Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Kodos

Who controls the British crown?
Who keeps the metric system down?
We do! We do!
Who leaves Atlantis off the maps?
Who keeps the martians under wraps?
We do! We do!
Who holds back the electric car?
Who made Steve Guttenberg a star?
We do! We do!
Who robs the cave fish of their sight?
Who rigs every Oscars night?
We do! We do!

“Treehouse of Horror VII”

Who? Well, it’s the Stonecutters Masons Illuminati Knights Templar Members of the Eulogean Club. In case you haven’t noticed, in the past overlord election both candates were members of Skull and Crossbones. I wonder what it was like to be freshly tapped bonesmen at the time of the election. There must have been no suspense: one way or the other there would be a bonesman president.

In my mind, as far as secret societies go, Skull and Bones is the coolest one. It found exactly the right balance of secrecy/publicity. What fun is it to be in a secret society that is so secret that nobody knows how cool it is? Bones have alway had a double standard: on one hand the members are sworn to absolute secrecy, on the other, the tapping process (invitation of new members) was almost always a very public act. Their meeting place is not a secret underground bunker, but a huge very well known, although mostly windowless clubhouse building, The Tomb. George Bush Presidential Library proudly shows a Bones yearbook photo, complete with a grandfather clock and (supposedly, but not likely) Geronimo’s skull stolen from the grave by Prescott Bush.

Yearbook photos like this show up in the stranges places, like this livejournal community post. I was almost expecting to see Montgomery Burns (who’s known to be a member) in those pictures.

The coolest amenity is not the Tomb or the loads of morally questionable and/or stolen stuff inside (there are reports that they stole and kept things like Elihu Yale’s tombstone and eat off of Hitler’s china). It’s their own fricking private island. It’s not in the most convinient or most secluded location – there are literally thousands of islands in Thousand Islands.

My favorite quote from “Secrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the Hidden Paths of Power” is this:

Guests sleep in cots in cabins-granted, some of them are double-bedded cots — if they can slumber through the blare of the tour boat that sometimes circles the island with a guide shouting through a megaphone, “And there is the secret island that belongs to Skull and Bones!”

Yes, being “secret” like this, famously and loudly is probably the Bones’ greatest achievement. That, and the three Bonesman presidents of the United States. And the innumerable CIA directors, senators, judges and other notables.

Anyway, a lot of people own islands, most of which are cheaper than an average Manhattan 2-bedroom apartment. Computer scientist Ed Fredkin has one and so does denim fetishist inventor Dean Kamen. And a lot of societies, secret or otherwise have cool clubhouses (at Harvard, even The Harvard Lampoon has a cool castle). See, you don’t need to belong to free-world-ruling elite to enjoy cool stuff like that.

Fancy societies with awesome amenities seem to be a perogative of those with Ivy League education. I really don’t have that. It’s wasn’t Andover and Yale for me. It was Sheepshead Bay High School (one of the so-called dirty dozen, 13 worst schools in New York) and Brooklyn College.

I don’t agree with those pooh-poohing American educational system, as my experience with it was very positive. In the high school I was able to take many college level classes with many outstanding teachers. And Brooklyn College is not on Princeton Review’s top 10 best value colleges list for nothing.

House: Seasons 1 – 4 Collection

Every compelling and provocative episode from the first four seasons of House is now available in the House Seasons 1-4 collection. Join two-time Golden Globe® winner and Primetime Emmy® Award nominee Hugh Laurie in his critically acclaimed role as Dr. Gregory House, a brilliant physician who can solve the most baffling medical questions but is always a puzzle to his staff and patients with his sarcastic bedside manner. Don’t miss a minute of the show that critics hail as “entertaining and interesting on every level” (Chicago Sun-Times).

Thinking About the Future

My father-in-law once told me about a group of young guys, all from orphanages, that he met when he served in the Soviet Army. Those kids would talk for hours and hours about retiring on the government pension. I am a little bit like that too – I like to plan my retirement.

One thing that I’ll do then is write a series of science fiction stories, probably in graphic novel format. Since it might very well be that all the things that I squirrel away in my notes might come true by the time I retire, let me share with you some of my world building.

The protagonist’s name is John van Nostrand (after a Brooklyn street name). He’s a space pilot from future Brooklyn (or alternative past). His antagonists are pilot Naru Nan, underhero Jackson, supervisor Coder Jones and inspector Rublev. I haven’t worked out the characters much yet.

Some notes about the future/alternative past. A series of technological breakthroughs accomplished the following:

Sleep is not necessary anymore. Thanks to a wonder drug or a surgical implant of some sort people no longer have to spend 8 hours sleeping. Sleep becomes optional, and a sort of entertainment, as an REM inducing machine can produce vivid and even lucid dreams on demand.

Total domination of bacteria and viruses through biotechnological means (no nanotech though). This in turn leads to a revolution in cooking (among other things). It becomes perfectly safe to eat all foods raw. Cooking a steak, for instance becomes mechanized. Lasers sear the outside, while inside can stay pretty raw. Overall, a specialized food computers are used. They can laser-sear, microwave, dry out, mince, liquefy and wrap in special membranes and capsules and produce all sorts of futuristic foods. Many techniques involve “jet printing” ingredients.

Bathing is now optional, a sort of relaxation as well. A special membranous symbiont is genetically engineered to live inside people’s skins and consumes sweat and toxins.

Buildings are built by the jet printing method with titanium-containing alloy for strength, as well as slew of ceramic and other materials for insulation and decoration. Ridiculously tall and strong skyscrapers result.

Huge space cities are built out of towed metallic asteroids, again through jet printing. Real estate on Earth and in space is spectacular.

I still have many things to decide upon, such as the mode of space travel, politics, and a million other things. There will be no aliens or interstellar travel though. I’m pretty sure about that.

Gyro Captain or Helicopter Liberals

Looks like I am in a snarky mood today. Look, pilot extraordinare Philip Greenspun, after salivating over his recreational helicopter flying, puts down SUV owners:

“Pacific Coast Helicopters will take non-pilots on the same itinerary as a sightseeing tour. It is certainly fun for getting some perspective on LA freeway traffic. Lots of monster SUVs going nowhere burning premium gas that is now up to $3.10 per gallon in Malibu”

By my super rough calculations a Robinson R22 helicopter should do about 10 miles per gallon, and an suv about 20 miles per gallon. I think I know which Mad Max 2 character Philip Greenspun would be. “Looks like I got me some gasoline, eh, eh?”

[Update] : Also see Small airplanes and the environment: A moral dilemma by Matthias Wandel.