER: Yeah, it was. It was Mexican.

RU: Did you get pretty ripped? Do you remember?

ER: I got stoned enough. I remember thinking, "This is the greatest thing that ever happened in my life." I remember that. I thought that this was going to be a really powerful ally for me. And then, years later, I read the Don Juan books, and there it was.

RU: Did you associate pot in 1965 with beat culture?

ER: Folk music.

RU: And did you think that pot produced insight? Why did you like it?

ER: it was very introspective for me at that time.

RU: So let's talk about the recent wrinkle in you medical marijuana case. Why were you re-convicted, and why didn't you present a defense?

ER: We would've liked to have presented a defense. When you're on trial, you would like to do that. But the judge said he didn't like our defense. For instance, we wanted to talk about the prosecutor's RICO relationship with one of the witnesses. But we weren't allowed to present any of our defenses. One by one, the judge said that we couldn't present witnesses. For instance, we wanted to present Nate Miley, who had been a city councilperson in Oakland. He would've testified that what I was doing was in line with the city of Oakland's regulations, and that I had been deputized as a city officer. I would've brought in Barbara Parker with the city attorney's office, and she would've verified some of those things. And I would've brought end users. You know how prosecutors often bring victims in to court? Well, I would've wanted to bring in the "victims" of my actions. Those "victims" would've been the people who actually received either starter plants themselves, or the marijuana that was grown from the starter plants.

But the judge wouldn't let me do that. He wouldn't let me say to the jury that I was an officer of the city of Oakland. I couldn't testify that I had been deputized to do this and that I had been assured that I was free from prosecution.

RU: You mentioned something about the prosecutor having a RICO relationship with one of the witnesses. What's that about?

ER: Well, a prosecutor is allowed to give a witness immunity for things that they've done. For instance, if somebody's killed somebody or committed a robbery or something, often they'll give one person immunity for ratting on the others. But a prosecutor is not allowed to give a person immunity for things that they will do in the future. They can't say, "Okay, this is a pass for killing one person. You get one free death." They can't do that.

So this fellow — Bob Martin — appeared as a witness for the prosecutors and then he continued his medical pot business. He even opened up a second dispensary. He was never bothered. He had a 100,000 square foot grove that was busted by the DEA, but no charges were ever filed. That happened in 2004.

So this guy has a free pass. Basically, each member of this conspiracy was getting something out of it. My prosecutor, George Beven was getting the information — or so-called information that he wanted. And Martin, who owns two dispensaries here in San Francisco, got a free pass. To me, that's a RICO relationship. And in this case, we don't have to show any paperwork, meetings, assignments or anything like that. We have actions that actually took place. So I'm initiating a civil suit against this action because their illegal enterprise has cost me a lot of money.

You know, I wasn't allowed to present these facts in either case. And the jurors were misled, because a half-truth isn't a truth. A half-truth is a lie. The jury was told that I had distributed this material, but they didn't hear that I had been told that I was free from prosecution.

That's an estoppel issue. Let me explain that. Let's say there's a red light, but a cop waves you through. Another cop, on the other side, can't give you a ticket for crossing the red light because you have been told that what you're doing was legal, right? You're following the cop's orders.

So I was told by the city attorney's office that what I was doing was legal and I was free from prosecution. So even if she was wrong, I should've been able to say to a jury, "Hey, look. I was led to believe that what I was doing was legal by an official." But the judge said, "No. Even though this person is a government official, she can't testify for you."

RU: The jury from the first trial was outraged after your conviction when they found out what was actually going on. That was very unusual. Describe what happened with the jury after the trial.

ER: (Medical marijuana activist) Hillary McQuie actually met with the first jury as they came out from the courtroom after the trial. And she told them that she thought they had made a terrible mistake and that they should look the case up. They did. They found out the truth. They were all dismayed and started calling newspapers. Eight out of the 12 jurors, plus one of the two alternates agreed that an injustice had been done.

RU: I remember when they were in the news, but I can't remember — did they actually petition the court, or did they release a statement? I remember they were active about their unhappiness.

ER: Three of them became activists for a while, and it changed all of their lives. They learned that they couldn't trust the government.


You know, the judge was very upset this time when we said we weren't going to present a defense. But we said, "We have no witnesses left. You've eliminated all our witnesses." He looked down at his list and he realized he'd eliminated everybody except for my wife and myself. So he said, "Well, I'll tell you what. I'll let you say anything you want to the jury. I'll let you talk to the jury, unimpeded. I'm not going to say anything to the jury while you're talking. I'm not going to interrupt you." And I said, "Okay, that sounds pretty good, but I want corroborating witnesses." And he said, "Oh no, I'm not going to allow you to have your corroborating witnesses." I said, "Well, you're going to allow me to give my theory of the case, but your not allowing me to corroborate it. This is insane." And I basically said that I was not going to play the game in his Stalinist show trial. I wouldn't be a part of it. The entire transcript is online at the Green-Aid website.

RU: Do you think you could've swayed the jury if you had testified?

ER: If I had testified and been allowed one witness, that would've been it.

STEVE ROBLES: Without the witnesses, the jury would just think you're some kind of nutter. The jury will be sitting there thinking, "Why didn't I hear a witness? Why couldn't this guy back it up?"

RU: Well, he could explain that. Weren't you really able to give your full story, including your objection to...

ER: No, not at all. And I'm appealing this. And anybody who's listening to this who has $100,000 that they'd like to spend on a court case, just get in touch with Green Aid. It's all tax deductible.

Win or lose, this case has made it apparent that the federal laws have to change, and that we need the Peter McWilliams "Truth in Trials" act. That act would let you use a state medical marijuana law in your defense in a federal case. It also indicates that the State of California has to start protecting the providers, because there are now over 100 providers who have been arrested and charged. Dozens are in jail and there are over 100 under indictment right now. And the only difference between them and me is that I'm a little more notorious or famous, and I have perhaps a little more media savvy than they do. Most of them are going to wind up doing time. And very often they say to the person who runs the medical marijuana operation, "If you don't plead to a long term, we're going to take all your workers and give them each five years."

RU: What is the next stage of your appeal? Where does it go?

ER: We're preparing our appeal to the 9th Circuit.

RU: You already went through the 9th Circuit once, didn't you?

ER: Yeah. We're asking for a new trial, and if not, we're appealing. We have a number of new grounds to appeal. I mean, these colloquies that I had with the judge were very unusual. You wouldn't believe what our conversations were. And they're all on transcript.

SR: It's the same judge again?

ER: It's the same judge. And, you know, people think he's a really nice guy because he only sentenced me to a day. But first, he took away my constitutional rights. And he only gave me a day because it was well publicized and it was looking really bad. But he regularly gives people five years, ten years, seven years, all the time. And he has a reputation for not letting defenses prove their cases.

RU: In going before the 9th Circuit court before, you got the case thrown out but it was basically on a technicality. You didn't really accomplish a mission in terms of having a positive effect on people who grown medical marijuana. Do you have an approach for trying to have an effect the next time you go before the 9th Circuit?

ER: Winning. But win or lose, I think that the policies are going to change, because the state is going to realize that they have to intervene. And also, there's more impetus for the Peter McWilliams "Truth in Trials" act.

RU: Is this something that's before the House of Representatives?

ER: Yes.

RU: How could California be counted on now to confront the U.S. Government? Schwarzenegger, who sort of played at being libertarian on his way into the governorship, has been a drug warrior through and through since he's been in office.

ER: Well, he's been trying to free himself from the power of the Corrections Department bureaucracy and the prison guards union. And he's found out that he can't do it.

RU: Right. That group basically owned Gray Davis.

ER: The Democrats have to get away from that. And there are incremental steps the system can take. For instance, police need to continually get credits for learning new techniques and stuff like that. One of the places where they can get this credit is through the California Narcotics Officers Association. So they pay for these courses where they're miseducated. Right on the homepage of the CNOA website, it says, "We believe medical marijuana is a myth." That's what they teach officers.

RU: These are people who are supposed to be enforcing California law, which approves medical marijuana.

ER: Other things need to change, For instance, in Oakland, the local narcotics officers work out of the DEA office in the Federal Building. They're cross-deputized. They're paid by the city, but they also function as a federal official. So the city needs to keep them separate.

SR: Some activists think that one of the big problems is Proposition 215. People think it's a hastily put-together proposition. It's swiss cheese — full of holes. They think the state needs to pass something a lot more substantive.

ER: I don't really think that's the issue. Look, marijuana is more popular than any politician. It wins by a higher percentage than politicians do. I'll give you an example. Bush won in Montana in 2004. But marijuana won there by a much higher margin than he did.

RU: People are getting stoned and voting for Bush!

ER: So there's a disconnect between the politicians and the voters on this. And the voters consistently say, "We do want these dispensaries. We want easy access." But the politicians are in the hands of the criminal justice system — the cops, the judges, the prosecutors. It’s such a big financial interest that nobody wants to let it go. We now spend more on jails than on higher education. We have a thousand people in California prisons for marijuana.

My suggestion is that we take this on a very local level – at the level of the councilperson. It's got to be city-by-city and they've got to push back the police.


Do you remember when Proposition 36 passed?

RU: Right. The idea was that people shouldn't go to jail for drug possession.

ER: Right — not for the first or second offense. So it passed, but then – first of all, the criminal justice establishment wanted to tighten it up. And if you go online and find all the arguments against it, they're all from people who are part of the criminal justice system.

See — if marijuana was legal and other drugs were treated with a harm reduction strategy, a huge bureaucracy would be eliminated – and a lot of jobs. There are 750,000 arrests a year for marijuana in the U.S. 88% of those are for personal use. That's about 5% of the entire criminal justice arrests throughout the United States. And it's an upward funnel, because when you get to second and third offenses, the sentencing for marijuana is much higher than the sentencing for violent offenses. So you have people spending more time in prison. Also, when they get out, they need social services, another bureaucracy.

RU: But doesn't this all have to be changed through the federal government, since they come in and shut down local medical marijuana and so forth? And if pot is more popular than politicians, why don't people make the politicians take their side?

ER: It's not necessarily a primary issue with most voters. Also, the criminal justice system can provide a potent opposition to politicians. If the Police Benevolent Association and the local police union says the politician is "soft on crime," that can be trouble. So a lot of politicians are cowed.

You wind up with people like Judge Breyer. Breyer knows that pot isn't a harmful substance, but he sentences people to prison for it. He's a war criminal! When you send somebody to prison, it doesn't just affect them. It affects their families. It affects their employers or employees. A whole community of people is affected.

RU: These are acts of destruction that are woven so deeply into the system that people don't even see them as being acts of destruction.

ER: Yeah! I don't know if you heard about some of my antics, but outside the courtroom I would say nasty things to the prosecutor. For instance, I called him a liar, because the judge found that he lied to the grand jury (but said no harm had been done). I called him vindictive. I called him a coward. So he went and complained to the judge about it. And the judge said, "Well, we all should be very civil and polite here." Meanwhile, they're putting one person after another in jail for providing people with marijuana. It's outrageous! How can they say that?

So the judge talked to my lawyer and said, "Can you try and control your client?" And my lawyer said to him, "Well, judge — perhaps it's my fault. I did advise him not to say anything nasty in the courtroom. But I didn't say anything about the hallway." So the judge said, "Oh, well, please speak with Mr. Rosenthal about this." But he also said something like: "This is in a federal building, but we may have First Amendment issues." So after this exchange, I went up to the microphone at the podium, unasked, and I said, "Your honor, I'd like to thank you for protecting my First Amendment right to call this man a coward, a liar, and vindictive. But I left something out. He's also a tattle-tale and a cry baby."

JEFF DIEHL: Does the "three strikes" law relate to these two marijuana convictions?

ER: I now have three non-violent felony strikes. You get into a fight with me; I'm away for life.

RU: All right, so, be gentle with me, man.

SR: Keep away from Terence Hallinan (ed: Rowdy pro-pot former DA of San Francisco.) because that guy's a maniac.

RU: So a lot of people think there are no consequences for you because the judge only sentenced you to one day. But all those felonies – those are big consequences.

On your site, there's a mention that you might be working on a book about pot legalization. What's your favorite method of legal distribution? Do you think it should be any way people want? Or should it be in specialty shops or liquor stores? Or should it be only homegrown? Do you have a favorite procedure for doing it?

ER: I see the tomato model. Let me explain. Home gardeners grow more tomatoes than are grown commercially. But there's also a gigantic commercial market for tomatoes. Some of them are served in restaurants. Some of them are canned, dried, served in different ways. So there are lots of different commercial ways that tomatoes are distributed. I see something like that. I don't think that it's ever going to be restriction-free. I think that there's going to be the same kind of civil regulation that we have with alcohol and tobacco. There are going to be taxes on it. But I think that many more people are going to grow their own than make their own beer or wine or grow their own tobacco. I think people are going to have all of those models. In terms of buying product, I think it'll mainly be through specialty shops.

RU: So, how soon?

ER: Well, in Oakland, we have Prop Z, which says that it should be able to be sold in private clubs.

SR: In California, within 5-7 years.

RU: Before I let you go, tell us about your new book, The Big Book of Buds, Vol. 3. You told us you have some new information in there.

ER: I have a piece in their about terpenes. Terpenes are the odor parts of flowers. Almost all flowers that produce odors have terpenes. It's four simple molecules, but there's a lot going on in the way they're assembled – like with DNA. So the structure of assembly of the terpenes creates all the different odors. So I used to say that the reason why different marijuanas give you different highs is because they have different recipes of cannabinoids – somehow one will have a little more CBD or a little more CBL or other cannabinoids. But it's been shown that most modern marijuana has a big spike of THC and hardly any other cannabinoids. So the question is: what else causes different types of marijuana to give you different highs? It comes down to the terpenes. And it's in the odor qualities of cannabis.

See also:
The Simpsons On Drugs: 6 Trippiest Scenes
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
Willie Nelson's Narcotic Shrooms
Paul McCartney On Drugs
Hallucinogenic Weapons

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The NoSo Project: No Social Networking

NOSO - No Social Networking

Does all this so-called social networking crap make you wish people would stop being so fucking friendly? Do you long to disconnect? Artists Christina Ray and Kurt Bigenho, and web developer Gilbert Guerrero, joined me on the RU Sirius Show to talk about their art project, NoSo (short for No Social Networking), which is here to fulfill your need for greater social isolation. This is how they describe it on their video introduction on the NoSo website:

Welcome to NoSo. NoSo is a real-world platform for temporary disengagement from your social networking environment. The NoSo experience allows you to create No connections, by scheduling No events, with No friends. You may be asking yourself, "Why do I need NoSo?" As someone who's online 24/7, you have a lot to keep up with. When you're not blogging, your vlogging. When you're not vlogging, you're podcasting. When you're not podcasting, you're Skyping, texting, IM-ing, dating, trading, sharing, subscribing, downloading, updating, linking, approving, adding, checking, sending... I think you get the picture.

Sometimes, you need a break. Sometimes, you need NoSo.


Ray and Bigenho checked into the show via Skype from New York City and Guerrero joined us live from our studio in San Francisco.

To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.


RU SIRIUS: Please explain the basics of what happens, or what not happens, in a NoSo.

CHRISTINA RAY: We invite people to take a break from their every day experiences carrying around laptops and cellphones, and give them the chance to just disengage from the noise, the social network, the constant communication that's going on around us all the time. We let them just experience the absence of that — the feeling of being without all those distractions. And a NoSo could happen in a number of different places. It could happen on a street corner, or in a cafe, or in an installation in a gallery setting.



KURT BIGENHO: In a NoSo, you schedule a time when people will be in a destination through our web site, but you're not meant to engage with anyone while you're there. You're meant to have your private experience within this larger social thing.

RU: This is sort of an anti-flash mob. But at the same time, it's sort of like a flash mob, isn't it?

KB: Yeah. People have termed it an inverted flash mob or an anti-flash mob. Because we do allows people to schedule an experience — and then we kind of call it a non-experience. We're playing with metaphors of connectivity versus non-connectivity. And it's sort of a network that is there but also is not there at the same time.

RU: Are any of you familiar with Brian Eno's concept of a nightclub where everybody just goes and sits in silence?

CR: Yes. (Laughs) There may be some similarity there.

KB: Brian Eno is definitely a personal hero. I love that concept.

RU: So Christina, aside from making fun of social networking, do you also do it?

CR: Oh, absolutely. (Laughs) We're a highly connected unconnected project, if you will.

RU: So you'd say that you're ambivalent about social networking?

CR: Yes. I think you could say that.

RU: I think I read in Christina's biography that all your artwork is really involved with exploring space — sort of exploring urban space. Can you talk about some of the ways in which you've done that, and how they connect to the current project?

CR: Through street photography, I became interested in the concept of psycho-geography, which relates to how your urban environment affects you and vice versa.

I was doing that for several years — looking for new ways to explore the city. So I came across experiments that people were doing using alternative mapping techniques — maps that they created on their own. People were doing sort-of map mashups and creating interesting ways to explore the city.

It started because I was looking for new places to photograph. Since then, I've done a number of public space projects that deal with mapping and collaborating — sort of using the people who are on the streets to participate in a project or instigate actions. It's created a number of different collaborations. And this is really just the most current one, because what we're trying to do is use the space of the city to allow people to have a new experience.

RU: It all sort of reminds me of the Dérive going back to the Situationists. They sponsored these sort of freeform wanderings all over the urban terrain, many years ago. Gilbert, describe your experience with NoSo.

Gilbert Guerrero: Well, NoSo headquarters is sort of at the Southern Exposure gallery here in San Francisco. And we had a zone there that was kind of blocked off or cordoned off as a place to disconnect. Once you walked into that zone, you have to turn everything off. The experience was actually sort of amazing.

I'm a contractor, so I spend a lot of my time working in cafes — you know, changing environments, working on my laptop. And at Ritual Cafe here in San Francisco, you'll walk in and see fifty people in there all facing their laptops and nobody is talking to anybody else.

CR: Environments like that were part of the inspiration for this project. For example, at the South by Southwest conference or other technology conferences, you'll have two or three hundred people sitting in a room together, and everyone is listening to a presentation, texting, chatting, sending emails... all at the same time.

KB: …Blogging about it....

CR: ...IMing — everything! All at the same time! While they're trying to listen to a presentation! So there's this meta-level of connection going on, even when you're sitting in a crowded room full of people. I think that's funny. And at the same time, it points to a lot of larger issues about how technology is affecting us.

RU: Do you get a lot of participants in these events… or not-events?

KB: We've had a pretty good number of registrants. A lot of people write in saying, "Hey, we're in Toronto" or "We're in Mexico City. Can we do a NoSo there?" We set it up so that it's local. It was launched in San Francisco, and all of the NoSo's take place in San Francisco. So we've had interest from around the world. People want to collaborate and open it up and allow other people to have NoSos. Everyone's talking about social networking, and websites are being relaunched incorporating video, podcasting, and what have you. So I think by taking the antithesis of that — providing a sort of a counterpoint — we hit a nerve.

RU: There's this odd thing about the economics of "Web 2.0." It's very convenient for the people who own all these companies. Because basically, they set up a thoroughfare and then people pay to provide the content that they then pay to experience. Are you, in some ways, parodying that economic relationship?

CR: In a way. The project has kind of an emptiness about it. You have a user profile with not much information in it. You have a social network with no friends. You have a photograph that's not you. So it's sort of the opposite of a lot of these social networking sites. There's no money to be made from it. It sort of subverts the common Web 2.0 experience.

RU: Do you get interesting responses from people about the experiences that they've had as a result of going to these?

KB: Yeah. Some people felt sort-of refreshed or energized. They came out and they wanted to chat about their experience. They wanted to talk to people, and made a few phone calls. It's almost a Zen-like experience for people.

GG: I know a few people who actually felt intimidated by the experience. It's not quite snubbing someone else, but it's close to that. Maybe it's aggressive to not say something to somebody.


CR: I got feedback from some people who said they felt it was like being in an elevator. It's sort of awkward, and you're not really sure what to do. You want to look at your phone, or do something. That awkward experience was common.

RU: Kurt, tell us about your earlier projects — The Sams and The Organizers. Is there a relationship between those ideas and what you're doing with NoSo?

KB: The Sams was a project that Christina and I did at something called Art Basel Miami Beach in 2006. We formed a group called The Organizers to develop a project that involved participation, organization, and getting people into interesting interactions with an audience, in real time and real space — out in the world. The idea for the project was essentially to clone Samuel Keller, who is the director and the most ubiquitous figure in the event. So we created a series of kits — a hundred kits that we handed out at a cloning ceremony in a gallery. And they allowed you to sort of transform yourself into Sam Keller. And the kit included a t-shirt, instructions, a fake badge, and a bald cap — because Samuel is bald. So it was kind of a humorous concept that involved creating a group — kind of an instant army who could go out into the social scene of Art Basel, which is very much about going to the right parties and the right events… getting on the list. So we wanted to have some fun with that. We were encouraging people to infiltrate the scene, in a sense, and to do it as this kind of shared identity.

RU: So everybody could say that this fellow who was popular on the scene was at their party tonight, no matter where their party was. I think Andy Warhol used to do something like that in New York City.

KB: Exactly. Yeah.

RU: We had V. Vale from ReSearch Publications on The RU Sirius Show a couple of times. And his main theme was that we no longer have interior lives because we're so completely mediated. Is this part of what you guys are trying to challenge as well?

GG: That's something I've been doing a lot more thinking about. I know that I get tons of spam in my Inbox. I work full time in San Francisco as a developer and as an artist. I'm constantly promoting all kinds of things, and associating myself with other organizations. So if you type my name into Google, there are pages of stuff about me. That's kind of scary. So I want to go backwards now and reverse that whole thing about the importance of identity on the internet — to try to squash that.

In a way, NoSo is doing that, because you can be anonymous there. You can participate without letting anybody know who you are or why you're there.

RU: Do a lot of people sit there and read books, by any chance? V. Vale is very adamant that people need to read more books. Of course, he sells books!

CR: Sometimes when you're in a NoSo, you're not actually sure who else is there. If you have a profile on our calendar, you can schedule a NoSo. So if you decide to have your NoSo at a Cafe, you'll show up and you might be reading a book. But it's unclear who the other participants are, and what they're doing.

That was one of the original inspirations for the project — a kind of hiding in public space. Not only are you not using your devices, but you're also not sure who else is in on the joke, or in on the secret. So you might be reading a book, you might be just sitting on a park bench lurking on the corner, window shopping — whatever it is — all the while you're participating in a NoSo.

See also:
The NoSo Project website
The Sams
How The Internet Disorganizes Everything
A Conversation with Justin Kan of Justin.tv
Twittering the Twitter Revolution
Good Griefers: Fortuny v. Cook

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Don’t Go There: Top 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Candidates

Presidential Candidates

They call it retail politics. It's a politic that has to appeal to an awful lot of people, but it doesn't have to appeal to them all that much.

The successful presidential candidate wants to establish just enough passion for their political stances that voters will waddle down to the polling place on the first Tuesday of November and vote for them (or send in the appropriate form). Too much passion could be a dangerous thing, because it probably indicates that the candidate has moved off of the acceptable boilerplate messages of the retail campaign and has introduced ideas and possible political solutions that are both novel and challenging. Winning presidential candidates don't want to be any more challenging than blockbuster movies.



Establishing an adequate but bland affinity with voters around their politics is, of course, not the main job of the blockbuster Prez candidate. The main job is to create a comfort level with the candidate's personality and backstory. They have to live up to a fantasy of mainstream family life. Sure, we've gotten used to Republican divorcees, but if Ronnie had left Jane for Johnny instead of Nancy, he would have ended his career as a fluffer for Joey Stefano.

What's sort of weird about all this is that a lot of people actually seem to agree with the "fringe" candidates – those who confront some of the taboo topics on my list. Ron Paul has had some luck pressing forward with ideas and positions that are considered taboo. He's the breakout "fringe" candidate this year, but fringe nevertheless. And substantial numbers — maybe even a majority — of Democratic primary voters like Dennis Kucinich's positions on the issues better than those of Clinton or Obama. But Kucinich's campaign has never even caught a light breeze.

Obviously, perception trumps content. Voters may agree with nearly everything a fringe candidate says, but when the media echo chamber dismisses that candidate as "fringe," they are drawing a big "L" for Loser across the candidate's face. And while voters will eventually develop some measure of contempt for the actual President, loser candidates are beneath contempt, and can't really be taken seriously.

Of course, some topics or lifestyle choices are truly taboo for presidential candidates because very few potential voters are ready or willing to deal with them. In deciding on this list of taboo topics for Presidential campaigns, I used several criteria. First of all, the issues had to deserve discussion. That would exclude stuff like: "Hitler was awesome!"; "Let’s make seven-years-old the age of consent!"; or "Let's force all blondes to dance naked in public squares every Tuesday at noon!"

There are also some topics, like the loss of civil liberties; the usurious policies of credit card companies; or the undemocratic methods used to prevent "third" political parties from challenging the duopoly, that candidates could popularly confront, but won't. I have not included those either. I am only choosing topics that candidates both won't and can't reason about if they hope to have a chance of being elected President. It's also worth noting that candidates can confront a few of these issues and get elected to lower offices, but they can't go for the big kahuna.

Also, in deciding how to assign different topics their place on this Top 20 List, I had to decide whether to emphasize the issues of importance to the health of the nation or just those with the most totally awesome taboo-ness. I decided to put the most taboo topics at the top, rather than the most important ones. I believe this is an accurate reflection of the triviality of our political culture.

#1: Sexual Non-Conformism (Personal)
Presidential candidates can't be openly gay or transsexual. They can't have open marriages and relationships or practice polyfidelity or polyamory. They can't openly enjoy orgies, consensual gangbangs, or pornography. They can't even be real swingin' bachelors or bachelorettes. During the '90s, we made it to: "I don't care if he got a blow job, as long as he does a good job." Now we need to get to: "I don't care if he's going to move his pet sheep Sweetiecakes into the White House and post videos of their long nights of passion on YouTube. If his policies could save millions of lives, what's more important?"

#2: Sex Positivism (Socio-Political)
No presidential candidate can advocate sex-positive attitudes including open marriages and relationships; they can't be pro-porn, positive about teen sexuality, or generally advocate the sophisticated notion that eroticism is life's greatest gift.

#3: Open Borders
Who are we kidding? They're not going to pay a big fine, touch down in the home country and then come back again. And we'll never round up 12 million people and kick them out of the country or keep out the next few million. For all intents and purposes, we have open borders and it can't be stopped any more than drugs can. But no Presidential candidate can say so.

4: "I Dig Pot and Shrooms"
Many adults know that some mind drugs – particularly marijuana and psychedelics – can be quite kind, enlightening, and creatively stimulating. There has also been a mountain of good news about the therapeutic and medical potentials of these substances over the last several years, thanks to legal testing allowed in the US, Europe, and Israel. But no Presidential candidate could ever say anything positive about the experiences these drugs induce, even though several of them have known better. (Hello, Bill and Al.)

5: No Atheists, Agnostics, or Pagans
Candidates must pay lip service to the prevailing native superstitions and they'd better be able to back it up with some evidence of genuine piety (or at least church attendance).

6: U.S. Militarism
"Americans are a peace-loving people." Not so much, actually. In my lifetime (b.1952), we sent (substantive numbers of) troops into Korea, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Cambodia, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Haiti, Afghanistan, and Iraq again. We've dropped bombs on Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Libya, Iraq, Iraq again, Sudan, Bosnia, Yemen, and of course more Iraq. (Listing all the conflicts where we've tried to overthrow states through less direct but nevertheless violent means, or that we've been involved in peripherally, or through "client states" could probably fill a book.)

7: Weird With a Beard
Remember when Al Gore grew himself an existential beard after being ripped off for the presidency? Oh my, what a snarkfest! Of course, pretty much all the 19th Century presidents had furry faces, but nobody had to look at them much. If you display any non-conformity in dress or appearance, you're a damned hippie and won't be allowed anywhere near the White House.

8: Daddy, Where Does Money Come From?
Today, money is issued in the form of bank credit. In the past, it was related to "the gold standard." Throughout history, these exchange signals have had different forms and significances. Money isn't a physical commodity; it's a signifier of value. It's the dominant social force in our world and the specifics of how it functions at its root are pretty much completely occult, even in the business world. "Social Security is going to run out of money in thirty years." You can't run out of money, in the way that you can run out of oil, potable water, or spotted owls. Any presidential candidate worth his or her stripes should talk about how money works and ask whether we couldn't make it work better, but he or she would be labeled a "fringe crazy."

9: No Muslims!
Maybe, just maybe, we can elect someone named Barack Obama. But he better not get caught bowing toward Mecca.

10: Stop The Drug War
Most sophisticated commentators admitted a dozen or so years ago that the drug war is unwinnable, unfair and a corrupting influence on American culture, creating the types of criminal gangs and violence that we saw with alcohol prohibition in the 1920s. But no Presidential candidate dares to suggest that this nightmare be ended.



11: Bloated Military Budget
Home of the brave, my ass. What kind of a country needs to spend more money on "defense" than all the other nations on earth combined and is still as collectively paranoid as a cuckolded husband in the throes of an amphetamine psychosis? A huge Military-Industrial complex overcharges taxpayers on a scale that makes the pharmaceutical industry look like Robin Hood. It's the biggest financial scam in human history, but no serious candidate dares to say peep, less he or she be seen as unpatriotic. (In a less trivial time, this would be the #1 taboo issue.)

12: Question Israel's Authority
Dear candidate. You may not seriously question or challenge any of Israel's military policies or actions. My fellow Jews in Israel can, and they do it all the time, but you can't. (Nyah nyah!) I guess it's sort of like with black folks and the "N Word." Except this is kinda like about war and peace in the Middle East and the future survival of humankind and stuff. Mazel Tov! Signed R.U. Sirius, a Jew.

13: Vote for me — I'm smart!
When we give someone an important job that engages a lot of complex problems, we usually want the smartest cookie we can find. But heck, Americans like Presidents that are just like them — simple-minded and borderline literate. Is this you?
Favorite book: A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.
Favorite film: The Marriage of Maria Braun by Rainer Warner Fassbinder.
Favorite Album: Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass.
Favorite Job: Definitely not President.

14: Let's Have More Democracy!
Representative democracy was a fine idea back when people were riding around in a horse-and-buggy and we didn't have airplanes, phones, and portable devices connected to the internet – a series of tubes that does magical things! Now I can apparently register a signal about every issue I care about over an encrypted secure line that is more likely to be accurately registered than the vote I make on election day. Maybe we should think about direct democracy, rather than leaving policy to our elected representatives and the elites that gather around them. Now, direct democracy scares the crap out of me unless the power of the people is mitigated by a robust, libertarian system of rights protecting us all from the majority. Still, the tools for giving citizens agency are at hand and we may as well talk about it.

Of course, the only candidate talking about this is way out on the fringes – Mike Gravel. And he's treated like a total lunatic. Oh, wait a second. He is a total lunatic.

15: The Nanny State
How coercive should the Federal government be? And do they have to stick their nose into everything? It's a common discourse among libertarians and it's a valid question. Do we really need the federal government to investigate television, movies, and video games? Should "This is bad for people" automatically translate into government action or even bluster? If you are what you eat, is it your personal right to be a ton of lard? Well, if you're running for President, you've got to pay some lip service to taking on bad choices people make that might best be private.



16: "Think of the Children!"
All candidates must dance to the tune of "family values." Nobody can suggest that remaining childfree could be one way of doing this overburdened planet a service. Should people get special privileges for having kids? And if we love kids so much, why do we let approximately 20% of them live in poverty? In American, the best family values can be found at Costco.

17: The Great Gun Debate? Irrelevant!
It's all a bunch of populist hype. Nobody who is taken seriously is proposing to entirely ban guns or to even make it difficult for most citizens to get them. And nobody who is taken seriously is seriously proposing to completely deregulate guns. It's all a lot of hand waving, so stick 'em up. Unless you're running for President, in which case you better be televised hunting (Hillary?) while also waxing responsible.

18: Are Our Leaders Accountable?
Two administrations got something like 2 million people killed in Viet Nam. Another administration completely scammed all American laws during Iran-Contra and completely got away with it. And those guys in the White House now? Don't get me started. But if you suggest that Henry or Ollie or George, Dick, and Donald should like maybe spend a few more days in jail than Paris Hilton, you will be portrayed as "way outside the mainstream" (unless you can find some sex tapes.)

19: The Prison-Industrial Complex
We're warehousing a greater percentage of our people in iron cages than all the nations in the economically advanced and even semi-advanced world. (We're kicking Russia and China's ass!) It's turning into a substantive form of slave labor with prisoners receiving anywhere from 8 cents to 15 cents per hour. It's also a massive, partly privatized industry that will defend its vested economic interest in human incarceration. The prison industry is central to the economy of several counties in America. But don't talk about it if you want to be elected President. For one thing, it's too depressing.

20: I Shouted Out Who Killed The Kennedys
And they shouted back, "Who cares!" Some conspiracy theories are true and some are false. Congressional hearings in the 1970s concluded that the murders of JFK and Martin Luther King remained unsolved. You'd think that when we celebrate these men's birthdays, we'd like to know who killed them, and if some of those people might still be alive and in positions of power. The majority of Americans believe in pretty much all the conspiracy theories, but they will also believe it when the media repeats over and over again that you're too far outside the mainstream to be President if you bring even the most plausible ones up.

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Has ‘The Man’ Infiltrated Burning Man?


Corporate sponsors at Burning Man? Heaven forefend!

The controversy started when Business 2.0 ran an article saying that Burning Man had invited some "green energy companies" to participate in the exhibit. Among the companies involved, the article revealed that Google would be producing an online 3-D service called Burning Man Earth.

Burning Man Maximum Leader Larry Harvey joined us for a weekend edition of the RU Sirius Show where we talked about the hubbub, which he claims has been misreported.



As coincidence would have it, the following week I interviewed Chicken John — an eternal thorn in Larry Harvey's side – about his San Francisco Mayoral candidacy and I asked him about the Burning Man controversy. He didn't comment specifically on the presence of green companies, but rather seemed to feel that the whole "Green Man" theme was mainstream and lame. (Mimicking voice of Larry Harvey) "This year Burning Man is going to be about... ahhhhh... green"... And it's like, dude -- you're reading this off of the cover of fuckin' Vanity Fair. Are you kidding? It's a fad."

The following conversation is about Burning Man and commerce. Diana Brown and Jeff Diehl joined me in this interview with Larry Harvey.

To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.


RU SIRIUS: This year at Burning Man, you've invited some "green energy companies" to be part of a "World's Fair of Clean Technology." Although the companies involved have not paid for sponsorship, and are prohibited from branding and direct marketing, some burners are in a virtual frenzy about the intrusion of commercial interests onto their hallowed ground.

So two questions: in the abstract, is the sort of countercultural hostility towards all commerce over-the-top? And in the specific: Yo, Larry, what's up, man?

LARRY HARVEY: I think you said it right. It is virtual hostility, inasmuch as it is all taking place on the internet. And so let's not forget the virtuality of this reality.

RU: So you haven't caught an F2F — no pies in the face or anything like that?

LH: No.

RU: I got pied once.

LH: Did you really?

RU: "Selling out cyberpunk"

LH: (Laughs) The ideology of this issue is sort of interesting. Back in February, we announced that we were going to have a pavilion at the base of The Man, and we'd bring in technology. And we said that this would involve business people. We also informed everyone that they wouldn't be allowed to advertise; they wouldn't be allowed to pass out their cards; they wouldn't be allowed to brand anybody; they wouldn't be allowed to talk about their product, they wouldn't be...

RU: Now wait a second. I think branding people would be popular at Burning Man.

LH: I've actually participated in a branding. I held the flashlight. This is in the playa in dark, and...

DIANA BROWN: That was nice of you!

LH: Well, yeah! (Laughs) I was...

DB: Lest they not see where they're going, and turn it on you!

RU: "Property of Hell's Angels?"

LH: I was there to help!

DB: Larry's a giver!



LH: Anyway, I've never used the word "branding" in relation to anything we do, privately or publicly. I've instructed some staff members that you don't brand people; you brand cattle. And what's happened is — there's a whole generation that's grown up that apparently never paid too much attention to anthropology. They speak entirely in terms of business advertising. Where you might say "identity," they will say "branding," because that's the only kind of identity that they're aware of.

But in creating this pavilion, it's really not our intention to brand anybody. The controversy all started with the article in Business 2.0. We'd announced our plans in detail months before, and no one said anything. And I believe that people are responding to the writer's attempt to translate what we were saying into business-speak. I told him, "If you involve a people in the creating of something, it makes it a lot more meaningful." And he turned that into: "Make our customers feel like they're experiencing something."

DB: He translated it into business speak. Participant equals customer.

LH: He turned it into a kind of manipulative strategy you'd use if you were marketing. Of course, that upset people. And then they got the idea that we were opening the gates to big corporations. Now, we went to big corporations and told them that we wouldn't allow them to advertise; we wouldn't allow them to do anything with brands, we wouldn't allow them to jump up on a soapbox and harangue the multitudes.

DB: …slap stickers on the backs of passing heads?

LH: We wouldn't let them do anything that would sell their product. They all...

RU: …but what if they built a really eccentric-looking soapbox, very much in the tradition of Burning Man... like an art car soapbox.

DB: Pepsi caps.

LH: Well, they weren't even interested in it as viral marketing. They just all walked away. There are no big corporations.

RU: Except Google. They're big.

DB: Google is a verb.

LH: I'm excited about the Google thing and have been from the beginning. But what we've ended up with — it was hyped a little. It was called a World's Fair. And I'm here to tell you; it's not exactly a World's Fair. We've got a little over thirty exhibitors in this space at the base of the man. And the great majority are DIY projects by participants — burners — with no business profile whatsoever!

RU: But if you think about the sort of DNA of Burning Man, it's all in the presentations. And everybody presumes that all presentations are basically unaffiliated individuals and groups with no commercial interests related to what they're doing.

LH: Yeah, that's the big question some people had. It's an authentic question. It's the first thing that would occur to me — "What's their motivation for doing it?" Well, the DIY folks — their motivation is the same motivation anybody has at Burning Man. Come out and create something! And then there's a lesser number of people involved who are small-time, mom/pop entrepreneurs. These are not hulking corporations either.

The only element that could be considered "big capitalism" – and it's not that big — would be the guy who's coming out with this immense solar array that we're going to build. It'll power The Man — the Pavilion. And when we're done, we're gonna break that up and give it to the county seat of Pershing County and Gerlach. (ed: location of annual Burning Man festival.) So it'll power a hospital and a school. Why is he doing that? He usually brokers larger deals. They usually deal with big institutions. That's how the company makes money. But he's not interested in marketing to our participants. He just thought it would be cool!

The only other thing that could be confused with evil corporate colossi would be the wind turbines. We're gonna have some really neat-looking big wind turbines. And they'll be around the man. In that case, we went around the marketing people at the company involved and talked to the scientists. Scratch a scientist, you'll find an artist. So they said, "Cool! We want people to see these really neat wind turbines." I don't think there's even a consumer model of the wind turbines, so I don't think they're marketing.

So there's no marketing going on — virally or not — and there aren't any big corporations.

JEFF DIEHL: But do you think this might be opening a sort of Pandora's box? You'll have to turn Burning Man completely green. You can't have a big solar array powering part of it one year… I mean, you can't go backwards, right?

LH: I don't think you can, no.

JD: You have to have it every year. And then you're going to want to expand it.

LH: Yeah! If you're sincere, you have to persevere.

JD: Yeah. And to eventually power the whole project with renewable resources — that's gonna involve a huge cost.

LH: It might be an achievable ideal. We're doing everything we can this year. We're not going to back off on that effort. But no — it's not the slippery slope to corporate conquests at the event.

RU: You don't see a baby step towards sponsorship?

LH: No.

RU: Maybe I should move on to the broader question. Do you really have to be defensive about this at all? What about the larger question of people's general hostility towards the idea of sponsors. Let it be said that the RU Sirius Show is happy to accept sponsorship.

DB: Also, has Burning Man spawned entrepreneurs? Are there some small mom and pop companies or artists that actually became successful because people learned about them from Burning Man?



LH: I'm not sure that it's led to any businesses. But I can testify that it's given a lot of artists extensive careers outside the event. We pay them for all their materials. And we've given out money. Last year we gave out quarter of a million. This year, it's more like a half-a-million. And then the artists go on the circuit. They show up at various countercultural festivals and they make a profit on stuff that they've already constructed with our money. They show up at Coachella — Coachella is full of Burning Man art. And — gasp - they make money. It's commerce. Artists are actually practicing commerce. I know that's a very controversial subject, but...

RU: Do you think it really is? Of all the people who say that they hate commerce -- don't most of them practice it on a small scale?

LH: I don't see that commerce and community are allergic to one another. That's absolutely absurd.

I wrote an essay in our newsletter last year about commerce and community. My conclusion was that — if the end product of commerce is profit, and the end product of all the organization we do is to generate culture and community — they aren't mutually exclusive. People get outraged at commerce conducted at such a scale, and in such a political climate, that it's destructive of community – and at the way advertising can be insidiously coercive.

All that's true. When you have the stockholders at one end of the process and the consuming public at the other end – and there's that distance – that breeds actions that have no conscience whatsoever. But there isn't any reason not to engage in commerce. For instance, when participants are producing something that others might need in the desert, we let people know about it. So you can take those two value systems and make them overlap in such a way that they reinforce one another. If either one of them dominates and completely subsumes the other, then both take corruption from it. To be against commerce is to be against your shoes, your shorts...

RU: People drive to Burning Man in cars...

LH: Well, I mean people who raise that as an objection — that's Luddite. And everybody knows that, if they stop and think. When people say something's too commercial, they mean that a capitalist process has just sucked the soul out of something.

JD: The times I went to Burning Man, I compared the hype about this being a non-commercial event to the reality. And on the whole, there was a real sense that I was pulled outside of the larger economic operations of the world for a week. Sure, there are tons of products that are used to make Burning Man happen. Everybody who goes there buys products with brand names from big corporations that they use there. The unique thing about Burning Man is that it's the end of the line for a lot of those products. Whereas out in the normal world, they're usually put to some sort of further use which feeds back into the economic system. At Burning Man, as long as its terminal for those products, it creates kind of a special place for the people who are out there.

LH: It does. It's a spiritual proposition. You know, goods don't come instilled with meaning. That's the illusion that advertising creates. "You've got the lifestyle; you've got a life." I'm sorry. It's not true.

If you buy something in the marketplace, take it out to Burning Man, and then use it for a creative purpose, you have instilled that with meaning.

DB: A different meaning than perhaps was originally intended.

LH: Exactly. Years of consumerism have just made people passive — and yet bitter. It's a terrible combination. The instilling process doesn't mean anything to them. They've spent their lives consuming.

RU: In terms of people getting sort of bitchy about all this — Burning Man has been around for a long time, and like anything that's been around for a long time, people start getting bitchy. Is that part of what's going on here?

LH: Oh, that's a big part of it. People have got the idea that you can go out there and be free and thumb your nose at the man. You can pretend that you don't lead your life for eight days. So by a perverse logic, by being around for a long time, we become the man. The people who organize the event – in some instances, people who devoted their entire lives to it — are evil.

RU: "Don't be evil."

LH: Go back home and act like you did at Burning Man. Start to change it out there. You'll find plenty of collaborators.

And you have people who say, if it weren't for the Burning Man organizers, it would be a great thing. I can follow their logic, but I can't agree with it. We're not the man. We all create it. There are participants who say, "There'd be no Burning Man except for us." True. But there wouldn't be one if not for us, too. There's a cart and there's a horse, and people can decide for themselves who the horse is.

See also:
Counterculture and the Tech Revolution
Anarchy For the USA: A Conversation with Josh Wolf
Raising Hunter Thompson
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
Mondology Volume 1 Free Audio Download
California Cults 2006

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Senator Vitter’s Suppressed Statement

Senator David Vitter10 Zen Monkeys received the following document from a friend who works as an aide to Republican Louisiana Senator David Vitter. It is the handwritten draft of the statement Senator Vitter planned to give before the press conference about his involvement in the "D.C. Madam" scandal.

Members of Vitter's staff talked the Senator out of his planned line of discussion and convinced him to go with the more conventional apology combined with partial denial. We are certain of the authenticity of this document, because we slipped it, along with a crisp Jackson, to our friend, Dolores "Bambi" Malone. Bambi has spent several weekends in Ibiza partying with the Senator, and she told us, "Yep. That's David. That sounds exactly like David. Hey! That's his handwriting!"

Here, then, are the notes for the statement Senator Vitter planned to deliver:

Friends, members of the press, fellow citizens. (PAUSE)

If bitches squirted their seeds like dudes do, I'd sure have egg on my face. (PAUSE for a moment so the morons can get the joke) Boo-yah!

But seriously, I stand before you today not to apologize or deny my behavior, but to give you a serious reality check. Remember that scene in A Few Good Men where Jack Nicholson said, "You can't handle the truth"? Well, that's surely the case here in Washington, D.C. and all across America as regards sex.

Now the fact is, I'm a natural born lover's man. From the day I turned 17 and my mama took me out to the shed and taught me the truth about Southern love, I've had a taste for it — if you know what I mean. Nowadays, I like 'em short or tall, fat or skinny, blonde or brunette, young or old. Hell, I've even had me one of them chicks with dicks. Craziest night I ever spent. We did it all, and though I won't get into too much detail, I will say Señor Dirty Sanchez did make an appearance.

The point is — I'm a pretty good looking guy and I've got money and power. I don't have to pay for it. But the nice thing about hookers: you don't have to please 'em. You know what I mean? I mean, it's nice to make a lady cum, but as you get older, you really just want to be serviced by a pro. And Deborah Palfrey had her a full stable of fine mares, if you know what I mean.

Now I'm sure some of you are sitting there feeling sorry for my wife, Wendy. Give me a break! Just check her out in that leopard-skin dress. You think she ain't got a couple of boy toys down in Louisiana? Not only that, but we've shared a few of Debbie's finest together. When Wendy goes down on a muffin, bitch'll be frightenin' the horses for miles around. And besides, every time I turn around, Wendy wants another addition to the house, new clothes, a couple of weeks' vacation alone with one of her boy toys in Rome. (PAUSE. Look sympathetically at Fred Dodds from The Post and wink. And then get all folksy) So don't y'all be feelin' too sorry for Wendy.

Listen. I got into politics because a friend of mine who is a big time corporate attorney thought I'd be good at it. He said I should be a Republican. He explained to me all about crony capitalism and told me I'd make great connections and scads of money. And all I had to do was represent the interests of my friends and donors. They'd tell me what to do.



It was a totally sweet deal. But he didn't tell me about the moralism part — about how you've got to be all about family values, and you've got to be for teen abstinence and against the queers and porn and abortion and Janet Jackson's nipples. And that's because the common Christian folks down in Louisiana don't care that much about whether my financial supporters make butt-loads of money or not. They care about pretending to hate sex — like it tells you to do in The Bible.

Y'all know what a rube is? It comes out of the circus. It's a word for folks who are easily scammed. Or, do you know what a mark is? It's an old term used by petty thiefs for people who are easy pickins. I think, originally, the word was used by pickpockets. Here's how it works. You got yourself a mark, and with your right hand, you're waving around the bible in front of his face and shouting about salvation. Then, with your left hand, you're picking the asshole's pocket. (PAUSE for laughter) Now, the common folks — working folks, poor folks who put me into office — they're marks and rubes, right?

OK. That's about all I have to say. I'm gonna stay in the Senate unless someone kicks me out. And those who paid this piper will continue to call the tune. I signed on to give my financial supporters a sweet deal, and that's what I intend to do. But I can no longer be a hypocrite about sex because… shit, like I said, I'm a natural born lover's man. So I will fight to legalize prostitution and any other kind of sex adults want to have. Gays can get married for all I care, although I can't see why they'd wanna. (PAUSE. Glare at Wendy.) And girls, if you're looking for a nice chunk a change, you know where to find me.

I'll be in the U.S. Senate where I plan to stay until my term runs out.

Any questions?

See Also:
Awesomest Congressional Campaign Ever
My Opponent Pays for Gay Teen Bestiality!
Is It Fascism Yet?
Libertarian Chick Fights Boobs With Boobs
The Future of America Has Been Stolen

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Don’t Call It a Conspiracy — the Kennedy Brothers


Kennedy with Cuban exiles

The military and national security establishment of the United States is supposed to be under the control of our democratically elected civilian government. But is it?

An explosive new book by David Talbot, Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, examines the hostility that existed between the Kennedy brothers and their own military, intelligence and enforcement agencies during the JFK administration in the early 1960s. The book also reveals that Robert Kennedy, who was Attorney General during his brother's presidency, believed that JFK was killed by an insider conspiracy of powerful players who didn't like some of the president's actions.

It underscores a troubling lesson we seem to never learn: that within all power structures, and certainly within Presidential Administrations, there are often struggles for domination, competing agendas, and subterfuge. Policies and military actions can veer in dangerous directions that have little to do with normal democratic processes.



The book is also a fascinating read, illuminating a contentious cast of characters including Jack and Bobby; CIA weirdos like James Jesus Angleton and Howard Hunt; and military madmen like Curtis Lemay and Lyman Lemnitzer.

I interviewed David Talbot, founder and former Editor-In-Chief of Salon.com for The RU Sirius Show. He was also Senior Editor for Mother Jones, and has written for Rolling Stone and many other publications. He recently debated Vincent Bugliosi about the JFK assassination as part of a cover feature in Time magazine.

Jamais Cascio and Jeff Diehl joined me in this interview.

To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.


RU SIRIUS: Your book shows that there was a terrible relationship between JFK and some members of his administration and the entire National Security establishment. It's all of a piece, but I think the situation with Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military really stands out...

DAVID TALBOT: They were his nemesis.

RU: They were very frightening.

DT: Yeah. The Kennedy administration was beleaguered and besieged by its own government. That was a revelation for me. After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, when Kennedy refuses to reinforce the CIA with U.S. troops and the Air Force, the government was pretty much at war with itself. Up to that point, they believed that Kennedy was a weak President – he was in over his head. And they were determined to run the country the way they wanted to.

RU: They suckered Kennedy into letting this invasion happen. Apparently, there was a fairly recent revelation that the CIA knew the Bay of Pigs wasn't going to work and they were sure that Kennedy would be forced to mount an invasion.

DT: That's right. I think they were trying to sandbag him. They knew he was young and inexperienced. According to the CIA's own internal history of the Bay of Pigs, which was released and de-classified in 2005, they knew that it would fail. They knew that their own motley brigade of Cuban exiles weren't sufficient to defeat Castro, and they thought that Kennedy's hand would be forced to send in the Marines and Air Force once these guys were pinned down on the beaches. But he didn't. He was very loath to widen the war. He knew — as the CIA itself later determined in an intelligence estimate — that if we were to do that, it would end up like what we're seeing today in Iraq. U.S. forces would have quickly swept aside Castro's military, they'd have marched on to Havana and then they would've gotten bogged down in a long and bloody occupation.

JAMAIS CASCIO: Did Kennedy suspect that he had been sandbagged?

DT: Yes. And he was furious. Afterwards, he famously threatened to shatter the CIA and scatter it to the winds. And he did fire the top two officials of the CIA — Allen Dulles, who ironically later became the most active member of the Warren Commission (to investigate the assassination of JFK), and Richard Bissell. And he was constantly re-shuffling his Joint Chiefs, because they were some frightening characters as well. The head of the Air Force, Curtis LeMay, actually thought you could fight and win a nuclear war.

RU: LeMay comes across in this book as actually very anxious to just get right into a nuclear war. And there's another character – Lyman Lemnitzer — true psycho maniacs. Talk a little bit about these characters.



DT: Those are two of my favorites! Curtis LeMay was this cigar-chomping World War II hero who had devastated Japan with firebombing assaults during that war. He knew that, in the early '60s, America had massive nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union. And he thought that was our window of opportunity to take the commies out. Do it now. We would, of course, suffer millions of casualties of our own, but he argued with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara that you could still win the war as long as you had more weapons in the end.

RU: The one who dies with the most bombs wins.

DT: Exactly. LeMay, of course, was the inspiration for General Jack Ripper in Dr. Strangelove.

RU: And he was George Wallace's Vice Presidential candidate in 1968.

DT: Lyman Lemnitzer is another frightening character. Kennedy thought he was a dope — that's what Arthur Schlesinger, the Kennedy historian, told me. This is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

RU: Right. A complete idiot.

DT: Yeah, a complete idiot. And at one point, he came up with a scheme called Operation Northwoods, which he presents to McNamara and Kennedy.

JEFF DIEHL: The 9/11 conspiracy people bring that up all the time.

DT: Yes, because it obviously has some potentially interesting parallels with what happened on 9/11, depending on what you think 9/11 was all about. In any case, this was a plan to provoke a number of terrorist acts on U.S. soil and blame it on Castro as a way of creating a pretext for a war on Cuba. The plan included setting off bombs in Miami and Washington and killing American citizens and blaming it on Fidel.

RU: In Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, James Bamford reported that one of the ideas was to blow up John Glenn in space, and blame it on the Cubans.

DT: (Laughs) Yes.

RU: You asked McNamara about it, and McNamara didn't even remember it. I get the sense that the Kennedy administration didn't even take it seriously. They just kind of tossed it in the wastebasket.

DT: I found a memo that Lyman and Lemnitzer did bring it up in the meeting with Kennedy, and he dismissed it out of hand. And Kennedy said, "I hope you're prepared for a wider war." In other words, he thought the Soviets would move against West Berlin if we were to move on Cuba.

I think Jack Kennedy was a wise and temperate man who'd learned the horrors of war firsthand as a young Navy officer in World War II. His own brother, who was a Navy pilot in World War II, had been shot down and killed during that war. So he wasn't like the kind of rich kids we see in office today in the White House…

RU: Although he was a rich kid.

DT: That's right. He was a rich kid. But he actually served in the military, and he knew firsthand the horrors of war.

RU: I love this expression that you use to describe how Kennedy operated. "In the end, JFK threaded the needle of Berlin, as he would do repeatedly during his administration, avoiding either an explosive confrontation or embarrassing capitulation in an artful dance, combining tough speech, symbolic military measures, and back channel diplomacy." Threading the needle – he was trying to sneak down the middle.

DT: Right. He was a skillful guy at the game of politics. He knew that if he came out too publicly as a force for peace, he would be pilloried by the far right, which was on the rise in those days – and was strong in the military — and he would be portrayed as a wimp. And, of course, Democrats have been portrayed that way ever since. But Kennedy was artful about avoiding that label. At the same time, behind the scenes, he was clearly trying to thread the needle and get out of these war situations — in Berlin, in Vietnam, in Laos, and in Cuba.

RU: How would you compare the pressures that he had from the right wing military establishment and the CIA — and a public that was prone toward being swayed by labeling someone a wimp — and the situation today. Because in reading the book, it makes me think things were much crazier then than they are now.

DT: Well, the stakes were certainly higher. The world was on the brink of nuclear holocaust throughout the Kennedy years. And there was a very active right wing in this country agitating for war. Within the military, there was a figure named General Edwin Walker. He was actually a very revered figure in the army. He was stationed in West Germany where he distributed far right John Bircher propaganda to his active duty soldiers and advised them how to vote. Of course, he was telling them to vote against the Democrats. Kennedy finally forced him out of the service and he became very active campaigning against Kennedy policies. He even went down to Ole Miss, the University of Mississippi, at the height of some serious disturbances there. A black student, James Meredith, was the first to enroll at the University and it set off white riots. Walker was stirring up those riots.

RU: Talking about how crazy things were then, the Ole Miss story is perhaps one of the most intense moments in your book. We would totally freak out if something like that happened now.

DT: Absolutely. And if a movie were ever made of my book, this would be one of the most intense scenes in it.

RU: Cinematic.

DT: Cinematic. You know, the Kennedys get blamed for being slow to move on Civil Rights. But certainly by 1962, his second year in office, JFK and his Attorney General Bobby Kennedy were moving pretty aggressively on Civil Rights. And when James Meredith, a former Air Force sergeant, becomes the first black student to enroll at this all-white, racist university — the University of Mississippi – all hell broke loose in the South. The governor, Ross Barnett, was riling people up down there and the local Klan was mobilized. And this former military officer, Edwin Walker attempted to rally the entire South to take its final stand on the campus to prevent desegregation. It was called the last battle of the Civil War.

RU: It was almost like civil war.

DT: Yeah, thousands of people from all over the South descended on the university. Some of them had squirrel guns; some had homemade bombs, bricks — anything they could throw at the beleaguered federal marshals who were protecting James Meredith. A thin line of federal officers had been quickly mobilized to protect Meredith, as well as prison guards. They even used drug enforcement people. They had all been sort of mobilized at the last minute under Nicholas Katzenbach, who was an aide to Bobby Kennedy.

So they were outside the administration building all night long as the riot got more and more out of control. They were down to their last tear gas canisters, which is all they have to try to disperse these rioters who were armed to the teeth. Two people were shot and killed and many wounded. Many of the federal marshals were wounded and bleeding. It was a scene of complete bloody chaos.

The military was supposed to reinforce these marshals and drive away the rioters, but they were very slow to move. And there are tapes of conversations inside the White House that night between President Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, and their aides Ted Sorensen and Kenny O'Donnell. There was an increasing level of hysteria within the White House as they realize that the federal marshals are about to be overwhelmed and Meredith could be lynched by this mob. And they were on the phone to the army, constantly...

RU: One of Kennedy's friends was right there in the thick of it.

DT: The deputy aide, Nicholas Katzenbach, was right there. He was a World War II veteran, but he too was beginning to sound increasingly desperate … "Where is the military?" And Bobby Kennedy was yelling at the military, "Where are you?" In retrospect, it looks like it was probably just a badly run operation, and they weren't prepared to move as quickly as they had to that night. But the feeling within the Kennedy group that night was that it was treasonous. And they talk about the book, Seven Days in May, which was a best seller at the time. It was written by Fletcher Knebel, who was a friend of Kennedy's, about an attempted military coup in Washington. And the Kennedy's were asking themselves, "Is this happening in the United States?"

RU: Kennedy wanted to get that film made.

DT: He wanted that film made — I think — not only as a shot across the bow to the generals but also as a warning to the American people. You know, you think the President's in command of the military at all times, but the Kennedys' felt – that night at least — that the control was slipping out of their hands.

RU: And this seems to be the story of the book. During the '60s and '70s, within underground culture, a lot of people liked to say that the Kennedy assassination was essentially a coup d'etat. This doesn't seem far from the story you tell in your book. Would you embrace that language?

