Monday, December 11, 2006

A Charlie Brown Christmas

About a week ago I heard a story on NPR about the soundtrack to the 1965 A Charlie Brown Christmas. I'm a longtime fan of the Charlie Brown specials -- lusting after all those Dolly Madison dessert commercials. One thing I never gave much thought to was the music of A Charlie Brown Christmas, which was composed and played by underrated jazz genius, Vince Guaraldi. The fact, alone, that the man composed "Linus and Lucy," the Charlie Brown theme, places him right next to Mozart and Handel in my book.

Yesterday I bought the CD A Charlie Brown Christmas for my wife. Figuring she would get more enjoyment out of it receiving it before Xmas, I gave it to her last night. We listened to it all day today, and I was just floored by the sheer greatness of the music.

I'm no music connoisseur, and can only haphazardly comment on what moves me. The music of Vince Guaraldi moves me immensely. Particularly his rendition of "Little Drummer Boy." Gosh, the production on that gem really grabbed me. Accompanied by childrens' voices singing a soft, Ella Fitzgerald-esque vocal bassline, Guaraldi's piano glides along every poignant nuance of that song -- one that I have always found exceedingly sad for some reason I haven't fathomed in more than thirty years of hearing it. But Guaraldi gave it a light, gorgeous treatment, reimagining that seasonal favorite in quite a stunning way.

It was no surprise to hear in the NPR report that the TV execs of the day were entirely against all the things that ultimately made A Charlie Brown Christmas an unequivocal success at the time, and a classic today. They felt that jazz was entirely misplaced in a childrens' cartoon. And the theme of the program -- that Charlie Brown was down about the commercialism surrounding Xmas -- was completely inappropriate. Somehow, they lost the battle of these creative issues -- and thank Christ for that.

And I could listen to "Linus and Lucy" all day long. Hearing the full version of that track, with Guaraldi flying off into numerous variations on his theme, was the audible equivalent to flipping through an old family photo album.

I'm so pleased that this classic is back in my life. Guaraldi was an amazingly articulate pianist, capturing the fireside coziness of Xmas along with the slight tinge of melancholy that Charlie Brown felt seeing that this holiday is really just another occasion for bearers of arcana -- the nightly news -- to tell us that this year sales were up by one-half of a quarter percentage point over last year's, which makes it the third best holiday in the past seven years...

Forget that. And forget the Muzak monstrocities that assault us this season at the mall. Vince Guaraldi and the magic of Charlie Brown have brought me back to the side of Xmas that envelopes me like a comfortable chair in a favorite room on a day when I have nothing to do but occupy myself with fun memories.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Excommunicate me, please!

Say your parents enrolled you in a group when you were a small child, far too young to make your own decisions. Many people your age were signed up, too -- as though for little league baseball or midget hockey -- and whole groups of you went through the little rites that came when you were seven years of age, nine years of age, thirteen. Then one day when you were old enough to make your own decisions, you leared that the group in which your parents enrolled you was Hitler Youth.

What would you do?

Shrug and say, "Well, that's how I was brought up"? Or would you do what your right mind told you and get yourself the hell out of it?

For more than a decade I have actively sought formal, written excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church.

In the late 1990's, I wrote a long acerbic letter to my parish denouncing the pedophile priesthood, saying the Catholic Church should be brought before the World Court and the U.N. on charges of being a terrorist organization. I finished off the letter asking that the record of my baptism be stricken from the parish records.

Weeks later I received a tepid note accompanied by my original letter. The wane, dot matrix letter consisted of one line informing me that my baptism had been stricken from the record.

(As the deities would have it, many months later, I inadvertently learned that a friend of my family -- the wife of a famous writer, no less -- worked in that parish office and very likely was the person who responded to my letter. No one but myself made this connection (no one else knowing about my letter), but this may account why her famous author husband acted like I owed him money when I later called him asking for aid locating an agent for my writing.)

Petty, unintentional affronts aside, that pissy, white-tea parish missive wasn't enough for me. I wanted a gold sealed velum denunciation in Gothic script formally excommunicating me from the Church.

So I wrote to the bishop who had confirmed me in the Church when I was thirteen years old. This bishop has a well-documented record of shifting known pedophile priests from parish to parish rather than taking them out of circulation. So I rolled up this knowledge like an old newspaper and whacked the bishop over his funny hat with it. Then, in an attempt to leave no stone unturned, I asked the bish, "What the hell does a guy have to do to get excommunicated from this lousy church? Perform an abortion on the steps of a cathedral on Good Friday while wearing a mask of the pope's face?"

To which the bishop actually emailed a response to me -- proving that the clergy can type with one hand -- that read, "You're a sad, pathetic, angry man. I feel sorry for you!"

And still no Gothic script declaration.

Maybe the bishop can only excommunicate an insane person, and my asking to be excommunicated is the act of a sane man. Therefore...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Movie Watching Weekend

Ventured back into my favorite territory this weekend -- back into heavy movie-watching. Rented a really cool documentary about an all-American weirdo-Brian-Wilson-type-genius titled The Devil and Daniel Johnston.

Johnston is a singer/songwriter-visual-artist from Virginia -- now living in Ohio, I believe -- who is a man of many quirks, even more demons, and an ocean of talent. As a youth, he was into making short films filled with his psychotic drawings -- he made a name for himself in high school drawing eyes with all of the accompanying veins and gory attachments everywhere he could find space -- which he scored with his orginal songs.

The first thing that struck me about the movie was that ole Daniel sure knows his way around gorgeous melodies. Tom Waits, Beck, Pearl Jam, and a host of other famous bands have recorded Daniel Johnston songs. Kurt Cobain was often seen (and photographed) wearing Daniel Johnston T-shirts.

Johnston is a brilliant madman who terrified and confused his devout-Christian family. I was immensely impressed seeing the short films he made as a youth. In one, he played himself as well as his mother, doing a brutal parody of a shrew in curlers berating her slow-waking, slow-moving son. Daniel was also mad about tape recording conversations. After a couple of present-day interviews with his sweet, white-haired mother, the audience hears some of the surrepetitious recordings he made of her berating him when he was in his teens. This provides an interesting, quease-making contrast to the June Cleaver reminiscing in her backyard. As one of Daniel's friends rightly points out, these tirades were not unwarranted. Daniel was lazy, he was contrary to everything his family valued. He was an artist among rough-handed tradesmen. He was a thinker and a dreamer among doers.

During one tirade against Daniel, his mother declared him "an unprofitable servant" of God. One of Daniel's friends tells of how Daniel turned this phrase around into declaring himself an "unserviceable prophet," which I thought was really cool.

As Daniel grew out of his teens, he displayed definite signs of mental illness. Even those friends who loved and revered him -- who would defend his most bizarre actions -- agreed that he could be pretty scary and remote at times. There is the story of Daniel running off for months with a carnival; the time he completely lost his marble in New York while his hosts, Sonic Youth, drove all over Gotham in search of him (finally locating him in New Jersey);Daniel beating a friend over the head with a lead pipe; among numerous, numerous hospitalizations.

Through the tumult came an astounding body of work. Daniel now tours internationally playing his music as his artwork tours the world, as well. He does not appear to be in great mental shape these days -- and is in ever worse physical shape; sporting a globe of gut that would set the most proficient beer drinker in awe. But he continues making music, making people nervous, and thrilling audiences. Until this weekend, I'd never heard of Daniel Johnston. Now, I want to hear a whole lot more about him.

Then I checked out the much-talked-about The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. The NPR review I heard weeks ago about the film made it sound like a surreal journey into the moments enveloping a human being after death. In fact, I distinctly recall how the reviewer cautioned the audience not to be put off by the fact that the main characters dies minutes into the film. Well, I must have crossed that review with the wrong film. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is a slow-moving, dull, dreary story about an old man with a sore stomach and a sore head and how he encouners unpleasant doctors when he goes to the hospital. There is no surreal, philosophical look at death and dying. This is merely a dull travelogue of Romanian hospitals as Mr. Lazarescu is shuttled from healing house to healing house. An hour and twenty minutes into this drag, I shut the film off.

The film-watching weekend, though, was completely salvaged when I viewed the entire four-film Ju On saga: Ju On: The Grudge, Ju On: The Grudge 2, Ju On: The Curse, Ju On: The Curse 2. The opening of each film informs the viewer: "Ju-on: The curse of one who dies in the grip of powerful rage. It gathers and takes effect in the places that person was alive. Those who encounter it die, and a new curse is born."

This is the film series (the first two of which, at least) that were remade in America as The Grudge and The Grudge 2. I'm sick of Hollywood drek, so I watched the originals in subtitled Japanese. And goddamn, the Japanese sure know what is scary.

The four film saga is episodic, following a number of characters and their interaction with the house where the Grudge resides. Anyone who doubts that horror can exist in modern life beyond insane, stalking murderers should see these films. One of the most interesting aspects of Japanese horror is how it infiltrates technology. There are cellphone calls from the dead. TV programs are highjacked by spirits. Lights are subject to otherworldly currents. And the Japanese versions of these films do not shy away from showing us the monsters.

There is one nerve-twisting scene (in Ju On, the first of the series) when a woman is in an office building rest room. Slow moving, scraping footsteps pass by her stall, and her cellphone malevolently malfunctions. She hurries out of her stall and is confronted by a humanoid monster; a woman in a white gown who stands with her head severely downcast, her long black hair obscuring her face. The main character escapes to the building's security office. There, a male security guard tells her to sit tight while he goes down to investigate. The woman watches on a closed-circuit TV screen as the security guard walks to the door of the rest room, and stops. The monster, now taking the form of black smoke, moves out the door and envelopes and kills him. Then the black smoke floats up with excrutiating slowness to the security camera, filling its lense with blackness -- from which a pair of eyes suddenly emerge. The effect is absolutely horrifying.

