Friday, October 28, 2011

Book mircroreview:

I certainly wouldn't call myself a survivalist; I'm nowhere near prepared enough. But I'm a bit of a survivalist enthusiast. People who can do stuff are interesting, and the skills survivalists talk about are often fascinating, so browsing their blogs is an entertaining way to pass some time.

So when Dave Black's new book, Survival Retreats, came across my desk, I gave it a flip through.

I'm no expert on survivalism, but I know guns reasonably well. Let me give you an excerpt from his section on defense and security:

Die-hard survivalists insist on the necessity for the immediate availability of weaponry for a hard response. While going without weapons certainly causes no harm and eliminates the threats of family suicides and homicides with those weapons, the absence of those weapons in an [end of the world] bedlam situation would increase the likelihood of successful victimization.
Of all the topics in the survivalism realm, armament is by far the most controversial. The mere possession of a firearm in the home enormously increases the likelihood that you or a loved one will be killed by it. While I have spent much of my life with weapons in the home and did twelve years in the military, in my seven years as a paramedic in the American West, I encountered hundreds of gunshot wounds, and by far, the majority of them were suicides. The rest were accidents or resulted from domestic disputes. None of them were defensive in nature, a fact which pretty much verifies the statistics the gun-control crowd is using...
Unless there's an imminent danger of attack, guns should be stored, unloaded, with trigger locks in place. Ammunition should be stored and locked up separately.

This, incidentally, follows immediately after he's discussed the possibility of stopping intruders with buried IEDs and booby trapped foyers that can be flooded with toxic gas.

He goes on to suggest loading your defensive shotgun with birdshot to "mitigate overpenetration", recommend the Hi-Point 9mm pistol as a practical budget option, and to say that if you insist on using "assault-type" rifles because you're drawn "like ants to sugar" by their "romantic silhouettes", then you should consider using frangible ammo.

This is before recommending the Ruger 10/22 as a ".22 caliber sniper rifle".

Flipping further on, I noticed a picture of a certain trendy handgun:

"The perfect traveling companion? The Public Defender variant of the Taurus handgun, "The Judge," is a five-shot revolver that shoots a .45 caliber round or a .410 shot shell. It's small and light, built and promoted as a concealable self-defense or home protection weapon...Loading a Public Defender with alternating .45 and WSE .410 rounds results in a formidable close-quarters personal defense weapon.


I don't have the expertise to assess his other sections on history, location selection, food and energy sustainability, and home security, which may be above reproach. I'm not in the market for a survivalist retreat, myself. But on the off chance that you are, dear reader, I'd suggest that--on the chance that Mr. Black brings the same knowledge and wisdom to those topics that he does to firearms--you may want to look elsewhere.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Who wants some physical Bitcoins?"

"Physical Bitcoins! Getchyer physical Bitcoins here! Get 'em while they're hot!

Get 'em before the feds decide they're a competing currency and bust up the seller's business!"

...deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

Approval of Congress falls to 9%.

Nine percent.

That's not just a joke about how crappy the Congress is; that's nine-damn-percent.

King George had a higher approval rating than that.

In 1775, we literally went to war against terrible odds to kick out a government that was less intrusive and more well loved than this one. Today, we have people demonstrating in the streets to give the Congress they hate more power.

Good to live in a more enlightened age, huh?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I vant to, ah...

Handling The Vampire Film: From Nosferatu to True Blood at work.

Among the various and sundry Nosferatus and Interviews With the Vampire, one finds that ageless classic... Emmanuelle Vs. Dracula.

Let not your ears despise my tongue for ever

Sleep No More has been a slow hit in Chelsea, drawing as much attention and success as you can expect from a weird show in a strange format that can only accommodate about 300 people per performance. Reviews are universally positive, every show is a full house, and it has a loyal following in addition to a steady stream of new attendees, but its visibility in the larger culture is limited.

I wouldn't exactly say that's on the verge of changing fundamentally, but Sleep No More is about to get its first appearance in mainstream mass media... in the November 14th episode of Gossip Girl.


You have troubles?

From General interwebs

(Yoinked from The Weasel King.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

And that distill'd by magic sleights

Continuing with my obsessive Sleep No More blogging, vague acquaintance Deborah Castellano blogs about the show from a Neopagan perspective very different from my own: Sleep No More as theatrical Hellenistic religious initiation.