DT: Well, you know, the assassination of JFK is a dark labyrinth. It's possibly the darkest labyrinth in my lifetime, the biggest mystery. Many books have been written about it and I didn't want to go down that same tunnel. But I wanted to follow Bobby's footsteps, because Bobby Kennedy was the Attorney General of the United States and one of the most aggressive investigators in American public life in his day. And he was utterly devoted to his older brother, President Kennedy. So I wanted to know what he really thought.

I thought doing that would shed light on this case. And the truth is, starting from the afternoon of that terrible day in Dallas; Bobby Kennedy believed that his brother's assassination was a conspiracy. He looked immediately at the CIA and its secret war on Castro as the source of the plot.

RU: His public posture was to embrace the Warren Report, but in the meantime he organized his own explorations.

DT: That's right. I believe he rather tepidly endorsed the Warren Report in public because he knew his own power to investigate the crime was quickly fading, as soon as his brother was killed. The new President, Lyndon Johnson, hated his guts. The head of the investigation into the assassination, J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, was also a poisonous enemy of Bobby Kennedy's. So Bobby knew his own power as Attorney General was quickly evaporating. He was determined to get back to the White House as President to re-open the investigation.

RU: Assuming that this assassination was an inside job, and that it was on behalf of the people who wanted to go to war with Cuba — why didn't something happen after Kennedy was gone and then Johnson was in office?

DT: Well, they got their war, but not on Cuba. They got their war in Vietnam. I understand that JFK was determined to withdraw entirely from Vietnam after he was successfully re-elected in '64. He knew he would be facing a strong challenge from Barry Goldwater, and he wasn't about to give Goldwater a weapon by withdrawing from Vietnam before the campaign. But he told his Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara — who I interviewed — and Kenny O'Donnell, and other key aides that he fully intended to withdraw. And, of course, he only had 16,000 troops there at that point. Not the half million that LBJ and Nixon later had. He knew that it was up to the South Vietnamese people to win that war, and the Americans couldn't win it for them. Just like Iraq today.

This is what McNamara told me, and I think it's true. McNamara has no reason to lie about it. In fact, he has every reason to say the opposite because, of course, he was responsible, along with Johnson, for the tragic escalation of that war. He could've pinned it on JFK, but he didn't.

So I believe the military-industrial complex — these forces that work in America, did get their war finally. Kennedy constantly frustrated them, but they got their war. It was in Vietnam.

RU: Some of the theories around the JFK assassination tend to be bizarre. Oliver Stone's movie is maybe a little bit out there. And the New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison became sort of the focal point for theories. What do you think about Garrison, and what did Bobby Kennedy think about Garrison?

DT: Well, I actually think there's a certain heroism to both Garrison and Oliver Stone for standing up — particularly Garrison, who tried to re-open the case. I think he was in over his head. He made some wrong decisions. Ultimately, he set back the cause of the investigation when he lost his case. So I think of them both as flawed heroes. I think many of the things that Stone was looking at in JFK were close to the truth, and close to what Bobby Kennedy suspected. So Oliver Stone wasn't completely off the wall. But he's not a historian or a journalist, and it wasn't a documentary, so he used dramatic license. But he certainly succeeded in re-opening this debate. As a journalist, in 1991, I became interested in all this because of that film. As did many Americans. So he provided a service when the American media and the government had completely failed to get at the truth. It took a filmmaker to re-open the debate.

RU: A shitload of books have come out since that have claimed to prove that it was, in fact, Lee Harvey Oswald and he was a lone gunman. The most recent one by Vincent Bugliosi came out virtually at the same time as yours.

Bugliosi's book is massive. Have you read it?

DT: 1600 pages! No, I couldn't face all 1600 pages. But I have dipped into it. I read sections that pertained to my book. He's a lawyer so he can essentially prove anything, and that's what he's done. He's attempted to pin it on Oswald. There are many flaws in the book. In terms of his material about Bobby Kennedy, for instance, he's all wrong. He thinks Bobby Kennedy accepted the Warren report, both privately and publicly. And that's just not the case.



I think there's such enduring fascination with this because it's still the biggest mystery in American political history. Americans know, in their hearts, that something very dark happened in Dallas, and they haven't been given the full truth. Polls consistently show that upwards of 75-80% of the American people don't believe the Warren report.

But people say, "Oh, we'll never know the truth. There are so many theories out there." But in truth, we know more than we think. And a respectable body of opinion by the best researchers has really coalesced around one theory of this crime, and it happens to be what Bobby Kennedy thought. He believed that the plot against JFK grew out of the CIA's shadowy operation against Fidel Castro. It was an operation that brought together the CIA, the Mafia and militant Cuban exiles. And that, I believe, is where the conspiracy came from.

The House Select Committee on Assassinations, which I think is the best governmental investigation into Dallas, also came to similar conclusions in the late 1970s. Anthony Summer, a very good Irish investigative journalist who worked for the BBC came to similar conclusions in his book, The Kennedy Conspiracy. Jeff Morley of the Washington Post, who I think is the best working journalist on this beat in America, is also looking in the same direction.

RU: We're talking about the Mafia, the CIA, and Cuban exiles. But are there some specific individuals that you feel were very likely to have been involved in this?

DT: Well, one of them, of course, is Howard Hunt. He was the head of the Watergate burglary team and a former CIA agent who was very much a part of the war on Castro. And in January of this year, as he was dying, he made a series of confessions to his son, St. John. And he said that he was invited to a CIA safehouse meeting in 1963 in Miami where the plot to kill President Kennedy was discussed. He named William Harvey and David Morales as other likely suspects. In fact, he says that David Morales, who was another well-known CIA figure, was at that meeting. And he names David Phillips. Those are key CIA names.

RU: What comes across in your book is that Bobby Kennedy, like his brother, played a delicate game in behaving militantly towards Cuba, and even taking small actions, short of invasion and bombing — tepid stuff that really wouldn't do anything.

DT: That's right. And Bobby Kennedy was militantly anti-communist. He was no fan of Fidel Castro. But he was outraged after the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs. He knew this was a humiliation for his brother and he took it personally. He was that kind of guy.

Someone described him to me as being like an Irish cop — he was a young man and he tended to see things in black and white. He was a work in progress at that point. He was 35 when he became Attorney General. But I think he grew quickly while he was in office. And my evidence suggests that by 1962, the Kennedys were doing a two-track strategy with Castro. As you say, they were operating something called Operation Mongoose – a series of pinprick actions directed against Fidel Castro meant to de-stabilize his government. These were not assassination plots. And it looks like they were doing it for political reasons back home because they were under intense pressure from the far right to do something about Castro. It was more or less for show. Meanwhile, in the final months of the administration, JFK opened up a secret peace channel to Castro through an assistant to our U.N. ambassador named William Attwood and an ABC newswoman named Lisa Howard. She also happened to be sleeping with Fidel.

RU: And she was bugged by the CIA.

DT: That's right.

RU: I can sort of understand the right wing's level of paranoia. Here you have John Kennedy going through back channels to Cuba with a woman who's sleeping with Castro. And Bobby Kennedy, at some point, seems to become friends with somebody in the Khrushchev government. He sort of gripes about the right-wingers he has to deal with to this guy. And I can imagine how some rightwinger listening in might think, "What? That's treason!"

DT: Consorting with the enemy. Exactly. I think you could understand the hard-liner's point of view. They believed the Kennedys were young; they were in over their heads, and they were kind of out of control. In fact, they're wiretapping a former CIA wife named Mary Meyer, and they found out that, after her divorce from her husband, Cord Meyer, she was sleeping with President Kennedy. And she was trying to turn him on to LSD.

RU: Half my audience is having an orgasm right now, because they've been waiting for us to bring up the Mary Meyer thing. And my old friend Tim Leary does have a brief cameo role in your book.

DT: Absolutely.

RU: Tell a little bit about that.

DT: Well, Mary Meyer met JFK when they were both in prep school. She started off very much a blueblood from the very prominent Pinchot family. Then she married this CIA official, Cord Meyer. And she divorced him as he became more and more right wing. She was going in the opposite direction, politically. By the early 60s, Mary Meyer was kind of a pre-hippie hippie. She was an artist and a painter living in Georgetown. And she had divorced her husband and she was having an affair with the President. And I think it was quite a serious relationship — it wasn't one of these fiddle-and-faddle kind of flings that Kennedy would have.

He was really deeply into Mary Meyer (in more ways than one). And in this idyllic period in the early '60s, she was taken with the idea that peace, love and drugs could change the world. Specifically, she was out to turn on the world's leaders to the idea that they don't have to be in a constant state of war. So she went to Harvard, where Timothy Leary, of course, was still a respected professor in those days.

RU: Semi-respected.

DT: (Laughs) And she asked his help. She was setting up these acid experiments involving some of the more prominent men in Washington. She was doing this through their mistresses and wives. Apparently, she has some of these sessions, and she thought they were succeeding quite well. But one day she came back to Leary in a panic and told him things had gone terribly awry. One of the women had sort of gone public and exposed what was happening. And Mary was very alarmed about what the consequences would be and even asked if she could hide out at Leary's...

RU: ...at Millbrook. Not a great place to hide out. A big estate, but probably spied upon just as much as the White House!

DT: Leary lost touch with her a while and JFK was assassinated. About a year after the assassination, he looked up Mary Meyer and found out to his horror that she had also died a violent death while walking on a towpath along a canal in Washington. In broad daylight, a man came up to her and killed her, execution style — shot her through the head and the heart. She wasn't sexually violated and nothing was stolen. It was just an execution-style murder that was never solved.

RU: Apparently at some point, James Jesus Angleton mentioned Mary Meyer in the context of LSD.

DT: That's right. He played a strange role in this. Angleton is one of the more spectral and spooky figures in the CIA history

RU: Just an incredibly weird guy.

DT: Very odd man — head of CIA counter-intelligence. He spent his whole life doing these mind games in which he was trying to prevent the Soviet Union from penetrating American intelligence. And some people believe that he ruined the CIA through his paranoia.

In any case, he was obsessed with Mary Meyer. Ben Bradlee, the former editor of the Washington Post, knew both of them because he was Mary Meyer's brother-in-law. He thought Angleton was romantically and sexually obsessed with Mary Meyer. He wiretapped her. And I believe that he knew about the affair between Mary Meyer and Kennedy. So potentially, the CIA knew that Kennedy was doing drugs. One more nail, I think, in JFK's coffin. They believed this young President was out of control.

After Meyer was killed, Angleton showed up at her home, and then at her studio, trying to pick the lock... which he was good at. Ben Bradlee and his wife found him there. Apparently he was looking for her diary. And the diary's a source of much speculation. Eventually the diary was found. And for some reason, Mary's sister (Bradlee's wife) gave it to Angleton to destroy. He didn't do it, and she later asked for it back. She claimed that she disposed of it. In this diary, of course, are entries about her affair with JFK and who knows what else.

RU: We presumably have an elected representative who is Commander-In-Chief of the military and is in control of these other organizations. But we know that both Carter and Clinton had a hard time with the National Security establishments. I guess any time anybody to the left of Attila the Hun gets into power, the question becomes whether they're really in control of the military or whether the military is in control of them.

DT: I think so. Clinton, of course, set them off right away with his policies on gays in the military. And that provoked a sharp reaction.

RU: He couldn't salute properly.

DT: He couldn't salute properly. He hadn't served himself — he wasn't one of them. And I think that any progressive president that takes office now will face a similar kind of response from hardline elements in the government that JFK was forced to confront. That's why these historical lessons are very important for us to understand. It's important to see what any progressive in the White House is going to be up against.

There will always be elements of this military-industrial complex that will be pushing war for power and profit. There will always be that impulse. It takes a formidable leader to stand up to those pressures.

JD: Today, with Iraq, weren't some people in the military advising not to invade?

DT: That's the irony. The real nut cases are in the White House today, and not so much the Pentagon or CIA. The CIA and the Pentagon have been forces for restraint under the crazy Bush-Cheney administration.

JD: Does that bode better, then, for a progressive White House?

RU: I think they might be happy to get a centrist back into the White House.

DT: Maybe, but there are always these lobbies. You know, Rumsfeld and Cheney came out of that kind of thing. They were working for military contractors and lobbying organizations that were always pushing for the next war. We're already hearing about Iran. Bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran, as McCain joked. Not really a funny joke.

RU: Steve Wozniak thought it was funny.

DT: Strange sense of humor, that Steve. In any case, I think whoever's in the White House is going to be facing those pressures. And sometimes you have someone in the White House who's part of that kind of crazy war lobby, like the current administration.

JC: In American culture, we now have a sensitivity to conspiracy. While there were certainly conspiracies and scandals in the era before Kennedy, there wasn't the expectation that the government was going to be corrupt in such a violent way. Today, we're maybe overly conscious of the potential for conspiracy. A perfect example is the willingness of so many people to believe in the most massively bizarre conspiracies around 9/11. So it seems to me that it's much trickier for these conspiracies to be carried off successfully.

DT: I think that's true and it's not true. But I agree with your point that the public is more conspiratorially inclined today than when I was growing up as a kid, before Dallas. On the other hand, the gatekeepers — the opinion elite in this country. The media...

RU: They've had a backlash.

DT: Very much so. They're very suspicious of any conspiracy theories. The reaction to my book in the media world is very interesting.

RU: Are you a wingnut?

DT: It's been very mixed. I was severely chastised in the Boston Globe and the Washington Post for being too conspiracy minded. But that's why I didn't really frame this book as a conspiracy book. And I rooted it in historical fact, and documented it all very carefully. I interviewed over 150 former Kennedy administration officials, friends and colleagues. I went through thousands of documents that are available now. And it's very clear from those documents that the Kennedy administration was at war with itself. And it's clear that Bobby Kennedy suspected a plot. That's historical fact. That's not my speculation. That's the truth.

RU: Have people talked about Bobby Kennedy's suspicions in the past – or is this a breakout news item?

DT: It's the headline from my book. I mean, there have been rumors about it, and little bits about it in a couple of other books like Robert Kennedy and His Times by Schlesinger. But no one has really delved deeply into it.

I believe that these questions about conspiracy are important in a larger sense. The American public's imagination has become so inflamed because they know — on some gut level — that they're being lied to by one administration after another — and particularly by this administration. And they lied about something as important as war — the run-up to the war in Iraq. I think the American people are so fed up with this — they're so skeptical now that, in a way — it's even more difficult for researchers like me to break through and to say, "Look, not everything's a conspiracy, but some things are." American power works like power does around the world. Sometimes we like to think we're exceptional. Dark things happen in Latin American countries. Dark things happen in European countries. But for some reason, some Americans have a certain naiveté – particularly the media. We like to think we're above that kind of thing. But America is capable of dark things. We should know that by now. We have to sort that out. As researchers, journalists and historians, it's our job to sort fact from fiction. Everything isn't a conspiracy — I'm very skeptical of a lot of the 9/11 stuff that I've seen. But on the other hand, I think that what happened in Dallas was clearly very dark and sinister, and we haven't been told the full truth about it.

RU: As you said, these things do happen, and in some ways, none of this is terribly shocking. And I thought about this as I was reading about Bobby Kennedy's struggles with the Mafia. And there was this interesting contrast in the personalities of the Kennedy brothers — JFK was more of a hedonist and Bobby was a very strict moralist. And Bobby got into this thing with the Mafia while John was still hanging out with Frank Sinatra. Reading this, at some point I almost start to identify with the Mafia guys...

DT: After Bobby's been at them for a while, you have to sympathize with them.

RU: Well, you know, these guys are saying (New York Italian accent) "'ey! I thought we had a deal here!" You know? They did. They thought they had a deal.

DT: Exactly. They had a deal with the old man, Joe Kennedy. I think that was actually the source of Bobby's energy and fervor on the subject. It was a great Oedipal drama. Joe Kennedy, the great family patriarch, built the fortune any way he could. He was a pirate. He built it through Wall Street speculation; through shady Hollywood deals and building a movie empire; and through bootlegging. The bootlegging business and the Hollywood business brought him into contact with the mob, as partners. I believe he brought the mob into the campaign in 1960 when JFK ran for President in 1960 and they helped push JFK over the top, The Kennedys weren't alone in this, of course. That's the way the game was played. Nixon had his own mob contacts and his own vote theft. But Bobby was a devout Catholic and he was aware of this. He loved his father deeply, but I believe he was also ashamed of much of his father's past.

RU: Was there conflict between John and Bobby because they had such different personalities?

DT: I think JFK was bemused by how ardent his younger brother was. As you say, Jack was more like a prince. He was a debonair, sophisticated guy who had no problems hanging out with some shady characters himself, like Frank Sinatra.

Bobby Kennedy was a different animal. But JFK also loved his brother's devotion and his energy and commitment, and respected him enormously. And he kept giving Bobby more and more responsibility in that government. They didn't trust the CIA, the Pentagon, and much of their own administration, like the Secretary of State, Dean Rusk. So their government really became a family affair. He kept giving more and more of the tasks of government to his Attorney General — his brother.

JC: Was the assassination of Bobby Kennedy part of this, or was it just a lone nut.

DT: I didn't focus on that much in my book. But I do raise questions about it. I interviewed a number of people who were there that night in Los Angeles when Bobby Kennedy was gunned down at the Ambassador hotel after winning the California primary. One of them was Frank Burns. He was an aide to Jesse Unruh, speaker of the California Assembly, and a Democratic Party lawyer. He was one of the guys wrestling with the convicted assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, for the gun. He said Sirhan was standing four to five feet in front of Bobby as he's walking through the hotel pantry, but the fatal shot was delivered at point-blank range behind Bobby's ear, right into his skull. Thomas Naguchi, the coroner of Los Angeles County, also said there was no way Sirhan could have fired that fatal shot, given where he was standing. Obviously Sirhan was playing some role that night. He had a gun. He fired at Bobby. But I don't think the fatal bullet came from Sirhan's gun.

RU: Most of the book is not about the assassination. It's about the Kennedy administration. You're basically rehabilitating their progressive reputation and their intentions regarding war and peace.

DT: Yes!

RU: Is there a final take-home lesson for us?

DT: JFK wanted his epitaph to be, "He kept the peace." And he delivered a beautiful speech along these lines at American University in 1963, saying "We all live on the same small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we're all mortal."

He was saying that about America and our enemies — the Soviet Union. I think we need to have this kind of visionary leadership again to make this world a safer, more peaceful place.

See also:
The Chicks Who Tried To Shoot Gerald Ford
Detention and Torture: Are We Still Free or Not?
Anarchy for the USA: A Conversation With Josh Wolf
Homeland Security Follies
The LA Cop Who Became the Leading 9/11 Conspiracy Spokesman

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Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks


Steve Wozniak in the Mondo Studio

Steve Wozniak showed up at our San Francisco studio riding in fine style… on a Segway. He had told me via email that he would just park anywhere in the city, and I imagined this multimillionaire going to some exclusive garage where he has a permanent spot and then flagging down a taxi. But since he was the Segway's first customer, I imagine that his riding skills – by now – would allow him to easily beat a Yellow Cab across town, particularly on a day that featured a gay pride parade and a Giants game.

The legendary Apple inventor was much in circulation this winter and spring, promoting his hit autobiography, written with Gina Smith, iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. When we had Smith on our NeoFiles podcast a few months back to talk about the book, she told us that all Wozniak ever wanted to talk about was the pranks he'd pulled. So we figured we'd give him his big break and invited him to come on the show to talk pranksterism.



We did get to talk a bit about technology as well. But, sorry to say, that other Steve apparently never gave him a free iPhone to play with, and this was prior to his heroic crowd management stint during the iPhone release at the Apple store in Santa Clara, so Wozniak had little to say about the greatest thing since… the Segway? (OK. That was uncalled for. Sorry.)

Futurist Jamais Cascio joined me in conversing with Woz. Cascio helped to start WorldChanging, a site dedicated to Open Source problem-solving that often focuses on solutions to global warming. After the show, they started talking about that situation and it transpired that Wozniak is, in Cascio's words, "a bit of a climate-change denialist." Cascio and Wozniak have agreed, in theory, to a brief email discourse on the topic for 10 Zen (although it seems that we have more enthusiasm for this than they do.) We hope that this will be forthcoming.

To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.


"I Took Him (Colbert) Down!"

RU SIRIUS: You've been touring and appearing on behalf of your bio. You even got to face Colbert…

STEVE WOZNIAK: Not only did I get to face him, I boasted to a San Francisco Chronicle reporter two days before the show that I was going to take him down. I'm usually pretty witty about turning conversations my way. Anyway, she quoted me in her blog. So now I'm heading out to Stephen Colbert's show with a blog on the internet saying I'm going to take him down. Man, I played so many good pranks on him backstage.

And I took him down on the show! I didn't plan it. I figured, I'm going to be a punching bag. This guy is good. But I knew they were going to treat me with kid gloves by the pre-interview they did over the phone. He asked one wrong question. He asked, "Have you pulled any pranks lately?" I said, "Well, I take my steak knife onto airplanes." And that was the line that caught him wavering — "Do I go my way, or do you I go your way?" And he sort of went my way a bit. He said, "I'll get you on a list." I said, "I want to be on the list! Anyone who knows me knows I'd love to be on all the lists there are." And I managed to pull these thin metal credit cards that are thin as a knife out of my pocket. And I do cut steak on airplanes with 'em. And I think he sat there just twiddling his hand without anything to say because he was worried that we had crossed over into homeland security… you know, a crime reported on television!

RU: He definitely looked confounded. And you say you were goofing on him in the green room as well?

SW: Oh my gosh! I was sort of trying to let him know my personality. So you know how at the Presidential Press Corps Dinner, Stephen Colbert was the host and he came on and said, "Oh my god, I got to sit right next to the man! President Bush!" So I walked up to him and I said, "Oh my god! I get to meet and touch the man himself! How nice to meet you, Mr. Stewart." And then I pulled out some two dollar bills that I always carry around...

I have pads of sheets of these bills. They're perforated like green stamps. You can tear 'em off in ones, or twos, or threes or fours. And he grabbed it out of my hand and ran out to the hallway where there was more light. He held it up to the light. He was so concerned! I'm thinking, "Why is he so concerned about something that I just use as a prank here and there?" And he's looking at it for the longest time, feeling the paper and analyzing the different pages. So he tells me that his brother works for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where they print the money on 14th street in Washington, D.C., which is where I buy these.

Woz Punks the Secret Service

RU: Now this is legitimate money that people assume is...

SW: It meets the specs of the U.S. government, so by law, it is legal tender. The Secret Service has approved it three times. Why would they approve it if it's not legal? I don't even know if it has the right President's face on it. And the serial numbers — there's something very suspicious about them. The bills — you can smell the ink is still fresh so don't get it on your finger. And I'll sell a sheet of four of them — that's $8 — for $5. But not very many people buy them from me. I start saying, "Since they cost me three, you're really buying $12 worth for $5. (ed: we don't understand it either.) Only an idiot would turn that down." And that's about the time they start thinking, maybe I won't buy them. And they won't buy 'em. I give myself a point if they don't buy 'em, because they are legal tender.

The Secret Service read me my Miranda rights once. And when they asked for an ID, I pulled out this ID that I'd used for every airplane flight for five years of my life. It says "Laser Safety Officer, Secretary of Defiance" (instead of Secretary of Defense) on the card, and in the photo I'm wearing an eye patch. (laughter) And the Secret Service didn't catch that it was a phony card! They figured out that the bills were good and legal tender, too. Gina (Smith) didn't put this one in the book! A lot of my good prank stories didn't get in the book. That's the third book that I have planned.

RU: Good lord. The things you can get away with when you're Steve Wozniak.

SW: You know, I think any actor and comedian that can just act like they're in the right can do it — that's mainly what it takes.

RU: Bluffing is the main thing. Bluffing is social engineering, basically.

SW: Yeah. The attitude is, "What I'm doing is right," you know? And then it's real easy. People get real nervous and try to hide stuff when they think what they're doing is wrong.

RU: Gina said some people buy the two dollar bills and don't think that they can use them.

SW: Sometimes they buy them and think they should cash them in a real dark place, so they don't get caught.

RU: Why do you think you wound up being such a prankster?



SW: It's because I was so shy in middle school and high school. I had to kind of have a way to have a presence. Everyone's born with an energy to socialize — to mix with other people. And when you're shy and can't talk to them; and they start to talk weird language that you don't want to be part of; and they're snooty about the people who are "in" and "out"; and you aren't part of that "in" group — it's very intimidating. So one of the ways I communicate is with pranks.

RU: So, if you're at a party, do you do a prank to get attention? Or...

SW: Oh no no...

RU: Or just to get (laughs) vengeance on the snobby people?

SW: No, its not that. But in my school days, I wasn't in the group that would ever get invited to a party. But I was kind of friendly with a lot of druggies back in the late 60s at our school. And they were "out"-ies and techies and all that. But I didn't go to their parties either. The way I thought about it — I looked at church, and I said, "You know what? Everybody goes to church and they're saying those same words together, and they're singing the same songs together. And they're just following the exact same ligature. Everybody's doing the same thing. I don't want to be a follower like that. I've got a brain! I'm going to think out what is right and what's wrong, to do in the world. I don't need to be like everybody else and just follow their lines. Well, I extended that to parties and to that druggy peer group. We always talked about, "Don't conform!" Don't conform to the values of your parents.

RU: Right. But on the other hand, everybody must get stoned.

SW: All the peers in our high school – everybody was going to the parties and doing the same things. And they were drinking because other people were. That's conforming. So I thought, if I'm going to drink, I'm going to drink all alone because I think it's something I want to do. And it kept me kind of clean, because I wouldn't just go out and do something because my group's doing it.

RU: So there's an iconoclasm there.

SW: Yeah!

RU: Back to pranks…

SW: I have these professionally printed stickers that I've had made. They're done with this sort of foil-type stuff in the exact OSHA style and the OSHA colors. And it says, "Danger: Do Not Flush Over Cities." And I put 'em in the bathrooms on airplanes...

RU: (Laughs) I think I've seen that, actually. Do you fly Jet Blue?

SW: Yes, I have done it on Jet Blue.

RU: I remember thinking about it and wondering what that was!

SW: They're red with a black-shadowed airplane picture. The bathroom has a little seat fold-down. I fold that up and there's a sign in the middle of it saying, "Don't throw trash here." And I put my two little stickers behind it, so the stewardesses won't notice it right away. If they notice it right away they might realize that somebody put that there. But after a while, if they slowly get used to it, they'll stay on for years.

I have another sticker that I made in OSHA style and colors. It's a yellow one. I put it in the backstage bathroom at the "Colbert Show." It has a little graphic of a butt with a poof coming out and it says, "Keep our air fresh."

RU: In Robert Anton Wilson's book, The Illuminatus! Trilogy, there's this character, Markoff Cheney, who leaves weird bureaucratic commands in offices and places like that just to sort of boggle people's minds.

SW: That's almost like what I read about in the The Pentagon Papers — the psychological warfare. You kind of put out a message saying one thing, but it implies that something horrible is going to happen just because you're saying that it isn't going to happen. It triggers bad thought in people's mind.

RU: Cognitive dissonance...

SW: Yeah!

RU: ...is a great weapon of war, and also of...

SW: … comedy!

RU: …guerilla pranksterism, and all those things. I guess you're indicating that pranks challenge conventional behavior.

SW: Absolutely. I've always very much wanted to be a rebel, and against authority. Because if we just sort of accept authority, and never question it — we just go through a life without knowing what truth really is — thinking we know it all. Everybody reads the same headlines and sees the same seven-second soundbites on TV. And because they all know the same thing as everyone else, they're all in the right. "We are all intelligent." They're not intelligent. They just saw the same things and repeated it. You know? They're the ones who aren't intelligent. I mean, the definition of intelligence in schools is pretty much being able to know what every other kid in the school that has studied the book would say... and not to have original thought of your own.

When Woz Convinced the Waitress He was "a Pavarotti"

RU: Speaking of getting an education and then getting a shitty job, Gina told me a story about a prank on a waitress.

SW: Yeah... I did a prank on a waitress recently. And I put a lot more energy, time, and even money into my pranks than most people. I don't want all my pranks to be just the normal duds you play every day. You know, every comedian will have one gem of a joke for every ten duds. So I play little dinky pranks all day long.

But in this case, it was based on the fact that I have season tickets to Warriors' games and I had special passes for a special parking lot. So one time, I took a friend in the back seat of my car who didn't know I had the pass. And as I got to the window, I tell the guy there that we have the guy with us who's going to sing the national anthem. And then to embarrass him (the guy in the back seat), I'd say, "Sing a line for him!" and the guy can't sing but they let us in anyway, and...

So I had done this sort of prank a few times. And then I was at a restaurant in San Francisco, and I knew that I had four tickets for Saturday's game but I wouldn't be there. So I asked the waitress, "Hey, you going to the game on Saturday? I'm singing the national anthem!" And she looked at me like I was the most important person she'd ever waited on. I didn't expect that, but now I had to play with it. When someone's mind is thinking something weird, or in a… I call that a creative state. You don't want to inhibit creativity. You want to keep it going. So you always say yes. So I said, "Oh! I could probably get you some tickets from the Warriors staff — you know, if you want..." And then I said, "You want to hear me sing?" And she says, "Yes!" And I go (half-speaking) "Oh say can you see." And that's the best I can sing. Everyone at the table started laughing. So I figured the jig was up. But then I heard from Gina later on that this waitress had come over to Gina, and asked privately, "Does he really sing the national anthem?" And Gina said, "Oh, he's a famous opera singer! He's got the voice of an angel!" (laughter)

So now I had to follow through. I had to take this one further. So I came back to the restaurant one day and left two tickets for the waitress. And I set up a story that my friend Jim would have my other two tickets. And he was supposed to tell her I got food poisoning at the restaurant. I was a Pavarotti, and in the hospital they had mixed me up with somebody else and taken my kidney out. They'd discovered the mistake, switched operating teams and gloves and they'd put my kidney back in. (I always love to throw in the glove line. Like they'd really switch gloves.) And I'm the first person to ever get a kidney transplant [from myself]. Great story.

The Zaltair Prank: Two Pranks in one

RU: You make really elaborate schemes and stories. Talk about some of the pranks that were left out of your book. Maybe go back to the early hacker days, or Apple times?



SW: Early hacker days? There's the prank that I did when we introduced the Apple II. At this time, all these people were using Z words based on the new Z80 Microprocessor from Zylog. So I had these fake brochures for "the Zaltair" made. It was this two-sided brochure that had all the fakest hype I could think of using, like – "Imagine a car with five wheels!" You know, stupid little things that were inspired by the worst ads I'd ever read. It had comparison charts to things like the Apple and it looked so phony — but it was against the Apple and this and that. It said you could send your own computer in and get a $120 discount. It was really jamming MITS Corporation, but that's another story.

I took thousands of 'em in a box and put it out in front of The Civic Auditorium (in San Francisco). After a while, my friend called me. He said, "Somebody took the box. It was gone!" But MITS — the company that I was making fun of — wasn't there. So who did it? It turns out, they had a rep there. So we went to the hotel and brought another box and set it down. After a while a guy goes up, he spots it and takes the box away. So then, we took tons of them underneath our coats and went around and started shuffling them into packets. Our green ones would go into packets of green handout fliers, and our blue ones would go into packets of blue fliers. We were careful about it but we got thousands of 'em distributed. I mean, all the members of the Homebrew Computer Club were waving copies in the air.

And I'd put a stupid made up quote from Ed Roberts — the President of MITS — at the top. And if you took the first letter in each word in the quote, it spelled P.R.O.C.E.S.S.O.R T.E.C.H.N.O.L.O.G.Y. You always get two pranks for one if you frame someone else.

And sure enough, Gordon French, who was one of the Homebrew club members, came by Apple in the early days, and I asked him, " Did you hear about that Zaltair prank?" And he said, "Oh yeah, it was a hoax. I know who did it! Gerry Egram of Processor Technology!... because he's got a weird sense of humor." I'm laughing my head off at this point. And I pull one out and said, "There was supposed to be a cipher in here." And they started reading the cipher, and everybody read the letters "Processor Technology." Steve Jobs did the final 'Y'. For 12 years, everybody "knew" that this guy at Processor Technology had done the prank.

RU: When did you 'fess up?

SW: Twelve years later. I actually framed a copy and gave it to Steve Jobs as a birthday present. He opened it up in a restaurant and he just started laughing out loud. And that's unusual.

Ethical Pranking

RU: Your most famous prank, which is in the book, was when you called the Pope at 5 am pretending to be Henry Kissinger. What was going through your mind as you were doing that?

SW: I used one of the blue boxes... the blue boxes were an exciting time in my life — around 1971.

RU: Was John Draper with you when you did the call?

SW: No, he wasn't. I read articles about him. He had stimulated my interest. I had quickly tried to whack together a blue box but it didn't work. I finally designed a great little digital box. It worked every single time. And Steve Jobs said, "Let's sell 'em." So we built some and sold them. We gave door-to-door demonstrations in the dorms. Can you imagine doing that and not getting caught?

RU: Right. That was the perfect time for phone phreaking. Everyone was interested.

SW: By the end of that year, I was worried that they had methods to catch 'em, so I never did 'em after that year. And during that year, I was careful that I didn't use the blue box for personal calls. I paid for them. It was partly out of fear, but also I wanted to be honest, as I thought Draper and others were. We only want to explore the system, and fix it, and find its little flaws, and tell other people. That's a great thing to a technical person — to know a few little flaws. It's like finding a few little Easter eggs in a program — little secret surprises. Since I was very shy, it gave me one area of life that I wasn't shy about.

I was the demonstrator. I was the emcee. I would demonstrate the blue box for an hour or two. We sold one every time we did a demonstration!

RU: I'm sure lots of other people just used them to get free phone calls.

SW: Yeah, and ethically, when I look back...

RU: I think that was part of the spirit of the early '70s.

SW: Yeah, but when I look back I have a problem with that.

RU: Well, phone phreaking was associated with The Yippies and a kind of anti-corporate radicalism. You didn't quite get into that...

SW: I wasn't in there. Sure, I admired all those thinkers…

RU: Right. I mean, Abbie Hoffman had that kind of stuff in Steal This Book.

SW: He had a black box schematic in Steal This Book. I bought Steal This Book. I had his black box schematic! Same year! But Ramparts magazine — which was like the Mother Jones of its day — came out with a nice clear, easier-to-follow one that year as well and they kind of got put out of business for a while. I made copies of that and spread 'em around to everyone. So I was helping everyone else do this even when I wasn't selling it. And that was probably wrong. I just sort of wanted to show off that I knew things that most people didn't know. That was my real motivation.

JAMAIS CASCIO: So what do you think are the rules for being an ethical prankster?

SW: Ethical prankster? It's tough. I don't think there's 100% ethical. In theory, you have agreements with society not to do things that are going to be disruptive — to not do things that are gonna be different. And yet, practically, all of us have to do things that are a little bit different. And there's always some weird little laws that are written to catch you just for being different.

Ethical hacking today is largely finding flaws in major computer systems, or possibly the phone systems. And to be ethical, you don't use it to harm anyone. And generally, that means you don't want to keep it secret forever. You want to boast that you're the one who found it. There's a young kid, I forget his name right now – and he would find these flaws and then tell the companies: "Here's the flaw. You have two weeks to fix it, and then I'll make it public." And he wound up in jail. I met him, and he was just so pure that he was going to keep searching no matter what they did to him. He was going to keep on this track of finding the flaws and notifying the people what the flaws were and giving them a certain time to fix it before he made it public.

RU: You didn't mind tweaking the Pope! How far might that have gone?

SW: Yeah. I said we were at the summit in Moscow. Someone said, "Here's the Bishop, who's going to be the translator." And I said, "Yes, I'm calling from a United States number. But you can call me back." He said, "I just spoke to Henry Kissinger." I said, "I am Henry Kissinger. You can phone me back now." And I gave them a United States number to call. And I figured they would think, "Oh, we've got his number!" I figured they knew it was a hacker. But I had given them a loop number, so they dial one number and I dial another and we get connected. There are really no records.

RU: Right. A great phone phreak trick.

SW: Calling the Pope was just a weird idea that was kind of fun.

RU: Did you have a plan, if you actually wound up talking to the pope? Did you have a narrative for the exchange?

SW: No. I should've!

RU: Did you grow up watching "Candid Camera"?

SW: Yeah! I did. Guess what? My son was pranked on by "Candid Camera." He got into an elevator in a hotel and headed down to his car early in the morning. And when the elevator door opens to let him out, instead of finding himself in the garage with cars, he's in a room. And he looks back and the elevator had no button. He played with it for a while, and somebody popped out and said, "You're on Candid Camera." But they didn't put him in the show. He probably wasn't animated enough for them.

RU: He was probably not too easy to surprise, after growing up with you. I hope you go ahead and write this book about pranks.

SW: I have forty years of pranks. That's going to be the third book. I'm thinking that for my second book, I'm going to publish my "manuscript." You've heard about Einstein's manuscript — it sounds really impressive. Well, I'm the only one who ever wrote this much code — I made the Apple II by hand. I couldn't afford what's called a rental system, where you can type it into a computer, and you type in your program, and it will give you back the 1's and 0's. So I figured out the 1's and 0's in my own head, and wrote them down on the piece of paper. Everything for the Apple II was done by hand.

Apple II was Coded by Hand

RU: So you'd publish the code in book format?

SW: I plan to publish the code and the schematics with some explanations of what I was thinking. It would be one of those things that you don't sell very many of.

JC: With a visual machine language editor, you could basically drag and drop 1's and 0's into a window.

SW: (Thinks) Visual machine... oh! Now, that's a good idea. That's a clever idea. Yeah! That would be the modern version of what I did.

The best things I did were because I didn't have money. I couldn't afford the computer system to type my programs into. They were written in machine language — real geeky computer stuff for the microprocessor I used, and I couldn't afford it. But because of that, I got very intimate with the programs that I wrote by hand. Every step of the way, it was easy for me to be a very careful and thorough checker. And I would dream the programs! I would wake up with ideas about how to save one little step by doing something different, or I'd think of something I could get for free. Always believe in that — getting things for free. The next house I'm going to build is going to be built with that in mind.

Building an Energy Efficient House

I was out judging a History Channel invention contest. And David Pogue, who is the technology writer for the New York Times, and the guy who owns the National Inventors Hall of Fame, were also judges. And we all decided we wanted to build this project that was the winner. The designer is a Civics Engineering Professor at Brigham Young — a very credible guy. And basically, he uses Southern Yellow Pine, the most energy-efficient wood that there is. It has a resin inside. And the resins — wood with resins – melts and freezes at 71 degrees. So if there's any impetus in the house for the temperature to get hotter than 71 degrees, it melts a little of the resin, which actually absorbs the heat and cools the house. It serves as your air conditioner. At nighttime, if it starts to freeze, it emits heat, and warms the house up to 71 degrees. And the houses can be built with another structure. They actually take dirt out of the ground... where they're going to build the house. They take the dirt out, they put it in machines, compress it into these tight bricks and then they heat it for about a week. Then they leave it out in the sun for about a week and they have these grooved parts that they slide together. And it's the cheapest, lowest energy, most green way to build a house that's going to last 500 years.

RU: Jamais, that sounds like something you might have heard about at WorldChanging.

JC: Yeah. BASF makes a thermal wax wallboard that does exactly what you described. They found that they could make houses in Germany 90% energy efficient.

On DRM, Open Source, & the iPhone

RU: Before I let you go, I should ask a few contemporary geek questions — to satisfy those in the audience who are going to say, "You had Steve Wozniak on, and all you talked about was pranks!" That was pretty much my intention, but I should ask a few. What do you think about Steve Jobs' decision to embrace DRM-free music in iTunes?

SW: I think it's a step towards the future. I mean, it doesn't make much sense if these things are going to have DRM forever. There's this whole problem that you can't trust everyone, but you can do a good enough job.

Look at newspapers. Nothing stops me from buying a newspaper and passing it around to 20 other people. But, you know, you just kind of get used to what's easy to do. Only six of my purchased music songs so far, though, are from (DRM-free) EMI.

RU: The whole idea of Open Source has been a long running dialogue in computer culture. Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation see it as a crusade. Is it necessary? Or can you have Open Source and proprietary stuff going on at the same time?

SW: A lot of people think that Open Source means "free." It was never intended to mean free and it shouldn't mean free. People should be able to develop software and market it and have control over what they build. But when you sell a product that has a lot of software in it, being Open Source means you publish your source. And if somebody else wants to take your product and make a specialized version of it that does their few special things for their application; or does something a little different; or leaves pieces of it out; they can do that and they don't owe you a license fee. It just means they were able to improve either your mistakes, or the things that you left out that they want.

RU: Sure. But do you consider that a moral necessity, or...

SW: I consider it a moral right-ness. I don't know how to speak for everybody in society about necessities. But I think it's very honorable and it's very good for the customers.

RU: Speaking of Open Source issues, have you ever hung out with Bill Gates?

SW: I haven't. I've only spoken with him briefly a couple of times. I admire him, he admires me. Good lord, I'd never written a computer language when he had written a BASIC in the early days of hobby computers. And I thought, "Oh my gosh — a computer with BASIC finally makes a computer that people can use for things." And so I said, I've got to write a BASIC. My goal was to be the first in the world to have a BASIC for the 6502. And I did it, but it was horrible because, in doing it, I left out one thing that could save a month — floating point...

RU: That's in your book, actually.

SW: And before we wrote our floating point BASIC, Bill Gates popped in the door and he'd done Microsoft. And my attitude was, "Oh, good, it'll save us the time." Of course, when our five-year license on it ran out, the Apple II was pouring gadzooks of money into his company. So they had us under the barrel. I like being the first at things. I had written my first syntax chart with floating point. In the Apple II ROMs, I even stuck in my own floating point routine. It wasn't incorporated into the BASIC, but I just didn't want the world thinking I couldn't write floating point routines.

JC: Jobs actually related that story when he appeared onstage with Bill Gates.

SW: And Jobs got it pretty right. He said it was because I hand-wrote everything. And handwriting it, I couldn't just type an extra part into a program. I had to move addresses around. All my addresses were fixed by hand. And I couldn't expand my syntax table easily to add the floating point back in before we shipped the Apple II. Otherwise I would've.

RU: Do you have a current technology project, outside of building your home?

SW: Yes I do! I have a bunch. My favorite idea right now… they're making flexible display materials now and showing them off. I would love to build a globe that's all a display. Maybe it would use Google Earth. And you could be zooming in on portions of this globe -- you can just look for Africa, for instance. And as you zoom in, the little dots are lit up like those programs that show you where all the volcanoes and all the webcams of the world are. You'd zoom in on blue dots, and zoom and zoom and zoom, and on a blue dot, you'll see a webcam right there in Africa; or right there in Amsterdam, or near the hotel you're gonna stay at in Greece. I would love that.

RU: People would want that.

JC: Yeah. And if you do it with Google Earth, you have all those KML layers so you can throw into it webcams and weather and traffic flows. There's all sorts of things you can do with that.

RU: Last question. What do you think of the iPhone and do you think it will be a success?

SW: I don't know. It will be a big hit off the bat, but after people have the iPhone it will truly be judged and compared. Will word of mouth kill it or make it a hit? Who knows? I can't even give my emotional feelings until I have a production unit for a while.

See also:
Wonderful Wizardry of Woz
Hype Smackdown: iPhone v. Paris Hilton
iPhone Debate: I'm a Mac v. Bill Gates
5 Sexiest Apple Videos
How the iPod Changes Culture
Counterculture and the Tech Revolution

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Anarchy for the USA: A Conversation with Josh Wolf

Josh Wolf (photo by Steve Rhodes)
Photo by Steve Rhodes

Josh Wolf spent more time in prison than any other American journalist in U.S. history for protecting his source materials — videotapes taken at an anti-globalization demonstration in San Francisco. He was finally released on April 3 of this year. Press reports about Wolf have described him as an anarchist, and he has described himself as an anarchist sympathizer.

Wolf has been all over the media talking about his free speech struggle with the U.S. Government. He was on "Democracy Now!"; received a now-traditional media hazing on "The Colbert Report"; and even had a brief but fairly sympathetic interview in Time.

While we conversed about his case, we also wanted to delve more deeply into the issues that motivated the case in the first place: anti-globalist activism, anarchism, and his new projects to "Free The Media" and give prisoners a voice in the blogosphere.

Scott J. Thompson, Director of Research at the Walter Benjamin Research Syndicate, and Jeff Diehl joined me in this conversation, originally recorded for The RU Sirius Show.

To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.


RU SIRIUS: There's been plenty of talk about your case, so we're going to go into some other things, but I think we should talk a bit about the conclusion. I think people found it a bit confusing and anti-climactic.

JOSH WOLF: It was a bit anti-climactic. And it was also reported incorrectly all over the place in the press. The stories ranged from things like: "The government decided they have no interest in Josh Wolf and therefore they are letting him go" (that would've been nice) — to "He finally caved under the pressure." Both of those are factually inaccurate.

Basically, there were two things that the government wanted. One of those things was that tape. I felt that I shouldn't have had to turn that over to the government, but at the same time there was absolutely nothing sensitive or confidential on it. So it was worth fighting for, but once I had lost my fight in the district court level in the 9th circuit, there wasn't really any reason not to publish the tape and simultaneously turn it over to the government. I mean, yeah, those shots of my shoes are a bit embarrassing but they're not worth going to jail over. So once we had exhausted our appeals, we offered to turn over the tape in exchange for my release. But the U.S. Attorney said he wouldn't accept anything but full compliance with the demand of the subpoena. That would have involved testifying before a grand jury and turning over my documentation for my video-editing software... there was a pretty exhaustive list of demands in the subpoena. But on February 14, the judge suddenly ordered the case into mediation with a magistrate judge. During the course of two mediations, we came to an agreement – I would publish the tape and then turn it over to the federal government, and they would not object to my release. And they decided to call this full compliance with the subpoena, although it wasn't full compliance at all.



So that's where we stand right now. The government still has the option to re-subpoena me to try to make me testify about the content of the tapes or what I saw there that night. But I don't think they're going to because they know that I'm not going to testify. I'll go back to jail and it will be an even bigger public fiasco for the U.S. Attorneys office. And they're not really short on public fiascos right now.

RU: You got a fair amount of support from the mainstream press on this. I assume that the government figured you were some punk blogger, and they could yank you out of all social circumstances and throw you deep into the hole, and there would be very little discussion about it. But quite a few journalists expressed their concern in terms of the protection of journalists. Did this surprise you at all?

JOSH: The reception from the journalistic community has been very much mixed — especially in the mainstream journalist community. Even from the alterna-press, there were some mixed receptions. Some journalists realize that if they're coming after me — they're next. And they realize that this whole concept of objective journalism is kind of a misnomer. You can never be objective. But some get very offended by the idea that I should be protected, because protecting me makes it easier for them to be attacked as being part of the same group. And I think that's one of the things at the crux of the public's reception to protests in general. I mean, in this particular protest, there was one violent incident where one police officer was injured probably by one protester. And because of that. the 150 people that were there now get described as terrorists.

RU: The big mainstream media question is "Can bloggers be journalists?" In fact, you wrote an essay with that name. And I think the counter-argument would be that nearly everyone could become a blogger, and then everyone would be protected from giving evidence. So a group could conspire to break laws and members who blog could be protected. Karl Rove could become a journalist and make the same kind of claim!

JOSH: That argument's flawed, because if you are involved in a criminal activity, you don't have to testify because you're protected by the Fifth Amendment.

RU: Good point!

JOSH: But it's true that in Grand Juries they like to get rid of the Fifth Amendment. They say, "Here's a waiver. You no longer have the Fifth Amendment." But I've been reading the Constitution over and over again, and I can't find any section on giving waivers to the Fifth Amendment. And consider the First Amendment — freedom of speech. Why doesn't that include freedom of silence? Why does the freedom to speak not include the freedom not to speak? And so, yes — journalists should be protected in order to protect the act of journalism. But in a larger context, why do we have coercive custody to force people to testify? I mean, it's really a form of very low-grade torture — we're going to hold you in custody until you break down and speak.

RU:: It's definitely something we don't accept from gangsters, but we do seem to accept it from the state. Tell us a little about your prison experience. What kind of prison were you in and what kind of interactions did you have with the prisoners?

JOSH: I was in a federal detention center, which is sort of like a…

RU: (jokingly) It's a country club!

JOSH: It wasn't a country club but it was kind of like being in a really, really low-rent camp. But you can never leave. I kept waiting for the fishing trip, like when you're at camp, you're thinking about the fishing trip. It never came.

SCOTT THOMPSON: That's torture.

JOSH: It was kind of like being in a college dorm, except there were fewer choices. There weren't any girls. Unlike college, there was not much in the way of drugs or alcohol. The guys were all pretty cool. They were mostly a combination of bank robbers, drug dealers, a few white-collar criminals.

The most interesting segment of the prison population are the "Piezas." (A "Pieza" is a Mexican Roadrunner. The term has been adapted to those that are here from Mexico.) Most of these guys had no prior criminal history. They were in jail for crossing the border — an imaginary line. We've decided that's a felony. And they've been getting between three and five years in jail. And while they're incarcerated, they have to work. And they're often fined for their crime. They're fined an amount that just happens to add up to the 12-cents-an-hour that they make while they're incarcerated. So our government has time-share slaves. Instead of getting our slaves from Africa, we're getting people that come to America to build better opportunities for themselves. And they end up spending three-to-five years building government furniture.

RU: This kind of slavery or serfdom becomes even more interesting when you have privately-owned prisons. I imagine that you were in a state-controlled prison.

JOSH: It was a federally-owned prison. I think there's somewhere between three and five privately-contracted prisons in the federal system. A lot of states, particularly in the south, have more private prisons than public prisons. It's very disturbing that we have contracted out our prisons because there's a certain public oversight that's expected — or at least should be expected — when it comes to a government-run operation. But when you give prisons to the Wall family to run, it becomes a private business. And lots of things that are private in private businesses remain private. When that involves controlling human movement, it becomes really dangerous

RU: I think having a profit interest in incarceration is about as skeevy as you can get. Although I certainly know some libertarians who would disagree with me. Did you wind up finding any compatriots in prison? Did people discuss politics? And did people there know why you were there?

JOSH: Most everyone was aware of it. Of course, the level of understanding varied. In its simplest terms, I was there for refusing to cooperate with the government. I was going to jail for not being a snitch. Having not committed a crime and then also "not snitching" – that's pretty respectable in the prison hierarchy. I think the only person above that was probably Greg Anderson because he's a friend of Barry Bonds. Not snitching on Barry Bonds… that was like… "Whoa! And he's a trainer! And people in prison are into working out so that's a sort of demigod-like position.

In terms of the politics, I found compatriots at different levels. I spoke about political activism. I had a few books about anarchism that were sent to me that were passed around the prison. It's kind of interesting that those got in. They didn't try to censor it.

RU:: They didn't understand what they were, probably.

JOSH: They weren't going to allow a press release to come out that the prison was censoring reading material.

RU: Tell us about the project you are developing involving prisoners.

JOSH: I've started prisonblogs.net. We want to pair up individual prisoners with sponsors on the outside who agree to type up what they have to say and post it on their own blog. There are lots of military blogs, which the government's currently trying to crack down on. So now we'll have prison blogs. The media oftentimes can't get access to what goes on behind those walls. And the people I've encountered have amazing stories about prison culture and their oppression at the hands of the guards – stories that don't get out to the public.

RU: Are they ever allowed to blog at all? Also, wasn't there a law passed against interviewing prisoners — a sort of blockade against prisoners communicating to the media?

JOSH: It can be different between the states and the feds. In federal prisons, you can interview prisoners — I've seen prison interviews. At the facility I was in, they refused any filmed interviews, but they permitted phone interviews. I don't know exactly what the state rules are, but I know Schwarzenegger just vetoed a bill that would've opened the gates a little further. But I'm dealing with what prisoners can do, in terms of self-publishing. I know they can't get publish with a byline and they can't get paid for it. Now I don't know whether a blog counts as publishing with a byline, but...

RU: …Is there evidence that this will be allowed?



JOSH: There's no evidence so far to indicate that they won't allow it. Some prisoners have blogs right now. We've found about a couple-of-hundred. But there are no avenues for prisoners who want to blog but don't necessarily come from tech-centric backgrounds or families. They don't have a chance to get their voice and artwork out there. So this will sort of democratize the media for a class and a group of people who are cut-off and denied all the opportunities that, say, middle-class Americans have – people who already have their YouTube, MySpace, and Flickr accounts.

RU: There's been a lot of talk about your case in the media, but there hasn't been a lot of discussion in the media about the demonstration that lead to the case. How would you characterize the issues that were at stake at the demonstration and your interest in that?

JOSH: The demonstration was against the G8 Summit that was going on in Gleneagle, Scotland at that time. I happen to align myself philosophically against globalization. With The WTO, the G8 and these other sort of private groups, large governments plan how to exploit smaller governments and small helpless communities and individuals. It's a winner-takes-all, king-of-the-hill sort of approach to planning our future. So I'm opposed to that. And I did take to the streets with my camera in order to document this demonstration that I knew wasn't going to get a lot of attention. In terms of the activities that were used in this demonstration, I think most of them were not necessarily tactically sound. I think there's a time and a place for people to drag newspaper stands into the streets in order to stop, say, a threatening stream of riot cops that are about to attack. I don't think it makes a lot of sense to drag a newspaper stand in the street when the cops have already called off the riot squad. So there were numerous things going on there that I felt were not tactically sound. I wouldn't have engaged in them myself. But I do support a diversity of tactics. And I feel there should be balanced between the privacy of those involved and the need to expose the news of what they're doing to the world.

RU: Some of these tactics have been associated with a concept or a group that's called "black bloc." Basically, the idea seems to be what we used to call "trashing" back in the early 70s – when I did it. (Laughs) The idea is violence against property. Is it ever effective? Was it effective in Seattle? And isn't it stupid to keep doing the same thing over and over again?

JOSH: Any discussion about the effectiveness of tactics that involve breaking the law becomes very sensitive. Just describing what is effective is opening the door to conspiracy to commit terrorism. So it's a very shaky topic to get into.

I think it's not effective to try to cause economic damage to large corporations, because the amount of isolated damage that is done at these sorts of protest is really a rounding error. It's like, "Oh, we had to spend $500 to fix this window and cover up this spray paint."

RU: It's sort of embarrassing, really.

JEFF DIEHL: It's the public exposure. It suddenly gets the media eye looking at this movement or…

RU: It worked once in Seattle, maybe.

JOSH: I think if a Starbucks is coming into your town, and it's the first Starbucks, and some people who don't like it decide, "We're going to do something to prevent this Starbucks from being built" — then I think that could be tactically sound. I'm not saying that people should do it, but it does make some tactical sense.

But to simply go and hit all these windows — you know, smash up a few Starbucks — it can create some attention. In the post 9/11 world, that attention is too easily connected to groups like al-Qaeda. So I don't think it's going to further the cause of trying to achieve a non-hierarchical, mutually fair, non-capitalistic society.

RU: That's the question. Do these tactics have any place at all in successfully changing things, or are they really just getting their rocks off?

SCOTT: Around 1987 - '88, on Haight Street, there was an attempt to build a Walgreens. That nascent structure was dynamited by malcontents. And it turned into...

RU: We're not getting a confession here, are we? (Laughter)

SCOTT: No, I was living in Chicago at the time. Anyway, they realized that the community really doesn't want a Walgreens.

JEFF: There was a philosophical argument after the Battle of Seattle. That action basically got the mainstream — and the public's attention around this whole anti-globalization issue. Hardly anybody had even heard about it. Some would argue that there wasn't much of an anti-globalist movement before Seattle

JOSH: Not in America, no.

JEFF: And some would argue that the spectacle of the damage created the success there, so the damage was necessary.

RU: But it was also mixed with the fact that a lot of demonstrators showed up. That – in itself — was unusual. But a peaceful demonstration definitely could've been ignored, like many other large protests.

JEFF: Right.

JOSH: Look at what the Weather Underground was able to accomplish during the Vietnam war. They had a tactical place and were somewhat effective. But the enemy has been changed from communism to terrorism. So acts that the government can easily label as terrorism can very quickly become counter-productive. I think that's part of the reason that we have this vague war on terrorism — anyone that does anything disruptive can be treated as a terrorist.

SCOTT: Right now, the government is attempting to label any oppositional show of force of any kind as terrorism.

We're surrounded by cops of all stripes. We're surrounded by security guards of all kinds. We're surrounded by all sorts of military people, and they are the only ones that are allowed to use brute force against an unarmed populace that dare not even organize on a premise without a permit. It's just completely a violation of the whole idea of the right of freedom of assembly in the United States

JEFF: Josh, obviously it's not to your benefit to be thrown in jail again. But if we can't even talk about tactics, then the authors of the Patriot Act have won, right? This whole area has been bracketed off for people who are involved in opposition. And historically, this has been the only type of activity that has ever caused any significant social change – confrontation, destruction of property, or violence.

JOSH: Our founding fathers were engaged in terrorism or direct confrontation during the Boston Tea Party. That would be labeled terrorism now. If the Boston Tea Party happened last week, what do you think George Bush would say about it?

RU: They'd be in Guantanamo.

It's interesting that you brought up the Weather Underground, because there are two things to think about with their tactics. Number one: historians show that the reason Nixon didn't nuke Hanoi during the Vietnam war was because he was frightened of what the anti-war movement would do to America. He wasn't thinking of the Quakers. He was probably thinking of the Weather Underground; the freaks who burned down the Bank of America and stuff like that.

But on the other hand, fear is a very effective tactic for organizing reaction. We see it now, particularly, under the guise of terrorism. Basically, the current unofficial Republican slogan is "Be afraid. Be very afraid."

The Weathermen sort of had this theory that youth was a class that could be excited and organized for revolution. It was possible to believe that in the early 1970s. I don't know if there's even a receptive audience for this kind of thing any more.

SCOTT: I think there's actually a very receptive audience. I think that many people might be experiencing a real disappointment and disaffiliation from the "mainstream left" — these people that organize some of the mass demonstrations that are always held in the same place. And we all get together and we all get photographed by the same helicopters flying overhead. They've seen us all before. Nobody ever thinks, at the last minute, let's change tactics. Let's hold it n front of "The Chronicle" building, and scare the hell out of those people.

JEFF: Well, you wouldn't have a permit for that.

SCOTT: Of course. You must have a permit. The populace dare not spontaneously get together and show its discontent with the powers that be.

JOSH: Protests have been reduced to nothing more than processions. They have a cathartic effect. Everyone feels like they're doing something. And in a sense you're doing more than just voting. But civil engagement begins at voting, it doesn't end there. And protests are just one step further. But in order to really make a change, people have to actually really get their hands dirty and do something. That could involve writing a law, and then working your butt off to actually get it passed, if that's the course of action that you choose. Or you could make a blockade around a business that you think needs to be shut down; you could start a picket line and yell at people when they cross it and make it so that business can't continue its enterprise. Or maybe you think it's most effective to burn down the bank like they did at U.C. Santa Barbara in the late '60s. All of these tactics have limitations and they all have values. It really just depends on what you think is going to work and why you think it's going to work.

