When a Newspaper Publishes an Unsolvable Puzzle

When a newspaper publishes an unsolvable Challenger puzzle

Sudoku puzzles have only one solution. And then directly above an easy-level Sudoku puzzle my local newspaper also published another grid-like math puzzle. "Try to beat today's challenge time..." the instructions begin.

"The Challenger," they call it.....

But I'm here to tell you this puzzle has no unique solution. (And how I wasted two hours of my life figuring that out...)

Here's what happened: They left out a line of the instructions!

While the challenge is relatively simple — which numbers will add up to the given totals? — when the puzzle is syndicated newspapers are supposed to warn readers that there's multiple solutions, and that unlike Sudoku, there's not only one unique solution, but multiple ones. If you're thinking "This could be a 9 or an 8...." — you're right! Everyone's a winner today! Just start scribbling in numbers! And you'd be a fool to try to keep narrowing them down by, say, using your math and logic skills.

A fool like me...

Challenge Time

"Challenge Time," it says below my own local newspaper's instructions. "10 minutes and 12 seconds!" (Yes, they actually even specified how many additional seconds, after the 10-minute mark, you'd be needing to solve "The Challenger"...) And you can re-read the newspaper's instructions all you want, but you'll never find anything warning you off the impossible task of identifying a unique solution. In fact, turn the page and there's even one (and only one) "Puzzle Answer" provided. Implying, of course, that there is only one answer, and that you could somehow magically derive it, from your diligence and hard work, persistence and perseverance...


San Francisco passes off Challenger (with multiple solutions) as having a single answer on Puzzle Answers page (resized) If you're looking for a unique solution, you can only win when you...stop looking and finally give up.

The lesson here, boys and girls: hard work is a futile and pointless time sink which ultimately ends in failure.

Up to 190 Solutions

"So don't ever trust your local newspaper," I told myself. "These are the same people who think Marmaduke is funny...."

In fact, my only kind words today are for the stranger on the internet who relieved me of my burden after I'd given up in discouragement and searched the web for "How do you solve a Challenger puzzle."

Somewhere out there on the great wide internet is Dr. Robert J. Lopez, an award-winning former mathematics professor at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. Fondly the emeritus professor describes how he'd assembled a computer program to explore the mathematics of "Challenger" puzzles. "The puzzle shown above has eight solutions," the professor writes at one point.

"I was amazed to discover that in a sequence of 500 puzzles, one puzzle had 190 solutions...."

Dr Robert J Lopez from Indiana via MaplePrimes site

Hell, more than half the puzzles he'd tested had at least twenty possible solutions. Nearly a quarter of the puzzles he'd tested had more than 40 solutions. (Over 120 puzzles!) The professor even came up with creative ways to illustrate just how many different solutions there can be for a single puzzle.

Histiogram of data showing the frequency of multiple solutions in newspaper Challenger puzzle by Dr Robert J Lopez from Indiana via MaplePrimes site

After hours of beating my head against the wall — trying to find a single solution which didn't exist — I'd found this kindly online math professor explaining casually that "Unlike Sudoku, the puzzle can have multiple solutions." And he adds that this fact "is explicitly stated below the directions, copyrighted by King Features Syndicate, Inc., that appear in my local newspaper." Gee, that would've saved me a lot of time — if my own newspaper hadn't left that out!

And of course, when you think about it, it's so obvious that there's multiple solutions. Because you could always get a second solution just by adding one to the second box's number and subtracting one from the number next to it — and then also subtracting one from the number at the bottom of the second column, while adding one to the number next to it. This is true for pretty much every puzzle combination (except when there's two nines, say, so you can't simply increase a digit by one.)

Judging by the professor's table, there's more than one solution for 97.2% of the puzzles!

Nightmare Fuel

Two hours. Yep, that's me. "Other people solve this, so why can't I?" I kept telling myself. For two hours...

"Apparently some people even find that unique solution in just 10 minutes and 12 seconds! Heck, it's in a newspaper! These puzzles get solved by bored retirees while they're sipping their tea!"

Yes, I'm probably too invested in my puzzle-solving ability. Growing up I'd always solved the Junior Jumble in my hometown newspaper. Now I can unravel anagrams just by looking at them, amazing my friends by shouting out words, one after the other... Imagining their amazement, I once even solved a Sudoku puzzle without using a pencil, doing the whole thing in my head. (I stared at the grid, and forced myself to keep re-identifying the numbers again and again until I'd completed a whole nine-number square, and then moved on to the next one...) Cryptoquizzes. Crossword puzzles. Those new-fangled Tic-Tac Logic puzzles. I've beaten them all...

But there's a trust. Your local newspaper is a part of your life — and so are those little puzzles on the funnies page. Maybe I felt like I was participating somehow in the larger community, like competing in a bar-room trivia contest. Maybe it's the secret national pastime — the local newspaper puzzle.

So what happens when they give you a puzzle that you just can't solve. Worse than that; that you can't even start! Two hours later, and not a single square filled in... Has the world gone mad? Is my mind rapidly deteriorating?

I had bad dreams. You know the one where you haven't studied for a test? But for me, the bad dream went on and on... So I failed that test. I had to drop out of college. I lived in a cheap apartment. I stole to survive...

There's a life lesson to be learned here, but I'm not sure what is. (Beyond "hard work is a futile and pointless time sink which ultimately ends in failure....") Maybe it's "Men wait too long before asking for help." Or "Don't ever let anyone tell you that there's only one way to solve a problem."

Perhaps it's "Seek help for your obsessiveness." Or "Find better uses for your spare time."

Or maybe the real lesson is that we truly do love those little puzzles in the newspaper.

And that they ought to honor and respect that love — by always providing the complete instructions.

Kamala Harris on Juneteenth

Kamala Harris speaking as Juneteenth is declared a federal holiday
Today as president Joe Biden signed the law making Juneteenth a federal holiday, vice president Kamala Harris delivered her own introductory remarks. Visibly choked with emotion, she succinctly summed up the moment's significance.

Throughout history, Juneteenth has been known by many names: Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, Liberation Day, Emancipation Day — and today, a national holiday. [Loud applause]

And looking out across this room, I see the advocates, the activists, the leaders who have been calling for this day for so long, including the one and only, Ms. Opal Lee. [Applause. The 94-year-old woman is surprised when Joe Biden walks over and bends down on one knee to shake her hand.] Who just received a very special recognition from the president of the United States!

And I see members of Congress, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Members of the United States Senate who passed this bill unanimously. And all of whom, collectively, were responsible for delivering this bill to the president's desk. And I thank you all, we thank you all — your nation thanks you all!

When we establish a national holiday, it makes an important statement. National holidays are something important. These are days when we as a nation have decided to stop and take stock, and often to acknowledge our history. And so as we establish Juneteenth as our newest national holiday, let us be clear about what happened on June 19th, 1865 — the day we call Juneteenth. Because that day was not the end of slavery in America. Yes on that day, the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas learned that they were free. But in fact, two and half years earlier the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the Confederacy. So think about that. For more than two years, the enslaved people of Texas were kept in servitude.

For more than two years, they were intentionally kept from their freedom. For more than two years.

And then on that summer day, 156 years ago, the enslaved people of Texas learned the news. They learned that they were free. And they claimed their freedom. [Applause] It was indeed an important day.

And still let us also remember that day was not the end of slavery in America. The truth is, it would be six more months before the 13th Amendment was ratified, before enslaved people in the South and the North were free. So as we commemorate the history of Juneteenth, as we did just weeks ago with the history of the Tulsa race massacre, we must learn from our history. And we must teach our children our history. Because it is part of our history as a nation. It is part of American history.

So let me end by saying this. We are gathered here in a house built by enslaved people. We are footsteps away from where president Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. And we are here to witness president Joe Biden establish Juneteenth as a national holiday.

We have come far. And we have far to go. But today is a day of celebration.

It is not only a day of pride. It is also a day for us to reaffirm and re-dedicate ourselves to action.

And with that I say, happy Juneteenth everybody, and with that I introduce the president of the United States, Joe Biden.

Signing the legislation, president Joe Biden acknowledged that "The emancipation of enslaved Black Americans didn't mark the end of America's work to deliver on the promise of equality. It only marked the beginning. To honor the true meaning of Juneteenth, we have to continue toward that promise, because we've not gotten there yet."

But he also included his own summation of the holiday's significance. "Great nations don't ignore their most painful moments... They embrace them. Great nations don't walk away. We come to terms with the mistakes we've made."

Kamala Harris with her arm around Opal Lee watches Joe Biden sign the law declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday
Kamala Harris with her arm around Opal Lee watches Joe Biden sign the law declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday

What’s Behind The Coronavirus Lab Origin Hoax?

"One way we still win this election is by turning it into a referendum on China," one Trump campaign advisor bluntly admitted this week to the Los Angeles Times.

That's why Trump keeps calling it "the China virus." (He actually crossed out "coronavirus" in one speech and wrote in "China virus" in its place.) It's why he's created a 60-second montage of clips about China which CNN says "takes Biden remarks grossly out of context to twist their meaning." But it's also why hard-right Republicans keep pushing a discredited conspiracy theory that the virus somehow escaped from a government-run lab. (Don't blame bats, blame the Chinese!)

41-year-old senator Tom Cotton spreads untrue rumor on Fox News
41-year-old senator spreads untrue rumor on Fox News
Rush Limbaugh, Steve Bannon and even a 41-year-old Republican senator appearing on Fox & Friends all started with a smear about the coronavirus being a top secret bioengineered chemical weapon — which then escaped from the lab anyways, because the Chinese are not only diabolical military geniuses but also stupid and reckless. This yarn was a great way to scapegoat a new set of foreigners — until scientists proved that the coronavirus was not bioengineered.

But were you expecting Republicans to humbly admit they were wrong and apologize? No, they just re-packaged their lie and tried again. Okay, so the virus wasn't bioengineered — but maybe it escaped from a lab anyways. Yeah, that's the ticket. So their new theory is the Chinese aren't diabolically malicious and stupid and reckless. They're just stupid and reckless.

For this election instead of blaming Mexican rapists and drug lords, Trump will blame reckless Chinese lab workers.

Two academics studying online disinformation write in the Washington Post that Russia has been actively boosting this "fearmongering theory about the origins of the virus all over Twitter and social media. (This week the same theory turned up again in the Russia government's propaganda/pretend news site "Russia Today," which true to form cited a well-known tabloid newspaper as its source.)

So how do real scientists react when you bring them a Republican theory that the virus might've escaped from a lab? Thomas Gallagher, a virus expert and professor at Loyola University of Chicago, recently gave an emphatic rebuttal to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Blaming the virus on Chinese lab workers "would be utterly defenseless, truly unhelpful, and extremely inappropriate."

A former NPR writer and editor also eviscerated the rumor for an article at Vox. They actually tracked down the head of one of America's own level-4 national biosafety labs, who for six years had worked with the Chinese team at the Wuhan lab. His response? "I can tell you that lab in Wuhan is equivalent to any lab here in the U.S. and Europe."

So does he really believe the virus originated in the Wuhan market instead? In a word, yes. "The linkage back to the market is pretty realistic, and consistent with what we saw with SARS. It's a perfectly plausible and logical explanation: The virus exists in nature and, jumping hosts, finds that it like humans just fine..."

CNN asked more scientists — and seems to have gotten pretty much the same answer. Vincent Racaniello, a microbiology professor at Columbia University, believes the escaped-from-a-lab theory "has no credibility." And CNN also talked to Dr. Simon Anthony, a professor at the public health grad school of Columbia University and a key member of PREDICT, a federally funded global program investigating viruses in animal hosts with pandemic potential. His response? "It all feels far-fetched... There's certainly no evidence to support that theory."

The Washington Post also asked Vipin Narang, an associate political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with a background in chemical engineering. And Narang also derided the scenario as "highly unlikely."

"We don't have any evidence for that. It's a skip in logic..."

Hell, even the 41-year-old Republican senator pushing this theory "acknowledged there is no evidence that the disease originated at the lab," the Post reports.

"Instead, he suggested it's necessary to ask Chinese authorities about the possibility, fanning the embers of a conspiracy theory that has been repeatedly debunked by experts."

But to be fair to the senator, a senior writer at Snopes.com writer blames the confusion on "a pretend journal" that first pushed out this theory. Gullible people online apparently mistook a URL with "research" in its name for an actual scientific journal, he explains on Snopes.com. "A February 2020 document erroneously described by several media outlets as a 'scientific study' provides the supposedly science-based evidence of a virus escaping from a lab. This paper, such as it is, merely highlights the close distance between the seafood market and the labs and falsely claimed to have identified instances in which viral agents had escaped from Wuhan biological laboratories in the past...

"[T]his paper — which was first posted on and later deleted from the academic social networking website ResearchGate — adds nothing but misinformation to the debate regarding the origins of the novel coronavirus and is not a real scientific study."

But he was more blunt on Twitter when the same far-right conspiracies theories made another appearance in a misguided opinion piece in the Washington Post. "Holy fuck...! This article repeats several aggressive falsehoods!" But this has nothing to do with facts. When a conspiracy theory won't die, it's because the far right fanatics, Russian trolls, Rush Limbaugh fans and the generally misinformed are determined to keep it alive. Remember, "One way we still win this election is by turning it into a referendum on China," a Trump campaign advisor told the Los Angeles Times this week.

If this conspiracy keeps coming back, it's because political operatives want it to.

The Great ‘Captain Marvel’ Soundtrack Scam

Captain Marvel movie poster re-done by Goose Danvers (cropped)
A funny thing happened when I searched Amazon for the soundtrack to Marvel's upcoming superhero blockbuster, Captain Marvel.

The first match is, of course, "Captain Marvel Soundtrack" -- but it's by someone named Roguey, selling a 28-second song with the title "Captain Marvel Soundtrack." And that 28-second song is also the only song on a one-song album -- which Roguey has also named "Captain Marvel Soundtrack."

It has 0 reviews, but Roguey's received three disparaging reviews for his other offerings in Amazon's digital music store. ("Too short, only 30 seconds. WTF...")

In fact, his entire "recording" career seems to span 10 weeks in the summer of 2018, releasing 53 songs -- all of which are 28 seconds long. Most of them have titles that look like popular songs from popular movies -- for example, "Waterloo (From Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again Soundtrack)" -- but the songs themselves sound very suspiciously like sound clips. Another example: his 29-second song "Rubber Band Man (From The Avengers Infinity War Rubberband Soundtrack)" is indistinguishable from the original 1976 song by The Spinners.

And he's not the only one in Amazon's digital music store selling musical knock-offs. There's also an enterprising musician peddling a track called "Music from the 'Captain Marvel' Movie Trailer - Cover Version" -- which appears to be a wholly unauthorized synthesizer recreation of whatever's playing in the background of Marvel's trailers for their upcoming film.

It's not hard to figure out what's going on here. The premiere date for Captain Marvel is March 8, 2019, but there's already an incredible amount of pre-release excitement -- plus a lot of pre-release publicity. Alaska Airlines already has a 737 jet that's been customized with a Captain Marvel paint job. And there's already a Twitter feed for Captain Marvel's cat.

So I can't be the only one who's now wondering which songs will be featured on the film's official soundtrack.

But interest really spiked when Marvel unveiled the official Captain Marvel web site -- which was done in a deliriously retro 1990s style. (Wired said it paid homage to those glorious early years when the internet was "glittery and welcoming and amateurish and wonderful and absurd.") It reminded everyone that Captain Marvel is set in the 1990s -- just like Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy begins in the 1970s. And that soundtrack, with its collection of '70s super-hits -- went on to become the fifth best-selling album of 2014, selling over 2.5 million copies worldwide and grabbing the #1 best-selling album spot on Billboard's chart -- the first time in history that the #1 album has been a soundtrack with nothing but other people's previously-released songs.

Would Captain Marvel's soundtrack do the same thing for music from the 1990s?

Imagine her impressing the hell out of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury to the tune of the Breeders' "Saints", or fighting shape-shifting Skrulls to the insinuating vocals of Veruca Salt's "Seether".

Yes, I rushed to look up the track listing on the yet-to-be released Captain Marvel soundtrack.

And all I found was some crap by a guy named Roguey.

UPDATE: The movie's been released and it did feature many songs from the 1990s, including:
Nirvana - Come as you Are
Hole - Celebrity Skin
No Doubt - I'm Just a Girl
Garbage - Only Happy When it Rains
Unfortunately, as of yet they haven't been gathered together into an official "Music from Captain Marvel" album.

Amazon’s Secret Bad Erotic Video Auteur

One star review - Awful

It all started in a desert. In a vast landscape with weird buttes and ancient Indian petroglyphs, a friend described a strange film-maker (and local legend) with his own weird story about selling videos on Amazon.com. Will Chase is a deejay, an artist, a Burning Man devotee and a former schoolteacher with a DUI. And yet somehow he found himself filming a surreal series of intentionally meaningless videos called "Bikini Hot Tub Girls."

It's not what you think...

The madness first began on a long night in 2012, when two "no-budget" Boise filmmakers discussed the difficulties of getting their films distributed. "Jokingly we said that we should just do pornography and make lots of cash!" Chase told me sadly. "But we should do really bad porn. The world's worst porn..." Remembering that night, years later, Chase said simply "A seed had been planted in my head..."

But the final push came that Christmas, when Chase learned one of Netflix's most popular videos was just footage of a burning log. Seething, scheming, his mind wandered back to that last good laugh. And besides, Amazon.com had already instituted a strict ban on pornography in their online video store.

So they would actually be the perfect market for "the world's worst porn..."

KoyaanisqatsiAs a serious film-maker, Chase was aware of film's like Koyaanisqatsi and the concept of "ambient video" — so that's how he approached his new project. "Part of the set-up was to draw a distinction between near-nudity and pornography," he confides. If nothing else, it could become the kind of story that you'd later tell your friends at the bar. There was no money involved of any kind — at least, not upfront. But Chase offered to share 10% of whatever money the videos would ultimately end up making with the women who appeared in his films.

And once the camera started rolling, the women he filmed "could do whatever they wanted — so long as they didn't do anything to sexualize the content. "

Finding models was "just a matter of connecting with some of my more confident Facebook connections, and them recruiting some of their friends, etc." In fact, the hardest part was explaining to other wannabe porn actresses that no, it really wasn't that kind of a movie. "I'm pretty sure they didn't get the joke," Chase remembers. But all of the models he eventually used fully grokked his ridiculous gag.

"Some merely sat in the tub. Some played to the camera. You get the idea..."

Chase says now that the experiment also has implications for the future of society. "Either I'll not make any money off this and the culture of Western Civilization has not completely fallen through the basement, or; I'll get rich and Western Civilization is doomed...

So what happened? "As of this typing, Western Civ is doing okay, but we're not squeaky-clean, either."

The videos eventually did make their way into Amazon's Instant Video store. ("One bikini. One Hot Tub. One Girl," read the description on Chase's first "bad porn" video on Amazon. "The perfect ambient film for your next party!") But there was never any advertising. Instead Will left his fortunes solely to the whims of random Amazon searches. And in a lucky happenstance, when you searched Amazon's video store for "hot tub," Will's videos original occupied five of the top 10 slots. For a while three of them were even in the top 20 results for bikini videos (just above "Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine.")

And the punchline to Chase's prank was provided by outraged consumers who took the time to type out their dissatisfaction with his "Bikini Hot Tub" video offerings.

"This was very very boring. She just sat on the edge of the hot tub most of the time and text with the cell phone."

"I was very disappointed... All the film does is shows a girl getting into a hot tub while she drinks and checks her cell phone..."

"waste of time, seriously, a waste of time."
One viewer even titled their review "One Star" — adding just two words in the review itself: "Stupid pointless". ("Verified Purchase!" Amazon reminds you, also asking: "Was this review helpful to you?")

The review below it is titled "Two Stars," with the review itself consisting of just one word: "boring." ("1 of 1 people found the following review helpful," says Amazon — calling this their most helpful critical review.) The longest review was 11 words, with a title complaining that the video is "A Tease."

"The start was promising, but later it was just a disappointment."

Chase acknowledges that "between you and me and the chair, I get some enjoyment out of these idiots. But the funniest words of all may be "Runtime: 31 minutes." And the video's page on Amazon leads down a rabbit hole of other strange quasi-erotic videos that are also skirting the line of Amazon's Terms of Service. "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought... Massage with Christina and Amber... Natural and Nude Yoga Techniques... Sex n Yoga..." Amazon even recommended another low-quality production called "Orgies and the Meaning of Life..."

Orgies and the meaning of life

"Not great," complained one reviewer on Amazon. "I never should have let my husband pick a movie..."

My favorite review came in response to Will's 2013 magnum opus, "Bikini Hot Tub Girls - Angela." It begins with the words "Super-duper, mega, ultra rip-off."

"This is a video of a woman in a hot tub, like in an apartment complex, with her bathing suit on. That is it. Nothing more than described. She doesn't say a word. She doesn't act in desirable ways. She just sits in silence and watches things off camera...

ZERO stars if possible - however, they deserve one star for getting me to pay for it.

Joke's on me."

But Will's learned some very interesting lessons about the nature of Amazon. It's lead him into a strange world where the competing videos are even stranger. (For a while "Bikini Swamp Girl Massacre" was even free for subscribers to Amazon Prime.) And one of Will's models — who calls herself Jin N Tonic — now has an erotic Kindle ebook of her own. Interestingly, when Jin N Tonic was a high school student, Chase was actually one of her teachers. ("Awkward, I know," Chase says sheepishly.)

Jin n Tonic ebook

The last time I checked there was just one review of "Bikini Hot Tub Girls - Episode Eight: Jin N Tonic," but it went into a surprising amount of detail into why he awarded the film exactly two stars. It concluded with the words "If the producer and amazon had to give me a nickel every time I was disappointed while watching this film, I'd have 39.7 nickels."

But surprisingly, there was then even some discussion about his review — in the form of two comments.

"So, to review: There was a girl in a bikini in a hot tub, right? "

"There sure was. "

This definitely proves a point, but I'm not exactly sure what.

Will also remembers the day when one of his models didn't show up — and, well, the show must go on. So Chase himself climbed into the hot tub — along with his cameraman — and released the resulting footage as "Naked Hot Tub Guys: Roundfellas."

"There are no customer reviews yet," Amazon points out helpfully...four years after the video was uploaded.

Naked Hot Tub Guys - Episode 1 - Roundfellas

There's even a sequel. Naked Hot Tub Guys: Roundfellas2.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. "Hello," began a fateful email Will received from Amazon in October -- after over two years of trolling their customers.

"During a quality assurance review, we found that the titles listed below violate the Amazon Video Direct Content Policy Guidelines as they contain content that does not meet our customer content quality expectations."

Will pushed back. "Exactly what specific Poor Customer Experience issues are the titles having...?" he inquired. Why were his videos good enough to sell for two years -- but suddenly not got enough to continue selling? "Please advise..." Will ended his email.

And then Amazon lowered the boom.

"We reserve the right to determine what content provides a poor customer experience. We’re unable to elaborate further on specific details..."

So it was the end of the road for Bikini Hot Tub Girls - Kim, as well as Bikini Hot Tub Girls – Katie, and even Naked Hot Tub Guys: Roundfellas2. All 10 videos in the budding BHTG franchise were removed from Amazon's Instant Video store.

Though Amazon is still selling the DVD versions.

And they're still attracting really terrible reviews...

After I'd heard the whole story, I had to try watching one of Will's "bad porn" videos myself. I went with "Bikini Hot Tub Girls #2 - Katie." And I'll admit that at some point I did ask, am I having a moment where it's so bad it's good? There's something relaxing about the absence of dialogue, or plot — it's refreshing that it isn't beating me over the head with special effects. Now Katie's sitting on the edge of the hot tub, drinking water. There's something haughty about it — like it's a big fuck-you to the male gaze.

And after watching it, I laughed when Amazon sent me their standard follow-up e-mail.

Subject: How many stars would you give 'Bikini Hot Tub Girls - Katie'?

There's a rather stunning surprise plot twist at the 12-minute mark. You'll never guess what it is. A naked man walks in, and....hands Katie another glass of beer. There's a black circle censoring his private parts, and he instantly turns around and exits the way he came in. Katie turns towards the camera, lowers her glasses with a slight smirk, and then — goes back to drinking her beer.

"Yup, that was my naked ass giving Katie a brewski," Chase tells me. (He points me again to Naked Hot Tub Guys - Episode 1: Roundfellas" — available only on DVD, printed on demand, for $15... "Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #685,257 in Movies & TV... Be the first to review this item.")

But Bikini Hot Tub Girls #2 - Katie isn't the worst movie I've ever sat through. (That would still be Gigli...) There's no pretense, no overwhelming musical soundtrack, and certainly no violence or gore. (Or, really, any action of any kind...) It's almost like a parody of the whole online media world. I want to call it a surrealist project. Or am I just being one more chump?

I feel kind of sorry for the bikini hot tub girls - condemned by society's obsession with beauty to be trapped alone and silent In an empty hot tub. Their purgatory is this endless half hour. While a naked man brings drinks.

"My head was sort of in and out during shooting," Katie told me later in an email interview. (Although she acknowledges that "Part of the time I just sat there thinking 'this rocks.'") But yeah, she was also aware of the strange undercurrents that they were playing with.

"It was a project that really did make me think quite a bit about objectifying people and the intense focus our society seems to have on sex... I like the finished product... I can't say I look back and regret it. It was a fun way to kill an afternoon and I still think the idea is amusing."

So maybe it was a kind of weird solidarity that made me watch it all the way to the end. (Katie steps out of the hot tub, grabs her water glass, and walks away.) The camera lingers on her as she recedes, and then the film ends, with a title card thanking the brewery who provided a keg. It makes me think I'd like to see someone do a movie about Will's life. Unemployed Idaho schoolteacher, filming "Bikini Hot Tub Girls" — a hometown hero getting support from at least one local business.

Now all that's left is the legend...

Will has actually watched people at a party when someone's slipped his movie onto their TV. One by one, their eyes start to gravitate to the footage of the woman sitting alone in the hot tub. She's just sitting there — what is this thing? What can possibly be about to happen next? It's like something Andy Kaufman would do — an experimental film with no plot or resolution whatsoever.

Will has a theory that part of his audience was overseas — maybe in religious countries "with serious taboos against porn and nudity... there's a good chance I've accidentally tapped into a niche market." But there's no way to know for sure.

But if so, it's kind of inspiring that for one weird moment, they were watching a blonde American woman relaxing in a Boise hot tub — and that somehow, it became its own little cultural earthquake. I asked Chase if he been trying to penalize people who are looking for pornography, and he joked that "If I happen to be 'punishing' porn-seekers, I'm good with that."

And besides, "Amazon is the worst place in the world to search for porn..."

Mark Zuckerberg Is A Hypocrite

Fake ads on Mark Zuckerberg post

"We take misinformation seriously," Facebook's CEO posted Saturday. Right next to two very obvious pieces of misinformation...

Note the lying advertisers to the right of his status update? (No, Hugh Hefner isn't dead, and no, Tiger Woods hasn't left the PGA forever.) Those ads don't even lead to news stories. The first one leads to a site selling cures for erectile dysfunction, and the second leads to a site selling testosterone booster.

But there's something even worse about these two advertisers. Both of their web sites are designed to look like actual news sites. Clicking on the "HUGE HEFF ENDS HIS LIFE" link, for example, leads to this.

Fake Fox News site

That story also isn't true. (It doesn't even match the headline on the ad...) But more importantly, that web site isn't Fox News. It's a quick knock-off that's intentionally designed to con people who don't notice that it's got an entirely different URL.

And the other advertiser on Zuckerberg's post is using the same trick — this time, pretending to be ESPN.

Fake Tiger Woods suspended site

It's the same old con. That story's not true — and that site's not ESPN.

So remember these screenshots the next time you see Mark Zuckerberg claiming that Facebook is cracking down on fake news.

He can't even keep it off of his own Facebook page. So how's he going to keep it off of yours?

Dell Computers Has Been Hacked

Lego Cyberpunks (small)                                                          Image inspired by the Cyrus Borg_A minifig
Scammers pretending to be from Dell computers phoned me in November — but these scammers knew things about me. They identified the model number for both my Dell computers, and knew every problem that I'd ever called Dell about. None of this information was ever posted online, so it's not available anywhere except Dell's own customer service records. (Even my e-mail account is secured with "two-step verification"...)

I called the (real) Dell, and spoke to a customer support representative named Mark, who tried to explain how the scammers knew my account history.

"Dell has detected hackers," he said. "They're hacking our web site."

I'm not sure I believe him. (Another theory is that scammers are simply getting hired by Dell, and then supplementing their hourly wage by trying to con Dell's customers out of hundreds of dollars more...) But one thing that's absolutely certain is that I'm not the only person who's being scammed. Dell's own support forum shows many more customers are complaining about the same phone scam. "There is no other way the person would have my name, cell phone number, and know I had a Dell computer if it didn't come from your company..." posted one unhappy customer in June. "This is pretty scary, especially since you claim to be able to protect our PCs, but if you can't even seem to protect our info on your servers how can we ever trust this company again??"

In my case the scammers suggested I enter their domain name into my "Run window", which would've taken me to a site where I could download software to allow remote access to my system. (This presumably would allow the scammers to make a more compelling case that my computer was infected and in need of their high-priced support services...) In June someone identified as "Social Media Support" on Dell's forums responded to the complaints by saying it was "under investigation," then reassured Dell's customers by pointing to a post where the same thing had happened to somebody else.

But in fact, there were seven more identical complaints in two other threads.

"How did they gain access to such secure information from Dell? This is very concerning."

"I had the same thing happen to me yesterday... He told me he was 'Tier 3 Dell Support' and knew the model number of my computer, my personal info, etc. "

"Was DELL hacked...?? How did this 'helpful tech representative' have my contact info AND knowledge of my technical issue ???????"

"The same thing happened to me on July 9... I have not seen any report of Dell acknowledging this."

"Same thing happened to me yesterday... I called Dell support and they are sticking their head in the sand."

"Also getting calls from 'Dell', and they know which models of computer I have."

Using Google, I was able to look up the phone number that had called me, and on two different web sites found even more Dell customers complaining throughout September that they'd also received calls from a similar scammer.

"[H]e had my email and computer Service Tag info!!"

"The[y] had lots of Dell info about me, my laptop id and service I got from them. It was very convincing."

It's been happening since at least last May, according to an article at eSecurityPlanet about yet another victim of the Dell scam who reported that the scammers had also known his Dell Service Tag Number and Express Service Code. And since then ten more victims of the Dell customer support scam have left comments on the article.

"This scam is still active in October 2015. I got a similar call today..."

"This happened to my uncle in October. He lives in an assisted living [facility]... Dell told me today that they are aware of it and the FBI (or some government agency) is investigating it. I was told to cancel his charge card."

"Placed an order with Dell, two days later I start getting voicemails about 'confirming info about my order'. I called Dell, and while they were absolutely no help at all, they did confirm it wasn't them calling..."

Ironically, just eight days before I received my scam phone call in November, the FTC announced that they'd cracked down on a phone scam involving fake Dell technical support which had already cost consumers more than $17 million. (The FTC's next goal? "[T]o get money back for the victims in this case, and keep the defendants out of the scam tech support business.") Fake tech support calls are apparently a very profitable business, according to the FTC. "Since at least 2013, Defendants have bilked millions of dollars from consumers throughout the United States...by making consumers believe that they are part of or affiliated with well-known U.S. technology companies, such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, or Dell...

"Then, Defendants peddle their technical support services and charge consumers up to thousands of dollars."

But unfortunately, the FTC's announcement makes it clear that that was a much less sophisticated scam that involved simply placing online ads targeted to people searching for solutions to technical problems. ("[I]n some instances, the technicians removed consumers' antivirus and security software already installed on the computers and replaced it with some other programs...") It was disturbing to learn that they'd been in business "since at least 2013" before the FTC finally managed to shut them down. Maybe it's a reminder that there's lots of different phone scammers out there.

But it's very disturbing that scammers are now also apparently in possession of service histories — and home phone numbers — for Dell's customers.

See Also:
How I Sued a Craigslist Sex Troll
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks
What Happened to the Perry Bible Fellowship?
The Night Larry Wall Unveiled Perl 6
How The iPod Changes Culture

The Night Larry Wall Unveiled Perl 6

Larry Wall - October 5th 2015 - Perl 6 event

They'd been waiting for more than a decade. And then Monday night in San Francisco, where the Embarcadero meets the Bay, Craigslist took over the Exploratorium for a long-awaited event. They handed out bottle openers with built-in flash drives, as well as t-shirts and Craigslist stickers with the new Perl 6 logo. "Help yourself to food and Larry and drinks," one greeter told me. Larry Wall, the creator of Perl, was circulating through the room in a red and white Hawaiian shirt, chatting and posing for pictures...

It felt like a great moment in geek history. More than a decade after O'Reilly Media released their book about the "upcoming" Perl 6 language, the celebratory launch of this first development release had finally arrived. Craigslist hosted the event, so there were classy little appetizer plates with banh mi sandwiches, dolma rolls with olives, and even little bowls of sobe salad. Waiters circulated throughout the celebration, handing out free drinks which all appeared to be California-produced wine and beers. (Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada ...)

And now, 28 years after the first release of Perl — and more than 20 years after Perl 5 — Larry Wall was going to unveil something new...

At 7:30 the room grew quiet, and the small throng of geeks migrated into the "Kanbar Forum" room — a small auditorium with a large presentation screen — for the official unveiling. Someone told me even Randal L. Schwartz was in the room. There was already a browser on the screen that was displaying the Perl6 home page at Perl6.org, and two more tabs appeared to be IRC logs "for #p..." The quiet chatter turned to applause when Larry Wall finally walked out onto the stage. Then he made shadow puppets on the screen with his fingers — and left.

"I have to say, these language designers can be such a tease sometimes," joked Jeremy Zawondy from Craigslist. He'd come up to the podium to officially introduce Larry before the main presentation. Jeremy noted the parallel development of Perl 5 and Perl 6, arguing that it really says something about the Perl community. And then he shared how people had answered his question when RSVPing for the event on Meetup. "What do you love about Perl?"

"The power."

"I've been using it forever. It's part of my brain."

"Because it's so wrong." (Applause) Jeremy turned to the audience and said, "So far I agree with all of these."

"Brevity and Power."

"It dares to be weird.

"It's been paying the bills for 20 years." (Jeremy pointed out what a remarkable statement that was...)

"It makes me feel happy."

"Its love is unconditional."

"My first and only successful company was built on Perl." (Laughter and applause)

"Perl loves me."

"And last, but not least: 'It's readable'." (Laughter from audience...) But Jeremy said he'd been talking to Larry and his wife about the old joke comparing Perl code to line noise. And he noted that later, languages started copying Perl's built-in support for regular expressions. "They made fun of Perl, but..." Then he said something about "years to come" — I'm not sure if he was talking about Larry or Perl — and then finally Larry Wall came back onto the stage.

He removed his leather cowboy hat, smiled, and then playfully handed the hat to his wife. One of the first things he said was a thank-you to Craigslist, "for sponsoring me these last few years." 61-year-old Larry Wall said he couldn't properly express his gratitude to Craigslist. And then he launched into his first series of slides.

    Larry Wall Presents; Perl 6
    By, er, Larry Wall.

He alluded to the road ahead, joking that because he was using vim as his text editor, it was trivially easy to re-write the version number for Perl's new compiler as Then he added something about a versioning system with a holiday theme — 6.Birthday and 6.Christmas...

My favorite slide said "More bugs. Less docs." ("Wait, that's a bug," Larry joked, quickly replacing it with a slide that said "More docs, less bugs.") For example, he described one of Perl's earlier problems as "Hanging things on the wrong peg." (That is, too many things being accessible in the "global" namespace, which Larry proved by displaying the keys from a hash of global environment variables.) Then he ran the same code on Perl 6, which found no variables in the global namespace. A lot of them went instead into the CORE library. "They're hung on the right peg," Larry said, "instead of the wrong peg..."

He seemed pleased to be upgrading a language that he'd first shared with the world more than 28 years ago. He pointed out that Perl 6 would have fewer arbitrary lists for geeks to memorize. (Like which symbols are global, but also which functions use the special $_ variable as their default parameter). And Larry demonstrated a Perl 6 program which, among other things, made use of the trendy new "enumerated" type. The program simulated a forest fire using tree icons in one of four states.

   enums <Empty Tree Heating Burning>

Amazingly, all the little tree icons were continuously being re-drawn surprisingly quickly on his screen, each one using different ANSI colors to simulate their current state. Larry explained that this was being facilitated by the tree object's "direct-access variables", created by adding a "bang" after the variable-type sigil.

   Int $!height;

"By the way, strict is default," he said, drawing enthusiastic applause from the audience. The strict pragma stops the troublesome auto-creation of new variables when a variable name is accidentally mistyped — which has plagued Perl developers for years.

He also said something about improving the scoping of methods by looking up the call stack (noting Perl's infamous attempt at a local function back in the 1990s). There was a nod to other quirks of Perl 5 — "multi-pass parsing" and various examples of "action at a distance" — showing that he'd really dug down into the "guts" of Perl.

He had a funny response when someone asked about his philosophy about what should be included in the standard library. First he replied that Perl 6 is analogous to the Linux kernel, in the sense that nobody only downloads it by itself. ("They download a distribution.") So unlike some other programming languages, these "editorial decisions" about what should be included are delegated to the creators of those distributions. "In other words...we punt."

But one of the most impressive bullet points was just two words: "dog food". Instead of dipping into the Unix tool box for the language's implementation, "In Perl 6, we 'eat our own dog food.' " Much of the "guts" of Perl 6 — like the parser and the runtime — is now actually written in Perl 6. And they're also working on an advanced bundling. ("We plan to do better than CPAN.")

He seemed excited that universities would now have a single language that could be used to teach every style of programming — from functional to procedural. With an eye toward the future, he said "Some professors will think that's a great thing." And this came up again after a very thoughtful observation about the new butterfly logo for Perl 6.

"Paul Graham wrote this thing about the 100-year language," Larry remembered, which had inspired some thoughts about language longevity. So the new butterfly logo for Perl 6 "is specifically designed, among other things, to appeal to 7-year-old girls. The Python community has done a much better job appealing to kids with fun stuff.

"We don't expect to be the language of the week. We don't want to play that game. We want it to keep being there... We don't want their language to run out of steam. It might be a 30- or 40-year language. I think it's good enough." And then someone in the audience asked him which part of Perl 6 was his favorite.

"The part where we get done," he answered.

"I kind of like all of it, really."

Are Girl Scout Cookies Healthy?

No. But this is going to be a really short article
without some additional context...

Those cute little girls selling cookies around your neighbor are delivering junk-food snacks that are astonishingly unhealthy. ( Just four Samoas have 50% of your recommended saturated fat intake for the day... ) To be fair, the Girl Scouts do offer a healthier choice -- the Cranberry Citrus Crisp, which is their one cookie with absolutely no saturated fat whatsoever. Unfortunately, it's not being sold by most of the troops (with many offering just the six most popular cookies). And apparently half the troops in America get their cookies from a bakery which isn't even offering it.

Wait, you're still thinking about buying some delicious cookies, aren't you? Okay, then here's some neat trivia. In 2012, that Samoa -- also called a "Caramel deLite" -- was their second most-popular cookie (representing 19% of all cookie sales). But the Thin Mint was still their most popular cookie, representing 25% of all cookie sales. Other popular cookies included the Tagalong/Peanut Butter Patty (13%), the Do-si-do/Peanut Butter Sandwich (11%) and the Shortbread/Trefoils (9%). Together, just these five cookies accounted for 77% of all cookies sold.

All this information comes from the official FAQ for Girl Scout Cookies, which helpfully points out that you can even buy ice cream with Girl Scout cookies in it. And surprisingly, it's actually more healthy than the cookies themselves. An entire half cup of ice cream -- even the "Girl Scout Cookies Samoas" flavor from Breyers -- contains less fat and less sugar than four actual Samoa cookies! It's even got less sodium and fewer carbohydrates -- so the message is clear. If you want to fight childhood obesity, feed your children Girl Scout Cookie ice cream instead of actual Girl Scout cookies!

I mean, seriously. Here's how much of your "recommended daily allowance" of saturated fat will get gobbled up by just four Girl Scout cookies...

Caramel deLites (Samoas)50%
Tagalongs 50%
Thanks-A-Lot 44%
Peanut Butter Patties 40%
Lemonades 40%
Thin Mints 25%
Chocolate Chip Shortbread23%
Thank U Berry Munch 20%
Dulce de Leche 18%
Peanut Butter Sandwich 17%
Do-si-dos 13.3%
Trefoils 10.4%
Shortbread 10%
Savannah Smiles 6.4%
Cranberry Citrus Crisps 0%

And presumably this nutritional information is for adults, meaning a four-cookie serving would be even less healthy for your kids.

But what's really stunning is the way their nutritional information is being presented. For example, in 2011, the Los Angeles Times (citing The Chicago Tribune), made this startling allegation.
The Girl Scouts, on their honor, pledge that the top-selling cookies have no trans-fats.

But they do...

The Samoas, Thin Mints, and Tagalongs seem to be exploiting what's basically a loophole in the food-labeling rules of the FDA, according to the Tribune. If a product's serving size contains less than half a gram of trans-fats, they're allowed to report that as zero percent. So instead of calculating the amount of the dangerous substance in a standard four-cookie serving, for those cookies the calculation is instead performed on a smaller two-cookie serving size. Magically, the dangerous trans fats disappear...and it also results in the apperance of less fat, sugar, and other unhealthy ingredients.

To be fair, the Girl Scouts do acknowledge this trick on their web site -- sort of. They write honestly that "Selected varieties can claim 100% trans fat–free status," from which you can infer that yes, there are still trans fats in the other cookies. (They even put the phrase "zero trans fat per serving" in quotation marks, calling attention to the fact that it's more of a figure of speech...) According to the Tribune, the offending ingredient with the trans fat is partially-hydrogenated oil -- and to this day, you can still see it on the ingredient list for at least five different girl scout cookies.

     Thin Mints
     Samoas/Caramel deLites
     Tagalongs/Peanut Butter Patties

This becomes more significant when you remember that in just 2007, the Girl Scouts sold over 200 million boxes of cookies. (And the first three cookies on that list accounted for 57% of all cookies sold in 2012.) Maybe it's a good thing that in 2009, the Girl Scouts actually reduced the number of cookies included in each box of Thin Mints, Do-Si-Dos and Tagalongs.

Because while they may be tasty, that doesn't mean that they're healthy!

ObamaCare: Day One

ObamaCare HealthCare site glitches on its first day

A funny thing happened when I went to sign up for ObamaCare this morning. I couldn't! The official site at HealthCare.gov just referred me over to California's web site for their own Health Exchange. And it was so overloaded with traffic that it was impossible to sign up!

Apparently it didn't take a government shutdown to end Obamacare, because ObamaCare imploded all by itself — at least for today — just because so many different people wanted it. (I guess the lesson is that to overwhelm a government-funded health insurance exchange — it takes a village.) I'm actually relieved that I'm not the only one who's having a problem. Today it was my state's web site that's sick!

In fact, Google News is already showing stories about web sites being overloaded on the first day of ObamaCare in Maryland, Texas, Illinois, and Indiana. "The opening of state- and federal-run insurance marketplaces Tuesday saw a combination of huge interest and balky technology," reported USA Today, "that led to a series of glitches, delays and even crashes that marred the first hours of the centerpiece of President Obama's health law..." Within minutes, the stock market had tanked and — no, wait. Actually, the stock market was up today. Neither the government shutdown nor the launch of ObamaCare deterred investors who remained bullish on America, oblivious to the inability of a few state-run web sites to handle an unexpectedly high number of visitors.

They all have another 19 weeks to sign up for the insurance anyways — which also won't actually go into effect until January 1st. The deadline is December 15th if you want your insurance to be active on January 1st, and March 31st if you want your ObamaCare to be effective in 2014. But millions of Americans apparently didn't want to wait for either of those sign-up deadlines — they wanted to sign up on the program's very first day. "There were five times more users in the marketplace this morning than have ever been on Medicare.gov at one time," President Obama announced from the White House's Rose Garden, adding "That gives you a sense of how important this is to millions of Americans around the country." Later in the week, it was even revealed that at one point, 250,000 differently people were simultaneously trying to access the web site, and that within its first four days, the site had been accessed by a whopping 8.1 million people

"And that's a good thing," the President argued Tuesday about the throngs who wanted to access these online exchanges for health insurance. Citing a demand "that exceeds anything that we had expected," he promised they'd be speeding up the web sites soon, and compared the glitches to the problems Apple had releasing their iOS 7 operating system. "Within days they found a glitch — so they fixed it.

"I don't remember anybody suggesting Apple should stop selling iPhones or Ipads, or threatening to shut down company if they didn't. That's not how we do things in America. We don't actively root for failure. We get to work, we make things happen, we make 'em better.

"We keep going."

Even if Microsoft does try to copy our look and feel...

You can watch video of President Obama's press conference at CBS's site — if you're willing to sit through a dog food commercial first. But in the end I'm guessing that it doesn't really matter what any politician (or any dog) says about the health insurance exchanges, simply because America is already more polarized than any time in the last 70 years... So liberals voters will still be cheering. ("Yeah! ObamaCare is so popular, they can't keep up with the overwhelming demand!") And conservative voters will probably point to this as vindicating all their early warnings about the program. ("It looks like the government can't even run a freaking web site. So how can we trust them to administer a complex health insurance system...?!")
UPDATE: Sunday, October 6th. Originally this article ended on a discouraged note. ("It's going to be a while before I can get cheap government-sponsored healthcare, like the happy Asian couple on the ObamaCare web site...")

But I feel like it's important to add this update. 24 hours later, I went back to California's health exchange site — and it was running just fine, and I was able to log in and purchase insurance on the health exchange after all. And because I qualified for a government subsidy, the health insurance was over $1,500 a year cheaper than what I'm currently paying for health insurance. And it's going to cover a lot more of my medical bills.

Plus, the site made it easier to shop for health insurance. I had something like 19 choices, and they were sorted automatically with the cheapest ones first. The site was even able to calculate my monthly premiums automatically based on my own unique answers to how many prescriptions and doctor visits I thought I'd be needing each year — something I never got when I purchased healthcare from my employer. And I'm not the only one giving the site a positive review. USA Today made essentially the same point, arguing that what most people "don't know is how cheap the insurance is," and noting that a single 40-year-old non-smoker could easily save over $2,000 a year. And they also applauded the site for being easy and simple to use. So for me, the bottom line is I'm getting better coverage at a cheaper cost — and that signing up for it was surprisingly easy. So yes, while there were some glitches on Day One of ObamaCare...

Day Two was terrific!

Five Strange Facts about the Life of Annette Funicello

1. Sleeping with Zorro?

As a 15-year-old girl in 1957, Annette Funicello had a crush on the TV character Zorro, and "every night I drifted off to sleep hugging his eight-by-ten framed photo to my chest," she remembered in her biography. So the next year, Walt Disney had a special treat for the Mickey Mouse Club star — a guest appearance on Zorro (which was also produced by Walt Disney Studios). The delighted teenager got to celebrate her 16th birthday on the set, where Zorro himself carved a 'Z' into the frosting of her cake. And in that episode Annette also got to wield Zorro's infamous sword — "thrusting it into the chest of my no-good fiancé and sending him plunging off the side of a ship."

