Bush’s Last Day: 10 Ways America Celebrated



"For 15 minutes, America turned its gaze from the guy who landed the plane in the river to the guy who landed the country in the ditch," joked Jimmy Kimmel — adding that “White House decorators are busy right now peeling the glow-in-the-dark stars off the ceiling in the presidential bedroom.”

Back in Texas, George Bush told a crowd Tuesday that "when I get home tonight and look in the mirror, I'm not going to regret what I see — except maybe some gray hair." But many Americans reacted differently to the Bush presidency, observing the end of his eight-year term with some anger, some humor — and a lot of all-American creativity.


1. Calls for Arrest

At the President's last appearance, the L.A. Times reported, crowds responded with anger. "Just as demonstrators clogged the barricades to protest his court-mediated victory in the 2000 election, so the disenchanted lined Pennsylvania Avenue on Tuesday to express their dismay..."
On the drive to Capitol Hill, the current and future presidents passed protesters carrying signs reading "Arrest Bush." When Bush entered the grandstand with the band playing "Hail to the Chief" for the last time, the crowd below began singing a different refrain: "Hey, Hey, Good-bye."

One man waved his shoe.

And finally, when Bush's helicopter lifted off from the east front of the Capitol, cheers rose from the crowd and throng stretching down the National Mall.

The Times noted that while Bush is famous for being thick-skinned, "as the morning wore on, his smile appeared to grow more strained..."




2. Signing Off

Some pranksters went even further. Down a two-mile stretch of San Francisco, they changed all the street signs identifying Bush Street to...Obama Street. "The entire street was covered end to end," one of the pranksters told us — adding that the media mistakenly thought they'd missed a few intersections becuase "locals were actually taking them down the next morning as souvenirs!"

Tuesday's prank reminded one area watcher of an even harsher prank eight years ago. "When Bush was first elected all the BUSH street signs were changed to say PUPPET." But one newspaper noted San Francisco voters had rejected the ultimate prank — a city measure that would've renamed a sewage treatment plant after former President Bush.


3. The Onion Gets It Right

The Onion had run a prophetic headline back in January of 2001, mocking President Bush with a fake quote. "Our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over." Monday blogger Teresa Hayden collected every Bush-related story from The Onion — nearly 400 of them — arguing that "Other histories of the Bush years will doubtless be more factual, but none will ever be truer."

The Onion kept tweaking the president throughout his eight-year presidency. There's Bush "horrified to learn Presidential salary," and later, "U.S. Takes Out Debt Consolidation Loan." But many of the headlines focus on the war in Iraq.
Bush Won't Stop Asking Cheney If We Can Invade Yet

Bush Thought War Would Be Over By Now

Bush Subconsciously Sizes Up Spain For Invasion

Bush Asks Congress For $30 Billion To Help Fight War On Criticism

Rumsfeld Only One Who Can Change Toner In White House Printer

"[I]n this moment before a changing world overwrites our memories of the era," the blogger writes, "let us pause to salute our constant companion of those years..."


4. Heckling CNN

Oakland's Parkway theatre announced they'd broadcast a feed from CNN on their movie screens Tuesday, including Bush's final departure and Obama's swearing-in. By 7 a.m., nearly 400 people had formed a massive line outside the theatre, and many had to be turned away. Extra chairs were set up in the theatre's aisles, and the huge liberal crowd booed the Republicans as they appeared on the screen — Dick Cheney, Dan Quayle — and later heckled Bush's departure. And as the former president finally stepped onto a helicopter to fly away from the capitol, one heckler suggested an alternate flight plan.

"Send him to Guantanamo!"



Also watching were 5,000 schoolchildren at a community center in Harlem. "It hurt my ears. That's how crazy it got," reported NPR's Robert Smith. But as Bush ceded his presidency to Obama, "Some didn't seem to catch the finer points of presidential transitions," NRP reports. "...about five minutes into Obama's speech, the attention of the younger kids started to drift.

"They threw paper at each other and used their American flags as swords."


5. The Last "Great Moment"

David Letterman assembled a final four-minute montage of Bush's greatest goofs, celebrating the end of a recurring feature on the late-night comedy show: "Great Moments in Presidential Speeches."

"[W]e have to unload what was a tremendous rich heavy-laden vein of comedy for us," Letterman told his audience nostalgically. For over four minutes, the gaffes keep coming, and towards the end, they get even weirder. There's the thrown shoe, the dropped dog — and the infamous moment when Bush's speech was accompanied by a continually-yawning boy in a red baseball cap.




6. Jenna's Last Ride

Jenna Bush and her twin sister Barbara were more famous for partying than for public service — but they observed the transition with a letter left behind for President Obama's daughters. They remembered when their father's father was sworn in — "being seven, we didn't quite understand the gravity of the position our Grandfather was committing to" — but much of their letter seems like it was ghost-written by a Republican spinmeister. ("Our Dad, who read to us nightly...is our father, not the sketch in a paper or part of a skit on TV.") And instead of writing "Eight years go by so fast," the catty Bush twins wrote to the daughters of Obama that "Four years goes by so fast..."


7. Battle of the Presidential Speeches

The site SpeechWars.com created a special exhibit including Bush's own inaugural addresses in 2001 and 2005 — along with those of every president that preceded him. "See how often US presidents have said certain words in their inaugural addresses," the site promised — and it ultimately uncovered two forbidden words which Bush and his predecessors had never spoken in any of the 56 pervious inaugural addresses — but which Barack Obama did.

"Non-believers" and "Muslims."

But Bush's first inauguration speech from 2001 is still shouting out from Google's cache, reminding web surfers how Dubya promised to reform social security — and to "confront weapons of mass destruction." And blogger Andrew Sullivan remembered a Saturday Night Live sketch at the same time which presciently predicted that President Bush would eventually tell the American people that "we had that war thing happen." In the skit, Bush hold up a map showing the Atlantic ocean flooding Louisiana (with the flooding continuing all the way up to Minnesota...) Unfortunately, according to the skit's "glimpse of our future," this alternate reality would be even worse because Vice President Dick Cheney is involved in a hunting accident — where he's killed by President Bush.


8. Perverts Say Goodbye

At a rowdy San Francisco Event called "Bye Bye Bush," San Francisco writer Thomas Roche debuted a new 34-page "gonzo sci-fi cryptozoological horror" story involving evil fish, the Bigfoot monster, and the mayor of a small town in Alaska (and her husband Todd). "I was asked repeatedly to write some political smut," Roche explains, "for a Sarah Palin porn site, for an election reading, and finally for an inauguration-themed reading..."



A half dozen local writers read their short fiction as part of the "Perverts Put Out" series, but Roche came up with a "gonzo Lovecraftian science fiction horror story" in which several Alaska tourists and some unsuspecting environmentalists wander into the dark and mysterious backwoods, and confront — no, no, it's too horrible to describe. "Fairly creepy sexual description..." Roche warns at the top of the story. "Not intended for readers under 18."

"I read an extremely abbreviated version of this story in a room full of weird sexual deviants, and people seemed to like it."


9. Free the White House

"Here's a small and nerdy measure of the huge change in the executive branch," wrote blogger Jason Kottke. The White House's web site had more than 2400 restrictions for search engines — preventing web-crawling spiders from accessing entire directories, photo essays, and the text of certain speeches.

Geeks argued about whether this represented a moving break from the past — or simply an artifact of web coding. But one thing's clear — George W. Bush won't be leaving any more policy statements on the site.

In Texas Tuesday, George Bush joked that his wife Laura "was excited about me mowing the lawn and taking out the trash — it's my new domestic agenda."


10. Losing Facebook

In the last year of Bush's presidency, a Facebook group rose to over 1,000,000 members. The name of the group? "I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who dislike George Bush!"

But now many members are commemorating Bush's departure with a final Facebook ritual. Over 190,858 messages appeared on its Facebook "wall," with many now announcing that it's time to move on.
well it was a good run, but its finally over. Later guys...

I still hate George Bush... but he's gone so I don't see the point in having this crowd up my groups now.

"im leaving this group to move on from this era"

"NOW I CAN LEAVE THIS GROUP IT IS IRRELEVANT"

But as George W. Bush finally left office, there was a new group was already springing up on Facebook clamoring for the new president to enact a more liberal policy. Its name? "5 million strong to petition Obama to legalize weed."

It currently has just 3409 members.

See Also:
20 Wildest Reactions to Obama's Victory
Site Sparks Political Sexiness War
25 Harshest Reactions to the Wall Street Bailout
Why Sarah's Sex Life Matters
Don't Go There: 20 Taboo Topics For Presidential Candidates
Oakland Celebrates Obama's Victory


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The Mormon Bigfoot Genesis Theory

The Mormon Bigfoot/Genesis Theory

Is it Bigfoot? Or a fugitive from the garden of Eden. Or maybe both.

The Journal of Mormon History recently published a new investigation into stories suggesting that the giant Sasquatch monster is really Cain, the murderous second son of Adam and Eve.

It may not be the first controversy tackled by new Mormon President, Thomas S. Monson. But the article's author, Matthew Bowman cites a 1919 manuscript describing Hawaiian missionary E. Wesley Smith "being attacked by a huge, hairy creature, whom Smith drives off in the name of Christ" the night before the mission was dedicated. His brother tells him the attacker must've been Cain. ("Now therefore cursed shalt thou be upon the earth, which hath opened her mouth and received the blood of thy brother at thy hand...a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be upon the earth.") And then he refers him to a story by a celebrated Mormon martyr who was one of Joseph Smith's original twelve apostles.



In 1835, as evening fell, missionary David W. Patten had spotted a figure walking near his mule in Tennessee. His tall, dark body was covered with hair, he wore no clothing, and...
...he replied that he had no home, that he was a wanderer in the earth and traveled to and fro. He said he was a very miserable creature, that he had earnestly sought death during his sojourn upon the earth, but that he could not die, and his mission was to destroy the souls of men.

I rebuked him in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by virtue of the Holy Priesthood, and commanded him to go hence, and he immediately departed out of my sight.


"As best as I can determine, the explicit connection to Bigfoot arises around 1980 in Davis County, Utah," Bowman writes on the Mormon Mentality site. "At that point in time, you have a conjunction of two things — 1) the publication of The Miracle of Forgiveness, which reprinted the original Patten story; 2) a rash of Bigfoot sightings.

"By the mid-1980s, the two strains of folklore begin to fuse, and the story gains resurgence, particularly on Utah's college campuses."

The book of Genesis does specify that God issued the mark of Cain, "that whosoever found him should not kill him." But did that confer immortality?

On the Mormon Folklore blog, Bowman received an interested response from someone who'd heard Patten's story at the church's Missionary Training Center, "where he was on his horse and eye-to-eye with the standing Bigfoot."
[O]ne of the missionaries suggested that this is another example of Satan copying the ways of God. His logic was that God preserved the lives of John the Baptist and the Three Nephites to work as agents for Him until the end of time — Satan did the same thing with Cain (thus, the ability to live through the flood).

There's already been a controversy about the Mormon church's teachings on Cain. Brigham Young believed that God punished Cain's ancestors, and that "the mark of Cain" was: black skin. The same belief continued through a 1966 edition of the church reference book Mormon Doctrine, and black Mormons were banned from the church's priesthood. But at that same time, church president David O. McKay announced that "It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice will some day be changed." The position was ultimately reversed by church president Spencer W. Kimball, and the church ordained its first black priest in 1978. (Thomas S. Monson, the new Mormon President, conducted that priest's marriage and sacred ordinances.)

Eugene England, a professor at Brigham Young University, addressed "the Cain legacy" in a 1998 article in Sunstone magazine.
This is a good time to remind ourselves that most Mormons are still in denial about the ban, unwilling to talk in Church settings about it, and that some Mormons still believe that blacks were cursed by descent from Cain through Ham...

I check occasionally in classes at BYU and find that still, twenty years after the revelation, a majority of bright, well-educated Mormon students say they believe that blacks are descendants of Cain and Ham and thereby cursed...

Of course, Mormon theory has faced skepticism before, like the blog commenter who opined that "The bible is just a waste of paper and the Book of Mormon is even less useful." But regardless of its credibility, the new attention to the "Bigfoot" legend provided an interesting opportunity to examine the way the church's theology had evolved.

"I find the idea that Cain, the original Son of Perdition in our theology, would degenerate into something half human/half animal is notable..." wrote blogger Fenevad. "[D]id it occur when Brigham Young was teaching that the Sons of Perdition would fall prey to eternal retrogression? ... Perhaps one message of the story is that evil is big and scary, but ultimately controllable."



And another comment notes that it's not the first time monsters from folklore have found their way into religious debates.
That reminds me of the story that I used to hear that the Loch Ness Monster was a surviving dinosaur, thus proving that the earth is not as old as scientists say it is. Uniquely Mormon? No. But I have heard variations on that one as a way to argue for young earth creationism among Church members back when that seemed to be a hot issue.

Over at Museum of Hoaxes site, blogger Alex Boese couldn't resist making the obvious joke. "[I]f Bigfoot is Cain, maybe Nessie is really the snake from the Garden of Eden."



But in a 21st century flood of information and misinformation, the discussion offers its own testament to the way new generations will grapple with questions about faith, folklore, and our popular culture.

Even if the commenters at the Mormon Folklore blog add their own twist.
I also seem to remember a story about a noted church leader — I think his name was Childs — sitting next to Cain on an airplane and starting up a discussion about the Book of Mormon only to have Cain tell him that his mission in life was to destroy the souls of men, especially the younger generation...

Hang on, no, wait... that was Mick Jagger. My bad.


See Also:
Santa's Crimes Against Humanity
Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death
Thou Shalt Realize The Bible Kicketh Ass
Scientology Fugitive Arrested
Atheist Filmmaker Issues 'Blasphemy Challenge'

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Santa’s Crimes Against Humanity

Evil Santa

About the author: Robert Anton Wilson was the author of the legendary The Illuminatus! Trilogy. He died earlier this year.

In Burlington, North Carolina in 1990, a group of decent, Christian, hard-working folks who called themselves the Truth Tabernacle Church held a trial featuring the well-known elf Santa Claus as defendant.

They charged Mr. Claus, represented in court by a stuffed dummy, with all sorts of high crimes and misdemeanors. They charged him with paganism. They charged him with perjury for claiming to be Saint Nicholas. They even charged him with encouraging child abuse by appearing in whiskey ads. Worse yet, they found him guilty on all counts, for basically being a jolly old elf — i.e., a pagan god trying to steal Christmas from Christ.



It wasn't the first time Mr. Claus got the boot from a Christian congregation. Pope John XXIII threw the suspiciously merry old clown out of the Roman Catholic church back in the late 1960s. The Jehovah's Witnesses have always denounced Santa for his unsavory pagan past. (They also recognized Christmas trees as phallic symbols long before Freud.) Many fundamentalists believe that all pagan gods are basically one false god — the same demon in different disguises — and they think the disguise is thin in the case of this particular elf. It only takes a minor letter switch, they point out, to reveal Santa Claus as SATAN Claus.

I sort of think the fundies have it right for once. Santa not only has an unsavory pagan ancestry but a rather criminal family history all around. Let me Illuminize you...

As Weston La Barre pointed out a long time ago in his classic Ghost Dance: The Origins of Religion, you can find remnants of a primordial bear-god from the bottom of South America up over North America and over the North Pole and down across most of Europe and Asia. This deity appears in cave paintings from southern France carbon-dated at 30,000 BC. You can find him and her (for this god is bisexual) disguised in Artemis and Arduina and King Arthur, all unmasked via canny detective work by folklorists -- and etymologists, who first spotted the bear-god when they identified the Indo-European root ard, meaning bear. You can track the bear-god in dwindling forms in a hundred fairy tales from all over Europe and Asia. And you can find the rituals of this still-living god among the indigenous tribes of both American continents.

And Santa, like Peter Pan and the Green Man of the spring festivals, and the Court Jester — and (in an odd way) Chaplin's beloved Little Tramp — all have traits of the god that walks like a man and acts nasty sometimes and clownish sometimes and who was ritually killed and eaten by most of our ancestors in the Stone Age, who then became one with their god and thus also became (if the ritual worked) as brave as their god. See Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough for the gory details.

And I swear the same god-bear tromps and shambles through every page of Joyce's masterpiece of psycho-archeology, Finnegans Wake. If you don't believe me, consult Adaline Glasheen's Third Census of Finnegans Wake.

Most folklorists recognize "the cannibal in the woods" as a humanized relic of the bear-god. The heroine, in 101 tales, meets him while on a mission of mercy. He generally sets the heroine to solve three riddles, and when she succeeds, instead of eating her he becomes her ally and helps her reach her goal. One variation on that became The Silence of the Lambs. Another became Little Red Riding Hood.

What? Hannibal Lecter another of Santa's uncouth family?

Yes, indeedy.

In some rustic parts of Europe and probably in Kansas, Santa retains traces of his carnivorous past. Children are told that if they are "good" all year, Santa will reward them, but if they are "bad" he will EAT THEM ALL UP. Yeah, the Boogie Man , or Bogie, or Pookah, or Puck, are all of somewhat ursine ancestry, although other animal-gods got mixed in sometimes.


As Crazy Old Uncle Ezra wrote in Canto 113, "The gods have not returned. They have never left us."

Jung might state the case thusly: Gods, as archetypes of the genetic human under-soul (or "collective unconscious"), cannot be killed or banished; they always return with a new mask but the same symbolic meaning. Related example: Young ladies in ancient Greece were often seduced or raped by satyrs; in the Arab lands, we note a similar outbreak of randy djinn; it India, it was devas. In the Christian Dark Ages, it began happening to young men, too, especially to monks. They called the lascivious critter an incubus. Now it's happening all around us, and the molesters come from Outer Space. The sex-demon, like the Great Mother and the Shadow and our ursine hero, and the three brothers hunting the dragon (recognize them in Jaws? Spot them doing their Three Stooges gig?) — these archetypal forces always come back under new names. Sir Walter Scott called them "the crew that never rests."

And the bear-god seems wakeful elsewhere. He has appeared prominently in other bits of pop culture — the movies Legends of the Fall and The Edge (both of which, curiously, star Anthony Hopkins, who also starred as Hannibal Lecter) and snuck into Modern Lit 101 not only via Joyce but also via Faulkner's great parable "The Bear." He also pops up to deliver the punch line in Norman Mailer's Why Are We in Vietnam?

We will see more of him, methinks.

Meanwhile, Santa, the Jester/Clown/Fertility God aspect of Father Bear, is doing quite well also, despite getting the bum's rush by some grim, uptight Christers. He has quite successfully stolen Xmas from X and brings pagan lust and pagan cheer to most of us, every year, just when we need it most — in the dead of winter. His beaming face appears everywhere and if we have a minor cultural war going on between those who wish to invoke him via alcohol and those who prefer their invocations per cannabis, we all share the pagan belief, at least for part of a week, that the best way to mark the solstice and the year's dying ashes is to form a loving circle and all get bombed together.

As a pagan myself, I wouldn't have it any other way.

See Also:
Christmas 2.0: Subverting the Holidays With Re-dubbing
Alvin and the Chipmunks Launch iMunks.com
The Secret History of Charlie Brown's Christmas
Strange Sex Laws from Around the World
Robert Anton Wilson: 1932-2007
A Selection of Obscure Robert Anton Wilson Essays

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Reverend Billy Wants You To Stop Shopping

Reverend Billy Wants You To Stop Shopping
Photo by Fred Askew

You may want to start shopping more, just to increase your chances of running into the brilliant and hilarious anti-consumer performance artist Reverend Billy and his mad crew.

But if you're averse to hanging in malls, you now have another option — you can watch What Would Jesus Buy?, a new film directed by Rob VanAlkemade and produced by Super Size Me director Morgan Spurlock. The film follows Billy and his "Church of Stop Shopping choir" on a trek across America, between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2005, as our protagonists try to inject a little bit of genuine holiday spirit into the frenzy of the Xmas shopping season. (You know — love thy neighbors, help the needy, give peace a chance...)



To accomplish this, Billy and the choir tweak the harried shoppers with some good-natured, mock-Biblical preaching and singing that challenges them to put away their credit cards and get with some spontaneous, joyful, and real human experiences. Reverend Billy is Bill Talen, a seasoned performance artist who moved from San Francisco to NYC in the late '90s — and if the prospect of an hour or two of typical lefty agitprop leaves you dry, don't worry. He's a funny man who could charm the pants off of Scrooge.

Naturally, when I had the opportunity to interview him, I had to give him a bit of a hard time. Sorry, Reverend, I have a lot of ambiguity about the tendency of some people on the left to tell us how to live – and the anti-consumerist left may be the worst of them all. Of course we may indeed need to change how we live, but there's something too finger-pointy about the whole thing for my taste and it makes my right knee jerk. (That's my libertarian knee. My other knee is left.)

But what the hell. I can't walk down a city street without dozens of signs trying to persuade me to start shopping. (And someone is trying to persuade you to shop right in the middle of this very article!) So I've got to make some room for Billy and his choir, even though I'll shop wherever and whenever the fuck I want. (Though that isn't very often!)

In addition to the film, Public Affairs has released the bookWhat Would Jesus Buy: Fabulous Prayers in the Face of the Shopocalypse, which contains some of Billy's finest rants, including a description of The Church of Stop Shopping's historic visit to Disneyland at the end of the '05 tour.

RU SIRIUS: So tell us a bit about yourself, Rev Billy. Before Bill Talen was ordained as a Reverend in the Church of Stop Shopping, did you do other types of performance? Can you tell us a bit about them?

REVEREND BILLY: For a long time I was a storyteller and bodybuilder who hitchhiked. In other words, I was a simulation Beat Poet who arrived at least 20 years, maybe 30 years late.

I had long Conan-style hair, and I would stand up on the Interstate with my thumb out. At truck stops I would write rhapsodic poetry on napkins. I loved the dark world behind truck stops, the hidden world of small towns with white clapboard facades and strange hedges. Then I would get a job on someone's ranch, fall in love with their daughter, stay for six months.

Once I performed one of my monologues at a truck stop, which was unusual because usually the two worlds didn't mix like that — but they gave me a big ham as my pay!

RU: How did you hook up with Morgan Spurlock? Did he come to you or did you come to him?

RB: Morgan and I lived for a long time in the East Village about a mile apart. I was preaching in a community garden on Rivington in 1999, and he was there being an NYU film student at the time. So this is an argument for staying in the neighborhood. Do the work, shout in a garden, and the world eventually sits in the seats.

RU: But did you ever have much attachment to brands or have a tremendous lust for shopping?

RB: Gandhi said, "Become the change you seek." I think I could do better at not shopping.

I've been touring lately, so recycling becomes difficult. In fact, being on jets and in motels, I end up surrounded by containers — plastic mostly, boxes and packages and bags. I'm constantly stuffing garbage into cans while sitting down with my computer, and some gentle human being from Winnipeg is confessing to me that she is shopping too much. It won't do for me to preach Stop Shopping and then be covered with the wounds of fossil fuel.

RU: OK, let me lay my balls on the table. We have many similar political ideals and I appreciate your entire shtick. I think corporations have way too much power and I think we can do better than a society that's entirely centered on production and consumption.

But I never could get much of a hard-on over consumerism. In fact, even before I heard about your magnificent preachings, I wrote, "Consumerism is the original sin of the counterculture." I think that's true, and everything that implies follows. Fundamentalist anti-consumerists have sinful things they can not do to follow the way — to feel righteous and like they're doing good works. They get to feel morally superior to those heathen, unenlightened, brainwashed shoppers. And they get to preach the word.


Honestly, after hanging out with really hardcore anti-consumerist types, I always wrap myself up in furs, buy a tub of genocidal chicken from KFC and settle in to watch Flava Flav pick a new girlfriend.

Ok, not really, but isn't there something a bit too preachy about the whole thing, Rev?

RB: Oh yeah, god. We are all sinners, and keep laughing — definitely! Jesus. I've never had the temperament to be ideological or religious (we say we are post-religious) but I know these limits are just defenses.

I do respect, though, the people who resist consumption in a more thorough way than I do. We need that end of the spectrum — the rigorously maintained compost heap in Vermont, the freegans and their dumpster raids in the cities. I regard such people highly, and where would we be without them?

On the other hand — human suffering from fundamentalism as such, from Mao to L. Ron Hubbard to the Atkins diet to the Khmer Rouge — let's face it, an unbending law is probably wrong. We proceed then, laughing and singing.

RU: Laughing and singing, indeed. Tell us something about your cast of characters. You must have had some great, strange, creative people on this traveling tour...

RB: Well the choir and the band are like the 7 Train in Queens. From all over the world. We have folks from Nigeria and Korea and Sweden and Venezuela.

Consumerism is a worldwide malady, it hits us all. So for our message to make sense we need the world's citizens there to testify. The serious deadly report of global capital's empire comes from all these different folks, whipping up their "Change-a-lujahs."



RU: I was once asked to describe what brands I was unreasonably attached to, and I couldn't really come up with anything, unless you count decrepit rock stars from my youth in the sixties. Do you think the strong sense of branding — and conversely against branding — is more of a GenX and post-GenX theme?

RB: I'm more concerned with the ambient presence of logos, the simulated sex-life while walking through a canyon of supermodels, the nano-science that leaves smart people well-paid because they reported on the neuro-switch in our brains that makes not buying impossible, the impulse inevitable.

So — brand loyalty isn't so much the question when we walk around inside these totalized environments. We don't have to love them anymore like that, like in the 50's when a Chevy was your iconic permission to be wild.

RU: Do you enjoy the fame that you have?

RB: Well it's all so new I don't know it very well. I'm in the East Village now and "Hi Rev!" rings out, but I've done real work here with Savitri D and the singers and musicians. Community gardens, and little bakeries and 53-year-old indy shops and the tenement house where Edgar A Poe wrote "The Raven" — we defend these places. So this is more like real fame, community fame where individuals choose to like us — not some Machiavellian media thing...

We're constantly amazed by Morgan's savvy, and appreciate the fact that from it we'll be able to go to community groups and help them with funding and press as they try to stave off a supermall or something... The book and the movie will help us with this work.

RU: But it also seems that hip "bobos" enjoy consuming media stories about "culture jamming" of various sorts, say, on the pages of Wired or even Wall Street Journal.


I think lots of people who don't share your views probably feel more amused than threatened. Do you ever feel yourself entering into the proverbial Society of the Spectacle, and does it matter?

RB: The condition of voyeur-Boboism is not a static one. Many souls come over from that kind of consumption, when they are ready.

So it is our job to keep dancing, keep preaching and singing, and especially to go to the activists in the communities we visit, and take the hit with them. Always pull the spectacle screaming toward the political change; drag the entertainment toward the activism.

More and more people are walking with us.

RU: Can you say more about your chorus members from all over the world? Do they have different approaches to the "Stop Shopping" theme? What have you learned from them?

RB: Well, Adetola's parents are Nigerian, whereas Urania is Greek-American, and Mi Sun is getting her residence visa after growing up in South Korea. Taking these three folks — the religion from their childhoods is more or less fundamentalist, if you go back far enough, but also internationalized and humanist, if you come forward. Adetola, Urania and Mi Sun seem to have found a spiritual home in "backing away from the product" (ed: a church ritual) judging from the fervor of their singing, and our personal sharing about it while we perform and tour.

Many Americans find it unbelievable that denying the impulse of living-through-more-stuff can be so powerful as to be called "spiritual." Those are the folks that underestimate how powerful advertising, packaging, and all those happiness schemes really are. Consumerism is a virulent fundamentalistic system. Our souls wait to be free of it.

RU: But do you think consumer culture can actually be liberating to cultures that are escaping various forms of puritanism like Iran or China?

RB: Lots of things can be. We have to be careful that our natural born American chauvinism doesn't start making excuses for standard imperialism.

If you are asking — "Is the globalized economy a necessary step in an evolution toward freedom?" Absolutely not. Usually the exact opposite. The puritanism of product-loving is more insidious, but not less anti-sensual.

The way out of the puritanism of systems like those in Iran and China might be better accomplished by rejecting "Free Trade," the American celebrity tradition, etc. Many re-find their own indigenous cultures, and then come back to the international community by contacting other parallel movements abroad. This is happening in the World Social Forum — under-reported by our commercial press — but a worldwide phenomenon nonetheless.

RU: You're writing and rap seems to advocate a return to place — the village life. I spent my teens and some of my twenties in a smallish town in Western N.Y. (I think the only corporate stores were J.C. Penney's, Woolworth's and Macys). It sucked. It was drab, dreary, ignorant; and small towns enforce conformity.

