Thursday, June 30, 2005

Excerpt from the Encyclopedia Britannica, Year 2352, on "The North American Information Age"

Excerpt from the Encyclopedia Britannica, Year 2352, on "The North American Information Age":

"They transacted."

Monday, June 27, 2005


I'm a rube, I know it. Seeing all this crap in the media about Tom Cruise and his adherence to Scientology got me wondering about the church -- which it was doubtless intended to do.

As a kid, I recall seeing commercials on TV for the book Dianetics. These ads featured some guy who went to the trouble of climbing a mountain only to whip out the book, which he sat down and read on the spot, as though wondering, "All right, what the hell do I do once I climb the goddamned mountain?" In later years, this reminded me of the old Tampax joke about the young boy going into the pharmacy and asking for a box of Tampax. An embarrassed, bewildered pharmacist asks the boy what in the world he could possibly want with Tampax, to which the boy says that the commercials for Tampax said he could go swimming, horseback riding, and all these other fun things with Tampax.

Some friends of mine were involved in Scientology for a couple of decades. They are great people whom we still see. They were apparently very advanced in Scientology, having been on L. Ron Hubbard's yacht more than once (the equivalent to being invited to the Vatican by the Pope). Thing is, these people never spoke of Scientology to us, and there was a kind of unspoken vibe at times that it was best not to ask. In the past few years, I've had the sense that they have broken away from Scientology.

Anyhow, I thought I would satisfy my curiosity and look at the Scientology official Web site. Man, one bit of information really jumped out at me:
"Through spiritual counseling called “auditing,” Scientologists reduce and ultimately erase the power of the reactive mind. The reactive mind is of no benefit to the individual and is a source of irrationality, fears and nightmares. Its eradication achieves the State of Clear and brings to view the individual himself and is a landmark step in the full discovery of one’s true nature and in ultimately achieving full spiritual awareness and freedom."
Sure, I can be accused of taking this out of context, but there are some things being said here that bother me. "The reactive mind is of no benefit to the individual and is a source of irrationality, fears and nightmares." That's a pretty sweeping statement, and a pretty slanted one, too. Isn't the reactive mind also a vehicle toward creating art? Sure, all people should strive to be as rational as possible in their lives, but don't we also need flights of imagination, or that "irrational" sense of discernment that sometimes tells us something is fishy even when we can't put our fingers on what is wrong? Ideas for stories and characters and verbiage come to me in a very reactive manner. The above sounds like a description of psychic lobotomy, and its casual wording makes this creepy process sound all the more chilling.

It's not my intention to take on all of Scientology in this blog. I'm sure whole libraries of books taking Scientology to task have been written.

Another thing I do know is that the practice of Scientology within the church is predicated on money. Adherents are educated through an unending series of seminars that cost thousands of dollars. When a friend of the family was having doubt about Scientology, some time ago, he was ordered to take a series of seminars to convince him to stay -- and he was to foot the bill. A king's ransom from what I understand.

Obviously, Scientology isn't the only religion predicated on money. Evangelical Christianity may as well list itself on the New York Stock Exchange. It's a glaring redflag when organizations that purport to be of a spiritual nature start grabbing for my wallet with one hand and my soul with the other. I'm not loose with either.

In the end, the ceaseless publicity stunt that is Tom Cruise is a pretty poor billboard for Scientology. He is the embodiment of this woeful time in human culture, being the face (in my mind) for all that is superficial, venal, arrogant and worthy of contempt. I've only caught glimpses of his latest rounds in the media from the corner of my eye, but it's been more than enough to make me want to congratulate Nicole Kidman on escaping this boy-maniac with the titanic ego.

For my own part, to address my spiritual needs, I suppose I should get back to basics and approach my local white-haired, mustachioed pharmacist for a box of Tampax so that I can begin living life to the fullest.

Knowledge is Power -- for further reading:

Official Web site of the Church of Scientology

Suppressive Person Defense League

Page with other links both pro and con

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Conscientious Objector

Uh, yeah, this entry will serve as my official -- first and final -- letter of resignation to the mainstream media: I'm no longer (and haven't been for quite some time) a member of your audience.

It's not just the hard-hitting story in today's Washington Post about those dreaded, world-threatening, Christian-crumbling, tyranny-inspiring "Africanized bees" spotted in Arkansas, it's the basic cumulative effect you've had on me over the years with your ridiculous dance around imporant stories and issues, and your hackneyed attempts at "infotainment" that has had all the stimulating effect on me of Dan Rather -- dressed as "Gunga Dan" -- jumping out of a cake.

