Free Lunch Studios

Tom Gordon

Miscellaneous Rants

1/26/2006: The End!

Well, it had to happen eventually. Blog + Blather = BLOTHER! (though there's lots of artwork and corny photo illustrations thrown into the mix, as well.)

5/20/2005: Blue Harvest

Yet another obligatory spoiler-filled "Revenge of the Sith" review.

Yup, it's over at last. To quote the original Man in Black, the Circle is now complete. Or at least as complete as one who'd watched the previous entries in the prequel trilogy could possibly expect. Already I've become embroiled in a long discussion on Usenet regarding Anakin Skywalker's origins -- which Lucas only *sort of* resolved. My theory works if you accept the (admittedly dubious) notion that PalpSid could be capable of telling the truth once in a while. His Darth Plagueis story seems to imply that Anakin might've been a construct of the Sith, intended to infiltrate the Jedi ranks (something I've suspected/hoped for since TPM). But Who Do You Trust? Not a puppetmaster like the Emperor, that's for damned sure.

In any event, I liked it. Better than ROTJ, MUCH better than TPM, just a tiny improvement over AOTC -- but Great Secularity, was this one effing chaotic flick. With regard to the Lucas' trademark awkward directing style, I would almost call it 'sloppy.' The entire opening space battle over Coruscant is typical. We're moving along at Mach One Million, following Anakin and Obi-Wan flying through clouds of laser fire and chunks of disintegrating Republican/Separatist aerospace design -- and then all of a sudden the action is inexplicably and abruptly halted by Obi-Wan's 'technical difficulties' with a bunch of small cutesy robots dismantling his ship. Throughout the first third of the film, it's like there's two distinct speed settings: super fast action with more overwhelming technology than you can shake a light saber at -- and sluggish-clunky.

Eventually though, the film finds its legs, throws away distracting irrelevancies (like General Grievous), and settles down into the core story of PalpSid's formation of Empire, and Anakin's fall from grace. THIS is the epic conclusion I expected... and it works. More or less.

Lego DarthSo lemme get this straight: Anakin betrays and murders the Jedi, loses several limbs/pounds of flesh, and finally gets transformed into a servo-assisted, Palpatine-lapdog cyborg named Darth Vader -- all because of what amounts, really, to a BAD DREAM about Padme dying? That's just... *sigh* His actions could've made a lot more sense if there'd been some more tangible evidence, some definite indicators of Padme being at risk -- like, say, her becoming diagnosed with a terminal disease, or a Medical Droid advising termination of the pregnancy. In any event, you truly have to laugh at Yoda's helpfully suicidal Jedi advice (to wit: "you must let go of everything you love and value") And if anyone needs further convincing that the Jedi are really a gaggle of self-annihiliating monsters, they need look no further than the Glowing Orb Circus Arena scene, and Anakin's philosophical "defense" (or lack of) of the Jedi: "We're SELFLESS!" That bit got my Randroid Collectivist Bullshit Detector beeping like... er, uh, Artoo-Detoo on Decepticonian crystal meth (hey, well, at least the comparison here is a little bit more appropriate). Gimme that arrogant phallocentric imperialist Tao of Sith any day, baby.

Oh, and speaking of Artoo, come to think of it, the little guy really WAS under the influence of some droid-jacking substance for most of the film. He seemed -- how should I put this? -- unusually SPRIGHTLY for a character who'd otherwise spent the previous five movies primarily confined to crawling along the ground as a glorified Big Trak. But I guess when you make the metaphysical transition from a collection of mechanized plastic and fiberglass to computer-generated voxels the laws of physics are automatically obligated to take a great big flying leap.

Grievous - feh. Yeah, yeah, I know there had to be SOME secondary villain in place to fill the gap between Dooku's death and Palpatine's ascension. But he just seems like one of those abysmal one-trick-pony characters I could've written for "D.B." circa 1981 or so. FOUR ARMS! AND LIGHTSABERS FOR HANDS! NOW YOU DIE! Et cetera.

Most of the actors stayed par for the course with their thespianship -- or rather, their tortured attempt to convey George Lucas' stilted dialogue with some degree of authenticity. Ian McDiarmid, OTOH, utterly steals this movie as the King of Hand Chafing Schemers. Unlike too many of his scene-chewing contemporaries, he knows precisely how much over-the-top pulp-styled insanely cackling malevolence to exhibit as a paramount "Star Wars" villain without going overboard into the swamp of 'camp' unintentional humor. Quite frankly, after this brilliant performance, I believe Hollywood better damned well bury this fellow with scripts, ASAP. McDiarmid very clearly belongs in the school/pantheon of great 'genre' character actors that once included Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. His Palpatine's forced transition to Darth Sidious -- encompassing an unprecedented change in appearance, voice inflection and behavior -- just has to rank as one of the greatest moments in cinematic history.

(Alas and alack however, the conservative reviewers were unfortunately correct. The heavy-handed WoT/Bush/Iraq parallels drawn by Lucas are definitely there; in Palpatine's speeches to the Senate, in Anakin's justifications for his actions and Obi-Wan and Padme's bleating about democracy. Ah well, after comparing the President to Adolf Hitler, where ELSE can the Multilateral Multiple Viewpoints Embracing Party of Bridge-Building Tolerant Nuance (Nuuuuuannnccce....) go for their historically ignorant and irrational self-aggrandizing political hyperbole? Why, to a galaxy a long time ago and far far away, of course!)

As for the Mother of All Lightsaber Fights at the film's conclusion, I'm just glad it wasn't as brutal/violent as I'd long been dreading. Visions reminescent of Monty Python's Black Knight ("...tis but a flesh wound! Have at you!") never came to be, Cthulhu be praised. And I'll even admit that final exchange between a victorious Obi-Wan and a burning, mutilated Anakin was a bit moving. But score another point against the holier-than-thou Jedi -- along with their abysmal philosophy of personal emptiness, it would also appear the order aren't too keen on mercifully ending the appalling and wholly unnecessary suffering of others: "...thanks a LOT, Master, for leaving me writhing in agony as a charred basket case! Someday, somehow, somewhere, I'll pay you back for all of this!"

And he did. He deeeeed.

5/13/2005: Don't Panic

I caught "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" today... pretty good. Somebody once pointed out once that a lot of the jokes and asides in Douglas Adams' novel worked well on the printed page, but on the big screen fall incredibly flat -- witness the slavishly faithful BBC adaptation in the eighties, whose frozen-molasses storytelling pace always felt interrupted, rather than enhanced, by the long Guide animated sequences and Marvin's incessant, miserable kvetching.

In this instance, the filmmakers made some better decisions. Keep the major story of Arthur moving along, and punctuate it with the more relevant Guide observations (flashed together in classic lowres style by Shynola pixeljockeys, yay). So of course you get the story of Deep Thought, the Ultimate Answer and the origin of the Earth -- but other stuff, like the two microscopic galactic armies swallowed by dogs and alien life derived from ballpoint pens, go out the window. (Or not -- from the odd pacing of the film I suspect a LOT of material got shot and edited out/shelved for that inevitable reappearance on an 'extended' DVD version)

Some other thoughts, with spoilers:

Trillian being kept in the dark about Earth's destruction and Zaphod's 'autograph' on the demolition order -- brilliant! In fact, it's surprising that these plot developments weren't in the book.

The "Point of View" gun was *certainly* a good device for developing Trillian and getting Marvin to save the day without guilty liberal cops -- I just wonder if there might've been an easier method of the gang acquiring it besides through that Humma Kavula jaunt. Which apparently offered up little more than a time-consuming John Malkovich cameo and unnecessary information about that universe-sneezing alien society whose name I can't remember. Oh yeah, and Arthur came out of it looking like a gutless wimp.

Magrathea's factory floor: pretty effing cool, and certainly the visual highlight of the film. It's interesting to note how difficult it is, even using modern CGI, to portray the *vastness* of such a place. Oh, no doubt the scale is accurate -- there ARE planet-size objects being shown under construction. Yet for some reason (an inherent failure of human imagination?) it all STILL seems too cramped, too small.

While I didn't like how Earth was destroyed -- having expected that eye-throttling KA-BOOM! promised in the first trailer, with lots of post-Terran chunks flying about higglety-pigglety -- I suppose its precisely distributed demolition IS consistent with the Vogon's overly nitpicking psychology. And from a logical standpoint, such debris CAN cause long-term problems for any future spacing operations -- see John Varley's lecture about the perilous evolution of the Eight Worlds' mining practices in his "Golden Globe."

And now on to "Revenge of the Sith!" Which I'll see with some friends at some ungodly hour on its opening day -- whoo-hoo!

4/18/2005: The Malaise After Tomorrow

All right. I have to weigh in on this, because it's just getting out of hand. Here's a question for all you "Star Wars" geeks who (a) worshipped the original trilogy and (b) hated the prequels.

Are you people going to see the final installment or not? Yes or no?

Have to ask this, because given the undignified caterwauling I've been forced to listen to since, oh, 1999 -- about bad acting, bad directing, bad dialogue, bad special effects, too much special effects, overreliance on CGI, under-reliance on miniatures, latent racism and Secularity knows whatever else a fanboy can possibly complain about with regard to the new films, I would at least expect such folk like yourselves to show a modicum of moral consistency and stick it to "Luca$" by withholding your oh-so-precious eight bucks this time around.

(Yeah, riiiiiiight. Mark my words, you'll ALL be there, come May 19th. And -- as surely as the sun rises, and the hatework of Goebbels & Riefenstahl gives Michael Moore a (very little) chubby -- so too will you all will leave the giga-plex seething with hatred, complaining about being 'betrayed' and 'raped' by Wattle Man yet again. Snore.)

Me, I enjoyed the prequels. Admittedly, they're a different type of film from the first trilogy, but given the interregnum of 15+ years between the two series, that's to be expected, no? Certainly from the standpoint of Pure Artistic Vision, there has never been cinematic world-building on the grandiose scale that GL has achieved. Pete Jackson, bless his genre-reviving soul, nevertheless had the advantage of finished source material on hand (Tolkien's books) and centuries of recorded historical real-world artifacts to inspirationally draw upon for his LOTR films... but dammit, where the HECK do you begin when you're doing interior design for a race of fishlike, long-necked alien beings, who've access to arcane technologies human beings still haven't even invented yet?

