Why Thomas S. Roche Dreams of a Zombie Apocalypse



The gonzo author (inset) meets the cover of
his newly-published novel The Panama Laugh


Zombies! Brains! Zombies! It's the first novel ever published by author Thomas S. Roche.

The Panama Laugh opens with a punch — literally — before launching into an unrelenting onslaught of dangerous crimelords, soldiers of fortune, radical fringe groups, and yes, zombies!!! There's a global throwdown with moments of weapons porn — like hijacked nuclear-powered warships and deadly remote surveillance drones — while radical fringe survivors may be holed up in "the Armory" in San Francisco (a real-life building owned by Kink.com).

It's Roche's very first novel — or at least, the first novel published under his own name. (There's also hundreds of horror, crime, fantasy, and, yes, erotic short stories and books that he's written under pseudonyms). Maybe the real question is what makes a man write an "after the apocalypse" zombie novel — after hundreds of hours of writing porn? Combined with a lifelong obsession with vintage pulp fiction, the end result is an original, daring and thoroughly-researched "debut apocalypse," a 300-page buzzsaw that one Barnes and Noble reviewer called simply "exceptional."

I remembered Thomas from his legendary stint as the gonzo technology editor at a web magazine called GettingIt.com, where we'd worked together back in 1999. I decided to track him down for the inside dirt on his mysterious new kick — and to see just how much fun you can have with the word zombie!


10 ZEN MONKEYS: Is there something millenarian in the zeitgeist now — some universal sense of doom, or a desire to laugh and secede from humanity? I'm sorry — every question I'd ask you suddenly seems tainted with a dark obscenity whenever I add the word zombie. "Where do you get your inspiration for your novels...about zombies? Will you be writing a sequel...about zombies? How do you celebrate finishing your first novel...about zombies?"

THOMAS S. ROCHE: Isn't everything about zombies?

I just go ape-shit over good zombie apocalypses. I love them; they're one of my favorite genres. I read a lot and watch a lot and just completely groove on all the incredible creativity involved in zombie walks, all the viral zombie websites and social-networking stuff, all the in-jokes for zombie fans...I just love it. It's a template that takes on so many wonderful forms!

I feel like some of the zombie novels published in the last five years were jumping on a bandwagon. But I'm not going to badmouth them because that's essentially what I was doing, even though it's a bandwagon I've more or less been on for 20 years ever since I read the first Book of the Dead, which is one of the two best zombie books ever published (the other being Max Brooks' World War Z). I think Night of the Living Dead is one of the greatest and one of the most important films ever released. I love Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead. And I go nuts over the Resident Evil movies even in the slow parts. I adore Fido. I want to grow up to be Frankenhooker.



10Z: So will you be writing a sequel to your novel about zombies? Maybe "The Panama Laugh Zombies Strike Back"?

TSR: That is actually a question for the publisher. I already know what happens next — but I'm not talking unless somebody pays me!

10Z: Spoken like a true pulp fiction fan...

TSR: I'm hoping there will be a sequel, because the story's really not finished. There are about a thousand threads that lead into other parts of my science fiction mythology — some of them red herrings. Everything I write in the science fiction, fantasy, or horror genre relates to everything else I write in those genres, so the characters, institutions and situations show up elsewhere. I already know what happens — but the cats need kibble, so I'm not talking unless the money's on the nightstand!

Did I mention writing a mercenary character came kinda natural to me?

10Z: I can already see the influence of all those vintage crime novels. So how did you celebrate finishing your first novel...about zombies?

TSR: I don't think I celebrate, ever. Sorry. When I turned it in, I probably went home and tried to figure out how to pay my rent. I probably read CNN and wept bitterly about the direction our country is going. Maybe if it was a good day, I let myself read an early '60s crime novel instead of trying to work on the next project that might pay me $25 or $50 in an attempt to afford some food...

10Z: And then months later, you're a star! A zombie star, with your name on thousands on horror book covers — along with gorgeous artwork visualizing the doomsday you'd only imagined. How'd it feel to finally see your novel getting a full-color, fantasy-style illustration?

TSR: I just can't even begin to describe how thrilled I was to see such a spot-on representation of what I wanted my book to feel like — at least, the post-apocalyptic segments. Some of the earlier segments might have been a bit more Dick Tracy. But as for the scenes in San Francisco, cover artist Lucas Graziano nailed it, beautifully — and it even has the leopard-print zeppelin! I've never been so thrilled.

10Z: But you always write about such wild subjects. It's hard to believe you've never gotten the Heavy Metal treatment before.

TSR: I believe there have been only two other times original art has been commissioned from my work. One of them was the short story "Anthony," about a doomed punk sex-addicted dildo who gets hooked on mainlining oil-based lubricants. It was turned into a comic book by my friend Anna Costa, in 1992, for a magazine called Puppytoss. (No puppies were actually tossed, don't worry — we weren't that punk). The second time was the story "Headturner," which I co-wrote with Kevin Andrew Murphy, which was illustrated for an issue of Glen Danzig's Verotika comic book. That was more than a decade ago!

10Z: It's still hard to believe, since you've written a bunch of great zombie stories already. (And is it true that some of them are about sex?)

TSR: My pre-Panama Laugh zombie mythology isn't about sex, but it's about sexuality...homophobia specifically. The zombie short stories I have written have just been re-released individually for Kindle, and you can see there's even a zombie bibliography on my website that links to them.

My two other zombie mythologies don't overlap with each other or with The Panama Laugh. In one, which I call the "San Esteban Stories," zombies represent denied erotic urges — violence owing to sexual repression, particularly internalized homophobia. In the San Esteban stories, zombification does not appear to be transmissible. (See The Sound of Weeping and Veggie Mountain.)

There's also another lengthy screenplay on that theme that may become a novel, that's never been published because I only finish novels when people come over to my house and kick me.

10Z: So what happened when you sat down for your full-length zombie-fighting novel? What kind of zombification did you pull out for The Panama Laugh?

TSR: It has a similar thematic intention, but it's not about sex. Two other stories, the podcast "St. John of the Throwdown" and the novella Deepwater Miracle exist in that universe. My story Viva Las Vegas is a totally different mythology, because it was originally written as a submission for Skipp & Spector's Book of the Dead 4, so it's concretely Romeroesque, meaning George Romero, more than the others. Its main character is very similar in voice to the Dante Bogart character in The Panama Laugh.

10Z: I'm remembering that you do a lot of work for charity — and some of it's pretty sexy! Literally — like, you've taught at San Francisco Sex Information since the 1990s, and four years ago, you were even involved in the San Francisco iteration of an event called Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School, where even amateur non-artists get to draw sketches of naked models. So what ties all this together? What's the motivation?

TSR: I think it's an impulse toward the Bohemian. I'm easily bored!

I've given informational lectures on such diverse topic as anal sex, oral sex, sex, gender and orientation, transgender surgery and other transgender procedures, intersex issues and disorders of sex development, BDSM and D/s theory and etiquette, necrophilia, bestiality, fisting, group sex, fetishism and fetish dressing, infantilism and age play, recovery from sexual abuse, and about a dozen other topics, as well as facilitating small groups and workshops. At SFSI, the goal is to have our trainees prepared to discuss any sexual topic in informational terms, so we cover a broad range.

10Z: I'll say! I just remember a very "sex positive" vibe at one of the Dr. Sketchy events I attended. You've got ladies taking off their clothes for a roomful of gawking geek voyeurs, week after week....

TSR: Doing Dr. Sketchy's was wonderful. Models would come and get naked but be wearing clown makeup, balloon animal hats, Victorian lingerie — Burning Man type costumes. It was really a blast!

But I'm not by nature an event manager. So by mutual agreement with the event's New York founder, Molly Crabapple, my co-organizer and I passed the event on to the very capable Bombshell Betty. It's a great event, and it was really fun to do.

10Z: In real life you're soft-spoken and compassionate, and yet you've seen more than most men will ever see in a lifetime. After synthesizing it all into hundreds of published stories — including a new violent zombie-fighting novel — what do you think you've learned...about sex, and about violence?

I mean, there's one line in the book that struck me. The gun-toting scumbag says "Without women, we're monsters — and we know it, but they don't. We live our lives in fear that they'll find out." I have this theory that it's all related — that people are now despairing about everything — government, culture, gender roles — and they secretly long for a zombie crisis where it all crumbles and gets replaced by something new.

TSR: I learned a lot, and continue to learn a lot, from the world of trans activism and gender theory. I also think that the "bubble" of a very narrow set of queer-friendly, trans-friendly neighborhoods in San Francisco can serve as an excellent place to stand there and evaluate the gender context of violence, as it relates to the idea of what makes gender in the first place.

In the context of the international arena where brutal violence is the order of the day in many post-colonial and neo-colonial nations, I think it's important to consider issues of what tends to bring perceptions of masculinity in line with violent activity. And to do that in a context of knowing that male and female behaviors are often mutable... As an aside, I believe that the fact that men and women tend to — tend to, mind you, again — have different ideas about that is one of the reasons it's so important to have women in the military in leadership roles, because gender cues get all mixed up when you're talking about premeditated violence, let alone the kind of confusion that happens in combat.

To me, it's critical to have combat decisions made by a pluralistic group with a shared value system that isn't built strictly on machismo. The same is doubly true of law enforcement. In fact, that connection between masculinity and monstrous behavior is probably my primary interest in terms of fiction. My chief fascination has always been with postwar America, and the scars carried by men in my father's generation and a bit older, who fought in World War II and Korea. War requires one to do terrible things, and if any amount of belief in one's principles allows one to forget that, I believe we're in trouble. I'm not going to claim Osama bin Laden or Ghaddafi shouldn't have been killed, but anyone high-fiving about it earns my unremitting revulsion.

I would like to see the United States be a little less pleased with itself, and that's some of what The Panama Laugh is about. "The Laugh" is a symbol for everything we're forced to stuff down in order to turn a blind eye to tragedy. When it comes bursting out...ba-da-bing!

10Z: It seems like some of this novel must've come from all the weird world news you'd covered for — is it over a year? — at TechYum. (Besides flying cars and Bigfoot sightings, there's also weaponry, international wars, Fukushima radiation, and "the face of a Norwegian Killer" — including his Twitter feed....)

TSR: Yeah, there's definitely a strong undercurrent of paranormal obsession, and a real obsession with information technology.



10Z: What about WikiLeaks? You also mention WikiLeaks a lot in your novel. Has it achieved a mythic status — and if so, what does it represent?

TSR: Some of the fringe elements are definitely inspired by Wikileaks and Anonymous.

I think those elements arose as an antidote to what I felt was a one-sided vilification in the novel of the American right-wing — Blackwater, Haliburton and Cheney's cronies. I definitely lean more toward the left, and I think Wikileaks represents a very important impulse and the start of a strong movement toward anti-corporate sentiment and the demand for government transparency. (As ineffectual as that movement may end up being — because it started so late in the process of corporate control being consolidated...)

But I've also been around leftists for more than twenty years. Some of them are douchebags. I find it far from unthinkable that some leftist depopulation advocates would want to depopulate the globe for environmental reasons, as is one of the possible conspiracies in The Panama Laugh. The paranormal stuff, for me, just makes all that fringe stuff interesting.

10Z: Your novel also seems very aware of the latest ways that information gets distributed. There's viral YouTube videos, conspiracy forums, text messages, and one mysteriously-abandoned laptop. It's the contemporary details that most fiction leaves out, which somehow makes The Panama Laugh feel more real when information about the zombie attacks start turning up at CNN.com.

I feel like you and I lived in the center of a new kind of cutting-edge crazy during the dotcom boom, and it's nice to see someone channeling that into cutting-edge fiction. (There's even hacktivists in your book!) So do you sense a "big picture" about what's happening as new technologies come online, both in the U.S. and around the world?

TSR: I find it very interesting that Africa and South Asia seem to be getting wireless web technologies before they get wired ones. I think that'll affect the computer security environment enormously in the next ten years. And I think there are many very strange social implications for those of us who live our lives mostly online — good and bad.

Mostly, good. But I also think the possibility for disinformation is huge, which is some of what this novel is about.

10Z: When it came out in September, you did something interesting on the web. You're posting news blurbs — complete with links to the actual articles — about events which only happened in your novel. I did a double-take when I saw these headlines:
"Terrorist Group" Seizes San Francisco Building

San Francisco Cryopreservation Foundation Found Liable

And on Facebook, your novel also has its own page. Even though it's just been released, it's already won awards from...er, wait a minute. These are from your zombie counter-universe again, aren't they?

"2011 Crazed Hippie Disinformation Award" from Virgil Amaro Memorial Association.

"2011 It's Not Our Fault Award" from Bellona Industries Military Consultation (Juried Award).

"2011 Involuntary Termination Award" from mysterious international "Depopulation Activist" hacker group DePop Art.


TSR: Hah! Definitely, that's all disinformation. The novel is about corporate disinformation — think of this as my own little attempt to get incorporated. They're all characters and institutions in the novel.

10Z: In light of all that, it's funny that there's a disclaimer at the end. "The novel is fiction. Also, zombies aren’t real." But wasn't it cathartic to describe the ruin and desolation of your old stomping grounds in San Francisco? I mean, you left San Francisco, moved to Sacramento, and then wrote a book where the zombies attack...San Francisco!

TSR: Oh, it wasn't vengeful. I love San Francisco! I was asked to write a zombie apocalypse set there, so I did....though I did it in the most roundabout possible way. It was really interesting to map out a route across a zombie-infested city that I know so well, and to invent all sorts of tunnels and things...

And the social stuff is all meant to feel very much like it could've really happened. To me, that makes the apocalyptic elements more interesting.

10Z: In the Talmud it says every man, in his life, should write a book. I believe they must've meant "a book about zombies." Imagine describing your home town in ruins — the police force abandoned, the high school laid to waste, every enemy converted into shambling undead. And not just your enemies — the whole invisible power structure.

But seriously, none of your friends are in the novel? I'm not sure I could resist the temptation! That jerk from the apartment upstairs? Zombie...

TSR: There are definitely no real people in the book. Strangely, that's not even a temptation to me. Even where characters are based on figures from the news, they're hybrids of several different people, and the institutions are all mixed up.

But there are dozens of Easter eggs to other books I'm working on...all of which concern paranormal stuff, which wouldn't be "real" in the context of the Panama Laugh universe. The only place where a real person showed up, in altered form, in the mythology was in the podcast "St. John of the Throwdown," which was written for Violet Blue to read and as such was inspired by her experience of being a homeless teenager. I wouldn't say that character is Violet, but she's certainly related.

10Z: So what kind of coffee do you have to drink to write about a zombie apocalypse?

TSR: Well, Temple has about the best damned coffee you'll ever drink. It's consistently rated highly in national terms. Of all the things that have been hard for me moving from San Francisco to Sacramento, Temple coffee makes it much easier. Any snotty San Francisco people who want to talk shit about Sacramento can face down a steaming mug of Temple's Ethiopian or Brazil Boa Sorte.


Click here to read Thomas's zombie apocalypse


Other Interviews:
Neil Gaiman has Lost His Clothes
Steve Wozniak vs. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks
Jimmy Wales will Destroy Google
Nicholas Gurewitch: What Happened to the Perry Bible Fellowship?

The D.C. Madam Speaks!
James Ketchum: Hallucinogenic Weapons — the Other Chemical Warfare D.C. Sex Diarist Bares All
Beyond the 'Zipless Fuck' with Erica Jong

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What Happened to the Perry Bible Fellowship?



It's been over a year since cartoonist Nicholas Gurewitch entered semi-retirement. But he's working on a movie, a TV show — and he even made a surreal appearance on a Fox News interview show. And he's left behind a message for his fans, tucked away in plain sight in the comic strip Catch Phrase. "There's no secret message," Gurewitch told us last week. "There's an overt message perhaps. That sometimes Life can pigeonhole a person.

"That's something I personally believe is a danger..."

So in the last 13 months, the 25-year-old cartoonist has drawn just that one strip while he explores even bigger mediums. "I'm very, very excited to imagine either of the films I'm working on being made," Nicholas told 10 Zen Monkeys. "I might very well post production materials for them on my web site in the near future.

"I haven't been home in three weeks because I've been script-writing with friends."

And Wednesday he finally released what may be the final collection of his Perry Bible Fellowship strips. It contains "a heck of a lot more," Nicholas told Publisher's Weekly, and the book's official site lists out bonus features like unpublished "lost" strips and original sketches, plus Nicholas's revealing behind-the-scenes interview with Wondermark cartoonist David Malki.


An earlier collection, The Trial of Colonel Sweeto, will be discontinued, and this book is "more of a deluxe edition," says Darkhorse Publishing's publicity coordinator, promising there's more than 20 strips that weren't in the first volume, "so its a more complete library."

