Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Goose for the Gander

(Cross-posted at The American Street)

Some twenty-odd years ago, I received a phone call at my desk at Simon & Schuster from an erstwhile colleague. Now a freelance editor, he was trying to palm off a fractious client on me as a moonlighting job. He'd grown frustrated with the client, a retired Russian general who'd fought with distinction at the Siege of Stalingrad and who now wanted to sell his memoirs of that epoch-making battle. My editor friend told the general that his memoir, while undoubtedly a record of heroic resistance to the Nazi invasion of his homeland, lacked the one ingredient guaranteed to make American publishers sit up and whinny: There was not a single sex scene in the whole book. The good general absolutely refused to embellish his otherwise admirable memoir with made-up nonsense about a weekend of unbridled passion at a Black Sea dacha with a toothsome Party apparatchik while the German mortars fell.

My friend did a pretty good impression of the general's outraged objection: "Pippil vere not fuckingk at Stalingrad!"

The unspoken thought went both ways down the phone line: Oh, yes they were, if you're planning to sell any books about it...

I popped into the Purcellville, Virginia, library this morning on the off chance that any of Jim Webb's novels -- now a cause celebre in the Webb-Allen election owing to Allen's hilariously outraged trumpeting that the books contain -- gasp! -- sex scenes! -- were on hand.

Perhaps predictably, there yawned a four-book-wide gap between Weaver and Webster on the fiction shelves. I thought to ask a librarian how long ago the books had been checked out, but realized that a good librarian might take umbrage at the question -- people's library activities being the sort of thing they're touchy about revealing. I can't help but think, though, that prurient interest in Webb's novels might have been piqued pretty recently.

I realize Allen's pretty desperate if he's reached the point of trying to shock Virginia voters with the intelligence that his opponent's novels have sex in them, but I can't help remembering this passage from a "Talk of the Town" piece by Lauren Collins in the New Yorker a year ago, about Scooter Libby's squishy attempts at writing right-wing stroke-books:
Libby has a lot to live up to as a conservative author of erotic fiction. As an article in SPY magazine pointed out in 1988, from Safire (“[She] finally came to him in the bed and shouted ‘Arragghrrorwr!’ in his ear, bit his neck, plunged her head between his legs and devoured him”) to Buckley (“I’d rather do this with you than play cards”) to Liddy (“T’sa Li froze, her lips still enclosing Rand’s glans . . .”) to Ehrlichman (“ ‘It felt like a little tongue’ ”) to O’Reilly (“Okay, Shannon Michaels, off with those pants”), extracurricular creative writing has long been an outlet for ideas that might not fly at, say, the National Prayer Breakfast. In one of Lynne Cheney’s books, a Republican vice-president dies of a heart attack while having sex with his mistress.

I'm shocked! Shocked!

Friday, October 27, 2006

God Wants Me to Run for Congress

The ineffable Michele Bachmann, a Republican running for the open seat in the U.S. Congress from Minnesota's Sixth District, has prompted a thought, and I wonder if anyone in the woodwork can help me figure it out.

Bachmann had this to say to a Minnesota church congregation recently, speaking about her spiritual development:
And in the midst of that calling, God then called on me to run for the United States Congress. And I thought, "What in the world would that be for?" And my husband said, "You need to do this," and I wasn't so sure. And we took three days, and we fasted, and we prayed, and we said, "Lord, is this what you want? Is this your will?" And along about the afternoon of Day Two, he made that calling sure. And it's been now twenty-two months that I've been running for the United States Congress...
(You can watch the video at YouTube -- but be warned: it's pretty excruciating.)

Now, you can say all you like about the Sin of Pride oozing out of the foregoing. My own secular upbringing may have left me bereft of God's Love and irrevocably doomed to the Lake of Fire, but I do recall from what little religious schooling I received that to claim to know God's will is frowned upon in the politer circles. Be all that as it may, what interests me -- and what I'm hoping to get a little enlightenment on -- is the mechanism by which these citizens are informed of the Almighty's divine will.

