Thursday, September 11, 2014

A pro tip

I've got no real problem with using a keygen to cough up a product key, if you're a valid user of a product.  I will cop to having pirated some software over the years, but in the manner of Michael Corleone, I've made an honest attempt to become legitimate over the years.

In attempting to get my recently-relocated recording studio up and running, I've had to make some adjustments.  I no longer have my ProTools machine at my disposal, so I've sought to use my laptop in conjunction with some other recording tools.  In particular, I was interested in installing Steinberg Cubase LE.  I had received the install disk several years ago in a bundle with one of the devices I purchased (my Xenyx mixing console, if I remember correctly), and as is my practice with OEM discs, I copied the disc's contents onto my warez share and left them there.  Fast forward to today, when I don't have that disc at my disposal and needed to install the software.  I pulled it from my share, began the install, and found I needed a product key.  I'd never gotten around to saving the PK in my keys file.  It's on the disc sleeve, somewhere, but that disc and its sleeve are in storage. Somewhere.

So in order to get the install finished, I resorted to looking up a keygen online.  (First I attempted to use the legacy product keys that the vendor posts on its website, but none of those worked with my product.)  I downloaded an executable from kdgbase.com.

Don't go there.  Don't use any of the addresses in the next portion of this weblog (I have pasted them here, but I have not made links of them).  Copy and paste the URLs and then add them to your firewall's blacklist.  Boycott these sons o bitches.

Once I downloaded the keygen executable, I scanned it for malware.  Then I installed it.  It immediately connected to the Internet and downloaded and installed at least five other programs.  I spent several hours performing a system scan and uninstalling everything.  There was evidently no real malware involved, just guiltware and adware, but I seriously resent any attempt to install anything without my explicit consent.  It's as simple as that.

<Do NOT use these links>

lss799.yourfiledownloader.org
http://www.kgdbase.com/get_it.php?id=4290541
http://lss799.yourfiledownloader.org/j5GGQmDRul4t+IgUO5bhdCXXsD51pbdtYrfgfi750WAv/tRnGvaaLkSjgDZO5chaGO3GQUGVmwJS2cRWDNkyVU6NdwMslXskL5AwTGyPfOoqwSK3ZCZt8iZhIPw1blXkP35AsRZiSP0AfU7AHmFBxlMpE8QeSVrASxUb2hsVAvtYQCKK515vzedYJNvVTDiu6wFk86Nwa/KhcG33vDwIvvtxVOOTYFvikWBd54w7EJeTaFOXwA8dntUQIobeVbPVylHt

</Do NOT use these links>

Block the domains kdgbase and yourfiledownloader.  Find another source for product keys if you need them.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The demise of thrash: a hypothesis

I haven't yet read the book Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!  The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyonce, by Bob Stanley, and I probably won't any time soon...my current reading stack is simply too high to admit any new members, and my interest in rock music doesn't incorporate much pop.  Nor have I (or will I soon) read any of the several recent books about President Ronald Reagan, in particular The Invisible Bridge:  The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, as I doubt that Perlstein is truly objective about Reagan's accomplishments.  But I'm sure I'll eventually get around to both, as that stack diminishes, since they both deal with aspects of American history that I'm interested in.

I have, however, read book reviews of both.  There's an interesting intersection between their subject matter that I find more dear than pop music:  the rise and fall of heavy metal.  If we dissect "pop" from rock, by way of admitting that American popular music predates rock 'n roll and runs in a parallel, oft-overlapping stream, we can focus on the particularly rock elements that serve as the bedrock craton for all blues-based musical forms, namely, the reliance on a I-IV-V chord progression and its close relatives; the reliance on a minor pentatonic scale, with its naturally doomy-and-gloomy sound; and the embellishment of that progression and scale with traditionally diatonic elements. You'll find these same elements in pop, jazz, and early rock 'n roll and all its descendants, including heavy metal (which often additionally incorporates elements regarded as "gothic," such as exotic scales).

Metal is particularly interesting to me, as it satisfies some measure of the requirement for deep and somber music (in much the same way that classical does); it also offers heavy, serious sensibilities, political import, and, almost as often, theater, humor and self-parody.  Sometimes, as was the case throughout the 80s hair-metal movement, these last three elements are unintentional, and therefore lamentable, but if we define "heavy metal" as a branch of rock music heavily concerned with supernatural and spiritual themes of good and evil, death, destruction and war, then we can largely dispense with "pop metal" as a commercial anomaly, crafted for maximum sales potential rather than evolved to cater to a particular set of aesthetics.  Other than a tendency to involve loud vocals, the only thing pop metal has in common with heavy metal is a dependence on distorted electric guitar sounds.