As for the backstory, y'all can call me a sentimental wuss/corporate shill if you must, but I found myself actually CARING about Anakin Skywalker in Episode II (chalk that one up to Hayden's painfully familiar conveyance of inarticulate Love Stricken Angst). Certainly I want to see all the nitty-gritty details/foreshadowing hinted at earlier in the previous eps, bear shocked witness to how his bad-blood with the Jedi gets rationalized into an extermination campaign -- and feel the dread descend as PalpSid's warped schemes for Empire come to full fruition.

Oh yeah, and then there's the first appearance of Darth Vader, too. Can't ignore THAT.

Anyhoo, I think what the REAL problem here isn't so much the preqs, but the snarky, 'permacultured' intellectual climate that has come into being and calcified since 1983. When the first "Star Wars" blasted its way upon the moving picture screens, there was very, very little Romantic-styled fare in that cultural desert called mid-seventies America. It seemed as though the nation as a whole had pessimistically crawled back into the womb, lost in obsessive contemplation of human misery -- and nowhere else was this navel-picking self-hatred better reflected than within the projection theaters of the era.

Then, disaster films ("Jaws" "Earthquake!" "The Towering Inferno" "The Poseidon Adventure") were big grossers, especially ones where the catastrophic mishap in question (and 128-point type) could be directly attributed to human villainy, hubris, incompetence or all of the above. The abysmal remake of "King Kong" (*spit*), which recasted the big gorilla's expeditious removal to New York as some half-assed metaphor for Evil Western Imperialism, while portraying the freewheeling businessman as an oil-soaked greedhead and concluding the whole sorry affair upon those monoliths to Soulless Consumerist Society: the World Trade Center. (I have little doubt that the leftist dino-Boomer living manifestations of human rectums who'd dared proclaim "well, y'know, we kinda deserved this" after 9/11 probably LOVED this film back then for its 'social relevance.' Joiks.)

Silent RunningAnd science fiction flicks? Well, you had a similar range of uplifting choices. You could witness a dystopian society characterized by overpoulation, global warming and cannibalism (Soylent Green), a dystopian society where corporations run all and televised violence is the prescribed opiate of the masses (Rollerball), a dystopian society where mindless gangs of hooligans indiscriminately prey upon the innocent (Clockwork Orange)... And if you wanted to fly AWAY from all these sweaty rollerskating psycho-droogs munching on processed Man Loaf, into that refreshing tabula rasa called spaaaaaace -- Darwin forbid! -- then you were obliged to share a compartment with a disheveled Bruce Dern, griping about proper composting techniques and The Man, man.

In other words, the culture of America had become about as lively, fun and optimistic as your average lecture hall on a modern-day Liberal Arts campus: "...silly child, the false concept/code-word of 'adventure,' you see, is just a convenient excuse to pillage peaceloving aboriginals and/or escape the Grim Depressing Realities Of The Real World That This Generation Must Confront. And 'good versus evil?' A crude, reactionary oversimplification... unless said "evil" was the United States, of course. In any event, it is unanimously agreed that we live in an squalid age of diminishing personal choices and ever-dwindling horizons -- and the sooner YOU, as an American citizen circa 1976, become accustomed to that self-evident fact, the sooner you can take a seat and enjoy the descent into the impending societal collapse..."

(MAN, glad I wasn't a teenager back then. The rationalizations for committing suicide must've been enormous. Even the MUSIC of that period could've done the trick.)

So. Where would a potential Comic Book Guy-wannabe fit in all this? Why, nowhere. The popular culture *already* reflected his nitpicking, inherently cynical nature. Sneering was the status quo! And when a film like "Star Wars" -- harkening back to both an earlier tradition of romanticized, swashbuckling cinema AND acknowledging newfangled innovations pioneered by such contemporary candles-amidst-darkness as "2001: A Space Odyssey" -- hit the screens, without a hint of sociological analysis or self-referential wallbreaking to be found... well, it would be easy (and incorrect) to say "things would NEVER be the same again." Helped primarily by the vapid moral equivocating and short-sightedness of the intellectual community after 9/11, I think we're back on a road of suffocating 1970's-style cultural Malaise, yet again.

But things wouldn't be the same. For a while, at least.

(Naturally, all this leads to yet another incomprehensible pop-esthetics screed I'll probably inflict... er, write someday. Something that points out what's really needed artistically today is a fresh batch of new, original material along the lines of the preqs and "Sky Captain" -- works that completely refuse to acknowledge the greater culture and aren't being played tongue-in-cheek -- in order to revitalize the horribly inbred esthetic state that exists today; postironicism, and all that. Another time, perhaps. Yes, you're welcome.)

4/10/2004: Dee Em Vee

It's still a strange experience, working on a palmtop machine. The recurring, somewhat idiotic thought that keeps springing to mind is "oh, if only I had this mini-computer fifteen years ago; then I'd completely RULE THE WORLD!" Well, duh! Naturally, if one had *any* means of going back in time and palming 'futuristic' widgets onto your younger INXS-listening, trenchcoat wearing, hygiene-ignorant self, of COURSE you would have a decided advantage over the rest of the planet. So frickin' what?

Come to think of it, that would be the *lamest* usage of fantasyworld god-tech EVAR. I mean, what's boosting a little bit of productivity, compared to buying shares of Microsoft, or cybersquatting the entire English language when domain naming gets implemented? Or for that matter, watching yourself quietly cease to exist as the time-space continuum compensates for your temporal vandalism? Sometimes I really *don't* think things through to a logical conclusion...

The Department of Motor Vehicles. Um. How did this bureaucratic monstrosity ever come to be? Look, cars are machines, okay? Motorized, rolling boxes, equipped with seats and lights and a myriad of mostly frivolous accessories. Learning to operate one can't be much more difficult than learning how to program a digital wristwatch's alarm. And I suspect when they first came on to the scene, that's exactly how they were regarded -- as purely utilitarian tools, getting people from point A to point B. Sure, there were crashes and accidents. But the horse-drawn carriages had their share too, and anyone growing up during the Industrial Revolution damned well knew that dem spinning doodads could be plenty dangerous even in the best of circumstances.

Whatever the case, at some point the government eventually claimed driving was a 'privilege' which could be revoked at any given moment. Before you purchased a rollabout and chattered freely around the countryside, now you needed a permission slip to do so, in the form of a 'license.' A useless scrap of paper, granting you the 'right' to used the damned contraption. Pure extortion, of course. But what the hey, life goes on...

New development. You must 'register' your vehicle with us. We, the all-knowing State, need to know who owns what. Why? Oh... just because. Pay up, citizen! What's that? You haven't heard? It is imperative that your automobile be 'inspected' on a regular basis, by mechanics we've cut deals with - er, who subscribe to our ideal of a well-ordered society. Anyway, the point is, you pay them to make sure your car fulfills our arbitrary standards of road-worthiness. And if it doesn't, you'll pay us - er, them, to make sure it complies. Pay up, citizen! Hey, guess what? Remember that old 'license' business? Well, we've decided to make the standards a bit more rigorous. Now to obtain one, you have to give us money and take a bunch of time-consuming tests which cost you more money. Pay up, citi -- oh, what the hell, let's just dispense with the pleasantries as you're utterly 'pwn3d.' Insurance... gimme. You're not wearing a seat belt... gimme! Ralph Nader doesn't like your vehicle... gimme! Gimme gimme gimme!

So much for our intransigent, rugged-individualist forebears.

4/9/2004: Vitriol-a

One of these days, like 95% of the people presently calling themselves 'bloggers', I'm going to talk about something that has occured recently in the news, and slather the same event with my own particular flavor of thick, creamy commentary and spin. For instance, after watching Condoleezza Rice testify before the 9/11 commission, I've become definitively convinced that she's not just a hottie, but a really *really* smart... uh, hottie.

But of course, the REAL point of these hearings is *not* to get at the truth. No. They are intended as a great big forum for assorted loudmouthed near-traitors to wag their fingers at the present administration with impunity (as demonstrated by Clarke's collection of contradiction hitting the bookstores during his oh-so-conveniently timed testimony) and otherwise whine like bleating children about how Bush and company dropped the ball and deliberately squandered the well-funded near-omniscient intelligence services they'd bequeathed to him. All this, in hopes of furthering the dubious election hopes of a labyrinthine diplobabble-spewing zombie, who actually believes that hunting down and bombing the living poo-poo out of terrorist groups is tantamount to RECRUITING for these same terrorist groups.

(That would be quite a compelling poster, incidentially: "Uncle Achmad Wants YOU To Join The Scrotum Of Allah Martyr's Brigade, And Pointlessly Choke On Your Own Entrails After A Daisycutter Hits Our Rat Infested Training Camp!")

But will the phrase "eight years versus eight months" ever pop up? Will there be a thorough discussion about American foreign policy with regard to murderous Islamofascism, beginning with the radiant brilliance as demonstrated by the Carter administration? Will anybody ever bring up the first attack on the WTC in '93, and how Iraq (y'know, that utterly harmless ex-dictatorship with absolutely positively no ties to terrorist groups whatsoever) hosted one of its principal architects? And Abu Nidal? And assorted al Qaeda scum in the late nineties, who got to train on a full-size Boeing 707 at Salman Pak for some... inexplicable... reason?

Will a CIA employee, when confronted with the *galling* spectacle of a gang of appeasers grilling HIM about 'national security' -- the SAME well-lubricated rodents who've systematically cut off intel money and defense spending in order to cater their left-tard constituencies -- will *this* fellow finally snap, rise to his feet, point a defiant finger at these sloppy-faced demagogues and proclaim "HOW DARE YOU???"

Maybe. But if it ever happens, you'll find those reporters who took an electron microscope to piles of thirty-year-old Texas Air National Guard documents suddenly come down with an inexplicable case of short-term amnesia. Such inconvenient exposure of cold, unpleasant facts, y'see, might serve to dispel the mainstreamers' vision of a violence-free fuzzy-rainbow filled world that existed for eons, before That SOB Bush Stole The Election And Turned It All Into Crap.

Yessiree. One of these days...

4/8/2004: Coruscantified

If you know me, or just look at my artwork, you know I love cities, and New York City in particular. Recently, I've begun indulging my fascination with the burg's new architecture -- or, more precisely, my gleeful, obsessed vision of the Big Apple eventually transmogrifying into a Fifth Element megalopolis -- by reading Wired New York and other online brick-head forums.

