Friday, May 9, 2008
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Regular Locus readers will have noted a recent front-of-the-book item about my recent Good News, a little daughter named Poesy, born to us on February 3, 2008. This feat of nanoengineering — mostly accomplished by my Alice, with 23 chromosomes' worth of programming assistance from yours truly — has got me thinking about reproduction, even more than usual.
Mammals invest a lot of energy in keeping track of the disposition of each copy we spawn. It's only natural, of course: we invest so much energy and so many resources in our offspring that it would be a shocking waste if they were to wander away and fall off the balcony or flush themselves down the garbage disposal. We're hard-wired, as mammals, to view this kind of misfortune as a moral tragedy, a massive trauma to our psyches so deep that some of us never recover from it.
It follows naturally that we invest a lot of importance in the individual disposition of every copy of our artistic works as well, wringing our hands over "not for resale" advance review copies that show up on Amazon and tugging our beards at the thought of Google making a scan of our books in order to index them for searchers. And while printing a book doesn't take nearly as much out of us as growing a baby, there's no getting around the fact that every copy printed is money spent, and every copy sold without being accounted for is money taken away from us.
There are other organisms with other reproductive strategies. Take the dandelion: a single dandelion may produce 2,000 seeds per year, indiscriminately firing them off into the sky at the slightest breeze, without any care for where the seeds are heading and whether they'll get an hospitable reception when they touch down.
And indeed, most of those thousands of seeds will likely fall on hard, unyielding pavement, there to lie fallow and unconsummated, a failure in the genetic race to survive and copy.
But the disposition of each — or even most — of the seeds aren't the important thing, from a dandelion's point of view. The important thing is that every spring, every crack in every pavement is filled with dandelions. The dandelion doesn't want to nurse a single precious copy of itself in the hopes that it will leave the nest and carefully navigate its way to the optimum growing environment, there to perpetuate the line. The dandelion just wants to be sure that every single opportunity for reproduction is exploited!
Dandelions and artists have a lot in common in the age of the Internet.
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Tuesday, May 6, 2008
From The Progress Report
With the help of the Defense Department, the Los Angeles-based company C3 is "developing the Baghdad Zoo and Entertainment Experience, a massive American-style amusement park that will feature a skateboard park, rides, a concert theatre and a museum" and "is being designed by the firm that developed Disneyland." More than that though, the Pentagon is also backing a $5 billion plan to create a "zone of influence" around the new $700 million U.S. embassy that will include luxury hotels, a shopping center, and condos in an effort to "transform" the Green Zone into a "centerpiece for Baghdad's future." This isn't the first time the Pentagon has turned to Disney for solutions. One year after the scandal erupted over the long-term treatment of soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the Army introduced the "Service, Disney Style" program that is now required for all military and other government employees at the hospital in an effort to "revamp attitudes" and instill a sense that "poor service equals frustration." With violence escalating in Iraq, the Pentagon is again looking to the Disney model for a way out.
'ANYBODY EVER BEEN TO DISNEYLAND?': The Disneyland-style amusement park in the heart of Iraq will cost nearly $500 million. Llewellyn Werner, chairman of C3, said of the idea, "[T]he people need this kind of positive influence. It's going to have a huge psychological impact." But make no mistake, Werner also sees dollar signs. "I'm a businessman. I'm not here because I think you're nice people," Werner said, adding, "I wouldn't be doing this if I wasn't making money." Trying to sell the idea to Baghdad's skeptical deputy mayor, Werner explained the significance of waterpark lagoons: they're "very important to the sex appeal, the sizzle. Anybody ever been to Disneyland?" Werner's sentiment is shared by John March, executive vice president of the firm contracted to design the park. March recently downplayed any safety concerns associated with creating a massive entertainment complex in the heart of Baghdad. "Well, you live here in Southern California and there's drive-bys and everything else. So there's danger everywhere," he proclaimed. But Werner has an idea on how to bridge the sectarian divide in Baghdad: skateboarding. He said Iraqis will see the park as "an opportunity for their children regardless if they're Shia or Sunni." Speaking in deliberately slow English, Werner told the Iraqis, "One of the fastest growing sports in the world is skate…boarding." Indeed, the skateboarding park, part of the first phase, is set to open this summer.
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David Hajdu's new book is "The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America." David writes about the development of comic books as a medium, and how it was almost stopped dead by anti-comics crusaders in the 1950s.