Which brings us to initiatory experience, magic and theater. Let's talk some truth talk here, to get any kind of Pagan/Occult experience to have a certain level of theatricality, you're still dealing with your regularly practicing group and you're probably in someone's living room...Neo-Paganism, like it or lump it, has more in common presently with coming from the sixties radical movements than when theater and religion used to mesh together in Greece.

The closest to that Greek theater/nitiatory experience that I've gotten is seeing Sleep No More. Firstly, you're wearing masks and you're not to speak. Secondly, each room is amazingly detailed as it took over 400 volunteers to put together the rooms. Thirdly, they separate you from whomever you came with so that you can have a solitary experience that is exactly what you want to do at all times.
And after a certain point, it's hard to tell where you've been and what you've seen and things that are similar but not exactly the same and who is observing who and the fatigue that starts to give over to the ecstatic experience as it becomes harder and harder to tell what's real and what's dreamed. The *only* way you can ever experience such a ritualistic immersive experience is this way - to pay for your ticket and for there to be a cast of nearly a thousand people who have put this together to be so detailed and choreographed and the cast of thousands of devotees who have started their own strange rituals (like leaving their own hair samples in the room full of the four hundred volunteers' samples) happening under the sanctity of the production, just like it's happened in religion since religion started.

It's an ecstatic, spiritual experience that is not like anything you'll ever be able to experience again (and even people who have gone five or seven times have different dreamlike experiences each time) so as Ferris once said, If you have the means, I highly recommend it. If it gets extended until the end of the year, I'll sell whatever organ I have to so I can go again. It's been two weeks and I'm still dreaming and thinking about it.

Again, a very different perspective from mine, but spot on. Having been a religious person myself, I agree that in me, at least, this show pushes a lot of the same brain-buttons.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Chief nourisher in life's feast

Michael Abbott at Brainy Gamer says Sleep No More is:

the first time that both strands of my life’s work--theatre and video games--have coalesced to form something that feels at once deeply familiar to me and breathtakingly new.

The hardcore gamer's take on the show is an illuminating one.

SNM is an incredibly stimulating sandbox, chock-full of fascinating characters, artifacts, and narrative events. Throughout my time there (I saw it twice), I was struck by a familiar sense of open-world freedom, bound by intentional designer-imposed limits, but ultimately responsive to my desire to test those limits, tweak the system, and observe the results.

At the second performance, I found myself digging to figure out how the system works; looking for the seams; seeking ways to give myself an advantage over the other audience members; developing strategies to overcome the system’s rules.

In other words, I played Sleep No More like a game, and its design encouraged that behavior. SNM isn’t a sender-receiver event. Like all great games, its system responds to player actions, including those that would seem to fall outside the “acceptable” range. SNM gets more interesting the harder you play with it.

It's possible I'm pulling together a Google doc of show information to guide my next trip.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Time is marching on

James Pethokoukis claims that income inequality in the US is a myth.

I take no position on his statistical arguments (the situation amounts to two groups with different numbers each insisting that their numbers are the right ones), or on whether they add up to the thesis in his title, for that matter.

I just wanted to separate out his fifth point for a moment:

Set all the numbers aside for a moment. If you’ve lived through the past four decades, does it really seem like America is no better off today? It doesn’t to Jason Furman, the deputy director of Obama’s National Economic Council. Here is Furman back in 2006: "Remember when even upper-middle class families worried about staying on a long distance call for too long? When flying was an expensive luxury? When only a minority of the population had central air conditioning, dishwashers, and color televisions? When no one had DVD players, iPods, or digital cameras? And when most Americans owned a car that broke down frequently, guzzled fuel, spewed foul smelling pollution, and didn’t have any of the now virtually standard items like air conditioning or tape/CD players?"

No doubt the past few years have been terrible. But the past few decades have been pretty good--for everybody.

I've had disagreements with people that I think boil down to just this point: in order to assess a person's wealth, you need to realize that cheap and easy access to resources is itself a form of wealth that needs to be considered in the total.

