Wednesday, December 10, 2008

An Interlude At Linderhof

I sat enjoying the garden at Linderhof in Bavaria on a chill day that later broke warm sunlight over us, writing observations in a journal as I waited for the others to complete a palace tour. A bad heart, although at the time I thought it the flu, had benched me despite there being few stairs on the two-storey interior tour. I had taken the tour on a prior visit and I hoped our guests would enjoy the opulence of this jewel box of a mansion.

In the garden itself, families strolled, children chased swans and each other, and swaths of sun swept across the slope above the more formal fountains and walkways. Forests surrounded all this.

Behind the palace rose steeper hills, into one of which was set an artificial grotto. In it an artificial lake allowed Wagnerian swan boats to sail from amphitheater seats to the stage across the water, where opera would be performed for Mad King Ludwig. Tourists found this grotto only when guides opened a boulder in the hillside; Walt Disney had been inspired by this as much as by Ludwig’s other masterpiece, Neuschwannstein, only a few miles away.

Jotting notes, it struck me that my three children were likely too young to remember much of this. Our guests, my wife’s mother and her cousin, a retired school teacher, would benefit from it but not in any life-changing way. Capturing some of the scene’s charm, and breathing in the slightly warmed German air as wan sun tried to defeat the misty rain, seemed to me the best way to be in the moment, whether or not I used the setting later in fiction.

The day before, climbing 150 stairs in a tower at Neuschwannstein, I had been forced to pause for breath every ten steps or so, and older Germans had stopped, concerned for my heart. I’d laughed them off.

A few months later a heart attack at age 40 would prove them right, but at the time I thought I was merely feeling a bit under the weather from all the travel. My aches and pains were just a flu, I told myself. Had I died waiting in that lovely formal garden my kids would have missed saying goodbye and my wife’s quick smooch would have been our last touch.

For those few moments sitting in Linderhof’s garden, I imagined how it must have been for Ludwig, when the palace and gardens, the trails in the wooded hills, the walks down by the lake, and everything visible in that perfect little Bavarian valley had been his to enjoy in privacy. An interlude, I thought. A moment’s stillness amidst life’s turbulence.

That it still offered as much to those who accepted it made the place special, like an inadvertent last kiss.

/// /// ///

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Portrait of a Lady of Will

What has happened to esoterica?

Consider that the unexamined library of one branch of the Order of the Golden Dawn is at least partly in the hands of a smugly ignorant, proudly bigoted, determinedly closed-minded farmer’s housewife with a sense of entitlement bigger than her hubby’s north forty and a dread certainty in how utterly right she is regardless of how little she knows about any given topic. Don’t ask if she’s read this or that; she does not read, but is occasionally read to, by a devoted husband no doubt eager to control wifey’s head content the same way he approves of her friends and the people he’ll share her sexuality with. Don’t pester her with details or citations, she needs none of that and will in fact blame them, as if they are faults, on your refusal to see her as final arbiter of all things. Nothing ever confuses or unsettles her and if she gets angry at you she will deny it and ask you sweetly why you’re so rattled. She will insist her opinion balances any and all massing of facts and she will deny logic has any place in her thoughts. She’s sure and if you disagree, you are obviously a lesser being condemned to struggle until if you’re lucky eventually you get it right like she did her first time out because she’s special, can’t you tell?

Do as thou wilt she takes as a license for selfishness, for example. Her self-centered prattling and intense disinterest when the conversation wanders from a tight-beam focus on her demonstrate which star bedazzles her. She makes up her mind quickly, she brags, not realizing it never takes long to count to one.

That she never changes her mind is also obvious once one realizes she is the only thing in her world that matters. Enlightenment, indeed; she basks in her own glow, sensing no other, unaware of the cosmos around her.

Every light beam curves to show her only what she wishes to see. All endings are happy and all ponies are unicorns. A bland silliness bogs down anything real that attempts to enter her awareness, stopping it eventually before it even glimpses an event horizon of hope. Superficial be thy name, if you can skim far enough across the vast surface-without-depth to catch her glittering sunset eye.

There is no hatred, nor any strong response of any kind, possible with a Scarlet woman such as this. Professional swooners and masochists desperate for nihilistic humiliation hem her in with a delusion of suitor regard, passionate in their unfeeling devotion to accepting her boredom as their due. Their paltry and wrinkled gifts never delight, their witty-like flirting never rises her silver trout flash to strike, and the dead flies on the windowsills of their pining gazes are the litter of her disregard. Her blessing is an offhand, “Whatever.”

This woman marks a type that has taken over esoteric groups worldwide but especially in America, where the species thrives. It goes far beyond the troll type that disrupts so many esoteric discussion groups online. Her lineage maintains rituals with unimaginative inability to diverge from what she’s learned and dominates ceremonial magick with a magisterial arrogance straight out of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Mundanity has triumphed by wielding its Excalibur of literalism. She is the stasis that murders any living system into mere dogma.

So if you are a student of esoterica and wonder why it’s impossible to find intelligence, innovation, or simply involvement in a community or even in another individual, think of this woman and her oft-mentioned Will. By will she means ego, her pridefulness being evident in the preening she does each time she declares this or that as a manifestation of her Thelemic will. “It is my will to disagree,” or “I’ve focused my will on other things,” or even, “That is not my will.” Beware a little learning, oh ye of too much faith.

And so we students must walk our paths each alone, fleeing, fugitive, banished, and migratory, forsaking not the lesson while avoiding like plague itself this plague of brainless little hausfrau teachers who have confiscated, with their strapping farmer husbands, so many clumps and clots of esoterica’s life’s blood to stir in their pots and pans and cauldrons like so much broth for the brood. From mater familias save us all, no goddess she.

--Frater Profugus, Returned

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Com Vs. Code: A Look Into the Future

“Communication Versus Codes:
A Look Into the Near Future”

Pulitzer insisted on plain prose and established it as standard, to reach the masses. Were, then, prior newspapers and their verbosity aimed to miss the masses?

Did wading through them drag general literacy up? Certainly the average person today can’t make sense of newspapers from yesterday. The virtue of being immediately understood degraded the urge to accomplish more complex and subtle reading.

This means clarity is a mixed blessing and that there can be a use for, and gains to be had by, being indirect.

Was putting plain prose into daily print what allowed American vernacular finally to be allowed into, and viewed as, literature?

Oral tradition predates literary tradition. Speech comes before writing. Returning writing to a speaker’s syntax offers powerful advantages. It shatters the chains of formalism and allows a wider range of topics and voices into literary culture. However, stating things simply seems to have tended to drag thinking into simplicity, too. This is a loss.

It’s evident mass literacy has a major impact on literary culture, forcing it toward plain prose. What is less evident is the impatience plainness plants in us for subtlety and complexity of thought. Cut to the chase, we say; give us the gist, and keep it stupidly simple.

It is perhaps predictable that there is an academic backlash against plain prose. It insists that abstract, fancy prose is superior.

Is this protective snobbery covering up the fact that straightforward prose can accomplish everything maze-like prose can, and more? Or is it an acknowledgment of all the grace notes and lesser points we’ve lost to bluntness?

A debate rages. It’s about clarity of thought and expression versus protection of turf. One group states that complex, layered, even convoluted thoughts can be expressed simply, even if doing so requires sequential presentation with successive points built upon. Another advocates a more oblique approach, claiming that only via cumulative side points can the main point become a worthwhile summation. Ephemeral values must be kept safe at the heart of a tangled garden of words.

Academic prose is but bad taste, say some. It cries for citation and stifles originality. Conformity is academia’s way of clinging to a hollow relevance. Obfuscation is the ivy-covered tower’s refuge for pseudo intellectuals. It is an attempt to exclude the masses in favor of snobbery.

Another group asks, if writing is communicative, should it not be inclusive? Does not democratic idealism require a literature understandable by all? Is not fostering isolated elitism and specialism just another way of shutting down communication?

What of vocabulary? Are big words snobbish? Are plain words always better? How can one choose the right word, and by whose standards, on what scale?

Eschew obfuscation, or be brief? Is concise the same as short, though? Is not the sum of some words greater than the summation of their component parts?

Both sides create extremes. Opposite Dr. Seuss one finds Finnegans Wake. Faulkner called Hemingway a dolt and mocked his 400-word vocabulary. Dickens wrote fat books concisely while Hawthorne wrote as if paid by the run-on sentence. Hugo wrote pages of words that cannot be diagrammed into sentences while Robbe-Grillet wrote lists.

Ideals duel. Invisible prose squares off against the paragraph as sculpture. Deconstructionists sneer at the notion that the writer can know what he or she meant by what’s written, while cyberpunks go binary in a street rebellion of electronic tagging.

Communication fights Codes. Some want any reader to be able to understand, others want only prepared audiences to have a chance to extract hidden meaning.

Both extremes use words like masks.

Masks both hide and show. They conceal and reveal at the same time. What you choose to mask, and what kind of mask you choose, reveal hidden things, even as they cover up others.

On the individual scale, it is a matter of taste. An impatience with gallimaufry and drawn out manipulation leads to a preference for clean, clear prose. An enjoyment of immersion and a fascination with involvement leads to a preference for more baroque writing.

On a social scale, however, a balance must be struck between the blunt and the fine. Intelligence and information thrive, or wither, through presentation. A lecture delivered in rudimentary language may fail to impart anything, while verbosity and high verbal skills applied to a kindergarten lesson may simply baffle.

Consider your audience, journalists are told. Write for the reader. Even in fiction, if you stray too far from reader expectations, reader interest is lost. Sales decline. Publishers move on to someone else.

When Pulitzer focused on reaching the masses, his agenda was to sell more newspapers than Hearst, yes, but his ulterior motive was political. He wanted to move things his way.

Rather than address the well-educated ruling class, he aimed at the semi-educated working class. He went native, in a way, so his influence would be delivered in their everyday language.

Writing fiction sways between giving readers what they want -- diversion and entertainment -- and expressing the writer’s concerns -- personal and political obsessions. It balances between journalism and fine art.

Journalism influenced fiction writing more than the reverse due to numbers. More people read newspapers than fiction.

