synthetic zero


March 31, 2004

What, it's still March? I thought it would be April by now.

I was cleaning out my wallet and found this old receipt with some notes I had scribbled in them from a book I had picked up while browsing the Strand:

Realizing then gives you what sort of assurance?

Free from gods and devils is view assurance,
Free from focus and distraction is meditation assurance,
Free of hope and fear is goal assurance.


March 28, 2004 (part b)

Though I'm much more interested in information-oriented technical advances these days than physical advances, the NASA scramjet test still gives me a thrill. The idea that a scramjet might eventually reach escape velocity is quite exciting.

Speaking of exciting, my friend Caroline points to these inspiring photos.

Richard Clarke is really turning out to be a formidable force --- first, the Republicans accuse him of lying, and in an attempt at political grandstanding, Bill Frist, Republican majority leader in the Senate, threatens to declassify Clarke's earlier testimony with the implication that it might contradict what Clarke has said more recently. Clarke's response? Go ahead, make my day, and while you're at it, declassify everything else, because when you do, you'll see that it backs up everything I've said in my book and my testimony. I thought it was kind of funny when I read a few days ago a foreign policy analyst saying that Clarke making these accusations is particularly weighty because a man like that, who has served in the government in sensitive positions as long as he has, knows not to make accusations like this unless the evidence is there to back him up. Look like that analyst was right, to say the least.

March 28, 2004

We're currently planning to have our next loft art event on Wednesday, May 5, and Sunday, May 9, as part of the CONVERSIONS series of art events in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx. I am looking for people interested in showing film, video, visual art, sculpture, performance, music, or doing a reading; if you have something you'd like to show or know anyone who might be interested, let me know. We are doing events here once every few months. The CONVERSIONS series occur once a month here in Mott Haven.

Frightening story about what SCO could do to people who sign their Linux license. For those of you who don't know, SCO is a company that once made Unix software and now seems to be primarily in the litigation business, attempting to claim that the free software operating system Linux is somehow owned by them. Their claims are easily refuted, yet the whole campaign appears to be an effort to sow Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt regarding Linux, and therefore would benefit Microsoft. Not surprisingly, Microsoft has been helping SCO. The whole situation is quite sordid and absurd, but the most absurd aspect of it is that SCO may well end up losing their court battles and having no one left to sue except for the foolish people who signed the SCO license. Meanwhile, one of those foolish companies is EV1, which signed a deal with SCO --- the moment I found out about this I yanked my one server with them and I encourage everyone else to do the same --- not so much to punish them (their CEO now says he would not do it if he had it to do over again) but because doing business with any company that has an agreement with SCO is a risky proposition indeed, since that company would well become a SCO target in the future.

March 27, 2004

The Chinese need to learn that it's really better to be broken up into smaller countries. This whole idea of being "unified" is really overblown. I think the reason China has always had difficulties despite all their early advances is that they have been unable to get beyond the fact that they are so big; a single change in government at the center could mean the wiping out of new cultural developments as they decide, en masse, to burn all the books, etc. The central government should just let Taiwan go; it's for everybody's benefit (same goes, of course, for Tibet, etc.) China ought to decentralize just like the breakup of AT&T. They'd be a lot better off for it.

March 26, 2004

It's interesting to note that the article I linked to in which CNN.COM had called Clarke's testimony 'riveting' had, by this morning, been changed (presumably, by the editors) to remove that particular sentence. CNN.COM went from showing a scowling Clarke on its home page to a scowling Rice next to a somewhat confused-looking Clarke to Rice by herself, still scowling, to no mention of Clarke or Rice or anything regarding the hearings whatsoever anywhere on any page on the main pages of the site (it's not mentioned on the home page, the politics page, the "national" section --- or anywhere else).

Meanwhile, the New York Times, LA Times, and Washington Post manage to maintain some journalistic integrity, and they keep the story on full blast: the Washington Post today has a scathing article which takes apart many of Condolezza Rice's counterattacks:

At the same time, some of Rice's rebuttals of Clarke's broadside against Bush, which she delivered in a flurry of media interviews and statements rather than in testimony, contradicted other administration officials and her own previous statements.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage contradicted Rice's claim that the White House had a strategy before 9/11 for military operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban; the CIA contradicted Rice's earlier assertion that Bush had requested a CIA briefing in the summer of 2001 because of elevated terrorist threats; and Rice's assertion this week that Bush told her on Sept. 16, 2001, that "Iraq is to the side" appeared to be contradicted by an order signed by Bush on Sept. 17 directing the Pentagon to begin planning military options for an invasion of Iraq.

