Archive for August, 2009


A recent avalanche on one of the book mountains that stud the terrain around this place unearthed a copy of Oriana Fallaci’s Interview with History. I hadn’t looked into the thing in years. 2660066230055596006MtpIpf_fsReacquainting myself with Fallaci’s 1972 interviews with Golda Meir and Yasir Arafat, I was first surprised and then amused by the frequency and fervor with which these individuals declared that they and their peoples would “never” do this or that. Because so many of those “nevers” have, in the intervening 37 years, actually come to pass.

Dialogue on Israel and Palestine is today as spiked with words like “no” and “never” and “always” and “forever” as it was in 1972. I thought it might be worthwhile to review some of Meir’s and Arafat’s once-upon-a-time “nevers,” as a hopeful illustration that never, even in this fractious sliver of the planet, does not have to mean forever.


Burnt Offerings

Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest.

—Deuteronomy 12:13 

Excited they were, the officers of the Lancaster, Ohio police department, with their newly issued tasers. So, the day after they were armed with the fry rods, officers encountering Daniel Wood—a well-known local substance-abuser, who’d been arrested some 50 times on minor charges—well, they figured they’d give ’em a try.

Problem is, Wood had been inhaling aerosol fumes. And so when they shocked him with 50,000 volts of electricity, they also set him on with fry rods

“Clearly,” said Police Chief David Bailey, “this is not the way we’d hoped to get started.”

It’s not like the officers didn’t known any better. As set forth here, an Australian man recently exploded into flames—suffering third-degree burns to his face, neck, chest, and arms—when he was electrified after sniffing gasoline.

And during four months of training, Lancaster officers were exposed to a six-page policy paper that decreed that tasers “shall not be deployed in an atmosphere where flammable fumes are present or on indivudals that are known to have come in contact with flammables[.]”

Oh well. At least Wood lived. Unlike the thus-far unidentified man who was electrocuted Thursday for fleeing an officer in a Los Angeles County subway station. Or Craig Prescott, who in April was fried to death in the Stanislaus County Jail.


Aquatic Exceptionalism

America is the strongest and most prosperous nation on earth,” Nately informed him with lofty fervor and dignity. “And the American fighting man is second to none. America is not going to be destroyed.”

the rulerThe old man laughed indulgently. “Rome was destroyed, Greece was destroyed, Persia was destroyed, Spain was destroyed. All great countries are destroyed. Why not yours? How much longer do you really think your own country will last? A million years? A half million? The frog is almost five hundred million years old. Could you really say with much certainty that America, with all its strength and prosperity, with its fighting man that is second to none, and with its standard of living that is the highest in the world, will last as long as . . . the frog?”

—Joseph Heller, Catch-22

When Worlds Collide

Okay, so they can’t even get along out there in space.

In the constellation Phoenix, a star and a planet are hissing and spitting at one another. The planet Wasp-18b, ten times the size of Jupiter, races around its sun, Wasp-18, in less than a day. The two worlds are so close—less than 1.9 million miles—that the fiery planet causes tremendous plasma tides on the Those tides in turn are warping the orbit of the planet, and will, within 650,000 years or so, cause Wasp-18b to sidle in past “the Roche limit,” at which time it will begin to break apart, and finally plunge into its own sun.

At least that’s the theory of Coel Hellier, a professor of astrophysics at the UK’s Keele University, who, with a motley crew of co-authors, soberly reported in Nature what USA Today has elected to describe as “an ever-closer tango of death.”

Its size—10 times bigger than Jupiter—and its proximity to its star make it likely to die, Hellier said.

Think of how the distant moon pulls Earth’s oceans to form twice-daily tides. The effect the odd planet has on its star is thousands of times stronger, Hellier said.

Or maybe the theory is bollocks. After all, earth observers don’t know very much about far-off planets yet. In fact, when I was a lad—not that long ago—terran astronomers had not perceived any planets outside our own solar system, and many thought they didn’t exist anywhere else at all. Wrong. To date, 373 planets have been detected outside our own system; Wasp-18b is “yet another weird one in the exoplanet menagerie,” says planet specialist Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution.

