Saturday, May 31, 2008

Communication Breakdown

Led Zeppelin again. I love this version of Communication Breakdown from Earls Court, May 25th, 1975.

In context, it's mind blowing - they're back in their 'home town' of London after a long period playing other countries. Their nerves are showing throughout the available Earls Court videos. They want to please England; they don't have that desire to dominate, to smash, that you can see on some of the American footage. Jimmy Page looks less like a panther and more like a puppy here. (Oh, all right, like a panther puppy.) They've just done a whole week, three and a half hours each night. This is the very last song of the run; an extra encore they didn't play on the other nights - this, with with the other extra encore, Heartbreaker, is pushing the show to three and three quarter hours. (That's almost an average marathon time - 4 1/4 hours - for men of their age group.)

The crowd's insane. Plant knows his voice has gone and it doesn't matter. Bonham "collapses" at the end (I'm sure it's a joke). Plant's so stoked by the response that he fails to say anything nasty about Dennis Healey, Charles Shaar Murray or Nick Kent.

It's amazing. It's an event - there's more going on here than can ever be captured on tape. But you can still see it. There's always some of that magic fairy dust left, even in a 425 pixel wide YouTube window.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Stonehenge: The Plot Thickens

A few weeks ago, I mentioned on this blog that scientists were attempting to prove that Stonehenge was not a burial site, but a temple. I thought it odd that they were protesting so much, viz.:

A new excavation of Stonehenge may alter historians' concept of the British landmark site's purpose, researchers say. By studying a set of unusual stones linked to the historical site, a team of archaeologists are attempting to prove Stonehenge was not an ancient burial site, but actually a temple of healing, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday. "I think the one thing everybody would agree on is that Stonehenge is a temple, which is easy to lose sight of in the kind of to-ing and fro-ing of ideas."

Today I see why. The news has just been released that Stonehenge was actually a burial site! Professor Parker has just finished up work there and has decided that it was "The Domain of the Dead" (with up to 240 people buried there before it was a stone henge) and Wood Henge, down the road apiece, was "The Domain of the Living".

So the first group to get their names in the paper weren't so much reaffirming what everyone knew as getting in a pre-emptive strike against Prof. Parker. That more like the scientists I know - bring out the big guns, and do a big-ass showy misfire! You peaked too soon!

I don't think pre-emptive strikes work in science - or in the media, for that matter. If you plant a meme (this is not a burial site) and spread it, the part that will be remembered is the substantive part (burial site), not the negative (it isn't one). This is one of the problems found with community information outreach - if you tell people drugs are bad, the only word that sticks is "drugs". Tell them that homeopathy is a waste of money, and the word "homeopathy" is all that can be recalled later.

I look forward to learning that Stonehenge was built by Ancient Astronauts, preferably in the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lucha Libre and Laplace's Demon

Hold the front page! Again!

In Stonehenge May Have Been a Temple, say Archaeologists, I mentioned that New Scientist has a tendency to run the moldiest old theory on a double page spread, call it new, and expect us to faint from the shock.

We've got another one this month, the 10th May issue. New Scientist's Perspectives has a piece by Stuart Kauffman. The sub-head says that in "the war between science and religion" ... "we need some serious rethinking if we are to rescue our humanity." To which I'd say, "What war? Oh, that!" and "Huh?"

Anyway, Kauffman ("theoretical physicist and complexity theory pioneer...originally trained as a head of the institute for biocomplexity and informatics, University of Calgary") doesn't actually do any serious rethinking, which I suppose comes as no surprise to this long term New Scientist reader.

He has a problem with Laplace's Demon, an idea from 1814 that if a demon knew where all the particles in the universe were, in which direction they were going, and how fast they were traveling, then it could predict everything that ever happened subsequently. This construct is part of a concept called reductionism, in which everything in the universe can be reduced to the behavior of perfectly understood smaller parts.