That episode was titled "The Postponed Wedding," but Annette's real life romances were more complicated, as she struggled with growing popularity. (Her biography also reveals that she discovered that "for a while one of my brothers was selling my phone number!") Annette lived with her parents until the day she was married, and at the time one tabloid boasted the headline "Annette reveals: How Far I'll Go Now That I'm Engaged." But on the day of her wedding, she received a death threat from a soldier, and remembered that ultimately "Saint Cyril's Church became a guarded fortress filled with unobtrusive Disney security people..."

As Annette marched down the aisle, she was wearing the veil that she'd worn in the Walt Disney movie, "Babes in Toyland". But this wedding wouldn't lead to a fairy tale happy ending. In her biography, Annette wrote that there was "a spat" on her honeymoon, that the honeymooning couple didn't speak to each other for two days, and that she called home to her parents crying. And that three weeks later, she was pregnant.

Her husband was Hollywood agent Jack Gilardi, and they had three children together, though daughter Gina once asked if her father was Frankie Avalon (Annette's co-star from movies like Beach Blanket Bingo), and if so, why was he never home for dinner? Annette got married when she was 23 — and got divorced when she was 39. Years later, she would even film a pilot for a dramatic TV series where she plays a sad widow whose husband was killed in Vietnam, who then meets up with a lost love from her teenaged years who'd tried but failed to become a successful nightclub singer...played by Frankie Avalon.

But in real life, Annette got married again to a former police officer who she met at a race track — and she tells a wonderful story about surprising her now-grown-up fans. They'd complain that they couldn't imagine discovering the former sweet and pure Disney star at a race track, holding a drink in her hand, and smoking a cigarette. "I also have three kids," Annette would remind them.

"So guess what else I do...?"

2. Devo, The Beach Boys, and Johnny Carson

Looking over her career, one of Annette's most fascinating songs was recorded with the Beach Boys in 1965. It was the opening song for "The Monkey's Uncle," a movie about a genius college student named Merlin Jones. "Let them say he's the booby prize," Annette sings, as the Beach Boys supply their familiar harmonies. "He's the boy I idolize..."

But a full 41 years later, in 2006, the Disney Studios released a new album of songs covered by contemporary artists — and chose "The Monkey's Uncle" for its final track. And in an interesting twist, the song was performed by Devo 2.0 — a new generation of teenaged Disney performers, assembled into a 21st-century version of the pioneering new wave band, who were actually backed and produced by the original members of Devo!

Annette also earned a place in television history as the original performer of what eventually became the theme to The Tonight Show. But ironically, it all came from a failed attempt to date Paul Anka, another 1950s teen idol. Though their relationship didn't last, it produced an album titled "Annette Sings Anka" — and years later, Anka would create Johnny Carson's theme from the melody of one of the album's more sentimental tracks. ("And now at long last, it's really love...")

However the most memorable track on that album is probably "Hey Mama," if only for its misplaced set of teen-rebel lyrics, addressing a mother worried that her daughter will become "the leader of a teenaged gang..."

3. Grown-Up Movies?

Even in the movies, there's at least one scene where Annette gets luridly drunk — and then starts driving a race car around an abandoned track.

Fabian: You crazy broad! What's gotten into you?

Annette: Thatshh right, I'm a crazy broad. But you don't care...

Fabian: I'd kiss your silly-looking face if you didn't smell like a brewery..

In Thunder Alley (1967), the former Disney star played the daughter of a racing promoter who gradually starts to fall in love with the traveling driver played by Fabian, and tries to compete for his affection. ("Days of screaming wheels. Nights of reckless pleasure!" promises the movie's tagline. "Their god is speed... Their pleasure an 'anytime' girl!") It was her last film of the 1960s and her last film for 20 years, except for a brief scene in the psychedelic movie Head starring the Monkees. Although she was approached about appearing naked in a film — wearing nothing but that hat with the Mickey Mouse ears that she'd worn as a Mouseketeer — she declined the offer. ("People are more interested in changing my image than I am," she later explained.)

But reportedly, Annette did confess to one interviewer that "I did naughty things. There was a time, I was in my thirties, when I wanted to see an X-rated movie, OK? I bought a blond wig, and I got into the movie.

"It was boring."

4. 125 stitches

Annette bravely struggled through a series of health problems — which was all the more difficult since it was years before the underlying cause was diagnosed as multiple sclerosis. For example, one night, she remembers that it felt like the room in her house had suddenly gone dark and started spinning, while Annette heard "loud, crashing bells." As she ran for the bedroom, she slipped on a ball that one of her children had left on the floor, and gouged her face on the side of a dresser as she fell to the ground. It took 125 stitches and some plastic surgery to repair Annette's face, she writes, and she later discovered that her right eye had a permanent blind spot.

But she also writes that immediately after the accident — and presumably still in shock — she'd blurted out to her husband that "I need to brush my teeth before we go to the hospital."

Annette hid the news of her illness for over five years — not even telling her parents. She later described this period as "Living a lie," and in a 1994 interview with Tom Snyder, she admits that "It was a hard choice for me to make... I tried to keep it a secret. I really did." Her reasons were "I just didn't want pity", and also, "I didn't want to worry anybody." But when she finally revealed the illness, she told USA Today that "Just being able to talk about it now is a big help."

She'd worried people would see her struggling to walk in a restaurant, and come to the conclusion that "'Annette's drunk'."

5. Ears Held High

Her star-dom peaked in the 1950s and 1960s, but Annette continued to hold a special place in the hearts of her fans — though she knew that the world was changing. At one point in his 1994 interview, Tom Snyder describes a commercial promoting the Vermont Teddy Bear Company in which Howard Stern recites the slogan "Give her a bear, she'll bang you!" Annette laughs gamely, then replies that "That's not very Disney." And she also confirmed that Walt Disney had indeed once asked her to never allow her navel to be photographed when she began making movies for other studios.

"How much would we have to give to see your belly button?" Snyder asks eagerly.

"I don't have one," she joked.

But during that same interview, she also comforts a 17-year-old girl in California who'd been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis just two weeks earlier, and later Annette would be recognized for the inspiring example she set in raising awareness about the disease. In 1993 she even founded the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases, which according to CNN still remains active 20 years later, supporting research into their causes, treatments, and cures. Bob Iger, the new CEO at Disney studios, ultimately told CNN that she "was well-known for being as beautiful inside as she was on the outside, and she faced her physical challenges with dignity, bravery and grace."

It was because of her status as a former Disney-era icon that her openness had that much more impact. In a made-for-TV movie about her life, Annette said "It makes me so happy when I hear from people that my going public makes them feel stronger. They're not embarrassed to use their canes or to be in a wheelchair because if I can do it, they feel they can too." Though she was played by an actress in most of the film, she appears as herself in its final scenes. And she delivers its inspiring closing line — a characteristically sweet but ultimately very fair assessment of what it all had meant.

"Life doesn't have to be perfect to be wonderful."

My Favorite Roger Ebert Stories

1. "Your Movie Sucks"

Roger Ebert could wield a poison pen as well as anybody. And the story of one confrontation has a permanent place of honor in Ebert's page on Wikipedia. In January 2005, Rob Schneider took out full-page ads in Hollywood newspapers to attack movie critic Patrick Goldstein, who had panned Schneider's recent movie Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. Schneider suggested mockingly that Goldstein wasn't qualified to critique the movie, since his movie reviews had never won a Pulitzer Prize.

"As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize," Ebert wrote in his own review in the Chicago Sun-Times, "and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks."

Ebert later even titled his next collection of negative movie reviews, "Your Movie Sucks" — although the rest of his review was equally scathing. ("Schneider was nominated for a 2000 Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor, but lost to Jar-Jar Binks...") But Wikipedia notes that this fight actually ended with a surprisingly amicable resolution. "On May 7, 2007, Roger Ebert reported on his website that he had received a bouquet of flowers from Rob Schneider, with a note signed, 'Your least favorite actor, Rob Schneider.' Ebert saw the flowers as a kind gesture and publicly thanked Schneider, and said that Schneider may have made a bad film, but he was not a bad man.

"Ebert also expressed hope that Schneider would make a film that Ebert would find wonderful."

That same good-natured honesty turned up in 2003, when Ebert called Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny the worst movie ever shown at the Cannes Film Festival. A columnist at Deadline.com remembers that at one particularly painful part of the film, Ebert "even started singing 'Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head' out loud, eliciting laughter from what was left of the audience at that point." Ebert had done that before. (In 1987, at a tedious screening of Jaws 4: The Revenge, Ebert couldn't contain himself when he spotted a glaring continuity error. As Michael Caine emerged from the ocean and climbed over the side of a boat, Ebert blurted out to the audience around him, "His shirt is dry!")

Gallo was stung by Ebert's criticism, and called him "a fat pig with the physique of a slave trader," to which Ebert just responded by paraphrasing Winston Churchill in a perfect and devastating comeback. "I can always lose weight, but you will always be the director of The Brown Bunny."

"But then he did a remarkable thing," remembers Deadline's columnist. "[W]hen the film was cut by 26 minutes over a year later, he agreed to see it again and wrote a piece actually reversing his opinion.

"In addition to being sharp, funny, insightful, interesting, opinionated, informed and complex in his writings he was also fair."

2. Thirty-Two Years Ago...

Roger Ebert honestly enjoyed Ice Cube's 1997 horror film Anaconda, and years later his new co-host Richard Roeper didn't let him forget it. But the two men disagreed even more over a 2002 romantic comedy called Never Again — which Roeper liked, but Roger Ebert didn't. He complained that its explicit vulgar language just didn't work in a romantic comedy, and Roeper started teasing Ebert about being so easily upset. Ebert, who had just turned 60, wasn't going to be put in that box.

"Don't condescend to me!" Ebert shouted.

"You're so shocked by it!" Richard Roeper responded smugly, not aware the Ebert had the perfect comeback.

"I've written an X-rated movie!" Ebert retorts. "How many have you written?" And we all smiled, remembering that Ebert did indeed write the screenplay for Russ Meyer's 1970 cult classic, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

Ebert later wrote that in Meyer's films, "the women were always the strong characters, and men were the mindless sex objects." Although he added that the legendary B-movie producer disapproved of silicone implants because "They miss the whole point."

3. Ebert vs. Siskel: the Secret Smackdown

Some remarkable footage surfaced in 2006 showing Roger Ebert's rowdy behind-the-scenes banter with his TV co-host, Gene Siskel. Filmed sometime in the early 1980s, it reveals their brief bursts of on-camera enthusiasm (while recording their promos) to be part of a longer, vicious, battle of wits that kept happening off-camera. Gene Siskel, peeved that Ebert slammed his public speaking ability, reached for the obvious comeback about Ebert's weight. But soon they're just trying to see who can ad lib the funniest put-down. After Gene tries to rattle off a list of foods, all of which Ebert would supposedly order at McDonalds, he ultimately trips over his own words, and Ebert interrupts triumphantly, "I knew Gene couldn't sustain that string for long without a grammatical error..." And then he goes in for the kill. "Now the other day Gene was in there and the little girl said to him, 'Would you like some french fries with your order?', and Gene said, 'No! Maybe... Other! Other! Never mind! Never mind!' And then he walked out..."

"They saw Roger walking in," Gene counters, "and they said one of everything to go. And one of everything to stay here."

"When they saw Gene walking in," Roger retorts, "the little kid behind the counter called for the manager and said 'Mr. Jones, can you come out here? You can understand Mr. Siskel, can't you? I can't ever understand him when he's ordering!" And then on a roll, Ebert ends up doing both the manager's voice and Siskel's incomprehensible response.

"What will you have sir?"

"Uh, Pounder quarter. Pounder quarter. Uh... uh... Quarter pounder. Uh, cheese. No cheese! Cheese. No cheese! Shake milk! Shake milk..."

But by the end, they actually seem to be bonding because of this movie-critic ritual, and I'll never forget Roger's gracious words when Siskel died of brain cancer in 1999. "What Gene and I did together is one of the great joys of my life. My relationship with him was one of the great events of my life."

4. Roger Ebert vs. Bill O'Reilly

Ebert always had strong opinions. (According to the Internet Movie Database, he considered the 1978 film I Spit on Your Grave to be the worst movie he'd ever seen — until he saw a 2010 re-make, which he declared to be even worse.) But through it all, he always seemed proud to be writing for a daily newspaper. "My first professional newspaper job was on The News-Gazette," he remembered in a 2008 article, "in my home town of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I was 15. The pay was 75 cents a hour, eventually climbing even higher..." So he took offense when the Chicago Sun-Times was listed in a "Hall of Shame" created by Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly. Ebert wrote a column delivering a fierce rebuttal, but in his typical style, the passion remained connected to a personal memory. Ebert writes that he'd hate to be in O'Reilly's hall of fame because "It would place us in the favor of a man who turns red and starts screaming when anyone disagrees with him. My grade-school teacher, wise Sister Nathan, would have called in your parents and recommended counseling with Father Hogben."

Ebert had spent decades sharpening his writing style, and a quick call to the Sun-Times editors revealed that Bill O'Reilly was going to be a very easy target. "I understand you believe one of the Sun-Times misdemeanors was dropping your syndicated column," Ebert's column continued. "My editor informs me that 'very few' readers complained about the disappearance of your column, adding, 'many more complained about Nancy.'

"I know I did. That was the famous Ernie Bushmiller comic strip in which Sluggo explained that 'wow' was 'mom' spelled upside-down..."

5. Ebert's Last Column

Roger Ebert famously dated Oprah Winfrey back in 1985, but of course there was more to the story. "It begins early one morning in Baltimore," he remembered in a 2005 column in the Sun-Times, "where Gene Siskel and I are scheduled to appear on a morning talk show hosted by a newcomer named Oprah Winfrey. The other guests on the show include a vegetarian chef, and four dwarfs dressed as chipmunks, who will sing 'The Chipmunk Christmas Song' while dancing with Hula-Hoops." It's a funny memoir — on their second date, Ebert treated Oprah to dinner at Hamburger Hamlet, thought at least he also took her out to the movies. And yes, the date ends with Ebert informing Oprah of just how much money she could make by syndicating her show, and the rest was history.

But even people who weren't Oprah have fond memories about the kindness of Roger Ebert. I once e-mailed him asking if he'd ever watched Jennifer Ringley's JenniCam, and Ebert took the time to send me a quick e-mail back. ("Have never watched. Will look and see what I think....") A friend of mine remembers interacting with Roger online back when Ebert was still running CompuServe's movie forum — and being invited to dinner with Ebert during a break at the Cannes Film Festival. And I'll never forget the time a teenaged girl wrote in to Ebert to complain that he'd given a negative review to a teen comedy that she'd actually liked. I can't find that column online, but maybe it's better just to remember it as a legend. "I'm glad you liked it," Ebert wrote back. "I love movies too much to wish anyone a bad time at the movies..."

He dispensed this kindness through his hometown newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times, which became his permanent home in print. Ebert seemed to know he'd become famous, but he used this platform for good causes, fighting against book censorship, film colorization, and the no-adult-movie policies at Blockbuster Video. ("It's my belief that no true movie lover has any business going into Blockbuster in the first place, since its policies have done so much harm to modern American cinema...") Over years of reviewing for the Sun-Times, Ebert once calculated he'd seen over 8,000 movies. Maybe that's why, even in print, Ebert always felt like an old friend.

Besides sharing lots of laughs and some personal stories, Roger Ebert shared his deep love for films. On Tuesday, Roger Ebert wrote what would turn out to be his last column for the Chicago Sun-Times — marking the 46th anniversary of the day back in 1967 when he'd first become their film critic. "However you came to know me, I'm glad you did," he wrote, "and thank you for being the best readers any film critic could ask for." And he ended it with his signature trademark. "So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me.

"I'll see you at the movies."

The Eight Geekiest Halloween Costumes

I think every geek secretly wants to dress up as a zombie, and then go on a rampage to destroy mindless middle-managers. But that's probably just me — and it turns out there's some even better ideas for Halloween costumes.

1. Gollum from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy

In a way, this latex Gollum mask resembles the very soul of trick-or-treaters. When it comes to sugar-y candies, "We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious..." No wonder America is fighting an epidemic of obesity!

2. Yoda from the Star Wars movies

You don't have to fly from Tatooine if you're seeking the great Jedi master Yoda. Apparently he's co-hosting The Today Show with Kathie Lee Gifford. In 2009, news co-anchor Hoda Kotb turned up this fantastic Yoda costume, while Gifford dressed as C-3PO, and Al Roker become Han Solo.

But they must really hate co-host Ann Curry, because they made her wear a Darth Vader costume throughout the entire show...

3. Trinity from The Matrix

Everyone wants to look cool for Halloween, and let's face it, there's no cooler costume idea for geeks than the crew from The Matrix. Trinity is a machine's worst enemy, she's lethal with martial arts, she's liberated herself from the Matrix, and oh yeah, once she even brought Keanu Reeves back from the dead.

But more importantly, she really knows how to rock a black latex trench coat!

4. Iron Man from The Avengers

You know what would make this costume even better? If it actually shot real repulsor beams. Just imagine a patronizing suburbanite greeting a cute little Tony Stark wannabe — and suddenly their doorstep gets incinerated by a high-voltage blast of pure electrical energy. "Trick or treat!" says the little Tony Stark wannabe.

"I'm still mad about last year, when you gave everybody apples."

And apparently, so are the rest of the Avengers...

5. Angry Birds

There's nothing geekier than basing your Halloween costume on the characters from a phone app!

And for extra effect, make snarling bird noises whenever you get to somebody's house — and then hurl your body against their walls to see if you can knock them over.

6. Hagrid from the Harry Potter movies

There's already something Halloween-y already about a school for witchcraft and wizardry. But to embody its heart and soul, try dressing up as gruff, loveable caretaker, Hagrid, who makes friends with everybody — including spiders and griffins.

And if anyone gets tired while trick-or-treating, you can just drive them home in your flying motorcycle

7. The Scooby Doo gang

I was always pretty sure that Velma was a lesbian, that Shaggy was a stoner, and that the ghost would always turn out to be someone like old man Johnson, who'd wanted all that gold for himself. (And he would've gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for these meddling kids...) But after 40 years of chasing ghosts, the Scooby-Doo gang are all cultural touchstones — and the one with the glasses has become real a nerd girl icon.

Now marketers are selling a complete set of costumes for each character. But of course, you can always try making your own costumes at home...

8. Beaker from The Muppets

Speaking of annoying middle managers, what's the deal with Dr. Bunsen Honeydew? Whenever I watched The Muppet Show, I felt sorry for his poor red-haired lab assistant Beaker, who always seemed to find himself trapped in the internship from hell.

Week after week, Beaker was called on to demonstrate one dangerous invention after another. ("At last, your family can be protected from the heartbreak of gorilla invasion...") But in 2011, someone finally created this loving Halloween tribute to the world's least-lucky muppet.

It's nice to think that he finally escaped the world of science altogether, and is now just trolling around the neighborhood collecting candy on Halloween!

See Also:
The 10 Best Monster Ads
Lost 'Horrors' Ending Found on YouTube
Will 'The Hunt for Gollum' Satisfy True Fans?
The Mormon Bigfoot Genesis Theory
The Ghost of the D.C. Madam
Why Thomas S. Roche Dreams of a Zombie Apocalypse Dead Woman Blogging

Public Radio’s Enormous Typo

This weekend I visited the web site for Marketplace Morning Report. It's a business news program often broadcast on public radio stations during NPR's Morning Edition and other shows. But Saturday, I noticed one enormous typo in this transcript of last Monday's interview with their Washington bureau chief, John Dimsdale.

Hobson: All right, what about the federal highway funding bill — this is the transportation bill. It's been debated back and forth but still no agreement on it, and I guess the fucking could come to a halt at the end of the month if they don't come up with a solution?

Dimsdale: That's right.

Gee, I hope not!

Click here for a screenshot. It apparently stayed up on their site for seven days before someone finally noticed the mistake Sunday afternoon and took it down. (I was always pretty sure that it was the funding that could come to a halt at the end of the month...) And according to the site's social media icons, the link has been shared exactly once on Twitter, while being completely ignored on Facebook and on Google Plus. Though it seems like there'd be a lot to say...

So let me help get things started. "The fucking could come to a halt at the end of the month, people! Don't you realize what this means?!!"

Maybe their transcriber was inserting some political commentary — that the funding of highway construction bills has a negative effect on the electorate which is equivalent to having your Congressman come to your house and then fuck you. But don't worry, because the fucking could come to a halt at the end of the month. Er, did we really need a Washington Bureau Chief to explain that to us?

The rest of the article talked about the Congressmen's "short-term extensions." I pray to god that that doesn't mean what I think it means...

Maybe it's "Surrealism News Week" over at American Public Radio. Maybe the transcriber's mind wandered to that big argument he'd had last night with his girlfriend. Or maybe the transcriber just really hates taxpayer-funded highway projects. Did Marketplace Morning Report inadvertently hire the Tea Party transcription service?

Besides Marketplace Morning Report, American Public Radio also distributes Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion. Er, I just hope they're not using the same transcribers. The good news is, on Friday the highway bill eventually did make it through Congress, and it saved millions of American jobs, if you believe what the Democrats are telling you. But I think that's really overlooking what's the true significance of this bill's passage.

The fucking didn't come to a halt at the end of the month.

See Also:
California's Nastiest Campaign Ads
Secrets of Al Franken
20 Strangest Reactions to Obama's Election
The Awesomest Congressional Campaign Ever

Seven Forgotten Classics by Davy Jones

1. The Greatest Story Ever Told

I'm a fan — and there's one song Davy Jones should be remembered by. In 1986, the 41-year-old former teen idol recorded his own secret anthem. I think of it as his personal "My Way" — an original song about a life spent in show business, where (more than most performers) he'd spent years trapped by his own fame. "We had them eating Corn Flakes out of the palm of our hand," he sings wryly at one point, and there's an ironic nod to the title of one of the first Monkees songs ever recorded, "I Want to Be Free."

The song has real grace, showing that Davy Jones ultimately made peace with his strange fate. (He titled his 1987 autobiography "They Made a Monkee Out of Me".) And on a forgotten corner of YouTube, in a home-grown video that's been viewed less than 100 times, a hardcore Monkees fan has lovingly annotated the song with a poignant collection of clips.

"I've done it all, from A to Z.
And I want to be free..."

Click here for the complete lyrics.

2. When Davy Jones met Frank Zappa

The last act of the Monkees was a forgotten psychedelic film called "Head" where they mercilessly deconstructed their own celebrity. ("The money's in, we're made of tin. We're here to give you more!" they sing at one point.) And when the film finally arrived at Davy's segment, it finds him trapped in a song-and-dance persona, singing a strange song written by Harry Nilsson. Davy turns in a mind-boggling dance number where his black and white tuxedo turns to white and black, while he sings up a weird childhood memory about the day he realized that "his father was not a man, and it all was just a game."

Davy suddenly does a dramatic spoken-word rendition of the song's last line — "if I ever have a son...let the sadness pass him by" — only to be jarringly snapped back into his song-and-dance persona once more. But at the end of the song, he's confronted by Frank Zappa himself — escorting a cow — who tells him that the song "was pretty white".

Zappa adds, possibly sarcastically, that the youth of America depend on Davy to lead the way.

3. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia

At the age of 54, Davy joined with the other Monkees for a reunion tour — and he'd shared a strange story about that time when, at the peak of his "teen idol" career, he appeared on an episode of The Brady Bunch in 1971.

In the episode, teenaged Marcia Brady tells her high school that she can get Davy Jones to sing at their prom — but she can't actually get in touch with him, because hundreds of other teenaged girls are already swarming outside his hotel. Davy overhears her story (when Marcia bursts into the sound booth at a recording session) — and then later surprises Marcia by showing up at her house, and asking if he can be her date for the senior prom. "I got hate letters from every other girl in America," Davy told the concert audience in 2002.

"Because I wouldn't go to their bloody prom...."

4. 1995's Grunge-y "Brady Bunch Movie"

Nearly 25 years later, Davy actually appeared on the big screen in "The Brady Bunch Movie" — but only to mock that same sugar-y episode (and the way Marcia always upstaged her younger sister, Jan). Davy had already been doing a live version of the song in a stage show called "The Real Live Brady Bunch." (Chicago's "Annoyance Theatre" would actually re-enact episodes, satirically performing a new one each week, with Jane Lynch playing Mrs. Brady and Andy Richter playing her husband.) When the troupe performed the "Getting Davy Jones" episode, Jones would play himself.

The cheesy 1970s show had become a campy touchstone, and the growing fascination ultimately inspired a big-screen send-up called "The Brady Bunch Movie" (co-written by the show's original creator, Sherwood Schwartz, and starring Shelly Long). Its premise was that the '70s family hadn't changed a bit, though they now lived in a very different mid-1990s world. And then yet again, Marcia announces to her high school prom that she's procured an appearance by that dreamy teen sensation, Davy Jones.

The real Davy Jones again sings "Girl", though he's startled to discover that this time, he's being accompanied by a grunge band on the stage behind him — who join in, and decide that his song is pretty groovy.

5. Nicole, Nicole, Nicole?

Surprisingly Davy also sang a song on another forgotten 1980s sitcom — but this time, in an episode acknowledging that show business can make you crazy. In a remarkable guest appearance on Paul Reiser's first series, My Two Dads, Davy played a flamboyant celebrity named Malcolm who drops in on the show's two single guys raising a teenaged daughter — with his entire entourage. ("That's my business manager, road manager, personal manager, and a gaggle of tarts.")

In the episode "Fallen Idol," the pressures of show business ultimately cause the high-strung singer character to lash out at his loyal teenaged fan, blurting out that "Malcolm is dead, and you killed him."

But to make it up to her, he later delivers a command performance in her living room of a sweet song written especially for her — titled "Oh, Nicole".

6. Your Personal Penguin

Cartoonist Sandra Boynton created a children's picture book about a penguin in 2006 — and the book was packaged with a special recording by Davy Jones. Even after all these years, Jones presumably still seemed like the perfect choice for the penguin's formal yet ever-so-friendly voice.
"I want to be your personal penguin,
I want to walk right by your side.
I want to be your personal penguin,
I want to travel with you far and wide..."

In the short "board book," a little penguin adores a hippopotamus, and promises to remain its best friend forever. (It's already racked up 26 five-star reviews on Amazon.) You can still download a free mp3 of the bouncy song from Sandra Boynton's web site. And the video above takes a peek at the session where it was recorded.

7. Sexina

I'd had a chance to interview Davy Jones back in 2008. Davy was already in his sixties, but just four years before his death, he'd recorded the theme for a campy new indie comedy called Sexina, Pop Star Private Investigator. ("She has the boobs and the brains of a queen. She's every man's dream...")

"79-year-old Adam West plays a ruthless music industry overlord bent on destroying the sexy pop sensation [Sexina] with an evil boy band composed entirely of cuddly robots," I wrote in my article. And for the movie's James Bond-style theme, the film-makers had brought in "one of the original boy band singers."

Click the image to hear an excerpt from Davy Jones' theme song for "Sexina: Popstar PI."

I'd always thought of Davy Jones as a smart, thoughtful man, confined to the life of a remembered teen idol. In the end I decided not to do the interview, but producer Eric Sharkey later assured me that he'd really enjoyed working with Davy, and saw him as someone with "a good philosophical outlook on life. Someone who's at peace with themself.

"He's got his horses, he's got his music — and he knows who he is."

The Secrets of Stieg Larsson

Photo of Stieg Larsson author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
One of Amazon's best-selling Kindle bloggers shares the
startling real-life backstory behind The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Last spring, Random House made a startling announcement. One of their authors had made e-book history, becoming the first author ever to sell one million digital copies of a single book. But of course, their announcement was haunted by a dark irony. It was six years after that author's death — and a life of mysterious secrets.

The book is "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," by Stieg Larsson (who died of a heart attack in 2004 at the age of 50). And there's an even darker secret behind the origins of the book. Larsson was haunted by an assault on a young woman that he'd witnessed in his own teenaged years. That's according to a new biography about his life which was just released in September.

"For Larsson geeks such as myself, the unearthed details of his past and the fond recollections of his ceaseless pursuit of justice are gripping," wrote one reviewer. 12 years before his death, Larsson had started an intense friendship with another Swedish journalist named Kurdo Baksi. In fact, Baksi actually appears as himself in Larsson's final book, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest." Its hero, Mikael Blomkvist, visits the offices of Black/White Publishing, and then later reads about his own visit in a surveillance report.
It was 2:30 in the afternoon. He didn't have an appointment, but the editor, Kurdo Baksi, was in and delighted to see him.

"Hello there," he said heartily. "Why don't you ever come and visit me anymore?"

"I'm here to see you right now," Blomkvist said.

"Sure, but it's been three years since the last time."

They shook hands...

In the novel, the two are old friends, since Baksi had begun his career publishing that magazine secretly at night, later hiring Mikael as a proofreader. ("Blomkvist sat on a sofa while Baksi got coffee from a machine in the hallway. They chatted for a while, the way you do when you haven't seen someone for some time, but they were constantly by Baksi's mobile...People called from all over the world to talk to Baksi.") Then Mikael requests an introduction to Baksi's Kurdish uncle, because of his expertise in getting immigration-related residency permits.
Baksi knew that Blomkvist was busy planning some sort of mischief, which he was famous for doing. They might not have been best friends, but they never argued either, and Blomkvist had never hesitated if Baksi asked him a favour.

"Am I going to get mixed up in something I ought to know about?"

"You're not going to get involved... And I repeat, I won't ask him to do anything illegal."

This assurance was enough for Baksi. Blomkvist stood up. "I owe you one."

"We always owe each other one."

The real-life Baksi tells a story that seems so intertwined with the novels, at first I had to wonder if it was a hoax. But "Baksi walks the line between grieving friend and impartial investigator reasonably well..." a reviewer noted, and another article by ABC News confirms that the real-life Baksi does publish a magazine about race relations that's called Black/White. And they also report that Baksi's book -- titled "Stieg Larsson, My Friend" -- ultimately clarifies a surprising connection between what Larsson wrote and his own childhood. This part of the story is a little graphic, but it ends with a teenaged girl shouting "I will never forgive you."

In 1969, 15-year-old Stieg Larsson had watched, terrified, and did nothing as three friends had raped a 15-year-old girl. Larsson later phoned her to apologize (though she shouted "I will never forgive you"), and according to Baksi, the author was haunted by the incident for the rest of his life. "It was inevitable that he would realize afterwards that he could have acted and possibly prevented the rape." The girl's name was Lisbeth -- and in his book, Stieg gave her name to his own empowered heroine.

Each section of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" opens with a statistic about the number of assaults on women. Baksi believes the novels were "his way of apologizing", according to one article, and Baksi himself remains committed to avenging that 1969 assault. ("I don't even know if Lisbeth is alive," he tells the reporter, "But it's very important to me.") The book's original title was "Men Who Hate Women," and there were two other news events which moved the author to write it. A fashion model was killed in 2001 when she'd tried to end a relationship with a boyfriend, and the same year a Swedish-Kurdish woman was killed when she tried to break away from her father.

Possibly because of the author's real-life commitment, his books ultimately shattered several records in the publishing industry. The combined e-book sales for all three books in the trilogy is more than three million, Larsson's publishers told the New York Times. And in both print and non-print editions, it sells another half a million copies each month. In the United States, hardcover sales alone were 300,000 copies for "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" -- which was only released in the U.S. in September of 2008 -- and the trilogy has sold nearly 17 million copies.

There's a rumor that a manuscript exists for a fourth, "nearly finished" book. (Before his death, Larsson had claimed to have ideas for at least 10 more books in the series.) Ironically, his widow has earned a single penny from the sales of the book. (Playing off of Larsson's title, one article described her as "The Girl Who Didn't Inherit a Fortune.")

I've read "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," and it really is quite a story. And I also remember last year, when all three of Larsson's e-books simultaneously occupied the #1, #2, and #3 spots on Amazon's best-seller list. There's another biography about Larsson's life, written by an expert on crime fiction, who notes that Stieg Larsson's life "would be remembered as truly extraordinary even had his trilogy never been published. Larsson was a workaholic: a political activist, photographer, graphic designer, a respected journalist, and the editor of numerous science fiction magazines." (Adding "At night, to relax, he wrote crime novels…")

But in one of the great ironies, that biography of the best-selling e-book author has never actually been released in an e-book format. When the book was released last year, I looked on the positive side, noting that "it’s nice to see that in the middle of the book-publishing feeding frenzy, the author himself is receiving some genuine appreciation from the people who knew and remembered him."

And with the release of "Stieg Larsson, My Friend," that's even more true.

Read this author's Kindle blog online, or click here for a free two-week subscription on your Kindle!

Why Thomas S. Roche Dreams of a Zombie Apocalypse

The gonzo author (inset) meets the cover of
his newly-published novel The Panama Laugh

Zombies! Brains! Zombies! It's the first novel ever published by author Thomas S. Roche.

The Panama Laugh opens with a punch — literally — before launching into an unrelenting onslaught of dangerous crimelords, soldiers of fortune, radical fringe groups, and yes, zombies!!! There's a global throwdown with moments of weapons porn — like hijacked nuclear-powered warships and deadly remote surveillance drones — while radical fringe survivors may be holed up in "the Armory" in San Francisco (a real-life building owned by Kink.com).

It's Roche's very first novel — or at least, the first novel published under his own name. (There's also hundreds of horror, crime, fantasy, and, yes, erotic short stories and books that he's written under pseudonyms). Maybe the real question is what makes a man write an "after the apocalypse" zombie novel — after hundreds of hours of writing porn? Combined with a lifelong obsession with vintage pulp fiction, the end result is an original, daring and thoroughly-researched "debut apocalypse," a 300-page buzzsaw that one Barnes and Noble reviewer called simply "exceptional."

I remembered Thomas from his legendary stint as the gonzo technology editor at a web magazine called GettingIt.com, where we'd worked together back in 1999. I decided to track him down for the inside dirt on his mysterious new kick — and to see just how much fun you can have with the word zombie!

10 ZEN MONKEYS: Is there something millenarian in the zeitgeist now — some universal sense of doom, or a desire to laugh and secede from humanity? I'm sorry — every question I'd ask you suddenly seems tainted with a dark obscenity whenever I add the word zombie. "Where do you get your inspiration for your novels...about zombies? Will you be writing a sequel...about zombies? How do you celebrate finishing your first novel...about zombies?"

THOMAS S. ROCHE: Isn't everything about zombies?

I just go ape-shit over good zombie apocalypses. I love them; they're one of my favorite genres. I read a lot and watch a lot and just completely groove on all the incredible creativity involved in zombie walks, all the viral zombie websites and social-networking stuff, all the in-jokes for zombie fans...I just love it. It's a template that takes on so many wonderful forms!

I feel like some of the zombie novels published in the last five years were jumping on a bandwagon. But I'm not going to badmouth them because that's essentially what I was doing, even though it's a bandwagon I've more or less been on for 20 years ever since I read the first Book of the Dead, which is one of the two best zombie books ever published (the other being Max Brooks' World War Z). I think Night of the Living Dead is one of the greatest and one of the most important films ever released. I love Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead. And I go nuts over the Resident Evil movies even in the slow parts. I adore Fido. I want to grow up to be Frankenhooker.

10Z: So will you be writing a sequel to your novel about zombies? Maybe "The Panama Laugh Zombies Strike Back"?

TSR: That is actually a question for the publisher. I already know what happens next — but I'm not talking unless somebody pays me!

10Z: Spoken like a true pulp fiction fan...

TSR: I'm hoping there will be a sequel, because the story's really not finished. There are about a thousand threads that lead into other parts of my science fiction mythology — some of them red herrings. Everything I write in the science fiction, fantasy, or horror genre relates to everything else I write in those genres, so the characters, institutions and situations show up elsewhere. I already know what happens — but the cats need kibble, so I'm not talking unless the money's on the nightstand!

Did I mention writing a mercenary character came kinda natural to me?

10Z: I can already see the influence of all those vintage crime novels. So how did you celebrate finishing your first novel...about zombies?

TSR: I don't think I celebrate, ever. Sorry. When I turned it in, I probably went home and tried to figure out how to pay my rent. I probably read CNN and wept bitterly about the direction our country is going. Maybe if it was a good day, I let myself read an early '60s crime novel instead of trying to work on the next project that might pay me $25 or $50 in an attempt to afford some food...

10Z: And then months later, you're a star! A zombie star, with your name on thousands on horror book covers — along with gorgeous artwork visualizing the doomsday you'd only imagined. How'd it feel to finally see your novel getting a full-color, fantasy-style illustration?

TSR: I just can't even begin to describe how thrilled I was to see such a spot-on representation of what I wanted my book to feel like — at least, the post-apocalyptic segments. Some of the earlier segments might have been a bit more Dick Tracy. But as for the scenes in San Francisco, cover artist Lucas Graziano nailed it, beautifully — and it even has the leopard-print zeppelin! I've never been so thrilled.

10Z: But you always write about such wild subjects. It's hard to believe you've never gotten the Heavy Metal treatment before.

TSR: I believe there have been only two other times original art has been commissioned from my work. One of them was the short story "Anthony," about a doomed punk sex-addicted dildo who gets hooked on mainlining oil-based lubricants. It was turned into a comic book by my friend Anna Costa, in 1992, for a magazine called Puppytoss. (No puppies were actually tossed, don't worry — we weren't that punk). The second time was the story "Headturner," which I co-wrote with Kevin Andrew Murphy, which was illustrated for an issue of Glen Danzig's Verotika comic book. That was more than a decade ago!

10Z: It's still hard to believe, since you've written a bunch of great zombie stories already. (And is it true that some of them are about sex?)

TSR: My pre-Panama Laugh zombie mythology isn't about sex, but it's about sexuality...homophobia specifically. The zombie short stories I have written have just been re-released individually for Kindle, and you can see there's even a zombie bibliography on my website that links to them.

My two other zombie mythologies don't overlap with each other or with The Panama Laugh. In one, which I call the "San Esteban Stories," zombies represent denied erotic urges — violence owing to sexual repression, particularly internalized homophobia. In the San Esteban stories, zombification does not appear to be transmissible. (See The Sound of Weeping and Veggie Mountain.)

There's also another lengthy screenplay on that theme that may become a novel, that's never been published because I only finish novels when people come over to my house and kick me.

10Z: So what happened when you sat down for your full-length zombie-fighting novel? What kind of zombification did you pull out for The Panama Laugh?

TSR: It has a similar thematic intention, but it's not about sex. Two other stories, the podcast "St. John of the Throwdown" and the novella Deepwater Miracle exist in that universe. My story Viva Las Vegas is a totally different mythology, because it was originally written as a submission for Skipp & Spector's Book of the Dead 4, so it's concretely Romeroesque, meaning George Romero, more than the others. Its main character is very similar in voice to the Dante Bogart character in The Panama Laugh.

10Z: I'm remembering that you do a lot of work for charity — and some of it's pretty sexy! Literally — like, you've taught at San Francisco Sex Information since the 1990s, and four years ago, you were even involved in the San Francisco iteration of an event called Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School, where even amateur non-artists get to draw sketches of naked models. So what ties all this together? What's the motivation?

TSR: I think it's an impulse toward the Bohemian. I'm easily bored!

I've given informational lectures on such diverse topic as anal sex, oral sex, sex, gender and orientation, transgender surgery and other transgender procedures, intersex issues and disorders of sex development, BDSM and D/s theory and etiquette, necrophilia, bestiality, fisting, group sex, fetishism and fetish dressing, infantilism and age play, recovery from sexual abuse, and about a dozen other topics, as well as facilitating small groups and workshops. At SFSI, the goal is to have our trainees prepared to discuss any sexual topic in informational terms, so we cover a broad range.

10Z: I'll say! I just remember a very "sex positive" vibe at one of the Dr. Sketchy events I attended. You've got ladies taking off their clothes for a roomful of gawking geek voyeurs, week after week....

TSR: Doing Dr. Sketchy's was wonderful. Models would come and get naked but be wearing clown makeup, balloon animal hats, Victorian lingerie — Burning Man type costumes. It was really a blast!

But I'm not by nature an event manager. So by mutual agreement with the event's New York founder, Molly Crabapple, my co-organizer and I passed the event on to the very capable Bombshell Betty. It's a great event, and it was really fun to do.

10Z: In real life you're soft-spoken and compassionate, and yet you've seen more than most men will ever see in a lifetime. After synthesizing it all into hundreds of published stories — including a new violent zombie-fighting novel — what do you think you've learned...about sex, and about violence?

I mean, there's one line in the book that struck me. The gun-toting scumbag says "Without women, we're monsters — and we know it, but they don't. We live our lives in fear that they'll find out." I have this theory that it's all related — that people are now despairing about everything — government, culture, gender roles — and they secretly long for a zombie crisis where it all crumbles and gets replaced by something new.

TSR: I learned a lot, and continue to learn a lot, from the world of trans activism and gender theory. I also think that the "bubble" of a very narrow set of queer-friendly, trans-friendly neighborhoods in San Francisco can serve as an excellent place to stand there and evaluate the gender context of violence, as it relates to the idea of what makes gender in the first place.

In the context of the international arena where brutal violence is the order of the day in many post-colonial and neo-colonial nations, I think it's important to consider issues of what tends to bring perceptions of masculinity in line with violent activity. And to do that in a context of knowing that male and female behaviors are often mutable... As an aside, I believe that the fact that men and women tend to — tend to, mind you, again — have different ideas about that is one of the reasons it's so important to have women in the military in leadership roles, because gender cues get all mixed up when you're talking about premeditated violence, let alone the kind of confusion that happens in combat.

To me, it's critical to have combat decisions made by a pluralistic group with a shared value system that isn't built strictly on machismo. The same is doubly true of law enforcement. In fact, that connection between masculinity and monstrous behavior is probably my primary interest in terms of fiction. My chief fascination has always been with postwar America, and the scars carried by men in my father's generation and a bit older, who fought in World War II and Korea. War requires one to do terrible things, and if any amount of belief in one's principles allows one to forget that, I believe we're in trouble. I'm not going to claim Osama bin Laden or Ghaddafi shouldn't have been killed, but anyone high-fiving about it earns my unremitting revulsion.

I would like to see the United States be a little less pleased with itself, and that's some of what The Panama Laugh is about. "The Laugh" is a symbol for everything we're forced to stuff down in order to turn a blind eye to tragedy. When it comes bursting out...ba-da-bing!

10Z: It seems like some of this novel must've come from all the weird world news you'd covered for — is it over a year? — at TechYum. (Besides flying cars and Bigfoot sightings, there's also weaponry, international wars, Fukushima radiation, and "the face of a Norwegian Killer" — including his Twitter feed....)

TSR: Yeah, there's definitely a strong undercurrent of paranormal obsession, and a real obsession with information technology.

10Z: What about WikiLeaks? You also mention WikiLeaks a lot in your novel. Has it achieved a mythic status — and if so, what does it represent?

TSR: Some of the fringe elements are definitely inspired by Wikileaks and Anonymous.

I think those elements arose as an antidote to what I felt was a one-sided vilification in the novel of the American right-wing — Blackwater, Haliburton and Cheney's cronies. I definitely lean more toward the left, and I think Wikileaks represents a very important impulse and the start of a strong movement toward anti-corporate sentiment and the demand for government transparency. (As ineffectual as that movement may end up being — because it started so late in the process of corporate control being consolidated...)

But I've also been around leftists for more than twenty years. Some of them are douchebags. I find it far from unthinkable that some leftist depopulation advocates would want to depopulate the globe for environmental reasons, as is one of the possible conspiracies in The Panama Laugh. The paranormal stuff, for me, just makes all that fringe stuff interesting.

10Z: Your novel also seems very aware of the latest ways that information gets distributed. There's viral YouTube videos, conspiracy forums, text messages, and one mysteriously-abandoned laptop. It's the contemporary details that most fiction leaves out, which somehow makes The Panama Laugh feel more real when information about the zombie attacks start turning up at CNN.com.

I feel like you and I lived in the center of a new kind of cutting-edge crazy during the dotcom boom, and it's nice to see someone channeling that into cutting-edge fiction. (There's even hacktivists in your book!) So do you sense a "big picture" about what's happening as new technologies come online, both in the U.S. and around the world?

TSR: I find it very interesting that Africa and South Asia seem to be getting wireless web technologies before they get wired ones. I think that'll affect the computer security environment enormously in the next ten years. And I think there are many very strange social implications for those of us who live our lives mostly online — good and bad.

Mostly, good. But I also think the possibility for disinformation is huge, which is some of what this novel is about.

10Z: When it came out in September, you did something interesting on the web. You're posting news blurbs — complete with links to the actual articles — about events which only happened in your novel. I did a double-take when I saw these headlines:
"Terrorist Group" Seizes San Francisco Building

San Francisco Cryopreservation Foundation Found Liable

And on Facebook, your novel also has its own page. Even though it's just been released, it's already won awards from...er, wait a minute. These are from your zombie counter-universe again, aren't they?

"2011 Crazed Hippie Disinformation Award" from Virgil Amaro Memorial Association.

"2011 It's Not Our Fault Award" from Bellona Industries Military Consultation (Juried Award).

"2011 Involuntary Termination Award" from mysterious international "Depopulation Activist" hacker group DePop Art.

TSR: Hah! Definitely, that's all disinformation. The novel is about corporate disinformation — think of this as my own little attempt to get incorporated. They're all characters and institutions in the novel.

10Z: In light of all that, it's funny that there's a disclaimer at the end. "The novel is fiction. Also, zombies aren't real." But wasn't it cathartic to describe the ruin and desolation of your old stomping grounds in San Francisco? I mean, you left San Francisco, moved to Sacramento, and then wrote a book where the zombies attack...San Francisco!

TSR: Oh, it wasn't vengeful. I love San Francisco! I was asked to write a zombie apocalypse set there, so I did....though I did it in the most roundabout possible way. It was really interesting to map out a route across a zombie-infested city that I know so well, and to invent all sorts of tunnels and things...

And the social stuff is all meant to feel very much like it could've really happened. To me, that makes the apocalyptic elements more interesting.

10Z: In the Talmud it says every man, in his life, should write a book. I believe they must've meant "a book about zombies." Imagine describing your home town in ruins — the police force abandoned, the high school laid to waste, every enemy converted into shambling undead. And not just your enemies — the whole invisible power structure.

But seriously, none of your friends are in the novel? I'm not sure I could resist the temptation! That jerk from the apartment upstairs? Zombie...

TSR: There are definitely no real people in the book. Strangely, that's not even a temptation to me. Even where characters are based on figures from the news, they're hybrids of several different people, and the institutions are all mixed up.

