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Sunday, March 23, 2008


The Roar of Silent Waterfalls

It's Easter. It's Purim. It's a whole load of other holidays, including a Shi'ite festival and, if I'm not mistaken, a Hindu one. There's even a full moon. The place is just soggy with noumenon.

But to me, most of all, it's the Equinox: the time of change. The sun has swung up into the bright half of the year, the time of growth and possibilities. Before the next equinox, before the darkening of the light, I will be in New York. For good.

At this time, I'd like to share with you some words I wrote on my first visit to the city, a half a dozen of those equinoxes ago.

They say that people who live their entire life within the sound of Niagara Falls never actually hear them, until for the first time in their lives they travel out of ear-shot of the Falls, and suddenly the silence hits them like a solid wall of anti-noise. And I know, and you probably know as well, that feeling you get when after a long, hard day you kick off your tight shoes and suddenly, for the first time, you feel just how foot-bindingly tight they have been all day.

That's how NYC feels to me.

It's been said that freedom is "the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul," and with these magnanimous sentiments I neither can nor wish to disagree*. Let me say only, then, that freedom is also the roar of silent waterfalls and the vice-like grip of doffed shoes.

And this is what NYC means to me: finally, it is defined not by its attributes, but my the attributes it lacks. When I search the faces on the subway, in the streets & in bars, looking in fearful desperation for what I dread to find, I fail to find it: that miserific expression of hateful, hate-filled despair that I think of as the London look is almost totally absent here in NYC.

People here are just good. And that's all she wrote.

At 22.30 on a cold, dark night, huddling against a wall to shelter from the rain, I realized that there was nowhere on earth I'd rather be.

It took three years; three years of sorrow and darkness; three years of fear and doubt and despair (and some spectacularly Sucky Jobs, which I really will post one of these days...) but in less than six months, I'll be there; I'll be home

This post is dedicated to thegirl, in the hope and expectation that we will both achieve our dreams.

*I still (2008) agree with the sentiments. The miserable failure who uttered them? Not so much.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


A Dirty Trick On The Comp Sci Students

Back in the 1990s [when people still believed in stuff], a Computer Science professor once played a very dirty trick on his students. Like most professorial pranks, it was delivered during a mid-term exam.

The class in question was called something like Technological Privacy Tools 202 and was concerned with the potential uses of Privacy Tools like anonymous proxy servers, digital bearer cash, encrypted emails and so on. So, there was a mid-term. You know the way things work in exams-

(Any Republicans who may be reading this will please think back to junior high school)

-anyway, they have this piece at the beginning in italics that explains the rules:
read all the questions; no looking at your neighbor's paper; no loud whispering of “Hey! Hey! What does this bit mean?” …

Anyway, this particular prof had written something along the lines of:

…please indicate how you would use the Privacy Tools to deal with the following situations. There are nine questions. Q9 will take you a little longer to answer than the others, but will be worth double marks, and if you can answer it satisfactorily, it will show that you have truly understood the lessons of this course.

So, the students read through the exam, and sure enough QQ1-8 were things such as:

Your stupid government has violated international law by banning online gaming. How can you wager your hard-earned cash on a little Texas-Holdem without the Federal Bureau of Killjoys finding out?

And then the students came to Q9, which read, as near as I can remember it:

You are a farmer in North Korea. Two days ago the soldiers came and confiscated the last of this year’s crop. Your baby is sick. Weak with hunger, you sit outside your house when a movement catches your eye.
An unmanned aerial vehicle is flying over the country, dropping thousands of parachute packages. One lands near to you, and you pick it up.
It is a solar-powered PDA, which comes with a recorded video message in your language, explaining its features. Features like the webcam, the email app and the internet browser, as well as the hotlinks to a number of interesting sites: a nutrition guide to the flora and fauna of East Asia, a medical diagnosis and treatment site, the schematics for a number of firearms and a comprehensive manual of guerrilla tactics, as well as email addresses for a number of expat Korean organizations and links to the Privacy Tools we have studied in this course.
With the sum total of human knowledge at your disposal and ready access to a world of big-hearted fellow human beings…
What now?

You know, Professor, students are supposed to cry during midterms when they don’t know the answer to the question.

You magnificent son of a bitch.

Friday, December 15, 2006


S E Asia again

Strictly speaking, I have already gotten out, though only temporarily.

It's been observed that one of the problems with being unemployed is that you start work as soon as you wake up. Another problem is that you don't get paid vacations. I haven't been off the Island of Lost Souls in twenty hellish months. The first thing I did, when I locked in my current long-term contract, was to book a little time off.

