08 July 2006

Unlimited Terms of Endearment or, A Ball of Snakes

Question: What does an Oregon Ballot Measure have to do with Arnold Schwarzenegger, voter registration fraud in Florida and Nevada, Jack Abramoff, the Republican National Committee, wildly various ballot petitions this year in Idaho, Missouri and South Carolina AND Grover Norquist?

A: Plenty, as it turns out.

I am working on a BIG blog story, but it's going to take some time for the research to "digest." More tomorrow.


07 July 2006

Spies and the Spying Spyers or, Connecting the Dots

I've been fascinated by the story that the media is doing its level best to ignore. It broke over the July 4 weekend on Bloomberg. Andrew Harris wrote, in part:
The U.S. National Security Agency asked AT&T Inc. to help it set up a domestic call monitoring site seven months before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, lawyers claimed June 23 in court papers filed in New York federal court.

The allegation is part of a court filing adding AT&T, the nation's largest telephone company, as a defendant in a breach of privacy case filed earlier this month on behalf of Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. customers. The suit alleges that the three carriers, the NSA and President George W. Bush violated the Telecommunications Act of 1934 and the U.S. Constitution, and seeks money damages.

"The Bush Administration asserted this became necessary after 9/11," plaintiff's lawyer Carl Mayer said in a telephone interview. "This undermines that assertion."
And I was reminded of something that broke a few years ago, was pooh-pooh'ed and deep-sixed.
Circa 1999 from Techweb:
A careless mistake by Microsoft programmers has shown that special access codes for use by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) have been secretly built into all versions of the Windows operating system....

But according to two witnesses attending the conference, even Microsoft's top crypto programmers were stunned to learn that the version of ADVAPI.DLL shipping with Windows 2000 contains not two, but three keys. Brian LaMachia, head of CAPI development at Microsoft was "stunned" to learn of these discoveries, by outsiders. This discovery, by van Someren, was based on advance search methods which test and report on the "entropy" of programming code...

According to Fernandes of Cryptonym, the result of having the secret key inside your Windows operating system "is that it is tremendously easier for the NSA to load unauthorized security services on all copies of Microsoft Windows, and once these security services are loaded, they can effectively compromise your entire operating system". The NSA key is contained inside all versions of Windows from Windows 95 OSR2 onward...

"How is an IT manager to feel when they learn that in every copy of Windows sold, Microsoft has installed a 'back door' for the NSA -- making it orders of magnitude easier for the U.S. government to access your computer?" he said.

Van Someren said he felt the primary purpose of the NSA key might be for legitimate U.S. government use. But he said there cannot be a legitimate explanation for the third key in Windows 2000 CAPI. "It looks more fishy," he said on Friday.
Now, I don't necessarily believe the story. The "super" authority Wikipedia claims it to be all but an urban legend. But, as I was poking around, I found this:
Jim Reavis
Network World on Security, 09/29/99

What Fernandes was able to find out the key name by debugging symbolic data: _NSAKEY. He promptly published a report linking the NSA to the key based upon name alone, claiming that this key somehow was under NSA control. It is implausible that the NSA would permit a secret key to exist with such a nonsecret name, and in any case, the NSA would have more efficient ways to subvert NT. Microsoft has had a pretty consistent track record in opposing key escrow.

Although it does not appear to be a backdoor, the reaction from the NSA and Microsoft indicates that Fernandes was not completely off the mark. The likely answer is that the second key was part of Microsoft's compliance requirements for legal export. However, how do you know for sure that your software does not contain a backdoor?

Although only moderately publicized, in 1996 IBM struck a deal with the NSA to export 64-bit security within Lotus Notes. Twenty-four bits of the Notes key was given to the NSA. Having only 40 bits to crack essentially meant the NSA had the capability to decrypt Notes. This was not the kind of information that IBM went around announcing with front-page ads and neon lights. Many companies felt burned when they learned about this information. Notes users outside the U.S. had some political battles as a result of this, needing to convince their constituencies that their data was safe from the American secret police.
Note, that while the author didn't believe the story, he couldn't completely ignore it, because the NSA HAD already been caught hiding a "backdoor" in Lotus Notes.

I know. The first thought: Clinton did it, too.


The sad fact of the Clinton Administration was that, using the "draft dodger" attack on him as leverage, the FBI, NSA, CIA and all the other alphabet soup "intelligence" agencies bullied Clinton into their own agenda -- perhaps even the agenda left over from Daddy Bush (and Nixon, of course, whose Revenge we are now reaping).

My point is this: this has been going on for a lot longer than 9-11, or even Baby Bush. I was an Oregon delegate to the 2000 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles, and it was "post 9-11" the whole way. It scared me then, and now I know why.

This stuff was already in the works long before the Bushies made it overt US policy.

As with Dubya himself, the patterns re-emerge. No one who is familiar with Bush's lifelong bullying, pathological lying, hidden agendas and habit of "getting away with it" can be surprised at what we're facing now. People don't change, fundamentally. Patterns emerge, and they remain.

The same holds true of institutions.

And now we've connected the dots of the "data-mining" and the warrantless snooping all the way back to 1996, at least. Do you doubt that it goes back further, or that this whole agenda has been in place for a long, long time?

And you wondered why the Democrats don't "stand up"?

The problem with knowing secrets is that it gives you power over those whose secrets you know. And we ALL have secrets. Don't ever doubt that for a second. And the temptation to acquire more secrets grows in direct proportion to those secrets you've already collected.