They warn that this will probably be the final collection of Nicholas's work, though in December the cartoonist told us he was "taking it easy, preparing some ideas," and in last week's email promised "I'll probably be posting a new PBF soonish." (The site was offline briefly in December, but only because "my Australian server guy fell on hard times.") And in this book, "Nicholas went through and talked about a lot of the process he was going through," according to Jacquelene Cohen, a publicist at Dark Horse publishing. "He put a lot of thought into his inspiration."


Television versus Books

Working in two countries, Nicholas prepared a pilot TV show for British television while also retouching his strips for the book and remastering their colors. In fact, the book's publication date was delayed six months while Nicholas gave it the same lavish attention as his web comic. "He really wanted to be thorough and give each strip the time it deserves," remembers Cohen, saying only that he committed "a painstaking number of hours put into making this as special as it could be."



And the TV show? It would be a series of sketches — including at least one based on the surprise-hazing strip Weeaboo. "The guys at the company that produced it — Endemol — fought hard to make sure that comic was adapted," Nicholas told us last week. "Most of the material is sparkling new. I wrote it with my friends." And the scriptwriting received expert supervision by one of the writers of the surreal British comedy show Look Around You, Robert Popper.

"He was a great guy," adds Nicholas.

The BBC and the rival Channel 4 network are both reviewing the show now. ("I've been told that the hurting economy has hindered the speed of their decision-making," Nicholas notes — but he says that both networks are still interested in it.) In fact, Nicholas had already experimented with making movies out of some of his most famous strips, including New Specs for Ken and A Kiss For Joe (a two-minute film in which Nicholas himself makes an appearance).


Last week Nicholas told us he's now working on the script for a feature length film (along with his friend Jordan Morris). "My buddy Jordan is always really good about knowing how I should amplify an idea," Nicholas says, "and he's come up with ideas [for the strip] on his own. We're all kind of on the same wavelength collaborating, and it's extremely easy." Nicholas explained to one interviewer that "When we’re both giddy with laughter, I can tell we’re on to something good."

Nicholas seems to have cinema-sized dreams — Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody even wrote the introduction for his new book — and Nicholas offered a simple explanation to the Daily Cross Hatch. "I think a lot my ideas have grown so weird that I think I may need another medium for it." Nicholas has always been clear about his reasons for slowing the publishing schedule: "I want to do other things besides be a cartoonist." He discusses the transition in his book's introduction, and Wondermark's creator David Malki makes a provocative point — "We'll never know what kind of novels Charles M. Schulz could have written."

Nicholas also uses the interview to suggest that he's taking a lesson from the cartoonist who created The Far Side. "I'm sure Gary Larson had trained his brain by the peak of his career to derive the unbearable oddness of any slice of life. Like, I'm willing to bet that there's a muscle in his brain that he just honed, so that he could see all of life a certain way... If he's constantly looking at the world with that vision, and it's an honest vision, I don't think he can do much wrong."

But Nicholas also makes sure he acknowledges his admiration for Bill Watterson, the popular cartoonist who fiercely resisted merchandizing of his comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes. ("Bill knows better than anyone the value of keeping your characters from appearing on things that get thrown away.") In the same spirit, Nicholas's new book comes with a satin-red bookmark, and was designed with an eye for quality. "This book will look great as a (sick and twisted) coffee table book," wrote one reviewer on Amazon.

"It's almost a shame to put it in a shelf as the cover is such eye candy..."



Dark Horse Publishing acknowledges that "We didn't really understand the potential of his first book, and it ended up being a major, major success." (Nearly 27,000 copies were sold before the collection was even released!) Jacquelene Cohen remembers that when Nicholas visited trade shows, "he would have lines wrapping down one aisle and then halfway down the next — people mobbing him for autographs and signed prints and books. It was crazy — like mayhem.

"He loved it."


Beyond the Perry Bible Fellowship

It's been 13 months since Nicholas reverted the strip to "a pace I'm more comfortable with," and over the summer he told interviewers that "I doubt they'll have regular intervals. But that's something I'll focus on as soon as I finish up work in these other areas." Fans may miss the strip, but Nicholas shares a secret in the new book — just how much care went into the online strips (even after they'd been published in newspapers). "I think there's about a hundred hours' work difference between the 'Commander Crisp' that I finished for the newspapers and the 'Commander Crisp' that I finished for the web."
I've lost a week's worth of work before because I've realized that a comic could be done better. I scrap stuff all the time. In fact, I find it kind of exciting to be able to scrap something I've put hours of effort into.

A lot of times, you work all that time to maybe give your mind some liberated state that allows you to do the very best job that you can do.



A panel from "Commander Crisp"

The last year suggests the same freedom may be growing from Nicholas's entire Perry Bible Fellowship experience. After seven years of laboring over the strip, it may become the first creative outburst that just unlocks an even greater one. "I'm never worried about scrapping something," Nicholas says in his book.

"Because a lot of times that fragment that you labored over ends up finding a home in some other future work."

See Also:
Records Broken by the Perry Bible Fellowship
The Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack
Neil Gaiman has Lost His Clothes
Secrets of the Perry Bible Fellowship

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Records Broken By the Perry Bible Fellowship?

Nicholas Gurewitch draws the Perry Bible Fellowship
Is Nicholas Gurewitch fulfilling a childhood dream? Photo by Jeff Marini

"This is the reason paper was invented. Give him your money now."

Marvel comic book writer Mark Millar joined the stampede which placed the first Perry Bible Fellowship collection into the top 500 on Amazon— before the book was even released.

25-year-old cartoonist Nicholas Gurewitch watched as the pre-order sales climbed past $300,000 for The Trial of Colonel Sweeto and Other Stories. Close to 27,000 copies were sold even before the collection of comic strips had its official release in November and crashed into Amazon's top 250. "It bounces off and on Amazon's best-seller lists all the time," Gurewitch told me, jokingly searching for an explanation. "Nifty cover? I'm not sure."



In December the cartoonist's site warned that only 3,000 copies remained, and now copies are "in short supply," Nick says. (The book's first printing had some errors which required a second printing to fully meet the demand, and Gurewitch confirms that "We are indeed gearing up for a third printing.") Publisher's Weekly reports that his publisher, Dark Horse Comics, received their biggest order ever from Britian's Diamond distributor.

"I think people respond to a packaged volume of comics much more than they connect with a computer screen," Gurewitch speculates about the response. "Seeing it on someone's coffee table, or seeing it in someone's hands, or on a high shelf, can affect us in ways far more grand than seeing it bookmarked on someone's computer."

Nick's cover for The Trial of Colonel Sweeto

In our interview, Nick shared even more surprising news. He's been building to this moment for two decades — sort of.

NICHOLAS GUREWITCH: My mom says I was doing cartoonist things at the age of 2, though that's hard to believe. But I was definitely story-oriented. She actually had us making little books around the age of 5 — me and my siblings.

LOU CABRON: Drawings and words?

NG: Early on, it was mostly pictures. And she would bind them with string.

LC: That's adorable.

NG: I think the idea of making a book was a really fun thing that was ever-present in my mind. I undertook a few on my own once I found a stapler.

LC: What was in the books you drew as a kid?

NG: The same stuff I'm doing now, I'm pretty sure. Lots of monsters, lots of robots, lots of dinosaurs...

I don't think I've always wanted to be a cartoonist. I've always just been a cartoonist. I've always just been making little stories.

LC: Colonel Sweeto shows a magical candy land where the reigning monarch practices some vicious realpolitik. When I contacted you, I almost wondered if you lived in a far-away fantasy castle of your own.

NG: I wonder if most people have that impression. I love castles. I plan to live in one some day. It's not wrong that you have that impression.

I wish it were true.



LC: I was picturing lots of monsters, lots of robots, and lots of dinosaurs all scattered throughout the PBF empire.

NG: It's a pretty quaint empire. My buddy Evan handles all the t-shirt stuff, and I had a friend helping me out with the prints. (They take in a lot more money than you expect, though I haven't checked my records in a while.)

Evan was actually my roommate in college when I first started the comic, and he's been writing a lot of the comics lately. He came up with the idea for Commander Crisp, as well as the one with The Masculator.


A panel from "Commander Crisp"

Earlier on Evan would come up with one out of four comics, and he's been doing that lately too. And my buddy Jordan is always really good about knowing how I should amplify an idea and he's come up with ideas on his own. We're all kind of on the same wavelength collaborating, and it's extremely easy.

LC: A writer for The Daily Show, Sam Means, described your comic strip as being almost psychedelic.

"The Perry Bible Fellowship is what Bil Keane, Jim Davis, and the guy who draws Marmaduke would see if they closed their eyes and rubbed them with their fists. It's absurdist, comic fireworks, and I can't get enough of it."

NG: I don't want to make judgments about my artwork, but a lot of people seem to think that it's good, and I chalk this up to the amount of time that I spend concentrating on it and enjoying it myself. If I enjoy it myself a lot, people tend to enjoy it a lot.

LC: Is that the secret reason why you use so many different styles? The strip about Finneas the heroic dog was drawn with acrylic paint, while The Throbblefoot Aquarium switched to the black-and-white style of Edward Gorey.

NG: I might be attracted to giving people the kind of response that makes them write in. That's always nice. I'm not terribly lonely, but its wonderful to hear when somebody recognizes that you've done something very subtle.

I like touching people on those levels. So it only makes sense to make references to childhood heroes and artists that I appreciate.

LC: You also told the Boston Phoenix. "There's something wonderful, and soon-to-be mythic, about the printed page... I'll always prefer it."

NG: I just have a feeling comics drawn on a napkin in 100 years will be far more appreciated than comics made on a computer. Don't you get the impression that we're getting bombarded by images that are digital? People often go straight to the digital format, which is unfortunate. I just really appreciate seeing evidence of hard work!

LC: Each of your strips always manages to startle me. For example, Hey Goat starts in the winter, but ends after the spring thaw, implying that there's been a horrible avalanche. You even told one interviewer "there's a lot to be said for chaos where order is making things very, very boring."

NG: I think I just always felt that it might be an aspect of my personality, that I think chaotic situations often reveal something about a scene or a person or an object that a still life wouldn't. It really squeezes out the nature of the characters.

Plus, chaos is just eye-catching. It's a necessary aspect of comedy and drama that there be some conflict.

LC: Does that mean you were a frustrated artist in school? Did you feel high school stifled your creativity?

NG: Or the spirits of the students, or the thinking of students.

I was an editor of an underground newspaper that we distributed in high school. We ruffled a lot of feathers. I think I have an FBI record because of it.

LC: How do you get an FBI record for an underground newspaper? Are you sure?

NG: Someone tells me I do, for certain.


A local pastor had seen the work that we were doing in the paper, and he must've thought we were more than the basic renegade kids because he wrote a letter to the FBI. This is right after Columbine, and he thought our paper displayed many warning signs for troubled youth.

He was probably right about that. We certainly were troubled youth. I just don't think we were the type of troubled youth that would express ourselves with guns.

LC: Well, wait — what was in this newspaper?

NG: We had a section where we presented fictionalized accounts of our teachers fighting each other, and how those fights would go. We'd show a big picture of them, and then a "versus," and then another teacher. It was really entertaining if you had these people as teachers. Lots of blood, lots of violence. Lets hope they never end up online.

We actually published the pastor's letter in the following issue. We also did a word search, and we hid the word "clitoris". It was a point at which we lost a lot of our audience.

LC: So you regret it?

NG: It's the type of thing I look back on and see as funny in retrospect. I think I get paid to make clitoris jokes now.

But I really enjoy having flexed my mind to the full extent at that tender age, because I think it's really helped me maintain a momentum. College was a little bland, but I think that's why I ended up starting the comic strip — because I was so hooked on my experience with the paper.

I noticed that the comics page at the college newspaper would get a heck of a lot of attention. It only took about a semester when I realized that's where I should be putting my attention, and not the articles about the dining hall.

LC: You were "discovered" when you won a comic strip contest in the Baltimore City Paper. When you entered that contest, where did you think it would lead?

NG: The Perry Bible Fellowship debuted in the New York Press the same week that it won, so there were parallel blessings. I had no prediction about where it was going. I just knew I appreciated the extra money while I was at school!


It was running in two papers when I graduated in 2004, so I gave myself a few weeks to see if I could call what I was doing a job. I sent out samples to ten more papers and heard back from about three. I figured that was just as good as trying to get a temporary job in New York City, so I ended up just staying home and doing the comic and operating from a studio space that I rented near my house.

The initial proliferation of the samples was the only time I sent out samples. Since then most papers have just emailed me — because of the web site, I assume.

I think the story ends right about now. Because I've still been doing it...

See Also:
Secrets of the Perry Bible Fellowship
Neil Gaiman has lost his clothes
The Perry Bible Fellowship Enters Semi-Retirement
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert - and Other Pranks
Jimmy Wales Will Destroy Google
George Bush vs. Spider-Man

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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

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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

Beyond the ‘Zipless Fuck’ With Erica Jong

Beyond the Zipless Fuck With Erica Jong

About the author: Susie Bright is the host of the weekly Audible.com podcast, "In Bed With Susie Bright," and is the editor of Best American Erotica, 1993-2008.

Yes, Erica Jong coined the phrase "the zipless fuck" when describing sexual adventures in her 1973 novel Fear of Flying. But now she's talking about a whole body sexual sensation that's more like lightning.

She's outspoken, thought-provoking, and still has a lot to talk about — like when you're a legendary sex writer, what sex advice do you give your teenaged daughter? Why is the media so obsessed with Anna Nicole Smith? But I even asked Erica how her sex life changed as she's gotten older — and for once, I got a straight answer!

For a free month's subscription to "In Bed With Susie Bright," click here. The full audio version of this interview can be found here.


SUSIE BRIGHT: There's been a certain type of book that's come out recently by a woman over 60 who says "Yes, I'm old, but my sexuality and my vitality are at their height." How you can continue to be Pamela Anderson at 80? (Laughs) I'm not buying it!

ERICA JONG: Are you anywhere near 50?

SB: I'm 49!

EJ: Oh, god.

SB: It's the last 40-something. So...

EJ: In many ways it's wonderful to get older. Apart from the fact that you're on the ledge, and after your parents die, you're the next to fall in. You do think about mortality a lot.

If you're not a total mess, you think about generativity, and giving back, and — you know, teaching, and things like that. Which is the healthy part. But sex is not the same!

Because the men are dying. The men are becoming impotent. They're having heart attacks, and they're being put on blood pressure medication. Nobody's writing about that. (But I am in my new novel!)

SB: You make it sound like men are the only ones who are having a small health setback. What about the women?

EJ: The women, for the most part, seem healthier than the men. At least anecdotally...

There are lots of ways out of this. Yes, you can find younger people. Yes, you can find — you know, your 30-year-old male lover with a constant erection. Apart from the fact that mostly they don't want women who are 60. (Laughs) Some do. You know. For whatever Oedipal reasons...



But one is too wise, by then, to think of it as anything but a zipless fuck. Or a zipless fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck — and done, because you don't want to be their nurse, and you don't want to be their purse. I did that when I was in my 40s. And you don't want to blurb their book — their bad book.

SB: I'm sure that's a real turn-off sexually.

EJ: "I will fuck you, and you can blurb my book!"

SB: Ouch!

EJ: If you've achieved a little bit of self knowledge, maybe that works once, maybe it works twice. Maybe it works three times — but then it doesn't work so well.

I'm not talking about a real, wonderful affair with a younger man — you know, possibly you walk off into the sunset together, or you always have this wonderful place in your head that you can go back to. Affairs with women seem to proliferate after 50.

SB: After-50 bisexuality or lesbianism that wouldn't have happened before?

EJ: Yes. I think it's mostly because the men are dead. (Laughs)

SB: You are so cruel! Your husband isn't dead!

EJ: No, my husband isn't dead. But I'm talking about what I see around me. And then with the one that one loves, one has to re-invent sexuality. It can't be the same.

SB: Everybody says "re-invent," but what would that really look like?

EJ: Suppose he doesn't have an erection? You have to be whole-body — tantric sex. You have to change the way you look at sex, and him too, because men have a real problem with that. They're so focussed on their penis, you may have noticed, that making the change from focus-on-the-penis to focus-on-the-whole-body...

SB: It's almost like the symbol of the erection as desire is more important than fucking for 10 hours without stopping. Because hardly anyone wants to do that. It's like the erection is the symbol of "You want me." It's what I'm accustomed to seeing.

EJ: But even if you think it doesn't mean something to you...

SB: Even if you pooh-poohed it, and said it wasn't a big deal....

