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The President's Last Bang

In 1961, the government of South Korea's Second Republic was overthrown in a military coup led by Major General Park Chunghee. For the next 18 years he dragged South Korea into the 20th Century through a combination of exuberant economic policies and an even more exuberant exercise of raw, authoritarian power. In October of 1979, he was assassinated at a private dinner party by the Director of the Korean CIA.

"The President's Last Bang" chronicles the events of that October evening in 1979.

I'm not going to say much about this movie, except to say that it's well worth seeing, though you should probably have the stomach for watching blood pooling on marble floors, and a liking for stories wherein the best laid plans of mice and men unravel with increasing alacrity on account of simple, straightforward ass-hattery. The film looks great, has some wonderful sight gags (probably some good verbal gags too, but since it's in Korean with English subtitles, who can tell?), and it takes a close look at a subject I never realized I was interested in:

"But what's it really like to be caught up in a coup d'etat?"

Watching this movie, I found myself sinking into a deeper and deeper consideration of my fear of death by ass-hattery, which I would describe this way: the fear of knowing during that patch of time between the moment you discover you are certainly going to die, and the moment when you actually do die, that the reason you are going to die is because some ass-hat did something indescribably stupid or inept.

I think it's a little bit like the special fear many people have of being eaten by a shark. At the moment when you know you are about to die, you don't want to be reminded that you are a helpless piece of meat.

You want to be spread out there on the pavement, breathing your last out after having jumped in front of a bus in order to save a small child's life, or be sprawled there on the grimy linoleum of your local fast food eatery, bleeding out your last after having wrestled the Maniac With The Automatic Rifle to the ground, knocking him unconscious and saving untold numbers of lives.

As opposed to being a member of the Korean CIA standing around the Secret Presidential Retreat, minding your own beeswax, the night the ass-hat director of your agency decides to assassinate the President, mostly because he's just fed up.

Actually, this movie is really, really interesting in a lot of different ways but I don't feel like writing it all up right now. I'm a baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad movie critic. Just rent the damned thing and watch it. And don't forget to check out the extra feature interview with the director on the DVD.

He's the guy I want to show me around the next time I'm in Seoul.

[Netflix, B & N, ]

Industry Directions

By way of Making Light's "PNH's Sidelights" section, a brief review (from The Onion) pertinent to those of us slaving away this morning on our Great American and/or Terran SF Novels:

"Science-Fiction Novel Posits Future Where Characters Are Hastily Sketched".

Cats Are Scenes. Plants Are Poems.

I have a diabetic cat that I have managed to keep alive going on 15 years now. I can't keep a houseplant alive for love nor money.

The cat is getting on and things are breaking down inside him not just because of his moderately advanced age, but also because of the diabetes. No matter how much work I put into fighting his disease, it's winning, it's always been winning, and all the totality of my efforts have ever been is an orderly retreat from the relentlessly advancing enemy inside him.

Somebody could give me a healthy and strong houseplant and even though I remember to water it and put it near a nice window and check on it daily, it dies. Maybe because my windows face north? Maybe plants just hate me? Maybe because they won't come and sit on my lap when they aren't feeling so well or just because they've decided to sit on my lap?

My cat's appetite has nearly disappeared which is a very bad state of affairs for a diabetic cat. If he won't eat, you can't give him his insulin, and if you can't give him his insulin, everything falls apart in a big fat hurry. Fortunately, my vet gave me a pill, an antihistamine, that for some reason makes him have an appetite. I call it his "hungry pill". In the morning I give him a hungry pill. Then I put his food out, then I put him in front of his food, then he starts to eat hungrily, and then I give him his morning shot of insulin. In the evening, same thing. This keeps his weight up, keeps his energy up, keeps the sugar mostly out of his pee, and keeps him coming over to crawl onto my lap.

Plants, I don't know. I just don't get it.

The cat just jumped up onto my desk. He's now sitting annoyingly close to my left arm as I try to type. Now he's dipped his head and is pressing against my shoulder with the top of his head. It's a stop-action head-butt. He will stay like that for a very long time, until I finally break down, stop typing and scratch him behind the ears, or until he thinks of something else he wants to do.

The cat pushes back. Plants don't. I need the work to push back. I'm sure poems push back at genuine poets, but they don't (at least the thud-dumpers I try to write) push back at me. Prose with characters doing things, saying things, wanting to do things but not doing them, wanting to say things but not saying them... that sort of thing pushes back at me, and so I manage to keep them alive.

Scenes are cats. Poems are plants.


Because I am a person of enormous generosity (this is well-known), and because I had a few extra bucks at the time, and because I wanted to see them myself, this last Christmas I gave a couple of my friends a boxed set of 8 DVDs called "Horatio Hornblower: Collector's Edition". I watched the first one with them ("The Duel"), and then borrowed the next three and have just finished watching those.

For those of us attracted to the Nautical Lifestyle, I cannot recommend these Hornblower DVDs highly enough. The films are from a TV Miniseries by A&E and so things we might call "production values" are necessarily a bit lower than what you see in a major Hollywood motion picture like "Master and Commander", but they are plenty high enough. Oh, there is the occasional shot of a sea battle where you can tell by the way the water behaves you are looking at models, but that's only occasionally. Most of the time the long shots of the fleet underway are plenty hope-and-gloryish.

But the real value here is the story-telling, and the acting.

This is great stuff. I've seen four of them so far, the first being the weakest in my opinion but only because I don't really care for the one guy irrationally having it in for the other guy type story. But even so, that one and the rest are genuinely stirring in all the ways we expect to be stirred as subscribers to the Nautical Agenda.

So all you Hornblower fans out there, and you Patrick O'Brian nuts too, rent or buy these Hornblower DVDs, then pop some popcorn or open a few granola bars, and...Crack on!

Like smoke & oakum.

[Netflix, B & N, ]

Killing Buffoons, Redux

So Moussaoui says he and shoe-bomber Richard Reid (arrested in December of 2001) were to fly a plane into the White House on September 11, 2001.

The sad part is, people are going to believe him. The verdict is going to come back "Death" and the sentence could well be carried out before people actually take a moment to notice how laughable his claim is.

Well, clearly the man wants to go out in a blaze of self-aggrandizing, delusional glory and people are going to be eager to oblige him -- the final coming together, the perfect storm of systemic incompetence and the culture's magical thinking.

It's really going to be something to behold.

Polite People

Visiting Google News this morning, my eye was immediately caught by the story of the killing of six people in a house on Capitol Hill in Seattle and the subsequent suicide of the shooter. I am originally from Seattle and know Capitol Hill well.

The first thing you do is check for clues to determine whether by some extremely remote chance you might know some of the victims. Seems unlikely I do. Then you read around a number of stories to see what else you can find out. Naturally, many of the reports are repeats of the wire stories so most of them say about the same thing. The local papers have a bit more.

And then I check the CNN site, and see the headline: "Seattle gunman was 'very polite'".

Well, I mean, of course he was "polite". As I understand it, he was also "respectful" and "deep". These shooters always are, aren't they?

I don't know how long it's going to take the authorities to realize that we need to start keeping an eye on these polite people. What I'd really like to see is a Polite People Surveillance Program, but I don't expect I'll see that any time soon. Too many Constitutional so-called "scholars" would be barking about that one.

But, personally, I don't see a problem with it. If you aren't a polite person, you don't have anything to hide, do you? All I'm saying is that if you know somebody who is polite, I don't see what the problem is, just giving a little tip-off to the local authorities. Same with respectful and deep people. It's just surveillance. It's not like anybody's freedoms would be curbed.

And if we could stop just one of these polite people, wouldn't it be worth it?

Arms Too Short To Wring God's Neck

Dear God:

There are some mornings when I long to believe in you. This morning is one of those.

