The 5 Faces of Bush

The media tells secret stories, according to blogger Josh Marshall.

"When the story is bad for the president, you find a picture of him caught off guard, embarrassed, looking stupid," he writes. The picture may or may not correspond to the actual news, but editors don't care. "You just need one that shows the guy expressing the emotion the editors think he must be experiencing because of the story they're publishing."

It's not a right-wing/left-wing thing. In the Clinton days "they had a stock 'sad' Clinton picture," Marshall says, "with a sort of 'man, am I bummin' look on his face." Is the media now branding Bush with a "dazed and confused" storyline?

Bush image
Dismissive Bush
(Associated Press)

"Yes, yes, I have the report, right here in front of me, as you can plainly see. No, I haven't opened it yet. Thought I'd take a look at the back cover first. Now shoo."

That's the message in this AP photograph — but there's something else. Bush has always had a breezy Texas disdain for the press corps he considers negative and biased — Washington's nattering naybobs of buzzkill. Here he's looking up awkwardly, tired eyes averted, gesturing them away, but weakly. It's like he's going through the motions of disdain without really feeling it.

The Democrats' takeover of Congress was called an electoral rejection of Bush's policy in Iraq, and news editors may see that as their cue. ("Now what, Mr. President" asks a (Newsweek) headline.) Wednesday's release of the critical Iraq Study Group report fits that emerging narrative perfectly. ("Panel: Bush's Iraq policies have failed," read one AP headline paired with this photo.) Maybe this picture was chosen for reinforcing that message with subtle visual suggestions of "chastised hesitation."

Or maybe that's Bush's actual reaction, and the news editors are simply providing coverage of the moment — and all its dimensions. Minutes after we spotted this picture in an AP News story, Yahoo had swapped in a different picture. "Iraqis react outside the Yarmouk hospital following an attack in Baghdad."

Worried Bush

This picture — on the CNN site's front page — shows Bush deep in thought, his forehead lined, his usual confidence momentarily stunned.

And what message is the "worried Bush" image trying to convey?

"Hours after the Iraq Study Group urged a radically different approach to the war, the chief White House spokesman told CNN that President Bush may be able to 'announce a new way forward' in Iraq by the end of the year." Looks like he's got some serious thinking ahead, and he's already getting started.

But if you look closely, CNN has just cropped the "Dismissive Bush" photo into a closeup of Bush's eyes. Gone are the helplessly-outstretched hand and the overturned book. Just a man deep in thought.

Maybe they're seeing a different reality — that the President is recognizing the current strategy's weaknesses, or at least registering the public's desire for words of hope. "Baker said he and Hamilton had been 'pleasantly surprised,'" CNN writes, "by President Bush's reaction when they presented the report to him at the White House Wednesday morning."

Nervous Bush
From deep in thought to deeply disturbed, the President's face turns away — clutching his fingers apprehensively. A cameraman catches him by surprise in a look of distracted dejction.

This picture echoes the pessimism that's evident from Reuters' lead. "The U.S. should begin to withdraw forces from combat and launch a diplomatic prevent 'a slide toward chaos' in Iraq, an elite panel recommended on Wednesday." And the photo utilizes a common visual theme: a wider shot showing Bush stared at by older (and often more serious) men. While this accurately conveys who was in the room, it can also be interpreted as a message from the news editors. It's either a positive message — an example of seasoned White House advisors offering counsel to a pragmatic President — or, a negative message, as the young MBA is called to task for an under-considered foreign policy. ("I said I was gonna read it! You don't hafta keep glaring at me!")

Can you really read history in a man's face — or only project it?

Not-Nervous Bush
The book is overturned, face down, while Bush looks away. Maybe he hasn't decided whether he'll read it yet. This photo looks like he's still considering the back cover's blurbs. ("Spell-binding! A tour de force! — Ebony")

This photo proves one thing. Bush's face passed from worried to smiley during the press appearance — but most photo editors chose shots conveying a specific tone. Was Reuters trying to show the President as disengaged? Or just displaying admirable objectivity by refusing to match their photo's tone to the news story's theme? Or maybe they just bought into the ongoing storyline of Bush as a Texas homeboy who retained his charm while rising to the responsibilities of the Presidency. It's certainly a popular perception. If you search the web for pages with the word Bush and the phrase "Aw Shucks," you'll get 98,400 matches.

Ultimately the problem with media criticism is it devolves into empty speculation about the motives of an unseen editor — and to their credit, Reuters' caption is completely neutral. "Bush speaks to the press after receiving the official report of the Iraq Study Group."

Although to me the picture screams, "No, I still haven't read it."

Secret-Smile Bush
(Getty Images)
This picture offers an interesting contrast. It's Dick Cheney (to Bush's right) who has the real secret grin — a quiet, almost smug, Mona Lisa smile that may contain the story of his career. (A scowling Donald Rumsfeld appears in the larger picture.) But President Bush looks like he's catching Cheney's sparkle too — eyebrows arching, eyes lighting with private joy.

This picture is from six months ago, and USA Today chose this picture to accompany a story with a headline nearly the opposite of today's. ("Bush rejects calls for pullout from Iraq.") Neither Bush nor Rumsfeld look particularly concerned, and if you look closer you'll see Bush has fewer grey hairs.

What a difference six months makes.

Josh Marshall remains cynical about the Iraq Study Group's report. On his blog he writes that "[A]ll this report really does is state the obvious (that Iraq's a disaster and we can't stay there forever) in a quasi-public forum." But that acknowledgment is the first step towards an official policy change.

And maybe news editors just want to see another acknowledgment in the President's face.

See Also:
20 Wildest Reactions to Obama's Victory
25 Harshest Reactions to the Wall Street Bailout
The Future of America Has Been Stolen
Here Comes the Judge's Porn
Is It Fascism Yet?

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

Google is Trying to Get Into Your Pants

Google doesn't make many mistakes. Google controls its image fiercely.

And according to a new radio spot, Google wants to get in your pants.

It's the latest marketing campaign from Helio, Earthlink's sassy new partnership with a South Korean wireless giant. In May the two companies teamed up to promote new wireless smartphones, then struck a deal with Google to use their GPS-enabled maps. But to promote their latest device — the Drift — they created a "provocative" radio campaign.
I got Google Maps
in my pants
in my pants
in my pants

Put Google Maps
in your pants (get a Helio)
in your pants
in your pants

We have to wonder if this move was officially sanctioned by Google's marketing team, or if it was, perhaps, the result of a third party ad company's over-zealousness.

Google's corporate web site specifies that their goal is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible..." And how can it be universally accessible if it's not in your pants? It could be argued that Google's publicists should be thrilled that their mapping solution's mobile capabilities are getting widespread promotion in a major ad campaign for a cutting-edge smartphone. But damn if this spot isn't extremely cheesy. Sure, it's radio, but a jingle? This isn't 1975!

The Helio ad is set to a soulful lite-rock rap.
Tough boys are you ready to....

CHORUS: Harm-o-nize!

Girl you've got me all tied down
Now I never get around
Spend Friday nights on the couch
Girl I think I'm done with you (All done!)

Helio's lyrics cry out for some deconstruction. They describe a man apparently dumping his girlfriend in his newfound excitement over a $225 GPS-enabled smartphone. This seems implausible already — leaving aside the additional unlikely premises that he's a) someone who knows how to rap and b) has a girlfriend. But that's the image they're selling, trying to impress that elusive new market of device-enabled social networkers.
I got the whole world to see
I want to find the world's tallest tree
The bomb-est B.L.T.
Google maps will set me free

In the ad jingle, the marketer's message is made clear. The phone aids in his quest to travel the world searching for tall trees and sandwiches. It's a metaphor, of course, for the thrilling freedom that awaits the device-enabled social networkers when they escape the world of desk-bound monitors. Although all Helio really does is bundle GPS services into a slick consumer package.

This includes the ability to broadcast a map with your location to any friends with the same Helio device — and Helio is pitching it to a young demographic of early adopters. "Just turn on the Beacon and you'll show up on your buddy's Drift," Helio's web site explains. "Turn it off and you'll be... wait, where did you go? Stop. Seriously, I can't see you...."

The youth-targeted marketing attempts to convey social networking with the image of abandoning unhappy Friday nights spent on a couch. The lite-rock rap is just an additional marketer's cue for hip-ness, signaling their intention to create an advertising campaign that gets up in your face. (Or is that up in your crotch?)

Ultimately the real drawback to Helio's image-branding campaign is how little information is actually conveyed about the device itself and its monthly $65 service fee.
(Rap) I got a new toy
and it's really insane
It's called the Helio
and it's got a huge brain.
It knows where I am and
I tell it where to go. It's got
Google maps with the GPS

Wait, I'm confused. Bad rhyming aside, "Where to go" would presumably be "in my pocket". Or are there a few words deleted because they didn't scan?
I tell it where [it is that I want] to go [and am wirelessly provided with driving directions].

We'd dismiss this as a brief stumble by Google's marketing team if we weren't so impressed by Helio's aggressive marketing campaigns so far. In June they even created a MySpace page which has already accrued 163,980 friends and 9,131 comments. It offers handy promotional come-ons for trendy device-enabled social networkers — Helio ringtones, sticker patterns, icons, and wallpaper. And they're sponsoring concerts with Pharrel, Ludacris, Lupe Fiasco, and Snoop Dogg.

Perhaps we are all just pawns in Google's great game of global domination. But in a final irony, Google's next move may be brokering ads to radio stations.

Curse you, Google, and your clever, unbeatable marketing strategies. In a futile attempt to balance the scales, we'll strike back with one last impotent piece of media criticism:

CHORUS: Don't call it a phooooone

"’cuz it's got maps. Word. Peace out to all my gadget-slangin' homies."

See Also:
How the iPod Changes Culture
iPhone Debate: I'm a Mac vs. Bill Gates
Hype Smackdown: iPhone v. Paris Hilton
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks

Is It Fascism Yet?

Bush Salute

In 2005, Lewis Lapham, former Editor of Harper's magazine, and a towering figure in "relatively mainstream" American journalism, wrote an editorial for Harpers, titled, Welcome to American Fascism.

The notion that America is now a fascist state is pretty widespread among dissident types, mostly on the left, but some also on the right. Various lists have been floating around that try to define what qualities make for a fascist state; the general implication being that the United States, under Bush, qualifies. One popular idea is that Mussolini reduced fascism down to corporatism. In point of fact, Mussolini's vision seems to have been of a highly disciplined martial society — a culture of spiritual warriors that doesn't readily equate with a corpulent culture where most "fascists" are happy to dial up Fox News on the remote and leave the discipline and self-sacrifice to a small, underpaid sector of the underclass.

I thought it would be interesting to ask a few folks representing a variety of views whether they think America is now a fascist state. Somewhere in the back of my mind, was the auxiliary question, "Does it matter?" In other words, certain levels of repression and intolerance are being manifested in various public, political, and legal spheres. If we can legitimately label it all fascism, will that help to generate a successful opposition? I always wonder when I see some protester carrying one of those (relatively rare, actually) "Bush = Hitler" protest signs: How do they think that's helping? Do they think somebody walking down the street who is sort of neutral is going to see this sign and say, "Oh, Bush equals Hitler! Why didn't you say so? I'm going to revolt now."

OK, some people are easy targets of ridicule, but the question that I emailed to our panelists: "Do we live in a fascist state? Why, or why not?" is a serious one. Let's see what they have to say about it.

(NOTE: Many of these answers were written before the recent mid-term elections.)

Featuring (click to jump to their answers):
  • Ken Layne
  • Rabbi Michael Lerner
  • Douglas Rushkoff
  • Norman Solomon
  • The guy who told Dick Cheney to "go fuck yourself," and others.

    Allen Hacker
    Campaign consultant for Michael Badnarik, 2004 Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate and 2006 candidate for Congress in Texas; Libertarian Party activist

    Do we live in a fascist state?

    Are you kidding? Yes. Absolutely, and very unfortunately, yes.

    Let's analyze the definition of fascism. It begins with "a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power." George Bush and his administration are assuming vast powers not delegated to them by the Constitution. President Bush has developed a habit of issuing "signing statements," declaring what portions of legislation he chooses to enforce or ignore.

    Fascism, "forcibly suppress[es] opposition and criticism." There is growing concern and mounting evidence that the 2000 and 2004 presidential election results were manipulated using electronic voting machines and physical intimidation. As the 2004 Libertarian Presidential nominee, I joined with Green Party nominee, David Cobb, to challenge the vote totals in Ohio. One precinct in Ohio recorded 4,000 votes for George Bush, 2,000 votes for John Kerry, in a precinct with only 600 registered voters. There are numerous reports of people being handcuffed and escorted away from George Bush's campaign events simply because they wore pro-Liberty t-shirts, or asked the President embarrassing questions.

    Fascism includes "regimenting all industry, commerce, etc." which can be summed up nicely by mentioning NAFTA, GATT, and the "Free Trade Area of the Americas" (FTAA). Our government has been subsidizing the oil and automotive industry for nearly a century, and now the pharmaceutical companies are getting blatant assistance in a vast array of regulations that put smaller drug companies out of business. If patients in the United States are not allowed to purchase drugs from Canada because "they're not safe," then why did American companies sell the drugs to Canada in the first place?

    The definition ends with, "emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism." How many times does George Bush have to say, "You're either with us or against us," before people realize that anyone critical of our government is now viewed by the administration as a potential terrorist? The government already controls and manipulates our health care system. The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) will soon give the government control over most of our food supply by requiring Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags on all farm animals. The REAL ID Act has already been passed, and will require every drivers license and passport to contain an RFID chip as early as 2008.

    In my book, Good To Be King: The Foundation of Our Constitutional Freedom, I analyze the ten planks of the Communist Manifesto and draw the disturbing conclusion that the United States is already a communist country, a position that I have held for over a decade. Keep in mind that fascism and communism are philosophical twins, both of them emphasizing collectivism over individualism. People need to understand that there is no such thing as "community rights" because communities are abstract collections of individuals. Every individual in the community has rights, but no more or less simply because they are alone or surrounded by others.

    The good news is that the government is growing so fast, and taking so much control over people's lives, that discontent with the status quo is growing even faster. The real question is not whether the United States has a fascist government, but whether enough people will be willing to stand against it, potentially risking their lives to assert their individual independence.

    Only time will tell. "I know not what course others may take, but as for me... give me Liberty, or give me death!"

    Douglas Rushkoff
    Media theorist; author; host of Frontline documentaries "The Merchants of Cool" and "The Persuaders."

    Yeah, for sure we do. I'm actually just starting a book on this subject. The weirdest part, though, is that it's not all bad. That's what's so pernicious about it. The corporatism envisioned by Ford and Mussolini came to pass, but without the starkness of the racial purity sought by Hitler. It's more of a Borgification — assimilation of all. Even the work of folks like us who call it what it is.

    Adorno saw it clearly, as did Walter Benjamin. But if we're really going to understand it, I think we have to analyze it from pop culture up, rather than from the halls of the White House down. They're just players in this game — not the true rule-makers. The rules for this particular game scenario were written back in the 1500s.

    Or better, look at the article I wrote the month before Lewis Lapham's, saying basically the same thing:

    Howard Rheingold
    Digital culture legend; author of The Virtual Community and Smart Mobs.

    I don't think that it is useful to reduce complex issues to simple answers. I certainly see that the elements of fascism — centralization of authoritarian power over policy, close coordination with private industry, divisive propaganda, criminalization of dissent, extensive state surveillance — are being put into place. Who could deny that? Extreme conservatives like Bob Barr and Richard Armey as well as ex-generals and ex-intelligence managers have said as much. Books have been written about it. I don't see the slide toward fascism, accelerated by this administration, as inevitable. I believe it can be stopped and reversed. It's not too late yet. I've contributed dollars and hours to the mid-term Congressional elections.

    John Shirley
    Science fiction author; script writer ("The Crow"); occasional Blue Oyster Cult lyricist

    Is the first gust of wind from a hurricane itself a hurricane? It is not. And like a hurricane, this storm of right-wing extremism may "change direction" and pass us by, blow itself out. But also like a community in the path of a hurricane, we're in serious danger.

    The right to have opposition parties which can be voted into power is not characteristic of fascism. Before the recent midterm election I was quite worried about the GOP stealing the vote, which to me is a precursor to a fascist state — and I'm still worried about it. According to Marc Baber of Truth in Voting:
    The only reason the Democrats did so well in 2006 is that Democrats actually won by margins of 6-8% greater than the official results showed.

    I ran through the list of close races where Republicans won and there was only one race (Tennessee Ford(D) vs. Corker(R)) on the Senate side, however in the House, at least 15 races were within 6%, meaning that the Dems probably should have won an additional 15 seats or so in the House if the Republicans hadn't rigged the system this year, assuming that the error is in the official results (not the exit polls) and that the bias was a fairly uniform 6% nationwide. These are, of course, very rough estimates. And alarming too.

    So the GOP will try again, with more voting fraud, in 2008 — just more broadly, more desperately, more emphatically. We could still lose democracy. And that would leave us with something like fascism.

    There's still a good deal of freedom of speech in this country — even though it was revealed recently that the Pentagon is monitoring antiwar email, because it's "subversive" and might represent a danger, e.g., the dangerous, scary Quakers they've been monitoring. Freedom of speech is not characteristic of fascism.

    Right now, we're in a borderline theocracy, a near-theocracy cynically manipulated by our real overlords, the pharmaceutical companies, the oil companies, big business in general. They spend hundreds of millions on lobbyists on K Street, pulling the strings on Congress, consolidating their control. We'll see if it changes in the next few years — the national will is there to make it change. If it doesn't, we will find ourselves in an early stage of the 21st century version of a fascist state: a country with few freedoms, controlled by multinational corporations.

    Ken Layne
    West Coast Bureau Chief, Wonkette

    Fascism is such a twisted, loaded and abused word. We need a completely new term.

    Humorless liberals yell "Fascist!" at anything they don't like: NASCAR, Wal-Mart, or especially somebody enjoying a nice hamburger.

    The Neocons have made the bizarre decision that Fascism is actually a 1,400-year-old Semitic religion from Arabia, even though that religion is virtually indistinguishable from the monotheistic Semitic religions they claim to follow. Of course, the Neocons are the closest thing to a purely Fascist party in America.

    And my beloved libertarians have the bad habit of believing Fascism is a mom asking grandpa not to blow cigar smoke on the babies, or the cops asking some target shooters to point away from the pre-school.

    So what the hell is Fascism in 2006? Russia provides a pretty good example: Media directly controlled by the Kremlin, ethnic minorities literally deported by the military (re: Georgians), oil companies nationalized (and their executives jailed), official skinheads attacking farmers markets, faux-terrorist apartment bombings in Moscow used to justify aggressive wars against bordering ethnic states, and the murder of investigative journalists.

    It isn't so obvious in the United States. There are only a few hundred people in America (that we know of) being tortured and jailed forever due to alleged "terrorist" activities. A handful of powerful government/corporate insiders are assassinated each year — see Philip Merrill — and the corporate media ignores these murders because it's just too horrifying to go down that bloody path.

    But the laws have changed since 9/11, and those laws were drawn up before 9/11. Today, even a U.S. citizen can be locked up and sodomized forever by a robot just for turning up on some government list. Yet the multi-ethnic character of America's urban elite makes it tough to lock up all the Asians or Mexicans or Muslims or Negroes or Homosexuals or Presbyterians or Atheists — old-school Fascism needs an internal ethnic enemy.

    Habeas corpus is gone. Military tribunals have been officially authorized to sentence those who go against White House policy. Much of the news media is either directly owned or covertly financed by the Not So Secret Elite. Idiots and Jesus Freaks are paid to stir up the yokels. Election machines are increasingly owned and operated by the GOP interests, and vote stealing is all but ignored. American culture has intentionally become idiotic, as American education has become both widespread and anti-intellectual. Today's college graduate is much dumber than an 8th grader from the 1940s.

    New passport laws restrict even going across the Mexican and Canadian borders. Proposed "homeland security" laws will make it impossible for any dissident to travel by sea or air to other nations.

    It's not fascism, yet. And it's unlikely that the USA's post-9/11 dystopia will ever be called Fascism by future historians. It will never become outright Fascism if enough of us take our guns to D.C. and clean house.

    Ben Marble, MD
    During a photo op in New Orleans during the Katrina debacle, Ben Marble was heard on national TV saying, "Go Fuck Yourself, Mr. Cheney. Go Fuck Yourself, Asshole." He is also a doctor, a punk rock musician and a writer.

    Yes! The U.S.A. is now ruled by a Dictator. His name is Dicktator Cheney. We all know the delusional optimist, Dubya Gump, is the world's most famous cheerleader, i.e., the cheerleader-in-chief who is sent out to raa raa the BUSHEEP. Surely you can't tell me with a straight face that you honestly believe that Dubya Gump is the real decision maker in this administration? If you believe that I have some water front property on the moon I want to sell you! So yes, The Dicktator Cheney is the "real" president. His most esteemed advisers are Karl "Sweet Cheeks" Rove, Ronald Donefailed, [ed: written before Rumsfeld's departure] and Condhoeasy Rice.

    So how is this consortium of circus freaks fascist? Well let's look at the definition of "fascism":

    a. A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.

    b. Oppressive, dictatorial control.

    Well for those who don't understand, they should realize that we have a rare situation in U.S. history on our hands in that these assholes control all three branches of the U.S. government (executive via the presidency, legislative via the majority in Congress, and judicial via Dubya Gump's lame Supreme Court appointments). [ed: written before recent election] So there is no question that the Dubya Gump administration is a dictatorship! Also for those doubters, I would encourage them to look into Dubya Gump's "signing statements." A signing statement is where the president chooses to not follow the law and writes a statement explaining why he is not going to follow the law. It turns out that Dubya Gump has more signing statements than all other presidents combined!... No other president has abused power in this way before. Only those in denial (BUSHEEP go "baaaa") would argue against what is so obvious to the rest of the world, i.e., the entire power of the U.S. government is in the hands of the Dubya Gump administration.

    Who can forget how, after 091101, the entire world was on our side? Well, Dubya Gump made the entire world forget by taking his eye off of the ball in Afghanistan and invading Iraq. Now the entire world loathes us much the same way people loathed Nazi Germany.

    These asses have wiped their holes with the bible, the American flag, and the U.S. constitution over and over. It is truly amazing that they still have some die-hard followers and maintain an unbelievable amount of support via the BUSHEEP. Yes they do have some really powerful brainwashing techniques.

    I personally blame the "duopoly" for this problem. Because in the U.S.A. we have the PSEUDO-CHRISTIAN BUSHEEP MINORITY running the Republican party and the PC UTOPIAN FASCIST MINORITY running the Democratic party. So with MINORITY EXTREMIST agendas controlling both sides of the duopoly, the MAJORITY of Americans were forced to vote for the "lesser of two evils" in 2004, giving us the re-election of the single worst president in the history of our nation, and proof that the DUOPOLY is a miserable failure...

    Perhaps by 2008 we shall have a viable 3rd party that is willing to compromise instead of sticking to extremist minority agendas, and shall represent the MAJORITY OF AMERICANS, i.e., THE REAL PARTY.

    Norman Solomon
    Media critic; founding member of Fairness and Accuracy In Media (FAIR), a left-liberal media watchdog organization; author, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death (Wiley, 2005)

    No, "we" — residents of the United States — are not living in a "fascist state." There are elements of fascism in our midst, including the Bush administration's largely successful efforts to undermine habeas corpus. But elements of fascism do not necessarily add up to fascism. As I write, in October 2006, we have significant elements of democracy — which doesn't make us "a democracy" any more than the existing elements of fascism make the USA a "fascist state."

    (Lewis Lapham's essay a year ago, "We Now Live In A Fascist State," is disappointing. It conveys more look-down-the-nose elitist anger than persuasive analysis. I'm angry too, and I've been actively working against militarism in the United States since the mid/late 1960s. I don't see how the essay helps us understand clearly where we are and what we need to do.)

    Rabbi Michael Lerner
    Founder and Editor of Tikkun; progressive Jewish activist; author; National Chair of The Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP)

    If you are talking about "we" as the people of the U.S., then no, we are not living in a fascist society yet, though we are not far from it and are on a slippery slope in that direction. But if the "we" is the people of the world, under the global economic and military system ruled by the U.S. with the other G8 countries as major lieutenants, then yes, there is much of the world that is in fact already living in a fascist society, and we cannot separate ourselves from them and say, "no, we are not in a fascist society," because in fact their fate is imposed by the indifference, ignorance, fear, and sense of futility that characterizes many of the people living in the U.S. today.

    Inside the U.S., the similarity to fascism is in the power of corporations to control government, media, universities, and the economic lives of most of our citizens. Plus the massive power of these institutions working together and through the mass media to shape a world view and filters in the individual consciousness of many Americans. That is massive power, beyond anything that has ever existed in the history of the human race before.

    It would be best to have a different name for this massively oppressive reality, rather than to use a term developed to describe a different reality in the first half of the twentieth century, a reality whose memory gets invoked in the hope of making people tremble at how bad the current reality is. But it would be far more impactful if we simply described this reality and did not seek to draw historical comparisons which may shake and rattle the consciousness of historians and intellectuals but which are increasingly irrelevant to people born after 1960 and who do not have the same associations with this word.

    The truth is that if we lived in a fascist society as it used to be, we'd be trembling at having this conversation and having our names attached to it, knowing that we might be subject to prison for even raising this topic. The fact is that America retains much of its democratic and human rights for most (not all) of its citizens, and that is more than we can say for many of the countries on earth. Such a society cannot be fascist.

    Yet we can be on the path. The recent torture bill was a significant step, and the failure of Democrats to wage a filibuster against it once again demonstrates to those who would move more quickly in the direction of a full-scaled fascism that their opponents have no backbone and hence are not to be worried about. It seems unlikely that the Democrats in power will revoke that bill.

    Some have invented the term "friendly fascism" or "soft fascism" to describe the contemporary reality. Well, perhaps. But if you want to use that term, you want to because you want to milk the remaining negative energy toward the word "fascism" while in fact acknowledging that the situation is qualitatively different. When a full-scale fascism arrives in all its authenticity, you will know it by its deeds and there will not be an argument among progressives about whether it is here or not. Chances are great that instead we will be locked up in some modern style concentration camp, or possibly even subjected to torture. I'm not looking forward to such a period — I was sent to prison by the Nixon White House for my role as a national leader of the anti-war movement at that time, and it wasn't fun, and yet it was easy compared to what we may face when fascism fully arrives.

    Meanwhile, I'm building a Network of Spiritual Progressives precisely to speak to people who can yet be won away from the tendencies toward fascism. It is that conversation that is deeply needed in the contemporary Moment — check it out by reading my book The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right and by joining our network at

    Scott J. Thompson
    Director of Research, Walter Benjamin Research Syndicate; taught courses at New College of California including, "From Berlin Bohemia to Hitler: The Weimar Republic's Crisis Democracy & The Emergence of German Fascism" and "The Virulent Phoenix: The Theory and Practice of Fascism."

    HAS THE U.S. GONE [email protected]$%!?&$*?!!!!

    Serious theorists and intellectuals have posed this question for quite some time.

    Writing a review in 1942 of Franz Neumann's classic analysis, "Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism," C. Wright Mills wrote the following:
    The analysis of Behemoth casts light upon capitalism in democracies. ... if you read his book thoroughly, you see the harsh outlines of possible futures close around you. With leftwing thought confused and split and dribbling trivialities, he locates the enemy with a 500-watt glare. And Nazi is only one of his names.

    Seven years prior to this, Sinclair Lewis had written a novel, a bad one, entitled, "It Can't Happen Here," a rather thinly veiled reference to the MacGuire Affair, i.e., the 1934 attempt by the DuPonts, J.P. Morgan, the Remingtons, and others to enlist Gen. Smedley Butler in a coup d'etat. Lewis made the comment that when fascism came to America, it would come draped in the flag and carrying a bible.

    Prescient words.

    In his The Anatomy of Fascism, Robert Paxton considers the Ku Klux Klan to be perhaps the first example of "the earliest phenomenon that can be functionally related to fascism..."
    By adopting a uniform (white robe and hood), as well as by their techniques of intimidation and their conviction that violence was justified in the cause of their group's destiny, the first version of the Klan in the defeated American
    South was arguably a remarkable preview of the way fascist movements were to function in interwar Europe. (Paxton:2004)

    There have long been fascistic elements alive and well in the United States. Depending on who you are, your ethnicity and your class, you may come into contact with these elements more often than other people. For a poor and uneducated illegal immigrant, for a poor black kid in the ’hood, the U.S. remains Amerikkka, and the Klan are still in power. But a privileged upper-middle class white woman shopping in Needless Markup might not have any idea what you're talking about because she can do whatever she wants. If you're an Arab Muslim man getting ready to board an airplane in Los Angeles, you wonder whether fascism has come to America when you're told that you will not be allowed on the plane, etc. And what about all these American Arabs who have simply disappeared over the past few years?

    In my opinion, however, this word "fascism" is used much too recklessly. All too often "fascism" and "fascist" is simply invective. It has come to mean "violent, intolerant, racist reactionary." That's not good enough. The Italian communist theoretician Togliatti warned against confusing the word as a theoretical term with its use for "agitational purposes."

    Was the Roman Sejanus a "fascist"? He certainly instituted a police state in Rome replete with sophisticated surveillance system, like the Gestapo. Everybody was ratting on everybody else.

    Unfortunately, precious few people have any idea what "fascism" is. More and more, it is equated with very simplistic formulae: a merger of the state and corporations. Were that the basis of fascism, as a generic category in political science, one would still have to account for all the horror associated with it.

    How many people know what the platform of Mussolini's first Fascist Movement stood for? Let's take a look: proposed women's suffrage and the vote at 18, abolition of the upper house, convocation of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution for Italy (presumably without the monarchy), the eight-hour workday, worker participation in "the technical management of industry," the "partial expropriation of all kinds of wealth" by a heavy and progressive tax on capital, the seizure of certain Church properties, and the confiscation of 85 percent of war profits. (Paxton: 2004:5)

    The problem is that particular examples of what is generically called "fascism," such as Mussolini's Partito Nazionale Fascista (PNF) and Hitler's NSDAP, continually redefined themselves: on the road to power, in power, and at war.

    When faced with this question of whether the U.S. has "gone fascist," commentator Bill Mandel a few years ago answered in the negative. He was of the opinion that the essential paramilitary element was totally missing here. I completely agree with him.

    What about the Black Shirts? Mussolini's paramilitary squadristis. What about all that castor oil and truncheon action? Hitler's Sturm Abteilung? Where's the parallel here? Can you name paramilitary squads on that scale at play in the U.S.A.?

    I defy anyone reading this to point to a threat like that. Yes, there are plenty of small groups like the Michigan Militia and Dominionist types. Yes, Battle Cry is scary. But, get real. No real parallel... at all.

    Could we have this discussion if the U.S. were a fascist totalitarian dictatorship? Could I write what Cheney & Co. would consider "subversive" emails all day long in such a regime? Could I do my radio show on KPOO in San Francisco? Would the Democrats, whatever you think of them, have ousted the Republicans from Congress under a fascist dictatorship? Would Rumsfeld have been forced out?

    There has been a tendency for far too long to equate generic fascism with the last rung on the ladder, the very worst, a synonym for kakistocracy, "the rule of the worst."

    I suggest that it would be possible for the US to outdo the Nazis in their atrocities without being fascist.

    The U.S. is not a fascist state, but there are fascistic elements alive and well in our society. The U.S. is, for want of a better definition, a neo-liberal, plutocratic National Security State.

    The "authoritarian personality" investigated by Theodor Adorno and earlier by Wilhelm Reich (Mass Psychology of Fascism), however, can be found throughout the United States today. Abu Ghraib prison and the ongoing torture atrocities being practiced in state and privatized penitentiaries are an area for investigation here. These infernal regions also need to be seen within the context of the explosion of heterosexual and homosexual BD/SM pornography all over the world, but mostly emanating from the USA. I think Hans-Juergen Syberberg was quite correct in seeing a link between sado-masochist pornography and Nazism. The image of the inflatable plastic "fuck-me" doll with open mouth in his film "Hitler: A Film from Germany" and the narrator's words "Hitler, here is your victory" accompanying this image, is pure brilliance.

    By reducing love and affection to disposable kitsch, we are mass producing sociopaths out of our soldiers, and inculcating what I believe to be the real essence of a fascist personality structure. My own provisional definition of fascism, a mere paraphrase of Wilhelm Reich and Roger Griffin, is the following:

    Fascism is the progressively all-inclusive and martial re-organization of society according to a violent re-assertion of masculine stereotypes through symbols of nationalism and ethnicity. Fascists call for a re-awakened virility to rejuvenate the nation.

    This assertion of "virility" is the reaction to what fascists fear: everything feminine. Historian Roger Griffin has written that the fascist reality is "a radical misogyny or flight from the feminine, manifesting itself in a pathological fear of being engulfed by anything in external reality associated with softness, with dissolution, or the uncontrollable."

    The avenue of research for this subject should follow the lead of Klaus Theweleit ("Male Fantasies", 1977) and Dagmar Herzog ("Sex After Fascism", 2005).

    And people serious about pursuing this subject must stop being afraid to look at and refer to internet pornography for their evidence and proof. It's ubiquitous and taboo at the same time, and scholars act as if it didn't exist.

    The Road from "" to Abu Ghraib may be a tortuous stretch, but it is not a long one.

    Susie Bright

    My response would be, "it's a reasonable question to ask." It's not hysterical. Does one understand that something is definitively "fascist" these days only in retrospect? What would it mean to use the term in a descriptive, accurate way today?

