Monday, November 24, 2008

Beer Monkeys!

Where can I buy my own beer monkey?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Starship design and the Golden Ratio

There is a new Star Trek movie coming out in 2009 and many Enterprise fans are not very happy with the newly designed starship.

You'd think once we invented faster than light space travel, we could invent another way to make shapes and objects more beautiful. However, the creation of beauty in design is one area that ancient mathematicians cannot be topped.

Like many fans, I love the original design of the Enterprise just as much as I fear and loath the Next Generation designs. I decided to pull down a blueprint of the original Enterprise and apply Golden Ratio's to see if there was an answer.

I think you'll agree this is "fascinating". We begin with a humble circle.

Duplicate that circle, times it by the Golden ratio. Place the new circle directly on top.

Now, we overlay our circles upon a blueprint of the original Enterprise NCC-1701.

Notice how the smaller circle perfectly encompasses the secondary hull where the larger circle matches primary hull. Therefore, the NCC Enterprise 1701 Primary & Secondary Hull is designed in perfect Golden Ratio. But that is not where the art of sacred geometry stops.

Above is the Enterprise with a Fibonacci spiral overlayed upon it. See how the center point of the booms for the nacelles are directly aligned in golden ratio to the length of the ship. Furthermore, the position of the outer line of the nacelles are defined on the fourth iteration of the Fibonacci rectangle.

Finding Phi ratios in the originally designed NCC 1701 starship is pretty much like shooting fish in a barrel. Since this ratio has long been understood to give visually pleasing shapes, it is no wonder that many fans of the show regard this original design as the most beautiful of the series. The Enterprise featured in the first Star Trek movie was nothing more than a more visually exciting make-over of the original design. By contrast, see how the NCC 1701-D of Star Trek, The Next Generation fits within a Fibonacci Rectangle.

Well, as you can see, it doesn't. Nothing lines up with the Phi ratio of the length of the ship. The primary hull goes well outside the bounds of visually pleasing geometry. I've always felt that this design was uniquely unattractive, and it appears that ancient architects and mathematicians would agree!

Monday, November 03, 2008


Kevin has come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as an undecided voter but simply unrespected people whose opinions are universally shunned by friends and peers until election time, when their thoughts are suddenly in high demand by news media outlets.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


If you've seen Lord Of The Rings, you may remember that iconic scene where Gollum is falling towards certain death while holding his coveted ring. He couldn't have looked happier. While I'm not falling into a bubbling pit of molten lava, I am holding my own personal iPhone and I definately have a gollum-like glee about finally owning one. It's every bit as good as I thought it would be. More on that later!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Friday, September 26, 2008

Palin Should Step Down Says Conservatives.

Now that the honeymoon of the Republican National Convention is over, the conservative pundits who heaped bushels of rose petals at the feet of Sarah Palin would like to regain their dignity if not their credibility. Kathleen Parker, David Brooks, George Will and David Frum now question Sarah Palins ability to be one octogenarians heart beat away from the presidency. Read it here.

Adding Palin to the ticket could be McCains costliest mistake. He must realize she cannot be hidden from the press for the next 40 days. McCains' no-show at the presidential debate tonight is an ill-disguised attempt to fore-stall the vice-presidential debates which will likely be devastating in every sense of the word to the Republican ticket.

Even the few glimpses the media has had (extraordinarily scripted glimpses in some cases) have been cause for humor and ridicule for Mrs. Palin. While there is little doubt as to why Palin is being shielded from the press, denying the media access to Palin has caused a firestorm of resentment that is just beginning to spill over.

Perhaps the worst thing about Palin is that if the Republicans lose it would simply be common place. However, if the Republicans win it would just be sad and pathetic.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Palin: Neither accomplished or experienced.

I'm getting a lot of noise from various Republican punditry that McCains VP running mate, Sarah Palin, is every bit as experienced as Sen Obama or Sen. Hillary Clinton and, strangely enough, it appears that this sort of ridiculous propaganda spin is going without opposition.

That is as ridiculous a statement as can be made and it's strange to think anyone would believe such nonsense. If we narrow the comparison to Hillary vs. Palin (thereby sidestepping any potential woman-bashing liabilities), we can illustrate just how crazy using the words Palin and Hillary in the same sentence really is.

When we cast ballots for a first-time running candidate, we are voting for that candidates accomplishments as a human being. To say that the accomplishments of Hillary (or Obama) are equal to that of Mrs. Palins is to denigrate the qualities of the accomplished and elevate the status of the common.

Hillary Clinton Accomplishments.
  • In 1969, Hillary was the first student to deliver commencement address as Wellesly College where she majored in Political Science. Wellesly College, the original 'Seven Sisters', is consistently ranked among the top five liberal arts colleges in The United States and is highly selective. Not too shabby for Hillary, the daughter of immigrants.
  • Attended Yale Law School where she served on the editorial board of the Yale Review of Law and Social Action. While at Yale, Clinton took on cases of child abuse at Yale-New Haven Hospital and volunteered at New Haven Legal Services to provide free legal advice for the poor.
  • First female partner at Rose Law Firm in 1979.
  • As first Lady, forwarded the Clinton Health Care plan, though did not gain congressional approval. Advocated for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, Adoption and Safe Families Act, Foster Care Independence Act.
  • Elected as Senator for New York State in 2000 and was reelected by a wide margin in 2006
Sarah Palin Accomplishments
  • 1984, Palin won the Miss Wasilla Pageant and was second runner up in the Miss Alaska pageant, where she won a college scholarship as well as an award for "Miss Congeniality".
  • Palin attended college in Hawaii Pacific College, North Idaho College, University of Idaho finally receiving her BS six years after starting college in communications-journalism from Matanuska-Susitna College in 1987.
  • She worked briefly as a sports reporter for KTUU-TV in Anchorage.
  • She began her political career in 1992, when she won a three-year term on the Wasilla city council (pop 7,000).
  • Served two terms as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.
  • Was Ethics Supervisor of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission from 2003 to 2004 after losing bid for lieutenant governor of Alaska in 2002.
  • Served twenty months as Governor of Alaska (pop 600,000).
Frankly, to put Palin & Hillary in the same sentence requires a great deal of justification because the only thing these two politician share is a Y chromosome.

Hillary Clinton, has proven herself an accomplished academic with a good mind and was accepted into two prestigious universities. Unlike Bush, Kerry or other sons of privilege, Hillery was not granted the luxery of "Gentleman's C's" in either university. She had to work for it. Furthermore, Hillary has a long record of community volunteer work and her achievements as a lawyer earned her a partnership with her law firm. Being the wife of President Bill Clinton certainly didn't hurt her chances of being elected as senator, but nobody can say she didn't earn her rightful place in the halls of the senate.

Palin's accomplishments, on the other hand, appear to be exclusively centered around the skills one learns as a beauty pageant contestant. Speaking well in front of a microphone looking good doing it. If there are any other skills on her resume, I am hard pressed to find them. If being a two term mayor for a town of 7,000 people is impressive, that would be a first for me. If being governor of a state whose population is half that of the city of Dallas, Texas for less than two years is impressive, I'm not exactly sure what to say. We're talking apples and oranges.

