mr. zilla goes to town

Monday, September 29, 2003

Riders on the storm

Lightning smashes the sky, sixty miles from gravity well of Washington. We're off the interstate isolation vector and into a midnight fluoroasis. Eyes fidgeting, mental tripswitching, I've had two hangovers and two hours sleep in the last forty two.

There's a lion waiting ahead of me for the restroom. Thistory will not record his name.

He's raked like a savannah summer drought. Close cropped, his mane is tamed. Black, gold and ruby red scorches wreath him wrist to elbow. Like retractable claws, he keeps these firearms in plain sight beneath his skin. His gaze is out of place and without enough time. Sans decompression, it reads like confession: a world where the prey turned protected and the predators, game.

Here and now, he's got eleven days left to live a little. So we read the Weekly World News together.

Saddam and Osama in Secret Desert Wedding!

Ghosts of Uday and Qusay Haunt US Forces In Iraq.

There's something wrong with this picture, twangs the lion.

Yeah, I reply. Pretty wacko stuff huh.

Why's there a tank in this picture?

This one?

This is dumb. There was no tanks there. It were an infantry action.

What were?

When we killed Uday and Qusay. My unit.

Holy shit. Uh... fuck me. Well, nice one mate.

Yeah, betcher ass.
His pride returns and they walk out into the rain with a case of oblivion.

Mr Zilla's Genuinely Authentic Original Unique Niche Content

Googling the phrase "alien economists" apparently turns up one site in the world:

This one.

Sometimes you find the niche, sometimes the niche finds you.

Friday, September 26, 2003

And then I saw her head

now I'm a Believer...

For the bargain basement price of my imaginary neighbour's marketing demographics, Wednesday night I got stuck into a bunch of (new! amazing! widgeted!) bottles of draught Guinness at a promo function held down at ESPNZone.

Of course it wasn't really that cheap, we the (inebriated) people had to sit very still and behave and not go to the bar during a twenty minute promo cheer from a 'Guinness Ambassador', who preached to us about how the mighty G was in fact the perfect beer to drink while sitting on a beach, at a picnic, while dining with the Queen, indeed whenever and wherever, all year around!

How terribly tragic it was to then discover that to sell beer -- any kind of beer, even a stout -- in this overweighty country you also have to convince all Guinness drinkers that it is "less filling" and has less calories than seventeen different other brands of broadly brewed barf. One would think that's an angle at the skirty but there were a lot of chaps getting excited by the idea at my table. I think the issue is that there is a serious lack of prepackaged pop-alcohol here - the vodka cruisers, the bacardi breezers and so on. I guess there's something to be said for Australian alcohol conglomerates with their fingers in every slice of fourteen flavours of market pie. Here, Beer Must Be Everything To Everyone... perhaps because the wine is genuinely shithouse and folks are twice shy to drink anything but?

I guess its time to re-orient the image of this black gold in case the word gets out that
drinking Guinness does not connect one to Irish culture, because Guinness is not Irish. From the original brewer, Arthur Guinness, to the current owner, the Diageo Corporate group, to the policies that have affected the workforce, it is quite clear that Guinness is not, nor has it ever been, Irish.
I bet the harps on all the cans and bottles are put together by five year old indentured child labourers in Pakistan, too.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Ya gotta have 'em

House music is my friend. And to this day I'm not even six degrees from spanky...

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Think Of The Children

Computer giant Microsoft will shut its online chatrooms in Australia because of concerns they are being used by pedophiles to target children.

The company today announced it would close its chatrooms in all but five countries across the globe in an effort to protect children from unknown users and cut down on unsolicited emails, or spam.

In the US, Japan and Canada the chatrooms will continue as a subscription service, making users easily traceable by their credit card details.

And in New Zealand and Brazil free chatrooms will continue under the supervision of human and automated moderators.

The closure in Australia will affect 300,000 users of the chatrooms, which are accessed through the country's most popular website NineMSN, a 50-50 venture between Microsoft and Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd (PBL).

Ngaire Moyes of NineMSN said the service would be withdrawn on October 14 because the risks to children had become too great.

"We have noticed an increase in cases of people abusing the chat service," she said. "We are very concerned with child safety."
So millions of children (and whatever number of stalking paedophiles) will now pour their online coversations into every other form and forum of realtime internet communication, making absolutely no long-term impact on the problem that they have detected. You'd think if they were really concerned about the children, they might have thought about finding better ways to make their chat rooms safer throughout the world. (To his credit I think Bill Gates personally does have some genuine concerns, but who knows at what level in MS this decision was made). Sending the problem elsewhere just makes me wonder if they're more interested in protecting their brand image from being sullied by any "my daughter was molested in a Microsoft chat room" splashes. Why the exceptions in NZ and Brazil I wonder?