    In terms of the recent legislation we've seen, the post-911 shredding, the constitution, particularly the first amendment and the right to a fair trial, have been gutted. Our elections are rigged, our Supreme Court is stacked... what alternative are we left with?

    And yet Americans are still so complacent, apathetic, and invested in the middle class American dream — regardless if it has an economic basis or not — that they haven't notice there's no THERE THERE anymore. But ultimately they will.

    I do have one concern about my objectivity, and that is my age and the perhaps innocent naive I bring with it.

    I can remember interviewing older folks who suffered under the worst of McCarthyism, or Japanese Americans who were sent to internment camps. I have family and friends who saw the most frightening elements of the Kennedy/MLK assassinations or watched the high circus of the Chicago 8 trial and Mayor Daley's thugs in Chicago.

    And if we looked back at our grandparents' and our great-grandparents' histories, similar disgrace and outrage would continue to be cataloged. Was our constitution any stronger when "pioneers" were shooting Indians on sight like vermin? Were the Depression and the violent attacks on the early labor movement some shining hour for the Bill of Rights? Just open your history book and pick a bloody page.

    Maybe, as Byrne once sang, "it's same as it ever was," and I've just finally reached the age where I can't take it anymore. Or maybe it's because I WAS a child of the 60s and saw such a remarkable, progressive renaissance. This nation has always been about violence and prejudice and hypocrisy. What was unusual was the moments when it was SOMETHING ELSE, when peace, love, and compassion were celebrated and practiced.

    I was in the New Left and everyone was constantly running around with their history books trying to decide the precise SECOND when you could say that fascism was officially in motion. Nixon had a lot of people shook up, that's for sure. Now I tend to see history in motion with the worst of authoritarianism always in play, always aggressive. Global capitalism without a leash doesn't amount to anything else. The more interesting question to ask is, "Is there anything to counteract it?"

    See Also:
    Prior Permission From Government To Be Required For Each Flight
    Iraq YouTube Battle Footage
    Art or Bioterrorism: Who Cares?
    Did Bush Spin Like Nixon?
    The QuestionAuthority Proposal
    Don't Go There: Top 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Candidates
  • Is Iraq really THAT bad?

    This roundup of YouTube clips is meant to give a small sense of what it's like for the people who are killing and getting killed in Iraq — a view that, limited as it is, one can't possibly get from the mainstream newsmedia.

    1. Insurgents Shoot U.S. Soldier

    According to the slate at the opening of this footage, it takes place on the 4th of July, 2005, so the fact it's from the perspective of a couple of insurgent snipers makes it all the more poignant. There are at least two males stalking the lone soldier, who is standing next to a Humvee on the far side of an automobile thoroughfare. They mutter to one another, perhaps discussing the optimal time to fire. We hear a sudden metallic clunk and then the soldier falls straight to the ground.

    On a pro-Marines website also hosting the video, text reads, "Thank God for Body Armor!" and as the hit infantryman gets onto his feet, we see that he's unhurt. He quickly scuttles to the opposite side of the Humvee as the insurgents mutter praise to Allah. Their praise does not sound celebratory, but rather, fearful. Perhaps they expect an inevitable and massive retaliation.

    2. Apache Gun Kill

    This one has been around a while; it's from December 2003. But this extended near-4-minute footage gives an interesting glimpse into the thought process of people on the triggers of some of the biggest guns in the world. Note the very calm, clinical voices trying to discern what the two targets are doing, what they're carrying and, ultimately, when to "smoke ’em." The men seem to be aware that they're being watched, but it's unclear they know exactly what awaits. (The Apache has the ability to monitor and track targets even when concealed.) Adding to the detachment is the Terminator-like view through the Target Acquisition and Designation System. When the guns finally go, the destruction to the human bodies is sickeningly complete and obvious, even through the infrared scopes.

    3. Mortar Attack on U.S. Troops

    Here, a small group of troops are outside a military compound in a vehicle when mortars start to rain down. The footage is from a soldier's camcorder, and we hear them saying, "Damn!" as the explosions go off near by. We hear the whistling of incoming mortars, and the shock & awe of the guys when mortars go off inside the compound (“Ohh, right inside the fuckin' base!"). They rush to pack up and go into the compound to help with emergency aid. In the distance inside the compound, we can hear the chaos of urgent voices and we can see plumes of smoke rising. (“We obviously pissed somebody off in the last few days.") The clip has footage of a roadside explosion spliced onto the end; U.S. troops are jovial as they pass 3 apparently civilian cars, smile and wave, and then get hit.

    4. Counter-ambush Operation

    This dash-mounted video is straight out of Hollywood, and it makes you wonder whether war movies tell us about reality, or help shape it, or both. After an ambush, retaliation is called for. "Shoot those motherfuckers! Get some! Get some!" shouts one soldier as we zip down tight residential roads after an unseen enemy. "Get yer Sixteen up there!!!" Gunfire. "You stupid motherfuckers!" It's chaos, and adrenaline, and of course, death in the streets.

    5. Apache Voyeur

    It's not all artillery and death, though. The last two clips are glimpses of the lighter side of war. Here, the troops catch another sort of hot Iraqi action. "That's a chick." A dark figure in a convertible car with a ponytail is visible. "What's she doin'?" "She's bouncin' up and down. On him!" A burst of laughter. "I swear to god, man, this chick is going crazy on this guy, it's incredible." Indeed, with the night-vision we see it clearly. The clip is over 7 minutes long, but who knows how much time and fuel was wasted on this "operation." The woman switches positions. "Stop moving," says someone to the helicopter pilot. An official voice says, "We got activity out here but I don't think we really need to report it...appears to be fornication in the convertible." "Do a target/store and I'll be there in a second." "Oh, we're tapin' it."

    6. Night Vision Donkey Sex

    No commentary needed for this one.

    Not all of the above items are new, but as a series, we find them powerful. We decided to exclude montages set to music. (It is possible to find these from Coalition and insurgent perspectives.)

    Know of better clips? Leave links in the comments, but please do not embed them.

    See Also:

    Hallucinogenic Weapons: The Other Chemical Warfare
    Catching up with an Aqua Teen Terrorist
    Lost "Horrors" Ending Found on YouTube
    Homeland Security Follies
    5 Best Videos: Animals Attacking Reporters

    Robert Altman’s 7 Secret Wars

    Robert Altman's career started with corporate training films in Missouri. The experience landed him Hollywood work filming TV shows in the 1960s — but his personality rebelled against creating false fables of comfort. Before M*A*S*H and The Player, Altman had forced his fierce honesty onto unsuspecting television characters. It marked the beginning of a forgotten march through America's cherished archetypes, challenging one beloved hero after another.

    For example, when network executives handed him the characters from Bonanza, his first impulse was to torture them.

    1. Bonanza (1961)

    Hoss, Adam and Little Joe were a happy all-male family on a Nevada ranch in that magical TV west. Altman opens his episode Silent Thunder with rednecks sexually harassing a deaf mute female (played by Stella Stevens). Good son Little Joe intervenes, and later teaches her how to read, but then she falls in love with him. In a series of painful scenes, Little Joe struggles to convey rejection to someone who doesn't understand, can't communicate, and is full of the rawest emotion.

    Altman directed eight episodes of Bonanza, all but one in the show's second season — and they're some of the darkest in its 14-year run. In The Rival, gentle Hoss loves a woman, but she loves a fugitive. In a typical Bonanza plot, a showdown seems inevitable, but Hoss agonizes over the ambiguity. Is he hunting his rival because of his crimes — or to vindictively avenge his scorned heart? There's no easy answers as a lynch mob starts forming, and even before any triggers are pulled, a devastated Hoss knows that the woman he loves will never, ever be his. Altman heightens the episode's tension with evocative lighting tricks. In one scene, a gun emerges from the shadows for several agonizing seconds before the triggerman is revealed — Hoss himself.

    2. Combat (1962)

    Altman's dark style was better suited for the gritty war stories in the series Combat. In one episode the survival of the entire unit rests on a single captured prisoner not giving away their position. Pinned down in a chateau, the soldiers can escape by swimming down a river at night — but they can't haul their prisoner underwater. The commander faces an impossible choice. He can kill the young Nazi conscript before escaping — or risk all their lives on the soldier's pleas and promises of secrecy. Again — there's no easy answers. Altman used the chateau to good effect, including long shots to show the soldiers on its upper level with the lone Nazi below.

    Altman's TV career would be short-lived. It was reportedly hobbled by his clashes with TV executives, but there were other controversies. Wikipedia notes that Congressional hearings were held over an episode of a forgotten TV show called Bus Stop which showed a murderer successfully escaping both capture and punishment — a favorite Altman theme.

    3. Countdown (1968)

    Even before M*A*S*H the maverick director took a special delight in confronting the media's traditional heroes with muddier dilemmas that exposed their all-too-human weakness, whether it was soldiers, cowboys — or astronauts.

    In Countdown James Caan and Robert Duvall played astronauts challenging everything but outer space. There's jealous co-workers, organizational indecision, and the all-too-real friends who don't understand. If the astronaut makes it to space — alone, in his space capsule — will this din of endured opposition ultimately cloud his judgment? The final press conference is chaired by Ted Knight, who later played the vacuous newscaster Ted Baxter on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. In a friendly, empty TV voice, he's the one who delivers unsettling news about the mission's status. Would the astronaut successfully launch and reach the safety of a moon base? Or would Altman strand him alone on the moon, ending the film within maddening proximity to what could have been a happy ending.

    This is considered Altman's first major feature film. A string of successes followed — including M*A*S*H and the critically-acclaimed Nashville. But after the disappointing box office for Popeye in 1980 (along with rumors of libertine excesses on the set), Altman was effectively exiled from major Hollywood productions.

    4. Secret Honor (1984)

    During these "wilderness years," Altman filmed a remarkable one-man show in which a lonely, drunken and suicidal Richard Nixon looks back over a secret plan he'd orchestrated to provoke his own impeachment and escape his war-mongering corporate handlers. ("Secret honor...public shame.")

    As Nixon descends into drunken bitterness, he has trouble working the tape recorder, and rambles through an alternate history of his political career. As Nixon prowls the room, so does Altman's camera, and in one of the most disturbing moments, the screenplay revisits a famous story about young Nixon writing his mother a letter in the voice of Richard's pet dog (signing it, "Your faithful dog, Richard.") As he addresses his enemies, real and imagined, the disgraced and tortured ex-President roars out, "I'm not your dog, Mother!" Altman ultimately magnifies the image of a raging Nixon across multiplying TV screens responding to a nation he feels is urging him to suicide with a heroic, "Fuck ’em! Fuck ’em! Fuck ’em!"

    5. Tanner '88 (1988)

    Would Altman ever acknowledge a true act of goodness? He teamed with Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau to create a counter-candidate in the 1988 presidential race. In half-hour episodes on HBO, Jack Tanner interacted with real political figures like Bob Dole (during the New Hampshire primaries) and Kitty Dukakis (at the nominating convention) — but only to make the point that the primary process buries any meaningful passions with political consultants and sound bites. Tanner's true fervor is only visible when he privately addresses his campaign staff. In a rare happy twist, Tanner's private thoughts about what the 1960s had meant are surreptitiously taped, making him a viable candidate and bypassing the political consultants altogether.

    But Altman still plagues Tanner with a bewildering array of opposing and arbitrary forces — both political and media — which come between Tanner and his friends, his wife, and his daughter. And like the characters in Nashville, Tanner's campaign strategist remains haunted by the ultimate arbitrary political event — the assassination of Robert Kennedy.

    Future Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon plays Tanner's daughter (she was 22) — and the show ultimately received an Emmy.

    6. The Gingerbread Man (1998)

    When handed an unpublished John Grisham story, Altman gave the studios exactly what they didn't want. Robert Duvall's portrayal of a mentally challenged stalker fits Altman's unsettling world view too well. Though the womanizing lawyer (Kenneth Brannagh) tries to do the right thing, in an Altman world there's nothing but chaos — so the script's final redeeming fight on a rainy night becomes just one more turmoil of emotions. Dissatisfied studio executives tried to re-edit the film, but when test audiences didn't respond any better, they apparently decided to under-promote it.

    The move was so little-known that when Internet Movie database listed the film, they mistook its title for a series of children's stories, and included this picture:

    7. The Long Goodbye (1973)

    When remembering Altman in his heyday, people point to his early 70s triumphs like McCabe and Mrs. Miller or M*A*S*H. (Someone once even uploaded the entirety of Altman's remarkable 1970 film Brewster McCloud onto YouTube in ten-minute installments.) But often overlooked is Altman's bold 1973 re-imagining of the ultimate American archetype — the lonely detective.

    Philip Marlowe clings to a personal code of honor in a world that has gone wild — but Altman transplants the character into the 1970s, so his world includes protesters, feel-good health clinics, and topless neighbors sun-bathing. The detective becomes everyman Elliott Gould, who moves through a Raymond Chandler underworld still filled with cops and petty crooks, but ultimately reaching a dark irony in its dime store message about loyalty. The noir-ish jazz in its title theme works on many levels, seeming to acknowledge that people everywhere were changing and, like Altman himself, moving further and further away from the simple answers of the 1950s. It could almost be an epitaph.

    "There's a long goodbye, and it happens every day..."

    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

    Counterculture and the Tech Revolution

    Back in the day, when people were still asking me to explain "Mondo 2000," I used to tell them that we were doing this psychedelic counterculture magazine called "High Frontiers" in the mid-1980s and we were shocked — just shocked — when we were befriended by the Silicon Valley elite. Suddenly, we found ourselves at parties where some of the major software and hardware designers of those early days were hanging out with NASA scientists, quantum physicists, hippies and lefty radicals, artists, libertarians, and your general motley assortment of smart types.

    I was being a bit disingenuous when I made these comments. "High Frontiers" already had a tech/science bias, largely because we'd been influenced by the "Leary-Wilson paradigm." So we were technologically progressive tripsters. I'd also followed Stewart Brand's work with interest through the years.

    The connection between the creators of the driving engine of the contemporary global economy, and the countercultural attitudes that were popular among young people during the 1960s and 70s was sort of a given within the cultural milieu we ("High Frontiers/Mondo 2000") found ourselves immersed in as the 1980s spilled into the 90s. Everybody was "experienced." Everybody was suspicious of state and corporate authority — even those who owned corporations. People casually recalled hanging out with Leary, or The Grateful Dead, or Ken Kesey, or Abbie Hoffman. You get the picture.

    But these upcoming designers of the future were not prone towards lots of public hand waving about their "sex, drugs and question authority" roots. After all, most of them were seeking venture capital and they were selling their toys and tools to ordinary Reagan-Bush era consumers. There was little or no percentage in trying to tell the public, "Oh, by the way. All this stuff? This is how the counterculture now plans to change the world."

    And while there has been plenty of implicit — and even some explicit — talk throughout the years about these associations, no one really tried to trace the connections until 2005, when John Markoff published What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer.

    Markoff's narrative revolved largely around the figures of Douglas Engelbart and Stewart Brand. His book, according to my May 2005 conversation with him on the NeoFiles podcast, covered "the intersection or convergence of two cultures around the Stanford campus in Palo Alto, California throughout the 1960s. One was a psychedelic counterculture and the other was the anti-war movement; and then you have the beginnings of computer technology intersecting them both." Engelbart, in contrast to the mainstream in computer science back then, started thinking about computers as something that could augment and expand the capacity of the human mind. At the same time, another Palo Alto group was researching LSD as a tool for augmenting and expanding the capacity of the human mind. And then, along came the whole anti-war, anti-establishment movement of the sixties and all these tendencies become increasingly tangled as a "people's" computing culture evolves in and around the San Francisco Bay Area.

    What the Dormouse Said is a marvelous read that gives names and faces to an interesting dynamic that helped give birth to the PC. The story is mostly localized in Palo Alto in Silicon Valley, and it's largely about how connections were made. In this sense, it's a story that is as much based on proximity in physical space and time, as it is a story about the evolution of the cultural ideas that might be associated with that word: "counterculture."

    Fred Turner's From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism digs more deeply into how the seeds of a certain view of how the world works (cybernetics) was planted into the emerging 60s counterculture largely through the person of Stewart Brand, and how that seed has succeeded — and how it has continued to exfoliate in new and unexpected ways. While Markoff's book blew the cultural lid off of a partly-suppressed truth — that computer culture was deeply rooted in psychedelic counterculture — Turner's book takes a broader sweep and raises difficult questions about the ideological assumptions that undergird our counterculturally-inflected technoculture. They're both wonderful reads, but Turner's book is both more difficult and ultimately more rewarding.

    What Turner does in From Counterculture to Cyberculture is trace an arc that starts with the very mainstream American interest in cybernetics (particularly within the military) and shows how that implicit interest in self-regulating systems leads directly into the hippie Bible, the "Whole Earth Catalog" and eventually brings forth a digital culture that distributes computing power to (many of) the people, and which takes on a sort-of mystical significance as an informational "global brain." And then, towards the book's conclusion, he raises some unpleasant memories, as Brand's digital countercultural elite engages in quasi-meaningful socio-political intercourse with Newt Gingrich's Progress and Freedom Foundation and other elements of the mid-90s "Republican Revolution."

    While I welcome Turner's critical vision, I must say honestly that, although I was repulsed by the Gingrich alliance and by much of the corporate rhetoric that emerged, at least in part, out of Brand's digital elitist clan — I think Brand's tactics were essentially correct. Turner implies that valuable social change is more likely to happen through political activism than through the invention and distribution of tools and through the whole systems approach that is implicit in that activity. But I think that the internet has — palpably — been much more successful in changing lives than 40 years of left oppositional activism has been. For one example out of thousands, the only reason the means of communication that shapes our cultural and political zeitgeist isn't COMPLETELY locked down by powerful media corporations is the work that these politically ambiguous freaks have accomplished over the past 40 years. In other words, oppositional activism would be even more occult — more hidden from view — today if not for networks built by hippie types who were not averse to working with DARPA and with big corporations. The world is a complex place.

    In some ways, Turner's critique of cyber-counterculture is similar to Thomas Frank's criticism of urban hipster counterculture in his influential book, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism. It, in essence, portrays hipsterism as a phenomenon easily transformed into a titillating, attractive, libertine whore for big business. Frank argues that American businesses felt stultified by the conformism of the American 50s and needed a more expansive, experimental, individualistic consumer base that would be motivated by the frequent changes in what's hip and who would desire a wider variety of products. So the hippie culture, despite its implied critique of consumerism that they inherited from the beats, actually energized consumer capitalism and, through advertising and mainstream media, the business world amplified the rebellious message of sixties youth counterculture, encouraging consumers to "join the Dodge rebellion" and "live for today."

    These books by Frank and Turner raise interesting questions and challenge most folks' usual assumptions about the counterculture. But one of the interesting questions that might be raised in response to these critiques is, "So what?" In my own book, Counterculture Through the Ages: From Abraham to Acid House (with Dan Joy), on counterculture as a sort of perennial historical phenomenon, I identify counterculturalism with the continual emergence of individuals and groups who transgress some of the taboos of a particular tribe or religion or era in a way that pushes back boundaries around thoughts and behaviors in ways that lead to greater creativity, greater enjoyment of life, freedom of thought, spiritual heterodoxy, sexual liberties, and so forth. In this context, one might ask if counterculture should necessarily be judged by whether it effectively opposes capitalism or capitalism's excesses. Perhaps, but complex arguments can be made either way, or more to the point, NEITHER way, since any countercultural resistance is unlikely to follow a straight line — it is unlikely to reliably line up on one side or another.

    These reflections may not be directly related to one of Turner's concerns: that an elite group of white guys have decided how to change the world. On the other hand, one might also ask how much direct influence the last decade's digerati still has. The "ruling class" in the digital era is an ever-shifting target; all those kids using Google, YouTube, the social networks, etc., don't know John Brockman from John Barlow, but a good handful of them certainly know Ze Frank from Amanda Congdon. Meanwhile, the corporate digital powers seem to be pleased to have an ally in the new Democratic Speaker of the House. And that may be the coolest thing about the world that Stewart Brand and his cohorts have helped to inspire. In the 21st Century, the more things change, the more things change.

    I interviewed Fred Turner recently on NeoFiles...
    To listen to the full interview in MP3, click here.

    RU SIRIUS: Would you comment on the differences between your book and John Markoff's 2005 book, What the Dormouse Said?

    FRED TURNER: The books have different ambitions. John's book focuses heavily on the late 60s and early 70s and lays out a series of relatively anecdotal connections between the social world of computers around Doug Engelbart's lab and around Menlo Park and the social worlds that Stewart Brand was a part of. It's a neat, fun story.

    I think my book is substantially more ambitious in its size and its scope. It starts in the 1940s and extends all the way until the 1990s, and it makes a different argument. For John, counterculture and LSD are essentially the same thing.

    That's not the case, in my view. I'm proudest of the way this book shows how a particular wing of the counterculture that Brand spoke to grew very directly out of cold war and World War II research culture. It was not entirely a counterculture. I think that's been a historical mistake that I hope the book clears up.

    Also, I think John would argue that the experience of taking LSD shaped the design of the personal computer. I think that's demonstrably false. On the contrary, the design of computing machinery and other kinds of information machinery in the 40s and 50s shaped what we thought minds were good for, and when LSD came on the scene it was read by some in terms that had already been set by 40s and 50s techno-culture, the same techno-culture that ultimately brought us computing machinery. And this counterculture, in my book, doesn't end in the '60s. It fades away and gets reborn in a way that is closely attached to the libertarian movements of the 1990s; movements that are arguably not countercultural at all. I think the book makes an effort to explain how and why that happened.

    RU: LSD in some sense was a tool for understanding the same things that cybernetic theorists were understanding, because both things are, in some sense, about pattern recognition. Thankfully you go into the influence of Norbert Werner's actual work on cybernetics on Stewart Brand, since "cyber" is a much abused prefix.

    FT: Pattern recognition, in the 1940s and '50s, was very literally about saving the world. We tend to forget that, in the '40s and '50s; the arrival of the atom bomb and the experience of World War II made it absolutely imperative that we enhance our consciousness and literally extend our abilities to monitor the world so as to prevent nuclear war.

    If we could spot patterns of invasion, we could literally prevent ourselves from being destroyed. If you look at Brand's diaries in the late 50s, he's terribly afraid that the Soviet Union is going to invade and literally overrun Palo Alto. That fear was very powerful. And I think what he has wanted to do for 30-odd years now is save the world through making patterns very visible. That's a mission that grows very directly out of the cold war.

    Brand found cybernetics in a funny way. He was in the New York art world in the 1960s and he started hanging out with a group of artists called UsCo — the Us Company. This was the avant-garde in New York in the 60s — people around John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg — and all those guys were reading cybernetics. They were reading Norbert Wiener. So Brand picked him up as well. And, as far as I can tell, Brand was the person who brought cybernetics back to much of the Bay Area counterculture and very specifically to the pranksters.

    RU: Brand works his way through Wiener to Buckminster Fuller, another systems thinker.

    FT: Brand has had a series of very powerful intellectual inspirations. Fuller would be one, Kesey would be another. For Brand, Fuller was a model in two senses. He was a model of systems thinking, and he was also a model of an intellectual entrepreneur. Fuller moved from university to university, from setting to setting, knitting communities together. That's what Brand learned to do. He learned to do it partly by watching Fuller.

    RU: Fuller was, in a sense, one of the first cyber-Ronin, the wandering techno-entrepreneur type that is much touted later in the 1990s by people like John Brockman and "Wired" magazine.

    FT: Absolutely. I think of Fuller and Kesey and Brand as P.T. Barnums. They are people who can't ride a trick horse, can't ride an elephant, can't ride a trapeze. And yet they build the rings of the circus; they bring the performers in; and they learn the languages and the styles of the circus. And they speak the circus' meanings to the audience. Brand has very much been the voice of a series of very important circuses.

    RU: So, into the hippie era, Brand is part of the Merry Pranksters for a while; he does the "Whole Earth Catalog," but he's never really a hippie. And most hippies are not, generally, systems thinkers. "Hey man, spare change, I'm going to Woodstock" isn't systems thinking. Brand is very much off on his own distinctive trip. And yet there is this through-line that takes Brand from the avant-garde through the Trips festivals to Whole Earth and on to the Global Business Network and then on through the creation of "Wired." Can you describe what those memes or through-lines are?

    FT: There's a misapprehension that has plagued a lot of Americans, including a lot of historians, about the 60s counterculture. We tend to think of the counterculture as a set of anti-war protests; as drug use and partying. But we don't tend to differentiate between two groups that were very importantly differentiated in that time: the New Left, and the group that I've called the New Communalists. Brand speaks to the New Communalists. Though it's mostly forgotten now, between 1966 and 1973 there was the largest wave of communal activity in all of American history.

    Between 1966 and 1973, conservative estimates suggest that 10 million Americans were involved in communes. Brand speaks to that group by promoting the notion that small-scale technologies like LSD, stereos, books, Volkswagens; are tools for building new alternative communities.

    The New Left wanted to change the world by doing politics in order to change politics. They formed SDS (Students for a Democratic Society). They protested. Brand and his group turned his backs on all that. Brand said, what we need to do is go out and build these communities, and my job is to build a catalog of tools through which people can gain access to the technologies that they can build communities around. So the core idea that migrates from the 60s to the 90s is the idea that we can build small-scale technologies and communities of consciousness around those technologies. So we no longer need to do politics per se. That idea kicks in again in the 80s around the rise of the personal computer, the ultimate in small-scale technology. It gives us the idea of virtual community, a distributed community gathered around small-scale technologies. And it ultimately plays very directly into the beliefs of Newt Gingrich in the 1990s.

    RU: OK. You're jumping ahead to the collision of certain cyber-libertarians and the mid-90s Republican right. At the same time, you're sketching a line that leads to open source. Going back to Whole Earth, the idea was access to tools and tools for access. And in some sense Brand nailed the whole platform back then at the end of the sixties for everything that computer culture comes to stand for.

    FT: I think there's a confusion that is plaguing our understanding of the internet right now. We tend to think the internet's arrival changes everything. My own sense is that the internet arrived in a cultural context that had already begun to change things. And the cultural context substantially shapes how we use the internet, and what we use it for. That said; open source has roots both in the New Communalist wing — and to some extent, through Richard Stallman — very much in New Left activism. Wanting to change the regulation of copyright, for example, is a very New Left kind of thing.

    RU: I also think there's a punk influence in this whole thing that gets ignored. Stylistically, Brand couldn't be more different than the punk culture. But there's a direct and important link between Whole Earth and punk culture and that's DIY — Do It Yourself; start your own institutions, anybody can grab a tool and use it.

    FT: Very definitely. And Brand briefly embraced punk in his late-70s magazine, "Co-Evolution Quarterly." And got a lot of hate mail from his audience.

    RU: The new communalist movement failed pretty much entirely. The idea of leaving behind the urban and suburban settings and going off and starting your own world failed. Even in terms of ecological or environmental ideas, the hip idea now is urban density. The attitude about tools survived, but the idea of back-to-the-country was pretty much useless.

    FT: The idea of back-to-the-country didn't work. But I think something deeper didn't work, and it haunts us today, even as it underlies a lot of what we do. The notion that you can build a community around shared style is a deeply bohemian notion. It runs through all sorts of bohemian worlds. The notion that if you just get the right technology you can then build a unified community is a notion that drove a lot of the rural communal efforts. They thought by changing technological regimes; by going to 19th century technologies; by making their own butter; sewing their own clothes — they would be able to build a new kind of community. What they discovered was that if you don't do politics — explicitly, directly, through parties, through organizations — if you don't pay attention to and articulate what's going on with real material power, communities fail.

    So I argue that there's a fantasy that haunts the internet, and it's haunted it for at least a decade. And it's the idea that if we just get the tools right and communicate effectively, we will be able to be intimate with one another and build the kinds of communities that don't exist outside, in the rest of our lives. And I think that's a deep failure and a fantasy.

    RU: I agree with that to some extent, because I don't think it takes into account the effort of human beings like Stewart Brand and like the punks in creating a fecund culture before the internet came around. So that there were generations of people who grew up with the idea, "Yeah, I CAN do it myself. I don't have to wait for Eric Clapton or Timothy Leary to tell me what to do. I'm not just a consumer. I can do my own stuff." I have advocated the idea to a few people that this so-called Long Tail really wouldn't have happened nearly as quickly without the punk counterculture coming before it, creating the attitude that you didn't have to be a professional to have something to say. I generally get dismissed by tech people.

    FT: I think technologists and economists both tend to believe that it all revolves around barriers to entry — people have things they want to do, and if you just lower the barriers to doing them by changing the technology, those things become possible.

    RU: I think eventually that will happen. It happens a lot faster if you create a cultural environment for it.

    FT: You can see that just in the geographical distribution of the kinds of things we're talking about. There's a reason Silicon Valley is in California and not in Montana. Part of it's density, but part of it's also culture.

    RU: It's peculiar that ideas from something called "New Communalism", and that's all about group mind and shared tools, winds up being absorbed not only into the libertarian trip but also by elements of the Republican right.

    FT: And Newt Gingrich always rejected the drug culture. Just loathed it.

    RU: He once wrote that either drug use should be legalized or drug users should get the death penalty.

    FT: (sarcastic) Charming man. I didn't know that. He did loathe drug culture, but he embraced many of the ideals that were circulating in those worlds. Part of what we forget about the communalism of that period is that it wasn't entirely idealistic and selfless. People wanted to build communities around themselves. The art world that Brand was most invested in during the early 60s — the Us Company — had a sign above there door that said "Just Us." It's the idea of a collaborative collective elite. That works very well for people who want to be in charge of their own lives and in charge of sections of the world. One idea that travels through the thirty or forty years covered in the book, from the counterculture to the libertarianism of the 90s, is this idea that we can form collective elites together.

    RU: And that's fine if a group of thirty white guys get together and do a project that creates value in the world. But when that project says, "We're re-making the entire world," other people will stand up and say, "Hey wait a minute."

    FT: Right. And when it provides a kind of guiding logic for people on Wall Street or Republicans in Washington, that's when it really gets scary. When Kevin Kelly, who was a "Whole Earth Review" editor, writes "New Rules for the New Economy," that becomes the bible for the internet bubble, and for people who behave in an extraordinarily rapacious manner, in Washington and New York alike.

    RU: There are attractive aspects to this sort of anarcho-capitalism — "Throw out the rulebooks! Go with the flow!"

    FT: But there's another thing that haunts the anarcho-capitalist world, despite the parts that you and I might like. There's the notion that getting the right friends together is sufficient for politics.

    RU: And you also simply don't think about those who are excluded. But there's been a lot of movement in the direction towards distributing the tools and being concerned with those who have been excluded.

    FT: I think that the notion that distributing tools and granting access is sufficient for making social change is a deeply new communalist notion, but it doesn't work. Because there are cultural and social conditions, social capital, that you require to be successful.

    RU: We're into different types of politics that emerge from the sixties. And one type is oppositional and another is collaborationist. Stewart Brand is one counterculture person who mixes it up with corporations and the military right from the start. He shares info with the Pentagon and brings all kinds of people into these sort of think tank situations — people ranging from hippies and environmentalists to establishment types. And that distinction between his branch of counterculture and a broader, more militant counterculture is still reflected today in the differences between anti-corporate counterculturalists and the more compromised cyber-counterculture.

    I think that Brand is more sophisticated than the pure oppositionalists. But there is also much that is questionable about his approach. For instance, if you question the military policies of the US, then you maybe should question how much you want to help them.

    FT: One of the things that bubbled up in the new communalist movement and haunts a lot of techno-cultural work today is a shift in rhetoric from the language of politics to the language of science. So now we have the language of learning, the language of emergence, the language of self-organization. Brand and his cohorts — groups like the Global Business Network and the Santa Fe Institute — are creating a politically neutral language for gathering together potentially controversial kinds of networks. So suddenly, if I'm a player and I have anti-military leanings, and there's a general in the mix, I think to myself, "Well, he's part of our learning organization. We'll learn together." That substantially neutralizes any opportunity I might have to disagree with him.

    RU: One expression of this is the idea of Bionomics — economics modeled by biology. I have less objection to that idea than I have to its conclusions. I think the "and therefore" is premature. But the idea that our behaviors are deeply rooted in biology...

    FT: Biological models in the social sciences have a horrible history. We tend to forget social Darwinists called for, among other things, the eugenic erasure of people who weren't evolving properly. Bionomics' problem is a different one. I don't necessarily mind the migration of metaphors from biology to other fields, as long as they're recognized as metaphors. What I mind, specifically, in the case of Bionomics is the fusion of two metaphors, one scientific and one market-based.

    RU: But it isn't entirely a metaphor. We can't ignore biology.

    FT: Sure. There are things that work one way or another at the species level that can be shown through science and biology, and that's terrific. But with Bionomics — there's a habit of translating species-level learning, species-level principles, to much smaller social worlds and arguing that those are the principles that drive those worlds. And I think that's a nasty habit.

    RU: It's the habit of abstraction, which political radicals on the left do as well. In Brand's interactions with the corporate elite, how would you say he taught them to look at things?

    FT: That's the wrong way of putting it. Brand has a theory of power that comes out of cybernetics. It says, I can't instruct you to do anything. I can't do that hierarchically. What I can do is build a forum in which you're likely to bump into some kinds of folks, and then I can watch and see what bubbles out of that forum. And I can speak it. Brand gathers people around certain questions and selects the site for activity and he sees what happens.

