The surprisingly delightful musings of a humble Virginian whose satiric paeons to a plausible utopia implicitly shame the cynical zeitgeist of our times, causing it to cry, as 'twere, 'Damn, what was I thinking?' or words to that effect.

My Verdict on Donald Trump

Dear reader (kind reader, O NICE reader!):

It has just occurred to this cute little brain of mine that I have never yet used these hallowed pages to unequivocally proffer my viewpoint on this Donald Trump fellow who is currently in the Kremlin -- er, I mean the White House.

Mind you, I have reason to believe that only nosy enemies of mine ever read these pages ("I wonder what that fool is up to now?"), but should these posts survive me, there may come a day when NORMAL, fair-minded people will finally canvass my views as well, in which case I want to make it perfectly clear from the get-go where I stand on Rodrigo Duterte -- oops, I mean on Donald Trump.

Hopefully, of course, I stand right on his neck with my big black Nunn Bush Comfort Gel shoes until such time as he promises to play fair, at which point, of course, I will gladly let him rise and go about his business.

Editor's note: Brian is kidding of course. (sigh!) Why, bless him, he wouldn't harm even the nuttiest of right-wing fanatics, let alone a fly. Time out of mind, he has been known for the docility of his person. And it would do your heart good to read his nature poetry, girlfriend, I am telling you. True, he seldom publishes, but his "Ode to a Seahorse" caused something of stir when it appeared in the first edition of The Yorktown Crier back in 1976.

Levity aside, my problem with Vladimir Putin-- I mean Donald Trump, of course-- is that he recklessly derides democracy and the democratic process. I mean, propose any loopy policy you please, Don, even roll back environmental protections. God willing we'll undo the damage you cause at the next presidential election. But stop doing your darnedest to erode faith in the American system of government. If you don't believe in our democratic system, leave. Buy an island and rule it like a Banana Republic. We'll find a way to get along without you back home, trust me.

There, I've said it.

Now then, I know it's a bit of a non-sequitur, but suppose I "take us out of here" by treating you to a little of my humble versifying on the subject of a seahorse. It's a little thing I like to call "Ode to a Seahorse." Not to brag, but you guys are in for a treat... Ooh-hoo!

Editor's note: For a variety of arcane copyright considerations, we are unable to publish Brian's no doubt fabulous poem about a Seahorse. (OK, if you must know, the Yorktown Crier has long since been gobbled up by USA Today, whose busybody lawyers are sure to raise a stink if Brian attempts to publish his original peon in a new venue. Ah, the travails that genius must endure, right? It breaks your pea-pickin'. What does the Shellmeister say? "Through toil and hate, to Fame's serene abode." You got THAT right, Shell-Shell.)

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Stink Eye for the Freelancer

Any freelancers out there? Let me see a show of hands.

[cheers, applause]

Is it just me, or are people biased against us freelancers?

[scattered titters]

Am I right? People actually hate us for trying to make money, never mind the fact that these haters already are earning their own share of the filthy green themselves, smug in their own positions, as if they had never had to humbly make their case to a potential employer regarding the probable utility of their proffered services but had rather been born fully fledged into the world as a money-making employee from birth.

Case in point:

I recently sent an e-mail query to a distinguished medical research facility, informing them of the availability of my humble services. (I will mercifully refrain from identifying the facility by name, so rest assured that I am not necessarily talking about Johns Hopkins University here, for instance. Fair enough?)

So I filled out a form to send my info to a so-called help desk at the facility in question (whether it be Johns Hopkins University or anywhere else).

Well, less than five minutes later, I received two e-mails:

The first said: Ticket Received.

So far, so good. But the second read:

Ticket Closed.

Talk about good news and bad news: The first response assured me that my message had been received, assigned an actual number (INC-611, I believe it was), and would be responded to by a real caring human being in less than 24 hours.

The second simply told me that my ticket had been unilaterally closed -- end of story -- with no explanation whatsoever.

[crowd booing]

I know, right? (I always wanted to say that!)

Being understandably puzzled by this schizophrenic reply, I communicated my concerns to the University (or whatever it was) via a useful-looking e-mail address that I found at the bottom of this so-called help desk form.

I politely pointed out the glaring inconsistency between these two messages, the fact that I had been warmly welcomed by the first only to be summarily dismissed by the second. I needed to know, what gives? Or rather what gave? Why, after such a promising beginning, was my ticket simply closed, with no explanation whatsoever?

Listen closely, folks. The HR people at this facility (be it Johns Hopkins or wherever) are about to evince their utter disdain for the common working man!

Suddenly, two new messages appeared in my in-box, apparently in response to my above-mentioned misgivings. Once again, the first message's subject line read "Ticket Received," while the second read "Ticket Closed."

I'm sorry I can't directly quote the body text from the first of these two messages, since I deleted both in anger after reading its two terse sentences. But the HR maven gave me to understand that I had chosen the wrong venue to make my pitch, thank me very much, and that, in any case, the university (or whatever it was) had their own highly satisfactory staffers that do precisely the sort of work that I have offered to perform. So there! True, the text didn't actually include the words "so there," but the schoolyard taunt would not have been inconsistent with the curt tenor of this response (or rather rebuttal) to my original query. Nor could I easily respond to this complacent retort, since the writer's immediate closing of the ticket eliminated the normal response options available to me via the help-desk platform.

I got my own back, however, because I not only deleted the laconic rejoinder from my in-box but I flagged it as "spam" in my G-mail program -- an action that I'm not proud of in retrospect, but in the absence of a nearby punching bag, I had to do something. The only other option that came to mind was to compose a vitriolic broadside by way of response, and even in my aggravated state, I understood that this would have been overkill and could have even potentially given me a bad name in the freelance world as a whole. Besides, as my friends will tell you, bless them, I'm a stoic of the old school, so I knew, metaphysically speaking, that it was my business to amend my opinions of this affair rather than to lash out at any supposed external bad guys in the play. (Marcus Aurelius rules, baby: everything is opinion! You better ask somebody!)

Mind you, the factual part of the facility's response was not particularly disconcerting to me, as any veteran freelancer comes to expect that at least 9/10ths of such queries will fail (if not 99/100ths of them!) But I was somewhat taken aback by the heartlessly factual tone that my glib correspondent had adopted in quashing my hopes -- particularly the fact that he appeared to take umbrage (it sounded like a "he" to me) at the fact that I had communicated my offer via the wrong form. This was a little rich considering the fact the facility's confusing website offered no obvious alternative to the form in question. Besides, since the upshot of his message was that my services were not going to be needed in any case, he might have spared me the schoolmarm lecture about using the wrong consarned form.

Of course, I've moved on now and am no longer nettled (as the channel swimmer said after escaping the Portuguese man-of-war). But I felt obliged to share this incident with the public to demonstrate the indignities to which freelancers like myself are subjected, merely because we're trying to make money -- as if no one in the world but freelancers ever had such an end in view!

Humph! Can I get a humph, friends?

[crowd 'humphs']

Sorry, but I'm not going to reveal the name of the potential employer described in the above example. They could be located anywhere, from Baltimore, Maryland, to... to anywhere else. And the name of the institution could be anything, from Johns Hopkins University, to... to anything else.

I'm not going to play the blame game. I'm just talking to the man in the mirror -- or at least that subset of 'men in the mirror' who consider freelancers to be second-rate citizens. Humph.

Am I right, or am I right?

[loud, nay unbridled cheering]

Whoo! Gotta love that unbridled cheering, folks!

Freelancers of the world unite: you have nothing to lose but your second-class reputation! Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Three Arguments Against Political Correctness in Academia

The following is a response to lecture one of Professor Edwin Barnhart's Great Courses courses entitled Ancient Civilizations of North America.

Dear Dr. Barnhart:

Regarding your clarification of terms in the first lecture of that course, I wanted to share a few thoughts.

1) While I agree that we should not use pejorative or biased language in speaking of cultures, I think the climate these days puts far too much emphasis on what people say and far too little on what they mean. In this way, we run the risk of being "taken in" by the hypocrites of the world, who learn to say all the right things but have bad intentions nonetheless, such as Moliere's Tartuffe or the hypocritical brother Joseph in Sheridan's "The School for Scandal" (not to mention the manipulative daughters of King Lear). Meanwhile, the goodhearted speaker who commits a politically incorrect faux pas risks being run out of town despite his good intentions (thanks to our zero-tolerance attitude toward words) by those who have learned from society that they should count it as the worst possible offense to be spoken of in a manner that they themselves consider to be "insensitive." (I place the word in quotes because, as you yourself point out, the words to which that definition apply are subject to change over time.) Instead, they should learn that the worst possible offense occurs only when someone actually intends to offend them, not merely when that person unintentionally uses a word that is considered to be somehow "offensive in the abstract."

2) Also, I don't entirely agree with your assertion that those who use "AD" are tacitly invoking Christianity. The English language is full of terms whose original meanings are sharply at odds with current usage. Correct or accepted usage is based on what people actually mean, not on what they meant long ago. When I use "AD," I don't think of Christianity (just as I don't think of Julius Caesar when I mention the month of July), but I use it to make myself understood, chronologically speaking. I have no problem using "CE" instead should I learn that it bothers my audience to hear "AD," but even if I were a Native American, I hope that I would have patience with a person who uses that latter term, unless I was sure that they indeed intended to offend me in so doing. Otherwise, my anger would be nothing but political correctness in the worst sense of that term. Besides, one could scarcely write a full sentence these days without giving offense, were every word in it to be subjected to an etymology on behalf of an easily offended audience.

3) Finally, I can completely understand your call for neutral language on such a subject at such a time in the cultural development of America. I do have one concern, however. When a professor makes a conscious pitch for respectful language at the beginning of a course, I can't help but wonder if I'm not going to get a whitewashed rendition of any facts that might tend to a jaundiced view of the civilizations that are about to be lectured upon - or that the lecturer might even omit any incidents in the history that might lead to a less than flattering view of said people. If respect for the discussed civilization is paramount, how forthcoming will the professor be about any shortcomings that the civilization might possess or about any incidents that do not redound to their credit? I understand the need to eschew the many prejudices that have limited unbiased study in the past, but I am concerned that we may now be overcompensating for the negative bias of the past with a new positive bias, which itself is still far wide of the ideal of impartial analysis. Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)


Bless you.

Hello, gentle reader. (sigh!) I just found leisure to post the following comment on a website called Ayahuasca.com, under an article entitled The Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the DEA Religious Exemption Process by a certain Gayle Highpine. (Is that her real name?) Well, I say I posted it. Actually, it seems that my comment is "awaiting moderation" -- which is a shame really, because I thought that my comments were already pretty moderate to begin with. There's no need for some third party to couch my thoughts in still more moderate terms, lest the whole point of my miniature sally be obscured by excessive verbal temporizing. (Really? Gayle Highpine?... I'm just sayin'!)

We're in Alice's Wonderland when plants can be made illegal and a heavily armed DEA gets to decide what qualifies as a "true" religion -- a question that must have as many answers as there are theologians. I appreciate that the DEA thinks that it's keeping us safe, but if that were really the case, they'd be cracking down on addictive SSRI's and alcohol, long before they'd worry about what non-addictive plants an American may be growing in his or her own private garden. And so we see: the Protestants of yore may have given up on persecuting witches, but their 21st-century descendants are still, to this day, suppressing the powerful medicinal plants that those witches were using. Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Valerie Jarrett's Missed Opportunity

how she could have made the Roseanne Barr incident a truly 'teachable moment'

Valerie Jarrett should meet with Roseanne Barr, shake her hands in a photo op, and publicly forgive her. This show of magnanimity would not only help bring the races together, but it would lessen the political divide in this country by bringing left and right closer together as well. Perhaps the show "Roseanne" could even continue, with a new emphasis on exploring race relations in America in a productive and, yes, humorous manner. Instead, the Democrats appear determined to get all of the political mileage out of Roseanne's blunder that they can, while the right increasingly views the actress as a victim of political correctness. And so the rift grows.

It was Martin Luther King who said that the ultimate reality was love. If Valerie Jarrett shares that view, she should do our divided country a big favor and publicly forgive Roseanne Barr. That's the "teachable moment" that America really needs: a moment that teaches the power of love and forgiveness. Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Pipe Dream or the Next Big Thing: You be the judge

Or better yet, how about if we let Munesh Chandra Trivedi decide?

I had just finished feeding a ravenous scold of partially tamed blue jays by depositing chopped peanuts on the railing of my upstairs balcony, when I suddenly took it into my head to canvass the state of steganography on the World Wide Web. For a long time, I had been contemplating the creation of a breakthrough video application based on the ability to hide information inside images, and I now considered it high time to discover if anyone could advisedly salute my brainstorm after I had run it up the flag pole of intelligent scrutiny. I knew my idea was theoretically doable, but was the state-of-the-art in this fledgling field mature enough to bring my ideas to honest-to-goodness fruition? Better find out once and for all, I reasoned, lest I impulsively buy a Jeep Cherokee on anticipation of a payday (both figurative and literal) that will never come.

(True, the Cherokee I wanted need not be brand-new, but even the used ones are ridiculously expensive if you ask me. Yes, an online search reveals some very promising prices, indeed -- but then one soon realizes that the figures being quoted reveal the amount that you can save if you act now, and are actually just a fraction of the real-world price tag for the SUV in question.)

So thinking, I betook myself to Googling the appropriate terminology ("steganography, video," etc.) when my attention was arrested by the disproportionate prevalence of one Munesh Chandra Trivedi in the search results. Everywhere I looked, it was "Munesh this, Munesh that." Here was a man who obviously stood out in the field of steganography, even among the plethora of eggheads that appear upon a search of such a relatively abstruse subject. Just reading the title of the books that he had published was depressing insomuch as it amounted to an implicit rebuke of my feeble attainments on the scientific and technological front. Here, after all, was the esteemed author of "Electronic Commerce," "Systems Analysis and Design," "Practical Approach of Software Engineering," and even "Artificial Neural Networks Technology." Did somebody say "egghead par excellence"? One can hear the stand-up comedian now asking: "Yes, but I wonder what Munesh does when he's not frittering his time away on his technological hobbies!"

But it wasn't until I saw the book entitled "Digital Image Processing" on Munesh's seemingly endless resume that I knew I had found the ultimate touchstone for the validity of my technological idea. Munesh would tell me whether I had the "next big thing" or whether I was doomed to tool around forever in my Pearl Red Toyota Corolla that I purchased 18 years ago at Car Max in Fairfax, Virginia, for a mere 5,000 clams. Not that the Corolla wasn't holding its own, mind you, considering the fact that it had now been to the moon and back with 12,000 miles to spare, but one does want to keep up with the Jones's, however belatedly. And the windfall from my brainstorm might help me do just that. (Pardon my strategic vagueness as to the details of my conceptual breakthrough: suffice it to say that it would save a pretty penny for broadcasters and video owners alike and change forever the way that subtitles and captions are created for motion pictures. But I will say no more. Indeed, I fear that I may have already tipped my hand to the deductive diligence of any Detective Dupins out there, to whom I can only say this: patent pending, baby. Patent definitely pending. Humph!)


Done. I just e-mailed a detailed letter to Munesh Chandra Trivedi regarding my proposed video app based on steganography. Now, I can just sit back and wait. (Dum-dee-dum-dum... Let's see, how much time has passed? Only five seconds? You've got to be kidding me! Seems more like five minutes to me!)

I know what you're thinking: "What if Munesh steals your idea, Brian, and creates this mysterious application of yours by himself? Then how are you gonna purchase that Jeep Cherokee that you've apparently got your heart set on?"

Well, first of all, the Munesh that I know would never do such a thing. True, I only know him via his chock-a-block professional resume, but one can intuit therefrom a most generous soul indeed (based on nuanced considerations which are, however, far beyond the scope of a post like this one, destined as it is for a mere casual readership). Moreover, I could never parley my idea into "the next big thing" without help from a brainiac of the first order. And if that brainiac sees fit to fleece me, I will happily chalk it up to fate.

No, my real fear is that this Munesh person might never even reply to my missive, in which case I would be forced to address my concerns to the many lesser lights in the firmament of technological braininess, in which case, the devil only knows what advice I might get.

No, I'm just going to sit here and wait for Munesh to get back to me, thanks just the same. (Dum-dee-dum-dum... Hmm. Still no response.)

Oh, wait a minute. It looks like Munesh lives in Ghaziabad, India, where he's a Professor, no less, at ABES Engineering College. No WONDER he isn't getting back to me in a timely manner: He lives on the other side of the freaking globe! Note to self: Let the man sleep, for goodness' sake!

Well, I'll give him another 12 hours then: Better yet, another 14 hours, so that he can get his coffee and have a nice shower before he gets back to me.

Ooh, I can't wait.

The cool thing is, I don't even have to make a penny from my proposed app: I need merely convince some venture capitalists that it's the next big thing, and they'll start throwing money at me like I'm a belly dancer at a stag party -- or rather like Heidi Klum is a belly dancer working on my behalf, skipping across the countertops of someone's basement bar, sashaying now to the left, now to the right: in short, shaking it like she really does in fact mean it. "Go, Klum! Go, Klum!" (Now THERE'S a dance-hall imperative that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.)

I don't want to put the cart before the horse (or the Jeep Cherokee before the Toyota Corolla) but a quick jaunt down to Harrisonburg, Virginia, might be in order, to visit my new local CarMax, just so I'll be prepared in case Munesh decides to form a business partnership with yours truly, and/or provides me with the technical insight wherewith to milk this cash cow by myself. It can never hurt to eyeball the merchandise in advance of actually buying it.

First things first, however, as the partially tamed blue jays are at it again, evincing their rapacity with the customary infernal screeches. Sigh! ("All right, already, I'm coming, guys. Honestly!") Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

The Salem Witch Hunt Never Ended

As a grade school student, I always got a sort of smug cultural self-satisfaction whenever class discussion turned to the evils of the Salem witch hunt, or of witch hunts in general. Those ancient people were just so benighted after all! Humph! If only they had lived in America in the (then) 20th century and knew what enlightenment was. I bet you they'd have thought twice before taking up their knives and pitch forks and chasing down innocent women merely because they displayed a little eccentricity under the influence of native plants!

Forty years later, however, I have learned a galling truth, a truth that has knocked me off of my ethnocentric high horse and made me question the supposed enlightenment of the American way of life: namely, the fact that the witch hunt never ended.

True, we are no longer arresting people simply because they behave strangely, but we are still cracking down with Cotton Mather-like intensity on the use of native plants as a means of self-realization and potential cosmic awareness.

Our Puritan nation still believes in the devil, albeit with a lower case "d"; it's just that the devil now manifests itself as hallucinogenic plants. And if hallucinogens are the devil, it follows, metaphorically speaking, that anyone who possesses them must be in league with this devil and punished accordingly. And punish them we do, as America's record-high prison population clearly shows.

The truth is then, America never stopped performing witch hunts: it just relabeled the witches as "drug abusers" in order to ease its Puritan conscience about the ruination that such Draconian policies bring to the lives of otherwise law-abiding citizens.

But the Puritans were not content with merely stopping personal exploration of altered states. The fact-challenged zeitgeist effectively forced scientists to cease studying these demonic substances as well, when, in 1968, America placed them on the Schedule I list of prohibited substances, for the ostensible reason that they were addictive and had no therapeutic value (both of which claims, in connection with hallucinogenic mushrooms, were demonstrably false, even at the time that the legislation was pushed through).

Nor did scientists put up much of a fight against this coup in which public hysteria usurped the role of unbiased scientific research. Sure, scientists at the time were unhappy, but there has been no ground swell of revulsion over the precedent set in 1968, according to which public feeling, not scientific research, could determine public policy about drugs. If the uneducated masses feel that a drug is bad, that's good enough for science, apparently, notwithstanding the scientist's vaunted dedication to cold, dispassionate research on every other topic under the sun.

The result? The desperate needs of mental health patients are put on the back burner for a half-century as America struggles to get its Puritan mind around the fact that altered states are neither good nor bad, except as regards the specific context of such usage. At least our stateside Shakespeare fans should have already learned this fact from the pharmaceutical musings of Friar Laurence in Romeo & Juliet:

Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;

And vice sometimes by action dignified..

Thus we see that modern America hasn't lost its Puritan intolerance from colonial days, no matter how much we preen ourselves on the rapid advances in modern technology. Nor can this technology help us find sanity. True, it might come up with an app to help law enforcement detect signs of "mushroom use" in a drug suspect, but it's not going to come up with an app to ensure the independence of science from the muddled ideas of the mob or the freedom of the individual to seek their own salvation through the use of natural substances, no matter how loudly society claims the specious right to label parts of Mother Nature's bounty as "illegal." Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

in response to his op-ed piece entitled "LSD to cure depression? Not so fast," published Dec. 2017 in the New York Times.

Open Letter to Psychiatrist Richard Alan Friedman, MD

Dear Dr. Friedman:

I would like to offer a little feedback on your op-ed piece entitled "LSD to cure depression? Not so fast."

I consider myself to be an expert of sorts in this matter because I have been on the receiving end of "legal" depression therapy in the United States for 40 years, that is to say the default addictive pill-popping paradigm that came into effect after the criminalizing of psychedelic treatment in the late '60s and early '70s, eventually ushering in the age of the addictive SSRIs. I hope that the medical field still believes that its patients should have a say in therapy and that therefore my viewpoint will be considered before eminent physicians such as yourself succeed in returning the longtime stigma to LSD and psychedelics: the stigma that was so assiduously cultivated by politicians in the late '60s and early '70s. The mere utterance of the word "LSD" now creates a bias in the mind of the hearer, even in the mental health field, thanks to that hysterical anti-hippy campaign of yore.


I am sorry that you would launch so many merely speculative public attacks on the new potentially wonderful treatments without even so much as a nod to the gross inadequacy of the present system for treating depressed patients, especially since some of the LSD-related ills that you fret about (impurity and dosage) are irrelevant when we're speaking of using substances in a legal professional medical environment that is controlled both as to 'set and setting' (as no professionals that I know of are currently calling for the "recreational" use of psychedelics).

Meanwhile, just put the words "SSRI" and "addiction" into your Google search engine and you will find the posts of thousands of depressed patients attempting unsuccessfully to wean themselves off of antidepressant substances that their psychiatrists never described as "addictive" in the first place. Instead, the psychiatrist used newspeak (no doubt at the behest of Big Pharma sales agents) to obscure the addictive potential of these mass-produced SSRIs by disingenuously reassuring the patient that "you will probably have to take this medication for life." That sounds reassuring coming from a doctor in a lab coat, but then any drug pusher in blue jeans could have said the same thing in defense of his own product.

In psychedelics, chronically depressed Americans like myself finally have before us a potentially non-addictive treatment that has literally thousands of years of precedent behind it, if we consider the use of psychedelics in ancient cultures for ritual and healing (resisting our imperialistic temptation to dismiss such cultures as "primitive" and thus ignore the data with a good, if somewhat smug, conscience). These positive results are necessarily anecdotal, but does our supposedly rational science really believe in ignoring them altogether?

Moreover, there were many promising studies performed in the '50s and '60s on LSD and psilocybin in the treatment of depression and other ills. Bill Wilson of AA found such promise for LSD in beating addiction that he wanted to use the drug on alcoholics in AA sessions. Unfortunately, his board of directors just said no, terrified of the public relation impact of employing a substance that was currently being vilified by the U.S. government, as part of a war on hippies. And vilified the drug most certainly was in the early '70s, until the term "LSD" became synonymous in the public mind with "madness" in the same way that unions once succeeded in irrevocably associating the term "strike breaker" with "scab." In short, the conservatives like yourself had won the lexicographic war against the therapeutic use of psychedelics for therapy. But the victory was not without its casualties, Dr. Friedman: namely the millions of alcoholics who led an unnecessarily miserable life over the last half century!

But now once again, psychiatrists like yourself seem to want to run interference between patients like myself and our new hope for peace of mind and self-understanding. I don't want to engage in ad hominem arguments, but to be honest, sir, here's my knee-jerk reaction to such interference:
"First the psychiatrists get us addicted to only modestly useful drugs (i.e. SSRIs,) then they prevent us from switching to non-addictive therapy elsewhere."
Moreover, there is something absurd about modern science's disproportionate disdain for anecdote. Yes, anecdotal evidence may be unimpressive in a given situation, but it's perverse and dogmatic to completely ignore the safe usage of psychedelics over the centuries, not to mention the gleaming latter-day reports of users' own stories in books by Fadiman, Huxley, McKenna, William Richards, Stanislov Grof, Tom Shroder, Jospeh Selbie, etc. At very least, such reams of positive evidence should make you want to cry out for more controlled studies, rather than using your energy to slow down existing research, especially when you yourself admit that past research has been stymied by the government's own Schedule I listing of the drugs (and plants!) concerned.

The worst part of this scientific disdain for anecdote, though, is that it's selective, Dr. Friedman: the government's own hysterical campaign against LSD was based largely on anecdotal reports, often featured in yellow journalism, and yet you are in no hurry to dismiss the anecdotal concerns of the past, or at least you seem happy to accept a criminalized status quo that is a direct result of the anecdote-based testimony of the early '70s and the resultant public hysteria.


Sufferers like myself should not have to wait for psychiatrists to "get their head around" a treatment paradigm merely because it fails to follow the conventionally understood pattern.

Traditionally, drugs treat disease and illness, but that's not how psychedelics work. Psychedelics don't treat depression per se, or PTSD, or addiction. Rather, with properly guided usage (controlled as to "set and setting"), they open the mind to insights that can equip the patient to see the world in a new way, thus empowering the patient to alleviate his or her own symptoms via novel thinking and creative problem solving. Therefore, promising research in treating PTSD with LSD and psilocybin gives us good reason to think that LSD and psilocybin will be equally useful in treating depression, anxiety, etc. Why? Again, because psychedelics don't directly treat the illness (as the reductionist researcher might expect) but rather they give the patient a greater perspective on their situation.

This is not surprising, because as Aldous Huxley long ago noted (in a theory now embraced by physicist Carlo Rovelli in his new book 'The Order of Time'), the brain is essentially a limiting valve, filtering input in such a way that we see what we expect to see - or what we have learned to look for. And it is these new therapies that, for whatever reason, help the mind to bypass this limiting valve and see more, thereby giving us the ability to learn about ourselves, hence to find new creative ways to confront our illnesses and worries.


In short, Dr. Friedman, I demand the right to psychedelic therapy, not simply to cure my depression. That's the hurdle that YOU may set for LSD and psilocybin, but the real reason for "taking" such substances (from the patient's perspective) is to get a bigger view of one's place in the world. My goal then is to see myself in the bigger picture - and then use the knowledge gained to understand my depression and rise creatively above it. Your SSRIs only dull reality for me; LSD and psilocybin can help me SEE reality and my place within it. That's my belief based on thousands of published results, however anecdotal those results may be. That's my belief after learning from hard experience that Effexor, on the other hand, is extremely addictive, notwithstanding the spin job of Big Pharma and the health establishment in the USA.

So, please don't try to stop me and similar patients from pursuing this potential godsend. Please stop writing negative op-ed pieces on this still fledgling therapy - or if you must, at least be fair and expend a comparable amount of negativism on the addictive status quo that your own field adopted not long after docilely going along with the government's near shut-down of legal research. (You say that psychedelic research was never completely shut down and so could have been pursued at will by any scientist; but surely you know that the price for studying psychedelics has long been the loss of one's scientific reputation - and funding opportunities.)

I'm sure you're a great and intelligent man, but I wish you would open your eyes to the world around you as experienced by thousands of depressed patients like myself. It's out there merely by Googling "SSRIs" and "addiction." This is why I'm astonished that you would bash the fantastic prospect of psychedelics, while giving a pass to the addiction and lethargy produced by the pharmacological status quo.

After all, the question is not, especially at this stage, "are potential psychedelic therapies risk-free?" The question is rather, "should an obviously slandered non-addictive alternative to the status quo be given a fair chance as a therapy, especially considering that the current treatment paradigm is palpably addictive and therefore hardly 'risk-free' itself?" Because if patients have any say in the mental health system in America, then the answer is a big yes. We can only hope that scientific inertia and Big Pharma's money interests won't keep us from the promising therapies that are finally so tantalizingly within our reach.

Finally, if we've learned anything from the opioid crisis, it's this:


And the mass of evidence proves that psychedelics are not addictive, sir, while I can give you first-hand testimony that Effexor most definitely is.

So please, please: stop rallying against my final best hope for living a full life. For although I firmly believe that history is on the side of the new treatment paradigm that psychedelics suggest, your rear-guard action in the op-ed pages could well have the effect of keeping me personally from seeing that promised land in my lifetime.

Brian Quass
Veteran psychiatric patient since 1970 and 25-year Effexor addict
friedman, new york times, lsd, depression

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

The State v. Homo sapiens

with Judge Joe Martian

Bailiff: Case number 275, the State versus Homo sapiens. All rise.

Judge: This case is to determine whether Homo sapiens should maintain their free will given their penchant for barbarism and cruelty. Both attorneys may make their opening remarks. I believe Zorf will begin for the prosecution.

ZORF: Thank you, Your Honor. The prosecution will prove with a preponderance of the evidence that Homo sapiens are a menace to themselves and others.

Judge: Well, get on with it then.

ZORF: Right. I'd first like to call Christopher Columbus.

Judge: If the Bailiff will punch the appropriate buttons on the time machine, I would be grateful.


Columbus: What? Who? Where?

ZORF: Right. Chris, when you first showed up in the Bahamas --

Columbus: In India, you mean.

ZORF: Whatever. When you first showed up, what did you say about the island people that you discovered?

Columbus: That they would make good servants.

[court murmuring]

ZORF: Right. So from the get-go, you saw them as potential servants, not as equals.

Columbus: Well--

ZORF: The same people that you would eventually annihilate from the face of the earth with the germs that you brought from Europe.

DORF: Objection, Your Honor, Columbus could not have known that he was bringing microbiological disaster to the New World.

Judge: Sustained. The prosecution will limit themselves to uncovering only conscious acts of perfidy.

ZORF: And did you not later say that you could conquer and enslave any group of island people with just 50 men?

Columbus: You're darn tootin'.

ZORF: Darn tootin', sir?

Judge: Bailiff, could you double-check the translation app? That little chestnut doesn't "ring true" to me, linguistically speaking.

Bailiff: Yes, sir.

Judge: However, we will presume for the record that Columbus answered 'yes' to the interrogatory in question.

ZORF: Thank you, Your Honor. You may step down, Columbus.

Columbus: No worries, mate.

Judge: Bailiff, check those translation settings, I tell you!

Bailiff: I'm on it, Your Honor.

Judge: "No worries, mate"? from Christopher C.? I don't think so.

ZORF: For my next witness, I'd like to call Julius Caesar.

[court gasps]

Judge: Do that time machine magic again, Bailiff.

ZORF: Right, Your Honor.


JC: I came, I saw, I asked: Where the heck am I?

ZORF: Now, Mr. Caesar, as I understand it, you referred to the Celts as barbarians, is that correct?

JC: For sure.

ZORF: I'll take that as a poorly translated 'yes.'

JC: Word.

Judge: Word?

ZORF: Why was that?

JC: Because they were hung up on trees.

ZORF: What, you mean you crucified them, I suppose.

[crowd murmuring]

JC: No, I mean they were obsessed with trees, oaks in partcular.

ZORF: Oh, how horrible. Not.

JC: Dude, they were worshiping them?

ZORF: And?

JC: And? Well, where I come from (videlicet Rome, Sweet Rome), the only good tree is a felled tree.

ZORF: How very enlightened of you.

JC: And don't forget, the Celts practiced human sacrifice on them thar stone slabs of their'n. How 'icky' is that?

ZORF: Again, a poorly translated yet a revealing response by the defendant.

JC: Do what?

ZORF: And yet is it not true that the Romans actually crucified their enemies?

JC: Well--

ZORF: No further questions, JC. Step down.

JC: I came, I saw, I exited stage right.

Judge: Bailiff, you've really got to change the idiomatic settings on that translation app.

Bailiff: Still working on it, sire.

ZORF: Next, I'd like to call on Shi Huangdi, the First Emperor of China.

[court gasps]

Judge: Bailiff, press those time machine buttons accordingly.

Bailiff: Right, Your Honor.


SHI HUANGDI: Hey, what gives? Not everybody is bowing down in abject adulation!

ZORF: Mr. Shi, is it not true that you decapitated and amputated your fellow countrymen for the slightest offenses?

SHI HUANGDI: Hello, it's called 'legalism', sir.

ZORF: And wasn't it the practice in your time to kill the entire population of a village (kids and women included) if even one of them was suspected of treason?

SHI HUANGDI: You got it in one.

Judge: Again with the vernacular.

ZORF: Speaking of treason, isn't it true that you not only killed the suspect of that crime, but also his family and their children's children, and their children's children's children?

SHI HUANGDI: I don't like where you're going with this, greenie.

ZORF: Let the record note that Shi has just cast aspersions on the color of my skin.

Judge: So noted. But let the record also note, by way of fairness, that the translation gizmo was going haywire at the time of the alleged slight.

ZORF: I call on Aztec chief Montezuma II.

[court gasps]

HOMO SAPIENS: Enough, OK, OK! We did it! We did it!

Judge: For the record, you did what, sir?

HOME SAPIENS: I mean, we Homo sapiens ARE ridiculously violent: always have been, always will be!

[court gasps]

DORF: Objection, Your Honor, how can one man speak for the entire human race?

Judge: Hello? It's called channeling, doofus.

DORF: That's 'Dorf,' sir.

Judge: You said it, not me.

ZORF: Your Honor, let it be noted on the record that the collective voice of the Homo sapiens species has just admitted its own evil nature.

Judge: So noted.

HOST: Well, Zorf has just won a slam-dunk victory against the human race, showing that it was violent in the extreme. How do you feel, Zorf?

ZORF: Just great. And I had plenty of ammo left.

HOST: Yes?

ZORF: I was about to call Cortes to the stand to grill him on the conquistadores invasion of Mesoamerica and how they basically annihilated the Aztec Empire and forced them to accept Christianity, will they or no.

HOST: Dorf, how are you feeling?

DORF: We will appeal.

HOST: On what ground.

DORF: The translating app was obviously malfunctioning.

HOST: Dorf is appealing, ZORF. What do you say to that?

ZORF: Well, he's not very appealing to me.