But there are dozens of Easter eggs to other books I'm working on...all of which concern paranormal stuff, which wouldn't be "real" in the context of the Panama Laugh universe. The only place where a real person showed up, in altered form, in the mythology was in the podcast "St. John of the Throwdown," which was written for Violet Blue to read and as such was inspired by her experience of being a homeless teenager. I wouldn't say that character is Violet, but she's certainly related.

10Z: So what kind of coffee do you have to drink to write about a zombie apocalypse?

TSR: Well, Temple has about the best damned coffee you'll ever drink. It's consistently rated highly in national terms. Of all the things that have been hard for me moving from San Francisco to Sacramento, Temple coffee makes it much easier. Any snotty San Francisco people who want to talk shit about Sacramento can face down a steaming mug of Temple's Ethiopian or Brazil Boa Sorte.

Click here to read Thomas's zombie apocalypse

Other Interviews:
Neil Gaiman has Lost His Clothes
Steve Wozniak vs. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks
Jimmy Wales will Destroy Google
Nicholas Gurewitch: What Happened to the Perry Bible Fellowship?

The D.C. Madam Speaks!
James Ketchum: Hallucinogenic Weapons — the Other Chemical Warfare D.C. Sex Diarist Bares All
Beyond the 'Zipless Fuck' with Erica Jong

Resurrecting Reznor’s ’90s Discovery – Mondo Vanilli (an Interview)

Let's see if I've got this straight...

Once upon a time, there were some bizarre mid-80s songs riffing on the Beatles — something about the 20th anniversary of the summer of love. They fell into the glow surrounding Mondo 2000 magazine, and in a deconstructive burst of creativity, became a flexible vinyl record inside the printed magazine. Almost. But then the same creative team decided to do "something disrespectful and different " to the industrial and acid house music of the mid-90s's — and then somehow, Trent Reznor gets involved. (At the mansion where Charles Manson murdered Sharon Tate — but that's another story.)

Reznor's label ultimately signed "Mondo Vanilli", but then refused to release their first (and only) album, I.O.U. Babe. Nearly 20 years later that lost album suddenly re-surfaced on the web, crashed all the servers, and then continued falling through time. The whole album is now finally available for downloading for just 50 cents at BandCamp.com (which also offers a full preview), and re-visiting it all now is like an alternate history of the '90s. R.U. Sirius's original band "The Merry Tweeksters" gets reincarnated into "Mondo Vanilli" while resurrecting some lyrics from Sirius's forgotten '80s band "The Party Dogs" — and also in the mind-bending mix were a performance artist named Sim1 3Arm with some cool music composed by Scrappi DuChamp (and a crazy music theory professor lurking somewhere in the background).

But the band hoped to pioneered what every '90s visionary would later prescribe — virtual reality. Mondo Vanilli's shows dispensed with the cliched self-indulgent ritual of an actual performance, and instead inadvertently preserved what the "Unheard Music" blog called "A lost artifact from the heady cyberdaze of the 1990s Bay Area." And in another web miracle, the voices behind this virtual phenomenon have impossibly become real again. Just as mysteriously, R.U. Sirius materialized before me, and began explaining what it all means.

10 Zen Monkeys: You were eyeing a six-album deal with Reznor's label at one point. Was that as exciting as it sounds?

RU SIRIUS: Suddenly, we were confronted with the idea of a serious major rock career.  Would I be the first mildly overweight, weird-looking lead singer to launch into rock stardom at 41 years old?  Anything seemed possible.  On the other hand, the contract locked us in to a record company for a long time and it looked ugly.   So anything also seemed impossible.

10Z: But you were also looking at touring nationally as a breakthrough performance art "phenomenon".  So what kind of cyber-fame visions were sparkling in your eyes?

RU: We were asked about touring.  I don't believe there had ever been a touring rock band that eschewed ordinary performance in an absolute sense.  Maybe The Residents, but they were sort of more outside traditional rock, musically.  We began to daydream about something on a Robert Wilson scale and sent along a proposal for the theatrical presentation to the record company, which I'm sure scared the crap out of them.  

If I remember, we also suggested that rather than tour like a band, we would tour like a theater group.   So we could do a few weeks in San Francisco and a few weeks in NYC...  that sort of thing.  There was no context for any of this within the usual and very inflexible routines involved in promoting a new rock band. I'm sure it would have made more sense just to give in and get a bunch of supporting musicians together and just do an ordinary theatrical rock show with some non-ordinary lip sync-ish type elements in which the band completely disappears from stage for periods in favor of something else.

10Z: So ultimately you'd use virtual reality to become virtual stars?

RU: As far as cyber-fame visions and all that, it was all so experimental and seat-of-the-pants making it up as we went along that it was hard to really envision it all, but our agent was pretty experienced and thought we were going to be successful.  And we were being asked to think about music videos, a conventional and popular medium that I think we could have used to great advantage.  Some people thought Thanx! would be a hit.  I may have been a one hit wonder... which, if you've ever had DMT, is all you need.

10Z: So will this music ever finally be released as a CD?

RU: As a matter of fact, a CD is going to be available in about a month, and if people drop me a line I'll put them on a list for it. (To this address: Sirioso @ Yahoo . com ).

10Z: Is Mondo Vanilli's music even more relevant today? Or if I said that, would you accuse me of just being polite?

RU: Conceptually, Mondo Vanilli might be less relevant in the sense that you've already had something like the Gorillaz… also Milli Vanilli has faded somewhat as a historical sign post and one of them committed suicide. Also, there's more hostility now towards the sort of reflexive irony and postmodernism that we were playing around with then. I don't think I would choose to do Mondo Vanilli now. I mean, I'll do it right now if there's a demand for it, but it's not something I would come up with today.

And some of the lyrics are dated. "President Groovy lobs another bomb / I'm gonna help Prince make a CD ROM / Sitting in the dark with my modem and my gun / We're gonna stay in tonight Rosey and make that data highway run."

Actually, there's a funny story behind the Prince and the CD ROM line. One of his "people" — a middle aged, very straight and uptight looking white dude with an attaché case, as a matter of fact — came up to Mondo 2000 to learn what he could about this whole "cyberculture" thing, because Prince wanted to make a CD ROM. This was after I'd already quit the magazine, but I happened to go up to the house that day to hang out and discovered this meeting would occur. It turned out that Madonna's people had been around just a few days earlier to get cyber hip.

Meanwhile, this was a particularly desultory period around Mondo. There was a super-weird vibe around. So the guy (who shall remain nameless, but let's call him Jasper) who was the point man for organizing this meeting with Prince's representative was drunk. And I remember sitting there with the rep after he'd shown up in the living room of this second Mondo house that had been established down the street from the original… and there were maybe a couple of other Mondo people who had come by for the meeting, but nobody came in to speak to the guy… they all went upstairs, and there were slamming doors and slurry words and weird noises emanating from above. And I just sat there in front of this poor guy just sort of smirking.

I think maybe after about a half hour, people came into the room and "Jasper" introduced himself and there was this sort of meandering and pointless conversation. It was pretty hilarious. I didn't say a fucking word the whole time.

Anyway, back to Mondo Vanilli… people seem to like the music more now than they did then. I think there might be two reasons for that. For one, people were much more purist about their genre identities back then… and we were all over the place. I actually thought I was being original when I described us as genre benders. It actually seemed like a real challenge to some types of subcultural conformity. Now, pretty much everybody's eclectic, probably because of this tremendous access to all sorts of music.

Secondly, people expected a certain thing from me back in 1993 or '94. It would either be a musical hacker manifesto or it would be groovy raver positivism, but it would have something to do with how they thought about Mondo 2000. And this album was off on a weird angle, lyrically and musically. I used to tell myself that it was a great album but it wasn't a match to anything that anybody wanted. I think that was probably true. It was an orphaned act of creativity.

10Z: You told one interviewer that most of the audience seemed to hate your experimental live shows. Some guy described one particularly amazing performance (in the comments on an article at Boing Boing about IOU Babe). He wrote:
I don't know if it was a Mondo Vanilli performance, since Sirius was the only name/face I recognized, but it was a trio of him, another man, and a woman, so chances are good.

… I think the second guy was singing, or yelling, or something, but it's a blur compared to what I vividly remember: R.U. Sirius sitting in a crib, clad only in a diaper, smearing chocolate 'poop' all over himself and crying for his mama. 'Mama,' meanwhile, had removed her pants and was plucking hardboiled eggs out of an Easter basket, inserting them into her vagina, and then 'laying' them on a plate outside the crib.

I witnessed this in silent awe, standing no more than 5 feet away from the players in this narrow little shotgun-apartment gallery with maybe 15 other young confused hipsters, for 20 or 30 minutes. When things looked like they were about to take a turn towards 'audience participation,' however, I quietly but willfully made a beeline for the exit.

It HAD to have been a prank performance, a spoof on the grand folly of bad performance art, because otherwise, if it was sincere, it was the wankiest pile of poo I've ever witnessed. But at least it gave me a great ' And that's when I realized I was truly in San Francisco' story.

So… do you remember that?

RU: Yes. It was Sim1's "Send Me To Paradise" performance at Art Attack. It wasn't an official Mondo Vanilli show. We didn't use Mondo Vanilli music, but we were all involved. Actually, the crib — which had spikes pointed inward — was on one side of the space, near the window, and Sim1 was several yards away in front of most of the audience, so she wasn't actually "laying eggs" in front of me. I don't remember much audience participation. I do remember that guys came close to Sim1 after awhile and started doing something… maybe fondling the eggs!

Sim1's performances were always funny… and that was their intention, other than the presentation of a sort of series of tableaus. It was like viewing a series of surrealist paintings, most of them involving sexuality or excrement.

Her crib remained in the Art Attack gallery window for a while and caused some protest from socially responsible types.

10Z: What other performances did you guys do that caused trouble?

RU: I think there were some bits of trouble that I've forgotten, but I don't remember much specifically. David Pescovitz (from Boing Boing) told me that a woman he knew was so offended by Sim1's part of a Mondo Vanilli performance at Café Du Nord that she kicked over a can of paint. I don't remember that happening, but I remember that this really valuable lambskin coat with a fur collar that used to make me look rich and dignified (which I bought for only $80 at a girlfriend's insistence. She kept on whispering to me that it was worth like $800) got soaked with white paint when I was moving stuff off the stage after the show. That single act might have wrecked my potential life as an elegantly wasted entrepreneur, now that I think about it.

We did a performance titled "Eat Cake" at the new age Whole Life Expo that went over like a lead balloon. I don't think anybody liked that one!

10Z: Will these stories be part of the MONDO 2000 History Project… and how is that going?

RU: Absolutely. I'm sure there are some funny stories that other people can fill in. The History Project is going pretty well. I think I can complete it within the two years deadline I set for it. I recently had a breakthrough regarding how to write my own memory fragments… Basically, if I give each memory fragment a colorful title, it inspires me to tell the story as a story and to have fun with the language. I just figured that out a couple of weeks ago.

10Z: Why do you think Trent Reznor wanted to sign you guys to his record label and why do you think you never heard from him after the whole thing crashed?

RU: Well, I should mention that he'd taken shrooms at the party so that might have entered into his good feelings about our demo tape and promotional package. The promo package was pretty audacious and absurdist. He might have been swayed by the affected arrogance and the real disrespect for record industry conventions. And it was a good demo tape! It had versions of Thanx!, Love is the Product, and Wraparound World on it. It was good shit.

He was still excited about us after the psilocybin wore off.

Who's to say what happened after, aside from the situation with Interscope, which I don't blame him for. Maybe he didn't really get the album, as a whole. We heard he liked some of it. He also went into a well-publicized… ahem… downward spiral around that time. And we did make merciless fun of him for a few years after it all happened. He may have seen the "Keane painting" that Scrappi made of him, which we had online. Sad big-eyed Trent, with the text "Take a walk down lonely street" on it. We were pretty mean! (Laughter)

10Z: You're a pretty big Reznor fan, aren't you?

RU: I'm a medium-sized Reznor fan. I really loved Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral. But to me, all the stuff since then seems like more of the same. I know that fans and critics all say, "Oh, he's changed so much," but I don't see it. Scrappi used to say that he should show some real flexibility and do an album that's totally pop. I think he could do a great one. That would be really interesting.

10Z: Is there anything about your dealings with Nothing Records that you would add to your previous interview on Unheard Music?

RU:Yeah, the weirdest thing was what happened after the record was completed and the Nothing management suggested that we should have a manager. So after we approached a few people we knew who turned out to not be available, we asked the record label for advice. And they put us in touch with Olga Girard, who was the ex-wife of Trent's road manager, Gerry Gerard! She was managing Monster Magnet at the time, and maybe a few other bands... I don't remember. But she went to L.A. for a couple of weeks, and it was either right after or during the time when we were let go by Nothing Records.

And when she returned, naturally we were hoping she could use her influence and do some battle for us. And she told us something had happened in L.A. that made her decide to quit the music industry entirely. She wouldn't say what happened, but she said it didn't have anything to do with us. And she did quit the music industry, totally, and wouldn't really communicate with us at all. A total paranoid breakdown. Maybe the Illuminati got to her! They're tryin' to keep R.U. Sirius down, man!

10Z: Isn't it weird how the actual music industry has changed so much (with people downloading individual songs from iTunes, listening alone on their iPods...)

RU: It is all very strange. Is this what we wrought? I like the idea of an album. A song like "Free From Head" probably doesn't have much resonance unless you're listening to "IOU Babe" in its entirety. I mean, it has a nice jazzy feel, but what the fuck is it? If you're listening to the whole thing though, it's an important part of the atmospherics and the gender dialectics.

But I think there are a lot of generous open-minded people out there now who will listen to an album as an album if you tell them that's your intention. I remember maybe about 10 years ago, Lou Reed was ridiculed for telling people that his latest album release should be listened to as an album and not just scavenged for songs. I think more people are much more willing to be appreciative of what someone is trying to do now. The knee jerk snarkiness of generation X has been modulated a bit... no thanx to Mondo Vanilli, of course!

10Z: What would've happened if Mondo Vanilli had gone on American Idol? (Or America's Got Talent...)

RU: Many televisions would have bullet holes in them.

10Z: Are you surprised that downloads of the 20-year-old album have exceeded the bandwidth capacity at the web site that had been hosting their big comeback?

RU: It was a shocker when the release on BandCamp went onto Boing Boing and we discovered that we couldn't give everybody the free copy we'd promised. Now we're used to it and growing fond of the 50 cents apiece. Hmmm, 50 cents. Maybe "Get Sick or High Crying" should be the name of the Mondo Vanilli comeback album.

10Z: How do you feel looking back on it now...

RU: Nauseous.

No, actually Mondo Vanilli was a lot of fun. There was a whole lotta laughing going on. I do think I should've been a rock star. I'll just say that flat out, even though it's both a cliché and a bit of a taboo within countercultural circles. I think it fits my personality.

I think the world would have gotten more from me, in the long run, if I could have been even more self indulgent!

See Also:
Meeting Trent Reznor on X at the Sharon Tate Horror House
Hear Mondo Vanilli on BandCamp
The Mondo 2000 History Project
Introducing the Mondo 2000 History Project

The Secret History of Charlie Brown’s Christmas

As America settles in tonight for the 45th broadcast of "A Charlie Brown Christmas," YouTube is revealing one of Charlie Brown's strangest secrets.

Though it was the first animated Peanuts special, it followed a six-year period where the whole gang was recording commercials for Ford Motor Vehicles.

Year after year, Ford cranked out animated Peanuts advertisements for their cars, plus a Ford-sponsored variety show (that was hosted by Tennessee Ernie Ford). Was Schulz finally getting back at his advertisers through A Charlie Brown Christmas?

In a strange twist, the Ford ad campaign itself was originally the idea of a small child, according to Lee Mendelson's 2000 book, A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition. An advertising agency executive had brought his young granddaughter to work, and when she'd overheard he was looking for a new character to endorse Ford's cars, she'd suggested, "Why don't you use Peanuts?" Then the grown-ups got involved, and eventually Schulz himself had said, 'Sure, I don't mind doing that because the only car I've ever driven was a Ford."

In fact, one of the first cartoons was about advertising itself. "Why don't you write some advertising on your kite, and sell it to the people at Ford," Lucy suggests to Charlie Brown...

But you have to wonder if Schulz secretly felt ambivalent about the cartoons. When Ford's animator first arrived, along with an executive from his advertising agency, Schulz greeted them with a sardonic sign on his home that said "Welcome New York, Welcome Hollywood." By all reports, he was a sincere and spiritual man, and throughout his career, he even kept his home phone number listed in the local phone book. After five years, maybe Schulz saw A Charlie Brown Christmas as his chance to finally send a message of his own.

They'd recorded the childrens' voices for the whole show in just a few hours, according to Melendez's book. (Peter Robbins, who gave Charlie Brown his voice, remembered that "It was very strange for an eight-and-a-half-year-old to pretend to be depressed about Christmas, the most joyous time of the year!") Christopher Shea, who played Linus, mostly just remembers producer Bill Melendez howling to create the voice of Snoopy. Yet the show ultimately won both an Emmy and a Peabody award, and eventually its popularity spawned another 45 animated Peanuts specials, along with four animated Peanuts movies and even two different Broadway musicals.

But its success is even more ironic when you consider its very clear message about not commercializing the holidays. ("The half-hour special first aired on Thursday, December 9, 1965," notes Wikipedia, "preempting The Munsters and following the Gilligan's Island episode 'Don't Bug the Mosquitos'.") But in Hollywood on the same day, both the Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter ran the producers' ad sharing "Our special thanks to the Coca-Cola Bottlers of America Who Have Made it All Possible." And another ad in TV Guide reminded viewers the innocent characters were "Brought to life...and presented to you by the people in your town who bottle Coca-Cola." But what's even stranger is that originally, the Coca-Cola logo actually appeared in the cartoons themselves!

"In the 'fence' scene, where several of the Peanuts gang are attempting to knock cans off a fence with snowballs, Linus is seen knocking down a can with his blanket," Wikipedia reports, adding that "In the original airing, this was a Coke can..." There's also a deleted bit in the skating scene, right after Snoopy grabs Linus's blanket and hurtles Charlie Brown into the snow under a tree. In the deleted scene, Linus is hurtled in the other direction, into a sign which Wikipedia reports originally read "Coca-Cola."

"Although the FCC eventually imposed rules preventing sponsor references in the context of a story (especially in children's programming), this had no effect upon the decision to impose these edits. The Coca-Cola product placement elements were removed when the company ceased being the sole sponsor, replaced in 1968 by Dolly Madison snack products, who continued to sponsor the Peanuts specials through the 1980s, along with McDonald's."

In fact, originally the special ended with the Christmas carol — "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" — being interrupted by the following voice-over: "Brought to you by the people in your town who bottle Coca Cola."

"This is very ironic," commented one user on YouTube, "considering how the whole special is denouncing commercialism..."

35 years later — on the night before he died — a 77-year-old Charles M. Schulz was discussing the Christmas special one last time with the man who'd co-produced it, Lee Mendelson. Schulz was excited about a book they were preparing together about the special, and his feelings about it were still very clear. Over the decades they'd produced 45 animated specials, but Schulz always insisted that the Christmas special had been his favorite. And in his book, Mendelson would also take a moment to remember something else that Schulz had told him years before.

"There will always be a market in this country for innocence."

See Also:
The 5 Lamest Charlie Brown cartoons
Psychiatric Help, Five Cents
Christmas 2.0: Subverting the Holidays with Re-dubbing
A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition
Santa's Crimes Against Humanity

Sir Mix-A-Lot Re-Mixed: “Baby Got Back” for the Holidays

"Oh my god, Becky. Look how much you ate over Thanksgiving!"

I'm determined to start a new holiday tradition, celebrating what's either the tackiest rap video ever, or an important cultural touchstone. (VH1 ranked "Baby Got Back" as the sixth-greatest song of the 1990s and one of the 20 best hip hop songs of all time...) Now as an obese America tromps from one holiday eating binge to the next, I've started looking back on this 1992 song as our secret national anthem to gluttony.

And at this special time of year, YouTube has finally supplied the answer to the question: Who else likes big butts — and they can't deny?

It turns out that it isn't just Sir Mix-A-Lot...

1. Jonathan Coulton's Juicy Double

It was 13 years after Sir Mix-a-Lot's song went to #1 on the singles chart and earned its infamous Grammy award for Best Rap Solo Performance. But absolutely no one expected that its next stop was this gentle easy-listening version created by singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton. "In the proud tradition of many white Americans who came before me," Coulton joked on his blog, "I hereby steal and white-ify this thick and juicy piece of black culture."

The song's massive popularity surprised even Coulton, giving a boost to his young indie song-writing career. He'd never actually met the famous rap artist (though he warned readers that Sir Mix-a-Lot "is not an actual knight.") But five years later, some unholy DJ synched up Coulton's gentle acoustic-guitar and vocals to Sir Mix-a-Lot's original video, creating what is quite possibly the most disturbing music video ever.

2. Richard Cheese Stays and Plays

His band is called "Lounge Against the Machine," and he proudly tells Jimmy Kimmel that he turns popular songs into...crap. But in 2006, Richard Cheese created his own stunning swing version of "Baby Got Back," mimicking the stylings of a big band vocalist — albeit one who's "beggin' for a piece of that bubble."

In this jaw-dropping live performance, he follows it with an equally inappropriate version of Depeche Mode's Personal Jesus.

3. Burger King Says Here's My Scandal

Just when you thought it couldn't get any stupider — or any whiter — the Burger King delivers his own demented butt-related rap, dedicating it to Sponge Bob Squarepants. ("When a sponge walks in, four corners in his pants like he got phone-book implants, the crowd shouts...") It was 2009 when the fast food franchise icon launched this attempt at a viral online video, begging desperately for that "WTF" reaction, but stopping just short of the absolutely perverted.

"I wanna get with ya," the corporate icon raps, " 'cause you're making me richer."

4. The Groom Wants to Get With Ya...

A newly-married couple performs their traditional first dance together — but their wedding planner apparently wasn't satisfied with the song "Unchained Melody". 45 seconds later, their guests were in for a shock, though the couple had apparently been rehearsing for days. And since that fateful night in 2007, their two-minute dance floor extravaganza has been watched more than 13 million times in its various incarnations on YouTube.

"Aw snap that was HOT!" opined one critic on YouTube. "He was all like boom And she was all like pow..."

5. A Word to the Thick Soul Sisters at Walmart

"Attention shoppers, you're in for a special treat..." Somewhere a teenaged wiseguy has cracked into the intercom system at Walmart, and he's using it to announce to all the shoppers that "I like big butts, and I can't deny..."

He gets through about 13 seconds before he's cut off by an irate clerk — but the glorious video shows his utterly pointless attempt to return for a second chorus. And through the miracle of the internet, instead of annoying just a handful of customers at WalMart, he ends up getting watched by nearly 3 million viewers on YouTube.

Of course, they're also watching 90 seconds of his humiliating escort straight to the Walmart parking lot. And for what, asks a passerby? "For likin' big butts."

Yes, there have been many other versions of this song. (In fact, it actually formed the basis for a whole episode of Friends.) One rebellious animator created his own naughty dance video using "American Girl" dolls, and someone's even dreamed up their own Gilbert and Sullivan version.

There's also an anime version, one with violent zombie-killing footage, and there's even a bible version called Baby Got Book. But only the curly-haired prankster from "FatVids" dared to leave the safety of the internet, and to speak Sir Mix-a-lot's magical but forbidden words in public. And in one final conversation with Walmart's security guard, he breaks this song's appeal down into its essence.

"You think it's funny what you did?"


California’s Nastiest Campaign Ads

Across America, it's been one of the nastiest elections ever — but California is on the cutting-edge. It's the one state where Democrats might actually win one of the toughest media wars ever, meaning TV viewers are seeing some of the roughest ads.

And often, your best weapon is your opponent's own words...

1. The Bondage and Leather Festival

When he was mayor, Gavin Newson "wasted tax dollars organizing a bondage and leather festival," according to this ad. (Though to be fair, that city was San Francisco...) While ostensibly complaining about the costs, Republican Abel Maldonado is really pressing the "extreme values" button, saying his opponent "wants to do for California what he did for San Francisco." (And ultimately the ad ends with an announcer complaining about Newsom's "extreme whether-you-like-it-or-not values".) It's the race for Lieutenant Governor, and in a traditionally Democratic state, Maldonado is trying the "kitchen sink" approach — lobbing a hodgepodge of attacks hoping something sticks.

The ad also cites $15,000 of taxpayer money spent "having police drive his car to Montana for his wedding," while a second Maldonado ad tries an entirely different approach — like an episode of "Law and Order." The "Fatal Negligence" ad opens with gunshots and a siren, then announces that while Newsom was mayor, "San Francisco refused to turn dangerous illegal criminals over to authorities for deportation... It took a triple murder for mayor Gavin Newsom to admit San Francisco's Sanctuary City policies were a misguided and costly mistake." Using the same logic as the notorious Willie Horton ad, the announcer argues that Newsom's policies "Let 185 dangerous illegal immigrants go free. One of them — a gang member and convicted felon — is now charged with murdering a father and two of his sons."

The Newsom campaign fought back with a lighter ad, broadcasting their own list of Maldonado's equally damning offenses using a wacky animation of a demented politician which, if nothing else would make an excellent series for the Cartoon Network.

2. Yes, I Will Double-Dip

One political analyst called this ad "a game-changer." In an extremely tight race to be Calfornia's attorney general, two candidates braced for an October 5 debate at the U.C. Davis School of Law. But then Republican Steve Cooley was asked how he'd handle his post-election finances. Did Cooley also plan to collect a pension for his work as Los Angeles County's District Attorney, effectively "double-dipping"?

"Yes I do," Cooley answers emphatically. And then there's an awkward pause...

"I earned it," he blurts out. "I definitely earned, uh, whatever pension rights I have, uh, and I will certainly rely upon that, uh, to uh, supplement the very low — incredibly low — salary that's paid to the state attorney general." (Although what's not aired is the original response of his opponent, Democrat Kamala Harris. "Go for it, Steve. You've earned it, there's no question.")

Sensing an opportunity, the Harris campaign rushed a video clip of her opponent into a TV ad, which hit the airwaves just weeks before the election. Cooley had inadvertently created an instant attack ad. All that it needed was ominous music.

Along with the words "$150,000 isn't enough?" just as Cooley says the words "very low — incredibly low — salary..."

3. The Great California Mash-up

One advantage of the instant attack ad" is it avoids extra (and expensive) production. For example, this ad is sort of a mash-up, using most of Jerry Brown's original "positive" ad — with a clip from a positive ad by his opponent. Democrat Brown splices in an apparent endorsement from the former CEO of eBay, Meg Whitman — who just happens to be his opponent in the race.

"You know, 30 years ago, anything was possible in this state," Whitman says, before the ad reminds viewers that 30 years ago, the state's governor was Jerry Brown. ("I mean, it's why I came to California so many years ago," Whitman says at the end of the ad.)

Jerry Brown was California's governor from 1975 to 1983, starting his term at the age of 36. (He was following in the footsteps of his father, Pat Brown, who became California's governor in 1959, defeating Richard Nixon to win re-election in 1962, and then then losing in 1966 to Ronald Reagan.) Now at the age of 74, Brown seeks a comeback against a tough opponent who's tapped her personal fortune to fund a non-stop television blitz. Meg Whitman's spent over $142 million of her own money, making this by far the most expensive election ever in California's history.

California's second most-expensive election was the $80 million spent in 2002 when Democrat Gray Davis defeated Republican Bill Simon in 2002 — before Davis was recalled and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Eight years later, in the race to be his successor, the Whitman campaign has spent a total of more than $162 million, only to find that Brown is still heavily favored. Whitman's campaign was already hurt by stories that she employed an illegal alien — while campaigning on a promise to "hold employers accountable" for hiring documented workers. But last week the Washington Post calls Brown's new mash-up ad "devastating."

But ironically, Jerry Brown himself also turns up in one of the Republican ads attacking fellow Democrat Gavin Newsom.

4. Crushing, Destroying, and Killing

In early October, Carly Fiorina coordinated with the National Republican Senatorial Committee for an extremely stark campaign ad attacking Barbara Boxer. Filmed in black and white, it cites "Trillions in reckless, wasteful spending..." tying Boxer to perceived sins of Washington today — not just "destroying small business," but also "crushing hopes." (Using another strong verb, the ad reports that the established Washington regime isn't just reducing the number of jobs, but actually "killing" them.)

There's always been lots of venom for liberal Senators, but Boxer seems to draw an extra helping of scatter-shot rage. (One photograph in an earlier ad — titled "Crushed" — actually cites the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.) And for web audiences the Republican Senate Committee even created a special ad citing Boxer's "Decades of epic fail" (pointing viewers to a Boxer-bashing site called CallMeMaam.com). It identifies her first as a "political operative" in the 1960s, then a county supervisor in the 1970s, eventually contrasting her with unpopular Democrat politicians like Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton.

Because unlike them, Boxer is still in Washington, seeking a fourth six-year term.

Polls show Boxer may win her race, but the ad wasn't a total waste. With a few changes, the Republican Senate Committee also created an almost identical ad citing "decades of epic fail" for Democrat Harry Reid.

5. Aloha

There was times it was considered one of the closest Congressional races in the country. Four-term incumbent Dan Lungren had actually raised less money than his challenger — for 15 consecutive months — giving Democrats a rare chance to takeover a Republican seat. And that was before a police officer pulled over Lungren while he was talking on his cellphone — during a radio call-in show. ("Can you hang up the phone, sir...?")

The next week his challenger, Ami Bera, showed up at Lungren's office with a special gift — a hands-free cellphone unit. But it all played into the theme they'd already decided on: that Lungren was an arrogant Washington insider. "Our Congressman was one of the first to find a loophole around ethics laws," this ad announces, "so Washington lobbyists could send him off first class to a party in Hawaii." (It taps footage of Lungren applying suntan lotion to his back, plus an ABC News interview where a smiling Lungren explains, "We do a lot of business around pools.")

The footage even captures a cheerful pique in Lungren's voice when he adds, "Do I look like I would go to Pittsburgh in January?" Then the ad invites voters to wallow in their indignation at LoopholeLungren.com — where there's a much-longer video. But in both cases, the message is unmistakable. "My congressman went to Hawaii, and all I got was a campaign ad where his opponents get to wear Hawaiian shirts."

This race follows the pattern of the Democrat using a lighter ad while the Republican goes for the jugular. In this case, Lungren argues Nancy Pelosi reflects the "liberal ideas of San Francisco," then calls newcomer Ami Bera "a Pelosi clone," and then fills his ad with unflattering pictures of Nancy Pelosi.

Lungren seems to be making a direct appeal to the Tea Party, especially in another ad where he warns that "friends, neighbors, people I don't even know, are concerned about losing their freedom — and I haven't heard that word used as often in my lifetime... For whatever reason, they voted for something new, but did not vote for this madness. And I'd like to make sure that the madness does not continue."

California may not be the best state to make that pitch — but maybe it tells us something about the election of 2010. Yes, now Democrats and Republicans often seem to live in two different universes — seeing entirely different facts, or drawing the opposite conclusions. And this was always going to be an unusual election, with the Tea Party energizing some Republican campaigns and the aftermath of a major Supreme Court decision about the financing of campaign ads.

But in theory, the fairest ads still attack a candidate on their actual record. In practice, however California viewers got ads which cherry-picked only the most damning soundbites — almost invariably blowing them out of proportion. The end result is an election where all the candidates seem to be hitting past each other at some horrific, unidentified bogeyman.

And yet on election day, one of those bogeymen is actually going to win.

See Also:
The 5 Nastiest Campaign Ads of 2006
Secrets of Al Franken
20 Strangest Reactions to Obama's Election
5 More Nasty 2006 Campaign Ads
The Awesomest Congressional Campaign Ever

Meeting Trent Reznor on X at the Sharon Tate Horror House

The former editor-in-chief of MONDO 2000 magazine shares a new excerpt from the MONDO 2000 Open Source History Project, which is now in its last days of collecting funds by offering attractive awards via Kickstarter.

It was about three months after I'd quit MONDO 2000. We (Mondo Vanilli) headed down to L.A. with a demo tape and this very fun and very silly little Xeroxed package offering music industry behemoths the opportunity to get in on the cutting edge of cyber-absurdism.

Actually, the day before, I'd discovered that issue #8 of MONDO 2000 had come out in my absence. It was the first one without me. I was down at Tower Records off of Telegraph Ave (in Berkeley) and I saw it on the stands. And I actually bought it. I could have gone up to the MONDO house and grabbed a dozen for free, but pride etcetera... you know. And it looked great. The Negativland v. The Edge confrontation (as mentioned earlier, I had walked out of MONDO in an argument with Alison over whether to run it at all) was in it, but it was a much shorter version and it wasn't mentioned on the cover. I read the issue all the way through that night and it was the best issue ever — it was the most flawless and sophisticated issue yet, which was a bit upsetting, actually. I kind of wanted it to totally fall apart in my absence. In retrospect, it's not surprising that it was good since St. Jude and Andrew Hultkrans were still guiding the editorial content.

We were going to stay with Timothy Leary in Beverly Hills and we had a whole lot of really amazing music industry connections to look up. I had connections because of MONDO 2000. And we were going to meet this girl Yvonne, from Chicago, who had gone to art school with (Mondo Vanilli musical force) Scrappi. And she knew all kinds of people in the industry. She was sort of... well... let's just say that Al Jourgensen called her a groupie. I certainly wouldn't pin that tag on her... because she wouldn't accept it and secondly, because she's a great, multidimensional, real human being — but she did hang out with a lot of musicians, let's put it that way. She has been a babysitter for Anita Pallenberg, which to me, was the height of hipster cred. And she knew a lot of people. I also had heard from Billy Idol, who was just starting work on his infamous cyberpunk thing. So I had his phone number to plan a visit.

On our first full day in L.A., we saw a bunch of people. I think the first person we met was Cara Burns, an old friend of Yvonne's. She was part of a very powerful law firm, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. They represented lots of high-powered people in the entertainment industry. And she agreed to take us on, which I think was ultimately our undoing, actually. And we met with this guy who was like one of the top agents representing bands... as I recall, he mostly signed people to Warner Brothers. Our connections were actually too good.

At some point during that day, I called Casey Cannon, a MONDO friend from L.A. who knew everybody in Hollywood. At that time, she was making most of those short two-minute previews you see in movie theaters... and her husband Van Ling was with Lightstorm and was James Cameron's go-to guy on the new technology. I must have called her from a phone booth since, like most people at that time, I didn't have a cell phone. And she told me that we had to go to Trent Reznor's party that night.

As she informed me, Reznor had just rented the ol' Tate mansion. That is, he'd rented the house that had been occupied by Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate... the place where Sharon and all those other people were slaughtered by the Mansonoids. And this was to be his housewarming party.

I didn't have a pen, so I promised to call her back when we got back to Tim's house and get Reznor's phone number. And almost as soon as I got there, she called me. "You've really got to go meet Trent Reznor!" Plus, she noted that Leary's house was right around the corner from Reznor's new place. So I got the phone number and called it right away.

I always have anxiety about calling famous people — a fear of rejection. Particularly then, sort of at the height of MONDO's media hype... when some famous person said, "Who the fuck are you?" it bruised my ego. (Now, it feels like there's less at stake.) But I called, and fortunately, I got an answering machine. And I was able to leave the message that I was staying at Timothy Leary's house. Howdy, neighbor! The Leary name was a first-rate calling card.

The phone rang almost constantly at Tim's house, but at some point a couple of hours later, he came out of his office with his phone in hand and announced that he was talking to Peter Christopherson (Coil, Throbbing Gristle) — who identified himself to Tim as Pighead Christopherson — and we were invited to Trent Reznor's housewarming party. It was all a bit of a synchronicity too, because — at that time — this underground theater group was putting on a play based on a conversation Leary had with Charlie Manson when he was in prison and there were posters and flyers for it around the house. Leary was pretty excited about the play.

Just before we were about to head to the party, Tim came out with a mint dish filled with pink ecstasy tabs, offering them around. Simone (Third Arm — the other member of Mondo Vanilli) took one and I think Yvonne may have taken one. Scrappi and I refused.

But something about the historical resonances nagged at me. What would the small town freak who I had been back in the '70s think about refusing a hit from Timothy Leary before heading up to the infamous Manson horror house to a rock star party. After a few minutes, as we worked on our beers before heading out, I snuck over and pocketed two hits. I went in the bathroom, broke one of them in half and took it. (I guess it seemed more shameful to be a lightweight and take half-a-hit than it was to just refuse it all together, thus the subterfuge.)

I must have had an empty stomach because it came on quick and rather strong for a low dose. Reznor's new home was only a few blocks from Leary's, but it was on some windy roads and getting there became interesting when a red Ferrari started tailgating and some guy began gesticulating wildly out the window. He cut in front of us and made us stop. Out popped Gibby Haynes, shouting. He wanted to know if we knew "the way." He didn't even have to say the way to what. Yes. He let us get in front again and we made our way to the Reznor party.

On arrival, an enthusiastic Gibby jumped out of the car to meet Tim and bragging that the red Ferrari was on loan from Johnny Depp. With the ecstasy coming on, the entire L.A. media world started to seem like a serene and glittery playground filled with happy children playing grownup and I settled into a comfort zone. The world was a friendly place. Relatively speaking, of course.

There were two buildings on the Reznor grounds. One relatively small looking house and another building that looked like a warehouse space. The lights were all out in the house and a sign said to go to the other building.

The scene inside was grunge boy meets Barbie doll. Very odd. The guys — who all looked to be in their thirties — were all in jeans and t's and leather jackets, with long hair and puffy beer faces. (OK... me too... except I had the lambskin, fur collar, floor length overcoat.) And the girls — who looked like they were just about past high school — were all perfect mostly blonde babes with inflated boobs and noses pointed to the sky wearing impossibly short skirts and generally dressed and made up for sex. And for the most part, the guys and girls weren't together.

Gloomy Kraut techno blared too loudly for conversation, and the general mood seemed dour. Everyone carried plastic cups filled with beer. No one was talking to each other. The girls all looked disappointed. No rock stars in sight. This was nothing more than a college kegger with a bit of hipster edge. Where the hell was Trent?

Leary looked lost and confused. Nevertheless he asserted his tribal leadership and brought us all to safety — a place to sit — some benches around an unlit fireplace. Once settled, Tim and Simone found comfort locked in each other's eyes, while Scrappi, Yvonne and I continued to scan the room in search of a glimmer of glamour.

After awhile, I realized I had to move. If I sat there any longer, I was going to trance out for the entire evening into the rather boring pink spongecake that the inside of my head was turning into. Yvonne must have been feeling the same thing. By this point, too bored for paranoia, she suggested we "creepy crawly" around the grounds, which made me laugh.

As we were exiting the building, Reznor appeared and greeted us with a sly grin. He followed us out, and around the corner was Anthony Kiedas. Reznor introduced me. Kiedas asked: "Your name is Are You Serious?" Somehow my ecstasy-displaced ego mustered a response. I looked up at the towering pop star whose face had been on my TV screen a thousand times over the previous decade and smiled and said, "Yes. And who are you?" Kiedas deflated. "I'm Anthony," he muttered, humbly, and we shook hands.

And so, Yvonne and I soldiered on to check the perimeters of the ol' Tate mansion, wondering what walls a creepy crawler would crawl over; what bushes would a Squeaky Fromme creep through (Fromme actually wasn't involved in the Tate-LaBianca episodes). It was all just a funny game and Squeaky was just a famous name... like Reznor or Kiedas or Leary. Somehow the horrible reality of that day some 25 years earlier didn't feel any closer at hand on the grounds of the ol' Tate mansion than it had from any other spot on the planet. If there are ghosts, maybe ecstasy chases them away.

After a good half hour of wandering around, and Yvonne videotaping the arriving party guests (she kept her video camera with her at all times), we noticed a little bit of light now peaking out from behind the curtains of the smaller house. We slinked up to the door. There was a handwritten sign that read: “COME IN HERE TO BE KILLED."

While Yvonne laughed it off, I actually thought it through. Let's see. Reznor is a major rock star with money and ambition. He doesn't want to die right now from a lethal injection, particularly one that doesn't get you off first. Now, maybe if he had spent the last year of his life sucking up to Terry Melcher and Dennis Wilson only to have his song lyrics ripped... achhh! Don't go there. Thankfully, my little reverie was interrupted before it turned into full blown empathy for the devil. Yvonne did the only sensible thing. She opened the door and walked in, camera first.

There they were. Seventeen Illuminati figures, including Marilyn Monroe, George H.W. Bush, David Bowie and The Penguin, all in black robes, huddled over Britney Spears, laying in the center of a Pentagram while Reznor raised his blade.

OK. I just made that up. Actually, it was terribly normal inside. Kiedas and Gibby and Trent were there, and some music industry types, and the hottest of the young girls, clearly selected with care from the warehouse space. Within minutes, Tim and Simone wandered in. Record industry guys came over wanting to ask me about virtual reality. Here I was, in this world historic cosmically weird Manson horror house with Timothy Leary and rock stars sorta situation and I was getting into the same conversations that I would have had back in San Francisco.

There was one moment of vintage verbal violence. Gibby started screaming at some way porno looking girl because she wouldn't believe that this greasy looking longhaired dude with a southern accent was the driver of the red hot Ferrari and that he'd borrowed it from his good friend, Johnny Depp.

"CUNT!" he screamed. "Stupid fucking L.A. cunt!" But it wasn't to be taken seriously. She laughed at him, extended her middle finger and walked out and he immediately turned his attention elsewhere.

And that's basically the whole story. I did see a laughing Reznor waving around a baggie of mushrooms and heading into a room with one of the girls. Maybe that's why he liked the Mondo Vanilli tape so much that he called the next day to offer us a recording contract.

Later that night, Gibby came up to Leary's house and started asking if he'd ever seen any of that real acid... "like the stuff you guys used to take in the '60s." Tim got annoyed. "LSD is LSD. It's just that they make the doses smaller." Then, Gibby started ranting about how nobody tries to change the world by hijacking planes anymore, and Tim got even more annoyed and denounced terrorism in a couple of brief sentences. Gibby paced the entire house in long rapid steps for a few minutes and then flew out the door. I believe they eventually became friends.

See Also:
Part One: Introducing the Mondo 2000 History Project
Resurrecting Reznor's '90s Discovery — Mondo Vanilli (an Interview)
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
Timothy Leary's New Book on Drugs
The Chicks Who Tried to Shoot Gerald Ford

Introducing the Mondo 2000 History Project

The following is a possible introduction… or possibly one of several introductions or possibly an opening chapter to the Mondo 2000 History Project book. It's my story of particular points in my life that I now see as the run up toward starting High Frontiers magazine which became Reality Hackers and then MONDO 2000. Since I was the sole possessor of the idea to start the initial magazine, I believe there is some justification for this personal narrative being the opening salvo, however I'm not stuck on it and I'm happy to hear all feedback.

Morgan Russell, who is co-editing the book with me, said this text works as an introduction to the book and is "naïve" (in a good sense). I think that's correct. Hopefully, a somewhat more worldly perspective is implicit in my current writing of these memories.

If you like the writing here, please let that be a motivation for continuing to spread the word about this Kickstarter page. We would love to be able to dole out a few dollars beyond the money needed for management of the open source site to pay us and any other super-contributors a little bit for our time; to pay for some transcription of recorded interviews; and to get rights to reuse some already published materials. So keep it coming, please. (And if you don't like the writing here, then you can buy us the time to improve it!)

Besides linking to it, the text below is available to reuse/post elsewhere. I ask only that you give attribution to R.U. Sirius as the author and then link to http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1502076070/mondo-2000-an-open-source-history.

The MONDO 2000 History Project: An (Possible) Introduction

Let the story beginning in the Spring of 1967. I am 14 years old and in 9th grade. It's early evening and the doorbell rings at the suburban house in Binghamton, New York where I live with my mom and dad. It's a group of my friends and they're each carrying a plastic bag and looking mighty pleased. They come in, we shuffle into the guest room (where the record player is kept) and they show off their gatherings — buttons ("Frodo Lives!" "Mary Poppins is a Junkie" "Flower Power"), beads, posters (hallucinatory), incense with a Buddha incense burner, and kazoos. A lonely looking newspaper lays at the bottom of the pile, as though shameful, the only item unremarked.

Without realizing the implications, I happen to throw side one of Between The Buttons on the player. Eventually, the song "Cool Calm and Collected" plays and a kazoo sounds through the speakers. In an instant, newly purchased kazoos are wielded and The Rolling Stones' only-ever kazoo solo is joined by three wailing teenagers, bringing sudden shouts of objection from my famously liberal and tolerant Dad in the living room. It's quickly determined that it's late, Dad's tired, and it's time to send all kazoo-wielding teens packing. As each of the friends moves to retrieve his items, I grab the newspaper to see what it is. There are, I now see, two of them — two editions of something called "The Oracle." It has hallucinatory visuals on the cover and boasts an interview with a member of The Byrds (David Crosby). Vinnie, who had bought it — but who, despite writing poetry — avoids any signifiers of intellectual curiosity as the teen status crushers that they are, feigns disinterest and gives the copies to me.

And that's where it begins, this strange love affair with the periodical, particularly the periodical that has flair and style… where you can almost feel the energy and fun emanating off the pages.

I remember only one thing from the content inside those two Oracles and that's David Crosby denying that he was "some kind of weird freak who fucks ten chicks a day." That stuck in my mind. I didn't know it was possible even to think that, much less print it, much less be in a position to find it necessary to deny being it!

Let the story continue some time in early 1969, I'm 16 and in my junior year at Binghamton Central High School. The student/youth protest movement has fired my imagination — and the more radical the better. The Columbia University takeover with obscenity screaming Mark Rudd! The French Revolution of May '68! The armed black student takeover of the Cornell administration building, just 45 miles away in Ithaca! WoWeeee!

I wanted a piece of it. So I started a high school "underground newspaper" — The Lower Left Corner. Wanting to spring it on the school as a total surprise, I brought in only one co-conspirator (memory fails me, but he was more a collegian liberal type while I hung with the freaks.) Anyway, what we came up with was, I am sure, a completely lame and absurd piece of adolescent indignation. While college students revolted against the war, racism, and authoritarianism in school, we boiled it down to authoritarianism at school. The one thing I remember is that we had a cartoon of a teacher wearing a swastika armband busting a student for smoking in the boys' room. (Eat your hearts out, Brownsville Station!) It was that stupid.

To this day, I consider The Lower Left Corner a great success. Eight pages, Xeroxed front and back and stapled together… we entered the school each armed with a boxful… probably about 80 copies each total, and started handing them out selectively, avoiding the jocks and straights (by the way, straight used to mean "not hip.")

We got to homeroom — official start of the school day. The principle came over the loudspeaker. "Anyone caught with a copy of the paper called The Lower Left Corner will be immediately suspended from school." All eyes on me. Homeroom ends and as the door to the hallway swings open, I step out into my first taste of celebrity. All the jocks that usually threaten to beat me up or cut my hair off are jostling for a copy of the forbidden paper… even thanking me upon receiving. Laughing, I thrust the pieces ‘o' crap into the grasping hands, happy also to get rid of them so that I wouldn't be caught with any copies… and then I waited for the administrative consequences.

