Mar 15

“Spock? I thought you were dead.”

An eerie moment tonight…

I felt some appreciation of the late Leonard Nimoy was needed tonight, in our house, somehow, and as we just got the Blu Ray restoration of STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN we watched that. Others too have no doubt raised their eyebrows and shivered a little, rewatching the film recently, as Kirk reunites with now-Captain Spock, and the first thing Kirk says “I thought you were dead.”

Of course, the plot of the film itself involves Spock’s demise, so Nimoy expired twice in a short time, for me.

THE WRATH OF KHAN starts off a bit raggedly–partly because Kirstie Alley seems woefully miscast as a vulcan, and other scenes seem stilted, and of course the bridge tech is now sadly outdated. But the film soon goes into warp drive –we take pleasure in the adoring shots of the Enterprise leaving dry dock, Nicholas Meyer’s feel for the Big Story and the grand theme, the energy of clashing personalities, the sheer fun (and effulgent charisma) of Montalban chewing the scenery as Khan quoting Moby Dick, and, after all, the film still works. The Genesis device, too, is still an interesting concept. And of course Spock’s parting scene with Kirk is genuinely touching. Nimoy was a wonderful Spock in life and wonderfully poignant now, as Spock dying.

Mar 15

Has The Walking Dead Become Mere… ‘Torture Porn”?

I always did enjoy well crafted horror, but, despite my having written some extreme fiction, I don’t have the stomach for some extreme imagery in film and television. This last episode of THE WALKING DEAD…well…I keep starting to swear off The Walking Dead but then they do something that makes me curious. They’re very clever at that. And the actors are good, direction is good, dialogue is good…So I grudgingly start watching again. I think they may finally have pushed me too far. They seem to have crossed a line into torture porn. Watching two characters get eaten alive, in one episode, up close and personal, drawing the process out…showing most of it…and one of them a beloved character … the whole bit with the revolving door was very clever…But…

And the recent sequence about the horse being eaten alive was altogether too cruel, to say the least. And it wasn’t long ago that the production terrified a baby–actually terrified it–in order to get it scream in fear on camera.

Probably as there are, if I recollect rightly, just two more episodes in this season, I’ll watch them, having watched all the others. Curiosity mostly. But I doubt I return next season. I mean, I had feelings akin to PTSD, from watching this latest episode. The show’s all misery, all the time. Not that it probably wouldn’t be like that if it played out in the world, given the premise. But it’s just depressing. And now this latest–I’ll have distressing memories of that imagery every time I go through a revolving door. They really didn’t have to *show* that stuff happening. Up close.

Also it seemed to me there were other solutions to the character’s dilemma…

And here’s more about the infant-child abuse that–arguably–took place on the set of The Walking Dead, all for your entertainment: http://www.john-shirley.com/blog/?p=2459

Mar 15

“Harvester of Eyes, That’s Me”

There is no one time for harvest. It’s always harvest time. The cemeteries throng with the hulls of ongoing harvests. Who is the harvester? Merely the old man with the long beard, or Time, the winged hourglass seen on the old Calvinist headstones? Or is it the hooded scythe bearer? No, those are the masks of the harvester’s servant.

The harvester watches from within us; and it watches from without, perhaps using the moon as its magnifying lens. It is the harvester of perception, of experience. The harvester is seated behind every pair of human eyes, behind ego and false self; it’s seated too, in simpler creatures: behind the glittering eyes of a bird, behind clusters of spider eyes. It watches from behind blind fish; it harvests all perception, even perception via cilia. The harvester reaps *seeing* itself, along with the raw energy of untamed life released when the organism disintegrates…

The death of the outer organism, of the vehicle of the faceless infinite inner seer, then comes about in utter completeness: unrestrained, unstoppable, annihilating personality, memory, conventional self–unless…

Unless the outer organism, sentient enough, perceptive enough, and diligent enough, makes an arrangement with the harvester, and creates a field of independent selfhood that can perceive, and harvest, in other planes; to provide more finely attuned harvests for the harvester.