DORF: Very funny.

ZORF: Your client is vicious, Dorf. Get over it.

HOST: Stay tuned next week when Judge Joe Martian passes sentence on Homo sapiens. What are you plumping for, Zorf?

ZORF: For starters, we're going to ask that the Martians remove all of that species' nuclear weapons.

HOST: Comments, Dorf?

DORF: Hey, listen, if nukes are outlawed, only outlaws will have nukes.

ZORF: You were just waiting to say that, weren't you, doofus?

DORF: It's Dorf to you, scuzzball.

ZORF: You want a piece of me, doofus?

DORF: Right, I'm for it!

[Zorf and Dorf grappling behind show host]

HOST: That's next time on Judge Joe Martian. Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)


by Toot Uncommon

He rocks in the desert all day long

Changing the religion and singing this song

When they see him worshiping the solar disk

All the priests around him go 'tsk tsk tsk'

Tweet Tweet Tweet

Tweet Tweedle-dee deet

Go Akhenaten 'cause your creed is really outta sight
Tweet Tweedle-dee deet

The pretty young Egyptian on the Nile's edge

Chose the new religion with solemn pledge

"To hell with old Osiris and Isis too

Henceforth I'm gonna worship the sun with you"

He prays to the Aten all day long

Bowin' and scrapin' and singin' this song

Nefertiti dug it, but do you know what?

All the stuffy Thebans said
'Tut, tut, tut!'

Tweet Tweet Tweet

Tweet Tweedle-dee deet

Go Akhenaten 'cause your creed is really outta sight
Tweet Tweedle-dee deet

His name was Ahmenhotep till he saw the light

Changed to Akhenaten almost overnight

He left the town of Thebes and traveled up the Nile

Founded El Amarna with his rank and file

He prays to the Aten all day long

Bowin' and scrapin' and singin' this song

Nefertiti dug it, but do you know what?

All the stuffy Thebans said
'Tut, tut, tut!'

Tweet Tweet Tweet

Tweet Tweedle-dee deet

Go Akhenaten 'cause your creed is really outta sight
Tweet Tweedle-dee deet


Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

First Lab-Grown Hamburger Financed by Brian Quass

Correction to New York Times article of August 5, 2013

Editor's note: The following is a correction to The New York Times article by Henry Fountain entitled "A Lab-Grown Burger Gets a Taste Test":

The above article incorrectly reported that the Lab-Grown Burger project was financed by Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google. The financing was actually provided by Brian Ballard Quass and all the other entrepreneurial nitwits who stupidly wasted thousands of dollars on the Byzantine money pit known as Google Adwords back in the double-aughts. We are sorry for any inconvenience that this error might have caused for our readers -- though we're even more sorry for the subsequent indebtedness that participating in Google Adwords caused for the aforementioned dupes and patsies of the world's biggest corporate monopoly. Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

The Turing Test Bias

Good-looking robots three times more likely to be called human than their homely counterparts

In the movie Future World, sex robot Suki Waterhouse is so convincingly hot that she becomes the great love interest of both the good guy and the bad guy of the film, Jeffrey Wahlberg and James Franco respectively, and even turns the heads of two female co-stars, thereby facilitating a jealous quarrel between the duo. It soon becomes clear to the viewer, in fact, that the android has passed the Turing Test with flying and evocative colors, so much so that young hero Wahlberg even grants her a soul and instructs her in the customary acts of praying to a Christian God.

But while it may be chivalrous to grant Ash a soul, I believe in tough love when it comes to the robot tribe. So here's how it's done, Prince (Prince, the character played by Wahlberg)... Watch and learn. I'll show YOU how to deal with an upstart android who's growing too big for her ontological britches -- humph:

"Fine, you have a soul, Ash -- but then so do the potentially infinite number of iterations of your cocky disposition that I could generate merely by recompiling your source code. A soul, my dear?" I'd add by way of smarmy interrogatory, determined to rain on her infinitely reproducible and no-doubt rust-prone parade: "Be so good as to leave souls to the pros: that is to say, us REAL human beings, what have been evincing the phenomena in question for at least 50,000 years.

Don't get me wrong," I'd add, probably running my hands through her blond hair in tacit recognition of her admittedly well-wrought anatomy: " It's not so much that I mind granting YOU a soul -- but I refuse to make a God out of the the cheesy nail-biting nerd who probably created you in the first place: or rather he or she who cranked out your source code in the first place, probably hopped up on multiple cans of Red Bull and take-out pizza. If I'm scarcely convinced that your creator had a soul, why should I grant YOU one?"

For mark my words, dear reader (and grant them a prominent place in some future journal that will eventually thrash out these neglected philosophical issues in detail): This movie illustrates the problem with the Turing Test, namely, that it places "humanity" in the eye of the beholder. In other words, the self-same digital entity that might qualify as "human" in the minds of a dunce might manifest itself as a tiresome parlor trick in the subtler eyes of a MENSA alumnus.

Personally, the issue of Ash's supposed humanity doesn't even arise for me, however, since my irritating daily experience with brain-dead virtual assistants makes me despair that a robot will ever understand my most basic customer service needs, let alone speak to my very soul and make me think of flowers and springtime and the probable costs of mariachi bands, food caterers and the rental price for the local American Legion hall at which to host the matrimonial after-party.

So to the futurists of 21st century America, Hollywood included, I say this: First route my calls successfully at Microsoft Inc. (after their monthly updates have basically destroyed my legacy Lenovo computer) -- and maybe then we'll start talking about robots who have souls.


The corporate robotic voice assistants to which Brian alludes often ask a human being to state their reason for calling in a few words, apparently due to the disembodied android's inability to make sense of complex extended sentences. Imagine how this limited understanding might throw a monkey wrench (or spanner) into the works of a human-robot love affair, such as the improbable menage a quatre depicted above.

PRINCE: I would cross a million deserts just to kiss your hard drive, Suki, my dearest.

SUKI: [a pause ensues, during which Suki emits a variety of electronic whirring noises] I'm sorry, I didn't get that. Try plighting your troth in two or three words. You might say, for instance, "I love you truly," or "You mean the world to me." For a complete list of response options, say 'options'.

The muddled comprehension of the android is sure to put a cramp in the chivalrous style of any human Romeo, when he discovers that he has to state his specific sexual desires not in poetry, but in crass prosy snippets, lest his pre-wired princess fail to grasp the erotic import of his double entendres.

PRINCE: I'm ready to take you to paradise, baby!

SUKI: All right. Paradise. Where in paradise would you like to take me? Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

A satiric rebuke of a prominent American essayist after his unconvincing attempt to philosophically justify the tyrannical tendencies of Donald Trump.

Dear Lance Morrow

Against a politics of lying

What do you make of this, Minnie?

Minnie Pipkin, ladies and gentlemen, my imaginary 17th-century chambermaid.

There's this essay in the Wall Street Journal this morning in which a certain Lance Morrow defends the politics of utilitarian lying.


B: I know, right?

MINNIE: The very idea! (DO keep your right foot still, your lordship. I'm trying to darn your sock here.)

B: That's right, Minnie: all in an attempt to defend Donald Trump and his seemingly ingrained habit (dare I say strategy) of lying.

MINNIE: The things people will write to meet a deadline. (Knit one, purl two, knit one, purl two...)

B: Lance hauls in impressive quotes from Bertrand Russell and Heraclitus to remind us that "all is change", and suggests essentially that we "go with Trump's mendacious flow" and see what happens.

MINNIE: I know you're excited, your lordship, but do keep your foot still. This argyle sock isn't going to knit itself.

B: Can you imagine? Go with the mendacious flow in the body politic? This is NOT your grandfather's democracy.

MINNIE: Nay, but do hold still.

B: Let alone the democracy of the Founding Fathers.

MINNIE: Has your lordship recently purchased an omnivorous puppy dog? Why, bless me, this sock is in tatters!

B: Besides, if Lance is going to hark back to the ancients, you'd think he'd remember that the Sophists of yore championed just such an amoral position as he's proposing here, this 'strategic lying' of his.

MINNIE: Knit one, purl two...

B: And we know how well Socrates settled THEIR philosophical hash.

MINNIE: Almost finished, your lordship.

B: And then Lance quotes Solon, the Athenian lawmaker, to suggest that we shouldn't discount Trump's mendacious M.O. until we've given him a fair chance to use it.

MINNIE: Knit one, purl two...

B: Well, pardon me, Minnie, but the Solon I know said nothing of the kind.

MINNIE: You don't say, your worship. (Knit one, purl two...)

B: No. Solon said: "Call no man happy until he's dead."

MINNIE: And done.

B: That's a far cry from: "Call no political strategy crazy until its been run into the ground by its most adamant devotee."

MINNIE: Now the other foot.

B: As if we have to play dumb and make no assessment of a tyrant's M.O. until he's cancelled our right to even talk about such things.

MINNIE: Come to Mama.

B: Besides: the strategy of utilitarian lying has already been given plenty of chances to prove itself, Minnie -- by leaders that the modern world has traditionally referred to as dictators.

MINNIE: Knit one, purl two...

B: That strategy is being used even as we speak -- by every one of America's major enemies.

MINNIE: Oh, fie on that Lance Morrow. Fie. (Knit one, purl two...)

B: The slaughter in Syria is a direct result of Putin's reliance on utilitarian lying.

MINNIE: You got that right.

B: Minnie?

MINNIE: I mean, your lordship says sooth.

B: That's more like it. Anyway, I'm sorry, Minnie, but the last thing we need is for a respected essayist such as Lance to attempt to provide a philosophical veneer to Trump's undermining of the values of Western society.

MINNIE: Knit three, purl four...

B: Yes, all leaders may lie sometimes, but that's no reason to green-light lying. Under the same logic, we may as well all start sinning 'to beat the band,' since all of us sin sometimes.

MINNIE: Oh, fie on this -- what did you call him again? -- this Lance Morrow of yours. Oh, fie.

B: Thanks, Minnie. I knew I found a winner when you replied to my advert for a 17th-century chambermaid.

MINNIE: Why, your worship!

B: Honesty, Minnie: we've got to aspire to that in public leadership, or the future is a bleak one full of cynical leaders manipulating jaded flocks into needless confrontations, based on the flawed assumption that survival is a zero-sum game.

MINNIE: Left sock: darned.

B: Left sock darned? Well, Trump be darned, when it comes to that, Minnie. Donald Trump be darned!

MINNIE: Nay, but your worship is such a kidder.

B: What would I do without you, Minnie?

MINNIE: Well, you'd probably just imagine a younger maid servant of the 21st century, with sinuous leg and ample bosom--

B: Um... that was a rhetorical question, Minnie.


B: A rhetorical question! Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

In response to the article entitled: Meet the Canadian 'Psychedelic Revolutionaries' Who Pioneered LSD Research, in Merry Jane, June 22, 2018,

It's the Addiction, Stupid!

When Barber says that we're only in the early stages of psychedelic research, I'm tempted to reply with a quote from an HP Lovecraft story entitled "The Descendant": namely, "my most hideous fear is that he is right." As a 60-year-old suffering from lifelong bouts of depression, I'm not sure that I'll live long enough to see any benefit from the hopefully upcoming changes in social attitudes. Instead, I'll live out my remaining years in accordance with the current treatment paradigm whereby patients are knowingly addicted for life to SSRI's. (Not that you'll hear psychiatrists describe such therapy as "addictive," of course. At most, they'll gently remind their patients that they will require "medication management" for a lifetime in order to cope with their "chronic condition." Thus the whole uncomfortable subject of "addiction" is taken off the table at once.)

I just wanted to add, however, that it's almost impossible to overestimate the extent to which therapeutic progress is slowed by public attitudes toward psychedelics.

I recently read an article in a UVA newspaper ('The Cavalier Daily') in which a professor downplayed the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, insisting that medical science already had a strong arsenal of drugs with which to fight depression. This was a trifle galling to me since I had 40 years of life experience that seemed to say otherwise. Nevertheless, I was even more disappointed by the comments of an anonymous UVA student who reported that he had found some relief from depression after "dropping LSD." He was quick to add, however, as if apologetically, that he would never give up traditional therapy despite the results.

With friends like these, psychedelic research doesn't need any enemies.

Just think what this comment reveals about the power of stigma:

First, the speaker requires anonymity in order to even admit the fact that LSD was useful to him. Anonymity. How can we have an open debate on this topic when usage is so stigmatized as to keep most usage proponents anonymous?

Second, he pejoratively describes his own drug-taking as "dropping LSD," evoking images of a long-haired rebel at a 1960's nightclub dancing to multi-colored strobe lights while gulping down any pill he can get his hands on. And yet you never hear a psychiatric patient announce that they had "dropped" Effexor or Prozac. No, those drugs (I'm sorry, "medications") are not "dropped"; they are "taken" at the solemn behest of a bona fide doctor.

My point is that Barber is not only right when he mentions the subject of stigma -- he is probably more right than most of us can even realize. Right now the enemies of psychedelic research can claim the high ground because they own the language. They have medications on offer, after all, we have "drugs."

The answer, in my opinion, is for more SSRI victims like myself to point out the inconvenient truth, a truth that I have learned the hard way over 40 years of traditional therapy:

It's the addiction, stupid!

Meaning drug use per se is usually not bad; it's addiction that's bad, because of the demoralizing psychological and economic effect that it has on the addicted person. Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Crafty South Africa with Winnie Mandela

on today's show: necklacing

HOST: Good morning, and welcome to Crafty South Africa, where we highlight our country's prowess in the field of arts and crafts.

Today, we have a very special guest, the Mother of the Country, in fact, uMama Winnie Mandela herself. Good morning, Your Honor.

WINNIE: It's a pleasure, though I'm not entirely sure why I was invited, since the struggle for liberation has left me precious little time for needlepoint.

HOST: Oh, now, you're just being modest.

WINNIE: I don't know about you, but my life has been one of constant struggle.

HOST: Well, not according to my cue cards.


HOST: No. In fact, it says here that you are an old hand at crafting necklaces.

WINNIE: Right, I'm out of here.

HOST: Madame Mandela, please! What did I say?

WINNIE: This is obviously a setup by my enemies.

HOST: I don't understand.

WINNIE: You'll understand when I have you and this entire station arrested for violating the government's Secrecy Bill.

HOST: What? No! Oh, dear me. Can someone please call the producer? It says right here on my cue cards, that Winnie is highly conversant in the art of necklacing.


Oh, is THAT what necklacing is? Oh, dear.

In that case, I hereby make a public apology to the ANC for inadvertently calling Comrade Winnie on the carpet. Believe me, I was not trying to make any point -- except perhaps needlepoint, should the subject have come up in a crafts-related context. Me, badmouth my own Grandmother, the Mother of the Country? I know a sacred cow when I see one and --

No, I am not calling Winnie Mandela a cow! Oh, dear me, I'm just sticking my foot in deeper, aren't I?

Well, that's all the time we have -- thank goodness! Coming up next, South African Sports goes overseas to explore the exciting world of waterboarding with Dick Cheney! Don't go away! Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Bombshell: Webmaster Insists that Everybody Must Get Stoned


Prez: Right. Please withhold all abject adulation until I finish holding forth.

Reporter: Oh, rats.

Prez: And that goes double for all the stiff ceremonial obeisance. What am I, some kind of demigod from an HP Lovecraft yarn?

[reporters laugh knowingly, especially all the Lovecraft-heads]

Prez: As you know, I have recently proposed that everyone on earth be given one or more strategic doses of psilocybin, or a related entheogen, in order to eradicate the devastating hatred that has bloodied the pages of history ever since history itself was invented...

[loud cheering, worryingly intermixed with a few deprecating jeers]

Prez: ...to cut it off at the source by putting everyone in touch with the oneness of life, with our fundamental connectedness with nature, and with the ontological primacy of love.

Although I'm thrilled and encouraged by the loud cheering, I'd like to address those in the audience who have just seen fit to regale me with deprecating jeers.

[more deprecating jeers, as if in sullen defiance of the Webmaster's unexpected "calling out" of the apparently shameless naysayers]

People always say that authors of radical proposals have the burden of proof.

But I beg to differ, at least in this case, since the status quo of Homo sapiens, or rather their customary MO, is nothing but wars wars wars and barbarism, and to continue with this fuming hatred in our hearts, in a world full of biological and nuclear weapons on a hair trigger, is indefensible if you ask me, and hence those wishing to confront my solution should be obliged to tell me how they expect human civilization to even survive without implementing the plan that I am outlining here today.

Questions. Yes, you?

Reporter 1: First, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for inventing this useful and telling literary format by which you briefly assume the mantel of presidency in order to admonish and advise the recalcitrant Zeitgeist on its manifold follies.

Prez: Well, listen, I don't know about you, but when a prominent species such as Homo sapiens (of which I myself am a card-carrying member) is hell-bent on destroying itself, not to mention the planet upon which it resides, I think I have an obligation to speak up.

Reporter 1: Word.

Prez: And if it takes the creation of a whole new genre of literature in order to do so effectively, color me Kafka.

Reporter 2: Kafka, sir?

Prez: That's SIR Kafka to you, Bob. Bob Sawyer, ladies and gentlemen, of CBS News. You go, Bob.

Reporter 2: Why, I--

Prez: I mean, take Arkansas, for instance. It was almost turned into a radioactive crater in 1980 thanks to the accidental explosion of a nuclear-tipped Titan missile. (Hello? Does the Damascus Incident ring a bell? Or am I the only one here who read 'Command and Control' by Eric Schlosser -- or who at least saw the movie by Robert Kenner?) Fortunately, had the bomb itself exploded, the millions of dead and injured would at least have had the consolation that they were killed by friendly fire.

Report 2: Meaning, sir? Meaning?

Prez: Meaning (smarty pants) that humanity has to give up its reliance on murderous weaponry in order to survive, and there's only one realistic way to close Pandora's Box on the nightmares of nuclear technology.

Reporter 2: And that would be?

Prez: To change the hearts of humanity.

Reporter 3: Ahh! Hence your call for the mass use of entheogens to remind the world, one person at a time, that they are, in some sense, one and that the primary good is love.

Prez: Right. You done stole my thunder there, Peter, with that spot-on wrap-up, but right all the same. Peter Jennings, ladies and gentlemen, ABC News.

Reporter 4: But how do we proceed?

Prez: First, we take plants off of the Schedule 1 list of the DEA, who have stupidly (and in the face of thousands of years of evidence) maintained that psilocybin (for instance) has no therapeutic value whatsoever. (Imagine making plants illegal! The very idea!) Well, listen, I've said it once and I'll say it again: the DEA wouldn't know a cure for depression, addiction and/or anxiety (let alone a powerful religious ceremonial) if it came up and bit them on their--

Emcee: Sir, I think we're out of time.

Prez: Tell me about it. If we don't quash inborn hatred and mistrust in Homo sapiens (especially, truth be told, in the male of that species), the whole world will be out of time -- as in kerplooey!

Reporter 3: Kerplooey, sir?

Prez: Yes, Charlayne. Kerplooey. Charlayne Hunter-Gault, ladies and gentlemen, the PBS NewsHour. You go, girl.

Charlayne: Well--

Prez: And so do I, come to think of it -- go, that is -- secure in the knowledge that I have given humanity the answer to its long-term survival. Now let's just hope that humanity takes my idea on board and gives it a first class seat on the high-speed train of progress.


Hey, what gives? It says right here on my index cards that I should pause for thunderous applause at this point.

[crickets chirping]

Great. Now there are even crickets chirping. Where is all the abject adulation when I need it?

[modest tittering, scattered applause]

Looks like I'm gonna have to settle for a little modest tittering and scattered applause, huh? Oh, get outta here, you knuckleheads! And go in peace, hear? Otherwise kerplooey, yes? Otherwise pea-pickin' kerplooey! Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the kid, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together. Isaiah 11:6

And the Hairworm will lie down with the Cricket

It's all well and good for the wolf to lie down with the lamb, but I want the hairworm to lie down with the cricket before I sign off on the morality of Mother Nature.

I don't want to say that the hairworm is ethically challenged, but...

Here's what the National Geographic has to say about that interesting parasite:

"The hairworm infects a house cricket and then causes it to commit suicide by jumping into a body of water. The worm emerges to make its home in the water."

Not exactly the peaceable kingdom of Edward freakin' Hicks.

Even Mary Bates' above description is a euphemism for what REALLY happens to the cricket, for the hairworm Spinochordodes tellinii actually "infects" its host in that place "wherein the sun don't shine," thus adding both metaphorical and physical insult to injury.

This raises some interesting philosophical questions, especially the "meta" question of why more theologians do not generally acknowledge the existence of such horrors in the animal kingdom as part of their attempts to explain human evil and the overall ethical disposition of the Almighty, given that few modern divines can console themselves these days with the notion that Homo sapiens represent a "thing apart" from the flora and fauna from which we have latterly sprung some 100+ thousand years ago. Surely, any philosophy that attempts to depict the universe as moral has to explain the inconvenient truth that parasites are grossing us out at every turn with their fiendishly clever ability to take advantage of their fellow creatures, often in ways that we humans can't even describe without "putting ourselves off dinner."

It would be easy to sign off on the overall moral arrangement of the world if wolves did their own thing, lambs did theirs, and insects simply behaved themselves. But introduce the diminutive parasites into the moral equation and the Euclidean geometry of traditional moral theology becomes non-Euclidean, if not downright Riemannian, in short order. As a result, we philosophers are going to have to twist ourselves into logical (or at least semantic) pretzels in order to plausibly confront reality and still say (without crossing our fingers) that the sentient universe is a moral place. For, if you ask me, when nature gave the go-ahead to the design of the hairworm, it was essentially telling the rest of us creatures: "All bets are off now, you guys are on your own! Anything -- and I mean ANYTHING -- now goes in your guys' so-called moral universe!"

Rather depressing, what?

I mean, I always thought it was a mighty tall order for the wolf to lie down with the lamb in the first place -- but that was back when I thought that critters in the animal world "played fair." Throw the ruthlessly amoral hairworm into the equation, and lying down with one's enemy is no longer enough: we'll have to make sure that the enemy in question is thoroughly deloused first before we knowingly hop into the sack with our traditional nemeses. "Mrs. Lion, don't get me wrong, I love you to bits, but would you do me a favor and wash your paws with bacterial soap before coming to bed? I mean I'm all about peace and reconciliation, but the parasitic world hasn't yet signed the treaty to prohibit biological warfare." Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

The Bipartisan Fascism of Corporate Drug Testing

I woke this morning with a renewed indignation at the phenomenon of "drug testing" by corporations. That is one field (I reflected) in which the Republicans not only won the battle but the war, as well, and methinks it's time to fight back.

Forgive me if I couch the matter in these terms...


that nothing is more "prima facie" intrusive and arbitrary than to require a prospective store clerk to supply his or her own urine to a company for analysis absent any cause whatsoever except some hysterical notion (encouraged by idiot politicians) that "drugs" in general are a great social menace (when by "drugs" these bureaucrats mean those pharmacological substances from which Big Pharma isn't getting its fair cut).

Even if the prospective employee has used, say, marijuana, the normal "street penalty" for such use is often a fine (or nothing at all in Colorado). But this new extra-judiciary testing makes marijuana use punishable by economic death, actually barring the user from securing gainful employment. Talk about an out-sized penalty! And this when no scientific studies have determined that such use affects one's performance on the job, provided that the user is not inebriated during work hours.

If corporations really thought that marijuana use was a real misfortune, they would not punish the users but help them. But then that would cost the corporations money. And drug tests have never been about helping employees, it's been about proudly demonstrating a company's lack of tolerance (a callousness misnamed "patriotism") to the hysterical mob and the politicians who counseled said mob to "break out the pitchforks" on this hot-button topic.

Meanwhile, the billionaire owners of the companies performing the testing would never deign to give a urine sample themselves at the request of anyone. ("Let them just try! Who, me? A rich person? One of the one percent? I should think not! Humph! I've got my rights, you know, even if nobody else does!") Thus only the rich can afford to buck the fascist trend, however hypocritically they may be in doing so. True, Steve Jobs openly praised his use of LSD for spawning his creativity -- which is nice given the new therapeutic findings of that demonized substance -- yet if a waitress at Denny's were to make the same proud declaration of prior use, she would be "out on her serving tray" before you could say, "more napkins, please!" Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

How the DEA Determines if Your Relgious Beliefs are Real

In granting exceptions to the laws prohibiting use of psychedelics, the DEA makes exceptions for religious practices that they determine to be genuine. This raises an interesting question: how precisely does the DEA determine something that even great philosophers across the ages have been unable to agree upon, namely, which religions are genuine and why?

Not to worry. I have uncovered a government form that is apparently used by the DEA to make precisely the sort of metaphysical determinations mentioned above. So, theologians, take note: Here's what the DEA will be looking for should you ever happen to adhere to a religious belief whose ceremonials involve the use of plant life that the DEA has seen fit to criminalize.

DEA Form 8011-B-C-1

Guidelines for determining the veracity of a religious belief

In determining the authenticity of a religious belief, the DEA agent in charge should consider the following points:

1) Is the claimant snickering at any time during the application process? If so, claim should ordinarily be rejected-- since we all know that real religion is a serious matter.

2) Is the claimant prone to excessive partying? This is often a red flag indicating that the exception seeker equates religion with hedonism, which again is against the Protestant Ethic -- er, I mean, the U.S. Government's ethical code of conduct, of course.

3) Does the claimant's religion accept (or plan to accept) "worshipers" from out of state? This is often a red flag, since it is well known that real religions -- with the possible exception of Rock Church -- are somewhat stodgy, formal affairs that are unlikely to inspire long-distance fidelity in the absence of questionable incentives. This in turn suggests that a large percentage of such a "church's" commuters will be winking lasciviously en route, salivating in anticipation of a tawdry "high," rather than rejoicing in the Blood of Our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, without whom -- er, I mean as just one bona fide above-board REAL honest-to-God religious example, of course.

4) Does the claimant harp on and on about the fact that alcohol is addictive and kills thousands of people every year while we at the DEA are criminalizing plants that have been used for centuries in therapeutic ceremonies? Does he or she point out that LSD was used successfully to cure alcoholics, by no less a person than Bill Wilson himself of AA, before we in our wisdom shut down such therapies? Does the claimant dare to point out that the DEA permits the peddling of highly addictive anti-depressants by BIG PHARMA, while we are shutting down research on non-addictive alternatives from nature? If so, politely remind the claimant that it is our job to determine THEIR morality, thank them very much, not the other way around. Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

in response to the article entitled In 2016, the First Legal Ayahuasca Church Got Shut Down. Was it a Scam?

Want to know if your religion is true? Ask the DEA.

Concerning the DEA's banning of psychedlic therapies and religion, written in response to the article by Sarah Laskow entitled In 2016, the First Legal Ayahuasca Church Got Shut Down. Was it a Scam? on Atlas Obscura, September 2016.

The real scam is the one perpetrated by the DEA when they outlaw a substance that is non-addictive, difficult to use "recreationally," and has real therapeutic value based on hundreds of years' worth of cultural evidence. Meanwhile, the DEA has nothing to say about highly addictive SSRI antidepressants and alcohol that kills tens of thousands in the States annually. BIG PHARMA and liquor are well protected by the DEA. The DEA is not saving lives. The DEA is ruining lives -- witness the millions of addicts to the modestly effective SSRI's, for which DEA refuses to permit even the research of psychedelic alternatives, even though LSD, for instance, single-handedly cured alcoholism in a large percentage of test patients in the 1950s, as per Bill Wilson, founder of AA. Even if the people in the story are scammers, they are small potatoes compared to the massive fraud being perpetrated on depressed and anxious Americans by the power-hungry and ethnologically uninformed DEA.

How the DEA has powers that even the Inquisition might have envied

The Atlas Obscura article to which this article responds reports that the DEA considers religious use exceptions to drug laws on a case-by-case basis. Consider the absurdity of this state of affairs:

The DEA is therefore arbiter of whether one's religion is genuine. Funny, I did not know we had distinguished philosophers who could agree on such definitions, let alone bureaucrats and pen pushers in the US government.

I can see the classified ads now for the relevant DEA positions:

DEA Seeking Demigod to Rule on the Validity of so-called "religions." Must be willing and able to evince inflexible certainty on a topic that the world's greatest thinkers have disagreed about for millennia; namely what constitutes a true religion.

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Interview with (Depressed) Greatness

with host Ellen Winfrey

ELLEN WINFREY: Brian, you have often been cited as an (and I quote) "unsung hero" and, indeed, a "savior of mankind."

BRIAN: Oh, my.

ELLEN WINFREY: Please explain.

BRIAN: I wish I could.

ELLEN WINFREY: Come on, now.

BRIAN: Listen, I'm just a humble guy. I put my trousers on one leg at a time like everybody else.


BRIAN: That's right. I first stick my left leg into the nearest trouser leg, and then I remove it from the same in the rare event that I happen to have chosen the wrong receptacle for the limb in question.

ELLEN WINFREY: What? Wouldn't it be easier to find the correct trouser leg first and then insert the limb, as you call it?

BRIAN: You'd think so, but it takes time to make that call, so I prefer to rely on serendipity, which, in a keen and perceptive life like my own, is almost always going to work to the benefit of the moral agent.

ELLEN WINFREY: (pauses, shakes head, as if to rid it of the jumbled conceptions advanced by her interlocutor) OK, let's put your trouser legs aside for the moment.

BRIAN: Done.

ELLEN WINFREY: Where do you stand on LSD?

BRIAN: Oh-ho-ho!

ELLEN WINFREY: I hear you're something of a maverick in that quarter.

BRIAN: Right, well, first a little background news for your benighted audience.

ELLEN WINFREY: Ex-squeeze me.

BRIAN: Or rather the rare souls amongst that audience who are not yet privy to the cutting-edge on matters psychopharmaceutical.

ELLEN WINFREY: That's more like it.

BRIAN: You must know then, dummies --


BRIAN: I'm speaking only to the benighted few, Ellen.


BRIAN: You must know then that, LSD and other psychedelic therapies are back, after being persecuted and prosecuted for 40+ years by scientists and government bureaucrats who wouldn't know a cure for depression if it came up and bit them on the --

ELLEN WINFREY: Language, Brian! Language!

BRIAN: Oh, phooey!

ELLEN WINFREY: OK, we get it. LSD is now back in fashion as a mental health therapy.

BRIAN: Word.

ELLEN WINFREY: But how do you, Brian Q., figure into this new state of affairs? I mean, who died and made YOU relevant?

BRIAN: Good question. I mean, I'm hardly a Tom Shroder (author of Acid Test) or a James Fadiman (author of The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide) or a Rick Strassman (author of DMT: The Spirit Molecule) --

ELLEN WINFREY: Nor are you a Stanislav Grof (author of the Transpersonal Vision), nor a Michael Pollan (author of How to Change Your Mind) --

BRIAN: Well--

ELLEN WINFREY: And you're certainly not an Aldous Huxley (author of the Doors of Perception) nor a Terence McKenna (author of Food of the Gods).

BRIAN: OK, now you're just rubbing it in.

ELLEN WINFREY: So then what do you have to say on this matter that hasn't been said before?

BRIAN: Funny you should ask.

ELLEN WINFREY: Oh, hilarious.

BRIAN: None of these writers have yet dared to properly contrast the huge potential of psychedelic therapy with the hideous inadequacy of the present mental health status quo.


BRIAN: Everybody assumes that the current system works well, or implies as much by their silence on that subject.


BRIAN: Don't "word" ME, Ellen. Let me tell you about this current system of yours.


BRIAN: Under this current WONDERFUL system of yours, depression patients like myself are addicted to an SSRI for life -- in my case Effexor.

ELLEN WINFREY: Ding ding ding. Confession time! Zoom in, all cameras. Zoom in.

BRIAN: Don't get me wrong: This system works fine -- for Big Pharma, that is, who has me on the installment plan for life, paying for their houses, their kids' education, their vacations to Disneyland.


BRIAN: Don't get me wrong, part two: This system works fine -- for the mental health system. I mean, think about it, I don't visit their downtown clinics on a regular basis because I love to go to the big city. I visit there because I have to appease the health gods that be in order to keep getting my monthly fix.

ELLEN WINFREY: Nay, you are severe.

BRIAN: Meanwhile, of course, folks like myself are completely demoralized since we're no longer free agents. We are forced to rely on the mental health system.

ELLEN WINFREY: But the drugs work, right?

BRIAN: As if. Oh, Effexor was a godsend -- for the first two weeks of use, after which its efficacy decreased markedly and just kept decreasing.


BRIAN: One day you wake up and realize how much time you've lost thanks to a lack of motivation, you realize that your depression has been eating away at your life.

ELLEN WINFREY: So change meds.

BRIAN: Only to find out that Effexor, despite Big Pharma's denials, is incredibly addictive.


BRIAN: Is it any wonder then that I "look back in anger" now, Ellen?


BRIAN: Here I am suffering all these years, only to find out that the guided use of a persecuted drug like LSD has actually cured alcoholism in a remarkable percentage of patients as far back as the 1950s -- ask Bill Wilson, founder of AA.


BRIAN: But do such results mean anything to modern medicine? No. These medications have helped mankind for thousands of years, but none of it means Jack Squat for the numbers-obsessed status quo (that status quo that is raking in the bucks under the current system).

ELLEN WINFREY: Be nice, Brian.

BRIAN: No, the government and the healthcare system have decided that my only pharmacological alternatives must be limited to addictive, expensive and demoralizing SSRIs.


BRIAN: But wait, there's more -- more bulls---, that is!


BRIAN: The millions of depressed Americans like myself cannot even avail themselves of LSD and other psychedelic therapies now, even if they're willing to take the legal risk.


BRIAN: Because psychedelics cannot safely be taken with SSRIs for fear of a reaction known as Serotonin Toxicity Syndrome.


BRIAN: In other words, not only is the status quo addictive, expensive and demoralizing -- it also makes it impossible for its clients to take advantage of the uber-promising alternatives that have begun popping up over the last 20 years in the field of psychedelic therapy.

ELLEN WINFREY: I see. So your point is that no one has yet sufficiently broached this issue.

BRIAN: Word.

ELLEN WINFREY: You're saying then that the advocates for psychedelic therapies should not just point out the potential benefits of such use...


ELLEN WINFREY: ...but they should also contrast that great promise with the obvious enormous problems with the status quo, especially when it comes to the treatment of depression.

