The Daily (or whenever) Eruption


Archive

A Dystopian Time Machine from 1909: Sunday 1/19/2020


It was in 1909, before he had published any of his novels, that E. M. Forster flung himself into the far future to epitomize the hole he believed humanity was digging itself into—literally—in his novella The Machine Stops. Although he seems to have forgotten or ignored it as most others have done, he lived long enough (passing in 1970) to seen the stirrings of the technological mousetrap he depicted in that tale of an estranged mother and son cocooned in subterranean air-conditioned private vaults designed and maintained by forces beyond their ken. How we have come to dwell is different in detail but not in essence, and the polarities of acceptance and rejection of our fate echo those of Forster’s protagonists.

In a way, The Machine Stops turns H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895) on its head. Instead of Wells’s Eloi, innocents dwelling on the earth’s surface who are at the mercy of the subterranean beasts, the Morlocks, Forster’s characters live deep below the surface in warrens fashioned long ago by men driven to escape the environmental catastrophes their own inventions had wrought. But neither book ends well for its protagonists.

None of Forster’s later works entered such territory. In his novels of marriages and mores, he went on to chronicle the intimate travails of bourgeois Brits, expressed as modernist realism rather than science fiction. But by 1940, modern life had burdened him so that he could never find relevance in such period pieces.

What his novella meant for Forster and what it signifies for us today I have tried to puzzle out  in a commentary online in The Technoskeptic Magazine, accompanied by a few editorial excerpts from it. The entire novella has been republished online n several places, such as this PDF version. If you have never read it, doing so will make you think twice before logging on anywhere.

The Next Debate Needs More Mud: Wednesday 10/16/2019

The Democratic presidential debates are getting too predictable and too carefully scripted to slant coverage the way media barons and their CIA minders want. It has come time for presidential aspirants to get down and dirty (Don and dirty?) And so, for the next nationally televised debate (hopefully over the air as well as on cable news), here’s what I’d like to see:

Live mud wrestling onstage, narrated by a Howard Cowell impersonator!!!

Picture, if you will and can, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders facing off in a sea of mud, clad only in Titleist shorts, tripping, poking eyes, and body-slamming their opponent. Picture too Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris  in Speedos  tearing at each others’ hair (advantage Warren) or slipping through holds (advantage Harris). Let’s pair off all the others and make a ladder of mud until the final encounter, mano a mano, wrestles the top contenders to their inevitable (if the DNC has its way) political death.

Then and only then will we know what these people are made of. My prediction of who will take the final round is…

National Guard reservist and in-shape Iraq veteran Tulsi Gabbard.

Issue with Contact Forms Fixed: Wednesday 6/19/19

There was a problem with our contact form that prevented emails from going out when the Send Message button was pressed that was not apparent to senders. If you sent a message via the Contact form during the past several months, it was not received. The issue has been fixed. Please continue to get in touch. We will get back to you if you state that you wish a reply to your message, or sometimes even if you don’t.

Click Contact on the menu at the top of the page to access the form. Thank you.

With apologies,
Admin

I Support Tulsi: Monday 6/10/19

And here’s some good reasons why you should too, win or lose.


#Tulsi2020

B(u)y the Book: Friday 5/3/19

Here’s prematurely alopeciated Jeff Bezos, proudly displaying Amazon wares looking part goofball, part nerd, and part used car salesman. The photo of the now-richest human being is undated, but I place it in the late 1990s.

One clue is that book he’s holding, Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought, 1st Edition, by Douglas Hofstadter, published in 1996 and currently selling for $20.17 at Amazon.

Amazon’s blurb for it reads: “Driven to discover whether computers can be made to ‘think’ like humans, Hofstadter and his colleagues created a variety of computer programs that extrapolate sequences, apply pattern-matching strategies, make analogies, and even act ‘creative.’ As always, Hofstadter’s work requires devotion on the part of the reader, but rewards him with fascinating insights into the nature of both human and machine intelligence.”

Well gosh, isn’t that just what young Jeff went on to do? Amazon’s AI inference engines are among the best in the biz. Everything you do on the site is tracked to predict what you will want next and put up for sale to assorted merchants and data brokers. All that shopping and just clicking around made Jeff a media plutocrat by giving people what they were urged to want, but also by selling their souls. We might have gotten the hint then, but who was paying attention to all that profiling or knew AI would come after us with it? My advice: resist one-click shopping.