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

The Joy Of...

What measures 8 inches, only gets used in the bedroom, makes things go bang, and puts a smile on my face every time I play with it?

(a link more suitable for tackers than Finding Nemo... promise)

Monday, September 22, 2003

Iraqi Hokey Pokey


They put your army in,
You want your army out,
You sing "Iraqi hokey pokey"
So they'll vote Bush out...



This Salon article comes pretty close to approximating how I feel about the left over here at the moment. I think its vital that our leaders (George WB and John WH) are held accountable for the lies and misinformation used to push us into the war. That shit is unacceptable in what are supposed to be exemplary democracies. BUT... Since the "war" ended and the "peace" in Iraq began, I've been more and more turned off by the lefty coalitions and umbrella groups, because their primary focus is a call to immediately pull the US troops out of Iraq. Sorry guys. You were right; we shouldn't have been there, particularly on the pretexts that were given. I went to rallies and marches in Canberra and DC on that score. But the mess is made, and the US can't go and break into little pieces the institutional fabric of a country without staying around to put something back together. The AEI has an interesting perspective on internationalisation versus Iraqification on this score. One would hope a post-2004 democratic administration might handle the matter less belligerently (and without the overt no-bid Halliburton-style corruption) but I don't see removing all US troops and letting the chips fall as a conscionable act.

Nor is a half-baked democratic rebuild a guarantee against further terror within and beyond Iraq. Some current reading (Origins of Terrorism) has a couple of chapters about extremists and terrorists within (Western) democracies. Notably relevant is a discussion of Germany's 70's era Red Army Faction, who were ideologically driven by West Germany's continuities with Nazi Germany:
... the victorious Allies tolerated-- in fact, they promoted-- the new rise to wealth and power of 90 percent of those most responsible for what was done. Even twenty years after Hilter's defeat, 75 percent of all West German judges were men who had been Nazi party members and who had brutally carried out Nazi law... In industry and business the situation was truly abysmal. As a result of the Marshall Plan, thousands of the very men who had driven millions to death under Hitler were given back their wealth, comfort and the prestige of their Mercedes cars and villas...

At the same time, these beneficiaries both of the Hitler regime and of the largess offered by the Allies created a climate in which only physical reconstruction was permitted. Political ideologies that might be called social or progressive were given no room to express themselves. (p46)
I hope that Paul Bremer and his superiors keep this in mind, if their goal really is to create a liberated, stable and swamp-drained Iraq. I guess people on the right would say: well you don't see any German terrorists on blowing the place up today do you? I wonder if they are prepared to base US troops in a much more hostile post-war Iraq (via JB) for the next 50 years?

However in terms of the numbers of troops being killed... about 1 per day, with total "post-war" casualties now over 1000 (killed and injured). I went to a Chechnya film festival last week at Visions and saw four docos about Chechnya where somewhere around average of 150 Russian soldiers have been killed per week since that conflict started. (let alone the uncounted Chechen death toll probably 5 or 10 times that?). Of course any death is a tragedy but how about some perspective. Perhaps the persisting interest in the death toll is a sign of the beginning of the end of the domestic 9/11 honeymoon. I'm not so sure that's a good thing when it leads to Somalia-like debacles (now that was a real hokey pokey) and calculated disinterest in the face of staggering genocide (Rwanda) or hamstrung strategy (like over Serbia no lower than 15000 feet... meaning attacks on civilian infrastructure). It will also result in more of what this article (thanks Gra) refers to - corporatisation of US involvement Iraqi security which places it several steps further removed from already weak public oversight and accountability.

The salon article makes the salient point that the left identify the Iraq war so closely with bush they are not prepared to countenance constructive engagement with today's situation in case it should weaken their ability to attack the Bush administration. "Now I understand how conservatives felt under Clinton" was a comment I heard on the weekend. There is a visceral red-rag hatred of Bush that is strengthening the campaign of people like Howard Dean who are staking out the left rather than the centre at this stage of the Democratic campaign. However I think it prevents some in that camp from a more soundly constructive appraisal of where to go to from here. Their attempt to steer the US out of the neo-conservatives' bellicose empire/hegemony-building may push the US towards dainty isolationism.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

DJcZ(aus)

Of the new toys in the last month or so, two of them (the USB Gigaport AG and Traktor Studio software) turn the laptop into a two channel live mixing deck - tricked up with configurable filters and crossfader, looping on the fly, pitch control, EQ with kills, all very handy stuff. Just like having turntables, only crunchy! I took it along to a friend's BBQ in Silver Spring on Saturday to mess about with, interface with G's iPod, and provide some ambience. Kruder and Dorfmeister and Ninja Tunes got a good workout, as did I - mixing the ninja grooves into each other was often not so straightforward.