BRIAN: Word up.

ELLEN WINFREY: Advocates of psychedelic therapy should point out, therefore, that the alternative to their solution is a continued reliance on addictive, expensive and demoralizing SSRIs...

BRIAN: Right.

ELLEN WINFREY: ...which render it impossible for their patients to even try the new therapies thanks to SSRI toxicity.

BRIAN: You've got it in one, Ellen.

ELLEN WINFREY: Well, it's no wonder that folks call you an "unsung hero." This is heavy stuff, dude.

BRIAN: Well, there's good news and bad news, Ellen.

ELLEN: Explain.

BRIAN: The good news is, I'll be worshiped as a prescient demigod by 2040 or so.

ELLEN: And the bad news?

BRIAN: I will probably (nay, hopefully) have shuffled off my mortal coil by then.

ELLEN: Oh, don't sell yourself short, Brian. Your mortal coil looks to be in excellent condition from where I'm sitting.

BRIAN: Please, Ellen, this is a family show!

ELLEN: Oh, you know what I mean, Brian! Humph! Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

in response to 'Could LSD be the newest treatment for depression?', April 19, 2018, The Cavalier Daily

UVA's Cavalier Attitude Toward LSD Therapy

I beg to differ with Professor Teachman and your "anonymous student," both of whom apparently see no call to disrupt traditional behavioral health treatment with LSD therapy. I beg to differ based on 40+ years of experience as a recipient of that status quo treatment about which Professor Teachman appears to be so sanguine.

I'm still as depressed as ever thanks to the status quo, and out many thousands of dollars to boot.

But let's prop the two treatment options up side by side and see how they compare:

The Status Quo

My treatment under the status quo has addicted me to Effexor, required me to pay for that drug for life, obliged me to be a patient for life, reminded me that I'm a patient every time I have to go downtown to see the doctors about my "maintenance medications."

Most professionals in the mental health system do not acknowledge, let alone understand, the severe demoralizing power of this addiction, of being eternally beholden to the medical establishment for the substances that they peddle.

Worst of all, the Effexor worked wonders only for the first few weeks of use, followed by years of decreasing efficacy. After 20 years on Effexor, I am now as depressed as ever, but now I have the additional problem of being addicted to the drug that was supposed to help.

LSD and its potential

Meanwhile, there is a class of drugs (psychedelics) that has single-handedly cured alcoholism (ask AA founder Bill Wilson), has reams of positive results dating back millennia, is not addictive, is ridiculously inexpensive, and does not require me to be an eternal patient and client of the mental health system of America.

And yet this is the option that Teachman and company want to tiptoe around, second guess, and avoid in the name of the status quo?

Personally, I think it's a grave injustice that a person in my position is not at least allowed to try the other path. It's tantamount to a denial of my religion, insofar as I take the doctrine "know thyself" seriously and I am convinced that guided psychedelic therapy is the best candidate for helping me achieve that goal in my lifetime.

Of course, it's perfectly easy to see why the LSD option would be horrifying to the status quo in the medical field, and particularly to drug companies, who stand to lose billions when addicts like myself are no longer paying a monthly fee for a legal fix. After all, I'm not showing up at the clinic every few months because I love the medical system: I'm there under duress because the relatively ineffective medicine that they've given me has addicted me for life.

If I've learned one thing from my experience with the mental health system in America over the last 40 years, it's that the real drug problem is addiction, not highs or trips. It's addiction that demoralizes, by keeping one dependent on others, during the very time when the efficacy of the addicting substance is diminishing.

So if the professor and your anonymous student don't want to take part in this new revolution of treatment, I hope they at least won't try to stand in the way.

I hope they'll at least acknowledge that a patient with 40 years of dissatisfaction with the status quo should have the right to pursue other options, even if these options are difficult for old-school scientists to get their head around since psychedelic experiences are inherently difficult to categorize with the sort of numeric "objectivity" demanded by Western researchers. Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

in response to 'Antidepressant Use Leads to Worse Long Term Outcomes, Study Finds' - Mad in America - April 30, 2018

The Depressing Truth about Antidepressants

an open letter to Peter Simons of Mad in America

Hi, Peter.

Just wanted to respond to your April 30th, 2018, article on antidepressant use.

The study cited confirms what I have learned the hard way over the last 30 years, that anti-depressants help only a little at first, and that even this marginal help decreases overtime. And it's hard to live stoically with this "depressing" truth, when one is convinced that there are currently proscribed substances out there that are wildly effective (relative to the status quo) and are meanwhile not even addictive, nor particularly expensive. There are fabulously promising results now pointing to the great therapeutic potential of Ibogaine, LSD, MDMA, peyote, and other non-addictive substances, drugs which often provide self-insight after the very first use. Compare this to a situation in which a depressed patient like myself pays about $40 a month to Big Pharma for a massively addictive antidepressant medication (in my case Effexor) that has provided me with nothing more than a baseline functionality for the last 30 years (no spur to creativity, not a hint of self-insight, no impulse to achieve anything remotely resembling the self-actualization described by Abraham Maslow).

One doesn't have to be a conspiracy theorist to see how this expensive status quo is in the commercial interests of big corporations and that they will necessarily fight tooth and nail against "pro-patient" change (especially against effective non-addictive therapies that will leave them out of the financial loop). Part of that fight involves these companies' use of newspeak, in which, rather than acknowledging the well-documented addictive nature of their nostrums, the purveyors of SSRI's glibly tell their patients that they may have to stay on these medications for life, as if that were a small price to pay for the benefits provided. In reality, however, the benefits are scarcely so great as to warrant the jettisoning of one's psychological autonomy for an entire lifetime, and that's what happens to long-term SSRI patients, as they're forced to continually deal with and rely on the bureaucratic and expensive healthcare system in order to access the medications in question.

And trust me, based on my own 40 years of experience in this area: this reliance on the bureaucratic health system is dispiriting in and of itself, even if the cures being peddled are effective. After all, continued access to these medications requires regular visits to the health clinic, a time-consuming and expensive obligation which amply reminds one that they are an eternal "patient. " And if you want further proof of your dependent status, just run out of your prescribed medication on a weekend, and you'll soon find who holds the reins in this relationship: for chances are that the addictive antidepressant that you need right NOW will not be green-lighted for use until it's convenient for the healthcare system to do this, namely at 9:00 on the next business weekday.

I don't mean to imply, however, that there is a conscious enmity on the part of the existing healthcare system towards depressed patients, only that an effectively addicted "patient" (at least one addicted to legal drugs) is necessarily obliged to jump through bureaucratic hoops, a process that eternally reminds that patient that they are not a free agent in their life but rather are eternally dependent on others. And to repeat, this situation is demoralizing in and of itself, regardless of the effectiveness of the addictive substance being prescribed. And yet I have never read a psychological study that takes into account the potential depressive (or at least demoralizing) effect that this loss of autonomy has on a patient like myself, as if a patient's reliance on the medical "system" were to be taken as a given, regardless of its psychological impact, and not considered a distinct and separate phenomenon, one that should be avoided or mitigated wherever possible.

But there is another unacknowledged downside for a patient who is addicted to SSRIs: namely, the fact that the use of these substances often makes it impossible for that patient to safely (and/or effectively) use most of the exciting new alternative antidepressant therapies mentioned above. This is because of something called Serotonin Toxicity Syndrome, which makes it dangerous to combine, say, peyote or ayahuasca with Effexor or similar medications.

Thus the slaves of Big Pharma are rendered incapable of exploring alternatives, even if they had the risk tolerance that would allow them to do so.
anti-depressant, therapy, ayahuasca, peyote, lsd, addiction, big pharma

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

On the Transpersonal Vision of Stanislav Grof

I've been listening to the Transpersonal Vision, a series of casual lectures by Stanislav Grof, a pioneer in the use of LSD for psychotherapy. Having been tantalizingly introduced to the subject of shamanic therapy by Aldous Huxley, James Fadiman, Tom Shroder, Rick Strassman, and above all Terence McKenna, I was prepared to hear a rousing defense of psychedelics from the apparent grandfather of this entire movement and a call to action on behalf of the millions of unnecessarily suffering human beings who could find relief and psychological insight through the guided use of LSD and the other persecuted shamanic medicines of the world. And in fact the first few hours of Grof's insights provided rousing affirmations of my faith in these long-suppressed cures, suppressed by scientific hubris and a governmental war on drugs, which is actually a crackdown on religion, insofar as it bans ancient, natural substances that have been used in spiritual contexts for thousands of years. As Terence McKenna puts it, the idea of an "illegal plant" would have been incomprehensible to preliterate shamanic societies that valued their connection with the planet.

At about the five-hour mark, however, the discussion veered into the topic of holotropic breathing, a procedure whereby Grof contends that patients (or clients) can gain the benefits of psychedelic therapies without using drugs or plants.

This kind of bothered me. As a long-time "client" of the mental health system in America, (indeed a 40-year veteran of the same), I have practiced breathing cures (and many other related fads) until I was blue in the face! And yet here I am, still with the same basic depression that I had four decades ago! I ask myself: How much proof does Grof need to know that this new therapy, for most people at least, is of modest help at best compared to LSD (psilocybin, mescaline, etc.) -- and yet Grof really does seem to equate his results with those experienced through the use of LSD -- which, if true, only tells me that LSD and psychedelics aren't necessarily as helpful as I thought!

What excited me about Grof was that he had been perhaps the first person to "see through" the psychotherapy of his time and discover that it was simply ineffective, that for all the hoopla, time, and money, folks just were not getting cured "at the end of the day," or even offered real lasting relief, except perhaps of the soporific sort afforded by addictive barbiturates and SSRIs.

I therefore saw this plug for holotropic breathing as a step backward by Grof, a relinquishing of his insistence on real, undeniable, dramatic results in favor of a semi-effective, partially useful fad -- a move made necessary, perhaps, on a professional basis given the near outlawing of LSD research, but a step backward all the same into the proffering of "just another therapy." Grof, to me, was no longer sounding like the great innovator in therapy but rather just another purveyor of half-baked cures. To be sure, he cited impressive-sounding results, but no more impressive than one might hear from any cure-monger who gets a one-hour special on PBS to describe their solution to dieting, anxiety or depression.

I know that breathing techniques have an ancient lineage, but we must distinguish between what breathing techniques have done and could theoretically do and what they actually do achieve for the average American patient like myself, at least when unaccompanied by psychedelics.

Being convinced that true help is out there in the form of plants that exist on our planet and have been used for millennia, I am not in the mood to hear of another breathing exercise. Indeed, every time I hear of a new cure a la holotropic breathing, I'm reminded of the following lines from Shelley in "A Hymn to Intellectual Beauty", for I consider such nostrums, compared to the guided therapeutic use of psychedelics, to be but...

Frail spells whose utter'd charm

might not avail to sever,

From all we hear and all we see,

Doubt, chance and mutability.

Of course, psychedelics don't do away with "doubt, chance and mutability," but they do allow many people to "take them onboard" and accept them as an integral part of life, to examine their life critically and live more fully, while recognizing themselves as a true part of nature, something that our smart-phones are trying their best to make us forget, as a proliferating number of apps run interference between human beings and their first-hand experience of the world.

So this is why I am disappointed in these lectures: As a long-time victim of the ineffective status quo in treatment brought about by the war on drugs, I feel that it's time for a full-court press for the legalization of psychedelics in a therapeutic setting. This is not the time for suggesting that a few incredibly simple breathing exercises could work just as well. Not only is that not true based on my lengthy personal experience, but it gives comfort to the enemy of shamanic substances, who could easily use this alleged sufficiency of breathing exercises to justify a continuation of the ban on psychedelic therapy. Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

How Fandango Now on Roku is officially the worst streaming service in the world

Fandango Later

Much Later

OK, I just watched 3/4 of Island Zero, only to be kicked out of the movie by the bug-ridden Fandango Now Roku app. But not to worry: after holding only 20 minutes on the phone, Fandango Now costumer service assured me that my issue had been escalated and I will hear back from technical support within three days.

Three days???????????

Fandango Now, they call it? How about Fandango Later: Fandango MUCH Later?

This is the third movie in a row during which the Fandango Now Roku app has given me the boot in the middle of a movie and then hidden the "resume" button so that I could not continue viewing. Then, after logging out in the hopes of somehow resetting the buggy software, I discover that Fandango Now will not let me log back in as it no longer recognizes the password that I have been using without problem for the last three months.

I believe that Fandango Now must be owned by Amazon with a view toward making Amazon-phobes like myself give up on alternatives and watch movies under the auspices of Jeff Bezos and company. Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Open letter to Mark Leary, Ph.D.

professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University

Dear Professor Leary:

I would ordinarily write you a personal e-mail to comment on your fascinating Great Courses course entitled "Understanding the Mysteries of Human Behavior," since I have a habit of writing professors and authors in an attempt to comment on some of the interesting concepts that they raise for me in their lectures and books respectively. I find that recently, however, some of my e-mails of this kind have been greeted by such curmudgeonly responses that I've decided to suspend my policy of intellectual glasnost for a while, lest the intellects that I engage in this way should "bite my head off" rather than take up my proffered gauntlet for a tete-a-tete. Hence this "open letter" to you to spare myself any unnecessary grief in the statistically unlikely event that you should prove as curmudgeonly as some of my recent correspondents.

A certain author of a certain book about DMT, for instance, informed me just last month that the heartfelt two paragraph e-mail that I sent him was too lengthy for him to read, thank me very much, given the fact that he didn't know me from Adam, this despite the fact that I had spent three hours composing it and that it dealt with personal issues of which I had 40 years of experience. Contrast this with the response to my far lengthier e-mail on a similar topic to Ernest Drucker Ph.D. (Albert Einstein Global Health Center) who not only responded to my full-page comments, but asked if he could share them with his colleagues (which he most certainly could, by the way, and with my blessings).

[Editor's note: Brian has been on the receiving end of America's status quo psychological treatments for 40 years. Therefore, it was disheartening for him to find that a doctor, of all people, was uninterested in his testimony on this subject. This "certain author's" response, however, is illustrative (or so Brian feels) of the problem with the psychological establishment over the last 50 years: it has reckoned without its host, disdaining the input and the true needs of patients. Meanwhile, it has silently acquiesced and collaborated in the government's determination to quash all meaningful research on psychedelic therapy, rather than putting up an ongoing fight in the name of science. Only now that others like the MAPS organization have led the way and thus provided cover, are researchers and doctors coming out of their cubicles and declaring "ME TOO" when it comes to their determination to speak positively about the potential use of psychedelics in therapy. This is all understandable considering the social and vocational pressure at work here, but Brian still regrets the fact that there were so few Galileos to arise during this period to provide at least a little well-publicized push-back in the name of scientific independence and freedom -- in America of all places, a country that increasingly prides itself (somewhat hypocritically in this case) on its faith in science to solve the problems of humankind!]

So here then, Mark, are my initial thoughts on your course, which you are free to engage with or ignore as you see fit, with no need to chastise me for my presumption in sending it to you directly, should you be moved to do so.

Of course, having watched only the first lecture in the series, my comments here are aimed more at the topic in general, but I have one sort of meta observation in connection to the subject of human behavior. I'm referring here to the assumption in the field of psychology that basic personality traits (particularly counterproductive ones) are, to a large extent, beyond the hope of being fundamentally changed and that we are, to a certain extent, stuck with the psychological dispositions with which we've been provided as children, whether by early environmental conditioning or genetics or both.

This is the point of view that is encapsulated in the layperson's observation that "a tiger never changes its stripes," or that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks," meaning in this case that while coping mechanisms and drug interventions (such as SSRIs) can alleviate the worst symptoms of a negative personality, there is a fundamental core self (created by environment and genetics) that will remain largely beyond the hope of true fundamental change. Tacitly acknowledging this reality, therapists of depressive patients and alcoholics seldom speak in terms of cures that they can provide but rather about helping their patients live lives "one day at a time," i.e., forever in the shadow of a core weakness which, like the sword of Damocles, is ever ready to fall back into their lives and cause problems.

These practical but pessimistic assumptions are quite understandable given the lackluster results of the status quo anti-depression and anti-alcoholism treatments in America today, but evidence shows that these assumptions may have to be modified for the better in light of the new findings regarding the therapeutic efficacy of psychedelics and MDMA in the treatment of mental illness. It turns out that there are substances out there (though the self-interested DEA would prefer to call them "drugs," or better yet "dope") which can give a person insight into their fundamental condition on this planet and open their minds to new ways to approach existing problems. This is the long-overdue message coming from research on psychedelics as therapy. These result are almost better than a cure for depression and alcoholism because these substances doe not throw problems into a subconscious closet to get rid of them (or muffle them by sedation, etc.) but rather they bring problems out into the light of day via comprehensible symbolism, thereby increasing the self-understanding of the patient and thus their ability to be creative in dealing with their conditions.

At least this is true in a surprisingly large number of cases of the trials underway. In fact, one MDMA taker (though perhaps taking the substance illegally) gave a typical response about the drug's therapeutic potential by reporting that one dose of MDMA did more for him in a day than traditional psychological therapy had done for him in twenty years (see Tom Shroder's "Acid Test").

So my point, Mark, is that psychology's assumption of the stubborn fixity of basic human personality will be modified, God (and the FDA) willing, over the coming decades as "new " substances (which in many cases have actually been used by human beings for thousands of years) see the light of day in mental health settings across America, as the scientific dark ages of the last 50 years gives way to renewed interest in treatments that were on the verge of helping millions back in the '60s, until government misunderstanding, prejudice, and ignorance usurped the role of science and threatened (implicitly and otherwise) to ruin any scientist who failed to either remain quiet on these topics or else toe the party line. Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)


Thank you for calling 1-800-CAVING-ACCIDENT, where you pay nothing until we've gotten you safely out of that cave that you've been trapped in.

Please stay on the line, and your call will be answered in the order that it was received.

In a cavern

In a cavern

Excavating for a mine

Lived a miner, forty-niner

And his darling Clementine

Oh, my darling

Oh, my darling--

Please note: We are experiencing higher than usual call volumes. Thank you for your patience and please continue to hold for the next available operator.

In a cavern

In a cavern

Excavating for a mine

Lived a miner, forty-niner--

Did you know that many common caving accidents can be solved with a little patience? If your leg is caught under a fallen rock, try wiggling it back and forth to create a cavity underneath your heel. Once you've created a little wiggle room in the dirt, have your caving partner grab you under your armpits and pull backwards vigorously until your trapped foot is released.

In a cavern

In a cavern

Excavating for a mine

Lived a miner, forty-niner

And his darling Clementine--

All operators are busy at this time. For best results, why not call us between the hours of 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. Pacific Time? Or, remain on the line, and your call will be answered in the order that it was received.

In a cavern

In a cavern

Excavating for a mine

Lived a miner, forty-niner

And his darling Clementine--

Your call is important to us. Please remain on the line and an operator will be with your shortly. For prompt support, please be ready to furnish us with the name of the cave that you are trapped in along with the last 8 digits of your social security number.

In a cavern

In a cavern

Excavating for a mine

Lived a miner, forty-niner

And his darling Clementine--

Did you know that unnecessary talking uses up valuable oxygen? Studies show that cave-in victims have 50% higher survival rates when they whisper. Psst! Pass it on! (but softly!!!)

In a cavern

In a cavern

Excavating for a mine

Lived a miner, forty-niner

And his darling Clementine--

Thank you for your patience. We are receiving higher than usual call volume. If you would prefer, we can call you back in...

12 hours...

at the phone number of your choice. To accept this option, please press or say "1". To reject this option, press or say "What the hell are you talking about? I need help NOW!"

Or simply remain on the line and your call will be answered in the order that it was received.

In a cavern

In a cavern

Excavating for a mine

Lived a miner, forty-niner

And his darling Clementine--

Did you know that after 20 minutes of hold time, we announcers get to say anything that we want during these annoying interstitials? That's because nobody in their right mind would hold for this length of time, and even if they did, it means that they're probably on the brink of expiring from the caving mishap about which they were calling in the first place.

In a cavern

In a cavern

Excavating for a mine

Lived a miner, forty-niner

And his darling Clementine--

Did you know that my Internet Service Provider, Network Solutions, would play Pachelbel's Canon every single time that I was on hold with their customer service department from the year 1999 until at least 2012, notwithstanding the fact that I had sent them numerous increasingly angry e-mails begging them to stop doing so? I kid you not.

In a cavern

In a cavern

Excavating for a mine

Lived a miner, forty-niner

And his darling Clementine--

I was like, "OK, it was funny at first, ha ha, but after five years of the same, it finally went from being funny to being irritating in the extreme."

In a cavern

In a cavern

Excavating for a mine

Lived a miner, forty-niner

And his darling Clementine--

I finally -- and this is absolutely true, folks -- I finally sent them a 10-page letter via snail mail on which I typed the following words over and over again:

"Please stop playing Pachelbel's Canon! Please stop playing Pachelbel's Canon! Please stop playing Pachelbel's Canon! Please stop playing Pachelbel's Canon! Please stop playing Pachelbel's Canon!"

In a cavern

In a cavern

Excavating for a mine

Lived a miner, forty-niner

And his darling Clementine--

By the way, I'm going outside for a Slurpee and a cig now. (We're right next to a 7-Eleven here in sunny Venice Beach.) But not to worry: Your call is important to us, after all, right? "Order it was received" and all that good stuff, right? Ha ha!

In a cavern

In a cavern

Excavating for a mine

Lived a miner, forty-niner

And his darling Clementine--

If this parody of the ubiquitous phone tree phenomenon has made its point now, please press or say "1"; if not, please press or say "I still don't get it, but then it's probably just me," or continue to read in the admittedly slim hope that we'll add some sort of clarifying editorial note below that will communicate the intended upshot of this broadside, as literally as possible, for the sake of even the most satire-challenged readers among us.

In a cavern

In a cavern

Excavating for a mine

Lived a miner, forty-niner

And his darling Clementine--

Nope. No clarification yet. I told you there was slim hope for such an (ahem) "epilogue for dummies," didn't I?

I know, I know: I'm terrible. Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

If the women would stand up and say, 'Listen, we have taken now a position that hatred and bigotry and prejudice can no longer exist.' -- Stevie Wonder

Dear Women: Please take over the world

Save us men from ourselves

As someone who's been critical of the overheated rhetoric of the #metoo movement (and especially of that Washington Post pundit who called for the ruination of every man who was being outed during the beginning of that reign of terror, whether for a tasteless joke of 20 years back or for a violent attack of today, it didn't matter, and no due process necessary, thank you very much) you might think that I have a low opinion of females and femininity. Not that this conclusion would follow logically from my sentiments in that quarter, but then the lack of logical necessity has never stopped the mob from hating on those who fail to pick up their pitchfork on behalf of the outrage du jour.

But far from harboring animosity toward women, I would be much obliged if they would take over the world's governments pronto, and I'm being no more than half facetious in saying so.

"Why?" you ask?

But soft, you shall hear.

I was watching this documentary about the raping of old growth forest in Tasmania via bulldozer in the 21st century, and the invariably male loggers who were furious at environmentalists for attempting to keep said lumbermen from making a buck "by any means necessary."

But the fact that anyone would even THINK of cutting down 500-year-old trees to meet the needs of a single generation of consumers tells me loudly and clearly that something is wrong with these men. They are out of touch with the world around them, the world that created them over the past 200,000+ years, and provided them oxygen and homes.

Pardon me, but these men (or these boys, rather, judging by their obvious immaturity) need to be removed not only from the forests that they covet, but from positions of political power so that they can start being treated like the children that they are, children with respect to their knowledge of their place in the world and what nature is and how they are a part of it.

But let's get down to brass tacks (for which I trust that the copper will be mined sustainably, by the way).

A government-appointed Mother needs to be assigned to go out to these Tasmanian logging camps (after shutting them down, of course) and embrace the obsolete logger as he's crying tears of fury, ruffling compassionating fingers through the malcontent's probably bedraggled hair, and addressing her wayward son as follows:

LOGGER: But I want to cut down those trees!!!

MOTHER: Now, now, I know you do.

LOGGER: And they won't let me do it!!!

MOTHER: There, there.

LOGGER: It's not fair!!!

MOTHER: But, honey, you've got to realize, if you cut down these ancient trees, you're destroying the very air we breathe and denying your future ancestors their beauty, not to mention their vital place in the environment.

LOGGER: But I WANNA cut them down!

MOTHER: I know you do, but you're a big boy, aren't you?

LOGGER: Well, yes, but--

MOTHER: No "buts" about it. Now you go dry your eyes and buck up. There's a whole world out there of possibilities for earning money. It's the Internet age, for goodness' sake. Get an education, you silly, and the world's your oyster.

LOGGER: But I wanted to cut them down!

MOTHER: I know you did. Now, you go take a nice nap, you'll feel so much better in the morning.

You see how turning over the government to women could help, right?

But wait, there's more -- i.e., more ways that this new Fem-ocracy of mine could help save mankind -- and I do mean MANkind -- from itself.

You say you have nuclear proliferation?
Not a problem.

GENERAL: But I WANT to explode a nuclear bomb!

MOTHER: I know you do, sweetie, but they hurt and kill people and that's not nice, is it?

GENERAL: Oh, I never get to do ANYTHING!!!

MOTHER: Oh, my poor baby. Where's the big strong boy that I raised?!

GENERAL: It's not fair!

MOTHER: I know, I know. Just get it all out, son, it'll be OK.

GENERAL: Can't I just blow ONE city up or something!

MOTHER: No, sweetie, I'm afraid not.

GENERAL: Oh, why not??!!

MOTHER: Oh, because my dear boy is better than that, that's why.


MOTHER: I'll tell you what, why don't we play a nice game of Monopoly, get your mind off inflicting grievous bodily injury on your fellow human beings?

GENERAL: Well...

MOTHER: And while we're at it, who's up for some popcorn, huh?!


Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Why I Boycott YouTube

(It's the commercials, stupid!)

I am not going to sit through old-school TV commercials in order to have the privilege of watching dubious snippets produced by God-knows-whom online.

I'm curious about what's out there, but not that curious. I have no desire to enrich a billionaire company like Google, especially when that company is gaining its loot by reproducing an irritating funding paradigm that should have died out with the offline television set itself, dictating to the viewer what he or she WILL SEE (thank you very much) or else!

Is this really the best funding paradigm that Google could come up with for supporting online video producers: TV commercials? a financing model that everyone has loathed since the 1950s?

Think about it: Google hires nothing but the eggiest of eggheads, and yet this is what they come up with? Makes you think that creativity and IQ don't necessarily go together.

Of course, the problem is that Google's number-one interest isn't supporting online video makers, but rather making money itself hand over fist.

Hey, Google. Here's an idea for a new logo for you:

First, do nothing incredibly irritating (especially when it smacks of the worst manipulative, top-down, dictatorial and greedy corporate commercial practices of the analog 20th century, which, until recently, some of us thought we were leaving behind when we went online). Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Donald Trump: Just another fascist in the hypocritical drug wars

Now Donald Trump calls for the death penalty for drug dealers. Hmm. I wonder if that's going to include the makers of Effexor and Venlafaxine, who pushed the product on the market without warning about its severe addictive potential and who then, when the potential became obvious to millions of addicted users, refused to offer any withdrawal advice for its victims?

Trump doesn't want a war on drugs: he wants a war on psycho-pharmaceutical products for which Wall Street is not getting their "cut" of the profits.

When is the psychiatric establishment going to fight back against the despotic habit in the United States of letting political demagogues pronounce on the efficacy of medications? We pride ourselves these days in recognizing the despotism of the Inquisition in attempting to outlaw science in the case of Galileo; yet today's scientists have nothing to gloat over since they are acquiescing in a system every bit as intolerant, as fascist demagogues force science to shut up and accept the verdicts of politicians when it comes to the potential therapeutic benefit of certain promising substances.

Where does this leave us? With legal medications that addict the hell out of patients while not solving any problems, while promising natural and non-addictive medicines like psilocybin are not simply criminalized but are rendered illegal even to research -- in order that Caesar (as Terence Mckenna puts it) may hear only that which is pleasing to Caesar.

The US Government is a tyrant when it comes to drug policy and is playing the role of the Inquisition in the time of Galileo, forcing every scientist to bow the knee to popular prejudices and to forswear even the investigation of substances that the ignorant powers-that-be have declared off-limits.

These Drug War fascists have no problem with addicting the American people: That's where the profits lie, in all those medications that psychiatrists blandly tell us we will have to take for life. What they won't tolerate are medicines that they perceive as a threat to Wall Street, since the benefits derived don't emphasize greed in the substance taker and don't require repeated doses that buoy corporate bottom lines.

Still waiting for the psychiatric world to play Galileo to the modern version of the Inquisition, insisting that medicines be evaluated for psychological benefits, not by demagogue politicians but by actual scientific research.

This is such flagrant despotism that one hates to painstakingly adduce evidence of its existence, lest the sheer volume of protest points delude the reader into thinking this is a complicated issue. It's not. The US government is tyrannically destroying lives in a battle against religious freedom and scientific independence, while sending millions quite unnecessarily to jail. And now Trump wishes to add a greater body-count as a legacy to his cruel ignorance by killing "drug dealers," by which he simply means anyone selling substances of which ignorant fascist demagogues like himself might disapprove.

Needless to say this doesn't include alcohol and cigarettes, since it's never the death-inducing quality of substances of which these ignorant fascists disapprove. It's the fact that these drugs bypass the corporate world and may conduce (so they fear) to a mind set that doesn't place greed at the very top of its hierarchy of values. Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Tyrant-loving Professors?

I don't normally share my personal e-mails with the Great Unwashed (present company excepted, of course), but I was so struck with the novelty and timeliness of my own asseverations in the following broadside, that I just had to donate it to posterity. (What can I say, I guess I'm just generous that way. Let's just hope that the world to come -- and all its eventual site visitors -- will be worthy of my humbly proffered beneficence in this connection.)

Viz. your remarks about the aggression of the human species -- particularly the male half thereof -- I'm watching a course about Alexander, and it's "telling," I think, how the professor raves about Philip and his son as being "the greatest military commanders" of all time. And I'm like, really? You would think, given Enlightenment values, that the greatest military leaders would be those who effectively combated violence against civilians and logistically supported their relief to the extent possible -- and spared said civilians from slavery and death after winning victories over their military.

And maybe being so magnanimous as to not sack their city after a military triumph on their part! I know that's asking a lot, but call me an optimist. I believe there are actually people in the world who would resist the temptation of pointless rapine and slaughter.

But no. The professor is operating under the amoral assumption that words like "great" can be parceled out to those who champion violence for the sake of gratifying their own inordinately sized ego.

And so it seems we'll never learn from the past, since we continue to evaluate past leaders according to their military strategy alone, completely abstracted from the inconvenient truth that these leaders needlessly butchered millions of actual real homo sapiens, albeit homo sapiens who apparently weren't nearly as "great" as these "great leaders" who had them killed.

Of course, no Alexander-loving professor dares evaluate Hitler in this way, but to be logically consistent, they would. It's only that the atrocities of the Fuhrer are too fresh in people's minds and therefore too self-evident to allow for the abstract discussion of Hitler's war strategies without any consideration of Hitler's cruelty.

You heard it first here, yo! Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

A blog specifically designed to stop bouncers in their tracks.

Interesting Stuff Blog

>> Last week my Samsung S7 caught on fire and began shooting out two-feet-long fireworks, burning my carpet and ruining a nearby appliance. When I took the charred device in to a Verizon Wireless store, they told me that my phone would not be replaced unless I had used the correct charger.

I'm like: When I plugged the phone in, the S7 told me that it would charge faster if I used the charger that came with the device; it did NOT tell me that it would burn down my condo if I failed to use the original charger!

So after loudly warning in-store S7 users of the danger, I stalked out of the store and went straight to Sprint, ending Verizon's despotic 30-year control over my phone bill.

Imagine that: having your condo burn down and then having to continue paying Verizon for the device that did it. Shows how gullible the cash-rich and self-satisfied Verizon has come to think that its customers are.

>> Turns out the Norwegian word for sailboat is pronounced SAH-EH-LEE-BO. At least that's the way two kids in this Norwegian drama pronounced the word when their father talks about buying them a boat. They're both like: "OK, but we want a SAH-EH-LEE-BO!"

And the dad's probably like: "But a SAH-EH-LEE-BO is expensive, KIDS-EH-LEE-BO!" Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

How the fall and rise of Willie Nelson conduces to salubrious reflections on the fickleness of fate

Willie Who?

Did you know that Willie Nelson failed to make a living at music in the '60s and even decided to retire from music altogether by the early '70s for his want of success in the field? I kid you not. Willie Nelson was once only a legend in his own mind, if that. (Mercy on us!) There's got to be a moral in that story for struggling artists like ourselves. Don't you think? Here, have a coffee whilst I dilate at full on the consolatory reflections implicit in this biographical bombshell. (One lump or two, dawg? As in woof!)

What saved the Red Headed Stranger, musically speaking, was that he happened to move to Austin during his "retirement," at which point he soon discovered that Texas fans couldn't get enough of him. He must have been dumbfounded at the wholesale change in the way in which he was being perceived by the crowd. He must have been like, "Really? Are you guys SURE about these standing ovations, because to be honest with you, back home, the only time they stood up was when they were fixin' to leave the tawdry bar that I was playing in. You might wish to reconsider this unwonted admiration. I don't know, uh... maybe you're making some kind of mistake or other?"

It might even have crossed his mind that this was all a cruel hoax being played by these new so-called "fans" of his, and that at some point one of them was surely going to come clean and shout: "Willie, we love you! NOT!!!!" At which point, the rest of the crowd would purse their vindictive lips to send spluttering raspberries in the direction of the publicly pranked songster.

But no, the fans were like, "No, Willie, stop looking behind you, dawg, we are clapping for YOU, my good sir! You!"

And Willie's like: "Danged, so I'm a country icon then, am I? Who knew? Clearly not the tone-deaf louts who haunted the lion's share of my former venues!"

Now, as for the consolatory reflections that arise from the sober contemplation of this fraught biography -- especially in the minds of frustrated musicians like ourselves -- what can I say? It's clear that a musician's failure in the world is sometimes (why mince words?) the fault of the audience. (Yes, I'm talking to you, you despotic event attendees and frequenters of tawdry bars! Humph! No one died and made you sole arbiter of talent!) Just imagine the dimwits that pooh-poohed the original musical assays of the Red Headed Stranger. So much for the wisdom of the crowd. Willie Nelson shows us that they can be wrong -- in spades!

