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Friday, May 13, 2005
FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH
Traditionally, the major studios like to premiere a horror flick today. It's even been the basis of a highly successful, eponymous horror franchise
But this year, it's redundant. We don't need any Hollywood special effects to spent Friday the Thirteenth in a state of abject horror.
What do we have?
There. That ought to be enough to scare you into wearing Depends.
Thursday, May 12, 2005
WELL LOST, THIS WORLD
[WARNING: SPOILERS] On May 8th, twenty years ago, the best-known writer that you never heard of died here in Eugene, Oregon.
He was, says Kurt Vonnegut, the model for Kilgore Trout.
He was, says Leonard Nimoy, the true father of Mr. Spock; and it was he who invented the Vulcan greeting "Live long and prosper." (The hand thing was Nimoy's invention.)
According to this writer's widow, Robert Heinlein, when asked who his model was for Michael Valentine Smith in STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, said "I've known Ted for thirty-five years, and I can't say a bad thing about him." He used to sit at the bottom of swimming pools, which was what prompted her to ask.
A singular and unique individual, to have so affected the parallel worlds of literature and Star Trek. And you still don't know who he was, right?
Because I want to tell you a story about a story, and then I'll tell you who wrote that story.
It is a kind of science fiction classic. "Kind of" because it touches on issues that are controversial to this very day, and make a lot of people squeamish to this day. Spoiler alert, if you want to read this story, stop here. Because I'm going to give away a few secrets, and it's better that you should come to it fresh.
I'll give you the title in a minute.
First, though, it begins: "All the world knew them as loverbirds, though they were certainly not birds, but humans. Well, say humanoids."
The loverbirds were two aliens, whose love for one another was so astonishing that the entire planet was rapt for days -- the antithesis of the current "runaway bride" you might say. "Like a sudden bloom across the face of the world came the peculiar magic of the loverbirds. There were loverbird songs and loverbird trinkets, loverbird hats and pins, bangles and baubles, coins and quaffs and tidbits. For there was that about the loverbirds which made a deep enchantment."
This obsession with things alien threatens those at the top of the pyramid, and massive intelligence analysis reveals the source of their origin: Dirbanu. Thus, being an entirely positive influence on the wonder and lovingness of the world, the loverbirds are perceived as a threat. Worse, a threat from the forbidden world of Dirbanu.
I am, of course, paraphrasing, but the story so far is fairly plain. Communications suddenly are received from Dirbanu. Return our nationals and we are happy; don't return them and we are angry.
Perceiving an opportunity and a chance to relieve themselves of the potential threat that the loverbirds represent, they are sent in a spaceship with a crew of two tough, veteran spacemen.
Again, I am paraphrasing, and perhaps badly. But the loverbirds are to be shipped back to Dirbanu. The story then focuses on the crew: "a colorful rooster of a man, and a great dun bull of a man. They were, respectively, Rootes, who was Captain and staff, and Grunty, who was midship and inboard corps."
Now, at first blush, you might wonder what any of this has to do with anything. Well, it has a lot to do with everything. On the one hand, the powers that be have been on a witch-hunt against gays, as both a perceived threat and as an opportunity to consolidate further their power. And, on the other hand, Nigel Jaquiss' sordid Pulitzer Prize for peeping-tommery seems to have unleashed another wave of sexual "outings" across the land, from the mayor of Spokane (entrapped after three years by a Spokane newspaper), and putative-Ambassador-to-the-United-Nations John Bolton's paid visits to New York's Plato's Retreat -- an infamous sex club that tried to set up a franchise operation in the 1970s, with a Los Angeles branch.
What does this have to do with our story "The World Well Lost"?
First, you need to understand that this story was published in 1953, at the height of McCarthyism. So there is a parable and a parallel here. Not of necessity, perhaps, but surely there, nonetheless. More in a moment.
Let's return to our story. Rootes is a vainglorious man, a braggart, a womanizer and more than a little convinced that his innate superiority is in inverse proportion to his diminutive stature. Grunty, on the other hand is a flower wrapped in burlap -- a reader, an esthete, he silently puts up with Rootes' braggadacio.
