Archive for March, 2011

Making The Picture Clearer

Posted just because I think this is one of the most creative melanges of music, words, and imagery that I’ve stumbled across over on YouTube in quite some time. And Clem Kadiddlehopper II lets it through, too. For now, anyway. : /

Orwell Slags Shaw

Forgive me for not writing for so long, but I have been as usual submerged with work & in the intervals trying to break the back of my garden.

Have you seen any more of your friends who worship Bernard Shaw? Tell them that Shaw is Carlyle & water, that he ought to have been a Quaker (cocoa and commercial dishonesty), that he has squandered what talents he may have had back in the ’80s in inventing metaphysical reasons for behaving like a scoundrel, that he suffers from an inferiority complex towards Shakespeare, & that he is the critic, cultured critic that Samuel Butler prayed to be delivered from. Say that Shaw’s best work was one or two early novels & one or two criticisms he wrote for the Saturday Review when Harris was editor, & that since then it has got steadily worse until its only function is to console fat women who yearn to be highbrows. Say also that he has slandered Ibsen in a way that must make poor old I turn in his grave. Also that Shaw cribbed the plot of Pygmalion from Smollett & afterwards wrote somewhere or other that Smollett is unreadable.

—George Orwell, letter to Brenda Salkeld, March 1933

Good News

Adesina and the babalawo were now settling the fee for the consultation. The babalawo wanted a lot: five hundred pounds, a thousand dollars. Adesina, used to this kind of outrage, remained calm, and began to beat him down. He settled in the end for something much smaller.

I now had to ask my question.

I had it ready. I asked, “Will my daughter get married?”

The babalawo was thrown by the question. He said, “I thought only black people had such problems.”

But he was willing to give an opinion. He lifted the dirty exercise book and showed what it covered. Sixteen cowry shells; two tiny gourds tied together with a piece of string, the gourds not much bigger than marbles. The cowry shells had been much handled. I had known cowry shells to be grey, brown in the interstices in the middle, and dirty-looking; but these shells, from the handling they had received, were very smooth and wonderfully white.

He passed the shells to me, saying, “Blow on them, give your name, and throw them on the table.”

I did as he asked. He took up the tiny gourds and muttered some incantation. After a while the gourds began to swing from side to side. That meant no. If the gourds had swung out and then back, it would have meant yes.

The babalawo said, “The girl is not going to get married. You have many enemies. To break their spells we will have to do many rituals. They will cost money, but the girl will get married.”

Everyone in the room was quite excited. Adesina, his brother, the guide: the babalawo had them all in the palm of his hand.

I said, “But what he’s told me is good. I don’t want the girl to get married.”

—V.S. Naipaul, The Masque Of Africa

Despertar Al Alba

In the cosmology of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, the “Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything” is, as determined by a computer that devotes more than 7 million years to the task, the number 42.

The computer then informs its programmers that the precise nature of the ultimate question, however, is still unknown. At the urging of the agitated programmers, the computer then agrees to construct an even more sophisticated computer, subsequently known as Earth, which, after 10 million years or so, will come up with this question, to which the answer is 42.

Unfortunately, the Earth is destroyed by Vogon workmen, constructing a new Hyperspace Bypass, about five minutes before the question is due to arrive.

Douglas Adams, who came up with this delightful puckish nonsense, always vowed that there was nothing special about his selection of the number 42 as the “Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything.” He consistently maintained variations around the claim that he decided the Ultimate Answer “should be something that made no sense whatsoever—a number, and a mundane one at that,” that he lit upon 42 “at random,” and that 42 is “a completely ordinary number, a number not just divisible by two but also six and seven . . . the sort of number that you could without any fear introduce to your parents.”

But you know: he could be lying. Because it is a fact that brains lie all the time, and Adams was, so far as is known, an Earth creature, and one with a brain. So even if he was not consciously lying, his brain could have been lying to him.

I’m pretty sure now that this is the case—that Adams, or his brain, knew what the number 42 represented, and employed it as The Answer intentionally. I believe this because of what I’ve found in The White Goddess.


The Sermon At The Stelae

“When I was preparing to be whatever it is I’ve become I was sent to work in a hospital. Comfort the dying. I remember the mortuary there—it was very Victorian. Neo-Renaissance. In the foyer there was an inscription in Latin. ‘Let smiles cease,’ it said, ‘let laughter flee. This is the place where the dead help the living.'”

The older man in the group got to his feet muttering.