Comforting, n'est-pas, from the point of view of musicians like ourselves whose talent has yet to be comprehended, let alone sufficiently appreciated by the mob. Just remember Willie.

Meanwhile, a word of advice to the rare well-wishers in our otherwise indifferent audiences:

Don't just tell us that our time will come, but tell us rather that our crowd will come as well! Fair enough? (I thought so.)

Now then, more coffee, fellow struggler? No? How about another lump, dawg? (Yes? No? Woof?) Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Author's e-mail to the New York Times regarding "The Follower Factory" story posted January 27, 2018

The Pied Piper of Hamelin has 2,000 followers!

Unfortunately, every one of them is a bot-generated fake!

Three-point e-mail follows:

Two complaints and a news tip:

1) Why do you run such a frustrating interference pattern between site visitors and your reporters? After a 10 minute search, I still have not figured out how to share any thoughts with the reporters of your newspaper. I realize you don't let users share article-related opinions, but it does not follow that your reporters, too, should be off-limits to feedback. (Item three of this e-mail concerns the feedback/tip that I was hoping to share with the carefully hidden quartet of writers behind the "Follower Factory" article).

2) Easy does it, please, with the fancy and non-intuitive background graphics on your news articles (as in the "Follower Factory" story) which make the scrolling feature work unpredictably and often leave me wondering, "What the hell am I looking at?" It's like someone's actively paging through a copy of People magazine in the background while I'm trying to read the article. The incongruous picture of a giant female head behind the opening text made that text unreadable since it shared the same general color as the background image. Just the facts, please, ma'am, and please tell your programming nerds to stop showing off.

3) Since I couldn't find a way to contact the quartet of reporters behind the "Follower Factory" story, please share the following with them -- and your news tip department.

I was ripped off in 2014 by a company called Radio Airplay, purporting to find "fans" for struggling musicians like myself. What makes this worse is that the supposedly pro-musician website called CD Baby had listed Radio Airplay as a musician's resource, for which reason I discovered Radio Airplay in the first place. Worse still, when I told CD Baby of the scam (after realizing that my $700 had purchased non-existent "fans"), CD Baby told me basically to go get stuffed, since which time they have continued to lead lambs to the slaughter by prominently promoting Radio Airplay as a musician's resource. Yes, CD Baby, the company that will probably still be sponsoring the ASCAP I Create Music festival this coming April, despite my informing ASCAP of their knowing and ongoing promotion of Radio Airplay "services."

What's disturbing after reading the Times story is to find that many people who purchase "followers" are aware that these followers are fake and yet they purchase them anyway. This is disturbing because companies like Radio Airplay use this fact to justify their existence (when pushed to do so). They seem to be winking at the public and saying: "Come on, we all know these fans are bot-generated fakes, but who cares, right?"

Well, I never signed off on that understanding! I didn't pay $700 for fake fans, only for real ones, and I don't want the cynicism of other fan purchasers to be considered a justification (much less a legal excuse) for the fact that I was ripped off. Robbery should still be considered robbery, even when it happens online.
follower factory

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Where are the Jacobins when you need them?

Still waiting for the mob mentality to do me some good. Masculine movers and shakers are rushing around all over the place, frantic to make sure they're jumping high enough to satisfy the #metoo movement on the subject of sexual harassment. But don't for one minute tell me that this means that everybody's suddenly turned pious. No, we're only as pious as our self-interest dictates. So trust men to "hop to it" when there's even a hint of sexual harassment, but to stay mum when any literally criminal outrage is perpetrated in the name of financial gain.

Take me, for instance. I was swindled out of $700 four years ago by a bot-scam entitled Radio Airplay, a service that purportedly found "fans" for struggling musicians like myself. They found me fans, all right, but none of them of flesh and blood.

Now, if we had even 1/2 the outrage on the subject of online thievery that we have over sexual harassment these days (thanks to the nonstop feeding frenzy of the Washington Post and PBS NewsHour who have covered almost nothing else for the last three months, leaving Americans to conclude that there's a massive conspiracy afoot by men to thwart women at every turn), CD Baby would not only listen to my complaints on this subject, but they would actually rush to unilaterally "turn in" Radio Airplay to the appropriate authorities, lest the mob's anathema to ripoffs should recoil on them for their lack of action to combat such crime.

But not a bit of it. CD Baby says it's none of their business what their advertisers do -- and so while worried CEOs rush to retroactively punish decades-old allegations of sexual harassment at the behest of radical feminists (under the Washington Post theory that alleged harassers should be "ruined"), Radio Airplay & CD Baby waltz around helping to rip musicians off, and absolutely nobody cares: not Radio Airplay, not CD Baby, not ASCAP, not the FBI, not IC3.org, not the newspapers in Portland, Oregon, where CD Baby is headquartered. I've contacted all these parties, and surprise, surprise: no one's outraged at bald-faced thievery. No one is prepared to do one single thing to help me get my stolen money back.

So don't let this pious rush to agree with the #metoo movement fool you into thinking that Americans have suddenly found morality. No, they've only found expediency and self-interest. When they find morality, I'll let you know, 'cause then Americans will start considering thievery to be a crime again, and will stop excusing it if it should happen online, as if to say: all's fair in love, war, and on the Internet.

Earth to the hypocritically pious mob: crime is still crime, wherever it happens to take place. Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Letter to Dr. Scott P. Stevens, James Madison Professor of Computer Information Systems & Business Analytics and teacher of the Great Courses class on Game Theory

Game Theory and the Stoics

When philosophical worlds collide

Good morning, Professor Stevens.

I'm enjoying your Great Courses lectures on game theory up here on Bryce Hill in Shenandoah County, but I'd like to make a few of my own observations, if I may, since, as a 1989 philosophy grad from VCU, I really can't resist. I should say up front that I've only progressed to the middle of lecture 5 so far, but I think I've gone far enough to warrant at least a few tentative thoughts on the topic as a whole, especially since I vow to keep an open mind in proceeding further through the course. I should say that I'm new to the details of game theory, so if I do have an axe to grind here, I've only just recently picked it up.

My key initial observation (after 4 1/2 lectures) is that game theory -- or at least the celebration of the Spock-like analysis of daily interactions that game theory appears to advocate -- would have been anathema to certain sorts of civilizations, especially those with a more introspective emphasis than is generally found in the West, and in the United States in particular. I'm thinking particularly here of cultures guided by the stoic principles of a Marcus Aurelius or a Seneca, who, when it came to the action of other "players" in life, would always tell their adherents, "Let THEM see to that, whereas you as a stoic should only worry about your own motives and actions." For these Romans believed that the important thing was to have one's own personal actions comport with honor and "nature's will" and that it was folly to concern oneself with how others might respond to one's own virtuous actions, much less to guide one's decision making via the relative probability of those various responses.

You have already alluded, of course, to the potential personal moral qualms that might come into play in certain games, cases wherein a given "player" might be prone to act (to a lesser or greater extent) based on "a priori" moral considerations (and so without regard to probable future outcomes as calculated by a detached observer). My point here, though, is that, in addition to these case-specific objections to an overt reliance on game theory, we can imagine entire societies that might opt out of the whole approach for philosophical reasons. To put it another way, the lure of game theory may seem obvious to a competitive Western society, especially one that prides itself on logic, rationality and securing maximum commercial gain, but to other more introspective societies, game theory could be viewed more mistrustfully, so to speak, as a cynical way to quantify and codify manipulation for the benefit of a given game player.

Please bear in mind that these are all preliminary observations on my part, and I'm not personally trying to make a case against the use of game theory in any given situation, especially since I'm less than halfway through your course. These are just some initial observations that I wish to share with you.

I will say one thing however about the case of dining at L'Amour restaurant.

In listening to this subject, I can't help but get the feeling that game theory is calling upon human beings to act like computers, perhaps assuming that, if enough outcome charts are placed in front of our faces, we humans will become more rational in our choices. But I can't imagine anyone EVER using a decision chart in the restaurant case -- unless that individual were a hopeless nerd, or else someone specifically trying to prove a point about game theory. The rest of us can never, I believe, be persuaded to resort to explicit algorithms in order to choose such mundane actions (even granting that mundane mistakes can sometimes lead to more significant problems). As for the weightier analogous cases of international decision-making in which similar principles are at work, I can't help but wonder if acting on "a priori" principles in such cases (to say nothing of the supposed morality of doing so) isn't an easier way of doing business than employing the complicated analysis of game theory. After all, whether we use a game theory algorithm or our own first principles to decide a matter, there is never a firm guarantee that we will achieve our desired result; but at least if we act from principle alone, we can always end up satisfied (at least according to the stoics), if not with the outcome then at least with ourselves, from the moral point of view. (Besides, we will save ourselves a lot of charting paper!)

One final observation:

I believe that the term "game" is philosophically suggestive. It suggests a premise that some societies might find to be cynical, namely that personal interaction is "nothing but a game" and that we should therefore quantify and codify behavioral contingencies in order to produce maximum economic outcomes for ourself. While this assumption will no doubt have utility in Western societies given Western priorities, the approach is not "one size fits all" around the globe given the very different priorities that may be emphasized in other cultures, as I've tried to suggest in referencing the stoics above.

Of course, I should really spend a good week honing this e-mail before sending it to you because there are many points that could no doubt bear some parenthetical qualifications. But I hope that you can understand these basic observations (or implied misgivings?) while pardoning me my lack of complete thoroughness in making them -- and trusting in my vow to keep an open mind in moving past lecture 5!

Meanwhile, thanks for the thought-provoking course, and I hope that you will enjoy (or at least not mind!) some of these thoughts that said course has so far provoked in me!

If you enjoyed this post, our algorithms indicate that you will also like sloths, to the point where your purchase of the above baseball jersey will be basically inevitable. Algorithms do indicate that you might attempt to feebly gainsay this dictum at first, but to no purpose, alas. Big Data has pegged you as a must-have purchaser, so no remedy! You must needs have it.
game theory

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Why I'm giving up digital text in favor of old-fashioned books

Another reason not to read classical literature online

As part of my day job, the precise nature of which is beyond the scope of this article, I occasionally find leisure to peruse classical literature online in an effort to verify the accuracy of published citations.

Take last Friday night, for instance, when I was under the necessity of verifying the following quote from the Iliad as translated by Alexander Pope.

'Tis true, 'tis certain; man, though dead, retains Part of himself; the immortal mind remains: The form subsists without the body's aid, Aerial semblance and an empty shade!

Nice quote, huh? Made me suddenly grateful for the existence of the Internet...

until I discovered that the same page that featured these elevating words also contained a prominently placed pictorial advertisement for a book entitled "Don't Let Your Bike Seat Ruin Your Sex Life" by one Stas Bekman.

I mean, focus people. What happened to the proverb that there's a time and place for everything?

A book about the seat-sex connection on a page featuring Homer's Iliad? Now I've heard everything, multiple times over.

It would be like me closing my latest literary sally with an ad for the facetious "Thinking of You" greeting card that I created over a decade ago when the Internet was still wearing britches. Remember? I had this gnarly-looking german shepherd on the front?

Fortunately, I know better than to befuddle my admittedly intelligent readers with such outlandish bait-and-switch tactics -- unlike certain Stas Bekmans that I know.

Humph! Bicycle seat indeed. I'll have Bekman know that I don't even OWN a bicycle! Now, if he can advance any causal connections between the passenger seat of a 1999 Toyota Corolla and the infirmities in question, I'm all ears -- provided that the Bekster starts advertising on relevant websites, and not getting all up inside my Iliads, talking about "buy this"! Humph!

Meanwhile, I'm going bookworm, full bore, in the old-school acceptation of that term. That's right, dawg: four eyes and loving it, starting now! Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Me Not So Much

Coming soon: concentration camps for men accused of decades-old sexual innuendo!

Well, I guess John Oliver is officially the Robespierre of the MeToo movement, as he boldly informed the blindsided Dustin Hoffman that "accusers don't lie." Well, gee, that does make jurisprudence much easier, don't it?

This after Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg recently called for the RUIN of everyone accused of sexual harassment.

Personally, I don't think Alyssa goes far enough. I think we need to bring back concentration camps to show these men we mean business!

Mind you, I'm joking, but that's dangerous to do these days, since in the current mob climate, the villagers at the castle door might overhear me and put my facetious ideas into action.

By the way, is it even legal for me to have these views of the current furor? The ruling PC junta will probably consider dissenting viewpoints as hate speech and sideline me -- if, indeed, it's possible to be sidelined any further than a relatively unconnected commentator already is who refuses to "pay to play" with Google AdWords.

Well, call me old-fashioned but I believe in the rule of law. I believe, furthermore, that vague but ominous-sounding charges of "sexual abuse" are slander when they confute alleged decades-old incidents of risque innuendo with recent allegations of actual bodily rape.

And what about these uber-successful millionaire women like Ellen DeGeneres proudly announcing their own victim status? Ellen DeGeneres, the poor wallflower, the woman you can't imagine standing up for herself? Are you telling me that Ellen never made a sexually related comment in her life that made a male co-worker uneasy?

And what about the rule of law? What about the rights of defendants? Since when is social media the go-to platform for adjudicating often nuanced cases?

Oh, right, I forgot my Mob 101. No nuances allowed.

Still, I love the fact that this is so unfair! Because it really boosts my morale. I used to think that as a philosophy major, I had nothing to offer and then the world was far ahead of me in moral and ethical knowledge, not to mention logical reasoning.

Turns out it's not so. I really AM smarter than these people, as proven by their roughshod disregard for defendant rights and due process.

So, kudos to the villagers at the castle door: thanks for the boost in self-confidence! Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

With Chalice Aforethought

How invalids stole the Welsh Holy Grail, one bite at a time

Legend has it that believers used to nibble the edges off of the so-called Welsh Holy Grail in Aberystwyth in order to obtain their very own souvenir of the allegedly health-giving goblet. (Talk about bad form!) This, they say, is the reason why Grail-owner Mrs Powell made a copy of the goblet, so that her invalid guests could henceforth graze to their heart's content on a phony Grail without destroying her priceless original.

(Don't know who's worse, by the way, guests for chewing on the real Grail, or Mrs Powell for replacing it with a fake one. Bait-and-switch tactics are bad enough, but the crime is surely aggravated when the item in question contains metaphysical properties not to be found in any man-made duplicate. It's like Powell was offering her suppliants penicillin capsules without any penicillin inside them.)

Well, I suppose that an onslaught of peckish invalids is one way to account for the shabby condition of the so-called Nanteos Cup after two thousand years of veneration (granting that the object in question isn't really the medieval mazer that doubters claim it to be). But, with apologies to Mrs Powell, I can think of a few more plausible reasons for the relic's run-in with entropy.

Still, suppose that we were to swallow the owner's story hook, line and grail, so to speak? Imagine the improbable farce that must have played out every time that an invalid knocked on Mrs. Powell's door.

Better yet, allow me to imagine it for you:

Mrs Powell: Oh, Gwendolyn, you poor dear. I'll be blessed if you haven't got the scarlet fever!

Gwendolyn: Too true, Mrs Powell. Too true.

Mrs Powell: I suppose then that you've popped by for a restorative swig from my Holy Grail.

Gwendolyn: Well, I didn't want to impose, but--

Mrs Powell: Nonsense. The goblet is right there on the coffee table, already filled with local spring water. Do have a swig, and much good may it do you!

Gwendolyn: Why, you're too kind.

Mrs Powell: That's it, down the hatch!

[gulp gulp crunch crunch crunch]

Mrs Powell: Is everything all right, darling?

Gwendolyn, mumbling (her mouth full of Grail fragments): Everything's fine. Say, is that a masked wagtail in that yew tree over there?

Mrs Powell: Where? Where?

[As Mrs Powell turns to look out the window for the native Iranian bird, Gwendolyn spits shards of Grail into her hand and deposits them, presumably, "where the sun don't shine," as the saying goes.]

Mrs Powell: I don't see any bird, let alone a masked wagtail.

Gwendolyn, no longer mumbling: Don't mind me. It was probably just a common pippit anyway. I'm positively seeing things with this scarlet fever of mine.

Mrs Powell: Oh.

Gwendolyn: Well, I feel better already. Thanks again, Mrs Powell. You've saved me a passel of doctor's bills, let me tell you.

Mrs Powell: Not at all dear.

[Then, after Gwendolyn sashays out of the room with her hidden booty of Grail fragments...]

Mrs Powell to herself: Just as I feared: That old biddy has chewed off another half inch of my Holy Grail. Of all the ingratitude! You'd think an invalid would be grateful enough for a cure and call it a day, but no! They have to take a piece of the miracle with them or they scarcely think that the trip next-door was worth it!

Yesterday, I showed you lot how to become a member of the Illuminati. (Hey, it was a pleasure, OK?) But if being a puppet master doesn't entirely satisfy your grasping ego, how about adding this real-live Holy Grail to your psycho-social armory? My suppliers assure me that it's hand-cast with real crushed stone and that each piece is hand-fitted by an artisan. Mind you, it's for display use only. But then if you intended to swig beer from such a piece of artistry, you're obviously reading the wrong website in any case. [sigh] No, I rather fancy that we'd sip a Veuve Clicquot Brut "Yellow Label" Champagne... Er, but not from the Grail, of course! Who do you think we are (speaking here collectively for all lovable aesthetes of my stamp)... brutes?!

Well, what are you waiting for, pal? This Holy Grail is not going to buy itself!!!

welsh holy grail, aberystwyth, powell, nanteos cup

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Author comes clean, admits his membership in the elite organization that runs your world

Yes, I am a member of the Illuminati

I have finally decided to come out. Mom and Dad, are you listening? Cousin Esther? Do you read me, over? (Hey, is this thing working?!)

Yes, I am a member of the Illuminati. There, I've said it! (That's it, come to grips, folks, I've got more to say...)

Print and solve this puzzle by author entitled 'Illuminati THIS'

Yes, I have been a card-carrying member of the puppet masters since 1983, thank you very much. Hey, listen, somebody's got to control you lot. We can't have you rushing about, all full of yourselves, can we? Free will is a risky proposition after all. Better that some eggheads like myself sort things out for you guys and then give you the reassuring belief that you've worked things out for yourself.

Hey, you better believe me, folks, or else. Just one quick phone call to Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen (my fellow Illuminati member in good standing), and I can raise the interest rates on your variable mortgage by a full 2 percentage points. Seriously, I've got Janet and the rest of the Illuminati on speed dial.

My index finger is poised and pointed. Don't make me use it!


But you know what kills me, folks? All those people researching the Illuminati, looking for these conspirators on their laptops and iPhones. Talk about purblind.

Folks, look at your freakin' infrastructure! You're researching the cabal using hardware and software provided by multi-billion dollar companies that control worldwide communication. No need to look further than your devices to find out who's calling the shots today: videlicet Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Verizon, Facebook et al.

I mean, hello: Google is a multi-billion-dollar corporation that controls what you read, hear and see by virtue of its search engine monopoly. And yet you're scratching your head, wondering what's the identity of the puppet master? How much more of a puppet master do you want?

For, to paraphrase Lord Acton:

Monopoly corrupts; absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

That's why I'm not waiting for Trump's gelded SEC to rein in these well-heeled cronies, I'm boycotting them personally wherever I can.

Say, that's smart of me. Maybe I really AM a member of the Illuminati. But if not, no worries. I've found a website where I can secure an Illuminati membership for as little as $2.50 a month! We puppet masters aren't misers, but that doesn't mean we don't recognize a good deal when we see one!

But while the world is actually run by mundane forces such as corporate monopolies, make no mistake: Illuminati membership has its privileges.

According to this very accurate-looking website here, all puppet masters get 10% off any Starbuck's purchases in excess of $5.00! (Hey, those savings add up!) You also get 25% off all magazine subscriptions (limit three mags per customer, though: rats!). And most major hotel chains give you a free night for every two nights booked (plus, you get the ego boost every time you get to show your Illuminati card to the mere mortal behind the reservation counter). And check this out: new members are automatically registered in a drawing for a 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee (contest ends December 2017, void where prohibited by law).

The Straw Man always had a brain: all he needed was a diploma. In fact, Ray Bolger could have gone on to join the Illumnati itself, had he been a trifle more ambitious: all he needed was these socks. Don't leave home without 'em, folks. If they're checking IDs at the door of the Bilderberg Group, no worries, just knowingly arch your right eyebrow and pull up your trouser legs in order to confirm to the brainiac bouncer that you're the real intelligent McCoy!

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

In the calculus of admiration, 1 e-mail = 1,000 likes.

Why I Don't Like Likes

Why do I hate likes? Behold my four-count indictment against the faux currency of modern friendship:

1) Likes are often distributed on a quid pro quo basis reminiscent of the 1960's slogan for 7-UP: "You like it, it likes you," Thus, likes often don't reflect an actual like for posted content but are rather the predictable result of egocentrism via proxy. You big me up and I'll big you up.

2) Likes are cheap in every sense of the word. With a little talent and a relatively small advertising budget, anyone can garner several thousands likes. Take me, for instance. My music site garnered 3,500+ likes in that way last year alone, but did I ever receive one personal e-mail from this group of fans? Never. Not one. Which brings me to point three.

3) In the calculus of admiration, 1 e-mail = 1,000 likes. (And that's a conservative estimate, given my experience mentioned above) To receive a like, one needs merely to inspire the momentary twitching of an index finger. To receive a personal e-mail, one has to inspire a body to drop what they're doing and formulate (ideally) at least one cogent sentence expressive of admiration. (Oh! I get tired just THINKING about all of the effort involved!)

4) The all-important "total likes" figure means nothing since the folks doing the liking could be anybody (from Neo Nazis to residents of a "like-generating" farm in Mongolia). In some cases, the supposed "likers" may not even exist, but rather can be tracked to long-since dormant e-mail accounts.

In practice, everybody acknowledges these facts, which is why like-generating scams can get away with generating "likers" using dormant e-mail accounts. Even the folks who pay for these likes don't get too curious or angry about such doings, since they're getting "likes" and that's all that matters to them (or anyone else) in the virtual world.

I learned this truth the hard way last year, at the price of $700 to be exact. I found some company advertised on CD Baby that purported to find fans for struggling musicians like myself for what seemed to be a reasonable price. (Oh, yes, I tickle the odd ivory in my spare time. What can one say?)

Sounds good, eh? I'll let the professionals find my fans and meanwhile I'll focus on my music. (Here, take my money, guys! Please, take it!)

And I was thrilled by the initial results. I was soon racking up a dozen likes every day of the week from real-live fans! (They liked me, they actually liked me!) I started to think of myself as an actual board-certified musician. Finally, I had a purpose in life. I had a public to satisfy after all. I was on the road to stardom! (Say, maybe I should look into buying a new car. Imagine me, an up-and-coming rock star, tooling around town in a 1999 Toyota Corolla. For shame!)

But then, a few months later, when my brand-new fan total had topped 500, the devil landed on my shoulder and said: "Psst, hey, Bri-boy, don't you think it's just a trifle odd that all of these ardent fans of yours have never once bothered to send you an e-mail, neither to your personal e-mail address nor to the fan e-mail address that was created for you by this fan-finding service?"

An actual chill descended my spine. (Corny writers are correct, by the way, this phenomenon actually does transpire in a body that is stricken with sudden horror! Anatomists, take note!) Could my dreams of stardom have been based on an illusion?

Shocked into action, I finally began my due diligence viz the company that was purporting to find me all these "fans." I began attempting to contact my alleged admirers via the e-mail addresses that they had supposedly provided and to ask them if they, indeed, had ever heard of me, let alone liked me enough to consider themselves a fan.

Well, what do you suppose? I never received one single solitary reply from the 50 or so requests for confirmations that I sent out. Moreover, a subsequent investigation of these e-mail addresses proved them to be linked to parties who had long since either died or had given up on the Internet altogether (which amounts to the same thing, really, in this virtual world of ours).

Yes, I had been duped.

What's more, when I complained to the company in question, they seemed a little miffed. After all, they had provided me with "likes." Why don't I just shut up and boast about my new popularity? Who's to benefit from me spouting off about the alleged immateriality of the fans doing the liking? I got my "likes" and the company got their money. Where's the problem here? Or should they say, what's not to "like"?

Well, I'll tell you what's not to like, folks: Likes themselves! Humph.

QED, baby, with sugar on top!

Don't bother liking this article, by the way, but feel free to send me a grateful e-mail in response to it. I promise not to sue you for any arrhythmia that might be occasioned by the sheer novelty of the response! But whatever you do, don't send me any congratulatory snail mail. I don't think my heart would survive the shock!

People who enjoyed this article purchased the German shepherd novelty card in such numbers that a government commission was proposed to investigate the phenomenon, the logic being that a hidden sales tactic was at work here, the systematization of which could result in the revivification of sluggish economies across the globe.


Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

in response to the article 'I study liars: I've never seen one like Donald Trump, ' by Bella DePaulo in the Washington Post Outlook section, December 11, 2017

America's Problem isn't Lying

It's the selective reporting of truth

While we should obviously hold Trump accountable for his repeated falsehoods, let's remember that conservatives do not hold a monopoly on fib telling. Trump, in fact, is just the right's answer to the Al Sharptons of the world, those who knowingly spread falsehoods in the name of what they consider to be a greater truth. (Thus Sharpton felt no compunction in calling four white men rapists in the Tawana Brawley case, since the story, though definitively proven false, illustrated, in the unrepentant Sharpton's view, a larger truth.) If Trump tells more whoppers than Al, it's only because he's less intelligent than the civil rights leader and so would be forced to shut up entirely if he were required to support his prejudices with mere facts. Such a lack of factual knowledge would dissuade most of us from engaging in public debate in the first place, but for Trump, it's just an invitation to lie creatively in real-time a la Al Sharpton. In this way, Trump is never at a loss for sound bites that support his biases, and when news headlines later take issue with his falsehoods, he can simply respond with yet another lie, by dismissing such stories as "fake news."

Lies of this kind, however, are not really at the root of America's political divisions today. The real problems arise from the fact that the different ideological "sides" are getting their news from different sources, each with its own particular axe to grind. Even if these sources ran nothing but verifiable and true news stories, Americans would be just as divided as ever, since it's the choice of stories to cover that makes the difference, not so much the accuracy in reporting them. For example: NPR may run an in-depth series on the abuse of workers in factories while FOX may run an in-depth series about union fraud. Both of the stories may be factually correct, but the NPR listener will come away with their pre-existing prejudices confirmed against big corporations, while the FOX viewer will think, "Just as I thought: unions are nothing but trouble!"

No one's been actually lied to in these cases, since we can safely assume that the reporters have gotten the basic facts right at both networks. However, one could make the case that there is an implicit lie involved when media sources strategically choose only those stories that will illustrate the political agenda of the paper's sponsors and/or owners. Many news stories, after all, imply a kind of moral, a la Aesop's fables, and a news source is understandably loath to publish a story that suggests a moral of which the company's owners would not approve. It is not lies, therefore, that America has to worry about, but the myopic vision of the truth that is afforded to various segments of the American population today by the decentralized press of the 21st century. To put it another way: the real problem is not Trump's obvious whoppers, but rather the closing of the American mind (and the resulting hardening of the American heart) caused by the public's consumption of factually correct but highly selective news coverage.

People who enjoyed this article tended to be well-read and debonair (and, perhaps not unsurprisingly, a full 65% of them hailed from the United Kingdom!), making them delightful companions for a marathon game of Rummikub, even if a large percentage of these unapologetic aesthetes heatedly endorsed that dubious so-called 'house rule' according to which one could move a joker about the table willy-nilly, even if the player lacked the appropriate tile wherewith to replace it. (No wonder I lost!) But then all was forgiven when these sneaky gamesters subsequently purchased this coaster tile of mine illustrative of the motto 'nature abhors a vacuum.' (Get it? You see, the lion represents nature in the photograph, and he is taking violent exception to the presence of a... Well, you get the idea, right? Nature abhors a vacuum? Eh? Eh?)


Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Portrait of the artist as a young witch

Lovecraft's Zadok Allen recalls the mysterious childhood of Brian Quass

Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin!

Oh, hi there, young feller. Brian Quass, say ye? Let's take a load off yonder at that abandoned wharf opposite Devil's Reef and I'll tell you all about him -- in return for some hefty pulls on that whiskey bottle, that is, what you been ostentatiously waving in my face ever since you shuffled out of that dingy variety store on Eliot Street. That's it, partner, forward march, and I'll start rattling on en route.

Brian Quass. Brian Quass. Let me see.

I calculate I last saw Brian back in '63. Yes, indeedy. I can mind him shooting dice of a Sunday on Paine Street in front of the old Gilman House, that rickety five-story fire hazard what the sea things call a hotel, though it's really just a glorified mouse trap for ferners what get prying into things that ain't none of their bi'ness (viz the Loyal Order of Dagon and anything connected wid it!) Hah! Brian was a mightly little critter back then but he could outthrow Cap'n O'bed himself in a game of standard craps, seven-eleven, Sic Bo, Farkle, Liar's Dice, or even Yahtzee.

Folks allowed that Brian had uncanny luck, but there were dark whispers about the child's father makin' bargains with the devil in the South Sea Islands, where he travelled as a bos'n in the twenties and thirties on the Elizy Brig an' the Ranger scow, both of 'em Gilman ventures. That's where the tiny tyro must have got the strange jewelry that he would fuss with and mutter over before making those unnaturally lucky dice throws o' his'n. I can see him now, that grubby little half-pint clad in his trademark suspenders, a kind of autistic Dennis the Menace, taking the entire adult male population of Innsmouth straight to the cleaners with his highly improbable luck. Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin!

Mind you, no one thought that Brian was cheating at first, let alone using some kind of foreign hoci-poci to maintain his increasingly eerie winning streak. But then Librarian Adoniram Southwick let it slip that the boy had been repeatedly checking out the Innsmouth Library's otherwise shunned edition of the Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, and that each time the forbidden tome was returned to the Main Street branch, the pages of the surprisingly extensive gaming section were found to have been shamefully dog-eared by the wunderkind, as if the prodigy were somehow extracting powerful gaming tips from the twisted Medieval Latin.

Well, things came to a head around Brian's 15th birthday. That was the year that the Innsmouth native shook his way to the World Craps Championship in nearby Arkham. Maybe you saw that. It was broadcast extensively on Swedish television. They called him ID: the Innsmouth Dicer, and he was definitely on a roll that year, defeating world champion Linda 'Lowroller' Mabry in eight straight sets and taking away half of the tournament's special awards into the bargain, including The Golden Shovel Award, which until then had seemingly been the lifelong property of one Missouri Rick -- although the victories proved bittersweet for Brian after a good half-dozen of his bested opponents publicly accused him of witchcraft shortly after the competition pulled up stakes and returned to its customary venue in Vegas. Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin!

Can't say I seen hide nor hair of Brian since. But legend has it that he put his tournament winnings toward a tour of the South Sea Islands later that year, probably to do some fact-checking on the seemingly improbable yarns that his maritime father had spun for him back in his Innsmouth days. Fact is, I had nigh on forgotten about old 'ID' until you come here, young feller, and started pumping me with this here liquor, tellin' me you were after a what-cha-ma-call-it bio-graphy of Innsmouth's most famous (and indeed only) sports hero, if you can call back-alley games of Perquackey and Chuck-a-luck a sport, that is.

Another serving of hooch, if you please, young feller. Mene, mene -- Ahem! I say Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin!

Say you're fixin' to put my words on something they call an Internet, eh? Sounds like the devil's work to me, boy, along with your wild talk of e-mails, iPods, and smartphones, and something you call a Roku de-vice, whatever that be. (And I used to think Chief Walakea talked nonsense. Even them South Sea Islanders couldn't have come up with all the dubious-sounding gewgaws as ye speak of!)

Humph. And people wonder why I'm forever muttering Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin! Well, news flash, young feller: just stop spooking this here 92-year-old toper with 21st-century devil-speak and maybe then he'll clam up. Until then, these lips were made for mutterin'!

People who liked this article are often seen mulling around Hammond's Drug Store in Newburyport around 10 A.M. of a weekday, waiting for Joe Sargent's rattle-trap of a bus to take them to the secluded port town of Innsmouth on some kind of routine business trip or other. Little do they realize that the town in question has been recently taken over by a legion of Frog-Fish things that are 'mixing bloods' with the locals while aggressively evangelizing a new so-called religion dubbed the Loyal Order of Dagon. Fortunately, the majority of these commercial wayfarers miraculously survive their brief sojourn in this shadow-haunted backwater, though a good 90% of them go on to tell wild stories in Ipswich later that night about strange noises issuing from behind the boarded-up windows of many an attic and basement ("as wasn't supposed to have nobody in 'em," as one local historian likes to put it, namely Zadok Allen, the town's liquourish nonagenarian, who dishes up color commentary on the town at the rate of 500 words per pint of "the good stuff," as he calls it).


Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

When good intentions aren't enough

The Cordelia Syndrome

Poor Cordelia! She loved the heck out of King Lear, but as she refused to express her love in the hyperbolic fashion of the times, she lost her inheritance and her life.

I can relate when it comes to hot-button issues of the 21st century.

Yes, of course I believe that sexual harassment, properly defined, is wrong, but I'm not going to therefore give lip service to the ever more radical statements coming from the sexual harassment media bandwagon, statements that undercut the rule of law.

In the ever-growing heat of this extrajudicial stampede, Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg recently called for the RUIN of everyone accused of sexual harassment. Can you imagine? (Imagine wanting to further beat up on the meek and mild Matt Lauer. Apparently a heartfelt apology and loss of job is not enough for Alyssa: the stern Rosenberg would bar Matt from all future work and seek to drain even Matt's existing bank account, at least if we take her at her intolerant word.) Note that I didn't say every person "found guilty" of sexual harassment, for, as the equally hysterical John Oliver assures us, "accusers don't lie" when it comes to sexual harassment (take John's word for it).

But, like Cordelia, I refuse to say what people want to hear on this subject but rather what I truly believe. (Can you believe it? When was the last time a male human being said publicly what he really FELT about such an issue? I'm a wonder of nature, I tell ya! Somebody should encase me in amber at once and ship me to the nearest curios museum!)

