Archive for January, 2011

Surprise, Surprise

“A year ago we had over a hundred billionaires in Moscow. Today there are less than thirty. So it’s the best of times, the worst of times and sometimes it’s just the shits. It turns out we don’t know how to run capitalism. That’s to be expected. As it happens, nobody knows how to run capitalism. That was a bad surprise.”

—Martin Cruz Smith, Three Stations

Rise And Shine

Over in Britain they are reporting that Science Men have confirmed what has long been understood anecdotally: that sex in the morning can brighten your whole day.

Presumably they are publicizing this in England because, as national stereotypes go, people there are not exactly renowned for having sex. A piece reporting these findings urges Britons to consider that those who start the day by bouncing the bedsprings “are healthier and happier than those who simply opt for a cup of tea and some toast before heading out the door.”

Reaching across the Great Water to Dr. Debby Herbenick, Britons are told that “having sex in the morning releases the feel-good chemical oxytocin, which makes couples feel loving and bonded all day long.”

Oxytocin—known as “the love hormone”—is good stuff. Everybody needs a regular dose of it.

This past summer we learned that young girls can start as much of the stuff flowing by talking to their mothers over the phone as by receiving motherly hugs.

The British report does not discuss whether phone sex releases as much oxytocin as does physical sexual congress.

Dr. Herbenick also says that a morning romp “can strengthen your immune system for the day by enhancing your levels of IgA, an antibody that protects against infection. And it releases chemicals that boost levels of oestrogen, which improves the tone and texture of your skin and hair.”

Over in Belfast researchers concluded that engaging in sex three times a week can halve the risk of a heart attack or stroke. They did not specify whether said sex should occur in the morning.

There is also some indication that men may be at their best in the morning. This is because during sleep a man accumulates the testosterone he’ll use in the coming day. So, might as well use it while it’s fresh.

“From the time he wakes up,” says health journalist Gabrielle Lichtman, “he has a three-hour window when he’s brimming with peak levels.”

So, get to it. Time’s a-wastin’.

It Is Happening Again . . . Again

One boy’s eyes lay gently closed, and his long dark lashes were washed in tears, as though he had cried himself to sleep. As they bent over him they saw that he was very young, and a breeze came up from the edges of the swamp, bearing with it a scorched odor of smoke and powder, and touched the edges of his hair. A lock fell across his brow with a sort of gawky, tousled grace, as if preserving even in that blank and mindless repose some gesture proper to his years, a callow charm. Around his curly head grasshoppers darted among the weeds. Below, beneath the slumbering eyes, his face had been blasted out of sight. Culver looked up and met Mannix’s gaze. The Captain was sobbing helplessly. He cast an agonized look toward the Colonel, standing across the field, then down again at the boy, then at Culver. “Won’t they ever let us alone, the sons of bitches,” he murmured, weeping. “Won’t they ever let us alone?”

—William Styron, The Long March

So. I suppose we can leap aboard the great wheel at the time of the French misadventure in Vietnam. From which the Americans determinedly learned nothing. And so walked, eyes wide shut, into Southeast Asia, and their own prolonged Dien Bien Phu. Then came the Russians. Who belatedly admitted they had not learned from the American experience in Vietnam. And so went down in the dust of Afghanistan. Now, eternally recurring, the Americans. Again. In Afghanistan this time. Not learning from their own experience in Vietnam. And not learning from the Russians not learning in Afghanistan.

On February 7, 1968, an American major told AP’s Peter Arnett, in speaking of the decision to bomb and shell unto rubble the Vietnamese town of Ben Tre, “it became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

The U.S. military’s official explanation of why “it became necessary to destroy the town” is that it had been infiltrated by thousands of Viet Cong. Thus, their rationale went, trying to oust the VC in ground-level fighting, from street to street, would have caused a high number of American casualties and even more civilian casualties.