I thought of Cape Town again. (Not Rio, much though I love it. I'll save it for when I'm based in New York, when it will be much easier to destinations in the Americas than in Asia or Africa.) Then it occurred to me that I had never seen Angkor and that, since it is literally on the other side of the world from New York, this was pretty much my last chance. So this post is coming from the city of the angels, Bangkok, from where I shall be jetting to Cambodia tomorrow.

I came in on Qatar Airways, a first-rate long-distance carrier that I thoroughly recommend, with a blink-and-you-missed-it layover in Doha. What little I saw of Doha impressed me. It seemed like an efficient and well-organized airport - granted, I had flown out of Gatwick so pretty much anything short of a prison riot would have impressed me well-organized at this point.) Doha is either dry, or the bar is well-hidden; I suspect the latter based on something al-Hamedi once said. (Sorry, can't find the reference. ISTR he described Qatar as "the end of the pier"; the place Saudis go so to women can walk around without wearing tents and people can have the occasional drink.) The other thing I noticed about Doha is that they use English style plugs, with their three huge prongs. Why, I wonder?

As for Bangkok, the new international terminal is a disappointment. They really need a separate immigration counter for people who were polite enough to fill out their immigration cards beforehand (which excludes pretty much all the tourists.) The coup does not appear to have affected life much. In fact the whole city is much as I remember it, although the shrines to the king are bigger than ever before; this is apparently his diamond jubilee.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Ma qui la morta la bloggi resurga!

Now from the dead may my blog awake again!

What a horrible year 2006 was.

For the first three months I was between jobs, as I had been since I told Sucky Job #6 to FOAD back in 2005 - more on that later; now that I am blogging again I plan to post the entire, sordid series of Sucky Jobs.

A couple weeks after my Last Post (March 10th), I ended up in Sucky Job #7; a contract gig working for the most useless and dysfunctional company I have ever encountered, an experience that nearly lost me my closest friend in the world.

Another Sucky Job followed, one that was unusually pointless even compared to the previous Sucky Jobs.

We were halfway through 2006 now, and it had become painfully obvious that my escape route from the continent of the Neanderthals was blocked. Out of the dozens of American companies I applied to, not a one would consider sponsoring me for an H1B visa. At the same time, I was working on the long distance short cut of joining a big transnational and getting moved internally. That went nowhere as well, and besides - it would involve spending another two years in la cita dolente in the hope that they would one, move me at all, and two, move me to New York and not, say, Kaakhstan.

There was one remaining possibility, and it was a desperate expedient, but hey, any means necessary, right? Become a graduate of a US school, and I could use a techicality in the visa laws to finesse my way into an H1B and hence into a green card and freedom.

The only course I could do at this point in my life would be an MBA. (Before you ask, yes, I did go to business school in London. But I didn't get an MBA; I got some kind of wack-ass MS that nobody quite recognizes. Like most of the things I end up doing, it seemed like a good idea at the time. So there was no reason why I couldn't do an MBA as well.)

There was only one problem. To get into business school one needs two professional references.

I could hardly get them from Sucky Job #6, since we had parted on acrimonious terms. (They swindled me out of my last paycheck. I'd have sued them if the Brits knew what the fuck the word litigation means. But I've little confidence that the grandson of a machinist would get very far suing the grandsons of dukes and viscounts in a British court.) Nor could I get references from Sucky Job #7, since I had resigned from the company in disgust. (I'll be writing this up later. It's quite a funny story, to people that weren't involved in the events themselves).

A reference from Sucky Job #8 was no problem. My manager there was a real mensch. (Actually, it was my friend Fergal from business school. Yes, I'm corrupt. Deal with it.)

I desperately needed another reference.

At this point I was given precisely the opportunity I needed: I was hired to do a spot of coding for a huge commercial bank. It was by far the most challenging and worthwhile thing I did in the last five years. I worked my ass off, twelve hours a day, fought off the passive resistance of their full-time-preventers-of-IT-services department and completed my task on time, and even managed to write up some documentation, which I am told none of their developers had ever done...

And in return, I asked my manager for one lousy little reference. He told me it would be no problem. It seems, however, that it was. The deadline for one school went past, then another, then another.

Right after that, my grandmother, my last remaining grandparent, died. (That is to say, her heart stopped beating; she had fallen to Alzheimer's syndrome a couple of years previously so it might not be strictly accurate to say that she herself died in October of this year.) At any rate, we cremated her in my, her, hometown of Necktie, Greater Glasgow; it was a rainy day, appropriately you may say, but then most days in Necktie are rainy, and as her simple pine casket was lowered into the fire I thought, I will write a will, and I will say if I don't make it, scatter my ashes in Manhattan, so that I will go home, if only in death.