That is to say, exactly what form did Old Nobodaddy's bidding take? How was it clarified to Michele that, for example, the Sixth District -- and no other -- was the seat for which she should throw her hat in the ring? From her testimony above, the divine commission came as a complete surprise: Sorry, what? You want me to do what now, Lord?

Now, as far as my poor atheist brain can figure, there are only two possible ways that information of such specificity can be transmitted. First, an unexpected apparition, perhaps accompanied with some pyrotechnics (one's tempted to imagine a flaming rhododendron) but one in which the exchange is largely verbal:

Really, Lord? Is that Thy divine will?

Forgive my denseness, O Lord -- I am but a poor, humble sinner. The United States Congress is a mighty big organization... Wherein shall I fit?

The only other possibility that I can encompass involves some sort of divine affirmation that a decision taken after some consideration is the right one. In other words, you have to have some inkling of running for Congress in Minnesota's Sixth District, and your prayer and fasting while considering the question results in some kind of sign -- a vision of behaloed blastocysts, perhaps, or maybe just a nice warm, fuzzy feeling like you've just peed your pants. In the non-batshit-loony world, this might be thought of as "going away and thinking really hard about it, coming to a decision, and being happy with it."

To boil it down further, you can either testify that:

1) "God wants me to run for Congress";


2) "I want to run for Congress, and I think/hope/pray that God's good with that."

Is there any third way? I certainly can't see one.

Quite clearly, Bachmann's testimonial makes Claim 1) above. I would certainly never accuse her of cloaking the second claim with the first -- that is, of claiming that God directed her to run for the open Sixth District seat when in fact the decision to do so was made by her alone. Heavens, that would be lying! In church, no less!

Hence, my interest in the mechanism by which the Lord of Hosts -- who, I might point out, hasn't actually dusted off the Burning Bush act in quite some years, and whose public appearances in the last few millennia are mighty sparse on the ground -- lets a Midwestern
lawyer know that He would smile upon an old-fashioned barn-burner of a campaign in the Sixth.


(I'm also really amused by the three-day fast thing. If, on the second day of your fast, Old Smokey pops in with a choir of angels, trailing glory and hosannahs, and directs you to run for Congress, do you really continue your fast for another day? Haven't you, you know, got your answer? Others have pointed out that it's never a good idea to make important decisions on an empty stomach, and I heartily concur.)

Monday, October 23, 2006

In Which I Go All Doodles Weaver

One of the nice neighbor ladies who share our driveway called the other night, with the somewhat breathless news that a bear had broken into their trash the previous night. She'd happened to be awake about one in the morning, had heard some ruckus coming from the direction of their parking lot, looked out the window, and caught Brother Bruin helping himself to their comestible castoffs.

This came as no surprise to me. Bears, I've read, use our north-south mountain ridge as a migratory route -- cooler west side in summer, warmer east side in winter -- and I've found enormous, berry-husk-laden turds in our orchard before, of a proportion I'm unwilling to blame on the dogs. Or, for that matter, the children.

Our turn for an ursine visit came late last week. Wonder Woman awoke me with the news that she'd just cleaned up a swathe of torn-open trash bags and strewn bins that stretched from the garage into the orchard. We're keeping the trash in the garage now, behind lock and key. And no pic-a-nic baskets. None!

Others have a more profound -- if pretty amusing -- fear of these critters. These are Eastern Black bears, relatively timid vegetarians, who've lived on our heavily wooded mountain forever. If we (and everybody else on our road) keep our trash out of reach, he'll move back up the hill to his accustomed habitat.