So, why isn't the media following up on the devastating assertion that the NSA was monitoring our phone calls (and lord knows what else) pre-9-11? (Stupidity might be one explanation. But there might be others. Fear, for example.)

And we all remember the FBI's "carnivore" program, allegedly dismantled, that was snooping all e-mail communications. Do we NOW believe that it was dismantled?


No: there's two points here that need making:

First, that the whole movement towards controlling us by knowing all of our information goes back a long way.


Second: That however dangerous and thuggish you thought this Administration was, it's a lot worse than you think.

I could do a long, investigative piece on this all, but I've made my point. The pattern is clear, and the obvious conclusions are chilling. You don't always have to break the "new" news to find it. Sometimes all you have to do is pay attention and connect the dots.

My little sister used to have this taped to her bedroom door, and it bears repeating here:

"Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that people aren't out to get you."

'Nuff said.


05 July 2006

The Crank, The Crook and the Consultants, or What The Hell Has Happened To U.S.?

The loony-toons North Korean dictator fired off seven bottle rockets on the Fourth of July, and the Space Shuttle vanished entirely. This morning, one of the great crooks in an age of crooks had a massive heart attack and Iraq vanished entirely, along with the Bill of Rights, the Internet, and several thousand bags of Cheetos.


Well, that's my reaction, too.

If ever we needed a meditation on what the American Revolution means in the present day, it was yesterday. But, alas, the 'wisdom' of the pundits seemed on holiday. If you turned on the TV (which I made the mistake of doing, wanting to watch the replay of the shuttle launch), all you saw was Network Consultants waxing an earful of fearful and tearful with their phony wisdom and surreal pronouncements.

A man with an awful haircut, Gloria Steinem glasses and a penchant for khaki leisure suits fired off a few rockets far across the sea. Why is this such a national crisis? Are we wussies? Are we so small that the pipsqueak dictator of a failed nation that can't even feed itself throws us into the paroxysms of a massive anxiety attack? Are we so invested in our Godlike view of ourselves ("The Last Superpower") that the North Koreans thumbing their noses at the Bushies is intolerable?

Who was harmed? What vital national interest is at stake? And, more importantly, what credible military threat do we have, other than using OUR nuclear rockets? We've just about destroyed the military; can't retain enlistees, have had to up the enlistment age to 42; our veterans benefits are being slashed, hospitals shut down; our troops still don't have body armor and they're STILL retrofitting humvees with armor -- but, significantly, with none on the bottom. We've bankrupted the treasury, sold out Social Security and Medicare, jackbooted over the bill of rights and

And Mr. Leisure Suit is THE news story?

Give me a break.

Let me tell you, I spent a good chunk of the afternoon skimming CNN, MSNBC and even (gasp) FAUX Nooz for anything on the space shuttle. Silly me. Why should a moment of national pride be mentioned when all the hysterical grannies of the national punditry are replaying James Thurber's "The Night The Burglars Came."

Who knows. Kim Jong Il may blow chloroform under the door. From all evidence, it looks like he already did.

I guess I'm just astonished: this White House Gang (Tammany Hall without the Competence, seemingly) are supposed to be media GENIUSES!

But Osama bin Laden and Kim Jong Il, and (unpronounceable) of Iran play the media like a kid's wheeled xylophone. They hit it a couple of times, and our ever servile media lackeys begin whimpering like a whipped hound dog.

Good grief.

Whatever happened to that other stuff I was talking about?

Now, if you're of a Machiavellian turn of mind, you'll say this is EXACTLY what the Bushies want. They get to play Mr. Macho and Mr. Restraint all day while the substitute White House faces give us breathless updates on did he fire six missiles or only five.

Well, you got to ask yourself, punk: Do you feel lucky?

This morning, after resolving the burning five or six missile question (turns out it was six) a SEVENTH missile was fired.

Only one was long range, and the Government reports that it failed after either 42 seconds or 60 seconds. And we all believe the Government, right?

(I'm still working on my shame at believing our lying UN Ambassador and his bullshit story about the USS Pueblo being "clearly" within international waters. If you don't know what I'm talking about, look it up.)

Or Colin Powell selling a line of crap that he clearly didn't believe (I said it at the time) to the UN about Saddam's threat, etcetera.

Crap. We aren't in danger. If Kim Jong Il engages in an overt act of war, then we know what to do. But telling a bratty kid not to do something, and then when he does it, giving him all your attention only encourages the brattiness. Any parent knows that.

And, this morning, rather than letting Ken Lay (of ENRON) slither to that province of Hell he's so assiduously earned by stealing the retirement of thousands of pensioners and soon-to-be pensioners, and looting the state of California, well, rather than letting him do that, he's being eulogized and lionized, and held up as an "innovator" and a "pioneer."

Bullshit. He was awaiting sentencing.

Now, he takes his case to a lower court.

I hear the air-conditioning is non-existent.

But, what the hell are we thinking? When a Creep a Crook and a bunch of ninnies nabobed as pundits natter and niggle and negate whatever meaningful discussion and news that there is in an ever-increasingly stupid national discourse, well, we need to blame somebody.

I guess it's easiest to blame CNN.

It's all Lary King's fault. Maybe that's how Kim Jong Il got them krazeeeee glasses.

Meantime, we keep on munching them Cheetos.