He says, in part,

The process of reinventing the sacred requires a fresh understanding of science that takes into account complexity theory and the ideas of emergence. It will require a shift from reductionism...

OK, got it.

This world view has two features. One is determinism, abandoned in part when quantum mechanics began to emerge a century or so later. It is also the "nothing but" view of the universe which, for example, sees a man found guilty of murder as nothing but particles in motion.

OK, got that too.

Now we appear to be at the frontier of a new scientific world view.


Many physicists, from Philip Anderson back in the 1970s to, more recently, Robert Laughlin, are coming to doubt the adequacy of reductionism.

Wait, we're not at the beginning of it. Almost everybody has not only doubted it, but completely abandoned it, for nigh on a hundred years. Laplace's Demon was from the 19th Century. We're in the 21st. The 20th Century was all about the discovery of Quantum Mechanics, and how determinism just wasn't going to cut it. And without determinism, reductionism doesn't work. If it doesn't work at that level, then the more difficult concepts of emergence - that he fails to explain adequately in the article - aren't even necessary for the argument. Determinism has already lost.

Carrying on regardless, he explains why determinism is Bad, and why we should feel Joy and Holiness at complexity.

Here we cannot do what Newton taught us to do: state the variables, the laws linking the variables, and the initial and boundary conditions, and from these compute the forward trajectory of the biosphere.


We do not know the relevant variables - the middle-ear bones, lungs or livers - before they arise. We cannot even make probability statements about such pre-adaptations because, statistically speaking, we do not know the "sample space" of possibilities.

And you're very, very right there, she said, edging towards the door imperceptibly before he gets any weirder.

I believe there's a perception out there, possibly just catching on amongst scientists, who are a notoriously unfashionable lot, that if an article doesn't have Controversy and Much Upending of Treasured Paradigms, then no one is going to read it. Personally, I think scientists should pin their theories to Lucha Libre fighters, and have them go into the ring. The winning theory is the one pinned to the victorious fighter. With a bit of judicious reality TV and perhaps Paul Abdul as a judge, we can have some great new science in the 21st Century.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Who Runs Bartertown? Making myths from blotters

I started Peromyscus to write about writing. Not as futile a concept as it may sound, as writing about writing is actually writing. Deep thought for the day. Shortly after I started the blog I started fangirling about something, and all thoughts of writing about writing fled. I do still write, and yesterday that odd synchronicity, that confluence of two different things that's the trigger for writing, happened again.

A friend of mine wrote in her journal about writing that's meaningful, that hits you with an emotional slam. Something that I can do only rarely, it seems. When I examined that, I realized I have a problem with writing about reality which I don't have with myth.

Reality, I tend to report on. (I think; readers may beg to differ.)

Myth, I riff on.

And riff on is better.

The key then, would be to look at reality as myth, get away from the everyday and find the archetypes that stand behind each 'real' incident like living creatures ill-disguised as shadows.

But how do I do that?

In the first part of the two thought streams, I was reading a review of some books on the music industry. (The Sound of Money, Robert Christgau, New York Times.) In it, Christgau says, "historically, crime and pop music go way back. All the renegade urban styles - jazz up through at least the 1930's, and also Argentine tango and Greek rebetika and Portuguese fado and many others - thrived in the underworld. And the unpredictability of such a working environment has always favored tough guys who know how to collect what's owed them." The second part of the puzzle came to me when someone (actually the same friend; maybe I only have one) in a comment about (guess what) Led Zeppelin, mentioned Bill Graham.

Here are a couple of passages about popular music, mass adulation and revenge. Forty years apart, the first one is in Oakland, 1977. The second is entirely out of this world, in the land of myth.

In Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock and Out, Graham describes the sickening incident where Peter Grant, John Bonham, and John Bindon beat up Jim Matzorkis, one of Bill Graham's security staff, after Matzorkis rebuffed Peter Grant's son in some minor verbal altercation.

