Thursday, December 31, 1998

Just say no to dregs

OK, kids. Here are the dregs of my hard drive. Random trains of thought that never quite left the station. Ready or not, I'm sending 'em out anyway before the year ends.

Remember. Just say no to dregs...

* * *

Brazil Nuts dept. (leftover from Sept...I think)

The Right is crying out for Clinton to pay the costs of the damn investigation against him. Sorta reminds you of the "information charges" in Brazil ...don't it?

* * *

Dick Clark's rictus grin sure reminds me of the year end skeleton moldering away...

* * *

This year 2000 shit is just a little too close to Isaac Asimov's Nightfall for comfort....

It's gonna get freakier and freakier, kids. Yes, indeedy...

The Y2K bug I'm worried about is the one between the ears of human beings. Goddamnit anyway, here's David McCallum on a show called "Ancient Prophecies" on The Learning Channel spouting drivel about the fucking end of the world...VISIONS OF DOOM AND PAIN! EARTH CHANGES! OH MY GOD! THE VIRGIN MARY APPEARED TO...

Pure hoodoo. Hoodoo on the "Learning" channel, yet. McCallum spouting this crap with a straight face. Unbelievable...

It's all so fucking stupid...

Stoopid or not, there's this superstitious bone in us crazy human beings that gets freaked out at the thought of 1999 (woah! 666 backwards) rolling over to 2000....

The end.


Prepare to meet thy God.



And I know it's all bullshit. I know it's just a load of mystical crap....just like those rationalistic scientists in Nightfall.

Which doesn't help much when the fires start burning...

As I've got a superstitious bone of my own.

And am two steps away from holy terror at all times as it is..

So have a Happy New Year folks....

While you still can.

Sunday, December 20, 1998


OK, additional thoughts on the metaphysical game of Twister Clinton's tangled himself into. (And the Democratic party, in general.)

It's my -- doubtlessly oversimplified -- reading of Aristotle that politics is the practical expression of philosophy. I.e., you have a certain view of the world, the universe, ethics, and human nature. You translate that view into a political philosophy, and from there, into a course of practical action in the political sphere. After that, you find a lot of other people who sort of agree with you and try to make it happen. Political philosophy is the operating system of democracy. Citizens debate the philosophical issues first, before anything else happens.

For whatever reason, there's not much real political debate in late 20th century America.

In mainstream politics, the 45% of Americans who believe in a relativistic morality find themselves in a twisted position indeed. The Democrat party represents their philosophical worldview. But the Democratic party can't openly state that worldview -- they have to wrap it up in politically acceptable code. The result is a constant disjunct between stated belief and real belief.

To put it plainly: We don't believe in God—or not believe in God. We don't believe in an absolute code of right or wrong, either. We can't come out and say it. But the Democrat party stands for our non-beliefs. Although, sadly, they can't actually say it either.

Obviously, I'm talking about the twisted position of mainstream liberals in mainstream American politics. None of this applies to, say Ralph Nader, Noam Chomsky, the late Bill Hicks, etc. We still have a thriving -- and totally ineffective -- hard left who say exactly what they mean and get nowhere.

Saturday, December 19, 1998

If Clinton made an honest speech

Well, They got what they wanted. The Impeachment has begun. I guess it's time to set the record straight.

Some of you hate me. Some of you love me. Some of you want all this turmoil to go away. But America is in crisis -- a crisis that I will freely admit I have largely created.

I've been accused of lying -- and I have done so. Hell -- I'm goddamn good at it! "What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive" -- but I've had a lot of practice, people! Oh yeah! I'm a GOOD goddamn liar...and that's the truth! I'm such a good goddamn liar, I believer whatever I'm saying is the truth at the time I say it.

Lying is my superpower. But it has always been the power my enemies hold over me. My weakness is my strength. My strength is my weakness.

And now, I have fallen into the trap They set for me. I let Them back me into a corner. They got me just where They wanted me. Funny thing...that may just be Their undoing!

Because I've been backed into a corner where, goddamnit anyway, I've got nothing to lose anymore. No reason, finally, not to tell the goddamn reason not to say goddamn on television! feels good to say goddamn!

From now on, I might as well start telling the truth.

