Acep Hale


A Soldier’s War on Pain

One of the saddest parts of this voyage through pain is that I am discovering a lot of the new research comes from our never-ending wars in the Middle East. A staggering number of our veterans are coming home with chronic pain from head trauma and last century's modalities are failing them. All we're currently doing is producing wave after wave of suicides and addiction. As someone that served for ten years myself and grew up with a father that suffers with crushing PTSD from multiple tours in Vietnam (82nd and 101 Airborne)* it nearly sends me into despair to know this is where a lot of the new knowledge we have is coming from. In my perfect world, the assholes that happily profit from this misery would be the one's suffering for that bottom line, but we all know this will never happen.

"Four years and a lifetime ago, a new war began for Sgt. Shane Savage.

On Sept. 3, 2010, the armored truck he was commanding near Kandahar, Afghanistan, was blown apart by a roadside bomb. His head hit the ceiling so hard that his helmet cracked. His left foot was pinned against the dashboard, crushing 24 bones.

Sergeant Savage came home eight days later, at age 27, with the signature injuries of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan: severe concussion, post-traumatic stress and chronic pain. Doctors at Fort Hood in Killeen, Tex., did what doctors across the nation do for millions of ordinary Americans: They prescribed powerful narcotic painkillers. . ."

*Watch your parents trying to deal with mental illness and the VA hospitals of the 1980s and try telling me what a great president Reagan was. Then may I politely request you eat a shit sandwich.

Hope is my enemy

If you ever have a stroke be prepared for an absolute flood of stories about people that went home in three days 90% healed or woke up one morning, months or years later, completely cured. The head social worker at the hospital informed my wife there was no need to worry about the stairs in our building because soon I'd be literally waltzing up and down those very same stairs in just a few weeks. That was six  months ago. Just last week a neurologist said I didn't need pain meds because my pain was just my nerves growing back, he prescribed Tylenol. (I'm not trying to complain here, but my pain feels like fish hooks being inserted under the pads of my fingertips, all along my fingers, between the fingers, etc etc, over and over again, all fucking day long. And that's just the hand. Tylenol is like applying a band aid to a severed arm.)

 Dr. McHenry says that people with central pain need to unite and advocate for pain research. “Living with central pain is like living in a kind of Auschwitz. You are tortured constantly. No one in America would allow people to go to a place like Auschwitz ever again. If they knew the reality of the lives of central pain sufferers, they would not allow it.”   
Central Pain Syndrome: Treatment

Following the movie Fight Club it's become popular to say, "You are not a special snow flake!" A stroke slaps you hard in the face with the reality that everyone's brain is completely different and every stroke and the recovery from it is therefore also completely different.The stories people tell you, while meant sincerely to encourage you, are completely and utterly useless.

I was very lucky that I studied Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu before my stroke. Being on my back and overwhelmed by a much larger and much more skilled opponent day after day quickly taught me that struggling wildly against them simply wore me out, exhausted my muscles, and encouraged a feeling of helplessness that was deadly. Instead I learned to force myself to relax, breathe when possible, and wait for my chance to explode. To learn the art of waiting while completely overwhelmed was crucial for me. When it finally dawned on me that I was having a stroke and quite possibly dying I clearly remember telling myself, "Alright, you can't do anything about this. Relax, Breathe while you can." This has been the greatest gift BJJ has given me. I credit it with saving my life, in fact when the neurologist in the ER came to see me after my brain scan he looked at me, looked at the chart, looked back at me and went, "Mr. Hale?" I told him he was absolutely right. "I'm sorry. I thought based on these results you'd look much, much worse than this."

Constantly as I've gone through the recovery process this very same lesson has guided me, right up to this very day. My pain, while not clockwork steady, goes in a three day cycle with the third day being the worst. I no longer fight wildly against it. I prepare for it, have interesting documentaries cued and waiting, and then once it's over I explode for the next two days. I write on those days, stopping periodically to exercise and stretch as much as possible. I exult in feeling the summer breeze caressing my skin without triggering a burning in my elbow. I contemplate the oak tree in front of our apartment, in fact if there is a gift this stroke has given me it's the gift of contemplation. I research as much as possible so I can build up warehouses of information to ponder while in the midst of the pain, reading while in that state being damn near impossible. Thanks to Al Park I have included yoga nidra and zhan zhuang into my daily practice which has been extremely helpful because even in the midst of a full blown day of torture I can work on them, sometimes to a limited degree, sometimes temporarily conquering the motherfucker. And I indulge in those victories, they may be so small only I can see them but that's all I need.

I am extremely bad at doing nothing. Always have been, so it has taken me months to finally acknowledge its importance. I now say on high pain days I will get nothing done, so that anything I do accomplish feels great, like a big middle finger flung into the face of pain.

This is why I say hope is my enemy. In the military I learned to prepare for the worst and be surprised by the best and that's what I'm doing. There will be no magic pill, no divine intervention. This will suck and it will suck bad. Every morning I follow Seneca's advice and list every way the day could go wrong just so I'm not surprised when it does. While I was in the hospital I listened to Duncan Trussell's podcast, and his interview with Tim Ferriss had me howling while  laying out the Stoics in the way only Duncan can. For months my wife and I have looked at each other and said, "A forest of cunts." It makes us laugh every time no matter what is going on. (You'll just have to listen to the podcast)

Fuck hope. I'm going to work.