This month, in defending the October 2010 decision to bomb and shell and obliterate from the face of the earth (as seen in the photos above) the Afghan village of Tarok Kalache—damned as an alleged snake’s nest of Taliban sympathizers and booby-traps—American and Afghan officials have variously stated that “there was no other way,” “it was the only way I could give the men confidence to go back out,” that “the only way” to “not ‘lose momentum‘ was just to bomb the hell out of it,” and “we had to destroy them to make them safe.”

On and on and on it goes. To these eyes, getting pretty old. As Arthur Schopenhauer observed: “Whoever lives two or three generations, feels like the spectator who, during the fair, sees the performances of all kinds of jugglers and, if he remains seated in the booth, sees them repeated two or three times. As the tricks were meant only for one performance, they no longer make any impression after the illusion and novelty have vanished.”


Let Them Eat Snow

Michael Bloomberg is a very wealthy man. So wealthy, that he can buy whatever weather he likes. That is, if he doesn’t like the weather wherever he happens to be, he can simply zoom off to some other portion of the planet that features weather more to his liking.

But, alas for him, this is no longer so easy, for in recent years Bloomberg has decided that he wants to be a politician. He first bought the mayoralty of New York City; in the course of things, he decided he liked the job so much that he changed the law so that he could buy an unprecedented third term. Now, some believe, he wants to purchase the presidency. Emulating in this his fellow media mogul, Silvio Berlusconi, who has repeatedly purchased the presidency of Italy, and rhythmically shelled out whatever additional monies might be necessary to buy his way out of the various scandalous behaviors to which he is prone, and that occasionally come to public and/or judicial notice.

I say “alas for him,” because these days, being a political figure and all, Bloomberg is sometimes constrained in purchasing the weather of his choice. For instance, when mountains of snow recently buried his city, he could hardly pick up and jet off to Barbados; the hoi polloi tend not to appreciate such desertions. As Chris Christie, there in New Jersey, recently learned, to his distress.

Even though Bloomberg did remain in his city, as it was transformed temporarily into the Alps, he did receive some heat. Because it developed that although the city’s snowplows efficiently cleared those streets where Bloomberg-type humans might happen to go, whole regions of the city occupied by “the little people” saw nary a plow, for days. An artificial organism like a city needs regular transfusions: after two or three plow-less days, many of those little people were hungry and cold. Because delivery trucks were unable to transport food to neighborhood markets, and fuel suppliers could not navigate the streets to deliver combustibles.

Eventually, particularly as this was New York City, screaming commenced. Bloomberg at first appeared thoroughly befuddled: he was not only unaware that most of his city remained buried, but seemed somewhat confused as to even the basic nature and meaning of non-Bloombergian realms like “Queens” and “the Bronx.” When a resident of his city attempted to commit suicide, but was prevented from doing so, because his leap from a window was arrested by the soft cushion of towering mounds of garbage bags that had accumulated on the streets during the plow-less days, well, Bloomberg seemed perplexed by this, too.

As I proceed through my dotage, I grow increasingly convinced that, in many cases, good fiction can more fully and accurately communicate truths than mere reportage. Thus, beyond the “furthur,” I present excerpts from John Kenney’s recent take in the New Yorker on Mayor Bloomberg’s response to the snowing of New York, presented as selections from Bloomberg’s own personal diary.


My Eyes Are Slits

The Torch And The Pitchfork Have Been Passed To A New Generation

Crusty xenophobe Jean-Marie Le Pen has ceded control of his atavistic National Front party to the less-crusty xenophobe Marine Le Pen, his 42-year-old daughter.

Le Pen and his National Front are a sort of human time warp, demanding the return of the guillotine to the public square, the erection of altars to worship fetal tissue, the marginalization of all Hebrews, and expulsion of “the Moors” from France.

They are, in a word, “populists.” Of that breed of dangerous geek that some naive know-nothings on the American left currently think is A Real Good Thing. Ignoring the warning of America’s Cassandra, Robert Stone: “American populism, notorious as a pious front for venal corruption, [is] the curse of this nation, and now, empowered by American wealth and resources, a worldwide plague.”


