HAXAN, a Danish silent film made in 1922 by Benjamin Christensen, contains images you won't be able to get out of your mind. Intended as a documentary about the witch hysteria of the Middle Ages, with tableaus modeled after old woodcuts more disturbing and archetypal than most modern horror films. It's easy for horror movies to repulse or sicken, but after the bloody roller coaster ride, how many get under your skin and start to worry you...?

FIVE MILLION YEARS FROM EARTH, also found in Britain under the title QUARTERMASS AND THE PIT, is a Hammer film made in 1967 with Andrew Keir, James Donald and Barbara Shelley. Under a London alley called Hobb's Lane, workers unearth an unexploded shell that turns out to be a lost ship from an ancient, dying Mars-- with hominid fossils on board. Human aggression, the "killer ape" impulse that took over the Earth, is a genetic inheritance from the red planet. Our primordial fear of the Devil's horns is an imprinted memory of the Martian "locusts"' antennae, our genocidal wars a reenactment of their annual Martian culling of the weaker members of their herd. And the ship isn't dead, it's only sleeping...

THE DESIGNATED MOURNER, a play by Wallace Shawn, was filmed by David Hare with Mike Nichols, Miranda Richardson, and David de Keyser in 1997. The survivor of a government purge tries to justify himself to an unseen audience after he realizes that ''everyone on earth who could read John Donne was now dead." Imagine Winston Smith as an Edgar Allen Poe character confessing the murder of his own soul, telling us how he learned to stop worrying and love Big Brother, and yes, he really is glad that Julia's dead, because after all she just expected too much of us, didn't she, and I just want to be left alone to watch my TV and not have to think all the time...

Does President Bush Show Symptoms of Organic Brain Syndrome?

Somethin' not right with the boy. This is one of those topics I'm uncomfortable bringing up; it ought to come from someone in the family. Certainly the question ought not to be raised by someone who despises the fellow, both his speech and his actions. My perceptions are suspect.

Sincerely, without snide intention, my question is this: does the President of the United States, George W. Bush, show in his speech and affect the early signs of neurological disease, perhaps an aftereffect of (by his own admission) 20 years of drinking and using drugs?

First, two cavests. When I was a psychiatric aide and student-- ten years, until life convinced me that I was too thin-skinned to become a therapist-- we used to have "disease of the week syndrome". You learn about something new and start fingering your psyche to see if you might be suffering from echolalia, or hebephrenia, or some Culture Specific Syndrome like running amok. ("When I talk to that Michael Fountain," an alcoholic, prescription abusing psychiatrist once joked to a nurse while I was still in the room, "I don't know whether I'm schizophrenic, or he's schizophrenic, or both of us are schizophrenic.") It's probably a fairly harmless hypochondria among students, and good training, I hope, for a writer.
There's also the danger of projecting a diagnosis onto our relatives and the people we meet. To be fair, even paranoids have real enemies, and sometimes a mother realliy is a borderline personality, an uncle or aunt is indeed a depressive. The sincere student ought to submit himself to psychotherapy, if only to learn the terrain of his or her own personality and preconceptions. (This is a prerequisite for Jungian therapists, and ought to be a requirement for all graduate students in psychology).

I must also caution that my concern is based on intuition and observation from a distance. It's very good intuition, with a good track record when predicting the outcome of current events, September 11 and other people's problems; not so good at protecting me from myself. It's useful for a writer but not reliable or testable; I ususally keep these intuitive leaps to myself. I'm sure the good doctors at Walter Reed are keeping an eye on this and keep their counsel to themselves.

Consider these signs of dementia and Korsakoff's psychosis:
* Difficulty in acquiring new information or learning new skills.
* Lack of insight into the condition. Even a person with great gaps in their memory may believe their memory is functioning normally.
* Inventing events to fill the gaps in memory. This is more common in the early stages of the illness and is known as 'confabulation'.
* Apathy, in some cases, or talkative and repetitive behaviour in others.
The Korsakov's disagnosis is weakened if we consider that alcoholic victims are usually malnourished, not likely in Bush's case. But we know nothing about the synergistic effect of cocaine use during the president's "youthful" indiscretions. This is not someone who drank heavily in his twenties. This is someone who drank heavily until he was forty.

Intranecine politics in the Republican Party has always seemed to me a lot like the turn-of-the-century, small town atmosphere in "King's Row", a roman-a-clef about Fulton, Missouri (and adapted into a film containing Ronald Reagan's best known performance.) Speak no ill of your fellow Republican, keep scandal within the family. Cover-ups, damage control and looking-the-other-way that would put the Clintons to shame, all justified by the perpetrators because the Grand Old Party must be protected from irresponsible criticism. It takes a major crisis for a Goldwater and Hugh Scott to go privately to a sitting president and tell him he has to go.

So far, the president's syndromes are only the stuff of wild internet rumors, with the most grounded discussion by MD Carol Wolman at Alexander Cockburn's Counterpunch here and here. The stufff that comes out of his mouth has long been a staple of the Daily Show and YouTube. We could just as well call the president a sociopath: arrogant, insensitive, impatient, erratic, unfocused, overly dramatic, unethical, insincere, remorseless, shallow, and bullying.

To someone familiar with the denials of dysfuntional families, just a few too many people have taken time to assure us (and themselves) that the president is smarter than he looks, more sensitive in private, just a bad public speaker like his father or dyslexic like his brother. All I'm asking is that you keep an eye on him the next time he blinks and struts and frets his hour upon the stage. And remember, when this surfaces years from now, like Reagan's Alzheimer's, that you saw it here first.