EJ: Even if you pooh-poohed it, and said it wasn't a big deal, as a woman, the infrequency requires a leap. But men have to also make that leap.

SB: I just talked to a friend in his 60s who's just fallen in love over the phone with a woman. He says he gets hard the moment he hears her voice, and yet now that they're planning an in-person meeting, he's frantic to get a Viagra prescription. He was asking me if I had any undercover connections.

EJ: Go to your doctor! They gave them out like M&Ms!

SB: I said, "I don't think you should fret so much. You're throbbing just talking to her on the phone. Don't worry so much that you have to have this perfect insurance plan!"

I don't know whether guys would find that a relief to hear, or...

EJ: No, because they have to get over their identification with themselves and the hard dick. And once they do, the sex can be truly wonderful.

I've really gone through this with Ken. He had an aneurysm of the aorta, and had to take blood pressure-lowering medication. It was counteracted by Viagra, but Viagra gave him blue spots in front of his eyes. And it made him feel so exhausted after sex that the day was ruined for him.

SB: Oh...

EJ: He wasn't allowed to take Cialis, because it was contraindicated with his medication. It took a while for both of us to accept that it was going to be different. I think it took him longer than me.

I've always thought of sex as being a whole body experience. Yes, I liked intercourse very much, and I liked oral sex very much. With certain men, I could have wonderful orgasms with intercourse. With other men, I could have better orgasms with oral sex.

With women, you have better orgasms with oral sex, I think. Although I decided that I'm not really gay.


SB: I'd never heard you announce that you were gay. I missed that...

EJ: Well, for a while I thought it would be wonderful to be really gay, and I had some experimental flings with women that I really loved. But then I decided that I was kidding myself — that I wasn't really gay — although I loved these women very much.

I really believe that Gore Vidal is right, that there are sexual acts, and that we make too much of a big deal about whether they're gay or straight. That if you love someone, you can find a way to express it physically. Or not! I've always been tremendously attracted to you...

SB: (Laughs) Oh, goodie! What a compliment! (Laughs) Why?

EJ: Because you have such an alive spirit. And because you're so life-loving. I honestly think that's why people are attracted to me.

SB: Mmm hmm.

EJ: You know, it's not about one's tits — although you have very nice tits, and I'm told I have very nice tits. It's about lifeforce and energy.

I've always felt like I was a kundalini person. I've always sort of believed, "raise the kundalini, let's get with it" — you know? "It's going up my spine, my solar plexus is glowing..." So we found a new form of kundalini sex after he got over his feeling that he was failing in some way.

SB: Do you think there was a turning point for him?

EJ: Yes — when he started to have these electric orgasms down his spine!

SB: Oh my god. You hear about people who have spinal cord injuries talking about this, or people who suffered an injury that supposedly was going to change their sexuality forever. Then they started feeling sexual orgasmic sensations in an area that they had never even felt before. Or the initiative, the catalyst, was coming from a different spot.

You can hear and hear and hear about how there's a different sexual way, but until you actually experience it, you're feeling "Okay, fine. Everyone else can have the party, but I'm not invited."

EJ: I think that Ken had more of a block about finding different ways of sex than I did, because I always thought that was there for me. You know, somebody could touch my neck and I could get juicy. Touch my cheek.

I knew that the whole body is an erogenous zone, but most men don't know that, and he didn't know that. You know, he was always into oral sex. That was not a problem. He loves oral sex. He enjoys it, he's good at it. He's not uptight about smells or tastes.

One time I got a bikini wax, and he was horrified. I said, "But what about the hairs between your teeth?" He said, "I like the hairs between my teeth!" So he's totally into, you know, smells, tastes...

SB: The whole woman.

EJ: He's really alive to that stuff.

But what happened finally was doing oral sex, touching, tasting, playing... It's very hard to even describe. Playing, listening to music, laughing, telling jokes — we've always been enormously close. The Sunday mornings in the country, we take a hot tub, we listen to music. We hang out, we read the paper, we laugh, we get in bed... If it's warm enough, we swim.

And then he started having these orgasms where his whole back would become lightning. You've heard that from people...

SB: Yes, of course. And often people who say "Look, I'm an atheist, I'm not the sort of person who sees UFOs or has out-of-body experiences, but I'm having sexual sensations that aren't on the first or second page of The Joy of Sex. They're just not your standard penis-vagina or tongue-clit... Something new is happening to me."


I'm such a great believer in sexual creativity, and how — as much as everyone says "The mind is our most important sexual organ," they don't understand that it is. That you could lose everything else, but as long as you didn't have a lobotomy, you'd be sexual. It's the key to everything.

On the other hand, folks who've had brain injuries and brain tumors — when you lose sexual desire and creativity from your mind, it doesn't matter if all the other parts work. It's gone. And that's quite bracing.

EJ:I could get a headline any day of the week by calling up the New York Times or the Washington Post and saying "I have given up sex."

SB: Oh, that would be so good...

EJ:I could get on the front page. "And now I am entering a nunnery. It's going to be an orthodox Jewish nunnery, and I will never — I'm shaving my head. I'm wearing a sheitel..." And... You know, that's what they want you to say. "Author of 'Zipless Fuck'..." — which is what people think it's really called.

SB: "...finds her zippers!"

EJ: Right! I mean, it's so preposterous. People want the complete turnabout. It's like Christopher Hitchens and his atheist book.

That's how low our press has fallen. Everybody's infected. Noam Chomsky predicted this thirty years ago. He said, "When the news is owned by five conglomerates — we won't have news." And guess what? We don't. We have Anna Nicole Smith.

You know, I actually saw the headline during that whole circus — "What's next for Anna Nicole?"

SB: "In the afterlife!" Exactly.

EJ: Well, she's rotting...

SB: The worms are talking all the time...

EJ: "What's next for Anna Nicole?" Can you believe it? I mean, that's our media!

SB: I want to ask you about something on the other end of the generational syndrome. You have a daughter that's older than mine. I think your daughter is in her twenties.

EJ: 28.

SB: And I have a teenager. I wasn't trying to keep sexual knowledge secret from my daughter. I wasn't going to be like "You're going to be a virgin, and I'm locking you in a convent."

EJ: "I have the key to your chastity belt."

SB: Exactly.

EJ: "You're gonna feel something you never have felt." We used to sing that in high school. (Laughs)


SB: I find myself biting my lip in certain circles talking about how they're managing their teenaged daughters when I realize that's not the approach I've taken. Sometimes I feel defensive, like I'm as protective and as mama tiger-ish as anyone would be. It's just that I'm not going to be spurred on by some sexist notion of "virtue" any more than I wanted somebody hectoring me about that when I was a teenager.

So I wanted to ask you — did you ever feel tempted to become a conservative nag, that would lock her in the cellar...

EJ: Never.

SB: How did you deal with it?


Sophie Dahl
EJ: I was very permissive. In those days, Molly's best friend was Sophie Dahl, this beautiful model and actress, and they both were at the day school in New York. We would have these long conversations. They'd sit down with me, and they'd say "Erica — When should you go all the way?"

SB: As if a bell's gonna ring!

EJ: Yeah, because I'm the expert — right? I'm the maven.

And I would say, "Well make sure it's with somebody who you really like, if not feel affection for. And make sure that he's kind. Make sure that he will not push you around, that he will use birth control unless you have birth control — that you should have birth control." That he is somebody, you know, who will be a friend, and...blah blah blah.

Well, they both agreed that that was ideal. And they both went off and did the opposite! (Laughs)

SB: Someone really mean, who didn't give a crap!

EJ: Right! So what people say about sex, and what they do are two different things. To watch that, as you're getting older, and to watch them go through — you know, the druggie sex, and the debasing sex, and all the things they said as good little feminists they didn't want...

You've got to realize that there is this tremendous gap between the beau idéal and the reality!

See Also:
D.C. Sex Diarist Bares All
The D.C. Madam Speaks!
Deep Throat, Big Brains - Sex Blogger Chelsea Girl
The Male Scale: 10 Archetypes
The Prince of Gonzo Porn

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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

D.C. Sex Diarist Bares It All

Washington D.C. Sex Diarist Speaks Out - an Interview With Washingtonienne Blogger Jessica Cutler

Jessica Cutler was a bored, envelope-tossing, congressional staffer for former Republican Senator Mike DeWine — until the online diary about her sex adventures got some unexpected notoriety. Her stories about adventures with the political elite snared a few pious policy-makers, including her apparent S&M fuck pal, Robert Steinbuch, DeWine's former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Naturally, she was canned from her job, accompanied by media fireworks.

Did Ms. Cutler crawl away, hide under the bed, enroll in a 10-day rehab, or issue a non-denial denial? Hardly. She wrote a scintillating novelization of her experience — the bawdy, smart, and hilarious The Washingtonienne — and posed for Playboy.



Jessica retired her online diary — also called The Washingtonienne — after blogger Wonkette revealed her identity. But she continues to blog at JessicaCutlerOnline.com while contemplating her next novel and jumping out of the occasional cake.

Jessica and I talked about the hypocrisy of Capitol Hill's Christian conservatives, the differences between prostitution and getting paid for sex, and which drugs are best for getting it on.

For a free month's subscription to "In Bed With Susie Bright," click here. The full audio version of this interview can be found here.


SUSIE BRIGHT: It seems like you found yourself writing a novel because you were forced to. I mean, you had your little private life, and your girlfriends, and you were gossiping like anybody else would with their friends. And then all of the sudden, your secret blog got outed! So you kind of had to write a book to say your piece, or to set the record straight.

JESSICA CUTLER: Yes. I think that was totally the situation, you know? And not a lot of people understand that. The longest thing I'd ever written prior to that was like a 5,000-word article for a magazine.

SB: About what?

JC: Shoes. It's so clichéd — a "Sex and the City" type thing. Whatever. I didn't like writing. That's why I quit a job at a magazine and ended up working in D.C.

The thing is... my life wasn't perfect, but I was really happy! You know, I was dating lots of guys and just living my life. We were talking among friends, you know, and at the time, we just thought, "Oh, we're using up all our minutes on our cellphones, and... I don't want to email this to you because it has our IP addresses and you never know."

SB: So when you blogged the gossip, you were actually trying to be more private.

JC: Yeah! And I thought, worst-case scenario, if this ever gets back to me, I will delete it, I'll deny that I wrote it, and it will be bygones! (Laughs)

SB: Well apparently you learned your lesson in D.C. — just deny and shred!

JC: (Laughs) But then I thought taking responsibility was the right thing to do. It's better than lying about it. I remember the first couple of days when all this came out, after I left my job, I went on the Internet and there was all this speculation over who was writing it. And they were suggesting other people in my office, and people in other offices. I felt bad, you know?

So I started getting phone calls from reporters, and they have my unlisted number. I figured, they must know. How did they get my number? So I figured that whoever knew it was me was emailing reporters. It really freaked me out. I was a journalist in college, so I know what it's like to be a young reporter. If you hear about this girl who could be another Monica — that's sort of what everyone's hoping for. If you find out her address and where she lives, what are you gonna do? You're gonna go to her house!

Other people were telling me, "You probably better call these people back before someone shows up at your apartment." And that was something I didn't want. So I thought I handled it the best I could.

SB: Well, it's interesting when you say, "the best you could." Because you have this air about you, especially in person, where you're self-deprecating. And everything I'd heard about you before I read your book made me think that you were sort of like a deer — a sexy deer — caught in the headlights.


But when I started reading your book, I thought, "My god. She can write! Her timing is incredible. She has acute observational skills. She can Write with a capital W." This book just flies. And then I thought, well, okay… maybe it's ghostwritten and this is just a creation of a scandal. But then I went to your blog, and there was that same voice again. And there was your wit and your authority. You have so much authority in your writing...

JC: Thanks!

SB: You do! If only people could see the look on your face. It's all squished up, like you're saying… "What?!"

JC: Well, I think when you read a lot of criticism, you start to see yourself through their eyes. But I'm proud of the book. I think a lot of people just try to diminish any kind of accomplishment. You know, 'cause it always goes back to… "Well, she was a hooker."

SB: You've gotten all the stigma and criticism of being a sex worker without the paycheck.

JC: I know! It's not fair! (Laughs)

SB: It's more like you were a party girl. Maybe you're still a party girl. You enjoyed going out and having all the usual fun, whether it meant drugs, dancing, great sex, bad sex, crazy adventures.

And then just having the fun of talking about it the next day — but you weren't charging by the hour!

JC: (Laughs) I know. That is one of those things that just doesn't go away. And it's like a big sticking point for people

SB: I want to know what your own response is to that, Jessica. Because I've also been characterized as a full-time pro. And I have not run my life as a prostitution business. Not because I think it's wrong, but it's just not my life story.

So I find when I get that sort of attitude from someone, I get kind of feisty. In many respects, I identify with whores. If I'm around other whores, I feel like part of the crew. Because we'd have some things in common, in terms of our life experience, in the way people perceive us. And I can identify with a lot of their values – their sense of the reality of what really goes on with sex that people don't like to talk about. I wonder if you feel the same way, or if you just want to be as far as possible from anyone thinking you have anything to do with it.

JC: The latter is totally not the case. When I start to feel defensive, my attitude is sort of like, if people are calling me a whore, "Well, what's wrong with being a whore?" You know? I mean, I think girls who are sex workers — and men, all sex workers — they see another side of humanity and sexuality. People who've never worked in the sex industry — people who've never done it — don't know the half of it.

I've heard girls I know who escort say, "I think every woman should do this, because you find out a lot. You learn a lot about men." They tell me, "You don't even know. You wrote a book and even you don't know the half of it." And I'm like... "Yes, I want to know all about it..."

I really don't know what the hang-up is about that. I don't know why people really seem to dislike prostitutes. I don't understand that attitude at all.

SB: Are you more confrontational than you were when you first started working in D.C.? I ask because you worked for a lot of conservative guys that have… like, piggy opinions about how women should stay at home with their legs crossed. And god forbid they have an abortion. You know, the attitude that America would be better if women were basically barefoot and pregnant.

You worked for some really famous so-called Christian conservatives. [Ed: Jessica worked for Senator Mike DeWine (R) - Ohio, who was defeated in the 2006 election.] And the way you describe D.C. political life, it's just as hypocritical and full of shit as everyone imagines it to be.

JC: Oh yeah. I mean, the platform the Senator I worked for had... he was a Christian conservative.

SB: And was he really? Do you think these people have a grain of sincerity?


JC: The way it is, each Senator is a figurehead. And you have the staffers doing the work. But you know, like… from hanging out with them and partying with them and stuff, like — I wasn't the only girl in my office that had an abortion.

I went there not knowing anyone, you know? I'm not the daughter of any contributors and didn't know anyone who had anything to do with Capitol Hill. I just went in there for my interview. I would have worked for anybody, you know?

SB: You were a whore!

JC: Yes, I was! (Laughs) Ideologically, yes!

It was sort of like I just took whatever, because you need names on your resume. And they didn't ask me what I thought about anything. They didn't ask me, "Have you had abortions? What do you think about that? What are your views on this or that? You're single. Are you sleeping around?" It didn't matter… then.

And even when I started working there, people knew I was dating around. They knew I was seeing someone in my office, and that we had, you know… non-vanilla sex. And none of it was a problem until it got out.

SB: There's a part of your book that doesn't get as much attention, but was riveting to me. It actually created both a lot of tension in the storyline, a sense of suspense — and also, I hate to admit this to you, but it brought out the mommy in me.

It wasn't your sexual activities. But I found myself thinking: "Jessica, don't keep drinking! Jessica — Jessie, you're getting too high! That's the fifth night in a row! You've been a wreck in the morning! Oh, this poor little baby. I'm just all worried about her." And then I would think to myself, "God, you are such a mom."

And it was actually quite interesting to read a female narrator being so blasé and straightforward about being high and saying what she likes about being high. Because, of course, male novelists do this constantly, and they don't provoke such a protective reaction. If it's Ernest Hemingway or Bret Easton Ellis or whoever, you know, they drink every night, they're always loaded out of their minds, and everybody still sort of expects that they'll work it out in the end. But when a young woman talks about it, even I start to worry.

And the way you write about it, it's often hilarious — your drug adventures had me rolling on the floor! I couldn't believe all the nutty shit you did. But I also found myself saying to myself, "I wonder what's gonna happen?" Actually, if it had ended up with you saying, "And now I am a good AA member and all this is over" — I don't know if I would have liked that. That would've been too neat.

Anyway, I want to get your opinions about what drugs are the most fun, as far as sex is concerned. And where you're at in terms of the peril of being high all the time.