I hope it doesn't irritate you too much that I'm writing to somebody I don't believe in. It's kind of weird, I know, but I don't really know what else to do at the moment. If it bugs you, maybe you could look at it this way: Here on Earth people often think to themselves, "I believe in my friends," which doesn't mean we doubt our friends exist, of course. There's no question they do. What we are reaffirming in our minds is that they will be constant. So maybe you could manage to see this note along those lines. Let's just leave aside for the moment the question of whether I believe in your existence, and just assume that I believe in you as a constant friend of humanity.

I was visiting my friend Avedon's web site this morning and I found a link to an article by Doug Ireland on how gays are being targeted by Shia death squads in Iraq, and how when gays go to the U.S. Military for help, they are laughed at or ignored. Okay, that was bad enough, but from there I followed a link to a story about two Iranian teenagers, Ayaz Marhoni and Mahmoud Asgari, being hanged because they were gay.

I remember hearing about this at the time, back in July of 2005, I guess. It bugged the hell out of me, naturally, but I have to be honest and say I forgot about it pretty quickly.

But then this morning I saw this picture:

Jesus Christ, God, they were just kids. Look at them.

Okay, I know that in your view this sort of thing is our fault, not yours. But come on. Everybody knows you could have spared them if you'd wanted to. You parted the Red Sea, after all, and you can bring people out of ten-year comas. You can even make Mother Mary appear on a piece of toast.

But fine. Whatever. It's us, not you, if that's how you want to see it. Anyway, it's water under the bridge, unless you are in the mood to resurrect them. So, forget it. It's done. It happened. But maybe you could just do this for us?

Could you just make sure they are happy where they are now? And while we're at it, could you make sure that the guys who did this thing are at least discomfited in some manner?

I won't go so far as to beg you to smite them with your mighty sword of justice or anything, but maybe you could make their lives miserable? Or if they are dead already, maybe they could suffer a little bit for their inhumanity?

This guy:

This guy:

And this guy:

And anybody else who had a hand in this thing.

As you know, after the news of this thing got out, the Iranian government was really pissed off and so started saying the reason Ayaz and Mahmoud were killed was because the two of them had raped a 13 year old. Of course that story turned out to be bullshit. They always try that. It's the "gay panic" defense in another guise. But I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.

Of course what really happened is that a relative of one of the boys wanted them dead because they were known to be gay, and known to be lovers. In short, it was an "honor killing". Okay, okay, I know: our fault, not yours.

Now, as I understand it you have the ability to exist in all places and at all times. If that's the case, I just have one more favor to ask of you. No, I'm not going to ask you to go back and undo this thing. I know you're not into that. But I would like to ask you to look at this picture:


I guess that was taken when Ayaz and Mahmoud were on the way to their executions, on account of them crying and all. If you look closely, you will notice that the two boys are hand-cuffed to each other.

That's a pretty evocative image, in my view, and it got me to wondering: Do you know if they were they still in love with each other at that moment?

You know how we are down here. Sometimes we're not, I don't know, as true to each other as we might be. I can easily see Ayaz and Mahmoud hating each other at that moment, and each one blaming the other for what was about to happen to them.

If you really can wander all over time and the landscape and all, like people say you can, maybe you could go back and make it not be the case that they were hating and blaming each other at that moment? Not that letting them still be in love with each other at that moment would change all that much, but still. It seems a small enough act of grace. You're such a big shot, you could at least do that much for these poor kids, couldn't you?

Summing up, if you could just make sure that those two boys are happy now, wherever they are, and that the people who killed them are now miserable, I would really appreciate it. I "believe in you", right? LOL. I'm sure you can do that for me.

If you can't, then probably the most respectful thing I can do for you at that point is to continue not believing in you. I find that under some circumstances, the most well-mannered thing to do is to politely avert my eyes from what I can't bear to look at.

Here's hoping you can help,

Werckmeister Harmonies

Not for the first time, I wish I were a trained musician.

I did take Music Appreciation in elementary school, though. And studied the saxophone for a while, and, even more briefly, the violin. I remember being astonished to discover that flats were sharps, and vice-versa, only with different names. This bothered me. Everything should have its own name, I thought. Why give the same note two names? And who would ever think up such a silly system?

A guy named Werckmeister, that's who. And what he has to do with "Werckmeister Harmonies", well, I'll leave that up to you to decide.

This movie is 2 hours and 15 minutes long, in black-and-white, in Hungarian (with English subs, of course), and -- I just read this from a guy who claims to have counted them himself and I didn't so I can't say he's right, but I certainly believe him -- there are only 37 shots in the entire film. If you do your math, you will realize that at least some of the shots in this film must last for a very, very long time. Your math is correct. No need to show your work.

While watching this film, it occurred to me that a Hollywood remake of this thing (not bloody likely) would probably be called "Hungarian Men Walking" inasmuch as a number of those lengthy shots are of a man, or of groups of men, just walking through the town where this story takes place.

It's odd, but just the other day I recommended Dhalgren to my nephew, and while watching this movie I thought: this is a bit like Dhalgren in Hungary. Maybe "Werckmeister Harmonies" is D-sharp to Dhalgren's E-flat. If you liked Dhalgren, you might just like this strange movie. I did, more or less inexplicably, except maybe for the fact that I loved Dhalgren.

Not that they are in any way the same, of course. Except for the ways in which they are.

A young man, not really simple-minded I don't think, but certainly simple-souled, lives in a town in Hungary. He's a helpful fellow, doing all sorts of chores for people in town. He's curious, and full of optimism, but not stupidly so. He seems to understand that life is difficult, and certain things need to be done even though we wish we didn't have to do them. Still, none of that is any reason not to be friendly and helpful to people if you can be.

And then late one night a tractor slowly comes into town pulling a very large trailer -- the size of double-wide house trailer, only the trailer is made of corrugated steel. The tractor creeps its way through the darkened streets until it arrives in the market square where it stops and leaves the trailer.

The next day, our optimistic young man goes to the market square, buys a ticket, enters the trailer to see the featured exhibit: a large, dead whale.

And then things start to go wrong.

Look, I'm not going to tell you to see this film. Well, yes, I am: See this film. But only see it if you're open to a 2 hour and 15 minute movie about people walking through their town and then a whale in a trailer shows up. I'm not saying that's what this movie is about, but I think just like one of those cut-out silhouettes of kids showing how tall (high?) you have to be before you can get on a carnival ride, you have to be open to seeing the kind of movie I just described for you to eventually be glad you rented and watched this thing.

It's beautiful. I loved it. Have an open mind.

[Netflix, B & N, ]

Terrorist Employment Program

I was listening to an interview with Dershowitz this morning and he was talking about his new book, Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways. At one point, he made mention of an idea I'd heard elsewhere, possibly in an interview I heard the other day with, I believe,  Caroline Daniel, White House correspondent for the Financial Times. They both were talking about the need for some sort of middle judicial way for dealing with alleged miscreants like the people currently being held by the U.S. Government in Guantanamo.

Okay, so let's have this "third way" already. If we can't try the prisoners in Guantanamo because we might accidentally find them not guilty, and if we can't hold them as prisoners of war because there isn't a real war that will actually end at some point so we can eventually let them go, well then... whatever the hell we're going to do with them, let's do it already.

Say, I have an idea. Let's use them as slaves.

Using enemy prisoners as slaves is something of a grand tradition among your tonier imperial powers, I believe. In the old days, all your best hegemonic enterprises had enemy prisoner slaves.

Look, I know at first blush the idea seems a bit dicey, but hear me out.

First of all, think about the plight of these shmucks down there. They have to wear these bright orange outfits. You know they aren't getting to shower more than once a week or so. Funkeeee! People are bugging them day after day for information which, assuming they had any in the first place, is years out of date by now. They're hanging around in cages with nothing to do but read their Holy Books (assuming somebody didn't flush their copy down the toilet, of course). How boring is that? I dunno, do they get to exercise at all? Shooting baskets? Tossing the football? A little four-square maybe?