We vote for people who are accomplished people because we except something to be accomplished when they are in office. Personally, I like the idea that elected officials are smarter than me, though I understand some people find that a little intimidating.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


It's Labor Day weekend in America and it arrives on the heels of Obama's slam dunk, rock star acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential nomination. We watched the historic event on the 19th floor of the Omni-Hotel in downtown New Haven and while the crowd cheered at the TV screen and patrons brushed tears from their eyes, we realized that even the most jaded Neo-Conservative Republican goat had to concede Obama's phenomenal skills as an inspirational orator.

Obama spoke to a capacity packed stadium of over 80,000 people while John McCain will be lucky to draw 20,000 when the Republicans hold their own convention. Nobody is under any illusions as to who is the more exciting of the two candidates, least of all the Republicans themselves. But now that each presidential nominee has chosen their vice-presidential running mates (for better or worse), the question remains if the American people will vote their hopes or their fears in 2008?

The choice of a VP running mate has always told more about the weakness of the presidential candidate than their strengths. Obama sees himself as young and inexperienced, so he compensates by choosing an old and experienced running mate in the form off Joe Biden. Although Biden does nothing to help Obama's image as a candidate for change, his addition to the ticket lends a Lyndon Bains Johnson-esque credibility to the effort.

In near perfect counter-point, McCain's self-perceived weakness is his advanced age, his Washington insider experience and his super-hero-like ability to place audiences in psychological stress positions by telling a joke. To fill in these holes, he chooses an unknown, and mind-bendingly unqualified young woman (read exciting) from Alaska named Sarah Palin. Unfortunately, we don't know if she can tell a joke but it's hard to imagine anyone doing worse that McCain

America's thirty-second Vice President, John Nance Garner, famously observed that his job position was "not worth a bucket of warm piss." (Garner once called a writer a "pantywaist" when he replaced the word 'piss' with 'spit'. Unfortunately the misquote stuck in the history books.)

McCains choice of a woman as running mate adds an interesting dimension in the race for presidency. The race for the Democratic nomination between Hillary and Obama was divisive and rancorous with many Hillary supporters claiming to take their toys and go home rather than support anyone other than Hillary. As Democrats attempt to heal these deep wounds and unite together under the Obama banner, McCains unlikely choice of a female running mate seeks to leverage the Democrat divide by offering a consolation prize of a woman as Vice President.

Hug a developer today...

It's so funny because it's so true.

Friday, August 15, 2008

afro ninja

It really is that funny.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


One more year, and I'll have the answer to the meaning of life.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I simply must have this.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I am sad to report...

For reasons of fiscal responsibility, neither Penny or I are proud owners of a new 3G iPhone. Therefore, 'all the coolness that is me' will have to wait for 'physical embodiment' in October, when my AT&T contract is due for a free upgrade.

However, thanks to the guys at webmonkey, I can keep a close eye on iPhone availability when I'm ready for coolness mojo.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


When I was in Boston, I was lucky enough to be invited to a local Union hall to watch the documentary "WAL-MART: The High Cost of Low Prices." If you haven't seen it, you can watch the movie at their website.

Any movie attacking Walmart shown in a Boston Union hall is sure to have a receptive audience. However, you may not know that Walmart, as famous for its low wages as it's low prices, is now the number 1 company in the world according to Fortune magazine. has posted an interesting map showing the spread of walmart across America. I think substituting the green dots for yellow 'evil smiley faces' would have made the map much better.

Monday, July 14, 2008


Euless is a small Texas bedroom community quietly tucked between Dallas and Fort Worth. Like it's neighboring towns, Hurst and Bedford, it is only remarkable at being unexceptional; so much so that the entire region is often called by the unsatisfying acronym H.E.B. Having grown up in Bedford, I remember more colorful names for these three towns. Worst, Useless and Dreadford.

There is no town center in Euless. No community commons. No museums or opera houses. Nothing which speaks to any higher form of functioning. Instead, there are supermarkets, business centers and shopping malls which are scattered unattractively alongside Highway 183.

In fact, the highway is the only place the residents can see the famous spring time carpet of Texas blue bonnets but you have to do so at 75MPH and occasionally dart your eyes towards the small stretches of blue between the medians.

Euless is like that ugly kid in school who never was noticed by anybody and nobody seemed much bothered about the fact, least of all the ugly kid.

So imagine Euless's surprise when it was ranked #34 of the top 100 places to live by

You'd think Euless got a make-over and the ugly little duckling transformed itself into an attractive and lithe swan, but you'd think wrong. This is no story about urban renewal or the success of town planning. Euless is #34 because that's what the database said it should be.

Apparently, crunched a wide variety of numbers and spit out a list of the top 100 small cities to live in. Now, this would be perfectly reasonable if Euless was popluated with computers but since small cities are usually made up of people, I take some exception to this ranking.

Not that I don't like computers and I would never be so thoughtless as offend them as a group. I'm sure they would think Euless is a fine place to be, if computers thought, or lived or cared.

As Mark Twain once said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

Fighting Umbrella

Not only can it protect you from the rain, it can defend you from would be muggers. It also makes watermelons tremble with fear.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Sure, they're great! But can they power my iPod?

Vincent Fogarty is a man who always had the right words for the occasion.

"It's the TITS!".

Whether it was free beer, great music a massive breakfast or anything that was excellent or over-the-top amazing then you'd be sure to hear Vincent shouting breast analogous platitudes which would send us straight to the floor, clutching our stomachs and laughing hysterically.

You might think Vincent was afflicted with Tourette syndrome, but he was only displaying a mastery of the English language and an appreciation for cultural beauty that literary professors spend far too many words trying to capture.

Tits are fantastic, and it's something everybody can agree on.

If you doubt the pan-gender allure of the female breast you only need to visit your local magazine store to be convinced otherwise. Breasts of all sizes and forms are seductively airbrushed on the covers of Vogue, Maxim, Allure, GQ, Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone where each shapely pair would shamelessly tug the eyes downward, begging to be admired and demanding their due attention in a calculated effort to influence your buying decision.

No matter if you are browsing for spring fashion tips or looking for the inside scoop of the latest motorcycle from Japan, each customer will be greeted with a voluptuous 'howdy', a perky 'hi', or a curvy 'hey there sailer'!

Unlike breasts, penises are not allowed to greet anyone in public. A simple "I'm happy to see you." would send patrons running from the store and tumble stock prices into the Marianas trench. If penises are not hidden inside opaque plastic sleeves behind the news counter then they are featured on covers as safely tucked away within layers of clothing. It is only the most daring penis would reveal itself as a modest, non-erect bulge around the crotch area.

In the world of advertising and media, the mute penis plays court jester to the loquacious Empress breast.

