Loving a Girl with a Broken Nose

Nelson Algren was Chicago's great broken-hearted lover, and even he gave up and moved to New Jersey in the end. My buddy Wayne and I have Algren watching over our shoulders the way Turgenev looked over Tolstoy (well he didn't, but the alliteration sounded good), so in his honor here's some quotations collected by The Local Tourist:

"Chicago is an October sort of city even in spring." Nelson Algren, Newsweek, August 13, 1984

"Loving Chicago is like loving a woman with a broken nose." Nelson Algren

"Chicago is not the most corrupt American city. It's the most theatrically corrupt." Studs Terkel, 1978

"Satan (impatiently) to Newcomer: The trouble with you Chicago people is, that you think you are the best people down here; whereas you are merely the most numerous." Mark Twain "Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar," 1897

"Chicago is a sort of journalistic Yellowstone Park, offering haven to a last herd of fantastic bravos." Ben Hecht

"In most places in the country, voting is looked upon as a right and a duty, but in Chicago it's a sport." Dick Gregory, 1972

"He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way." David Mamet

"Chicago is the product of modern capitalism, and, like other great commercial centers, is unfit for human habitation." Eugene Debs, 1908

"It's a 106 miles to Chicago, we've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes; it's dark and we're wearing sun glasses. Hit it!" The Blues Brothers

"The Chicago Tribune has come out against syphilis. Bet you 8 to 5 syphilis will win." Anonymous, 1940

Happy Birthday, Daniel Schorr

Just as I've finished my whinging about the good dying young, comes news of Daniel Schorr's 91st birthday. The last of Murrow's Boys still working: the guys who could write well, speak well and had the moxie to "tell the truth and run". (Marvin Kalb was actually the last hired by Murrow, four years after Schorr, but he took the king's shilling years ago to teach at Harvard and become a Gray Eminence, a Lippman instead of a George Seldes or I.F. Stone.)

Murrow hired Schorr two years before I was born, for God's sake, when Schorr was 37-- and very much the "kid" around CBS, compared with colleagues like William Shirer, who'd stuck around Nazi Germany and didn't get out until 1940, or Cronkite, a wire-and-print man at UPI until 1950, who'd landed with troops behind enemy lines in a glider on D-Day. Shirer himself gave Murrow a civics lesson by quitting when CBS was late coming to the table against McCarthy and failed to stand up for Shirer when he was being red-baited as prematurely anti-fascist. (We like to remember Murrow at his best, but at the time, Murrow's eloquent speech against McCarthyism was akin to Stalin declaring war on Japan after the US bombed Hiroshima.)

Kid Schorr got his chance to show what it takes to be a "Murrow Boy" when he got in a pissing match with the Pentagon, the Nixon White House and CBS itself, which fired him over his reporting on CIA villainy and the Pike Committee hearings. It's part of guy lore that a man is defined not just by his friends but by who his enemies are, and there are few more deserving of a great soul in opposition than the secret murderers at CIA, or moments more delicious than Schorr reading Nixon's "enemies list" on-air without realizing that his own name was on the list.

If I seem in a valedictory mood, it's inspired by watching in quick succession Richard Pryor's first concert film (the one with the dead pet monkies and a sympathetic German Shepherd) and a Paul McCartney broadcast, Chaos and Creation at Abbey Road, with McCartney fiddling around with Elvis' bass or explaining how the chords of "Blackbird" were born of a mistake he and George Harrison used to make while trying to play Bach as kids. This inclines me to appreciate our treasures while we have them.

Some of my my favorite moments in the week are Schorr's conversations with Scott Simon on Saturday mornings. Apparently it's a favorite joke at NPR to send the most naive interns around to ask Schorr questions about covering the Spanish American war, but he seems to be enjoying himself. Long may he continue to be a Ring-Tailed Wonder, pissing off the right people and much loved by the best.

Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake and Descents into Darkness

I found Theresa Duncan's blog of cultural criticism, The Wit of the Staircase while doing a search for the spelling of the phrase esprit d'escalier, "the wisdom of the staircase", meaning the things you wish you'd said after an argument, after slamming the door, on your way down the stairs or a couple of blocks down the street. Being cursed with fierce memory means that I have to make a conscious decision to pack away and dismiss other's (minor) faults and my own (major) sins, or else carry them around with me all day and night. This makes a phrase that describes regret more sympathetically than "coulda shoulda woulda" a useful thing to have.

Now I find out from New York magazine that Theresa Duncan killed herself, that her lover Jeremy Blake followed a week after. At first I was just going to move her link next to Molly Ivins', in memorium, still worth reading, with regrets for another intelligent stranger that shouldn't be dead, but is. People that make the world a better place in small or large ways keep dropping like flies, while shitheels go on crawling like roaches, leaking juices and polluting the world for days, even after being squashed. It must be a part of that plan for the world that says at any given time there are only thirty six tzadikkum, just and righteous people, who hold the world together with masking tape and mud and never know the value of their labor. Poisonous assholes, great and small, never get tired, while nature apparently puts a load limit on virtue.

According to the article, Duncan had been frustrated in her efforts to become an independent filmaker, which if you'd asked me, I coulda told you, Henry Slesar's description of "success in Hollywood" being enough for me. Add to that what Jim Harrison said: that a successful career in the arts faces about the same odds as an unlucky combat platoon, or a retirement community in Florida, with a few survivors breaking through and then attributing their success to inherent virtue and hard work instead of the vagaries of fate. Garrison Keillor wisely sneered at religious pundits who talk about Faith without ever really having to dig for it: "there's no one knows more about faith than an undiscovered artist." There's no one waiting for your next outburst, you have to feel energized enough to do the work, but not so energized you don't want to stay in your seat, you have to and believe that a project's worth finishing even if no one ever sees it, its value to the world roughly less than that fallen sumac tree that no one heard.

As connected as Theresa Duncan was in New York, even after her big break when her animated film The History of Glamour got national attention, it just wasn't enough to get a film made. I knew a guy who had the "option" picked up for a comedy script he wrote, thousands of dollars-- but six years later he was still waiting tables. Filmmaking, if you'da ast me (which you didn't), is art-by-committee: you need a lot of hands and a lot of money, and all kinds of trouble I don't need-- whereas when the power was out in Kalamazoo for more than three days, we managed somehow with a pencil and a flashlight. Theresa Duncan had at least one editor telling her to give up on film for now, and move into prose full time... but it tasked her. Zero Mostel, after he was blacklisted, just said Screw It and went on painting until the wheel turned around again. Worried about that day the Right finally transforms the United States into Chile, and we're all locked up with three hots and a cot in Guantanamo...? I'm the guy muttering, "Finally, I can get some work done."

Apparently for Duncan and Blake, their frustrations started turning into conspiracy theories about Scientologists who didn't want them to succeed. The natural process of finding out Who Your True Friends Are degenerated into making lists of Who Was Loyal and Who Was Part of the Conspiracy. No one can follow from the outside all the dark and lonely convolutions that lead a person to suicide, and according to New York, no one knows exactly when this beautiful couple drove off the main road until they were lost from sight.

Yeah, yeah, I was young and beautiful and doomed once, too. And yet, and yet, as I read on, I was surprised to find out that Theresa Duncan was a sister under the skin, another smart and literate kid from a small town (Lapeer, in her case) in Michigan, another talented writer unable to break into the world dominated by million dollar contracts for celebrity authors, which, in case you haven't figured out, means more than a thousand talented writers who will never be published at all because the corporation blew the budget on Sonnee Tufts' tell-all. She didn't want to be a fly-over, when silly people with much less to say are lionized in the cultural centers of New York and Los Angeles. We are mute, emasculated, unheard, drowned out by the shouting from Madison Avenue until we find some way to break a crack in the rock so the living water can flow through to bring water to the owls and the dragons. Add in chemical, genetic and situational depression, suicidal impulses, the frustration of having one eye in a kingdom of the blind (for example, I see from the papers that Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure by Depaul for getting into a pissing match with the Israeli lobby, his apparent sin being speaking truth to someone who buys ink by the barrellful). Add in the chronic anguish that can drive someone to a hasty decision simply to escape, baby, my credentials are on file. These are the things that Hamlet puts on his list of daily insults to the brain, next to the law's delay and the proud man's contumely.