Oh, okay, fine. That's a lie. I usually don't READ the damned things. My attention span is decidedly limited when it comes to bureaucratoid pundits slinging spew about zoning laws and public interest groups and what local politicos got bribed and what a vicious bastard the eeevil developer is or the Heirs of Ellsworth Toohey haughtily pontificating upon the inherent esthetic flaws in a given structure's ornamentation, and how said building fails to harmoniously co-exist with the surrounding zeitgeist paradigm blather. Sosumi.

What I'm *really* there for, however, is the pictures. To hell with the politics/gossip -- SHOW ME THE FOO'TCHER! Imaging technology being what it is today, the arcitectural firms can put out near-photographic renditions of what their proposed structure will look like amidst the familiar canvas of Manhattan Island. And some of it is quite... well, quite shocking. In a good, bewildering, what-the-heck-IS-this? sort of way, of course.

Naturally we're all intimately familiar with the controversies surrounding what's going to eventually rise from the WTC site. The loss suffered there -- which marked the start of a global war -- has set the entire nation's eyes upon that empty hole in the ground. Yet any decisions/changes made there were involuntarily and violently forced upon us all by a group of mass-murdering piles of human waste. It's not like there was this commission formed in 1998 to investigate demolishing the Twins and replacing them with an underwhelming half-tower and a couple of stagnant pools, after all.

But the REAL story (and anyone who's been to NYC recently will attest to this) is midtown. The area around Times Square, for instance, has become a vast construction zone, testifying to the revitalization measures passed during the 1990's. Whereas before the region was indicated primarily by that looming, massive authority of the Empire State Building, now several office towers are directly challenging that behemoth's supremacy of the skyline. And it's STILL not over. The crystalline near-arcology proposed near Bryant Park will one-up further what's there now, with its nontraditional angles mucking up the prevailing verticals. And before long, the remaining gaping space between this same newfangled cluster of porno-theater-killing assemblages and the ESB will be disrupted by a singular monster of a high-rise, in service to (bleck) the New York Times. (Looking appropriately martial and menacing, I might add -- much like a hotel Darth Vader would stay at, whenever he took time out from a busy schedule of planet-demolishing and toady-throttling to visit the Imperial Capital.)

NYC Midtown 2010

In many ways, such developments are Good Things. Granted these buildings are not super-skyscrapers. Some of them are quite ugly, others are transcendentially beautiful. But collectively, they 'raise the bar' for everyone. They all make NYC feel like a REAL city, in the sense of a barely-integrated, living thing whose sheer multiplicity of presence inspires awe and wonder. Can one look to Asia's architectural stunts, such as the Petronas complex rising in near-isolation from the Malaysian jungle, and say that Kuala Lumpur is also a 'city' in that same sense?

Prolly not...

4/6/2004: I Want My Pax Americana!

There's something especially ludicrous about my newfound (and surely short-lived) reattachment to pseudoblogging. I'm still trying to figure out how to add this functionality to my website; Earthlink has their own in-house widget which appears to be horribly incompatible with older browsers. And a small-footprinted bare-bones 'DIY' offering called WordPress recently came to my attention. Like my previous misadventures with MovableType, no doubt I'll be squandering more valuble time in the near future getting THAT one to (not) work, too.

But what makes this whole endeavour truly absurd is this; right now my existence is so limb-gnawingly DULL that there's no reason to document a single misbegotten second of it. Which I haven't... yet. Instead, I've been going off on these weird flights of literary/dilettante Op-Ed fantasy, just like when I was watching the clock hands crawl by in public school. Yes, before long, the margins of my notebook would soon be shoehorned with assorted images of tech-slathered floatcraft, oddball aliens, well-endowed women and (reflecting the widespread anxiety/nihilism of that particular time) ever-present mushroom clouds, rising over doomed shapes of cities.

(Ah, the Good Old Days...)

So it would appear that boredom really IS a creative stimulant to me. Or perhaps it's just the repetitive nature of day-to-day life that compels me to 'escape' via art or writing. I suspect most rational people would react this way, when confronted with a grinning, dazed creature brandishing daisies and chanting gibberish at them -- get the hell AWAY from me! Unfortunately, those opportunities to sample the other side of the aisle ("chaos in a strange land") have resulted in flustered disaster. It's very, VERY difficult to bang something out when there's an unknown, terrifying Sword of Damocles hanging precariously over your head.

And -- conveniently enough --it's this same broaching of the subject of shell-shocked impotence, which neatly segues into my latest discussion of Current Events. Or, rather, my discussion *of* discussing Current Events, to be perfectly opaque and postmodern.

After a certain day in September 2001 -- where on live television yours truly watched a death circus conclude 20 years of Islamofascist appeasement, I went into something that could be best described as creative catatonia. I knew damn well what I was thinking and feeling -- namely, a stomach-turning stew of unbelievable fear and a cold-blooded desire to see two thirds of the Middle East flame-broiled. Alas, that same slippery slope logical progression to the Dark Side, smugly pointed out to Jake Lloyd back in "The Phantom Menace." (Though if he'd spouted pacificidal tripe like that at ME after the towers fell, Yoda would've quickly found himself looking at the wrong end of the indoor plumbing...)

Yet despite all that, I just couldn't talk or write about it. Smeg, I couldn't even muster up a patriotic tribute drawing... and Ghu knows it would've been appropriate. A friend had e-mailed me a poster illustration Neal Adams banged out for the Red Cross barely a month after the attacks, featuring a defiant Superman and Uncle Sam amidst the WTC ruins:

RC SupesAnd I thought to myself: what reserve, what WELLSPRING of courage, amidst incomprehensible megadeath, did he draw upon to create this? Surely Mr. Adams felt as I did, but *HE* was somehow able to detach the 'craftsman' part of his mind from that fog of incoherent rage/terror.

Anyway, the point is... this syndrome is still VERY much with me today. Oh, many things have changed, of course. Whereas before I was behind "Operation Let's-Make-A-Big-Effing-Parking-Lot" one hundred freakin' percent, I now only lean... oh, let's say 75% in that direction. It is also times like this -- where American reporters disdain wearing flags because that would compromise their 'journalistic objectivity,' and our so-called allies sling blather about 'unilateralist hegemony' and rationalize unprovoked mass murder with a rapist's warped logic: "hey, well, you guys didn't sign the Kyoto accords, so you were ASKING for it..." -- that I'm truly grateful for the Internet. In particular, that distinct, closely-knit blog community that angrily stood up to the weak-kneed, idiot linguistics professor-infested 'mainstream' media's response to the atrocity.

It's not so much the compelling arguments and helpful 'intellectual ammunition' (as Alice Rosenbaum once called it) that these people freely dispense on a daily basis. When you're faced with a smarmy NPR-spawned suburbanite who can't even spell dhimmitude, never mind grasp what that status would mean for her and the rest of her knitting circle, reason has pretty much taken a vacation, anyway.

It's just the comforting knowledge that I'm not REALLY living in some twisted Twilight Zone episode, surrounded by evil eyes and inexplicable goatees. That there ARE people 'out there' who still felt/thought as I did, that day. And who -- in the face of a disgusting orgy of apologism and moral equivalence this country has not seen since the USSR's misbegotten birth -- have not stayed silent, but taken the bastards head on.

Thanks, y'all.

4/4/2004: Marooned in Realtime

One of the major reasons yours truly has failed to subscribe to any vague prepackaged philosophy that substitutes belief for thought and paints a picture of a universe governed by the whims of magic supra-beings rather than physical laws (otherwise known as religion) is the very abysmal state of things today.

To be blunt, life sucks. Oh, don't worry. This isn't going to be another mopey angst fest; I'm presently attacking problems on multiple fronts and expect some measure of victory in time. Besides, any reserve quantities of bitterness are usually saved up for discussions concerning Certain Unnamed Individuals' continuing contribution to this same, uh, suckiness.

Anyway, (if I understand it correctly) the usual argument for believing in the existence of a omnipresent all-powerful entity boils down to thus: one is allegedly comforted by knowing that there's somebody 'in charge' out there who lets daily horror occur for reasons we cannot yet fathom -- presumably a Nietzschean notion of growth through prolonged adversity, or something along those lines.

Unfortunately, I find this UN-comforting. Scientifically, such an outlook amounts to complete surrender. Somebody keels over, dead. How did this happen? T'was Ghod's Will, who can say? This sets the ball rolling; well, why even investigate what caused this person to die, if there's a convenient mystical explanation ALREADY there for us? So don't practice medicine, become a priest instead -- because it's crucial that we win our deity's approval. The state of humanity during most of its history -- with lives best described as "nasty, brutish and short" -- testifies to the dubious value of this prescientific view.

Now look at things from a different perspective. The will of a Cosmic Grand Poobah caused my friend to die, you say? Well, he works in mysterious ways, it's not our place to question his wisdom. That sounds like you're covering for his cruelty; maybe he killed my pal because he hates all of us and likes to inflict pain and suffering for the sheer fun of it. Take that back, you're insulting my deep-seated beliefs and maligning a being I've served all my life. I will not; your god is a sadistic villain! DIE then!

So begins the fight scene. My old stomping grounds as a self-described atheist. Except now the Bearded Puppet Master's something that must be DESTROYED, because he lets bad things happen to good people. I'd seethe in rage and hatred over the misery he's brought me, I would long to see his followers annihilated forthwith, because they're conspirators in my suffering.

Not exactly a picture of mental health, eh? But this mentality is practically everywhere today (just look to the Islamofascists) -- and yet it's JUST AS RELIGIOUS because the god's very existence is not called into question -- only his motives, and the character of those 'sheep' who worship him.

The simple fact, however, is this.

Your friend died because he had an advanced form of 'cancer' -- mutant cells, spreading to vital organs that were keeping him alive. The cancer impaired these organs to such a degree that they stopped functioning after a time. We're still desperately looking into ways of stopping this from happening to other people; we've experienced limited success using radiation and chemical treatments. And even as we speak the very architecture of the human gene is now being analyzed for clues that would lead scientists to develop more effective means of eliminating this menace. Oh, and now there's also something new called 'nanotech' that, in time, might be able to function as an artificial 'backup' immune system, destroying these mutated cells the moment they crop up. It looks promising.

And that explanation sums up why I'm not religious -- and why I WILL prevail, eventually. The problems I face are not subject to an unknowable ghost whose favor must be obtained through incomprehensible rituals. Likewise, waging war against an otherworldly monster and his craven minions accomplishes nothing for me. Because NEITHER exist. There is only an ever-changing Reality -- shaped by random chance, mathematical design and the deliberate effort of minds very much like mine... attempting to understand it all.

Be comforted by THAT.