From Ancient Egypt to Modern Science: The Forgotten Link

The ‘Scientific Revolution’ describes the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century watershed in the basic attitude to the scientific method, laying the foundations for the modern technological age. Starting when Copernicus went public with his heliocentric theory in 1543, and ending when Isaac Newton published Principia Mathematica in 1687, textbooks say there was a window of just 150 years when European thinking was transformed from superstition to science. But that’s not the way it was. In reality, science owes its origins to beliefs that the high priests of modern science such as Richard Dawkins would regard as even more irrational than Christianity. Far, far worse to them would be the fact that the particular ‘superstitions’ in question were unprecedentedly influential. In fact, the Scientific Revolution was driven by a very specific magical philosophy and cosmology, set out in a set of texts that inspired all the pioneers of science, directly or indirectly.

Read the full article here.

The Secret Spiritual History of Calculus

Editors' note: Countless students learn integral calculus—the branch of mathematics concerned with finding the length, area or volume of an object by slicing it into small pieces and adding them up. What few realize is that their calculus homework originated, in part, in a debate between two 17th-century scholars. In 1635 Italian mathematician Bonaventura Cavalieri declared that any plane is composed of an infinite number of parallel lines and that any solid is made of an infinite number of planes. His “method of indivisibles” became a forerunner of integral calculus—but not before surviving attacks from Swiss mathematician Paul Guldin, ostensibly for empirical reasons. Amir Alexander of the University of California, Los Angeles, has found far more personal motives for the dispute. In this adaptation of a chapter from his forthcoming book, he explains that Guldin and Cavalieri belonged to different Catholic orders and, consequently, disagreed about how to use mathematics to understand the nature of reality.

Read the full article here.

Kelly Betting and Magic Squares

Reno continues to be fun. Quick workout this morning followed by a walk around the casino just to get my vitamin D. Today should be a good day for writing, Cathleen is working the tradeshow all day so I should have a nice uninterrupted stretch.

The great thing about Cathleen is she has an audience member's sense of what is entertaining. As Henning Nelms put it in Magic and Showmanship, "Entertainment is broader than amusement. Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors is amusing; his Hamlet is not. Nevertheless, the fact that Hamlet is far more popular than the Comedy of Errors proves that it is also far more entertaining." What brought this about is that a main part of the lecture is to show how much is going on behind the scenes while someone is counting cards. Most people just assume that the counter simply keeps track of which cards come out, that's all. In truth, there's a lot more going on, a big part of this being money management. Most, if not all, use some variation of the Kelly Criterion (also commonly referred to as Kelly Betting, Kelly Strategy, Kelly Formula, etc. etc.) While I'll go into more depth on this later, the basics of it is expressed in this formula:

f = (bp - q)/b

Where f = fraction of your bankroll to bet

b = the odds on that bet

p = the probability of winning

q = the probability of losing

Now, that's a lot of shit to keep straight in you head, plus blackjack has a variety of bets to deal with. Most counters will not only use a simple count, but also will simplify Kelly with the following formula:

f = a/v

Where f = once again the fraction of your bankroll to bet

a = the players advantage

v = the games variance, usually the deviation of the game squared

The standard deviation in blackjack is right around 1.15 bets, squared that comes to 1.3225. So if the player's advantage is 2% that comes to .002/1.3225 = 0.15. So you would take your bankroll, say $200, your average bet should be $30.

Now, this is just the tip of the iceberg, everyone and their dog has an opinion on optimal betting, how it should be used, how complicated the formula should be, etc. etc. etc. If you check out any of the counting or advantage play forums you're going to see massive arguments being waged. It's actually a ton of fun to get lifted and read through those posts, but don't ever, ever get involved in them unless you want to see a black hole of time suck appear over your left shoulder and consume everything in its path. If the topic interests you I would highly recommend William Poundstone's fascinating book, Fortune's Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Formula that Beat the Casinos and Wall Street. (On a side note, all of Poundstone's books are fascinating, I highly recommend his biography of John Von Neumann, Prisoner's Dilemma.)

Now, my problem is how to represent the complex mathematics that a counter is constantly running through his head while simulating normal behaviour, and it must be entertaining. I was planning on having audience members call out numbers from 25 to 100 and then squaring them in my head or conversely extracting the square roots of a volunteer's number. To make it more impressive I could then do the same with cubing a number or extracting a large numbers cube roots. While this is an impressive feat, it lacks a visual punch.

On the other hand is the ever beautiful magic square. In case you don't know, magic squares are an arrangement of numbers in a square grid where the numbers in the columns, rows, and main diagonals all add up to the same sum.

So, the basis of the routine is to have an audience member shout out a number and then (rapidly and accurately) fill out a five by five square so that each row and column add up to that volunteered number. I love magic squares, they have been around since the beginning of time and are closely associated with hermetic studies. For instance, the square demonstrated above is commonly referred to as a Lo Shu square after the Chinese legend that states in order to control the Lo Shu river from flooding the square was used to control the course of the river's flow. (Western oculists will also refer to a variation of this square as the square of Saturn). In Agrippa's De Occulta Philosophia he expounded upon the magical significance of squares from the order of 3 to 9 each associated with one of the classical planets.

