Saturday, September 22, 2007

Done Nodded by Joe Janes


Last night was a ton of fun. I love it when I am in the presence of brilliant, funny people, who also happen to be really nice. Don and I got to the Uptown Writer's Space early. We went on a run (more like a brisk walk) to buy some red wine and a variety of snacks. We set up the space with folding chairs and we're ready to rock by 7pm. Laura, a volunteer at Uptown, came in and helped us out by greeting people.

It was a small conglomeration of bloggers and friends, but I am very satisfied with the flow and content of the show.

Lindsay Muscato opened the show reading from her blog, Lindsay Lives Here. She related humorous stories from her days as a teacher. My favorite had to do with a student writing the phrase "ass parade" on the chalkboard.

An author who wishes remain anonymous read posts from her blog Life and Times of Big Calabaza. My favorite was her story about her experiences in a hip hop dance class and trying to bridge the gap between more experienced students and newbies. Although she did not deliver on her request to use puppets, I forgive her.

Greg Wendling of I'm So Tired read from his friend Madge's blog, Madge's Musings. We were even treated to a listen to a voice-mail explaining why she wasn't there. She was lost and was eating a sandwich she bought from a man on the street. I particularly enjoyed Madge's description of the funeral she would like to have when she dies. I, too, now want a pulley system installed so people could manipulate my head and see all sides of my nicely coiffed skull.

Keri Myslinksi of Moments of Coherency - and the only blogger on the bill with zero connection to any other blogger reading last night - read a funny piece giving tips to homeless people on how best to increase the possibility of receiving change and a surprisingly touching piece about the death of a bird that flew into a building.

Amy Guth of Big Mouth Indeed Strikes Again rounded out the first half and, hands down, read the funniest post of the evening. One simple sentence about a night in New Orleans.

"I just saw a drag queen with Down Syndrome."

I also blew my hosting duties by not plugging an upcoming event Amy is hosting. It's called The Fixx Reading Series at The Fixx Coffee Bar on Thursday, September 27th at 7:30pm.

The second half was the formal presentation of "The Nod." Dave Awl, Thea Lux, Nat Topping, Don and I all sat off to the side of the stage. Through a quick succession of "Rock, Paper, Scissors" we determined Dave would go first. He read a post about "inventing" iced tea. This led Nat to go up next and read his version of the history of coffee. Thea followed that up with an awkward encounter with a handsome Starbuck barrista. I followed it with a letter to George W. about getting out of Iraq and going to war with Canada. The connection was equating our addiction to oil with a coffee addiction. Don then followed that with a diatribe on "no smoking" regulations. So, that's how our half unfolded. We laid down connections like tracks for a train as the train was running. Some connections were direct, some were loose. I followed a piece Dave did about a book on Pearl Harbor with a piece I wrote about arguing with my girlfriend called Rules of Engagement.

Thea wrapped it all up with a hysterical piece about baby-sitting and cleaning up the pooh of "Little Buddha."

It was a great time and Don and I will do this again. Look for announcements about it in the coming weeks.

Don and I are currently on the lookout for another venue for our next Nod. We have two criteria; it can't be the same place we just used and it must be FREE. If you know of such a place, shoot us an e-mail at Thanks.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Baffled by the Internet (and How It Really Works) by Dave Awl

Posted by Ocelopotamus on May 18th, 2007 at 7:12 am

Blue judge in a wigI’ve been disturbed for a couple of days now by this story about a judge in the UK who was baffled by the concept of a Web site.

A British judge admitted on Wednesday he was struggling to cope with basic terms like “Web site” in the trial of three men accused of inciting terrorism via the Internet.

Judge Peter Openshaw broke into the questioning of a witness about a Web forum used by alleged Islamist radicals.

“The trouble is I don’t understand the language. I don’t really understand what a Web site is,” he told a London court during the trial of three men charged under anti-terrorism laws.

This is a serious problem: Around the world we have people in positions of authority who fundamentally don’t understand how the Internet works, from Ted “Series of Tubes” Stevens to anchorpeople on MSNBC to trial judges.

At least this judge is willing to ask questions and admit what he doesn’t know instead of nodding along and acting like he knows something he doesn’t, a la Senator Stevens. But still … it’s scary to think of the ramifications of stuff like this, and I suspect that this kind of ignorance played a part in the absurd conviction of Julie Amero.

At any rate, I’m pleased to announce that Ocelopotamus has acquired an EXCLUSIVE TRANSCRIPT!!! of the court proceedings, in which a couple of lawyers try to explain the concept of the Internet to the judge.