But the idolization of the breast is not confined to newsstands. Western culture has long enshrined the breast behind the velvet ropes of museums and art galleries for centuries. Nudes have been the bread and butter of artists since we invented walls from which to display them (or painted directly on them) and it has been the female form that has captivated the imagination of artists and art buyers alike.

If the human race were to become extinct and aliens excavated museums of 18th century art, it would be an understandable misunderstanding to declare that earth women wore nothing but loose fitting robes which had a habit of falling about their waists while posing for portraits.

Call them what you will. Breasts, tits, bosoms, boobies, jugs, honkers, hooters, fun bags, knockers, tah tahs, or 'comfy snuggle puppies' it is a universal truth that 'tits' are a very, very good thing and in the future they just might get even better!

Check out this article by Adrienne So in Slate magazine titled "Victoria's Circuit: Harnessing the untapped power of breast motion." It gives an entirely new meaning to the phrase "girl power".

And no amount of motivational crap is going to change that!

HBO is featuring a new documentary about Chuck Connelly and it just may be a bit more painful to watch that some can bear.

Chuck Connelly was a promising young New York artist whose abrasive personality proved to be his undoing. As the audience is treated to a glimpse into the world of the tortured artist, we witness his wife leaving him, his benefactor abandon him and his harebrained scheme to hire a 'ghost-artist' to sell his paintings come to no good.

Thanks Bridget!! ;-)

Friday, July 04, 2008

4th of July

It could be the perfect American Holiday. Drink beer, eat lots of dead animals that you personally cook over an open fire and 'watch shit git all blowed up in the sky'!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

You might be wondering why I called you into my office...

John saw the flier for psychological test subjects on the Yale campus bulletin board a week ago. Easy money. A few hours out of the day and some spending cash in the back of your pocket. A good thing when your parents aren't footing the bills, but this was turning into something he didn't sign up for.

"Please continue.", buzzed the overhead speaker.

"Hey wait! Is that guy alright? Didn't you hear him screaming and banging on the walls?"

The intercom crackled, "The experiment requires that you continue."

John had already pushed the red button six times, once for every wrong answer the test subject gave. The first shock he applied was just a few volts, enough to get your attention. But for each wrong answer the voltage doubled.

"Hey, didn't you hear him say he had a heart problem? Can't you see the needle is pointing to red?!"

The first time he pressed the button, the subject let out an involuntary yelp. John pushed a laugh down into his gut imagining the guy's hair standing up like some cartoon character. Hell, it could have been him getting the electric shock treatment if he hadn't drawn 'tester'. John was lucky that way.

As the voltage doubled and doubled again with each incorrect answer, the brief yelps turned into shouts that increased in length and volume and intensity. When John applied the sixth shock, it issued an unrestrained scream that lasted several seconds after the juice was shut off.

"It is absolutely essential that you continue!", said the metallic voice.

"Look, I'll give the 50 dollars back OK? I don't need the money. Would you just tell me that guy is alright! Professor! Jesus Christ!""

John's chest pumped up and down, swallowing air in thick chunks. This wasn't worth it. Nothing was worth it.

"You have no other choice," The professor boomed through the intercom. "You MUST go on!"

John braced himself, expecting a scream that would spend years lurching and shambling inside his nightmares, but when he opened his eyes it was only the weight of silence pressing on his clammy skin and the scent of ozone fluttering in his nose.

The intercom squawked opened.

"Thank you for your time, John." smiled the voice through the speaker. "The experiment is over.", and the intercom went dead.

-- short untitled story, by Kevin

Soon after the war crimes trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann in 1961, Yale Psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment to test the ability of subjects to perform unethical acts under the direction of an authority figure. The experiment, now known as the Milgram Experiment, was testing the veracity of the Nuremberg Defense where a defendant states "I was only following orders". Nobody was actually subjected to electric shocks, but an actor in another room made the experiment seem very realistic to the participants in the study.

Now, the idea that anyone could be manipulated to do anything under the direction of an authority figure is pretty frightening, but apparently someone thought the experiment didn't go far enough and proceeded to try their own anonymous Milgram experiments over the phone.

As strange as it sounds, a person posing as a police officer or company executive placed phone calls to several fast-food restaurants around the country including Taco Bell, McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, Ruby Tuesday and Applebee's and successfully persuaded managers to perform strip searches on employees.

Weirder still, the caller sometimes reversed the tables and convinced the managers into submitting to strip searches themselves administered by the same employees they had just finished examining. These occurrences continued for about a decade and came to be known as the Strip Search Prank Call Scam.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Happy World UFO Day

July 2nd is World UFO Day, in case you didn't know, and it is celebrated on the same day that an alien spaceship crashed in 1947 Roswell, New Mexico.

I'm not certain how to celebrate World UFO Day, but I suspect it involves anal probes and a lot of alcohol to simulate 'lost time' phenomena.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Freedom Fries

An American and a Chinese were arguing about their freedom to talk in their countries.
American : The Constitution gives us the freedom to shout that George W. Bush is an idiot right in front of the White House!

Chinese : Thats nothing. We can shout that George W. Bush is an idiot right in front of our president... and get a reward too!
It's getting near the 4th of July weekend, and I suppose I am reflecting on the idea of "Freedom" more than I normally would. I have met many amazing people but there are only a select few that I would consider free or whose pursuit of freedom manifested itself in ways that were interesting to me.

One person that comes to mind is Dr. Ala Bashir, former personal physician to Saddam Hussein and respected artist who also penned "The Insider", a book based on his experiences inside Iraq.

Dr. Bashir is tall and thin and possesses a stillness of character one usually associates with men of great spiritual discipline. He moves slowly and speaks with great thought and gentleness and his calmness creates a subtle magnetism that tugs you a little closer.

Dr. Bashir's relationship with freedom was something I witnessed during an exhibition of his art in New Haven, CT. Surrounding him were local real estate developers, magazine publishers, Yale professors and more than the fair share of the idle rich.

The showing featured works he painted during the Hussein regime and they are extraordinarily powerful in symbolism and dramatic use of primary reds, blues and greens. I often felt my breath involuntarily leave my lungs as I came upon one of his paintings in the gallery.

Surrounded by people bearing wine glasses and fruit plates, Dr. Bashir would introduce each painting, giving the audience the meaning of the symbols as he knew them and the circumstances under which he was inspired to paint them, which were usually in his dreams.

After Bashir spoke, the audience would ask many questions,

"Did you mean this when you painted it?", "Could the use of this symbol mean....", "Was this a political statement of...", "Do you believe in God?"

I say the audience asked questions, but the truth is most were statements disguised with a question mark, designed to aggrandize the intelligence of the speaker rather than a call for understanding and I silently suppressed many cringes as I listened.

To each question, Bashir would politely say no, I did not mean that, I did not mean this, I do not think this work shows I believe what you say, I do not feel that way. This painting was in my head, and I needed to paint it.

As I stood there with a glass of red wine and a pressed white shirt, it occured to me that as Dr. Bashir battled these attempts at philosophical rationalization of his art, he was actually engaging in a personal battle for his own freedom.