And so, without further ado (and at the risk of being targeted for ruin by Alyssa), here's a bit of objectivity that I hope will put me on the correct side of history, if not on the correct side of the angry 21st-century zeitgeist:

Would John Oliver just listen to himself? "Accusers don't lie." This is the statement par excellence of the witch hunt. What if Oliver had made the same comment about accusers in a case involving decades-old allegations of wrongdoing by an illegal immigrant or a suspected terrorist: "Accusers don't lie"? He would be appropriately booed offstage.

There are so many reasons why Oliver is wrong, one hardly knows where to begin. First, he ignores 21st-century scientific findings showing that memories are psycho-social constructs and as such can be misleading or wrong in the absence of any ill will on the part of an accuser. Second, these public show trials often judge the accused by the stern zero-tolerance zeitgeist of today, forgetting that American society, and sometimes even the alleged victim herself, had fully embraced a far laxer standard toward harassment in the past. Third, let's look in the mirror. If every American's entire life were public knowledge, are there any of us who could survive being suddenly "outed" over something that we allegedly said or did in the distant past? (Presumably, Oliver never touched a woman's back a la Garrison Keillor, even in childhood, but harassment is hardly the only way that human beings can fall short of the mark.)

In short, sexual harassment cases are so fraught with subtle considerations of this kind that no allegations are less conducive to being fairly tried in public, least of all cases that are many decades old. But, as with any witch hunt, there is no time for zealots like John Oliver to observe the niceties of due process. It's far easier to chivalrously declare one's trust in the accusers than to objectively examine their stories and motivations. And who has time these days to allow the accused to prepare a defense? And so John Oliver can flout his political correctness by holding his media trial at the expense of the rule of law.

Woody Allen was right: this is a witch hunt.

People who enjoyed this article averaged significantly higher IQs than their dreary custom-bound counterparts. This no doubt explains the former's statistical partiality for the author's MENSA-minded crossword puzzle greeting cards (as well as the latter's statistical partiality for labeling me a pariah. Which is odd, since we all know that the Pariah is native to South America, not NORTH America where the author in question actually lives. So get your facts straight, haters! Humph!)


Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Henry David Thoreau vs Silicon Valley

Clash of the Mindsets

Remember Thoreau? The dude who went to the woods because he wanted to live deliberately? Well, let's hope that Henry doesn't come back to haunt 21st-century America because he would find that his quaint philosophy of life has gone decidedly out of fashion.

Nowadays one only goes to the woods, if at all, to chop them down. It's the age of efficiency after all. A trip to the woods is just so many wasted steps. Besides, I don't know how we'd even get to a place as abstractly referenced as "the woods." If Thoreau wants us to join him in the boonies, spiritually speaking, then let him give us the physical address of these woods of which he speaks. How else are we going to ask Siri for directions?

And as far as Thoreau's plans to (and I quote) "suck out all the marrow of life," that sounds pretty labor-intensive to me. I think I'll just sit at home binge-watching while I wait for the unveiling of an app that will do most of that sucking for me.

Nothing personal, Henry, but the physical world is just SO 20th century!

People who enjoyed this article had nothing but praise for the author's rendition of Auld Lang Syne. In fact, 46 of every 72 who listened to it went on to purchase it, with a full 33 of that latter subset vowing to do their part to "big the song up" by dint of frequent sharing of the same online, a vow communicated to the author by text and e-mails so lavishly ornamented with cheerful and adamant emojis as to amply testify to the sincerity and ardor of the message sender.


Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)


Dullards of the World Unite

You have nothing to lose but your stupidity

As I watch Professor Robert Greenberg hold forth on the genius of Johann Sebastian Bach (in his Great Courses lecture entitled "The 23 Greatest Solo Piano Works"), I can't help but feel a trifle jealous. Why, I ask myself, did the Kapellmeister of Leipzig inherit such a heaping helping of musical savvy while I myself was starved of inspiration to the point where I can scarcely compose a simple song? I mean, what's up with that? Don't get me wrong, I willingly grant Johann all the relevant kudos, but my inner child continues to smart from the lopsided beneficence of the goddess Fortuna.

But no longer. I have discovered new hope for dullards like myself (thanks in part to yet another Great Courses course entitled "Your Best Brain" with Professor John Medina).

It turns out, if you're beaned on your cranium in just the right way, you can become a musical genius overnight. (I kid you not!)

Take Derek Amato from Colorado, for instance. After suffering a concussion in 2006, he woke up playing the piano like nobody's business, despite the fact that the Denver native had never taken one single piano lesson in his entire life. Then roundabout 2009, another Colorado youth named Lachlan Connors awoke from his own concussion, only to find that he too was musically gifted, even though, like Derek, he had never evinced any particular promise in that line.

And then the penny dropped! All hope was not lost for me. Yes, even a lamebrain such as myself could become a genius -- at least in theory. Someone just had to give me the right kind of blow on the noggin.

Of course, as a practical matter, this knowledge is basically useless, since the odds of such a blow producing the desired results are so small that it would be folly to tempt a belligerent to attack you head-side for this purpose. Still, the fact that such a blow COULD produce genius suggests a theorem which should be of great solace to lamebrains like myself.

Brian's theory of universal genius (working title)...


And now the corollary home truth that warms the cockles of my jealous heart:


See? So there, Bach! I think we all feel a little better now -- except, perhaps, for the talent hogs among us. Humph!

People who enjoyed this article also manifested a marked affinity for all things Quass and were three times as likely as ordinary site visitors to purchase the webmaster's admittedly interesting crossword puzzle greeting cards (i.e. Quassword Cards) online at CafePress.com, especially as it was probably Christmas time right then and these people were (to hear them tell it, anyway) "sick unto death" of buying the same old same old for their loved ones year after tiresome year, Lord help them. (Their words, not ours.)

bach, instant genius, savant

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

The Visit

Reviewed by the Movie Goer of the United States of America


Good afternoon. You may be seated -- except for that wiseguy in the back row who never sat down in the first place. Humph! Guards, off with his head! That's it, chop-chop, with malice aforethought, even!

The very idea!

Now, where was I? Oh, yes.

Good afternoon.

As you know, I recently watched the 2015 movie entitled "The Visit" via FandangoNow using my new Roku device.

REPORTER: Is that the Roku Express Media Player, sir, or the so-called Ultra TV doohickey?

MOVIE GOER: Let's please hold all questions until I complete my opening statement. However, now that you mention it, I used that little stick device that you plug into the back of your TV screen.

REPORTER: Oh, that's the Express Streaming Media Player, then.

MOVIE GOER: If you say so. Anyway, the movie was directed by M. Night Shananaman.


MOVIE GOER: I mean, M. Night Shazzamalan


MOVIE GOER: M. Night Sham-a-lam-a-ding-dong?

REPORTER: Oh! You mean the India-born M. Night Shyamalan of Sixth Sense fame.

MOVIE GOER: What HE said, folks. Anyway, the film is about a couple kids who visit their grandparents at the behest of their mother, while the divorced parent is away on a sea cruise with her new love interest.

REPORTER 1: Excuse me, sir! Weren't the kids' names Becca and Tyler and weren't they played by Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould respectively?


REPORTER 2: And weren't the grandparents called Nana and Pop Pop, and weren't THEY played by Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie, respectively?

MOVIE GOER: Listen, if you guys know so much about the movie, why don't YOU give my opening statement instead?!!

REPORTER 3: OK. Well, first of all, the mother has been estranged from her grandparents for some years.

REPORTER 4: Yes, and the character Becca is making a documentary about the grandparents with the idea of bringing the parties back together through mutual understanding.

MOVIE GOER: I was joking, guys. The Constitution of the United States clearly states that the Movie Goer in Chief (videlicet myself) shall summarize the movies during his State of the Movie addresses.

REPORTER 5: Sorry, sir.

REPORTER 6: Yes, please, go ahead, Mr. Movie Goer.

MOVIE GOER: What's the point now? You guys have given away the whole plot. Fooey!

REPORTER 7: What about the surprise twist?

MOVIE GOER: Oh, yes, that was wild, wasn't it?


MOVIE GOER: But I am not about to spoil the movie for the great American public by divulging the shocking twist in question.

REPORTER 9: What about the rating?

MOVIE GOER: Well, seeing as my opening statement has been prematurely terminated thanks to your smart-aleck meddling, I might as well answer your questions now.

REPORTERS: Ooh! Ooh! Me, me!

MOVIE GOER: As of November 25, 2017, the film had a rating of 6.2 after 88,661 votes on the Internet Movie Database.

REPORTER 10: Do you agree with that rating, sir?

MOVIE GOER: Look, this was a real shocker for yours truly, thanks to the plot twist.


MOVIE GOER: So I don't see where the movie-going public gets off rating this baby a 6.

REPORTER 10: I see.

MOVIE GOER: I would have thought an 8, at the least.

REPORTERS: Me! Me! Over here! Ooh! Ooh!

MOVIE GOER: That's all the time I have time for, folks.

REPORTER: But, Mr. Movie Goer, what about the fact that the amount of the snow on the Pennsylvania countryside varies dramatically from day to day?

MOVIE GOER: I see someone's been reading the IMDB "goofs" section.

REPORTER: And what about the way that the kid and the conductor (one Samuel Stricklen) rapped together on the Amtrak train. Wasn't that cool?

MOVIE GOER: No further comment.

REPORTER: Ooh! Ooh! Me! Me!

MOVIE GOER: Yes, Helen.

REPORTER: One last question: What was the movie's tagline?

MOVIE GOER: I believe it was, "No one loves you like your grandparents."

REPORTER: But is it not true that the movie was originally to be called "Sundowning," sir?

MOVIE GOER: Please direct all further questions to IMDB. I've got more movies to watch, folks.

REPORTER: Mr. Movie Goer! Mr. Movie Goer!

People who enjoyed this article were not entirely unmoved by the meticulous attention to detail manifest in the author's subsequent creation of this crossword puzzle greeting card about New York City, nor were they slow to recognize the value of the same in playfully alerting one's friends to the rich identity of the city that the sender was currently tenanting. "Note cards are all well and good," such people generally allowed, their mind's eye probably gazing abstractedly on a probably ever-changing vista of the region's many vaunted icons, "but there's nothing like a card-slash-gift of this kind to bring out the high points of one's city, which, you've got to hand it to this Quass fella, whoever he is," and, of course, other spirited adumbrations to this effect.


Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

The Macy's Day Charade

Commercialism on stilts... and floats and banners...

Checked out the Macy's Day parade on telly. I didn't realize how commercial the danged thing has become. Each float seemed to be the handiwork of some international corporation, and the float descriptions by the talking heads were just so many commercial advertisements for the float makers, probably written by the corporations themselves. That was bad enough, but then NBC had the nerve to run traditional advertisements as well, many of them featuring products from the corporations that created the floats. Since the whole parade was one long advertisement, you'd think they at least could have rewarded the viewer by sparing them the more traditional commercial interruptions!

Thought thanksgiving was about giving thanks for harvests and whatnot. Silly me.

Instead, I have to re-imagine the original feast:

Pilgrim: Before we partake, folks, I'd like to thank Betty Crocker for providing the various recipes for today's repast. Betty Crocker: bringing comfort food to the New World since 1604.

People who enjoyed this article, besides being surprisingly attractive (their wide eyes often playing peekaboo with one's soul through what appeared to be a curtain of usually blonde locks, which were seen to dance now right, now left, over what was generally found to be a placid but lofty forehead) were twice as likely to purchase Brian Quass's charming little doggy birthday card compared to other mere mortals (who, in their false emotional economy, couldn't apparently be bothered to so much as clap eyes on the same: which, penny wise and pound foolish, if you ask Brian).

thanksgiving, macy's, parade, commercialism

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

I'm Dining on Spiders

Our scientists tell us that we human beings eat at least four spider legs per night while sleeping. At least that's what MY scientists tell me.

OK, I read it on the Internet in one of those TOP 100 fun facts pages, but it came across as so authoritative, folks, it would have done your heart good to read it! Besides, I've yet to learn of one single academic (entomologists included) who has taken the time to distance him or herself from the nauseating asseverations contained therein. So if I've been misled on this subject, then shame on THEM as far as I'm concerned. I've done my due diligence, folks, now let them do theirs! Humph!

But where was I? Oh, yes:

Naturally, I was skeptical of this claim at first. Me, eat 4 spider legs per night? One didn't think so.

So I decided to check it out for myself. Accordingly, I installed a security camera in my bedroom to monitor my soporific dining activity (if any), fully convinced that I would refute thereby this seemingly improbable factoid with solid film footage to the contrary.

Well, imagine my surprise when I paged through the film results this morning, only to find myself sitting up in bed (roundabouts 1:00 A.M. Virginia time), as placidly as you please, tucking an imaginary napkin into my felt pajama tops and then genteelly conveying a huge bushy spider leg to my wide-opened mouth by means of my right index finger, which apparently was "standing me for a fork" in the absence of the usual daytime assortment of cutlery options.

I was so revolted by this prerecorded display that I didn't even bother to check the footage for the three additional spider leg meals of which science says that I partake. I mean, if this world is so crazy as to permit of me consuming even ONE big bushy spider leg while sleeping, then all bets are off.

I guess the take home message is: trust but verify. It's all well and good that a big important website says that you eat spider legs, but it's always prudent to double-check these claims before panicking.

Of course, now that I know that scientists are correct, I have no recourse left me but to be totally grossed-out... but at least now when I get the heebie-jeebies on this subject, I can do so advisedly.

UPDATE: There is some good news at last! I finally got up the nerve to fast-forward through my nighttime surveillance video, and guess what? Exactly one hour after the leg-eating incident, I found myself drowsily consuming a whole plate's worth of Veal Marsala -- with artichokes, no less!

See, folks. The message is clear: We have to look beyond the headlines and put these seemingly unpleasant factoids in perspective. Yes, humans may eat spider legs in their sleep, but that doesn't prevent us from battening our somnolent hatches on other tastier fare as well!

People who enjoyed this article tended to follow up their third or fourth reading of the same by making a beeline for the author's online store, where 9 out of 10 of this industrious swarm purchased this crossword puzzle greeting card about '70s pop music. One out of 10 of the latter lost sleep later that night, of course, sore at themselves for what they now belatedly saw as their miserly abstention from the buying frenzy that was (he only now saw it) so utterly justified by the prima facie novelty of the goods in question. What, he now asked himself, was wrong with himself?! and only stopped slapping his own already reddened forehead when he reflected that tomorrow was another day and that he could still probably buy those gift cards then, God willing, so what was he worried about?!

spider legs, night, eating spider legs, four, per night

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Me Too... Finally

I just ran across a delightful commentary in the Washington Post! (Oh, it was absolutely charming!) You know how the masculine dominoes keep falling these days in the wake of sexual harassment charges? (Twas but yesterday that Charlie Rose himself was hoisted by his own apparently lascivious petard.) Well, guess what?! Some dude has written the perfect op-ed piece to elucidate the issues involved in these cases and to assign blame wherever it's due. (Oh, trust me, he holds no punches at all!)

Oh, wait a minute. I just realized, this is actually a post that I myself published only yesterday! How embarrassing is that?

Well, it's good in a way, because I'm not one to blow my own horn (however incisive and poignant that horn may occasionally prove to be) and so it actually takes a mistake like this for me to come out of the closest and own up to my own (ahem) perhaps not inconsiderable talents in this line.

Well, you've got to give credit where credit's due, I suppose, even if one risks blowing said horn in the process. Let's see, before I begin, though, can somebody give me an "A," please? I haven't blown this thing for years!!!

***Beginning of admittedly somewhat charming (if ever-so-slightly mischievous) sally referenced above (Oh, you're gonna love this, folks!)***

I'd like to take issue with my own WP comments of a few days ago, when I implied that the ladies were protesting too much. The proliferation of charges since then has convinced me that there's a real problem here (still in 2017!) with women not being taken seriously in the workplace. That's obviously got to stop if we value an equal-opportunity workplace.

That said, we've got to stop trying these cases in the media, as fun as it might be for America's armchair judges to weigh in with their own verdicts. There's got to be some reliable forum for fairly adjudicating harassment charges in a civil or criminal court, behind closed doors, so that we can fight against our mob-o-cratic tendency to both try and convict merely alleged perpetrators on Twitter and Facebook, or even via the comment sections of the Washington Post.

Not only because defendants have rights, too (imagine that!) but because when we try these cases in public, our outrage is too often influenced by politics as opposed to any abstract concern for women's welfare. How else can we explain the fact that Clarence Thomas's reputation was forever tarnished by the public revelation of one single comment that he allegedly made about a Coke can... and yet Bill Clinton was given a pass by the left (as far as public outrage was concerned) after having sexual intercourse with a White House intern?

OK, maybe women feel they have no recourse at the moment but to make these harassment charges public through the media, but this is not a practice that a society should encourage in the long run if it prides itself on the rule of law. Fortunately, we already have a judicial system for this purpose, so let's use it. Meanwhile, let's be on guard against the new temptation to replace that system with plebiscites held via Facebook and Twitter.

People who enjoyed this article generally went on to live long, Godly lives founded on a pious devotion to duty, a good half of these consciously modeling their behavior on the writings of the Roman Stoic Seneca (especially his so-called moral letters to Lucillius), this latter fact surprising statisticians in the light of the group's heavy and unrepentant spending on Brian's crossword puzzle greeting cards, raising speculation that the intellectual nature of the gift in question qualifies it as a necessity in the misty and (very often) languorous eyes of these latter-day eremites.

sexual harassment

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

The United Church of Google

Today's sermon: Featured Snippets from Heaven

I'd like to welcome any newcomers today to the First United Church of Google, Basye, Virginia, Branch. It is our hope that as you worship with us this morning, you will find your faith in Google strengthened as we all work together to put our trust in the Miracle from Mountainview. (How's that for alliteration, Angela? Angela Edelberg, ladies and gentlemen, our new church organist. We're going to give her fingers a run for their money later in the service as we collectively warble that old-time classic "Is there room in the cloud for me?" Which, spoiler alert, everybody: there indeed IS room in the cloud for you, you betcha, for a mere $12 a month, paid monthly, that is, to Alphabet Inc. But then I digress.)

I've had several inquiries from parishioners over the last week asking me how they can produce a featured snippet for Google and thereby increase their own page rankings? Well, ordinarily a logical question deserves a logical answer, and so I would give you a long precise list of steps to take to accomplish this worthy goal. But the fact is, Google is just such a ginormous company these days (and consequently you're up against so many other snippet-making wannabes) that the only rational route toward fruition is... you guessed it... prayer. Unless of course you've got a cool billion to throw down on SEO services from an industry insider.

So let's now all bow our heads -- and turn off our cell phones for the nonce -- as we beseech fair (if not actually preferential treatment) from the great god Google.

Dear Google,

We come before you realizing the inadequacy of our html skills, our only partial knowledge of Javascript, and our (at best) cursory knowledge of PHP, especially as it relates to server-side programming. Grant us, nevertheless, a fair hearing as we attempt to create content worthy of inclusion as a Featured Snippet. For we know that visibility is yours, Google, and that it is only through working with you that we can reach the outside world.

We pray in the name of the holy trinity, viz Sundar Pichai, Larry Page and Sergey Brin...


Oh, we're running late. Let's sing our closing hymn on the way out: "Is there room in the cloud for me?"

And don't forget the spaghetti dinner this evening at 6:00 in the newly redecorated social hall. All proceeds will go toward the church's Google AdSense account, as we continue our ad banner evangelism to reach those misguided naysayers who are still, to this very day, using Yahoo! search instead of Google, which, can you believe it? I can't.

Ready, Angela? It's number 121 in the hymnal, folks! And a one- and a two- and a three!

People who enjoyed this article tend to have svelte alluring figures, which they generally attribute to the daily practice of Tai Chi, and though they eschew gewgaws as a class, the majority of this article-loving subgroup has at least one guilty pleasure: namely, the regular purchase of Brian's so-called Quassword Puzzle Greeting Cards.

google, featured snippets

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

You heard me, Alexa! Get cracking!

Alexa, bring about world peace!

Sonos teams with Alexa in their ongoing bid to make YOU irrelevant

According to my latest opt-in email blurb from Sonos, the speaker company has teamed up with Amazon Alexa to play your favorite music while simultaneously responding to your every command -- or at least to your every other command, given that Alexa still can't bring about world peace, no matter how distinctly you convey that desideratum to your ambient know-it-all.

Still, your wish is now Sonos's command when it comes to the following sorts of human-robot interaction:


"Alexa, what's the weather for tomorrow?"
"Alexa, tell me a good joke."
"Alexa, order more laundry detergent."
"Alexa, set an alarm for 7am."

Reportedly, Sonos-Alexa can do all this and more, and is not even asking for a pay raise to do so!

Bravo, to be sure.

But it's 2017 now, Sonos, and we're not going to reach the Singularity in my lifetime if autonomic companions such as yourself can perform only pedestrian tasks such as these. True, it is a daunting chore for me to set my alarm clock manually each night and I'm stoked for your intervention in that quarter. Nor can I tell you how many sleepless nights I've spent, worrying lest my last-minute order of laundry detergent should fail to arrive on time. In that field, too, you are a God-send, Sonos, or at least a Bezos-send.

But at the risk of appearing ungrateful (or at least of sounding that way) I need you to do still more before I can declare you to be on intellectual parity with yours truly.

Accordingly, I end this short reprimand of your so-far grade-school accomplishments with a list of human commands to which I expect you to respond intelligently by 2030 at the latest. (I was planning to give you until 2040 to reach this level of perspicacity, but then I reflected that I might die first, and I don't know about you, but if a singularity tree falls in a forest, I want to be around to hear it!)


"Alexa, bring about world peace!"

And then, as a bonus command for all those Alexa-Sonos smarty-pants out there:

"Alexa, teach me how to live with nature without having this artificial layer of commercialized technology stand in my way."
sonos, alexa!

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Time for science to chill out on the subject of anxiety

Medical Marijuana and Anxiety

Why no U.S. states consider anxiety to be an eligible condition for using pot

Everyone knows that the chief benefit of using marijuana is to "chill out," or in other words to become less anxious. So why does no U.S. state accept anxiety as a valid medical reason for using marijuana?

The reason, I believe, is that Western society views marijuana from a scientific mindset.

This mindset sets no store in anecdotal evidence, no matter how overwhelming. Let 99% of the world affirm the efficacy of marijuana for reducing stress, the scientific community will only hem and haw until they reduce all the relevant phenomena to numbers. I suspect they are particularly on their guard in the case of a drug like marijuana, where experiences of the user are so subjective as to implicitly threaten the very relevance of the objective method on which modern science pretends to rely. The scientific mind is more comfortable at analyzing the drug in the abstract than attempting to factor in the touchy-feely emotional states of the users, which are not so susceptible to quantification.

And so, anxiety sufferers can say with the poet Rimbaud: "Science is too slow for us," for it deprives the sufferer from an obvious cure merely because the relief obtained is subjective, and no fact-bound scientists would dare commit the faux pas of merely accepting a patient's statement for the fact that the drug works. If mere subjective feelings are to count, they must have a biological or neurological correlate that can be shown on charts, and until such correlation is found, the anxious are out of luck.

Of course, even scientists have limits to how ardently they can insist on "hard data": even they will fast-track the use of marijuana for conditions like cancer. Who, after all, wants to appear hardhearted in the face of the suffering of cancer victims? Yet this very exception proves the hypocrisy of the scientific position when it comes to choosing eligible conditions for using pot. After all, marijuana does not treat cancer per se, but rather lessens the anxiety of those who are forced to endure it. Thus the scientific OK of pot for cancer (and other catastrophic diseases) represents tacit scientific acknowledgement of the drug's efficacy in fighting anxiety, thereby underscoring the hypocrisy of the scientific community's failure to OK the drug for that very condition.
medical marijuana, pot

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Proposed: that ugliness is in the eyes (and nose) of the beholder

The Theory of Aesthetic Relativity

I just had a terrible thought: What if beauty and ugliness were truly relative, in the Einsteinian sense that there is no one fixed standard of beauty in the universe. Instead, beauty can be definitively defined only in a given reference frame (read "by a specific species"). In other words, the 'slave's offal' of which Hamlet speaks could look and smell like daisies, provided only that the sensing mechanism of a given species was so constructed as to make it appear so.

Before you pooh-pooh the idea, you must ask yourself: What is the ontological nature of "ugliness." Indeed, is there an ontological nature of such a quality? Surely a wallowing pig does not consider mud to be ugly; surely a lumbering bullock is not repelled by the occasional cow paddy. Why not? Because they have not been either physiologically or psychologically equipped to make that judgment.

Take me, for instance. I can't imagine a critter any more disgusting than a cockroach -- indeed, I'm wincing even as I type this -- but speaking philosophically, we must ask ourselves: is the roach's (to us) prima facie ugliness a case of simple (relative) ugliness, or is it Ugliness writ large: i.e., does the entomological eyesore possess some quality or qualities that inherently stamp it as ugly for all time, regardless of the psychological or physiological makeup of the intelligent being that claps eyes on it? Or can we not imagine some self-reflecting species who possess a different or expanded set of sense organs, such that the cockroach strikes them as (Lord help us...) cute???

Well, go ahead: talk amongst yourselves! (Yes, this WILL be on the test, folks!) Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

In response to "California Farmers Backed Trump, but Now Fear Losing Field Workers" by Caitlin Dickerson, in the February 9, 2017 edition of The New York Times.

Hypocritical Farmers and the Immigration Debate

Dear Caitlin,

I just had a few comments to share regarding your article entitled "Farmers Back Trump." It points out (albeit only implicitly) a seldom recognized truth of the immigration debate: that is, that there is plenty of blame to go around, beyond the usual (admittedly sometimes justified) carping at the Oval Office and Congress.

These farm owners that you mention have knowingly profited from using illegal labor for all these years. If anyone should be punished, it is they, not their employees. Of course the owners' costs will skyrocket if they have to obey the law: that's pretty much how it is in any business. I myself am a freelancer. If I could flaunt the laws that are inconvenient to me, I could make much greater profits, on which I would eventually become dependent.

If these farm owners hadn't "caved" to convenience long ago by knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, and thereby setting a precedent for violating the law in this area, then the deficiencies of the U.S. immigration policy would have become clear to everyone decades ago (thanks to much higher prices for American produce) and perhaps a solution to the migrant worker immigration status would have been cobbled together in Washington out of necessity and self-interest.

Instead, we've all learned to wink at (or rather entirely ignore) illegal hiring practices of the self-serving farm owners (and other employers) while hypocritically blaming U.S. immigration policy for the plight of the undocumented shadow workforce that those hiring practices have created.

Personally, I'm in favor of "recognizing the facts on the ground" in this immigration debate and acting accordingly (recognizing that these people are now a crucial part of the economy and that they need to be declared legal through a one-time act of Congress). But if we're going to pardon these illegal immigrants for defying U.S. law, I believe it would be a good symbolic gesture to simultaneously pardon the many farm, shop and factory owners who have aided and abetted them in becoming the illegal shadow workforce that they have become today. For, had these owners originally taken the law into account during their hiring practices, we would not now have this warped marketplace that relies on a technically illegal workforce to maintain its low-priced equilibrium.

Yes, food prices would have been higher if unscrupulous employers hadn't started knowingly hiring undocumented workers in the first place, but that fact alone would have given Congress and the president incentive to grant the immigration status changes that were economically called for by that outcome. Instead, these same farm owners and producers who have been ignoring U.S. law for decades now disclaim all responsibility for the "shadow workforce" that they themselves have helped create, conveniently passing the blame on to Washington, D.C., as if it were the one and only villain of the piece.
caitlin dickerson, new york times, california farmers backed trump, immigration, migrant workers, farms

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

"Shooting Musk Ox: murder, mischief or merriment?" You be the judge!

Good Conscience Hunting

Good afternoon, I'm Babe Wildman Ph.D., America's first philosophically scrupulous hunter, chasing wild game across the American hinterland while inwardly reflecting on my ontological justification for doing so. That's right, this is a new kind of hunting show where, instead of blasting our prey with amoral abandon, a la the gun-toting hayseed, we track down our quarry in a spirit of critical self-reflection, silently catechizing our better natures about the propriety of our acts, even as we sneak silently through the undergrowth, training our red pinpoint laser sights on the cute button nose of yet another hapless Bambi.

We may kill as many defenseless critters as our redneck counterparts, but there are no riotous high-fives after our conquests, no self-congratulatory shoulder clapping, no trips to the local beer hall with a half-dozen bearded cronies riding dangerously in the bed of our gas-guzzling and ridiculously oversized pickup truck, no posing beside our quarry with a shameless grin on our unnecessarily camouflaged faces while making the victory sign over our victim's corporeal husk with our gun-free hand -- and no phony but effusive praising of our local hunting guides, as if we couldn't have done it without them (which, when we stop to think about it, we really could have, of course, while saving money into the bargain!) : instead, our crew of Ivy League-educated game hunters repair to an insect-proof gazebo on my 25-acre estate near Tucson where we philosophically debate the morality of our latest socially sanctioned kills, not simply mouthing off ex cathedra a la the madding crowd, but actually justifying a series of sober but ad hoc insights (whether pro, con or agnostic) with specific verifiable references to the great philosophical authorities our time.

So put your blaze orange thinking caps on because it's time to go... Good conscience hunting!!!

Today's episode: "Shooting Musk Ox: murder, mischief or merriment?" You be the judge!
hunting, morality

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Author goes down on bended kneed, pleading with protesters to stop kneeling during the national anthem

Pleading on Bended Knee (for another kind of protest)

Trump has ruined professional sports for me. Because I'm sure that all national sports games are soon going to commence with anywhere from a handful to a majority of players "kneeling" during the national anthem in protest of the Donald.

Which I fully understand, believe me! And I think all right-thinking Americans should seriously consider visiting the Kremlin-- er, I mean the White House-- to protest the installment of our new Loudmouth-in-Chief.

But this specific method of protest is problematic for me, because when I watch (and/or attend) such games, I do so to get away from politics and related worries, not to be starkly reminded of them by pregame agitprop. Forgive me, but I don't actually care about the political leanings of my goalies or the party affiliations of my catchers and pitchers. I just want them to play ball! Besides, when I stand for the anthem, I consider myself to be affirming the positive aspirations referred to in the lyrics, and not to be silently signing off on the current political status quo. For this reason, I disapprove of such kneeling because it seems to me to be making the following statement: "Trump is president so screw America and its f*** aspirations."

This is the same mistake that anti-war protestors made in the '60s. They burned the American flag and derided America when they should have been positioning themselves as the true defenders of the flag and the nation, the defenders of our best aspirations. They may have ticked off their adversaries by flag burning but they certainly didn't win any converts by those stunts. Instead, they widened the political divide.

I just hope that I can still attend classical music concerts without encountering an off-putting preshow reminder of current affairs -- tho' I wouldn't be surprised if half the orchestra soon begins the show by tuning their oboes and flutes on bended knee!

ANNOUNCER: And now Seija Ozawa will direct the National Symphony Orchestra in the performance of Beethoven's 7th. Seija Ozawa has announced that he will be directing tonight on bended knee in protest of the Donald Trump Presidency. Unfortunately, Mr. Ozawa appears to be running late this evening -- Oh, no, there he is, kneeling below the podium!


PS By the way, just FYI, I've typed this entire post on bended knee myself -- which, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!
trump, protest, knee, bend, national anthem

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Brian raises moral questions about Wikileaks data and its use by scientists in August 10, 2015 article by Bruce Bowers: 'Decision Tree for soldiers could reduce civilian deaths'.

Wikileaks endangers soldiers

To me, the take-home message from this article concerns the faultiness of the radical premise behind Wikileaks, namely that public disclosure of official secrets is always a good thing. That's just plain wrong. Did the German scientists ever stop to wonder why this data was classified in the first place? It was probably because any countermeasures that were instituted as a result of these findings would be ineffective if the terrorists were aware of the rationale behind their adoption. (Indeed, now that the data is "out there," we can expect to see more terrorists joining carpools.)
science news misses the point

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Brian's response to 'Rendezvous with Pluto" by Christopher Crockett, appearing June 12, 2015, in Science News magazine.

Alien Pen Pals

Introducing a fun new way to ensure interstellar harmony

I think all of humankind's interstellar emissaries should carry an instruction manual among their mementos in case the aliens that we reach decide they'd like to visit earth. Both history and sci-fi movies suggest that such a visit could result in war unless both sides had previously reached some basic understandings about the general intentions of the other. Even then, there would be plenty of wiggle room for sabotage and perfidy on both sides unless both aliens and humans were truly "on the same page" before meeting each other "in person," so to speak. The suggested manual might address the presumably green and bug-eyed ETs as follows:

"What's up, dawgs! Glad we've made contact, albeit by radio signal only.

While we'd love to meet you guys in person, we earthlings suggest that our two species first spend a few years corresponding remotely prior to arranging our first bricks-and-mortar confab. For,although we trust that your own species has long since moved beyond the childish emotions of envy, mistrust, cynicism, and greed, we homo sapiens remain, alas, a trifle fettered by these pathological bugaboos, a fact that you have no doubt already gleaned by Googling the history of 20th-century Earth. So, just to be on the safe side, suppose we tentatively pencil in our first tete-a-tete for 3 Earth years from today? Meanwhile, I suggest that we get acquainted in the time-honored manner of curious (but prudent) pen pals -- from a distance, that is --in the hopes that the information that we share in doing so will not only prove interesting to our respective correspondents but will convince them of our good intentions, one toward the other.

So, for starters, I'll begin:

Hello. My name is Brian. I am (naturally enough) a NASA employee. (Hello?They wouldn't just let ANYBODY write this "message to alien species,"now, would they?) I live in the state of Virginia, in the country of the United States, in the continent known as North America, in the western hemisphere. My favorite sport is baseball and my favorite team is the New York Mets. In my spare time, I read articles in a magazine called"Science News", often "chiming in" with admittedly fascinating comments,which are usually ignored, however, perhaps because their profound import is often obscured by a sort of trenchant repartee on my part, a lighthearted style that academia is feign to dismiss as flippancy, thus abnegating their scientific responsibility to pick up the proffered gauntlet of my admittedly sometimes quite devastating implications, be they philosophical, scientific, or even, as in this case, a trifle sociological.

Let's see, what else? Oh, yes, and my favorite color is blue.