Ju On: The Grudge 2 has a very slow start, but once the film hits its stride -- about thirty or forty minutes in -- the story and tension are unrelenting. The story centers on the dreaded house where the original Grudge manifested, looking at its unhappy history with characters reliving various terrifying moments. This is carried through quite effectively in Ju On: The Curse and Ju On: The Curse 2. It must be said that Ju On: The Curse 2 has a fantastic, understated, yet thoroughly creepy ending. None of these films are sequels like the Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street franchises. The Ju On sequels genuinely further a story that is definitely worth telling.

The recurring images in the films -- the ghostly, gray-bodied boy who screeches like a cat; the broken-bodied woman who crawls down stairs and through halls like a serpent; the innocents whose faces contort in wild renditions of terror -- continue to haunt well after the credit have rolled and the music has silenced.

I've never been much of a fan of horror films, but I cannot deny relishing Japanese horror movies, like Shikoku, The Eye. The Eye 2, The Ring, Premonition, and others. These are the perfect antidotes for the formulaic drivel Hollywood spews year after year.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

My First Firsthand Experience with Crucifixion

I have never been handy with a hammer or any other sort of tool -- other than a keyboard. When I was a kid, though, I did enjoy going into my father's cluttered, chaotic workshop and randomly hammering nails into wood. There was a day when I was about eight or nine years old when I nailed two pieces of wood together. They formed a cross like the one in church that had the bronze statue of the tortured Jesus hanging from it. This was way back in the days before I realized god couldn't pass the Turing Test.

As I looked at the cross I held in my hand, I slowly turned my gaze through the open workshop door, which led into the part of the basement where my brother and I played. There on the floor, face down, lay my rubber Spiderman action figure. A weird sort of inspriation took over and the next think I knew I had nailed Spiderman to the cross I had made. He fit perfectly; his pose -- arms stretched out, feet together, as though leaping -- was crucifixion-ready.

I can't remember if I went and showed my dad what I had done or if he had come into the workshop about then. My dad was principal of a Catholic elementary school, who had been educated by the Basilian priests at the Catholic secondary school I would attend years later. He had spent a year in the seminary when he was eighteen years old. When he saw my handiwork, his face took on a strange shocked/appalled expression, and he said, "Son, take Spiderman down from the cross."

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Born-Again Bathers - Reprise

With Mel Gibson only recently in the news about his anti-semiticism and now Michael Richards on the cultural griddle for his rapid-fire use of the "n"-word, it's time that I confess my own life-long prejudice.

I absolutely fucking hate stupid people.

If I saw a guy flailing for his life in the Detroit River and he was somehow able to tell me that he jumped in because he saw a gum wrapper floating on a wave and thought the gum was still in it, I wouldn't throw him a life preserver. I'd say, "You should dive down as fast as you can -- the gum's probably still sinking to the bottom. Get it before it lands in the empty eye-socket of a drowned corpse."

Water is featured in that analogy because water factored into an outrage that occurred this past weekend:

The born-again bathers next door were at it again in their urinal font jacuzzi.

To recap for any new joiners, the born-again bathers are my next door neighbors who, ever so considerately, installed a hot-tub along the side of their house, virtually beneath my bedroom windows. And so every time they go out there -- never earlier than nine p.m. -- my wife and I are privy to their conversations, parties, and arguments. Luckily, no connubial concertos have made their way through my windows or walls.

But just being assailed by their poinsonously banal gibbering is punishment enough. And their arguments! Christ in a paisley handcart! The girl is a spoiled child who never progressed beyond the age of thirteen and will seemingly say anything so long as she does not have to discuss the subject hand. And the guy, with his humorless barking laugh and factory-floor voice, saying one night during an argument, "You have a prideful mind!" Then barking that flat laugh that sounds like two boards being slapped together. "You have a prideful mind!"

Well, at least he gave her credit for having a mind. More than I give her credit for.

So, Saturday night my wife and I literally dropped into bed and were fast asleep around ten p.m. Around midnight we were wakened from a sound sleep by screaming and laughter and voices coming from the Almighty Goddamned Tidy Bowl next door.

I rolled out of bed like Jake Lamotta way past his prime, bed-head sticking up off me, my eyes stinging in the dark. I cranked open my window and bellowed, "Does your clock say the same time as mine?" No reply; just those damnable voices. So, I upped the ante: "Then does 'Shut the fuck up!' mean anything to you?" A few moments later, from the center of the bedlam, came the meek man's voice, "Sorry."


So, I called the cops -- at the very least just to get my complaint on the books somewhere (they didn't come around in time to catch the noise-making). Then I called my neighbors who didn't seem to have their phone outside with them. When their voice mail picked up, I said, "You are a pair of inconsiderate assholes!" And proceeded to remind them of the geographical proximity of their douche pool to my bedroom windows.

In all fairness, I'll say for the born-again bathers -- they stay in the tub for one cycle of the jets (about twenty minutes) and then they're done. Harassed as I feel by their contemptible nose and even more contemptible inconsideration, I must admit that they are never out there hour upon hour carrying on.

After all of that, I wasn't fit for sleep, so I watched about five reruns of The Trailer Park Boys. I drew much relief from the character, Bubbles, saying rhetorically to one character, when asked if he was serious about something, "Does the Tin Man have a sheet metal cock?"

The next morning I woke, rankled and still pissed off by the disturbance the night before. I rolled out of bed around quarter to eight and wrote a letter for the neighbors. Then I put on my gravy-colored jeans, my blue-slate-colored Alaska fleece sweatshirt, and my Southern Comfort baseball cap. By then it was ten minutes past eight a.m. I went next door and rang the doorbell. I had to ring the fucking bell three more times before those degenerate born-again Christians woke up.

Sure as shit, when the man opened the door, he and his wife were standing there wearing white robes! No doubt in prelude to the white gowns they'll surely don in the Kingdom of Heaven when one of those dumb shits drops their fucking radio into their Two Thousand Flushes Tub, electrocuting the both of them.

Much as this tale would be enhanced by a description of how I grabbed the man by the throat while hurling epithets at his granite-brained bride, I did neither of those things. When confronting ardent Christians the only tack to take is that of parody and condescension. So, upon entering their home, I said, "I didn't wake you up, did I?" To which the girl revved up with all the considerable self-righteousness she could muster in her flustered state to tell me just how horrible it was of me to waken them as I had. Not the least flicker of irony or realization passed across her face.

She then informed me, shouting down her foyer stairs at me like Josette on the Mount:
  • I am selfish

  • I should loosen up

  • I should realize that I live in a sub-division and will never have total silence around me

  • I have no right swearing on their voice mail -- "What if my little neice and nephew had heard that?" (They would have died instantly of cranial cancer, just as I had planned)

  • That she and her born-again husband are not out partying in their tub every night of the week

  • That it's not as though she and her husband have twenty people over every weekend

  • That if my wife and I would only come over and go in the tub and see how enjoyable it was we would never say another ill thing against it again
And god help her, she moved from inanity to inanity with such seriousness -- such indignation -- that you might have thought she was delivering closing arguments in the Hague against Pontius Pilate.

I stood there wearing my non-plussed face

I had heard the two of them argue in their tub enough times to know that her hundred-word vocabulary would soon fail. When it did, I turned to the man and said that I preferred to speak only to him. The wife loved that.

"We are one!" she declared.

And they surely are. Whatever brains reside in that house, they are shared by the two of them like a bong filled with bay leaves.

When the wife had exhausted herself, I said that I simply wanted to talk things over. I told them that I was sure their hot-tub met all the codes of our township, but I knew there was one code it did not meet: that of consideration for others. I told them their decision to position the tub at the side of their house was absolutely idiotic--

At which point, the wife regained enough of her equivalibrium to say, "It's not at the side of our house!"

I raised my eyebrows. It is at the side of the house. I mean, it's located at the side of their house -- right next to the side of my house.

It was my turn to be utterly mystified. "Uh, your hot-tub is at the side of your house," I said, feeling a weird, uneasy surreal sense that the room was filling with the sarin gas of insanity. I pointed to the back of her house and said, "Back," then pointed to the front, and said, "Front," then motioned toward each side of the house and said, "Side... Side."

She shook her head and pointed at the front of the house. "That's not the front. That's the side."

She was not joking. I shit you not -- she was not joking. She was taking her hundred-word vocab to its limits; she was swinging for a grandslam. "Our hot-tub is in the backyard." There is no way in this bright wide universe that anyone can say there is such a thing as "intelligent design" in face of such abject ignorance, stupidity, and imbecilic dunderheadedness.

All the while the simpleton husband stood there with his tousled hair, GQ eyeglasses and his white robe conveying the hilarious image of confused benevolence; tongue-tied righteousness; Christianity reduced to crushed Christmas tree bulbs. He was as bewildered by what his wife was saying as I was.

Looking uneasily from his wife to me and back again, he said, "Well, we agree that we woke Matt and his wife last night."

"Yeah, but he's saying..." the wife muttered, then lost her train of thought. I guess the man had held on too tightly to the bong-brain and left her sputtering. But that didn't stop her from suddenly suggesting that she and her husband erect a sound-proof barrier around the hot-tub area. Man, she was going for broke; she probably had to lie down the rest of the day after that decathalon of brain/mouth tag-team wrestling.

"Well, since the problem centers on human beings being noisy," I said, feeling as though I was speaking into Nietzsche's abyss. "You know, maybe the human beings could be, you know, sorta, a little more, like, quieter." Words often escape me when it comes to expounding upon the bleeding obvious.

