Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


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   Orwellian fiddles
Thursday, February 13 2003

I was in P&T Surplus today to buy a big threaded bolt for my long-postponed top of the stairway project, and I noticed they were selling duct tape. This wasn't surprising; P&T Surplus will sell anything, including knives emblazoned with Confederate flags. Who knows, they might occasionally stock DuraflameTM logs pre-configured in a cross-like formation "for the Klansman on the go." What I didn't see was people making a massive run on the duct tape. People in Kingston must not be taking the government's terror preparedness advice seriously. Perhaps they imagine that they're safe up here in an economically-depressed Hudson River city. What would be the point of al Qaeda attack on Kingston, except to stimulate the economy with a sudden flood of reporters? The government is doing a good job of keeping the bulk of the populace ignorant and frightened. Achieving this feat should be much more difficult in a western democracy than its proving to be. We are not Weimar Germany, with just a thin veneer of democratic institution over a thick midden of autocratic tradition. We are the United State of America, the country that claims to have invented freedom, or at least distilled it out of the potent wine of the Enlightenment. Yet, all these years of freedom later, the bulk of the American population is being played like so many Orwellian fiddles. This represents nothing so much as a triumphant merger of marketing and politics. Those in the liberal cognoscenti have never really understood marketing. Why, they ask, does Pepsi spend so much money on stupid ads that will never convince anyone to change their non-alcoholic drinking habits? They must have been missing something, because the marketing people at Pepsi aren't stupid. There's an advantage to be gained by juxtaposing pop stars with your product. Most people secretly seek acceptance, and they instinctively feel safer using a product endorsed by a popular celebrity. Most people are not trying to be punk rock rebels, are not on some sort of Starbucks boycott, unless, of course, their media tells them that being punk rock and boycotting Starbucks is cool. Mind you, boycotting Starbucks could easily be made cool if Starbucks boycotters could somehow raise sufficient funds to run the necessary advertising.
Marketing the need to invade Iraq is no different. To successfully market this product required a number of things, and all of these have counterparts in the cola wars. When it was realized that even most Americans don't regard the President as unbiased on this issue, poor Colin Powell was skinned and his hide worn by Paul Wolfowitz, who, so dressed, went to to the United Nations to play us tapes of supposed "intercepted communications" and provide pro-invasion captions for grainy photos of dusty desert buildings. Using Colin Powell's skin in this way was very similar to Pepsi's use of, say, the skin of Ozzy Osbourne's children. In advertising, it's all about skin.
But the place where the Bush administration outguns even the marketers of Pepsi is where it sets the colors of the terror threat level. By changing this color to a more hellish hue and telling people that the best way to be saved is to buy duct tape and plastic sheeting, they bring about a quasi-compulsory mass participation in the march to war. Just by going through the motions of buying duct tape or putting up plastic sheets, you're buying into the product. Once you've taken that step, you've made a bigger commitment to the product. To abandon the product at any later point would be to admit, on some level, that you were a sucker earlier in the process. Preemptively Mom and Dad tape up their windows and grumble about how they'll sure be happy when they can take down that unsightly plastic, and in their minds they make a leap that hasn't been promised, a leap not unlike the leaps people routinely make when subjected to Pepsi advertising. This leap is that the defeat of Saddam Hussein will be the end of terrorism alerts. Never mind that al Qaeda has nothing at all to do with Saddam Hussein. The difference between them has been deliberately obfuscated in yet another prong of the war marketing effort.

Meanwhile back at the house I've been continuing my work on the "floor mural" in my laboratory. I have to keep the door shut while the paint is drying, because if I don't Eddy Edna sneaks in and always manages to step in wet paint. When I traverse the floor, it's fairly easy to avoid wet paint because it's all color-coded. I just avoid the color I painted last (and maybe the color I painted before that one as well).
The recent burst of creativity engendered by the floor mural leaves me wanting to combine a few of my talents into one unified form of expression, electronic sculptures. Many months ago I found a 32 character alphanumeric display on the streets of Manhattan, and last night I hooked it up to five volts power and found it booted up to a demo mode where it cycled through all the ASCII characters one after the other. The pixels are a beautiful greenish blue and fairly large. It's the sort of big, bright digital equipment that no one manufactures anymore. I'd like to develop a computer interface for it and then build it into some sort of copper tube structure. It wouldn't be especially useful (it would be art), but it would make for an interesting beacon in a darkened room.

The floor pattern as of tonight, taken from near
the ceiling of my laboratory (note the disco ball in the foreground).

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