What is of historical import about heavy metal is that its origins, like those of psychedelic pop (hippie rock, what is now largely known as "classic rock"), lie in the geopolitical situation of the late 1960s. Hippies and Port Huron militants weren't the only groups alarmed by the Vietnam war, the apparent racial disparity in the draft, and the perception of widespread social and economic injustice.  What all of these situations have in common, at root, is government policy; what is particularly relevant, of course, is the Cold War, which can be argued as the ultimate source of all protest music.

And heavy metal, at its outset, was protest music.

Black Sabbath arguably touched off the movement, although the Beatles, the Who, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin all contributed mightily to its inception.  Nonetheless, none of those other bands were wholly heavy metal bands; Sabbath was the first to approach the making of music, and of albums, in a purely metallic context.  Its members hailed from Birmingham, a particularly depressing outpost of the British Industrial Revolution, all sad and wet and besooted with coal smoke.  The members were angry at the world and wanted to share that anger.  Although they wrote of similar subject matter, they approached it in different ways.  For instance, rather than sing that "war is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate," they called governments and military brass "war pigs," asserted that they love violence for violence' sake, leaving fighting "all to the poor," and described a scenario in which Satan, pleased at the destruction they've sown, "laughing, spreads his wings."  ("War Pigs", from their 1970 album Paranoid.)

As Hunter Thompson put it, the desire for victory on the part of the hippies wasn't "in any mean or military sense; our energy would simply prevail."  This form of spiritual protest by way of presumed cultural / moral superiority had no chance of succeeding in the face of what Thompson acknowledged was the "grim meathook reality" of life in a competitive environment.  Nonviolence has been shown to be effective in raising awareness and pushing society toward acceptance in a civil rights context, but to be fairly useless in changing society beyond that.  True, Nixon did cave in to public pressure in deciding to withdraw troops from Vietnam, but the "public" in this instance involved, by then, a great deal more than just the hippie movement, and the "pressure" involved a great deal more than nonviolent protest.  The practitioners of heavy metal as a form of protest were more closely aligned with the SDS radicals and Weathermen than with the hippies, and so the first great schism in rock music came about.  Although "classic" rock entails all those elements of pre-New Wave music that can be viewed as having a psychedelic element in common, in truth the heavy metal audience and the prog-rock audience were two substantially different populations (albeit, as always, with some overlap).  The rise of punk in the early-to-mid 70s drove another wedge, this time between the punk audience and the entirety of "classic."  Both progressive rock--the heir to hippie music--and metal exhibited, in the opinion of the punks, an overblown pretentiousness that robbed rock music of its primitive immediacy and blunted its emotional impact.

But although this scorn for pretentiousness is the superficial rationale, and the one most cited by the musical press, it seems to me that we cannot ignore the end of our involvement in the Vietnam War as a causal factor.  The punk crowd--disaffected youth--had just been denied the nexus of protest that their predecessors had seized upon.  They still had a lot to be angry about, but lacked a focal point.  Nihilism was the inevitable consequence, and drug-induced self-destruction became the new face of youth.

Progressive rock never quite died away, although it fell from prominence as punk rose, and as garage rock and disco garnered increasing market share of album output.  Heavy metal eked out an existence that kept it largely beneath the radar--punk remained all the rage until well into the 80s--right up until the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, which introduced American audiences to a rapidly-diversifying new field, dominated by Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, and reaffirmed the prominence of Sabbath as all-father of an increasingly-relevant form.

New Wave came into being as the nihilistic 70s gave way to the self-absorbed 80s, and punk acts softened their tone for a more mass audience.  This is often credited with burying disco.  In my opinion, the NWOBHM played at least as substantial a role in that.  And so, coming into 1981, the elements were in place for the emergence of thrash:  a still-angry, still-fast punk tradition, in search of a new sound, and a vast panoply of metal sounds just looking for American adoptees.  The thrash-metal fusion of rapid-fire, staccato punk rhythms to metal guitars and vocals is, like blues, jazz and rock itself, a uniquely American invention, but just like the rest, it required the initial importation of sounds developed elsewhere.

And the time was right in a geopolitical sense as well.  Although the Reagan presidency remains one of the towering achievements of American exceptionalism, vindicating both classical liberal economic theory and the triumph of market economics over command economy principles, it was--and is--one of the most maligned administrations in history, painted as unfeeling and rigorously moralizing, even authoritarian, by its opponents.  Of course, there was little if any of the conformist emphasis of the Eisenhower 1950s, whence rock had originally come; and even if the Drug War, a child of the Nixon era, was expanded under the Reagan administration, drug use, including that of psychedelics, expanded even faster.  What Reagan really represented, to the larger arc of history, was a return of the Cold War, an economic and ideological conflict that had all but lain dormant during the naively idealistic Carter administration, which was focused on domestic problems, struggling simply to keep the nation afloat during the Stagflation era (brought about by misguided Keynesianism, which, to be fair, is as much Nixon's fault as Carter's).  Carter's achievements, such as they are, took place almost exclusively outside our borders.  The late 1970s were an economic and social hell, and therefore ripe for protest music; but because the administration was a pacifist, liberal one, engaged in furthering peace between warring nations in the Middle East, there was little for protest music of the traditional kind to seize upon.  One might say of protest music that it, like the warhawks it lambastes, is born in war and knows little else.

