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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Chicago, Breaking into the Fermi Supercollidor



"We're just coming in."

Dirk Planck was referring to himself, Axle Foley, and me when he said this to the security guard at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. It's an atomic supercollidor located about an hour west of Chicago, the kind of place that people worry will some day create a black hole that will consume the earth. While no atoms had been smashed here for a few months due to a lack of funding, the facility was still actively engaged in research. Indeed, much of the research that was use to confirm the recent discovery of the Higgs-Boson particle at the Hadron supercollidor in Switzerland came from work done here.

He handed the guard his credentials: a military ID listing his name and rank. A military recruiter working out of a strip mall in Chicago, his office is wedged between a McDonald's and a Karate dojo. He is not a nuclear physicist, nor is he conducting research at Fermi.

A loss borne by science, and science alone.

Security Guard: "Alright, have a nice day."

There was a sign ahead: "No Fishing in Main Ring."




* * *

We didn't waste any time. 

I: "Dirk Planck, let's talk Higgs-Boson."

A pause. 

I: "What is it, I mean?"

Planck was unleashed. 

Planck: "In the standard model of physics, which is close to but not presently a perfect unifying theory, there are certain subatomic particles which have all been found and explain how the universe operates the way it does. The are more than sixty: quarks, photons, et cetera. The Higgs-Boson is the only one that hasn't been found. The reason it's discovery is so important is that it answers questions such as these: Why do particles have mass? Why do some particles have mass and some don't? Why do they have the mass that they do have? The idea is that fields composed of this single particle give everything mass. So if Higgs is what causes this, it verifies the standard model of physics."

We were now driving through a nature preserve that exists in the middle of the collider ring. It is populated by large cranes and a variety of smaller birds, and houses what can only be described as the greatest treehouse ever built - apparently a bird observation platform.

I: "So in order for mass to be demonstrated, it must be measured in opposition to something."

Planck: "With every particle, there is an anti-particle. So what they're saying is that with the Higgs-Boson, the next jump is being able to prove the existence of dark matter, dark energy. For example, why is there more matter than anti-matter in the universe? The two should have cancelled each other out."

I pondered the implications of dark matter: estimated to compose 84 percent of the universe, but completely unobservable to modern science. In other words, the only way the smartest people on the planet can presently explain how the universe works is to say that it is presently impossible for us to know what 84 percent of it is. 84 percent of all the matter that you see and breathe every day is unseen and unseeable to a species advanced enough to hear what the beginning of the universe sounded like and to intentionally beam signals explaining our existence to distant star clusters.

And people think Roswell and the Shroud of Turin are riddles worth trying to crack.

I: "You are familiar with the notion of flatland? A world of two dimensional beings? Does the existence  of the Higgs demonstrate a much vaster reality that we are not equipped to conceive of in the same way that a world composed of two dimensional triangles and squares would not be equipped to conceive of our own?"

Planck: "First, you have to understand that there is a one in three million chance that the data is not accurate. And even if they do conclusively demonstrate it's existence, the standard model isn't the unified theory of everything. The whole point is that this could take us further, and get us into super-symmetry, and string theory."

I: "Super-symmetry?"

A man wearing capri pants and a reflector vest jogged passed us. We took in the spectacle before resuming our discourse.

Planck: "It's the idea that there are more dimensions that we can see."

I: "I think that's what I'm getting at.*"

Planck: "It's the current leading candidate for a unified theory of everything. It's the idea that there 11 dimensions."

I: "Do you think it is possible for a solitary human mind to understand all of this?"

Planck: "It's too much to grasp. And even if you were able to come to the point where you did understand it, how would you convey that to somehow who didn't?"

I: "It's like 2001: A Space Odyssey. The idea that the technology a civilization creates must one day leave the species behind, or perhaps merge with it. And that's where you get into the idea of 'is there a soul?' And the question that if human race was to encounter intelligences that exist in more or different dimensions than we do, would we even know what we were looking at?"

Planck: "Trying to comprehend how vast the universe is and all of the forces that govern it would be impossible. It would be like trying to keep one million separate numbers in your head at the same time."

We pulled our heads out of the clouds and started taking pictures of weird buildings.

* * *

There was this one, with a Star Trek IV/Planet of The Apes III vibe. I called it "The Home Office": 



And this crowd pleaser, which we dubbed simply "The Device": 


It was getting dark, and we didn't want any further confrontations with the security guards to end badly for them. So we left. 

The talk on the drive back shifted to war stories. You see, Planck and I spent fifteen months driving Freightliner tractor trailers and hanging out at olympic swimming pools in Mesopotamia together. And Foley had recently returned from twelve months which saw him get shot by Taliban while living in an abandoned schoolhouse with a group of Americans and Afghans. 

Poole/Planck: 

"Do you remember when so-and-so hooked up with so-and-so?"

"And how much the flash of IEDs exploding looked like red light cameras taking your picture so they can give you a ticket?" 

Foley:

"One time we were stuck on top of a mountain with no food or water for three days. The day before, we shelled a hilltop we kept taking fire from with close to forty mortar rounds." 

"Afghanistan smells like feces and jet fuel." 

Planck waited until shortly before we retired for the evening to drop this bomb on us. One which tied the whole room together: 

Planck: "My grandfather was in the Army back in the fifties." 

I: "Oh yeah? Korea?" 

Planck: "No. He was used as a test subject in nuclear detonations in New Mexico. He said that the safety brief they received went like this: 'Turn your back to the explosion. Once the flash of light goes away, turn back around so you can get hit by the blast wave.' He died of a weird form of cancer." 

Foley spoke. 

Foley: "Damn, dude. That's fucked up." 

* * *

We linked up with my friend Courtesan the following night, at a lounge on the 95th floor of the John Hancock building. We met at a wedding a few years ago. She is a software consultant who does stage acting on the side, including a role in a recent production of Reefer Madness

Our conversation focused on life in Chicago: the neighborhood loyalty, the local cuisine, the city's ethnic composition. Cubs fans versus Sox fans. The conversation was fascinating, insights from a native that the two of us were happy to receive. But I couldn't help but feel my gaze drawn back towards the west. 

Towards Fermi. 

The place where humanity's brightest were at work on unlocking the secrets of the universe. Questions such as "why is it currently impossible for us to know what 84 percent of the universe is?" The notion that the country, indeed the very city, that unleashed the world's first sustained nuclear chain reaction, was forced to play second fiddle to the European Union in unlocking the most significant scientific discovery of the past several decades. 

I thought of Planck's grandfather, crouching in the desert and waiting for the light to go away so he could turn around and take an atomic blast like a man.

I once had a conversation with Lord Juggernatha about what the most badass possible way to die would be. I proposed the following:

I: "A catastrophic nuclear exchange has occurred. The ICBM's are in the air, but have not yet impacted. You grab a lawn chair, cooler full of cheap beer, and a stereo. You take yourself and these things to the roof of the closest building. Playing Bocelli's rendering of Ave Maria on a loop, you sip the beer and watch our race become extinguished by it's own hand."

He has yet to best me.

I looked out to the west and thought of guys wearing uniforms just like the ones Foley and I used to wear, and the one we saw Planck wearing the next day* pushing the respective buttons in underground command centers at various points across the globe. A sense of tragic catharsis brought to the human experiment, some shedding of tears. Maybe in some alternate past, maybe in our own future.

I couldn't shake Ave Maria from my mind.



______________________________________________________________________________

* I was the only person in the car who knew that "this is what I'm getting at" meant "currently the entire purpose of my life."

* I attempted to fraudulently enlist as a supposed convicted felon with no GED at Planck's recruiting office. I did not acknowledge that I knew Planck, who was sitting immediately behind me the entire time. His colleague was not eager to enlist me, which ruined the entire joke.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Toronto, Lord HOD receives our instructions from The Interface, and the Greatness of Human Endeavor



Those blessed with high functioning autism are fantastic people to spend time with. Especially if they are helping you navigate Toronto's social scene.

