He Made a Desert, and Called It Peace: The Bush Success Story

So Bush went to the Middle East, where I presume they hid the breakables before showing him the sights. The world clenched its cheeks-- if you thought things couldn't get worse, imagine 300 more days of this president with a bad case of Jerusalem Syndrome .

Never got closer to what's left of Iraq than Arifjan Base in Kuwait, to meet with General Petraeus and the US ambassador in Iraq. Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium;. atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant... But James Wolcott's column in the February Vanity Fair (overlook the ads, celebrities and royals that pay the bills, the rest of the magazine is terrific) ponders a terrible premise:

What if things really are exactly as Bush could wish? We judge him a failure only on the basis of common humanity and decency, from a limited point of view that says torture is a bad thing, war profiteering a sin, deception in democracy is a crime, and his callow waste of soldiers and civilians is a curse. It's somebody else's kid that got killed, not his, nor any of his inner circle-- and in his selective Christianity, that's pure profit, gain without pain.

For all the troubles stirred up by global warming, the Arctic land rush it's inspiring will mean untold profits for Bush's cronies. Was Hurricane Katrina an unmitigated disaster, or a masterful lesson in laissez faire urban renewal? The ruination of the American economy means a desperate work force scrabbling for Third World wages, and the end of the labor movement: increased profits for Bush's friends, and perdition to his enemies. The regulatory bureaucracy in Washington, a Progressive-era attempt to to ameliorate the excesses of capitalism, is now packed with Bush appointees. If you are Grover Nyquist, who wants to drown governmnent in a bathtub, or a Reagan-era Randite who views regulation as the invention of mental midgets trying to chain the entrepreneurial ubermensch, then the Bush era has been a success.

It was a mistake to invade Iraq...? But from Bush's point of view, he now has boots on the ground in the third largest oil reserve in the world, and they ain't leaving any time soon. This week he made explicit his intention to build permanent American military bases in Iraq. This makes him a success in certain quarters, and within that circle of friends, he need never feel the sting of the pain he's caused to millions. It's barbecues and backslapping for George, maybe a stint as baseball commissioner.

George Bush was, is, and always will be a selfish creature who takes what he wants without counting the cost, then employs a legion of courtiers to make sure that someone else pays for the party. No wonder he still swaggers.

Primary Candidates on the Political Compass™

The good folks who developed the The Political Compass™ have applied their test to the primary candidates, and this picture emerges.

Thus: "....It is important to note that although most of the candidates seem quite different, in substance they occupy a relatively restricted area within the universal political spectrum. Democracies with a system of proportional representation give expression to a wider range of political views. While Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel are depicted on the extreme left in an American context, they would simply be mainstream social democrats within the wider political landscape of Europe. Similarly, Hillary Clinton is popularly perceived as a leftist in the United States while in any other western democracy her record is that of a moderate conservative..." -- The Political Compass™

I want to encourage friends, family and visitors to this blog to take their own test here. When I took the test, my political beliefs landed smack dab on top of Nelson Mandela and Gandhi's, as shown. I hasten to caution any lonely, politically correct vegetarian searching for a pen-pal that this measurement applies to POLITICAL BELIEFS ONLY, and should not be used to extrapolate any other virtue. I'm defining "politics" like an ancient Greek, as a series of beliefs regarding how humans, as social animals like lions or meerkats, should manage the problems of living in a group or polis. The values I share with the Dalai Lama have never kept me away from steaks-and-eggs breakfasts. I like porn and gravitate toward MILFs (whereas Gandhi was always testing himself with um, teen-aged acolytes). I bite my tongue a dozen times a day to hang onto the mortgage payment, and would rather emigrate to Canada than trade the comforts of home for political prison. I have a very bad, Scots-Irish temper, which on bad days of maltreatment would make a eugenicist blanche-- if I had laser beam eyes, the landscape would be littered with the ashes of the mean, the cruel and the stupid. And Rupert Murdoch-- I think it's monstrous that British Page Three girls now have word bubbles filled with neo-conservative propaganda instead of "likes horse-back riding, kittens and intellectual men with bald spots". This aggression will not stand, man!

The candidates that would design a government closest to my own beliefs, like Dennis Kucinich, are unelectable to national office in the dominant culture, but that doesn't make them wrong about the best way to provide maximum happiness for the most people. I continue to support Obama over the petulant Tracy Flick. News just came over the wire that John Edwards has dropped out, which will further embitter my friend Bill. As Master Kung tells us, we must work with imperfect bricks.


