May 31, 2007

David Blaine Strikes Again

Perhaps this version of street magic was even more cutting edge than the last. What the F?

The David Blaine cutting edge magic show (its not even trendy yet)


My girlfriend just moved to Portland for the summer and it sounds like she's have lorry loads of fun over there. Jealous much? Not me. I'm having plenty of fun over here with the cats. I'm not even being sarcastic either. I'll get to visit in July anyway.

For those of you who've never experienced how awesome Portland is, check out the official seal of Portland:

WOW! If you look closely, you can see my girlfriend in that seal holding a pitch fork with a star over her head. Even better is the flag of Portland:


May 30, 2007

Monitering you from a Van Down by the River

In the movies, the white cable van is the go to vehicle for discrete surveillance. But, in real life, no one could ever use such and obvious ploy to spy or "surveil" anything. My girlfriend and I realized this the other day when we saw a few cable trucks parked across the street at a neighbor's house.

The reason is that (thanks to the movies) most people get suspicious when they see almost any kind of van parked near their house. I know that I, personally, stop all activity, start watching them through my blinds and tone down my inflammatory rhetoric.

(Lego Surveilliance Van via The Next Left)

May 29, 2007


David Blaine went back to his street style, but unfortunately for two unsuspecting victims he may have gone too far....Street Magic

Above the Bar

It's a week late but congratulations to my brother and my good friend Kiran on their graduation from law school. Apparently, that means that they get to work real hard for the next couple months to study for the bar. Best of luck you guys.

(A trial at the Old Bailey in London as drawn by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin for Ackermann's Microcosm of London (1808-11))

May 27, 2007


While thinking about the issues raised in the last post, I saw a juxtaposition between old colonial and civil war era images of the abuse of slaves and modern day images of abuses at Abu Ghraib. There are parallels between American views of Islamic nationalism and historical slavery. At least, I see parallel images of people lording over dark skinned men, naked and on the ground.

The principles of dominance are very similar whether you're talking about Middle Easterners or Negro slaves (although I feel these terms are inappropriate to describe these groups they are appropriate to describe attitudes about the groups). In both cases, the major justification for violent coercion has been to "stabilize" populations. These kinds of practices have been considered acceptable for many reasons. First of all, the recipients of violence are either tacitly or openly assumed to be less human than "the rest of us." Their values, morals, beliefs about proper governance, and intellects are lesser and therefore it is right that they be control by their superiors. This belief in the right to dominance has had several effects.

First, the "lesser natures" are of a specific kind that demands violence. These peoples are thought to be especially violent tempered and unable to understand rational dialogue. Therefore, violence becomes the best way to communicate with them because they will have difficulty understanding other methods that require reason and rationality.

An overwhelming belief that Negros and Middle Easterners are very violent and dangerous is stoked and fueled by conventional wisdom of the time. Those that doubt the rebellious nature of these groups are said to have forgotten the lessons of Cato's Conspiracy, The Great Negro Plot of 1741, Nate Turner's Rebellion or even 9/11. The harsh measures adopted after these events were necessary to prevent further loss of life. The American populations have felt that rebellions and terrorist attacks could come at almost anytime from anywhere unless intense intimidation often in the form of torture is used. The function of torture is alienation of one population from another.

The lesser nature of these groups is used a second time to discount conditions which may have led to uprisings and terrorist attacks. Bin Ladin and Turner are portrayed as simple-minded sociopaths with no other motivations than an inate blind rage and blood lust. Any sense of empathy or attempt at understanding the underlying contentions of these groups is strongly discouraged and even thought to be traitorous. On a side note, I believe that discouraging empathy is one of the major functions of torture and in general torture is more useful at influencing those that identify with the victims than it is at dealing with the victims themselves.

Suffice it to say I feel that whether it's "terrorists" or slaves, torture and violent coercion has no moral standing. Is it acceptable, today, to say that the American population was right to abuse and torture the ancestors of today's African Americans? America "may not be ready" to think that way. But, as more and more prominent politicians and news organizations endorse this kind of behavior in order to achieve a sense of control we move closer to accepting the philosophy behind such a belief.

