August, 2011

Aug 11

Thousands of sounds…of silence

Thousands of daily hits to this site, lots of visits, but no comments of late. (Well, one.) I feel like a guy in a big empty cavern, far, far underground shouting into the empty darkness with a megaphone. Only the echoes of my own voice come back to me. It’s so far underground not even bats respond. I think I hear the scuttling of albino invertebrates perhaps…

I suspect that the problem is just the way our comments is set up. I’ll see if I can improve that.

“Careful what you wish for, Shirley”

I’m going to look about at some other blogs…see how comment heavy they are…

Aug 11

Forecasters Predict a Destructive Front of Cable News Hysteria

Hurricane Irene is sidling up to the Eastern seaboard like a mean, fat biker chick sidling up to a bar, spoiling for a fight. She’s gonna kick a few asses, and break some glasses, and–probably fall into a drunken, snoring stupor.

Reduced to category 1, she’s already made landfall in the Carolinas and the damage is fractional compared to what was predicted by wide-eyed people impressed by the square-mileage of the hurricane. Not that I’d want to be in the midst of it–the hurricane will do some damage, even serious damage, in places. Power outages will be especially problematic. But compared to the near-apocalypse that was being predicted, well…

You can see the disappointment in the eyes of the anchors on CNN and MSNBC. They were so hoping for a real catastrophe. They try to put the letdown in its best light. “While the damage here wasn’t what was expected, several thousand dollars of window panes were destroyed at this resort and it may take a good long time to clean up…”

Part of the hysteria, and the over-preparation on the part of the Governor of New Jersey, was a result of the relative rarity of hurricanes in that part of the world. A hurricane so sprawlingly large rarely threatens areas as far north as New Jersey and New York. As it turns out, much of Irene’s energy is already spent and the likelihood of serious damage to Manhattan, for example, seems minimal. I could be wrong; I hope I’m right. I do think it won’t be as bad as expected.

One is instantly reminded of the hair-tearing coverage of the recent “Washington DC earthquake”, a quake that would scarcely have raised eyebrows in Los Angeles. Again, Cable News was palpably disappointed that the only result was a crack in the Washington Monument.

That “catastrophe”, too, caught everyone’s attention because natural disaster scenarios don’t often happen there, in the DC. Naturally, religious zealots jumped on the anomaly, claimed it was a warning from God. Just as some claimed that Katrina was the judgment of God about New Orleans partying.

Actually, as I’ve pointed out before, when blistering heat punishes Texas and we have mild temperatures in the San Francisco area, it indicates that God is a Democrat. Doubtless Irene is the Judgement of God against New Jersey for having a Republican governor. If they’d had a Democrat, Irene would have spent her fury on the Carolinas–states run by Republicans.

Anyhow, next time there’s an anomalous meteorological or geological event, CNN and MSNBC will again forget all about Afghanistan or Libya, or the economy, or the Presidential race, and pound the drums hysterically over their hoped-for apocalypse, usually making things worse for everyone. Their coverage of the recession made the recession worse, since frantic doomsday scenarios in the economy are self fulfilling prophecies, causing the stock market to plunge and investment to choke up; their coverage of Casey Anthony will see to it she has a great book deal; their coverage of the absurd Michelle Bachmann, purely because she’s colorful, increases her chances of being elected…And they spend significant amounts of air time reading people’s facebook posts and tweets to us…

Thank God cable news is there, covering what matters…

If you want to read about a real, kick-ass anomalous hurricane–an “extra tropical cyclone” in this case–check out The 1962 Columbus Day Storm. I was in it as a child. I remember it pretty vividly…Our chickens vanished into the sky, our oak tree came down, most of our barn did too. And that was after a mountain range had slowed it down.

Aug 11

My Personal Paranoia: The Conspiracy Theory Skeptic Wonders if, Once…

We’re always hearing this guy on Ghost Hunters and UFO documentaries–the guy who says, “Now, I’ve always been a skeptical guy, I never believed in this stuff, but when I saw this, I had to admit…” And I always think “Bullshit! You were never a skeptic, you don’t know what skepticism really means, because if you take this feeble ‘evidence’ as proof of this supposed paranormal phenomenon, then you’re a million miles from real rational skepticism…”

Now, I’ve always been a skeptical guy about most conspiracy theories, very skeptical indeed. But it’s just possible I was subjected to a secret government program, when I was a teenager. I’m not convinced of it. But…