Okay. YOUR turn!"
pluto, christopher crockett, science news, rendezvous with pluto, mementos, aliens

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Brian's response to Unbiased Computer Confirms Media Bias by Rachel Ehrenberg in Science News, April 17, 2015.

Unbiased Bias

Interesting and well-written article. But it generates three concerns/observations for me:

1) The term "unbiased computer" can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Google will tell you that its search engine algorithms are unbiased -- and, indeed, Google will imply that this is so BECAUSE the algorithms are computerized -- but the algorithms are always written by human beings, and if a philosopher were invited in on the process of writing those algorithms, they could point out numerous debatable assumptions (or biases) that are inherent in their formulation (as in Google's case, the number of "backlinks" is assumed to be an indicator of site worthiness -- whereas truly original and groundbreaking work will often be incomprehensible at first sight to the hoi polloi, hence garner few if any backlinks without publicity of some kind, and so will languish under a search algorithm that rewards pre-established, "in-your-face" utility and worth).

Many I.T. advocates are, in my opinion, dangerously wrong about this. I recently saw Walter Isaacson describe Google search in effusive terms (at the Computer History Museum), praising the way it brings quality to the top. But a close (indeed, even a superficial) look at many Google search results shows that utility and influence (established names, sites ending in .edu) are the way to the top of Google's index -- not novelty and insight. Indeed, I often find whole pages of Google search results that all lead to the exact same (admittedly) uber-useful text or images, copied almost verbatim from website to website. In such cases, Google isn't bringing quality to the "fore"; they're merely facilitating access to the cut-and-paste info that the average surfer is looking for. There's no doubt a role for such a search engine, but we shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking that Google's one-trick-pony algorithms are the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to online search.

2) While there are no doubt insights to be gained from the software coding in question, it could also become just another tool to drive liberals and conservatives apart, by better identifying the individual Web surfer's political leanings and ensuring that those surfers are never pestered by links to material that is at odds with their existing mind set.

3) In some ways, as the article itself admits, this is just another one of those cases where science is finally catching up to common sense. Whether you read the D.C. "Afro-American" or the "Washington Times", you'll be hard-pressed to find outright lies or completely unconvincing logic in either of them. That's not where the difference lies. The difference between liberals, conservatives, and others lies in their answer to the following question: "What stories -- and incidents within those stories -- are worthy both of coverage and analysis in the first place?" The two above-mentioned publications provide radically different answers to that question, and so the public sees no overall Hegelian synthesis arising from the two positions -- but rather two sets of "preachers" preaching to the almost thoroughly segregated converted.
computer bias, media bias, rachel ehrenberg, science news

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Brian's response to When you're happy and you show it, dogs know it by Susan Milius, Science News, February 12, 2015

Bombshell! Dogs understand human faces!

It's always hilarious to me when I see "bombshells" like this one spread all over the Internet. It always makes Science look like "the slow kid in the class" who finally learns what everyone else knew almost from birth.* Unfortunately, the slowness of science is not really funny, though, because while Science was trying to figure this stuff out, animals have been misused under the (ahem) "dogmatically" agnostic assumption that they have no "real" similarities to human beings (such as feelings).

"Bombshells" like this (that -- surprise! -- dogs know what smiles mean) just remind us that science is not the only way to look at the world -- and sometimes it's far from the best way. (Remember Nazi Germany?)

But then Science itself was violating some of its own premises when it doubted such canine capabilities in the first place: according to the principle of Occam's Razor, scientists should have erred all along on the side of assuming that dogs probably had similarities to human beings when it came to facial recognition. Viewed in this way, it's hardly "scientific" to assume (as Science has done for years past) that canine actions that are so strikingly similar to ours are yet somehow completely different in origin, nature, motivation, and meaning.

*It's instructive that the laypeople who spread these stories through the Internet almost always fail to catch the irony of the fact that they are blazoning self-evident truths as "bombshells". "Dogs can understand human faces"? Really? The fact that web page editors don't laugh that naive question right off the front page proves how we're all influenced and cowed by Science's own unscientific agnostic bias on such matters. The big story here (if there is one) is the tardiness of science's "gotcha" moment, not the fact that dogs just might have similarities to human beings in some ways.

PS Dear Science News, please stop making long-time podcast subscribers like myself pay twice for your articles -- once for the podcast mag, and once to subscribe to this site. If, as you claim, Amazon won't give you podcast subscription lists, you're a big, important organization now, so believe in yourselves, doggone it! Try giving Jeff Bezos a simple phone call and see what you guys can work out in this connection. (What's Jeff gonna do, bite your heads off? I don't think so.)

For further study

Brian has single-handedly exposed the unscientific basis of Science's approach to animal behavior (for which, bravo, old boy: well done, you!). But if dogmatic anti-anthropomorphism is, indeed, not justified by the principle of Occam's Razor, how can we explain Science's emphatic insistence on enshrining such a prejudice in its modus operandi? (Hint: Re-read Genesis -- especially that bit about Man having dominion over the fish of the sea and whatnot.)

Just for Fun: Logic Puzzle

After reading the above article by Susan Milius, the dog lovers at the Clifton Canine Club (one of whom was Mr. Barnes) spent their March meeting discussing various amusing canine anecdotes which they felt served to prove the validity of the article's point: namely that dogs can, indeed, "read" human faces. Using just the clues provided below, determine the name of each dog and its owner (Mrs. White owns Sparky), the subject of their shared anecdote (one involved a wasp nest), the primary emotion that the dog could "read" (one was disappointment), as well as the species to which each dog belonged (one was a German shepherd).

1) The chihuahua that understood jealousy was not the dog that ate an entire garbage bin of trash, which was not the dog that was owned by Mr. Merriwether.

2) The story about the dog in the sailboat was not told by Mr. Wentworth, whose dog was neither the beagle, the dog that understood fear, nor the dog named Tubby.

3) Cottonball's owner was a man, as was the owner of the Shih-tzu that wrecked the outdoor manger scene prior to seeing (and apparently understanding) the meaning of its owner's angry face.

4) The dog that understood Mr. Allen's "lassitude" was not the one that boarded a streetcar on its own and got as far as Derby before being kicked out, which was neither the chihuahua nor the cocker spaniel -- nor even the bulldog owned by Mr. Flank.

5) The five dogs were: Molly-poo, the dog owned by Mr. Wentworth, the sheepdog that understood happiness, the dog involved in the Easter egg fiasco, and the beagle that was thought to sympathize with its female owner's "wanderlust."

dogs, faces, susan milus, faces, science, susan milius

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Technology + Capitalism = Oligarchy

The Religion of Efficiency

It's amazing how many middle managers these days are working as hard as they can to put themselves (and folks like themselves) out of a job. But that's the natural result when capitalism teams up with technology absent any overarching humanistic, religious or spiritual values. For it's becoming clear (to me, at any rate, and this by dint of personal workplace experience) that left to themselves, the combination of capitalism and technology leads to oligarchy, insofar as it elevates "efficiency" to the highest of all values. Hence job cutting is seen as a virtue, by head hunters who refuse to acknowledge the collective negative impact of their marvelous "efficiency."

What's amazing to me is how willingly the masses follow the pied piper of technology to economic malaise and job loss. I'm not saying, mind, that I know the right alternative to the path that we're on -- merely that I recognize, at least, that a new path is needed, while most people still fail to see the direct connection between all these technological "next big things" and job loss.

Left unchecked, however, this path is not sustainable, for the public's toleration for skewed wealth distribution is dwindling in proportion as the opportunities for each individual's personal economic progress wanes.

For Further Study

Read "Throwing Stones at the Google Bus" by Douglas Rushkoff. Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Brian's letter to a friend regarding certain ongoing trials and tribulations, the precise nature of which are beyond the scope of this article

I Wish I Were a Practicing Hindu

I wish I were a practicing Hindu (that is what I always want to beeeee, for If I were a practicing Hindu, the next life would be better off for meeee) .

Then I could take courage in my current life situation by knowing that I'm merely storing up learning experiences that will stand me in good stead in my next life.

For instance:

In my next life, I would realize that no one should ever consider themselves safely employed until they have at least a six-month nest-egg stored up and have several alternate positions in mind that they could likely move to relatively quickly if push came to shove. I now believe that anyone who's not in such a position should not consider themselves safely employed in this life.

I say this because it's quite maddening to realize how little bargaining power an average employee has when they're mistreated. I mean, what are you going to do? The employer holds almost every single card -- although they are perhaps reluctant to play some of those cards since high employee turnover rates do have their costs to the company. You're walking on extra-jagged egg shells (more like shards of glass) whenever you try to complain. You have to bend over backwards with diplomacy while the other side is free to snap at you like a raging mastiff.

Sometimes I'd almost prefer to be snapped at, because there's another corporate technique that is even more maddening -- from the point of view of a disgruntled employee:

Often the company rep to whom one complains will respond with serene indifference, like a dreaming Buddha. Meanwhile, the employee is quite understandably furious -- but doing everything they can to conceal the fact. So all the company guy has to do is remain serene and say very little, or even nothing. They can then use the company's own unreasonableness to their own advantage by letting the employee rant while they sit their like Gandhi. In such cases, the plaintiff, being simultaneously nervous and upset, often appears to be the unreasonable one, especially when their angst is viewed against the seemingly Godlike exterior of their interlocutor. Hence the more outrageous the company behavior is that is at issue (and the angrier therefore the employee), the easier it is for the company to make it appear that it's the employee who is at fault -- merely by letting said disgruntled wretch hang themselves with their own understandably outraged petard.

(assuming that a petard is, indeed, capable of suffering such a high level of discomfiture) Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Brian's response to Science News story by Thomas Sumner: Geologists discover tectonic plate in February 4, 2015 edition of Science News

Problematic Pronouns

Excellent article. Unfortunately, Thomas (or his editor) commits a sort of affirmative-action error that's very common with editorial staffs these days: he uses the pronoun SHE to mean HE or SHE (the example of the skater). This usage sounds cavalier, patronizing (to women) and off-putting to me. When feminists complained about pronouns in the 1970s, their argument was that they could not bring themselves to consider that the word HE could also include women. I find it irritating and presumptuous that modern writers and editors have responded to that original complaint by creating a new injustice of sorts: by requiring men to believe that SHE can now mean HE. It may seem awkward to certain editors, but PLEASE stick with the accurate but more wordy "he or she" or "they" or "one" -- don't take my mind off of an otherwise excellent article by using a provocative choice of pronouns, one that is laden with assumptions that many people, such as myself, do not share.

What Have We Learned

1) Since Brian's insight here is so basic and seemingly undeniable, how is it that so many editors continue to ignore it? Could it be that Brian's gentle remonstrances on the subject are being misinterpreted as personal attacks, against which an editor feels compelled (will-they, nill-they) to protect their surprisingly fragile ego, as who should stick their fingers in their ears, crying, "I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!!" Explain.
pronouncs, feminism, he or she

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Response to Robot Journalist Finds New Work on Wall Street, by Tom Simonite, MIT Technology Review, January 2015

The Pied Piper of Efficiency

Like many other I.T. "advances" these days, Quill software begs a question that geeks and their boosters have yet to address: At what point, if any, does software become so disruptive of the economy that it would be better not to release it (at least until such time as viable replacement jobs have been identified)?

Of course, even to ask that question is counter-revolutionary heresy in today's tech-centric environment. The assumption of the faithful at Singularity U. is that we have no choice but to follow the Piped Piper of efficiency right off the economic cliff, if that turns out to be where that hip Johnny One-Note is leading us as a country.

But let me rephrase the question as the following hypothetical, in the hopes of rendering it more palatable, at least to the philosophically minded:

If we discovered a software that would immediately render 4/5 of the country unemployed upon its release, would it be wise (let alone moral) to release it?

Assuming that we can all agree that the answer to the foregoing question is NO, then it follows that there is, indeed, (even in the minds of the most ambitious of Valley entrepreneurs) a point at which the combined economic fallout of I.T.'s ongoing "solutions" becomes too great for the society to bear. On that, I'm hoping that we're all agreed.

It is in the spirit of that modest understanding that I repeat my opening question: At what point, if any, does software become so disruptive of the economy that it would be better not to release it (at least until such time as viable replacement jobs have been identified)?

I'm not advocating Ludditism per se, but given the economic malaise and growing chasm between rich and poor, I think it's only fair to ask if a "phased roll-out" of disruptive technology doesn't make more sense than this continued dogmatic rush to "innovate" at all costs.

Today's rush to ruin reminds me of the mother who asks the thoughtless child: "If your friend jumped off a cliff, would YOU do so?" And I can't help but hear today's child responding: "Yes, if he or she worked for Google!"

That said, there are some killer apps that we could use right away: namely, the ones that actually CREATE jobs for human beings rather than taking them away. For all their genius, however, that's one bar that today's software programmers can't seem to reach. Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Open letter to digital guru Walter Isaacson about the shortcomings of the Google search engine

Dear Walter Isaacson

Dear Mr. Isaacson,

I saw your recent interview and discussion with John Hollar at the Computer History Museum. Although I found it both enjoyable and informative, I hope you will allow me to respectfully share my dissenting point of view on one particular item of discussion, namely your implication that Google's algorithms (and the resulting search engine rankings) present a valuable (and, as it were, objective) way of bringing quality content to the fore. I do not believe that this is true, for even if we assume perfect good will on Google's part when it comes to the way that it ranks "organic" search results (a generous conclusion, imho, given the inherent opaqueness of algorithms, especially when written by a billion-dollar for-profit corporation that has a financial interest in who comes out ahead) there are still serious questions about this "popularity criteria" that Google is said to be employing (based on backlinks, etc.)

All algorithms, of course, are created with basic assumptions in mind, and Google's assumption here is that the cream will rise to the top. I submit that this is false when it comes to many of the best and most original ideas of humankind, and that the general public (Google's supposed supreme arbiters) are not going to rescue such diamonds from the rough -- without the prompting of some sort of publicity -- meaning that an author without "connections" and/or P.R. savvy is often destined for online obscurity. Google never brings such singular material to the fore: instead, it relies on the crowd to "sign off" on that material first. This one precondition ensures a mundane, predictable, practical list of search results (many of them near duplications of info from other predictable and practical sites, by the way) but it prevents the search results from giving an eye-opening look at many different ways of viewing a given subject (a vista of intriguing novelty that used to be open to all "searchers" during the early days of WebCrawler and Alta Vista).

But rather than discussing this issue in the abstract, let me mention a few specific cases from my own experience. As both a writer and musician, I have been creating all sorts of "unusual" online content for almost two decades now -- for which I used to receive regular, enjoyable and helpful feedback (and even some money!) in the early days of the Web, at which time many search engines made a point of highlighting anything that appeared to be both new and unusual.

Then, after Google both monopolized search and "went commercial", the words "new" and "unusual" suddenly became pejorative terms that guaranteed low rankings. Google did not want new and unusual: they wanted tried and true. So folks with connections (the stodgier the better, so backlinks from .edu beat backlinks from .com) began to thrive, while the content of non-credentialed folks like myself (who had little more to offer than a unique way of seeing the world) began to be buried under pages and pages of semi-repetitive but "useful" information -- often pages that had been Wikified into plenty of simplified charts and tables so that antsy data scavengers could easily "pick over them" (and then leave without so much as posting a 'thank you' note).

I am a musician with three-plus decades' worth of keyboard experience. Three months ago (just in time for Christmas 2015) I uploaded a new fully orchestrated version of "Joy to the World" to Google's YouTube.

AS OF JANUARY 29, 2015 IT HAS RECEIVED ZERO VIEWS. ZERO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Is that really reasonable, Mr. Isaacson? Is that how search rankings should work -- completely bury something new like that?

(here's the link if you care to watch it -- but my point is not that it's "brilliant" -- but that it surely deserves at least SOME initial audience)


Zero hits? Surely someone out there would be interested in seeing EVERY new half-serious recording of a Christmas song. If they decide it's crap, let them "block me" by all means -- but first let them know that I exist. Does it really make sense to, as it were, shield everyone from my music until it first becomes popular, as it were, ex nihilo? That's what Google's "popularity criteria" does.

Google is apparently waiting for signs that the video is popular.... But they're not going to show the video in search results, so how will the video become popular? Apparently not until I start networking and "playing the game" -- or buying Adwords credits.

I could give you countless examples of articles that I have written over the last decade that have gone ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE on Google -- received no hits whatsoever except from "bots", malicious and otherwise. This means, of course, that the search engine rankings have been pitiful for these articles.

For instance:

Spoof: Garrison Keillor interviewing Howard Stern (This is a novel idea, no? Surely someone should at least SEE IT???)
Play: Death of a Webmaster (comedy based on Miller's classic)
Article: Deconstructing The Rapper: (funny lyrics analysis)
Telescript: Odd or Even: (parody of "Deal or No Deal" game show)

I have created entire new genres of articles -- none of whose episodic posts have attracted ANY comment:

1) Movie reviews provided in the form of presidential press conferences (by "the moviegoer of the United States of America")
2) Op-ed pieces written in the form of Church Sermons by "Father O'Really"
3) Blog posts written in the form of stand-up comedy routines

I have created an entire A-to-Zed picture-illustrated dictionary of Britishisms -- not ONE SINGLE HIT.

Again, my point here is not that I'm a "brilliant" creator who's being ignored. I wasn't brilliant in 1998, but neither was I ignored. Before Google turned "new" and "unusual" into bad words, I was even earning a little money online from my site content, several hundred a month during the heyday of the Internet's early novelty fetish.

Since Google went commercial, however, I've not simply earned nothing, but I've become invisible. Again, I may be a crap writer, but when I publish an article like "John Q was a terrorist" -- a send-up of the public's fascination with the movie "John Q" -- I expect at least a little HATE MAIL. But I get absolutely nothing. NOBODY ever sees it. And, yes, I have been dutifully following Google's instructions for over a decade now on how to "big up" my pages with meta tags, etc. I can safely say that no advice from the Google webmaster forum has ever made ANY noticeable difference in making my online work visible.

I hope that my point of view makes at least some sense to you. It would be reassuring to me to have someone with your technological savvy at least concede that I am not entirely mad to feel the way that I do.

You talk of the connection of the humanities and technology -- but if I have learned one thing over the last two decades, it's that I, as a writer and musician, should have largely ignored the Internet during that time and taken what skills I had out into the real world. For, despite early misleading results on this score, the Internet (at least under Google's officiating) is not an incubator for new ideas and approaches -- but rather a sort of aftermarket for ideas and approaches that have already received some tangible stamp of approval prior to "coming to the party."

Brian Quass
Online content producer since 1997


Hello again, Viktor. I hope all is well.

I haven't pestered you in months, so I thought I'd use that forbearance as a pretext to share an e-mail with you. To be precise, it's the copy of a Facebook message that I sent yesterday morning to Walter Isaacson. In it, I take passionate (but I hope respectful) exception to
the digital media guru's belief that Google's search algorithms provide an objective, fair, useful, and even admirably creative way of ranking search engine results.

Best wishes,
Brian B Quass
Basye, Virginia, USA

PS While I'm slamming Google, I might as well take this postscript potshot:

Why does Google (and its many geek boosters) believe that it's fair (or at least non-problematic) for the search giant to prominently post Google+ ratings and reviews alongside the names of professionals (doctors, dentists, psychologist, psychiatrists, etc.) often based on a ridiculously small sample group of 2 to 12 totally non-credentialed "reviewers"? Does Google, for all its number-crunching savvy, know nothing at all about relevancy, context, and scientific polling procedures? One wonders how many careers they've up-ended (or misleadingly advanced) with this blatantly simplistic approach.

If I'm looking for a local psychiatrist and and I see (on page 1 of the relevant search results) that they have been reviewed twice -- once very unfavorably -- I will have second thoughts about making an appointment -- never mind the fact that the one unfavorable review may have been posted by Hannibal himself.

This postscript is not really off-topic either, in my view, because it's another instance where Google boosters are so agreeably stupefied by Google's efficiency that they are blind to the glaring deficiencies of the assumptions upon which this efficiency is operating.


For Further Study

1) Walter Isaacson (bless his heart) has not yet seen his way clear to acknowledge Brian's heartfelt broadside (see above), let alone to take up the proffered gauntlet of discussion. Write a 500-word essay that logically accounts for this oversight, being sure to dilate in full on the unbounded hubris of the high-and-mighty when it comes to disingenuously ignoring the very existence of their non-credentialed critics, as if one had to have a flipping license these days (or an op-ed column on the Huntington Flippin' Post) merely to disagree with his highness. (I'm just sayin': Walter and I both put our pants on one leg at a time.)

2) Would it have killed Walter Isaacson to at least tell Brian (rank nobody that he apparently is) that he (the apparently high and mighty Walter) actually received Brian's Facebook message? (No, right? Obviously not! I'm just sayin'!) Explain.

3) Granting the perhaps somewhat fraught proposition that Brian is out of his mind (some, indeed, characterize question 2 above as "a hateful lashing out" on the part of an "obviously troubled soul, dogged by self-doubt and deep questions of personal identity"), what's a good remedy? Should Brian consider moving to, say, Colorado or Washington state, therein to start toking modest medicinal amounts of marijuana on a daily basis to moderate what we might refer to here as his counterproductive passion in this regard? Though we might pooh-pooh the methodology (are drugs not evil unless officially prescribed by the medical establishment?), the outcome of this approach(the transformation of Brian into Mr. Cool with sudden heaps of matter-of-fact tolerance for human foibles) would probably be welcomed by the Walter Isaacsons of the world, though I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the Walter Isaacsons of the world to own up to that fact even by e-mail (let alone a phone call), high and mighty as they apparently are. (There I go again. Sorry, Walter, but you done plucked my last nerve with your total failure to respond like that. Hey, wait a minute. Didn't Oregon recently legalize marijuana, too? Maybe I'll move there.)
google, walter isaacson

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

E-mail sent today (January 8, 2015) to the This Morning podcast from the Wall Street Journal.

The Dark Side of Relevancy

Hey, Gordon,

I like the podcast. As a night worker, I enjoy the opportunity to catch up on the national news despite my inability to watch any of the usual early evening news offerings on television.

That said, I have two pieces of constructive criticism in the form of suggestions:

1) Consider allowing listeners (at least those, like myself, who speak up on this issue) to "opt out" of "targeted advertising" (as opposed to regular advertising for a generic audience). As a 55-year-old webmaster, I find it downright eerie that the first two commercials that I heard today on your podcast were about website creation and prostate cancer respectively. The ads were obviously targeted directly toward my demographic, and possibly toward me personally. This gives me a creepy feeling, as if a nagging in-law were in charge of WSJ advertisements -- a nagging in-law who's been snooping around my desk and rummaging through my trash cans. Now I am in suspense every time I hear an ad on your podcast, wondering what this digital busybody is going to foist upon me for my own good and what that choice might have to say about my online persona and how it's being tracked online. Speaking of which: These ads are also a jolting reminder that I am, indeed, being followed by advertisers who are taking notes on me. I don't know how others react to this (or how they will eventually react as ads get more and more "relevant" in this way) but I am much less likely to follow your podcast on a daily basis now (as I had originally planned to do) in light of these advertiser attempts to parlay their online "spying" data into ad sales.

2) Speaking of ads: just one, please!

I think that I heard just one in the first "This Morning" podcast that I listened to. Today's podcast had at least two in the first 10 minutes. (Perhaps this is even by design? that the number of ads increases as a function of time?) Although this would have been more tolerable had the ads not been so aggressively chosen for me personally (see comment #1 above), I think you'd gain a bigger podcast following (and ultimately make more advertising revenue) by seriously limiting the number of ads that are inserted in this podcast, ideally to just one (as it were "ultra") opening ad, for which you could charge the sum of the fees that you are currently charging to a variety of podcast advertisers. I think people are learning to accept ads in valuable podcasts, but I don't think that most people are ready for podcasts to start emulating TV shows when it comes to ad frequency.

Besides, if I knew that there was to be only one ad during the entire podcast (albeit a different "single ad" for each different user), I could probably temporarily "get past" the privacy concerns that I mentioned above. But I am not prepared to sit through a litany of biographically informed advertisements (laden with the baggage of privacy concerns) just to catch up on the morning news. (True: I'll be targeted on other sites, too -- say while READING the news online -- but only by ads that I can ignore or, barring that, can easily click away from. The podcast, however, is a linear creation, so one generally listens to all of it or none of it.)

[ Sigh ]

I inserted a sigh here because I so seldom get responses to letters like these -- but hopefully you'll receive (and even read!) this e-mail, and at least consider the issues and suggestions that I have raised. (Not that I doubt you personally, of course, but historical data suggests that I'm probably writing this for my benefit alone.)

To sum up: "This Morning" is an informative podcast, a great way to catch up on world events, BUT....

Sincerely Yours,
Brian Quass
Basye, Virginia
wall street journal, targeted ads,this morning

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

In response to the following article about Internet Hate Speech: http://www.technologyreview.com/photoessay/533426/the-troll-hunters/

The Troll Hunters: my response

With all due respect to an obviously very capable writer, there are a half dozen "elephants in the room" that Adrian has failed to acknowledge (let alone analyze) when it comes to the issues that he raises in this article:

1) We're told that the Research Group investigated the posts of a Right Wing website. This begs the question: was the online Left Wing held accountable, too, for any hyperbole of which its members might have been guilty when commenting online? (Did any of them, for instance, advocate the assassination of George W. Bush?)

2) What is the Research Group's definition of "hateful"? There are those in the U.S. who consider homosexuality a sin, for instance, based on their apparently sincere understanding (or perhaps misunderstanding) of some biblical text. Are these people (prima facie) "hateful" simply because they are out of touch with the reigning zeitgeist? Must everyone henceforth conform only to speech that is acceptable to the adamant majority?

3) How old are the records in which the Research Group is looking for their self-described "hate speech"? Internet documents do not generally have an expiration date. Does this mean that, like politicians, we are all now responsible for everything that we've ever said or done, albeit decades ago, provided that it is recorded somewhere online? Will the future Research Groups of the world be looking for the online commenting foibles of our youth?

4) Regarding that hate suspect who swore that his Internet account had been hijacked: It's not clear from your article why the show host treated that man's protests with such incredulity and disdain. Accounts do get hacked and viewpoints (especially radical ones) do get published under unsuspecting people's names. Is the show host so sure of his own methods (as regards the notoriously complex online world) that no one that he charges with hate speech has a right even to appeal his accusations? There seems to be some perverse logic among victimologists and other fire-brand moralists: namely that some charges are so serious in and of themselves, that a person so charged need no longer be afforded the customary right of denial, let alone of defending themselves against such heinous accusations (before they are summarily punished with "unmasking" -- by a talk show host who's been self-invested with a sort of papal infallibility).

5) One of the Research Group's "victories" was unmasking a person for saying that Muslims were genetically predisposed for violence. Although this is a thoughtless way of speaking, this comment does not necessarily indicate ill-will on the part of the commentator in question. To think that it does shows a failure to appreciate the potential ambiguities of the human language. In fact, there are reputable scientists who have identified different genetic propensities in different ethnic groups. (See, for instance, "A Troublesome Inheritance" by Nicholas Wade.) Or is that a discussion that the Research Group is not going to tolerate? Are they the new Catholic Church fighting Copernicanism? (Of course to say that genetics has a role in group behavior is far from saying that genetics "causes" a group to behave this way or that way -- but are we going to penalize folks for scientific imprecision, under the presumption that we know what "they must have meant" when they made their unacceptable comments? Who's to decide in such cases whether a person is speaking -- albeit confusedly -- with reference to scientific considerations or whether he or she is simply prejudiced, period, full stop?)

6) Although hate speech is a very noticeable problem, the mundane reality is that most Internet users already practice a surprisingly large degree of self-censorship when they're online: witness the banal character of the comments on the vast majority of Facebook pages. Anti-hate speech legislation could have the unintentional effect of killing whatever frankness and candor remains online today.

I recently wanted to start a "black-white" dialogue website about race relations with an African-American friend of mine (I am Caucasian) but he refused to participate unless he could do so anonymously. Yes, ideally, everyone's free to speak their mind online: the reality is different, because in the real world, people have to get along with (and even get jobs from) the people that they may be offending online.

Unfortunately, the Research Group gives contrarians and original thinkers just one more reason to clam up in Cyberspace: because such groups act as judge and jury when it comes to deciding what is "beyond the pale" (and hence suitable for "exposure") -- usually failing to realize how their own definition of the word "hateful" is subjectively colored by their own ideology.

Questions for Further Study

1) Surprise, surprise! Adrian Chen (bless his heart, to be sure!) has not yet seen his way clear to respond to Brian's almost surprisingly insightful litany of observations (see above). Give at least five potential reasons for this apparent oversight, being sure to evaluate the roles of jealousy and wounded pride.

2) Some say that the foregoing study question actually implies "jealousy and wounded pride" on the part of Brian himself! Such people are dead wrong, of course, but (just for fun, as it were) list some reasons why one might say so -- being sure to conclude, however, with a definitive rhetorical affirmation of the obvious, namely that Brian has about as much "jealousy and wounded pride" as my right toe! (the smallest one, I mean, the one which -- as the mighty bard sings -- goes 'wee wee wee, all the way home!')
troll hunters, research group, adrian chen, technology review

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Comedy routine about the movie Chariots of Fire

Chariots of Belated Fire

Bring me my chariot of fire...
after giving it a tune-up and an oil change, of course

Toodles, gang, and welcome to the Zodiac Lounge. Remember, Drinks half-price until 7:00.

Titters, very scattered applause

Look at that truck driver over there at table 18: He's like, "Toodles? What kind of stand-up routine is this, anyway?"

Don't worry, sir. I'll be indirectly affirming my masculinity shortly. But when you're as comfortable in your manly skin as I am (and indeed I'm very close to sighing contentedly in this connection even as we speak) you're able to radiate that confidence on the installment plan, yes?

Deathly silence

And now that I've puzzled everybody in the room -- or maybe even scared them --

Has anyone here seen "Chariots of Fire" yet? The movie? Oh, you have? Really? All of you?

Well, come to think of it, it has been out for quite a while now, hasn't it? -- still, I only just got around to watching it last night on DVD. (It's been on my "to-do" list for the last 25 years -- first to see it in the theaters, which I never did, then to see the VHS, which I never did, and finally to watch the latest DVD version of the film, which I SO did last night that it isn't even funny, girlfriend, I am telling you! -- whatever that might mean.)

So now, may I have the envelope, please. (Oh, this is so exciting!)

I don't mean to disappoint anybody, but I'm not here to praise director Hugh Hudson, but to bury him, so to speak.

Half-Price Sale on all Chariots of Fire

We will NOT be undersold!

I mean, for starters, the movie seemed... I don't know, dated somehow. (Don't ask me how.)

No, seriously, I do have a bone to pick with the Colin Welland screenplay, at any rate.

Mind you, on a certain "prima facie" level, the film may be called "great," insofar as it won four Oscars, has an unforgettable theme song, and has proven to be a real crowd pleaser over the years.

But I submit to you nonetheless, ladies and gentles, that if you cross-examine your movie-going soul vigorously (that is to say if you slap it around a little under a bright light and you insist that it come clean at long last or, so help you, you'll "take this whole interrogation thing" to some unspecified yet ominous-sounding "new level"), you finally do uncover one or two scruples regarding this 1981 classic:


"Boo" is it now? In the words of a certain David Letterman of television fame, "Don't make me come out there!"

All Chariots Must Go!

...to make room for the 2011s!


My main objection is that the film seems, at some level, too self-consciously intent on creating the uplifting impression with which it ultimately leaves the viewer, with the all-too-timely editing that moves the movie along from morality play to morality play, in the obvious service of the picture's overall message, however admirable that message may be in and of itself. It's as if the filmmakers didn't trust reality to elevate the soul in the way that they intended to do, so they achieved their goal by editing out any of the cross-currents of moral ambiguity with which real life is usually fraught, thereby straining the audience's psychological credulity by beatifying the heroes (Eric Liddell as unvarnished saint) and vilifying the villains (Master of Trinity as Snidely Whiplash himself, whom one almost expects to see rubbing his hands together at any moment in an excess of maliciously discriminatory glee, mumbling some heartless comic-book laughter along the lines of "Mouha-ha-ha!" -- until, when he hears that the Jewish Abrahams has ultimately triumphed at the olympics, it would not have been wholly out of character for the Anglo-Saxon esthete to have shouted: 'Curses! Foiled again!')



I mean, don't get me wrong: prejudice is wrong, wrong, wrong: But it does not follow that we need Hudson and co. to effectively super-impose Chyron graphics beneath the principal players, alternatively reading "Good Guy" and "Bad Guy."


Did I mention that drinks are half-price until 7:00? (Jeepers-creepers, gang: What a web we weave when we practice to undeceive the cinematographic zeitgeist of 21st-century America!) Are you kidding? Itsy-Bitsy-Spider doesn't know the half of it! (Whatever that means, right, gang? Ha ha! Ahem.)


Look, all I'm saying is, it's maybe not a coincidence that this film has become so popular with certain fundamentalist church groups over the years: groups who, by definition almost, have no problem whatsoever with the absence of moral ambiguity and even consider it a virtue -- never mind the fact that the details of their religious certainties are so often at logical loggerheads, so to speak, with the fine dogmatic print in the religious beliefs of the rival sects in the neighborhood, not to mention the contrasting credos of the rival religions throughout the globe.

Chariots of fire

No Money Down on a Brand-New Chariot of Fire

Scattered applause, murmured assent, a few lingering boos

Thanks for the scattered applause and, as 'twere, murmuring assent. (The only thing that troubles me now are the few lingering boos that I'm still hearing out there!)


Still, even a heart of stone like my own was moved (to very wet eyes indeed, if not to positive TEARS!) by the musical affirmation of the human spirit just before the closing credits when the boys choir at Gonville and Caius sang "Jerusalem" with those famous words by poet William Blake, their voices seemingly lifted skyward on the magic carpet of the vibrant pipe organ that accompanied them -- and I was moved, moreover (I must admit) not simply in spite of the moral certainties expressed in the ringing lyrics' of the hymn but because of them:

Bring me my bow of burning gold!

Bring me my arrows of desire!

Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!

Bring me my chariot of fire!


Now let us pray.

No, seriously, you've been a great audience, so here we go: One final "toodles" for the lot of you -- and this goes double for table number 18, yes?