Instead of being surrounded by a group of wealthy Americans, it seemed to me that Dr. Bashir was in a sea of tiny dictators, each one saying "You must be this! You must think this! You must believe this! You must be what I believe you to be and nothing else, because I say it must be so!"

Bashir replies, "No."

I hope Dr. Bashir will forgive me if I imagine him thinking that the word 'no' is unique in all the world because it is only free men who can can speak it without fear.

I have said it thrice: What I tell you three times is true.

America is a different and unfamiliar country from the one I grew up with in High School.

This was the nation where George Orwell's 1984 taught us government sanctioned surveillance, propaganda and torture can control a nation and even outlaw love. Fairenheight 451 by Ray Bradbury taught us that declining readership leads to loss of critical thinking and ignorance. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, taught the need to advocate for the oppressed and To Kill a Mockingbird taught us to emphasize tolerance and decry prejudice and stand for justice no matter the cost.

And yet, the America we live in today practices and defends it's use of torture by waterboarding, the capture of detainees through extraordinary rendition, advocates the suspension of habius corpus through indefinite incarceration, engages in covert military operations, shamelessly twists intelligence information to create Casius Belli and passes laws guaranteeing immunity for warrentless surveillance.

But some days, we wake up and see a news article that not only makes America seem more familiar but makes us proud of High School Literature as well.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Yesterday, reporter Seymour Hersh uncovered a U.S. led covert operation against Iran in an online report of New Yorker magazine.

"The Finding was focused on undermining Iran's nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change...working with opposition groups and passing money.

U.S. covert operations in Iran have been ongoing for the better part of a year and have included the seizing of Iranian citizens and transporting them to Iraq for interrogation. Furthermore, leading Republicans and Democrats gave a green light to the operations by signing off on a $400 million dollar budget.

The current administration does not believe NIE reports saying Iran has stopped its nuclear programs in 2005.

This should be big news. Generally, when nations cross over into other nations borders and kidnap citizens, it is considered an act of war.

However, a quick scan of msnbc, cnn and fox news shows, respectively, a bear scratching his back on a tree, a young man filling up his gas tank and a heartwarming story about a disfigured U.S. Army soldier determined to continue serving his country.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Gulf of Tonkin non-incident

Thirty years since the last American soldier left south-east Asia, the word 'Vietnam' still has the power to conjure images of Huey helicopters, soldiers torching grass huts with zippo lighters and war protesters shot dead in Kent State by national guard units.

Prior to 1964, American involvement in Vietnam was in the form of financial aid to France who struggled to regain control over it's south-east Asian colony. While America was more interested in containing the spread of communism than propping up a failed colonial empire, the distinction was likely lost on the people of Vietnam themselves.

Nevertheless, what changed Americas monetary involvement into a military engagement was an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin where naval forces of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam engaged two American destroyers.

However, recently declassified NSA reports show the American people were grossly misled on the actual events of August 2 and 4, 1964 and it was this misrepresentation that gave President Johnson the broad authority to wage war in Vietnam on August 7th, 1964. Five years later, the first lottery drawing since WWII was held to draft men into military service on December 1, 1969.

The war LBJ started would last 11 years and cost over 58,000 American lives. Had the American people known the full truth of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, Congress would never have given authority to escalate American involvement.

"For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there." -- President Lyndon Bains Johnson, 1965.

With these declassified documents, similarities between the lead-up to the Vietnam war and the current conflict in Iraq are self-apparent.

Whether you agree with the Iraq war or not, we all must acknowledge that the intelligence data used to justify the Iraq conflict was grossly skewed. I would not debate the who-knew-what-when's of the matter because without a thorough congressional investigation (and the political will to carry it through) we will never know.

However, the detrimental effects of unjustified conflicts has upon a Democracy cannot be overstated because if a democracy can be led into war as easily as a dictatorship, then the difference between democracy and tyranny has become very small indeed.

An article on about the Gulf of Tonkin incident is an excellent summery of the new findings.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Post peak oil America.

Today, the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline is $4.067 and despite some belt tightening and an explosive increase in bicycle sales, the average American is pretty much living as they have for decades. In other words, the life Americans are leading today is indistinguishable from the life led a few decades ago, but that is about to change.

"It is increasingly clear that the outlook for oil supply signals a period of unprecedented scarcity,...Despite the recent record jump in oil prices, oil prices will continue to rise steadily over the next five years." -- statement by analysts led by Jeff Rubin at CIBC

The great unanswered question is what is the dollar-per-fuel ratio which will make the current American lifestyle unsustainable? When does the average two-income American family decide that using two cars to commute between work, grocery shopping, school, soccer practice, church and girl scout camp simply cannot happen any longer? Furthermore, what does a world look like when the average American crunches the numbers and discovers the life they lead, indeed the lives their cities were built for, is no longer economically feasible on an individual level?

To find an answer to the future of America, we will need to look into the past.

America as we know it today has its beginnings during a 1919 Transcontinental Motor Convoy experiment which tested the mobility of military vehicles on American soil. A young Lieutenant Colonel named Dwight D. Eisenhower participated in the exercise which took 62 days to traverse 3,251 miles from Washington DC and to San Francisco. Thirty-seven years later, when the Federal-Aid Highway Act in 1956 was going through congress, automobile industry lobbiests found a powerful ally in President Eisenhower whose unsatisfactory two month long commute is the reason we can start a car in Washington, D.C. and arrive in San Francisco less than two days later.

Suburbs were born in the era of the trolley and commuter train but only reached brobdingnagian proportions in the age of the automobile and the super-highway. The creation of the Eisenhower interstate highway not only changed how fast Americans could travel but also the shape of their communities as well. The super-highway network had the ironic effect of both connecting remote suburbs to cities as well as dividing those communities through which they were built. As anyone in North Texas or Atlanta knows, the idea of hopping on a bike or walking to the local grocery store would be every bit as suicidal as jumping off a building if that store were on the other side of a major highway. The fact is that safely purchasing a gallon of milk or a pound of suger requires the turn of an ignition switch - not a bad thing when gas was less than half the price than milk.

However, as analysts forcast the price of gasoline rising to over 7 dollars a gallon over the next five years, the use of petrol fuel becomes far more problematic and, by extension, so does the very existence of the American mega-suburbs.

The fact remains that at some point (perhaps when Exxon credit bills look more like rent payments) America will undergo a very rapid and painful change but I believe this change will be for the better. Here are a few predictions for the next 10 years.

  1. Mass transportation, such as trolleys and light rail will make a comeback.
  2. "White flight" will reverse course, back into cities where trains can deliver food and products.
  3. Outlying suburbs will shrink or are abandoned to be changed back into the farmlands they once were.
  4. Cities and town will be restructured for a pedestrian existence, allowing families to walk to schools, work, shopping.
  5. Food will be grown locally, even in our own backyards, and our consumption of meat will be dramatically reduced.

