My Head Just Exploded

Apparently a kid I grew up with, went to school with from elementary through high school, and who seemed like a good guy at the time (never a friend of mine but never on bad terms with him either), founded and runs Blackwater Security. I find this out from Jim, and the articles about him on the web seem all to be quoting this article by Chris Hedges:

One of the arguments used to assuage our fears that the mass movement being built by the Christian right is fascist at its core is that it has not yet created a Praetorian Guard, referring to the paramilitary force that defied legal constraints, made violence part of the political discourse and eventually plunged ancient Rome into tyranny and despotism. A paramilitary force that operates outside the law, one that sows fear among potential opponents and is capable of physically silencing those branded by their leaders as traitors, is a vital instrument in the hands of despotic movements. Communist and fascist movements during the last century each built paramilitary forces that operated beyond the reach of the law.

And yet we may be further down this road than we care to admit. Erik Prince, the secretive, mega-millionaire, right-wing Christian founder of Blackwater, the private security firm that has built a formidable mercenary force in Iraq, champions his company as a patriotic extension of the U.S. military. His employees, in an act as cynical as it is deceitful, take an oath of loyalty to the Constitution. These mercenary units in Iraq, including Blackwater, contain some 20,000 fighters. They unleash indiscriminate and wanton violence against unarmed Iraqis, have no accountability and are beyond the reach of legitimate authority. The appearance of these paramilitary fighters, heavily armed and wearing their trademark black uniforms, patrolling the streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, gave us a grim taste of the future. It was a stark reminder that the tyranny we impose on others we will one day impose on ourselves.

If you’d rather listen to Erik’s own description of Blackwater and his history, he’s interviewed here, where he compares Blackwater to eighteenth century privateers.

Robert “Iraq For Sale” Greenwald labels him a war profiteer, which, well, I imagine mercenaries make profits during war, yes. If mercenaries aren’t war profiteers, nobody is. And Greenwald also details his deep involvement with Republican causes, which is absolutely in character, for him or for any other fairly traditional young feller from our school. Although apparently he found the first Bush’s administration, in which he interned, excessively liberal. Cause they let homosexuals into the White House and passed the Clean Air Act. So he went all Pat Buchanan. Being a conservative, religious Republican was de rigeur in our community, but apparently Erik went really, really far down that road. (Of course, Pat Buchanan probably does not approve of Blackwater and America’s use thereof even one tiny little smidgen…)

I heard about this tonight from Jim, who read about it in David Brin’s blog.


Like I said, seemed like an OK guy in school. One I had zero in common with but one I had no problem with and who never seemed to have a problem with me. He’s younger than me. And he was a Navy SEAL and founded the most notorious mercenary corporation in the world.


KEWL headphones

I got an Amazon gift certificate from work for Christmas, and got me some Logitech wireless, Bluetooth headphones. I can walk all over the house wearing these while the adapter’s plugged into my computer. (I can’t seem to get it to Bluetooth directly to the macbook, but that’s OK. So I don’t have to leave Bluetooth on on the macbook. That’s cool.)

I can’t find them on the Logitech home page, which makes me think they’re probably a discontinued model, but googling on the model number gives me lots of results like this one. That’s what I got. And I didn’t pay anywhere near $129 for it. More like just above $30.

In about 10 years, I’ll be using these with the used refurb iPhone I finally get around to buying. Till then I’ll be using ’em with my comparatively humble but makes-me-happy LG VX 8300.

Review: Free Refills on Mars!

My old compatriot Kevin, aka Melvinkob, the Warlord of Marz, has just put together another CD!

The last time he did so I wrote up a little micro-review of the songs, which was fun for me cause to do it I had to make time to sit down and listen and pay attention to them, and paying attention to things people have created is one of the great joys of life.

I was going under the theory that what an artist needs most is to be heard. Not to be told their stuff is good or bad or whatever, but just to know that the stuff you are casting upon the waters is making waves in somebody’s mind somewhere. I asked Kev about it last time we talked and he pretty much agreed and let me know he’d be glad to hear that kind of review of the new CD, so last night I stayed up late listening to it after the rest of the family was asleep (giving my swanky new wireless headphones a spin…). My thoughts follow. If you want to give ’em a listen, I ripped mp3s you can check out here.  (And if you’re pressed for time and want to go straight to the cream of the crop, the two grabbiest songs IMHO are #5 and #10.)

1. Free Refills on Mars — Intro
There’s a backstory to the album, full of intertwined references that really only I and one or two other friends could possibly get. The Warlord of Marz, Melvinkob, is sent to Earth to with a special “to go cup” to take advantage of Free Refills on Mars, to replenish the Martian water supply. In the intros to the songs we learn more of the story, in a dialogue between synthesized voices. I’ll probably not review most of the intros separately.