Rice, in turn, has contradicted Vice President Cheney's assertion that Clarke was "out of the loop" and his intimation that Clarke had been demoted. Rice has also given various conflicting accounts. She criticized Clarke for being the architect of failed Clinton administration policies, but also said she retained Clarke so the Bush administration could continue to pursue Clinton's terrorism policies.

National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack defended many of Rice's assertions, saying that she has been more consistent than Clarke.

This is not the first time in her tenure that Rice has been questioned over disputed national security claims by the administration. Making the case about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction in September 2002, she said that aluminum tubes the United States intercepted on their way to Iraq were "only suited for nuclear weapons programs." But at the time, the U.S. intelligence community was split over the use of the tubes, and today the majority view is that the tubes were for antiaircraft rockets.


March 25, 2004

Another subway story: the other day I was riding the N train from Times Square towards 59th Street when I noticed some commotion outside at the Fifth Avenue station --- a whole bunch of people had been running down the stairs to try to catch the train, and I noticed some of them were starting to shout and gather into a group... I peered out the window and saw they were surrounding a man on the ground. Though it was late and I was in a hurry to get home, I decided to run outside and see if someone had called a doctor --- the conductor, however, had already done so. I looked at the man --- he was relatively young, and there was a stream of blood coming from his head, rolling down the concrete, just like in the movies. A can of Red Bull lay on the stairs next to him. He must have been running down the stairs with the rest of the people when he tripped and fell and hit his head. I checked --- he was breathing. Thankfully everyone had the good sense not to try to touch him or move him --- we were all waiting for the paramedics. Eventually we all filtered back onto the train, which continued on to the next stop, leaving the man still on the ground with a few people still surrounding him.

On an entirely different note. Richard Clarke's testimony today was extremely impressive --- CNN.com called it 'riveting' --- I didn't see it but Peter and Diane, who are in town on vacation, did, and they said it was dramatic and amazing. Some particularly intense moments from the transcript:

CLARKE: Right, and what happened after 1998? There was a military retaliation against al Qaeda and the covert action program was launched, the U.N. sanctions were obtained. The [Clinton] administration did an all-out effort compared to what the Bush administration did. The Bush administration did virtually nothing during the first months of the administration, prior to 9/11.


HEMMER: I am hearing from some families of the victims from 9/11, they're saying if it was such an urgent matter, if you truly believed the White House botched the war on terror beginning on September 12, why now on such a critical national, international issue do you write the book in March of 2004?

CLARKE: I wrote the book as soon as I retired from government. It was finished last fall and it sat in the White House for months, because as a former White House official my book has to be reviewed by the White House for security purposes. This book could have come out a long time ago, months and months ago if the White House hadn't sat on it.

HEMMER: The White House is saying they only check the facts when it comes to the book itself and whether or not they are sacrificing national security.

CLARKE: They took months and months to do it. They're saying, why is the book coming out at the beginning of the election? I didn't want it to come out at the beginning of the election. I wanted it to come out last year. They're the reason, because they took so long to clear it.


HEMMER: There are now questions about this conversation, what happened what did not happen. On CBS's "60 minutes" Sunday night, you said, "Well, there's a lot of blame to go around and I probably deserve some blame, too." How do you blame yourself?

CLARKE: Well, I don't blame myself for making up the conversation. I didn't hallucinate it. There are four eyewitnesses to the conversation that the president had with me. It's very convenient that Dr. Rice and the president are now having a memory lapse, a senior moment. The four eyewitnesses recall vividly what happened and agree with my interpretation.

This is not the president saying do everything, look at everybody, look at Iran, look at Hezbollah. This is the president in a very intimidating way, finger in my face saying, I want a paper on Iraq and this attack. Everyone in the room got the same impression and everyone in the room recalls it vividly. So I'm not making it up. I don't have to make it up. It's part of a pattern that this administration -- even before they came into office -- was out to get Iraq even though Iraq was not threatening the United States.