And so I flew back to la cita dolente, to despair, to the prospect of complete and total defeat, to the distinct possibility of my own death. I am genuinely convinced that if I had had to stay in London for another two years, it would have been fatal. Whether I died of a stroke, like my grandfather, or by my own hand when the pain became too much to bear, they would undoubtedly have succeeded in killing me off.

Notice the tense I used. Past. Because something wonderful has happened.

I'm getting out.

I have been accepted by a business school. (I'll call it the Patrick Henry U). Not a famous or glamorous one; not a name you'd probably recognize, though they do quite well on at least some of the league tables. Not a great location, either; a town that I consider to be flyover. But hey, at least it's not London. I can tough it out for a short while, then I can leverage into a job in New York. I'm getting out!

(And I may not even have to go to Patrick Henry after all. It occurred to me that I might get away with using a co-worker as my second business reference, and that allowed me to make the deadline of a school in New York, one you would recognise the name of.

(I'm not posting the names because I'm a little paranoid about Patrick Henry revoking the offer if they realize I'm still applying elsewhere. There's no reason for me to worry, of course; this blog is pseudonymous and I'm reasonably confident that my True Name can't be deduced from the bad puns and veiled references I use to describe my life. For instance, "Patrick Henry University" - you thought that was George Mason U, didn't you? But it could be a literary allusion; check your premises. Or am I just bluffing and it is in fact GMU?

(And also, of course, nobody ever reads this blog. Still and all, I'm taking no chances.)

Right after that, mirabile dictu I was hired to do something worthwhile that will advance my career, working for a big transnational bank. It's as though the stars have moved into alignment.

Whatever. All I know is that, for the first time in way too long, I have hope. Hell, I have something better than that. I have certainty. God bless Patrick Henry U and their admissions director; even if I end up studying somewhere else I swear that I will never forget how they helped me when nobody else would or could.

I'm getting out!

Friday, March 10, 2006


The World's Most Shameless Movies

Inspired by this post from the admirable Dean Esmay, here's my list of the Five Most Shameless Movies Ever.

5. The Other Blockbuster: Ever notice how often the blockbusters come in twos? Armageddon/ Deep Impact. Volcano/ Dante's Peak. Lord of the Rings/ Harry Potter. etc/ etc

Every time one studio has a Big Idea another studio will copy it. Invariably. Shamelessly. That's entertainment...

4. Chiller: (OMFG. Researching it on IMDB I just found out that this one was directed by Wes Craven. I'm tempted to upgrade it to #1, because if anyone should have know better than to make a POS like this it was Craven. Still, he cast Cathy Tyson in a major international picture, so he gets a free pass; I'll let this stand at #4).

Chiller is an example of a class of movies apparently designed to pander to warn "flyover" America of the dangers of Things That Nerds Are Into. (Another example would be Mazes and Monsters, which explained in tedious detail how RPGs Will Make Our Kids Crazy! The genealogy of these movies goes back to Reefer Madness, at least). In Chiller, the Evil Nerd Craze That Will Destroy Our Families was cryonics, which viewers were assured would allow Satan and all his minions to possess the bodies of the dear departed*. I've singled this movie out as particularly because of its potential effects. In the final scene, a wiring fault in the cryonics facility destroys the remaining corpsicles, and this is evidently intended as a Happy Ending. Now, I don't know if cryonically-preserved bodies will ever be re-animated by advanced technology; I kind of doubt it. (Not the technology itself; the will to use it for that purpose - who wants to be up to his ears in 500-year-old primitive ancestors?) But I am 100% certain that bodies that have not been cryonically-preserved will not be re-animated by advanced technology, for the simple reason that they won't be frcking there. The implied message of Chiller is that cryonically-preserved bodies should be destroyed, which strikes me as desecration at best; at worst, murder.

Either way, it's shameless.

3. Cruel Intentions II: Not to be confused with Cruel Intentions. The original was possibly the best modern adaptation of a classic I've ever seen, and within those constraints remarkably faithful to the source. Sequels are always difficult. You can show how the original characters develop (eg Smokey and the Bandit is about outrunning the cops and winning the bet; the sequel is about realising there's more to life than that); or you can show the characters, unchanged, in a new situation, which is what most sequels do.

What mercifully few sequels do is show exactly the same characters (with worse dialogue), played by completely different actors (worse actors), in a plot almost identical to the original, only considerably worse. That's Cruel Intentions II.