Some people are calling Wasp-18b a “suicide planet”; one heavy-breathing astro-blogger has even dubbed it “the red hot planet of doom.” Others are less exercised. University of Maryland astronomer Douglas Hamilton, for instance, questions whether Wasp-18b is actually bent on suicide. He suggests instead “that some basic physics calculations that all astronomers rely on could be dead wrong.”

Folks should know soon. As explained here, if Wasp-18b is indeed offing itself, in a decade its orbital period should be 28 seconds shorter. If it isn’t, “then theorists will have to retool their ideas about the inner workings of stars.” Stay tuned.

The Music Never Stopped

In the coming days and weeks, we will be subjected to indelicate recountings of the life of Edward Kennedy that will linger over his flaws as a man. We know what to expect from the wingnuts—Sean Hannity announced months ago that when coming homeKennedy died, he would refuse to mourn him as “a great American”—but such a reference also appears even now, as I type this, in the front-page slug on the New York Times website: “a disciplined liberal lawmaker with a sometimes-stormy personal life.”

Last month, in a Black Kos diary, people were envying the Kossack Robinswing because she had met Miles Davis—a man also know for his “sometimes-stormy personal life.” Robinswing had a very wise reply:

“Meeting him for real,” she said, “happens with his music.”

And so it is with Senator Kennedy. The real Ted Kennedy was in his music. Which, as William O. Douglas once expressed it, was all about using his considerable powers to try to help “the miserable, the sick, the suspect, the unpopular, the offbeat.” He was a rich man’s son who considered lost and suffering people his “base.” And through a personal life riven, as all human lives must be riven, by missteps and failures, in his public life, for those people, his music never stopped.

I don’t have anything else to say.

Senator Kennedy does, though.

Come, Little Donkey, Come

The paper rustled under his swishing priest’s robes, and I told him we were crossing a field of promises. I told him the eschatologies seemed to me like a bunch of hay dangled in front of a donkey to induce him to go on pulling a cart. “But mankind needs to set its sights on something lofty and distant,” said Adolf. “Think of the strength that the attraction of heaven gave to people in the Middle Ages.”

“Yes,” I said. “The donkey pulled the cart. It thought it was pulling the cart heavenwards, and soon it would reach paradise, where there were no loads to carry, evergreen pastures, and the beasts of prey were friendly companions.round and round But gradually the donkey realized that heaven was drawing no nearer, it grew tired, and the hay of religion no longer induced it to step out bravely. So lest the cart come to a halt, the donkey’s hunger was switched to an earthly paradise, a socialist park where all donkeys will be equal, the whip will be abolished, where there will be lighter loads and improved fodder, but then the road to this Eden turns out to be just as long, the end is just as far off, and the donkey becomes stubborn again. But in fact, he was wearing blinkers the whole time, so that he never realized that he was just going round and round, and that he wasn’t pulling a cart but a carousel, and perhaps all we are is a sideshow on a fairground of the gods, and at the end of their day out, the gods have forgotten to tidy the carousel away, and the donkey is still pulling it, only the gods have forgotten all about us.”
                                                                      —Death in Rome, Wolfgang Koeppen

Peasant Palate: Salad Days

hotIt’s hot, dry, and still here. Daytime temperatures monotonously in the 90s, or above. Swamp-cooler relief only. I would like to cook, but simply looking at the stove makes me weep. The other day I wanted some beef jerky, but, remembering that cooking it requires racking the beef six hours in the oven at 200 degrees, I realized that trying it now would be a form of suicide. Every day, these days, I feel like this guy.

So, it’s salad time. Vegetably things that do not (usually) require the application of heat. Follow the “furthur” for seven salad recipes; hopefully, dishes you’ve not already grown weary of. Know, for instance, that the French have a penchant for decreeing a dish a “salad” even if it’s really a mountain of cheese or a mass of writhing squid tentacles. Be prepared for some of these.


Among The Christians

ABC News is reporting that Lithuania supplied the CIA with facilities for a secret prison in which eight War on Terra prisoners were interned, interrogated, and tortured.