In addition to these fundamental changes comes the very real effect on those people who must live through them. The price of suburb housing, by reason of supply and demand, would drop dramatically in an age of 7 dollar per gallon fuel, likely leaving people owing far more than what the property is valued at. However, this is merely one of many changes that America will undergo as we retool our economy, our cities and our lives to accommodate the post-peak oil century. Perhaps the only way to know how our lives will change is to live through the changes so we may look back and see where we have come.

George Carlin (May 12, 1937–June 22, 2008)

“If the “black box” flight recorder is never damaged during a plane crash, why isn’t the whole airplane made out of that stuff?”

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Maybe you already suspected...

So I was thinking the other day, what is it with these red states anyway? On a lark, I decided to overlay the national teacher salary ranking with a map of red vs. blue state as measured by the past four presidential elections. The results were pretty interesting.

The top ten states for teachers salaries also happened to be solidly blue states where the last ten states were decidedly red.


Wanna play a game of Jenga?

At a going rate of $3K a square foot, this structure is clearly dedicated to the uber-rich. My proletariat leanings instinctively balks at such shameless pandering to a bourgeoisie elite.

On the other hand, a shape shifting building is kinda cool...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Finally, I can identify swamp gas.

The Life Aquatic

Wes Anderson is the master of the final scene. I recently watched "The Darjeeling Limited" and "The Life Aquatic" and Wes Anderson's style is every bit as quirky and indy as his critiques have pegged him for.

The magic of Wes Anderson as a movie maker is not in the beginning or even in the middle of his films. Wes does not bother with the usual conventions of story telling but rather treats the camera as a scrapbook hobbiest would approach a collection of paper and old photographs. It's only long after the audience experiences the characters and their interactions do we come to understand the meaning of it at all, and that is where Wes ties up the entire project with the visual that defines everything.

For Darjeeling Limited, the visual was the brothers losing their emotional baggage as they jumped back upon the train of life - the vehicle they were forced to leave to achieve their moment of enlightenment. For Life Aquatic, it was Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) sitting with his back to the theater premier of his new film and placing a young boy high on his shoulders, symbolically honoring his childlike fascination of everything new and mysterious in the sea, and by extension the mysteries of life.

The beauty of these movies is in the gorgeous use of the symbolic, without which we would be lost in a sea of images that would appear every bit as disjointed, ironic and plot-less as our own lives may appear to ourselves.

Yet, it is only the appearance of meaninglessness that is true, not the substance of the event itself, which is why Wes Anderson's style is one of the most effective mirrors of our own human experience.

We do not live in a 30 minute sitcom. The camera crew does not go home at the end of a life event and often times the resolution is not as apparent or clean or even as honorable as popular entertainment would have us believe it should or could be.

Sometimes, life is just what it is and if we can accept that bit of truth, the experience becomes far more beautiful than it ever could be without that realization.

We're getting iPhones!!

Finally, "all the coolness that is me" can be physically expressed in a shiney gadget from Apple that fits neatly inside of my pocket. It's the new iPhone and I haven't been this excited about getting anything since....

OK, its been a really long time but I can definitely see me and Penny pitching a tent in front of the Apple Store so we are first in line. The new iPhone G3 hits the shelves July 11th.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Jeremy is a big pinko commie.

My long time friend has left America to seek his fame and fortune in Prauge. Bastard.
OK. I get it. Eating meat is pretty disgusting and I can see myself becoming a vegetarian in the not too distant future. But in the meantime, I occasionally need a massive bowl of wings slathered in hot sauce with an unhealthy dollop of blue cheese dressing and celery on the side.

This is a design for a t-shirt offered by this website that I think is pretty hilarious.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Clever Cards

I received my 1000 business cards the other day and was disappointed that the 'truebluedot' is more like a true off-purple. The printer didn't do anything wrong per say, but simply used inks that metamerize under incandescent & fluorescent lights. I'll have to print them again locally with a screened Pantone and black ink.

Technical color problems are part of the game, but ohhh the delight of handing out a clever and excellent business card! Here is a site that features a whole slew of fantastic designs.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Devil's Only Daughter

For it's time we fell to talking, you and I
For every time I take a dram I hear you curse
-- Brian McNeill
Before I left Boston for New Haven, I sold my fiddle to a twelve year old boy with sandy blond hair and oversized glasses. His mother wrote the check to the specified amount, far below it's actual value, and that was the last I saw of my old companion.

Its been over two years since I last saw my fiddle, and some days it's absence is felt a bit more than others. To be honest, it was a relief to be rid of it. The case sat there in my room accusing me of not practicing enough, not going to sessions, not learning new tunes and I just couldn't be pressured at that time in my life.

Today, I spend a lot of late nights watching fine art prints slowly coming out of my 44" wide printer and at times like that, I think it would be nice to pull horsehair across strings and feel the vibration of notes underneath my chin once again.

I think I'll shop around for a fiddle. It would be nice to have a companion now that I have some time to spend with it.

The Art Of Survival

Just completed eight large format prints for Aaron Kotowski, which is great because I've wanted to make prints for him for some time now. Aarons client is a non-profit called IRIS, which is short for Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services.

Tonight, me and Penny are going to Yale University for the World Refugee Day event being held by IRIS where 24X36 prints of Aarons amazing photographs of refugees from all over the world will be held for silent auction, so I'm pretty excited about it.

Unfortunately, since the client is a non-profit, the budget was very tight. We completed four of the images on the best media available and cut some corners on the remaining four but I'm pretty happy with the results nevertheless.

Um, I Created a Life.

Stuffy white lady pushing stroller, to friend: I can't believe people are actually taking Justin Timberlake seriously these days.

Hipster crossing East: He brought sexy back, bitch! What the hell did you do?

--Central Park West

Overheard by: Zora Zero

via Overheard in New York, Jan 15, 2008

Guy's month out

I met Jeremy in Dallas during the heady days of the internet revolution where desperate recruiters spent long days cold-calling anyone who might have the smallest amount of web programming experience. Jeremy had recently graduated from Appalachian State with a degree in English and was flown to Dallas to interview because he happened to put the letters HTML on his resume.

For Jeremy, this was the beginning of a life long hate-hate relationship with offices, computers and flouresent lit cubicals. Jeremy's love-love relationship was firmly with Irish traditional music and this is how we met.

I had less than two years of Irish fiddle under my belt, which is not nearly enough by any standard. My sound was scratchy and out of tune and I didn't have many tunes under my fingers but I was dedicated and played every chance I could with whoever was willing to play. Jeremy, his wife Julia and I were the young Irish players and we sought out and began our own all-level sessions in the area.

Jeremy played traditional keyless wooden flute, which is notorious for it's difficutly in keeping pitch. It was abandoned in the late 1800s as a concert instrument when the Boehm system flute was invented which Irish musicans derisively referred to as 'typewriters'. The incessent clacking of silver keys next to your ear in a session was enough to drive anybody insane.