When he goes, one source of heartache will go with him. Whenever bears enter my life -- as they so often do -- my hapless brain inevitably starts plunking a banjo, and this deathless lyric enters my head, never to leave again:
Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee
Greenest state in the land of the free...
When an earworm of this tooth-grinding persistence appears, I have to admit defeat and just go with it. My defense is to mess with the damned thing, turn the lyrics inside-out, make up new rhymes, see if I can't get something really filthy or profane out of it. I did this all day yesterday, as I went about my chores. This time, my muse was Doodles Weaver:
Raised in the woods so's he knew every tree
Built him a car -- spilt him a jar -- no, wait -- charred him a quilt -- gilt him a Czar -- no, that would be silly -- kilt him a b'ar -- that's it! -- when he was only three....
Don't know what I'm talking about? In a way I envy you: It's not every day you get to hear a Spike Jones number for the first time. This absolutely slays me, hope it does the same for you:

Spike Jones and His City Slickers play The Man on the Flying Trapeze!

PS: Holy Kazoozis! Doodles Weaver was Sigourney Weaver's uncle!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

NLCS Game 7

OH MY FUCKING GOD DID YOU JUST SEE THAT CATCH BY CHAVEZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Just a Place



Wide-eyed Neddie, in Noo Yawk for the second time in his independent life, on a toot from Kenyon, anticipating a wild night with the Psychedelic Furs and the English Beat at the Ritz. I'm with two-three native friends, guys whose dads are nuclear engineers, dentists, road-paving contractors in Larchmont, Islip, Great Neck. They are sooooo jaded. They wear their world-weariness and cynicism like badges on their Goodwill greatcoats, in among their Tin Huey and Wayne County buttons. We're just wandering the Lower East Side in the early evening, killing time before the doors open at the Ritz. Turn a corner on the Bowery and BLAM! There it is! CBGB! OMF(u)G!

"Whoa!" observes your correspondent trenchantly. "CBGB!"

This may have been a tad hayseed of me. I may have betrayed my sheltered upbringing to my ultrasophisticated companions with this awestruck outburst. An eye or two may very well have rolled.

"Come on! I wanna look in! I wanna see!"

"Jesus, Neddie. It's just a place."

"Fuck place! It's CBGB! Come on! I'm going in!"

Nobody came with me.

The place was empty. Nothing was going on. A bartender was unloading cases of beer. A lone, tall figure leaned his back against the bar, plainly blitzed out of his gourd. He rocked from side to side, unable to find his center of gravity. His hair hung down over his face as he contemplated the floor. He appeared to be nodding out and waking again every few seconds.

He was, of course, Joey Ramone.

Back on the sidewalk: "It was Joey fuckin' Ramone! Standing right there! FUBAR! I'm not fuckin' hallucinating, you assholes! He was right there!"

"Right, Ned. Right. Joey Ramone. Let's get some pierogies at Leshko's."



Rent-poor, clothes-poor, food-poor, a year out of college and toiling for a four-figure income, your Ned is domiciled in a roach-ridden, rat-infested first-floor sublet on 28th and Eighth, quickly depleting his record collection at the used-record shop, sacrificed on the Altar of Beer-Money. Didn't exactly have much use for my moth-eaten "Thick as a Brick" and my Mexican pressing of "Let It Be" those days anyway.

Bobby Lightfoot comes down from Hampshire College for a visit. Still only a sophomore, he's got Dreams. Big Dreams. Gonna be a Rock-n-Roll Star, yes sir, Casio keyboard always at the ready to regale us with a newly-worked-out arrangement of Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out." At great length.

He's not yet formed The Malarians, but the pieces are in place, and it's pretty easy to tell the kid's already in a musical zone way beyond anyplace I've ever been. Ambitous. Very ambitious.

We go downtown. Can't even remember why, now. Our wanderings take us to the Bowery, and when I point out CBGB across the street, his reaction's not dissimilar to mine three years earlier. He wants to check it out.

There's a crowd outside, and we have to squeeze our way through it. I look at Bobby, and almost piss myself laughing. His spine is absolutely straight as me winds around people, his eyes are hooded in the best Punk style, he's pulled himself to his full six feet, and he is actually, swear to God, sucking in his cheeks.

Come on, Bobby! They're just people! You're not going to get discovered in this crowd!

I still rib him about that.