But with the return of Cold War sabre-rattling, even in the absence of direct armed conflict (and therefore of a draft), the spectre of nuclear devastation was resurrected, and thus was metal given its new raison d'etre.  Witness "Blackened" by Metallica (...And Justice For All, 1988), part of an 80s oeuvre that also includes "Disposable Heroes," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," and "One" (a Grammy winner in 1990!)  Witness also "Rust In Peace," "Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?" and a handful of others by Megadeth.  But we don't need to confine our discussion to thrash, as Iron Maiden maintains a long tradition of war songs, covering conflicts as varied as the Crimean War, WWI, and WWII. The difference is that whereas Maiden decries the massive destruction and glorifies the men who sacrificed their lives, in a lyrical, almost literary fashion, the thrash bands take a more satirical approach, vilifying those who bring war about in no uncertain terms.  It's "War Pigs" at punk velocity.

But thrash was destined to be short-lived.  By the end of the 80s, the "Bach 'N Roll" movement had become predominant (sharing the stage, unfortunately, with pop metal, which at least offered some similar measure of guitar virtuosity).  Led by Yngwie Malmsteen, this thread deemphasized vocals and lyrical content; its foremost practitioners (such as Tony MacAlpine), by the early 1990s, were releasing entirely instrumental albums on the Shrapnel label.  Megadeth got some renewed mileage out of the first Gulf War; I saw them in March 1991 at Pink's Garage in Honolulu, shortly after our victory over Iraq, at which Dave Mustaine roused the mostly-military audience with an early use of the "Crush 'em" catch phrase, as in "Did we crush 'em or what?", just before launching into a rendition of "Holy Wars."  (I guess sometimes an anti-war sentiment can take a back seat to aggression, when marketing your sound to an Army crowd.)  But Megadeth has since fallen from prominence (a situation perhaps hastened by Mustaine's being Born Again); Anthrax is nowhere to be found; and while Slayer and Suicidal Tendencies have continued touring, they've released little of note in the past two decades.

As for Metallica, their sound has notoriously evolved since the 1980s, taking on a more downtempo, melodious form, with much more personal lyrics focused on mental health, substance abuse, inerpersonal relationships and feelings of shame and inadequacy. Justice was a step in that direction, noted by critics for having shed much of the band's thrash trappings in favor of a more "progressive metal" sound.  It's worth pointing out that the album's release, 1988, coincides with the end of the Reagan administration, and comes well after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  While the band still has many die-hard old fans, and may have won some new ones with the "Mellowica" approach, they are most certainly no longer a thrash band.  Megadeth, the other thrash contemporary still making solid records, has also shifted its tone considerably, which probably explains their relative longevity.

It's my opinion that the end of the Cold War robbed metal practitioners of the late 80s of subject matter in the same way that the end of the Vietnam War robbed prog-rock practitioners of the early 70s.  As the fraternal twin strains of self-indulgence (hair metal) and global paranoia (thrash) found themselves on the precipice of the 1990s, the world was changing too rapidly to sustain their base. Metallica found new life by adapting their sound; Megadeth has gone on to release many more albums than they did throughout the 80s, and has taken a wide range of political stances on issues such as canned hunting, but has yet to regain the relevance it held throughout that decade.  The hair metal bands have been relegated to the role of novelty acts, useful in forging reunion tours but devoid of new content.

But metal isn't dead.  Far from it.  It has lost some of its earlier luster, but it has also diversified. Prog-metal has filled the void left by thrash.  And in this new era of stateless warfare, of terrorism and Islamofascism, there is still plenty to be gloomy and angry about.  But the new brand of metal, typified by bands like Tool, Disturbed, and to a lesser extent the nu-metal bands that were quite popular a decade ago, focus less on global issues and politics than on depression and sex and desire. The second Gulf War, and the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, being relatively low-intensity affairs, failed to offer the same galvanizing influence that Vietnam and the threat of thermonuclear war did. The kids are still angry, but now they're angry at their pimples and their girlfriends and the cheerleaders who won't go out with them.

There's still guitar virtuosity, but now there's a growing interest in vocal virtuosity as well.  But the focus is on songwriting more than anything else:  about the wit and bite and turn of a phrase that reveals the inner torment of genius.  This is what makes Tool such a viable candidate for leader of a new movement.  If more new bands buy into Maynard's approach to swaggering--through pointed lyrics rather than a low-slung Kramer guitar--then metal will continue to flourish, perhaps enjoying yet another renaissance, its third (the NWOBHM and thrash movements being the first two).  As Stanley puts it, "Along with country, it's quite likely it will outlast every other genre in this book."