It wasn't long after they came to Dallas that Jeremy and his wife Julia decided it wasn't the place for them. Julia moved back to North Carolina to find a teaching job while Jeremy stayed behind to sell their newly purchased house. Conicidentally, at the same time, my wife was out of the country on a business trip for the month, and that was the beginning of the greatest guys month out that ever was.

"I am not drunk! I AM DRINK! Fuck you and your lame past tense ya big pussy! "

"Wide fucking open" was the a phrase we used in Asheville to describe when all caution in drinking is thrown to the wind, and that sums up how it was between me, Jeremy and a fiddle player named Glenn. After work, we'd meet at the bar to drink, play music and swim in the social scene of the inebriated until the lights were turned on and chairs placed on the tables. We would solumnly swear that we would not return the next day.

But no matter how solmn the vow or exhausted or hungover we were, one of us would find their way back to the bar and a text message would bring the rest of us together to do it all over again.

There were girls, there was music, there were jokes and stories and there was Guiness after pint of Guiness. There was the invention of the "Muldoon Pint" where a Stout was served with a pint of water, which greatly increased drinking endurance. There was Glenn's forehead slap which was applied hilariously to people who were in the middle of a story. There was the waitress Katrina from Ireland who took a liking to Jeremy. There was Jeremy singing an Appalacian song on stage between sets. There were nights where musicians came over and slept on the couch and drunken email messages randomly sent at the late hours of the night. There was so much going on that to this day if feels like a fantastic blur, but 'boys month out' was only temporary.

When the wifes came back and saw the credit card statements that were blackened with the words "Tipperary Inn, Dallas TX", not only did Jeremy and I have to pay the bill but we we had to pay hell as well. Though Jeremy had the appearance of a repentant man I can honestly say I didn't care.

There was just something about being alone in the houses our wifes arranged for us to buy that turned our balls cold, and there was nothing for it but to drink the chill away.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

No when. No want. No worry.

I laugh, then I throw up a little in my mouth and then I laugh again.

Midvale school for the gifted

It makes me laugh, every single time.

The Dresden Dolls - Science fiction double feature

I lost my virginity at the Rocky Horror Picture Show in Highland Park, sometime in the early eighties. If you've seen Rocky Horror but did not lose your virginity then it only goes to show you weren't doing it right.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show starts with the song "Science Fiction", being covered here by the punk caberet duo, Dresden Dolls. It's a song of nostalgia for those early days of B-grade horror films and it never fails to make me feel nostalgic for being a part of the show.


There are some warm and fuzzy childhood memories that are better left exactly where they are. Captain Crunch is a pretty good example. What used to be a delightful, sugar infused breakfast cereal for your elementary school mouth becomes a Guantanamo bay sanctioned torture device for adult sized gums, gently shredding them with every excruciating bite.

The original 1978 BattleStar Galactica is much the same way. What was amazing as a kid becomes painful when you are an adult because such fine details as horrible acting, cheesy plots and ridiculous dialog are lost on a young boys imagination, especially when there are really super cool spaceships flying around and blowing each other up! And make no mistake, the Colonial fleets Viper fighter was very, very cool. Almost as cool as the Star Wars X-wing fighter.

Which explains why I missed the boat entirely on BattleStar Galactica when it was resurrected by the SciFi Channel in 2004. I finally succumbed when I kept hearing "This isn't your fathers Battlestar Galactica" from various fans of the new show.

Of course, they were right and I was wrong and I quickly caught up on all the shows, watching them in order on DVD releases one after the other and usually late into the night. When I ran out of episodes on DVD, I found other means to watch the remaining shows. It was like having a drug addiction and I needed my fix on a weekly basis. The new BSG was not only superior to it's 1978 incarnation, but easily topped every TV science fiction show ever made.

What makes this show stand apart from the usual science fiction TV fare is the human factor. Most of the characters are deeply flawed, even irrevocably damaged, and yet they are people whom we like, understand and are rooting for. Even in the flawed Gaius Baltar, the weakest and most damaged of all the characters, we find something redeemable and likable and perhaps something recognizable as well.

And this human factor is not just restricted to the humans. Even the Cylons struggle with their 'humanity' and are continually rediscovering and redefining who they are as a people and where they stand in relationship with God. There is no mistaking that Cylons view humans as warlike, deceitful killers who would eventually self-destruct as a race due to these inherent flaws and it was this perception which justified the surprise attack that nearly wiped out all of humanity.

But as the Cylons have 'matured' we see them gradually behaving in exactly the same murderous manner, not just to the human enemy, but towards their own kind as well. Perhaps the greatest difference between the Cylons and humans is that the humans are painfully aware of their own moral shortcomings where the Cylons are mostly blissfully ignorant of their own.

This past Friday, the last episode of BSG season 4 has ended and fans must now wait about a year until the next season begins. I'd like to find a methadone treatment, a drug that can help wean me off the addiction that Battlestar Galactica has become, but I'm afraid modern science (fiction) simply doesn't have anything that compares.

World War Z

I am not a fan of zombies. For my money, vampires and werewolves are far superior bad guys. As a rule, they are faster, stronger and more intelligent which makes them very challenging villains. Zombies on the other hand are usually depicted as slow moving, smelly, un-intellegent creatures whom you could easily escape so long as you were wearing a good pair of sneakers and walking briskly in the opposite direction.

The only scary zombie movie ever made was the post-apocalyptic horror film "28 Days Later" (2002). The zombies were unintelligent (just like the undead you've come to expect) but unlike their previous incarnations these guys were much quicker on their feet. You couldn't call them the walking-dead, they were more like the Olympic sprinting-dead and the cut-frame technique the director used gave them an other-wordly jerkiness that really pumped up the terror-volume up a few notches.

So, I wasn't really excited when a friend handed me "World War Z" a book by Max Brooks detailing the first hand accounts of a world wide zombie epidemic that left 600 million dead. However, I didn't have anything next to my night-stand so I was glad for a bit of distraction. Still, I suspected a book about zombies would be as interesting as reading a transcript of the US Open golf tournament.

I'm into it a few chapters now, and I have to admit I was very mistaken. Once again the New York Times Best Seller badge proves itself a excellent bellwether.

The book is less about creatures freshly returned from the grave than it is a social commentary about how the political world works. Instead of following the tried and true theme of the horror genre, this effort moves easily into the realm of science fiction where safe and critical social commentary has traditionally been it's bread and butter.

The book is a string of interviews with characters who played a part in WWZ such as the entrepreneur who knowingly sold ineffectual zombie-vaccines to the world and reaped massive profits while doing it. There is an interview with the ex-White house press secretary who minimized the threat until it was too late, (now ironically shoveling shit into a bio-fuel reactor). The book works in a way that makes you want to turn the pages, to discover how this apocalypse happened and how it could have been prevented.

As we progress in the book, we come to realize the reasons for the catastrophe was not unlike the reasons for any preventable catastrophe. Given the heinous and recognizable nature of some of the survivors who are interviewed, the reader may wish the zombies were more discriminating in their eating habits.