Or, cf., this book, say: Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas

Mar 15

Nature Will Not Be Overthrown

Outside, here in central California, on this muggy warm spring day we can pretend that all is well; water is in short supply but we can still water our flowers for now. And flowers, wild and cultivated, are in such frantic bud, so widespread, so sharply in color contrast, you think unavoidably of a very-slow-motion film of fireworks unfolding. The hills are billowy frozen waves of green, stippled with amber-colored California poppies; wallowy waves eternally about to break over our suburban valley. At the base of the hills, numerous wild turkeys are promenading, waddling along making their absurd gobble which seems perfectly dignified to them; so do their splendid fans of tailfeather displays. The hens seem unimpressed.

Tiny beelike insects, which don’t seem bees but which clearly are packing on the pollen–I can see it on their legs–appear to be filling the niche left by the diminished honeybees. They’re an insect called “bee flies”. Real honeybees there are, but fewer than in previous years. Scarcely a breeze at the moment but you can feel the air on your skin as you walk through laterally trailing cottonwood puffs; our wisteria seeming very optimistic in its gush of rather sexy violet catkins. Nature will not be overthrown. Our little human niche may be crushed, humanity overthrown, but not nature.

Mar 15


There was a man sitting in a car, in front of my house, intently watching my empty driveway. He was sitting in a rather dusty old Honda Acura, hunched over the wheel, staring. I was coming into the front yard to water the plants, and he noticed me looking at him.

He got out of the car–a fox-faced Hispanic man of about forty, casually dressed, slight accent–smiling and waving. “Hi! There’s been a mix up at Fed Ex! They are accidentally sending my packages to your address! I just spoke to them–the driver’s on the way!” A wider, toothier smile now. “Do you mind if I pick up the packages here?”

“Um…guess not.” I decided I’d think about this some more as I did my watering, see what’s up. I began watering, and pondering, and as each second passed I became more certain that something illegal was going on here, and it was an illegality that used my street address. I didn’t have my cell phone on me. I decided to go into the house and get a pen and paper and my phone, write down his license number–but that’s when the Fed Ex truck drove up.

Waiting Man rushed up to the driver, chucklingly gave him the story, gave him a name…I heard “Garcia”…and apparently showed some form of ID. The driver barely glanced at it, and handed over four packages, each the size of a brick; the man from the Acura walked toward his car happily looking the packages over, hefting them one by one. He really looked pleased.

The Fed Ex truck left and I hurried in to get a pen. I should have tried to memorize the plate, because when I came out Waiting Man was gone.

I called the police and a local cop took the incident report. Yeah, a common scam, he said. They used fake data to buy a phone, they have it shipped to someone else’s address, then intercept the delivery and pick it up there. Nothing the police can do without a plate number. Tell Fed Ex, he advised.

I called Fed Ex and they said, “All I can tell you is that four cell phones went to that address from Verizon. It says here, cell phones…” They wouldn’t talk to the cops. Suggested I tell Verizon.

You can’t email Verizon about this topic–their email fraud form is only for, well, email fraud, there’s no other useful email address. Nor could I find a postal mailing address for administration. So I called them, spoke to billing–couldn’t get anyone there interested in the issue because that was not their department. “We only deal with new accounts or billing problems…”

I decided I’d done what I could. But within ten days we got a pile of separate bills from Verizon for “Donald Kinyon” and “Victoria Kinyon”, two people I’d never heard of, at this address. This was disturbing. Probably it wasn’t identity theft per se but it smelled like something akin to it.

I tried Verizon’s customer service again. “We don’t deal with that in this department.” Who does? “No one. But you can talk to fraud…” It took about an hour to get through to Verizon’s fraud department. The man said, “Yeah, sounds like they picked your address at random…Open the mail for me please, find the account number.” I opened it, saw a bill for thousands of dollars in charges for these two probably imaginary people. I gave him the account number, told him we’d been in the house for seventeen years, never heard of these people on the bill. He said, “Yep it’s billed to your house, I see.” He couldn’t get it unbilled from the house. “Just write ‘No one by that name at this address’ on the bill, and Verizon will stop sending them.”

I did as he suggested –they didn’t stop sending the bills.

I talked to the postman who said when he saw them he’d send them back as wrongly addressed, and he does do that sometimes, but sometimes they come anyway.

Months later, many moons, we still get bills–four today. Annoyed, I called Verizon billing. They said, we don’t deal with that, and put me through to Customer service. Customer service heard me out and then said, “There’s nothing we can do. It’s billed to that address.”

“But they’re not here. Surely Verizon doesn’t want to bill to an address where the people are not in residence.”