It hurts to read this.

March 24, 2004

So far, it hasn't been bad. Except my dentist left a little broken-off piece of cleaning tool in my tooth so I have to go to an endodontist to get it taken care of. Sigh. But, it really wasn't very painful.

I rushed out of the loft to get to a pharmacy to pick up some meds I needed to take before the appointment --- I had decided I would go to a Duane Reade in Harlem since it was the closest pharmacy I could think of and it was on the way. As I walked down to the subway platform I noticed a large phalanx of cops coming in behind me. At first they sort of just milled around and I thought "I wonder why all these cops are taking the subway?" But then one of them said, "we'd better get these people out of here" --- he had just thought of it at that moment, apparently. So they shooed us all off the platform, without explanation at first, but then one of them said, "there's a bank robber on the next train! Go up!" The next train pulled into the station and one policeman took out some magic keys and turned them in some lock on the side of the train which apparently allowed him to freeze all the doors except for the one he was going in. The atmosphere was electric --- a bank robber! On a train! But ... at that point I had to leave since I really did need to get to a pharmacy.

The good thing about all this was: 1) I looked up a drug store in my own neighborhood on Vindigo and realized there was a perfectly good one just a block from the subway station (this will come in handy in the future), and 2) I realized when I was in the drug store that I had left my laptop charger at home, which would have resulted in a lot of wasted time later on. Somehow everything worked out perfectly.

March 23, 2004

Getting a root canal today -- my first. The dentist claims that it is a myth that it has to be super-painful. We shall see.

March 22, 2004

One hint about how one ought to evaluate the credibility of people when speaking on a given subject: were their predictions and analyses more or less accurate than others? We now have former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke lambasting the Bush Administration for their failures in the war on terror. Naturally, the Bush Administration is counterattacking ... but let's see, whom should we believe? An Administration that has gotten it pretty much dead wrong about nearly every one of their predictions and forecasts prior to the Iraq war, or a man who was warning about the dangers of Al Qaeda long before 9/11? To me, the key quote from that article is this:

...Clarke accuses the Bush administration of ignoring repeated warnings about an al Qaeda threat in 2001 and looking for an excuse to attack Iraq at the expense of battling terrorism.

"I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism," Clarke said in a "60 Minutes" interview on the book with CBS. "He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11...."

As I've often argued, I find it ludicrous that the Bush Administration vs. Everybody Else opposition is usually characterized as a contrast between a "too tough" Bush and a "too soft" everybody else --- I find it is precisely the opposite. It is the Bush Administration that has been inconsistent, chaotic, unfocused, and disastrously weak and confused when it comes to defending this nation's interests, not to mention keeping the peace globally. They failed to prepare and defend the nation prior to 9/11, and despite an initial focus on the right targets (Afghanistan and Al Qaeda), they then veered absurdly off course, doing grave damage to our long-term security and geostrategic interests (so grave, in fact, that I feel this damage may ultimately be unrecoverable).

Meanwhile the Bushies continue to defend themselves and attack their critics --- yet so far their performance has been woefully and almost laughably incompetent. They simply lack the foreign policy expertise to handle this grave task: the nation's security and our defense. Place the government back in the hands of responsible adults. (As I say, I fear they have already done so much damage that no matter what we do, we will not be able to rectify the situation --- but we can always hope).

March 20, 2004

Saw The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind tonight: I loved it. It's so strange --- when I meet people for the first time, I often experience a sense that I remember them from the future --- but somehow my memory of them has been erased. Yet, I can still feel them in the absence of that memory... as though the shape of the people I will eventually come to know them is still there, shadowy, in the negative space of that memory that I do not yet have, yet feel somehow. It's so strange that my last entry was precisely on the subject of how I think of my friends, how they appear to me in my ... memory. There is a certain pattern... the people I will end up knowing well are precisely the people I remember the most vividly at our first meeting. At first sight.

March 19, 2004

The interesting thing is the infinite (unbounded) is accessible instantly --- faster than instantly, actually, it's accessible even before you make a move to "access" it. Yet, peculiarly, one can in a sense make a gesture towards it, and even learn how to make that gesture -- though the gesture itself is actually a sort of inverse gesture, because it comes from relaxing our grip, so to speak, on the way we construct the world around us.