I haven't seen a copy of the Village Voice in years, so I don't know if this is still true, but in the early-mid Eighties the back page always had some mighty amusing little ads. One of these touted a phone number, which, when called, triggered an answering machine that played a little fifteen-second snippet of very odd music -- accordions, synthetic horns, weird percussion, with funny, slapdash lyrics about plumbing, airplanes, and Necco wafers. We loved it, we geekazoid inhabitants of Prospect Place, Brooklyn, and called it regularly, phoning each other when a new tune had been posted up.

It's a little hard to believe, in these days of instant Internet-driven fads, but I'm prepared to argue that They Might Be Giants (for the weird little songs on the answering machine were, in fact, their brainchild) invented Viral Marketing.

Be that as it may, a warm night found me and my great pal Paul at CBGB, taking in a They Might Be Giants gig. We sat at the bar, more or less exactly where Joey Ramone had parked his wasted ass five years before. I was a bit disappointed in TMBG's live act; they were standoffish and shy when they needed to fill the room with their presence, and I was quite put off by the fact that considerably more than half of the music I was hearing was pre-taped.

Paul sloped off to the bathroom. As he left, a voice behind me excused itself, its owner trying to get through the crowd to the bar. As he approached my side, I obligingly shifted my stool a few inches so he could belly up and get the bartender's attention. He thanked me, and we started chatting, as one does at bars.

"What do you think?" he said, pointing his chin at the stage.

"Oh, I dunno... I loved their album, but this playing-with-tapes thing, I don't care for that much..."

"Yeah, I know what you mean, you want value for money, you know -- like, I paid how much to watch a couple of guys playing along to their record player?"

"Yeah, exactly!"

The conversation went on in this vein for a bit longer, comparing who we liked and who sucked. During this time Paul returned and reclaimed his seat. I felt a little explosion when he'd oriented himself, and as my interlocutor said, "Well, my date's waiting, gotta get back to my table. Good talking to you...", I was fending off frantic tugs on my shirt-sleeve.

"What the fuck, Paul?"

"Do you fucking know who that was? Jesus Christ, that was Judd Nelson!"


Nelson had, at the time, just starred in "The Breakfast Club" and "St. Elmo's Fire," and was easily one of the most recognizable faces in America. Today it might be as though I'd just passed five chatty minutes with Vince Vaughn, or perhaps Owen Wilson, without knowing who they were.

Recognizable, that is, except to me. I hated Brat Pack movies, anyway. To me, he was just some guy.

I'll always think of him as My Close and Personal Pal Judd.

Monday, October 16, 2006

But I'm Going Naked, Sonny, in the Morning!

I subscribe to the newsletter of The Rocking Vicar, a very amusing weekly in which contributors reminisce Englishly about their misspent youths in the rock-and-roll trenches. The latest issue features a post from Will Birch, the genius behind late-Seventies power-poppers The Records (peace be upon them), about a device he'd bought at the now-defunct Tower Records in LA, that allowed him to slice open shrinkwrapped LPs -- a minuscule boon, perhaps, but we welcome anything that eases life's tribulations.

Highly recommended stuff.

Another poster contributed the UK Top Ten list of albums from the day he was born, October 8, 1966, and suggests that it may very well rank as the Best-Ever Album Chart:
  1. Soundtrack: Sound of Music
  2. Beatles: Revolver
  3. Walker Brothers: Portrait
  4. Beach Boys: Pet Sounds
  5. Spencer Davis Group: Autumn 66
  6. Various: Stars Charity Fantasia -- Save the Children Fund
  7. John Mayall/Eric Clapton: Bluesbreakers
  8. Herb Alpert: Going Places
  9. Kinks: Well Respected Kinks
  10. Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde
On that day, you could walk into your local record shop and buy at least four, arguably five or even six, of the most influential rock records evarrrr. New. Plus Herb Alpert and The Sound of Music.

So what were they putting in the water? (Wait, I think I know the answer to that...)

As for Your Humble and Obedient, I find myself still under the spell of the Nuggets II succubus*, still unable to shake the Sixties FreakBeat obsession that's been gibbering squeakily in my ear for all these months. First I feel constrained to try a cover of an obscure Swedish band's attempt at Early-Beatle-iciousness, and now this: "I See the Rain," by The Marmalade.