Full OCELOPOTAMUS EXCLUSIVE!!!!! transcript is after the jump …


FIRST LAWYER: … so you see, my lord, apparently the entire conversation took place inside a computer.
JUDGE: A computer? What the devil kind of thing is that?
FIRST LAWYER: A sort of electronic box, your honor –
JUDGE: Ah, a box! Most ingenious! With holes drilled in the top and sides, I imagine, for air to enter and reach the people inside?
SECOND LAWYER: My lord, the people themselves weren’t inside the box — only the conversation took place inside the box.
FIRST LAWYER: And not just one box my lord, but a great many boxes — a network of boxes that can speak to each other across great distances.
JUDGE: AIEEEEE! Boxes that speak?! But surely this is a bewitchment, signaling the end of days! What kind of demons inhabit these boxes?
FIRST LAWYER: No, not demons, my lord, the boxes are powered by … by lightning.
SECOND LAWYER: Like that chap from the colonies, your honor. Flying his kite in the rain.
JUDGE: Ah! So there was a great storm. And the boxes all had kites attached to them?
SECOND LAWYER: Yes, my lord. That’s how it works.
JUDGE: Remarkable! The times we live in!
FIRST LAWYER: Yes, my lord. These are truly days of wonder.

JUDGE: But where do the spiders come into it?
SECOND LAWYER: Spiders, my lord?
JUDGE: Yes! I’m told this is all part of something called the World Wide Web.
FIRST LAWYER: Ahh … er, the spiders connect the boxes together, my lord.
JUDGE: But of course! By spinning out long silken strands of their gossamer webs!
SECOND LAWYER: Yes, you’ve got it!
JUDGE: Do they attach the kites to the spiders?
FIRST LAWYER: Beg pardon?
JUDGE: I was thinking perhaps the kite could be attached to the spider’s web, and then the spider could sort of spin it out, and fly the kite that way.
FIRST LAWYER: Very good, my lord!
SECOND LAWYER: There might be a patent in that.

JUDGE: Now then, what exactly do people use these kite-flying spider-boxes to talk about?
FIRST LAWYER: Well, my lord, imagine if you will, a sort of — town square, with a bulletin board where people can post notices.
JUDGE: Ah, yes! Great curling sheets of parchment, with bills and advertisements and the like?
FIRST LAWYER: Yes, my lord, in a manner of speaking. And people use them to, you know, talk about the news of the day, and exchange pictures of cats asking for cheeseburgers, and —

JUDGE: Cheeseburgers? What manner of thing is this?
SECOND LAWYER: A cheeseburger is a sort of sandw — an invention of the Earl of Sandwich, my lord.
FIRST LAWYER: Something tidy for gentlemen to eat while they play at cards.
SECOND LAWYER: Imagine a patty of meat on a … a scone …
FIRST LAWYER: With — a sauce — made from tomatoes …
JUDGE: Tomatoes?
SECOND LAWYER: A vegetable, my lord. From the new world. Sweet and red and fleshy.
JUDGE: Ah! You mean an Indian love apple! I tasted such a thing one time — it came all the way from New Amsterdam on a great sailing vessel.
FIRST LAWYER: Also cheese, my lord. There is cheese on the patty of meat. That’s why it gets called a cheeseburger.
JUDGE: Yes, I see! But tell me, why the deuce would a pussins want to eat such a thing?
FIRST LAWYER: Perhaps the pussins gets hungry inside the box.
JUDGE: Naturally it would!
SECOND LAWYER: Yes, my lord.

JUDGE: So, let us review. The Internet consists of a great many kites attached to special boxes, and inside the boxes there are pussinses playing at cards, presumably smoking and drinking brandy whilst eating meat patties with scones and a sauce made from Indian love apples, all during a great electrical storm. At the same time, spiders are feverishly knitting all the boxes together with great shining threads of silk, and in this way they help to create a vast, freewheeling discussion amongst the many nations of the world.
FIRST LAWYER: Well, yes sir. In a nutshell, that’s it.
JUDGE: But that’s extraordinary! No wonder it’s all the rage!
SECOND LAWYER: And no wonder that terrorists would try to target it, sir.
JUDGE: It has been my considerable experience that terrorists are always possessed by a hatred of cats.
FIRST LAWYER: Most perceptive, my lord.
JUDGE: Well, I’ve heard enough. Prisoners guilty as charged! And court adjourned for lunch. Now, who wants to buy me one of these love-apple meat patties?