Childfree Doesn’t mean Carefree: Saturday 3/30/19

WIRED this week features a rather joyless essay, Why Don’t You Want Kids? Because Apocalypse! that makes a case for the Childfree movement, as is evidenced on Reddit and in several recent or forthcoming books and academic articles. I can relate to these young folks who spurn parenthood; newly married in my mid-twenties, I decided I didn’t want to have any kids. Now the childfree folks say its to spare potential offspring from one or more coming collapses. Back then, Vietnam, Nixon, assassinations, and civil disturbances, not to mention overpopulation, made bringing a child into the world seem risky, if not futile. But the real reason I didn’t want to was that I had decided I did not want my wife to be the mother of my children. That was a problem, and after three years together we sensibly broke up.

It took many relationships and 30 years for me to change my mind, and now my only child, my special daughter, is about to enter college. Of course I’m glad we had her, and gratified that she’s plotting a career to fight for environmental quality justice. We—and she—know her path won’t be easy, but we wouldn’t have it otherwise.

Now, many of today’s childfreebies may have staggering loads of student debt, which wasn’t so much of a problem when I graduated from college. No doubt, having a baby when one is under such a financial cloud can feel daunting. But even if they manage to pay off their own college and grad school obligations, they’ll still need to save the money they might have spent to educate their unborn. That’s because, come the time when they grow old and feeble, they’ll need to pay for support that adult children typically provide ageing parents; such services don’t come cheap and may go on for a number of years, if not decades. Are they prepared to put their money where their mouth is, their faith in the kindness of strangers, and their fates in underpaid hands, or have they already decided that the world will soon end and take them with it? If so, good for them. Who needs another generation of nihilists?

File under End Days

Continue reading “The Daily (or whenever) Eruption”

Donald Trump Goes to Heaven

After suffering a cheeseburger infarction, Donald Trump finds himself queuing toward eternity. He shuffles up to the Pearly Gates in a foul mood for not being accorded élite status. Not relishing taking a deposition from the addled gentleman, St Peter sloughs him off to Paul, his Deputy Secretary for Lost Souls, who asks Donald to name three things that qualify him to enter the realm of eternal peace, harmony, and brotherly love.

“Well, I gave Ivanka a kitten for her seventh or eleventh birthday, something like that. She said she loved the kitten but I could tell she loved me more because she stopped biting my ankles.”

Paul asked where he had gotten the kitten.

“How the hell would I know? My secretary took care of it.” Continue reading “Donald Trump Goes to Heaven”

The Spy Looking over My Shoulder

Learning from John Le Carré

John Le Carré (David Cornwell)
John le Carré at the “Zeit Forum Kultur” in Hamburg on November 10th 2008. CC 3 Attribution: KrimidoedliKr

I owe David Cornwell, a.k.a. John Le Carré, big time. He has led me from the literary wilderness to the promised land of Almost Fit to Print. Without his unbeknownst tutelage, I would never have gotten even this far. This is my humble homage to his humbling genius.

When, nearly three years ago I set out to write a novel about a multi-ethnic leftist international conspiracy from the perps’ point of view, I had urgent motivations but knew nothing about genre. As I spend much more time writing than reading for pleasure, there are a lot of books that might inform mine I’ve managed to miss. Truth be told, my literary tastes gravitate to non-fiction, mostly research material for articles. Over six decades, I doubt I’ve read more than 100 novels that weren’t assigned in some long-ago class. A year could pass before picking up a new one, rarely a thriller. I had but the vaguest idea of how to proceed after conjuring up quirky characters and a wisp of a plot in a land I had never visited. It would have to be a thriller, that much I knew. Having read few but seen a lot of spy movies, I figured I knew enough to do this. Continue reading “The Spy Looking over My Shoulder”

The Curse of Klaatu

(Flash fiction)

My breakfast bagel and I squeeze from the elevator past a guy on a gurney when the fluorescent lights flicker and go dark. Wondering when the emergency generator will kick in, I consult my watch. It’s now 0817. Code Green Time.

Part way down the corridor, Mrs. Sewall from 511 hails me to empty her bedpan, complaining her TV is on the fritz as I rearrange her emaciated limbs. At the nurses’ station, Rachel informs a knot of powder-blue caregivers that her PC and phone are down, so check your mobiles. My screen swims with abstract expressionist art and, in fact, all our devices are dysfunctional in some special way. Harry the oncology resident, woozily roused from his power nap, holds up his old flip phone. Still works, he reports, but no bars.

Alicia has fetched a clock radio from a patient’s room that miraculously had a working backup battery. We stand by as she twirls the dial for sounds of intelligent life. There is but one, some guy saying “… Repeat: The blackout covers a broad swath across the Eastern half of the country. We have no indication of foul play or enemy attack. Technicians are working to restore services as quickly as possible. Stay tuned to this station for updates.

Our Chief Resident barks marching orders. I am to round up portable respirators and haul them to the ICU. On my way I stop by the solarium, half full of patients variously staring at magazines, blank screens or air molecules. From my elevated vantage, the cityscape looks normal but for odd knots of pedestrians on State Street. Across the way, people queued up at Krogers aren’t being let in. Street traffic is at a standstill. Drivers are loitering by their vehicles. What could have halted them all in their tracks?