I was utterly gobsmacked to find out that a pop combo I'd ridiculed a few months ago as having the worst band name in the history of the world actually became The Marmalade in the mid-Sixties. Next you'll be telling me Andy Summers played in Dantalion's Chariot or something.

I think the thing that fascinates me most about the Nuggets II collection is that it proudly touts itself as hit-free. Probably the best-known track in it is Status Quo's "Pictures of Matchstick Men"; otherwise, as far as I know, none of these marvelous curiosities ever cracked a Top Ten in an English-speaking country. I remain convinced that there's as much to be learned from a period's mediocrities as from its giants.

Jimi Hendrix named "I See the Rain" his favorite single from 1967, and I imagine you'll be able to tell why once you've heard it:

Ladles and genitalmen, I give you... "I See the Rain," by The Neddie Jingo Experience, featuring Noel Redding!

*Succubus? But I barely knowubus!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Reviews We Never Finished Reading

If All This Seems Familiar, Well, It Should

by Ann Hornaday, Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 15, 2006

Filmgoers could be forgiven for feeling a vague frisson of deja vu...

Friday, October 13, 2006

Boy, That's One Fascinating Bellybutton

Blue Girl's got an absorbing set of posts up, replying to Tom Watson's exhortation to her and Mannion that we bloggers of Left Blogsylvania should, in this the runup to the election, be using the Inexorable Power of Our Prose to demonstrate the Righteousness of Our Cause.

Blue Girl makes the rather unassailable point that anybody likely to be a Blue Girl reader is also highly likely to be congenial to her politics, and that no argument she can make is likely to sway anyone away from their deepest prejudices. I would apply the same reasoning to the Friendly Confines in which you find yourself now; my careful eschewal of words like "wingnut" and "Rethuglican" have kept this humble blog far from the prying eyes and Technorati searches of those who merit these terms of endearment. (Oops!)

I'm not a researcher, or a teacher, or a student of political science. Besides the occasional satirical squib or horrified observation, I have very little to say in the political sphere that would enlighten, instruct or convince anyone who hasn't already decided about who he or she is voting for in November. And there are many, many, many others who "do" Politics far better than I possibly could.

"But there is turnout. Check that. There is only turnout," sez Tom, and he's absolutely right. But I would put it to him that demographic reality argues against my whooping and hollering about turning out the vote in these pages. A very rough analysis of my Statcounter numbers shows that about half of my "serious" visitors (i.e., not horndogs searching for pictures of Kate Hudson in toothsome repose) come to this blog from overseas. The other half come from every state of the Union -- including many in which the outcome of the midterm election is in no doubt whatever.

It's also worth noting in no uncertain terms that the Blogosphere is a mighty deceptive place. You jump in here, start yakking, and people start yakking back at you, and suddenly you're convinced that everybody in the whole world is in here with you. The truth of the matter is that there are millions. And millions. And millions of voters who don't even use computers, let alone haunt Left, Right or Center Bloggostan looking for a reason to vote.

There, Tom, is your Turnout.

Blogs are Global. Turnout is Local.

With something like this thought in mind, a couple weekends ago I marched up to the Jim Webb tent at the Lovettsville Octoberfest, buttonholed a woman with a clipboard, handed her $100 and allowed as to how I'd like to volunteer. I put my daytime, evening and cell phone numbers down on a signup sheet, told her I'd be happy to do phones, stuff envelopes, man tables -- everything except do door-to-door canvassing. (Bad hip and near-pathological aversion to Real Live People. 'Nuff Sed.)

I never heard back from her.

A friend of mine who's heavily into the local Democratic Party machine told me Webb's campaign is pretty disorganized. So be it.