The black site was located on the outskirts of Vilnius, the nation’s capital. Lithuanian officials are said to have agreed to host the facility as part of a campaign to improve relations with the United States. locked upCIA black—or secret—prisons have previously been identified in Thailand, Poland, Afghanistan, Romania, and Morocco. Like the black sites in Romania and Poland, the Lithuanian facility was shut down in 2005, after the Washington Post reported that War on Terra prisoners were suffering in secret confinement in Eastern European prisons.

The Lithuanian government denies the report, while the CIA has blasted it as “irresponsible.”

“The CIA does not publicly discuss where facilities associated with its past detention program may or may not have been located,” said CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano. “The dangers of airing such allegations are plain. These kinds of assertions could, at least potentially, expose millions of people to direct threat. That is irresponsible.”

The CIA apparently still doesn’t get that it is the serial abuses of George II’s War on Terra, and not the public airing of those abuses, that “expose millions of people to direct threat.”


Shock Jocks

“They lie. They lie, and we have to be merciful, for those who lie.”                                                                                        —Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, Apocalypse Now

Recently a judge in the Canadian province of British Columbia ordered transit officers to cease tasering people for evading fares. In Australia, police encountering a native man awash in gasoline tasered him on the bridge of the nose, at which time he burst into flames. In Alabama a man deaf and mentally ill was tasered for remaining “too long” in a public restroom. shock jock nationInto our office here in California walked a person who, locked away in a jail cell, had been surrounded by six deputies and then repeatedly tasered. And down in Arizona, folks at Taser International sunnily announced a new device that does not require officers to “reload,” and allows up to three people to be electrified at one time.

When tasers were introduced, they were sold on the notion that they would only be used as an alternative to deadly force. In other words, no officer would use a taser unless faced with a situation in which s/he would otherwise shoot to kill someone.

This, it soon developed, was a lie. Today tasers are used whenever those who wield them feel like using them. Including for sport.


Thank You For Talkin’ To Me, Africa

one peopleSecretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recently completed 11-day journey through Africa offered further proof that, with the Obama administration, the age of “American exceptionalism,” as we have known it, is over.

In the past, American policymakers too often lectured, hectored African nations and peoples. Africans, by Americans, were condescendingly addressed, as if they were errant children.

Clinton, in contrast, approached Africans as equals. In Nigeria, she acknowledged that the American electoral system is subject to the same sorts of corruption, nepotism, and cronyism that can afflict African nations. And in Cape Verde and South Africa she stated that the US could learn from the African example.


Everybody Knows The Way

ghosts of electricityJerry Garcia always maintained that he and his band performed poorly at Woodstock because they were distracted by “the presence of invisible time travelers from the future who had come back to see it. You could sense the significance of the event as it was happening.”

Makes sense to me. It always seemed strange that the concert was almost instantly regarded as so epochal. Why would that be? There was a hell of a lot of other stuff going on at the time. The answer, I guess, is because people from the future had already decided it was.

Perhaps because Garcia and his Grateful Dead bandmates may have been, to use a favorite Garcia word from those days, “hipper” to the presence of those invisible time travelers, the Dead were more afflicted with pixie dust than other Woodstock musicians.

It was pitch-dark when they hit the stage, and a howling wind was blowing down the hillside, actually threatening to move the huge stage backwards in the mud.

Dead bassist Phil Lesh recalls:

The stage was sinking, and the equipment was starting to roll toward the edge. The sound system went off, the lights went off, and radio signals from the Air Force were coming out of my amp. It was not an atmosphere conducive to good music.

Lesh wasn’t the only one afflicted by strange noise:

Random CB radio signals kept erupting out of the PA while the band played, and “people behind the amplifiers kept yelling, ‘The stage is collapsing! The stage is collapsing!'” Garcia said.

Dead Keyboardist Tom Constantin says:

“Actually, I had a wonderful time. The guitarists were not. Because of electrical problems, they were getting shocks from their strings and all,” he said. “Aversion therapy like that, no one needs.”

Throughout the Dead’s set, Garcia observed blue balls of electricity bouncing around the stage; these would occasionally either strike, or emanate from, his guitar. Garcia thought these balls the product of some electrical problem.

