Lead Shot Frogs

Thoughts: Mark Twain’s Short Story Collection

What differentiates an artist from mere mortals? There is one thing that working stiffs of this world must never forget above and beyond that fact that they will never get their shit together so as to unite under the auspices of solidarity that they may defeat austerity and hence do something for this fucked up world that is ultimately run by hilarity. Artists, on the other hand, are artists because they have a unique ability to see through the lie of the mind. Or, some like to call it: they can see into a mind that would make a movie. This is why artists, i.e. those who create – as opposed to those who destroy – are ultimately the best form of knowledge regarding how the world turns. It is this knowledge that workers of the world should rely on as they move beyond a useless life of apathy which ultimately equates with slavery. Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m not trying to be snobby and/or anti worker of the world. I actually have a lot of respect for working stiffs. If only they would somehow try to 1. integrate something more creative into their lives, 2. cease and desist human procreation, finally taking advantage of modern times and things like birth control, and 3. leave the blue m&m’s alone or at least realize that they are actually pharmaceutical delivery devices that help maintain mass control for a new world order. 

Ok. Here’s the deal. I had another one of them just-before-wake-up dreams. You know the kind of dream I’m talking about? Probably due to such a huge intake of wine everyday, I don’t dream at night anymore. Instead I have these early morning dreams. Usually what happens is I will wake at 4am, do some bidness, maybe drink tee, at the least pet the pug, and eventually realize it’s way too early. So I spit some blood in the kitchen sink, say a prayer to a god I don’t believe in and lay down again in the hopes it’ll all end in that one perfect moment of sleep. If that doesn’t happen then sometimes I fall back into a deeper sleep than the night before. If all is going well, the stars aligned properly, a full moon far off, I immediately start having wonderfully vivid and visual dreams. When I wake up, which is usually always before 6am, I sit up, shake my head, wipe up the mess, and try to absorb what just happened. For dreams, they do happen, indeed they do, right?

This morning I dreamt about the lead shot that goes into shotgun cartridges along with a few other things. I was back in the shed behind the house where I grew up. Everything was as I remember it. Wall to wall junk was everywhere, e.g. gardening tools, saws, sledge hammers, shovels, rakes, picks, tools, etc. The shed, btw, was the size of a small car garage and it was typically filled beyond capacity. The shed door was wide open and outside I could hear the birds flying above, squirrels chattering, the creek was flowing. It was a sunny day and our grass was freshly cut but the neighbors grass was not. I was there to reload a bunch of twelve gauge shells. The reloading device looked brand new and next to it on the bench was a blood stain where my stepfather sometimes did his butchering. Hanging from the ceiling were several dead pheasants, a canvas-back duck and two twitching hairy hind legs of a wild bore that we must have just killed, I guess.

Now. I need to move on because this post ain’t about the dream, but instead the lead shot that I used to fill the shells and how I believe my subconscious came to put it there. But I wouldn’t want my worst-readers to feel as though I’m a cock tease or anything like that. So, my dream, in short, was thus. While going about the monotonous task of filling twelve gauge shotgun cartridges by first removing prime, replacing prime, filling powder, then wad, then #5 or sometimes #8 shot, and finally closing cartridge, the daughter of our neighbor appeared in an American flag bikini at the edge of the door of the shed. She interrupted me with a hiccup as I was struggling to remove an ornery prime that didn’t want to come out. BTW, her bikini bottom had the stars, which I know a lot of (real) men prefer. She wanted to know if I wanted to do that thing we did last time when I helped her cut the grass. I said sure but not right now, I’m busy. She sneezed and then added that her Dad’s new mower, which was one of them zero-turn mowers, wouldn’t start and that I needed to help her with that, as well. I told her again that I was busy but she insisted, smiled and then reminded me that I could set the price for my services, which I did and she performed well and we eventually ended up riding together, like the last time, on her new mower and cutting the grass.