In his Mystery Train, Greil Marcus gives us the bare details, the myth, of another violent incident in popular music, before going off on his own riffs: Robert Johnson was a Mississippi country blues singer and guitarist, born in 1911; he was murdered by a jealous husband, in 1938. He died in a haze: if some remember that he was stabbed, others say he was poisoned, that he died on his hands and knees, barking like a dog; that his death "had something to do with the black arts."

The Robert Johnson I can see in my mind's eye; it's twilight and birds in flight are black silhouettes against stark trees lumpy with Spanish Moss and crows' nests. There are wooden buildings along a packed dirt road. One of them is a bar, and in the bar Robert Johnson is on all fours, barking like a dog. A woman with her arms folded across her chest looks on at the chaos she's caused, as men lift up the stricken bluesman and take him to a doctor. He won't be able to do anything; he doesn't have a drug to undo a Hoodoo curse. Now the woman has to face her husband. I can feel her story coming into focus; what she's wearing, where she's been, why she did it. How her husband found out.

The modern tale is only print on a page. It's taking place in an aluminum trailer – a Winnebago. Although the description suggests it's night, I can only see bright lights, which are washing out all the subtle tones. The men are just men. One imagines they drink Pabst beer and bowl on the weekends. Seeing the soft-lit folk tale behind the incident is difficult – it's a crime scene, not a catalyst for a story.

Try again: focus on the details that make this more than a report. As the trailer door locked, Bill Grahams's security guards were going for their pieces, the book says, in the trunks of their cars, because they didn't carry at work but they all had guns. There's an in; there's the hint of complexity, the suggestion there's more than black and white and newsprint to the story. Focus on the man who reaches his car first. What kind of gun is it? What's the car? It looks like a Thunderbird. There's the concrete expanse all around, thousands of vehicles from the kids at the gig that night. Mercury lights buzz on tall poles. Bill Graham says, in his book, that he worked out a solution afterwards and told his guards, "If you don't think what I do is fair… I'll fly twenty-five guys of your choice to New Orleans [Zep's next stop on the tour]… and you can do them there."

It's drifting into mythspace now. There are two gangs, here: the home turf gang, never crossed, never outgunned, and the visiting one, way out of home territory but never defeated, never letting one of the regional kinglings even glimpse a victory. That's why John Bindon, in this story – the real one, the printed one, because I'm not making this bit up – licks Jimmy Page's foot on stage as he plays that night. This is the Anabasis of Xenophon set in Oakland, this is Mad Max inside Bartertown. The elements overcome the facts. Everybody gets handed a role and no choice but to play it. No one backs off. Everyone gets hurt.

There it is. It's all becoming real to me – or unreal to me – not appearing out of the fog of unknowing, but gradually disappearing into it, like the Cheshire Cat's face, leaving only its core values and the feeling of unbalance, a tipping of the scales, waiting to be righted.

I don't know why the Robert Johnson image is clearer. I think it's because it was a long time ago, and the police reports aren't waiting there to contradict me as they would a modern story. It could be because the protagonists are 'other', but if so, that's not because they were black. For all I know Jim Matzorkis may be black too. I haven't asked and no-one's said. The thoroughgoing gangsterism of music was the same in the seventies as it was in the thirties, so it's not that there's some sort of romance that got lost in the intervening years. It may be that the older story already has the edges worn off it – like a lucky pebble, handled by eager children for years and worn to a smooth shine, it looks different from the mass of pebbles on the beach, even though it was once one of them. That's the trick, then, not to find a shiny pebble, but to pick one and shine it yourself. Keep it and cherish it and make it special.

I guess I can do it if I try. The key would be to try more often.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Embarrassment of riches: Fred McDowell

I've often spoken about how fabulous YouTube is, but even I didn't expect this. I was leafing through my favorite blogs today and chanced across Doc 40's associated YouTube recommendations, Doctube. At the top of the list was a Mississippi Fred McDowell tune, Going Down to the River. A real video - not a rip of a CD with a video of tropical fish or stilll pictures of the uploader's cat, but a video of Fred, himself, playing his unbelievable delta blues guitar.