Jame Gumb from "Silence of the Lambs"; Jeff Weaver, pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals: mere coincidence? "It puts the lotion on. You have no idea what kind of hell I can bring you. It rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again."

A Brief Reflection on the Name Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern- schplenden- schlitter- crasscrenbon- fried- digger- dingle- dangle- dongle- du

[Title: 'It's the Arts'. Classical music plays.]
Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Panties...I'm sorry...Schumann, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Bach. Names that will live for ever. But there is one composer whose name is never included with the greats. Why is it that the world never remembered the name of Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern
- schplenden-
fried- digger- dingle- dangle- dongle- dungle-
burstein- von- knacker- thrasher- apple- banger-
horowitz- ticolensic- grander- knotty- spelltinkle-
grandlich- grumblemeyer- spelterwasser- kurstlich-
himbleeisen- bahnwagen- gutenabend- bitte- ein- nürnburger- bratwustle-
gerspurten- mitz- weimache- luber- hundsfut- gumberaber- shönedanker-
kalbsfleisch- mittler- aucher von Hautkopft
of Ulm?
(Monty Python's Flying Circus, writing credited to Graham Chapman and John Cleese)

It just occured to me that one of the funniest things about the name Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern- schplenden- schlitter- crasscrenbon- fried- digger- dingle- dangle- dongle- dungle- burstein- von- knacker- thrasher- apple- banger- horowitz- ticolensic- grander- knotty- spelltinkle- grandlich- grumblemeyer- spelterwasser- kurstlich- himbleeisen- bahnwagen- gutenabend- bitte- ein- nürnburger- bratwustle- gerspurten- mitz- weimache- luber- hundsfut- gumberaber- shönedanker- kalbsfleisch- mittler- aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm is the closing phrase-- as if to imply that there are other Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern- schplenden- schlitter- crasscrenbon- fried- digger- dingle- dangle- dongle- dungle- burstein- von- knacker- thrasher- apple- banger- horowitz- ticolensic- grander- knotty- spelltinkle- grandlich- grumblemeyer- spelterwasser- kurstlich- himbleeisen- bahnwagen- gutenabend- bitte- ein- nürnburger- bratwustle- gerspurten- mitz- weimache- luber- hundsfut- gumberaber- shönedanker- kalbsfleisch- mittler- aucher von Hautkopfts out there, perhaps from Worms or Brest, and not to be confused with the great composer of Ulm.


The premise of an op-ed essay I'm writing: The right blames liberalism for our culture's decadence, while in reality that decadence is caused by the same free market capitalism that the right claims to embrace.
One of our local stations-- professing right-wing, conservative, "family friendly" values-- broadcasts "Jerry Springer" without regard for its effect on our culture and gives us "Survivor" updates as part of the morning news.
If radio, television and advertising are steeped in vulgarity-- with reruns of smarmy sitcoms and cop show murders, originally meant for adult audiences but now shown during "family friendly") hours-- that vulgarity is NOT foisted on children because of careless liberals, but because of advertising revenues. The logic of capitalism insists that it must be so: maximize profit, no matter the consequences.
A cursory examination will show that the Bible Belt and Mountain"red-states" have higher rates of divorce, alcoholism, sexually transmitted disease, teen pregnancy, spousal abuse and general brutishness than all us liberal sinners in the blue states. The pharisees and puritans are attacking the wrong targets when they pretend to have moral superiority and its time their libels are rebuked and scourged into oblivion.

In an Infinite Universe Filled with Alternate Realities, It's Hard When You Realize You're Living in the Evil One

January 2008: Bells tolled across the continent of Africa in honor of ailing Vice President Richard Cheney, the former Haliburton executive who channeled that company's expertise into building his "Infrastructure for Africa" project. Nelson Mandela held Mr. Cheney's hand and dabbed at tears as he told his new friend the new Pan African superhighway will be named in Cheney's honor.
The ailing vice-president insisted on being carried in a litter to the worksite of one of the thousands of wells Haliburton is digging across the poorest continent, each one an hour's walk away from the next. He could hear some of the 2,788 American Conservation Corps volunteers as they planted rows of genetically modified shade trees along the roadway and worked compost into the arid land. "Imagine a world in which these 3,000 young Americans died in some war instead of blessing the earth. Instead of trillions for war, you invest billions for peace," Mr. Mandela told him, "The world was blessed to have you."

In Iraq, the almost bloodless coup against Saddam Hussein and his sons orchestrated by White House staffer Paul Bremer continues into its second year without major violence. The Iraqui parliment sends word of "a second Runnymeade". Iraqui generals, kept in place following the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, kidnapped the Iraqui high command and held them incommunicado on an island in the marsh district of Southern Iraq until a transfer of power and plea bargain was arranged for atrocities committed during the Hussein regime. "No one can predict the unintended consequences of war," President Bush commented. "There are so many things that could have gone wrong."

Here at home, the president continues to dismantle the so-called "War on Drugs" as a "failed policy" that "did more harm than good." The president has spoken from the "bully pulpit" of his struggles with substance abuse "to fill the emptiness inside." He and his daughters continue their surprise visits to small town AA meetings and treatment centers.