Now. Back to lead shot. I’m (re)reading Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” I actually plan on (re)reading Twain’s short story collection which I recently downloaded to my kindle. It’s been a while since I’ve read Twain and I was thinking a few months back that I need to get back into reading fiction. Twain seems like a great place to start. I’ve been focused on non-fiction and history for the past year. Anywho. As I was reading the Frog story my head started to fill with all the stuff I’ve been reading of late, which was mostly about American history, the banking and economic crisis thanks to Dipshit Dubya Bush, Wall Street, etc. Now, I know that worstwriter ain’t gonna offer any kind of new fangled interpretation of Twain. Believe you me, my literary feet walk this earth with not a spec of space between foot and ground. It most certainly doesn’t need to be said by moi that Twain’s writing is both brilliant and his wisdom far reaching. But I’m gonna go with this thought all the same. The frog story might just be a kind of analogy for what’s wrong with America today. Here, bear with me a sec and in the mean time I’ll summarize.

Jim Smiley loves to gamble. He bets on anything. He decides one day to train a frog to jump real far in the hopes that it will out jump any frog in Calaveras County and thereby win him lots of money. One day Jim meets a stranger who is willing to take on the bet but the stranger says that he has no frog. And here’s where it gets good. The stranger gets Jim to leave his trained frog with him so Jim can catch another frog in order to make the bet. Jim leaves the stranger with his frog and goes off and eventually returns with another frog. The two men gamble over the longest jumping frog and forty dollars. Not a bad sum, btw, for a story written in 1865. But here’s the thing, Jim loses. The reason he loses is because while Jim left his trained jumping frog with the stranger and ran off to get another frog, the stranger filled Dan’l Webster (the name of the frog) with lead shot thereby rendering the animal incapable of jumping.

What made this short story by Twain so popular when it was first published is obvious. America – and most of the western world – was and is built and maintained by those who cajole and those who get cajoled. This makes me ask the question: with all the krapp that has happened since Twain, how is it that we are unable to over come our own gullibility? Also. Even though the shot gun shell filling part of this is true, I really use to do that sort of thing, I never had a neighbor who allowed me certain liberties if I would help cut her grass. Oh. I’m looking forward to reading more Twain.

Links:

 

Rant on.

-tgs-

Crémant vs Art Films

Pseudo review of the movie Synecdoch, New York by Charlie Kaufman

Oh, it weighed heavy on my conscience having recently gone to the cinema. It’s just not something I do. It’s like youth, and it’s a good thing that it’s gotten away from me. But I did it and there is a price to pay. Subsequently I was compelled to find something spectacular to bring me back (to reality). To pay the piper, they say. Oh, how I yearn for a world where creativity is at the forefront of every (dirty) deed – as opposed to the status quo conservative world of living in the past we are all (de)faced with now. But enough about me.

Today we’re going to worstwrite about the brilliant writer Charlie Kaufman and the wonders of Crémant. Was in a store a few weeks back and the DVD of “Synecdoche, New York” was available for some ungodly cheap price. This is the usual way I consume movies these days: cheap DVDs and retailer supply surplus nightmares. In most stores here in z’Germanland they usually put a krapp-load of DVDs into a crate and the all-knowing consumer has to sift through it. Attached to the crate is a sign that reads “DVD ab 4,99”. I have long since realized that what they actually throw into these crates are no more than four or five different movies but there is such a huge and abundant unsold supply of them that people will stand there sifting through the crate and never wondering why they keep finding the same film. What they don’t get is that there is never a DVD in the crate for the price advertised. But that’s neither here nor there. Usually I pass these crates because I have already seen Brides From Hell, Part IV or Return of the Martian Females, Part VI. But as I was passing by a crate on this particular procrastinating day something spoke to me. Or should I say… something made its presence known to me. I mean, Synecdoche is a strange title and since I’m attracted to letters and words more than images and pictures, it’s no wonder that this particular title spoke to me and Wife-Zilla’s Return, Part II did not.