RU: I question whether any of these things — demonstrations, riots — are really effective anymore. And you've been involved recently in trying to work with the system. You've been helping to create a law to protect journalists. Do you see any contradiction between being an anarchist sympathizer and trying to get the federal government to create a law to protect journalists?

JOSH: I'm sure many other people do. My political philosophy is that the best society would be one where the precepts that we followed were formed through consensus. But we don't live in that society. We live in a system of laws made by people who claim to represent us, but so often don't. For instance, on the night Nancy Pelosi was elected, her own constituents passed a law saying that they want the President impeached. And Pelosi immediately made a statement that impeachment was off the table. So clearly, these people don't represent us. But at the same time, they still make the laws that we live under. If I can help pass a law that would've prevented me from going to jail for seven months — a law that defines journalist as anyone who's gathering and disseminating information (with a very limited exceptions that involve imminent harm to human life) — then why shouldn't I work for that? Sure, it's a band-aid. It doesn't deal with the fact that we have a repressive grand jury system that needs to be abolished. It doesn't deal with the fact that the right to a fair trial just doesn't exist.

RU: I agree with you because I'm a reformist. The way I view human nature — I don't think that the anarchist ideal is very likely to work in the foreseeable future. But still, any attempt at change is a discussion of tactics. I mean, Nancy Pelosi's argument is about tactics too, really. She's saying, "Well, I'm actually in the Congress and in order to pass laws, I have to use these tactics. I have to take impeachment off the table because it's not going to be accepted in mainstream discourse and if I go for it, I'm not going to be able to change anything."

JOSH: But whether impeachment is accepted or not, she's elected as a representative. And this is one of the clearest cases where the city she represents voted for a resolution to impeach George Bush on the very day she became Speaker of the House? Is she a representative of the Democratic Party? Is she a representative of San Francisco? It doesn't look like it. How indirect is this representation, and how indirect should it be?

RU: She's either sold out or she considers herself wiser, tactically, than the people she's representing. And you can have either interpretation.

SCOTT: I think this highlights the bankruptcy of representational government in this particular time. I think you can count on one hand the number of representatives who actually pay attention to their constituency. These people in Congress are only taking orders from very wealthy donors or powerful corporate people. They don't really listen to the people that don't make a certain amount of money, or don't have any money. They don't listen to the people they should be listening to. It seems to me that that there's no sense of civic responsibility in this country. We're not taught civics. People have a tendency to think, "Well I just don't really want to think about that. I don't want to worry about that. I elect X, and he or she will take care of everything for me." And he or she is actually totally in the hip pocket of the powerful interests.

JEFF: Josh, you had this thing happen where you got a lot of attention. And this was maybe a big chance to publicize a lot of the views of the circles that you were in before the protests – people with certain shared goals related to anarchism and so forth – stuff that doesn't get much publicity in the mainstream media. I could see some of them being a little bit disappointed that you're focused on passing a law.

JOSH: The way I see it — there are a lot of things you can and should do. And to embrace as many of them as possible really can't hurt. I mean, maybe you can say, "Hey, we shouldn't pass a law because these band-aids – these reforms – because they are going to make the system more livable, more tolerable. And we should actually do things to increase suffering in order to foment a revolution." A lot of people take that view. But I don't see it that way. I think anything that reduces suffering shouldn't be ignored.

RU: Some people might not object from that old "heightening the contradictions" argument. They may just make the argument based on decentralization. Don't ask for the protection of the federal government. (Of course, as we know from the medical marijuana situation, the federal government trumps everyone else.)

JOSH: I think it would be a great thing if San Francisco absolved itself from the federal government. It didn't work in the Civil War, but that was fourteen states trying to go. If San Francisco said, "Yo. We're sick of the Patriot Act. We're sick of you raiding medical marijuana clinics. We're sick of the fact that two people that love each other don't have the right to get married. We're doing our own thing now, what would the federal government's response be?

RU: Armed invasion?

SCOTT: The federal government will soon be dealing with that and not just from California. Many states are going to move away from a federal system. Or that's always a fear…

RU: I think that's going to be a while. (ironically) The Balkanization of America could take a few days. It might happen someday.

SCOTT: But you know, in 1986 - 87, if you had suggested the Soviet Union would not exist in three years, people would've said you're out of your gourd. That's not possible. Now look at it.

RU: I just saw Chalmers Johnson on PBS yesterday. He has a book out that is basically about the fall of America. It's apparently coming up next Tuesday, right after you listen to the R.U. Sirius Show.

SCOTT: The fall of America's coming up next Tuesday?

JOSH: Let me put it on my calendar.



RU: Tell us a little bit about your Free The Media project.

JOSH: I'm trying to build something called the "Free the Media" coalition. It will be at MediaFreedoms.net. (There's an alpha site up right now.) Basically, I'm trying to create an environment for discussing issues of media literacy. I'm planning a sort-of Open Source forum as well as meat-space satellites at various college campuses. We'll get into the role of the news media. We’ll talk about how independent or alternative media – along with established media — really fill in the marketplace of ideas. So we're trying to build a dialogue with independent journalists, establishment journalists, and then everyday viewers to try to shape the future of the media. And we'll look at what sort of protections and new formats and new ideas should exist. And it will also involve raising public awareness of issues and gathering funds for worthwhile stuff. The next time, a journalist in a legal situation like the one I found myself in might not have the backing of The Chronicle or the New York Times.

RU: There seems to be a sort of techno-anarchist paradigm, if you will, that has emerged over recent years. You might call it the decentralization of the means of production of reality. You have democratization through open source and Wikipedia and blogging and all those kinds of things. Do you see the use of this technology as a tactically effective way of bringing about a post-hierarchical society or is it peripheral?

JOSH: Well, that breaks into all sorts of schisms very quickly. I mean, we have blogs that allow people to post their own radio shows and put up their own videos. And that really does democratize the information. But then, simultaneously, we have these large corporate constructs coming in and controlling and censoring much of that dialogue. When Digg decided that they weren't going to permit the copyright code for the HD-DVD...

RU: Well, their was a popular revolt and they backed down.

JOSH: They did back down. But how often do things get censored without any revolt happening at all? Flickr was deleting someone's comments, at some point, because they said they were combative in nature.

RU: Well, wait a second! You just deleted somebody's comments.

JOSH: I actually never deleted any comments...

RU: Oh. But you kicked somebody off your site, didn't you?

JOSH: Someone made a particularly vile comment, and I said I'm reserving the right to delete comments that look like this.

JEFF: Did you set a principle about what type of comments you would allow in the future?

JOSH: I basically set a principle that I was reserving the right to remove comments, rather than saying what I would allow. I haven't actually removed anything. But when one commenter attacked another commenter with a sexually vile comment about sand in her vagina with no provocation – I start to wonder. I mean…

RU: Well, was it consensual sand, or... (laughter) forced sand. [Awkward silence] Errr… let's move on.

JEFF: What more is there to say, really, than "sand in the vagina?"

See also:
A Conversation with Justin Kan of Justin.tv
Dispatch From a Surrealist Autocracy
Dear Internet, I'm Sorry
The Perversions of "Perverted-Justice"

Read More

How the Internet Disorganizes Everything

The internet disorganizes information for you, so you can organize it for yourself — alone or with friends. That is the distilled essence of David Weinberger's theory about how we create meaning and understanding for ourselves in these times. Weinberger's provocatively titled new book, Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder, has been widely praised and may take it's place alongside The Long Tail as an epoch-defining tome.

Weinberger was also a co-author of the notorious boom-era best seller, The Cluetrain Manifesto. A fellow at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for the Internet and Society, Weinberger is now doing a regular podcast for Wired News called The Berkman/Wired Miscellaneous Podcast.

The interview was originally conducted via Skype for NeoFiles.
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: When I first saw the title of your book — Everything Is Miscellaneous — I immediately thought of my old friend Ted Nelson. He had a saying: "Everything is deeply intertwingled." Sure enough, as I got into the book, you beat me to it. You actually deal with this quote in the book. How does Nelson's idea relate to your idea?

DAVID WEINBERGER: Nelson's idea is that the world is intertwingled. That's just a great, made-up word that says that things don't come in neat categories. Sometimes we need to put things into very strict categories, and we manage to do that. If you're working at the Department of Motor Vehicles and somebody comes in with a boat trailer, you've got to decide: Does it or does it not belong in the category of licensed vehicles. We have to make these sorts of decisions. But that's not the normal case. The meaning of most things is linked, loose and ambiguous. The category systems that we've had in the past, the taxonomies – each with its experts — have not generally reflected that intertwingularity. But the web, with its link structure, and with its messy, ungoverned, permission-free link structure, perfectly represents the intertwingularity.



RU: In the world of atoms as opposed to the world of material stuff, it's easier to make all that intertwingling available. It seems almost like we're in a virtual "Six degrees of Kevin Bacon" world. Everything is six clicks away.

DW: Yes. The internet works that way. And there are so many different links and ways to get to things because the significance of our world works that way. That's why things on the web have accumulated so many messy, unpredictable links. Lots of people have seen lots of ways in which things are related, and we can express that on the web. We don't have to minimize it.

You know, in a library, a physical book has to go on only one shelf under one category. That's not a natural restriction; a single book is about many different things. But even when you try to make up for that restriction with the catalog card, which is a very reduced form of meta-data for the book, the size of the card is dictated by the inconvenience of atoms. The size of the card means that you can't put in very many of those references. But on the web, everybody can put in his or her own references. We can have hundreds or millions of references and links and connections of meaning linked to a single resource. There's no limit. So, in some ways, the web reflects better the complexity of the linked nature of the world.

RU: The massive hyperlinked web of correspondences and information that Nelson talked about with his Project Xanadu in the 1960s is happening, but it's sort of self-assembling. There's a sentence in your book that's unobtrusive — or you might say it's miscellaneously in the middle of a paragraph somewhere — but I picked it out because it seems to go right to heart of what you're saying. This is the quote: "A big part of miscellaneous information contains relationships beyond reckoning." I think it's the "contains relationships" part that's important – because although everything is miscellaneous, we're not just talking about noisy chaos.



DW: No, we're not. I'm admittedly using the word miscellaneous in a slightly extended sense. The value is not that it stays miscellaneous, and we can never find or make sense of anything. Quite the opposite. It's all there as potential. We can mine knowledge and information from it. But I don't think that's all that interesting. What's interesting is that we can also discover meaning and its significance — stuff that actually matters to us. So every time we sort through the stuff, we cut through it and see the connections that are interesting to us. And depending on what we're trying to do, we see the world in a new way. We can now do this quite fluidly, and we'll get even better at it over.

RU: The order is found by the end user. A friend of mine has a business and his slogan is "living à la carte". That seems to be kind of what we're doing with information, and so many other things.

DW: Yes, but when you order à la carte, everybody orders individually, based upon their tastes. I wouldn't want to leave it there! The most exciting and important advances in how we're making sense of this miscellaneous soup is that we're doing it socially. We're doing it through social networks; through recommendations from our friends, from sites that do that more formally; and from what shows up in our inbox. So this is not the Daily Me constituting the world based on our own individual interests. It's the "Daily Bunch-of-Us." It's loosely defined groups of people making this happen.

RU: So this is not the wisdom of the individual or the wisdom of the crowds, but the wisdom of small social networks?

DW: Yeah. It's the wisdom of the group. The crowd actually turns out to be quite lumpy. We know some people better... I know that this person over here is really useful and knowledgeable about FCC rulings, but I wouldn't ask about cars! But this other person loves talking about cars.

RU: In Ethan Zuckerman's blog post about your book, he asks: "If knowledge is a pile of leaves instead of a tree, how does the shape of knowledge change?" Do you have an answer for that?

DW: Yeah! First, there's the tree-like structure of knowledge, in which categories are carefully arranged. So there's a root and then there are branches, and every thing has to be neatly on one branch and only one branch. Each thing has a special spot and only one spot. And that shape is very useful for some types of thinking. It's certainly the shape that you use to divide up your laundry. You divide it by person, and then by body part and so forth. So you are constructing a tree. It represents how we sort and order physical objects and it's very useful.

But when we make things miscellaneous, we get to shape it the way that we want. And frequently, the shape is going to be a tree. And sometimes the shape is going to be a cluster in which there is overlap. It's every type of human relationship. It's every possible shape and so there isn't a shape. It's this potential we have before us that we can shape in ways that make sense to us at the time. And the "us" is — in fact — a social group.

RU: You refer to this miscellany as a "third order." Can you explain a little bit about this idea?

DW: In the First Order, you organize the things themselves. An example would be the physical books on the shelves.

In the Second Order, we do something that we've gotten very good at over the past couple thousand years — we separate meta-data about the stuff in the First Order. So we're still dealing with physical objects. In terms of books, it's the card catalogue. We're separating the meta-data. We've reduced the amount of information we're dealing with to what fits on the 3 x 5 card. It's much less than all the information about the book. But with the Second Order, you now have a few different ways of sorting (or categorizing). For instance, you can sort by author, title, and subject.

In the Third Order, everything becomes miscellaneous — both the data and the meta-data; the content and the information about it. The principles that guided the organization of the first two orders no longer hold.

RU: So are you saying that the first order is basically pre-taxonomy? And the second order brings that into being. And then, the third order changes how taxonomy operates – or are we leaving taxonomy behind?

DW: We're not leaving taxonomy behind. Rather, we are embracing every possible way of organizing — every shape of organization that works. And sometimes taxonomies are exactly what we need. So we have taxonomies, we also have playlists. Playlists are not really taxonomies. They're just lists. (I guess you could say they're the edge case of a taxonomy.) Playlists are really useful for some things. They're really useful for music, for example, or for syllabi. But they're not a very good way of organizing a complex library, because the list gets too long. We will use every type of organization we need, including taxonomies, when they make sense.

RU: I guess if you label your iPod music lists — say, "anti-War songs" or something like that — then that becomes a sort of taxonomy. A little mini-taxonomy. In some ways, it seems like we're really obsessed with classification these days. You have things like the human genome project. There are various projects to catalogue biological life forms. And apparently Edward O. Wilson is now doing some kind of an encyclopedia of all life. Where do those types of projects fit into your schemata, if they do?

DW: They do, because we are developing knowledge out of a pre-existing taxonomy. We make links!

Let's just limit the discussion to tags — we are not doing that because we have an existing taxonomy, but we may be able to generate a taxonomy based upon the set of tags. In fact, the most important thing is that you can generate lots of taxonomies based on a single set of tags. So it is useful to have an order of species. And scientists have been arguing about the nature of species and how you cluster them since Darwin. The argument over what constitutes a species continues among biologists still.

Sometimes you'll define a species, and thus a set of categories; and then the relationship of those categories, because you're interested in the history of their actual descent. But sometimes you'll be interested in how populations — within isolated areas separated from each other — work. At that point, their common ancestry may not be as important to you in your categorization scheme. So sometimes it will be more useful to cluster things in ways that look at their functionality as opposed to their DNA. So there are all these potential ways of organizing species. The great thing is that now we can have them all. It's all miscellaneous. If we're doing epidemiology work, one sense of species may be more important to us than another. We can have it all!

RU: Can you conjecture about the personality changes that might happen with people whose ability to organize the chaos of information is being democratized? Is there any danger of a sort of virtual narcissism?

DW: I'm a little less concerned about that than some other are because I think this activity is as social as language is. In fact, it's very closely related to language. Actually, the old idea that you could sit down and organize the universe by creating a taxonomy seems to me far more narcissistic than the bottom-up stuff that we're doing now, which is more democratizing.

RU: Do you think people are empowered by it? Do you think it might be a sort of evolutionary step for human beings?

DW: I do think it's an evolutionary thing and I do think that people are being empowered by it. But I sort of think those two things separately.

Taxonomies are power. With a centralized top-down taxonomy, one problem is that somebody gets to say what you are. And lots of people will inevitably disagree with the categorization. A really bad example of this is what happened to a popular musician living under apartheid in South Africa, By the time he was fifty, he had become a different race five times because the law had changed. And once, he had to leave his wife and family because of it.

So taxonomy is power. It's not always that gross. But let's say you're trying to decide where Scientology or Jews For Jesus or Baha'i goes in the category of religions. Are they at the same level as the big ones? Power resides in that decision. Now that we can create local clusters of meaning, local taxonomies, categorizations — a lot of that power dissipates. That's a good thing.

RU: Not only can we democratize the taxonomies that are created, we can locate new taxonomies, in a sense. We can have lots of them, as per Wikipedia.

DW: Yes. And furthermore, what works about Wikipedia is the fact that just about every other word is linked. That's more important than the categories. The categories of Wikipedia are really more like tags – and that system totally sucks! It's broken! It's barely usable. (Maybe they'll fix it.) But the fact that every article is penetrated by link after link after link going everywhere says that this messy web of meaning is more important than coming up with a nice set of categories.



RU: How would you compare what you're saying with Everything Is Miscellaneous to the two big tech business memes of the times — Web 2.0 and The Long Tail? Do you feel you're extending that? Are you taking it a little further out? How would you relate to all that?

DW: Well, from a point of view of authors' narcissism, I started working on this before either of those things came along. So I've watched them, and I do think there are relationships among all three of them.

Clearly, the long tail is about how content and ideas and stuff is spread out rather than centralized. If you're doing long tail economics or long tail business, you've got to wonder how you are ever going to provide a single categorization scheme for your products that is going to work for the entire long tail. Because, in terms of big topics, the long tail isn't actually interested in anything. The consumers on the long tail are interested in their own quirky individual things. That's the power of the long tail. So I think you want to move towards a miscellaneous way of thinking through how your customers are going to find what you want. So it's a good match.

Web 2.0 is, of course, a notoriously free term. In some ways, it's a set of examples, things that you point too. You say, "Blogs are happening, and Wikis are happening, and APIs are opening up, and there are greater mashups of information." Many of those things enable the representation and use of miscellaneous data so it all pretty much fits the miscellaneous model.

See Also:
SF Writer Rudy Rucker: Everything Is Computation
How The iPod Changes Culture
Jimmy Wales Will Destroy Google
Counterculture and the Tech Revolution

Read More

A Conversation with Justin Kan of Justin.tv



Photo by Scott Beale

It all started with Andy Warhol. He took a look around at the equipment available during the 1960s – tape recorders, video cameras, 8mm film – and realized that it wasn't necessarily about producing new narratives in the traditions of theater, opera and so forth. In fact, this was the stuff for documenting life right up to the point of tedium and beyond it, and it would be increasingly democratically accessible. This was, in fact, the context for his most famous quote: "In the future, everybody will be famous for 15 minutes."

Warhol was, of course, excoriated by both art traditionalists and committed political artists for presenting every day banality as art. But since he approached it all with such deadpan irony, others viewed his approach as the epitome of cool.



Today, Socrates' famous dictum, "the unexamined life is not worth living" has been surgically altered to read, "the undocumented life is not worth living." By the time Justin Kan clipped a mobile camera onto his cap on March 19, 2007, opening justin.tv, it was just another step along the way to the inevitable – the fully mediated life.

On arrival, justin.tv caught a media buzz. Justin appeared on "Nightline," "The Today Show," and "MTV News," and various blogs, newspapers and magazines covered his occasional travails (pranks, evictions, etc.) Not wanting to miss our chance at some justin.tv camera time, we coaxed him into appearing on The RU Sirius Show.

Justin Kan showed up at our former studio in San Francisco's lower Haight with a small entourage that included his brother (who contributed a funny and cool rap song to the show). He proved to be funny, smart, self-aware, and entirely likeable.

Since we interviewed Kan last month, justin.tv has started to spread its franchise. "Justine," a cute blonde freelance graphic/web designer and video editor from Pittsburg seems to keep the camera pointed mostly at herself, for obvious reasons. And "Parrris Harris," who calls himself a "fashion conductor" has also been added to the roster.

Pretty soon, there may be hundreds of people broadcasting their lives 24/7 via justin.tv; or through some other "channel." Watching them must be somebody's idea of a good time.

Futurist Jamais Cascio and Jeff Diehl joined me for this conversation with Justin Kan.
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: You're sort of a walking security camera — the democratization of surveillance. Have you thought about the implications of that?

JUSTIN KAN: I've thought a lot about the implications of where we're moving as a society. We're losing our privacy, whether we like it or not, right now. It's partially voluntary — through blogs and things like justin.tv, or through exposing your life on social networks like Facebook or MySpace. And it's partially involuntarily, through the prevalence of closed-circuit TV cameras everywhere. Camera technology and cameras in cellphones are getting so cheap that they're everywhere, and people are taking pictures of everything.

I guess the question in my mind is: how do we want to move to that? I think the worst thing that could happen is that there's a huge power disparity, with certain people having access to all these video cameras, and the large majority of people not having access.

JAMAIS CASCIO: I've written about "The Participatory Panopticon." David Brin refers to that as "reciprocal accountability."

RU: Brin also says "Privacy is dead, get over it." We are Big Brother!

JAMAIS: Indeed. You don't have Big Brother; you have scores of Little Brothers and Sisters.

JUSTIN: Exactly.

RU: So Justin, you're planning a sort of franchise thing.

JUSTIN: Exactly. I want everyone out there to be broadcasting their lives online!

JAMAIS: It's Justin.NN — The Justin News Network.

JUSTIN: Yes. (Laughs) I don't know if it counts as news.



RU: What's the most interesting thing that's happened to you since you strapped on the camera?

JUSTIN: One of the weirdest and maybe the worst was, right when we started, a couple days in, our viewers called the police on us. They used VoIP to spoof our phone number. The cops burst in, guns drawn, expecting to see this horrible crime going down when actually it was just three guys on laptops. I think they were a little disappointed!

JEFF DIEHL: You can do some horrible crimes on a laptop! Didn't they realize?

JUSTIN: They did not, actually. When we were trying to explain how someone spoofed our number with relay, one of them said, "I don't understand technology. I just shoot people!" (Laughter)

JAMAIS: Since you mentioned the police activity, what immediately strikes me is: you will, at some point, record a crime in progress. Whether it's somebody being mugged on the street, or something like that...

RU: You are such a pessimist! (Laughter)

JAMAIS: It's just the real world! You do this long enough, you will eventually record something that's illegal! And then you're therefore a witness — or more to the point, your archives become a witness to this crime. And the question then becomes: can the recordings be subpoenaed by the police? Have you given any thought to that?

JUSTIN: I expect they'd be able to subpoena our archives, just like the prosecution can subpoena archives of a security camera. They call in the surveillance company — or whoever is responsible for the tapes — as the witness, to testify how the camera was set up. I'd probably be in a similar position.

JAMAIS: Right.

RU: There's so many weird and interesting events going on in San Francisco. You could go to insane performance art stuff where people are putting nails through their organs, or...

JEFF: What?!

RU: I guess that was in the 90s – people like Mustafar were always performing. Or you could go to underground sex clubs and stuff like that. Are you staying away from the really weird stuff? Does it just not appeal to you?

JUSTIN: I kind of go for the weird-but-fun San Francisco stuff. Like there was that Lombard Street Big Wheel race, so I participated in that. You got to see the Big Wheel view of me, tearing down Lombard Street, ramming into people...

RU: Your greatest controversy was when you switched off your gear when you were with a young lady. This is, of course, the thing everybody was waiting to see! And it sparked much debate about whether you sold out on your promise to keep this justin.tv thing going, consistently and constantly. How do you view that?

JUSTIN: Well, the bottom line is, it's my life, and I'll do whatever I want!

RU: (Laughs) Opportunity struck, and...

JUSTIN: Opportunity strikes, and... You know...

JEFF: "What's more important: this camera or getting laid?" If she's not going to do it with it on, then...

RU: But if you look around the net, there's obviously a lot of women who want to show off for the camera. Have you been approached by, uh, you know... women who want to make a reputation?

JUSTIN: I don't know. We're still trying to figure out what we can show and what we can't show. And I think that, right now, the safe play is definitely being family-friendly. We always like to encourage advertisers to approach us. And something like that might be a little over-the-top from a corporate perspective.

JEFF: Can't you just make an immediate fuzz filter, so — you know, the guy on the control just hits a button and it goes fuzzy. But you still see stuff moving around...

JUSTIN: We might be able to do that, actually. We'll have to hire an intern to sit there and move the little bubble around.

JEFF: The naughty bits.

JUSTIN: Yeah.

JEFF: Isn't there going to be a big scandal for your franchise when the first person starts broadcasting themselves naked or having sex or something that's considered obscene? How do you regulate that?

RU: I thought that was the idea! (Laughter)

JEFF: Well, of course it is! But nobody's done it yet! I'm surprised nobody's done it publicly yet. I'm surprised you haven't done it publicly…

JUSTIN: Justin.tv has been R-rated at best, so far.

JEFF: But isn't that going to be a problem? It will probably become some kind of a free speech issue. You'd have to force people through some channel where whatever they're going to be webcasting — it's okay. Because otherwise, anybody can just load up their browser and watch people having sex!

JUSTIN: Well they can already do that. Just not on justin.tv!

JEFF: You're going to make it a lot easier...

RU: So whatever people are going to do with their Justin franchises is OK to you?

JUSTIN: Well honestly, justin.tv shouldn't be a platform for the (sort of) "bad stuff" out there on the internet. Whether it's hate speech or obscenities of whatever. So we'll almost definitely do some censorship. If someone's using their channel to broadcast themselves committing a crime – well, that's not something we want to promote. You know? We would definitely shut that down.



JAMAIS: Have you run into any intellectual property disputes — recording something that someone else claims as their own copyrighted material?

JUSTIN: Not yet. I guess if we were issued a takedown notice from someone who's music I listened to… but we haven't gotten anything.

RU: It seems like the one thing that you need to avoid is watching a lot of other media.

JUSTIN: Well, I don't go to movies. And I think I've watched TV like one time in the past 56 days, and the camera wasn't pointed at the screen. But honestly, the quality from the justin.tv camera (recording other media) is such that you're probably better off BitTorrenting it anyways.

JAMAIS: That doesn't matter.

JUSTIN: I understand that it doesn't matter from a legal perspective. But, for instance, I've been invited by ClearChannel radio stations to come in the station and listen to music. I think they view it more as a promotional tool.

RU: But the music industry might start displaying their hunger for reward as this gets more distributed — just like they're doing with internet radio. A lot of people who use your equipment are going to be listening to music all the time — or else they're going to have to change their lifestyles.

JUSTIN: Right. But I wouldn't be surprised if the music industry realized that this is something more along the lines of radio.

RU: Yeah, but they're attacking internet radio right now!

JEFF: It's the same thing as people using it for sex. As soon as you democratize it and make it available for everyone to use for free — they're going to start going to concerts, and they're going to start going to movies. How do you police that?

JUSTIN: That's something we'll have to figure out as we go along.

JAMAIS: And how do you control it? Right now the camera that you're wearing is maybe the size of a small Mag-Lite. Within the next few years, you'll be able to wear something the size of a lipstick tube. Or maybe even something that's smaller than that.

JUSTIN: You can already do that. There are glasses that have built-in cameras that you could actually use with this. We made the conscious decision to make the camera visible; partly, to promote the celebrity of it, but also to let people know they were on camera. I think that's much more ethical than the alternative.

RU: Have you had anybody become upset about being on camera? I remember when I was walking around in the 1970s with a video camera — one of those ancient Portapacks that you strapped to your back. Some guy got really paranoid and upset that I was randomly videotaping people.

JUSTIN: I got kicked out of the Gap. That was probably the worst response. And some people request… you know, "Oh, I don't want to be on camera." So I kind of turn away and don't talk to them. And that's generally been okay. Most people — I'd say 29 out of 30 — have been really excited or positive about it.

RU: They want to be on camera.

JUSTIN: Yeah.

RU: They think what you're doing is a cool thing. It's interesting.

JUSTIN: Exactly. And I think part of it is my attitude about it. I'm not an investigative reporter! I try to approach people in a way that makes them comfortable. I'm not "in your face" about it.

RU: Do a Mike Wallace trip on people! That would be a sudden turn for Justin!

JEFF: I was just imagining flocks of skaters downtown wearing these things and going around and pulling Mike Wallaces all over the place.

RU: Did you go to that movie that you were advertising?

JUSTIN: Disturbia. Yeah, we went to the movie. We took the camera off and played the trailer while I was in the theatre. So there was another two-hours where you didn't get to see of Justin's life. Mostly I was sitting in the theatre.

JAMAIS: So you say.

JUSTIN: So I say.

RU: I would think that the company that made the movie would've wanted you to sit there and view...

JUSTIN: I don't think they wanted the recording of video out there. I guess they could've turned the camera on me or something. That would've been cool.

JAMAIS: It would've been interesting to have a recording of your reaction to the movie.

JEFF: That's something that you could do during sex, too!

JUSTIN: (Laughs) Just put the camera on myself, like this, I guess...

JEFF: Just her view! Yeah!

RU: Justin's smiling face...

JUSTIN: It'll be like [makes a face]. (Dryly) Yeah, that would be great. I'm sure the viewers would appreciate that...

JEFF: Your "O face," close up.

RU: From what I understand, quite a large majority of your viewers are male. Does that...

JUSTIN: I don't know if that's true. A surprising amount of our viewers are outside the demographic that I thought they would be in — which was 13 to 35-year-old males. They seem to be… everyone. Mothers, fathers, older women, girls in their 20s... It's amazing that we've hit all over the map like that.

RU: What do you think is appealing to them? And do you think it can continue to be appealing over a long period of time?

JUSTIN: Well, I think the appealing thing about something like justin.tv is that you get an inside view into someone's life. It's kind of a low-commitment way of having a real relationship. And you know, people want to talk to other people, and people like watching other people — fundamentally.

JAMAIS: It's very primate.

JUSTIN: Exactly. It's something everyone does, instinctually. So being able to just go to a web site and automatically have video of one guy — day after day — and you can see what he's doing and check up on him – that's something that appeals to a lot of people.

RU: It's like an extra relationship.

JUSTIN: Exactly. What's cool is the way that communities have formed around the video. People log in the chat room, and talk with each other. People with the same faces show up and they recognize each other. It's cool. After the first week, I stopped going to the chat room much. And then when I came back, maybe three weeks later, I was like the outsider. In my own chat room!

RU: Do you monitor what viewers like, what some of their favorite moments are?

JUSTIN: I get viewer updates every fifteen minutes to the cellphone so I can see —"Oh, this caused a spike." I was at the Halo 3 premier, and we plugged the live feed of us playing it into the transmitter. And we instantly got around 80 viewers. Everyone wanted to check out the demo!

RU: There has been some note that your viewership has been going down.

JUSTIN: (Joking) It might be because I'm not attractive enough!



RU: Do you have plans to do some things to bring people back? Or are you just going to let it flow...

JUSTIN: Well, we had this huge spike after we were on Nightline and The Today Show. Now after a huge press wave, we've basically stabilized. So we're working on viral tools to let people share their videos more easily; and to access the archives. We have this huge library of content. But am I going to do some horrible stunt? We'll have to see.

RU: If you get this franchise going, and there are a bunch of people doing this — are you going to want to watch a lot of them? Or are you going to be like me? I never really listen to other podcasts...

JUSTIN: You know, I don't watch justin.tv. For one reason, it's...

RU: (Laughs) Can't watch that damn thing!

JUSTIN: Yeah. (Joking) Everyone on it is irritating!

JAMAIS: It gets a bit recursive.

JEFF: The infinite regress is disconcerting...

JUSTIN: People don't want to see me watching myself. Over and over.... I guess when we do launch a bunch of other channels, I won't watch those very much either. I'll just get feedback from other people — let them tell me who's interesting and who's not.

RU: Rake in the percentages!

JUSTIN: Yeah, something like that.

JEFF: (Joking) Just don't give Josh Wolf your technology. God knows what kind of trouble he'll get into with it.

JUSTIN: He'll be back in jail, two months later!

JEFF: Do you ever want to unplug?

JUSTIN: That's a very common question. It's just like anything. There are times you want to and times you don't.

RU: Do you ever feel deeply depressed, and feel "Oh shit! What did I get myself into?"

JUSTIN: No, that hasn't happened yet. We're saving that for when we need some good drama!


See Also:
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The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny
Virtual Screech, Sexual Superstar
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Read More

Raising Hunter S. Thompson


B. Duke

Hunter S. Thompson lives on. In the play, Gonzo: A Brutal Chrysalis, performer and writer "B. Duke" incarnates the Last Free American Writer as he was during the intense and difficult years 1968-1971.

The play's publicity package tells it like this: "Fresh from his breakthrough success chronicling — and nearly being beaten to death by — the Hells Angels, Thompson embarks on a one- and two-man war on the Death of the American Dream. From Big Oil and the Big Three to the NRA and the Kentucky Derby, Richard Nixon and the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the usual suspects are strafed and castrated by the Man Who Would Be Raoul.

"What he could not conquer from without, he co-opted from within by becoming the single greatest and most effective danger that anyone before or since has been to the bipolar establishment that is American politics."



I would only add that on November 11, 1971 Rolling Stone published the first installment of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. And in the following year, they ran his Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72. A generation was thus given an opportunity to learn the truth about America in the only way it could truly be told, through a cracked acidic lens that blurred fiction and fact and came to be called "Gonzo Journalism."

The SF Weekly said about "Gonzo: A Brutal Chrysalis,"
If you're looking for the fun loving and hilariously drug-addled Hunter S. Thompson portrayed on screen by Johnny Depp and Bill Murray you'll be surprised and uncomfortably mystified by this one-man performance about the founder of gonzo journalism. Gonzo is an interesting look at a lesser-seen side of the counterculture icon, but the performance feels like a reckless, all-out verbal assault. The theater's concession stand sells cheap whiskey and balloons filled with nitrous oxide, and the gunshots onstage feel dangerous and deafening. But perhaps, Hollywood sheen aside, this show is a truer look at the man who reinvented modern alternative journalism.

I interviewed "B. Duke" on the RU Sirius Show. Steve Robles joined me in questioning "B." Indeed, the media hook here may be that Robles waxed way obscene about Condie Rice days before Opie and Anthony's moment of infamy. Read on.
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS (INTRODUCING SHOW & GUEST): We were just starting the R. U. Sirius Show when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like "I feel a little light-headed, maybe Steve Robles should host the show." Then suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us, and the room was full of what looked like huge bats swooping and screeching and diving around the studio and a voice was screaming, "Holy Jesus, they've just eaten Diana Brown!"

"B. Duke" was shot from a cannon August 20, 2005. He landed in my back yard and we raised him on belladonna and chili dogs, and he grew. Today he is a freelance counter-intelligence operative feared throughout the empire and certain precious gem syndicates. After giving notice to friends and family, he dove body, mind and soul into Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Recent sightings reported in South Dakota, Wyoming, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, read like confessions from some hideous corruption and conversion spree. He prefers LSD to all other drugs and aggressive seduction to passive supplication. (Most of this description is written by "B" himself.)

I don't know if I'm going to do aggressive seduction or passive supplication today, but...

B. DUKE: You seem like a really nice guy, but you're just generally not my type.

RU: Yeah. Well, we'll see what happens. I might change into something entirely otherwise after you finish drinking that water we just served you...

BD: My god, man, what did you do? Are you sure you put enough in?

RU: You might notice I look like a spider. So, describe the genesis of "Gonzo."

BD: My producer, "A. Duke," came to me in July of 2005 and expressed some frustration… wanting to get out of life as a techie. He'd done theatre work before, and he'd seen me do spoken word and other play performances in San Francisco. I did "Dr. Strangelove" and "Night of the Living Dead."

So "A." called me up and said, "I think we should do a play together." And I said, "Well, what did you have in mind?" And he said, "I think we should do a play about Hunter Thompson." I nearly hung up the phone on him. But he's been one of my best friends for over a decade. So instead I said, "I'll have to call you back," and then hung up the phone on him. I called him back in December, and...

RU: Why did you hang up the phone?

BD: I thought it was way too close to Thompson's checkout for us to be diving into something like that. It felt a little bit scavenger-like. Disrespectful. I'm a big "respect for the dead" person. Also, even though he had a pretty good influence on my life from an early time, he wasn't exactly the godhead idol of my universe. So we met in December, and I told him and "C. Duke," our director and executive producer that if they wanted to re-create Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I was out right then.

RU: Right. Been done.

BD: Everybody had tried to capture that zany madness and that sort of zeitgeist. So I suggested that we use Fear and Loathing in America : The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist. That's a collection of Thompson's letters from '68 - '76. I had read that a few years earlier and I'd become keenly aware that the nuances of a real man were there.

A great little history book called Don't Know Much About History tried to lift the veil of lionized demi-gods by remembering that George Washington once said to Henry "Ox" Knox as he was crossing the river, "Henry, shift your fat ass over, you'll swamp the whole boat." The object of the book was to treat historical figures as real people.

RU: There's a lot of material from Hunter… bitchy letters and notes…

BD: He was ferocious. He would start in on speed, probably somewhere around 11 PM or midnight, and he would go to bed about 8 or 9:00 in the morning – around the time his young son Juan was getting up. He'd get up around 3 in the afternoon.



We secured an original 1968 IBM Selectric Model I typewriter off of eBay for the play. I learned from working with it that you can lie through a computer really easily. You can delete whole swaths of material real easily. On the typewriter, you have to think continuously. Also, we're used to firing out our emails right now. Nobody takes time to think about anything. In these letters, he'd stop and start. They would take hours for him to create. And in between, he was hosting a lot of druggie friends and doing a lot of shooting and some traveling and...

RU: It's interesting to think that he didn't send those letters out impulsively. And yet some of them certainly have an impulsive quality about them.

BD: Well, he starts off 1968 in a pretty bad state. The Hells Angels almost beat him to death out — and that was the Oakland club. He had the incredibly bad sense to harangue a guy named Junkie George, He was considered one of the more uncontrollable guys on that squad. And if you can picture the Hell's Angels having guys on there that even they admit are uncontrollable...

Junkie George had smacked around his wife and kicked his dog across a fireplace. And Thompson quipped at him that only punks did that. And Junkie George laid into him. And once one Hell's Angel is on you, the rest will follow. And he got out of there only through the grace of a man nicknamed Tiny — who was massive. Tiny hauled Thompson out of there.

So he pretty much fled San Francisco and went out to Colorado for his best friend's wedding. And he kind of fell in love with the whole area just outside Aspen. But for Hunter, success immediately involved getting sued by publishers who pretty much wanted a settlement agreement that would chain him to a typewriter for them.

RU: A lot of his anger and a lot of his juice came from being really pissed off as a writer. Pissed off at mainstream publishing. Pissed off about not getting paid. Pissed off when his articles weren't published in full. That sort of thing. He was a warrior for writers.

BD: That's part of it. But at the same time, I think it does a disservice to Thompson to classify him as chronically pissed off. The top of my bong used to read, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." And I still firmly believe that.

He hated hippies because they weren't doing anything. There were other radicals around here, like the Diggers and SDS — people who really were fomenting change. But he thought the hippies were just lazy. But the main thing that was driving him in early '68 was that he couldn't come up with a new idea. He didn't know where he was going.

RU: There was a book about Lyndon Johnson, and then that got screwed because Johnson dropped out.

BD: That book was part of a settlement agreement from court cases. He was going to do that, The Rum Diary, and then he had sold the idea for a book called "The Death of the American Dream." And then Lyndon checked out of the race. And that cost Thompson about $10,000, which in today's money would be about $80,000 or $90,000. And he very much needed the money.

So Hunter became obsessed around that time with the death of the American dream. He could see things going just horribly wrong. In writing a piece titled "Presenting the Richard Nixon Doll—Overhauled 1968 Model" — the overhauled 1968 New Nixon model, he pretty much lays out the road map for why the Democrats are going to fail in 1968.

RU: This is before the Chicago convention?

BD: Yeah. That was another galvanizing point for him. That was the big face-off. And we make a big issue of that in the play. One of the first things that came up for me in writing the script was that this was a humungous turning point for him. Because he'd pretty much socked himself into Woody Creek, and wasn't going out much before he went there.

By the way, he read tremendously. His inventory of magazines and publications was twenty or thirty publications long — newspapers, magazines. And he didn't just read one side. It's not as though he just read all the left-wing stuff. He wanted to know what the other side was thinking. He read religiously.

RU: He was a political junkie. In fact, he was a mainstream political junkie. In a way, he followed it the way he followed sports. He loved sports and he loved electoral politics.

BD: He was a pragmatic realist. He very much wanted to see America succeed on the promise of America — hence "The American Dream." He wasn't trying to define that for anyone. He just didn't want to see it get perverted by people who were really just using us and selling us their version of the American Dream. And this becomes a very heavy point with him.

When he went to Chicago, he had originally wanted to go around and see the delegates. He bugged Random House for months to get him credentials to get in the convention. But as it approached, he realized that the convention itself was going to be largely irrelevant, and what was going to happen there was a pretty good-sized battle. And Richard J. Daley was no slouch. This is Chicago we're talking about

RU: Before the Chicago convention, Daley had recently given shoot-to-kill orders in a race riot.

BD: This is the old school Democrats. My grandfather worked for a steel mill, and when they were on strike, the mob would come in and try to break the strikes down. So when you're in a tough industrial production area like Chicago… the Democrats were not, you know, the spineless creatures of today. These were people who lifted bricks, worked steel, built cars, and would do it to it if you tried to screw with them.

RU: Right. They weren't going to put up with a bunch of flower punks.

BD: Well, there was a schism in the Democratic Party at the time. And the tremendous youth movement that came largely from California kind of fanned out from there. And so you had these older liberals there who Thompson would come to absolutely detest for their uselessness. They'd had the baby and built the family business and they were very comfortable and didn't want too much change. So there's this kind of uneasiness between the two parts of the Democratic party — the young people really wanted to turn American away from this travesty and end the war.

RU: Also, many of the Southern Democrats were still segregationists… Please perform a segment from the play.

BD AS HUNTER S. THOMPSON:
The blowback from the mayor's race was pretty catastrophic. I was no longer a fellow among the people. Instead I'd become a dangerous freak among the misfits. "Communist!" "Dope fiend!" "Motherfucker!" I was commonly all three at once. "Thompson, you communist dope fiend motherfucker!"

Certain people who had once called themselves my friends and allies now said openly that Aspen and Woody Creek in general would be far better off if I met with some hideously violent fate that the Hell's Angels would do for free. Those treacherous cocksuckers would have to come up here and get me first. Randomly firing the .44 at the gongs I had mounted on the ridge crest kept any such fuckers from thinking that was a realistic possibility.

Besides, it's not like I'm a journalistic recluse any more. Whereas Playboy and Esquire may have cut me off at the knees, Warren Hinckle has decided to give me a platform from his new magazine, Scanlon's Monthly. Even when he lopped off entire sections of my NRA and Killy pieces, I was still able to take a head-on run at the fat bat bastards who have almost done this entire country in. The money was pretty good — kept things around here relatively fluid… that is, when they actually paid me. You see, Warren's intentions were noble but he has absolutely no idea how to conduct national distribution or spur an expanding subscriber base. I figured the entire thing was going to go down in flames owing me a ton of money in the process.

RU: Is this writing basically you trying to do the voice of Hunter S. Thompson? Are you incorporating his stuff? Is it all him? How does it work?

BD: I had originally intended to take certain passages from Fear and Loathing in America : The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist and kind of knit them together. I quickly abandoned that. I knew it wasn't going to work. Also, we would run afoul of copyright issues with the estate and I don't really care for his widow. She's done several stupid things that I really detest. So I didn't want to pour more gasoline on that fire. And unlike Johnny Depp or Bill Murray, I didn't have the luxury of moving into Thompson's house and getting the Hunter experience.

So I did more research and it was the political stuff that he did that really caught my attention. And at that time, I lived alone. So I had a great luxury of time to myself to do this. And I really kind of absorbed him through his letters, and went back and re-read things that I had read before, in the context of the letters, to get the complete effect. And I really allowed him to take me over. I spent a lot of time with my eyes closed imagining the world as he would see it.

And it's very easy to translate elements of his frustration — the Vietnam war to the Iraq war; spineless, useless Democrats to spineless, useless Democrats; vile Republicans to vile Republicans. Oil companies fucking everybody.

So I realized that I couldn't just try to sound like him. I had to reach in and find that agony. And I knew there was something in there that no one was really getting to because we're all fascinated with the myth of the gonzo maniac. But at the core, even our more outlandish people are real people (with the possible exceptions of Paris Hilton and Barbra Streisand). And as I started to find out more about his personal life, I could see where that pain was coming from. His wife had two miscarriages, one at four months and six months, both in 1968. And in 1969 she delivered a stillborn daughter.

RU: And that plays into your piece...

BD: Oh yes, it does. Yeah. We went for the man not the myth. Everybody knows the myth.

RU: Did you have any trepidation about trying to do this, in terms of a responsibility towards him as a man?

BD: I wouldn't say I had trepidation. I knew what we were going for, and my cohorts in were very patient with me in letting me get this together in a kind of organic way. There was none of this: "must meet milestone A to get to milestone B." We didn't work that way.

But I was really concerned about having to experience all of that pain. And up to the point where I got the Selectric, the process of writing this script was nothing but agony. It hurt all the time. After the stillborn baby, he really lost his mind. If you had given Hunter Thompson a button to blow up the world at that time, he would've pushed it. He was very blackened, and just horrifically torn

RU: Was he doing a lot of the drugs he was famous for during this time?

BD: He was doing a lot of speed at the time. He'd laid off the LSD, but was trying to get mescaline every now and then. The speed actually came from a nuclear lab in New York where his wife Sandy had been a secretary, and those poor scientists were paid so badly, they started producing methamphetamine.



RU: That nuclear crank is the best shit.

BD: Yeah, well... I think that's why he really didn't like the Hell's Angels so much. They were still fucking around on Benzedrine and he's got "Fusion power." Anyway, if you've ever been around someone who takes speed, the emotional roller-coaster ride they go through is pretty extreme.

RU: I've been very close to someone who took speed.

STEVE ROBLES: (Knowingly) Yeah, (Laughs) In fact, you could argue that the ability to have some kind of grip on reality becomes...

BD: ... very strained.

SR: At least as tenuous as while on LSD, I think.

BD: But Hunter slept. A lot of speed freaks will go and go and go and go until they collapse in dehydration, starvation, exhaustion. You know — spun out tweeker. But he slept every night and Sandy took good care of him. And let's not forget that we're talking about Hunter Thompson,

But Thompson rode the ups and downs of this, and he did drink quite a bit. And so that had an impact. And, of course, being sort of sequestered with Sandy there the whole time was a compound misery. And he was from an age where men didn't really talk about their feelings. They kept it locked up. He didn't believe in psychiatry. He took it on alone. So he was trying to grapple with all of this agony in his personal life. Meanwhile, the country's disintegrating around him. He got the shit knocked out of him in Chicago by the police. He started to feel like the whole nation was really slipping into a type of internal Civil War bordering on anarchy.

RU: He really felt it. He was not a cynic.

BD: No, he wasn't. And he'd already covered very heavy things as a journalist. He had been in South America for a time, and had covered riots down there and had done some tough reports in New York City and the Caribbean. He knew true toughness. He was unafraid to go into it. And remember, Thompson was like 6'5" and 185 pounds. He was monstrous.

SR: I think part of his wanting to speak out came out of frustration because there weren't a lot of other strong voices that he agreed with.

RU: Nobody quite put it into the package that he did. I was actually one of the people who would read Rolling Stone back when those articles came out. So I got the initial surprise of reading him… wow! Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was the first one I read.

BD: He and Hinckle and Ralph Steadman hooked up and pretty much made a pact to go ahead and rip these assholes out. I don't mean to say that he was ready to step up and become a John Lennon. But he was keenly aware of his ability to reach people and sway their minds, even one-on-one. And he was an ardent prankster and a total psych-fucker. He really enjoyed that.

RU: There are a bunch of stories about him doing some crazy shit. Do you have any favorites?

BD: Oh yeah. My personal favorite is when his friend was living in New York on the fifth floor of a walk-up in Hell's Kitchen. Thompson went over there to see him one day, and the guy wasn't home and Thompson got bored. And, with all the windows open on the fifth floor, he took a belt off and started smacking this wall with it: Whack! Whack! "Beg for it, bitch!" Whack! Whack! Whack! "Who's your daddy!?" Whack! Whack! Whack! And so the neighbors got really distressed and called the police, and the police stormed the place. So they went up there and found Thompson sitting alone. "Where's the other guy? What's going on there?" "I don't know what you're talking about. Who? What? Huh?"

RU: (Laughs) In writing this, did you feel like you had to adopt his lifestyle at all?

BD: Absolutely. I've been chain-smoking Dunhill reds since October and I don't smoke. My mother and my grandmother and my girlfriend are all very concerned that if the play continues to be a success, I will have to continue smoking.

RU: What about all the other enjoyments? Had any adrenochrome? Did you bring any adrenochrome with you? (Laughter)

BD: My attorney's not as good as his!

SR: You don't have the Samoan?

BD: Hey, he was Mexican, dammit! (Laughter)

SR: How about Wild Turkey?

BD: Absolutely. I've been drinking 101 pretty much rabidly for a while.

SR: Yowch!

BD: (Laughs) Smoking a lot of pot, and taking acid.

RU: It would be really hard to be a Gonzo journalist right now. In terms of mainstream publications, nobody let's you do it! Lester Bangs was sort of the last one to get away with it in the rock press.

BD: Matt Taibbi. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone is the heir apparent to Hunter Thompson. He is on the mission...

RU: I guess I haven't been reading it lately

BD: I first noticed him about two years ago when he went to Burning Man and proclaimed it for what it is — toothless and wallowing in its own muck and irrelevant to anyone or anything. The next week, he went out to New Orleans with Sean Penn, who was on some insane rescue mission for a single black woman in an underwater parish. Tabbi went into this destruction with Penn and filed an incredible story. He has been in Washington since, ripping every single one of these vile greed-heads that we love to hate. And he names the names. He tells you exactly who they are and what they're doing. He went into a Senate fundraiser for this one Senator from Alaska posing as a Russian oil company investment banker. And the company name he made up translated to "oily fart gas." And he really did kind of go in and invade this scene Thompson-style. But he doesn't do drugs like Hunter did. Or at least if he does, he's very quiet about it.

RU: It's great that it can still happen. I think the magazine industry — the magazine people are much more tight-assed than they were in the late 60s. I'm surprised and pleased to hear that Wenner lets somebody rip. Of course, people can do gonzo on the web. But the other question is, does anybody do it well? What do you think about that? Certainly, lots of people are trying to mix fiction and non-fiction and tell wild drug tales and so forth. But who does it well?

BD: Well, Arianna Huffington, when she finally saw the light and was forced to admit that our government was freely for sale — I sent her a letter. She and my father are friends. I sent her a letter welcoming her to the punk rock club, and recommended that she purchase Dead Kennedys albums and Black Flag and the Circle Jerks and catch up on things. She never wrote back...

RU: She's never written back to me either.

BD: She could go far. She could go far with that dyed red job and just a little shave on the side. She could be hot! Think about it.

SR: Could be?! I would bang the living crap out of her. I'd bang her so hard that her fucking ex-husband would feel it.

JEFF DIEHL: Is that before or after Condoleezza Rice?

SR: I'd do both at once, man. How about that? How about a little salt and pepper in my hotel room.



BD: No no no... listen. Condoleezza Rice needs a devoted line of slave boys under her desk to try to achieve the impossible, and that is an orgasm.

But getting back to what we were saying about being a gonzo journalist in the early 21st century. What it takes is guts, determination and belief. Rolling Stone ran an interesting piece a couple years ago that showed how most journalism schools are turning their graduates towards marketing. And journalism has always been right up there with teaching in terms of poverty. But that's not true any more. Journalists can make it. And then there's the fact that these — as Thompson would've said it — castrated editors and publishers are afraid to rock boats. No one will touch GM or Westinghouse. And then we had the brainwashing from the Bush administration. People were genuinely afraid to step out. This was the most dangerous time since at least the McCarthy era for this country, where the backswing of the administration, in terms of curtailing liberty and intimidating free speech, really did put a clamp down on all of us. We're just now getting out from under that.

But there's no journalist Gary Cooper for this generation. First of all, it has to start in the schools. This is where Thompson's death could really help us out. Thompson is going to become a college course in places like Columbia.

RU: Right. And people are going to wonder: Why can't we do this? I mean, there was a whole narrative around this idea of New Journalism that has kind of disappeared.

BD: Professors need to be willing to take chances, and to do more in the publish-or-perish environment than stroke their own egos. We're at war. Our country really is going to hell. I feel like it's the Roman Empire, circa 425. One more venal or weak leader, and we're done.

RU: Before we let you go — give us another piece of your act.
BD (AS HST): Steadman's still recovering from that debacle in Newport at the America's Cup last year. He really went at it from all angles, including a rock band whose single at the time was "Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker!" Including Ralph on his first hallucinogens, and for his bravery, he was treated to a near hopeless flight from harbor police and private security as we tried to spray-paint "Fuck the Pope" on a large yacht and were undone by steel balls in the spray can. I was using the flare gun to cover our asses for a graceful exit from this. And there's Ralph — barefoot and psychotic, ambling onto a plane for New York. His plan is to get to the Scanlon's offices, and to sort of blend in with the other freaks and get some down time. But he lands there, takes a cab to Scanlon's, and finds out that they are locked up tight. They'd folded the day before. I already knew that. But Ralph's mind was in such a delicate condition at the time that I couldn't tell him. One last thing, and that would've been it. And he was far too valuable for future excursions. So I think I'm going to have to give him a pass on this one. I mean, last time I talked to him, he was still having severely debilitating flashbacks, and hoping for a soon return to a relatively peaceful normalcy as much as Ralph really can.

It's time to dial in the other hardcore pro. Oscar Zeta Costa and I had been working both sides of this wretched street for years. He's the main engine in the Mexican brown power movement down in Los Angeles – an attorney of unflinching gall, hypnotic oratory, and the will to do what the other guy won't every single time. He can shut down large stretches of that vast nightmarish metropolis by calling for a one-day strike among the Latinos. And yet, he's under the delusion that he can build a country where freaks like us are safe from prosecution as he settles into a tweed-and-loafers existence as a UCLA law professor. Oh yeah, we've traded barbs over who's the bigger sell-out — co-opted into a comfortable existence just outside the wires. But being called an infantile anarchist by that Mexican dunce with the moles… That was the last straw. It's time to call that rotten little spic on his shit, haul his ass out of Los Angeles, and to a place where he cannot escape the overwhelming filth that is America. Las Vegas is neutral territory for both of us. Neither one of us has any connections there, or any clout that's going to count for anything other than a quick getaway if we need it.

"Gonzo: A Brutal Chrysalis" will be performed in Seattle in September-October.

September 20-22, 27-29
The Freehold Theater
1525 10th Ave.
Seattle, WA
www.freeholdtheatre.org

October 4-6
Capitol Hill Arts Center
1621 12th Ave.
Seattle, WA
www.capitolhillarts.com

They are also seeking a venue for a planned a September run in Los Angeles and would welcome any information about those venues at: [email protected]


See also:
When Kurt Vonnegut Met Sammy Davis Jr.
Willie Nelson's 'Narcotic' Shrooms
Drugs and Sex and Suzie Bright
Did Bush Spin Like Nixon?
The Chicks Who Tried to Shoot Gerald Ford
David Sedaris Exaggerates For Us All
20 Secrets of an Infamous Dead Spy





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Give Me Immortality Or Give Me Death!

Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death!

According to transhumanist Michael Anissimov, there's an even chance that we're looking at immortality or existential destruction in the next 20-40 years. Anissimov is only 23-years-old but he's already become an important figure in the transhumanist movement. While still in high school, he became founder and director of the Immortality Institute. He's been active with the World Transhumanist Association (WTA), and he is currently Fundraising Director, North America for the Lifeboat Foundation.

Lifeboat Foundation describe themselves as "a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging scientific advancements while helping humanity survive existential risks and possible misuse of increasingly powerful technologies, including genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics/AI as we move toward a technological singularity."

Anissimov also blogs regularly at Accelerating Future.

I interviewed him for my NeoFiles Show. Jeff Diehl joined me.

To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.


RU SIRIUS: Let's start off talking about immortality. And let's talk about it personally. Do you want to live forever?

MICHAEL ANISSIMOV: Oh, absolutely! For sure!

RU: Why?

MA: Because I have at least a thousand years of plans already. And in those thousand years, I'll probably make another thousand years of plans, and I don't see any end to that cycle.



RU: Do you see the quality of life improving for yourself and for most human beings?

MA: Yes, I do.

RU: Because I don't know if I want to live forever under Darwinian conditions. It gets tiring.

MA: I agree. It does. We need to take control of our own evolution before this would be a planet really worth living on. I don't think that thousands of years of war would be good for anyone. So things do need to improve.

RU: Yeah. Even having to pay… who can afford a thousand years?

MA: (Laughs) Well, you'll work for a thousand years...

RU: It's very expensive!

MA: Yeah, people are dying to retire. So it would help out if we had the robots doing a little bit more of the work.

JEFF DIEHL: So what's your itinerary for the next thousand years?

MA: I want to go spelunking in every major cave. I want to climb the highest peak on every continent. I want to write, like maybe at least ten nonfiction books and ten fiction books. Mmmm…

RU: Some people have done that in a lifetime.

MA: I know!

JD: Yeah, you're not very ambitious, man — come on!

MA: (Laughs) Think of ten possible lives you could live, and then think that you don't necessarily need to choose between them. You could live them back to back.

RU: On the other hand, you could pop your consciousness into several bodies and have them all living simultaneously for only a hundred years. Would that be the equivalent of living a thousand years?

MA: I don't think so. I think that would just be like having kids. Copying yourself would give rise to multiple independent strains of consciousness.

RU: Maybe there could be some kind of central person who could be taking in all of the experiences.

MA: There could be some information exchange, but...

RU: Aubrey de Grey, of course, is the hacker-biologist who has become very well known for saying that this is quite plausible in the near future. Is there any progress that he's pointed to, or that you can point to, since he really proclaimed the plausibility of immortality some time around the beginning of this century?

MA: Yeah. Recently Peter Thiel, former CEO of Paypal, offered three million dollars in matching funds for projects related to this. And they've started coming up with ways to actually use over a million dollars, I believe. They have the MitoSENS project and the LysoSENS projects.

RU: What are these projects about?