There's a conversation in Long Day's Journey into Night between the compromised father and the ambitious son:
James: Yes, there's the makings of a poet in you all right
Edmund: The makings of a poet. I'm like a bum who asks for a cigarette: he doesn’t have the makings, he's only got the habit. I could never touch what I tried to tell you just now. I just stammered.

I've been luckier than poor Theresa Duncan (would she have chased those pills with whiskey if she'd known Jeremy Blake would follow her in? Was it an poorly thought-out impulse?) I was lucky enough to have a friend nearby who could warn me when I started to sound like a danger to myself. Non-depressives sometimes forget the nature of the disease: when you're down in a hole (hence, "depression") the only reality you can see is the side of the hole, with the patch of sunlight up above being something reserved for "winners" instead of "losers" like yourself. Reality is filtered through a delusion that even the most despicable human beings-- telemarketers, torturers, dog fight promoters-- are winners in the eyes of the world, while the most noble depressive is unworthy of life. The depressive appears lucid, even cheerful-- how many of us are full of jokes!-- but when those chemicals are acting up, there's a distortion of subjective reality that would make a schizophrenic call us crazy.

So include a little prayer for Thersa Duncan and Jeremy Blake and sad people everywhere, even, reportedly, the actor Owen Wilson, and for all the wayfarers looking for the soul of the world, the hobos Kerouac described as wearing two watches, the sun on one wrist and the moon on the other. Some of the very best people are exiles from the culture at large; you'll eat canned beans with the likes of Diogenes and Chu Yuan. But it's like all those times when you were maybe too drunk to drive but you made it home anyway, or went home with the wrong person but you managed not to drive your life into a ditch. If making a success as an artist requires the happiest of chances, so does being rescued from suicide, encountering this person instead of that, turning left instead of right on some dark corner on one dark night. I can remember a night when a photograph of Isak Dinesen's ancient face saved my life: I said, "she looks like I feel", and with nothing left but curiosity, I went home and read the only story by Dinesen I had in the house, and by chance it was a tale that had a particular blessing for me, and so I was saved. I've been rescued too many times by the luck of floating branches in the rushing current to ever sneer at someone else's nemesis.

Commonplace Book: Quotations, August 2007

Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque revenit: “You may drive nature out with a pitchfork, she will nevertheless come back.”
Horace,The Epistles. Book I: Epistle X

Saddam may have been despised almost everywhere, but it was only in the United States that a majority of the population were terrified of what he might do to them, tomorrow. Not surprisingly, support for the war correlated very closely with such fears.
(Noam Chomsky)

(from The Onion, July 25)
CHAPEL HILL, NC—A field study released Monday by the University of North Carolina School of Public Health suggests that Iraqi citizens experience sadness and a sense of loss when relatives, spouses, and even friends perish, emotions that have until recently been identified almost exclusively with Westerners.
"We were struck by how an Iraqi reacts to the sight of the bloody or decapitated corpse of a family member in a not unlike an American, or at the very least a Canadian, would," said Dr. Jonathan Pryztal, chief author of the study. "In addition to the rage, bloodlust, and hatred we already know to dominate the Iraqi emotional spectrum, it appears that they may have some capacity, however limited, for sadness."
.... "We are, in truth, still a long way from determining if Iraqis are exhibiting actual, U.S.-grade sadness," Mayo Clinic neuropsychologist Norman Blum said. "At present, we see no reason for the popular press to report on Iraqi emotions as if they are real."

“The earliest experience of art must have been that it was incantatory, magical; art was an instrument of ritual. (Cf. the paintings in the caves at Lascaux, Altamira, Niaux, La Pasiega, etc.) The earliest theory of art, that of the Greek philosophers, proposed that art was mimesis, imitation of reality.