A reminder for Chicago friends and family that I'll be part of the mix at The Mix in Chicago tomorrow night, as part of the Twilight Tales writer's group early Mardi Gras celebration.

I'll be reading a new story written for the occasion-- "If There's Anyone Here That Weeps Like Mary", a horror story about Buddy Bolden's years in the insane asylum, as well as a sketch of Bourbon Street at 3AM and "They Carry Knives", the mostly true story of why we call it "Jazz" instead of "Spasm".
There will be King Cake and the wearing of amusing hats.

After the Spartans, What Then?

Here's another of my free-for-the-asking dissertation proposals for a degree I have no time to pursue. Reconstruction is an oft-neglected period in teaching American history, but not, at least, a complete blind spot. It's obvious to all that we're still living with the after-effects of chattel slavery in the United States and the Americas (Haiti? My God.) So what happened in Laconian Greece between the helots and the Spartans after the collapse of the Spartan system?

There was a ratio of seven or eight helot slaves to every Spartan, most of them captured from the neighboring state of Messenia. The Spartans submitted themselves to mental slavery and unmatched discipline because if they ever relaxed for a moment, the helots would make a play for their own freedom and start chewing Spartan throats. Think of police policies in the apartheid government of South Africa, or the weird mix of complacency and savagery exhibited by the ruling class of the ante-bellum South. There was even a policy of state-sponsored terrorism, turning Spartan youths loose on the helots as werewolves to cull and intimidate the flocks. These policies were rationalized by a constant repetition of Spartan sacred beliefs, as in Ronald Reagan's proxy war on "Red" peasants and nuns in Central America, or the Taliban's current war on free women.

All this is well-plowed ground, but I don't know of any deep study on what happened in Laconia after the Spartan slave state collapsed. How long did it take before the Spartans and the Messenians and the other captive states forgave and forgot, and saw themselves as Greek? Were there "different" expectations for freed helots and the grandchildren of Spartan slavers? Were there sexual tensions-- you know those helots fuck all the time, while dignified Spartans do it in the dorm...? Could you still start a fight in Alexander's army by yelling, "Hey, helot!" in the chow line? Were there Messenians who adopted the Spartan system, like those European peasants who came to America and set themselves up with their own baronial manors?

There are questions of identification, those signals of dress or speech or physical appearance that humans use to distinguish class and origin. It hasn't been that long since Germans were measuring noses and American eugenicists were sterilizing defectives, and Barack Obama still causes confusion in television editorialists. Romans mouthed pieties about ancestry, and tattooed their slaves and criminals, but after a century or two, wealthy commoners bought their way into the elite. Early American capitalists tried enslaving Indians, poor whites and Irishmen, but the pesky things kept slipping off and disappearing into a crowd. Then enterprising Dutchmen and Portugese dropped off some African prisoners, and hey presto!: by 1662, melanin is declared to be the mark of hereditary slavery, with all the attendant grief that follows. In ancient Laconia, were there physical differences, due to differences in diet, sun exposure, health care or lifestyle, that signalled "former master" or "ex-slave" to the casual observer? It must have been like being held prisoner by a heavily armed aerobics class.

There's enough Laconian lacunae here to keep a grad student busy for the rest of their crabbed lives. For my part, I intend to start writing a multi-generational series that follows the DNA of a helot family from their capture in 720 BC through Spartacus' revolt to Wat Tyler, Nat Turner's Rebellion, Coxey's Army, and beyond, perhaps in the hard-boiled style of My Gun is Quick, entitled I Carry a Grudge.

Lewis and Kim's Baby Girl

Never let it be said we don't live on an emotional roller coaster around here: Mabyn Thi Coleman, born yesterday and already gorgeous.

Savage Northerners and Southern Transplants Tell Eldritch Tales of Chilly con Carneval

Monday, January 28
Mardi Gras: A Twilight Tales Tradition!

Easter is earlier than usual, therefore Ash Wednesday is earlier than usual, therefore tonight is Twilight Tales' own special Carnival.

Authors to include:
Jody Lynn Nye, author of SciFi, Fantasy, fun, and Cats
Michael Fountain, creator of "Blood for Ink"
Tina Jens, author of The Blues Ain't Nothin'

With special musical guest "Rollin' & Tumblin'," starring Chicago's only red-headed blues diva Liz Mandeville
plus King Cake! and Raffle Prizes! yes, even Beads!