An unnamed source in the French government confirmed rumors that the French have nominated President Bush for the Nobel Peace Prize, "in light of his just anger tempered with precise restraint following the atrocities of September 11th". They point out that the president resisted using military overkill in response to the attacks, and instead used law enforcement techniques backed by rapid response military teams in the hunt and capture of Osama bin Laden and his cohorts. "Like ze cowboy hero!" Parisians enthused, waving American flags at a memorial benefit for American victims of the attacks. "He shoot straight and risk everything to protect the innocent, les enfants. Le mot juste, le coup precise et juste!"

New Orleans continues to rebuild under the guidance of the president's "brain trust" of engineers and civic planners from the Netherlands. A series of sea gates and barrier islands will eventually protect the Crescent City in ways tested and proved over hundreds of years along the Zuider Zee.

In Afghanistan, NATO troops move in cordons through the mountains along the Pakistani/Afghan border, with infantrymen and cavalry forming a forward line of defense against Taliban incursions, while engineers rebuild each village's infrastructure "behind the line". "Our goal is to build the necessities for a society with no place for al-Qaeda and the Taliban." Most of al-Qaeda's fighters have reportedly filtered back to Saudi Arabia, while their declared enemy, the Saudi royal family, appears to be instituting a panicky series of reforms, including a promise of investment "to make Palestine bloom like Israel" and redistribute the wealth from oil revenues "along Islamic lines".

In Sports, the Dodgers announce plans to return to Brooklyn, while the Designated Hitter was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Sometimes Mean Is All You've Got

Karl Rove, known to the president as Turd Blossom, is not especially worried about the midterm election. He even claims to have done the math to predict "a Republican House and a Republican Senate"; that is, in spite of all the public expressions of disgust, that disgust won't actually translate into votes for Democrats.

I hope he's wrong, but won't be surprised if there are no substantial changes in the governance of our country. The reporters of the popular press no longer think, they swarm like schools of small fish, and they've got themselves convinced that the Democrats are going to win the House, take the Senate, and act as a control on Boy King George.

I'm expecting a few seats to change hands, but not nearly enough to inspire a sea change. The Democrats will congratulate themselves on election night, and on the following morning there will bitter accusations from the losers, but when the dust clears, there will still be quislings voting with the president.

We need a two-thirds majority to override presidential vetoes and restore habeas corpus. I'm not sure we'll get that.

So Rove smiles his Uriah Heep smile and fingers the lettering on his "I LOVE DIEBOLD BECAUSE DIEBOLD LOVES ME" gift mug. The nation is in peril and a majority of Americans despise this administration, but when you're an ugly wet rat trapped in a corner, all you've got left is mean-- and Rove and the Bush family have never been wanting for meanness of spirit.

[See Also Put Not Your Faith in Foley]

Readings: Commonplace Book for October, 2006

“The moderates will vote for the extremist. "Moderate," after all, is only an adjective; "Republican" is a noun. Chafee, Snowe, the whole lot of them, are moderate enablers of an extremist party.” ( Harold Meyerson)

“....The actual journalistic accomplishment in [Bob Woodward’s] “State of Denial” is less than grand. It took him three books to arrive at a conclusion thousands of basement-bound bloggers suggested years ago: that the Bush administration is composed of people who like war, don’t seem to be very good at it and have been known to turn the guns on each other. Such an epiphany doesn’t seem to reflect a reporter who had rarefied access.... Given Mr. Woodward’s tendency to fill his books with kitchen-sink detail, he maintained that the seeds of dysfunction were there to see in his previous two books. But Mr. Woodward’s time spent living in the treetops seems to have blinded him to the fact that the forest below was on fire.” (David Carr)

Our tone should be crazed. The nation's freedoms are
under assault by an administration whose policies can do us as much
damage as al Qaida; the nation's marketplace of ideas is being poisoned by
a propaganda company so blatant that Tokyo Rose would've quit.”
(Keith Olbermann)

“[Punk] defined itself by trashing Led Zep, Pink Floyd et al."—but as much as punks hated hippies, their common romanticism proves them more alike than not. Cynicism is just optimism turned on its head, replacing a belief in the perfectibility of humankind with a certitude that everything sucks.”
(Thurston Moore)

“The trash-pickers, drug fiends, and unsuccored polysexual sensualists of Up Is Up embraced the darker side of the bohemian legacy, but some of their Left Coast contemporaries chose instead to extend Summer of Love optimism into the high-tech age by embracing libertarian entrepreneurship, as chronicled in Fred Turner's info-packed academic study From Counterculture to Cyberculture. Turner focuses on the career of Stewart Brand, a former Ken Kesey collaborator who started the Whole Earth Catalog, which, as the author notes, "bridged cybernetics and the back-to-the-land movement" by spreading the gospel of Buckminster Fuller and Norbert Weiner, melding hands-on pragmatism with lofty earth-changing goals. "We are as gods and might as well get good at it," Brand wrote in one Catalog intro. In the 1980s, Brand translated this vision into new media with the WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link), a pioneering online forum that incubated future dot-communists and Wired editors. Turner notes the earthy roots of terms like "virtual community" and "electronic frontier," which first appeared there, along with early arguments for the ethics of open-source technology; offline, Brand later refined his utopian social engineering with the high-powered boomtime Global Business Network. So by the 1990s, the idea of revolution had morphed from a political goal to a corporate strategy. On the East Coast, the underground expired, but out West, it simply apotheosized into the mainstream itself.”
(Ed Halter in The Village Voice)