4/2/2004: And In The Darkness, Bind Them

Getting in an early start today with the ol' blogwhoosis. The concept of being so gosh-darned productive that one can actually fall back upon a (gasp!) reserve of new material is an entirely foreign one to me. My usual work ethic consists of equal parts procrastination, nosepicking laziness and a frenzied craving for accomplishment/adulation... however meaningless.

Some discussion came up today regarding gay marriage, yet another now-waning 'controversial' issue-of-the-femtosecond that the American left uses from time to time to distract from their previous glaring fits of paranoid insanity (read: an incoherent, six-month-long hatefest that somehow got pawned off as the "Democratic primaries") and a wishy-washy me-tooing 'lemon' of a presidential candidate. My own take on the subject: *all* marriage, whether it be of a heterosexual or homosexual nature, should be outlawed immediately. Reasoning is thus: any tradition that compels young couples to squander ludicrous chunks of ever-tenuous personal income on a pointless orgy of Victorian overkill/girlish twaddle (and let's be clear here, guys just do NOT care about this stuff), or takes formerly vivacious, strong-willed individuals 'off the market' and transforms them into mealy mouthed wussbags, or -- above all! -- contributes to the continued production of yet MORE screaming, squalling, stinking proto-humans MUST BE DESTROYED!!!!1111

But since that vision of a glorious future probably won't make it out of the gate -- I mean, what coldblooded misanthrope out there can *possibly* hate babies? They're just OH so cute -- behold my devious counter-proposal: legalize *all* such contracts between consenting adults. Not just homosexual couples, but quads, quints and polyandries. Senior and junior wives. Corporate families that one can buy shares into. Any goofy tax-evading arrangement that allows for the pooling of financial assets and provides for the ill-deserved well-being of those wretched children.

So, Washington, pick up a post-juvenile era Robert Heinlein novel and get cracking! This IS the future, after all!

Oh, all right. Let's get down to brass tacks, here. Like attributing world-saving altruism-at-your-own-expense idiocy to a certain individual out there who won't talk to me, I also tend to obscure my own deep-seated insecurities with big unnecessary -- and occasionally humorous -- swaths of rationalization. The brutal truth is -- like ALL single people out there who just don't understand the transcendent, indescribable joy of monotonous complacency wedded bliss -- I just loathe the Sacred Institution of Marriage because I JUST DON'T WANT TO DIE ALONE!!!1111

Yes. It would seem that the Sarcasm Meter is off the scale today.

3/31/2004: Epidermal Intellectual Property Rights

Man. Writing anything is like pulling teeth today. I'm beginning to wonder why the smeg I'm even keeping up a steady regimen at all, since the defining characteristic of a 'blog' is (as an old Cox & Forkum cartoon demonstrated) lots of exhaustive intellectual effort with no significant payoff in return. It's like a replay of the dot-com craze, without the brainless investors or New Economy "shifting paradigms" blather. And heck, I don't even HAVE an appreciative audience to pander to (yet). Alas, there'll be no pats on the head from complete strangers, giddy with awe over an oh-so-clever observation I'd made on this blundering circus of non-sequitur idiocy we call "life." Mostly because there's none to be found here ANYWAY. But I digress.

Anyway, I'm contemplating moving a whole bunch of old files onto FLS. AC-era smut, for one thing. The assorted Cheatin' Bastard Photoshop birthday montages, for another. But just how DO you classify this latter? I mean, is it art, or is it a photograph?

Neither, in my honest opinion -- it's just spontaneous dreck that got vomited forth in lieu of squandering money on actual (and probably equally useless) gifts. Okay, so toss it in the 'Whatever' pile with the old Commodore 64 files and move on.

Gordonian TattoosAh, but BODYART... most curious. I now have a 'portfolio' (read: more than ONE fool out there impregnating their flesh with my asinine drawings). Some girl from Australia e-mailed me recently, asking for permission to use the quaintly countercultural "Mermaid" design for a potential tattoo 'base' -- whatever that bit of insider lingo means. Presumably it's the point of origin for a great inky tumor that'll eventually encompass the entirety of one's anatomy -- with enough judicious application of disposable income, of course.

I'm not sure what she thought I would do if she got it done WITHOUT asking my permission. Perhaps I'd hunt her down, insanely brandishing a jumbo-sized Sanford eraser or something. But AFAIK, there isn't any international conventions out there dictating what intellectual properties a person can legally defile his skin with. Just you wait, though. Given the reductio ad absurdum overkill that lawyers are already engaging in today (see fast food), in a few years you'll surely witness the spectacle of Warner Brothers hauling some dazed middle-aged Gen-X'er into court for putting Batman's copyrighted symbol on his tuckus. Yes folks, buy your CourtTV stock now!

Incidentially, if I'd ever get a tat (unlikely, but possible) it'll probably take the form of some stylized, archaic industrial implement, a bar code, or -- if I particularly feel like bleeding profusely that day -- any number of my numerous veiled 'Zigological references. Most likely the Goddess of Technology, sans Luddite twerp. This way, I can indulge my Ron Popeil-esque fetish for intriguing consumer products, while simultaneously proclaiming my undying Byronic love for someone who probably still hates my guts.

Soulless materialism *AND* angsty romantic longing! Why, it's a winning combination!

4/2/2001: Gray Dawn

When yours truly was growing up (well, more or less) in the latter half of the nineteen-eighties, I'd distinctly recalled being exposed to two recurring icons on a regular basis. Spraypainted upon a brick wall, stitched into a leather jacket, or garishly dangling as jewelry, both items consisted of a mere disc slashed through by three lines to either form the Universal Insignia of Hippiedom -- an inverted-fork "peace" symbol -- or else its intentionally butchered Punk Rawk counterpart, the circle-A quaintly proclaiming "anarchy." (Though upon closer inspection, most conspicuous black-flaggers invariably showed their TRUE colors as Doc Martens Commies or "syndicalists". Deep sigh.)

Now, being quite the contrarian outsider (read "misfit geek") back then (as opposed to now?) ANY sweeping cultural craze amongst my peers was cause for suspicion. After all, these were the same clods who'd previously gone absolutely bonkers over wearing tiny embroidered alligators, Morton Downey Jr.'s abusive behavior, and any number of fly-by-night Glam bands. However, when presented with these pie-in-the-sky concepts, nevertheless I also ended up spending a bit of time contemplating the meanings behind the symbols, and formulating some (allegedly) well-informed conclusions.

Then, "peace" seemed to be a noble, but wholely unattainable ideal. This slapdash verdict ignored free markets, "sports entertainment," shoot-'em-up video games, mosh pits a-whirling to vaguely melodic feedback. Inventions that were ALREADY there for us, to forever redirect/satiate any primitive need to stave in your fellow man's skull. (Yes, do your part for global harmony, play "Splattered Viscera IV" today!)

And -- of course! -- any condition of theoretical "anarchy," any disappearance of our wisely benevolent government would inevitably result in the creation of a proto-cyberpunk feudalist hell, featuring two competing, indistinguishable uber-corporations controlling everything (as contrasted with two competing, indistinguishable political parties... THAT'S commonly referred to as "democracy," boys and girls!)


So much for Tommy's Publik Edukashun. Only after reading books of the classical leftist and lib'tarian schools -- works whose very rabble-rousing content would forever invalidate their inclusion in ANY state curriculum -- did these positions evolve, eventually creating the blathering nincompoop you download today.

But at least these visual declarations were THERE, to encourage one to contemplate something else besides the usual blundering repetitive motions of daily life. At least there *was* some purple-mohawked ruffian in a Ramones t-shirt, some dreamily euphoric, granola-munching longhair daring to make a statement, however controversial, ubiquitous and/or derivative.

So. When was the last time *you* saw an anarchy symbol, folks? Or a peace sign? Or even a plain old BUMPER STICKER, for crying out loud?

Today, America has changed, degenerated into a grayer, wussier, more blandly "moderate" version of itself. The voicing of strong opinions, views divergent from the mundane norm has become a point of embarrassment. Our so-called 'leaders' continually worship at the exalted shrine of "compromise," aging pundits of the Old Media clamor for citizens to "stop the bickering" and unite under a nonexistent 'common interest.' Meaningless smear words like "extremist" are recklessly bandied around, applied to anyone with a gripe and a loud mouth, with no thought ever given as to what a given malcontent is actually "extreme" about.

It is as if the single-track devotion to ANY ideal, ANY vision is inherently a Bad Thing.

Perhaps the most distressing development in recent years is the imposition of unwritten "speech codes" and the suppression of ill-defined "hate speech"... where people of unpopular and 'offensive' stripes -- like neo-Nazis, Afrocentrists and "Star Wars" fans who loved the Ewoks -- are basically told to shaddup or else. These tactics consequently build said wingnuts up as victimized "martyrs" before their own goofball subcultural communities, resulting in a greater spread of their fringe ideologies than if they'd been left alone, to yap as they damn well pleased.

Yet "offensiveness" is in the eye of the beholder.

Hey, maybe *I* find these Sentinels Of Tolerance who also enjoy playing Class Warfare when it suits them ("...okay, so my guy consults his Scarlet Tome of Marxist Bullshit, and, uh, attacks the Plutocratic Orc with a +4 Fist of Wealth Redistribution...") to be motivated by the SAME unreasoning fear/hatred that drives your average chinless redneck. Here's an exercise for the student: pick any one of Herr Shickelgruber's tirades, search-and-replace "Jew" with "the rich" and "Aryan people" with "working families." Voila! A speech ready for mass consumption by hopelessly gullible Northeasterners. (Yep, after the '00 elections, I've wholely disowned my New Yawk citizenship. Let the Downward Spiral begin!)

Does this belief give me the right to force Dorky BuchanaNaders of the World (tm) to learn "economic sensitivity" by attending mandatory Von Mises courses? 'Fraid not, Senator.

See, if it were just a matter of one side foisting its will upon another, an honest difference of independent judgement, I could understand. Increasingly however, the conflict seems between holding ANY position at all, and an armchair deconstructionist who proclaims all definitions, worldviews and philosophies have equally worthless validity, and can't we all just get along?

Which is an extremely scary thing to contemplate.

Because this nation didn't go from a minor collection of grouchy tax resisters to a prosperous techno-wonderland by being an unquestioning bunch of drones. Disagreement and open challenges to the status-quo are the healthy earmarks of a free society. We *SHOULD* be constantly risking humiliation, uprooting outdated assumptions, disseminating new ideas. Through a single, uniquely human process, we have the means to solve every problem that's in existence today.