Magic. And - beside it, in the related videos, there are many, many more. Shake 'em on Down, of course. Led Zeppelin fans will recognize this one.

And even more improbably, Louise. I'm ashamed to say I've never heard Louise played by anyone except the Yardbirds. Imagine. It's actually a slow blues.

I was listening to a CD a friend sent me of a Trouser Press interview with Jimmy Page in 1977, where he talks about the difficulty of getting hold of decent records in London in the early 60's. You could catch about one rock record a day on the radio, he said, if you were lucky. People were record collectors, because it was the only way to hear things. And the collectors came to your gigs, because there was no other way to hear that sort of music. Rock was rationed, even as rationing ended for food and cloth.

Here's a couple of quotes:

JP: The numbers we were doing were really out of character for the audiences that were coming to hear us play, but there was always 5 or 10 per cent, mostly guys, who used to get off on what we were doing because they were into those things themselves: guitarists, record collectors. You'll find that nearly all the guitarists that came out of the 'sixties were record collectors and/or had friends that were collectors of either rock or blues. I used to collect rock and my friend collected blues.
TP: Did you swap?
JP: He wouldn't have any white records in his collection. He was a purist.

JP: I've read about many records which are supposed to have turned me on to want to play, but it was "Baby, Let's Play House" by Presley. You've got to understand that in those days "rock 'n' roll" was a dirty word. It wasn't even being played by the media. Maybe you'd hear one record a day during the period of Elvis, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. That's why you were forced to be a record collector if you wanted to be part of it.

Can you imagine that time - when music was rare? How much more it was treasured, but how much more boring the hours in between must have been.

YouTube, in the famous words of Dana Scully, keeps unfolding like a flower. It's an embarrassment of riches. I actually feel there's something wrong with being able to have every desire satisfied the moment I have it - it seems decadent.

I'm sure that my ancestors' granddad, five thousand years ago, probably said something similar. "This 'farming' crap will be the ruin of civilization. It's not natural to be able to eat food any time you feel hungry. It'll all come to grief, let me tell you!"

Well, until it does, there's some Mississippi Fred McDowell for you. Hello 21st Century.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Restless Leg Syndrome.

I've had it for over thirty years. My parents both had it; they called it Jumping Leg. No one had ever heard of it, and everybody just laughed about it. A few years ago, drug companies gave it a new name, and then everything changed. Now everybody has heard of it and... everybody still just laughs about it.

If I hear another comedian joking about how I should just get up and take a walk, or another trendy lefty hippie explaining that I don't have a disease, I've just been fooled by a greedy drug company I'll…I'll send them my legs, that's what I'll do.

Parcel them out, nerve-ends flapping. Grab the mouthy wanker and force them on him, make him live with that peculiar alchemical combination of fire-ants and lead that my legs become on symptomatic days. Make him deal with the random movements, the knee-thumping, the shaking.

I don't actually take any of the drugs – the drug companies ARE greedy bastards, and the only drug that ever worked for me was Quinine, which is no longer available over the counter, presumably because a generic drug that works shouldn't be allowed out in consumers' hands in case they buy it instead of the new, proprietary one.

But, Bill Maher, and all you other self-righteous prigs, the injunction to take a walk makes no sense. Sure, I could take a walk now – it's 10:30 pm, it's raining, it's cold, and the road outside runs past the railroad tracks (which, as in most towns, have a wrong side). Want to guess how much I feel like walking? When I'm in the cinema or at a play, how useful is the puritan demand I take a walk? If I'm in a lecture, where do I walk? Those all day seminars – I don't do much walking there, either. And then there are plane journeys, which can be hours of torture.

And although taking a walk actually does work for me when I have jumping leg, it works for the following amount of time:

Exactly as long as I'm walking.