We get reports of hunger strikes and people trying to hang themselves with their underwear or what-all. I mean, come on, can you blame them? What else is there to do? I don't even think they get to watch T.V.

Everybody knows the benefits of having to get up every morning and put in a good day's work. It gives you a dependable schedule, plenty of invigorating exercise, a sense of accomplishment, improved sleep patterns, less depression and it keeps your bowels regular. I've had one sort of job or another ever since I moved away from home and I've never once felt the urge to hang myself with my underpants.

So, you know, I think we can all agree that it would be better to give these guys something meaningful to do everyday -- polishing the Caddie, cleaning out the septic tank, having compulsory kinky sex with their owners -- than to leave them down there to just rot.

And, yes, I can already hear the Constitutional Scholars whining about the 13th Amendment:

Section 1: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Okay, I can see that being a problem for some people. But look, we've also got these sections in the Constitution:

Article I, Section 7: The Congress shall have Power... To declare War...


Amendment IV: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

and we've pretty much found our way around those. We need a memo, here, is all. Get the Attorney General on the case.

There are about 600 prisoners down there -- er, I mean, detainees, of course -- so that's clearly not enough guys to give every American citizen a slave. I was trying to figure out how we'd do this... have a drawing? Like a raffle or something? But then it occurred to me that there are 535 members of Congress. Throw in the nine Justices of the Supreme Court. That brings us up to 544. President and Vice-President gets us to 546. Members of the Cabinet probably gets us up to about 555. So, you know, we have a few left over. Maybe Rumsfeld and Condi Rice could get a couple extra each. I don't know. These sorts of details can be worked out.

The argument for giving them to the members of our government is based on the fact that you don't want to be inhumane about this. You want to do it the right way, if you're going to do it. If you've ever spent any time at all in the BDSM scene, you'll know how truly hard it is to find competent and skilled bondage tops. Most of them, I mean, really, they just have no idea of how to properly dom their slave-meat. It's embarrassing sometimes. These guys... Congress, the President, the Justices... seems to me they've got the sort of experience we're looking for here, and as Bush has famously said: "It's hard. It's hard work."

I, personally, have never doubted for a moment that it's hard. I'll bet it's hard all the time, twenty four hours a day. So why shouldn't they get a little help with all that hardness?

Yeah, yeah, "world opinion", the "Geneva Convention", and all that. Well, we live in a different world now, don't we? Everything changed after 9/11, didn't it? We owe it to America to use these guys as slaves.

Otherwise the terrorists will have won, see.

The Contemplative Life

There is a small dark thing in the bathtub this morning. I noticed it out of the corner of my eye as I was in there otherwise engaged. I think: "Damn. There's a bug in the bathtub."

I prepare myself to kill it. I'm not exactly a Buddhist or anything, but I do hate killing things, even bugs. Still, I hate bugs hanging around, um, well, bugging me. So I gather a small wad of toilet paper in my hand and prepare to squish the thing.

Upon approach, I discover the bug is one of those small, mothy things. Not a fly. Not an ugly crawly thing. Just a little mothy thing. I throw the wad of toilet paper away. It seems I am prepared to live with little mothy things.

This has to be an issue of brain-wiring. I think I have hidden in my brain something like those books of ship and aircraft silhouettes, prepared for the purpose of distinguishing friend from foe. Silhouettes of little mothy things: okay. Silhouettes of ugly little crawly things: kill the son-of-a-bitch.

I am now trying to decide whether I should rescue the little mothy thing from the bathtub before I take my shower. If I don't, it will surely perish in the deluge. If I do, what the hell am I supposed to do with it? Find a nice wall for it? With luck, my cat will find it soon and eat it. I guess I don't mind all that much having the thing killed, so long as I am not the one who has to do the killing.

Um. I get the feeling that with a little bit of effort, I could turn this post into some sort of parable, or analogy, or metaphor. I'm sure there is some sort of simple but profound moral lesson to be found in all this, if only I could get the thing organized. But it's Friday morning, the weekend is nearly here, and as I write this, my morning schedule is falling apart.

Sometimes you have to go for the literary value of the moment. Sometimes you have to get showered for work. And sometimes the cat eats the little mothy thing before you can get to it.

Today I will live my life as if the cat has eaten the mothy thing.

Amen. So be it.

By Jo Walton

With Jo's permission, I've boosted a poem she wrote in comments as a response to my post "Mr. Dickens in Africa". She didn't provide a title. I would have called it "Desmond" because I'm moved by the spirit of the boy. But it ain't mine to entitle so I guess it's unentitled:

They bring kids in infected so they won't live long,
And you have to give them coffins which you can't buy for a song,
So we teach kids to build coffins against the day they die,
It's a life skill, it's a death skill, if you don't stop to wonder why.

One infected boy called Desmond was a tiny waif, but brave,
Saw the others building coffins then be lowered to the grave,
Asked for wood to build his coffin, that would hold him, as the plan,
Built it strong and long and hopeful, for a six foot man.

You could do a google search on "", if you were so inclined, I suppose.

Mr. Dickens In Africa

I was running around this morning doing incredibly important stuff and listening to the BBC Worldservice through my radio ear-buds. Half the time I pipe the news into my head strictly for its value as noise, deploying it primarily for the purpose of filtering out even more annoying noises like idiotic political opinions expressed by the people around me, or the smacking sound people make when they chew with their mouths open.

But every once in a while, some news item miraculously finds its way into my awareness. I didn't catch the first part of this particular report, but the tail-end of it went something like this: the BBC reporter was interviewing the director of what I guess was an orphanage somewhere in Africa. Many or most of the children at the orphanage were suffering from AIDS. The director mentioned, sardonically, that some of the children were engaged with the making of coffins. You know, small little kid-sized coffins. Which the children themselves will eventually occupy.

My God. It's hard to know what to say to something like that. I suppose I could make the observation that it's an arrangement Jacob Marley might have admired, before his demise. But beyond that, I'm more or less struck dumb.

UPDATE: Here is a link to an article in The Independent (subscription only) referencing the above mentioned activity. Here is a link to the full article on another site. From that article: "'Police bring the children here every day,' Ms Mochokocho says. 'They pick them up in the streets or in public places. We can't refuse to accept them even though we are overstretched.' Several children are severely ill and many infected ones die soon after arrival. The orphanage struggles to acquire coffins, so orphans are taught how to make makeshift ones so they can bury each other."  And, of course, if you can imagine such a thing, the rest of what the article has to say is even worse.

To be fair, the woman being interviewed did not seem unaware of the awfulness of this little detail of these children's lives. You certainly get the feeling this Useful Employment of the children's time was thought up by somebody far removed from the actual day-to-day taking care of the children. And despite what it seems like, it isn't really the awfulness of the idea itself that is the problem here. It's the epidemic of HIV infections in Africa, and the multiplying numbers of sick and soon-to-be-dead orphans it creates.

I dunno, maybe it's just me, but I think if I was the upper-level bureaucrat assigned the task of coming up with something for these children to do, I think I might have passed on the "build your own coffin" handicrafts class and suggested instead having them, I dunno, distribute condoms on the street? Something a little less depressing than building your own coffin? The work is outdoors, after all. Lots of sunshine and fresh air. And I'm sure it would help develop the children's people skills. Not that they will have much use for them since they'll be dead soon anyway. But still.

Of course, having the children distributing condoms would be evil in the eyes of the Church and would probably piss off the Bush Administration. So forth and so on. Which, you know, are certainly considerations. You wouldn't want these children knowing about sex or anything. I guess the ideal here is to have them die well before they encounter anything that would cause them to lose their incredibly endearing childhood innocence.

Jesus Christ, sometimes you just want to vomit.

Beautiful Boxer

My local Hollywood Video lets me rent DVDs for five days. Since I rented "Beautiful Boxer" four days ago, I've watched it four times.

I don't think I've ever swooned over a movie. Wait. Let me think about it for a minute... no, I'm pretty sure I've never swooned.