So here it is, America:

Back in the 60's I found myself in a fork in the road...change the system from within or destroy it from without. Two paths you can go by -- just like it says in Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven." Letting the system remain was no option at all: America had become a machine producing death -- just plain obvious to anyone with the eyes to see it.

So I worked from within -- ignoring the "sell out!" jeers of my radical friends -- climbing the political ladder and giving away little pieces of myself the higher I got. I surrendered my principles one by one. I cut my hair. I shined my shoes. Even so, I had hoped, to the end, to hold onto my balls. Still do...

That's the price you pay for changing the system from within.

Fact is, I couldn't be honest. Like millions of other baby boomers, I had to grin and pretend to a false morality I didn't believe in. I couldn't stand up and tell the world that I didn't give a good goddamn who screwed who or what they put into their bodies just so long as they didn't hurt anybody. I couldn't tell the world that Hillary and I had an open marriage and that was just fine with the two of us and nobody else's damn business. Couldn't admit, in public, that, as with so many others of my generation, my life was not about self-sacrifice -- but the pursuit of self-gratification and self-actualization.

In this, I remained a true citizen of the Woodstock Nation -- a member of the counterculture that stood up against the death machine that was America in the 60s -- for awhile anyway.

As Toynbee pointed out, every generation has a mission. History judges each generation according to whether it succeeds or fails in that mission. This mission is assigned by a process Toynbee referred to as "challenge and response." History hands you a challenge. How do you respond?

Looking backwards, the challenge of my 1960s generation was to take the war America had won against the Nazis in Europe and bring it back home -- and defeat the Hitler within. Our mission was to create social justice and equal opportunity in a colorblind, egalitarian society. To end the powertrips and racism. To end the waste. To stop living like pigs...

The old Leftists used to call that "solidarity." The New Leftists used that word too, until we forgot what it meant. That was part of our Revolution --

The other part being sex, drugs and rock and roll.

I'm here to tell you, after awhile it gets kinda hard fighting for social justice and the perfect orgasm at the same time...

Which is why, like many of my generation, I discovered that it was easier saying it than doing it. Talk is cheap. As cheap as a feel-good donation to "We are the World" or some similar festival of hype, bullshit and self-promotion on the part of a bunch of self-indulgent pop stars past their peak disguised as charity...

This all happened gradually. No signing your soul on a deed to the devil in blood. No door to open or line to cross. Just a process of gradual corruption. Piece by piece, principle by principle.

And then -- one day -- you wake up and look at yourself in the mirror. You look -- and the Dad that ran away from you is smiling right back.

What you realize -- what I realized -- is that, like every generation, we had become our parents. Our parents, meanwhile, were trying to pull a Joshua number and hold back the sun. They wanted to keep time's wheels from turning. They didn't want to pass the torch onto us -- ungrateful bastards that we were -- though they were content to sell us shit.

But sooner or later it had to happen. No matter how much they fought it, no matter how hard they worked out or how much Grecian Formula they applied -- the day had to come when George Bush, Bob Dole and Private Ryan were just too damn old for the White House. That day came. And on that day, I was just about ready...

I had reached the last rung on the ladder, the end of my sell-out climb. I had climbed this far by lying, of course. There was no other choice...

The Republican party had come to represent the worldview of folks who believed in some absolute moral standard -- God, the ten commandments, heaven, hell, thou shalt not -- the whole nine yards. Now, of course this was a cover story for the agenda of various corporate interests -- but plenty of folks sincerely believed in that cover story. And sincerely believed the Republican party represented them. Millions of people...

Millions of other people believed in a relativistic world view. Essentially, these were the children of the counter-culture. The democratic party was the only party left to represent this viewpoint -- as the last ditch redoubt of the ragtag remnants of American liberalism and the American left, strange bedfellows though they were...

Trouble is, you couldn't own up to the core beliefs of that constituency without committing political suicide. The other shop could holler "God told me that abortion is wrong!" We weren't free to holler back "Good and evil exists in your head, fucker!" They could say "Gay marriage is an abomination!" You couldn't say, "Who cares who screws whom?" They could say "War on drugs!" You couldn't say, "What's wrong with getting high every now and then?" They could say "Prayer in schools!" You couldn't say, "Let's leave talking to ghosts to the nuthouse."