MA: Well, with LysoSENS — lysomal junk is this stuff that builds up between cells. And our natural metabolism doesn't currently have any way of breaking it down. So researchers are trying to exploit the law of microbial infallibility — the notion that no matter what organic material you're talking about, you're going to be able to find a microbe that can eat it. So they're searching for microbes that are capable of breaking down this junk. And they've been looking in places like... next to a Burger King, because people throw burgers on the ground and stuff like that. So there are special bacteria there that learn how to break down these organic compounds. And some of these researchers have even gotten permission to get soil samples from the people that run graveyards because that's where you'd expect to find the bugs. Basically, they're looking for specialized microbes that can dissolve that lysomal junk.

RU: IBM recently announced a naotechnology breakthrough. They said that "the breakthrough marks the first time chips have been made with a self-assembling nano-technology using the same process that forms seashells or snowflakes." This sounds like a really big deal.

MA: Yeah, it is! It's not the same thing though as molecular manufacturing, where you basically have a molecular assembly line that places each atom, one by one. It's not quite as intelligently controlled or productive, but it is a large breakthrough.

RU: Yeah, the word jumps out at me — "self-assembling." That sounds... you're not too excited?

MA: (Skeptically) Ehhh. I mean, it's pretty exciting but people have been playing around with this stuff for a while

RU: OK. Let's move on to your current work — The Lifeboat Foundation This foundation is focused on existential risk, which is a board game, I think: Camus v. Sartre.

MA: (Laughs) Not exactly!

RU: I don't know how you win. It's probably like Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts — the board game never arrives.

Anyway, in the discourse currently going around among people who are part of the transhumanist schemata and transhumanist world — there seems to be a turn from optimism towards a dialogue that's sort of apocalyptic. And the Lifeboat website seems to reflect that. Do you think that's true?

MA: I think it is true to a small extent. I think it's actually reflective of the maturing of the transhumanist movement. Because it's easy to say…

RU: "It's gonna be great!"

MA: Particularly when the dotcom boom was happening, everyone was, like, "Oh, the future's gonna be great. No problems." You know... "We're making shitloads of cash. Everything's going to go well."

Now, we've had seven years of George Bush. We've been involved in two wars. We understand that reality isn't always peachy keen and we're going to have to deal with the consequences.

RU: So are people in the transhumanist world as worried as they sound, or is it partly political – trying to be responsible and ease concerns among people who are perhaps more paranoid than technophiles like yourself?

MA: No, it's very genuine. The more you understand about powerful technologies, the more you understand that they really do have the potential to hose us all, in a way that nuclear war can't.

RU: Give me your top two existential risks.

MA: Well, as Dr. Alan Goldstein pointed out on your show a couple of weeks ago, Synthetic Life is a huge risk because life is inherently designed to replicate in the wild. So life based on different chemical reactions could replicate much more rapidly than what we're accustomed to, like some sort of super-fungus. I think that's one of the primary risks. And the second risk would be artificial intelligence — human-surpassing artificial intelligence.

RU: So you're concerned about the "robot wars" scenario — artificial intelligence that won't care that much for us? Do you have any particular scenarios that you're following?

MA: Well, I'd like to caution people to be careful what they see in the movies. Because this is one of those areas where people have been speculating about it for quite a few decades, and so much fictional material has been built around it...

RU: Actually, I believe everything in .

MA: (Laughs) If you really look through those shows in a critical way, you see that they're full of blatant holes all over the place. Like, they can send a guy through time, but they can't send his clothes with him through time? (Laughs) In reality, I think that artificial intelligence is potentially most dangerous because it might not necessarily need to have a robotic body before it becomes a threat. An artificial intelligence that's made purely out of information could manipulate a wide variety of things on the internet. So it would have more power than we might guess.



RU: You've written a bit about the idea of Friendly AI. (We had
Eliezer Yudkowsky on the show quite a while back, talking about this.) Do you see steps that can be taken to ensure that A.I. is friendly?

MA: Yeah! I'm totally in support of Eliezer and the Singularity Institute. I think that they're one of the few organizations that has a clue. And they're growing. I think that you've got to put a lot of mathematical eggheads working together on the problem. You can't just look at it from an intuitive point of view. You can actually understand intelligence on a mathematical level. It's a lot to ask. I think that friendly A.I. will be a tremendous challenge because there's just a lot of complexity in what constitutes a good person. And there's a lot of complexity in what constitutes what we consider common sense.

RU: Do you think the breakthrough might come through reverse engineering the human brain?

MA: It's possible but probably not.

RU: Good, because I don't think human beings are that friendly. I think the friendly A.I. has to be friendlier than human beings.

MA: It definitely does. And one way we could do that is by creating an A.I. that doesn't have a self-centered goal system. All creatures built by Darwinian evolution inherently have a self-centered goal system. I mean, before we became altruistic, we were extremely selfish. A reptile has eggs, and then the eggs hatch and he just walks off. He doesn't care about his kids. So this altruism thing is relatively recent in the history of evolution, and our psychology is still fundamentally self-centered.

JD: Isn't trying to plan for the nature of these future AI's kind of absurd because of the exponential superiority of their reasoning... if they even have what we would call reasoning? Can we really plan for this? It seems like once you hit a certain threshold, the Singularity, by definition is incomprehensible to us.

MA: I initially had the same issue. It seems impossible. But ask yourself, if you could choose, would you rather have an A.I. modeled after Hitler or would you rather have an A.I. modeled after Mother Teresa?

Regardless of how intelligent the A.I. becomes, it starts off from a distinct initial state. It starts off from a seed. So whatever it becomes will be the consequence of that seed making iterative changes on itself.

JD: But maybe in the first nano-second, it completely expunges anything that resembles human reasoning and logic because that's just a problem to them that doesn't need to be solved any more. And then beyond that — we have no fucking clue what they're going to move onto.

MA: It's true, but whatever it does will be based on the motivations it has.

JD: Maybe. But not if it re-wires itself completely…

MA: But if it rewired itself, then it would do so based on the motivations it originally had. I mean, I'm not saying it's going to stay the same, but I'm saying there is some informational similarity — there's some continuity. Even though it could be a low-level continuity, there's some continuity for an A.I. Also, you could ask the same question of yourself. What happens if a human being gains control over its own mind state.

RU: How we understand our motivations might be distinct from how we would understand our motivations if we had a more advanced intelligence.

MA: That's true.

RU: I'm going to move on to something that was on the Lifeboat web site that confounded me. It's labeled a News Flash. It says, "Robert A. Freitas Jr. has found preliminary evidence that diamond mechanosynthesis may not be reliable enough in ambient temperatures to sustain an existential risk from microscopic ecophagic replicators."

JD: (Joking) I had a feeling that was the case. (Laughter)

RU: What the hell does that mean?!

MA: Robert's a bit of a wordy guy, but maybe I can explain it. You have an STM (Scanning Tunneling Microscope.) It's like a little needle that's able to scan a surface by measuring the quantum difference between the two surfaces. Diamond mechanosynthesis would just be the the ability to have a tiny needle-like robotic arm that places a single or perhaps two carbon atoms onto a pre-programmed place. So, in life, we are all based on proteins. Carbon isn't slotted in like in a covalent sense, which is the way that people that are working on nanotechnology are thinking of working. They're thinking of putting together pieces of carbon, atom by atom, to make a covalently bonding carbon. Robert's saying that it might be that the ambient temperature of the environment is too hot for that needle to work. So you'd need to have it in a vacuum or super-cooled environment for it to work.

RU: You did a good job of explaining that. Moving on, there's some talk on your site of the idea of relinquishment, which is deciding not to develop technologies. Is that even possible?

MA: Instead of relinquishment, I like to talk about selective development. You can't really relinquish technology too easily. But you can develop safeguards before technologies reach their maturity. And you can develop regulations that anticipate future consequences instead of always taking a knee-jerk reaction and saying: "Oh, this disaster happened; therefore we will now regulate."

RU: Of course, it's not really possible to regulate what everybody everywhere on the planet is doing.

MA: No, it's not.

RU: Are you familiar with Max More's Proactionary Principle?


MA: (Skeptically) Mmmm I'm...

RU: Too obvious?

MA: No, I don't fully agree with it. I do think that the Precautionary Principle has a point.

RU: Maybe I should say what it is. Basically, the Precautionary Principle says that with any technology we're developing, we should look ahead and see what the consequences are. And if the consequences look at all dire, then we should relinquish the technology. And Max More argues that we should also look at the possible consequences of not developing the technology. For instance, if we don't develop nanotechnology, everybody dies.

MA: Well, I don't think that would happen.

RU: I mean, eventually… just as they have for millennia.

MA: Oh — everyone will age to death!

RU: Right

MA: No, I agree that the balanced view looks at both sides of the equation. The Precautionary Principle's kind of been tarnished because there are people that are super-paranoid; and people who use it as an excuse to rule out things that they find ethically objectionable like therapeutic cloning.

RU: Well, you could take anything as an example. Look at automobiles. If we had looked ahead at automobiles — we could debate for hours whether they were a good idea. There would probably be less humans on the planet and there would probably be less distribution of medicine and food and all those things. On the other hand, we might not be facing global warming. It might be nice that there are less humans on the planet.

MA: Yeah, but in practice, if some invention is appealing and has large economic returns, then people are going to develop it no matter what.

RU: On the Lifeboat site, you have a list of existential risks. And people can sort of mark which existential risk they want to participate in or work on. I'd like to get your comments on a few of the risks that are listed. But before I go down a few of these things on the list, what do you think is up with the bees?

MA: The bees?

RU: The honeybees are dying off. Einstein said we wouldn't survive if...

JD: … there's some contention about whether he actually said that. I heard that somebody tried to find that quote, and they weren't able to find it.

MA: What does this have to do with the bees?

RU: Einstein said that if all the honeybees died off, we'd all be dead in four years, or something like that.

JD: Yeah, because of the natural cycles that they support. Somebody else debunked that.

RU: Well, he was no Einstein. You better look into the bees because that could be an existential risk.

So here's one of the risks – or the risk aversion possibilities — listed on the site: Asteroid Shield.

MA: Well, someone once said that we're in a cosmic shooting gallery and it's only a matter of time before we get nailed. I wouldn't consider this to be a high priority, but in the interest of comprehensiveness, it would be a good idea if we had a way to deflect asteroids. Serious scientists have been looking at this issue and they decided that knocking it out with a nuclear bomb wasn't really going to work so well. It's too expensive and too unpredictable. So they're talking about attaching small rockets to slowly pull an asteroid off course.



JD: I recently read one idea — collect a lot of space junk and create one big object to alter the gravitational...

MA: Or you can put a little electro-magnetic rail gun on the surface and progressively fire off chunks of the asteroid, which will also alter its course. Even if you altered the trajectory of an incoming asteroid by a tiny amount, it would probably miss because earth is just kind of like a tiny dot in space. But right now, we don't have the capability. So if an asteroid were coming next year, we would be screwed.

RU: Right. And people have started talking about it. I mean, there has been sort of an advance in the level of paranoia about asteroids that come anywhere near us in recent years.

MA: One asteroid came about half of the way between us and the moon a while ago.

JD: Was it big enough to kill us?

MA: No. It was a hundred feet across, though — not bad.

RU: So how much chaos would that cause? I guess that would depend on where it landed.

MA: Measured in megatons, I think it would be about one Hiroshima.

JD: Oh, okay. We can handle that… as long as it doesn't land in San Francisco.

MA: (Laughs) Exactly! So I don't think the asteroids are an immediate concern. But it helps people comprehend the notion of extinction risks.

RU: The former NASA astronaut Rusty Schweickart has become involved in fighting off the asteroids. He used to be part of the L5 Society. I think Ronald Reagan would say it's a way of uniting all the people of earth to fight against an enemy.

MA: Yeah!

RU: I think he talked about that in terms of aliens, not in terms of asteroids.

MA: Well, I think all existential risks, including the more plausible ones, do serve a function in uniting humanity, and I think that's a nice side effect.

RU: The particle accelerator shield — what's that about?

MA: Some people think — as we engage in increasingly high-powered particle accelerator experiments — something bad could happen. One standard idea is a strangelet, which is similar to an atom but much more compact. If a strangelet could absorb conventional matter into itself, and do so continuously, it could absorb the entire planet.

RU: Sort of like a black hole.

MA: Yes, very much like a black hole. It's another one of those situations where we want to instill a sense of caution in the minds of scientists. We don't want them to just dismiss these possibilities out of hand because it potentially threatens their funding. We want them to actually give it a little bit of thought.

RU: OK, what about "seed preserver."

MA: Oh, yeah! Well that's actually being done right now! The Norwegian government built a seed bank on some far north Arctic island. They're shoving some seeds in there, so I guess when the nanobots come, or the nuclear war comes and 99% of humanity is all gone, then we'll be able to go there, withdraw the seeds, and create life anew.

RU: You seem to be a believer in the Singularity. For me – maybe yes, maybe no. But I find it amusing that Vernor Vinge could give a talk titled "What if the Singularity Does NOT Happen", the implication being that the idea that it might not happen is a real stretch. Do you ever feel like you're in a cult — that people who believe in this share a peculiar reality?

MA: The word Singularity has become a briefcase word. People kind of want to put their pet ideas into it, so the actual idea has become kind of unclear in the minds of many people. To me, the Singularity is just the notion of an intelligence that's smarter than us. So if you say that you don't believe in the Singularity, it means that you believe that human beings are the smartest possible intelligence that this universe can hold.

RU: I guess what I don't believe is that it necessarily becomes a complete disjunction in history.

MA: But don't you think that homo sapiens are a quite complete disjunction from, say, homo erectus or chimps? We share 98% of the same DNA. So what if you actually used technology to surpass the human mind? I think you'd have something substantially more different from homo sapiens than homo sapiens was from their predecessors.

RU: Do you think it's more likely that we'll develop machines that are more intelligent than us and keep them exterior to us; or will we find some way of incorporating them into us? It seems to me, if you look at the passion that people have for being on the net, and being able to call up and get and link to all the information and all the intelligence on the planet, people are going to want this inside themselves. They're going to want to be able to have as much information and as much intelligence as everybody else. They'll want to unite with it.

MA: I think that would be a great thing, as long as people don't go using their intelligence for negative ends.

JD: Do you think this would happen gradually. Or do you think there would be this point in time where lots of people make choices like whether or not to merge? And then, maybe, the people who are afraid of that will want to stop people from doing it, and conflict...

MA: I think it could actually be somewhat abrupt, because once you have a superior intelligence, it can create better intelligence enhancement techniques for itself. So it could be somewhat abrupt. But I think that these smart entities could also find a way of keeping humanity on the same page and not making it like: "Oh, you have to choose… If your brother or your sister is not going into the great computer, then..."

RU: I think if it happens soon enough, it will be viewed as just another way of going online. You know, to young people, it will be just… "Yeah, this is how everybody's going online now."

MA: But if you had implants in your brain, it would be permanent.

RU: Do you think chaos is built into life? As the Artificial Life people have been saying, life happens on the boundary between order and chaos. If chaos is an element of life, can machines include chaos?

MA: Well, uh — hmm. I think that people overestimate the power of chaos.

RU: As a Patti Smith fan, I have to disagree.



MA: (Laughs) Well, it's such an appealing idea — chaos. But if you take a look at human blood and compare it to some random bit of muck you find in the ground, you'll see that it's highly regulated, and there are huge complements of homeostatic mechanisms in bodies that are constantly ordering things. Relative to the entropy in the air array outside; inside my body is a very orderly place, Life forms are very well organized pieces of matter.

RU: Right, but if you achieve complete homeostasis, then nothing happens.

MA: That's true. Life does have to be on that boundary so it is challenging

RU: Here's a quote from an interview with you: "The idea of the Singularity is to transcend limitations by reengineering brains or creating new brains from scratch, brains that think faster with more precision, greater capabilities, better insights, ability to communicate and so on." OK. That sounds good, but what about pleasure, play, creativity, eroticism… and whatever it is you get from magic mushrooms? Where does all that go?

MA: (Laughs) I think all that's very important. I think about all those things.

RU: So you think that can be built that into the singularity?

MA: Yeah. Oh, for sure…

RU: David Pierce is the one person who really sort of deals with those ideas.

MA: Well, it's not really too PC to talk about it. But when you take a psychedelic, you've changed your brain chemistry. With mushrooms, you flood your brain with this one psilocybin chemical. With technologies that let you actively change your own mind, it would be less of a shot in the dark. More precision modifications would be possible. And you could turn it on and off like a light switch, too. You could have much more control over it.

RU: Looking forward to it!

See Also:
Create an Alien, Win A-Prize
Why Chicks Don't Dig The Singularity
Death? No, Thank You
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams

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Air Guitar Nation Rocks On


Air Guitar Nation

It's been at least seven years since I've been proud of my country. But my countrymen, air guitarists C. Diddy and Björn Türoque, did all us Americans proud as they represented this great land of ours at the 2003 Annual Air Guitar World Championship Contest in Oula, Finland.

Their road to airy stardom is covered in the hilarious film, Air Guitar Nation, which is opening this weekend in movie theaters around the country. It's a rare thing these days when you get to have some pure, unadulterated, goofy-ass fun. If you think the spirit of rock is dead, go see this movie. It's the most fun that you can have without the sex and the drugs.

I interviewed Air Guitar Nation Director Alexandra Lipsitz and former Air Guitar World Champion C. Diddy briefly via email.



RU SIRIUS: Alexandra, did you have an epiphany about air guitar that made you want to make this film?

ALEXANDRA LIPSITZ: Epiphany hmmm… is that like a new model from Gibson? Yeah, kind of. I had been shooting the competiton for two years for the Magical Elves and US Air Guitar. We were going to make a TV show. It was not getting picked up so I said let's make a Doc. Everyone agreed and we were on our way.



RU: A lot of people think of air guitarists as losers that you can laugh at. But I think something else comes across in this film. What's your take on that?

AL: What is my take on air guitarist being losers? Well, in competitive air guitar someone has to win and, yes, someone has to lose. So I guess there are losers in the bunch. My experience with the folks attracted to air guitar has been very diverse. Usually the people are pretty smart, funny and creative. Sometimes they are completely nuts. I love them all.

C. DIDDY: Loser is just another name for nothing left to lose. People underestimate the air guitarist at their peril. It is a scientific fact that the air guitarist can save rock 'n fuckin' roll!



RU: I thought all the air guitarists were really charming. In some ways, they re-awakened my love of rock and roll in a way that the musicians themselves might not. It's innocent fun, yes?

AL: There is nothing innocent about these folks. They are the fun in DysFUNctional.

RU: Diddy, you had the momentary rush of stardom. Do you still feel like a rock star?

CD: I felt like a rock star before and I feel like a rock star now. And when I'm gone, I'll still be a rock star but with Eddie and Jimi at my side. Hence, the grace of an air guitar god.

RU: As you were shooting and editing the film, did you find yourself thinking like one of the judges? Did you agree or disagree with any of their opinions?

AL: I think the judges in 2003 were awesome. I think Bjorn Turoque may have been misjudged a bit, but thank god he was, the story was improved by it. I have seen some poor judging in the years following though. In 2006, we had a huge scandal with the judging.

RU: Do tell.

AL: The Judges were a bit confused. So there was a controversy as to who was the champion, and they had already given the trophy to Hott Lixx Hulihan. It was a travesty and the air guitarists rose up and told them to screw themselves. It was beautiful and I will start the Trilogy with this scene.

RU: Damn, I hate injustice! Actually on my way to watching the film I thought – what if instead of the film being fun, it was actually full of pathos. It's not. It's fun. But Björn Türoque does provide a hint of pathos. (I'll leave it at that, so as not to be a spoiler.) But then he got to close out the film with a cool song!

AL: He actually did the score! He is an awesome musician! We could not get the rights to some of the songs he air guitared to. So he had to watch himself air guitaring to a song and write a new song to match what he was air guitaring too.

RU: Diddy, you're into theater. How does your talent for air guitar relate to your theatrical talents?

CD: Performance is the same animal no matter the cage. I'm a classically trained actor which means classically trained to kick all ass when armed with an air guitar.



RU: Last question. You had about three seconds of some guy playing air guitar on his dick. Was that just irresistible to include, and should I assume the film is not rated? And who is that guy?

AL: The film is rated R - because America is afraid of saying Fuck and seeing dick. It is ridiculous. Just today I was speaking to a very smart 5-year-old who had been to the film's opening night in LA. I asked him what his favorite scene was and he told me the man playing his pee pee. So there you go. What does the rating system really know? Also, to see the full performance of "Rival Man," please buy the DVD. It is truly awesome.

Air Guitar Nation website

See also:
Six Freakiest Children's TV Rock Bands
Mondology Volume 1 Free Audio Download
Dan The Automator Remixes The Blue Angels
How the iPod Changes Culture

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Keith Henson Back in Jail – Space Elevator Will Have To Wait

Keith Henson

On April 26, 2001, Keith Henson was convicted of interfering with a religion — a misdemeanor under California law — for picketing outside Scientology's heavily armed, razor wire-enforced base, outside Hemet California. He split for Canada, becoming the world's first "Scientology fugitive," and he's back in the U.S. dealing with a variety of court cases related to Scientology.

Henson was just thrown back in jail. As best as I can make out from the limited information currently available, Henson and his lawyers were scheduled for a hearing at 1:30 pm on Tuesday, May 8th. They were apparently unaware that warrants had recently been signed by the Governors of California and Arizona, and after the hearing, Henson was handed over to the Yavapai County Sheriff Department for incarceration until a hearing on Wednesday May 9th at 9 a.m. (A note received this afternoon — May 9th — from Henson's wife, Arel Lucas, says that he will remain in the lockup at least until Monday, May 13th. She invites people to write to him at: Yavapai County Sheriff's Office, Howard Keith Henson, 255 E. Gurley St. Prescott, AZ 86301. She also reminds you that the prison authorities read the letters before passing them on.)



Henson's travails in his ongoing battle with Scientology and the law have been amply covered here.

I heard about Henson's renewed captivity as I was editing this interview I did with him for The RU Sirius Show on March 29th. While we talked about scientology a bit, the main focus was on another one of Henson's interests. Just before he was originally arrested in his conflict with the Scientologists, he was scheduled to talk at a European Space Agency conference on how Space Elevators could completely solve the carbon and energy problems.

Keith Henson has been a space buff since he was eight years old. Back in 1975, he and others — including nanotech guru K. Eric Drexler — founded the L5 Society. They promoted space colonies and solar power satellites built out of metals extracted from moon rock. The L5 Society eventually became the National Space Society.

Jeff Diehl joined me in interviewing Keith Henson on the show.
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: So what's your favorite Tom Cruise movie?

KEITH HENSON: (Laughs) None of them. My dislike for the cult has spilled over into everything that's associated with it. But I do have to admit Tom has been very effective at taking Scientology down. He certainly did more damage to their image in a year than I did in ten. And he and Katie aren't done yet, I betcha.

RU: He played a creepy head-fucker quite effectively in the film Magnolia. It's worth seeing if you decide to break your Cruise fast.

It's been said that you fear the Scientologists will get to you in jail. Some people who are otherwise sympathetic have expressed skepticism about this. Do you have any evidence, any reason to fear the thuggery of Scientologists in the tank?

KH: I sure do. I have evidence that I accidentally acquired a few weeks ago that the Riverside courts themselves were engaged in outright criminal acts — that is, using the power of the courts to entrap me into a crime.

RU: That's a pretty heavy charge. Can you substantiate it?

KH: You can find a letter I wrote about this back in 2001 on my website. I just never imagined I would get paper evidence pulled out of the county's court files. Well, recently, I was handed a paper out of the Riverside court files that had never been listed as part of the files. Obviously somebody went looking for a warrant to send over to Arizona and pulled it out without looking at the date. I know now, of course, that Riverside Court illegally keeps secret documents that are not listed in the docket. So I accidentally found out that it's the very warrant that would've been used to arrest me at that deposition. It's dated September 15, 2000, and sure enough, they listed the charge of "Failure to Appear" on it. And that's just not a crime that happened on September 15. So the arrest warrant could not possible have been filled out that day. It was most likely filled out weeks before the date on it. And by issuing a warrant for a crime that never happened — the court itself was complicit in a serious criminal act. If a person were convicted of this, they could spend many years in prison.

RU: Well, obviously the Scientologists are very well-connected. But you've received a lot of public support. Does that make you safer?

KH: Yes it does. I was treated fairly roughly until hundreds of phone calls came into the jail. And then they realized that this was not a person they could just shove down a hole and forget.

RU: Have any establishment figures come to your side?

KH: Mostly, no. It's amazing how some people who are considered really brave heroes get terrified by the Scientology cult. I hesitate to say which one of them panicked when I asked him to make a phone call for me to keep me in Canada. But if you think about it, you could probably figure it out.



RU: Well, I'm sure it's not Jerry Brown, who used to be an L5-er and is now the Attorney General of California. Did you ever have any interactions with him?

KH: Not directly. I've got an email from his office that says that I should essentially file a complaint against the District Attorney and the courts.

RU: Did you have any interactions with him back when you were in L5?

KH: I'd never met Jerry back in those days. I met other people in his administration like Rusty Schweickart, who was a good buddy with Jerry Brown.

RU: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about your upcoming case.

KH: (Laughs) Which one? I've got three of them open at the moment. There's a motion to correct an injunction the Riverside court was not permitted to issue; a bankruptcy case that has got tangled up recently with O.J. Simpson's; and this extradition business in Arizona. That last one requires the California governor to sign an extradition warrant, and there's been enough complaints to him about it that I don't think he's going to do it. (ed: He did, on May 1)

RU: It's weird to hear O.J. Simpson's name come up. I don't suppose you can talk any more about your connection with OJ. There could be a book contract in there for you — the book industry loves OJ!

KH: Well, I can give you a quick thing. It turns out that that the lawyer for the other side in a bankruptcy case involving my bank worked against OJ Simpson – I think it was for the Goldbergs. So he asked for a delay in my case.

RU: We will contemplate all aspects of your possible connections with the OJ case over the coming weeks and months and maybe get back to it. "If the e-Meter doesn't fit, you must acquit" or something.

You've been working on ideas for power satellites recently. What is that, and how old is the idea, and how did you wind up back in the space engineering area again?

KH: Well, it's actually connected to the Scientology cult. I couldn't be employed while I was trying to hide out from them. They have agents inside the IRS, so when you use your social security number, they just pull it and come and get you. So I spent a lot of the time in the past year working on a post-Singularity novel. I didn't want to write about wars and violence, which is in the cards if we don't solve the energy crisis. So I had to make the people in the novel able to solve that. There are only a few ways to get the amount of power needed to replace the fossil fuel sources that we've been using up — and power satellites are one of them. Power satellites are a way to put solar power collectors where the sun shines more of the time, and no clouds are in the way. They're just giant solar collectors in orbit with microwave transmitters and gigantic receivers on earth. They're an old idea. It's been 38 years since Peter Glazer invented them. I revived the idea to cope with energy and global warming for this novel. It's one of the few ways you can deal with both.

RU: So, just to be really clear: how does it resolve energy and global warming problems?

KH: Well, there are a few approaches that are big enough to replace the energy that we get from oil and coal. Power satellites are one of them, and if you have the capacity to build power satellites, you can build planetary-scale sun shades as well.

RU: Aren't there terrestrial energy alternatives to this?

KH: The only ones I know about are fusion and fission plants — a lot of fission power, huge fusion plants. But they both suffer from a really nasty problem. It's just too easy to divert neutrons toward making high-quality plutonium — like 99% plutonium 239. And with that, it becomes very easy to make terrorist nukes. I wrote about it.

RU: OK. So apparently these things could be a threat. Let's get back to the power satellites. Tell us more about those.

KH: Okay. There are three parts to the power sat. Making the energy out of sunlight in space — there can be enormous structures — lightweight structures in geosynchronous orbit. And you would probably use solar cells on the thing, but you could even use steam turbines. And then you have a big transmitter to turn the power into a microwave beam of huge size. And then you need a gigantic antenna on the ground that converts the microwaves back to electricity.

RU: How big would it be?

KH: Well, if you could fit one in an area of forty square miles — that's the size of a medium city — the ground antenna would be about 50 miles. That sounds like a lot of land, but the receiving antenna is just light mesh. It doesn't block the sunlight, so you can put it over farmland and still farm underneath it. Terrestrial solar power takes a lot more land.

RU: Might this not kill off all the bees or something? Might not living under this antenna do something else strange to people?

KH: Well, yeah...

RU: I mean, for instance, people are talking about cell phones killing off all the bees.

KH: Well actually, that's ridiculous. Cell phones were around a long time before the bees started disappearing.

RU: That's too bad, because I'm putting, like, a dozen cell phones on my front porch...



KH: (Laughs) But I'll tell you this — the power level that you get in a power satellite, out in the middle of the thing, isn't any more power than you get to your head when you've got a cell phone running. It's pretty low.

JEFF DIEHL: So could you fly through this beam?

KH: Well, yeah. I propose that we use much higher-powered beams, and then we just have a restaurant on wheels, where you put the thing in a duck flyway. And you just move the restaurant around to the north side in the spring and the south side in the fall, and the ducks just fall out of the air completely cooked. (Laughter.)

RU: So you and a number of people have been talking about this for a long time. Why haven't we moved in this direction?

KH: Well, the big holdup is the transport cost to orbit. Rockets are just terrible, efficiency-wise. I mean, you see this enormous blast of … well, you've seen the launches of the Apollos. It's just terribly wasteful. But using nanotubes, we can build a space elevator.

JD: Getting the stuff up there is just a one-time expense, right?

KH: It is, sort of… and it isn't, sort of. You have to power these things because there's no free lunch. But you can probably haul up a couple of hundred tons of material at a time. You have to push it clear out to geo-synch, and then you have to unreel it in both directions. Anyway, once you've built one of these things, it only costs you to run it. Now, for a long time, people working on a related idea have been hung up on a pathway that was just plain wrong. They've been trying to use, design, figure out how to use climbers that use beamed power — mostly lasers — to beam the materials up there. The idea there is to have electric driving wheels on the things, powered by lasers. That's better than rockets, which are around maybe 1% efficient. But the best estimates I've gotten from the people that are working on it are that they would be around 7%, which is still just terrible.

So working on this novel, I came up with a moving cable design, because — if you're going to try to solve the energy problem, the traffic you need going into space is enormous. It's a couple of thousand tons a day.

Anyway, the idea is an elevator that runs on a bunch of pulleys up into space and you just power the thing from the bottom.

RU: So how fast is this baby gonna take me up into space?

KH: I'm not sure. The faster you go, the more throughput you get. I think you can run it maybe as high as a thousand miles an hour. At that speed, it's 22,000 miles out there, so at that speed it would take you 22 hours to get to geo. You've got to bring your lunch and dinner… and I guess even breakfast.

Of course, we're not transporting people, and I think you'd actually want to run faster than that. But remember, I'm driving this thing as an endless loop from the ground. So that means the lowest part of the thing is in the atmosphere. And running up through the atmosphere at a thousand miles per hour is all sorts of supersonic shock waves and everything else like that.

RU: Now you have to use nanotube cable to do this, right? So is this cable technically plausible at this point?

KH: They've actually measured the strength of nanotube cable, and it's strong enough to do the job. If you can get it up to 63 gigapascals, you can just run it over a pulley at geosynch. But if you can't do that, there's a way that you can run intermediate stepped pulleys in the thing where you can get a constant diameter cable, and a stepped number of strands in parallel on it. It has to be nanotube. Steel isn't anywhere near good enough. With nanotubes — they've measured it as handling almost 6 million pounds per square inch. And it's only 30% denser than water, so it's strong enough and light enough — but it's a bit expensive.

RU: How expensive is it?

KH: (Laughs) Carbon nanotubes, if you buy them at $75 million a ton...

RU: So you can actually buy these now?

KH: Oh yeah.

RU: I could… wait a second, what if I just wanted one nanotube.

KH: (Laughs) Well, one nanotube, you'd blow away with your breath. In fact, you'd blow away an entire pound of the things. Anyway, the elevator takes about a hundred thousand tons, so unless the price comes down, that's $7.5 trillion worth of elevator cable. But my guess is that the stuff will come down to cents per kilogram. There's a neat method that's not really been sufficiently investigated. If you can figure out how to get metal solvent to precipitate nanotubes...you're in business!

RU: How long would it take the power satellite to pay back the energy that it takes to get itself into orbit?

KH: It takes roughly a gigawatt of power to drive the motors that drag all this stuff up into orbit. You wind up with a five gigawatt power satellite. It takes one day for this thing to re-pay the energy. When it comes online, it's generating 5 gigawatts every day.

After you account for everything on it — all the energy to refine the metals and make the solar cells, or whatever else you're using — it may well take something like a hundred days. But you get 24-hour sunlight, unfiltered by clouds, and no night. And you can really use much lighter structures for it.

The idea is that the cable would bring up enough materials to build one. So if you're talking about building 60 or 70 power satellites in a year's time, that would displace all the existing coal plants in the U.S. And if you keep doing it, in a few years you displace all of them in the entire world.

RU: Is there anything you can imagine that might go wrong with these solar panels?

KH: Oh, tons of things can go wrong with it. One of the nasty problems is you've got to clean all the stuff out of lower orbits.

RU: Space junk.

KH: Yeah, you've got to clean up the space junk. So part of the project is 50 or 100 ion tugs that are capable of running around and gathering up all this stuff.

RU: Sounds like Pac-Man.

If I remember correctly, you're talking about 50 square miles, the size of a medium-sized city? And where might we try locating this thing, on the ground?

KH: You gotta put it on the equator, or really close. There's only one place that the U.S. owns that's on the Equator — it's called Baker Island. It's right smack out in the middle of the Pacific. It's 13 miles north of the equator, but if you put a ship anchored 12 miles south of there, it'd still be in U.S. territorial waters. And guess what we use for a ship?

RU: Yeah?

KH: The Enterprise.

RU: Well, that belongs to the Navy. So you get the Navy's cooperation? Is that in the plan?

KH: I think so.

RU: The US government is going to give up a perfectly good island that they could put prisoners on?

KH: (Laughs) The point is to put it under U.S. law, maybe. That's the trick. I don't know whether you want to do that or not, but if you do — that's the place you can do it. You actually need the Enterprise, because you need the initial power to get the thing up there. The Enterprise puts out about two-tenths to the gigawatt. So you can bootstrap this thing. The Enterprise is due to be decommissioned in seven years. So we've got seven years to put the business plan together.

JD: It's nuclear-powered, right?

KH: Yes, it's the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

RU: In seven years, the carbon nanotubes can perhaps come down in price a little bit. I imagine that once they start being used more, the price on those should come down quite a bit. Is there stuff being made out of this now? What are likely to be some of the first products that will be made from these before we build a space elevator?

KH: There are a few things that are being made out of them now. They're used for the scanning probes on scanning/tunneling microscopes, for instance. But they're going to be useful for all kinds of things. A quarter-inch cable made from carbon nanotubes can pick up a 150-ton locomotive up with these things.

JD: When can I hold a carbon nanotube in my hand… something made out of carbon nanotubes?

KH: If it was a really fine tube stretched really tight — like, say a thousandth of an inch in diameter — and you ran your hand through the thing, you'd have two pieces of hand.

RU: Let's go back to your origins. You've been interested in space for a really long time. Three decades ago we had the L5 Society. I've heard that the guy who now runs NASA Ames is sort of into the Gerard O'Neill concept of space colonies, so maybe that will come back. What do you think has happened with the movement towards space, and do you see some hope in the civilian programs? What do you think about human beings moving up there?

KH: I don't think it's going to happen.

RU: Never?

KH: No. Not to any serious extent. And the reason is… Second Life.

JD: Virtual reality?

KH: By the time we have the ability to get into space cheaply, it's going to be late 2030s or early 2040's. We may well be so far into the Singularity time that there won't be hardly any population left.

RU: Really?! So that's your analysis. You think that human beings will have been replaced? Or we'll have a Singularitarian disaster of some sort?

KH: I don't know. Even a singularity that isn't a disaster could easily wind up removing people's desire to go into space. Space was an adventure.

RU: There's also the idea that humans need a frontier. You think that disappears into cyberspace?

KH: It could easily happen. I was amazed by the fact that there are 300,000 people in Second Life, a year after it started.

RU: Yeah, I actually suspect that this is the Second Life, and that's the Third Life. And each version of it seems a little worse than the previous one.

Returning to our creepy friends in Scientology, there's a religion written by a science fiction writer. Rumor is, that L. Ron Hubbard started the religion to prove that he could. But it's sort of a science fictional religion. And certainly the areas that you've dealt with in your life have sort of a science fictional aspect also. So it's like some science fictional battle. There seems to be a great novel in there somewhere.



KH: Yeah, it's kind of interesting. My own connection with it started clear back when I was in 7th grade, and my mother read me Farmer in the Sky.

RU: Which is not by Hubbard, it's by Robert Heinlein.

KH: Heinlein. Hubbard was, at best, a third-rate science fiction writer. But he did manage to latch on to a technology that indeed works — it parts people with their money. By the way, if you want to find my theory paper on why this occurs, just Google sex drugs and cults.



See also:
"Scientology Fugitive" Arrested
Great Moments in the War Against the DMCA
California Cults
Thou Shalt Realize the Bible Kicketh Ass
Keith Henson on Memetics, Scientology and Evolutionary Psychology

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Closing Pandora’s Box: The End of Internet Radio?


Internet Radio has become a powerful resource for people looking for greater musical diversity when they tune in. Now that diversity is threatened by a draconian rate increase for every copyrighted tune that these stations play.

In a ruling that was made public just after this article was initially published, the Copyright Royalty Board has extended the deadline for implementing the new rate structure to July 15th. According to the AP: "Webcasters can file a notice to appeal the decision in federal court, something they have said they plan to do."

Tim Westergren is one of the leading spokespeople for SaveNetRadio.org, the organization that is fighting back against the new regulations.

Westergren is also founder of the Musical Genome Project and Pandora Internet Radio. Coincidentally, Pandora has just hit a snarl with international licensing. On Wednesday, Pandora sent an email to its 6.5 million subscribers with bad news — they would now be forced to curtail access to subscribers in most non-U.S. countries. ("[W]e are deeply, deeply sorry to say... It is difficult to convey just how disappointing this is...")

I recently interviewed Westergren on NeoFiles. Jeff Diehl joined me.

To listen to the full interview in MP3, click here

RU SIRIUS: Let's start with the basics. What has the Copyright Royalty Board done?

TIM WESTERGREN: It's pretty simple. We pay a licensing fee for every song that we stream, which was determined by the Copyright Royalty Board. And the royalty board just voted to almost triple those fees within the next couple of years. So overnight, they've made webcast radio pretty much impossible. It's impossible, at these new rates, to really operate a radio station online.



RU: So who is the Copyright Royalty Board and how did they become so empowered?

TW: They're members of the copyright office in D.C. They were empowered by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Its purpose was, sort of, to govern webcasting; to provide a structure, both in terms of the constraints and the licensing structure. There were three judges assigned to this case.

RU: So there are no existing checks and balances at this point other than to try to go back to Congress?

TW: It looks like our only recourse is to get some legislative help. So in the last couple of weeks, under the "Save Net Radio" coalition, we've tried to organize as many webcasters and musicians and other folks to put pressure on Congress. There was such an uproar in the first week following this ruling that a bill was just introduced on Thursday of last week to roll it back, and to further alter the basic structural problem that really discriminates against internet radio.

RU: Who's sponsoring the bill?

TW: Representatives Jay Inslee, a Democrat from Washington, and Don Manzullo, a Republican from Illinois, are the lead sponsors. Many co-sponsors are signing up as we speak.

RU: Tell us a bit about the bill.

TW: It's called the Internet Radio Equality Act. As the title indicates, it's trying to establish parity between internet radio and satellite radio. Right now, internet radio is treated differently and worse than satellite and much worse than terrestrial radio for the same function. We're asking to be treated equally — which means paying a percent of revenue. The bill would void this Royalty Board ruling and establish parity with the percent revenue that's used for satellite radio.

RU: Do people who oppose this equal treatment argue that internet radio is harder to keep track of? Maybe more stations can slip through the cracks because the internet is virtually infinite.

TW: I don't think I've ever heard that argument. Originally, there was some argument that it was easier to copy off the internet because it's digital. But of course, HD radio is digital. Satellite radio is digital sometimes. So that argument is no longer used.

RU: Going way back, we could always slip a cassette in and record directly off the radio.

It's probably pretty difficult to get anything like this through Congress. My impression, for instance, is that the entertainment industry owns many Congresspeople, particularly in the Democratic Party, where a lot of your support would seem likely to come from.

TW: In general, I think that's historically true. When it comes to things like licensing and issues as it relates to media and music, Congress has been the domain of the industry. But I think in the last three or four years, we've started to see a reversal of that leverage. The internet has empowered this huge class of musicians and "participative listeners" now. I think that power is just starting to show and I don't think they're going to take this sitting down. In the end, I hope and believe that Congress is going to react to their constituents. There were hundreds of thousands of FAXes and letters sent to Congressmen within a couple of days of the coalition starting.

RU: Now, there seem to be two dates on this. I understand it's retroactive back to January of 2006 — but then there's another date approaching. Is that correct?

TW: Well, that's D-Day! July 15 is the day. That's the latest date we've heard when these rates are going to become law. And when they do become effective, the payments are retroactive back to the beginning of '06. On that day, every webcaster will be suddenly faced with a fee that they can't afford.

RU: Did they inform people of this in January of 2006?

TW: A plan for this rate to be readjusted was announced at the end of '05. It took a long time for them to set the rate, but I think what they came up with was a shock to everybody.

RU: But technically, you're playing songs in January of 2006 for one price, and then they're coming along and charging you more money. That doesn't sound legal to me.

TW: Well, I don't know about the legality of it, that's not my expertise. But I can tell you that on that day, the bills will be due from everyone from college radio to non-profits to small webcasters. For folks like us at Pandora, the costs are going to be astronomical.

I think that this ruling has virtually no constituents.

RU: Well, there's the RIAA

TW: I would argue, though, that if they really thought this through, they would recognize that this is a bad decision. It's crushing a promotional channel.

JEFF DIEHL: Did they give a rationale for such a huge hike in the rates?

TW: Well, Sound Exchange is the organization that pushed for it. And their rationale is that it's fair, and that if you can't run a business on it, you shouldn't be in business.

RU: That's not much of an argument.

JD: But why that amount of a hike? An incremental increase would be one thing, but this is exponential. They don't give any reason for that?

TW: All I can do is take at face value what I hear, in terms of press releases and commentary. And it's all been, "It's fair, and if you can't run a business on it, then you shouldn't be in business."

RU: Who does Sound Exchange work for? They're supposedly representing musicians, right?

TW: That's an interesting question. Sound Exchange is meant to represent all musicians. And their board is comprised of artists, and representatives of the small labels and the large labels. And I'm a musician myself. I used to play in bands. I spent ten years living in a van and doing that whole thing. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a dozen musicians who — if they got fully educated on the subject — would actually support this ruling that is ostensibly supposed to help them.

RU: It's sort of mysterious how this could emerge from an artist's organization rather than from the music corporations. I mean, obviously radio had promoted music for several generations. It's baffling.

TW: There were two sides in the discussion – the webcasters and some artists were on one side; and then Sound Exchange, the RIAA, and these various constituents were on the other. They argued in front of the Royalty Board for different solutions. And the Royalty Board, in a very flawed ruling, went all the way in one direction. So my guess is that the ruling surprised even Sound Exchange, although they've defended it since.



RU: I'm still trying to figure out whose interests are being served...

TW: Well, if this goes through, it basically ruins internet radio. But maybe a small handful will continue to stream – folks who can somehow continue. And in order to continue, they'll be forced to sign direct licensing agreements with labels. When they do that, there's a big difference in the way the royalties are divided up. In the current DMCA statute, all the royalties get split half with the artist, half with the label. In the world where you're dealing directly with a label, it virtually all goes to the label. So that could be one incentive.

RU: Okay, I'm beginning to see some interests who would like to monopolize Internet radio and who could be behind this.

On the Save Net Radio web site, there's talk about a 300% - 1200% percent increase. That's a big difference. How is all that mapped out?

TW: That's a good question. The reason for the difference is that in the previous rate structure, there was two ways stations could pay. Smaller and non- commercial webcasters could pay a percent of their revenue. And if you got beyond a certain size, you had to pay per tuning hour rate. The new ruling creates one rule for everybody, and it's all just "per song." So if you take someone who's paying a percent of revenue, and then translate that to what they would be paying in this new rate, in some cases it's over a 1,000% increase.

RU: Stations that have very little revenue had a way of functioning before and now they won't.

TW: And I think that's important. Pandora is all for paying musicians. We completely believe in that and we've done that since the very beginning. But the rate that they're paid needs to make sense in this business as it exists right now. And it's all about promotion. Online radio is the only hope that your average indie musician has for getting any kind of exposure.

RU: It's become common knowledge that most people hate terrestrial radio. They hate the radio stations and what the corporations have done to them. And people are looking all over the place for alternatives.

TW: The growth in internet radio is certainly partly because folks are looking for alternatives. And it's an alternative for musicians too.

RU: Of course, it took a while to work out an agreement where internet radio stations were legally allowed to play music that's owned. I think it was really after the DMCA in 1998 that some agreements were worked out. Do you know anything about that history?

TW: I'm not a perfect historian on this, but basically in 2002, that whole legislation that you're talking about was re-considered. And that's when new language was inserted into the bill that changed the standard for rate setting for internet radio. It's called the "willing buyer, willing seller" standard. It's a standard that's only applied to internet radio — it's not applied to satellite and it's not applied to terrestrial radio. It opened up a doorway for this kind of crazy rate-setting to come along.

RU: Many people have observed that the smallest webcasters are the ones that are really going to get screwed by this. Most college stations stream on the web, and they will be among the first to go. Where is Pandora in this?

TW: Pandora's a large webcaster…

RU: Are you guys going to survive?

TW: Not at these rates. Pandora can't make it work at these rates.

RU: That's very honest of you. Your investors must be...

TW: Yeah… they read a quote in the news from me one morning saying, "We're dead if this stays." It wasn't hyperbole. Larger webcasters like Pandora… we're actually a viable alternative for independent musicians. We have 6.5 million listeners right now, and that figure is growing fast. That's the kind of critical mass that's really going to allow you to build a new independent artists' foundation. And I'm a huge fan of indie, but even indie musicians need scale. They need to support the growth of large internet companies that do this, as well as the small ones.

JD: What role do the record labels really play for the artists anymore — marketing, getting musicians on the radio? Isn't it possible that an outfit like yours could connect directly with artists and say, "We'll support you"? Is there a chance to get rid of that middleman?

TW: Well, I think that the industry is starting to bifurcate. There is still the sort of "hit" industry that is the traditional business. And the stations that play that are largely marketing vehicles, like you said. But with some good software editing tools and good recording chops, you can make a CD now without borrowing half a million dollars, which was the whole premise for the record deal in the beginning. So technology has now allowed musicians to make professional-sounding CDs, and make them available globally, virtually for free. The record labels won't go away. They're going to change and consolidate more and more, which they've already been doing.

RU: There are some startups that are trying to do that — to eliminate the middleman.

TW: Oh yeah. There's a whole industry growing up around the "new label" — which is more like a quasi-management/distribution/promotions company. I think that's going to play a bigger and bigger role.

RU: And then some rock stars who have enough of a reputation can also...

TW: … do it on their own.

RU: Prince has done some of that.

TW: Pandora is not going to go into the label business. We really need to separate the radio from having any kind of agenda related the music we play. I think that's really important.

RU: Does it bug the music industry that people can make their own radio stations with companies like yours? It was always a dream of mine that I could just run down a list of all my favorite artists, and just have some station regurgitate their entire catalogues in some randomized fashion.

TW: I think that one of the debates around internet radio, is: is it promotional or is it substitutional? When it gets really interactive and you can choose at any time to listen to "Dark Side of the Moon" from front to back — chances are you're not going to buy the album. And when that happens, whoever is doing that is providing something that's kind of in lieu of buying a CD or buying a single. They would need to charge something different for that.

RU: It seems like you guys are pretty close to that boundary compared to, say, a station where DJs spin tunes that they choose.

TW: To me, the real bright line is that we're not offering songs on demand. On Pandora, you won't know when a song's coming, just like on terrestrial radio. I think that makes it fundamentally different. And Pandora's a wildly promotional service.

RU: The big broadcast stations also have streaming on the internet. Are you getting any support from any of them?

TW: Yeah. The National Association of Broadcasters is with us too. Every radio company wants to be part of the online world.

RU: So what's in it for us podcasters? When do we get a voice in Washington?

TW: Well, I think this is a great bill for anybody who wants to include music in their programming because it's acknowledging the internet format as radio. So I think it's a step in the right direction for podcasters too.

RU: Good! Do you think we could grandfather ourselves in under this? We could just say, "Hey, this applies to us!" and maybe make a test case out of it.

TW: Well, I think the one difference between podcast and radio is that you create and post copies of your shows. So you create a copy of a piece of music that you can replay, rewind, and so on. So it's in a different category. And I think that if you're making a copy of a piece of music that can be used and re-used, it's legitimate to worry that people won't buy the music. So it's different.

RU: Before I let you go, tell us a little something about your own work. How was the Musical Genome Project conceived and how does it work?

TW: It's something that we started about seven and a half years ago in a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. It's an enormous collections of songs that we have been analyzing, musicologically, one song at a time to try to capture their musical DNA. A team of musicians literally listens to songs — one at a time — and analyzes them for their attributes. We have 50 musicians working for us now. We've been at it for seven and a half years, so it's really been a long path to create enough music in one collection to power the radio service. It takes between 15 and 30 minutes to analyze each song.

RU: I was trying to think about whether music can really be broken down into its component parts. So I tried your station. I combined Brian Eno, Leonard Cohen, The Beatles and Sonic Youth and it worked pretty well. But then I was thinking, if I added my absolute favorite band, which would be The Rolling Stones circa 1966 – 1972, I'd wind up getting lots of stuff that sucks like Aerosmith and Guns 'N' Roses.

TW: Musically, there's always going to be some stuff that's great that you can't quite put your finger on. I think that's part of what makes music so great. But yeah… it works most of the time, but there are going to be some situations where you're not going to be happy with what you hear.



RU: Give folks a final pitch for how they can get active to save net radio.

TW: Go to SaveNetRadio.org where we're keeping all the news and recommendations on what to do and we’ve got the latest news on the bill. But the basic call to action is for folks to call their Congressperson to urge them to support this bill, which is called the Internet Radio Equality Act, and it's House Resolution 2060. Call your Congressperson for your district. You can look it up on the web just by typing in your zip code. All that information's at SaveNet Radio.org. Make a call and say "Support the bill!"

See Also:
Dear Internet, I'm Sorry
Is Yahoo/Flicker DMCA Policy Censorship?
Detention and Torture: Are We Still Free, or Not?
How the iPod Changes Culture

Read More

Create an Alien, Win A-Prize!


We won't discover the first alien lifeforms out amongst the stars, says Dr. Alan Goldstein. We will create them in our own laboratories.

Goldstein is a professor of bio-materials at Alfred University (currently on leave). He writes about nanotechnology and biotechnology for Salon and other publications. Goldstein recently conceived of The A-Prize, which is “awarded to the person or organization responsible for creating an Animat/Artificial lifeform with an emphasis on the safety of the researchers, public, and environment OR the person or organization who shows that an Animat/Artificial life form has been created." Goldstein's concept has been brought to life under the sponsorship of The Lifeboat Foundation.

So if you know about any Artificial Life forms, you can now win $26,300. (Or you may want to hold out until the cash winnings increase.)

I interviewed Dr. Goldstein over two episodes of NeoFiles
To listen the full interviews in MP3, click here and here.

See video here.

RU SIRIUS: You've convinced the Lifeboat Foundation to offer an A-prize for creating an "Animat" — or as I read it — for noticing that one exists. So what's an Animat and why are you offering a prize for making one?

ALAN GOLDSTEIN: Well, The X Prize was offered to induce people to achieve space flight. The capitalist concept is that private enterprise can do it better and more cheaply than the government. But there was another purpose – to make people consider the possibility that going into space wasn't actually that hard. Private people and private companies could get it together and make a vehicle and get into space.

So we designed the A-Prize to make people aware that creating synthetic lifeforms is not that hard either. Many people in many labs are working on it right now, and it will probably occur in the near future. So the A-Prize is broken up into two parts. You can win the A-Prize by being the first person or scientific group to invent a synthetic lifeform, or you can win the A-Prize by blowing the whistle on a person or group that has invented a synthetic lifeform. Many researches are afraid to be associated with the creation of a synthetic lifeform. So they might be making it, but they're not going to tell you. It could go unnoticed, and it probably will go unnoticed.

RU: And by your definition, an Animat is an artificial organism.

AG: In the article "I, Nanobot", I define lifeforms. And the central idea there is that a lifeform is any entity capable of executing a sequence of chemical or physical activities that result in the perpetuation or propagation of itself.

Why bother to define the difference between a biological lifeform and an artificial lifeform? So we will know one when we see one. It's like SETI, right? We're scanning outer space for signs of intelligent life, but who's scanning inner space? Who's watching for the invention of the first self-replicating, non-biological molecule? The answer is: no one. So the person who invents it might report it and they might not report it. If it's invented inside of a bio-defense laboratory, they probably won't report it.

RU: There are two things — there's secrecy, and there's also the possibility that somebody might not even think of it in those terms, and you think it's important enough to...

AG: Exactly! They're not looking for it. So it's really very simple. If you can accomplish everything you need to accomplish to go through your life cycle and the information for all of your activities can be stored in DNA and/or RNA, you are biological. In other words, if all of the code for your life processes can be stored in DNA — our genetic material – or RNA, the genetic material for some viruses and other organisms... you're biological. If you use any other form of chemistry to get through your life cycle, even one step of your life cycle, then you're something that has not been on earth for four billion years.

You know, most people think that DNA is the basis of life. In my opinion, that's not the correct way to look at it. DNA is the chemical programming language that evolution selected, so it's a chemical programming language that biological life forms use to replicate. But there's nothing special about DNA. It just won that particular evolutionary race.

RU: In the A-Prize statement, you write, "Considerable advancement in synthetic biology has been made recently." Can you point at anything particularly?

AG: In Berkeley last year, there was a synthetic biology meeting. It was called Synthetic Biology 2.0. Now, Synthetic Biology is supposed to be where we build biological life forms from the ground up. So we make the DNA. We make the genome, essentially — one base at a time. It's synthetic because we build it one molecule at a time, but in the end, we have a biological lifeform that works the way biological lifeforms (like us) do. But if you go to the website for Synthetic Biology, you will see that their logo is a single bacteria cell full of lasers and nano-wires and all kinds of synthetic, non-biological materials. So they've already violated their own definition in their logo. These people are so confused that they don't even know what they're talking about now!



RU: Let's back up a bit. The first discussions of Artificial Life that I was aware of popped up in the late 1980s. And at that time, people were really talking about stuff that was happening digitally on computers. They were talking about digital stuff that could imitate the way life evolves.

AG: That's the key to the problem! Nearly all the people interested in artificial and synthetic life come out of systems engineering and AI research. They don't understand that it's about the chemistry. Again, biological life is not based on DNA. DNA is just a particular chemical programming language that we happen to use. So when other chemical programming languages become available for replication, we will have non-biological lifeforms. And a non-biological lifeform, as I define it, is an artificial lifeform. Or an alien lifeform – we're actually talking about creating an alien lifeform. So the first alien lifeform will not come from the stars, right? It will come from ourselves. We will make it!

Imagine that I create a self-replicating silicon molecule that is a clot buster. It works just like some of the blood thinners that people take, but it is self-catalytic. When it binds to a biomolecule, it assumes a replicative form and makes a copy of itself. So it can be only one molecule — 45 atoms. But because it is self-replicating, it's a silicon-based life form. So if you're only interested in systems, in things that are complex enough to be AI, the fact that a self-replicating molecular entity that is not biological is a lifeform would slip right by you! You wouldn't even notice it. Why would you? You're not looking for it.

RU: The people behind the X Prize offered the prize because they actually want people to build vehicles that will go into space. Is the A-Prize really about raising public awareness or are you actually interested in seeing somebody create an Animat?

AG: It's inexorable. Artificial life forms will be generated. People are working on them right now. So the question is, should they be generated in secret? Should they be generated randomly? Should they be generated by whoever has enough money to generate them? Or should we formulate an organized, coherent set of definitions and guidelines, and work within those, just like we did with recombinant DNA? I'm not against this research — I do this research. But it needs to be regulated. And right now, it is completely unregulated.

RU: Well, why do you do the research? What can be accomplished by Animats?

AG: Well, it's just another form of chemistry, right? Until it begins to self-replicate, it's just an interesting way to build things. Molecular manufacturing and molecular self-assembly are the manufacturing systems of the future. There is a new industrial revolution coming – the molecular manufacturing revolution. And if we don't get on board, someone else will do it. It's not going to go away because America doesn't participate or because Alan Goldstein doesn't participate.

RU: So you're basically talking about the same sorts of promises and dangers that people have been talking about in terms of nanotechnology.

AG: Nanotechnology has become a completely meaningless term. What is really happening now is molecular engineering.

RU: Well, that's what Eric Drexler meant by nanotechnology.

AG: I advise calling it what it is: molecular engineering. And if you start mixing molecules from living organisms with molecules from non-living organisms, you create molecular hybrid entities. And if these things have the ability to self-replicate, what have you made? And if we don't have a set of definition, what do we even call it?

RU: One prize is for creating a safe Animat. How can you tell?

AG: The purpose of the A-Prize Is to draw attention to this question and then develop coherent guidelines under which to proceed. I was on the National Research Council Committee that reviewed the National Nanotechnology Initiative. It was a Congressionally mandated review of our government's nanotech program. We published the report on December 8. It became public property and sank without a trace. And one of the reasons why it sank is that it was completely sanitized. If you look at the section called "Responsible Development," it's just a bunch of fluff. There's nothing in there. All of the hard recommendations that I made essentially got lost in the editing process.

The bottom line is that molecular engineering is viewed by many as the next industrial revolution. So to certain people in government and in industry, responsible development of nanotechnology means we can't afford to lose the nanotechnology war. We can't let China beat us to the next industrial revolution. We can't let Korea beat us to the next industrial revolution. If we get beaten, we're irresponsible. We've lost our leadership. That's what responsible development means to these people. They're not worried about safety. In their minds, chemical safety plus biotechnology safety equals nanotechnology safety. But that's not true.

RU: So why is this development a threat to life?