Tonight will be at our temporary home Mix: The Lincoln Park Lounge 2843 N. Halsted (don't forget, there's free parking in the adjoining lot!)

The Rabbit of the Air

Sophie, not content with bossing the cats around and being queen of our hearts, has learned to climb up on the back of the couches to inspect the cat beds and do some triumphant chinning on piles of laundry.

It's charming to have her nuzzle my elbow as I'm working or play about my feet, but surreal to be sipping coffee and find yourself at eye level with a small determined rabbit looking over your shoulder at the snow.

Oh, to be in New York, with a Hot but Sensitive Sugar Mama and Tickets to See Chiwetel Ejiofor in Othello

If jealousy is green-eyed, what color is envy? Chartreuse, maybe, or viridian. Access, that's what New Yorkers have. I envy East Coasters this week because Chiwetel Ejiofor is appearing as Othello , with Ewan McGregor as Iago. I first saw him as the nameless Alliance operative in Serenity, and my artsy friends as the desk clerk/physician/taxi driver in Dirty Pretty Things.

Never mind my prejudice against most actors and the theatrical profession as shallow, pretty things, the irresponsible babysitters of the modern American soul. Ejiofor's performances are layered, man. He played a nameless, remorseless, True Believer villain in Serenity, one of the biggest one-dimensional cliches in action films, but between Whedon's writing and Ejiofor's performance, the character is frightening and plausible, one of those clean-cut functionaries who were drawn to support dictators overseas because democracy is so messy. When these professionals find themselves being used for specious ends by a Nixon or a Bush, a Cheney or a Kennedy or a fictional Alliance, they rationalize murder-for-hire with a made-up samurai code, and if you understood the big picture like they do, you'd be all too happy to ensure that those little brown people die beautifully. You hate the character's guts and want to see him die for what he's doing to your friends, laugh when he's confounded-- nobody does Brer Rabbit against the monsters like Joss Whedon-- and almost feel sorry for the son-of-a-bitch when his nose is rubbed in the vileness he's defending.

What could an actor like that do with a text as layered as Shakespeare? Both London and New York are giving this Othello good reviews. Apparently Ejiofor catches the sweetness of the character, that part of Captain Othello's soul that forgets about soldiering and discovers joy and tenderness: "O my soul's joy!.... Perdition catch my soul, but I do love thee-- And when I love thee not, Chaos is come again." -- which makes it all the more heartbreaking when chaos comes, and he, base Indian, murders a pearl worth more than all his tribe. The New Yorker review noted that Ejiofor was young for the part-- Othello is, after all, an older man finally settling down with the first woman he's known that wasn't the colonel's lady or a camp follower-- but that Ejiofor's dignity carries it off. Imagine what he's going to do with it when he's of an age to fully empathize with Othello's tenderness-- and subsequent horror-- at being granted the grace note of Desdemona in a violent, lonely life.

Maybe next year they can trade parts, with Othello set in a Southern military town, and the insecurities of a po' white Othello risen to military success, but naive about women, who makes the mistake of thinking the whole world honest because he himself is honest. Has anyone ever tried an all-black Othello, with the dynamics of race taken out of the mix? A high-yellow Iago and a dark skinned Othello? I've no idea what Ejiofor would do with Iago, but I'd like to see him try.

Some days I regret not being in the cultural center of things, usually when wading through the slushpile with a manuscript clutched to my breast, trying to forge a connection with publishers and agents. It's both startling and energizing to go to a convention and find myself surrounded by people smarter and more talented than myself, being able to chat with people who have the same concerns and awareness of a larger world than the one between their legs or ears or bellies.

But I don't envy these artists the struggle with brute survival a creative life requires in Chicago, Washington, or New York. A one room apartment costs more than our entire house and modest garden, no parking, no pets, no room for a pet, and certainly not a menagerie. A trip for a gallon of milk is a polar expedition. My buddy Wayne has to endure freezing bus stops, trains, automobiles and shank's mare for a trip to the post office that take me five minutes, fifteen if I decide to walk. Living in a college town helps; between magazine subscriptions, decent coffee beans, an understanding library and newstand, cable and the internets, there's not much intellectual stimulation lacking in Kalamazoo if you've sense enough to seek it out. Our neighboring suburb of Portage, a Republican enclave that never saw a development scheme it didn't want to suck, seems determined to turn itself into Houston North, with asphalt as far as the eye can see, travel times twice that of Kalamazoo, and a corresponding diminishment of lifestyle.

