"Undermining my electoral viability since 2001."

Back In The Saddle

Bike arrived in the mail today. It's relatively cold (snow on the ground) here for me, but riding over the Billzburg bridge was like slicing direct through memory. In a good way. Here's something I'll hazard: NYC is vastly superior to San Francisco from the perspective of a bicyclist for a few reasons:

1 ) Street Quality:
The average street in SF is abominable compared to NYC. In spite of the usual suspicions about potholes, the California city with great weather has more ruts, holes, grooves and whatnot that the Northeast metropolis with four seasons. I say this as someone who's suffered at the hands of a pothole.

2) Traffic:
A surprise to many. "You bike in the city? That must be scary!" Not really. NYC has a higher proportion of professional drivers -- taxis, car service, bus, truck, delivery, etc -- who are all told much more well-versed at running the road than you are. It also has by in large slower traffic due to volume and the generall narrowness of the streets. Rarely does a car top 30 mph unless it's very late at night. California, by contrast, is beset with four-lane nightmares where unskilled motorists routinely top 40mph on their way to get some milk. Biking is much better when you can move fast enough to pass, and when the person you're passing is accustomed to the practice.

3) Topography:
No surprise here. The biggest hills I could ever hit here are the bridges, which don't hold a candle to twin peaks, but on the whole that's pretty good on the workaday tip. Level terrain simplifies planning. Unknown hill contours invite the poochscrew.

Anyway, it's good to be back in the saddle. I'm looking forward to making the cycle my primary mode of transport and reaping the physical and psychological benefits for the next couple months.

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HST -- The World's First Blogger

HST - R.I.P.

A post from almost two years ago:

I wrote in my little private paper journal a while back, writhing in a fit of angst and doubt about whether We will turn It around, "...and where's the Hunter S. Thompson of my generation? Probably off somewhere blogging..."

Kos is on my wavelength for this one too -- "Hunter S. Thompson -- the world's first blogger." -- and it's a meme I'd like to popularlize. As I wrote:

More than any of the excesses or eccentricities of his life, Thompson is a widely known and loved public figure because he has got game with words and ideas and the human spirit. If he were less of a Freak, he'd probably still be a best-selling novelist (or perhaps a successful politician). Instead he's what every lefty blogger wishes they were, someone who took the notion of first-person reportage to the limit and emerged with shining gems of quality and insight.

Beyond the quality of his prose, the thing that I found so consistantly compelling about HST was his committment to the ethos which underlied his existence. The successful outlaw is more moral in his or her own way than the straightest by-the-book player ever could be, for they live by their own code. It is taking on somewhat more responsibility to carve your own path. More dangerous, yes. More descructive, possibly, but finally more brave. Down the path less traveled (or off into the wilderness) lie the greatest treasures in life. May we all live as great explorers and tellers of truth.

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New McCarthyism?

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Swept Under In A Tide Of Fear And Loathing...

Hunter shot himself yesterday. That's too bad. I'd hate to think what kind of mental thrashing led up to that, but the fear and loathing won out, it seems. Selah.

Here's his last-published work from prior to the election in Rollin Stone.

Speculation about motive is inevitable. Thomson already believed that journalism was a decomposing corpse and that America was slipping into fascism some 30 years ago; one can only wonder what his reaction to the advent of propaganda-as-news and an intentional climate of Total Fear was. I don't think it's any coincidence that the only thing he was able to get published post 9-11 was a quasi-biography (Kingdom of Fear) and a book packaged to be about sports (Hey Rube). The man also detested personal weakness, and by all accounts he was beginning to slow down in his autumn years. The worst paranoia come true in spite of his best efforts and trapped in a decomposing body. It's fucking tragic, but I can begin to imagine why he took the gun.

So it's sad sad news. However, in sniffing around online I did enjoy this:

The NYT:

Hunter S. Thompson, the maverick journalist and author whose savage chronicling of the underbelly of American life and politics embodied a new kind of nonfiction writing he called "gonzo journalism," died yesterday in Colorado. Tricia Louthis, of the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office, said Mr. Thompson had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Woody Creek, Colo., yesterday afternoon. He was 65.