None were forthcoming. I had beaten the system… and in two ways. I'd gotten the administration to act out the very authoritarian impulse that we were lamely dithering about in print; and I learned something that served me well through the rest of my career as a high school "sixties radical. " If the authorities think you're political enough to run to the ACLU, they'll leave you alone and bust your intended audience instead!

We created and "printed" one more issue of The Lower Left Corner. As I recall, it was on an antiwar theme and we paid more attention to the quality of the text and design the second time out. This time, we handed them out without any attempted interference. Teachers even used it as a source for classroom discussions. And of course… no one cared.

Let the story continue in Fall of 1971. I'm 19. I meet Tommy Hannifin at a rally against the killings at Attica State. He's shouting the not-so-secret codeword… YIPPIE! We converge and excitedly share our mutual love of the Yippies' funny and fun acid-infused, prankster, wild-in-the-streets take on The Movement as a Youth Culture Revolution. I tell him that I want to create a Binghamton Chapter of the Yippies and start an underground newspaper. And so we did.

I should be clear. I had never thought… even for a moment, about journalism as a craft and/or a career. It didn't even occur to me that I should think about it in those terms. Indeed, to the constant worry of Mom and Dad, I never thought about career at all. I assumed that The Revolution would render those issues moot. I simply reached for the print medium because it seemed like a tool that was accessible. (It was… relatively speaking.) I seem to recall that Tommy, at least, knew something about layout — that you had to get these boards, type out the text, get visuals and paste it all up. And so, we pasted together Lost In Space, Binghamton's little underground newspaper, ripping off a few frames from an underground cartoon titled Nancy Kotex: High School Nurse for the front page. This thievery was utterly naïve. The idea of copyright and intellectual property was unfamiliar to me — like so many things in life that seemed obvious to so many, it hadn't occurred to me. The cartoon just struck us as funny, and when we imagined people getting all upset and offended by it, it became twice as funny. And so I learned about the double scoop of pleasure you get from prankster humor that confounds or freaks people out. You get to laugh at the joke… and then you get to laugh at the over-reaction to the joke.

Like The Lower Left Corner, Lost In Space (changed by issue #2 to Space because movement types told us Lost In Space sent a negative message) was a piece of crap. And unlike the underground papers of the bigger urban centers and hip college towns like Madison Wisconsin and Ann Arbor Michigan, we had no tributes to George Jackson and Ho Chi Minh; we had no quasi-sophisticated neo-Marxian analyses of the movement; no major statements from Robin Morgan about the rise of militant feminism; and probably not much news. Like The Lower Left Corner, Space was locally focused, reflexively against all authority, and juvenile. But it was probably a bit more stylishly written… and it certainly had a puckish sense of humor.

Let the story continue in 1980. I'm 27 years old and a Junior at the State University College at Brockport, New York, near Rochester. (The Revolution having left me stranded.) My friend Brian Cotnoir wants to start an avant-garde art newspaper. He calls it Black Veins — which comes from an interpretation of a line from Lautreamont's epic proto-surrealist misanthropic horror poem Maldoror (Les Chantes de Maldoror) — and he signs me on as co-editor. The paper features dark, perversely angled bits of poetry and fiction, but I bring something else in. Since the mid-1970s, I have been nursing a growing obsession with the neuro-futurisms of Dr. Timothy Leary and Illuminatus author/philosopher Robert Anton Wilson.

For the first issue, I have a written exchange with Wilson, performed by the soon to be archaic means of letters sent by mail. (As best I recall) the exchange essentially involves me wringing my hands that the world is a terrible place and that his optimistic weltanschauung may actually be a dangerous diversion. (I would later get letters like that myself at MONDO 2000 and, generally, respond with dismissive quips intended to communicate my lack of commitment to an optimistic — or any — point of view.) My letter includes a pretentious, portentous quote from a Village Voice review of Hans-Hurgen Syderberg's 6 hour film, Our Hitler.

And then word comes that Dr. Leary himself is coming to Rochester on his "stand up philosophy" tour. Brian, his girlfriend Ellen, myself, and our ex-girlfriend Liz pile in Ellen's car for the 30-minute drive to Rochester for the Sunday afternoon performance. Our goal is to interview the Dr. after the show for the second issue of Black Veins and then to film him. I plan to try and incorporate him into an 8mm movie called Armed Camp I'm making for a film class. (Incidentally, that's camp in the Susan Sontag sense.) The film involves, among other things, some 20-somethings playing poker in pajamas using the Aleister Crowley Thoth Tarot deck and then dancing to The Archies "Sugar Sugar" 45 rpm played at 33 (makes the vocals sound sort of like Jim Morrison). There is a vague narrative structure to this odd little attempt and I have reworked it so that it required Timothy Leary to say a few lines.

My posse — myself excluded — is negative about mind-altering drugs and cynical about Leary, and this makes me anxious. As we take our seats, the end of the Pink Floyd album The Wall blasts out of the loudspeakers and the cover of Leary's book The Intelligence Agents — which shows multiple copies of the same baby attempting to climb over a brick wall which appears to have no end — is projected onto a screen on stage. Then comes Side 2 (The "1984" side) of David Bowie's Diamond Dogs. Given his recent byzantine adventures with prison, exile, revolution, and compromise with the powers of state, it seems as if Leary is trying to tell us something. To the final echoes of Bowie singing "We want you, big brother," Dr. Leary walks on stage. Liz mutters a bit too loudly, "Ohmygod, it's Johnny Carson!"

The performance is not particularly impressive or funny, but Leary agrees to be interviewed. He unleashes that famous laser beam smile on each of us, one at a time, and the vibe immediately changes. Instant intimacy. Timothy Leary is now our special pal and we're his co-conspirators. We move into the restaurant attached to the club, order drinks and peruse the menu. Liz, a slightly moralistic vegetarian, asks Leary if he eats meat. "I'll eat anything!" he says directly to her, smiling. It's something that has been said a million times before by both jackasses and geniuses, but it comes out like a blast of freedom. Everybody feels this.

We all have a roaring great time interviewing Leary about life, drugs; his hatred of followers, his futurist theories, and the 1980 Democratic primaries ("If I'd done a better job, you wouldn't have all these pasty-faced white guys running around New Hampshire.") We're all dazzled, feeling like the host of Planet Earth's party had lifted the velvet rope and let us in. As we finish the conversation, Ellen urges me to ask Tim about appearing in Armed Camp. I'm feeling shy, but I share the script — such as it is — with him and point him at his two-sentence part. "What's it about?" he asks. A bit flustered, I blurt out, "Nothing really." He laughs and looks at my friends. "Thaaat's wonderfullll, isn't it? Nothing. Isn't thaaat wonderful?" Everybody laughs, including me. He won't read the lines but he will let me ask him a question and film his response… which turns out to be useless for my movie, but a treasure (that I will soon lose) nonetheless.

As we wrap up, Tim asks for a ride back to his hotel. He shrewdly picks Brian to dismantle and pack up the photo projector he'd uses to backdrop his talk. As we head to the car, night has fallen. Liz is pawing Dr. Leary, while they both gaze up at the stars. He points and describes a constellation or two. In the car, Liz continues to stroke and flirt, offering to come up to his hotel. Leary tells her she is very beautiful and wonderful, but he's married. As "Sympathy For the Devil" pops up on the mainstream rock radio station, we pull up to a raggedy-ass little hotel that's near the Rochester Airport and the good Dr. takes his leave of us.

Let the story continue in early November 1983. I am 31 years old and have just recently moved into a weirdly straight (see above) shared household in Mill Valley, California, a 'burb of San Francisco. The house is made up mostly of sedate 50-something recent converts to new age philosophies — an oddly pale white man who emanates a bland but likeable passivity seems to be the eminence grise of the household scene. And then there's a Hindu Hippie couple around my age that lives in the back room. They smoke pot (I can smell it) and they pretty much keep to themselves.

I have moved from Brockport, New York to the San Francisco Bay Area (starting off in Berkeley) with a "note to self" in my pocket — the only thing I could write during several months of writer's block, after a briefly successful academic and small town rock and roll career as a writer of fiction… and writer and singer of song lyrics. The note contains my California to-do list: "Start the Neopsychedelic Wave. Start a Neopsychedelic band. Start a Neopsychedelic magazine."

In late 1980, having written two darkly comic short stories to great local academic approval, and even winning a scholastic award (best fiction) for one of them (titled "Glib Little Holocausts"); having written darkly comic lyrics for a punk-tinged rock band (called "Party Dogs") and performed to some approval in both Brockport and Rochester; and looking ahead vaguely to either trying to make a run at a career as a rock and roll eccentric or hiding in obscurity as a writing professor; I came in for an odd reckoning — an interruption, really. It was a really good LSD trip.

Two days after the murder of John Lennon, laying in a room in a small apartment in which the heat pipes played oddly angelic music that had gone heretofore unnoticed, my girlfriend Lisa and I laid face to face, took the clean 250 microgram doses of liquid LSD-25 we had gotten from the colleges' hippyest Deadhead and made off for the cosmos.

Up until then, even my best trips had been fraught with ambiguity. My friends and lovers were weird. My hometown was relatively small… and contained parents who worried, and hostile lawmen and jocks who knew who I was. There was always at least the hint of trouble or shame — the feeling that my neurological nakedness was something to hide and someone lurked around the bend ready to give me a bad — or, at least, a strange time.

Now, there I was, safe and high and with a girlfriend who I actually liked and felt comfortable with, primed by my readings of Leary and Wilson to tap into an elegant symmetry, a generosity, even a sense of frivolity in the heart of all-that-is.

At first, the acid hit strong. It jolted up and down my spine like kundalini lightening, then shooting out the top of my head in a glorious explosive overabundance — an excess of multicolor wow! and then it smoothed over into an endless and sumptuous multidimensional layer cake of pastels filled to the brim with warm congratulations at having arrived. Later, it took me into deep space, and the heat pipes, which had been playing a pleasant kind of Tuvan throat music drone started, instead, to play John Lennon's hit song, "Starting Over" and, well… the message seemed clear. What the Lizard King had said was true: "Everything must be this way."

The aftermath of the trip found me disastrously happy, playful, optimistic, frivolous and energized… and writing about the coming of a Neopsychedelic Wave in lyrics and fiction. In the real (small) world of Brockport, New York, I'd shifted into a master's course in Fiction Writing, and attempts to give expression to my new head in that context weren't working. What came out was the sort of gibberish that has been produced before and aft by so many in the throes of psychedelic wonder — shards of flashy words that tried to convey – no, make that impart the energy of being aliver than thou to the recipient with FLASHY CAPITALIZED WORDS. Finally, after a couple of floundering semesters, I heard the siren call: "California is the place you oughta be!" There was really, after all, only one state from which to start a Neopsychedelic Wave.

So I'm sitting in the living room here in Mill Valley in 1983 just sort of gazing out the window when something bordering on an apparition appears. The Hindu Hippies plus their friend, a tall thin man in white robes — a visitor who occasionally slinks in and out of their room to use the bathroom — are opening a side door, and walking with them into the very back yard that I am gazing upon is a tall, thin, curly haired man, speaking something not quite audible in a familiar, nasally voice.

I recognize the man. I had attended a lecture he gave at a place in Berkeley a few months earlier. It was something about magic mushrooms and UFOs. In a nasally voice that reminded me of Jello Biafra, the man — Terence McKenna — had woven an astounding linguistic spell, rich with references ranging from Learyesque projections of future space architectures and superhuman amplifications to McLuhanistic media meanderings and, to top it all off, erudite descriptions (damn, why couldn't I do that?) of psychedelic experiences… including one that involved something along the lines of forty days and forty nights on mushrooms in the Amazonian Rain Forest during which he "channeled" a message from the logos that was calling us forward through time and using the acceleration of technology and consciousness and social crisis to bring us to some kind of psychedelic singularity in which exteriority and interiority would trade places!

Well… far out! But what the fuck is he doing at my house with the Hindu Hippies!? Here am I, on cosmic assignment from something or other to start the Neopsychedelic Movement and feeling meek and quiet and ill prepared and there's this McKenna guy at my house. They quickly retreat into the back room. It takes me a good half hour to work up my nerve and tap on the door.

What happens next is (like an alien probe) wiped from my memory. Let it be said — and many will attest to this — that Mr. McKenna always brought the powerful fucking weed with him when he came. All I know is that, somehow, at the end of the visit, which probably lasted all of an hour, Mr. McKenna is handing me a baggie with 6 grams of dried psilocybin mushrooms and a joint of his way-too-strong pot and telling me (McKenna familiars… hear the nasel): "Eat these on an empty stomach. An hour later, go into a darkened room and smoke this joint. That will get you where you want to go."

So it's about a week later, and it's Monday, the start of a Thanksgiving weeklong break in my job selling season ticket subscriptions by phone for various Bay Area arts organizations. I have decided that tonight's the night. I will take the 6 grams of mushrooms late that night and lie in the dark in silence in my room and I will make contact with The Others — the alien intelligences that Mr. McKenna says are available on the Psilocybin frequency (when you take enough) — or I won't… and either way, it will be a groovy trip.

I have decided to try a borderline fast — nothing but toast and water (and my morning cup of coffee) all day. It's a big mistake. It's around 5 pm and I'm heading home after strolling into town and I start to pass the McDonalds on the corner when the hunger overwhelms me and the biological robot commandeers my brain. By the time my brain returns to ordinary consciousness, I have downed a bag of Chicken McNuggets and a small bag of fries. Now I'm unhappy with myself and I'm deciding that I've blown the opportunity. No trip tonight.

I get back to the house and, oddly, it's empty. It's a large household, yet no one is home. A thought grips me. If they all stay away for an hour, I have a chance to get off on the mushrooms alone, having the run of the house during those energetic, intensely physical early moments that occur when you first come on to psychedelics. Then, I can hide out in my room with the lights out for the remainder of the trip. The time is nigh. I chew down the biggest batch of ‘shrooms in my life by far and I find myself pacing the house, nervously. Suddenly, after about 20 minutes, it slices through me like a shard of angry glass. A shattering angry splintery energy thing is outside me lacerating me and I am in everything's sights and all-that-is is pissed at me. The house cats start scurrying around yowling, running furiously, scratching at and trying to climb the walls. The suburban Mill Valley street suddenly looms very small and enclosed and conservative, and me… Mistra Inappropriate… not in control of my basic social signals and I'm now being lacerated by demons from a peculiar occult/Rolling Stones mirrorworld for abandoning them back in Binghamton, New York. Multiple car engine noises scrape the insides of my gut (In reality, it's around 6 pm, the time when people in the suburbs get home from working in San Francisco) — each one of them very likely carrying narcotics cops or agents of some hostile control system and, worst of all, I see it like it is now… They're the good guys and I am cast out, having done wrong; having eaten magic mushrooms on a corporate McDonald's stomach… heedlessly. I stare out the front window expecting incoming — hoping merely that the inevitable death is not too tortuous. And then it happens. A car actually stops right in front of the house. This is it. It's over! But wait. The doors open and several clearly preoccupied corporeal and painfully ordinary humans emerge — all my housemates. They are opening doors and the trunk and picking up grocery bags. In an instant, things shift. The immediate danger lessens but does not disappear. I still may be attacked by angry beings, but right now I have another challenge. I have to act normal. I shuffle to the front door and open it, thinking that the best strategy is to wander out and offer to carry grocery bags. I take one step outside. Can't handle it. I go back inside and close the screen door. Now I've given myself away. But the roomies walk in the house, preoccupied with their normal activities and blandly saying hello, to which I manage a normal sounding reply. All, that is, except for the Hindu Hippie guy. He makes a beeline for me and looks me right in the eyes. Quietly, he says, "Oh boy. Come with me" and, with his girlfriend, leads me by the hand into their back room. I start to tell him what I've done but he already knows. "You've taken Terence's mushrooms." The thin man in the white robes is lying on his side on a cot looking calm. He has been sitting in there all along. They say very little at first. They bring me a cup of warm tea; have me lie down on a cot, and the Hindu Hippie girl gives me a shoulder rub. I mutter something about demons from a Rolling Stones mirrorworld and start to explain about the friendship I had with a strange and charismatic guitar player who was fanatically and uncannily tapped into Keith Richards almost to the point where the evidence suggested a mystical connection and how we spent five months together in borderline isolation learning the entire Rolling Stones catalogue, and how he played it better than anybody alive except maybe Keith (better than Ronnie, by far), and how we talked long into the night about the occult dimensions of The Rolling Stones and the gut level pagan authenticity of the sex and drugs and rock and roll left hand path to enlightenment and how this friendship had all the elements of an intense sexual affair but without the sex and he started talking about Rimbaud & Verlaine and how it made me self-conscious and I couldn't handle it and then I gave him my song lyrics to start writing originals and he said he lost them and laughed at me and I left town and never spoke to him again.

And this makes perfect sense to my Hindu Hippie friends. I mean, christ… they were California hippies. They were probably at Altamont as teenagers! Demons sent from a Rolling Stones mirrorworld made perfect sense. And then, as I settled into a state of calm, the thin man in the white robes told me his story. Vijaya was a former leader of the American Hare Krishna cult. He had left the group because they had started to behave — as do pretty much all cults — like gangsters, with all the corruption and violence that implies. He still believed in Hare Krishna's brand of Hinduism, but he was part of a renegade group of psychedelic Hare Krishnas. And the Hare Krishna cultists had tried to kill him… and he was hiding out. So here we were, me hiding out from mirrorworld Stones demons and him hiding out, ostensibly, from Hare Krishna assassins, both of us in the back room of a very bland Mill Valley shared household.

While the LSD trip that had sent me to California was a "good trip" and the trip on McKenna's shrooms was a "bad trip," they both propelled me on. A couple of days after the psilocybin trip, the resolve to go forward with the creation of a psychedelic magazine took hold of me. I contacted Will Nofke, a new age radio host who had done a series of interviews about psychedelics with Albert Hofmann, Timothy Leary, Terence McKenna and Andrew Weil on Berkeley's Pacifica station KPFA, and asked him for the tapes to transcribe and publish the content. He sent me the tapes and granted me the permission. On New Years Eve — as 1983 was becoming 1984 — I stayed home alone. I finished transcribing the last of the tapes — the Leary interview — while watching the avant-garde video artist Nam June Paik host a very special New Years Eve 1984 show titled Good Morning, Mr. Orwell on PBS' Alive From Off Center, featuring many of my culture heroes: Laurie Anderson, John Cage, Allen Ginsberg, and Paik himself. Later I would have my first date with my wife Eve at a Nam June Paik exhibit in San Jose, California and I would co-create a TV show proposal and sample titled "The R.U. Sirius Show" for the consideration of PBS with John Sanborn, the Producer of Alive From Off Center. When the show ended, I channel surfed and found Timothy Leary on a silly, long forgotten entertainment talk show (I have mercifully forgotten the host). It was lame, but still, it was Timmy on network TV. A great signifier for the beginning of a new life. As 1984 dawned, I started reaching out to find compatriots to be part of a magazine that would be called High Frontiers and later Reality Hackers and then finally MONDO 2000.

See Also:
Counterculture and the Tech Revolution
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert - and Other Pranks
Robert Anton Wilson 1932-2007
Neil Gaiman Has Lost His Clothes
Is The Net Good For Writers?

Dana Plato and the Diff’rent Strokes Curse

It was 1999 when I first investigated the sordid aftermath of the death of another Diff'rent Strokes actor, Dana Plato. It seemed like the last remnants of Dana Plato's fame had finally been picked clean by the scandal-hungry media when she'd died that May. According to People magazine, "[T]he lovable star of Diff'rent Stokes grew up to be a petty crook, an addict, an alcoholic and, with her death at age 34, a Hollywood casualty." The New York Daily News added that by the early '90s "she was spending most of her time playing the nickel slots in Las Vegas after she was turned down for a $6-an-hour job picking up garbage and cleaning bathrooms." But in the last month of her life, Dana started an even more unlikely business relationship with Shane Bugbee, a 31-year-old Chicago-based promoter, which ensured her continued infamy after death.

For one thing, he'd put her alleged autopsy on the Internet: "Internal examination, external examination, graphical view..."

Dana started down this final road to degredation earlier that month. She'd scheduled an appearance at Bugbee's Expo of the Extreme — along with alternative metal acts like Marky Ramone, Jello Biafra, and Motorhead — and got time on Howard Stern's radio show to promote it. That interview landed Bugbee a brief flirtation with notoriety when Stern read the name of his vulgar-punned Web site (MikeHuntsOnFire.com) on the air. Her appearance on the Stern show was important, Bugbee had told her, because "my response, from the Web page, from everyone, is no one believes I'm even talking to you."

Bugbee's proud press release for the Expo — headlined "Dana Plato Speaks!" — was soon followed by one titled "Dana Plato Silenced," after she died of an overdose of painkillers and muscle relaxants just two weeks before the big event. Dana's years of notoriety were over, and all Bugbee had left were the tapes of their phone conversations.

Plato on Tape

But if there are no second acts in America, Bugbee at least provided Dana with a sordid epilogue. Bugbee contacted Internet Entertainment Group, according to a company spokesperson, and offered the recordings for their pornography Web site. But there was more to come.

In August, Bugbee launched the "Dana Plato Cult Web site," and began hawking memberships for $30 apiece. (Archive.org's 1999 version of the site is here). The site included more attempts at exploiting the former child star's notoriety. One page offered to let visitors "Ask Dana questions from the grave through the Dana Plato Psychic Network." (Presumably, they'd be answered by excerpts from his recordings — but nearly four months later, it still led to a page "under construction," and the same held true for the site's message board.) But have no fear, every page ended with a banner ad marketing Bugbee's CD: "Dana Plato's Last Breath."

The disc featured the doomed actress talking extremely fast, in her hyperactive voice with childish enthusiasm, about resting from the flu, or lisping because she'd bit her tongue. Plato is chatty and erratically candid, but it's not necessarily the "tell all" promised by the site's promotional copy. Dana does ramble in their last conversation, but there's no explicit descent "into a drugged-out Hollywood HELL!" ("Listen in HORROR...") And though it does open with a montage of sound clips, to advertise it as "Kimberly Drummand's [sic] audio suicide note CAUGHT ON TAPE!!" was an exaggeration.

But nonetheless, they are recordings from the last week of Dana's life, which ironically include an eerie clip from her appearance on Howard Stern. (Howard Stern: "Hi Dana, how you doing? You don't look near death. I look near death, actually." Robin Quivers: "Right, we look in worse shape!")

Former child star Barry Williams, who played Greg on The Brady Bunch, told me a few months after her death, "I listened to the interview and it didn't — something didn't sound okay, even then... It sort of reminded me of the Shakespearean line, you know — 'She doth protest-eth too much.'" If she was loaded, it wouldn't be the first time. Diane Anderson-Minshall, who interviewed Dana for the lesbian magazine Girlfriends in 1998, remembers that "she came to our cover shoot drunk."

Even on Bugbee's recordings, you can hear him emphasizing an important point to Dana about her New York trip. "It's a non-refundable ticket... It's not transferable for cash or anything." And Dana does sound strangely anxious to please on the tapes. In Bugbee's recording of their last phone call, the night before she died, Dana can't seem to hang up. Clinging for more than 20 minutes, her thoughts gets less and less organized. (Bugbee later told IEG that "she sounded loaded.") After sentimentally blathering about working for free, Plato seems to start crying when her 14-year-old son Tyler asks if he can be an actor. She asks for an earlier flight home from New York ("so that I have some time to rest, and not look like hell,") and when it turns out that's not an option, she says "That's fine. I'll get a valium from someone and sleep."

Towards the end, she burbles out "I really, really, really, really, really have a good vibe that this is — this is it."

The Last Stop

Wrong. The next track on Bugbee's CD is the call he'd attempted to make to Dana the night she overdosed. Yes, he's morbidly included the recording of Robert Menchaca, Dana's fiance, trying to wake her up. ("Dana. Dana! Hey, Dana....") Bugbee went so far as to title the track, as well as the CD, "Dana Plato's Last Breath," though there's no evidence that it's her last breath, or even who it is that's breathing on the tape. Bugbee can be heard telling Menchaca "That's okay, man, let her sleep it off, dude. Whatever."

Bugbee's also included two additional conversations with Menchaca. In the first, Menchaca calls crying from the hospital the day after the suicide, and in the next he talks about the autopsy and the investigation. He tells Bugbee police found syringes, a pill bottle, and a pack of rolling papers. Ironically, he complains to Bugbee about the media. "They turned a light on this as soon as I got out of the truck."

The autopsy Bugbee posted was presented under the heading: "You decide... Accident, Suicide, or Murder?" It was clearly a publicity stunt. A link at the bottom of the page read: "Learn more about the life and death of Dana Plato by getting your own copy of Dana Plato's Last Breath by clicking here! " Inside the scandal-mongering booklet that accompanied the CD, Bugbee listed Menchaca as a possible suspect. Dana's mother-in-law was listed as "Suspect #2", and the next subhead was "Government Plot." ("after all, the government has done weirder things....")

It all marked the gravy train's last stop. In his booklet, Bugbee wrote that he and Dana had discussed a coffee table book, a biography, and other business deals. But 15 minutes into the recording of their last conversation, he said "It's been great talking to you and just getting to talk to you the little bit I have. If that's all I walk away from this whole experience is having a few conversations with you, I feel like a lucky guy."

And there was one final irony. As their last conversation wound down, Dana babbled, "Um, It's just, it's, no one, no one ever takes [sic] attention to me, you know, and I will not let you down, ever."

Bugbee blustered optimistically, "Well, good! Then I won't you. We'll have a long relationship, then.

"We'll know each other forever."

See Also:
Dana Plato, Porn Star
Screech's Sex Tape Hoax
Nancy Drew's Sexy Secrets
Why Sarah Palin's Sex Life Matters
Diff'rent Strokes: Season One

Nancy Drew’s Sexy Secrets

I'm not saying Nancy Drew was a lesbian. (Believe me, I still remember the pushback on our 2007 article, How Gay Were the Hardy Boys.) But the original Nancy Drew stories were written in 1930, and sometimes their outdated language creates a problem.

"Will you tell us why you came here, and promise never to divulge to a soul a word about this place?"

"I promise nothing," Nancy declared.

"What!" the men ejaculated in astonishment.

I hate it when that happens....

That's an actual quote from the 1933 edition of Password to Larkspur Lane. The language was updated in later decades, and most readers have never seen the original texts. But before Nancy even hooked up with her butch friend Bess Marvin, she'd enjoyed this strange adventure with a young femme named Helen Corning.

After Helen and Nancy Drew encounter a suspect, Helen gushes "I just hated the looks of that man. Let's think about something pleasant." And then...

The girls accordingly enjoyed themselves by admiring each other's dainty lingerie, choosing the stockings which would best match slippers and frocks, and so for a time forgot the mystery. Helen was in ecstasies over Nancy's powder blue evening gown...

And when Nancy finally sneaks into the bad guy's house, Helen actually kisses Nancy Drew.

"Good luck," she whispered.

I swear I'm not making this up! ("Helen kissed her chum," it says on page 173.) That's how mind-bogglingly innocent people were in 1933. Or... There's something else going on here.

Nancy even spends the night sleeping with Helen. And the next morning, when she tells Helen she has "an adventure" in mind — Helen can't wait....

She threw back the covers of the bed and began dressing rapidly. "Hurry up, Nancy," she cried gayly.

"Lead me to this adventure..."

And to hell with sleuthing!

Sorry, my mind wandered off there for a second. Or am I the only one who sees sexy lesbian bondage overtones in the 1930 frontispiece illustration for The Mystery at Lilac Inn? (See the picture above.) Even twenty years later, when the books were updated, Nancy Drew was still tied up at the hands of the domineering jewel thief Mary Mason.

And then there's this 1939 scene from The Clue of the Tapping Heels.

Though I've also had sexy lesbian bondage fantasies involving another Nancy...

Still, I want to believe that even the most prudish reader would be curious about a chapter titled "The Man with the Whip." ("You saved me from a very unpleasant experience back there, Effie...") But the real moral of this story is that even in 1933, Nancy Drew kicked bad-guy ass.
"'Oh dear, this is something I don't know much about," the girl said in vexation. "How does one go about crippling an airplane motor?"

Maybe it helps to think of the books as antique children's pulp fiction...

A Little History

The first Nancy Drew books were action-packed adventure stories ghostwritten by the first woman ever to receive a masters of journalism from the University of Iowa in 1927. Mildred Wirt Benson (under the pen name "Carolyn Keane") still remains an unsolved mystery, but it's obvious that she lived in a different world. Benson practically fell through time, according to Wikipedia, living for 97 years, from 1905 to 2002. And though she didn't write Password to Larkspur Lane, she is responsible for the The Mystery at Lilac Inn, which is often cited for another unfortunate anachronism in the original Nancy Drew series — racism.

In fact, the book's first three chapters are all about Nancy trying to find a substitute housekeeper when her maid goes out of town, with Benson writing that there's a "slovenly colored woman" who Nancy rejects (along with an "Irish woman," and a "Scotch lassie.") And in a 1930 Benson book, The Hidden Staircase, she uses almost identical language to describe the villain's maid — a "fat, slovenly looking colored woman". When Nancy sneaks in through the cellar window — and accidentally makes a noise — she brings the villain's maid downstairs to investigate. And then the maid says....
"I done reckons my old ears is playing me false. I hears noises dat sounds like dey was in de basement and dey was only in my haid."

Yes, Benson writes the maid's dialogue with the same dialect throughout the book. Later Nancy sneaks into a room in the hallway, and the villain's pet parrot starts squawking. The maid comes running, and Nancy hides in the closet.
"How comes you so excited to-night, talkbird?" the woman demanded crossly. "You carries on like a fool with all yo' squawkin' and speechifyin'."

And when the cops finally come, the maid holds them off with a shotgun.

To be fair, it was a long time ago. When Applewood Books ultimately republished these original texts in 1991, they added a preface with some soul-searching, acknowledging that "Much has changed" in America. ("The modern reader may be delighted with the warmth and exactness of the language, the wholesome innocence of the characters...but just as well, the modern reader may be extremely uncomfortable with the racial and social stereotypes...")

No matter how ugly these scenes are, the preface concludes, "These books are part of our heritage. They are a window on our real past." And all of these books were eventually re-written, though even those changes offer their own cultural clues.

By the 1950s Mary Mason's simple getaway car had become an elaborate two-man submarine, and jewel thief Mary was transformed into a spy for a massive foreign espionage ring — presumably reflecting anti-communist Cold War tensions.

But the changes also stripped away much of the gritty personality from the characters, reducing them to the bland action-hero stand-ins we know today, and making them more suitable for an ongoing series of massively-franchised children's books. In the original books, the Nancy Drew character was much more realistic, which explains the impact she had on earlier generations. USA Today even reports that on the Supreme Court, all three female justices cite that original Nancy Drew as an influence — Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor.

But now the updated characters are so insistently good, they almost dare readers to invent their own sexy subtexts. In one episode of That 70s Show, Jackie insists on reading a Nancy Drew mystery out loud during a sleep-over with her boyfriend. ("Dammit." says Kelso. "Why do I always have to Bess?") And in 2004 the commenters at Something Awful even submitted their own sexy re-imagined covers for both Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books.

The world's changed a lot, even if Nancy Drew hasn't. (If Nancy Drew is a lesbian, don't tell Pamela Sue Martin. In 1978, when she was 25, the TV actress who'd played Nancy Drew in the 1970s did a naked pictorial in the prototypical men's magazine Playboy.) I want to believe modern Nancy Drew writers understood this secret intrigue when they created a 1995 TV version. Its last episode ends with Nancy abruptly breaking things off with her boyfriend Ned.

"He was right. Our relationship is a mystery. But it's the one mystery I can't seem to solve..."

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the very first Nancy Drew books. But it's important to remember that no matter how quaint she started out, every once in a while, even those original old-fashioned Nancy books would still blurt out something so surprisingly progressive and modern, it'd make you want to cheer. For example, in the 1933 book Password to Larkspur Lane, Nancy tells her friend Helen to wear hiking clothes, since they're sneaking through the woods. I think this should be hung over the arch at the Nancy Drew School of Business.
"We are going to use strategy, but not charm, so put that frilly frock away."

You go, girl!

Don't let anyone tell you how to behave — no matter what decade it is!

Click here to purchase the original 1933 text
for Password to Larkspur Lane

The Most Depressing Children’s Books Ever Written

Okay, Curious George didn't really die from an overdose of ether. But after launching a blog reviewing children's picture books, I've discovered that some stories can be just as depressing!

1. The Jester Has Lost His Jingle

"Here I lie, I have a tumor...

And you ask me where's my sense of humor?"

This book was written by a 22-year-old diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, who died just before it was published.
Published posthumously, it became a best-seller in 1995, and received a touching afterward by Maurice Sendak. ("I remember the face — the enthusiasm....")

No one laughs at this jester's jokes in the castle, so he tries downtown, where he's confronted by the sight of a miserable homeless man. ("It's kind of hard to laugh or joke / when you're unemployed and completely broke.") A man smoking a cigarette on a graffiti-covered subway explains to the jester that "The world is not a funny place. It's filled with pain and tears." And then the jester visits the hospital's cancer ward...

Eventually the jester brings a smile to a little girl's face — and then, to the entire city, as the unusual plot of author David Saltzman lurches to a happy ending.

Six months later, Saltzman was dead.

2. Fireboat

Fluffy bunnies? Happy little puppies? Nope. This children's picture book culminates with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Maira Kalman emphasizes that on 9/11, two airplanes "CRASHED, CRASHED, CRASHED into these two strong buildings...." It's illustrated with a two-page watercolor showing a cloud of debris plummeting from the top of the tower, to help young readers visualize the impending carnage. Turn the page, and another two-page watercolor shows flames sweeping uncontrollably through the buildings at ground zero. And then there's another two-page spread, showing exactly what that same fire looked like that night.

They're not quite the cheery images you'd want to savor before bedtime. It's the climax of a story about the history of New York's famous fireboat, the John J. Harvey, which sprayed water on the burning towers all night with a volunteer crew. Which is why the book is called "Fireboat" — and why parents received no warning whatsoever that the book closes with the World Trade Center attacks until it surprises them in the book's final pages.

"Thanks for making me cry my head off in front of my child!!" wrote one reviewer on Amazon.

3. Rickie and Henri

"Unfortunately, Curious George's parents were both dead, since they'd already been shot in the head by local hunters."

That's basically the story Jane Goodall tells in Rickie and Henrie. Though she uses a real monkey instead of Curious George.

Based on a true story, Goodall's picture book describes a mother monkey who tenderly holds her little baby — a female monkey named Rickie. Rickie's mother carried her from place to place, and "comforted her when she was hurting or frightened." But in the next picture, Rickie is shown screaming beside her mother's dead body, as a man with a gun walks away.

And no, he's not wearing a yellow hat...

"The hunter seized Rickie and pushed her into a tiny basket, while the infant chimpanzee, who didn't understand, went on screaming and screaming for her mother." (Who does nothing, because she's already dead.) In the next illustration, the scared little monkey is locked in a cage on a pole, and she's already been wounded by shotgun pellets. But "however much she cried, there was no one to help."

Eventually the little female monkey is rescued and taken to Jane Goodall's institute and sanctuary. Where Goodall decided to write a very depressing children's picture book about her...

4. One Candle

A family gathers for their Hanukkah celebration. And then grandma starts reminiscing about Buchenwald...

"We were separated from our families and put into a camp," she says, remembering her experience as a 12-year-old girl in the Nazi death camps.
Working in a kitchen guarded by an intimidating Nazi soldier (standing with a German shepherd guard dog), she'd shared the barracks with her 13-year-old sister. And most of the book is told as a horrified flashback, as the girl remembers trying to smuggle a potato past the guard for a Hanukkah celebration.

The book explains the death camps as simply as possible. ("The Germans didn't like the Jews...") But another relative at the present-day Hanukkah celebration counters with a more nuanced perspective. "The Germans didn't like a lot of people. It wasn't only the Jews."

And then the flashback returns to the death camps....

5. On That Day

"Fireboat" may have covered the World Trade Center attacks, but at least it wasn't done with a tissue paper collage. Because ironically, that had already been done by Andrea Patel, a Massachusetts schoolteacher — and pastry chef, and musician. She represents the earth as a big blue circle of tissue paper, then writes "One day a terrible thing happened," as a big red splotch appears on that circle.

"The world, which had been blue and green and bright and very big and really round and pretty peaceful, got badly hurt.

"Many people were injured. Many other people died. And everyone was sad."

Then she tries explaining terrorism to children — using more tissue paper collages. There's a tornado, an earthquake, and a fire — all bad things that happen naturally. "But sometimes bad things happen because people act in mean ways and hurt each other on purpose," she writes. "That's what happened on that day, a day when it felt like the world broke." Then there's a picture of the pieces of the world blowing away and drifting across the blank whiteness of the next page...

The book was finished within weeks of the September 11 attacks, and Patel donated all the book's proceeds to a 9/11 charity, but the whole exercise is still a little disturbing. People fumbled for the right response to the terrorist attacks, and in the end, this is probably Patel's most inadvertently honest sentence.

"This is scary, and hard to understand, even for grown-ups."

6. Smoky Nights
It's the Los Angeles riots — through the eyes of a child.

What could possibly be more magical?

"It can happen when people get angry..." a boy's mother says. "After a while it's like a game." The boy sees fires, and watches two men stealing a TV from an appliance store. Then another window breaks at a shoe store, and two men and a woman climb in through the broken glass.
That night his own apartment building is set on fire, and the boy and his mother have to flee to a shelter for safety. Author Eve Bunting actually lives in Los Angeles (and her illustrator lived just an hour away). Which is why one of her next fun-filled stories was about poor day laborers fighting for work in a Los Angeles parking lot.

7. Michael Rosen's Sad Book

"What makes me most sad is when I think about my son Eddie.

"He died."

"I loved him very, very much but he died anyway."

That's Michael Rosen, a British broadcaster, and his son died of meningitis in 2004 at the age of 19. "Sometimes this makes me really angry," Rosen writes in his book. (Its title? Michael Rosen's Sad Book.) "Maybe you think I'm happy in this picture. Really I'm sad but pretending I'm happy."

Rosen was 56 when the tragedy struck, and he's startlingly open about the experience of coping with a loss. Why is he smiling and pretending to be happy?

"I'm doing that because I think people won't like me if I look sad."

It's a depressing read, but it's also a brave moment of personal honesty. And maybe he's also sending us a message about depressing children's books.

Sometimes the truth can be very unpleasant...

See Also:
Lost "Horrors" Ending Found on YouTube
Six Freakiest Children's TV Rock Bands
Blossom Dearie's Conjunction Junction Romance?
How Gay Were the Hardy Boys?
Homeland Security Follies

Ten Albums that Defined the Dot Com Era – Part 2

Click Here for Part One

I spent New Year's Eve 1999 at my ecstasy dealer's condo in E-ville (natch), staring at a spectacular view of San Francisco Bay. And even the twinkly bright city sported a patchy waterfront fog like the chin pubes on a 1990s hipster...

I'd spent the entire decade with the same girl, and as we approached the door to an obscene feast of cheese, booze, and drugs — we were stopped short by a pair of very pretty and very fucked up people.

"Oh my god," the gorgeous brunette half giggled, half implored, "do NOT eat the sushi!"

With that they stumbled down the stairs to god knows where. It was only 11 p.m...

We'd arrived late, and thank Christ. The party people were not happy, as Mr. E had generously spiked the catered sushi with liquid LSD. And while I certainly admired the opulence, I couldn't understand why he did it, since he — and most of the kids there — were more about pills and coke. (Plus, I'm not a fan of the Pearl Harbor approach to getting your friends ripped to the tits on acid. Or your enemies.)

It was a great night — despite the grumblings of some who weren't as fortunate as we were in our early warning about the hazards of the hamachi. We watched as the clock struck midnight, ignoring the media hype about a coming Y2K apocalypse, yet feeling on the brink of something.

For me it was huge personal change, good and bad. But because I'm not really a coke guy (well, sure, there's Vegas and... well, you smell what the Rock is cookin') — and because I had to drive us home — I stood out on the balcony of a brand new condo, built and rented with dot-com dollars, the only person there who wasn't on drugs.

What was I thinking?

1. Kruder & Dorfmeister — The K&D Sessions

Like I said before, this list is not in any kind of order. But, sure, placement means a lot, and in Part 1 of this top 10 list, my placement of Kid A in the #1 spot was no accident.

So I've certainly wrestled with this decision again for "Part 2". I feel like the following album is just as top-notch a time capsule for the period as any piece of art or expression. But in the 1990s, if you were anywhere in San Francisco where music was being played — apart from Lucky 13, the late, great Fulton Street Bar, or Zeitgeist — you heard The K&D Sessions, whether you liked it or not. And most MDMA-dabbling, sexuality-exploring, HTML-coding city dwellers liked it.

As downtempo DJ fodder, this record was as necessary to your arsenal as the Bible is to a missionary. As something you'd put on at your place after being up on E all night, it was quite simply perfect. (Not too quiet, not too perky...) As music to bang to, it was even better than Sade. And it holds up easily to this day, embodying the best of what DJ culture had to offer, tastefully, artfully, and not without wit ("Kruder and... Dorfmeister?").

2. Beck — Midnite Vultures

Beck - Midnight vultures

Beck took Prince's advice to heart — to party like it was 1999 — when the year actually came. And he pushed his tongue-in-cheek flirtations with blue-eyed soul to its limit, from the James Brown dance moves to the over-the-top blue-eyed soul wailing on the quintessential nerd ballad, "Debra." It was a stroke of genius for Beck to intentionally counteract the angst of the entire decade in 1999 with a record so giddily fun that it made his previous, Odelay! look practically dour.

It was different than the "K&D Sessions," which was best when coming back from the club/party/Bacchanalian clusterfuck. Midnite Vultures was the record you'd play on your way out while popping the pills or chopping the pills or hiding the pills or maybe even shoving 'em up yer arse (if you had the proclivity to do so).

What I'm saying is that there were lots of pills around...

3. LTJ Bukem — Progression Sessions

When compiling this list, I realized I'd almost forgotten about drum and bass. But while it's rare to hear this genre in its "pure" form these days, its influence can be heard in dubstep — all the rage this year — and on the London scene with acts like Joy Orbison. And at the turn of the millennium, drum and bass was a bold new form that embraced and exploited technology. In fact, it could not exist without it.

What was fascinating about drum and bass out in the clubs was how it cleaved a wedge between dancers on the dance floor. The shuffling, intricate rhythms of d&b aren't kind to the amateur booty-shaker, so you'd get a mix of weed-smokin' head-nodders (raises hand) plus those bold enough and skilled enough to pull some amazing, post-breakdance moves.

Roni Size was arguably as influential as Bukem, but it was Bukem's frequent live shows with MC Conrad that endeared him to San Franciscans. Still does.

4. Various Artists — Rushmore (Soundtrack to the Film)


You know what I remember about the 1990s? The yuppie fear of car-keying, as gentrification kicked into high gear in former working-class neighborhoods like the Mission and SOMA. The pitched battle between the recently enfranchised and the constantly disenfranchised. The inevitable defeat of the latter.

As a nerdy outsider from a low-income neighborhood, I actually had things in common with both groups, so I tended to stay out of the argument...

One thing I can say for sure, only one of these groups' contingents was listening to the "Rushmore" soundtrack. Mark Mothersbaugh's wittily wistful sensibilities mixed with mild moroseness to create a great soundtrack — not just to the film, but also to long-winded, angst-ridden posts to your LiveJournal. Shudder.

5. Moby — Play


Ugh. There, I said it. Not exactly one of my favorite records, by not exactly one of my favorite artists. I just can't risk people thinking that omitting it reflected a failure to grasp what people were listening to at the time.

So for you douchebags, here you go. And for the rest of you, I sure hope you enjoyed "Play"ing with me as I reflected on what was — no matter how you slice it — a fascinating era...in music.

Click Here for Ten Albumds That Defined the Dot Com Era - Part One

See Also:
Dan the Automator Remixes the Blue Angels
How the iPod Changes Culture
10 Video Moments from 2006
Paul McCartney on Drugs
Eight Druggiest Rock Star Stories

Ten Albums That Defined the Dot Com Era

So where were you 10 years ago?

Making more money than you were entitled to? Getting involved in a drug-fueled polyamorous relationship? Thinking about how after almost 20 years of prescience, Prince's 1999 might become oddly irrelevant?

Okay, you may be forgiven if you weren't having as much fun as you should have been having during the dot-com VC era. (Not by me. But whatever...) But there's no absolution if you weren't at least listening to some interesting music. This was the time of Napster's infinite-mp3-download-orgy, fer chrissakes!

I know, I know, there doesn't seem to be much nostalgia for that time. For comparison, it was only 10 years after Kent State that the creative process began that spawned The Big Chill. And not only am I unsure that this generation is capable of such a piece, I'm unsure that anyone is even interested in trying!

A lot of people are entitled to their share of bitterness over the burst of the dotcom bubble. Someone sold a lot of kids on the idea that the Brave New World had been reached. And when that wave of prosperity which brought us there — for a happy, shiny moment — rolled back violently, these kids found out even drugs wouldn't help.

But it's time for us to realize that the brevity of the whole dot-com era helps us distill its magic, as well as that bleakness which followed (and still continues to this day). At the time as someone who was older than most of the people I knew, I'd seen enough shit to enjoy the good times while they were there — and this attitude continues to inform my perspective.

Hence this piece...

But enough philosophizin'. If you love music like I do, these albums should trigger whatever nostalgia you feel is deserved by those times. Or maybe we can just be fascinated by the fact that 10 years from now, it's doubtful that the word "album" would even be applicable to such a list.

Whatever. Let's play!

1. Radiohead — Kid A

This list isn't in any particular order, but even so, I think this is a great place to start.

Today bands like Phoenix and Animal Collective think nothing of fusing elements of what used to be called "electronica" into a "band" context. But when the group that inherited the mantle of "The Greatest Rock Band in the World" from U2 seemed to barely unpack their guitars from their cases — in favor of sounds more akin to Aphex Twin — it was a bold step into the future.

Of course, the reaction from the rock crowd was a bit hyperbolic. If you listen to it now, Kid A is hardly a rejection of all things rock. The acoustic lament "How to Disappear Completely," the fuzz bass in "The National Anthem," the electric piano in Morning Bell — all of these represent a record grounded in song sensibility.

But yes, all these years later, as a DJ you can still work "Everything In Its Right Place" in its right place. Hypnotic — and propelled by the Fender Rhodes electric piano that defined this era in the band's history — "Everything" is a full, unabashed embrace of a new kind of pop that arguably hadn't been pushed forward since David Byrne and Brian Eno's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.

Kid A also allowed bespectacled hipsters who were way-too-Wilco to be caught dead listening to Hooverphonic a way to hear beats and blips they otherwise couldn't have accessed. So, uh, there's that.

2. The Flaming Lips — The Soft Bulletin

While some artists were ending the decade with a party vibe, Oklahoma's previously experimental freaks the Flaming Lips finally popped out of their chrysalis with a highly personal and intimate concept album — about death, mostly.