That's why bohos move to San Francisco and New York. Couldn't mobility actually be a lot more progressive and liberating than place?

RB: The defense of the First Amendment Rights of public space, embodied in the commons of a village or the streetcorner of an urban neighborhood — the idea of a child's unmediated sense of wonder coming from nature and neighbors... this line of reasoning doesn't have to take you back to a Norman Rockwell small town.

We are simply looking for ways to describe a healthy community, which certainly also exists in the cafe society of San Francisco and the village in New York — where the Stop Shopping Church is most popular.

The thing that is more drab, dreary, ignorant and conformity-enforcing is the mall, the privatized street, the vapid landscape of traffic jams and the toxic-coated no-humans-land of the suburbs. We go into those "seas of identical details" with our singing and preaching. We wade into traffic jams and motorists — god bless 'em — roll down their windows to say hi and get info. The Consumer-scape isolates us, and the new media that the corporations fear most is the media of talking and listening between citizens.

Change-a-lujah!

What Would Jesus Buy? is opening on Friday November 16 in eight cities, including New York, Denver, San Francisco (Lumiere), and Seattle.

The premier in NYC will be attended by Morgan Spurlock, Reverend Billy, Savitri (director of the performance and activist events of The Church of Stop Shopping) and director Rob VanAlkamade, and not least: The Stop Shopping Gospel Choir and the Not Buying It Band. The 7 PM NYC screening is a fall fundraiser.


See Also:
Has The Man Infiltrated Burning Man?
Kneecaps, Eyeballs and Livers for Sale: The World Organ Trade
The NoSo Project: No Social Networking
They’re Dreaming of a Boobs Christmas

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Britney vs. Bin Laden: A Celebrity Comeback Battle



What a weird, wacky week of high-profile iconic resurrections!

In one corner, we have a disheveled, sickly looking maniac who can barely move and appears to be in some kind of drug-enduced stupor while babbling messages of madness.

And in the other corner, we have Osama bin Laden.



But are these two really that different? Neither of 'em have had a decent hit in the U.S. since 2001, that's for sure. And right now both are hell-bent on trying to regain some traction in terms of contemporary relevance… appropriately enough, both in the field of video.

Ask any of Osama's wives, and they'll tell you our favorite joltin' jihadist is actually the sentimental type, and has got hisself all verklempt over today's anniversary of that thing that happened six years ago. (Which he did. Yes, I said it. Now all you conspiracy nuts can spam me at FlossWithMyAssHair.com.)

First we get last week's reminder from bin Laden that he continues to play Road Runner to our Wile E. Coyote … meep meep! Sure, he looked about as stiff as Andy Dick at a Boys & Girls Club Pancake Breakfast, but look as good at that age I will not, hmm?

At least you gotta give props to his cinematographer for making sure his colostomy bag stayed outta the shot. Bravo! Now we're expecting his second video in as many weeks. Joy! I can't wait for another chance to be compelled to put aside my wicked Western ways and embrace Mustafa or whoever.

It certainly won't happen while I fight the urge to join the chorus of Britney-haters who seem to think it was a bad idea for her to shake her flabby, unsexy ass in front of millions of people. Yeah, like I can ever resist that temptation.

Everyone knows I'm no homo (although I'm totally gay for that new Iron Man trailer!), and I certainly likes a little jiggle on my jello. But this is no Beyoncé-esque, taut, round rump we're talking about here. Britney might as well tattoo the Frito-Lay logo on her ass.

Okay, so she's not quite Gwen Stefani in the post-natal department … whatever. Obviously it was all about the "dancing." I mean, I tell people I "dance," and I certainly will go out to clubs and "dance." But when I saw her on the MTV Video Music Awards, I knew instinctively that this was the same "dance" I do around 1:45 about 20 minutes after I should've left the club in a drunken heap. Or that time I decided whiskey and Vicodin would really unleash the Deney Terrio in me. Not so much. (The look on 50 Cent's face said it all – I had the same look when I saw Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity show and they launched a midget 50 feet into the air.)

Of course, this is all to promote a new single ("Gimme Monostat 7" or something like that) from the Brit-ster, whose recent contributions to the world include keeping various nannies busy and showing off her cooch.

So now that we've introduced our challengers, let's see how they stack up against each other in hand-to-hand comeback combat...



Tale of the Tape

bin Laden – Exiled terror icon. Once a reviled boogeyman for the Bush administration, now more like the Johnny Carson of Jihad. (You see him once in a blue moon, and he looks worse every time).

Britney – Fallen pop tart. Once a Madison Ave poster girl inspiring erections across lines of age, race and income, now more like the girl you end up bangin' after a drunken 3 a.m. introduction at the Jack in the Box drive-thru.

Let's get ready to rumble...


Still Sexy?

bin Laden – I don't know, man, it's not really working for me without that whole rough 'n' rugged cave thing going on. Plus I prefer my terrorists wild-eyed and frothing at the mouth. Ol' Ossie just doesn't have that eye of the tiger anymore.

Britney – She looks like her belly button stinks. Ew.

Winner … bin Laden!


YouTube-ability

bin Laden – As previously stated, the guy just really doesn't have the dynamism anymore. And unlike Britney's choreographer, al-Qaeda's production team didn't have the wits to surround him with high-flying, acrobatic jihadists doing somersaults in the background to give it some sorely needed pizzazz.

Britney – Like watching a perfect trainwreck. Except the train is too fat and drunk to speed down the tracks, and it kinda waddles its way toward disaster. Britney's performance was her generation's "Aloha from Hawaii." Only Elvis didn't look this bad till he was 40, and she's … what?! 25?! Sweet mother Mary!!

Winner … Britney!


Will It Fly?

bin Laden – Is there anyone left with half a brain who hasn't realized this guy is the Colonel Sanders of Islamic extremism? Twenty years from now nobody will even remember he existed, but they'll still be handing out buckets of terror with his face on 'em. The only real question left for bin Laden is how much time his kidneys will leave for him to get really desperate for attention.

Britney – Judging by what a predictable mess the last five years became for Ms. Toxic, I'm guessing not. I mean, think about it – we're talking about someone who's managed to make Christina Aguilera look like Ute Lemper by comparison! The only real question left for Britney is whether she'll end up like Anna Nicole Smith. Although I personally have little interest in seeing her bloated corpse anytime soon. Not when her bloated non-corpse is still worth some entertainment...

Winner … You tell us, in the comments.

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Burning the Man With Hunter S. Thompson

Paul Addis a.k.a. B. Duke
Image courtesy of Scott Beale.

Twelve weeks ago we recorded an interview with Paul Addis — the man who burned the Man and was promptly arrested for arson. And even back then, he was constantly flicking his lighter.

"He never asked for permission to smoke in my house," remembers Jeff Diehl, co-host of the The RU Sirius Show. "And he chain smoked the whole time, even though he doesn't inhale."

This was at least partly because he was in character — Addis was performing as Hunter S. Thompson in a one-man show (a local newsweekly said it "feels like a reckless, all-out verbal assault") called "Gonzo: A Brutal Chrysalis," and was discussing his idol. Before the show was over, he'd identified the "heir apparent" to the Gonzo journalist.
Matt Taibbi. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone is the heir apparent to Hunter Thompson.

He is on the mission... I first noticed him about two years ago when he went to Burning Man and proclaimed it for what it is — toothless and wallowing in its own muck and irrelevant to anyone or anything...

Eight weeks later, we interviewed Larry Harvey, the festival's founder. While there's no indication of what motivated Addis, Burning Man was already under criticism for a new policy.

On our podcast, Harvey addressed a simmering controversy over the presence of environmental exhibits at the base of the man which some participants thought were too commercial.

"We...informed everyone that they wouldn't be allowed to advertise," Harvey said. "They wouldn't be allowed to pass out their cards; they wouldn't be allowed to brand anybody; they wouldn't be allowed to talk about their product." He attributed the backlash to a Business 2.0 article which he said used business terminology to describe the event. (For example, calling the festival's attendees "customers.")

I don't see that commerce and community are allergic to one another. That's absolutely absurd... For instance, when participants are producing something that others might need in the desert, we let people know about it. So you can take those two value systems and make them overlap in such a way that they reinforce one another... To be against commerce is to be against your shoes, your shorts...


Addis's anger at the festival pre-dates the controversy. Laughing Squid's Scott Beale discovered that five years earlier, Addis praised a reporter at San Francisco's alternative newspaper, SF Weekly — for another negative article about the Nevada festival, saying it showed that the festival was over-controlled.
One by one the rules have risen since 1997, and not just to protect the participants from themselves. Those rules and judgments, such as what art is permitted in Black Rock City and radical free expression's outer limits, are determined in line with what will make the most money for Burning Man and generate the fewest potential controversies in the media. As such, Burning Man's overall relevance is kept safely within the realm of harmless diversion, quietly under the feet of the same elements that tame all other aspects of society.

In the letter he also laid into Burning Man founder Larry Harvey. "No amount of diffusion filters can give Harvey what he doesn't have: vision or loyalty," Addis wrote. "Don't fear the Hat, ladies and gentlemen. He's just trying to realize what it's like to be the Bill Graham of the 21st century."

Addis' Mug Shot
This morning on a dark playa, at 2:58 a.m., some festival goers gathered to watch the lunar eclipse, according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle. A festival organizer told the Associated Press that Addis was then spotted by many festival-goers — deliberately lighting the Man on fire. A blogger at C|Net reported the frantic conversation he overheard on the Burning Man communications channel:

...the most poignant moment of all, however, was when Crimson Rose, one of the six people on the Burning Man board that runs the event and the person in charge of the Man, said...

I want that asshole arrested...And I want the first shot.



Larry Harvey had earlier been hit by a lawsuit from John Law, an early organizer of the Burning Man festival. One of Law's supporters — Chris Radcliffe — has been advocating the communal ownership of the Burning Man trademark (rather than its current ownership by Burning Man, LLC.)

"I just spoke with Chris Radcliffe, who is currently in Portland" Scott Beale at Laughing Squid wrote, "and he said that he has paid the $3200 bail for Paul’s release, but they have not let Paul out yet because he is refusing to give his name to authorities."

A 56-year-old lawyer from Napa who was at the festival gave a disgusted quote to the Reno Gazette-Journal. "Nowadays people seem to want to use terrorist acts for political reasons rather than by debating, talking or reasoning." And a Burning Man ranger — Ranger Sasquatch — saw the attack as something even more pitiful.

"Someone went to a great extent to interfere with everyone else's burn. I think, frankly, an attention whore has made a plea for attention."

There may be more behind the act's motivation than that, and it probably would be instructive to think, "What Would Hunter Do?"

RU Sirius Show co-host and life-long admirer of HST, Steve Robles, thinks he knows: "Hunter would have stopped attending when they banned firearms and started organizing camps so you wouldn't get run over by a wayward car in the middle of the night while sleeping off the tequila."

Then again, it is also true that Addis' one-man show is poised for a West Coast tour.

See Also:
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
Interview with Paul Addis, a.k.a., B. Duke
Catching Up With an Aqua Teen Terrorist
Has 'The Man' Infiltrated Burning Man?
Anarchy For the USA: A Conversation with Josh Wolf
California Cults 2006

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Has ‘The Man’ Infiltrated Burning Man?


Corporate sponsors at Burning Man? Heaven forefend!

The controversy started when Business 2.0 ran an article saying that Burning Man had invited some "green energy companies" to participate in the exhibit. Among the companies involved, the article revealed that Google would be producing an online 3-D service called Burning Man Earth.

Burning Man Maximum Leader Larry Harvey joined us for a weekend edition of the RU Sirius Show where we talked about the hubbub, which he claims has been misreported.



As coincidence would have it, the following week I interviewed Chicken John — an eternal thorn in Larry Harvey's side – about his San Francisco Mayoral candidacy and I asked him about the Burning Man controversy. He didn't comment specifically on the presence of green companies, but rather seemed to feel that the whole "Green Man" theme was mainstream and lame. (Mimicking voice of Larry Harvey) "This year Burning Man is going to be about... ahhhhh... green"... And it's like, dude -- you're reading this off of the cover of fuckin' Vanity Fair. Are you kidding? It's a fad."

The following conversation is about Burning Man and commerce. Diana Brown and Jeff Diehl joined me in this interview with Larry Harvey.

To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.


RU SIRIUS: This year at Burning Man, you've invited some "green energy companies" to be part of a "World's Fair of Clean Technology." Although the companies involved have not paid for sponsorship, and are prohibited from branding and direct marketing, some burners are in a virtual frenzy about the intrusion of commercial interests onto their hallowed ground.

So two questions: in the abstract, is the sort of countercultural hostility towards all commerce over-the-top? And in the specific: Yo, Larry, what's up, man?

LARRY HARVEY: I think you said it right. It is virtual hostility, inasmuch as it is all taking place on the internet. And so let's not forget the virtuality of this reality.

RU: So you haven't caught an F2F — no pies in the face or anything like that?

LH: No.

RU: I got pied once.

LH: Did you really?

RU: "Selling out cyberpunk"

LH: (Laughs) The ideology of this issue is sort of interesting. Back in February, we announced that we were going to have a pavilion at the base of The Man, and we'd bring in technology. And we said that this would involve business people. We also informed everyone that they wouldn't be allowed to advertise; they wouldn't be allowed to pass out their cards; they wouldn't be allowed to brand anybody; they wouldn't be allowed to talk about their product, they wouldn't be...

RU: Now wait a second. I think branding people would be popular at Burning Man.

LH: I've actually participated in a branding. I held the flashlight. This is in the playa in dark, and...

DIANA BROWN: That was nice of you!

LH: Well, yeah! (Laughs) I was...

DB: Lest they not see where they're going, and turn it on you!

RU: "Property of Hell's Angels?"

LH: I was there to help!

DB: Larry's a giver!



LH: Anyway, I've never used the word "branding" in relation to anything we do, privately or publicly. I've instructed some staff members that you don't brand people; you brand cattle. And what's happened is — there's a whole generation that's grown up that apparently never paid too much attention to anthropology. They speak entirely in terms of business advertising. Where you might say "identity," they will say "branding," because that's the only kind of identity that they're aware of.

But in creating this pavilion, it's really not our intention to brand anybody. The controversy all started with the article in Business 2.0. We'd announced our plans in detail months before, and no one said anything. And I believe that people are responding to the writer's attempt to translate what we were saying into business-speak. I told him, "If you involve a people in the creating of something, it makes it a lot more meaningful." And he turned that into: "Make our customers feel like they're experiencing something."

DB: He translated it into business speak. Participant equals customer.

LH: He turned it into a kind of manipulative strategy you'd use if you were marketing. Of course, that upset people. And then they got the idea that we were opening the gates to big corporations. Now, we went to big corporations and told them that we wouldn't allow them to advertise; we wouldn't allow them to do anything with brands, we wouldn't allow them to jump up on a soapbox and harangue the multitudes.

DB: …slap stickers on the backs of passing heads?

LH: We wouldn't let them do anything that would sell their product. They all...

RU: …but what if they built a really eccentric-looking soapbox, very much in the tradition of Burning Man... like an art car soapbox.

DB: Pepsi caps.

LH: Well, they weren't even interested in it as viral marketing. They just all walked away. There are no big corporations.

RU: Except Google. They're big.

DB: Google is a verb.

LH: I'm excited about the Google thing and have been from the beginning. But what we've ended up with — it was hyped a little. It was called a World's Fair. And I'm here to tell you; it's not exactly a World's Fair. We've got a little over thirty exhibitors in this space at the base of the man. And the great majority are DIY projects by participants — burners — with no business profile whatsoever!

RU: But if you think about the sort of DNA of Burning Man, it's all in the presentations. And everybody presumes that all presentations are basically unaffiliated individuals and groups with no commercial interests related to what they're doing.

LH: Yeah, that's the big question some people had. It's an authentic question. It's the first thing that would occur to me — "What's their motivation for doing it?" Well, the DIY folks — their motivation is the same motivation anybody has at Burning Man. Come out and create something! And then there's a lesser number of people involved who are small-time, mom/pop entrepreneurs. These are not hulking corporations either.

The only element that could be considered "big capitalism" – and it's not that big — would be the guy who's coming out with this immense solar array that we're going to build. It'll power The Man — the Pavilion. And when we're done, we're gonna break that up and give it to the county seat of Pershing County and Gerlach. (ed: location of annual Burning Man festival.) So it'll power a hospital and a school. Why is he doing that? He usually brokers larger deals. They usually deal with big institutions. That's how the company makes money. But he's not interested in marketing to our participants. He just thought it would be cool!

The only other thing that could be confused with evil corporate colossi would be the wind turbines. We're gonna have some really neat-looking big wind turbines. And they'll be around the man. In that case, we went around the marketing people at the company involved and talked to the scientists. Scratch a scientist, you'll find an artist. So they said, "Cool! We want people to see these really neat wind turbines." I don't think there's even a consumer model of the wind turbines, so I don't think they're marketing.

So there's no marketing going on — virally or not — and there aren't any big corporations.

JEFF DIEHL: But do you think this might be opening a sort of Pandora's box? You'll have to turn Burning Man completely green. You can't have a big solar array powering part of it one year… I mean, you can't go backwards, right?

LH: I don't think you can, no.

JD: You have to have it every year. And then you're going to want to expand it.

LH: Yeah! If you're sincere, you have to persevere.

JD: Yeah. And to eventually power the whole project with renewable resources — that's gonna involve a huge cost.

LH: It might be an achievable ideal. We're doing everything we can this year. We're not going to back off on that effort. But no — it's not the slippery slope to corporate conquests at the event.

RU: You don't see a baby step towards sponsorship?

LH: No.

RU: Maybe I should move on to the broader question. Do you really have to be defensive about this at all? What about the larger question of people's general hostility towards the idea of sponsors. Let it be said that the RU Sirius Show is happy to accept sponsorship.

DB: Also, has Burning Man spawned entrepreneurs? Are there some small mom and pop companies or artists that actually became successful because people learned about them from Burning Man?



LH: I'm not sure that it's led to any businesses. But I can testify that it's given a lot of artists extensive careers outside the event. We pay them for all their materials. And we've given out money. Last year we gave out quarter of a million. This year, it's more like a half-a-million. And then the artists go on the circuit. They show up at various countercultural festivals and they make a profit on stuff that they've already constructed with our money. They show up at Coachella — Coachella is full of Burning Man art. And — gasp - they make money. It's commerce. Artists are actually practicing commerce. I know that's a very controversial subject, but...

RU: Do you think it really is? Of all the people who say that they hate commerce -- don't most of them practice it on a small scale?

LH: I don't see that commerce and community are allergic to one another. That's absolutely absurd.

I wrote an essay in our newsletter last year about commerce and community. My conclusion was that — if the end product of commerce is profit, and the end product of all the organization we do is to generate culture and community — they aren't mutually exclusive. People get outraged at commerce conducted at such a scale, and in such a political climate, that it's destructive of community – and at the way advertising can be insidiously coercive.

All that's true. When you have the stockholders at one end of the process and the consuming public at the other end – and there's that distance – that breeds actions that have no conscience whatsoever. But there isn't any reason not to engage in commerce. For instance, when participants are producing something that others might need in the desert, we let people know about it. So you can take those two value systems and make them overlap in such a way that they reinforce one another. If either one of them dominates and completely subsumes the other, then both take corruption from it. To be against commerce is to be against your shoes, your shorts...

RU: People drive to Burning Man in cars...

LH: Well, I mean people who raise that as an objection — that's Luddite. And everybody knows that, if they stop and think. When people say something's too commercial, they mean that a capitalist process has just sucked the soul out of something.

JD: The times I went to Burning Man, I compared the hype about this being a non-commercial event to the reality. And on the whole, there was a real sense that I was pulled outside of the larger economic operations of the world for a week. Sure, there are tons of products that are used to make Burning Man happen. Everybody who goes there buys products with brand names from big corporations that they use there. The unique thing about Burning Man is that it's the end of the line for a lot of those products. Whereas out in the normal world, they're usually put to some sort of further use which feeds back into the economic system. At Burning Man, as long as its terminal for those products, it creates kind of a special place for the people who are out there.

LH: It does. It's a spiritual proposition. You know, goods don't come instilled with meaning. That's the illusion that advertising creates. "You've got the lifestyle; you've got a life." I'm sorry. It's not true.

If you buy something in the marketplace, take it out to Burning Man, and then use it for a creative purpose, you have instilled that with meaning.

DB: A different meaning than perhaps was originally intended.

LH: Exactly. Years of consumerism have just made people passive — and yet bitter. It's a terrible combination. The instilling process doesn't mean anything to them. They've spent their lives consuming.

RU: In terms of people getting sort of bitchy about all this — Burning Man has been around for a long time, and like anything that's been around for a long time, people start getting bitchy. Is that part of what's going on here?

LH: Oh, that's a big part of it. People have got the idea that you can go out there and be free and thumb your nose at the man. You can pretend that you don't lead your life for eight days. So by a perverse logic, by being around for a long time, we become the man. The people who organize the event – in some instances, people who devoted their entire lives to it — are evil.

RU: "Don't be evil."

LH: Go back home and act like you did at Burning Man. Start to change it out there. You'll find plenty of collaborators.

And you have people who say, if it weren't for the Burning Man organizers, it would be a great thing. I can follow their logic, but I can't agree with it. We're not the man. We all create it. There are participants who say, "There'd be no Burning Man except for us." True. But there wouldn't be one if not for us, too. There's a cart and there's a horse, and people can decide for themselves who the horse is.

See also:
Counterculture and the Tech Revolution
Anarchy For the USA: A Conversation with Josh Wolf
Raising Hunter Thompson
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
Mondology Volume 1 Free Audio Download
California Cults 2006

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Give Me Immortality Or Give Me Death!

Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death!

According to transhumanist Michael Anissimov, there's an even chance that we're looking at immortality or existential destruction in the next 20-40 years. Anissimov is only 23-years-old but he's already become an important figure in the transhumanist movement. While still in high school, he became founder and director of the Immortality Institute. He's been active with the World Transhumanist Association (WTA), and he is currently Fundraising Director, North America for the Lifeboat Foundation.

Lifeboat Foundation describe themselves as "a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging scientific advancements while helping humanity survive existential risks and possible misuse of increasingly powerful technologies, including genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics/AI as we move toward a technological singularity."

Anissimov also blogs regularly at Accelerating Future.

I interviewed him for my NeoFiles Show. Jeff Diehl joined me.

To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.


RU SIRIUS: Let's start off talking about immortality. And let's talk about it personally. Do you want to live forever?

MICHAEL ANISSIMOV: Oh, absolutely! For sure!

RU: Why?

MA: Because I have at least a thousand years of plans already. And in those thousand years, I'll probably make another thousand years of plans, and I don't see any end to that cycle.



RU: Do you see the quality of life improving for yourself and for most human beings?

MA: Yes, I do.

RU: Because I don't know if I want to live forever under Darwinian conditions. It gets tiring.

MA: I agree. It does. We need to take control of our own evolution before this would be a planet really worth living on. I don't think that thousands of years of war would be good for anyone. So things do need to improve.

RU: Yeah. Even having to pay… who can afford a thousand years?

MA: (Laughs) Well, you'll work for a thousand years...

RU: It's very expensive!

MA: Yeah, people are dying to retire. So it would help out if we had the robots doing a little bit more of the work.

JEFF DIEHL: So what's your itinerary for the next thousand years?

MA: I want to go spelunking in every major cave. I want to climb the highest peak on every continent. I want to write, like maybe at least ten nonfiction books and ten fiction books. Mmmm…

RU: Some people have done that in a lifetime.

MA: I know!

JD: Yeah, you're not very ambitious, man — come on!

MA: (Laughs) Think of ten possible lives you could live, and then think that you don't necessarily need to choose between them. You could live them back to back.

RU: On the other hand, you could pop your consciousness into several bodies and have them all living simultaneously for only a hundred years. Would that be the equivalent of living a thousand years?

MA: I don't think so. I think that would just be like having kids. Copying yourself would give rise to multiple independent strains of consciousness.

RU: Maybe there could be some kind of central person who could be taking in all of the experiences.

MA: There could be some information exchange, but...

RU: Aubrey de Grey, of course, is the hacker-biologist who has become very well known for saying that this is quite plausible in the near future. Is there any progress that he's pointed to, or that you can point to, since he really proclaimed the plausibility of immortality some time around the beginning of this century?

MA: Yeah. Recently Peter Thiel, former CEO of Paypal, offered three million dollars in matching funds for projects related to this. And they've started coming up with ways to actually use over a million dollars, I believe. They have the MitoSENS project and the LysoSENS projects.

RU: What are these projects about?

MA: Well, with LysoSENS — lysomal junk is this stuff that builds up between cells. And our natural metabolism doesn't currently have any way of breaking it down. So researchers are trying to exploit the law of microbial infallibility — the notion that no matter what organic material you're talking about, you're going to be able to find a microbe that can eat it. So they're searching for microbes that are capable of breaking down this junk. And they've been looking in places like... next to a Burger King, because people throw burgers on the ground and stuff like that. So there are special bacteria there that learn how to break down these organic compounds. And some of these researchers have even gotten permission to get soil samples from the people that run graveyards because that's where you'd expect to find the bugs. Basically, they're looking for specialized microbes that can dissolve that lysomal junk.

RU: IBM recently announced a naotechnology breakthrough. They said that "the breakthrough marks the first time chips have been made with a self-assembling nano-technology using the same process that forms seashells or snowflakes." This sounds like a really big deal.

MA: Yeah, it is! It's not the same thing though as molecular manufacturing, where you basically have a molecular assembly line that places each atom, one by one. It's not quite as intelligently controlled or productive, but it is a large breakthrough.

RU: Yeah, the word jumps out at me — "self-assembling." That sounds... you're not too excited?

MA: (Skeptically) Ehhh. I mean, it's pretty exciting but people have been playing around with this stuff for a while

RU: OK. Let's move on to your current work — The Lifeboat Foundation This foundation is focused on existential risk, which is a board game, I think: Camus v. Sartre.

MA: (Laughs) Not exactly!

RU: I don't know how you win. It's probably like Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts — the board game never arrives.

Anyway, in the discourse currently going around among people who are part of the transhumanist schemata and transhumanist world — there seems to be a turn from optimism towards a dialogue that's sort of apocalyptic. And the Lifeboat website seems to reflect that. Do you think that's true?

MA: I think it is true to a small extent. I think it's actually reflective of the maturing of the transhumanist movement. Because it's easy to say…

RU: "It's gonna be great!"

MA: Particularly when the dotcom boom was happening, everyone was, like, "Oh, the future's gonna be great. No problems." You know... "We're making shitloads of cash. Everything's going to go well."

Now, we've had seven years of George Bush. We've been involved in two wars. We understand that reality isn't always peachy keen and we're going to have to deal with the consequences.

RU: So are people in the transhumanist world as worried as they sound, or is it partly political – trying to be responsible and ease concerns among people who are perhaps more paranoid than technophiles like yourself?

MA: No, it's very genuine. The more you understand about powerful technologies, the more you understand that they really do have the potential to hose us all, in a way that nuclear war can't.

RU: Give me your top two existential risks.

MA: Well, as Dr. Alan Goldstein pointed out on your show a couple of weeks ago, Synthetic Life is a huge risk because life is inherently designed to replicate in the wild. So life based on different chemical reactions could replicate much more rapidly than what we're accustomed to, like some sort of super-fungus. I think that's one of the primary risks. And the second risk would be artificial intelligence — human-surpassing artificial intelligence.

RU: So you're concerned about the "robot wars" scenario — artificial intelligence that won't care that much for us? Do you have any particular scenarios that you're following?

MA: Well, I'd like to caution people to be careful what they see in the movies. Because this is one of those areas where people have been speculating about it for quite a few decades, and so much fictional material has been built around it...

RU: Actually, I believe everything in .

MA: (Laughs) If you really look through those shows in a critical way, you see that they're full of blatant holes all over the place. Like, they can send a guy through time, but they can't send his clothes with him through time? (Laughs) In reality, I think that artificial intelligence is potentially most dangerous because it might not necessarily need to have a robotic body before it becomes a threat. An artificial intelligence that's made purely out of information could manipulate a wide variety of things on the internet. So it would have more power than we might guess.



RU: You've written a bit about the idea of Friendly AI. (We had
Eliezer Yudkowsky on the show quite a while back, talking about this.) Do you see steps that can be taken to ensure that A.I. is friendly?