“Bummer!” he shouted at Egan. His heavy face grew red with anger; he raised cupped hands to amplify his voice, and screamed. “Bummer!”

“I’ll describe a picture to you,” Egan told his congregation. “I’m sure you’re familiar with it. A group of men are standing over a pile of corpses. They’re smiling and they have guns. Some of them have tied handkerchiefs across their faces but not to give themselves the raffish air of banditti—because of the smell.”

The priest wiped his mouth with his sleeve and took a cautious step forward. “That’s the big picture, children. That’s how it is now. That’s why you see that picture every week in all the magazines. You know—there are variations, the people, and the uniforms come in different colors, but it’s always the same picture.”

Around them the silences and the darkness deepened. Ramon nuts pattered to the ground through a web of leafy branches, making a sound like soft rain.

“Now why,” Egan asked, “are we made to see this picture week after week until it’s imprinted on the backs of our eyes and we have it before us dreaming and waking?”

No one answered him.

“Will these dead help the living?” he asked. “Are we to seek the living among the dead? What does it mean?”


Save Spike Lee

I am worried about Spike Lee.

It is well-known that Lee has a serious basketball jones; he is wholly unable to restrain himself from attending more New York Knicks games than is even humanly possible. Now, it is probable that Lee’s uncommon devotion to the sport helped spark his best film, He Got Game. And it is further true that almost every American male suffers from some sort of sports disability; I myself am not immune. But I have long suspected that Lee’s fixation is something that is edging—or maybe galloping—into 12-step territory.

And now, today, we are presented with photographic evidence that Lee’s Knicks addiction has progressed to the point where he is no longer competent to dress himself like a sane human being. Pictured there to the right is Lee with Something on his head. This is a Something that he has taken to wearing when attending Knicks games. What is this Something? No one knows. But it is so totally and completely Wrong that there really aren’t any words for it.

Can’t someone help him? We need this man. Anyone who can craft movie moments like those below, we need.

Jesus Has A Bad Day

It was as though they were sluggish oxen who refused to move. The world was a cart to which they were yoked; Jesus goaded them on, and they shifted under the yoke but did not budge. Looking at them, Jesus felt drained of all his strength. The road from earth to heaven was a long one, and there they were, motionless.

—Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ

You’re Looking At The Heads

The heads. You’re looking at the heads. Sometimes he goes too far.

—Apocalypse Now

In January of 2007 I was pretty rough on the Germans, when reports emerged that German troops in Afghanistan had festooned their vehicles with Nazi emblems, mounted skulls on the hoods of their patrol vehicles, pressed their weapons to the heads of Afghan boys to laughingly enact “mock executions,” and photographed one among them extending his penis towards the opened jaw of a human skull.

This skull the Germans apparently snatched from an area where Afghan villagers obtained their clay, and with it they had quite the party—playing with it, posing with it, photographing one another in skull-fondling frolic. Those soldiers who declined to engage in skullfucking were reportedly excoriated as “wimps”; the practice justified on the ground that “it’s hard on the nerves when you’re constantly confronted with people from your own army or the allies getting hurt or dying.”

I later opined that “all this confirm[s] the sense of Normal People that Germans in uniform should not be allowed beyond their own country’s borders for, oh, another 1000 years or so.”

Now, one of the publications that broke the story of the German skullfucking, Der Spiegel, has published photographs that American soldiers in Afghanistan snapped of themselves, posing with the bodies of civilians they had deliberately killed. Although the publication printed but three of these pictures, it is said that, with the typical American penchant for excess, these louts compiled and kept more that 4000 war-porn stills and videos: there are “also entire collections of pictures of other victims that some of the defendants were keeping.”


Wind In The Willows

In A Flag For Sunrise, Robert Stone’s earnest expatriate nun, Sister Justin, the once and future May Feeney, attempts to explain herself thusly: “When I was a little girl I was riding my pony up along the wire one time—and I saw this thing coming down the road and I couldn’t tell what it was. So I stopped and got down and watched and what I saw was an enormous house being pulled along by a truck. It was a big old farmhouse, and it was set on a flatbed that took up the whole road, and these old boys were pulling it along taking it somewhere else and all of them looking so tickled with what they were doing. Tickled at me looking at them. I was so thrilled! I couldn’t believe that men could move a house. It was like they were moving a mountain. It made me feel proud. It made me feel like people could do anything in the world if they put their mind and their strength to it.”