And I wonder if being in the center of things brings a distortion to thought that we escape in the flyover provinces; you only have to turn on five minutes of what passes for network commentary to see that for all their vaunted connections, money and power, their blind spots are greater than ours, with more catastrophic results. The janitor knows more about the boss than the boss knows about the janitor.

Monkey Fucks Football in Michigan Primary, Brings Winter to My Soul

Welcome to the most cynical blog in the wintry state of Michigan, where wickedness goes masked as virtue. Home to a Russian style ballot in the Democratic primary, where Hillary Clinton, the candidate of the party establishment, is still on the ballot even though the party establishment ordered Obama and Edwards to take their names off the Michigan ballot because Michigan democrats dared to move their primary to an earlier date. (Kucinich is still on the ballot because his people didn't get the paper work in before the ballots were printed.) None of the candidates are campaigning in Michigan, though our Governor, a Hillary supporter, is not displeased by this turn of events, and senator Carl Levin is asking Obama and Edwards supporters to vote Uncommitted. And CNN is reporting this clusterfuck with a banner reading CLINTON WINS MICHIGAN PRIMARY. She's owed, Goddamnit!

PBS Frontline is opening its season with Cheney's Law a comprehensive look at precisely how the Constitution was subverted by the agita of this determined bully and his followers. The Red Wings lost to the Thrashers, five to one, for Bog's sake-- with a hat trick against us, and 46 saves by the other goalie?

The bear didn't just eat us this day, it ate us and shat us out. Work is soul-killing, the weather is dreadful, but not dreadful enough to close work tomorrow. A fitful nap, and even more depressed. I ask the silent universe, why is virtue thwarted? Against stupidity, do the gods indeed contend in vain?

The cats and Sophie the Wonder Rabbit try to comfort but cannot cheer me. They haven't the words. Then my friend Wayne, a professional writer of horror who ponders with the Problem of Evil on a daily basis, answers the mystery by explaining why Gilligan sabotaged every attempt to leave the island. I will not elaborate, except to say that the explanation involves Ginger the glamorous movie star and to complain that the picture was shot from the wrong angle-- who wants to look at Bob Denver with that expression on his face? This atrocity made me laugh out loud in disgust and wonder as well as amusement, and my courage returns as from a shot of whiskey. Cheers, mate.

Buddy Bolden, Pray for Us Sinners

I'm working on a story about Buddy Bolden for Twilight Tales' annual Mardi Gras show, coming up January 28th in Chicago. Along the way I found an Australian band, The Buddy Bolden Revival Orchestra, that meticulously researches and tries its best to reproduce the sound of Bolden's band, never heard by living ears. Bolden is generally considered by everyone (except a proprietory Jelly Roll Morton) to be the "Father of Jazz", but he was hospitalized for schizophrenia in 1907 before he ever recorded, and died there in 1931.

Click on the song titles to play. May I commend to you the most excellent "Funky Butt", kept in memory by the ragtime guitarist Mississippi John Hurt, and developed by the Bolden band from an older dance tune they called "Doing the Ping Pong" .

Powered by eSnips.com

"It's a minor compulsion. I can control it if I want."

In a freakish attack of organization, I've been obsessively listing my books at Library Thing. This will lend aid and comfort to insurance types and make the development of my mind an open, well, you know, not counting the how-to books, porn stash, emotional trauma and sharp blows from behind driving my skull into the ceramic tile. Library Thing lets you search, click and list more than 200 books for free and then 10 bucks for as many as you want.
I am as nosy about what books people have on their shelves as a fetishist in an underwear drawer, so I encourage my friends and acquaintances here and abroad to check it out. The Library Thing, I mean, not the underwear drawer, unless there's been a profound change in our relationship of which I was unaware.

Falling Up

As of 11:00 PM, they're calling New Hampshire for Clinton, and raving about her "comeback" as much as they were razzing after Iowa. Most embarassing moment in the coverage: Anderson Cooper on CNN with (insert gagging sound) Ralph Reed, Donna Brazile, and William Bennet as "expert commentators". If they were being paid by the distance between accomplishments and pretension, they'd be on as comic relief like Bob Ueker talking about baseball.

We haven't been offered expertise like this since William Kristol got hired by the Times (with a misattribution in his very first column) and Lynne Spears got a book contract to write about Christian parenting.

I'd be very to-err-is-human about all this if they weren't being paid so damn-- much-- money.