Being car-free in the US I still had the whole setup with me by the time we got to the third party of the day, out in Arlington (10 miles west of DC) around 1am. Half a dozen people and bottles of wine at J's place in Dupont Circle doesn't count... and the second DC Quiet Party, despite the attention from a spanish-language TV network, almost didn't count. This was an "Old School" theme party, hosted by the head honcho of one of DC's street press mags, which apparently means many kegs of beer, post-interns in pigtails, school uniforms, guys in college football jumpers, and (what else?) togas.

Now for what looked like a well-greased party machine of a couple of hundred people, I was surprised to find there was no up-and-coming local lad behind some decks in lounge room. Another leap across the cultural divide I guess. Still when a group of cute-young-thing French students and a UK-schooled Nigerian bloke started complaining that there was nothing to dance to, well call me Virgil Tracy but that sounded like a call to International Rescue...

All in all a bit of an adrenaline raising introduction to playing a room. Especially since I've only had a version of the software with the all important keyboard shortcuts activated for four days. Lessons learned #1: find more floorfillers and organise better the ones you've got! The Traktor library window is a little clumsy and small when trying to find stuff in a hurry. This raised the ire of one britney-luvin' over-imbibed cheerleader, who exchanged with over the merits of eurodance trash versus top40 trash. (Lesson learned #2: you can't please all the punters all of the time).

On the other side of the ledger the host was pretty happy and I ended up dragged back out to a club in Dupont Circle around 4am... and from there I'll draw the veil on the rest of the evening. Nonetheless the wages of spin are that a good night out turns into something a little more crazy fun and different.

He Piked With A Toddler In His Hand

An email from home lamenting the sad decline of John 'Falafel' Birmingham into a defensive dad who storms from a kiddie flick and writes to the newspaper about it, has hit me quite profoundly.

God I miss falafels... here you can buy a "gyro" that's made of a piece of pita that doesn't stay rolled up, has about a litre of mayo-like goo in it but no recognisable hummus, and in a country brimming with e.coli and salmonella ridden meat there's just no market niche for the taste of yer traditional kinda-cooked shawerma stuff... grow quickly, grow strong, gastronomical Ali... you'd be a welcome visitor.

I have no fear for my kith taking a similar route. I don't think we've ever quite plumbed the depth of share-house filth that Birmingham lived through, and hence perhaps won't experience quite the rebound from his bonding with unsanitary freedom. Not to mention that despite superficial similarities he's clearly a man of a far bygone era:

He did an Arts degree in Brisbane and was recruited by the Defence Department as a researcher (he still likes the research aspect of writing).

'I really enjoyed the work, but didn't enjoy working in Canberra, and at the end of a year or so... I'd paid off my student loans.'

No wonder he's having kids, he's probably anxious to have grandchildren he can personally tell about his misspent youth, since if he leaves it too long the looming upfront fees will be too high send the grandkids to primary school to learn how to read the book old gramps wrote about what he got up to!

Monday, September 15, 2003

Unimpressing

One of the first things that hit me visually when I arrived here was how just about all the low-paid service jobs around seemed to be held by black (and only black) people. It felt doubly reinforced when both the expensive sporting games I've been to (ice hockey and baseball) seemed to be attended by an almost exclusively white crowd.

For hockey at least though its a matter of history rather than income; ice hockey's traditional fanbase are toothless working class canucks. More recently I've discovered that one of DC's local nicknames is Chocolate City. A (black) taxi driver told me that DC is actually one of the best US cities economically for blacks to live in, and that the degree of social integration - in working and social activities, if not neighbourhoods - is almost unheard of elsewhere in the US.

Sometimes first impressions are just onion skin I guess.