So whether anyone in the Reagan camp can legitimately take credit for engineering the demise of thrash metal, and the cultural decline it was thought to evince, it's certain that they bear some of the blame, merely for outcompeting the Soviet Union.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

The rat in the pool

Day One, just prior to rescue.



Day Two, just after rescue.


Day Three, just after rescue.


It's clearly becoming used to being handled.  Is it a pet yet?

I'm currently developing a theory about the domestication of rats, that posits that they originally stumbled into the swimming pools of ancient peoples circa 8,000 BC.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sweatbandicity

Country living has some advantages over city living.  I can just walk a few hundred feet from the house and wet my line in a pond and catch something like this green perch.  (When sport fishing, I use hooks on which I've flattened the barbs, to make the release part less traumatic for me and the fish.   This big fellow has almost certainly been caught at least once before, as that's how my Dad restocked the bank tank, which had completely dried up a couple of years ago:  by relocating fish caught in the front tank.)




Since moving here, I've had to make multiple trips out to the storage warehouse in Mexia where 95% of my personal belongings are kept.  Mostly I'm there to either put up stuff that I can't use here, or dig up stuff that I need here.  The search efforts often involve opening a lot of hastily-labeled boxes, some of which have been so abused that they're in need of replacement.  So I'll put some effort into repacking goods and reorganizing the warehouse and relabelling the boxes.  It's hot, sweaty, dusty work, and tedious, even dangerous, when done alone.

Last week I was in there to find some things and put up some things and rearrange and relabel.  I was looking in particular for clothing that could be used to make me presentable for job applications and interviews and business luncheons and award ceremonies and international diplomacy.  But mostly, I guess, for job applications.  I found the clothing, and, serendipitously, found, atop the clothing, a sweat band that I bought to use with the exercise equipment (and so was hardly used at all, nice and bright white).  I put it on so that I wouldn't have to use my grubby hands to sweep sweat from my face while I worked.

My apartment, the one with the extensive computer network and the well-planned hobby workspace and the kickass man cave and pet space, was a marvel of organization, for reasons involving the vast panoply of shelves I'd collected over the past decade.  I had walnut shelves and pine shelves and cherry-wood shelves and white-painted shelves and butterscotch-painted shelves.  I had steel shelf racks and chrome etageres.  I had hidden shelves tucked away beneath my coffee table's top, for stashing remote controls and whatnot, and I had ugly shelves of particle board and plywood for my robotics and rocketry projects.  With the right shelving, in the right amounts, you can turn a medium-sized two-bedroom apartment into a workshop and multimedia center with enough chick-friendliness to justify calling it "home."

When I'd first stuffed my belongings into the warehouse, I'd leaned my queen-sized mattress, on edge, against the back wall and stacked about fifty pounds of wood shelves on the top edge.  I ended up with a rather irregular, troublesome arrangement of belongings, since it required two trailer loads to move everything, and the layout couldn't be fully planned in advance.  So on that last trip, a week or so ago, I was trying to shift the irregular stuff--the furniture and the exercise equipment and the curvy, slopy television that is impossible to stack things on--toward the back, so that I wouldn't have to move it out of the way on future visits when all I wanted access to was the boxes.  I was up against that mattress, up against that back wall, trying to wedge some chairs and barstools into the corner, when I leaned too far into the mattress and tipped that stack of shelves over, right onto my head.  Fifty-odd pounds of painted and stained-veneer particle board fell squarely onto the back of my head, as a unit.   If I hadn't been wearing that sweatband--and if it hadn't ridden up high on the back of my head--the impact might well have killed me.  It certainly would have scrambled my brains but good, knocking me out, pitching me forward onto my face on the concrete floor, with possibly more shelves and boxes landing atop me.  I might have remained there, passed out, slowly succumbing to heat exhaustion or suffocation, for hours until the Fam decided to come check on my status.

As it is, I very nearly lost consciousness.  The impact was padded by the sweatband, and the stress distributed over a larger part of my skull.  Even now, a week or so later, my cranium aches, but not nearly as bad as it might had things gone differently.  I had to lean back into that mattress to keep my footing, and it was a good twenty seconds or so before I was again fairly in possession of my faculties.  When I could logically string together the sensation of impact, the blackness and the seeing of stars, the THWACK of the shelves landing on the concrete floor, and my current lightheaded, slightly tilted circumstance, I decided to put my hand up and feel my scalp, to detect any swelling or bleeding that might be underway.  When my fingers touched the terrycloth of the sweatband, I--only for a moment--thought I had in fact been scalped, and that a senseless, dead flap of skin was now hanging down from the point of impact, presumably exposing shiny white cranium to the dusty air of the warehouse interior.  The latest version of the Visible Head.