04 July 2006

The Bison Tenniel -- An Origin Story

Last night my wife Jayne and I engaged in our little ritual of watching the musical "1776" and went to bed sometime around 2 AM, having renewed our vision of "America." When I got up on July 4, today, I turned on CNN for space shuttle launch coverage, and, after the anchors congratulated themselves on their impressive picture of the launch pad, they launched into one of those junk news bits that 24-hour news demands.

Where were you in 1976 for the Bicentennial? they asked. And that reminded me of what I'd intended to write and celebrate today. It was a unique sort of American experience, strangely concerned WITH and not concerned at ALL about the 200th National Birthday Celebration.

In a profound way, my writing career began in earnest on the Fourth of July, 1976, the Bicentennial. But before I tell you where I was, I need to tell you how I got there.

In the winter of 1975, I had realized (even though my "body" had already known for a few years) what I was going to be when I grew up. I was going to be a writer. It seemed the only possible answer, and it was not so much an "AHA!" moment as an "Uh, DUH!" moment.

I had been writing specifically for publication since the fall of 1973. Letters in the TCU DAILY SKIFF, true. But concerning the issues of the day. Eerily to me, they are still very readable, and recognizably in my style.

But I hadn't known it until late December of 1975, and, from that point, I tried to take the classes that would turn me into a writer. It seemed a logical choice. I was a junior in college, had switched from a physics major to a philosophy major, and, while I was minoring in English, to be a writer didn't require any of that.

After most of a semester with the "writing guru" of TCU, I was utterly disillusioned. Nothing that she knew was of any use to me. Indeed, I read her "experimental" novel in manuscript, and it was just utter garbage. But I was critically reading at a rate of 50-60 books a week -- attempting to strip them of their writing secrets.

I know that sounds like braggadocio, but it's true. I took the Evelyn Wood speedreading course with my then-wife, paid for by my father-in-law to boost his daughter's college fortunes. At the end, everyone else was reading at about the same speed I was reading at the beginning. I just read fast.

So, I continued reading the way that I read, but it was very fast, and I was reading a lot of science fiction, along with Burroughs, Vonnegut, the Illuminatus Trilogy (which was just coming out as paperback originals), Tolkien, Ayn Rand's elephant-choker, ATLAS SHRUGGED, Hunter S. Thompson, James Joyce and the rest. I was reading a lot of then-obscure Philip K. Dick (courtesy of Paul Williams' essay in ROLLING STONE, to which I subscribed), Roger Zelazny, Harlan Ellison, Ursula K. LeGuin, Samuel R. Delany -- whose DHALGREN I suffered through, each and every word -- Robert Heinlein (though he was then, as now, politically incorrect), Joanna Russ, Cordwainer Smith, Kate Wilhelm, H.P. Lovecraft, Frank Herbert and Theodore Sturgeon.

Pay special heed to those last two names.

My writing professor did me one great favor, though: She loaned me her copy of the 1975 WRITERS MARKET, and, in reading it, I realized that the way that you became a writer was that you MADE yourself a writer. You either did it or you didn't. It was purely a meritocracy: no degrees, no aid on Earth (or in Heaven) could make you a writer unless you yourself did it.

I took it as a sign that the cover that year was a pencil blasting off into space, as a cartoony rocket metaphor.

Any number of events formed a thought in my mind that in order to become a writer, I would have to go where the markets were. Fort Worth, Texas in general, and TCU's English Department (and J-School) in particular, offered me no assistance in what I proposed to achieve. It was nailed down when I received my NEWSWEEK one fine spring day: the cover story was: "WHO NEEDS COLLEGE?"

There was a little problem with the student housing office that bears mention, but just barely so.

I had two choices: Los Angeles or New York City.

Since I thought I might like to do screenplays and multimedia work, and not just paperbacks (it's a steady job/and I want to be a paperback writer/paperback writer -- Lennon/McCartney), I chose Los Angeles.

In May, we packed up the household for a long, terrifying journey to LA. I withdrew from my second-semester Junior year classes, and we traveled up to Omaha, and thence across Nebraska, into Colorado, to 1-70, and across to I-15 and Los Angeles, staying with skeptical relatives along the way. ('Skeptical' being an euphemism for 'highly doubtful.')

Green behind the gills we were, driving in the hottest part of the day through the California desert in a 1964 navy-blue Ford Econoline van, and it was touch and go with the temperature gauge for one terrifying day in the Mojave.

We drove all the way to the beach, and spent our first week at the Topanga Beach Motel, in a little bungalow. Across the Pacific Coast Highway was the ocean. We didn't have a lot of money, so we walked on the beach a lot.

A month later, we'd managed to get into an apartment in North Hollywood; had starved for two weeks while the Bank of America had waited for a Cashier's Check to clear (they took our money FIRST, told us about the hold only THEN). And we had a fight. She took the Ford Econoline van, sold it, used the money to buy a ticket and fly back to Massachusetts, to her parents' home in Sudbury.

Then I was sitting an apartment with a month's rent paid up, no job, four cats, a little money, and utterly terrified. But there was a bookstore within walking distance, and it had a lot of science fiction. I picked up some recently used magazines, including an ANALOG that reprinted Robert Heinlein's famous speech to the naval cadets at Annapolis on his Five Rules. That got me started.
Heinlein's Five Rules:
  • First: You must write.
  • Second: You must finish what you write.
  • Third: You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.
  • Fourth: You must place it on the market.
  • Fifth: You must keep it on the market until sold.
-- From James Forrestal Memorial Lecture, April 5, 1973.
That was THE important essay at the important moment in my life. Indeed, in that magazine, there were listings for science fiction conventions, and I noted that one was to be held a couple weeks hence at the Los Angeles Airport, called "WESTERCON 29."