“We don’t deal with that here.”

“Then who does?”

“No one that I know of.”

“Let me give you the account number–”

“How’d you get that? You…opened the bill?”

“Yes, had to, to get your 800 number.”

“That’s against the law, opening other people’s mail!”

“But…the ‘other people’ don’t exist–I mean, they don’t live here and they probably don’t exist…Look, I know you guys can simply stop sending these bills for someone else to my address–somewhere there can do it.”

“No,” he said coldly. “We can’t.”

He insisted–rudely and very sniffily repeating it over and over that I had to talk to the Fraud department, or no one.

“But I already–”

He cut me off mid sentence, and put me on hold.

Eventually I was back at Fraud. This time I got another man in Fraud department who said, “This is not a fraud issue.”

“How is it not? They’re defrauding your company of phones and the bills are coming here. End this!”

“Can’t do that, the bills will keep coming to that address.”

“But–someone at Verizon has to know how to stop sending a bill to an address where the person billed is not in residence.”

He suddenly sounded suspicious. “But you say the person doesn’t exist!”

“Then– billed to an address where the name is wrong, and the account doesn’t apply to anyone here.”

“There’s no one who can deal with that.”

“No one at Verizon can stop a bill going to a house where the person billed is not in residence and never has been? They won’t stop wasting effort, paper, time, billing a residence when they know, by now, it’s fraud?”

“I can connect you to Customer Service…”

“But I’m not a customer–I’m a person affected by your company’s refusal to reasonably deal an issue of fraud that has impacted me. And in fact I’m also trying to help you guys by reinforcing the report of this theft and saving you trouble by asking you stop sending the bills for the stolen phones to–”

“There’s no one who can stop the billing to that address.”

“No one? You guys at Verizon are completely at the mercy of your computers?”

I could almost hear him grate his teeth–this was his Hell too. He didn’t feel like working on Saturday in the first place. “Sir, this is not a case for our department. I can connect you to billing…”

“They sent me to you!”

“…but the bills will continue to come to your house.”

“For how long?”

“I don’t know.” There was a slight satisfaction in his voice as he added, “Maybe forever. Goodbye.”

Welcome to the new corporate America. We are opaque. We have filters; we have human firewalls. If you have an issue with us, you had better fit through a tiny slot that profits us. Or, you could sue us. Good luck with that.

Otherwise, simply…go away.

Mar 15

Fierce, Fierce Little Creatures

Ah look, what a pretty, compact, little brown and yellow butterfly–*snatched up!* I goggle at the adorable little songbird snatching the butterfly in midair, flying to alight on the branch of a shrub where it gobbles the Umber Skipper down. Oh you think songbirds are cute little budgies, adorable plump songbirds out of Snow White–but they’re FIERCE, I tell you! Fierce! On two occasions I watched as small songbirds behaved like tiny hawks–in one instance a towhee; the other, in a shopping mall, was a sparrow of some kind. They dived like a raptor, snatched the Umber Skipper butterfly, a white moth in the other case, right in midair, scarfed it down. Perhaps the little bird deposited its prey in its crop, to regurgitate for nestlings.

Admirable, really. I usually think of hawks, with their keen predatory eyes, spotting a prey, diving with (in my mind) dive-bomber sound effects: grabbing the squealing mouse up in its needle sharp claws, flying smugly away on its big majestic wings. But day by day these little songbirds cock their keen predatory eyes, spot a moth, or some diaphanous flying insect, and flutter down toward it; adjusting for the prey’s crooked flight path they *nab* it in mid air, in a *small beak*, the bird casually returning to its perch with its still-living meal; all accomplished in one fluttering flight. The little songbird must have capabilities of sight, of calculation, we don’t usually think about in such a creature…

Meanwhile, on our back porch, sit my wife’s hiking boots–rather too long. A spider has woven a web in one of them, covering the opening meant for her foot; a very prosperous spider, its web festooned with gutted, hollow corpses: crickets, flies, earwigs. The web is the sort with a tunnel in its midst and the tunnel dips very neatly, looking like water going down a drain, into the depth of the boot. I shine a light from my cell phone into the hole and see a cluster of bright eyes reflecting redly back at me from deep, deep inside where the spider hunkers.