Today, that may not be true. Today, the news delivery systems of choice are the internet and TV, especially TV comedians. TV news has lost luster due to a shift from informing to entertaining. Drawing an audience matters more than informing the public, so demographics surveys and playing to perceived audience bias slants news away from objective information and toward propaganda. People respond by turning elsewhere.

When an event becomes known, people are apt now to jump online. There they can find multiple sources, from reliable to crazy. They can sift out their own version of what happened from multiple views.

Today’s fiction delivery systems of choice are movies and TV shows. Books that most closely resemble the movie or TV series experience sell best. This includes franchise fiction based on established story lines such as Star Wars and Star Trek.

So audiovisual media are the biggest influence on literature today. Literary culture is, in fact, merging with AV culture in the form of computer games. Video games often provide detailed story lines even more developed than those found in Victorian novels. Reading itself may become obsolete when AV interfaces replace the keyboard model on handheld devices. Replacing the device with implanted subcutaneous chips is a next logical phase, even as WiFi replaces wire and thermal and light sourced power generation replaces batteries and alternating current generators.

It is not far-fetched to envision individuals in the near future mentally involved with a world-spanning web of internet-based sub-realities, pocket universes, and sites without spatial locale. They will have instant global communication and awareness. They will be able to store information for later perusal, or tap into any information source needed, or find someone to help them.

Even then there will no doubt be those favoring code over com. They will seek to corral sectors of the mind-web for private projects or just for the sake of secrecy and criminality. The two may end up being equated.

Privacy, being a half-brother to secrecy, may also end up being equated with criminality, or antisocial tendencies at least. So may ownership, property, and notions of control.

Symbolic behavior, symbols, and other abstractions may end up being the last refuge of individualism. At that point communication will have won, or enclaves of Luddites will have developed to reject technology’s changes. Clinging won’t help, though.

Change, being the only constant, favors open communication.

Knowing this, it becomes obvious that plain prose and clear thought are positive, while obfuscation, obscuritanism, and contrary concealment must be seen as negative, in terms of both individual and social progress.

Aspects of this have the potential to become fascist. Frightened conformists seek to control what they cannot understand. Despite any such setbacks, it looks as if open communication will ultimately prevail.

Right now there is no need to make such harsh choices. Right now there is room for utopia and dystopia. It may not be long, though, before how we communicate breaks the code of human nature and allows us to live as one seething, incredibly varied, and powerful organism.

The fearful will speak of hive mind. The unafraid will see it as a step toward being spiritually united.

All this from how we read and write.

/// /// ///

Friday, November 14, 2008

Genre Evolution

Genre Evolution:
Establish patterns. Set rules. Debate rules. Break rules. Argue rules. Ignore rules. Establish new patterns. Set new rules. Debate new rules. Break new rules. Argue new rules. Ignore new rules. Romanticize old patterns. Repeat until nothing really changes.


Moribund means almost extinct. It means doomed. If something is moribund, it means it is on its last legs. It is dying, fading, going, nearly gone.

Take science fiction, or any other genre you wish, as an example. It’s been moribund since inception. Since first noticed it has been decried as a lost cause.

This means genre evolution happens the instant a genre is identified. It’s inherent in genre itself. Humanoid primates break things, rules prime among them. We are destructive even in our creativity. We set up patterns and rules to react against. Rebels all, we keep asking, “Whatcha got?”

Collective boredom sets in now and then. During the Pulp Era one of the biggest categories was Sports Fiction. It bloomed and withered within a decade or so. Yet Hollywood retains it as a market category, having refreshed it with the simple addition of the phrase, “Based on a True Story.”

Space Opera, a subcategory of science fiction, went through a similar cycle. It faded as harsher views blossomed in Dystopia. Realpolitik kept things grim for awhile. Dystopia is currently waning even as space opera is being revitalized by an injection of romance, of all things. Gone are the days when sf was all male and all females brought to it were cooties.

In mystery fiction, Tea Cozy gave way to Hard Boiled, which paved the streetwise way for Police Procedural. Spenser wore his feelings for hire on his sleeve, much to Mike Hammer’s disgust, while Spade kept digging and Archer kept flinging outrageous arrows against a sea of sorrow.

Philip Marlowe loosened the terse vocabulary of the crime novel and Dame Agatha stripped away the upper crust’s haughty veneer. This led the way for Tony Strong’s GLBT fiction and van de Wetering’s Zen explorations.

Genre reflects current culture, in short. Evolve means change: Genre changes with the times. Attitudes, venues, and crime scenes vary with our world experience. Locked room gives way to locked email files.

We see ourselves in the victims and the detectives; in the space aliens and astronauts; in the unicorns and wizards; in the monsters and survivors; in the Catherines and Heathcliffs. We are what we write and read.

We are genre, despite much academic sneering. Even literary fiction for tiny, prepared audiences forms a genre, after all. Just more patterns and rules. More debate, argument, and ignorance.

As genre evolves our own changes are chronicled. We look inward sometimes, at other times we look outward. Occasionally we lie to ourselves, and most of our fiction remains a way to get at truth mere fact will not support or reveal. Next time you hear someone decry a genre as worn thin, as ready for the garbage heap, as hopelessly dated and ridiculous, remember, it was always that way and always will be. Genre is nothing but change.

/// /// ///

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Never Again?

I agree wholeheartedly that the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews and others must never be forgotten.  

I also abhor that W repeated it to the utmost of neo con scum ability, and that neither the entire Afghanistan/Iraq debacle nor the so-called War On Terror and its Rendition Gulag have been documented.  It is a calculated lack of documentation so the war crimes will never be known.  It was a way of covering up and not reporting actions that no decent human being could possibly have condoned if confronted directly with the evidence.

Did you know the deniers claim Eisenhower's publicity campaign to spread the word about the Holocaust, and what was found in the concentration camps, was nothing but a propaganda blitz?  Oh yes, they claim this Big Lie. Karl Rove is just another Goebbels  trained at the knee of Newt Gingrich's ideological Go Pac crusaders and there is a long line of such androids waiting to take Lee Atwater's diseased mantle.

Meanwhile, hired guns in the form of mercenaries, who are not answerable to the Geneva Code and other Rules of Engagement, who can ignore the Military Code of Uniform Justice, and who can and do outright crimes on behalf of their secrecy-obsessed masters in undisclosed locations, outnumber the US military.  These mercs are paid extravagantly well and outfitted with all the cutting-edge weapons and state-of-the-art equipment they can use, and then some.

Our military is left underpaid, underfunded, and under manned, while being over-tasked and overburdened to crush-weight.   They are also kept hidden from the American people, with only tame, ideologically approved reporters embedded with field units, and all reports filtered through a Ministry of Lies so dense no truth could ever get through it.  The sacrifice and suffering of these troops, and all the horrors they're forced to perform, are kept hidden by the criminals in charge and by the complicit media.

That the US military allowed itself to be abused like this by such scum is unutterable and should enrage every service member.  Instead, service members fall for jingoism and idealoguery.  They bow to indoctrination and mouth right wing echo chamber hate speech and Double Speak.  Infiltrated true believers in fundamentalist fleece, and implanted ideologues keeping the faith like Fifth Columnists back in WW II, make sure the military is now a "Christian Force" and that dissent of any kind is punished harshly even unto fragging and deaths.  Gestapo tactics are employed to keep people in line and the wounded and shell shocked are thrown away and ignored.

And no one knows much about any of this because it's kept from being seen, reported, or discussed.  Remember the pictures of the flag-draped coffins?  Remember Viet Nam on our TV sets?  

No reminders of war's horror and crimes now.  And to speak of it is to be labeled "disloyal to Der Fatherland..."

They use Homeland Security -- which is what KGB meant -- openly for their control group of scare mongers and hate spewers.  They demand conformity and punish nonconformists brutally.

What can be done?  Voting for Obama was a good first move, presuming we haven't yet again been duped and manipulated by false promises and stalking horse candidates.

Holding him to our demands is a good second step.  Keep up the pressure to reverse the appalling precedents set by Dicks Like Cheney.

Documentation of every crime and atrocity must be obtained, disseminated, and preserved ASAP; in many cases, it's too late.  Fallujah, for example:  Anyone really know what happened there, other than a massacre that was part of the  near-genocide of "enemy combatants"?

Impeachment, arrest, and trial at the Hague's World Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity should await every high-ranking member of the Bush administration and many lower-ranking members.  Nuremberg was but a light scratch of a start toward rooting out these infections.

Yes, it seems impossible that for the past decade or so we've allowed this country to be run into the ground by fascist sociopaths, and it's time to stop tolerating and even rewarding them.

/// /// ///

Saturday, November 8, 2008

"Arson" by Gene Stewart

On the commute to his home stop -- he kept a sharp watch so the bus did not roll past it -- Esche thought about unseasonable darkness, the Enlightenment, and what little things he might be able to do to make things bright again. He was not sure if he could, or would, do any of them, but just thinking about them made him feel a little better about his day, and his weekend opened up for him. In his imagination, he had gone from huddling in his house reading thrillers and watching old movies to getting out a little, taking in a new movie maybe, perhaps strolling through a museum exhibit. Wasn’t there one on Impressionism downtown?

A couple times that weekend, then, and with complete strangers, he started short conversations about the Enlightenment, and how it had been snuffed out. Bold move for him, but a comfort, somehow.

He wondered afterward if that’s all the stranger had been doing. Just approaching people and planting ideas. He’d met the stranger at the bus stop a week ago, on a rainy evening dark as night. The man had spoken calmly but urgently, and his words stirred Esche. While not like a speech given from a bully pulpit, the man’s words carried a good deal of inspiration, somehow.

It would be a slow, inefficient way to spread a cultural revolution, Esche thought. The more he thought about it that way, though, the more he realized there was probably no better way. As in advertising, whisper campaigns ended up most effective.

And so Esche spoke to others of getting the cultural camp fire going again, to push back the darkness. Without a bubble of light and warmth, what were we but desperate animals doomed to be lost? Some dismissed him as a nut, of course; one older man called him a Hippie; but three or four people thought he had a point and said so, and a couple even contributed interesting angles of their own to the general thesis.