Now, here’s the thing. It took a ridiculous price to get me to buy “Being John Malkovic” so I went ahead and splurged once again and gave up my 3,99. But let’s look at something more important than just price, shall we? (Shame Amazon, to the right, can’t match what I paid, eh?) My guess is, the DVD of Synecdoche was thrown into this B-movie crate by a cynic. For I soon discovered, as I waddled through the store to get to the cash register — and this has to have something to do with the psychology of association — there was another special offering of artsy-farsty films all under 5,99 in the another part of the store. Of course, the artsy-fartsy stuff, the stuff that might make people think (I know, I’m being high-brow, but what the heck!), was in the back, in a dark corner, creativity is relegated to obscurity. So I hope I’m making this clear. If this DVD wouldn’t have been in the wrong place — if it weren’t put there by someone who was trying to make a statement — if it were in the place that the others of its kind were, then I would have missed it. For I am, at this point in life, immune to advertising of all kinds and I usually only go to stores if 1) she makes me, and 2) I know exactly what I’m going there to get. (On this day I was in need of a coax cable.) Although I cannot empirically prove it, there is some truth that this DVD, in the wrong crate, communicated with me — and perhaps even knew that I would need it after seeing the new Snow White movie. So I bought and added another Charlie Kaufmann film to my collection titled: “non brain-dead movies”.

Eventually I ripped the DVD, put into my iTunes library and got caught up in doing something else, which included a few days of worstwriting, fighting with my website and concerned that my son is overly preoccupied with the erdbeermund of the chick who plays Snow White. Even though all these other activities prevented me from immediately viewing Synecdoche there was something else that compelled me to wait for the right moment. After viewing the new Snow White (mis)interoperation it was time to purge my innards of being exposed to too much anti-creative-ness. Yet, even after that it took a few more days to get to Synecdoche. Obviously what we’re dealing with here, dear worst-reader, is the problem of submission and not admission. How easy it is to juice yourself up with what’s required to go to the cinema and watch pop movie making. But to do the same with the brilliance of all things creative? Luckily on this particular evening, my better-half was open to me suggesting what film we should watch. So I gathered the perfectly chilled bottle of Crémant, a few snacks of black olives, dried tomatoes, crackers and viola!

It didn’t take long before the main question was asked: Is this an artsy-fartsy movie? Indeed, it is my dear. So I poured her another glass of Crémant du Jura, offered that we watch the new Sherlock Holmes movie (that gets my thumbs up only because of the director!) Luckily (for me) she noticed my enthusiasm for Kaufman, so we continued with what we had begun. For you see, there is no other living writer today that makes me love and hate writing more than Charlie Kaufman. He makes me love writing because of the movies he’s written. He makes me hate writing because of the movies he’s written. Whenever I watch a Charlie Kaufman movie it takes me days to once again sit down at my desk and start hammering away. The whole time I’m thinking: there is only one writer worthy of writing; the man is so brilliant in his carving out of proverbial stone idears and words that it makes me cringe — but cringe in a good way. Being humbled every once ‘a’ once is also a good thing. It’s good to walk the earth with feet firmly planted. Thank you, Charlie Kaufman. And thank you to France for coming up with such a brilliant (and affordable) alternative to Champagne. After my dearest had her second glass of Crémant she fell asleep and I could continue watching the brilliance unfold while nibbling for hours on one black olive.

Links:

 

Rant on.

Tbone

Hyper Stuff

Travels In Hyperreality by Umberto Eco

“Travels in Hyperreality” is a collection of essays by Umberto Eco. I don’t know exactly when I first read this book and that’s starting to bother me – even though it doesn’t matter. Over the years I keep pulling this book from different book shelves where I instinctively know to find it. There is no order to my library – which means I probably can’t call my book collection a library. Nomatter. I then use this book to mend thoughts it embedded in me. I compare these thoughts to small metal splinters that I put under my skin before traveling in order to poke fun at TSA employees and the whole concept of American’t becoming Bigger Brother. The first essay is about how Amerika reconstructs and (artificially) reproduces Europe in order to find – or seem as though it is looking for – an identity. Umberto Eco obviously put a lot of effort into understanding American’t. Hats off to him for such an effort. The pic above is an example of one of the pages in the book and how I sometimes lose control when it comes to jotting down thoughts. I know I should use other forms of note taking but this is the way things are. Why fight it?

