25
Apr 18

IN DARKNESS WAITING: EVIL IS DEHUMANIZATION

[My foreword to my novel IN DARKNESS WAITING, for its new edition, seems relevant to our times. And to humanity's perennial dilemma, its persistent question: What is the Nature of Evil?]

Foreword to IN DARKNESS WAITING: The “Director’s Cut”

This edition of In Darkness Waiting has been re-edited. I updated it a little, cut some youthful excess, tinkered with a few sentences and trimmed some slow bits. But it’s essentially the same book, and it definitely has the same theme. It’s a hard-charging horror story—I suspect it would be difficult to find a horror novel with a scene more extreme than the climax of this book—but its subtext is what is most important to me.

Paradoxically, some books seem more relevant as time goes on. Or perhaps their relevance is simply brought into prominence by resonant times. In Darkness Waiting seems to me to be one of those books. Before there was any thought of reprinting IDW, I found myself referring to it, more than once, while writing some recent online opinion pieces. I was writing about the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, as well as the abuse of women and “unbelievers” by Fundamentalist Muslims. How can people stone a woman to death because someone raped her? They do. How can American soldiers gleefully torment and beat and humiliate their prisoners, most of whom had nothing to do with terrorism? They did. When an atrocity comes about, it starts inside the perpetrators. Something happens, in them—a process whereby they dehumanize their victims. Well before the act, the atrocity has begun psychologically—and neurologically.

People are not innately monstrous. Most people can be quite compassionate, sympathetic, in the right circumstances. Yet somehow they can also switch that compassion off—some unknown trigger comes along, and it’s switched off, within them, like switching off a light. As I mention in IDW, Nazis guarding concentration camps tossed bread to hungry, snow-bound birds, feeling genuinely sorry for them, while a few feet away children starved to death, watching enviously as the birds eat crumbs. How can they calmly accept taking part in starving those children, and then feed the birds? Many of these monsters had wives and children they loved. What is the mechanism of the repression of normal human empathy?

There are many examples of dehumanization from American history. In the book The Plutonium Files by Pulitzer Prize winner Eileen Welsome, we learn that in the 1940s thousands of powerless Americans–blacks, institutionalized children, the poor, prisoners, soldiers— were deliberately exposed to plutonium, often in injections, as part of experiments essentially designed to find ways to protect the experimenters from deadly radiation. The researchers worked for the government, on military grants (all done in secret), to try to find ways to protect the developers of nuclear weapons from radiation. So they injected radioactive particles into people; they gave hundreds of children radioactive iron particles, spoonfed to them in oat meal, and then, quite dispassionately, they monitored the health of experimental subjects–eventually, their deterioration–in this effort to protect their own kind. They dehumanized their subjects for the sake of their own survival; to find ways to protect them, the researchers, and people like them, from radiation, at the expense of powerless Americans–who were never told what was happening to them. President Clinton appointed a committee to look into these allegations, and the committee reported its shocking conclusions on the very day that the OJ Simpson trial concluded–perhaps so that the story would be buried in the press, as in fact it was.

In my online piece I wrote: I again call for scientific research into the psychological and neurological mechanism of dehumanization. We need to realize that it’s integral to human behavior–and only through understanding it can we find ways to overcome it.

It is perhaps significant that the original title of this novel was Insect Inside. If we are not careful to make conscious choices, we become insects, inside.

In Darkness Waiting is an entertainment. If you like horror, I think there’s a good chance you’ll find it damned entertaining. (Or should that be “entertainment for the damned”?) But it’s also about something that honestly troubles me. It’s also about real life. Yes: all-too-real life. I gave the phenomenon a name in the book. E.S.S.: Empathy Suppression Syndrome. That clinical label was a strategy to promote the notion that we need to engage in a whole new level of what Gurdjieff and the Buddhists call “self-observation.” We need to observe ourselves as a species, with new objectivity, or we’ll never understand the nature of evil.

And if we don’t understand it, we have no hope of standing against it.


06
Apr 18

Fire Isn’t Bad but Parental Addiction to Technology Hurts Children

The thing that bothers me most about “smart” phones isn’t the idiots walking down the street staring into the screens, or sitting with each other in restaurants both staring into their screens or texting…those things are repellent but what’s far worse is seeing smartphone parents in a park with their kids, and the small children want to show the parent how they can ride the merry go round, swing on the swing, throw a ball, and the parent ignores them and stares into their phone or their ipad.