If I had a subscription to The Washington Post, I would cancel it today.

Do you know what one of the highest "honors" in journalism is? The Edward R. Murrow award. The same Edward R. Murrow who wrote and hosted a television documentary in the late 1950s debunking claims that cigarette smoking was harmful to peoples' health. The same Edward R. Murrow who smoked his ass off right on network TV and died of lung cancer in the early 1970s.

I'll never forget watching the horrifying coverage of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center buildings on ABC. As images of the smoldering twin towers stood grim on the TV screen, Peter Jennings rambled through some off-the-cuff commentary that bordered on the bizarre and fantastical. Dig through the coverage on video, if you have it, and you'll find it -- Jennings actually surmises aloud that possibly the two planes striking the two Trade Center buildings may have been independent acts of two different lone nuts. I'm not joking. Peter Jennings wondered aloud if possibly the attack was the work of two lone nuts working independently of one another, who somehow coincidentally chose the same day, target, time, and mode of attack. I heard this with my own ears -- Jennings attempting to pave the way for a new Warren Commission Report, if the need should arise. This is what passes for journalism in North America.

This outrage is peer to Dan Rather's similarly ridiculous reporting about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Dan Rather was not only in Dealey Plaza at the time of the assassination, he was actually standing on the overpass looking down onto the assassination scene. He could not have had a more comprehensive vantage point. While more than two dozen people standing near and around Rather reported hearing shots coming from the grassy knoll area to the front, right of the presidential limousine, all Rather could report was how the presidential limousine jumped the curb -- alerting sharp-eyed Rather than something was amiss -- when the shots rang out. By now, tens of millions of people have seen the Zapruder film of the assassination. No matter what you believe occurred in Dealey Plaza that day, there's no question that the presidential limousine did not leave the roadway, did not jump the curb, or otherwise swerve.

On viewing the Zapruder film for the first time in the mid-1960s, Dan Rather reported that it showed President Kennedy clearly being thrown forward. Again, regardless of what you believe happened in Dealey Plaza that day -- and I have read and watched countless accounts -- no one, and I mean no one, except Dan Rather has ever described the president being thrown forward.

Dan Rather titled his autobiography The Camera Never Blinks. However, it sure appears his conscience often did.

Tom Brokaw merely led the league in banality. For his years in journalism, did Brokaw ever break a big story? Not to my knowledge, but I certainly could be wrong. No, Tom Brokaw made the world safe for General Electric with his muttering, stumbling delivery that always left me mystified how the man could win such a coveted position on network television. Further evidence that I simply was not the audience of mainstream news.

Note to Chris Matthews: the microphone you use on air is intended to amplify your voice so that the audience can hear you -- YOU DON'T NEED TO SHOUT!

Note to CNN from Matt St. Amand circa 1999:
I am a Canadian citizen living nearly two years in Ireland. While at home in Ontario during Christmas of 1998 I had occasion to watch CNN and saw an advertisement about its coverage of world events. It involved a stirring classical score and a collage of images from around the world. And what absolutely offended, outraged me and ruined my day was that you would show a photograph of Saddam Hussein standing by a window, smiling, and that your image of Ireland was the Irish flag draped over a coffin.

That is outrageous, coming from a company based in the most violent country on earth. I moved to Ireland because it is the most civilized, cultured and humane country on the map. It even beats Canada, and that's hard to do.

I'm sure you cut-and-paste media drones only care about "maximum impact", but CNN (already lowly and direputable in my estimation) fell to an all new low.

Shame on you.

Watch your own newscasts and count how many coffins are being carried down the steps of your precious church-houses. Your "kids killing kids" and all of that.

Your ignorance is woeful and inexcusable.

As for Fox News, I have no comment or complaint about it. Does this mean I agree with Fox News and think it's a worthy source of information? Not at all. Fox News falls into the same category as Suzanne Sommers' "thigh master" infomercials, or those telephone psychics, or ads for plastic workout suits. They all contain about the same ratio of bullshit : truth as each of the others.

Not even the weather network can be trusted. Do you remember a few years ago they were hyping a winter storm, employing all the feigned drama and self-importance of a CNN correspondent reporting from the Michael Jackson trial? The massive winter storm never materialized, and there was some question in the media as to whether a deliberate attempt had been made to bump up ratings by "sexing up" weather reports.