“I’m sure my mom will be proud. You work hard making independent films for fourteen years and you get voted best breasts.” (Scarlett Johansson)

“Fellow citizens, this bill throws out legal and moral restraints as the president deems it necessary—these are fundamental principles of basic decency, as well as law.
“I’d like those supporting this evil bill to spare me one affliction: Do not, please, pretend to be shocked by the consequences of this legislation. And do not pretend to be shocked when the world begins comparing us to the Nazis.” (Molly Ivins)

(from Pat and Bill)
".... When asked to name their number one fear, 8% said "losing my job to outsourcing," 10% said "not being able to afford to fill up my car with gas," 14% said "North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il blowing up the world with a nuclear weapon," while a whopping 65% said "being instant-messaged by a horny Republican." ... "If you hear your child start to use phrases like 'tax cut,' 'stay the course,' or 'family values,' those are danger signs that he has been chatting with a horny Republican."
(The Borowitz Report)

“Speaking of the psychology underlying the Christian right ... My current pet hobby-horse/hypothesis to explain human behaviour is that most of us don't subjectively feel our age internally: we're children or adolescents role-playing our way through adulthood, with greater or lesser degrees of success, guided by the experience we've picked up from observing other people. That is, we do what we're expected to do by those around us, even when it doesn't feel right. And folks who are compelled to conform to the expectations their family and friends and neighbours impose resent the hell out of the imagery all around them of people who aren't conforming. ("Why are they allowed to behave that way when I'm stuck here earning bread for my family?")
“It takes a certain amount of self-confidence to strike out for your own, and fire-and-brimstone religions promising all the answers in return for conforming to the one true lifestyle don't give their followers self-confidence; rather, they try to instil a neurotic dependency on the behavioural/ideological safety-blanket, which is not the same thing at all.”
(post by unknown British person, please advise, at Making Light)

“[Chicago is] Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real." (Nelson Algren)

"Sir Francis Drake's gold pocket calculator.
Hewlett-Pakenham Modell 1. Sir Francis Walsingham had a few of them built for "especial agentes." It could take sun sightings, record dead Spaniards to a perhaps optimistic six digits, and had a Vigenère lattice engraved on the inner lid. Drake's is said to have been later set with a Nicholas Hilliard miniature of "A Comely Ladye of Cheapside," and a concealable cheating device for "I'm From Devon and I Don't Know This Game," a popular quayside entertainment of the day."

"President Bush announced today that he was displaying the coloration of a monarch only to avoid being eaten by birds. No intentional deception was involved.
In related news, Tony Blair denied that he had turreted eyes and a long, sticky tongue, after snatching a fly that was circling the Deputy Minister for "Coupling."

(Casual blog entries to friends by John M. Ford)

“My only relationship to the Sheikh’s case and his cause was as his lawyer. Throughout all the events, I believed I was acting as I should, as his lawyer. I violated my SAMS affiliation in that I permitted him to communicate publicly and these statements if misused may have allowed others to further their goals. These goals were not mine.
I am not a traitor... I did not intentionally enter into any plot or conspiracy to aid a terrorist organization. I inadvertently allowed those with other agendas to corrupt the most precious and inviolate basis of our profession—the attorney-client relationship...
Many who have written to you on my behalf, have characterized my actions as mistakes or lapses of judgment. I would add that I was also naïve in the sense that I was overly optimistic about what I could and should accomplish as the Sheik’s lawyer, and I was careless.”
(Lynne F. Stewart)

“I wanted to write a book [Pride of Baghdad] from a non-combatant's perspective, and talk about war from the civilian point-of-view. It's really difficult for Americans to sympathize with "the other," and I wanted to cross that culture gap. Emotionally, we're maybe not able to feel for [Iraqi civilians] the way we can feel for talking animals. So I was looking to exploit our universal sympathy with animals to tell a story about the suffering of Iraqi civilians.
“It's weird. You can threaten and kill a baby in a movie, but put a dog in jeopardy and people will walk out. You make a more immediate connection to a giraffe than a person. It sounds psychotic, that you can feel more for an animal than a human. “
(Brian K. Vaughan)

“Occasionally, a student would write an essay answer [for nationally standardized tests like the MEAP] that would exhibit more intelligence than any other essay answer I’d seen, but more often than not, the essay would be subversive in some way, questioning the essay question itself while illuminating some truly great points. But here were essays (finally!) with souls behind them — not just some student who’d been trained how to write "the good essay." Sadly, though, these essays generally received three points out of six because they fell into the "convoluted" category. The "good essays" — by "good" I mean formulaic, boring, and teachable — generally received six points.” (John McNally)

“If [John McCain] can manage to combine America's tribal pride, its yearning for some sort of spiritual meaning and its fear of the other and put together an inspirational, nationalistic message (along with his pre-fab image as a straight-talking "reformer") he could be very hard to beat --- and very, very dangerous. He's a warmongering hawk, don't ever forget it. The only real difference between him and Bush on these matters is that he's willing to attend the funerals of the dead. (Digby’s Hullabaloo

I hear the RePubs are planning to actually run this [Ticking Bin Laden ] ad (at the cost of who knows how much loot) this Sunday during the national news. If you happen to see it then, giggling and pointing is appropriate. If anyone asks you what’s so funny, you can explain that Bush shut down the CIA office that was looking for bin Laden.
(Jim McDonald)

“...[India] has to sustain nearly twenty percent of the earth’s population with four per cent of its water. China has less water than Canada—and forty times as many people.” (Michael Specter in The New Yorker, October 23rd, 2006)

"Some men are male-oriented. While they are boys, because they are chips off the male block, they love men and enjoy lying with men and being embraced by men; those are the best of boys and lads, because they are the most manly in their nature. When they're grown men, they are lovers of young men. Do you want me to prove it? Look, these are the only kind of boys who grow up to be politicians." (Aristophanes, in Plato's Symposium)


Let us regard this day in a more positive light. It may be that the president has suspended habeas corpus because his followers are too inept to get a conviction any other way.