JC: Obviously drugs are a distraction from… you know, real sex, and the way intimacy is when you're sober. But if you really don't want to deal with that, you will have a lot of drunk sex, high sex. It's fun, but it's not real. I mean, I don't do this frequently. I would say the last time I, you know... (laughs) got high and had sex was last week. And I woke up the next morning and thought, "That was sloppy!"

SB: But why is it attractive?

JC: If you're doing this with someone, and you're really not secure with them, or you're worrying what they think — if you're both messed up, you're not thinking about it so much.


SB: Have you given any thought to your next book?

JC: Well, I have meetings with editors and they just want to hear about my life. I tell them, and they say, "Oh you have enough material for three books." But I don't want to do that. So I have some outlines. I think it'll sorta be chick lit.

SB: Well, I'm going to jump in and give you some advice. Fuck the chick lit notion, because it's already over. You have acute powers of observation, and you've seen into some interesting lives. Your candor comes out when you write.

I just interviewed someone who was talking about how she studies the Victorian Age. And she told me that in those days, best friends would write each other's biography. I thought that was fascinating. Like, what if I had to write another friend's memoir...

JC: Oh, I would love to do that! I've met so many girls who just blow me out of the water. You know?

And I've met girls who had really sad stories. Like, "If I wrote a novel, you could def…" But the thing is — they're too scatterbrained or too troubled to actually get around to it. And people are always saying, "Well, you should write it for them!" But then I'd feel like I'm stealing her stories...

SB: Well, when you're a writer, you become a story stealer.

JC: I hate people like that! I mean (laughs), there was a book kind of written about me. I left things out of my book, out of respect for the author, and then she wrote about them! And I was like… ohhh!

I was kind of surprised that she did that. And I wonder if her husband knows the scenes are real. He probably doesn't. [Ed: Maybe he does now!] Or maybe he knows and he doesn't care. But if I'd put it in my book, she might be suing me! (Laughs)

SB: Well, I think the fertility of your blog is probably going to show you the way. Every time I turn to it, you get me screaming or you get me giggling about something.

JC: It's supposed to be fun. In a way, I wish I never took the original blog down.

SB: You could always resurrect it.

JC: But I'm being kind of sued over that. (Laughs)

SB: Nothing would be happening if they didn't perceive you as someone with deep pockets to go after.

JC: I so don't. Actually, I filed for bankruptcy yesterday.

SB: Oh! Why?

JC: (Laughs)

SB: Congratulations, Miss Cutler!

JC: Yes. I am officially broke. Kind of a relief. You know...

SB: Well, not to be a target.

JC: There's that.

But with a blog — I mean, what happens when someone's offended by something someone's posted. Usually, there might be some email exchange, or some blog war...you know, if someone writes an attack on you, you can respond to it, if you want to acknowledge it at all.

It's mostly really silly. Especially someone calling you ugly or slutty. Okay — how many times do I have to go through this? Okay, I'm an ugly slut. And you're not? "You're better than me, you're so much smarter, you have a better blog..." What else do I have to say?

SB: Well, I'll just clear it up for our audience. Jessica Cutler is a talented writer. She is not ugly — she is so not-ugly. She is bankrupt, however. She's very pretty, very bankrupt... And she's slutty in all the good ways that so many of our slut-positive friends like to be.

JC: Sluts are the nicest people in the world. They're people pleasers!

See Also:
The D.C. Madam Speaks
Senator Vitter's Suppressed Statement
Five Nastiest Campaign Ads So Far
Don't Go There: Top 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Politics
Deep Throat, Big Brain: Sex Blogger Chelsea Girl
Three Hundred Pound Porn Queen Decimates Oklahoma Town
Drugs and Sex and Susie Bright

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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

Read More

Secrets of the Perry Bible Fellowship

Secrets of the Perry Bible Fellowship - Nicholas Gurewitch Interview

It's startling, it's funny, it's disturbing, and it's brilliant — and always with deceptively-innocent titles like "Hugbot," "Colonel Sweeto," or "Weeaboo."

Nicholas Gurewitch finally agreed to pull back the red curtains of his mind and share some secrets (and some unpublished art) with his beguiled fans.

The 25-year-old cartoonist created a web phenomenon with his comic strip The Perry Bible Fellowship, where there's always a new storyline, and often even a new style. I spoke with Gurewitch about his work and his forthcoming book, The Trial of Colonel Sweeto and Other Stories.

LOU CABRON: Can you explain some of the mystery away? Tell me something I don't know about The Perry Bible Fellowship.

NICHOLAS GUREWITCH: I hide a lot of things in the comic — details that I hope resonate with people when they read things for the second and third time. I do love planting things like that...

LC: I was just proud that I'd spotted that same curly line in the Masculator strip last week that was in your first strip six years ago, Stiff Breeze.

NG: It might be the same breeze in all these strips! I think it might be God messing with people.

Stiff Breeze
LC: Your first comic also had a hidden phallic shape in the clouds...

NG: That may have been a very formative one — the comic that determined the persona of The Perry Bible Fellowship.

That one was kind of created by accident, but most of the comics that followed seemed to get their power by hiding something. I got high off the fact that some people noticed it and some people didn't. It almost made the people who noticed it feel more privileged.

I think I've been trying to appeal to that ever since...

LC: Now I have to know — what else have you hidden in the strips?

NG: I like hiding characters from one comic in another comic, or objects from one comic in another comic. Or people in a comic.

I tried to put the author Charles Bukowski in the comic strip Gamblin' Man. I think it may have been successful, because I noticed that a Charles Bukowski web site had mentioned his presence in the comic.

LC: Wow! Can you give me any other examples?

NG: I think you can see in the comic strip The Other Girls — with the vampires... I might rather avoid giving too many clues.



I don't generally do celebrities, but I've had a lot of people accuse me of planting ex-girlfriends in the comics. (Laughs)

LC: So what do you say to that?

NG: I think you've got to shrug it off.

LC: So you're not drawing your ex-girlfriends into your comics?

NG: That's my official answer.

LC: Your strip No Survivors had a weird backstory. It shows a man spelling out "Marry Me" with the corpses from a plane crash. You told Esquire that you'd ended a relationship with "a very gorgeous girl," and were trying to convey your sadness to her!

NG: I just found my situation very comical. I don't think it's a coincidence.

Forbidden Frontiers and "Cave Explorer"

LC: So could the Perry Bible Fellowship cartoonist ever dream up a strip that was just too strange? Ever have an idea that was too far out to publish?

NG: Occasionally, but it's usually because it's too far out for me. It's never because its too far out for my audience. Sometimes I don't really want to see them.

LC: But in your FAQ you've also said some strips aren't online because they're "not meant for the internet."

NG: Occasionally I'll just outgrow my appreciation for an old strip, and I'll remove it from the internet. Or there's one that I never thought was funny that got published that I never bothered putting online. Or there's one that's just too offensive...

I put a bunch of these lost strips in the book that's coming out. There's a whole section of the book devoted to comics that have been supressed from public view. There are a couple that are overly offensive that are in the book. I've hidden a few things in there...

LC: Can we see one?

NG: Sure - here's the first frame.


This lost frame for Rhino Brain appears in Nicholas Gurewitch


LC: One of my favorite strips is Cave Explorer — where a man builds a couch-cushion "cave" to trick his son into getting on the school bus.

NG: That's something that eveyone does, every day, in small little ways. I don't think everyone does it that literally, but we're constantly manipulating children. So to see it done very visibly, and in an enjoyable way, is almost kind of — it throws a wrench in our conception of ourselves.


LC: Does this mean your parents tried to trick you like that?

NG: I don't think we ever set up "Cave Explorer." But any parent that tries to outsmart their child to get them to do something is kind of engaging in this activity. If they try to get the kid to think about a new topic or they mention something advantageous about school that day — any time they cut a corner when they're parenting.

LC: Laughing Squid spotted something apparently based on another of your comic strips, Nice T-Shirt. Someone's selling "Avenging Unicorn" action figures, "with four interchangeable horns that can be used to impale a mime, a new age/hippie girl and a business man."

NG: I always thought that was really bothersome.

LC: Really?!

NG: What I took from what it was that person had probably seen the "avenging unicorn" comic that I did. And I think the giveaway is that there was no reason to think that the unicorn was extracting vengeance on any of the people he was supposed to impale.

Also, the fact that a mime actually has something go through his chest seems reminiscent of The Perry Bible Fellowship archive again. I did one where a mime gets hit in the chest with a bullet. (There's also their "Unicorn Power" chewing gum, which is even more bothersome because it looks so tasty.)

I had some people telling me — wondering if I was getting a cut of the profits from them.

LC: So if it's not licensed by you — what did you do?

NG: I think I just got a little sad for a day, and left it at that.




LC: Sad? Was it that far from the original comic strip?

NG: I thought they missed it entirely. The toy almost comes off as mean-spirited. What bothers me about the toy is that there's no reason to think that any of those people should be punished.

The comeuppance in the comic is entirely appropriate. I think the beauty of the strip is that there are unlikely protectors out there. The boy wearing the shirt doesn't even bid them to do it. I think it's just the nature of the unicorn to protect the person who wears their mantra. And I adore the fact that the bully absolutely deserves what he gets.

Food Fight and the Fans

LC: Do your strips get any other weird reactions from readers?

NG: This one kid thought I was enjoying the guy who yells "food fight!" in the Food Fight comic strip.

I despise that man! I don't think he realized that. I hate him with all my heart. Seeing him in action is something I find extremely amusing...

There's almost always a punishment element to these terrible people in the comics. It's not just badness for badness's sake. People don't see the bigger picture a lot of times. They see something bad and they think it's automatically endorsed. I condemn a lot of the characters in my comic strips.

LC: Do you ever get people complaining that "This strip wasn't as funny as that strip?"

NG: That's a really common review. I think a lot of people think the comic is slipping lately.

But I think people have been saying that since the first six strips came out in college my freshman year. I had my roommate saying, "These new ones are okay, but you'll never get back to that first semester." It's been that way every step of the way.

I laugh at it just as much as I always have.


LC: Wikipedia says you almost never receive hate mail.

NG: I've learned to make really quick and vague replies that make them sorry for asking.

I had a really long dialogue with someone who wrote in who was quite disgusted. He said he couldn't figure out how I thought certain things were funny — that there was no excuse for thinking that someone's death could be funny. He was particularly disturbed by the comic Hey Goat, where the last frame indicates an avalanche and a skeletonized couple next to the goat. He said there was no reason that could ever be funny.

LC: What did you say?

NG: I basically apologized and let him know where I was coming from. I think my explanation to him was that in that case, I thought it was very funny that his downfall — his fate — was determined by something absolutely unnecessary. It's pretty frivolous to yell at a goat and let him know that you're in love. I really like the idea that that was his undoing.

By the end of it, we were pretty friendly. We realized it's impossible to know anyone's intentions without meeting them in person. It was something really nice like that.

LC: I have to ask you — where did the title come from?

NG: My buddy and I were just looking around his room and he had a poster on his wall of this traveling singing group. And they were performing at the Perry Bible Fellowship. They were called the Hyssongs.

He actually framed it and gave it to me as an apartment warming present a few months ago.

The poster — it would be embarrassing to anyone who owned it.


That's them — but not the same image.

LC: So when people ask you about the title, what do you think?

NG: I think, a mental sigh. And then I proceed to try to cover up the fact that I'm not sure that there is a very good reason why the comic strip is called that....

LC: How many emails do you get, anyways?

NG: It varies quite a bit. But there's one instance that really gave me an idea about the crowd that was waiting for each update. I'd published online The Throbblefoot Aquarium. I was blown away with the fact that within five minutes of posting, I had received 20 similar emails — appreciating the parody of Edward Gorey.

It's tough to figure out. I get the impression that people think I get a lot more email than I get.

LC: Do you want more?

NG: Everyone says, "I'm sorry for loading up your inbox. You must have a thousand of these." I do probably get more email than I'm comfortable with. I think I have a few from last May that I need to respond to...

I want to respond to all of them. Sometimes I just don't know what to say, so I put it off for another day.

LC: What's the strangest reaction you've ever gotten from a fan?

NG: Every once in a while, I'll get a piece of fan mail that touches my heart. The other day a young lady sent me an envelope full of grass. It had little to no explanation along with it, but it was nice to receive. It was strange encouragement.

LC: Did you write back?

NG: There wasn't a return address.

LC: So after six years of strangeness, do you have a message for all your fans?

NG: We're in this together

Perry Bible Fellowship - Lost Frame - Rhino Brain (Art, no text)


See Also:
What Happened to the Perry Bible Fellowship?
Records Broken by the Perry Bible Fellowship
Lost "Horrors" Ending Found on YouTube

Read More

The D.C. Madam Speaks!

The D.C. Madam Speaks - Deborah Jeane Palfrey Interview

Reached for comment today, the D.C. Madam had this to say about Larry Craig.

"My former position...does not qualify me to comment upon such matters. Folks like Senator Craig and for that matter Senator Vitter most likely need the opinion and guidance of professional psychiatrists!"

Deborah Jeane Palfrey was an experienced madam — that is to say, an escort service manager. A brothel-keeper whose customers at least chose a different path than Senator Craig — they never had to solicit sex in airport bathrooms.

Ironically, the clue that tipped off the Justice Department was a Homeland Security "terrorist watch program," Palfrey tells us. In one of her first interviews, she complains that she'd run her service for 13 years without so much as a peep of trouble from the police until one day, 11 months ago. And then all hell broke loose — just four weeks before the crucial 2006 elections. Under pressure, and suspicious about the timing of her bust, Palfrey eventually decided to go nuclear. She published the phone list of everybody who'd used her services.



Hypocrites beware! Among her customers was Randall Tobias, Condoleeza Rice's #2 senior official in the State Department. (Tobias was responsible for withholding funds for AIDS treatment and prevention if it didn't come packaged with "education" preaching abstinence and monogamy.) And though Senator Craig wasn't a customer, another implicated visitor was the conservative Senator from Louisiana, David Vitter — or "Vitter the shitter," as prostitutes often call him in his hometown of New Orleans, for his alleged diaper fetish. All these folks who rode into town on a moral majority agenda turned up on the D.C. Madam's phone list.

But what does she have to say now?
For a free month's subscription to "In Bed With Susie Bright," click here. The full audio version of this interview can be found here: Link

SUSIE BRIGHT: Has there been any silver lining to the notoriety of being busted so wide open?

DEBORAH PALFREY: Hmmm...

SB: On the one hand, it seems like it must be the biggest stress in your life, and that maybe you'd give anything to be back in Vallejo, just quietly running your business. But I wonder if there's an aspect that you couldn't have predicted where you're thinking, "You know what? I'm kind of glad this happened!"

DP: Well, first of all, it came as a tremendous shock. (Laughs) I had no concept whatsoever that this was about to hit.

In the beginning — from the time that everything happened to me on October 4 of 2006 until I was indicted five months later... I tried desperately to maintain the status quo. I tried desperately to keep this quiet, to make this go away, and to try to understand what the government was doing. I figured surely there must've been some rational explanation for why they came after me. I can say without equivocation that my civil attorney — Mr. Montgomery Sibley and I — tried in vain to get this to stop.

And we don't know what the rationale has been for them to go forward with the case, other than the fact that we simply wouldn't fold and give them what they wanted. At that time, I think they pretty much wanted to just take my entire life savings from me. So of course they ratcheted it up a notch, and it went into the criminal realm.

It's at this point in time that the status quo pretty much went out the window. We went public for all intents and purposes — although I believe this was made public by the Department of Justice when they leaked this information to the Smoking Gun in October, shortly after my home was raided and the search warrant was executed upon my property.

SB: Who tipped them off? Was it a customer who was really a police officer investigating you? Was it somebody who worked for you and got pissed off and decided to blow a whistle? Why, out of all the zillions of escort services in Washington and Virginia, did they decide to bug you?

DP: I was obviously sitting on a powder keg of information. There is much still to come out. David Vitter is not the sole and substance of my entire 13 years of operation, that's for sure. I was sitting on something — or they thought I was sitting on something. I was under observation — J. Edgar Hoover-style — from as far back as March of 2004, until the trigger was pulled on me early in October of 2006.

SB: Wow.

DP: For 31 months I was being observed! Any good vice cop will tell you that a simple prostitution bust or investigation takes no more than a few days to a few weeks to a few months to put together — from start to finish. It doesn't appear that I was being looked at for prostitution-related activities, as much as I was being watched for my own personal and professional actions. My banking, my business affairs, my personal acts. So as for the question: why me and me alone? I think it's logical to conclude that there was something that I had, or knew, that they found to be very valuable.