Axle Foley and I met a man named Brian at a microbrewery on Toronto's King Street, in the long shadow of the city's landmark CN Tower. He was dressed like a white collar professional, albeit one with mutton chop sideburns. Slightly pressured speech, but no other immediately visible indicators of the vast power of the man's intellect to retain information.

I: "Hey man, where do we get good grub around here?"

Brian enumerated half a dozen nearby dining establishments in ascending order of how expensive their menus were, what menu items they were known for, and provided precise walking directions to each. He explained that he was grabbing a beer before heading to a Goth bar for a sort of Depeche Mode/The Smiths retro night.

I: "Wow, thanks man, I really appreciate the advice. I can tell you know your way around Toronto."

Then we noticed the Jesse Ventura book he had brought to the bar, one checked out from a public library on the north side of town. This was when things started getting interesting.

Brian: "He raises some good points, but I don't buy into a lot of it man. I just think it's awesome that he's gotten to a point where he can say anything he wants and he'll still have credibility. He was a SEAL, he starred in Predator, and he was governor of a state. He'll always be around."

A fascinating person to be fascinated by.

I leaned at Axle, and noted that Brian reminded me of one of our mutual friends.

Brian: "Does your friend have autism? Because I do."

Interesting.

Brian: "You know, you guys are pretty cool for normos."

Normos?

Brian: "It's what we call normal people."

I asked Brian to never again refer to me as a normal person and we left the microbrewery. He was greeted with a smile by each doorman, offered a personal history of each bartender, who they were dating, who their friends were, what crowd they rolled with. A man about town.

Brian: "So you guys aren't nose candy types. I don't get that vibe from you."

Observant. He had sensed the truly interdimensional nature of our travels. As we walked to the Goth bar, we popped into a head shop. I didn't know what to expect really, but it was clear our new friend was a regular.

Brian: "These guys are with me."

The owner opened up a sort of trap door, and pulled out a bag.

Brian: "It's the powdered root of a tree found in the Amazon."

I knew what kind of tree root it was. It was the kind we were looking for. And Brian knew that I knew he knew it was the kind of tree root we were looking for.

We went to the Goth bar. Brian was in his element, he knew that he had done his part to send us on our way. We said exchanged goodbyes after a perhaps thirty minutes of strobing green laser light and costumed steampunkers.

* * *

We headed back to a different bar on King Street called Hush. We had chilled with the bartenders there earlier in the day, discussing our trip and getting a feel for the city. We had the familiar "yes, Canada is better than America in those ways but America is better in these ways" conversation I had become accustomed to while living on the northern frontier for two years. The place was really more of a high end cocktail bar than the sort of beer pitcher place we were looking for, but whatever. We spent an hour talking talking to a Swedish dude while he fixed a broken skateboard so we chilled there even if we were slightly underdressed.

Have you ever heard about how nice Canadians are? They are actually much nicer than that. Having spent no more than a few hours in Toronto, we were confronted with three competing offers of a place to stay: one from a bartender named Katie, one from an Air Canada flight attendant named Anne, one from Brian. "I don't want to see you guys pay for parking, just park behind my apartment! So, you're looking for that kind of place? Go here, I'll write out directions for you!" It was impossible to believe they didn't have some ulterior motive.

Like maple syrup, their influence was seeping into our veins.

Two o'clock in the morning rolled around and we were still at Hush. A crowd had grown. It turned out that Hush was a major hang out for the Air Canada crowd. We ended up taking Anne up on her offer a place to crash, and followed her to her apartment on hipster-ish Ausington street. She shared it with one other flight attendant, and a former flight attendant who now worked at Hush. The place had a rooftop terrace affording a spectacular view of Toronto's skyline. We watched the alternating colors flood the CN tower in the distance, sometimes pulsing sometimes solid, and killed a bottle of wine.

The sun was coming up.

* * *

We said our goodbyes and bailed, stopping at a weird truckstop south of town that had been built to look like it was in west Texas. It's logo was a Conastoga Wagon.

This is when Lord HOD began speaking to me. It's manner of speech is actually quite similar to the language spoken by the prawns of District 9, only drowned in engine oil. It's big into riddles.

Lord HOD: "Take me to The Interface. There I will receive our instructions."

The Interface? We looked at the map.

I: "You speak of Detroit, Lord HOD?"

When the Harbinger of Doom responds in the affirmative, it's awesome. It just guides my hand to drop down into fourth and accelerates violently. Kind of like using a Ouija board.

When it responds in the negative, it's terrifying. It veers violently to the left, then to the right, paying no mind to safety of nearby motorists. A kind of "I can't deal with you being my driver any more."

Lord HOD: "The Interface is not in Detroit."

Luckily for us, Canadian drivers are psychotically friendly and assumed that they were at fault as we ran them off the road, waving their apologies as we proceeded west.

Then we looked closer. It was so simple. It was IN the map: Windsor, Ontario, just across the river from Detroit. South of Detroit, actually, the one occurrence of this anomaly on the entire U.S.-Canadian border.

Site of the Chrysler assembly line where Lord HOD left the ninth dimension to enter our reality in November, 2009.

We dropped into fourth and made haste.

* * *

While finding Windsor is easy, finding the Chrysler assembly line proved more difficult. So we picked up a hitchhiker, a middle aged man with glasses, light blue jean shorts and New Balance walking sneakers. 

I: "We'll give you an apple, a bottle of water, and a ride down the road if you can tell us the way to the Chrysler assembly line in Windsor." 

Hitchiker: "Uh, yeah man, I can get you there." 

Axle and I looked at each other. 

I: "Okay. Hop in." 

He wasn't going in quite the same direction, so we dropped him off at a Petro Canada gas station. I provided him with the apple and bottle of water, and he in turn pledged to draw me a map to the assembly line. We walked into the station's convenience store. 

What our hitchhiker provided was not so much a map as it was a young child's crayon-drawn scribbling. The problem wasn't that he didn't want to help us deliver Lord HOD to The Interface. It was that he appeared to be wildly schizophrenic. I finally just thanked him and wished him safe travels.

The station's attendant had been patiently watching us interact. Just as I was about to leave myself, he spoke and drew my attention to a map he had behind the counter. I noticed that his name tag read "Farraz." 

Farraz: "The Chrysler assembly line is located here, at Tecumseh and Walker. The entrance is off of Chrysler Circle. You are coming from Toronto, do you work at the plant there?" 

He spoke like a man from humanity's leadership caste, and seemed to hold great contempt for those who worked at plants in Toronto.

I: "No. We are on a road trip out west. I drive a Dodge Challenger that was built there in 2009. Did you work at that plant?"

Farraz: "I have a masters degree in Mechanical Engineering from FED University in Pakistan. I designed jet engines at a plant in Toronto. But I was just laid off, so now I work here."

He may even have designed the engines for some of the airframes that our flight attendant friends from Toronto had flown in.

It turned out that Farraz was desperately trying to emigrate to the U.S., where he explained that the economy is much more favorable to his sector. But he had problems, you see, because of the inanity of the U.S. immigration system. One which affords no incentive for highly skilled laborers to immigrate to the country, but rather exists as a lottery system which essentially awards work visas at random.

I put a coke on the counter, a token of gratitude for his help. He said goodbye, but didn't give me any change back. This was weird; he didn't seem like the kind of guy to keep a customer's change.

I: "Was that coke more than two dollars?"

Farraz: "It was $2.50. I just don't care."

He smiled. Bigger things to worry about.

I got the fifty cents from my car and gave it to him. We left.

* * * 



The Interface.

The vast machines within expelled smoke and steady, rhythmic hum. Once we were within sight, Lord HOD piloted itself to the secured access point from which it had rolled off the line into this reality nearly two years ago, in a spectacle which closing resembled Kyle Reese's time travel sequence in Terminator.

The clouds stopped moving in the sky. And the birds along with them. It was just the three of us now.