After I had said all I went there to say, I moved to leave. The born-agains seemed relieved. But then I was suddenly alarmed, remembering something I knew about the explosively stupid wife: she's pregnant. If that's not monkey-inspired roll-of-the-dice evolution at work, I don't know what is. No "intelligence" would own up to the design of that stupid biblical bimbo being on her way to hatching a mewling waterhead.

Stepping out the front/side door of their house, the wife's fucked-up geography lesson settled on me like a hex. I stumbled down their front walk, suddenly disoriented...

I was later found wandering around in the onion field outside of the sub-division, muttering, "I can't wait for the Rapture. I can't wait for the Rapture."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Donald Rumsfeld -- Thrown Under the Bus

He has a face made to be struck with a shovel. His teeth have been honed on the necks of babies. There are no eyes behind his eyeglasses. Stick your hand into his chest and you're likely to pull out an electric eel or a hunk of undigested gristle from the body of a puppy.

He's Donald Rumsfeld and he personifies the banality of evil.

The fact of Donald Rumsfeld's existence is proof-positive that "Intelligent Design" does not exist. The creation of Donald Rumsfeld arose from the confluence of the same uncountable random events that place a chicken bone in the throat of a choking man.

Having never earned an honest dollar in his life, nor thinking an honest thought, nor doing an honest deed, Rumsfeld brought decades of despotic dispassion from the corporate world into the realm of politics, where he could more effectively destroy the lives of human beings. Cost-cutting meaures that sent workers to unemployment lines just didn't do it for him anymore. It was shameful, but bloodless. To satisfy the blackhole within him, Rumsfeld needed to feel the damp, dead weight of steaming entrails in his hands.

His strategy for the war in Iraq was predicated on one best-case-scenario piled onto another, cemented together by miracles, good luck, and a level of hubris that would have made the ancient Greeks shiver in their sandals. Rumsfeld's joining of corporate vampirism with civilian-wrought military tactics is enough to make the devil himself blush.

I honestly believe that the war in Iraq is going exactly as Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush desire. Bloodshed, misery, shattered lives, exploded homes are remote, academic, non-reverberating events to these three. I've read that even when in fine health, Cheney had to gaze at color photographs of mutilated fetuses for more than a quarter of an hour just to achieve the semblance of an erection.

The worst part of Rumsfeld being thrown under the bus is having to hear all the phoney, fictional tributes to the great bravery he showed from behind his desk in the Pentagon; the gallantry he displayed among pampered, bloated millionaires and sycophants.

Goddamn you, Donald Rumsfeld. History will remember you as a collector of skulls; gargoyle, corpse chewer, grave maker, destroyer, and poet laureate of neoconservatives:

The Unknown
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Glass Box
You know, it's the old glass box at the—
At the gas station,
Where you're using those little things
Trying to pick up the prize,
And you can't find it.

And it's all these arms are going down in there,
And so you keep dropping it
And picking it up again and moving it,

Some of you are probably too young to remember those—
Those glass boxes,

But they used to have them
At all the gas stations
When I was a kid.

—Dec. 6, 2001, Department of Defense news briefing

A Confession
Once in a while,
I'm standing here, doing something.
And I think,
"What in the world am I doing here?"
It's a big surprise.

—May 16, 2001, interview with the New York Times

You're going to be told lots of things.
You get told things every day that don't happen.

It doesn't seem to bother people, they don't—
It's printed in the press.
The world thinks all these things happen.
They never happened.

Everyone's so eager to get the story
Before in fact the story's there
That the world is constantly being fed
Things that haven't happened.

All I can tell you is,
It hasn't happened.
It's going to happen.

—Feb. 28, 2003, Department of Defense briefing

The Digital Revolution
Oh my goodness gracious,
What you can buy off the Internet
In terms of overhead photography!

A trained ape can know an awful lot
Of what is going on in this world,
Just by punching on his mouse
For a relatively modest cost!

—June 9, 2001, following European trip

The Situation
Things will not be necessarily continuous.
The fact that they are something other than perfectly continuous
Ought not to be characterized as a pause.
There will be some things that people will see.
There will be some things that people won't see.
And life goes on.

—Oct. 12, 2001, Department of Defense news briefing

I think what you'll find,
I think what you'll find is,
Whatever it is we do substantively,
There will be near-perfect clarity
As to what it is.

And it will be known,
And it will be known to the Congress,
And it will be known to you,
Probably before we decide it,
But it will be known.

—Feb. 28, 2003, Department of Defense briefing

Monday, November 06, 2006

Necon Surety Has Cut-and-Run

I was witness to a ghoulish, reprehensible display this week that revealed to me -- painfully so -- why America takes the idea of going to war with another nation so lightly; takes it on eagerly; almost gleefully, like going into this year's Homecoming Game.

At my unnamed place of work a department wide meeting was called earlier in the week, during which much talk of our position in the marketplace was bandied about. At one point, a maniacally smiling man and a jolly bloated woman addressed the audience. Nauseating patriot music was piped in and a photograph of American soldiers taken during World War II was displayed on the screen at the front of the room. As the duo read their parts with saccharine gusto, they compared our company's position in an increasingly crowded and competitive marketplace to the American soldiers portrayed in the HBO series Band of Brothers fighting the Battle of the Bulge.

The duo related a scenario so familiar from our culture: the United States up against insurmountable evil; the U.S. distinctly in the role of the underdog. The climax of the presentation came when the maniacally smiling man read out the scene when a German scout was sent to the American line with a note from the German commander asking if the Americans would surrender. The American commander scrawled on the note "Nuts," meaning, no. And incredibly, "Nuts" became our rallying cry in that antiseptic auditorium. When the maniacally smiling man asking if we were going to give in to our competition, the dull-eyed drones shouted back, "Nuts!"

Well, the smiling man did capture the sense of his presentation in that moment. It was truly fucking nuts. One of the most morbid and nutty displays I've ever witnessed in corporate life.

But sensing how people in the auditorium were slurping up the familiar pablum of how America overcame adversity and won the day, yet again, I saw immediately -- clearly, crystaline -- how it is that America takes going to war so lightly. How there is almost a feeling of the Olympic Games come earlier among those who support warmakers. America starts wars seeking more Battles of the Bulge so that these stories can then be used to motivate corporate zombies to slay the dragons that keep their bosses from getting ever richer. War is the ultimate sport because it requires no athletic skill. You don't have to learn the tedious technique of vaulting over a bar set 18 feet in the air, using nothing more than arms and legs and a long pole. There is no shot to be put in war. In the case of the war in Iraq, there is no boring strategy to be adhered to. No thinking in war. Just run and grunt and shoot and hope not to be shot.

Of all the images emanating from Iraq, there seems to be no Battle of the Bulge forthcoming. There is Abu Ghraib, there is Mission Accomplished, there is the hellish sprial into mayhem. The warmongs ask, "How can this be happening?" I ask, "How could you not see this coming?"

I'm not psychic and have no access to an oracle, but to me it was pretty elementary.

You've got George W. Bush -- silver-spooned-leaden-brained progeny of corporate and political criminals. He is propped up by a sordid viper's nest of moralists and following the 2000 presidential election, literally becomes a squatter in the White House. He does not win the election, but is handed it by the Supreme Court. Handed it like his plum spot in the Champagne Corps during the Vietnam War, handed to him like every job in his life and every cent of venture capital or sack of money to rescue whatever company he was strangling to death at the moment. The man is as inarticulate as a carburetor. And I don't think it was any mistake that it was specifically George W. Bush -- dullard son of George H.W. and the Silver Douchebag. He had the Bush name, but more importantly no mind to comprehend the ugliness and treachery ahead of him. Doubtless the people propping up W. knew he would go down in history as the worst of America's presidents. The man's name would become an obscenity even before he completed his second ill-gotten term in office. They knew that his brow would never furrow above his too-close-together eyes with the question of what was happening around him.

This is not to let George W. off the hook for his administration. He's as culpable for the horrors he has wrought as Pol Pot or Stalin. W. thinks in a child's scrawl of hierogliphic Christian jibberish. And he truly embodies the "banality of evil."

A dozen years ago I wrote a one-page short story titled Interview with the Devil as a reaction to the ideas in our culture that evil, evil men, and even the devil (if such an entity exists) is not an urbane, educated, sophisticated personage who knows what wine to drink with what meal, who listens to classical music and reads Proust. The Hannibal Lechter of the retched film Hannibal is absolutely not my vision of evil. My idea of evil is that of a malicious dullard who amuses himself by pulling the wings off of flies.

He is the truck left in neutral that rolls over a child.

Even his once rabid supporters have lost heart and faith in him. The articleNeo Culpa in Vanity Fair is a stark window onto the twisted souls who aided and abetted W. in his push to "liberate" Iraq:
Kenneth Adelman, a lifelong neocon activist and Pentagon insider who served on the Defense Policy Board until 2005, wrote a famous op-ed article in The Washington Post in February 2002, arguing: "I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk." Now he says, "I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."
Worse yet is:
Kenneth Adelman: "The most dispiriting and awful moment of the whole administration was the day that Bush gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to [former C.I.A. director] George Tenet, General Tommy Franks, and [Coalition Provisional Authority chief] Jerry [Paul] Bremer—three of the most incompetent people who've ever served in such key spots. And they get the highest civilian honor a president can bestow on anyone! That was the day I checked out of this administration. It was then I thought, There's no seriousness here, these are not serious people. If he had been serious, the president would have realized that those three are each directly responsible for the disaster of Iraq."
And then there is Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lamenting during his visit to Spain recently that the world is unfairly frowning upon modern day America:
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday he believes some of the U.S. actions in its war on terror have done damage to the image of the United States abroad, particularly its commitment to the rule of law.