MA: Yeah! I'm totally in support of Eliezer and the Singularity Institute. I think that they're one of the few organizations that has a clue. And they're growing. I think that you've got to put a lot of mathematical eggheads working together on the problem. You can't just look at it from an intuitive point of view. You can actually understand intelligence on a mathematical level. It's a lot to ask. I think that friendly A.I. will be a tremendous challenge because there's just a lot of complexity in what constitutes a good person. And there's a lot of complexity in what constitutes what we consider common sense.

RU: Do you think the breakthrough might come through reverse engineering the human brain?

MA: It's possible but probably not.

RU: Good, because I don't think human beings are that friendly. I think the friendly A.I. has to be friendlier than human beings.

MA: It definitely does. And one way we could do that is by creating an A.I. that doesn't have a self-centered goal system. All creatures built by Darwinian evolution inherently have a self-centered goal system. I mean, before we became altruistic, we were extremely selfish. A reptile has eggs, and then the eggs hatch and he just walks off. He doesn't care about his kids. So this altruism thing is relatively recent in the history of evolution, and our psychology is still fundamentally self-centered.

JD: Isn't trying to plan for the nature of these future AI's kind of absurd because of the exponential superiority of their reasoning... if they even have what we would call reasoning? Can we really plan for this? It seems like once you hit a certain threshold, the Singularity, by definition is incomprehensible to us.

MA: I initially had the same issue. It seems impossible. But ask yourself, if you could choose, would you rather have an A.I. modeled after Hitler or would you rather have an A.I. modeled after Mother Teresa?

Regardless of how intelligent the A.I. becomes, it starts off from a distinct initial state. It starts off from a seed. So whatever it becomes will be the consequence of that seed making iterative changes on itself.

JD: But maybe in the first nano-second, it completely expunges anything that resembles human reasoning and logic because that's just a problem to them that doesn't need to be solved any more. And then beyond that — we have no fucking clue what they're going to move onto.

MA: It's true, but whatever it does will be based on the motivations it has.

JD: Maybe. But not if it re-wires itself completely…

MA: But if it rewired itself, then it would do so based on the motivations it originally had. I mean, I'm not saying it's going to stay the same, but I'm saying there is some informational similarity — there's some continuity. Even though it could be a low-level continuity, there's some continuity for an A.I. Also, you could ask the same question of yourself. What happens if a human being gains control over its own mind state.

RU: How we understand our motivations might be distinct from how we would understand our motivations if we had a more advanced intelligence.

MA: That's true.

RU: I'm going to move on to something that was on the Lifeboat web site that confounded me. It's labeled a News Flash. It says, "Robert A. Freitas Jr. has found preliminary evidence that diamond mechanosynthesis may not be reliable enough in ambient temperatures to sustain an existential risk from microscopic ecophagic replicators."

JD: (Joking) I had a feeling that was the case. (Laughter)

RU: What the hell does that mean?!

MA: Robert's a bit of a wordy guy, but maybe I can explain it. You have an STM (Scanning Tunneling Microscope.) It's like a little needle that's able to scan a surface by measuring the quantum difference between the two surfaces. Diamond mechanosynthesis would just be the the ability to have a tiny needle-like robotic arm that places a single or perhaps two carbon atoms onto a pre-programmed place. So, in life, we are all based on proteins. Carbon isn't slotted in like in a covalent sense, which is the way that people that are working on nanotechnology are thinking of working. They're thinking of putting together pieces of carbon, atom by atom, to make a covalently bonding carbon. Robert's saying that it might be that the ambient temperature of the environment is too hot for that needle to work. So you'd need to have it in a vacuum or super-cooled environment for it to work.

RU: You did a good job of explaining that. Moving on, there's some talk on your site of the idea of relinquishment, which is deciding not to develop technologies. Is that even possible?

MA: Instead of relinquishment, I like to talk about selective development. You can't really relinquish technology too easily. But you can develop safeguards before technologies reach their maturity. And you can develop regulations that anticipate future consequences instead of always taking a knee-jerk reaction and saying: "Oh, this disaster happened; therefore we will now regulate."

RU: Of course, it's not really possible to regulate what everybody everywhere on the planet is doing.

MA: No, it's not.

RU: Are you familiar with Max More's Proactionary Principle?


MA: (Skeptically) Mmmm I'm...

RU: Too obvious?

MA: No, I don't fully agree with it. I do think that the Precautionary Principle has a point.

RU: Maybe I should say what it is. Basically, the Precautionary Principle says that with any technology we're developing, we should look ahead and see what the consequences are. And if the consequences look at all dire, then we should relinquish the technology. And Max More argues that we should also look at the possible consequences of not developing the technology. For instance, if we don't develop nanotechnology, everybody dies.

MA: Well, I don't think that would happen.

RU: I mean, eventually… just as they have for millennia.

MA: Oh — everyone will age to death!

RU: Right

MA: No, I agree that the balanced view looks at both sides of the equation. The Precautionary Principle's kind of been tarnished because there are people that are super-paranoid; and people who use it as an excuse to rule out things that they find ethically objectionable like therapeutic cloning.

RU: Well, you could take anything as an example. Look at automobiles. If we had looked ahead at automobiles — we could debate for hours whether they were a good idea. There would probably be less humans on the planet and there would probably be less distribution of medicine and food and all those things. On the other hand, we might not be facing global warming. It might be nice that there are less humans on the planet.

MA: Yeah, but in practice, if some invention is appealing and has large economic returns, then people are going to develop it no matter what.

RU: On the Lifeboat site, you have a list of existential risks. And people can sort of mark which existential risk they want to participate in or work on. I'd like to get your comments on a few of the risks that are listed. But before I go down a few of these things on the list, what do you think is up with the bees?

MA: The bees?

RU: The honeybees are dying off. Einstein said we wouldn't survive if...

JD: … there's some contention about whether he actually said that. I heard that somebody tried to find that quote, and they weren't able to find it.

MA: What does this have to do with the bees?

RU: Einstein said that if all the honeybees died off, we'd all be dead in four years, or something like that.

JD: Yeah, because of the natural cycles that they support. Somebody else debunked that.

RU: Well, he was no Einstein. You better look into the bees because that could be an existential risk.

So here's one of the risks – or the risk aversion possibilities — listed on the site: Asteroid Shield.

MA: Well, someone once said that we're in a cosmic shooting gallery and it's only a matter of time before we get nailed. I wouldn't consider this to be a high priority, but in the interest of comprehensiveness, it would be a good idea if we had a way to deflect asteroids. Serious scientists have been looking at this issue and they decided that knocking it out with a nuclear bomb wasn't really going to work so well. It's too expensive and too unpredictable. So they're talking about attaching small rockets to slowly pull an asteroid off course.



JD: I recently read one idea — collect a lot of space junk and create one big object to alter the gravitational...

MA: Or you can put a little electro-magnetic rail gun on the surface and progressively fire off chunks of the asteroid, which will also alter its course. Even if you altered the trajectory of an incoming asteroid by a tiny amount, it would probably miss because earth is just kind of like a tiny dot in space. But right now, we don't have the capability. So if an asteroid were coming next year, we would be screwed.

RU: Right. And people have started talking about it. I mean, there has been sort of an advance in the level of paranoia about asteroids that come anywhere near us in recent years.

MA: One asteroid came about half of the way between us and the moon a while ago.

JD: Was it big enough to kill us?

MA: No. It was a hundred feet across, though — not bad.

RU: So how much chaos would that cause? I guess that would depend on where it landed.

MA: Measured in megatons, I think it would be about one Hiroshima.

JD: Oh, okay. We can handle that… as long as it doesn't land in San Francisco.

MA: (Laughs) Exactly! So I don't think the asteroids are an immediate concern. But it helps people comprehend the notion of extinction risks.

RU: The former NASA astronaut Rusty Schweickart has become involved in fighting off the asteroids. He used to be part of the L5 Society. I think Ronald Reagan would say it's a way of uniting all the people of earth to fight against an enemy.

MA: Yeah!

RU: I think he talked about that in terms of aliens, not in terms of asteroids.

MA: Well, I think all existential risks, including the more plausible ones, do serve a function in uniting humanity, and I think that's a nice side effect.

RU: The particle accelerator shield — what's that about?

MA: Some people think — as we engage in increasingly high-powered particle accelerator experiments — something bad could happen. One standard idea is a strangelet, which is similar to an atom but much more compact. If a strangelet could absorb conventional matter into itself, and do so continuously, it could absorb the entire planet.

RU: Sort of like a black hole.

MA: Yes, very much like a black hole. It's another one of those situations where we want to instill a sense of caution in the minds of scientists. We don't want them to just dismiss these possibilities out of hand because it potentially threatens their funding. We want them to actually give it a little bit of thought.

RU: OK, what about "seed preserver."

MA: Oh, yeah! Well that's actually being done right now! The Norwegian government built a seed bank on some far north Arctic island. They're shoving some seeds in there, so I guess when the nanobots come, or the nuclear war comes and 99% of humanity is all gone, then we'll be able to go there, withdraw the seeds, and create life anew.

RU: You seem to be a believer in the Singularity. For me – maybe yes, maybe no. But I find it amusing that Vernor Vinge could give a talk titled "What if the Singularity Does NOT Happen", the implication being that the idea that it might not happen is a real stretch. Do you ever feel like you're in a cult — that people who believe in this share a peculiar reality?

MA: The word Singularity has become a briefcase word. People kind of want to put their pet ideas into it, so the actual idea has become kind of unclear in the minds of many people. To me, the Singularity is just the notion of an intelligence that's smarter than us. So if you say that you don't believe in the Singularity, it means that you believe that human beings are the smartest possible intelligence that this universe can hold.

RU: I guess what I don't believe is that it necessarily becomes a complete disjunction in history.

MA: But don't you think that homo sapiens are a quite complete disjunction from, say, homo erectus or chimps? We share 98% of the same DNA. So what if you actually used technology to surpass the human mind? I think you'd have something substantially more different from homo sapiens than homo sapiens was from their predecessors.

RU: Do you think it's more likely that we'll develop machines that are more intelligent than us and keep them exterior to us; or will we find some way of incorporating them into us? It seems to me, if you look at the passion that people have for being on the net, and being able to call up and get and link to all the information and all the intelligence on the planet, people are going to want this inside themselves. They're going to want to be able to have as much information and as much intelligence as everybody else. They'll want to unite with it.

MA: I think that would be a great thing, as long as people don't go using their intelligence for negative ends.

JD: Do you think this would happen gradually. Or do you think there would be this point in time where lots of people make choices like whether or not to merge? And then, maybe, the people who are afraid of that will want to stop people from doing it, and conflict...

MA: I think it could actually be somewhat abrupt, because once you have a superior intelligence, it can create better intelligence enhancement techniques for itself. So it could be somewhat abrupt. But I think that these smart entities could also find a way of keeping humanity on the same page and not making it like: "Oh, you have to choose… If your brother or your sister is not going into the great computer, then..."

RU: I think if it happens soon enough, it will be viewed as just another way of going online. You know, to young people, it will be just… "Yeah, this is how everybody's going online now."

MA: But if you had implants in your brain, it would be permanent.

RU: Do you think chaos is built into life? As the Artificial Life people have been saying, life happens on the boundary between order and chaos. If chaos is an element of life, can machines include chaos?

MA: Well, uh — hmm. I think that people overestimate the power of chaos.

RU: As a Patti Smith fan, I have to disagree.



MA: (Laughs) Well, it's such an appealing idea — chaos. But if you take a look at human blood and compare it to some random bit of muck you find in the ground, you'll see that it's highly regulated, and there are huge complements of homeostatic mechanisms in bodies that are constantly ordering things. Relative to the entropy in the air array outside; inside my body is a very orderly place, Life forms are very well organized pieces of matter.

RU: Right, but if you achieve complete homeostasis, then nothing happens.

MA: That's true. Life does have to be on that boundary so it is challenging

RU: Here's a quote from an interview with you: "The idea of the Singularity is to transcend limitations by reengineering brains or creating new brains from scratch, brains that think faster with more precision, greater capabilities, better insights, ability to communicate and so on." OK. That sounds good, but what about pleasure, play, creativity, eroticism… and whatever it is you get from magic mushrooms? Where does all that go?

MA: (Laughs) I think all that's very important. I think about all those things.

RU: So you think that can be built that into the singularity?

MA: Yeah. Oh, for sure…

RU: David Pierce is the one person who really sort of deals with those ideas.

MA: Well, it's not really too PC to talk about it. But when you take a psychedelic, you've changed your brain chemistry. With mushrooms, you flood your brain with this one psilocybin chemical. With technologies that let you actively change your own mind, it would be less of a shot in the dark. More precision modifications would be possible. And you could turn it on and off like a light switch, too. You could have much more control over it.

RU: Looking forward to it!

See Also:
Create an Alien, Win A-Prize
Why Chicks Don't Dig The Singularity
Death? No, Thank You
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams

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Keith Henson Back in Jail – Space Elevator Will Have To Wait

Keith Henson

On April 26, 2001, Keith Henson was convicted of interfering with a religion — a misdemeanor under California law — for picketing outside Scientology's heavily armed, razor wire-enforced base, outside Hemet California. He split for Canada, becoming the world's first "Scientology fugitive," and he's back in the U.S. dealing with a variety of court cases related to Scientology.

Henson was just thrown back in jail. As best as I can make out from the limited information currently available, Henson and his lawyers were scheduled for a hearing at 1:30 pm on Tuesday, May 8th. They were apparently unaware that warrants had recently been signed by the Governors of California and Arizona, and after the hearing, Henson was handed over to the Yavapai County Sheriff Department for incarceration until a hearing on Wednesday May 9th at 9 a.m. (A note received this afternoon — May 9th — from Henson's wife, Arel Lucas, says that he will remain in the lockup at least until Monday, May 13th. She invites people to write to him at: Yavapai County Sheriff's Office, Howard Keith Henson, 255 E. Gurley St. Prescott, AZ 86301. She also reminds you that the prison authorities read the letters before passing them on.)



Henson's travails in his ongoing battle with Scientology and the law have been amply covered here.

I heard about Henson's renewed captivity as I was editing this interview I did with him for The RU Sirius Show on March 29th. While we talked about scientology a bit, the main focus was on another one of Henson's interests. Just before he was originally arrested in his conflict with the Scientologists, he was scheduled to talk at a European Space Agency conference on how Space Elevators could completely solve the carbon and energy problems.

Keith Henson has been a space buff since he was eight years old. Back in 1975, he and others — including nanotech guru K. Eric Drexler — founded the L5 Society. They promoted space colonies and solar power satellites built out of metals extracted from moon rock. The L5 Society eventually became the National Space Society.

Jeff Diehl joined me in interviewing Keith Henson on the show.
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: So what's your favorite Tom Cruise movie?

KEITH HENSON: (Laughs) None of them. My dislike for the cult has spilled over into everything that's associated with it. But I do have to admit Tom has been very effective at taking Scientology down. He certainly did more damage to their image in a year than I did in ten. And he and Katie aren't done yet, I betcha.

RU: He played a creepy head-fucker quite effectively in the film Magnolia. It's worth seeing if you decide to break your Cruise fast.

It's been said that you fear the Scientologists will get to you in jail. Some people who are otherwise sympathetic have expressed skepticism about this. Do you have any evidence, any reason to fear the thuggery of Scientologists in the tank?

KH: I sure do. I have evidence that I accidentally acquired a few weeks ago that the Riverside courts themselves were engaged in outright criminal acts — that is, using the power of the courts to entrap me into a crime.

RU: That's a pretty heavy charge. Can you substantiate it?

KH: You can find a letter I wrote about this back in 2001 on my website. I just never imagined I would get paper evidence pulled out of the county's court files. Well, recently, I was handed a paper out of the Riverside court files that had never been listed as part of the files. Obviously somebody went looking for a warrant to send over to Arizona and pulled it out without looking at the date. I know now, of course, that Riverside Court illegally keeps secret documents that are not listed in the docket. So I accidentally found out that it's the very warrant that would've been used to arrest me at that deposition. It's dated September 15, 2000, and sure enough, they listed the charge of "Failure to Appear" on it. And that's just not a crime that happened on September 15. So the arrest warrant could not possible have been filled out that day. It was most likely filled out weeks before the date on it. And by issuing a warrant for a crime that never happened — the court itself was complicit in a serious criminal act. If a person were convicted of this, they could spend many years in prison.

RU: Well, obviously the Scientologists are very well-connected. But you've received a lot of public support. Does that make you safer?

KH: Yes it does. I was treated fairly roughly until hundreds of phone calls came into the jail. And then they realized that this was not a person they could just shove down a hole and forget.

RU: Have any establishment figures come to your side?

KH: Mostly, no. It's amazing how some people who are considered really brave heroes get terrified by the Scientology cult. I hesitate to say which one of them panicked when I asked him to make a phone call for me to keep me in Canada. But if you think about it, you could probably figure it out.



RU: Well, I'm sure it's not Jerry Brown, who used to be an L5-er and is now the Attorney General of California. Did you ever have any interactions with him?

KH: Not directly. I've got an email from his office that says that I should essentially file a complaint against the District Attorney and the courts.

RU: Did you have any interactions with him back when you were in L5?

KH: I'd never met Jerry back in those days. I met other people in his administration like Rusty Schweickart, who was a good buddy with Jerry Brown.

RU: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about your upcoming case.

KH: (Laughs) Which one? I've got three of them open at the moment. There's a motion to correct an injunction the Riverside court was not permitted to issue; a bankruptcy case that has got tangled up recently with O.J. Simpson's; and this extradition business in Arizona. That last one requires the California governor to sign an extradition warrant, and there's been enough complaints to him about it that I don't think he's going to do it. (ed: He did, on May 1)

RU: It's weird to hear O.J. Simpson's name come up. I don't suppose you can talk any more about your connection with OJ. There could be a book contract in there for you — the book industry loves OJ!

KH: Well, I can give you a quick thing. It turns out that that the lawyer for the other side in a bankruptcy case involving my bank worked against OJ Simpson – I think it was for the Goldbergs. So he asked for a delay in my case.

RU: We will contemplate all aspects of your possible connections with the OJ case over the coming weeks and months and maybe get back to it. "If the e-Meter doesn't fit, you must acquit" or something.

You've been working on ideas for power satellites recently. What is that, and how old is the idea, and how did you wind up back in the space engineering area again?

KH: Well, it's actually connected to the Scientology cult. I couldn't be employed while I was trying to hide out from them. They have agents inside the IRS, so when you use your social security number, they just pull it and come and get you. So I spent a lot of the time in the past year working on a post-Singularity novel. I didn't want to write about wars and violence, which is in the cards if we don't solve the energy crisis. So I had to make the people in the novel able to solve that. There are only a few ways to get the amount of power needed to replace the fossil fuel sources that we've been using up — and power satellites are one of them. Power satellites are a way to put solar power collectors where the sun shines more of the time, and no clouds are in the way. They're just giant solar collectors in orbit with microwave transmitters and gigantic receivers on earth. They're an old idea. It's been 38 years since Peter Glazer invented them. I revived the idea to cope with energy and global warming for this novel. It's one of the few ways you can deal with both.

RU: So, just to be really clear: how does it resolve energy and global warming problems?

KH: Well, there are a few approaches that are big enough to replace the energy that we get from oil and coal. Power satellites are one of them, and if you have the capacity to build power satellites, you can build planetary-scale sun shades as well.

RU: Aren't there terrestrial energy alternatives to this?

KH: The only ones I know about are fusion and fission plants — a lot of fission power, huge fusion plants. But they both suffer from a really nasty problem. It's just too easy to divert neutrons toward making high-quality plutonium — like 99% plutonium 239. And with that, it becomes very easy to make terrorist nukes. I wrote about it.

RU: OK. So apparently these things could be a threat. Let's get back to the power satellites. Tell us more about those.

KH: Okay. There are three parts to the power sat. Making the energy out of sunlight in space — there can be enormous structures — lightweight structures in geosynchronous orbit. And you would probably use solar cells on the thing, but you could even use steam turbines. And then you have a big transmitter to turn the power into a microwave beam of huge size. And then you need a gigantic antenna on the ground that converts the microwaves back to electricity.

RU: How big would it be?

KH: Well, if you could fit one in an area of forty square miles — that's the size of a medium city — the ground antenna would be about 50 miles. That sounds like a lot of land, but the receiving antenna is just light mesh. It doesn't block the sunlight, so you can put it over farmland and still farm underneath it. Terrestrial solar power takes a lot more land.

RU: Might this not kill off all the bees or something? Might not living under this antenna do something else strange to people?

KH: Well, yeah...

RU: I mean, for instance, people are talking about cell phones killing off all the bees.

KH: Well actually, that's ridiculous. Cell phones were around a long time before the bees started disappearing.

RU: That's too bad, because I'm putting, like, a dozen cell phones on my front porch...



KH: (Laughs) But I'll tell you this — the power level that you get in a power satellite, out in the middle of the thing, isn't any more power than you get to your head when you've got a cell phone running. It's pretty low.

JEFF DIEHL: So could you fly through this beam?

KH: Well, yeah. I propose that we use much higher-powered beams, and then we just have a restaurant on wheels, where you put the thing in a duck flyway. And you just move the restaurant around to the north side in the spring and the south side in the fall, and the ducks just fall out of the air completely cooked. (Laughter.)

RU: So you and a number of people have been talking about this for a long time. Why haven't we moved in this direction?

KH: Well, the big holdup is the transport cost to orbit. Rockets are just terrible, efficiency-wise. I mean, you see this enormous blast of … well, you've seen the launches of the Apollos. It's just terribly wasteful. But using nanotubes, we can build a space elevator.

JD: Getting the stuff up there is just a one-time expense, right?

KH: It is, sort of… and it isn't, sort of. You have to power these things because there's no free lunch. But you can probably haul up a couple of hundred tons of material at a time. You have to push it clear out to geo-synch, and then you have to unreel it in both directions. Anyway, once you've built one of these things, it only costs you to run it. Now, for a long time, people working on a related idea have been hung up on a pathway that was just plain wrong. They've been trying to use, design, figure out how to use climbers that use beamed power — mostly lasers — to beam the materials up there. The idea there is to have electric driving wheels on the things, powered by lasers. That's better than rockets, which are around maybe 1% efficient. But the best estimates I've gotten from the people that are working on it are that they would be around 7%, which is still just terrible.

So working on this novel, I came up with a moving cable design, because — if you're going to try to solve the energy problem, the traffic you need going into space is enormous. It's a couple of thousand tons a day.

Anyway, the idea is an elevator that runs on a bunch of pulleys up into space and you just power the thing from the bottom.

RU: So how fast is this baby gonna take me up into space?

KH: I'm not sure. The faster you go, the more throughput you get. I think you can run it maybe as high as a thousand miles an hour. At that speed, it's 22,000 miles out there, so at that speed it would take you 22 hours to get to geo. You've got to bring your lunch and dinner… and I guess even breakfast.

Of course, we're not transporting people, and I think you'd actually want to run faster than that. But remember, I'm driving this thing as an endless loop from the ground. So that means the lowest part of the thing is in the atmosphere. And running up through the atmosphere at a thousand miles per hour is all sorts of supersonic shock waves and everything else like that.

RU: Now you have to use nanotube cable to do this, right? So is this cable technically plausible at this point?

KH: They've actually measured the strength of nanotube cable, and it's strong enough to do the job. If you can get it up to 63 gigapascals, you can just run it over a pulley at geosynch. But if you can't do that, there's a way that you can run intermediate stepped pulleys in the thing where you can get a constant diameter cable, and a stepped number of strands in parallel on it. It has to be nanotube. Steel isn't anywhere near good enough. With nanotubes — they've measured it as handling almost 6 million pounds per square inch. And it's only 30% denser than water, so it's strong enough and light enough — but it's a bit expensive.

RU: How expensive is it?

KH: (Laughs) Carbon nanotubes, if you buy them at $75 million a ton...

RU: So you can actually buy these now?

KH: Oh yeah.

RU: I could… wait a second, what if I just wanted one nanotube.

KH: (Laughs) Well, one nanotube, you'd blow away with your breath. In fact, you'd blow away an entire pound of the things. Anyway, the elevator takes about a hundred thousand tons, so unless the price comes down, that's $7.5 trillion worth of elevator cable. But my guess is that the stuff will come down to cents per kilogram. There's a neat method that's not really been sufficiently investigated. If you can figure out how to get metal solvent to precipitate nanotubes...you're in business!

RU: How long would it take the power satellite to pay back the energy that it takes to get itself into orbit?

KH: It takes roughly a gigawatt of power to drive the motors that drag all this stuff up into orbit. You wind up with a five gigawatt power satellite. It takes one day for this thing to re-pay the energy. When it comes online, it's generating 5 gigawatts every day.

After you account for everything on it — all the energy to refine the metals and make the solar cells, or whatever else you're using — it may well take something like a hundred days. But you get 24-hour sunlight, unfiltered by clouds, and no night. And you can really use much lighter structures for it.

The idea is that the cable would bring up enough materials to build one. So if you're talking about building 60 or 70 power satellites in a year's time, that would displace all the existing coal plants in the U.S. And if you keep doing it, in a few years you displace all of them in the entire world.

RU: Is there anything you can imagine that might go wrong with these solar panels?

KH: Oh, tons of things can go wrong with it. One of the nasty problems is you've got to clean all the stuff out of lower orbits.

RU: Space junk.

KH: Yeah, you've got to clean up the space junk. So part of the project is 50 or 100 ion tugs that are capable of running around and gathering up all this stuff.

RU: Sounds like Pac-Man.

If I remember correctly, you're talking about 50 square miles, the size of a medium-sized city? And where might we try locating this thing, on the ground?

KH: You gotta put it on the equator, or really close. There's only one place that the U.S. owns that's on the Equator — it's called Baker Island. It's right smack out in the middle of the Pacific. It's 13 miles north of the equator, but if you put a ship anchored 12 miles south of there, it'd still be in U.S. territorial waters. And guess what we use for a ship?

RU: Yeah?

KH: The Enterprise.

RU: Well, that belongs to the Navy. So you get the Navy's cooperation? Is that in the plan?

KH: I think so.

RU: The US government is going to give up a perfectly good island that they could put prisoners on?

KH: (Laughs) The point is to put it under U.S. law, maybe. That's the trick. I don't know whether you want to do that or not, but if you do — that's the place you can do it. You actually need the Enterprise, because you need the initial power to get the thing up there. The Enterprise puts out about two-tenths to the gigawatt. So you can bootstrap this thing. The Enterprise is due to be decommissioned in seven years. So we've got seven years to put the business plan together.

JD: It's nuclear-powered, right?

KH: Yes, it's the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

RU: In seven years, the carbon nanotubes can perhaps come down in price a little bit. I imagine that once they start being used more, the price on those should come down quite a bit. Is there stuff being made out of this now? What are likely to be some of the first products that will be made from these before we build a space elevator?

KH: There are a few things that are being made out of them now. They're used for the scanning probes on scanning/tunneling microscopes, for instance. But they're going to be useful for all kinds of things. A quarter-inch cable made from carbon nanotubes can pick up a 150-ton locomotive up with these things.

JD: When can I hold a carbon nanotube in my hand… something made out of carbon nanotubes?

KH: If it was a really fine tube stretched really tight — like, say a thousandth of an inch in diameter — and you ran your hand through the thing, you'd have two pieces of hand.

RU: Let's go back to your origins. You've been interested in space for a really long time. Three decades ago we had the L5 Society. I've heard that the guy who now runs NASA Ames is sort of into the Gerard O'Neill concept of space colonies, so maybe that will come back. What do you think has happened with the movement towards space, and do you see some hope in the civilian programs? What do you think about human beings moving up there?

KH: I don't think it's going to happen.

RU: Never?

KH: No. Not to any serious extent. And the reason is… Second Life.

JD: Virtual reality?

KH: By the time we have the ability to get into space cheaply, it's going to be late 2030s or early 2040's. We may well be so far into the Singularity time that there won't be hardly any population left.

RU: Really?! So that's your analysis. You think that human beings will have been replaced? Or we'll have a Singularitarian disaster of some sort?

KH: I don't know. Even a singularity that isn't a disaster could easily wind up removing people's desire to go into space. Space was an adventure.

RU: There's also the idea that humans need a frontier. You think that disappears into cyberspace?

KH: It could easily happen. I was amazed by the fact that there are 300,000 people in Second Life, a year after it started.

RU: Yeah, I actually suspect that this is the Second Life, and that's the Third Life. And each version of it seems a little worse than the previous one.

Returning to our creepy friends in Scientology, there's a religion written by a science fiction writer. Rumor is, that L. Ron Hubbard started the religion to prove that he could. But it's sort of a science fictional religion. And certainly the areas that you've dealt with in your life have sort of a science fictional aspect also. So it's like some science fictional battle. There seems to be a great novel in there somewhere.