    RU: He established a connection with Kevin Kelly at "Co-Evolution Quarterly." And that sort of becomes a partnership that runs through their participation in "Wired" and on through the Long Now Foundation.

    FT: Very much so. Kevin Kelly has his own sensibility, it's very much a kind of Whole Earth communalist sensibility, but filtered through a born-again mind. It's very important to remember that Kevin Kelly is an evangelically religious man, and there's a kind of Messianism in his work.

    RU: Wired publisher Louis Rossetto seems like the more messianic one.

    FT: I'm speculating here, but I think that's more a matter of temperament.

    RU: Let's close out with some thoughts on how this river runs from cybernetics through to Wired magazine.

    FT: I think "Wired" is a magazine in which small-scale technologies — digital technologies in that case — are thought to be changing the world by allowing us to finally communicate with one another, and to build communities of consciousness. And those communities of consciousness are going to change the world. That is an idea that emerges first in the research worlds of World War II, and the cold war, gets picked up and culturally legitimated by Stewart Brand by the "Whole Earth" crew in the 1960s and travels with them into the 1980s, onto The Well, into the Global Business Network, onto the pages of Wired, and ultimately into our public life today.

    See Also:
    Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks
    Google Heard Me, Now What?
    iPhone Debate: I'm a Mac vs. Bill Gates
    How the iPod Changes Culture

    Sorry ‘Bout That, Nick!

    We like Nick Douglas. A lot. He's funny, playful, unafraid to say crazy shit. So we naturally stayed as up-to-date as we could with the situation surrounding his departure from Valleywag. Little did we know the role we played in his exodus.

    Today, a leaked internal email surfaced on the New York Times' Dealbook blog. It's from Gawker executive Lockhart Steele to Gawker staff, and here it is:
    We let Nick Douglas go from Valleywag yesterday.

    As you know, we don't make moves like this lightly, so let me explain our thinking, and the lessons from it.

    Gawker sites are designed to be written from an outsider perspective. That's one reason we're game to hire writers like Nick Douglas, who came to San Francisco last January straight from college as a near-total outsider to the web scene. But anytime a writer settles in too closely with the subjects he/she's writing about, there comes the inevitable tradeoffs: favor trading, and an elevated sense of one's own importance to the field at hand. Both, to some degree, ended up being the case here.

    We were also concerned by Nick's repeated misunderstanding of the purpose of our sites. Here's a quote from a recent interview with him, after we'd asked him to lay off the press interviews:

    We haven't gotten a serious legal threat so far. Well, a couple of minor ones, but we're still waiting for a good solid cease-and-desist and a good lawsuit. We're really trying to get News Corp. to sue us.
    They tried to stop the publication of some article [ed: originally intended for publication by someone else] calling MySpace a spam factory. And the author was revealing some of the background behind the company — that it wasn't really started by these two guys in their basement. And, since News Corp went to such lengths to stop the original publisher from publishing the article, we were hoping that if I actually published it on Valleywag, we could finally get sued. (Sighs) It didn't happen yet. I'm really disappointed about that. alleywag-nick-douglas/

    We don't report stories to "finally get sued." We report stories because we think they deserve to be out there. Whatever follows from them is whatever follows from them. Sarcasm or not, it's quotes like these that could make us look really foolish — or worse — down the road.

    I don't want any of these problems to be misinterpreted as one-strike-and-out situations. These are issues that we repeatedly spoke to and warned Nick about. It finally reached a break-point where changing editors was the only solution. That said, I'll miss working with Nick — he was a hellishly funny writer, and I don't doubt he'll go on from this to grander things in the Valley.

    Beginning today, Valleywag's editor is someone we've worked with before — Nick Denton. Nick's been in San Francisco for the past week, and will stay out there until a new full-time Valleywag is installed. His intro post, reflecting on Valleywag past and future, is here: e-candidate-2-214343.php

    Let me know if you have more questions about this — happy to discuss.


    It's all a little confusing because, in his audio interview with RU Sirius, Destiny and myself, Mr. Douglas indicated that he was working on new projects, though he declined to say what they were. But since the announcement of his departure from Valleywag, we didn't really believe the speculations that he'd been fired. And never in a million years would we have thought he was, at least in part, fired because of what he said to us.

    For what it's worth, consider this a public apology to Nick Douglas. But, maybe it's not something Nick regrets.

    Based on the content of the above email, I'd say Gawker made a mistake. A big mistake.

    What do you think? Comment here.

    Update (11/30/06): Nick has been hired by the Huffington Post to do "real journalism" for it's Eat the Press section. Good luck in your relationship with the (inverted) inverted pyramid, Nick.

    See also:
    Where in the World is Nick Douglas?
    Interview With Valleywag Nick Douglas

    Where in the World is Nick Douglas?

    Hours after the upheaval at Valleywag, recently-released blogger Nick Douglas issues his first comment. In fact, in an effort to learn the truth, we talked to all the players — Nick Denton, Nick Douglas, Rocketboom's Andrew Baron and Amanda Congdon, and even Dave Winer.

    Nick Douglas by Thomas Hawk

    Our story so far: Gawker hired Pennsylvania college student Nick Douglas in February to pen sexy gossip about Silicon Valley — until Monday, when Gawker's publisher Nick Denton took over the writing duties himself. Monday night blogger Douglas made a surprise appearance in the comments of that thread — but only to heckle commenter (and blog publisher) Jason Calacanis.
    JasonCalacanis: Someone tell little Nicky that I have a job for him running all Denton all the time.

    NickDouglas: Jason, calling me "little Nicky" is an AWESOME way to make me consider a professional relationship with you.

    Was Douglas still considering new professional relationships? With snark flying in all directions, and the gossip columnist suddenly gossip fodder, we decided to track Nick down ourselves.


    Let's start with where he's not. "I'll be 'on tour' until January 2, 2007," his cellphone told callers Monday, and — in case you're missing the hint — the voicemail message adds, "I'll be returning to the U.S. on January 2." But just last week he was spotted at a San Francisco Web 2.0 conference, and his profile shows him attending a San Francisco party this Saturday.

    "I'm working on a project," he'd told us in an interview published 11 days ago. "There's a sort of video news thing that I'd love to do..."

    So theory #2 begins when Dave Winer posted a month ago that Douglas "was leaving Valleywag to do a web video show with one of the big video producers." We'd specifically asked Nick about the rumor.

    "First off, I'm surprised that — if Winer is still blogging — that anyone reads him," Nick replied saucily. "And secondly, I'm surprised that people believe him!" Nick responded to Winer's post by saying cryptically that "Rocketboom is hiring, and so there are always rumors about that," adding that, "I'm working on a project..."

    Ah-ha! Maybe Nick struck a deal with Rocketboom, the reputedly popular video blog. Monday we tracked down the site's creator Andrew Baron, and demanded that he spill the beans.

    "Are you kidding?" he answered dismissively. "He hates Rocketboom."

    Putting two and two together, we deduced that Nick may have struck a deal with former Rocketboom correspondent and producer Amanda Congdon. She recently left the popular video blog to create her own online video shows. So we located Amanda Congdon, who answered our query with an emphatic: no.

    "Nick and I aren't working together," she emailed 10 Zen Monkeys. "He has never approached me and I have never approached him."

    But in our earlier interview we'd learned significantly that Nick had at least reviewed the current online video offerings, and concluded, "There's not really a show out there yet for your average person who goes to Yahoo as their home page... The typical example is your mom, right, or the average guy on the street... There really needs to be one show that comes out that is like The Daily Show for the internet. I think if one show came out that was half as witty, and probably shorter — that would be good."

    At this point Nick added, "It has to be short because it's like watching porn... You're really only interested for quick blips," which de-railed our train of thought altogether. But it's worth pondering Nick's final words on the need for a short summary of online news.

    "If I did anything in video, it would probably be something short like that."

    One commenter on Valleywag hinted (without evidence) that Nick may have gotten a deal with Adam Curry's Podshow network....


    Enough is enough! We demanded Nick send us a comment — and sensing our frustration, he obligingly complied, although speaking in tantalizing gossip-columnist koans.
    My only on-record comments are:
    "I still like Nick Denton."
    "I'm wide open for job and gig offers."

    Sometimes the truth lies between the lines. But does this mean the blogger didn't leave the site because he'd already lined up a juicier gig? Our own network of sources tell us Gawker's publisher (Nick Denton) was already looking for a replacement writer last week.

    There was only one thing to do. We asked Denton for the other side of the story. Late Monday he mailed us a comment, offering his own tight-lipped perspective on the incident.

    "Valleywag was growing," he conceded. "But there's a bigger audience for tech news and gossip than we had tapped." But did he fire Nick? How was their relationship over those last months?

    "Not saying anything more about Nick Douglas," he huffed, adding: "I think he may move to Wired."

    Wired? Did Nick Douglas leave the Gawker media empire for Wired? At this point we realized there was an even bigger question. Was Nick Denton giving us firsthand information — or just repeating a rumor he read on someone else's site.

    No matter how much you think you know, there's someone who still knows more. We asked Dave Winer today how he'd known Douglas was leaving over a month in advance, but he wasn't telling. "No comment on how I knew," he wrote, "other than I had an anonymous (good) source who shall remain anonymous." But he did offer his last thoughts on Nick's tenure at Valleywag. "I think overall Douglas did a good job."

    Supporting sentiments echo from around the web. "I'm sure wherever Nick ends up next will have a similar rebellious feel," one blog commented, adding "i'm looking forward to signing up as a daily reader for the new gig, whatever it might be..."

    The positive sentiments were echoed by Valleywag contributor Paul Boutin. He confided to us that he feels Douglas "is exceptionally talented, has a bright future, and most important he's nowhere near as mean as he pretends to be on Valleywag." (Adding that he was sure Gawker publisher Nick Denton feels the same way.) Sensing that his words would be carefully scrutinized, Boutin hinted only that "I think the enterprising Mr Douglas needs to join an A-team where he can get some direct mentoring rather than working alone. Wired did that for me when I first started writing and it made all the difference."


    Meanwhile, Valleywag limps on. Over on the site, publisher Denton had mumbled the news Monday morning in a short blurb. ("Some changes, design, personnel, and mission... Nick Douglas, editor since launch earlier this year, is leaving. And we're going to change the mix of stories, slightly.") With only a few additional remarks in a longer hyperlinked entry, Denton found his announcement receiving negative reviews.

    "[Y]ou can do better than that," one reader complained in the comments, joining a mostly-negative chorus of 53 responses to the news. Another poster speculated that the Gawker publisher had been pushed to fire Douglas by a powerful Silicon Valley company like Google or Yahoo. And others simply carped about Denton's new look for the site. ("With all due respect, I am unthrilled with the new design." "IBM just called from 1955, they want their Courier font back.")

    Denton promised he'd address all the comments by Monday evening — but then failed to show up. "I guess that plan didn't work out," posted technology blogger Thomas Hawk, agreeing that Denton should roll back his unpopular new design and give a better reckoning of his plans for Valleywag. But by Tuesday morning Denton was back in the thread, acknowledging the design criticisms, but saying he'd leave the mystery of Douglas's fate as something for Douglas to address. Although he did offer one last piece of gossip. "I know he's already had a few job offers."

    Denton has already offered hints on the site's possibly-less-interesting new direction. "We're still going to break open secrets," he blustered in his Monday post. "However, I suspect we're going to tone down the personal coverage of civilians, because they haven't done anything to seek out attention, and their personal lives aren't that interesting. Unless they are." The site's new mantra for gossip?

    "More money, a little less sex."

    In Silicon Valley, personnel shuffles are just part of the territory. But after 9 months of dispensing trashy beat-downs to the tech industry's climbers and its falling stars, Nick finds himself at the center of a poignant irony. Even his targets seem to have recognized that it's all just part of the game.

    Despite Nick's nasty commentary about Rocketboom, their former correspondent Amanda Congdon couldn't end her email to us without adding one last thought.

    "I wish Nick the best."

    That was where the story ended — until suddenly Tuesday afternoon, when Nick re-appeared on Valleywag like a Silicon Valley ghost.

    Saying everything, saying nothing, he performed the traditional Gawker good-bye dance. "I don't have anything to get across, other than that I'm free for lunch and gig offers for the next few weeks..."

    A gracious round of thank you's to his readers and tipsters ended with one last wisecrack.

    "I guess what I really mean to say is — I prefer Italian, maybe a little sushi, and if you want any gossip about Nick Denton you'll have to pony up for some wine."

    See Also:
    Sorry 'Bout That, Nick!
    Interview with Valleywag Nick Douglas

    Mondology Volume 1 Free Audio Download

    Over the past 18 or so months, The RU Sirius Show and MondoGlobo Network have been sharing audio evidence of the sometimes illuminating dementia that possesses your humble host (me); my many frequent or occasional co-hosts; and our gracious and astonishing array of brilliant guests and musical contributors.

    With this Creative Commons collection, we've singled out some particularly fine, funny, poignant and rockin' moments from the RU Sirius Show. Some of these readings, mash-ups and tunes tap gently on your head; some tickle your funny bone; and some, we hope, will drill a hole right through your skull.

    I listened to the whole thing, through headphones, in one sitting, and I feel pretty confident that you will find that it conveys a terrible beauty; a hideous absurdity; a deflating irony; a sense of wonder; a confrontation with truth; a nefarious web of deception; and the profound certainty that there's... like... some kind of noise in your ear.

    And although I recommend that you too bite off the full Mondology experience in one gulp at some point, I also invite you to taste those morsels that appear the most appetizing. Like what you hear? Cool. Then, pass them around. Share them with the other kids in the playground. It's OK. Just don't tell the Principal.

    Election Fallout: 24 Hours Later

    The drunken celebrations are over, with startled Democrats realizing that they've finally won. Now it's time to cast woozy eyes on the shimmering future ahead and the crazy campaign behind.

    But a cautionary tale for celebrating Democrats: One Democrat got so happy that his night of celebrating "ended with pepper spray and handcuffs." The son of Florida Senator Bill Nelson was "involved" in a fight with 20 other people just before 3 in the morning in Orlando, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Using code words like "slurring his words," "poor balance," and "a strong smell of alcohol," the police report describes the apparently-drunk 30-year-old telling police officers, "No — you need to leave!"

    "In the moments that followed, the police officer grabbed one of Bill Jr.'s arms and forced him onto the sidewalk in what's commonly called a 'face plant,'" the paper reports.


    This cycle saw Americans elect their first Muslim Congressman, and a bunch of openly gay people. Nancy Pelosi becomes the first female speaker of the House, prompting blogger Bob Harris to dream, "Someday, we may even elect a gay Muslim black woman to something. I want to see this, just to watch Sean Hannity's forehead burst open and his demons scatter across the floor." (He then locates a female college student in Indiana who is black, Muslim, and bi-sexual.)

    Amazingly, scandal-plagued Congressman Mark Foley still came within 1 point of his opponent — even though he'd already resigned. Foley's votes were conferred on the replacement candidate, Joe Negron — a Republican who had not been caught instant messaging under-aged male pages during House votes.

    And remember Mark Reynolds' notorious press conference on the Foley scandal, when he surrounded himself with children to embarrass reporters out of asking any PG-13 questions. Before the press uncovered Foley's antics, Reynolds had already received Foley's emails, discussed them with House Speaker Hastert, and even received suspicious campaign contributions from Foley himself. Tuesday he was re-elected.

    Then there's the case of Nevada governor candidate Jim Gibbons. Though he's tough on immigration, years ago he'd also hid an illegal immigrant maid in his basement. He was still elected Governor Tuesday — but an investigation is ongoing into allegations he attacked a cocktail waitress in a Vegas parking garage.

    "Arizona's gay marriage ban seems to have been rejected by the voters," wrote Glenn Reynolds, adding, "Good for them. Too bad it's the only place where that happened." Seven of the eight states passed bans on gay marriage — Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. And in the midwest, Michigan banned affirmative action.

    Californians voted on an initiative requiring sex offenders to wear a satellite tracking device for the rest of their lives. "This is one of the more cynical election-year moves we've seen in a while..." wrote a San Francisco alternative newspaper. "The GOP hoped that Democrats would oppose it and thus could be accused of being soft on the worst kind of criminals."

    It passed with over 70% of the vote. Unfortunately, according to The Washington Post this initiative didn't last more than a few hours before it was challenged by "an unidentified sex offender," who filed a lawsuit arguing it should only apply to future sex offenders.


    Where Republicans contacted 3 million voters, Democrats contacted 3.5 million, according to National Journal's Hotline — and Democrats also knocked on twice as many doors.

    But Howard Dean also credited blogs for winning at least two House seats with their financial and political support — and applauded their work in uncovering campaign dirty tricks.

    Or maybe when voters said they were tired of "corruption," it was just a conservative code word for Mark Foley. The AP gushed in alarm that in this election, "almost a third" of white evangelicals voted for Democrats. While it represents an increase, nearly 25% of white evangelicals have voted against the Republican in every election.

    Bitch-slapped by voters, some conservatives whined that their losses meant they just hadn't been conservative enough. But Firedoglake blogger Jane Hamsher didn't want to hear that from her own party. "...this 'triumph of the centrists' meme is a Rahm Emanuel spittle-soaked fantasy. The country ran from conservatives like a bad case of crotch lice and no amount of PR spin can re-write that."

    The author of Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South, predicted this election would be the start of a new era. "The regional realignment over the past 40 years, which slowly converted Dixiecrats into Republicans, has now entered its final stage, as voters north of the Mason-Dixon line and west of the Mississippi provide a countervailing response to the southern-led Republican majority. Rust Belt Republicans will be replaced by progressive Democrats... For the first time in 52 years, the party with a minority of House seats in the South will be the majority party chamberwide."

    One DailyKos diarist saw this as a new era after a hundred-year war between liberalism and conservatism. "Like two heavy weight boxers stumbling into the 15th round of a championship fight, the two great ideologies of the 20th century stumble, exhausted, tattered and weakened, into a very dynamic and challenging 21st century..."


    "I have said it before and I will say it again: Impeachment is off the table," Nancy Pelosi announced at a news conference. Yet 75% of poll respondents chose "Start impeachment proceedings" in an unscientific online poll at the San Francisco Chronicle. RawStory even celebrated the Democrats victory by republishing Congressman Waxman's wishlist of Congressional investigations. Waxman heads the Government Reform Committee, and noted in 2004 that Congress has not fully investigated "the role of the White House in promoting misleading intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda." Other issues of concern to Waxman were detainee abuse, Cheney's role in contracts and energy regulations, and the outing of Valerie Plame.

    "That's what this election is all about," a Georgetown professor told USA Today. "Subpoena power."

    These giddy conversations lend new significance to old stories. Blogger Jonathan Schwarz pondered Donald Rumsfeld's departure with a passage from Bob Woodward's book. Vice President Cheney insisted that a Rumsfeld departure will be seen as hesitation. "It would give the war critics great heart and momentum, he confided to an aide, and soon they would be after him and then the president. He virtually insisted that Rumsfeld stay." And a British newspaper theorizes that the history of Rumsfeld's replacement, Robert Gates, means he's been selected to perform one clear mission. "Get American troops out of Iraq as quickly and cleanly as possible."

    Meanwhile, Firedoglake blogger Jane Hamsher noted Gates' ties to the Reagan administration's Iran-Contra scandal, writing "GOP zombies go home". And Wonkette linked to a vandalized Wikipedia entry in which Roberts Gates's history was summarized as simply: "a fag."

    Glenn Reynolds sees some good news for Republicans. "The economy is probably peaking, with record low unemployment, record high Dow averages, and low interest rates. If (when) things go downhill, there's somebody else to share the blame!" Rush Limbaugh actually said he'd been "carrying water" for people he didn't really believe in, and that he'd stop now. Feigning outrage, Stephen Colbert simply announced he was retiring.

    The next few weeks could be interesting. In October a nonpartisan polling firm speculated that "There is a realistic possibility that if the Democrats pick up at least five Senate seats on Election Night, several current Republican Senators could switch to the Democratic side of the aisle.... Arlen Specter is shunned by the GOP leadership and White House for his views on domestic surveillance while Olympia Snowe, John Warner and Chuck Hagel are shunned for their views on Iraq."

    Deep in the comments at TPM Cafe, someone whispered an interesting observation about 2008. "The Republicans have to defend 21 seats, the Democrats only 12. Considering likely retirements and state politics, I estimate at least 9 of the 'R' seats are contestable and only 2 of the Dems."

    It's a sign of how much things changed in the 24 hours since Tuesday. Though Democrats were virtually shut out of the legislative process over the last four years, in just two more years Democrats could move beyond a simple majority to one that couldn't even be filibustered.

    See Also:
    Here Comes the Judge's Porn
    War of the Candidate Music Videos
    Is It Legal Porn or Illegal Porn?
    5 Best Videos: Animals Attacking Reporters

    Crook’s Internet Club

    The Internet's most hated figure, Michael Crook, who is on the verge of being legally humiliated in court thanks to griefer dumbfuckery using nefarious websites, belonged to the Internet Club in high school, where he trained students "on how to use the Internet properly."

    It makes one wonder what the curriculum must have consisted of... Who could've known, back in the year of 1997, to what heights Mr. Crook's life would lead? Somehow, a modest start showing newbies the basics of internet technology allowed him to, less than 10 years later, rise to the position he holds now: President and CEO of Michael Crook Internet Properties!


    In the last five days millions of web surfers have learned the legend of Michael Crook — his story, his image, and his attempts to squelch it by abusing a badly-written copyright law.

    Crook objects to the use of a goofy picture taken from his 2005 appearance on the Fox News network. But Xeni Jardin, a BoingBoing writer, posted that she's since contacted a producer at Fox News, saying they'd "laughed, asked why Crook was claiming rights to an image that Fox produced, then said Fox had no problem with BoingBoing or anyone else posting the thumbnail image online."

    It's becoming a giant parable — showing people online how easily copyright law can be mis-used. But in a new twist, they're responding, rising up in an an impromptu celebration of free speech. TailRank CEO Kevin Burton re-published the photo, urging Michael Crook: "Please send me a fake DMCA takedown notice... I'm going to auction it off on eBay and give the proceeds to the EFF!" Fellow griefer Tucker Max also republished Crook's photo, writing that he was calling Crook's bluff and adding "Fair warning: I OWNED the last lazy-eyed douche to come at me." (A debate has apparently been scheduled between the two for Wednesday at 3pm Eastern time.)

    The writers at TechnOccult not only re-published the photo on their blog and MySpace page — they urged others to do so as well, even including the necessary HTML text. "By standing up to intimidation and spreading the word about this case," they wrote, "you can help the fight for free speech online." And soon the image was appearing on blogs around the world. Pranksters at even started a contest, photoshopping Crook's picture into new satirical settings, showing him assassinating President Lincoln, tormenting William Shatner, and appearing as the photograph on a box containing a douche.


    Also republishing Crook's photo was the original CraigsList sex pranker, Jason Fortuny, who also dared Crook to send him a DMCA notice. ("Operators are standing by.") Ironically, Crook first gained the attention of 10 Zen Monkeys after mimicking Fortuny's Craig's list experiment of republishing the responses he received to a fake ad pretending to be a woman seeking casual sex. Now the two men are apparently locked in a weird online rivalry. Friday Fortuny went to the trouble of adding a new entry to his official blog scrolling 20 copies of Crook's photo, along with more abusive commentary. ("This is Michael Crook. He has AWESOME hair. In his spare time, he likes to DMCA websites.") How did Fortuny handle the DMCA notices he received? "I send the counter notification to my webhost, who then notifies your attorney, and your attorney notifies you and follows up with something like 'this will cost thousands of dollars to follow through.' And then you swallow, and smack your forehead, and you don't respond within the alloted 14 day period specified in the counter notification and my shit goes back up...Thanks for playing. All contestants on the RFJason Show get 'The Craigslist Experiment' home game and free turtlewax."


    Crook joined the online conversation, and Friday even created a new domain - Lambasting "the almighty Electronic Freedom Frontier," he decries the group's lawsuit as malicious prosecution — then 15 words later writes "I will go broke ensuring [Jeff Diehl] incurs eternal financial misery for going after me."

    Crook says the action against him will "expose arrogant hippies such as the EFF and Jeff Diehl" — not as defenders of free speech, but as "arrogant abusers of the legal system." Apparently confused by the word "frontier," Crook free associates that the group is "renegades who feel the Internet is the Wild West, and that they can do whatever they wish." Jeff Diehl and the EFF are "hippies," he writes again, but thwarted by the DMCA, they cannot "rule the internet."

    "All of this fuss could have been avoided," he writes wishfully, "had they simply shut up, asked no questions, adn [sic] complied with the law." Calling the DMCA a "wonderful law," Crook argues that the EFF suit "is about publicity and pity-whoring..." (Although his own official statement on the matter includes contact information for any media outlets seeking to interview him.) In fact, later his position on attention-seeking becomes more clear. "It's unfortunate that their true movitation is intimidation, publicity, and pity-whoring" he writes — above four Google AdSense ads.

    To draw more traffic from search engines, Crook augmented his anti-EFF page with over a dozen different hidden keywords in its HTML code, including "hippie lawyers," "jackasses," and "whiners."

    And he's also helpfully includes a banner ad where you can download Firefox. At the bottom of his web page he's posted that it's copyrighted to "Michael Crook Internet Properties" — so don't get any funny ideas. Although ironically, all four of his AdSense ads are recommending attorneys. ("We Fight For and Defend Your Rights! Call 24/7....")


    As Crook voiced his opinions about image control, the online world apparently decided to join the discussion. Saturday someone sent Michael Crook's dorky high school yearbook photos to 10 Zen Monkeys in a show of support, saying they'd gone to the same school as Crook and remembering that "he was always kind of a spaz." (In the yearbook's section for a quote or favorite memory, Crook offered "I'm the great Cornhuho!")

    It's just one of many responses to the original article. "Been there, done that," wrote a director from Black Box Voting, adding he "beat Diebold Election Systems Inc. when they were going nuts trying to DMCA-slam websites."

    Another commenter challenged Crook's argument that his presence in the photo grants him a copyright, saying it raises an interesting question "about the photos he published of men who had answered his CraigsList ad. (Who would presumably then enjoy the same copyrights.)"


    It's an exciting moment, as the tubes of the internet fill up with dozens of conversations, all about the same topic: a flaw in online copyright law.

    A law student at New York Law School writes that the legislation "promotes a 'shoot first, ask questions later' response from ISPs," but notes that the counter-notification policy also creates a "game of chicken" situation in which "the ISP is only obligated to listen to the last party to speak on the issue." He identifies the problem as the default assumption that a copyright infringement is taking place. "If an ISP were to contact users of DMCA takedown notices before removing the material, this assumption isn't that strong, but most ISPs don't behave this way... once the ISP gets a takedown notice of any sort it will usually just pull the material down and let the user know in due course." And even if a counter-notification is filed, the ISP still observes a 10-day period of time where the contested material remains offline.

    Technology writer Thomas Hawk writes "I think it's abusive to use the DMCA, a law that was meant to be used for copyright owners to have their copyrighted material taken off the internet, abused and used as a tool of censorship." And Plagiarism Today links to an academic study from earlier this year offering statistics showing the DMCA being mis-applied. The study shows 30% of the DMCA takedown notices being marred by obvious issues like fair use or the targeting of material which couldn't be copyrighted. Nine percent are incomplete. And apparently over half the notices sent to Google were targeting competitors, with over a third targeting sites which weren't even in the U.S. Thursday Plagiarism Today observed that "The problems with Crook's DMCA notices are so numerous that it is hard to know where to begin." Calling the mistakes "a sign of extreme recklessness, or malice," they argue that Crook holds no claim to the image's copyright, and points out the existence of a well-known exemption for the "fair use" of copyrighted materials.

    "In the end," they add, "it appears that Crook has done the most damage to himself. The photograph he sought to bury is now plastered all over the Web, his name is now eternally connected with this matter and, perhaps worst of all, he's on the wrong end of an EFF lawsuit."


    Crook has started using new wording in the DMCA notices he's been sending, now claiming he enjoys a "jurisdiction" over the photo, simply because he appears in it. Significantly, in the earlier notice which first caught the EFF's attention, Crook had written: "I swear, under penalty of perjury...that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive copyright..." Crook now swears only that he is the copyright owner "in that the image, though belonging to another source, is of me, thereby giving me certain copyright rights...."

    "Feel that?" one BoingBoing reader responded. "It's as though millions of photojournalists suddenly began laughing hysterically at once..."

    A new fight has also erupted over the video footage where Crook's image originated. Thursday TailRank's Kevin Burton was surprised that YouTube had removed a movie showing Crook's disastrous appearance on Fox News. Burton contacted a friend at YouTube who apparently restored the footage — but by Saturday night had removed the video again, displaying its standard red-box warning. ("This video has been removed at the request of copyright owner Michael Crook because its content was used without permission.")

    But the post-Google era may ultimately bring a new willingness to challenge any perceived mis-handling of copyright claims. Burton simply linked to another copy of the footage he'd found elsewhere online — and hosted another copy himself.

    Update: Tucker Max de-constructs Crook

    See also:
    In the Company of Jerkoffs
    EFF vs. Crook

    Great Moments in the War Against DMCA

    The Digital Millennium Copyright Act has inspired a whole helluva lot of abuse in its short tenure. But it's also inspired playful reactions meant to instruct, annoy and protest. Let's review...

    In 1999, a 16-year-old in Norway had helped outwit the encryption on DVDs — but then a judge ruled his program violated the DMCA. DVD encryption wasn't particularly strong to begin with — according to Wikipedia hundreds of equivalent programs were created to do the same thing. (And in fact,the encryption's weird licensing scheme kept DVD-playing out of the reach of Linux users altogether.) But even worse, the judge ruled that the DMCA even prohibited linking to sites with the program.

    But could movie-industry goons eliminate every copy? Not if "Mr. Bad" had anything to say about it. The online activist created an innocuous piece of decoy software using the same name as the original program — then urged netizens to scatter them across the internet. "I figure if we waste just FIVE MINUTES of some DVD-CCA Web flunkey's time...we've done some small service for The Cause."

    "And a brief note for said Web flunkey: d00d, what are you DOING?" he added. "Send me email, and I'll personally help you to find a better job, with better pay, and WAY better karma."

    Mr. Bad's prank successfully baited the MPAA into issuing a legal notice against a high school student's innocuous web page (which argued that Austin Powers was "quite possibly one of the greatest movies ever to be made.") And six years later, there's still dozens of web sites sporting badges supporting his crusade.

    It's a general rule that if you tell a geek he can't say something, he'll make a point of saying it. In fact, geeks gleefully announced a "DVD Source Code Distribution Contest" searching for the most creative way of circumventing the restriction. One entrant copied the code to a CD, and then tied it to balloons launched randomly over Los Angeles, while several other protesters concealed it in tiny image files. (One even used an image of MPAA president Jack Valenti.

    But a Carnegie-Mellon professor's web page still houses an online gallery preserving the most creative examples, showing the code hidden in everything from an audio tape file for a Commodore 64 to a screenshot of the game Minesweeper. (Or at least, an open source clone.) One activist group even printed it on t-shirts.

    Joe Wecker may have found the most artistic outlet for his protest. He worked a chunk of the code into a 7-minute acoustic folk song — then uploaded it to

    In 2002, when Google received a DMCA notice from the Church of Scientology, all hell broke loose. Scientologists had been channeling a very negative legal energy towards an anti-Scientology web site publishing criticism (and some of the group's written materials). But Google got drawn into the scuffle because its search results provided links to the site. Of course, free speech enthusiasts saw this as a classic geeks versus freaks confrontation.

    In Round 1, much of the site disappeared from Google search results. But in Round 2, Google restored the site's main page to its search results. Round 3: outraged netizens linked to the troubled site, in a successful campaign to boost its Google page rank.

    Now, four years later, the site has become Google's #1 search result for the sacred Scientology word, "Xenu," and even the #2 result for the word "Scientology." (Google's excerpt reads: "The Church of Scientology is a cult that destroys people, so it needs to be exposed...") On the site itself, curious web surfers will find an anti-Scientology information packet, and even a link to the South Park episode about Scientology.

    I feel like I should say something sweeping here about the human spirit. I started writing a paragraph with five-dollar words like "future" and "passion" and "influence" and "civic debate." But maybe I should just leave it as a hypothetical question. There's nearly a billion people online; is there also a collective gut-level instinct about the "rightness" or "wrongness" of information sharing? Share your info in the comments.

    See also:
    The Great Wired Drug Non-Cotroversy
    10 Zen Monkeys and EFF vs. Michael Crook and DMCA
    Tucker Max deconstructs Crook

    Interview With Valleywag Nick Douglas

    Nick Douglas knows everyone — and he knows their secret quirks, too, thanks to the juicy tips readers send for his Silicon Valley gossip blog, Valleywag. So when faced with the disarming premise that we were recording a podcast, Nick opened up his vault, spilling the goods on Oracle's Larry Ellison, Google's Marissa Mayer, and all manner of California reporters, geeks, and venture capitalists.

    We got Ze Frank, the future of the internets, and the egos behind the Gawker empire out of the way, and then Nick shared his secret party-crashing strategy (and Kevin Burton's secret dating strategy). He finished us off with some psychoanalysis of Cory Doctorow.

    (Coincidentally, Mr. Douglas also talked about his desire, and failure, to get sued. We would have referred him to Michael Crook, but for legal reasons, we couldn't talk about the pending case then.)
    To listen to the full interview in MP3 click here.

    RU SIRIUS: So Valleywag is sort of thought of as the first gossip site for tech culture. Did any earlier sites inspire you?

