Gifts for Subversives

The J. Crew and Williams-Sonoma holiday catalogs are raining into your mailbox -- but what to get your tree-hugging, freeway-blocking, Old Navy-picketing, world-trade-disrupting, radical pals who just wouldn't look right in a powder-blue cashmere sweater? We've got a few ideas.

| Fri Dec. 17, 1999 3:00 AM EST

Protest Organizer

Lest you forget both your activist history and those important lunch meetings, Berkeley's Slingshot Collective has created a Y2K organizer for rabble-rousers. While some conventional pocket calendars include reminders of significant dates in the past, Slingshot's sense of history is slightly more provocative than the typical "Ben Franklin flies his kite in a lightning storm" fare.

In addition to traditional holidays like Samhain, Slingshot commemorates strikes and protests, arrests and massacres, dubious military actions and the births and deaths of notable radicals and artists. Don't forget to observe March 15 (on which, in 1977, Turkish fascists armed with police weapons attacked students, starting four years of terror), July 11 (the day when, in 1892, Cour d'Alene miners seized mines), and December 22 (the date in 1997 on which Mexican paramilitaries murdered 45 peaceable refugees in Acteal.).

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In a shocking breach of anarcho-orthodoxy, the organizer does list Columbus Day rather than "Indigenous People's Day." But who's complaining? It also includes a primer on your rights in case of arrest, a lesson on wheat-paste postering, and, for the ladies, a menstrual chart and tips to prevent yeast infections -- features you simply won't find in a Palm Pilot.

($5 postpaid from Slingshot Collective, 3124 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA 94705. $15 for four copies. Checks/money orders accepted.)


Hold (Up) The Phone

For years, Ma Bell's offspring have designed pay phones that don't give change -- and steal your nickels and dimes instead. A programmable tone dialer from Radio Shack ($24.99 from Radioshack.com) may be an anarchist's gift of redemption. Inside the dialer is a tone-generating crystal. If your friend were to go to Jdr.com or any local electronics store, purchase a replacement 6.5536 MHz crystal and solder it in, the modified dialer could help you redeem the nickels the phone company has stolen. You can program the gadget to imitate the star-button tone five times in sequence, a key phrase in phone-system language meaning: "Hey! Some poor sap just dropped another quarter in this here pay phone." When the phone-system computer asks for money, your friend puts the dialer against the mouthpiece and drops virtual quarters until the computer responds, "Thank you." No, thank you. But this trick is getting harder; some companies have changed their systems so your new "red box" won't work. And there's the minor drawback that your pal could be charged with a felony -- Ma Bell doesn't like people messing with her kids.


What a Gas!

Helping derail the WTO is fun, but breathing eye-burning, throat-searing tear gas is no fun at all. Next time, you and your pals will be prepared for the foot soldiers of global capitalism with a stylish new model from Gas Masks Inc.

The 'Stabilizer'
Attractive and practical!
~
The company carries a wide variety, with Schwartzeneggerish names like Millennium, Gladiator, Stabilizer, Existor, Champion, and Phalanx Survivor. Want to bring the kids? No problem. The Champion Jr. and Little Ranger are also available. A bit pricey at $144 and up, but these masks are high fashion next to the old Army surplus models. Reliable, too: "We WILL NOT," says the company's website, "sell any gas masks that we would not put on our own children."

And, if you're already nostalgic for Seattle, the search term "WTO" can bag you all sorts of protest memorabilia on eBay, from videos to "I Survived" T-shirts to a rock the seller claims was thrown at a police officer during the melee.


Botching the Watchers

So, your sister is using her "red box" to make illegal phone calls, or perhaps running off Free Mumia fliers on the company copy machine. With the proliferation of video surveillance, how can she be sure she's not on candid camera?

Fortunately, Hacker's Home Page -- in addition to offering a bewildering variety of illegal devices for hacking, phreaking, and cheating of all descriptions -- sells the Video Camera Detector ($125), a hand-sized, battery-powered device that tells you when you're in the limelight. For your more mischievous pals, this site also offers the Video Camera Destroyer ($275), which the hackers claim can permanently disable any video camera from up to 100 meters at the push of a button.

Pinhole camera
A vision thing
~

On the flipside, you can use The Man's own tools against him. Spycompany.com sells pinhole video cameras from $119 and up. You'll be glad you got one for your pal, Redwood, after he videotapes the logging company hooligans roughing you up. Spycompany also has units disguised as clocks, smoke detectors, and exit signs. The tapes may not be admissible in court, but they'll make great entertainment at activist recruiting parties.


Passing Lane / Get Lost

The construction company security guards have noticed you in your Earth First! t-shirt skulking near the site where the red-bellied woodpecker's local habitat will soon be lost to condominiums. Good thing you're a private investigator, or at least have the photo-ID badge to throw the goons off scent. In addition to British Honduran passports and master's degrees, Espionage Unlimited sells IDs for all sorts of tight situations ($19.95 and up).

British Honduras passport'
This could be yours!
~
With a little chutzpah, you'll pass for a reporter, parachutist, or minister. Or perhaps scuba diver, fashion photographer or bounty hunter would be more convenient?

For your pals who are really in trouble, the company's "Investigations and Special Services" page offers you a break from your past (price varies wildly according to circumstances). To quote the Web site: "We specialize in getting people lost, permanently! Get a new past, a new name, social security number, address and phone number (anywhere in the world), a college degree and ID and documentation to back it all up!" Get outta here.

Photos courtesy of: Slingshot Collective; Gas Masks Inc.; Spy Company; and Espionage Unlimited.