KH: Yeah, it's kind of interesting. My own connection with it started clear back when I was in 7th grade, and my mother read me Farmer in the Sky.

RU: Which is not by Hubbard, it's by Robert Heinlein.

KH: Heinlein. Hubbard was, at best, a third-rate science fiction writer. But he did manage to latch on to a technology that indeed works — it parts people with their money. By the way, if you want to find my theory paper on why this occurs, just Google sex drugs and cults.



See also:
"Scientology Fugitive" Arrested
Great Moments in the War Against the DMCA
California Cults
Thou Shalt Realize the Bible Kicketh Ass
Keith Henson on Memetics, Scientology and Evolutionary Psychology

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Official Launch: 10ZM.TV

One of the reasons for the "video apology" term in the settlement agreement with Michael Crook is that we were already planning to launch a video property. Having Crook's apology in video seemed an appropriate format, and its wide viewing would help get some visibility for this new effort. We figure he owed us that much. There are a few things we're going to experiment with in the show, called 10ZM.TV, and hosted on the Blip.tv video sharing network. First, we'll be collecting video commentary from web figures on stories and themes we explore on our various other properties, such as this site, The RU Sirius Show, NeoFiles, Destinyland and Pastor Jack. Second, we'll record bits from our own writers and commentators. And finally, we're going to publish hot little bits from the continuous series of mind-blowing interviews conducted by RU Sirius. Rudy Rucker's interview is the first one we videotaped, so you'll see several clips from that in the coming weeks. So stay tuned, subscribe via RSS or iTunes, or watch Rudy Rucker now:
Science fiction writer Rudy Rucker, author of the book, Mathematicians In Love, claims that any natural process can be regarded as a computation, and that computers are not "digital."

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Keith Henson Talks about Memetics, Evolutionary Psychology & Scientology


I interviewed Keith Henson for the NeoFiles Website (disbanded in favor of the NeoFiles Podcast Show) back in 2003. I figured with Henson's recent arrest on charges related to his battle with Scientology, people would be interested in a broader view of Henson. In this interview, we talk about a range of topics, finally ending with a discussion on his thoughts about his problems with Scientology at that time. The interview appears below in full, including the title and introduction:

Exile On Meme Street: Keith Henson Interview

Keith Henson is sort of an ur-transhumanist. In the 1970s - '80s, he was one of the founders and leaders of The L5 Society, an organization dedicated to building homes in high orbit using raw materials from the lunar surface. The L5 group attracted the interests of those seeking practical solutions to predicted resource scarcities, among them K. Eric Drexler. Henson formed a friendship with him, and was among his contacts as Drexler was conceiving nanotechnology



Once Henson was convinced that nanotech was feasible, he became a member of Alcor, an organization advocating and providing cryonic services. In the late 1980s, he became associated with the much-storied Extropy Institute, a transhumanist organization that was the subject of substantial media coverage during the cyberculture hype of the 1990s.

But none of this work brought Henson as much notoriety — or heartache — as his conflict with the Scientologists.

It all started when the Scientologists tried to close down alt.religion.scientology, a newsgroup that fostered open discussion of the church and its activities. When Scientology sued critic Grady Ward, Henson responded by posting a secret church document, "NOTs 34," which Henson claimed was an instruction manual for criminal acts, including the practice of medicine without a license. He was successfully sued by the church who also got an injunction preventing Henson from supplying law enforcement agencies with a copy.

Protesting the death of two women in 2000 — Ashlee Shaner and Stacy Moxon — at the church's headquarters, Henson picketed that location. As a result, in April 2001, he was convicted in a California court of "terrorizing" the Scientologists. Henson was forbidden by the court (motions in limine) from bringing up either why he was picketing or Scientology's vindictive "fair game" policy. (The same kind of motions were used to forbid Ed Rosenthal in his more famous case from telling the jury he was acting for the City of Oakland growing pot for sick people.)

While visiting Canada — in bankruptcy and facing a year in prison as the result of court decisions — Henson made a spontaneous decision to seek refuge from our "neighbor to the north." His request for refugee status is still pending in the Canadian refugee processing system.

I interviewed Henson via email about his personal evolution within the context of transhumanist philosophy.

RU SIRIUS: When did you first realize that you were a novelty-seeker?

KEITH HENSON: When I was about 8 years old. My mother read Robert A. Heinlein's Farmer in the Sky to me. I was enthralled and eventually read every published Heinlein (and many other SF authors) I could find. She could not have imagined that 25 years later I would be giving a paper at Princeton University, "Closed Ecosystems of High Agricultural Yield," that was partly based on descriptions in Farmer in the Sky.

RU: What are some of the qualities that people can notice perhaps even in children that might indicate a progressive, neophiliac potential?

KH: That's a hard one because most kids are interested in new things. The rare person is still interested in new advances when they are adults. There is possibly a correlation with intelligence. In any case, you have to be fairly bright to keep learning and changing attitudes as you get older.

RU: The L5 society received a lot of attention in the 1970s; after that, public interest or at least media coverage dissipated. Can you briefly tell my audience what the L5 society was about and what has happened with it in the intervening years?

KH: L5 was a group set up to promote space colonies and solar power satellites. It eventually merged with von Braun's National Space Institute forming the National Space Society, which still exists today...though the fire has certainly gone.

RU: How did your participation and leadership in the L5 society come about?

KH: It was indirectly related to "Limits to Growth" memes that were so active in the early 70s.

In The Selfish Gene, Dawkins discussed anxiety-provoking memes such as the hellfire meme — linked to the western religious memes by natural selection among memes. (The linking came about simply because the combination is more successful in gaining and keeping active meme spreaders for both memes.) Something like this happened to me linking the Limits to Growth (LTG) meme to the space colony meme. Dr. O'Neill's writings and early issues of the L5 News made the link explicit. (Princeton physics professor Dr. Gerard O'Neill generated the space colony concept with the assistance of his undergrads)

Personally, I found that the distasteful worldview implied by the Limits to Growth meme raised my anxiety level much like good hellfire sermon affects conventionally religious people. (It was much worse for the people in whom the LTG meme first arose. Rumor has it that one of them boarded himself up in a cabin in the remote woods and waited for the food riots to start and, for all I know, he may be there yet.)

Disaster memes like Limits to Growth capture the imagination and spread well. But only a small fraction of the population actively responds to threats as remote and indirect as those of the LTG meme. At that time, joining the Zero Population Growth organization and having a vasectomy were some of the few possible responses.

A small subset of those who were concerned, however, took the step of searching for a meme — or of creating a meme — that would counter the bleak LTG meme. Eric Drexler, for example, hunted down Dr. O'Neill in 1973 by asking questions of his professors at MIT about who was working on the exploitation of space resources. A copy of the first widespread space colony publication (the 1974 Physics Today article) was in my hands within hours after reaching Dan Jones (Ph.D. in Physics and occasional rock climbing partner) who knew of my interest in this topic.

The space colony meme reduced anxiety about the long-term future by providing an alternative, but it raised anxiety too. It was apparent from the start that we would have to work hard to bring about a world that included space colonies. Our beginning point was to infect all the people we could with the space colony meme. Inducing people to spend effort in spreading a meme, as well as successfully spreading itself in competition with innumerable other memes, is the definition of a successful meme. In this sense, the space colony meme was moderately successful. (Though it didn't lead to colonies in space.)

As for leadership, I am the kind who leads reluctantly and more by example than anything else. Someone had to be on the incorporation papers as president. After two years I fobbed it off on my former wife. In the sense that my thoughts on the subject had a lot of influence, I was a leader.



RU: I think you have to agree that the "Space Colony" meme lost some of its currency in terms of media coverage and general cultural excitement after the 1970s. Would you care to reflect on why that happened?

KH: In 1975 we expected a program (such as Solar Power Satellite) leading to space colonies would start by the early 80s, and that we could disband by about 1995. By 1985 it was clear nothing leading in that direction in space was likely to happen for a long time. The problem was mainly one of cost. Had the cost to get into space been proportional to the Pilgrims or the Mormon migration, we would have been there on our own, but it was about 10,000 times too expensive.

Memes lose their intense hold on people with the passage of time, especially when the promise of the meme is at great variance with reality. The Society carried on from inertia for a while before merging with the National Space Institute.

RU: Does cyberspace in some ways satisfy some of the needs and desires raised by space colonization?

KH: Perhaps. Games provide a lot of previously unknown "area" to explore. You can't live there yet though [ed. Today, we have Second Lives.]

RU: Do you still believe that the L5 plans laid out by O'Neill are the best bet for moving into space?

KH: Based on old technology, that of the middle of the last century, yes. I suspect that when people actually move off the planet they will do it with the awesome powers of nanotechnology.

RU: Many advocates of space colonization seem to have changed their focus to nanotechnology which, in turn, would make colonization less expensive and more feasible.

KH: I don't know that's the right way to put it. Nanotechnology will give us vast wealth in terms of control over the environment. It also might completely destroy us at either a physical level or just from giving us so much synthetic enjoyment we never bother going into space. Reducing cost or increasing wealth, colonizing space will become something an individual or a small group can do, provided we maintain the desire to do so.

RU: Moving forward a bit in time, did you consider yourself part of the Extropian movement and do you agree with their principles?

KH: I contributed to the early private extropian mailing list and seem to have had some degree of influence there, i.e., what Extropians and related transhumanists consider important is very close to what I consider important. I knew Max More through Alcor before he started the movement and was the (not very active) memetics editor for the magazine when it was in paper. I don't disagree with the principles, though they are perhaps a bit optimistic. On the other hand, my view is certainly colored by being driven out of the US.

RU: Do you consider yourself a utopian?

KH: No. I can't think of anyone who is up on evolutionary psychology and related areas who is deluded enough to be called a utopian. I think most of us consider staying out of ugly distopian states is about as good as we can get — pre-Singularity, anyway. After that who knows?

RU: How did you enter into your epic battle with the Scientologists?

KH: It's a well-documented story.

I had mentioned scientology in an article or two but had taken no serious interest in it before January 1995. At that time Helena Kobrin, a lawyer for Scientology, issued a command (rmgroup) to remove the Usenet news group alt.religion.scientology from the Internet, apparently thinking that this "denial of service" attack on the Internet would end critical discussion about Scientology.

This attack on free speech backfired, having somewhat the effect of a gang of thugs riding into town and burning down the newspaper. This attempted censorship drew in dozens of Internet free speech advocates, me among them. A Google search on Kobrin rmgroup turns up hundreds of pages.

RU: How would you define the boundary between an organization that constitutes a "cult" and a group that simply shares a set of intentions and an overall memeplex?

KH: There isn't a clear-cut boundary. Humans evolved in tribes and our reward circuits are still set up to reward behaviors that aided reproductive success in tribes. People still do things that reward them, such as socializing with others and doing things which gain the respect (and attention) of their associates just like they did 100,000 years ago when such behaviors were more directly connected to gaining the status needed to reproduce (i.e., obtain a wife or two...or three). Cults tap into this reward mechanism, but so does every other rewarding activity from local sports clubs to the Nobel Prize.

Still, you can say that some groups are cults. LaRouche's bunch, Moonies, scientology, Heaven's Gate, etc. There are published scales to measure how much some group is a cult.

RU: From your experience, do all organizations (like L5 or the Extropians) tend to accumulate cult-like behaviors over time?

KH: No. If anything, L5 lost the cult kind of intensity as it aged. I don't think the Extropians ever had even the level of the early L5 Society, but then I was not deeply involved with them.

If a group stays around long enough, it tends to lose its cult aspects. Religious cults tend toward main stream religions. Calvinism started as an intense cult. Heck, Calvin had a dozen and a half people publicly executed, something the scientology leadership would drool over, but 300 years later the Methodists are as mellow as you could ask for.

RU: Would you agree that there are quasi-religious overtones in the belief that we are headed towards a singularity; in the sense that it promises to resolve so many problems and existential dilemmas (sickness, death, material scarcity, other limits) that Salvation isn't too strong a word for the hopes that it evokes?

KH: It definitely has the potential to be the techno-rapture. It is deeply connected to SETI and the searches for planets around other stars. Oddly, the worse things look out there, the better they look here. The logic runs this way, if planets with life (and particularly life that eventually becomes technologically capable the way we are headed) are common then it looks really dire for us, because we don't see any evidence of a "tamed" universe. Everywhere we look there are massive wastes of energy and matter. If technophilic civilizations are common, then something happens that removes them from the observable universe. Contrary wise, if the universe doesn't harbor any others inside our light cone, then we are looking at an unknown future instead of a deadly one. There isn't much hope for controlling the final stages; all we can do is build in as much good will as we can.

RU: How would you compare life in Canada to life in the US?

KH: Colder. :-)

The cult seems to have less influence here. I suspect going back would be as disorienting as coming here in the first place. I understand the money doesn't look the same now and the US is talking about reinstating the draft. Plus there have been lots of changes — few of them good — since 9/11. If anyone wonders why the airlines are not doing well it is because flying has been made such an unpleasant and degrading experience.

NF: How can people help you to defeat this attack on your liberty and everyone's freedom of speech?

KH: It's really hard to do anything effective. The problem is that the individuals in law enforcement agencies know they will be targeted personally if they take steps against the cult's abuses and corruption. Not only by private investigators stealing their trash and stalking their children, but if they take action against the cult, Scientology will turn a scary part of the government against them by suing them in the courts. This fact of life was picked up in an episode of Millennium:
Peter: The Millennium Group's not interested in publicity.
Frank: No, no, it's not about us: in fact, he's working on a case that could be of great interest to the group. This Selfosophist was found...
Peter: Whoa, Selfosophy? No, no ...
Frank: What is going on, Peter? We've never backed away from anything. We've even faced evil incarnate.
Peter: Evil incarnate can't sue. All I'm saying is be careful about what you say around your writer friend.

Starving Scientology of new members is perhaps the best we can do. To do that, inform yourself, inform your friends. If you really want to help, picket them.

Scientology has this "chosen people" status they got by intimidating or perhaps even blackmailing IRS management. A Jewish guy name of Sklar tried to get the same deal for his religious practice and was turned down. The judge in the appeal said that if what Sklar claimed about the IRS's treatment of Scientology was true, the IRS was violating the law and that someone should file a suit to put an end to that practice. It has been nearly two years and nobody has stepped up to file this invited lawsuit. The few lawyers who used to go up against Scientology will no longer do so because Scientology is just too good at using lots of money to pervert the courts. Put Rosen Exhibit 185 in Google to see a listing of $35 million they spent over a few years to destroy critics. (Over a million on me.)



And if you want to understand how cults use the same brain reward pathway that drugs activate, go here to look at my paper on the subject.

See Also:
"Scientology Fugitive" Arrested
Keith Henson Back in Jail — Space Elevator Will Have To Wait
California Cults
Adopt an African Hottie's Clitoris

Read More

“Scientology Fugitive” Arrested

Keith Henson

On Friday, Arizona police arrested a 64-year-old man — a fugitive since 2001 in a bizarre war that mixes free speech, copyright law, and the Church of Scientology.

Keith Henson's journey began seven years ago while innocuously watching another critic mock the group on an internet newsgroup. In a gonzo discussion about procuring a "Tom Cruise missile," they'd joked about working with "Secret Agent 99, wearing a stunning black leather biker outfit." Other posters joined in the internet discussion, asking whether Tom Cruise missiles are affected by wind."No way," Keith joked. "Modern weapons are accurate to a matter of a few tens of yards."

The police were informed of his "threatening" posts, and Henson was arrested.



The police tipsters were the Scientologists themselves, who had already been the targets of an annoying picketing campaign by Henson over the death of a woman near their complex. Besides Henson's inability to acquire long-range missiles, his wife notes bitterly that it would be impossible for any church members in the complex to feel threatened by the internet posts, since they aren't even allowed to access the internet. Scientology officials have also claimed Henson followed their employees home — though Henson counters that "the same people who claimed to have been 'terrorized' by the picketers offered to take them to lunch on June 25, 2000, evidently to distract them from the death scene being cleaned up."

Though Henson was found innocent of long-range missile terrorism, for his activities he was convicted of interfering with a church — a California hate crime for which he received a six-month misdemeanor prison sentence. But Henson said he feared his life would be in danger from Scientologists if he were imprisoned - and he fled to Canada in 2001.

He was already bankrupt from an earlier ruling that he'd infringed on Scientology copyrights. But Henson continued picketing Scientologists in Toronto, and they apparently retaliated by informing Canadian police of his presence. (Henson believes the Scientologists told police he was a terrorist and bomb maker.) L.A. Weekly reported two unmarked vans pulled up and "a handful of emergency-services task-force officers — Canada's version of a police SWAT team — spilled out, wearing body armor and carrying submachine guns." Describing the event, the EFF reported Henson was "arrested in a shopping mall parking lot, by a heavily armed paramilitary unit."

EFF Executive Director Shari Steele argued that Free speech was at stake in his case: "This trial seems intended to punish Mr. Henson for his opposition to a powerful organization using the barest thread of legal justification to do so."

His wife added in an interview with a Canadian newsweekly that "It's horrifying to me and to his friends how they've managed to twist his words."

Henson was ultimately released from a Canadian jail after filing an application for political asylum — reportedly the first ever accepted for review by the Canadian government, and for the next three years he lived as an expatriate in Canada, awaiting their decision.

When asked to describe life in Canada, he replied "colder." As the years rolled by, Henson explained his picketing strategy evolved out of a desire to have a real impact. In a 2005 interview he argued that heavy-handed legal tactics intimidated police from acting against the organization, and "Starving Scientology of new members is perhaps the best we can do."

But when Canadian officials reached a decision in 2005, Henson was suddenly filled with concern. The hearing could result in his deportation back to the prison where he feared for his life. He reportedly said, "I'm not going to be shoved across the border into the hands of Scientologists," Henson slipped out of Canada, returning to fugitive status, and joked that he was hiding in the Mortmain Mountains — the treachorous range in Lemony Snicket books.

For 17 months he lived on the lam. Yesterday, in the small town of Prescott, Arizona — the law finally caught up with him. Henson had been driving his wife's car, and when stopped by police, was soon informed of the outstanding warrant for his arrest. He was taken into custody, and faces extradition back to the California prison he's feared for the last six years. Saturday morning Henson's wife, identifying herself as a "soon to be widow," issued a plea asking the public for legal help, publicity — "anything but the usual Scientology private eyes who have harassed her for years."



Henson has a long history of activity within tech culture. He was one of the founders and leaders of the L5 Space Colony movement in the 1970s. (California's new Attorney General, Jerry Brown, was also in the L5 orbit when he was Governor of that state.) He was a close associate of K. Eric Drexler while Drexler was conceiving nanotechnology. He has also been active in the digital encryption movement, and has been associated with the Transhumanist movement — particularly Extropy Institute.

Former Extropy Institute members and other well wishers have already created a legal defense fund. There is also now a "Free Keith Henson" blog where people can keep track of new developments. Henson has many friends and late Friday night one supporter even called the jail, according to a Usenet post, and spoke to a prison staffer.

"I asked if he'd tell Keith that Tory sent her love. And I asked him to please watch after Keith."

See also:
Interview with Keith Henson
California Cults
Adopt an African Hottie's Clitoris
Crooks of the World Hurt Free Speech
Keith Henson Back in Jail — Space Elevator Will Have To Wait

Read More

Why Chicks Don’t Dig The Singularity


Joe Quirk may be the world's first evolutionary psychology (or sociobiology) comic. That's not a big audience share yet, but his entertaining book, Sperm Are from Men, Eggs Are from Women: The Real Reason Men And Women Are Different, has been well received. By focusing on sex and relationships, Quirk is broadening the audience for the study of the genetic roots of human behaviors.

Quirk recently spoke at the Future Salon about the relationship between "The Singularity" and "sociobiology."

A few days before his talk, he joined me on my NeoFiles podcast to talk about this very same subject. Jeff Diehl joined me in asking Mr. Quirk some questions.
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: How did you get interested in The Singularity?

JOE QUIRK: One of my friends, Steve Potter, a neuro-engineer used to tell me about this one guy, John Smart — about how he was a visionary, and he organized "Accelerated Change" conferences.

So about five years after hearing about him, I'm at Burning Man, and I'm riding my bike around. And at Burning Man, there are so many things competing for your attention — wonderful visual art and explosions and so forth — but it's sort of a non-verbal place. There isn't much intellectual stuff going on. And as I'm riding my bike around, and all these things are competing for my attention, over my left shoulder I hear the word "gene;" I hear the word "memes," and I stop. And there's this very unassuming white tent with a bunch of people sitting around on chairs as if they were at a lecture hall. And there's this good-looking guy in a woman's nightie. And I'm thinking, "How full of crap is this guy going to be? I know about this kind of stuff." So I stopped my bike to listen.

RU: How were his legs?

JQ: Very sexy. Maybe I'm revealing too much here. People do things at Burning Man that are not supposed to get out!



So I listened to this guy, and I knew just enough about what he was talking about to realize that he wasn't completely insane. And he was the one, at that time, drawing exponential curves [ed: see Ray Kurzweil's explanation of The Singularity] and describing the exponential nature of change. It was the first time I'd heard about that. So I listened to the lecture and thought, "That's a fascinating guy!" It turned out he was doing a lecture every day, so I kept coming back. The third time I came back, I was on a hallucinogen. I think that did influence me.

RU: He became more impressive? Kind of like the Grateful Dead?

JQ: Yeah, he became even more impressive and he had three heads. Anyway, I came back to talk to him, and we started talking about the different books we'd both read and eventually I found out he was the guy Steve Potter had told me about.

RU: So you just recently gave a lecture yourself at the "Future Forum" in Palo Alto titled "Why The Singularity Won't Work Without Sociobiology." So, why not?

JQ: All these ideas are founded on some assumptions about human nature. And I think some of the assumptions about human nature that we make in the futurist community are wrong. For instance, I've noticed chicks don't dig the singularity. For instance, I went to a recent Accelerated Change conference, and I actually counted up the people, and I found that less than a fifth of the presenters were women, and less than a sixth of the attendees were women.

RU:That sounds like a high count of women compared to some geek stuff that I've been to!

JQ:Yeah, when there's actual machinery, it's like 1% women. But I knew a lot of the women who were there, and they were there because it was their guy's primary interest. So Ray Kurzweil got up there and Moira Gunn was interviewing him, and everybody got to submit a question. And Moira would pick her three favorite questions. So there were all these technical questions about how will the singularity do this, how will the singularity do that. And my question was, "How will the Singularity get laid... err help me get laid?" So she picked my question as an extra one as a way of dismissing it. She said, "Somebody put a joke question in here, and can you believe that there are people here who would write something like this? It's 'how will the Singularity help me get laid?'" And then she throws it aside and tries to move on to another question. But Kurzweil says, "Hang on. Hang on. I want to answer that." And then he goes into this long technical description...

JEFF DIEHL: ...and then he got out his slide rule, and straightened out his bow tie. [Laughter]

JQ: Exactly! It was stuff like, "You can wear body suits." He was talking about tactile things and about how people can caress each other from far away. And it was so funny. It's too bad this wasn't filmed, because Moira Gunn's face was getting more and more skeptical, the more he kept talking. She kept saying things like, "Well, what about intimacy? You know, what about actual interacting with a real human being?" And Kurzweil wasn't picking up on what she was talking about. You could tell he enjoys the subject, but he gave a long-winded technical explanation for how to get off. And she was talking about sex as a medium for connecting to another person's soul. So right there, you're seeing this divergence between men's priorities and women's priorities. My wife doesn't care about the Singularity. When I talk about it, it doesn't resonate for her. It doesn't sound exciting to be able to put a machine inside your brain or something like that.

JD: What about the real prospect of an indefinite life span? I think that appeals to women!

JQ: I think it does, but I don't know anyone outside the futurist community...

RU: You look young for a much longer period of time. Women are early adopters of youth technology in terms of looks.



JQ: My wife is actually in the business of making women young and beautiful. She's what's called an aesthetician. She makes people beautiful. So if I could convince her that people can live forever and be young as long as they want, she might be into it. But my explanation ends up being sort of technical and attenuated. There are so many other things you need to know that it tends to become like religion — the rapture for geeks.

JD: There's not a big female fan base for science fiction, right?

JQ: Right. So guy geeks are always talking about how you can connect to more people and form more networks with people you never met. And my research tells me women's brains are just more interested in face reading and voice reading and reading all the messages you get beneath the words. Guys tend to concentrate more on the abstract ideas behind the words. So email is unfulfilling for most women. They want to get together at lunch with their friends and make eye contact and stand way too close to each other.

RU: I like to see that, too.

But I'm still not quite getting the Sociobiology/Singularity hook-up here. You had an interesting Freudian slip earlier. You said, "How will The Singularity get laid?" It could be like that, couldn't it? Couldn't it be more like sex with the singularity as opposed to sex within the singularity? Couldn't the singularity be this great, singular mechanistic Borg-like entity, and it's going to need something to have sex with?

JQ: Right! And I think that's sort of Kurzweil's vision — that we'll be able to make our fantasies real. Why would you actually need another human being?

JD: From my reading of Kurzweil's book, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, I suspect, on some level, he's OK with the prospect of evolving beyond sexuality altogether in order to achieve immortality. And I imagine those two probably go hand in hand. If you remove the mortal aspect of existence, you're kind of eliminating the evolutionary reason for having sex. You know as a living being you're going to die, and that drives you to reproduce — and that's where all that sex stuff happens. Right?

JQ: Yeah, but I'm convinced that we inherit this suite of desires, and whether we die or not, we're going to keep them, unless we find some hormonal way to change it.

JD: But that's part of it, right? Kurzweil is changing himself hormonally with all of his nutritional stuff. He already claims to have reprogrammed his own biochemistry.

JQ: Right. He keeps saying his biological age hasn't changed. You know, I saw a picture of him from twenty years ago, and he did look younger.

RU: I'm still trying to get at the connection between the Singularity and sociobiology.

JQ: I think male geeks in the futurist community assume that human nature is the same as the nature of male geeks in the futurist community. And it's kind of become a little religion; we have our own Rapture and our own eschatology and all that sort of stuff. But I think the idea of merging with machine intelligence is not appealing to lots of different kinds of people. And so when we talk about it, we talk as if this tiny sector of human experience — and the kinds of enhancements male geeks want — is all that there is. But when you describe these kinds of things to most people, they're not necessarily enthused. They're more often afraid. So I think we need a clearer idea of what is universal in human needs to be able to explain The Singularity.
Reader Martine comments: The Singularity is the best thing to happen to sex since some final stages of primate-homonid pelvic evolution enabled face-to-face intercourse among hominids (without losing the ability for rear access).

RU: I always wonder — can an artificial intelligence understand what it feels like to dance to James Brown? You know? Maybe it can, eventually. I don't know.



JD: There's also this question of individuality versus networked intelligence. It seems like we're heading towards a networked intelligence that might not have a need for — or a concept of individuality. And individuality certainly encapsulates most current impulses and needs and desires that we think make us human. But once we're post-human, all that goes out the window. So how do you even talk about discreet entities and individuals and desires and stuff like that? Certainly Kurzweil wants us to think that we can carry that humanness with us, but it might all just go away! And something else will be there, and it won't be what we are now. So there's kind of a good reason to be afraid of it, because you don't know what the hell that means.

JQ: Yeah. It's hard to distinguish some descriptions of The Singularity from Armageddon. And I think the pretense; the assumption of the hardcore pro-Kurzweil futurists is that all these things — dancing to James Brown — are reducible to computation.

RU: It's the "good" aspect of it that I wonder about. Is "feel good" reducible?

JQ: Singularitarians are assuming that it is, but it's a deep mystery — sentience! I can understand why there would be all the complexity of animal life interacting, competing, and behaving exactly the way it behaves. But I don't think anything in science so far has answered the question, "Why is it like something to be alive?" When I poke myself with a pin, I don't just react like a robot; I have an external experience that I also experience inside. This causes us to be natural dualists. It doesn't seem to be a real dualism — I'm a materialist — but I feel like, once a machine passes the Turing test, we don't really know whether it has sentience or not. Of course, I don't know if you have sentience. I assume you have sentience because you act like I act.

RU: Well, I'm a solipsist, so I don't even think you're here. [Laughter]

JQ: So even if my enjoyment of James Brown is reducible to some kind of binary computation, it's not clear to me that that's going to give rise to the epi-phenomenon or the emergent property of self-aware consciousness sentience.