Esche wondered how many passersby had caught a few words to carry with them into their own thoughts. He hoped it was a good many.

Whether the stranger had been a modern-day Lucifer, an out-of-context God, or just a wandering weirdo, a kind of Johnny Appleseed of hope, did not matter any more than whether he’d vanished into shadow or had simply walked away, choosing to miss Esche’s bus home. What mattered to Esche was his idea of rekindling Enlightenment ideals. Esche found it increasingly interesting, layered, and useful as he lived with the notion over time.

Maybe it hadn’t been an overthrow or takeover so much as a failure in daily living that had allowed existence to become so dark, so grim, and so unremittingly crass again. The Enlightenment shined like a sunbeam through storm clouds. Were storm clouds our norm?

If so, it might be time to move on.

Esche went back to work Monday morning refreshed as rarely before. His coworkers noticed it, and he let them in on his secret.

“We can spread the light like fire,” he told them, “until it’s everywhere,” and some among them agreed, either outwardly or in the quiet parts of their lives where an impulse toward better things burned like an ember awaiting kindling.

A horizon aglow, Esche thought, smiling.

/// /// ///

Friday, November 7, 2008

Writing Dies, Too

Writers die. So does their work.

Yes, some work achieves a kind of immortality that lasts at least as long as the culture that produced it. And it’s not always the best or most deserving or most representative work, either. James Fennimore Cooper and L. Ron Hubbard prove that, for differing reasons.

Yes, popularity plays into it. Partly that may be due to sheer numbers. There are so many Stephen King books in print that they have a better chance of being discovered by second and subsequent readers, and generations.

Popularity can lead to discussion, too. Critic chat is not as influential as academic regard, simply because works chosen as school texts are kept in print longer. This doesn’t endear works, though. Catcher In the Rye by J. D. Salinger is forced down the throats of high school kids and this only makes them gag the stronger, both on Holden Caulfield’s whining and on reading as enjoyable entertainment. Another bizarre choice, no doubt approved by Cotton Mather’s horny ghost, is The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel paid-by-the-word-and-bonus-for-convoluted-sentences Hawthorne.

No child left to its own devices, in short.

And no book approved by Mark Twain or Kurt Vonnegut, either, apparently. Or only books they kicked, chosen as torture.

Some of us were allowed to find our own reading. Most of that group ended up liking to read. Many of us even came down with writing joneses.


Rather than pity the afflicted, enable them by buying some of their stuff, wouldja?

Some prominent writers have died lately, and not just Vonnegut. Michael Crichton, Studs Terkel, Janwillem van de Wetering, Gregory Mcdonald, James Crumley, and Tony Hillerman, to name a few offhand, in no order and for no collective reason.

We note their passing often by grabbing up their work. Freshly dead writers often experience a sales surge. Would’ve done them a lot more good had it come before they left, but their estates are appreciative, not to mention their publishers, who can then start the perennial exploitation dance.

Will their work last?

Some will, yes. For reasons touched upon. Some won’t, for unfathomable reasons.

Some work goes away, then comes back.

Tolkien did that. His work was obscure in my lifetime. He published most of it in the 1930s. Thirty years later it experienced a resurgence that saw it, in another decade, become hugely popular and influential. In part this was due to Lester del Rey coming up with the Fantasy Trilogy gimmick, to feed the Tolkien jones once people had read him. A sales trick became a sub-genre and it prevails to this day. Why sell one book when you can hook readers into at least three?

Much talk has wasted air over whether this “trilogy” nonsense has ruined fiction or stretched storytelling to some logical limit. Maybe it’s just reader patience being stretched.

It seems, now, that Tolkien’s work will last as part of Western Culture. We would not have guessed this in his lifetime.

Which brings us to the rub. That’s the narrow part you have to squeeze through. The part the fat can’t do, be they fat-headed or otherwise burdened and slow.

The rub? We can’t know what writing will last.

A quick and dirty scan tells us to bet on storytelling over style. A good story well told has more chance of lasting, people being generally the same through history. Style changes in a way similar to fashion. Many factors come to bear on style, so that one generation prefers indirection and discretion, another demands the harsh and the blunt.

All that falls away, though, when a story proves robust enough to jump languages and cultures. That is when the story itself, and, often, how it’s told matter most. Basics count in writing as in all things. And story is the basis of writing.

And of course often the books we might choose as ones to last are themselves recapitulations of classic stories. Retelling a standard well, or in a new voice, is the same as singing a standard song. If a new version, take, interpretation, or voice appeals, it is likely to work.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman comes to mind, it being a new take on The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling, themselves in part based on Indian folk tales absorbed by Kipling. Patterns repeat.

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier was, as were many books since, a retelling of The Odyssey by Homer. Homer is a mysterious figure whose tales were not even written down for centuries, so who knows how many refinements and alterations came and went during its oral tradition phase. And yet the basics remain intact. They are recognizable even in American Civil War guise.

Beowulf, oldest known tale in English, is a monster of a horror story, a heroic adventure with lots of violence, action, and drama. It is pulp. It is penny dreadful. It is genre. It is baseline appealing to humanoid primates.

Fiction delivery systems tend to remain true to the human voice. Someone tells a story, others listen. If it’s got certain elements it fascinates. Listeners are hooked and come back for more as the camp fire dies low and shadows move in the dark around us.

Writing dies along with writers, sometimes, but fiction is along for the ride with us. As long as we’re hear to receive it, to crave and need and rely upon it, then fiction will sustain us.

Our stories are our lives.

That is what will last, maybe even longer than we do.

/// /// ///

Michael Crichton

October 23, 1942 -- November 4, 2008

Although it trailed off at the end of his career, the best of his work remains readable, thought-provoking, and fun. His career paralleled that of his favorite writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Education & How To Fix It

Some say education is broken because people want it that way, that it reflects society's wishes.

Isn't it more that very few of the public has much say, or much concern, about what is included in curriculum, preferring to focus on budgets and on what is kept OUT of the curriculum?

In Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynmann, the Nobel Prize for Physics winning scientist tells of spotting errors in his son's math book. Thinking he'd be welcome, he attended a school board meeting and asked that the texts be changed. He at once learned that fixing errors, even in math texts, is so cost-prohibitive, and so onerous a chore, that no one ever does it. He further learned that school boards had little to no say in text content. And he was outraged to learn that the errors were of no concern among the majority on the board, which was much more focused on budget, and on keeping their pet peeve issues from making inroads.

It's a sobering, chastising story and should sicken everyone. We've fallen to absurdly low levels in education, science, math, medicine, and even art, thanks to government meddling and high-handed textbook publishers.

Why blame publishers? Their outrageous prices for their texts have translated into stagnation for curricula in financially strapped school systems. They need the money to keep the building from falling down -- although most schools are falling apart along with all the rest of America's infrastructure, also thanks to government greed and neglect, and don't get me started on the outrageous spending for football teams, stadiums, and so on, to the neglect of all else-- so they defer and delay buying new texts year after year until you have situations, as I experienced growing up, in which kids are learning from literally the same physical books their parents learned from.

When I went to school we had out-dated maps and had to learn them in order to conform to the out-dated tests based upon those maps. How is this education? It is, instead, absurd conformity to dogmatic, and static, curricula. It is learning by rote without regard to content.

Out-dated texts, out-moded teaching materials, and decrepit equipment all conspire to graduate students ignorant of basics mastered by much younger children in most other countries. Bravo, No Child Left Behind, a cynical and vile program dedicated to ensuring the abject failure of public schools in order to divert public money to private pockets, where the education is biased, partisan, and not only useless, but harmful.

How can we deal with all this?

With the advent of the digital age, there is no longer any cost worth mentioning involved in correcting errors, and no excuse for not keeping all subjects up-to-date and informative, with plenty of interactive multi-disciplinary multi-media links and hypertexts and so on. Replace books with laptops or even iPods and you can attain this easily, and for a one-time cost that is far cheaper than replacing text books.

So there's the simple solution. Oh, and keeping special interest groups out of education would help, too, along with paying teachers as the professionals they should be. Standards can be set and maintained for teachers, and for curricula. It's a simple matter of the public realizing this and insisting on it.

Chemistry of Candles

--I found this both goofy and interesting.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mood's Off

My mood’s off.

I’m riddled by unresolved anxieties; I suffer paranoia that I feel is legitimate, being based on real threats; and I am ridden by worries stemming from imagination and a dark cast of mind instilled by decades of the world’s hostility, from school yard bullies to adult betrayals.

My nightmares are angry, sexual, and political, yet vague, like rock lyrics.

“The Obama campaign has been saying some pretty nasty things about Western Pennsylvania,” McCain said recently, at a stump speech. He paused for booing, then said, “And I’d just like to say I couldn’t agree with them more.”

He went on to try to correct his gaffe but fumbled it every bit as badly as W might have.

The audience waited it out, then obediently applauded anyway, despite the fact that, if he’d said anything coherent whatsoever, it insulted them and patronized their intelligence.

The man is a doddering, surly fuck-up. Palin’s a deranged, delusional beauty-queen religious freak. Of course they’re serious candidates. Of course they may even win.

How can this be?

This is America. We’re all stupid and crazy here. We have an unerring instinct to choose the worst.

And why is America anti-intellectual and opposed to imagination? Goes right back to the Puritans. Their legacy has driven us, as a nation, into self-hating depression and madness.

That dark, ugly street of dread, broken dreams forms America’s mental main street. We all live nearer to it or farther from it, but connected to it always, directly. Its run-offs taint our wells, stain our walls.

Extended Metaphor Theater proudly presents: Puritanism As Sewage -- An American Truthiness. Starring: The Floating Turds Dick, George, Karl, John, Don, Condoleeza, Bomber, and Sarah, and all the others in the Toilet Bowl Ring.

There is already a Palin In 2012 campaign. Only she, it seems, can fix America’s broken soul. Thus is a political genius the likes of Reagan born again among us.

Is Mt. Rushmore ready for boobs? The other kind, I mean.

