Archive for October, 2009


specterA little holiday music, for All Saints.

To get there, click on the “furthur.”

The creature to the right there is me.

In costume, in disguise.


Happy Birthday Tubes You

The internet turned 40 this week. Astrologically speaking, having been born on October 29, it is a Scorpio, which helps explain the intensity and nastiness it brings out in people.

ted's tubesThe first internet message was sent between the University of California in Los Angeles, and the Stanford Research Institute, some 400 miles to the north. Actually, it is more precise to say “the first attempted message sent,” as the internet crashed some two letters into that first message. Which means Bill Gates must have been involved in the thing, even way back then.

The message was supposed to read “login,” but the web surfer was only able to type “lo” before the system went down.

“Lo” is actually a good first word to go out. It sort of has a “let there be light” feel to it. In fact, my Oxford English Dictionary tells me that “lo” was once an abbreviation for “Lord.”



And A Child Shall See Them

I was interested in learning more about how young and troubled children perceive things and before filming started I showed some paintings to the children. my kingdom forThe results were very revealing and mysterious. I remember one, an Italian renaissance painting which had in the background an entire city with castles and harbours and hundreds of people weaseling around unloading ships, all sorts of things going on. I would project a slide of the picture for maybe ten seconds and then turn it off and ask the children, “What have you seen?” And four or five of them in one voice shouted, “A horse! A horse!” “Where on earth is the horse?” I said to myself. So I put the slide back on and searched. “Down there!” they all shouted. And yes, in the corner of the picture was a single horse and a single horseman with a lance. It makes me think to this very day.

—Werner Herzog, Herzog On Herzog


Jane Mayer, our correspondent from The Dark Side, has filed a valuable piece with the New Yorker on the increased use of predator drones in the War on Terra. Mayer’s piece makes four important points:

—Drones are a weapon of targeted assassination. Though traditionally disfavored or actually prohibited in this country, targeted assassination has become, with little or no searching for squirterspublic debate, the primary means by which the US wages the War on Terra.

—Drones are ineffective. Sixteen separate drone strikes targeting one individual killed more than 300 other people before the targeted man was himself killed.

—Drones create enemies. “Every one of these dead non-combatants represents an alienated family, a new revenge feud, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially even as drone strikes have increased.”

—Drones corrupt and debase our people. From 8000 miles away, Americans observe on video screens “little people scurrying”; they then push a button, and end those people’s lives. People now smugly derided, among those who kill them, as “squirters.”


La Musica: What’d I Say?

It is a convention in Anglo-American vocal music that the lyrics should make some sort of sense. The meaning may be dense, or multi-layered, but the lines should not be completely impenetrable, or flat-out imbecilic. A person of reasonable intelligence and attention should be able to suss out what is being said without herculean effort. The music reproduced below, for example, just won’t do: something more than the words “in the frog/perpen-dicular to the frog/far away from the frog/without the frog” must be imparted to the listener.

Generally the search for meaning isn’t a problem. This is particularly so because, in the popular tradition, the message is almost always both straight-forward, and the same—though usually it is at least somewhat veiled. Pop music is all about loin-joining: urging the joining of loins, celebrating the joining of loins, recalling when loins once joined. Ninety percent of all the vocal music that has ever made it onto the radio bespeaks an urgent chemical roiling that may be summarized as follows: “I feel great lust for you, and desire that we engage in sexual congress as soon as possible.” This is the sentiment that lies at the core of almost every love song . . . whether the singer is Rudy Vallee, or Ras. Of course, the veils have slipped some over the past 70 years. Thus, we have moved from the slickly sincere, buttery smooth seduction of “I Only Have Eyes For You,” to Liz Phair’s blunt, bare, matter-of-fact “HWC,” in which she cheerily chirps an ode to the outpouring of her lover’s semen.

Still, there remain those oddities, works wherein the words defy the probings of logic, intuition, or even sanity. I realized this anew recently, when, while driving, an Eric Clapton rendition of “Badge” poured forth from my radio, a song that, while still a joy to listen to, still, after all these years, makes no sense whatsoever.


A Long Way From Semper Fi

US Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North is emerging now as the Charles Manson figure in this hideous scandal that crawls like a plague of maggots on the White House.