Who are they? We don't know. Is it the GOP? Is it this administration? Is it Homeland Security? Is it the CIA? Who is "they"? We don't know who they are...
For a free month's subscription to "In Bed With Susie Bright," click here. The full audio version of this interview can be found here: Link

SB: Do you feel like your legal pressure strategy of focusing on the customers — do you think that's making the prosecution say, "Oh, god. Just make her go away. Drop everything." Is the fact that you've been so much more defiant than they ever could've imagined helping?

DP: Oh, well... defiant, yeah. I just think they don't know what to do with me any more.

SB: Have they ever suggested, even in a low-key way, "You know what? Just pay us a couple hundred bucks and we'll go away." Or are they still acting really fierce.

DP: When we were quiet as church mice — from last October 4, when the search warrant was executed, until March 1, when I was criminally indicted — we went to them on three occasions. We went to them in late October/early November, again in mid-January after New Year's, and then finally at the last pre-indictment conference in late February. And we did everything — beg, plead, threaten, and cajoled the Assistant US Attorneys in this case. We asked them, "What is it that you want? What is going on here?" But they would not talk to us! They stood us up for an appointment. They did the most rudimentary motions work that they had to do... They wouldn't hand over discovery! They stonewalled, stonewalled, stonewalled. And they were able to do so procedurally in the civil phase of this. We got nowhere.

At the very end, at this last pre-indictment conference in late February, we took the now famous photocopy of one page of that August, 1996 phone bill. And we said, "Look. We've got 46 pounds of this."

SB: Wasn't that what they were after to begin with?

DP: That's the biggest irony. You have to remember — I was under observation for 31 months, and they didn't do anything. So why would they pull the trigger all of a sudden, in October of last year?

SB: I suspect something partisan is going on. J. Edgar Hoover used to watch certain people he was politically afraid of, like Martin Luther King. "I'm gonna get all this sex shit on him, so that I can use it later."

DP: That's what came to our minds eventually, because October was one month before the very crucial November election of last year, when both the Senate and House went Democratic, and the balance of power in this country shifted.

And, here I was, after 13 years, this very routine life... They must've watched me and thought I was the most boring person in the world. And all of the sudden, I start making these rather unusual or aberrant moves. I put my house of 15 or so years on the market. I closed my business rather unexpectedly — it wasn't really unexpected, but if you're watching me from afar, it would be a flag. My 13-year-business was shut down. And then I wire money — $70,000 — over to Germany, and make a little trip to Germany.

Which by the way was picked up on one of those Homeland Security terrorist watch programs — the ones which are supposed to be watching the terrorists?

They were watching me.

And I think when I made that wire transfer, that was the straw that broke the camel's back. Because as soon as I made that wire transfer, on September 28 of last year, the next day this languid, non-investigation/investigation went into warp drive. A few business days later, on Tuesday October 3, I had two postal inspectors who flew out from Washington D.C. to Northern California, standing outside my house, seeing the sale sign that's in my front yard and apparently calling my real estate agent. They identified themselves as a couple being transferred from Washington D.C. to the Bay Area — they loved my neighborhood, they loved my house, could they get in and see it?

When my real estate agent told them no, they could not — because she did not have a key for the property, I was in Germany, they could not get access... We believe it's at this point in time, that they drove up to Sacramento, which is about an hour from where I live. They got a search warrant based on information that was three and a half to five and half years old. To put this into perspective for your audience, rarely is a search warrant ever issued in this country in any kind of case in any jurisdiction based on information that is older than 6 months.

SB: Were you leaving Vallejo because you'd always wanted to live in Europe, and you were just ready for a change...

DP: That's it. You got it right there.

SB: So you were just planning your life.

DP: That's right.

SB: You weren't trying to be a fugitive or anything.

DP: Nope!

SB: You were just moving on to the next stage.

SB: My favorite part of your story is that you had your own newsletter when you were running your service. How did you get the idea of starting a newsletter. I mean, you have a lot to say...

DP: Boy, I have a lot to say now!


SB: And plus, you know, even — when I read your use of the word "misogynist," I think to myself: that's somebody who has a very political point of view.

DP: Oh, I have very definite views about the police. But aside from that, let me say this. Those newsletters have been largely taken out of context and made to seem a little more tawdry than they are.

SB: I'm not interested in the tawdry part. I'm interested in the feminist part!

DP: I understand that. However, they are quite colorful.

SB: Yes they are!

DP: Yes, they — I did make them colorful, because I wanted to get my point across, because I had a staff that was ever-changing.

One of the topics, of course, was misogynists. These cops — the vice cops, you know, the lowest on the food chain at the police department — they love to go after defenseless women. You know, it's, it's... It is something that I want to explore when this is all over -- when my actual civil/criminal case is all over. I am even talking to some folks right now about putting together a documentary on what the police have done, do, and will continue to do to defenseless women in this country involved in the sex industry.

The very first person who emailed me when this all broke was a woman. And the subject header was: "My mother is an ex-madam." She went on to explain who she was, and the terror that she, her mother, and her family experienced at the hands of the police. This particular email was followed up by many many others, all having their own little monikers. Some were very well-known madams who have stories to tell that will make your blood curdle.

SB: You had already had — going back to the early 90s at least — a really harsh experience with the criminal justice system. And you had a prison experience. How come when you got out you stayed in the business? I mean, why didn't you say "That's it! I'm joining bible study groups, I'm becoming a missionary... This was horrible! They just put me on the rack." How come it didn't scare you straight?

DP: Well, first of all... You come out prison with a scarlet F — "Felon" — across your forehead. Despite the fact that I had a four-year degree, and a little less than a year of law school — I was a fairly well-educated, well-traveled, well-read, sophisticated young woman in my mid-30s... there was no chance in hell for me in this society — certainly not back in the early 90s — to go forward, to get any kind of a job, or to do anything. I had no choice. My life was in tatters financially, emotionally...

I came out of prison almost blind, because I have this little hereditary defect in my eyes which made my cornea detach, and it made me kind of go blind for a while.

SB: Oh, god!

DP: Oh it was — it was a lovely experience. The whole ordeal.

So, I was really not in a position to do much of anything but to go back into the business. And to go back into it in a way that I felt — and I believed — I would never have a repeat experience.

SB: And how were you going to feel protected this time?

DP: Well, I was going to not open up a business in San Diego, for starters! I was going to go to the other side of the country — Washington D.C. or New York. And then I was gonna set it up in a way where I hoped no one would do anything that would get me into trouble. And I guess I did a pretty dog-gone good job, because for 13 years, from late 1993 until last August of 2006, we did not have one bust!

SB: I'm glad you brought up the J. Edgar Hoover connection, because — you know, I'm about the same age as you, and I know the era you're speaking of. And it makes me wonder — when you decided "I'm going to set up this service in the D.C. area from a remote location" — was there any part of you that thought, "Oh god, D.C. It's gonna be all government workers! I should go to Chicago or New York or L.A."

DP: Oh no no, no. We didn't live in fear in 1993, Susie. We were only living in fear in the day and age of the Patriot Act.

SB: (Laughs) Okay. Well I just wondered, because there is going to be a certain kind of style of person you're going to be dealing with in Washington.

DP: True. And in the beginning, I alternated between New York and D.C. And I ultimately ended up choosing Washington. I still do believe, to this day, that it had a higher brow base of clients — as does New York — without that Tony Soprano element.

SB: (Laughs) Okay. I see what you mean. It's kind of — yes. I get it exactly.

SB: From my own experience, I know there's a lot more to an escort business than the woman who's entertaining the customers. Did you decide "I want to be a manager, I want to own my own place," because you yourself had been an escort? And were you always thinking, "I could do this so much better, and this is so stupid..."

DP: I knew some people in San Diego who owned and operated an escort service many years ago. I looked at what they were doing and I thought, "My god. They're nincompoops."

SB: What did they do that was so nincompoop-y?


DP: (Laughs) I thought they were trashy people. No business sense! No ability to just run a simple business operation. That's exactly how I saw the situation — a simple business operation. And if they could just run it like a commercial enterprise, it'd do so much better.

So I got into it more or less that way. As I've often said, I got into it because the money attracted me — just like it does with each and every other person who ever enters the escort service business.

You know, the classic male question, and the hoped-for response is...

SB: Is that you're a nyphomaniac? (Laughs)

DP: Yes, yes... Nobody does it for that. Everybody looks at it as a business opportunity. I just chose to take it on as a real business opportunity, and to cultivate it accordingly.

I think a lot of these men enjoyed women who were strong personalities. Who were smart and engaging. That is what they were looking for. And that's who I hired.

SB: How could you tell that someone was tough enough to handle the secrecy, or ready for the pressures and the risk.

DP: Well, you know — up until last October, there was no pressure. We had a great gig goin' on, let me tell you. We all had a great gig! I did, the clients, the girls — We were not under pressure. We all had a happy life. We were all happy.

SB: So you didn't feel like, when you talked to someone, that it was like interviewing them for the Marines — "Are you tough enough to handle this? You need to be mentally tough..."

DP: Well, I made sure that they understood that there was a sexual component to this business. Albeit legal, again — you know, I've got to stand up for my attorney, who is not here at the moment, to jump in and make sure everybody understands... "albeit legal." There was a sexual aspect to this, and I needed to make sure that they understood — was this their cup of tea? They had to know that they weren't just going to go out and be wined and dined at the best restaurants in D.C. and given hundreds of dollars when the night was over. They had to know that there was an aspect to this where they would have to earn their money...

SB: When women interviewed to work for you, what were the things you looked for or didn't look for?

DP: Let me say this. Even though I'm heterosexual, I have excellent taste in women. I've been told I have excellent taste in women. I thought like these men did, a lot of times. I'll tell you what they're looking for — and that's the same thing I was looking for.

You don't have to be particularly pretty, but pretty doesn't hurt. You have to have a nice figure, but you don't have to have a rockin' body, by any means. Weight is important. It's an indicator of health more than anything. Education. Sophistication. Good sense of humor. A charming disposition. And not someone who's particulary a sap.

SB: Did everyone already feel really comfortable with kinky fantasies and eroticism? Did you feel like you had to vet people to make sure they weren't gonna be shocked or disgusted?

DP: Yes. I told them in general what the business required, and made sure this was something that they could go along with? And many times, the answer was "God, yeah! This is hardly anything compared to what my boyfriend would've expected of me!"

SB: (Laughs) And that was the right answer?

DP: That was the right answer.

SB: "My boyfriend already has himself in diapers...."

DP: Okay, well, we were not going down that road...

SB: Oh, come on. It's so funny.

DP: Well, yes.

SB: I mean, when I think about... It's almost like everything these people rail against becomes the very thing that they're into. It's almost as if they're revealing themselves by their preaching. Whatever they're screaming about...

DP: What is that word when you beat yourself up?

SB: Self-flagellating?

DP: Yes. Of course, I'm just a regular gal from southwestern Pennsylvania, you know, growing up in the '60s like you. I just, for the life of me — professionally, personally, and any other way — I could not possibly imagine the sexual kick out of that one.

SB: Some of my friends who haven't had experience in the sex business will say to me, "Well, what's in vogue? What's the top thing people want to do?" But I think most guys just want someone to listen to them and be charming and deferential. And, you know, provide very basic stuff. That was my guess. That it wouldn't be, like — "Everybody wants you to be in a French maid's outfit."

DP: My girls can probably give you a better answer than I could. But I would tend to think that a lot of it has to do with companionship. I absolutely would agree with that. I experienced it myself. I became quasi-friends with many of these people over the years.

SB: And they would want to have, you know, like, phone time with you, just to be chatting...

DP: Just chatting. And we weren't talking about sexual things. We were simply talking as one person to another.

SB: Did you get a sense of how many people want a "girlfriend experience" versus how many people want a one-night stand — a "Don't tell me your name"-type experience?


DP: Yeah, there was a lot of that going on. And I would always tell these folks, as kindly as I could... "Look. This is not Match.com." It's just not! It's another animal.

So many men were confused, thinking that this was the way they could do it. You know, like they could go to Russia and buy a bride! It just wasn't that way.

SB: Well, what do you think of having personal relationships, particularly with men, when you're in this business?

DP: Well, I was not in the business. I ran the business from California. To clients who said, "Well gee, can't you come see me?" I would say, "It would be a heck of a transportation fee."

SB: I mean, does romance become sort of ridiculous...

DP: I would have to explain myself and how I make my living.

SB: I would think that you probably didn't feel like you could just be somebody's wife and act like nothing had ever happened, or that you didn't understand what you understand about men's sexuality.

I mean, you probably don't believe that monogamy is very possible. I would think you couldn't have an "Ozzie and Harriet" point of view about heterosexual relationships...

DP: Actually, in an odd sort of way, I do. Doesn't everyone want to find their soul mate?

SB: Well soul mate, yes. But that could mean so many things.

DP: Let's put it like this. Now that I am freed from the chains of this business, in a way that I never thought I would be free... I have great hope, in the coming months, as I work my way out of my current predicament, to end up in another place, obviously. And in that place, I hope, indeed, to find a nice man.

SB: I just can't wait to see who it's gonna be!

SB: What were your thoughts about sex when you were young? And what changed as you started growing up and opening your mind up to new ideas?

DP: Well... I had to have to somebody explain to me what the word "queer" meant because I had no concept that such a thing could ever occur. That was in the ninth grade. It was explained to me that that's when two boys kiss each other like a boy would kiss a girl.

And then, I never — it wasn't until I got out of high school that I connected that girls could do the same thing. So that might give you a really good basis of where I was at sexually.

SB: You were sheltered.

DP: I had no concept of sexuality on any level, or in any way. Uh... I was — I will say this on air — I was absolutely a virgin in high school. I was a virgin.

SB: I've seen the picture somebody ran of you on some kind of a prom date, and you look like a virgin. You look like a girl who's nervous about her prom, but trying to look her best. But you don't look like somebody who's a wild-haired, bra-less hippie.

DP: No. I was not a hoochie cootchie girl, that's for sure. So, you know, my understanding of sex really was very limited. I grew up in such a loving home, with doting parents. I was completely shielded. I had no concept of sexuality.

SB: What were your thoughts about money?

DP: I grew up in a very nice, very good blue collar household. I did all the odd jobs to earn a few extra dollars, like most kids do in junior high and high school. And when I got out on my own, I was working like a dog, like most people, trying to go to school, doing two-or-more jobs... killing myself! In high school I'd done a great deal of food waitressing, in these family-style, Denny's-type restaurants. I advanced from working as a food waitress to a cocktail waitress position. Because you could make so much more money.

And then I figured "This is ridiculous!" By then I had become somewhat pretty. I wasn't the mousey little thing I might've been in high school. And I thought — you know, well why not? This is ridiculous!

And then that led to the next jump. To my foray into the escort service world. Also — it should be pointed out, it was never about greed. I think it's about leveling the playing field a little bit financially — and that was certainly true when we were coming up in the 70s and then into the 80s...

SB: (Laughs) When I think of the prominent people who've been revealed in this whole escapade so far, do you feel like you've made your point? You can say, "Look. These people are hypocrites. It just exposes the whole nonsense of the prosecution. Back off." Or do you look forward to a future where you can discuss more of the names and the politics on the list, because there's a further point to be made.

DP: I don't wish to ruin anyone's life. However, I do share the same mindset as Larry Flynt: expose the hypocrites. And for those few dozen to a hundred or so that ultimately will be revealed — like David Vitter — I go to sleep very easily at night without any guilty feelings whatsoever about the David Vitters of the world.

He has the ability to send us to war, in part. He has a vote. We don't have a vote, but he has a vote. So these people not only are hypocrites — they're kind of dangerous.

And these people can and should be exposed, as far as I'm concerned. And that's the very reason I let the records go as I did, in the very end.

SB: I heard from one of Randall Tobias's staffers, who is an international aid worker, working with AIDS — after his name was made public, and he had to go away, quickly. My friend had to listen to this man pushing his "abstinence" policy all around the world...

DP: Mmm hmm...

SB: And they were just, like, "Thank god. He's out of here." Everything about public service and what decent people here are trying to do was being ruined by people like this.

DP: I am so happy you told me that. I had not heard that. Because that's exactly why I released the records.

See Also:
Drugs and Sex and Susie Bright
Senator Vitter's Suppressed Statement
World Sex Laws
Don't Go There: Top 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Candidates
Libertarian Chick Fights Boob With Boobs
Three Hundred Pound Porn Queen Decimates Oklahoma Town

Read More

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

Read More

Deep Throat, Big Brain — Sex Blogger Chelsea Girl


A former stripper who once got nekkid on the Howard Stern Show, Chelsea Girl calls her very smart sex blog "Pretty Dumb Things." And it's been gathering so much attention that she's been asked to write for Yahoo! Personals, the Sappho's Girls blog and Penthouse. In her spare time — or in another life — she's a professor of English literature.