So the democratic party was left in the nasty position of being the practical political expression of an unspeakable worldview. We can't say "God is dead -- the universe is meaningless -- there is no value except the value we create -- vote for me!" We can't say anything except pure flying horseshit. Just flapping through the skies like Pegasus dropping his load on the world below...

Salute the flag! Support our troops! Praise the Lord! America's great!

In other words -- we have to lie.

The reason our friends on the Right hate me so much is because they know this. Somebody who represents a relativistic way of seeing the world ain't supposed to get to the White House -- the reason I'm there is I cheated. I lied....

They know. And so they hate me.

They know that, despite my suit, tie and haircut, I'm a goddamn draft-dodging, pot-smoking hippy in the White House.

And that's what this is all about.

I stand before you as a walking Hegelian contradiction. I had hoped to bring about a Revolution of social justice and equality. I had also hoped to party hard.

Holding onto my balls, in other words.

And every time I grabbed another stolen piece of pleasure out of the nooky jar, that's when I'd tell myself "This is the real me. All that horseshit for the camera's just an act. This is the real William Jefferson Clinton. I just don't care...this sure FEELS like Revolution...WOOO-HOOOO!"

That's what they figured I was doing. And they found me out...

It's come down to this. My generation failed in its historical mission. We lost the Revolution -- because you couldn't live a life devoted to pleasure and solidarity at one and the same time -- at least not just yet. Instead of liberating the future we fucked it -- just like me and Monica, though technically speaking that wasn't intercourse. How goddamn symbolic it all is, huh?

Now the death generation wants to bring me down -- because they want to impose their view of reality on America like some thermoplastic mold. What they want is a schizoid, perpetual-motion machine -- the Puritanical America of public discourse full of flag-saluting, Church-going, parade-marching, war-supporting sacrificial patriots -- and the Love for Sale America of the capitalist marketplace in which everything and everyone has a price and honor, love, loyalty and compassion do not exist. An America of atomized selves trying to buy their sense of identity and belonging back based on the latest glittering horseshit they see sandwiched inbetween a bunch of actors pretending to be real people on television. Trying to buy their souls back -- but just going deeper and deeper in debt in the endless mall of Satan's Company Store America...

Once again, America wants to eat its young -- in this case the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the WWII generation. Listen up kids...

Seeing as how they've got me on the ropes, I can be honest now. The tube's been lying to you. You can't have it all. You can't do anything you want. You can't grow up to be President, even if you get to wear the suit. The tube promises a party but that party's about to end. This is what this is all about...and I wish I hadn't lied about it.

All you young folks out there who either don't believe in God or don't believe God particularly cares about whatever gets you through the night are going to be screwed. You will learn to wear a public face and salute what They tell you. You will wear a suit and tie and shine your shoes...forever. You can be your real self in the dark, of course -- They'll be making money off that too. But out in the open, get ready for a whole lot of smiling and saluting if you don't all get together and stop Them now. The time has come to fight!

Relativistic amoralists of America -- I call to you now! The time of decision has come. My generation failed in the '60s, but perhaps it's not too late. The challenge has come before us once again -- and perhaps for one last time -- we can still bring the War back home!

That is the challenge of history. That is my challenge to you today -- my challenge to all you bad boys and girls out there who got me elected in the first place...

Animal House America -- I call to you! Unbelievers, hedonists, pagans and pleasure-seekers everywhere -- I call to you! My call goes out to all you hard-working, hard-partying folks out there who are sworn to fun and loyal to none -- and you know who you are!

Revolution now! Revolution TODAY!

Hear my call. Accept the challenge of history. Stand up. The time is now...

The time has come to stand up and fight for what you don't believe in.

Good night, America.

Friday, December 18, 1998

He who sins, grins

OK, now that we're on the eve of Impeachment, I'd better wrap this up.

As my five loyal readers may recall, I promised a deeper delving into the nature of the Republican hysteria regarding Clinton. I asserted that it wasn't about sex. I advanced the thesis that the target of the ClintInquisition was the nature of sin itself. I said I'd make that more specific. Now here's the payoff.