The worst president in the history of the republic gave himself the power Tuesday to "arrest" persons on American soil and throw them into dungeons indefinitely. He also reinstituted the use of coerced testimony in court, for the first time since the Salem witch trials.

The last time habeas corpus was suspended by a president, Abraham Lincoln was faced with armed insurrection on American soil. Even Roosevelt's imprisonment of the California Japanese was later found to be unjust, without due process, and restitution paid.

On Tuesday, the United States of America was overthrown in a bloodless coup by its least worthy student, a "monstre sacre" spawned by its own excesses.


Warning. Warning. Warning.
All members of the Sunni community, Wahhabis and Takfiris, are required to leave the Abu Al-Khasib province immediately as a result of the killings and deportation suffered by the [Shia] followers of the Prophet’s household. We do not exclude anyone. You have destroyed holy sites and you have slaughtered the Shia based on their identity. We were patient but not any more. We will not be silent from now on. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and the first transgressor is more unjust. We will take revenge for the Shia and the followers of the Prophet’s household. We will not stay silent in the face of injustice. Never. We will not tolerate humiliation. You do not have much time to leave. He who has warned is henceforth excused.

Warning.. Warning.. Warning
To the worshippers of the Sajjad mosque: Beware of coming near this mosque, or your fate will be death. Woe to the unjust. Death to transgressors. Damn you, lackeys of the occupiers.

In the name of Allah, the most merciful

Warning. Warning. Warning.
To the Palestinian traitors who allied themselves with Wahhabis, Takfiris, Nawasib and Ba’athist Saddamists, especially those who inhabit the Dar Al-Shu’oun area: We warn you that we will eliminate you all if you do not leave this area entirely within 10 days.
He who has warned is henceforth excused.

In the name of Allah, the most merciful

Subject: Deportation
As a result of the criminal and sectarian behaviour of what is called (the disgraceful) Jaish Al-Mahdi and (the treacherous) Badr forces by killing, kidnapping and deporting the Sunni community (at Mahmoudiya, Rashidiya, Sha’ab, Shu’la and Hurriya), as well as violating the honour of Sunnis and plundering their possessions, the organisation has decided, Inshallah, to return the strike twofold and treat them the same (an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth). It has been decided to deport you from Sunni areas, including Ghazaliya, within 24 hours, or otherwise your heads will be cut off, the same as your militias act with members of the Sunni community. He who has warned is henceforth excused.

The Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers Organisation
The Mujahideen Shura Council

To: Director and employees of the Adil District [Internet] centre
Subject: Warning
We write down this warning for the employees of the Adil District centre (particularly the rejectionists among them), and ask them: what is the purpose of this centre? And what kind of department is it, where work is for 24 hours, uninterrupted not even by electricity outages? And what kind of department lacks a sign or notice that explains its purpose and under the authority of which ministry? Why do its employees sneak in and out through the back door, while the front entrance on the main street is locked? What is the need for such a large number of engineers and workers, even though the centre is closed, with no contact with the public? And, and, and… many other questions that we have listed.
We clearly state here that we suspect this centre is controlled by a certain party, and that it is being used for special surveillance operations, without mentioning further details.
If this matter is confirmed to us, then we inform you that you have openly renounced your religion and your faith, and that you have declared war against the Mujahideen. We swear by Him, who has lifted the sky without pillars, that you will be legitimate targets for us to sacrifice for Allah, may He be praised. You should learn that killing you is easier to us than a drink of water. The American forces that you serve will not help you, let alone the helpless pagan guards or the forces of insurrection. We will follow you and deal with you at your department, or while you commute, or even at your houses and in your own bedrooms. And we stress ‘if confirmed’, for we will not shed the blood of Muslims with uncertainty; our Lord, religion and morals forbid that.

Since we are still at the stage of investigation and research, and since there has been no evidence against you so far, we have spared your lives. Therefore, we demand the following 3 requirements on your part:

1- Put up a public notice at the entrance of your department, mentioning its name, its specialty, and its jurisdiction (like other governmental departments).

2- Open the main entrance on the street. All employees, workers and vehicles should enter and leave solely through this entrance, and not like ‘thieves’ from the back door.

3- Stick a small note on the main entrance with answers to the following questions: What is the function of this department or centre? Why is work for 24 hours? And why is such a large staff employed there, even though it is not open to the public? Be informed that specialists among the Mujahideen will view your answers, so we advise you to remain truthful.

We will offer you one week – no more – from this date to carry out these demands. If one is not carried out then our suspicions will be confirmed and we will direct our patrols to apply practical steps with you. He who has warned is henceforth excused, and Allah is witness to what we say.

Peace be upon our prophet Mohammed and his companions.