Orwell Declares Himself A Eunuch, Is Besieged By Hedgehogs

As you complain about the gloominess of my letters, I suppose I must try to put on what Mr. Micawber called the hollow mask of mirth, but I assure you it is not easy, with the life I have been leading lately. My novel, instead of going forwards, goes backwards with the most alarming speed. There are whole wads of it that are so awful that I really don’t know what to do with them. And to add to my other joys, the fair, or part of it, has come back and established itself on the common just beyond the cinema, so that I have to work to the accompaniment of roundabout music that goes on till the small hours. You may think that this is red ink I am writing in, but really it is some of the bloody sweat that has been collecting round me in pools for the last few days.

I managed to get my copy of Ulysses through safely this time. I rather wish I had never read it. It gives me an inferiority complex. When I read a book like that and then come back to my own work, I feel like a eunuch who has taken a course in voice production and can pass himself off fairly well as a bass or a baritone, but if you listen closely you can hear the good old squeak just the same as ever.

When I said that I was going to stay in a slummy part of London I did not mean that I was going to live in a common lodging house or anything like that. I only meant that I didn’t want to live in a respectable quarter, because they make me sick, besides being more expensive. I dare say I shall stay in Islington. It is maddening that you cannot get unfurnished rooms in London, but I know by experience that you can’t, though of course you can get a flat or some horrible thing called a maisonette. This age makes me so sick that sometimes I am almost impelled to stop at a corner and start calling down curses from Heaven like Jeremiah or Ezra or somebody—”Woe upon thee, O Israel, for thy adulteries with the Egyptians” etc. etc. The hedgehogs keep coming into the house, and last night we found in the bathroom a little tiny hedgehog no bigger than an orange. The only thing I could think was that it was a baby of one of the others, though it was fully formed—I mean, it had its prickles. Write again soon. You don’t know how it cheers me up to see one of your letters waiting for me.

—George Orwell, letter to Brenda Salkeld, September 1934

Budget Cuts

Seeing as how there is a Democrat in the White House, the GOoPers have of course embarked on one of their periodic pious jihads against the federal budget deficit. The nation is awash in a sea of red ink, so ululate the GOoPers, and we will all drown like shrieking rats unless a great meat ax is taken at once to nearly every government program extant.

It is extremely telling that the GOoPers’ most consistent cry is that federal spending be rolled back to 2008 levels; the bone-ignorant racist Sean Klannity has been daily pounding that drum for months. Why 2008? Because that is the year before The Negro moved into the White House. The GOoPers explicitly want to roll back time, return to that Golden Age before the slouching coming of The Negro. That there dwells The Negro in the White House—this, these people cannot, cannot countenance. All and everything the GOoPers have said and done since the election returns came in on the evening of November 4, 2008, has sprung from the fact that they simply cannot stomach the reality of The Negro as president. And when the histories come to be written, that is what they will say.

However, in the spirit of bipartisanship, comity, and the new “civil tone,” I am now willing to assist the GOoPers in their crusade to cut federal spending. I have previously explained here why the United States does not need a military, why the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines can and should be abolished. I recognize that this may be too much for the GOoPers to swallow, all at once, and so my more modest proposal, for the purposes of this piece, is that they begin by wholly jettisoning the Marine Corps. The photo offered above, of Marines serving in Iraq, offers all the evidence that is required to prove that we simply do not need these people. That they are, in truth, and at root, Wrong, Embarrassing, and a Menace.


The Beauty Is Enough

“I would like you to go forth like your ancestor Don Quixote on the high roads of the world—”

“He was a madman, monsignor.”

“So many said of Saint Ignatius.”

“He was a fiction, my bishop says, in the mind of a writer.”

“Perhaps we are all fictions, father, in the mind of God.”

“Do you want me to tilt at windmills?”

“It was only by tilting at windmills that Don Quixote found the truth on his deathbed.” And the bishop intoned in Gregorian accents: “‘There are no birds this year in last year’s nests.'”

“It’s a beautiful phrase,” Father Quixote said, “but what did he mean by it?”