It would be over the July 4 weekend, but I didn't notice that. There would be MANY science fiction authors in attendance, including Harlan Ellison, Theodore Sturgeon and Frank Herbert. I had enough money, so I wrote a Bank of America yellow check and mailed in my registration fee.

By sheerest chance, I had enough money.

When the time came, I hitchhiked the thirty or so miles to LAX. Don't ask me how I did it. At the time you could still hitchhike as a means of transport, but getting from North Hollywood to LAX took sheerest dumb luck. That weekend I had it in abundance.

And so, with no money to get back, and knowing (literally) no one in Los Angeles (except for my cranky Locksmith and Lawnmower Blade Sharpening landlord, whose office was right across the street from my apartment), I arrived at WESTERCON 29 in 1976 with a lean and hungry look.

There, I met three young Science Fiction writers who would play significant roles in my life over the next year, Richard DeLap, the editor of DeLap's F&SF review, who would publish my first compensated writing in the winter of '76; Paul Bond, who would be my roommate and a friend until his untimely death in the early 80s. And Russell Bates, a Kiowa author who is in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, and with whom I still occasionally correspond. Russell's preferred coinage is not "Native American" or "Indian" but his own, "Novamundian," which means, in Latin, a "New Worlder," more or less.

DeLap passed away in the late 80s. His papers and book collection are housed at the Spencer Library at the University of Kansas, in Lawrence.

I have written of these three elsewhere.

But, and I did not know this until a few moments ago, I met Theodore Sturgeon at William Rotsler's Birthday Party (a WESTERCON tradition at the time) on July 3. I had always thought it July 4, but I find that I am mistaken. July 4 makes a better story, but there you have it.

Because Bond and Bates were Science Fiction Writers of America members, I had access to the SFWA suite on the top floor of the Hyatt House hotel -- which was where the actual writers hid out from the ofttimes hebephrenic fans. And, for the same reason, I was admitted to the Rotsler birthday party.

There, in the bedroom, seated cross-legged on the bed, and surrounded by an exclusively female audience that crammed the room to overflowing, was Theodore Sturgeon, pipe wafting Captain Black's tobacco (then, a wondrous incense, and not, as now, a horrible attempt at second-hand murder).

We could not enter the room, and so Russell and I stood by the breakfast bar, eating string cheese (the first time I'd seen it), and watching as Jerry Pournelle attempted to remove the cork from a wine bottle with his pen-knife, succeeding to the extent that he managed to spill wine all over me.

But the bottle was yet uncorked and unpourable. Perhaps this explains what would come the following day. But Pournelle had already managed to put a cigarette burn in my polyester print "good" shirt the day before. Why this odd enmity, I shall never know. I requested the bottle, pushed the cork INTO the bottle, and the wine was dispensed. This didn't please Pournelle, who continued in his boisterous manner.

Bill Rotsler was a great bear of a man, legendary as a fan artist (won a Hugo or two for fan art), a sometimes author (PATRON OF THE ARTS) and a man with connections to men's magazines (He wrote for KNIGHT and ADAM, which would be significant to my career) and, oh, hell, here's a bit of the obituary from LOCUS magazine, following Bill's death in 1997: https://www.locusmag.com/1997/News/News11.html
"William Rotsler was born 3 July 1926 in Los Angeles, California. He worked on a ranch in Camarillo as a teenager, and served in the U.S. Army from 1944 to 1945, learning the profession of photographer. He discovered fandom in the mid-'40s and was part of the Los Angeles fan scene for over 50 years. He attended Los Angeles County Art Institute, 1947-50, and worked as a sculptor of mainly outdoor modern work from 1950 to 1959, then gave it up to become a photographer, filmmaker, producer, director of commercials, documentaries, etc. He worked mainly in the "erotic" industries, selling photos to Playboy, writing columns for Knight and other men's magazines, writing, directing, or acting(!) -- or some combination of these -- in such movies as The Agony of Love (1966), Notorious Daughter of Fanny Hill (1966), Shannon's Women (1969), and The Secret Sex Life of Romeo and Juliet (1970). He frequently used fan friends as extras in his movies. This part of his career mostly ended by the '70s. During all this, his prodigious output of cartoons and drawings continued unabated. He was fan Guest of Honor at the World SF Convention in 1973.

"He also became a professional writer in the '70s, first producing non-fiction book Contemporary Erotic Cinema (1973) and then his first and best novel, Patron of the Arts (1974). To the Land of the Electric Angels (1976) was also noteworthy. He collaborated with Gregory Benford on Shiva Descending (1980). Most of his books were movie and TV tie-ins or children's fiction such as Tom Swift books with Sharman DiVono under the name of Victor Appleton, Jr. His most recent book was Science Fictionaries (1995), a collection of sayings and quotes from SF writers."
Now, while I was taking this all in, Theodore Sturgeon emerged from the now-disbanded conclave (of which symposium's subject I remain ignorant to this day), and, since I was standing in the path from the bedroom to the bar, he stopped, and greeted Russell Bates, whom he knew from Clarion:

"Hello, Russell," he said, and Russell Bates introduced him to me. "This is ..." he said. Sturgeon turned and his laser-beam eyes bored into mine:

"If you are going to be a writer, you have to get inside your characters. Don't just write about yourself. See the world from inside their skin. The (Indians) have a saying: 'You never truly know a man until you've walked a mile in his moccassins.'" And he walked on.