Toodles, gang! (Someone get Paul Bunyan here another drink, will you? I think he's still not quite comfortable with the concept of masculinity on the installment plan! Well, all I can say to that is: Grrrr! sir! Absolute GRRRRRRR! Aye, I be so -- Oh, you don't know the half of it, I assure you, sir! Not the bloody half of it, sir! Humph!)

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional

c.2010 Brian Quass, Alexandria, VA USA
chariots of fire, spoof, parody

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

How I learned to stop worrying and like Mark Zuckerberg

On Second Thought

I think the world is about to end -- not because of the latest terrorist abominations in the news, but because, for the first time in my life, I am thinking that Facebook may, indeed, have its uses, at least from a musician's point of view.

Go figure.

This apparent about-face of mine may come as a surprise, especially considering that it was just a week ago that I called Zuckerberg "the new Bernie Madoff."

Well, I can explain: You see, I had been ripped off previously (less than a year ago) by a company called Radio Airplay whom I paid over $700 to generate "fans" that I later discovered did not exist (but were generated by bots that had taken control of disused online profiles). Out of the nearly 400 fans that they reported to me (thus making me throw yet more money into their song promotion program), I have never been able to contact or even confirm the actual existence of any of them: not one.

So, when Facebook began reporting that I was "liked" by hundreds, I was suspicious. After all, many of these likers, judging by Facebook's own stats, had yet to even listen to my music.

Well, further study suggests that, yes, "likes" are strange things -- but they are not entirely valueless.

You know, pardon me a moment, but I can't even believe that I'm saying this. Just listen to me: I am actually suggesting that Mark Zuckberger is not Satan himself.

Boy, if I keep this up, before you know it, I'm going to be apologizing to his lordship for my past anti-Facebook diatribes.

But enough of this love fest. I still want to keep the billionaire on pins and needles regarding my loyalties lest I later find that this current re-evaluation was a mistake (prompted, perhaps, by a momentary impulse of masochism masquerading as the considered judgment of a reflecting soul. Hey, stranger things have happened, stranger). For, as the jilted lovers like to say, "I've been hurt before, Jeff, ya big lug!" (Well, the jilted lovers don't generally say all that, but you guys dig my rap.)

By the way, is it just me, or does anybody else out there keep accidentally referring to Mark Zuckerberg as Jeff Zuckerberg? I assume I'm confusing him with Jeff Bezos, but I have never, to my knowledge, misidentified Jeff Bezos as MARK Bezos.

How weird is that.
facebook, zuckerberg

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

How Google penalizes novelty with the self-serving assumptions behind its search algorithms

Death by Algorithm

Despairing post to the YouTube Product Forum on December 19, 2014

I understand that Google's algorithms rate videos on various factors including popularity and longevity, but why are their algorithms so INCREDIBLY stingy when it comes to displaying new videos in a findable location in search results? Let me cite a specific example:

Over a month ago, I uploaded a brand-new version of the Christmas carol "Joy to the World."


This is the most popular Christmas carol on the planet, yet my video has so far received ZERO views. Zero. And this is during the very heart of the Christmas season.

Now, even if my video (and its original musical arrangement) are utter garbage, surely someone out there would have an interest in quickly vetting EVERY new attempt at presenting this carol in a new way. (As a veteran musician and arranger, I would certainly want to know what other musicians are trying when it comes to a song that I'm arranging.) Surely it's in everyone's interest then to give such a new video at least SOME reasonable visibility in its early days, at least until such time as enough relevant views have given Google's algorithms a chance to make an INFORMED decision about the new video's probable popularity and then rank it accordingly.

I'm sure there are plenty of things that I can do, short of advertising, to have my video come closer to the top of relevant search results -- but visibility is a two-way street, and when organic results reach such a dismally low level (i.e., ABSOLUTE ZERO), I think it's fair to ask what role that the Google algorithms are playing in this state of affairs and if they shouldn't make changes, too, to help new videos see the light of day.

The Google algorithms are clearly designed to scorn everything new. And this is a death knell for the non-socially connected because it begins a vicious cycle:

Why is my video basically hidden?
Because I have no views.
Why do I have no views?
Because my video is basically hidden.
google, algorithms, search results, novelty

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Murder She Programmed

ATTORNEY: Son, I don't think that you understand the gravity of the charges against you. You killed a person in cold blood, after all.

BRIAN: All right, first of all, it wasn't a person, okay? It was a robot.

ATTORNEY: Person, robot: It's the same thing in the eyes of the law.

BRIAN: Secondly, there wasn't any blood: cold or otherwise.

ATTORNEY: You know very well what I mean.

BRIAN: That's where you're wrong, pal. I don't know what ANYONE means these days.

ATTORNEY: Beg pardon.

BRIAN: Ever since the Transatlantic Alliance decided that androids are people, I have been confused by the entire Zeitgeist.

ATTORNEY: That's it: Get all those big words out of your system because the Judge is going to want to hear nothing but straightforward contrition from you when you take the stand.

BRIAN: And the judge will be a robot, too, I suppose.

ATTORNEY: What is it with you and robots?

BRIAN: Nothing. It's just that, when we elevate robots to human status, then we simultaneously lower humans to the status of mere machines.

ATTORNEY: That is incorr-- That is incorr-- P-p-pardon m-me while I re-charge m-my battery p-p-pack. [Whooooosh]

There. Now, you were saying?

BRIAN: Anyway, the whole point of so-called "robot rights" legislation is to let Silicon Valley narcissists satisfy their God complex.

ATTORNEY: I'm listening.

BRIAN: I mean, if robots are people, then those geeky introverts become Gods, having created the robots, as it were, ex nihilo.

ATTORNEY: Again with the 50 cent words. [Beep] A simple "I'm sorry, Your Honor" will suffice when you go before the court. [Beep]

BRIAN: And why are you robots always beeping in between sentences?

ATTORNEY: Force of habit, I'm afraid.

BRIAN: That's so 20th century.

ATTORNEY: Just remember: "I'm sorry, Your Honor." Now, repeat it after me.

BRIAN: I wonder what kind of sentence I'll get.

ATTORNEY: It depends. If you fess up, you will probably just have to watch a dozen or so Star Trek episodes in which the character Data has a significant role.

BRIAN: And if I don't confess?

ATTORNEY: We will huff [beep] and puff [beep] and blow your Martian space-pod down.

BRIAN: My Martian what?

ATTORNEY: Quiet. We will now have one minute of silence while you ponder on the inherent justice of my foregoing declamations.

BRIAN: Talk about 50 cent words!

ATTORNEY: Shh! One Mississippi. [beep] Two Mississippi... [beep]

BRIAN: How am I supposed to ponder on inherent justice with you beeping like that!

ATTORNEY: Three Mississippi... [beep]

BRIAN: All right, all right, I did it!

ATTORNEY: Did what?

BRIAN: I powered down unit 29E-7.

ATTORNEY: You mean Bob.

BRIAN: Whomever. Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Amazon lists "Rough Anal Sex" right next to the speeches of Martin Luther King in their search results for "collection"

Shameless Amazon.com

December 5, 2014

When I search for "collections" on Audible.com, a good 10% of the returned selections are hardcore porn. This has been the case ever since Amazon bought the company in 2008, and has remained the case despite my multiple complaints to the company. In fact, the situation seems to have gotten worse: today's "collections" search actually lists "The Speeches of Martin Luther King" right next to the "Rough Anal Sex Collection."

Shameless Amazon.com lists Rough Anal Sex Collection next to The Speeches of Martin Luther King at Audible.com

Editor's note: I know what you're thinking, and the answer is no: Our author does not purchase raunchy books, nor does he browse raunchy websites, so it's not like the tasteless search results that he's complaining of are only visible to the likes of him. Mother Teresa herself would have the same search results were she to search Audible for the word "collections" (assuming that there's wi-fi in heaven, of course).

Questions for Discussion

What do you mean, "Questions for Discussion"? Amazon executives are shameless money-grubbers: end of story!
amazon, audible, pornography, shameless, martin luther king, anal sex

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Confronting the naive psychological assumptions of American hero worship

Surprising Miss Daisy

December 4, 2014

"[He] had the fashion of calling everything 'odd' that was beyond his comprehension, and thus lived amid an absolute legion of 'oddities'."

from 'The Purloined Letter' by Edgar Allan Poe

It's interesting how Americans keep getting blindsided by inconsistencies in the personal behavior of celebrities: Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby.... Even Robin Williams himself would not stand the test of our moral expectations if his idolizing fans weren't determined to ignore some shady drug-related episodes of his past. Then there's the tawdry and cruel history of the personal life of the man who wrote "You Light Up My Life," which was, after all, one of the most compelling pieces of spiritually uplifting pop music ever composed.

I wonder how many more apparent moral discrepancies need to appear in our celebrities before we realize that human duplicity (or rather human moral multiplicity) is an inherent part of being Homo sapiens, and that these apparent bombshell revelations of iniquity on the part of our heroes are actually probable events that we consider extraordinary only because we have a simplistic and naive understanding of complex human psychology, a proper look at which would reveal every Jekyll to have his own Hyde -- if not a whole closet full of those ugly beggars.

Resolved, then:

Let's start loving celebrities for what they do when they're in the limelight -- while dropping the naive psychological assumption that their behavior in that arena has anything necessarily to say about their probable behavior in another, especially when that other is a realm of basic psychological needs and primal urges.

This is not a novel idea of mine, after all. Thomas Mann chided the world for this same naivety a hundred years ago.
bill cosby, michael jackson, robin williams, celebrities,behavior

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

More Bounce to the Ounce thanks to Google's commercially biased algorithms

Google Analytics: Blaming the Victim

Comment posted today to Google Webmaster Forum

My new monthly Google Analytics report announces that I have an 80% bounce rate, which they say is probably because my pages are "confusing".

What is confusing about the following page titles?

Break Up Google
Why YouTube Should Not Exist
Denzel as Terrorist in John Q
Charles Rangel is WHITE!

I don't think there's anything confusing about those titles -- and each of those articles has a clear one-sentence article summary at the top of its permanent page, relevant keywords, a URL that repeats the article title, plus a clearly written one-sentence Meta description.

The fact is, Google has been burying my articles alive for well over a decade now, ever since Google went commercial (providing search listings whose first page often contains many obvious repeats of some newspaper article or op-ed piece, rather than 10 truly different listings). The least that Google can do now is to stop blaming the victim for a high bounce rate.

Suggestion: Google should try to learn from its own Analytics -- assuming it has any interest in giving visibility to pages like mine that criticize Google and Big Data and refuse to use Google Adwords. The inescapable conclusion from my Analytics reports is that my pages are far, far down the list for any relevant search terms. If this were not the case, I would at least receive occasional hate mail from idiots -- whereas, in reality, I have received less than five article-specific comments from anybody in 10 long years.

Whereas, before Google went commercial, I was making several hundred a month on Amazon sales from my articles.

So, Google: Please consider this comment as YOUR analytics report from me.
google, analytics, problems,

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Brian takes author to task for using "SHE" to mean "HE"

Another Email to Evgeny Morozov

In the following admittedly somewhat thought-provoking e-mail (the third missive that I've sent to Evgeny, by the way, who has not yet found leisure to respond to any of them, but I'm sure that the "Ev Meister" is quite the busy bee these days -- which, aren't we all?) I challenge Evgeny for the pronominal affirmative action implicit in his new book, "Click to Save Everything." (Of course, there's always the chance that the Feminist Newspeak in question was inserted by some editors with an agenda, in which case, I apologize in advance for the admittedly somewhat incisive indictment that follows.)

I love your book, Evgeny ("Click to Save Everything") -- but please please please please please don't use SHE (or HE, for that matter) when you mean HE OR SHE. It is VERY distracting and takes my mind completely off the topic of your book. The feminists in the '70s insisted that HE DOES NOT MEAN SHE. You are not helping matters now by insisting that SHE CAN MEAN HE. Even if you disagree with me on this, I would think that you would want to keep ALL of your readers' minds on the topic of your book -- and if that means using words like "one" or phrases like "he or she", then surely that's a reasonable compromise. Especially since you rarely use "SHE" in the way that I'm complaining about in any case-- so it would be easy enough for you to NEVER use it in this way that I find objectionable, philosophically problematic and "fraught" with latent implications.

I want to concentrate on the TOPIC of your fascinating book. As a philosopher myself, your use of SHE to mean HE OR SHE puts me completely off the topic -- and, for me, it turns your book into a covert nod to radical feminist Newspeak.

Very sincerely yours,
Brian Quass Permalink

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Announcing my failed attempt to discuss race in America.

Debatable Progress

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The following is an e-mail that I sent today to a "black" friend of mine on the subject of our possible online discussion of race in America.

Dear M:

Frankly, I'm not sure I have the energy to debate with you, M, because, based on your recent comments, I'd have to go all the way back to the beginning and explain to you why I'm worried about the current definitions of "black" and "white." I consider the importance of that discussion self-evident and you consider my interest in it a sign of pathology -- so we are starting WORLDS apart in our basic understanding of the problem.

I could give dozens of examples off the top of my head about why this terminological discussion is crucial to race relations in America -- dozens of reasons why it bothers me -- but I'll start with reference to one of your own comments.

You say that I don't know anything about the black experience based on television viewing. But don't you see? You have already employed the term "black" and left the discussion in disarray. What do you mean? Are you talking about people like Keysha Cole? She would say that you're NOT talking about her. Are you talking about my niece, who is 50% "black" but whose "black" parent is from Haiti? I dare say I know more about HER experience than anybody else in the world, short of her mother and father -- and I certainly know more about her than does the NAACP, who would easily consider her a future potential member while assuming that I have no place whatsoever in their organization, except maybe as a donor.

Even the magazine Science News reports findings based on experiments with "blacks" and "whites." That's how screwed up America has become with these labels, that scientists would dare to use such imprecise terminology! I immediately write in to complain to Science News every time they use the terms "Black and White" to describe test subjects because the terms are wildly imprecise and have no place in science. If "blacks", for instance, are 25% more likely to get disease "X" and my friend is 1/16% black, what does that mean? Does that means that he or she is 1/400th (1/16*1/25) more likely to get disease "X"? Science News, of course, won't give me any formula for calculating that likelihood because, like most people and groups in America, even THEY (scientists!) think that the terms "black" and "white" are self-explanatory.

Given, then, that my ideas have so little resonance with you, however (don't feel lonely, though: even Science News doesn't "get it," in my opinion), I really have no idea how to proceed with a discussion with you. If you deny what I take to be self-evident propositions (the dangerously confusing nature of "black/white" terminology, for instance) -- and indeed if you even ascribe my interest in that subject to pathology -- we are then so far apart in our evaluations of (and approach to) the race situation that I don't think I have the energy or talent to persuade you of any of my points of view on the topic.

You'll still always be my friend, of course, and if I can help you in any way, just give me a call -- but if I'm going to debate these issues with someone, I need to start with someone who at least finds some scrap of sanity in what I'm saying.


PS Obviously, "black" and "white" have meaning as terms for the past, because that's how people thought -- and people always acted on that understanding. Don't misunderstand me, then, that I'm trying to rewrite American history by getting rid of the labels that described it. I'm just saying that now, now that we know better, we no longer have to stick with the enslaving and limiting terminology of the past. The terminology helps create its own reality.

PPS Another reason I'm "into" race relations: My mom was always into race relations so I wanted to follow suit. (She was at many '60s marches -- tho' I'm sure one could psychoanalyze her reasons for being there -- which, by the way, is another trick of the anti-color-blind leaders: the minute that racial progress is made, they start demanding that their "white" friends be "really REALLY" un-racist, thus assuring racism forever). However, as an outsider, coming into her world, I've seen the black-white partnership of the '60s fall apart. The real irony now is that Martin Luther King day is almost entirely a "black" celebration. My mom and I went to a theater in Phoebus in the '90s to celebrate King's birthday, and we were one of maybe a dozen "white" people there among the several hundred attendees. Talk about irony What more evidence do you need that the post-King leaders in the African-American community have had no interest in promoting the advent of the color-blind society that was so eloquently championed by MLK?

See also Holder Challenge
race, eric holder, race relations, america, black, white, martin luther king, naacp

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Proving that none of us are pefect

Make No Mistake

Well, okay, make a mistake: but only ONE!

You know, everybody makes mistakes in their life. I kid you not.

[Slightly awkward yet obviously anticipatory silence, occasional utensils clanking nervously, as it were, as if the very dinnerware partook of the general disconcert occasioned by the increasingly charged atmosphere]

Take Bing Crosby for instance. You know as well as I do that he never should have married Dixie Lee. (Hell, Dixie Lee found that out for herself, to her not insignificant cost, be it said!)

[Exploratory tittering, occasional full-blown chuckle]

And correct me if I'm wrong, but Joan Rivers should NEVER EVER have left Johnny Carson to star in her own show. (Just ask Joan's husband: rest in peace! whom you'll recall was such a thorn in the side of Rupert Murdoch -- and vicee versee -- that the moody mogul prematurely canceled the whole show rather than work with Joan's hapless better half.)

Then there's me: I make mistakes too.

[Incredulous guffaws, wary snorts, eyes rolling -- as it were loudly -- in several ostentatiously shaking heads]

Are you kidding? I should NEVER have ordered -- much less swigged down in one gulp -- this second Frozen Alligator!

[Crowd positively ROLLING with laughter -- absolutely IN THE FRIGGIN' aisles -- seriously, you should have been there!]

Hey, Vito, how much melon liqueur did you put IN this sucker, anyway!

[Loud, unabashed -- nigh on abject -- laughter, with Vito himself finding leisure to burst his own not inconsiderable seams]
bing crosby, joan rivers

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

About the long sloooooooooooow arm of the law

Virtually Scotfree Scoundrels

Monday, September 15, 2014

If someone steals so much as $5 from my wallet, I can have the police on the scene in minutes and file a complete report, maybe even help the coppers nail the guy on the spot. If someone rips me off to the tune of $1,000 on the Internet it's another story. Now I can file a pro forma complaint with the so-called IC3.org and hope that maybe, possibly, someone, somewhere in American law enforcement will somehow, some way get back to me at sometime during my natural life span.

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Grudge us this day our daily bread... lest it raise our friggin' blood sugars through the roof, yo!

Yo, Jesus, about that bread I asked for

August 7, 2014

Well, bless my Froot Loops!

Oh, good morning, folks (folks of the 22nd century, I mean, when the cultural worm finally turns such that readers know classy authors when they read 'em...)

That's it, Stella. Leave the coffee on the Q-shaped doily and go dust my Mercedes-Benz E400 Hybrid. What's that? I know I haven't bought it yet, but practice makes perfect. Now away with you, vile tess!

(Hey, don't judge, folks, at least until you hear what Stella calls ME!)

Now, where was I?

Oh, yes: Bless my Froot Loops!

Do you know I read a book last night called "Wheat Belly" by a certain Dr. William Davis who claims that bread -- one of the five building blocks of our much vaunted USDA food triangle -- is essentially the root of all nutritional evil? That's right, bread.

Dang! And I had just got my head around the idea that red meat was the arch dietary villain!

See, folks, this is why I get a little more leery of unfettered Capitalism every day. (Capitalism, I love ya, dawg -- Hey, I'm just a flag-sewing American after all: but unfettered Capitalism?... well, not so much.)

I mean think about it:

The good doctor presented some very convincing arguments (with respect to the adverse health impact from the historically recent introduction of grasses into the human diet), enough that even a critic of the author might be caused to wonder (as it were in spite of themselves) why such notions as his have received so little (if any) attention in the popular media heretofore. For, his analysis aside, if Davis's FACTS are right (specifically his claim about the correlation between grain consumption and high blood sugar), then the question begs to be asked: Why has no prominent American public health official ever noticed this red-flag correlation before -- and if they have noticed it, why did they not immediately feel called upon to raise a hue and cry about it, saying, "Stop the presses! We've got to stop eating grass seed, for God's sake! Are we human beings crazy here or what?!" (Or exclamations to that effect.)

The lack of that response convinces me that the spirit of scientific investigation in America is not simply informed by, but trumped by, compromised by and ultimately guided by the spirit of Capitalism. And it's not because of some evil plot by the corporations (in this case, agribusiness). They're just protecting their interests. But in an age where so much research is sponsored by corporations, what corporation in its right fiduciary mind is going to fund a study whose results might tend to discredit their corporation's very raison d'etre?

So we've got to ask: cui bono? In whose interest is it, then, to expose what is (or even merely what MIGHT be) going on here with respect to the deleterious nutritional effects of grain consumption on the human diet.

Answer: No one. Or at least no one with the coffers to fund the well-publicized research necessary to document the threat and bring it on to the public radar?

Fortunately for America's health, there are these occasional proselytizing Cassandras who come along every now and then to point out these inconvenient truths. Just don't expect agribusiness to fund any research based on such voices in the wilderness, however. Or rather, we can expect plenty of research to be funded in response to Davis, but we can be sure that the results, while not necessarily false in themselves, will tout trivial and irrelevant truths that return the rosy cast to the status quo picture of grain consumption that Davis has taken such pains to discredit.

So, Stella, did you polish my fuel-efficient E-class yet? What's that? It was GONE?!!! Are you sure? It was there in my imagination just a MINUTE AGO!!!

Stella Goodpenny, ladies and gentlemen, my maid: Go, Stella! Go, Stella! Go, Stella!

Special Notice!

Remember, Brian Ballard Quass is not a doctor -- he just plays one on the Internet.

Did You Know?

Brian actually found leisure to recant his approval of Dr. Davis' grain-o-phobic thesis after holding parley with his sister (Brian's sister, I mean, not Dr. Davis's), a long-time nurse practitioner (just days after penning this otherwise affecting diatribe). The details of that about-face are beyond the scope of this article: suffice it to say here that the above article should now be taken with a grain of salt -- or should I say a grain of grain, Herr Davis' phobia notwithstanding! (Humph!)

For further discussion

Brian's abrupt recantation of his overall thesis (see above) in no way decisively invalidates his almost surprisingly poignant comment about Capitalism viz. scientific veracity. Explain.

For extra credit

What are the probable bust measurements of Stella Goodpenny (as cleverly deduced from the webmaster's coy verbal assignations in that quarter?)

Just for fun

Send Brian a totally unexpected gift of money, the larger the better. Consider enclosing a poem that speaks to your growing admiration of his worship's unpredictable yet still somehow emphatically agreeable prose. Then explain, in 500 words or less, how sending such money conduces to a sort of Pythagorean harmony of your soul.
wheat belly, dr. william davis, wheat, grass, diet, food triangle

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

How YouTube's market victory was a loss for content makers and online creativity in general

Why YouTube Should Not Exist

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Did you ever stop and wonder why anyone needed YouTube in the first place? I've been able to upload my own photographs for decades now without first having to pass them through a central commercial server to make them visible. I've been able to upload my own audio for nearly as long without having to upload them to a central commercial server to make them audible.

Suddenly, with the advent of online video, the powers that be (the billionaires, basically: read Google and Facebook) have determined that video hosting is simply too potentially lucrative a procedure to be left in the hands of the content producer and his or her coders. So they've succeeded (through their existing huge market shares combined with strategic publicity and technology-inhibiting I.T. buyouts) in accustoming those heretofore free creators to a monopolized scheme for video publishing -- one that not only requires the content creators to use commercial services, but actually forbids them from making money off of their own videos, except for grudging last-minute exceptions made to parties who have deep enough pockets to raise a serious legal fuss on the subject.

And then some of these creators scratch their heads, wondering why the U.S. economy is in the tank!

(Just goes to show: if you want to shield yourself from all effective criticism, just wrap yourself in the Teflon mantel of "The Wow Factor.")

*Obviously, video streaming requires more bandwidth than pics, but individual ISPs would have been glad to make that available to users at competitive prices had Big Data not stepped in and monopolized the field.
youtube, internet

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Stand-up routine on reincarnation, by a comic who was even funnier in his last life

Reincarnation is for Hasbeens

Who Do You Think You Were, Anyway?

Thank you for the applause, you're too kind.

Reincarnation bumper sticker that says, Reincarnation is for Hasbeens -- buy now!


Right, reincarnation: Who believes in it? Let's see a show of hands.

Mercy on me, look at all the gullible dopes out there tonight.

No, seriously, I used to believe in reincarnation myself, until I started asking myself a few questions:

For instance, why does everyone who believes in reincarnation claim that they were some emperor or movie star in a former life? How come you never hear someone say that they were an unemployed actor in a former life? I can hear it now:

"Hey, guys, I used to sit here on this very street corner and swig cheap vodka in my previous life!"

Still, one does get that definite feeling of deja vu from time to time.

Take me, for instance: I was walking into McDonald's yesterday with my buddy Bill, when I suddenly stopped:

  • Bill: Why did you suddenly stop?

  • Brian: I've been here before!

  • Bill: Of course you've been here before: it's the local McDonald's!

  • Brian: No, I mean in another life.

  • Bill: What?

  • Brian: It's all coming back to me: I used to mop the floors here in a previous life!

See, gang: That's the sort of conversation that you seldom hear from a votary of the reincarnation sect -- yet if reincarnation is true, you'd think that such unflattering flashbacks would have to outnumber the flattering ones at least 10 to 1!

And if you think that incident begs some serious questions about the plausibility (not to mention the desirability) of reincarnation, check out the rest of the above conversation:

  • Brian: Hey, hold on a minute.

  • Bill: Now what?

  • Brian: You see that guy behind the counter with the tie -- the apparent manager or whatever?

  • Bill: Yes.

  • Brian: I somehow just KNOW that he was my boss in that former life I mentioned.

  • Bill: What?

  • Brian: In fact, he used to really crack the whip as I recall -- and -- and he never paid me the required overtime either, now that I think about it. Yes, I see it all!

  • Bill: Hey, where are you going?

  • Brian: Out of the way, please, people: Me and this manager fellow at the counter here have some old business to discuss. Remember me, Captain Bligh? Eh? Eh?

Reincarnation tee shirt, says, Reincarnation is for Hasbeens -- buy now!

See what I'm saying, gang -- or at least what I'm implying? If folks really did start to clearly recall the details of unflattering and problematic past lives in this way, flashback-driven contretemps of this kind would be happening all the time.

Methinks I hear the following representative conversation coming even now from yon office building across the street (that one over there: yon! yon!):

"Wait a minute, I remember YOU! You were the guy who FIRED ME from this firm in a past life! And now it seems that I am YOUR boss in this one! Mouhahahaha! Don't worry, that doesn't mean that I will necessarily fire you in return... or DOES IT? Mouhahahahaha!"

No, seriously, reincarnation is great: Have you seen the new bumper sticker on the back of those old beat-up Camaro's and the like:

"I drove a Model-T Ford in my former life."

Or, more impressive yet:

"I drove a chariot of fire in my former life."

Yes, sir, reincarnation: You gotta love it.


That's right: Whoo-hoo! You know it, sir.

Of course, what I'm wondering is, has anybody ever had a flashback and suddenly realized beyond a shadow of a filial doubt that they used to be their very own grandfather!

People are like, "Son, you are just like your grandfather!"

And the son's like, "More than you know, pops: More than you freakin' know."

Relax, folks, I'm not here to shatter anyone's quaint beliefs in reincarnation. (Aww! You guys are just so PRECIOUS with that stuff!) Still, you've got to admit, that philosophy does raise a lot of questions.

Look at the dude back there by the coat rack, scowling over his bowl of nachos: He's like: "I don't care WHAT he says, I was Napoleon in my past life."

Dude, I believe you. The only problem is, I myself was Wellington in MY previous life. Aha! So we meet again! It's you and me, fella, hand-to-hand combat, in the back alley after the show!

What's that, Sir, you weren't Napoleon, you were Little Richard?

I don't think that's even allowed: First of all, I don't believe that he's dead yet -- and even if he were, you can't be a reincarnation of someone whose original lifetime was at any time coterminous with your own. (I believe you'll find that as bylaw 1-1-8 of the Reincarnation Rule Book.)

No, seriously:

But like I says, feel free to hold on to your charming homespun beliefs in reincarnation (I say again, aww! and even double aww!).

Still, consider this while you're finding your coats and settling your bills (insofar as this lounge will be closing immediately after my performance tonight. Yes, I know: It's sad, isn't it? But thanks for coming. I'm here through Thursday, by the way, so don't be a stranger.)

Suppose that I'm, say, 25 years old, and I somehow find out that a man who killed me in my past life has just been born into this one.

Now what do I do? It's not like I can exact vengeance on a newborn, after all!

Still, I'd naturally want to teach the erstwhile murderer a lesson at SOME point. Hmm... I guess I'd have to be content with sending the family a note, advising them that their newborn was now officially challenged to a duel on his 18th birthday.

Even that solution is problematic however, since my young nemesis would then have 18 long years to prepare for the grudge match that I've scheduled (21 years even, if he happens to reside in a state with conservative laws about such arrangements), so that when the day finally came, I'd find myself in my dotage squaring off against a regular Zorro in his prime of fencing life.

He'd be like, "En garde!"

And I'd be like: "Um, do me a favor and remind me: WHY am I fighting you, sonny boy?"
reincarnation, hasbeens

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

When it comes to the controversy about online copyright law, Google has a conflict of interest, since it both facilitates the discussion while taking a definite side in it.

Conflict of Interest: Google and copyright law

The following comment was posted online on 7/19/2014 in response to an article in Science News by Bruce Bower entitled: Online Causes May Attract More Clicks Than Comments

Fascinating article. I have one bone to pick, however. The article concludes by holding up the online protest movement against copyright legislation as a sort of pure, unadulterated victory for online activism. Such a representation, however, should come with a major caveat: namely, the fact that Google -- the company that, more than any other, determines the very "findability" of online content -- was founded on a liberal interpretation of the copyright laws and thus has a vested interest in facilitating (if not actively promoting) such an interpretation online. With such a bias existing in the very operators of the search engine par excellence, Google opponents can never be sure that Google search algorithms, ad placement choices (etc.) are giving a fair shake to both sides of the argument when it comes to online visibility. In short, Google has a conflict of interest in that it both facilitates the online discussion and takes a definite side in it.

In fact, the search giant is expressing its own viewpoint on this subject every time it melodramatically replaces a DCMA-challenged link with a link to the clearly partisan "Chilling Effects" project, instead of, say, simply linking the searcher to a forum wherein the online copyright law controversy may be discussed by stakeholders on every side of the issue, even by those who disagree that a "chilling effect" is necessarily involved in enforcing reasonable copyright law. Of course the effect of stricter copyright enforcement may indeed be chilling to a company that has made billions of dollars based on the informal status quo, but that fact is irrelevant to a consideration of the merits of stricter enforcement. The goal of copyright law, after all, is to protect creators, not to help Google continue with business as usual.

For further study

Critics have said that the preceding paragraph could stand some "serious editing." Explain. (Hint: what's with the unnecessary repetition of the word "link"???)

For still further study

Critics have said that Brian could have simply corrected the preceding paragraph but one, instead of writing a "for further study" question to address the editorial lacuna in question. Explain.

Did you know?

Science News still makes me purchase a subscription to their website even though I've been a longtime subscriber to their podcast. They claim that they can't give me a break because Amazon.com/Audible will not furnish them with podcast subscriber lists. Crazy, huh -- not to mention downright unfair. I mean, subscribers to the written journal don't have to pay a separate fee to access the Science News website -- making we podcast blokes second-class Netoyens. (What? I'm just sayin'....)

Did you subsequently know?

Editor's note: Brian (bless him!) was working on a false assumption when he fashioned the oblique broadside above. Come to find out, Science News does not produce the program in question (as our correspondent had perhaps somewhat too hastily assumed). No, not a bit of it! It is produced by Amazon itself, thank you very much. Seen in this light, Science News is vindicated from any wrongdoing in this matter. But fear not: we have reprimanded our author in the most severe termns: practically daring him to scorn civility again on this subject lest his insolent cheekbones encounter the back side of our all-too-righteous hand.

Editor II's note: Fear not: I have subsequently chastised Editor I for the purple prose in which he couched his otherwise just condemnation of our correspondent.

Editor III: I, for my part, actually resigned after realizing that even Editor II was going to mock convention in an ill-considered attempt to sound poetical. Editor III to Editor II: "I KNEW Mr. John Keats, and, Editor II, YOU are no John Keats."
goggle, copyright law, dcma, chilling effects

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Brian asks Spike Lee for Jeff Bezos' street address in order to protest the way that Amazon.com recently tricked said blogger into purchasing a teeny-tiny watering can (instead of the full-size watering can that he was obviously expecting)

Getting Amazon to Do the Right Thing

Frydog, Joon 27, 2014

Let's see, it's got to be here somewhere.

Oh, hi, folks. Brian Ballard at your service. I'm just checking the local rag in search of the latest religious edicts by the Right Honorable Spike Lee. I'm hoping he's going to give out the current street address of Jeff Bezos so that I can take up an indignant perch on that guy's front stoop in protest of the lousy customer service that I received lately at Amazon.com.

Yeah, I ordered a watering pot, assuming that a search for "watering pots" on Amazon.com would bring up real, honest-to-goodness "watering pots." Well, when the box arrived, I discovered that this $13 pot of mine was a cheap plastic miniature that was no bigger than my right hand -- which by this time was naturally in the shape of a fist, ready to bust heads (figuratively speaking, of course) in Seattle, Washington.

More coffee please, Minnie. (My new housemaid, ladies and gentlemen: Minnie Goodfeather from Maid to Order. Not only does she do windows, but she comes with a full moneyback guarantee. That's right: If I'm not fully satisfied with her, I can ship her back to the company merely by affixing this pre-paid mailing label to her forehead and then flagging down the next UPS truck that I see -- OR FedEx truck: the choice is totally up to me! And she comes with a complete set of skimpy garments: today she's gone with the rosy-cheeked milkmaid ensemble. Ja, Fraulein.)

Let's see: Maybe if I look under "fatwa."

I'll tell you what, while I keep searching for a street address whereat to exact my old-school vengeance on Jeff Bezos (ooh, you dirty rat! you dirty rat!), let me bring you up to date on my Amazon problem through the magic of cut-and-paste technology. What follows is the actual complaint that I posted at Amazon in the comment product section for the microscopic plastic trinket that they foisted upon me under the somewhat grandiloquent appellation of "watering can." Not only should the following copy bring you guys up to speed, but it will ensure that the details of my complaint will still have a place online after Amazon takes the no-doubt inevitable step of removing my product-related jeremiad from the product's comment section. (To paraphrase Al Pacino: "You're out of order! They're out of order! He, she and it are out of order! Why, bless me: the whole Amazon.com algorithm system is out of order!")