So I'm trying again.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Beguiling the Time

Computer games bore the bejabbers out of me. Ennui overtakes me as I watch over Freddie's shoulder, his avatar striding some war-torn landscape engaging in hand-to-hand combat that he is eventually guaranteed to lose. The instant he overcomes his adversary, another one pops out of the bushes and off they go again. What's with all the agitá? What do these cartoon figures have against each other? Wouldn't they all be just happier if they knocked off the Warcrafting, rolled some doobage and told tall tales about chicks? Well, son, I think, there's four hours you'll never get back.

Yesterday, citing a sore hip, I slagged off work and took to my bed. (It really was sore; I'm beginning to knuckle under to the inevitability of a replacement -- but enough of that for now.) A look at the books on my bedside table stirred no excitement, and my thoughts rather unexpectedly strayed to a copy of Myst IV: Revelation I'd been given some while back. I'd laid it aside because it crashed on my old Mac laptop; but this new, more testicular one might handle it better. What better way to beguile the time on an unexpected afternoon in bed? I found the box on a shelf, threw on the software, and presently found myself blissfully, meditatively enthralled, wandering through a beautiful house built around a desert-canyon lagoon while soothing New-Agey music played unobtrusively. Sure, there were puzzles to solve, a backstory to unravel, but -- and this is the vitally important point -- nothing was trying to kill me!

I just hate it when things are trying to kill me. Don't you?

The appeal of the Myst series for me how unhurried the gameplay is. Rather than sock-pow frenzy, you're invited to explore these quite stunningly rendered landscapes at your leisure before you even bother to try to solve the puzzles and move on to the next level. I was quite tickled to find myself really admiring and envying the kitchen in the fantasy house in Tomahna, the first world: So simple! So austere! Yet so sumptuous! I really wish my kitchen were cantilevered impossibly out over a lagoon like this! I could really get some cooking done in a kitchen like this one! Yes, sir!

What? Puzzle? Save Achenar's daughter from the evil clutches of her malign brothers, destroyer of worlds? Who cares! Dig this kitchen!

But, as ever, my training as an interface designer also kept trying to assert itself -- to my chagrined amusement. I know the devices and doohickeys that one's meant to solve -- machines you have to repair in some way, codes you have to break, natural-world science you have to apply -- must necessarily obscure their own functionality, else they'd be pretty piss-poor puzzles. But in my "waking" life, as it were, this is precisely the sort of thing I'm paid to work very hard at avoiding. I kept asking, "Really, Achenar? You'd design a whole electrical system such that two obscure little symbols engraved on a terminal device provide the information necessary to run it, and the key to the symbols is to be found in a drawer in a desk in your bedroom all the way back on the other end of the house? Wouldn't it have been a more practical matter to simply put up a little sign?"

Or, "Really, Achenar? You'd build a lovely home clinging to cliffs over a lagoon, and then make inter-room navigation dependent on a single bridge that changes position to connect rooms depending on which way you push a control device? What if you really needed to go to the crapper all of a sudden? Is that really great design?"

Ah, well. In these games nobody ever has to go to the crapper. Maybe that's their problem over at Warcraft. They're all plugged up. They should relax, let go. Second door on your right. What's that? How do you open the door? Ah... I shan't tell you and spoil the puzzle!

(Later edit: I once wandered into a video-game store in a shopping mall, to placate Freddie's pleading. Remembering how much I'd enjoyed the Playstation version of Myst III, I inquired of the tattooed clerk (who could easily have been played by Jack Black) if there were any games in his shop that weren't about killing, mayhem, bloodlust, and the skillful manipulation of unintuitive, thumb-intensive combinations of R-1 and X and Triangle buttons. Games like, you know, Myst.

(After staring at me as though I'd just sprouted a penis from my forehead, he just grinned and shook my hand. "No," was all he said.

(I find this less than credible. I put it to my wise and cultured readership: Are there any other games in this vein? No killing, no anxiety, no obscure button combinations to be found on page 125 of the manual? Just, you know, puzzles. And trippy landscapes. Surely there must be!)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Fantasy Football

I was having a nice chinwag with the lads from the Sports Desk a few days ago. The talk very quickly turned to their Fantasy Football league, and there ensued quite a lot of somewhat mystifying insider palaver on injury reports, lineup changes, and the effect of Clinton Portis on the Washington Redskins' offense.