In this conversation, we discussed "viscous porn-starry spit," her scholarly interest in Victorian erotica, and — of course — her blog.
For a free month's subscription to "In Bed With Susie Bright," click here. The full audio version of this interview can be found here: Link

SUSIE BRIGHT: You were a stripper who became known for your erudite sex blogging. Were you even keeping any kind of diary when you were stripping?

CHELSEA GIRL: No. Nothing.

SB: Your blog isn't all about you being a raconteur with stories about your dance days.

CG: Sometimes...

SB: Sometimes you'll bring it up, but the blog is more in the now. I'm interested in what got you started on blogging about your sex life?

CG: Spite. Spite ended up being a really good motivator. I was dating a man who had a blog. And it was the first time I had ever heard about blogging. This was around January, 2005. And he very much seduced me with his blog. He wrote wonderful things about me. And then the relationship came to a crashing halt. He actually broke up with me via email.

SB: Ouch.



CG: Yeah, it was charming. And then he wrote something really Milquetoast about me, and that was the end for me with his blog. At that point I decided: "You know what? I can do this so much better than you — so much more successfully, and I'm going to. And I did.

SB: What was it like being on the Howard Stern Show? I've never been on, and I have mixed feelings about it. Like if he asked me to take off my shirt — I take off my shirt all the time. But here's my dilemma — I don't want somebody else telling me to take off my shirt!

CG: Well, before I became a stripper, I was waitressing in a strip bar. And some people came in from the Howard Stern Show and were looking for girls to appear on the show. So I said I'd do it! This was well before there were even blogs — '93. I'm sort of one of those people who will think, "Sure! It's a good idea. I've never done it. Why not?" And that may sometimes be against my better judgment, later.

Like you, I have mixed feelings about Howard Stern. But, not surprisingly, once you're there, he's incredibly charming.

SB: How does he do that?

CG: You sort of get swept up in the whole thing. Plus, I had to be there for the interview at 6 in the morning. And I'd only had about an hour and a half of sleep, because bars close at 4. So my hair was still all ratted out from my night before — I might've still been wearing the night-before eyeliner. I was in this total daze. But I thought: When am I gonna have the chance again to strip for Howard Stern? And what a good story! So I did it.

SB: I hope I don't make you blush, but I want to quote you. Recently in your blog, you're writing about your beloved, who you call Donny. And you're having a talk where you say you're not happy. And then you say Donny admitted he was happy with your current state of affairs and that he was frightened of change. He says...
"I know you haven't been happy with our sex because it's not raunchy enough. But I think it's raunchy." He paused. "What would make it raunchy for you?"

"Spanking," I said, for one thing. Flogging.

"I have a hard time hurting you because I love you." He said.

"Honey," I said, "flogging is love."

And then you go on to say, "Lots of men have this issue... Lots of guys have a hard time having the rough and raunchy spanking sex with their girlfriends once they fall in love with them."

Would you please talk to us a little bit more about that?

CG: Yeah. I didn't even really realize this was an issue until I wrote a post about it at some point last fall. I think the post was called "The Dance With Me." I wrote about how — when I first started seeing Donny about three years ago, our sex was intensely inventive and often really rough in a nice way. But over time, it becomes sort of this… "You do this to me, 1-2, I do this to you, 3-4" kind of thing. And I got about five comments and a bunch of emails from men who basically said, "Yeah. Once I really fell in love with my girlfriend, I found I couldn't do this to her any more." So that made me realize that this isn't just a problem with my beloved — it's larger.

It's something that I don't think very many people really talk about. So often when we read about sex, it seems to imply that it's the woman's issue — it's the woman's fault, or there's something that we have to do. There are ten more ways to be seductive in bed, according to Cosmo — or whatever. Even in a recent New York magazine cover article by Naomi Wolf where she argues against porn, her implicit thesis is that it's the female's responsibility to sort of keep up the hotness level. But all of these men were sort of admitting to me — privately or in comments — that it was their psychological issue. It's been really interesting to begin to parse that idea out.

SB: Do you think it's because men have a hard time imagining the wife/mother of their children needing a really good whupping to get off? Because that's the bad girl? And the virtuous woman is sitting there in some kind of prairie outfit accepting missionary position.


CG: (Facetiously) Well I know I am!

SB: She wants to be spanked in a prairie outfit!

CG: I have the cowboy boots — several pairs! Yeah, I think that may be part of it. But I also think it's something else. I think that it's more this idea that once you're in love, and once you're committed to trying to put this other person first, the idea of hurting them becomes somewhat anathema.

SB: "Hurting someone?" I mean, when we hurt each other emotionally, it's devastating. And if Mr. Donny doesn't get more involved with you, he is going to inevitably hurt your feelings.

CG: Exactly.

SB: Right. Yeah. But the kind of hurting that you were asking for...

CG: It's the good hurt.

SB: ...it's orgasmic!

CG: Yeah. It's the John Cougar Mellencamp Hurts So Good. Right.

SB: When you get into your bottom space, and you want a lot of sensation, do you like that to go hand-in-hand with roleplay? Where you've been bad...

CG: No. I'm not much into that "Oh yeah, punish me" kind of thing. And humiliation really doesn't work. I wrote a while ago about when my boyfriend called me a stupid slut, and that just ripped me out of the whole moment. I was like, "I am not stupid! You can call me your slut. You can call me your whore. You can call me whatever — but I am not stupid." And he laughed, and he said, "You're right. You're not." And we kissed.

One of the things I like about writing a blog is that it allows me to write about whatever I want. And I learned how to write about sex, I think, relatively successfully. And I'm kind of like — yeah, been there, done that, and wrote about it. Or been there, fucked that, and wrote about it. So I've been writing less and less about sex in terms of specific sex acts. And that's partly because I figured out how to do it; and partly because my readership is so huge; and partly because I don't really want my acquaintances to know.

SB: People don't understand the similarities between blogging about your life and the great fiction writers. All the famous authors you've ever read — particularly ones who have written about sexuality — I don't care if it's Erica Jong, Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, Doris Lessing, John Updike... they're all writing "fiction" about people that they have observed and experienced. Of course they're twisting the facts to their literary whim. But all their friends and family and lovers who read those books recognized themselves.



Privately, I think novelists have always dealt with a lot of anger, and slammed phones, and people saying I'm never speaking to you again. But with bloggers, there's a premium put on the authenticity — "This is my life. This is real." It's more intense.

CG: Well, I never could keep a journal because nobody was reading it. I can't write without an audience.

Until this past spring, I was working on a doctorate in English literature. I was dissertating — that would be the verb form of writing a dissertation — when I realized, nobody's going to read this. And I just could not write it. Meanwhile, I was writing reams and reams of what would be paper for my blog. So I realized, "I don't have a writer's block. I just don't want to write my dissertation!" So I decided to leave the program.

SB: What is your scholarly interest in English literature?

CG: 18th century British literature.

SB: That's a very smutty period.

CG: Terrifically smutty. Absolutely. The 18th century was an intensely messy period because the print world was exploding. It was the first time you had professional female writers. The novel appeared, as a genre. You had memoirs, encyclopedias, and dictionaries. All of these things were more or less new.

So, in a lot of ways, what is happening now with the internet is very analogous to the 18th-century print culture. It was absolute, cacophonous mayhem. Also, people were stealing stuff. People were assuming other people's identities. It wasn't until William Hogarth in 1743 where you had the first sort of copyright laws. Daniel Defoe wrote under seven or eight different identities advocating completely opposing positions on issues, and he was paid from various political affiliates. He was the biggest writing 'ho' in history.

Women, in particular, had a really interesting place in the publishing world. In the earlier part of the century, Eliza Haywood was the biggest-selling author, but you couldn't find her writing until about fifteen years ago. It wasn't until there was a feminist rediscovery of the writers of the time period that her prominence and her texts sort of came to light again.

SB: Did she write about relationships?

CG: Yeah. It was pretty much "one-handed reading."

SB: No way!

CG: Way. Amorous fiction. I mean, you take something like the big work of 18th century pornography — Fanny Hill — and it reads shockingly like a porn movie, with escalating sex acts and the various kinds of configurations of bodies.

And there was a lot of terribly, terribly smutty poetry — people like The Earl of Rochester, John Wilmot — even parts of Pope and Swift. All that was very much expurgated when I first went to college in the 1980s, but when I went back to school and finally finished in the 1990s, this stuff had come to light.

SB: I would be remiss if I didn't ask you to talk about your oral sex discussion.

CG: The "deep throat" post.

SB: I learned so much from that. There are all these people writing "deep throat this" and "deep throat that." And there's even porn how-to films. But it never gets beyond the sort of Linda Lovelace fanfare of deep throat. Until you, no one talked about how you really get things...

CG: Down.

SB: How the nature of your saliva changes once you get in the right... You call it the viscous stuff.

CG: Yeah, the viscous, porn star-y spit.

SB: How did you learn how to give spectacular deep throat sex? Who taught you?

CG: My pediatrician.

SB: Oh, come on! No, stop!

CG: I had strep throat a lot as a kid. And I hated tongue depressors. And every winter I would have my throat swabbed over and over again. And so I learned how to control my gag reflex so that I didn't have to have a tongue depressor in my mouth when they swabbed my throat. That's essentially the same technique I use when I deep throat. I had no idea it would come in handy. But seriously, the first time I gave head, it just went down.


SB: Well, did you realize that the nature of one's saliva and mucus would change and that you'd get more lubrication?

CG: Oh, that came from Jenna Jameson — I was reading Jenna Jameson's book, which was ghostwritten by Neil Strauss, of course. Anyway, Jenna sort of articulated how, once you start, your gag reflex is your friend. And once you start to have the gagging happen, that's when you get that nice thick viscous spit.

SB: Now, are you someone who, when you're giving a blowjob, you can feel your own sexual rush? Can you feel your own clit getting harder, and how exciting it is? Or are you someone who gets a huge ego rush from it?

CG: I don't know that the two are inextricable.

SB: I was gonna say, it could go together. But there are some women, you can just see when they're performing fellatio or cunnilingus, they are getting really hot.

CG: It depends on the person and the moment and how I'm feeling. I remember the first time I ever came — like "Look ma no hands" — while fucking. I had been giving my boyfriend head and I was getting really turned on. I was thinking, "OK, this is really weird, but cool." And then I got on top of him and started riding him, and I came. And I was sort of like, "Wow. This is really weird."

Other times, it's more of the ego thing. Because it is kind of this spectacular show, particularly for guys who've never been deep-throated. The more I really care about my lover, the more exciting it is for me. With my current boyfriend, it's way more exciting than if it were some dude off the street.

SB: You're so romantic. Your blog title — "Pretty Dumb Things" — is intriguing. You told us in an anecdote, that when your boyfriend was talking dirty, and he teasingly called you a stupid slut, you said, "Don't say stupid."

CG: Right. So… why dumb? I had a list of names I like. "Pretty Dumb Things" was my name for an indie rock band. If I were a country-western singer, I'd be Dakota Rage. If I were a drag queen, I'd be Cocoa Rococo. And if I had an all-female trapeze troupe, they'd be the Flying Buttresses. And if I were a performance artist, I'd be Tender DeBris.

In part, it's the irony, because my writing isn't dumb. And I like the ambiguity of the title because dumb can also mean someone who is unable to speak. And when I started to blog, I wrote about many issues that have sort of been buried for a very long time, and that I haven't spoken about, and that I needed to bring into the light.

See also:
Sex Expert Susie Bright Lets It All Out
Sex & Drugs & Susie Bright
The Scientific Laws of Romance
The Prince of Gonzo Porn
Sex Panic: An Interview with Debbie Nathan

Read More

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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The Prince of Gonzo Porn

Jamie Gillis

About the author: Susie Bright is the host of the weekly Audible.com podcast, "In Bed With Susie Bright," and is the editor of Best American Erotica, 1993-2008.

For a free month's subscription to "In Bed With Susie Bright," click here. Links to the full audio versions of this interview can be found here: Part 1, Part 2.

Jamie Gillis was the first male superstar of porn.

Gillis graduated from Columbia University in 1970. An aspiring actor, he was working as a cabbie when he answered an ad in the Village Voice and — ka-boom! He found himself making porn loops.

Gillis worked in the most important movies that were ever made in American erotic cinema — titles like The Opening of Misty Beethoven, directed by Radley Metzger; and director Richard Mahler's Midnight Heat.

Twenty years into his career, Gillis originated what came to be called "gonzo porn," simultaneously (and accidentally) pioneering the reality show genre. He hired a girl, a camera, and a car, and cruised San Francisco's North Beach to find fellas who'd be willing to have sex with her on camera, right on the spot. It was called, "On the Prowl."

For our interview, I met Jamie in New York City, his longtime home. When he admitted to our studio staff that he was 64, there was an audible gasp. This youthful man has a timeless sex appeal. Beyond that, he's a great conversationalist.

We started off by talking about the last time we'd seen each other in person. We were at a Christmas party at the Mitchell Brother's theater — owned by the late Jim and Artie Mitchell, who pioneered hardcore (and established intellectual property rights over the same). This was long before Jim shot Art, and the mood was celebratory.

Jamie and I reminisced about a mutual friend who partied with us there — Lisa Thatcher, a formidable (but now long-retired) porn star in New York during Jamie's early days in the business.



Susie Bright: If you remember, when we saw Lisa Thatcher at the Mitchell Brothers' Christmas party, you told me something like, "Not everybody is right for this business. Lisa was." And like myself, Lisa is now middle age. If you saw her on the street going to the grocery store now, you wouldn't say, "Oh my god, it's a porn star." And yet she still has this sort of glimmer in the eye. What did you mean when you said that?

Jamie Gillis: She wasn't just some innocent kid, you know? She knew exactly what she was getting into. She loved all kinds of sex, so she was never, in any sense, a victim of the business. And I think she did well in the business.

Those were some pretty raunchy days in New York. But you'd go someplace and there would be a line of guys trying to get to touch her. I'd never seen that big a line. And she loved it! She told me that one of the things that got her excited was the hunger of the guys who got to spend one or two minutes with her. She would relate to that kind of hunger that they felt. And she loved that. It turned her on.

SB: What do you notice about a performer who doesn't belong in the business?

JG: Well, they're not happy. They're doing it for the attention or maybe for affection that they haven't gotten from their families, or whatever. It's a sad story when they're not that interested in the sex — they just want to be noticed. They'll put up with the sex but you can see they're not there. They don't want to be there and they're trying not to be there. They're just saying, "Look at me. Hold me. Love me."

And, you know, you do get attention if you're a porn performer. We're concerned about you, and we'll send a car for you, and all that stuff — you know? So it can feel good, but with disastrous results for people who don't really belong in porn.

THE BUSINESS

SB: You got started in the business in the early '70s, I think.

JG: '71. There wasn't even a business. It was a dirty basement.


SB: I was about to say, it wasn't so much a business. It was a fly-by-night thing happening in a counterculture. So on top of the sex, you had this attitude: "This is our generation doing something different than anybody else would do." Even though it wasn't explicitly political, in the sense that some of the rock and roll was — it was of the time, like smoking pot or dropping acid. It had that vibe: "We hang together because we have some kind of consciousness, and we're also making some bucks and getting our rocks off." But then you had this complete change in technology in the business, and now there's nothing countercultural about the scene — nothing "outlaw" about it.

JG: It's no longer counterculture. The counter is gone. "Hey, ma! We're culture now!"

SB: Did this change depress you at all? You came from this era where you could be a freak or an intellectual, or you could have some cinematic or theatrical background, and you could fit in. Whereas now it's more like, "What do you mean? I'm busy, I have this many minutes to make this many dollars before my next real estate seminar." Was that change hard to cope with?

JG: In a way. It's sort of sad to see sex be a business.

SB: You didn't do it for free before...

JG: No!

SB: ...but there was just something else going on.

JG: But then, we don't want to get too romantic about this. I got into the business just looking for part-time work. I wasn't making any money acting so I was looking for a part-time job to support myself. But it did feel good, and it became a social thing. We were excited about what we were doing. It was kind of fun. (Laughs)

SB: I got interested in doing porn and being a porn critic in a sort of revolutionary spirit. I have zero interest in going to the AVN awards or some business seminar, or making some cookie-cutter movie with people who wouldn't know a filmic moment if it fell on top of them. It pisses me off! I get a little cranky about it.

JG: Well, people are making money and doing what they want. But I did get disgusted with the business around '89. I'd been in it for a long time. That's when I started doing that gonzo stuff, because the scripts were so stupid. So I thought — we'll just take a girl out to the streets…

SB: See what might happen.