It is at this point that the peculiar question of the value of art arose. For the mimetic theory, by its very terms, challenges art to justify itself.... the contemporary zeal for the project of interpretation is often prompted not by piety toward the troublesome text (which may conceal an aggression), but by an open aggressiveness, an overt contempt for appearances. The old style of interpretation was insistent, but respectful; it erected another meaning on top of the literal one. The modem style of interpretation excavates, and as it excavates, destroys.
-- Susan Sontag, “Against Interpretation”

“You never want to be writing the thing you're writing, unless you're actually in it, unless it's just flowing, and you're typing, and you're laughing, and you're crying, and everything's giddy, and you're in the moment. That's the beauty of it. All the rest of the time, all you want to think about is whatever it is you're not supposed to be thinking about. Having said that, most of my best ideas have come while I was procrastinating about something else I was supposed to be writing. So I respect that. If my brain is saying, "You know what? You're supposed to be working on Runaways, but you're in an X mood," I go there, because if that's where the muse is hovering, I'm gonna go visit her. Sometimes you've got to bite the bullet, and be a man, and say, "Just write the script. Come on, find the inspiration. Bring that muse over here." But if I have a little leeway, and it's clearly going one way and not the other, that's what I'm going to follow.”
(Joss Whedon)

"We are back where we started. Sending raw materials out, bringing cheap manufactured goods in. This isn’t progress. It is colonialism."
WILFRED COLLINS WONANI, (head of the Chamber of Commerce in Kabwe, Zambia, where a Chinese company once manufactured finished cloth but now exports only raw cotton, quoted in the NYT)

“When we live in the science fiction condition, what's left but writing contemporary fiction with the eye for detail and extrapolation that comes from an sf writer?“
(Warren Ellis)


My friend Patricia Relf's nephew Jack practices Parkour. Jackie Chan used to go over a high gate not by walking through, but by bouncing off the thresholds like a chamois goat or a cat crossed with a monkey. French kids in the outskirts of Paris have turned it into an art form, here reaching as far as Washington State.

It's beautiful.

Their own definition is better than Wikipedia's: "Practioners of Parkour (traceurs) strive to move through their environments with speed and agility by flowing over, under, or around obstacles in ways not intended by society."

Joss Whedon Interview, Lessons from Bad Writing, & Cultural Notes on Wonder Woman

Joss Whedon being one of the contemporary writers that I admire, an interview with Tasha Robinson at the AV Club is useful and informative not just for Whedon fans, but for all students of the culture. The standard take on writers in Hollywood is Henry Slesar's "success in Hollywood is like climbing a mountain of shit to pluck one perfect rose, and then discovering that you've lost your taste of smell". To my unschooled eye, Whedon has managed to pluck more roses from the pile than most, even compared with the admirable William Goldman and Hal Ashby. If this keeps up, Whedon could have a resume that makes him the Billy Wilder of adventure movies.

As much as I am wrapped up in Whedon's successes, I learn more, as a creative person, from his failures. As much as I admired (and early on, imitated) for example, John D. MacDonald and Robert Heinlein, all I could do was gape and wonder, how'd they do that?, whereas it was easier to decode what didn't work in bad novels, B-movies and crap comics, and so learn what not to do. It wasn't until I matured enough to see MacDonald and Heinlein's flaws that I was able to decipher how they got their affects.

The failures described at length in this interview-- the collapse of Whedon's script for Wonder Woman, for instance, has some interesting things to say about our culture's relationship with feminine archetypes. Try and name a female character in an action film that isn't somebody's girlfriend (the anonymous scream machine) or a soulless-but-hot killing machines (Aeon Flux, Underworld, Linda Hamilton in the Terminator sequels, ad infinitum. (Whedon himself, at a low point in his career, was reduced to tears when he saw what had been made of his script forAlien: Ressurection.) To this day, Greg Rucka's series of Wonder Woman reprints are the only ones I'd recommend with a clean conscience.