The U.S. has drawn criticism around the world for the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq, its treatment of detainees and secret renditions of terrorism suspects to clandestine prisons in allied countries where they are allegedly tortured.

"The notion that the United States does not fully support the rule of law is one I find very disappointing," Gonzales told reporters, especially given that President Bush "believes the Unites States is the leader, is a beacon of hope in the world and it's important that our actions should reflect a total commitment to the rule of law."

He blamed the country's deteriorating image on misunderstanding in Europe about what the U.S. is doing to fight terrorism.
Uh, no.

No, it's the CIA prisons, it's Guantanamo Bay, it's Abu Ghraib, it's Jose Padilla, it's the PATRIOT Acts I & II, it's the dilution of the Geneva Convention, it's the arrogance, the unthinkingness, the violence -- the goddamnable violence -- that has the world looking at America and wondering, "Have you gone fucking crazy?"

So, the neocons' surety has cut and run and another America election looms. I wonder how many years it will take for the political parties to put away their advertisements and settle down to the true competition in an American election -- the Republican blackbox hackers against the Democrat blackbox hackers.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Root of All Evil

British scientist Richard Dawkins made a two-part documentary titled The Root of All Evil? in which he looks at religion -- particularly fundamentalist religion -- as possibly being evil, or, more like a predatory virus corrupting and warping our world, rather than making it a better place.

What came through in a number of the interviews Dawkins conducted with zealous adherents to Christianity, Judaism and Islam, is that some people -- more than we'd care to realize -- follow society's laws and refrain from such things as murder and stealing, only because they fear hell, or that they have a holy book that expressly forbids such actions (though usually condones such actions in selective, abitrary cases).

Reader of this blog, why do you not murder? Why do you not steal or maim people?

I'm pretty much an atheist, and believe adherence to any religious text -- any single text of any kind, really -- is a sign of fear in a person, a sign weakness; it is that person clutching to irrationality because they cannot face rational reality.

I don't murder people because murder is wrong. How do I know murder is wrong? What tells me murder is wrong? The notion of it just feels wrong. Sure, I get angry with people, frustrated and mortally disappointed, but the idea of actually murdering the person who fires such feelings in me is not something that enters my mind.

I'm aware that murder exists. If I were being attacked, or my family was in danger, I would take my shillelagh and flog the gray matter out of any miscreant's head. Self-defense is not murder. Allowing yourself to be murdered is as irrational as committing murder. Any fool knows this.

To kill someone because they believe something I don't believe is utterly ridiculous. A mindset that embraces such thinking cannot even be called primitive, but truly other.

Stealing? Well, I'd hate it someone stole from me. Yeah, I'm an atheist but I can certainly appreciate the wisdom in the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." I also believe that people reap what they sew. But generally, I don't steal because it's wrong. The same intangible something that tells me murder is wrong tells me stealing is wrong, too. When there is some object that I really want and cannot afford, I save my money and wait to buy it. Not because I'm virtuous or afraid of jail or hell, but because for the most part, I like how our society works.

If you actually wanted to commit crimes, you would likely go uncaught and unpunished. A police officer once wrote to me after reading one of my books. He and I met for coffee and had a great chat. He told me that if people saw how close to actual anarchy our city streets were, no one would sleep at night. He said that the only thing keeping us from sinking into a complete lawless free-for-all is that most people simply choose to obey the laws.

So, what keeps you in line? Fear? Virtue?


An O, so interesting postscript to Richard Dawkins' documentary is that he interviewed evangelist Ted Haggard regarding Haggard's views on evolution vs. creationism. Haggard did his phoney-smiling-best to appear magnanimous while indulging Dawkins' admission to being an atheist, then did his furrowed-brow-best to appear forthright when chiding Dawkins to not be arrogant in his views. Of course footage from Haggard's sermons was predictably interwoven showing him literally dictating to his flock what to think and what drone back to him in response to his rhetorical questions during services.

With regard to the accusations made against Haggard, he has gone from completely denying that he carried on a three-year homosexual relationship with a male prostitute, and that he imbibed methamphetamines to now admitting the male prostitute gave him a massage and that he, Haggard, purchased methamphetamines from him -- which he then threw away.

I wish that Haggard would just own up to his own evolution and be whatever it is that he is. If he's homosexual, cool, be homosexual. If he's straight and strays, that's between him and his family. But if he is going to posture as some kind of moral compass for his community and literally preach at his flock how to live, he might consider getting his own shit together first.

At the end of the day Haggard proves my belief that these conservative moral titans have multifarious skeletons in their closets. They make the attempt to set themselves above those around them and dictate codes of morality they themselves cannot live up to. They are hypocrites to the core, screeching about family values and "character" during every goddamned election. Meanwhile, they have neither.

So, Ted Haggard, Godspeed my publicly flayed man. You're reaping what you have sewed.

I hope the man addresses the log in his own eye and stops making a career out of tending to specks in the eyes of others.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"Mean Old Man" -- Not a Denier

O, the price one pays every once in a while being available online, having one's name and work and sense of humor "out there." The other day some girl on MySpace, whose avator is a set of huge (not unlovely) tits crammed into a tight T-shirt that proclaims "Brunette's Have More Fun," wrote me a message containing a one line question: "Are you a Holocaust denier?"

I have been asked odd and insulting questions over the years, in person and online, but I must confess that no other matched this for shock-value or caliber. The person asking was not among my Friends' list, not someone with whom I'd even exchanged email. Just this random note rolling into in my Inbox asking if I'm one of the crazies of this world who denies one of the most gargantuan and horrible events of the 20th Century.

I'm not a Holocaust denier. I'm no great historian, but I've never read or seen any credible critique of the version of history that tells us 6,000,000 Jews (20 million people in total) were methodically slaughtered by the Nazis in concentration camps. If anything, my reading has focused on the travesty of justice with how so many infamous Nazi war criminals escaped to South America, and elsewhere. For instance, the notorious Martin Bormann escaped Germany with the aid of the Vatican. He was issued a Vatican visa, which allowed him to escape Europe and justice. I read in one book called The List about how many Nazi war criminals settled in America and in Canada. One Nazi was said to have settled in Windsor, Ontario, my hometown! I was horrified.
Das Korrespondence:

No Subject in the subject heading box

Are you a holocaust denier?

My reply:

You have spectacular tits.

Her reply:

are you? and thanks.

My reply:

No, I'm not a holocaust denier. What in the name of god would make you ask a complete stranger such a question? Looking for kindred spirits? You'll find none here.

Her reply:

No. I'm a Jew. There was something on your profile that lead me to believe that.

My reply:

OK, jokes and sarcasm and cynicism aside, what in the world did you read in my profile that would lead you to think I'm a Holocaust denier? I'm genuinely curious. Only a few weeks ago was I contacted by an Auchwitz survivor and I was not only encouraging him to write a book about his experiences, I was offering my services (free) to write and publish the work. The pervasive, destructive amnesia in our world is a suffocating bubble in which every manner of horror occurs.

Please do indicate what you read in my profile that gave you pause. No more sarcastic remarks out of me.


Her reply:

Mean old man.

My reply:

Oh, for fuck's sake you're referring to that Lenny Bruce photograph I have. You goddamned ignoramus! He was a Jewish comedian and had that newspaper specially made. Christ-in-a-handcart, get some goddamned culture! Holy shit, I'd thought you were some neo-Nazi slut recruiting. Take a course on satire, learn what humor and hyperbole are all about. Better yet, disconnect from the Internet, this ain't the place for the irony impaired. And you are most certainly impaired!

Now that I have this sorted out, please fuck off!

Not Mel Gibson
Her reply:

You're very nasty. I know who Lenny Bruce is. Asshole.

My reply:

Go fuck yourself and get the Jewish Defense League after someone else's ass. You go around being some idiotic crusader. Christ, talk to someone who survived the Holocaust and see how your wretched self-righteousness rates. You're a fucking idiot who is not fit for adult conversation. Go fuck around with your iPod or learn to douche or something constructive. Anything, just keep the fuck away from anyone who knows how to think. There are too many pilons on the road as it is.

Fuck you.
That's about the gist of our interchange.

Man, Lenny Bruce once said, "There's nothing sadder than an aging hipster."

I say, "There is nothing more awful than an un-entertaining crazy person."

The power in Lenny's faked newspaper headline is that the absurdity of it causes a momentary laugh, which is quickly overtaken by the haunting realization of the calculated slaughter perpetrated by the Nazis -- while at the same time satirizing the escaped Nazis' hiding place (stating it in such baldfaced terms; "We don't know where they're hiding" becomes as empty as "I was just following orders"), and taking a shot at all those in a position of power who did nothing with the knowledge. I think it's a very powerful photograph and a very poignant statement. It's a stick in the eye to Holocaust deniers, not a call to arms.

But there is no subtlety left in this world. Peoples' idea of subtlety is ripping wet farts in elevators. Crass and base. No wonder this image was lost on a lost youth.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Ms. Chickenlittle

The other day I found an interesting article on the Guerrilla News Network titled What the Military Commissions Act of 2006 means for you. I posted it on the bulletin board on MySpace and received the following note:
From Ms. Chickenlittle (not her real name):

I know, since Bush is such an asshole, why don't we light torches and storm the White House as though it were the god-damned Bastille? All you are doing is exacerbating tension regarding issues we have access to. Honestly, being informed: good. Freaking people out when they can't change it until next election: pointless. If Clinton can get impeached and stay in office, I'm sure Bush can do it, too. In 2 years, other people are going to run for office and everyone will also have their minds made up as soon as the "who's running" announcement is made. Until then, you need to do a week at Disney before you die from a stroke or anyeurism.