Military Administrator of the Kata’ib

Kata’ib Al-Mujahideen
Saraya Al-Ghadhab

Copy to:
- The media department.
- Commander of Al-Karkh sector.
- Al-Adil District centre.


In the name of Allah, the most merciful

To the vile rejectionists, and the grandsons of Ibn Al-Alqami, and those who have sold their religion and people for earthly gains. It has been clear that you have betrayed the pact of Allah and His prophet, and that you fight the Mujahideen with your beliefs and acts. Therefore, we offer you 24 hours to leave this untainted area or face punishment. He who has warned is henceforth excused.
Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar. And praise be to Allah.

The Islamic Army in Iraq

To the honourable residents of the ***** province: The traitorous government, as you know, has passed a law to mark Saturday as an official holiday for all governmental departments. And as we all know, the traitorous government decided not long ago to change the flag to an Israeli flag. Now, they have chosen to mark an Israeli holiday. This is all to achieve their scheme of Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates.

Therefore, we ask all governmental departments in the ***** province to defy this law and to continue to open on Saturday as usual in order to foil these traitorous plans.

To all directors of state departments in the province: You are to inform your employees to attend work on Saturdays, or you and your employees will be held responsible.

Kata’ib Allahu Akbar
Sariyat Al-Mujahidun

The Political Power of NoiseNoiseNoiseNoiseNoiseNoiseNoiseNoiseNoiseNoiseNoiseNoiseNoiseNoiseNoiseNoiseNoiseNoiseNoiseNoiseNoiseNoiseNoiseNoise...

Waiting room at the tire store. Brain empty. That other brain in my stomach, having fed, longs for a nap. When I first was stirring, my mind was alive with theories of education and the arguments to properly back them up, but now that I'm free to write down those thoughts, they've run back into the thickets of the subconscious, my conscious mind being busy with ordering the new tires, getting coffee, then listening with half an ear to what the nearby television thinks is important.

This is how the dominant culture protects itself in the early 21st century, not with a whimper but with a lot of banging in your ear. The writer, philosopher, or naturalist seeks out quiet places, but how does the average person keep his or her thought processes boxed off from the yapping radio and television, the visual lure of the pretty girls on the magazine covers?

The dystopic society described in Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" used physical handicapping to make sure its citizens were truly equal. One of the characters, only slightly more intelligent than his peers, was brought down to conformity by a loud noise that brayed in his ears at regular intervals, interrupting before he could formulate a coherant thought. This story supposes, like a conspiracy theorist, that the dictatorship will be imposed from without, not subscribed to wholeheartedly.

In our modern dictatorship of noise, the sound never stops in our public places. Broadcast reporters who put no more effort into their stories than rolling their chairs over to the AP feed, repeat the same stories as every other news source. We are supposed to believe that the latest sex scandal or some shocking crime are of primary importance. In actuality, these entertainments are of little or no relevance to our lives; we tsk-tsk, express our horror, and move on. News stories that require thought or call the system into question are kept out of the popular news. We know more about poor Jon Benet Ramsey than we do about the president's suspension of habeas corpus. We learn of stupendous drug arrests but rarely why so many people feel they need to get high in the first place. Here in Kalamazoo, the morning news includes a "Survivor" show update.

Pop radio assails us with the same songs over and over again, different stations' playlists beamed down from central locations, the same ideas over and over again. The themes explored in popular music may be of first importance to an adolescent audience, but embarassing or too limited for an adult. What is the larger implication of the oldies station, playing "the music of our lives"-- that we are so emotionally stunted we still express ourselves in sentiments of the late seventies, eighties or nineties?

Our entertainment systems have grown to a level of complexity that they have achieved a kind of primitive sentience, like those super computers of old SF stories that reached critical mass and achieved sentience. This intelligence, "vast cool and unsympathetic", is assembled from promotion, advertising, political cliches, internet memes, genre tropes, and group consensus.

The dominant culture favors celebrities, politicians, business leaders and style makers who conform to that paradigm. They offer simple answers and comforting personas. Even our deviants are"shocking" but not truly revolutionary-- hence the rocker, rapper, or pimp daddy whose "rebellion" consists of perpetuating violence among the poor and showing independence by switching his brand of champagne. These allow us to vent our frustration while standing still for our shearing.

Capitalism has created an aritificial reality, like the gnostic's evil demiurge, that we mistake for the truth. It requires us to consume, to buy, to produce, to consume, to buy, to produce until our replacements-- children throughly indoctrinated into "brand loyalty" and focus groups-- are ready to replace the aging cogs in the great machine. A good many of those children have surrendered completely, and reach for the game control or cell phone as soon as they wake up.

In free-market capitalism the customer is always right, even if he's killing himself.

John M. ("Mike") Ford, 1957-2006

Terrible news, which wasn't news anymore, except to me: the writer John M. Ford died unexpectedly September 24 in Minneapolis.
I met him briefly at WFC in Wisconsin, long enough to shake his hand and ask him to sign THE LAST HOT TIME. I knew I'd be lugging home boxes of books from the convention, and that was the only book I'd brought from home to be autographed. We chatted about inconsequential things and I didn't get to tell him how good I thought he was, or how I always recommended him when people asked me about books.
I heard him read the next day, and it was my favorite of all those I attended. He read something called "The Fellowship of the Woosters", Tolkein's trilogy if it had been written by P.G. Wodehouse, and Bertie Wooster had been assigned to destroy the Ring instead of Frodo, with the Great War of the Ring another muddle for Jeeves to sort out. Evidently he never published it, just saved it for conventions. I laughed out loud and thought that was unusual for a writer to not try and sell every scrap he produced, but then I read some of his posts at Making Light and incidental pieces elsewhere-- poems with technically proficent meter and scansion, a "Talk Like a Pirate" entry written in the voice of Stephen Maturin-- and I realized his throwaways were as good as most of the things the rest of us sweat over. The voice of the Wooster and Jeeves piece was so letter perfect it should have been given the case of Bollinger and prize pig the Wodehouse estate gives out every year... now I wonder who will ever read it again, will it be saved.