    NICK DOUGLAS: Well, before Valleywag I was working on a site called Blogebrity, kind of making fun of a lot of big time bloggers including Gawker. And that's the best way to get a job at Gawker. Continue making fun of them, start writing about the personal lives of some of the editors — and then they hire you up to make it safe.

    RU: So I've got to find some really good dirt on Nick Denton? The nastiest stuff I can come up with?

    ND: The current managing editor of Gawker got his start because he was writing about Gawker. I think there are at least three people who have been hired into the company just because they were writing about it so much. It's a brilliant hiring strategy, really.

    RU: Does he have a nasty lifestyle that's easy to get underneath?

    ND: Denton? Geez, I doubt it. He probably has some secret lifestyle that he pretends he wants no one to know. That's how Denton works and how all of Gawker works.

    JEFF DIEHL: He cultivates it just for it to be discovered?

    ND: Exactly, for it to be some day discovered. To the secret delight of everyone involved.

    JD: Now, once you sign on with Gawker, do you have to sign some big long form that says you'll never criticize them again?

    ND: Oh yeah. I'm not supposed to talk about his secret days in Turkey and what he does at the Turkish baths.

    DESTINY: What form does that first contact take? Nick Denton comes to you and he says "Hey! I've been reading your blog, and you're talking about me!"

    ND: Well, I first was IM-ing him, just bugging him, asking him for stories. And then he would... you'll notice there's some series of entries where I've "found" and "discovered" things about some of Denton's competitors on Blogebrity — and who knows who had tipped me off to those, but l just happened to be talking to Denton around that time! It's just a fun way to work — a wholly illegitimate way!

    D: And then, at what point does he say, "Hey, I like your style, kid. Come work for me."

    ND: That was over IM too. That was kind of weird, because he pulled me out of college. I have not graduated and don't really intend to, because I think it's more fun to have one affected failure in life instead of all the unintentional failures — to have one that I knew I was going to fail at.

    RU: So if, implicitly, Nick Denton was giving you all these you must be getting all kinds of tips to slag other companies from various sources.

    ND: Oh, yeah, totally. There's no one better for gossip than a competitor...That's the thing about Gawker bloggers. We don't really have to write anything. We steal people's jokes! Jessica Cohen, who writes the New York blog, Gawker, said a couple years back that readers love it when she steals one of their jokes when they submit something. They're like "Oh! It's my joke, and it's on a big site!" And she's honest about it. She tells everyone, "Yeah, I'm robbing all the readers' jokes." It's just a chance for everyone to write something. There's just got to be one person sitting in their underwear all day at a computer. That's really my role. I'm just the guy who sits there and lets everything filter in. It's like being a code monkey, but without the computer science degree.

    RU: Any influence from ancient sites like Suck?

    ND: Um, well, the embarrassing thing is I think I was in grade school when that was coming out. That's my biggest problem. I have to go back and read all the people who did this better back when there was more going on. I'm still reading stuff like "Fucked Company," the little book by Phillip Kaplan.

    RU: Right. So you're catching up on ancient history?

    ND: Yeah, looking at numbers and thinking "No way!" The YouTube sale for a billion-and-a-half dollars is nothing compared to some of the stuff that went on — and I didn't realize some of that going in. is one of the great ones to read from back then...I like seeing how many names came up about ten years ago and are coming up again. Like reading about John Battelle and saying, "Oh! He was hot shit in the 90s too. Really? And that didn't really pan out?! Oh!" So it's great to see that he's going again. It's quite inspirational, really. Like, if I screw up, this will happen again in ten years. This is great!

    RU: We all get to be revenants! I've done it many times myself.

    D: So do you have any predictions on what's going to happen in the future? Looking back on ten years, what do you see looking forward ten years.

    ND: I tried making predictions a few months ago, and they're really good at not working out. So no, I have no idea. I'd love to see it get to a huge amount of money again, because I've got ideas, I've got lots of startups I would love to start. The sad state of affairs is that even now, I could probably walk out, go to three little gatherings of startups this week, pitch an idea, and get a million dollars. I'm pretty sure I could do that. And that's pathetic. That's awful. But it's awesome!

    D: Aren't you tempted?

    ND: Oh, I'm really tempted.

    D: Why don't you do that?

    ND: Because eventually, you know, they want more money back. And I have ideas; I just don't have ideas that are actually going to make ten million dollars out of the one million. I have ideas on spending the one million.

    D: Well, there's a word for that. "Exit strategy."

    RU: You need to be more ambitious in terms of wasting money. You need the late-90s level of ambition.

    ND: That's true. I shouldn't think about wasting one million. I should think about wasting ten million.

    RU: I mentioned in the introduction to the show that, way back when I was doing Mondo 2000 in the early 90s, we'd thought about doing a snarky sort of tech culture gossip column. And one of the things that entered into our conversation was the fact that people in that business are incredibly fucking thin-skinned. Much more so than rock stars or actresses and all that.

    ND: Oh yeah. I agree.

    RU: So what levels of outrage or prickliness have you run into?

    ND: It's usually just really uncomfortable conversations at parties. I'm learning that it's a great art — defusing conversations. I never had that skill before. I was too passive-aggressive to actually have someone confront me at a party. But now I'm able to at least make someone like me for a half hour. And that's all I really need.

    We haven't gotten a serious legal threat so far. Well, a couple of minor ones, but we're still waiting for a good solid cease-and-desist and a good lawsuit. We're really trying to get News Corp to sue us. They tried to stop the publication of some article [ed: originally intended for publication by someone else] calling MySpace a spam factory. And the author was revealing some of the background behind the company — that it wasn't really started by these two guys in their basement. And, since News Corp went to such lengths to stop the original publisher from publishing the article, we were hoping that if I actually published it on Valleywag, we could finally get sued. (Sighs) It didn't happen yet. I'm really disappointed about that.

    D: So what's your next move? How are you going to bait someone into suing?

    ND: Well, the problem is getting sued but also having enough of a case.

    RU: You have to know it's one you can win

    ND: Like I can't just run out and say, "Larry and Serge are gay lovers! We have photos!!!" And we don't, actually...

    JD: Oh, we'll be taking that out of context.

    RU: In terms of covering all this nastiness in the tech world, is there anybody that you've really come to despise?

    ND: Despise? No. Have a sick obsession with? Yes. It's weird that all the Gawker blogs end up obsessing on someone. We almost make a selling point out of it. We make banner ads flashing out our obsessions. Defamer is unhealthily obsessed with Lindsay Lohan, Gawker is unhealthily obsessed with any number of magazines magnates. For me, Marissa Mayer, this VP from Google — I cannot get over how bizarre she is, and how bizarre the story she presents to the press is. She says things like, "I'll sit down and I'll do my email for about 14 hours in one spell!" Who does that?

    RU: Has anybody seen her in person?

    ND: I've seen her. She ran away from me at a party. I tried to say hi. I was nervous as hell. We keep running articles on Valleywag... "This is not a real person. She has to be a cyborg. We're pretty sure, she's either a cyborg, or a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica. I'm pretty sure that she's number six."

    I think I actually show up in the first 10 search results for Marissa Mayer. And so that's great. I can say, "Oh, I can fuck with you, from your Google results!" It seems like a nasty thing to do to someone...

    D: I'm in your house, printing your gossip.

    ND: Exactly. But since I'm not condemning her — I don't really condemn Marissa, I'm just fascinated with the bizarre lies she's telling to the press.

    RU:Well, other than the fact that she emails 14 hours a day, what else is odd about her?

    ND: She claims she holds about 70 meetings a week, which I think boils down to — what, 14 meetings a day?

    RU: For a total change of subject, tell our audience who Kevin Burton is, and what he wants. What does he wish for?

    ND: Oh, gosh. See, now this came up last week, when I was on vacation. But Rick Abruzzo, who edited Valleywag that week, found some Craig's List ad that seems to be by this local entrepreneur, Kevin Burton. And he was looking for someone with dark hair who likes anime and Zen...

    RU: Hey! I have dark hair and I like anime and Zen!

    ND: Exactly! It basically looked like someone very awkwardly trying to say they wanted an Asian, but in such a stereotyped way that he would never succeed at his goal. He would only get 13-year-old goth girls who really had a thing for Yu-Gi-Oh. But we found the ad and connected it to him. He, of course, denied it. And then we ran the item, and then he admitted it was him. Then he wrote me an IM saying, "Can you not write about my personal life any more, it's kind of creepy?" And I said, "Yes! Yes, it's kind of creepy. That's why I ran it." That's exactly what was fascinating about it. But the thing is; Kevin has done things like this before. He was in Wired talking about one of his previous dating strategies which is going to a wireless cafe...

    JD: Wait, I'm getting my notepad out.

    ND: ...opening up something, Etherial, and sniffing the IM traffic of other women in the cafe. And he will find their IM name and IM them. And somehow, he claims, they find this impressive. "Oh! You stalked me! In a cafe!"

    RU: So has anybody accused you guys of entering Jason Fortuny territory with this?

    ND: Well, the thing was, we just originally posted that this looks like it's Kevin Burton. And then someone else tipped us and said, "Look. This screen name happens to be here." He put up his screen name. We did not post anything that he hadn't put out there openly on Craig's List. This wasn't some private email he had sent or anything.

    JD: Jason Fortuny would say the same thing.

    ND: But we didn't condemn. We never condemned. You know? If Burton had been doing something really illegal or something, that would've been more of a personal thing. I would've probably approached Kevin. I know him personally, you know? But it was nothing like the Fortuny thing. It was just some guy doing a weird Craig's List ad. It was fun.

    D: So is there anything you won't print? Anything where you'd say, "Oh, this is too sensitive, I can't touch this."

    ND: Well, there's stuff that's sensitive enough where I'd have to get actual confirmation. If someone accuses someone of doing a crime, usually I try to check that. If something that's libelous gets out, it's usually just me not thinking, "Wait a second! I'm accusing someone of fraud! I probably should check that before I publish!"

    RU: But this is something that you can do here, on our show. So go ahead!

    ND: Right. Brilliant! Well, usually there's not that much. I guess I'm just not a good enough investigative journalist yet. I haven't found stuff that's too good to print.

    D: Would you like to?

    ND: I would! I'm actually looking at something. It's kind of been known that Eric Schmidt is married and also goes on certain vacations with this other girlfriend. It's been in the news. He's been spotted with her. The real question is: is he actually planning on getting divorced and has he told his girlfriend that he's getting divorced? There's this great thing about following some of these techies. It's not like following Lindsay Lohan. Everyone knows Lindsay Lohan is trashy, and you just get to have the glee of pointing out how trashy she is. The thing about the guys from Google is they want to be dorky, they want to be sweet, they want to have really innocent photos everywhere, and here's Eric Schmidt taking his girlfriend out on vacation while his wife is somewhere else. These guys really are just like anyone else, and that's what's really fun to show.

    Larry Page, one of the co-founders of Google, when he's onstage somewhere, he always appears in this lab coat, and he acts really nerdy and he's not a good speaker. But at this one party that I kind of snuck into, he was there looking so L.A. and looking so slick. I was like, "Oh my god, you've really fooled everyone, haven't you!" That's great!

    RU: Speaking of rumors, Dave Winer is spreading a rumor that you're leaving Valleywag (I have the quote)... "To do a web video show with one of the big video producers." So what about this gossip about you?

    ND: First off, I'm surprised that — if Winer is still blogging — that anyone reads him.

    JD: Ouch!

    ND: Secondly, I'm surprised that people believe him. (A lot of people were IM-ing me about it.) But Rocketboom is hiring, and so there are always rumors about that. I'm working on a project...

    RU: Now you guys are going hammer and tongs after Rocketboom on the site, on their figures. Talk about Rocketboom and their figures.

    ND: Well, actually, this has more to do with the vlogger, Ze Frank. Usually, in any argument, I'd always take his side. Great guy. Never met him in person, but I just love his work. Huge fan. But lately, he's started going off on this campaign against Rocketboom because he noticed they had a lower Alexa score. He kind of has a point. They're inflating their numbers a little. Rocketboom is not the most popular show out there. It's just a lot of people know about it because they're so good at promoting themselves. And they pretend they're the Moses of some new culture that's going to totally shatter everything.

    That's why Ze Frank makes fun of them. Rocketboom thinks that just because they have a daily news show, this means it's the end of CNN. The end of old, dirty, nasty, wretched media. Andrew Baron can't pile on enough pejoratives about what he's overthrowing.

    RU: But they don't really believe that either. That's hype...

    ND: They're another show. They're another show with a pretty girl that covers news. They're kinda good, but revolutionary? I don't know what's really different there. They could get picked up on TV and they'd be another little slot on TV.

    RU: I would put them somewhere below the Daily Show in terms of their entertainment value.

    ND: Oh, hell yeah.

    D: Their real claim is that they're hugely popular. "Whether we're good or bad, we're hugely popular! We've got 300,000 visits."

    ND: Right. They got 300,000 downloads started. Ze's argument is, how many of those people watch it the whole way through, and how many people give up after 30 seconds and say, I'm gonna go watch Ze Frank instead!

    People are just running into the problem that you're never really going to be able to tell exactly how many people are watching your show. Unless you have an ad at the end. That's what Ze has. He's hosting with Revver and he can say this is how many ads were shown. Which is pretty damn great, because that's what you really need your numbers for.

    So right now, Rocketboom can just inflate their numbers and Ze is trying to fight it. But at the same time, I don't think anyone wants to hear that from Ze. Mostly we want the monkey to dance. And maybe he has a good cause. He's funnier than Rocketboom. He's much better than Rocketboom. I don't watch Rocketboom, I watch Ze every day. But do I really want to read an essay by him, about Rocketboom?

    D: So what do you think of the whole video-blogging space? Do you think that's the next big thing?

    ND: It's a next big thing. It's not like text blogging's just going to disappear. "Oh, there's video! Can't write any more!" Or, "We can't podcast! Damn!"

    D: "Curse you, video bloggers!"

    ND: Right! It's just another cool new thing. But yeah, it's going to get much bigger than it is now, just because more people need to switch over to new broadband connections, and more people just need to get used to the idea of watching a lot of video. It's this gradual thing. As people get used to it, and it becomes a not-nerdy thing to do.

    RU: You emailed me that you do have some project ideas. Why don't you talk a little bit about those.

    ND: There's one project I've been working on that... there's a sort of video news thing that I'd love to do, because right now we get stuff like Rocketboom. And we get stuff that kind of tries to do video news every now and then. It turns into talking about other video bloggers. That's not going to fly, long-term. I think there's not really a show out there yet for your average person who goes to Yahoo as their home page; they get their news from Yahoo; they do their email from Yahoo... The typical example is your mom, right? Or like the average guy on the street. There isn't a show online he watches all the time. He probably watches some YouTube clips of The Daily Show. So there really needs to be one show that comes out that is like The Daily Show for the internet. I think if one show came out that was half as witty, and probably shorter — that would be good. It has to be short because it's like watching porn. I think Slate said that it was like watching porn. It's not the same as watching TV. You're really only interested for quick blips. So if I did anything in video, it would probably be something short like that.

    RU: So therefore actual sex is like watching TV.

    ND: I think Baudrillard just spittled in his grave.

    RU: You promised in your email to psychoanalyze Cory Doctorow.

    ND: Okay, right. In all his science fiction, he seems to have this one thing going on. In all his stories, he has this male lead, And almost all the time, the character has some sort of cocoon-like space that he goes to. In this one short story that's a continuation of "Down and Out..." this kid goes to some re-charge station. And it seems like it's like those egg-shaped chairs in Men in Black. So he's in this sort of cocoon-like space, and one day he finds this female friend of his in that space. And in another story, this kid grows up in a cave. What's the one where the kid is the son of a mountain and a washing machine? I forget which book it is, but this kid brings his girlfriend to this cave where he grew up. And so that's his home. I have more examples, but I forget them all. But there's this pattern of females intruding in some male cocoon womb-like space. And the English major in me just can't get that out of my mind, or stop thinking, "Cory, is there something, something going on there? Something you want to share with the rest of the class?" Which is probably not the first thing I want to say to him, I hope this isn't the first thing he ever hears from me, is me psycho-analyzing him.

    RU: Well, there's a fairly good chance he will read this, actually

    ND: Damn. Great. [General laughter] Hopefully he's open to it. He's going to have some asshole 22-year-old blogger in his next story.

    D: In a cocoon-like space, all alone....

    ND: Trapped somewhere, for the rest of time. That'd be kind of flattering.

    He also has his female characters — who are almost always the love interest for the main male character — and they always abandon or betray the main male character with the secondary male lead.

    RU: Yeah. That came up when I interviewed him, actually. I noticed that theme.

    ND: Really? What did he say about it?

    RU: Well, he went into a discussion about the importance of trust and betrayal as a theme within the context of digital culture, and so forth.

    So before we let you go, I want to bring it all back around to gossip. Is there a particular sector within tech where the weirdest behavior is observed?

    ND: It seems like the weirdest behavior will always happen in the dotcoms, because that's where you get the people who don't necessarily know a thing about tech. It's kind of a random mix. You've got these start-uppers who aren't really sure how to handle all this money, the young kids who aren't really sure whether it's smarter to play the punk rock kid or the really humble kid. And the journalists don't know quite how to handle it, and they all get starry-eyed. It's fun, actually.

    See also:
    Sorry 'Bout That, Nick
    Where in the World is Nick Douglas?

    EFF and 10 Zen Monkeys vs. Michael Crook and DMCA

    The Electronic Frontier Foundation is representing 10 Zen Monkeys in a civil lawsuit against griefer Michael Crook for abusing the DMCA and violating our free speech rights.

    In September, we published an article about Crook when he mimicked Jason Fortuny by trolling CraigsList and sex-baiting guys into giving him private information which he then revealed on his site (now offline), He apparently did not like what we had to say. In a brash and hypocritical (though not at all surprising) move, Crook filed a fraudulent DMCA take-down notice with our then-ISP, knowing that the "safe harbor" provision would compel the ISP to take immediate action, even before proof of copyright ownership was examined.

    I was personally given an ultimatum to remove the material cited in the notice (a TV screen capture of Crook's appearance on Fox News Channel), or have my account canceled. Needless to say, Crook did not own the rights to the image, and even if he did, there's a little thing called "fair use" in the context of critical commentary.

    Appalled that he was able to so easily, and without any onus of proof, jeopardize my standing with my ISP, I immediately set about moving the site to local San Francisco ISP Laughing Squid, owned by my old pal, Scott Beale — his services are more expensive, but I knew Scott would understand and respect free speech at least to the point of asking me for details before threatening to pull the plug on my site.

    The first thing I did after migrating 10 Zen Monkeys was re-insert the image of Crook into the offending article and, sure enough, within 24 hours he had sent another DMCA take-down notice to Laughing Squid's upstream provider. I'm sure he was emboldened by his success at forcing me to relocate my website once, and was trying for a repeat. But this time, Scott indeed called me to get the story. He was as angry as I was, and said I should contact the Electronic Frontier Foundation. (As an ISP, Scott hadn't seen this particular abuse before, and was concerned — it showed just how easy it is under the current DMCA provisions to intimidate a website, for any reason whatsoever.)

    "This is yet another case of someone intentionally misusing copyright law to try to shut down legitimate debate on an issue of public interest," said EFF Staff Attorney Jason Schultz. "Crook certainly doesn't own the copyright to the news footage — Fox News does."

    The "safe harbor" provision of the law is meant to shield service providers from liability for any copyright violations that might be committed on their clients' websites. It basically states that, upon being notified by letter or email that there is content in violation of copyright, they can avoid any legal consequences by immediately removing it. (The reason the "safe harbor" is even necessary is because of the draconian copyright "protections" built into the DMCA — ones which sacrifice fair use among other things.) But since the take-down notice doesn't require a court order, or any type of judicial scrutiny, it means that shady individuals or organizations can easily use the law to stifle free speech.

    "Crook has used a bogus copyright claim as a pretext to squelch free speech," said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "Unfortunately, it is easy to abuse DMCA takedown provisions and most internet speakers don't have the ability to fight back."

    I removed the original image in the Crook article and instead linked to a similar image residing on someone else's server (Crook is widely reviled on the internet, so it's not difficult to find materials criticizing him on Google).

    Surprise! Crook didn't like that either, and on October 24th, he filed yet again, this time thinking that the DMCA could be used to intimidate an ISP for a site that links to content that doesn't reside on their servers!

    Crook seems to have a particularly malicious interpretation of the DMCA. He has declared on his blog his own campaign to serve take-down notices on sites he doesn't like, regardless of whether he owns the copyright on the material in question. From his blog:
    One site has gone completely down. It currently routes to a "Suspended" page. This site has remained down because the webmaster hasn't responded to the complaint. I can't be responsible for that.

    None of this is surprising from someone who has devoted so much time and energy finding others in a compromised state — whether it's horny men online, or wounded soldiers — and then systematically hurting them further, for nothing more than a fleeting, self-defeating publicity.

    Until now, the instances of social griefing made famous by Jason Fortuny and aped by Michael Crook have brought up mostly privacy issues. In the case of Crook's abuse of DMCA, we see the same childish, ill-intentioned publicity-seeking, but that's not to say there's no difference between Fortuny and Crook. Fortuny has never tried to stop anyone from saying anything about him — in fact, he seems to enjoy the direct negative criticisms he's received. Crook, on the other hand, is clearly operating on a level of complexity that is far beyond his capacities — he wants to be notorious, but then uses unrelated, legalistic (though illegal!) manipulations to silence those who speak out against him. Despite his comical claim to the title of copyright defender, he is creating a real chilling effect on free speech.

    Some of the targets of Crook's DMCA exploits have self-censored, in part because to give him attention is a reward he doesn't deserve, but also because they don't understand their rights and cannot afford to fight. The takedown provision of this law is bad for publishers and anyone who cares about free speech, and Crook has clearly demonstrated a reason why. He has also stupidly underestimated the resolve of this publication; we hope to set an example of what can be done when First Amendment rights are fully understood, nurtured, and worn into battle.

    Crook taught students how to properly use the internet
    Crook serves DMCA takedown notice to BoingBoing. (BB gets permission from Fox News to post image.)
    Tucker Max deconstructs Crook

    See also:
    EFF's press release
    PDF of complaint
    In the Company of Jerkoffs
    The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny
    Jason Fortuny Speaks
    Good Griefers: Fortuny vs. Crook

    Libertarian Chick Fights Boobs With Boobs

    Loretta Nall
    This has been a highly sexualized campaign season. Congressman Mark Foley's email flirtations with teen male pages set the mood, of course, and since the Foley revelations, various campaigns have attempted to pin sex scandals on their rivals. One campaigner linked his opponent to teenage girls watching pornographic movies with probes connected to their genitalia.

    In the Virginia Senate Race, George Allen — already in his own scandal for racist comments and an apparent history of racism — pulled a single passage from a novel written by his opponent Jim Webb. The line, "The man grabbed his young son in his arms, turned him upside down, and put the boy's penis in his mouth," may be on its way to becoming the most widely known fictional passage in contemporary America, and may even displace the memory of Bill and Monica and cigars. The controversy over Webb's fiction also worked its way into a wild confrontation between Wolf Blitzer and the Vice President's wife, Lynn Cheney, on CNN (although the exchange was primarily about Cheney's claims of liberal media bias). Cheney, of course, was the author of a hot a lesbian western novel called "Sisters" in 1981.

    And then there's the one that has probably received the most attention recently: the ad attacking Harold Ford, the Democratic Senatorial candidate from Tennessee, for attending a party sponsored by Playboy for the 2005 Super Bowl, complete with Playboy Playmates in lingerie.

    While most of the dialogue during this campaign has been sex-negative, focused on shaming politicians by linking them in some way, however flimsy the connection, to sexuality, there have been a few cases in which women candidates have tried to use their ample bosoms to attract positive attention.

    Katherine Harris' BoobsWhile no one would accuse Republican psycho and democracy killer Katherine Harris of being an advocate of sexual libertinism, some did suggest that she was using her best assets in a series of photos taken early in her campaign to become the Republican Senator from Florida.

    Porn star Mary Carey (NSFW) meanwhile had no bones about exploiting her sexuality in her races to become governor of California, but her recent decision to drop out of the race leaves Governor Schwarzenegger as the only reasonable choice for those of us who vote on the basis of physique.

    With all the sex in this year's electoral zeitgeist, there is only one candidate that has used sex to gain our attention who actually deserves our attention. Loretta Null, the Libertarian candidate for Governor of Alabama, posed for a campaign poster in a low cut blouse with the slogan, "Loretta Nall for Governor. More of These Boobs and Less of These (photos of opposing all-male candidates) Boobs." Her Web site also includes Flash animations of someone stuffing bills down the front of her low-cut blouse. And there has also been some discussion about her preferences regarding undergarments (none, thank you.) It's all in the service of some worthy causes, like opposing the drug war and the Patriot Act, among other stances.

    But let's let her tell it. I conversed with Ms. Nall via email.

    RU SIRIUS: Have you been keeping abreast of how Katherine Harris has been using her campaign assets? Are you sad that Mary Carey dropped out of the governor's race? Who's the biggest boob in politics?

    LORETTA NALL: I try not to watch Katherine Harris whenever I can avoid it. She makes me cringe. So, no, I am unaware of how she might be using her assets to campaign. Surprised though... she's so HOLY I figured she would have had them removed because they offend God. I did hear about Mary Carey. The biggest boobs in politics reside in Alabama under the names Bob Riley, Lucy Baxley, Don Siegelman and Roy Moore.

    RU: I read somewhere that while you were vying for the Libertarian nomination to run for Governor, you confessed that you don't like to wear panties. Do you think people found that a breath of... errr... fresh air and did it help you win the nomination?

    LN: Well, I didn't actually use the fact that I do not wear panties while campaigning for the nomination. The real story about the panties has to do with trying to visit my brother in prison long before I began to seek the nomination. You can read about that here. Also, I would appreciate it if, in this interview, you would link to the real story about the boobs shirt. I'm afraid the media has it all wrong. Here is a link to what really happened.

    RU: Do you view sexual puritanism and shame as a serious political problem in America?

    LN: Yes. Especially here in the South where sexual repression reigns supreme. I think the real problem though is that candidates have put themselves on a pedestal, have separated themselves from the public and would have us believe that they are as infallible as Jesus. This is not the case. In the beginning of my consideration of running for Governor I used to joke that I would release an "Every naughty girl thing I ever did" book to the media and to my opponents and simply take away their potential ammunition.

    I think if people would stop acting ashamed of being human and doing human things then we would see less nastiness during the election cycles.

    RU: With all of the recent attacks on civil liberties based on terrorism, the movement to reform or end the "War On Drugs" has kind of lost audience share. How would you compare the damage done to our liberties by the drug war with those done to us by the war on terrorism?

    LN: The war on terror is an expansion of the war on drugs. It's the same people (government) doing the same things to American citizens (using fear, force and brutality) for the same reasons (to increase government power). Drug laws aren't passed because the government wants us to follow them. They are passed because the government wants us to break them so that they gain power over citizens through force. In all areas of the US local police have been federalized through Byrne grants and now Homeland Security grants. This is centralization of power. The drug and terror wars are similar in that everyone is a suspect. It is a climate of fear that turns neighbor against neighbor, mother against children. It's, "Don't trust your neighbors or family. Fear them. Only the Government can save you."

    RU: Besides ending the war on drugs, what issues are you most passionate about?

    LN: For one, non-compliance with the Patriot and Real ID acts. The Patriot and REAL ID Acts are the two most offensive documents to ever be passed into law in the United States of America.

    Under these Acts Uncle Sam not only wants you: he also wants your email, your phone calls, your personal mail, your physician and pharmacy records, your library records, your bank records, the contents of your bladder and the bladders of your children. We are told that we must trade our liberty for security in order to help "fight the war on terror."

    Our elected officials say the terrorists hate us for our freedom. Apparently our elected officials have decided to remedy that situation by taking away all of our freedoms so the terrorists won't hate us anymore.

    The willingness of our elected officials both here, at home, and in Washington, D.C. to participate in the obliteration of our constitutional rights and civil liberties is disgusting and revealing. I will not sacrifice Alabama citizens to any such system.

    Another position that I feel is important is opting out of "No Child Left Behind." It is a ridiculous program that forces teachers to focus on standardized testing as opposed to actual teaching. This program seeks to level things out by pushing the top students down instead of bringing the bottom students up.

    RU: Are you religious and do you think it's possible to break through the assumption that our elected leaders have to be believers?

    LN: I am not religious. I am atheist. I think it is possible to break through the assumption that our elected officials have to be believers. I have had a great deal of success with the religious people in Alabama. Many of my supporters are devout Christians who see my actions and policies as being more Christian in nature than those who use Christianity as political capital but rarely act as Jesus taught in the bible. I am not anti-religion by any stretch of the imagination. I believe that religion is a private family matter best left to the family and the church.

    RU: How did you get into Libertarian politics, and do you have an ideological bent? Are you high on Hayek? Randy for Rand? RAW for Robert Anton Wilson?

    LN: I got into Libertarian politics after a warrantless police raid on my property back in 2002. Before that I had never been really interested in politics... they tend to be very dull in the state of Alabama and so other than doing my civic duty and voting I didn't pay much attention. I realized after the raid that politics is the art of self-defense and began to look at all of the state parties to find the one that most closely espoused my values and feelings on the way things should be and came up with Libertarian. I really don't have an ideological bent.

    RU: Do you think the recent media attention will lead to a higher vote count? Do you hope to win the election?

    LN: Yes I am certain that the media attention will lead to a higher vote count. I am 10,000 emails behind due to all of the media coverage with the majority of those emails being from Alabama voters who first heard about me on one program or another and are going to write me in.

    Haunted by Chipmunk Ghosts

    America has a love-hate relationship with cute, fuzzy rodents. Not the scary kind that steal American flags, or attack from outer space. The kind that sing.

    As absurdly meaningless as it seems, the last 50 years have seen Chipmunks darting in and out of the popular zeitgeist. My first podcast was about squirrels, and it culminated with the moment in 1961 when jazzman Don Elliott, along with partner Sascha Burland, convinced jazz legend Cannonball Adderley to do a duet with scat-singing squirrels. But his squirrels - The Nutty Squirrels - became casualties in a 50s-era culture war. ("Jazz was heroin, jazz was people dropping out of society," I riffed.) People weren't comfortable with the idea of nihilistic beatnik rodents, and ultimately America sought comfort in the familiarity of the Chipmunks.

    Yet as 2006 began we'd seemed to have lost our faith in cheery cartoon animals altogether. The 1970s had already left both the Chipmunks and the Squirrels far behind, and Don Elliott moved on to writing the soundtrack for The Happy Hooker. Inexplicably, though, the Chipmunks made a brief comeback during the 80s with an album called Chipmunk Punk. Its Wikipedia entry argues that the album become "an integral and important part of the soundtrack of many Gen Xers' lives," and also claims — suspiciously — that Kurt Cobain modelled Nirvana's first album Bleach after the structure of Chipmunk Punk.

    An indifferent world still left the Chipmunks facing an uphill climb. Glowing with Chipmunk-mimicking DNA, the son of the Chipmunks' original creator tried to spawn a revival of his father's characters. Sinking profits into a TV cartoon (which lasted for three years), Ross Bagdadsarian, Jr. then sunk his personal fortune into an ill-fated full-length feature movie which he wrote, directed, produced, and provided the voices for, along with his pregnant wife Janice. ("If rest and pampering were going to be the key to our child's intellect," he remembers on his site, "Janice was going to give birth to a melon.")

    The 90s saw the franchise kept alive by unlikely novelty albums of club music, two country albums, and gimmicky specials like The Chipmunks meet Frankenstein. The corporate suits at Universal Studios ultimately bought a controlling stake in the Chipmunks in 1996, though Bagdadsarian claimed in a lawsuit that the studio "undertook the systematic destruction of a family owned and operated business," according to an article in L.A. Business Journal. They also reported the suit's claim that Chipmunk-related revenue dropped 98% under Universal, though Bagdadsarian told the business journal that, "Everything turned out great in the end."

    Universal ultimately gave him the rights to the Chipmunks, and he then entered a five-year deal with Paramount.  Amazingly, American culture may see the Chipmunks yet again, as the article ends with talk of a 2008 Chipmunks movie written by Simpsons contributor John Vitti.

    Meanwhile, Bagdasarian's lost Chipmunk movie from the 80s has finally been released on DVD, where it can delight and baffle a new generation of online hipsters. ("Diamond thieves? Interpol? Prepubescent chipmunk girls in belly-dancing outfits...? It's all here baby.") We can also expect new releases from the Chipmunks catalog, and even more Christmas specials.

    And yet I had to wonder if Ross Bagdadsarian, Jr. feels haunted by the ghost of his father's 1950s success. If you slow down any Chipmunk record to half speed, you hear his father's voice, triple-tracked and performing as all three chipmunks. Of course, the ghost of jazzman Don Elliot can also be summoned by slowing down the Nutty Squirrels.

    Music styles may change — jazz, punk, grunge, and dance mixes. But just like real infestations of vermin, the popularity of singing rodents is never really gone. 

    5 More Nasty Campaigns

    The war for control of the House and Senate continues to escalate. "You can't say I want to win the war but not be willing to fight the war," Karl Rove told the Washington Post Sunday.

    But that's only half the story. A 2002 overhaul of campaign law shifted ad-financing contributions to independent groups — and these groups are more likely to air negative campaign ads. In this new landscape, nearly $60 million has been spent on a massive stockpile of television artillery. The pageant of grotesqueries is entertaining eyeballs all over the InterTubes, as with the ones in this round-up of nasty Senate ads. Below are four even-nastier ads for tight House races — plus an update on the nastiest Senate race of all.