RU: Assuming we are headed towards the Singularity, or at least towards some kind of post-human future, it sounds like you're trying to keep some of the human relation alive within it, and some of the sexuality alive within it. That's a project — making sure that this future does contain these things that we value. Is that part of what you're trying to do?

JQ: When we talk about the Singularity, it should be grounded on universal things about human nature. Everyone should look at Donald Brown's list of human universals. And I think when we talk about it now; we talk about it as California computer nerds — which represents a narrow range of human experience.

RU: So as California computer nerds, we don't have all of the qualities on Mr. Brown's list of natural human universals?

JQ: It's the qualities that all tribes in every culture everywhere share. And one of them is a belief in spiritual beings that care very much about how we behave.

RU: Of course there were attempts to eliminate that in China and other places, but it continued.

JQ: I don't think you can eliminate something like spiritual belief, in a top-down way. But certainly most people in the Scandinavian countries are atheists. There's a lot of atheism in the world now. But still, there are no cultures that don't have some people who believe that there are invisible beings who care passionately about how they behave.

RU: You're using the word sociobiology, and currently the trendy term is "evolutionary psychology." And actually, some people make a distinction between the two of them and say sociobiology was more completely enthralled by genes, whereas evolutionary psychology sort of combines genes with environment and other factors. Talk a little about your interest in sociobiology, which is the older term that came from Edward O. Wilson's amazing book.

JQ: I'm trying to steal back the word sociobiology, because sociobiology, strictly defined, is the biology of behavior of all animals. It got in trouble, back in the early 70s, because human beings were included among the animals. E. O. Wilson's one of my heroes. The last 1/30th of his book, Sociobiology, deals with human nature.

RU: And then he put out On Human Nature. And a leftist feminist threw a pie at him, even though he was a liberal environmentalist, basically for looking at human behavior as having certain predispositions, just like all other animals do.

JQ: Someone dumped a bucket of water over his head while he was coming for a lecture. And so the word sociobiology got demonized. I know a lot of academics at Berkeley, and they're so pre-inoculated against any biological illumination of human behavior that they can't even talk about it. It's so emotional.

RU: Oddly, just as sort of a weird side note, Huey Newton from the Black Panther Party was into sociobiology in the 1970s and studied it. For whatever odd reason, he found it interesting.

JQ: That is an interesting side note! And that term became so demonized that the people who continued to research it sort of quietly started calling it evolutionary psychology. Interestingly, evolutionary psychology is specifically about the biology of human behavior. Sociobiology is a more general term about the biological roots of all animal behavior. You know, it's like when the creationist movement switched to "Intelligent Design" — they were being defensive. And when we switched from sociobiology to evolutionary psychology, we were being defensive.

RU: But a lot of the same people still hate it, basically for the same reasons.

JQ:Yeah. And I strongly recommend Steve Pinker's book, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. He pretty much devastates all the good-hearted but misguided arguments against sociobiology. To put it in simple terms, if I'm speaking to a social academic about my biological beliefs that I think illuminate human nature and answer a lot of deep questions about human nature, they invariably bring up Hitler or the eugenics movement.

RU: And certainly all this stuff can be exploited by people.

JQ: But then again, on the other side — among the people who say that the human mind is ultimately malleable by culture and has no genetically controlled tendencies at all — you have Mao and the Khmer Rogue. Both sides have their holocausts. Pol Pot... all those guys believed that you take the baby, you take it away from its mother, and...

RU: It's a blank slate.

JQ: Right. You can create humans that only care about serving the state.

RU: If you acknowledge that every other living animal group has certain inherent forms of social organization, it's fundamentally absurd to say, "Well no, human beings don't." And certain people on the left remind me of fundamentalist Christians. It's kind of a denial of evolution. They're not denying Darwin, but they're denying something that is a logical extension of Darwin.

JQ: Right. And the sort-of social science academics on the left are the only ones who have a problem with this stuff. When I speak in front of most women, they're trying to understand their husband and they're all over it. They want to understand why does he do the things he does; why does he communicate the way he does? People on the street assume that there's something fundamentally different about men and women.

RU: What happens with people in the process of a sex change — like a guy who's taking a lot of estrogen and that sort of thing? Have you looked into that?

JQ: Sure, I'm fascinated with that stuff. If a woman gets a sex change operation, and she starts taking injections of testosterone, different genes that are suppressed are turned on in her, and she finds herself feeling more aggressive; she finds it harder to cry; she finds it easier to get angry; and she can't get sex out of her mind. I talked to one woman who was in the midst of this process, and she said, "God, I suddenly understand how guys feel."

RU: So let's distribute some of this.

JQ: Yeah. [Laughs.] Slip it into drinks?

JD: Except that all of a sudden, she's got facial hair.



RU: You can get over that.

JQ: I remember she was describing her experience to me. She was like: "I'm on the BART, and I'm looking at shapely women, and I just wanted to get into their bodies. I mean, it's like it's all about that body." To her that was a foreign experience. She's like, "Wow. So this is how men see the world." Especially young men.

RU: I wonder when people start to alter people at the genetic level — germ line engineering.

JQ: Yeah. That's a thorny issue.

RU: I wonder how that will affect all these kinds of relations. I wonder if that might change some of this.

JQ: It's hard to pull off, because it's very rare that you get a gene corresponding to one particular trait. Genes all interact with each other, so if you choose a certain gene to give your kid a mathematical ability, that gene cascades through all the different traits in the person and has other unpredictable effects.

RU: But some people think that, in not too much time, even with all the complexity, we'll be able to do this kind of manipulation.

JQ: I think we will be able to do this kind of manipulation, but we'll start having the kinds of problems we have with our domesticated dogs. We can take a dog and we can breed it for a particular quality — like, I want my dog to be a pug, so I'm just going to concentrate on breeding it for a big face and big strong shoulders. By the time I've created my perfect dog, it has cataracts; it has heart problems; it has breathing problems. Out in nature, all these genes are interacting with the environment at once.

RU: The theory is that we wouldn't start doing it until we could be pretty sure of the effects. Although I don't necessarily believe that.

JQ: It's so hard to control because genes only turn on in an environment that triggers them to turn on. So if you're an identical twin, and you're gay, there's only a 50% chance that you're identical twin is going to be gay.

RU: But if he is, you can have an awful lot of fun together!

JQ: I'm sure — they even shared a womb together. So if you can't even predict something like your sexuality based on what genes you have, and you also have to sort of control an environment that's going to trigger certain things to turn on...

RU: [Frivolously] Yeah, but Kurzweil's super-intelligent machines will figure out how to perfect this technology for us in 2035, right?

JQ: Well, that's the prediction, but, uh...

RU: So what do you really think? Are you fundamentally a believer in "The Singularity" or are you a skeptic?

JQ: I'm a scared skeptic and a hopeful skeptic. Most people who hear about it think it's whacko, so I find myself defending it more often than criticizing it. And I think Kurzweil's actual arguments in his two most important books are more compelling than the counter-argument from Incredulity, which is just a knee-jerk reaction — "C'mon, this is Rapture for the geeks." Every group makes up some kind of mythos, and this is a mythos for the geeks. I keep thinking of other examples of Singularities. I've never heard anyone talk about the Singularity that's already happened. Let's see if you guys can point it out.

RU: Language?

JQ: That's one, but I've never heard anyone talk about the Singularity of techneme — the singularity of tools. Imagine a Homo habilis playing with his stone axe, and his buddy says to him, "Grok! These stone axes are not going to change for millions of years, because we're on the flat part of an exponential curve. But this has an abstract design within it, which means it contains information that can be passed down through the generations. And in another 3 million years, we're going to have a feedback loop of information, and pretty soon our tools are going to cover the world; they're going to be on our bodies; and we're going to go from a few thousand of us to a few billion of us. Everything we touch will be a tool. Our tool designs are going to inhabit matter and build our dreams around us. Everything we look at is going to be a manifestation, an embodiment of an idea."

RU: Right, and all that would be unrecognizable to that person. So in that sense we've been through at least one Singularity. It's kind of like the Arthur C. Clarke idea that advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

JQ: And if you think about this, there's almost nothing I touch in my day that isn't created by humans. Even the food is bred by humans.

Steve Potter says, "Maybe The Singularity already happened." Why would we know about it? Does bacteria know that they're on a giant naked ape?

RU: Kurzweil is a believer in the soft singularity — a process where we might not even recognize that we've slipped into a different kind of reality when it happens. All I know is that friends of mine are still dying at this point from diseases related to aging. That would be one change that would be interesting.

See Also:
Girls Are Geeks, Too
Death? No, Thank You
Sex for Memes' Sake
Counterculture and the Tech Revolution
California Cults 2006

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A Selection of Obscure Robert Anton Wilson Essays



I was prompted by yesterday's news of the passing of RAW to scan the pieces he wrote for his 1999 column on GettingIt.com, the progenitor of this webzine. It was a casual act, under the assumption that they would be somewhat dated. But as I reread the articles, it became clear that admirers who are unaware of them might in fact find them enjoyable.

So, here are their links, with excerpts:

Coming Again: The orgasmic release of the Apocalypse myth

Sometimes, the Apocalypse can ruin your whole week.
[T]here may be more here, just as there is to horror and catastrophe movies if you think about them. Neo-Freudians, and especially Reichians, suggest that our form of civilization stifles and constricts us so much that at times we all long to experience some orgasmic but catastrophic "explosion," like King Kong breaking his chains and wrecking New York, or even more like the masochist in bondage, according to Dr. Reich. This sudden release from the bondage-and-discipline of our jobs and our taxes — actually called the Rapture by Fundamentalists — seems ghoulishly attractive to Christians, New Agers, and others who believe in a "spirit" that will survive the general wreckage. In that case, the end of the world seems no worse than a visit to the dentist: You know you'll feel better afterwards. This sort of desire for Total Escape/Total Annihilation has always had its bards and visionaries.

Reality Ain't What It Used To Be: Thirty-five years after Bell's Theorem

Sounds like Zen to some, but others fear this is opening the door to Dr. Berman's solipsism and the moon that is only there when we look at it...
In my own (hazardous) attempt to translate Bell's math into the verbal forms in which we discuss what physics "means," Bell seems to prove that any two "particles" once in contact will continue to act as if connected no matter how far apart they move in "space" or "time" (or in space-time). You can see why New Agers like this: It sounds like it supports the old magick idea that if you get a hold of a hair from your enemy, anything you do to that hair will affect him.




In Doubt We Trust: Cults, religions, and BS in general

Can we actually "know" the universe? My God, it's hard enough finding your way around in Chinatown. — Woody Allen
I have no commitment to materialism as a philosophy that explains everything, since no correlation of words can ever do that, and a philosophy is never more than a correlation of words. But restricting myself to the "materialistic"/scientific method of asking questions that have definite experiential answers, I observe no difference in operation between "cults" and "religions." Catholic nuns and priests vowing celibacy seem no more or less weird than Heaven's Gate members who also make that choice. Mormon extraterrestrial cosmology seems as goofy as Scientology, etc. Religions and cults all use the same techniques of brain damage, or "mind control," i.e. they all instill BS — Belief Systems.

The Lumber Of The Beast: Tracking the Antichrist

Did you know that Bill Gates is the Antichrist? Well, you've probably suspected it, but some people have set out to prove it...
Among the fundamentalists, the Antichrist is always considered a specific individual appearing only in the last days of Earth. Recent candidates have included Aleister Crowley, Yasir Arafat, Prince Bernhard (founder of the Bilderbergers!), Henry Kissinger, Saddam Hussein, Mickey Mouse, Barney the Dinosaur, and even Ronald Reagan — whose full name, Ronald Wilson Reagan, has six letters in each word, thus yielding 6-6-6.



Bugs Bunny And Other UFO Victims: Reality isn't always consensual

Although few people remember this, Bugs Bunny was the first UFO "abductee" in a 1952 cartoon called "Hasty Hare."
Imagine what would happen if "many millions" of U.S. citizens said they had been sexually assaulted by aliens from Mexico or Iraq, instead of aliens from Outer Space. Obviously, there would be no scientific taboo against investigating such cases, and Congress might even have declared war on the invaders by now. If the subjects claimed, as most of Dr. Mack's subjects do, that they now love their kidnappers and have received important ecological warnings from them, as well as learning from their extraterrestrial sermons about how wicked and wretched our society is, this would be considered evidence that they had been "brainwashed" as well as raped (think Stockholm Syndrome). The differences in scientific and political reactions to atrocities by human aliens and nonhuman aliens seem even more confusing than the rest of this mystery.

I Remember Satan: 'Recovered memory,' demonology, and duck soup

Or, worse yet, is it possible that Daffy Duck is the Devil? Keep an eye on your local media for further Feminist or Fundamentalist revelations.
In 1997, a jury awarded $2.4 million in damages to one Nadine Cool, who had sued her former therapist, Dr. Kenneth Olson, for malpractice. He had convinced her, under hypnosis, that when she was a child her father had forced her to participate in Satanic rituals of human sacrifice. He also convinced her that she possessed no fewer than 126 alternate personalities, including angels, demons and even a duck. She had believed it all — including the duck — until she confronted her father with these hideous memories and he dropped dead of a heart attack.



The Devil On The Chimney: A tale of Lovecraftian horror and psycho-archeology

I sort of think the fundies have it right for once. Santa not only has an unsavory pagan ancestry but a rather criminal family history all around. Let me Illuminize you...

As Weston La Barre pointed out a long time ago in his classic Ghost Dance: The Origins of Religion, you can find remnants of a primordial bear-god from the bottom of South America up over North America and over the North Pole and down across most of Europe and Asia. This deity appears in cave paintings from southern France carbon-dated at 30,000 BC. You can find him and her (for this god is bisexual) disguised in Artemis and Arduina and King Arthur, all unmasked via canny detective work by folklorists — and etymologists, who first spotted the bear-god when they identified the Indo-European root ard, meaning bear. You can track the bear-god in dwindling forms in a hundred fairy tales from all over Europe and Asia. And you can find the rituals of this still-living god among the indigenous tribes of both American continents.

See Also:
Robert Anton Wilson 1932-2007
Neil Gaiman Has Lost His Clothes
When Cory Doctorow Ruled The World
Thou Shalt Realize The Bible Kicketh Ass
Is The Net Good For Writers?

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Robert Anton Wilson 1932-2007


Robert Anton Wilson

Robert Anton Wilson enjoyed his first death so much; he decided to try it again. As Wilson himself wrote in his 1995 book, Cosmic Trigger III: My Life After Death:
According to reliable sources, I died on February 22, 1994 — George Washington's birthday. I felt nothing special or shocking at the time, and believed that I still sat at my word processor working on a novel called Bride of Illuminatus. At lunch-time, however, when I checked my voice mail, I found that Tim Leary and a dozen other friends had already called to ask to speak to me, or — if they still believed in Reliable Sources — to offer support and condolences to my grieving family. I quickly gathered that news of my tragic end had appeared on the Internet in the form of an obituary from the Los Angeles Times: "Noted science-fiction author Robert Anton Wilson was found dead in his home yesterday, apparently the victim of a heart attack. Mr. Wilson, 63, was discovered by his wife, Arlen.

"Mr. Wilson was the author of numerous books... He was noted for his libertarian viewpoints, love of technology and off the wall humor. Mr. Wilson is survived by his wife and two children."

This time around, it appears that Mr. Wilson has actually left corporeality, appropriately on 1/11 (at 4:50 am — you hardcore number freaks can get to work on the meaning of that one... I do see a five in there!).



For this cosmic cub scout, Bob Wilson was the motherload. Books like The Illuminatus! Trilogy, Cosmic Trigger, and Coincidance killed most of what little dogmatism I had left in me, and opened me up to a world of possibilities as large as space travel and as small as quantum physics. He also had a razor sharp wit that he skillfully aimed at those who abuse power and wealth. And he was a delightful story teller, whose love of language was evidenced not only by his own novels, but by his ability to quote virtually everything James Joyce and Ezra Pound ever wrote — backwards, while explaining what evolutionary level of primate behavior the author was elucidating.

I had the great pleasure to know Robert Anton Wilson and our intersections were sometimes strange — his Mondo 2000 check hadn't arrived; or I weirded him out by kneeling down before him like he was the pope and kissing his ring (I thought it was funny.) I also have great memories of sitting with him while he expounded expansively on everything from the rights of the Irish to the genius of Orson Welles. Over the past several years, as his polio returned, and as death started to hover nearby, Wilson sent out funny email messages of the "not dead yet" variety to those of us on his mailing list. There was never a trace of self-pity in any of his messages.

As the result of medical expenses and problems with the IRS, Wilson found himself in a financial squeeze towards the end of his life. Word went out and the internet community responded by sending him $68,000 within the first couple of days (and undoubtedly some more after that). This allowed RAW to die with the comfort, grace and dignity that he deserved. Special props go to Douglas Rushkoff and the folks at Boing Boing (and to all the individuals who contributed) for making that happen.

Robert Anton Wilson taught us all that "the universe contains a maybe." So maybe there is an afterlife, and maybe Bob's consciousness is hovering around all of us who were touched by his words and his presence all these years. And if that's the case, I'm sure he'd like to see you do something strange and irreverent — and yet beautiful — in his honor.

See Also:
A Selection of Obscure Robert Anton Wilson Essays
Robert Anton Wilson Tribute Show
Robert Anton Wilson Website
Is The Net Good For Writers?
Neil Gaiman Has Lost His Clothes

Read More

World Sex Laws


Gil Elvgren

Painting by Gil Elvgren

Sex laws around the world are as diverse as indigenous spices — an acceptable Scandinavian method of grinding genitalia together might get you barbarically executed in another region of the globe.

Globetrotting seducers and seductresses should exercise caution when they indulge in international orifices — flesh in one foreign harbor might be contraband in the next. Be sure to memorize local codes before you frolic with the natives.

Take adultery, for example.

The sophisticated French sport of extra-marital mounting hasn't quite been embraced yet in Somalia. Five wives who were convicted of humping and harrumphing the Sixth Commandment were publicly stoned to death in 1993 by cheering villagers in this East African nation. The rock-headed primitiveness was even videotaped.

Age-of-consent is another tricky topic. Roman Polanski — who fled the USA as a fugitive to avoid an "unlawful intercourse with a minor" charge after he nestled a 13-year-old nymphet — would not have been prosecuted in a tri-racial choice of nations: Spain, Nigeria, or Japan (where obsession with schoolgirls is bigger than Sumo.) His lover-girl's vagina would be considered fully adult in these areas. If the Pole contented himself with a 14-year-old romper, his field-of-play would be enormous: Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Colombia, Croatia, Honduras, Hungary, Russia, and Serbia.

Polanski's nastiness was in tangling with a Hollywood teen; California has an ancient age-of-consent: 18. The only nations that are more daughter-cautious than this are Egypt, Pakistan (21), and Saudi Arabia, where the law states simply that all women "must be married."

Nudity laws are also either stripped-down or grossly over-dressed. Le Cap d'Agde in France is an entirely clothing-optional city (population 40,000), thousands of bare buns bake on beaches in Europe, Australia, and Canada, and naturist joggers publicly flap and jiggle in San Francisco's annual Bay-To-Breakers footrace.

But skin is a carnal crime elsewhere: "unveiled" college girls in Algeria have been shot for exposing their lascivious mouths and chins, and have had acid thrown in their tempting faces. In Iran, women are flogged by "morality patrols" if their lovely hair slips wickedly out of their veils.

Needless to say, Islamic locales are generally ill advised for "sex adventurers." Here are some highlights, culled from this page:
1. Most Middle Eastern countries recognize the following Islamic law: "After having sexual relations with a lamb, it is a mortal sin to eat its flesh."

2. In Lebanon, men are legally allowed to have sex with animals, but the animals must be female. Having sexual relations with a male animal is punishable by death.

3. In Bahrain, a male doctor may legally examine a woman's genitals, but is forbidden from looking directly at them during the examination. He may only see their reflection in a mirror.

4. Muslims are banned from looking at the genitals of a corpse. This also applies to undertakers; the sex organs of the deceased must be covered with a brick or piece of wood at all times.

5. The penalty for masturbation in Indonesia is decapitation.

Rape laws ’round the planet are also perplexing — the ugliest legislation exists in Latin American Catholic countries that exempt rapists from prosecution if they marry the victim. (Many raped women are pressured to wed their attackers because they're seen as "shamed" and "unmarriageable" after they've been penetrated.) In 1997, Peru repealed this rape-escape clause, but it smarmily lingers on in the skewed court books of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, The Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and Paraguay.

On a cheerier note, it's entertaining to observe the silly USA city laws. Newcastle, Wyoming bans sex inside a store's meat freezer, and Tremonton, Utah has outlawed intercourse in ambulances — neither would I pick as a hot spot. In Connorsville, Wisconsin, it's illegal for a man to shoot off his gun when his female partner has an orgasm, and in Willowdale, Oregon, a man can't curse during sex. Both measures curb celebration, in my opinion.

Most repressive, though, is the Alexandria, Minnesota edict that says a man can't make love to his wife if he's got the stench of garlic, onions, or sardines on his breath — if his wife demands it, he is legally forced to brush his teeth first.

Seems anti-Italian, to me!



See Also:
Pregnant Nympho Sex
Adopt an African Hottie's Clitoris
"Kneecaps, Eyeballs and Livers For Sale" — The World Organ Trade

Read More

Thou Shalt Realize the Bible Kicketh Ass


Testament

What if The Bible were happening right now? That's the question Douglas Rushkoff has been trying to grapple with in Testament, a series of graphic novels that transpose Biblical stories into contemporary narratives. The series, created in collaboration with artist Liam Sharp flashes back and forth between contemporary and Biblical times, portraying struggles between total control freaks and revolutionaries. Various gods and goddesses form a sort of Greek Chorus — philosophizing and commenting on the action. The "Testament" series is a startling attempt to bring Biblical mythology back to life.



The first five editions of Testament were gathered together in a paperback edition titled Testament: Akedah. [Update: The second paperback edition, Testament Vol. 2: West of Eden was released January, 2007, followed by Testament: Babel - Volume 3 and then Testament Volume 4: Exodus in August of 2008.]

I interviewed Rushkoff by email.

RU SIRIUS: Let's start off talking about the medium itself, the graphic novel. It seems like the graphic novel became a repository for stories with mythic resonances and heroism in the Joseph Campbell sense, since that kind of storytelling was marginalized by the modern and then the post-modern novel. Would you agree? And who in this genre has inspired you?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: I think novels lost a bit of their dimension as readers demanded narrators they could "trust," and perspectives with which they could identify. In some ways, the novel — and most textual narrative — became awfully realistic. The post-modernist experiments were mostly being conducted in other forms, like poetry, and only "kids" novels or series attempted fantasy or mythology in any real way.

The graphic novel and comic book have strong traditions in mythology — or even just in telling stories more on the periphery of consciousness. Superman and other American superheroes were really exploring the unspoken immigrant experience; Japanese manga became a forum to consider the cultural and psychological effects of nuclear war; and, of course, Maus and other contemporary graphic novels became the place to confront the issues and ideas we haven't fully integrated into our conversations or consciousness.

There are very few media that give us the chance to explore and continue the grand myths — the kind that Campbell was looking at. The Bible is now "locked down," so to speak — and there are very few places to engage in open discussion about its mythology. Too many people are depending on the Bible to serve as fact — whether it's for a Middle East land claim or the security of believing in a Creator with a Plan. And too many writers and artists have given up on the mythological tradition — seeing it as the province of fundamentalists or, worse, hopelessly "New Age."

But it's in the early New Age, the pre-New Age, really, that we find the foundations for some of the best comics traditions. For me, it was Jack Kirby and his Eternals. That series was what originally interested me in writing comics. My "master plan," so to speak, was to get asked to bring that series back. But it was DC who noticed my work, and "Eternals" was a Marvel comic. By that point I had spent more time working and thinking about the Bible, anyway, so I figured if I was willing to tackle Kirby's universe of gods, why not the Bible's? Why not start with the richest set of mythologies out there? Richest, at least, for a Western audience, in that these are our foundation stories.

As for other influences and inspirations in the genre, I guess I'm inspired by the obvious ones: Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Dan Clowes. And I'm enjoying Godland by Joe Casey right now.

RU: As someone who has never read the Bible, and who has found myself bored by every attempt that I've made to do so, let me ask you — why do you think this is such a powerful book?

DR: Well, I think the reason you get stuck is because you're not the original intended hearer. I mean, if you're not from that time and place, it's really hard to get the jokes. Or the sense.

That's why so many religious people are confused. They look at the stories literally, without realizing that each of Jacob's sons is meant more as a satirical embodiment of one of the tribes. Today's readers think of it like these guys are really the patriarchs of each of these tribes, rather than story devices.

Plus, if you don't know all the Egyptian customs, then all the stuff that the Israelites do differently doesn't come through. In one section they build a big arc but don't put a god on the top. To a hearer of that era, they'd know this was radical — because all the Egyptian arcs had gods on top. Or they'd know that slaying a calf in April is a really big deal, because that was the Egyptian New Year's month when the calf was to be revered.

On a deeper level, the Bible works because it's very gently trying to break the bad news: that our relationship to God has changed from that of believing children to that of lonely adults. It's telling the story of how a civilization grows up, and learns (or doesn't learn) to take of itself with no parent telling it what to do. It's about how to stop engaging in child sacrifice; how to develop legal and monetary systems that don't exploit people. And, most of all, it's about how to stay alive and conscious in a society that's trying to make you dead and asleep.

It's really a collection of stories that mean to address the new challenges of the Axial Age — and foretelling some of the dangers of evolving into an agricultural society. The Bible works because it attempts to tackle the underlying dynamic between models of scarcity and models of abundance.

For my purposes, it's interesting because it has become so much more relevant today — as society is again falling under the spell of a reality template as extreme and limited as the mental slavery of Biblical Egypt.

RU: Can we really generalize about such a diffuse, decentralized and dissipated culture and say that it's comparable to the mental slavery of Biblical Egypt?

DR: Unfortunately, we can. Certainly as much as we can generalize about Biblical Egypt. There were Egyptians who saved Jewish babies like Moses, remember — so there are exceptions to every rule.

But I'd argue that we are currently living in something beyond a fascist's wildest dream. And it's not just political. Bush and co. may have done us wrong, but the landscape and environment permitting their misdeeds is more to blame than any "neo-con" ideology. And this is the landscape of corporatism — a game in which non-player characters rule the day.

Our values have been completely penetrated by a market model, sold to us through propaganda since about the time that Ed Bernays turned his back on government and became the first real PR man for corporate America. Everything from World's Fairs to public schools were developed to promote the corporate agenda and ideology. So now we live in a world where we see corporations and currency as pre-existing conditions — laws of nature; a part of creation.

We may feel decentralized, but we still don't know how to create value for one another that doesn't involve central authority. The kids on YouTube still want to get picked up by a TV network. And you can't sell me a DVD without involving the Fed's money.



RU: Let's move directly on to some of the material in the comics. In Chapter One of "West of Eden" (#6 of the series), an invisible narrator is quoted saying, "Each story is only as true as the number and intensity of those who believe." I wonder if this speaks for you, and if you mean this in a literal sense — in a Heisenbergian sense. In other words, do observers create reality; or do observers create reality within certain limits?

DR: Well, it's certainly true in the world of the comic — and I'd think it's at least somewhat true in the world we live in. As far as the comic, I'm kind of giving the whole thing away in that little section. Number 6 (the first chapter of the second collection coming out in January) was an opportunity to start over, and help new readers catch up with the world of the story. Likewise, of course, the creation story in Genesis was written and added to the text much later than the stuff that follows.

Basically, when the Israelites were under attack, they decided that rather than just having the best and most powerful god, they had the only god (what historians call the "one God, alone" cult). So they needed their own creation story. They cobbled together some of the best ones, gave them a decidedly Jewish context (the spoken word itself has creative power) and put it at the front.

I did the same thing, showing the "good" gods writing their creation story while "bad" gods each take individual credit for creation of the world. But the gods do understand that their power — their authority to declare responsibility for creation — is really dependent on the number and faith of their believers. In essence, I'm saying that the gods are really created by people. They exist, but only insofar as people are willing to believe in them. They're emergent phenomena.

As far as real reality, I think there's a whole lot of stuff we accept as given circumstances that are actually social convention — belief systems. Not the sum total of reality — like rocks and planets and physics — but certainly the nature of power, money, relationship. The way we interact is guided as much by our beliefs as our nature. And our perceptions of the world are, as Robert Anton Wilson would say, just reality tunnels.

RU: Why did you choose an artificial life program as a sort of creation myth?