In simple terms, some Americans have an absolutist view of the universe, others have a relativist view. This tends to break down to religious vs. non-religious, fundamentalist vs anythingarian, conservative vs. liberal, Republican vs. Democrat.

For the sake of argument, lets say that 45% of Americans don't believe the Bible is literally true; they may or may not believe in God; either way,they don't believe God has established a black and white code of morality that applies to all humans; they don't believe in an absolute sexual morality or think that taking drugs is immoral either. As to what they do believe, that might be summed up as, "If it feels good, do it," with the corollary that "if it's between consenting adults and doesn't hurt anybody." While we're on the subject, most of this 45% doesn't believe in American exceptionalism -- or think that our nation is a "New Israel" established by God to ride herd on the rest of the planet. On top of that, this 45% tends to take a utilitarian view of human institutions -- including Capitalism. I.e., Capitalism has value in terms of the "greatest good for the greatest number." Property ownership is a convenient legal fiction -- not a God-given right.

OK, I could go on, but you get the idea.

Basically, the Democratic party represents this 45%. The turd in the ointment? The Democratic party can't baldly state what they believe in. "Hi, we're the party of atheists, agnostics and moral relativists." Uh-uh. They have to speak in code -- namely, the code of America's civil religion. They have to salute the flag and play name-dropper with God and Jesus when they make speeches.

So, Clinton, when he's screwing around with Monica Lewinsky, is being absolutely true to his innate value system. I.e., two adults are creating sexual pleasure consensually. There's nothing wrong with it. If it feels good do it.

The Republicans aren't mad at Clinton because he broke their moral code.

They're mad at him because he doesn't believe in the code in the first place.

But he pretends to.

That's why they froth at the mouth and call him "liar" ...

Next up, as a thought experiment, let's imagine what speech Clinton would make if he were absolutely honest ...

Monday, December 14, 1998

Writer’s Bloch or “The horror, the horror.”

Gotta hand it to Robert Bloch, horror auteur extraordinaire. There's a man with staying power...

In addition to the original Psycho, two Psycho sequels and a staggering number of short story collections, Bloch's novels and linked-story collections include American Gothic, Atoms and Evil, Cold Chills, Cunning, Fear and Trembling, Firebug, Flowers from the Moon: and Other Lunaciew, The Jekyll Legacy, Kidnapper, King of Terrors, Lori, Lost in Time and Space with Lefty Feep, Midnight Pleasures, Monsters in our Midst, Mysteries of the Worm, the Night of the Ripper, Night World, The Opener of the Way, Out of My Head, Out of the Mouths of Graves, Pleasant Dreams, The Will to Kill, Star Stalker, Strange Eons, Such Stuff as Screams Are Made of, There is a Serpant in Eden, Unholy Trinity …

Besides novels, Bloch is one of the all-time greats when it comes to short stories -- my favorite being A Toy for Juliette, a study of Jack the Ripper, for which Harlan Ellison did a follow-up called, A Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World.

And, hell, some of these titles may be wrong. Bloch is hard to keep up with -- staying power AND the man writes like a sumbitch to boot. A REAL master of horror, right up there with the King.

Any one of Bloch’s titles would make a kick-ass sci-fi and/or horror movie. It’s a gold mine of concepts, largely untapped.

So why do a SECOND adaptation of Psycho? A shot-for-shot remake of the first adaptation -- Hitchcock's genre-changing, all-time classic? What was Gus Van Sant thinking? Who pitched this idea?

FLUNKY: Say -- I know! Wouldn't it be great to do another film adaptation of a Robert Bloch horror story? Whaddya think, Mr. Van Sant?

VAN SANT: I like the idea! Which one?

FLUNKY: I dunno, Mr. Van Sant. There's so much to choose from, it’s staggering. I printed out the list …

VAN SANT: Gimme that! (snatches list) Wow.

FLUNKY: He’s what you call prolific.

VAN SANT: This is gonna be a hard one, all right. Wait a minute. Wait … it’s coming to me … (snaps fingers) I’ll do Psycho ... AGAIN!

FLUNKY: That’s brilliant! What's your take?

VAN SANT: I'll do it in color and show Norman jerking off!

FLUNKY: I love it! What else?