Cooped up for the long voyage to Dirbanu, and being the curious one, Grunty begins to communicate with the prisoners. Eventually, trying to understand their 'crime' they draw pictures of the two sexes on Dirbanu, who, unlike humans are highly dissimilar.
The loverbirds are of the same sex, which is why they escaped Dirbanu.
Grunty allows them to escape in a lifeboat and allows Rootes to savagely berate him for destroying the mission. Rootes, learning the truth about the loverbirds "fairly shrieked in fury, 'You mean we been shipped out all this time with a coupla God damned fairies? Why, if I'd a' known that I'd a' killed 'em!'"
When they reach Dirbanu, they report that the loverbirds have died. The Dirbanu, scanning the ship, accept this.
"DIRBANU GRATEFUL. CONSIDER MISSION COMPLETE. DO NOT WANT BODIES. YOU MAY EAT THEM.
"Rootes retched. Grunty said, 'Custom.'"
The Dirbanu then transmit their proposed 'reciprocal agreement' for Earth. You stay away from us and we stay away from you. The mission was futile from the git-go, at least for the political strategists on Earth.
And here the story ends, almost.
Grunty regards the sleeping Rootes, later. And he thinks what is, to me, one of the most shattering truths of the human condition ever codified, and one which is still far too little understood by our homophobic majority:
"Why must we love where the lightning strikes and not where we choose?"
And we understand WHY it is that Grunty puts up with the intolerable, homophobic Rootes. The lightning has struck, for him, with Rootes. And, even though it is impossible, he lives in the presence of his beloved, because it is better than nothing at all.
Which, when you think of it, is an impossibly brave thing to have written in 1952, at the height of the McCarthy Era. And it is also a fundamental truth of the human condition.
And so we see, today, huge armies of Rootes' relatives fighting everywhere -- in the California Assembly, on the floor of the Congress of the United States, in churches and on street corners to deny the Gruntys of the world the right to openly love "where the lightning strikes."
We do not choose whom we shall love. We can only choose what to do about it.
And, sadly, too many do not see that, lo, these fifty three brave years later.
Listening to Portland's Pulitzer-winning Nigel Jaquiss on the Al Franken Show, two days after the anniversary of our brave writer's death, I recognized Rootes when I heard him tell Franken WHY he felt compelled to destroy the public life of Neil Goldschmidt: He couldn't believe how stupid Goldschmidt had been in whom he had chosen to love.
He did not approve of where the lightning had struck, and therefore, he, adjudging it, felt compelled to destroy the man.
And so it goes, as Vonnegut would say.
The writer's name was Theodore Sturgeon. And, increasingly, this world is the one that he well lost.
And how sad that we have inherited it.
[note: "The World Well Lost" is presently in print in the Sturgeon collection, A Saucer of Loneliness, Vol. VII of the complete short stories of Theodore Sturgeon. It was also collected in the paperback "Starshine" which can be found by rummaging through used book stores.]
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
TONIGHT'S GOOD NEWS FROM THE FRONT
or, RENDER UNTO CAESAR THAT WHICH IS CAESAR'S AND RENDER UNTO UZBEKISTAN THAT WHICH NEEDS TO BE BOILED
Good evening. Tonight there is wonderful news from the front. Our brave troops have routed the troops of Oceana, driving them nearly from the field. Sadly, the loss of three of our valiant troopers was the price. More on that in a moment.
Meanwhile, here at home, our glorious leader Bush hails capture of an important Al Qaeda leader, the THIRD RANKING leader in the insurgency. But there is good news, citizens! The common people of Iraq, understanding that it is their new-found FREEDOM on the line, are helping us, by turning in insurgent leaders to our brave forces.
Today, in Washington, there was a test of the new Capitol security system, as our resolute and valiant Homeland Security officers executed a surprise preparedness drill, using the "threat" of a small Cessna single-prop airplane as a test alarm to evacuate the capitol building and the White House.