The sweatband might have saved my life; it probably at least protected me from serious injury.   Finding it, and feeling the urge to put it on, strike me as yet another aspect of synchronicity.  Or of serendipity, at least, and in this instance, I think they're essentially the same thing.

Fast-forward to today.  I've been helping Dad put together a little shelter for a picnic table out by the front pond, for relaxing in the shade when fishing or just hanging out at the pond, watching the fish chase the dragonflies.  We had some thunderstorms a couple of days ago, and it's been humid and overcast much of the time since then.  The fish, normally most active at morning and evening, have been operating as if it's morning all day, and they've been splashing and jumping and slapping the surface while we worked.  When we finished the main effort early this afternoon, I decided to try it out for real by bringing my rod and reel, and setting my tacklebox and my camera down into the shade.  I tied a few leaders, using those flattened-barb hooks, and set up an experimental bass rig using a soft-plastic swimbait (too light to cast effectively, so I threaded a small bullet sinker onto the leader).  I first caught a large grasshopper and used it with a bobber to test the bluegills' response, and got a resounding Aye.  They like grasshoppers.  After several strikes, once the grasshopper got too worse for wear to draw any self-respecting perch, I switched over to the bass rig.  I alternated between casting deep, across the middle of the pond, and casting shallow along the banks.  I got strikes on all the deep casts, but nobody wanted to let me set the hook.  (I'm finding you have to play the rod a bit differently with these flattened-barb hooks.  I'm still working on the technique.)  On my third near-shore cast, something hit the swimbait hard, just two feet from the bank, in water that probably wouldn't have come up midway on my shins.  After a brief but vigorous struggle, I landed this largemouth.



This is probably the biggest bass I've ever caught.  I suspect this catapults me from the rank of dilettante squarely into the category amateur.  I couldn't weigh or measure it, so I quickly photographed it before releasing it.  My hand should provide a sense of scale, but unfortunately the photo's perspective doesn't do the fish justice.  The body seems to taper off too rapidly.  My best guess is that it was fourteen inches in length and in the neighborhood of four pounds.  The bass population of the front pond consists entirely of fish that my Dad and I caught about five years ago in a cousin's pond and relocated; prior to that point, there was nothing but assorted perch, mostly bluegills.  He has since relocated some of those original bass to the back pond.  None of the bass were extraordinarily large when originally caught; they've evidently thrived quite well since.

I was wearing the white sweatband when I caught it.  That's two good things that have happened while it was soaking up perspiration for me.  I'm thinking I should start wearing it more.  Do I start calling it my "lucky sweatband" now, or do I wait for something else cool to happen?

Synchronicity 1

The first in a series.

I've been making a living as a Web designer and developer for more than a decade, but I've always viewed that as a sideline, one that provided me the tools and skills to create my own Web content and run my own sites, so that I could eventually get on with my real life's work, writing and making art.  My previous sandbox, Byff's Personal Hell, was a long-running labor of love, a concoction of my own ASP (and later ASP.NET) pages running over COM (and later .NET) components and a SQL database, the combination of which compelled me to construct a whole enterprise network in my apartment.  It was always a work in progress; it was never really finished.  I never took the steps necessary to publicize it, so it remained a fairly well-kept secret, held by myself and a few close friends and family members.  It was expansive, though, built with an eye toward providing room for all the kinds of content I like to produce.  There were sections for science fiction stories, science articles, essays on nature, politics and religion, drawings and graphics renderings, photo galleries, lyrics, musical compositions, cartoons, a forum for discussing human nature, a weblog, and the centerpiece:  the "Visible Head Personal Locator System," a graphical sitemap that visualized this mindscape as my own trepanned skull, with various bones and bits of exposed brain representing the different sections.  I spent far more time constructing and perfecting the layout than in actually posting content to it.  It was as much about creativity itself as it was about promoting the results of creativity.  It was about creating a framework and daring myself to fill it, about shaming myself--via the views and comments of outsiders--into perfecting my art.

Creativity, it would seem, is my thing.  When I look back over the awards I won in school for my participation in art competitions, I have as many ribbons labeled "Most Creative" as I have blue ribbons for Best In Show.  The most head-swelling thing that was ever said about me, within earshot, was said by my former art teacher Mrs. Shepard (nee Scoggins), when I returned to Langham Creek High School, during my college years, in order to contribute to a seminar for graduating students on what to expect in the real world:  "This is the most creative student I have ever had."  It could have been said entirely for my own benefit, signifying nothing real, but ever since then--ever since Mr. Sanders and Ms. Scoggins encouraged my artistic drive, and Mrs. McFadden and Mrs. Kanyo encouraged my writing efforts--I've been trying to live up to it.  The site was built in order to prove to myself that she was right.