If writers have "chops" like jazz musicians, John M. Ford was the most technically skilled of any contemporary writer I know. Lots of writers are good or great at their own niche; John Michael Ford seemed to be good at whatever genre he turned his hand to, better than Gaiman or Moore or whoever you care to name. He won a couple of World Fantasy Awards and the Philip K. Dick Award, but like R.A. MacAvoy or Thomas Burnett Swann, he deserved more attention than he was given. I hope the regard of a discerning few was enough for him.

One of those things I was going-to-get-around-to was an appreciation on this blog of his short story and poetry collection, HEAT OF FUSION. I was looking forward to meeting him again. This is written and posted in a hurry, without his skill or polish-- if I have any strengths as a writer, they lie elsewhere. It is heartfelt.

Track down THE LAST HOT TIME, the only urban fantasy I know where Chester Himes characters meet Chicago gangland elves, an EMT hero and girls in Louise Brooks haircuts with the best written explication of bondage and discipline sex I've ever read (come to think, it's the ONLY book like that I ever read), or GROWING UP WEIGHTLESS, or HEAT of FUSION, (with a version of Oedipus and Antigone if a Seymour Hersch or Frank Rich were trying to write a profile for the New Yorker); I still plan to write that appreciation of the stories there. I've never read THE DRAGON WAITING or DRAGONS of LIGHT, but I know some people swear by them. He even wrote a couple of Star Trek novels, and one of them, HOW MUCH FOR JUST THE PLANET? is considered the best of them all by people who know better than I.

You know that great feeling when you think you've read everything written by all your favorite writers, and then you discover someone new to you and you realize that your finding their work makes you young again like finding an unexplored world...?

Cormac McCarthy Writes a Science Fiction Novel

You ask what makes me reject the dominant culture of the United States in the Year of Our Lord 2006. I answer that there is some shit I will not eat for profit. There are some things I will not do in order to achieve a nervous financial supremacy. I do not begrudge a beggar the crumbs while I serve the master of the castle prime cuts of meat, just so I can scramble after the scraps and scheme to become a master myself. I do not see the world as an inevitable war of all against all, of let's do it to them before they do it to us. It makes me a much better neighbor to have when the chips are down.

The boy asks: "We wouldn't ever eat anybody, would we?"
"No. Of course not..."
"No matter what."
"No. No matter what."
"Because we're the good guys."
"And we're carrying the fire."
"And we're carrying the fire. Yes."

I wonder if Harold Bloom is going to swallow his pride and read a science fiction novel...? Cormac McCarthy, one of Bloom's favorite writers, has written a post-apocalyptic novel, THE ROAD, cut from the same cloth as A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ and MEMOIRS OF A SURVIVOR, a slap upside the head to the self-congratulatory LEFT BEHIND series.

McCarthy has discovered that you can do things with the literature of the fantastic that cannot be done with any other genre. He probably already knew this; a writer's taste is rarely as limited as the critics', just as musicians listen to stuff their fans would never touch (Louis Armstrong loved Guy Lombardo). Critic's darlings Doris Lessing, Neil Gaiman, and Alan Moore would have told him the same thing. Margaret Atwood is still living in denial, insisting that novels like THE HANDMAID'S TALE and ORYX AND CRAKE are not science fiction.

The tropes of fantasy and science fiction are the same metaphors our ancestors used to populate the archetypes of myth. If the quality-- and the seriousness-- varies wildly-- that's the fault of the publishers and the writers, not the genre.

"Speaking Truth to Power" Now Officially Against the Law

The Gloves Are Off: Screw You, Screw the Constitution, and Screw Yo' Mama Too. From the Rocky Mountain News, October 3rd:
"A Denver-area man filed a lawsuit today against a member of the Secret Service for causing him to be arrested after he approached Vice President Dick Cheney in Beaver Creek this summer and criticized him for his policies concerning Iraq.
Attorney David Lane said that on June 16, Steve Howards was walking his 7-year-old son to a piano practice, when he saw Cheney surrounded by a group of people in an outdoor mall area, shaking hands and posing for pictures with several people.
... Howards and his son walked to about two-to-three feet from where Cheney was standing, and said to the vice president, "I think your policies in Iraq are reprehensible," or words to that effect, then walked on....Ten minutes later, according to Howards' lawsuit, he and his son were walking back through the same area, when they were approached by Secret Service agent Virgil D. "Gus" Reichle Jr., who asked Howards if he had "assaulted" the vice president. Howards denied doing so, but was nonetheless placed in handcuffs and taken to the Eagle County Jail."