Cavort, comment, deflect, and ramble on you ridiculous talking heads -- and worthless print journalists (Christ, Mitch Albom writing sports articles about games before they've even been played?!?! Is this idiot Nostradamus or something?!), I am no longer a member of your audience. I quietly, respectfully, and completely opt out.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Devil gave man religion to keep him away from God

I read in the news today that a Romanian orthodox priest crucified (and killed) a nun whom he judged to be "possessed by the devil." He is not only unrepentant about this act, but actually presided over the nun's funeral mass, saying that the thunder heard in the distance (part of an approaching storm) proved that he had been correct in his ajudication that the nun had been possessed by the devil.

Beware of thunder in the wrong instance.

If this Romanian maniac was looking for nuns to crucify, I wish he would have let me know. Having spent far too many years as a student in Catholic schools, I have a few deserving nominees.

As a far-removed non-believing observer of this weird, insane case, I would submit that possibly it was the priest who was possessed by "the devil" -- possessed by evil -- and that the 23 year old nun was his luckless victim. However, I may be offbase on this. It's just that the stories I remember hearing about Jesus Christ involved him performing acts of kindness, miracles even, and saying things like "If your enemy strikes you on the cheek, do not strike back. Offer him your other cheek." Jesus didn't go around crucifying people. Although he was crucified, I don't recall him recommending crucifixion as a problem-solving technique.

What is it with religious persons' lust for blood, mayhem and murder? How is that people who profess to love Jesus Christ (A.K.A. "The Prince of Peace", "Lamb of God") can turn around and perpetrate horrors upon other human beings, all with a straight face and no sense of contradiction or hypocrisy? You know, like George W. Bush and his merry band of born again Christians who have been all too eager to engage in slaughter in Iraq that very soon may be described as genocide.

It reminds me of Archie Bunker describing how the first missionaries who came to the New World converted natives to Christianity -- by holding their heads under water until they saw the light.

The comedian Bill Hicks once pointed out the ridiculousness of Christians wearing crucifixes as a sign of their devotion. Hicks said, "Do you think when Jesus comes back He ever wants to see another fucking cross?" I wouldn't think so.

I think it was Pope Constantine in or around 800 A.D. who shifted the focus of the Christian church from the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Paving the way for our gnarled clergy to thrust a rheumatic finger at the miniature brass Christ mounted above the door on his cross, and proclaiming to endless classes of elementary school kids: "Your sins did this to Jesus!"

There is no doubt in my mind that beyond this world lies a grand spiritual drunktank into which the Gerry Fall-Wells, Oral Roberts', Jack Van Imps, and insane, crucifixion-happy Romanian orthodox priests will be thrown, where they will reside -- gape-eyed, slavering, and insatiable -- preaching to and trying to convert one another to their own thinking. Truly serpents swallowing their own tails.

I don't know who said it, or where I first heard it, but this quote is as apt now as it ever was or will be: "The Devil gave man religion to keep him away from God."

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Philistines with a capital "F" - Reading My Work at A.D.D. National Park

Matt St. Amand, as a person and an artist, has gone the way of sliver plastic workout suits, spray-on hair, and the Grapefruit-45 diet. I'm a cooper in the land of Tupperware. A blacksmith setting up shop next to Dow Chemical. A soothsayer in a land where nobody gives a shit about sooth anymore.

A writer amid A.D.D.-Ritalin-Wal-Mart Nation is but a shade, the last quiver of laughter following a bad joke, a ghost of a ghost.

This evening I read from my book Homunculus at Starbucks, where an "Evening of the Arts" was held. The moment I arrived, I sensed the vibe was all wrong. It was clearly a musical event under the guise of a "come one, come all" put on. No harm, that's just what it was. The band that played for the entire first hour was actually quite good. "Happy Birthday" was later sung to the bassist who turned seventeen years of age today. I own pairs of underwear older than that.

When my time before the audience arrived, I was graciously introduced as a "spoken word artist," and received dutiful, reflexive polite applause as I moved to the microphone, which was set for someone the height of Joe Pesci. In the moment it took to adjust the microphone, I lost the crowd. I've spent too much time at home, too much time being the Great Canadian Indoorsman, too much time away from TV, to realize that much of the public's attention span has evaporated like tears in a desert. Instant gratification is now pared down to the micro-seconds. Pause -- and you're done.

Conversations erupted everywhere, as though I were reading in a movie theater showing a Richard Gere movie. I read from my non-fiction piece Xavier Lipshitz & William Zuma, which has proven quite popular with readers as well as audiences at readings. I couldn't get it off the ground. It was like reading on the Log Ride at Cedar Point. I wish there had been some outright hostility, something more than poor manners and confusion on the part of my audience, at which to lash out. I ended up stopping before the proper end, uttering a wan thanks, and removing myself from the front of the room. It was horrible.

