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.

When I Worked

October 2009
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