My reply:

Thanks for your concern, but I'm quite happy how I am. Isn't it suffocating living with your head stuck so far beneath the sand? If you call that happiness, I'll believe you, but I won't imitate you.

From Ms. Chickenlittle:

My head is above ground, thank you. I just think that human beings wouldn't be so crabby and fight all of the time if everyone just calmed down. I'm not saying that what you've posted isn't true, but really, what can be done? We can impeach the guy, but he can still keep working. He's only got 2 years left and then some person who will piss us all off some other way will take over. Why get everyone all riled up about something they have no control over? As I said; being informed: good. Getting one's panties in a wad: pointless. I guess after people go through/see so much BS some of us become activists and the rest just prefer to stay away from the Drama Llama.
Oh, the health advisory is actually because I've been on anxiety and blood pressure meds since shortly after 9/11. I had to make CNN and FOX News unavailable on my usual TiVo list as they torture us with news at work. This whole ordeal: terrorists, war, and gov't has everyone's blood pressure going through the roof. I believe I peaked at 167/113 before meds. Possibly why I'm on all of this medication and getting counseling is because I have had access to information dated years before 9/11 confirming all suspicions the Bush administration had about the WMD's. Yes, Saddam had the damned things. Yes, I know where he's hidden them. No, I cannot tell you because I signed legally binding documents to forbid me to tell anyone how I know, where the stuff is now, indicators that told me, etc. Could everything have been executed better? Oh, yes. Does rehashing the past constantly change that? No. Will it change anyone's vote when it's time? I doubt it. So many people are so jaded with the mud slinging and controversy that goes on during elections and even other times that if they do show up at the polls, they vote for "whomever the Democrat is" or whatever their affiliation. They know what the Democrats stand for, but not really what the candidate stands for. If we remove labels, we can get a clearer picture and get the public more engaged in their political support system. It would also do away with that pesky electoral college that keeps screwing everything up.

But there I go rambling. I guess that means I need to go take something and go to bed.

You have fun ruffling feathers because we always need feather rufflers! Just don't get pecked...

BTW, I'm editing a work that details the whole anxiety thing... If you're may even give you some fodder.

My reply:

No one will deter me from writing or posting what I feel like writing or posting.

Clearly, you are the person who has anxiety issues.

Flail away at me all you like, you're the one who chose to read my posting. Rather than suggesting I cease and desist, maybe you should be more responsible about not exposing yourself to things that upset you. My post's title is pretty clear and pretty accurate as to the contents it contains. I did not title it "Chocolate Cake" in order to trick people like you into reading it.

So, get hold of yourself and point your frenetic energies toward something and someone else.
We live in a shameful time.

I once did a paper on the McCarthy witch-hunts of the 1950s and recall sitting back, amazed, thinking, What was wrong with people back then? That everyone could just roll over and let some shifty-eyed sheister with a heckler's self-confidence grab the country by the ears and lower its face to his crotch. I realize shit like this has always gone on, but if my reading was correct, Joe McCarthy didn't even accidentally uncover a single actual Communist during his wretched crusade. To my complete and disgusted amazement we are back to that time. We've even got Anne Coulter and her bizarre book in praise of ole Tailgunner Joe. But worse, we have this lapdog media chasing its tail, and worse yet, we have ghoulish cheerleaders like Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and however many other clowns are stuffed into that car marked "Conservative Media Gravy Train" watching everything that made their country great going over the edge of a cliff, and all they can do is cut down the people trying call attention to the makings of a very real disaster.

More than a month ago, journalist Mike Ruppert fled the United States. He runs the "From the Wilderness" Web site where he and a dedicated staff cover an astonishing range of issues. Mike was once a member of the LAPD, but was chased out with threats (and actions) against his life when he went public about CIA attempting to recruit him to aid in programs that were importing large quantities of illegal drugs into LA, and America at large. In early July of this year the offices of "From the Wilderness" were buglarized. Check out the pictures and read the accompanying article. These offices were not ransacked by teenagers who'd drunk too much Red Bull.

So, I will not cease and desist. I have no illusions of accomplishing anything other than telling people about a few news items they may not have read. I enjoy it when I do the same on other blogs.

BushCo peddles fear like Richard Simmons with his Deal-a-Meal. And I'm not buying it.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Windows 3, Ubuntu 0 -- However, Freespire Wins the Day

My adventures with the Linux flavor Ubuntu continued this week. The tagline for this abomination is "linux for human beings." I love the self-deprecating lowercase "L" on "linux" at the beginning of that. It says to me, "Hey man, we don't take ourselves seriously!" And they surely don't.

Ubuntu may be for human beings, and I have a few ideas that Ubuntu is free to use in any promotional materials:

"Ubuntu: Linux for people who don't mind getting kicked in the nuts"

Ubuntu: Not enough anger in your life?"

"Ubuntu: Remember what the angry mob did to Mussolini? That's what our operating system will do to your mind"

And on and on.

Jokes aside, I truly believe that Dell computers are somehow Linux-impervious. My first attempt at Ubuntu was on my desktop PC. This week I attempted installing it on my laptop -- both are Dells.

So, angst-ridden and gnashing my teeth, I flung myself into an Internet search. Exotic porn might have been the best choice, but I found myself investigating other flavors of Linux. I'd heard of Red Hat and Kubuntu. Surely there must be others. And there were.

You know how it is with Internet searches -- fives seconds after landing on a kickass, enlightening page, I had no idea how I got there. This page listed at least two dozen flavors of Linux. I scanned the list and saw something called Freespire. It's a sort of spin-off or inspired-by Linspire, which is... well, I didn't know.

Viewing the copious Freespire screenshots won me over to almost believing in a Christian god once again. There were screenshots, even, of the install process. The install screens looked like they were designed for human beings.

So, I downloaded Freespire and installed it on my laptop. And the goddamned fucking cocksucker actually installed. I was dumbfounded. And I've been working with it since about Wednesday. I'm on the Web right now on my laptop, blogging away like a free man. I've configured my printer to work on this, and have even edited and FTP'd my Web site with Linux tools.

I had heard even from adherents of Ubuntu that installing software on Linux machines is not the simple "click-click-click" process we enjoy on PCs. The Linux programmer-moles still try to make code-munchers out of us all. But Freespire has this great feature called CNR, which stands for "Click N Run." It's like a free online store where you can search for software, and the CNR interface actually installs it on your machine for you.

I did, however, try my hand at some old school software installation. I went to the Command Line and installed Flash Player 7. And it worked.

So, while I still condemn Linux hardcores for their arrogance and detachment from other keyboarding mammals, I applaud the good folks at Freespire Who Got It Right! I'm thrilled with this operating system. I can honestly say that anyone who seeks a genuine workable alternative to Apple and Microsoft products, Freespire is worth trying. It may not be for everyone, but I am unequivocal in my endorsement of this OS. I've been having a blast using ever since I installed it.

Recommended software:

* OpenOffice Word Processor (check it out -- there's even a Windows version -- at
* BlueFish Editor (HTML editor)
* gFTP

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11: Parade of Ghouls

Matthew 8:18 - 22 -- 18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." 20 Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." 21 Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." 22 But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."

George W. Bush showing up in New York, the Pentagon, and that lonesome field in Pennsylvania today was all proof I need to know that the old crime novel adage "The criminal always returns to the scene of the crime" is still true.

A day hasn't passed in the last five years when I haven't heard the date "September 11th." Mourn the victims? Yes. But so many are yet alive.

And so are the culprits behind the 9/11.

From the NeoCon's Cookbook: "Genesis 4:9 - 12 -- 9 And Jehovah said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: am I my brother's keeper? 10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground."

The blood of the world's first murder victim cried out for justice. The blood of all victims cries out for justice -- even that of the poor souls who perished on 9/11. They are owed much more than the hollow tributes of our corpse - chewer corporate media and necrophiliac politicians. Much more.


1996 – 2001: Federal authorities are aware for years before 9/11 that suspected terrorists with ties to Osama bin Laden are receiving flight training at schools in the US and abroad. One convicted terrorist confesses that his planned role in a terror attack was to crash a plane into CIA headquarters. [Washington Post, 9/23/01, CBS, 5/30/02, more]

1996–2001: On multiple occasions spies give detailed reports on bin Laden's location. Each time, the CIA director or top White House officials prevent bin Laden's elimination. [Los Angeles Times, 12/5/04, New York Times, 12/30/01, more]

2000–2001: 15 of the 19 hijackers fail to fill in visa documents properly in Saudi Arabia. Only six are interviewed. All 15 should have been denied entry to the US. [Washington Post, 10/22/02, ABC, 10/23/02] Two top Republican senators say if State Department personnel had merely followed the law, 9/11 would not have happened. [AP, 12/18/02, more]

2000–2001: The military conducts exercises simulating hijacked airliners used as weapons to crash into targets causing mass casualties. One target is the World Trade Center (WTC), another the Pentagon. Yet after 9/11, over and over the White House and security officials say they’re shocked that terrorists hijacked airliners and crashed them into landmark buildings. [USA Today, 4/19/04, Military District of Washington, 11/3/00, New York Times, 10/3/01, more]

Jan 2001: After the Nov 2000 elections, US intelligence agencies are told to "back off" investigating the bin Ladens and Saudi royals. There have always been constraints on investigating Saudi Arabians. [BBC, 11/6/01, more]

Spring 2001: A series of military and governmental policy documents is released that seek to legitimize the use of US military force in the pursuit of oil and gas. One advocates presidential subterfuge and hiding the reasons for warfare "as a necessity for mobilizing public support." [Sydney Morning Herald, 12/26/02, more]

May 2001: For the third time, US security chiefs reject Sudan’s offer of thick files on bin Laden and al - Qaeda. A senior CIA source calls it "the worst single intelligence failure in the business." [Guardian, 9/30/01, more]