I had something somewhat similar happen to me once, though the lesson I drew was different. I was driving south on a four-lane highway, two lanes running in each direction. Coming along the highway headed north, topping a rise, were two diesel trailers moving a mobile home. The home was a double-wide, with one half carried on one diesel trailer, and one half on the other. The two trailers, as they crested and then descended the rise, one in each lane, assumed a position that, relative to me, seemed for a few fleeting seconds to create the illusion that the two parts had reformed into a whole—that the entire house, as it moved along the highway at high speed, had reassembled itself, and was now dancing along the road whole. I saw the two halves come together, become a whole, ride the highway like that for a few breath-taking seconds, then start slowly coming apart again. I can still picture it. What I took from that was: “once in a while you can get shown the light/in the strangest of places/if you look at it right.”


Rumor has it there was a very large moon in the sky last night—a so-called “supermoon.”

I cannot speak to the truth of this, because they do not have moons where I live. It has rained here for something like 80 straight days, so all I know for sure about the sky is that there are clouds in it, and that these clouds dump rain—all day, every day; all night, every night—as well as hail, sleet, snow, lightning, and ice pellets.

I remember the moon. And the sun. And the stars. But I have no way of knowing whether they’re still up there.

I once wanted to move to the coast of Oregon, where it rains all the time. Now that I am older and wiser, and so would prefer a tropical clime, Mr. Ha-Ha has decided to move Oregon here. Very funny.

There is a memorable passage in Ken Kesey’s Sometimes A Great Notion wherein an inattentive Oregon homesteader, after a day of work, neglects to slap the lid onto a can of nails. The next morning he finds that all the nails have rusted into uselessness, overnight.

It’s like that here now. Yesterday the young’un cat spent too much time outdoors; when he finally came in, I saw that moss had begun growing on his back. Later, as he warmed himself, a toadstool sprouted from his forehead.

I am trying to complete posts on both Fukushima and Libya, but the mere thought of the effort remaining drains me like congestive heart failure; I am beginning to doubt whether these stories will ever be completed in my lifetime. So instead I’m idling, mooning about missing moons, luluing about feline fungal growth.

Actually, I knew the moon was there, even though I couldn’t see it. Because it was educing in me moon music. Somewhere in the night I was drawn to my fellow Cowboy Junkies, and “Blue Moon Revisited,” and I have been more or less eddying there ever since.

I was somewhat astonished to discover that someone had within mere hours of the event posted to the intertubes a video of last night’s supermoon set to “Blue Moon Revisited.” And I was completely exasperated that the imps and munchkins employed by YouTube had already secured it behind the Maginot Line, even though the thing had been up for less than five hours.

The live version embedded below is anyway superior; the problem with this one, though, is that it is marred in several places by text references, particularly those invoking the Elvi. Well, it is as it always is: we work in the dark; we do what we can. And sometimes it’s so dark, we work without a moon. : /

Orwell Has No Money

The money situation is becoming completely unbearable. Wrote a long letter to the Income Tax people pointing out that the war had practically put an end to my livelihood while at the same time the government refused to give me any kind of job. The fact which is really relevant to a writer’s position, the impossibility of writing books with this nightmare going on, would have no weight officially. Towards the government I feel no scruples and would dodge paying the tax if I could. Yet I would give my life for England readily enough, if I thought it necessary. No one is patriotic about taxes.

—George Orwell, personal diary, August 9, 1940

The Eggman’s New Jones

The Eggman has always relied on dubious sourcing. It will be remembered that he made his bones during America’s unutterably insane 18-month Scarlet Letter flashback over some semen on a dress: The Eggman then drank deeply from the poisoned well of serial fabricator Lucianne Goldberg, and masticated morsels spoon-fed him by love-struck “elves” in Inspector Kenneth Javert’s office, who hoped thereby to secure the affections of their would-be inamoratas, the righty sirens Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham.

More recently, The Eggman has avidly enabled such merchants of mendacity as Andrew Breitbart and James O’Keefe. That these men target people The Eggman doesn’t like, that is what is important, not whether their aim is true. The end is all; never mind the means. As I stated here once, when I suppose I must have been in a particularly cranky mood:

The Drudge Report is a fetid sewer of lies. Owned and operated by an illiterate closeted troglodyte known as The Eggman, its sole purpose is to sound as carny barker for the seamiest elements of the Republican Party. The truth is not in it. Those who rely on it as anything other than a running indicator of the current obsessions of the racists and retroverts who infest the rightbent precincts of this nation, are fools.