[Laughter all round. Exeunt judge and lawyers, chatting merrily.]

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Splatter Distance from Liberty Valence

splatter distance
There is no room for error in my commute. My office is a Canada's distance away from the train and it takes a good 15 minute hustle to get from point A to B. This is after an already lengthy two train commute. If there's a lazy Purple Line moseying on the tracks, or a slow barista is instructed to make a pumpkin spice frappalatte (I'm not making that up), before I can order my coffee, that 15 minute trek has to be reduced to 7 or less.

Which is what happened today. I had 20 minutes to skip-to-my-lou-my-darling before I had to be in the office. That meant I had five minutes to invest in a non-Folgers caffeine fix at the local coffee brew-ha-ha. The one place that I've been frequenting, which won me over because I am easily swayed by a "Tenth Cup Free" punch card, is not known for their speedy pace in coffee preparation. As much as I snobbishly prefer an establishment that offers Metropolis/Intelligentsia brands over Starfucks, I gotta hand it to the Corporate Cup o' Joe chain for their fast food efficiency. I am spoiled by the immediacy and I demand it, America.

But I couldn't demand it today. I peered in the window and saw two people ahead of me. I took a deep breath and decided to take the risk for the much needed caffeine fix. Before me was a mom toting a cabbage baby (not a Cabbage Patch baby doll, but a baby that kinda looked like a cabbage) and was doing everyone a favor by ordering half the menu. Next was the lady who said "she was in a hurry" and yet decided to order a coffee equivalent of a banana split sundae. Okay. Deep breath, check the time, I now had ten minutes to haul ass to work...

I stepped up and stared at the the girl who was going to make my dream a reality. We were in this together. We would work as a team and it was up to us to pass the baton effectively.

"I'll have a medium coffee and a banana."

Boom. Fuck y'all, this is how I roll. I glared at the mom who was trying to instruct her cabbage baby not to eat the biscotte wrapped in plastic and exited with nine minutes to spare.

Nine minutes? Fuck. Nine minutes equaled "gotta book it" pace.

I had to run. You'd think that if I walked to the office it wouldn't be a big deal. I'd show up, what, maybe five minutes late? No reason to shit, right? Thing is, I've played my tardy card so many times at this job I was offered the role of Corky in a "Life Goes On" spin off. (Cue politically incorrect rim shot.) I couldn't be late.

I had to run with a cup of coffee in my hand. I am a moron who likes good coffee and apparently am willing to suffer to get a sip of some. Please, someone invent (and then give me credit) a travel mug for when you're running late to work and also running to work late. Wait, that's just a thermos. Okay, problem solved, nevermind. My Grande became a Tall, then the Tall became a Short, then the Short to Shot as the liquid splashed out of the cup. I looked like I just attended a coffee tasting at a Gwar show or was training Gallagher on his first day as a barista.

But I made it on time. Scalded hands and Jackson Pollack'd pants and all.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Vote Nat from Clever Title

My fellow Americans,

Given that in order to ascend to the most esteemed office of President of the United States one must be at least 35 years of age; and given the in order to run for the office of the President of the United States one must obtain ludicrously large sums of money; and given that most Presidents of the United States are, indeed, old bastards; and given that Presidential races seem to begin earlier and earlier with each passing election; given all of this, I would like to make to following proclamation:

I, Nathaniel Barkell "Alphonso" Topping, do hearby declare my intent to run for the office of the President of the United States in 2040.

I know what you're thinking: 'what kind of idiot announces his candidacy on some piece of shit blog that only three people read?' I figure, if people can announce their candidacies on late night or morning television programing, then why not a blog? Who knows? By the time 2040 rolls around, blogs may be an acceptable and influential form of media. Besides, I have yet to raise the funds to buy off television programs so for now this will have to do.

Speaking of which, 2040 gives me plenty of time to raise the money necessary to bribe, cajole, browbeat and otherwise foist myself off on the American people. As such, I will begin taking donations immediately. Furthermore, I will be "hiring" volunteers to run my campaign, to write my speeches, to harass people over the phone during dinner time and, finally, to give me much needed support in the form of handjobs. I've already come up with the campaign slogan: Nat Topping, SEXY. Your job is half done! So, if any of you young grass-roots oriented coeds are looking to help in any of these aspects, please feel free to stop by my "campaign headquarters." My "campaign headquarters" are located on Mildred Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. You will know the place by the smell.