The hum rose to terrifying cacophony, like a much more badass interpretation of the radio signal from the Vegans:


Lord HOD: "Now we will go to Detroit. From there, to the place where the sun meets the earth and all is crystal."

This was not a game. We crossed the Ambassador Bridge back into the United States.

* * * 

Despite everything I've ever heard about Detroit, I was not ready for how truly post-Apocalyptic the place. Miles of abandoned buildings and factories. Roving motorcycle gangs doing wheelies and they run red lights through the middle of traffic. The worst roads I have ever seen in North America.

We pulled into a gas station. A man who drove a Jaguar lifted onto 20 inch rims walked past me and said, "where you think you at, big child?" 

I looked behind to see who he was talking to. There was no one but me. 

Lord HOD spoke. 

LH: "Tell him that I, Ba'al HOD, Preserver and Destroyer am the patron of this city. And that you are with me." 

By the time I recovered from how knowledge that not only was my car a Canaanite god, but the Canaanite god of the very city that we happened to be in at that time, the man had left.

Independent groups of teenagers were now approaching to converse with me: 

Teenager 1: "Let that mafucka rip for me one time." 

Teenager 2: "I know it look good, but do it go fast?" 

One of these teenagers mentioned that he worked at the Chrysler plant and was saving up to buy a Challenger. This made me think of Henry Ford's original idea of ensuring that his employees would be paid well enough to buy the cars they made, a concept in which every player in the economy left as a winner. The kind of common sense thinking that represented my country at it's best. 

Detroit is not a city like Toronto, where outsiders comment "I can't believe it how clean everything is here!" and locals kiss each other goodbye on either cheek. No, this was a city of sweat, tears, and toil.

And pools, entire oceans, of blood.

The last thing we saw before we left Detroit was "The First of a Champion," the city's monument to Joe Louis. We burned out. 


* * * 

We made it to Ann Arbor that night. 

At a bar there on the city's main strip, we met a group of ironworkers who were in town for a convention. Although we began talking when I overheard them mentioning stupid gas station names and offered the Southeast's El Cheapo as a contestant, the talk quickly shifted to the assault launched on organized labor in nearby Wisconsin. 

"Scott Walker is a union buster. Pure and simple. Teachers, firefighters, or guys like us. He's trying to dismantle the unions that created the middle class and made this country great." 

Another shared the story about his first job as a ironworker, one in which he worked as an independent contractor rather than seeking union membership. He had watched a man get cooked alive inside a steam room because the plant's manager wanted to keep the construction job on schedule and had not checked to make sure that all the workers had vacated the facility before hitting the go switch. A tragedy he was adamant would not have occurred had it been working in a union.

They were staying in nearby college dorms for the conference, the students having left for the summer. Learning that we were respectively Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, they were eager to help us find a place to crash for the night.  

Jay had an Ice Cube like demeanor. The kind of guy who always has a toothpick in his mouth simply to dare others to ask him why. He advised us what to do if we were confronted with any campus security guards who asked us why we were sleeping in an empty study lounge: 

Jay: "Anybody give you any shit, you tell 'em you're with Local 498. And if they ask you again, you tell 'em to come see my ass."

These dudes were true badasses. They made me want to become an ironworker.

As we slept on the floor that night, I thought of Farraz. Of the young man in Detroit who was saving to buy a Challenger. Of the boys of Local 498. 

And I thought of Joe Louis' fist hammering forward across the Detroit River towards Windsor, unleashing it's power into the same inter-dimensional rift that rendered Lord HOD unto this reality.

The power of the human endeavor. 





Monday, July 16, 2012

He Who Controls The Spice, Controls the Empire State



It is said the the age of European empires began as a search for spice. The voyages of Columbus, search for the Northwest Passage, et cetera. Their food was so terrible they knew there had to be a better way.

A driving tour of upstate New York affords the opportunity to view the age of American preeminence through the same lens.

A few days ago I watched a 554 foot freighter, the Alouette Spirit, transit the Eisenhower lock in Massena  on it's way from Montreal to Oswego with a load of aluminum ore. There was nothing particularly remarkable about the vessel itself, only the infrastructure which allowed it to move the aluminum. You see, the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 transformed sleepy lake towns like Cleveland, Duluth, and even Thunder Bay, Ontario, at the northwestern extreme of Lake Superior, into deepwater seaports.

Deepwater seaports upwards of 2,300 miles inland, at the furthest extreme of North America's freshwater inland seas, capable of accommodating vessels close to a thousand feet long. Grainers, ore carriers. And freighters, like this 750 footer which succumbed to a restless Lake Superior in November 1975 with the loss of all 29 hands:


May they know peace in their slumber.

However impressive the idea of these ports may be, they pissed a lot of people off. That's because the Erie Canal was responsible for the rise of cities like Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and Albany. And for the ascendence of New York city to global juggernaut status. Indeed, the Erie Canal is why the expression "Empire State" exists. Gotham's influence was able to extend into the Midwest, Buffalo being the gateway for grain and livestock to flow east while manufactured goods flowed west. It enabled Buffalo to become Chicago, before Chicago was Chicago. While railroads had rendered the canal largely obsolete by 1959, the St. Lawrence Seaway represented the final nail in it's riverine coffin. And of the economies of the cities and towns which had earned New York state such an impressive nickname.

I have piloted the HOD through these dying Erie Canal towns. From Massena down through Chittenango and Canastota, where the water has grown fetid and its banks overgrown. Skate parks, American Legion posts. Shirtless, tattooed young men tending to baby strollers fish in these waters, their prospective catch seeking refuge amongst reefs of shopping carts and discarded 16oz Big Gulps.

And there are lots of Chinese buffets. After three centuries, the people of these towns have succeeded in doing what their forebears dreamed of for so many years: they brought the cuisine of Orient to their doorstep.

Rome is home to Fort Stanwix, site of the 1768 treaty between the British and the Iroquois which sought to stave off the increasing grumbling from the colonists for land west of the Royal Proclamation Line of 1763. This line established the Appalachian mountains as the supposedly eternal boundary of British expansion into the Americas in recognition for the Iroquois' assistance in defeating the French during the Seven Years War.

British General, likely wearing lady makeup: "Just trust us. A little more land won't hurt, just to get these colonists to shut up. You guys know how much they like to whine just as well as we do."

That the British didn't just give them everything on the map, and that they were even doing business with the Iroquois in the first place, pissed off the colonists so badly that it created two entire grievances enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. You may have heard the "all men are created equal part," but does the part about how King George "has excited domestic insurrections against us, has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages," ring a bell? Thomas Jefferson could largely thank Fort Stanwix for that outburst.

A reminder of just how well this treaty panned out for the Iroquois lies a few miles down the road, in the heart of Rome. It is the hulking frame of a B-52 Stratofortress, a legacy of the age when the likes of Dr. Strangelove's Major Kong piloted the airframe out of Griffiss Air Force Base on nuclear patrols to the north pole. Standing watch for doomsday.



The drive now took me west towards Syracuse, where I picked up my traveling companion Axle Foley (imagine the opposite of Axle Foley). After exchanging pleasantries and cruising through the finger lakes for a few miles, we followed the setting sun onto I-90. Rome's name belies upstate New York's antiquity naming scheme: towns like Rome, Syracuse, Greece, Carthage, Palmyra. The people who named these towns did seem to truly buy into the idea of a new beginning for humanity. This desire played itself out in the mid 1840s, when the Erie Canalway served as America's first Bible Belt, the place where the Seventh Day Adventists and even the Mormons got their start. You can even visit the site where the angel Moroni revealed to Joseph Smith the location of the golden tablets detailing Christ's appearance in the Americas today in Palmyra - America's most literal Mecca.

The only reason the St. Lawrence Seaway is not considered the greatest American engineering feat of the twentieth century is because it was overshadowed by another Eisenhower project: the Interstate Highway system. An undertaking so vast that it took 35 years to complete and is considered to be the most impressive feat of engineering in the history of the world.