It's called COMMUNICATION! (Insert veiled plea to Indifferent Hippie Femme here.)

But to function properly, communication ALSO has to be unrestrained and unfettered; one individual cannot monopolize the mike while another sits and stews, fearful of appearing presumptuous, creating offense or "stirring the waters."

Well, in the natural world, there exists places where the waters really ARE forever undisturbed, unchanging. A lot of them are (curiously enough) protected by the guv'mint, as supposed "wetlands." Less ecology-obsessed people call these overgrown puddles by their real name: swamps.

And just like a stagnant culture, where everyone "plays it safe" -- swamps are notable only for their teeming hordes of bloodsucking parasites.

And a real nasty smell.

Addendum 2004: Unless you've been living in a cave since April 2001, I think it's safe to say this situation has quite irrevocably changed. Most Americans (at least, those who are sane) now regard the touchy-feely bromides and multiculturalist moose drool freely overflowing during the previous decade as a pure abomination. Unfortunately, it took the butchery of three thousand of my fellow countrymen -- and the disintegration of two buildings I'd loved since I was a child -- to bring this long-overdue development about. An expensive lesson, methinks. And it may be one we'll never FULLY learn, seeing as how several deserving portions of Middle Eastern real estate haven't been reduced to molten pools of radioactive glass yet (my continuing preference).

10/16/2000: Nature Trail to Hell

So here we are, with the oh-so-important 2000 elections less than a month away. The propaganda mills of the Donkey Boys and Elephant Men are churning away full steam, portraying whatever miniscule differences that exist within their respective platforms as great yawning ideological chasms; as if EITHER party would ever really truly object to confiscating every last penny from the slaves, er, constituencies they claim to "represent," -- invoking such compelling arguments as for The Common Good, Working Families, Mother Earth or The Childrennnn -- before throwing these same unpatriotic citizen-units into the barred concrete pigpens they themselves somehow miraculously evaded.

Not too far behind is the incessant cajolery that spews forth every four years, from otherwise non-political organizations, to "get out the vote." Or: tacitly endorsing whatever aspiring dictator on the ballot repulses you the least, regardless of whatever adverse effect of doing so might have on your self-respect or digestive processes. Because -- don't you know -- if Americans decided NOT to have some self-righteously cherubic politico there to "lead" us, to wag fingers and lecture before the cameras, carpetbomb foreigners, boink interns, et cetera, eventually we'd begin preying upon one another in an orgy of mindless cannibalism, and Civilization Would Cease To Exist, or something.

Yeah, right.

A certain famous evil creature hell-bent on world conquest (not Hillary Clinton) once observed that if you tell a lie big enough, everyone will believe it. Well, folks, in case you haven't already figured it out, "democracy" is the Gargantuan Fib of our particular age.

First consider the derivation of the word, which translates roughly into "rule by the people." Right off the bat, such a concept borders on oxymoronic (though not FULLY moronic, that comes later) The floating abstraction called "the people" cannot ever exist; there are only individual PERSONS. Who are generally inclined to violently disagree on matters of such earth-shattering importance as pizza toppings, much less the day-to-day management of an entire nation.

Oh, and please remember that not too long ago, a handful of crackpot revolutionaries and their goons -- in pursuit of what they considered a purer "rule by the people" -- stampeded all over the globe, forcibly reforming helpless populations along more "harmonious" insectoid/hive lines... and created half a billion corpses in the process. Some self-evident facts come with a higher price tag than others.

In any event, since a government jointly helmed by the Upstanding Pillar Of The Neighborhood and the Crackhead Who Eats Refrigerator Magnets presented certain logistical problems, the architects of modern democracy forged a new compromise, brilliantly derived from classic schoolyard logic. In essence, an equivocation to the effect of "the biggest gang wins."

Do I *really* have to demonstrate how mind-Yahtzeeingly asinine this assumption is? Must I point to the historical running gag of the past four, five hundred years, of one hardnosed SOB standing against the "conventional wisdom" of the mass, and proving all the idiots wrong?

Okay, so maybe the decor of October decay is coloring my writing style. Right now -- if you can believe it -- I'm sitting in a moored boat, on your typically bonechilling full-blown autumn New York night, tapping away on a Sharp Mobilon palmtop computer about the size of a paperback book. Luna is in full phase, generously pouring her silver illuminance down on my head and shoulders, but the backlit LCD screen even makes this helpful contribution unnecessary.

Just another one of humanity's recent minor miracles -- like microsized telephones and dolphin-streamlined automobiles -- which have become so darned commonplace that we tend to forget what monstrously visual indicators of human "progress" they still are.

Anyway, concerning the political future of this seemingly ADD-afflicted land, lately I've been squandering a lot of mental wattage upon these trendy forms of technological and recreational prohibitionism that've risen to prominence over the past decade or so, looking for any other common threads (to unravel!) amongst such groups... besides their obvious jockeying for power.

Then, poring over an essay from one of my CGI classes ("The Lure of The Pixel") it hit me like a baby grand piano.

Before continuing, I'd like to point out that there's absolutely *no* way yours truly could be the first person to discover what fundamentally motivates these newfangled authoritarians of our age. While objectivity and reason certainly rank right up there with Adobe Photoshop, angry heroin-inspired rock music and Indifferent Hippie Femmes in my book, nevertheless I'm no scientist or philosopher. In fact, it's extremely illustrative of the loom-smashers' growing influence that just such a harebrained theory -- however "offensive" or unconventional -- hasn't *already* filtered its way down through that oh-so-unselective sieve we call "the Old Media." (You're looking at the New Media right now.)

But I digress.

First, let's talk about the types of "antisocial" behavior, the "inappropriate" human practices and "irresponsible" technologies that these neo-Puritans inevitably, gravely declare must be suppressed at all costs.

Can there be *any* activity more frowned-upon in Turn-of-the-Century Pre-Balkanized America than... smoking? The airwaves are presently awash in an overkill of anti-tobacco and anti-cannabis propaganda, efforts that would make even Joseph Goebbels green with envy/nausea. Once upon a time the formidable resources of Madison Avenue were geared towards convincing citizens to buy soap flakes, or transforming plastic robots. A consumer could listen to each pitch and decide accordingly whether it was the straight shit, or the other kind. If you didn't like Bubble-O's fresh scent of lemondeath, there was always FabriClean. If you believed you'd sooner build a fusion reactor from Legos before getting Megatron or Optimus to assume an reasonably anthropomorphic shape, there was always the easier-to-irrevocably-break Gobots.

But in the Naughties, such advertising diversity is nonexistent where cigs are concerned. These are a Dreadful Menace To Our Children after all, sayeth the Protectors. So every catastrophic scenario of usage is explored in loving, cut-laden detail, from being socially ostracized by your wise and all-knowing Peers (sure!) to being dead... or even worse, unpopular.

Don't even get me started on the outrageous, never-to-be-sufficently-regretted Drug War, a political quagmire that's going to make Vietnam feel like an stubbed toe. When millions of non-Team Players are finally sandwiched into the Land Of The Free's euphemistic "correctional facilities," -- already filled to capacity with Really Really Bad Criminals (like people who goofed filling out their IRS forms) -- eventually her depressing barbed-wire fortresses will start falling into themselves. America's landscape would then pay host to a brand new scenic wonder, a nation polka-dotted with several hundred magma-belching bottomless pits... when these newly-created black holes start chomping their way to the planetary core, an insatiable army of subatomic Pac-Men leaving neutronium and the occasional massive global earthquake in their wake...

So given such a one-sided treatment and a virtual absence of any opposition (except on the 'Net, that pesky New Media stuff again) you'd think all these "educational" campaigns would've made SOME measureable dent in the kiddies' smoking/toking rates.

Of course, forbidden fruit is the sweetest of all...

Next on these control freaks' Should Be Verboten list is personal ownership of firearms, and -- closely related -- a "culture of violence." This latter meaningless phrase (whose culture? violence in *what* context?) refers to the belief that there are too many damned muzzle flashes, bulbous fireballs and pyrophiliac explosions in American television, film and video games... and that after electronically laying waste to the armies of Beelzebub, eventually little brainwashed Jimmy will move on to nuking bigger game in the Real World.

I wonder. Where were all these self-appointed watchdogs protecting MY "fragile little mind" from getting warped (and incidence of "culturally-inspired" crime) during the eighties? There were at *least* a couple hundred films back then whose entire plotline consisted of a given Deranged Chainsaw-Wielding Psychopath stumbling upon a nubile sorority, or the local Cub Scout troop "roughing it" in a conveniently isolated wooded area. This trend was followed closely by the onslaught of inferior "Rambo" and "Die Hard" clones making chunky barbeque of various terroristic hordes.

Furthermore, no current PC shoot 'em up can EVER match the bloodbath in 1986's "Chiller" -- without a doubt the most gruesomely amoral arcade coin-op ever created -- a game which required that the player sit behind a plastic shotgun replica (like Crossbow) and messily blast the flesh off as many helpless victims as possible. Don't believe me? Here's a censored screenshot. Download an implementation of MAME if you're a sick puppy and actually want to play the real thing for Halloween. And bring a barf bag. "Culture of violence," indeed.

Guns? Engage any libertarian in conversation, and he/she'll talk at length about Florida's concealed-carry laws, and the marked drop in criminal activity that resulted... to such an extent that the various miscreants were reduced to preying upon legally disarmed "civilized" foreigners and out-of-state visitors instead. They'll point out the chaos in allegedly "gun free" zones like Washington DC, and recent Australian home-invasions. They'll discuss Switzerland's quirky policies, and why Hitler decided to give that particular nation a *wide* berth. And (of course) they'll cite the Second Amendment, which didn't exactly beat around the bush regarding the matter of an armed populace. Insert appropriate Heinlein quote here.

Let me add, parenthetically, that I'm not attempting to endorse nor condemn these controversial items here, but simply presenting the ACTS of gleefully lighting up a cigarette or joint, watching Keanu Reeves noisily perforate commie Artificial Intelligences, or toting a Glock 9mm as select "targeted" practices by the We Want To Run Your Life Because You're An Idiot crowd.

Ah yes, and then we have the private automobile. A noisy, dangerous, expensive, *dirty* thing, that one. Like similarly loathed smokestacks on the horizon, they are forever belching noxious exhaust fumes, roiling the city air with a putrid green-brown haze of smog and otherwise dooming the planet (or at least that nanoscopic sliver from one thousandth of a percent that has experienced any degree of urbanization...) Worse, by being granted a greater measure of personal autonomy, a citizen can actually drive AWAY from where he lives, impoverishing the various understocked, overpriced Main Street enterprises that rely upon a geographic monopoly. The Community is also deprived of being privy to this person's most intimate secrets: what groceries he buys, what medicine he takes, the brand of contraceptive devices and dirty magazines he... oops.