Anyone who has faced prejudice knows the horror of unexamined assumptions and received wisdom. Yet we allow ourselves to be bashed on the head with our own bigotry every time there is a political campaign. I think it’s apathy more than despair or cynicism that lets us go on like this, even though we all know it’s wrong.

Change -- that jingoistic Pavlovian bell the liars keep chiming -- requires effort and America is long since out of the trying game. If we weren’t all so gluttonous we’d none of us give a shit. Instead, though, we just want more, and more, and more. Paging Mr. Creosote.

My mood’s off and is likely to stay that way.

/// /// ///

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bowl Full

The only way it matters is intensely
Your weakness is a power over you
Mine eyes have seen the glory hole Calcutta
We blew our load on faces turning blue

Grapple snakes and slither chains
A strangulation cure
Sweet asphyxiation
Keeps the constitution pure

Deploy the guns of shit and shoot
Decry a hundred lawyers lying
Impeach whoever gave the go
Condemn in heaven’s name our buying

The only hay it gathers is without us
Our strongmen are so vulnerable now
Their minds exploded inward at conception
They sucked us dry, we took their final bow

Knife her honey
Knife her whole
Knife her sticky
Fill her bowl

Knife her money
Knife her dole
Knife her tricky
Fill her bowl

Raffle bakes and blistered brains
Exsanguination, sure
Sour postulation
Stops the institution’s lure

The holy day, it shatters with our laughter
The powers gather arguments at dawn
The words employed to seal the deal’s disaster
Are scattered dead and bloody on your lawn

Knife her funny
Knife her roll
Knife her, Dicky
Fill her bowl
Knife and fill her bowl

--Monkey Dogs, "Bowl Full" from TWICE BITTEN

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Defy the Genre Embargo

The notion is childish that certain elements of or approaches to fiction belong strictly to one major camp and may not legitimately be used by any other camp. Yet this stance defines American writing, which has been called “...insular and too much under the sway of its own popular culture,” by the likes of Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Nobel Prize Academy.

How others see us may not matter much to our daily stint, but it certainly affects distribution, readership, and sales. It might offer useful insights, too.

Insular means, according to my on-board dictionary, “ignorant of or uninterested in cultures, ideas, or peoples outside one's own experience; lacking contact with other people.” Provincial, in other words. Village idiots with no concept of a world larger than our own back yards. This view contrasts just slightly with our own view of ourselves as world-striding superpower champions of all we attempt, doesn’t it?

And yet, look what we do to ourselves. Aside from the unblinking narcissism of our culture, and the self-congratulatory tone of our self-criticism, we divide our best efforts into partisan opponents. Mainstream versus genre fiction is the focus here. That dichotomy weakens both sides.

American literature as a whole keeps itself apart from World literature. Genre compounds the error by trying to seal itself off from the mainstream American fiction. This puts it twice-removed from World literature.

Genre fiction wants to be a private club. Mainstream wants an open door policy while reserving the right to sweep out the riffraff when it’s time for a celebration of self. Both squabble as if exclusion is an answer in and of itself.

A palpable resentment shudders through fandom, the loose group of self-identified genre fiction enthusiasts, every time a writer whose work usually appears in mainstream market categories gains praise, sales, and often Hollywood options by using genre elements. That is how it’s perceived: “They” “stole” “our” genre elements. As if only writers whose work is marketed as genre are legitimately allowed to use such elements.

And, the complaint continues, even worse, genre works are never awarded attention, acclaim, or movie money -- despite, they point out salaciously, the top-grossing movies of all time being genre.

Of course, don’t ask them how Hollywood succeeds on those rare occasions when it translates genre works to the big screen. That’s a whole other kettle of bile to be spilled on a separate discussion entirely.

So their shoulder chip is two-tier, a double-cheeseburger of lukewarm resentment; we’re excluded, and they steal from us. This leads to talk of of the genre ghetto, exploitation, and east coast snobbery. And like most such bitterness, there is some truth in it. Yes, genre work is generally ignored by academics, literary award committees, and serious mainstream critics. Yes, occasional genre elements are praised as if new by mainstream critics, who remain willfully unaware of the specifics and contents of genre fiction’s pulp tradition.

When we examine the standards by which works are judged, however, we see a definite emphasis gap. For the most part, novels that have won the top genre awards are more concerned about idea and plot than writing quality, characterization, and exploration of themes. Mainstream award winners, genre readers complain, aren’t about anything; they have no grand ideas; they focus on everyday minutiae; they have no action; they’re boring...

Again, movies may be an instructive example. Blockbusters tend to be laden with stunts, special effects, and action peppered with catch phrases. Characters are sketched in brief, bold terms. Such movies take us away from our everyday world. They’re generally called escapism.

Then there are the so-called serious movies. Many are costume pieces dealing in comedy of manners or courtship rituals from the Seventeenth century. Some are character portraits of people mired in hopeless lives. Some are examinations of the consequences of crisis, or some social ill such as alcoholism or spousal abuse. These movies tend to win awards but no big audiences. Art films, they’re often called. Made for art’s sake, not to please audiences or to allow the masses to escape the humdrum of their daily lives. Hell, some even have subtitles. If we wanted to read, we wouldn’t have gone to the movies, they cry. And who are all these foreigners? Where’s my favorite movie star?

Genre, for the most part, falls into the first category, escapism. This is not to say genre works can, must, or do not address serious themes. Many do. But the main goal is entertainment and, failing that, diversion, in genre fiction. This is a noble art in itself.

Mainstream fiction, for the most part, adds insight and commentary to escapism. Yes, many mainstream works are about taking us away from quotidian reality. Most, however, are also concerned with showing a commonality among humanity’s diverse specimens, or revealing the inner secrets of private lives, or making points about how and why society is decaying.

Vonnegut wrote: “Listen. All great literature is about what a bummer it is to be a human being: Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, The Red Badge of Courage, the Iliad and the Odyssey, Crime and Punishment, the Bible and The Charge of the Light Brigade.”

Genre fiction is often the opposite, about how great it is to be a humanoid primate conquering the universe and rearranging things so we’re the center of it all. Optimism is a keynote in science fiction, for instance. As Harlan Ellison once pointed out, even dystopias are optimistic because they mean there is someone left to complain about how bad it is. Mysteries are optimistic about restoring order from chaos. Fantasy and Romance both speak to wish fulfillment, while even Horror deals with the bastards getting their comeuppance.

In modern political discourse -- all the shouting and lying, yes -- it’s common to refer disparagingly to “reality-based” thinking. The 17 October 2004 New York Times Magazine ran an article by Ron Suskind. In it, an unnamed aide to George W. Bush said, “You’re in what we call the reality-based community, people who believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we’ll act again, creating other realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

What sort of literature would come from such breathtaking solipsism? Would it not be literature that is insular and too much under the sway of its own culture?

And what of the escapist subset of such a literature? Would it not concern itself with mythic stories of conquest, and examinations of glorious dreams full of wish-fulfillment?

A wider world exists. Noticing it, finding out about it, and exploring it would expand our base of reference. Joining in and participating in a wider world outside this house of cards we’ve built would strengthen the global, which is to say human, appeal of our fiction. This would lead to much larger readership and all that a big audience can bring and bestow.

Isn’t it time to stop hugging the elements of genre so tightly? Isn’t it time to share them not only with our own mainstream, but to trade them with a wider world?

Isn’t it time to defy the genre embargo?

/// /// ///

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Rising Above Miscegenation

Ursula K. LeGuin spoke of miscegenation between genre and mainstream fiction. She discussed briefly how the two are distinct in approach and form. She thought the mainstream benefitted but wasn’t too sure genre gained from such exchanges and mergers.

What mainstream fiction tends to get from genre is imaginative elements. Magic realism for the mainstream critics was what genre critics called fantasy all along, for instance. Such elements can enliven basics seen too many times before.

Genre fiction tends to take realism from mainstream fiction. A grittier sense of presence, a more realistic depiction of behavior or setting results. This can refresh tired ideas and threadbare executions.

In genre fiction, plot counts most. So do ideas. In mainstream fiction, character and setting are emphasized. This simple shift of emphasis has created a gap in American fiction that does not exist as strongly elsewhere in the world. Elsewhere -- Britain for example -- the differences are seen as valid variants, rather than distinctions. Genre and mainstream exist there intermingled. A writer can be considered serious while writing mystery or science fiction, there. Anthony Burgess is an example. In Britain, a genre writer can win serious literary awards for work that crosses or blurs genre lines. Martin Amis comes to mind.

Stateside, fen are upset by writers perceived generally as literary who “pilfer” genre elements and end up being recognized for innovation. Fen grouse about Margaret Atwood for swooping down from her literary heights to scarf up some science fictional insight in The Handmaid’s Tale, which went on to glean much acclaim and, incidentally, became a best-seller and major movie. Fen sneer at mystery writer P. D. James for using science fictional tricks in Children of Men, a book that also won acclaim, sold hugely well, and became a big movie. Mostly the fen resent all the attention the genre elements in such works receive from the mainstream critics, as if such things had never existed before, let alone been pioneered by pre-WW II pulp writers and their literary offspring.

Where, fen whine, is the mainstream or academic praise for Frank Herbert’s Dune or for Johanna Russ’s The Female Man?

Oh, but when Ursula K. LeGuin manages to jump the gap from a start in genre fiction to mainstream literary respectability, some fen wonder if she’s sold out, or if she’s even written “real” science fiction all along?

They pulled the same on Ray Bradbury. “He never really wrote science fiction or fantasy, it was always mainstream fabulism,” fen say, when the quality of his prose and the purity of his voice prompts mainstream recognition.

Of course, they skip over the work of Philip K. Dick, which has become a favorite of academics and has, oddly, been made into many movies since PKD’s death. Hell, it’s even been chosen for the Library of America fancy book gimmick, considered prestigious by collectors.

Suffice it to say that, stateside at least, the standards to which fiction are held vary between genre and mainstream. What are valid variations elsewhere are distinctions keeping groups separate here.