The main reason most magicians don't like using the magic square in performance is they say it's much too obvious that it uses mathematics in its construction and doesn't look 'magical' enough. Given the history of mathematics and the squares themselves this seems short sighted, but when I though about it, their perceived weakness of the feat is the perfect reason for me to include it in this lecture. Add to that the fact that it's visual, the audience can see me constructing the squares right in front of them, and voilà, I have the perfect way to represent the mental mathematics that are constantly going on behind the scenes.

That Cathleen, she's a keeper.

Soundtrack for this post:

I will be performing this new show, "Chicanery, Counting and Cee-lo: Memory and Simulation in Service to Skullguggery" on April 29th at 7:30 pm at Coney Island as part of the week long festivities for the Congress of Curious Peoples. More info here.

Time to work (cont)

Breakfast done. Since I've started training and eating clean I've become very aware of what's available when you're travelling. Which normally means yogurt/granola parfait for breakfast. Unless hashbrowns count as a vegetable. Which I guess they do, but let's not bullshit ourselves.

Next book in that stack is Corrinda's '13 Steps to Mentalism'. If 'Expert at the Card Table' is the bible of card cheating, then 13 Steps is the bible of mind reading. It has everything you could ever want in one book. There's been books on mentalism since then, but it is rare they're going to cover anything that Corrinda didn't include first, usually it's just a refinement or altered handling of an effect he's already covered beautifully.

Third we have Darwin Ortiz's 'Strong Magic'. Truth be told, Ortiz as a performer leaves me cold, but in theory the man is on point, even if the difference in watching him work versus what he writes is a definite case of, "Do as I say, not as I do." There's a handful of books that are worth reading on theory, but the funny thing about all of them is they have the 'there is only one way to do things, and it is my way' vibe to them that's puzzling. If magic is an art (indeed, it is THE ART from which all others descend but that's a post for another day) then what we're missing is the truth that all art is intensely personal which in turn means everyone will have their own approach. Magicians don't acknowledge this, the ego that allows one to stand in front of other people and perform tricks where one simple mistake means utter failure and humiliation does not allow room for thinking of others.

Last but not least on that pile, Lush's 'Vanilla Dee-Lite Hand Lotion'. I get asked all the time, "What happens when you get old and have arthritis?' There's no sign of that happening yet, but I will tell you what sucks about getting old and performing sleight of hand, and that's dry hands. Huge pain in the ass. I've tried a shit ton of hand lotions either they're too greasy or too perfumed or just don't leave any feeling of slight tack behind. Lush to the rescue. The one thing that works for me, totally worth the money and it smells great to boot. And it's vegan if that lifts your skirt.

Soundtrack for this post:

I will be performing this new show, "Chicanery, Counting, and Cee-lo: Memory and Simulation in Service to Skullduggery" on April 2th and 7:30 pm at Coney Island as part of the week long festivities for the Congress of Curious Peoples. More info here.

Time to work

So what do you do to get ready for a new lecture? In truth I had it all written a few months ago. And then....
I had a really good conversation with Cathleen, I was telling her about modern myths that no one realizes is a myth. She fired back with one of her own, and voila. I found a whole new way into the topic. I am a bear of limited intelligence, I do that frequently. So with just over three weeks to go, I'm locking myself in a hotel room in Reno and starting all over from scratch.

The workspace, all set to go. There's a gym, steam room, and an iPod loaded with old soul classics. Which is good because does anyone ever watch re-runs of Charmed anywhere else than in hotel rooms?

And on the right, the three books I brought with me. In truth, if I could have gotten them as ebooks I would have grabbed them in a heart beat. I know a lot of people do the whole brow beating over 'you can never recreate the feel of a physical book', and they're right. I can't take my tablet in the bath. But you know what? I travel, a lot. And being able to take a lot of books with you on one device? Its so nice I can't even begin to describe.

That said, right on top we have Conjuring Arts Research Society's 'The Expert at the Card Table' aka The Bible of Card Cheating. And Conjuring Arts did it up right, with gilt edges, faux leather cover, and embedded ribbon bookmark. It looks so much like a back pocket bible I use it on airplane flights, if you have an overly friendly flying companion, just whip that bad boy out and watch them quickly search elsewhere for a conversational victim. Unless you really want to hear how a hard bargaining financial wizard that just closed a multi-million dollar deal just happens to be flying coach on a red eye. Everyone in an airport is a baller, ever notice that?

(Going to get breakfast, will continue afterwards)

Holy shit!

Look at that, it's been over a year since I last posted anything. Even I can't believe that. Been slacking son.

In that year I got married, traveled to Machu Pichu, and performed at The Occult Humanities Conference. Busy times all full of absolutely great people.

Now let's kick off something entirely different.

On Tuesday, April 29th I'll be returning to the Congress of Curious Peoples at Coney Island. I love returning to NYC any chance that I get. Miss the food, miss the people, miss everything about it. I'll be doing another lecture/performance, this one entitled, "Chicanery, Counting, and Cee-Lo: Memory and Simulation in Service to Skulduggery."