The kid goes up to them, tugs on their sleeve. Parent ignores them, sends a text. The kid says things to get parent’s attention. Parent scrolls through social media on phone, mutters to the kid, scrolls some more, kid wanders off…

Or the kid tries to talk to them and the parent gives the kid a cell phone or the equivalent screen toy to look into…and now the parent and the kid are staring at phones next to each other.

Without real communication, damaging ordinary bonding and socialization, how does the kid turn out. “I don’t know what’s wrong with that kid…”

And if I ridicule overuse of smart phones and electronic media, no it doesn’t mean I’m being all “fire bad!” and against technology. That’s like saying if a man objects to a drunk driver getting behind the wheel in a car, the man must despise cars. I don’t hate cars because I despise people who drink heavily and drive. I’m against the mis-use of technology–and designing it to make misuse likely– not the technology itself.


28
Mar 18

DISCOURAGED WITH DEMOCRATS? IT’S TIME TO CRASH THE PARTY!

There are people who disdain voting–some use one excuse for taking responsibility, some use another. Some say it’s because they’re fed up with “the two party system”–when we don’t have one. There are various parties, the Green Party with the dreaded Jill Stein, the Libertarians with the dreaded libertarians, the Socialist Party, and so on. They have failed to capture enough support to take over from the top two, is all. . .Then there are people who disdain voting because “it changes nothing”. This is sheer ignorance. If Gore had been (proven) elected, in 2000 there would have been no Iraq war. Obama’s policies were, overall, very different from Bush’s and Trump’s. He accomplished some good things. I will not engage in the tiresome listing of contrasting policies, despite some overlap, between Democrats and Republicans–you can research it. The difference is dramatic. But is the Democratic Party worth supporting?

Some people feel that there’s no one to vote for, that Democrats once meant something but they’re now ineffective, timid, and some of them are treacherous right-leaning “blue dogs”. 16 Dem senators recently voted, it’s true, to weaken Dodd-Frank. But they’re not the mainstream of the party. Anyway, I agree that the Democratic party, though a thousand times better than the Republican party, is troubled, indecisive, divided, and sometimes too much in the bag for big money. And voting for the Greens would simply give the Republicans more seats by default. So what’s the alternative?

There are those who are working to simply take over the Democratic party, to unify it around policies that are clear-cut in the defense of the working poor and the middle class, in the defense of the environment, in a desire to scale down the military to a sane (still effective) size, in their plan for firm banking regulation and an increase in taxes on the 1% and corporations…There is, for example, Young Democrats of America…Check out YDA.org

The GOP was taken over by radical-right activists. Progressive activists can take over the Democratic party–and they’re more in line with what America wants.

Don’t dump the Democratic Party. Take it over.


23
Mar 18

A Response from Senator Murray on Scott Pruitt & the Trump EPA

From Senator Patty Murray in response to a note I sent her asking that Dems do more about Pruitt and Trump’s version of the EPA. I assume this is a form letter about Pruitt but it does address most of what I raised with her.

Dear Mr. Shirley:
Thank you for writing to me regarding oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). I appreciate hearing from you. Since his confirmation, Administrator Scott Pruitt has been singularly focused on undermining the core mission of the EPA. The Administration has taken steps to roll back the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule, which effectively denies the consensus that climate change is a real and present danger and in turn makes communities in Washington state and across the country more vulnerable to environmental harm than ever before. While deeply disappointed, I am ultimately not surprised that this Administration is doing exactly what we feared—taking one action after another to diminish critical environmental protections and undercut progress, jeopardizing our most valuable natural resources for future generations.

To make matters worse, the Administration has installed reckless and unqualified individuals to lead key EPA offices charged with keeping our air and water clean and safe. Despite the President’s promise to “drain the swamp,” Administration officials have slowed the enforcement of toxic chemical regulations and the oversight of hazardous materials usage in favor of prioritizing the demands of coal and chemical company executives. Further, I remain troubled by allegations of waste and misuse of taxpayer funds within EPA, including reports of Administrator Pruitt racking up high-cost travel expenses, directing the installation of an unprecedented customized communication booth for personal use, and employing a partisan opposition research organization to monitor press activity.