As soon as I'm back in the house trying to write, or in bed, or at work answering email, the fire and lead comes back.

I realize I'm responding to this article rather late, but restless leg is episodic. I didn't have symptoms when I first saw it, but I remembered it tonight.

Perhaps I can wangle a date with Bill Maher, to see the new Indiana Jones movie this weekend. After a couple of hours trapped next to me as I cross and uncross my legs, stretch them out and thump them with my fists while he's trying to concentrate on crystal skulls, the truth might penetrate through the solid bone of his own.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Eyes That Shine Burning Red

In Jimmy Page: Magus, Musician, Man, George Case rather briefly discusses the movie The Song Remains The Same. He quotes (p.131) Jimmy Page as saying:

"All my sections are related to the eyes, the eyes being the mirror of the soul."
I have to say that idea hadn't occurred to me once in the thirty years or so between first seeing TSRTS and subsequently reading MMM. There are several occasions when the camera concentrates on Page's gaze – no one who has seen the movie will forget the early scene with the glowing red eyes, although I personally was traumatized far more by the scene where the camera actually dives into his eye to show a violent offstage event. But the scenes I noted didn't seem to add up to his eyes being the mirror of his soul – and anyway, isn't it "the eyes are the window of the soul", not "mirror"?

It turns out both are used. gives the following citations:

The eyes…are the wyndowes of the mynde, for both ioye & ange…are seene…through them.[1545 T. Phaer Regiment of Life 14]


The eye, which is the reflector of the external world, is also the mirror of the soul within. [1940 G. Seaver Scott of Antarctic ii. 48 gives this explanation: EYES ARE THE MIRROR (MIRRORS) OF THE SOUL -- "A person's thoughts can be ascertained by looking in his or her eyes. The proverb has been traced back in English to 'Regiment of Life' (1545). But the proverb was known much earlier. Cicero (106-43 B.C.) is quoted as saying, 'Ut imago est animi voltus sic indices oculi' (The face is a picture of the mind as the eyes are its interpreter). The Latin proverbs, 'Vultus est index animi' or 'Oculus animi index,' are usually translated as 'The face is the index of the mind.' The French say, 'Les yeux sont le miroir de l'ame (The eyes are the mirror of the soul). 'The eyes are the window of the soul' is a variant form of the proverb..." From "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996).

Here are the TSRTS scenes showcasing Page's eyes.

During the section of the movie when we establish the band's home life and family duties, you may wonder what we will see of Page, who keeps his family well out of the public eye. In fact, we see Jimmy Page sitting alone by the moat of his house in Plumpton Place (1973) with his back to the camera. He's playing a hurdy-gurdy. He turns round, and in lieu of his eyes, we see twin glows, burning red.

I'm not sure what was intended, but this scene usually gets a laugh. Of course, Led Zeppelin fans are notorious stoners, so burning red eyes are some seriously funny shit, man.

During Since I've Been Loving You, the camera takes a long, lingering look at Page's eye.

(Edit: the shot is from 25'13")

At 1hr 10'00", the shot of the band onstage playing Dazed and Confused changes to Jimmy Page's Loch Ness fantasy sequence. The change is done by a dissolve from Page's face to the face of the full moon over a mountain, on top of which waits the Hermit.

After Page touches the Hermit's staff, the camera lingers on the Hermit's face while the old man's apparent age reverses to the stage of a fetus, and then re-ages. The deaging/aging sequence is keyed so that the eyes are invariate while the face changes around them. (This bit I get.)

At 1hr 20'10", still during Dazed and Confused, the camera dives into Page's eye to show a scene backstage. The scene is of a pretty long-haired young man in tight jeans being forced to the ground by burly security men with nightsticks and handcuffs while a crowd of women security guards watch. I don't see how this has anything to do with Jimmy Page's soul, but perhaps someone will enlighten me.

That's all I can recall that showcase Page's eyes in the movie. I wish I saw a pattern, but I don't.