    1. "Hi, sexy!"

    A silhouette of a stripper appears next to footage of a smirking district attorney — Michael Arcuri, the Democratic House candidate for New York's 24th Congressional district.

    "The phone number to an adult fantasy hotline appeared on Michael Arcuri's New York City hotel room bill," the announcer warns, "while he was there on official business... Who calls a fantasy hotline and then bills taxpayers?"

    "Bad call!" the stripper moans.

    What the ad doesn't say is the call lasted less than a minute, and was apparently a wrong number. While attending a 2004 conference for district attorneys, the director of New York's Prosecutor Training Institute had used Acuri's phone to dial the state's Department of Criminal Justice Services, which coincidentally had the same number, but with a 1-800 area code. Immediately realizing his mistake, he'd dialed the correct number, Arcuri told the L.A. Times — producing phone records to back up his claim. The cost of the mis-dialed phone call? $1.25.

    The ad cites as its source conservative web site, though the story was published the same day the National Republican Campaign Committee distributed the information. (Ironically, the story's 26-year-old author, Robert B Bluey, is analumnus of Cybercast News Service, which also employed suspected male prostitute Jeff Gannon.)

    Because of the ad's misleading nature, New York television stations are refusing to broadcast it, and in the Times' article even Arcuri's Republican opponent Ray Meier characterized the attack as "way over the line." In fact, both men told the Associated Press they were friends, and regretted the nasty tone of ads funded by their parties' national committees. But the National Republican Congressional Committeeinsisted the ad's claim that the call appeared on a taxpayer-funded phone bill is "totally true, and we stand by it."

    In another NRCC ad, their announcer tells voters that "A man charged with raping a 13-year-old girl was let out of jail after Michael Arcuri's office didn't indict him in time."

    2. "Harold? Call me!"

    For the other side of Capitol Hill, the National Republican Senate Committee has created a sexy ad of their own. It's a montage of bizarro-world voters, each giving a ridiculously unappealing reason for supporting Tennessee Senate candidate Harold Ford.

    "Terrorists need their privacy."

    "When I die, Harold Ford will let me pay taxes again!"

    "Ford's right. I do have too many guns!"

    "So he took money from porn movie producers. Who hasn't?"

    The format gives the ad's producers an opportunity to include a woman wearing nothing but a necklace, squeaking in a bimbo voice that she met Harold at the Playboy party. It's an allusion to a 2005 Super Bowl party Ford attended, which the Republicans have been using since last March, to attack Ford's appeal to values voters. ("What kind of man parties with Playboy playmates in lingerie, and then films political ads from a church pew?") But even Ford's opponent, Republican Bob Corker, thinks the national committee's latest ad "has no place in this, or any other campaign," according to his campaign manager. (Who added that the ad was "tacky, over the top and...not reflective of the kind of campaign we are running.")

    The ad closes with the warning that the candidate is "just not right" - followed by one last shot of the mock Playboy bunny, whispering into the camera. "Harold? Call me!"

    3. "An absolute idiot."

    Idaho Republican Bill Sali finds himself in a surprisingly competive race for a district which encompasses half the state. Now he's facing TV attacks with a barrage of damning quotes about his candidacy — from Republicans. "He was incompetent in the legislature," goes the quote attributed to State Senator Sheila Sorensen. "In the campaign he proved himself dishonest and deceitful and he'd be an embarrassment to Idaho."

    "He's an obstinate opportunist," according to Representative Dolores Crow.

    "An absolute idiot," says another quote from Speaker Bruce Newcomb. "He doesn't have one ounce of empathy in his whole fricking body, and you can put that in the paper."

    Sali is a far-right conservative who squeaked onto the ballot after winning 18,965 votes in a six-way primary. A social and fiscal conservative, Sali entered the race with a $400,000 war-chest, prompting Idaho's largest newspaper to dub him "a wholly-owned subsidiary of a big out-of-state benefactor, the anti-tax Club for Growth." His confrontational 16-year career in the state legislature has apparently created lingering bad feelings among other Republicans. (When Dick Cheney came to Idaho to campaign for Sali, all of Idaho's Republican congressmen reportedly skipped the event.) This created an opening for Idaho Democrat Larry Grant.

    The announcer in his ad doesn't identify his party affiliation. It just reminds voters that "If you're a Republican or independent and you want to vote for Larry Grant — you're in good company."

    4. "Help me!"

    Majority Action is a 527 group which includes seven former members of Congress and the national field director for Al Gore's 2000 campaign. They've assembled a series of hard-hitting ads about stem cell research, an issue some believe could become a liberal wedge issue splitting voters off from traditionally Republican blocs.

    Missouri Senate candidate Claire McCaskill has already tapped the issue for her tight race against Republican Jim Talent. (Michael J. Fox reminds viewers he cares deeply about stem cell research, and tells Missouri voters the election's results matter to millions of Americans — "Americans like me.") But a new ad by Majority Action tries to personalize the stakes even more. "This ad, in very powerful terms, lays out what is at stake in the stem cell debate," says the group's Executive Director.

    One shows three people matter-of-factly describing the medical problems waiting in their future. A boy says he'll be paralyzed for the rest of his life; a woman saying she'll have Alzheimer's disease; a little girl says she'll be diagnosed with diabetes. Staring at the camera, they indict the Congressmen who voted against federal funding for stem cell research, saying it could save their lives, and maybe the lives of the viewer's family. "Help me!" the boy says. "Help me!" the little girl says...

    Majority Action is running the same ad against four Republican House candidates — Don Sherwood, Jim Walsh, Chris Chocola, and Thelma Drake.

    5. "Stay the course."

    Thelma Drake gets a second dose of negativity from Majority Action in another ad saying she "won't stand up to the Bush/Cheney White House."

    The ad is a straightforward attempt to link the Virginia Congresswoman to the failures of the Bush administration.

    An image of George Bush, doubling into two, and then four images, repeats "We must stay the course. We must stay the course. We must stay the course..."

    "It was the right thing to do," Dick Cheney says nonchalantly about the war in Iraq, "and if we had it to do over again, we'd do exactly the same thing. A closeup then appears of George Washington's sad eye on the dollar bill, next to the words "Exactly the same? Cost: Over $300 billion. Billions missing and insider deals...."

    "It was the right thing to do," Dick Cheney says again, "and if we had it to do over again we'd do exactly the same thing."

    "Insufficient forces. No weapons of mass destruction. Dubai ports sales scandal. Our ports and borders: unsecured."

    The ad's stark take is matched by its striking melodramatic music - a disembodied chorus rising over discordant violins which would be more at home on the soundtrack of a scary movie.

    "U.S. Intelligence Report: Iraq war breeding more terrorists. Five 'F's' from 9/11 Commission. bin Laden still at large. Exactly the same?"

    The same ad is also being run agaisnt House candidates Dave Reichert, Deborha Pryce, and Jim Walsh.

    To condemn each of these lawmaker's support of President Bush, the ads close by (badly) inserting Dick Cheney's lips into pictures of the candidates, so it looks like they're speaking Cheney's words. The ad-makers are hoping to swing the election towards the Democrats, and they're staking it on the idea that voters will find something unforgiveable in the Vice President's staunch refusal to concede mistakes.

    "It was the right thing to do," they lip sync, "and if we had it to do over again we'd do exactly the same thing."

    See Also:
    5 Nastiest Campaign Ads So Far
    Awesomest Congressional Campaign Ad Ever
    My Opponent Pays for Gay Teen Bestiality

    Detention and Torture: Are We Still Free, or Not?

    Gulf War Poster from Mad Magazine

    Just as great as the vitriol coming from presidential critics right now, is the mixture of signals from the activist media regarding the Military Commissions Act signed by Bush last Tuesday.

    Friday night, on Bill Maher's Real Time, Maher indicated that, as the result of the so-called "Detainee" bill (aka the Military Commissions Act) passed by Congress on September 28th, we could all get tossed into prison indefinitely without recourse according to the whim of the President. Maher panelist Representative Barney Frank seemingly seconded Maher's opinion. A September 30th New York Times article quoted Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law and political science at Yale, as saying that the bill "allows the administration to declare even a U.S. citizen an unlawful combatant subject to indefinite detention."

    An All Things Considered piece on NPR broadcast on September 29th by Ari Shapiro, titled, "Bill Lets U.S. Citizens Be Held as Enemy Combatants," attempts to parse the distinctions between the treatment of non-citizens and citizens who are declared "enemy combatants." Bradford Berenson, a former White House lawyer for the current President Bush, is quoted as saying, "U.S. citizens can be detained as enemy combatants if they take up arms on the side of al-Qaida. But they get some extra judicial protections in that case." Shapiro comments, "The legislation that Congress passed does not say enemy combatants are people who 'take up arms on the side of al-Qaida.' The bill instead refers to people who provide 'material support' to the enemy. The language of the bill says that is the standard for both citizens and non-citizens."

    In a September 29th discussion on Amy Goodman's popular lefty broadcast show, Democracy Now, Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, "what it gives him [the President] is the power... to detain any person anywhere in the world, citizen or non-citizen, whether living in the United States or anywhere else. I mean, what kind of authority is that? No checks and balances. Nothing." But Ratner does acknowledge, "Now, if you're a citizen, you still get your right of habeas corpus."

    Over on the right, on Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds reassured that, "I've seen some people calling this an abolition of habeas corpus, but as I understand it, habeas is suspended only with regard to non-citizens. This removes a key danger of abuse, since the potential politically-motivated abuses that are most worrisome involve U.S. citizens, not aliens."

    Reynolds also pointed to a piece by Jack Balkin on Balkinization, that analyzes what aspects of the bill apply to US citizens. Balkin, according to Reynolds, shows that, "the habeas-stripping procedures only apply to aliens, but other provisions regarding unlawful combatants may apply to U.S. citizens."

    Drifting further from the mainstream, on October 4th on the Information Clearing House site, Chris Floyd wrote, "It was a dark hour indeed last Thursday when the United States Senate voted to end the constitutional republic and transform the country into a Leader-State, giving the president and his agents the power to capture, torture and imprison forever anyone — American citizens included — whom they arbitrarily decide is an 'enemy combatant.'"

    Given the confusion regarding the direct legal impact of this bill on US citizens, I contacted Caroline Fredrickson, the Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, to get her take on the bill. Although Fredrickson dispels some of the more alarmist views regarding this legislation, I would hesitate to say that I found Ms. Fredrickson's responses reassuring.

    Even before the Bush administration began gnawing on the carcass of our constitutional liberties, the ACLU said this about a 1996 anti-terrorism bill passed by President Clinton. "With the stroke of a pen, President Clinton today crippled the century old authority of the federal courts to enforce the Bill of Rights," the ACLU said in a statement. At that point, banks were authorized to freeze assets of American citizens and organizations suspected of being agents of a declared terrorist group. Citizens, even then, apparently had no recourse to challenge that designation. Since then, of course, from the 2001 Patriot Act to this so-called "Torture Bill," the hits have just kept coming. The new wrinkle seems to be legalizing anything the Administration does after the fact. I don't know about you, but I demand a sweet deal like that for myself.

    There is some hope that the next president may not want all that power. Of the potential presidential candidates currently in the US Senate, Democrats Bayh, Biden, Clinton, Feingold, Kerry, and Obama all voted against the bill. Republican John McCain voted in favor of it. Power, however, tends to do strange things to people (particularly people named Clinton), so I wouldn't place much faith in a change of administrations.

    RU SIRIUS: While most of the news coverage of the recent "Detainee" bill focused on its impact on torture and on the detention of non-citizens, very little has been said about those things that apply to US citizens. As I read it US citizens can be held indefinitely without any recourse.

    CAROLINE FREDRICKSON: It is our understanding that this bill does not authorize the detention or military commission trial of US citizens. Both the stripping of habeas rights for challenges to detention and being subject to the jurisdiction of the military commissions themselves are specifically limited to aliens who are designated as unlawful enemy combatants. U.S. citizens are excluded from both of these potential consequences. Moreover, the congressional record includes statements by important Members of Congress that this bill does not apply to U.S. citizens.

    The real problem is that this administration has shown no respect for the letter of the law or the intent of Congress and has time and again twisted the words of our laws, or ignored them altogether. The rush by Congress to pass this act before the elections compounded that problem. This is a bad bill in countless ways and given this administration's propensity to stretch the meaning of the law, the ACLU and its allies will monitor to ensure that the White House does not attempt to use these extraordinary powers against Americans and we will vigorously oppose any attempt to detain citizens on the basis of this bill.

    RU: The definition of "unlawful enemy combatant" is applied to those who have "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States." By my reading, this could be used against dissidents and whistleblowers. For instance, it could have been used against the New York Times for their revelations about the administration's global financial surveillance program. (See NY Times apology) Would you agree?

    CF: Regardless of what the bill says, the constitutional guarantees of liberty and a free press would prevent the president from taking retaliatory actions against the New York Times or any other media outlet. In addition, the bill itself could not be applied in that way. However, we understand the concerns; after all, this is an administration that believes that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force gave it license to toss the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act out the window and spy on Americans. This president will likely continue to interpret laws in outlandish and unconstitutional ways. But the reality remains that the president is not above the law, nor is he the final arbiter of its meaning. We will continue to fight to make sure he doesn't get the last word. A federal court in Detroit has already found the warrantless surveillance program to be unconstitutional and illegal.

    RU: According to one report I've seen, "the bill criminalizes any challenge to the legislation's legality by the Supreme Court or any United States court." Is this true and can they get away with this?

    CF: The bill removes the ability of most of the detainees to challenge their detention or treatment in federal court. We expect the courts to begin to address the unconstitutional court-stripping provisions of the bill soon after it is signed into law. But no, the bill does not criminalize any challenge — it simply strips detainees of the ability to raise a challenge.

    RU: Most citizens may assume that the government only uses the Homeland Security apparatus and the various anti-terrorist laws against terrorism suspects. Can you counter this assumption, and can you name one or two particularly egregious cases?

    CF: Since the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, this administration has used the "war on terror" as a blanket rationale to curtail and undermine our civil liberties and fundamental freedoms. The Patriot Act — sold as an anti-terrorism tool — is used in routine criminal investigations. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies spy on political organizations critical of this administration. This administration has cast a cloud of secrecy over its actions, in part by undermining the Freedom of Information Act. There are many "egregious cases" — a "top ten" list of them can be found here.

    RU: Have we lost habeas corpus at other times in U.S. history?

    CF: Unfortunately, yes — Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. After the Supreme Court ruled that the president could not do so unilaterally, Congress passed a law to ratify the suspension of habeas. Congress also suspended the "Great Writ" in other instances - in Hawaii during WWII, in the Philippines during insurrection, and in South Carolina to quell a Ku Klux Klan insurrection in the aftermath of the Civil War.

    The Constitution only allows suspension of its protections in times of "rebellion or invasion." It is important to recognize that in contrast to our seemingly endless "War on Terror," in each of those previous instances the situation was much more analogous to a true rebellion or invasion.

    RU: In 1996, the ACLU said Clinton's anti-terrorism bill "crippled the Bill of Rights." How much worse has it gotten under Bush?

    CF: As mentioned above, there are many examples of how this administration — sometimes with the tacit approval of Congress — has sought to "cripple the Bill of Rights." In addition to the actual policies, the rhetoric coming from the White House and its allies is particularly alarming: those who oppose the president and his policies are somehow supporting the terrorists. Nothing could be further from the truth. The ACLU and its allies — including such Republican stalwarts as former Republican Congressman Bob Barr — understand the importance of having both security and liberty. The administration pays only lip service to protecting civil liberties, while its actions seek to undermine our freedoms. We can, and must, be both safe and free.

    RU: What can you, or we, do about it?

    CF: Keep fighting! And realize that we are beginning to have successes. The Military Commission Act was extremely disappointing, but more and more Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are willing to vote against these types of bills. And though we lost this fight, we have managed to stop Congress from rubber-stamping the bill to legalize NSA spying — the Senate adjourned without voting on it. The administration and its allies are working hard for a bill that would legalize illegal warrantless eavesdropping, but we are fighting with a broad coalition of allies and we are winning.

    Violet Blue SHOCKER: “I’d Do Bruce Campbell!”

    OK. That's a cheap tabloid headline, just like the one we put on the audio version of this interview.

    In truth, we get into some interesting questions: about evolutionary psychology and women's sexuality; about the awful state of sex education in the US; about how media corporations try to purchase edginess, and of course, about how Violet Blue's boobies were all over Market Street in San Francisco.

    As most of you know, Violet Blue is a popular sex writer and sex blogger. Her recent books are The Adventurous Couple's Guide to Sex Toys and The Smart Girl's Guide to Porn. And she's just started writing a regular sex column for SF Gate, the website run by the San Francisco Chronicle.

    The whole gang from The RU Sirius Show piped in with questions, including Jeff Diehl, Diana Brown, and Steve Robles. In the end, we all agreed we'd do Bruce Campbell.
    To listen to the full interview in MP3 click here.

    RU SIRIUS: You have this column for SF Gate, which is a website for San Francisco's mainstream newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle. How shocked should America be with this column?

    VIOLET BLUE: It's fairly shocking, actually.

    RU: So say you're like in Iowa.

    VB: Oh yeah, I'm getting mail from them actually.

    DIANA BROWN: Love letters, no doubt.

    VB: Love letters from the square states. Yeah, it's utterly adorable being told that I should be locked up and thrown away without a key and that I should crawl back into the little hole that I came from.

    JEFF DIEHL: Sounds kinky!

    VB: It is. It's kinda hot actually. It's giving me all sorts of ideas. I never really received hate mail until I started writing for the Chronicle and now I'm receiving hate mail from really conservative people.

    I haven't really written about anything particularly shocking, although I am writing about sex in San Francisco. We're definitely in a bubble in terms of having a really large and articulate sex culture here.

    In an article I wrote about having beer with sex educators in an old man bar on Market Street, I joked about the fact that we joke about bestiality and necrophilia. To some people in Iowa... theyre like, "Oh my god, they're having sex with dogs in San Francisco in a bar..."

    DB: I was working for a small publication and we were interviewing this person who put on swingers parties, and she was very clear that the majority of these things happened in hotels by the airport out in mid-America, not on the depraved coast, like people would think.

    VB: Yeah, the informal statistics that I've seen for the most part state that most of the people who participate in the swinging lifestyle and also purchasers of sex toys tend to err on the Republican and Christian side.

    I have some interesting and antagonistic things planned for a column coming up.

    DB: Can you give us a taste?

    VB: The last week of this month is Protection From Porn Week. It's Morality In Media's little war-on-porn week. They do as much as they can to educate people about the dangers of pornography. So I have a couple of columns planned around celebrating that week in a wholly different way.

    JD: You're feeding their getting-offended fetish.

    VB: Yes. In a way, it's like fishing with dynamite.

    RU: So is there a kind of prophylaxis against porn that you could approve of? You do tell us what good porn and bad porn is.

    VB: I'm definitely in a war against bad porn.

    RU: So is the fact that you have this column on the Chronicles website controversial? Are their internal politics, within the Chronicle. that you can talk about?

    VB: It is controversial. From my experience so far, it's kind of like working for a cokehead.

    RU: Are you talking about Phil (Bronstein, Executive Editor of the SF Chronicle)?

    VB: Oh no. Phil is actually cool. Phil is REALLY cool. No, I mean the institution itself. It's just like, they really want to do this thing with me but then someone at the highest level freaks out at the last minute and they pull all my links. My column went up and they originally didn't link to my site or use any of the links in my column. And then the next week, they put a couple of links in. And then in the next column, they put all my links in, including linking to my site. And then two days later, they yanked the link from my bio to my site. So now I'm wondering, what's going to happen with the next column.

    DB: It sounds random.

    VB: Well, it seems like there's some kind of war of ideology going on there. They want the hint of sex, or the hint of cool, or the hint of hip, or the blogger, because I'm like the token blogger.

    RU: This is the whole story of corporate America; where they're always coming around and saying, "We want edgy." And they don't. They just want something that looks fashionable.

    VB: They want the aura of edgy without also making the commitment to what that means.

    RU: Your column [for SF Gate] was advertised illicitly [laughter]. Do tell us about our friends in the Billboard Liberation Front. Not YOUR friends, of course. You're innocent!

    VB: I had no idea actually that this was even happening. I got like a grainy phone cam pic sent to me in the middle of the night. I was like, "This has got to be a photoshop job." And then when I woke up in the morning — it was the morning my column launched — I got an email from somebody in the Chronicle building that said, "I can see you from my desk, seven times life-size."

    RU: Do tell our audience what this is, because they may not know.

    VB: Apparently, in the middle of the night, a group of individuals went out — they had printed pictures from my website, not just pictures from my blog but somewhat explicit photos from my explicit photos gallery — and they made them look like ads that the SF Gate and Chronicle had done, so they looked like bus stop ads and bus shelter ads. And they put them all over the place. I did see one on the side of a bus.

    RU: Wow. They did a hell of a job!

    VB: One of the pictures that someone showed me was from the side of a bus, and the bus was in motion. I had no idea this was going to happen. I had no idea who did it. I went and found one at 5th and Mission and at the bottom it said

    What's weird is that's not actually the URL for Billboard Liberation Front. is their real url.

    JD: I missed them. Do you have them posted on your website?

    VB: I do, yeah. My boobies were all over Market Street! [laughter]

    RU: They must be big!

    JD: So when I was reading the part in your book (The Smart Girl's Guide to Porn) about women being turned on by visuals. I think I can believe that...

    RU: I've just never SEEN it. [laughter]

    JD: Most women WILL say, "porn doesn't really do it for me." And certainly the mainstream media repeats that over and over again. And even mainstream science says, "it's just a simple evolutionary fact that there are reasons why men are more turned on by visual imagery." But there have been a few instances where I've been with girls and watched porn and could clearly tell that they were affected by it in a good way. So do you think that a lot of the difference between either the perception or reality of men versus women being affected by visual imagery has to do with the taboo? Women are more resistant to accepting that they can enjoy it because of the fear of being perceived as a slut?

    VB: I think there are a couple of different answers to that question. This reminds me: I recently did an interview with the guy who is the Editor-in-Chief of Playboy magazine: the print magazine. Remember that? Anyway, he wanted to feature my book in the Playboy Advisor section. And for some reason, he wanted to talk to me on the phone. And we got into a half-hour argument over whether women are turned on by visual imagery or not. And I thought it was a really telling argument to be having with this guy who is in charge of this magazine — this very dated magazine that a lot of people often voice complaints about. And one of the things he kept throwing at me in terms of this argument is this biological imperative — that women wouldn't be interested in anything that would cause them sexual pleasure outside of anything that would promote their biological imperative to breed and have babies. And it's a real common mainstream argument when it comes to women and sexual pleasure.

    RU: That's a very extreme interpretation of Darwinian evolutionary biology. There are distinctions between the sexes but that's a very extreme interpretation.

    VB: One of the things I come across... obviously my Smart Girl's Guide to Porn is for women, and it's written for sort of a newcomer audience. Most women tend to be newcomers to porn. Guys sort of grow up with porn and women don't. Every guy you talk to, as a generalization, will say, "Oh yeah. Dad's Playboys" or "My older brother's porn stash." So guys grow up already with language about it before they even hit eighteen. And women don't get that growing up. And we also don't get a cultural acknowledgement between our peers about what's hot to jack off to. If you and I are the same age, your experience of porn is going to be much more advanced than mine just because of the way that our genders are acculturated.

    RU: Do you think there's anything to this whatsoever? The belief is that women get hot reading stories whereas men like visuals.

    VB: Ugh. It's context context context. When you grow up and you're not used to explicit sexual imagery... For instance, I got sex ed in school, but I grew up in California. In most of the nation, particularly over the last five years, you can only get abstinence education in public schools. And people who do get any sex ed in school, it's reproductive education. It's all about how babies get made and it's all illustrated cutaways of genitals. So you never see actual genitals until you see porn.

    RU: When I was in school, they didn't have sex ed at all.

    VB: Right so your education came from porn.

    RU: Right.

    JD: So most young males get their education about how to be sexual mostly from porn and whatever R-rated films they can sneak into. But (just to get you to take a devil's advocate position against yourself) with the internet, much younger boys are seeing much more extreme pornography that is pretty much sexist.

    VB: Totally. It's super-dated gender stereotypes and Barbie bodies and all that bullshit.

    JD: What do you think is the possible negative effect of that on how boys learn about their own sexuality, particularly with the current conservatism that's preventing any real sex ed in schools?

    VB: OK. Before I play Devil's advocate to myself, I'm going to say the positive things about that. It's not just boys that are getting a porn education because of what's readily available on the internet. It's girls too. And women are being allowed to individuate their sexuality and their choices by being able to sort-of shop a little bit for visual stimulation on the web. And then they can decide, "I like that' and "I hate that." So that's a positive. People are getting more tools to be able to individuate their sexuality.

    As far as negatives go, I think that there's a lot of educating and a lot of consumer advocacy that needs to be done about porn that's out there — about finding the good porn. Because there are so many racist, sexist, really Jackass-type displays of sexuality — things that you should never try at home that are on the internet, are in "mainstream porn practices." I mean, these people are trained athletes to do a lot of the shit that you see them do. Regular adults shouldn't even be trying some of this stuff at home because it's really unhealthy. That's the type of information and education that needs to get out there, because there are going to be a lot of negative effects. No one is going to be talking to these kids. STD rates among kids are skyrocketing right now because of the abstinence education. It's ridiculous. So people do need to be talking about it. But nobody is talking about anything related to healthy sexuality in regards to pleasure in a public forum for young people. Sites like Scarlet Teen are really good for kids just to learn about healthy sexuality and individuating their own choices.

    RU: Besides having a guide to good porn have you ever thought about having a guide to bad porn?

    VB: That sounds like a great article for 10 Zen Monkeys actually.

    DB: So tell us a bit more about bad porn.

    VB: There's so much bad porn. Where do you begin with bad porn?

    STEVE ROBLES: How about Evan Stone? Can we just narrow it down to Evan Stone?

    VB: Thank you very much.

    SR: I called him the Bruce Campbell of B-level porn.

    VB: He's not even that good. I would do Bruce Campbell. Evan Stone is like the Chippendales dancer that got lost. Overly waxed. Lantern jaw. He's the kind of guy where girls like me look and say, "Where are all the hot guys in porn?"

    SR: They're in gay porn.

    JD: In your book, you write about a lot of girls renting gay porn just because the guys are so hot.

    VB: It's true. I see it in the Castro all the time. I'm never the only woman in the gay porn section. The guys are really hot and there's actual sexualization of male bodies. Mainstream porn is really homophobic. It's depictions of male sexuality are really negative, for the most part. And in gay porn, it's more like, "Whoo hoo! Look what I got. It's fun. Let's play with it." And women like me, who like guys, are like, "Whoo hoo! Yay. Let's play with it."

    See also: Japanese Nose Abuse (written by Violet Blue)

    Good Griefers: Fortuny v. Crook

    In the easily spoofed "reality" of the online griefing biz, it's difficult to know the difference between authentic actions and ones that are done merely for publicity, particularly when the publicity-seekers don't have a whole lot of regard for their own reputations.

    Jason Fortuny and Michael Crook, who both conducted sex-baiting, privacy-killing pranks on CraigsList, are currently feeding what seems to be a new phase in the lifecycle of the meme. In the process, while trying to turn "bad attention" into revenue streams, they're throwing insults at one another, as well as taking considerable rebuke from various sources.

    Fortuny had baited hapless doofuses by pretending to be a woman seeking rough sex. In a blustery online interview last month he taunted his victims, saying his detractors had failed to prove his prank was illegal, and crowing that "I'm still alive... No one's killed me, no one's tried to kill me..."

    But last week on his blog he posted a scan of a beautifully handwritten letter, signed, "Mom."
    You are my son, and I will always love you; but I don't respect the person you have become. You'll never get the chance to play us again. You're wrong, Jason, to play with people's minds or emotions; and don't push buttons.

    I do wish you well.

    Good Bye, Mom

    Comments of condolence quickly turn to his September notoriety as well. ("Your mom ditched you in a letter?" "Maybe she thought an email would get published on the net and it was safer.") After an earlier post where Fortuny noted he'd been unable to identify his biological father, someone suggested he simply post an ad on CraigsList looking for one. One poster even suggests that the letter itself was another prank. ("Jason has already proven he will do anything for attention," another commenter adds.)

    But Fortuny continues to bait his critics. In a mock advice column to future CraigsList prankers, he writes, "Don't worry about lawsuits. They won't happen. Don't worry about getting stalked or beaten. Not gonna happen." Fortuny published what he says are hate mails in response to his prank, including one scolding email from a lawyer in New Jersey. Another blogger claims to have contacted Seattle's prosecuting attorney, and received a response that, "there is no violation of our state criminal code involved here, yet."

    Fortuny identifies the experience as "the peace corps of attention whoring: the toughest spotlight you'll ever love."

    Meanwhile, Fortuny found himself sharing the spotlight with second-string sex-baiter, Michael Crook. Word of Fortuny's prank had reached Crook in upstate New York, inspiring him to also post fake ads on CraigsList forums two weeks later, again pretending to be a young woman seeking casual sex. By last Sunday the Las Vegas Sun had apparently confirmed Crook's aggressive coaxing of emails and photographs from his victims, including from one married man in Las Vegas. According to the paper, Crook then made taunting phone calls to the man's wife, and to managers and the CEO at the company where he worked. For his antics, Crook was served with an injunction in late September, according to the newspaper, and within days Crook had taken down his site.

    Crook's own blog had gloated instead that he'd sold the domain (, and he'd added sassily that it meant "the guys that were on there were literally bought and sold." The domain's registration did change — to a fake phone number in New Jersey belonging to a TV station, and a fake address belonging to a group of physicians. A email address associated with the domain belongs to "Nightshadow Productions," though when contacted they'd claimed plans for "the same busts, as well as the results from at least 15 new busts, some of which are currently going on." Suspiciously, still shows links only to Michael Crook's own sites, and it still appears on a list of domains which Crook himself has for sale. (Its listing says will be offered free of charge to anyone purchasing, for an asking price of $250.) Crook's boastful blog has been taken offline, though — replaced with instructions to search engines not to archive it. In an online forum he writes instead that, "It's difficult to get advertisers behind such a website, which is the primary reason I pulled out..." He says that he'd considered putting the site on a server outside the U.S., but, "It's just not worth it to me if I can't bring in the bucks."

    CraigsList got involved, according to the Sun article, citing court documents where the popular web site alleges trademark infringement and harassment and threatens legal action against Crook unless he will "formally apologize" to each CraigsList victim. They also interviewed another of Crook's victims, a single 34-year-old homeowner who said he felt violated - and is "considering" hiring a lawyer. A spokeswoman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation even tells the newspaper that online pranksters "may be overconfident thinking that they might not go to court."

    Crook responds on his web site, arguing he's too poor to be sued. "Judgments aren't a good thing, but when there's nothing to judge, i.e. nothing to legally put a lien on or seize, it's really a non-issue." He gloats that in any trial he'd use the sexy conversations as evidence, accomplishing "the very same thing these guys want to avoid... [E]verything would become public record, and it would likely wind up in the media, or at the very least under public scrutiny. "

    He also bickers with Fortuny over which of them has kept more of their web material online, and argues that he's not ugly, but Fortuny is.

    Into the drama comes a third character named "Mr Piss On Ya," a domain registered in Louisville, Kentucky which also matches the name of a Louisville "band" on a page. (Though two of their four tracks are recorded prank phone calls.) The "Mr Piss On Ya" domain shows only a picture of Michael Crook over a supposed transcript of Crook himself being baited into giving his phone number to a pretend online female. ("but what if my wife answers?") The transcript dates back to 2005, and was originally hosted on the fan site for a band called "Flaw" — also from Louisville.

    There's no guarantee of its authenticity, and the content seems unusually damning and improbable. (At one point it has Crook saying his penis is "pretty small," and adding later that "I've been in 3 porn films...petite fuckers 1, 2, 3.") Crook had made himself a target for online revenge that spring, moving from an argument that America's soldiers were overpaid to incendiary comments like "Let 'em die in combat — we don't need their ilk in this country!" It's impossible to tell whether the revenge took the form of enticing a sexy chat transcript, or simply fabricating it.

    But Tuesday night a tipster calling himself "[email protected]" gleefully forwarded the URL for the year-old web page to 10zenMonkeys, commenting that Crook "seems to have engaged in the same behavior he's calling himself a martyr by trying to expose." Three minutes later, someone calling themself "Michael Crook is a fraud" posted the same URL — in a comment on Jason Fortuny's blog.

    Another comment appeared — less than an hour later — responding that the transcript "was long ago proven to be a forgery," and adding, "Fortuny doesn't care about facts, now does he?"

    There certainly appears to be a private feud between the two online sex prankers. Fortuny linked to an article about copycat Crook, then made fun of Crook's hair. Someone calling himself "Michael Crook" then appeared in the comments, saying "you can crack wise and insult all you like, but you're the one who was molested as a child (by your own admission), and you're the one who posted about BDSM." (Adding: "And if you're going to insult my hair, get out of that glass house of yours. You're so ugly that my dog wouldn't barf on you.")

    Perhaps it's a fitting end to the story: Two online griefers uncomfortably co-habiting the same meme, locked in endless arguments over their respective self-destructing reputations and posturing defensively for an imagined audience of fans and detractors. Or, God save us all, maybe this meme will simply never go away!

