Bombing Smartly

From “The Daily Show”, 5 May 2009:

FAREED ZAKARIA: I have some friends in Pakistan who used to always denounce the American drone attacks, you know these Predator strikes on the al-Qaeda, and in the last month what I’ve noticed is they’re all in favor of them.

JON STEWART: Really? So now they’re afraid.

ZAKARIA: Yeah, yeah. They say that: “You know what? If that’s the only thing that’ll work, kill those guys.”

STEWART: Wow. You know what this is a perfect time for? India to attack.


Of course, the problem with the Predator attacks (and really any aerial bombardment strategy back through WWII) has been the number of innocent civilians killed and maimed as a reult of poor intelligence, uncontrolled munitions, or simply bad judgment. It’s not, as Zakaria implies, simply a matter of national soverignty. Of course, if you scare people enough, I suppose they’ll approve of their government doing anything to “protect” them, including torture.

Don’t you know we got smart bombs,

It’s a good thing that our bombs are clever.

Don’t you know that the smart bombs are so clever,

They only kill bad people, now

Don’t you know though our kids are dumb,

We got smart bombs, what a joyous thing, now

Here we go so let’s drink a toast,

To those clever bombs, and the men who built them

There they go now, there go all my friends

There they go now, marching off to war again

Smiling proudly, with their heads in the clouds

Don’t you know this is better than any video friend,

It’s an action movie

Here we go watch the bad guys get their butts kicked

Really makes me feel good.

Here we go watching CNN, the adrenaline rushes through my veins now

Don’t you know it’s a feel good show, electronic bliss

It’s a video, video…

Boingo, “War Again,” Boingo

[UPDATE] And then there’s this:

The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed yesterday that “dozens of people, including women and children,” were killed in U.S. air strikes on villages in Western Afghanistan Monday night.

You might think something like this would weigh heavily on President Obama’s heart.

Yes, it’s a war he inherited from George W. Bush, but it’s one he has ardently advanced as his own. Air strikes in Afghanistan — along with missiles fired from drones in Pakistan — have continued to be a staple of the American approach to the region. And now, under his command, the U.S. military appears to have made a tragic mistake.

So far, however, Obama’s public response has been muted. This could be because the military is refusing to confirm the reports from the ground.

But it makes me wonder: Have we all, including Obama, gotten so desensitized to the violent death of civilians at our hands, ostensibly in the name of fighting terror? Is this another tragic Bush legacy?

Blast From the Past

Another day, another memory from the box of long-ago Mays.

Invitational Flyer to the Corbett Building Implosion, 1988

In 1988, as the Pioneer Place project was getting underway, they chose May Day to blow up the Corbett Building, which housed the downtown Fred Meyer store on the floor level. So far as I know it’s the only time a controlled demolition procedure has been undertaken in Portland. The first of May that year was a Sunday morning, and the demo was scheduled for about 7am to deter crowds of onlookers. Several thousand people (including Barbara and myself) nonetheless made their way downtown to see it, and I did my best to raise awareness among my fellow college students with the flyer above. May Day? Buildings blowing up in downtown? Of course the thing that made it most entertaining was that it was clearing the way for Banana Republic, Saks Fifth Avenue, Victoria’s Secret, and Sanrio. Adobe Illustrator 88!

There’s a (watermarked) photo here of the building in mid-collapse. In it, you can see that the lower-rising buildings in the block had already been conventionally demolished and removed. The photo looks north, from where Pioneer Tower is, across SW Yamhill Street. On the left, across SW 5th Avenue, are some of the trees on Pioneer Courthouse Square, with the Meier & Frank Building behind them across SW Morrison. Beyond the top of the Corbett Building as it falls, you can see the 620 Building on the southeast corner of 5th & Alder.

We were standing to the right of the photo area, back another block on SW 2nd Avenue, which was as close as the police would let the crowd. It was still pretty impressive.

Marx Is the New Black

Portland Socialist Organization listing for 'Marx Is Back'

I was just out for a walk along SE Belmont St. and posters for the event above with a former Californian Green Party candidate for US Senate as the speaker are up on almost every telephone pole in the neighborhood with MARX IS BACK in big, black, block letters.

Now, I’m as much of a fan of socialism as the next guy, but from a marketing standpoint I have to question whether this isn’t just a bit over the top. Perhaps a more oblique approach to reintroducing socialism into public discourse as something other than a fearmonger’s touchstone might be more helpful.

Then again, who am I to say anything?