I would not have appreciated the magical nature of this interchange had not Russell Bates been watching closely:

"You didn't say a thing about being a writer," he said.

Sturgeon had, in some mysterious, oracular manner, divined my raison d'etre and given me what I needed. This would continue until his death in 1985, although neither of us had the slightest inkling of it at the time.

It remains the first magick in a long and magickal association that continues in a very real sense until this very day. There is not time, nor is this the place to delineate the rest.

Instead, we move forward in that significant weekend to July 4, in the SFWA suite. Evidently Pournelle had taken an instantaneous dislike to me. Why? I do not know. But it was not the first time -- nor would it be the last -- that a complete stranger has, on a purely instinctual level, instantaneously styled himself (or herself) my implacable nemesis. The anti-matter to my matter, as if it mattered.

Pournelle was at the SFWA bar, talking to Robert Silverberg. The previous night, I had heard any number of "insider" stories from Silverberg, sitting in a hotel room in the wee early hours of the Bicentennial, with a few of his fan friends, being a fly on the wall. He revealed, for instance, that the publisher his ACE doubles had a streak of anti-Semitism, and that he'd written under WASP-sounding names, like "Calvin M. Knox" at the publisher's insistence. I asked "What does the 'M' stand for," and Silverberg replied, "Moses." He even autographed a copy of his Knox novel to me as "Calvin Moses Knox," but, alas, the book has long since been stolen.

Pournelle was talking in an obvious stage whisper, and telling Silverberg about this sweetheart deal he had, speaking to a group of wealthy technophile businessmen, with a great dinner and a sweet honorarium. "You are just the kind of speaker they're looking for," he gushed. Then he did a strange thing.

He turned to me, as though I'd said something, and in a LOUDER stage whisper said: "Well, they might want to hear from you after you publish your FIRST NOVEL!" It was meant to be humiliating, and it struck me at particularly vicious at the time.

I was nobody from nowhere, who'd come up with the insane idea that I could move to Los Angeles cold, without any contacts or friends, and become a writer. I had lost my van, and, seemingly, my wife, and was completely broke in a place in which I had nothing to fall back on, and, I have to admit, it was the scariest time of my life.

But Bates said, "You didn't say a thing to him. He's just being a jerk." And I fought back the rising tide of panic, and just maintained.

That was the Fourth of July. What came next was the best part of all, in a way.

Everyone was into the "hip" show, "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," and the latest episode was tuned in on the hotel TV. I was not interested. Bates left to socialize with a group down in the coffee shop, and I could only move as far away from the hotel TV as the suite would permit.

Another fellow shared my aversion to the entertainment provided. He was dressed in a three-piece suit, like Santa Claus attending a board meeting, except that the suit was of a light color, and I think he was wearing a turtleneck. But he looked every bit the successful author.

And so he was.

It was Frank Herbert, the author of DUNE -- a book that changed the face of science fiction, and was the first true "breakout" novel of a genre that had been previously relegated to the slot in bookstores somewhere between westerns, nurse novels, and soft porn paperbacks.

And, for an hour, Frank Herbert talked to me about writing. What he said was incredibly important, although I remember little of it. But it was the validation, the justification that whether or not I'd dropped out of college (a huge source of fear at the time), I could be a writer through my own industry. I didn't need to know all that fancy 'parts of speech' and grammar stuff. I could do it. All I had to do was DO it.

He said one thing that has always remained with me, however. He explained that those days, mostly he traveled around giving lectures at universities. And they would ask him complex and abstruse questions about foreshadowing, or split infinitives, et al, and he said this: "I don't know about that stuff. I'm a newspaperman."

And then he said this, which I will never forget. "What do you do," I asked.

"I smile, I nod, and I take their money," Frank Herbert said.

Here, from Wikipedia:
Frank Herbert was born in 1920 in Tacoma, Washington. He knew from an early age that he wanted to be a writer. In 1939 he lied about his age in order to get his first newspaper job on the Glendale Star.

There was a temporary hiatus to his writing career as he served in the U.S. Navy as a photographer during World War II. He married Flora Parkinson in 1941, but divorced her in 1945 after fathering a daughter.

After the war he attended the University of Washington, where he met Beverly Ann Stuart at a creative writing class in 1946. They were the only students in the class who had sold any work for publication -- Herbert had sold two pulp adventure stories to magazines, and Stuart had sold a story to Modern Romance magazine. They married in Seattle on June 20, 1946. Their first son, Brian Herbert, was born in 1947. Frank Herbert did not graduate from college, according to Brian, because he only wanted to study what interested him and so didn't complete the required courses.

After college he returned to journalism and worked at the Seattle Star and the Oregon Statesman; he was also a writer and editor for the San Francisco Examiner's California Living magazine for a decade. (for the rest of it, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Herbert )
Ted Sturgeon had shown me the soul. Heinlein had shown me the way, and Frank Herbert had let me know that I was on the right path. That I wasn't as crazy as everyone in my family, as the TCU faculty, and my TCU friends, and my wife and her parents seemed to think that I was.