Look, with tales of secret govt experiments, and conspiracies, the more outlandish they are, the more skeptical I am. I have checked out 9 /11 conspiracy theories–and I dismiss them. I believe they’re simply wrong. (Although it’s just possible that Cheney and friends knew the terrorist attack was coming and allowed it to happen so they’d get their “Pearl Harbor”.) I certainly don’t believe in “the international Zionist conspiracy.” I have seen no believable indication of a conspiratorial cover up of extraterrestrial visitation or alien abductions or secret bases under Dulce frequented by aliens and Nazis. I’m on the fence about the JFK assassination. Still, conspiracies exist, up to a point: Some Romans successfully conspired to kill Julius Caesar; some Germans conspired to kill Hitler (a shame that conspiracy failed). The Iran/Contra affair was a conspiracy, of sorts. Going back decades, the CIA’s overthrow of elected foreign governments was conspiratorial and was covered up…for awhile. It came out eventually.

And there were secret domestic programs, yes, carried out by government intelligence services. Eg, there were attempts at working up mind control drugs at MK Ultra. Yes, MK Ultra existed (most of what hysterical people attribute to it didn’t happen, though) and its operatives used LSD on unwitting Americans, sometimes with tragic consequences. There were rumors that hallucinogenic drugs were developed as weapons and were tested on unwitting people in secret programs…

One of those weapon-grade drugs was (by some accounts) called STP. And STP is a drug I took–at least, that’s what I was told it was called–when I was a teenager. Just once. It didn’t turn out well.

I was, perhaps, 17 years old, when I took one hit of the supposed “STP”–and went psychotic under the influence of the drug. I broke all the windows in the house, chased my mother with a knife, and was dragged off to a mental hospital by cops who cuffed my wrists to my ankles and tossed me in the back seat of their cruiser where I nearly choked to death on my own vomit. They took me to the security ward of the state hospital in Salem, Oregon, the same one Ken Kesey had worked at…the same one that inspired One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. They gave me Thorazine…and that didn’t turn out well either. I hallucinated, in restraints, for what seemed like an eternity. When I finally came to myself I woke up lying on my back, on a table, in restraints, staring at a naked light bulb on the ceiling. My head was shaved.

Ah, fond memories of youth.

When I woke up, the drug had worn off, and I was sane again. I was in the hospital for four or five days. They let me out and I muddled along, but I was a bit damaged by the experience for some considerable time. That same year I was expelled from high school for locking a teacher in a closet. (My behavior at school on that occasion wasn’t as bad as it sounds, but there’s no doubt it was an ugly screw-up on my part. My judgment was still impaired.)

I got my GED and went to Portland State University and got on with life, in fits and starts. But somewhere, in the course of time, I read that the drug STP was developed as a weapon. (There are contradictory stories about its development). And I’d read, too, that Senator Church’s congressional committee discovered that MK Ultra did in fact test drugs on unwitting citizens. (Boy, was I ever “unwitting”. Not to mention witless.) I’ve always wondered…

Recently on my trip to Oregon I saw someone I’d known in high school. This was the guy who gave me the “STP”. He recollected the incident. He said he got it from a friend of his dad’s. The friend, he remembered, was a straight guy, who had some connection with the US Government. This associate of his father gave him the drug. He didn’t sell it to him. My friend’s dad had been a “narc” of some kind–some sort of narcotics enforcement official. Now if you wanted to test the stuff “in the field” maybe you’d go to a guy like that, show him your credentials, and say, “We’re looking for people who take drugs. We want to see what this one does to them. Since they’re taking drugs anyway…”

Was I observed, when I flipped out? Was it recorded in a file, somewhere? Use the Freedom of Information Act, you say? But I’d have to know what agency to send the request to. MK Ultra, for example, no longer exists.

If you look up the drug STP, by the way, you may read that it was invented by Owsley, and the letters supposedly stand for serenity and tranquility etc. Either the single dose I took was crazily high, somehow, or this wasn’t Owsley’s STP. Maybe the guy who gave it to us just called it STP so “the hippies” would take it. Anyway, I promise you, serenity and tranquility were nowhere involved.

I am, no, not pulling a “I was always a skeptic about conspiracies but when I saw this…” Not really. I am far from convinced I was the victim of a secret government program. I do wonder about it, especially after talking to my high school friend. But my friend’s recollections, after all these years (I’m now 58) might be off; or he might have misunderstood the situation even if he is remembering rightly. And his version is mostly just hearsay.

All I know is that what happened to me was a crime of some kind. It was one I stupidly took part in, by knowingly taking a mind altering drug that came to me “on the street”. But I’m not the only criminal in the case. Someone very nearly ruined my life for me. Maybe the guy was just an ordinary drug dealer promoting a new high…

Maybe not.