(And it was the kind of abortive evening where one of the guys working behind the counter was someone with whom my wife attended high school. She pointed him out to me tonight and said that I had met him once before. I didn't recognize him. Then she said, "He was the guy from HMV." That's all that needed to be said. A few years ago my wife and I were at HMV. I was off looking at something, and when I caught up to her, she was talking to this guy. As I approached, my wife turned in my direction and said, "Here's my husband, now." To which the guy looked right over my shoulder, right past me, and said with absolutely no purposeful zing, "Where?" I still laugh over that story to this day. My wife was a well-sought-after lass in secondary school, and I am slovenly, graying, and improbable.)

So, yeah, I felt sorry for myself. Was disappointed. Just wanted to get home to my cat, whose indifference at least has a certain flare, style, and homey charm.

And I cannot fault the venue this evening. It was what it was. When I expressed interest in the event days before, I had the distinct impression it was shaping up to be a purely musical event. After explaining that I'm a writer and would be reading my work, the guy behind the counter (a different guy from the HMV guy) went sort of blank, then said, "Yeah, sure, come on by." But I knew! I knew! I knew! Christ, the bassist turned seventeen today. My Mac Classic computer is almost that old.

No, tonight, I was a man with a flea circus standing before an audience expecting the dancing clown from Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. I was performing card tricks for dogs (to quote Tom Waits), doing yoga for a roller derby crowd, spinning pizza dough in the air before sushi patrons, serving hand-squeezed ice cream to the lactose intolerant.

Tonight I stood before a crowd of people and attempted to express ideas within a satirical cast, and never in the longest time have I felt so abominably alone.

A pillar of salt.

     A station wagon.

          The Monday morning following Woodstock.

               Pete Best.

                    Inventor of the Flowbee.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Code Red for Embarrassment - U.S. Customs officers make up their jobs as they go along

This friendly, genial-looking young man attempted to cross the U.S./Canadian border on April 25th while carrying "a homemade sword, a hatchet, a knife, brass knuckles and a chain saw stained with what appeared to be blood."

As you do.

Although U.S. Customs officers confiscated these items -- safety first! -- the genial young man was fingerprinted and then sent on his way. Bill Anthony, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, smartly points out "[b]eing bizarre is not a reason to keep somebody out of this country or lock them up. ... We are governed by laws and regulations, and he did not violate any regulations."

You see, America does stand for freedom and human rights!

Well, the story of the genial, industrious young man does not have a happy ending. To the shock and dismay of all the friends he made at the Calais, Maine border crossing, it turns out that this bright-eyed young man, who surely has a song in his heart, may have been involved in some wrongdoing.

No, no! Before you protest that this genial-looking young man surely couldn't be involved in wrongdoing, I submit that not all of the facts are in and the case could go either way. This situation calls for broadmindedness!

You see, "[t]he following day, a gruesome scene was discovered in [the young man's] hometown of Minto, New Brunswick: The decapitated body of a 74-year-old country musician named Frederick Fulton was found on Fulton's kitchen floor. His head was in a pillowcase under a kitchen table. His common-law wife was discovered stabbed to death in a bedroom." Quote from

Well, those quick-thinking, on-the-job authorities in the Home of Homeland Security and Guantanamo Bay weren't fooled -- this genial-looking young man, regardless of his obvious merits, came under immediate suspicion. Games are not played in the United States when it comes to law and order. Justice is blind, after all.

So, now this hope-filled young man with so obviously a bright future is now jailed in Massachusetts awaiting extradition; doubtless winning friends and influencing people there.

I realize this comes as terrible news to all of the business owners on the eastern seaboard of the United States who would surely have lined up to offer this young man a position in their firms. Alas, he is unavailable.

You see, I live in a border city, and for the past few years (though, no longer) I worked in the great state of Michigan, commuting daily from my home in Ontario. Even with my Nexus Pass, which was to assure quick and painless entry into the United States, I was often questioned and detained like this genial-looking young man by U.S. Customs officers.

An experience I had one morning a year ago sprang to mind as I read this article on I was crossing into America, sitting in the Nexus Pass Lane, when a dour-faced serious-looking young man, who worked for United States Customs, approached my car (as he approached other cars in line). He barked his orders at me, to which I complied. He asked if I had anything in the car. I told him all I had with me was my lunch.

"What's in it?" he hissed.