Couched in an inspired dynamic of lush soundscapes and (virtual) orchestration, mixed with a dash of punk sensibility — one lonely mic on the drum kit — Wayne Coyne's lyrics about the death of his father ("Waitin' on a Superman") and the band's bizarre struggles ("The Spiderbite Song") helped usher in the new age of post-ironic pseudo-sincerity.

3. Thievery Corporation — The Mirror Conspiracy

For the sake of disclosure, I am a DJ, and was arguably at the height of my "career" during the dot com era. So while you'll have to forgive me a bit of nostalgia and obvious subjectivity in this list's content, if you're in my demographic and think you didn't hear Thievery Corporation at that time — you're wrong. You might have wanted to hear the Dwarves instead, but you heard TC all the same.

There's no use denying the overwhelming presence of DJ-friendly acts and works on this list. But chill music, frisky enough to rock a club or a house party, meant the D.C. duo was a DJ's best friend. And at the same time I can recall hearing "The Mirror Conspiracy" blaring over PC speakers just as much as the Mackies.

4. Tool — Lateralus

Despite the above statements on the ubiquity and influence of electronica, it wasn't all about blips, beeps and knob-twiddling. There were also plenty of former nerds and misanthropes who still needed an outlet for frustrations that MDMA and getting laid hadn't quite ironed out.

In fact, I remember when this record came out — having almost forgotten the sheer boyish thrill of … metal! Rock Band was years away, and Hot Topic hadn't started marketing Iron Maiden shirts to 14-year-olds whose parents had barely hit puberty during the band's heyday. So indulgences like Lateralus were still a bit taboo.

However, this album has nothing to do with the adolescent nature of metal of yore. Like all of Tool's music, the art-rock flirting and complex themes and lyrics on songs like Schism make them strictly for grown-ups.

5. Air — The Virgin Suicides

For me, this record represents change.

Personally, it was a time of intense personal evolution and tumult. For Air, it was a complete reversal of the dreamy, kitschy charm of their debut album, Moon Safari. An opiate dream of a soundtrack, it owed as much to Pink Floyd's soundtrack to the film More as anything happening on a contemporary level at the time. "The Virgin Suicides" flew in the face of expectations for the French band, while helping create the moody atmosphere in Sofia Coppola's debut film.

For the ecstasy-driven culture of the dot commers, it presaged the comedown that one must expect when getting so high. Minor keys, dark themes, and no happy ending. It was still only 2000, and we were still sucking on the VC tit. But not for long.

Did Air know something we didn't?

Click here to read 10 Albums That Defined the Dot Com Era, Part II.

“Every Sizzler restaurant in America?!”

"Some people want world peace," says Reed Fish. "Others want to photograph every Sizzler in the USA.

"A dream is a dream..."

Reed and his wife Liz are raising money on the internet to fund a tour of every Sizzler restaurant in America — which they'll photograph. And then self-publish the photos in a book. Called "Every Sizzler in the United States of America."

"Just as there's beauty in every person, there's beauty in every Sizzler," they explain on their fundraising page. "We make the photographs blurry to help bring this out..."

"Hopefully, a gallery show will follow."

And within a few weeks they'd attracted over $2,000. Kodak even donated film. The average donation size was over $50. And they'd proved something important. "We had the guts to do this," Liz wrote on their blog, "and no matter what happens, I'm proud of that."

Image via Google Maps street view

But why Sizzler's steakhouses? "Sizzler is Americana..." their page explains, grasping at the ghost behind this peculiar fascination. "If there isn't one in your town, there probably used to be..." In their web video, the couple fumbles to explain their quest's strange power.
REED: We really feel that chains, and especially Sizzler, tells us a lot about who we are as a culture.

Or, as they suggest in another part of the video.
LIZ: We're doing this so you don't have to.

REED: We're taking one for the team.

So who are these people? Reed Fish is that Reed fish — the screenwriter behind the quirky 2006 romantic comedy I'm Reed Fish, which Variety described as a "Charming, rural version of a pre-wedding panic." Two years ago the real Reed Fish married Liz, a professional photographer. And that's when the weirdness began...

Their Sizzler-rific quest is now 16 percent complete. Reed announces in their video that "We've already shot 34 of the 206..." While there's still 172 restaurants left to photograph, at least they're down to just 150 cities, Liz adds in a blog post. And she provides a glimpse of life on the Sizzler-photographing road.

"Our record so far is six Sizzlers in one day. The six-Sizzler day is actually kind of a rough day — because of navigating, traffic and, honestly — burnout."

It's not the first time someone has tried this. Thirteen years ago, when the web was young, Jason Alan Pfaff launched "Project: Denny's, attempting to visit as many of the chain's 2,500 franchises as possible.

But Reed wants to hit all the Sizzlers — so they're turning to the internet for support. So far "the Fishes" have attracted 38 backers — and three comments. ("Don't forget the menus!") — on the fundraising site Kickstarter. "If our project gets funded on Kickstarter, we're definitely going to try to get it all done before the end of the year," says Reed. ("It would be a mandate," adds Liz.) They've drawn $2025 in pledges, but with just six days left to raise the remaining $10,000 needed.

"But hey — a few weeks ago, if someone had told you 34 people would back The Fishes for almost $1700 (so far) to go photograph every Sizzler in America, would you have believed it?"

I interviewed Liz and Reed Fish about the weirdness, the art, and the secret American passion — and how it all led them on a collision course with a corporation named Sizzler.

10Z: Have you talked to Sizzler?

REED: We have. Essentially, giving them a head's up, because I didn't want them to hear about it from someone else who wasn't me. We had a good conversation — they thought it was a fun idea, and they were excited that it was their brand being promoted. But our strategy is, we're not doing an ad for Sizzler. We don't want to have an adversarial relationship, but we...

LIZ: You're half afraid someone's going to claim offense with it and say, "Okay, I'm going to sue you and prevent you from doing this."

REED: Obviously, this isn't Fast Food Nation! We're not taking a stance about whether Sizzler is good or bad. In a way, it's more of a documentary project.

10Z: "Hi. I'm planning an art installation with photos of all your franchises." So how'd Sizzler react?

REED: The thing is, I'd left a message — I just said what I was doing so they'd call me back, so I didn't get to hear their first response. I didn't get to hear, "You want to do what?!"

And I did most of the talking... I wanted to let them know that we didn't really want them to — we weren't asking them for money. And I think I did say, "But if you want to give us a gift card so that we can have dinner on the road, that'd be great."

10Z: How'd he respond?

REED: He just kind of laughed. And didn't send me a gift card. They thought I was a little crazy.

Honestly, they loved the idea. I think they just thought, "Wow, this is great this guy wants to do this..." And they thought it was funny.

10Z: On your web page, someone demanded "Where's the disclaimer that says this project was underwritten by Sizzlers?" And Reed responded: "Okay, here's the disclaimer: Sizzler is in no way affiliated with this project. That's why we're on Kickstarter trying to raise funds!"

LIZ: I've also had people say, "Why are you putting this on Kickstarter? That's the dummest thing, because you should just have Sizzler pay for this." And it's like, "No. It's an art project, and we want to have control over it. It's not an ad." Its genesis was completely different from anything that Sizzler would create.

REED: And we also — if it was a campaign from Sizzler, we wouldn't be trying to raise money. We'd just be doing it, and trying to get press as we're doing it. The whole trying to raise money — it's just counterintuitive, in a way. Especially considering that we're pretty far from our goal right now. Sizzler can be a tough sell. Especially when you're pitching it as a serious art project.

LIZ: I think we've had a hard time figuring out how to promote, because I think we feel like if we're trying to promote it as an art project, people don't think of it as super-serious, even though we really do. But we're presenting it in sort of a light way to bring people in.

REED: We feel like it's a populist art project.

LIZ: Yeah.

REED: It's not just for the hoity-toity crowd in New York. We love those people, but ...

LIZ: Maybe we're between crowds...

10Z: But how do you really feel about Sizzler?

REED: I swear, when we tell people, for the most part their face lights up. "Oh, I love Sizzler."

LIZ: It's kind of nostalgic.

REED: And at the same time, our friends don't go to Sizzler at this point. It's almost if you — it's almost ironically, if you're in the hipster/L.A. crowd or whatever. It's not something that people go to quite a lot. But it's one of those things — it's actually good.

10Z: I think we're approaching an answer to the biggest question. Why Sizzler?

REED: Because it was Americana. If you say "Sizzler", everyone's like, "Oh, god, I used to love it when I was a kid." Everyone.

It really evokes a reaction to anyone who grew up in the United States... They have a feeling about Sizzler. I believe a lot of the ones that have closed were in places like Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin... What I've heard from people is "Oh, I grew up in Connecticut. There used to be one there, but it's gone."

That's one of the other reasons why we think it's really great. It's kind of emblematic of the change in the culture. It's like your bankruptcies and closings — we've actually, in our travels so far, gone to two Sizzlers that were closed that were on the web site. So we drove over there, and it's kind of like the scene in Vacation where they drive to Walley World and it's closed. We drove from Los Angeles to New York, and the Sizzler was closed.

LIZ: But there were other Sizzlers in New York, and it was okay. And at the same time, we've seen new Sizzlers go up. And the development is different now. They'll be in mall parking lots — there'll be a Home Depot and the anchor store, and then there's the Sizzler.

REED: Sizzler itself is aspirational. It's a very middle class — middle to lower-class chain. Those are the people that go there. And I remember — it was a special occasion to go to Sizzler when you're a kid. It's like, "Oh yeah! We're going to Sizzler." And it's all you can eat, which is — nothing more American than that.

LIZ: Yeah, it's value. I think all those things are very much things that we seek as Americans. It's something that maybe we don't think about being quintessentially American, but I think it represents a lot of things throughout the years that, from the 1950s... It's one of the original chains.

REED: I think there's things that are specifically Sizzler, and also things about it that are just more general, in terms of the way Americans embrace chains and chain restaurants and stores.

10Z: And yet neither of you has childhood memories of Sizzler?

LIZ: But when Reed told me — when we initially talked about this project, I immediately was like, "Yes." I didn't have to explain — because you just get it. Because my family used to go to Shakey's and Pizza Hut, and that for us was a very similar experience. It was a way that a family could go out, and it felt nice. At the time, they used to wait on you. I'm the youngest of nine, so the fact that we could all go out was such a big deal.

REED: I actually had the idea in college, 15 years ago. And I think — like, I don't know if it was our first date...

LIZ: One of our first dates. "What are your dreams? What do you really want out of life?" And Reed said: "I want to photograph all the Sizzlers."

REED: If you tell a girl that, and she smiles and thinks it's great, you pretty much know then that that's who you should be with. It just made so much sense for us to do it together, because I think it's something we both felt a passion for. And it was a great opportunity to do this kind of epic thing together — with your best friend and the person you have trust in and you believe in and trust artistically. It's been fantastic.

10Z: So what's it like photographing Sizzlers?

REED: Sometimes you have to drive for hours, and sometimes it's a few minutes. But invariably we'll be driving up to one and right before we see it, or when we see it, Liz will say something along the lines of: "Now that's a beautiful Sizzler..." Such a genuine excitement from her at seeing the next Sizzler and seeing what it's going to look like.

LIZ: There's definitely a variety of Sizzler styles. And I find a lot of the architecture interesting. I mean, we saw in — where was that? The flat Sizzler. In New York — in Massapequa, there's one Sizzler that it's just — it has a flat roof. It's just a box. When you pull up to it, there was just something about the Sizzler that looks like a box that....

REED: It was the world's saddest Sizzler.

LIZ: And I hate to say that, but ...

REED: But one of them had to be the saddest.

LIZ: And we noticed it had a "For Lease" sign. So once its lease is up, it'll probably be out of there. It was sort of like this weird, sad Sizzler...

And it's also about the neighborhood and the atmosphere.

REED: One of the larger themes about the project is the sameness of the American experience, of how wherever you are in the country, you can eat the same food at the same restaurants and shop at the same stores. That for me was one of the central ideas about it. But then in the execution about it, you go and find that maybe they do serve the same steak, but in different buildings, in different neighborhoods. And all the people who work there bring their own unique experience to the place. So no two are exactly alike.

Sizzlers are like snowflakes.

LIZ: It's true, actually.

REED: And then also, you meet the people there, who are real people, nice people — people just trying to make a living. What I think it has done for me is humanize this chain. Where you were kind of going in thinking this chain is emblematic of the United States and the sameness everywhere — but there's humans behind it, and kind of an endearing human experience. I relish the differences in all of them. And they're not exactly the same.

10Z: So what's the most dangerous Sizzler you've been too?

REED: I think Sizzler is a very non-dangerous place. I think Sizzler, to me, is — like, it's safe. Sizzler is what it is, and it's not necessarily full of exciting stories, but it's beautiful nonetheless.

LIZ: We did take Reed's dad with us and photographed some of the Sizzler's around San Diego... And he was just like, "I just don't understand why anyone would give you money for this." And he kept saying that, over and over. We went to two or three with him, and he just kind of stood around.

REED: Taking your dad to — that's the scariest moment of all. And that's my other favorite quote: "I just don't get why the photographs have to be blurry."

10Z: I know it's a conceptual art project, but why do the photographs have to be blurry?

REED: Well, a few reasons. I think it kind of enhances the beauty of the Sizzlers. And it gives them also a sense of nostalgia. It enhances the feeling you have. You have these kind of memories, and it's a subtle reference to that.

And then the other theme we were talking about, in terms of the sameness of the chains — if you blur it, the actual specificity of the site kind of melts away a little bit, so you don't know if you're looking at the Sizzler in Flagstaff or Barstow or Orlando.

10Z: So what was it like photographing the Sizzler in Barstow?

REED: I have no comment.

I don't know if Barstow is renowned for being the most awesome place in the world — you stop to go to the bathroom on the way from Las Vegas to L.A. — but I believe that the photo we took of the Barstow Sizzler is really beautiful. So there is beauty in these places that we overlook.

10Z: How's photographing in New York City?

LIZ: It was hard to do them all in one day. It felt like an epic day. I mean — I think it's Smithtown. You really feel like you're in a small town, in a way. It's just so much different than, let's say, the Queen's Sizzler in New York.

We really experienced some traffic and that New York driving where — and then we ended up having to go back to Brooklyn and drive across. It was one of those days where it's just like — you can't wait to get out of the car, because it was just such a difficult driving day.

REED: One of the great details is in Orlando. The Sizzlers there... they actually serve breakfast in Orlando! But in Orlando, they really cater to British tourists for breakfast. So you go in there, and it's all these British families in leisure soccer gear hitting the buffet. And in the buffet they have beans and stewed tomatoes and all this British food. And it's really the weirdest, oddest thing.

LIZ: I think a lot of people would say, "Oh, I wouldn't be able to spend that much time with my spouse." Or my girlfriend or boyfriend. It has a lot to do with our relationship... We inspire each other, in a way. And we do want to spend the time together. And it has been a really great experience, for that reason.

REED: And so it's maybe a quest to find the most romantic Sizzler. You get to do it with your best friend and the person you love the most — who gets you the most. I mean, geez, real honestly, does it get better? I don't think so. Photographing Sizzlers with your wife? I mean — wow.

10Z: What's the reaction you're getting to this project?

REED: It runs the gamut from people thinking this is the greatest thing ever to people saying, "You guys are idiots." One guy said, "This is either the most brilliant thing I've ever seen or the stupidest thing I've ever seen." That to me is just about as big a complement as you can give. We're really serious about it, but I kind of like that people maybe don't know if we're serious

10Z: When I first heard about this, I just assumed Sizzler was funding you as a viral marketing campaign (like that stealthy paid placement in a real high school graduation speech for the movie "I Love You, Beth Cooper".) The big question is: How can we be sure Sizzler isn't paying you?

REED: In our video — and this interview — hopefully we come across genuine enough. We had been wondering that, and it's kind of too bad that it's gotten to that point, and that's the first thing that people think. I'd do the same thing — I'd wonder, too.

The fact also is, I'm a really bad liar (both Liz and I are)... The projects we choose may sometimes be wacky, but that doesn't mean we're not serious about them.

10Z: Seriously — it's the culmination of a year's-long dream?

REED: I would say, 15 years.

10Z: Ironically, Sizzler declared bankruptcy during that time, in 1996.

REED: That was a dark day for me. I remember where I was when I heard the news. No, no, I'm just kidding. But it's been a long time coming.

10Z: So how exactly will you pull off this nationwide road trip?

LIZ: We took all of the Sizzlers off the web site, because they do list all the addresses. So we printed that out...

REED: They're all listed on the web site, and then we just went through and Googled all of them and where they are. Because Sizzler doesn't have a map.

LIZ: If there are multiple Sizzlers in a town, we just sort of map them out as we go...

10Z: And then after you've visited a Sizzler, you get to change the color of its pin on Google's map?

REED: It's a great moment — just to get it off your to-do list. Sometimes you want to get to the end of the list. And that will feel good, when we change that last pin's color. That will feel like an accomplishment. That will feel like the culmination of a year's-long dream.

10Z: What about all the Sizzlers in foreign countries? There's 81 Sizzlers outside the U.S. — scattered throughout Australia, Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Singapore.

REED: That would be, I think, the sequel.

The Past Lives of Al Franken

Through 35 years in show business, he left a wake of bizarre sketches. ("Don't worry about your breath and your armpits, Al. It's your personality that stinks...")

Web sites remembered Al Franken's strange past life as a movie and TV comedian when he joined the U.S. Senate last week — in the ultimate weird (or all-American?) triumph. At the age of 25, Franken had started his career playing himself in this parody of a spray-on deodorant commercial in the 1976 movie Tunnel Vision.

"Hi. I'm one of the best-looking guys in town," he explains to a woman in a swimming pool. "Wanna go somewhere and shoot the shit?"

"Where do I meet you with my gun, feeb?" she replies.

One More Saturday Night

Future-Senator Franken even lights up a joint in one rowdy 1986 movie — and sings "I'm gonna get laid! I'm gonna get laid." ("Hey, I can't help it," he explains. "I'm a lesbian trapped inside a man's body.")

In One More Saturday Night, Franken played the singer in a scruffy local band — the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia produced some of the movie's music — and the movie ends with Franken's character taking Percodan and Demerol for a punch in the jaw. ("Idiot could've gotten 20 of those if he'd asked for them," says a bandmember played by Tom Davis — another Saturday Night Live writer who co-authored the movie's script with Franken.)

Their film resembles Fast Times at Ridgemont High, cross-cutting between several interlocking teen-oriented stories. ("Dad, did you ever have sex with any ladies besides Mom?") The widower dad gets busted having sex by the lake, but what's most fascinating is the script's perspective on the state of Minnesota — which would later elect Franken their Senator!

"The state of Minnesota has got more blonde, luscious, genetically pure Swedish women than any place in the world," Davis tells Franken. Al tries to wave Tom off of one hot prospect, saying "She's got kids," but their script supplies Tom with a weird comeback.

"It's okay. They can watch."

But the most scandalous thing about the movie may appear in its closing credits, which thank James R. Thompson, the governor of...Illinois. Franken's movie about a night in a small town in Minnesota was filmed entirely in Illinois, after Minnesota's Film Board deemed its script too obscene, according to Davis's recently-released biography.

He also reveals that this movie was never released on DVD — or even into theatres, after it failed two test screenings in Times Square and Sacramento, California.

Over the Borderline

In March Davis released his tell-all memoir about performing with Al Franken as a comedy team — including a drug stop at the Canadian border. Davis hurtled an incriminating hash pipe into a river — in front of the border police — who then insisted on detaining and strip searching both Davis and Franken, along with their friends. (One friend suggested next time, he'd hide a folded note for the officer between his butt checks.) But when the police tried to intimidate the future Senator, telling him privately that his partner had already confessed to everything, Franken daringly improvised the perfect response.

"We didn't mean to kill that Indian! It was an accident!"

There's also a 1983 visit to Jamaica, in which Franken spends an hour teaching a native how to play Frisbee, "before he finally figured out she was a hooker." But Davis's book also reveals the two most disturbing facts about the man from Minnesota. Franken's wife, Franni, was once Pauly Shore's baby sitter.

And Franken's mouth is so large, he can cram his entire fist into it.

Washington Whispers

Franken loves to tell the story about challenging future-President Ronald Reagan with a question about decriminalizing marijuana. (In 2004 Bill Clinton, at a book signing, greeted Franken by saying "My hero's here.") Franken recaps the incident in his book Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot. But in 1999, for his second book, Franken described making a (fictitious) run for a seat in Washington — the Presidency — just 10 years before his actual swearing in as a Senator.

"As you know, I have not been elected president," Franken explains patiently to the Supreme Court's Chief Justice, William Rehnquist, in a fake letter which opens Why Not Me, adding "and I have no plans to run for office — local, regional, or national." (Franken then asks Rehnquist if he'd appear on the book's cover...and if he'd travel to New York for the photo shoot — by train, during off-peak hours, to reduce Franken's expenses.)

And the book also includes a campaign speech where Franken promises no major scandals during his administration. But "I'm not saying there will be no scandals whatsoever. No candidate can honestly make that pledge."

Unfortunately, his fictitious administration unravels after the release of an all-too-honest campaign diary. ("May 6... Splurged on hooker.")

The book's election might've gone differently if voters had paid more attention to Franken's campaign biography, The Courage to Dare, which chronicled his experience with entrepreneurial success in college: founding the Fabulous Freaky Freakout Company, along with its subsidiary, the Smoking Doobie Banana Brothers, Ltd.

I Fought the Law

It was the strangest omen of all, when the media and political worlds began merging right before America's eyes.

In 1998, Franken starred in a short-lived NBC sitcom called LateLine. But now real politicians were drawn into Franken's bizarre TV world, and its 19 episodes included cameos by three U.S. Senators — Paul Simon, John Kerry, and Alan Simpson — while the show's fake Senator, "Crowl Pickens", was played by Saturday Night Live's Dana Carvey.

Just eight years later, Franken announced his own candidacy for the U.S. Senate — and he's now working with John Kerry.

The studio's atmosphere was surreal. "Next door was Sesame Street," one of the directors remembers on his blog, "and it was not uncommon to see guys walking down the hall with Muppets on one hand and cigarettes in the other." But the puppets would also share the hall with other misplaced guests from Washington, including Congressmen Dick Gephardt and Pat Schroeder.

There were visits from former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, plus one-time Clinton administration officials like Joycelyn Elders and Robert Reich. The Muppets might also spot real-life political pundits like John McLaughlin, Pat Buchanan, and William F. Buckley dropping by. And the show even had parts for Allison Janney and Martin Sheen — the future stars of The West Wing.

Franken's show would mock journalists — he played a late-night TV correspondent — but ironically, in this episode, the future lawmaker would get pulled over by a cop.

And his night's about to get a lot worse....

Monday Night Live

"I take this oath very seriously," Franken said last week from the Senate Judiciary Committee, as he prepared to question Sonia Sotomayor over her nomination to the Supreme Court. "I may not be a lawyer, but neither are the overwhelming majority of Americans. Yet all of us, regardless of our backgrounds and professions, have a huge stake in who sits on the Supreme Court."

But while he'd later ask many questions — about privacy, internet access, and the right to an abortion — Franken's long strange trip came full circle when he'd eventually grill the future Justice over a TV-related question.

What was the one case that Perry Mason lost?

"Like you, I watched it all of the time," Sonia Sotomayor admitted, though she was unable to cite the fictitious case's title.

"Our whole family watched it," Franken remembers warmly, in one last nod to his television past. "And because there was no internet at the time, you and I were watching it at the same time."

"Is the Senator from Minnesota...going to tell us which episode that was?" demands Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, giving Franken a chance to make one last oddball joke before launching his six-year term.

"I don't know!" Franken replies.

"That's why I was asking!"

See Also:
The Great Wired Drug Non-Controversy
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
Lost 'Horrors' Ending Found on YouTube
Five Freaky Muppet Videos

Transhumanist Salvation or Judgment Day?

We're starting to brush up against real robots, real nanotech, and maybe even the first real artificial intelligence. But will emerging technologies destroy humankind — or will humankind be saved by an emerging transhumanism?

And which answer is more liberating?

If anybody knows, it's R.U. Sirius. The former editor in chief at Mondo 2000 (and a Timothy Leary expert) has teamed up with "Better Humans LLC." They're producing a new transhumanist magazine called h+. (And R.U. is also one of the head monkeys at 10 Zen Monkeys.) But can he answer this ultimate question? Terminator Salvation played with questions about where technology ends and humanity begins.

But what will we do when we're confronting the same questions in real life?

10 Zen Monkeys: Isn't this whole idea of real transhumanism kind of scary?

RU SIRIUS: Everything's scary. Human beings weren't born to be wild so much as we were born to be scared, starting on a savanna in Africa as hunter-gatherers watching out for lions and tigers and bears (oh my... Okay, maybe just lions), subjected to the random cruelties of a Darwinian planet. I would say that the transhumanist project is probably an attempt to use human ingenuity to make living in this situation as not scary as possible, and in some theories, to actually change the situation, to create a post-Darwinian era.

Of course, that — in itself — is scary. Our favorite narratives — our favorite movies and stories and comics tend to involve humans being altered by our own technologies to dramatically bad ends. Most of those stories are silly in the particular, but the broader fear of unintended consequences or the use of advanced technologies by intentionally destructive people isn't silly.

For instance, we explored the very rapid development of robotic technologies for warfare during the web site's Terminator Week. That's viscerally scary. Logically it can also mean less civilian casualties, less harm to soldiers, and so on. And on the other hand, it can also mean less hesitation to use violence against others, or a possibly objectionable system of total control in which revolution is permanently rendered impossible. And on the other hand... I can do the "on the one hand and on the other hand" until the Singularity or at least until the Mayan apocalypse of 2012.

But seriously, what really scares the crap out of me is that we might not make radical technological problem-solving breakthroughs — that we might stop, or that the technologies might fall short of their promises. What scares me is the idea of a 6 billion-strong species finding itself with diminishing hopes, resource scarcities, insoluble deadly pandemics, and global depression based on the delusions of abstract capital flow resulting in increases in violence and suffering and territoriality and xenophobia.

10Z: But how does transhumanism resolve these problems? How does a bunch of rich people living longer solve any of this?

RU: Let's take this one at a time. The technological paradigm that has grown out of transhumanist or radical technological progressive circles that I'm most fond of is NBIC. Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno. The promise of nanotechnology — which has become much more tangible just in the last few months (thanks to developments we recently covered on our site) — is basic control over the structure of matter. This should eventually solve most of our scarcity problems, with the possible exception of physical space. (And there are ways we might deal with that, but I'm trying to keep it short.)

Nanotechnology, of course, has enormous potentials in terms of health as does biotechnology. People can find these details just about anywhere so I won't go into it. Anyway, sickness is perhaps our greatest source of misery and our greatest resource sink... particularly if you contrast sickness not just with the absence of disease but with the possibilities of maintaining a high level of vitality.

Then... information technology allows us to organize the data for distributed problem solving and — to a great degree — democratizes it. (More eyes and more brains on the problem, working with and through more intelligent machines.) IT is at the heart of all the breakthroughs and potential breakthroughs in nano and bio — and all this is leaving aside the further out projections of hyper-intelligent AIs.

You know, getting back to what's scary, I agree with Vernor Vinge that the greatest existential threat is still nuclear warfare. But next in line is the possibility of a major plague... a rapidly spreading pandemic. And already we can see that the tools for dealing with that come down to intelligent systems and biotech. There's biotech medical solutions using intelligent systems married to global mapping and communications and organized distribution. Human behavior has a role too, of course... but not as much as romantics might wish.

Which perhaps brings us to cogno — getting control and better use out of the brain for greater intelligence, greater happiness, less misery... hell, maybe even cheaper thrills! Why not? A lot of our problems are self-created... or they're created by particularly unstable or irrational people. As a veteran of the psychedelic culture, the potentials and problems of cognition are a particular area of fascination for me — and also as a nonconformist who is suspicious of the tendency of society to be hostile towards what we might call creative madness. So I do have some ambiguities, but it's just a huge area of intrigue as far as I'm concerned.

Now, all of this is just the prosaic stuff, without imagining Singularities, or say hyperintelligent humans who aren't needy... happily living on converted urine and nutrient pills while entertaining one and other in ever-complexifying virtual spaces. Lots of energy savings there, Bubb.

10Z: President Obama is reconstituting his bio-ethics panel. Just how high are the stakes, in the here and now, regarding U.S. political policy governing future research?

RU: You know, I think the bioconservatives who dominated Bush's bio-ethics panel and opposed stem cell research were just pissing in the wind... but that stuff can hit you in the face. Really though, I think that the discourse in opposition to embryonic stem cells will some day be seen as every bit as absurd as Monty Python's "every sperm is sacred."

More broadly, I don't think the stakes are very high because I don't think you can get the federal government today to be terribly functional... and I'm not a knee-jerk anti-government guy at the level of economics or investment in research. I just think there's a certain all-American "can't do" thing going on there and there's no effective strategy for changing it.

Sometimes I think that the people who really control America — the corporate oligarchs and finance kleptocrats, the national security apparatus and so forth — realize that the Titanic has already hit the iceberg. And laughing up their sleeves they said, "Quick! Put that charismatic black guy behind the wheel!"

10Z: I'm surprised to hear that you're not a knee-jerk anti-government sort of guy. I read that you were an anarchist.

RU: I've read that too. I have an anarchistic streak, but I can't even begin to believe in it. I do think that being an anarchist is an excellent choice though, because it's never going to be tried by any large group on a highly populated planet with advanced technology. So you never have to witness or experience the consequences of your belief system being enacted. It will remain forever romantic.

On the whole, though... I should try to be diplomatic. Let's just say that anarchists and pure libertarians are the most anti-authoritarian, and I like to be anti-authoritarian. It would be more convenient and more consistent to believe, but I don't think ideologies work in the real world.

10Z: Let's get back to those ambiguities you mentioned. That seems like a rare trait in the community represented by h+ magazine.

RU: Hardly. But I'm probably more richly ambiguous than most other human beings. My only ideology is uncertainty. Although you'll see it if you explore transhumanist-oriented discussion groups and blogs like Michael Anissimov's Accelerating Future or the writings of Nick Bostrom ad infinitum. They're rife with complexity and argumentation, and concern about existential threats, inequalities in the distribution of positive results from scientific achievement, and on and on. The reality is there's a rich and varied discourse within the techno-progressive movement just as there is between the progressives and the bio-conservatives.

10Z: It's hard to see where longevity and immortality fits into your vision of social responsibility.

RU: First of all, I emphasized problem solving to respond to your question about fear. And in essence my answer was I'm more afraid of standing still or going backwards than I am of moving forward. But man... and woman... cannot live by social responsibility alone. (We don't go around now asking people to die so we can spare resources or whatever.)

And I think that our humor columnist Joe Quirk had the best response to people who are against hyper-longevity... holy crap! These people want me to die!

Can we allow people to be the owners and operators of their own experiences and decide for themselves how to answer the Shakespearian question — to be or not to be? I think it's doable. There's a very substantive discussion from Ramez Naam in our first issue about why hyper-longevity should not create big resource problems. It has to do with demographics and the tendencies of educated, comfortable people to make less kids, and a fairly high percentage of inevitable deaths even if we cure aging and most illnesses.

10Z: But won't this exacerbate already extreme class distinctions? Won't we have a wealthy race of immortals and then everybody else?

RU: That's plausible, but very unlikely. And it always surprises me that that's the first thing you usually hear, since a great portion of the human species already has access to universal health care. Even left to the market, the investment that's being made in this should eventually lead to a need to sell to a large consumer market. In our first issue, we have a chart that shows billionaires who are investing in revolutionary science projects... and a few of them are investing in longevity. Well, they're going to want to take their product to market and get a big consumer share. John Sperling isn't going to be sitting in some mountain retreat rubbing his hands together and saying, "Foolish mortals, I shall use this only for myself and my beautiful blonde cyborg bride Britney!" That's the movie version, not the reality.

The reality is actually sort of comical — the wealthy are the early adapters of new technologies, but those new technologies usually don't work very well at first... they tend to fuck up. Now, I think you can imagine that as a potential movie that can satisfy everybody's need for schadenfreude.

10Z: Francis Fukuyama wrote some critiques of the transhumanist vision. In one essay he writes: "Modifying any one of our key characteristics inevitably entails modifying a complex, interlinked package of traits, and we will never be able to anticipate the ultimate outcome." How would you respond?

RU: This gets us to the cover story on so-called designer babies in the current Summer Edition of h+ magazine. There's hugely intriguing and potentially controversial issues about enhancement in this edition. And that's not only around parents pre-selecting traits for their children, but there's also a portrait of Andy Miah in the issue. He's a British professor who — for all intents and purposes — is pro-sports doping.

Before I go into this, I want to take a bit of a detour. When I wake up in the morning and start working on h+, I'm not thinking "How can I spread propaganda for the glories of transhumanism?" or anything like that. I'm thinking: "How can I do a totally cool-ass website and magazine with the transhumanist idea and sensibility at the center of it." That's my charge, and I'm approaching it as a craftsman. So I'm looking at this first as a magazine writer and editor — I want it to be accessible, exciting and fun, and I want it to look great. I want it to ride along the boundary between being a pro-transhumanist magazine and being more of a balanced and very hip generalist geek culture magazine. That, for me, is the sweet spot in this, and I think, along with other contributors, we've pretty much nailed it.

So I'm first of all an editor and writer. And secondly, I'm a curious editor and writer. This isn't necessarily all good or all bad. It's interesting. And that's how I'd hope and expect most readers would approach it.

And there's one more thing coming in a very distant third. In the context of an overarching commitment to my philosophy of uncertainty — or meta-agnosticism — I'm an advocate of the radical technological vision. I've thought long and hard about politics — and about consciousness unassisted by radical technology — and I've concluded that radical technology is the only bet that has a chance of winning not just a sufferable but a generally positive and enjoyable human future. But I'm not a stoical defender of the cause or anything like that.

So what Fukuyama proposes is interesting — that altering a few alleles to create some characteristics could iterate into monstrous or unhappy consequences further down the road. And I think that the general consensus among geneticists is that this is very unlikely with the small kinds of changes that are being discussed now (for example, selections of eye and hair color). Beyond that point, I say... let the arguments rage on! One of the assumptions among advocates is that by the time we're able to make significant incursions into germ line engineering (to affect people's intelligence or make them more or less aggressive or sexier or whatever), we'll have significantly advanced measurement and predictive tools...plus, a really good understanding of what we're doing.

And there's another argument: we change stuff all the time in the "natural" evolution of human beings — and we reap both positive and negative consequences. But generally we gain more than we lose by proceeding with technological advances. There's this idea called the "proactionary principle" which came from Max More, one of the originators of transhumanism. He basically argues that we measure the potential negative consequences of a technology, but we also need to measure the negative consequences of not developing a technology. What do we lose by its absence?

Anyway, I sort of want to punt — in the specific — on the issue around choosing traits for babies. I prefer to acknowledge that it's a controversial area, but I'm excited to present the articles that are favorable towards these activities and hope they generate lots of interest and discussion.

10Z: Before I let you go, let me ask you about the politics of h+ magazine and the transhumanist movement. Ronald Bailey, who writes for the libertarian magazine Reason, criticized another transhumanist — James Hughes — who apparently advocates democratic socialism. Where do you come down on all this, and what are the politics of h+?

RU: First of all, the magazine has no explicit politics. Having said that, I think we have an implicit politic that both Ron Bailey and James Hughes agree with. It's the idea that human beings have a right to a high degree of autonomy over their minds and bodies, and that the trend towards transhuman technologies makes those rights all the more important and poignant. So human beings would have the right not just to choose their sexual preferences, or to control their birth processes, or as consenting adults to take whatever substances they like, or to eat what they like. We would also have the right to control and change our biologies, to self-enhance, to alter our bodies through surgery and on and on. So let me be oh-so-diplomatic, by emphasizing our points of agreement.

I'll give a bit of my own perspective in terms of the great late second millennium debate that puts an unfettered market at one end of the spectrum and communism at the other end of the spectrum; that puts competition on one end of the spectrum and cooperation at the other end; that puts decentralization at one of the spectrum and centralization on the other end of the spectrum. I'd have to say I'm horribly centrist. I'm dead center. It's not a mainstream centrism, but without going into a long explication, I'm almost embarrassingly moderate.

But while I think these arguments are still lively and vital today — and I have my own cheers and jeers over each day's political issues — from a near-futurist transhumanist perspective, the debate seems really tired. For about a decade I've been arguing that the future I see emerging is witnessed by the open source culture, Wikipedia, and file sharing. And in another decade or two the dominant economic mode will not be the market or socialism or the mixed economy that we actually have pretty much everywhere — it will be voluntary collaboration. And yes, that's kind of an anarchist view... but I'm saying it will become the dominant mode, not the only mode. (The market and the state will continue to be factors.) I hear Kevin Kelly just figured this out. :)... although his use of loaded words like socialism and collectivism are somewhat unfortunate.

People sometimes wonder how wealth will get distributed in a future economy that will likely require close to 0% human participation and that still presumably requires people to hustle themselves up some proof of value. But I think there's a good chance that an advanced "file-sharing" culture hooked up to advanced production nanotechnology will render the question moot.

Free lunch for everybody!

See Also:
Latest issue of h+ magazine
Read the first issue
R.U. Sirius on "Terminator/Robot Week"
"Is the Future Cancelled?" Spring 2009 Edition
HPlus Magazine's main site
R.U. Sirius's editor's blog

‘How I Sued a Craigslist Sex Troll’

It's been nearly three years, but one victim has finally successfully sued an infamous Craigslist prankster who published the private emails received in response to a fake sex ad.

Now for the first time, the court's "John Doe" has agreed to tell his own side of the story. "The message is in the fact that a lawsuit is indeed possible based on privacy issues," says the victim, "and those considering similar behavior as Fortuny are advised to consider that fact."

In September of 2006, Jason Fortuny posted a personal ad on Craigslist pretending to be a woman seeking kinky sex — and then published sexy pictures and complete emails he received, including any names and phone numbers, from over 150 men. "[T]he chorus of blog posts saying 'someone ought to sue him' gave me some satisfaction to being able to do just that," says Doe, "on behalf of those who wished for justice in this matter."

"IT IS HEREBY ORDERED AND ADJUDGED," wrote Judge Joan B. Gottschall 30 months later — handing down $74,252.56 in legal fines to Fortuny. Three law firm associates had spent 129.2 hours (at $175 per hour) litigating his 2006 Craigslist prank, plus another 35 hours by the main attorney billed at $275 per hour. As part of the judge's award, Fortuny will have to pay all their legal fees — a total of $32,365.50 — and he'll even end up paying the extra costs accrued because he avoided their process servers.

"I hope that it demonstrates that claims (and attorneys) do exist that enable victims to pursue those who commit wrongful acts," says the victim's lawyer, Charles Mudd.

Jason Fortuny
"Whenever I questioned 'why bother doing this', I just re-read the posts where Fortuny was taunting the victims who begged him to remove their information," says victim John Doe, "and that renewed my resolve." In the end, Fortuny's stubbornness is what led them to court. "He publicly demonstrated his unwillingness to negotiate with others, so I knew that only a hardball response would be effective and that direct contact with him would be a waste of time and tip him off to my plans."

Ironically, Fortuny was only fined $5,000 for "public disclosure of private facts" and "intrusion upon seclusion." The remaining bulk of the award — $35,001 — was for violating the plaintiff's copyright. "The Copyright Act provides for statutory damages from $750 to $35,000 per infringed work," says Mudd, but those damages "can exceed $35,000 up to an amount of $150,000 per infringed work where the conduct was willful." This means that ultimately, it was Fortuny's own "willful" conduct that increased the price he'd eventually have to pay, Mudd argues. "In general, Mr. Fortuny could have limited the amount of damages under the Copyright Act and could have significantly reduced the amount of attorney's fees throughout the course of this matter.

"He chose not to do so."

Judgment Day

Fortuny initially argued that the suit against him was "abusing the intent of copyright law, stretching the common law terms of privacy, using unverified e-mail as alternative process, and side stepping personal jurisdiction." Last summer Fortuny wrote an eight-page letter informing the judge that "I do not have the resources for legal proceedings in another state, much less the exorbitant attorney fees for a Federal copyright case." But John Doe's lawyer points out that Fortuny didn't have to appear in person, and seemed genuinely surprised by the lackluster fight that Fortuny put up.

Judge Gottschall rejected Fortuny's only other response — a "motion to dismiss" — writing that "It appears that the defendant filed the documents in the wrong courthouse." (The court's rules also required a "notice of service" which Fortuny failed to provide.) By the time Fortuny's motion reached the right court, Judge Gottschall had already entered a default judgment against him. "My firm and the Plaintiff provided Fortuny every opportunity to vacate the default," says attorney Mudd, but after several months with no response, the case had moved forward.

"The foregoing being said, I would have welcomed the opportunity to address the claims on the merits."

Fortuny's victim acknowledges that "The judge's verdict was just a formality based on the rules. Fortuny lost this on procedural grounds." But there's still a lesson in his legal experience...

Fortuny's prank became a symbol for unapologetic online "griefing," and last August, the New York Times wrote Fortuny "might be the closest thing this movement of anonymous provocateurs has to a spokesman." Fortuny told the Times he knew two victims had lost their jobs over his prank. "Am I the bad guy?" Fortuny asked rhetorically in the interview. "Am I the big horrible person who shattered someone’s life with some information? No! This is life. Welcome to life. Everyone goes through it. I’ve been through horrible stuff, too."

A Seattle newscast reported one man responded with a picture
exposing himself in his cubicle where he worked — Microsoft —
adding "That man got fired."

But John Doe was determined to fight back.

The Victim's Story

On that day in 2006, Doe was alerted to his sexy picture being published online — first via an anonymous tip-off, and then helpful pointers from two of his friends, according to documents filed in the case. He'd quickly deleted his photo from the Wiki-like page at Encyclopedia Dramatica — only to see it re-appearing there later (and with future deletions disabled). "Through legal counsel, Plaintiff requested that Encyclopedia Dramatica remove Plaintiff's Private Response, Copyrighted Photograph and personal email address from the Fortuny Experiment," reads the case filing.

It adds that Encyclopedia Dramatica complied with Plaintiff's request, but then Jason Fortuny himself grabbed the picture, and re-published it on his own site. It was then that the angry victim sent Fortuny a DMCA notice, arguing that the photograph was copyrighted.

"I initially sought to protect my privacy and leave it at that," Doe told us this week. "Fortuny opposed my actions to remove my personal information, and so I was left with no choice but to take additional legal action against him."

One internet rumor says the plaintiff must've luckily had a friend who was a lawyer, but that's not true, says Doe's attorney. "Neither I nor anyone at my firm knew of or communicated with the Plaintiff prior to the Craigslist Experiment." But he adds that "The case was well researched and on solid legal footing, and we had every reason to expect a favorable ruling on merit."

Fortuny's prank may have struck 149 other victims, but John Doe was different. "I had the personal resources and was at liberty to risk additional publicity," Doe says, "unlike apparently all the other victims. Fortuny miscalculated in that regard as he assumed no one could either afford the legal costs nor take the personal risk to oppose him.

"This was a miscalculation that was perhaps not clear to him until a long time after I began the process."

Doe's photo was removed — temporarily — but by the end of the month, the photo was back on Fortuny's site yet again, along with the text of the original sexy email message. Fortuny had filed a counter-notification disputing the copyrighted status of the photo. "The counter notification basically says 'you're a liar liar pants on fire'," Fortuny explained on his blog, "and adds that if you don't respond within 14 days, I get to put my shit back up."

The incident occurred back in September of 2006, and the first summons to Fortuny was issued 18 months later — over a year ago, in February of 2008. "For personal reasons I let some time pass before pulling the trigger on the lawsuit," the victim says, and even then it took more than four months before the executed summons was finally returned. "We had advised Fortuny that we reserved the right to take this up again at our convenience, and I suppose he mistook that for a bluff." The lawsuit acknowledged that after nearly two years, the photo and email were still displayed on Fortuny's site.

And to this day, nearly 100 of the original photos, remain online at Encyclopedia Dramatica. (Caution: link is not safe for work.)

This wasn't Fortuny's first brush with the courts. One of our readers contacted us with a list of Fortuny's other past legal skirmishes — including three municipal court citations for "no driver's license on person" in 1999, 2001, and 2002, as well as a 2004 citation for driving without proof of insurance. But looking at the judge's decision today, Doe sees a larger message. "Beyond the goal of protecting my own privacy, there was a broader 'civic' aspect to this case," he notes, "which was motivating for me and of particular note motivating for my attorney. Fortuny maliciously harmed a lot of people by his actions, and he made the point of bragging about how he was toying with the efforts of those who attempted to deal with him directly.

"It was sad to watch this happen, and it furthered my resolve to act as the 'adult on the playground' and respond to this bully on behalf of all his victims in spirit anyway."

But there's another lesson in the incident — and ironically, it comes from the Craigslist sex troll himself — via the lawyer who prosecuted the case against him. "I believe Fortuny himself sent the message for users of the Internet through the Craigslist Experiment — beware what you read online," says Charles Mudd, "and think several times before communicating personal information through electronic mail to anyone.

"Especially someone you have never met."

See Also:
20 Funniest Reactions to the Fortuny Verdict
Jason Fortuny Responds to Lawsuit
Jason Fortuny Speaks
Craigslist Sex Troll Gets Sued
The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny
Good Griefers: Fortuny v. Crook
In the Company of Jerkoffs

20 Funniest Reactions to the Jason Fortuny Verdict

His blog at RFJason.com disappeared, and one anonymous Livejournal comment claims that "he hasn't made contact with anyone for weeks. Even his accomplices don't know what's going on." (Though his personal blog at LiveJournal is still up — with its old tagline "Getting away with everything you can only dream of.")

But now that a judge ordered Jason Fortuny to pay $74,252.56 in various legal fines —what's the internet's final verdict? Was Fortuny's Craigslist prank instructive, malicious — or a little bit of both?

Here's the 20 funniest reactions.


"Why do I hear Aretha singing 'Dancin in the streets'? ;-) Honestly this should be declared an international holiday or something."

      — Livejournal blogger Mrs-Ralph


"trolls are getting sued now? what is the world coming to"

      — Livejournal user Kassichu


"This is what happens when you don't put out like you imply you will."

      — Livejournal user Demure


"I love when reality collides with LiveJournal. It's like a super nova exploding."

      — Livejournal user Katastrophic


"Don't worry about lawsuits. They won't happen."

      — Jason Fortuny, October, 2006


"If he was a TRULY great troll, he would have done it all anonymously. As it is, he's pretty much in the same position as those dudes who sent him pics... ...consequences got back to him. That's life."

      — Livejournal user Yhanthlei


"Well, it's not like the plaintiff won on the merits of the case, if that makes you feel better. He only won because the troll didn't show up to some meetings. Happens all the time in civil court."

      — Livejournal user Nandexdame


"A legal 'appearance' does not mean that Fortuny had to physically appear in Court initially. Rather, he had to properly file the appropriate documents in the correct court.