DR: Well, the creation story is largely about the difference between nature and human-made life. When Cain is punished, he is to become a "builder of cities" — meaning artificial colonies rather than natural ones (to put it really briefly). In the comic, it's our modern Adam who takes the dangerous step of launching his AI lifeform out onto the greater networks; and that's my modern allegory for tasting of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He's taken the power of creation into his own hands.

The AI becomes a real character as the story develops, though. It's the operating system for a new kind of global currency. In the Bible, Pharaoh basically loses his free will. God "hardens his heart," which — to me, anyway — has less to do with God wanting a good enemy than it has to do with Pharaoh's addiction to power. The Bible is repeatedly telling the lesson that we have to respect life; disrespect for life pushes a person further from the living. So as our story's antagonists show more allegiance to currency than they do to people, they end up increasingly ruled by an AI.

RU: Talk about the centrality of currency in this story. How does it relate to Biblical mythology and why is it important now?

DR: Well, it was Joseph — one of the Bible's heroes — who is somewhat responsible in the story for giving the Pharaoh the idea to take in all the grain when it was plentiful, and then to create indentured servants out of everyone when they couldn't get any grain during the famine. It could even be argued that they created an artificial scarcity in order to gain power.

Of course, that's the way our economy works today. Our currency is centrally created, as if by fiat. There's no underlying value. And this sort of currency is very biased towards scarcity and central authority.

So many of our greatest challenges as a civilization still hearken back to our inability to operate an economy on a system other than the scarcity model. We could make enough energy or food. It's not a technological problem. It's an economic problem. An economy based on artificial scarcity — on the hoarding of resources and meting out of commodities — doesn't know how to cope with abundance. Or even sustainability. How do you maintain centralized authority if people aren't depending on the central authority for everything?

RU: Do you think open source is coming to the exchange of economic value? Is there anything in Biblical terms that points us that way?

DR: I have to believe that currency is moving towards an open source model. And that's why we're having such awful wars right now. As people come to recognize that money isn't real, the powers that be will have to invent a new method of social control.

Really — money began to replace religion as a means of central control back in the Renaissance. Until then, there were local currencies complementing centralized ones. People in towns could create value for one another without involving the central authority.

For the past several decades, many towns have attempted to develop their own currencies — but the problem has always been one of trust and accountability. Computers and networks really do solve this problem, so the tools to make currency for ourselves — to create alternative moneys that have different biases (not interest bearing; based in a real commodity, etc.) are here. The LETS system really does work, now.

It's a matter of seeing whether or not the spell can be broken, though. Whether people can come to see that the dollar isn't real. It's just one way of monetizing value, but we persist.

It may take someone else — maybe China, or the oil producers — to show us that our money is worthless — it's really just a matter of In God We Trust. But we'll be in for much less of a rude awakening if we can remember what the Bible was really telling us about our money, and take the Bible back from those who have used it to support its only true villain.

RU: In terms of mental slavery, you have this scene of trendy, sexy young people lining up to get "tagged" — which is some sort of digital upgrade implant. Is that how they get us, through the upgrades? Should I ditch my iPod and BlackBerry? And is there a Biblical backstory to this one?

DR: Well, being rich is considered cool, now. I mean, our heroes are "the man."

In the comic, I tried to make it appear that this new RFID-tag currency would give people power. By using what seems to be a totally decentralized, AI currency, people believe they can, like the ads in the comic, "Get Tagged and You're IT!" (Of course, the joke is that you get tagged and you're just an extension I.T., not *it*.) But the motivation is to be one with money, to have the money in you rather than depending on some external source for the money.

The Biblical reference (which will only get paid off later) is Manna. They called the currency Manna, but that hasn't really been explained yet. The idea is that in the Torah story, the Israelites don't trust that Manna will keep coming. So they hoard it. God gets pissed off and turns the stored Manna into worms. They're supposed to trust that new Manna is coming.

Do I think you have to give up your BlackBerry? Not necessarily, but I do think you have to understand its biases. You have to understand what it's doing to you and whether that's a good thing. I don't wear an iPod on the subway — I don't even own one — because I feel alienated and detached enough already. I want every opportunity I have in real and public spaces to engage with other real people.

RU: You've taking on a potentially controversial task — reworking Biblical myth. Say a little bit about any responses that you've had.

DR: So far it's been almost completely positive. The beauty about comics is that people don't take them as "seriously" as they do non-fiction. So while I've been blacklisted by various fundamentalist groups for my non-fiction book on Judaism, I've gotten almost no negative response for this treatment of Biblical myth — which would certainly be much more controversial.

I mean, my non-fiction work was based on history. This comic has a whole lot more conjecture — particularly in the way it draws parallels between, say, child sacrifice in the Bible and sending kids to Iraq today.

But the vast majority of responses — particularly from rabbis — has been positive. They've been looking for someone to tell Torah stories the way they actually appear in Torah — but to do so in a way that gives these horrific and sexy scenes some context. It's one thing for a layperson to blog the Torah on Slate, and it's quite another for a media scholar (if I'm allowed to call myself that) to do it in a fictional work with informed interpretation. That's another reason the rabbis like it, though — it's attempting to carry on the Midrashic tradition of Torah commentary in a contemporary medium, rather than around the table at the house of study.

The other great thing has been the responses from magick types and Crowley fans who really had no idea the Bible was filled with all this sex magick. They're now looking at Torah as source code rather than some enemy's dictates.

See also:
The Satanic Cosmology of Jack Chick
Neil Gaiman Has Lost His Clothes
When Cory Doctorow Ruled The World
Atheist Filmmaker Issues "Blasphemy Challenge"

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Atheist Filmmaker Issues ‘Blasphemy Challenge’


The God Who Wasn't There

"The War on Christmas" is an absurd fantasy concocted by the Religious Right. But it doesn't have to be. If Brian Flemming has his way, we'll get a real War on Christmas, complete with atheistic shock troops (called "Rational Responders") confronting believers with the non-logic of their dearest religious beliefs. His "Rational Response Squad" is encouraging young people to take The Blasphemy Challenge — to commit blasphemy and post the results on YouTube.

It's all part of the continuing promotion for Flemming's worthy documentary film, The God Who Wasn't There. The film, in the words of Newsweek, "irreverently lays out the case that Jesus Christ never existed." Uber-athiests Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins appear, helping Flemming make his sacreligious point.



Besides interviewing Flemming on this year's RU Sirius Show Christmas Special, we had him on in April of this year, when he was gunning for Easter. We've combined the two conversations to create this interview. Flemming fielded questions from an extended RU Sirius Show family that included Blag Dhalia from The Dwarves, Steve Robles, Jeff Diehl and Diana Brown.

RU SIRIUS: Tell us what the Blasphemy Challenge is and how we might participate.

BRIAN FLEMMING: It's a challenge to you to commit the Christian unforgivable sin, on video, and upload it to YouTube for all the world to see. And if you do that, you can get a free DVD of The God Who Wasn't There.

STEVE ROBLES: Did you just say the sin? Are you speaking of a particular sin?

BRIAN: Yeah, there's one unforgivable sin. Mark 3:29 says, "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven." So that is the one sin that, if you commit it, you can never ever be saved. So one benefit of taking the Blasphemy Challenge is that if any Christians come up to you and try to convert you in the future, you can just say, "Oh, no, I'm done. You can't help me any more."

RU: So you could jizz on a picture of the Virgin Mary, but this would be worse.

BRIAN: Right. You can do anything else. You can kill all the people you want; you can rape and murder and whatever; and Jesus will forgive you. But this is the one thing that he won't forgive you for.

STEVE: Actually, you won't be forgiven for suicide, either.

BRIAN: Oh, that's true.

JEFF DIEHL: Do we get a free DVD if we commit that blasphemy?

BRIAN: If you were to deny the Holy Spirit, and then kill yourself, you'd definitely be guaranteed to meet Satan for it.

STEVE: It gets into some tricky Catholic dogma because you have to blaspheme specifically against the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit being a part of the Holy Trinity. That means that if you blaspheme against Jesus or god, you're okay.

BRIAN: Yeah. In fact, Jesus says that specifically in another passage. He says, "Whoever speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven" — but if you speak against the Holy Spirit, you can't be forgiven.

RU: You particularly want young people to participate. You advertised in Boy Scout Trail and Tiger Beat.

BRIAN: Yeah. We chose a bunch of sites online that specifically appeal to young people to advertising on. In fact, many of the people that are uploading videos to YouTube are in their teens.

RU: So are you trying to exacerbate right-wing paranoia?

BRIAN: My goal is definitely to provoke conversation. We rarely discuss religion on the same terms as we discuss any other aspect of our culture such as science or math or politics — any subject at all. People are allowed to make religious claims, and there's a taboo in our culture against actually questioning those claims the way we would anything else. The Blasphemy Challenge is designed to examine that. "Okay, Christianity makes this claim. Let's talk about it. Let's talk about whether there's any support for it at all." And Christians are welcome to demonstrate that hell exists and demonstrate that the Holy Spirit exists and demonstrate that insulting the Holy Spirit will send you to this place called hell.

RU: You claim to have a 21,000-member activist group. What are you guys planning? Should we be frightened of atheist fanatics?

BRIAN: We've done some interesting things. We hid copies of the movie in Christian churches and in other items. One thing we did during Easter — we put fliers with cartoons into plastic eggs at egg hunts for Christian children. They read, "Here's a fun game. Ask your Mom and Dad, 'Is the Easter Bunny real?' Now ask them, 'Is Santa Claus real?' Now ask them, 'Is Jesus real?' And remember this for the rest of your life. The answer to these three questions will always be the same."

RU: So you're hiding these mind-fucks in Easter eggs. Do you feel that up to this point, you've been preaching to the unheavenly choir, and now you have to reach people who are believers and get them to think? Do you have any evidence that people have been affected by your message?

BRIAN: I get emails all the time. The movie has not worked alone but has worked in concert with other things, like Sam Harris's book The End of Faith. I know my film has been principally involved in the de-conversion of many Christians including one Baptist minister. It definitely is possible to reach Christians. It's astonishing what they don't know. And when you tell them, their jaws just drop. When I see Christians after a screening of The God Who Wasn't There, I can see the looks on their faces. I can tell they've just never been exposed to this stuff

RU: Do you anticipate any rumbles with Jack Chick's guys?

BRIAN: I'm sure.



BLAG DHALIA: Look, it doesn't bother me that you're trying to debunk Jesus, and it doesn't bother me that you hate the Easter Bunny. But I'm not going to sit here and listen to you talk about Santa! I'm just fuming about Santa. I think you're really pushing it.

BRIAN: Well, I'm hoping to reach out and have a dialogue with the Santa believers. Maybe we can come to some understanding.

RU: Is there evidence that Santa wasn't really born?

BRIAN: Actually, the thing is that Santa is more real than Jesus. Santa was an actual saint. In fact, I saw statues of him when I recently visited Amsterdam. He's the patron saint of Amsterdam. That's where the myth originated. So Santa is actually far more real than Jesus. A real human became the Santa legend.

BLAG: Santa is a scary fuck. He wears an animal skin that's bloody. That's where the whole red Santa suit came from — this guy with an inside-out animal skin that was still bleeding on his back. But a jolly, jolly man anyways.

RU: Tell us a bit about your film, The God Who Wasn't There.

BRIAN: It's a documentary that makes the case that Jesus Christ never existed. I interview some people who rarely get their theories aired in the mainstream media. They're very credible people who have looked at the early evidence for Jesus and found that it was sorely lacking. And then the film goes on to examine how Jesus is used in our culture and the effect that this dogma that Jesus existed and is our savior has had in our culture.

RU: How did you research the film? Did you start with your conclusion?

BRIAN: I started out thinking the theory that Jesus never lived must've been a crackpot theory. I'm into crackpot theories and into crackpots. I like to look into what makes them tick.

STEVE: That's why you're talking to us.

BRIAN: I started looking into it. And I came to realize that the evidence did stack up and the real crackpots were people who could look at early Christianity and determined that the early Christians believed in a human Jesus. When I realized how few people knew about this, I decided it was a good focus for a documentary.

JEFF: In college, I was challenged by a piece of writing called Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches by Marvin Harris. He claims that there were a lot of self-proclaimed Messiahs back in Jesus's day. And a lot of them were crucified, and they were basically terrorists. They were trying to overthrow the Roman government. In many cases they were assassins. They carried daggers in their robes. And there's a good chance that Jesus himself was a dagger-carrying assassin.

BRIAN: I have heard that theory. With Jesus stories — you can speculate anything that you want about Jesus, because there is no writing whatsoever about him from the time. All we have is this sort of invented history of Jesus that was improvised over the decades immediately following the apostle Paul, who never claimed to have met Jesus. So there's no direct evidence, at all, that Jesus ever existed. And there's a lot of evidence indicating that he was just kind of improvised into existence, first as a mythical savior and then later on, historical details were added.

RU: You used to be a fundamentalist Christian. Why did you stray from the flock?

BRIAN: I went to a fundamentalist school called Village Christian School in Sun Valley, California. That's where I got the doctrine pounded into my head. I was a fundamentalist Christian then. Once I got out of that school, I began to think for myself a little bit more and learn about science. Going to college kind of opened my eyes to the absolutely false things that I believed were true. I gradually became an atheist. I just deduced and learned my way to atheism.

RU: Did you preach in neighborhoods?

BRIAN: No, I didn't. I never had the nerve to witness. I practiced it. They would take us out on the playground and we would practice-witness to each other. And then we were supposed to do what we practiced with people in our lives, particularly Jews. I had Jewish friends, and every time I visited them at their house I was just wracked with guilt because I wasn't witnessing to them. But I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Something felt wrong about telling them that Jews were going to hell.

RU: You left us to rot in hell! So your film makes the case that Jesus never existed. What's the evidence? How do you prove a negative?

BRIAN: There's a more positive case to be made. The early Christians, the very first Christians, did not believe in a human Jesus. It took decades before they started adding history into their writings. They created this Jesus who wasn't just this mythical god like most gods at that time were — but in fact a man who walked around on earth.

If you look at the beginning of Christianity, for at least forty years there was no human Christ. Nobody was mentioning Bethlehem or Jerusalem as the place where he was crucified. Basically, nothing that you and I would call the story of Jesus was told then. He was a savior who lived up in another realm. He had died and had risen back up to be with his father. All of this took place in an upper realm, not down on earth. Bit by bit, they added historical details.

RU: This story had been told many times before, right? There were various versions that were nearly exactly the same.

BRIAN: Yeah, there were versions of the story both before the time that Christianity started and particularly right around the time that Christianity started. The dying and rising savior is probably the oldest story in the world. But there were specifically other gods who were remarkably like Jesus in the time preceding the invention of Jesus. There was the Attis cult and the Mithras cult. They had saviors who died, stayed dead three days, and then rose up to sit with their fathers as the eternal judge on mankind. It's pretty clear that's where the Jesus story came from.

DIANA BROWN: You're calling for an atheist activist movement. Do you believe it could make a difference if enough people got on board?

BRIAN: Oh, definitely. I think there is an atheist activist movement. I'm trying to contribute to it as much as I can. I think there's a gradual realization among atheists that just sitting at home, not believing, and watching the world go to hell isn't really a very viable strategy.

DIANA: People are being kind of politically correct — not wanting to talk to people about their religion because it's polite.

BRIAN: Exactly. Religious tolerance really has to go, if religious tolerance means we let people talk baby talk in public and elect them as politicians who control our policy. If that's religious tolerance, then we can't really be tolerant because it's just too dangerous.

DIANA: What would you say to an agnostic?

BRIAN: I think an agnostic is really just an atheist who hasn't thought about it enough.

RU: The reason I'm an agnostic — I just don't assume that as a human being I have the equipment, the nervous system and the brain to be quite certain about everything that is going on. To me, atheism is a belief system just like faith is.

BRIAN: I would disagree with that. I don't think that atheism is a belief system. It's simply, as Sam Harris puts it, "The inability to be unreasonable." Basically, everyone is an atheist. It's just that religious people are atheists about every other god except their own. So even a Christian is just one god away from me. I don't believe in Zeus. I don't believe in Poseidon. The Christian is also an atheist in regard to Zeus and Poseidon. The Christian has just selected one of those books of mythology, pulled it down off the shelf and said, "This one is real." As an atheist, all I've done is to not do that.



STEVE: But this still leaves at least the possibility that you might discover something. The problem with atheism is that it doesn't allow for anything beyond what we perceive now to be our physical reality.

BRIAN: I admit that there's a possibility. I take a scientific approach.

DIANA: Ha! So you're an agnostic.

STEVE: Outed!

BRIAN: It's a misconception that you can only be an atheist if you declare absolutely that you have the answers and that you know there's no god. An atheist has just looked at all the gods available and determined: no — none of these could exist, so probably there is no god. That's not agnosticism. That's really atheism.

BLAG: Mr. Fleming, I gotta be on your team with this. If you don't believe in slavery, you can either sit at home and say, "I don't believe in slavery," or you can be an abolitionist and say, "Wait a minute. We have this thing and I am going to actively be against it." So let's kill god. We're atheists. Fuck 'im.

DIANA: If we can kill him, we can prove something... You think knowledge is the enemy of faith, so you're basically encouraging people to seek knowledge. Correct?

BRIAN: Exactly. Doubt is the enemy of certainty. What I want to do with the War on Christmas is have Christians come across information that they're not getting, because only one version is told. No one's allowed to present another view. If you really start examining what most faiths are based on, you can't deduce your way into believing in it, so you eventually have to let it go.

STEVE: Don't humans need to believe in myths? Even if Jesus never really existed, don't people need to believe?

BRIAN: Humans need to band together in groups that have an identity. They like to get together and experience stories and some of them go too far and love the story to the point that they believe it. That's all true. Certainly there is something about humans that caused religions to develop. There has to be something in us that makes us want that. But I see no reason that anyone's ever articulated that we should have it today. Two thousand years ago, I kind of get why they thought the way they did. They didn't have science. They were answering questions that we've answered since then. They thought that demons caused disease.

RU: They don't?

STEVE: You've never had shingles.

JEFF: There was a study recently that showed that belief in god or religion makes people happier. Assuming they can actually measure something called happiness, might there not be a benefit to believing, just to be happy?

BRIAN: Yeah. I would say it has the same benefits as heroin.

BLAG: Now you're talking my language!

JEFF: You're killing your case here, Brian. (Laughter)

BRIAN: There's a cost to being rational. There's a cost in looking at the world in a sensible way and not falling prey to fantasy stories that make you feel better. It's not easier — I'll admit that. It certainly takes more courage. So people who are afraid and want to trick their minds into being happy should turn to religion and drugs, because you do have to be strong to deal with the world as it is.

JEFF: It's kind of like that brain-in-a-vat story, though. If you could climb into a chamber and never experience reality and just be told that this is reality, would you do it? What's the difference? If you've convinced yourself that you're happy, you're happy.

RU: The blue pill or the red pill?

BRIAN: Maybe before we die, we'll have that. We'll be able to jack into the matrix. I think part of the reason we haven't done it already is because religion has held back science so much. Literally for centuries, it has prevented progress. So, ironically, religion has kept us from having eternal life.

RU: There's some talk about a cluster of neurons in the brain that tap people into their feeling of belief in god; or their sense of god. Have you looked at that at all?

BRIAN: No, but Sam Harris, who's in my movie, is devoting his PhD thesis to exactly that. He's studying the brain basis of belief with an FMRI — Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging technology. He hasn't published yet, but I know he's discovered some things. I can't wait to find out what they are.

RU: Do you think we're headed into a theocracy? Kevin Phillips, the Republican who hates the Bush family, wrote a book about how America is becoming a theocracy. How close do you think we are? And do you think we'll go the rest of the way?

BRIAN: I think that we will go the rest of the way if we don't take action to stop it. That's going to require people to go out on a limb. The time to act is now, before we reach a point of no return.

RU: Today, most everyone is screaming about the Koran and Islam. How would you compare the memetic nastiness of Islam to the memetic nastiness of Christianity?

BRIAN: The Koran is certainly more vicious; more clear about the killing that has to be done. It is, in general, a more dangerous book. It's got all sorts of stuff about what you must do to infidels; how they must be treated — cut them into pieces and throw them into a fire. The Bible has some of that stuff, but it also has Jesus making all this happy talk. The Koran is just really clear. If you believe in Islam, you believe the place of the infidels in the world is either to be subjugated or killed. So I do think Islam is potentially more dangerous than Christianity. But any religion — particularly any monotheistic religion, if it gains enough power — they all could be extremely dangerous.

See also:
The Satanic cosmology of Jack Chick
Thou Shalt Realize the Bible Kicketh Ass (Rushkoff interview)
Death at Christmas
They're Dreaming of a Boobs Christmas

Read More

The Satanic Cosmology of Jack Chick


Chick comic

Did you know that Christmas is actually a Satanic holiday based on Baal worship from ancient Babylon? That Halloween is a Druidic ritual of human sacrifice... to Satan? That the Pope is the Antichrist?

If the answer is yes, chances are your sorry-assed soul has been saved by Jack Chick, comic book evangelist.

Although the spewers of fire 'n' brimstone are not exactly rare nowadays — from Mel Gibson and Bill O'Reilly, to the Left Behind series of novels and video games — they focus only on small corners of a sprawling theological castle historically tended by Lord Chick.



His innovative method of spreading the Gospel through comics, his spiraling conspiracy theories, and his recurrent cast of characters make him a sort of Walt Disney of fundamentalism. Chick's universe, like Disneyland in reverse, is one of hermetic paranoia — the tendrils of Satan's influence on humanity reach from the highest seats of power to the most mundane suburban activities — describing a tightly knit web of evil design percolating just below the surface of everything. Chick's brand of Christianity is anti-sectarian, "born again," New Testament literalism. His mail-order congregation consists of what he calls "true Bible-believing Christians," to whom he preaches DIY salvation and soul-winning.

Since his own Damascus in 1948 (while listening to "Charles Fuller's Old Fashioned Revival Hour" on the radio), Chick claims to have won hundreds of thousands of souls for Christ worldwide through the dissemination of his mini-comics, known as "Chick Tracts." His distinctly modern, technologically mediated conversion — alone, outside of church, through radio and now the internet — is significant, illustrating his present contempt for organized religions and his choice of alternative media to flog the Gospel. More significant, however, is Chick's proud admission that he appropriated the concept of spreading the Gospel through comics from Mao Tse Tung's use of propaganda comics in Communist China. While placing Chick in an ideological double bind (he maintains that Communism was a creation of the super-evil Vatican), this revelation is remarkably resonant, considering Chick's zealous ideological imperative, and his savvy propagandist tactics.

Chick's themes and strategies vary little from tract to tract, but, as a master propagandist, he tailors many of the tracts for soul-winning target markets, particularly intransigent meanies like bikers, criminals, and rockers. Consider these blurbs from the Chick Publications catalog, advertising specific tracts: "Duke thought Jesus was a sissy. But he learned that Jesus had more guts than anyone who ever lived. Great for truckers and bikers!" ("The Sissy"), "Bob was mean and rotten. He didn't need God, until a fire in the jail nearly killed him. Great for bikers!" ("Bad Bob"), "They started as a 'Christian' rock group, and soon became slaves to rock. But Tom found that Jesus could change all that... and set him free!" ("Angels?").

Chick writes the majority of the tracts himself, and he draws the most visually amusing of the lot in his primitive, sub-Peanuts style. The bulk of them, however, feature competent, anatomically correct, if boring, ghost artists. Chick designs the tracts to instill fear and guilt in the unsaved reader. To this end, he menaces us with detailed descriptions of hell, Satan himself (or a few silly, Stooge-like demons), and outrageous, "deviant" behavior. Witchcraft is magically revealed behind hopelessly banal activities, in an effort to win casual paranoiacs to the fold. Chick also far outrushes Limbaugh in his violation of PC tolerance — homosexuals ("Doom Town: The Story of Sodom"), women (demons use a pretty women as "tactic #28" to distract a teenage boy from being "saved" in "A Demon's Nightmare"), civil rights activists, liberals, and other races (and their religions) all get pilloried as tools of Satan.

Witchcraft and the occult are always at work in Chick's suburban universe, often behind seemingly harmless teen activities. The alarmist "Dark Dungeons" exposes Dungeons & Dragons as an occult apprenticeship to witchcraft and Satanism. Innocent Debbie shows such promise in D&D as "Elfstar" that her Dungeonmaster, an older woman, initiates her into a witch's coven. When a former D&D partner hangs herself because her own character dies, Debbie comes to her senses and is "saved" by a friend. That night, she attends a prayer meeting where a reformed warlock commands the audience to "gather up all your occult paraphernalia... rock music, occult books, charms, Dungeons & Dragons material... don't throw them away, BURN THEM!"

In "The Poor Little Witch," Mandy, an uncoordinated, unpopular girl is seduced by her teacher, Mrs. White (Chick is not known for his subtlety) into asking a demon, "Bruth," for special powers. Bruth answers her call, and Mandy is overjoyed with her newfound grace. Later, however, when taken to a ritual infant sacrifice by Mrs. White, she balks, and wants out of Satanism. Unfortunately for Mandy, the whole town is crawling with Satanists: the pastor, the chief of police, her teachers — all witches. As in many tracts involving witchcraft, Mandy's Leave it to Beaver community is a vertiginous Parallax View of Satanic conspiracy. A sympathetic ex-witch "saves" Mandy, just in time to be murdered for her betrayal. It's a classic Chick "happy ending," for, although Mandy's DOA, she's on a highway to heaven.

High school is not the only haven for witchcraft in Chick's world. Established religious organizations are also revealed as dens of the occult. In "The Curse of Baphomet," Chick exposes Freemasonry as a Satanic cult worshiping Baphomet, a demon goat god of Babylon. Masonic iconography is broken down: the Eastern Star is the upside-down Satanic pentagram, the "all seeing eye" (on our dollar bill) is the eye of Osiris (the Egyptian sun god, based on the Babylonian Baal), the obelisk (the Washington monument) is a phallic symbol of Baal worship ("and God hates it"), the Sphinx is from Egypt, a nefarious Satanic hotbed, the red fez is a shrine to Allah, representing the blood of Christians butchered by Muslims, who dipped their caps in their victims' blood, the apron worn by high level Masons is "packed with occult symbols," and its promised righteousness at the Great Throne of Judgment is a cruel lie ("righteousness comes from Jesus Christ, never from an apron").

Mormonism receives a similar raking over the coals in "The Visitors," in which two Mormon door-to-door elders try to convert a Christian lady, but are shot down by her righteous Chickie niece. After blasting the hapless visitors on such heinous, ungodly practices as polygamy, blood atonement, and belief in false prophecy, plucky Janice accuses Mormon founder Joseph Smith of occult practices such as crystal ball gazing, carrying a talisman of Jupiter (another name for Baal, of course), being a "sublime degree" Mason, incorporating Satanic rituals into Temple ritual (secret handshakes, blood oaths, secret names, etc.), and claiming that Satan and Jesus were brothers. Needless to say, the visitors leave in a huff, and Janice's aunt is saved.

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Any kook fundagelical worth his pillar of salt is obliged to riff on rock 'n' roll as "the devil's music." Chick far outstrips the competition in his rock genealogy, however, proving that Spinal Tap weren't merely being silly when they performed "Stonehenge" in Druidic chic. Though the Tap maintained that "nobody knew who they were, or... what they were doing," Chick has done his research. It's true. Modern rock was spawned by the Druids. In "Spellbound" (one of The Crusaders series of full-sized color Chick comics), Penny, a teenage rock fan, reluctantly gets saved by a visiting preacher, who is coincidentally a former Druid high priest, as well as being a former member of the dreaded Illuminati. According to Lance, our hero, the Druids were "the most evil people living in the horrible darkness" of pre-Christian Europe. They were "so filled with demons that some had strange frightening powers." (One can only assume that the others just wore silly robes and mumbled arcane phrases.) After describing their penchant for human sacrifice (on which Halloween is based; I'll get to that), Lance goes straight for the jugular — the Satanic Druid "beat" that accompanied all their ritual sacrifices.

The Druids apparently jammed on flutes, tambourines, and drums covered with human hide. (It's a shame that Chick seems unaware of Jethro Tull, who make his argument for him rather effectively). "The drumbeat was the key to addict the listener... a form of hypnotism... the same beat the Druids used is in the rock music of today... both hard and soft rock... the beat is still there!" According to Lance, the British Invasion of the 60s had a hidden agenda beyond chicks and cash. The Beatles "opened up a Pandora's Box when they hit the U.S. with their Druid/rock beat." As their popularity grew (due to the hypnotizing, addictive "beat"), "they were able to turn our young people on to the eastern religions... the floodgates to witchcraft were opened... the U.S. will never recover... it was well planned." Lance knows what he's talking about. While a Druid, Lance had a "cover job" managing "Z Productions," one of the "largest manufacturers of rock music." Apparently, the Frankfurt Schoolers' conception of the "culture industry" was far too forgiving. Lance reveals how rock music is really made...