That's how out of control Ike was at building things: Xerxes and Hadrian out of control. 

Now, after hours of exploring Eisenhower's most enduring legacies, we found ourselves in Buffalo. This city is full of strange art deco-style buildings here that look like they belong in Batman: The Animated Series: a tower with dueling Statues of Liberty mounted on the superstructure, their torches alight and welcoming travelers from both east and west. An obelisk dedicated to a forgotten local hero, standing beneath a massive building with Egyptian-looking patterns adorning it's crown. Remnants of the cities golden age. Ships passing through the Seaway's Wellend Canal just on the Canadian side of the border in an effort to avoid the modest but inconvenient waterfall at Niagra. Perhaps even the Alouette Spirit. 

Buffalo is home to the place where this entire narrative of canals, seaways, highways, and 16 oz. Big Gulps comes together: Frank and Teressa's Anchor Bar, where the Buffalo wing was invented in 1964.

Together we devoured a plate of fifty mixed hot and mild wings - an atomic blast of cayenne pepper, vinegar, and blue cheese. I thought of the ways in which this one recipe has impacted my life. There was the time I witnessed Lord Juggernatha eat 73 wings in one sitting* at an all-you-can-eat affair in suburban Maryland in 2002. Or when I snuck wings laced with pepper spray into a batch of mild wings in a fun prank I played on my friends during a football game.

I thought of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson's observation that "for every moment of triumph, for every instance of beauty, many souls must be trampled." Or in this case, dozens of young chickens, trampled for the enjoyment of two benefactors of an empire which can sail ocean-going ships 2300 miles inland and fly nuclear bombers above the north pole poised on a hair trigger to destroy the earth and everything on it if ordered to do so. A balance of terror, designed to protect the American consumer's life of comfort without precedent. 

He who controls the spice, controls the Empire State.



______________________________________________________________________________

* Lord Juggernatha's triumph has been plagued for a decade by accusations of half-eaten wings, entirely miscounted wings, and other foul play. Competing estimates place his total in the neighborhood of 60-65 wings.




Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The End of the Eastern Seaboard: Vikings, Extraterrestrials, and the Tyrannosaur Moose.




Have you ever spent hours staring into the starfield screensaver? The one where you discover that your computer from the year 1996 has all along been a vessel careening through deep space at tremendous speed?

I haven't.

But I have driven through northern New Brunswick in the middle of the night with Manhattan Socialite - an experience which mirrors the kind of warp travel we just examined above. Instead of hurling past billions of stars one to four pixels in circumference, there are trees. More trees than you can imagine. A truly howling wilderness. For hundreds of miles nothing but trees and road.

Trees, road, and the two of us discussing topics on this midnight burn through the coniferous starfield.

Afghanistan. Brooklyn's pickling scene. How the complimentary trajectories of information technology and three dimensional printing will render teleportation a reality in the near future. We talked a lot about Canada's vast array of highly detailed and specific roadside information signs: Boeing 737 big plane airports, Cessna 172 small plane airports; Kenworth big-size tow trucks, Ford Super Duty medium-size tow trucks; movie theaters as indicated by the frowning/smiling mask duo, et cetera. In contrast to their counterparts in the Land of The Free, these signs do not show crudely drawn models. They show specific design schematics, plans which could be used build things in a high-stakes building things situation.

Manhattan Socialite explaining how as a person he is "like a combination of both the frowning classical drama mask, AND the smiling classical drama mask, become one. One mask comprised both of smiling and frowning faces*."

Careening through the tree tunnel.

But now there was a warning sign, a bright yellow "Hazardous And Strange Conditions Ahead." Cause for concern. We couldn't make out what is was at first.

* * *

A few days earlier the two of us met on a rooftop terrace in Montreal and decided take a road trip. Manhattan Socialite was on vacation from his summer job as a contracted mercenary in Kabul, myself being unemployed for three months and looking for new ways to annihilate my savings*. We would drive in my 15 year old Mitsubishi Montero.

Designed for competition in Senegal's perilous Dakar Rally, the SR model I owned had been fielded in American markets in the early days of the SUV craze - an effort to challenge Land Rover's dominance of the "you too can make people think you go on safaris all the time!" market. The vehicle had not benefitted from even a cursory mechanical once-over in nearly a year, which would complicate things as the trip went on.

So what now? We discussed killing a week in Montreal. Or exploring the bar scene in Halifax or St. Johns.

I: "Instead of that, we should go to a small town in Nova Scotia called Shag Harbour. It is three hours west of Halifax and was the site of a prominent UFO sighting in October, 1967. There is a museum that has news clippings about the incident plastered across it's walls."

MS: "Ummm."

Manhattan Socialite shrugged. Like he was in the know. To support this pretension he had placed three beers on ice in the middle of the table which lay between us, like they were bottles of champagne. I think he felt this improved his negotiating position.

I: "Did you know there are two French islands off the coast of Newfoundland? Not Quebec. France. They're called St. Pierre and Miquelon."

Another shrug. Socialite sipped one of the beers, some microbrew with a moose on the label.

Then it hit me.

I: "We will drive to the end of the world."

Detroit? No.

I: "There was a Viking settlement at the northern tip of Newfoundland a thousand years ago. There is a museum there now, with some swords and a reconstruction of a house made from dirt. I remember reading about it in a free online encyclopedia."

Manhattan Socialite nodded. Again like he was in the know. He made a "please, continue," kind of rolling hand wave - he does that.

With the contractual formalities out of the way, we pinpointed the location of the site on Google maps. 1500 miles north by road of my departure point in the wastes of upstate NY - the equivalent of a drive to Miami and back.

I: "It's in a place called L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. The northern tip of the island, as in 'next stop: Greenland.' I think the first eight letters are silent. It's the earliest known site of Pre-Columbian European settlement in the Americas. Viking experts say Leif Ericsson named it 'Vinland.'"

We phoned our friend Lurch to let him know where we were going. Not only is he a Viking expert, he believes that he actually is a Viking who has lived for eight centuries (give or take). This was his sincere response:

L: "That is the most impressive thing I've ever heard."

You are wrong, dear reader, in your assumption. This was not the first time that travel to the northernmost frontier in Newfoundland was lauded with such vigor. Exactly one other person in human history has reacted the same way when confronted with the notion of travel there, and we would find out who it was who it was a week later.

* * *

It was a sign depicting a 25 foot tall moose glaring menacingly down into the passenger side window of a 1980s Volkswagen sedan. Kind of like in this sign. But bigger. And at night.

A Tyrannosaur moose.

Given the attention to detail we had seen the people of Canada invest into the accuracy of their roadside signology, we were forced to confront the unsettling truth:

This sign casually notified motorists that they were entering the realm of a forgotten subfamily of Pleistocene Megafauna. Moose better suited for a Siberian nature preserve of the near future, grazing alongside cloned mastodons and saber-toothed cats.

We steeled ourselves to the possibility of an encounter and pulled into a roadside Holiday Inn ten miles north of Halifax. It was 3:00 am.

* * * 

Shag Harbour is a village of some 400 people lying on an inlet at the far southwestern tip of Nova Scotia. There are lots of pine trees and the beaches consist of rocks and pine needles in various stages of decay. It's economy consists of lobster fishing. 

Lobster fishing, and niche tourism associated with something very strange that happened above and below the water here in October, 1967. While Socialite rigged up a stereo cassette adapter so we could listen to his iPod full of recorded Brooklynites incorporating West African drum rhythms into their indie tracks (it's gonna be the next big thing, trust him),  I explained the back story. 

I: "On the night of October 4th, 1967, four teenagers heard an explosion there and saw a luminous object make a controlled descent onto the Gulf of Maine a few hundred feet off the coast. They reported this to the local detachment of Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Dutifully responding to the report of a potential plane crash, Mounties arrived at the site and promptly reported their observations of an object that was *maybe?* a crashed plane to their dispatch center while watching it sink beneath the waves. The Canadian military was notified, divers were sent to the crash site who reportedly found nothing. The Canadian FAA confirmed that no planes had crashed in Nova Scotia the previous night. That is where the official account of the incident ends, available to the public through archival evidence." 