Anyone see any more?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Led Zeppelin – The Ride at Hard Rock Park has been in the news a few times, mostly about how much people paid to be in the first run on the rollercoaster.

According to Wikipedia, this is the logo of the rollercoaster.


It's clearly based on The Ancient of Days, William Blake's picture of God creating the world by dividing nature with a compass.

That's a magnificent picture and an enduring image, but it's generally regarded as a negative one.

The Ancient of Days is Urizen, not a god but Demiurge, a Gnostic god of this world who is unrelated to the real creator. As this website says , "Blake’s famous picture is not of God creating, with his compass, order out of chaos, but Blake’s diabolical principle of lifeless rationalism reducing reality to empty quantity."

This website goes further and explains how the Demiurge did not know he was not God. "Blake also looked into Gnosticism, using a form of the Demiurge to represent Urizen, who Blake identified as the God of the Old Testament and maker of the Ten Commandments. Blake's brand of Gnosticism built a different bridge between the Testaments, making the Hebrew scripture the anti-thesis rather than the prelude to the coming of Christ. The Demiurge was seen as the god of this world, who believed himself the only God because he had accidentally been created by the Sophia and was left alone in this world."

Urizen is in approximately the same pose as Blake's Newton, a scientist. His head is down at knee level as he concentrates on his dry piece of paper. The universe is above and behind him, but he does not see them. Blake didn't think much of scientists.

Newton's efforts are creating a lifeless, rational and joyless world, just like Urizen's.

In contrast to all this rationalism, I quote an early rider on the rollercoaster. She said, "I didn't puke and I didn't wet my pants so I feel like I did good."

Well, they do say the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Performance (DVD)


Another chance to recommend Performance.

It's probably the most accessible of all Nic Roeg's films and the 'performance' he dissects is something I think it's possible to grok immediately. (The straights who saw it in 1970 had no clue.)

It's "about" which parts of masculinity are innate, and which are a 'performance'. It was ahead of its time - music didn't really begin to explore these issues for another 18 months or so - the first indication probably being the "dress" cover of David Bowie's Man Who Sold the World. Mind you, once it did, popular music really got into the idea.

In the movie Chas (James Fox) is a London gangster who goes against his boss and has to hide. He holes up in Notting Hill Gate, in the basement room of a retired rock star, Turner (a young and pretty Mick Jagger). Pherber (Anita Pallenberg), in the kitchen, cooks him dinner. She picks an Amanita muscaria from her garden. He likes mushrooms, he says, so she gives him three-quarters of it.

The turning point (Turner, get it?!) comes when Turner, who once tried to chase Chas away, accepts him. They are both in Turner's closet. The tripping Chas is being dressed up in various guises by Pherber. Turner is playing guitar and singing a hopeless, lost, despairing song by the hopeless, lost and despairing Robert Johnson, a bluesman long rumored to have met the Devil at a crossroads and sold his soul for the songs we know him by.

The song is "Come on in My Kitchen".
You better come on in my kitchen
It's goin' to be rainin' outdoors.

Turner abruptly moves on to another Robert Johnson line, one that drips with real horror, adapted from Me and the Devil Blues.
Woke up this morning,
Heard a knock upon my door.
I said Hello, Satan;
I believe it's time to go.

Having mistakenly accepted the invite into the kitchen Chas finds himself walking side by side with Satan. Chas is introduced, if not to hell, to Chapel Perilous.Turner switches to John Lee Hooker – Bad Like Jesse James.
I may shoot ya
I'm mad wit'cha
Bad like Jesse James

Turner has begun to get inside his guest's head, as they say, singing a gangster's blues. In a sequence that's sometimes referred to as a "rock video" we see Turner acting out the part of a Chas-like gangster, which at this stage of his metamorphosis is still mixed bizarrely with his own identity. He rules Chas' firm as the new boss, but he's singing a Stones' song, "Memo from Turner", one which has nothing to do with East End gangs.