“I have never quite made it out myself,” the bishop replied, “but surely the beauty is enough.”

—Graham Greene, Monsignor Quixote

Lifestyles Of The Witch And Famous

One of the charms of the world created by J. K. Rowling in her series of Harry Potter novels is that although the young people featured therein can do all sorts of magic and stuff, most times they must contend with the same sort of miseries that afflict anyone else their age.

That is, their parents are clueless embarrassments, their teachers are fearsome weirdsmobiles, schoolwork is stupid and hard, bullies roam the halls, mindless cliques diminish the strong and destroy the weak, and their bodies start behaving strangely even as their minds decree that they must fall desperately in love with people who don’t even know they’re alive.

Meanwhile, out in the real world, the young people selected to portray the various Potter characters on film have indeed become rich and famous, but they have also found themselves as constrained and constricted as any other youngbloods. Without exception, all greeted the final wrap of the final film with great hosannas of relief.


Golden Arches

It has occasionally been said, most recently by somebody who dropped by to grouse in the comments of Alexa’s “For Just One Day” piece, that things are too dark on this blog. And—who knows?—maybe this is so. Jeebus knows we do try to be shiny happy people here. But in a world too often owned and controlled by Mr. Ha-Ha, tales of Badness will, inevitably, out.

Take the Golden Gate Bridge. Pretty in the sunlight, but pure hell to drive. I regularly negotiated the thing in the late 1980s, and was gratified to open my San Francisco Examiner one morning in January of 1987 to read that Hunter S. Thompson had aptly expressed the experience:

Driving the bridge has never been safe, but in recent years—ever since it became a sort of low-tech Rube Goldberg experiment for traffic-flow specialists—it has become a maze of ever-changing uncertain lanes and a truly fearful experience to drive. At least half of the lanes are always blocked off by flashing lights, fireballs and huge generator trucks full of boiling asphalt and crews of wild-eyed men wearing hard hats and carrying picks and shovels.

They are never gone, and the few lanes they leave open for what they call “civilian traffic” are often littered with huge red Lane Markers that look like heavy iron spittoons and cause terror in the heart of any unwitting driver who doesn’t know they are rubber . . . . Nobody wants to run over one of those things, except on purpose, and in that case you want to take out a whole stretch of them, maybe 15 or 18 in a single crazed pass at top speed with the door hanging open.

People often accused Mr. Thompson of exaggerating for effect, and even outright lying. And it is true that he frequently and unashamedly reveled in those sins. But there are no lies or whoppers in the passage above. There is only Truth.


For Just One Day

(Alexa posted this on her Never In Our Names blog for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in 2009. I think it’s worth reposting every year.)

For Just One Day

by Alexa

“And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and done in a hurry, the whole world is doomed.”

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop.”

For just one day, let there be no progress. Let us not find a new way to convert seemingly worthless pieces of earth into technological slaves that fulfill our every whim. Let us not alter the chemical composition of this substance to turn it into something new, something nature never thought of, that will come back in the fish as a poison lasting millions of years. Let us not bring the fossil fuels up from the ground so that we can burn them, their particles rising into the air to return back to us in rain water. Let us not re-engineer the rice so that we get three crops a year instead of two, but are forever dependent on the manufacturers of the rice seed, because it is a sterile, patented product now. Let us leave Mars to the science fiction writers and give up thoughts of permanent homes on the Moon.

For just one day, let us be something less than what we could be. Let us have something less than what we could have. Let us look at what is possible and say, “no thanks,” in favor of what is preferable. Let the moon be for poets who make meaning out of its reflection on a lake. Let all things be as they are born and enjoyed just for that. And may you too be loved and embraced just as you were born, needing no embellishment or proof of your worth. Let how we treat the least among us reveal a societal identity we are proud to claim, one that leaves each of us feeling safe and secure even as we rest in the pure essence of our being.