Poor Butterfly

Poor Butterfly.... 'neath the blossoms waiting...
Poor Butterfly.... for she loved him so...
The moments passed into hours...
The hours passed into years..
And as she smiles through her tears..
She murmers low...
The moon and I..
know that he'll be faithful...
I know he'll come ... to me by and by..
But if he don't come back...
Then I'll never sigh or cry...
I just must die..
Poor butterfly...

Damn you, New Hampshire, can't you see that she's serious? “Some of us are ready, and some of us are not. Some of us know what we’ll do on day one and some of us don’t.” Evidentally, Hillary Clinton is the only person on the planet that can save us from the long night of barbarism-- as if we hadn't taken the last exit on that highway a long time ago. Voters have been "seduced" (the words of Clinton supporters broadcast on All Things Considered without rebuttal) away from Clinton by "beautiful words" and "false hopes".

Ordinarily I'd be defending her. I defended Ed Muskie and Pat Schroeder for their tears; my own father used to call me "Arthur Godfrey" for tearing up at sad songs, and none of us hold a candle to crybaby John Boehner. I agree with Clinton that the press has been piling on to declare her finished before the second primary is even decided. I even agree that this isn't a game, and we all take this country's regression to barbarism personally. George Bush and the Republicans have done everything to shame this country but roll it in broken glass and turn it out for tricks in a Mexicali whorehouse owned by Halliburton.

But... I've been sober the whole time, with my knees together, and an Obama supporter since the New York Review of Books profile described his experience TEACHING CONSTITUTIONAL LAW (emphasis mine) and working as a community organizer. Frankly, I want a constitutional scholar in there. Obama's ability in his writing and speeches to admit the existence of contradictory or negative thoughts and emotions cemented me there. No seduction or beautiful words needed.

And the woman complaining about falling behind in the popularity contest is the same candidate who makes veiled references to Obama's drug experimentation, compares Obama (unfavorably) to speechmaker King and herself to dealmaker Lyndon Johnson (favorably), keeps hitting the note that her experience counts more than his experience, then shifts from choking up to warning us that she's the one to keep us safe from scary bin Laden... shades of Rove begin to gather around the slipping boomer. Maureen Dowd hit it when she said "... there was a whiff of Nixonian self-pity about her choking up. What was moving her so deeply was her recognition that the country was failing to grasp how much it needs her. In a weirdly narcissistic way, she was crying for us. But it was grimly typical of her that what finally made her break down was the prospect of losing."

Ever since Obama showed up, Clinton and her campaign staff have shown themselves as bullies and sneaks who expect an anointment. Her competence is not the question; hell, she might yet win the nomination yet and I'll have to hold my nose and vote for her in November; but I don't have to like it.

Serenity, Kicked Dogs, and Don Quixotes: the Human Versus the Corporate

Joss Whedon's Serenity has been my default movie of late-- whenever it's on cable, whenever I need something rousing to keep me pedaling or escapist heroes to root for, that's the film I've been watching over and over until I have the dialogue memorized. As Robert Parker's Spencer said about watching The Magnificent Seven , it's not about the plot anymore, it's about the ritual.
I still love Whedon's dialogue, and the tension dispelling laughs, and that "Fuck, Yeah!" moment when the Reavers come home to roost, a splash worthy of Jack Kirby. Reams of scholarly publications would suggest that there are themes loose in Whedon's work that lead from cult science fiction to some of the dark little secrets of contemporary America. What follows is not so much what I know, as what I think I know.

The crew of Serenity is composed of four combat veterans who fought for the losing side in a gallant but mismatched rebellion against a wealthy empire. Along the way they've adopted up a Graham Greene priest with a past, a tomboy engineer, a slumming courtesan, and finally an upper-class doctor and his half-mad, half-prodigy sister, who for reasons unknown are avoiding the authorities. They all live hand-to-mouth (and planet to planet) on the fringes of acceptable society and aren't too proud about what they'll do next to keep the wolves at bay. There's a deliberate Old West look to the space frontier, a trope borrowed from Frederick Turner and Robert Heinlein, who argued that mules, horses and 19th century technology still have a place in everyday life when you're millions of miles away from advanced infrastructure. Tractors, for example, can't reproduce themselves like horses and donkeys can.

All these survivors were injured in some way by a conflict with the dominant culture, with the possible exception of the mercenary Jayne, who's too comically obtuse to think there's anything unhealthy about living out of a locker. It occurs to me that this is a common trait in fictional characters and people I love: the damaged cast of Whedon's Angel, the Chilean survivors in the novels of Roberto Bolaño, the down-and-out moan of the great blues men's lyrics, even historical figures. For all that the dominant culture admires Richard F. Burton, Truman, or even Churchill, they were dismissed or despised by their contemporaries. When Churchill visited America in the 1930s, he had to be hurried onto a train and paid in cash by a minister in Grand Rapids to avoid the bill collectors. Vincent VanGogh, 'buked and scorned, is now a secular saint.