Uh-huh. Not wise, Jerry, to tattle on the time-travelers. ; )

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, I’m putting up Joe Cocker’s Woodstock version of “With A Little Help From My Friends.” Not because it’s a great version of a song that Cocker made great. But because it could be regarded as evidence of Garcia’s time-travelers theory. Cocker was always an odd duck in those days, but on this day he waddled through the looking glass. This is a man who surely seems to be seeing, feeling, receiving, reflecting somebody from somewhere.

i got to get my friends together
cause all we gotta do is love now

i’m gonna take em home with me now

you got to get hold of your friends now
you got to get hold of your friends and love

everybody knows the way
everybody knows the way now

Ghosts In The Machine

ghostsThe civility that is meant to be the foundation of civilization has become an antiquated thing of the past. Our new culture is not so much postmodern as postcivilized, and this cultural shift involves not a step forward but an electronic meltdown of civilization in which barbarism and savagery boil up to the surface once again. As James Joyce prophesied in Finnegans Wake: “Television kills telephony in brothers’ broil.”

At each stage in the cultural evolution of humanity, a new medium of communication comes forth, and the medium then effects a shift to a new form of polity. We begin with the origins of language in the African savanna, and we end up with the disintegration of literature on the Internet.

With the rise of the new postwar forms of electronic communication, philosophy and reasoned discourse could no longer hold together in the supersaturated solution of the global media. Democracy was replaced by mediocracy; citizen was replaced by media subject. jawsVast electronic latifundia took control of sports, entertainment, politics, journalism, and education; in fact, all forms of culture simply became variants of the entertainment industry. In the hands of a few giants of industry, new mergers created new global streams of techno-swill in which the believing subject was fed like cattle in feedlots.

The citizen who is “morphing” into the loyal subject of the media demands participation in the pageantry. He or she too wishes to become a celebrity and go on television. People will do anything or say anything to go on afternoon talk shows. Good taste and decorum are expressions of the vanished civilization. Television becomes, in fact, a new kind of human sacrifice. minority reportRather than an Aztec ripping out of the heart from a living body and a tumbling of the bloody corpse down the pyramid steps before an awe-inspired multitude, we have a new form of evisceration in which the heart of the individual’s life is ripped out. Each spectator of the pageantry of the media tries to become his or her own spectacle. Fast-fame takeouts litter the information superhighway strips of the new electronic America. The media acolytes seek to attack the White House to gain attention, verbally expose themselves sexually on afternoon talk shows, or form a congregation around their personal obsessions.

thick mickIf talk show hosts and radio commentators gain attention and become rich only to the degree that they are intellectually pornographic, why shouldn’t the average subject of the mediocracy aspire to his or her own fabrications of cultural history: that the holocaust never happened, that NASA never went to the moon and that the moon landing was all done in a television studio, that the Rockefellers are planning to set off a thermonuclear war and shift their headquarters from New York to Crestone, Colorado.

The representational government of the traditional literate nation-state undergoes an electronic meltdown in which archaic forms surface in new formations. dangerReasoned discourse in parliaments and senates is replaced by celebrity management for the new masses of the electronic mediocracy. As politics and sports create the Superbowl of the permanent presidential campaign, civilized discourse is displaced to the academy, but as reason is now powerless to counter either the economy of late capitalism or electronic media’s power to swamp literacy, “discourse” becomes an object of academic analysis, and violence becomes the virtual mode of discourse. As McLuhan said, “the sloughed-off environment becomes a work of art in the new and invisible environment.” The new and invisible environment is the shift from natural selection through the vehicle of the human animal body by cultural intrusion. In suburban culture, with rifles and family values, we have the ghost dance of the rednecks.not sane In urban postmodern culture, however, the body is the sloughed-off environment, so it is being painted, sculpted, pierced, lifted, and tucked. Since sex is no longer the agency of natural selection, sexual words become the punctuation marks in the new discourse of violence. “Fuck” and “bitch” are not tropes in the traditional sense of poetic discourse; they are cries in a sociobiological agon and part of the male display of conflict.