A knowing, administrative glint came into his eye. I knew what he was thinking: Mad cow disease. There had been a case of it elsewhere in Canada, in the province of Alberta, a mere five thousand kilometers away. A Canadian cow had been given feed purchased from the United States and the cow came down with mad cow disease. That cow was immediately quarantined and the problem remedied. The American press, with nothing else to report, kept the story aloft as long as they could, like a bunch of kids hitting a balloon in the air at a birthday party. All to the same end and effect.

"What kind of chili?" the officer asked, squaring up for the kill.

"Turkey," I said. I happen to prefer ground turkey to ground beef. Sorry Alberta!

"Yeah, well turkey's a banned substance," was the officer's authoritative rejoinder.

A banned substance -- like mescaline at the Olympics. Turkey -- my lunch -- was a substance. Banned, at that.

Never in my life had I answered back to a Customs officers, but that morning the words just fell out of my mouth. "Turkey is a banned substance?"

"Yeah, for the next two weeks."


Well, this officer was all business and had me immediately pulled into the inspection area. He had caught his villain for the day. He wasn't taking any chances of some culinary terrorist fucking around with the meat at his local Jack-in-the-Box.

When I got to the inspection area, the officers there asked why I was pulled in. "My lunch is a banned substance," I said. I wish one of the officers had been witty and quick enough to have quipped, "Whaddya eat? Plutonium?" but it was all those dullards could do getting their gun belts on facing the right way.

A female officer asked if I was going to eat my lunch that day. Biting down on myriad sarcastic replies, I answered in the affirmative. After weighing the situation with the widsom and solicitude of King Solomon, she said, "OK." Which is Detroit-border-crossing-Speak for, "You may go on your way. Sin no more."

It's unnerving as hell to comptemplate that there is actually a job out there that involves (a) unintelligent people who (b) can make up the guidelines of their jobs on the spot, (c) while carrying loaded weapons.

Well, no more heads were cut off by the genial-looking young man after the U.S. customs officers swung into action with Massachusetts law enforcement. I have not brought turkey chili into America since my own run-in. This experience inspires in me a strange feeling of kinship with the genial-looking young man, thinking that we could have been placed in the same holding cell at the U.S. border. I imagine him sitting on the top bunk, myself on the lower one, in a grim, unlit pen. He plays a harmonica, and I sing spontaneous words that reveal my plight:

Mmmmm... turkey...
Turkey chili my wife made for me...
Got me locked up
in the land of the free...

Monday, June 06, 2005

BLANK Magazine & the Death By a Thousand Cuts

The fiction market is such that nowadays simply receiving an acceptance with the promise of a single contributors' copy as payment is enough to satisfy most modern, working writers.

However, the honor system seems to possess so little honor these days: after waiting more than six months past the original publication date, Blank magazine sent the following message to its contributors to Issue Two:

Vol. 1 No. 2!

It's!—well, it's almost out; it went to print today.

If you look into printing at all you will find there is no cheap way to print a publication in color. This is our problem. Copies will cost about twenty-five dollars—undoubtedly steep, especially for a magazine still in its infancy. We simply do not have enough subscribers to justify a lower printing cost at this time. This, coupled with the necessity of copies for distribution and exposure—without which no magazine can survive—has left us with insufficient funds with which to purchase contributor copies. We just do not have the money, and as much as we realize this a travesty—practically criminal—there is nothing we can do. And we apologize; we hope you undestand. If it's any consolation, we believe we have produced an independent publication of greater quality than most—design and content being equally important—aimed at representing your work to the best of our ability.

Thank You,
The Editors
Blank Magazine

This is a classic "bait and switch" -- lure writers in by accepting their work, then slap a $25 charge on the journal in which their work is to appear.

Well, this writer isn't biting. My reply to Blank magazine was as follows:

Given this information, I respectfully withdraw my work from Blank magazine. Had I known I would have to pay $25 (U.S. funds; this works out to be $31 in Canadian funds, plus shipping) for an issue to see my work in print, I would not have consented to being a part of this.

The situation as described in your e-mail makes me feel like my work has been highjacked and is now being ransomed back to me. I have published in many magazines, and never run into a situation remotely like this.

As of the sending of this e-mail, I will consider my stories "Der Komplex" and "Coup on Liberty Crescent" to be unencumbered, and will begin submitting them elsewhere for publication.

This is a show-stopping detail. Sorry Blank, but get your shit together.

It's difficult enough getting along as an artist, finding those few avenues where your work is accepted and appreciated, and it's absolutely unconscionable to think that there are people "out there" will to take advantage.

As Sweetback says in Sweet Sweetback's Badass Song: "They bled my pappa, they bled my momma... but they won't bleed me!"