Okay, part of it is that I have lately become a tremendous fan of Thai movies. Another part is that this movie is based on a true story about a Thai kid who knew from just about as early a time as you can know these things that he wanted to be a girl. He came from a poor agrarian family and he had no idea that such a thing could ever be possible, but then one day he met a man who had had an operation...

But even so, there was the problem of money. How was a poor kid from a rural northern province going to afford such a thing as an operation to change him into a woman?

And then he made another quite remarkable discovery. Quite by accident, he found out he had an astonishing gift for Muay Thai, the martial arts sport we know as Thai Kick Boxing.

Soon he found a master to train him in it -- or, actually, it's more like the master found him  -- and eventually the kid went on to become a national sensation, finally earning a spot on fight cards in city of Bangkok itself. Until finally, one day, he had earned enough money for his operation.

This movie is so hot. And so beautiful to look at.

Which brings me to the final reason for my swoon: the guy who plays the kid who grows up to be a woman is not only physically gorgeous, when he fights... well... watch him closely when he does. You will see what I mean. Muay Thai is not just violence, you see, it's one of the national art forms of Thailand.

I'm not actually a fan of Asian Fight Movies. They've become the Far East equivalent of overproduced Hollywood special effects disaster epics.

Yeah, yeah, the guy can fly through the air at about two miles an hour and then deliver a kick that could knock your face into next week. I've seen it, ya know?

But watching this movie... I'm pretty sure I could become a major fan of Muay Thai.

The movie is inspiring, of course: weirdo kid dreams of making an impossible thing come true, he perseveres, fights for what he wants, finds a way to get it, and... well you know the drill. Okay, maybe it sounds like the "Karate Kid". Only it ain't. Believe me.

But that story, while actually pretty interesting and well-done, is not really what I love about this movie. No, what I love is that there's a grace to it that absolutely captured my heart. Possibly this is because Thailand is about 95% Buddhist, I think, and the influence of that religion is woven throughout the culture and so is everywhere in this film. I've noticed this sort of thing in all the Thai movies I've seen lately and it probably accounts for my developing love of that country's cinema. I'm sure there are some Thai movies that don't have this grace, but the ones I have seen certainly do.

And all of this has led me to educate myself on the current, ongoing political crisis over there. Stupid politicians. Gosh, I hope nobody gets hurt. They seem like such wonderful and gracious people...

I have to return this DVD tomorrow. I think I'll start shopping around to see if there's a boxed set of DVDs called "The Films of Thailand", or something. And if can't find one, I guess I'll just have to make one up for myself. This is now my dream which I'm pretty sure I won't have to take up kick-boxing or have any sort of operation to achieve.

Oh, and by the way... did you know that in the native language the word "thai" means "freedom"? I sure didn't. You start to pick these things up, I guess, when you get hooked on cinema from far-away lands.

Watch a

[Netflix, B & N, ]

Start Here

Wanna read the first paragraph of the sf novel I started writing today? Well, whether you want to or not, here it is:

My name is Thomas Mathiason Rimsky-Korsakov. I am the second son of Delphinium McKinley Rimsky-Korsakov and I have been ordered by my Commander to write down everything that happened, and my ship-mates have been told to do the same. At the moment, even money among the members of the crew says this order came down to us, through our Commander, from that thing in the sky. You can see it at night, an oversized star threading its way through the other stars up there like a friendless giant crossing a crowded square. I hear the people up there think they are in some sort of navy too, like us, except our ship can go on water and theirs can't. I hear they think our ship is stupid looking, and that nobody but an idiot would build a ship like ours to go on the water, but what do they know? They can only go through space.

Okay, that's it. You'll never see me mention it again until it's done. And no, you aren't supposed to be bowled over by the brilliance of the prose. I just wanted to do something to mark the occasion of this thing's birth.

St. Sylvester, The Fabulous Cat

So, once again the Ancient Order of Hibernians will not allow gay Irish groups to march under their own banners in New York City's St. Patrick's Day parade. As City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn is of course welcome to march, out-of-the-closet lesbian though she may be. She won't march, though, in protest of the crabby Hibernians.

It's a free country. Never mind that the gay citizens of this city contribute part of their taxes to the city's support of the parade. Still, let them have their stinkin' parade.

We've got St. Sylvester.

So it turns out I am a conservative. I long for a return to the days of disco. I have never hated disco. I have always loved the joy of it. And now we have a new book out in tribute to St. Sylvester.

In these times of trumped up wars, frowning mullahs, pinch-faced priests and uptight Church Ladies, prowling NSA operatives, prying G-men, terrorist bombs, planes flying into buildings, ports wide open, sky-rocketing deficits and FCC fines for suggestions of sex... it's time for a return to the traditional values of... disco!

Irish Doggerel:

The great Gaels of Ireland
are the men that God made mad.
For all their wars are merry,
and all their songs are sad.

Gay Doggerel:

when we're out there dancin'
on the floor, darlin'
and I feel like I
need some more
and I feel your body
close to mine
and I know my love it's
about that time
you make me feel...
mighty real
You make me feel...
mighty real
Yoooooou make me feel...
miiiiiiiiiighty real...
Yoooooou make me feel...
miiiiiiiiiighty real...
when we get home, darlin'
and it's nice and dark
and the music's in me
and I'm still real hot
and you kiss me there
and it feels real good
and I know you love me
like you shooooooooooouuuuuld
Yoooooou make me feel...
miiiiiiiiiighty real...

Push back the chairs and sample it here. You know you want to...

The Peachy Sawbuck

Reeled in one of the new ten-dollar bills tonight. My first glimpse. Jeezus, whose idea was it to paint up the sawbuck to look like a $2 whore? It's as queer as a three-dollar bill.

History of Violence

There's a wonderful little moment that occurs in good story-telling: you're sitting there watching the movie or whatever, thinking to yourself, "Okay (sigh) I know how this is going to go", and then something happens that makes you sit up... oh, my, didn't expect that... and suddenly your view of one or more of the characters, or of the story itself, drastically changes.

This moment is known as a "perception shift". As in, your perception of what is happening, or of what a character is about, suddenly shifts.

Readers or viewers love these moments. Writers kill for them. When they actually work, I mean. Just throwing in some new story element or bit of character behavior won't do the trick. We have to feel like the world of the movie (or the book, or whatever) has suddenly been believably and intriguingly overturned.

I haven't seen the graphic novel upon which "History of Violence" is based. And if I am familiar enough with a DVD to know that I eventually want to see it, I usually try to avoid reading the liner notes on its box.

So what all of that means is that I was perfectly set-up for the perception shift that comes within the first half-hour of "History of Violence", and I was quite delighted by it when it came. There I was thinking I knew where this thing was going, and actually beginning to think that I really didn't feel like watching that movie again and so maybe I would just pull the plug on it, when bang!

Very nice perception shift.

This is not "The Best Movie of the Year" as one of the quoted reviews on the DVD's box maintains, but it's a good movie nevertheless. Or... let me put it this way:

I don't know how you feel about perception shifts, but when I encounter one that is well-executed it really makes my day. Actually, I think I'm kind of a p.s. junkie. I really need that feeling of the world sliding sideways. When I get it, it's enough to make me forgive a movie for whatever flaws it might otherwise have.

And so: I forgive this movie. Whole-heartedly.

[Netflix, B & N, ]

I'll Tell You What's Obscene

From this morning's New York Times:

The Federal Communications Commission leveled a record $3.6 million fine yesterday against 111 television stations that broadcast an episode of "Without a Trace" in December 2004, with the agency saying the CBS show suggested that its teenage characters were participating in a sexual orgy.

The program was among nine cited yesterday for fines totaling about $4 million on agency accusations of violating decency standards between February 2002 and March 2005. The fines are the first indecency actions by the commission since Kevin J. Martin, a Republican, became chairman last March.