Miscegenation means interbreeding between distinct races. It is an ugly term. It implies purity contaminated. It leads to terms like maroon and mulatto

And sure enough, as fen eagerly point out, genre fiction, particularly science fiction, has been singled out stateside for prejudicial treatment. It’s been the victim of unwarranted slurs, scurrilous lies, and mean spirited analysis. It’s been held in contempt and used as a reason for automatic and universal dismissal from serious contention for major literary prizes.

The very term genre fiction carries a stigma of cookie-cutter lack of quality. Unfairly, all examples are judged by the worst among them. Pulp fiction from 50 years ago continues to define academic response to genre fiction today.

This despite many mainstream writers pilfering genre tropes, fen complain. How come it’s okay when they do it?

It’s how they do it, comes the response from the snob side of the divide. Learn to write better, the mainstream critics sneer.

By whose standards? That should be the question. If it is acknowledged that different standards apply, then it must also be acknowledged that a given work may simultaneously be excellent and terrible, depending on what critic is making the assessment.

Can the standards merge?

In the 1970s, a New Wave hit genre fiction, especially science fiction. Writers brought many new tricks, from mainstream literary writing classes. Purists balked. Pulp standards of writing developed by scientists and engineers, who concentrated on idea and plot, became Golden, while the New Wave stuff was viewed as effete, affected, and ineffectual. Who wanted all those characters cluttering things up; genre fiction required only cardboard cut-outs as place markers for ideas.

And so the debate devolved at once into name calling and posturing. It remains acrimonious to this day, despite decades of excellent work meshing the competing standards.

Which brings us back to Ursula K. LeGuin’s remark about miscegenation. She’s not sure genre benefits from an influx of mainstream elements?

First, consider the source of this comment; the latest issue of LOCUS, the newspaper of science fiction and fantasy publishing. She was speaking to a select audience and perhaps playing to its perceived prejudices.

Second, consider that LeGuin’s work itself represents some of the finest merging -- miscegenation -- available. She has always written pure science fiction with high mainstream standards of prose and character, setting and theme. Her work is neither white nor black but bronze and brown, a burnished alloy combining the best of both.

Third, consider that miscegenation is an old-fashioned, outdated word, long overdue for an overhaul. Perhaps that is what we can learn from her comment, that the new mix, as with hybrids everywhere, is stronger and healthier than either of its parents.

Of the New Wave herself, LeGuin may be looking forward to a time when the only consideration is not genre versus mainstream, but quality of writing. A good story well told is all that matters, in the end. Categorical thinking should be a thing of the past, an embarrassment like racism or any other kind of prejudice and bigotry.

Sure, some of us will always prefer stories with certain types of elements in them; that’s a matter of taste and education. But excluding work, not even giving it a chance, simply because it emphasizes one set of standards over another, or contains one set of elements and not another, is absurd.

It simply does not matter what percentage of what kind of “blood” one carries from one’s ancestry, and it simply does not matter what percentage of what arbitrary literary grouping a story contains.

We need to be better than that, like the best of today’s fiction.

/// /// ///

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ficta Mystica: A Manifesto

Seeing Through Words

So yesterday I finally had a breakthrough in solving a knotty problem that has puzzled me, and Susie, and some others, for a long, long time. Years, perhaps decades.

The quandary? How to present my work, especially my novels, so the agents and publishers will see them as part of a unified marketable whole. My novels do not tend easily to fall into an established category. This makes it hard for agents and publishers to see a way to promote me, or to isolate an audience my work will appeal to. So I need a kind of market imprint, a trademark, a branding of sorts, so that they can make Gene Stewart your one-stop shopping source for a given consistent experience.

Tough, hm?

Jay Lake, fellow member of the Omaha Beach Party despite being based in Portland, published Mainspring and Escapement through Tor. They are his most visible works. They are both set in a world that takes the Clockmaker's Universe literally -- the planets all move on big brass gears and so on -- so he coined the term Clockpunk to describe this. it's become a sliver genre and he is its main source.

Good marketing. You like this, here's where to get more.

Okay, so Susie and I discussed my novels. What, if anything, do they have in common. And we came up with epiphany. All of them, in one way or another, deal with an individual confronting an unseen, unknown world, or hidden agenda, and having to deal with the consequences of a wider viewpoint. That is epiphany.

Well, okay, fine, but now we need a way to express that, one that looks good or sounds catchy, etc. We were fooling around with the -punk suffix, the blank-punk formula, like Cyberpunk, Steampunk, Clockpunk, etc. All we came up with were the lame Epiphapunk, or the confusing Eurekapunk.

Neither of those were going to work.

Then I dug back into my search for a term to describe my writing in terms of realism. I'd jokingly called it Gothic Realism, but that's inaccurate, as I don't use moldy castles and vampires, even if I do often capture the eeriness. I looked at irreality, noir, and surrealism, and many others both academically formal and otherwise, but none fit my work well.

Words are not story.

Then it struck me: what I'm writing is, always one way or another, mystical. It peers, or leaps, into other worlds, and deals with unseen forces. Mysticism informs the work. Revelations, epiphanies, and the shamanic experience infuse my work. Most of what I write includes such tropes and topos as hallucinatory changes, encounters with strange Others, and so on.

So I dug into all that and also into Fiction as a conceptual term, looking into the academia.

What I came up with is this:

Mystical realism describes what I'm up to most of the time. Mysticism informs all my work, be it writing, art, or music, fine, but Mystipunk sounds too much like Mistah Punk. We can't really call it Mystic Punk, either, because the punk part is a wobbly fit at best, and the term sounds stupid anyway.

I write mystica. I present the Vista Mystica, the mystical vision, or involve my characters in it. Here, then, is the term I've created:

Ficta Mystica.

It is the fiction of mystical realism.

Ficta Mystica includes such mottos, watchwords, and principles as: Nonfactual truth, avoiding facts to reveal a truth, and the notion that In story lies reality. Want facts? Read nonfiction. Want truth? Ficta Mystica. The notion that only by telling a story can a truth be revealed is an ancient one.

I can see sayings pulled from such ideas appearing on tee shirts and used in essays, articles, and reviews. It's a good promotable movement with a commercially sexy & marketable aspect to it, with many evocative, intriguing memes attached to it.

Best of all, it developed without me noticing, naturally, over the course of my 42 years of writing. It’s not a label to be slapped onto any old container, it is an organic result of growth, the grain in my fiction’s wood.

Finally I’ll have an answer when people find out I’m a writer and ask me what I write.

I write to reveal what words cannot say.

Ficta Mystica.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Finished Center's Edge

Wrote 5600 words and finished Center’s Edge today, after having it interrupted on 9/11/01. A lot of years for a 62,000 word novel. A lot of struggle, too. Can’t say it purged anything. Nor what it means, really.

Wrote at it in a relaxed, enjoyable, and also a thoughtful, deliberate way all day, from 9AM to about 5:30PM. It’ll be seen as horror or dark fantasy; that’s fine. Dark infests it. Means a lot to me because 9/11 was a body blow and just to have brought Center’s Edge to a satisfactory conclusion means I’ve made it this far. Maybe that’s all it means, but I doubt it. It’s a very strange story.

Now comes all the worry and impossibility of marketing, all the second-guessing. It’s too short, too weird, and has multiple viewpoint -- all the things viewed as flaws in the current climate. All the things that it’s not, or that it should be. Change this, rewrite that, why bother with the rest of it?

Finishing a novel is celebratory for some and at least a good feeling for most. I just cringe because it means the good part is over and now the bad part starts.

After I cringe I keep working on other novels. Writing I love. The rest is pushing balls of shit that outweigh you up a steep hill for snobs who wait at the top to judge you and who expect you to be spotlessly clean if you get there.

/// /// ///

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Old Clothes

A quilt made by my great grandmother lay on my bed all through childhood and in fact well into adulthood and marriage. On the floor, to keep my bare feet from touching cold floorboards each morning, lay a spiral rug also made by my great grandmother. It consisted of braids twisted from discarded clothes, sewn into a spiral. Her quilts were also made from discarded clothes.

If physical material is infused with the spirits of the people who use them, then those old clothes would have been redolent with family. To live surrounded by such items, made useful again by craft, concentration, and concern; to sleep under the touch and to have one’s warmth conserved on frigid nights by such items; to be encompassed in one’s life by passed-on touch transformed by love was surely a blessing beyond words.

We rarely dwell in such embrace now. Our family’s touch has gone from constant and sure to brief and tentative. Old clothes now are discarded, not made into something useful again in daily ways. Our touch has become impractical and fleeting. I used to have mittens and scarves made by loving relatives and once even a nose warmer made by a caring teacher. I would sled and play in the snow for hours and never feel cold. Now?

Now I am cold even in store-bought Scottish wool. To bring back the reuse of old clothes and pass along a family’s touch, and warmth, would heal wounds I’ve sustained over the years since I last slept under one of my great grandmother’s quilts or stood to face each day on one of her spiral rugs.

/// /// ///

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Know Your Rights by the Clash

This is a public service announcement
With guitar
Know your rights all three of them

Number 1
You have the right not to be killed
Murder is a crime!
Unless it was done by a
Policeman or aristocrat
Know your rights

And number 2
You have the right to food money
Providing of course you
Dont mind a little
Investigation, humiliation
And if you cross your fingers

Know your rights
These are your rights

Know these rights

Number 3
You have the right to free
Speech as long as youre not
Dumb enough to actually try it.

Know your rights
These are your rights
All three of em
It has been suggested
In some quarters that this is not enough!

Get off the streets
Get off the streets
You dont have a home to go to

Finally then I will read you your rights

You have the right to remain silent
You are warned that anything you say
Can and will be taken down
And used as evidence against you

Listen to this


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Here's Why So Serious

How to explain the oxymoron of THE DARK KNIGHT?

The hero must become an outcast in order best to serve his chosen community, while the villain is neither evil nor mad, merely free.

A psychological depth resonates throughout this film. All the characters get to be human, with flaws, foibles, and admirable qualities. All get to make life choices we can relate to.

Joker is getting the attention and perhaps rightfully so, not just because Mr. Ledger died in January of an accidental drug mix and pneumonia.