MS: "So, please do tell. Where does the...unofficial...account pick up?" 

I: "Over the past twenty years, several men claiming to have been members of said Canadian dive team have put forward a most curious second act to this story. They state that not only was an object of unknown construction found resting beneath the waves in Shag Harbour, but that it executed a rapid subsurface transit up the coast of Nova Scotia to link up with an identical craft at the site of an American sonar beacon emplaced to detect Soviet submarines lurking in the North Atlantic. They claim that a number of American and Canadian vessels were then dispatched to determine what was going on - I want you to know that I imagine this scene resembling a naval flotilla from the computer game Red Alert 2. The craft eventually disappeared, and that is where the unofficial account ends." 

MS: "Right." 

He turned to me. 

MS: "I loved that game. Red Alert 2."

A signpost up ahead. "UFO Museum." We pulled in.

Cindy Nickerson, the Museum's delightful and informative curator, was surprised to see two visitors walk in so near closing time - we were beginning to appreciate the vast geographic scope of the Maritimes and had underestimated the drive from Halifax. Making apologies for our late arrival and explaining that we had driven a great distance, she gladly agreed to give us a tour.

The museum was indeed lined with news clippings (I had made this fact up in my earlier conversation with Manhattan Socialite, banking on my previous experience in Kecksburg, Pennsylvania last summer as a guide). But not limited to them, and certainly not just to those from 1967.

New York Times, September 17, 1887:

"SPECTACLE WITNESSED AT BARRINGTON AND HALIFAX"

The caption next to a grainy photograph:

"What is often believed to be the earliest photograph of a UFO, this photo wa taken near the summit of Mount Washington, New Hampshire in 1870."

Elementary school children's class projects relating to the incident featuring graphs, hand-drawn sketches, and images printed from internet photo searches pasted to neon colored poster boards displayed prominently.

Cindy had only recently taken over responsibility as curator for the museum - while she had not witnessed the events in question herself, she was childhood friends with one of those who had. As such she had pledged to him to carry the torch forward as curator shortly before his death. As her tour continued, we saw exhibits all of the principal local actors, many of whom had collaborated on books about their experience with authors prominent in the field of UFO research. Cindy explained her personal connections to each exhibit as we went along.

And then she began explaining some of the stranger encounters she has had during her time at the museum. Men claiming to work for a secretive agency within the Canadian government devoted to the study of unidentified flying objects. Other men claiming to have encountered U.S. Air Force personnel in the dead of night who had arrived to discourage them from further discussing what they had seen in 1967.

Manhattan Socialite and I nodded with her.

By now, a 19 year old student named Carmen was assisting with the tour. It was her first day interning at the museum in a program sponsored by the local government, a summer job before completing her certification in medical records management. She offered a conclusive, personal account of the event's significance in local lore:

C: "When you're growing up in Shag Harbour or Wood's Harbour, everybody knows the story. We drive by the incident site every day. There's no doubt that something did happen on that night."

There was no better way to bring our guided tour to an end. I bought a book and a ball cap. Manhattan Socialite bought a postcard which he forgot to get from me before the trip ended.

On our way out, we noticed perhaps the most poignant of the news clippings. A personal interest article about Cindy's father, a man who had been something of a local icon: 

"Fished lobster for over 70 years." 

We drove to a nearby lobster shack. I had lobster poutine, Socialite a lobster roll. It was here that he asked me a question no one ever had before: 

MS: "So why does this stuff interest you? UFOs, Bigfoot. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm as interested in the folklore of southwestern Nova Scotia as the next guy. But it seems like you're actually looking for something." 

I'd never actually considered this point. It seemed so evident to me - that I was looking for the same something that Carmen had referred to in the museum a half hour earlier. A tangible thing that could be demonstrated to exist, or knowledge of it. Whatever the explanation of such phenomena were - swamp gas, men in ape suits, creaky old houses; unknown intelligences, cryptozoological primates, electromagnetic discharges of the soul - I was fascinated by the idea that things do have explanations, sometimes weird ones. That once you scrape away the background noise associated with confusing events, there is truth to be found. Like how the American Revolution was fought in part because people believed the taxes King George II was imposing on the colonies were designed to establish a Catholic dictatorship, when really he just wanted to pay for forts he was building in the Appalachians. 

But are the respective studies of history and the paranormal really that similar? Was the explanation for my fascination with the unknown really as simple as scraping truth away from nonsense? I readjusted.

I: "I think what fascinates me is the possibility that much of reality is unknown and unseen, but that it is nonetheless still possible for unassuming, unsuspecting people to interface with that mystery at times not of their choosing."

MS: "I was just in a firefight in Afghanistan where I took cover behind a rock while being shot at. When the fight was over, I got up and looked around. There was a near exact outline of the rock, made in bullet holes, in the wall behind me. So if I were to see something inexplicable in the sky tonight, how ought that shape my life any differently?"

Socialite leaned back in his chair, impressed with his paranormal play on the "there are atheists in the foxhole" maxim.

I: "I think what it really comes down to is this: I am fascinated by an experience's scarcity. Why do people pay lots of money for diamonds? Why do people drive to the tip of Newfoundland to see reconstructed Viking longhouses?"

A shrug.

MS: "Fair enough."



We drove back to Halifax and went to several bars that night. It turns out it's a lot like Portland, Oregon.

***

I: "So you're saying the highway just ends at the ferry? As in we drive onto the ferry from the end of the highway?"

Newfoundland is an island, which complicated the drive. I was on the phone with an agent of Marine Atlantic, Incorporated, a firm which incidentally has a lock on the Nova Scotia to Newfoundland ferry market. 

MA,I: "Yes, that's correct. The highway ends at the ferry." 

With this information in hand, we set out for Sydney, NS, following the purchase of a Halifax Mooseheads T-Shirt for my cousin. 

And after five more hours of tree tunnel, there it was as promised. The only thing standing between the terminus of Provincial Highway 105 from the open mouth of an ocean-going, roll-on roll-off car ferry was a toll booth, and a sign proclaiming the following: 

MARSEC LEVEL 1 
NIVEAU 1 

RESTRICTED AREA 
ZONE A ACCES RESTREINT 

MARSEC Level 1? Restricted area? This sounded serious. Luckily for us, we had people on the inside. People at Marine Atlantic, Incorporated. So we soon found ourselves inside the Zone a Acces Restreint, ascending a ramp into the vessel's cavernous cargo hold like Jonah, son of Amittai swallowed into belly of the Leviathan.

There are restaurants, rooms with beds and showers, souvenir shops, and bars in car ferries of this size. So once we found our room, we headed for the bar. There we met our first denizen of Newfoundland, our first exposure to the strange culture of this place.

Some history is now required.  

Newfoundland was not politically speaking a part of Canada until 1949. As recently as 1934, Newfoundland was it's very own island nation: an independent Dominion of the British Commonwealth, as were Australia, New Zealand, and Canada itself. In 1934, however, the good cod fisherman of Newfoundland joined a very elite club: that of nations which have voluntarily renounced their own independence in favor of direct rule from London.

In 1949 however, the gracious King George VI (undoubtedly seeking to avoid another costly colonial entanglement in North America), afforded those same cod fisherman the opportunity to do the common sense thing and just become a province of Canada. 

And the rest is history. 

Now Manhattan Socialite and I were sitting at a bar on a car ferry, preparing to brave the high seas. MARSEC 1 seas, to be precise (mers de MARSEC 1). 

Socialite broke the ice with the bartender. 

MS: "So we were wondering...how exactly to people around here pronounce the name of this town we are sailing for tonight? Port Aux Basque?" 

Bartender: "That's easy, boy. Porta-bask." 

She sounded Irish, like a character from Snatch. Not Canadian at all. 