    See Also:
    The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny
    In the Company of Jerkoffs
    Jason Fortuny Speaks
    Craigslist Troll Gets Sued

    What the F*ck is Wrong With the Japanese? (Nose Abuse Fetish)

    Nose Suffocation

    I'm not the first person to say this, but there's an open letter I have to get off my chest:

    Dear Japan,

    Please stop experimenting with your sexuality in public. It's starting to freak us out.


    It's not that I think there's anything categorically wrong with Japanese people or their sexuality. I don't. In fact, I have a hard time saying there's anything right or wrong about fetishes or an individual's sexualization of anything. I don't think there's a "normal" when it comes to sex. And for the record, I don't think Americans are any less bizarre with our sexual fetishes. (You're soaking in it.)

    But I have to admit, sometimes things I find on some obscure Japanese fetish sex sites make me want to jack off to horror films (more than usual, anyway).

    Take for instance my most recent discovery of yet another deeply obsessed, overly specific Japanese sexualization of something I'd never thought of: closed nose fetish.

    The site is ugly and the language barrier makes navigation confusing but let me take you by the nose hand with this overly, singularly, amazingly specific fetish, where women's noses are squeezed shut by their own hands or others, their noses are held under water in bathtubs, their noses are held shut with devices, and screengrabs from Japanese TV capture women mid-nose-closure, even if just for a second.
    * Bathtub and water submersion nose-holding galleries.

    * Big-tit, dick-sucking *nose holding* manga galleries.

    * Japanese TV nose-squeezing screengrabs.

    Dig a little deeper into the slightly disturbing recesses of this site and images emerge that make The Ring look like Jenna Jameson's latest girl-girl, fake-a-rama, feel-good film. And unlike other fetish sites I've come across in researching my Fetish Sex book, like one lovingly compiled head shaving image collection where there's nary an exposed titty in sight, there's no mistake that nose holding -- "nasal suffocation" -- is being sexualized here.

    I supppose we should keep in mind that anything which turns someone on that's not in any typical catalog of things we culturally find "hot," is going to seem weird to some outsiders somewhere, like a freakish cabinet of throbbing curiosities. The hand of Darwin, when it comes to doling out what's arousing, tends to be a blind hand, sweeping some of us into panty-sniffing categories, or turning us into spanking enthusiasts.

    On the one hand, no childhood accidents can ever be accurately tied to sexual fetishization -- it's all theory, mostly contrived by sex-negative people who want fetishists to feel bad about masturbating with stuffed animals. On the other hand, however, I just can't help but wonder upon finding sites like G-Nose, if Japan somehow didn't actually have some kind of painful sexual experience with their nose -- as a nation -- to become so into facial bondage. Did something bad happen to Japan's nose as a kid? What tickles a nation's collective ID in a particular way, to want to jack off to the contents of an entire office supply closet being applied to a pretty girl's face? Or drippy, stressful tentacle-nasal penetration scenes that don't really look like they're bringing the girls to... orgasm? I mean, perhaps the language barrier is preventing me from understanding that it's like Deep Throat and instead of the g-spot being pornologically located in the throat, it's really just up past a deviated septum, to the left or right -- don't worry, the tentacle will find it.

    I guess ultimately it all means that I really should be more sex-positive, or open minded, about nose fucking. We all should.

    See also: Sex for Memes' Sake.

    Dan the Automator Remixes the Blue Angels

    Dan The Automator
    The unassuming young man in our San Francisco home studio, admiring the view and wearing the basketball clinic t-shirt, was none other than Dan The Automator Nakamura, possibly the coolest and most creative hip hop producer around today. Nakamura is simply responsible for the most surreal, humorous, eclectic, sci-fi, beat-driven music being produced these days. Some compare his contemporary position to the place Brian Eno held for so many of us in the 1970s and '80s, and the comparison is deserved although, as he tells us, he's still working on and refining his technique.

    He produced The Gorillaz' first album, and he was the driving force behind Dr. Octagon with Kool Keith; Del Tha Funkee Homosapien; and he produced Cibo Matto's Stereo Type A — that's just for starters.

    It was Fleet Week in San Francisco (yes, America's most un-American city does celebrate our military at least once a year), and The Blue Angels tried to shock and awe us with their aerobatics, buzzing MondoGlobo's hilltop studio and nearly strangling the sound repeatedly as we recorded the show. But after a while, we just thought of it as part of the mix.

    Lisa Rein joined me as co-host for the show, and got Dan The Automator to talk about his participation in the Creative Commons; and Producer Jeff Diehl also contributed to that discussion.
    To listen the the full interview in MP3, click here.

    RU SIRIUS: As somebody who watches some MTV, I've been wondering: Why do you think Damon Albarn is so happy about having sunshine in a bag?

    DAN THE AUTOMATOR: You know, I'm not really sure exactly. That was an interesting one. With that particular song, we had gone through a whole slew of various lyrics to get there. The way we would work is, we'd create melodics and timing, and then words would come last. He's a really brilliant songwriter.

    RU: And Del is a brilliant rapper.

    DAN: Absolutely, Del's my favorite. Actually, there's a new Deltron record coming. We're probably gonna be done recording it by the end of December... So some time next year.

    RU: All along you've been working with almost infinite options, in terms of the sounds that you might use; like you might have some really corny bit of advertising and you mix in avant garde jazz and classical and hard rock and everything else. Is there some method that you have for figuring out what's appropriate to a particular artist or a particular song? Is it entirely intuitive?

    DAN: I'm a big fan of all the types of music you've mentioned. I'm not so much into modern R&B and modern country and modern jazz, but everything else — old country, old R&B, old jazz and even pop music from the old days through now — I'm a big fan of all that stuff. And I've followed people that don't pay much attention to categorizing music, who are eclectic about their influences. So when it comes to making records for myself, I don't look at it so much as "This is a jazz kind of thing," or "This is rock," or whatever. I just go, "This'll sound good."

    RU: You were in some ways right on the forefront of this change. Before, everybody was oriented towards genres. Everything had to fit a genre. And at a certain point, people started mixing them all up, which was a great relief, because it gets tiresome.

    DAN: I agree. I was influenced by the early stages of hip-hop. In hip hop, you have guys like Run DMC rhyming over rock beats or really electronic beats. Or you have another group like A Tribe Called Quest rhyming over jazz beats. That's how hip hop was, originally.

    RU: It's really true that hip hop was sort of the first form that was very liberal about its use of all kinds of other things and putting it into the mix.

    DAN: Just with Run-DMC, they had stuff over old Monkees records, over The Knack, Aerosmith...

    LISA REIN: You donated a track to the Creative Commons — Relaxation Spa Treatment.

    DAN: First of all, the Creative Commons thing — the whole idea was to give music that people could freely use and license. Part of what's going on right now in music, sampling — taking little bits of songs — it's become a very expensive endeavor. I don't mind the fact that it's expensive because if you're using someone else's work, you should pay for it. That's my personal opinion. If they don't want you to use it, that's their business. That's okay.

    But on the other side, I worked with (DJ) Shadow — we made really interesting recordings. And it's like Musique Concrete, which you could never do at this juncture in time because it's too expensive. It can't exist. You're losing a form of music. So I felt like I would like to at least contribute to the side of things where — if people do want to use something, or chop it up, they can do that. The thought that goes into that kind of stuff can bring out new ideas. And that will bring about more different kinds of music. I'd hate to see that whole thing go away.

    JEFF DIEHL: Don't most artists sympathize with that view? Isn't the copyright law now mostly protecting the record companies or labels; isn't it the corporations who want to protect this stuff?

    DAN: Well, it's a little bit of everything. Ultimately, like I said, if you made it and you didn't want someone else using it, that's your business. You know what I mean? It's a very fundamental principle to me. I respect that.

    JEFF: But that's kind of an old school mentality, right?

    RU: I would say, as a writer, if somebody quotes a couple of paragraphs of mine in the context of something larger, then I don't really have the right to say anything about it. All literature and all writing is built on that.

    LISA: But you might want attribution for it.

    RU: If they pretended it was their own? I suppose you could have a point.

    DAN: When it's a recording, it could be the guy's voice. Maybe he doesn't want to lend his voice to this project, so I respect that side of it. I have to say that I regret that you won't see records introduced like the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, because it's become too expensive to do. I'd like to see people contribute with things that people can use, chop up and change around.

    When people sample me, sometimes I can't just clear it myself because it's through a label. But I always clear my side of it, because I feel like it's the same thing if you're using music in advertising. I don't really want to, say, advertise cigarettes or something like that, but pretty much anything else, I feel like it's okay because they're still bringing music out. And I feel the same way about someone using the music in a song. In general, I want people to have the ability to do something like that.

    RU: In this context, what do you think about mashups? Have you had any of your songs used in mashups?

    DAN: I've heard a few things hear and there. I come from a DJ background. Before we were making records, we were doing that all the time. I'm from San Francisco. We've been mixing all sorts of different music for years. It was part of the background that allowed me to get familiar with different kinds of music. So I don't find it to be refreshingly new, if you understand what I'm saying. But I'm glad people do it. But I also think the way some people do it; it's more for the idea of doing it than the sound... what comes out of it. I don't really enjoy those so much.

    JEFF: The gimmick of taking two song titles that have the same word and then mashing them together...

    DAN: Exactly.

    RU: You seem to work entirely in terms of projects. Have you ever thought of trying to develop a solo career or forming a band?

    DAN: There's one big flaw in that theory. I can't sing, I can't rhyme, and I like vocals.

    RU: Do you relate yourself in any way to the idea of the great producer? There was Phil Spector and then Brian Eno.

    DAN: I think they're operating on a higher level than I am, so far.

    RU: Do you have trouble listening to the stuff that you've done in the past because you feel like it could've been better?

    DAN: Well, I always feel like everything could've been better, but there's another thing involved — the ability to let go. I feel like records, movies, whatever — they're a snapshot in your development and in your life. I could still be working on Doctor Octogon right now. But some time, it has to go out there and live its life.

    JEFF: Because theoretically, you could just continue to work on a project forever...

    DAN: Exactly.

    JEFF: Like software, you could release versions.

    DAN: That's a little strange, but yeah. I feel like the edges are what make things interesting. If you listen to some of these bigger budget bands, it gets more polished as time goes on. And maybe you like the more polished version, but maybe you like the rawer versions.

    RU: You choose some great surrealistic lyricists. Did you always have an affinity towards that?

    DAN: I work with a lot of people who have, I should say, "alternate ways of thinking." And they find the most profound and most interesting ways of putting together lyrics. That's really enjoyable to me.

    RU: You list your influences on your Myspace page. I wanted to just throw out a couple of them, because they were amusing and interesting. The BeeGees! Say what you love about the BeeGees.

    DAN: Well, I was a little young when Saturday Night Fever came out. People kind of looked down on them for a couple of reasons — it was disco and there's a lot of falsetto involved. (Laughter all around.) I'm telling it like it is. But as far as songwriting goes, they put a stamp on the whole seventies partly because they were great songs that just keep going time after time.

    RU: RZA.

    DAN: The Wu Tang Clan is just really brilliant. I'm a fan of people who take their whole thing and put it into a concept. I love the music, but even more I just like them conceptually, and the attitude it takes to go make that.

    RU: It's like people who develop mythologies around their band and have a whole cosmology, and that sort of started with P-Funk.

    DAN: RZA is also an organizer. With Wu Tang Clan, there wasn't actually a group — it was a bunch of different people that he kind of brought together to be a group. And if you understand, you get nine ghetto cats together and you can organize and make that happen, you're on some shit. You've really got a focus there, you know? I give him credit for the whole concept, the strength of it.

    RU: Tell us about the CD you brought with you.

    DAN: NBA 2k7 is a soundtrack for the NBA's new videogame. And what I did with this was I picked various artists that represent various styles of hip hop and various styles of regional rap to do this — everything from Pop New York to underground New York: to the South; the Midwest; West Coast, Backpack, Real Flossy. I wanted to show the variation, the eclectic nature of the United States.

    My Opponent Pays for Gay Teen Bestiality!

    Things are so bad for Republicans right now that they absolutely must rely heavily on individual attacks on the opposing candidates.

    Republican Congressional candidate Paul Nelson is even recycling Vernon Robinson's notorious attack ad, word for word, by simply splicing in his opponent's name and his own; even the voice of the narrator is the same. The ad claims, among other outlandish (though somewhat true) things, that Democrats "paid for sex" by funding a study that had teenage girls watching pornographic videos with probes attached to their genitalia. revealed that, according to an online abstract from the National Institutes of Health, even though there was pornography involved, the word "teen" never appears. That is true. For that matter, when we checked ourselves, we couldn't find reference to any "genital probes" (doesn't mean they weren't used!).

    What we did find, however, is that the subjects in the study of visual arousal in females were required to view some video clips of "non-human animals" having sex (as a control)!

    In the interest of keeping this wave of eminently entertaining campaign ads alive, allow us to suggest one possible way forward for GOP media strategists in the post-Foley atmosphere of Republican "ickiness."

    Even though "zoophilia" technically doesn't have to involve the act of having sex with an animal, it is only a hop, skip and a jump away from bestiality. Animal-on-animal porn is a gateway to far more disgusting activities. No doubt about it.

    But let's not take any chances. The stakes are too high (boredom!). What's the one thing that's more repugnant than human sex with animals? Homosexual human sex with animals! By teenagers! (Which this NIH study very well may have supported.) That's even more disgusting than anything Foley has been accused of doing -- so far.

    Allow us to suggest some catch-phrases for Republicans' media strategy.

    "Not only does my opponent oppose body armor, but he wants to subject teenage girls to films showing horny warthogs humping."

    "My opponent spent his time in Congress advocating gay sex with animals."

    One other bright spot: should this program get funded again soon, it will no doubt use a new technology called "thermography" instead of "probes." This allows arousal to be measured by infrared cameras aimed at the subjects' genitalia. Do not fear; the suggested catchphrase then becomes:

    "This Democrat Congressman denied body armor for our troops, in favor of night vision for degenerates in long coats to stare at penises and vaginas in the dark."

    Etcetera. We leave the final tweaking up to you savvy political types. We trust you to keep us amused.

    Neil Gaiman has Lost His Clothes

    Neil Gaiman & RU SiriusNeil Gaiman didn't arrive naked when he graced our MondoGlobo studio on Sunday, October 1. But according to a post on his website, he had lost most of his clothes. "What are the odds that, if I was sent a box of clean clothes to wear, a box that was waiting for me in New York, I would somehow manage to pack most of the clothes that were inside back up in the box along with the awards and books and CDs I'd been given, not to mention the already-worn UK-trip clothes, and then send that box with my clean clothes in it home, and that I would only discover the awful reason why my suitcase was so light on a Sunday morning in San Francisco?"

    Rest assured, Mr. Gaiman didn't smell like several days sweat, and he looked pretty much like you'd expect a comic writer and fantastical novelist to look: all in black, including the leather jacket. And if he felt like he was in the middle of one of the most common types of nightmares, he didn't seem disoriented.

    In fact, he didn't even tell us about his travails and he pretty much carried the interview (along with my co-host, Diana Brown), while your humble host (that's me) was in something of a somnambulant fog brought on by that day's health issues (I'll spare you.)

    And then there was the presence of Paul McEnery, who had interviewed Gaiman for Mondo 2000 back in the mid-1990s. "We broke him in America," he assured me. I had ignored his pleas to participate in the program, not wanting to crowd the show with too many cooks, but there he was, and so he was invited to kibbutz.

    All in all, it worked. This is a damned fine Neil Gaiman interview.

    Gaiman, noted for his Sandman comics, the novels American Gods and Anansi Boys, and so much more, has been touring America promoting his new collection, Fragile Things: Short Fiction and Wonders.
    To listen to the interview in MP3, click here.

    RU SIRIUS: His New York Times bestselling novel American Gods was awarded the Hugo, Nebula, Locus and Bram Stroker...errr. How 'bout that? The Bram Stoker award.

    NEIL GAIMAN: The horror people actually call them the Strokers.

    RU: What do they give you? I'm imagining a bucket of viscous red fluid.

    NG: That would be wonderful. Actually, it's one of the prettiest awards. It's a little sort of haunted house designed by Gahan Wilson. You open the door and the name of what's won the award is behind the little door. It's kind of cool. It's much prettier than most.

    RU: That's real effort. Do they have a ceremony?

    NG: I think they did try to have a reasonably good ceremony. The trouble was, I'd logged on to their website that morning and their webmaster had been overly enthusiastic and put up the results. At nine in the morning, I discovered that I'd won. And then I had to go through the rest of the day pretending that I hadn't. People would come over to me and say, "Good luck!" and through gritted teeth I would say, "Thank You."

    RU: One of the things I love in your work is the importance of the figure of the trickster or the rascal that runs through pretty much everything. It's like this figure Mr. Nancy, who appears in the last two novels. And it seems like this may be the sort of person who can bring magic into our world and it's perhaps the sort of person that we don't have room for any more in America.

    NG: Oh, I think there are tricksters in America. I think they hang around the edges, which is, I think, the place where tricksters ought to be. You don't want a trickster at the center of your life because they will...

    RU: ...or as President.

    NG: You definitely don't want a trickster as President, although you'd have a really interesting country for 4 years, or perhaps for 3 or 4 weeks until he absconds with the money from the treasury.

    RU: Do you think that fiction is the best way to express the value of that sort of character? You can't as easily write prose justifying the trickster as you can fiction.

    NG: I think evoking the trickster is best done at short length. Mr. Nancy, one of the best things you can say for him is that he does die on page one. And then he hangs around the novel refusing to go away.

    I always loved trickster stories. My favorites; obviously the Anansi stories are wonderful; the Coyote stories are marvelous. You run into these stories where Coyote will get into an argument with a rock...and lose.

    RU: That's happened to me.

    NG: The thing I think I love best about tricksters is that they lose from time to time. Gods and heroes win. Tricksters are just like the rest of us. They win sometimes; they lose sometimes. They screw up every bit as often as people do, only with more style.

    RU: The comedy of that fucking-up comes across in Anansi Boys

    NG: I think Anansi Boys is pretty much a comedy of embarrassment.

    RU: Particularly your main character.

    NG: Which is why I wanted to do a character that was English. Because the English do embarrassment better. We have raised it to some kind of slightly awkward apologetic art form. American's understand the concept of embarrassment...

    RU: ...we just don't engage in it.

    NG: I was talking to an American friend who told me that she was in England making out with an Englishman in a parking lot in the rain. He got very scared and upset and wouldn't continue making out with her. She asked me, why not? And I told her, "Basically, it's because you are an American. You were making out in the parking lot in a car in the rain and your attitude is 'Anybody walking past, I don't know these people. What the hell? This is my life. Go away.' Whereas his was the profound certainty that the moment that things went any further, not only would somebody knock upon the window; if he rolled the window down, it would be someone he knew and standing just behind him would be everyone else he'd ever met and they would all be staring disapprovingly." That's just how the English are built.

    RU: A sense of propriety still exists.

    NG: And a wonderful magical sense; a sort of conviction that the world is designed to make you slightly embarrassed and slightly ill at ease. But I actually like that.

    The lead character in Anansi Boys is divided up into Fat Charlie, our hero, who is very English and very embarrassed; and his brother Spider, who is semi-fictional and God-like and for whom the world just sits up and begs and does more or less whatever he wants it to do.

    RU: The sense I get is that neither is complete without the other. Charlie is perfect neurosis and the other is perfect pathology.

    NG: Psychosis.

    Terry Gilliam has loved Good Omens for years. He recently came to us and said, "What is it going to cost me to get the option for myself?" Terry Pratchett and I put our heads together and thought: we want this to be a Terry Gilliam film. We don't want this to be an anybody-else film. We've said no to lots of people who want to make it into a cool big commercial film. So we decided that it should cost him a groat.

    DIANA BROWN: I was struck by the title of your new collection, Fragile Things, and your take on the title. And I'm quoting you: "The peculiarity of most things we think of as fragile are how tough they really are." And you talk about eggshells and butterfly wings and hearts and dreams. And the line I like best there: "Even dreams, the most delicate and intangible of things can prove remarkably difficult to kill." So what was your impetus to put this collection together and name it Fragile Things?

    NG: The only thing that makes me feel like it's OK to write short fiction and take the time away that I could otherwise spend on a novel is the idea that every eight years or so, I can put it all together and I will have something book-like. It was eight years. I had enough stories. It was time to put them all together in one place and see what they did. Which is something very cool for a writer because the themes take you by surprise -- you put all these stories together and they have something huge in common. Things repeat. When I was reading it aloud for the audio book I would discover that even certain phrases would repeat themselves from story to story. And I thought, "Should I take them out?" But I rather like the fact that they repeat.

    What gets harder is: what order do they go in? I couldn't figure out how to do it. So eventually I turned to my editor and I said, "I have no idea what order I want these things to go in. Would you do me a list?" So she sent me her list. And I looked at it and I said, "That's not right" and promptly put them into the right order. I really needed somebody to send me a list so I could go, "What are you thinking of, woman."

    The original title that I had in my head was "These People Should Know Who We Are and Know That We Were Here." It's a quote from "Little Nemo." It was all going to be first person narratives and unreliable narrators talking about their lives. But then I kept coming up with stories that couldn't follow that pattern. And then I kept telling people that the title was going to be "These People Should Know Who We Are and Know That We Were Here." And everybody I would tell that title to would look at me and tell me, "Oh nice title. A bit Dave Eggers-y isn't it?"

    And then finally, I'd written a song from a dream. It was one of the very few occasions where you wake up from a dream with words in your head. You write them down and they seem to be lyrics. And there's a band called One Ring Zero who did a wonderful album where they came to a bunch of authors and asked for words. And I gave them these lyrics, which we called "On The Wall." And there was this line in there: "think that I would rather recollect a life misspent on fragile things than spent avoiding moral debt." That line started haunting me. And I thought, "I wonder what those fragile things could be?" So I started thinking about the nature of fragility and people and hearts and stories and all of the things we think of as fragile. And suddenly I realized that was the title of this collection.

    DB: Do you find yourself working within a particular construct of a story and the story insists on going in a different direction?

    NG: Definitely. You write the story wherever it will go and sometimes you'll run into enormous trouble if you have an idea of where a story is supposed to go and it's not going there. I was about halfway through Anansi Boys. It was going completely on track. I knew where the plot was going. I knew everything about it. I'm writing away very happily. I've got a character going up in an elevator to see another character, and I thought: Hang on, if you go up to see him. And you have the conversation with him that I think you're going to have; he's going to kill you. That's not part of the plot. That's not even where I thought this story was going. That makes it much darker and derails everything. And suddenly these characters who I thought of as wallpaper, came up and started doing things.

    RU: I loved that character, Mr. Coats (the murderer). I feel as though I've met that guy and maybe you have too.

    NG: I loved writing him. I took enormous joy in writing a character who was everything that I could hate. He's every crooked agent that I have ever encountered.

    I've had very good agents. But every once in awhile, you see a friend of yours winding up with a rotten apple. Poor Douglas Adams. I remember going to see Douglas once, and he looked very down in the dumps. So I asked him what was wrong. And he said, "I've just discovered that my accountant who has just advised me to by a new house and told me I was fine, had actually cleaned out my bank account, and having been caught, just killed himself."

    DB: You start the book with "A Study in Emeralds", a fabulous literary mashup in which Sherlock Holmes meets the world of H.P. Lovecraft. What is your favorite Lovecraft story?

    NG: My favorite Lovecraft at exactly this moment that you happened to ask me is probably "The Outsider." It was the first, and I had no idea of what to expect. And suddenly I'm climbing up in the darkness with somebody who has been down in this dark place, and he's climbing up and up and up and up and he finally comes into the sunlight and comes out and everybody who sees him starts screaming. And we realize he's a horrible creature and he goes back down. It's an incredibly simple plot idea and it completely took me by surprise and told me that I was with an author who would take me to strange places and whom I trusted. And for whom everything was atmosphere. The joy of Lovecraft is not plot. You don't read Lovecraft for those brilliant twists and turns.

    DB: You're immersed in it.

    NG: You are. You're adrift on this clotted adjectival froth that floats on top of the story and it carries you away.

    PAUL MCENERY: I wanted to ask you about the theme: Gods who have fallen on hard times. That's what is really going on in American Gods and Anansi Boys. And you're revisiting it with a comic book that is coming out right now, The Eternals. Is that why you went back to The Eternals?

    NG: Not really, although thematically it does seem to be an odd sort of fit with these things. It was definitely a theme that began in Sandman. I can point to "Calliope" in Sandman 17 about a muse who has been kept prisoner. Most of the Gods in Sandman are Gods who are no longer believed in, no longer worshipped and no longer anywhere near as powerful as they would like to be. And then in The Kindly Ones, I wrote this sort of weird rant that Loki has as he's killing a young lady. He does this rant about the new Gods: the gods of mortuary and ambulance and the gods of freeway and television. So I thought, "There's something here that I'm trying to say." And that all stewed, until one day I was in Iceland for a 24 hour plane stopover. So I had this plan to keep going until it got dark. And I didn't realize that on June 23 in Iceland, you don't get any dark. So I've been awake for 36 hours. And I'm in a little tourist office looking at the little maps of the Viking incursions into Newfoundland and back, and I think, "I wonder if they left their Gods behind"?

    So I walked back to my hotel and I started typing out an outline. I wrote "American Gods" at the top. I was thinking, I could do a road trip. I can talk about the America that has been fascinating me. And I can talk about the fact that there are things that are missing -- spiritually missing -- in America. It's the weirdness of the American predilection towards giant roadside attractions.

    DB: The Enormous Ball of Twine.

    NG: The Enormous Ball of Twine. The House on the Rock. All of those kinds of things that seemed to fulfill the same kind of place in the soul that the holy places in Europe and Asia...

    RU: They're not quite Stonehenge.

    NG: Yes. They're not quite Stonehenge. So when all that was done, I really wanted to tell the Anansi Boys story. That is much less a story of Gods falling on hard times and more a story of how your family is embarrassing. And Gods seemed like a lovely way of super-charging that. Giving it more weight and more power. That's one of the things that Gods do. It's the great thing about Gods in stories and in our collective consciousness. They embody something. So Nancy as the trickster; as a God of storytelling; as a God who would go out and pick up loose women; as a God who would come home drunk -- this was somebody I wanted in my story.

    RU: Two Englishmen, Grant Morrison and Alan Moore, both are very outspoken about their beliefs in the occult and psychedelic drugs and all kinds of weirdness...

    NG: Alan worships an imaginary Roman snake god. I remember the day. I was sitting at home and the phone rang and it was Alan, who had always been a devout rationalist -- a man who would have made Penn and Teller feel that they were superstitious. So Alan called me up and said [Cockney accent], "Neil. It's my 40th birthday next week and I've decided to get me midlife crisis over with, so I'm becoming a warlock and I'm going to be worshiping an imaginary Roman snake god. Just thought you'd like to know mate. Alright?"

    Unfortunately, him having done that, growing a really long beard, I think, wouldn't it be great to grow a really long beard. But Alan's already done it. So I can't imagine myself -- if I became a sort-of psychedelic warlock, people would say, "Oh, he's just doing Alan Moore."

    RU: Has it surprised you that so much weirdness has managed to leak its way into the world of comics?

    NG: No, not at all. We are wonderfully weird people. It's a pity really that it isn't as true these days. I'll always meet people who will explain to me that they're going into comics as a career move. Which is like somebody telling me that they're going to live in Belgium as a career move. It's just wrong.

    Those of us who got into comics, at least before the early 90s, most of us got into comics because it was a really cool, strange, odd place that nobody was watching.

    RU: That's what I was thinking, but to a certain extent, still nobody is watching. It's like a really big cult.

    NG: I don't think it's a cult any more. I think it's hit the stage of religion. It may fall back to cult. Comics is in this weird world now where all the places that are reviewing stuff will just cheerfully review comics alongside everything else. This is what we were fighting for 25 years ago -- to be sold in bookshops. As far as the likes of me and Alan and Grant and the rest of us are concerned, we are now living in the Golden Age. This is utopia. There are zeppelins and flying cars and a cure for cancer in this perfect future. This is what we dreamed would happen. Back in '86, nobody was reading comics. I remember the sheer amazed befuddled joy when we in England discovered that Kathy Acker read comics for pleasure. And it was magic. It was so cool. She was this weird figure, but almost part of the literary establishment...

    RU: Almost a legitimate intellectual. She would love to hear that.

    NG: It's true. She was almost legitimate and she read Love And Rockets. And she got into line to get her copy of Dark Knight signed by Frank Miller at a signing. The reason it was so cool was that this had never happened -- somebody from that world coming into our world. These days, everybody reads comics. I go to a big author event or book expo or something like that and all these authors sort of sidle over and ask me how they can get into the business. You want to say, "Go away you latecomers! We want none of you! We spurn you."

    RU: I guess anybody who's anybody has to do a graphic novel now.

    NG: Exactly. It is kind of true. I actually kind of like it. I love the fact that we live in a world where you can get Michael Chabon and Will Eisner collaborating on a comic. That's magic. I'm glad we're living in a world where Art Spiegelman is taken absolutely as seriously as anybody else in American letters. But it's so easy to forget the way things were.

    RU: You're doing something with Terry Gilliam, who is absolutely one of my favorite directors.

    NG: Bless! I hope that it happens. Terry has been working for many years on Good Omens, which is the novel that Terry Pratchett and I co-wrote about the end of the world...

    DB: It has just been re-released.

    NG: Absolutely. Terry Gilliam has loved the book for years. He has been working on it for awhile. He recently came to us and said, "OK. I'm going to get the rights back to the script that I wrote with this guy called Tony Brusconi a few years ago. What is it going to cost me to get the option for myself?" Terry Pratchett and I put our heads together and thought; well, we really want Terry Gilliam to make it. We want this to be a Terry Gilliam film. We don't want this to be an anybody-else film. We've said no to lots of people who want to make it into a cool big commercial film. We like the idea of it being a Terry Gilliam film. So we put our heads together and we decided that it should cost him a groat. And I don't believe they've actually made groats, which is an old English coin worth about four pence since about the 1780s. Which means he is going to have to go to EBay.

    RU: He's going to have to do some searching... a magical quest.

    NG: They're cheap. I mean frankly they're really cheap. We figured out we were going to need Farthings to pay the agents -- the agent commission on a groat. I went to EBay and picked up a farthing for practically nothing.

    5 Nastiest Campaign Ads So Far

    Will Republicans or Democrats control the Senate? It all hangs on five tight Senate races — which means negative ads, and lots of them. Mis-leading, meaningful, desperate, or despicable — they're on your TV, messing with your mind.

    To get a glimpse at those states where the battle is being fought the hardest, we scoured the party campaign sites (and sometimes YouTube), compiling this list of the five nastiest Senate campaign ads of 2006 — so far.

    1. "It was unbelievably demoralizing to be painted as a pampered slut!"

    This according to retired Navy commander Jennifer Brooks. Retired Commander Kathleen Murray adds that, "The unnecessary abuse and hazing received by me and my fellow women midshipmen" were contributed to by the demeaning philosophy of Democrat Senate candidate Jim Webb.

    They're citing an article he wrote a whopping 27 years ago (page 277 of "Washingtonian Magazine") saying a military dorm with 4,000 males and 300 females "is a horny woman's dream." (Oh, and 14 years ago, he also called a midshipman "thunder thighs," according to the attack site Webb against women.) Of course, in the 70s the public debated whether the all-male military should be open to women at all, and "I don't think it was wrong to participate in the debate at that time," Webb tells Meet the Press. Or tries to. In the Republican Senate Committee's ad, he only gets to say, "I don't think it was wrong..." before the ad switches to different footage — of Tim Russert incredulously repeating the idea that "being in a naval academy is a horny woman's dream."

    Webb ultimately countered with some tough ads of own, showing support from a (female) retired Brigadier General, a (female) Coast Guard officer and a (female) 1984 Naval academy student who says "Jim Webb broke down barriers. He changed things as Naval Secretary."

    2. "My opponent parties with lingerie-clad Playboy bunnies! And then goes to church!"

    That's the implicit message in a political ad which attacked Tennessee Senate candidate Harold Ford. (It has since been removed from YouTube.) In a tight (and crucial) Senate race, Democrat challenger Ford had run an effective ad emphasizing his connection to "values" voters by walking down the aisle of a church. "Here I learned the difference between right and wrong," he states earnestly. "And now Mr. Corker [his Republican opponent] is doing wrong." Corker's sins include spending millions "telling untruths" about his Republican opponents in the primary, "both of them good men," says Ford sympathetically. "And now me!"

    "What kind of man parties with Playboy playmates in lingerie," counters the latest NSRC product, "and then films political ads from a church pew?" It's an allusion to Playboy's 2005 Super Bowl party, which Ford attended. The National Republican Senate Committee first seized on the party eight months ago, and Ford recently struck back with an ad mocking Republican Corker's wealth in a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous parody. It cites Corker's 30-room mansion, 6 SUVs, and $200 million net worth, finally arguing that he'd accepted three pay raises for himself, "yet nothing for police and firefighters!"

    The race is neck-and-neck, according to recent polls, which means ad consultants will continue scrambling for the hottest buttons they can push.

    3. "Depends on your area code!"

    Oh sure, Missouri Senate candidate Claire McCaskill says she's tough on methamphetamines. But everything she says "depends on your area code... She just tells you what you want to hear."

    So does this mean she's in favor of methamphetamines? Well, no. The ad doesn't cite her position on the illegal drug. But she lived in a city that had illegal drugs — lots of 'em! (Kansas City was "the meth capital of America," according to a four-year-old Kansas City Star article cited by the ad.) And at that time, Claire McCaskille was a prosecutor for the county! See?!