For just one day, let us not earn our keep. Let us instead be still and listen to the birds sing in the trees, watch the wind blow in the leaves, feel that same breeze against our skin, and smile at how lucky we are to be living on Earth.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction….The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

Today marks the holiday for Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. who dedicated his life to the freedom and dignity of all people, just as they were born. He was slain by an assasin’s bullet, but you still live. There remains a hope that if you dare, if you have the courage and the conviction, you may claim your life as your own and set yourself free.

This is an invitation. Be still and know that you are God, that God is all there is, and that that is good enough.

The Thing Itself


The Romanian government needs money. Now, all governments always need money—or at least that’s what they say—but Romanian government officials have now decreed their nation’s financial straits to be so dire as to require levying a 16% tax on the income earned by the nation’s witches, astrologers, and fortune-tellers.

Bad idea. For in response, a number of Romanian witches have decided to curse the government. Literally.

Some witches are turning to black pepper and yeast, in order to sow discord within the government. From the banks of the Danube River, other witches have hurled mandrake root into the waters, calling Wrongness down upon the president and his associates.

Said president, Traian Basescu, is believed to have taken to wearing purple, the royal color, in order to deflect the wrath of the witches.

Bratara Buzea, self-identified “Queen Witch,” warns that “we do harm to those who harm us. They want to take the country out of this crisis using us? They should get us out of the crisis because they brought us into it.” Buzea, who was imprisoned in 1977 for practicing withcraft by former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, promised that “my curses always work.”

Buzea is employing several sister witches in a ceremony that relies upon cat excrement and a dead dog to Bring Badness to those who would rake in her coin.


As Long As You Need Me

It was not unusual for Suzi Hileman to shuttle children in her neighborhood from one event to the next. She particularly loved finding ways to introduce young girls to smart, strong role models. So it was when she took Christina Green, a 9-year-old neighbor, to meet Representative Gab-rielle Giffords on Saturday morning.

Ms. Hileman was shot at least three times and her hip was shattered on Saturday. But the moment her ven-tilator was removed late that night, she turned to her husband and asked, “What about Christina?”

Since Saturday, Ms. Hileman has often been in a morphine-induced haze. On several occasions, Ms. Hileman has screamed “Christina! Christina!”

“I hear her, in her semi-conscious ramblings,” says her husband, “screaming out, ‘Christina! Christina! Let’s get out of here!'”

His wife and Christina were waiting in line to speak to Giffords when the shooting began.

Bill Hileman said: “Suzi was holding her hand trying to get away, and just—pop, pop, pop.”

“She keeps talking about how they had this incredibly tight grip on each other” when the shots began, he said. “She told me that they were almost breaking each other’s hands.”

Mr. Hileman said that he saw Christina’s father on Monday for the first time since the shooting and that for 10 minutes they said nothing as they simply cried together.

John Green remembers making his daughter an omelet with bacon and cheese for breakfast Saturday morning and kissing her goodbye as the neighbor took her to the event to meet Giffords.

The last thing Christina said to her dad: “I love you daddy.”

John Green said the reality of the loss struck him early Sunday. “There’s gonna be a lot of those kind of moments—just waking up,” he said. “She comes up and says, ‘Daddy, it’s time to get up.’ And she didn’t do that this morning.”

Beyond Rangoon is a 1995 film from John Boorman that concerns a young American woman, emptied by grief and loss, who finds herself in Burma in August of 1988, just as the government of that country is preparing to engage in one of its periodic spasms of emptying thousands of its people of their lives. It’s a hard film. It was hard to make: no government wanted to cooperate with it, and several tried to block it. It’s hard to watch: the more perceptive critics appreciated it, but nobody really wanted to see it; the film made money only in France. The second time I saw it, the woman I was with, after it was over, walked out of the theater, sat on the curb of the parking lot, and just cried. It’s that kind of movie. Like life.


The Story Of O

When I recently wrote here about the folks of Brasstown, North Carolina, who celebrate the New Year by dropping a live possum in a plexiglass cage from the roof of a gas station, this blog’s faithful reader, possum, mentioned in the comments that he possesses a rich trove of photographs of the marsupial, pictured at work and at play.