"Mr. Fortuny failed to do so."

      — Charles Mudd, the lawyer in the successful lawsuit


"If you are 13 or older you should expect naked explicit pictures of your ass to show up on the internet. this is 2009 America, after all."

      — A possibly-sarcastic commenter responding to Dan Savage


"i'm going to send nude pics of myself to an anonymous ad on craigslist what could possibly go wrong."

      — Livejournal user Kassichu


"It's like a stupidity contest, except the winner gets to pay ~$75k."

      — Livejournal user Derumi


"You don't have to feel sorry for him to recognize that the law is on his side here. Fortuny behaved wrongfully, and now he's suffering the consequences."

      — Magicgospelman


"Let's hug."

      — Livejournal user Girlvinyl


"The amount seems a high and random but really 'I did it for the lulz' shouldn't be a valid reason for fucking with someones life. I kind of wonder if there would have been a difference reaction if the guy had targeted a different group [than] male doms."

      — Livejournal user Muilti-factedg


"I take it back. You might get sued if you do a Craigslist Experiment..."

      —Jason Fortuny on his blog last summer


1. Trolls being sued is ridiculous
2. That doesn't make this any less funny

      — Livejournal user Layiliyal


"Contrary to what some people here want to believe, the Internet is not a lawless libertarian wonderland where you can do whatever the fuck you want without legal consequences. ....If you do these things with the goal of fucking with people, you shouldn't be surprised when they fight back."

      — Livejournal user Magicgospelman


"Can you blame him?"
"Not really."

      — Jason Fortuny
         responding to a TV news interviewer last summer.

See Also:
How I Sued a Craigslist Sex Troll
Jason Fortuny Responds to Lawsuit
Jason Fortuny Speaks
Craigslist Sex Troll Gets Sued
The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny
Good Griefers: Fortuny v. Crook
In the Company of Jerkoffs

Researcher Finds Bad Sex Information Online

There's a problem with sexual information from the top medical web sites.

It's wrong.

"Even widely trusted sites like WebMD are not that accurate when it comes to adolescent reproductive health," says Dr. Sophia Yen, a Stanford University Med School instructor in Adolescent Medicine. She conducted an online review last summer and concluded many of the web sites weren't just incomplete — they were often wrong, wrong, wrong.

For example, weight gain isn't a side effect of birth control pills — but 60% of the reviewed sites claimed that it was. (And three sites even claimed, incorrectly, that IUDs should only be used by women who had already had children.) In fact, 40% of the web sites actually contradicted the guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists on PAP exams, mistakenly recommending the tests every time women change sexual partners or as soon as they turn 18. "Extra Pap exams are an unnecessary stress and expense, and a barrier to getting birth control," Yen says — since some teenagers may postpone birth control if they mistakenly believe it will first require a Pap exam.

With undergraduate researcher Alisha Tolani, Yen reported her results in March to the annual meeting of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, concluding that web sites "don't always incorporate changes to policy or to clinical recommendations that have occurred within the past five years." Between July and August, Yen's team performed a detailed assessment of the sexual health information online, a process she describes in an online video. "We did a Google search for phrases such as birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, emergency contraception, and IUDs, and looked at which web sites were the top 10 to 15 that came up on each of these topics." They cross-checked their list against Alexa's reports of U.S.-based traffic — but were still disappointed by the information they discovered. For example, "about half of the Web sites, including such highly trafficked destinations as Wikipedia and Mayoclinic.com, failed to provide accurate, complete information about emergency contraception," according to the study announcement by Stanford's School of Medicine.

Emergency contraception has been available over-the-counter since 2006 for people over 18, but 29% of the web sites Yen checked failed to mention this fact. She discovered 16 of the 34 sites correctly stated this information, but then failed to mention that in nine states it's also available over-the-counter without any age restrictions. And Yen also faults 10 of the 34 sites for failing to correct a common misconception — that emergency contraception is identical to the RU-486 abortion pill.

Stanford Researcher Sophia Yen
And it's not just teenagers that misunderstand the information. Yen cites one study which determined that 45% of newspapers confused emergency contraception (which prevents pregnancy from occurring) with RU-486, a pill which triggers an abortion after pregnancy occurs. Possibly because of this, 31% of teenagers now wrongly believe that emergency contraception induces an abortion, according to studies cited by Yen — while another 35% of adolescents have never even heard of emergency contraception.

And Yen found that many web sites also failed to include the latest guidelines from the World Health Organization about Plan B emergency contraception. (The group recommends that the pills be taken as soon as possible after sex, adding that the latest they can be effective is five days after intercourse.)

Yen's interest stems from her work as a pediatrics instructor at Stanford's medical school, and as a specialist in adolescent medicine at the Lucille Packard Children's Hospital. In fact, the hospital's chief of adolescent medicine added a statement to the announcement. "Making the transition between childhood and adulthood can be tough on teenagers," said Neville Golden, MD, noting that teenagers have many questions about sexual health. "That's why Dr. Yen's research is so important.

"She has demonstrated that there is a tremendous amount of misinformation on the Web."

But do adolescents get their sex information the web? Yes. Yen cites two studies by the PEW research center plus a 2003 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which determined that approximately 25% of teens acquire "some or a lot" of their sexual health information from the internet.

And though more than half of teenagers mistakenly thought they were immune to herpes if they were only kissing, this wasn't addressed by 69% of the web sites studied. (Only nine of 29 pages about STDs explained that herpes could be transmitted through kissing.) It's just one more example of ways health sites are failing their teenaged readers. "No studies have investigated the extent to which these myths exist and are perpetuated on the internet," Yen argues in her findings, adding that in the last five years, "several notable changes to policy and clinical recommendations have occurred."

Yen recommends that teenagers see a physician who specializes in adolescent medicine, and seek web sites reviewed by similar specialists (like the web sites associated with academic medical centers). She recommends Go Ask Alice, a question-and-answer service from Columbia University, the Center for Young Women's Health by the Children's Hospital Boston, TeensHealth by KidsHealth.org, and Planned Parenthood's Teen Wire. And she also recommends the book Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Ultimately, she suggests web sites "should consider more frequent reviews by health practitioners to contain accurate information consistent with such changes." She also has some advice for doctors — "be aware of myths on 'reputable health websites' and actively debunk them in clinical settings." And finally, she has some advice for teenagers.

"Be cautious about finding sexual health answers on the Web."

See Also:
Top Six Inaccurate Sex Facts on the Web
The D.C. Madam Speaks
Sex Expert Susie Bright Lets It All Out

Top Six Inaccurate Sex Facts on the Web

Dr. Sophia Yen, a Stanford University Medical School instructor, believes the following six medical facts about sex are the ones most often overlooked or reported incorrectly by medical sites on the web.

1. Emergency Contraception is available over the counter.
In most states that's for women over the age of 18, but by early May of 2009, that age will drop to 17. And in nine states, it's already available without any age restrictions.

New Hampshire
New Mexico

2. Emergency contraception doesn't cause an abortion.
It's not RU-486 — it's a way to prevent pregnancy from occurring.

3. IUDS are safe for adolescents

4. Birth control pills won't make you gain weight.
"You know, maybe one in a thousand may gain weight," says Dr. Yen, but in general the research shows people do not gain weight on birth control pills."

5. PAP smears aren't necessary until women turn 21.
Or until three years after women become sexually active. (Unless they're HIV-positive or have a suppressed immune system.)

6. Herpes can be transmitted by kissing.

Click here for our article about the study

Will ‘The Hunt for Gollum’ Satisfy True Fans?

The Hunt for Gollum

Hardcore Lord of the Rings nerds will get a little somethin'-somethin' on Sunday to help them through the Middle Earth drought until Jackson's production of The Hobbit is released.

But let's be real. This internet-only production isn't a "fan film." Rather, it's a vehicle for a crew of young, talented Hollywood wannabes to break into the industry by showing their chops.

It's true, the flick could end up being as badly-written and poorly-acted as your average fan film, but it's not likely. And in any case, the production values completely deprive the audience the pleasure of audio-visual comic fail should it turn out to be otherwise unwatchable. The trailer proves that.

There is further evidence that this is a professional endeavor, not an amateur one.

The lead actor who plays Aragorn, Adrien Webster (who claims to be a devout "fan," as do all of the 150 volunteer crew-members) was pressed to provide some nerd credentials so that the audience didn't feel it was being exploited.

"I don't think we're exploiting anything," said Webster. "I'm actually Viggo Mortenson's evil twin."

But, while we have no doubt that the guy makes a convincing Ranger, what could he offer in the way of story details from the LOTR appendices that the plot's allegedly drawn from — something to indicate a real depth of love for the mythology that would show he's anything more than a casual cinema-goer like so many "fans"? Not much. (He couldn't even give us a good nerd joke from on-set.)

"I think it does follow more closely to the books in terms of timeline," Webster said. "The movie deals with Aragorn's search for Gollum after Gandalf has charged him with this task. It allows us to show more of Aragorn the Ranger."

Well, yeah, but we read that on the movie's website, dude.

From an interview with the film's writer-director, Chris Bouchard:
It's all written in the appendices of the books, where he tells of what Aragorn and Gollum got up to before the trilogy began. Last May I took elements from that story and didn't even have to fill in many gaps before I had a 25-page script. It worked like a short episode — an additional chapter of the Peter Jackson trilogy... Above all I was so inspired by Peter Jackson's trilogy. And jealous that he got to make it first! I loved the scale, the quality, the epic scope of it all and figured, hey, maybe we can do that too.

The filmmakers do seem unaware that the chapter in Fellowship of the Ring titled, "The Council of Elrond," includes Gandalf's report to the Council regarding Gollum — his capture, imprisonment, and escape from the elves of Mirkwood.

"Hunt" film editor Lewis Albrow claims in his bio on the crew page that he read The Hobbit when he was seven and LOTR when he was 11, but then — what's this? — "he skipped past much of The Council of Elrond"!

Gandalf's report on Gollum is omitted from Jackson's film adaptation.

It's pretty clear that crafting a traditional, if low-budget, piece of cinema was the driving factor in making this film. This is supported by the fact that Bouchard's been occupying his time in recent years making independent, low-budget zombie movies, not learning Elvish or arguing online about whether Tolkien was a racist.

As for the legal status of the project, Bouchard has said that he's been in contact with the Tolkien estate and that they were OK with it, though his movie's disclaimer says otherwise. (It warns that The Hunt for Gollum "is in no way affiliated with, or sponsored or approved, by Tolkien Enterprises, the heirs or estate of J.R.R. Tolkien, Peter Jackson, New Line Cinema, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. or any of their respective affiliates or licensees…")

And while the overt visual mimicry of Jackson's films raises obvious questions about dilution of trademark and other legal vagueness surrounding fan fiction, it's also clear that, with such a non-profit, online-only film, the rights-holders have very few options. The film is finished and loaded into the chamber. Regardless of any legal victories by those who might want to stop the release of this thing, it only takes one anonymous finger to pull the trigger and fire it around the world in an instant.

"I'm just saying my prayers and eating my vitamins brother," actor Webster told us. "I haven't been involved too much with the legal side of things."

Any publicity would only guarantee a larger audience. And a more general audience would likely be made up of folks who are even less able to distinguish between a New Line Cinema release and an "amateur" fansploitation effort.

How precious.

See Also:
Neil Gaiman has Lost his Clothes
When Cory Doctorow Ruled the World
Lost 'Horrors' Ending Found on YouTube
A Selection of Obscure Robert Anton Wilson Essays
Is The Net Good for Writers

Eight Druggiest Rock Star Stories

The following is an excerpt from Everybody Must Get Stoned: Rock Stars on Drugs. The book was inspired by Paul McCartney on Drugs, an article I wrote for 10 Zen Monkeys in January of 2007.

In researching this particular section, I relied heavily upon two great sources: Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk (An Evergreen book) by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain and High Times magazine. Other major sources for the book included Celebrity Stoner and a great book titled Waiting For The Man: The Story of Drugs and Popular Music by Harry Shapiro.

During the latter half of the twentieth century, rock stars were privileged with the opportunity to experience just about every imaginable thrill. They were young, they were aggressive, many of them were wealthy, they were in a culture where thumbing your nose at authority was the rule rather than the exception, and they were treated like sex gods by members of the opposite or desired gender. And, of course, there were plenty of drugs around to get crazy with. These are some of the twisted highlights or low-lights of rock star behavior related to drugs.

1. Blood of the Stooges

In 1969-1970, Iggy Pop and his seminal proto-punk band the Stooges lived together outside Detroit in a house they nicknamed "Fun House." (They also named an album for it.) Besides writing and recording music, they were injecting massive amounts of drugs, mostly heroin. When setting up a hit, the Stooges would squirt the blood out of their syringes and shoot it all over the walls and ceilings. After a while, enough blood had accumulated on the apartment's walls to create a sort-of degraded smack addict's Jackson Pollock mural. Ron Asheton, the only Stooge member who was not a junkie and who lived elsewhere, described it "...a lot of times there would be fresh stuff. Then it would dry on to the table or on the floor.... I wish I was smart enough to take pictures of it because it would have been a masterpiece."

2. Sid Goes to the Toilet

Dee Dee Ramone found himself at a party in London, hanging out for a few moments in the bathroom snorting great quantities of speed. It wasn't the sort of place you'd want to hang out for too long, as Dee Dee quickly noticed that the bathroom was disgusting — sinks, toilets, everything was full of vomit, piss, and shit. Sid Vicious — a key figure in the London punk scene but not yet a member of the Sex Pistols — wandered in and asked Dee Dee if he had anything to get high on, so Dee Dee generously gave Sid some of his crank. Vicious pulled out a syringe, stuck it into a toilet filled with puke and piss, and then loaded it with speed and shot himself up.

3. Brave Ted Nugent, Rock Warrior

The right-wing rocker Ted Nugent is known for being very antidrug and very prowar. The Motor City Madman happily calls out any pussy-ass traitor not ready to grab a gun or a bomb or a nuke and show those towelheads that we mean business. But back during the glory years of the Vietnam war, this most macho chickenhawk in the Republican firmament went to extremes to make sure his own pussy ass didn't end up in Vietnam, and he used drugs to do it.

In a 1970s High Times interview, Nugent related the story of how he avoided the draft. For 30 days prior to his appearance before the draft board, the hairy and bearded Nugent stopped brushing his teeth, bathing, washing himself, or combing his hair. He ate nothing but junk food and high-fat foods and drank nothing but Pepsi and beer.

Then, a week before his physical, Nugent pulled out all the stops. He stopped going to the bathroom. "I did it in my pants. Shit, piss, the whole shot. My pants got crusted up." Then three days before the exam, Nugent started staying up with the help of crystal meth.

When he finally went in for the army physical, Nugent was so sick that he passed out during his blood test. During the urine test, he couldn't pee. And when it came time to give them some excrement, he pulled down his pants and it was all there and ready. In fact, he got it all over his hands and arm. Nugent bragged to High Times, "...in the mail I got this big juicy 4-F. They'd call dead people before they'd call me.... I just wasn't into it. I was too busy doin' my own thing." Didn't Dick Cheney say something like that? (Nugent has recently claimed that he made this story up.)

4. Can You Tell the Difference Between Tripping Out and Nodding Out?

In 1967, rock guitarist and notorious smack addict Michael Bloomfield, who had played with Bob Dylan on his classic mid-sixties albums and as a member of Blues Project, had his own band of fellow musician-junkies. They called themselves the Electric Flag. They were hired by B-movie master Roger Corman to create the soundtrack to Corman's LSD movie The Trip (starring a young, acid-gobbling Jack Nicholson).

The band was invited to the film opening, where they took the front-row seats that had been set aside for them. But the lads had arrived so loaded down on smack that they were nodding off and spacing out throughout the film. In a High Times interview, Bloomfield added that the band was also encouraged to sleep by their positioning in the theater: "We're sitting in the front row, and we're like one inch from the screen — we have to sit at a 90 degree angle just to see the movie..."

When the movie ended, everybody filed out except for Bloomfield and his coterie of stoned musicians, who were glued to their seats, some with eyes closed and the others glassy-eyed. Confronted by members of Corman's crew as to why they were not leaving the theatre, Bloomfield had enough presence of mind to come up with an excuse that would be socially acceptable at that time and within this particular milieu. "We all had a lot of acid," he told them. In 1967 Hollywood, at the screening of The Trip, this had to be respected. Not wanting to bum the fellows out during such a sensitive event, the crew members left the musicians alone in the theater. It took them several hours to pry themselves from their chairs.

5. Waste Not, Want Not

Japan has a reputation for searching rock stars for drugs. Most famously, Paul McCartney spent some time in jail after going through Japanese customers (see also the chapters: "The Beatles on Drugs" and "Big Busts and Big Deals"). So when Guns n' Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin was warned by his manager to get rid of any drugs he might have before going through customers in Japan, Stradlin put them someplace he knew he wouldn't lose them — in his stomach. He must have had quite a stash, because he wound up in a coma for 96 hours.

6. Jim Morrison's Excellent Adventure

In Please Kill Me, Ronnie Cutrone, an artist and denizen of Andy Warhol's 1960s Factory scene described a typical night out with the Doors' lead vocalist: "Jim would go out, lean up against the bar, order eight screwdrivers, put down six Tuinals on the bar, drink two or three screwdrivers, take two Tuinals, then he'd have to pee, but he couldn't leave the other five screwdrivers, so he'd take his dick out and pee, and some girl would come up and blow his dick, and then he'd finish the other five screwdrivers and then he'd finish the other four Tuinals, and then he'd pee in his pants, and then Eric Emerson and I would take him home."

7. But Why Is Elton "Still Standing?"

In his mid-1970s heyday, Los Angeles declared "Elton John Week." To celebrate, the glam rock pasha invited his relatives out to L.A. to celebrate. Allegedly, Elton took 60 Valiums, jumped into a hotel pool, and shouted, "I'm going to die." His grandmother was heard to comment: "I suppose we're going to have to go home now."

8. When Ozzy Got Some of That Good Government Cocaine

In a 1999 High Times interview, Ozzy talked about the time he had the best coke he'd ever had. He said, "I'm lying by the pool one day and I met this guy and I ask him, 'You want to do some coke?' He goes, 'no no no.' I'm whacking this stuff up my nose, it's a brilliant sunny day, and this guy's sitting there with one of those reflectors under his chin getting a suntan. I say, 'What do you do.' He says, 'I work for the government.' 'Uh... what do you do with the government?' 'I work for the drug squad.' I sez, 'You're fucking joking.' He shows me his badge. I fuckin' flipped...flames were coming out of my fingers, man. He says, 'Oh you're all right. I'm the guy that got you the coke.'"

Buy the book!

See Also:
Paul McCartney on Drugs
Ed Rosenthal: Big Man of Buds
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
Willie Nelson's Narcotic Shrooms

The QuestionAuthority Proposal
Bush Administration’s Greatest Hits (To Your Face)
Catching Up With an Aqua Teen Terrorist
Don't Go There: Top 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Candidates

Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks

What Happened to the Perry Bible Fellowship?

It's been over a year since cartoonist Nicholas Gurewitch entered semi-retirement. But he's working on a movie, a TV show — and he even made a surreal appearance on a Fox News interview show. And he's left behind a message for his fans, tucked away in plain sight in the comic strip Catch Phrase. "There's no secret message," Gurewitch told us last week. "There's an overt message perhaps. That sometimes Life can pigeonhole a person.

"That's something I personally believe is a danger..."

So in the last 13 months, the 25-year-old cartoonist has drawn just that one strip while he explores even bigger mediums. "I'm very, very excited to imagine either of the films I'm working on being made," Nicholas told 10 Zen Monkeys. "I might very well post production materials for them on my web site in the near future.

"I haven't been home in three weeks because I've been script-writing with friends."

And Wednesday he finally released what may be the final collection of his Perry Bible Fellowship strips. It contains "a heck of a lot more," Nicholas told Publisher's Weekly, and the book's official site lists out bonus features like unpublished "lost" strips and original sketches, plus Nicholas's revealing behind-the-scenes interview with Wondermark cartoonist David Malki.

An earlier collection, The Trial of Colonel Sweeto, will be discontinued, and this book is "more of a deluxe edition," says Darkhorse Publishing's publicity coordinator, promising there's more than 20 strips that weren't in the first volume, "so its a more complete library."

They warn that this will probably be the final collection of Nicholas's work, though in December the cartoonist told us he was "taking it easy, preparing some ideas," and in last week's email promised "I'll probably be posting a new PBF soonish." (The site was offline briefly in December, but only because "my Australian server guy fell on hard times.") And in this book, "Nicholas went through and talked about a lot of the process he was going through," according to Jacquelene Cohen, a publicist at Dark Horse publishing. "He put a lot of thought into his inspiration."

Television versus Books

Working in two countries, Nicholas prepared a pilot TV show for British television while also retouching his strips for the book and remastering their colors. In fact, the book's publication date was delayed six months while Nicholas gave it the same lavish attention as his web comic. "He really wanted to be thorough and give each strip the time it deserves," remembers Cohen, saying only that he committed "a painstaking number of hours put into making this as special as it could be."

And the TV show? It would be a series of sketches — including at least one based on the surprise-hazing strip Weeaboo. "The guys at the company that produced it — Endemol — fought hard to make sure that comic was adapted," Nicholas told us last week. "Most of the material is sparkling new. I wrote it with my friends." And the scriptwriting received expert supervision by one of the writers of the surreal British comedy show Look Around You, Robert Popper.

"He was a great guy," adds Nicholas.

The BBC and the rival Channel 4 network are both reviewing the show now. ("I've been told that the hurting economy has hindered the speed of their decision-making," Nicholas notes — but he says that both networks are still interested in it.) In fact, Nicholas had already experimented with making movies out of some of his most famous strips, including New Specs for Ken and A Kiss For Joe (a two-minute film in which Nicholas himself makes an appearance).

Last week Nicholas told us he's now working on the script for a feature length film (along with his friend Jordan Morris). "My buddy Jordan is always really good about knowing how I should amplify an idea," Nicholas says, "and he's come up with ideas [for the strip] on his own. We're all kind of on the same wavelength collaborating, and it's extremely easy." Nicholas explained to one interviewer that "When we’re both giddy with laughter, I can tell we’re on to something good."

Nicholas seems to have cinema-sized dreams — Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody even wrote the introduction for his new book — and Nicholas offered a simple explanation to the Daily Cross Hatch. "I think a lot my ideas have grown so weird that I think I may need another medium for it." Nicholas has always been clear about his reasons for slowing the publishing schedule: "I want to do other things besides be a cartoonist." He discusses the transition in his book's introduction, and Wondermark's creator David Malki makes a provocative point — "We'll never know what kind of novels Charles M. Schulz could have written."

Nicholas also uses the interview to suggest that he's taking a lesson from the cartoonist who created The Far Side. "I'm sure Gary Larson had trained his brain by the peak of his career to derive the unbearable oddness of any slice of life. Like, I'm willing to bet that there's a muscle in his brain that he just honed, so that he could see all of life a certain way... If he's constantly looking at the world with that vision, and it's an honest vision, I don't think he can do much wrong."

But Nicholas also makes sure he acknowledges his admiration for Bill Watterson, the popular cartoonist who fiercely resisted merchandizing of his comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes. ("Bill knows better than anyone the value of keeping your characters from appearing on things that get thrown away.") In the same spirit, Nicholas's new book comes with a satin-red bookmark, and was designed with an eye for quality. "This book will look great as a (sick and twisted) coffee table book," wrote one reviewer on Amazon.

"It's almost a shame to put it in a shelf as the cover is such eye candy..."

Dark Horse Publishing acknowledges that "We didn't really understand the potential of his first book, and it ended up being a major, major success." (Nearly 27,000 copies were sold before the collection was even released!) Jacquelene Cohen remembers that when Nicholas visited trade shows, "he would have lines wrapping down one aisle and then halfway down the next — people mobbing him for autographs and signed prints and books. It was crazy — like mayhem.

"He loved it."

Beyond the Perry Bible Fellowship

It's been 13 months since Nicholas reverted the strip to "a pace I'm more comfortable with," and over the summer he told interviewers that "I doubt they'll have regular intervals. But that's something I'll focus on as soon as I finish up work in these other areas." Fans may miss the strip, but Nicholas shares a secret in the new book — just how much care went into the online strips (even after they'd been published in newspapers). "I think there's about a hundred hours' work difference between the 'Commander Crisp' that I finished for the newspapers and the 'Commander Crisp' that I finished for the web."
I've lost a week's worth of work before because I've realized that a comic could be done better. I scrap stuff all the time. In fact, I find it kind of exciting to be able to scrap something I've put hours of effort into.

A lot of times, you work all that time to maybe give your mind some liberated state that allows you to do the very best job that you can do.

A panel from "Commander Crisp"

The last year suggests the same freedom may be growing from Nicholas's entire Perry Bible Fellowship experience. After seven years of laboring over the strip, it may become the first creative outburst that just unlocks an even greater one. "I'm never worried about scrapping something," Nicholas says in his book.

"Because a lot of times that fragment that you labored over ends up finding a home in some other future work."

See Also:
Records Broken by the Perry Bible Fellowship
The Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack
Neil Gaiman has Lost His Clothes
Secrets of the Perry Bible Fellowship

Blossom Dearie’s “Conjunction Junction” Romance?

Did the woman who sang "Unpack Your Adjectives" ever get together with the guy who sang "I'm Just a Bill"?

It turns out the answer is yes! Sort of...

Blossom Dearie was an occasional singer on Schoolhouse Rock, and so was Jack Sheldon, who sang the gravelly-voiced conductor song Conjunction Junction. When Blossom came to Hollywood (for a big recording session at Capitol Records), Sheldon was her trumpeter. "I was madly in love with Blossom at the time," he remembered wistfully. "We were going everywhere and doing everything together..." reads his remembrance 34 years later from the liner notes of Blossom's re-issued album. "Blossom was marvelous."

(Click to hear Jack's love-struck trumpet
on the album's title track, "May I Come In?")

Blossom Dearie, the beguiling blonde jazz chanteuse, died Saturday at the age of 82. But when she'd met Sheldon in 1964, she was just 38, and had already lived in Paris for several years — even though she didn't speak French! Within a few years, Blossom had recorded several jazz albums and married a Belgian saxophone player named Bobby Jaspar, who had recorded with Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Chet Baker. In 1963, Jaspar died of a heart attack at the age of 37 — but Blossom Dearie was about to earn her own fame in America.

In a funny twist of fate, an entire generation fell in love with her voice, mostly from just two songs — her vocals on two educational "Schoolhouse Rock" cartoons in the 1970s. Dearie and Sheldon actually sang together in a third cartoon, which featured every Schoolhouse Rock vocalist including Bob Dorough and Essra Mohawk. (In a song about the history of inventions, Dearie sings about Thomas Edison's mother, plagued by the lack of an electric light.) And it was her haunting vocal on the Figure Eight song which first captivated generation X. A cello in a minor key set a somber tone while Dearie's sunny girl-like voice thoughtfully advised children to "figure eight....as double four," and in a later video she described a rotten camping trip by unpacking her adjectives.

Jack Sheldon and Blossom Dearie became familiar to millions of children — or at least, their voices did. The short three-minute cartoons won four Emmys — even beating out Mister Roger's Neighborhood in the early 1970s. In the years to come, Sheldon would enjoy a lifelong fame, recording parodies of his Schoolhouse Rock songs. And Blossom? She became a cabaret singer. It's a dying art form — just a singer at a piano — but she had a wispy, sunny voice and a personality that could capture a room. On the day she was born, a neighbor celebrated by bringing peach-tree flowers to her family — one story says that's where she earned the name "blossom." And 80 years later, she was still delighting crowds at Danny's Skylight Room on Restaurant Row in the Broadway theatre district.

Sadly, that big recording session in Hollywood hadn't earner her big money. "I kept working, but it doesn't seem like there was much of an impact," Blossom once said. She appears on the album's cover in a mink coat — but the CD's liner notes point out that "It wasn't hers." (A secretary loaned it to her for the photograph.) Watching her pennies, Blossom once complained simply that "I don't want to have to worry about taking a cab uptown." Thirty years later she'd record the jingle for Calvin Klein's Obsession perfume, book-ending her first real fame in 1963, when she'd recorded a promotional album for Hires Root Beer — "the most rootin' tootin' songs of 1963."

"Today, the original LP goes for hundreds of dollars on eBay," one blogger noted, "when you can find a copy." She may not have gotten rich, but she delivered a million smiles, and left many people today feeling the same sentimental memory.

"I like to think that you might go out to Woodstock on some winter's day and see a little old lady skating by herself on a frozen pond, quietly singing Figure 8 in that baby-doll voice."

Five Most Violent Super Bowl Ads

Super Bowl ads were always violent, but Sunday's game cracked the mold. Men were exploding, electrocuting, and — in one unaired spot — buying porn at gunpoint. PETA wanted to broadcast sexy models performing near-fellatio with vegetables, but the day belonged to the dudes. Some were big, some were stupid — but they all had one thing in common.


#1. I'm Bad

The meme attains perfection with Pepsi's "I'm good" ad, offering not one but four violent vignettes (culminating with a man hurtled across the sky by a high-voltage shock.) "I'm good," everyone says — since men can take anything except the taste of diet cola.

It's a bit of a stretch, though it's really just an excuse to show four crazy stunts. (Pepsi continues a tradition that dates back at least to Bud Light's infamous slapping ads.) But you know what I can't take?

Pepsi's stupid new logo.

#2. Beer and Porn

"You needed a secret code to see this spot online," warns one YouTube user — before uploading a pirated version of Budweiser's 2009 pitch for Bud Light. It's a two-minute dramedy demonstrating just how bizarre a commercial can get. (At one point, Budweiser actually had to pixelate a vibrator.) "Please drink responsibly," Bud adds at the end.

Since the days of Chaucer, porn has united humankind in a warm round of uncomfortable nervous laughter. But with this ad, Budweiser may have sent the wrong message: bad things happen when you drink Bud Light.

Especially...the crappy taste of Bud Light.

#3. A Grand Slam They Can't Refuse

Denny's turned to the mafia to promote their "free breakfast on Tuesday" promotion. But Denny's first Super Bowl ad ever — "Thugs" — finds their conversation interrupted by a waitress spraying a smiley face onto their pancakes.

It's a slap at IHOP (which dessert-ifies every pancake beyond recognition). But personally, I think the real mafia is behind all those ads for Cash4Gold.

And William Shatner's toupee.

#4. Talk Into the Clown's Mouth

After 40 years, Jack was finally mowed down by a bus — presumably spilling secret Jack sauce all over the street. "No. It's really bad," says a flunky into his cell phone. "I'm just lying to him to cheer him up." But one columnist pointed out that the Jack in the Box site wasn't broadcasting the follow-up ad. "Should we just assume he's dead?"

There's a fake Twitter feed, and HangInThereJack.com racked up nearly 500 comments — possibly from his ad agency. ("LETS ALL EAT MORE JACK IN THE BOX SO THEY CAN PAY THE DOCTOR BILLS!") But most greeted the ghoulish ad campaign with an appropriate dose of internet cynicism
can I have your STUFF???
Your food actually made me sick yesterday!

And one commenter even suggested Jack's biggest problem was with the jerk who produced his Super Bowl ad.

"Maybe the camera man should have yelled something like, 'Look Out!' instead of just standing there recording your death."

#5. The Unaired MacGruber

MacGruber jumped the shark two years ago — after the first of seven appearances on Saturday Night Live. The night before the game, the real MacGyver even appeared in a Saturday Night Live skit in which he confronts "MacGruber" about selling out. (It's right before MacGruber pauses to announce "There's always time for Pepsi" — and then dying in an oil refinery explosion.) In the final SNL segment, the theme song changed its lyrics altogether to just "Pepsi Pepsi Pepsi Pepsi" — and every single word of MacGruber's dialogue became "Pepsi."

At that point, anything that happened on Super Bowl Sunday would be anti-climactic.

And I still wish they'd detonate that logo.

See Also:
7 Things I Learned From Super Bowl Ads
5 Best Videos: Animals Attacking Reporters
Pulp Fiction Parodies on YouTube
5 Sexiest Apple Videos

Bush’s Last Day: 10 Ways America Celebrated

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

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

1. Calls for Arrest

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

One man waved his shoe.

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

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

2. Signing Off

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

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

3. The Onion Gets It Right

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

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

Bush Thought War Would Be Over By Now

Bush Subconsciously Sizes Up Spain For Invasion

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

Rumsfeld Only One Who Can Change Toner In White House Printer

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

4. Heckling CNN

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

"Send him to Guantanamo!"

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

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

5. The Last "Great Moment"

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

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

6. Jenna's Last Ride

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

7. Battle of the Presidential Speeches

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

"Non-believers" and "Muslims."

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

8. Perverts Say Goodbye

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

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

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

9. Free the White House

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

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

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

10. Losing Facebook

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

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

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

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


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

It currently has just 3409 members.

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

Christmas with Hitler

What was Christmas like with Hitler?

The answer comes from a Michigan communications professor, who's created a disturbing web collection showing the Third Reich's attempt to convert the holiday into military propaganda. But Christmas of 2008 also finds authentic reminders of the Nazi era turning up on eBay and YouTube. The question is uncomfortable, inappropriate — and morbidly fascinating. And fortunately, some comedians on YouTube have supplied the last word.

Randall Bytwerk teaches communications at Calvin College, and his web exhibit of Nazi propaganda offers an actual glimpse of the murderous dictator at Christmastime.

"Hitler had thousands of Autobahn workers as his guests in the Berlin Sportpalast at Christmas 1938," explains an upbeat pamphlet called Everybody's Hitler!. "Note the Christmas trees... Hitler's enemies lie when they say that Christmas has been abolished in Germany." (After invading France, the Nazis were assuring its Alsace province that der Führer still celebrated the holiday.)

Another photo shows a decorated tree behind a festive Christmas dinner for Hitler and his soldiers. The blitzkrieg isn't mentioned, but the site does remind us that later — of course — the pamphlet was translated into Dutch.

Professor Bytwerk shows that during the Nazi regime, Hitler's culture department continued producing a Christmas booklet with magical stories, festive songs, and lavish illustrations. (The 1944 edition was 200 pages long.) Several pages quoted the fanatical Christmas Eve speeches of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
On this evening we will think of the Führer, who is also everywhere present this evening wherever Germans gather... The flag and the Reich shall remain pure and unscathed when the great hour of victory comes.

Like Santa Claus, Hitler is everywhere — and he probably sees you when you're sleeping, and knows when you're awake. The book even includes an apparent Christmas card from der Fürhrer himself displaying a red flower with an inspiring Christmas quote: "All nature is a gigantic struggle between strength and weakness, an eternal victory of the strong over the weak."

Another site actually shows Santa paying a visit on Nazi officers and their girlfriends in Christmas of 1944.

But the Nazis ultimately had an insidious agenda for the holiday, and Hitler's propaganda department could show Bill O'Reilly what a real war on Christmas looks like. "The Nazis were out to transform Christmas from a Christian holiday to a celebration of the family in a National Socialist context," writes professor Bytwerk. In 1943 the Nazis released a 64-page pamphlet for Advent which never mentions Jesus. A drawing of lonely soldiers is captioned:
Through your bravery, you give us at home a lovely Christmas season. Each child, as he sees the candle's glow and sings the songs, thinks of you, full of thanks.

The most disturbing entry is a Christmas story about three men lost in the woods — a king, a soldier, and a wood-cutter. Bright stars light a poor woman's hut where she holds her newborn child. She advises her visitors that children fulfill the promise of the future, and the three visitors offer him gifts. "Nazi propaganda intended to remove as much of the Christian content of Christmas as possible," writes professor Bytwerk, "turning it into a family festival with German racial overtones."

There's a page for each day of the month, but each entry is intensely secular, like a sample children's letter to a soldier on the front. ("Mother is already baking for the soldier's package... We think of you so often, especially when we hear the news on the radio...") One YouTube user has even found a clip of a documentary showing Goebbels' Hitler Youth propaganda for Christmas of 1942.

More than 65 years later, it's still a painful subject, and in 2006 the German magazine Spiegel uncovered a bizarre incident:
Germans shopping for Christmas trinkets have been shocked recently to discover row upon row of Santa Clauses looking to all the world as if they are giving the Hitler salute — right arm, straight as an arrow, raised skyward. Never mind that St. Nick is carrying a bag of toys and wearing a silly red hat complete with a white pom-pom. Shoppers were sure — these Santas were Nazis.

It's still possible to buy Nazi artifacts on eBay, including Nazi-era coins and stamps — but not in every country. "This item cannot be sold in Germany, Italy, France, or Austria," reads one page description, "as stated in Ebay Rules." But the web has found more than one way to remember a dark moment in world history. In fact, 2008 ends with Hitler starring in his very own humiliating meme.

There's at least half a dozen videos on YouTube swapping in silly subtitles for Hitler's dialogue in an intense movie called Downfall. The original film chronicled Hitler's final 12 days in a bunker in Berlin, receiving bad news from subordinates as his military crumbles.

But now web wise guys have the dictator ranting insanely over trivial slights — poor attendance at Burning Man, the subprime mortgage crisis, getting his avatar banned from World of Warcraft, or struggling to upgrade Windows Vista. Inevitably, last week someone appropriated the meme to show Hitler complaining about the cost of buying Christmas presents.

"Those of you that think I am being unreasonably cheap better leave now..." a furious Hitler warns his staff.

Magically, the footage has been re-titled again and again, forcing Hitler to endure every possible insult of fate, and this latest video shows him being slowly bankrupted at Christmastime — by requests for iPads and 3DTVs.

See Also:
A Christmas Conspiracy
Christmas 2.0: Subverting the Holidays with YouTube
Death at Christmas
Five Awful Thanksgivings in History

Elvis Presley’s Strangest Christmases

He's the biggest kid, with the biggest toys, and he loved Christmas like he loved life — a little too much. Maybe Elvis will wander into a truck stop this Christmas Eve, toting his gun and demanding a fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich.

But if not, we can celebrate the holiday sharing six legends of his rock and roll excess in December, as a poor boy from Tupelo grappled with three all-American holiday obsessions: stars, Christmas, and money.

1. Elvis Gone Wild
At 22, Elvis had struck it rich. For Christmas in 1957, he bought his mother one of every electrical appliance (according to one Elvis Christmas site) — plus, a cashmere coat. Unfortunately, five days before Christmas he also received an unwelcome card from the army — telling him he'd been drafted.

The next Christmas, Elvis's mother had died, and he was living in a German hotel and hitting on a 19-year-old German girl named Elisabeth. (He crashed her parent's house for Thanksgiving, then told them in December that he wanted to hire her as his secretary.) Yes, Elvis slept with her — and a bunch of other girls — and he was starting to live large, according to the biography Careless Love. Elvis rented a sporty BMW, bought a Cadillac from the company commander, showered money on the local orphanage for a Christmas party, and discovered amphetamines.

Elvis served for two years (after getting a three-month deferment to finish filming King Creole). But in December of 1958, after a hard day of working with his platoon, one of the soldiers picked up a guitar and starting singing Christmas songs. "One by one others joined in," according to the biography, "and then the soldier with the guitar asked Elvis if he would like to take part too. 'Yeah, all right' said a subdued Elvis...and he led the soldiers in song." Elvis went into a personal rapture when he got to "Silent Night," and one sergeant remembered all the other voices dropping out for the King.

"'Those going on pass didn't interrupt. They simply walked silently be Elvis, touched his shoulder, and walked out the door. Not another word was spoken after the song until Elvis broke the spell.
"Merry Christmas, everyone" he said.
"Merry Christmas, Elvis!" they replied in unison.

2. Head in the Clouds
Elvis's religious fervor got stronger, and for Christmas in 1964, he put a new headstone on his mother's grave — and experienced a miracle. He was searching for a spiritual solace, at one point announcing to his wife Priscilla that he'd now "withdraw myself from the temptations of sex." Within a few months, 29-year-old Elvis was driving his entourage across Arizona for the filming of Harum Scarum. ("Elvis brings the big beat to Baghdad.") And he suddenly spotted a mystical face in the clouds. Unfortunately, it was Joseph Stalin.

"That's Joseph Stalin's face up there..." Elvis whispered to his spiritual advisor Larry Geller. "[W]hat's he doing up there?" Geller himself remembers that the clouds did look like Joseph Stalin — and then that the miracle had happened.
Before I could answer, the cloud slowly turned in on itself, changing form and dimension until the image faded and gradually disappeared. I knew we had witnessed something extraordinary and turned to say so, but stopped when I saw Elvis staring into the cloud, his eyes open wide and his face reflecting wonder... Elvis' expression was the one that you read of in the Bible or other religious works: the look of the newly baptized or the converted.

Elvis violently screeched the bus to a halt, crying "It's God! It's God...! The face of Stalin turned right into the face of Jesus, and he smiled at me, and every fiber of my being felt it."

Elvis later decided that he wanted to become a monk, and according to the Careless Love, "the guys all fumed at this latest evidence of the boss's weirdness and almost perverse dedication to the bizarre."

And that night in the Mojave desert, their motor home caught on fire.

3. Elvis's last Christmas
Two days after Christmas in 1976, 41-year-old Elvis was heading to Wichita, Kansas after finishing his run at the Las Vegas Hilton. Elvis looked "very tired and quite sad," one fan reported, and according to biographer Peter Guralnick, Elvis had even asked minister Rex Humbard if he should abandon show business altogether to devote himself to god. (Then Elvis started talking excitedly about Armageddon...) Humbard remembers that he politely "took both his hands in mine, and said 'Elvis, right now I want to pray for you.' He said 'Please do,' and started weeping."

A bewildered reporter at the Memphis Press-Scimitar watched the last show in Vegas, and wrote that "one walks away wondering how much longer it can be before the end comes, perhaps suddenly, and why the King of Rock 'n' Roll would subject himself to possible ridicule by going onstage so ill-prepared.

"And yet they keep coming back, and they will pack his next road tour... Once a king, always a king. Maybe that's it."

"And just maybe they're still coming because they think it might be the last time around."

4. I Fought the Law
Even at the peak of his popularity, Elvis wistfully remembered his days of obscurity. In 1954, Elvis was a struggling 19-year-old superstar wannabe facing his first brush with the law (according to an interview he gave in 1966). Elvis had been the singer for a three-man combo, and one cold December night was driving back from Shreveport, Louisiana when a highway patrolman pulled him over for speeding. "It was cold," Elvis later told a reporter, "and I was sleepy. I woke up, and the officer asked, who are you?"

After hearing Elvis's name, "The officer looked puzzled. Of course he had never heard of me. Hardly anyone had. I thought, 'Here goes my Christmas money for a traffic ticket.'"

Instead, the officer waved them off with a warning, and relieved, the singer and his band performed a strange ritual. "After the officer left, the three of us got out of the car and counted our money by the car headlights. It was mostly in dollar bills. Man, that was the most money I'd ever had in my pockets at one time!

"I blew the whole bundle the next day for Christmas presents."

Elvis took a moment to remember the night 12 years later, just a few months before the filming of Paradise, Hawaiian Style. "There is a lot of difference in Christmases today and when we were growing up in East Tupelo," he told the reporter.

"[But] honestly, I can't say these are any better...."

5. Elvis's Revenge
Elvis had a dream on Christmas Eve just 19 months before his death — that no one who worked for him really cared about him; that they just wanted his money. According to biographer Guralnick, on Christmas morning Elvis spilled the details with a sympathetic nurse. "He had dreamed that he had gone broke, and when he needed them they walked out on him." Elvis and the nurse stayed up talking until 3 a.m., and by the time he came downstairs, nearly all of his friends had left.

So on Christmas day, Elvis tried treating his friends to a trip on his private jet, the Lisa Marie. As he was handing out jewelry to his posse, Elvis's drunken aunt Delta suddenly shouted at one of them " You ain't no damn friend of his! And I got a good mind to take this .38 I got in my purse and just shoot you dead!'" Looking at another hanger-on, she said "And you ain't worth a shit either, you wall-eyed son of a bitch... All you sons of bitches are here for the same thing. You just want his damn money!"

Elvis advised his friends she was drunk, but that night at 2 a.m., began beating on her trailer door with a cane. "His hair was messed up, and he was wild-eyed and red-faced..." remembered Elvis's cousin Billy, who had grabbed a gun before consoling the king about his Christmas day humiliation. ("He was out of his mind, he was so mad...")

But maybe Elvis had already gotten the ultimate revenge in 1971. Five years before his death, Elvis gathered his posse into his den, according to a gossip item Guralnick quotes in Careless Love. Each hanger-on remembered the previous year, when Elvis had given out several new Mercedes — and this year Elvis was promising them "maybe a little something special."
With a sly grin on his face, the singer turned to his father, Vernon Presley, and asked "Where are the envelopes, please?"

Vernon reached into his coat pockets and produced the envelopes. "Well, it's been a mighty lean year," said Elvis, whose income probably exceeded $4,000,000 in 1971. As the envelopes began to be opened, the room fell silent. His special gift for 1971 was a 50-cent gift certificate to McDonalds.

But Elvis was just kidding, and later gave them all thick envelopes loaded with cash. And a few days later, Elvis rented an entire movie theatre downtown just so he could watch Shaft.

That was also the year Elvis recorded his final Christmas album.
I've seen and I've done most everything
That a man can do or see.
But if I could only borrow one dream from yesterday
I'd be on that train tomorrow.
I'd be home on Christmas day

6. Resurrection

Did Elvis fake his death to escape a grueling show business life? For 30 years, the legend persisted, until one night the question was settled on an episode of American Idol. In August of last year Ryan Seacrest introduced "a duet you thought was impossible," resurrecting the ghost of Elvis from December of 1968 so he could sing with Celine Dion.

It was either a holographic monstrosity or a touching remembrance, as the legendary entertainer belted out the showstopper from his comeback special one last time. Though he would've been 73, somehow Elvis's image and voice transcended death itself — and kept on earning more money for other people. (Eight weeks ago, Sony records even used the same trick to release 12 new Elvis Christmas Duets.) From the great beyond, Elvis sends a final "Merry Christmas, Baby," and American Idol had probably identified the song you'd most expect to hear after re-animating the king of rock and roll.
We're lost in a cloud
with too much rain.
We're trapped in a world
That's troubled with pain.

But as long as a man
has the strength to dream
he can redeem his soul
and fly.

The video may not constitute a Christmas miracle worthy of Andy Kaufman.

But it does suggest that maybe Elvis isn't really dead —as long as his fans remember him.


See Also:
Christmas 2.0: Subvering the Holidays with Re-Dubbing
Alvin and the Chipmunks Launch iMunks.com
Atheist Filmmaker Issues "Blasphemy Challenge
A Christmas Conspiracy
They're Dreaming of a Boobs Christmas

Death at Christmas

It's easy to hate Christmas: the endless forced good cheer, the media-driven consumer frenzy, the It's a Wonderful Life fantasy dissolving into a Married... with Children reality.

But no matter how bad your holiday is, rest assured that it could have been far worse.