Bon Appetit!

Stop! Theif!

There is a long list of things that I am afraid of, or concerned about, or at the very least vaguely apprehensive over. However, in certain parts of the world, there are 'lists of things to be afraid of' that are a bit longer than mine and certainly a bit more colorful.

Lets take penis stealing, for example.

In certain countries in Africa, there is a belief that a witch can steal your penis. The scene goes something like this.

You are riding the bus or shopping at a marketplace. A stranger asks for the time or randomly bumps into you. At that moment, a curious and overwhelming feeling creeps up on you. Your penis. Its shrinking, withering, growing smaller and smaller until it's completely gone! You don't think it's gone, you KNOW its gone. Someone has stolen your penis and in a desperate panic the only thing you can do is shout.

"Stop that person! They have stolen my penis!"

Now, in Boston or New York, this cry for help only has the effect of making people move a little farther away from you. However, in Nigeria this is a call to arms and everybody gets involved. The suspect is quickly apprehended. The bus driver will stop the vehicle. The culprit will be manhandled off the bus and given a good beating that will end if police arrive at the scene soon enough. At which time, it would be just as likely that the penis thief will be arrested rather than the people who were beating the thief up.

In this months Harpers Magazine, Frank Brures wrote a piece titled "A mind dismembered: In search of the magical penis thieves." where he interviews no less than two victims of this heinous crime. For those of you who are curious, the magical theft of penises was not permanent.

Monday, June 16, 2008

But I thought we really connected...

When I was working in Boston, my job dominated my life which left me little time to socialize as a normal human being. At times like that, a person comes to understand the internet in a way not originally intended by the scientists who created ARPANET and how sites like craigslist can make natural things unnatural, uncomfortable and absolutely hilarious.

One night before I left work, late as usual, I posted an ad on craiglist under 'men seeking women' titled "Anyone for a drink In Harvard Square?". I drove the 30 minutes back to Boston opened my computer and replied to the first email I received.

No details, No exchanges of countless emails. No IM chatting. No pictures exchanged. Just meet me at the newstand next to the Harvard Square Station for some company and share a few drinks.

"Kevin, right?"

She wasn't exactly overweight, but definitely weight mis-shapen, or in other words the top half of her body suggested that the bottom half should not have been as large as it was. She wasn't exactly pretty either but I wasn't planning on a love connection so I didn't mind at all. What kind of skeeved me out was that she had some sort of skin problem that left her arms flaky and in desperate need of moisturizing cream. She wasn't exactly interesting either, but she was a real human being and wanted to 'get out of the house' and that counted for a lot. Besides, what was I supposed to do? Leave?

The pub I wanted to go to was a mellow establishment which was very nice for having a pint while staring through large bay windows as New England snow piled up on the streets outside.

However, unbeknownst to me, on Friday the qaint little pub turned into a mini-frat house and it was far louder and more crowded than I was expecting. Still, we dove into the fray and managed to get two seats at the bar and was able to order a few drinks.

When we settled in, she asked, "So, what do you do when you're not working?"

Whoever said honesty is the best policy obviously had nothing to do with policy implementation but, nevertheless, I'm still a fan of the concept.

K: "Well, there is what I like to do and then there is what I really do."

D: "So what do you like to do?"

K: "I like going to the gym. Taking a spin class or a yoga class. I even tried a hip hop class and I looked pretty funny too. I like swimming in the pool and relaxing in the sauna while reading a magazine when I'm finished. I really love swing dancing, but it's not as easy as carolina shag, and I take lessons whenever I can. I love to read fiction, non-fiction, historical biographys. I play Irish fiddle and enjoy going to sessions but the musicianship here is so high there are only a few I'll play. I like writing. Journaling mostly and sometimes a short story. When I'm not doing those things, I like hanging out friends and talk about music, religion, philosophy or anything not sports or weather related.

D: *visibly impressed* Wow! You like to do all that?!

K: Absolutely! But, then there is what I actually do.

D: *curious* So, what do you actually do?

K: "Well, what I actually do is I wake up at 5:00 every morning to arrive at the office at around 6:00AM, usually picking up a dunkin donuts coffee and a breakfast sandwhich along the way, which I eat in my car. I sit in my cubicle in the dark for an hour until the overhead floresent lights flicker to life at 7AM and then in another 40 minutes people will begin to arrive at the office. So for the first two hours I'm working alone and in the dark while formatting excel spreadsheets which tracks the progress of publication ads.

And thats actually the good part of the day...

The rest of the day is spent on the phone fielding questions from designers and the production team, going over color correction rounds with art directors and doing a few hundred other things as well so I don't have a spare minute to breath much less go to the bathroom. It's pretty much a dead run until I get out of work at around at around 6PM or 8PM.

After working 10 to 14 hours a day, I'm pretty exhausted and I get back into my car, in the dark, and drive home. But before I get there I'll stop by the package store and pick up one or two six-packs of beer, depending on how stressful the day was.

Then, I take my clothes off and plop down on the couch and drink the beer until I pass out in front of the TV in my t-shirt and boxers. When my snoring wakes my roommate, my roommate will shake me and tell me to go to my room and I go downstairs, fall into bed and to wake up at 5:00AM and do the entire thing over again.

After I finished the story, I went to the bathroom. When I came back, other people were sitting at the bar where me and my craigslist date were sitting just moment ago. I don't know if she calmly walked out the door or ran for it.

Today, somewhere in Boston, there is a weight mis-shapen, unattractive and flaky skinned girl who is telling this same story, but from a completely different perspective. When I think of this, I can't help but laugh and the absurdity of the evening and how perfectly it was ended.

Sometimes, we say it exactly right

When a person compliments an article or a short story, they often say "Nice piece".

Never, 'nice whole' or even "nice 9/16ths" because writing, even at it's best, can only capture a piece of a larger truth.

This smallness is both the beauty and the the ugliness of writing. The beauty is the attempt to create a truth in as few words as possible. The ugliness is in the utter futility of the exercise.

But, somewhere along the way, you become comfortable with this inherent inability to create a whole truth with pen and paper and come to embrace the 'lie by omission'.

Because if we couldn't make peace with the lie or the half-truth or the piece of the piece that isn't the whole truth then we couldn't write anything at all.

A world of blank pages may be more truthful, but infinitely more boring.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Slan Abhaile

I've spent three hours at the local pub writing in my journal. Soul searching I suppose. Among the brick-a-brack that adorns the walls of a typical Irish/American pub I noticed a black and white photograph of Brendan Behan, the famous Irish author of Borstal Boy. The photo was taken in 1953 at a Dublin bar. A pint of Guinness perched atop his portable typewriter, his hands blurred as his fingers flew above the keys. A man in a light colored coat was captured in the frame, in motion towards the bar getting a pint of his own.

When I saw that photo, I imagined a young man walking half way across Dublin lugging a portable typewriter under his arm so he could sit down in a busy pub to enjoy a pint as he wrote one of the most famous books in Irish literature. I heard the clack of the keys amidst the clink of pint glasses, the roar of laughter after a joke well told and the rustle of a paper being turned to the next news story.