Those photos have now been vouchsafed to me, and I am going to reproduce some of them here. Because it is wise, every now and again, to spend some time considering creatures that are not human beings.

Accompanying the photos are two texts that possum authored for the Shriek Shack, back in 2006, long before the level of shrieking there became truly unsane. The first piece describes the cruel and unusual uses to which contemporary Florida politicians put possums. The second recounts young possum’s lesson from his father on the necessity of consuming what one brings to earth.


Shakin’ All Over

Science Men, it must be acknowledged: relentless they are, in their ceaseless quest for knowledge.

Take wet dogs. It is Known that any Normal Person, when confronted with a wet dog, stands clear. Because a wet dog is totally self-absorbed. Interested only in shaking that water free, regardless of who all and sundry might be splattered or drenched.

But a Science Man moves in Closer. Because he’s there to Study. To determine, for example, if the physics by which a dog clears water might be useful in improving the efficiency of washing machines.


Calling All Angels

The Westboro Baptist Church is one of the ugliest embodiments of extremist Calvinism extant. Headquartered out of—surprise me—Kansas, Westboro specializes in despoiling funerals. Church faithful travel the land, disrupting the interments of soldiers, public figures, and persons of differing faiths, broadcasting their message that the deceased were deliberately killed by Our Lord, as an expression of His rage at the United States permitting itself to be owned and controlled by “the homosexual agenda.”

Earlier this week, Westboro announced that it would set up shop at the Thursday funeral services for Christina Taylor Green, one of six people killed last Saturday in Tucson, Arizona, by the scrambled man who sought to assassinate Congressmember Gabrielle Giffords.

In response, the Arizona Legislature today enacted emergency legislation, subsequently signed by the governor, that prohibits “protests,” within 300 feet of any funeral, and for an hour both before and after such a service.

Whether the Westboro folks will now, as they have in the past, seek an injunction debarring enforcement of such a statute, is at present unknown.

But it really doesn’t matter. Because before the legislature even acted, the people of Tucson had already settled upon another way to deflect the Westboreans. And there is nothing at all the Westboro folks can do about this one. Because the people of Tucson have enlisted the aid of angels.


First Communion

Christina Taylor Green of Tucson, Arizona, was, according to her uncle, Greg Segalini, “real special and real sweet.” She liked ballet and she liked baseball. She was nine years old.

When just a baby, Christina had been featured in a book called Faces of Hope: Babies Born On 9/11. This was the work of Christina Pisera Naman, whose own child, Trevor, had been born on September 11, 2001.

Wondering why her son had been born on that date, Naman concluded that “babies come when they are supposed to come.” And:

“I began to realize my baby—and all of the ones who joined him being born on that day—had a very special purpose. They were born to provide life, hope and goodness to a world on a day when it needed it most.”

Naman’s book opens with a quote from Carl Sandburg: “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.” And in her book Naman expresses kind and gentle hopes for the babies pictured therein:

I hope that you find good in all people.

I hope you catch snowflakes on your tongue.

I hope you always have more than you need and share your plenty.

I hope you are someone’s dream come true.

Nissan’s book features 50 babies, one from each of the 50 states, each born on September 11, 2001. Christina Taylor Green, born on that date at 12:50 p.m. local time, represents Maryland.

On Christina’s page in the book, page 42, may be found the following hopes:

I hope you know all the words to the Star Spangled Banner and sing it with your hand over your heart.

I hope you jump in rain puddles.

There is some significance in the fact that Christina appears on page 42. Because Douglas Adams, in his Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy series, identifies “42” as “The Answer To The Ultimate Question Of Life, The Universe, And Everything.”

Now, I don’t think that the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner” could contain that answer: too parochial, too grisly.

Jumping in rain puddles, though: it’ll do.

The words that must best characterize Christina’s life cannot be those found in “The Star-Spangled Banner.” They are, instead, those words that form the hard core of Oscar and Lucinda, by way of the Book Of Common Prayer:

Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.