The AP:

Thompson was found dead Sunday in his Aspen-area home of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, sheriff's officials said. He was 67. Thompson's wife, Anita, had gone out before the shooting and was not home at the time.

That's the spirit.

I count HST among my literary, philosophical and political influences, and it's a hell of a thing to have your influences kill themselves. I've just finished reading the first volume of Thompson's correspondence (The Proud Highway), which really opens up the man's youth and brought on a sense of kinship. I was drawing some strength from knowing how this other man had lived from 18 to 28. That's a bit undercut at the moment.

As I was getting to sleep on my old thermarest at Frank's last night, I was thinking about the choices I've made and the kind of life that pushes me toward living, and why. Why at the age of 25 am I by choice sleeping on a friend's kitchen floor? I let go a nice apartment, a good-paying job with career advancement opportunities and a real sweet scene with a lady that was rapidly turning steady to essentially be a bum for six months or more. Why?

It brings me back to my days in the Experimental Theater Wing, to the recession of childhood and the dawning realization that the path towards great creativity is divergent from the path a maximal human contentment. I don't think creativity and happiness are diametrically opposed -- far from it -- but comfort is more of a mind-killer than fear in my book. I was always more terrified by Brave New World than 1984.

The point is not that I am leading some kind of intentionally abusive lifestyle. Self-flaggelation lost it's gleam sometime around the age of 20 when I quit dragging my knuckles when walking along brick walls as a protest against the emptyness of being. I'm not on some monastic kick here, though I will admit that has crossed my mind. What I'm attempting to do is follow my nature; always to push, to work the edge, to engineer the system rather than spin away as a contented cog. Regardless of the fact that I believe this machine as currently configured is a doomsday clock, I'm just not ready yet to be a gear in someone else's works.

We're getting pretty far afield here. To bring it all back home, this news troubles me. It was a quiet moment when I heard. The passing of the torch is on for real now.

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It's snowing and I'm here.

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I'm back from Norcal. The good news is that the route is more or less sketched and we picked up a camper for Luke's pickup. The bad news is that the pickup also needs serious engine work. We believe the used-car warranty will come through on this count.

But now, for what you really wanted: the photos. I have two so far. Click for big versions.

Here's the truck (man-size mudder tires! yeah!) and John, the AZ mechanic who did the initial work to get it road-worthy. Unfortunately, after taking Luke back to SF and then he and I up to Westhaven without much incident, the engine had a major breakdown -- horrible death-like knocking sound -- on the way back from the grocery store. It should be all ironed out by May though, hopefully though a warranty.

And here we are with the Siesta, a camper shell which should fit much more nicely on the big truck than on the lil' red one. We got it off a pure humboldt dude, and unfortunately the cranks which you use to raise and lower the camper couldn't get it high enough off the ground enough to back the 4x4 under. Man-size mudder tires...

To load the Siesta up, we will have to fabricate a cranking mechanism with higher clearance. This should be pretty easy, actually, and will be documented in full. But it seemed like a task better suited for the leisure of may rather than the pressure of the moment, so after some deliberation (and hamburgers and a right-wing mom'n'pop joint in Eurika) we decided to see if the smaller red truck would carry the weight of the camper. Proving it's worth once again, it performed like a champion, even on rutted and bumpy Westhaven gravel roads.

At $300 (plus however much it saps our gas mileage), the Siesta seemed a worthy investment in terms of the additional comfort it will offer for three men and a dog on the road for three months. It will sleep two in comfort, has roof racks, a small refrigerator (which can run on electricity or propane) and a stove. We plan on serving fried eggs out of it at Burning Man. Oh yeah.

So Luke and I returned a little later than originally planned, and via the all-night greyhound. Oh man. Thanks to Zia being johnny on the spot with the half-pints of Aincent Age, the bus trip passed quickly. Now the pile of work looms. I fly to New York on Sunday. Much to do between now and then.

Look for future trip updates starting soon on VAGABENDER.COM

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Out for a Kill

IMDB: Out for a Kill (2003), one of the most incomprehensible films I've ever seen. Watched this last night as kind of a V-day joke.