Whedon's Wonder Woman sounds like an opportunity to stir fish-out-water social satire together with comic book ass-kicking. His Diana of Themiscrya was a kind of Candide with super-powers, who just doesn't understand why humans are so small and nasty and cruel, clawing one another for top position on a mudball, when they could build a paradise on earth if they just... ? He wrote a scene that worked the magic bracelets into this vision. Whedon even managed to redeem the (I thought) unredeemable Steve Trevor (a character so disliked, I found it difficult to type his name)-- making him the wry voice of struggling humanity, trying to explain to a perfect creature made from clay why children are starving, or this group hates that group, or...

I can imagine all kinds of PG-13 Michael Valentine Smith moments, with an Amazon princess being gobsmacked by human taboos-- remember when Heinlein's character took his first dip on a public beach? Or economic inequities-- I can imagine Diana saving us from Max Lord (DC's young-and-handsome take on Rupert Murdoch) and then baffled as to why this man goes unpunished, why he should have more wealth than the people who do the work that creates his wealth. More difficult to pull off, but interesting, might be the feminist villains-- why does the Cheetah's sexual power turn to bitterness and villainy instead of joy, or Circe's revelling in manipulation and deceit instead of using her power to heal? (This is starting to sound too good to me; I'd better get back to my own work before the long day wanes.)

Obligatory Exciting Underwear Post

News comes from Israel of a rabbi's tomb adorned with women's underwear. Apparently, women who visit the tomb of Rabbi Yenothan Ben Uziel will meet their true love and marry within a year. Some try to speed up the process by leaving a pair of underwear, which as you might expect, greatly disturbs the dignity and repose of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
A lesser man might have illustrated this story with a sensible pair of granny panties. I'm just happy for any excuse to post another image of eternal dream girl Justine Greiner, Miss February of 1984,sans culottes.

If this be evidence of idolatry and goddess worship, make the most of it. In my religion, there's still room for the Mother, Maiden and Crone alongside the Nymph.

My First Plagiarist

I don't mind that someone called "tortugo23" posted something I wrote to People's Health and Fitness; I do object to being quoted at length without a link or at least a byline. I wrote "Jung's Tower and Personal Mythology" back in 1982, first as a term paper for a psychology class, then as a misguided effort to get something published in Parabola, lastly as a three-part blog entry, hoping it might find the one or two people out of six billion who might be interested in Jung's "metaphor made of stone".

Why We Invaded Iraq, with apologies to Lewis Carroll

Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee agreed to rig a battle
For Tweedle said Saddam Hussein ignored his righteous prattle;
Just then, down flew some Saudi gents,
Shrub’s papa used to diddle,
Which frightened all the people so,
They put Dum in the saddle.

M.F., with apologies to Lewis Carroll


MAD Magazine is the only major voice in American media that tells children to disbelieve what they're being sold. Disney won't do it, the toy companies won't do it, and Lucas and Spielberg (buy the toys! Get the special edition DVD!) didn't know there was a problem. The Simpsons compromised itself long ago with t-shirts and liscensing, and even Matt Groening has apologized for the anti-intellectual backlash that lionized Bart Simpson's sociopathy and helped elect George Bush. Saturday Night Live maintains contempt for its targets while retaining very high regard for itself. The contempt for craft that used to be a running joke at Adult Swim has itself become an ethos.

In print, Mad stands alone-- not that they wouldn't welcome the chance to sell themselves and their grandmothers (Cheap!) Most satire, in whatever format, pretends to share superiority with its audience: "They're stupid, but you and me, we're smarter than that". The "Usual gang of Idiots" that produces Mad have nothing but contempt for themselves, and you? You were dumb enough to buy the magazine. Both John Stewart and Stephen Colbert acknowledge their childhood debt to Mad, and offer birthday tributes to idiots like Al "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" Jaffee.

How important is this sensibility? Ask yourself why Hillary Clinton and John Edwards voted for the war in Iraq, and why Barack Obama didn't buy it. He recognized Bush and Cheney from the magazine. And for all the pontificating about church and state in adult publications, only Mad made a head-to-head comparison between George Bush and Jesus Christ.