Most people can't understand writing like that, in the middle of a busy pub with people bumping into you every time they pass by your seat, but I could. In fact, I can hardly write outside of a pub. When I saw that picture I felt like I knew Brendan in a way most people couldn't and I wished he was there at the end of the bar with his typewriter so I could hear the click of the keys and I would buy him as many rounds as he could drink and if he couldn't walk straight as he left the pub I would carry his typewriter home for him, if he asked me to, because I understood him. I am a pub writer just like he was.

And it was the way my father wrote too though he stopped after I was born. Neither of us had any idea genes could carry such information. I never saw him writing in a pub.

I lost my journal last weekend so I'm here beginning a new one. The journal was begun when I moved to Boston and it had over six months of memories written in it's pages but I do not believe it is any great loss at all. It was a simple story anyway. Me running away from the ghosts of a failed relationship and into the arms of a city that promised to help me forget. If ghosts had feet I might have gotten away from those bastards but we all know ghosts are not killed by drinking, fucking or driving far way from them. Still, doesn't stop you from trying.

I know what I'm saying is more than the sum of these words and these excuses or these ghosts lying around me like handkerchiefs. What I'm trying to say is something about Brendan and his typewriter and how I wrote poems on bar napkins over a pint just as my father did and it's about a lost journal of no great loss about a promised land called Boston where ghosts are not allowed to cross the borders but they do and how being alone in New Haven is really the same as being alone in Boston but you just have less people around you to share it with.

It's about me helping Brendan through the streets of Dublin with his typewriter tucked safely underneath my arm.

-- Caoimghgin
-- 08FEB06

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Scapegoats & Sin Eaters

"I give easement and rest now to thee, dear man. Come not down the lanes or in our meadows. And for thy peace I pawn my own soul. Amen." Prayer of the last sin eater of England, Richard Munslow.
I remember the first time I heard of 'sin-eaters' was during an episode called 'Sins of our Fathers'. The show first aired in 1972 on Rod Serlings' Night Gallery and the series survived in reruns for many years. The plot was set during the famine where a young Welshmen was required to feast upon the sins of Mr. Craighill to feed himself and his family. The dramatic ending of this episode is one of those artifacts of childhood that lies mostly dormant in my conscience; never fully formed but never quite without shape either.

For those not familiar with arcane Celtic folk-lore, the term 'sin-eater' refers to a person who, by an act of ritual consumption of bread and alcohol, removes the of sins of the deceased by taking those sins into himself, thereby allowing the departed to rest in peace.

The ritual was performed by the relative and the sin eater in the presence of the corpse. The sin eater would pray and receive a bowl of ale from the relative who passed the drink over the body of the deceased. A crust of bread is placed upon the chest of the corpse which is consumed by the sin eater. After praying, eating and drinking, the sin eater thereby takes the sins of the departed as his own.

One might think a profession as valuable as removing unforgiven sins might be thought of as a pretty swell guy. However, the 1926 book Funeral Customs by Bertram S. Puckle speaks of the sin-eater as a less-than-well-respected member of the community.
"Abhorred by the superstitious villagers as a thing unclean, the sin-eater cut himself off from all social intercourse with his fellow creatures by reason of the life he had chosen; he lived as a rule in a remote place by himself, and those who chanced to meet him avoided him as they would a leper."
Given the sin-eaters lowly status in society, I assume nobody asked if he'd like a second helping and was promptly shown the door as soon as his work was done, probably very late at night entering and leaving via the back door.

The occupation of sin eater is fascinating on many levels, but I haven't thought of the subject since seeing that Night Gallery episode when I was a kid. However, when a friend jokingly called me his favorite 'scapegoat' I suddenly realized I never understood why "A person selected to bear the responsibility for a calamity' was called such a strange name. This sent me in a small quest that incidentally resurrected that formless artifact of my childhood that Rod Serling was responsible for.

A scapegoat was in fact a goat, and it's function was very similar to that of the sin eater. Leviticus 16 describes an ancient jewish ceremony performed on Yom Kippur (The Day Of Atonement) where the high priest would make a sacrifice of two goats. The first goat was slain within the temple to atone for the sins of the people and the second goat was selected as the medium for which the sins of Israel was placed upon. This sin-laden goat was then led out of the temple and 'escaped' into the wilderness, which is where the term (e)scapegoat comes from. The scapegoat was likely feeling very fortunate for himself after seeing what happened to the first goat in the temple. However he would not survive for long as he was followed by members of the community and thrown off the first high cliff they came across, which ensured the sin-carrying beast couldn't carry it's cargo back to it's rightful owners.

The sin eater and the scapegoat share many similarities.
  • Both are living carriers of transgressions against God they did not commit themselves.
  • They are 'cast out' of the community and never able to return.
  • Each goes through a magic ritual that serves to remove sin and makes them vessels of those sins.
Neither the sin eater or the goat appear to have many perks for being employed in this risky and apparently thankless profession.

If you think the tradition of sin eating is barbaric, you may do well to look up the traditions of the Catholic Church which ritualizes the magical transmutation of wine and bread into the blood and body of Christ (literally, not symbolically) and encourages the consumption of this flesh and blood as a means of personal salvation.

Care for a glass of blood and a bit of flesh? Or would you consider sharing a bit of bread and some beer with a corpse for an evening? What would you decide?

There are a many unanswered questions about sin-eaters. Was the practice of sin eating a purely pagan tradition or a warped Christian phenomena or more likely a strange mix of the two? It occurs to me that the sin-eater may have been a political remnant in the battle for Pagan supremacy over the Christian bid for dominance. Perhaps 'sin eating' was created as a foil to the apparently unique Christian monopoly on absolving sins.

After thousands of years of practice, the pagan priests couldn't suddenly say, "Oh! Sin forgiveness. Yeah, we do that too." The natural response would be "And why haven't you offered that before?" However, Pagans could create a ritual which guarantees a sin-free arrival in the afterlife through transference of sin into another vessel. Provided the chain was unbroken, even the sin eaters could enter the kingdom of heaven, so long as another sin eater were available to eat his sins as well.

Could we not consider the sin-eater as an incarnation of Christ himself? Certainly not the celebrated Christ who turned water into wine or resurrected the dead but rather, the Christ who must perpetually bear the cross of other mens sins as he walks slowly, as we all do, towards mortal death. The sin eater, rather, takes on the role of the hated and maligned figure of Jesus, not the loved and celebrated savior of mankind. He suffers the stations of the cross every step of his life, abandoned and uncomforted by his community even as he offers eternal salvation to his people. It is a compelling image if one is moved by the motif of anti-hero as hero.

Unfortunately, the practice of sin eating is not a well researched aspect of folklore. The last known sin eater died in the early twentieth century and whatever answers he had went with him to the grave -- and, unfortunately for him, without another sin-eater to share a last meal with.