Looking forward to it, and more importantly to the entire week. If you're not familiar with the Congress, make sure to look here. It's well worth your time.

Which brings us to today. When I first found out about this I approached Joanna Ebenstein and Aaron Beebe, the main organizers of the event, about doing a series of blog posts about my lecture/performance. I've got this strange idea that somehow looking behind the curtain could be every bit as entertaining as the act itself. In short, I want to open-source magic. Not in the sense of exposure, we have youtube for that today and that's a whole other entry all by itself, but the process of getting ready to stand in front of other people and go, "Ummmm...ta da?". Because let's face it, that's a terrifying prospect fit only for complete idiots  and raving egomaniacs. Luckily for me, I excel in both areas.

When I say that I approached Joanna and Aaron about this, it makes it seem as if there was ever any question. Those two are some of the most encouraging and positive people in the world today. It was like asking your parents if you could please clean up your room. You already know the answer to it before you open your mouth. So if you have the time, give them a look and definitely check out their new adventure: The Morbid Anatomy Museum.

So this is the start. I think the next should be, Why Magic?

Love you all.

Soundtrack for this post:

Top 20 Movies for 2012

Yes, I took my time with this one. Wanted to make sure I had the chance to watch some of the films that people loved and I hadn't yet seen. Prime example being Looper. I loved Brick, and after hearing that he'd asked the guy behind Primer to lend a hand with the theoretical side of time travel it seemed like a sure fire conclusion. (I did like Looper, but it veered it the last half, enough so it didn't make the list).

These aren't in any particular order, and some of them you'll have to hit your favorite P2P site because as usual, the studios are lagging behind, especially with some of the foreign films.

20. The Outing

Mathieu Seiler's latest is a deeply engrossing, adult fairytale. Starting with credits that look like Saul Bass worked on a mid-70's giallo it seamlessly introduces a family outing that slowly simmers with understated tension and hints of underlying traumas. After their dinner the family takes a short nap, only for the three women to awaken in a different part of the woods, injured, and with no memories of how they got there or what has happened to them. Seiler is a master a juggling multiple moods and story lines without ever lessening the suspense. To tell more would be to give away too much, but it is so worth your time.

19. Cut
So here's the set up. An acclaimed Iranian director filming a love letter to Japanese cinema, and it works so well it makes me cry. Shinji's brother, a low level debt collector, has been killed by the Yakuza for selling land to the Chinese. To make matters worse, his brother's debt is now his responsibility since his brother had taken out the loan to finance Shinji's film. He has 14 days to pay back 12 million yen. Shinji's plan is to go to the boxing club his brother used as an office every day, and let the yakuza punch him, as much as they want, each punch raising the price for being able to hit him. Afterwards, he comes home, puts a classic of cinema on the projector, and stands in the projected image, allowing this to heal his bruised and beaten body. This movie is definitely made by a crazed cinephile for other crazed cinephiles.

18. Beyond The Black Rainbow

Panos Cosmatos came literally out of nowhere to give us one of the great surprises of 2012. Last year was a bonanza for genre fans, and BtBR nailed the style and feel of what many of us cut our teeth on. An unabashed love letter to science fiction films of the mid-80's, BtBR is pitch perfect in its execution.

17. V/H/S

Another piece of evidence that 2012 was a bumper year for genre fans was Brad Miska's take on the horror anthology. Filled with some of the best directors working in truly independent horror, the story is framed by Wingward and Barret's tale of a group of degenerates hired by a film collector to break into a house and steal a valuable VHS tape. This framing allows Ti West, David Bruckner, and Glen McQuaid among others to do what they do best. Loved it and watched it one night after another.

16. Holy Motors

There's a reason everyone is talking about this film, and they're doing a much better job at it than I ever will. I'd recommend that you not read anything until you've seen the film, and then go ahead and see what others have said. It's so good. However, I did read a great comment the other day questioning whether this movie would have been as lauded if it had been released back when El Topo and Sweet Movie were kicking around. That's a great question and makes you realize how much we've lost.

15. The Pact

I didn't even want to post the trailer to this film because it gives too much away and so misrepresents the film it's crazy. A touch of backstory here. Cathleen is an absolute whore for sleep. Seriously, nothing on earth can keep her from her bed, and when she goes to bed, forget trying to get her up. She went to bed, I was going through NF streaming looking for something to watch and figured I'd give this a shot. Five minutes later I went and literally got down on my knees for her to come watch how they'd used the camera during the opening shot. Not only did she watch that, she stayed up very late to watch the entire film. Discoveries like these are what keep us watching one bad film after another, knowing that somewhere out there is a gem like this just waiting for us. Absolutely loved it.

14. Beijing Blues

Zhang Huiling is a cop in China's capital city, trying to protect its citizens from all manners of low level con artists. Setting up his video camera in a series of imaginative places he gathers evidence of their swindles before moving in to try and stop them. With my obvious interest in pick-pockets, grifters, street-prophets, counterfeiters and fortune-tellers this was like stepping through the pearly gates. However, what truly placed it into my top twenty this year was the final scene, where career criminal mastermind Gold-digger Zhang, who presents himself as a blind folk singer, declares he will pull off one last heist. The two stand on a bridge, watching their operatives work in a back and forth cat and mouse game that left me swooning. Track this one down.