Heath Ledger's final performance as Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT is being hailed because he so perfectly captures our misery, our anger, and our madness at seeing through the hypocrisy of rules as civilization stumbles and society's controls and controllers enact draconian extremes to keep the reigns of power in their grip. His villain is not evil, and not even malicious. It just wants to clear away the lies and have some blunt truth for once.

His villainy is of a liberating nature, whereas Batman's heroism stands for control, even fascism.

Go figure. It’s all right there for you, if you can count that high while gasping in awe. Moral dilemmas, ethical toss-ups, and even the balance of action with inaction all strip away pretense. Poses won’t do suddenly. That's why an angry man fails and a prisoner and presumed criminal succeeds at one point: only the criminal can think far enough outside the box of imposed rules to do something both perfectly obvious and utterly right. Everyone else is stymied, and this is telling.

There is no room for the free individual anymore. Repent, Harlequin, said the Ticktockman, as Harlan Ellison once put it.

Ledger's Joker is all too sane. That's part of what makes him so scary. He has actually thought it all out and knows full well what he's doing and why, and he understands the rules and definitions he'll be breaking, and goes ahead anyway because to do anything else is to be untrue to himself.

He moves quickly sometimes, but mostly is still or posed, and warily predatory. It's an amazingly complex performance.

He simply is a free individual in a locked-down, fearful world of total control freakism. Which makes him a freak.

His clown makeup says it all: I'm dead to you, hence the whiteface, but I'm just a joke to you, because you've all surrendered already to the fascists. Now watch me burn.

He says at one point: "Everything burns."

Whether it wants to or not, he might have added.

And so THE DARK KNIGHT puts it, too. Lie to the citizens and hold secret meetings to decide how things will be? Spy on 30 million people to find one person labeled a terrorist? Violate rights to cut through red tape and even law? Torture to get information regardless how reliable it is?

Why so serious? Indeed, why such tight collective control? Because we fear the wild creature within each of us, the Free Individual, which is to say the one free from restraints and restrictions, rules and regulations, free from control by others.

Fear of someone doing what ever they want.

And the funny thing is, those at the top, in power, do exactly that, all in the name of protecting us from such people. All in the name of restoring order, which means control.

THE DARK KNIGHT, especially via Joker’s rational anarchy and reasoned chaos, lets us question all this and much more. It is simultaneously a very public and very private kind of movie. Part of it demands yelling and fists raised in strong feeling, but much of it insists upon silent reflection and some deep, hard thinking.

That's Ledger's legacy, a role allowing us all to hope for oblivion while ignoring the pain and courting a final, all-out confrontation with society's extremes.

At one point Joker mutters for Batman to hit him with a speeding motorcycle. He genuinely wants release from the misery of existence, and he knows only when they collide will they touch the essence of the yin-yang dilemma.

Because then light and dark is One. For however brief an instant, that touch, that merging of forces, is all that counts, and will obliterate all the lies and compromises, all the shortcomings and cheats, all the deceptions and hidden agendas that have brought it all to this.

The image of our world may well be a jackboot's heel being ground into a human face, but the spark of life, and the only moment of truth in our world, is when face meets face in equal confrontation at full speed.

Anything less is another loss.

Do we want to settle for letting our outcasts enforce our imprisonment, or do we want to break free and act on our own behalf to change the slaughter to laughter?

This movie elevates the super hero movie to serious art and it does so effortlessly, largely on the shoulders of an actor whose work is done. By all means see it on the big screen and come away changed.

/// /// ///

Monday, July 14, 2008

Not This Little Black Duck, or: That's All, Folks

Here’s what Don Hazen, editor at AlterNet, had to say about the NYer cover depicted here: “The New Yorker magazine hits the news stands today [Mon 14 July 2008] with a shocking cover -- a caricature of Barack and Michelle Obama depicting the presidential candidate in a turban, fist-bumping his wife who has a machine gun slung over her shoulder, while the American flag burns in the fireplace. The cover is shocking in that it depicts the Obamas in bizarre caricatured images and associations which reflect the very stereotypes with which the conservatives, particularly Fox News, have been trying to frame both the Obamas. Thus, instead of satire, the cover becomes a political poster for conservatives to reinforce their messages.”

The article went on to give the Obama campaign’s reaction:

Bill Burton, a spokesman for Obama, said in a statement: "The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Sen. Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree."

So, on the grounds that Americans are too unsophisticated to get satire, and too literal to understand how a literal depiction of the right’s smear of Obama reveals its essential absurdity, they condemn the cover.

This is more revealing than the cover itself.

Why should certain things, such as Mohammed, be off-limits to political satire and cartoons? Should anything be?

What we’re seeing is Obama supporters trying to twist things not to their favor, but toward censorship. Toward political correctness as a weapon to fight free expression of complex, subtle ideas. They are demonizing irony.

If the right takes the cover up as a poster for its bigotry, so what? That merely reflects the right’s core idiocy and vile mean-spiritedness.

If the stupid among us can’t grasp the difference between a pointed political cartoon and a documentary photograph, so what? Perhaps offering actual education in place of indoctrination in America’s schools would eventually improve such a dismal performance.

To penalize the satire is not only willfully missing the point, it is to take one more step toward the fascism that is corroding what was once the USA.

Freedoms and liberty should be precious, not convenient. Are we to stand idly by as liar and lunatics dictate the terms of public discourse? To cite another satire few have ever understood: “Not this little black duck.”

Here’s what Warner Bros. says about Daffy, by the way: “As his personality gained depth at the hands of Warner Bros cartoons’ directors, the little black duck became more self-analytical, competitive, peevish, paranoid, and neurotic... Daffy, like the Greek hero Sisyphus, is a victim of injustice who continuously protests. And it’s his refusal to surrender his will to the whims of the conspiring universe that makes him heroic”.

It’s always like that for satire, and any other intelligent art. The masses never get it, and it’s used against the masses by cynical manipulators with ulterior motives and hidden agendas.

As it was with the Mohammed cartoons in Denmark, so it is now with this NYer cover cartoon. Intolerance and a lack of any sense of humor are being used in tandem to crush dissent. In this specific instance, it is also being used to suppress and condemn the unmasking of a vile right canard.

Does it occur to no one allegedly in the Obama camp, let alone anyone in favor of freedom and liberty of the First Amendment varietal, that taking the cover’s depiction seriously as a literal truth, rather than seeing it for a scathing revelation, is precisely what the right wants? That refusing to see how it explodes the absurdity of the notions it depicts is precisely what the blinkered, ditto’d right does? That embracing the cover’s mockery of the ideas the cartoon so acidly attacks would be exactly the antidote to such prejudicial stereotypes?

So either the Obama side of things isn’t as slick as its PR would have us believe, or it has cynically decided to stand with the right by playing to the Lowest Common Denominator mentality and stirring up fake, distracting controversy rather than engaging genuine issues.

Seem familiar, folks?

Plus ça change, plus c’est la méme chose.

Rush Limbaugh started out as an anti-right satirist, until the right, being literalist and stupid, took what he was saying not as mockery but as confirmation. At that point, he decided to shill for pay and became what is laughingly called a pundit. The creation of the ego-monster, the lunatic gas-bag, the mindless mouth that not even oxycontin can close, came about simply by taking satire as validation.

This failure to laugh is a failure to puncture the pretense, and only worsens the pretentious among us.

The emperor has no clothes, shouts the NYer cover, but before the crowd can laugh and clear away the compliance born of fear and the conformity born of collective silence, the laughter is cut off by shrill accusations that the little boy who cried out the emperor’s nakedness is a sexual pervert who must be punished. And so the crowd falls upon the boy, stones and beheads him, and the oppression of idiocy goes on.

So by all means become outraged that a cartoonist on the cover of a nationally prominent magazine dared to show the plain truth about the right’s nonsensical accusations, in order to emphasize how silly they are. Because your outrage will demonize such revelations of truth, and help ensure the continued fascist dictatorship of fear, compliance, conformity, and willful ignorance and blindness that has made what’s left of this country what it is today.

The One Party of the USSA has spoken and only Big Brother is left smirking in the shadows.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

“A Slim Chance of Mimetic Redemption, or:

“A Slim Chance of Mimetic Redemption, or:
Fun With Your New Soul,
An Open Letter to
The Now Closed Thomas M. Disch”
Gene Stewart

Dear Mr. Disch,

You were, they say, depressive, and prone to the vicissitudes of being gay in a world that was not. White Fang Goes Dingo, indeed. These were things I never knew, although there were probably hints in your elegant stories too subtle for this reporter. You missed your partner, Charles Naylor, and remained kind and generous to individuals with temerity enough to approach you while maintaining a reputation as a cantankerous and often regally vicious curmudgeon.

It has, yes, occurred to me that your suicide may well prove, down the line, to be another of your seamless literary hoaxes.

You wrote and published poetry at award-winning levels and issued theater and opera criticism, all matters guaranteed to confuse this reporter, who liked his opera in space, his theater sf’nal. And it was in those realms you never disappointed. From Camp Concentration and The Puppies of Terra to 334, your work shown with intelligence, irony, and wit absent from the majority of whiz-bang dreams our stuff was made of, and always there were eye-widening ideas offered or subversive, sly angles taken to startle readers into glimpsing what science fiction could, sometimes, aspire to in the literary realm.

Even your horror -- The Businessman: A Tale of Terror for the consumer unit who likes to think about what’s being done to him; The M.D.: A Horror Story, a deliciously dark mockery of what we laughingly call medicine, which first does grave harm; The Priest: A Gothic Romance, touching, dare one say groping, on pedophilia; and The Sub: A Study in Witchcraft of the sort performed on malleable young minds by teachers -- spun new yarn from old thread, and wove it into patterns delightful and dark. Behind the fun, a cynicism breathtaking took wing, darting with the light touch of bats avoiding blows.

You were home-schooled, always advanced, and you were Catholic, always looking back in piercingly critical observations about the church and its ways, as in The Priest. You reserved your loathing perhaps too much for yourself, given how much legitimate contumely you had to spread among the types represented by your horror novels.

Like another well-known curmudgeon mysteriously called Harlan Ellison, you found the Army, and regimentation of any kind, maddening, a fact reflective of the freedom, including of sexuality, found celebrated so well in your book On Wings of Song.