For the epoch of biological evolution, the human body had its own forms of signaling when to start and when to stop violent conflict. beautiful and terribleBut because of what McLuhan termed “the media extensions of man,” the evolutionary system of inhibition expressed in the body and its forms of body language is short-circuited. Consider the fact that if we bump into someone around the corner, we back off and courteously excuse ourselves. But if someone cuts in front of us on the highway in an automobile, we shout out our obscenities in a steel-encased rage. We lose the system of check and balances expressed in the physical body with its biological systems for dealing with and containing aggression. fireConsider again how people on talk radio will become enraged over the day’s news, or how people who live in the cyberspace of electronic bulletin boards will “go up in flames.” There are no bodies in these modes of communication, so as we shift to out-of-body forms of projection into cyberspace networks, it is not surprising that the astral plane takes us over as we become possessed by those noetic parasites that older cultures liked to call demons.
                                                         —Coming Into Being, William Irwin Thompson

Black Cat

British goofball Niall Ferguson has again thrust his Oxfords into his maw, this time comparing Barack Obama to the venerable cartoon character Felix the Cat. You see, inscribed Ferguson in the Financial Times, “Felix was not only black. He was also very, very lucky. And that pretty much sums up the 44th president of the US[.]”

felix-the-catFerguson had previously brought shame upon all his generations by gabbling such atavistic British colonial nonsense as “those who are drawn to ‘the Other’ may be atypical in their sexual predilections,” and “when a Chinese woman marries a European man, the chances are relatively high that only the first child they conceive will be viable.” These profundities appeared in a tome titled War of the World, which supplemented Ferguson’s role as host of a series on 20th Century history broadcast on Britain’s Channel 4.

Across the great water there in England, 21st Century Britons are being driven mad by the ubiquity of this throwback, who is not only allowed to run loose on television and scribble in the Times, but is also spouting gibberish on the BBC.

Ferguson, complained Priamvada Gopal in the Guardian, is engaged in the “aggressive rewriting of history, driven by the messianic fantasies of the America right”; “[o]nly the desire to recover some imaginary good from the tragedy that was empire,” she concludes, “can explain the elevation of th[is] neoconservative ideologue to chief imperial historian.”


What Is To Be Done

91LeninStatueBucharest450pxhVladimir Lenin was not fond of alcohol. He agreed with Friedrich Engels that intoxication followed from capitalist degradation; presumably, once workers were free of their bonds, they would no longer feel the need to marinate their minds, to stumble, slouch, and slur. Lenin himself eschewed alcohol; once installed in the Kremlin, he pronounced a nationwide prohibition on the possession and consumption of alcohol.

Lenin didn’t last very long; neither did the USSR’s prohibition experiment. Soviet citizens were allowed to return to the bottle in 1925, a year after Lenin’s death. In 1928, Joseph Stalin succeeded in maneuvering himself into Lenin’s place.

Now Stalin was a man who liked to take a drink or 19, and he was not averse to determining the fate of the nation while immersed in alcohol. Hunter S. Thompson has a version of one pickled-premier story:

He had gone into one of his rages, according to the story as I heard it, and this one had something to do with a notion that seized him, after five days and nights in a brutal vodka orgy, that every Catholic in Moscow should be nailed up on a telephone pole by dawn on Easter Sunday. This announcement caused genuine fear in the Kremlin, because Stalin was known by his staff to be “capable of almost anything.” When he calmed down a bit, one of his advisers suggested that a mass crucifixion of Russian Catholics—for no reason at all—would almost certainly raise hackles in the Vatican and no doubt anger the pope.

“Fuck the pope,” Stalin mumbled. “How many divisions does he have?”

Anyway. Seems from the news today that Lenin, even from the grave, continues to frown upon alcohol. In Uvarovichi, a town in the former Soviet republic of Belarus, an intoxicated 21-year-old man took it into his bibulated brain to clamber upon a 70-year-old, 16-foot tall plaster statue of Lenin. As the man hung from Lenin’s arm, the statute crumbled and collapsed, killing him.

“The monument’s heavy head tumbled on him,” said Nataliya Bolbas, a witness.

In my trade—criminal-defense law—we call this sort of thing an SDT: Stupid Drunk Trick. Crimes occasioned or encouraged by alcohol probably account for something like 80 percent of our business.

Somewhere in Uvarovichi today, family and friends are calling it something different: senseless tragedy.

As A City Upon A Hill

Builders of states, architects of revolution: these are usually idealists, who believe that what they create shall be different, better, other, more, than all that came before.