I: "I've heard there are legends that the Basque used to come here from Europe to fish off the Grand Banks? Like way before Columbus, or even the Vikings were here." 

Bartender: "The Basque?" 

I didn't follow up on the colloquial pronunciation of L'Anse Aux Meadows. There was time yet for that. The MARSEC 1 swell turned out to be disappointing, nothing worthy of a Sebastian Junger book. 
The whole boat ride was really kind of anticlimactic. 

*** 

Newfoundland looks more like pictures of Iceland than the Nova Scotian tree tunnel. It's spectacular, actually. Sure, you've got your forests. But you also have lots of rocks overgrown with lichens. Pools of standing water, true basins of primordial soup. Beaches with coniferous trees that have been worn rust red from the sea air and warped by the wind into a kind of low-lying banzai canopy that slips down onto beaches of volcanic slate. Icebergs, hundred foot long icebergs, flowing out of the Gulf of St. Lawrence into the Atlantic.



And increasingly menacing moose warning signs. Like this:



Or this lesson in cause and effect:


Big deal, right? This wasn't our first rodeo with large animals posing driving hazards. Socialite had grown up dodging free range cattle on the prairies. And I, herds of Mid-Atlantic white tailed deer entirely oblivious to the driving hazards posed to them by motorists.

But then, there was this:


Miles of twenty-foot tall moose fencing area. With no moose in sight. 

Socialite beat me to the punch with a Jurassic Park reference. 

MS: "T. Rex doesn't want to be fed. He wants to hunt." 

*** 

The "Viking Trail" begins in a town called Deer Lake, where Route 430 splits off the Trans-Canada Highway and leads the brave north to L'Anse Aux Meadows. It's beginning is heralded by a sign showing a Viking longship plying an angry sea. This sign rises above a collection of mobile homes, and is just down the road from Gloria's Bed & Breakfast, an establishment which proudly advertises it's "2 and a half star rating."

The credentials of the rating agency were not specified. 

We drove past the cliffs and savannah of Gros Marne National Park. Tiny fishing villages with no roads, no driveways, and haphazardly scattered houses. We happened upon and investigated the wreck of the Atlantic Endeavor, a vessel which ran aground in seas surpassing even MARSEC Level 1*.

Somewhere along this stretch of road, perhaps agitated that we had yet to spot a Tyrannosaur moose, I vomited the words "mountain lion! Turn back around!" at Socialite. 

MS: "Mountain lion?" 

I: "Yeah, mountain lion I think." 

I had seen a cat-like animal in the treeline near the road that I thought was a lynx(?). But I couldn't remember the word for "lynx" or even "bobcat" at the time, so I had just shouted "mountain lion!"

Socialite was confident I had not seen a mountain lion, and eager to disprove my claim, turned around. 

After a few minutes of tracking in the bush, I saw him. A nice, brown, kitty-cat. 

A solitary, feral, domesticated cat stalking the wilderness of central Newfoundland, dozens of miles away from any sign of the hominids it was supposed to rely on for survival. A sight perhaps even stranger than a lynx(?). 

MS: "I told you it wasn't a mountain lion." 

But our little safari had started me to thinking. 

I: "You did indeed, Ranger Rick. But this discovery begs the question: you know how prides of lions will have like twenty five females, but only one male? What happens to all the male lions who get rejected from the pride?" 

MS: "I think they just go away, and live a life in exile." 

Had we seen an exiled domestic cat lion? 

A signpost up ahead. One built with giant wooden stakes in an effort to make it look like it had been built by Vikings: 

WELCOME TO VINLAND.

* * * 

It was early afternoon in mid-June and the thermometer on my dashboard read 39 degrees Farenheit. The sky had grown gray and descended upon the road. L'Anse Aux Meadows was truly a place worthy of Norsemen. 

We walked into the museum, a new facility staffed by Parks Canada Rangers. 

Park Ranger: "Welcome to Lansa Meadows National Historic Site. Here is the map for the self-guided tour." 

So that was how they said it. Lansa Meadows. 



We guided ourselves to the reconstructed Viking longhouse, just east of the scattered mounds of dirt where spears and nails that look like Viking spears and nails have been dug up. Inside this house, we met a man dressed like a Viking who explained the tale of Vinland. 

Erik the Red was exiled from Iceland in 982 for committing a number of killings. He convinced a small band of other Icelanders to follow him to Greenland, a place vaguely understood to exist due to the accounts of wayward seafarers. He promptly began trying to convince other people from Iceland to move there, the reason why "Greenland" is so ironically named (the last descendants of those who actually moved there are believed to have died of Kool-Aid poisoning in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978). 

So it turned out Greenland wasn't very green. Instead of trees it had lots of ice, and rocks covered in fungus. Responding to the concerns of his followers, who soon realized that waiting for logs to wash ashore was a bad way to go about building houses and staying warm in the year-long winter, Mr. the Red sent his son Leif on a trip to investigate the claims of Bjarni Harjolfsson, an Icelandic fisherman who claimed to have seen a vast forested land even further away from anywhere the Norse knew about than Greenland was. 

And so Leif Ericsson sailed from Greenland.  

Leif: "Trust me this time, guys."

You must keep in mind that after living in Greenland for a few years, this crowd more closely resembled a shipwrecked crew doing it's best to stave off the effects of scurvy than any Viking you've seen in a Capital One commercial. It was a desperate effort to not die amongst the fungus rocks.

One which yielded landfall on an island which did have lots of wood, and a small number of grapevines. Hence "Vinland." Land of grapevines.

But a discovery this was not. Ericsson and his crew soon encountered other humans there. It is speculated that these people were the ancestors to the MiqMaq or Dorset people, but that is indeed speculation. The only name reflected in the historical record for these people is "Skraeling," Norse for "weakling." This pejorative likely resulted from a bit of projection, as the Norsemen's own accounts of relations with the Skraelings indicate that they were nearly driven from Vinland by them on several occasions. What is known from this encounter, however, is that the exact dialogue of their first meeting occurred as follows:

Leif: "Good morning, vaguely Asian-looking people in canoes wearing furs. We come from somewhere that sucks more than even this place does, and we are here to find lumber. Don't mind the fact that we are all dying of scurvy, we're really badass. Trust me. We're Vikings, right?"

The group of pre-MiqMaq/Dorset people looked at each other, astonished. And probably chuckled a little. Finally their leader spoke.

Leader: "You come from a place that sucks even more than this? That is the most impressive thing I've ever heard."

Two bands of exiled lions, their paths crossed on account of stray wind currents.

With this knowledge in hand, the two of us left Lansa Meadows National Park.

We spent the night drinking at the Royal Canadian Legion post in St. Anthony's, the most happening nightspot in northern Newfoundland. While it's walls were plastered with the pictures of Canadian WWII and Korean War veterans as you would find in any American Legion post in the states, by 2012 the number of veterans in the area had dwindled significantly. To be precise, Socialite and I were believed to be the first veterans of any nationality to pass through in close to five years.

I somehow convinced myself that I was an emissary sent from small town America, drawing on two years spent living in upstate New York. Just like you guys here in St. Anthony's, right? The people of RCL Post # 5 were much more interested in Manhattan Socialite's tales of high culture, pickled mangoes, and skinny jeans. And to tell something interesting about the L'Anse Aux Meadows tourist season:

Local Talking to Us: "You missed the rush by just a few weeks. The busloads of Japanese tourists start coming in July."

That's how scarce our experience was, our mad dash to end of the world to see the site of the first known contact between Europeans and the New World.

Busloads of Japanese tourists scarce.

* * *

We noticed something strange on our drive back south, at the cloverleaf where Route 430 reunites with Highway 1 in Deer Park. On the green highway sign which advertised the towns which lay ahead, just above "Corner Brook." 

An unmistakable, gigantic "chomp," taken out of the top of the sign perhaps 30 feet above the ground. A Tyrannosaur Moose-sized chomp.