Witches have their own language, like truck drivers use on CB radios. Only the occult language is more carefully guarded. When we produced a rock song, it contained coded spells or incantations that the listener wasn't aware of. A witch would write the words and we'd dig up an old Druid manuscript containing the melody for the song. Top flight musicians were hired to record the music. The master tape would be set aside for six months. It wasn't ready for production until it had been blessed. On a full moon some of the most powerful witches in the country would arrive to put the finishing touches on the song. The high priestess summons Regé, Satan's top demon over the occult.

When Regé materialized from the center of the pentagram, Lance recalls, the high priestess said, "We bid thee to bless and fulfill the spells of our brothers' and sisters' music." To which Regé replied, "I shall command my servants (the demons) to follow each relic produced from our magic music." Poof! A top ten single is born. Lance concludes: "every recording that has been cursed has a visitor (a demon) with it... that's why your homes are so messed up... you cast the spell on yourself!" As the sermon builds to a frothing pitch, Lance commands the congregation to burn it all. Country music ("about sleeping with other men's wives"), and corset-busting romance novels ("those ungodly love stories... the bestsellers with the filthy language") get torched too. Moved by Lance's fervid testifying, Penny repents, agrees to burn her rock albums, and is saved.

But what about "Christian rock"? It's a demon in disguise as well, as shown in "Angels?," perhaps the most hilarious tract in all God's creation. In this clumsy, Chick-drawn tract, a hard luck Christian group meets a "manager" while on the chapel circuit named Lew Siffer (!!!), who promises them booze, chicks, and limos if they sign on the dotted line... in blood! After the boys sign with Lewie, he outlines the structure of his musical conglomerate — a worldwide organization known as "Killer Rock." Pointing to a hierarchical flow chart, he traces the evolution of rock, from Soft (1950s—60s), through Hard (1961-71), to Heavy (1971-?), claiming responsibility for it all. "From the 70s on, I gave the world Kiss, Black Sabbath, Mötley Crüe, etc." (I suppose we have Mr. Siffer to thank for "all Pearl Jam, all the time" radio shows as well.)

Predictably, the Green Angels rocket to mega-stardom overnight with their mesmerizing songs ("We're gonna rock, rock, rock/Rock with the ROCK!"), only to topple, one by one, to AIDS, drugs, and [gasp]... vampirism. Luckily, a devoted Chickie plants a tract ("The Contract") in guitarist Tom's pocket before their final gig. He reads it later, and is saved. Mr. Siffer tries to collect his "royalties," but Tom, using the Force ("The Lord rebuke thee Satan! Get thee hence!!!") zaps (literally) the debonair Lew, revealing his dorky demonic self, horns and all, in an embarrassing shade of red.

We owe more than the existence of Mötorhead to those seminal Druids — we have them to thank for Halloween as well. Two tracts, "Boo!" and "The Trick" ("great for kids!"), trace trick or treating to the Druids ("those guys were really spooky!"). Apparently, October 31st was a special holiday for Samhain (Satan, the god of the dead). Druids sacrificed humans as a matter of protocol, but Halloween was a sacrificial block party. They would go from house to house, demanding a child for sacrifice from each — the victim was the Druids' "treat." They would then leave a lit Jack-O-Lantern outside the house to protect the rest of the family from demons for the rest of the night. If the household could not provide a sacrificial rugrat, or refused, the nasty Druids painted a Satanic pentagram on their front door. Later that night, in a cruel reversal of Passover, Samhain or one of his demons would come and kill a member of the family, usually from fright. This was the "trick" from "trick or treat." Of course, Druids and witches are still active today, explaining the ol' "razor blade in the apple" phenomenon. This is not the work of demented old ladies, says Chick, but of witches performing covert ritual sacrifices to Satan. Satan also uses the scary costume tradition of Halloween to lure kids into his club every year, accounting for the fact that "witchcraft is exploding among teens today!"

As needlessly alarmist as Chick Tracts are, they are strictly Mickey Mouse in comparison to The Crusaders series of full-sized color comics. Chick authored The Crusaders series from the mid-70s to the early 80s, and it shows. The two Crusaders themselves constitute a fundamentalist Christian Mod Squad — two muscular young men, one black, one white, both square-jaw handsome — who travel the world in polyester leisure suits helping good Christians and "saving" those who have run astray. Tim Clark, the Steve Canyon white guy, is a former Green Beret, while "Big" Jim Carter, complete with afro and Superfly duds, is a former drug-dealing badass who was saved by a neighborhood minister. Unlike the primitive tracts, with their goofy, overweight demons and HAW! HAW! panels, The Crusaders comics are bulging with paranoiac text and posable action figure artwork. The plotlines are incidental, as The Crusaders series is primarily a vehicle for Chick's deeply paranoid and hate-mongering conspiracy theories concerning the Roman Catholic church. In each "adventure," the two heroes either run into or accompany a pedagogical character who functions as a mouthpiece for Chick's spiraling conspiracies.

In the final six volumes of The Crusaders, Chick allows a real live former Jesuit, Dr. Alberto Rivera, to take the stand and expose the spidery depths of the Satanic Vatican world conspiracy. In these issues, the two Crusaders are merely in the room as Alberto outlines the Vatican's devilish plot to bring about the One World Religion and Government which will herald beginning of the Great Tribulation. Alberto spins an all-encompassing, impossibly web-like conspiracy theory, an unfortunate conflation of Pynchon and Hitler. Under the guidance of Satan, according to Alberto, the Roman Catholic church is responsible for nearly every evil event in world history. The Alberto series renders 9/11, UFO, and JFK conspiracy theories positively comforting. Even the dreaded Illuminati, usually the shadowy umbrella organization behind all conspiracies, is merely a side project of the Jesuit order, and subordinate to the Vatican.

With heady and convoluted intricacies that would make Dan Brown jealous, no one should be surprised to see continual efforts by ever-emboldened fundamentalist Christian crusaders to exploit ideas originally championed by Jack Chick.

See Also:
Death at Christmas
Christmas 2.0: Subverting the Holidays With Redubbing
Christmas with Hitler
They're Dreaming of a Boobs Christmas

Read More

5 Retarded Online Christmas Videos


1. Sam Brown's New York Christmas



Gritty New Yorkers know that dirt doesn't vanish on December 25. Comedian Sam Brown takes a realistic look at the city's holiday sights — panhandlers, domestic disturbances, losers cruising singles bars, and seasonal affective disorder — then sets it all to music. He's teamed up with Frank Santopadre, editor of New York's Jest magazine to create five slickly-produced, if off-key videos with an unsentimental twist.



A peaceful lawn full of Christmas lights turns into an episode of Cops, as the handcuffed man doing the faceplant sings his version of Silent Night. (Which becomes Violent Night.) Christmas Day requires an acknowledgment of the losers trapped in Singles bars, Singles bars, surrounded by other losers hoping to get laid. But the most demented video of all is probably The Worst Noel. It captures the magical Christmas that comes when you discover your girlfriend has been having sex with the entire neighborhood.

Yes, there's a music video, and yes it has Santa — plus an angel, a nun, and a fire-breathing midget.

2. Christmas With Janice Dickinson's Modeling Agency



Also celebrating Christmas is Janice Dickinson, the over-exposed star of The Surreal Life, America's Next Top Model, and a recent Los Angeles traffic accident.

By the first week of December a Christmas video had already turned up, and according to the New York Post, after you've heard it, "You'll be begging to hear the mellifluous sounds of second-graders singing 'Silent Night.'" Dickinson sings the familiar gift-counting song about the 12 Days of Christmas, but when you're a former supermodel who's slept with Mick Jagger and Sylvester Stallone, your taste in gifts runs beyond simple turtle doves. A fast-paced music video shows Janice claiming her Christmas booty, including "five naked man, four Italian suits, three former husbands, two giants breasts..." (Remember, she's also the author of the book Everything About Me Is Fake . . . And I'm Perfect.) In true supermodel fashion, the 12 gifts are received while wearing 12 different fashion ensembles - but the whole she-bang was just created by the Oxygen network as a promotion for her upcoming special and regular series.

If the New York Post is right, and it makes you want to hear the song sung by amateurs, video #3 offers a simple solution.

3. We Are the YouTube



From England, Canada, New York, and Pittsburgh, they answered a call to sing on your virtual doorstep. Transcending geography, "The YouTube Community Choir" celebrates Christmas like it's never been celebrated before.

It starts with Geriatic1927, the 79-year-old British widower who became one of YouTube's most popular users in August. He's followed by a 19-year-old in Utah named Mrspassic, who joined in June, and a 55-year-old named "PositiveSue" from England.

Nearly 30 YouTube users were chosen for the five-minute presentation, and nearly one million more have watched them, making it, amazingly enough, one of the site's most-viewed movies.



It all started with Matt5413, a 22-year-old in Boston who joined the site last July. In November he uploaded his idea for collaborating on the song, and 56-year-old Zipster08 loved the idea, From his home in Pennsylvania he uploaded an enthusiastic response called "THIS IS WHAT YOUTUBE IS ABOUT!" (explaining the video would be edited by together by "this dude from Kansas" named Silent Whistle.) YouTube users magically appeared, uploading their auditions in hopes they'd be edited into the final cut. "Proudyke" even sang a line from a remote island in the South Atlantic.

Not all the responses were positive. "Fungus the Boogeyman" simply uploaded a looping animation over a profanity-filled song by an Australian comic named Kevin Bloody Wilson. ("Ho ho, fucking ho, what a crock of shit..." Current average rating: 5 stars.)

But like a real Christmas card, it gives a glimpse into the YouTube community. Nearly all of the participants joined within the last four months, and many of the same figures turned up in the "OneTube For Orbvious" video — a more serious feel-good project lending moral support to an Australian couple grieving a child custody ruling by "the facist regime currently at work behind the scenes in the Australian illegal system."

"It is the beauty of the internets," joked one viewer, marvelling at how 2006 became the first collaboration-enabled Christmas. Whether you love it or hate it, Matt says he hopes to do another collaborative video soon. Oh, how we love sequels.

4. Revver Strikes Back


In a disturbing parallel universe, Revver users have recorded the song Jingle Bells in an apparent attempt to have each video played at the same time. Each holiday ham brings a twist to their individual recording.

There's one by smiley Rocketboom correspondent Steve Garfield. User "Imanartist" imagines a second verse of alternate lyrics by space alien Zandor. There's the Shatner-esque stylings of MarkDayComedy, and Marquisdejolie re-engineered the song into an echo-y, static-y, slowed-down Satan voice. TraveTV uses hand puppets, and three members of the "Revver Community Department" even wrote a skit which involved bouncing on a couch while throwing paper wads. But while some of the individual videos may be lame, they're all participating in a grand experiment, as the videos are blended together into a single cacophonic chorus of Christmas-y noise. A healthcare marketer and video collector apparently got the idea that all the videos should be hosted on a single web page — his. "We were founded to make money," says Kevin Nalty in a video parodying his site's origins. "Why else would you start a company?" Then he appears again as an another employee saying the site was founded "to make people laugh." Maybe it's both. Or maybe it's neither.

Lockergnome's Chris Pirillo ultimately came up with an even more deconstructive version of online carolling. He made one video, but then uploaded it to nine different video-sharing sites. (YouTube, Revver, iFilm, Soapbox...) "The idea is to press play so that they all stream at the same time," he writes. In the video he sings the first two lines of "Jingle Bells" over and over again while shaking the collars of two admirably-disinterested puppies. As each subsequent video loads, it's either an additional voice for the choir — or a round-like counterpoint.

Or a test of your computer's random access memory, and it's limitations for multiple video playbacks.

5. Herpes for Christmas


Ginger Kearns, who played "Pierced Girl" on The Sopranos, appears in the heart-warming classic from RagTag Productions called Merry Christmas, I Got You Herpes. Though it starts at an innocuous casual Christmas party with cookies, presents, and a Christmas tree, the title gives a strong hint of what the first plot twist will be. ("I didn't have to wrap it.") Two onlooking couples (and the lucky gift recipient) react with varying degrees of extremity. ("Next thing you know he'll be dry humping our furniture with his open sores!") Will it find its way to a happy ending, maybe a reminder that Jesus loves all the little children — even the little children with STDs?

Shake That Fro productions has also joined the fun, creating their own eight-minute film seeking a cathartic release from the purity of the season. After showing the snowfall on a white-bread suburban home, Best Christmas Ever cuts to a young couple innocently swapping gifts on the couch. (Let's just say the music changes when the vocalist sings "night of passion and light"....) Complications include a father who mutters obliviously "You better watch your manners with my daughter, there," but after five minutes of set up, it culminates with one bizarre twist after another.

And what Christmas would be complete without a condom joke?

See Also:
A Christmas Conspiracy
Christmas 2.0: Subverting the Holidays With Re-dubbing
Death at Christmas
They're Dreaming of a Boobs Christmas

Read More

A Christmas Conspiracy




I was hanging out with my friend Gigi last week when the subject of TV Christmas specials came up.

Now, Gigi is one of the few people left in my peer group who, when presented with the name "Jesus," still thinks of our Lord and Savior, and not of a purple-clad pederast bowler, so you can imagine my shock at her choice of words regarding these perennial chestnuts of network broadcasting.

"I fucking hate those goddamned things," she spat. "All those Rankin/Bass cartoons and claymation things — I hate them."



I was flummoxed. Okay, well, for whatever reason I'm pretty corny about Christmas, and I watch "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" every year, but at the same time always thought "Frosty the Snowman" was gay as hell. So I cut her a little slack.

But certainly she must have had a soft spot for "A Charlie Brown Christmas"! Even the most godless of hellbound heathens at least gets a kick out of the sexual tension betwixt Schroeder and Lucy van Pelt.

"Oh god, I hate Charlie Brown worst of all. He's a total pussy, and Lucy is a little bitch who needs to get slapped."

I took a strong quaff of my holiday porter and struggled to get my bearings. My whole universe had been upended. But her reasoning was rather compelling — she pointed out that each and every one of these specials was fucked up in its own way, and depressing as hell.

Let's take a look at the most high-profile suspects, shall we?

» A Charlie Brown Christmas — Charlie is not only subject to constant derision by the ruthless hussies of the neighborhood, but also is practically (and literally, in the version found here) crucified like The Big J himself for bringing back a tree not to their liking. It takes Linus' fire-and-brimstone preaching to scare the cunts back to humanity.

» Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer — Boy, where do we start with THIS gem? Well, first, there's the total douchebag fascist of a Santa, grumpily employing an army of midgets with an iron fist. Then there's Rudolph's drunken, abusive prick of a dad, who's so bad that Rudolph has to run away. A little bit more realism and Rudolph would have ended up a gay street hustler on Santa Monica Blvd. And don't get me started on the eugenics experiment known as the Island of Misfit Toys.

» Frosty the Snowman — As previously mentioned, I was never a big fan of this one, but it's worthy of note simply because they manage to snuff out the main character. Of a Christmas special. Ouch.

» The Year Without a Santa Claus — Everyone loves Heat Miser and Snow Miser, but one of the reasons they stick out so much in this special is that even Santa himself is so depressed that he's about to go out like Goering at Nuremberg.

Strangely enough, in all my years of watching these Christmas specials, I hadn't really noticed The Pattern — not a single one of these shows presented a cheery vision of the yuletide season. But now I had swallowed the blue pill and could see it all for what it was — clearly a conspiracy (by the Masons? Jews??) to thin the population by driving the most emotionally vulnerable of us to blow out our brain stems when the Heat Miser shows up.

What easier way to deal with a global population that's spiraling out of control? Certainly there's little other incentive for ABC and CBS to keep trotting these dinosaurs out; each year brings diminishing returns in the ratings department, as the specials are hardly even promoted, and parents who give a shit have already bought "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" from the DVD bargain bin.

Maybe the most diabolical aspect of the conspiracy is how it's managed to identify the weakest of our race, like the wounded wildebeests they are. Yes, I'm talking about the few poor bastards out there at the mercy of a pair of rabbit ears and coked-up TV execs, forced to subsist on the meager crumbs of network TV.

I can remember one dark Christmas season when I was one of them, the huddled masses of immigrants, white trash, buggerers and thieves. I'm pretty sure the only channel I could get on my aluminum foil-enabled coat-hanger antenna was ABC, and "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was on. So I watched it.

I was doing pretty well at first. As sad as Vince Guaraldi's music is, I am sometimes actually comforted by melancholy music, so that was okay. It was only after Charlie Brown got that fuckin' sad-sack tree that my psyche became unhinged. By the time Linus started quoting scripture, I was busy writing my last note in Crayon with my head stuck in the oven.

Luckily, just as I was drifting into blissful unconsciousness, I remembered that the first Victoria's Secret Fashion Show was due to air that next week, and the prospect of rubbing one out to free TV (quite a rarity) reinvigorated my soul. In the interim between that first live-action lingerie catalog and this year, we've seen the rise of, among other things, affordable HDTV. Rabbit ears are a thing of the past, and angel wings —in their digital sexiness — are the future.

If the theme of the old Christmas specials was in fact that the holidays are red in tooth and claw, then that suggests evolution — analog begets digital, dour animation begets barely-clad boner bait. So maybe it isn't such a lamentable plot after all. I might even venture to say, "It's a Wonderful Conspiracy!"

See Also:
Christmas 2.0: Subverting the Holidays With Re-dubbing
Death at Christmas
They're Dreaming of a Boobs Christmas
Christmas with Hitler

Read More

Christmas 2.0: Subverting the Holidays With Re-dubbing


Frosty

Yes, Christmas traditions pass from generation to generation. But this year finds Santa visiting some very naughty children playing with YouTube, digital editing software, and a wicked imagination. They're dreaming of a Christmas that's web 2.0 — with networked audiences re-interpreting all the classic holiday specials. Or maybe they're just returning the holiday to its pagan roots.

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas — the alternate ending


Charlie Brown is TV Christmas's ultimate icon. Which is probably why he's been targetted for an alternate ending that "they don't want you to see." Though his voice is now different, Charlie Brown still delivers his familiar down-hearted dialogue. ("I guess you were right, Linus. I shouldn't have picked this little tree...isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?") Also like before, Linus calls for lights, and patiently and gently promises to explain.

But the story he tells is not about shepherds. "When we were babies, our parents made a conscious decision to deceive us," Linus announces. "They created a bunch of fairy tales like Santa Claus and baby Jesus to give us kids false hope, and to comfort themselves as they approached death." And Linus is just getting warmed up. "It's all a bunch of bullshit. When we die, our bodies lie rotting in the earth, and worms and bugs eat at our remains, and shit us out into little bits of nothing."



Wait, wait, there's more. Linus is building up to the true true meaning of the holidays. "Christmas isn't about giving love or the birth of a savior. It's about moving merchandise, and false sentiment. It's about dumbass cocksuckers like Charlie Brown running around all night trying to buy a goddamn tree..."

One last time Linus savors the irony that Charlie Brown bought "a dead fucking tree" — and then it's a small step to "God is dead, hail Satan — Charlie Brown must die." The gang builds a pyre in front of Snoopy's house, and performs goddless sacrificial rites while singing "Loo loo loo..."

Like the original Peanuts special, it denounces commercialism. But unlike the original Peanuts special, it will probably never be sponsored by Zingers.

2. A Christmas Story — Ralphie's packin' a Red Ryder


"A disturbed young boy... On the edge of sanity...

Various attempts have been made to re-dub A Christmas Story. In one, as insinuating horror movie music plays, blood-red letters identified forgotten themes in a movie you thought you knew.
"A dangerous obsession... An emotionally empty Santa..."

The troubled boy with glasses raises his blue eyes, and stares at the ceiling, "Until finally the pain, the snowballs, and the soap become too much..."

Oh my god! The camera zooms in on his angry boy eyes, lips quivering angrily, as Ralphie the ticking timebomb explodes! Fists flying in boyhood fury, he bloodies the face of underserving bully Scut Parkus. His parents scream and flail helplessly. HE'S LEVELLING A RED RYDER B.B. GUN!!!

That revision of A Christmas Story was created by a now-defunct web site called "Lifeinthe80s," but they're just one of several groups re-editing favorite family movies into horror film trailers. (See also: Scary Mary.) Someone else had already imagined a movie trailer for the Yule Log DVD. But A Christmas Story, with its 94 minutes of pent-up frustration, cried out for something scarier...

Speaking of dangerous obsessions, the movie itself inspired a 30-year-old in San Diego to sell 7,500 replicas of the movie's famous leg-shaped lamp-with-a-fishnet-stocking. He used the money to buy the Cleveland house where the movie was filmed - then paid an additional $240,000 to re-model it exactly, watching the movie frame by frame.

Maybe he's a ticking timebomb too, just one snowball away from exploding into Christmas mayhem.

"Ralphie's packin' a Red Ryder. The holidays will never by the same."

3. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer — the unrated version


Burl Ives is probably glad he's dead. Someone with time on their hands re-worked the original 42-year-old Claymation story into something entirely different. Like the Rankin-Bass original, it opens when a kindly talking snowman discovers you haven't heard about the year Christmas almost wasn't.

"Well, sit your ass down," he says brusquely, and starts describing how children of the world suddenly lost their interest in toys. ("What the fuck?" Santa asks in a newspaper headline.) Santa leaves the North Pole to spy on the children, and discovers that it's because they're...masturbating.



Santa realizes they've discovered "the one toy better than any Santa can make" — and Christmas is canceled. But the frustrated re-dubbing artists at Liebography cling to their premise for nearly 10 minutes, filling the North pole with an unrelenting snowstorm of dirty dialogue. Santa develops an unwholesome interest in "a cute little deformed buck named Rudolph" who flees Santa's attentions with "another of Santa's special pole polishers" to — what else? — the Island of Misfit Sex Toys. ("How would you like to be a pocket vagina made out of abrasive sandpaper..." "I'm a homophobic strap-on!") Of course it ends with a very merry Christmas, but probably not the one you're expecting.

"C'mon Rudolph!" shouts jolly old Santa. "Let's go get some of those retarded dildos! Moms and dads love them too!"

4. Frosty the raging anarchist


Frosty the Snowman has always been one of the creepiest TV Christmas specials. Three children are stalked by their grade school's hired entertainer, and seek sanctuary with a deep-voiced simpleton who really likes children. A lot. Eventually he dies.

One re-dubber simply stripped out the implausible plot points in between, then also stripped out the innocent dialogue. And then replaced it with death metal.

"I want your soul," the cartoon snowman tells the children.

"I'll eat your soul." They look up in wide-eyed wonder...

With some simple editing, the snowy sentiment becomes salacious. "I want your soul," Frosty sings again, as a leapfrogging boy appears to be lingering over his ass. The blonde girl whispers something to a policeman, then looks down sadly. She's seen grinding against the floor of a refrigerator car — over and over and over — as an attentive Frosty looks on smiling.

The little blonde girl opens her eyes to find he's carrying her, smiling, into a sinister greenhouse. ("Come to Daddy," he sings.) Santa and the rabbit recoil in horror. A sad Frosty looks around guiltily as he's identified by witnesses — the children, the rabbit, and finally the policeman. This re-imagining is a little muddled, but it ends with five very clear words.

"And Frosty was never convicted."

But then again, there was always an easy target in the girl-snowman relationship. Elsewhere, nine minutes of the cartoon have been re-dubbed with the voice of "Danny the Tourettes Guy". (Frosty's first words are "Bitch, I love you.") Someone else has imagined him as a belligerent man in a costume heckling the credulous children. ("These kids are so fucking gullible. God damn it, I'm a fucking snow man.")

But it's worth remembering that even without any web-enabled commentary, the original cartoon made one blogger's list of the "Things About Christmas That Are Supposed to be Touching But Pretty Much Just Make Me Want to Lay Down and Die." The melting snowman had traumatized her as a child. "What's the lesson here? That someday everyone we love will die...?

"I still can't hear 'Frosty the Snowman knew the sun was hot that day...' without being overwhelmed with dread."

5. The Nightmare Before Christmas — Burton's little helpers


Tim Burton saw Christmas as the backdrop for another fable about a magical outsider. But just as his king of Halloweentown was re-imagining Christmas, Burton's fans dreamed up new ways of seeing his movie.



As Sally stares at her Christmas tree catching fire, Jack Skellington sang the histrionic song "Iris" by the Goo Goo Dolls. In another video the same scene showed the star-crossed Christmas outsiders with an alterna-goth soundtrack by Evanescence. One video even re-dubbed the movie's opening song, so its chorus of "This is Halloween" becomes the Tool song "Stinkfist" (from their album Aenima).
Something has to change,
undeniable dilemma.
Boredom's not a burden anyone should bear...

Burton's visual extravaganza lends an intensity to nearly anything, and musical synchronicity does the rest — creating the perfect gothic Christmas. They're not the only ones celebrating it. If you visit Disneyland's Haunted Mansion in December, the whole attraction has been converted into a special Christmas party for Jack Skellington, and one Youtube video even shows Marilyn Manson's new cover of "This is Halloween" synched with the scene where it occurs in The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Ultimately Christmas is what you make it — a jumble of gifts, memories, mandatory family gatherings and religion. But while there may or may not be something sacred in the holiday, there's an online audience that won't extend that reverence to Christmas's commercial counterparts. Maybe they're creating a new ritual, gathering together around a warm monitor and sharing catcalls instead of Christmas carols.

Maybe we've just seen the ghost of Christmas future.

See Also:
5 Retarded Online Christmas Videos
Death at Christmas
A Christmas Conspiracy
They're Dreaming of a Boobs Christmas

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They’re Dreaming of a Boobs Christmas


Santa Boobs It's "The Breast Christmas Ever," promises California radio station KLLY. Whichever lucky listener wins their holiday-themed contest will receive a special prize — breast enlargement surgery.

Surprisingly, it's happening in other states too. Monday, Florida's "MJ Morning Show" announced that "Santa Claus is bringing a big bag of boobs to your town this Holiday Season" for their "Holiday Hooters" contest. The show — which is rebroadcast on two other Clear Channel stations — has been giving away breast jobs in tacky contests since November, with the prizes awarded to the listener (in this case, "Borat's sister") who submitted the most compelling story. ("In my country, you no see big boob on women because hard to find doctor to do nice boob surgery.") Now that it's Christmas time, radio stations have apparently just adapted their contest plans to the holidays of the season. KLLY announces their contest with green and red letters, above a promotion for their Toys for Tots telethon.



The contests drew criticism from the National Organization for Women, who said the Clear Channel stations were "promoting potentially dangerous plastic surgery and marketing unrealistic and unhealthy images of women." They urged their members to take action, saying that "When a radio station in your area degrades women in any way, look up their phone number and call to complain." A Google search finds these remarks in a NOW Action Alert — issued in 2004. Apparently it failed to stop the contests.

They weren't the only ones complaining. CBS's Dick Meyer called it "profitable entertainment that preys on female insecurity, male boorishness and coed voyeurism." And feminist Germaine Greer famously compared breast augmentation surgery to Africa's female genital mutilation. But as the winning essays go online, they form a weird snapshot of the way the contest-entering women view their breasts, their bodies, and the world around them. "Every year my husband will say, 'What do you want for Christmas/Birthday/Anniversary?'" wrote one winning entrant. "Every year I tell him — new boobs."

Another winner even composed a long rant comparing her potential new boobs to a video game console.
My husband wanted a Playstation 2 when it first came out so bad, more than anything. In fact it was one of our wedding presents! Now that he has one, guess where it's at? Collecting dust under the entertainment stand, coaster marks on it and everything. With your boob give away, they would gets lots of use for years and years after."

It's all about getting attention — though in some cases it's simply the attention of the contest's male judges. Some entrants wrote themselves into silly stories in the hopes of being selected. ("These Holiday Hooters are the way for me to score the love of my life: Kevin Federline! Now that he's left that piece of trash, Britney, my life will be complete.") The contest's first winner had actually acknowledged the real-world issues that surround unwanted male attention. Evelyn Mora submitted a sardonic essay citing the notoriety surrounding a local tax collector who had recently apologized for "inappropriate conduct" in a bar in Tampa. In her essay she wrote, "Imagine my embarrassment when even Doug Belden won't sexually harass me because of my small chest."