The First Lady and the Vice President were whisked to a secure location, and an orderly evacuation was effected, as Senators and Congressmen proceeded in an orderly and resolute manner to their pre-determined emergency stations. Homeland Security agents pronounced the drill a complete success.
Our brave and fearless leader, George W. Bush was valiantly bicycling in Maryland, and was never informed until after the test, as his cooperation was not required for the test. This was part of his program of delegating authority to shoot down hostile aircraft and take emergency action without the necessity of his involvement.
The test was, as spokesman for the Ministry of Truth confirms, an unqualified success.
In other news, the Michael Jackson trial moved forward resolutely, as former child star, McCauley Culkin testified that Mr. Jackson was always a gentlemen in their relations. He noted that, having slept with Mr. Jackson on several occasions, nothing untoward had ever happened.
If I might take a moment to comment, there are two scurrilous rumors that have been making the rounds about our Fearless and Resolute leader Bush that demand reply The first was a report in a British tabloid that our incursion into Oceana was planned quite before the terrible attack on our soil. Clearly nothing could be further from the truth. It is a sad day for our patriotic revolution when our citizens pay more creedence to some scandal sheet called the Times of London, than to our own patriotic and free press.
The second rumor is based on a story Sunday that a CIA official had requested that the head of Osama bin Laden be brought to our valiant and resolute leader in a box of dry ice.
Clearly, this man was a disgruntled former employee. It is a sad day when patriotic Americans are accused of barbaric activities like torture or taking heads. It is an even sadder day when we take the word of a disgruntled former employee over the integrity of our valiant and resolute Intelligence officers.
The absurdity of this charge becomes clear when one realizes that this is the plot of a nearly forgotten Sam Peckinpah movie, starring Warren Oates. Only, to smear our brave officers defending our FREEDOM and DEMOCRACY, the name "Alfredo Garcia" has been replaced by "Osama bin Laden." Well, this is no Hollywood movie. This is real life.
When it was discovered, months ago, that inappropriate activity was taken at Abu Gharib prison, the two women responsible were both disciplined. There have been no further deviations. Our brave and resolute troops have acted in a manner above reproach, and it steams this reporter's oysters to hear that such scurrilous behavior is attributed to all soldiers merely because of the rogue actions of two women.
But that brings us back to the war itself. Engaging in a major offensive, our resolute and valiant troops executed an offensive that broke the back of a well-armed insurgency, killing over fifty of the enemy that were left on the field of battle, and who knows how many more that were dragged away by their routed comrades.
Only three our valiant soldiers were killed.
The news continues to improve, as we spread freedom and democracy throughout Oceana. This is truly a glorious day for our fearless and valiant leader, George W. Bush.
Meanwhile, however, our brave and resolute intelligence agents continue to decipher the documents that the NUMBER THREE Al Qaeda operative had in his possession. It is reported, in a breaking story, that we nearly captured Osama bin Laden last week, but he was not actually at the location raided. More on this breaking story as it becomes available.
The Ministry of Truth and the Department of Homeland Security remind you to report any suspicious behavior, no matter how minor. Thus, we all keep our great land of freedom and democracy safe from those who hate us for our freedom.
Today's terror alert level remains at yellow.
A final note: sadly, a minor accident in a parking lot near Baghdad turned into tragedy, as it is reported that two hundred of our soldiers expired in a freak traffic accident. Congress will soon, we are assured, hold hearings on better traffic safety in the motor pool staging areas.
In a moment, our valiant and resolute sports.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
THOSE WHO DO NOT REMEMBER VIETNAM ARE DOOMED TO REPEAT IT
I'm not going to go long, here. There are a lot of pieces that anyone who CARES to poke around can find.
But the simple fact is that, as I predicted, Afghanistan is heating up. The Taliban are re-forming, and they've watched us long enough to begin to understand just how to hit us and where. This has been their practice with invaders for thousands of years, so it's not exactly a surprise.