I: "Misseur Prime Minister, this is the Minister of Defense. We have a problem. The Tyrannosaur Moose has escaped. (Misseur Premier Ministre, ceci est le Ministre de Défense. Nous avons un problème. L'Elan de Tyrannosaur s'est échappé.)"

Moose being innately stupid animals, we hypothesized that upon escaping its bondage within the fencing area, T. Rex moose had mistaken the green sign for a tree and eaten it. And now, it wandered the northern wastes with the Mounted Police in chase.

But now we had bigger problems to worry about than even the Tyrannosaur Moose:

The Montero was running hot and smelling like smoke, the price to be paid for the missing mechanical once-over. We pulled over, and as we waited for the engine to cool down I mulled over the trip.

I determined that I was less interested in the story of a small band of scurvy-ridden Norwegians who washed ashore in Newfoundland to find lumber than I was with the mysterious and long-forgotten story of the people on the other end of the trajectory. The ones who had walked there. Neither of these groups were  seeking high adventure or scarcity of experience, this much was certain. They were simply unwelcome anywhere else in the world and had found each other in the same destination of last resort - an uneasy refuge for exiled lions. What did it say of Socialite and I, that we had chosen to drive to the place on a whim? Were we, too, our own brand of exiled lions? What did it say of our age, a time when two bored dudes could seek out the location of the Norse-Skraeling exiled lions encounter with such abandon that they didn't even check to make sure their mode of transport would survive the trip, for no reason other than to say they had been there? An age of convenience become excess?

The oil was bone dry. And the radiator was now hemorrhaging antifreeze.

I cast my gaze to the sun, and then to the sticker adhered to the Montero's trunk next to the spare tire.

"Bower's Motors. Meridian, Mississippi."

I thought of the Greek parable of Icarus and Daedelus - how Icarus' pride and desire to interface with the cosmic mystery cost him his very life. Of the multitudes of cars which had left the Bowers lot over the years, of where their trajectories had taken them. Few, I believed, had been driven to The End of The World. And at that moment the true significance of the trip became clear to me.

Of all of us on this trip, it had been the Montero that had been destined to touch the sun.

___________________________________________________


* He actually said this.

* This approach to savings is fundamentally unsound.

* The only object remaining in the Atlantic Endeavor at the time of our trip was a King James Bible open to the Jeremiah 29. The passage which introduces Ahab. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

And you thought this was a game?




Poole returns.

The Supermindquest experiment hurls inexorably closer towards its end*. Entire continents are to be transited.

Required reading:

http://foggybottombreakdown.com/2011/08/25/lord-hod-destroyer-and-redeemer-or-a-concise-and-direct-tale-explaining-how-hybrids-suck/

*This end will relate specifically to these topics: 1) The Rise and Fall of Human Societies, 2) The Wrath of The Cosmos.



Thursday, January 27, 2011

So Joseph died.




This epoch is ended.

On a frigid weeknight in December 2010, Jimi Sinclair called me from Germany. The last time we had spoken at length, he was siding with Manhattan Sociliate and against me in a dispute at a friend's wedding. Manhattan Socialite, a groomsmen, made it known publicly that he felt my antics at this wedding were designed to make myself the center of attention at the expense of the bride and groom. I rejoined that the bride and groom should never be the center of attention at a wedding, but rather that all weddings should enjoy a broad array of outrageous subplots to ensure that their songs will be sung for a lifetime.

The lines were drawn: Ghengis Khan and I in the one camp, Jimi and Manhattan Socialite in the other. Some feigned support to both factions.

Was he calling me, these many months later, to revisit this dispute?

No. Something was going to happen.

Something wonderful.

JS: "Dude, I want to make a proposal. I've been looking through some of our email threads - going way back, years - and they're all pretty mindblowing. I mean we essentially predicted what the endgame in Iraq would look like years ago, and were right; we predicted a shift in focus on resources to Afghanistan and the possibility that Russia would provide access to supply routes. We predicted Obama would be elected President in 2008, in 2004. And many other things."

I: "Yes, I agree that we have demonstrated a tremendous capacity to forespeak the future. This is why I often introduce myself to others as a time traveller."

JS: "You miss my point. I think we are wasting the world's time by not making our discourse public."

I: "What are you proposing?"

JS: "This thing can think. We need to go viral."

You see, my postings in this forum represent perhaps 10% of my routine intellectual discourse. The pantheon which includes Lord Juggernauth, Ghengis Khan, British Dude from Inception, Manhattan Socialite, Captain Planet, Pipesmoke, and others is both vast and terrifying. Approximately once a month, one of us will send out an email not unlike the postings you enjoy on Supermindquest. We will then take turns responding to one another in a manner derogatory and universally brilliant. These email threads generally run to 50+ responses, the majority of which reflect genius and writing ability which far exceeds that found in America's contemporary discourse.

Jimi Sinclair was proposing we make our discourse public.

And thus, http://www.foggybottombreakdown.com/ was spawned. Within six months, it will be the greatest mindfuck on the planet.

This will be my final posting on Supermindquest, at least for the forseeable future. Heretofore I will devote my creative talents to the FBBD initiative. The savage genius assembled there will consist of many recurring Supermindquest contestants. Given that we have adopted a traditional first/last naming convention for FBBD, I will now provide you as my fanbase with a decoder guide:

1. Ghengis Khan is now Tucker Stonepost. Indeed, FBBD will debut with a posting from the American god of War and Fuck for your enjoy during the Super Bowl.

2. Lord Juggernauth is now Erik Stall. He will follow up Tucker's post with a screed on gun control and the need to pacify America's easily confused  neo-secesh with smoke and mirrors policymaking.

3. Manhattan Socilialite is now Immanuel Escher. He is already acting haughty about this whole thing.

4. I will remain as Dave Poole. It still won't be my real name.

Pipesmoke, Captain Planet, and others will also contribute with varying frequency.

And so, this epoch is ended. As a farewell, I will now give you insight into fast approaching Dave Poole temporal mile markers:

1. I am working on a really interesting novel. I want to publish it in 2013.

2. In the summer of that year, I will depart from my current profession. Rather than seeking a quiet homestead in the upper Midwest, I will double down on a life both reckless and licentious. I will make approximately $10,000 in performance and style modifications to the Harbinger of Doom, and embark upon a continent-spanning roadtrip which will provide historians with a convenient bookend to delineate the completion of the fossil-fuel age. In the process, the Harbinger of Doom will earn a place in muscle car lore alongside the Bandit's Trans Am and Kowalski's Challenger. The online diecast car vendor dubcity.com has already made the HOD into an action figure in preparation:




I will write a book about this.

3. Following this road trip, I will focus on getting my novel published if it isn't already. Then, in the spring of 2014, I will drive my other car from Spain to China with longtime fellow argonaut Helmut Brown. Tucker Stonepost, Lurch Augustus, and Captain Planet have expressed interest in joining us. I will write a book about this also, but have this idea where all of us would write chapters and split the royalties. I will live in China for a year and teach English.

4. From 2015-2018, I will return to the United States. I will complete a Science Fiction trilogy and pen my war memoirs during this time. My war memoirs will not be entitled "My War: One Man on the Frontlines of the War on Terror" or feature an action shot of me captured using a night vision device.

5. From 2018-2020, I will go to grad school somewhere in Asia. I will learn Chinese.

As you can see, I like to just take it day-by-day.

And thus, I retire from Supermindquest. As did Taft and Magic before me, I may return.

Visit http://www.foggybottombreakdown.com/ regularly for mainlined mindblowing discourse.

I remain,

Dave Poole

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Do you see?


The greatest significance of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting is that it will thrust gun control back into the public discourse. This, in turn, will bring the freakshows out from places like western Idaho and the high deserts of interior California for the apocalyptic showdown they have been waiting for since the 1970s.

Here is what will unfold now:

- While the present strain of post-recession right-wing extremist violence began on February 18, 2010, when Andrew Stack III crashed a plane into the IRS branch office in Austin, the victims of this crime are the most high profile yet. This will put the deranged far-right fringe at the forefront of public discourse. Glen Beck, et al, will condemn young Jared Loughner as a lunatic who acted alone, while distancing themselves from culpability.