The genius of running in 2040 is that a: I will have time to raise the money, b: I will be at least 58 years of age, which is just the right age for running out of conscience and c: I will have plenty of time to develop a campaign platform. By the year 2040, the issues will be completely eliminated from campaigning and thus I expect the event to be primarily a popularity contest. To that end, my campaign platform will consist of thinking of ways to make myself look cool. So you can look forward to that over the following 33 years.

In parting, I would like to say that I look forward to a solid 33 years worth of hoodwinking you into voting for me, Nathaniel Barkell "Alphonso" Topping, for President in 2040. In return, I also look forward to being served by you the American people for at least 4 years.

Thank you, and God bless America.

And by America, I mean me.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I Smell Boilng Frogs from An Angry White Guy in Chicago

There's No Such Thing as a Dystopian Vision When You Live in Dystopia

A staple of American paranoia has been the science fiction Dystopian Future Story. Set any-when from "Seven Years from Now" to "3,000 Years in the Future" (most have learned from both Orwell's 1984 and Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey that it's best if you don't date your dystopia) the stories usually involve a world where the population of the planet/country/state/city/town has undergone the inevitable and bleak conclusion pointed by our current practices. It also usually has one person in the future who 'wakes up' to the awful reality and wants to know more - the message being that knowledge and truth exposed will save the future.

Many resonate with our current state of affairs (The Matrix reveals that our reliance on machines will ultimately make us drones and that which seems like a normal but life draining existence tied to cubicles in corporate America is actually a great hoax - essentially a high tech modern version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis) and speak to our everyday reality with the cautionary caveat that we too must 'wake up' and change the direction of our lives before it is too late.

The best of the lot deal with broader human issues - war, control, power and it's abuse - and have a timeless quality to the despondent future we have in store for us. There will always be war - there's even war in Roddenberry's Star Trek universe - and these stories warn against complacency in the face of those who would wage these wars and the control over the individual freedoms we all crave (if you're not American) or think we are entitled to (if you are American) that will ultimately be stripped.

So what happens to these dystopian adventures when we are living in the dystopian futures that have been predicted by these modern Cassandras? Lately, the best futureshock predictions are coming not from fiction but from fact - An Inconvenient Truth and Stephen Hawking and the Doomsday Clock.

Cassandra Was Right

In Greek mythology, Cassandra (Greek: Κασσάνδρα "she who entangles men") (also known as Alexandra) was a daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy whose beauty caused Apollo to grant her the gift of prophecy. However, when she did not return his love, Apollo placed a curse on her so that no one would ever believe her predictions. The Cassandra Syndrome is a term applied to those whose predictions of doom are initially dismissed, but later turn out to be correct. This denotes a psychological tendency among people to deny and disbelieve such predictions. The person making the prediction is caught in the dilemma of knowing what will happen but not being able to convince others.

So who are our Cassandras?

Aldous Huxley

A Brave New World presents a future where all war, crime and dissent is relocated to a Savage Reservation and the World State and it's citizens are kept in line with a miracle drug called soma that so dulls the natural curiosity and rebelliousness in humans that it creates a completely conformist society.

In a present day where pharmaceutical companies are among the largest corporations in the world and are offering a constant parade of mood altering drugs to meet the manufactured maladies created by the new religion of psychiatry, it is easy to locate obvious versions of soma, however, the great equalizer isn't a drug one ingests but a drug one observes. Television (which is ultimately controlled by three corporations that have managed to purchase control of everything from what we eat to the manufacture of the aforementioned mood altering drugs to the weapons we wage war with) is the most pervasive opiate of the masses ever conceived of.

George Orwell

1984 presents us with BIG BROTHER and the use of perpetual war against a pernicious enemy to reduce every liberty and freedom. BIG BROTHER watches our every move and regulates every conceivable freedom.

Again, anyone who thinks George W. Bush is the first President to wiretap ordinary citizens in the name of security has a very shallow understanding of history. With corporations essentially running all aspects of our government (including the Federal Reserve Bank, which is a privately owned bank that has the power to create money and that our government borrows money from and uses the bulk of income taxes to pay off the interest alone AND that is owned by an undisclosed group of corporations) and using new technology to be able track our every purchase and location, this is an easy parallel to make.

On top of that, many of our basic civil liberties have been stripped from us due to first a perpetual 'war' on drugs and now a conflicting 'war' on terrorism. When someone can be shocked by a taser into compliance because they are driving with a license suspended because of parking tickets and incarcerated for questioning authority, when a person's property and liberty can be taken from them for refusing to pay a tax on their income that, according to even the IRS Tax Code, is not mandatory but voluntary, when a person can be jailed based on the mere accusation of drug use or Islamic ties, it is obvious that Orwell's predictions are now reality.