One of the thematic emphases expressed in the site was human behavior as a special case of animal behavior.  I'm very interested in evolutionary psychology, in aggression, in ritualized (and not-so-ritualized) competition, in kinship and in social organization.  When I found myself delving more deeply into politics, circa my early 20s, I found that certain ideologies that had been natural and easy to adopt in my teens were no longer a good fit.  Over a rather torturous process of discovery and personal evolution, I came to realize that as adolescents, we are driven more by peer acceptance and rebellion than by reason, and that we often use our anger and disaffection as justification for our policy preferences, all the while cloaking our derision in "compassion" and empty labels such as "social justice."  To the teen, who is just learning how to adapt and adopt a peer group, collectivism is an instinctive norm.  To the adult, who is just learning how to stand on his own, individualism is the more correct path; but many of us, arrested in our development by our attachments to our youth and our friends, cling to the adolescent worldview.  (The chief irony of the progressive, I've come to understand, is an inability to progress past one's own embryonic viewpoint.)

One of the things that precipitated my journey was a casual reading of Robert Ardrey's African Genesis, which put a few aspects of my observations of human nature into perspective.  It introduced me to evolutionary psychology, a discipline which has since become a steady interest.  And it provided a framework for working my own ideology out.  It invited me to take as many issues as possible, the entire political arena if possible, back to first principles.  To understand the human animal, you must understand the animal.  To understand society's choices, you have to understand society.  To discern truth in a wide world of bias, aesthetic and propaganda, you have to build as broad a base of fact as possible, and erect a scaffolding of theory atop that, hoping that all lines of evidence will converge at a pinnacle in which the truth is illuminated, unmistakable and inviolate.  I think of it as a pyramid of knowledge.  I hope it comes out nice and symmetrical.

Ardrey was not a scientist, although his statistical acumen was instrumental in demonstrating the thesis whence his conclusions derive, a thesis advanced by Raymond Dart, discoverer of Australopithecus:  the so-called Hunting Hypothesis, describing what Dart's paper termed the "predatory transition from ape to man."  Ardrey paints a compelling portrait of the original human and his divergence from the great southern apes, but there have been discoveries since the early 1960s to account for, as well as the cognitive input of many real scientists.  To put civilization into perspective, you need a broader base.  E. O. Wilson and Jared Diamond have popular books that can broaden that base, and of course there are many papers in The Literature.  But evolutionary psychology is still just a jumping-off point, into sociology, paleoanthropology, physical anthropology, cultural anthropology, archaeology and macroeconomics; it's also the surface entrance to a deeper dive into neurology, ethology, evolutionary biology, and ecology; hell, take it back far enough, and you can find yourself at abiogenesis, trying to understand the origin of life in terms of physics and chemistry.  What's interesting about the overall structure of the investigation, if you view the politics - anthropology - sociobiology - evolution trunk as the long axis, is the commonality found at the endpoints of each dendrite:  abiogenesis, ecology, sociology, economics, all additionally linked by complexity and emergent phenomena.

So I broadened the base, and in the process developed a deep appreciation for complexity.  To understand Ardrey, you must understand Freud, Jung and Adler.  So I read Freud, Jung and Adler.  And I added to my growing list of appreciations an appreciation for Jung.  While working toward political understanding, I've been working toward an understanding of my story and the storytelling process, so I also studied mythology and storytelling.  To understand mythology, you must understand Joseph Campbell, in addition to the ancient cultures (and not-so-ancient cultures) whose myths you read.  To understand Joseph Campbell, you must understand Jung.  To tell a story about dreams, you must again understand Freud, and you must again understand Jung.  So there is a neat convergence in Jung between my disparate interests.  The same can be said for F. A. Hayek, whose "spontaneous order" is at work in the field of macroeconomics, in which he first wrote, as well as in all the other aforementioned disciplines, which cannot have truly taken shape without those first writings.  His work is seminal to them all.

Hayek taught me about the Constitution of Liberty and the Free Market.  Jung taught me about the Collective Unconscious.  Ardrey taught me about the Amity / Enmity Complex.  Together, they taught me about society and about politics.  Individually, and in various combinations, they have taught others I've known.  Hayek taught Heinlein.  Jung and Ardrey taught Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick.  Ardrey taught Strother Martin, who then taught Sam Peckinpah.  Many of my media influences are steeped in their theories, which in retrospect may have been an essential aspect of predisposing me to those theories.  (You'll probably see me, in future posts, citing a lot of my favorite movies in making points about Liberty or the Unconscious or the Complex.  Sorry bout that.)