I was immensly cheered by the following poorly spelled exchange between anonymous youths on a discussion board for Mad readers at the DC website. They're discussing whether the humor in MAD is "age appropriate":
* I'm only 12 but I understand everything (also cause i'm wierd) but 13 is not too young. It's just middle age. Not really a teen not really a kid
*** Middle-aged at 13??? Wow! Do you get to retire at 21?
* I picked up a copy of MAD at a gaming tent at the state fair when I was ten, and loved it. I am now 13, and have been reading MAD ever since.
*** It's taken you THREE years to read it??? If schools are supposed to be turning out the future of our country, our future looks like it consists of the nickel deposit on a beer bottle.
* you can never be to young to read mad
even if u were 5 and didnt understand it at all you can still admire the awesome freakin pictures
*** Don't say that, you're getting the MAD writer's egos all big and blown up, but when the Nobel Prize list comes out they'll be disappointed again.
*im 12. been reading since I was 10. I get most of the jokes.
*** That's what I said about Hustler, too, but my parents didn't buy into it.

For all that Americans profess to care about their children, we really do exploit and indoctrinate the little darlings with a thoroughness that makes the Nazi Youth programs seem slipshod. This survival of the Mad sensibility (What Sort of a Man Reads Mad?) into the next century makes me a little more confident that our posterity might still avoid an American brand of fascism, and Orwellian groupthink, and slavish worship of Mammon. Or not. What, Me Worry?

Little Alberto Gonzales and His Letters of Cachet

I'm not surprised that Congress sold us out--16 Democrats, and the undead Republicans-- and passed an unexamined bill permitting the Attorney General to listen to private conversations without a court order, without oversight, even-- this is what's giving the phone companies the cold sweats-- without any written records at all. All Alberto has to do is pick up the phone. Oaths were made to be broken, and it may be the senators were under some terrible compulsion. Perhaps their families were threatened. Maybe they were tortured, or theirs arms twisted psychologically. Maybe (this is hard to fathom) the Bush administration is smarter than they are, and tricked them into passing the bill like a three card monte dealer suckers you in to looking for the Queen. Maybe they were bribed with allurments of money, or power, or the opportunities for sex that appear when you have enough money or power. No, it was none of those; they handed this kind of power to the least trustworthy president in American history so they could go home on time.

Somebody (Algren?) said once he weren't surprised that Chicago officials could be bought, but he was always amazed at how cheaply they could be bought. Lillian Hellman, whatever her flaws, observed that the people in Hollywood who sold each other out during the Blacklist didn't do it because their families were threatened or they were in any danger themselves; they did it to hold onto their swimming pools and second cars.

So now the Bush administration has been given the power of letters of cachet, something not seen west of the Iron Curtain since the French Revolution. The most notorious lettres de cachet, the ones that inspire stories about the Man in the Iron Mask and fed thousands of innocent prisoners to the Bastille or the guillotine, allowed the government to arrest and sentence any citizen without trial and without an opportunity of defense. The lack of oversight invited abuse. It was how the wealthy, the connected and the ambitious disposed of unwanted individuals. This was the Age of Reason, after all, and they needed something more efficent than accusations of witchcraft.

The lambs with easy consciences all say, let them listen, I've got nothing to hide, let them use torture on people who must already be guilty, let them open secret prisons in Eastern Europe and Guantanamo Bay, nobody I know goes there. I think this might be the definition of "streetwise" and "square": the naif thinks, It Can't Happen to Me, It Can't Happen Here. The hipster knows that all it takes is one wrong turn, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, he could be next, that anyone could be next, that the next person who falls into the government's threshing machine might be you.