If Bob has money worth the equivalent of $4500 and can buy an Apple II* with it, and Frank has money worth the equivalent of $400 and can buy an iPhone 3G with it, which is holding more "wealth"? The ubiquity of extremely powerful pocket computers today indicates some amount of wealth, whether those devices were all bought dearly, or were sold for next to nothing.

To illustrate the point with an extreme, consider the future culture with perfect replicator technology, where anybody can have anything he wants at any time: everything is almost free, so most people will have very, very little money. Does that mean they're dirt poor compared to us?

It's undeniably true that there are a lot of poor people in the US, and (and it feels like I can't emphasize this enough, things being as they are) there are real-true grievances against our system I don't intend to dismiss. I simply mean to say that, while juggling the numbers to look at income trends in the US, it's important not to forget that those trends don't account for the mindboggling increase in the quality and power of the tools we buy with those inflation-adjusted dollars. Whether that adds up to an overall increase or decrease in the standard of living, I don't feel qualified to say.

[* - According to the The Inflation Calculator, the Apple II's $1300 MSRP at its introduction in 1977 would be $4622.20 in 2010 dollars.]

In a way, you're *both* wrong.

Common observation: "Those Occupy Wall Street hippies can only do what they're doing because they're a bunch of jobless layabouts."

Counter-observation: "That's the point. They're angry because they can't get jobs while all these companies are [colluding with government to screw workers]/[operating in a decadent capitalist system]."

Reality intrudes: "The vast majority of demonstrators are actually employed, and the proportion of protesters unemployed (15%) is within single digits of the national unemployment rate (9.1%)."

Blunt Object reminds us that 9.1% is the official rate, based on the number of people who report they're looking for a job. Counting those who have given up, the actual number is probably just about 15%, give or take.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's your dime.

Bill introduced in House of Representatives that would authorize the Mint to celebrate the 75 anniversary of the March of Dimes with a special commemorative... silver dollar.

Methought I heard a voice cry

This past Saturday, the ladies and I went with some friends to see Sleep No More in Chelsea.

Following are two reviews, one of which is completely spoiler-free. The other has "format spoilers", but no serious plot spoilers--a concept that only vaguely applies to this show anyway.

Spoiler-free review: If you're at all able to do so, and enjoy things that range from "weird" to "damn that's fucked up", see it.

That's about all that can be said. If you want to go in completely cold, that's all you get.

Format-spoilers review: Sleep No More is an immersive theater production performed in "The McKittrick Hotel", a hundred-room performance space installed in the five floors of three adjoining warehouses. Audience members come in off the street, check in at the front desk, and are pointed down a dark, winding hall (I had to navigate by touch) which opens into a smoky, dreamlike 1940s lounge. In small groups, they're allowed into a tiny vestibule where they're given white masks, told a short list of Hotel rules, and herded into an elevator which discharges them in randomly selected groups onto random floors. It's recommended that you experience the show solo, and parts of it are designed to break up groups. The stagehands wear black masks--except those disguised as audience members--and the actors alone are unmasked. There is no photography allowed, no removing of masks, and absolutely no talking.

As an audience member, you're free to go anywhere you please and to touch everything. The actors use the audience-filled rooms as sets, and simply ignore or push through spectators--there are no designated performing areas and viewing areas. In my three hours there, I was moved exactly once, and that was because I was seconds away from being kicked in the face by a performer vaulting over the speakeasy bar I'd wandered behind. The masks are a brilliant touch; they make the scenes even more bizarre and dreamlike, and act as a barrier, simultaneously making you feel more removed from the action and bolder: with my shy temperament, I would never have explored behind the bar with my face out.

The primary story is based on Macbeth--or at least a 1940s inspired fever dream of Macbeth--with significant extra material inferred to be happening offstage in Shakespeare's play, plus characters and events inspired by Hitchcock movies and historical Scottish witch hunts, all performed (mostly) wordlessly. The story repeats three times, resetting on the hours, so that an audience member has more opportunities to see different scenes. At the end of the third performance, the black masked stagehands silently herd the entire audience into the grand ballroom for the finale.

With so many scenes going on at once, and so many rooms to poke around in, it's impossible to see everything. I spent the first hour and a half just exploring the set, and the remaining hour and a half hunting for scenes, and still managed to completely miss Hecate's lounge, a uniquely strange room where at least one significant scene takes place.