13. Killer Joe

William Friedkin, the man is a fucking legend. When your track record consists of The Exorcist, The French Connection, and To Live and Die in LA, then yeah, you've earned the legend status. Add into the equation it was the same writer he worked with on Bug, then you knew it was going to be one hell of a film. Killer Joe is a noir that stays within one family, and holy shit did these people put the fun into dysfunctional. Chris is kicked out of the house by his mother Adele who with the help of her boyfriend steals his stash of coke, leaving him $6,000 in debt to a gang of bikers. Soon everyone is conspiring to get their hands on a $50,000 life insurance policy. Gina Gershon actually redeemed herself with this role, and McConaughey, well, he just gets to play McConaughey to the tenth power. What surprised me is that this film hits the family insanity point just as hard as the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Just make sure you're not eating fried chicken while watching this one.

12. Spring Breakers

This one is going to be officially released on March 22nd but already made its way around the festival circuit. At first I had no interest in this film, except did you notice James Franco? The man rarely makes a mistake, so that piqued my interest. And thank god he did because this movie is insane. The director is Harmony Korine, writer of Larry Clark's 'Kids' and how the fuck they got this film funded is way beyond me. Halfway through I had to pause the film in order to find out who had it and when it turned out to be Benoit Debie, the dp of Gasper Noe's 'Enter the Void', I was not surprised. I will definitely be going to see this on the big screen.

11. The Thieves

Goddamnit this movie is fun! Seriously, that's the beginning and the end of it right there. Solid scripting, great action pieces, and super hot actors in amazing locales. That's the long and short of it right there. I was especially enthralled because Korean film has the money to pull off some big set pieces, and they're heavily influenced in this film by all of the HK classics, so what you're watching is another country's take on an iconic style that Hollywood plundered years ago. If you love heist films, you owe it to yourself to see this one.

10. The Woman

Holy shit did Lucky McKee hit it out of the park with this one. Starring some of my favorite actors, The Woman pulled no punches and asked for no forgiveness. Polly Mcintosh is fucking amazing in this role. It stands to the film's credit that you don't have to see Offspring, an earlier obscure film by the producer, to understand where this movie is coming from. Having seen Offspring and read Ketchum's 'Off Sesason' will help, but in all finality, this is simply evil vs evil with no punches pulled. Goddamn 2012 was good for us.

9. Kill List

Ben Wheatley, the man behind Kill List, made one of my favorite movies of all time, Down Terrace. So when this trailer leaked I was excited to see it but also a little apprehensive, hoping it wouldn't disappoint. I need never have worried because Kill List is tense from beginning to end. Jay, a private contractor, is coming off a botched job in Kiev that left him injured and unsure of himself, and as a consequence, financially struggling, a point which his wife has no problems with hanging over his head. The movie starts small with that setup, but soon turns into a veritable maelstrom of personal regrets and violent reprisals. Once again, this is one of those that if you haven't seen it yet, don't bother reading a single review and go watch it now. It will not disappoint.

8. Silver Tongues

Back in the day I used to get grilled all the time by our CFO who couldn't understand why people would hack websites without wanting to extract money. He simply couldn't put his head around it, that that many people would exhaust that many hours of work without a financial gain in the end. I was reminded of this several times in watching Silver Tongues. The movie will leave questions unanswered, and probably the best part of watching it is the conversations you'll have with friends afterwards. As with Kill List above, one of the most fascinatiing things about this film is how many lenses it can be viewed through. That being said, this is an actor's film. The performances of the two leads are a once-in-a-lifetime event and they both know and revel in this knowledge. I can't wait to see what Simon Arthur brings us next.

7. The Turin Horse

Bela Tarr is the very definition of an auteur, and any release by him makes me giddy, and this is the very best film he has ever made. In 1899 Nietzsche witnessed a horse being whipped by his owner and threw his arms around the neck of the horse to stop the violence. One month later he fell insane, a state that was to last the rest of his life. The Turin Horse asks what caused the whipping, and what happened to the horse and its owner both before and after this event. The strangest part of the film is that is feels contemporary, like a period piece, and yet post-apocalyptic all at the same time. Throw in a beautiful soundtrack by Mihaly Vig and you have a film that will stay with you forever.

6. The Invisible War


There are documentaries that go on to make a huge and powerful difference in society, Harlan County USA and Thin Blue Line immediately spring to mind, and I hope The Invisible War will as well. Focusing on rape within the US Armed Forces, this is an extremely hard documentary to watch. Not because of the act itself as such - horrific and terrible as it is - but more so because it rapidly becomes apparent that there is an institutionalized response of trying to sweep it under the rug, and indeed, protect serial rapists within the military. Sound like a harsh claim? Watch this film. Seriously, it will fuck you up, it will make you cry and will make you want to punch the world but it truly needs to be seen.