Finally, we have their biggest (and most recent) scapegoat for society's apparent fragmentation, the instrument that is tearing down all the traditional models of human interaction, and replacing them with Ghu knows what: the Internet.

Do you begin to see a pattern, a semi-consistent modus operandi at work here?

Cigarettes, firearms, internal combustion engines, power plants, computer screens. Sometimes these devices are necessities, essential for one's continued sustenence. Sometimes these devices serve as a medium for bringing people closer together.

But on a more basic physical level, ALL of these devices give off bright light, energy. And a certain amount of heat.

Now, imagine for a moment, the legitimate inception of humanity, the traditional cusp event where Homo Sapiens begins to stray from the dead-end path Nature intended.

A lone ragged, emanciated figure, driven nearly insane by exposure to freezing weather, squats over a smoldering bundle of wood and scraps of brush, bashing distinct sets of rocks together until a spark descends upon the brittle kindling. He/she blows gently upon the oh-so-precarious smoking embers, shielding the fragile flame from the icy winds, nurturing its growth. Eventually, this tiny fleck of red develops into a raging mini-inferno. One that will provide the warmth necessary to survive this brutal night, to cook food, fend off predators, give illuminance for the telling of stories and the impartment of greater knowlege.

It is no historical accident, no mere irony of logic that humanity's final death-blow to the Darwinian dictates of natural selection -- our expansion amongst the stars -- will be achieved the same way: rockets riding upon columns of flame, immortal, indestructable.

So, could it be that all this hostility -- couched under Rube Goldbergian rationalizations, buried deep beneath a hodge-podge of pseudo-intellectual jargon -- descends from an unimaginably ancient and primal fear? One that we regrettably forgot to leave behind when we finally climbed down from the trees, extended a defiant middle finger to Evolution's bewildered countenance, and set to work manically molding our environment to suit US (and not the other way around)?

Could it be that they're all just afraid... of fire?

8/2/2000: More snotty pseudo-intellectual posturing from yours truly. Eventually, I address Napster's recent woes. Eventually.

It's sad, but true: America just ain't a country for wimps or mealy-mouthed fence-sitters. At any given moment in this great drunken bar brawl we call "national public discourse," you will find at least several dozen profound issues being hotly debated. Issues that blatantly defy the so-called "spirit of compromise" celebrated by civilized/tamed People's Fiefdoms elsewhere in the world. Issues with as much "gray area" as your average Mignola rendering.

For example, do you think it was right that a child entering this country should be sent back to a goddamcommunist dictatorship, simply because his father -- who's had the useless Marxist-Leninist dogma of a senile megalomaniac involuntarily forced down his throat from birth -- willed it? (Castro should've taken lessons in subtlety from the lefties here in the US: witness the present status of Social Security as an inviolable Sacred Cow...)

All right then, do you concede that it's the job of our tyrannical, ridiculously overbearing government to arbitrarily and fascistically dictate what we can and cannot put into our own bodies, be it tobacco, "herbal tea" (hi Matt!), crack cocaine, or Liquid Drano? And does it make sense to overpopulate prisons with innocent people who've merely chosen to possess, distribute and use these same (selectively) criminally verboten substances?

And -- for crying out loud! -- do YOU, good citizen, believe the chief purveyors/participants behind such revolting cultural bacterium as Pokemon, boy bands, Hillary Clinton's New York senatorial bid and seventeen thousand equally repugnant flavors of "reality" television -- should be summarily packed into crates, and shipped off to the nearest Soylent Green factory?

Obviously, you see how these questions have been deliberately tweaked to boost my own strongly-held (and Absolutely 100% Completely Correct) beliefs. More often than not, it IS the framing of inquiry that leads people to unwittingly lend their support to ideas they'd sooner eat haggis than embrace. Change "gun control" to "victim disarmament," for instance. Or -- since they're two sides of the same coin -- indiscriminately swap the labels "liberal" and "conservative." Be sure to chuckle over the twitching of their newly-flustered faces, as they plummet off a logical cliff.

Then we have this suggestion/order by the music industry, who are presently vaporizing millions of greenbacks and courting the ghastly Justice Department in a fight to get Napster -- essentially a technology for swapping MP3 tunes -- shut down: "Humble Serfs of the American Imperium, do you think it's appropriate to allow a forum whereby the products of hardworking artists are illicitly given away for free, thus condemning them to a miserably impoverished, deprived and otherwise Really Really Bad standard of living?"

Now, being a regular subscriber to Hopeless Futility in my professional and personal life (hi Jen!) I shan't go into the quixotic crusade being perpetrated here. Any homo sapiens with even the most rudimentary Internet experience is undoubtedly aware of OTHER avenues whereby MP3 files may be "illicitly" thrown to the leeching masses. Freebie sites such as GeoCities, e-drives, message boards, IRC, e-mail, the eternal flood of purloined uuencoded material pouring forth from Usenet, and ten thousand vindictively adolescent 3Lee7 h4Qu3rs all serve to overfill any hypothetical void left by Napster's disappearance.

Unless a Federal Telecommunications Gestapo is in America's future (" What Fourth Amendment? Hand over that modem or eat death, unpatriotic compu-geek!") keeping ANYTHING permanently off the 'net is about as productive as fighting a million-headed hydra with a used Q-Tip.

Nor shall I irresponsibly speculate upon the music corporations' possible ulterior motives. In grand Grouchy Right-Wing Extremist tradition, I always tend to give bloated plutocrats -- even those that refuse to hire me -- the benefit of the doubt. Great Cthulhu knows there are enough "socially conscious" pundits out there portraying these congloms as being run by the puppy-eating likes of Ellsworth Toohey anyway.

No, instead, I will spin a tale for thee. It's a true story, dont'cha know.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was something called recordable audio tapes, which allowed anyone to duplicate an album, or store select tunes played on the radio. You remember radio, don't you? That haven for criminal anarchists, who indiscriminately gave away the most popular chart-toppers without even soliciting payment from the audience? (Thank goodness THEY were finally shut down...)

In any event, if you were an affictionado of Cantankerous Phlegm (tm) -- and weren't hopelessly cut off from civilization, living in a cave or sporting the interpersonal skills of a rabid orangutan -- it was no real difficult feat to procure an illegal duplicate of their latest opus from a friend or co-worker. The potential drawback then was signal degradation, but minor hisses and pops were a laughably small price to pay for this particular Free Lunch at Cantankerous Phlegm's apparent expense.

Now, multiply this flagrant transgression of "intellectual property" laws several million times over, as every musical genre from New Age to Rock n' Roll to Rap to Cacophonous Noise involuntarily becomes public domain, courtesy of a four-dollar bit of plastic.

Better still, extend these same circumstances to other similarly "endangered" creative trades. Can one deny the threat videotapes (and MPEG compression, and DVD) pose to those demented genii in Hollywood? Don't reproductive means such as four-color process (and JPEG/GIF files, and scanners) spell certain doom for illustrators, photographers and the like?

BTW, not to be needlessly Varleyian, but what's going to happen to a bunch of other "unduplicable" occupations when clouds of microscopic robots are finally capable of manipulating matter according to the instructions of a downloadable blueprint file? ("...hey Jimmy, I finally tore down that shitty duplex and nano'ed up a green and purple Einstein House instead! It RULES! Uh-huh, somebody finally posted the binary over on Usenet! And I'm setting up all my Rodins and Michelangelos in the back yard too, by the kiddie pool!" )

So... faced with techno-obsolescence, did American culture disintegrate? Did untold hordes abandon their respective time-honored crafts... in order to dig ditches, flip hamburgers, and other mundane forms of Honest Work?


What occured instead was an unprecedented -- geometric! -- growth and diversification of ALL these industries as a whole. The explanation for this is fairly simple.

More copies floating around means more people that are likely to buy Cantankerous Phlegm's next release, or attend a live performance, or purchase that Official Cantankerous Phlegm t-shirt, poster, sticker set or toilet paper. More copies floating around means that producers, tour organizers, collaborators and promotions people will take notice of Cantankerous Phlegm, and bury them in multimedia proposals, business partnerships and production deals. In short, more copies floating around provides a way out from every (and I mean EVERY) artist's nightmare -- OBSCURITY!

Yet the stumbling block has always been distribution; that classic "six degrees of separation" between product and consumer. An act that's playing to packed houses in Berkeley may be entirely unknown to someone living in Savannah, or Antwerp, or Vladivostok. Trapped by geography, burdened by corporate sluggishness, the labor and money-intensive process whereby this band may eventually gain recognition in these parts of the world would have taken years.

Were it not for the Internet, of course.

I think what's REALLY brought about the record labels' move against Napster -- and MP3's in general -- is not so much the pirating of copyrighted material, but the sobering realization that The Way Things Used To Be Done is coming to a long-delayed end. The cyber-triumph of the "DIY" ethos indicates their cherished role as "middle man" between the artist and the customer (and all the perks that used to come with such a position) is no longer necessary. Each and every file that gets downloaded out there -- from .txt to .htm to .gif to .jpg to .mov to .mpg to .mp3 -- represents a seed planted: a potential patron, an unrecognized market, a new customer, for every creator.

On a GLOBAL scale.

So please take these "death of culture" predictions with a grain of NaCl. Trust me, we're all on the ground floor of a new artistic explosion that'll make the Renaissance look like an elementary school drawing contest. Just you wait and see.

5/12/2000: A Planet of Unemployed Artists

Traditionally, doomsday scenarios have always involved an unforeseen cosmic event or some disastrous course of action humanity inadvertently inflicts upon itself... usually resulting in the deaths of millions, if not the extinction of the species altogether. We consistently imagine Homo Sapiens going out with a big bloody exclamation point (as in the case of thermonuclear war) or with a defeated whimper (this month's prevailing ecological/economic breakdown theory which The Government Must Do Something About Now!)

So here's food for thought: what's gonna become of us when the REAL "crisis" of the 21st Century (or whenever) is... leisure?