VAN SANT: Nothing else! I’ll do exactly what Hitch did, shot-for-shot – and put my name on it!

FLUNKY: You’re a genius, Mr. Van Sant!

OK. What's the point of this ridiculously expensive post-modern stunt? Aside from the fact that Vince Vaughn must really need the money, what exactly does it prove? Basically, this movie one big copy. Hell, I'm a cartoonist. I can do that ...

Say,'s a little magic trick! Watch as I make a photocopy of an old "Prince Valiant" comic page outta one of my I bring it over to the light table, get out the pen and ink and -- presto! I make a tracing that's exactly the same as the original! Now I'm as good an artist as Hal Foster!

Wasn't that amazing?

Monday, November 30, 1998

Velvet Goldmine, Velvet Goldshmine

"Is there life on Mars? Duh. I dunno."
Self-indulgent director Todd Haynes serves up a 124-minute MTV video disguised as a movie. His narrative sense indicates signs of aphasia and the continuity sense of the hero of Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron. But let's get into it anyway. Plot summary time ...

After a puzzling bit about a flying saucer and Oscar Wilde in the Victorian era, Haynes starts off with the can’t-lose structure of Citizen Kane: a reporter investigates the life of a Famous Dead Guy to find out who he is (or, in this case, A Famous Guy Who Faked His Death Got Caught and Disappeared). The reporter character (Christian Bale) does a few interviews, but Haynes quickly loses interest, forgets about the narrative frame for about an hour or so and gets into what he really likes: intervals of bisexual soft porn and a mishmash of real glam rock songs and invented glam rock songs served up via the fake personas and fake bands of the Bowie-esque Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and the Iggy Pop-ish Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor).

The posters touted this movie as a satire of the world of style-over-substance. Rubbish. Haynes believes in style-over-substance, and peppers the movie with Oscar Wilde quotes to prove it. (And also scatters jackdaw gatherings of intellectual fun facts—the nod to Kurt Weil in Curt Wild; Slade’s “Maxwell Demon” persona—a reference to the thermodynamic conceit of Maxwell’s Demon, second-hand from Thomas Pynchon, no doubt—you get the picture.)

As noted in that Harrison Bergeron reference, Haynes doesn’t tell his tale in order or waste time clearing up who the characters are. Who the hell is Jack Fairy? Does Eddie Izzard’s character turn into a televangelist? He’s an image-maker, not a storyteller. His movie is a love letter to the glam rock era—a fanboy movie and boring as hell to non-fans. Weird Al is funny when he imitates Bowie. Haynes isn’t joking. He offers his B-side Bowie pastiches in all sincerity. Technical flaws aside, Haynes fails at the heart of the matter. No sense of character. No sense of the human beings behind the images. Glam is glamour, natch. An artificial perfection composed for the camera. The real person the camera doesn’t see—that’s what’s interesting. But Haynes never shows that person. He’s just not interested.

Neither am I.

Thursday, November 19, 1998

"Globalization" my ass

Globalization is an obvious scam.

If we make the planet one giant, free-flowing “market,” capital will flow to the cheapest possible labor – namely, the most brutally exploited, powerless labor. American industry will pack up and leave to whatever dirtbag country it can find where the peasants (or political prisoners) will work for next to nothing. This will cut American labor off at the knees – and destroy any hard-won leverage they’ve painfully won over the last century. (“The bosses need us!”) Well, now they won’t. But the pain will be delayed. The American public will continue to buy cheap shit made in China at Walmart with credit cards. Until the game of musical chairs ends.

And the American people who aren't making shit will discover they can't buy shit.

We're being systematically screwed.

Wednesday, November 18, 1998

The Clinton Inquisition

This Clinton hysteria is all weirdly theological. Unexpectedly, the Clinton Inquisition resembles the Spanish Inquisition.

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

It's a theological probe into the nature of sin. One side -- intensely zealous to find the truth at any price. The other side -- wondering why they care so much. The disagreement regarding Clinton reflects a larger disagreement. The division between those who think there are degrees of sin and those who think all sin is equally horrible ...

There are no degrees of sin? Sure. Sin is sin. Thinking about adultery is as bad as doing it. Besides which, each sin contains every other sin -- to steal is to murder the self you would be if you didn't steal; to whorishly commit adultery with the world against the Holy Church; to set the world and its pleasures as unto an idol before the living God, to covet...