My father passed away unexpectedly in November. There was no will and no estate to speak of. Because I have what among my family members passes for a penchant for organization, my siblings and I decided that I should be the one who deals with closing out the financial and worldly details of my father's life.

I notified the credit card company right away. They informed me I couldn't deal with this over the weekend but would have to call back on Monday. On Monday, I called again and they told me I would be receiving a letter from their Estates Department.

Said letter never received, I need hardly say.

Instead, what I have received in his name is an avalanche of special promotions, cash advance checks, and just yesterday an offer to protect -- for a fee -- my father's identity from being stolen.

And this is just the credit card company, of course. Throw in the phone company, the long-distance provider, the internet accounts, and so forth and so on.

People? The man is dead, okay??? I told you that. I even sent you the fucking Death Certificate you demanded. I refaxed the documents three times because your machine was fucked up. (How about you put paper in it the next time you are going to demand stuff from me, okay?) Oh, and do you need me to send along a pinch of my father's ashes?

To be fair, there have been some outfits that have been quite good about this -- their employees have been quite sympathetic (or, you know, they have said the right things at the right times which is really the most you can ask for... it's not like they are family or friends or anything) and their methods for wrapping up the details that come with having a Suddenly Dead Customer have been quite jaunty and adept.

But all of that, of course, only goes to show that it's perfectly possible for large organizations to deal with this sort of thing competently and with some degree of sensitivity. Actually, I'm not even going to say "sensitivity" here. Really it's just, you know, having the brains to build some routines into your way of doing business that actually take into account the reality of what it means to do business with human beings.

We are born, we live for a while, we establish accounts and credit histories, and then we die. How hard is that? Isn't there sufficient evidence on hand -- like, I dunno, six billion instances of the above -- to merit building all of this into your way of doing business?

I've had it with these indecent and utterly obscene assholes. I'm fed up with these "teenage characters" "participating in a sexual orgy" of stupidity and incompetence.

And, of course, I'm not going to mention any companies by name because they are allowed to sue and harass me for telling the truth about them in public should they decide it's necessary to teach me some well-deserved lessons.

BUT... thank God I won't have to accidentally catch another glimpse of Janet Jackson's nipple. Or hear cuss-words in a PBS documentary about the blues.

It's an obscene world out there, kids. Just don't tell the truth about it and all our days will be sunshiny and bright.

From Where the Sun Now Stands, I Will Blog-whore No More, Forever

For those unfamiliar with the term, "blog-whoring" is when you post an entry to your blog that will, in your dispassionate opinion, quite likely change the course of human history if only enough other people get a chance to read it. For humanity's sake, you feel compelled to communicate with other blog-owners -- usually those with much larger readerships than your own -- to try to convey to them the urgent necessity of placing a link in their blog to the item you've just written. I mean, come on. What we are talking about here is the survival of the human race.

Okay, that's one way of describing blog-whoring. Another one might be: peddling your blog's ass all over town.

Yes, I've blog-whored myself. I always tell myself I won't do it anymore, but then... well, I mean, after all... when you have written something that will cause humanity to throw off its chains, or banish darkness from its heart, or, you know, stop using so many plastic shopping bags, what are you supposed to do? Abandon your obligations to your fellow man?

Still, when I do it, I feel dirty afterward and always regret doing it. Partly this is because I am naturally demure and retiring, as you all well know, and partly this is because, so far, the entries I had assumed would change the course of human history turned out to be somewhat less than staggering in their insights or -- a thousand times worse -- the jokes weren't as funny as I thought they were.

So! Never again!

If you own a blog and I seductively wave one of my entries in your general direction, kindly avert your eyes. I don't want to do it. It's a disease, not a moral failing. Nevertheless, I know it is my responsibility to overcome it, not yours. All I ask is a little compassion. And, you know, maybe you could permanently block my email address.

March 14: On This Day In History

Albert Einstein is born. Karl Marx dies. George Eastman commits suicide.

"After several tedious delays from clouded weather, on the 14th of March, we gladly stood out of King George's Sound on our course to Keeling Island. Farewell, Australia! you are a rising child, and doubtless some day will reign a great princess in the South: but you are too great and ambitious for affection, yet not great enough for respect. I leave your shores without sorrow or regret." - C. Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle.

Watching from my terrace, I observe a jetliner heading north, up the spine of Manhattan. The plane banks to the left, but disappears below the tall horizon of midtown before I can detect any movement to the left. I take it on faith that such movement occurred.

I walk out to the store and pass an SUV with a Florida license plate displaying the motto: "The Sunshine State". I muse on the notion of Floridians approaching each other, offering their hands in fellowship while beaming brightly and saying, evangelically, "We are in the Sunshine State."

I return to my apartment and hang my coat up on the deadbolt latch inside my front door. I see the Fire Safety Notice sticker placed there years ago by my landlord. It begins: "YOU ARE IN A COMBUSTIBLE (NON-FIREPROOF) BUILDING". I have long known this, I think, but can't recall ever noticing this bold declaration before, despite the fact that the sticker has been on my door for years. I take this as tentative proof that the hoped-for, cumulative effect on me of these "On This Day" entries is starting to kick in.

March 13: On This Day In History

Herschel discovers Uranus. In California, 400 people die when the St. Francis Dam gives way. Kitty Genovese, her screams ignored, is stabbed to death in New York City.

The cool, damp, gray, coastal weather reminds me of Seattle which reminds me of the time I was riding my bike to work and my front wheel slipped into an old trolley track imbedded in the asphalt. Oddly, that happened on a bright summer afternoon so I cannot think why the crappy weather this morning would remind me of that moment. In any case, I recall seeing the imbedded track too late and a moment later foreseeing in all its glory the scope and magnitude of the disaster that was about to happen. I recall convincing myself I would be able to control the bike even as the imbedded track took control of the front wheel.

The spill was spectacular. I slid for a while across the asphalt and then by the grace of friction came to a gentle stop. I don't know if I lost a pound of flesh but it was close, especially if you throw in the lost blood for a bonus. The world was silent and still for a moment, then I rolled onto my stomach and managed to get to my hands and knees.

And then I recall the time the same thing happened except I was on my motorcycle on a dirt road. The villain was a deep rut in the dried mud, obviously cut by a car tire during a rain storm a few days earlier.

I don't think I am ineluctably drawn to flaws in the roadway. More likely, I am incapable of imagining those flaws even though at least twice I have encountered irrefutable proof of their existence. I am not a brave man, and I am not by nature reckless. I'm a bit stupid, though, clearly, at least with regard to the possibility of ruts in the roadway. But part of that may be the fact that I am unquestionably mesmerized by time and space and scenery going past me on either side. I don't think I care all that much about the nature of the scenery. I think all that matters is the going past of it. I think, for me, going forward is a stupefying drug.

March 12: On This Day In History

Ghandi begins a 200-mile march to the sea. President Roosevelt gives his first fireside chat. "Mrs. Robinson" wins a Grammy. In Bombay, a bomb goes off and kills 317 people.

The phone rings and when I answer it no one is there. "Not in time? Try star-six-nine!" But the party at the other end apparently does not exist, or is veiled, or is too inconsequential to merit a second look inasmuch as star-six-nine cannot give me the number. I wonder why there was no answer in the first place. Perhaps it took everything the other party had just to dial the number?

I consider growing a beard and a moustache.

For no reason that I can think of, I remember a picnic I had with my father in the mountains above Tucson when illegal immigrants slowly emerged from the trees bordering the parking lot. They looked -- and in fact were -- desperate.

A weird email arrives from my brother. I speculate on its meaning, but then move on without drawing any conclusions.

On an unrelated matter, I experience a brief moment of satisfaction. Somewhat later, I notice the book I am currently reading sitting on my desk.

Through carelessness on my part, coffee grounds end up floating in my cup, but I see that perhaps by way of that same carelessness I have also overfilled the cup. I use a teaspoon to simultaneously skim away the unwanted grounds and remove the excess coffee.