Terry Gilliam

Brazil begins "somewhere in the 20th century" at 8:49PM, and the retro-futuristic world of Brazil is a gritty, post-apocalyptic, urban landscape in which terrorist attacks, counter-terrorist measures and a bureaucratic quagmire are so obviously present day truth it is absolutely numbing.

In Brazil:

• Sam Lowry's mother (representing the wealthy consumer class) is addicted to plastic surgery. Check.

• Bureaucratic inefficiency causes the unlawful and unjust incarceration of an innocent man that leads to his death. Check.

• Every aspect of society requires forms and fees to be able to legally do anything. Check.

• The government tortures it's citizens indiscriminately in the cause of order. Check.

You don't have to be a nuclear physicist to see that Gilliam's universe in Brazil has too many similarities to our current state to simply write off as 'an entertaining cult film.'

Frog Soup Tastes Pretty Bad to the Frog

There's an old folk myth that if you throw a frog in boiling water he will quickly jump out. But if you put a frog in a pan of cold water and raise the temperature ever so slowly, the gradual warming will make the frog doze happily . . . and will eventually cook to death, without ever waking up.

The question begged is this: Is it too late to wake up? Have we gone beyond that point in the boiling that we can no longer jump out of the pot?

In May of 2008, Congress has authorized the implementation of a National ID Card with a microchip embedded in it. This is designed to ensure that anyone flying, opening a checking account, or entering a government building is easily identifiable. There is no doubt about where this all leading us to - sheep, compliant to do what we're told, to buy into the half truths and lies we are told, to be blinded by the shiny objects thrown in our path in order to avoid seeing what is in front of us.

Is it too late to wake up or are we soup?

"We Ain't Quitters" from Bite and Smile

Dear Mr. President,

How are you? I am fine. Hope you are enjoying your vacation. How about this weather?

Well, I finally figured it out.

There is a way to get out of the war in Iraq gracefully.

Don't worry. There will be no cutting. There will be no running.I Know how much you hate that option.

The answer has been right under our noses through most of your administration. Over a dozen high ranking officials and republican members of congress have been giving us the answer in droves.

We don't quit the war in Iraq. We retire from it.

Gonzales, Rove, Rumsfeld, for example, are geniuses. For some reason, when people retire in your administration, they seem to be absolved from any wrong doing. Everybody gets a clean slate and cake at the retirement party. It's a republican tradition dating back to Nixon. Respectfully retire from Iraq before the Shiite really hits the fan. Let someone else clean up the mess. Like the democrats.

I've even written up a little speech for you to give at a press conference. One of those press conferences where the reporters don't ask questions (like it's their job or something!).

I picture you dressed as Uncle Sam. Deepen your voice an octave or two to give that ol' Wilford Brimley "I'm folksy and wise" kind of sound. But you could also hire someone. Rich Little could probably use more work. Then you can read your retirement letter.

"My fellow Americans,

I hereby announce my retirement from the Iraq War. As you know, I love this war. I have put a lot of your time and money into it. Thousands of U.S. soldiers have lost their lives fighting this war. Gobs and gobs more Iraqi civilians have lost their lives as a result of our liberation of their country. It's hard to tell how many exactly because they don't speak English, yet, and have been unable to clearly tell us they are dead.

After giving my all to this war for the past five years, I have decided to leave. I need to spend more time with my family. That's you, America (wink). We'll finally be able to go play ball and have a picnic. And we can have that talk about sex that's long overdue.

While it's been a difficult war, even on it's worst days, it was better than my father's war. We killed more people, including Saddam Hussein and his boys, and grabbed more oil.

As I retire into the private sector, I am not leaving Iraq to fend for itself. No, Sireee. I already have a replacement for myself. Latvia, one of the few remaining coalition countries with forces still there, will continue to stand for democracy. All twelve of them.

I'll see you on down the road.

God Bless Me,

Uncle Sam"

Well? What do you think? I think it's golden and you can use it and I won't even take credit for it like that guy suing Disney over Hannah Montana. Did you hear about that? That's like someone suing you for stealing war strategies from LBJ. You crazy Texans and your wars in foreign countries!

Yours in Christ,


P.S. If you want to do one of those quickie recess appointments to replace Gonzales, I am ready and available. I have cleared my schedule and can start immediately. I have no law experience, but I can see where that would be an asset working for you.