2. Free Refills on Mars
Very “hearts of space” at the start, slow synths, undulating chords in and out, picking up a club beat that moves in and out with a kind of heartbeat under-beat. Ends with a philosophical synthquestion.

4. Toot in Common
This one’s hard to like because it uses something I did that embarrasses me. I was playing with a live looping program, SooperLooper, some time back, and I made several pennywhistle samples with it. I sent ’em to Kev and he apparently could stand to listen to them, and made this little thingy out of ’em. I hear it and just cringe listening to my silly pennywhistle, but the rest of the song’s actually pretty good.

5. Arturian Orbiter
Ahh, back to the good stuff. This is a really uptempo, cheerful, I want to say *insistent* piece of electronica. It revels in synth effect cliches, as if it could have come straight out of the late 80s, except that it packs rather more complexity into less time than older electronica tends to.

OK, I take “less time” back. Arturian orbiter is the longest song on the album, and it eventually settles down to a casual, comfortable, unhurried groove. Still.

6. Perpetual Motion Machine
Ah, this takes the “casual unhurried groove” thing from Arturian Orbiter further. It’s very much a smooth “grooves moving in and out of each other” kind of thing. Dreamier than AO, but not slow dreamy like FROM. Bright and extremely dancey, but light, dreamy.

7. Love Fractals 2006 — Intro
A feminine voice: “That’s the largest To Go Cup I have ever seen.” I’m trying to convince myself this is not a double entendre. And failing. Heaven help me.

8. Love Fractals 2006
To write about this one I have to go back and listen to the *original* Love Fractals, from 2004, of course. It’s a remake — the newer one is more “polished” in the sense that it has less sharp edges. Same simple riff repeated over and over with variations, but the variations blend into each other and the piece more now than they did in 2004. The riff itself is kind of wistful. As is the piece.

10. Pugnator
“Pugnator” means “Warrior” (“warlord?”) in Latin, and this is a more pugnacious track than we’ve seen yet. The intro suggests a chase scene, and I’d imagine if this had a music video it would have severe-looking fellows in dark suits and dark glasses packing businesslike weapons and high technology into businesslike briefcases to pursue the fleeing Warlord through neon-lit streets, in vain, as his remarkable powers of stealth and illusion render him progressively more secure from them.

11. Nocturnus
Slow and classical-esque introduction; eventually it picks up a funky beat. It ends up being primarily a drum piece, not a melodic piece at all. In that it makes me think of drummer Keith LeBlanc’s work.

Towards the end the classical-esque chords return, but over the beat. Unity is achieved.

12. Mental Detractor
Frenetic bongos and buzzy Atari-like synths preside over a backdrop of what sound like backwards organ chords. As trippy as the name sounds. Can’t decide whether this is too odd to be dancy or not.

13. Vacuous Space
Spooky jungle-ish atmospherics open this one, which includes a bit of the synthesized dialogue. It pretty much stays nonstop atmospheric trippy meanderings.

15. XL To Go Cup
“Launch the fleet of XL To Go Cups!”
There’s less to it than most of the others; it’s a simple melodic riff with scattered drum thrashes in the background — big drum thrashes like a giant’s drum played in a cavern.

17. Polyphonic Wrap
Look out MC Hawking! It’s synthesized rap, this one being full of references to the Warlord’s previous CDs (e.g. “I Hate Song,” “Chainsaw,” etc). A highly obscure contribution to the nerdcore canon.

18. Pugnator — Remix
See “pugnator” but this time the Warlord has left his pursuers far behind and it’s an epic space flight. The music video for this, I want to say, will be all anime outer space scenes, the kind which are all about the sheer coolness of the sleek ships and the unbelieveable vast grandeur of space. OK, that’s not all that implicit in the song. I’m kinda reading that into it. But that’s how I think of it in comparison with the previous mix of Pugnator; this one doesn’t say “danger,” it says “power, beauty, wonder.”

19. Alien Voices
All(?) the voice bits from the previous songs and intros atop some slow, thoughtful piano noodling.

20. The Warlord of Marz has Escaped! 2006
This is another remake of a song from Mars Rocks! 2004, so again I went back to the previous version for a comparison. The original is a very murky, synth-voice-filled, synthesizer fun mishmash. This one raises the music above the voices, so to speak. The music is much more coherent and defined, not “murky” (not that murky is necessarily bad…) and the samples blend into it smoothly. Not melodic but much more musical than the 2004 version.

Magrathea: “Google Earth” Lite

Magrathea seems to be an OS X application with about 2% of the functionality of Google Earth, but still very cool and not a gigantic system hog. Also its satellite maps (from Yahoo Maps) seem to have more detail available for more areas than Google Earths’s. I could find my childhood homes on the maps in Magrathea but not in Google Earth.