    That charge has since been removed from the online version of the Republican National Senate Committee's ad. Its other two supposed McCaskill flip-flops were 1.) gun control, which she was either for or against, and 2.) she missed paying her property taxes, yet had the gall to talk about things like "integrity" in her campaign.

    The logic can be a little strained — but we're sure Republican Jim Talent appreciates the effort.

    4. "A piss-poor job!"

    Emotional music lauds the 9/11 firefighters who fought Montana's forest fires. Except, they were doing "a piss-poor job" according to evil Republican Senator Conrad Burns. While pointing at one, he said, "he hasn't done a god-damned thing," according to the ad. Burns' dirty words were re-broadcast into Montana homes, after a Democrat Senate Campaign Committee disclaimer that: "The following contains language by Conrad Burns, unsuitable for Montana."

    Using his own words against him, Burns' opponent, newcomer John Tester, seems to have gotten the upper-hand with Montana's conservative voters. But it's not like the Republican candidate didn't try. "Feller comes in fer a trim on his flat-top," says a barber in one of Burns' ads, "because he's running fer U.S. Senate. Guess he doesn't want anyone to know he opposes a gay marriage ban, thinks flag burning is all right, and supports higher taxes!"

    Apparently, the ad-makers thought all Montanans are rural hicks who only trust their barber. But ultimately no amount of barber-speak could keep Tester from opening a lead on the incumbent that will likely cost him his Senate seat. "Here's a tip," ran the counter-ad. "The man attacking Jon Tester is an actor. A fake, sent by Senator Burns' Washington friends..." Tester later pointed out to the L.A. Times that he doesn't support gay marriage or flag-burning, but opposes addressing the issues with constitutional amendments. Finally an op-ed in the New York Times even tracked down Mr. Tester's real barber, who said the ads were phony cheap shots. Then added, "I thought there was a war going on in Iraq, for crying out loud."

    5. "...The happier we'll be!"

    Mike DeWine is the incumbent Republican Senator in Ohio. (He's also incredibly short.) And he used the innocuous phrase "we all have to work together: Democrats, Republicans," in his ads. Suddenly the picture freezes, in a new ad from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.

    "Senator DeWine HAS worked together," it tells us, "voting 92% of the time with President Bush."

    "The more we work together, the happier we'll be," a chorus of children sings, as subtitles flash over a picture of smiling Michael DeWine with his arm around President Bush.
    Increasing the National Debt to $9 trillion
    Tax breaks for the oil companies
    Tax breaks for companies that move jobs overseas
    Mike DeWine likes working together with George Bush.

    With President Bush's popularity ratings stuck in the high 30s, this may ultimately be the most negative campaign ad of all.

    Think you know of better ones? Leave them in the comments!

    See also:
    Awesomest Campaign Ad Ever
    5 More Nasty Campaigns
    My Opponent Pays for Gay Teen Bestiality.

    The Perversions of Perverted-Justice

    Von Erck"To Catch a Predator" on Dateline introduced sex baiting to the popular mind. Fortuny and Crook may have adapted it to their own psychological obsessions, but clearly, NBC's relationship with "" is the established and refined model for the freelance bad-guy sting.

    On Friday, NBC ran the fifth installment of the pedophile-trapping news segment. The stings are choreographed by a community college drop-out and his group of "trained citizen contributors" who have, in the name of protecting society from its most reviled deviants, also aimed their vigilante arsenal at rival web sites, personal enemies, and even Google and Wikipedia.

    It's got to be a little heady these days for Xavier Von Erck, the Director of Operations for In an online essay, he talks about growing up with a mother who "worked everything from Taco Bell to gas station jobs to warehouse jobs to parts delivery jobs." His group now rakes in over a hundred grand for each episode it's involved with.

    A recent New York Daily News article cited another article on RadarOnline identifying him as a 27-year-old Oregon community college dropout. But when the article linked to his blog, Von Erck redirected it to his original emails to the magazine's reporter. "I completed some college before what I would call a 'productive internet addiction' ruined my studies," he'd commented, "which I were not all that interested in anyways."

    There are people who oppose's methods. There's even an opposing site that calls itself ("Number of INNOCENT people harassed and terrorized by volunteer vigilantes...with no police involvement since January 2003: 2704.") This in turn spawned a counter-counter site called whose sole function is to criticize

    It all culminated in a bizarre incident involving an Arkansas pilot — a married man (and non-pedophile) who still vehemently opposed the group. He'd threatened everything from online computer attacks to investigations from the IRS. The response? Erck says his group lured the married man into an online romance by pretending to be a sympathetic female and then continued the online relationship for several months, leading to the collection of thousands of lines of chat containing personal information used to out the straying man to his wife.

    Fighting pedophiles has brought with it still more enemies. For instance, they have a problem with Google. Their site argues that pedophiles "have infiltrated legitimate businesses to try to spread their pro-pedo message to the masses" — if by "infiltrated legitimate businesses," you mean "posted on a blog." Google is their #1 target for its ownership of Blogspot, which is guilty of not removing sites advocating sex with children. Perverted-Justice concedes that "We love Google," yet the company is #1 in their "Corporate Sex Offender registry" for failing to remove pedophilia-advocating blogs, including two blogs by a user named Rookiee.

    Both Google and (Rookiee's podcast host) are listed as "aggressive corporate sex offenders" on Perverted-Justice for giving Rookiee a platform. The first name on their list of passive corporate sex offenders is Wikipedia, which it describes as the "'wild west' of encyclopedias" with "a vast pedophile cabal seeking to undermine it." Their main objection was that Wikipedia's articles could be accessed and edited by Rookiee. (Although not any more. Last week his Wikipedia account was blocked from updating the site's articles, though not without some spirited discussion.) "We've left Wikipedia in the 'passive' category," Perverted-Justice states, "because they still have not taken a clear and unambiguous stance disavowing pedophile advocates from editing 'encyclopedic' pedophile articles."

    This Saturday they added a new name at the top of their corporate offenders list: Verizon/MCI Worldcom. (Perverted-Justice argues that an obscure Canadian hosting company named Epifora hosts dozens of sites advocating sex with minors — and is getting its internet connectivity from Verizon's pipes.)

    So who do they like? Well, there's YouTube — for removing Rookiee's account; Xanga — for pulling Rookie's web site; and CafePress — for pulling Rookiee's online store. (They're now listed as "the Rehabilitated.") In fact, elsewhere on the Perverted-Justice site they write that entire list was created because "Rookiee made the mistake of attacking our organization online." That was enough to get him their attention, along with the companies enabling him to speak. Perverted-Justice argues that the writings of Rookiee offer a "snapshot" into the online pedophile world.

    In their own bizarre form of exploitation, every page of the site now also includes an ad for their official store, which offers to give visitors a chance to raise awareness of the growing problem of online pedophilia "by shopping." The store sells merchandise bearing the site's logo, including underwear, women's thongs, and a baby doll t-shirt. There's also coffee mugs and beer steins. For the t-shirts they've even come up with catchy pedophilia-busting slogans.

    "See you later masturbator, after a while, pedophile."
    "Squeeze no child's behind"
    "Coast to coast, we make predators toast"

    Publicizing their pushback against online predators may or may not offer another way of discouraging online predators — but it's ultimately bringing its own set of challenges. The article in Radar cited a controversial blog post Von Erck made over two years ago, arguing a hostage who signaled his weakness to an al Qaeda captor failed to understand that "Arab culture is quite sick in many respects.... Spinelessness and negotiation only encourage Arabs to attack and harass western society further." Von Erck's emailed responses to Radar's reporter also hint at other criticisms he's faced. ("[W]e have not posted the log of anyone prior to conviction in almost over nine months now.") He's angry about the way the article portrayed him and rationalizes any personal flaws by citing his site's victories in the war on pedophiles:
    One was a doctor and a vice-president of a biotech firm. One was a software developer for Apple. Two were guys in IT (who likely could have figured out how to log into Yahoo chat on a Mac) And yet another had a very successful job running a fairly successful business

    He may be a community college drop-out — but for the fifth time he's also busted pedophiles on television. It's worth noting, though, that before he ever dreamed of hooking up with Dateline, he posed as children in chat rooms and chatted sexually with adults. He hasn't admitted that it's one he entertains himself, but this is an established role-playing fetish in itself.

    In any case, we once again have a self-congratulating sex baiter who rains righteous anger down on everyone — except himself.

    See Also:
    Web Fight: Wikipedia, YouTube vs. Perverted Justice
    Sex Panic: An Interview with Debbie Nathan

    Adopt an African Hottie’s Clitoris!

    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

    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."


    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.


    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.

    Awesomest Congressional Campaign Ever — Vernon Robinson, N.C.

    Helms & Robinson

    "Brad Miller even spent your tax dollars to pay teenage girls to watch pornographic movies with probes connected to their genitalia."

    That's from a TV campaign ad by Vernon Robinson, who's trying to unseat incumbent Democrat Miller for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 13th District of North Carolina. In the process, he's created some of the most amusing campaign messages in recent memory.

    Here's another, from the same ad:

    "Brad Miller spent your money to study the masturbation habits of old men."

    Robinson is an African-American and a rabid conservative Republican. In 2004, he lost a bid for the 5th District, but not before providing the locals with some high-concept political cabaret. He's so far to the right that the Winston-Salem Journal declared in an editorial about Robinson, "Jesse Helms is back! And this time, he's black." Robinson's campaign then adopted it as a slogan. A radio campaign ad was so controversial and borderline illegal that local station WSJS felt it had to pull all ads for the 5th District Primary.

    His current campaign is wonderfully absurd and offensive, which makes it a joyful slapstick take on national politics. One radio ad uses a Mariachi soundtrack while claiming, "If Miller had his way, America would be nothing but one big fiesta for illegal aliens and homosexuals." And another, with banjo music in the background: "Hey all you illegals, put your shoes on. Go home. Don't come back now, y'hear?"

    Beyond ads, Robinson pulled an old trick of his and suggested that since Miller is middle-aged and childless, he must be homosexual. Miller then felt he had to explain that his wife is unable to bear children due to the fact she had a hysterectomy and suffers from endometriosis.

    Robinson's media savvy is matched only by his massive set of huevos. But the meanness is almost enough to feel sorry for Miller. Certainly, if they weren't both public figures, Robinson would be giving the keynote address at the yet-to-be-announced First Annual Griefer's Convention.

    See also:
    5 Nastiest Campaign Ads So Far
    5 More Nasty Campaigns
    My Opponent Pays for Gay Teen Bestiality.

    Jason Fortuny Speaks

    Jason Fortuny

    He's not sorry, he'd do it again, and he's buying a gun.

    Jason Fortuny became notorious after posting nearly 150 explicit photos he'd received for a fake sex ad on Craig's List. Three weeks later he discusses the aftermath in a 29-minute online interview.

    But is he really as cocky as he pretends to be? A close look at the footage reveals that behind the bravado is genuine fear. Although he remains unapologetic and bemused, his internet infamy has left him worrying about an unseen army of invisible enemies.

    At one point they even have to stop the filming, because they'd inadvertently said someone's name.

    "If you don't know who's stalking you," says Fortuny, "you don't know who's going to come after you in the middle of the night and, uh, kill you."


    "The internet is serious business," the cameraman jokes, noting later that the web page received over one million visits in two and a half weeks.

    When reminded that there's a new Jet Li movie called Fearless," Fortuny admits it's "something that I am not."

    "How many people told you to kill yourself?"

    "I lost count after, like, 20."

    A friend even asked an FBI contact about Jason's situation. "What's my recourse here, if I am being stalked, if I am being harassed. What can we proactively do to protect me?" He says their answer was that he could call 911.

    "So when are you getting your gun?"

    "Probably this weekend."

    Fortuny concedes he's never taken a gun class, "but I had a Nintendo for a while so I got pretty good... I need everyone who's going to come kill me to please dress up as an 8-bit duck."

    Some people genuinely wondered if he had a deathwish, "because some people are under the impression that if you piss off the BDSM crowd, they'll kill you." Instead he jokes that the BDSM crowd is probably more about consensual pain — then playfully slaps the thigh of the woman next to him.


    "So how many pizzas did you get delivered to your home?"

    "I wasn't at home when it happened," he answers, although he does an impression of a pizza deliveryman's voicemail, then promises more updates on his web page. "Eventually I'll get all the hate mail up that I've received."

    He claims he also got a few women offering him tail, "and I got lots of people who told me I would be getting some after going to jail. Which — how am I going to go to jail over this?"

    The cameraman offers to film Fortuny turning himself in at the police station. But the truth is, no one has gone after him.

    "I'm still waiting for a cease and desist letter to arrive — or an actual lawsuit!"

    He remembers a blustery comment on his LiveJournal page claiming to have hired a lawyer. But so far all it's generated is a prank by another poster, who described leaving a taunting sign on that lawyer's office which read "ON UR CREGZLST POSTIN UR N00DZ!!!" under a drawing of the LiveJournal icon. (The poster added that while delivering the sign, "I spotted at least three Mexican transsexual prostitutes!")

    Fortuny also laughs at the 20 "internet lawyers" who aren't actual lawyers, but "play them on the internets."

    "If you're out there and you're making the whole 'illegal' judgment thing, just cite some law. I know some of you out there have gone after the whole privacy and 'intentional infliction of emotional distress', but even that's a little murky."

    At one point he even seems to bait the online audience. When jokingly asked if he could swap some of the naked pictures he received, he stares starkly at the camera and replies "Considering that it's my property now, what the hell!"

    But later he concedes that "If some good privacy law came from this, I'd actually be really pleased."


    The woman next to him adds an interesting observation from a Seattle blog. "Despite all the publicity about your ad, there were still all sorts of people posting all sorts of no-strings-attached sex ads with sometimes personal information and pictures right in the ad... So I don't think even you can stop people from trying to get their rocks off."

    When asked about future experiments, he smiles. "I think it's only fair we go after women — and I should get what, two replies?"

    He discusses the idea of posting an equally too-good-to-be-true ad aimed at women — maybe one pretending to be a sugar daddy. But Fortuny doubts it would have the same impact.

    "Women don't reply to ads. What would be very telling would be to get replies from women to an ad like that and watch that none of them put up personally identifiable information or any of their photos or anything like that. Or if they do put up a photo, it's something that's going to be hard to identify."

    But even he was surprised by the copycat prankster who lures victims into additional online conversations and researches their lives before publishing all their embarrasing details.

    "I didn't even verify that the information is real," Fortuny notes.

    "For all I know it could be the joke of the universe on me."

    Also surprising were some of the positive reactions he received. "There's a feminist out there who went absolutely nuts, thinks I'm some kind of hero, exposing all these perverts who want to beat up women."

    "Did you invite her over for a spanking?" his female companion jokes. "You should have."

    Earlier this week syndicated columnist Dan Savage argued that the only villain was Fortuny himself. The men who responded "were doing the decent, responsible thing" - assuring a woman who was seeking a connection based on a trust, Savage writes. "They shouldn't be punished for doing the right and honorable thing."

    Fortuny also had some responses that were just plain awkward. His parents laughed, he says, but he also had to explain his notoriety to the men he'd identified in a search for his biological father. What would he have done if a paternity test candidate had answered the ad? "Oh god," he groans. "See? I have my limits."


    The interview takes place during a rambly conversationally while eating noodles at a Pho restaurant in Seattle's university district. But all conversations ultimately lead back to Jason's stunt of September 4.

    "Why do my noodles hate me?" the woman next to him asks.

    "Because you're not treating them nicely. You're stringing them along and teasing them. Which is what you and all women do... Which fully justifies me posting as a woman... I strung them along. Teased them."

    "So basically you gave them the same experience they would've gotten anyways."

    "Yeah, pretty much. I teased their cocks."

    He deep throats his spring roll. The camera zooms in, as he mock-viciously bites off the end. He points at the viewer, then the roll, and then makes a "think about it" gesture. Then continues eating.

    "We'll put this on a DVD, mail it as a free consolation gift to everyone who participated."

    By the end of the interview, he's taunting his online viewers. "I'm still alive... No one's killed me, no one's tried to kill me.

    "If pizzas are the best you can do," he jokes, "oh my, this is sad. I got on the BBC, and the best you can do is pizzas?!"

    See Also:
    Craigslist Sex Troll Gets Sued
    Dear Internet, I'm Sorry
    The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny
    In The Company of Jerkoffs

    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.

    Willie Nelson’s ‘Narcotic’ Shrooms

    Psilocybin Shroom
    Willie Nelson and four others were issued misdemeanor citations for possession of narcotic mushrooms and marijuana after a traffic stop Monday morning on a Louisiana highway, state police said. — Associated Press, September 18, 2005

    Webster's Dictionary defines a narcotic as "a drug that produces numbness or stupor; often taken for pleasure or to reduce pain; extensive use can lead to addiction."

    According to, the word narcotic comes from the Greek word "narke" which means "numbness or torpor." A second definition from the same site acknowledges that the word narcotic has slipped into common usage and has come to mean "A drug such as marijuana which is subject to regulatory restrictions comparable to those for addictive narcotics." Wikipedia tells us that, "A narcotic is an addictive drug derived from opium, that reduces pain, induces sleep and may alter mood or behavior. The derivation of the word is from the Greek word narkotikos, meaning 'benumbing or deadening,' and originally referred to a variety of substances that induce sleep (such state is narcosis)." From there, the Wikipedia entry goes on to acknowledge that "Many police in the United States use the word 'narcotic' to refer to any illegal drug or any unlawfully possessed drug." (Actually, nearly all narcotics are legal with a prescription, unlike Willie's shrooms)

    The misuse of the word narcotic by America's legal system began early in the 20th Century.  Legendary psychedelic chemist/researcher Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin told me...

    The original meaning of narcotic was to define something that would cause narcosis — a numbing dopy state where there wasn't much feeling, and pain was lessened and sleep came easily. The Harrison Narcotics Act was passed into law in about 1915 give or take a couple of years, [ed: 1914] and it was basically a law making opium (and morphine) and coca (and cocaine) illegal.These were collectively called narcotics, and the term came to represent those two drugs (and their allies) for years. Illegal drugs were called narcotics, and the people who were employed by the Bureau of Narcotics were called Narks. In 1936 a super ego called Anslinger moved to put marijuana into the law and it was called by all the police, "another narcotic. " This was the status of Federal drug law until the sixties when the hippie movement took off. Clearly LSD and mescaline and STP (DOM) weren't like opium (the focal definition of a narcotic) so the Bureau of Narcotics weren't the right people to go after the users. So a new group was created, associated with the FDA, and called the BNDD or Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.The B of N and the FDA wore difference hats and competed for attention in the anti-drug fight. It all was resolved in about 1970 with the passage of the Controlled Substance Act bill and the creation of the DEA. It is quite a story.

    Among the drug hip, the use of the word narcotic to describe mind-active drugs other than opiates carries with it an implicit irony. (Implicit only because irony, by its nature, can't be explicit.) On the other hand, the mainstream media, even the San Francisco Chronicle, from the drug-sophisticated Bay Area, tends to use law enforcement misnomers for illicit drugs, when reporting news around drugs. For instance, one report called the disassociative hallucinogen Ketamine a "date rape drug." There is, of course, no such thing as a date rape drug. There are drugs that were developed to be used — and are used — for other purposes that are, on rare occasions, used for date rape. And then there's alcohol, which has been the more easily available and frequently used substance of choice for date rapists since time immemorial. Unlike some other US papers, The Chronicle, at least, never reported on an LSD overdose, something that is virtually impossible to achieve, however hard some of us may have tried back in the days of heroic dose experimentation.

    There are probably a dozen or so regular Chronicle culture and opinion writers who are sufficiently (intimately) knowledgeable regarding mind-altering plants and chemicals to inform the news editors about their mistakes, but who cares? No news agency will ever have a Dan Rather crisis for accepting and passing along drug misinformation. Indeed, nobody... nobody demands accuracy from the news media regarding mind-altering drugs or those who enjoy them.

    Meanwhile, back to the concept of "narcotic" shrooms: As far as I've been able to decipher in one day's research, there are no opium-containing mushrooms nor are there any pharmaceutical relaxants or stupefiers that are derived from mushrooms. However, one source, who asked to be nameless, but who is associated with a company that supplies legal highs, told me that the Amanita Mascaria mushroom "can cause a kind of drunken stupor that can last a couple of hours, slowing you down until you pass out." Accoding to Ilsa Jerome, Project Coordinator for MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), "The depressant compound [in amanita] is almost certainly muscimol, a direct GABA agonist, GABA (gamma-amino-butyric acid) being a major inhibitory transmitter. Other GABA agonists include benzodiazepines, GHB and ethanol." Other compounds in Amanita, however, likely have opposite, excitatory effects, so stupefaction experiences are rare, and most experimenters report mild psychedelic effects, with some disassociative properties. And of course, Psilocybin, the drug that Willie was actually carrying, is a psychedelic (mind-manifesting drug or plant); or as some would have it, an entheogen (drug or plant that causes one to experience the god within); or a hallucinogen (drug or plant that causes one to watch The Dead for five hours without getting bored shitless.)

    I asked Jerome if she was aware of any relationship between the activity of psilocybin in the brain and the activity of actual narcotics (i.e. opiates). She noted that, "There are a few studies that describe the effects of psilocybin in people, but none alongside those of opiates." But she added, "We do know that psilocybin, like LSD, mescaline and a host of obscure related drugs, acts to 'switch on' certain serotonin receptors. All these drugs share activity at 5HT2A and 5HT2C receptors; from there, actions vary, but psilocybin also acts to turn on 5HT1A and probably 5HT1B receptors. Opiates act on at least three opioid receptors, those being represented by the Greek letters 'mu', 'sigma', 'delta' and 'kappa'

    In other words, "they definitely have different pharmacological activities." (Technically, Dr. Shulgin points out, psilocybin doesn't cross the blood/brain barrier and make it into the brain. Only after digestion is Psilocin produced, which does get across the brain-blood barrier to produce the psychedelic effects. Shulgin says, "This accounts for the time delay from the eating to the turning on.")

    Perhaps we should accept the term "narcotic" as a description of any illicit mind-active drug since it is now common usage. But the word still carries more than a whiff of its original connotations. Drug warriors and reductionists do think of all illegal drug effects in terms of stupefaction. Most psychedelic fans would argue that these substances result in the opposite of stupefaction. Indeed, the experience frequently makes trippers painfully hyper-aware. On the other hand, if you're hoping that your buddy who is tripping on a hefty dose of shrooms will help you sort the garbage for tomorrow's recycling pick up, you might consider the slacker — laying on the floor for six hours staring at the back of his eyelids — to be stupified.

    Narcotics or no, Willie Nelson will remain an American institution. Universally loved despite his weird-ass mile-long ponytail, lefty politics, and blatant marijuana advocacy, maybe this Willie Nelson bust will help awaken our countrymen to the absurdity of the drug war and the assumptions that are built into it. Probably not, though. For one thing, people find so much entertainment value in celebrity run-ins with the law that they don't want to mess up the fun by making serious politics out of it. Anyway, most people seem to regard this endless game of cops-and-stoners as an irretrievable fact of life.

    In the Company of Jerkoffs

    Note: The above screen capture is from a 2005 Fox News Channel appearance. The image has been re-inserted on November 15th, 10 business days after filing a counter-notice (pdf) in response to a DMCA takedown notice filed by Michael Crook which forced its removal soon after it was originally published.

    As little as we like to encourage these guys, yet another sad member of the "griefer community," Michael Crook, is ambushing men with fake sex ads on Craig's List. Like past incidents, the story ultimately reveals a lot about the man behind it. In this case, he's not only pathetic, but a pathetic copycat.

    If sex pranker Jason Fortuny is similar to the "Chad" character from Neil LaBute's In the Company of Men, then Crook is the asshole wannabe, "Howard." Not only is his imagination lacking, capable only of putting a slight spin on his hero's methods, but he also possesses a pathological moralism that seems entirely out of place and hypocritical for the behavior he's engaged in.

    Clearly following the [tag]Fortuny[/tag] script, Crook pretended to be a 19-year-old female student at Syracuse university with B-cup breasts, looking to hang out "and maybe enjoy a nice, safe sexual encounter." ("I don't care if you're married, single, engaged, whatever. Life is fun. Sex is natural. Friendship is great.") And naturally, when men responded, Michael published their pictures and emails on — a domain he created Wednesday.

    He also visited the "Casual Encounter" listings for five other cities — Las Vegas, Dayton, South Jersey, Kansas City, and Anchorage — publishing variations on his original ad. ("I'm 19, 5'4, 108 lbs, brown hair and eyes, and B cup breasts.") And added the responses to his site.

    But he also made the additional effort of replying to his respondents to extract even more-embarrassing emails, and sometimes even instant messaging them. He also did online research, looking up their phone numbers and often claiming to have deduced the identities of his victims. "Check out this magazine article from a couple years ago, where he is in a picture with his wife and the guy whose name he used..." He apparently conned the (possibly married) man into sending a photo of his erection — then sent him one last email asking why he was trolling for girls on the internet and cheating on his wife. "What do you think your wife and co-workers' reaction will be when they find out?" he asks. (Adding that their answers, "along with your pics, will be posted for all to see on")

    The extra cities were apparently necessary because his original prank generated less than 50 responses and received almost no attention. (Just two comments and one post in his forum.) He brags that the next day his fake ad got 15 more responses. (Possibly because no one actually reads his web site —-Ed.) He claims he's enjoying "exposing the perverts" and "pathetic men" responding to the ads. "I just wanted to see what kind of people would respond on a site like Craigslist, which is known for carrying ads from prostitutes," he writes. But he's also published the names of their wives, and in one case Googled the name of a respondent, then claimed it appeared on other dating sites "including fag sites."

    So who is Michael Crook? His web site describes him as a former Mormon, disillusioned after a dispute about how religious programming was assigned spots on a local cable access show. (And the fact that a flirtatious weather guy was tapped to teach teenaged girls in his ward.) In 1999 he was too underweight to join the army, but even after bulking up was told he was medically unfit for service. Seven years later he composed an essay arguing that members of the military are overpaid. ("Financially speaking, it's the Pacific Avenue hooker of our economy.")

    He weasled his way right onto TV in the spring of 2005 for creating a web site called "Forsake the troops," which called attention to his belief thatsoldiers are over-compensated. It also called soldiers "scumbags" and "pukes," asking "What idiots risk their life for a country...? Let 'em die in combat - we don't need their ilk in this country!" This led to an appearance on Fox News where Crook's deer-in-headlights performance drew a standard-issue beatdown from Sean Hannity. ("You're ignorant and you're a disgrace... You are heartless, you are soulless, you are mean and you are cruel....") His site later reported he was beaten to death by angry servicemen — though that was obviously a hoax. Instead Crook created related domains like opposethetroops, disownthetroops, and citizensagainstthetroops - although he was apparently trying to auction them off to cash in on their notoriety.

    Recently he's registered two more domains — ("Coming soon, a website which will explain why racism is actually a good thing...") and ("dedicated to exposing and discussing illegal immigrants.") Both sites, though appear to be little more than their taglines, followed by the words "Coming soon!" But at least some of his anger appears sincere. One blogger claimed earlier Michael had cited anaffiliation with a group to "preserve the rights of white men and women." Recently Michael also created a web page criticizing a 17-year-old drunk driver who killed her friend in a car accident — including what he purports are her phone numbers and address.

    But for all his online activity, Michael remains plagued by obscurity. He grew up in small-town Arizona, southern New Jersey, and Las Vegas, according to his web site, and ran a 300-member fan club for an obscure Dutch Eurodance group. He writes that he manages a sports-clothing store and is "pursuing" a criminal justice degree.

    Ironically, just four weeks before his Craig's List prank, he'd sent a spate of letters complaining about copyright infringement. It's possible that this article may only further his goal of online infamy, though it remains to be seen whether he can make a career out of pissing people off.

    In April a garage band called Permament Ascent uploaded a song about him to their MySpace page. Its lyrics?

    "He's a dick. (He's a dick!) Fuck him! (Fuck him!) Asshole. (Asshole!) Fuck hi-i-m. Fuck Michael Crook!"

    Perhaps Fortuny and Crook take solace in each other, from within the familiarity of their malicious community. I can foresee a day when this community of nihilistic pranksters hold its first convention, and they spend a week at the Marriott sneaking up on each other, flicking each other's ears and laughing until they drool.

    See also:
    Crook's Internet Club
    EFF and 10 Zen Monkeys vs. Michael Crook
    "Dear Internet, I'm Sorry"
    Craigslist Troll Gets Sued

    9/11 – The Wingnuts v. The Sheeple

    RU Sirius 9/11 DebateLeft to right: Joel Schalit, Fred Burks, RU Sirius at the first live recording of The RU Sirius Show.

    Those who believe that 9/11 was an inside job are wingnuts -- rank amateur investigators and their sycophantic followers. They can't tell a rumor from a piece of evidence, or a piece of evidence from conclusive proof.

    Those who believe that 9/11 was not an inside job are sheeple -- brainwashed dupes who have a psychological block against accepting unpleasant facts.

    As a 9/11 conspiracy agnostic, I suppose I can live with both of those characterizations. (Oh wait, I forgot -- agnostics are gutless weasels who are afraid to take a stand.)

    Both sides in this hostile exchange follow their own stream of evidence. Both sides say the evidence presented by their opponents is incomplete, misconstrued, or just downright false. Primary representatives of each point of view are characterized as sleazy opportunists with suspect connections. In other words, it's pretty much like all other political debates that happen during polarized times, but a bit weirder.

    The weirdness mostly comes from the pro-conspiracy side.

    Early theorists focused largely on the connections that always seem to exist between powerful armed gangs with a will to power -- whether they're state-based militarists and intelligence operatives or stateless terrorists. Shadowy possible connections between the CIA and Al Qaeda via Pakistan's Secret Service, the Saudi connections (including the business connections between the Bush's and bin Landen's): all sorts of tantalizing factoids and rumors could be spotted along the guns-and-money trail.

    But over the last few years, "inside job" theory has focused mostly on presumed "smoking gun" physical evidence. This has resulted in a hyper-byzantine narrative that might look something like this: Government agents replaced passenger planes with remote-controlled flying something-or-others and also planted explosives in three WTC buildings. They somehow made the explosives go off at a particular time (or maybe the exact time didn't matter), but they made certain to fell not just the two buildings hit by the remote-controlled planes but one extra building, WTC #7. Bringing down this billion dollar building was an irresistibly convenient way of getting rid of some possibly damaging records.

    Meanwhile, on the same day, a little while later, the Pentagon fired a missile at itself, making sure to hit the least valued section of their five-sided building, not the one where Donald Rumsfeld was hanging out. They were prepared to claim that the missile was actually a hijacked passenger plane. The people who were supposed to have been flying on these hijacked planes were maybe all packed onto the one plane that was shot down in Pennsylvania (contrary to the report that it was brought down by a struggle between the hijackers and the hijacked) even though everybody wouldn't have fit on the plane… or who the hell knows what happened to them. The many calls from the hijacked planes, particularly the one that went down in Pennsylvania, were faked with technology.

    Meanwhile, NORAD was given a "stand down" order not to scramble jets to defend against these planes, or else some conspirators made sure that they didn't scramble the jets fast enough. And all who might have been involved in, or would have known about such a thing, were reliable conspiracy members or were intimidated or bribed into keeping it all secret. Hundreds of people at various levels of the government, the sorts of people who are generally inclined towards patriotism, conspired to destroy or damage the symbols of American financial and military power. Oh, and all those who investigated the debris in the Pentagon and those who witnessed the airplane overhead were either easily tricked or sworn to secrecy. And that's just the short version.

    The long version of this narrative would include not just the intentional subversion of operations against Al Qaeda; but the conscious, knowing subversion of investigations into what happened on 9/11 not just by the Bush administration but from all levels of Congress, various police-type agencies, and all who testified before investigative committees. It would also take in the false testimonies of structural engineers and other experts in physical evidence, indeed entire academic conferences were conducted simply to deceive (hmm, come to think of it, that description might apply to a few "Critical Theory" conferences I've attended). This conspiracy involved thousands of Americans from all walks of life.

    And then there are a few theorists who think that no planes hit the WTC at all and that it was all done with holography. Most members of the "Truth movement" agree that those people are wingnuts!

    As someone who is willing to entertain the idea that I live inside of some sort of Platonic matrix created by a cruel master-species whose general intentions occasionally leaked into the brain of Philip K. Dick, I can hang out with this narrative. But on my agnosto-meter in which everything is possible but most things are improbable, I give it about a .0001% chance of being mostly accurate.

    I would give other "inside job" narratives a higher rating. I might even be willing to go up to 15% odds that some world domination-oriented US militarists within the ranks of the powerful decided that the success of rumored upcoming major terror attacks on the US would help them achieve their national and global political goals and that they did some things to increase the likelihood that the attacks would succeed. Hey, sometimes you feel like a wingnut, sometimes you don't.

    The book Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up to the Facts, published by Popular Mechanics, deals entirely with issues around physical evidence. They claim to refute the theories about explosives planted in buildings, missiles in the Pentagon and the claims that Flight 93 was shot down in Pennsylvania, among other popular conspiranoid points. They also publish testimony from people who claim that they were misunderstood or misquoted by theorists -- falsely made to sound like they were supporting the theories. Naturally, those who believe in the conspiracy theories dismiss everything in the book and everyone quoted in the book as dupes and conspirators.