(All photos via NYPL. Info on the pictures can be found here picture 1, picture 2, picture 3)

May 26, 2007

Blood of the Innocent

If you haven't figured it out by now, I'm a regular reader of Glen Greenwald's blog. In some recent posts he anaylized two polls from the Program on International Policy Attitude at the University of Maryland that asked to what extent violence against civilians is acceptable amoung the populations of different countries. You can go to the link above to download a pdf of the report. The results would probably suprise most people but certainly didn't suprise me; Americans were at least twice as likely to support attacks on civilians in order to acheive political goals as any of the prodominantly Muslim countries included (Iran, Pakistan, Morocco, Egypt, and Indonisia).

Just look at a comparison of views held by citizens of the United States verses those held by people in Iran (considered by many Americans to be among the most extreme fundamentalist Islamic countries). When asked about attacks on civilians to achieve political goals, 11% of Iranians felt that such actions would be justified at least some of the time while 24% of Americans felt the same way. On the flip side, 46% of Americans think political attacks on civilians are never acceptable compared with 80% of Iranians.

US political rhetoric and mainstream media would imagine these findings the opposit of expectations. It turns out that their rightousness isn't quite as justified as it could be. The irony is that (as is explained this book I keep bringing up, The Authoritrians) the morally rightous are more willing to commit immoral acts. These polls didn't include other countries but it wouldn't be surprising to see the US way close to the top of countries willing to kill civilians for political goals. We certainly beat the crap out of Iran.

I'll leave the rest of the discussion to Greenwald who does some outstanding analysis of this poll data that everyone should check out. Glen Greenwald 5/25/07. Glen Greenwald 5/23/07.

May 25, 2007

Spring Trip '07

Just got back from a quick trip to the east coast. I got to see my whole family, my brother who is graduating from law school, my uncle and aunt who're moving from Turkey to upstate NY, some severe storm damage in Bedford Hills, some pals and old college buddies in Philly and NYC.

It was a great trip.

May 24, 2007

Me Brain So Confuseded

The other day, someone asked me if I though that a certain disease was essentially a mental or physical problem. My knee-jerk response was "What's the difference?"

I didn't mean that question rhetorically either. It may be that the years of practicing Chinese Medicine have confused me but I'm having trouble distinguishing what should be considered essentially mental verses physical. In the Chinese medical system that I use, your mind and your body are two aspects of the whole being that is you. Distinctions between the two are generally academic. But, in Western philosophy, the mind and the body are distinct objects that can only interact in very specific ways if at all and the distinction is all important for treatment.

The thing that confuses me is that the boundary between what is considered the mind and body keeps shifting. Like in WWI, you climb out of your trench one day to find that you're on the wrong side of no-mans land. One interesting thing about the boundary is that the mind side has been losing ground for hundreds of years now. First, the entire world is a conscious entity governed by God, then it's just the animals, then just us, then just our brains, etc.

This subject came up in a recent article in the New York Times Magazine and really got the old thought gears spinning for me. The question is this: To what extent are people with physical or chemical brain abnormalities responsible for criminal acts? Are the brain abnormalities responsible instead? To follow this approach here are some links you should check out:

New York Times Magazine Article on Neurolaw

Jeffrey Rosen discusses Neurolaw on Fresh Air

To suggest that criminals could be excused because their brains made them do it seems to imply that anyone whose brain has a physicological change could be absolved of responsibility for their actions. You get a system that is one small step away from saying, "It's not my fault. I made me do it." The human being becomes just a helpless theme park goer strapped in for the ride of life. I am no longer the captain of my destiny and my decisions but merely the captain of my own roller coaster ride.

Certainly there are many circumstances where people due to the influence of chemicals, drugs, or mental disorders do things that they wouldn't ordinarily do. I'm not trying to deny this reality at all. But, there are many forms of evidence that can be used other that investigation of the physical brain that can determine this. One need not look any farther than the correlation between lower back pain and MRI results showing disc herniation to find that diagnostic tests are often misleading compared to subjective reports.

My biggest problem with this kind of science in the courtroom is that science as a whole has nothing to say about the nature of thought, morality and justice. These are concepts foreign to the very nature of science. Asking for a scientific explanation of society and consciousness is like asking a vegetarian to cook a steak for dinner; It's bound to be an unpleasant experience for all.

Also, just as the physiology of our brain may influence thought so might thought influence the physiology of our brain. It's a two way street people. You can listen to this Talk of the Nation for an example.

(Poster of a giant brain for La GHEBIA 1919. via The Beinecke Library. Image of Lee O'Neil Browne in court 1910 by a Chicago Daily News photographer via American Memory)

May 16, 2007

Severe Storm Warning

Apparently, Bedford Hills was hit with some severe storms and possible tornado today knocking out power in a bunch of areas. Hope you're all ok.