Japanese culture already has a well-established place for the "beautiful loser", as described in studies like Ivan Morris' The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan, and enacted by the animated crew of the good ship Cowboy Bebop. Japan is the place where "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down", homogenous in its culture (Koreans and burakumin need not apply). It is not necessary for a protagonist to "win" or "succeed" in order to be admired. There's nothing the Japanese Romantic loves more than a doomed hero waiting in the snow for one last scuffle with an unassailable foe. If there are drops of blood against the whiteness, if the snowflakes on his cheek mix with a single tear, so much the better. The beautiful loser has appeared in Western culture before-- in Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man in the Sea, in popular culture through Raymond Chandler and John D. MacDonald, the films and novels where "a man must walk these mean streets who is not himself mean". When even the Mormons start talking about "the nobility of failure", you know we're on to something here.

Barack Obama (yeah) and Huckabee (eh) won the Iowa caucus last night against machine candidates Romney and Clinton. (Hilary Clinton may be infinitely preferable to any Republican short of Lincoln, but don't kid yourself, she's the machine candidate-- she and her husband are now and have been Wall Street Democrats, albeit efficent ones. And Romney is, well, a machine. Amazing what they can do with synthetics these days.) For one brief moment we can enjoy a triumph against the corporate interests and their lackies, and get out our rain coats before the shit storm starts. We don't even have a choice in Michigan-- all of the Democratic candidates have dutifully taken their name off the primary ballot with the exception of Hillary "Party Rules? I AM the Party!" Clinton. All we can do is make a futile gesture against Clinton's inevitability by voting "non-committed" and watch the Michigan Democratic Party piss away $10 million dollars.

Someting there is in human nature that decides early on whether to be a Joiner or a... well we don't really have an objective word for this, do we? "Individual" and "Lone Wolf" are loaded semantically as are "rebel", "maladjusted", and eventually, with the triumph of the dominant culture, "loser". There must have been a few Egyptians standing around who would rather notwork on the pyramids. Pyramids are fine evidence of corporate cooperation, cathedrals are beautiful testimony to group effort and aspiration-- but what if you don't want to add your little stone to the megalith?

The dangers lurking in the "beautiful loser's" world view are self-pity, despair, and immobility. at least two of which are releated to Deadly Sins. There is danger of the survivor's syndrome described in non-fiction like Friendly Fire and seen on the street in skepticism at official explanations-- having been so often lied to, the survivor no longer trusts or recognizes the truth even when it's finally revealed. There's the stubborn futility of activists not being able to take yes for an answer, an inability to compromise, like the John Cleese character so stupid that he doesn't know when he's beaten but doesn't know when he's winning, either. Principle becomes self-congratulatory martyrdom and narcissism; Ralph Nader runs for president and sneers at the sell-outs and compromisers.

The problem with the corporate culture favored by unregulated capitalism is that it has little tolerance for people and things that will not or can not submit to the corporate structure. A polar bear cannot wise up and adjust to the economy's demand for increased carbon emissions, and it may be that some people can't, either. The title of a study of the Chicago machine spoke volumes: Don't Make No Waves...Don't Back No Losers. Joiners tell themselves that the corporation, the organization, the church, the group will protect and nourish them all the days of their life, but the dirty little secret is that the moment an individual no longer fits the master plan, they are tossed aside like a used tissue. A chauvinist for the status quo is just a worker who hasn't been laid off yet.