Let's be real about this. Just because you see a movie about something, doesn't mean you know anything about that thing. In my experience, there's only one way to know anything about anything and that's to experience the thing itself. The rest is just writing.

I've never been in the military -- I wouldn't be allowed -- and so obviously I've never been in a war. Whatever I say here does not have anything to do with what it's really like to be a United States Marine, nor does it have anything to do with what it's like to be in a war.

Our "Jarhead" hero, Swofford, is a 20 year-old who in 1989 for some reason we aren't told decides to become a Marine instead of going to college. After training, our boy is selected to be a sniper and he thereupon learns that snipers, unlike the Lone Gunmen we all want to believe in, work in teams of two. One member of the team is called the spy and the other is called the shooter. The spy locates the target, supplies range and wind speed information to the shooter, then when all the pieces of the shot are in place, the spy says slowly: "Fire... fire... fire."

On the third "fire", the shooter pulls the trigger.

There's a famous Hollywood bio-pic about Vincent van Gogh called "Lust for Life". Heh. Movies about artists. They generally suck, in my view, though that is not entirely the fault of the filmmakers. We have so much crap in our heads about what it means to be an artist. If I were tasked to make a movie about an artist, I would leave everything about him being an artist out of it. A guy's art is pollution when it comes to considering his life.

Or, if I were tasked to make a movie about an artist but not about any artist in particular, I would make a movie about an artist who works in a medium we wouldn't normally think of when we think of art. For example, the art of shooting from a great distance your country's enemies in the head.

"Lust for Life" is about an artist who ultimately sees himself as a failure. He cuts an ear off and eventually kills himself, after all. "Jarhead" is similarly about an artist who fails to find fulfillment in his work, but there is a difference in the manner in which these two artists see themselves as failures, of course, and this difference is accounted for thusly: van Gogh actually gets to paint some pictures; Swofford never once gets to shoot anybody in the head.

"Lust for Life" is Hollywood bullshit, essentially unwatchable on account of first-degree shlock. "Jarhead", however, is the best account I've ever seen of what it feels like to fail in your art.

[Netflix, B & N, ]

March 11: On This Day In History

U.S. Steel is born. Explosions in Madrid kill 170 people. Mikhail Gorbachev becomes chairman of the Soviet Union's Communist Party. Janet Reno is confirmed as the first female attorney-general of the United States of America. The man who discovered penicillin, Sir Alexander Fleming, dies at 73.

I rise late as a consequence of having friends over last night. I continue my experiments with oatmeal. I will further consider buying a ceramic bowl. I will long for more time in the day even though I have nothing of any real importance to do today.

Already agreed upon arrangements will be made concerning the events of March 29, but they will take place beyond my ken. I will remember something I had forgotten. I will take a pill, and then sometime later I will take two others. Briefly, there will be a tickle in my ear canal, and I will wonder what it means, but then it will go away and I will never remember it happened.

The number of days I have left will have been decreased by one day. I will wonder, again, as I do almost every day, why it doesn't bother me that shortly after I die it will be as if I never existed.

Unveiling the 2006 Ozzie

The small and blurry red blob to the left is our first glimpse of Ozzie the Cardinal, 2006. We apologize for the poor image quality. Ozzie is being a bit remote.

A couple of weeks ago, I notice a small pale red bird with a bright red beak hanging out on my terrace. My cat noticed him as well but was securely locked indoors.

I studied the little bird. I'm not familiar enough with the life cycle of the Northern Cardinal to know whether the paleness of the red meant "he" was a female, or a juvenile still growing into his full cardinality. On the one hand, I believe the female is a pale brown with a bright red beak. On the other, it seemed the wrong time of year for a juvenile Cardinal to be hanging around looking for something to be delinquent about.

But whatever or whoever that bad boy was, this morning we have the "chew-chew-chew" of a mature Northern Cardinal echoing through the block's "backyard". And sure enough, there in the high branches was my bright red bad boy. I would say "Ozzie is back", but a friend suggests that Northern Cardinals do not migrate south for the winter. Probably correct, but I don't recall seeing my bad boy out there over the deepest part of winter either. Maybe there is a Cardinal homeless shelter somewhere out in Queens.

Anyway, welcome back Ozzie. It's the start of Spring and that means it's time for "pitchers and catchers", speaking romantically, of course. For every Ozzie, there's an Audrey. Good luck, bad boy. I'll be keeping an eye on you, and an ear out for your "chew-chew-chew".

Lunch With Gods of Theater And Church

Three college students from the prosperous suburbs of Birmingham, Ala., were arrested yesterday in the burning of nine Baptist churches last month in rural Alabama. Federal officials said the fires were a "joke" that spun out of control while the students were deer hunting.

How do you burn a church down as a "joke"?

After initially setting ablaze five churches in the county just south of Birmingham, two students burned four additional churches days later in more remote areas, hoping to divert investigators, the authorities said


I'm going from memory here, I may be paraphrasing, but Harry Blackstone, Jr. once gave fledgling magicians a bit of advice about what to do when something goes wrong with a trick:

"Talk fast and point the other way."

Which probably turns out to be pretty effective advice when you are trying to produce coins from behind people's ears, or rabbits from hats, and you come up empty-handed. Less effective, it seems, when burning down churches. Perhaps the kindest thing we can say about these boys is that they aren't very good magicians.

Mr. Moseley and Mr. DeBusk were active in the theater program at their college, acting and helping backstage. This year, they performed in "Extremities," and Mr. Moseley was to appear in the spring in "Young Zombies in Love."

Ah! This explains a lot.

As it happens, just yesterday I was having lunch with God of Theater when God of Church happened by.

"Look here," God of Church said with forced amiability, directing his remarks to God of Theater, "what's the idea of having your minions burn down all these churches?"

God of Theater chuckled.

"Oh, well, you know. It's not as if you haven't burned down your share of theaters."

"Nasty filthy places," God of Church said. "I was doing the world a favor."

"Without question."

God of Theater leaned toward me, smiling, and indulged in a bit of stage-whispering.

"He's just embarrassed by his bastard children."

"Not a bit of it!" God of Church harrumphed.

"They have pretty reliable tests for paternity these days," I added helpfully.

God of Church waved his hand at me. "Mind your own business."

He faced God of Theater. "I suppose you think it's very clever of you, having your little theater minions burning down my churches. Well, they are going to pay for it, I assure you."

"Yes, I know," God of Theater said. "We always do."

"There's such a thing as property rights, you know. Not to mention the affection people have for their buildings."

"Indeed?" God of Theater remarked with exaggerated interest. "And what about the property rights of all the theaters you have burned down over the ages? Not to mention the affection people had for those buildings."

"That's different. Filthy, disreputable places."

"You said that already."

"The people were glad in their hearts that I did it."

"No doubt. Certainly they preferred you burning their buildings in lieu of themselves."

"Mark my words. There will be hell to pay."

"We've been hell's paying customers from the beginning."

"There's no talking to you."

"Perhaps the waiter could fetch you some matches? It's a non-smoking environment, though, and I can't promise not to produce smoke if I am set ablaze. It's more than you can ask of any man on fire."

God of Church glared at me.

"You are known by the company you keep, you know."

I considered this a moment. "Yes, I've heard that." I lifted the teapot and held it above God of Theater's cup.


God of Church looked shocked. "You approve of what he's done!"

"No, not particularly." I set the teapot down. "But I can't pretend there isn't a kind of rough justice to it."

"Outrageous!" God of Church roared. His adequate jowls flushed a deep red, then he turned and stormed from the room.

God of Theater played with his spoon for a moment, smiling slightly, then he leaned toward me.

"You are a very bad man, you know."

"Yes, I do know that, but thank you for reminding me. Another water biscuit, perhaps?"