5. A Cat In Paris

My god I love French animation. They're quite content to ignore Japanese and American trends and move along in their own damn fashion. A Cat in Paris is unapolegetically European in style and tone, a touch too dark to make parent's comfortable with an endearing message and cuddly characters. In this I applaud them, because we all know that today's over-protective environment with four year olds being wheeled around in all-terrain strollers and protected from imaginary food allergies will never, ever grow up to be indivualized adults, hence all the more reliant upon buying products to fill that ever present hole in the middle of their psyche. However, the story here? A little dark, a little violent, and willing to impart that same mythology that fairy tales used to trade in so readily. Sheer perfection.

4. Amour

Haneke nails it once again. From its opening shot to the final close, Amour is a tightly controlled, deliberately paced meditation on love, life, and dying. The plot is simple, Anne and Georges, both in their eighties, after watching one of her student's recitals, are home and settled into their daily routine when Anne has a minor stroke. After returning from a hospital visit that is as embarassing and useless as it is aggravating - let's face it, this is the norm rather than the exception these days - Anne forces Georges to promise they will never go there again.

This simple, starkly realistic premise sets up one of the most devastatingly horrible movies ever made. In all true senses of the word, this is an uncompromisingly bleak horror film, yet one that will never be labeled as such. Throw into this mix their fifty-something daughter Eva who has her own baggage to deal with and this may be one of the most painfully honest films ever made.

3. Goon

One of my favorite movies of all time is Slapshot, so when I saw this on Netflix with that guy from the American Pie movies, of course I snubbed it immediately and vowed never to watch that steaming pile of shit. Until one night, whacked out of my mind on hash, Vicodin, a half rack of beer and trying to find something to watch with Boo, we decided to give it a shot knowing we could stop it at any time. I didn't realize that not only was this a fucking hilarious movie - a great hockey comedy no less - but a Jewish hockey movie! The only thing better than seeing someone in the crowd with a cardboard sign that says, "Doug Glatt is Hebrew for Fuck You!" is the star player Xavier LaPhlegm constantly screaming "Tabernac!". (Okay, so maybe you had to grow up close to Montreal for this to be as funny as it was to us.) Goon hits all the right spots and I can't wait to double bill it with Slapshot.

2. The Raid

The first time I saw Ong Bak I remember going, "How the hell are they going to top that? You can't. People will die." And then they did Chocolate, to which I had the same response. And then the first clips of The Raid started appearing online. This movie is insane, filled from beginning to end with the most amazing stunts ever put down on celluloid. It's only made more surreal knowing that it was all done live, no stunt doubles. To watch this film is to marvel at what the human body is capable of.

1. Berberian Sound Studio

Until this film I never remembered the name Toby Jones, instead just going, "Oh, he's that guy that was in ....". After BSS, I'll never forget his name. It's that much of a defining role. Toby plays a quiet sound engineer who specializes in nature documentaries. Through a polite comedy of errors he's hired to work on an Italian giallo called Equestrian Vortex. Soon though, everything starts to go bad in a very Lynchian manner. In fact, part of the fun is decoding not only the varying stratas of the film, but identifying all the knowing nods to cult directors. BSS is a film that works on several levels and amply rewards multiple viewings.


Where values lie

It's a strange concept, because most of the values society holds don't figure into my day to day operations. Working a day job? That's for cowards. Thieves? If it's true what every person in the west is indoctornated with and money is a fair trade for the work you do, then I have no problem with thieves, trust me, those bastards are working for that trade. I'm not trying to hold a contrary position, but after decades of watching the world around me, today's world runs on false morality and substantial collusion.

That said, there are things that piss me right the fuck off. Number one, people that claim they are street performers when they simply aren't. This pisses me off for one simple reason, and that's because street performing is the most terrifying experience you can go through. Take a look at how many people rank public speaking above a fear of dying and you'll see where I'm taking my position from. Street performing is the most thrilling experience you can ever have, and at the same time, the most terrifying thing you can ever do. Think about this, one minute you're part of a crowd, one amongst many. No one really notices you. However, the minute you put down your hat and announce yourself to the world at large, it is on. You've put yourself outside the crowd, and all eyes are upon you.You are separate.

I'm not complaining. Hell, I love every damn minute of it. However, that terror, that moment of setting yourself apart, has never left me. I've talked to enough of my fellow performers to know it hasn't left them either. I thought eventually that nervousness would leave but it hasn't. Each and every time I set out, that fear is there.

This is what pisses me off though. Because there's no half measures in street performing, you either commit or you don't, it's an all or nothing affair. Your crowds know immediately if you're faking it, if you're mailing it in, if you're hedging your bets.

I know the power of this fear. It's what drives us. That fear of failure will drive your performance to heights you've never imagined, all that nervous energy can make your performance the greatest thing you've ever felt. However, that's because there's a risk there. There is no audience quicker to turn on you than in a street show, because who the fuck were you to presume you're better than the rest of us? Street performers don't need to fly near the sun, our audiences will strip our feathers from our limbs much, much more quickly.