June - Aug 2001:  German intelligence warns the CIA that Middle Eastern terrorists are training for hijackings and targeting American interests. Russian President Vladimir Putin alerts the US of suicide pilots training for attacks on US targets. In late July, a Taliban emissary warns the US that bin Laden is planning a huge attack on American soil. In August, Israel warns of an imminent Al Qaeda attack. [Fox News, 5/17/02, Independent, 9/7/02, more]

July 4 - 14, 2001: Bin Laden reportedly receives kidney treatment from Canadian - trained Dr. Callaway at the American Hospital in Dubai. Dr. Callaway declines to comment. During his stay, bin Laden is allegedly visited by one or two CIA agents. [Guardian, 11/1/01, Sydney Morning Herald, 10/31/01, London Times 11/1/01, UPI, 11/1/01, more]

July 26, 2001: Attorney General Ashcroft stops flying commercial airlines due to a threat assessment. [CBS, 7/26/01] In May 2002, Ashcroft walks out of his office rather than answer questions about it. [Fox News/AP, 5/16/02, more]

Aug 6, 2001: President Bush receives an intelligence briefing warning that bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners. Titled "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US," the briefing specifically mentions the WTC. Yet Bush later claims it "said nothing about an attack on America." [Washington Post, 4/12/04, Briefing, 8/6/01, more]

Aug 27, 2001: An FBI supervisor says he’s trying to keep a hijacker from "flying a plane into the WTC." [Senate Report (Hill #2), 10/17/02] Headquarters chastises him for notifying the CIA. [Time, 5/21/02, more]

Sept 10, 2001: A number of top Pentagon brass suddenly cancel travel plans for the next morning, apparently because of security concerns. Why isn't this news spread widely? [Newsweek, 9/13/01, Newsweek, 9/24/01, more]

Sept 11, 2001: Data recovery experts extract data from 32 damaged WTC computer drives. The data reveals a surge in financial transactions shortly before the attacks. Illegal transfers of over $100 million may have been made through WTC computer systems immediately before and during the 9/11 disaster. [Reuters, 12/18/01, CNN, 12/20/01, more]

Sept 11, 2001: Described as a bizarre coincidence, a US intelligence agency was set for an exercise on Sept 11 at 9 AM in which an aircraft would crash into one of its buildings near Washington, DC. [USA Today/AP, 8/22/02, more]

Sept 11, 2001: Hours after the attacks, a "shadow government" is formed. Key congressional leaders say they didn’t know this government - in - waiting had been established. [CBS, 3/2/02, Washington Post, 3/2/02, more]

Sept 11, 2001: Six air traffic controllers who dealt with two of the hijacked airliners make a tape recording describing the events within hours of the attacks. The tape is never turned over to the FBI. It is later illegally destroyed by a supervisor without anyone making a transcript or even listening to it. [Washington Post, 5/6/04, New York Times, 5/6/04]

Sept 13 - 19, 2001: Bin Laden's family is taken under FBI supervision to a secret assembly point. They leave the country by private plane when airports reopen days after the attacks. [New York Times, 9/30/01, Boston Globe, 9/20/01, more]

Sept 15 - 16, 2001: Several of the 9/11 hijackers, including lead hijacker Mohamed Atta, may have had training at secure US military installations. [Newsweek, 9/15/01, Washington Post, 9/16/01, New York Times, 9/15/01, more]

Sept 20, 2001: Several 9/11 hijackers later mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report turn up alive. Alleged 9/11 pilot Waleed Al Shehri, on seeing his name and photograph, says that he is alive. Abdulaziz Alomari states the name and date of birth are his, but he's alive and his passport was stolen. [London Times, 9/20/01, BBC, 9/23/01, more]

Dec 2001 - Feb 2002: The US engineers the rise to power of two former Unocal Oil employees: Hamid Karzai, the interim president of Afghanistan, and Zalmay Khalizad, the US envoy. The big American bases created in the Afghan war are identical to the route of the projected oil pipeline. [Chicago Tribune, 3/18/02, more]

May 17, 2002: Dan Rather says that he and other journalists haven't been properly investigating since 9/11. He graphically describes the pressures to conform that built up after the attacks. [Guardian, 5/17/02, more]

May 23, 2002: President Bush says he is opposed to establishing an independent commission to probe 9/11. [CBS, 5/23/02] Vice President Cheney earlier opposed any public hearings on 9/11. [Newsweek, 2/4/02, more]

May 30, 2002: FBI Agent Wright formally accuses the FBI of deliberately curtailing investigations that might have prevented 9/11. He is threatened with retribution if he talks to Congress about this. [Fox News, 5/30/02, more]

July 22, 2004: The 9/11 Commission Report is published. It fails to mention that a year before the attacks a secret Pentagon project had identified four 9/11 hijackers, including leader Mohamed Atta. The Commission spokesperson initially states members were not informed of this, but later acknowledges they were. [New York Times, 8/11/05, more]

2004 - 2005: A growing number of top government officials and public leaders express disbelief in the official story of 9/11. 100 prominent leaders and 40 9/11 family members sign a statement calling for an unbiased inquiry into evidence suggesting high - level government officials may have deliberately allowed the attacks to occur. [Various Publications]

Aug 9, 2006: A book by 9/11 Commission chairmen Kean and Hamilton outlines repeated deceptions by the Pentagon and FAA, including the timelines of Flights 77 and 93. CNN News: "The fact that the government would...perpetuate the lie suggests that we need a full investigation of what is going on." [CNN, 8/9/06 , MSNBC/AP, 8/4/06, more]

Thursday, August 24, 2006

EBKAC: Windows 2, Linux 0

Do you remember when Coca Cola changed its formula in the 1980s and released "New Coke"? The new product was a disaster and served to renew the consuming public's lust and devotion to "Classic Coke." I've since heard, and have no trouble believing, that this was a calculated move on the part of Coca Cola. For this reason I now believe that Microsoft is, in fact, the creator of Linux.

It makes perfect sense. There's been growing disillusionment with MS for years, and its reputation for bringing to market unfinished products and letting its users do the Q/A that Microsoft should be doing, is set in stone. So, one day Bill Gates assembled his team of gargoyles and put the question before them, "We can either begin creating quality products or we can simply frighten the computing public into never leaving us. Which will it be?" Since Microsoft is incapable of creating products that work as advertised, Gates and his team of gargoyles decided to make an alternative operating system to Windows, and called it Linux (because computer names that have an "x" in them are somehow viewed as oldschool and aboveboard).

So, the Microsoft Intelligence Unit located some rube in Finland named Linus Torvald, who seemed capable of only shrugging and smiling during interviews, and made his the improbable face behind "Linux." Linux was then released, with a cover story that is truly a 180-degree diversion from the Microsoft story -- it's all open source, developers from around the world worked on this because of their passion for computing, not for money, blah blah blah. And thus Linux and its various "flavors" came into being.

"Hey man," I hear a granola-intense voice call out from the balcony, "what about all the people who are using Linux? Are you saying they all work for Microsoft?"

Not at all. I have no doubt there are computer users who have actually gotten some vintage of Linux to work on their machines. I once had a girlfriend who's father's car had some weird glitch to the engine where if you drove a little too fast or a little too slowly, some valve would close, rendering the car immobile. The valve could only be opened with a pen or screwdriver and then the car would suddenly work again. My girlfriend's dad explained the whole thing to me, once, and it made absolutely no sense. He was already reluctant to lend his car to his daughter, and this weirdism with the vehicle put us off entirely asking. Yet he drove the car with no trouble.

I'm an experienced computer user. I started this week with a perfectly serviceable and fully functioning desktop computer -- and a strange, now unaccountable, desire to try switch to Linux. After attempting to install Linux on this desktop computer, I now end this week with a completely smoked desktop, and an unworkable strain of Linux sort of installed on it. Clearly, magic was needed. I do not possess magic. I hardly possess anything approaching luck. Now I have a Dell paperweight on my desk, and have to connect my virginal laptop computer to the Web in order to write this blog.

Years ago I worked at a software company where the techs had a term for what I've just experienced with this foray into Linux: EBKAC. It stands for "error between keyboard and chair." Meaning, the problem is with the user, not the software.

Maybe I will market my own open source, granola-smelling operating system and called it "EBKAC for Human Beings, Man".

Monday, August 21, 2006

Windows vs. Linux -- Windows 1, Linux 0

The Internet itself has put the lie to the old saying, "Eight hundred monkeys typing on eight hundred typewriters for eight hundred years would inevitably produce the works of Shakespeare." No, we just have faster Web connections courtesy of pornography.

And now Linux, specifically its flavor Ubuntu, has put the lie to "eight hundred programmers typing on eight hundred keyboards..." They can't seem to make an install process that won't lead a user to a psychotic breakdown.

The background:

I hate computers. I love writing, but I hate cajoling and jerry-rigging and going through the Five Stages of Grief everyday with my desktop PC just so I can blog and write books. This, however, is what I must do. Because I use Microsoft Windows as my operating system. There was a time in the 1990s when I was an Apple user, but after calling the 800 Helpline number for Apple Canada and getting a recorded message saying the number is unlisted by request of its owner, I switched to Windows. And I've been sorry ever since.

So, after some investigation and much coveting of Apple's new line of computers, I learned that Linux might be the answer for me. Particularly, I had heard very promising things about Ubuntu, one of the many flavors of Linux. Tonight I attempted to install Ubuntu -- with no success.

What went wrong? What did I have trouble with? I have no goddamned idea.