Maybe that's what the Collective Unconscious does, though.  Maybe it's just the organizing principle to our experiences, at least for those who have become aware of its existence and are trying to pay attention.

In writing my novel, I've come to develop a close personal relationship with synchronicity.  It plays a pivotal role in the lives of the characters, and in my getting inside their heads to tell their stories in their words, it has played a pivotal role in mine.  I have to remain in character for extended periods while telling those stories.   While this is so, I keep witnessing compelling instances of synchronicity, from the most minor and mundane to the truly profound.  I don't presume there's any Grand Point to it all, or that I'm capable of figuring it out.  I take it all as admonition to stay on task, to keep moving the ball.

Here are two examples from the past week, both quite possibly near the low end of the significance spectrum, but both of personal interest.  (The "meaningful" part of meaningful coincidence is, of course, entirely in the eye of the beholder.)

Between 1990 and 1993, I served in the Army Infantry at Schofield Barracks.  In my final year, I was a fire team leader in a light infantry platoon.  Late in my tour, I decided not to reenlist; either to punish me for that decision, or move me out of the way of the replacements who would soon be coming in to replace my outgoing COHORT unit, I was transferred to the antitank platoon and put in charge of a team of Dragon gunners.  I didn't have a clue about antitank operations, and the AT guys were in a different regime altogether, as regards discipline.  They were good soldiers, but used to a somewhat cleaner, less footwork-intensive way of life.  There had always been a friendly rivalry in Bravo Company between the gunners (and the mortarmen) and us, the "real" infantry guys in the rifle platoons.  Now I found myself on the other side of that rivalry.

My battalion's last major deployment was to the National Training Center tank range in southern California.   (As a jungle warfare outfit, we naturally spent the bulk of our training deployments in desert regions.)  My first movement-to-contact mission with an AT platoon--men who were more used to being trucked to their destination than walking to it--was a live fire exercise.  For whatever reason, we didn't make it to the objective by the designated time, and the live-fire cadres had gone home by the time we arrived.  We couldn't perform the mission, and everybody was disappointed and out of sorts.  As the sun began to set, the men pulled up into a platoon area, our side of a rectangular company perimeter, a rocky outcropping on the sandy, gravelly desert floor.

And there were sidewinders.  Everywhere.  You could hear them buzzing no matter which way you turned.   You couldn't see many, but they were there, watching and listening in their own, head-down, jaws-to-the-ground way, the racket of their tiny rattles scattering every which way off the backdrop of boulders.

Most of the men were freaked.  I was the company's Snake Handler, so I wasn't terribly perturbed, but I was nonetheless careful about where I stepped.  As the men continued to voice their bitter unhappiness in having missed the objective and being stopped in this pit viper paradise, I came upon Andes, using his M-16 in a repeatedly unsuccessful bid to butt-stroke a fifteen-inch rattler.  He shouldn't have had any ammo locked and loaded at that point, and most likely didn't, but I couldn't take a chance he had a live round in the chamber while he was smashing the buttstock against the rocky ground.  The snake didn't like the idea either. I stopped him and used the muzzle of my rifle to goad the critter into leaving.  It would have been a pain in the ass to try to escort it all the way out of the perimeter, though, and Andes clearly still wanted to smash it.   So I ill-conceived a plan to use the muzzle to lift the rattler off the ground and catapult it out of the assembly area.  It went along with that idea for a moment, but then quickly began to slide over the muzzle as I lifted it.   So I grabbed it by the tail and held it steady for the moment or so needed to fling it.  The flinging went off without a hitch, but it's probably pure luck that I didn't end up tossing it onto someone else.

Later that night, we moved from the rocky desert floor to a grassy hillside, just upslope from a bunch of OPFOR Tankers in their Bradley fighting machines.  They'd used that hillside as a latrine, in typical Tanker fashion:  simply squat and go, and leave the soiled TP blowing in the wind.  I wanted to dig a proper, infantry-specification latrine right through the skull of their CO, but he was no doubt better armored than I was.  Our collective mood was little improved, and we got little rest that night.

We finished up the field exercise, then finished up the deployment.  A few months later, we finished our tour in the 1/14th Infantry Battalion.  We trickled through Fort Lewis in Washington to outprocess, finding bus tickets (or, in my case, a personally-owned vehicle previously shipped across the Pacific and waiting for the drive) home.  We returned to our civilian lives.  We lost track of each other.

In 2005, Andes, having launched a career in drug smuggling, disappeared en route to a rendezvous in Chicago.  His whereabouts are unknown; he is presumed dead, murdered by a cartelito rival.

In 2010, an informant who spied on Andes for the DEA wrote a tell-all article about working with Andes.  A year or so later, I found and joined the Facebook group for our old unit.  There, I read about Andes' disappearance, among other sad news items about other former Golden Dragons.  A couple of weeks ago, news broke that another of our number had recently died.  This compelled one of the group members to set up a memorial page for fallen Dragons, and Andes' name came up once more.  Another old Army buddy linked the informant's article to the thread, and I read it a few days ago.