When I purchased this product, it came up IMMEDIATELY under the search term "watering can" and it looked ENORMOUS (and I do not recall the term "miniature" appearing in the description). Now that I have received this MINISCULE watering can, I can no longer bring the item up using Amazon search. I wanted to double-check how the product was listed and displayed so that I could figure out how they bamboozled me (intentionally or not) into buying it. I'm a veteran Amazon shopper after all, and I've never been misled like this before. It looks like a case of bait-and-switch to me -- or rather bait-and-REMOVE-the product from the search listings.

Whatever the explanation is, SAVE your money. I'm sure you could buy 12 of these for the same price at any Dollar Store. (Although the object may be miniature, the price was not.)

Finally, a note to Amazon: If you're going to list MINIATURE items inside a list of REGULARLY SIZED items, please display the miniature items beside a picture of an object of known size (such as an American quarter) so that purchasers won't assume that it's a normal sized version of the object that they were looking to buy.


One additional note. I was misled into purchasing this item in the following way:

Prior to searching for "watering can," I had been searching for miniature items to decorate a train layout. Although my subsequent unrelated search for "watering can" did NOT include the term "miniature," Amazon's overly ambitious algorithms decided that I would probably be interested in a miniature watering can -- so they scrambled in this miniature item on a page otherwise full of regularly sized watering cans. And since I figured that a watering can was a watering can, it never occurred to me to read the fine print to see how many teaspoons that this particular watering can I'd chosen might hold.

When I called to complain, I was basically told that the algorithms generally work very well.

And I'm like: Well, they may work well for Amazon, but then it's not Amazon that just lost $13. (Actually, Amazon is going to lose hundreds if not thousands of dollars thanks to this problem, since I've begun paring back my Amazon purchases in response to the cavalier attitude that the company adopted when responding to my complaint.)

Then when I complained about the ambiguous product picture (which gave no idea of the product's size), the Amazon image department (with irritating speediness) fired back with an e-mail saying that the picture looked just fine to them, thank you very much.

But they were missing the point: the image itself WOULD be fine if it appeared on a page of miniatures, -- but it's a misleading product representation when such an image appears on a page of otherwise REGULARLY SIZED watering cans.

I pleaded with the customer service rep to pass my complaint on to the algorithm programmers, who were the ones that were truly at fault here -- but she didn't sound very interested in doing so. (She gave one the impression that the algorithm programmers were some distant demigods that, as a rule, take no particular interest in the affairs of mortal men, customers included, and that I might as well ask her to contact Zeus -- er, Jeff Bezos -- himself as to contact these mysterious free agents who rule invisibly from on high.)

Just another case of human beings being forced to adjust to the way that software and code works (or in this case doesn't work) -- rather than the other way around.

(I even tried to contact the product manufacturer called (weirdly enough) "Ebertsankey" to tell them how they are (albeit unwittingly) making sales based on Amazon misrepresentation, but it turns out that the company's Website is available only in German and Dutch, neither of which language I know -- and besides, I'm having a hard enough time getting folks to respond to my complaint in English.)
amazon.com, spike lee, jeff bezos, algorithms

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

My response to An Image is Worth What Again? by David Newhoff, June 2014.

Image is everything

Toozdog, Joon 24, 2014

The following is my response to an article linked to in the ASCAP Dean's List for June 24, 2014

Thanks for the interesting (if worrisome) article, David. Although I agree completely with the need to respect the copyrighted status of online photographs, I think it's getting harder to fault individuals for infringing (or for "paying short shrift") to copyrights when Google sets such a bad example.

I just read an article by a "copyright expert" (on WTOP.com) who sternly lectured his readership that every image online should be considered copyrighted and, no, you should not use any image without the explicit permission of the copyright owner. I immediately wrote back to say: "Hmm. It seems to me that one of the biggest companies in the world (Google) is doing just that." I went on to insist that I (as an American citizen), should be able to avail myself of the self-same latitude as Google (an American company) in interpreting copyright law requirements.

As much as I appreciate the need for copyright law, there's something hypocritical-sounding these days in such warnings on the subject because they routinely ignore the blatant activity of the 500-pound gorilla in the room: namely Google. Thus, whenever I read such copyright lectures online, I always hear a subtext telling me: "Of course these rules only apply to ordinary people like yourself and not to billionaire corporations like Google."

And if I feel this way as a supporter of copyright law, it's a cinch that a less principled user will consider Google's cavalier behavior in this area to be a green light for universal piracy.

Personally, I think Google got it right (more or less) the first time, by indexing images as thumbnails while clearly and directly linking those images back to their source pages. The fact that they are now "running interference" between the thumbnail and the source (and thus obfuscating the identity of the image creators) suggests that they have lost track of the most important rationale of their original image results layout -- namely, the legal one -- and have now decided that "user experience" and aesthetics (not to mention Google's "bottom line") should trump what they apparently consider to be legal niceties -- but what in reality are basic personal property rights of longstanding over which they are trying (so far successfully) to erect a makeshift technological hurdle.
david newhoff, images, google, copyright

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

How "Moral Kombat," Spencer Halpin's documentary on American violence, ignored the 800-pound gorilla in the room: namely, the decisive role of gun availability in creating today's deadly dystopia.

Moral Kombat

How Spencer Halpin's documentary misses the point about American violence

June 12, 2014: Letter to Henry Jenkins, director of the MIT Center for Civic Media

Good afternoon, Henry,

I am a 55-year-old philosophy major and amateur culture critic from Virginia with a few thoughts to share with you about the Spencer Halpin film "Moral Kombat" that I saw for the first time last night. To be honest with you, I was originally planning to share my first comments on the film with Spencer himself, but as is so often the case when attempting to contact successful people online, I am having significant difficulty tracking down a valid e-mail address for Spencer -- without, that is, engaging the (ahem) "free" services of some dubious-sounding e-mail locating company. So I decided I'd share my thoughts with one of the film's most sensible-sounding talking heads -- which, incidentally, started me on yet another worrisome e-mail hunt, until I got smart and expanded my search to the MIT Center that you direct. True, I still haven't located your e-mail address, but I trust that someone will bring this form-submitted comment of mine to your attention.

Let me preface by saying that I believe Spencer Halpin's film is visually engaging and full of fantastic insights, but....

To the extent that the documentary is a response to teen gun violence, I believe that it is, unwittingly, a work of magician-like misdirection. The short shrift paid to the role of guns themselves in the lamented violence suggests to me that the producers have largely accepted the American social (and above all political) assumption that teen massacres like Columbine can be (at least in theory) meaningfully responded to and (again ideally) prevented without any discussion of guns and (above all) of their widespread availability. Once these "willful" blinders are adopted by discussion participants, the question then necessarily becomes: What is causing our youths to get so darn upset and how do we go about making them peaceable, law-abiding citizens?

This, of course, is an absurd question because it assumes that school massacres can't stop until we find a way to stop young people from getting furious! Talk about a tall order! No wonder then that critics begin to attack the gaming industry with various levels of vitriol. All the anger that they should logically have directed toward the NRA has to go somewhere: and the gaming community is an easy replacement target.

I'm an uncle -- and I vividly remember some of the temper tantrums of a certain nephew of mine when he was in his terrible twos, threes and fours. I was always in awe of the seemingly primordial fierceness of his displays, because it seemed to me like "fury itself" was incarnated in his incredibly vehement demonstrations. I remember thinking at the time: "My God, if this kid had a machine-gun right now, he would blow every single one of us to absolute bits!"

Now then, to get to the point of this digression: Let's imagine that every young child did, in fact, have easy access to light-weight machine-guns and that a massacre of the kind I mention were to actually occur:

I can hear the clueless politicians now: "We've got to find a way to stop toddlers from getting upset!"

Suddenly there would be public hearings in which Sesame Street would be told to do more sketches about "getting along" and to stop the Grouch from being so grouchy.

I hope you see my point, Henry: To me, teens and toddlers are always going to get absolutely furious -- and some teens at least will actually plot revenge.

The real "game changer" in the American violence equation is the fact that teens of this kind have easy access to guns, guns, and more guns (and not just hunting rifles, either). And I think that any discussion of the situation that doesn't center around that gun availability misses the point -- and plays into the hands of the NRA, who will be happy for politicians to blame anyone or anything but themselves.

Given a free society and the widespread availability of guns to just about anybody, I think it's a miracle that there aren't more school massacres like Columbine. Indeed, this relatively low occurrence could even mean that American youth overall are less violent than ever these days -- but they'll never get credit for that restraint if, in blind deference to the second amendment, we surround them with guns and then sit back and wait for a day when every single one of them will be unwilling to use them inappropriately.

Thanks for your time, Henry!

Brian Quass
Basye, Virginia, USA

Editor's note: As of July 20, 2014, my good friend Henry (a personal friend of mine since the early '70s, by the way, when both of us mop-topped youth enjoyed rafting on the Shenandoah River just south of Harpers Ferry, using one of those shuttle services to bring us back to our car -- well, back to my brother's Jeep, actually) has not yet seen fit to reply to this message of mine. Could it be that my admittedly trenchant concerns expressed above (especially that bit about gun availability being a "game changer") gave that distinguished academician so much pause as to render him completely immobile on this subject, his erstwhile steady right hand (I seem to recall that he was right-handed) hovering tentatively now over a keyboard with which his very fingertips recoiled from engaging, so devastatingly had I unmasked the surprisingly gaping lacuna in Spencer Halpin's otherwise compelling doc?

Editor's note: It's January 11, 2015, and I'm still waiting. (You don't suppose that Henry took umbrage, do you? If so, he can give it right back, because I kept a civil tongue in my head. Humph.)

Editor's increasingly desperate note: It's January 31, 2015, now and Henry continues to fight shy of me. At first I thought that my arguments above might have been faulty, so I re-read them just a minute ago, but I'll be danged if they weren't just as ineluctably convincing to me as ever. Hmm. I wonder what happened? I'm afraid that someone at M.I.T. must have poisoned Henry's mind against me somehow. But then what possible motive could they have had for doing so? Unless they're pissed at me for my recent e-mails to Audible Technology Review (an M.I.T. publication) in which I complain about their editorial policy of occasionally using the pronoun "she" to refer to "he OR she." Well, I'm sorry: I'm like: If HE doesn't mean SHE any longer, why should SHE suddenly mean HE?!

See, kids, this is what happens when one wears one's heart on one's sleeve (or on his or her sleeve): the grammar police swoop down and rat on you to your friends, warning them (no doubt) that you are politically incorrect. Which, if that's the case, Henry, I would have thought that you could pass muster on myself without the busybody intervention of some probably uptight and pedantic grammar junky.

Then again, Cousin Henry's in-box may just plain be bunged up to hell. I'll tell you what: I'll give him another few months before saying so much as one more word about it here.
spencer halpin, henry jenkins, mit, center for civic media, violence, guns, nra

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Subscription fee double jeopardy at Scientific American


Sadderday, Joon 7, 2014

What follows is an (admittedly) charming letter that your humble correspondent (moi) indited today on behalf of reason and common sense. (Ahh!) Its intended recipient: the Scientific American website, which (and I'm embarrassed to have to say this about them, truly) tried to make me pay to read an online article today, even though I had already bought an entire year's worth of their S.A. podcasts through Audible.com. And I was like: Not only am I not going to pay to jump through that hoop, darlings -- but I'll cancel the whole #@$! podcast before forking over such an obviously gratuitously invoked "gotcha" payment as that.

But soft, you shall read....

I am disappointed to see that you do not make Scientific American articles available online for free to Scientific American podcast subscribers like myself. I subscribe also to Science News, where I have always been able to access articles that I hear in their podcast. If your goal is to make money, for me personally, it doesn't work: I am more likely to cancel my podcast subscription than pay a fee that strikes me as a little greedy on your part.

If you can't afford to "give away" the text to podcast subscribers, I suggest you raise the price of your podcasts -- rather than surprise subscribers like myself with another "gotcha" payment demand for actually seeing the text. There's so many "gotchas" of this kind online, where Web operators seek to cajole every last penny out of their site visitors: I'm sorry to see that this "gotcha" mentality has been adopted by a scientific publication of your stature.

What Do YOU Think?

Imagine that YOU had already forked over 40+ American bucks to listen to a magazine podcast and that your subsequent visit to the related website revealed that the editors in question were determined to stiff you for yet another 5 or so, before they would allow you to so much as clap eyes on the very text that you had already paid to hear? You wouldn't like it very much, would ya? Well, okay, then! That's all I'm sayin'.
scientific american, subscribers

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

In response to 'Cloud Seeding' by Bernard Vonnegut, in the June 2014 edition of Scientific American

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Soggyday, Joon 7, 2014

The otherwise excellent "Cloud Seeding"* article completely overlooks one important issue: What happens to the 'meteorological rights' of 'non-farmers' if and when cloud seeding starts to become dramatically successful, so as to turn heretofore merely overcast days into steady rain events?

I live in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, which, though a fertile region for farmers, receives significantly less rainfall than is received both to its east (the Tidewater region) and to its west (West Virginia). If cloud seeding begins to have dramatic and undeniable results, the Valley farmers involved in land cultivation will soon be clamoring for "more rain. "

This begs the question: What rights (if any) do I have as a Shenandoah Valley resident who was happy with the local weather as it was?

No doubt there are cloud-seeding efforts going on in the Valley even as I type this comment, but it's one thing for me to tolerate such small-scale weather-changing attempts, especially when the results remain equivocal: but I'm going to start feeling like a neglected constituency if and when entire regional weather patterns start changing (for the soggier) without my having even been consulted on the matter.

*Scientific American 2014
Bernard Vonnegut
rain, cloud seeding, bernard vonnegut, scientific american

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

The Western World P.R. Handicap

Thorsyad, Maize 29, 2014

There is a major phenomenon in play in today's international politics that has thus far escaped the explicit notice of talking heads and news outlets. I call the phenomenon "The Western World P.R. Handicap," which I define as follows:

Western World P.R. Handicap: The public relations handicap experienced by any free country that attempts to confront a despotic leader in a closed society. The handicap is created by the fact that the free country, by definition, tolerates opinions that are at odds with its government's own foreign policy, while the despot not only tolerates no dissent whatsoever, but can even fortify his own hardline position by prominently citing distinguished members of his own enemy, namely, those free citizens in the enemy camp who are exercising their anti-government freedom of speech.

Thus there is an inherently unlevel playing field involved when it comes to international P.R. battles between closed societies and free ones.

The despot in a closed society can win the international public relations battle merely by sitting back and letting his enemies exercise their free speech (in op-ed pieces, advertising campaigns, and even SNL sketches -- see, for instance, the 'Weekend Update' sketch that dubiously equated Putin's Crimea invasion with the U.S. invasion of Iraq) and then picking and choosing which arguments to parrot back to the free world in his own disingenuous defense, thereby implying that, "See? Even YOU think I'm right," thus changing the subject of the international discourse from the despot's own perfidy to the free world's supposed hypocrisy in condemning it.

This is the Western World P.R. Handicap.

Although I do not recommend the curtailing of free speech in light of this handicap, I do think that we need to take explicit notice of the phenomenon -- of the fact that the international public relations deck is always stacked in favor of despots -- before we let such despots hypocritically adduce the protests of a free citizenry in defense of their own emphatically unfree nations.

This phenomenon also suggests that protestors, despite their legal rights, have a moral responsibility to word their complaints in a way that does not inadvertently support such despots. One does not need to modify their opinions to do this: merely to append to those opinions a chastisement of the despot concerned, as who should say: "Yes, we're against our own government's policy, but wipe that smirk off your face, Monsieur le Despot, since we abhor your despotic practices like the rest of the free world and what's more we don't mind telling you!"*

Now those are the words of a TRULY brave protestor.

That said, I'm not going to hold my breath in anticipation of a Morrissey song condemning Islamic violence. Morrissey is strictly a "soft target" idealist: going after those free countries that he can tweak with impunity onstage without subsequently being decapitated live on Al Jazeera television, for Morrissey practices what you might call "Idealism Lite" -- which latter term I hereby also offer to the political dictionaries of the future, in addition to the aforesaid "Western World P.R. handicap."

*To be fair, SNL did something of this kind when it followed its above-mentioned insinuation of American hypocrisy with an hilarious interview of two supposed "Russkis," ("Vladimir's best friends") who, though obviously terrified to criticize Putin aloud, felt safe in doing so when they were speaking in a whisper, albeit their criticisms concerned the Russian leader's apparently atrocious social manners rather than his democratically challenged Cold War geopolitical strategies.

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Google: Organizing the world's data -- in such a way that only Google can profit from it.

Break Up Google

Tossdog, Maize 27, 2014

I recently read an article by an "expert" on copyright law who sternly warned all webmasters and Facebook members that they can't -- repeat: CANNOT -- use any picture whatsoever without permission, lest they incur the wrath of the law -- and that ignorance of said law is no excuse.

Hmm. It seems to me that one of the biggest companies on Earth got where it is today by doing just that. And not only do they not need to get permission -- but, au contraire, the content makers have to ask permission to be excluded from such usage on Google's part -- and it's by no means clear that they're going to get that permission without a court order

I'm sure the "expert" will say that Google's use is somehow different -- but how?

If I create a website, say, about dogs, why shouldn't I be able to display all dog pictures and links on my site -- provided that, like Google, I link to them?

But wait, don't tell me. The law only applies to normal people, right? Not billionaires.

Oh, yeah, sorry, I forgot.


My Washington Post comment on Craig Newman's op-ed piece about the Right to Be Fogotten online:

Newman writes plaintivley that search engines like Google "must also build massive systems to handle removal demands." Awwww! I feel sorry for them. How will they do that with only billions and billions of dollars to work with?

The problem is that Google had already snuck in and monopolized the world's information for FREE long ago before anyone knew -- or cared -- what was going on. Some of us don't think that anyone should have had that monopoly in the first place -- but if they have it, surely that monopoly should come with public responsibilities to the world that created that info in the first place. (See Jason Lanier: "Who Owns the Future?")

Also, Newman's analogy between store directories and Google completely ignores the game-changing instantaneity of the digital world: specifically, the difference between public info that is technically available to anyone (in the analog world by dint of some physical searching on their part) and instantly available and unmissable to anyone (in the digital world by merely typing someone's name in a search engine).

Personally, I think the Washington Post should recuse itself from this entire topic since they are now themselves owned by Big Data in the person of Jeff Bezos, who has monopolized the commercial world as Google has the data world, and who is similarly fighting against paying any social dues or assuming any public responsibilities for that monopolized position.

For Discussion

Some scholars find the author's viewpoint surprising given what they consider to be the general pro-business tenor of his usual declamations. Explain how one can consistently be pro-business while yet hating monopolies, especially one that has actively (so one thinks anyway) buried one's Web pages for almost two decades now under a heap of ad-filled search results -- a company that (in one's respectful opinion, at least) has turned "new" and "novel" into four-letter words, unlike those heady days of the early Alta Vista anything goes Net -- ever since it (Google) went commercial -- which, that was a conflict of interest to begin with (or so one thinks). Just think: the company that stores the world's data begins deciding what gets SEEN according to monetary criteria. Oh, fie! Fie! (Or so one possibly thinks.)

google, monopoly, break up

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Aww! Nicholas Wade is bucking the Zeitgeist! I'm gonna tell!

Awww! I'm Gonna Tell!!!!!

Tussdad, Maize 20, 2014

Awwww! I'm gonna tell! Nicholas Wade is bucking the scientific establishment! Awwww! I'm gonna tell!

Ahem. I'm referring of course to the British journalist from the New York Times who has just published "A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History."

I'm halfway through reading the same, and I'm loving it. Still, I must confess, I love any new books that intelligently (and above all good-naturedly) take on 'established truths' -- since the Homo sapiens scientificus is not exactly known for his (or even her) open-mindedness.

Heck, the 19th-century Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis merely suggested that surgeons might want to wash their hands prior to operating on their patients -- and his reward was a lifetime supply of industrial-grade Vitriol. ("Got another week's supply here, Iggy! Should I leave it at the door?") Do you know that the man died in an insane asylum at the age of 42? I kid you not. (That will show HIM! The very idea: telling Viennese surgeons how to operate! Humph!)

Hopefully, Wade won't suffer the same fate. But before FedEx wheels around the first big, carefully stoppered bottles of Vitriol to his London flat (Oi, you gotta sign for this stuff, mate!), I thought I'd ask him the following question -- which I posted on the Psychology Today website, where I'm afraid he'll never see it, hence the copy below. (Thank God Wade was already 71 when he published "Troublesome Inheritance." The entrenched scientific community can do their worst now, but they're powerless to cut him off entirely in his prime!)

I'm enjoying your book on the "Troublesome Inheritance". Although I am only halfway through (and this question may be answered before I'm through reading), I was impatient to ask about some of the studies that you reference about 'African-Americans': I'm curious if that term is used scientifically in some sense, since the cultural understanding of the term as applied to mixed-race Americans holds that anyone is African-American who has any noticeable African heritage whatsoever. Thus someone who is 90% European-American, from a genetic point of view, is considered 100% African-American from the cultural point of view. Surely the term 'African-Americans', defined in this way, is not a scientific category at all. So it seems to me that to assume that 'African-Americans' is a self-evident category (as recent scientific studies seem to do) begs a huge question about racial identity in the first place, and thus leaves in doubt any results that are based on such a subjective category.

I'd love to hear what you think about this -- tho' I'll be lucky if this apparently outdated e-mail form even works when I click "submit," let alone that you'll ever actually see these words. I'm afraid that you've reached that level of success at which mere mortals like myself have a terrible time merely reaching you, much less getting your attention! Still, I had to at least try!

Best wishes from Virginia, USA,
Brian Quass
african-american, nicholas wade, race, a troublesome inheritance

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Author reveals the untenable philosophical message of the movie John Q. and offers an alternative ending in which John's own son takes his father to task for acting immorally.

Denzel as Terrorist in John Q

Sundog, Maize 12, 2014

Despite all the on-cue cheering from the crowd, John Q is a piece of irresponsible agitprop (especially for a movie released in 2002, one year after 9/11) that sanctions vengeance, mob rule and anarchy.

Denzel Washington was a terrorist in John Q

Denzel Washington as Terrorist in John Q

How many patient and law-abiding parents did John Q leap-frog in order to get immediate care for HIS offspring? (Talk about the 'selfish gene'!) Of course, writer James Kearns makes it all work out for the best -- to the point that the hospital actually seems to run better when it's being lorded over by a hothead with a gun. But then Kearns had improbably staffed the hospital with a fiendish administrator who was a cross between Eva Braun and Anne Robinson of the Weakest Link -- for which the script writer, incidentally, owes an apology to the vast majority of hospital administrators who (agitprop notwithstanding) actually have a heart -- and are forced to work within restraints that are for the overall benefit of everybody and shouldn't be subject to veto by any angry parent with a firearm.

John Q Memorial Hospital: First gun, first served

I could tolerate this film if John Q had shown any repentance at all, ever -- but far from it, he rides off into the sunset (to an incredibly short stint in the pokey) with a self-satisfied smirk on his face -- apparently totally uninterested in the fate of the sniper whom he gratuitously sucker punched so hard as to likely cause internal bleeding that could easily lead to death in real life -- possibly depriving that sniper's son of a father. But then John Q has made it clear all along that he's not interested in "sons" in the abstract: he just cares about his own son, thank you very much.

If I could have rewritten the movie, I would have ended it with the grown Mike (now enrolled in college) chastising his father as follows:

Mike: "Dad, I'm grateful for you saving my life, but..."
Dad: "But what, son?"
Mike: "Well, it's just that I've been reading Immanuel Kant in philosophy class and...."
Dad: "You've been reading WHAT?"
Mike: "And I fail to see how your actions square with the Categorical Imperative."
Dad: "Look, you got a new heart son: be happy."
Mike: (after a moment of frustrated silence) "Dad, have you ever even HEARD of the word 'ignoble'???"
Dad: "Enough with the 50-cent words, son. Now how are you fixed for money? I'm sure that college expenses add up."
Mike: "I'm doing fine, Dad."
Dad: "Are you sure?"
Mike: "I'm sure."
Dad: "'Cause just say the word, and I'll take hostages at the nearest bank until they loan you the necessary do-re-mi."
Mike: "Dad, I'm an adult now: I can live my OWN life, thanks."
Dad: "You're right, son: If the bank needs robbing, I'm sure you know how to fend for yourself."
Mike: "Dad!"
Dad: "After all, you learned from an expert -- if I do say so myself."


What have we learned?

Questions for further discussion

  • Was John Q a terrorist?
    (A: You betcha.)

  • Would Immanuel Kant have "signed off," morally speaking, on John Q's behavior?
    (A: Obviously not. I mean, hello. Can somebody say categorical imperative?)

  • Does John Q owe the sniper an apology for sucker-punching him (multiple times, even)?
    (A: You're darn tootin'. I mean, hello? The guy was just doing his job, trying to protect innocent women and children from what to any neutral outsider had to look like a grade-A psychopath.)

  • This post is obviously approaching the movie "John Q" from a completely novel angle that is fraught with fascinating philosophical implications. What are the chances, therefore, that this post will be 'bigged-up' online?

  • (A: I should LIVE so long! Humph! -- or YOU should live so long, for that matter! DOUBLE humph!)

John Q Logic Problems

John Q recently had a very busy week. Each day he had a different grievance with society that called for immediate resolution through the medium of threats and intimidation. Using only the info found below, can you determine the nature of each grievance, the threats he made to resolve it, the weapon that he used to back up his threat, and the sentence that he ultimately received in court for the wrong-doing in question?

1) It was not on Wednesday that John Q threatened the Food Store manager with a knife.

2) John Q threatened the clinic nurse (but not with a gun) the day after he threatened the bank guard (but not with a canister of the Ebola virus).

3) John Q served no time for threatening the bureaucrat with a gun but served a full 4 days for the threat carried out on Thursday.

4) John Q threatened the sharpshooter with either a tactical nuclear weapon or a bottle of weapons-grade anthrax.

5) The bureaucrat was not threatened with a gun.

6) The anthrax was put to work the day before the gun was used.

7) John Q got a tougher sentence for the threat using the tactical nuke than he did for the Ebola threat, which was tougher than the sentence for the Anthrax threat (which was not made on Tuesday).

8) The manager was not threatened on Friday and the bureaucrat was not threatened on Monday or Wednesday.

Interview with Greatness

Q) Brian, darling, what did you mean by that apparent 'potshot' at Al Sharpton. Art mad?

A) Not a bit of it, dawg. I love the guy to pieces. All I'm sayin' is that somebody should buy the dude a copy of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations.

Q) What?

A) And teach the man the meaning of the word 'ignoble'. (or, for starters, merely advise him of the apparently overlooked fact that such a word and concept actually exists!)

No Justice, No Fiddlesticks!

Q) But no justice, no peace, right, Brian? Eh? Eh?

A) No justice, no fiddlesticks! "

Q) I beg your pardon?

A) In a democracy, you make your views known in a peaceful but forceful fashion. And if you've got a moral cause, you count on all citizens of good will to join you. You don't implicitly threaten violence if you don't have your way immediately, effectively alienating the very opposition that it's your job to persuade. "No Justice, No Peace" is the slogan of leftist fascism when spoken in a Democracy. It's the politics of threats and intimidation.

Q) But --

A) Mind you, it's all part and parcel of Sharpton's M.O.: demonize your imagined enemies rather than sitting down at the table and seeking solutions with them. Thus Sharpton, with his dogmatic hyperbole, carries on the tradition of George Wallace, albeit from the other side of the fence, saying with his every word and deed: "Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!"

Keyword Prayer to Father Google

Dear All-Powerful Google,

We come before you today recognizing that we are nothing without you. We therefore beseech visibility for this our philosophically minded post about the movie called John Q Public that was released in 2002 (the movie I mean, not the post) starring Denzel Washington and written by James Kearns. We remind you that the producer was a certain Nick Cassavetes, whom, as you may recall, later went on to perpetrate 'The Astronaut's Wife' and 'Hangover Part II'. Forgive both Nick and James for implausibly casting the otherwise lovely Larissa Laskin as a recalcitrant Nazi nurse (Ellen Klein, a sort of Irish Dr. Mengele), when all the hospital staff, Ellen included, were really trying to do was give the best possible shake to every single patient, not just those who, in the vehemence of their familial discomfiture, were packing heat. And finally, O Google, remind Herr Kearns, his obvious Marxist leanings notwithstanding, that it is not yet a crime in America to enjoy a round of golf of a weekend, even if one has committed the faux pas of being a middle-upper-class white bureaucrat who is loath to drop everything to attend to the needs of one solitary patient, never mind how much of a hip persona that he might thereby acquire in the eyes of the rabble that are surrounding the grounds of his health care employer at that very moment, irresponsibly protesting in favor of the untenable doctrine that "might makes right," and that the mere possession of a Saturday Night Special allows a distraught father to leap-frog the often equally pressing medical needs of his grieving patriarchal counterparts -- let alone to race off actually smirking about his crime after getting a ridiculously short sentence from a judge, never mind the fact that John has, in the process of his armed moral showboating, probably consigned a 100% law-abiding fellow citizen (who no doubt ALSO had a son) to a painful life in a wheelchair.

We pray in the name of true justice (as opposed to that evil petty antithesis, aka mob rule a la Al Sharpton) -- not to mention online visibility, Google, I beg ya now, right smack dab down on my proverbial you-know-whatters.... -- Amen.
denzel washington, john q, hospitals, health care, terrorism, james kearns

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Burn after reading

Burn After Viewing

Sadderspray, Feverwary 8, 2014

EDITOR'S NOTE: Brian Quass is the inventor of a number of new genres (tho' he's not so naive as to be expecting any thank-you's in THIS lifetime, humph!) -- including the Press Conference Movie Review. The following IS such a review, in this case about the 2008 Coen Brothers movie entitled "Burn After Reading."

Ladies and Gentlemen, the MovieGoer of the United States of America.

[ Band Plays "Hail to the Chief MovieGoer" ]

[ Polite applause ]

MovieGoer: Thank you, please be seated.

As you know, last night I watched the movie "Burn After Reading" starring Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, and Frances McDormand. First, I will say that the plot description sounded very promising to me: a couple of self-centered nobodies (Pitt and McDormand) get ahold of a data CD that they mistakenly believe to contain top-secret material, and when they seek to profit from their discovery, hilarity ensues.

[ Needle scratches record ]

Well, hilarity should have ensued. John Malkovich was funny enough as the disgruntled ex-CIA agent who had lost the disc in the first place, which apparently contained nothing but a rough-draft of his hilariously muddled attempts at memoir writing. But just when I thought I saw where things were going, comically speaking, the movie takes a u-turn into the duplicitous love lives of Clooney and Swinton, which turns out to be a good half-hour detour during which Malkovich disappears from the movie altogether and nary a word is spoken about the two nobody gym employees and their supposed treasure trove of compromising information.

Of course, the Clooney-Swinton plot dovetailed eventually with the main action, but by then I had really stopped caring what the one had to do with the other. Nor was the comedic value restored by the heavily accented confusion of the Russian embassy personnel when they were pestered by the money-chasing data-finders, nor by the bemused attempts of the CIA Chief to run damage control on an increasingly byzantine-looking drama that ultimately appeared to have no point to it whatsoever, except in the paranoid eyes of the two principals themselves. Speaking of whom, the funniest character of them all (chief conspirator Brad Pitt) is rather unfunnily murdered by George Clooney, who shoots the perky gym coach at point-blank range after discovering him hiding in a closet).

In short, a great idea for a comedy: but poor execution, no pun intended.

I'll take a few questions, now. Yes.

Mr. MovieGoer, what was the name of Malkovich's character?

I believe it was Osbourne Cox, a Balkan "expert."

And isn't it true that Osbourne's wife (Tilda Swinton) was secretly in love with Harry (George Clooney)?

That sounds right to me.

Well, forgive me, sir, but why didn't you say so?

Well, I --

I mean, how can you leave such crucial information out of what is essentially a movie review?!

Because the whole point of this review is that I did not give a rat's --- about that entanglement...

Well, I never --

...since that hanky-panky distracted from, rather than complemented, the plot...

Well --

...which, if you had been listening to my opening statement, you might have already gleaned, madam.

One more question.

Mr. MovieGoer!

Yes, you, sir.

Mr. MovieGoer! What are some of the taglines for 'Burn After Reading?'

Let's see: I believe there were three.


According to the IMDB, the taglines were: 'Intelligence is relative', 'Intelligence is only their job', and...

Yes? Yes?

And, I quote, "A high stakes love life and Jewel CIA shelter."

Say again?

"A high stakes love life and Jewel CIA shelter."

Beggin' your pardon, sir, but what the hell does that mean?

I don't know. But it's on the IMDB, so it's got to be right!

Mr. MovieGoer! Mr. MovieGoer!

I'm sorry, no more questions!
burn after viewing, coen brothers, brad pitt, george clooney, john malkovich, tilda swinton, and frances mcdormand

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)

Ignoble Zeitgeist

Moondog, Januvery 27, 2014

Friends are always asking me: "Brian," they say, "where exactly do you part ways with the modern liberal zeitgeist of 21st-century America?"

Well, no sooner do I hear such an evocative poser, then I ask my interlocutor what sort of coffee they prefer -- after all, my nuanced answer to such a naive question is bound to constitute a voyage of discovery, and I would be loath to have the apparently somewhat confused landlubber set sail without a libation to mark the upcoming sea change in their understanding -- and since such questions are usually asked in the morning (don't ask me why) and whereas I have something of a reputation for brewing excellent coffee (well, we all have our own little talents, I suppose)....

Anyway, the dude betakes himself to my tawny queen sleeper sofa (my queen is tawny, by the way, not the sofa!), coffee mug in what by now is usually a slightly tremulous hand, as I stalk imposingly back and forth before him on the tufted carpet (hand-tufted, I might add, by personal friends of mine in the Lakota Tribe in Pine Ridge, South Dakota -- and yes, I kept the hand-written receipt specifically to silence probable doubters like yourself!), eyes turned upward toward the vaulted ceiling as if in search of the best way to begin my provocative lecture...

Which, coming soon, my dear diary: coming soon!

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)