Because Christina was interested in politics, you see. She had just been elected to the student council at her school. And a neighbor thought Christina might be interested in meeting her Congressmember, Gabrielle Giffords. Who Saturday was greeting constituents outside a Safeway supermarket, as part of her “Congress on Your Corner” attempts to reach out to the people of her district, who in November narrowly voted to return her to the House of Representatives for a third term.

Though Sarah Palin had brought the full of her Tea Party might against her, targeting Giffords as one of 20 members of the House bullseyed on a map Palin posted to her Facebook page, where they were marked for elimination by way of the crosshairs of a gunsight.

Christina Saturday was eager to go, to meet Congressmember Giffords. For Christina believed in her country, in the possibility of effecting change through it. And so she accompanied her neighbor to Safeway.

Journeying Saturday to Safeway too was a disordered young man who had scrambled in his mind the emanations of Sarah Palin and Ron Paul and Art Bell and the Tea Party and the “constitutionalists,” and who believed that he had been granted thereby a license to kill. And so he set out Saturday for Safeway. To put a bullet through Giffords’ brain.

And when he had done that, he put more bullets into those gathered around Giffords. One of those gathered around Giffords was Christina. And so the assassin shot Christina in the heart. And Christina died.

Cut down, like a flower; she fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.

Christina—her name she shares with Christ, an earlier innocent slain—had recently received First Communion. She will never receive another. Her blood poured forth, her body consumed; still, as ever, still we are not saved.

Go well, mi ballerina.

Making Friends, For The World To See

Things were not going well, for Simone Back, 42, of Brighton, England. A relationship had gone wrong, and she was pretty broken up about it.

But at least she had friends to fall back on. Some 1,048 of them, in fact. For that is how many people had identified themselves as her friend on Facebook.

So when, at 10:53 p.m. local time on Christmas Day, Back logged on to her Facebook page and posted “Took all my pills be dead soon bye bye everyone,” you would expect that that thousand or so friends would move to abort her suicide, comfort her, convince her to remain in life.

Nah. They let her die.


Utah Must Be Stopped

One of the legal secretaries journeyed to Utah for the holidays, attending for a week a family reunion. She returned to our shores bearing a vicious plague, which is now Captain Tripsing through all and sundry.

I awoke with it this morning, transformed into a veritable fountain of phlegm. I hate years where I can’t even get through the first five days without being felled by some noxious non-wellness.

I know that this plague is from Utah, because I feel a powerful need to stockpile food, accumulate nine wives, and commune with the Angel Moroni.

In an attempt to exorcise this Evil, I am turning to Randy Newman’s immortal Utah chant, “The Beehive State.”

Jeebus save us.

Desperately Needing Something

In the early 1980s the chattering magpies of the editorial staff sat at desks set before windows looking down from an uneasy height at the sorry mess across the street below.

The sorry mess marked the shuttered remains of a C&W roadhouse, which, at high tide, had offered a bordello in the basement.

Our northern California valley burg was then in the process of moving from an oakball town with a college in it, to a college town with oakballs on the periphery. The transition wasn’t always a smooth one, and occasionally the gearshift got stuck, like with this pile of abandoned multi-story iron scaffolding, festooned with raggedy tarps, flapping tattered banners, discarded rusting tools, and cans partially drained of paint, nails, and various unidentifiable but pretty darn scarifying substances.

It’s what we looked at, every day at work.

One day the editor, exercising the power of the press to use the pages of the newspaper to declaim about whatever might peeve him personally—a power today enjoyed by bloggers worldwide—instructed the staff photographer to snap a photo of the decaying cross-street pile as viewed from his window seat, then slapped the shot into the paper, above a caption titled “This Is Ugly,” and a short screed expressing Outrage that whomsoever had once set to work “rehabbing” the bar/bordello, had clearly abandoned the project long ago, yet left behind aesthetically displeasing detritus that daily soiled our eyes and roiled our minds.