In it, the informant tells a story of hiding in the desert outside El Paso, watching Andes wait for a drug connection.  While crouching in the brush, he heard a nearby rattlesnake buzzing its indignation at his presence.  If his story can be taken at face value, he found the only immediate solution available to the problem of holding his position while not giving it away to Andes:  he grabbed the rattler by the tail and flung it away from him.

I've no way of determining whether that's a true story.  I can only state that it's highly unlikely he read my version of events before posting his own, as I only told my story a few months ago, in that same Facebook group.  If he did grab a rattlesnake, though, it cannot have been a sidewinder; most likely, it was a western diamondback or a rock rattler (but also could have been a Mojave or a blacktail).

So is it synchronicity that we both have a rattlesnake story, involving Andes, in which a viper was grabbed by the tail and flung?  Yes, I think.  I think there's no way I can avoid thinking about those similarities, and that's what makes the coincidence a meaningful one.

The second instance begins the next day, the day after I read the informant's story.  On that day I decided to launch a Blogger weblog about the creative process and in support of the novel project.  I also decided to begin reading The Long Tail by Chris Anderson.  Shortly after completing Chapter 7, "The Tastemasters"--in which he discusses the pros and cons of several different music-marketing schemes, using the artist Bonnie McKee and her unfortunate  2004 experience with LAUNCHCast and Reprise Records as an object lesson in the pitfalls of improper categorization--I took a break from the book to do some design work on my new blog.  I was pulling up links to my profiles on other social media, to add the URLs to my "Pages" widget, when my MySpace page presented me with a link to a new MySpace video series, "Getting Nailed."  The inaugural episode was about Bonnie McKee.

I don't have any opinion on her music; I'm not into pop, and I'd never heard of her before encountering her name in Anderson's book.  All I can say after watching the video is that she is indeed hot, and that the LAUNCHCast categorization scheme was indeed probably doomed from the start in trying to classify her.  But I think it's significant that I came across her name in two different connections within minutes of each other, one of them involving a peek at my own MySpace profile.  (And, as I began writing of it, the song "Winding Road" by Bonnie Somerville began playing on Windows Media Player.  Different Bonnie, but a reminder nonetheless.)  I've no idea what the meaning here could be, other than perhaps a directive to continue paying attention.  Or maybe to heed what Anderson has to say about her travails, so I can avoid similar error in promoting my product.

So what does it mean when two instances of synchronicity occur within such a narrow time frame?  Is not the temporal juxtaposition a form of synchronicity itself?  I think yes.  It's a kind of meta-synchronicity that occurs with some regularity as I turn my attention back to my writing, after the kinds of delays that have attended these hectic few weeks of changing my living circumstances.

I'm no longer living in my apartment in Houston, with a dedicated fat pipe to the Net.  I no longer have my enterprise Microsoft domain network or my multiple workstations and game servers.  I'm living in a small house in the middle of Limestone County, with a satellite connection and limited space, where the electric bill is closely monitored and there's a byte cap on my monthly data throughput.  I can no longer operate my site; I can no longer manage security, retrieve data, or serve active content.  I'm having to outsource my Web domain, for the first time.  So here I am, on Blogger, finally, making use of an extensive, robust suite that I should have been using 15 years ago to, quickly and efficiently, publicize my work and make connections and mature as a writer.

And as I get settled in to my new digs--at home and online--I expect my focus will shift away from Facebook and video games and movies and onto writing, about politics, about mythology, about my story, about creativity.  And I expect an increase in the frequency and intensity of synchronistic activity, at least during this transitional phase while I settle back into the heads of my characters.

I just gotta keep moving the ball.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A conundrum, adly

I originally designed this page to incorporate the Ron Paul Quotes widget at the bottom.  Although I think we could all use some of RP's wisdom on a daily basis, I made the decision to pull the widget because it comes with ads, and that's a non-starter for me on all my sites. (Truth be told, I'm not real jazzed about the "Awesome Inc. template" text showing up in the Attribution widget, and since I'm using a heavily modified version of that template as it is, I might as well ditch it entirely and roll my own.  We'll see if principle wins out over laziness in the next coupla days.)

Thoughts?  Would ads be prohibitively intrusive if the alternative is a dry, pale, Ron Paul-free existence?  Perhaps someone can direct me to a steady source of quotes that I can use to pepper the blog with manually...?

Anyway, I've got my old domain name (www.byffdom.com) pointed at this site now, so there's a score to end the day with.  If I can work with Register.com's DNS settings to the degree I hope, then some time tomorrow I'll have www.byffdom.net and www.byffdom.org set up as well.