The set itself is glorious and intimidatingly spacious. The grand ballroom doubles as Birnam Wood, complete with wheeled trees that are moved on and off (or pressed ominously inward) as scenes demand. Most of the fifth floor is a nightmare of a mental asylum. The battlefield ruins, graveyard, and witches' forest are all kept cool and humid, with their matte black walls lost in the perfectly designed lighting, so that most of the time you honestly feel like you've stepped outside, or are dreaming about having stepped outside. In many places they've hauled in dirt for the floors or even paved the floors to complete the illusion. The Hotel level has the Macduffs' apartments, a restaurant, and a coat check, and old fashioned pay phone niches in the lobby that ring randomly and give little details to whoever picks them up. The Macduff children's room has big mirrors on one wall made of one-way glass. Cup your hands to them, and you see through into another room furnished exactly the same way, but with the bedclothes torn away and a large bloodstain on the mattress.

And the depth of the set goes well beyond "you can touch it". Among the extremely strange detail that's just there to set the atmosphere, there's also a seemingly endless amount of detail that informs and builds on the story. One floor (dominated by Hitchcock themes) centers on a simulated grimy street with "storefronts" that can be freely entered and explored. One of these is some kind of police or private investigator's office, with one wall covered in cubbies of evidence and one covered in filing cabinets piled high with loose files on top. Tucked in a corner on top of the filing cabinets is a safe. If you open that safe, it's full of feathers, nests, and eggs, but there's also a stack of envelopes on the top shelf. Stand on your toes, take an envelope, and open it... And you find a handwritten letter in fountain pen from the Thane of Glamis approving a request to go birdwatching on his lands, but warning the petitioner to stay away from the hut in the woods and to "be sure not to try our generosity". Details like this are everywhere, in drawers, chest, jewelry boxes--or fitted into hollowed-out Bibles--and usually have little to do with any of the performed story lines; they're just there to give extraordinary depth to a set and production that everyone involved obviously put a huge amount of work into.

The second floor houses the lounge that you entered through, and it remains accessible throughout. There's (quite good) live forties-style music, a bar, and a masks-optional and discussion-allowed policy that lets you to take a break from the show if you want to. In the first hour, some of the sets (most notably the graveyard, the ruins, and the entire asylum level) were unnerving enough that I rushed through them, and the lounge was a nice respite. By the third hour, I felt at home in every part of the performance space, and was ill at ease stepping into the lounge. If you want to feel how easily people get lost in Carcosa, this is an educational experience.

The performances themselves are done in a mix of pantomime and modern dance, which seems like it could get tedious after a while... and it sometimes does. But it only gets tedious when the performers involved want you to move along and see something else. You're only actually told to go to a certain place at the finale, but throughout the show the performers expertly use pacing and your own sense of urgency to keep you moving. The "vocabulary" of the performance is matched perfectly to the needs and feel of the show, and I say that as somebody who usually dislikes modern dance. The performers, incidentally, are impossibly good at what they do, timing their performances, entrances, and exits using only the phonographey forties soundtrack that plays throughout the set to guide them, and doing some seriously impressive near-acrobatic performances using the set itself. Even more impressive, most of the performers know multiple roles, and they often switch for a given performance.

To see the plot play out, many people follow the actors from scene to scene. And the actors don't wait for them. When Macbeth runs furiously up a flight of stairs and through the halls of the asylum and the and mazelike woods to confront the witches, the fifty or so people following him had just better keep up. By the third performance, most people have started following performers, so that wherever you go you find claustrophobic crushes of spectators, madly rushing mobs, or nearly empty rooms. The maze of rooms is equipped with hidden, lockable doors and concealed bolt holes that the performers use to slip away from the following crowds, leaving them to disperse in confusion.

The performers mostly ignore the audience. They'll move people in their way, and will occasionally interact for specific reasons (dancers in the ballroom scene that resets the show will pull in partners from the crowd, and a grieving Macduff implores the audience to hold up his dead wife, for example), but for the most part they give the impression that they're living in a world of shades that they're dimly aware of but are uninterested in. Once in a while, a performer will pull a single person out of the audience, take him into a locked room reserved for the purpose, and play out a one-on-one scene. There's a consensus on the Internet that there's even an entire sixth floor kept secret, that's seen by only a few audience members per performance.