You supposedly once said this: "I have a class theory of literature. I come from the wrong neighborhood to sell to The New Yorker. No matter how good I am as an artist, they always can smell where I come from.” And you were as good as the best of them, those others, the snobs and elite who kept tight ranks in the literary deer park that reserves big money and, more importantly, serious acclaim and the possibility of success that lasts generations for itself, specifically withholding it from the likes of genre writers like you. Bitterness set in, did it not, sir? And your best work was as pearls before swine.

To subvert them by reaching into the delicate minds of their children, you gave us all The Brave Little Toaster, later sending him to Mars, thus luring them into science fiction as well as fantasy. Even the animated version, in a touch of grace, retained your fundamental qualities, brilliantly offering hope even to the mere appliances of a world run by other orders of being, an optimistic, if sarcastic, dream for the useful work-doers such as us. Such work detonates in young minds like 102 H-bombs.

But now we learn you have finally gotten into death, an exclusive club from which you were barred for 68 wearisome years. Your reputation will echo ‘round the bones of your work left for us to gnaw upon, and the genocidal writers among us especially will have no idea how best to remember you, even as their own work shows influences of your elegance, your antic irony, and your dry wit. You died a prisoner of neighboring lives, leaving us only the word of god pinned against the wall of America; we can but hope you have fun with your new soul as we read again and again the words you arranged for us before you left.


Black Alice (Clara & Alfred Reeve)

P.S. - Mr. Disch apparently used the sounds of the Fourth of July to cover the sound of his gunshot, a courteous celebration of a kind of freedom most of us lack the courage to engage.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Waiting for Better

“Waiting For Better”
W B Kek

We touched the moon a dozen times
Before we fell to earth
Where hunger rots the feast of peace
And war is all we’re worth.
It costs ourselves, our children, too,
To keep the fighting stoked.
We burn what graces sins accrue
As death gods we invoke.
“Forget the heights, explore the depths,”
Our battle cry implores.
And yet a glimmer far above us
Calls to distant shores
The best of us, their spark not dead --
Ambitions unfulfilled.
If few respond, at least those few
May justify blood spilled
And leave behind this legacy
Of taunting every fate
In favor of a higher goal.
The worst comes as we wait
For better lives.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

An Email to a Friend In CA

Trees down everywhere. I can hear chainsaws even as I write this.

We had 125,000 without power, but I think it's down under 50,000 now, perhaps fewer.

My eldest son left the house scoffing at the email warning I had just received. Five minutes later, as I fumbled to send a Text Message to him, he called and said he was turning back and that we should head to the basement. It was blue sky and calm where I stood in our front yard when I got that call.

I was outside to stop my middle son from driving over to pick up his girlfriend. I asked if he'd do it in twenty minutes or so, after the storm blew over. He was going to ignore me when my eldest son called. He then listened to reason and put his Corvette back into the garage.

As he came out of the garage, I stepped up onto the porch and wham, he, just behind me, was pelted by hailstones. It hit instantly, almost without warning, and there were 100 mph winds.

We ducked, my eldest made it back, and he got utterly soaked running from car to house. Meanwhile, my wife was at Jazzercise, and would be en route home soon. She has no cell phone. So I came upstairs to see how bad things were getting when I spotted large branches blocking the street. My middle son saw them too and ran out to clear the street so my wife wouldn't have to.

He was drenched as if he'd gone through a car wash, of course. He said it felt sort of like that, too. We watched him almost be blown over a couple times.

After this we ducked some more in the basement, and once it rolled over, we came up and my wife got home and we began clearing debris.

Two big van loads of debris from our yard alone was taken to the dump site. They had to establish sites all over Omaha and Bellevue for the incredible amount of stuff that was down.

At the top of our street, on the street intersecting it, in two spots, major branches blocked the street from sidewalk to sidewalk.

Cops announced no one should drive the rest of Friday night and into Saturday morning, so the clean-up crews could clear road and emergency crews deal with downed power lines and so on.

We were lucky, no power outage and no damage to vehicles or house, but all around us are damaged roofs, destroyed trees, and some local flooding.

Thank goodness climate instability is just a liberal myth, huh?

Now how about the fires out your way? Any of them affecting you?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Night Brooding

Plonk: In drops the heavy thought that we are gearing up to wind down. My wife and I watched 12 MONKEYS this evening. I'd seen it before but had forgotten how good it is. It struck me that it foreshadows M. Night Shyamalan's THE HAPPENING and CHILDREN OF MEN and 28 DAYS LATER and so on, at least in the foreboding sense of inevitable doom. Apocalyptic themes are not uncommon in movies but those like the ones I mention are films with an eerily prophetic feel.

Time and again plague is cited in such fictions. The Stand by Stephen King is his best-selling book and it's a doorstop about a plague bringing about mankind's end and, with it, the final showdown between Good and Evil. Albert Camu's The Plague, by contrast, comes off, despite its bleakness, as elegantly hopeful.

A sentiment that crops up regularly is that mankind deserves to be wiped out or does not deserve to survive. Our excesses, our cruelties, and our general rampage of indiscriminate destruction are cited, and even brief references to specific examples convince us to nod in agreement.

We feel guilty and crave punishment. We feel ashamed and dive into depression and self-negation, dragging the world with us.

I would argue this is quite a serious theme for popular entertainment. Oh, sure, its okay for writers and directors to get artsy but the fact of us eating up morose works like these speaks of a possible universality underlying the sentiment of approaching and deserved doom

That's why I wonder if we are all sensing something that's really looming.

Of course, history shows me any number of examples of millennialism. Crying doom is a lucrative cottage industry and doomsday is a cult-leader's best spiel. It is even religion's cornerstone in many major cases. Shrinks tell us it's just good old personal mortality being projected into paranoid fantasies and perhaps so, for the most part.

Trouble is, these things have a way of being self-fulfillling prophecies. Cults suicide, wars escalate, and science errs in favor of annihilation. It is not difficult to see where straight-line trends lead. Over population plus antibiotic-resistant diseases multiplied by jet travel equals a dead loss for humanity.

And how soon we forget how close we've come before during, say, the Black Death or the 1918 flu pandemic. Perhaps this creeping dread we all feel is ancestral memory of other end times when only small percentages of populations survived.

What we need to do is fight the sense of inevitability and overcome the inertia that keeps us doing the same suicidally stupid things over and over. Breaking the cycle of pollution, of subjugating nature to our whims rather than trying to live with and within it, and of killing and obliteration wars bring us would go a long way toward proving the doomsayers wrong. Let those terrifying visions of what has almost been and what might very well soon be teach us object lessons. Our own actions can turn these dystopias into mere cautionary tales, if we but heed their warnings.

If this goes on the lights go off for good.

Why not stop the stampede before reaching the cliff's edge?

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, A Review

This is a documentary about his 1977 arrest for statutory rape. It’s new and highly rated, having debuted at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. It shows how his arrest was based as much on who and what he was as any possible crime, one he denies. His background is interesting in itself, from his mother murdered by Nazis in Poland, his father’s death-camp internment, and his own abandonment to fend for himself to his rapid rise to celebrity in 1960s London based on his early Polish films, his marriage to Sharon Tate, her murder by the Manson Family, and his dalliance with 13 year old Samantha Geimer that led to his status as an outlaw on the lam.

His supporters, including defense attorney Doug Dalton, maintain it was a set of trumped up charges rather similar to the persecution of Michael Jackson, based on the prosecutors’ view that Roman Polanksi was a decadent Eurotrash sicko steeped in perversion. A Mormon prosecutor was assigned the case and it went to a judge who asked for the case because he liked celebrity cases. Judge Rittenband loved the media and ran his courtroom like a tyrannical director. He had Hollywood pals and attended country club parties. He even kept a scrapbook and took telegrams to reserve seats in at the trial.

Polanksi was short, foreign, and spoke with a heavy accent. He was considered perverse due to his weird movies and veiled background. A malign dwarf, he was called. He riled their anti-intellectual, anti-cultural, and anti-European ire while inflaming other, more visceral bigotries, such as success envy.

His trial was scheduled, perversely, for the eighth anniversary of Polanksi’s wife Sharon Tate’s murder. Samantha Geimer, the 13 year old girl who took ‘ludes and allowed herself to be seduced in a hot tub, having been left there with Polanski by her own mother, was called a corrupt little high-school vixen and slutty model wannabe.

The Mormon prosecutor, to find out about Polanski, watched his films at a handy restrospective at a nearby theater. He watched everything from KNIFE IN WATER through ROSEMARY’S BABY and decided all the films had a theme of the corrupt leading the innocent into corruption over water. So he prosecuted on those grounds; that Polanski had lured a 13-year old all-American girl to her moral doom, rape, in a jacuzzi.

No one at the time noticed how surreal this was. Had Roman Raymond Polanski been around in 1947 he might have had the Black Dahlia murder pinned on him.

As it was, Sharon Tate’s death at the hands of the Manson Family was perhaps worse. Polanski was shattered, devastated, and flew from London, where he’d been in talks to direct DAY OF THE DOLPHIN. The papers at once blamed him for the murders, actually claiming he had flown stateside, killed them, then had flown back to London.

Again, no one at the time noticed how surreal this was.

Imagine living through all he had -- the loss of parents in the Holocaust, surviving alone as a preteen in a war-shattered Eastern Europe, the murder of your wife and child and friends by the Manson Family -- without becoming a madman, a drug addict, or a suicide. He dived into society to keep from being alone, one psychologist said, observing how Polanski kept up his social calendar no matter what happened to him. It was his way of staying stable; avoiding too much solitude.

Of course, this led him to earn a reputation as a party animal, one who liked very young girls. He had famously discovered Natassia Kinski when she was 15, affair and all. A psychologist commented that, especially after the loss of his wife, Sharon Tate, and the stability she had offered him, Polanski, a man with no life map, no blueprint for how to live, fell back upon being wary to the point of fear of relationships with adult women.