Even though I wish I could, for the sake of going through it all once again, I can’t list all the stuff I underlined in this book, so I’ve only taken from the first chapter. Without further adieu here just a few thoughts out of the head of the literary genius Umberto Eco:

  • “There is another, more secret America (or rather, just as public, but snubbed by the European visitor and also by the American intellectual); and it creates somehow a network of references and influences that finally spread also to the products of high culture and the entertainment industry. It has to be discovered.”
  • “…a surplus to throw away–that’s prosperity.”
  • “The authenticity the Ripliey’s Museums advertise is not historical, but visual. Everything looks real, and there it is real; in any case the fact that it seems real is real, and the thing is real even if, like Alice in Wonderland, it never existed.”
  • “We are giving you the reproduction so you will no longer feel any need for the original.”
  • “It is like making love in a confessional with a prostitute dressed in prelate’s liturgical robes reciting Baudelaire while ten electronic organs reproduce the Well Tempered Clavier played by Scriabin.”
  • “… man considers his right foot a limb designed for pressing the accelerator, and the left an atrophied appendix, because cars no longer have a clutch.”
  • “And so the Last Beach ideology develops its thirst for preservation of art from an imperialistic efficiency, but at the same time it is the bad conscience of this imperialistic efficiency, just as cultural anthropology is the bad conscience of the white man who thus pays his debt to the destroyed primitive cultures.”
  • “If America is the country of the Guggenheim Museum or the new skyscrapers of Manhatten, then Disneyland is a curious exception and American intellectuals are quite right to refuse to go there. But if America is what we have seen in the course of our trip, then Disneyland is its Sistine Chapel, and the hyper realists of the art galleries are only the timid voyeurs of an immense and continuous ‘found object’.”

 

Rant on.

-tgs-

Cyberwar Rock-N-Roll

Here’s the scenario. It’s 1999. I’m working as a PM consultant and our client is (really big tech company). The job is to install a test environment of our software. Our software has been purchased by (really big tech company) because we have something they need in order to complete their massive drive to get on the Internets and be what was then called an e-commerce player. The thing is, as big as this tech company was, like most dinosaurs, they were a bit behind in the whole Internets thing. This was my third install but it was also my first big league install. That is, at the previous two installs there was some leeway and room for error. But those days were gone. I had to get this install right without delay which meant that when we hit the “run” command all systems did exactly that. And let me tell you, the whole thing felt real heavy.

Lawrence (names have been changed to protect family members still living) was my engineer. He was from Suffolk originally but somehow fell in love with some chick from Munich and they both lived in Belgium. At the time I was living in Düsseltal. Since Lawrence and I were consultants it didn’t really matter where we lived. Our motto in a world of out-sourcing run amok: be where ever you can give your bank transfer code to get paid. The small dot com that we worked for liked what we did and so they kept us together on projects like this. And so, we were stuck in the SW of Germanland, not far from the Black Forest.

I arrived by plane and then taxi. Lawrence arrived in his new Jaguar X-10. We were assigned a ten square meter glass enclosure in the middle of a football field sized hall filled with automaton cubicles that were all meticulously categorized via huge signs suspended from a fifteen meter ceiling. The signs read “Customer Service” or “OS Operations” or “Printing Products” or “C++” or “Unix”, etc. Details aside, the thing to remember is that Lawrence and I were in a place that could only be compared to the gallows of the Roman Coliseum during games. For that is how we felt, that is how we were motivated. We didn’t care if we were out-sourced gladiators either. We had one up on all the salaried employees in that huge, multiple football field size room: they had called us!