Rest assured that I will keep working with my colleagues to provide the congressional oversight of the EPA that is so critical, including standing firmly against irresponsible and shortsighted cuts to the agency’s budget. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to not be distracted by the tweets and sideshows and to pushback against the Trump Administration’s all-out assault against our environment. I am committed to continuing our efforts to restore Puget Sound, protecting bedrock environmental laws like the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, and rejecting unqualified nominees for critical posts at the EPA and across the government.


19
Mar 18

“SELF-DRIVING CAR KILLS PEDESTRIAN”

“A self-driving Uber SUV struck and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she walked her bicycle across a street in Tempe, Arizona, Sunday night, according to the Tempe police.”–CNN

I favor self-driving cars (as an option) if they get the technology right but they haven’t done that. They’re rushing this tech on us before it’s ready. They’re testing them on public roads, rather than at special sealed off tracks (which can be rigged to simulate pedestrians and traffic surprises). So we’re the guinea pigs here….and someone has died. For one thing, they “don’t do well”, it appears, in bad weather. Well what the hell. If they suck in bad weather they’re not ready for prime time. Bad weather is routine. Also the article tells us: “For self-driving cars, dealing with pedestrians and bicyclists is a challenging task.” And that’s how this young lady was killed. They can’t deal with pedestrians?! Then who said they could put it on the road. What, are we supposed to run screaming out of the cross-walk if a self driving car is spotted? What the HELL.

This new industry should be STOPPED until they are able to make the cars safer than human drivers. They can if they invest the time and money. But they’d rather risk our lives.


08
Mar 18

Banks TRULY SUCK Even Worse Than I Thought…

Went to bank to see about putting half my checking account in a savings account.Turns out that NOW savings accounts commonly only offer LESS THAN ONE PER CENT (significantly less!) in returns. Money markets, not much better. One percent, often. Two if you’re lucky. The young banker told me it really started with the housing / banking crash ten years ago. Used to be 5 to 7 per cent, and I don’t mean a generation ago.

NOW…check this out (so to speak)…the nation has a crisis of people in debt. Not enough people are saving money. They get into debt and save nothing. Screws them up, bad for consumers all round. So the banks are being really irresponsible not offering an incentive to save money. So that means people are going to get deeper in debt…to whom? Usually, to banks. . . What, the banks don’t care about consumers, not really? You say that’s no revelation? Right. I just didn’t know it was that bad. Banks SUCK even worse than I thought and that’s something.


06
Mar 18

Why Should We Boycott Youtube? Because, School Shootings.

I am going to bite the bullet and boycott youtube. I like having access to youtube for quick movie trailer reference, and especially for songs. It’s like my home jukebox. I’ve gotten good at finding the higher-quality recordings, there are good mixes, and it’s quick. But I will give it all up until they get rid of Alex Jones’ youtube channel, due to his support of “school shootings aren’t real” crisis-actors hogwash. This conspiracy idiocy, promulgated by twitchy fringe slaves of the NRA, hurts the families of those who were killed at the school in Florida, and at Sandy Hook, and elsewhere, and creates an extra barrier to concerted work to control assault weapons and improve background checks on gun ownership. Much pressure is being put on youtube over this–see the link below–and we all need to add to it.

Now, my boycotting them is not going to register on their radar. But I just want to be able to live with myself on this and take part in a sort of tacit and unofficial boycott that I hope will become more widespread and known.

AND if you go to the basic youtube page and scroll down, look on the lower left you’ll see a place to click to send them feedback. I sent them a note demanding they ditch Alex Jones on the basis of his massacre-conspiracy toxicity. You could do that too. Also you can go to The Alex Jones Channel on Youtube then select “About” then hit the flag to report it.Then you fill out the form. If you search it for “Parkland” for example you’ll find video he supports all about the “false flag” crisis actors blah blah. You can report him for endangering children by turning people’s attention away from the real danger of real school shootings, also endangering the families of people who are murdered who receive death threats from these loons, and you can make a comment at the end of the report telling youtube it should be ashamed for making money off these dangerous lies.

Please do share this suggestion in any way at all with people.

Check out this story. The link might take you down the page so scroll up to the top for the story.

 https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2018/03/infowars-conspiracy-theories-have-advertisers-ditching-youtube-channels/?comments=1&post=34922459

 


22
Feb 18

SUE THEM

I think a progressive organization should start a fund for people accused of being “crisis actors” to take legal action and for other people–even politicians–being defamed by far-right false news sources.

