Category Archives: Essays

Manhattan and the Mephistophelean Mind

I learned about the MONIAC in my high school marco-economics class: a.k.a. the Financephalograph or the Philips Hydraulic Computer, MONIAC was a massive machine, the size of two grandfather clocks bolted together, only instead of gears there was colored fluid inside, sluicing through tubes, pushing valves open and filling cisterns. Here, fluid was a metaphor for money, and by manipulating how much trickled through the system (pour in investments, drain out expenditures…) MONIAC could model Great Britain’s fiscal policy.

The Metropolitan Trilogy

After writing a spate of reasonably successful—and very autobiographical—novels, James Ellroy and Martin Amis took the cities surrounding them and used them as test beds, experimenting with new voices and forms and populating this familiar terrain with doppelgangers and villains and foils and sexual obsessions.

North Korea’s Nerve War

The Moranbong Band is best imagined as a North Korean version of Celtic Woman: an all-female ensemble band swaddled in fetching formalwear, blasting highly produced, energetic nationalist kitsch. Of course, no matter how much vigorous fiddling Chloe, Lisa, Susan and Mairead can manage, Celtic Woman is unlikely to attract as much scrutiny from intelligence agencies as the Moranbong Band’s cover of Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now”, which is perhaps better known as the theme from Rocky, and was performed – complete with a video backdrop featuring cuts of Sylvester Stallone working out – for none other than Kim Jong-un, the number one of the sinister and secretive Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  

Remote Viewing in the Sooner State

Assuming my issue of EYE SPY, a British glossy devoted to “The Covert World of Espionage,” can be trusted, between 1973 and 1995 the United States government (and its Chinese and Soviet rivals) spent millions hiring teams of personnel to scry photographs of enemy installations and describe their heretofore unknowable innards.

The game of (not) life

There is no better analogy for contemporary art than Conway’s Game of Life. This is not the same thing as The Game of Life, which is played on a board and simulates the education and subsequent useful employment of a human being. Conway’s Game of Life is a math game, an evolution simulator simple enough to be played on a checkerboard, but most often encountered on a computer. In the game, three rules govern whether or not an individual “cell” lives, dies or reproduces.