What ever the case, Samantha Geimer, at 13, was introduced into the social swirl surrounding Roman Polanski, famous director, by her mother, or so the press claimed, and left alone with him as a seduction ploy that was part of a casting couch blackmail scheme. Geimer later testified that she had been nervous after the first photo shoot Polanski conducted for the French edition of VOGUE, when he’d asked her to change in front of him. She said of the incident in the jacuzzi, which took place on 10 March 1977 in Jack Nicholson’s house in Los Angeles, that he had plied her during the shoot with both champagne and quaaludes to relax her and that, once he had her in the water and was pressuring her for sex, she said no several times but finally “gave up on that.” She sounds like a little girl who was pressured for something she was not ready for, caught in a situation she did not know how to escape. Whether it was part of her mother’s plan or not, statutory rape is exactly what it sounds like.

One thinks of Mary Miles Minter, her mother, and the murder of William Desmond Taylor. How dangerous, the fires Polanski seemed to play with and dance among. Is it any wonder that, after ROSEMARY’S BABY, he took on, in the press at least, a Satanic aura?

So, was this a case of tit for tat gone awry? Her mother was an aspiring actress who described herself as “an extra” to Polanski upon first meeting him. Samantha Geimer, grown now, denies it was part of any scheme and considers it just something that happened and that she got over. She is now married with three children and has put the incident behind her. She says it was not what anyone claimed.

Polanski pled guilty to consensual sex with a minor on his lawyer’s advice, based on the fact that no one had been sent to prison on that plea in years. However, the law allowed for a sentence of 6 months to 50 years in a state prison.

The judge ignored a probation psychiatric report saying Polanski was not a degenerate and should not go to prison, and sent him for a 90-day observation period at Chino for a diagnostic study, in order to punish him without allowing him legal room for appeal. The judge then told the attorneys to fake their pleas in court so the press would think it was not worked out in advance. The deal being that, if Polanski got a good report after 90 days, which all expected, then it would end the punishment and he could walk away a free man.

So the lawyers stood in court, faked their arguments, then listened to Judge Rittenband read a lenghty conclusion obviously written ahead of time, all so the media would not lash back at him.

Oh, and Polanski was then granted a 90-day stay so he could finish the movie he was directing.

Polanksi fled the country. Or did he? He was caught at the airport and laughed off suggestions that he would not be back, saying it was a business trip to Europe to talk to his financiers.

A random photographer caught a shot of Polanski in a Oktoberfest tent in Munich sitting between two pretty girls, smoking a cigar, and Judge Rittenband took this as an insult. He issued a growly order for Polanski to return at once to California. All this because no one would hire Polanski except the schlock producer Dino De Laurentis, who had insisted on business drinks in Munich. Absurdity once again stalked Polanski.

Random observation: Polanski sure rode in crap cars more than a few times, back in the 1970s.

He returned stateside and went to the 90-day stint at Chino, where he was afraid the other inmates would get to him and kill him, which they threatened to do to all child molesters. He was kept in protective custody but the danger was real, as others had been killed there in similar circumstances.

Chino authorities on the probation board let him out after 42 days had been served, saying there was no reason to keep him further. Naturally the prosecutor called this a free pass, the press howled for Polanski’s blood, and Judge Rittenband felt personally pressured.

By now the judge could not stand the heat, and announced he was going to go back on his promise to release Polanski after time served at Chino. This was the deal he himself had forced on the attorneys. He literally said a prison sentence must be maintained for the press.

He told the defense attorney that he would sentence Polanski in open court, then, after the press had left, would meet with the attorney in chambers to release Polanski into defense attorney Dalton’s custody. the judge then demanded Polanski sign papers waiving deportation rights.

The lawyer Dalton countered that he wanted a hearing in public so the deal would be on the record and the judge threatened to withdraw the offer.

Neither prosecutor nor defense attorney wanted any part of Judge Rittenband’s plans and the prosecutor told Dalton he would tell anyone at any time what the judge had tried to pull. No one could trust Judge Rittenband now.

Polanski heard about all this, said, “Gentlemen, I’ll be seeing you,” and left the offices. He drove to De Laurentis’s house, where, De Laurentis claims with a twinkle in his eye, “I handed him an envelope with, as I recall, some scripts and notes in it.” Polanski then flew to Paris, France.

He fled an out-of-control judge laying a railroad for him. And France’s extradition laws barred the US from forcing Polanski to return.

When Polanski did not show in court, Judge Rittenband held a press conference on the pending case, which was unprecedented. The defense and prosecution then held a conference announcing all the judge’s machinations, which forced Rittenband out.

Samantha Geimer summed it up well. She said, “the judge was enjoying his publicity and did not care what happened to me or to Mr. Polanski.”

Roman Polanski is 74 and remains wanted stateside.

Recently the two opposing attorneys in the case presented arguments to a new judge, who agreed that, if Polanski came back, he would serve no more time and could clear himself of all charges. He stipulated the hearing would have to be held in public, with TV cameras, no doubt mindful of Rittenband’s secrecy and wishing to avoid all appearances of such deception.

When he learned the hearing that would fulfill his legal obligations to the state of California would be televised, Polanski declined to return, so the case remains unresolved.

Polanski lives in Paris. He speaks six languages, lives a cosmopolitan life of parties and culture, and is one of the most respected directors in movies. France has embraced him, and he has embraced France, his birthplace and his likely final resting place.

ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED (in USA) and DESIRED (in France) is a worthwhile portrait of an interesting man.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Hoodwinked by Hollywood Again

Okay, here's my take.

While watching it, it's fun, but a cartoon. Yes, the Tarzan bit pushed it too far but I found the fridge bit perfect -- for a Bugs Bunny Cartoon. The prairie dogs were irrelevant and overly cutesy -- Lucas at his worst -- but more importantly failed as a set-up for the monkeys, one of dozens of instances of writing chances ignored, dropped, or muffed.

After watching the movie, during what Hitchcock called the Refrigerator Logic period, I realized how abysmal the movie is. It's so badly written as to be inept. There are endless set-ups that never pay off or follow through, the FBI sub-plot being but one glaring example. The entire movie is derivative. I was reminded of THE SIMPSONS and their vicious satire of Lucas, in which his character says at one point: "I feel like writing: Quick! To the video store!"

They have him pegged.

By seeing INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULLS, we also saw parts of the movies THE AVENGERS, HITHCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, STALLION GATE, TARZAN, AMERICAN TREASURE, X-FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE, KING SOLOMON'S MINES, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, and STARGATE, among others. There was not an original moment in the whole thing unless it was some clumsy attempt at humor or some mistimed, poorly phrased punch line.

As for that fridge, by the way: It was the only thing hurled intact from the site, everything else having been vaporized. Okay, Bugs would have made it work. But no refrigerator is lead-lined. And it wouldn't have mattered had it been. So adding that detail was egregious nonsense that shows how far up their own irreality they are. They're trying to convince us of Wile E. Coyote's pain here.

They pulled back from the third waterfall descent -- absurd, by the way, for its passivity and in the movie solely to set up the eventual thrill ride -- to reveal A FAMOUS WATERFALL IN AFRICA. This would be fine had we been in Africa, but we were in Amazonia; or had they altered it sufficiently with CGI to make it unrecognizable; but instead they relied on viewer ignorance. They'll never know, hee hee.

At the end of the destruction of the huge stone machine / temple ruins protecting the saucer, we see an ocean coming in to flood it. Now, remind me, would you? Exactly which ocean is it that's located at the heart of Amazonia? Don't tell me it's another instance of They'll Never Notice, hee hee... There are a lot of such moments in this movie, showing contempt for the audience and sheer apathy on the part of the film makers.

The Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls, by the way, is a huge set of ruins open to the air. This means it's easily visible from the air. And if it's supposed to be on a coast, then even the stone age peoples of 1957 would have found it and cataloged it by now. Here they seem to be using the past as a handy reference meaning Before Anyone Knew Anything, and it's more contempt, or stupidity. Hard to tell which.

The crystal skull used for most of the scenes looked like a molded 2-liter plastic bottle stuffed with crumpled plastic wrap. None of the actors even bothered trying to make it look like it had any heft or weight, as quartz that big sure would have. I was at once reminded of another famous McGuffin, the Maltese Falcon. That was a movie prop you could have crushed some skulls with.

The skull was shown to be magnetic with inert metals, but only when convenient. Other times, nothing. And it was never as wildly magnetic as the one in the hangar. Nor were the skeletons. And please note, the one in the hangar attracted iron, not other metals, according to Indy's dialogue. Despite this, aluminum dog-tags were shown being drawn to it -- and dog tags weren't worn by Russians... and later the skull attracts gold and other non-ferrous metals... and... why bother?

This plot device, this set-up, is yet another in a long chain that adds up to nothing and has no follow-through, or consequences. It's as if Indiana Jones could survive an atomic blast without so much as a bruise or scratch...

And some of the action scenes drew on so long I wondered if they weren't filler. Their absurdity had time to sink in, too: Why stop and fight it out when you can keep fighting and drive headlong at high speeds blindly through uncharted jungle along the side of a cliff? Talk about stacking the deck. Where were the flying dinosaurs? Well, there were monkeys... which were to reference the greasers from the soda shop fight earlier... but which did not because of ineptitude and a breathless rush to get to a piece of schtick that Johnny Weismuller would have refused to bother with.

At the end of the movie the torch is almost passed, then snatched back, as if Harrison Ford, knowing he doesn't have another Indiana Jones film in him, can't stand to see anyone else play the character while he's still alive. Either that, or he was doing Shia LeBeouf a huge favor and saving him from a fate worse than typecasting.

Altogether, it was a pretty concoction of mindless ideas woven into a very loose hugger-mugger plot. If I watched it again it would be too preposterous for me to enjoy and I'd end up taking it apart piecemeal.

Ultimate take on it? Wasn't worth the money it cost us to see it. Typical Hollywood post-literate cheat and knockoff. And I so wanted to like it, too. And yes, I understand it's supposed to echo the 1930s cliffhanger serials. Sad part is, it does, in all the wrong ways. Sorry Steven & George, you guys have both had it.

Churlish bastard, aren't I?

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