Saturday, October 29, 2016

Dakota Access Pipeline protests

Police actions against people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline are heating up. Pepper spray and attack dogs were used against protestors on September 3, police issued arrest warrants for reporter Amy Goodman and Presidential candidate Jill Stein, and on October 27 the National Guard was called out to clear the protest camps, using LRAD devices, tear gas, pepper spray, armored tanks, and bean bag rounds. I recommend this piece, which reminds people that this is a continuation of centuries-long violence against native people.

Many calls have been made for Obama to intervene, or for Hillary Clinton to make a statement about this other than her bland noncommittal one. I joined in these pro forma calls, but I predict that Obama will do nothing, and so will HRC when she wins. Obama did nothing as the Occupy movement had its camps destroyed by police. His last 100 days will be no different from the rest of his 8 year term. As for HRC, she will be busy wasting her first 100 days on whatever minimalist agenda she thinks she can pass.

More simply, this is how the American state handles protest -- then and now. From charges under the 1917 Espionage Act that destroyed the IWW and that are being used against Snowden, to the long history of military troops used against native people throughout the history of the U.S. and up to today.

Thursday, October 27, 2016


I just started using Twitter, and now I'm going to write the same complaints that everyone probably writes about Twitter.

1. Pictures

What does everyone know about Twitter? The 140 character limit. But of course no one can write anything worthwhile in 140 characters. So, since Twitter allows you to attach a picture as well, that is what everyone does. Not only does every nonprofit group using Twitter have to come up with a picture or cartoon or at least a graphic to put under whatever they're talking about, but other people have resorted to *taking a picture of their extra text" and putting that up.

Let's say that you want to quote something from one of these extra-text blocks. What do you do, trim the picture to make a little irregularly sized area around the words you want? Someone has typed something in and their writing was in Unicode or ASCII, which you can copy and paste as writing, and now it's in a bunch of pixels which you can't. It's the same thing that happened with old-style PDF files, and it's a Lovecraftian information-destroying horror.


OK, how much effort would it take Twitter to not show you retweets of a tweet that you've already seen? It can't be much programming effort, since every tweet has to have a unique ID floating around somewhere. But they haven't wanted to do this -- who knows why -- and as a result, when you're interested in something, you're going to see every major occurrence connected with it complete with its picture a whole lot of times. Why?

3. Ads

Since 2010 Twitter has been not-making-a-profit on its "sponsored tweets" which it jams right into your timeline whether you like it or not. Hulu now lets you pay to not see ads, which of course people do, and Web sites in general either do the obnoxious ad popup thing in which case you never go back or sullenly let you use an adblocker. There are Twitter clients with adblockers as well, but they have certain problems which make them less tenable. Twitter itself will let you opt out of ad personalization, which only means that you'll still get the same number of ads, they just will pretend that they aren't tracking you. Twitter has the same advantage as any other social media company that entrenches itself in its space, but this has to be a vulnerability.

4. Timelines

OK, let's say that you turn off the wonderful algorithmic timeline and get something that bears some relationship to Newtonian time. Then, unless I'm missing something, Twitter is apparently unable to remember where you were on your timeline if you last looked at it on some other machine. Maybe non-Euclidian timelines have to be turned off on each machine? Who programs things this way anymore?

New data blog

I've started a new blog -- creatively named Rich Puchalsky's Data Blog -- for people who want to read about environmental and financial data issues without having to read through poetry, SF criticism, non-data politics etc.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Happiness and Success! A short three act play

Every now and then I write a satirical short three act play in Crooked Timber comments. It normally takes 15 minutes to write them, so I don't save them, but this one, I think, catches the mood of the current U.S. election better than any other 15 minute piece I could write. It was originally here.


People should be warned that the levels of meaning and allusion in this play are exceptionally subtle and nuanced: I’m not sure that anyone will understand it immediately. But keep studying it and various symbol-systems may cohere.

Also: trigger warning for eyeball eating and other violence.

Happiness and Success!
A short three act play

Act I
(A WOMAN and A MAN are sitting at a picnic table).

A WOMEN: “I hate this election season. It’s so bitter this year. It’s like our whole civilization is under threat!” [She stabs a fork down into the tray in front of her, pulls out a human eyeball, and eats it.]

A MAN: “Yes, this election isn’t like any other one I’ve heard of. I’m really worried.”

A WOMAN: “I do my best to make things better… I even eat free range eyeballs. “

A MAN: “Free range *people*, honey. It’s not really correct to objectify parts of people that way.”

A WOMAN: “Oh, yes, of course. That’s what that horrible SECOND CANDIDATE does! I can’t believe that for a moment I sounded like SECOND CANDIDATE!” [She eats another eyeball.]

A MAN: “FIRST CANDIDATE will win, if only those young people vote. I don’t know what their problem is, complaining that we ate their eyes and everything.”

A WOMAN: “And they’re so nasty. They even insulted Gloria Steinem!”

Act II
(A circle of GUARDS in standing in the middle of a crowd: each GUARD is holding a leveled automatic weapon. Throughout the scene the GUARDS keep up a low, menacing chant of “KILL! KILL! KILL! KILL!” A small group of NIHILISTS stands nearby holding various protest signs.)

A MAN: “He’s running away! KILL!” (A GUARD shoots a running man in the back.)

A WOMAN: “I want to feel safe! KILL!” (Another GUARD shoots three people in the crowd.)

ANOTHER MAN: “Our society is racist! We won’t protect people from dictators.”

ANOTHER WOMAN: “Eh, join in.”

ANOTHER MAN: “All right, I want to fully participate in our society! KILL! KILL!” (GUARDS mow down five more people).

ANOTHER WOMAN: “Law and order! KILL!”

ANOTHER MAN: “Responsibility 2 Protect! KILL!”

A NIHILIST (holding a placard which reads “Maybe we should kill fewer people”): “Um–“

GUARD: “Get back to the free speech zone, sir! Otherwise I will have to KILL!”

A NIHILIST: “Sorry! Going back now!”

ANOTHER MAN: “Racist!”

(the public square. There are happy people, balloons, etc.)

A MAN: “The votes are almost in. I think it’s going to go for FIRST CANDIDATE!”

A WOMAN: “I’m so happy! I love democracy!”

A MAN: “She’s going to win … I’m filled with hope!”

A WOMAN: “By working together we can all figure out how to succeed at whatever we want to do! I’m so happy and full of joy!”

A DIFFERENT MAN: “The votes are in! FIRST CANDIDATE wins!”

The CROWD cheers. FIRST CANDIDATE smilingly takes a machine gun from one of the guards and mows down ten people.

SECOND CANDIDATE: “Eh, she’s still a loser. I would have killed twenty people, because I’m a winner!”


YET ANOTHER WOMAN: “I’m so proud that she’s shown our daughters that anything is possible. Now my little girl will know that she can grow up to kill lots of people just like any man!”

The crowd starts to sing. Even A NIHILIST is pulled in.

“We’re happy and we’re right”
“And oh so polite”
“We know we can succeed”
“And darkness recede”
“Because the killing future is so bright!”

(People are swirling around, laughing, munching on eyeballs, firing weapons into the crowd.)

“Now with this great leap”
“We’ve beaten that creep”
“The election is over”
“And we’re in clover”
“And now it’s time to sleep”