In Whedon's Serenity, the dominant culture that knows what's best for us all is represented by a military-industrial government called "The Alliance". In his earlier series Angel, it was the corporate law firm Wolfram and Hart. Serenity is oddly the more optimistic of the two. Broadcasting the truth about the Alliance's activities does some small amount of good, whereas in Angel, the Powers that Be are very bad losers, humanity is indifferent to the struggle, and when Angel takes an elevator to confront "the Source of all Evil", he finds himself back on the street, like the "egress" in Barnum's museum:
ANGEL:Why fight?
HOLLAND:That's really the question you should be asking yourself, isn't it? See, for us, there is no fight. Which is why winning doesn't enter into it. We - go on - no matter what. Our firm has always been here. In one form or another. The Inquisition. The Khmer Rouge. We were there when the very first cave man clubbed his neighbor. See, we're in the hearts and minds of every single living being. And that - friend - is what's making things so difficult for you. See, the world doesn't work in spite of evil, Angel. It works with us. It works because of us.
(The elevator stops, the doors open to reveal the L.A. city streets)
HOLLAND:Welcome to the home office.
ANGEL: (horrified) This isn't...
HOLLAND: Well, you know it is. You know that better than anyone. Things you've seen. Things you've, well - done. You see, if there wasn't evil in every single one of them out there, why, they wouldn't be people. They'd all be angels.
(Angel drops the glove and wanders out of the elevator, petrified and expressionless)
HOLLAND: Have a nice day.

The difference here is that Angel's fight is supernatural, the province of monks and boddhisatvas, whereas the crew of Serenity are contending with a human construct of political alliances, military might and industrial capacity. Corporations are busy, busy, little enterprises, with a hundred soldier ants and a hundred workers for every contingency, and those resisting the corporate takeover of everything are understaffed and underfunded. That cultural complex can seem mighty mighty, as Nelson Algren said of Chicago; it even possesses a kind of immortality, granted when our courts decided that a corporation has rights similar to an individual's. To money and raw power, add the kind of religious awe that most Americans seem to have for the social construct around them, their insistence that this pyramid we're building is just "the way things are", and you've got a real one-sided fight on your hands.

The London Spy by Ned Ward, Or, Italian Paste and the Power of Advertising

The best dollar I ever spent. 'Tis no shame for a book to be remaindered (unless you're a milion dollar celebrity "tell-all", robbing a hundred honest authors of their living), any more than for a cat or a dog to be in the pound. They printed more copies than they could sell, or the book languished on the shelf and never found its true reader, to take it home to cherish it and keep it by their bedside, what the bunny rescuers call a "forever home".

I found my copy of The London Spy on a sale table at the International Medieval Congress here in Kalamazoo, which might explained why it hadn't found a home, being "Ned Ward's classic account of underworld life in eighteenth century London". The book was simply out of its era. Medievalists want things that befell between 500 AD and 1500, except for the Saturday night dance, when they'll love anything. Myself, long a bringer-home of stray cats, dogs, bats and rabbits, when I saw the phrase underworld life in eighteenth century... was on that book like a duck on a junebug.

Friends of the Hogarth coffee-house, Gin Lane, and The Black Adder will want a copy of this book. With language as high-flown as anything in Dr. Johnson, this book is vulgar, scatological, cheerfully racist towards Irishmen and hilarious. Edward "Ned" Ward, author of A Trip to Jamaica (which place he immortalized as "The Dunghill of the Universe") and other works, started wandering around London between 1698 and 1700 and published what he heard, smelt and saw in eighteen parts. I keep mine on the bedside table to open at random when I haven't anything else to read, and fall asleep giggling.

In this passage at a public bath, a "rubber" (masseur) decides to reuse the still-warm bath water used by a high-born lady, to save himself the labor involved in emptying the tub and heating fresh water with wood. Just as he's showing a new customer into the scented bath, he discovers that her Ladyship left a little something in the tub-- but thinking fast, the silver-tongued yeoman turns a turd into gold:

"'At last the gentleman looking about him, saw the remains of her cleanly ladyship in his bath. "What a plague," says he, is this that is swimming amongst the herbs!" "Sir," says the rubber, "it is nothing but Italian paste, which is accounted the most excellent thing to cleanse and make smooth the skin imaginable, and it is what my mistress cannot afford to use but in an extraordinary bath which is paid for above the common rates of the house." "Prithee, friend", says the gentleman, if it be so good for the skin, rub me well with it, but egad," says he, "in my mind it looks as like a sir-reverence as ever I saw anything in my life." "Aye, sir," says the servant, "and so it does, but it is an incomparable thing to wash with, for all that it looks so nastily, and is a compound of the richest gums and best castle-soap boiled up together, that can be bought for money." "Pray," says the beau, "take a little pains with me, and rub me all over with it very well. Who is it that makes it? I'll buy some for my hands." "It is made, sir," says the rubber, "by a gentle-woman in this town, but where she lives I cannot tell. My mistress, were she within, could inform you, but she went into the City to dinner, and is not returned yet."