The Eggman is a profoundly—even proudly—ignorant and duplicitous person. He cannot spell, as is often evidenced in his headlines, and has no qualms at all about inscribing in those headlines assertions that are simply lies. And yet it is said that “[t]he media machine of Drudge and his conservative colleagues grows more powerful by the day,” and that “[t]he blunt truth is, Matt Drudge has probably had more influence deciding the political narrative in Washington than any individual in America[.]”

I have been waiting, over recent weeks, for The Eggman to start taking heat for his new-found fondness for offering links to websites maintained by Alex Jones. For Jones is beyond even the likes of Goldberg and Breitbart and O’Keefe and Inspector Javert’s elves. Jones is a genuine crackpot, a fervent 9/11-twoofer, a crazed basher of Jews. Put it this way: when you’re Charlie Sheen, and your mind is melting down like a tsunamied nuclear reactor, Alex Jones is the media guy you go to, there to air your “views.”

But so far: not a peep. The Eggman, it is becoming apparent, will be forgiven anything.


When Irish Eyes Are Smiling

“I think the music is melancholy to a large extent, especially if you come out of the folk tradition. You know, if you grow up on a diet of murder ballads, and people being carried off by the fairies, and all that kind of stuff, you know there’s a certain sadness in the music. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a sad person; it doesn’t mean that you wallow in darkness. It just means that you sing about sad things. And then life goes on.”

—Richard Thompson

It Is Happening Again

(Since I am recurrently failing to secure sufficient time and energy to address the ongoing irradiating of Japan, I will in the meantime reprint this piece, from August of last year, which revisits Three Mile Meltdown and Chernobyl, and warns of today.)

Nearly a quarter-century after the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, the wild boar of Germany remain radioactive. Der Spiegel reports that government payments compensating boar hunters for lost income have quadrupled since 2007.

Germany’s Atomic Energy Law mandates government compensation to hunters who shoot animals that are too radioactive to consume. In regions particularly problematic, all boar shot are checked for radiation; there are 70 measuring stations in Bavaria alone. Especially in southern Germany, boar routinely test out with high levels of cesium-137, rendering them unfit to eat.

Wild boar are prone to the glow because they consume in large quantities mushrooms and truffles, which are very efficient in absorbing radioactivity. According to Der Spiegel, “the contamination of some types of mushrooms and truffles will likely remain the same, and may even rise slightly—even a quarter century after the Chernobyl accident.”

Mushrooms are 90% water; water accumulates radiation at a rate a thousand times greater than soil.

So one can imagine the lingering effects of Chernobyl in the water that falls and flows and pools throughout Germany. And the rest of Europe. And the world.


What We Hear

We hear there is a substance and it is called plutonium. We hear that “they” are somewhere (do you remember the name of the state?) manufacturing it. We don’t know how it is made. We think the substance uranium is used. We know it is radioactive. We have seen the photographs of babies and children deformed from radiation. The substance plutonium becomes interesting to us when we read that certain parts of the building where it is manufactured have leaks. We don’t know really what this means, if it is like the leak in our roofs, or the water pipe in the backyard, or if it is a simple word for a process beyond our comprehension. But we know the word “leak” indicates error and we know that there is no room for error in the handling of this substance. That it has been called the most deadly substance known. That the smallest particle (can one see a particle, smell it?) can cause cancer if breathed in, if ingested. All that we know in the business of living eludes us in this instant. None of our language helps us. Not knowing how to drive, to cook on a gas stove, to soap the diaper pins so that they pass more easily through the diaper, to wash cotton in cold water so that it doesn’t shrink, to repair the water pipes, or dress a wound. No skill helps us. Nor does quickness of mind, nor physical strength. We are like an animal smaller and more vulnerable than any nature has ever created. We have no defense. We try not to remember whatever we may know of plutonium.

—Susan Griffin, Woman And Nature

Brains Are Lying To Us

So I’m reading the April Harper’s, a review of Oliver Sacks’ new book The Mind’s Eye, and the reviewer, Israel Rosenfield, starts discoursing on the nature and meaning of brains:

There is a simple fact about evolution that, although rarely mentioned, is very revealing: plants don’t have brains. Only animals—even very primitive animals and insects—have brains. Brains evolved because moving creatures, no matter how simple, are confronted by ever-changing, unpredictable surroundings. Plants don’t have brains because they don’t need them; they don’t move from place to place. For animals, motion creates a world of visual, tactile, and auditory sensations that are unorganized and unstable; in short, the world is constantly changing. What the brain must do—it’s probably the principal reason brains evolved—is create a stable, coherent sensory environment for the individual organism to understand and use. The brain does this by “inventing” a range of perceptions: a series of constructs that we “see,” “hear,” and “feel” when we look, listen, and touch.