Chas knows his firm will eventually rub him out. He goes to tell Satan he believes it's time to go. But Turner isn't finished with him. He's trapped here in the house. His only way out is with someone who still has the capacity to move between worlds. "Take me with you," he says.

He does, but I won't say how.

Much more detail and spoilers here

Eyes in your feet

One of the more fascinating British stories is the conjuction of time and place that was Ladbroke Grove, London, in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Almost everything that I liked growing up had a Ladbroke Grove connection - from Tyrannosaurus Rex to Mike Moorcock, the (Social) Deviants to Paul Kossoff, the movie Performance, Hawkwind to the Pretty Things, The Pink Fairies to The Clash... Of course, the scene died about the same time I moved out of Podunk to London and I never saw any of it.

Mick Farren, a Ladbroke Grove veteran himself, reports that there's now an album out called Cries from the Midnight Circus – Ladbroke Grove 1967-78, which contains tracks from many of those cited above, and I've put it on my Christmas list. (I can't buy it now, because in the grand Ladbroke Grove tradition, the link to the record company doesn't work, but I'm sure it'll be fixed soon.)

Even if you think you don't want the CD (and you do, you really do), you will want to read the liner notes, which gives a potted history of the Grove and what was so special about it. Put down those 600 page crap urban fantasy novels and read about a real urban fantasy. Hippies and White Panthers and stoners and lots and lots of musicians. And guess what - the liner notes are available here, for free!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Back to Cryo-sleep

It appears I picked the wrong century to become an American Citizen. It looks like the 18th was more my style. Less superstition, more rationalists. That American can-do mentality, those wide-open vistas.

In the 21st century we get this instead:

Teacher Jim Piculas does a magic trick where a toothpick disappears and then reappears.
Piculas recently did the 30-second trick in front of a classroom at Rushe Middle School in Land 'O Lakes.
Piculas said he then got a call from the supervisor of teachers, saying he'd been accused of wizardry.
"I get a call the middle of the day from head of supervisor of substitute teachers. He says, 'Jim, we have a huge issue, you can't take any more assignments you need to come in right away,'" he said.

He was fired.


Seen via Steve Audio, who had this to say:

It certainly is comforting to know that in these trying times, some Americans are steadfast in their opposition to the advances of the 8th century.

Back to cryo-sleep for me.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


I love Photoshop. There's nothing in this picture that wasn't in the original. I just chose the bits I wanted to foreground. It's hard to believe, but there's no added color.

I got the picture at a spectacularly handy all-Satan all-the-time copyright-free image page. Thanks, Satanists! It's not what you think; I'd actually Googled for "winged disk" but couldn't find a good picture (there or indeed anywhere else). Luckily Lilith here filled my Photoshopping deficit. She wasn't grey enough and the snake wasn't quite punchy enough, but I soon took care of that.

See? Just not quite there enough in the original.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Stonehenge mystery fails to deepen

The Stonehenge mystery I alluded to yesterday failed to deepen today.

In a shattering expose, my local paper, the LA Times (I've mentioned it before) had an article on the contwoversy.

The article is called Stonehenge Mystery Hinges on Unusual Stones, and reads in part:

But the recent realization that the site contained stones from mountains 250 miles away in Wales shed new light on Stonehenge's origins. [1]

This adds to what I was talking about yesterday. You can't make Stonehenge sexier by obfuscating what is and isn't known about it, unless you are one of the thousands of self-published lunatics whose nightmare tomes I had the misfortune to browse at the LA Times sponsored LA Festival of Books last week. The facts and the real mysteries are sexy enough.

I don't know exactly when this "recent realization" came to light, but it wasn't less than six years ago, which the wording of the article doesn't actually say but strongly implies. I took out the oldest history book I still have on my shelf, Jaquetta Hawkes' The Atlas of Early Man, dated 1976, and it says: "Within the main structure were subsidiary stones of around 4 tons weight. These were imported with immense labour from Prescelly, 132 miles (220km) away in Wales."