I'm sure glad our Congressmen found a way to "compromise" on habeas corpus last week; now anyone can be labelled an enemy combatant and arrested without probable cause. Enjoy your new country, boys; I hope to see you choke on it. Four Republicans: Lincoln Chafee, Gordon Smith, Arlen Specter, and John Sununu-- voted with the Democrats to strike down the provision regarding habeas review. They lost, 48-51. One Democrat-- a grinning, glowing, globular fellow, Ben Nelson from Nebraska-- voted with the Republicans, and one Republican-- Olympia Snowe from Maine-- abstained, no doubt for a highly principled reason.

Put Not Your Faith in Foley

Yeah, I see him over there: that shivering yellow dog with a hopeful look on his face and the tip of his tail wagging. No matter how many times he's been kicked, he keeps inching forward, hoping that this time he'll get a handout instead of a kick and a cross word.

No, wait-- that's not a kicked dog, that's a Democrat.

I am not optimistic about the coming election. The conventional blather seems to think that the Foley scandal will discourage the Republican base, but I think the press is sniffing its own butt on this one and mistaking consensus for wisdom. A more realistic poll described on NPR this week shows that Christian conservatives have no intention of crossing over to the Democrats. They see Foley as an abberation, not a symptom. Yes, Hastert and the leadership fumbled the ball-- okay, bad choice of words there-- but the Republican Party still holds its own-- another regrettable phrase-- when it comes-- um-- to what the Christian Right really cares about:
Other People's Abortions, Other People's Dicks, and Making a Big Show of What a Good Christian You Are.

If the events of the past SIX YEARS won't make them change their vote, why would this relatively bloodless scandal have any effect? I'm willing to be proved wrong, but polls don't always match the people that actually show up to vote on a rainy day, and who needs votes when you've got Dielbold?

A old Washington joke describes an incumbent as a shoo-in "unless he's caught with a dead girl or a live boy." The media is all over the Foley story like wasps to sugar water, but this scandal is NOT an October gift to Democrats. It is a blessing in disguise for the Republican party, a freakshow distraction from far more substantial problems.

Lazy Plotting at Marvel's "Civil War", Good Stuff at "Front Line", "Cap" and "Planet Hulk"

Terrorist explosions kill thousands of innocents while the country watches on television. The incident turns the country against anyone who "might be" or "looks like" a terrorist. Their friends and legal defenders are branded as fellow travelers. Congress panics and rushes through a series of laws to suspend due process and habeas corpus. The president tells the dissidents "you're either with us or against us".
The head of US intelligence tries to recruit prominent Americans to the government cause. When they refuse, the government and the conservative press defame them as traitors who hate America. Former heros, even combat veterans loyal to the Constitution, find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Prisoners are transported thousands of miles away to an improvised prison camp and kept without trial, with no contact with the outside world. Defendants are abused by over-eager guards and interrogators. Intimidated by the government, bullied by their peers, eager to please, old friends sell each other out. Both sides regroup as the violence increases Several former conservatives change sides and join the anti-government dissidents. The law-abiding, pro-government forces become more and more righteous and defensive, desperate enough to enlist sadists and crimnals to attack their former friends. The American government persecutes "enemies within", while a dangerous foreign power activates a sleeper cell...
But hey, it's just a comic book.
For me, "Front Line" is the best (and least publicized) of Marvel's "Civil War" titles. The multiple storylines-- Ben Urich's simple motivation to get to the truth, Speedball as an unpopular defendent being tossed into the prison population-- gets closer to the "messier" aspects than the mainstream titles.
What I object to is Marvel's bad habit under Quesada of trashing well-established characters we've been taught to respect and care about. We're supposed to believe that characters who have (literally, sometimes) gone through Hell to do the right thing will suddenly buckle for anyone waving a flag or a badge? I think this is lazy writing and a failure of imagination; instead of creating new and interesting characters to embody the pro-registration side, we're supposed to believe that Reed? Jan? SPIDEY?!? would sign on for this? And the goofier characters from the '70s and '80s used as cannon fodder?
Heck, even Stan, whose sixties "political" stories might have been naive pleas for tolerance, wasn't afraid to try a new character to embody ideas. Some were Star Trek Silly-- remember Hitler as the Hate-Monger?-- but some, like Bolivar Trask and his heirs, had real staying power. "Front Line" is doing a pretty good job of playing with the archetypes; the two-panel suicide in issue 6 had real pathos.
It's not as if it's a lost skill--Brian K. Vaughn, Alan Moore, the nuts over at "Planet Hulk", all these guys can make us care about a new character in just a few panels. Grant Morrison broke my heart in just three issues with brave little Pirate in "We Three" (and yes, house rabbits really ARE that aggressive and stubborn when they don't want to go where you want them to go.)
The uncharacteristic, un-heroic, "you're either with us or against us" behavior of suddenly right-wing characters at Marvel is unconvincing. It may be that Marvel has brought in too many Hollywood writers trained by Hollywood. The manufactured "conflict between old friends" is reminiscent of an ensemble television show that's running out of steam.
In tawdry reality, the politicians so quick to abandon habeas corpus and their constitutional oath were never our friends, and never our heros; they have been waiting their entire lives to sell out to any bully with a twang. Nine-eleven didn't change a damn thing, it only brought out the smallness and meaness that was always there. Torturers, let your hearts be glad. Let a thousand sadists bloom. If Marvel really wanted to appear even-handed in "Civil War", the pro-registration team would be led by nasty little opportunists giving orders to conflicted characters who do the wrong things for the right reasons, instead of heros selling out heros and trashing their reader's good will.

(Inspired by a review of "Civil War" at Filing Cabinet of the Damned)