So -- if you apply this principle to the political realm -- lying about sex is the same as treason, bribery and high crimes because Clinton is THE PRESIDENT, the chief law enforcement officer and he swore an oath to...


But it's not about sex.


No, no, no, no, no. Never.

But it is about sex.

Would we be getting this nuts if it was all about food?

Say, Paula Jones was the hotel manager of a Ramada Inn. Clinton's spending the night. So deeply into something he works past the hours of the restaurant and room service...and all of a sudden comes down with a case of the hungries...

Whereupon he sneaks down into the hotel kitchen after hours and makes himself a midnight snack. A nice, not-so-little well-packed roast beef sandwich just inches away from Clinton's mouth...

But Paula enters the kitchen. Turns on the light. Hand on hip. Pissed...

PAULA: What are you doing?

CLINTON: Just making myself a sandwich.

PAULA: Excuse me? Are you aware that the restaurant is closed?

CLINTON: Are you aware I'm the Governor?

PAULA: This is trespassing. It's private property!

CLINTON: Aw, hell. Don't make such a big deal out of it...I'll pay for it.

PAULA: That's not the point! It's the principle...

CLINTON: Aw, to hell with it...

He walks away. Our hotel manager is pissed. This is theft! Trespassing! And that implied little power trip of "I'm the Governor." She's not going to put up with it! So she sues him...

People laugh it off. Her lawsuit doesn't get very far....

And then she summons Clinton to make a deposition about his eating habits. She also summons certain people in Clinton's staff....

Including Monica Lewinsky.


But she lied under oath.


Along with Clinton himself WHO COMMITTED PERJURY BEFORE THE GRAND JURY when he stated he had never emptied ten whole cans of Reddi-Whip from the White House Kitchen walk-in fridge on the night of...

Outrage! Shock! Shriek, moan, wail!

Yes, Clinton would still be facing Impeachment -- even if he'd only lied about food.

It's not about sex at all.

So what is it about? Sin of course. Not any specific sin -- but the very nature of sin itself

More to come.

Friday, October 9, 1998

Anime Weekend Atlanta -- Road Trip!

No bux for plane tix this year, so drove in me 1990 Ford Mustang from Sarasota to Atlanta, accompanied by Chris Jefferson, CatNekko, and me son Drew.

Friday, October 2, 1998

Parallel realities

Liberals and conservatives don’t seem to have different world views. They seem to come from different worlds. Parallel realities based different laws of physics.

So, when I listen to WMNF, it’s a broadcast from the left-wing universe.

When I listen to Rush Limbaugh, he’s booming out from the Bizarro World earth in the right-wing universe.

In the tradition of Heinlein's "Waldo," I could assume that the subjectivity of left-wingers and right-wingers create different consensual realities. That liberals and conservatives really do live on different planets. Working out the laws of RightEarth and LeftEarth might be fun -- but save that for another day.

For now, let's stick with the assumption that there's just one Earth. And just one America. Liberals and conservatives are living on the same planet.

And that's a problem.

Left-wingers and right-wingers agree about next to nothing. Their one common assumption: the other side is responsible for all human problems. Your political opponents don't simply disagree. Their disagreement is a character flaw. It proves they're bad people. They're idiots. Or they're evil. They're so clearly wrong.

Let's say you have one model of the universe where the earth is round and revolves around the sun. There's another model, in which the earth is flat--and the sun revolves around the earth. You don't simply disagree with the other side. You're astonished that the other side even exists. The truth is just so fucking obvious!

And that's what you get when you listen to Rush Limbaugh. He's amazed that liberals exist at all. He's floored by their sheer stupidity, intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy. To Rush, leftists and liberals are the equivalent of flat-earthers. (Or con-artists tricking the boobs into thinking the earth is flat in order to steal their money.) It's unbelievable. He can't wrap his mind around it.

Noam Chomsky is the same -- a drier delivery perhaps. But the society we pretend is free is, obviously, the iron fist of Capitalist power. Anyone can see it.

This planet ain't big enough for the two of them.