If wishes were horses . . . .

CD2-01John Winthrop, Puritan prelate of the Massachusetts Bay Company, promised to plant on the shores of North America a beacon for all the world: “the eyes of all people are upon us,” he said, and “we shall be as a city upon a hill.” Yet before his people could even properly feed themselves, they were busy hanging one another for adultery.

Nearly 400 years later, the animatronic Ronald Reagan proclaimed that Winthrop’s fabled American city had taken on a glow—we were now “a shining city on a hill.” To which William Burroughs was heard to grumble: “America may well be the hope of the world. It is also the source of such emotional plagues as drug hysteria, racism, Bible belt morality, Protestant capitalistic ethic, muscular Christianity, that have spread everywhere, transforming this planet into an annex of Hell.” My own observation, expressed at the time, was that the only American city I could see with much of a shine, there during Reagan’s time, was Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, then all aglow from the near-meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear facility.

In a 1972 interview with the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir confessed her deep disappointment with the reality of the Jewish state.

You’ll think me foolish, naive, but I thought that in a Jewish state there wouldn’t be the evils that afflict other societies. Theft, murder, prostitution. I thought so because we had started out so well. Fifteen years ago in Israel there were almost no thefts, and there were no murders, there was no prostitution. Now instead we have everything, everything. And it’s something that breaks your heart[.]

So too, Iran. 


I Summoned Am To Tourney

It has been said that no one can understand the mind of the medieval knight, and the implication is that his blend of arrogance, quick temper, risk-taking and irrationality is a thing of the past.

Curiously enough, the automobile has created its own species of knights. Lulled into a false sense of security by the armour around him, flattered by the speed which he controls with the touch of the foot, arrogant towards those with inferior mounts or with no mounts at all, the modern motorist will display chivalry towards an attractive woman, Road ragepay grudging deference to the owner of a vehicle which is clearly superior, but otherwise behave with stupid over-competitive hostility to every other road-user. The clearest conviction of the modern motorist is that every other driver is in the wrong; he is driving too fast, too slowly, too timidly or too aggressively. Even the carnage of the multiple accident leaves him relatively unmoved; the massacre of a few peasants had much the same effect on a feudal baron’s emotions.

Like the medieval predecessor, the knight of the road goes into the lists and challenges all comers. This is the melee where he can work off his repressions and the ill-temper which everyday life engenders. Some drivers are worse than others but few of us have a completely unblotted escutcheon. Perhaps we are not so remote in thought from our distant ancestors as we like to believe.
                                                                       —Philip Warner, The Medieval Castle

Bobby Ford Nation

jesse-james1In American history and mythology, the name Robert Ford is covered in infamy. Because, like a coward, he waited until the bandit Jesse James had diverted his attention elsewhere, and then shot him in the back. Even those who had urged and appreciated James’ death found Ford’s act unpalatable. Americans then did not have much use for cowardly back-shooters. Shooting unawares an unarmed man in the back, no matter who he might be, did not comport with the image of who we thought ourselves to be.

Times change, and so, I guess, have we. On August 4, some Bobby Ford sitting in an air-conditioned aerie on some military base somewhere in the United States pushed a button, and, thousands of miles away in Pakistan, another black-bearded bandit, Baitullah Mehsud, was blown in half, as he lay abed receiving a drip infusion for a kidney ailment. baitullah-mehsudNobody in the States seems to be in much of a ferment over this: how easily we have become accustomed to these aerial predators, though they seem most adept at transforming weddings into abattoirs. Killing a person as he receives medical treatment, that was also once considered, here in the Western world, “not cricket,” but I guess that’s over too. Besides Mehsud, the drone strike also snuffed out the lives of one of Mehsud’s wives, his father-in-law, his mother-in-law, and eight other people. But those sorts of folks we just write off, these days, with the Orwellian term “collateral damage.” Give the original Bobby Ford some credit: at least James knew Ford was in his house, and Ford didn’t compound his crime by reducing the rest of the people in the place to bits of bones and bloody jelly.