Hecate alone, who stays almost exclusively in her lounge, makes it clear that she's always conscious of the audience, freely interacting with them and sending some of them on errands.

You can see the show in your own way, exploring the set or following the performances or both (it may be best to follow the actors earlier rather than later, as everybody gets this idea towards the end). You can find a comfortable or significant room and hang out there for a while, watching the scenes that come and go. In the speakeasy on the fourth floor, you can play a bizarre card game that involves nailing the face cards to the wall.

Seven of us went, three of whom had been there before, and even after comparing all our notes, I'm certain we have much, much more to see. When together, we've talked about little else since.

Sleep No More was intended to run for six weeks, but has now been extended four times. It runs every day except Sunday, with an additional late performance on Friday and Saturday,* and I believe they have a full house for every show. If you can scrounge up the ninety bucks and a trip to the City, and have a tolerance for the weird (and some moments--particularly in Hecate's lounge--are really, really weird), see this show. It isn't the kind of thing that can go on tour after its Manhattan run. See it while you have the chance.

[* - The five "arrival times" you can buy tickets for are all for the same show, which ends at the finale regardless of when you arrived. Get the earliest one you can, because even the full three hours won't be anywhere near enough time.]

Friday, October 14, 2011

Neun und Neunzig Obdachlose

From General interwebs

That's right. The 99% are living on the crumbs of the 1%.

Look. I'm more sympathetic to the Occupiers than a lot of my peers. And the trends in US income distribution do suggest some difficult questions--most obviously, as the amount of income has obviously increased dramatically, why has the distribution of increase corresponded to pre-increase wealth?

But the thread of the protests that suggests "we the 99%" are poverty stricken while the top 1% lives in luxury is bullshit. The 99th percentile in America starts with those poor, downtrodden masses making $593,000 a year. The 80th percentile is making over a hundred thousand US dollars a year. The 60th is doing nearly $80,000, which requires an awfully funny definition of poverty.

Even the 40th percentile is making about 50,000 dollars a year. This is approximately where my family of three working adults sits, and to call us poor would be a grossly condescending insult to people here and worldwide who live in actual poverty. It's also worth noting that the inflation-adjusted income even at this percentile has more than doubled in the last sixty years, markedly increasing its prosperity without even considering the cheap ubiquity of incredibly powerful technologies, many of which couldn't be bought at any price back then.

You have to go all the way down near the 20th percentile to find people living at the federal poverty threshold (set at $22,350, which is justifiably controversial, especially given that many of those people live in the country's most costly cities).

Again, this is one thread of a more complicated protest. And quite a few people have tried to bring more nuance to the 99% meme by framing it as a matter of the super-wealthy 1% using their resources to warp the market and the government to suit their interests. And they'll get no disagreement from me on that point. But far, far more common (and more naturally implied by the meme) is the soundbitey implication that a tiny cadre of megawealthy monocled capitalists are hoarding all the country's wealth, keeping the oppressed working class fighting over their scraps in the dirt, and this simply isn't true. There's a hell of a lot of wealth to go around in the US, it's distributed in such a way as to give the majority the means to be quite comfortable by any objective standard, and our system--warts and all--has at least doubled almost everybody's prosperity over the last half-century. Some people have much bigger pieces of the pie, but the pie is so huge that there's plenty to go around regardless.

There are legitimately protestworthy problems touched on by the Occupiers. Business and government are absolutely in bed together entrenching the powerful and suppressing competition. There are individuals whose wealth is unearned (which I honestly don't care about), and there are motivated, unlazy individuals who are in poverty either by cruel chance or due to said collusion (which I care quite a bit about). It's very likely that, with a much smaller amount and higher quality of business regulation, people at almost every level would be significantly more prosperous than we are now. And while the idea that we're 99% huddled masses is a distortion to the point of lying, up to a fifth of Americans living near or below the poverty threshold is not a trivial figure.

All's I'm saying is that, as with gun rights and marriage equality and women's rights and so many other causes I agree with, people with legitimate grievances need to studiously avoid getting so swept up in selfrighteous signwaving rhetoric that they look foolish and alienate people who might otherwise be allies*. Ditch the naked retro-20s class warfare, marginalize the 99% rhetoric instead of glorifying it, and work tenaciously to focus attention on the real issues.