And I remember thinking distinctly the thought: This is the American Bicentennial, and I'm sitting having a one-on-one conversation with Frank Herbert. And it is ironic that what he did was to quell my fear. From DUNE (The Bene Gesserit "Litany Against Fear"):
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
A few months later, taking Bill Rotsler's name in vain, I tricked my way into ADAM Magazine, and began a literary association that would continue for the next decade. Later, Rotsler was sure that he'd recommended me, but in fact, I lied. I said that he'd mentioned it at a science fiction convention, and Jared Rutter, the editor, assumed it to be true.

But that only got me in the door. I had to be able to write, and it turned out that I could, and I did. I worked with Rotsler for a long time after that. I was even in one of his soft porn movies, with Kitten Natividad on my arm. (I was clothed. She was not.)

And in 1978, at BooksWest, Ted introduced me to his new wife Jayne. A year later, I would become Ted's editor at HUSTLER. He was our book reviewer, and I was responsible for assigning him books to review, and rewriting those reviews into HUSTLER style. He would often say, on the phone "Talk to Jayne."

And Jayne and I would talk, because we were into the same things, and had much in common. Ted became a friend, and remained so until his death in 1985. At one point, when I was living on the edge, homeless in Boulder, Colorado, he told me that when I was in trouble, I could always, and SHOULD call him collect any hour of the day at his new home in Springfield, Oregon. He had relocated there from Los Angeles/San Diego, as his final 'retirement' location, after scouring the world for the right place to live.

In 1993, Jayne and I reconnected, after nearly a decade since Ted's passing, and were married in August of that year.

And so, I find myself surrounded by him, in that magical relationship that continues to this day. I still find his pipecleaners marking pages in paperbacks. I have seen the privately printed copy of Philip K. Dick's CONFESSIONS OF A CRAP ARTIST that Phil autographed to Ted. And his reading glasses turned out to be the cure for my presbyopia.

I have seen the typewriter on which he wrote "Amok Time" and "Shore Leave" for the original Star Trek, and it turns out to be the same Smith-Corona portable model that I began my writing career on -- which I'd been given to go to college, even though I steadfastly refused to type out manuscript of any sort until I had decided in 1975 to become a writer.

The Bicentennial was a transformative weekend in my life, if not THE transformative weeked of my life. Except for Jerry Pournelle, Robert Silverberg and Russell Bates, everyone else in this story has passed away. I haven't heard from my first wife since 1981, and that time seems almost as long ago as the July day in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed, 230 years ago.

I live in Eugene, Oregon because of that weekend. I am married to the woman that I am married to because of that weekend. I am a writer in large part because of that weekend.

There's one last grace note. Jayne met Ted for the first time at COMICON in San Diego two weeks after that Bicentennial in 1976.

And that's what I remember of the Bicentennial. Or, as we styled it, we young SF writers at that convention, "The Bison Tenniel."


03 July 2006

Trouble at the (John Stuart) Mill, or I Didn't Expect a Kind of Spanish Inquisition

It's important to pick up a thread from yesterday, because it's the pandemic of American democracy, and has been amply demonstrated by the Persecution and Assassination of Dan Rather by the Inmates of the Freeper Asylum (as directed by the Marquis de Rove):

Greg Palast called it again: the Bushies have decided to back the pro-Bush Mexican presidential candidate over the anti-Bush candidate, and to use Florida and Ohio tactics to do it. He called it before the election, and now, Sunday's election looks to bear him out:

from "Grand theft Mexico" July 3, 2006
As in Florida in 2000, and as in Ohio in 2004, the exit polls show the voters voted for the progressive candidate. The race is "officially" too close to call. But they will call it - after they steal it.

Reuters reports that, as of 8pm eastern time, as voting concluded in Mexico, exit polls showed Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the "leftwing" party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) leading in exit polls over Felipe Calderon of the ruling conservative National Action party (PAN).

... Calderon's election is openly supported by the Bush administration.
What John Stuart Mill said, you might recall was this:
"Not the violent conflict between parts of the truth, but the quiet suppression of half of it, is the formidable evil: there is always hope when people are forced to listen to both sides; it is when they attend only to one that errors harden into prejudices, and truth itself ceases to have the effect of truth, by being exaggerated into falsehood." (on Liberty, Chap 2)
And the Freepers have piled on Mr. Palast, suggesting that he doesn't know anything about
a) Mexico

b) exit polls, and

c) anything.
What is their evidence? Well, evidence doesn't matter. Raw assertions remain the order of the day, but the teleology, the ends are accomplished through the means of shutting down debate entirely through shouting.

Which is exactly why Dan Rather is out of a job.

And why the Right Wing is attacking the NEW YORK TIMES over a story that the WALL STREET JOURNAL also ran, but the WSJ's isn't politically advantageous to attack, so only the NYT is screamed at.

Last week, I watched Dan Rather's final exit from CBS after 44 years. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. After removing him as anchor, he was given a desk and a phone and nothing to do. As CBS/VIACOM undoubtedly hoped, Rather finally quit accepting a paycheck for doing nothing whatsoever, having no responsibilities, and being paid, in essence, for his silence.

For those whose eardrums were ringing too loudly from Right Wing Blog/Talk Show/Generic Attack screamings, you might have forgotten that EVERYTHING in Rather's 60 Minutes II report on George Bush's draft-dodging story was verified, EXCEPT for a memo which may or may NOT have been a forgery.