It's possible the LA Times is being ironic - after all, when something's as old as Stonehenge, 32 years ago is really still "recent". But I don't think so. I think they're manufacturing a controversy, a storm in what is really such a small teapot it would be lost in a doll's house.

Or they got confused because Prescelly in Wales is now spelled Preseli. Maybe they really think it's a new theory of the bluestones' origins.

[1] Yes, the singular subject with plural verb "the realization...shed light" is in the original text.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Why googling is more than just creepy part II

In Why Googling is more than just creepy, I took objection to a columnist saying that Googling a celebrity was 'worse' (more obsessive) than throwing rocks over their home's wall and leaving.

She said,
After all, Googling John Cusack turns up close to 3 million search results. We know that reading every one of them is less potentially dangerous than loitering outside someone's gate, but who's more obsessed -- the person who spends countless hours wading through Web entries or the person who tosses a bag of letters, rocks and screwdrivers over the fence and calls it a day?

I said,
Um, nobody reads three million of them, of only for the reason that there aren't three million unique ones. Clearly she's never even thought about how this all works. I'm sure she has a researcher who looks up all the facts she needs to know for her purposes. [I mean "if" only, of course.]

I had some spare time today, so I checked. As she says, Googling "John Cusack" returns a statement that there are "about 3,000,000" results. If you actually page through those results, there are 826 that Google considers unique (and not all of them are, but for the sake of argument let's assume they are), and for the rest it says, "In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 826 already displayed. If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included."

It's still a long time to spend on John Cusack, but I think my understanding of Google is slightly better than Meghan Daum's. In that case, maybe I should start telling people what to do with their spare time.

Stonehenge May Have Been a Temple, say archaeologists

One of the advantages, or perhaps drawbacks, of being older than dirt is that I remember the newsflashes and stop presses of today from the first time they came around. Actually, I take that back. Some of them have probably been going around as New News since before I was born.

I had to literally stop reading New Scientist, which I'd read since I was a kid, when I swear to God it started having articles along the lines of "Stop Press DNA Might Be Genetic Material Says Controversial Scientist" and/or "Scientists Divided Over Ramifications of Carbon Based Life-forms Recently Discovered on Earth".

Of course I didn't take any notes, I just tossed them aside with a so-what, so I can't vouch for those being the actual headlines. They were equally earth-shattering, anyway.

I thought I'd keep notes the next time one of these Shock-Horror stories came up, and there's one today.

The headline is Stonehenge excavation may alter history which got my goat straight away, since of course an excavation can't alter history. Unless the thing they excavated was a time machine and they went back in time and caused the Allies to win WWII or something. But even if they did, when they got back, everybody would have grown up with it, so they wouldn't be impressed when they said they'd altered history. It would be the same old history to everybody else. I fully expect New Scientist to discover this blog post and write an article next month saying, "Time paradoxes may occur if time travel becomes reality, says controversial scientist".

Anyway, after the misleading title, the article says, and I quote,

A new excavation of Stonehenge may alter historians' concept of the British landmark site's purpose, researchers say. By studying a set of unusual stones linked to the historical site, a team of archaeologists are attempting to prove Stonehenge was not an ancient burial site, but actually a temple of healing, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

That's pretty earth-shattering, right? Stonehenge might be a temple, not a burial site. Stop the press!

But...wait, hasn't it always been understood to be a temple and not a burial site? Luckily the same article is standing by to clear up the inevitable fog of confusion. It says,

"I think the one thing everybody would agree on is that Stonehenge is a temple, which is easy to lose sight of in the kind of to-ing and fro-ing of ideas."

So, there you have it. Today's big controversy is that archaeologists are proving Stonehenge was a temple, completely overturning the previous theory that it was a temple.

It's no wonder people find the whirl of progress overwhelming these days. I can't keep up myself.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


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