Hue and Cry on 'Whiteness Studies' - An Academic Field's Take on Race Stirs Interest and Anger

Surely in honour of Talk Like A Pirate Day, it looks like a salty sea-wench named Isabel might come sailing up the Chesapeake Bay on Friday.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Unsolved Mysteries Of Capital

Hernando De Soto's basic question in The Mystery of Capital is: why is capitalism caning in the west and producing massive amounts of wealth, but fcuking people over everywhere else?
And his answer is that poor people in the 3rd world aren't really poor. They have a shedload of assets - mainly extra-legally held land and its improvements, which are upto 20 times the size of the entire formal economy. The problem is these assets are not centrally and uniformly legally recognized by government/financial institutions, and thus are non-fungible, inaccessable to the wider market, and therefore they are unable to leverage these (physical) assets - into (conceptual, economic) wealth-generating capital.

His solution is politically driven legal reform program to discover and meld the existing extra-legal, local-level social contracts around these assets with the formally recognised capitalist system "ball jar" that the elite already has access to. He undertakes a reading of 19th Century US development of unfied stable legal property rights as the key historical example of where and how this actually took place in the west. Notes that no one has really noticed or understood because the process of property creation only had the creation of capital as an incidental undercurrent, not a primary goal.

He's kind of come full circle to the 'modernization with temporal displacement' camp that was the paradigm in the 1950s but I think with a more sound empirical grounding. The book does get slightly repetitive on the main themes (as in he seems to have pulled sequential but independent articles together into one book).

However in the entire book I only caught one oblique reference addressing indigenous land rights and traditional collective forms of ownership. Admittedly the major focus of his attention is the urban slum-dwelling poor, but this seems to be a gap in his theory.

Inside our modern West we define ourselves by our labour; in Bougainville people define themselves by their ples (village, place). Villages may not have formal title to their land, but they do consider much of it non-transferable and non-riskable. Any capitalizing leverage system surely implies a degree of risk over property ownership, and while we may argue that the risks are small and the benefits great, try arguing that to people who've seen the mountain of their ancestors destroyed forever and believe the CIA is poised to invade. Even under the Native Title Act in Aus (or its Howard-begotten spawn, the miscellaneous and many Native Title Amendment Acts of 1998) I'm not sure such capitalisation of indigenous rights or title was possible. I could be wrong there though.

Still it seems that unless you want to tear down the structures and beliefs of a whole society, and increase its vulnerability to whatever global or regional player next decides to move in, dig mines, go fishing, vertically integrate their cocoa chain or lop forests, the De Soto property paradigm isn't suitable for application in somewhere like Bougie. I think I fall into the "culture matters" camp - more in agreeance with Michael Edwards who came to an after work chat last friday for the New Rules For Global Finance Coalition.

Monday, September 08, 2003

D*C C*O*P*S

I had a pretty late night out on Friday night at a great new find of a club called Five. A DJ with the unspectacular moniker "Dave Ralph" played a great set that had us going till about 5am.

So this meant that I was at home having a nap early on Saturday evening when my spidey senses woke me up around 8.30pm. At first I sleepily thought that it was some of the neighbourhood kids yipping and yahooing about in the street. However I realised that it was a bit dark for them to be out, and it sounded a little more serious than kids too. So I poked my head out of my 3rd floor bedroom window. This window is on the left hand side of the house and looks across to the neighbour's house on the street corner and some of the perpendicular street behind it as well, as well as affording a view of some of the service alleyway that runs behind our row of houses.

There's a police car pulled up in the middle of that perpendicular street with a female officer out with her gun drawn pointing down the alleyway behind the house. She's screaming at someone I can't see to raise his hands, lie down and prepare to be handcuffed. This then apparently takes place though its a bit dark to see when she moves away from the lighted street.

I headed downstairs to ask my housemates what the .... was going on but they were watching TV and hadn't heard any of this. They had however heard what they thought was a recycling bin being tipped over, or maybe some breaking glass, about 15 minutes earlier, but hadn't given it much thought.

In the time it takes us to have this conversation there are now four police cars with lights furiously flashing in the street surrounding the block, plus the first car, and another dives into the alleyway and parks behind our garage. Housemate Hannah's boyfriend Dan wanders out the front door to ask what's going on:

"What's going on?"

"Did you place a call to 911?"

"No"

"THEN CLEAR THE AREA SIR!"

So Dan scurries back in and now we're double locking the doors, turning all the interior lights off and the external lights on and peering out from the edges of the windows upstairs. From a rear window in the stairwell we can hear the police radio in the squad car in the back alley so we're trying to listen in to figure out what's going on.