All the allegations contained within the memo, however, were confirmed by the secretary of the man who (allegedly) wrote it.

But Bush successfully avoided bearing any blame for the facts and Rather was crucified for the fictions.

This is the way that the jackboots click on the hardwood floors of our Kapitol. And Palast's report (go take a look, and then look at the comments) has been hit with a blizzard of the same kind of screaming.

Here is an American reporter who has been forced to leave his country for the press freedom of the UK -- don't you feel a little embarrassed, Righties? The Redcoats are more free than we in our press and speech and protest. If I protest Bush in England when he's there, I can ACTUALLY protest! Here, I'm relegated to a protest compound, or else have to take loyalty oaths to get into a speechifying event. Spreading freedom and democracy?

If "freedom and democracy" is a synonym for what comes out of the south end of a north-bound bull, then sure.

Palast has consistently reported what the U.S. press is too timid, or too stupid, or just too hobbled by Journalism School to report. And he's been consistently right, but too late to have any impact on the most recent scandal du jour.

Because this is all about suppression of a point of view. And that suppression is inherently deadly to our democracy, which is BASED on a battle of ideas.

It is significant that the one time that Rush Limbaugh (on ABC) actually debated a fair debate, he got his fat ass handed to him by an articulate black woman. In the decade and more since that debacle, he WILL NOT, HAS NOT, REFUSES TO engage in a fair debate with ANYONE. He HAS to have control of that microphone, lest he be revealed as the bloviating, sputtering, red-faced buffoon that showed up in his last honest debate.

And so, in utter contradiction to reality, exit polls are attacked (again) as inaccurate when they don't confirm rightie ends, and Palast is given the specious "I'm a Mexican and you Ain't" attack to discredit him. And the trolls are POURING it on.

This is precisely what the Freepers did when Bush was protested in London a couple years ago. They flooded the protest boards (set up to give information on where to meet, conditions, tactics, etc.) and functionally shut them down. They might not have been in London (the Free Republic is out of Fresno, California), but they were there virtually, with their virtual jackboots shined, and their virtual truncheons swinging.

The problem with debating neanderthals is that you've got to be ready to go to THEIR level. They sure as hell won't come up to yours.

And so the Know-Nothing Party has been reborn in Klan outfits, on their AOL accounts, stifling all meaningful debate or discussion. Assassinating whomever would tell the uncomfortable truth. Scared to death of a fair debate.

Which, in and of itself, tells you all that you need to know. If the Right is right, then why are they so scared of any opinions (or, most significantly, FACTS) but their own?

And, if the same facts are reported by the NYT and the WSJ, word for word, why are the NYT facts to be attacked, persecuted AND prosecuted, while the WSJ gets a pass?

On this 230th Birthday Weekend, The United States of America functions like a wounded eagle: its left wing broken, and only flopping around wildly on its Right Wing.

This condition is almost invariably fatal to eagles in the wild.

And never mind where you are -- Mexico or London -- they WILL find you. And they will silence you with their hebephrenic screeching.


02 July 2006

The Rape of the Locke, or The Real Fourth of July during the Fake Presidency

Today is the real "Fourth" of July. The Declaration of Independence, after an astonishing series of debates, parliamentary maneuvers and every crass, bizarre dodge and stunt that we associate with our modern legislative bodies, unanimously approved the Declaration (the demand for unanimity was a precondition passed through by those who didn't want the matter of "independency" debated in the first place) on July 2, 1776.

And here's a little bit of it for the ADD-afflicted:
"But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security."
Make no mistake. I love my country. I just hate a lot of its history. It is often shameful, filled with greed, hatred and naked lust for power. The same system and generally held beliefs in "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" have produced Ben Franklin and Joe McCarthy. Clara Barton and William Quantrill; Abraham Lincoln and Richard Nixon; Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt and George and George Bush.

A large chunk of that Declaration is cribbed from the writings of John (sometimes called "The Father of the Enlightenment") Locke*, who, with Henri Rousseau successfully midwife'd the transition from the rule of kings (by "divine right") to the rule of the people (the "social contract"). But, as 2004 passed, and the Tricentenary of Locke was ignored, something else that he said, critically, came to light.
[* ... And being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another's uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for ours. Every one, as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station willfully, so, by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind and not, unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.]
You have to remember that Locke, though an Englishman, delineated his philosophy from Holland, which was -- and remains -- a haven for free-thinkers since the Renaissance.

Why? Because Locke would have been at a minimum imprisoned, and probably beheaded for his challenge to the idea that the king rules because God put him in charge.

It is a tautology, of course. Saying that the king was appointed by God says nothing of the king's morality or fitness. It just says that anyone holding the office holds it because God said so, and therefore, his most vicious depredations are divinely sanctioned.

Which is like saying that because I successfully robbed a bank, God must have meant for me to be successful. Or if I killed someone, why, that was just "trial by combat." Oddly, two of these three positions have been held as venerable truth during the rise of Western Civilization.

No one has ever maintained successfully the divine right of thieves.