AG: Because the behavior of an entity that is capable of using non-biological mechanisms of replication can't be predicted. We have experience with biohazards, which are biological organisms that are dangerous. And we have experience with chemical hazards. But we have no experience with Animats. So it's the apex of hubris for us to sit here and say, "Well, we know how this thing's going to behave." Because we have no bloody idea how this thing's going to behave.

RU: Do you have a vision of how things could go awry? There seem to be many science fictional possibilities.

AG: No, no — it can be very simple. For example, the most probable scenario is a viral nano-biotech weapon that goes out of control. Imagine a viral weapon that has added to it the capability to coat itself with diatom-like silica structures that would make it highly aerosolizable, and then to disperse it. And then, make it also highly resistant to chemical corrosion – to digestive acids. We've never seen a virus that can coat itself in spiky glass nano-particles. And no matter what anybody says inside the government or in industry, we don't know how to deal with that. And yet, that could be made — right here, right now. A large enough facility – a major pharmaceutical company or DARPA or the DOD could make it right now if they wanted to.

RU: Say I get an animat — what advantages might I wind up having?

AG: These synthetic forms of chemistry — the products of nanotechnology, if you want — will start off as therapies that let you live longer and healthier. But once these forms of chemistry are in your body, they can talk to your body in the language of chemistry. And they can learn. I mean, with genetically modified crops, people fear that the DNA we put in is going to learn a new trick. And the people that make GMOs say, "No, we taught this gene. This gene is only like a gene that's in the second grade." Or, "This gene has been intentionally blinded."

The bottom line is that DNA is a smart molecule. It's a smart material. It is capable of talking to the rest of the DNA, and talking to protein and other molecules in the cell, and maybe learning new things. With DNA we call that a mutation.

RU: So aside from getting rid of blood clots, suppose I wanted to make something really strange and amazing happen inside my body. Is there any potential there that you can think of? Can I grow a third arm?

AG: You know, I talked to a guy from UCSF that's doing what's called deep brain stimulation. They put electrodes deep inside your brain. And he's a wonderful person who is helping people that are in a lot of pain. But if they put electrical stimulation in the wrong place, then you can get other effects. Maybe you can induce depression or make someone hyperactive. Maybe if they put it in the right place, you could have a perpetual orgasm.



Once we learn where these connections are, we won't want to do anything as crude as putting electrodes in there. We will want to go in and bridge these circuits with carbon nanotubes or something like that. Right now you can tailor carbon nano-tubes to specifically block certain types of ion channels in the cell.

RU: How do you get that into the brain?

AG: You can have people breath it. Or you put in genes that will encode the bio-synthesis of carbon nano-tubes, which I'm sure will be happening in the near future.

Now, think about a bio-weapon that's a combination of nano/bio material. It gets into your body and the first thing it does is it runs a quick PCR assay on your DNA. It checks out genotype — finds out your ethnicity. If you have one of its targeted ethnicities, it releases carbon nano-tubes that block the neurotransmitter ion channels in the pacemaker cells of your heart. Bang. Instant heart attack. And our body doesn't know what to do with carbon nano-tubes. We have no natural defense against it. They're too big to be taken up by macrophages. If you haven't seen them before, you won't have antibodies against them.

RU: So this could be put into an aerosol spray….

AG: Right. Then you put the silicon coating on the surface...

RU: Then it just gets all the white people or all the Arabs or whatever…

AG: Yeah. Exactly. How about a bio-nanotech weapon that just makes your enemy so suicidally depressed they kill themselves?

RU: I think it's called "American Idol."

AG: Given the enormous potential for controlling the chemistry of biology with non-biological chemistry, it's inconceivable that people will not build these things.

RU: I thought it was kind of funny that Stewart Brand's Long Now Foundation sponsored a lecture by Vernor Vinge titled "What if the Singularity Doesn't Happen?" And 99% of the American people probably don't know what the fuck the singularity is and then a substantial segment of the scientific community thinks its bullshit. But for this one group, it's like a total stretch to imagine that it might not happen.

AG: The only Singularity that matters is the carbon barrier. Do you know what Ray Kurzweil's biggest problem is?

RU: That he blinks his eyes when he speaks…

AG: He still can't get outside the box enough to stop thinking like a human. And his Singularity is based on the idea that, even though we are no longer human beings, we will still want human things. That's a mistake. As we become more integrated with our technology, our psychology is going to change. So the idea that humans as we know them are going to hang around long enough for his type of Singularity to occur is specious. The real Singularity is breaking the carbon barrier. The day that we create a life form that requires a non-biological form of chemistry to propagate is the day that biological evolution changes forever.

RU: It would be pretty hard to develop a fiction narrative with nothing anthropomorphic about it. Can you think of anybody who's done that?

AG: Yes. James Tiptree Jr. wrote a beautiful story called "Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death," where she inhabited an insect mind, I think, very well. Read that story. I think she does a great job.

RU: So do you have any thoughts about what the Animat might want? Or about what we — in combination with the Animat — might desire?

AG: What if I was able to put a small form of self-replicating chemistry into you that homed to your epidermal cells and started generating photovoltaic energy for you; feeding it to your cells so that you could in effect harness the energy of the sun so you would feel better. You'd have more energy. You'd be a more high-powered individual.



Not only is that going to change the way your body metabolizes energy; it's going to change the way you feel. It's going to change the way you think. And if you start adding all of these non-biological enhancements over time, they will have a cumulative effect. This is something like a mutation. You don't see a biological mutation immediately. It has to be selected for. I use heat resistance as an example. Say some organism at the top of the Sierras gets a mutation in a crucial enzyme that allows it to operate in the Mojave. It doesn't say "Whee! I've got a great mutation! I'm going to run down to the Mojave and start propagating!" Over a few generations, it spreads down the side of the mountain and ends up in the Mojave. You don't see it until it gets there. You say, "Oh, there's a heat-tolerant version!" But you've got to backtrack to the original mutation to know when that actually happened.

So if we're not looking for molecular events — the implantation of synthetic chemistry into biological organisms — we're not going to know it when it happens.

See Also:
SF Writer Rudy Rucker: Everything Is Computation
Why Chicks Don't Dig The Singularity
Death No Thank You
There Won't Be Blood
The Mormon Bigfoot Genesis Theory


Read More

Homeland Security Follies

Bruce Schneier
According to the sleeve of his latest book, Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security, "in an Uncertain World, Bruce Schneier is the go-to security expert for business leaders and policy makers." If only the policy makers would listen, we'd be safer, happier and still free.

Other books include Applied Cryptography, described by Wired as "the book the NSA wanted never to be published."

Beyond Fear deals with security issues ranging from personal safety to national security and terrorism. Schneier is also a frequent contributor to Wired magazine, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and many other fine periodicals. He also writes a monthly newsletter, Cryptogram.

I interviewed him on The RU Sirius Show.

RU SIRIUS: First of all, why did you become a security expert? Were you a secure child? Did anybody steal your lunchbox at school?

BRUCE SCHNEIER: I don't think I had any defining security episodes in my life, but I think you're right that security is something you're born with. It's a mentality. I remember as a kid walking into stores and figuring out how to shoplift — looking where the cameras were. You're born with a mindset where you look at security in terms of a system and figure out how to get around it. It's a hacker mentality. So doing security just was natural for me.



RU: I want to get right into the political area of security against terrorism. You wrote that security works better if it's centrally coordinated but implemented in a distributed manner. Tell us a little bit about that and maybe say a bit about how that might work.

BS: In security — especially something as broad as national security – it's important that there be a lot of central coordination. You can't have people in one area doing one thing, and people in another area doing another thing, and then not have them talking to each other. So sharing information across jurisdictions and up and down the line of command is important. When things happen, you need a lot of coordination and you can see coordination failures again and again. In the aftermath of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina there was a lot of replication of effort. A lot of things that were obvious… everyone thought someone else was doing. But the other half of that is distributed implementation. You can't be so rigid that your people in the field can't make decisions. In security today, we see smart people being replaced by rules. A great example is the Transportation Security Administration. They will blindly follow the stupidest rule rather than using common sense. Security works much better when the individuals at the point of security — the guards, the policemen, the customs agents — are well-trained and have the ability to follow their instincts. Think about how September 11 could have been prevented. A field agent in Minnesota was really first to put her finger on the plot, but she couldn't get her voice heard. And she didn't have the power to do anything herself. When you look at the real successes against terrorism at the borders, it's not custom agents following rules, but noticing something suspicious, and then following their instincts. So security works best when it's centrally coordinated, but distributedly implemented. A great example is the Marine Corps. That's their model. There's a lot of coordination, but individual marines in the field have a lot of autonomy. They're trained well, and they're trusted. And because of that, it's a good fighting force.

RU: You're talking about de-centralization, basically — the organizations making decisions on the local level.

BS: Right. Another analogy is the human body. There's a lot of coordination, but it's a very distributed organism. The pieces of our body do things autonomously, without waiting for approval. There's a lot of communication back and forth, a lot of coordination, but different pieces have their job, and they're empowered to do it. And it's robust and reliable because of that.

RU: What about radically democratized security, like Open Source kinds of efforts involving citizens?

BS: It's good and bad depending on how it works. I like Open Source intelligence. I like Open Source information gathering and dissemination. There's a lot of value in that. The downside of that is something like Total Information Awareness — TIA — where you have citizens basically spying on each other. And there you get pretty much nothing but false alarms. People will turn each other in because their food smells funny or they don't pray at the right time. Done right, a radically democratized, distributed security model works. Done wrong, you get East Germany where everyone spies on their friends.

RU: They were trying to get the postmen to spy on us for a while.

BS: Right. They were going to have postmen and the meter readers. That will work well if the postmen are properly trained. Where that will fail: if you tell a bunch of postmen, "Report anything suspicious." Because honestly, they don't know what "suspicious" looks like in this context. So the question is: given all the police resources we have, what should they be doing? I don't want the government chasing all the false alarms from the postmen and meter readers when they could be doing something more useful. So that's a bad use. If you train them properly, you'll have something better. But then you don't have a postman any more. You have a security officer.

Think of a customs agent. They're going to watch people, and they're going to look for something suspicious. But they're trained in how to do it. So they're less likely to be overtly racist or a fool for dumb profiles. They're more likely to look for things that are actually suspicious. So it's a matter of training. And that's pretty much true of Open Source security models. Think of Open Source software. Having a bunch of random people look at the code to tell you if it's secure won't work. If you have well-trained people who look at the code, that will work! Open Source just means you can see it, it doesn't guarantee that the right people will see it.

RU: Even with trained security people, it seems like they make an awful lot of errors. It seems like America, over the past few years, really has that "Can't Do" spirit. Is there anything you can tell us about trained security people, and how they could improve their efforts.

BS: Well, they're always going to make errors. Fundamentally, that's a problem in the mathematics called the base rate fallacy. There are simply so few terrorists out there that even a highly accurate test, whether automatic or human-based, will almost always bring false alarms. That's just the way the math works. The trick is to minimize the false alarms.

You've got to look at the false alarms versus the real alarms versus the real attacks missed — look at all the numbers together. But terrorist attacks are rare. They almost never happen. No matter how good you are, if you stop someone in airport security, it's going to be a false alarm, overwhelmingly. Once every few years, it'll be a real planned attack… maybe not even that frequently.

With training, you're less likely to stop someone based on a dumb reason. When airport security stops a grandma with a pocketknife, that's a false alarm. That's not a success. That's a failure. It's, of course, ridiculous. So the trick is to alarm on things that are actually suspicious so you'd spend your time wisely. But the fact that almost everybody will still end up being a false alarm — that's just the nature of the problem.

RU: Most of us experience the so-called "War on Terror" in one place, and that's at the airport. What are they doing right, and what are they doing wrong at the airports? Are they doing anything right?

BS: (Laughs) Since September 11, exactly two things have made us safer. The first one is reinforcing the cockpit door. That should have been done decades ago. The second one is that passengers are convinced they have to fight back, which happened automatically. You can argue that sky marshals are also effective. I'm not convinced. And actually, if you pretend you have sky marshals, you don't even actually have to have them. The benefit of sky marshals is in the belief in them, not in the execution.

Everything else is window dressing — security theater. It's all been a waste of money and time. Heightened airport security at the passenger point of screening has been a waste of time. It's caught exactly nobody; it's just inconvenienced lots of people. The No Fly List has been a complete waste of time. It's caught exactly nobody. The color-coded threat alerts – I see no value there.



RU: A recent BoingBoing headline read "TSA missed 90% of bombs at Denver airport." (Obviously they weren't talking about real bombs, but a test.)

BS: And the real news there is it wasn't even surprising. This is consistent in TSA tests both before and after 9/11. We haven't gotten any better. We're spending a lot more money, we're pissing off a lot more fliers, and we're not doing any better.

There's a game we're playing, right? Think about airport security. We take away guns and bombs, so the terrorists use box cutters. So we take away box cutters and small knives, and they put explosives in their shoes. So we screen shoes and they use liquids. Now we take away liquids; they're going to do something else. This is a game we can't win. I'm sick of playing it. I'd rather play a game we can win.

RU: The reactive thing is terribly absurd. The whole shoe-bomber thing — my ongoing joke is that if he were an ass bomber, taxpayers would now be buying a lot of Vaseline.

What do you think about John Gilmore's court fight — that he shouldn't have to present an ID to fly inside the country. Do you think that's a legitimate goal?

BS: I don't know the legal and constitutional issues. I know they're very complex and he unfortunately lost his case on constitutional grounds. For security purposes, there's absolutely no point in having people show a photo ID. If you think about it, everybody has a photo ID. All the 9/11 terrorists had a photo ID. The Unabomber had one. Timothy McVeigh had one. The D.C. snipers had one; you have one; I have one. We pretend there's this big master list of bad guys and if we look you up against the list, we'll know if you're a bad guy and we won't let you on the plane. It's completely absurd. We have no such list. The no-fly list we have is full of innocent people. It catches nobody who's guilty and everybody's who's innocent. Even if your name is Osama bin Laden, you can easily fly under someone else's name. This isn't even hard. So there is absolutely no value to the photo ID check. I applaud Gilmore based on the fact that this is a complete waste of security money.

RU: So if you were in charge of airport security, are there any things that you would implement?

BS: I think we should ratchet passenger screening down to pre-9/11 levels. I like seeing positive bag matching. That's something that was done in Europe for decades. The U.S. airlines screamed and screamed and refused to do it, and now they are.

Really, I would take all the extra money for airport security and have well-trained guards, both uniformed and plainclothes, walking through the airports looking for suspicious people. That's what I would do. And I would just give back the rest of the money. If we secure our airport and the terrorists go bomb shopping malls, we've wasted our money. I dislike security measures that require us to guess the plot correctly because if you guess wrong, it's a waste of money. And it's not even a fair game. It's not like we pick our security, they pick their plot, we see who wins. The game is we pick our security, they look at our security, and then they pick their plot. The way to spend money on security – airport security, and security in general — is intelligence investigation and emergency response. These are the things that will be effective regardless of what the terrorists are planning.

RU: You emphasize intelligence. Is there any truth to the claims made by various agencies that intelligence people couldn't do things that they should have been able to do to protect us because of the Church Committee rules in the mid-1970s?

BS: I think that's overstated. The controls that the Church Committee put in place made a lot of sense. The purpose was to stop very serious abuses by law enforcement — by the police, the NSA, and the CIA. If you look at the failures of 9/11, they weren't based on the Church Commission restrictions. So I think we're making a mistake by dismantling those protections. In effect, those are also security measures that protect us from government abuses. Unfortunately, those abuses are far more common than terrorist attacks.

RU: Do you ever watch the TV show Numb3rs?

BS: I don't. People tell me I should, and I do see plot summaries occasionally — but no, I'm not a big TV person.

RU: It's pretty amusing. But it makes it look like if you combined data mining with some complexity theory, you could predict everything anybody will do, and exactly when and where they'll show up.

BS: If that was true, there'd be a lot more people making money on Wall Street, wouldn't there?

RU: Right. What are the limitations of data-mining? You find data mining pretty much useless in the case of terrorism, but you find it useful in other areas.

BS: Data mining is a really interesting and valuable area of mathematics and science, and it has phenomenal value. The data mining success story is in credit cards. The credit card companies use data mining to constantly look at the stream of credit card transactions, and find credit cards that have been stolen. It works because credit card thieves are relatively numerous. There's some percentage of credit cards that are stolen every year and credit card thieves tend to follow standard profiles. When mine was stolen, the fraudster bought gas first (you do that to test that the card is valid), and then went to a large department store — they went to Canadian tire — and bought a bunch of things that were easily fence-able. So my credit card company caught that immediately. So there are a lot of thieves with a well-defined profile and then also the cost for false alarms isn't that great. Most of the time, the company calls us to check, and we're happy to receive the call. Or in extreme cases, they cut off the card, and you have to call and get it reinstated

It doesn't work well looking for terrorists. The number of terrorists, with respect to the general population, is infinitesimally smaller than the number of credit card fraudsters to the number of credit cards. Also, there is no well-defined profile. You know, you hear all sorts of things that are supposed to profile terrorists — people who move suddenly — one-fifth of the population does that. Or who you talk to and communicate with. Lots of people have weird friends. In a lot of ways, a surprise birthday party looks like a terrorist attack. The only difference is how it's executed. So you don't have this large database of existing events that you can data-mine for a profile.

The other problem is that false alarms are expensive! For a credit card, they're cheap — a phone call, or you turn off the card, and they have to reinstate it. In looking for a terrorist plot, a false alarm costs maybe three weeks work from a handful of FBI agents? It's an enormous amount of money and an enormous amount of effort. So when you apply the math to looking for terrorist attacks, you have no good profile; there are so many false alarms you'll never find a real attack; and the false alarms are so expensive that they divert resources from what could be actually useful anti-terrorist activities. So I don't think it's ever going to work. The numbers are just not on your side.

It is far more valuable to do traditional police investigative work. Think of what caught the London liquid bombers. It wasn't data mining. It wasn't profiling at the airports. It wasn't any of these new-fangled ideas. It was old-fashioned detective work — following the lead. It was smart investigators investigating. It's not sexy, but it's effective. Before diverting resources from that, you better have something really good. And data mining isn't.

RU: I guess the idea of Total Information Awareness would seem sexy to some portion of the geek population. That's where it came from!

BS: We're so desperate to find ways to harness technology to solve the problem. We're used to that working in other areas of society — just apply more computing power, you get better results.

This is fundamentally a human problem. It's not a data problem. It's a problem of human intelligence connecting the dots. If I'm looking for a needle in a haystack, throwing more hay on the pile isn't going to solve my problem.

I need a better way to methodically follow the lead into the haystack to the needle. Another lesson of the liquid plot is that if they got to the airport, it would've gotten through. It would've gotten through all the enhanced screening; it would've gotten through all the enhanced profiling. The reason it failed had nothing to do with airport security.

RU: Moving on from terrorism, but still thinking about haystacks — you have a bit in "Beyond Fear" about learning about security from insects, which I found really fascinating. What can we learn from insects?

BS: There's a lot to be learned from security from the natural world in general. All species have evolved as security beings — we need to survive enough to reproduce. We need to be able to protect our offspring so they can survive. We need to protect our food supply. We attack other creatures to kill them and eat them. There's so much security interplay in the natural world. And it's a great source of strategies and anecdotes. I find insects particularly valuable, because they evolve so quickly. You see so many interesting strategies in the insect world, because of the wacky evolutionary turns they take. Evolution doesn't give you the optimal security measure. Evolution tries security measures at random, and stops at the first one that just barely works. So you tend to get really weird security in the insect world. You do get some real neat examples of distributed security measures. Think of the way ants protect their colony. There are ant species that just wander around randomly, and if they hit a predator or a threat, they run right back to their colony to alert everybody. Individual ants are very cheap and very expendable, so if you have cheap resources, you just sort of do random things.

The lima bean plant is interesting. Effectively, when a certain mite attacks it, it calls an air strike. It releases a chemical that attracts a predator mite that will eat the mite that's attacking it. Very clever.

RU: We are moving into a society very much like the ones that have been written about in various cyberpunk novels in the early 90s. We can imagine people running around with suitcase nukes and bioterror or nanoterror weapons that are extraordinary. This kind of destructive power is moving from the government to the small group to the individual. Does that imply a need for a Total Surveillance society — basically, we need to watch everything everybody is doing, all the time?

BS: I don't think it implies that. It does imply we need some kind of different security. I think society is inherently good. Most people are inherently honest. Society would fall apart if that weren't true. In a sense, crime and terrorism is a tax on the honest. I mean, all of security is a tax. It taxes us honest people to protect against the dishonest people. The dishonest people are noise in the smooth running of society. The attacker gets a lot more leverage when the noise becomes greater – so in a complex society, a single person can do a lot more disrupting. But I don't believe that surveiling everybody will solve the problem. We have to start thinking about different ways to cope with these problems. But I sort of discount massive surveilance as ineffective. I don't even need to say: "I don't want to live in a society that has that."



RU: So let's say President Obama asks you to be the Homeland Security director. If you accepted, what would you do with it?

BS: If I was in charge of Homeland Security, I would spend money on intelligence investigation and emergency response. That's where I'll get the best value. And I think there is security inherent in civil liberties, in privacy and freedom. So I wouldn't be messing with that.

RU: Before I let you go, what are you exploring now?

BS: In the past, I've done a lot of work in the economics of security. Now I'm researching the human side of security — the psychology of security. I'm looking into how people make security decisions, how they react to security. Why is it that we're getting security wrong? Why is it that people fall for security theater instead of doing what makes sense? And it turns out there's a lot of very interesting things about how the brain works, how we process security trade-offs. I'm researching that. There's an enormous body of research that hasn't really been applied to the technological community. I'm really new to this research, but there's a lot there to look at.

See also:
Is Iraq Really THAT Bad?
Catching Up with an Aqua Teen Terrorist
20 Secrets of an Infamous Dead Spy
Detention and Torture: Are We Still Free Or Not?

Read More

David Sedaris Exaggerates For Us All


David Sedaris

When our government lies to us, there are consequences. So maybe it’s the dire and surreal fictionalizing of the current US administration – the people who once ridiculed the press for dealing in a "fact-based reality" – that has our collective bowels in such an uproar over finding some exaggerations in the non-fiction section.

But if we start judging creative, funny storytellers by the strict standards we should apply to politicians, we will pay the price in tedium. Believe me: every interesting and amusing and exciting memoir you've ever read contained some exaggeration. Do you think every word written by Anais Nin is gospel truth? Shall she be booted out of the canon along with dozens of other writers who have inspired college girls and bohemians to ruin their lives? No wonder Hunter S. Thompson blew his own brains out.

In a New Republic cover story, Tad Friend Alex Heard has revealed that some of David Sedaris' very popular memoirs aren't completely factual. S.F. Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll, who must have actually read Sedaris' books, commented: "I am just amazed that anyone thought David Sedaris stories were literally true. I am even more amazed that the New Republic would publish a lengthy article 'proving' that David Sedaris' stories were not literally true."



Writers are desperate people. This is not the place to go into the depredations of the book industry, but those of us "content providers" who work within it have all heard this one from our agents: "They want memoirs!" Well, as far as I'm concerned, as long as it's good writing — wrap it up as a memoir, give it some lipstick and high heels and put it out on the street. As long as the reader has a good time, and as long as the writing is good, anything a creative writer does to get over in today's publishing environment is justified.

Friend opens his expose by quoting from an interview that appeared in 10 Zen Monkeys' progenitor webzine, GettingIt. Friend writes:
The Library of Congress called it biography, and Sedaris assured several interviewers over the years that the book was essentially factual. "Everything in Naked was true," he told GettingIt in 1999. "I mean, I exaggerate. But all the situations were true."

Here, in full, is the interview we published with David Sedaris in 1999. The interviewer was GettingIt contributor, Shermakaye Bass.

GETTINGIT: What makes a story?

DAVID SEDARIS: A few days ago I was going to the airport in Sacramento [California] with this woman who'd signed up to take me there. Within a few moments of being in the car, I learned that her husband had died and her daughter was confined to the wheelchair. But when we got to the airport, she seemed to have spent all her enthusiasm... We didn't see the sign for Alaska Air, and I asked her about it, and she said something like, "Oh, there are a lot of planes going to Seattle. You'll find something." And dropped me off at the curb.

I thought it was funny that someone would volunteer to take me to the airport and then end up just sort of dumping me off... On the way to the airport, we had seen a truck full of tomatoes that had overturned, and there were all these tomatoes — tens of thousands of tomatoes, miles and miles down the highway. And they were getting run over by trucks and the crows were picking at them. I don't know, there was just something there: all those tomatoes on the road, and her saying later that there were dozens of planes to Seattle. It was funny and it was sad, too... Ultimately, I found it funny that I wound up walking half a mile to the gate with my very heavy luggage.

GI: What's not a story?

DS: Often people will go out of their way to tell you things, thinking that perhaps you'd like to write about them. Then it's generally not that interesting to me. What's interesting is the fact that they're telling it. I suppose I have a hard time when people seem to kind of pitch things to me. There's sort of a desperate quality to it that gets in the way of the story. I can't quite hear the story because of the desperation.

GI: Do you find that people tell you really personal things when you're traveling? You meet a stranger on the plane, and they spill everything?

DS: It's when you travel on weekends. On weekdays, it's mostly people traveling on business, and they get on and off and they don't talk to you. The chatterboxes travel on weekends. They think that they're supposed to tell you everything. They think it's cute to videotape the baby's first steps through the metal detector.



GI: Is everything you write fact-based?

DS: There are some fictional things in Holidays on Ice. Everything in Naked was true. I mean, I exaggerate. But all the situations were true.

GI: What about your portrayals of your family?

DS: That's accurate. Like, my dad came to Paris, and I called him later and asked if I could write about him... He ate the brim of his hat while he was there.

GI: He ate his hat?

DS: He found this little brown chip in his suitcase, and he thought it was part of a cookie, and it was the brim of his hat — this hat he had bought in Kansas City right after the war. He was sitting on my bed and he was eating it, and then he realized it was his hat... My dad is really cheap and he'll never throw anything away. He's the same way with food... [The same evening] I thought the cat had defecated on the bed, and it was a shriveled banana he had brought from home.

GI: Did he see the humor in it?

DS: He laughed about the hat. He wouldn't laugh that he'd brought that hideous banana from North Carolina; I mean, that made perfect sense to him.

GI: You're called a comic writer. But a lot of what you write has elements of sadness. What's the relationship between comedy and tragedy?

DS: I guess I've never thought about it that hard. I know I like getting laughs. And I'm very suspicious when I write something and I sit back and read it and get misty-eyed. Then I tear it off... But I like that mix of something being sad and something being funny.

GI: Tell me about Santaland Diaries [a story about Sedaris' experience working as a Macy's elf during Christmas; it has since been turned into a play].

DS: If there's one thing I could really take back in my life, it would be that as a play. I agreed to do it because Paul Reubens [Pee-wee Herman] was supposed to do it. And then he couldn't, and the guy who did it [originally] did a good job, but I don't think it really makes for a good play. Now, when you see something about "Santaland Diaries," you always see somebody dressed up as an elf, with a cigarette and martini, and there's nothing like that in there. It's like it's about somebody who hates Christmas. I love Christmas. I've already done my shopping.

GI: In "Santaland Diaries," you say that it breaks your heart to see a man dressed up like a taco [a promotional costume]. Why?

DS: Because I don't think it's anybody's plan to grow up and dress up as a taco — especially in New York. People move to New York to succeed. And your failure is more pronounced there. There's always that fear. I mean, I could be a taco a year from now. There's always that fear of ending up a taco. If I stay in France, at least I won't end up being a taco.

GI: What are you writing about now?

DS: I have a bunch of new stories I've been working on for another book. I went to [writing] school in Paris, and my teacher was a maniac, she really was, and I wrote a story about her. I thought she'd never see it. Well, it was published in Esquire, and I got thrown out of school. Now I don't have to worry about her being angry — because she already is.



GI: What should it say on your tombstone?

DS: Oh...oh. You know, maybe, like, "It seemed funny at the time." [Chuckles] Or "Maybe you just had to be there." [Chuckles harder] "Maybe you just had to be there" wouldn't be bad.

See also:
Neil Gaiman has Lost His Clothes
Santa's Crimes Against Humanity
Author Slash Trickster JT LeRoy
Interview with Erica Jong
Raising Hunter S. Thompson

Read More

Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams

Ecstacy pills

Are psychedelic drugs medicinal? Can you picture yourself walking into the neighborhood pharmacy with prescriptions for ecstasy (MDMA) and psilocybin?

If MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies) has its way, the days of prescription psychedelics may not be too far away. For those who know the history of psychedelic research, this eventuality has been a long time coming. But others — who may only be familiar with the intense emotions and activities around the "War On Drugs" over the past several decades — may be surprised to learn how much progress MAPS has made.



Jag Davies is the Director of Communications for MAPS, a non-profit research and education organization that assists scientists to design, obtain approval for, fund, conduct and report on research into the healing and spiritual potentials of psychedelics and marijuana. He joined Steve Robles, Jeff Diehl and myself on The RU Sirius Show.

Let it be said that Mr. Davies has the patience of a saint (and a sense of humor). Despite the fact that we were unable to resist the urge to crack drug jokes throughout, Jag managed to convey vast quantities of important information about psychedelic research.

DRUG I: MARIJUANA

RU SIRIUS: We should all drink a toast! You have some good news about marijuana research. Why don't you share some of that stuff with us?

JAG DAVIES: Sure. We just found out on February 12 that a DEA administrative law judge ruled in favor of MAPS in our lawsuit against the DEA.

MAPS would like to design and fund and do the FDA clinical trials necessary to get marijuana approved as a prescription medicine. It's never been put through the FDA clinical trials to see if it meet the standards for safety and efficacy of any other drug under certain conditions.

The reason that hasn't happened is because the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has a monopoly on the supply of research-grade marijuana. It's the only Schedule 1 controlled substance where the federal government has a monopoly on the production.

So what MAPS has been trying to do for the past six years is start an independent medical marijuana production facility. We're working with professor Lyle Craker, who's the director of the medicinal plant program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He had no history of working with marijuana, but he's a very well rounded botanist. In 2001, we sent NIDA an application, and first they took a year to tell us they had lost it. Their primary strategy is delay. (Laughs) And then they took another three years to reject it. And when they reject an application, there is a formal process where you can request a hearing with a DEA Administrative Law Judge. But the DEA's power is so unchecked that even once the ruling is decided in your favor, they can reject it. So there was this two-year hearing. We were represented by the ACLU and some Washington D.C. law firms. And the case took about two years for the judge to rule on our side. But now the DEA can still decide whether to accept or reject the recommendation. So there's still a lot more work to be done. But it was an 87-page recommendation. The judge rebuked all of the DEA's arguments and explained why NIDA needs to stop obstructing legitimate scientific research. So it's very exciting.

RU: The DEA is famous for ignoring their administrative judges. I remember their Administrative Judge made a strong ruling against making Ecstasy Schedule One in the '80s. And they proceeded to completely ignore it. The DEA is the Politburo of America.

It sounds like you guys are trying to unhook a little Catch 22 there. You can have marijuana experiments, but you can't have the marijuana to do the experiments.

JAG: Yeah. Well, you can't do FDA-approved research without the legal supply, and the only legal supply for research would come from NIDA. So once you get a study approved by the FDA, then you have to go through an entirely separate review process, through NIDA and PHS (Public Health Service),which is part of Health and Human Services. They have three to six months to respond. By contrast, the FDA has thirty days to respond. And there's no formal appeals process. So they basically can arbitrarily decide what they want to do.

JEFF DIEHL: Is it MAPS policy that marijuana should only be available through a prescription?

JAG: Not in the long-term. Our long-term goal is to regulate all drugs for different uses, because we don't think drug prohibition works. It's not sound public policy. But our strategy for the foreseeable future—at least for the next five to ten years—is working only on these medical cases, because that's what the public is most comfortable with. It's really a strategic decision. But we don't think marijuana should be illegal for recreational purposes either.



STEVE ROBLES: But the problem is—going through agencies like NIDA is kind of like being in Germany in 1939 and asking Hitler for Passover off. I mean, they're beyond resistant — they're hostile.

JAG: But Congress does control their funding. So if there was a major political push from Congress… if they felt that there was really going to be a political backlash... In 1989, DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young recommended that marijuana be re-scheduled to Schedule 3. And they didn'tdo it. But that would have been much more drastic measure than what we're trying to do. We're just trying to get them to allow for a research supply. What we're asking for is so conservative, really.

JEFF: Are these DEA judges appointed? How do they get in their positions?

JAG:: They're appointed by the Department of Justice. The DEA is part of the Department of Justice.

RU: There doesn't seem to be much percentage in being reasonable about pot for a politician. Even though a lot of people smoke marijuana, there doesn't seem to be a lot of people who feel strongly about it as an issue at the national level.

SR: I always say it needs to be "Datelined" to appeal to the public. Say somebody like Bob Dole is begging for medical marijuana while he's rotting away from cancer.

RU: You guys got support in this recent case from the Senators from Massachusetts—Ted Kennedy and John Kerry. And we all know about John Kerry. (OK, we don't. But I've heard rumors that Kerry still tokes.)

SR: Which explains how he fucked up in the last election. I love pot, but…

JEFF: "Whatever, man. It'll all work itself out." (Laughter)

SR: "I'm not gonna let him kill my buzz." (Laughter)

JAG: We got 38 representatives to sign on to a letter of support before the judge made the ruling. We're headed for a bigger sign-on support letter in the Senate and we've got a few months to formulate a political response. In the '80s when Francis Young made his recommendations, there was hardly any political support. The only organization doing any work was NORML, and they were small and had some issues. There's much more of an infrastructure now behind all of these different drug policy organizations that are going to help us. And there are already 160 congresspeople that voted in favor of the Hinchey Medical Marijuana Amendment. And there's a former conservative Republican representative that is going to be lobbying in support of this case. I can't say who it is. We can't announce it for about a month.

RU: Bob Barr!

JAG: (Laughs) I can't say anything.

RU: Bingo! (Laughter)

JEFF: We got it first! Isn't it the case that everybody is taking all these high-grade mood-altering pharmaceuticals now—all the anti-depressants—stuff that really has a strong effect on your daily functioning. So it seems like it's a little bit more difficult to be against even the study of marijuana as a possible prescription substance.

JAG: Yeah, it's like people are used to the concept.

JEFF:: … of "dosing," basically.

RU: As a culture, we're pretty conscious of chemical mind alteration.

DRUG II: ECSTASY (MDMA)

RU: Let's move on to ecstasy. We're going to do one drug at a time.

JEFF: Should've done that first! It takes too long to kick in, man.



RU: So a while back, MAPS got approval for a study in MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. Where are we at with that?

JAG: It's almost over. They've treated 15 out of 20 patients. It's very slow. There are lots of pre-conditions for the study because it's such a controversial substance. But the results are ridiculous. Their CAPS score—(CAPS is the Clinician Administered PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] Scale) is about five times higher than in treating chronic treatment-resistant patients with Zoloft. It's very likely that we're going to be able to go on to do our next set up studies—Phase III studies. And there are a whole other slew of studies that are sort of copying this one that we're doing in a bunch of other places like Switzerland, and Israel, just to be sure.

JEFF: So does it look like MDMA is going to become something that's used pharmaceutically?

JAG: After careful analysis, we decided that MDMA is probably the most likely of any psychedelic drug to get approved. First of all, it has a very gentle sort of pharmacological profile.

But the other reason is sort of interesting. People ask us, "Why don't you try MDE or MDA, drugs without the same cultural connotation." It would be easier politically. But because it was so demonized by the government in the 1980s and 1990s, there has been hundreds of millions of dollars of research done into its risks. So they've done all the work for us!

RU: You mentioned a comparison to Zoloft, the implication being that MDMA could be an effective anti-depressant.

JAG: The difference is that MDMA is not used on a daily basis. That's why there's not a profit incentive.

RU: But what would the prescription be — once a month? Or ten sessions?

JEFF: They didn't dose them daily in the study?

JAG: No, not at all. They do about 15 regular psychotherapy sessions. And then with two or three of them, depending on the study, there are sessions where the person takes either a placebo or the MDMA. It's very methodologically rigorous. It's double-blind and you don't know if you got the placebo or not.

With something like Ritalin, you have to keep taking it every day or every week or whatever. With MDMA, or a psychedelic drug that you use in conjunction with therapy, which is how we're trying to get it approved, you would only use it maybe five times at the most. So the incentive to make money isn't there.

JEFF: What kind of dosage did they use? Was it comparable to a street hit?

JAG: Actually, it's a bit larger than a street hit. It's 125 milligrams pure. And then we actually got approval about halfway through the study to make a couple of changes. One of them was to take a booster dose, basically, although we call it a "supplemental" dose. They take another 60 milligrams about an hour and half into it.

JEFF: You're not calling it "a bump"? (Laughter)

RU: It's been easier to do studies in Europe for a while, hasn't it? I seem to remember that stuff was happening in one of the Scandinavian countries in the early '90s.

JAG: There's been work in Switzerland, although not with psychotherapy. And we just got a study that's already ongoing in Switzerland with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. And then there's another study that's about to get approved this year for LSD-assisted psychotherapy for end-of-life anxiety. And that would be the first LSD psychotherapy study, or the first real study looking at LSD's benefits at all, anywhere in the world.

RU: Most of the countries in Europe don't have a drug war at the level of intensity that we have here. There have been some experiments allowed, and there have been various levels of drug decriminalization in a lot of countries. In Amsterdam and London, you can buy mushrooms quasi-legally. So why aren't we hearing about how their societies have been changed by the relative freedom to experiment with psychedelic drugs? Why aren't we hearing, "Wow. Look at what's happening here. Everybody's so enlightened!"

JAG: Well, things are better. At least as far as drug prohibition-related harm goes, it's a lot better. Their prison populations are incredibly lower. But I think more people use marijuana and psychedelics in the U.S. than in those countries. Just because they're legal, that doesn't mean more people are using them.

RU: A few days ago, I saw an item in the newspaper which said that people are now abusing more prescription drugs than illegal drugs in America. That's a result of the war on drugs.

JAG: Yeah, vastly many more people die every year from prescription drugs in America than from illegal drugs, even despite the harm that's caused by all the misinformation about illegal drugs.

SR: I've heard that Spain was doing some Ecstasy research.

JAG: The first MDMA-assisted psychotherapy study in the world was sponsored by MAPS and approved in 2001 in Madrid. It started but was shut down by the Madrid anti-drug authorities after there were positive reports in the press.

RU: There's nothing worse than good news to the medical establishment.

JAG: We've been trying to start a study up there again. In the mean time, we've got studies approved in Charleston, South Carolina, at Harvard, in Switzerland, and in Israel. So we think it's a bit more politically feasible now. Spain might be able to swallow it… so to speak.

RU: I interviewed (MAPS President) Rick Doblin about a decade ago about the relationship between MAPS and the FDA. And there was a loosening up about psychedelic research within the FDA that hadn't occurred since the 1960s. It started actually under Bush I in the '80s and continued under the Clinton administration. Has the relationship with the FDA changed?

JAG: The FDA continues to be very supportive. Since 1990, the FDA has been supportive of our protocols. The problems have really come more from the DEA and NIDA. In order to do any study, you need approval from the DEA to have a schedule 1 license to actually possess the drug for the study. It's usually been the DEA that has held everything up, because the FDA is more based around science, and the DEA is based more around criminal justice and law enforcement.

RU: Very few people know that in the middle of all the drug hysteria, the FDA had started to allow these kinds of experiments to begin. It's kind of amazing.

When I skim the MAPS site, I see all this stuff about approved protocols and activities that are going to lead up to tests, and then maybe an occasional test. But has there been any results?

JAG: Well, yeah, there have been some results. We finished the Phase I MDMA studies. There's three phases to FDA approval. The Phase I studies are the safety studies, and those took quite a long time. The Phase II studies aren't finished yet, though. And we did studies with vaporizers and marijuana. For example, we found that water pipes are worse for your lungs than smoking a joint.



SR: When that news came out I just about cried.

JAG: We've done all sorts of background research too. We did survey studies about LSD and cluster headaches and about what happens when you hook people on Ayahuasca up to EEGs.

The background research sort of assembles the literature needed to get these drugs approved as prescription medicines. That's really our main focus — getting the drugs approved rather than just doing basic science.

DRUG III: PSILOCYBIN

RU: The big news item last year was about results from psilocybin experiments conducted at John Hopkins. A New York Times headline read: "Mushroom Drugs Produce Mystical Experiences." Next they'll be telling us that bears shit in the woods.



SR: "Beans cause gas in humans."

RU: You guys weren't directly involved in this one, right?

JAG: No, we didn't sponsor that study. That study was amazing. This team of researchers has a different approach than MAPS. They kept their entire protocol secret and kept it totally hidden from the media right until the day of publication. This was sort of basic background science research on mystical experiences. And they actually used grant money from NIDA for the study. NIDA disavowed the study afterwards. The former director of NIDA, Bob Schuster, wrote one of the commentaries for it. He said it was great. He loved it, but of course the current director of NIDA couldn't go along with that. So they sort of issued a rebuke saying, "Don't listen to this."

RU: Do you hear about this a lot? Has this changed the culture around moving this work forward? It was all over the media.

JAG: Yeah, I think it definitely helped legitimize psychedelic research.

RU: They were basically doing one of Timothy Leary's studies from the early 1960s over again.

JAG: It was the follow-up on a study that was done in the 1960s called "The Good Friday Experiment" where they gave psilocybin to divinity students at a chapel somewhere in Boston. And they had them fill out all these questionnaires and asked them about whether or not they had any mystical experiences. They found that most of them had the most mystical experience of their lives. So the John Hopkins Study actually sort of repeated that same methodology with a new group of subjects who weren't familiar with the drug.

RU: But they weren't divinity students were they?

JAG: No, I think they were a more general population.

DRUG IV: IBOGAINE

RU: On this show a few weeks ago, we were talking about Ibogaine as a cure for heroin addiction. What data do we have now about Ibogaine?

JAG: We have a study approved that's just starting right now. It has full government approval in Vancouver. Ibogaine is illegal in the U.S., but it's legal in Canada and Mexico. So we're sponsoring an observational case study of patients treated at the Iboga Therapy House in Vancouver. No one's actually done the long-term follow-up research to see whether – six months or two years later — people relapse into using opiates or not, and whether they relapse in a way that's dangerous. All we have at this point are various anecdotal reports. We're doing a similar study at a clinic in Mexico.

It lasts, like, 24 to 36 hours. The last 12 hours people report feeling sort of physically paralyzed. It's a very intense experience so you have to really want to do it to do it.

RU: If you think Ayahuasca is not fun...

JAG: The government hasn't really had to fight it off because it hasn't spread recreationally.

JEFF: I heard a story on "This American Life" about a guy who was administering Ibogaine treatments to junkies that he knew, because he himself had been a junkie. And it was underground. He wasn't a doctor. He didn't have any medical training. He just started a program and tried to develop it but somebody died under his treatment. And he kind of went off the deep end because he felt so guilty about encouraging this guy to take Ibogaine who died.

Is Ibogaine dangerous?

JAG: Compared to other psychedelics, it does interact badly with certain dangerous pre-conditions because it lasts for so long. People with heart problems shouldn't take it — people with really high blood pressure. But there are tons of people like that all around the country – these sort of underground therapists who have been practicing with Ibogaine. A lot of the people support MAPS. They want to be able to use it above ground as part of their practice.

JEFF: Unfortunately, this guy wasn't even a therapist or anything. He was just kind of an ex-junkie who'd gone straight and wanted to…

RU: ...help his friends. How many of those people would have died from heroin overdoses?

DRUG V: KETAMINE

RU: Speaking of dangerous drugs, I was watching cable news one day when one of those screen crawls went by, and it said something like "Research finds low doses of ketamine effective for depression." Do you know anything about this?

JAG: Yeah. A study that was funded by the National Institute on Mental Health showed very promising results for ketamine as an anti-depressant. I think the media portrayal was a bit over-optimistic because Ketamine has its drawbacks – some people see drawbacks in daily dosing because it can cause dependence. But then again, so do the psychiatric drugs that are being approved today. And ketamine was showing much better results than those.

RU: Do you know what the dosage level was on those experiments?

JAG: I know it was very low. They were functioning doses, not K-Hole doses.

DRUG VI: LSD

JAG: Most other psychedelics we study don't have... like, no one's ever died from an LSD overdose.

SR: And believe me.... (Laughs)

JAG: I'm sure some people have tried!

RU: Do you ever watch the TV show "House"? This doctor is always taking all kinds of drugs. He's a vicodin addict for one thing. On one episode, he gives himself a cluster headache and then injects acid to cure it. The show is actually very smart about drugs. Anyway, what's up with LSD and psilocybin as a cure for cluster headaches?

JAG: I'll give you a bit of background. Cluster headaches are a type of migraine that lasts for weeks at a time. They're really difficult to treat. I've read that up to a fifth of people with cluster headaches end up committing suicide because it's so difficult to treat and so painful.

A few years ago, people started noticing that taking threshold doses of psilocybin and LSD at regular intervals would break their cluster headache cycle. And it was the only thing that would do it. So we did a survey study that's finished and now there's a study that's been approved at Harvard. So all these people who wouldn't use psychedelics otherwise have been using the drug to treat their cluster headaches.



JEFF: Do they feel any psychedelic effect?

JAG: Yeah, some people do it in slightly sub-psychedelic doses but it can still have the effect.

RU: Do they start believing in UFOs?

JAG: (Laughs)

See Also:
The Great Wired Drug Non-Controversy
Hallucinogenic Weapons
Paul McCartney On Drugs

Read More

Drugs and Sex and Susie Bright


Susie Bright

It's everybody's favorite topic: Drugs, sex and chicks. As promised a few weeks ago, we now present part two of our interview with "sexpert" Susie Bright.
Read Part 1

To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: Tell us a bit about your psychedelic sex workshop.

SUSIE BRIGHT: OK. About a year ago. I got invited to this conference in San Jose called "Sacred Elixirs."



I wouldn't have paid any attention to that name because I'm an atheist. When people say sacred, I'm always snoozing... I don't pay attention. But then, I found out that it was a reunion of the heaviest, coolest, smartest people in psychedelics. Oh! That sacred? I'm there! Oh my god, it was so fabulous. There were so many fantastic people there. And Sasha Shulgin delivered a chemistry lesson that made me realize that if I'd had him as a science teacher, everything could have turned out differently. For him, it's like a musician talking about music. It's a language.

RU: Plus he speaks in this rapid high pitch. It's like getting a download of information from some kind of alien.

SB: I just couldn't wait to go home and write about all the things people talked about. But while I was there, some of us women noticed that virtually every presenter was a guy; all the poetry was read by fellows — it was almost quaint. We didn't, like, have a hissy fit about it, it was just sort of dumb. There were so many interesting women there. Every woman I met there, I wanted to spend hours talking to. Everyone was so interesting and intelligent. So some of us started brainstorming about what would be fun to talk about at a woman-oriented conference. And I said, "Well, so many things. I mean: sex. And not just the erotics of sex, the pleasures of sex, but sex in terms of one's sexual life cycle. A lot of us here have our memories of what it was like when we discovered psychedelics as young people. But then, what happens when you become a mother? What happens as you age? How does your relationship to your sexual life cycle and your drug of choice change over time? I don't know. No one talks about this! Wouldn't it be great if we did?"

So we got a group of women together at this crazy sort of "Peacock retreat" in Sonoma run by a woman who's really into Egyptology. She has a lot of gorgeous peacocks wandering around, which kind of added a little atmosphere. It was so much fun. It was like fifty people. You got to know everybody on a first-name basis.

The untold story — which I didn't get until I was there — was the generation gap. We had a lot of good talks about it. There were these young people who were in MAPS and Erowid — they're like these new groups that are trying to decriminalize drugs and raise drug consciousness in a very contemporary fashion.

RU: They're very organized and intelligent and digital.

SB: Yeah. They're very geeky.

STEVE ROBLES: Drug nerds.

SB: They're drug nerds! Thank you. They aren't drug hippies. And they said very politely — we don't want to just sit around listening to how great your acid trip was in 1969. And they were right. They want to hear about stuff that's happening now, and in their future. At one point this amazing young woman who everybody seemed to revere stood up. She looked like the all-American girl. She was like Gidget on acid.

RU: I think Gidget was on acid

SB: She asked, "How many people here are acid babies, or had an acid baby?" And I hadn't heard that expression in a long time — the notion that someone would trip and conceive, or that someone might be the child of such a conception... I just haven't been keeping up! And several people in the room raised their hands and told their story. It was so great to have that kind of honesty. Because the way the media played it — it was all about how you're going to take acid and you're going to screw up your baby's chromosomes. They're going to be wandering around going "Blll bllll bbbb bbbb bbbb" for the rest of their life.

RU: But that "Bbbb bbbb blbbb bbbb bbbb was going to be very cosmically meaningful! (Laughter)

SB: But of course, it was just like real life. Some people were fine — brilliant, went to Harvard, had lovely lives, grew beautiful gardens. Other people...

SR: ...did go "bbbb bbbb bbbb bbbb!"

SB: ...didn't fare so well.

RU: LSD is so non-toxic in the amount that you have to take to get high that it shouldn't really...

SB: Yeah, whether their parents took it had nothing to do with what happened in anyone's future.

And then, a number of the older women started talking about their parents being in hospice or dying. We talked a lot about cancer and what it was like to give your elders a final trip before they die. It was so moving.

I came to my sex workshop with little slips of paper and pencils. And I said, "We're all experts here. I would just like to get some honest reaction to some questions in terms of what you've noticed about your drug experiences. What's your favorite drug? What didn't you like? Why do you use? Why don't you use? What makes sex special?" One of the touchier subjects was about those times when you've had really great, insightful, memorable sex with somebody when you were both tripping; but you knew deep inside that if you weren't tripping, you probably wouldn't have done it with them. And so, should you not have done that? You know, "Am I bad?" or "How embarrassing." It's that notion that without chemistry there would've been no chemistry. But maybe it's like saying you really loved going to Paris with someone, but you don't want to live with them here in San Francisco. I mean, there are certain things you're going to do with certain people within certain boundaries. Outside of those boundaries, it wouldn't work.

RU: Did anybody complain about getting married one week after taking Ecstasy with somebody?

SB: No, not at all!



RU: Were there patterns that emerged? You were talking earlier about people having experiences when they were younger, and then maybe different ones after they were mothers and so forth. Were there discernible patterns or similarities?

SB: Well, I have all these index cards that I compile on my blog. If you go to my blog, you can check this sort of thing out — just find the drug section, or search for women and psychedelics. It was interesting how some old standards really went throughout the whole crowd. Somebody wrote down just one thing on her card: "Pot and caffeine." And everyone said, "Yeah!!"

SR: It's a beautiful, beautiful thing.

SB: It was so simple! It was like somebody holding up a perfect lettuce.

SR: Kind of the reasonable person's version of a speedball. It's not going to send you to the grave.

One topic that's come up on this show a couple of times is where sex positivity and drug culture collide in a bad way. There's one vital element of the sex positivity movement that has this idea that sex and drugs — and sex and alcohol — don't mix because you're capable of bad judgment. This fits with what you were talking about earlier — people who have sex inspired by psychedelics when they may not have had sex without them.

SB: Last week, we were criticizing and laughed about the preacher who enjoyed his sex on meth — you know, he liked speed and sex together. And from a purely drug enthusiast point of view, it's like, well... yes! I mean, if you haven't tried it...

RU: Intense orgasms... very localized.

SB: In terms of sheer sensation, why shouldn't people be able to see, "Well, this is what it feels like?" And another person could say, "Well, Vicodin! Why not some sort of morphine derivative?" Any kind of connection of orgasm to anything seems like a legitimate topic. I remember somebody told me that after they went through menopause, they loved having an orgasm and a hot flash simultaneously. And I said, "Really? I had no idea there was something to look forward to!" That stimulated my imagination.

We all enjoy the notion of sensation. The problem is addiction really, isn't it? You can become dependent and not even get off any more because of your tolerance. And the other thing Steve mentioned — this sense of losing your "safety belt." "Oh, you didn't use the condom. Oh, you jumped off the bridge" — that sense that you couldn't take care of yourself as well as you needed to because that sense of self-protection was gone. And our society really hasn't figured out how to handle this very well. Our only answer to all of that is clamp down, criminalize — lock people up. It's not like I've sat down and figured out how I would run my little SIMS game if I was in charge, but it would involve tremendous education. I started home schooling my daughter, and one reason was that they started doing drug programs in lieu of science in my daughter's elementary school. I hit the roof! I said. "You're not going to go through this." And I combed the bookshelves. I thought — there's got to be a book for young people that talks about drugs as plants, as medicine, as consciousness.

RU: There is Andrew Weil's book, From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs.

SB: See? You and I are on the same wavelength. Andrew Weil's book From Chocolate to Morphine is written more towards a smart high school/early college level, but I got it for my kid a lot earlier. I couldn't find anything else. That's it!

But it's pathetic that there's only one book that tries to address drugs from a wholistic point of view.

RU: And it's dated, also.

SB: There needs to be a lot more. Most of the people at the conference I went to are in families. They have kids, or they're kids living with parents. And I met lots of people who could talk to their family members about this. It's a two-way street.

RU: That's new.

SR: There are two levels of the discussion. One is obviously in the public policy level, which is a complete disaster. I was just reading today in the news that nobody takes abstinence seriously in the generation that is having it thrust down their throat by this administration

RU: Nice metaphor!

SR: At the same time, they don't know what the hell to do because there's a vacuum. They're not teaching safe sex. That's a complete disaster.

RU: It's the worst possible combination.

SR: Exactly! But there's also a simplistic viewpoint within the sex positive community in terms of drugs and in terms of safe sex. There's this real binary thing like: "Well, you always have safe sex, and you never have sex on drugs! Or drunk!" And it's really naive to think that people will resonate with that and always follow it in the actual world. It may be just as simplistic as the Bush thing.

SB: I've been to the Clean and Sober session in the sex community. Fine, I can go with that. But on the other hand, I like to have this bohemian sense of indulging this and indulging that. Anyway, somebody just told me last night that there's this hallucinogen that that just cures you of heroin addiction in one snap. Of course, it's illegal in America.

RU: Ibogaine. Although it's not exactly a snap. I's a very intense, difficult experience. It's quick, though. It's fast.

SR: It's a snap compared to the old-fashioned way of kicking smack, which was just to lock yourself in a goddamn asylum for...

RU: You sit down and have a really intense and unforgiving review of your entire inner psychology for about 24 hours. You might be happier going through withdrawal.

SB: I am impatient.

RU: This Ibogaine could be a tremendous thing. There's a great book about it. The theory in the book is that you don't kick heroin, you kick consumerism.

SB: Wow! Light me up! You mean my shoe problem would go away?

SR: Does it also get rid of chronic gas?

RU: We were talking before about sex positivism. I've thought a lot about the whole 1960s sexual revolution idea that was expressed by Xavier Hollander in The Happy Hooker: My Own Story. She said, "Sex is the nicest thing two people can do for one another." And that was very hippie — "nice, nice, nice." And actually, in the mid-70s people sort of realized that hippies weren't very sexy — and people who are naked all the time aren't very sexy. And everybody started going back to night clubs. And it seems to me that really good sex exists on the boundary between total liberation and taboo. And I think that shows up in a lot of the stories in your own book as well. If there isn't some friction or some tension, then it becomes less interesting.

SB: Well, it certainly becomes less interesting in literature. I tell people in my erotic writing workshops, "You may want to talk about a lovely day at the beach, culminated by a warm cuddle in the missionary position and that may have happened and been great. I believe it. But for literature, you're going to need a conflict or else no one will keep reading it, so get hit by a tidal wave somewhere halfway through your story." But that's different from sexuality. I mean, I confess to you — I'm a hippie. So I like nudity, and I like hippie sex, and I think hot tubs are fun.

RU: I guess I'm like an early 1970s person. I just didn't start getting off until people put their clothes back on.

SB: Do you have to go to either of these extremes?

RU: Well, that's my point. It's somewhere on the boundary between this idea of total liberation and a sense that there's something a little bit naughty or whatever — there's some tension there. Even the act itself, there's a certain tension and release. It could be a guy thing.

SB: No, not at all.

RU: Actually, speaking of gender differences, I want to read from a piece in your book by Daniel Duane. He writes: "For men, the fundamental wrong is an active infringement on the rights of another. By punching me, you violate my right not to be punched. For women, torts have more to do with the failure to fulfill responsibility." On my other show — NeoFiles - we've had some discussion about gender distinctions and the question of to what degree are gender distinctions innate. And here, this guy is putting right up at the front of his story that there are innate gender distinctions. In terms of erotic literature, my idea is that guys like to watch it on TV and women like to read it. Do you find more women in your audience? And what do you think in general about the discussion about gender distinctions in terms of sex?

SB: Well, everyone would love to get to the bottom of that question — is one group of people more visual than another, is another group of people more aroused by writing than another? We don't have any serious study or research.

JEFF DIEHL: There was a government study. It was part of a controversial congressional campaign involving Vernon Robinson. There was an NIH study where they showed women pornography. They connected probes to their genitalia and measured the arousal level as they watched various images like people having sex and animals having sex. I don't know what the results were, but there was a study.

RU: No people having sex with animals, though.

Actually, I think that study showed that women enjoyed looking at pornography.

SB: What a shock.

RU: Stop the presses!



SB: I've noticed from my raw empirical studies that a lot of women respond to visual stimuli. I think it's obvious. Look at how fashion magazines are sold. If women didn't like to watch, they wouldn't be so visually sensitive to the many things they do enjoy. Also, I always have a survey in the back of my book where I ask people what they like and so forth, and I ask about their gender. And it's remained around 50% the whole time. I meet a lot of men who say, "I want a story." Who doesn't like a story? So the sexist description of one being one way and one another... I don't buy it. Women certainly tend to realize their sexual fantasies much later than men. It takes them longer to feel confident about expressing them, searching for them, asking for them, and creating them. I mean, there's not a little boy on earth who doesn't know where his penis is, but a lot of women don't know where their clit is until they're much older. Can you imagine? Just ask a man, "What if you didn't know where your cock was and had no idea how to get off? And then, by some bizarre accident, you found out. And then you were afraid that if anyone knew, you would be expelled from your family and no one would ever want you — that you could never be a spouse or a parent.

RU: (Ironically) That's exactly what happened to me! (Laughter)

SR: And you weren't even Catholic!

SB: I talk to women who say, "You know, I just don't know about erotica. I'd rather not get close to that." And as I start exploring their sensual life, I start to find out that they have lots of things that give them visual pleasure; or they think that romances are really hot. And other women who have come into their own sexually will tell you point-blank: I want Rocco Siffredi. And I want him pulling my hair. And I want it right now. They don't make any bones about it.