It’s probably a non-toxic Agelenidae funnel-web spider, I assure my wife, so she can certainly put the boot on without fear, but she declines to. She claims she does not wish to uncharitably deprive it of its home.

Feb 15

KNOW the Difference between a HIPSTER and a HIP PERSON

Everyone is mocking hipsters, now, just as they once mocked mimes and lawyers. By now someone must have contrasted hipsters (as they are known in the 21st century, and as opposed to how they were known in Lord Buckley’s day, aka hipcats back then) with Truly Hip People, whom we can, if we want to get too cute by half, call Thips. Or–PGH. Pretty goddamn hip. That’d be me. Anyway…

Hipsters, I take it, are those people who used to be known by their soul patches and ironic retro clothing or ironic military jackets, now, perhaps in reaction, have switched to GIANT BEARDS and Superlatively Casual Clothing. Of course, superlatively casual is a contradiction in terms but they’re unaware of that. They’re into the new folk rock which is actually just “emo” played by guys wearing those pullover watch caps, bands who’ve added banjo and at least one woman playing fiddle, but who sing about pretty much the same old emotionally lame whiney bullcrap. Hipsters are also into very trendy music from ethnic cultures, almost entirely for political reasons (though they profess to like it), like when the Gypsy Kings and the Meters were cool, but now it’s whatever’s the new Gypsy Kings or the Meters. Or they pretend to like Tuvan throat singing.

Hipsters are super ironic most of the time but get downright maudlin about some political causes, whatever the latest one is. They trend to latch onto things and declaim in what they suppose to be political science terminology but most of them do not actually know what is meant by capitalism (the most misused word of this period of hipsterism) or socialism. There are hipster sub-currents including the one that seems to imagine that really excessive piercing and those giant pendulating lobe plugs will have no longterm negative effects on them; they get pseudo Maori tattoos or just generally overdo tattoos and don’t seem to realize that tattoos should be about what really matters to them not what they’re excited about that afternoon…Hipsters it is who have rebirthed the board game culture (I don’t mean D&D, but cool funny games from their childhood, largely, or new ones), bringing board games into beer gardens and pubs and parties, because it’s uncool to stare into screens…and THIS I agree with them on. Given a choice between people staring into cell phones with glazed eyes, and board gamers, I’ll take the board gamers, though I have no wish to be forced to play Operation to the late hours.

Hipsters as I have known them from their soul patch days are guys who said glib shit about this or that public figure as if it was gospel. “Well you know The Sex Pistols were created like the Monkees” –which is ENTIRELY FALSE. They were NOT the punk rock Monkees. Hipsters think they know what punk rock was/is…and they don’t. They also disgorge generalizing baloney like, “The Stones stole everything from black bluesmen”. Which is ENTIRELY FALSE. (Hipsters of that sort use the term ‘steal’ or ‘stole’ in a facile, improper way.) They hang around in low-rent gallery openings and loft parties spouting this stuff. “Frank Zappa never paid his band.” ENTIRELY FALSE. “Lou Reed’s song Perfect Day is about heroin.” No it’s not. It just fucking isn’t, you idiot. “All surrealists were actually communists.” Not at all though it’s an understandable mistake, given a certain manifesto.

Now as to Thips or Pretty Damn Hip Guys like me, they KNOW that shit is false, because they ACTUALLY KNOW a lot about those people, they know fake folk usic from real folk music, they have a sense of authenticity, they do not try to evade authenticity by being ironic all the time. The Truly Hip actually know what the Surrealist artists (for one example) looked like, and which is which, and who painted what; they appreciate more ethnic music than is trendy at that moment; they do not dress to trend: if, out of disgust with pop culture, they dress very casually it’s because it’s second nature to them and it’s more like Fuck You than Let’s All Be Casual and Loose Bruh. . .If they wear black they are not being ironic about goth. They wear it because Johnny Cash was fucking right (and they know their Johnny Cash!) Their appreciation for rock music is very qualitative and goes back to its origins. They are not snobs however. And they *really* know what punk rock was and is.

The Truly Hip are usually people with extensive drug experience and they speak with expertise about street drugs and psychedelics, even though many gave them up years ago: they know that drugs are serious business, not toys for fools. As a corollary, the Truly Hip are not found at raves, nor Doing X, except experimentally, for about a minute, to see what the fuck that was about.