America -- the United States of -- is not necessarily a place, or even an ethnic group. It is a series of ideas, many of which are idealistic: the 'free speech' clause of the First Amendment had never been fully implemented, for example, until the advent of the internet, and that's being rolled back as rapidly as possible. Witness the attempt to muzzle the New York TIMES -- but not the WALL STREET JOURNAL, which ran the same story -- that rages on Sunday Morning TeeVee on THIS, the birthday of our democracy, invaluably and inseparably aided and protected by our free press. Faux News' William Kristol was particularly vile this morning -- a publisher who is against freedom of the Press. (Well, any but HIS, one surmises).

And it is those very ideas that ARE the USA that are currently under relentless attack. The Bill of Rights. Articles 1 and 3 of the Constitution. Etcetera.

It is disheartening to see these things, on our birthday: the justification of rule by divine right, the muzzling of the press, of free speech, of the right to peaceably assemble, to petition for redress of grievances (you can protest, but not anywhere that anyone can see you, you can petition, but they are simply tossed in the wastebasket). And freedom of religion has rapidly been turned into the tyranny of biblical literalism.

[Hmmm. I wonder how the fundies interpret "The Song of Solomon?" Are her breasts REALLY two female deer? Must be hell buying a brassiere, then.]

The past five years (and the political assassination of Clinton's eight years) have been an auto da fe for those truths that we hold to be self-evident. Locke must be weeping that his plagiarized words in the Declaration have been thus mistreated (by a hypocrite who keeps telling us that we have to "spread freedom and democracy" abroad while acting as its foremost and implacable enemy within our own borders).

But "Enlightenment Daddy" Locke said something equally profound that bears remembrance on July 2, 2006, our 230th birthday.

What he said was that he noticed that no matter how deeply held and cherished, ideas lose their potency over time. They fade away like old photographs in the sun.

And on the 230th Birthday of the USA, we cannot refute him. Poll after poll finds a majority of Americans against fundamental truths of the Bill of Rights (unless they are identified as such, in which case flags are waved vigorously). The Senate came within one vote of enshrining a piece of cloth as a secular religious icon. "Desecration" literally means:

TRANSITIVE VERB: Inflected forms: des-e-crat-ed, des-e-crat-ing, des-e-crates

To violate the sacredness of; profane.

ETYMOLOGY: de- + (con)secrate.
OTHER FORMS: dese-crater, dese-crator -NOUN
dese-cration -NOUN

[The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition.]

TRANSITIVE VERB: Inflected forms: con·se·crat·ed, con·se·crat·ing, con·se·crates

1. To declare or set apart as sacred: consecrate a church. 2. Christianity a. To produce the ritual transformation of (the elements of the Eucharist) into the body and blood of Jesus. b. To sanctify (bread and wine) for use in Communion. c. To initiate (a priest) into the order of bishops. 3. To dedicate solemnly to a service or goal. See synonyms at devote. 4. To make venerable; hallow: a tradition consecrated by time.

ADJECTIVE: Dedicated to a sacred purpose; sanctified.

ETYMOLOGY: Middle English consecraten, from Latin consecrare, consecrat- : com-, intensive pref.; see com- + sacrare, to make sacred. [ibid]
Now, you can argue from 3 and 4 that 'consecration' has been taken from the churchiness, but you can't argue that the churchiness has been stripped from 'consecration.' A majority of the United States Senate voted to make a piece of cloth a sacred object. Is it so far then to a (semi-divine) Emperor? To a theocracy somewhat like Constantine's Rome, or Pharoah's Egypt?
I don't think so.

How could a piece of cloth representing a secular nation of laws be "sacred"? The symbol has been raised to an idol, invested with divine powers, consecrated. (Athiests and agnostics are S.O.L. evidently, since both ideas are antithetical to their beliefs and values.)

This has been a lousy week for democracy, frankly.

Finally, we must recall what John Stuart Mill said in his seminal 1848 essay, "On Liberty" Chapter 2.
But, indeed, the dictum that truth always triumphs over persecution, is one of those pleasant falsehoods which men repeat after one another till they pass into commonplaces, but which all experience refutes. History teems with instances of truth put down by persecution. If not suppressed forever, it may be thrown back for centuries. To speak only of religious opinions: the Reformation broke out at least twenty times before Luther, and was put down. Arnold of Brescia was put down. Fra Dolcino was put down. Savonarola was put down. The Albigeois were put down. The Vaudois were put down. The Lollards were put down. The Hussites were put down. Even after the era of Luther, wherever persecution was persisted in, it was successful. In Spain, Italy, Flanders, the Austrian empire, Protestantism was rooted out; and, most likely, would have been so in England, had Queen Mary lived, or Queen Elizabeth died. Persecution has always succeeded, save where the heretics were too strong a party to be effectually persecuted.
Of course it's not about "The Holy Catholic and Universal Church" these days (unless you count the Supreme Court), but, rather, about NeoCon ideology. Mr. Mill wrote of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News:
Not the violent conflict between parts of the truth, but the quiet suppression of half of it, is the formidable evil: there is always hope when people are forced to listen to both sides; it is when they attend only to one that errors harden into prejudices, and truth itself ceases to have the effect of truth, by being exaggerated into falsehood. And since there are few mental attributes more rare than that judicial faculty which can sit in intelligent judgment between two sides of a question, of which only one is represented by an advocate before it, truth has no chance but in proportion as every side of it ... (ibid.)
He didn't know their names at the time, of course.

PS: The continuation by other means of 'Operation Mount and Thrust' was scrubbed for today. The new tentative space shuttle launch (the thrust) is now scheduled for the Fourth of July. Hmmm. What a coincidence!