Saturday, September 12, 1998

Let the chips fall where they may

OK, big news. A scientist somewhere has implanted a chip in someone's brain. The chip in his internal skull talks to an external computer. Certain mental states make the computer go "beep boop." It's a brain-bot interaction. Small, maybe. But you gotta start somewhere. The cyberpunk revolution has begun.

Maybe. Or maybe not. There's a difference between PR science and real science. This strikes me as the former...

This is no more a "man-machine" interface than a pirate with a peg leg is a cyborg.

Sure, it's an extension of humanity into the realm of the mechanical. But then, McLuhan's big point was that all technology is an extension of ourselves. TV tubes are an extension of our eyes, radio an extension of our ears, computers an extension of our brains, etc...

So, in that sense, a pirate with a peg leg is a cyborg. But I don't think that's what the cyberpunks were talking about.

If you look at the cyberpunk universe (and I'm mostly talking about Gibson's universe) certain basic technological leaps have been postulated.

The most basic being the readable-writable human brain.

At the moment, we're stuck inside our skulls, on the inside looking out through our eye sockets. I can tell you what I'm thinking or imagining. I can write it down. But there's no direct way you can experience it (unless you're a telepath, which is a different story.)

There's also no way for the memories in my skull to be uploaded and stored; no way for my brain to download conversational Japanese; no way for my brain to operate peripheral mechanical devices by pure conscious thought.

The cyberpunk universe postulates hardware/software sophisticated enough to change this. Descartes' mind-body problem turns into no-problem...

In the cyberpunk universe, you, the user inside the subjective privacy of your own skull, can directly access entertainment, information, whatever; operate machinery via pure conscious thought; hook yourself up to peripheral "puppet" robots for sexplay; make backup copies of your childhood memories; earn a living as a courier by storing other people's memories in your head.

This mental permeability also allows the badguys to get inside your head and fuck with you.

Something tells me that this is all going to happen someday. At the moment, as far as I know, scientists are just beginning to be able to operate primitive prosthetic limb replacements via neural impulses. Nothing that actually works yet. A jerk here, twitch there. Maybe one day, walking...

But it's still a long way from that to watching movies via a port in your head.

I'm not really knocking what the prof did -- just the overreaction to it, the premature victory party. Technological change ain't continuous -- it evolves by a kind of punctuated discontinuous disequilibrium. You can make all the incremental improvements you want. But every now and then, something comes along that's different in kind...

Like mechanical reproduction and storage media.

Once upon a time there were no photographs, no records, no audiotape, no movies, no video. You could draw somebody's picture. You could write down what they said. But there was absolutely no way to get an objective record...

A tape-recorded deposition is different in kind from a written record created by a Roman scribe with pen and ink. A photograph is different in kind from a painting.

What the cyberpunks are talking about is like that. When it happens -- everything will change. (And nothing will change.) But it hasn't happened yet. It hasn't even started. It's just an SF dream. So, for the time being...

Let the chips fall where they may.

Monday, September 7, 1998

Credit where credit is due

The idea for Gorilla Suit Jesus came to me not from Satan, but my cousin, Chris Jefferson. He called me out of the blue, laughing hysterically. When he could finally talk, he said "What if Jesus came back, not as a gorilla ..." Another five minutes of hysterical laughter. "But in a gorilla suit?"

So I speculated.

Sunday, September 6, 1998

Brazil nuts

Finally got a look-see of the uncut, VHS copy of Terry Gilliam's Brazil -- helpfully duped from the Criterion laser disc by my pal in SoCal. (Thanx and a hattip to BadCog.) I'd seen the mangled version on TV, but never the real thing.

Jesus. Entertaining? Yeah. In the sense that the Book of Revelations is a wacky, comedic romp. What an experience. Terry Gilliam just mugged my subconscious. I'm still wrapping my brain around the sensory/conceptual assault.

But here's my preliminary verdict ...

Brazil is a movie about baby men. Baby men and their baby dreams.

The men in this movie are all boys. They blather stale sports metaphors. They whine, "It's not my fault!" like squabbling brats. They play tug of war with desks and computers. They exact revenge by switching oxygen tubes with feces tubes. Not even boys. Babies all. But let's stick with the hero ...