Oliver North apparently moved into the White House basement about five years ago and turned himself into something worse than the mad Dr. Frankenstein . . . frankHe was given control of everything he could reach, from the president of Israel and secret US Army bank accounts in Switzerland to the CIA and George Bush and the home phone number of the Chinese defense minister.

Gordon Liddy was the Bad Boy in the Watergate crowd—the meanest of the mean—but all he did was commit a few burglaries, shred some papers and shoot out a street light in front of McGovern for President headquarters on Capitol Hill.

That was in the good old days, when real men were still running the White House and the president roamed the hallways at night with a beaker of gin in his fist, raving and jabbering at huge oil portraits of Abe Lincoln and John Philip Sousa while Henry Kissinger followed him around and made notes.

Gordon Liddy was cruel, but he never did anything even remotely like running a neo-Nazi shadow government out of the White House basement, skimming millions of dollars off the top of illegal arms sales to hostile foreign governments or selling weapons to a hate-crazed international terrorist like the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, who was paying North millions of dollars for TOW missiles with one handtrue north while admittedly using the other to finance the 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Lebanon, which killed nearly 300 of North’s people.

Not even Tex Colson sold bombs and rockets to crazed Persian maniacs who used them to kill his own kind—and not even Kissinger would have put his arm around him and said, “Well done.”

This is a long way from “Semper Fi,” and there is a steel bed with D-rings already reserved at Bethesda for the eventual presence of Ollie North.

—Hunter S. Thompson, Generation of Swine

Sartre’s Crabs

From Talking With Sartre: Conversations and Debates, a selection of interviews with Jean-Paul Sartre by John Gerassi, from the 1970s, to be published this fall by Yale University Press. Translated from the French by the good folks at Harper’s.

After I took mescaline, I started seeing crabs around me all the time. They followed me in the streets, into class. I got used to them. I would wake up in the morning and say, “Good morning, my little ones, how did you sleep?” I would talk to them all the time. I would say, “Okay, guys, we’re going into class now, so we have to be still and quiet,” and they would be there, around my desk, absolutely still, until the bell rang.

The crabs really began when my adolescence ended. At first, I avoided them by writing about them—in effect, by defining life as nausea—but then as soon as I tried to objectify it, the crabs appeared. nauseaAnd then they appeared whenever I walked somewhere. Not when I was writing, just when I was going someplace. The crabs stayed with me until the day I simply decided that they bored me and that I just wouldn’t pay attention to them.

I would have liked my crabs to come back. The crabs were mine. I had gotten used to them. They kept reminding me that my life was absurd, yes, nauseating, but without challenging my immortality. Despite their mocking, my crabs never said that my books would not be on the shelf, or that if they were, so what?

They left me during the war. You know, I’ve never said this before, but sometimes I miss them—when I’m lonely, or rather when I’m alone. When I go to a movie that ends up boring, or not very gripping, and I remember how they used to sit there on my leg. Of course I always knew that they weren’t there, that they didn’t exist, but they served an important purpose. They were a warning that I wasn’t thinking correctly or focusing on what was important, or that I was heading up the wrong track, all the while telling me that my life was not right, not what it should be. Well, no one tells me that anymore.

All Hail Atlantis

A 5000-year-old sunken city off the southern Peloponnese is the latest candidate for the fabled city of Atlantis. Known as Pavlopetri, and straddling some 30,000 square meters of the ocean floor, it is the first submerged Greek city found that actually predates Plato’s 360 BCE-era references to Atlantis in Critias and Timaeus.

under waterMeanwhile, in their continuing refusal to address climate change, the planet’s industrialized nations are proceeding to slip beneath the waves new cultures, new peoples, new civilizations, new Atlanti. The Polynesian island nation of Tuvalu, for instance, is expected to disappear into the Pacific Ocean in less than 50 years.

In Dubai recently opened the $1.5 billion, 113-acre Atlantis Hotel, located on the world’s largest artificial island, offering rooms for $26,000 per night. This when roughly 1 billion people on this planet go to bed hungry every night.

Welcome to our world.