Blowback: Here Comes Another Piece of the Sixth Avenue El

100,000 brand new AK-47s and 80,000 pistols are AWOL in Iraq. Can't find 'em. Can't imagine who would want them. Wups, there they--*

New York used to have an elevated train like Chicago's, until it was scrapped in the 1930s and sold for steel to the Japanese. New Yorkers in the Pacific during World War Two would complain, "here comes another piece of the old Sixth Avenue El" as another Japanese barrage started. E. E. Cummings used the phrase as the punchline for his poem "plato told him":

plato told
him:he couldn’t
believe it (jesus
told him;he
wouldn’t believe
it) lao
certainly told
him,and general
and even
(believe it
not) you
told him:i told
him;we told him
(he didn’t believe it,no
sir) it took
a nipponized bit of
the old sixth
el; in the top of his head:to tell
(e.e. cummings, 1944)

Now the GAO can't find 100,000 AK-47 assault rifles and 80,000 pistols that were sent to Iraq between 2004 and 2006, with helmets and body armor to match. Just gone, stolen, lost to the black market and the People Who Are Trying to Kill Us.

Who the hell was in charge? Wait, this just gets better. The officer responsible for training Iraqi troops-- and signing off on their weapons-- in that period was General David Petraeus, now overall commander of American forces in Iraq. Poor bastard can't catch a break.

My father-in-law was musing as to why Petreus took this job after others demurred. If it was sheer careerism, then he deserves every piece of blowback that comes his way, and God help the people standing next to him. If he accepted out of honor, when you're the only one willing to clean up someone else's mess, then I embrace him as a brother and a friend.

I like to think that the other generals tricked him, like the Stooges used to stick Curly with the blame. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must have asked, "Who wants to cleanup this disaster Bush left behind?", and General Moe and General Larry kept pointing to each other and switching places until poor Petreus was stuck at the end of the line.

Smell My Undead Finger

Art from an ad for Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #8. Okay, if you're going to have a Buffy knockoff crossed with Patricia Cornwell's Scarpetta but with lots more soft porn with vampires named "Jean Claude", and your dark brooding paranormanl romance character dressed like a Japanese elf in a gay disco, do you really want him posed like he's sniffing his fingers?

Clinton Finally Bares Her Teeth; Unfortunately, She Bit a Democrat

Barack Obama has distilled exactly what is wrong with President Bush's policy towards terrorism: "He is fighting the war that the terrorists want us to fight. Bin Laden and his allies know they cannot defeat us on the field of battle or in a genuine battle of ideas. But they can provoke the reaction we have seen in Iraq, a misguided invasion of a Muslim country that sparks new insurgencies and ties down our military."

That should have been the headline lead, the Democratic talking point, and was, for about fifteen seconds. Both John Edwards and Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq war, although Edwards says he didn't inhale. If Obama's statement is true, and the history books sure are leaning that way, then Edwards and Clintons were Bush's dupes, and Obama wasn't. Since they can't refute him, they had to find some verbal misstep that they could jump on that would distract from and discredit everything else he said.

"As president, I would deploy at least two additional brigades [6,000 troops] to Afghanistan to reinforce our counter-terrorism operations and support NATO's efforts against the Taliban.... I would make the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional, and I would make our conditions clear: Pakistan must make substantial progress in closing down the training camps, evicting foreign fighters, and preventing the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area for attacks in Afghanistan." (As a Geography teacher, I know this one; I looked it up in October, 2001. The area Bin Laden disappeared into -- after they let him escape at Tora Bora-- covers about the same square acreage as Colorado.) "If we have actionable intelligence bout high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."

Nope, we're not going to talk about that either. The television analyst is a pack animal, as easily distracted as an Airedale puppy in a rubber ball factory, and they've almost all lost the scent. They are entertaining themselves now by covering the "he-said-no-he-didn't-gotcha" forays of Hillary Clinton, ignoring Obama's main points and instead calling him "irresponsible" and "reckless" for saying he'd talk-- dear God, not that!-- to unfriendly leaders like Castro and Chavez in his first year of office... not during the second year, as Hillary said she would.

The pundits were so enthralled to be covering gossip instead of ideas, that The Daily Show was able to put together a montage of self panickers calling this a "Slugfest", "Clash of the Titans", "Heavyweight Bout", topped by Wolf Blitzer's panting, "It got ugly and it got ugly fast."

No, Hillary is not the devouring dragon-witch-queen from Sleeping Beauty, as desperately portrayed by the right-- hell, if she wins the nomination, I'm going to have to hold my nose and vote for her-- but these are Republican tactics, unworthy and . Tracy Flick, your life is calling.