Aug 11

“…one of the most frightening books of fiction one may ever encounter”

Frightening fiction doesn’t appeal? Disturbing fiction too…disturbing? Then you won’t want to read IN EXTREMIS: THE MOST EXTREME SHORT STORIES OF JOHN SHIRLEY from Underland Press.

Here’s the BOOKLIST review.

Here’s Underland’s interview with me about the book. My apologia, if you like.

And the book cover for In Extremis is right here on this page, on the right side, underneath the cover for Everything is Broken.

Aug 11

NotedNews: Ready to choke and die? Republicans want to Destroy the EPA

The GOP is planning to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency completely. Ready for that?

“Imagining a California without an E.P.A. is visualizing a landscape where acrid smog returns, compromised aquifers are unusable and only the suicidal would live near a factory.”

Read about it at the New York Times.

Aug 11

Kinda Sums it Up: “Republicans To Oppose Tax Cut For Working People”

“The tax cut will expire in January, and many of the same Republican lawmakers who fought tooth and nail to preserve the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy are now coming out against an extension of the payroll tax holiday.”

Check out the full article at ThinkProgress.

That’s the GOP, exposed. They’re opposed to ending tax cuts for big business and the super wealthy. They’re FOR ending tax cuts for middle class and lower middle class working people.

It’s clearer than ever they’ve chosen sides…And all they do is lie about whose side they’re on.

Aug 11

Splatterpunk Utopia

[the following "essay" was originally published in i09 Magazine, online. I posted some excerpts here, but this is the full piece. It's more of a rant, really, than an essay. It's not as substantiated and devastatingly organized as an essay should be. It's more emotionally than rationally argued. It's just how I felt about the world that day and in large part it's how I still feel. I think there's truth in it...BTW if it seems like I'm prejudiced against Florida, it's because I am--since the 2000 Presidential elections. GOP Floridians actively subverted the election and stole the vote. So we got Bush and the Iraq war and a huge deficit and environmental wreckage. Thanks, Florida.]

Splatterpunk Utopia
by John Shirley

And heaven, I think—is too close to Hell…
–The Jesus and Mary Chain, “Darklands”

Yesterday, driving my car to get take-out, I heard a radio report about famine in the horn of Africa. The reported concluded with a rather offhanded remark that struck piercingly home: “Mothers walking to the distant Food Center have had to abandon their weakest child by the road in the hopes of getting to food with their stronger child, so that at least one of the children might survive.”

Immediately after this remark, the station launched into a commercial for Burger King’s “Bacon Whopper”. And immediately after that came an ad for weight loss “lap bands”. No one apologized for this obvious, callous irony. We accept the disconnect. We’re used to it.

Then there’s Florida. It’s a state that serves up plenty of the examples I need.

A few days ago, in Florida, a teenager killed his parents with a hammer, methodically bludgeoning them to death. After laying them out in their bedroom he called his friends up, and announced a beer party at his house. A noisy, well-attended party was held while the bodies of boy’s parents were still cooling upstairs.

Also in scenic Florida, not long ago, several young people beat another child to death over a perceived slight; they then cut the body into pieces and tried to hide it in a lagoon.

A couple of months ago, adolescents in Florida set a boy on fire due to a dispute over an X-Box. The burned child survived, but it was a close thing.

I write dark science-fiction, horrific noir, and horror—and yet it’s difficult for me to keep up with the world. (Or even just Florida).

This is the age when the splatterpunk genre, in film and fiction, has given way to “torture porn”—a derisive term used by critics of films like Saw. Me, I’ve written some quite extreme fiction. Some of my writing—like the novels WETBONES (from eReads, currently) and IN DARKNESS WAITING (Infrapress)– appears to have been among the progenitors of “splatterpunk”, or so I’m told. Some of my fiction is collected in a new book, IN EXTREMIS: THE MOST EXTREME SHORT STORIES OF JOHN SHIRLEY (Underland Press). But I feel confident that even my darkest writing, at its most grotesque, is not salacious; that it is a kind of meaningful protest, a wakeup call–that it at least aspires to be art.

Usually I get a good reviews—though the reviewer might sound a bit shell shocked—but once upon a time a critic in Kirkus discussing my admittedly extreme novel THE VIEW FROM HELL asked, “There are readers who suck his lollipops of pain?” A memorable line! (I’m planning to market some lollipops of pain, at some point.)