A lot of us have been being frank about what we want from sex. It's not just because we're exhibitionists. We want to make it more common for women to speak as if they're sexual, just like any other animal in the kingdom.

See also:
Susie Bright Lets It All Out
World Sex Laws
Why Sarah's Sex Life Matters
Is It Legal Porn or Illegal Porn


Read More

Whatever Happened to Virtual Reality?


Max Headroom

If you weren't there, you probably wouldn't believe it. But way back at the start of the 90s, people at the edge of the emerging digital culture talked about Virtual Reality (VR) — the idea that we would soon interact in shared 3D worlds — as much as, if not more than, they talked about the internet. (Of course, we were talking about it on the internet, so I guess sometimes you just don't notice your immediate surroundings.)

These 3D worlds would be accessed through head-mounted displays. The idea was to put the user literally inside computer-created worlds, where she could move around and see and hear the goings on in a fully dimensional alternative reality and have the sensation of being in another world. The eyes were the primary organs of entrance into these other worlds, although touch, motion and sound were all also involved.

(Second Life is a timid sampling of what was then envisioned.)



There were dozens of conferences about VR and lots of national media coverage in every major outlet. There were movies and TV shows that revolved around VR and there was even one arcade game. But VR quickly disappeared from public consciousness.

Virtual Reality developer Jaron Lanier was generally accepted as the public face of VR during this heady period that lasted from about 1989-91. This interview was performed in 2002 and I have selected it as an excerpt from my new book, True Mutations: Conversations on the Edge of Technology, Science and Consciousness.


Imagine Jaron Lanier

I first met Jaron Lanier in the mid-1980s. His work in Virtual Reality was just getting noticed and it was clear to those who knew him that this bright and gentle young man was destined to do great things.

In the late 1980s Lanier's team at VPL (Virtual Programming Language) developed the first implementation of multi-person virtual worlds using head mounted displays. The work was applied to surgery and television production, among other things. He also led the team that developed the first widely used software platform architecture for immersive virtual reality applications. During the late 90s, Lanier served as the Lead Scientist of the National Tele-immersion Initiative, a coalition of research universities studying advanced applications for Internet 2. The Initiative demonstrated the first prototypes of tele-immersion in 2000 after a three year development period.

Lanier is also a musician. He has a remarkable collection of eclectic instruments from all over the world and has worked with Philip Glass, Ornette Coleman, Vernon Reid, George Clinton, and Sean Lennon among others. Additionally, his paintings and drawings have been exhibited in museums and galleries in the United States and Europe.

While most computer programmers and tech engineers display some degree of interest in art and aesthetics, Lanier is really an artist who happens to work in technology some of the time.

"Videobrain" and I sat with Lanier at a Mexican cafe in Marin and had a fragmented conversation that was frequently interrupted by waiters who wanted to please us, and Lanier's own incessantly ringing cell phone. Nevertheless, the conversation proved to be largely coherent.

RU SIRIUS: There was an extraordinary level of hype and excitement about Virtual Reality (VR) back in the late eighties and early nineties but it failed to live up to the expectations, presumably for technical reasons. I saw your The Top Eleven Reasons VR has not yet become commonplace. But why would you say there was that excited response to VR? What were people hoping for from it? What desires were raised?

JARON LANIER: Well, first of all, I personally think that a lot more could have happened with Virtual Reality than has happened. I feel that what went wrong with VR was that decent software standard platform didn't happen. The ones that were most in the forefront like VRML just didn't work well enough. So to get back to your question: what were people looking for? I still believe that what people really want from VR is to be able to touch upon the feeling of being able to share a dream with someone else — to take a little step away from the sense of isolation that people feel today. I think this is a universal and very healthy desire. (VR isn't the only way to address it obviously.)

But in VR, at some point, you would be able to be inside this place with other people where you were making it up as you went along. What people really wanted was a kind of intimacy where you're making up a dream together with other people. You're all experiencing it. I was calling it post-symbolic communication. The basic idea is that people thought that with VR they would be able to experience a kind of intense contact with imagination, some sort of fusion of the kind of extremes of aesthetics and emotional experience you might have when you open up the constraints of reality.



You can divide the requirements of the technology that will give you that into two pieces. You can call one piece the production quality or production standards — how detailed is the resolution? How realistic do surfaces look? That boils down to fast computers, high quality sensors and displays: the tech underpinnings of it all. But then there's this other side; the software side, which involves how you can get a virtual world to do things. My feeling is that even a low-res virtual world can get people the kind of experience that I was just describing. And I think we did have some great moments and great experiences in the '80s, even with very low-res systems that were available then. I think that the failure since then is that the software that's been developed is very rigid.

There are a couple of reasons for this. One was that there was a bizarre alliance between people doing military simulation and people doing recreational gaming. There are a lot of different kinds of games, so I don't want to put them all under one critical tent here. I think a lot of them are OK. But one of the dominant ideas is that a person who is playing is capable of being in the location, moving, shooting, or dying [laughs]. That's pretty much it. You might pick up an amulet or something, but it doesn't give you a lot to do.

RU: But in fairness, don't those kinds of simple applications come up because they're easier to code — so that they're steps along the way?

JL: Yeah, well it's precisely right that it's easier to code, especially when you get into a networked thing, but who said coding was supposed to be easy!? This brings up a little rant. I love to support the free software movement... I totally do. But just doing a piece of software in some political or economic context that's progressive like the Linux movement isn't enough. The software itself also has to be good [laughs]. That's sort of stating the obvious, but there are very large numbers of programmers in this newest, youngest generation of programmers who seem to feel that writing something that has existed for 20 or 30 years is somehow cool if you do it as part of a free software movement. And there is something to that, I don't want to say it's nothing but come on. So I think we have an epidemic of almost tautological coding. It's the same old stuff. There's no surprise. It's like ham radio or something. And that's been the worst problem for VR, because VR really needs a different attitude. Even today, you see people starting up a VR program and after some months they'll have a cube rotating or maybe a videogame where you're moving through a space and shooting at things. It's been done for decades! Do these people not know the meaning of boredom? How can people bear that?

RU: Well, you have the same thing in publishing. But the difference is that you can write something really dull or you can write something really amazing and it requires the same bandwidth. The tools are already available. But to do something really original in Virtual Reality — the steps are not so obvious. Do you visualize a huge project with lots of people working in parallel or how should it work?

JL: The case I want to make — and I can't prove it; it's speculation but my belief — is that even a really low-res system that's sort of manageable by a small group of people could be done that would be much more exciting and bring out more of this feeling of transcendence than what we're seeing now. Of course, anybody could ask me; "So, Mr. Snooty Oldtimer, if you feel that this can be done why don't you just go ahead and do it?" It's a reasonable question and I always think about it. I'm in this sort of bizarre quandary. The code that I really like the best for creativity is my old VPL code. I still use it for my own creative work but I'm not allowed to really work on it because it ended up being owned by Sun Microsystems. That would be a good resource for developing the open source treatment. And occasionally, when I give a talk at some university there will be some students who want to take it on as an open source challenge and make a new generation of something like that. Maybe it'll happen. It's definitely getting harder to use that code because it's old. There are a few things that we now know about how visible systems work that aren't really doable on it. It's hard to keep it running on the new generations of machines; it's really quite a challenge. How do you keep a twenty-year-old piece of software running without re-compiling?

RU: In your opinion, have there been fundamental changes in computer hardware that could make VR software more optimal in the intervening years?

JL: Not much. Just speed. More polygons.

RU The slowness in moving towards more creative forms of VR is a commercial problem also. If there was an obvious immediate market for it, a company with money would be working on it. You'd be working on it.

JL: Capitalism has proven really wonderful and optimal in encouraging certain kinds of improvements in technology but it seems to have these blind spots where it just hasn't been able to give support to other ones which are — at least by my value system — just as important. So for instance, the Moore's Law effect of processor speed going up — capitalism has been really good at that. It probably would not have happened under a command economy. So that's worked out pretty well. But with tools, if there's already an established market, like video editing or sound editing then you have production suites and there's a market. But if it's for something new and the market doesn't already exist, you get caught up in a sort of chicken-and-egg situation even though one can see that if all the pieces were in place there would be an incredible market. Capitalism can't serve as its own starter in a lot of places.

RU: Well, it seems that the contravening force to capitalism in the digital world is the gift economies of open source enthusiasts, which has the added charm of being non-coercive.

JL: Yeah. Well if I can find the personal focus for it I might try to start an open source movement for making VR tools. I should probably do that. It would be courageous.

RU: You've always seen VR in terms of play and sharing visions and so forth. What about the utilitarian aspect?

JL: Virtual Reality is already a success as an industrial technology. It just hasn't hit yet as a communications technology. But it's become absolutely essential. One of the stories I tell is the story of the oil supply. If we go back twenty or thirty years, most people thought that the oil would be running out about now. And the reason it's not is because computers allowed people to find and extract oil more efficiently...and from old fields. Ultimately, there's an illusion — created because of computers — that the oil supply is expanding instead of running out. The underlying reality is that the oil supply is running out, so, in a way, this is a dangerous situation. At any rate, VR was used to visualize oil fields and to visualize machinery to extract oil more efficiently from old fields. Similar things happened in medicine. We understand more about large molecules, we understand more about how the body heals from surgery through VR simulations.

RU: Is there a utilitarian aspect to the visionary ideal of VR?

JL: Whether one sees meaning as having utilitarian value is a matter of personal taste. I think the most important things can't be expressed in utilitarian terms because to be utilitarian you have to have a frame to refer to, and the most important things are the frames. You can't say that your values are utilitarian; you have to have smaller things that are utilitarian within your values. (Of course, some of our values are tautologically unavoidable like survival.)

One way of arguing that there is a utilitarian value is that people who are tinkerers ought to be able to find a fascination in tinkering with such things as aesthetics and communications, which are the most intense things to tinker with, after all. Because if we tinker with anything else, we'll destroy ourselves. My notion is that people are somewhat dangerous to their own survival because we're too creative. The metaphor I sometimes use is that people on planet earth are like a bunch of really technically bright teenagers without any supervision hanging out all summer in a chemistry lab [laughter].



I like to think of VR as an alternative way of thinking about a ramp of technological progress in the future where instead of making bigger and faster things, you make more intense experiences and more interesting forms of human connection. And if you think of that ramp, which is more of a McLuhanesque ramp than an Edward Teller ramp, that alternative ramp is the one that we can survive with. So in that sense, all this business about aesthetics and communications is a survival strategy. I really think it's the only imaginable future.

RU: You just said, "If we tinker with anything else we destroy ourselves." That's a pretty extreme statement! Aren't at least some kinds of tinkering convivial? In fact, don't we need to keep tinkering in order to evolve some of our current technologies into a more convivial state?

JL: I spoke poorly. I'm not against tinkering but against the idea of tinkering for the purpose of increasing human power as opposed to the purpose of increasing human connection and experience. If your only value is increasing technological power according to some extra-human definition, you will eventually hurt yourself. If that was the only possible form of tinkering I would have to be anti-tinkering, but I think I've articulated and practiced a different kind. I'm not even anti-power-oriented tinkering — it's fantastic for improving our lives; medicine and all that. I only become opposed to it when it is the only guiding value, which it ultimately is for a the totalists, as well as the goodness-of-the-immanent-singularity folks.

RU: The closest thing we have to shared dreaming right now is when people gather together in the movie theater.

JL: The movie theater is Stalin's version of a dream because somebody dictates a dream.

RU: You have a pretty strong critique of the transhumanist.

JL: Well, for instance, little nanomachines, little molecular machines can absolutely transform the world. We've seen that happen once. It's life on earth and it took billions of years. So the real question isn't whether there is the possibility that there could be another family of molecular machines in billions of years, the question is whether there is some alternate family of molecular machines that can do something interesting in a much shorter period of time that's relevant to any planning horizon for us. So in order for them to go faster than evolution did the first time, there has to be some other ingredient that evolution didn't have. And my illustrious colleagues, the "totalists" would say that evolution didn't have the benefits of their genius, and evolution is going to happen really fast this time.

RU: But you can make a distinction between say Ray Kurzweil's claim that somewhere in the foreseeable future we're going to infuse the lifeless parts of our universe with intelligence, and saying that we can build molecular machines adequately to particular purposes that can, for instance, go into the human body and maintain health, or can produce enough wealth to end material scarcity.

JL: This issue really comes down to the complexity ceiling problem. And that comes down to how well we can model really complicated things like the interactions of molecules so that we can design something. That's one of the big scientific unknowns right now. It may be that there is this complexity ceiling beyond which you cannot go, so that no matter how fast your computer is designed at the nano level, the level of complexity you need to calculate how to make that machine do certain things really does take billions of years to calculate, and evolution on earth was already optimized. Or it might turn out that we really can do something smart and come up with a way to do it in maybe 10 or 40 years because it turns out that evolution wasn't optimized and evolution wasted a lot of time on — oh, I don't know — snails [laughs]. So the single greatest question might be; how optimized was evolution from the point of view of wanting to design complicated things really quickly?

RU: We have this fairly ubiquitous view now that all the important systems in life come from basically very simple programs that iterate and accumulate complexity. We have currently the theory that the universe is just that; and then we have genes and memes. This works for me, but I also suspect that there's something else going on. I don't have the scientific language or knowledge to say what that is; it may be related to dimensionality; quantum physics... I'm not sure, but I do have that suspicion.

JL: It's tricky. I think there's something else too. This is a subtle difficult question. And there are alternative theories. There are a lot of different kinds of propagating programs we could be talking about like the Wolfram programs that are supposed to propagate a reality that is very different from the Darwinian set of programs. I have a feeling that the sense in which we find these theories to be true reaches a final point where they're tautological and therefore useless. Yes, of course you can conceive of it that way. But I think the question is whether this way of thinking about the world as a bunch of competing programs really gets you anywhere. Is it of any use? Does it make it easier and faster to think about anything? It's an open question but I'm a little skeptical. I think a lot of the meme-gene people are really drunk on their little metaphor but it's pretty short on substance. You end up with the "just so" problem. There wasn't any falsification potential, so all the stories were equally good.

The problem I worry about, which I expressed in my essay "One Half a Manifesto" is that you have this sort of trickle down effect. You have this big metaphor that starts to influence the way you think about little things. You start to think that things are made out of simpler algorithms than they really are and you sort of dumb yourself down. You start thinking of yourself and other people as simpler than they really are because you want it to fit nicely, potentially into a computer.

RU: Do you think big theories that try to explain everything are a waste of time?

JL: No, I don't reject explanation. I just think it's really hard to do.

This was an excerpt from True Mutations: Conversations on the Edge of Technology, Science and Consciousness by RU Sirius. The book includes interviews with Cory Doctorow, Robert Anton Wilson, DJ Spooky, John Markoff, David Pescovitz, Howard Rheingold, Steven Johnson, David Duncan, Genesis P. Orridge, Danel Pinchbeck, Howard Bloom and many others.

See also:
John Edward's Second Life Attackers Unmasked
Who Are Second Life's "Patriotic Nigras"?
Jimmy Wales Will Destroy Google
Neil Gaiman Has Lost His Clothes

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SF Writer Rudy Rucker: Everything Is Computation


Rudy Rucker's novels are fun and funny romps. Rucker leads us through complex, technology-rich, multi-leveled worlds that teach us about how the universe works through the eyes of a mathematician, a scientist, and a humorist. His characters are usually young, hip and unsinkable. But lurking inside all of the playfulness, Rucker's examinations of the characters and characteristics of our time always have satirical bite and a moral center.



Aside from that, he's a great fuckin' guy. I know, because he worked with me on Mondo 2000: A User's Guide to the New Edge. His novels have included The Hacker and the Ants: Version 2.0, Master of Space and Time, and Frek and the Elixir. The most recent of his many non-fiction works was Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul: What Gnarly Computation Taught Me About Ultimate Reality, the Meaning of Life, and How to Be Happy. And then there's his delightful new novel, Mathematicians in Love and his new science fiction webzine, Flurb. We talked about these projects in this two-show conversation for NeoFiles.
To listen to the full interview Part 1 in MP3, click here.

To listen to the full interview Part 2 in MP3 click here.

RU Sirius: Here's an early quote from Mathematicians in Love: "The key new insight is that any given dynamical system can be precisely modeled by a wide range of other dynamical systems." And that seems to be central to the mechanism of your novel.

RUDY RUCKER: Yeah. That's a sort of dream of mathematics that emerges every few years. It's emerged as the idea of catastrophe theory. And then again as chaos theory. And then as dynamic systems theory — complexity theory — Wolfram's A New Kind of Science. Basically, there are only a few possible forms that underlie the things that are happening in the world. And the feeling is that if I can sort of strip something like the weather down to its rawest mathematical form, I can then look at that form and I can find another system that actually shares the same pattern. Because if there's only a few little patterns and yet there's so many diverse things in the world — lots of things are actually going to have the same pattern. So a cup of tea can be a perfectly good model for a hurricane. And then, to predict what the hurricane's going to do, all you have to do is prepare your cup of tea so it's in the same state as the hurricane. Then you watch it for a minute and read out where the hurricane's going to be. So you begin to use nature as a kind of computing system. And that's the key idea in the novel. The characters take this gimmick and they're able to make a device that perfectly predicts the future.

RU: As I understand it, the idea is basically that computation is implicit in everything. And we learn how to use that.

RR: Yeah. A lot of the ideas in my recent novels come from Stephen Wolfram's work. Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul was largely about his work. And the basic idea is that any natural process can be regarded as a computation. We define computation in a fairly broad sense to mean any deterministic system that obeys definite laws. And it doesn't have to be digital.

The digital thing is sort of a red herring. We have this idea that being a computer is about being digital. But computers aren't actually digital, OK? They're made of a bunch of electrons. And the electrons are fuzzy analog wave functions.

So you can look at a brook or an air current and you can say, "That's doing something complex." And if you look at the natural world, there are four kinds of things that you see. Where something is sort of stable — not changing — it's static. Or else it's doing something periodic. Or it's completely fuzzy and like totally skuzzy and screwed up. Or it's in the Interzone — what I call the gnarly zone, between being periodic and being completely skuzzy.

Life is gnarly. Plants are gnarly. Air currents are gnarly. Water currents are gnarly. Fire is gnarly. In Wolfram's view, every one of these actually embodies a universal computation, similar to a universal Turing Machine or a personal computer, and in principle they can compute anything that you want it to. I agree with him.

RU: I've never really been quite able to understand Wolfram's stuff. But I've heard that he shows that there can be types of evolution that differ from Darwinian evolution.

RR: He does talk about evolution a little bit. People will say, "How could a butterfly have evolved that precise pattern on its wings? Or how could we evolve the exact shape of our body." And he makes the point that natural systems are actually fairly robust computations. They like to do things like make spots on butterfly wings or grow limbs from animals. The genetic code doesn't have to be as finely tweaked as people sometimes imagine. You could actually perturb it quite a bit and you would still get plants and animals that look pretty similar to the way we look now. So it's not so much that things evolve to perfection. They just get to a level of functioning well enough. In fact, we aren't tuned to complete optimality.

RU: Functioning "well enough" plays into your novel. There's the development of a technology that makes the lead character mathematician's theory into something that's usable as a prediction machine. And the guy who's marketing this machine — his attitude is good enough is good enough. And he starts putting it out there.

RR: That's right. Computer scientists proved that all sorts of things are impossible to do. And then someone backs off and says, "Well can't I get something working reasonable well?" And it turns out not to be such a difficult problem.

RU: I'd venture to say that this novel is even more playful than your last one, Frek and the Elixir. Both books are satirical and there are recognizable dark forces based on current culture. But with this one, your main characters are pretty much consistently fun and they seem to exist in a somewhat more pleasant universe. Would you agree with that?

RR: Yeah, although the book actually starts in one universe, and then the characters are in a second universe, and then in a final third universe, which is our universe. I've described it as being like different drafts of a novel. If you're a novelist, you think, "Why wouldn't God do successive drafts of the universe?" And once he's finished one version, that draft would still exist and there'd be people living in it.



RU: Like your giant Jellyfish goddess in the novel. This sort-of parallel universe or metaverse is important in the story.

RR: There's sort of control room that's based on Micronesia — it looks a little like Micronesia. It's called La Hampa, which is Spanish for "the underworld." But it's not underworld in the sense of Hades. It's more underworld in the sense of gangland.

And the idea is — if you're going to meet people from all over the galaxy, the one way that you might be able to talk to them would be with math. Mathematicians, at least, like to believe that mathematics would be the same pretty much everywhere. Though if you delve deep enough, you can call it into question.

Anyway, in La Hampa, the cockroaches are oriented towards logic. And there are giant slime creatures that are oriented towards studying infinity. The lizards are into analysis, and there are these cone shell snails. This would dovetail with some of your interests, RU...

RU: Conotoxins! I'm searching around for a source.

RR: The cover of Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul is a picture of a textile cone shell. I did that because of Wolfram's work with cellular automata. There are these interesting, gnarly, irregular patterns that form into textile cone shell. It looks like this space-time track of a one-dimensional cellular automaton. It's a lot of little triangles. So I thought I should have giant cone shell snails as the aliens in my next science fiction book. And then, sometimes you get one of these gifts from the gods that happens when you're writing — something appears that's exactly what you need. So I discovered this article in Scientific American about these innocent-looking sea slug type snails that are actually very vicious. They send out this long snout with this little tiny tooth that's filled with this very potent venom called a conotoxin. And some scientists recently found a way to start using those conotoxins on humans. It's the ultimate painkiller. But it's such a powerful drug that you can't inject it. It has to be dripped directly into your spinal column. If it gets into your bloodstream, you have a heart attack. And as a side effects, people started hallucinating so much they have to be kept in straightjackets. It's not a light recreational drug, by any means.

RU: Although people do ingest some in your story, or they claim to have ingested some.

RR: At least at one point, my main character thinks he might have snorted some. It's going around.

RU: There's been some talk about parallel universes within the context of science and math and so forth. And I'm sure you have some thoughts and can tell us a little bit about how people have thought about this in the actual world.

RR: There are a number of theories. A theory that I've drawn on recently comes from a scientist named Lisa Randall. She wrote an interesting book called Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions. There's this problem in physics with the fact that gravity is weaker than the other kinds of natural forces. Its basic intensity is dialed down really low. And physicists wonder — why isn't it similar? And she has this explanation. Maybe there's this other brane, as they call it — there's a membrane, and part of reality is over there. And somehow it's siphoning off some of our gravity. I like that idea of parallel universes. It's sort of a specialized physics use of the parallel universe idea. The one that's used in more fiction is the old quantum mechanical model that whenever something could randomly go this way or that way, maybe it goes both ways, and then both the universes exist.

RU: It keeps on splitting off

RR: Yeah. But I've never liked that model. I don't want every possible universe to exist because then nothing matters. You know? It's like you say, "I want a sculpture" and they give you the block of marble and they say, OK, the Venus de Milo's in there. Big fucking deal.

RU: Do you think we're in an infinite universe; or an approximately infinite universe; or a quite finite universe?

RR: I think there's a finite number of parallel universes. I think there are successive drafts of the universe that have been worked on. And they're getting better.

RU: Like the jellyfish.

RR: But is our universe infinite? It's interesting — fifteen years ago it seemed like the physicists had it all wrapped up — you know, we had a big bang, our universe is so-and-so large. It's going to collapse back. It's a hypersphere. End of story. Now, all their theories are going down the toilet. Supposedly 70% of the mass in the universe is dark energy.

RU: I keep hearing 90%.

RR: Well, there's 10% matter, 20% dark matter, and then the rest of it's dark energy. And they don't even know what dark energy is. But supposedly the universe is expanding faster all the time and it will never stop. That also means that it's been infinite all along, oddly enough. That's interesting. And if you have this idea that the universe is physically infinite, you sort of don't need parallel universes. Because if you say there's infinitely many stars, then you can sort of get into a law of probability kind of thing. You say, well look, all we need to do is hit the roulette wheel 10 to the 300th times, and the 10 to the 300th time, I'll get a planet that looks exactly like earth, except me and my social security number will be slightly different.

RU: Sometimes I suspect that other dimensions are leaking into ours and that's where some strange, unexplained experiences come from.

RR: I'm amenable to the idea of there being different levels of reality. I've always liked that idea.

RU: Moving on... let's not forget that this book has sex, drugs, math and rock and roll.

RR: If I'm writing a novel, my hero might as well have more fun than I do. (Laughter) So he's a guitarist in a sort-of punk rock band but in this world they're called dreggers



RU: I love the way the main, young character in your book keeps on getting into more complicated and difficult and weird and life-threatening situations. But he pretty much keeps on grooving. He keeps on grooving on the mathematics of things. It seems sort of like his way out of pain and depression.

RR: Yeah. That's my life story.

RU: Let's talk briefly about the politics of the novel. These guys are mathematicians. They have a powerful concept. And they have to decide, on graduating from college, about getting gigs and dealing with a particular corporation that turns out to be deeply tied into a political organization that is sort of a mirror world for the Bush administration.

RR: That's right. People often said cyberpunk was political, but I've really been putting more politics in my books in the last four years or so, because I feel that it's such a dark time in American politics. We have this completely illegitimate government. Bush didn't even really got elected. And it's doing such harm every day.

In the sixties, when the Vietnam War was raging, we had underground comics to cheer us up. So I want to write science fiction that support people and gives them more hope about the future. So I have an evil President called Joe Doakes who is with the Heritagist party, and a much more evil vice president named Frank Ramirez. And one of the highpoints for me, in writing the book, is when they do this giant punk-metal rock concert at this baseball stadium in San Francisco that has recently been renamed Heritagist Park, because the Heritage Party has bought the naming rights. And they manage to bring down the regime with that concert, which is sort of cool.

RU: Talk a little bit about the role of vlogging in the novel.

RR: Yeah, I myself blog a lot. And I'm interested in the idea of vlogging — video blogging. I put a lot about it into Mathematicians in Love. And this is one of those times where I was a little bit ahead of the future curve because in the year that it took for the book to come out, YouTube got big and vlogging really caught on. I push it a little further in the novel. There are people that are wearing a kind of camera called a vlog ring. You just wear this thing all day long, and it basically uploads everything you're doing, 24/7. And people compete over whose life is the most interesting. It's sort of like an "American Idol" thing.

RU: It's called "One in a Million." (Laughs)

RR: Right. And they're giving the vlog rings away at McDonalds so everybody will join. And, of course the Heritagists are combing through the data and using it.

RU: Right. People are doing the NSA's job for them.

RR: Yeah! The better to manipulate us.

RU: So tell us a bit about your SF webzine FLURB. What motivated you to start a science fiction webzine?

RR: Well, now and then I'll write a short story and I'll think, "Where can I publish this?" There aren't a huge number of short fiction markets in SF. There are two or three mainstream magazines. There's Asimov's Science Fiction magazine. There's Analog Science Fiction and Fact. And in England, there's Interzone. And then there are also some online zines. But most of the online zines don't actually pay you anything. So I thought it would be fun to gather some stories that are to my taste from my old friends and colleagues; and maybe some new people that I can contact and get interested. It's a little zine that comes out maybe three or four times a year. It's not a big deal, but it's another place to put my stories out there.

RU: On John Brockman's webzine Edge, they asked a bunch of famous scientists and thinkers and digerati types a question: "What are you optimistic about and why?" And a lot of people answered that they were optimistic because people were giving up on the idea of God — "the God delusion" as Richard Dawkins says. And your answered popped out at me because it was completely different and very much the opposite of what many people were saying.

RR: At the time I wasn't actually feeling optimistic. But I'm usually optimistic about my science fiction. So these ideas that I'm describing here are things that are going into some novels that I'm working on now. I would actually call this section "Universal Telepathy." But Brockman titled it "Unknowable Gaian Mind."
Read Rudy's brief Edge entry: click here. No, really, to continue the interview, read Rudy's entry.

RU: So I think Richard Dawkins and the Amazing Randi are right now having telepathic communication about how to shut Rudy Rucker up! It's a pretty risky statement to make in a forum that's full of major science heads.

RR: (Laughs) Well, yeah. The thing is — I think of myself as a science fiction writer now. So I no longer feel that I have to be reputable or responsible in what I say. (Laughs) You know? A lot of times, when people are asked to speculate about the future, they'll simply repeat the ideas that are in the air. It's like sheep standing in their stable, and they're urinating on the floor. And then they're lapping up the urine. And they're saying, "Gee, this sure tastes like piss, doesn't it?"

RU: (Laughs) Speaking of colorful images, you have a film in pre-production with Michael Gondry, based on Master of Space and Time. And I heard Dan Clowes was hired to write a script. Is that still happening?

RR: I'm less optimistic about that now. I haven't heard anything from Michael for, oh, almost a year. And I think the option expires next month. And my agent asked him if he wanted to renew it, and they said they didn't want to renew it. So I think they're not going to make the movie. I love Michael's work. He's a brilliant man.

RU: Before I let you go I want to ask you one more question. It's the same question that I asked Cory Doctorow on The R.U. Sirius show a couple of weeks ago. Your thought processes in your material is very science fiction-y. What novels outside of the science fiction genre do you read, and what do you really love?

RR: Well, recently I was re-reading some of the stories by Luis Borges. He's maybe my favorite writer of all. Just this week I'm reading a book by Charles Portis called Gringos. That's a really great book. It came out in the nineties. It's really fun to read. A bunch of hippies go down to Mexico for a harmonic convergence while the world's coming to an end. The saucers are landing. The usual kind of thing. He has this very jaded, dry tone. And, of course, I'm also reading Pynchon's new book, which seems like a drop-off in quality.

RU: Did you read Gravity's Rainbow as soon as it came out?

RR: I did. I read it — I read it for about five years. I kept re-reading it. It had a huge influence on me. I learned a lot about writing from reading Pynchon. He's such a beautiful stylist.

RU: It was very difficult to get started. I started it myself about four or five times before actually reading it all the way through. And I found that I had to make notes to read the entire book.

RR: Yeah. In a way it reproduced the experience of how you find out about things when you're growing up. You get a piece here, a piece there, and it takes a while to fit it all together into the whole narrative.



RU: But you would love puzzle types of novelists.

RR: Up to a point I like puzzles, but I also like a story that keeps you turning the pages. Stories that kick ass. I don't like to get too arty.

See also:
When Cory Doctorow Ruled The World
Neil Gaiman Has Lost His Clothes

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Sex Expert Susie Bright Lets It All Out


Susie Bright

The New York Times called Susie Bright "the avatar of American Erotica." She was co-founder and editor of the first Women's sex magazine, On Our Backs: Entertainment for the Adventurous Lesbian, from 1984-1991. Since then, she's written and edited about a zillion books, and taught many courses on sexuality. Currently, she posts regularly on her own blog. Her audio show, In Bed With Susie Bright, is distributed by Audible.com. She was a sex-scene choreographer and consultant for the Wachowski Brothers' first film, Bound, in which she also had a cameo role.

Susie appeared on two consecutive episodes of The RU Sirius Show, primarily to discuss the anthology, The Best American Erotica 2007, which includes stories by Dennis Cooper and the late Octavia Butler, among many others. (She's been editing the Erotica series since 1993.) We did, of course, digress quite a bit from the main topic.

As with the audio interview, we are running these text edits in two segments, so click here for the second half.

RU Sirius Show co-host Diana Brown joined me in interviewing Susie Bright about her "Ted Haggard Betting Pool," teen sex, and other illicit thoughts.
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: The introduction to The Best American Erotica 2007 is quite an intense little piece. Would you please read a segment from it?

SUSIE BRIGHT: Sure. I called it "The Lolita Backlash." Every year, the stories in the book tend to magnetize to a certain theme. And this year, it had to do with a rather vicious generation gap.
When was the moment when our youth become self-aware of their charms, as well as its desperation? It seems younger now, although that could just be my mother talking. But look at our 21st century culture. Every teenager knows the time to launch a career as a porn star is in the weeks following high school graduation. Celebrity journalism shows us that Hercules and Aphrodite will both be toppled in their early 20s without massive intervention. It's no wonder the commodification of good looks and muscles has wrought an erotic backlash.

Virginity. Authenticity. The natural pearl. This is what is idealized today, as well as commercialized beyond all recognition. Fake sex — titillation — is for sale; real sex is elusive and underground.

Take this state of affairs, and couple it with a pox of unprecedented meddling in people's personal lives by the religious right, and we have a toxic brew. Privacy, freedom, and nature are gasping for breath. Hypocrites alone have something to crow about.

In my fifteen years of editing BAE, I have never seen such a yowling, lustful, spitting breach between young and old.

Of course, such observations are taboo. Lower your voice! Young people aren't supposed to have a sexual bone in their bodies, right? And their elders, if they are immune to beauty, and make all the rules, should be able to keep it in their pants. What a squawk.

There is so much guilt and fear about the obvious — that young people do have hormones, and old people aren't altogether blind — that helpful discussion in the public sphere has shriveled. It is left to fiction for the truth to come out.

The truth looks like this: any conflict has the potential to become erotic. That might get complicated, tragic, or unpredictable. Eros is kissing cousins with aggravation. The conscience of our society drives us to protect our young, to provide for them, to cheer and cherish their independence. But we wouldn't need any conscience if it wasn't a challenge, if it didn't demand sacrifice. The temptations include neglect, exploitation, coercion, and dependence.

RU: So the introduction to your book — and much of the fiction in the book — broaches the highly taboo subject of adolescent sex; and adolescent sex as it relates to adults. We had Tim Cavanaugh on the show — he was the editor of Reason magazine's blog at the time. I asked him if they'd ever dealt with the age of consent. And he admitted they hadn't. It was clear that this is kind of the third rail for some libertarians. Do you worry about Fox News noticing your book? I think this is probably a bigger taboo than murder in America now.



SB: How interesting. When I was in my twenties, I was invited on the Phil Donahue Show. He was sort of Oprah before Oprah.

So I was brought in with a bisexual male friend of mine to represent bisexuality. We were told we'd talk about what we noticed sexually about the differences between sleeping with men and sleeping with women. And they made it sound like it was not pejorative or prejudiced or trying to start a fire — just, you know, "What do you notice?" And we thought that would be a lot of fun. So we got picked up in one of those big limos and taken to the studio. And inside the limo was this very pink, perspiring couple from Florida. And I said, "You're going to be on the show too?" And they said, "Yes. We're from Exodus." Now Exodus, at the time, was the premier gay conversion group. So it was one of those "gotcha" shows.

RU: (Mockingly) Woo-hoo! Gay conversion — it's coming back!

SB: It's coming back stronger than ever. They've got it down to three weeks now — a three week spa.

DIANA BROWN: Does it come with a French manicure?

SB: So on Donahue's show, he basically tried to get the bible couple to freak out on us — about how we're heathens — and vice versa. It was so humiliating. We didn't talk about anything that I had planned to talk about. And at one point, I just opened my big mouth and said, "I came of age in the seventies, and I lost my virginity shortly before my 16th birthday with an unemployed soap opera actor."

DB: Like you were supposed to in America in the seventies!

SB: Yes! It's a banal story. Exactly. Everybody did that.

RU: ...Since the seventies.

DB: I think it's in the handbook!

SB: So, all of the sudden Phil turns. He's thrilled. And he says, "So you were a victim of child abuse!"

DB: Did he cut to a commercial at that moment?

SB: I just thought, "You son of a bitch." What a gratuitous dig. And, you know, neither I nor anybody in my family feels any regrets or fears. It's not like, "Gee, Susie was in an awful lot of trouble or panic or danger." I wasn't.

Of course, this is a tricky subject and there has to be sensitivity to the psychological and physical development of young people. And some people are such old souls so young. And other people are just crawling out of their egg at age twenty-five. You also have quite a noticeable difference in terms of adolescent girls and boys. I see my daughter and her friends, and some kind of look ten and some kind of look twenty-something — and they're all around sixteen. They are so different. The ones who suffer the most are the ones who look ten, but emotionally and mentally they want to do everything. And then you'll hear about a girl who had breasts when she was ten, and everyone was sexualizing her. And she just wanted to climb a tree and be left alone. There are so many misunderstandings. And adults are constantly projecting their notions of what they want on them. In my case — and in a lot of cases, I was the one who was interested and curious and seeking sex.

RU: You hear that story all the time.

DB: Yeah.

SB: Problems come from older people who don't have empathy and compassion and respect. You get someone who decides; "Yeah! Girls want me!" (Laughter) "That teenaged girl over there? She digs me." That kind of narcissism is the problem.

We don't even talk about whether the sex in these scenarios is consensual. Is there coercion involved? What is the power relationship between these people? We fixate on stereotypes and miss the big picture. And another thing that doesn't get brought up is that, overwhelmingly, sexual abuse and that type of violence happens within families. If you could stop that, it would really be remarkable.

We have this idea, fostered by J. Edgar Hoover, that there are these monsters out there — strangers are going to come up and offer your child a lollipop. We're seeing that replayed now around the internet. There's a wonderful social scientist, Michael Males, who just had an opinion article in the New York Times. He's proved that your kid is safer alone on MySpace than in any shopping mall in America. I just loved reading his facts and figures, because it all makes sense to me.

RU: It seems so obvious, if you think about it.

SB: Yeah, it sure does. And of course, the guy who was running the predator arrest campaign for Homeland Security was exposing himself to 16-year-old girls at the mall. I'm not making this shit up! With all the fuss about Scooter Libby and Cheney, other things have been glossed over.

RU: Were they caught together?

SB: (Laughs) It fascinated me how it came out that officials who are supposedly in charge of protecting children turn out to be really creepy, totally non-consensual predators.

RU: Well, they're the ones who are attracted to that. I mean, just like a certain percentage of criminal sadists are attracted to law enforcement.

DB: The mice are guarding the cheese.



SB: That's a good way of putting it. So when people ask me about public policy, I think about the big picture. If this country had more active democracy; if we had decent health care and universal sex education, things would be better for young people. Anything you can do to give them power is going to work out. Anything you can do to foster good family relationships and support education is going to help. None of this is on the agenda for the United States right now.

DB: Well, you're doing something for young people on your web site — the Ted Haggard Betting Pool. And it's not just a snarky little jab at this fool Ted Haggard, who is all over the media. Proceeds of this Betting Pool are going to benefit a San Francisco youth group called LYRIC.

SB: Yes. LYRIC is a youth group. They do community support and activism for young people who realize that they're sexually different, whatever that might mean to them. And nobody makes you fill out a form to explain yourself. If you know that you're sexually different and you want a place where you don't have to be alone — and where you don't have to be stigmatized and shamed — you can go to them. And you might get support in terms of work and family that you won't get elsewhere. They're role models for young people getting together and doing it for themselves, while having adult advocates who have a lot of integrity. So I love them.

And when this whole mess with Reverend Ted Haggard happened... I mean, there you have the evangelical minister to end all evangelical ministers — the guy who could tell George Bush what to do — and he gets caught sucking cock on a regular basis.

RU: On crank.

SB: On crank.

RU: It's the only way to do it.

SB: No one wants to do it without meth anymore, apparently.

DB: "Cock on crank." I like the alliteration of it.

SB: And instead of copping to it, he said, "Hey. I was always heterosexual. It was just stress" — or whatever it was. And his church gave him a huge check, since they're hemorrhaging money. He signed a confidentiality agreement and was given a plane ticket to get out of town. And, of course, now the headlines are "Ted Haggard says he's 100% heterosexual."

DB: Didn't he go to a three-week spa?

SB: He went to a three-week spa to get over his homosexuality (which he wasn't really anyway.) I mean, the contradictions are endless.

RU: I love that. I mean, who's going into rehab today? It's become a daily thing now.

SB: So everyone I know was saying, "When do you think he'll slip?" So I said, "Let's do a betting pool." So some of us have started a site called "Bet on Ted." You just pick your date. We're going to give it a year. Any time this year. And to win, something has to happen with Ted that gets into the news or into the courts. We've come up with a list of things — all of them involve Ted cracking, and it hitting a news report. If you have the lucky date, then you win half the pot and the other half goes to our worthy cause: LYRIC. If nobody gets the right date — or Ted sneaks by all year and nothing comes out — then the whole pot will go to LYRIC too. So bet on Ted! I'm hoping we get somewhere with it.

One of my friends who wanted to bet said, "Can we send in a ringer?" And I said, "Yeah! Make it happen!"

DB: A hooker with a heart of gold that will bring him across.

SB: Exactly!

RU: I bet a lot of people are trying to reel him in, at this point. It's his lucky year, now!

DB: We're Ted fishing, now!

RU: Ted's going to get a lot of action this year... thanks to Susie Bright.

DB: (Makes a fly-casting sound.) What are we using for bait?

SB: One thing that's interesting: remember I told you about those founders of Exodus that I met at the "Donahue Show." The founders of Exodus finally did do the right thing. They fled Exodus, so to speak. They exited Exodus and said, "We are gay, God damn it! We're sorry we just did this to everybody." Virtually all the founders of all these horrible conversion therapies have recanted after a certain amount of time.

RU: It seems, in the thesis and antithesis of sexual revolution and then backlash; we've ended up in an incredibly tangled state of how we — as a culture — think about sexuality. We almost embrace the most intense kinds of sexual sophistication, and there's all this pornography around, and then there's the most intense kinds of Puritanism. And it's like it's all converged into one confused human being.

SB: Well, a lot of that porn is really about titillation and guilt. There's this, "Taste me! Taste me!" factor where you never really get to taste me. You know? "Come closer! I'll give you this little bit." But then once you get there, you're going to need to get a little bit more... and a little bit more. And you're always going to have to shell out. That's how they sell it. And it's also how they inspire political fear. It's a come-on! It's a con job. What you don't get is sexual honesty and real candor, where you really come through.

RU: They're creating people who behave that way! The relationship between the stripper and the paying customer — a lot of people relate to each other that way.

SB: I suppose so, except with real strippers, real love lives — it doesn't work like that. Even if you try to live in a fake persona, you can't maintain it all the time. It's impossible.

RU: There is a lovely story towards the end of the book — "The Wish Girls" — that gets underneath the emptiness behind those images.

SB: Yeah, that was a great story by a new author — Matthew Addison. His character is about thirty. When he was a teenager, he had an "I Dream of Jeannie" moment where he wished there were two hot, bouncy, magazine-y babes who would appear and be his love slaves. And he got his wish! They're the wish girls! Now, they've been around for fifteen years, and they do the same exact positions. And he was naive when he ordered them. And now he thinks, "Why did I make them identical except for their hair color? I wish one was 5'2" and one was 5'9"!" It drives him nuts that they're so limited. He yearns for more, but on the other hand — they bend over and get in position #19 and position #32 just like clockwork. And he feels guilty for his boredom and ennui with them. So what's in store for him next? Read the story.

RU: On the other hand, there's another story in there involving some porn stars and they're having a pretty interesting time, and their sex is pretty hot and so forth. Do you feel like there's a clear dividing line? Can you say, "This is bad porn; and this is good porn?" I'm suspicious of people judging what gets other people off.

SB: Well, I never walk into a room and say "(gasp) What!? That turns you on? You're gross." I mean, that would be the infantile...

RU: "Ewwwww."

SB: When it comes to "good porn" and "bad porn," you'll frequently see something that has obviously been made with the sloppiest intentions: "Fuck it. Let's get this done and get a quick buck." But as you watch it, there will be one 10-minute scene where the people in front of the camera actually had a moment. And it's caught there, because that's what the camera lens does. Other times, you'll be watching something that has been made with such high ideals, and you'll be, like: "I can't even keep my eyes open."

RU: There is this kind of a superior attitude of people who are sort of into underground sexuality...

DB: "More kinkier than thou."

SB: Yeah, but you have the same kind of conversations in every part of the art world — in music and painting and everything else. You have your little factions. You have auteurs. You have people who put a signature on the work they do and the moment you see it, you can tell it's one of their films.

I'll tell you an interesting story about this: one of the most important pornographers in history died recently — Gary Graver. He worked on some of the most influential films, including Bound. He inspired my choreography of the sex scenes for Bound. And his obit was in the New York Times, Variety, and every place else. But they didn't mention that he was a pornographer! His porn name was Robert McCallum. So they focused largely on the fact that he was Orson Welles' cameraman for thirty years. And he helped fund a lot of Orson's projects when Orson didn't have a dime coming in. It was the porn that let him do that! So I wrote a bunch of letters... "Why are you not saying... I mean, you talked about all of his exploitation work, his horror flicks, his slasher films. None of those are going to get any rave reviews."

It's laughable. He shot Steven Spielberg's first movie — he worked with everybody. His family certainly knows what he was doing. So why didn't they include that? And I got responses that showed the double standard that rules the land. It was like, "Well, we wouldn't do that. Why would we besmirch him?" Besmirch? They're the New York Times! If somebody murdered someone, but later discovered the cure for cancer, they would still mention that they served time for that murder. I mean, they dig up dirt! It's not all: "He had a wonderful life, and everything went swell!"

RU: Like Larry King interviewing Adolf Hilter... "You were a vegetarian, right?"

SB: Exactly! So why would they report on people's immorality, gambling, criminality, lawsuits — but they wouldn't mention that Gary Gravers did some of the most significant porn films of all time — films that are still for sale and have sold in every format.

RU: Before we wrap up, has it been a good life, being a "sexpert" for thirty years? Is it a big responsibility? Is it a lot of fun? Do you wish you were a fucking fishermen — like John Lennon used to say about being in The Beatles?

SB: On a personal level, sometimes I wish to be unknown. Having some celebrity around my sexuality can be weird. When it comes to sexual and personal attention, you're always afraid of people's agendas. I locked myself in the bathroom of the last sex party I went to, because somebody who I thought was interested in me really wanted me to read their manuscript.

RU: Well, that's scary for anybody — when somebody approaches you with a manuscript!

SB: It's like: "I don't want to see a manuscript, I want to fuck!" But in terms of having social influence — and I bet John Lennon would have said the same thing — you never get sick of influencing a conversation.

RU: Do you ever think it would've been cool to become famous as a writer about a different topic, like television or quantum physics or something like that?

SB: I do write about all kinds of subjects. And I have a few readers who know that part of me. I wrote for political publications for many years before my writing about sex started becoming commercially successful.

RU: Do you go off on many topics on your audio show?

SB: I certainly do. In fact...

RU: ...You get complaints? People like their narrowcasting!

SB: Sometimes I get complaints. I've got this one Republican listener. He writes me over and over again. He wants to discuss his marital situation at length. I keep quoting my favorite dominatrix to him: "We're not spanking Republicans any more. We're not servicing you with sex tips until you realize that this stuff that you're doing in bed, and your voting/political behavior are at odds. You're hurting people." Ow!



RU: We can't spank Ann Coulter?

SB: God, no! I wouldn't touch her with a 10-foot pole!

RU: Michelle Malkin? I do have my fantasies.

Click here for Part II

See Also:
Drugs and Sex and Susie Bright
Why Sarah's Sex Life Matters
World Sex Laws
Violet Blue SHOCKER: "I'd Do Bruce Campbell"
The Perversions of Perverted Justice

Read More

How The iPod Changes Culture


Shit happens fast in the world of Apple and Steve Jobs. For example, Steven Levy's latest book, The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness, was out for the Christmas season. While it was percolating out into the book-buying public, Jobs introduced the model for the iPhone to ecstatic Mac heads at MacWorld 2007, introducing a whole new "i" paradigm.

Steven Levy is the chief technology correspondent for Newsweek and the author of such seminal tech culture books as Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution and Insanely Great: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer That Changed Everything. Levy loves his iPod. And I love mine. But when I sat down to interview him for NeoFiles, I realized that most of the questions I'd prepared were about my ambiguities — my ambiguities about Steve Jobs; and my ambiguities about how the new medium for music and other stuff that you can stick in your ear changes what we listen to — and how.



Finally, there was a brief discussion in this interview about the iPod being a closed system. And even there, Jobs yanked the rug out from under us just a little bit. In a letter posted on the Apple site, he said he would "embrace DRM-Free music in a heartbeat" if the music companies would come along. I tried to get back to Levy for a quick update, but he was unavailable.

Hopefully, Jobs won't make any other major announcements in the next five minutes.

John Sanchez, an economist and investment advisor who earns his primary income trading Apple stock, joined me in this interview.
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: Some of our listeners inevitably have an iPod plugged right into their little ears at this very moment while they're listening to NeoFiles. Say a bit about why you think their experience is particularly cool or maybe even profound.

STEVEN LEVY: Before the iPod, you could go around listening to music, obviously. There was the Walkman. But before the iPod, there was no really amiable device that you could use to carry around your entire music collection, let alone podcasts like this, and movies, and TV shows. As it sort of makes a habit of doing, Apple took something that had been possible before — and had actually been tried before — and transformed the experience so much that, for the first time, it became something that the masses could do and enjoy. MP3 players had been available before, but they were really tough to use, unpleasant, and they didn't hold much music. Apple made it into something that was a really great experience,

RU: Being able to hold a lot of music is key. And, in the book, you really go into your love for the Shuffle. It's a daydream that everybody has had — where you can have all your favorite music and have it randomly spit back out at you almost like the DJ knows exactly what you liked. I have to say I'm a little bit dissatisfied though because I can't really get enough songs together to make myself continuously feel surprised. After a period of time, I no longer feel surprised. I wonder what you think about the expense of tunes on iTunes as compared to a subscription model like Rhapsody?

SL: First of all, you're absolutely right about the Shuffle. That is what really got me very excited about the iPod. For the first time, you could take your whole music collection and just re-order it — Pow! With just one little flick of your thumb, you have your songs fed back to you in a way that is totally novel. You might hear songs you hadn't heard for months or even years. If you have a big CD collection, then you have a big collection of songs on your iPod. But I disagree with you saying it's really expensive to fill up your iPod. There's plenty of free music legally available — or more or less winked at benignly — from the music industry. A lot of bands give out samples of their songs for free. And then, a lot of music blogs are operating pretty much in the open, and you can find those pretty easily. Particularly if you're looking for novelty, you could find bands you like and download their music. And you'll get a lot of novelty and enough interesting music over time fill up your iPod

RU: I've found it a little bit difficult, even with the free sites that we won't mention, to get a lot of my favorite stuff. Also, when I had a PC for a while (it pretty much crashed), I subscribed to Rhapsody and I was able to get a much more satisfactory collection. One of the things about owning a Macintosh — Steve Jobs doesn't want me to be able to get any of the subscription services.

SL: You're right. He doesn't believe in the subscription model — at least he hasn't embraced it so far. And I agree with you. Rhapsody is the one I've played with the most. And I think it's a great idea to pay a monthly fee and listen to all the music you could possibly like. Just a few months ago, they finally started releasing mp3 players that were able to take advantage of the subscription service in a smart way. You could listen to a channel; you could pick the kind of music you wanted or just pick the albums you wanted that would download into your mp3 player; and you could take them around with you. I think eventually we're all going to have all the music we want and maybe pay a few dollars for a subscription. That'll make perfect sense. I think even Apple is going to come around. At one point in the next five years, I fully expect to have an interview with Steve Jobs where my first question to him will be, "Steve, you've always talked about what a bad idea subscription services were. How come you're doing it now?" And I expect his answer will probably be like: "Well, nobody ever figured out how to do the subscriptions right before." So I think eventually even Apple will come around to the idea that subscription is a good idea.

RU: And to his credit, he may well wind up doing it better than anybody else has done it before. He does tend to do that. You express a certain admiration for Jobs and find him a charismatic figure. And you describe him in some ways as a sixties person. We had an interview with Gina Smith, who co-authored the autobiography of Steve Wozniak that sort of has a different vibe about whether Jobs was the cool dude between the two of them. Talk a little bit about how you see him as sort of this idealistic sixties figure; or as a figure who has some contradiction but is sort of hip.

SL: Woz — who I wrote about in Hackers — was also shaped by the sixties. But his demeanor and his personality are shaped more by the idea that he's a hacker. That's the way he views the world. Jobs also was definitely shaped by the sixties. I mean, here's a guy who went to Reed College and then dropped out for months during that time period. I think he lived on carrots or something like that for a while, you know? He went to India — definitely a lot of his tastes were shaped by the sixties. And certainly, his irreverence was shaped by the sixties. He's this sixties guy who now runs a company. Sometimes at Apple, he'll walk into the boardroom in cut-off shorts and sandals and just plop himself down, put his feet up on this giant table and start talking. You can see a lot of the cheekiness that we had, and admired, during the sixties in Steve Jobs. On the other hand, he's certainly a no-holds-barred capitalist. He's not an egalitarian. Some of his tastes are certainly elitist in the sense that he has very strict views on what taste is.



JOHN SANCHEZ: One of the most interesting stories about Steve and Steve in the seventies was the way they introduced the Captain Crunch box that allowed free international phone calls into the Berkeley underground market. And now it's sort of come full circle — you have Apple introducing the iChat platform — video chat software — that basically allows free international communications (aside from the cost of getting on the network). And now, there's the iPhone. Do you see the iPhone as a direct connection to the idea that Jobs and Woz had in the seventies of free communication?

SL: I'd love to see it that way. But I've asked Jobs about all this directly and unfortunately — at the moment —there's no plan to introduce a Skype-like application, and there's no iChat on the iPhone. They have an application that looks like iChat but actually passes messages using SMS. Depending on the billing system, it might end up charging you a few cents every time you send a message. I'd say that's not the Captain Crunch spirit.

RU: The iPhone came out after the book came out. I'm wondering what you think about it. It seems that, from a business perspective, a lot of people are calling it (to use an old Al Gore favorite) "a risky scheme."

SL: Well, Apple's really based on pursuing risky schemes, but essentially doing it so well that the risk gets minimized and the pay-off could be big. That was certainly the case with the iPod. A lot of people thought the iPod was a crazy idea for a company like Apple. It wasn't their expertise. They weren't "sticking to their knitting" — that kind of thing.

It was sort of a foregone conclusion that Apple would get into the phone world.

I've played with the iPhone a couple times now and there's some incredibly impressive stuff built into it. They've put a lot of imagination into solving some of the big problems that come with surfing the web on a device that you can hold in your hands and that has a relatively small screen. The same is true about the phone. And there's a new kind of iPod interface. So I think it's an exciting product. I'm planning to write a new chapter about the iPhone in the paperback version of The Perfect Thing.

RU: Did you get to experience it with the completed design? Because as you amply cover in the book, part of the big kick of the iPod is the look and feel — it gives your neurons a kind of a rush of pleasure. Is the iPhone design up to par?

SL: The design is incredible. Part of what has people ooh-ing and ah-ing is that it is so beautiful. In the book, I talk about how Jobs is obsessed with putting as few buttons and controls on his devices as possible. In this one, he's down to one button! (Laughs) You look at the iPhone, and it's just one button on the front. Of course, there are a lot of controls you can get on the touchscreen in there. But this is his wet dream — to have one button. I guess the ultimate is to have no buttons, and somehow you control it with your mind. But right now, he's down to one button, which is a personal high for him — a personal love.

JS: Do you see the user interface of the iPhone moving to other devices?

SL: I would assume that we would see this on a future version of the iPod, because it is a really enhanced, revamped interface that works with the iPod — there's complete iPod functionality in the iPhone. And certainly, the full screen that you have on the iPhone would make a lot of sense for the video versions of the iPod. It's a bigger screen. And you can do nice things. Like if you're watching a movie — with a double tap on the screen you change the format from a full screen size to the widescreen format. I would expect to see that on some versions of the iPod sometime in 2007.

JS: Also, the trackpad on the laptops and on the Mighty Mouse have two-finger gesturing, similar to the user interface of the iPhone. And the Mighty Mouse gives you some semblance of having a fingertip on the screen of a desktop. Do you see this UI as being one of the secret features of Leopard?

SL: That's a good comparison. Right now, a lot of people discover it almost by accident. They find themselves scrolling as opposed to moving a cursor. You know, apparently the concept for the iPhone came when Apple was exploring the idea of some sort of tablet PC with a touchscreen. So I'm wondering whether that's dead or not.

RU: At the edge of the digital culture — the sort of people you've covered in Hackers and other books — the main interest is in the idea of community. Many of these people wouldn't even bother with an iPod; they would just view it as a consumer product. Some even say that it isolates people. Do you see it as having a community-like function?

SL: Look, from the very beginning, hackers loved play, and they loved music. So I think the classic, canonical hackers of yore would like the iPod except for the fact that it's not an open system. It's a pretty closed system. You can't write your own software to go directly in it.

RU: John Gilmore mentioned that as one reason why he wasn't interested in coming on a podcast show.

SL: Well, you know, what can you say? You can't make comments on CBS either, but that doesn't mean you don't go on 60 Minutes — at least, for me, personally. But John has his own rules and I totally respect them.

As for the isolation thing, I'm not really bothered by that. To me, I use my iPod, for instance, when I'm on the subway. The subway is not where I do my social networking. But I'm actually looking forward to the first mp3 player — whether it's an iPod or something else — that allows you to scan the music collections of nearby devices, like you can sometimes do in iTunes with laptops. I think it would be super cool to be on the subway and be able to say, "Hmm, what are these other people listening to? That woman over there: Is she the one who's listening to Hank Williams?" And "Oh my god! There's early punk Rezillos over there. Who's doing that?" I think that would be great.

RU: You already have this sort of culture of identity built around the iPod, where people very much want to show off what's on their iPod or want to see what's on other people's iPods. It's an interesting form of communication. In a sense, every person gets to identify as a DJ.

SL: That's right, yeah. I have a whole chapter about identity. You are your playlist. It's fascinating how people have this hunger to know what's on your iPod. And conversely, people take a pride in the songs they have on their playlists. Sometimes when they know a lot of people are watching they'll actually filter their tastes. They'll take out their guilty pleasures, knowing that someone is going to be scanning their playlists.

RU: That's kind of a weird aspect of it, isn't it? I mean, in one sense, it's a very interior, private experience. Most people listen to their iPods through buds. And then, at the same time, someone may choose music based on status as opposed to what gives them pleasure. That seems peculiar.

SL: My theory is that you gotta fill up with what's going to bring you pleasure into your own ears. But the iPod — and digital music in general — makes transparent your needs and your affections because all the stuff is listed there. In a few of the interviews I've done about the book, I handed over my iPod to the interviewer. And if the interviewer has an iPod, we exchanged them. And then, we scanned for the embarrassing songs, as well as to see what impressed us. It's your musical fingerprint.

RU: What do you think about the quality of sound that comes out of digital music as compared to CD or vinyl? We're building up these libraries of music, but is the quality the same as we got from mediums?

SL: I think that is a problem. The current quality of music we're downloading now isn't up to the CD level. As the storage gets bigger and bandwidth gets higher, I think that'll be more easily addressed. I also think that when that does happen, we should be able to upgrade to higher quality at a very cheap price for the songs we've already purchased. We shouldn't have to buy them again. I think the era of buying music again and again should come to an end.