Everyone reconizes that it's terrible, but no one I can see mentions that it was clearly made to be released internationally. Much of the dialogue occurs where we cannot see people's mouths moving. When plot details or exposition are shown with text, they are post-processed in like subtitiles, rather than placed into the film directly. This doesn't look as good, but it's easier to switch. All this points to the filmmakers consciously angling towards internationalization when making the movie.

The conventions of the film also track more closely with Hong Kong than Hollywood. Multiple subplots are hinted at without exploration. Visual styling includes a lone gravity-defying wire-fight. In what are meant to be emotionally-intense scenes, the principle actors have most of their faces shadowed, but with light around their eyes; it's a pretty distinctive effect.

And also, most of the crew is Bulgarian, and the eastern-european bits were recognizably filmed in Sofia, Bulgaria.

My guess is that the whole film was made overseas. Many other parts -- particularly the "American House" Segal and his wife are supposed to live in -- have the distinctive look of soundstage sets. Using a non-US (and non-union) crew, DV cams and digital post-production, the whole movie could have been produced for a comparative pittance. Segal was a producer -- meaning investor -- on the film, so this makes sense. With secondary sales in Hong Kong and around the globe, its entirely possible that this film turned a healthy profit.

And they use the word "Academician" in it. Academician!

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It's your party

Chairman Dean in action. Assuming (and I think it's moderately safe to assume) that someone's actually going to read the responses, this is a great idea.

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Power Corrupts: Example 5837b

So here's what we've got: an energetic Texas republican running a privately-held corporation promoting the conservative point of view, as well as an attached "news organization," places a reporter in Washington who gets clearance on a dialy basis to press briefings from the White House. This reporter/operative lobs obvious softballs and participates in the exposure of a CIA operative (a felony, fyi). He's a tough guy, an ex marine, maybe reminds the old hands of G. Gordon Liddy. Anyway, about a month ago when he gets called on by El Presidente himself, he asks a supendously loaded qustion and some interested parties started looking into who this character was.

Then the plot really takes a turn for the bizarre. Turns out he used to be (still is?) a male escort. It's something of a commentary on the state of the Conservative Movement that they either didn't realize this was the case, or knew it and assumed that this information wouldn't come to light. Kind of a fascinating study in power, really.

The Long Story:
There's this guy who's been lobbing softballs at White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan for the past couple of years, Jeff Gannon. Turns out, he's not really Jeff Gannon, or a journalist. In fact, his real name is James D. Gukert and in addition to "broadcast journalism training" from the leadership institute, he also has a background as a male prostitute.

His journalistic employ (and White House passes) come through "Talon News," a web-only publishing operation supported financially by GOPUSA, a "privately held corporation" run by an enterprising Texas Republican named Bobby Eberle. Bobby's bio recently went off the GOPUSA homepage, but google still has it in cache. It states "Bobby is a member of Texas Christian Coalition and Texas Right to Life, and he spends considerable time promoting these conservative ideals." Apparently that means arranging for a military-themed male hooker to get into White House press briefings (on repeated daily passes which don't require as much oversight as long-lasting "hard" passes) so he could "report" for Talon and offer a lifeline when questioning from real journalists needed some "balance."

Toping the pile of dirty tricks you probably shouldn't run via someone with such a questionable past, workin' girl Gannon was, along with other such luminaries as arch-conservative/ veteran operative Robert Novak, given a memo blowing CIA operative Valerie Plame's cover, an act of political retribution against her husband, diplomat Joe Wilson, who had refused to prop up part of the administration's rationale for war with Iraq by demonstrating that evidence suggesting Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase nuclear materials from Niger was forged.

Only people in a really big rush or in the throes of hubris (or both) would bother to use an agent so prone to compromise for these kinds of things. Oh man. Oh man, indeed.

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Nerding Out TO THE MAX

The ARTS :: Artscene Radio Talk Show... Listen to this stuff. The content may be completely over your head, but listen to the quality, and realize that anyone can do this now and anyone can listen to it pretty easily, and costs almost nothing to do.

We will be posting audio (and hopefully video) updates from the road, as well as blogging and soliciting advice, gas money and places to shower along the way.

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