Donnie Does Usenet

Subject: Cheering Iraqis.
From: Donald Rumsfeld <>
Newsgroups: rec.arts.politics.fiction
Date: Tue, 07 Mar 2006 18:27:12 GMT


> wrote:
>>From what I've seen thus far, much of the reporting in the U.S. and abroad
>>has exaggerated the situation. The number of attacks on mosques has been
>>exaggerated. The number of Iraqi deaths has been exaggerated. The
>>behavior of the Iraqi security forces had been mischaracterized in some
>>Interestingly, all of the exaggerations seem to be on one side. It isn't as
>>though there simply have been a series of random errors on both sides of
>>issues. On the contrary, the steady stream of errors all seem to be of a
>>nature to inflame the situation and to give heart to the terrorists and to
>>discourage those who hope for success in Iraq.
>Cite? Here, let me help:
>"The Washington Post reported earlier last week that the death count was
>higher, quoting Baghdad morgue officials as saying it was more than 1,300
>and, subsequently, an Interior Ministry official who put the number at 1,077.
>An international official knowledgeable about the case also confirmed that the
>death toll has reached at least 1,000 and said Iraqi officials, including morgue
>workers, had been intimidated into giving lower numbers."



Killing Buffoons

Here is what prosecutor Robert Spencer says would have happened in the 25 days between Moussaoui's arrest and the attacks on September 11, 2001, assuming Moussaoui had spilled everyone of his dubious beans the moment he was arrested:

Spencer said he would prove that, if Moussaoui had admitted he was a terrorist, FBI agents would have traced a wire transfer he received back to Germany and from there to the United Arab Emirates, then linked it to a cell phone number there, then linked that number to nine U.S. calls made with pre-paid calling cards, and then linked the cards to eight numbers connected with hijackers in the United States.

In addition, he said, Moussaoui's belongings included listings of 19 flight schools in the United States, and school officials at three of them could have singled out the four Sept. 11 pilots. Federal aviation officials, Spencer said, would have put the names on a no-fly list, and Moussaoui's possession of a short-bladed knife would have led to a ban of such weapons on planes.

Talk about a buffoon. Defense lawyer Edward McMahon has a valid point, I think, when he points out that the Bush Administration already had all the information it needed to stop the attacks but was too distracted, or simply too incompetent, to actually do anything about it.


Moussaoui, a 37-year-old French-Moroccan, pleaded guilty last April to being part of a broad al-Qaida hijacking conspiracy, but said he was not part of the Sept. 11 plot. He admitted that he lied to allow his al-Qaida "brothers" to go forward...

So obviously punishment of some sort is in order. The choice the jury has been given is death or life in prison.

Now, everything I've heard or read about this Moussaoui character suggests that he is a clown. Flashing his cash around, bragging about his Jihadist beliefs, telling the flight instructor he only wanted to learn how to fly an airplane and didn't care about take-offs or landings. Even his Al-Qaeda "brothers" expressed embarrassment about being associated with this fool. One called him "cuckoo in the head."

Okay, if you are a clown but you do something that kills people, being a clown doesn't make it all better. That isn't the question. The real question is: what does it say about a country that it kills buffoons?

Look, I'm against the death penalty. Yes, I'm against it in all circumstances, even the worst circumstances you can think of. It's not all that hard to say that, you know. All you have to do is believe that the death penalty doesn't do anybody any good, and that it actually does harm to others beyond the person it kills. I don't know why this seems so remarkable to people.

So, okay, that leaves me out of the discussion. If I am against the death penalty in all cases, then of course I'm going to be against the execution of buffoons. Let's just stick with those who believe in the death penalty.

If you believe in the death penalty, aren't you a little bit embarrassed deploying such a serious penalty in the case of a buffoon? Doesn't it make you look a little buffoonish yourself? Good lord, it seems to me that if you are going to do something as profound as taking a human life, you'd want to preserve some sense of dignity about the matter. If the death penalty is as deeply unbuffoonish as you believe it is, shouldn't you take care not to taint it by using it to kill a clown?

America Is Better When It Is Telling Stories Instead Of Being An Imperial Power

Thousands of years ago, there was a young man who was powerful and angry and mean. The other members of his tribe admired his strength but feared his temper. Mostly they stayed out of his way when they could. When they couldn't, they suffered his fury in silence, but behind his back they spit their contempt.

The young man wanted power. He wanted to rule the tribe. He wanted respect.

One night the young man was restless. Something was burning his insides but he couldn't say what. The evening meal was over. The other members of the tribe dozed, or poked at the fire. The young man wanted something to happen. He was bored and his boredom only made him more irritable.

He started talking just to hear his own voice. He loved his voice. He had the best voice in the tribe. Everyone knew it and the young man made sure anybody who dared say otherwise regretted saying so soon enough.

The young man told a story of his exploits. He made some of it up. What difference did it make? He could make things up if he wanted. Making things up made the story of his exploits more exciting. He told the story harder. He told the story as hard as he could. The other members of the tribe sat up, leaning toward the young man. The young man saw the fire reflected in their eyes. He felt the power. He told the story harder and harder.

After a time, the young man realized that the voice telling the story had somehow stopped being his own. The strange voice told a story of places he'd never been, things he'd never done. It said things he never knew how to say before. For the first time in his furious, unhappy life, he felt the peace of surrender. And at the end of the story, when the strange voice had finished, even he was surprised by how things had turned out.

He stopped talking. No, the voice had stopped talking. The fire made small crackling noises in the silence. The young man sat down. After a moment, he picked up a twig and tossed it into the fire.

The other members of the tribe watched him. There was a peace on the young man, a stillness in his face they'd never imagined possible.

The next night, the young man felt the fury, the burning inside him again. He stood up and started talking, trying to summon forth the strange voice again, but it wouldn't come. He talked and talked. The other members of the tribe watched him, anxious. The young man talked harder. His face twisted into a rage. His eyes went blind with fury. He heard his own voice as if at a distance, as if it was another's voice altogether.

And then he realized it was another's voice. The strange voice from inside him had returned. He listened joyfully to the voice, listened along with all the other members of the tribe. The voice carried on and on, saying astonishing things.

When the voice had finished its story, the young man hesitated a moment, making sure there was nothing else the voice wanted to say, then he slowly sat down by the fire. After a moment, he looked up into the faces of the other members of the tribe. Their eyes were bright with suspicion but with curiosity too. The young man could not bear them looking at him like that.

But the next night, it happened again. The voice came more quickly this time. The young man did not have to summon it with so much fury. And when it was done, the young man sat down quietly, as before.

From then on, every night, night after night, it was the same for the young man, until the time came when the young man had become an old man and he finally died. After he was gone, no one remembered him, but they remembered the voice that had come to the tribe through him. They waited for the voice to come again, through another young man perhaps. Days passed, then weeks, then years, but the voice never returned.

And then one night, the fire was burning low, the tribe was sated from the evening meal. A few of them dozed, their backs propped against trees. A young man sitting cross-legged near the fire fidgeted... picking up twigs, inspecting them, breaking them in half and dropping them into the fire.

Impatient and bored, he started talking to no one in particular. He talked and he talked. He didn't care what he said. It didn't seem to matter what he said. It seemed as if it wasn't even him doing the talking.

An old man sitting just outside the circle of the fire's light frowned, then sat forward. He studied the young man, listening hard to his voice. The young man looked up at the old man but did not seem to see him. The old man recognized the look in the young man's eyes: as if the young man were seeing something no one else could see.

After a moment, the old man smiled, then settled his back against a tree. He glanced around at the other members of the tribe. They studied the young man intently, listening to the voice, their eyes bright with suspicion and concern.

The old man wondered if anyone else remembered. 

And the young man talked and talked, deep into the night. The old man listened contentedly. It was a good story, an exciting one, but even so the old man thought he might have dozed off once or twice. No matter. He was an old man after all, and there would be other nights, other stories. Half asleep, partly dreaming, the old man thanked the voice, welcomed it back, but the voice could not be bothered. It pressed on. No time for niceties. There was a story that needed to be told.