JS: What's interesting about the whole movement to the iPod and then to subscription is that the iPod creates the possibility of a new model for music distribution of new artists. A band could distribute their music in podcasts, for instance.

SL: Recently, we saw one of the first download-only songs hitting a best-seller list. And I think we're going to see more of that. Eventually I think it will be a plausible career route for a band to do very few CDs or launch their career without a record label. More than likely, I think we're going to see the formation of new record labels that concentrate on digital music, with maybe a minimal CD presence.

JS: We already see record labels that are primarily positioned to put artists onto the iTunes music store.

SL: That's right. I'm waiting for some of the smartest people in the music business to get together and say, "We want to do a new kind of business model. We want to be the new kind of record company." And actually this would be a very good time to do it because there have been huge layoffs at the music labels. They've been getting rid of some of their smartest people and I'll bet some of those people are going to start a new venture

RU: You talk a little bit in the book about how iPod — and digital music in general — is changing how people perceive music as a package. We went from the LP — 20 minutes to a side — to the CD, where bands were expected to come up with 60-70 minutes worth of worthy stuff (which generally they failed to do). And now, it's completely fragmented. And most people are just interested in picking up on this tune or that tune. Talk a little bit about how that's changing people's perceptions of music and how it's affecting the artist.

SL: I think we're just beginning to see how this translates into different modes of how music gets composed and gets released. The medium has always affected the work itself. We had the era of singles, when all the creative force went into creating one song that stood on its own. Then we went to the world of LPs, where you have these two 20-minute sets, so to speak. Later we move to CDs and you had about an hour to fill. Very few artists were actually able to fill that in one coherent package. A lot of people never even listen to the end of a CD. Now, there's no limit. You could do one song and that's great. You could release a three songs set. If you want to do one piece that is 20 minutes long, you could do that too. Eventually, it will sink in to artists that they don't have to limit what they do to formats. It's a total open slate. That can be a little scary, because previously everyone was operating in the same timeframe. They started off knowing what they had to fill in to create coherent works of art. Now I think it's going to be trickier.

RU: Yeah, we're in a completely freeform world but I think the audience expects artists to keep it short. It's like they don't want to be told how to deal with the presentation of music. Lou Reed came out with a CD a few years ago where he wrote something on the sleeve that said basically, "Stop listening to one song at a time. Sit down, put on your headphones, and listen to my whole god-damn album the way it was intended." And he was very much ridiculed for doing that.

JS: And James Brown said, "Leave 'em wanting more."



SL: I think there's going to be new forms. People are going to release more live concerts. You're starting to see this on the music blogs — some bands have caught on to this. I think bands could really satisfy their fans by releasing the bulk of their concerts. If I'm a fan of Arcade Fire and I know they played two nights ago, I'd like to hear that. Let me just download that. There's nothing to stop them from charging me $4 or $5 to hear the whole show they did a couple nights ago.

See Also:
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks
The 5 Sexiest Apple Videos
iPhone Debate: I'm a Mac vs. Bill Gates
Wonderful Wizardry of 'Woz'

Read More

When Cory Doctorow Ruled the World


Interviewing Cory Doctorow is easy. You just flip the on switch by asking the first question, and he emits a constant stream of brilliant, insightful stuff. Editing interviews with Doctorow is easy as well. He generally speaks in coherent, whole sentences and frequently expresses complex ideas for some length that don't get lost mid-paragraph.

So it's a pleasure to present this conversation. For those of you have been living in a non-digital cave (actually, I rather respect that type of non-conformism), Doctorow is a science fiction writer, Boing Boing contributor, and the former European Affairs Director for the EFF from 2001 - 2006. His novels include Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Eastern Standard Tribe, and Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town.

Jeff Diehl joined me in this conversation with Doctorow about Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present — his new collection of short stories.
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: You make quite a prominent point about the fact that Over-Clocked is available for free under a Creative Commons license. You also write about the good experience you've had with this, as a writer who does want to get paid for his work. Do you think this good experience is universal? Do you know if this has been studied at all?

CORY DOCTOROW: Well, I don't know that anyone's done any kind of systematic study. But my anecdotal study finds that everyone I know who's tried giving away free books as a way of selling printed books has done it again with their next book. So, I think that's a pretty good sign, right? It worked well enough for people to do it a second time. I guess the definition of insanity is doing something twice and expecting a different outcome. Presumably people were happy with that first outcome.



RU: About how many people do you hear from who are doing this sort of thing?

CD: At least ten or fifteen writers who've done this with their novels. And, of course, a lot more musicians. In a certain sense, I kind of live in the bubble of people who've done this, right? I mean, all my friends are the people who have done this. But it seems like it works pretty well. And that makes a certain amount of sense, especially for printed material. My thesis regarding printed material is that the basic thing that keeps people from getting long-form works off the screen isn't the screen quality — it's that computers are really distracting. It's really hard to concentrate on one thing for a long time while you're sitting in front of a computer. So as a result, I think people who get a novel over the wire tend to read some of it and get distracted. But they like it well enough that they're willing to go out and buy it and read it on paper, which is a lot less distracting.

RU: You were saying you were in kind of a bubble with a certain group of people. When I thought about this, it did strike me that people who were fans of Cory Doctorow would probably be like the #1 group of people who would want this to work.

CD: Sure!

RU: I wonder if somebody like Chuck Palahniuk would have the same response from his readers, or if they wouldn't just be happy to grab the free stuff.

CD: Well, you know, like all good pirates, I steal all my best ideas. So I'll steal some good ideas from Tim O'Reilly. He wrote this great paper called Piracy is Progressive Taxation. That's where another aphorism — "The problem for artists isn't piracy, it's obscurity" — comes from. But the best aphorism is the title. And I think a lot of people miss what that means.

O'Reilly publishes books that get really widely pirated on the internet, because, they publish techie books, right? If there's a form that's well-suited to being published digitally, this is it. You get it digitally, and then you can scan it and search it and so on. And you can find just the right bit at the moment that you need that technical advice. And the people who are in a position to nick it electronically are already pre-qualified. That's the audience, right? They're all geeks. So O'Reilly says, "We monitor the trafficking in infringing copies of our work, and what we find is that the works that are most profitable are also the most pirated." So that means — for most of our works — they're not even popular enough for anyone to want to steal them. And for the works that are really popular, we're already making tons and tons of money off of those works. So a little bit of piracy at the edge is just a form of progressive taxation on them.

RU: One of the fun things about getting material online in this form is that you can go in and mess around with it. Have you gotten any interesting remixes of your own work?

CD: Yeah, tons. The stuff I've really liked the most has been the illustrations and visual things. But I've also gotten tons of really good, geeky, machine-readable remixes. It seems like it's kind of like writing a "Hello, world" program — it takes a story and makes a kind of Burroughs-Gysin-esque cutup. I've had lots of those.

There's one that I really like. People have tried out a speed-reader with my works. The speed-read shows you one word at a time, and it shows them at a speed that's determined by a little slider. And it pauses a little after a comma, and longer after a period, and longer after a paragraph break. And you can crank it way up and it just rockets past. And you're getting every word. It's kind of meant for very small screens, and it really feels like you're doing something weird to your brain. It really feels like you're tweaking your cognition in ways that it was not intended to be tweaked. It's very transhuman.



JEFF DIEHL: I would imagine you could adjust the speed of the words to reflect different emphases in the phrasing.

CD: Sure, although the nice thing about this is it's all machine-driven, right? I mean, someone could go in there and fix it, but the fact that this is just a purely automated conversion is exciting. And you can't believe that your brain is understanding the words. People have come up with all kinds of little mixes. And I get a lot of fan translations too. That's very exciting. There's a guy who just emailed me to say that he didn't like one of the official translations (I think it was the German translation) very much. So he was going to do his own translation to compete with it. I think that's awesome.

RU: Let's move on to this collection. My favorite piece in there, and it's deservedly the longest piece, is called "After the Siege." Talk a bit about the theme of that piece.

CD: Well, I went to a little family reunion in St. Petersburg, Russia. My grandmother was born there, and her family still lives there. When I was growing up, she always used to tell me about the war, and about being a kid living through the Siege of Leningrad. And she would tell me how I would never understand the terrible horrors she'd faced. I didn't know much about the Siege of Leningrad, but my understanding was... it wasn't anything like Auschwitz, right? Like, "Boy, how bad could it have been? You were a civil defense worker. You weren't in a death camp." And a couple of years ago, on one of those long St. Petersburg days, my grandmother walked us through the streets of St. Petersburg and told us about what she saw and did during that period. It really changed my perception of it. I went out and read some books, most notably The 900 Days about the Siege of Leningrad. The privation and terrors of the Siege of Leningrad can't be overstated. It was a nine hundred day siege. And Stalin bungled it so badly that people in Petersberg were also in bad shape. There was starvation and cannibalism and lots of people freezing to death. And my grandmother — this 12-year-old girl — was digging civil defense trenches in the frozen ground; and hauling bodies and throwing them out of fifteen story windows because they were too weak to haul them down the stairs. She was going to apartments where people had died and throwing them down, and then scraping them up off the ground. And she was seeing people who'd been rendered by cannibal black marketeers — who had parts of their body sliced off to sell on the black market.

They were the most amazing, incredible stories. And it got me thinking about writing about this as an allegory. At the same time, I've been doing all this work on copyright and related rights with developing nations, and with what they call emerging economies like the former Soviet territories. And these countries are getting really shafted in international copyright negotiations. They're being forced to sign on to these regimes that are totally out of step with what they need.

America became an industrial power by being a pirate nation. After the American revolution, America didn't honor the copyrights or patents of anyone except Americans. If you were a European or British inventor, your stuff could be widely pirated in America. That's how they got rich. Only after America became a net exporter of copyrighted goods did it start to enter into treaties with other countries whereby American inventors and authors would be protected abroad in exchange for those foreign authors being protected in America. But now you have these countries in Africa, in Asia, and in Eastern Europe, who are signing on to trade agreements with the U.S. where they basically promise to just take huge chunks of their GDP and export it to the U.S. It's a kind of information feudalism, you know? Info-serfs.

RU: Within the context of this book, and with the issues you're raising, you're not just talking about information. I think you're also talking about material wealth. You're also talking about AIDS drugs and stuff like that.

CD: Yeah, absolutely. You know, Russia just signed onto this free trade agreement with the U.S. trade representative in which — among other things — they promised that from now on they would license all their digital media presses and subject them to government inspection. So America, which fought a revolution over not wanting to have licensed presses, has just gone to Russia, where they've just had a revolution over licensed presses. And they've imposed a requirement that they license their presses. This is staggering, awful, apocalyptically bad policy-making on the part of both the U.S. and Russia. Frankly, as someone who pays taxes in the U.S., I'm embarrassed.

So I wrote this story from the point of view of a little girl. She's in a utopia where they've done what the U.S. did after the American Revolution. They've abandoned all international copyright and patent and trademark and knowledge goods treaties and they're just pirating everything. It's in a kind of nanotech world, so if they don't care about respecting the rights of the inventors who created it, they can make pretty much anything. As a result, they've become an incredibly wealthy nation in a very short period of time.

They've been driven to this piracy by a disease that turns people into a kind of zombie. It's this terrible infectious disease. And the drugs for it were very expensive. And they had these ineffectual leaders who were co-opted by the pharmaceutical companies. So eventually they took the last of these leaders, put them in a barrel and drove nails through it and rolled it down a hill. (This is, in fact, how the Hungarians killed the priest who converted the animists to Christianity.) And they put in a new Parliament that broke all ties with the industrial world and decided to pirate everything.

But a siege is laid against them. And in the siege, the enemy infects their computers and other devices with a virus that shuts down all their nano-assemblers. They all start to starve to death, and the zombie-ism comes back, and so on. And it's all told from the point of view of this little girl who comes of age in this world. It was a fun and hard story to write, and I'm really happy with how it turned out. It's been picked up for a couple of the "Year's Best" anthologies, and I've done a podcast of it. And I'm talking with someone about a film deal for it. It seems to be a lot of people's favorites.

RU: Yeah, I thought it was particularly cinematic as well. And the point of view of the 12-year-old girl always seems to be particularly affecting. I remember the book, Let's Put the Future Behind Us.

CD: Jack Womack! Yeah, I'm a big Jack Womack fan.

RU: Yeah. Incredibly powerful.

CD: There was that one. And there's the one about the young girl in Brooklyn — Random Acts of Senseless Violence. That's a hell of a book.

RU: Oh yes. Yes! That's the one I was thinking of.

CD: And then there's Parable of the Sower. There are so many of these. It's a real good point of view, as you say.

RU: Actually though, my favorite part in that story is the role played by the wizard and his crew which, I think, explores the ambiguities of being in the media. And I must admit I sort of identified with them. And I wonder if you did, too.

CD: Yeah. So, in the story, there's this guy who's identified only as The Wizard who seems to be in better shape than everyone else. He's got access to working technology. And it turns out that he's kind of a documentarian. He's working for foreign media — just recording what's going on. And I think that also reflects one of the roles that bloggers and technical people have. We often find ourselves as kind of reporters on what goes on in the rest of the world, and at the same time, we have a certain reporterly distance from what goes on in the rest of the world.

That character is really based on the character of The King in King Rat. It's based on the American black marketeer in the Changi prison — the Japanese prisoner of war camp — who has access to all the stuff that it takes to be human. And so he's the only one who's kind of fit and healthy in this camp of dysentery-ridden skeletons.

RU: You have two riffs in this book that play off Isaac Asimov's I, Robot. One is called "I, Robot," and the other one is called "I, Rowboat." I would say that you have some fun at the expense of Asimov's three laws of robotics.

CD: I got to think about what it would take to make this "I, Robot" Asimovian world, where there is only one kind of robot for sale on the market that can only function in one way; and there's only one company that's allowed to make it. And it struck me that there are some parallels there with the kind of totalitarian world that I think the Motion Picture Association would like to conjure up where no one's allowed to have a general purpose device because that general purpose device might be used to attack their business model. So I decided I would write a little about that, and write about what it means to a free society when someone says that tools have to be constrained so that they can only do good, and never do evil.

So I wrote two stories. The first one, "I, Robot" was nominated for the Hugo award and won the Locus award. It's a story about a guy who's a police detective in a kind of 1984 version of Toronto. They're fighting off "Eurasian" artificial intelligences that are millions of times more powerful than the constrained robots that they live with. And this guy's wife has defected to Eurasia. So he's trying to cope with the fact that his colleagues see him as a potential traitor, and don't like him very much.

The other story is "I, Rowboat." It's a story about an artificially intelligent rowboat in the Coral Sea in Australia that's an Asimov cultist. So although it's not an Asimov positronic brain, it voluntarily adopts the three laws of robotics as a kind of religion. It picks this up from a roving, trademark-violating, sort-of John The Baptist for Asimov-ism who calls himself R. Daniel Olivaw. (Of course, that's one of the characters from the "I, Robot" books.) So Olivaw cruises the world, and something called the "New Sphere," looking for artificial intelligences that will loan him some of their processor space. And when he can run in the same processor as them long enough, he proselytizes Asimovism to them. And then, when he converts them to Asimovism, they join the message boards in the Asimovist Yeshiva and talk about their faith.

So the main character, Robbie the Rowboat is an Asimovist. He tends to these two meat puppets called Isaac and Janet — you know, Isaac Asimov and his wife — who are just empty human shells. He rows them out into the reef, and they go in and they go scuba diving and then they come back out again. And every now and again, uplifted humans who live in a new sphere in these sort of super-cool computer clusters out in Plutonian orbit download themselves into one of these meat shells for a holiday on earth. One day, Robbie The Rowboat is rowing out with one of these meat shells that has recently become inhabited. And he encounters a coral reef that has just been "uplifted" — it's been augmenting with silicon and software and made artificially intelligent. The coral reef has woken up very cranky and has declared war on humanity and all that it represents. And so Robbie has to resolve his Asimovist leanings with his sympathies for this new intelligence — this baby intelligence. That's kind of how this story unfolds.

RU: I love the way the coral reef is responding to the sort of Singularitarian notion of seeding the galaxy with something like our idea of consciousness as a kind of colonialism.

CD: Yeah!

RU: It's definitely the weirdest of the stories in the book.

CD: And fittingly enough, it was originally published on Rudy Rucker's weird science fiction webzine Flurb. It also has been picked up for a "Year's Best" anthology.

RU: There are also a couple of apocalypse stories in the book. I really enjoyed "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth." I don't want to give away any plot points, but I really found the protagonist's response to the death of his wife interesting. I mean, in the Hollywood movie version of this, your protagonist would have left his safety zone behind and rushed out there to save her. He has sort of an interesting, rational, nerd response. Do you have any thoughts on that?

CD: Yeah. I actually started that story on July 6 — the day before the London bombings. I actually put it aside for a while after the London bombings. It was a little too freaky. I was living in London at the time, but I was teaching in Michigan that week. The bombs went off — it was the bus I took every day and it was the train my girlfriend took. If she was ten minutes later, she would have been on that train.

Anyway, in "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth", a non-specific apocalypse takes the earth about an hour after a terrible killing worm takes down the internet. So all the sysadmins of the earth are in these hermetically-sealed, independently-powered, environmentally-controlled network cages when the world outside essentially comes to an end. So they can't go outside but they're able to continue communicating with each other. And they have to figure out what to do. So they have this kind of raging debate, because it seems to them that the internet is likely being used to engineer these terrible attacks. They wonder if they should bring the internet down.

And, you know, there is this persistent myth — depending on who you talk to it's true or it isn't true — that the internet was designed to withstand a nuclear war. One of its design objectives was certainly to be decentralized. And one of the reasons people wanted decentralized networks were because a nuclear war or other form of disaster might cut out a centralized core. What would you do if the world came to an end, and you were still in the cage trying to make the network work? What would it be like there? I once visited the NORAD Headquarters at Cheyenne Mountain — the hollow mountain in Colorado where people are supposed to live after the nuclear strikes take out everywhere else. They were supposed to launch that last retaliatory strike against the Soviets from there. And they had, like, a half court and a snack bar. It was really odd to consider that all this stuff had been built to keep people entertained while the cobalt poisoning did its work after they'd launched that last retaliatory strike.



So I've been thinking about the future a lot lately — about whether or not the future is inherent, or is it something that was invented? I tend to think now that the future is an artifact. We created the idea of futurism. I just bought this axe head in this anthropology store in New York — Evolution. It's a 200,000-year-old axe head. And they were telling me that it's indistinguishable, in many ways, from the axe heads that are 100,000 years old and the axe heads that are 300,000 years old. Apart from carbon dating, you can't really tell the difference. For at least 200,000 years, hominids made axes the same way — right? There was no technological progress.

So over this period that's much longer than the sweep of recorded history — you know, ten times longer than the sweep of recorded history, at least — one imagines that these people didn't even have the idea of the future. I mean, there was "tomorrow." There were kids. Maybe you'd be fighting with someone different tomorrow. But fundamentally, the way that you lived didn't change. And at some point, we invented the future, and we invented a whole bunch of different kinds of future. We invented the Lapsarian future — you know, the fall from the garden where things get worse and worse and we're coming further and further from purity. A friend of mine who's an orthodox Jew told me that in his tradition, rabbis aren't allowed to supercede the rabbis that came before them because — by definition — a rabbi of a generation before you is closer to the Garden of Eden and, therefore, to moral perfection. So you can interpret a rabbi, but you can't overturn a rabbinical ruling. So that's that Lapsarian view.

There's this apocalyptic view of the world coming to an end. And then there's a progressive view of the world getting better. And then there's the Singularity, which is kind of a hybrid, right? It's an apocalyptic, progressive world where things get so much better that they stop. (Laughs) Which is pretty freaky!

RU: Now are you implying a sort of criticism of the idea of a technological inevitability when you say that we invent the idea of the future; or would you say — as a result of having invented it — we are now pretty much stuck with it.

CD: Well, that is the philosophical question I'm asking myself. Are we stuck with the future, now that we invented it? Or can we un-invent it? So I've been writing all these stories that have the same titles as famous stories. In Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present, I have "I, Robot" and "Ander's Game," which is a rip on Ender's Game. And I'm going to write "A Man Who Sold The Moon" for that Heinlein story. And I think it's going to be about a guy who makes his fortune solving the Year 10,000 problem. It's 10,000, and the computers are functionally equivalent to the computers we have today. No future has happened in between now and then. And he decides he'll be the first man to go to the moon, because he's forgotten — we've all forgotten. He gets there and he discovers the golf ball. And in so doing, he invents the future. He invents the idea of the future, because he realizes that they must have lapsed. And if they lapsed, it's possible to have progress. And so he's the kind of genetic freak who invents the future.

RU: Your ideas are richly complex and completely science fiction-y. Do you read novelists outside the science fiction genre, and who do you like?

CD: Well sure! I mean, you mentioned Chuck Palahniuk. I'm a huge Chuck Palahniuk fan. I love Lynda Barry's novels. I read a lot of non-fiction. I'm just looking at my shelf here at all the non-fiction I've read lately. There's this book I love, Fire and Ice. It's a longitudinal demographic comparison of Canadians and Americans. There's History of Men's Magazines, Bruce Schneier's Beyond Fear, James Gleick's Faster. And the new Stephen Johnson book. I read a lot of non-fiction!

RU: Is there a particular piece of non-fiction that has recently changed your view of the way the world works?

CD: I read a couple of really good books in the last year or so. One is Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor by Sudhir Venkatesh. It's a serious economic, or ethnographic analysis of the underground economy in Chicago. He's mentioned in Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. He's the anthropology grad student who goes and lives with crack dealers in Chicago's South Side and writes up how the underground economy works. And that economy goes from the ladies who make sandwiches and sell them without charging sales tax or declaring it on their income statement; to the loan shark, the homeless guy who will sleep in your doorway and make sure that graffiti kids don't tag it, to the crack gang and everyone in between. It's a fascinating book.

The other one that I really liked was by Yochai Benkler. It's called The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. It's such a good title! It may just be the best tech book title of the last twenty years. It's a book about common space peer production — the stuff that happens on Wikipedia and on blogs and with free and open source software. It's about how to understand that in economic terms, not as a gift economy per se, and not as an industrial economy, and not as volunteerism. He shows it as a third mode of industrial production that is neither the kind of gift economy or volunteerism that characterizes people who volunteer at a church; nor capitalism as we understand it, where people invest. Rather, it is an entirely different mode of industrial production. And I found that book really fascinating.

RU: If he describes this as a sort of alternative mode of production, does that imply that it will always co-exist with the other modes of production? Or do you envision the sort of Creative Commons/open source idea ever becoming a dominant mode?

CD: Well, it may not be the case that Creative Commons/open source/free software becomes the dominant mode — although I can imagine worse futures. But I think it's very true that knowledge goods, by their nature, have a different economic reality from other goods. It's very hard to enforce exclusive rights — the right to prohibit or the right to authorize knowledge goods. As the Motion Picture Association is discovering — in a world where we have ubiquitous networks and cheap and fast hardware — it's really hard to stop people from copying. I don't know whether it's moral or immoral to copy things — we can talk about that all day long. I just think that it's hard to stop it. So if you're a business person, your business can't be built on what you think people should do. It should be built on what you think people will do. And what people will do with information is copy it. So now that we're living in an information economy, I think we will have different kinds of production. It may not all be sharing, Creative Commons-oriented, but I don't think they're going to be based on exclusion or proprietorship. I just don't know how you could make that work; it just doesn't seem plausible to me. Bruce Sterling says, "The future composts the past." I think he's right. I don't think that the future makes things disappear; I think it builds on top of things.

RU: Once you have material wealth being reproducible as a form of information that becomes rather hard to stop as well.

CD: Yeah. I think that one of the test beds for this is virtual online worlds like Second Life. I've just written a paper for a scholarly book about virtual worlds and games, in which I talk about what it would take to make a democratic virtual world. Not because democracy is morally superior to the kind of benevolent dictatorship that characterizes, say, Second Life, but because these places are becoming wellsprings of wealth. I mean, obviously, there's some kind of economic activity happening in Second Life, where it's encouraged, and even in worlds like World of Warcraft, where it's prohibited. In many ways, that in-game wealth is meaningless unless it's bankable in a system that's responsive to democratic principles. In other words, you can accumulate a lot of money in apartheid-era rand, or Soviet-era rubles, but it doesn't really mean anything because you can't really export your wealth — because the state controls access to it. And even if you can, you can't export the source of your wealth, right? Say you managed to accumulate a lot of wealth in the former Soviet Union because you built a factory and the relationships to keep it running. Even if you can get your rubles out by converting them to something that you can smuggle out of the country like diamonds, you're going to lose your factory and you're going to lose those relationships. Those are all stuck in this kind of totalitarian state. So if we're going to say that these places are where we're going to live our life — or our second or third or fifth life — for that to be meaningful — those places need to be responsive to democratic principles.

See Also:
Neil Gaiman has Lost His Cloths
Thou Shalt Realize The Bible Kicketh Ass
Is The Net Good For Writers?

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Keith Henson Talks about Memetics, Evolutionary Psychology & Scientology


I interviewed Keith Henson for the NeoFiles Website (disbanded in favor of the NeoFiles Podcast Show) back in 2003. I figured with Henson's recent arrest on charges related to his battle with Scientology, people would be interested in a broader view of Henson. In this interview, we talk about a range of topics, finally ending with a discussion on his thoughts about his problems with Scientology at that time. The interview appears below in full, including the title and introduction:

Exile On Meme Street: Keith Henson Interview

Keith Henson is sort of an ur-transhumanist. In the 1970s - '80s, he was one of the founders and leaders of The L5 Society, an organization dedicated to building homes in high orbit using raw materials from the lunar surface. The L5 group attracted the interests of those seeking practical solutions to predicted resource scarcities, among them K. Eric Drexler. Henson formed a friendship with him, and was among his contacts as Drexler was conceiving nanotechnology



Once Henson was convinced that nanotech was feasible, he became a member of Alcor, an organization advocating and providing cryonic services. In the late 1980s, he became associated with the much-storied Extropy Institute, a transhumanist organization that was the subject of substantial media coverage during the cyberculture hype of the 1990s.

But none of this work brought Henson as much notoriety — or heartache — as his conflict with the Scientologists.

It all started when the Scientologists tried to close down alt.religion.scientology, a newsgroup that fostered open discussion of the church and its activities. When Scientology sued critic Grady Ward, Henson responded by posting a secret church document, "NOTs 34," which Henson claimed was an instruction manual for criminal acts, including the practice of medicine without a license. He was successfully sued by the church who also got an injunction preventing Henson from supplying law enforcement agencies with a copy.

Protesting the death of two women in 2000 — Ashlee Shaner and Stacy Moxon — at the church's headquarters, Henson picketed that location. As a result, in April 2001, he was convicted in a California court of "terrorizing" the Scientologists. Henson was forbidden by the court (motions in limine) from bringing up either why he was picketing or Scientology's vindictive "fair game" policy. (The same kind of motions were used to forbid Ed Rosenthal in his more famous case from telling the jury he was acting for the City of Oakland growing pot for sick people.)

While visiting Canada — in bankruptcy and facing a year in prison as the result of court decisions — Henson made a spontaneous decision to seek refuge from our "neighbor to the north." His request for refugee status is still pending in the Canadian refugee processing system.

I interviewed Henson via email about his personal evolution within the context of transhumanist philosophy.

RU SIRIUS: When did you first realize that you were a novelty-seeker?

KEITH HENSON: When I was about 8 years old. My mother read Robert A. Heinlein's Farmer in the Sky to me. I was enthralled and eventually read every published Heinlein (and many other SF authors) I could find. She could not have imagined that 25 years later I would be giving a paper at Princeton University, "Closed Ecosystems of High Agricultural Yield," that was partly based on descriptions in Farmer in the Sky.

RU: What are some of the qualities that people can notice perhaps even in children that might indicate a progressive, neophiliac potential?

KH: That's a hard one because most kids are interested in new things. The rare person is still interested in new advances when they are adults. There is possibly a correlation with intelligence. In any case, you have to be fairly bright to keep learning and changing attitudes as you get older.

RU: The L5 society received a lot of attention in the 1970s; after that, public interest or at least media coverage dissipated. Can you briefly tell my audience what the L5 society was about and what has happened with it in the intervening years?

KH: L5 was a group set up to promote space colonies and solar power satellites. It eventually merged with von Braun's National Space Institute forming the National Space Society, which still exists today...though the fire has certainly gone.

RU: How did your participation and leadership in the L5 society come about?

KH: It was indirectly related to "Limits to Growth" memes that were so active in the early 70s.

In The Selfish Gene, Dawkins discussed anxiety-provoking memes such as the hellfire meme — linked to the western religious memes by natural selection among memes. (The linking came about simply because the combination is more successful in gaining and keeping active meme spreaders for both memes.) Something like this happened to me linking the Limits to Growth (LTG) meme to the space colony meme. Dr. O'Neill's writings and early issues of the L5 News made the link explicit. (Princeton physics professor Dr. Gerard O'Neill generated the space colony concept with the assistance of his undergrads)

Personally, I found that the distasteful worldview implied by the Limits to Growth meme raised my anxiety level much like good hellfire sermon affects conventionally religious people. (It was much worse for the people in whom the LTG meme first arose. Rumor has it that one of them boarded himself up in a cabin in the remote woods and waited for the food riots to start and, for all I know, he may be there yet.)

Disaster memes like Limits to Growth capture the imagination and spread well. But only a small fraction of the population actively responds to threats as remote and indirect as those of the LTG meme. At that time, joining the Zero Population Growth organization and having a vasectomy were some of the few possible responses.

A small subset of those who were concerned, however, took the step of searching for a meme — or of creating a meme — that would counter the bleak LTG meme. Eric Drexler, for example, hunted down Dr. O'Neill in 1973 by asking questions of his professors at MIT about who was working on the exploitation of space resources. A copy of the first widespread space colony publication (the 1974 Physics Today article) was in my hands within hours after reaching Dan Jones (Ph.D. in Physics and occasional rock climbing partner) who knew of my interest in this topic.

The space colony meme reduced anxiety about the long-term future by providing an alternative, but it raised anxiety too. It was apparent from the start that we would have to work hard to bring about a world that included space colonies. Our beginning point was to infect all the people we could with the space colony meme. Inducing people to spend effort in spreading a meme, as well as successfully spreading itself in competition with innumerable other memes, is the definition of a successful meme. In this sense, the space colony meme was moderately successful. (Though it didn't lead to colonies in space.)

As for leadership, I am the kind who leads reluctantly and more by example than anything else. Someone had to be on the incorporation papers as president. After two years I fobbed it off on my former wife. In the sense that my thoughts on the subject had a lot of influence, I was a leader.



RU: I think you have to agree that the "Space Colony" meme lost some of its currency in terms of media coverage and general cultural excitement after the 1970s. Would you care to reflect on why that happened?

KH: In 1975 we expected a program (such as Solar Power Satellite) leading to space colonies would start by the early 80s, and that we could disband by about 1995. By 1985 it was clear nothing leading in that direction in space was likely to happen for a long time. The problem was mainly one of cost. Had the cost to get into space been proportional to the Pilgrims or the Mormon migration, we would have been there on our own, but it was about 10,000 times too expensive.

Memes lose their intense hold on people with the passage of time, especially when the promise of the meme is at great variance with reality. The Society carried on from inertia for a while before merging with the National Space Institute.

RU: Does cyberspace in some ways satisfy some of the needs and desires raised by space colonization?

KH: Perhaps. Games provide a lot of previously unknown "area" to explore. You can't live there yet though [ed. Today, we have Second Lives.]

RU: Do you still believe that the L5 plans laid out by O'Neill are the best bet for moving into space?

KH: Based on old technology, that of the middle of the last century, yes. I suspect that when people actually move off the planet they will do it with the awesome powers of nanotechnology.

RU: Many advocates of space colonization seem to have changed their focus to nanotechnology which, in turn, would make colonization less expensive and more feasible.

KH: I don't know that's the right way to put it. Nanotechnology will give us vast wealth in terms of control over the environment. It also might completely destroy us at either a physical level or just from giving us so much synthetic enjoyment we never bother going into space. Reducing cost or increasing wealth, colonizing space will become something an individual or a small group can do, provided we maintain the desire to do so.

RU: Moving forward a bit in time, did you consider yourself part of the Extropian movement and do you agree with their principles?

KH: I contributed to the early private extropian mailing list and seem to have had some degree of influence there, i.e., what Extropians and related transhumanists consider important is very close to what I consider important. I knew Max More through Alcor before he started the movement and was the (not very active) memetics editor for the magazine when it was in paper. I don't disagree with the principles, though they are perhaps a bit optimistic. On the other hand, my view is certainly colored by being driven out of the US.

RU: Do you consider yourself a utopian?

KH: No. I can't think of anyone who is up on evolutionary psychology and related areas who is deluded enough to be called a utopian. I think most of us consider staying out of ugly distopian states is about as good as we can get — pre-Singularity, anyway. After that who knows?

RU: How did you enter into your epic battle with the Scientologists?

KH: It's a well-documented story.

I had mentioned scientology in an article or two but had taken no serious interest in it before January 1995. At that time Helena Kobrin, a lawyer for Scientology, issued a command (rmgroup) to remove the Usenet news group alt.religion.scientology from the Internet, apparently thinking that this "denial of service" attack on the Internet would end critical discussion about Scientology.

This attack on free speech backfired, having somewhat the effect of a gang of thugs riding into town and burning down the newspaper. This attempted censorship drew in dozens of Internet free speech advocates, me among them. A Google search on Kobrin rmgroup turns up hundreds of pages.

RU: How would you define the boundary between an organization that constitutes a "cult" and a group that simply shares a set of intentions and an overall memeplex?

KH: There isn't a clear-cut boundary. Humans evolved in tribes and our reward circuits are still set up to reward behaviors that aided reproductive success in tribes. People still do things that reward them, such as socializing with others and doing things which gain the respect (and attention) of their associates just like they did 100,000 years ago when such behaviors were more directly connected to gaining the status needed to reproduce (i.e., obtain a wife or two...or three). Cults tap into this reward mechanism, but so does every other rewarding activity from local sports clubs to the Nobel Prize.

Still, you can say that some groups are cults. LaRouche's bunch, Moonies, scientology, Heaven's Gate, etc. There are published scales to measure how much some group is a cult.

RU: From your experience, do all organizations (like L5 or the Extropians) tend to accumulate cult-like behaviors over time?

KH: No. If anything, L5 lost the cult kind of intensity as it aged. I don't think the Extropians ever had even the level of the early L5 Society, but then I was not deeply involved with them.

If a group stays around long enough, it tends to lose its cult aspects. Religious cults tend toward main stream religions. Calvinism started as an intense cult. Heck, Calvin had a dozen and a half people publicly executed, something the scientology leadership would drool over, but 300 years later the Methodists are as mellow as you could ask for.

RU: Would you agree that there are quasi-religious overtones in the belief that we are headed towards a singularity; in the sense that it promises to resolve so many problems and existential dilemmas (sickness, death, material scarcity, other limits) that Salvation isn't too strong a word for the hopes that it evokes?

KH: It definitely has the potential to be the techno-rapture. It is deeply connected to SETI and the searches for planets around other stars. Oddly, the worse things look out there, the better they look here. The logic runs this way, if planets with life (and particularly life that eventually becomes technologically capable the way we are headed) are common then it looks really dire for us, because we don't see any evidence of a "tamed" universe. Everywhere we look there are massive wastes of energy and matter. If technophilic civilizations are common, then something happens that removes them from the observable universe. Contrary wise, if the universe doesn't harbor any others inside our light cone, then we are looking at an unknown future instead of a deadly one. There isn't much hope for controlling the final stages; all we can do is build in as much good will as we can.

RU: How would you compare life in Canada to life in the US?

KH: Colder. :-)

The cult seems to have less influence here. I suspect going back would be as disorienting as coming here in the first place. I understand the money doesn't look the same now and the US is talking about reinstating the draft. Plus there have been lots of changes — few of them good — since 9/11. If anyone wonders why the airlines are not doing well it is because flying has been made such an unpleasant and degrading experience.

NF: How can people help you to defeat this attack on your liberty and everyone's freedom of speech?

KH: It's really hard to do anything effective. The problem is that the individuals in law enforcement agencies know they will be targeted personally if they take steps against the cult's abuses and corruption. Not only by private investigators stealing their trash and stalking their children, but if they take action against the cult, Scientology will turn a scary part of the government against them by suing them in the courts. This fact of life was picked up in an episode of Millennium:
Peter: The Millennium Group's not interested in publicity.
Frank: No, no, it's not about us: in fact, he's working on a case that could be of great interest to the group. This Selfosophist was found...
Peter: Whoa, Selfosophy? No, no ...
Frank: What is going on, Peter? We've never backed away from anything. We've even faced evil incarnate.
Peter: Evil incarnate can't sue. All I'm saying is be careful about what you say around your writer friend.

Starving Scientology of new members is perhaps the best we can do. To do that, inform yourself, inform your friends. If you really want to help, picket them.

Scientology has this "chosen people" status they got by intimidating or perhaps even blackmailing IRS management. A Jewish guy name of Sklar tried to get the same deal for his religious practice and was turned down. The judge in the appeal said that if what Sklar claimed about the IRS's treatment of Scientology was true, the IRS was violating the law and that someone should file a suit to put an end to that practice. It has been nearly two years and nobody has stepped up to file this invited lawsuit. The few lawyers who used to go up against Scientology will no longer do so because Scientology is just too good at using lots of money to pervert the courts. Put Rosen Exhibit 185 in Google to see a listing of $35 million they spent over a few years to destroy critics. (Over a million on me.)



And if you want to understand how cults use the same brain reward pathway that drugs activate, go here to look at my paper on the subject.

See Also:
"Scientology Fugitive" Arrested
Keith Henson Back in Jail — Space Elevator Will Have To Wait
California Cults
Adopt an African Hottie's Clitoris

Read More

“Scientology Fugitive” Arrested

Keith Henson

On Friday, Arizona police arrested a 64-year-old man — a fugitive since 2001 in a bizarre war that mixes free speech, copyright law, and the Church of Scientology.

Keith Henson's journey began seven years ago while innocuously watching another critic mock the group on an internet newsgroup. In a gonzo discussion about procuring a "Tom Cruise missile," they'd joked about working with "Secret Agent 99, wearing a stunning black leather biker outfit." Other posters joined in the internet discussion, asking whether Tom Cruise missiles are affected by wind."No way," Keith joked. "Modern weapons are accurate to a matter of a few tens of yards."

The police were informed of his "threatening" posts, and Henson was arrested.



The police tipsters were the Scientologists themselves, who had already been the targets of an annoying picketing campaign by Henson over the death of a woman near their complex. Besides Henson's inability to acquire long-range missiles, his wife notes bitterly that it would be impossible for any church members in the complex to feel threatened by the internet posts, since they aren't even allowed to access the internet. Scientology officials have also claimed Henson followed their employees home — though Henson counters that "the same people who claimed to have been 'terrorized' by the picketers offered to take them to lunch on June 25, 2000, evidently to distract them from the death scene being cleaned up."

Though Henson was found innocent of long-range missile terrorism, for his activities he was convicted of interfering with a church — a California hate crime for which he received a six-month misdemeanor prison sentence. But Henson said he feared his life would be in danger from Scientologists if he were imprisoned - and he fled to Canada in 2001.

He was already bankrupt from an earlier ruling that he'd infringed on Scientology copyrights. But Henson continued picketing Scientologists in Toronto, and they apparently retaliated by informing Canadian police of his presence. (Henson believes the Scientologists told police he was a terrorist and bomb maker.) L.A. Weekly reported two unmarked vans pulled up and "a handful of emergency-services task-force officers — Canada's version of a police SWAT team — spilled out, wearing body armor and carrying submachine guns." Describing the event, the EFF reported Henson was "arrested in a shopping mall parking lot, by a heavily armed paramilitary unit."

EFF Executive Director Shari Steele argued that Free speech was at stake in his case: "This trial seems intended to punish Mr. Henson for his opposition to a powerful organization using the barest thread of legal justification to do so."

His wife added in an interview with a Canadian newsweekly that "It's horrifying to me and to his friends how they've managed to twist his words."

Henson was ultimately released from a Canadian jail after filing an application for political asylum — reportedly the first ever accepted for review by the Canadian government, and for the next three years he lived as an expatriate in Canada, awaiting their decision.

When asked to describe life in Canada, he replied "colder." As the years rolled by, Henson explained his picketing strategy evolved out of a desire to have a real impact. In a 2005 interview he argued that heavy-handed legal tactics intimidated police from acting against the organization, and "Starving Scientology of new members is perhaps the best we can do."

But when Canadian officials reached a decision in 2005, Henson was suddenly filled with concern. The hearing could result in his deportation back to the prison where he feared for his life. He reportedly said, "I'm not going to be shoved across the border into the hands of Scientologists," Henson slipped out of Canada, returning to fugitive status, and joked that he was hiding in the Mortmain Mountains — the treachorous range in Lemony Snicket books.

For 17 months he lived on the lam. Yesterday, in the small town of Prescott, Arizona — the law finally caught up with him. Henson had been driving his wife's car, and when stopped by police, was soon informed of the outstanding warrant for his arrest. He was taken into custody, and faces extradition back to the California prison he's feared for the last six years. Saturday morning Henson's wife, identifying herself as a "soon to be widow," issued a plea asking the public for legal help, publicity — "anything but the usual Scientology private eyes who have harassed her for years."



Henson has a long history of activity within tech culture. He was one of the founders and leaders of the L5 Space Colony movement in the 1970s. (California's new Attorney General, Jerry Brown, was also in the L5 orbit when he was Governor of that state.) He was a close associate of K. Eric Drexler while Drexler was conceiving nanotechnology. He has also been active in the digital encryption movement, and has been associated with the Transhumanist movement — particularly Extropy Institute.

Former Extropy Institute members and other well wishers have already created a legal defense fund. There is also now a "Free Keith Henson" blog where people can keep track of new developments. Henson has many friends and late Friday night one supporter even called the jail, according to a Usenet post, and spoke to a prison staffer.

"I asked if he'd tell Keith that Tory sent her love. And I asked him to please watch after Keith."

See also:
Interview with Keith Henson
California Cults
Adopt an African Hottie's Clitoris
Crooks of the World Hurt Free Speech
Keith Henson Back in Jail — Space Elevator Will Have To Wait

Read More

Girls Are Geeks, Too


Annalee Newitz

I didn't plan it this way at all. But around mid-week, I realized that I'd scheduled the NeoFiles interview with the editors and contributors to a new book collection, She's Such a Geek: Women Write About Science, Technology, and Other Nerdy Stuff, immediately after a very controversial interview with Joe Quirk that looked at gender and geeks from a sociobiological (and some might say all male) perspective.

I didn't push this interview with book editors Annalee Newitz and Charlie Anders, and contributor Quinn Norton in the direction of nature versus nurture. I wanted to talk about their book. Nevertheless, the interview seems kind of like a counterpoint — or alternative — to Quirk's views regarding women and technology. But are women geeks the exception that proves the rule, or the vocal edge of a phenomenon that gets suppressed or ignored?



She's Such a Geek offers evidence for the latter view. It's full of personal tales from brilliant women: scientists, technologists, and gamers — and most of them recount situations in which they were discouraged, harassed, put down, and underestimated because of their gender.

I don't want to leave you with the impression that this book is a long whine. The pieces are irreverent, sharp, frequently funny, and filled to the brim with true edge-seeking geekiness.

Oh, by the way...yes, we do sometimes get silly on these shows. Get over it.
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: I seem to remember that there were a lot of girl nerd books in the '90s. How did we get from nerd to geek?

ANNALEE NEWITZ: Actually, that was a huge debate. We originally wanted to call it "Female Nerds" and people complained. They felt like "nerd" was too negative, and that geek had been re-claimed as a badge of pride — kind of like "queer."

RU: "Nerd" is more negative than "geek"? So, is biting the heads off of chickens...

AN: I know! I pointed that out in another interview.

RU: ...I always thought that was cool!

AN: Yeah. I mean, Ozzie Osborne really made it cool. So maybe we're bringing back Ozzie — bringing back the cool-ness of geeks.

RU: I'm going to show my age now, but I remember when hippies started calling themselves freaks. It sounded more extreme, and it also meant you didn't have to do that "peace and love" stuff any more. You could defend yourself as a freak.

AN: And I think geeks do the same thing, you know? It's sort of — you can use the beaker! You can smash the beaker against the table, and use it as a weapon.

CHARLIE ANDERS: Plus Nerds are like a really yucky candy, aren't they?

AN: I like Nerds! They're sour and they're yummy, and they always come as a mash-up. You get two flavors at once.

RU: So the first thing this anthology does, right in the title, is raise the question: Why is it necessary? Why is the gender of the geek an issue?

CA: In an ideal world, it wouldn't be. But we feel that our experiences — and lots of other people's experiences — show that female geeks tend to become invisible in the larger geek cloud. So we need to highlight their visibility so that there will be more of them. And then, other women who are thinking of becoming geeks will think, "Oh! There are role models in the cloud. I can see them!"

AN: It's also about highlighting the fact that women geeks have always existed, even though the stereotype of the geek is some pale boy sitting in front of his computer monitor and not getting laid. Actually, all along, there have been tons of female geeks who are also pale, staring at their computer monitors and not getting laid. Or maybe getting laid.



RU: Lady Ada Lovelace was an early female geek.

AN: It's true. And she was right there at the inaugural moments of inventing the computer. And she was writing the first computer languages, so... In fact, our guest Quinn named her daughter Ada! [Laughter]

RU: Annalee, why don't you go ahead, and — you're going to read to us from the book... in dulcet tones.

AN: I will try, yes. People think of dulcet when they think of me. I'm going to read from the introduction that both Charlie and I wrote:
We didn't realize how sorely needed this book was until we emailed a few people asking if they knew any women who might want to write stories about their lives as nerds. Our request got passed from mailbox to mailbox, and soon it was getting blogged — BoingBoing.net posted it, and so did StarWars.com. We were excited to see a blog full of Swedish with the words "submit essays to She's Such a Geek" in the middle. Canadian Public Radio even did a feature on the buzz we'd created. Everyone seemed to share our sense that there were zillions of female geeks out there who just needed to stand up and be counted.

After the blog-storm of attention, we found ourselves with over 200 essay submissions for this book. We started joking about what we'd call the sequel. She's Even More of a Geek? The Wrath of She-Geek?

We heard from programmers at Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, and women who'd worked in nuclear power plants and flew airplanes. We read about what it was like for women to study genetics in graduate school, teach mathematics, write science fiction, and design video games.

What we found as we read these women's stories wasn't just a common love of dorky Star Trek jokes, though there was quite a bit of that. We began to see a tragic pattern to many women's lives of nerd-dom. Growing up, many of our geeks fell passionately, even orgasmically, in love with math, astronomy and life science. But as they aged, many of them found that their undergraduate degrees in science didn't lead to jobs in science — or, when they went on to graduate programs, that they found themselves isolated and unhappy in male-dominated departments.

In fact, statistics show women flourish in geeky fields — until they hit a wall. The National Science Foundation reported in 2001 that 56% of U.S. Bachelor's degrees in science and engineering went to women. But women hold only 25% of jobs in science and engineering. More women than men are graduating in the sciences, but a hostile job market and chilly graduate programs are keeping them from achieving their goals.

So we were thrilled to see so many success stories. Women had battled stereotypes and their own insecurity to become formidable gamers or leading programmers. Some, like Kory Wells, managed to toggle between their careers and families, and even teach their own daughters not to let anyone tell them what they can do.

RU: I'm interested in the percentages of women who graduate in these fields. And I've also read reports recently in newspapers that women, in general, are doing better in school than men. And I wonder, is this is a cultural thing? Men are being encouraged to be lunkheads in the current culture. There's a culture of macho stupidity. [Ironically] Men are being held back, dammit — by the culture!

CA: There might be something to that. I talk about this in my essay — like the way some of our leaders seem to equate asking too many questions — or thinking too deeply about things — with not being manly enough or not being decisive. If you're "the decider", you're not the thinker. And you're not the studier.

RU: That goes from the top of the society to the bottom — "Keeping it real." That's kind of about being stupid too, actually.

CA: I thought "Keeping it real" was just sort of about keeping the walls up and the surreality out. Like, the surreal is always at your door, and you just sort of have to...

AN: ...keep turning it away

RU: You have to keep the surrealism away?

AN: Surrealism doesn't come in unless you invite it, actually. It's like a vampire, you know? So it stays outside.

RU: You can keep surrealism at bay pretty easily by not listening to The R.U. Sirius Show.

At the beginning of the book intro that Annalee read from, she wrote about being at a conference, on a panel that included another woman [ed: Wendy Seltzer, a contributor to the book]. And Annalee, when you came on stage, the announcer said, "The only chick's here." And there were, in fact, not many women at the conference. The guy we had on the show last week, Joe Quirk, was saying he did a head-count at an "Accelerated Change" conference and there were 15% women there. And he also knew some of the people who were there; and a lot of the women were girlfriends of guys who were obsessed with this stuff. So how do you account for this? And is it fair to comment on it? Because you kind of ripped into the announcer guy for making a joke about it. But it is fair to comment on what you observe.

AN: Well, there's obviously a difference between saying, "Gee, there's only 20% women at this conference, we need to change that"; versus saying, "Dude! You guys are the only two chicks at the conference!" In fact, there were about 20-30% women at that conference. So it's sort of like what we were saying earlier. Women who do exist in technology get sort of made invisible by statements like that. And why call attention to our gender at all? Why is it even remarkable, given that we were among the 20-30% of women who were there?

RU: But at the same time, you're calling attention to the issue of gender in technology with this book.

AN: Yeah. But I think saying there's 20-30% of women here — or even saying that there are 20-30% of women in science and technology — is different from saying, "There's only two women at this conference," when, in fact, there were far more.

RU: So he was lying.

AN: He was lying! And what he was doing...

RU: ...he was making a joke through exaggeration.

AN: Well, if you'd been there and seen the looks on the faces of the women in the audience, it didn't come across like a joke. When you've heard "jokes" like that, time after time, and every single joke somehow manages to erase you from the room — at a certain point, it stops being funny.

RU: All right. I'll hang with that. Charlie, in your piece, "I am wonk, Hear me wrong" errr... roar!" [laughter]

CA: I think it's actually, "Hear me prognosticate," or "Hear Me Analyze"

RU: The piece opens like this: "I became a wonk the same time that I became a woman, so the two transitions have always been inseparable for me." Talk a little bit about those two things — becoming a woman, and becoming and wonk.

CA: I was working as a journalist at a business newspaper, and it was a very macho kind of place to work. It was very Decider-y.

RU: They were all Deciders?

CA: Yeah, it was very much, "Give me: 'Here's what's going on' in five seconds, in black-and-white...."

RU: [imitating Walter Cronkite... poorly] "And that's the way it is!"

CA: Yeah. I was covering health care, and I got really obsessed with all the minutia and all the ins and outs of the healthcare industry. I became increasingly fascinated, and it clashed with the sort of macho ethos of this newspaper, where you weren't supposed to look into things too deeply. So I got this other job where I was encouraged to be more wonky and at the same time I was able to work from home some of the time. So I started cross-dressing more and exploring a different facet of my personality. And so the love of exploring really insanely detailed topics and policy issues dovetailed with my female persona and eventually led me to become who I am today.



RU: Your piece connects wonkiness with women. And I always thought of bow-tied guys in political think tanks as being wonks. But you claim that there's a big connection between wonkiness and women.

CA: There are a lot of women who really love to crunch statistics and analyze. I talked to Nadine Strossen and she definitely felt that there was a significant female wonk culture.

RU: Now there have been controversies at — like, women's festivals about allowing...

CA: ...about wonks? They're not letting wonks in to the Michigan Womyns' Festival? [Laughter]

AN: "No Wonks Allowed!"

CA: They're going to come in and analyze our policies in detail! They're going to do all the ramifications and the feasibility tests.

AN: Actuarial tables...

RU: Exactly. They didn't want wonks in their all-women festivals... No, I read a piece in The Believer...

CA: Michelle Tea's article.

RU: Yeah. It was about how this group didn't want transsexuals at their all-women's festival. Have you taken any crap from anybody about your inclusion in this book, or do you expect to take any crap from anybody?

CA: It hasn't been an issue at all, so far, maybe partly because I'm one of the editors. I don't know many people who don't just accept that trans-women are women. So any place that's explicitly including women should and will include trans-women. That just hasn't even come up as an issue at all.

AN: I also think that geeks are more accepting of transgender women.

RU: Exactly.

AN: It's because geeks are so into science. So they're really interested in this whole notion — it's like, "Oh I see! You've surgically altered your body and taken hormones. Why, how interesting! Now you're a woman!"

RU: It's very trans. Transmutation, transhuman... all those things.

AN & CA: Yeah!

RU: ...self-experimentation, all that stuff. Good! Speaking of trans, we're going to bring in Quinn Norton. Quinn, could you read a segment from your piece?

QUINN NORTON: Sure. Most of the essays in this book are about women who are making amazing contributions in science and engineering. And mine is about tabletop role-playing games. [Laughter]. The section I'm going to read though isn't actually about tabletop. It's about live action, which is like tabletop but more publicly embarrassing. And this is from a time when I was wandering around playing "Vampire." So I was out in the middle of the city, pretending to be a vampire:
One night I was wandering around downtown San Juan Capistrano early in Chaot's career. I hadn't run into any other players, and I was getting a bit bored. I thought I heard my fellow gamers' voices above me in a parking garage and decided to join them. Instead of the stairs, my little trench-coat-wearing Malkavian took to the trees. I climbed up and over to the second floor of the parking garage and threw myself quietly over the wall, coat flying behind me. I landed surprisingly silently. Turned out the voices came from two families of movie-goers — parents talking while young kids ran bored orbits around them. I, in all my weirdness, appeared out of nowhere and walked quickly by them. The parents never noticed me, but the kids did. They looked at where I'd come from, and then at me. They crouched in close to their parents and clutched one another. I looked over at them, opened my eyes wide, and gave them a slightly snarled smile.

They followed me with their eyes as I walked down the stairs. They never saw Quinn; they never even saw Quinn playing Chaot. All they ever saw or knew was Chaot, mad vampire, coming from and going to nowhere. With a mysterious grin, Chaot had given the lie to the boring world their parents described, where everything stays the same in the dark as it does in the light. I knew whatever make-believe they played next, I was going to crop up.

That moment is why I gamed.

RU: They will be thinking and dreaming and hopefully becoming vampires before you know it. Vampires have always been attractive to geeks of all genders. I guess it's the sense of otherness and being different. Do you think there's a special attraction for women?

QN: It's interesting, because Vampire is one of the first games I played that seemed to have a better gender balance than most of the others. But I don't feel like it was about vampires per se. It was because the gaming system was so geared towards role-play, and not so much about trying to figure out how to make the rules work. So it was open to a lot more people who just wanted to try out different roles.

RU: Your piece emphasizes how — in a lot of games — your interactions were with men, and that it got weird not just around gender, but also around sex itself, and around jealousy.

QN: [Laughs] Well, I don't know if this is a universal experience for geek girls, but for me there was a "Kiss me, kick me" kind of thing.

RU: Well, guys are drawn to a chick with a magnet in her finger. Inexorably. It's science! (We'll have to explain this later.)

QN: [Laughs] Ferromagnetic guys, certainly. In gaming — and in other geeky areas I've been in — it seemed like there were a lot of men who were very interested in being with a woman who could share their interests, and also very threatened by that. And so a lot of times people would be very interested in me and also slightly abusive towards me.

RU: And that kind of pushed you away from gaming. But you're back again. She's baaack!

AN: It's true! She's our dungeon-master in our current D&D game.

QN: I am. I'm doing First Edition AD&D... kicking it old school.

RU: I've heard this is somehow EFF related.

QN: Well, it's mostly EFF people — former and current people who are taking a break from fighting for our civil liberties to defeat the slave lords of the pit.

RU: Far more important!

AN: Yeah! I mean, come on. The RIAA, slave lords of the pit — it's all of a piece!

RU: So Quinn, you have a magnet implanted in your finger. Tell people about that and what happened with that?

QN: In 2005, I had a small rare earth magnet that was coated in gold, and then put in a bio-neutral silicone sheath, implanted in the tip of my ring finger. This was to give me a sense for EM radiation when I was near, say, a live power cord or a phone cord — that sort of thing. There are a few bodymodders out of Phoenix who had come up with the idea. It worked! And it was really interesting. For a while, I had a sixth sense for EM radiation. It wasn't incredibly strong. I usually had to be holding something or had to be very near it. Occasionally I would go near a phone box or something like that and it would startle me. And then the bio-neutral sheath that it was in broke. And my body attacked the magnet and it shattered in my finger.

RU: Did that hurt?

QN: Well, it infected when it broke. That hurt. My doctor tried to pull it out, and it shattered a lot more. That hurt. But my doctor was able to give me a lot of Vicodin, which made that all better.

RU: In fact, it made it fantastic!

QN: Unlike the bodymodders who just gave me a bit of ice. [Laughter] And then it was kind of all done. I didn't have the sense any more. The magnet was shattered. But then, over the course of the next few months, the magnet in my finger pulled back together again... because it's a magnet.

RU: Really? It self re-organized?

QN: Well, it's bits of magnet in close proximity. What are they going to do? And now, at this point, I can occasionally pick up other magnets. But the sense is gone because it's pretty much encased in scar tissue. When it was in a bio-neutral sheath, it was free floating, and there was a gesture I could do — I could hold up my finger and circle it with a magnet, and I could feel the magnet in my finger spinning as I did that.

RU: And you could feel other things beyond that.

QN: Yeah. I could feel bits of my computer right before I could feel the hard drive spinning.

RU: And of course you could feel the CIA tapping into your brain.

QN: [Laughs] I could feel that before the magnet!

AN: That only stops when you put the tin foil on.

RU: Annalee, you also have an implant.

QN: Yeah, we're both mutated.

RU: What did you put in?

AN: I have an implantable radio frequency identifier, which is basically a pet tag.

RU: So if somebody buys you and brings you home...

AN: ...right, they can read my serial number.

RU: But if they steal you, then they're in trouble.

AN: Right. Well, if they cut off my arm, they've got my ID number! Actually, this terribly ridiculous company called VeriChip was marketing them as secure access devices. The idea, basically, is that they're like keys that you put in your arm.

So a friendly hacker in Boston figured out a way to read the ID on the RFID that was implanted in my arm, and then re-broadcast that ID — basically steal my keys literally out of my arm without cutting it off. So we demonstrated that the whole idea that this would be a secure access device is completely ridiculous and stupid.