Generally, Everyone Sings Incessantly

In Moscow they seized a poem by Stepan Trofimovich, written six years earlier in Berlin, in his first youth, which circulated in manuscript among two amateurs and one student. It is not lacking in poetry, or even in a certain talent; it is a strange piece, souls that would very much like to live a littlebut in those days that kind of thing was not uncommon. I find it difficult to give the plot, because to tell the truth I understand nothing of it. It is some sort of allegory, in lyrical-dramatic form, resembling the second part of Faust. The scene opens with a chorus of women, then a chorus of men, then of some powers, and it all ends with a chorus of souls that have not lived yet but would very much like to live a little. All these choruses sing about something very indefinite, mostly about somebody’s curse, but with a tinge of higher humor. Then suddenly the scene changes and some sort of “Festival of Life” begins, in which even insects sing, a turtle appears with some sort of sacramental Latin words, and, if I remember, everyone sings incessantlya mineral—that is, an altogether inanimate object—also gets to sing about something. Generally, everyone sings incessantly, and if they speak, they squabble somehow indefinitely, but again with a tinge of higher meaning. Finally, the scene changes again, and a wild place appears, where a civilized young man wanders among the rocks picking and sucking at some wild herbs, and when a fairy asks him why he is sucking these herbs, he responds that he feels an overabundance of life in himself, is seeking oblivion, and finds it in the juice of these herbs, but that his greatest desire is to lose his reason as quickly as possible (a perhaps superfluous desire). if you build it, they will comeSuddenly a youth of indescribable beauty rides in on a black horse, followed by a terrible multitude of all the nations. The youth represents death, and all the nations yearn for it. Finally, in the very last scene, the Tower of Babel suddenly appears and some athletes finally finish building it with a song of new hope, and when they have built to the very top, the proprietor of, shall we say, Olympus flees in comical fashion, and quick-witted mankind takes over his place and at once begins a new life with a new perception of things. Well, this is the poem that was found so dangerous then.

—Fyodor Dostoevsky, Demons

The Light The Heat

The Moon Is Blue

All that is created comes of water.


NASA is bombing the moon. Last Friday the Houston doubledomes smashed a two-ton rocket hull the size of a bus into the lunar surface. Four minutes later, a second probe, also hurtling through space at twice the speed of a rifle bullet, kamikazed into the moon.

leave me aloneThe bombing commenced after science-types in September announced they had determined that the lunar polar regions contain water molecules. The bombing was intended to suss out just how much water might be lurking beneath the lunar surface.

The bus-bomb attack, on a two-miles-deep crater at the moon’s south pole, was supposed to send a plume of debris into space that could be analyzed for the presence of sub-surface ice. Although party-poopers at the MMT Observatory in Arizona, which closely observed the shelling, claim not to have detected any debris plume, NASA spokespeaks pooh-poohed this naysaying. “We have the data we needed to address the question of water,” said NASA’s Anthony Colaprete.

The twin bombing, intoned a second spokespeak, is “NASA’s first step in a lasting return to the moon.”


Party To No Covenants

His weariness with things was frightening; it smacked of obliteration, a wall of anger and fatigue that felt as though it might sweep him into nothingness. Worst of all was loneliness.

There were times when he was capable of rejoicing in himself as a singularity—a man without a story, secure from tribal delusion, able to see the many levels. But at other times he felt that he might give anything to be able to explain himself. kernTo call himself Jew or Greek, Gentile or otherwise, the citizen of no mean city. But he had no recourse except to call himself an American and hence the slave of possibility. He was not always up for the necessary degree of self-invention, unprepared, occasionally, to assemble himself.

And sometimes the entire field of folk seemed alien and hostile, driven by rages he could not comprehend, drunk on hopes he could not imagine. So he could make his way only through questioning, forever inquiring of wild-eyed obsessives the nature of their dreams, their assessment of themselves and their enemies, listening agreeably while they poured scorn on his ignorance and explained the all too obvious. When he wrote, it was for some reader like himself, a bastard, party to no covenants, promised nothing except the certainty of silence overhead, darkness around. Sometimes he had to face the simple fact that he had nothing and no one and try to remember when that had seemed a source of strength and perverse pride. Sometimes it came back for him.

—Robert Stone, Damascus Gate

The Return Of Frank James

Having been pronounced dead by Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik and various assorted Western intelligence agents, diplomats, and spokespeaks, Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud convened a press conference Sunday to reveal his resurrection and promise a new campaign of mayhem.

he's backMehsud’s brother, Baitullah, was killed by cowardly back-shooters on August 4, blown in half by a missile directed from the United States, as he lay abed on a rooftop in Pakistan, receiving a drip infusion for a kidney ailment. Pakistani and US officials immediately, jubilantly announced that “fierce infighting” had commenced among Baitullah’s mates over who should succeed him. Hakimullah was several times declared dead in this alleged fighting.