1. Family Discord.
Home was definitely not the place to be for the family of R. Gene Simmons of Dover, Arkansas in 1987. The clan was rapidly becoming estranged from the family patriarch. Even his favorite daughter, who had borne him a son, had run off and gotten married. It was time for revenge. As each contingent showed up at the dilapidated family mobile home to try to put a happy face on for the holiday, Simmons shot the adults and strangled the children. By Christmas Day, he'd wiped out almost three generations of Simmons, 14 all told. It was the worst family slaughter in American history.

But wait — he wasn't done yet! For an encore a few days later, he went on a shooting rampage through a few former places of employment. He killed two people and injured four more before surrendering to police. He later became the first man executed by lethal injection in Arkansas.

2.The Season of Not Giving.
The holiday-fueled impulse to eradicate one's family isn't limited to the dysfunctional trailer park crowd. H. Sanford Williams was eminently respectable, having been an Army Chaplin, a Methodist Pastor, and finally the head of a charity, the National Retirement Foundation. Alas, the season of sharing had been a bust donation-wise and his foundation was in serious trouble. On Christmas Eve in 1957, the St. Petersburg, Florida man shot and killed his wife and two sons before turning the gun on himself.

3. Xmas Pageant Inferno.
It was the climax of the 1924 Christmas Eve pageant at the Babb's Switch, Oklahoma one-room schoolhouse. The last recitation had ended, the last carol faded. Now Santa himself was handing out bags of candy to all the children. But oh no! Santa brushed against the candle-lit tree. Within minutes, the room was a seething inferno, with 200 men, women, and children trying to force their way out the only exit: a door that opened inward. Thirty-four people died. But thanks to the heroic efforts of Santa and the schoolteacher (both of whom were themselves incinerated), only five children were among the dead.

4. The Deadly Christmas tree.
The substitution of incandescent lights for candles didn't eliminate the tendency of Christmas trees to turn into pyrotechnic yule logs. One of the deadliest of these modern-day holiday firebombs was Niles Street Hospital's 1945 tree. When a nurse unplugged the tree lights on Christmas Eve in the Hartford, Connecticut convalescent hospital, a spark ignited the dry needles. She grabbed a fire extinguisher, but panicked at the sight of the roaring flames and fled. Not only did she not even bother to call the fire department (neighbors, woken by the crackling flames, summoned them several minutes later), she left the front door open to properly ventilate the blaze. The building was completely gutted, and 15 patients and two staff died.

5. The Lethal Midnight Mass.
Christmas Eve midnight mass in Temoaya, Mexico in 1953 had just finished. Three thousand worshippers were peacefully filing out when someone tripped over the wrong wire. There was a bright blue flash, and then total darkness. All sense of peace and goodwill toward men vanished as the crowd transformed into a panic-stricken mob stampeding from the sanctuary. By the time the lights came on a few minutes later, 23 people were dead and over 200 injured.

See Also:
Five Awful Thanksgivings in History
Christmas 2.0: Subverting the Holidays with Re-dubbing
Atheist Filmmaker Launches Blasphemy Challenge
Alvin and the Chipmunks Launch IMunks.com

Timothy Leary’s New Book On Drugs

I always sort of liked Timothy Leary, but I never took many drugs and never really read any of his work. I've sat through a few videos in which he came off as a good-natured eccentric — spaced out, but with a sharp sense of humor.

This book is a surprise. Published by Re/Search, purveyors of books about pranks, punk rock, and body modification, it may not make you want to become an "enlightened" acidhead, but it should leave you with at least one insight: Timothy Leary was a damn fine writer. Who knew?

I interviewed Leary On Drugs editor, Hassan I Sirius, by email to get the scoop on this new collection of Leary's writing.
Click here for
more information
about the book!

JAYDEN DEVEREUX: I was mostly surprised by the quality of Leary's writing and his seriousness of purpose. How did you go about selecting materials for the book?

HASSAN I SIRIUS: My approach was pretty much exactly what you've just implied. Most of the content was selected for the quality of the writing and for the calm lucidity of Leary's thoughts about drugs. With all the recent positive reports about psychedelic research (Time magazine even had a story titled "Was Timothy Leary Right?") — and with the growing awareness of the destructive nature of drug prohibition, it seemed wise to try to make this a fairly serious contribution to our collective knowledge and thinking regarding drugs, particularly of the psychedelic variety.

Leary wrote a lot of material, some of it frivolous, some of it caught up in the battles and in the hype of a particular time period. And some of that material may not stand up to scrutiny. I think I mostly selected materials that stand on their own. You don't have to understand the sixties or the seventies all that well to get something out of these pieces. They really are pretty much focused on drugs – descriptions of experiences and visions, theories, observations and so forth.

JD: The theoretical material is a bit dense. He had a scientific orientation.

HIS: Yeah. Even when he was living in a teepee at the height of the hippie movement, he never cancelled his subscription to Scientific American. And even though he started using all those eastern Hindu metaphors that became so popular then, he was also seeing it all in terms of genetics and DNA, very early on. It was not that long after the discovery of DNA – less than a decade — and this really impacted on his vision of psychedelic experiences from the start in 1960. You can pretty much find him intuiting evolutionary psychology even in his earlier writings. He went on evolutionary trips, experiencing the emergence of life and its evolution toward humanity. He assumed everybody would have that trip, which is one place where he went a bit astray.

JD: I was able to understand most of it. Most of his arguments for psychedelics don't seem particularly wild. But what I really enjoyed was the stories. Some of those are pretty wild and pretty intense. The political section is almost scary. Can you say a bit about that?

HIS: Yeah, well some of the trip stories are pretty intense too. But you're probably referring to the story involving Mary Pinchot, who was one of President Kennedy's lovers. And it seems pretty clear that she involved Leary in a successful conspiracy to turn JFK on to LSD. The material, in this case, is from his autobiography, Flashbacks. But in Flashbacks, this particular narrative was sprinkled throughout the book as you go through his life chronologically. When you actually isolate the sections about Pinchot and then stitch them together as an entry, it makes a stronger impression.

The other thing you may be referring to is the conversation at the end of the book that Leary had with a hardball Swiss political operative with various intelligence connections while he was in exile from the U.S. government in Switzerland. The entry is almost painful in its sophistication and leaves the book on a solemn note — we are still all prisoners of men who lust for power, from Leary's point of view.

JD: What were Leary's favorite drugs?

HIS: I guess they all had their place. He was a social drinker and he was a social guy… so that amounted to a fair amount of drinking. It's sort of funny – he's always celebrating great moments in the psychedelic revolution with a glass of champagne or something along those lines. Mind you, I don't see anything wrong with it. And he always thought LSD was an extraordinarily marvelous invention. In a 1988 article included in the book, he writes about "good old LSD" and marvels that it's still the best. There's a segment on heroin. He wasn't crazy about heroin, even though he found it pleasant when he tried it… and he makes it clear that he wasn't happy about the dominance of coke and crack in the drug culture during the 1980s.

JD: Do you think he would be happy with all of the psychedelic research going on now?

HIS: He was alive to see it begin again and he commented on it favorably. Yeah, he would be thrilled with the positive reports. People forget he started out examining these drugs in a therapeutic context. On the other hand, he denounced control of drugs by the medical profession, particularly later in his life. He took a libertarian view that adults have a human right to do what they want with their brains. But at other points, it's clear that he prefers the medical model to leaving it in the hands of the drug warriors.

JD: So what does Leary have to say to us now?

HIS: Well, read the book. It's not so much reflective of the politics of the moment – although plenty of lessons about that can be found in there — but most of the material is really reflective of a search for meaning, and self-understanding, and peak experiences that people can find valuable no matter what is going on in the world.

In this book, what you get, mostly, is a very thoughtful and sensitive Leary pondering the meaning of it all.

Click here to buy the book!

See Also:
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
Hallucinogenic Weapons: The Other Chemical Warfare
Counterculture and the Tech Revolution
Don't Call It a Conspiracy: The Kennedy Brothers

20 Wildest Reactions to Obama’s Victory

Susie Bright screamed naked. The Santa Cruz-based author belonged to a Facebook group called "I will walk out my front door naked as soon as Obama wins!"

America went a little crazy on Tuesday night, finding a diversity of wild and wonderful ways to celebrate or to protest Obama's historic victory.

Here's 20 of them.

1. Naked in the Streets

That "naked" Facebook group had 227 celebrating members — and on election day, their reports began rolling in. "Its dark and cold here in Vermont, but it felt great!"

"I did it too! In fact, I danced on the front porch, and yelled 'Whoo hoo!'"

"My partner and I went downstairs in our robes, dropped the robes and cracked up like a couple of giddy schoolgirls!"

And in Santa Cruz, Susie Bright reported that she "tore off my clothes and ran out on the front porch and screamed my head off."

2. Impeach Him Already!

Facebook users have already started another dissenting group called "Impeach Barack Obama." In fact, they've started 30 different groups with variations on the same title, with a total of over 9,000 members. But soon other users were joining a competing group — called "Deport Those Who Wish To Impeach Barack Obama."

And another user's group was titled simply "MCCAIN LOST! GET OVER IT!"

3. The Last Word?

Another Facebook user tried creating a group called: "I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who hate political Facebook groups."

It currently has just 19 members.

4. Funny Papers

Meanwhile, political cartoonists around the world responded to Obama's victory with images that were nearly identical. Twelve different cartoonists drew Obama with the Lincoln Memorial, while nine more drew him with Martin Luther King.

But the response wasn't confined to the U.S. In Mexico City, Angel Boligan drew Obama wearing a Martin Luther King t-shirt. In Australia, Bill Leak drew King in heaven asking "Am I having a dream?" And in West Africa, Tayo Fatunla drew King in front of a picture of Obama, adding the caption "Having a dream...is the audacity of hope."

5. A Cartoon Gamble

Wednesday South Park aired a story lampooning Obama's victory just one day after the election. The production staff "will be up all night working on Wednesday’s show," their blog announced Tuesday, and Trey Parker told the L.A. Times they'd decided that "we're just going to make the Obama version, and if McCain somehow wins, we're basically just totally screwed."

They were still dubbing in dialogue hours before the episode aired — including actual text from Obama's victory speech. But Parker told the paper he was sure Obama would win — because of the odds at a sports betting site where he gambles on football.

6. Radio, Radio

A celebrating college radio station in Oregon played nothing but musical mixes of Obama's speeches for over an hour.

"It's really great to see people happy again," the DJ explained. "That's what the whole Obama thing is about."

7. Gun Sales are Up

A Utah newspaper reported that "Local gun dealers quickly are running out of stock of magazines for Colt AR-15s and AK models." They're not stocking up for militias, but anticipating Obama's reinstatement of a federal Assault Weapons Ban.

"Pretty much anything with more than 10 rounds is in high demand right now," a gun salesman told the newspaper, noting that one dealer had sold 82 assault rifles in a single day.

8. The Internet Responds

Wednesday someone registered the domain Has Obama Taken Away Your Guns Yet . com. In enormous letters, the site displays a single word.


And in a smaller subtitle, it quotes a famously-misspelled protest sign.

"get a brain morans"

9. Catch-All Criticism

On Tuesday, a realtor in Georgia had also registered the domain I Blame Obama.com.

10. Flushing the Plumber

In the end, an ungrateful Joe the Plumber said "I was unhappy that my name was used as much as it was." In an interview with a British newspaper, he complains that instead "I think there were real other issues that should’ve been discussed during the debate.”

All the attention landed him a book deal, and he's launched a charity site — where he's promoting his book and selling "freedom memberships" to the site — though he adds that "I will honor and support my president, but there will be no free ride."

Ironically, the actual domain Joe the Plumber .com has belonged to a different plumber in Amarillo Texas since February of 2004. He's using his site to sell American flags, t-shirts — and advertising space on Joe the Plumber.com

11. History by Hanes?

He's not the only one selling clothing to "commemorate" Obama's victory. An ad on CNN argues that history was just made.

"And it comes in your size."

12. Wardrobe Malfunction?

"Dear Sarah Palin," read a sign in a picture framing store in San Francisco.

"We eagerly await your $150,000 clothing donation on Nov. 5th.

"Thanks in advance, Goodwill."

13. You Betcha

Andrew Sullivan supported Barack's candidacy, and celebrated Thursday by noting a sweet vindication from the state Pennsylvania. The county that Sarah Palin had called "the real America"?

"It voted for Obama."

14. No More Bushes

Blogger Steve Benen observed the historic moment with another startling discovery.

2009 will be the first year in 45 years without a Dole or a Bush in elected office.

15. Ebert Gives a Thumb's Up

45 minutes after Obama was elected, Roger Ebert wrote that "Our long national nightmare is ending."

The 66-year-old film critic was quoting a speech Gerald Ford gave after assuming the Presidency from Richard Nixon. "I agree with Oliver Stone," Ebert wrote, "that Bush never knew he had been misled [into the Iraq war] until it was too late.

"I blame those who used him as their puppet."

16. Predicted in the 60s?

After "new left" protesters clashed with police during the 1968 Democratic convention, Norman Mailer had predicted that a torn country "will be fighting for forty years." (One critic complained that "Here at our end of the forty-year war there are no Norman Mailers. Only pollsters. And consultants. And political scientists.")

But shortly before his death last year, 84-year-old Mailer had made one of the only political campaign contributions of his life — to Barack Obama.

17. The Ghost of Chicago

The violent clashes at the '68 convention haunted Democrats — but one liberal who never understood the protesters was Barack Obama's own mother.

"Emotionally her liberalism would always remain of a decidedly pre-1967 vintage," Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, remembering that his mother's heart was "filled with images of the space program, the Peace Corps and Freedom Rides, Mahalia Jackson, and Joan Baez."

18. Rebellious or reasonable

Obama gave his victory speech at the same park as those violent police-protester confrontations in 1968 — and pundits couldn't miss the symbolism. Obama "stands on the shoulders of the crowds of four decades ago," according to one protester. Now a sociology professor, Todd Gitlin told the New York Times that Obama's rebellion "takes the form of practicality. He has the audacity of reason."

But one injury was reported Tuesday night — Chicago Sun-Times journalist Lynn Sweet, who injured her shoulder rushing to cover Obama's speech. In his first press conference, Obama noted wryly that "I think that was the only major incident during the entire Grant Park celebration."

19. What took you so long?

The morning after Obama was elected, he was told he'd been expected by Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple.

In an open letter, the 64-year-old author wrote that Obama had no idea how profound it was for southern blacks, though America's first black president was already "with us" and "in us" in previous generations, and "Knowing this, that you would actually appear, someday, was part of our strength."

She closed her letter by saying Obama's smile "can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.

"We are the ones we have been waiting for."

20. I Have a Dream

In 2004, Martin Luther King's widow had witnessed Obama's first address at the Democratic convention. King's daughter remembered that night after Tuesday's election results, saying her 76-year-old mother had said "Bernice, come here.

"I think we got somebody."

See Also:

Bush's Last Day: 10 Ways America Celebrated
Iraq YouTube Battle Footage
Why Sarah's Sex Life Matters
Drugs and Sex and Susie Bright
How a Barack Obama Site Made Me Famous

Oakland Celebrates Obama’s Victory

A 20-something reporter from Tennessee said she teared up after voting today. She said she was proud of our president — finally, for the first time in her adult life.

And as I drove to Oakland, it was obvious she wasn't the only one.

One city over, a crowd of people were counting down the seconds to 8:00, when results would be announced, at the Democratic Club in Alameda. But I walked in the door as it came up on the screen: Barack Obama was our next President. Everyone cheered. Several people wiped their eyes. My cell phone rang — it was my girlfriend — but I couldn't call her back, because cell phones stopped working everywhere, because everyone was already calling their friends with the news.

"President Obama," someone said. "I told you. President Obama."
"The whole country is calling each other."
"We did it."
"It's over."
"He's already won."

A black woman in a dirt-colored windbreaker watched to the left of me. She had a birth mark on her face, and her hair was pulled back in a frizzy pony tail. "I never had a doubt," she said. "I never had a doubt."

A young black boy smiled, held his arms over his head, and said "Yes we can."

"Yes we did," someone said.

"God bless America."

People were jumping up and down, and there was hugging. Most of the people in the room were white, and mostly young, but I saw an older blonde woman with a big necklace around her neck. She was tearing up. So was an older guy in a baseball cap. So was the woman in the pony tail who'd said "I never had a doubt." So was I.

At the side of the room was a smiling cut-out of Barack Obama. "California made him win," someone said. "California is what did it." A woman raised her fist over her head. "Obama, y'all!" On the street, I heard a stranger shouting "Obama. Whooo!" And then I left to drive to a celebration party at Everett and Jones, a big barbecue restaurant near Oakland's Jack London square.

At the restaurant, people had screamed when the victory was announced. A news crew filmed people jumping, hugging, waving flags, dancing, and weeping. "Thank you Jesus," the restaurant's owner said, over and over again, clapping her hands. "400 years! We won!"

"I wish my mother and father was here," another woman said. "My mother always worked at the polls, and she always told us to vote. And to believe in ourselves."

Near the restaurant, one street had been blocked off, where a band was performing. There were small balloons woven into an arc — red, white, and blue. Cars drove by honking. Even a truck honked its horn. One honking jeep drove by with two American flags. I heard later they were honking horns in Washington D.C., and in New York. All across America, horns are honking. Three hours later, I'd hear horns start honking again.

A black guy stood at the side of the street dangling an Obama t-shirt to the passing crowds. Later he started dancing — squatting and then kicking. I saw a black kid on his parents shoulders waving an American flag.

I had trouble finding parking, and the barbecue joint was so packed it was nearly impossible to move around. The TV showed a shot of Sarah Palin, and some people booed and held up downturned thumbs. We couldn't hear McCain's concession speech, but were only seeing his expression. Someone said that "He never had a chance."

I saw two black women leaving the crowd. Their eyes looked moist, and that made me mist up too. A young white woman from the Oakland Tribune asked me questions about the election — are you excited? What do you expect Obama to do? What's the first thing you're going to do tomorrow? I started to say that I'd watch everything tomorrow that I missed tonight — that it seemed sad to watch TV tonight when you could be out with the people. I told her I'd been there when they'd counted down to 8 o'clock, and when they'd said Obama was President. I choked up. She thanked me, and moved to someone else.

"This is history right now, Oakland," a woman said from the stage. "This is what we do."

Everywhere I looked I saw cell phones and PDAs. Everyone was still calling everyone else. I found the line for barbecued food — but it was long. After I'd waited for five minutes, I saw the man in front of me greeted by one of his friends. They were both black, and the friend said "I'm so proud. This has been a long, long coming." He didn't say "time" — just a long, long coming.

A reporter from the Oakland Tribune was interviewing a grey-haired black man behind me. Five minutes later, they were still talking.

A lot of the crowd were proudly wearing Obama t-shirts. I saw an "Obama on the cover of Time magazine" t-shirt. And an "Obama on the cover of Ebony" t-shirt. One shirt just said "Black man running, and it ain't from the police."

There was a bright light in the sky. It took me several seconds before I realized it was a helicopter sweeping the crowd. Everyone cheered and waved. Three different people held their hands over their heads, making the "O" sign.

A younger man with dreadlocks and a goatee said "I never really thought I'd see something like this happen in my lifetime." A local news crew filmed him saying Obama had the support not only of African Americans, but everybody. "So America can be what it's destined to be —a melting pot."

A woman from the restaurant was cooking dozens of big dinner sausages on a wide outdoor grill, wearing a sequined "Uncle Sam" hat. The band sang a funk song.
"I thank my lucky stars
I got you in my arms."

I heard the reporter from the Tribune say he was out of ink.

Yes we can.

See Also:

20 Wildest Reactions to Obama's Victory
How a Barack Obama Site Made Me Famous
Sarah Palin Photos and a Moose
Site Sparks Political Sexiness War
Can Senator Lieberman Be Recalled?

Lost “Horrors” Ending Found on YouTube

The web has resurrected a rare alternate ending to a 1986 musical about a monstrous, blood-sucking plant.

The spectacular 24-minute sequence shows an army of giant plants rampaging past city skyscrapers, overturning cars, swallowing railroads, and demolishing New York City, Godzilla-style. The U.S. army discovers the plants are bulletproof, and as helicopters flee, the plants swarm over the statue of Liberty.

It cost $5 million, took 11 months to produce, and has never been released.

Well, almost never.

Ten years ago, "Little Shop of Horrors" was available on a DVD including the toothier alternate ending — for exactly five days. But Warner Brothers failed to secure the proper copyrights for the alternate ending — and the DVD was recalled. For the next decade, producer David Geffen and Warner Brothers wrangled and promised to restore the original ending, until Warner Brothers finally discovered in 2007 that it had already been burned in a studio fire.

But while Hollywood argued, the coveted footage quietly slipped onto YouTube.

Fans of the 1986 musical version will recognize the ending's opening scene, which starts with the same shocks as the original off-Broadway theatrical production in 1982. (Blonde flower shop worker Audrey tries to water the enormous plant — which decides that it'd rather eat Audrey.) But the film makes explicit what was only implied in the stage musical's darker final number. Standing in front of an American flag, the three chorus singers (dressed in ominous robes) explain that "subsequent to the events you have just witnessed..."
The plants worked their terrible will
finding jerks who would feed them until
    the plants proceeded to grow and grow
and began what they came here to do
which was essentially to

    eat Cleveland
    and Des Moines
    and Peoria
    and New York

and where you live.

Ironically, the additional footage contained a prophetic scene with an agent haggling over the rights to the plant. He shouts "We don't have to deal with you. A god-damn vegetable is public domain! You ask our lawyers!"

A Long Strange Trip

There's something cathartic about the forbidden mayhem — and ironically, the raw cut returns the movie to its black-and-white roots. The legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman filmed the movie's original version in just two days — using sets that he'd borrowed from another film.

But his movie, released in 1960, marks a very real milestone in Hollywood history. "There was a big rush to finish before New Year's Eve," recalled Jackie Joseph. As the film's lead, she was interviewed for a 1988 book about the film, and remembered that "starting in 1960 you'd have to pay residuals." In fact, the site DVD Talk argues that when budget-conscious Corman finished his movie, something died in Hollywood forever. When the clock struck midnight on New Year's Eve, 1960, "drive-in films were stopped cold by the advent of residuals... Anyone who has studied Corman knows that this must have struck him like the bubonic plague."

But then again, the movie's weird idea had only sprang to life after "Roger and I went bar-hopping again on the Strip," according to Charles Griffith, the film's scriptwriter. (In Roger Corman's autobiography, Griffith remembers that while the two men were brainstorming, "I got drunk and ended up in a fight at Chez Paulette.") Somehow that inspired the idea of a cannibalistic restaurant chef — which became a man-eating plant for Little Shop of Horrors. 23-year-old Jack Nicholson appears briefly in the film as a dentist's masochistic patient, but it would've languished in obscurity if it hadn't been for two 11-year-old boys. They saw the film when it was released, and 20 years later, Martin Robinson and Howard Ashman turned it into a wildly successful off-Broadway musical.

The scriptwriter's other credits had included Attack of the Crab Monsters, Death Race 2000, and part of Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy, so I want to believe he'd have some affection for the horror movie fans who finally uploaded the "lost ending" for the movie's musical version. And the movie seems to have haunted other lives as well. Mel Welles — the character actor who played Mr. Mushnick in the 1960 original— launched a web site 38 years later to share his memories about his work in Hollywood. At MelWelles.com, he held court for seven years, until he died in 2005 at age 81. (At the time of his death, he was reportedly working on a screenplay called "House of a Hundred Horrors.")

The strange magic continued through another generation, since the musical movie — released 26 years after the original — intersected still more nascent careers. The movie was directed by Yoda puppet-master Frank Oz, and featured Steve Martin as a sadistic dentist. John Candy did a memorable cameo, and the film also featured Jim Belushi and Bill Murray. And the voice of the blood-sucking plant came from Levi Stubbs, the baritone singer from the Four Tops who died just two weeks ago at the age of 72.

Maybe it's fitting that the story lives on for another generation — and on Halloween night, Stubbs's voice haunts the web one last time.

See Also:
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Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams

The Great Google Rebellion

Thursday Google unveiled a new design for its iGoogle homepage service. Unfortunately (according to one geek), it's "a big unwanted piece of crap."

In an email interview today, Google defended the changes. But Google won't let users switch their home pages back to the way they used to be, which has sparked a furious revolt, online activism, and even some homegrown fixes.

22 million people visit iGoogle each month (according to January figures from Comscore), but Thursday Google foisted their changes onto every user in the United States. The same day, Johnson Rice created an online petition urging Google to allow a rollback option — and found nearly 1,000 people to sign it. Then he expanded his crusade on a nationally-syndicated radio show, and launched a Facebook Group protesting "forced website redesigns." Its goal? Fighting for the best-loved sites "if the corporate committees start trashing them."

iGoogle's product manager, Jessica Ewing, emaield us today arguing Google is "constantly thinking about how to improve our products for our users. Then, we take our ideas, prototype them, and put them through a vigorous set of usability tests and experiments to make sure we are doing the right thing for users.

"The iGoogle features we launched went through this exact process and we've made changes along the way based on feedback from users and developers."

But some users clearly aren't satisfied. One thread in Google's discussion groups "is full of thousands of complaints about this sudden and unannounced change," according to Slashdot. In fact, one commenter posted that "Google has gone evil," joining a chorus of other negative threads.
What were you thinking????
How do I complain to Google?
Please return the hijacked horizontal space
I agree that the new igoogle changes are crap

Within 24 hours, disgruntled users had gotten even more aggressive, and resorted to posting email addresses for iGoogle's developers. One commenter claimed they'd also contacted a Google employee, "and they said they agreed that the new layout is horrible and was surprised that it was distributed to everyone at this point in time.

"They also said that as soon as they saw it, Google would be bombarded with complaints."

Soon the fierce discussion had identified several unsanctioned workarounds, which include logging into Google's Australian, British or Irish home pages or running a Greasemonkey script in Firefox. (The script's name? "Old Google Ig...") Other protesters used Google's discussion group to tout Google's competitors, including Netvibes and Protopages. Another blogger located a Firefox add-on which "disappears" the unwanted column, and one user even bragged they were accessing their Google Gmail account using Yahoo's home page service.

Comscore's January figures suggest Google has more than a quarter of all personalized home page users, and one iGoogle user says it's corrupted Google's philosophy. "Notice that the more powerful Google becomes, the more they take away our choices....once they reached the status of monopolistic stardom they suddenly fling off the sheep's clothing and out comes the wolf."

"Welcome to the future of cloud computing," warns a commenter on Slashdot. "This is what it means to give up control of your software for the convenience of a net-based service."

Information Week iGoogle's senior product manager, Jessica Ewing, defended the new column added in the re-design. "The left navigation allows users to go from canvas view to canvas view of the new gadgets with one click, which we think is important as we see more and more great canvas view gadgets that require a scalable navigation model." Jessica says Google was careful to narrow the column because "We realize it does take up some screen real estate, particularly on small monitors," and adds that "We'll continue to monitor user feedback and usage and adjust accordingly." But angry users on Google Groups were already posting her phone number, along with a number for Google's "User Experience" Vice President Marissa Mayer, urging "flood her inbox people!" One user even posted that "After trying the phone number and getting the 'error' hangup — I sent her a fax!"

The new iGoogle features "were designed to make it more powerful," according to Google's official blog, saying the redesign will "bring more information to the homepage." Besides the new column (which re-lists the homepage's links), iGoogle now also offers a new "canvas view" expanding RSS feeds to fill the screen. (And another option condenses that view to a Gmail-like list of the feed's headlines.) The changes will simply "bring more information to the homepage," argues Google's blog. But some critics see it differently.

"They forced users to a hideous new format today with no method to opt out," complained a blogger named Merry Goose Mother. "Everyone on the interwebs is roaring about how much it sucks and how inconsiderate it is to make changes to a page that users customize to their own preferences without providing them a medium to give feedback or revert." She titled her post "Google has officially become evil." (Ironically, she posted it on Blogspot — a service owned by Google.) And she asked her users for the ultimate solution.

"I need a new homepage, does anyone use Netvibes?"

Lifehacker posted another Greasemonkey script which eliminates Google's new design changes, telling readers that "over half of you gave it the thumbs down. Your main complaint: The new sidebar eats up a substantial chunk of screen real estate." And Information Week reported that "Almost all of the 80 comments posted on Information Week since Thursday express unhappiness about the new iGoogle," adding that "The situation is similar on other sites. Almost all of the 149 comments posted on the Google Operating System blog express displeasure with the iGoogle changes."

But statements from Google suggested the easiest workaround — of logging into a foreign version of iGoogle — may not last forever. Google's blog announces cheerily "Don't worry. We'll also be rolling out this updated version in other countries very soon."

Google isn't the only offender, according to Johnson Rice. "Facebook has done the same thing to all their users," he argued in his radio diatribe. "They just changed the design, and so what has happened is people are starting to get angry, because this is an egregious use of force on these people..." Today Slashdot reported that Yahoo "decided to massively screw up their entire userbase by changing all user profiles to blank, while Friday Thomas Hawk noted a thread on Flickr complaining about changes to Flickr's "Recent Activity" page. (Hawk sardonically headlined the post "Flickr Changes Most Popular Page on the Site, Users Go Bonkers," and in three days the thread has racked up over 3,700 posts.)

Johnson Rice argues the web services are committing a clear injustice. "Both Facebook and Google, while they offer a free service, make their money on advertising," he told the radio show's hosts. "Which means that their users and their community are the people who are in fact paying them by using their service." But despite his best efforts, he hasn't succeeded yet in rallying everyone to his cause.

The radio show's host responded, "I'd like to go on record as not giving a crap."

See Also:
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Jimmy Wales Will Destroy Google
Google Stalker Reveals Secret Project
Google is Trying to Get In Your Pants

Why Sarah’s Sex Life Matters

A lot of people have said "I don't know if it's fair to look at Sarah Palin's sexuality the way people are — I just don't know if it's sexist or appropriate. Why can't we just treat her like a human being?" Okay, I'm going to tell you why it's appropriate for us to gloat and delve into every detail.
#1. Sexual politics is important. It matters.

#2. Palin has made priggery, prudery and sexual hypocrisy a centerpiece of her law enforcement and public policy directives, as both the mayor of the beautiful Wasilla, Alaska, and the governor of the state.

She ran on a sex-is-icky platform. People who lived in Wasilla remember when being mayor was almost considered a thankless job, like being the town plumber. ("Who wants to deal with all the bullshit down at the city dump and the electrical wiring?") And then Sarah came along, with her Pentecostal church program behind her, saying "I'm not going to talk about issues like whose dog is pooping on whose lawn. I'm going to talk about stopping abortion now." That's the kind of stuff she ran on, and she got a bunch of people who'd never voted before to march down from her little church and put her into office.

About the author: Susie Bright is the host of the weekly Audible.com podcast, "In Bed With Susie Bright." For a free month's subscription, click here. The longer, audio version of Susie's analysis can be found here.

And then Mayor Palin cut funding for rape test kits. It's like, "If you want to complain about being raped, sweetheart, well, you can just get out your checkbook." Because the city of Wasilla, no matter how much money they had in revenue from their oil, wasn't going to spend it on you. So Sarah has made sex a topic by her legislation and her lobbying and her speeches.

But here's the most controversial part, and it's just as rich as any other aspect of her candidacy: we finally have an image of a powerful, fertile, virile woman on the national stage. And it's a female image that's been almost entirely absent from America's pop culture. When you think of women who've been in the news, two kinds come to mind. One we'll call the Paris Hilton model — or Lindsay Lohan, or Britney Spears — this illiterate, anorexic, or drug-addicted pop tart. "She's so rich. Everybody wants to fuck her. She's so special." This, as many mothers wring their hands saying "This is the role model for our daughters? This is who they see as someone they should look up to?" It's been a travesty.

The other kind of strong woman on a national stage has been an older woman like Hillary Clinton. In some ways, you can say that's how sexism worked against her. Every time she got a little ballsy, a little rip-roaring — every time she showed her fierceness and her strength — she was bound to be called a Wellesley lesbian, that somehow she wasn't enough for Bill Clinton, that all those girls she went to college with she was secretly fucking. Now all of this has just been a big pile of right-wing baloney, but it's what happened to Hillary Clinton. She has never allowed herself, or been encouraged to show her sexual side, because it's been considered something that would get her in trouble — like there was no positive way to show it. She had to refrain from being a ball-buster for fear of being dyke-baited.

So here comes Sarah Palin, who apparently is not in menopause at all. She just had a baby a few months ago, so her heterosexuality is just bleeding out all over the place. She's just rolled out of bed! That's the impression we get from this woman. They can't get her on the dyke thing. She's up in Alaska, shooting guns and taking names! So she's gotten a pass on this. And she is irresistible!

We simply haven't had an overtly fecund, butch, straight-woman sex symbol in so long. She's like Annie Oakley with her six-shooters and her polar bears, her caribou dressing and her moose stew. She's got five kids hanging off of her, and you're like "Hells bells, that woman can fuck in the morning, go out for a long hike on the Arctic tundra, take down a polar bear or two, and be back in time to pass some new creationist legislation." She just kicks ass. I mean, she's just so — mmm. So like a powerful woman.

It's exciting, isn't it?

I think for every woman who's been appalled at her politics and the platform she's been running on — and this certainly includes me — well, there's this little part of me that's thinking "Oh, If only she was on my side. If only I could kidnap Sarah Palin and just lick her pussy for a few hours, I think we could just work this whole thing out." Do you know how many lesbians are discussing this? My friend Marga Gomez, who's a fantastic dyke comedian, has this line where she says "Sarah Palin? She's having my baby. And we've already named her Drill." If only we could move her political viewpoint around just a little.

I was talking to my good friend Christina the other night, and when I told her my kidnapping/cunnilingus fantasy about brainwashing Sarah Palin, she said "I don't think it'd really be that hard. I think she really does like us. I think she's ready for anything. She just wants to be a winner. That's all this girl cares about." When she was Sarah Barracuda on the high school basketball team, when she was in the beauty contest — you can just imagine how mad she was that she didn't win Miss Alaska and only won Miss Congeniality.

I don't think she's very congenial. She wants to win. And in Alaska, that meant siding with a certain kind of fundamentalist church. At first, it meant bucking the Republican establishment without leaving the Republican party entirely. It was the same thing with her church. If you go onto YouTube and look at that Wasilla Pentecostal church she belonged to — I mean, they make Ted Haggard look like a sober Lutheran Minister. And when she ran for governor, all of a sudden she stopped going there every Sunday, because it was just a little too wacky. You know, she had a private talk with them and said, "I really love you guys, but it's a little too theatrical for my political career."

What have we learned about Sarah Palin's sex life so far? The most important thing is that, like every other single person in Alaska, she seems to have had premarital sex. You can look at the elopement date, and then you look at when their first son, Track, was born less than 8 months later. All of her children seem to have had premarital sex — all the ones who've gone through puberty, at least. This is not unusual in America, and especially not in Alaska, where you have all these long, long months, a very narrow economy, and not the biggest educational system in the world. There's not a lot to do except fuck, drink, hunt, and fish. In fact, I don't really know how this Wasilla Pentecostal church really works with their abstinence program, because it goes against the Alaska way!

This kind of hurts me, because you know how I hate slut-baiting, but people at Bristol's high school say she got around, according to the National Enquirer. It's easy to imagine this, because when you see all the photos that are floating around MySpace, there's lots of supposed pictures of Bristol, her sister, and her cousins with gigantic tankards of Jack Daniels, tossing them back — jello shots, party, party, party. The kids have apparently been in a lot of hijinx.

I mean, on one level, I'm sympathetic to Sarah Palin having her life torn apart like this, because every other candidate has all kinds of skeletons in their closet, too. The kind of problems this family is dealing with aren't unusual for any American family. But we never found out what was going on with the Bushes, because they were from a ruling class elite that has a shroud of secrecy around their personal lives, and no one in those circles talks. You're never going to find out what they did at Walmart. You're never going to find out if they pulled their pants down and mooned somebody out a car window — because nobody talks among the crowd they've grown up with.

Sarah, on the other hand, in this working class/middle class community in Alaska? Everyone's got a story. There's no veneer of nobility or discretion. It's all up for grabs.

I know the GOP makes it their practice to select candidates — and this very much includes John McCain — not based on whether these people have intelligence or leadership qualities, or experience or character. They pick them the way a modeling agency picks a spokesmodel — they pick them like it's a casting call. Somebody like Richard Nixon would never be picked for a presidential nominee in a million years now, because he's not good television. Ronald Reagan changed everything. Now the GOP believes that government should be handled by professionals whose names you will never know. And they just want the little puppets on the outside to do the song and dance.

"Do you think she's pretty? Do you think she's cute? Great! Vote for her!" And they don't have any respect for her. When they start screaming about how she isn't shown enough deference by the media, I'm thinking "But you don't respect her. You think she's a useful idiot!" If she's really like Annie Oakley, she wouldn't put up with that. If she's really a tough woman who can stand up to a grizzly bear — can she stand up to the GOP?

That would impress me. If she's not going to do that, then she's totally under their thumb — under her husband's thumb, under the GOP's thumb. She's sold out for the money, like so many others, and she doesn't have the barracuda qualities of survival and dignity that we'd hope that she'd have.

We'll see.

I realize some other unbelievable surprise may be unleashed, but until then, all we can do is just turn the pages of the National Enquirer.

See Also:
20 Wildest Reactions to Obama's Victory
Sarah Palin Photos and a Moose
Drugs and Sex and Susie Bright
CWILF Island: Hottie Candidate Spouses

Site Sparks Political Sexiness War

A new web site promises to answer "the only question that matters." Who's sexier — Democrats or Republicans?

Sexy female and male voters can now upload their photos to SexiestParty.com and secretly whisper their political loyaties. Strangers on the web rate their attractiveness before the site exposes the secret — whether the picture was a luscious liberal or a cuddly conservative — while running tallies compare the sexiest people in each party.

"Sex and sex appeal have always been a part of politics," the site explains, "but with so much attention being paid to Palin's looks and Obama's charm, it's become a national obsession!" In just a few days the site's racked up nearly 20,000 pageviews, and every visitor has spent almost six minutes clicking around the site. Like Barack Obama, the sexy Democrats currently have a slight lead, while the contest has yet to reach its final climax.

But is this just internet fun, or a dark satire on the shallowness of the electorate? I pinned down the site's spokesman, who was leaving to enjoy an art festival and then watch Friday's debates "along with two or three extremely sexy female poly sci students." His email ended with the words "Stay sexy," but he agreed to do a short interview.

And the word "sexy" just kept coming up.

D: Your site's slogan is "May the sexiest party win."

SP: I think it's just inevitable. And really, honestly, four years of sexy people is better than four years of non-sexy people.

D: But why does it matter which party has sexier members?

SP: The fact that it has no significance is what matters. ;) It's fierce political competition on an issue that has no relevance to good governance. It's Bill Clinton's blow job. Palin's moose hunting. Obama's middle name. McCain's houses.

D: If Americans really will elect the sexiest party, then that means you hold the key to the November election's outcome.

SP: Yes. We do hold the key.

D: I mean in a sense, your site measures which party has the "sexiness edge."

SP: We're providing a public service. Everything else has been covered. The political sensibilities have been mapped and decoded across the land. But the one thing that seems to be missing is who's sexier, so to some extent, we're providing those data points as a public service.

D: What makes you think people on the internet are going to be interested in sex?

SP: It was just a wild hunch.

D: If I'm rating the male Democrats, will I eventually see a very sexy photo of Barack Obama?

SP: The more prominent members of the party, the candidates themselves, get plenty of exposure. I think there's already a solid sense of their sexiness on the spectrum. It's really the real people — the real Americans — we're interested in helping out.

D: But you sound kind of cynical about the choice of Sarah Palin.

SP: We're not the least bit cynical. Sarah Palin, and Obama too — he's also very photogenic, as has been pointed out. And this is nothing new. John F. Kennedy was also criticized for being basically a physically, aesthetically-pleasing candidate.

D: Are you saying that a sexy undercurrent leads to success in politics?

SP: We'll see with this election.

There is a thesis statement in there somewhere, and certainly a critique. I mean, once Palin got into the race, our site suddenly became that much more relevant. It was a demarcation of the shallowness of this whole process. We foreground that shallowness and give people a place to duke it out in our context. It is a place of real competition, but it's also satirical as well.

One interesting thing about this project is we're providing a forum where two different parties actually are on the same page. Both political viewpoints are so skewed. With the division in our culture, it's pretty rare to find a forum where both sides are presented objectively and on par. In version 2.0, we're even going to implement information about each party's participation levels on the site.

D: It's true that America is sharply divided now by a real and bitter partisanship. Do you think maybe you've found the missing common ground?

SP: We're bringing people together so there's no partisanship. We're trying to really focus on the issue that really matters, which is sexiness. (And we also don't allow comments, because we don't want it to devolve into bad behavior.)

This will seem convenient, but I came up with the idea when I was thinking about how deeply and personally many people take the red/blue divide. To the point of having it limit their options in life in areas that really have nothing to do with politics. Reporters ask which party is sexier at the end of interviews as a joke... but there are a lot of people who take it seriously.

D: So then is this all really just about the sexiness?

SP: Well, the site's definitely playful and sexy. But it does hint at some of the silliness inherent in how the red/blue divide has invaded issues that have nothing to do with politics. Why can't good god-fearing hockey Moms enjoy the odd latte?

D: Isn't this kind of sexist?

SP: Yeah, I guess. The whole culture is guilty of that as well. We really don't like to get involved in these kind of issues. We can't be held accountable for the sins of the culture. We just reflect. That's all we do.

D: I guess the "pursuit of happiness" is an inalienable right.

SP: And we all know that sexiness equates to happiness.

D: So if a party is determined to be sexier — does that mean I should join it?

SP: It might sway people to reconsider their positions.

D: Are you a Democrat or a Republican?

SP: We're a non-partisan site, so I really can't say. It's a very sexy party though.

D: There is something timely about your site. This year there've been high profile sex scandals — often, involving the most moralistic politicians.

SP: In all seriousness it's like that generation forgot they were young at one point in some ways. There's sort of a reaction against the excesses and dalliances of their youth, perhaps.

D: But didn't the other half of the political spectrum just embrace all their sexy urges?

SP: In some way, maybe we're putting our finger on sort of the dividing point of the culture. Maybe it really is all about sex — and the reaction against the permissive behavior in the 1960s and how that shaped the great ripples in our culture since then. It seems like we've actually gone backwards. We've gotten less permissive and less open to different types of behavior.

Maybe now through our site, they can lust after their deadly opponent — their enemies.

D: I thought they'd want to lust after the hottest members of their own party.

SP: There's certainly that as well.

D: So if Sarah Palin reminds voters of a sexy librarian, does that increase McCain's chance of getting elected?

SP: Palin is pretty sexy — but I need to see her with her hair down. Palin is definitely my type, yes. Brunettes with glasses. Of course, I want to emphasize that we're an objective non-partisan site, so we really take no position on sexiness vis-a-vis party affiliation.

D: Interestingly, Sarah Palin is actually opposed to sex education.

SP: It makes her seem a little bit like she's playing hard to get. That coy Sarah Palin. (You're not using my name, are you? I don't want any death threats.)

D: Your secret is safe with me.

SP: As you might have guessed, I'm developing this project under an alias... Too many nuts in the political world, and you never know who might get pissed off!

D: Are politically-active Americans sexier than, say, politically-active Canadians?

SP: Oh, absolutely. We're launching a Canadian version of the site to find out — to see how they compare. And we also think that sexiness knows no geographic boundaries.

D: So when will the Canadian version of your site launch?

SP: We're aiming for Monday. [The site just went live a few minutes ago.] It's at sexiestparty.ca. And of course, these are just the first two. We plan to roll them out into all the major political markets across the globe.

D: Maybe you've inspired a sense of national pride.

SP: They're coming from all across this great country of ours, from the farmlands to the urban portions of the country. From sea to sexy sea.

D: One study found that immediately after 9/11, casual sex increased dramatically. I wonder if we're now approaching another spike with the ongoing Wall Street meltdown.

SP: Living for the moment, I guess. Certainly we in no sense condone that — but we also don't condemn it, either. Obviously this is a frothy bit of frivolity, but hopefully there's an appeal to comic relief in these turbulent times, something to look at that's not so weighty.

D: So what happens if someone is determined to be the most sexy member of their political party? Do they get to break ties in the Senate?

SP: As it is an ongoing competition, they're encouraged to keep up the sexy fight lest they fall behind in the sexy race.

D: Why can't libertarians be sexy too? Right now your site only lets me judge Democrats and Republicans on the basis of their appearance. Why can't I also make sex objects out of Ron Paul supporters?

SP: I agree. I'm actually pushing to get third parties implemented on the site too.

D: I see that you registered your sexy domain all the way back in May.

SP: Yes. Due to our programming team's very active sex lives, progress on the site has been slow. There have been a lot of "candidates to interview," so to speak.

If we all weren't so damn sexy it would have been finished a long time ago.

D: But has the site also helped you hook up with other sexy people?

SP: It's not about me. It's really all about the American people.

See Also:
War of the Candidate Music Videos
CWILF Island: Hottie Candidate Spouses
Sarah Palin Photos and a Moose
Democratic Cartoon Candidates

25 Harshest Reactions To the Wall Street Bailout

"The point is this is one of the most important irrevokable economic decisions we will ever make. Let's make it in a state of panic."

      — Stephen Colbert


"The fox is guarding the hen house."

      — A heckler mocking Treasury secretary Henry Paulson


Senator Bunning: How long were you CEO of Goldman Sachs?
Audience: (Laughter and applause from a Code Pink supporter skeptical of Secretary Paulson.)

Code Pink woman: And what's your net worth?

Senator Bunning: I don't need help from the audience, I can ask the questions on my own...


"I'm not going to fire you; you can still be called Congress. But you don't have any power."

      — Jon Macey, Yale Law School professor and deputy dean, providing an allegory for Secretary Paulson's proposal


"As of now we [journalists] are, as a group, behaving just as we did the
last two times the administration sought to rush through a hastily
thought out, ill-conceived plan. Why in the world are we being so
gullible and naive?"

      — Former New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston

"What the proposal actually did...was explicitly rule out any oversight, plus grant immunity from future review... [I]f Paulson can't be honest about what he himself sent to Congress... there is no reason to trust him on anything related to his bailout plan."

      — Paul Krugman


"If you think the Bailout of All Bailouts...won't saddle American taxpayers with billions, if not trillions, of risky obligations, you don't know politics... Never before in the history of American capitalism has so much been asked of so many for...so few."

      — Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor


"We are talking about ten thousand dollars per household, and that money
cannot simply go into a black hole of bad debt."

      — John McCain


"Americans can no longer trust the economic information they are getting from this Administration... Secretary Paulson's market predictions have been consistently wrong in the last year."

      — Republican Senator Jim DeMint


"Normally, this is a process that would take months — years."

Instead, the law is being worked out, live on television, over the course of a few days.

      — NPR, quoting the chief lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable, Scott Talbott


"This is scare tactics to try to do something that's in the private but not the public interest. It's terrible."