Playing the innocent ingenue (the pleasures of this pastime being completely lost on me), I asked them for a rundown on just how this Fantasy thing works. I received a five-minute lecture on drafts, player performance, the points system, and league standings.

"That's very interesting, I suppose," I mused. "But, uh, wouldn't you rather be having, you know, sex?"

I didn't mean with each other, but from the stunned silence that greeted my innocent question you'd have thought that's exactly what I had implied.

Blithely, I chattered on, "You know, given the choice between Clinton Portis' yards-per-carry average and a round of mindblowing boffage, I'm pretty sure I'd take the rogering every time. Women? Football? What's to choose?"

Oh dear. Might have hit a sore spot there.

Sorry, fellas. I hear there are chicks on eHarmony who just love guys who are way into sports...

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Gram the One-Eyed Snake

Rep. Ezra Canney-Pickham (left) and his correspondent, Elmo Trotwoodie, in the days before the scandal broke.

In the wake of the burgeoning Foley instant-message fiasco, it appears that many who would rush to defend the status quo ante take the tack that this sort of thing goes on all the time. No one at this point will be unaware that Tony Snow declared, the Monday after Foley's resignation, "I hate to tell you, but it's not always pretty up there on Capitol Hill. And there have been other scandals, as you know, that have been more than simply naughty e-mails."

Promoting the idea that wholesale institutional depravity is simply business-as-usual in Washington is, I suppose, one way of dealing with the problem. Other vested interests have pointed to the case of Democratic Rep. Gerry Studds, who was caught boffing a 17-year-old male Congressional page in 1983 -- as if this were simply a matter of balance. Congressmen bugger about thirty pages a day, it seems to suggest, and now it's simply the GOP's turn to get caught. Move on. Nothing to see here.

But that "naughty e-mails" business interests me as a student of the history of literature. The transcripts of the Instant Message conversations that ABC News released is sleazy in the extreme, not only because of their deeply icky motives, but because the conversations themselves are so depressingly banal. The Congressman even appears to reply earnestly to his victim's Away message early in one conversation, which does not exactly belie a parfait gentil knight in the Art of CyberPederasty.

It's immediately clear that the Instant Message does not threaten the Shakespearean sonnet's place in the literature of the seduction of the underaged. It's a painful harbinger of the degradation of our times to compare
A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion
Maf54 (8:04:58 PM): love to slip them off of you
Xxxxxxxxx (8:05:08 PM): haha
Maf54 (8:05:53 PM): and gram the one eyed snake
Maf54 (8:06:13 PM): grab
(It may be nauseatingly squalid, but this four-line exchange is also excruciatingly funny black comedy. Come on, let's admit it. I can't help but notice the ten seconds that pass between "love to slip them off of you" and the painfully nervous "haha" that follows, and the fully twenty seconds that pass between "gram the one-eyed snake" and the entirely unnecessary correction of the typo. There's a whole novel in those pauses.)

It's tempting to declare the Instant Message the doom of artistic pedophilic seduction, but in truth it's been a long, slow death. A little-remembered scandal that erupted on the American scene in 1882 has amazing parallels to the Foley case, but no one in the press or broadcast media has yet mentioned it -- despite the opportunity it presents to demonstrate Tony Snow's hypothesis.

In that halcyon year, a Democratic Congressman from Ohio's Third District, Ezra Canney-Pickham, fell hard for a Congressional page from Georgia named Elmo Trotwoodie, apparently a young man of no insignificant personal charm. After Trotwoodie, then aged seventeen, finished his period of service, he returned to his home in Goshen Villa, near Savannah. Canney-Pickham pursued his passion by means of the Instant Message of his day, the telegraph.

The correspondence attracted the attention of the local paper, the Savannah Inquisitor, and it was a matter of only a few months before the entire nation hung on its every dispatch. Below we reproduce the salient portions of the lewd exchange.