The creation of a coherent environment out of chaotic stimuli is one of the brain’s primary activities. There are no colors in nature, only electromagnetic radiation of varying wavelengths (the visible spectrum is between 390 and 750 nanometers). If we were aware of our “real” visual worlds we would see constantly changing images of dirty gray, making it difficult for us to recognize forms. Our visual stimuli are stabilized when the brain compares the variation in the different wavelengths of light; the consequence of these comparisons is what we perceive as “color.” The brain creates a sense of “color constancy”; no matter the lighting conditions—bright sunlight, filtered sunlight, or artificial lighting—colors remain more or less the same. This phenomenon is not fully understood. But colors themselves are not in our surroundings. Brains therefore create something that is not there[.]

Great, I think. Brains are no better than the rest of the canard players. They just make shit up. Bunch of mendacious buggers—can’t trust anything they tell you. Because if they’ll lie even about light, jeebus knows they’ll lie about anything.


Just Give Me Some Twoof

We seem to be in the midst of a mini-epidemic of people getting pilloried for saying things that are true.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been fingered by the wingers as an al Qaeda operative for accurately assessing the appeal of Al Jazeera. Clinton’s now-former spokesman PJ Crowley has been shown the door for rightfully decrying the government’s treatment of accused Wikileaker Bradley Manning. The soon-to-be-former National Public Radio executive Ron Schiller has been pronounced anathema for correctly characterizing the nation’s teabaggers. And New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller is under siege for aptly describing Fox News.

It’s not like this sort of thing hasn’t happened before. Cassandra was mocked and eventually chopped for Knowing All and talking about it. Jesus of Nazareth was nailed out to dry for unpalatable utterings in re church and state. Giordano Bruno was burnt black for apprehending the faith better than did his firestarters. And Galileo Galilei was threatened with same unless he left off his nonsense about the Earth revolving around the Sun.

Just goes to show that, now as then, people may say they want the truth, but, in many cases, many people really don’t. Truth, in this world, well, it just isn’t done.


Who Knows Where The Times Goes

In the night, They took an hour away. One minute it was 1:59 a.m. and the next it was 3:00 a.m. An entire hour, snatched right off the clock; spirited away to who knows where.

Why? Why did they do this? Why did they take this hour? What did they do with it? Where has it gone? Is it alright there, wherever it is? Is it lonely? Is it sad? Is it staying warm, getting enough to eat? Will it ever come back? And will we still be here, when it does? If we are, will we recognize it? Will it recognize us?

Sandy Denny wrote “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” so we wouldn’t worry so much about such things. She was 19 when she wrote it. She didn’t have a lot of time left herself, then. Although she didn’t know that at the time. We very rarely do. Denny died at age 31, of a cerebral hemorrhage, after a fall.

Not that she had an easy time of it, when she was here. Her bandmate Richard Thompson described her as “someone who didn’t have any skin. She was so hypersensitive to every little thing in the world. It was as if she lived more vividly than the rest of us.”

“I want to be happy,” Denny once said. “And one day I might reach something a little bit closer to the way I want it to go. But it’s all happening in a very slow way. And if we’ve got time left in this world, you know, perhaps I’ll get there one day.”

Below is “Who Knows Where The Times Goes,” set over images of the people of Oita, Japan, captured by a pair of Britishers from 1992-1995. I couldn’t bring the video across the Maginot Line erected by YouTube. Still, worth the bit of extra time required to click over there, I think.

There’s Evolution In Them Thar Hills

The incredible—literally—smoothbrain Christine O’Kooky, the retired witch which 40% of the voters in Delaware wished to send to the United States Senate, repeatedly informed us that a grumpy guy named Yahweh created the world in “six 24-hour periods,” and that among the “hard evidence” that evolution is a fake and a fraud is that “monkeys [aren’t] still evolving into humans,” and she knows this to be true because she hasn’t seen it.

Well, all I can say is that O’Kooky ought to come out here to California. Then, if she’s brave enough, she can go out into the Sierra foothills, and there observe mountain lions evolving right before her very eyes.

On this page, and beyond the “furthur,” are pictures snapped by a “trail cam” on December 23 of last year, recording events that took place about 12 miles, as the puma bounds, from where I used to live. What they show is something that was heretofore believed not possible.