There are holes in all of our heads. Besides the anatomical ones, I mean.

I paid fairly good attention in school. And I keep up, mostly, on world events. Nevertheless, things get by me -- things that either should have been obvious to me, or things that were certainly made clear to me at one point but that somehow fell out of my head through one of those aforementioned non-anatomical holes.

So you're going along, minding your own business, and suddenly you realize you just learned, or maybe re-learned, something that most other people have probably known or understood all along.

For example, on those rare occasions I've given it much thought, it has occurred to me to wonder how the Confederate States of America could have ever thought of itself as a respectable democracy. I mean, they had slavery written into their constitution, right?

No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed [by Congress]

Then, of course, you remember that the U.S. Constitution when adopted not only acknowledged but also approved of slavery by way of the famous phrase "three fifths of all other persons".

How can you have a democracy with slavery in it? My answer had always been, oh, well, they were just corrupt and racist and hypocritical. More charitably, I suppose you might get away with saying, well, it was a different age and they were simply blind to what they were doing.

But of course the fledgling United States of America, and the C.S.A., did not invent democracy or the notion of a republic. The Greeks and Romans did that. And then you remember something you've known all along: the Greeks and Romans were perfectly happy to incorporate slavery into their democracies and republics.

In short, those founders of both the U.S.A. and C.S.A. who supported slavery weren't being hypocritical or corrupt at all, though they were certainly succumbing to racism.

No, they were relying on precedence. They weren't turning a blind eye to what they were doing. They were simply embracing what the inventors of democracies and republics had always embraced. Slavery was not an anomaly or a perversion. It was a perfectly natural feature of a mature democratic republic.

Which does not in any way justify what they did, of course, but it does rather explain in my mind how they could see this "peculiar institution" as not being peculiar at all. Of course they could think of themselves as being advanced, as moral and proper men of the modern age, even as they preserved and protected the vice of human slavery. The Greeks did it, the Romans did it, and when you are engaged in the business of birthing a brand new democratic republic, what better pedigree could you ask for than that?

That slavery was permitted in a democracy was obvious to them. It was an obviosity. It had obviosity.

Which says, I think, just about everything that needs to be said about the bogosity of obviosity itself.

American Idyll

Okay, I know I'm supposed to be above it all, what with the many important things going on in the world and such, but still... you know what's really great about "American Idol"?

It's a genuine meritocracy.

I can't watch the early shows with all the lunatics auditioning and people making asses of themselves. It just seems cruel to me, showing all those delusional fools thinking they can actually sing. The genuinely crazy people are the worst. I think, "Jesus, how can they put these poor people on T.V.? It's like taunting the mentally disturbed."

Still, even though it is cruel and hard to watch, it's also proof that just about anybody can get in through the front door -- as long as you aren't packing a gun or a pick-axe, I guess. And, if you have the chops, or the makings of chops, from there you can go on through to the final rounds in Hollywood.

Okay, so maybe that isn't a worthy goal. Frankly, I don't really care.

I just find it refreshing to see people having a crack at something based soley on their gifts and abilities. No money greasing palms. No familial or corporate connections opening doors for incompetents like Bush. No suspicion of steroids. It's just one person standing up there and making the best of his or her gifts. It's the America we want to believe in but can't anymore.

Sure there are plenty of other paths to meritocracy around. Maybe you are a good writer. There are lots of good writers around. You checked lately how many blogs there are? You just know there's some really good writing going on out there that's being swallowed up by all the noise. Maybe you get a book published and you don't happen to get picked by Oprah to be on her show. Most of the country will never hear of you. Maybe you are a brilliant filmmaker. All you need now is a few million bucks to make your movie.

"American Idol" is like your school talent show writ large. You're in high school there, your school has a talent show, anybody can try out, one of the kids plays the ukulele really well and tells funny jokes, and boom, he's a celebrated locally for his gifts. Maybe he was a nerd or a jerk before, but now people see what he can do up there on the stage all by himself and they are impressed. This offers hope to the rest of us, those of us who harbor a secret faith in our as yet undeveloped gifts. Jeez, maybe if I got up off my ass and tried my best, I could change my life too.

My ambition, as it happens, is of the Zennish sort. I aspire to living my life in a manner that pleases me and does as little harm to others as possible and maybe on occasion actually eases someone else's way. Still, I am impressed by people using their natural talents to reach for something higher. It's fun to watch people doing well, based solely on their efforts expended and their "god-given" gifts. There are references in all that to a cosmic justice we all want to believe in, but most of the time don't.

"American Idol" works for two reasons: it really is wide-open to anybody, and it's big -- as in, national. Apparently the show has the highest ratings of any show in the entire history of the televised universe, or something. That's important because it means we aren't talking about a small group of fans admiring the gifts of an obscure writer. It isn't just a fawning art-house crowd worshiping at the feet of a cinema-phenom. It isn't even the little-watched and generally boring Olympics. It's a national talent show, one performer at a time up there matching his or her talents not just against the other performers but also against our tribal judgment. You suck, you're gone. You rock, you stay. It's pure and it's tribal and it's us.

I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't be a fan of the show, but I am in fact a Major Fan. My brother and I hold lengthy, long-distance conversations about the latest round. Every year I find myself pulling for particular performers and hoping others will go quickly. This year there are two I'm really impressed with. Chris Daughtery (sp?) and Elliot Yumin (?). There are others I like, but those two are my Main Men. The female group, so far, has been less impressive, but I do look forward to hearing that big girl go for it, Adisa or something, whatever her name is. Anyway, the big girl. If you watch the show, you know who I mean.

But, you know, to be honest, I don't pay much attention to the winners after the competitions are over each year. It's not really my taste in music, after all. I'm just not that much of a pop music fan. It isn't that I am "above it" or anything, it's just that not very much of it actually captures my attention. So I just don't care that much about their subsequent careers. I care about the struggle.

The thing about one performer up there on the stage doing his or her thing is that it's pure. If you got it, you got it, and if you ain'ts, you ain'ts. But whenever I think of somebody admiring something for its purity, I'm reminded of that moment near the end of "Alien" when the big black guy has knocked the head off the android and there's milk-blood everywhere. Ripley accuses the 'droid of admiring the monster. The 'droid stares beheadedly off into the middle-distance: "I admire its purity..."

So maybe this is me admiring the monster's purity. But hey, it's not like it's ripping anybody's throat out or impregnating any victims with its disgusting face-hugging spawn or anything.

But maybe you think it is promoting false and disgusting values? Making a god of celebrity, or what-all?

Not me. I don't see anything wrong with paying homage to our tribal beliefs. I don't see anything wrong in buying into the America I still want to believe in. I don't see anything wrong in reveling in a genuine meritocracy, as opposed to wallowing in the filthy and corrupt aristocracy my country is becoming. For me, the show keeps alive an important tribal value: advancement based on merit alone.

All right, I'll just say it. Being an "American Idol" fan is a progressive political statement.


But then there is this to say, too, in my defense: I've never text-messaged my vote in.

I might be a sap, but I ain't that much of a sucker.

On the Hunt

I am on the hunt for my glasses. I'm on the hunt for software. I'm on the hunt for the hum in my speakers.

I am on the hunt for my novel. I am on the hunt for travel. I'm on the hunt for a DVD.

I'm on the hunt for money. I am on the hunt for meaning. I'm on the hunt for the moment I was born.

I'm on the hunt for hunting. I'm on the hunt for hunters. I'm on the hunt. I'm on the hunt. I'm on the hunt.

You're on the hunt. We're on the hunt. They're on the hunt.

"We've got U.S. forces on the hunt for bin Laden."

They're on the hunt. We're still hunting.

Hunting him. We are hunting Osama.

Thank God we are hunting Osama. We are hunting and hunting and hunting. We are hunting for Osama bin Laden.

In Memory

May 2006

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