Twatleigh Tower
13th Street
Washington, DC
June 14th


3 Sparta Terrace
Goshen Villa
June 15th


Washington, DC
June 16th


Goshen Villa
June 17th


Washington, DC
June 19th


Goshen Villa
June 20th


Washington, DC
June 21st


Goshen Villa
June 22nd


Washington, DC
June 23rd


Soon after this point the Inquisitor wrote finis to the Congressman's predatory career.

Plus ça change, eh what? Let us this aphorism bear in mind while condemning Foley to hell: There but for the grace of -- no, wait a minute....

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Plain People

The Amish are averse to any technology which they feel weakens the family structure. The conveniences that the rest of us take for granted such as electricity, television, automobiles, telephones and tractors are considered to be a temptation that could cause vanity, create inequality, or lead the Amish away from their close-knit community and, as such, are not encouraged or accepted in most orders. (Source: Amish 101 - Amish Culture, Beliefs & Lifestyle)
An admirable asceticism, too often misunderstood by we English. The Amish don't object to technology per se. What they distrust about it is its inherent divisiveness, its tendency to tempt vanity. If a modern device or technological advancement can be shown to improve life or the common safety without introducing competitiveness or vanity, most Ordnungs adopt it without cavil. Thus vaccination, electric lights on buggies, community telephones, electrically heated homes -- for which they often produce the power themselves, with windmills).

As I say, all very admirable, nearly Buddhist in its rejection of complexity. Were it not for all the silly monotheism, I might be tempted to apply for the straw hat and the chinstrap beard myself. Although perhaps I might not qualify for membership. I lack the requisite forbearance, the humility, the patience. While I'm intensely aware of technology's darker side and sympathetic to those who reject it, I lack the ascetic self-control that would prevent me from attending a funeral unencumbered by the mechanical advantage and efficient leverage afforded by a baseball bat.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Who Is IOZ?, the funniest blog I've stumbled upon in quite some time, eructs something that's been stewing in my mind as well. How do you raise righteous indignation against a Keystone Kops version of Fascism?
If I'm going to suffer through the detention-and-disappearing state for the next year, the next ten, or the next fifty, then by fucking god, I want banners, rallies, party congresses, black uniforms, ominous dear-leader portraits scowling from every wall. Maybe that's the genius of our nouveaux authoritarians: central casting. How can you create yourself as a revolutionary against these people? If Leni Reifenstahl returned to make George Bush's Triumph of the Will, it'd come out of the cutting room as State Fair. In their preternatural boobery, they make radicalism seem like overreaction. We should be storming the White House in mass demonstrations, but what would we do when we found our native strongman reading Archie comics on the shitter?



I am one self-centered turd.

Supposed ta be buildin' a goddamn community, here, a Twenty-First Century MetaCollective, a balls-out leap into the unknown that we all take together!!!

An' here's me, month after month, sitting in front of the goddamned mirror, gazing deeply into the strange, unnatural beauty of my own (admittedly captivating, limpid-pool-of-deep-deep-water-resembling) eyes.

Fuck me and my narcissism!

Let's fix that, shall we?

Will Divide, of Huck and Jim, 's been commenting here with lucidity and an impressive command of lit'ry insight, most of it, apparently, learned at the feet of Deadwood's David Milch. Welcome to the blogroll, cocksucker! I loved this post about the imminent demise of the Party We Do Not Mention in These Pages. His name is either a verb or not, depending on whether you want it to be.

Patrick of Blowing Sh*t Up with Gas has likewise been mixing it up in here most engagingly for some time. Dude, Oranges and Lemons is great, but the XTC album you want is either Skylarking or Apple Venus Volume One.

Fuckin' sidesplittingly mordant post.

No Comments.

Trouser-endangeringly mordant cartoon by the artist's own hand.

No Comments.

What the hell's a mordant guy gotta do? Turn mordant somersaults?

Go enjoy the mordancy of the highly mordant Fred Wickham of Bullseye Rooster. When he's rich and famous for his both mordant and extremely mordant observations, maybe he'll remember the Little People who made it all necessary.

There. Now, back to that mirror....