Lollipops of pain, if you say so; true splatterpunk, only occasionally; but I’ve never written so-called “torture porn”, in prose or script. Several points sharply distinguish my writing from that sort, but the most obvious is the point of view; there’s always something salacious, something innately sadistic about “torture porn”, a subgenre that crouches in the point of view of the monster and never seriously departs from it. There’s something distinctly sociopathic about it. Movies like The Devil’s Rejects , the Japanese film Audition, the Saw movies, come to mind–they seem eagerly sadistic. The French film Martyrs may have some redeeming social meaning but ultimately it’s torture porn. At best “Torture porn” seems a steam valve for a pressure that should never have built up—and it never has a genuine message. More meaningful examples of extreme fiction and film expose sadism, or the brutal, dehumanizing absurdities of life, without losing a moral center.

Still, I think it unlikely that the basest splatterpunk films, torture porn, or even violent videogames spark the rising violence we’re seeing in people.

(Allow me an aside to dismiss one objection that people glibly fling about regarding the contemporary bubbling up of startling viciousness in surprising numbers of people—the notion that “this kind of thing always happened, it just wasn’t reported in the 1950s and 60s before the age of the 24 hour news cycle”. No, I promise you, any insane act of astonishing violence would have been widely reported in newspapers across the country—and was, on the rare occasions when it happened—with a technology we had at the time. It was something called “telegraphy”. News was sent “on the wire”. We didn’t actually have to use talking drums.)

Perhaps wildly violent entertainment media encourages a hardness, a mean jadedness—but clearly the Columbine killers committed mass murder because they were damaged by something other than media. Common sense tells us that a young man who beats his parents’ brains in and then calls his friends to a beer party doesn’t do it because he watched House of 1000 Corpses or the remake of Halloween–nor because he enjoys playing the very splatterpunk F.E.A.R. 2 videogame.

Where’s the damage coming from, then? Some say it’s environmental—and it’s true that neurotoxins are flowing unhindered all around us; in plastics that leach into our food, in phthalates; in pesticides sprayed on our food, seeped into our water.

But I suspect it’s more to do with a toxic cognitive dissonance, with a poisonous shame–and fundamental emotional disconnection.

Here are two headlines from the new issue of LiveScience magazine: Fatty Comfort Food Lessens Sad Feelings …and, Tech Withdrawal Similar to Giving Up Drinking and Smoking.

There are tons, as it were, of obese people; perhaps a good deal of the cause of the plague of obesity is as simple as sadness, and a misguided attempt to relieve it with fatty foods. How’d they get so sad in the first place? And how caught up in tech do you have to be to suffer actual physical withdrawal?

Meanwhile, an op-ed piece in The New York Times opines that while the internet, smart phones and social media expand our contacts on certain levels, these technologies actually foster a kind of neurotic introversion—it’s all a safe substitute for direct human contact.

Suppose it’s all connected. Suppose it’s the case that people now grow up feeling no real attachment to their families—and no fundamental grasp of their society. Deeply saddened and only fragmentarily socialized, they feel uncomfortable with real intimacy, with face to face friends. Their families, after all, are fragile, often broken by divorce; their parents are confused, angry, disappointed in life. Young people are taught to aim for colleges that thrall them in debt; they’re taught to squirm for expendable jobs that, if they’re lucky, turn out to be dead ends. They’re forced to accept some franchised cog in the cognitive dissonance of corporate civilization as their place in life—but they feel no real connection to it. Every time they start to get some sense of who they might be, another media trend or economic crisis, like an undertow, yanks their identity off its feet—like kicking the legs out from under a toddler who’s just learned to walk. They suffer in increasing numbers from the mysterious plague of ADHD—its cause is unknown but somehow attention deficit seems weirdly designed for the 21st century world.

They eat a bacon Whopper and then hear, perhaps, of people abandoning one child so another child can live—and some of them twist inwardly in shame. To deal with that, they lol about it all online.

The wealthy, the famous, the privileged are ever present in the new media super-reality. The average person feel stunted, humiliated by constant social comparisons, reminders of their own status as “loser”.

They start to simmer with anger inside—when the simmer becomes a boil, they look for media that offers release. The vileness of torture porn– entertainment deliberately designed to be without ethical compass–offers a sluice to funnel away the sudden, painful spurts of venomous fury…

For some it’s not enough. The most damaged become violent psychopaths. They’re people who failed to connect, to bond on the most basic level, with parents hopelessly sucked away into the seething anxieties of corporate civilization. So perhaps they smash their disconnected parents with ball peen hammers and call for a beer party as the blood drips onto the floor upstairs.

Anyway, it’s a theory—a hypothesis about a syndrome of frustration and disconnection enhanced by the ungraspable Teflon surfaces of corporation-defined society.

For too many people, there’s nothing to really relate to, nothing to center on—and when your family chills, far away from you, in Xanax and the Shopping Channel, maybe you want to scream…or set someone on fire.