JG: ...get her fucked. Yeah.



GONZO PORN

SB: For those people who don't know, what is gonzo? What did you want gonzo to be?

JG: All I wanted to do was just go out into the streets and meet people. Bring a girl out – maybe to a dirty bookstore or something — and just throw her to the wolves.

SB: Your first movie in that style was "On the Prowl." You took a pretty girl out and she said, "I'll fuck whoever wants to if you'll let us tape it." A lot of people will think everyone jumped at the chance. But of course, they didn't! There was a lot of tension. People were afraid of being conned, or that it wasn't real, or that she would cut their balls off in some crazy... There's this tension that they don't know if they can trust you with their nuts.

JG: It's a very unusual offer. Sure!

SB: (Laughing) Yes it is!

JG: I remember I was hanging out with Long Jean Silver and she said, "Let's go find some boys!" She wanted a group of boys to fuck. But we had a hard time finding them! We'd go up and I'd say, "Hey, you guys want to come back to our place?" They'd run! Finally, we found a group of seven. I said, "We're not taking seven. We're taking three. And I told her, "Pick three that you like the most."

There were two sailors that we picked up early on for a film we made. And I got a call from the Navy. One of the guys was in the brig because he did this movie. So I said, "What do you mean, one of the guys is in the brig because they did this movie?" (laughter) And it wasn't even the guy that did the fucking! It was the other guy.

So the guy's lawyer told me, "Well, they want to get rid of him, so they're using this as an excuse." So I said, "You tell the Navy that if they use this as an excuse to get rid of this guy, I'm going to call the press and tell them that he didn't even do anything in this movie, and the Navy's just trying to screw him. Because they're leaving alone the guy who actually did the fucking. So tell the Navy it's going to be on the front page of the Chronicle. So the lawyer said, "OK, thanks." He called me back a half hour later and said, "Thanks a lot. He's out. Everything's fine." That was the only time in my life I had any sense of what real power was.

SB: The classic report from most men about doing porn is that they think they'll have a giant dick on TV, but when the camera is on them, they're just sweating bullets. Did you ever have one of those shy moments back when you were a little lamb?

JG: Never. I was a duck to water. I mean, to me it was like — wow! Even though it wasn't good money back then, it was like — "Thirty bucks to fuck a pretty girl!" I couldn't believe it.

I don't know if it was because I was a sex freak or because of my acting training. I didn't care if anyone was there. I would just concentrate on what I was there to do. It wasn't hard to do that.

HARD ON… RELATIONSHIPS

SB: I've heard that it might be hard for men who were in the business to have relationships. Mike Horner told me that.

JG: Mike is the male version of somebody who shouldn't be in the business. He's too sweet for it. You know what I mean?

SB: Well, I want to hear what you have to say about the dilemma he described. He said, "If I'm fucking somebody all day at work, and I come home, and someone's all needy and saying, "I want you to fuck me now, because I'm your girlfriend and I need you to show that same enthusiasm for me.'" And he said, "It's too much. I can't do that." And I said, "Well, what if you hook up with someone in the sex business? Maybe they'll feel the same way. Maybe they'd also come home from a hard day of being fucked, and they don't need you to turn on, or turn off." But he said, "Oh, I can't win. I've tried a lot of different things." He really wanted to have a girlfriend the way other people have girlfriends.

JG: But this is even true in the "legitimate" Hollywood. If you're a guy, you get on the set and you're working with the most beautiful woman in the world. Maybe your wife or girlfriend at home is just as pretty, but still, this is fresh meat. You know? And they're all over the place — not just the actresses, but there are the extras. But Mike has a point. You can't live with somebody "straight" in the sex business. Of course it doesn't work. How could it?

I've had relationships with girls in the industry, and that seemed to work out OK, because we were both sex nuts. You know? But a "normal" girl? How can somebody even think about that?

SB: Did you ever feel like you wanted a romance or a domesticity that you couldn't have, or was your attitude just, "No thank you"?

JG: At the time when I got into the business, I was with a girl who saw me as this nice Jewish boy. I came out of college. I was acting. I was a mime. I was a good boy. (Laughter)

SB: You still are.

JG: Yeah, I still am. But all of a sudden I started fucking all these strangers. Somebody once said that a man is as faithful as his options. That's how it is.

So all of the sudden, I didn't even have to go out and look for the girls. They were thrown at me. And I was getting paid for it. So it's like, you've got this really wonderful woman at home. But on the other hand, you've got this other great stuff happening too. And if you're in your twenties, that great stuff is gonna win out… or maybe in your thirties and your forties, even. You know?

SB: (Laughs) Okay, well let's go to the fifties.

JG: Fifties? I don't know. (Laughs)

SB: Whenever I read official descriptions of your film career, they'll say, (solemnly) "Jamie Gillis — who never denied his bisexuality!"

JG: Oh… I saw that on Wikipedia.

IS ALL PORN QUEER?

SB: I love that phrase — "who never denies it." (Laughter) And it's not like you've ever been the grand marshal of the bisexual float in the gay parade. But you also haven't had this issue that some guys have where they think their career rests on a certain kind of perception that they're straight. I always think that's such a facade. If you're in the sex business, and you're fucking around other people all day long — the notion that you are some kind of "Kinsey 0" is a joke. You can't be. Because you're dealing with other people's dicks and cunts all day long. You better be comfortable with people's bodies. Anyway, how come you haven't been smeared by it?

JG: Well, I think the entire porn business is just fag-ridden. (Laughter) Including the customers! I mean, it's all about dick! It's all about dick, and watching dick come. Look at the dick squirt. See Dick. See Dick squirt.

I've always had this funny image of myself as a straight guy who just happens to have more fag sex than any fag I know. Because when I was coming up, gays were the only ones that were really sexually crazy. Before there was a Plato's Retreat, there was a place called Continental Baths. It was the exact same location. And I used to go to the Continental Baths, because that's where you could have crazy, wild sex! Nobody else was doing that. And I remember walking around that fucking place thinking, "If only there was a heterosexual place like this. Wouldn't that be amazing?" And I didn't even dream that it would happen — but it did, like about two years later, with Plato's Retreat. It was this straight place with all these hundreds of girls going there.

In my ideal world, if you were walking down the street, there'd be a place where you could just touch people. There would be a grope club.

SB: Did you ever have a moment when you were a teenager where you thought, "Oh my god, why am I so kinky?"

JG: No, not "Oh my god." Maybe "Thank god!"

SB: (Laughs) But you're supposed to feel guilt and despair and compare yourself to everyone else. How come you didn't?

JG: I guess I always sort of liked sex — almost any kind. It was a big treat! There's this Woody Allen line about how bisexuals have it better because they have twice as many opportunities for a date on Saturday night. And I remember thinking the same thing when I was eleven, before Woody Allen said it. I thought that as a kid! It was before I had any kind of sexual contact. It seemed like a reasonable attitude to me.

PROCURING GIRLS FOR PAPA

SB: Has your family been shocked by what you do? Did you have to negotiate this with them?

JG: It was hardly a problem. My family always recognized that I was a little different.

SB: Why do you think that is?

JG: Cause I was always a little different. (Laughs)

Once my mother saw me on television — that sort of legitimized it a little bit for her. And she would read the Daily News or whatever and see my name in advertisements. My older sister told me, "You know, she has clippings."

My father became a pain in the ass because I made the mistake of getting him a girl once. My parents were separated, so I got him a beautiful young girl. I think it was for his birthday or something.

SB: And you had reason to believe your dad had a strong sexual interest in...

JG: Oh, absolutely. He was always interested in women. So I knew this would work out and he'd be very happy. But the problem was — until he died, I could not talk to him without him saying "Do you know any more girls?" So every once in a while, I had to throw him another hunk of meat.

SB: So the lesson is — do not procure for members of your family?

JG: Don't procure for your father. It's a pain in the ass.

SB: Do you have kids? I mean, how do you deal with it...

JG: I have one child who's practically older than I am. I was a virgin when I was seduced by an older woman. And then she got pregnant. It was a plan — she wanted the child. I told her, "If you have that child, I will never see you again." And she said, "Well, I don't expect to see you anyway. I'm going to have the child." So that's how that was. But I must say, I'm now delighted that I had this child, because it sort of takes that edge off of wondering what that's like. There is this human being out there and I'm glad that she's around now. But it took me about nine years before I even acknowledged her. It was only because I didn't want to be a bad father. I wasn't prepared. I didn't want to end up like my own father, who had six children because that's what you did in those days.

SB: I think men in this business know some things about masturbating that a lot of other guys don't.

JG: I don't know. People just have to relax. And people will still ask, "Does it affect or hurt your real sex life?" And I've had women be bashful about using a vibrator when they're having sex. To me, that's crazy. Whatever works! You want me to hit you on the head with a hammer while you're using a vibrator? If that works, I don't care, whatever it is. So I'll say, if you like to use the vibrator, go ahead. As a matter of fact, it would turn me on. Because if somebody's excited, that's exciting for me.

WHEN I'M 64

SB: As you get older, does the sizzle endure?

JG: It never ends. I remember — there used to be an old Jewish dominatrix in New York called Belle du Jour. And she was popular. I would go to her place just to hang out sometimes because it was interesting. Guys would come in.

This old guy who must have been close to ninety comes in, and he goes in the back with her. And she has these black, thigh-high boots on. And he falls onto the floor, and he's lapping at her boots. And I'm thinking, "My god. It never ends." You know, you'd think when you were ninety, you'd have a little dignity. Something would change. But it doesn't! It just goes on.

SB: Do you know more about how to touch people now, than you knew ten or fifteen years ago? Actually, I don't even know how old you are…

JG: I… I… I… I sort of have a spasm whenever I say how old I am. This is the worst possible year, actually, because the Beatles song keeps running through your mind.

SB: Are you 64?

JG: 64. And there's nothing worse than knowing that you heard that song when you were a kid, and you were thinking — what a joke. There are 64-year-old people walking around the street. And then there you are. It's ridiculous.

SB: Well, you're very honest about this, so I'd treasure anything you can tell me about being a sexual man at 64.



JG: (Pause) Well, first of all, I don't feel I have to fuck everybody I meet.

SB: What a relief!

JG: Of course, also, the girls also don't feel they have to fuck me as much. But you're a little more in control, particularly if you've had as many women as I've had. You sort of know what they're like. And you can appreciate them more just for themselves. You can talk to them and have a good time. And you can just sort of look at one of them and have a good idea of what it's like to fuck that one. And you can think about that and not have to go through with it.

Susie Bright blogs at Susiebright.com

See also:
Sex Expert Susie Bright Lets It All Out
Sex & Drugs & Susie Bright
Dana Plato, Porn Star
300 Pound Porn Queen Decimates Oklahoma Town
Violet Blue SHOCKER: I'd Do Bruce Campbell!
Sex Panic: An Interview with Debbie Nathan

Read More

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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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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Virtual Screech, Sexual Superstar
Screech's Sex Tape Follies


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





Read More

The Future of America Has Been Stolen


Monica Goodling from the Washington Post

Investigative reporter Greg Palast says 4.5 million votes will be shoplifted in 2008, thanks largely to the "Rove-bots" that have been placed in the Justice Department following the U.S. Attorney firings. Being the guy who uncovered the voter "purge lists" of 2000 that disenfranchised black voters, he's worth listening to, even if the mainstream press chooses not to.

This time around, he claims to have 500 emails that the House subpoenaed and Karl Rove claims were deleted forever. They prove definitively, says Palast, that the Justice Department is infested with operatives taking orders from Rove to steal upcoming elections for Republicans and permanently alter the Department.



The "clownocracy" of Bush and Rove is criminal and even evil in its attempts to steal past and future elections, according to Palast, and can only be stopped if "Democrats...find their souls and find their balls."

In an updated new version of his best-selling book, Armed Madhouse, Palast lays out the case for the future theft of the presidency, along with lots of other Executive malfeasance. I chatted with him about the role of the Justice Department in this scheme, and what it means for the viability of our "democracy."


PUBLISHER'S UPDATE: Here are some of the 500 emails. —JD

JEFF DIEHL: First off, the "lost" emails. I guess you're confident those 500 emails aren't themselves a hoax? Considering the source? [John Wooden, the man behind the spoof site, whitehouse.org, forwarded them on to Palast after someone accidentally sent them to Wooden's georgewbush.org domain.]


GREG PALAST: Oddly, the GOP verified their authenticity to BBC. I almost fell over dead when they did that.

JD: How did they do that exactly?

GP: We asked them on camera. They did not deny they were the party's internal emails — just disagreed what the "caging" lists were. Saying, for example, they were "donor" lists. Men in homeless shelters?

Remember, there's no First Amendment in England. I'm wrong, I'm sued, I'm broke, I'm toast.

JD: Let's move on to former Justice Department counsel (and Regent University graduate) Monica Goodling's recent testimony in front of the House Judiciary Committee, since it's so fresh...

GP: The blondeling underling of the Police State. The lady was trying to tell us something important, but the dim bulbs of the U.S. press and the committee dolts wouldn't listen. She began by accusing her bosses of perjury. The issue was her allegation that they knew all about "caging." And no one asked her one damn question about it. Like what is "caging" and why would they commit perjury to cover it up?

JD: Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) asked, and Goodling said, "It has to do with direct mail."

GP: And that was it. D'oh! It's not about "direct mail." Direct mail has to do with Victoria's Secret and stuff like that. This was all about stealing the 2004 — and 2008 — elections. That's why she wanted immunity. She was afraid it would all unravel, the caging game...but she had nothing to fear.

JD: Well, it is a direct mail term, but it's also a voter supression term. Do no senators know that, not even Committee Chair John Conyers?

GP: Conyers knows — and he knows me. He's keeping his powder dry. The others are clueless.



Caging works like this. Hundreds of thousands of Black and Hispanic voters were sent letters — do not forward. Letters returned as undeliverable ("caged") were used as evidence the voter didn't live at their registered address. The GOP goons challenged these voters' right to cast ballots — and their votes were lost.

But whose letters were caged? Here's where the game turns to deep evil. They targeted Black students on vacation, homeless men — and you'll love this — Black soldiers sent overseas. They weren't living at their home voting address because they were shivering under a Humvee in Falluja.

JD: As you put it in regard to election rigging, 2000 was about "purge lists," 2004 was about "caging," and 2008 will be about "verification." Can you briefly explain the difference between these?

GP: Sure. In 2000, I cracked the computer disks (CD-ROMs then) from Katherine Harris' office showing 56,000 names of voters "purged" from voter rolls as felons who aren't allowed to vote. In fact, every one — every one — was an innocent voter, though most were guilty of VWB — Voting While Black. That was the 2000 "purge."

In 2004, it was nearly identical. Except, instead of calling voters "felons," they called them "suspect" voters, fraudulently using a false voting address. The effect was the same: the voter would lose their registration; or their vote on election day when they showed to vote; or, in the case of soldiers, their absentee ballot would be challenged and tossed.

JD: You claim the reason for Democrat inaction in election scandals is because of racism, that the white caucus is bigger than the black caucus. But don't Democrats gain by making sure black people are enfranchised?

GP: Which Democrats? The huge purge and block of voters in Georgia [were done by] reptiles like Zell Miller in control of the Georgia Democratic Party. There's an awful lot of Democrats who would not win primaries if dark-skinned citizens could just vote any time they pleased.

JD: My mind goes back to Conyers. What did you mean earlier by "keeping his powder dry?"

GP: We talk. 'Nuff said.

JD: Fair enough. So you're working also with former U.S. Attorney for New Mexico, David Iglesias, yes?

GP: Claro que si.

JD: I was watching Chris Matthews' TV show — "Softball," as you've called it — and he asked Iglesias what his long term plans were — if he was writing a book. Iglesias indicated that he was, and also, that he wanted a TV show similar to Matthews' at some point, and seemed to be totally serious. Given that Iglesias has been willing to go "along with the game" in the past, are you concerned that his recent turn might be motivated by opportunism?

GP: I don't care if he's motivated by a love of Barbie dolls. He's been pushed by the Rove-bots to expose the game. I'll take it anyway I can get it — the facts, ma'am.

JD: Do you have a wide-angle view of the current Administration's strategy with the Justice Department, and if so, give us the summary. Is it about election theft, or is it mostly about stocking the lake for future conservative judge appointments?

GP: Yes. First, it's elections. They don't want the voters making any foolish choices. Specifically, while the attention's been focused 100% on the firings, no one is talking about the hirings. That's what Goodling was trying to get across.

The key: at the "Pearl Harbor Day Massacre," they replaced the prosecutors with Rove-bots, a sleeper cell of anti-Constitutional saboteurs who will explode in 2008, led by the new prosecutor for Arkansas, Tim Griffin.