Viva Le Darrel

Flash In the Pan

Phillip Kerman hosted the Flash In the Can awards show last weekend in Toronto. I was last there (along with Phillip), speaking at the newMedia ’98 conference. Not the final conference I was ever invited to speak at but it’s been a while.

Phillip got the gig because he’s been producing a lot of geek-funny videos. He bounced ideas off of me for the past couple of months while he was working material up for the show, I helped write and edit a couple of pieces, and did main voiceover on the piece above.

He also got a lot of people to do cameos. Some were quite involved, but he also had a few Flash “personalities” in brief expressions of cluelessness about the conference and the awards show. I take all credit for my portrayal in this video, which didn’t actually stray too far from the truth:

I’ll Take Peeing In a Cup For $800, Alex

Great. Now, in addition to the computers taking over Jeopardy! by the time I get a chance to compete, I’m going to have to worry about opponents amped up on Adderall or some other form of neuro-enhancers.

On the other hand, Phillips said, Provigil’s effects “have attenuated over time. The body is an amazing adjusting machine, and there’s no upside that I’ve been able to see to just taking more.” A few years ago, Phillips tired of poker, and started playing competitive Scrabble. He was good, but not that good. He was older than many of his rivals, and he needed to undertake a lot of rote memorization, which didn’t come as easily as it once had. “I stopped short of memorizing the entire dictionary, and to be really good you have to get up to eight- and nine-letter words,” he told me. “But I did learn every word up to five letters, plus maybe ten thousand seven- and eight-letter words.” Provigil, he said, helped with the memorization process, but “it’s not going to make you smarter. It’s going to make you better able to use the tools you have for a sustained period.”

Live From the Era of Letraset Type

Flyer for the 1983 EUCON science fiction convention in Eugene, Oregon

It’s May, which means that spring cleaning is well underway. It also means that it’s the anniversary of my first venture into entrepreneurship, which was a science fiction convention in Eugene at the then-new Hilton Hotel (I made the arrangements while the hotel was still under construction).

My title for the conference was “Sgt. Preston of the Eucon,” and I rented a Mountie costume for the weekend. We flew in (at considerable expense for those days) Spider Robinson, to continue with a sort of Canadian theme (although that wasn’t the reason; he was one of my favorites at the time and he hadn’t made a lot of appearances on the West Coast; he just happened to be living in Nova Scotia at the time). The brother-in-law of a friend did the illustration of a guy in a spacesuit driving a team of spacesuited dogs, and we were off (Marcel would later do the artwork for my equally successful play-by-mail game venture: GANGLORD. Par for my course, the business plan stank but the artwork was great.)

I don’t remember much about that weekend myself. I do know we (rather, I) ended up severely in hock and had to get my folks to bail me out. The amount wasn’t large by today’s standards, but considering that this was the depth of the Reagan Recession (how’s that for perfect timing on my part?) and that I was laid off from my meagrely-paid bookselling job about that time, it seemed insurmountable. Then, of course, naivete and inexperience at planning for security led to someone walking away with a few pieces of art from the art show one night. That’s what I remember.

Eucon for me only ran for one year. One of the local bookstore owners made a go of it a few years later, the name was also used by a game convention in Eugene, and I really hadn’t thought about it until I ran across the flyer, which I’d apparently used as scrap paper and stuffed in a box sometime before I moved to Portland in 1987.

Still, I got a thrill when I looked online for any mention of the convention and found this at Antiqbook: Europe’s Premier Antiquarian Booksite:

Booknumber: 004249
(ROBINSON, SPIDER [GUEST OF HONOR], JOHN VARLEY, KATE WILHELM, DAMON KNIGHT [GUESTS]) – (Program Book for) Eucon 1 (One), 1983, Eugene, or (Riddle Night at Callahan’s Place)

Eugene, OR: Willamette Science Fiction Productions. 1983, 1st Edition, 1st Printing. Booklet. 11 pages, stapled, oversize booklet with interesting stuff about this short-lived convention. Includes a riddle game by Spider Robinson (see title above). I got it new at the convention in 1983; nearly as new with just a little back cover wrinkling, one tiny corner crease. NO stamps or alien writing. Near Fine. Near Fine.
USD 20.00 [Appr.: EURO 15.5 | £UK 13.75 | JP¥ 1961]

I’m pretty sure I produced all of the printed material for the conference myself. There wasn’t exactly a staff with the capability to do layout and print prep; it was just me, Valery King, and a few other folks. A “riddle game by Spider Robinson”? I don’t remember that at all.