Archive for July 6th, 2010

On Honey-Dew Hath Fed

Kublai was different from other Mongols in the pleasure he took at traveler’s tales. He encouraged people from all over the world to come call on him, tell him where they were from and what the customs were like there. He liked to hear about their families, too, and the more extended, the better. And Kublai had a whole wing of his palace out aside for hospitality to strangers. This wing was arguably the world’s first luxury hotel where people were welcome without a reservation and without money. Just a story.

There were beggars in the Khan’s palace as well as ambassadors. But they were not ordinary beggars. In the Khan’s estimation, a beggar was one with an insufficiency of stories. All the beggars in the Khan’s palace were persons who, for one reason or another, were or could be considered storydead. The Khan supported these unfortunates as a public charity.

Not only were there luxurious rooms for travelers, there was also the special wing for the wandering spirits of poets and storytellers. For it was the Khan’s belief that the spirits of poets live forever, in a special celestial kingdom that had been constructed for them alone by the Powers That Be. And these spirits sometimes went a-wandering back to the Earth, for poets draw inspiration from revisiting the scenes of their former triumphs and defeats. And in their peregrinations around their old-time countrysides and city streets, sometimes these spirits were susceptible to outside influences. At such times, the Khan believed, a man could perform a certain ritual, lay out certain offerings, and these would attract such spirits, and they would come to the Khan’s palace, for they knew they were welcome. Once there, they would find all the things that a spirit might crave: bits of soft fur, shiny shards of mirror, pieces of amber, antique silver coins, curiously colored pebbles. These were some of the things that were said to give pleasure to the spirits of dead poets, and the Khan had collected many of them. These were laid out in the chambers where the spirits were invited to visit. Incense was burned around the clock in these chambers, and candles were kept lit. And sometimes, a spirit would come to such a place, enjoy the feast of memory that had been laid out for him, and, when he left, deposit a dream in the Khan’s head as a gift.

Due to this, the Khan had many remarkable dreams, for he had been visited by spirits telling of savage white whales, of conspiracies in the Roman forum, of great armies moving across a frozen white landscape. He had dreamed of journeying through a dark wood, gone from the path direct. He had dreamed of choosing between a lady and a tiger. Thus the Khan piled up a treasure of stories and dreams by day and by night, until he no longer knew which was which, and he worked on his own secret dream, which was to be an audience for dead poets after he had left this life.

—Roger Zelazny and Robert Sheckley, If At Faust You Don’t Succeed


Mark Of Kane

Consider the cornucopia of excess, decadence, death threats, betrayal, greed, lust, sloth, jealousy, socialites and servants, psychic fraud, champagne, cocaine, vengeance, and deeply disturbing karmic manifestations that characterized the Palm Beach custody trial of Peter and Roxanne Pulitzer.

The New York Post‘s Pulitzer trial headlines have been the true summa of the art, a dazzling, shameless display of virtuosity topped, of course, by the justly famed:


For those of you too preoccupied by more serious matters to have paid attention to the story so far, the Post offered this Cast of Characters list along with the trumpet story:

—Peter Pulitzer: 51, grandson of newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer. His wife says he committed incest with his daughter when she was a teenager and has smuggled drugs.

—Roxanne Pulitzer: 31, his attractive wife who seeks a divorce. She admits she routinely went to bed with a three-foot trumpet as part of a bizarre psychic ritual. Her husband says she had lesbian affairs and committed adultery.

—Jacqueline Kimberly: wife of James Kimberly, who controls the Kimberly-Clark Kleenex tissues fortune. Pulitzer said she had an affair with his wife. Mr. Kimberly denies the claim, saying the Pulitzers are out for publicity.

What’s wonderful about this story is how provocative it is on so many levels of discourse. The Hamiltonian implications are obvious. To anyone who’s read The Federalist Papers, the Pulitzer marriage is a maimed confederation, the exact embodiment of Hamilton’s dark vision of the strife, jealousy, anarchic self-destructive collapse that would be the fate of the states under the Articles of Confederation should they not adopt the binding union the new constitution offered.

On a less overtly political level the Pulitzer marriage seemed to be a contribution to the debate over the redemptive possibilities of romantic tragedy. “The road of excess,” Blake claimed, “leads to the Palace of Wisdom.” After the evidence of the Pulitzer trial, it’s impossible not to revise that to: “The road of excess leads to further excess.” Or, the road of excess leads to the driveway of the Pulitzer place in Palm Beach.

But there’s another more provocative question raised by the Pulitzer trial, a genuine mystery: Just what is it about these newspaper heirs anyway? Sure, Patty Hearst was kidnapped, but did she have to turn into machine-gun-toting Tania on top of that? When the Scripps-Howard heir in Colorado started to snort cocaine, why did he have to develop a full $6000-a-week habit and make a public spectacle of himself? And then there was the Knight-Ridder heir who got fatally involved with a homosexual slasher to the tune of sensational headlines. Were the Pulitzers jealous of the attention, the front-page headlines, the circulation boosts the other heirs were grabbing? Or is there some darker, almost biblical mark of Kane being meted out over generations to the pulp-sensation tycoons: their children recycled into the tragic headlines they built their empires on? Could it have been the spirit of old Joe Pulitzer himself speaking through the trumpet in Roxanne’s bed, urging her on to headline-making exploits? Or, darker thought: might it have been William Randolph Hearst carrying on his vendetta with the Pulitzers from beyond the grave?

—Ron Rosenbaum, The Secret Parts of Fortune

The Killer Awoke Before Dawn

Today, July 6, is George II’s 64th birthday. His mission accomplished, he no longer has to pretend to be a cowboy, and so has relocated from his Potemkin ranch in Crawford to a sumptuous home in Dallas, selected by wife Laura. “The Lump” runs things now, payback for the eight years she suffered in the White House, paralyzed by drink and narcotics, while George set about running down the world.

There runs through the life of George II a consistent thread of inflicting pain on other living creatures. While still a child, he delighted in stuffing frogs with firecrackers, and blowing them up. In college, he branded people, shrugging it off as “only a cigarette burn.” Serving as Governor of Texas, he publicly mocked a woman whom a week later he would put to death.

The presidency presents many oppor-tunities to inflict pain, and George II took full advantage of them. Informed by his CIA director, George Tenet, that War on Terra prisoner Abu Zubaydah was grievously mentally ill, of no intelligence value whatsoever, George II ordered that he be tortured.

“I said he was important,” Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. “You’re not going to let me lose face on this, are you?” “No sir, Mr. President,” Tenet replied. Bush “was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth,” Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, “Do some of these harsh methods really work?” Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a waterboard, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety—against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, “thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each target.” And so, Suskind writes, “the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered.”

It was after reading this that I decided that henceforth, whenever George II made an appearance anywhere, instead of being greeted with the traditional “Hail To The Chief,” he should instead be confronted with The Doors’ “The End.”

the killer awoke before dawn
he put his boots on
he took a face from the ancient gallery
and he walked on down the hall

So we’ll play “The End” for ol’ George, here on his birthday. In two parts, because that’s the way they do it on YouTube.

I’m pretty sure George II never saw Apocalypse Now. If he did, he surely didn’t get it. After accomplishing his mission, Willard, presented with the chance to reign as did Kurtz, continue the carnage, embrace the horror, lays down his weapon—causing all of Kurtz’ people to lay down theirs—takes American youth by the hand, gets back on the boat, and goes quietly home, calling in airstrikes on nobody.

George II chose a different path. He became Kurtz cubed.

When I Worked

July 2010
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