JD: Talk a little bit about the relevance of Tim Griffin — the perp who became prosecutor — and Arkansas in 2008.

GP: It was Griffin who directed the "caging" ops for the GOP. Caging, by the way, is illegal. Law Professor Bobby Kennedy pointed out it violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — and I'd add, as a former racketeering investigator, mail fraud statutes. So Griffin's a felon — now U.S. Attorney.

JD: Is Kennedy still actively publicizing this?

GP: Yes. The incriminating email is reproduced right in Armed Madhouse. That's why Griffin and Goodling were high-fiving over the fact that no one's picked up the investigations of that "British reporter" Palast.

The key thing is, Griffin is not just "involved," he is directing the scheme. His denial was confidential — had to be subpoenaed. Remember, as Goodling testified, the line of the Bushies is that Griffin had nothing to do with caging.



JD: So is Congress eventually going to get to all this? Is that the end game with the Justice Department investigation?

GP: No, Congress won't do squat. Did anyone do anything about the felon purge? It went backwards: Bush signed the Help America Vote Act. God forbid.

Explore more of Greg Palast's reporting on his website.

See also:
Homeland Security Follies
John Edwards' Virtual Attackers Unmasked
Iraq Battle Videos
Did Bush Spin Like Nixon?
The Chicks Who Tried to Shoot Gerald Ford
World Sex Laws
Is It Fascism Yet?
Detention and Torture
Awesomest Congressional Campaign Ever

Read More

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

Read More

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

Official Launch: 10ZM.TV

One of the reasons for the "video apology" term in the settlement agreement with Michael Crook is that we were already planning to launch a video property. Having Crook's apology in video seemed an appropriate format, and its wide viewing would help get some visibility for this new effort. We figure he owed us that much. There are a few things we're going to experiment with in the show, called 10ZM.TV, and hosted on the Blip.tv video sharing network. First, we'll be collecting video commentary from web figures on stories and themes we explore on our various other properties, such as this site, The RU Sirius Show, NeoFiles, Destinyland and Pastor Jack. Second, we'll record bits from our own writers and commentators. And finally, we're going to publish hot little bits from the continuous series of mind-blowing interviews conducted by RU Sirius. Rudy Rucker's interview is the first one we videotaped, so you'll see several clips from that in the coming weeks. So stay tuned, subscribe via RSS or iTunes, or watch Rudy Rucker now:
Science fiction writer Rudy Rucker, author of the book, Mathematicians In Love, claims that any natural process can be regarded as a computation, and that computers are not "digital."

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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

Read More

Who are Second Life’s “Patriotic Nigras”?



They're brash, articulate and unapologetic; and they have a message for America. Mudkips Acronym is co-founder of "the Patriotic Nigras," the group who attacked John Edwards' virtual headquarters in Second Life, and Wednesday he agreed to an email interview.

Talking about Second Life and the blogosphere, Mudkips explains how his group operates and their pranksterish motivations, and insists that... no, they're aren't Republicans.

LOU CABRON: Why did your attacking avatars wear "Bush '08" buttons?

MUDKIPS ACRONYM: Everything we do is for laughs, and we thought "Bush '08" would be interpreted as humor — as I'm sure you know, Bush obviously can't be re-elected in '08.



However, the resulting aftershock from the "blogosphere", particularly on the left, has been enormous, when they thought the raiders were Republicans. This was completely unexpected, and frankly hilarious. I'm a bit disillusioned with my own party after this event, actually, as someone who did read blogs like the Daily Kos and expected some honest and truthful journalism. However, it seems as if everyone played a giant game of telephone, taking the Republican assumption and adding on more and more anger and hostility as it went on.

While I felt Kerry was a bit wishy-washy, I voted for him in 2004. I'm sort of conservative on economics but very, very liberal on anything else. I'm all for Bush impeachment over the Iraq war and all that jazz. I'm currently rooting for Obama, but that doesn't mean we won't raid him or anything. We'll hit anyone if it's funny, and if the guy I want to be president in 2008's campaign provides the lulz, we'll certainly not cross him off our list.

I'm not going to deny Patriotic Nigras is a troll group. We exist primarily to make people mad. Unlike most trolls, however, the attention is not the biggest concern. However, the reaction to this whole mess has been a troll's DREAM. An "attack," placed in an unofficial spot on an unofficial blog, has been a large story if only because the political persecution factor was tacked on to it.

While a few of us might be racist or something (who knows with this group), that's completely irrelevant to our cause. N3X15, our webhoster guy and acting Second Life leader, is a Republican. I probably disagree with him on a lot of things. But we're willing to overlook that in the fact that we all are allied to the same goal. I think laughs transcend party lines.

I think this whole incident is telling of where our priorities lie (and by "our" I mean America, if you happen to be outside the U.S.). But let's not make this too much of what it isn't.

Returning to the Bush thing, my answer would be "for the lulz". Claiming to be from the Republicans, we thought, would just add some irony to the whole thing. We didn't know that it would become the centerpiece of the event.

LC: Can you tell me about your group? How many people are in it?

MA: We have around 70 members on the forums. Of those, maybe 35 are active and confirmed.

The first attack was somewhere in December or January. I don't remember exactly when, but it was around Christmas-time. Like it says in the Encyclopedia Dramatica article, though, the first attacks were somewhat sparse. Me and a couple other guys, doing random crap.

As for hating John Edwards himself...nah. He (actually, the camp seems to be unofficial, so rather whoever set it up and posted the news on the blog) was simply a high-profile target exploitable for maybe a day or two of chuckles, maybe more, at least we thought at first.

It was only when we'd become able to get to a critical-mass of sorts of members that the "attacks" become organized and large-scale. I'd put that around the time of the third Fort Longcat, the middle of January. Once we got that set up, we were able to organize efficiently and had a place to retreat and regroup when things didn't go right.

The planning for the Edwards attack was actually fairly minimal. We have experience doing this sort of thing with the furry and gorean sims. However, and without trying to be too dramatic, we did have "spies" in and around the physical Edwards campaign HQ.

Our original plan was to arrive in a bunch of Black Hawk helicopters and have sniper areas. We had it planned out for a while, but a couple people from the organization decided to go in prematurely. Like I've said, it would have caused much more of a hubbub had the original plan went through!

LC: What do you tell people who say your group is racist?

MA: As an organization, we have no racist, sexist, or political bias, except in the case of when it serves our interests. The "nigra" thing could be seen as a racist remark at first glance, but Encyclopedia Dramatica explains it well

"Since the Internets is largely Anonymous and because the term was invented by a /b/tard (a cyber being of indeterminate and irrelevant sex/age/heritage) in the virtual, 'colourblind' environment of Habbo Hotel as a way to say 'nigga' without alerting their dirty word Department of Habboland Security feds, any suggestion that the word 'nigra' is racist is not only completely without merit, it's racist against the inhabitants of Internets."

LC: So how are you able to operate in Second Life?

MA: Even though Fort Longcat was deleted by the landowner, we're still setting up small scale forts to organize. Since our forts are usually deleted within the week by landowners, we're constantly on the move, and the fact we have permanent forums (no ProBoards free stuff that can be taken out from under us) now has helped keep us together. Our webmaster has engineered a half-working separate Second Life server/sim as well, where we can meet up independent of the main grid.

As to who we are, all I can say is that we're big-A Anonymous.

LC: So what kind of people are in the group? Are you high school students, middle-aged geeks...?

MA:The stereotype of us being high school geeks with acne is funny. Most of our members are well in their twenties and even thirties. The site where we originated from from has an active no-under-18 policy.

As for the site's identity, I have to clarify two things:

1. We're not from Something Awful.

2. Ebaumsworld is a cover, and we're not from there. Rule one in our book is "do not mention the site we come from." Anyone caring to analyze the content (signs, things we say, the "nigras" part of our name) of our raids, however, should be able to figure it out with a little Googling. However, while we originated from that board, we're a separate entity and do not organize there.

LC: Is your group worried about getting busted?

MA: Nah. As far as bans go, IPs can be changed, we can spoof MACs, we can change or send gibberish HD IDs. Thanks to our resident programmers, and Linden Labs' generous open-sourcing of the client package, we have tools that can do most of that already.

As for getting in trouble in general - no. First off, cases involving prosecution on Internet sites require tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, are often dragged out for years, have little evidence to support their claims, and so forth. Add that with the fact that everything being done is according to the game world's own mechanics, and I'm not too worried about anything serious going on.

I think if someone were to be sued (even in a civil court) for putting giant phalluses on somebody's Internet lawn, they'd be laughed out of court. If anything, Linden Labs is attracting more attention to Second Life thanks to this incident. Nevertheless, you're still going to have people like intLib threatening us with obscure felonies to try to dissuade us. At that point, the best way to deal with them is to ignore them.

LC: You sound very libertarian.

MA: I don't support all libertarian causes, but I am of the opinion that people should be able to do what they wish unless it negatively impacts someone else. I'm anti-drug but completely for the legalization of marijuana (though I don't use it), as well as completely against the Patriot Act and things that I feel invade American liberties.



LC: So what happens next? What do you think the Edwards camp should do?

MA: Good question. I'll assume you mean the campaign and/or the people supporting it, not the physical location itself.

The fact is, Second Life is not a credible or effective way to make a campaign statement. Whether or not the headquarters was officially sanctioned by the Edwards campaign, having something like this is a waste of time. Second Life's actual membership numbers are vastly inflated, as is the more literal artificially inflated Second Life economy. The bubble will burst eventually.

Anyways, if the Edwards campaign wants to try to get more public support, they need to take less time trying to be edgy and Web 2.0 and more time focusing on issues and traditional publicity. It's nice when someone takes the trouble to make a video on YouTube explaining their campaign goals, but half the time they're recycled or just plain corny. If anyone in the campaign wants to bring the young demographic in, they need to actually care about their potential constituents, not just put out a video of old campaign meets with cheesy background music, set up a fort in Second Life, and be done with it.

LC: What are your plans for the future?

MA: Well, we'll keep bombing the furry sims, but other than that, who knows?

If I say anything else, there might be some lockdowns, but other candidates in Second Life are a possibility. Anything high-profile is fair game.

See also:
John Edwards' Virtual Attackers Unmasked
Craiglist Sex Troll Gets Sued
Thomas Hawk versus Rent-a-Cops
20 Wildest Reactions To Obama's Victory
The 5 Faces of Bush

Read More

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

Read More

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

Is Yahoo/Flickr DMCA Policy Censorship?


Mashup of Michael Crook by Thomas Hawk

Reflections about the Michael Crook affair will surely be all over the web soon. People will look back in anger, although the prevailing sense of outrage may be tempered by many notes of caution — it's not all fun, being hassled by a griefer. I probably leaned more towards that sense of outrage in this recent conversation with Thomas Hawk, popular community photographer, prominent blogger and all-around evangelist for the digital revolution.

Jeff Diehl: So I guess the first thing is to offer you a chance to disclose some stuff.

Thomas Hawk: I'm CEO of Zooomr. We would be considered a competitor to Yahoo's Flickr photo sharing site. I've been very active on Flickr both before and after joining Zooomr.

JD: Explain precisely what happened when Crook DMCAed you.

TH: I posted a photo of Michael Crook on Flickr. I've got a reasonably popular Flickr photostream and so I posted an image of him there using a mashup that I made with the image of Crook. After posting these images of Crook I received DMCA take down notices from Crook for the images on Zooomr and thomashawk.com. Flickr also received a DMCA notice and used it to take down my mash up of Crook.



I don't so much have an issue with Yahoo taking down the image (at least temporarily until the legitimacy of the claim could be investigated) but I do have a problem with Yahoo taking down all of the conversation and meta data around the image and permanently deleting it. There was a long conversation on the image by many different people about Crook and this case. Public discourse, opinion, ideas, etc. that was just wiped out by Yahoo without telling me first.

After they took it down they sent me a threatening email. I responded back to Yahoo staff about it and pointed them to a Boing Boing link where Fox News in fact had given Boing Boing, and anyone else, permission to use the images, but that email went unanswered. They never did put my stuff back up and now an important discourse is permanently lost.

JD: Do you feel the discourse is especially "important" because it's about free speech? Or does that just make it ironic?

TH: This is most certainly about free speech in my opinion. It sucks that all anyone has to do to kill a conversation at Flickr is to claim a DMCA violation. Irrespective of the fact that Yahoo should have done a better job actually investigating the claim before deleting the image, there was no reason to delete the words and comments associated with the image.

I'm a strong advocate of free speech. Especially on a community based photo sharing site. Especially one like Flickr where people frequently use their photostreams to express opinions, thoughts and ideas.

JD: It seems that Yahoo has an extreme policy regarding DMCA takedown notices; even beyond what the law stipulates.

TH: I don't know how many photos of Crook Yahoo wiped out but there was no need to wipe out the metadata, comments, descriptions, posts, etc. And there was no need to permanently delete this stuff. Yahoo went way beyond what the DMCA requires and I don't like that anyone can just send in a bogus DMCA notice on my Flickrstream and have hundreds and thousands of lines of text deleted that might be associated with an image.

Yahoo needs to change their policy on this.

JD: Do you know of any other community sties (other than Zooomr!) that have a different, more reasonable approach?

TH: Unfortunately I'm not as familiar with other sites so I'm not sure how they would handle all this. Eventually Yahoo sent me a notice after Crook rescinded his bogus DMCA notice. But when this happened they didn't put my old photo and all of the commentary and dialog that went along with it back up, they merely said I could reupload it if I wanted because he rescinded. He held the power. Not me, not Yahoo. And he largely succeeded at least there because he wiped out tons of negative personal criticism about him and his behavior. This is censorship to me.

JD: I know my host, Laughing Squid, handled it brilliantly, but it's a small company; it's more complicated with a behemoth like Yahoo, isn't it?

TH: Well yeah, Scott Beale handled it really well. But Yahoo's being big and corporate and all that shouldn't be an excuse. I pay them money for Flickr. Lots and lots of people pay them money for Flickr. If they need to hire a few more people to better review DMCA takedown notices I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. They are a billion dollar company and certainly have the resources to do the right thing here. In any case, irrespective of investigating the bogus claim there is simply no — zero — reason to kill the text that accompanies an image. Ideas are important and ought to be protected.

JD: You say in your comments: "My biggest problem is that they destroyed *my* metadata associated with the image." That's a powerful way of putting it.

TH: Well some of it was mine. The post that accompanied the image for instance. And lots of comments that I made in a public discussion about this. The metadata also belongs to others at Flickr as well though. In fact anyone that commented on the photo and expressed their thoughts and opinions had their metadata destroyed.

The biggest distinction between my vs. Yahoo's, though, is that I consider the stuff I post on the site to belong to me. They are profiting from my data no doubt, but all of the images, text, comments, thoughts, ideas expressed on Flickr don't belong to Yahoo, they belong to the users and the users should be treated with more respect than I was when I just had my stuff unceremoniously deleted.

JD: I'm not sure when exactly the take down and safe harbor provisions of the DMCA were drafted, but it seems possible that sites like Flickr, where original images are intertwined thematically with original words, weren't on anyone's radar.

TH: Maybe not, and I certainly understand that Yahoo can find itself in a dilemma and feel that they don't have much choice about it. But they still shouldn't allow just anyone to kill speech attached to an image. I've posted many many images on Flickr that are political. Images where I've run into harassment from security guards while shooting out in SF. Images associated with what I've considered child abuse. Images of a sleazy camera retailer that almost ripped me off, etc. In these cases, like the Michael Crook case, the commentary that accompanies the image is super important and should be protected. There is no way that Yahoo could be held liable for free discussion. They take things too far by deleting all of the commentary with the image.

I'm not concerned with any kind of retribution on this. I'd just like to see Yahoo apologize, admit the mistake, put my old photo and the commentary back up if they can (if they still have backups, hopefully). And I'd like to see them change how they handle DMCA stuff in the future by only taking down the image (not the commentary, metadata, etc.) and doing it temporarily so that someone could dispute it.



JD: Did you have any final thoughts?

TH: No, but just want to say thanks to you for really being a catalyst around this entire issue as it relates to Crook and his behavior. You played an important role in bringing up a very important issue, DMCA abuse. The conversations around this are important ones and have important implications for both free speech and democracy.

Details of a settlement will be announced on this site soon. Also, there will be a party and fundraiser for EFF in San Francisco on March 22nd.

See Also:
"Dear Internet, I'm Sorry"
The EFF's Diehl v. Crook page
The Case Against Crook
Craigslist Sex Troll Gets Sued
Thomas Hawk versus Rent-a-Cops

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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

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?

Read More

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

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: Ri