I went to the Ubuntu Web site and downloaded the installation disc to a CD on my machine. I then restarted my PC, hit F12 very quickly, and made my computer boot up with the Ubuntu CD. When the slick, vacant Ubuntu desktop appeared after a few minutes, there was absolutely no instruction on what the user was to do next. Not being an idiot, I double-clicked the "install" icon figuring that was how one installed the operating system. After double-clicking the icon, my pointer turned into some kind of circular zoetrope-type thing that I guessed was Linux's version of the Windows hourglass or Apple's wristwatch, which signaled the program was working. Well, my CD-ROM whirred like a champ, and shit-all seemed to occur on my screen. Eventually the circle-time-passing-indicator disappeared. Just when I thought about restarting my machine, a box slowly assembled on my screen, which turned out to be the Ubuntu install interface. It staggered along, finally asking me to select the default language for the operating system. I did so and clicked the Forward button. Again, nothing seemed to happen. After leaving the room and coming back half an hour later there was the second of six screens staring out at my office -- choose my location on planet earth so Linux could better serve me. It just hung there, never fully loading. I left it go for an hour. It never loaded.

For all the dramatic crowing about "open source" applications, I'm uncertain that I see the point.

After two more increasingly frustrating tries, I finally restarted my machine and let it boot up in Windows. After slugging away with Linux for the better part of three hours, my Windows applications seem lightning fast.

Which leads me to the nightmare question -- Are Microsoft products actually superior? They can't be. I've had too many problems with them, too many crashes. Microsoft treats its customers like unpaid quality assurance testers, notorously shipping products way too early, and thus having to issue patch after patch after goddamned patch. All the while peoples' machines are getting smoked by viruses sneaking in through vulnerabilities everyone but Microsoft technicians seem able to find.

And don't even get me started on the abomination that is Internet Explorer.

But what the hell is up with Linux? I'm grossly disheartened by the experience this evening. I've seen Linus Torvald on 60 Minutes and have read every scrap of Linus and open source propaganda I could get my hands on. After programmers around the world have worked on this operating system for years this is the best they can create?

At this point, an electric typewriter is starting to look very appealing to me. At least it has that oldschool Zen about it.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Randham Acts is finally released

Canadian orders click here

Fact: My 321-page suspense novel Randham Acts is now available!


Prologue & Chapter 1

Chapter 19

Chapter 45

Try out the BlockBuster™

Synopsis: "After receiving his latest rejection letter from a fiction magazine, aspiring writer Hugh Longford purchases The BlockBuster™ plot generation software, which analyzes fiction and suggests ways to "punch up" storylines. Soon, Longford consults the BlockBuster™ about real-life problems, including a miserable co-worker who makes his job unbearable and a "ball busting" history exam threatening to derail his university career. Meanwhile, the mother of his girlfriend suffers a catastrophic nervous breakdown suggesting she might be capable of violence."

Commentary: One of my all-time favorite films is the documentary Hearts of Darkness about the making of Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece Apocalypse Now. For anyone who believes in the ivory tower of inspiration and the sweatless creation of true art, Hearts of Darkness will shatter all of your illusions. By Coppola's own admission, he and his crew were out in the Philippine jungle with too much money, too much equipment, too much freedom, and slowly they went insane. At one point in the documentary when the production of Apocalypse Now appeared doomed by a typhoon, Martin Sheen's heart attack, Marlon Brando's shifting whims, and countless other festering problems, the interviewer asked Coppola if he ever thought about quitting the film. To which Francis Ford Coppola regarded the interviewer as though he was crazy, and said, "What? How do I quit from myself?"

And so, after 15 years and rejections from every major and minor publishing company in North America and England, my agreement with a small press publisher to finally see my novel, Randham Acts published has fallen through. The novel is too long, my demands too many, time continues to run along unflinching, money is short. Once again, I am pacing the floor of my office, a bloodied, bashed manuscript in my hands, and my hopes feeling like the Edmond Fitzgerald. But this time. This time. Fuck it. I am going to publish the novel myself, unabashedly. The films I have always loved best were born of such struggle, and ultimately produced and financed by their directors. So many of my favorite novels were the products of maniacal, unrewarded travail. More than a few of my heroes spent time in mental institutions. Many more of my heroes committed suicide.

So, I am going to treat my book like a faltering independent film. This novel has haunted me since I was twenty years old. I've spent as much time trying to forget all about it, as I have writing it. Times, years ago, as I was still developing my craft, the premise just seemed so far out of my grasp. To do justice to the idea, I had to dig so much deeper than I felt capable of doing. After putting the novel away for a few years, I unearthed it. With hundreds more books and films banging around in my consciousness since the last time I looked at it, and years more living under my belt, I took another stab at the novel. The unclimbable heights were suddenly manageable. The unbudging corners into which I'd written myself suddenly had ways out of them. More to the point, the characters came alive. After so many years of knowing my main character by one name, he finally informed me that his name was Hugh Longford. His girlfriend was Stephanie Sayer, and the quantum map of their lives and myriad collisions and near-misses of fate and circumstance finally pieced itself together.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Review of James Joyce's Ulysses

James Joyce's novel Ulysses has quite the reputation, being deemed obscene, unreadable, brilliant, and considered by some to be the greatest novel of the 20th century. For years, the novel stood on my bookshelf, untouched, imposing as a brick from an ancient citadel. Having taken a course on Irish writers years ago at university, I was more than a little put off by the sense of proprietorship professors felt about Joyce. Ulysses was like a conquest they sought not to share, frightening off simple readers with endless blather about classical and religious allusions; building the novel into some mythic literary mountain that they, alone, had conquered, and only fellow worthy would conquer. I have no interest in hearing how Joyce mimicks or mirrors Homer's The Odyssey with Ulysses. I have never read Homer, nor do I ever intend to. I care nothing for the religious subtext of Ulysses either. James Joyce was educated by Jesuits, so it stands to reason he was filled up to his eyeballs with Roman Catholicism. I actually find Joyce's frequent interjections of Latin from the Catholic mass into the more mundane sections of the novel to be lightweight pretention.

I don't seek to conquer novels, only to read them. The scholarly smokescreen kept me from Ulysses long enough, so on Bloom's Day 2006 I took the novel down from my shelf and tried once again to read it.

I don't know what the breakthrough was this time around, but after five days and more than 300 pages of the novel under my belt, I found Joyce's masterpiece to be a vertible page-turner.

Call me a literary Phillistine, but I am interested only in the primary text of Ulysses. I'm interested in its story, characters, the language of its narrative, Joyce's continually brilliant and entertaining turns of phrase, his use of dialogue, and his experiments with stream-of-consciousness prose. On all of these counts, Ulysses is a marvel. Its rendering of Dublin, Ireland is three-dimensional. My favorite episode in the novel was Episode 12, "Cyclops," and its ill-tempered narrator; a wonderful and engrossing evocation of Irish vernacular:
The figure seated on a large boulder at the foot of a round tower was that of a broadshouldered deepchested stronglimbed frankeyed redhaired freely freckled shaggybearded wide-mouthed largenosed longheaded deepvoiced barekneed brawnyhanded hairylegged ruddyfaced sinewyarmed hero. From shoulder to shoulder he measured several ells and his rocklike mountainous knees were covered, as was likewise the rest of his body wherever visible, with a strong growth of tawny prickly hair in hue and toughness similar to the mountain gorse (Ulex Europeus). The widewinged nostrils, from which bristles of the same tawny hue projected, were of such capaciousness that within their cavernous obscurity the field-lark might easily have lodged her nest. The eyes in which a tear and a smile strove ever for the mastery were of the dimensions of a goodsized cauliflower. A powerful current of warm breath issued at regular intervals from the profound cavity of his mouth while in rhythmic resonance the loud strong hale reverberations of his formidable heart thundered rumblingly causing the ground, the summit of the lofty tower and the still loftier walls of the cave to vibrate and tremble.
To start at the start, and to air my own prejudices, I must confess that I hate Stephen Dedalus, main character of Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and who shares central character status in Ulysses with the much more interesting Leopold Bloom. Straight off, I dislike Joyce giving Stephen such a heavy-handed name: Dedalus. I don't even know who Dedalus was in classical mythology, though it would be easy enough to search the Internet for an answer. I'm just going to state my ignorance flat out. And if the boring, self-absorbed, unpleasant, morose Stephen Dedalus is an "artist" of any sort, let us all mourn art. Stephen is just the dull, pedantic, self-congratulatory academic who drove me to distraction when I was at university, for whom an education is more a means by which to prove the ignorance of everyone around him, rather than a search for his own enlightenment. The continual mocking strings of Latin Stephen mutters throughout the novel, blessing people and situations readers of the day would believe ought not be blessed is a tiresome device whose shock-value dissipated long ago. As mentioned above, yes, I understand James Joyce was educated by Jesuits and took his revenge upon them in his fiction everafter. I get it. This once radical mocking of the Church is but a minor ripple in the story to today's reader.