Sam Lowry (Jonathan Price) is the so-called hero. Sam's what Hans and Franz would call a baby man. His dreams are baby dreams. (The dreams of a "fifth grade comic book mind," to quote Mr. Roat.) In Sam's dreams, he’s a superhero—an artificially-winged knight out of a DaVinci notebook, rescuing a damsel in distress from the Forces of Darkness. The woman of his dreams ...

In reality, Sam’s a clerk. (Or “clark,” as they say in the UK). His world is a crappy, low rent dystopia: a cross between 1984 and a screwball comedy existing, “sometime in the 20th century.” The ecology is a polluted wasteland covered with happy billboards. The machines are Rube Goldberg contraptions that don’t work right; all the buildings are laced with ugly ducts (the way our streets are laced with wires and telephone poles). Sam’s society is obsessed with consumerism and paperwork. There’s also (in an echo of the IRA London bombings) a constant background noise of terrorism. People are always getting blown up, then soldiering on and pretending nothing happened. (The movie broadly hints that the terrorists are all working for the government.) Said government responds by grabbing terrorist suspects and interrogating them under torture—though reluctantly, and never in a mean-spirited way. (And charging their credit cards for the expense.)

Shitty world, kids. Sam, wisely, has found a hole to crawl into. A low-level, nothing job in the Ministry of Information. A safe place to hide from the universal bullshit. Sam lives in his dreams -- which are mostly daydreams. (Like Walter Mitty before him, Sam is constantly zoning out into heroic fantasies. Sam battles giant mechanical Samurai, baby-faced Hydra and other monsters.) It’s clear Sam's baby dreams come from Hollywood — based on Sam’s quotes from Casablanca and the movie posters in his apartment. His mother keeps trying to get him promoted, but Sam's not interested in climbing the ladder. He’s keeping his head down.

Sam's separate peace gets shot to hell, thanks to a paperwork error. A clerk kills a fly; the dead fly gets into the printout machine, and scrambles an arrest order. "Tuttle" becomes "Buttle." The wrong guy gets arrested and dies under torture. Jill, a woman who’s also dropped out of her society and found an anonymous job as a truck driver — gets involved. The Buttles are her neighbors, and she hates what's happened to them. Jill fights to get justice for the dead man’s family. Sam sees Jill making a scene at the Ministry of Information — and he’s seen her before. She’s the girl of his dreams, natch. Unfortunately, Jill's making a lot of noise and is now on the terrorist suspect list.

Sam's fantasy world and the real world converge. Sam, the human cipher, starts trying to act like a hero in real life to save the girl of his dreams. It ends badly. In a brilliant but sadistic move -- Gilliam gives us both the happy ending and the sad ending.

In his dreams, Sam rescues Jill and takes her away to a prefab home in an idyllic spot of countryside. (There's sheep, yet.) They live happily ever after.

In reality, Jill gets shot and Sam is lobotomized.

What a kick in the head, eh?

But it's chock-full of laughs. The script, by Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard and Tom McKeon, is a brilliant collaboration. It's funny as hell, and simultaneously surreal. (Nice trick. Surrealism usually ain't funny.) Lotsa bizarre imagery, as seen through a fish eye lens darkly; lotsa sparkling wordplay.The performances (by Price, Robert DeNiro, Kim Greist, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins and others) are astonishing, and just one turn-of-the-screw over the top. Gilliam's art-direction/set design is dense, claustrophobic, brilliant and convincing. It's expressionistic. (In case you miss the point about the babyishness of it all, Gilliam puts his torturer and various dream monsters in baby masks.) Simultaneously, the sheer, multilayered texture of it all creates its own reality. You believe in this world, the way you believe in the world of Blade Runner.

So, why Brazil?

The title takes its name from the corny song from the 1940s, which threads through the movie like a lietmotif on the soundtrack. "Brazil" is the land of dreams, the place of escape, the place where people can be free, the place where they can love, the place that this world ain't. It's the Golden Country from 1984.

Evidently, that's a baby dream.

Sam and Jill should've minded their own business. Bad boy revolutionary filmmaker Terry Gilliam sez: You can't change the system. You can't fight City Hall.

No. That can't be the moral of the story. No.

Like I said, I'm still wrapping my brain around it.