Am I allowed a little bit of civic pride at the calm and class shown by Minnesotans as they appear in television interviews this week after the bridge collapse? I'm not talking about the scramble of volunteers that poured onto the scene without being asked, answering an unspoken social contract; that might be seen in any place. What I'm talking about is the absence of trailer park interviews featuring questions like "how did you feel when you realized the person you love most in the world was crushed by concrete?"

In every interview I've seen, local politicians and rescue workers have, without cant, given a clear articulate status report and without fail, directed the media away from the anguished families with a gentle admonition to leave the victims alone with their grief. The survival stories coming out of the event have increased us rather than diminshed us. It's not a "Midwestern" thing-- "Kansas" is the Midwest. Five minutes of the venom that comes out of Kansas these days (or the Dutch-German rustics in Michigan) will disabuse you of any illusions about agrarian virtue.

I think it's a regional Northern/ Great Lakes thing, Canadians included. If the trend continues, the East and West Coasts might be educated by these Minnesotans, and gently turned away from a culture led by Paris Hilton and Rupert Murdoch. This is the part of the country that gave us Mystery Science Theatre, Prince, Omaha the Cat Dancer, A Prairie Home Companion... Maybe we ought to govern ourselves by geophysical regions.


I may have uncovered the archetype beneath badly drawn female anatomy, and no, I don't mean the Venus of Willendorf.

News from Perseus, which seems to be a busy part of the sky this time of year. The scientists who located the first of almost 250 planets known to be outside our solar system have announced a new planet that almost matches ours in its distance from its sun, with a year of 360 days. Bad news is, the star it circles is a Red Giant that's eaten up the equivalent orbits of Mercury and Venus and long since baked away any water or life that might have been there.

My friends and relatives who live away from city lights are used to me pestering them this time of year, because August 12 is when I start lurking in their back yards to watch for the Perseids, a thick meteor shower that seems to come out of that part of the sky. The light circled in red above, NGC1275 or Perseus A, is the source of a strong radio signal of unknown origin. At these distances there's no connection, but fun for a writer to play with-- shades of Arthur C. Clarke's "The Star".

The winking eye of the gorgon's head in Perseus' hand, Algol, was called Ras Al Ghul by the medieval Arabs, "head of the demon" (and gave its name to a Batman villain). It's the only binary star we can see with the naked eye, that darkens every couple of days when the smaller of the two stars passes behind its companion.

I can only reliably find about five constellations without a map and both hands. I usually find Perseus by first looking for the W or upside down M in the sky. The professionals call it Cassiopeia, the queen on her throne, but my wife and her sister have renamed her "Dirty Mud Flap Girl", as you can see from the incredibly expensive graphic I've provided here.

My friend Wayne Allen Sallee plans on renaming the cities of America when he's the last survivor of the next great plague. The novelist Jim Harrison wants to rename any birds of America that labor under inadequate or unpoetic names-- "The Beige Dolorosa", one of three novellas in Julip, describes the plan. Bridget and Colleen discovered the Dirty Mud Flap as girls, during long nights on Grandma Olga's dock, and in the weird archetypal nature of these metaphors, it's an appropriate nickname.

Cassiopeia was the beautiful queen of Ethiopia, so vain that she boasted she was as beautiful as the fifty daughters of the Old Man of the Sea. Hence the connection with our chrome avatar of badly drawn female pulchritude; did Michael Turner design that thing while he was still in high school?

Cassiopeia was punished by a sea monster that ravaged the coast of Ethiopia, appeased only by sacrificing maidens. What is it with these monsters and their treasure and their maidens? They don't know what to do with either, like an obtuse millionaire with a trophy wife. They ran through all the virgins 'til there weren't any left, except for the queen's daughter Andromeda, the girl chained to the two starry pillars to the lower right of Perseus. Perseus rescued Andromeda, and thereby hangs a tale and a plot point in Clash of the Titans, by which I mean the Harryhausen film and not the legend of Power Girl's breasts.