Then comes a motorist slaloming a 60s-vintage Ford pickup around disabled cars, stopping to let people clamber on, third-world style. How come that clunker still works? Aha! methinks. No Intel inside to conk out. What brought on this standstill was likely a solar flare, a ginormous magnetic pulse that clobbered cars, phones, computers and power plants. Perhaps even airplanes. Oh the humanity!

What will we do without electrons? At least we still have books. If we’re not constantly fighting and foraging we’ll have time to read them. Klaatu barada nikto, I mumble as I trudge back to work.

 

This story also is posted on The Story Hall, a publication at medium.com.

Helpful Hashtags 4 Men

Hey guys, it’s getting dangerous to be a man especially if your name is in wide circulation. Look at all those media makhers going down. So what about the rest of us blokes who don’t figure in People Magazine or have six-figure incomes? We might not get national attention for alleged conquests but our reputations could easily be besmirched too. And it’s most likely to happen on that most public of social media, Twitter. It’s time to get proactive, @VulnerableDudes.

Continue reading “Helpful Hashtags 4 Men”

Catch of the Day

Flash fiction from a while ago, refurbished and scanned for malware

As usual, Max was working late. Not so usual for the pair of quality engineers who had invaded his cubicle, waiting to be noticed. “Earth to Max,” one of them finally annouced.

       “Sorry, I didn’t catch what you said,” he murmured, looking up from his tablet. His glasses were fogged from running through thickets of text and chasing after hyperlinks as he panned his face over to his two coworkers. His complexion seemed paler than usual.
       “I was trying to finger an entity that entered our room,” he said by way of an excuse. “Some of us think it’s an NSA droid.”
       His tone was hushed even though they were alone on the floor. Lakshmi asked “How can you tell it’s an agent, and how do you know it’s NSA?”
       Max glanced back to his screen. “It fits a profile, the way it insinuates itself. MrEd ID’ed it as the type that showed up in May trolling for Wikileaks sources.”
       Rob reiterated. “Anyway, I asked you how the tests were coming along. We need to validate the release tonight.”
       “It’ll happen. But this thing that barged into the chat room calling itself SkyRocket spooks me. Has to be disposed of.”
       “You’re sure?” Lakshmi asked, eyes imploring. “Can’t it wait?”
       “For what?” Max snapped back. “For them to bust us before we finish collecting evidence from the agency?”
       “About…?”
       “Can’t go there, Lakshmi. You know that. Just assume it involves the surveillance state peeking up your address.”
       Lakshmi sighed. “Okay, okay. We know you hack for freedom, but must you handle this thing now? We only have twelve hours to wrap testing and upload the release, you know.” Her fingers drummed out Helter Skelter on Max’s desk.
       Max was adamant. “Somebody needs to fire off Skyrocket, and I think I know how.” He punched some keys, stuffed his tablet into his backpack, and struggled up, his chair and his limbs creaking in unison. “Gotta go. Back in a few hours to mop up.”
       “Where are you going?” Rob asked. “Home?”
       “Norway, actually” was Max’s reply. “TTFN.”
       They stared after Max as he padded down the corridor. They had dropped by his cube to dope-slap him back to work. It hadn’t worked.
       Rob growled “I guess we gotta run his test code, if we can figure out how. Let’s hope it doesn’t find too many bugs.”

Max hurried through the parking lot to his car, unholstering his cell phone to dash off a message. When a response beeped he cranked the engine and lurched onto the highway. Fifty minutes later his wheels were two counties away. His mind was elsewhere, but the GPS kept him on course.

At daybreak, Lakshmi and Rob were still in his cubicle sorting through test logs when Max waddled in clutching a coffee cup.
       “How was Norway?” inquired Lakshmi. “Catch any fish?”
       “Big ones,” Max purred through a yawn.
       “Cut bait,” Rob demanded. “Where did you really go?”
       “I needed to visit a friend of mine. He has this really obscure tap into the Net. I couldn’t risk using my connection.”
       Lakshmi tossed her hair. “In Norway, right?”
       “No, but the proxy server we hooked into is, and it spoofed an IP address for us inside the FBI.”
       “Then what?”
       “So I suckered Skyrocket into a private chat room and told him Israel was collecting certain stuff they had no need to know and offered a few tidbits. When they analyze what went down between us, NSA will see Skyrocket debriefing some rogue FBI agent. Just a little red herring to keep them off balance until we’re ready to reveal all.”
       Creaking into his seat, Max continued, “Now let me run the other tests you should have done while you go fix whatever bugs you found.” Max—or at least his body—was back.