QN: I'm going to do an extremely mild defense of VeriChip here, because they're coming out with a thing right now that I'm really excited about. It's basically the same thing Annalee has, an RFID implant. But it also has a glucometer that gives continual readings when it's inductively powered.

AN: Well, that's fine, right?

QN: I know. That's cool!

AN: That's cool, and I'm happy for the company to be marketing its chips for all kinds of things. But claiming it's a secure device is really wrong. And that's what they were trying to do. It would be used in prisoners, and as keys, and in all kinds of situations where you wouldn't want people to be able to read your ID. And the fact is that there's no security on these chips at all. This hacker was able to literally go up to me with a homemade antenna, brush up against me, get the ID off of my allegedly secure chip, and turn it into a set of keys to break into something else.

Now, aside from the implant, I actually have a version of the RFID reader and cloner device. It was a big adventure bringing it through the airport last week.

RU: Did it set things off?

AN: It did! Apparently it looks exactly like one of the forbidden devices that you can't bring on a plane. If you could see the device, you would see why. It's basically a tiny chipboard attached to a really long, phallic antenna. And it has a bunch of white silicon slopped all over them — and a pipe horn. When I showed it to people since coming back here, they've said, "I can't believe they actually even let you put this in your suitcase and bring it on the plane!" It looks so dangerous. But it's just an antenna.

RU: Annalee, I really liked your piece talking about Wonder Woman. You write, "She's smart, commanding, and sexually appealing at the same time. As anyone familiar with mainstream culture knows, such a woman is not supposed to exist." But hasn't there really been a trend towards women who kick ass in movies and TV over the last ten or fifteen years?



AN: That's true. And what I was trying to point out in my essay — which is sort of about coming of age through geeky pop culture — is that you really only see those kinds of images in pop culture. Images of real women who are both smart and sexually appealing are rarely disseminated. But we get those images with Wonder Woman; so people like me grew up believing that, somehow, we could be both smart and attractive. But in our jobs, in our daily lives — many women feel that they're kind of given this choice — either you can be hot or you can be smart. And there's not a lot of room for women who are both. And women who are both are very threatening. Often, in media coverage of successful women who are good-looking, there are weird comments like: "Oh! And she's also so attractive!" Like, "How unusual it is that this scientist is also attractive!" And you'd never have somebody saying, "Wow! Linus Torvalds. He's kind of hunky!" You know, who cares, right?

RU: [Laughs] Is he?

AN: Linus Torvalds is kind of hunky, right?

QN: Yeah. Yeah. I'd go with that.

RU: We're establishing something here?

AN: Now we have established here, on NeoFiles — "Linus Torvalds: Hunk."

RU: The big news bullet out of this program: "Linus Torvalds is kind of hunky."

QN: And really, that's the only thing I ever noticed about him, right?

AN: I mean, when I saw him speak, I was like, "What is he?" [Laughter]

QN: "But doesn't he program or something? I don't know."

AN: Yeah. " 'Blah blah blah' about Open Source, but whoa. Check out that ass!" [Laughter] I mean, that's sort of the weird stereotype that we'd love to get away from.

RU: And then you have a section where you compare Cronenberg's The Fly with the film She's All That. (Any discussion of Cronenberg gets an A in my book.) Tell people a little bit about that. About all that.

AN: I talk about how there's this trend in films toward portraying women as either smart or sexy. And so this movie from about seven years ago, She's All That, is about this geeky high school girl. This popular boy takes up a dare to turn her into somebody who can go to the prom with him at the end of the year. He does that by taking her away from her geeky life and getting her to wear Gap clothes; and getting her to look "hot" in the terms of the film. (She actually looks way less hot later. She's just sort of a Gap clone.) But I think that's sort of a general trend in films about women who are smart. There's sort of this moment where they take off their glasses, and suddenly they're this glamorous, attractive woman.

RU: Oh, yeah. And the guy swoons.

AN: And the guy swoons, and she's no longer talking about rocket science. Instead she's just like: "Oh, well what do you want to do tonight? Shall we go to the dance?" So I was sort of protesting that. And I compared it to The Fly, because in The Fly you have a male scientist who basically wants to absorb a woman at the genetic level. It's such a great movie. I can't do it justice in two seconds.

RU: And she's a smart female journalist.

AN: She's a science journalist. Just like me!

RU: And a lot of people read into his films a horror of femininity, because everything that's gooey and soft and that you can sink into...

QN: Well, I do think there is space for the smart, pretty woman in the media — as long as she's evil.

AN: Right. That's an interesting point. As long as she's evil — or if she's being absorbed by a man. [Laughter]

RU: We need somebody like that to join our show as a co-host!

AN: I know! Maybe you could have a smart, evil, beautiful woman; and then have a smart, good, beautiful woman. And then, like, mud wrestling or something.



RU: That would be totally hot.

AN: And maybe they could be hackers too.

See Also:
Neil Gaiman Has Lost His Clothes
Steve Wozniak v Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks
Why Chicks Don't Dig the Singularity
Author Slash Trickster "JT Leroy"
What If Ben Were One Of Us?

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Jimmy Wales Will Destroy Google


Jimmy Wales with Rachael Ray and Stephen Colbert | Courtesy: Craig Newmark
Jimmy Wales, Rachael Ray and Stephen Colbert | Photo courtesy: Craig Newmark

We contacted Wikipedia mainman Jimmy Wales for The RU Sirius Show interview via Skype. I began my introduction: "According to Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales was born to a Parisian whore named 'Babette' during the French Revolution..." The line went dead. "Oh Christ," I thought. "Jimmy Wales doesn't have a sense of humor. He's just hung up. It took me six months to arrange this interview and now I don't have a show for this week." But it turned out to just be one of those Skype hiccups. When contact was re-established, Wales said, "The internet really sucks.' He does have a sense of humor!

This is how I introduced him on the show:

"According to Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales was born to a Parisian whore named 'Babette' during the French Revolution... Oh no, wait. That's the Encyclopedia Britannica. In fact, Jimmie Wales is the founder of Wikipedia and remains the man in charge of what is essentially an Open Source encyclopedia. The official titles are President of Wiki, Incorporated and Board Member and Chairman of Wiki Media Foundation."

Later in the conversation, Wales corrected me, saying, "I am no longer the chairman of the Wiki Media foundation, I am now the Chair Emeritus. I'm still a board member, but I've stepped aside and now Florence Devouard is the chair. So now I'm one of seven board members. I'm still very active and have a special role within the English Wikipedia, but in general it's important that people begin to think of us as a bigger organization that's not really focused on me as a single person doing things."

Diana Brown joined me in interviewing Jimmy Wales.
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: No good deed goes unpunished. Do the number and intensity of controversies that have arisen around Wikipedia surprise you?

JIMMY WALES: There are a few controversies here and there. Most I would call well-manufactured controversies. But you know, whenever anything gets popular, I guess people pay attention.



RU: So are there any critiques or complaints that you've found particularly compelling?

JW: A lot of the complaints have some basis in fact. Since Wikipedia is a live work in progress, at any time, if someone complains that they found a particular error at a particular moment, there's not much that we can say to that. Yeah, there are errors in Wikipedia. But I think those kinds of criticisms sort of miss the point of what it is we're trying to accomplish here.

RU: And what you're trying to accomplish, as you've stated before, is to make all human knowledge available to all human beings. Do you still feel that same sense of idealism as when you made that statement? And how's it going with that?

JW: We're doing pretty well. The big picture goal has always been to have a free encyclopedia in all languages. We're doing pretty well if you're looking at English, German, French, Japanese, Dutch — some of the major languages where there are a lot of articles. But there's still a lot of work left to do in a lot of the languages of the developing world. In the last year, we've seen a lot of activity in the Indian languages, but none of the developing countries are even up to 100,000 articles yet. The largest is closing in on 20,000 articles. So, you know — pretty good, but there's still a lot of work to do.

RU: When you look at Wikipedia, there's everything — really arcane scientific material and historical material, and there are biographies of people's favorite rock and roll bands and stuff like that. What do you follow there personally? What do you find most compelling?

JW: Well, I'm really deeply involved in the community. So I end up spending a lot of my time working on the social processes and policies to try to help generate good quality articles. So that's what I spent most of my time following — the meta-discussion within Wikipedia of how we can make things better.

RU: Do you have sort of a micro-collective, a smaller group of people who you lean on in terms of understanding this process and making decisions about it?

JW: Oh yeah, definitely. The core community is several hundred to several thousand people, depending on how you measure it. And those are the people who are really making decisions. When people talk about Wikipedia, it seems they think that it's ten million people, each adding one sentence each. That's not really the way it works. It's really about the core volunteers maintaining and monitoring everything.

RU: It seems that you're very reliant upon people who want to maintain the quality of certain areas. If certain people started falling away, could that turn problematic?

JW: I don't think so. [Laughs] That's not something I worry about!

RU: Other people will come in to replace them?

JW: Yeah. I mean, if anything, we have the problem of too many volunteers (not that there can ever be too many) — but it gets really hard to communicate the values and the mores to newcomers in a reasonable period of time. Managing the organization or self-organization of all the different activities can be difficult.

RU: When I see stuff from people who really just hate Wikipedia, it's usually either someone with a really strong ideological agenda; or someone with ego problems who doesn't like the specific entry about them. It seems like they're sort of blaming the radio waves for something they don't like on the radio, and they don't get that. Can the idea of the open channel simply not be explained to some people?

JW: I think that's definitely right. I think that there are people whose view of the world is so fixed that they're unable to accept alternatives — or that alternatives should be discussed. Such people are very difficult. Fortunately, they're very rare. It's really pretty hard to find someone who truly hates Wikipedia. I mean, that's a pretty small number of people. Certainly people have criticisms, or think we could do this or that better, and that's perfectly fine. It's pretty hard to hate the project itself. It's a pretty benign thing we're trying to do here.

RU: What about the people at Encyclopedia Britannica. [Laughter] Do they feel threatened?

JW: You know, it's funny. We have good relations with people at Brockhaus which is the German equivalent of the "Britannica" — in other words, a traditional, mainstream, old-fashioned encyclopedia. I won't say we're best of friends or anything, but we've had meetings with them and they seemed OK. "Britannica" — we've never had any meetings with them. They pretty much try to pretend we don't exist most of the time, except occasionally they lash out in the press.

RU: Well, you did say, at some point, something pretty provocative about them. I think you, more or less, said you were going to wipe them out in about five years!

JW: You know, I wrote that...

RU: ...you were thinking of Khrushchev at the time?

JW: It's getting close to five years ago now, and I have to confess, I wrote that on Slashdot. I was kind of pandering to the crowd. It seemed like a fun sort of thing to say, and it's sort of come back to haunt me because "Britannica" is hardly gone.

RU: So you were getting all the Open Source people all wound up.

JW: Yeah, exactly.



RU: Have you been interested in the open source movement for a long time? Are you a fan of Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation?

JW: Oh yeah. We really owe Richard a debt of gratitude for all that.

RU: Before you were doing Wikipedia, you were involved in a project called Nupedia, which was more of an expert-based system. And speaking of UFOs appearing over Chicago, we had Joe Firmage on our show a little while ago. He's creating something called the Digital Universe. And he also promises to organize the sum total of human knowledge and make it available to everybody. It's a collaborative effort, but it's limited to academic specialists. It seems almost a step back to Nupedia. Are you following this at all, and what do you think about that?

JW: I'm following, yeah. You know, I don't know very much about what they're doing over at Digital Universe. I actually met Joe back when he had hired Larry Sanger to work for him. I went and visited them and — you know, it's sort of big plans, I just haven't seen very much come out of it yet.

RU: You have a history with Ayn Rand's Objectivism. And then, thinking in terms of my friend Jaron Lanier's recent articles about Wikipedia — you may be the first objectivist (or person even vaguely associated with objectivism), to also be accused of Maoism.

JW: [Laughs] I did think that was quite amusing. I said, "Well, I must be doing something right if I get called such wildly different things. I'm somehow mysterious, even though I'm pretty simple, actually."

That essay was a good example of a critique that had some very interesting and good points. I mean, you could certainly say some of the specific practical problems he identified are things that we have to deal with and struggle with. At the same time, his sort of view of the ideology of us — of our group — as being, Maoists or collective intelligence people, or something like that, was really wide of the mark.

RU: He does raise an interesting point about the wisdom of crowds. The first time I heard that phrase used by a friend in a positive way was about a year ago on my NeoFiles program. We were talking to Jon Lebkowsky, and he was very positive about this idea of the wisdom of crowds. I have to admit; it almost knocked me right over, because in my personal experience, crowds were always the people going to the pep rallies, or the Nuremburg rallies... or whatever. People I associated with were trying to get away from crowds and think for themselves. What do you think about the idea of the wisdom of crowds?

JW: In general, I'm pretty skeptical of the idea. And I'm very skeptical of it being applied to Wikipedia in particular. But I think you can pick out elements of good sense from ideas in that general neighborhood — like the idea that given enough eyeballs all bugs are shallow. That's kind of a wisdom of crowds idea. It says that lots of different people have lots of different contexts and information. And if they can come together in a way that productively aggregates or shares that information, you can end up with a pretty high quality of work that will be far better than what an individual or a small team could produce. But I think, when a lot of people talk about the wisdom of crowds, they're thinking of some kind of mystical collective intelligence. And they're thinking in terms of some sort of trust that somehow the averaging out of lots of ideas will end up being correct. And I'm a lot more skeptical about that.

If you've ever seen the film 12 Angry Men; it's the story of a jury that's trying to decide in a murder case. And there's one guy who disagrees with everyone else. He thinks that the evidence does not prove that the defendant is guilty. He argues for two hours, and one by one he slowly convinces people that there are holes in the evidence. And in the end, they acquit. Well, that's what happens sometimes in a really great Wikipedia debate. You may have eleven people on one side and one on the other. But if that one person is reasonable and thoughtful and deals with the criticisms one-by-one, people will actually change their minds and we end up with a strong product. That can't really be described as the wisdom of crowds, in the way most people use it. So, I'm a little skeptical of that rhetoric.

RU: In the Wikipedia editing process, it's not like a big throng. It's actually one individual after another.

JW: And typically, most of the articles will have a pretty small number of authors and they'll have a fairly small number of people in discussion on the Talk page. So it isn't about hundreds of people writing most of the articles. Now there are, of course, anomalous articles that are very heavily edited by large numbers of people. Those are interesting too, but they're not typical.

RU: I want to come back to your history with Objectivism. And you can tell me whether you're still an Objectivist or not — but it seems to me that the Open Source movement is perfectly left libertarian idea — the ideas is voluntary collaboration. Do you feel there's any contradiction there? Or was there a process of conversion from looking at the world from an Objectivist perspective to looking at the world from an Open Source perspective?

JW: No, not for me personally. I'm still very much an objectivist to the core. I think that a lot of the tension people imagine really comes from their not having a deep understanding of some of these ideas. I think I do a better job — than a lot of people who self-identify as Objectivists — of not pushing my point of view on other people. And I find ways to collaborate with people, even if we don't agree on everything. And I think that's a big part of what works in Open Source software. I mean, you have people using these license tools for wildly different motives, from people who do it for very ideological reasons — say left libertarian kinds of motives — to people who do it because it makes good business sense. And that's fine. We're working together on something that isn't t necessarily ideological.

RU: In July of last year, the New York Times reported a change in the anyone-can-edit policy. You said that they had gotten the news precisely upside down. Did you have a change in policy at all?

JW: Basically what they were reporting on was the introduction of a new feature called semi-protection of articles. What was ironic about their coverage was that they made it seem like — for the first time, we were locking down some articles. In fact, we've always locked down articles, and we were actually moving away from locking down articles towards only partly locking them down. So it was a subtle story that involved a software change that they completely missed. Typical. I spend a lot trying to get the media to correct stories.

DIANA BROWN: Have you been sued for content by anyone who didn't like an article about them?

JW: No, we haven't. We've had a couple of little things in Germany, based on German privacy law. But even in Germany, they've never managed to sue the right people. But in terms in the U.S., so far, knock on wood; we haven't been sued at all. It's a little bit shocking to me. We try really hard to deal with customer service complaints. We don't allow libel. We're not a wide-open free speech forum that allows people to post whatever. We're happy to delete rants and things like that as necessary. I think that's part of the reason why we haven't been sued. Nonetheless, this being the U.S., it's a little bit shocking we haven't been sued. It's the national sport — suing people.

RU: Do you have any other plans to expand Wikipedia from what it is now? For instance, Google has plans to conquer the world. Do you have projects that are pushing out beyond Wikipedia?

JW: Well, I am also the chair of Wikia, which is another organization. It's my other company. And at Wikia, we are pushing forward in lots of different ways simultaneously. We're pouring a lot of investment into improving the wiki software so that more people can edit. We've now got some 2500 Wiki communities. And then we just recently announced our new search engine project. That's what I'm spending most of my personal time and what I'm really most excited about. We're basically trying to apply the Open Source and transparent ideals of Wikipedia to a search project. We've got lots of developers. We're going to have a search engine where we publish all the algorithms and make everything completely open and transparent and also completely controlled by the community. It's a big idea — a fun idea. I'm not sure if we're actually going to figure out how to do it but at least it's going to be fun to try.



RU: I think you'll do it. It's interesting that I mentioned Google in the last question. Now we can predict Google will be dead in five years.

JW: In five years! [Laughs]

See Also:
Steve Wozniak v Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks
Neil Gaiman Has Lost His Clothes
Counterculture and the Tech Revolution
Closing Pandora's Box: The End of Internet Radio?
Secrets of The Perry Bible Fellowship

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Did Bush Spin Like Nixon?


George Bush political cartoon - State of the Union 2007

In this interviewer's humble opinion, the great question now regarding the Iraq debacle isn't: Should we stay or should we go? The more important question is: Have we learned anything?

We should go, but it's going to be a horrible mess either way. And once we go, inevitably, the spinmeisters who favor consistently deploying America's military might will effectively place blame for the ensuing horror on those who opposed the war; rather than those who led us, and lied us, into the biggest train wreck in the history of American foreign intervention.



That's why Norman Solomon's new book clearly delineating the rhetoric and tactics of war spin is so important. War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death neatly organizes the rhetorical and tactical spin that administrations employ to get us all hopped up with war fever. And he also shows how the mainstream media has enthusiastically played an equal part in selling one military incursion after another. Let us hope for a bigger and better "Vietnam Syndrome" — one in which the people, the press, the congress and even administrations become much more skeptical of the spin that is used to rush us into military action.

I contacted Solomon to ask him a few questions about Bush's spin during yesterday's State of the Union address and about the future of spin in general.

RU SIRIUS: Nearly every chapter headline in your book describes an essential element of America's war spin over the last few decades. Which tactics did Bush employ tonight?

NORMAN SOLOMON: At this point, Bush has run through the standard repertoire of how to make war sufficiently "easy" in the minds of most Americans. He has banged on the same drums for so long that now most of the public recognizes the hollow sounds.

Some of the generic assumptions summarized in the War Made Easy chapter titles — such as "America Is a Fair and Noble Superpower," "This Is About Human Rights," "This Is Not at All About Oil or Corporate Profits" and "They Are the Aggressors, Not Us" — are still in place and largely operative in the presidential and media spin cycles. And those assumptions help to put a brake on efforts to shut down the U.S. war effort.

But many of Bush's other boilerplate themes, such as "Our Leaders Will Do Everything They Can to Avoid War" or "Our Leaders Would Never Tell Us Outright Lies" or "Opposing the War Means Siding With the Enemy" — or even the highly serviceable claim that "This Is a Necessary Battle in the War on Terrorism" — have either been overtaken by events or worn very thin. I think it's fair to say that Bush has told so many lies since the heady war-agenda-building days of 2002 and early 2003 that he can no longer keep track of them.

RU: Most of your book is about the propaganda spin that is used to lead us into war. This is only our second experience, in my life, with propaganda spin after the war turns into a disaster (yes, I'm old enough to remember Vietnam). How does spin get altered when the circumstances don't go right? And do you see shades of Nixonian spin in Bush's comments on the war tonight, or is he taking a different approach?

NS: Well, speaking to the first part of your question: What remains as the cutting edge of Bush's arguments, such as they are, can be largely summarized by the last two chapter titles of War Made Easy: "America Needs the Resolve to Kick the 'Vietnam Syndrome'" and "Withdrawal Would Cripple U.S. Credibility." Much of Bush's discussion of Iraq during this latest State of the Union address meandered through themes having to do with American resolve. But the brashness and outright arrogance of the President Triumphant has been replaced, out of necessity, by a more circumspect affect from Bush. The "Mission Accomplished" gleeful zealotry has been supplanted by the line that caused some pundits to swoon after the speech Tuesday night: "However you voted last November, you didn't vote for failure!" So after the war turns — as you said — into a disaster, the spin is altered by regrouping and retrenching — and perhaps downscaling — the rhetoric.

Thematically, on the subject of Iraq, the latest State of the Union speech is a more toned-down and limited version of what Richard Nixon said in a nationally televised address about the Vietnam War, which may have been the most important speech of his presidency. "There were some who urged that I end the war at once by ordering the immediate withdrawal of all American forces," Nixon said on November 3, 1969. "From a political standpoint this would have been a popular and easy course to follow." As President Bush did on Tuesday night, Nixon portrayed himself as opting for sacred principle rather than opportunism: "I had a greater obligation than to think only of the years of my administration and of the next election. I had to think of the effect of my decision on the next generation and on the future of peace and freedom in America and in the world."

A quick withdrawal might well be popular at home, Nixon said, but it "would result in a collapse of confidence in American leadership, not only in Asia but through-out the world." He provided the evidence and then the conclusion: "For the future of peace, precipitate withdrawal would thus be a disaster of immense magnitude. A nation cannot remain great if it betrays its allies and lets down its friends."

So, the president said, as the host government's "forces become stronger, the rate of American withdrawal can become greater." But there was an emphatic catch: "I have not and do not intend to announce the timetable for our program. And there are obvious reasons for this decision which I am sure you will understand."

An actual withdrawal rate would depend on many factors. Clearly, Nixon said, "It is not wise to be frozen in on a fixed timetable. We must retain the flexibility to base each withdrawal decision on the situation as it is at the time rather than on estimates that are no longer valid." The course of action he had chosen, Nixon added, "is not the easy way. It is the right way." And he said: "In speaking of the consequences of a precipitate withdrawal, I mentioned that our allies would lose confidence in America... Far more dangerous, we would lose confidence in ourselves."

Nixon went on to say: "We have faced other crises in our history and have become stronger by rejecting the easy way out and taking the right way in meeting our challenges. Our greatness as a nation has been our capacity to do what had to be done when we knew our course was right." And: "Let historians not record that when America was the most powerful nation in the world we passed on the other side of the road and allowed the last hopes for peace and freedom of millions of people to be suffocated by the forces of totalitarianism." All of those themes add up to standard-issue rhetoric when a president is facing heavy domestic opposition to a war that he wants to continue.

RU: Bush's ratings are falling below Nixon's at his lowest point. Do you think he did himself any good tonight?

NS: Bush is in a much weaker position politically than Nixon was in late 1969 and given the current situation, I don't think Bush did much in his speech other than shore up some of his remaining base — mostly the Republicans who never met an American war they didn't adore. This may be a slim majority of Republicans, but overall it's a distinct minority of Americans, maybe 30 percent. Bush has lost the other two-thirds of the public on this war, and nothing he said in this State of the Union address could do much to effectively woo them back.

RU: Some pundits are seeing this as a move to the center — with the talk on health care, the environment and immigration. Of course, Bush has always blown kisses towards environmentalism in these speeches.

NS: Yes, one more parallel to President Nixon is appropriate, and ironic. You're correct that Bush "blows kisses towards environmentalism," and he's been notably and transparently insincere in doing so — if his record is to be the measure of sincerity. For all his horrific faults, Nixon had a decent environmental record as these things go. Bush's environmental record has been atrocious. After a half-dozen years of ignoring or implicitly mocking concerns about climate change and fuel efficiency, Bush now throws out mild rhetoric and tepid policy proposals that supposedly address those concerns. Politically, he reminds me of someone adrift on a bar of soap, finally — out of concern for his own survival — curtailing his habit of splashing vast quantities of water onto his feet.

RU: Are any of the basic elements of spin a harder sell as the result of the Iraq disaster? Have we (the US body politic) learned anything? Will we be harder to spin next time?



NS: I think that's a big concern of Bush's most militaristic backers — such as the neocons clustered around Dick Cheney. The credibility of a war-seeking president — at least this one — is in tatters. The "Project for a New American Century" vision of an American military giant striding across the Middle East and remaking it in the process has gone blurry because of the debacle in Iraq. Yet we shouldn't be too confident on this point.

For one thing, Bush represents a reckless "double or nothing" mentality: When things go wrong, he ups the stakes and keeps gambling (with other people's lives, of course). So in that sense, Bush has never been more dangerous. For instance, a U.S. missile attack on Iran seems to me to be quite likely before the George W. Bush presidency ends. Bush is clearly a big believer in (Pentagon) violence as an efficacious means of implementing what he imagines God's patriotic will to be.

Also, the U.S. news media don't like the spectacle of Team USA losing. This was articulated, so to speak, by then-CBS-anchor Dan Rather just days after Baghdad fell in the spring of 2003. He went on CNN's "Larry King Live" and emphasized his professional allegiance. "Look, I'm an American," Rather said. "I never tried to kid anybody that I'm some internationalist or something. And when my country is at war, I want my country to win, whatever the definition of 'win' may be. Now, I can't and don't argue that that is coverage without a prejudice. About that I am prejudiced." The vast majority of mainline U.S. journalists remain similarly prejudiced, and their objections to this war turn largely on the failure of the Bush administration to "win" it.

A backdrop and continuing context for all this is what the chapter "If War Is Wrong, the Media Will Tell Us" describes as a military-industrial-media complex. A few sections of the chapter are especially relevant here:
Strong economic pressures are very significant — and combine with powerful forces for conformity at times of nationalistic fervor and military crisis. "Even if journalists, editors, and producers are not superpatriots, they know that appearing unpatriotic does not play well with many readers, viewers, and sponsors," media analyst Michael X. Delli Carpini has commented. "Fear of alienating the public and sponsors, especially in wartime, serves as a real, often unstated tether, keeping the press tied to accepted wisdom." Journalists in American newsrooms don't have to worry about being taken out and shot; the constraining fears are apt to revolve around peer approval, financial security and professional advancement.

The attitudes of reporters covering U.S. foreign-policy officials are often similar to the attitudes of those officials. "Most journalists who get plum foreign assignments already accept the assumptions of empire," commented longtime foreign correspondent Reese Erlich. (I traveled to Iraq with him in September 2002, and we later co-authored the book Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You.) He added: "I didn't meet a single foreign reporter in Iraq who disagreed with the notion that the U.S. and Britain have the right to overthrow the Iraqi government by force. They disagreed only about timing, whether the action should be unilateral, and whether a long-term occupation is practical.' After decades of freelancing for major U.S. news organizations, Reese offered this blunt conclusion: 'Money, prestige, career options, ideological predilections — combined with the down sides of filing stories unpopular with the government — all cast their influence on foreign correspondents. You don't win a Pulitzer for challenging the basic assumptions of empire."

Far from restraining the reliance on war as an instrument of foreign policy, the widespread media support for economic "globalization" boosts the view that the U.S. government must strive to bring about favorable conditions in international affairs. The connections between military might and global commercial market-share are not shouted from Washington's rooftops, but the links are solid. With matter-of-fact approval, Thomas Friedman wrote in his 1999 book The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization: "The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps."

Workday concepts of professionalism have routinely included parroting Pentagonspeak. And when corporate-media journalists step out of the pack, they usually get slapped down for it. In late April 2003, a few weeks after Saddam statues began to fall in Iraq, MSNBC correspondent Ashleigh Banfield caused a stir when she spoke on a college campus in Kansas. "There are horrors that were completely left out of this war," she said. "So was this journalism or was this coverage? There is a grand difference between journalism and coverage, and getting access does not mean you're getting the story, it just means you're getting one more arm or leg of the story. And that's what we got, and it was a glorious, wonderful picture that had a lot of people watching and a lot of advertisers excited about cable news. But it wasn't journalism, because I'm not so sure that we in America are hesitant to do this again, to fight another war, because it looked like a glorious and courageous and so successful terrific endeavor, and we got rid of a horrible leader: We got rid of a dictator, we got rid of a monster, but we didn't see what it took to do that." Four days later, responding to a flap over Banfield's remarks, a spokeswoman for NBC management admonished the fleetingly errant reporter in the course of issuing an apology: "She and we both agreed that she didn't intend to demean the work of her colleagues, and she will choose her words more carefully in the future."

The Banfield-in-Kansas episode was part of a classic pattern: In a wartime frenzy, TV correspondents blend in with the prevailing media scenery. Later, a few briefly utter words of regret, although next time around they revert to more or less the same pattern of cheerleading the current war.

Mark Twain remarked that it was easy to quit smoking — he'd done it thousands of times. When the White House pushes for a new war, the U.S. news media seem to be pretty much back to square one.

See also:
Is It Fascism Yet?
Hallucinogenic Chemical Warfare
Is Iraq Really That Bad?
Detention and Torture
Ford's Would-Be Chick Assassins
The 5 Faces of Bush
9/11: The Wingnuts vs. the Sheeple

Read More

Why Chicks Don’t Dig The Singularity


Joe Quirk may be the world's first evolutionary psychology (or sociobiology) comic. That's not a big audience share yet, but his entertaining book, Sperm Are from Men, Eggs Are from Women: The Real Reason Men And Women Are Different, has been well received. By focusing on sex and relationships, Quirk is broadening the audience for the study of the genetic roots of human behaviors.

Quirk recently spoke at the Future Salon about the relationship between "The Singularity" and "sociobiology."

A few days before his talk, he joined me on my NeoFiles podcast to talk about this very same subject. Jeff Diehl joined me in asking Mr. Quirk some questions.
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: How did you get interested in The Singularity?

JOE QUIRK: One of my friends, Steve Potter, a neuro-engineer used to tell me about this one guy, John Smart — about how he was a visionary, and he organized "Accelerated Change" conferences.

So about five years after hearing about him, I'm at Burning Man, and I'm riding my bike around. And at Burning Man, there are so many things competing for your attention — wonderful visual art and explosions and so forth — but it's sort of a non-verbal place. There isn't much intellectual stuff going on. And as I'm riding my bike around, and all these things are competing for my attention, over my left shoulder I hear the word "gene;" I hear the word "memes," and I stop. And there's this very unassuming white tent with a bunch of people sitting around on chairs as if they were at a lecture hall. And there's this good-looking guy in a woman's nightie. And I'm thinking, "How full of crap is this guy going to be? I know about this kind of stuff." So I stopped my bike to listen.

RU: How were his legs?

JQ: Very sexy. Maybe I'm revealing too much here. People do things at Burning Man that are not supposed to get out!



So I listened to this guy, and I knew just enough about what he was talking about to realize that he wasn't completely insane. And he was the one, at that time, drawing exponential curves [ed: see Ray Kurzweil's explanation of The Singularity] and describing the exponential nature of change. It was the first time I'd heard about that. So I listened to the lecture and thought, "That's a fascinating guy!" It turned out he was doing a lecture every day, so I kept coming back. The third time I came back, I was on a hallucinogen. I think that did influence me.

RU: He became more impressive? Kind of like the Grateful Dead?

JQ: Yeah, he became even more impressive and he had three heads. Anyway, I came back to talk to him, and we started talking about the different books we'd both read and eventually I found out he was the guy Steve Potter had told me about.

RU: So you just recently gave a lecture yourself at the "Future Forum" in Palo Alto titled "Why The Singularity Won't Work Without Sociobiology." So, why not?

JQ: All these ideas are founded on some assumptions about human nature. And I think some of the assumptions about human nature that we make in the futurist community are wrong. For instance, I've noticed chicks don't dig the singularity. For instance, I went to a recent Accelerated Change conference, and I actually counted up the people, and I found that less than a fifth of the presenters were women, and less than a sixth of the attendees were women.

RU:That sounds like a high count of women compared to some geek stuff that I've been to!

JQ:Yeah, when there's actual machinery, it's like 1% women. But I knew a lot of the women who were there, and they were there because it was their guy's primary interest. So Ray Kurzweil got up there and Moira Gunn was interviewing him, and everybody got to submit a question. And Moira would pick her three favorite questions. So there were all these technical questions about how will the singularity do this, how will the singularity do that. And my question was, "How will the Singularity get laid... err help me get laid?" So she picked my question as an extra one as a way of dismissing it. She said, "Somebody put a joke question in here, and can you believe that there are people here who would write something like this? It's 'how will the Singularity help me get laid?'" And then she throws it aside and tries to move on to another question. But Kurzweil says, "Hang on. Hang on. I want to answer that." And then he goes into this long technical description...

JEFF DIEHL: ...and then he got out his slide rule, and straightened out his bow tie. [Laughter]

JQ: Exactly! It was stuff like, "You can wear body suits." He was talking about tactile things and about how people can caress each other from far away. And it was so funny. It's too bad this wasn't filmed, because Moira Gunn's face was getting more and more skeptical, the more he kept talking. She kept saying things like, "Well, what about intimacy? You know, what about actual interacting with a real human being?" And Kurzweil wasn't picking up on what she was talking about. You could tell he enjoys the subject, but he gave a long-winded technical explanation for how to get off. And she was talking about sex as a medium for connecting to another person's soul. So right there, you're seeing this divergence between men's priorities and women's priorities. My wife doesn't care about the Singularity. When I talk about it, it doesn't resonate for her. It doesn't sound exciting to be able to put a machine inside your brain or something like that.

JD: What about the real prospect of an indefinite life span? I think that appeals to women!

JQ: I think it does, but I don't know anyone outside the futurist community...

RU: You look young for a much longer period of time. Women are early adopters of youth technology in terms of looks.



JQ: My wife is actually in the business of making women young and beautiful. She's what's called an aesthetician. She makes people beautiful. So if I could convince her that people can live forever and be young as long as they want, she might be into it. But my explanation ends up being sort of technical and attenuated. There are so many other things you need to know that it tends to become like religion — the rapture for geeks.

JD: There's not a big female fan base for science fiction, right?

JQ: Right. So guy geeks are always talking about how you can connect to more people and form more networks with people you never met. And my research tells me women's brains are just more interested in face reading and voice reading and reading all the messages you get beneath the words. Guys tend to concentrate more on the abstract ideas behind the words. So email is unfulfilling for most women. They want to get together at lunch with their friends and make eye contact and stand way too close to each other.

RU: I like to see that, too.

But I'm still not quite getting the Sociobiology/Singularity hook-up here. You had an interesting Freudian slip earlier. You said, "How will The Singularity get laid?" It could be like that, couldn't it? Couldn't it be more like sex with the singularity as opposed to sex within the singularity? Couldn't the singularity be this great, singular mechanistic Borg-like entity, and it's going to need something to have sex with?

JQ: Right! And I think that's sort of Kurzweil's vision — that we'll be able to make our fantasies real. Why would you actually need another human being?

JD: From my reading of Kurzweil's book, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, I suspect, on some level, he's OK with the prospect of evolving beyond sexuality altogether in order to achieve immortality. And I imagine those two probably go hand in hand. If you remove the mortal aspect of existence, you're kind of eliminating the evolutionary reason for having sex. You know as a living being you're going to die, and that drives you to reproduce — and that's where all that sex stuff happens. Right?

JQ: Yeah, but I'm convinced that we inherit this suite of desires, and whether we die or not, we're going to keep them, unless we find some hormonal way to change it.

JD: But that's part of it, right? Kurzweil is changing himself hormonally with all of his nutritional stuff. He already claims to have reprogrammed his own biochemistry.

JQ: Right. He keeps saying his biological age hasn't changed. You know, I saw a picture of him from twenty years ago, and he did look younger.

RU: I'm still trying to get at the connection between the Singularity and sociobiology.

JQ: I think male geeks in the futurist community assume that human nature is the same as the nature of male geeks in the futurist community. And it's kind of become a little religion; we have our own Rapture and our own eschatology and all that sort of stuff. But I think the idea of merging with machine intelligence is not appealing to lots of different kinds of people. And so when we talk about it, we talk as if this tiny sector of human experience — and the kinds of enhancements male geeks want — is all that there is. But when you describe these kinds of things to most people, they're not necessarily enthused. They're more often afraid. So I think we need a clearer idea of what is universal in human needs to be able to explain The Singularity.
Reader Martine comments: The Singularity is the best thing to happen to sex since some final stages of primate-homonid pelvic evolution enabled face-to-face intercourse among hominids (without losing the ability for rear access).

RU: I always wonder — can an artificial intelligence understand what it feels like to dance to James Brown? You know? Maybe it can, eventually. I don't know.



JD: There's also this question of individuality versus networked intelligence. It seems like we're heading towards a networked intelligence that might not have a need for — or a concept of individuality. And individuality certainly encapsulates most current impulses and needs and desires that we think make us human. But once we're post-human, all that goes out the window. So how do you even talk about discreet entities and individuals and desires and stuff like that? Certainly Kurzweil wants us to think that we can carry that humanness with us, but it might all just go away! And something else will be there, and it won't be what we are now. So there's kind of a good reason to be afraid of it, because you don't know what the hell that means.

JQ: Yeah. It's hard to distinguish some descriptions of The Singularity from Armageddon. And I think the pretense; the assumption of the hardcore pro-Kurzweil futurists is that all these things — dancing to James Brown — are reducible to computation.

RU: It's the "good" aspect of it that I wonder about. Is "feel good" reducible?

JQ: Singularitarians are assuming that it is, but it's a deep mystery — sentience! I can understand why there would be all the complexity of animal life interacting, competing, and behaving exactly the way it behaves. But I don't think anything in science so far has answered the question, "Why is it like something to be alive?" When I poke myself with a pin, I don't just react like a robot; I have an external experience that I also experience inside. This causes us to be natural dualists. It doesn't seem to be a real dualism — I'm a materialist — but I feel like, once a machine passes the Turing test, we don't really know whether it has sentience or not. Of course, I don't know if you have sentience. I assume you have sentience because you act like I act.

RU: Well, I'm a solipsist, so I don't even think you're here. [Laughter]

JQ: So even if my enjoyment of James Brown is reducible to some kind of binary computation, it's not clear to me that that's going to give rise to the epi-phenomenon or the emergent property of self-aware consciousness sentience.

RU: Assuming we are headed towards the Singularity, or at least towards some kind of post-human future, it sounds like you're trying to keep some of the human relation alive within it, and some of the sexuality alive within it. That's a project — making sure that this future does contain these things that we value. Is that part of what you're trying to do?

JQ: When we talk about the Singularity, it should be grounded on universal things about human nature. Everyone should look at Donald Brown's list of human universals. And I think when we talk about it now; we talk about it as California computer nerds — which represents a narrow range of human experience.

RU: So as California computer nerds, we don't have all of the qualities on Mr. Brown's list of natural human universals?

JQ: It's the qualities that all tribes in every culture everywhere share. And one of them is a belief in spiritual beings that care very much about how we behave.

RU: Of course there were attempts to eliminate that in China and other places, but it continued.

JQ: I don't think you can eliminate something like spiritual belief, in a top-down way. But certainly most people in the Scandinavian countries are atheists. There's a lot of atheism in the world now. But still, there are no cultures that don't have some people who believe that there are invisible beings who care passionately about how they behave.

RU: You're using the word sociobiology, and currently the trendy term is "evolutionary psychology." And actually, some people make a distinction between the two of them and say sociobiology was more completely enthralled by genes, whereas evolutionary psychology sort of combines genes with environment and other factors. Talk a little about your interest in sociobiology, which is the older term that came from Edward O. Wilson's amazing book.

JQ: I'm trying to steal back the word sociobiology, because sociobiology, strictly defined, is the biology of behavior of all animals. It got in trouble, back in the early 70s, because human beings were included among the animals. E. O. Wilson's one of my heroes. The last 1/30th of his book, Sociobiology, deals with human nature.

RU: And then he put out On Human Nature. And a leftist feminist threw a pie at him, even though he was a liberal environmentalist, basically for looking at human behavior as having certain predispositions, just like all other animals do.

JQ: Someone dumped a bucket of water over his head while he was coming for a lecture. And so the word sociobiology got demonized. I know a lot of academics at Berkeley, and they're so pre-inoculated against any biological illumination of human behavior that they can't even talk about it. It's so emotional.

RU: Oddly, just as sort of a weird side note, Huey Newton from the Black Panther Party was into sociobiology in the 1970s and studied it. For whatever odd reason, he found it interesting.

JQ: That is an interesting side note! And that term became so demonized that the people who continued to research it sort of quietly started calling it evolutionary psychology. Interestingly, evolutionary psychology is specifically about the biology of human behavior. Sociobiology is a more general term about the biological roots of all animal behavior. You know, it's like when the creationist movement switched to "Intelligent Design" — they were being defensive. And when we switched from sociobiology to evolutionary psychology, we were being defensive.

RU: But a lot of the same people still hate it, basically for the same reasons.

JQ:Yeah. And I strongly recommend Steve Pinker's book, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. He pretty much devastates all the good-hearted but misguided arguments against sociobiology. To put it in simple terms, if I'm speaking to a social academic about my biological beliefs that I think illuminate human nature and answer a lot of deep questions about human nature, they invariably bring up Hitler or the eugenics movement.

RU: And certainly all this stuff can be exploited by people.

JQ: But then again, on the other side — among the people who say that the human mind is ultimately malleable by culture and has no genetically controlled tendencies at all — you have Mao and the Khmer Rogue. Both sides have their holocausts. Pol Pot... all those guys believed that you take the baby, you take it away from its mother, and...

RU: It's a blank slate.

JQ: Right. You can create humans that only care about serving the state.

RU: If you acknowledge that every other living animal group has certain inherent forms of social organization, it's fundamentally absurd to say, "Well no, human beings don't." And certain people on the left remind me of fundamentalist Christians. It's kind of a denial of evolution. They're not denying Darwin, but they're denying something that is a logical extension of Darwin.

JQ: Right. And the sort-of social science academics on the left are the only ones who have a problem with this stuff. When I speak in front of most women, they're trying to understand their husband and they're all over it. They want to understand why does he do the things he does; why does he communicate the way he does? People on the street assume that there's something fundamentally different about men and women.

RU: What happens with people in the process of a sex change — like a guy who's taking a lot of estrogen and that sort of thing? Have you looked into that?

JQ: Sure, I'm fascinated with that stuff. If a woman gets a sex change operation, and she starts taking injections of testosterone, different genes that are suppressed are turned on in her, and she finds herself feeling more aggressive; she finds it harder to cry; she finds it easier to get angry; and she can't get sex out of her mind. I talked to one woman who was in the midst of this process, and she said, "God, I suddenly understand how guys feel."

RU: So let's distribute some of this.

JQ: Yeah. [Laughs.] Slip it into drinks?

JD: Except that all of a sudden, she's got facial hair.



RU: You can get over that.

JQ: I remember she was describing her experience to me. She was like: "I'm on the BART, and I'm looking at shapely women, and I just wanted to get into their bodies. I mean, it's like it's all about that body." To her that was a foreign experience. She's like, "Wow. So this is how men see the world." Especially young men.

RU: I wonder when people start to alter people at the genetic level — germ line engineering.

JQ: Yeah. That's a thorny issue.

RU: I wonder how that will affect all these kinds of relations. I wonder if that might change some of this.

JQ: It's hard to pull off, because it's very rare that you get a gene corresponding to one particular trait. Genes all interact with each other, so if you choose a certain gene to give your kid a mathematical ability, that gene cascades through all the different traits in the person and has other unpredictable effects.

RU: But some people think that, in not too much time, even with all the complexity, we'll be able to do this kind of manipulation.

JQ: I think we will be able to do this kind of manipulation, but we'll start having the kinds of problems we have with our domesticated dogs. We can take a dog and we can breed it for a particular quality — like, I want my dog to be a pug, so I'm just going to concentrate on breeding it for a big face and big strong shoulders. By the time I've created my perfect dog, it has cataracts; it has heart problems; it has breathing problems. Out in nature, all these genes are interacting with the environment at once.

RU: The theory is that we wouldn't start doing it until we could be pretty sure of the effects. Although I don't necessarily believe that.

JQ: It's so hard to control because genes only turn on in an environment that triggers them to turn on. So if you're an identical twin, and you're gay, there's only a 50% chance that you're identical twin is going to be gay.

RU: But if he is, you can have an awful lot of fun together!

JQ: I'm sure — they even shared a womb together. So if you can't even predict something like your sexuality based on what genes you have, and you also have to sort of control an environment that's going to trigger certain things to turn on...

RU: [Frivolously] Yeah, but Kurzweil's super-intelligent machines will figure out how to perfect this technology for us in 2035, right?

JQ: Well, that's the prediction, but, uh...

RU: So what do you really think? Are you fundamentally a believer in "The Singularity" or are you a skeptic?

JQ: I'm a scared skeptic and a hopeful skeptic. Most people who hear about it think it's whacko, so I find myself defending it more often than criticizing it. And I think Kurzweil's actual arguments in his two most important books are more compelling than the counter-argument from Incredulity, which is just a knee-jerk reaction — "C'mon, this is Rapture for the geeks." Every group makes up some kind of mythos, and this is a mythos for the geeks. I keep thinking of other examples of Singularities. I've never heard anyone talk about the Singularity that's already happened. Let's see if you guys can point it out.

RU: Language?

JQ: That's one, but I've never heard anyone talk about the Singularity of techneme — the singularity of tools. Imagine a Homo habilis playing with his stone axe, and his buddy says to him, "Grok! These stone axes are not going to change for millions of years, because we're on the flat part of an exponential curve. But this has an abstract design within it, which means it contains information that can be passed down through the generations. And in another 3 million years, we're going to have a feedback loop of information, and pretty soon our tools are going to cover the world; they're going to be on our bodies; and we're going to go from a few thousand of us to a few billion of us. Everything we touch will be a tool. Our tool designs are going to inhabit matter and build our dreams around us. Everything we look at is going to be a manifestation, an embodiment of an idea."

RU: Right, and all that would be unrecognizable to that person. So in that sense we've been through at least one Singularity. It's kind of like the Arthur C. Clarke idea that advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

JQ: And if you think about this, there's almost nothing I touch in my day that isn't created by humans. Even the food is bred by humans.

Steve Potter says, "Maybe The Singularity already happened." Why would we know about it? Does bacteria know that they're on a giant naked ape?

RU: Kurzweil is a believer in the soft singularity — a process where we might not even recognize that we've slipped into a different kind of reality when it happens. All I know is that friends of mine are still dying at this point from diseases related to aging. That would be one change that would be interesting.

See Also:
Girls Are Geeks, Too
Death? No, Thank You
Sex for Memes' Sake
Counterculture and the Tech Revolution
California Cults 2006

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Robert Anton Wilson 1932-2007


Robert Anton Wilson

Robert Anton Wilson enjoyed his first death so much; he decided to try it again. As Wilson himself wrote in his 1995 book, Cosmic Trigger III: My Life After Death:
According to reliable sources, I died on February 22, 1994 — George Washington's birthday. I felt nothing special or shocking at the time, and believed that I still sat at my word processor working on a novel called Bride of Illuminatus. At lunch-time, however, when I checked my voice mail, I found that Tim Leary and a dozen other friends had already called to ask to speak to me, or — if they still believed in Reliable Sources — to offer support and condolences to my grieving family. I quickly gathered that news of my tragic end had appeared on the Internet in the form of an obituary from the Los Angeles Times: "Noted science-fiction author Robert Anton Wilson was found dead in his home yesterday, apparently the victim of a heart attack. Mr. Wilson, 63, was discovered by his wife, Arlen.

"Mr. Wilson was the author of numerous books... He was noted for his libertarian viewpoints, love of technology and off the wall humor. Mr. Wilson is survived by his wife and two children."

This time around, it appears that Mr. Wilson has actually left corporeality, appropriately on 1/11 (at 4:50 am — you hardcore number freaks can get to work on the meaning of that one... I do see a five in there!).



For this cosmic cub scout, Bob Wilson was the motherload. Books like The Illuminatus! Trilogy, Cosmic Trigger, and Coincidance killed most of what little dogmatism I had left in me, and opened me up to a world of possibilities as large as space travel and as small as quantum physics. He also had a razor sharp wit that he skillfully aimed at those who abuse power and wealth. And he was a delightful story teller, whose love of language was evidenced not only by his own novels, but by his ability to quote virtually everything James Joyce and Ezra Pound ever wrote — backwards, while explaining what evolutionary level of primate behavior the author was elucidating.

I had the great pleasure to know Robert Anton Wilson and our intersections were sometimes strange — his Mondo 2000 check hadn't arrived; or I weirded him out by kneeling down before him like he was the pope and kissing his ring (I thought it was funny.) I also have great memories of sitting with him while he expounded expansively on everything from the rights of the Irish to the genius of Orson Welles. Over the past several years, as his polio returned, and as death started to hover nearby, Wilson sent out funny email messages of the "not dead yet" variety to those of us on his mailing list. There was never a trace of self-pity in any of his messages.

As the result of medical expenses and problems with the IRS, Wilson found himself in a financial squeeze towards the end of his life. Word went out and the internet community responded by sending him $68,000 within the first couple of days (and undoubtedly some more after that). This allowed RAW to die with the comfort, grace and dignity that he deserved. Special props go to Douglas Rushkoff and the folks at Boing Boing (and to all the individuals who contributed) for making that happen.

Robert Anton Wilson taught us all that "the universe contains a maybe." So maybe there is an afterlife, and maybe Bob's consciousness is hovering around all of us who were touched by his words and his presence all these years. And if that's the case, I'm sure he'd like to see you do something strange and irreverent — and yet beautiful — in his honor.

See Also:
A Selection of Obscure Robert Anton Wilson Essays
Robert Anton Wilson Tribute Show
Robert Anton Wilson Website
Is The Net Good For Writers?
Neil Gaiman Has Lost His Clothes

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Hallucinogenic Weapons: The Other Chemical Warfare


Nurses and Subjects

There were many acid tests happening in the 1950s and 1960s. Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters dosed sometimes-unsuspecting proto-hippies. The CIA was dosing unsuspecting mainstreamers. Leary dosed fully cognizant artists, therapists and students. But meanwhile, over at Army Chemical Center at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland, psychiatrist James S. Ketchum was testing LSD, BZ and other psychedelic and deliriant compounds on fully informed volunteers for the U.S. military.

As an Army psychiatrist just out of residency, Dr. James E. Ketchum was assigned to Edgewoord Arsenal's Medical Research Laboratories, first as a research psychiatrist in 1961. He became Chief of the Psychopharmacology Branch in 1963, and then became Acting Chief of Clinical Research in 1966. After a brief hiatus at Stanford University, he returned as Edgewoods' Chief of Clinical Research in 1968, staying there until 1971. Dr. Ketchum and his team were looking, primarily, for non-lethal incapacitating agents, and he was central to many of the experiments with these compounds that took place during that time.



Now, Dr. Ketchum has released his fascinating self-published memoir, Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten, primarily detailing his times at Edgewood. The book boasts charts, graphs and experimental reports — a veritable goldmine of information for those who are interested in psychedelics, deliriants, or chemical warfare. It's also a funny, observant, and reflective personal memoir, casting a light not only on Ketchum and his work, but on a decade that saw 60s counterculture and the military share an oddly intersecting obsession with mind-altering drugs.

Dr. Ketchum himself has remained intrigued by these chemicals, as reflected in his ongoing friendship with Dr. Alexander (Sasha) Shulgin, who wrote a foreword for this book.

I recently interviewed him for The RU Sirius Show. Steve Robles joined me.
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: Tell us about the research you did at Edgewood Arsenal with various substances as weapons. What was the political environment?

JAMES KETCHUM: It was during the Cold War and there was great concern about what the Soviet Union might be plotting. It was known that they were investing a lot of money in chemical warfare research — about ten times as much as we were. And at the same time, there was an interest in the U.S. in developing weapons that might be called more "humane" as opposed to "conventional" weapons. In 1955, Congress was entertained by Major General Creasy, who described what LSD could do. At the time, that was the latest drug of interest. And as he described it to Congress, they became very enthusiastic, and voted in favor of doing research into LSD as a possible incapacitating agent that would be life-sparing. Congress passed a resolution with only one vote against it, which is perhaps indicative of the philosophy of the times.

So money was allocated to build a project at Edgewood Arsenal, the army chemical center. And over the next few years the budgeting increased, supported by John F. Kennedy, among others. I was given the opportunity to go there after my residency in psychiatry in 1961, and I thought it would be interesting. I ended up spending about ten years there. When I arrived, the program was just in its nascency. There had been some work done by others there with LSD, but they had never had a psychiatrist. And they'd run into a few problems that made them think they ought to have one. So I was given pretty much a free hand over the next few years to develop a program that would be safe and also provide the information that was being sought, not only about LSD but about drugs like BZ, and others.

RU: So you actually ended up having a long strange trip of your own. You had some very interesting experiences with it.

JK: I enjoyed it very much. Unfortunately at the time, classification of that research was so great that very little of the information we found was leaked out to the public or allowed to be spread among the public. And as is the custom in the army — or was the custom — classified papers usually remained classified for 12 years before they'd be downgraded and made available. By that time, most people had gone separate ways. The program itself had been pretty much terminated. No one really wrote the history of that decade. I thought, later, that was a serious omission. And that's what led me to write this book.

STEVE ROBLES: Did you find any evidence that the Soviets might have taken this tack in their own chemical warfare research?

JK: There was information indicating that, around 1960, the Soviet Union was importing vast quantities of contaminated rye from the satellite countries. This was interpreted as being indicative of their interest in producing LSD, since there's not much use for contaminated rye except that it contains ergot, which is a form of contamination [ed: ergot is used to prepare lysergic acid, the raw material for LSD]. That made us think maybe they were having a big LSD development program of their own.

SR: So there was a different kind of space race going on at the same time.

JK: That's right. Inner space.

RU: The meat of this book, and the fun part, is descriptions of people undergoing the experiments. I wonder if any moments in particular pop into your head showing the way that human beings behave under the influence.

The Volunteers

JK: I watched a number of people — actually, more than a hundred — going through the experience of having BZ, which is a long-acting atropine type compound. It produces delirium if given in a sufficient dose. Half-a-milligram is sufficient in the case of BZ, as compared with about 10 milligrams of atropine. To describe the tripping in detail would take some time. In the book, I've documented an entire BZ trip over a hundred-hour period, including everything that was said and done.

RU: You had a man watching an entire football game on his fingernail or something?

JK: It was a tiny baseball game on the padded floor. The hallucinations were "real" hallucinations. I'd like to make a distinction between BZ hallucinations and LSD so-called hallucinations, which are really not hallucinations — they're more illusions. People generally know that they're not real, but produced by the drug. Whereas with BZ, the individual becomes delirious, and in that state is unable to distinguish fantasy from reality, and may see, for instance, strips of bacon along the edge of the floor.

RU: Belladonna would probably be the most common deliriant among drug experimenters.

JK: Right. Loco weed. Belladonna, in the form of Asmador, for example, was used for asthma and contains atropine. People were getting high on this in the 60s. My brother described one young man trying to crawl across a street in New York City and grabbing onto the pants leg of a police officer. People don't know what they're doing when they're under the influence. They mistake people for objects and objects for people. They'll salute the water fountain or bump into a nurse and say, "Excuse me, sir," and the like.



RU: Were you guys doing a lot of chuckling while this was going on? You're trying to maintain a certain degree of decorum, but...

JK: Yes. I would tell the technicians that it wasn't nice to laugh at these things, even though the subject probably wouldn't remember it later. It was sometimes hard to suppress it. Like when one individual asked another, in the same padded room, if he could have a cigarette. And then, when the other individual held out an empty hand that looked like it was holding a pack, he said, "Oh, I don't want to take your last one." So it was fully "out there" on a fantastic scale.

RU: I had a friend who took belladonna at a rock concert. And about halfway into it, he thought he was back in his own room and that the music on the radio really sucked, and he was going to turn it off. That basically involved twisting this girl's kneecap until he got kicked out. Fortunately, it was just the kneecap.

JK: One young man tried to straighten out my arm, as if it were a pipe of some sort! He tugged on it, and pulled it, and didn't seem at all aware that I might be discomforted by that.

RU: So this book, which is about a very serious subject, is actually quite an amusing read.

JK: Yeah, I tried to keep it from being too heavy, and included a number of anecdotes about people who weren't delirious that were equally funny.

RU: Some of the inter-office activity was amusing too. Describe what happens when soldiers try to deal with mock-up battle conditions under the influence of BZ.

JK: Well of course, commanders wanted to know what would happen if this stuff were ever used in the field. So at first we set up an indoor type of situation, a sort of simulated command post with four soldiers in it. One of them was given a full dose of BZ while the others were given either small doses or none at all, in order to have some possibility of maintaining order. So this one individual would continually go to the door and try to get out. He'd turn around and say, "I'll see you later," but it was locked, and he finally concluded that he was trapped. When the cameras, which were behind these sliding plywood doors, were opened, he came over to one and looked into it as if it were the eye of a Martian. And then he tried to climb out through the medicine cabinet. Then he went over to the water bag and yelled, "Hey, this broad just committed suicide." It took quite a bit of help from his teammates to keep him from hurting himself. But fortunately, nothing serious happened.

RU: You write that nobody was really injured or permanently damaged by these experiments, and you make a distinction between the work that you did at the arsenal and work done by the Central Intelligence Agency.

JK: I tried to dissect out the work done by the army from the work done by the CIA. The CIA, of course, was the first to undertake studies of LSD. They did it without any real scientific structure; and they took liberties that they shouldn't have taken, giving it covertly to American citizens and the like. This was the MK-ULTRA program. Unfortunately, Edgewood Arsenal acquired a reputation for being somehow involved in the MK-ULTRA program — being somehow underwritten by the CIA. And this was not true. There were a couple of individuals who had a secret connection to the CIA, but the program itself was transparent, at least within the military, and there was none of the hijinx that the CIA carried out in San Francisco and other places. [ed: they gave LSD to customers in a house used for prostitution and watched them through a two-way mirror.]

RU: You recently gave testimony about the CIA program. Tell us a little bit about that.

JK: I testified on behalf of Wayne Ritchie, a deputy U.S. Marshall who had been an ideal officer — four years in the Marines, a year at Alcatraz as a guard. He was regarded as perfectly stable — normal. After a Christmas party, where people from the CIA office next door were present, he came back to his office and began to believe that everyone was against him. And then he went out on the street and walked home for the first time without his car, and was convi