I've often joked with my friends that, for all the financial disadvantages that come with being a commercial imagesmith, long-term, it's still one of the most SECURE occupations in existence. Afterward, when their brows crunch together in apparent incomprehension, I end up explaining what I call the extropian party line. Now before your Pretentious Liberal Arts Bullshit Detector starts bleeping away like Artoo-Detoo on Decepticonian crystal meth, by "extropian" in this instance, I mean that given the rapid pace of scientific progress today -- and the full realization of such innovations as nanotechnology and geneering -- it won't be very long before EVERY job, from building houses to open-heart surgery, gets supplanted by a self-driven automated collection of gimcrackery, or else rendered irrelevant altogether. Most likely the latter.

Except for one lone, remaining arena, of course. That being what we broadly refer to as The Arts: music, literature, poetry, filmmaking, mem-recording, holographic pornography, "feelies" and Cthulhu knows what else gets classified as such come the Diamond Age. These are all disciplines for which computers and other machines become tools to complement a creative individual's distinct vision... not as a substitute for the vision itself.

Here, I'm removing the chance of an artificial intelligence wooing the jaded fleshlings with its sublime compositions. I'm also discarding the possibility of TRULY out-there bits of transhuman speculation, like Wacky Cousin Lou trading in his meat-and-bone hardware for eternal life as a hyperintelligent collection of gases blissfully drifting through the cosmos. There'll be no mosh-pits before Deep Thought's latest NeoCyberGrindcore hit this day, no "Adam Selene" composing free verse... and we're all going to STAY in one piece, got it?

In many ways, this leisure society has already arrived. A good chunk of the United States' economy is derived NOT from agriculture or manufacturing, but from telling the best story, flaunting the best CGI effect, coding the most hardboiled first-person shoot 'em up... for the entertainment benefit of millions of folks with lots of free time and money on their hands. (These developments are Good Things, BTW. I'm not some "anti consumerist" nincompoop who pines for nonexistent "simpler times"... like the days before anesthesia and indoor plumbing, when life was "nasty, brutish and short." )

I suspect space travel and colonization will get a badly-needed kick in the pants. After spending a couple of years devouring endless stacks of pizza and Himalayan mountains of ice cream without making so much as a dent in that indestructably attractive Brad Pitt/Rose McGowan physique of yours, after whilsting away several decades indulging to excess every possible stimulant presently known to man (and a few that haven't hit the books yet) for many of us -- the majority, I hope -- it'll start to get real effing old. That hard-wired killer ape will yearn for a non-simulated frontier to conquer, a real honest-to-goodness challenge to surmount... and it won't be upon the great theme park that Mama Terra has become. Humanity will explode through the galaxy in record time, as each barren inhospitable bit of rock is rendered habitable, and the colonists rush to "rough it" in the next untamed wilderness. This interstellar game of leapfrog will continue to play itself out... until the novelty wears off, or we finally meet some competition to team up with, ignore, or fight.

As for those who stay behind, what can really be said about them? Certainly amongst this complacently immortal group, there will always be a few rogue elements that scorn the status quo, who create "natural" settlements, where people can live like they did in the 20th Century or earlier. For whatever dubious value THAT'S worth: pain, suffering and death are generally NOT the most desirable of commodities. More seriously, there's a historical tendency of privileged children to rebel against what's around them for rebellion's own sake. Only a reversion to pure, untainted barbarism will suffice here... and when one considers the fact that an indeterminate lifespan ALSO means an indeterminate number of years' worth of misunderstandings, hatreds and botched relationships... this can become a most dangerous combination indeed.

Hmm. Now that yours truly has -- unintentionally -- done their dirty work for them, I can already hear the impending chants from the technophobes, the new Luddite mantra for the Naughties: "STOP *blank* NOW, OR WE'LL ALL BE BORED TO DEATH!" Not exactly the most compelling of slogans, I must admit.

Who wouldn't like to risk that oh-so-dreadful possibility?

4/5/2000: At last, an essay TRULY deserving of the title "rant." The recent nauseating verdict in the Microsoft case gives birth to the Mother of All Tirades: my own angry, rambling, incoherent and utterly unapologetic counterpart to Admiral Heinlein's "Who Are The Heirs Of Patrick Henry?" (A tip: it ALSO helps to have several painful crises going on in your life when you write these things...)

Christ, Marx, Wood and Wei...

To call this ruling a "legal travesty" would be an understatement of Brobdignagian proportions. Those patently unconstitutional, semantically fuzzy "antitrust" regulations -- that are presently being wielded by a coalition of obsolescent socialists, failed competitors and self-anointed "consumer advocates" to bludgeon one of the most (deservedly) successful companies in history -- were intended for the oil and railroad concerns of the 1800's. A business environment that -- excluding Babbage -- in NO way resembles what we have now in cyber-saturated 21st Century America. Judicially, this is the equivalent of throwing someone in jail for whistling on Sunday... violating an obscure "blue law" that was on the books when dinosaurs still walked the earth.

The oft-mentioned allegation of "anti-competitive practices" -- which the government decrees in its infinitely vacuous wisdom about such matters -- simply does NOT exist. To the contrary, Microsoft is a HYPERCOMPETITIVE outfit; it was floundering rivals like Novell and Netscape who couldn't keep pace with the ever-reducing prices and ever-accumulating features. So instead of accepting defeat and folding, they enlisted the aid of the local neighborhood bully -- the Feds -- and demanded rules be changed to fit THEIR own shortsightedness. How heartwarming.

And... for WHAT? No computer user will benefit from being forced by Clintonian goons to buy -- at artificially inflated prices -- web browsers and productivity software that were once given away for free. But THAT'S exactly what this verdict intends to accomplish.

Side note: isn't it illuminating that the push to "tame" Microsoft was initially spearheaded by the technophobic likes of Kirkpatrick Sale and Ralph Nader (shortly before his loathesome dalliance with the equally loathesome Green Party?) I mean, these are historical feebleminds who regularly oppose geneering and other innovations on the grounds that teensy-weensy interferences in <shibboleth> The Environment </shibboleth> will create unintended and catastrophic consequences Real Soon Now. Mother Nature being SUCH a delicate, fragile flower, don'tcha know...

Oh, but when it comes to a system FAR more precarious, complex, and essential to humanity -- like, say, an ECONOMY -- any amount of pointless meddling and obstruction is fine...

Well, pick up a Wall Street Journal, and witness the results these busybodied cretins have worked around the clock to attain. There is no industry that is more interdependent than codesmithing/software development, and so the fate of Microsoft is inexorably linked to countless other related ventures. By creating an unstable situation where entrepreneurs can't be sure if their product will ever reach their intended markets, the Justice Department has effectively thrown a wrench into one of the dynamic engines that drive this nation.

(Ned Ludd would be proud. And Henry Hazlitt must be spinning in his grave so fast he could be wired to generate electricity.)

Did I mention how much this arrogant little venture has cost U.S. taxpayers? Whoops, I'm sorry, I forgot... We only concern ourselves with investigative spending when it involves saving the posterior of our criminally corrupt President. I suppose it IS perfectly acceptable to commit perjury, obstruct justice, threaten witnesses, claim monarchistic 'executive privilege' to avoid prosecution (and bomb innocent civilians in sovereign nations for distraction purposes a la "Wag the Dog")... so long as you're Democratic, "popular" and contribute diddly-squat to the advancement of Western civilization as a whole.

One also wonders what the executives of Apple Computer must make of this disgraceful business. Their company has been loudly marketing and selling non-Windows, non-PC personal computers and operating systems for over TWO DECADES. Now the courts have declared that Apple's efforts and products do NOT exist... indeed, has NEVER existed with relation to the computing marketplace today.

I hope they're insulted. Like millions of others, I use/worship Macintosh.... and *I* sure am. Apparently Linus Torvolds, Red Hat Software and (giggle) IBM Computer don't exist in the government's Microsoft-dominated fantasyworld either. Gee, what an effing surprise.

If the chuckleheads in Washingtoon WERE truly interested in breaking up monopolies, perhaps before molesting the private sector, they should clean their OWN house first. Let's get the Injustice Department to also investigate the 'anti-competitive' operations of STATE monopolies, shall we? Surely the lynching can wait just a little longer.

How about our Publik Skools, for instance? Wherein virtually every proto-American gets thoroughly and expensively brainwashed with the ruling conventional ignorance of the moment (global warming and multicultural dogma this week, creationism and stopping Commies last) without any regard to parental wishes, freedom of educational choice or fiscal discipline. Oh, and by the way, you CAN take your child to a 'private' school if you want, but you still have to pay for the public schooling you're not using... AND the government has to CERTIFY the 'private' alternative's curriculum first. Thanks for playing, sucker.

The list goes on and on. Post offices. Transportation. Communications. Pharmacies. Airlines. Cable franchises. Price supports. Utilities. Energy. Even police protection... here in New York, I can think of several communities that would choose Pinkerton's over the NYPD in a heartbeat. And don't forget my favorite: NASA. Talk to any member of the Houston Space Society, or read Koman's "Kings of the High Frontier" for inside information on THAT complacent dilly-o.

Let's face it, this hypocritical crusade against Bill Gates and company is NOT about "protecting the customer." It's CERTAINLY not about "fostering competition." The State, as I've demonstrated, squelches free markets on a regular basis for its own ends.

So what IS the point?

The motivations involved are (on the surface) clear enough. Plain and simple ENVY, amplified into a destructive force by the oh-so-vaunted process of majority rule. "You're richer, smarter, better-looking, more athletic and more successful than us, the Great 50.00001 Percent That Are In Charge. So please fork over your shit, or we'll kill you."

Yeah, it sounds ridiculous. Yet this is the same perverse joke that has kept dictatorship going strong. Every Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Nehemiah Scudder and Palpatine-wannabe ultimately needs the tacit support of the "common folk" to survive. So just ascertain who or what the unwashed masses despise, create a straw man, knock it down, and posture before the screaming, loving throngs you've "liberated." Bingo, Tyranny for Dummies.

Finally, let's not forget the ominous precedent created by this ruling. It's become readily apparent over the past six years that the Federal government wants "in" on the Internet. Why?

To impose taxes, levy fines. To dictate what's appropriate and inappropriate behavior for the rest of us. To snoop on the private affairs of millions of free individuals. To gainfully employ clueless mouthbreathers as fake 15 year-old girls. To impose speech codes. To imprison thousands for commercial transactions or communications that occur without Janet Reno's express consent. To make the 'net safe for children ("..blame Canada!") by purging it of all pornographic, unpatriotic, hateful, sexist, racist, subversive and controversial content.