Mountain lions, you see, are supposed to be solitary creatures. Always they go their own way. Except when the woman decrees it’s Right to get jiggy with it, at which time “copulation is brief but frequent.” Mom will raise two or three cubs, but by the time they turn two she has kicked them right out. Males, when they encounter one another, invariably “hiss, spit, and may engage in violent conflict if neither backs down.”

Except in these pictures. Here, about eight of them are having a party around a cattle carcass. Clearly, and without telling anybody, mountain lions have decided to become pack animals.


We See You

I occasionally grouse, here in my dotage, that, because I am in my dotage, I am living through the truth expressed by Arthur Schopenhauer, when he wrote:

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.

Most recently I invoked this Schopenhauer in noting that in Afghanistan the Bomb Men are rerunning the Vietnam-era Hellerian absurdity of “it became necessary to destroy the town to save it,” and while observing that the racists and related ignoranti who flock to smoothbrains like Sarah Palin are indistinguishable—down to the very words they commonly employ—from the knuckle-draggers who once hooted their approval of George Wallace.

Of late I am noticing a somewhat related phenomenon. And that is that They are working like twelve bastards to bring into Real Life various and sundry Horrors that I encountered, when once a wee youth, only as science fiction.

To wit: the skies will soon be filled with demonic winged mechanical devices that will see and report on anything I might say or do, a la the fever-dream imaginings of Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick. And they’ll be watching and reporting on you, too.



Turkey In The Raw

This is a new one for me: wild turkey mating season.

Well, I guess they qualify as “wild.” Nobody keeps them, and they wander around free. But where they mostly like to wander around free is on this property. Not like the turkeys at the Old Place, who’d only warily pass through now and again, making it pretty clear they wanted nothing to do with humans.

These turkeys don’t care. It’s like they’re not really even aware of humans: humans, to them, are like rocks, or garbage cans. For instance, these turkeys fly up onto the deck and perch on the railings whenever they feel like it. This generally causes a cat stampede: the cats know these creatures are birds, but they are just far too big—none of these people could possibly fit in an oven—and that triggers in the cat mind Fear, which in turn results in Running.

The exception is the young’un cat. He spent all winter trailing around after these turkeys. Much of the day he’s down there below the house, tracking them, watching them; I think he’d like to join up, as they maunder through the brush, about their turkey business.

Yesterday, though, he spent much of the day inside. He was kind of depressed. Because things just weren’t the same out there. The turkeys, he’d concluded, had Gone Weird.

That they had.


Winners And Losers

In Saigon, he had once smoked opium with a young officer of airborne troops who had described himself as a winner. “If you oppose me,” the young officer had explained, “I will win. You will lose.”

“Always?” Holliwell had asked.

Every time, the officer had explained. Because the compulsion to lose was universal and only a handful of people could overcome it.

Holliwell had ventured the opinion that it must be very strange to approach every contest with the certainty of success.

The officer was an unimposing man. He wore eyeglasses so thick that one wondered how he had come to be in the Army at all.

“What I think is strange,” he had said, “is approaching them knowing you’re going to lose.”

Saying it, he had fixed Holliwell with a look of unsound satisfaction. The eyes behind the lenses were knowing and tolerant and demented, but the point was well taken and he had scored a success ad hominem in that very moment.

Positive thinkers.

How could they? he wondered. How could they convince themselves that in this whirling tidal pool of existence, providence was sending them a message? Seeing visions, hearing voices, their eyes awash in their own juice—living on their own and borrowed hallucinations, banners, songs, kiddie art posters, phantom worship. The lines of bayonets, the marching rhythms, incense or torches, chanting, flights of doves—it was hypnosis. And they were the vampires. The world paid in blood for their articulate delusions, but it was all right because for a while they felt better. And presently they could put their consciences on automatic. They were beyond good and evil in five easy steps—it had to be okay because it was them after all. It was good old us, Those Who Are, Those Who See, the gang. Inevitably they grew bored with being contradicted. Inevitably they discovered the fundamental act of communication, they discovered murder. Murder was salutary, it provided reinforcement when they felt impotent or unworthy. It was something real, it made them folks and the reference to death reminded everyone that time was short and there could be no crapping around. For the less forceful, the acceptance of murder was enough. Unhappy professors, hyperthyroid clerics and flower children could learn the Gauleiter’s smirk. The acceptance showed that they were realists which showed that they were real.

—Robert Stone, A Flag For Sunrise

When I Worked

March 2011