It seems to me, though, that we’re adapting in a perverse, deformed way. Our corporate civilization is working up its own little splatterpunk utopia. It’s cultivating a new corporate organism and we’re finding our psychopathic places in it. Sure, some can’t take the pressure, and they turn to extremes of violence, like all those men we’ve gotten used to, who kill their families, and then themselves. But most of us accept the palliatives, the catharsis we’re offered.

We’re learning to survive within a societal paradox– a socialized sociopathy. We give up family and real community–and we accept the corporate civilization without protest. We find our place in the splatterpunk utopia.

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Aug 11

Meet you in the Overlap

I both connected and didn’t on my recent trip to my hometown. Sometimes it was as if there was a sheet of glass between me and the things I should have felt some connection to. I could see them but I couldn’t “touch” them. There were people I encountered I felt the same way about.

But that’s really how it always is, most of the time. If you see yourself with a degree or better of objectivity, you’ll probably agree that most of the time we’re isolated, right in the midst of the crowd. Only when we share certain overlapping states of mind do we really feel connected. This goes for family; for wives and husbands; for parents and children; for best friends, too.

It’s a hard thing to express, in brief, but it seems important, seems very much “of the essence” of human life. Of course, an obvious societal corollary would be in diplomacy–diplomats are well aware that in trying to bridge political and cultural gaps, one usually starts by finding points of commonality, and there always are some. Everyone needs to eat; everyone needs shelter; most everyone is concerned with protecting family, beliefs, property, basic rights. The disagreement arises in deciding what “protecting” might mean, where property begins and ends, and so on. Diplomats find ways, though, to find commonality, and over time can sometimes bring about peaceful resolution by simply arranging for people in opposition to see each other’s commonality, however limited it might be. Two chieftains meeting each other’s families are more likely to experience overlap, a simple state of mind that is a kind of medium for shared experience. In it, somewhere, is a spark of real oneness.

Now, the same phenomenon takes place in the home, sometimes almost at random, sometimes arranged by ritual. The wife and husband like to take in–with ritual regularity–a certain show on television, together; or perhaps a ballgame, a favorite hike, or a night out watching their favorite comedian. They’re taking in this particular stimulus together; sharing the same input. The process puts them in a fairly congruent state of mind. Their most inward experience may still be largely isolated–one looks out of one sets of eyes at a time, one’s own–but their experience of the world overlaps, like two drawn circles showing overlap but with separate centers. Within that narrow area of overlap a kind of harmonious ripple is set up, and information is unconsciously passed along that ripple. The information has to do with mutual acceptance, the quiet celebration of congruency. “My note vibrates in harmony with yours.” No one thinks of this at the time, but the message is passed, somehow, in the background of the shared experience.

Overlap can happen with negative consequences too. Two people get together, both with racist inclinations. They disagree except for their racism. They share a racist point of view and it allows them to put aside their disagreement long enough to act on their racism…And something bad happens. Someone, a third party, gets hurt.

But much of the time, it seems to me, this overlap is a positive thing. It’s a break from the isolation of the inner self.

Sure, we communicate all day. We make cell phone calls; some of us text and instant message; we yammer over a water cooler. But it’s almost like two crickets “talking” in the night. Not much is communicated. There’s no deep fellow-feeling in those kinds of communications.

By contrast, when we share an experience in person, there’s real overlap, a dropping of defenses–and the deeper self is in some way touched…

Aug 11

NotedNews: Just More of the Christian Family Values S. Carolina is so Proud Of

“(CBS/AP) LADSON, S.C. – South Carolina pastor Dale Richardson has been charged with kidnapping and raping several women at gunpoint, including two of them in a trailer behind his church. He is also accused of kidnapping a fourth… when the 20-year-old tried to exit out of the car, Richardson allegedly pulled a gun, bound her hands, covered her head and took her to the gray-blue trailer home behind the Free Will Baptist Church in Ladson.”

Read the article…

Aug 11

NotedNews: Kelloggs Owns all Toucans

“The toucan is native to Mesoamerica, which is why the Maya Archaeology Initiative, a group that defends Mayan culture, chose to use the bird as its logo. Of course, the toucan is also native to boxes of Kellogg Co.’s Froot Loops cereal—and now the company wants the initiative to limit its use of the toucan logo, because it looks too much like Froot Loops’ Toucan Sam mascot, the AP reports.”

They’ve sent a cease and desist letter to the Mayans! So we’re told at the Newser site.

Astounding arrogance. California, which uses a bear on its flag, will soon be sued, I’m sure, by the Post breakfast cereal company, because Post owns all bears thanks to their Sugar Bear.

To see the Mayan organization’s logo (which looks nothing like Toucan Sam) go HERE.