When you realize this, even begin to realize it in a way that is relatively stable, a curious thing can happen (or at least happens to me) --- I suddenly find it possible, I am even enthusiastic, about taking on huge piles of work. It doesn't seem particularly hard or onerous, because it is just what it is, if I don't add to it too much, even a lot of work can remain manageable. But still, it can be a bit tiring. I have my limits, or at least my body seems to have its limits.

My cat is tremendously enjoying himself, playing with the little mouse toy.

I vow to write more.

Heather Anne is working with me on a website user experience review... it's a pleasure. We were chatting and we realized we've known each other for almost five years now --- it seems impossible. My memory is compressing time, spots from past to future all jumbled together --- a week ago can seem farther away than a vivid event years ago. Though it is her mind that first impressed me about her, when I think of her what most stands out is her smile and enthusiasm. Thinking of each of my friends, there is a different feature that strikes me --- with Miranda I think of her looking or sounding slightly disturbed, yet magnetic --- with my friend Doug, it's him sort of bounding up a hill, or running away from a wild animal while we're on a hiking trip, or about to eat something from one of his most recent amazing specialty diets (all of these examples seem equivalent to me) --- Khaela Maricich --- she's sitting next to me talking about her latest experiments with her new video camera --- Asha I think of standing there in her new shoes and black coat in the lobby of the hotel where we first met --- Monty Zukowski I imagine chuckling softly (though I know him primarily through working with him with computers, I don't think of him in relation to computers) --- Caroline, it's got to be that bunny costume she wore last Halloween --- to name a few friends at random (please do not feel slighted if I did not mention you in this list --- I do not love you any less, believe me).

I've been using Xandros Desktop, a commercial Debian-based Linux distribution. It's pretty fun and designed for ease of use. Still, it's got its rough edges, but it's remarkable how far Linux has come.


March 14, 2004

A while ago I wrote that perhaps spam would evolve to the point that it would invoke more and more sophisticated AI until we ended up having entire online conversations with entities we didn't at first realize were subtle spambots. In an attempt to circumvent Bayesian spam filters, spammers have taken to putting random words into their emails; typically, though, these have been content-free. However, a few are beginning to form what appear to be semi-grammatical sentences, and this email is one of my favorites so far (and I have to admit I was fooled for a split second, and started to read it as though it were a serious email):

Subject: Re: first time filmers

Something to think about: Of failures, kiss the quantum snack, finishing German as of neat live as towers. For each glance, quit of the pointy object. Opaque the person seduced a tight car, allegedly Hand had a rock, which was not at all a noose. What gargantuan king of bed within the wet conflicts!


March 13, 2004

Went to the Whitney Biennial opening last Wednesday ... Miranda sent me an invitation because I did some technical work on the website that is part of the exhibition, Learning to Love You More. It was super-crowded, despite (or because?) it was an invitation-only event. Miranda and Harrell also had a sound installation in the elevator, but it was impossible to hear it at first --- later in the evening it quieted down and people did seem to enjoy it/comment on it. Basically they had taken some of the audio clips from this assignment and had them trigger when the elevator started going up. It was rather amusing and effective, when you could hear it.

My brief take on the show: second floor mixed, third floor mostly good, fourth floor mostly mediocre or bad. Not sure why --- perhaps they consciously chose to put the worst work together on the fourth floor. Some work I liked: Mark Handforth's large, iconic sculptures (one of the few artists I liked on the fourth floor), Julianne Swartz's Somewhere Harmony, a sound installation in the stairwell (many voices singing variations of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" coming out the end of tubes winding around through the stairwell, Roni Horn's Doubt By Water, two-sided photographs of water and himself and others propped up on pedestals scattered cleverly through a room, Marina Abramovic's Count on Us (Star), a hilarious video installation of children acting/singing patriotic songs, except the patriotism is about ... the United Nations..., Alex Soth's striking photographs, Katy Grannan's beautiful photographic portraits, Mary Kelly's images of the 1968 Paris demonstrations, made out of compressed lint, Yayoi Kusama's simple, whimsical, yet amazing one-at-a-time Fireflies on the Water (a mirrored room with suspended lights which the artist stipulates should be experienced only one at a time), Lecia Dole Recio's brilliant and remarkable visual constructions in gouache on paper, and Cory Archangel's hilarious Super Mario Clouds, video loops projected on walls of, yes, the clouds from Super Mario Brothers floating by, complete with 8-bit videogame music.