"We understand it to have been an ill-advised joke," said a grumpy attorney for the scandal-plagued local tax collector in a follow-up news article. Ironically, the winning essay-writer works for the city's Circuit Court, prompting the court spokesman to issue a statement of his own about the breast surgery contest. ("As of this time, all of our information leads me to believe that she did not utilize the office in any way to participate in this contest.")

Controversy apparently clings to anything breast-related — and behind the scenes lawyers are scrambling to close any legal loopholes. "Winner must be in good medical condition to undergo surgery," read the rules for the California station's version of the contest. "Clearance from a physician may be required prior to any procedure performed." (And remember: "All prizes are non-transferable.") KLLY also notes that "In the event that a winner is under the age of 18 and travel is required, the winner must be accompanied by a parent or guardian." (Though presumably that's just their boilerplate verbiage from another contest.)

The Florida contest has similar rules. "If, for any reason, the providing physician deems a winner not a viable candidate for surgery, the winner will be disqualified and the prize becomes invalid." They also hint at another problem in their offer to "help offset" the cost of additional fees — operating room charges, anesthesia charges and lab work. The FDA recently approved silicone implants with recommendations of additional MRI scans every two years for the remainder of the patient's life — which won't necessarily be covered by health insurance. Breast augmentation surgery requires several hours of anesthesia, an often uncomfortable post-surgical recovery period, and in many cases follow-up surgery to replace the original implants. "Any additional costs incurred pre and post surgery are the sole responsibility of the winners," warns the radio station. (Adding "Prizes are not redeemable for cash.") And remember: only one winner per household.

Winners of the California contest will have their breast augmentation surgery performed by Dr. Kerendian of Beverly Hills, whose web site notes he has a "life long passion" for cosmetic surgery. (For even greater gender differentiation, he also offers male breast reduction surgery.) A concern for the human form is apparently a common trait in his family. His brother placed an ad in New York's Village Voice saying, "Stop being fat and start doing something about it."

It's a case where the media spreads its message far and wide. In Florida the slick Clear Channel radio personalities launch a successful stunt for listeners. News of their success reaches radio programmers in the agriculture communities in California's Central Valley. There's already an extra focus on body image coming from their local gymnasium, and a cosmetic surgeon two hours away in Beverly Hills.

So they take that fateful first step. Above their contest for tickets to Disney's "High School Musical" they add a second contest for bigger boobies. Since Christmas time is rolling around, they casually add it in among the messages of love and family and the birth of the son of God.

And when the holiday arrives, maybe their listener's thoughts will turn to the world they described. They'll be snug in their beds, with warm thoughts filling their heads, but instead of sugar plums, it's visions of surgically augmented melons.

See also:
CNN Exposes Boob Job Giveaway
The Celebrity Breast Conspiracy
Adopt an African Hottie's Clitoris
Libertarian Chick Fights Boobs With Boobs

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5 Lamest Charlie Brown Cartoons


I love Charlie Brown — but be honest. Cartoon producers led his Peanuts gang through some truly disturbing stories. As the cartoonist's manic-depressive imagination focussed on his newspaper comic strip, studio executives fumbled for new ways to fill the 40 years after A Charlie Brown Christmas. Now, even though Charles M. Schulz is dead — the cartoons keep coming.

If there's one thing Peanuts specials have taught us, it's that Charlie Brown was still loveable, even when he failed. So let's give that same appreciation to his five worst cartoons....

1. It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown



Disco had been dead for years, but in 1984 Snoopy suddenly discovered the joys of boogie fever. He slapped on a headband, sweats, and a bad case of 80s attitude, then did his best Stayin' Alive strut towards the discotheque, where he met Franklin — the cartoon's only black character — breakdancing on the sidewalk. In the creepiest scene of all, the discotheque is filled with adult-sized Peanuts spinning in narcissistic oblivion.

"All Flashbeagle really consists of is a foursome of thinly strung-together music videos," wrote one viewer, "with very little of the beloved Charles Schulz dialogue filling in between." And forget the familiar jazz soundtrack; this special is mostly dance loops and synthesizers.



This felt old the day it was released — but don't tell Charlie Brown's sister. After Snoopy spontaneously ignites her first grade classroom into a disco inferno, she insists Charlie Brown give his dog some credit. "That's the first time I've ever got an A in Show And Tell."

2. Linus's Towering Inferno



My uncle, the baron, hates strangers, and he will be very upset eef — ooh la la! He is back! He mustn't find you here!

We always knew Linus was a chick magnet, but his dalliance with a stereotypical French girl ends badly, as an overturned candle traps him in a burning Chateau.

Charles M. Schulz had served in World War II — his unit was behind the tanks that liberated Dachau — and he'd wanted to include his unit's village in a Charlie Brown cartoon. To reach this improbable moment, the entire Peanuts gang procures passports, then travels through Europe with Snoopy as their chauffeur. Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown is an artificially sweet travelogue that ends with a melodramatic fire sequence which consists mostly of Linus shouting "Help! Help! Help, Charlie Brown!" over and over again.

The baseball-challenged blockhead successfully rousts the villagers — including one token French Peanut — and as Snoopy wheels out a fire hose, Linus repels away from the flames using his blanket. After a particularly wooden reading of the line "Use my blanket! To catch us!" they all successfully escape a grisly death from smoke inhalation.

The only thing more depressing is the infamous Peanuts Memorial Day special in which Linus again visits World World II battlefields, then recites the poem "In Flanders Fields. " ("We are the Dead. Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow...") He then turns to Charlie Brown and asks accusingly: "What have we learned?"

3. Why, Charlie Brown, Why?



Charlie Brown endorsed everything from Zingers to sandwich bread. In fact, the newspaper comic strip accounted for less than a fifth of all Charlie Brown-related revenue, most of which came from merchandising. (Case in point: the commercial in which an exhausted Charlie Brown suddenly perks up after eating "tasty low-sugar Cheerios" before facing certain doom in the boxing ring...)

But sometime in the 70s, Charles M. Schulz took a break from creating children's programming altogether, and began illustrating life insurance brochures. Those weird TV commercials in which Snoopy played a lawyer were only the beginning. The online version showed Charlie Brown illustrating the proper procedure for mourning the death of a family member. ("Immediate care of the body," it read, next to a picture of a very depressed Charlie Brown. "If the deceased has made provisions to donate his or her organs...")

Elsewhere Lucy proudly brandished her discharge papers in an essay about leaving the military, while Schroeder continued his Navy tour of duty and Snoopy continued his career as a Marine. (Complete with buzz cut). Two cute yellow birds were shown getting married, followed by a brochure illustrating the logistics of divorce. One page even showed Woodstock imprisoned for failure to pay child support. But no one really wanted to know why Lucy was carefully scrutinizing her health insurance's pre-natal coverage, and eventually it was replaced by a picture of Woodstock clipping out the phone numbers for an OB/GYN



Only after reading these disturbing brochures were you ready to watch Peanuts: Why Charlie Brown Why — the angstiest cartoon ever, in which a little girl fights leukemia. This 1990 special was nominated for an Emmy, but it's never been clear why Charles M. Schulz wanted to tackle the subject. (Although Charlie Brown was named after a boyhood friend who later died of cancer, a disease which also claimed Schulz's mother.) At one point the hymn "Farther Along" is sung gently in the background of this cartoon. "When death has come and taken our loved ones, It leaves our home so lonely and drear..."

In its tear-jerking conclusion, the little girl's baseball cap flies off her head, revealing that all her hair grew back after her chemotherapy.

4. Snoopy, Come Home



Umberto Eco once wrote about how Snoopy failed to bring Charlie Brown the tenderness he needed. "His solitude becomes an abyss," the deconstructive Italian novelist wrote. "...he proceeds always on the brink of suicide, or at least of nervous breakdown..."

That's the feeling you get watching Snoopy abandon Charlie Brown in Snoopy, Come Home. Charlie Brown stands alone, sad circles around his eyes, not just depressed but actually crying. He returns alone to his joyless room, as a 4-minute ballad chronicles his uncontrollable descent into depression with histrionic violins.

Someone named "TickleMeCthulhu" has uploaded the video to YouTube, along with another clip from the same movie — although it's not particularly cheery either. In the 1972 film the beagle's original owner, now confined to her sick bed, writes him a letter wondering if she's been forgotten. She cries, looking longingly out her window, then sends the letter to Snoopy.

"What could possibly be sadder," one commenter posted, "than a little girl in the hospital missing her dog?!"

5. Bring Me the Head of Charlie Brown



Family Guy isn't funny — except when it is — but you've got to acknowledge the audacity in their mean-spirited parody. A miserable grown-up Charlie Brown crashed a reunion of his old gang — sporting tattoos and piercings — then blusters, "What are you looking at? Yeah, it's me, your old punching bag, Charlie Brown. Everybody wish Snoopy and Woodstock were here? Well they're dead!"

The sweetness of Peanuts presents a too-obvious target, and even Simpsons director Jim Reardon took a whack at it. Back when he was an art student in 1986, he created "Bring me the head of Charlie Brown" — an underground three-minute short with the Great Pumpkin offering a bounty for the death of his arch nemesis. The bounty sends Lucy, Schroeder, Linus, and Snoopy on a hunt for Charlie Brown, so when watching the ultra-violent climax you'll probably want your security blanket.



If you search YouTube today for Charlie Brown, you'll find the top matches are amateurish re-dubs of the holiday specials into race-baiting parodies like A Charlie Brown Kwanzaa, or simply, Suck My Black Ass, Charlie Brown.

These parodies are useful only to demonstrate how the Peanuts cartoons would look if you threw away everything that made them so endearing — their gentleness, artfulness, and philosophical humor. Even at their worst, the real Charlie Brown cartoons always had a simple, bittersweet honesty. They didn't always end happily — but maybe that was the point.

The world is full of kite-eating trees.

See Also:

Six Freakiest Children's TV Rock Bands
The Cartoon Porn Shop Janitor: Carol Burnett vs. Family Guy
Five Freaky Muppet Videos
The Simpsons on Drugs: Six Trippiest Scenes

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Adopt an African Hottie’s Clitoris!

Clitoraid
Rael is back.

A few years ago, the "UFO cult" leader claimed to have cloned human beings, and was widely dismissed as a crass self-publicizer and hoaxster.

"Once we can clone exact replicas of ourselves," he says on the Clonaid website, "the next step will be to transfer our memories and personality into our newly cloned brains, which will allow us to truly live forever."



His latest achievement is only slightly less ambitious. He has undertaken to single-handedly restore the clitorises (clitori?) of African women disfigured by the tribal ritual of clitoral excision. Rael is passionate in this cause, since the beneficiaries "now have the possibility to regain sexual pleasure and be whole once again."

There is, of course, a website, and the first impression given is that, wow, there are a lot of hot, genitally-disfigured African women out there!

One testimonial on the website reads:
I am XXX, a 23 year old Somali refugee now residing in America. I was circumcised as a young girl while still residing in Somalia. Even until very recently i was made to beleive that it was 'good' to be circumcised and as i result i had never fully understood the consequences of this evil practice. Recently i started my university education and have moved out of my parents' house. As a result of this new found freedom i started exploring my sexuality. I thought sex was supposed to be this amazing experience but for me it was extremely uncomfortable and unsatisfactory.

Desirable women in the marketing materials must make it easier for possible donors to pony up; after all, denying these smiling, bright-eyed specimens the capacity for clitoral pleasure is certainly a waste! (And let's face it, if you're a cult leader, it can't hurt your image to literally bestow blessings upon the genitalia of nubile females.)

The Raelians are notorious for using sex as a major inducement into their movement. According to this web page, former Raelian Pete Cooke was recruited into the cult by a dancer in Montreal's Kit Kat strip bar.

"I didn't like all the opening of genitals or all the focusing on the anus," he says.

I may be reaching here, but guys, if you find yourself in a nightclub and a hot chick with an African accent approaches you and starts telling you about how alien scientists incubated life on Earth, you might want to clench your butt cheeks and walk quickly in the opposite direction.

See also: California Cults 2006

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California Cults 2006

Cults of California!

In his fascinating new book (with photos by Michael Rauner) Visionary State: A Journey Through California's Spiritual Landscape, Erik Davis writes, "When the United States seized the territory from Mexico in 1848 California became the stage for a strange and steady parade of utopian sects, bohemian mystics, cult leaders, psychospiritual healers, holy poets, sex magicians, fringe Christians, and psychedelic warriors."



Visionary State documents an eclectic mix of these magical, mystical scenes from across Californian history, ranging from loose, anarchic configurations of independent seekers who reject doctrine; to authoritarian fringe cults that cobble together their own strange doctrinaire cosmologies based on the possibly schizophrenic revelations and prophecies of their visionary leaders and gurus.  Theosophists, nature mystics, Zen Buddhists, 19th Century spiritual snake oil hustlers, various Hindu sects, the Merry Pranksters, Scientologists, Mansonoids, Burning Man Burners — all are enclosed in Davis' rich spiritual gumbo.



His intention is not to judge. "California consciousness", he writes, is "an imaginative, experimental, and hedonistic quest for human transformation by any means necessary." Davis rightfully suggests that California's "theme park of the gods", in all its chaos and contradiction, is so fecund that it is inherently valuable. Our spiritual nuts, fruits and flakes are, he says, an important part of the richness of California's dynamic psycho-social, economic, and even physical landscape.

Doubtless, California's relative tolerance for deviation from the conventional and the mainstream provides opportunities for both liberatory, free-thinking self-experimentation; and for pathological, neo-conformist head-fucking. The presence of trippy and sometimes destructive fringe cults across California history might be thought of as an inevitable side-effect of the state's position as post-modernism's early adopter.



But while weird cults may be inevitable, very few of them could be considered benign. And though the depredations of the Manson Family, the horrors of Jonestown, and the pathetic futility of Heaven's Gate's attempt to hitch themselves to a comet may have afforded our culture a series of black humor bonanzas, nobody really wants to see their friends and family get sucked into the orbit of the latest power-mad cult leader. 

So, for your edification and amusement, and as a warning, I am here presenting a very brief guide to some contemporary California cults:

Miracle Of Love

Miracle of Love is an ambitious Marin County based cult that, according to a March 2006 expose by Jill Kramer for The Pacific Sun, has plans to expand to Seattle, Vancouver, Sacramento, San Diego, Colorado, Australia and South America. Around 1995, their leader, "Kalindi" (real name: Carol Seidman) declared herself "the voice of the latest incarnation of God." (Actually, God originally started speaking through her husband, but he died, and rather than except the obvious implication — "God is dead" — Seidman caught the spirit.)

In a six-day long session called "The Intensive," the group employs classic techniques employed by brainwashers and kidnappers everywhere (famously adopted by Werner Erhard's est group in the ''70s and ''80s). Attendees are deprived of sleep, forced to dredge up psychic pains, verbally abused and embarrassed, and then finally given a warm, comforting love bath to cement their attachment to the group. What's the attraction? Apparently, there is a kind of high associated with completing this type of ordeal, and cult members get their targets to associate this feeling with "God's energy" and that old cult standby: "unconditional love."

For those who become members, classic cult brainwashing techniques continue. To the greatest extent possible, members are isolated from family and other non-believers and give complete control of their lives to cult leaders. According to Kramer, "Devotees are given new names. They're told when to wake, when to meditate, when to do service work for the mission, how much time to allot for chores, what time to go to bed. Everything is dictated, down to which toilet paper to buy."

"Kalinda" and her cohorts seem to be largely motivated by financial gain. Kramer reports that followers are told they can "come home to God within this lifetime" by "letting go of attachments to the material world — the world of illusion. The handiest way to let go of their attachments to money is, of course, to donate it to the Miracle of Love mission."



On the back cover of her book, Ultimate Freedom: Union With God, Kalindi/Seidman poses provocatively in a thong and fishnet stockings. Underneath the picture, are the words "Don't you want to break free?" Spot the irony?

Oneness Movement

Guru Sri Bhagavan and his partner, Sri Amma are the founders of the Oneness University, which is centered in India, but has a growing California following, particularly in Los Angeles and San Francisco.  They claim that the "solution to humanity's suffering can only be found through our awakening to Oneness." And, of course, there is a particular one who can lead us toward that oneness. Bhagavan offers followers the opportunity to experience "Deeksha," "a transfer of divine energy" that produces enlightenment. The group aims to enlighten 64,000 people and thus transform the world by — you guessed it — 2012.

According to a private correspondence published by Guruphiliac, "this cult is pressurizing its INDIAN devotees to donate large sums of wealth, if they want to remain in the good books of the disciples (dasas) who run the show, and progress further. We have even been asked to take loans (the last case was Rs 100,000 [$2,220.50 US] which is a large amount), and donate, if we don't have the money. We have been told that we can repay the loans over a few years!

"From the day we join we are pressurized to bring in new people and send them for the initial 3-day deeksha (costing Rs 5000 [$110 US])." A 21-day workshop, according to the Guruphiliac correspondent, costs $5,500.

The guru and his followers also use pseudo-scientific flim flam to claim that they have been able to measure neurological changes that result from the "deeksha" experience. Guruphiliac quotes someone they call "a major university neuroscience researcher," saying this about the gurus claims: "The most questionable aspect" is the author's claim that he has tested alterations in neurotransmitters, hormones, and receptors via electromagnetic signature testing. There is no scientific data to support that this technique is viable."

Adidam

This is the religion that was formed by Adi Da. Da was born Franklin Jones and later changed his name to Bubba Free John and then Da Free John. I must confess to a soft spot (probably it's just my fontanelle) for Da. He's witty and smart and seems like he might be in on the cosmic joke, assuming that there is in fact a cosmic joke. Imagine if Alan Watts decided to declare himself "the complete manifestation of the divine in human form" and you've sort of got the picture. A 1985 San Francisco Examiner article by Don Lattin reported on secret "drunken sex orgies and luxurious lifestyles among the guru's inner circle in Hawaii and their Fijian island of Naitauba," and quotes one former follower as saying, "We took peyote, psilocybin, marijuana and an unbelievable amount of alcohol. The two of us would sit down and drink two bottles of whiskey. A lot of the people who came in were young women, and he'd loosen them up with alcohol and drugs."

So, what's the problem here? Jody Radzik at Guruphiliac writes, "We've always wanted to like Adi Da. First because Ken Wilber liked him, and then because he was so out in the open with his craziness. Gurus, drugs and group sex just get us so hot! But once he started with his 'world teacher' shtick, he went from being a tantric engine of transformation to just another wackadoo guru."

And, of course, like all of our other gurus, Da scams as much money from his followers to keep the party going. I wouldn't want to be one of Da's followers, but Oh to be Da.

The Helzer Brothers Transform America

The Helzer Brothers' activities were a tawdry and pallid expression of Manson family values. After being excommunicated from the Mormon Church for taking drugs, Glenn Helzer, from Contra Costa County (a San Francisco suburb) decided to form a self-awareness group to stop Satan and hasten the return of Jesus. He got himself two members, his own brother Justin and a young woman named Dawn Goldman. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Glenn Helzer's plans "included a bizarre plot to train Brazilian orphans to slaughter the leaders of the Mormon Church so he could become its prophet; and 'Transform America,' a self-help group to foster 'a state of peace and joy.'"

In order to raise money, the Helzer's sold ecstasy and Glenn got his onetime girlfriend, Keri Mendoza, to pose for Playboy. (She appeared as Kerissa Fare, Miss September 2000). But when drugs and sex didn't produce enough money fast enough, Helzer's mind turned towards robbery and murder. The group extorted $100,000 from an elderly couple, Ivan and Annette Stineman, and then killed them, returning the next day to dismember them. (Peace and joy can be such hard work!)



Helzer next planned to incorporate his friend, Selina Bishop (daughter of blues guitarist Elvin Bishop) into his plot by getting her to cash the check.  But he decided that she knew too much, so he and his brother bludgeoned her to death and then eviscerated her body.  Fearing that Bishop's stepfather and mother would finger him as a suspect in the murder of their daughter, Helzer dispatched them the following day.  On August 7, 2000 the three conspirators were arrested.  Glenn Helzer received five death sentences. Brother Justin got only one and Dawn Godman was sentenced to 38 years-to-life.

Addendum

As someone who socializes at times on the periphery of "new age" circles, it is my personal observation that most spiritual seekers stopped giving themselves up to charismatic leaders and gurus by the end of the 1980s.  But it is clear that there are still enough lost souls out there to fulfill the financial needs and psychopathic fantasies of cult leaders for years to come. My advice: If you feel a need to be part of a group, join a bowling league.

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Death? No, Thank You

Aubrey de Grey The founder of PayPal just gave "mad scientist" Aubrey de Grey $3.5 million to research immortality.

It's unclear whether former PayPal CEO Peter A. Thiel did this for all of us, or just so he can guarantee his place at the front of the line for the eventual treatment. Regardless, a better way to spend excess millions is difficult to conjure.

"Rapid advances in biological science foretell of a treasure trove of discoveries this century," said Thiel. "I'm backing Dr. de Grey, because I believe that his revolutionary approach to aging research will accelerate this process, allowing many people alive today to enjoy radically longer and healthier lives for themselves and their loved ones."



Right on. I always knew I was meant to live forever. How? Because, when I really think about it, it's totally unfair that there will come a day when the universe won't include me and my little world. It just doesn't make any sense. On the other hand, it makes all the sense in the world that, just as others have died before me, so shall I.

Please, o' mighty Science, deliver me from this paradox! I blame evolution and DNA for this cruel joke, for an imagination able to contemplate forever, coupled with a body that cannot. I blame religion for making humans complacent with a fairy tale promise.

And I blame science.

If the scientists hadn't spent so much time just accepting the premise that we all have to die someday, we might be living forever already. They have worked hand-in-hand with industry and capitalism to provide nearly enough useless consumer goods to allow us to occasionally forget our mortal condition; but really, I could do without about half a billion of those products in order to not have to die.

I'm not the only one. A group calling itself The Coalition to Extend Life recently issued a press release promoting "immortality as a national priority." They want people to sign a petition they hope will eventually be a million strong. "Our elected officials must be made aware there is massive support for immortality now!" it says on their website. You can also become a member for $30 a year, or just buy a $15 t-shirt that says, "REFUSE TO DIE."

On the other hand, metaphorical immortality has been around for a long time. It has been said repeatedly down the ages that fame or greatness, for instance, provides an existence beyond one's physical longevity. Children also offer this legacy benefit.

One can even attain a type of afterlife online. When 19-year-old college student Alicia Kay Castaneda was brutally murdered by her boyfriend with a baseball bat in Orange County, Florida, her website persona, "Enamored," continued to live through her Myspace page. It contains some of her thoughts and experiences, including a poem to the man who killed her, along with animated photo montages. The pages also serve as a memorial and ongoing conversation for the bereaved.

But how long will these artifacts remain online? "Digital immortality comes through these remnants of a person's online life," said Paul Saffo, a Silicon Valley technology forecaster and professor at Stanford University, "but that immortality terminates piece by piece when some tech person somewhere shuts down an account."

It seems that, ultimately, a legacy is not a viable substitute for immortality. And so, allegedly brilliant people like scientiest Ray Kurzweil push the idea of truly living forever. Ray holds audience with U.S. presidents and other very influential folks. He was even recently featured on "The Daily Show" beside Samantha Bee — how much more credibility could a scientist ask for?



Scientific immortality as seen through the public eye may still be an idea worth laughing at, but for how long? When the looming biotech boom starts making real advances, how fast will people's sentiments change, along with their demands? What is it worth to cheat your own death, and further, to imagine your parents and children being able to do the same thing? It could be dangerous to have the masses pondering this thought, and we can safely assume that the almighty leaders of business and state are aware of the possibility for unrest.

Think about people like Magic Johnson and Michael J. Fox and, before he died, Christopher Reeves — how overnight they became memebots for their respective afflictions once they were stricken, in the desperate hope that they could use their celebrity to channel the research and money needed for a cure.

The rest of us walk around sharing a delusion that we'll never die because at our cores, we know that we will. When something like cancer is cured, though, we'll start to imagine that it might be safe to throw off that delusion and replace it with a sense of real possibility. Then watch one of the fastest thought contagions history has ever seen, as each of us in our own way become advocates of curing the "disease" that is mortality. Who deserves to get that cure?

Kurzweil believes the "eternal divide" between haves and have nots is not going to be a fatal issue for the immortalist movement. He cites trends in bringing new technologies to market: at first, the technology is super expensive, doesn't work very well, and is rare; then it is expensive, works OK, and is more widely available; finally, it is super cheap or free, works great, and is everywhere. (Think cell phones or internet access.)

But this scenario assumes that society makes it through the first phase. Fear of death and knowledge of our own demise have driven humankind's deepest desires and anxieties since we appeared. To have that framework suddenly and fundamentally displaced by the promise of a real immortality will have psychological effects we cannot possibly predict.

I can predict one thing with certainty — when the day arrives (if it hasn't already) that I can flip the reaper the finger just by getting gene therapy (and you can bet it'll be covered by health insurance, because gene therapy increases an account's longevity along with an individual's), I'll be willing to do a lot more to make it happen than simply sign some lame petition.



My notion of what constitutes fairness and injustice will be radically altered if some capitalist douchebags get to live forever and the rest of us don't. Sure, it may be that all that's in our future is the death of the planet anyway (thanks to the same douchebags), but dammit, I'd at least like to watch my species' Final Act.

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Three Hundred Pound Porn Queen Decimates Oklahoma Town

Doris the Porn QueenOne woman, one very large and apparently out-of-control woman, has caused the resignation of a city councilman, the mayor, and the police chief of Snyder, Oklahoma. Libertarians across the blogosmear were quick to react with support for the First Amendment and condemnation of the religious sensibilities of the town and its churchgoing residents.

Some citizens, perhaps catalyzed by the town's ex-mayor, who has been critical of now-former Police Chief Tod Ozmun, unearthed pictures online of the chief's wife giving blowjobs, which was enough for them to call for his resignation. But something else got revealed as well -- a sizable rift between the moral orientation of the town and its governing officials.



The resulting social distortions are arguably part of the reason that now-former Mayor Dale Moore released an official statement that is philosophically libertarian in a town that is anything but.

"We do not endorse pornography," the statement read. "However, we do endorse an individual's rights under the First Amendment of freedom and expression."

It's strange to consider how elected officials and a top police officer in a small, rural, and very religious town in Oklahoma could suddenly butt heads with fellow citizens and make such radical statements against moralism. Indeed, Councilman Clifford Barnard said of the police chief's dismissal, "I think this is wrong and I won't put up with it. I don't want to work in a community like this." He resigned from the council in protest.

Why did the councilman and the mayor from a small conservative town stand up for the civil liberties of a police chief whose wife is a smut star?

"He's done more drug arrests, solved more crimes than anybody else in town has ever done," Moore said. So, perhaps it is the price they were paying to have law and order in a part of the country that has been unable to get a grip on a seemingly invincible methamphetamine plague.

There may be more clues to this mystery in the past of the Ozmuns.

Tod OzmunIn 2000, while he was director of the Jefferson County Narcotics Enforcement Team, Tod Ozmun was investigated (but never charged) during an internal probe over a meth lab, during which Doris, who was his girlfriend at the time, was arrested. She was convicted of conspiracy to distribute a controlled dangerous substance, sentenced to 10 years in prison, and paroled after a few, even though she claimed she was working as an undercover narc.

In 2001, they married while Doris was incarcerated in Oklahoma County.



It's a common theme in cop films and TV shows that the best way to fight the drug trade is to become part of it. In the corrupt world of narcotics and counter-narcotics, it's not so strange for a cop to fall in love with a drug dealer, right? Or even for him to be one -- maybe just a little?

We don't yet have the full story of the current meltdown in Snyder, Oklahoma. Some further questions beg to be answered: What was the exact association between Doris and Tod and the meth lab? How did Tod avoid prosecution while Doris was convicted? What might their romantic courtship have been like? And how does the Chief of Police feel about coming home after a hard day of fighting "scumbags" -- to his ex-con, porn actress wife?

Perhaps he enjoys following the legacy of another Snyder police chief, Larry Roe, who was charged in 1994 with providing alcohol to minors.

Or maybe this is simply the case of a very strong-willed woman steering an entire town into her hedonist's playground -- consequences be damned!

"My wife is 6ft 3in and weighs 300 pounds," says Ozmun. "If there is somebody that thinks they can control her, have a go at it. I have tried for 11 years and haven't been able to."

Oklahoma was the first state to restrict the availability of pseudoephedrine, a decongestant crucial in making meth, by moving certain non-prescription cold tablets behind the pharmacy counter. The meth lab count in Oklahoma fell dramatically, and the state was promptly hit by a massive wave of cheap Mexican superlab meth. Drug purity and jail populations are at an all-time high.

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