Worse, Iraq is turning into that "quagmire" that was predicted by those with a grasp of history and pooh-pooh'ed by those with none.
Remember, we live in a country so damned stoooooopid that the "Swift Boat Veterans" and their minions were actually able to cast the obscenity of Vietnam as a noble war. And we are filled with underage citizens who believe that revisionism.
Take it from one who was issued a draft card, and spent a sleepless night before the draft lottery (my number was 351, the one lottery I ever "won" by losing): Vietnam was an unjustified war that we got into through lies, propaganda, and were tarnished and corrupted by. The destruction of the core of our military because of the corrosive effects of gross mismanagement and political interference has not been much spoken of, but the decent military men (including my first father-in-law, a veteran of the 8th Air Force, who flew his 25 missions over Germany in a B-17 during WWII) took early retirement, and left the Pentagon to the Ollie Norths and their vile ilk.
Now, Iraq is out of control, but it's hard to find that out: nearly all reporters are confined to the hotel in the "green zone" and rely entirely on Goverment PR handouts for their "news."
Huge chunks of the country are beyond our control, and now even Baghdad is only controlled in a few neighborhoods. And the Iraqis are as badly supplied as they were during the sanctions. Perhaps, if you count basic services, they're even worse off.
We know that the infrastructure is damaged and getting worse. The flow of gas, electricity, sewage and fresh water are virtually non-existent in large sectors of the country. The "insurgents" (a vile characterization, considering it's THEIR country, dammit) have expertly taken out the oil infrastructure, denying the US their "cash cow" to pay for the war.
At home, the mere whisper of "supporting our troops" allows blatantly fascist and formerly unthinkable "riders" like the REAL ID act to be attached, without debate to appropriations bills (for $82 billion this time) without opposition to said bill.
What happened to the so-called Republican virtue of getting the government out of our lives? Guess it doesn't mean doodly-squat in a "nation at war."
Nixon went insane (and ultimately got caught) over secrecy and security issues relating to that war (his rationalizations that domestic spying and burglarizing Ellsberg's shrink, etc. are clear, in retrospect: National Security uber alles).
Now, by comparison, old Tricky Dick looks positively virtuous. The war profiteering, the handing out of cash to cronies; the indentured servitude of reservists impressed into endless, involuntary combat service (where you get to go to Iraq, hunker down, and wait for them to try and kill you without any ability to engage in "proactive" action) is the worst case scenario for any soldier in any theater at any time. It is a prescription for insanity, as our K-Mart managers and our shoe salesmen and our other weekend warriors slowly bake in the heat of the Iraqi oven to further Bush's vainglorious and now demonstrably fraudulent war.
Remember, Iraq was going to cost us $8 billion, they were going to throw flowers at us, and the fellow at OMB who (correctly) predicted that the war would cost at least $200 billion was fired for his presumption at reality.
Where is the cry for impeachment now? If a blowjob (or, as rationalized, "lying under oath") is impeachable, then where is the outrage for a criminal war of aggression enabled by lying that has murdered over 100,000 human beings, many of whom were women and children?
How come Saddam is still alive? How come Osama's still on the loose?
Iraq is Vietnam all over again, even more corruptly, even more corrosively.
And they are suppressing all dissent in advance, not wanting a return to Kent State, et al.
But not to worry: in the current, poisonous atmosphere, if they gunned down students today, there would be little outrage, and even less upset.
To paraphrase George Santayana: Those who would forget Vietnam are doomed to repeat it.
Sunday, May 08, 2005
WASTE NOT WORDS; WANT NOT WORDShart williams
If, as the saying goes, "there is nothing new under the sun," then there's no reason for me to rail against the imbeciles in Kansas and their brain-dead Creationism (did you know that the term "Intelligent Design" comes FROM the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925?).
H.L Mencken wrote the story of this sad excuse for a "hearing" and for "testimony," and "evidence" and "rational examination" way back then, covering the original Scopes trial. Take it away, H.L.:
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