Sunday Hakimullah appeared with his chief deputy, also several times described as dead, numerous top Taliban commanders, the head of the Taliban’s suicide-bomb cell, a prominent Taliban press agent, and an Al Qaeda figure with a $5 million US bounty on his head.

So much for “infighting.”


A Dieu

Yesterday it was crisp all day. Never really warmed up. Mr. Sun, just not pumping it out the way he used to. Yesterday, well, “he tried to do his best,” as Neil Young once put it, “but he could not.”

The kitten, an April child who has lived all his young life in the lambent blush of sultry California summer, huddled yesterday, befuddled and bewildered. “Not likely to get any better, not any time soon,” I told him. “This is called ‘cold.'” Attempting to burrow into my feet, he makes it clear that he doesn’t like it. “And ‘cold’ is why,” say I, squatting before the wood stove, “we have this thing called ‘fire.'” for mr. sunAnd lit the match.

Yep, Mr. Sun is in trouble, up here in the Northern Hemisphere. He’s on the long slide, heading down towards the Solstice, at which time he’ll flicker out . . . to fire up anew. Northern peoples for millennia honored the passing of the sun, and his rebirth, each year at the Winter Solstice—which is why the children of Saul, when they elected to make of Jesus a Christ, decided he had been born on Christmas Day. Even though, best evidence suggests, he was really born a Pisces.

Anyway. That’s all a couple months down the road still. I wanted to post today Van Morrison’s “Country Fair,” from Veedon Fleece, the song that most says to me: undeniable arrival of autumn. But Morrison is a crusty poopstain about allowing his stuff on the tubes: as soon as somebody puts something up, his people descend to growl that it be taken down. Morrison is an ornery cuss by nature; his view of people frolicking with his songs across the tubes is also no doubt colored by the fact that, after 50 years in the music business, he’s a near-pauper, gleefully fleeced by slimeballing “managers” who serially “managed” to pocket all of his money.

So I’m left instead with “Requiem Again,” from The Durutti Column. Pretty autumn-like. Candles a good idea, too. Burning for Mr. Sun, to help him make it through.

It Is Happening Again

Not knowing the language, they did not know the people. They did not know what the people loved or respected or feared or hated. They did not recognize hostility unless it was patent, unless it came in a form other than language; the complexities of tone and language were beyond them. Not knowing the language, the men did not know whom to trust. Trust was lethal. everything old . . . .They did not know false smiles from true smiles, or if a smile here had the same meaning it had in the States. Not knowing the people, they did not know friends from enemies. They did not know if it was a popular war, or, if popular, in what sense. They did not know if the people viewed the war stoically, as it sometimes seemed, or with grief, as it seemed other times, or with bewilderment or greed or partisan fury. It was impossible to know.

They did not know even the simple things: a sense of victory, or satisfaction, or necessary sacrifice. They did not know the feeling of taking a place and keeping it, securing a village and then raising the flag and calling it a victory. No sense of order or momentum. No front, no rear, no trenches laid out in neat parallels. No Patton rushing for the Rhine, no beachheads to storm and win and hold for the duration. They did not have targets. They did not have a cause. They did not know if it was a war of ideology or economics or hegemony or spite. On a given day, they did not know where they were, or how being there might influence larger outcomes. They did not know the names of most villages. They did not know which villages were critical. They did not know strategies. They did not know the terms of the war, its architecture, the rules of fair play. When they took prisoners, which was rare, they did not know the questions to ask, whether to release a suspect or beat on him. They did not know how to feel. . . . is new again Whether, when seeing the dead, to be happy or sad or relieved; whether, in times of quiet, to be apprehensive or content; whether to engage the enemy or elude him. They did not know how to feel when they saw villages burning. Revenge? Loss? Peace of mind or anguish? They did not know. They knew the myths about the place—tales passed down from old-timer to newcomer—but they did not know which stories to believe. Magic, mystery, ghosts and incense, whispers in the dark, strange tongues and strange smells, uncertainties never articulated in war stories, emotion squandered on ignorance. They did not know good from evil.

—Going After Cacciato, Tim O’Brien

When I Worked

October 2009