Being in a regular thunderstorm is pretty fun. Being in a sever storm is terrifying. My brother was at home in Bedford Hills when the trees started falling so he hid in the basement.

May 15, 2007

Something's Wrong Here

On the left, L. Ron Hubbard. On the right, Dick Cheney. Kind of like Superman and Clark Kent. Or maybe more like Superman and Bizarro. Or just two Bizarros

May 14, 2007

Caption Contest #1 Redux

Don't forget, we're still taking entries for Caption Contest #1, people.

Clear as the Fog of War

I heard a good program on "The Story" with Dick Gordon today. In general, I'm not a big fan of the show but this one was particularly good. It's an interview with the Molly Bingham and Steve Connors, documentary filmmakers who spent almost a year in Iraq and (without intentionally trying to) ended up covering people within the Iraqi resistance. They just released a film about it called "Meeting Resistance." I highly recommend checking out the interview.

(Poster from a Chicago Daily News photographer of a French war poster 1918 via American Memory)

May 13, 2007

The Dutch Touch

As much as any other player, the Dutch striker, Dennis Bergkamp, used to beat defenders and score with pure skill. He made the most sublime control of the ball look easy and natural. I submit two of his most astonishing goals to "the beautiful game" series of posts.

If you've never tried before, you'll have to trust me that controlling a +60 yard pass with a single touch of an outstretched foot while leaping midair is not something that you just do and then coolly recover from and score.

An interesting fact about Bergkamp is that he had such an intense fear of flying that he couldn't compete in the 2002 World Cup. This earned him the nickname "the non-flying dutchman." Another nickname that he has is "the iceman" because he's ice cold under pressure and possibly because he looks a little like Val Kilmer.

The Dutch team really should have pulled a B. A. Baracus to get him over to Japan and Korea for the games. Here Dennis, enjoy a long drink from this cool refreshing glass of not the least bit drugged milk.

May 9, 2007

As It's Spoken

That's a clip from "Home Movies" which was on UPN and the Cartoon Network for awhile. Thanks to the DVD and the internets I've been watching a lot of it lately. The show was produced by the company Soup 2 Nutz which also did "Dr. Katz" and another education show by called "Science Court". Those were some really good shows.

One of my favorite things about that show and other shows like it such as Nick Park's "Creature Comforts" are their playful use of language.

For the Soup 2 Nutz stuff, the focus on language exists because most of the show is recorded in an improvisational manner and then carefully reedited. In "Creature Comforts", audio teams go all over the UK to conduct interviews in a relaxed natural context with average everyday people.

When people speak in real life, they hesitate, repeat words, change sentence structure mid sentence, and interrupt and overlap with other speakers. Almost all TV shows and movies abandon this mode of speech in favor of cleaner and more presentable stage speech.

May 8, 2007

The Hippiest Generation

The reign of the hippies is almost at an end.

Yup, the generation of baby boomers which have been firmly in control of government and business in the United States for the past ten years or so is almost over. Hooray. I for one have had enough of there pro-drug legislation, anti-business and corporate agenda, the loose sexual morals they promote, their absolute aversion to war of a any kind and their devotion of so much of the nations resources to fulfilling the dream of civil rights.

Ah, sarcasm, my old friend. Where would we be without you.

Seriously, people tend to think of 60's counterculture as infusing all the youth of the era. So, how did we end up with a large group of people from that era in positions of authority who have white hot button down white picket fence conforming values? First, you have to realize that as evidenced by the name, counterculture was never mainstream culture. Therefore, one would not expect to see it well represented in the majority of people of that time. While some significant social changes happened in the sixties, it was a really a revolution in perception (hyped by mainstream culture to mobilize the silent majority) more than anything else.

Another interesting thing to note is that as society was moving left, the economy was moving right. The sixties marked a move away from strong unions and a prevalence of unskilled labor jobs. Small businesses were evaporating to be replaced by large corporations created in mergers. The seeds of a culture of consumption where starting to sprout.

(graffiti via Banksy)

I Live by a Strict Moral Code

Here's the letter I'm putting in the time capsule so that when people invent time machines in the future, they can send this one back to 1965:

Dear George Putnam Outstanding News Reporter,
You don't know from porn. Just wait till you get hit with the internet. Also, do you think it's a good idea for you to narrate in near ecstatic detail a "flood tide" of images to which "prolonged exposure of even the normal male adult to this type of publication, though he may not be aware of its true nature, may nevertheless pervert"?
You are forever in my thoughts,

How outstanding is George Putnam anyway? For one thing, at 92 years old, dude is still on the air. His conservative radio show Talk Back is on KCAA in California.