That out of the way, I will now profess my love for Leopold Bloom. Maybe it's because he's an amiable, educated bumbler married to the minx, Mrs. Marion Tweedy (Molly Bloom), professional vocalist and not-so-covert adulteress. Bloom enters the novel making breakfast for his wife, Molly, who is still in bed, while thinking about the funeral he is to attend later in the morning for an old friend, one Patrick Dignam. The approach of the funeral does not dampen Bloom's mood, however. After serving Molly her breakfast and enjoying a sauteed kidney, himself, Bloom heads out to the "jakes" in the backyard -- an outhouse -- where he sits reading a newspaper, thinking:
Might manage a sketch. By Mr and Mrs L. M. Bloom. Invent a story for some proverb which? Time I used to try jotting down on my cuff what she said dressing. Dislike dressing together. Nicked myself shaving. Biting her nether Hip, hooking the placket of her skirt. Timing her. 9.15. Did Roberts pay you yet? 9.20. What had Gretta Conroy on? 9.23. What possessed me to buy this comb? 9.24. I'm swelled after that cabbage. A speck of dust on the patent leather of her boot.
On the way to Paddy Dignam's funeral, Bloom shares a carriage with Simon Dedalus -- Stephen's father -- along with a Martin Cunningham and a Mr. Power. During the ride to the cemetery, Blooms spots Stephen Dedalus, saying to Stephen's father, "There's a friend of yours gone by, Dedalus..." Simon Dedalus asks "Was that Mulligan cad with him?" before going on to say:
"He's in with a lowdown crowd," Mr Dedalus snarled. "That Mulligan is a contaminated bloody doubledyed ruffian by all accounts. His name stinks all over Dublin. But with the help of God and His blessed mother I'll make it my business to write a letter one of these days to his mother or his aunt or whatever she is that will open her eyes as wide as a gate. I'll tickle his catastrophe, believe you me.... I won't have her bastard of a nephew ruin my son."
At the cemetery, following the burial, Bloom spots a man wearing a brown macintosh, whom he does not recognize: "Now who is that lankylooking galoot over there in the macintosh? Now who is he I'd like to know? Now, I'd give a trifle to know who he is. Always someone turns up you never dreamt of. A fellow could live on his lonesome all his life. Yes, he could. Still he'd have to get someone to sod him after he died though he could dig his own grave. We all do. Only man buries. No ants too. First thing strikes anybody. Bury the dead. Say Robinson Crusoe was true to life. Well then Friday buried him. Every Friday buries a Thursday if you come to look at it." This mysterious figure is never identified, but recurs throughout to very interesting effect.

Much as I personally dislike the character of Stephen Dedalus, I must concede that Joyce attributes some wonderful, mocking lines to him. This, for instance, satirizing the Catholic Church's "Apostles' Creed": "They believe in rod, the scourger almighty, creator of hell upon earth, and in Jacky Tar, the son of a gun, who was conceived of an unholy boast, born of the fighting navy, suffered under rump and dozen, was scarified, flayed and curried, yelled like bloody hell, the third day he arose again from the bed, steered into haven, sitteth on the beamend till further orders whence he shall come to drudge for a living and be paid." This, however, does not redeem Stephen from his dull, pedantic arrogance. In fact, he lectures friends laboriously about Shakespeare's Hamlet in the middle of the book; a most tiresome, windy monologue. I skimmed most of it and skipped the last of it.

It seems to me that James Joyce sought to to write an Andy-Warhol-esque movie in Ulysses. This is not as farfetched as it might seem. James Joyce was an admirer of cinema and even opened the first movie theatre in Ireland. His prose in Ulysses is unmistakably cinematic and the rolling stream-of-consciousness of his characters is its voice-over. As Andy Warhol sought to document every aspect of his characters' lives -- the mundane, scatalogical, sexual, narcotic, etc. -- so, too, does Joyce document every moment of his Stephen Dedalus' and Leopold Bloom's lives in this one day in Dublin City, Ireland.

What about the naughty bits that had censors so up-in-arms when the novel was first published? They abound, to be sure. There is Leopold Bloom in the jakes in Episode 4 wiping himself with an advertisement he rips from the newspaper he reads while moving his bowels. There is Episode 14 in which Leopold Bloom stands by the seaside watching lovely teenaged Gerty MacDowell as she leans back on the rock she sits upon, giving him peaks at her crotch. Bloom masturbates to climax ogling her. And of course there is Molly Bloom's mesmerizing soliloquy in Episode 18 through which she speaks very frankly about sex, adultery, and womanhood. Episode 18 is among the most poetic, erotic prose I've ever read.

What about the difficult bits that have put off casual readers and aroused academics? For me, one of the most difficult sections of the novel was the opening episode with "[s]tately Buck Mulligan" mocking the Catholic eucharist as he prepared to shave. Between Mulligan's buffoonery and Stephen Dedalus' sullen introspection, I found the prose at the novel's opening particularly hardgoing. Episode 11 begins with some very odd prose:

Chips, picking chips off rocky thumbnail, chips. Horrid! And gold flushed more.

A husky fifenote blew.

Blew. Blue bloom is on the

Gold pinnacled hair.

A jumping rose on satiny breasts of satin, rose of Castille.

Trilling, trilling: I dolores.

Peep! Who's in the... peepofgold?

Tink cried to bronze in pity.

And a call, pure, long and throbbing. Longindying call.

Decoy. Soft word. But look! The bright stars fade. O rose! Notes chirruping answer. Castille. The morn is breaking.

Jingle jingle jaunted jingling.

Coin rang. Clock clacked.
This is where I find Joyce at his most cinematic, interspersing narrative, dialogue with setting down on the page the actual phonetic sounds of things. In this case, the sounds of music being played. Episode 14 is written in varying modes of old English, starting with Chaucer-esque prose moving into a Carlysle-esque style. This is was among the most difficult episodes to get through, with such prose as:
Universally that person's acumen is esteemed very little perceptive concerning whatsoever matters are being held as most profitable by mortals with sapience endowed to be studied who is ignorant of that which the most in doctrine erudite and certainly by reason of that in them high mind's ornament deserving of veneration constantly maintain when by general consent they affirm that other circumstances being equal by no exterior splendour is the prosperity of a nation more efficaciously asserted than by the measure of how far forward may have progressed the tribute of its solicitude for that proliferent continuance which of evils the original if it be absent when fortunately present constitutes the certain sign of omnipollent nature's incorrupted benefaction.
It's not near as fearsome as anything in Finnegan's Wake -- a truly, uncontestably unreadable novel -- but it's dense enough to cause the reader some real pain.

Episode 15 is composed as a play, taking the reader into "Nighttown" with a drunken Stephen and his guardian, Bloom. This episode veers into the fantastical as Bloom jousts with his guilty conscience over his own daliances or near-daliances with servant girls, prostitutes, former girlfriends and friends' wives. Seeing the 1967 film Ulysses was quite helpful to me in visualizing all that happened in this episode. Once the readers gets the gist of what is happening in Episode 15, it's surprisingly comic.

For help getting through the difficult episodes, I turned to Stuart Gilbert's James Joyce's Ulysses: A Study, consulting it as a quick reference, rather than reading it through cover to cover. This, along with the film Ulysses went a long way toward making the novel much more accessible to me.

In one of the more enjoyable moments, the reader is treated to one of Stephen's better paraphrasings of catechism: "He Who Himself begot middler the Holy Ghost and Himself sent Himself, Agenbuyer, between Himself and others, Who, put upon by His friends, stripped and whipped, was nailed like bat to barndoor, starved on crosstree, Who let Him bury, stood up, harrowed hell, fared into heaven and there these nineteen hundred years sitteth on the right hand side of His Own Self but yet shall come in the latter day to doom the quick and the dead when all of the quick shall be dead already."

And Bloom at his most amiable and interesting:
Devil of a job it was collecting accounts of those convents. Tranquilla convent. That was a nice nun there, really sweet face. Wimple suited her small head. Sister? Sister? I am sure she was crossed in love by her eyes. Very hard to bargain with that sort of woman. I disturbed her at her devotions that morning. But glad to communicate with the outside world. Our great day, she said. Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Sweet name too: caramel. She knew, I think she knew by the way she. If she had married she would have changed. I suppose they really were short of money. Fried everything in the best butter all the same. No lard for them. My heart's broke eating dripping. They like buttering themselves in and out. Molly tasting it, her veil up. Sister? Pat Claffey, the pawnbroker's daughter. It was a nun they say invented barbed wire.
And Joyce is never better than when he evokes the true voice of Dublin, as he does in Episode 12 when Bloom enters a pub hoping to find Martin Cunningham. When he sees Cunningham is not there, Bloom goes out looking for him. The patrons, however, believe Bloom has actually gone to collect winnings on a 20-1 horse named Throwaway, leading the one patron known as "Citizen" to observe about Bloom: "Courthouse my eye and your pockets hanging down with gold and silver. Mean bloody scut. Stand us a drink itself. Devil a sweet fear! There's a jew for you! All for number one. Cute as a shithouse rat. Hundred to five."

Or, in Episode 13 when Bloom observes -- while masturbating to the sight of Gerty MacDowell -- "Still there's destiny in it, falling in love. Have their own secrets between them. Chaps that would go to the dogs if some woman didn't take them in hand. Then little chits of girls, height of a shilling in coppers, with little hubbies. As God made them he matched them. Sometimes children turn out well enough. Twice nought makes one."

There is no question that Ulysses is a tremendous challenge to read and understand. I don't how pleased or repulsed Joyce would be to learn of how many academics have made whole careers out of his novel of the everyday. But if this review does nothing else, it should emphasize the point that Ulysses is not the inaccessible, rarified work that academics would have us believe. Yes, it is complex. Yes, it can be obscure in places. But there are more entertaining, readable, hilarious passage in the novel than I ever imagined until I read the book. One that I found particularly funny occurs in Episode 6 in which Bloom ponders how people could truly preserve physical memories of the dead: "Besides how could you remember everybody? Eyes, walk, voice. Well, the voice, yes: gramophone. Have a gramophone in every grave or keep it in the house. After dinner on a Sunday. Put on poor old greatgrandfather Kraahraark! Hellohellohello amawfullyglad kraark awfullygladaseeragain hellohello amarawf kopthsth. Remind you of the voice like the photograph reminds you of the face. Otherwise you couldn't remember the face after fifteen years, say."

If for no other reason, Ulysses is a must-read because James Joyce so perfectly captures the Irish -- the great speakers of English in the world -- in their natural environs, making the language sing like a musical instrument.

Very highly recommended.