    On the whole, the book is pretty impressive, although it's thin and it's not footnoted (most pro-conspiracy tracts are full of footnotes, but if you follow the footnotes you might find less than you bargained for.) The editors, David Dunbar and Brian Reagan, claim to have "consulted with more than 300 experts and sources in such fields as air traffic control, aviation, civil engineering, fire fighting, and metallurgy." Many of them are listed in the back of the book. Of course, quite a few of them do work for the government, which provides all the reason required for those on the conspiracy side of the tracks to dismiss the entire book as an adjunct to the whole nefarious government operation.

    A few days ago, my audio podcast, The RU Sirius Show, sponsored a live debate on the subject of "inside job" conspiracy theory. One of my goals in putting together this panel was to include a hardcore anti-conspiracy theory skeptic. I started out by contacting the editors of the Popular Mechanics book, but they made it clear they were not interested in debating the other side. This is sort of understandable. Another person who I contacted, who has written specific skeptical comments about these theories told me she wouldn't participate in any debates because she received thousands of pieces of hate mail and several death threats for her column in a left wing newspaper doubting these theories. She didn't want to deal with that sort of fanaticism.

    We wound up unable to come up with a hardcore, detail-oriented conspiracy theory skeptic who was available and willing to appear. So I thought I could incorporate some of the Debunking editors' skeptical views into this piece for 10 Zen Monkeys. Debunking editor Brad Reagan expressed a willingness to answer my email questions, but only if the book publicist reviewed the questions and agreed that it was OK. He explained that they had been "sandbagged by some conspiracy theorists since the book came out." I got the queasy feeling that I would only get a response if I asked nothing but softball questions, which I didn't want to do.

    I sent off my questions and the response that I got was a compromise: very brief responses to only a few of my questions, apparently intended not as interview material but to help me with my own research.

    The publicist explained that Reagan was already over-scheduled, and had magazine deadlines to contend with as well. As a former magazine editor, I can understand this. Still, I must report that my over all experience with conspiracy skeptics has fortified my general impression that neither side in this exchange wants any serious discourse with anyone who doubts their views, even slightly.

    Reagan did answer my most important question. The one paragraph that really leaped out at me when reading Debunking blows a pretty big hole in the theories based on the planned demolition of the World Trade Center that seem to dominate most of the conspiracy theories. It reads, "The collapses of the three World Trade Center buildings are among the most extensively studied structural failures in American history. In the five years since 9/11, they have been the subject of lengthy investigations and engineering school symposiums, together involving hundreds of experts from academia and private industry, as well as the government."

    I asked Reagan if he could substantiate these claims or provide us with some links that could help us to do so. He sent along the following message, including links: "The American Society of Civil Engineers website has a research library. Search under 'World Trade Center' and you will find numerous papers studying the collapse of the buildings. This link describes the range of experts participating in the NIST investigation. On another site, The Bazant paper is especially instructive. He is one of the world's leading civil engineers."

    I'll suggest that those who are in search of The Truth" in this matter would do well to read Debunking with an open mind, and to also follow the leads Mr. Reagan has provided. I would also suggest that those who dismiss all possibilities of government collusion would not be harmed if they admitted to themselves that relegating some of the well-documented fuckups and fiascoes of the American security establishment to incompetence does sometimes seem to stretch the boundaries of credulity.

    For example, one of the weaker parts of Debunking is the section where they explain that America was not prepared to defend itself against an attack by hijacked airliners because we'd never dealt with that situation before. But even such mainstream, quasi-Republicanist fare as the recent ABC docudrama The Path to 9/11 showed how, for months, the authorities were getting all kinds of warnings and chatter about "airplanes" and "hijackings" and "a major terrorist attack against the US," and that they were watching suspects who were attending flight schools. And beyond that, this very same TV special echoed the little discussed fact that the revelations about Al Qaeda's plans to use planes to attack the US go back to 1996 with news about "Project Bojinka" and, of course, that the World Trade Center had been targeted before, ad infinitum. Can we really chalk all that up to the glacial pace of government bureaucracy? Definitely maybe, but it does give one pause (or it should).

    We live, obviously, in paranoid times. People are quick to conclude that the discursive other -- the person with the opposite point of view -- is "the enemy." And enemies need to be defended against, not learned from. (Actually, one should learn from one's enemies, but I'll leave the Sun Tzu for another occasion.) Thus we see less and less real discourse, not just in terms of the facts and repercussions of 9/11 but across the political board. Maybe we should just split into memetic tribes and have it out in a shooting war. But color me an eternal optimist. I'd like to think that there is still space in public discourse for agnosticism; for uncertainty; and for considering the ideas of the other.

    Downfall of “The Seducer”

    Ross JeffriesWhat happens when an aging pickup artist of legendary proportions falls from grace and is supplanted by a younger crop of studs? And how does the elder Don Juan deal with seeing his classroom-centered “hypnosis” strategies made obsolete by the bolder, hacker-inspired models of the next generation?

    Author Neil Strauss devotes part of his bestselling book, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists to just such a real-world changing of the guard. It’s amusing to read the latest in the world of Ross Jeffries, the original “speed seducer,” because I had personally crossed paths with the man back in 1999, and it made a lasting impression.

    He’d invited me, as manager of the webzine, to attend one of his weekend-long seminars teaching geeks and losers how to pick up women. It was as absurd and ridiculous as you would imagine such an event should be.

    Later, after we published a negative article about the course and the man, he lashed out, threatened to sue, and then backed down. Just a year ago he returned to the comments section of the article and, in an effort to recover his reputation, questioned my journalistic objectivity.

    Thanks, Ross, for allowing me to now expand upon my memorable time at your seminar.

    I'd attended according to Jeffries' invite, which allowed two people, a male and a female, to sit in. So I brought the zine's sex editor, Cara Bruce, along. She later wrote about the experience here. Sadly for her, she was extremely tired from partying the night before, and soon after swallowing a questionable “wake me up” pill, she fell asleep during Ross' class. About 30 minutes later, he noticed and jarred her awake by screaming at her. When Cara awoke, she was tripping balls, eyes bugging wildly, and the sight of Ross' hideous mug barking in her face was enough to really freak her out. She grabbed my forearm for support and I led her into the hallway for reassurance before we returned to class.

    But it was all the other stuff we saw that day that freaked me out. I expected a playful, if sexist presentation of half-baked pickup advice. But when Jeffries' hostility and aggression came whining to the surface, I became shocked that anyone would willingly sit through such treatment.

    Nowadays, Ross is in a fight for his career and his relevance. The next generation of pickup artists, like author of “The Game,” Neil Strauss, who mentored under the best PUAs (including Jeffries) before ascending the ranks himself, are blowing Jeffries out of the water with field seminars where they take chumps into clubs, and proceed to demonstrate, guide, and tutor in the skills of macking (or rather, “FMAC”ing — Find, Meet, Attract, Close) on girls.

    Indeed, all aspects of “seduction” (even this term has evolved — it’s called “sarging” now) have been profoundly affected by the Internet since the days of Jeffries' initial groundbreaking workshops that cost upwards of $800 per person. PUAs now openly share their best strategies with each other, and they deconstruct social dynamics like superstar computer hackers cracking code on crystal meth.

    "Me personally, I’d never spend money on something I can persuade someone else to purchase for me," says nlpimp in the article's comments. "And thank God for the Internet, because it allowed me to attain these skills ABSOLUTELY FREE."

    But there are certain types of instruction you simply cannot get online (yet). For a price into the thousands, a peacock of a stud will snatch you from in front of that computer, whisk you off in a limo, and toss you into a thumping night club crawling with HBs (hot babes). They'll watch over your shoulder while you steal the show from the very same alpha males that have always taunted you and banged what should have been YOUR cooter.

    Ross Jeffries, on the other hand, has a different focus. He's in his mid-40s, so he sticks mostly to the classroom, and teaches his students scripts to memorize and recite, like this "blow job pattern" found on the Internet:

    Yeah well, do you like chocolate? (Or is there a food that when you see it you absolutely have to put it in your mouth?) … And then there’s that moment, that moment when the first molecule of chocolate touches your tongue and you know it’s inside your mouth and you just want to keep it there because it’s so rich and so good. And there’s that extra special warmth when you swallow that sweetness down.

    If the above seems like it would not quite yield the speaker a blow job in the real world, keep in mind that Ross puts just as much effort into conquering the men he teaches as he does teaching them how to conquer their fears with women. He has built a cult that specializes in humiliating the guys who come to him, using his students' deep inward pain, and hypnotic suggestion. Ross’ sessions are insulated, intense, and very male-centric.

    In Strauss' book (a great read even if you're not desperate to learn Lothario's trade secrets), the author, who was already an established writer of rock star biographies before becoming a pickup artist, tells the story of how he too was invited early on by Jeffries to attend a seminar for free. Strauss accepted but quickly became alarmed by Ross' obsessive need to get him to disparage other pickup artists and pledge exclusive allegiance to him.

    "You are being led into the inner sanctum of power, my young apprentice," he said to Strauss, "and the price for betrayal is dark beyond measure of your mortal mind."

    The darkness of Jeffries’ dominance-inspired methods often shows itself as dark comedy. At one point, Strauss is cajoled by Jeffries to take him to a Hollywood party so he can hit on "real celebrities." At the party, he initially pretends to be Strauss' gay lover, but ends up following Carmen Electra around on all fours, sniffing her ass as if he were a dog.

    "I made a mental note," writes Strauss, "never again to take Ross anywhere cool. It was an embarrassment."

    Later in the book, when Strauss' close friend and master PUA, Mystery, has a nervous breakdown and is feeling suicidal, he blubbers that he doesn't want be "another Ross Jeffries." In what can only be a painful irony for Jeffries, what he started as a kind of homoerotic fraternity for geeks has, in the hands of his successors, evolved into a valid toolbox for getting laid, leaving him largely alone, outdated, and struggling desperately to maintain even the moniker of "seducer."

    The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny

    Jason Fortuny

    Jason Fortuny has become famous as an online menace/hero after posting the photos and come-ons he received from nearly 150 men responding to a fake sex ad he placed on Craig's List. He's started an intense debate about the nature of online privacy and dating.

    But beyond the practical effects of the experiment, what kind of man would commit such a dastardly prank?

    Researching that question, I stumbled across Jason Fortuny's Amazon reviews. He read and reviewed exactly one book over five years -- and two soundtracks for Star Trek movies. ("Reviews written: 4." Helpful votes: 0.) He also awards 5 stars to National Lampoon's Van Wilder ("Reviewer Matthew K. Minerd totally needs to get laid. Dude, relax! It's just a movie.")

    He's also been sexually molested by his grandfather.

    "I haven't talked to my parents or the rest of the family in 11 years," he wrote in a post on his LiveJournal account in May. It's one of many suprisingly frank glimpses into the 30-year-old's life. "[I]f you had a family where four different members molested you, your mother tended to the prime molestor instead of you, and your stepfather utterly failed to provide for a future, you'd be pretty pissed, too."

    Later he posts that two of the perpetrators are dead, and two were under 18.

    While there's no guarantee that his LiveJournal posts are true, they offer intriguing glimpses into the personality behind the prank. When someone suggested in May that he keep his current contact information from his family, he answered, "it's too late for the contact information. It's all available out there. Part of my online persona is to hide nothing. Let the psychos come to my door -- I have a pellet gun and a baseball bat and occasional bad breath." He jokes in a later comment that "I miss the days when it was just trolling and making fun of fat people. Life was so easy back then!"

    Another poster advises, "just make sure you have someone you trust who you can rant and freak out to if you need to."

    "LiveJournal?" he answers.

    Eight weeks ago he split with his fiancee. Seven weeks ago he posted about his difficulties with his thyroid and testosterone levels. ("If it works, one of the first things I should notice is the return of my energy, followed by the return of sexual function, followed by weight gain, followed by increased body hair.") He hints at biochemical depression. In July he began selling his Star Trek trading cards to cover $2600 in debt. "Looks like its time to eBay my stunning collection of original Star Wars and Transformers toys and action figures...," he writes. "There are some heartbreakingly awesome Transformers and Star Wars toys in there. I am profoundly sad..."

    He also describes a history of malicious pranks. He apparently once claimed to have put pictures of someone's children on a child rape site. In January of 2005 he'd faked a sudden conversion to born-again Christianity, in a post which received 448 comments. ("I was sitting there, New Year's Eve, drinking alcohol by myself, in my underclothes, abusing my body to images of Rod Serling on the TV... And then, without warning, the flood of emotion I had tried so hard to block forced it's way into my consciousness...") This June he'd tried a Livejournal "whoring" project, "friending everyone".

    But on May 8 he posts that a friend commented "I no longer have that annoying 'must be the center of attention' drive anymore." Then adds his own self-analysis about his past motivations. " ability to keep a crowd entertained and charmed was a major pillar of my self-esteem. If nothing else, I could rock a party. I certainly didn't believe in my professional abilities then like I do now. And, I didn't want to admit that it was annoying. All I cared was that I got my boost when I did my thing - friends be damned."

    Fortuny's LiveJournal entries detail everything from his search for his biological father to his recent STD test. There's the checklist for the perfect woman, and the poem he'd written for his fiance in December. He even jokes about falling for someone else's prank -- pretending to be fired over a LiveJournal post. He posts downloadable copies of Star Wars, Fight Club, Blade Runner and Batman Begins, and in April he was attacked by a mailbox-flooding bot.

    While it doesn't resolve the question of what motivated his sex-ad prank, it at least demonstrates an online persona that can be abrasive and negative. He complains that "friends' private entries have been read by psycho womenz. Psycho womenz that I went out on a date with once and reeled in horror when she bared her five year old and her smoking teeth..." He mockingly rants against the Girl Scouts, adding "I swear to god the only reason I don't shout at every last one of them is that I know all little catholic girls are uninhibited sluts, just waiting to be liberated from oppressive and neglectful fathers and gods, into the arms of a bustling, accepting, healthy porn industry."

    But behind it all are the hints of something much darker. He writes of zombie nightmares -- and family nightmares. "While my nightmares of my parents have not returned," he wrote in June, "I have others that bring up similar feelings of righteous anger. We'll see."

    See also:
    Craigslist Troll Gets Sued
    Good Griefers: Fortuny vs. Crook
    Jason Fortuny Speaks
    In the Company of Jerkoffs

    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.

    The Cellphone Murders

    They're cathartic, anti-social, and absurdeach capturing a moment in time which ends with someone chasing two giant cellphones down a street. "Run!" a giant cellphone shouts. "Keep running!" These strange, exhiliarating film clips are rather disturbing if you don't know the back story. But the context shifts tremendously when you do.

    Cellphones were a strange and alien technology in 1999, with an adoption rate of less than 45%. Talking loudly on your mysterio-techno device provoked annoyance, distrust, and hostility — or a Top 20 hit single.

    Ian Aitch reported that weird development for in 1999. The British acid house movement spawned a band called KLF whose rogue provacateur Jimmy Cauty later sampled the ubiquitous ring-tone with a British comedian/musician (and sometime Pink Floyd contributor) named Guy Pratt. They morphed the cellphone jangle into a disturbingly catchy dance track — though according to Wikipedia BBC 1 radio then refused to play it. It was that annoying.

    The British are insane, of course - or, they recognize that pop music is essentially a disposable glitz that should be dismissed, de-constructed, re-constructed, and mocked. (The sample-happy track competed with a rival song sampling the Hamster Dance called — what else? — Cognoscenti vs. Intelligentsia.) But then pumped up cellphone bashers decided it wasn't just a song; it was a movement.

    "We have been looking for a fiendish project to get our teeth into for the past six months," they confided maliciously on their web site. It tells the tale of stealing two human-sized cellphone costumes from the filming of the song's music video. "After an evening of heavy drinking a plan was hatched and all concerned decided that this was a cause worth fighting for."

    In guerilla movies that are reactionary, subversive, and gloriously futile, we see our heroes — dressed in giant cellphone costumes — surprising British cellphone users by snatching their phones out of their hands. Then stomping the cellphones to bits on the sidewalk. And then running.

    And what did the record company think, when their music video's costumes turned up in online cellphone-smashing videos? "They have not recognised our existence," the tribal pranksters at complain. But — graciously — they added that "We have decided to link to them even though they don't explain the true meaning of the song. Not one mention of how shit mobile phones are." This hastily-constructed knock-off web page included a link to the song's official site run by some combination of Virgin Records/EMI. "Very corporate," the cellphone-bashers chide. "All bells and whistles."

    But before you cheer, you might want to check the registration for the cellphone-basher's own web site. Its administrative contact is EMI limited, and the site is administered by This site knocking the corporate suits at Virgin Records is in fact owned, run, and incorporated by Virgin Records.

    This lends an aura of calculation to the enterprise — but it can't be fully assessed without witnessing one last spectacle. Described as the site's "mission statement" (on a web page named kill.html), it shows an unidentified spokesman for this unique moment in time trying frantically to convey human debasement - theirs, ours, or society's at large. Whether it was underground pranksters, a desperate record company, or just the magical spirit of cellphone-bashers past — they've captured their rage in a powerful five-second clip.

    A manic man in a cell phone costume and white ski mask shouts "KILL MOBILE PHONES! KILL MOBILE PHONES!"

    The LA Cop Who Became the Leading 9/11 Conspiracy Spokesman

    This being the anniversary of 9/11, I thought it might be interesting to dig out this article I wrote on assignment for Rolling Stone in late May of 2002 that they decided to kill. I am hosting a debate this weekend on "9/11 conspiracy theory" for The RU Sirius Show. Next week, I'll post my reflections on that discussion.

    We're in the very brain stem of 9/11 "Bush Knew" conspiracy theory. It's the day that the Bushies are confessing to ignored or mishandled intelligence warnings, but here at the From The Wilderness (FTW) office, they're not catching the breaking developments on CNN Headline News. They're busy checking to see if they're under microwave bombardment. Two days ago, a pair of FTW staffers went home sick with nausea, and the boss, Mike Ruppert, felt a tightening around his head "like a vice grip." "Andrea and John are feeling it again!" Michael Leon, a 39-year-old employee, says as he waves around a geiger counter. Ruppert "America's most popular 9/11 Bush conspiracy spokesman" holds his hands to the side of his head. "I think I'm feeling it too." But the geiger counter, which Leon claims showed extremely high gamma ray readings during the previous incident, now reads normal. The paradox is left unexplained and everyone turns back to his or her work.

    The FTW office is a humble two room converted apartment in a slightly rundown section of an upscale Los Angeles suburb. Here Michael C. Ruppert, a tall, paunchy ex-cop whose sunny, open-faced demeanor belies a conspiratorial caste of mind, and a five person staff, runs the popular FTW website and newsletter, and sells videotapes of Ruppert's popular lectures. Video orders are flying out the door at a rate of about 250 per week. They claim over a million individual visitors to their website over the past eight months. Russ Kick, who edits a line of books for DisInformation, the chronicler of conspiracy subcultures, says, "Ruppert has become the most well-known of the researchers questioning the official version of 9/11." He is, without a doubt, the go-to guy for conspiracy theory in the post-9/11 world.

    After going public with his claims that "the Bush Administration was in possession of sufficient advance intelligence to have prevented the attacks, had it wished to do so" almost immediately after 9/11, this ex-narcotics officer found himself speaking to auditoriums packed with enthusiastic hemp-wearing lefties, paying as much as $25 for the pleasure of having their darkest suspicions confirmed. When he spoke before an overflow crowd at Fort Mason in San Francisco, Ruppert held his audience in thrall for three-and-a-half hours. The nerdy ex-cop paced the stage -- fussily fixing his large black glasses, joking, cajoling, and working up a sweat that would have done James Brown proud. He wove together a convincing narrative about how narcotics money props up the financial markets, which are largely run by former CIA agents; he pointed to overwhelming evidence of insider trading just prior to 9/11 involving only companies hurt by the events. He supplied motivation for the alleged crime by reading damning quotes from a 1997 book by imperial strategist Zbigniew Brzezinsk. It was one hell of a show, and the audience responded with a long and enthusiastic standing ovation.

    The FTW website provides an opportunity to examine his evidence more closely. It's a mishmash. Tantalizing clues are sabotaged by giant leaping conclusions. It's obvious that he's onto something. It's just not entirely clear what. About 75% of the material presented on FTW is solid information, culled from valid sources and presented in a straightforward manner. His magnum opus about the alleged 9/11 conspiracy frequently references the New York Times, as well as the Wall Street Journal, and the House International Relations Committee. Ruppert does plenty of what conspiracy theorists do best. He captures those inexplicable bits of information that appear momentarily in the mainstream media, only to escape further attention or investigation. For example: "August 2001 - Russian President Vladimir Putin orders Russian intelligence to warn the U.S. government -- in the strongest possible terms; of imminent attacks on airports and government buildings. [Source: MS-NBC, September 15.]." A collection of these data points are then iterated throughout the conspiracy underground where, like a bad LSD trip, they accumulate ever-more-sinister implications, up until the point where the very gates of hell appear to be opening up.

    Of course, a facile glance at today's political reality, shadowed by intensifying global conflicts, nuclear brinksmanship, and terrorists in search of smallpox weapons, suggests those hellgates may, in fact, soon be swinging wide. And say this for Ruppert -- readers of FTW knew the extent of intelligence warnings about terrorist attacks leading up to 9/11 months before most readers of the mainstream press. The night of Ari Fleischer's assertion that "The president did not -- not -- receive information about the use of airplanes as missiles by suicide bombers," Ruppert posted evidence that made the claim difficult to believe. "Western intelligence services, including the CIA, learned after arrests in the Philippines that Al Qaeda operatives had planned to crash commercial airliners into the Twin Towers... The plan was called 'Operation Bojinka.' Details of the plot were disclosed publicly in 1997 in the New York trial of Ramsi Youssef for his involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing." The day after Ruppert posted this, Operation Bojinka was all over the mainstream press.

    There are dozens of other examples where Ruppert appears to be accurate and way ahead of the curve. But like Fox Mulder, Ruppert's fatal flaw is that he wants to believe. "The day the attack happened, I went on the air with Joyce Reilly... I was saying that the only way this could happen is if the government wanted it to happen. And I said clearly that I was going from my gut. And any good policeman or detective will tell you that gut hunches are essential to doing good work."

    In his rush to present conclusive proof of conspiracy, he makes some very poor choices. Dubious rumors are elevated to fact. For example, the widely circulated piece that appeared in Le Figaro in November, 2001 claiming that Osama bin Laden had been in a hospital in Dubai where he was visited by a CIA agent is presented as prime evidence of collusion. But the rumor has been vigorously denied, and the rest of the French media has found the evidence lacking.

    Perhaps Ruppert should be more cautious. But how many people want to buy a video of some guy claiming that he's gathered circumstantial evidence indicating the Bush administration might have intentionally let the attacks happen? Conspiracy fans want a compelling story line with a satisfying conclusion. And really, besides supplying hours of fun and excitement for people who love puzzles and mystery stories, fringe conspiracy investigators perform a valuable function. Long before the timid mainstream press dares to even raise questions, they scatter their shots wildly. They may miss the target as often as they hit it, but they also presented evidence that deserved closer scrutiny. As the sense that the Bushies are hiding something about the 9/11 intelligence failures becoming increasingly pervasive, Ruppert's divinatory research is, in some sense, already vindicated.

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    Dana Plato, Porn Star

    Dana PlatoDana Plato's soft-core porn feature, Different Strokes: The Story of Jack and Jill... and Jill, is misunderstood. "Dana really wanted the lesbian thing to be real, not exploitative," remembers Diane Anderson-Minshall, who interviewed Plato about the film for the lesbian magazine Girlfriends. "She wanted it to be a statement, not just another career move everyone would make fun of." Unfortunately, the people at DanaPlato.Net are positioning it as "Plato's pussy videos" with the tagline "From child TV star to adult porn star fucking her way into your bedroom."

    The video's cover promises a "steamy erotic love story," but is it? Porn lovers may be disappointed.

    The film opens with Plato's female co-star, Landon Hall, watching the male lead play the piano. The camera pans slowly over his ringed hand and the sheet music to stop on Hall, in a blue bikini, leaning on the piano, trying to communicate something with her eyes. You quickly get the uneasy feeling this movie is going to have more plot than the usual porno.

    The piano scene does lead to sex, but not with Dana Plato. Instead, there's R-rated footage of "Jack," who's a photographer, making love to Landon Hall. Dana arrives later, playing a New York art director who's come to help Jack in his next photo shoot. They've got an early shoot the next day, so in a typical porn plot device, Jack suggests, hey, "Why don't you spend the night?" But then he makes a fatal mistake. He leaves the two women alone. Wrong! Everyone knows what's going to happen next...

    "You're not wearing a bathing suit!"

    "Nah, I didn't pack one..."

    There's a long shot of Dana diving into the pool naked. Then there are shots of her through ever-shifting prisms of water. Hundreds of frustrated men reach for their remotes to hit the frame-by-frame button. But a minute later, Plato stands up and reveals her breasts.

    Landon stares, bites her lip, dives into the pool, says something generic like "Ooo, it's chilly," and then removes her bikini. Oboe and piano music begins, and, of course, a montage. But in a radical departure for a porn film -- nothing happens! (Say, that is arty!) Instead, the film shows Dana calling her lesbian lover in New York, who doesn't pick up the phone because, of course: She's busy with another lesbian!

    Guess there's nothing left to do but... take a shower!

    This seems like an obvious setup. Landon Hall is already taking a shower when suddenly, there's a knock on the door. Dana had been showering elsewhere in the house, but wouldn't you know it, there's no soap! She swings by (no pun intended) to pick some up (no pun intended) and a transparent conversation ensues.

    "Oh, wow, this is a great shower. It's huge! I have a little bitty one back in New York."

    "You know, if you want, there's plenty of room in here. You could join me."

    "Oh, I'd love to. You wouldn't mind?"

    More pause-button fun ensues, but little is revealed. Instead, there's another arty montage: mostly scenes from the pool, with one flash of a fantasy where Dana kisses Landon's breast.

    Not to give away the plot, but let's just say the ladies' stars start lining up. Landon has a fight with her boyfriend, then runs into Dana, who asks "Would you mind dropping me off at my hotel?"

    Landon's reply? "You're not going to stay in a hotel tonight. You're gonna come home with me."

    Of course, they end up in bed together. There are candles all around, and they're both naked. "It feels good to cuddle like this, doesn't it?" Landon asks. Dana starts petting her hair... But this scene is disappointing, too. Landon runs her fingertip over Dana's arm. Dana drags her fingertips across her breasts. There's a kiss. Dana pets her hair again. Kiss. Kiss. Oboe. And that's it.

    Then there's a jump to the next morning, when Dana's ass is sticking out from the covers. The complicated threesome depicted in the movie's promotional poster never occurs. Instead, the film cuts to the two women running with a picnic basket in the sun, the synthesizer switches to harpsichord sounds, and we're treated to a song written by the film's director.

    I want to know, what you think of me

    I want to know, what you're feeling

    Maybe it's just me, but I thought this movie had more potential when they were naked in bed together.

    Dana Plato told Girlfriends the movie was "The worst piece of work I've ever done." It could've been better, but the director was "not an actor's director." (His next film was Bikini Med School.) "When there is no chemistry, no consistency, it's hard to do a good scene."

    But for all the notoriety the film caused her, it could be worse. Earlier this year, her former TV co-star Gary Coleman revealed to US magazine that he was still a virgin.

    Click here to buy Dana Plato's video!

    See Also:
    Dana Plato and the Diff'rent Strokes Curse
    Screech's Sex Tape Follies
    Nancy Drew's Sexy Secrets
    Why Sarah Palin's Sex Life Matters
    Deep Throat, Big Brain
    World Sex Laws

    Journalism is Dead

    Over the last several years, everybody has been decrying the tabloidization of the mainstream press. But I will not join the chorus of Cassandras shouting their warnings about journalism's loss of credibility. Feggedaboddit! Journalistic credibility has about as much chance of staging a comeback as John-John does of showing up at the Millennium Rave in Tonga. There have been other periods throughout American history when the tabloid sensibility has dominated the media. The Hearsts built their publishing empire around it. Eventually, the staid gray voice of presumed objectivity returned. But now the situation has changed. I won't bore you with a string of cliches about the Internet's democratization of media and the cognitive chaos that ensues. I've already done that for a decade. Suffice it to repeat the famous quote from journalist A.J. Liebling -- "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one" -- and point out that it now applies to anyone with Net access. Of course, the definable, containable world in which the day's events could be told without ambiguity and could even be punctuated by Walter Cronkite's famous statement of finality, "And that's the way it is," was always illusory anyway. Now, the whole notion of a shared social reality is decaying at a fever pitch. People raised on the Web will no more believe that the truth radiates from the pages of The New York Times than from the latest Eminem CD. This time there's no going back. Don't worry. Look at it this way: Matt Drudge -- who trusts his instincts and shoots from the hip -- seems to get the story right about 75 percent of the time. That's got to be at least twice as good as the Beltway press corps, which routinely accepts and disseminates "information" from the Clinton Administration and the Pentagon without investigation. Mainline pundits see most Net information sources as the lunatic fringe, a realm of capricious amusement from which people will surely turn away -- back toward the "established professionals" -- when they want validated news. They've got it ass-backwards. People increasingly turn to their favorite alternative sources, even for serious news and analysis. And they look at the daily paper for its entertainment value. It's my hope that we are fast approaching that bright day when the last journalists who claim a strangle hold on objective truth are rediscovered as an obscure weirdo subculture. Until that day, may the best tabloid version of reality reign supreme.

    Sex For Memes’ Sake

    A man sneaks away from his wife and kids and their suburban homestead, and descends into a dungeon late at night, allows a dominatrix to strap him to a rack, and has his testicles electrified. How does the rational science of biological evolution make sense of the man who gets off on this? It’s a vital question. You can call this guy a freak of nature, but there are many like him, seeking similar strange kicks, far removed from “reproductive success.”

    Despite the recent efforts of the Kansas Board of Education, many people understand the basic tenet of evolutionary theory — the interaction of a species’ genetic makeup with its environment is the process that is responsible for the vast configurations of life on the planet. We call it natural selection.

    Sociobiologists, accordingly, have attempted to elucidate the spectrum of human behaviors in terms of evolution, but they find themselves facing big problems when explaining sexual activities. This is certainly ironic, since the act that transmits our genetic code would seem most effectively described by evolutionary theory.

    Indeed, we modern humans do very odd and problematic things with our sexuality, things that can’t be satisfactorily explained as mere “mistakes” of evolution. We commit to celibacy, have sex with the same gender, use birth control, and fetishize our lifestyles beyond anything a Darwinian geneticist can possibly explain.

    The confounding and seemingly anti-Darwinian nature of contemporary sex practices is one of many issues explored in Susan Blackmore’s The Meme Machine. This book expands the field of memetics, pioneered by popular science writer Richard Dawkins, into new areas, and provides powerful explanations for cultural dynamics that have long perplexed evolutionary scientists. According to Blackmore’s theory, memes — like genes — are “replicators.” They seek, at all costs, to make copies of themselves. In the process, they affect the behavior of the “vehicles” that carry them — humans.

    But unlike genes, they can spread “horizontally” (from one brain to another, regardless of the genetic relationship) as well as “vertically” (from parent to child, and even child to parent). For instance, the thesis of this article is a meme that has copied itself from my brain, to the Internet, to your brain, even though we’ve never met and are probably not related. Genes, on the other hand, can only copy themselves vertically, from generation to generation, through biological reproduction.

    Also, unlike genes, the biological fitness of the meme carrier doesn’t necessarily impact on the spreading of the meme. If someone commits suicide in political or religious protest and witnesses are so impressed they take up that person’s cause, then the meme he was carrying has won. It has successfully copied itself, perhaps more successfully than if that person had not committed suicide.

    Genes, on the other hand, rely on biological reproduction. While they’re apathetic about the fate of their vehicles after they reproduce (note the bodily effects of the female who is no longer of reproductive viability), breeding is an imperative for gene survival. If a given person dies before reproducing, regardless of political or religious intent, the genes lose.

    This means that the two replicators, the genes and the memes, are often in competition for the resources of the human vehicles. This may account for the bizarre behaviors for which biological evolution cannot. (Blackmore uses the “second replicator” theory, a major aspect of her thesis, to elucidate all sorts of phenomena, from human brain size, to the origins of language, to the Internet.)

    So, let’s return to our man who deliberately seeks out cock and ball torture. Electrifying his scrotum might actually make him impotent — a definite genetic disadvantage. But from the memetic perspective, his action makes perfect sense.

    You see, he is the carrier of the “genital torture” meme. The man has either heard about or seen images of this behavior at some point. When this “informational unit” entered his brain, it found a comfortable home (perhaps he has other memes that caused him to perceive himself as deserving of punishment). The man is likely to now serve the cause of the meme further. Maybe he’ll meet others in the fetish community and communicate the practice, and a few will practice it themselves. We have successful memetic replication!

    From a wider perspective, the memes are now harnessing the biological energy of sexual desire to serve themselves at the expense of genes. Instead of devoting their lives to their genes’ survival by breeding offspring and raising kids who in turn might start families, people bathe themselves in the information-rich behavior of fetishes, associating with other fetishists who are susceptible to being infected with ever-more fetishistic memes.

    Until the memes finally work out a way to do away with the need for humans altogether, I think it’s clear that the further we wander from our genetic imperatives without sacrificing our ability to spread memes, the more useful we are to our true masters.

    See Also:
    Deep Throat, Big Brain
    Pregnant Nympho Sex
    Screech’s Sex Tape Follies
    World Sex Laws