[* - I could probably be fairly accused of this with regard to libertarianism. Yes, I think taxation is nearly indistinguishable from theft, and that while we (probably) need some amount of it, people should be generally resistant to taxation and demand a very high threshold of need before resorting to it. But that idea is so far outside the mainstream that it tends to alienate people who would otherwise agree with me on issues that are more moderate and potentially achievable. On the other hand, I'm not occupying a public space and chanting slogans at people.]

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Down in the underground

So it turns out Wikipedia's list of hoards found in Britain gives the precise latitude and longitude of the places those hoards were found.

I hope my time machine comes back from the shop soon.


Paleontologist speculates on an intelligent prehistoric mega-cephalopod that may have feasted on 50-foot ichthyosaurs and arranged their vertebrae into a self portrait.

I do the spin

From General interwebs

If old state-fair rides like this weren't so space, time, and money intensive to build, you can bet your bottom dollar centrifuge play would be at least as widely fetishized as, say, vac beds. This one even has farmer's daughter and librarian cosplay already!
From the Life photo archive:

From General interwebs

"A 15-year-old Hungarian girl carries a machine gun in Budapest during the anti-communist revolution in Hungary."

There is nothing about that sentence that isn't awesome.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Today's Recommended Reading:

Cake Whores of Mars


From General interwebs

What have the Romans ever done for us?

From General interwebs


For the sake of argument, let's set aside the stupid portion of the OWS protesters (including but not limited to "99 percent" culture warriors, fools who took on more debt than they could afford and want bailouts, and victims of the higher-ed bubble collapse who are looking for villains) and the nonideological people who are legitimately hurting in the current economy and are casting about for any promise that it will get better. Amidst the noise, there's one very coherent and rational grievance that's easily rephrased into terms libertarians and tea-party conservatives can agree with: there are megacorporations that use their wealth and connections to distort the free market, and individuals suffer unjustly because of it.

One of the fundamental differences that prevents the Tea Partiers and Occupiers from being allies on that basis is where they think that problem comes from, and what they think the remedy is. The problem with the sane branch of OWS, in my opinion, is that they tend to dismiss the role of government regulation in creating these disturbing ultracorps, and to insist always that the remedy is more government.*

Business regulation will always ultimately benefit the status quo. Overtly, the wealthy and connected will always find ways to influence the lawmaking process, no matter how much you crap on the rights to petition and to free expression in the pursuit of "campaign finance reform". And even if you could achieve that hypothetical ideal of wholly good-intentioned regulation, the cost of compliance with that regulation will always be more easily borne by the companies that are already rich enough to employ teams of lawyers. The more regulatory your system gets, the more it serves to suppress competition and entrench the current big players, and the more likely it becomes that colluding and gaming the system will be more profitable than serving the customer.

The political landscape as it stands has one political party's rhetoric advocating alliance with big business against big government, and the other advocating alliance with big government against big business. The faithful follower of one of these parties sees one of the two enemies, misidentifies the other as a friend, and studiously avoids seeing the two shaking hands behind his back.

[* - And don't get me wrong, this is a nearly symmetrical problem. Mainstream conservatives far too easily discount the extent to which big business works to empower big government for its own advantage.]

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Eldritch horrors

Easily the most horrifying moment in Shaun of the Dead is the moment when Shaun pops the top of a soda can with his teeth.


'Cause socialists have a big notion...

I'm not going to get into an online discussion about the merits and debits of the Tea Parties. Such is, as they say, like trying to teach a pig to sing. I'm content to wait it out until we have a Republican in office, and let them demonstrate for themselves whether they have the character they claim.

But to that portion of my social circle that's sympathetic to them, take note: You know how infuriating it was when the mainstream media tried its damnedest to impose a single, partisan narrative on a group of loosely affiliated people who had no central organization? How they repeatedly represented individual Tea partiers--and even individual Tea parties--as the voice of everyone in the movement?

Don't do the same thing with the Occupy Wall Street protesters. This is a group with a very vague uniting principle and no formal leadership or manifesto. Taking issue with that vague uniting principle is fine, but picking out the specific demands of a few vocal socialists among them isn't a reasonable way to attack the group.