The ten square meter room was made of plexiglass and it had no roof. It was labeled “Installer Box” and everything in it was (supposed to be) disconnected from the rest of (really big tech company). Our job was simple. Install our software, get it working, prove that it works, turn it over to the client and then they’ll call us when they need us. That’s pretty much how I got 2k Euros/day back then. But that’s neither here nor there. Upon arrival at (really big tech company) we were debriefed on protocol and told several times that virus and malicious code contamination was of the highest priority. The thing is, we had a lot of code with us. For this install we had twenty-five CDs. Each CD had to be unzipped and copied to a CPU. Even though I was a relatively useless participant at this point, because I was just the PM, the install and the compile and run process took about four hours. Once that was done and I got the green light from Lawrence, I would then notify the client (the PM is the front man). Then the geeks would surround us and we’d turn the switch and they all would get goo-goo-eyed at our brilliance; a few would even ask if we had any job openings.

Now, dear worst reader, with that little scenario in mind, let’s worst write today about computer security. As I’ve said, there is one major thing that most people never even think about when it comes to the gadgets they use on a daily basis which makes them no different than the big gadgets governments and corporations use. Software does not work. Let me put that another way. Software can never work. Wait. One more try. Software must fail. Did I make that clear? The problem is, as clear as I made that, it ain’t the half of the potential problem at hand. There is one other thing that’s really, really sucky about software. There is no way to prevent software from being completely immune to malicious code.

The fact is, while we were installing software on supposedly “secure” machines in an install-box there was/is no way, if we were willing, (really big tech company) could have prevented us from disrupting their entire network system. Plexiglass encased room or not, while I sat there and patiently waited for Lawrence to complete the daunting task of our install, I counted at least three significant breaches in their security that would have allowed me a major hacker home-run.

The first breach was that prior to our using the install-box someone else had used it and forgot his/her external disk drive. The second breach was that one of the computers in the room had at some point been connected to the company’s network recently because I could see the connection in the network preferences. Either a network cable had been run into the room or someone had taken that PC somewhere else in the building. In fact, I knew the date of the connection (the previous work day) and I also could access the network address code. I could also see in the preference panel that this network connection was made on a regular basis so there was no reason to believe that it wouldn’t be connected again. The third breach, and this was the doozy!, was that although we thought, after the install and setup, that we’d be working from dumb terminals, our hosts told us to go ahead and work directly from the PC that we installed on, which meant that we would have to be given administrator access to it above and beyond just installing our system. Trust among colleagues all on the same team, eh.

As if the war on terror ain’t enough, there has to be something in the wings to preoccupy the paranoid mindset of all future warriors. And in this case the preoccupation might have been worth it. The lack of security mentioned above represents a best case scenario for hackers the world over to find ways to get access to computers in order to partake in the up and coming cyber wars. With encryption technology it’s actually not that easy to get access to systems via networks. The best way to do it is to have direct physical access to those systems. And sense software simply doesn’t work, a system must be constantly accessed by someone, somehow. Of course, my scenario was then (1999) and this is now. Have things changed? The great thing about computers, other than design and screen clarity, nothing changes. During the time I was helping companies get online so they could sell shit, I had noidear that the breaches I discovered would turn out to be the same ones used years later to bring down the computer controlled centrifuges the Iranians were using to process uranium. The thing is, computer experts all know that software is the problem. They also are well aware of the potential for being attacked. One of the easiest ways to prevent such an attack is to simply not give access to the system. What a pickle they all must be in, eh. Obviously, when I was installing our system at (really big tech company) they thought they were secure by putting us in a install-box. The reality is, if I wanted to, I could have easily injected malicious code into their network by one, two or all three breaches in their security.

When I read this arstechnica article I couldn’t help but recall my dot com days while bored in an install-box, looking busy and waiting for Lawrence to do his thing. Wow, I thought, nothing has changed; if you get access to the system it’s easy as pie to take it down. According to an upcoming book by David Sanger, “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power”, the Americans and/or the Israelis were able, through a double agent, to inject malicious code, probably via a simple USB stick, into German made CPUs that controlled centrifuges. The code tells the centrifuges to over-spin, which ends up breaking them. A whole bunch of these really expensive and hard to get centrifuges were taken down, practically halting the Iranians ability to continue with their nuclear ambitions. The details of what this code does is mind-boggling. But what’s more amazing is the secret agent-like method that was employed to get the code into the system. Oh. And from what they are reporting, there is one thing the brilliant hackers forgot. A way to turn the code off. Even though it did what it was supposed to do, it didn’t stop there. Supposedly it’s out in the Internets as you read this. But who really cares. We’re on the right side of all these wars, right?