The truly hip are not childish enough to think believing in peace makes things peaceful. They do not imagine that attempts at making jewelry at home in ethnic patterns is art. The authentically hip can become artistically savage, when they’re really engaged creatively, walking the line between chaos and control. They are not about fronting. They have, in their time, actually confronted authority rather than just talking about it. They don’t mind some categorizing, as you can tell here, but they do not take categories too seriously; they are capable of thinking objectively, scientifically, and they almost invariably have a deep respect for science.

They *really* appreciate Bettie Page. They justly sneer at the mere hipster’s appreciation of Bettie Page.

The Truly Hip tend to speak of certainty only where there is certainty; they are more comfortable with nuances, complexity, depth. They also know something about history–with nuances, complexity, depth.

Know your hip person from your hipster!

(Then there are other categories, like the hippie intellectual, I have a lot of respect for–eg, Stewart Brand or Thomas Pynchon, but that’s another rant.)

Feb 15

Is Satire the Hope of Mankind?

Stanley Kubrick, commenting on Dr Strangelove: “A satirist is someone who has a very skeptical view of human nature, but who still has the optimism to make some sort of a joke out of it. However brutal that joke might be.”

— Somehow, it never occurred to me, before coming across that remark, that satire is implicitly optimistic. But it is. It includes, inherently, the suggestion that we can see ourselves through the lens of satire, we can recognize our foibles and absurdities, and, perhaps, thanks to this insightful mirroring, we might have some hope of liberation from them.

Another obvious example is the heavy-handed scene in The Magic Christian when a group of upscale people are swimming through sewage to get at money tossed in with floating feces…money they don’t need. The satire is grotesquely unsubtle but we recognize truth in it. There’s hope in the most brutal satire.

We don’t see ourselves as we are. That blind spot is paralyzing. Satire optimistically offers the mirror, the insight, of mockery…

Feb 15

Va-GIE-nah, oo-kay?

I was waiting in a pharmacy line, saw a thin blond young woman pharmacist talking to a Filipino gent by microphone–he was in his car, in the drive up. “*Who* are you picking up for, sir? Lugpa? Are…are you Lugpa? Your wife? Ohhhh..oh-KAY.” She had a heavy California accent so she said everything like a question. “Ooh-KAY I have to give you these instructions? She has to wash the outer lips of the va-GIE-nah..?.” She had to say this louder, to be heard… “Yes–va-GIE-nah? And she has to insert the applicator to at least thray inn-chez into her va-GIE-nah? Ooh-kay? And she should try to get ALL the gel INTO her va-GIE-nah, ooh-kay? She should wipe any medicine from the OUTSIDE of her va-GIE-nah, ooh-kay?” The Filipino gent at the wheel of his car ogled her attentively, nodded, said nothing, paid as quickly as he could and gunned out of there.

After I left I saw, outside, a young beanpole gangly pimply Asian American guy with his arms full of a just-bought huge white teddy bear and some flowers, clearly for Valentine’s day. He was calling out to a girl who was pulling out of a parking space in a large car, with her frowning in the passenger seat mom beside her. Young guy waved and yelled “I LOVE YOU!” … I went to a shop to get my wife a smoothie. It was a long wait. White teddy bear kid sat outside at a table, looking at his phone, licking his lips, hugging the teddy bear and flowers to him…Looking at his phone…gazing hopefully into the parking lot…He had some notion she was going to meet him there. I left with my purchases, found my car, saw him as I drove past. Looking at his phone, gazing hopefully into the parking lot…

Feb 15


We saw SELMA tonight. We both found the film very moving, and effective. I thought it was reasonable toward LBJ–maybe not entirely fair to him but this was about MLK, not LBJ. It dramatized some of the extremes, not all of them, of southern racism at the time; it dramatized the *struggle for voting rights*. Actual real voting rights. That’s what’s at the core of this and what could be more significant for a time when voting rights are being inched back, nudged back, finally to be rolled back–in Texas, in many places across the USA, Republicans aware that blacks and other minorities tend to support Democrats are putting up new roadblocks to voting.

In this movie we see people beaten to a pulp, even killed, over the right to vote. And yet glib armchair activists declare that it’s meaningless to vote, they “boycott” the vote, they’d rather stay home and share lulz with the other lulcatz, because they do not understand how powerful voting is. If voting is not powerful–why are the Republicans trying to stop it?