- There will be a national debate about stricter gun control laws given that the weapon used in the shooting was purchased legally. The left, and grudgingly even the right, will be forced to support at least token measures in this direction.

- There will be moves by law enforcement to monitor fringe groups more closely.

- Right-wing extremists will interpret this chain of events as the final stage in a sinister globalist plot to install a socialist tyranny which disenfranchises whites.

- The McVeigh types will come back out of the woodwork. Their violence will exceed levels seen in the 1990s following Waco. Many people will die: self-proclaimed martyrs inspired by conspiracy theorist fear-mongering, their innocent victims, and the federal authorities trying to crush their insurrections.
 
Say Glen, say Sarah...this is a hell of a followup to your breakout year as cultural icons, isn't it?
 
***
 
The following was written by me on August 12, 2010:
 
http://supermindquest.blogspot.com/2010/08/its-not-funny-anymore-part-ii-turner.html

Sunday, December 26, 2010

We are all witnesses.



Lebron James is a genius.

No, I don't mean that he's good with advanced physics or mathematics. Or even with designing or marketing the shoes he wears when he plays basketball.

In those arenas, he walks trails blazed long before he ever donned a St. Vincent-St. Mary jersey by the likes of Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Wilt Chamberlain, and Michael Jordan. There is nothing particularly revolutionary about the cultural gravity well which leads Indonesian children to embroider the faces of sneakers with "L23" or custom car shops to emblazon the same letter-number combination onto the headrests of a Ferrari Modena defaced by tawdry rims.

No, Lebron James is a genius in the sense that his brain demonstrates the ability to make decisions related to motor skills at a rate which unnaturally exceeds that of your garden variety homo sapiens. I present a Discover magazine article for your enjoy:

http://discovermagazine.com/2010/apr/16-the-brain-athletes-are-geniuses

That's correct. By the time your brain makes the decision "pick up controller to play Nintendo Wii game featuring Lebron James character," Misseur James has already navigated the decisions "dribble basketball while running incredibly fast/stare down opponent in lane/drive left/jump and slam dunk basketball over some dude/average near triple double during playoffs/launch public relations campaign that transforms me into most hated athlete in the world overnight/become iconic of the social transformation wrought by the internet age without anyone realizing it."

You: "My god, you meant that he's really good with motor skills! What you're saying is....is....his motor skills will force a paradigm shift in the way basketball is played!"

As per custom, you're not thinking big enough. You've got the wrong paradigm shift altogether.

***

Ingredients:
- 1X teenager with superhuman size and athleticism from disadvantaged upbringing
- 1X decadent society based on consumerism and the idea that everyone is entitled to everything
- 1X internet age which provides every idiot on the planet with their own TV channel and movie studio
- 10X years of a professional sport made popular globally by Michael Jordan's cult of personality
- 1X (each) sporting news and recruiting industries which profit from hyping and coddling teenage, even adolescent athletes, often driving them to insanity or a life which they deem failed if they do not achieve superstardom as a professional athlete
- 1X multi-billion dollar athletic apparel marketing industry which profits from building cults of personality around grown adults who play children's games

Instructions:
- Preach entitlement and make overwhelmingly false promises of superstardom from childhood
- Attempt to ingratiate yourself to superhuman athlete boy during adolesence
- Marinate for 18 years

Voila! Your years of toil have wrought forth The Chosen One.

Alas, my friend from Cape Canaveral's Tastee Donut has joined our thought symposium. Mr. Taxed Enough Already Counterrevolutionary, with his middle-aged frame adorned by matching Ohio State Buckeyes polo shirt and ballcap.

He: "Lebron James, that sonofabitch! He betrayed Cleveland! These athletes are so entitled! I was so excited when I saw him on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a junior in high school next to the words 'THE CHOSEN ONE!' I'm irrate and take it as a personal affront that he developed a sense of entitlement which matched the nonstop hype and attention he received from childhood, and eventually reached a point where he felt that he could only trust a small circle of childhood friends who would come to guide his marketing efforts to disastrous effect! He's probably from Kenya, just like Hussein Obama!"



I: "I am better than you. I will now force the implosion of your fragile mind."

***

Cousy, Mikan, et. al. built a league. Wilt strode the post as a god, smoting the efforts of lesser men to contain his gargantuan size and talent. Baylor and Erving invented a style of play which existed in three dimensions: horizontal, lateral, and vertical. Bird and Magic created the greatest personal rivalry in the history of sport, and thus reinvigorated the game they played.

Jordan took Baylor and Erving's above-the-rim acrobatics and wedded them to cutting edge marketing, forever changing the way mere consumers perceived professional athletes. No longer were they just a name, jersey, team, and city. They were a logo, a shoe style. A brand.

And by doing so, he changed the way professional athletes perceived professional athletes.

For a decade, the NBA and it's marketing-industrial complex was consumed by the search for "the next Jordan." Who would be the next explosive shooting guard with the competitive instincts of a narcotics-fueled assassin?

Within the confines of that debate, the verdict is in. His name is Kobe Bryant.

But wait - Buckeyes man has something to say. I stand ready to force the implosion of his mind.

He: "But Jordan has six rings! Kobe only has five! I even bought my kid Air Jordans when he was going to an expensive prep school outside Cleveland! Kobe Bryant dosen't even has his own brand of shoes with a catchy naming convention that includes his name! He just wears Nikes!"

I: "You small-minded cretin. You're missing the point, on many levels beyond your ability to understand."

He: "But Jordan averaged 37 points per game one season!"

I: "Kobe averaged 35.5 points per game one season. He also once scored 81 points in a single game, and could have perhaps scored a higher total in another game during the same season but was benched for the entire fourth quarter after scoring 62 points in the first three quarters. This included 30 points in the third quarter alone. But we digress. Your attempt to confine Michael Jordan's legacy to the court has reduced your Jordan vs. Kobe debate to one mirroring the 'who was more brutal: Hitler or Stalin' debate which acne-faced college students rehash in their dorms nightly as they wear filthy smelling bath towels. Kobe Bryant matches Jordan's on-court performance as a shooting guard; further discussion in that vein is silly and without merit. But by comparing Jordan to Kobe Bryant, who at his core remains a traditional game-team-city athlete, you overlook the true significance of both Jordan and Lebron James: Jordan changed the way consumers perceive both professional athletes and sports. James took this revolution to it's logical conclusion by destroying the idea that an athlete's prowess should be tied to his competitiveness, devotion to his team or city, or even to his achievements, but rather should be tied solely to his individual marketing potential. When coupled with the implications of instantaneous global communications at the disposal of every sentient being on the planet, he transcended both his corporeal form and all that consituted the raison de 'etre for organized sport in the first place. Your small-minded approach does not surprise me."

He: "Your ability to weave historical references and sweeping cultural analysis into the discussion of professional sports has proven too much for my mind to comprehend. It is now self-destructing, like the HAL 9000 did shortly before entering hyperspace. GOOD-BYE"

***

Miami will win a title. If not this year, then soon. It will be far from the first time that superstars have joined forces for that end. For even Buckeyes Man knew that getting as many good players on one team as possible is not a new idea in sports.

But what happens when you remove loyalty to fans, cities, teams, teammates, and possibly even winning from competitive sports? When you transform athletes into self-marketing Von Neumann machines who exist only for the purposes of furthering their own brand? When everyone can acquire songs of their choosing from a vast network of interconnected computers at no expense and listen to them on tiny computers they strap to their arm? When everyone can choose a news agency that fits their worldview and distorts reality accordingly, or even have their own TV channel with a potential audience of six billion people? Run a free newspaper that need not be grounded in fact, quality, or critical thinking? When a country can simultaneously provoke an unnecessary war of choice and provide sweeping entitlements to it's citizens without any intention of raising taxes to pay for either?

We are all witnesses.