And this is what pisses me off about people that pretend they are street performers. Because they're taking that fear, that rite of passage, and using it as a business plan, a bullet point on their resume to claim false status. Let us have the rewards without the risk. This is why I will no longer participate with the Pike Market Busker's Guild, because not one single person involved in the leadership of that organization is a street performer, much less a street performer who works the market on a regular basis.  If they called it Ballard Open Mic Guild, then, maybe, they might have a leg to stand on, but street performers? Not a goddamn chance. And you know what? Those risks are minuscule. What, the world at large thinks you're an idiot? Join the majority of scientists we consider heroes in our modern pantheon. Because people may laugh at you? Name check your way through Harvard Classic's Bookshelf and name me one author that wasn't laughed at and ridiculed. The only thing at risk is your own self-image, and that is the most worthless currency on the face of the planet. If I don't feel like a complete and total idiot at least six times a day, then I'm not working. Brutal as it may be, I learn ten times from my failures as I do from my successes.

Let's face it, street performing is a gamble in a world that has lost sight of what the word means. There are no health plans for street performers, no 401ks, no retirement plans. Shit, we're the only profession left where people decide what to pay AFTER you've done your job. Can you imagine if a low level bureaucrat in your local government was paid this way, if you decided afterwards what they had done for you was truly worth? I guarantee those shitheads would be bending over backwards to take care of you versus telling you to take a number and wait until they had finished lunch. If doctors had to wait until after their consultations to get paid, those fuckers would be some attentive sons of bitches.

Our world needs to relearn the value of work versus spending the day avoiding working.

So yes, my final derision, the ultimate scorn I feel, is for people who claim to be street performers when they aren't. Because let's face it, street performing is the easiest thing in the world to do. That's what makes it beautiful. There's no talent agents, no stage managers, no directors. It relies upon nothing but yourself. All you have to lose is a false image, false pride, false nobility. No one can stop you, it's all up to you, your wins and your losses can be blamed on no one else. And to claim the title of a street performer without stepping out on those concrete blocks, well, let's face it, who then can you truly blame?

That answer, of course, it the simplest of all.

What a wonderful machine

(click for larger view)

That right there is the wonderful creation of Spyder and Brandon Bowman. As Spyder said, "Brandon forged the frame out of steel and we found an antique camera lens to weld on- it's still in early stages and we need to trick out the individual components but so far so good- it runs pretty nice too! Cheers!"

Both of them are so talented it hurts. Spyder is the man behind my wonderful knuckle tattoos (and a ton of planned work in the future) and also runs The Nautilus Studio. I can't wait to have my imps done with that tattoo gun. And if you're looking for the best tattooists in town, check out Apocalypse Tattoo.

magic magic magic

It's night, I've got a bottle of red wine in front of me and The Staple Singers on the stereo. This seems oddly appropriate given what I want to write about.

Every so often when I'm performing I'll hear a voice going, "But what about real magic?"

I have to admit, when I hear that, I get excited. I love magic, and every time I hear that question there exists the possibility that I've found another fanatic. However, inevitably, my hopes are dashed. After finishing that show and having the opportunity to talk to the person who posed the question, their response is invariably of the, "I'm an intuitive and a empath," stance that so characterizes the "new age" movement.

There's a couple of problems with this. First of all, what type of narcissistic, self-absorbed dill-weed do you have to be to think that being intuitive and empathic marks you as somehow special? Welcome to the human race Copernicus! Those are coping mechanisms the rest of us have enjoyed since birth. In fact, I'd be willing to lay short odds that those two qualities are the strongest traits ensuring humankind's evolution in the first place. After all, learning to trust your instincts that right now might not be the best particular time to go beyond the edge of the campfire's flickering light and take a piss was probably an incredibly powerful survival trait, and if you're banding together to stave off saber-tooth tigers, hyenas, and maybe, just maybe, take down a bison or two, knowing when and where it was okay to make fun of Muggs the Mighty Hunting War Chief would probably come in just as handy.

The second disappointment with these people is the lack of knowledge or even the desire to study their own history, which is simply mind-boggling to me. I believe magic is the one true art, the art from which all others sprang, and that doesn't make you curious? Even though they build their entire lives around magic, there's no interest in finding out where it comes from, who were the earlier practitioners, and how have these ideas changed and evolved over time?

I'm not engaging in hyperbole here. Anyone that is the slightest bit politically involved quickly becomes aware that there is a secret history to this world. Half an hour in the library studying labor history will overturn years of public school indoctrination. Start tracing those threads back further and further into the past and the lies become larger and more transparent. Rogan P. Taylor wrote an amazing book called, "The Death and Resurection Show: From Shaman to Superstar" that I wish everyone could read. Unfortunately it is out of print and prohibitively expensive - around $200 last time I looked - so take advantage of your public library and put in an ILL. The thrust of Taylor's argument is that all performing arts derive from early practices of magic, and as civilization pushed nomadic tribes out from easily habitable areas, those nomadic tribes turned to performing acrobatic feats and magical tricks to maintain not only their ways of life but their religious beliefs as well. These wandering performers laid the groundworks for theater, music, comedy, and every other form of art that we now hold so dear today.

(For those of you following along, I have now switched from The Staple Singers to Mazzy Star for the next section. Just in case you wanted the soundtrack.)