In short, the State wants to civilize this gleefully diverse anarchy, and mold it into something sterile and infinitely lame. Like television.

Now, what better way to accomplish this utterly despicable end... than by harassing, persecuting and ultimately nationalizing a key Internet player such as Microsoft?

I rest my case.

1/22/2000: A few calculated predictions for the next hundred years. Barring any dramatic geneering or nanorobotic breakthroughs, it's very doubtful I'll be around to hang my head in shame/gloat over their miraculous accuracy. *shrug* Oh well...

The United States will still exist in 2100, but in an altogether different form. Fed up with Washington's dictates, many existing U.S. states, cities and small towns will split away to become autonomous countries. Other territories not currently in the Union, such as Cuba, will be grudgingly admitted.

A new totalitarian movement, predicated upon environmentalist and antitechnology dogma, will eventually become an oppressive religio-political force to be reckoned with in the 21st century. At some point, an existing government will be co-opted, or a new regime will be created based entirely upon this group's principles... with the expected disastrous results.

Subterranean ballistic catapults will provide high-speed transport all over the planet. In addition, an adjoining underground network of robotic delivery systems will largely eliminate the need for overland shipment of goods. Once electronic orders have been placed, items will usually arrive at their destination in less than an hour.

Communities will begin popping up in impossibly remote/isolated areas of the globe, as those info-workers freed by computing technology (and attracted to cheap real estate) begin moving out of the cities and suburbs in earnest. The McDonald's franchise in Ulan Bator will do some brisk business.

After 70-something years of delay, hovercars and other floatcraft FINALLY begin arriving at auto dealerships. Unfortunately, due to the afforementioned nouveau-Luddites, linear induction capsules, pneumo tubes and telecommuting, nobody needs 'em anymore.

There'll be one more global military conflict, involving an alliance of various Islamic republics waging a prolonged Jihad against the collected armies of the "Near East". India, China and Pakistan will bear the brunt of the damage.

Some government or corporation will attempt to build an arcology. It'll enjoy a brief decade of prominence before becoming the 21st Century equivalent of a housing project.

Decentralized economic conditions and changing societal pressures will create new and complex family organizations. A woman having several husbands, a child being raised by three of four different sets of parents, or a non-relative purchasing shares of family membership 'stock' will not be an uncommon occurance, nor one especially frowned upon.

Cities will be constructed on and beneath the surface of the world's oceans. Most'll be legally chartered as sovereign nations, their economies driven by scientific research, undersea mineral processing, tourism, and various legalized-but-naughty activities.

Almost a million humans will be situated in space, living and working in lower-earth orbit and inside habitats situated at Earth's Lagrange points. There'll be a permanent, largely self-sufficent colony on/in Luna, but Mars will consistently resist habitation for another century.

America will finally have a non-white, non-heterosexual and/or non-male President. Unfortunately, he/she/it'll be just as amoral, conniving, corrupt and impeachable as previous (and current) holders of the office.

10/19/1999: An (admittedly bridge-burning) essay about the "Sensation" circus in Brooklyn.

Alas, another pseudo-"controversy" over artistic expression has arisen, here in the heart of the Big Apple. Together with organized Catholics and religious conservatives, New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani recently screamed bloody murder over a dubious piece of city-subsidized artwork (a portrait of the Virgin Mary) on exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Featured amongst its quaint "mixed media" complement were some animal fecal matter (shit, for the vocabulary challenged) and selective clippings from various porno mags.

I guess Pearl Paint was closed that week.

The reaction on the part of New York's snobby intelligentsia and its artistic/literary 'community' (if one can dignify such a mob with this term) was predictable. "Censorship" became the new rallying cry of the day, strongly-worded editorials about First Amendment rights appeared in the otherwise ardently PC New York Times and Village Voice. The inevitable Giuliani/Hitler comparison was drawn, presumably with its corresponding unstated confession of "degenerate art." And all involved parroted the mantra of socialized culture: "if Duh Peepul won't pay for it, who will?"

Meanwhile, the craftsperson(?) of this particular work, Chris "Offal" Ofili, expressed dumbfounded confusion over these same loudly-voiced objections. Apparently it never occured to him that the juxtaposition of religious iconography and bodily waste could be perceived as pejorative commentary ABOUT religion. Apparently Ofili wasn't familiar with the similar plight of Andres Serrano... another 'visionary genius' who creatively combined crucifixes and pee-pee utilizing ill-gained IRS loot.

As an artist, I believe I can speak out with some authority on this subject. Proclamations of innocence and ignorance aside, Mr. Ofili knew full well what he was doing.

Granted, as a group, we imagesmiths may be just a BIT out of touch regarding some human dealings (like meeting the rent and maintaining good personal hygiene). But when it comes to the language of visual composition, our knowledge must necessarily be all-encompassing. There are entire schools of artistic thought devoted exclusively to certain stylistic or abstract representations of reality, not to mention those that question the very concept of reality itself. Impressionists, Cubists, Futurists, Dadaists, Minimalists, Abstract Expressionists, Postmodernists, Shameless Hucksterists... the list (and the mammoth pile of imbecilic splatter paintings) goes on and on.

Even if you ignore the fact that the exhibit WAS entitled "Sensation" and sported warnings more appropriate for a linear acceleration roller coaster ("...the contents of this exhibition may cause shock, vomiting and confusion; if you suffer from high blood pressure, a nervous disorder or palpitations, you should consult your doctor...") any kid that's read Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics" could see Ofili's real intentions.

Setting aside these purely esthetic issues for the moment, the REAL problem is that this pompous nonsense is financed PUBLICLY: tax dollars forcibly procured under pain of economic ruin, imprisonment and/or death... from people of every concievable ethnic, religious, sexual and political stripe. NO work of art, however "universal" its appeal, will ever meet the unanimous approval of this varied demographic. So why should anyone have to fund a project he'll never see, or actively promote ideologies and viewpoints that are diametrically opposed to his own held beliefs?

The only answer to this conundrum is so incredibly obvious that a deliberate, concerted effort must be made to ignore it: a free, open marketplace. Wherein every individual evaluates for himself what constitutes artistic value, and buys/patronizes accordingly. If you honestly believe Chris Ofili or the rest of his navelpicking ilk would then be relegated to flipping burgers at McDonald's under such a wonderfully straightforward non-system, I invite you to read Tyler Cowen's "In Praise of Commercial Culture" and judge the historical facts for yourself.

By the way, it's interesting to note that not so long ago, another (national!) outcry about artistic expression also took place... one where the conspicuous objections and cries of "freedom of speech" from this same crowd in NY were noticeably absent. Apparently nobody sees fit to bring up the craven hatchet job waged against film, television and videogame producers following the Columbine High School shootings. Never mind that such theories ("Klebold and Harris played Quake for ten hours straight and then they just... snapped") were pulled literally from thin air by media pundits and politicians without a shred of causal evidence. Or that these same scapegoated works were wholely created with private money.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Those with brain capacities larger than a dampened sponge will observe that this entire self-contradictory fracas was ALSO played out almost a decade ago. In 1990, those Philistines who opposed NEA sponsored photographs of twistedly masochistic homosexuals and braindead feminist performance art were smeared as intolerant fascists, while the government's opposition to commercial "2LiveCrew" recordings were acceptable, since they used bad words and were vaguely "sexist" and "misogynist." (Of course, ALL women are angelic creatures who would never, EVER do ANYTHING to warrant such hostility...)

What kind of warped double standard is this? Is censorship perfectly okay so long as it's applied to work created by independent profit-seeking capitalists, but NOT to clueless feeders at the public till? Ignoring the immorality of coerced taxation for a moment, comparatively, shouldn't there be MORE cause to legislate against this latter group, since the State functions as 'the client?'

Bottom line: the First Amendment simply acknowledges the freedom to express your views; it does NOT guarantee you a platform nor financing with which to do so.

10/7/1999: Some fanboy-ish ponderings about "Star Wars:The Phantom Menace" (which I loved, so nyeah) and the whole Palpatine/Sidious controversy.

While I know it seems like a foregone conclusion that Sid and Palpy are the same person (Ian Macdiarmid did play the Emperor in ROTJ, after all) nevertheless I think the situation is probably less obvious and more complicated than that. First, there's this whole schizophrenic, "let's dress up in black clothing and play Evil John Galt" double-life business. For any politician, the incessant role-playing has GOT to be a real inconvenience. One can only imagine the moral quandries Palpy must confront on the floors (or lack thereof) of the Galactic Senate: "...Hmm, that insufferable representative from Brinstock VII just attached a rider onto my Big SpaceBall of Death appropriations bill. Should I bribe him with a seat on the Senate Agri-Hydroponics Committee, or just Force-strangle the little wretch and disembowel him with my bare hands? Decisions, decisions..."

Then, there is the characterization of Senator Palpatine himself. The guy comes across as an embittered, wistful New Deal Democrat, pining for the 'good old days' when everyone in the Galaxy, regardless of their bio-chemical makeup, always somehow had "the common good" (whatever THAT is) etched on their varied cerebellums. Now, while I know it's become quite fashionable these days to stigmatize George Lucas as a 'neo-feudalist' (a theory most recently spewed forth by David "The Postman" Brin, and to a lesser, more intelligent extent by L. Neil Smith) it's been clearly demonstrated both in terms of financial contributions and his own writings that Lucas' politics are not too far from Palpatine's own.

So let's imagine what the couched message of "The Phantom Menace" would be if Palpatine WAS Sidious. From the standpoint of representative government's advocates, it would translate as "complete anathema." Pray tell, do you mean to actually suggest that 'men of the people' who bemoan red tape, self-interest and legislative 'gridlock' as obstacles to True Democracy and who try to help us "for our own good"... are, or at least have the potential, to become evil, power-lusting monsters? Blasphemy!

Not that /I/ would have a problem with this, mind you. Frankly, I think it would /ROCK/ if Lucas managed to slip this *extremely* interesting bit of insight across, through the plot mechanizations of the second trilogy... simply because it is TRUE.

But face it, it's not going to happen. The post-ROTJ Timothy Zahn books (official canon in the Star Wars literary 'universe') established the previous existence of cloning practices in the Old Republic ('cloning' in the schlocky, Luddite-imagined Xerox vein, not real-world cloning which is another thing entirely) And of course everyone familiar with the original trilogy knows about the varied references to the "Clone Wars." So I think Darth Sidious is really just going to end up being a badly-cooked dupe of Palpatine, run amok like Doc Mephesto's similarly bungled copy of Stan Marsh.