Congress Stands In Recess

He then set himself to throw off the restraints imposed by Congress. He loosed innumerable crabs and other vermin in both Houses. He had a corps of trained idiots who would rush in at a given signal and shit on the floor, and hecklers equipped with a brass band and fire He instituted continuous repairs. An army of workmen trooped through the Houses, slapping the solons in the face with boards, spilling hot tar down their necks, dropping tools on their feet, undermining them with air hammers; and finally he caused a steam shovel to be set up on the floors, so that the recalcitrant solons were either buried alive or drowned when the Houses flooded from broken water mains. The survivors attempted to carry on in the street, but were arrested for loitering and were sent to the workhouse like common bums. After release they were barred from office on the grounds of their police records.
                                                   —William Burroughs, Roosevelt After Inauguration

“His Mischief Shall Return Upon His Own Head”

Behold, he travaileth with iniquity, and hath conceived mischief, and brought forth falsehood. He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made. His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate.
                                                                                                  —Psalm 7:14-16

It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.

“Bomb” is the wrong word to use for this new weapon. It is not a bomb.Hiroshima It is not an explosive. It is a poisonous thing that kills people by its deadly radioactive reaction, more than by the explosive force it develops.

The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that, in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children. Employment of the atomic bomb in war will take us back in cruelty toward noncombatants to the days of Genghis Khan.

We were the first to have this weapon in our possession, and the first to use it. There is a practical certainty that potential enemies will develop it in the future and that atomic bombs will some time be used against us.

One of the professors associated with the Manhattan Project told me that he had hoped the bomb wouldn’t work. I wish that he had been right.
                                           —Fleet Admiral William Leahy, I Was There 


make a little noise“There are no places left on earth that are free of human caused-noise 100 percent of the time,” says acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton. “That’s history. What we now use as a measure of quiet is the noise-free interval: how long is it quiet without an intrusion?”

Not long. In 1984 Hempton identified 21 areas in the state of Washington where the “noise-free interval” was 15 minutes or more. Today there are but three: one in Olympia National Park; “the other two,” says Hempton, “are protected only by their anonymity.”

Hempton believes there remain but a dozen such places in the entire United States. In Europe there are none.

Together with John Grossman, Hempton has written One Square Inch of Silence; he also maintains a blog. Some are calling his book “the next Silent Spring.” After traveling coast-to-coast across the US, Hempton in his tome concludes that “the extinction rate for quiet places vastly exceeds the rate of species extinction.”


Make It So

MagicianWhen you go to psychic school, you will receive instruction in “mockups.” Visualizing something you would like, it is said, helps to tease it out from that ether where everything is possible, nudge it into the realm of “reality.” Conversely, allowing one’s mind to become an Eeyore-like gallery of “bad pictures” can act like a magnet, attracting negativity.

Is this stuff “true”? Who knows? Joseph Kern says: “Deciding what is true and what isn’t now seems to me a lack of modesty.”

I go with you, jefe.

It is certainly true that Important People have believed such things to be true. What John Lennon was getting at when he said “war is over if you want it.” John Wesley, founder of the Methodist variant of Christianity, counseled his acolytes: “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.” People struggling in Alcoholics Anonymous, and in its various offshoots, are instructed: “Act as if ye have faith, and faith shall be given to you.” No doubt because boatloads of creative artists have run aground on the shoals of addiction, this gentle admonition has slowly seeped into the popular culture, where it is now generally believed to be moored in scripture. David Mamet, for instance, in his script for The Verdict, allows his bibulous barrister Frank Galvin to present it as an article of the Roman Catholic faith. And so, today, many people are convinced it originally emanated from The Most High himself. And, in the circularity of such things, perhaps it did. ; ) 


What It Means To Be Free

King Of Pain

emergencyroom“Use your head, kid. There is no business today that can compete with owning a hospital.” He ticked the points off on his long fingers. “No credit for the customers, and they pay in advance or out on their ass. Next, supply and demand is constant. Third, a unique product—pain—right? A hospital is a hotel for pain, but what hotel gets those prices? Christ, the laundry alone throws off enough to pay the orderlies and the lab. And you should see the net figures on what one of those labs makes. I own twenty-seven hospitals in nineteen cities, kid, and I’d like to have fifty more.”                                                                                                                                                              —Richard Condon, Winter Kills

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When I Worked

August 2009