"'Thus my comrade that attended him, by the good management of his tongue, briught off the mischance cleverly without discovery. the perfumes and sweet herbs in the bath so overpowered the scent, that the gentleman, though he nosed it, being amongst such a mixture of effluvia, it confounded his smelling, and rendered him incapable of distinguishing a fair-lady's sir-reverence from the excrement of a civet-cat. so he rose out of his bath extremely pleased, and gave him that attended him half a crown for his extraordinary care and trouble, and so marched away with great satisfaction.'"

My copy was edited by Mr. Paul Hylands from the Fourth Edition of 1709, and was published in East Lansing (Michigan State Spartans, no doubt) by Colleagues Press, Box 4007, Michigan 48826. I regret to say that you can find it on Amazon at $99.95 for the hardcover or $69.95 for the paperback. Abebooks doesn't have any copies, and Bibliofind is owned by the monster Amazon anyway, but if you keep your eyes open in the used book stores you won't regret it. Now we know what the wine-sellers buy that's half so dear as the stuff they sell. I cannot but hope, in the name of democracy and conscientization, that Dover books would discover this treasure and bring out one of its five-dollar editions.

Recommended: The Bobblespeak Translations

Those of you who can't bear to watch a TV pundit without screaming in rage at one more irrelevant question, be of good cheer: The author of The Bobblespeak Translations: What They're Really Saying When They're Saying What They're Saying watches these well-paid blind men so you don't have to, and then transcribes what is really being said. The Bobblespeak Translations never gets bogged down in horse race reporting, always has the broad reality outside American doublespeak in mind, and offers the most clear-eyed political summary available through the tubes of the internets.

Here, for example, is Tim Russert questioning Ron Paul's patriotism:

Tim Russert: but what will you do when Iran invades Israel??

Ron Paul: Timmy that's not going to happen - Israel has 300 nukes for pete's sake

Russert: do you think Israel has influence on US foreign policy - oh noes!

Paul: yes i do dumbass

Russert: would really cut off aid to Israel?

Paul: of course but the arabs too - let 'em fight it out and put it on pay per view

Russert: how have we provoked Al Qaeda???

Ron Paul: do what Bush says - real their own statements -- we had troops in Saudi Arabia which is their holy land and we overthrew the Iran government and bombed Iraq

Russert: wow you're defending Al qaeda you say the problem is us and not them

Paul: we're stepping in a snake pit do you blame the snake and keep standing in the snake pit??

Russert: but the islamofascists!!!!

Paul: oh please

Russert: you're making moral equiavalency with islamists and white americans!!!

Ron Paul: have you met dick cheney that dood is crazy


...Or Russert, obtuse again, interviewing Barack Obama:

Tim Russert: Postpone Pakistani elections?

Obama: slightly delay them to make them more legitimate but not postponed indefinitely - but it's also about a free press and judiciary and need to have a legit government

Russert: did Musharraf protect her enough?

Obama: how the fuck should i know - the point is he's a fucker who won't go after terrorists or support democracy

Russert: but Bush liked him!

Obama: yeah of course he did

Russert: did Hillary Clinton's vote for Iraq war create Bhutto's death?

Obama: no but the media has decided that Bhutto being killed helps Clinton because of her great experience which - forgive me for offending Fred Hiatt and the Washington Post - but that is bullshit

Tim Russert: you used the s-word!

Obama: fuck you fathead

Russert: you don't have enough experience

Obama: says who, you?

Tim Russert: Bill Clinton on Charlie Rose he says we're rolling the dice!

Obama: the real gamble is to elect Richard Mellon Scaife's evil nemesis all over again - btw way she has no judgment and is a triangulating fuckwit

Russert: but you're too young, you skinny handsome dood

Obama: why wait - we've been governed by a bunch of experienced dickwads for 7 years

Tim Russert: but bill clinton says you're too young

Obama: sure he defends his wife hey i have more experience than he did in 1992

Russert: you say Hillary is a broken system lady

Obama: that's right she's hip-deep in all this DC shit - in fact she campaigns on it - well it's an evil system

Tim Russert: but you might employ a lobbyist oh noes!

Obama: Ron Paul was right - you are an idiot

Link here

Old Time Hockey, Eh?

Great fun on a New Year's day: the Pittsburgh Penguins (in their original uniforms) and the Buffalo Sabers playing outdoor hockey with 73,000 people watching and big fluffy flakes falling all around, dewing up the player's faces in something called the Winter Classic in Buffalo, New York. They sang "Oh Canada", they've got an Irish tenor, the Penguins scored 21 seconds into the first period, and the players are laughing and exuberant in the snow.