“This Is Ugly” proved something of a success. It developed, as it usually does, that we weren’t the only ones offended by this display of the decline and fall of Western civilization. Readers too had remarked on The Embarrassing Pile, but figured nothing could be done. However, one night, during the wee hours, Something was: somebody swooped by and removed the gunk. The erstwhile roadhouse was reduced to just another shuttered storefront, like the two dozen or so others scattered then throughout the downtown.

Today, 30 or so (egads) years later, all is or more or less shiny happy there: the top floor now contains a shop that passes off doughballs as bagels, and a shop that has something to do with juice. In the basement, however, where the sporting gals once labored, is a truly fine Thai restaurant, its unisex bathroom featuring one of the better pieces of art in the town: a woodblock print of eight Thai women contentedly arranged in a carnal daisy chain.

Meanwhile, back there in the early 1980s, “This Is Ugly” enjoyed a brief but fruitful life as a recurring featurette, after having been rechristened “This Is Wrong,” since that moniker seemed more inclusive of the sort of things we magpies encountered, as we set about Passing Judgement on what passed before our eyes. It was kind of fun, playing at Yahweh, or the Khmer Rouge—identifying and photographing Wrong, expounding upon its Evil. If memory serves, the last person, place, or thing to appear above the “This Is Wrong” head was Ronald Reagan, then busily dismantling the United States. This was shortly before the newspaper was seized by Normal People—masquerading as brethren “progressives”; my, how things do not change—and we were sent out into the wilderness of exile, there to make our way as best we might.

This all recurred to me when I ran across this story, for “This Is Wrong” was my prime directive upon discovering that a clot of yee-haws in a place called Brasstown, North Carolina, think that The Thing To Do is to usher in New Year’s Day by lowering from the roof of a gas station, in a plexiglass cage, a live possum, as they chant “five, four, three, two, one!”



Darrell Issa, the ten-term California Congressmember selected by the Republican Party to chair the House Government and Oversight Committee in the 112th Congress, is a racist.

Issa, shown in the photo to the left choking back vomit, typically his reaction when a black person enters his field of vision, was invited Sunday onto CNN’s State of the Union, to expound upon his preposterous remark to the racist hate-show host Runt Limprod that Barack Obama is “one of the most corrupt presidents of modern times.”

Issa, a deeply stupid person, who is, naturally, the wealthiest man in Congress, having become richer than Midas via deafening us all with car alarms featuring his voice commanding “please step away from the car,” immediately “clarified” his remark, stating that it is not Obama himself who is personally corrupt, but rather his administration.

Issa, who has promised to convene “seven hearings a week, times 40 weeks” to investigate Obama administration “corruption” that exists only in his otherwise empty racist head, then proceeded to drag his knuckles through a tangled soliloquy in which Obama became somehow responsible for the $1 trillion in TARP funds that Congress allocated during the reign of George II. Finally finding his footing, Issa concluded by boldly letting his racist flag fly:

“[W]hat happened was we gave President Bush [the money and] President Obama inherited $800 billion worth of walking-around money with no guidelines.”

“Walking-around money” has in recent years become a favored term in the racist rightist Republican lexicon, referencing petty bribes supposedly dispensed by white overseers in big-city Democratic party machines to their black street puppets—often said to be ministers, thugs, and pimps—in order that they might round up “the darkies” and shepherd them to the polls to vote for Dems. The racist Limprod, as an example, invariably invokes “walking-around money” when referencing such personages as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and any and all black officeholders in major American cities.

Darrell Issa is a racist asshole. In describing TARP funds as “walking-around money” in the pocket of President Obama, he is basically using racist asshole code to accuse Obama of being a pettily corrupt street pimp.

Issa was speaking to the racist assholes who form the core of the Republican Party, who will no doubt chortle mightily over the phrase in the coming days, via such foghorns as Limprod and Sean Klannity. He was also speaking to the not insignificant number of racists in the Democratic Party. Although of course the latter piously deny there is any racism among them. Come to think of it, the Republicans routinely issue the same sort of denials. In this, at least, the two are brothers in arms.

When I Worked

January 2011