May 4, 2007

Slow News Day

So, as reported by the New York Times, representatives from the US and Iran met and had an "impromptu 3 minute discussion" at an international conference in Egypt. To which, I must respond: Yip di diddle.

In other news, as reported by the note Rachel handed me in my in English class, Brendon totally likes Jamie.

I've heard of television diplomacy but not middle school gossip diplomacy.

What is it Good For?

A couple of ongoing fictional series' have indirectly taken on the War on Terror as a subject for drama. The new Battlestar Galactica and Marvel comics Civil War certainly try. One of the most appropriate works which takes on the issues of the war is the Japanese manga turned anime Full Metal Alchemist.

If you don't like anime and you want to see what I'm talking about, you should skip ahead to 6:40.

Even without any political overtones, Full Metal Alchemist reaches the top of the anime pyramid as it alternates between comedic and dramatic, lighthearted and deep in contemplation of the darkness of the soul. It does get a bit long winded and plot twisty in the middle of the series though. Leave it to Japan to understand what it means to be a dominant colonial power as well as a satellite state.

May 3, 2007


I've finally gotten my hands on the "latest" issues of Planetary by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday. This comic has had some of the best writing and art of any superhero comic of the last ten years. The only drawback is that it can get a little wordy with psuedo-scientific mumbo jumbo. Well, that and it's been really slow in getting new issues. Since 1998, there have been 26 comics total. There series ends at #27 and I'm hoping that the last one will come out any year now.

The story follows a superhuman team of archaeologists who investigate and document the strange and secret happenings of the world. Sometimes, that means looking into alien invasions and sometimes it means traveling to monster island. I'm don't want to describe it in any more detail than that because it's the kind of the thing you'll want to read without too much prior knowledge. I will say that the whole series is masterfully constructed.

And the art is absolutely fantastic. Check it out.

(Picture via Planetary issue #4 by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday, color by Laura Martin)

May 2, 2007

Tin Tin Quentin

Pulp Fiction is a fluke. It's the one movie in the overblown portfolio of Quentin Tarentino that I like. Normally, I try to refrain from being a hater but QT is such a petulant egomaniac that in this case I just can't help myself.

Why do I gotta knock the Q? After all, he's a decent director and has produced a series of almost watchable movies. My problems is that his stuff outside of Pulp Fiction is basically a mediocre reworking of older and better movies. All these other Hollywood jerks pretend that he is this brilliant and that his "homages" are in fact favors to old genres instead of exploitation.

I would watch any Shaw Brothers or Sonny Chiba film over the Kill Bills any day.
Black Belt Jones in all of its outstanding awfulness is a peg or two above Jackie Brown.

Quentin made a big deal of bringing Wang Kar Wai's "Chung King Express" (an awesome movie) to the states. If you get the US version, it starts with about 10 minutes of him explaining how great the movie is. He does a decent job but you know who does a better job of doing that? The G-D movie that he's putting on hold by talking about how great it is.

So here's the thing. I love the old genres that Tarintino mines to get his material. I love the fact that Sonny Chiba and Gordon Liu have some cool scenes in a big Hollywood flick. But, if someone just redid "Master of the Fatal Flying Guilotine" with respect to the original, he would be my hero.

May 1, 2007

Cats in the Backseat

I had a dream last night that I drove my car into a lake. While that's typical dream stuff, what was weird was that as the car slowly sunk into the water I realized the backseat was filled with cats and infants. It's one of those dream puzzlers. Dream dilemma. So, trying to save both, I started to throw the cats towards the shore with the hope that I could then carry the tiny babies to safety. But, the cats kept swimming back to the boat. Luckily, I woke up before anyone was harmed.

(The picture is "Study of a child with a cat" by Leonardo da Vinci via ARC Museum)

Split the Difference

As you may have noticed, I'm currently helping my friend Recon with his extra super smash hit you-go-crazy-you-like-so-much blog monkeys for helping. I'm not duplicating posts between both the blogs so some of the things that come up here (in my posts and in the comments) show up over there and visa versa. Stylistically, it's easy to decide what belongs where (if you've read both blogs you should agree). In case, you were wondering.

(The picture is a guitar ukulele combo via