I do realize I'm skipping willy-nilly but I'm giving a broad overview into issues I wish to explore more deeply as this blog goes on. This rambling is more my own road map than for the benefit of anyone else.  Also, I realize I make no attempt to separate magic from "magick". There's a simple reason for this and that is there is no difference between the two. It used to bother me when people made such a big deal about spelling it "magick" and then I realized it was actually a blessing in disquise because the only people that felt the need to do so didn't actually practice magic in the first place. It's a shorthand, a quick visual reference that the article, book or monologue that follows is 9 times out of 10 written by an armchair occultnik with little to no practical experience. More so, it's also a quick reference to the extent and depth of their reading and interest within the field. (Sadly, most of them still think Crowley coined the term which just goes to prove my point.)

One thing I find interesting about this is how the '60s new age movement put such an emphasis on the individual, an emphasis we have yet to shake off. I've read a lot of books put out by the old Rosicrucian/New Thought/Theosophical societies and I've always loved the fact that in the front pieces or  introductions to those books, they always stressed that the knowledge contained therein was presented with an eye towards making the entire world a better place, to uplifting society as a whole. These people sincerely believed that by engaging in this work, by instructing others, they were helping the world take a step towards universal equality and hopefully, enlightenment. I have yet to see one modern book on these very same topics contain such a sentiment.

This is mirrored in the role of shamans in modern 'occult' writing. As Taylor and most anthropologists point out, the role of the shaman was to transport their entire tribe into another world. Contrast this with most of the popular writing you're liable to run across today, where the role of the shaman is not to transport the entire tribe, but to journey all by their lonesome and then come back and tell his or her tribe members what they experienced. It goes from a communal experience to an authoritative declaration, a dynamic not usually found anywhere else within that very same tribal structure.

Should it surprise anyone that we see this shift when our very own occult groups have gone from focusing on elevating society to elevating the individual? Of course not. In fact, it illustrates how magic came to be practiced in the first place. The shaman, tasked with carrying his audience into another world, used any and all techniques necessary to convince people that what they were seeing was 'otherworldly'. His fellow tribe members, having grown up in the same cultural milieu, would be familiar with the same legends, the same stories, and be able to follow those references into the very same experiential areas. Someone from outside would need proof, miracles they could see with their eyes in order to be convinced of other lands where animals could talk and miracles could occur, and so the shamans made dolls dance, voices fly about the room and come up from the ground. They escaped bonds no mortal could escape, they walked on ropes, held coals in their mouths, they proved the gods were present at that very moment and in doing so gave the doubting onlooker permission to escape reality.

Anthropologists, critically watching tribal séances, introduced the observer effect decades before physicists became aware of it.

So what do I think magic is? I think magic is a set of techniques, a techné that has been handed down through generations, a codified collection of observations that speaks to our position in the world and the commonality of our experiences. Proust once observed that all human motivation can be written on the back of a postage stamp and given that restriction the 78 cards of the tarot suddenly seem immensely expansive. I use Giordano Bruno's art of memory on a daily basis to remember my routines and patter. Each morning I get up and do yoga which keeps both my mind and body sharp. After that I do a set of exercises from The Golden Dawn, and any time I doubt the efficacy of those I simply recollect Zen Master Seung Sahn's reply when asked about the importance of mantras, "The words don't matter. You could repeat 'Coca-Cola Coca-cola' over and over and it would have the same effect." After that I do a tarot reading to get a different perspective, a change of view on situations I'm currently facing. Following that I meditate, and then perform a banishing to clear out the morning and get ready for the day. It's a clear demarcation that I've gone from sleep to waking and now it's time for an entirely new start.

The most important thing is the repetition. Magic is not knowledge hoarded, it's a living practice. That's what has kept it going down through generations. Repetition is key, Gertrude Stein knew it in her bones. Repetition is what leads to research. Through research we uncover the links to our past. When the Golden Dawn drew up their rituals, there was very little knowledge of Hermetic Magic. The Graeco-Egyptian papyri hadn't even been discovered yet, most of their writings and rituals came from Francis Barrett's 'The Magus or Celestial Intelligencer' which would probably nowadays be called, "Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy for Dummies". Now we have an entire field of Papyrology to draw from, and from that research, we come closer to understanding our ancestors as they truly were.

Most of all, magic is resistance. It's a resistance to the status-quo. No one practices magic because they're satisfied with the way things are. Magic is practiced to change ourselves and the world around us. It starts with the knowledge that the world is not right, we were not meant to live this way, and it's the constant search to right those wrongs outside of accepted means. Magic has always been the angry upraised middle-finger to an apathetic acceptance of injustice, and it will always be the weapon of choice for the disenfranchised, the disillusioned, and the downright disgusted.

Most of all, it is goddamn beautiful.

Alchemical Transformations: The Abstract Films of Harry Smith

"Harry Smith not only seemed to get everywhere (at least within America), he also gave the impression that he could do anything. He weaved in and out of various cultural milieux, many of them notorious, and turned his mind to countless different creative and cultural endeavours. In a time when computers had not yet nudged their way into everyday life, Smith was making a decent attempt to turn his brain into a multimedia hub, a receptacle capable of sucking in and spewing out various bits of data, juggling them around in new, enlightening ways. "

Alchemical Transformations: The Abstract Films of Harry Smith