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Johannesburg – The department of home affairs has failed to put in place a system that will help people with disabilities to get identity documents, the SA Human Rights Commission said.
Spokesman Vincent Moaga said the commission was concerned the department had requested that a woman with no arms could not get an ID unless she was fingerprinted.
Victoria Modise, 37, of Diepkloof Zone, Soweto, who lost her ID last year, applied for a replacement but was told she needed to be fingerprinted.
Moaga said the commission was deeply concerned by this incident.
He said the department should refer to international practice and follow suit.
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Monday, May 5, 2008
On the day that the man who discovered LSD, Dr. Albert Hofmann, died at the age of 102, The Onion asked people what they thought. "It's just like I tell my kids," replied one. "If you get involved with drugs, you're going to end up dead." And the death of this renowned Swiss chemist inspired David Letterman to share with his audience that same evening the fact that researchers have "combined LSD with birth control pills so you can take a trip without the kids."
The New York Times obituary stated that, in April 1943, Hofmann "accidentally ingested the substance that became known to the 1960s counterculture as acid." But the Los Angeles Times obituary stated that he had "accidentally gotten a trace amount of an experimental compoundal compound called lysergic acid diethylamide on his fingertips and taken the world's first acid trip."
And the accurate answer, in Hofmann's own words, from his book, LSD: My Problem Child: "How had I managed to absorb this material? Because of the known toxicity of ergot substances, I always maintained meticulously neat work habits. Possibly a bit of the LSD solution had contacted my fingertips during crystallization, and a trace of the substance was absorbed through the skin."
At first, he didn't know what caused his mysteriously scary and beautiful reactions. He tried breathing the solvents he had used, with no effect. But then, he said in an interview on his 100th birthday, "LSD spoke to me. He came to me and said, 'You must find me.' He told me, 'Don't give me to the pharmacologist, he won't find anything.'"
Four weeks before his death, Carolyn Garcia (also known as Mountain Girl with the Merry Pranksters and as Jerry Garcia's widow) had given a speech at the World Psychedelic Forum in Basel, where Hofmann lived, and she was invited to meet him.
"He was so sweet to me," she recalls, "chatted and joked about musicians and black market LSD, chocolate and cherry trees, instructed me very seriously about the importance of hanging upside down every day, to improve the blood flow to the brain." He discussed with an old friend, Juri Styk, "whether Sandoz Laboratories would other chemical companies to make some LSD for the new studies being conducted in Europe. Important studies, on LSD and dying, cancer relief and spiritual psychological benefits of its use for rebalancing people in crisis. 'Long overdue,' they said."
Carolyn asked Hofmann if the purification of LSD was a long process. He denied it and said, "LSD is very easy to make, you just do the recipe, and if it crystallizes, that is it, it's done and very pure. No need to do anything else." She told him a little about the Grateful Dead, "and he lit up and said he had 'always been hearing about them, they played existential music, yes? And from small beginnings, it got large?'
"With the help of LSD, the energy and telepathic melting together as they played. He understood that. He asked about Jerry. And Juri reminded him about the Acid Tests, and he lit up again and said, 'Oh, yes, the Acid Tests, and the Grateful Dead played there long ago? And you were there?' And I smiled, yes, and pulled out the Acid Test diploma I had made for him. I presented it in the usual fashion, saying that he had proven beyond doubt that he had fulfilled all the requirements and had certainly passed the Acid Test, and had earned this Acid Test diploma."
When she left, he "smiled and asked me to come back, and bring the sun, please. The wind whipping the snow out of the trees as silent puffs of feathers. The walkway to the car was thick with ice. A few cat tracks showed the way. I didn't get to meet the cat, who sleeps on the doctor's bed since his wife passed away. Now where's the cat sleeping tonight?"
The United States government banned LSD in October 1966, and other countries followed. Hofmann insisted that this was not fair. He argued that the drug wasn't addictive, and campaigned for the ban to be lifted so that LSD could be used in medical research. In December 2007, Swiss authorities decided to allow the drug to be used in a psychotherapy research project. "For me," Hofmann told Swiss TV, "this is a very big wish come true. I always wanted to see LSD get its proper place in medicine."
On the day of his death, the Albert Hofmann Foundation declared that "Dr. Hofmann's discoveries have touched countless people and brought tremendous change to the world in more ways than can be counted. We are very glad that Dr. Hofmann could still witness the early stages of new studies with LSD that will start in Switzerland in the near future...."