Links:

 

Rant on.

Tommi

Mirror Mirror On The Wall

Warning: Plot spoilers.

Broke down and went to the movies yesterday. I don’t go to the cinema anymore. Reason? Nothing motivates me to go. And, at my age, it’s getting’ hard to sit still in the dark for 2hrs. Also. Movie making in general has long since run out of stories to tell. For you see, according to everything worst, the art of writing stories is no longer nurtured. Proof in the pudding, baby. Creativity has had to give way to consuming. Enter comics, computer animation and remakes galore. In this new & improved world directors and actors and money have finally pushed aside the part of the mixture where all the creative stuff starts. Oh, the future is brightly bleak. But that’s neither here nor there. Why do we even need stories anymore? There is an endless source of stuff to be regurgitated.

Because I don’t go to the movies I miss the few times that movie makers actually do make something worthwhile. The last time I missed something was Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm – but I eventually caught it on DVD. What a great FREE interpretation of all-ready whacked out story telling. I mean, the Grimm stories in their original are truly grim and that’s what makes them so cool. The mis-interpretation by Disney and Hollywood up to now of those stories contains mounds of proof regarding what has gone so wrong (worst) with our world. When the new Snow White was announced, I thought, Hey, I’ll give yet another interpretation of Grimm a shot.

I actually enjoyed watching this new (re)re-interpretation of Snow White. There are some huge flaws in the story* but, unlike Gilliam’s work, this piece actually tried to stay somehow tuned in to the original Grimm story (accentuate somehow intended). The fact that this interpretation withheld the misnomer of romance as the plot driver made it all the more interesting. Seriously. The thing that made me scared about seeing the movie was how they were gonna do that prince, princess, white horse and kiss thing. I was so tickled that Snow White was kissed by two guys that I almost clapped and yelled “you trollop” to the screen. The simple fact is that Disney’s misinterpretation of romantic love based on a perversion ofSchneewittchen has lead generations to think that their marriage and family life has a speck of something monarchial in it. Mix that with a sexual revolution that has given the world the likes of Madonna, Lady Gago & Co.,  and it’s no wonder that half of all marriages fail. BTW, while the United Mistakes embattles and preoccupies itself with its silly-talk regarding gay marriage, it should consider just getting rid of marriage completely. Other than containment and control, Tommi’s cynical (and somewhat bitter) mind can find no significant social, cultural or political use for marriage anymore. If you must, make rules or laws about taking care of children, but get rid of all the other chains that legally bind two people together. Yeah, baby. Free! Freedom at last.

Anywho.

Seeing this movie with my son, who is gaga for the Snow White actress (and I am for Charlize Theron), was some cinematic fun I hadn’t had in a long time. Boy, I forgot how much I miss popcorn in Amerika, too.

*Story Flaws? Actually these are just some thoughts I jotted down after running this movie through my head. (1) If the evil queen was powerful enough to know that William had tricked Snow White with the apple when they were children – hence the reason that the queen could appear as William with the apple and give Snow White a second chance to bite it and then poison her – how then could she not know that it was the Huntsman’s kiss that would wake her up from the poisoned apple and then plan for that accordingly? (2) Although I loved the dwarfs, why couldn’t they get some real dwarfs? (3) The magic in the movie, from the queen and her mirror to the emerald-like forest with its ferries, lacks in verisimilitude, and almost separates it from the rest of the movie where there is no magic. The story behind how the queen killed Snow White’s father is clear. But what did she do with the kingdom? There was something missing about the power she had and how she wielded it. What was the movie about? Snow White? The evil queen? Directors and actors and producers making money? Writing no longer being nurtured? Etc., etc.

Rant on.

-tgs-