I think there need to be a series of major, broadly supported lawsuits. Perhaps the SPLC or some other progressive organization can organize it. Ten million dollars collected to sue these assholes, and to sue guys like Alex Jones. Maybe that’ll encourage the Clintons to sue with their own money.


14
Feb 18

THE ANNOYING INTERNET: HOTEL BOOKING AND LYRIC SITES

Ah, the annoying internet.  Two examples. First, when I’m online looking up hotels to stay at, or airlines, it used to be that you got the hotel itself first, the website with the front desk number and reservations number–reservations made within the hotel. Now you get a raft of intermediary businesses trying to get you discounts and they’re all people who can’t answer your questions. They can book you a room maybe at a slight discount but not always. Bunch of goddamn parasites.

Lots of times their URLs are deceptive–like, it’ll say the name of the hotel, Joe’s Hotel say, and then after that the name of the intermediary parasite company. JoesHotelFrontDesk dot com — the company is deceivingly called Front Desk. Wanting to talk to the hotel directly you got to sift through a dozen of these and look *carefully* to pick out the real hotel website.

It’s deceptive, and it’s inefficient and it’s irritating. I should not see these booking companies first–I should see the hotel. If I want booking companies I can google hotel discounts or something. (When I was a Boy, the damn search engines were simple and good!)

AND THEN there’s trying to find LYRIC sites online….try finding correct song lyrics online. When looking for song lyrics online, most of the time you get bullshit, they don’t provide the real lyrics, they provide a spazzy version with many errors. The lyric sites are often put up by people in Europe and Eastern Europe who really don’t understand the lyrics very well, even if they can hear them, and they write down the wrong stuff. Lyric sites (often with obnoxious ads) copy the badly transcribed lyrics at other lyric sites. The result is lots of new bands doing covers full of errors. On youtube, the videos that offer “the lyrics”, if not put up by the band or artist directly, are likely to be at least partly wrong, sometimes very wrong. And these people do NOT get permission from artists to put this up…Nor do the lyric sites get permission or ask anyone to vet lyrics.

Some artists, like David Bowie put up all their lyrics so people’d get it right. Lou Reed put out a really good big book of his lyrics. If you go to RollingStones dot com put LYRICS in their search bar, and you get videos where the official lyrics are available. Try that with bands and artists first before searching online.

Lyrics for Blue Oyster Cult and Iggy Pop online are often partly wrong. Sometimes they leave out passages too. I checked and some of my own lyrics for Blue Oyster Cult are misreported.

NOTE! Many lyric sites not only have super annoying advertising they’re trying to put malware on your computer.

Google Music (not just the google search engine, but Google Music) seems to make an effort for accurate lyrics. Artists should sue these other bastards for this misrepresentation.


12
Feb 18

On Reading Rolling Stone’s Special David Bowie Book…

What’s especially interesting to me in the RS Bowie book–comprised of highlights from this great artist’s life, interviews through the years–is the two arcs of his life: the arc of his life as an artist, and especially the arc of his maturation as a person. Interviewed in the 70s he’s talking as if he’s going to be the new messiah…very, very vain, arrogant stuff…sneering at rocknroll. Saying he’s never going to tour again. Then three months later Bowie announces a giant world tour…and so on. And it’s all very cocaine talk. You can hear the cocaine fomenting the megalomania. He almost killed himself with the stuff, later…

So then another interview, a few years later, Bowie is somewhat more reflective; another one still later, shows no megalomania, but always himself as the fave topic; then the next one, less narcissism, more looking at the world and people, a seriousness, as if Bowie’s recognized the real scale of one life against the universe…A man and an artist growing up.

One really has to admire his insistence on returning at intervals to commercially risky art-driven albums. They fail commercially, for the most part–but he doesn’t care. He does something commercial (but good) to finance the next art recording.

Hopefully everyone who loves intelligent rock has heard Bowie’s last two albums, The Next Day and Blackstar–the two comprising a final outburst of genius. The last one, Blackstar, a grappling with death, with real death; not death as an abstraction but his own inexorable death with which he had a definite appointment. The videos for Blackstar are stunning…And when one considers how he planned it, knowing he would die, and doggedly doing the work in the last months, getting it right, one is stricken to the heart.