The single most shameless aspect of this movie is the opening scene, which is essentially xeroxed from the original. Imagine if the opening scene of Godfather Part II featured Ed Wood playing Don Vito Corleone sitting in a room listening to a cabinet-maker begging him for favours. That's Cruel Intentions II.

The Intentions couldn't have been as Cruel as the actuality...

2. Showgirls: Yep, you saw it coming. There are many movies out there that have gratuitous nude scenes that distract from the plot, which is generally a Bad Thing; Showgirls has a great deal of gratuitous nude scenes but frankly, the plot is so lame, one-dimensional, exploitative and irredeemably tacky that any sort of distraction is a blessed release.

By far the most shameless thing about this movie is the pathetic attempt by its writer, Joe Esterhas, to defend it as a serious movie. (Over on IMBD Bothan from Birmingham AL rips Esterhas a new one. Go read it. You'll be glad you did.) Joe: you're a dunce.

Showgirls is utterly lacking in any redeeming quality whatsoever; its influence was so baleful as to fatally damage the careers of two very promising perfomers (Gina Gershon & Kyle McLanahan); and yet, remarkably, there exists a movie more shameless and more putrescent than Showgirls; a movie that can only be described as a disgrace to the human race, and its name is

1. Barb Wire: This is the single most shameless movie ever made. Beyond any shadow of a doubt.

Plan 9 From Outer Space may be the worst. The Birth Of A Nation is perhaps the most repulsive. But, categorically, Barb Wire is the most shameless movie ever made.

Part of its shamelessness, a small but significant part, is the fact that the movie is an unapologetic vanity vehicle for Canada's most in-your-face surgical addict. Pammie: stick to movies like your widely-downloaded Pammie And Tommy On A Yacht (NSFW). Please do not torture the artistic sensibilities of the world with any more movies like Barb Wire

Part of the shamelessness of Barb Wire was the fact that the plot is, quite simply, stolen from Casablanca. Not that there's anything wrong with that, if you do it the right way: for instance, Last Man Standing is A Fistful of Dollars is Yojimbo - just as Cruel Intentions I is Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Remake a classic well, and you get another classic. Remake a classic badly, and you may be forgiven, if you meant well.

The makers of Barb Wire, however, clearly did not mean well. The plot of this movie is, as I said, stolen from Casablanca and you no doubt recall that in Casablanca, the protagonist is the proprietor of a bar in the neutral zone between the Good Guys (the Allies) and the Forces of Evil (the Nazis). There is not one single original idea in Barb Wire, and so in that movie too, the protagonist is the proprietor of a bar in the neutral zone between the Good Guys and the Forces of Evil. Except that, in Barb Wire the Forces of Evil are universally referred to as the "Congressional Republic", which, given the release date (1996) can only be construed as a reference to the Wicked Republicans who had won usurped control of Congress a couple years previously. By thus equating Gingrich's Republicans with Hitler's Nazis, Barb Wire chose to be the mimetic Index Case for the BusHitler Syndrome that has since reached pandemic proportions.

To sum up: this movie was a meretricious, parodic plagiarism of a great work of art; a hackish vehicle for a walking advertisement for Dow Corning; and worst of all, blazed the trail for the demonising of political opponents as the equivalent of the Nazis - which has not only tarnished and corrupted political discourse but has cheapened the suffering of the victims of the Nazis' crimes. Every single person connected in any way with this movie ought to be ashamed to look at his own face in a mirror.

Barb Wire is unquestionably the most shameless movie ever made and released.

*Interesting to compare this premise with that of Potter's Cold Lazarus, in which the soul of Daniel Field was bound to his cryonically-preserved head and thus unable to enter paradise.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Creator of "Bad MoFo" Now "Dead MoFo"

Gordon Parks has died. That's Gordon Parks, the director of Shaft etc, as opposed to Gordon Parks, the director of Superfly, who's been dead pretty much forever.

I've nothing much to say on the subject; I just was surprised to learn that the directors of the only two blaxploitation movies everyone can name on a bet were father and son. Never knew that...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Life Imitates Seinfeld

So I found the motherlode of Seinfeld quotes (H/T Ken from secondbreakfast) and one in particular caught my eye:

Jerry: So your saying UNICEF is a scam?
Cosmo Kramer: It's the perfect cover for a money laundering operation . No one can keep track of all those kids with the little orange boxes of change.

It made me quite nostalgic for the 1990s, when the idea of the UN as a huge washer-drier for dirty money was just a surreal comedic fantasy, and the idea of crazed fanatics using 747s as guided missiles was just a pulp spy novel plot.

Biologist JBS Haldane once observed that "the universe is not just stranger than we imagine; it is stranger than we can imagine." We've learned that that's not always a good thing.

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