Unfortunately before we can hear anything useful the radio is drowned out by the arrival of a police helicopter which is now making a tight circle directly 200ft overhead, stabbing its searchlight into our yard. I remember noticing that the house's shadow was going through sunup to sundown about every 10 seconds as the helicopter made its circuits above. Housemate Andrea calls the local Fox station (whose studio is about 4 blocks down the street) but they don't have a clue what's going on over theirs and our heads either. I contemplate either cowering in the basement or piling into the bathtub upstairs as the most bullet-resistant strategy to see out this bout of apoplexy.

Man, at least in Bougainville we had a trunk full of helmets and kevlar armour for stuff like this.

So mostly we just stick our heads out corners of the upstairs windows and gawk...

Well after about 20 minutes of this the chopper started making wider sweeps around the surrounding blocks and the police cars surrounding the block went from six to four and eventually two. About half an hour later we saw a policeman searching through the hedges in front of our house and this time we are able to ask what was going on. (We also pieced some of this together from speaking to neighbours the following day).

It seems that the Metropolitan Police Department in Ward 3 (the relatively wealthy upper northwest of DC) get VERY, VERY EXCITED when they get a "BIP" (Burglary In Progress) radio call. I guess they've got to do something because a big majority of the one-a-day murders happen in the NE and SE quadrants, (ie anywhere from three to ten miles away). The massive response after the first guy was arrested was because they suspected there was a second person involved who might have been still on the run.

(Perhaps also because the folks of the upper north west DC like to know their tax dollars are working for them. Two weeks before that, a nice policeman came to the door -- within an hour of our call -- to pick up a obviously dumped stolen bicycle in our backyard. And one of our neighbours thought we had better not touch it in case they decided to fingerprint it... I laughed at the idea but maybe that's the level of service they expect up here?)

It turns out that Mr. Aspiring Burgular had seen in through the windows of our next door neighbour's house that no lights were on and no one was home. (Half the houses in this city don't seem to have any curtains, blinds, drapes or venetians over any of the windows. You think people have any chance of seeing their *SUVs* are a greenhouse problem?) So he picked up a metal lawn chair off the back patio and threw it through the nearest window to gain entry. A sixteen year old in the neighbour's house on the other side of the street happened to look in through the same non-curtained windows, and saw torch(es) moving about inside the house so he quickly consulted with his parents and called 911. After speaking to the burgled neighbour the next day, we learned that six envelopes were stolen from the dresser, full of leftover foreign coins in so she could drop them in the UNICEF change-box next time she flew abroad.

I wonder if he will get his own episode of World's Dumbest Criminals? If he does the DC police had better get an honourable mention... and maybe switch to decaf.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Letting Teachers Pack Guns Will Make America's Schools Safer

Banning guns from schools seems the obvious way to keep children safe. Utah, though, is doing the opposite, and is stirring up debate across the nation.

Acting under a new state law, school districts across Utah have started drawing up regulations allowing teachers and other public employees to carry concealed guns on school property. Opponents are still trying to fight the law, and at first glance their concern about firearms in schools is understandable. Last Sunday in New Jersey, an attack by armed teenagers against three fellow students and randomly chosen townspeople was narrowly averted.

But that's not the whole picture. Consider an analogy: Suppose a criminal is stalking you or your family. Would you feel safe putting a sign in front of your home saying, "This Home Is a Gun-Free Zone"? Law-abiding citizens might be pleased by such a sign, but to criminals it would be an invitation.

In 1985, just eight states had right-to-carry laws--laws that automatically grant permits for concealed weapons once applicants pass a criminal background check, pay their fees and, when required, complete a training class. Today, 35 states do.


This is from the American Enterprise Institute - famed fat think tank just down the street, where there were small but noisy weak left greenie protests over a debate entitled "Why America Is and Should be an Empire". Unfortunately it was quickly booked out so I couldn't get in. Unfortunately for the protesters, there was just enough about the way they conducted themselves to give people going in or past an excuse not to listen to them.

This perspective on gun control makes a sick kind of sense if you accept that the country is and always will be awash with handguns. So long as you don't think about it making all teachers into the first targets in the next Columbine. Or the risk of the occasional overworked, underpaid, tormented high school teacher getting into a postal frame of mind, with a gun already within reach. But then according to this logic, the next entirely appropriate response would be to arm the students.

I have to acknowledge though that my perspective is perhaps not aligned with reality here. Last time I looked there were more guards, more heavily armed, down in the MLK Public Library than there are here at work.