My friend Sarah Brown, who works at Public Knowledge, is sounding the alarm about a potential new FCC rule that would mandate: "all HDTV receivers and related software obey a copy prevention feature referred to as the 'broadcast flag.' This regulation expands the power of the FCC to regulate a huge amount of computer technologies, including software and personal computers previously thought not to be under FCC jurisdiction." It would ban all open-source DTV receivers, and force manufacturers to wait in line as the FCC approves their software and hardware. Sign this filing if you represent a tech company that is concerned about the implications of this rule.

Meanwhile: A former Green Beret whose life John Kerry saved in Vietnam is campaigning for him. I'm actually fairly moved by this story; it actually does shift my perception of Kerry a bit. It's quite striking, particularly in contrast to our commander-in-chief's record.

I want to say something about time. Time, for me, has a curious shape, a sort of backwash that flows over the seeming forward movement. Not only do I persistently feel faint echoes of the future which almost always turn out to have some basis, but events in the "past" often seem to make far more sense when coupled with events in the "future". It is almost as if the whole of time, past and future, are involved in a complex dance, with the past flowing into the future but also the future, in some sense, constraining and structuring the past.

March 8, 2004

The sign actually reads "it is illegal to put gas cap in nozzle", and the answer was emailed to me by three different people: something to do with jamming the gas cap in the handle to hold it open. The sign is still rather cryptic --- "nozzle" to me means the spout, not the handle... and the sign (with a red slash through a picture of a gas cap by itself) remains unhelpful... it seems to be saying "no gas caps allowed" while the words suggest the prohibition of an activity which is physically impossible at best and absurd at least.

Crazy moment of the day: I returned a painting to Aristides Logothetis who exhibited at our loft event last month, and he was telling me about his travails with the owners of the infamous "clocktower building" in our neighborhood; he showed me the latest --- a bill for back rent and penalties of ... $1.7 MILLION DOLLARS. Yes, $1.7 MILLION DOLLARS... (Background: due to a series of misrepresentations, broken promises, code violations, poor workmanship, health and safety hazards, etc., most of the residents of that building have been engaged in a rent strike there for a year or so... the owners now claim they are entitled to multiplying late fees and penalties even though the rent strike is still in housing court.) He is going to frame the bill and make it into an art piece.

The hangout of choice in the Pacific Northwest is definitely the coffeehouse/cafe --- usually a funky place with old sofas and chairs and funny booths and back rooms, serving coffee, tea, juice, and pastries. There are also bars, but I spent most of my time in the cafes. Though in a way it makes no sense, people would hang out in the coffeehouses at all hours, even 1 or 2 am ... no sense because --- why drink coffee at 1am? Yet, it was common there. New York seems to be still mostly about bars --- I have to get used to this, since I don't yet really know how to drink. I've never really liked alcohol and it's a chore for me to down drinks. My motto is, almost any drink tastes better if you take the alcohol out of it. But, I'm trying. I drank one glass of wine at the bar the other night, when out with folks from Donors Choose.

Tracy and the Plastics is going to be performing as part of the Whitney Biennial! Yes! Check it out if you are anywhere along the path of this punk/video/performance art phenomenon. I saw her in Olympia and Portland a few times and loved it every time. Performances: 3/26 at the Whitney, April on tour across the US, 4/30 and 5/1 at The Kitchen, 5/8 at The Knitting Factory.

I had the most amazing experience in the subway the other day. Everybody seemed to be somewhat transparent --- I felt people around me as vibrations, or as walking sound... there was a man next to me, standing, sort of moving in a rhythmic way... I realized after a while that he must have some sort of Parkinson's like symptoms. But his movements were not merely repetitive, but musical, like jazz, though also I am sure painful for him. Everyone around me seemed both tragic and beautiful at the same time --- mundane yet worlds unto themselves. I felt invincible --- someone could have stabbed me in the back at that very moment and it would all have been perfectly fine with me. I could feel everything all at once, not only in space but in time, future and past all collapsed into a single moment.