      — Allan Meltzer, former economic adviser to President Reagan
and Carnegie Mellon professor of political economy, quoted in the New York Times


"Watching Washington rush to throw taxpayer money at Wall Street has been sobering and a little frightening."

      — Newt Gingrich


"Many economists argue that taxpayers ought to get more than avoidance of the apocalypse for their dollars: they ought to get an ownership stake in the companies on the receiving end."

      — New York Times front-page analysis by reporter Peter S. Goodman


"Seriously, is there anybody out there willing to write George Bush a blank check?"

      — Democratic Activist Christine Pelosi


"No 'cash for trash.'"

      — Dennis Kucinich, proposing Americans should also take partial ownership of any institutions receiving bailout money.


I think it's embarrassing to the United States of America. There is a lot of blame to go around."

      — Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson


"For anybody out there living in cave, let me just say this. Congratulations. You've apparently made the soundest real estate investment possible."

      — Jon Stewart

See Also:
The Future of America Has Been Stolen
Don’t Go There: Top 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Candidates
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks
Can Senator Lieberman Be Recalled?
Prior Permission From Government to be Required for Each Flight
Homeland Security Follies

The Ghost of the D.C. Madam

After Deborah Palfrey's suicide, one sex-worker advocate blogged a message of sympathy, saying "I know who you're determined to haunt."

But eight weeks later, she received an email telling her that the D.C. Madam's ghost was talking back!

"I rather suspect this letter could come as a bit of a shock," warned "ghost whisperer" Daniel 'Trinity' Jackson. He identified himself as a professional astrologer — and "metaphysical teacher" — as well as an experienced psychic.

The 55-year-old astrologer lived 10 miles from Tarpon Springs, Florida where Palfrey had committed suicide in May. (Her body was discovered hanging from a noose in a storage shed behind her mother's mobile home.) "My reaction was simply 'This is really terrible'," Daniel says, adding that two weeks later, "I was at home in my living room when I became aware that another person, a spirit entity, had suddenly entered my consciousness and my body..."

Daniel says he now has the answers to the questions surrounding the infamous brothel-keeper's death. (Was Palfrey's suicide faked by government conspirators? Would she reveal the names of her famous clients?) Within 10 seconds, he'd identified the visiting spirit as Deborah Jeane Palfrey. (And to make sure, he'd verified it — with another psychic.) In July, Daniel was ready to contact the sex-worker advocate to say the madam was now available for questions.

The offer was declined, but 10 Zen Monkeys eventually conducted our own brief interview, emailing questions which would be relayed to the dead madam's ghost.

Would she reveal whether her suicide was faked by wayward government agents?


Her ghost says...

This is absolutely false! I am solely responsible for the manner in which my life ended. There was no conspiracy that I became aware of to kill me. And even if there was, it was not successful. I took my own life; it was my decision, end of story. Or is it...?

The Government was my own dark shadow. The Government is very often our own personal dark shadow. Once we begin to recognize this we can move past the guilt, punishment, blame games and victimization. Until such time as the Human Race gets really, totally and completely fed up with limiting beliefs and values, our Government will stand as a reminder, a grim reminder that we are anything but a free people living in a world of real freedom and personal fulfillment.

Her ghost sounded much more philosophical than when we published this 2007 interview with the D.C. Madam — although it's possible that four months in the afterlife puts things in perspective. But an even more surprising revelation was that after running a brothel and hanging herself in Florida ...the D.C. Madam had gone to heaven!

It's not an either/or proposition! There is no afterlife judgment, no eternal condemnation, no 'fire and brimstone' and no angry God to punish anyone! Now there is a place for 'cleansing and repair' that certain individuals will have to endure briefly that forms all of the ancient myths about 'the fires of hell,' but that condition is temporary! It doesn't last forever!

I already briefly went through that myself and I write at length about that in Chapter 10 of the new book.

The new book? Yes, according to Daniel, it seems Palfrey's wandering ghost had kept coming around day after day, holding forth in long beyond-the-grave conversations. "I thought she might ask me to try and send a message to someone living that she was concerned about," Daniel says — but that wasn't it. She had wanted to learn "her disposition and her destiny" in the afterlife. But while she was doing that — she'd decided to dictate a book through him.

In fact, Daniel had originally contacted the sex-worker advocate to see if she'd write the foreword for his book, and maybe promote it on her site. ("Assuming this book is commercially successful, Deborah and I are agreed that substantial portions of the proceeds will be donated to a legal defense fund for women accused of prostitution or pandering and to women victims of rape and other sex related offenses.") And besides, he wrote sympathetically — dictating a book from beyond the grave might give Deborah closure.

Daniel also sells "Pre-Paid Astrology Services," according to his web page at freewebs.com. (Ten sessions cost $425 — with readings of children available for just $60!) But it was apparently much trickier to write an entire book with a ghost. "I literally let Deborah take full control of my body and she typed the book herself!
After Deborah finished each session, we would examine the manuscript together and occasionally I would offer editing suggestions... Deborah also received some assistance from some very wise "Guides" where she is in the afterlife.

There have been other responses to Deborah's death. Last month her 76-year-old mother went to a Florida courtroom urging some privacy over the death of her daughter, requesting that police photos of her daughter's corpse not be released to the public. ("This is the last thing I can do for my daughter," she told the judge. "Please don't let these pictures get out in public.") The judge ultimately ruled that the public could view the photos, but that they couldn't be published or duplicated. It seemed like the final possible episode in a year of fierce notoriety.

But had this helpful Florida psychic found a way to deliver the last word? Besides the political questions surrounding her notoriety — what powerful men secretly visited her service? — there's the bizarre vengeance in having the names spoken from beyond the grave. Last year bloggers pondered a rumor that Dick Cheney might even be on her client list. Through Daniel's psychic connection, Palfrey's ghost finally stepped up to the plate, and gave us an answer.

Sort of.

Her ghost continues...

Suppose for a moment I named more Government People in my new book channeled through Daniel Jackson. Such information would be nothing more than an assertion — hearsay — because Daniel does not have access to my personal records from Pamela Martin Escort Services. So legally speaking at least, naming more people could be dismissed as fabrication to sell the book and Daniel couldn't prove it unless he could obtain my business records...

The grateful ghost couldn't leave her psychic channel facing a libel charge "or possibly even worse." (Though she did add graciously that "My Channel Daniel by the way has worked and worked tirelessly for months to bring this book into reality.")

Daniel acknowledges that some people may be cynical about the validity of his claims. "I understand and appreciate that segments of the public do not recognize or accept either an afterlife or the possibility of psychic contact with spirit entities." And what's his response?

"I always leave it to individuals to decide for themselves the validity of such claims of contact."

Chapter Nine of the book even reveals that being dead has given the D.C. Madam the ability to see into the future.

It will also be discovered that love can be both amplified and transmitted exactly as if it were radio waves sent across the planet... By Year 2089 such an instrument will be nearly as common as are cell phones today.

But the book doesn't end without answering the obvious question: What's it like being dead? And in the strangest twist of all, Daniel's book has given the story of Deborah Jeane Palfrey something no one ever expected to see.

A happy ending.

Most of what I have seen here in the afterlife is just absolutely, positively remarkable; it's called Heaven for really good reason...!

[I]n my final moments on Earth I found myself hoping either for a Tiki Bar that is always open, or maybe a mountain glacier made of butter pecan ice cream and spiced rum cake but instead I think I got something much better!

Read The Book's Epilogue - "The Lesson I'll Never Forget"
and excerpts from five chapters

See Also:
Death of a Madam
The D.C. Madam Speaks
California Cults 2006
Scientology Fugitive Arrested
Dead Woman Blogging

Sarah Palin Photos and a Moose

There's many strange facts emerging online today in the uproar over Alaska governor Sarah Palin...

Enthusiastic bloggers have already uncovered these 2007 photos from Vogue magazine (plus a fake cover photo, pictured above-left) — and this 1984 beauty pageant photo. Her Wikipedia page was even edited to identify her as "the hot governor of Alaska" until editors increased the security on her page. (Vandals had swapped in a photograph of Hulk Hogan to represent the female governor, while another committed a major revision they described as simply "Replaced content with 'tacos'.") And the corrected entry still points to a URL describing Palin's smoking of pot — when it was legal in Alaska, though illegal under U.S. law. (According to an Alaska newspaper, Palin says she didn't like it and doesn't smoke it, but "I can't claim a Bill Clinton and say that I never inhaled.")

She's drawing lots of comments online. ("For some reason she looks like Kermit the Frog in this picture to me," wrote on Digg user about Sarah Palin.) But one user on Fark was more enthusiastic — "Jesus Christ. This campaign has turned into a Viagra commercial" — and within a few hours, Fark users had posted a whopping 2,700 comments. The snarky discussion continued on Metafilter, joking about how Sarah named her children Track, Trig, Bristol, Willow, and Piper. ("Dear GOD! Vice Presidents don't get to NAME anything, do they?!")

But Palin could also be the center of the biggest controversy for McCain's vice presidential pick. Dubbed "Trooper-gate," the potential vice president is currently being investigated by the Alaska legislature over charges that she pushed for the firing of a state official after they refused to fire her sister's ex-husband. (The couple was locked in a bitter custody battle.) It's been an especially messy divorce, according to Alaska newspapers. Her ex-husband "admitted to using the Taser on his stepson in a 'training capacity' and said he shot a moose on his wife's tag, but didn't think the act was illegal."

Governor Palin actually wrote a letter to his superior saying Molly's trooper spouse had drunk a beer at her house and then drove off in a state patrol car, "waving with beer in hand." And after an investigation, Alaska's Public Safety Employees found her ex-husband threatened Molly "with shooting her father if he hired a lawyer to represent her. Wooten denied making the statement, but [Sarah] Palin, McCann and Palin's son all confirmed that he did."

Sarah Palin joins McCain's campaign at a crucial time. According to one focus group, after viewing Obama's Thursday speech, more than 25% of swing voters switched from undecided to supporting Obama — or from supporting John McCain to undecided. Politically it's hoped that Palin can help McCain with conservative voters. (The Christian Coalition has already issued a statement praising Palin, who has said she believes schools should teach creationism.) Though ironically, Palin has also expressed her support for Barack Obama's energy plan.)

And she's currently taking some heat for an interview she gave with the CNBC.
As for that VP talk all the time, I'll tell you, I still can't answer that question until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day...? We want to make sure that that VP slot would be a fruitful type of position, especially for Alaskans and for the things that we're trying to accomplish up here for the rest of the U.S., before I can even start addressing that question.

But today, it's the online world that's providing her first vetting. And many of the comments have been strongly unfavorable. ("My third grade teacher had more gravitas," wrote a user at Wonkette.) U.S. News and World Report asked "Will Palin Stand Up to Scrutiny?" on one of their blogs — and received a withering critique from a user named "Educated Female from FL."
She's is essentially a beauty queen....a housewife....that became Governor of Alaska.

We are one heart attack away from her as commander in cheif. [sic] Just like when Dubya picked Harriet Miers for Supreme Court Justice.

Why is it that Republicans always pick inexperienced females? Is it that they are trying to be equality minded, but can't get away from choosing someone that is really unqualified, because their insecurities won't let them have a female sharpie next to them? Their idea of women is hilarious...they are stuck on mommy.

Not every online voice is critical. A U.S. News blogger argues that she's a real asset for the McCain ticket. "[T]hough she comes from far-off Alaska, she will help—big time—in Montana, Colorado, and other western states that McCain has to lock up quickly. She can talk guns, and energy, and wildlife, and make conservative dogma sound reasonable."

But after watching McCain's press conference, Politico's Jonathan Martin saw her rural background as a negative — and put his finger on yet-another strange oddity about the life of Sarah Palin.

"There are more people in that arena than in the town she was mayor of."

See Also:
Why Sarah's Sex Life Matters
20 Wildest Reactions to Obama's Victory
Can Senator Lieberman Be Recalled?
Here Comes the Judge's Porn
War of the Candidate Music Videos
Is It Legal Porn or Illegal Porn?

How a Barack Obama Site Made Me Famous

Image via BikePortland.org

Mat Honan worked for two failed dotcoms before becoming a contributing editor at Wired magazine — but his luck changed in February when he created a funny site about Barack Obama in just a few hours. 7 million pageviews later, it's landed him a book deal, a slew of interviews, and even a mention in the New York Times.

The success grew from a personal catchphrase whispered teasingly to his wife: "Barack Obama is your new bicycle." (Her excitement about the candidate matched her previous enthusiasm for cycling.) But it soon exploded, proving once again the strange fame-making power of the web. Mat's publisher had also conjured books out of viral web sites like Chuck Norris facts and the LOL Cats. Is the internet changing the world of publishing as well as the presidential race — and maybe even democracy itself?

A funny thing happened when I tried to buy Mat's book — I couldn't. It had already sold out at my local store, and there were only two copies left at the Borders superstore. ("It's been really popular," the floor clerk said.) But Mat's a friend of mine, so I tracked him down for an honest answer about the role of the internet in 2008, and how it's changing the way we argue about politics.

And the way we argue about Barack Obama....

LOU CABRON: Are you surprised by the runaway success of your site?

MAT HONAN: The thing you have to keep in mind is that I got the idea for the site on a bus ride home, and between 5 p.m. and when the site went live at 9 p.m. — nothing was done after that!

I didn't have any expectation that something I created in a few hours was going to take off like it did. I've worked on a lot of online and writing projects for weeks and months, and sometimes you create things that you think are going to be insanely popular — that people will like — but you can never predict that kind of stuff. And those things you spend a few hours on — I don't know what happened. I basically tapped into some sort of Zeitgeist, and people really related to it!

I think most people who like it are pro-Obama, and it's fundamentally sort of sweet. I was trying to come up with ideas that your wife or your boyfriend or your best friend or something would do for you. That was my criteria.

LC: Like "Barack Obama bought you candy. Barack Obama baked you a pie. Barack Obama folded you an origami crane. Barack Obama built you a robot." For some reason, these non sequitors you came up with resonated with the online world.

MH: I really am sort of amazed by it. Even though I've thought about it a lot, I can't really put my finger on whatever made it take off like it did.

If you had told me 10,000 people would see it, I just wouldn't have thought that was very likely, or that if they did, it might've been if some big blog linked to it — I might've gotten a one-day bump in traffic. I certainly wouldn't have thought it was going to result in a book deal!

LC: It's been said that online media also helped Obama build the "net roots" backbone for his Presidential bid. Is the role of technology in this campaign being overblown?

MH: I don't think it's overblown. I think if anything, there's probably not enough made of it.

I have in the past couple of months become an unintentional and unwitting spokesman for what's right or wrong about the Obama campaign and I just — I'm not an expert on it. But he is internet savvy, and what made me put some of those references in the book — "Barack Obama favorited your photo" and "Barack Obama friended you on Facebook" — is that his campaign did have those internet presences. That was certainly one of the things that led me to include those.

LC: Your web site immediately inspired several other viral sites — about Hillary Clinton, Ron Paul, and even Steve Jobs. But at the same time, political blogs have started to play a real role in fundraising and disseminating campaign information. Is that a good thing?

MH: I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing, because it leads to us not talking to each other as we once did. I think the more that we splinter into little groups, the worse it is for society as a whole. It becomes very easy for me to forget that there are people out there who have some political opinion that's very different than my own, because I just don't go to those web sites. I don't know what people are talking about on Little Green Footballs today. I don't know if it's still around, and if it went away — I wouldn't know.

I tend to avoid political web sites like I do somebody who's got a hacking cough. Whether they're left wing or right wing, I think they just tend to be so consumed with anger — I have a hard time getting into it. I don't think it's constructive. It's really easy to get yourself into a feedback loop...

Maybe I don't have enough spare time to be hanging out on the hardcore political sites.

LC: Does it seem like there's too much cynicism — online, and in the real world?

MH: I feel like cynicism is just such an easy cop out to caring for people — or doing anything. I feel like cynicism is the lazy man's sincerity. It's hard work not to be cynical. Social pressures make you want to be cynical, especially among people who might consider themselves urbane or in some way outside of the mainstream.

I try very hard not to be cynical. I think I'm somebody who used to be a very cynical person... There's a lot of social pressure for you to not be enthusiastic about anything — and to just not like anything, or to act like you don't like anything, to be too cool to like anything, too cool to be a fan. I made a decision a long time ago to not be cynical. And I hope it comes through in the book. And yet there's some part of me that's cynical, deep inside of me.

I feel like so few people are engaged and trying to do anything — to put themselves out there, largely because so many other people are engaged in trying to tear down people who put themselves out there. I think that applies to politics, art, business... I think society has become, and maybe always has been, very cynical, and I think ultimately that's not very constructive or helpful. I think that oddly enough, it's to some extent the creative class that is the most cynical and should also be the group of people who are least likely to be cynical, because they're the ones who are most often negatively affected by the cynicism of others.

LC: Your web site is sweet but sardonic — and it's ultimately hard to guess what your true feelings are about Obama.

MH: The book and the web site certainly were meant to be neither pro or anti-Obama. They almost have nothing to do with each other in that regard. I mean, the book is definitely done from a well-meaning and loving place, but in a way that I think could be open to interpretation, as something that you could see as not pro-Obama. And many people have seen it as an anti-Obama site. I was just trying to make a joke, and I think a lot of times jokes work better if they don't have an agenda. And I didn't have an agenda.

But I also was "taking the piss" a little bit — because I felt like there's a certain zeal to the whole Obama thing. I think that people can have conflated expectations of Obama and not necessarily him as a candidate. I certainly think he's the stronger candidate — he was the stronger candidate in the primary, and he is now. But that doesn't mean he's the perfect candidate or the perfect man. No one is. So I was just making fun of the concept of Obama as the person who's all things to all people, which is how I think people perceive him, not that he's presented himself as such. I kind of think those are two different things. When I made the web site, I was just sort of trying to say the whole country seems to have just fallen in love with Barack Obama.

LC: The McCain campaign is comparing the Barack Obama phenomenon to Paris Hilton.

MH: I wasn't talking about Obama as a celebrity. I was talking about him as a boyfriend. I thought it was kind of a good-natured ribbing about my wife in particular and people in general, being in love with Obama.

I certainly think that the McCain campaign is coming from a place of cynicism, which I think is unfortunate. I think John McCain is a great American and I think he is a person who probably is a statesman and I think he's done a disservice to his campaign by engaging in this kind of Karl Rove "scorched earth" cynical campaign. I feel like he's taking things that Obama has said and making it appear that Obama has created a cult of personality or attempted to create a cult of personality, whereas it's the people who have supported Obama who have generated this zeal for him, when it's Obama's supporters who are enthusiastic for him. Obama can't artificially create something like that. No one can.

LC: But do you think that popularity translates into real political change? Do you really think Barack can bring America together?

MH: I think maybe he can. I don't know why, exactly, but I think maybe he can. I think he can, because I think he's sort of an authentic person, and I think he's a leader. There are certain indefinable traits that leaders have, and I think he's got those indefinable traits.

And I think people will support him as a President. I think it's fundamentally bad to have two camps in the country hating each other, and I think you need somebody that speaks from the middle. And I think unless he can kind of be painted into a corner, I think he can do that.

The government's last eight years have been governing from the edge. I felt Clinton and Bush's dad did a good job of governing from the middle. I think it's something Obama will try to do, and if you're a strong leader you certainly stand a better chance than when you just govern from your base.

LC: But you're not actually a Democrat?

MH: I'd never voted for a major party candidate until John Kerry. And that was because I had a cynical view of both parties, and didn't really necessarily feel that my vote was going to change anything. Not that it wasn't important — I felt that it was important, but I also felt like it wasn't going to change anything, because nobody stood for anything that they were talking about. They just stood for themselves. So John Kerry — it wasn't so much that I was voting for him as I was voting against Bush.

I'm 35 and about to be 36, but Obama is certainly the first candidate I have ever been excited about and really believed in. I feel like it's not just necessarily young people. I feel fortunate that there's a candidate like that in this election because I think you maybe get one of those in a lifetime — one candidate in a lifetime who you can really truly believe in. I do believe in Barack Obama because I believe he has some essential authenticity. He comes across as a real human being, as someone who wakes up in the morning and goes to sleep at night and has doubts and isn't just saying what needs to be said in order to be elected. I just — that's my take on it. Why do I think that? It's hard to say.

LC: What about John McCain?

MH: McCain is someone who had his own authenticity, and he squandered it by zagging to go after his party's base, by cozying up to the very people he called agents of intolerance.

Obama — you look at some of the things he's done. I think he made a very risky speech on race. He's the first person I think in my lifetime who talked about race to me as if I wasn't an absolute idiot, who talked to me like he would if it were the two of us in the room rather than speaking to a nation of people. Most politicians won't talk to you like that. They'll talk as if there are 100,000 ears listening in, and they're trying to catch them — which they are.

LC: So if Barack is our new bicycle, what was John Kerry? John Edwards? Al Gore?

MH: I don't think it quite works that way. It was very specific. One of the things that was interesting about the book and the web site is that it's all so enigmatic to people. I was almost reluctant to write an introduction because I didn't know if it would kind of ruin the enigmatic title to explain where it came from. But to me, when I say "is your new bicycle" — the your is my wife's.

If you're talking about John Kerry in her terms, I guess maybe he's a MUNI bus Fast Pass. It still beats driving to and from work, but it's not going to be as fun.

LC: So you don't have a metaphor for the Taft administration?

MH: I think even if you went back to Clinton, I'd be dry.

LC: The Democratic Convention is this week. Any plans to capitalize?

MH: I had actually hoped to go to Denver and try to do some book promoting, but I can't afford the hotel rooms. My wife and I had thought about driving out there and maybe setting up a little table. But I think when I last checked, the Super 8 or the Motel 6 cost $350 a night with a four-night minimum...there were virtually no rooms.

LC: So I'll take it you haven't been offered a speaking slot at the convention. But have you heard anything from the Obama campaign?

MH: Nah. Nothing. I don't know if they know about my book or not.

He did favorite a photo of mine on Flickr. That was great, but I assume that was somebody in his campaign. He's way too busy to be messing around with Flickr.

LC: Your book's last non sequitor is "Barack Obama autographed your book."

MH: And it even have a space for him to autograph it there.

LC: Has anyone....?

MH: My hope is that someone will actually do that and send me a picture.

LC: But meanwhile, back in San Francisco, not only is Barack Obama your new bicycle — you wrote the whole book at a bike cafe. Bikes are fuel efficient, and there was even a minor stir over a photo of Barack Obama riding his bicycle. And yet ironically, bicycles have been almost completely absent from this campaign.

MH: There are going to be thousands of bikes at the Democratic convention to get around on — those pick-'em-up, drop-'em-off bikes. I think anything that gets people on bikes is great.

Good for them!

Buy the book here!

See Also:
Is the Net Good For Writers?
An Obama Caucus Story From Idaho
The Bush Administration's Greatest Hits (To Your Face)
The QuestionAuthority Proposal
Can Senator Lieberman Be Recalled?

Craigslist Sex Troll Gets Sued

Jason Fortuny appeared in Sunday's New York Times magazine — but he may soon be appearing in court.

Nearly two years ago, Jason Fortuny placed a fake sex ad on Craigslist pretending to be a woman seeking casual sex, and then published the photographs of anyone who responded. Now one of his victims has filed a $75,000 lawsuit against Fortuny in U.S. District Court, and this summer (after four months of effort) finally obtained a valid address for Fortuny and issued a summons.

Two weeks ago — as the New York Times was preparing their article — Fortuny was writing an eight-page letter to the judge finally defending his "Craigslist experiment" against the legal charges, and offering his own testimony about the event. "I take it back," Fortuny wrote recently on his blog. "You might get sued if you do a Craigslist Experiment..."

But it's still very complicated.

According to the suit Fortuny "acted with actual malice to harm and deceive the individuals responding to the Craigslist ad." The suit demands a jury trial and seeks a full slate of damages — compensatory, statutory, and punitive, plus attorney's fees and costs.

"Plaintiff has suffered, and continues to suffer, harm arising from the foregoing wrongful conduct by Mr. Fortuny," the lawsuit complains, identifying the victim as John Doe and arguing that the incident affected his private life "and the manner in which he is viewed among family, friends, and colleagues."

Fortuny's prank traumatized John Doe, it argues, causing him to "suffer and continue to suffer from humiliation, embarrassment, lost opportunity of keeping his family together, and emotional distress."

John Doe is asking that Fortuny be enjoined from publishing the photo, that Fortuny destroy his copy of the photo (and sexy email), and to "cooperate in the removal...from any cached sites."

The specific charges?

Count one: Violation of copyright act
Count two: Public disclosure of private facts
Count three: Intrusion upon seclusion
Count four: Injunctive relief


Is he guilty of disclosing personally identifiable private facts? There aren't any, Fortuny argues. "In his communication, Plaintiff does not use his actual name, or provide any method of personal contact," he writes in his motion to dismiss — noting that the victim had used an anonymous email address.

And whatever Fortuny published, the victim had volunteered, the motion claims. "I did not obtain any information by intruding into Plaintiff's personal space, eavesdropping, or illegally intercepting any communication," Fortuny argues. "Thus, the disclosure of Plaintiff's e-mail is not, by its nature, personal or intrusive."

And what about the copyright law? Fortuny's motion says that there's been no violation of copyright law, since the photo he's republished is used "to discuss how DMCA law can be used to be chill free speech." (After the photo was removed from another site, Fortuny had re-published it in October of 2006 in a blog post called "Don't tread on me, or, how I learned to stop worrying and ignore DMCA threats.") Fortuny had filed a counter-notification disputing the copyrighted status of the photo. ("The counter notification basically says 'you're a liar liar pants on fire'," Fortuny wrote on his blog, "and adds that if you don't respond within 14 days, I get to put my shit back up.")

Now his motion adds that "The use of the photo is in reduced form, is transformative, does not affect market value of the original photo, and is for a purpose of education and public interest." The motion also notes that it's a 4-kilobyte image (and not the original 22 kilobytes), and "there is ample case law that protects the fair use of reduced versions of media, especially for the purposes of education and discussion."


Yes, there were sexy shenanigans on Craiglist, but Fortuny adds that while he did re-publish this particular photo, "there was no malicious intent in my actions. This was never a plan to embarrass people or to single out a subset of the population."

The Craigslist griefer writes that he understands the hurt and frustration inflicted on the unsuspecting victims. But Fortuny also cites a clear warning in Craigslist's terms of service that the information on the site might indeed be inaccurate or misleading. "If I made the mistake of telling secrets to someone I didn't know online and it got out...I'd be kicking myself pretty hard. I would most definitely be shouting expletives at my computer screen. But that's the risk we all take online, as well as in life. Whether it's someone's e-mail, picture, or personal ad, there's no guarantee of identity, and no guarantee that you won't be betrayed. And there never will be."

But the plaintiff obviously disagrees. The lawsuit cites a section of Craigslists' privacy policy stating that users "agree not to post, email, or otherwise make available content that includes personal or identifying information about another person without that person's explicit consent." Making an obvious point, the suit notes that the plaintiff intended his sexy photo and email "to be a private communication between himself and the 'woman' who placed the advertisement... The public disclosure of these private facts represents an intrusion upon the privacy of Plaintiff that is objectionable and highly offensive to a reasonable person."

"The foregoing acts of infringement have been willful and intentional, in complete disregard of and with indifference to Plaintiff's rights," the suit argues. "Moreover, the uncertainty of the extent of the intrusions continues to cause Plaintiff a great deal of anguish and suffering." The facts disclosed "were not of any legitimate public concern," it argues, adding that "Mr. Fortuny acted with actual malice."

"Unless enjoined and restrained by this Court, Mr. Fortuny will continue to cause Plaintiff great and irreparable injury that cannot fully be compensated or measured in money."


Appealing to the court's sympathy, Fortuny shares a personal statement with his own perspective.
I've been asked over and over, "Jason, why did you do it?" To be honest, it was a small act that quickly spun out of control. It's not like I woke up that morning and said, "hey, I think I'll start a controversy today and get my face in the news."

I posted the fake ad with the sole intention to satisfy my curiosity about what kinds of people respond to such overt advertisements. I expected no responses. I didn't believe anyone would fall for such an obviously fake ad on a website that tells its users to exercise caution. When I received those 175 responses to my Craigslist ad, I was blown away by the utter disregard for personal privacy...

When Second Life's user database was hacked, the press coverage was minimal, Fortuny argues, while his own stunt generated a disproportionate huge wave of attention. "That there was so much coverage truly confused me," he writes, adding that "I've struggled to integrate this experience into my life, and to make it productive."

And Fortuny also argues that he doesn't ridicule the individuals who responded, but talks instead about "the larger issue of privacy on the Internet, and how to be proactive in protecting one's private information."

"[B]ringing legal action against me may punish me, but it won't change or even impact online culture in the positive ways that I describe above."

But for the moment, he's left grappling with the legal nuances of his defense. For example, he points out that though both he and his victim live in Washington state, the suit was filed in federal court in Illinois. (The suit argues it's a federal issue, and that Fortuny also spoke about the incident at a "Lulz Con" in Chicago.) There's one more interesting wrinkle. The plaintiff did copyright his photograph — but apparently as an after-thought. (Fortuny published the image on October 6 of 2006, and the plaintiff began his copyright filing on October 12.)
The Plaintiff is seeking to punish my discussion of his DMCA actions by abusing the intent of copyright law, stretching the common law terms of privacy, using unverified e-mail as alternative process, and side stepping personal jurisdiction...

I have never been afraid to answer for my actions and to face anyone who takes exception with me. This case, however, is quite different. This is a case of a person trying to get his pound of flesh out of me for my perceived wrongs.

Fortuny argues that tactics like the victim's frivolous DMCA notice "erode the free speech rights of Internet users everywhere, especially the growing world of bloggers and other self-published groups. When an individual uses copyright law and privacy torts to silence critics or unjustly control publicly relevant discussion, it damages everyone's rights."

Ironically, the day after filing the lawsuit, John Doe's attorney had to ask the court to delete the copyright application because it revealed his embarrassed client's real name.


Almost two years later, more than 180 responses remain online at Encyclopedia Dramatica, including photographs of more than 94 men (and in some cases, close-ups of their genitals).

Fortuny reportedly copied the text verbatim from an actual Craigslist ad, which gave his lure an extra authenticity. "i am 27 yo sexy str8 woman, 5 ft 7 in, 145 lbs..." the ad promised. "send ur stats and a face pic and i'll return mine to you..."
looking 4 ruff man, harley rider... i have a leg spreader, crop, cane and metal cuffs. spit on me, verbally abuse... "i am looking 4 a white or latin only, str8 brutal dom muscular male 30-35 yo who is arrogant, self-centered, nasty, egotistic, sadistic who likes 2 give intense pain and discipline...

But so far the resulting legal actions have been centered on the uses of copyright law. Neither "John Doe" nor his lawyers returned our request for a comment — nor did Craigslist or the EFF. But Jason Fortuny did, urging internet users "protect your free speech rights. Stand up to copyright and DMCA law abuse."

But so far, he's standing alone. ("Let me introduce you to my amazing lawyer," Fortuny wrote on his blog. "Me.") He contacted the Chicago ACLU, according to the post, saying that they replied that handling e-mail was "too complicated, could you please send us a fax." So faced with expensive legal fees and his own counter-arguments about copyright law, "here I am, going Pro Se on this. This is going to be fun."

In an email today, Fortuny conceded that "The case is at a very early stage, and it's not at the forefront of my brain right now." But a hint of his true sense of impunity may have slipped into his letter to the court. "I make no excuses about who I am," he writes in his motion to dismiss. "I am frequently rude, unsympathetic, unempathetic, and politically incorrect, to put it mildly.

"But there's no law against that."

See Also:
Jason Fortuny Speaks
The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny
Good Griefers: Fortuny v. Crook
Dear Internet, I'm Sorry
In the Company of Jerkoffs

Archie Comics Fights Mp3 Pirates

Archie's band recently confronted mp3 pirates, as the 67-year-old teenager struggles to adapt to digital technology and a changing world.

Yes, 67 years. Archie first appeared in 1941 — the cartoonist's mother was a Ziegfeld girl in the 1920s — and the characters were based on teenagers the cartoonist knew in the 1930s growing up in Northern Massachusetts.

But now that he's approaching 70, Archie has started flashing around the latest technology in his plucky comic book digests. There's web sites, text messages, mp3s, and file swapping — all pushing a new image for 2008.

Jealous Veronica Lodge is still badgering Archie for looking at other girls — but this time, she's using a massive network of her technologically-enabled conniving friends, all armed with cell phone cameras spying on Archie. ("Who'd have guessed that 'Big Brother' would be a beautiful brunette named Lodge?" Archie complains.) It's the cover story for July's issue of Archie comics — titled One Click Away — and Archie tries to jam Veronica's mobile surveillance by wearing a disguise from a costume shop. (Though then the girl he's pursuing just shouts "Steer clear of me, weird-o" and whacks him with a shopping bag.)

And Reggie's still a big sneak — but in February, he teamed up with a hacker named "The Serpent" to swipe the answers for the math teach from Mr. Novak's computer. ("It was his idea to use a library computer, so they couldn't trace it back to my home computer.")


Then again, in Archie's fictitious world, cutting edge of technology has always been just a brush stroke away. Even back in 1971, Archie and his pals watched cartoon renderings of newspaper comics on a cutting-edge Univac mainframe (in a bizarre TV/newspaper hybrid called "Archie's TV Funnies.")

Archie apparently got his first PC in 1995 — which he used to troll online dating services looking for dates. (According to Archie Digest Magazine #137 his first message was a full-screen image of Veronica, barking "How dare you use this computer to find girls! Why I oughtta...") But the matrix had set him on a collision course with music pirates — even if it took 40 years. That fateful afternoon when Archie and his gang lost their innocence came in Archie #577 — when they discovered that their music was being pirated.


The story's called "Record Breaker," and it shows Archie dreaming of launching an online downloading emporium. ("No CD's! We're bypassing that whole system to reduce overhead... We'll get paid directly per download!") Dilton, the strip's resident geek, builds a cutting-edge distribution platform as Jughead, Reggie, and the rest of the gang sink their savings into a recording session. ("We'll make back our outlay with the records we sell!")

"Lets find out just how rich we are," Archie says cockily as they stroll into Dilton's downloading command center.

Archie's music career was over before it began, apparently doomed by his failure to implement an infrastructure for harassing Riverdale's music pirates. The story ends with Archie and Jughead sadly going back to their day jobs at the burger joint, now working double shifts to earn back their money, and abandoning the band altogether.

But then again, Archie's been working there since Roosevelt was President, cracking jokes he inherited from his father's vaudeville act.

But there's one voice in Riverdale who might understand — and it's not the school principal Mr. Weatherbee. Ron Dante was the real voice for the Archies, singing on all 100 of their records (and at least once even performing as the voice of Betty). At 63 years old, he's watched the music scene change — and in a 2000 interview, Dante shared his thoughts about online music.

In a world of fluff and filler songs, "you'll see the really good stuff rise to the top of the Internet at some point," he predicted optimistically to Cosmik Debris magazine, "and people will be able to judge for themselves. It's a revolution. It's going to change the world of music as we know it.

"It's evolution, too. We have to go through this."

Even though he created the Archie's music, he laughed off the teenaged pirates that are now harrying Archie and Jughead's band.

"With all this hubbub about record people worried about the Internet, the record business is up ten percent. Instead of ten billion, it's thirteen billion this year.

"So I'm not too worried."

See Also:
Records Broken By the Perry Bible Fellowship
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks
Six Freakiest Children's TV Rock Bands
Alvin and the Chipmunks launch iMunks.com

Can Senator Lieberman Be Recalled?

"He should be recalled," jokes blogger John Amato.

"And then forced to move to another state."

Liberal democrats hate Joe Lieberman — and according to a recent poll, a lot of other people do too. The Connecticut Senator is so unpopular, he'd "be crushed today" in a new election, one headline announced, citing a poll showing that even 46% of Connecticut's independent voters disapproved of Lieberman's performance, while another pollster noted Lieberman's overall approval rating "has dropped below 50 percent for the first time in 14 years of polling..."

Is the discontent building into a political force? Yesterday a petition with nearly 50,000 signatures was delivered to Capitol Hill urging the Democrats to revoke Lieberman's leadership of the Homeland Security committee. And some bloggers have pondered an even more severe question: can you recall a sitting Senator?

Lieberman won a six-year term in 2006 with just 49.7% of the vote — after losing in the state's primary election, and being forced to run as an independent. And since then he's antagonized both parties, caucusing with the Senate's Democrats to provide the crucial vote they need for a one-Senator majority — while endorsing the Republicans' presidential candidate. "Come on, Connecticut, recall this boob," wrote one blogger — even before the latest poll showed Lieberman trailing by a huge 15 points in a re-match against his previous Democratic challenger, Ned Lamont.

But is there enough bad energy around the Senator to launch a recall effort?

According to at least one liberal blogger — no. "I'm pretty certain that as a factual matter he cannot be recalled," says Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo. "Full stop. Can't happen." Some states have a recall procedure in their Constitution, notes Daily Kos blogger Meteor Blades — but Connecticut isn't one of them.

And even then, "there is the matter of whether a state could recall a Senator if it had a recall provision on the books," he adds. "I'm no lawyer — Constitutional or otherwise — but since no serious effort has ever been made to recall a Senator, we don't have any case law dealing with the issue." In 1967, Idaho tried to recall Senator Frank Church, only to be told by a district court that the state's recall laws didn't apply to a U.S. senator, according to Wikipedia. Idaho's Attorney General agreed, saying the U.S. Constitution handles the ejection of Senators.

In fact, 32 Senators have faced expulsion from the Senate over its 219-year history under a provision in the first article of the U.S. Constitution. ("Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings...and, with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a member.") The last one was in 1995 — Senator Robert Packwood of Oregon, who resigned after allegations of sexual assault (and a unanimous preliminary expulsion recommendation from the Senate's ethics committee). But a two-thirds vote is hard to achieve — just ask Senators Vitter and Craig. Aside from one treasonous anti-Spanish conspiracy in 1797, no Senators have actually been expelled except for the 14 ejected during the Civil War for supporting the Confederacy.

Recall procedures are listed for 18 states on the official site of the National Conference of State Legislatures — but the number shouldn't be misinterpreted. "We're the national conference of state legislators," says the group's media manager, Meagan Dorsch, "so this page pertains primarily to the recall of state officials. Some of these laws may be applicable for both state and U.S. elected officials — but you would have to read the states' constitutional articles to find out their exact definition of an elected official."

Connecticut isn't one of those states, Meteor Blades points out — and that's only the beginning. "If, somehow, Connecticut managed to put a recall law on the books and then tried to use it against Lieberman, there litigation would start to flow. And everything I've read on the subject indicates that such a move would fail on (U.S.) Constitutional grounds. So, to shorten my answer, 'No,' Lieberman can't be recalled."

But a day of reckoning may still find Joe Lieberman. Until the next election, he's the ultimate swing vote — single-handedly determining which party controls the Senate. In just 16 weeks, however, the Democrats are favored to win at least three more seats — and those election results could change everything. Yesterday reporters directly asked the Democrats' Senate majority leader Harry Reid whether Lieberman should retain his committee leadership posts even after the election. "Let's talk about this year," Reid hedged non-commitally. When pushed on whether he was open to change, the Senate leader countered that he wasn't, then added "I'm just waiting to get through this year when I have a 51 vote majority."

"He will be ousted of all his leadership responsibilities if a few more states vote for Democratic candidates in the Senate," believes John Amato, who founded the political blog Crooks and Liars. In fact, Amato believes Lieberman's recent support of John McCain hides a Machiavellian scheme. Lieberman "latched onto John McCain because...he knows this, and has betrayed the values he says he believes in for purely personal gain."

Meteor Blades notes ironically that Democrats could see Lieberman leave the Senate in November — if John McCain won the Presidency, and then gave Lieberman a cabinet post. McCain might even run with Lieberman on the ticket as Vice President in another scenario. (Though ironically, last week's polling showed the combination would actually hurt McCain's chances of winning Lieberman's home state of Connecticut.) And there's one other option that would remove Lieberman from the Senate. If Barack Obama wins in November "Obama could offer him a good Cabinet position," suggested one commenter at Daily Kos wryly.

"But that has the downside of putting Lieberman in a good Cabinet position."

What about that grass roots petition to strip Lieberman of his committee leadership positions? Lieberman dismissed it as "old, petty partisan politics," according to the response from Lieberman's office. And so far the controversy isn't winning support from the Democrats' leader in the Senate. "Anytime we have a problem here, with the exception of Iraq, Joe Lieberman is with us," Harry Reid told reporters Thursday. "So I wish people would leave him alone."

There's no question that Lieberman is unpopular — but the real question is what to do about it. In fact, Lieberman already has an unexpected supporter for a re-election bid in 2012 — Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos. "My biggest fear is that Lieberman retires in 2012," Markos wrote last week.

"I want him defeated at the ballot box."

See Also:
Don't Go There: Top 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Candidates
Prior Permission From Government to be Required For Each Flight
Homeland Security Follies
The Future of America Has Been Stolen

Here Comes The Judge’s Porn

Judge Alex Kozinski posted porn online, the L.A. Times announced yesterday. But today internet bloggers discovered which porn it was!

"And now, for the more disturbing and/or pornographic images," announced conservative blogger Patterico, who claimed he'd spoken to the Times' source for two hours, and ultimately convinced him to deliver the images he'd downloaded from the judge's site. He's identified the naked women painted like cows (cropped above), the man performing fellatio on himself, and the women exposing their genitalia in front of the "Bush for President" sign. ("That is a funny joke," Kozinski admitted to the L.A. Times...)

And the "slide show striptease featuring a transsexual" appears to be just a PowerPoint quiz jokingly challenging the viewer to guess real women from the pre-op transsexuals.

Some of the photos from the PowerPoint were clearly X-rated, but the blogger posting the contents of Kozinski's directory ultimately was sympathetic. "I could be wrong, but I think that on the whole, most people will say that the actual images are slightly less offensive than one would expect from a text description," he blogged today.

And for some fans online, Kosinski is on his way to becoming their favorite judge.

At Fark, one poster remembered the time judge Kozinski contacted a supposedly female blogger at "Underneath Their Robes," nominating himself for their "Judicial Hottie" contest. ("I have it on very good authority that discerning females and gay men find graying, pudgy, middle-aged men with an accent close to Gov. Schwarzenegger's almost totally irresistible.") He proudly submitted video footage of his appearance on "The Dating Game" in 1968. (When selected, he grabs the female contestant's face and surprises her by planting a very long kiss.)

"I had my own photo-spread in George Magazine, with lots of sexy pictures of me jumping," Judge Kozinski added. "This was a few years back, but I've only gotten cuter with age."

The blog "Underneath Their Robes" was actually written by David Lat, who later became a blogger at Wonkette. "I was surprised, needless to say," Lat emailed us today about the news of the Kozinski porn stash. "But one thing I'd emphasize is that that this material was not easily accessible — you needed to know what subdirectory to enter in order to access items.

"So I'm not as scandalized as it seems other folks are. This was never material that he meant for the public to see."

And the judge himself had another explanation, which appeared today on the blog "Above the Law"
"Everyone in the family stores stuff there, and I had no idea what some of the stuff is or was — I was surprised that it was there. I assumed I must have put it there by accident, but when the story broke, [my son] Yale called and said he's pretty sure he uploaded a bunch of it. I had no idea, but that sounds right, because I sure don't remember putting some of that stuff there.

It's worth remembering that Kozinski has always been an unashamed advocate for freedom of speech — and he has a sense of humor. (When Mattel sued over the song Barbie Girl, Judge Kozinski wrote in his legal opinion that "The parties are advised to chill.") When confronted about the dirty images by the L.A. Times, he argued that at least some of the pictures were funny. Some might be offensive, he conceded, but he didn't think any matched the legal definition of obscene.

"Is it prurient? I don't know what to tell you," he told the newspaper. "I think it's odd and interesting. It's part of life."

The blogger at Patterico says the images the Times discussed had been online since December, according to his source. And one commenter at Slashdot found a cached screenshot of Kozinski's directory, with file dates as far back as 2004. But the screenshot revealed the directory held mostly the kind of viral videos one would usually find on Digg.

Yes, some of the file names were a little racy — like fart.exe, orgasm.wav, and esheep.exe. But the Kozinski directory also held a copy of Monty Python's innocuous Lumberjack song — along with two songs by Weird Al Yankovic

Wonkette ultimately called it "the sort of naughtiness you’d find in the dirty birthday cards section at Spencer Gifts," describing Kozinski's directory as "the very worst excuse for hosting a porn stash since Mark Penn told his mom 'I'm keeping that stack of Juggs for a friend?'"

Ironically, one of the Yankovic songs in his directory gave a title beginning with the words "You Don't..." presumably the song parody "You Don't Love Me Any More." ("I guess I lost a little bit of self-esteem," Weird Al sings, "that time that you made it with the whole hockey team.") It's an odd bit of synchronicity, since the judge now faces a media firestorm — and ironically, his curiosity about free speech may ultimately make it harder for him to rule in defense of it.

Though Judge Kozinski has had a stellar career, it may be Weird Al who's ultimately provided its epitaph.
You used to think that I was nice
But now you tell all your friends
that I'm the Antichrist.

See Also:
CNN Exposes Boob Job Giveaway
The D.C. Madam Speaks
Secrets of the Perry Bible Fellowship
Sex Panic! An Interview with Debbie Nathan
Racist Porn Stars

The Great Wired Drug Non-Controversy

Another pointless brouhaha about drugs has erupted, this time between Wired magazine, the New York Times, and a reporter's blog. And what fueled all the noise was less than 300 words in a tiny chart — and an unexpected admission of past drug use. (Which in no way resembled the "Faces of Meth" public service ad pictured above.)

Reporter Mat Honan is a friend of mine, and he's not a drug addict, a street pusher, or even a very regular blogger. But he created a table of eight drugs which affect your thinking for last month's Wired — seven prescription or over-the-counter drugs, plus methamphetamine. And that's when the tabloid-esque headlines started.

"Is Wired Pushing Illegal Drug Use?" read one headline, linking to a New York Times article by reporter Lia Miller. In the Times' "Media and Advertising" section, she'd asked disingenuously "does Wired magazine really mean to promote drugs?" calling their eight-drug table "somewhat disarming."

"Do the Right Drugs," it recommends, laying out the pros and cons of eight drugs — some legal, some not — that it says can “boost your cognitive output."

Yes, Wired had tried to provoked interest in their table by including a 34-word introduction.
Brains + drugs = fried eggs, right? Not always.

But as the Times had obviously recognized, nearly all of the drugs listed were legal, including nicotine. (Wired noted it neurochemically increases attention and memory formation, while listing as its side effects "addiction, cancer, and social isolation.") And for the commonly-abused drugs, Wired listed side effects which might dampen the enthusiasm of recreational users. For Adderall, a popular black market prescription medication for ADHD, Wired listed as side effects "addiction" and also "heart attack," while for methamphetamine, the side effects included "stroke "and "death." "In the context, no one can seriously conclude that we are suggesting that Wired readers take these substances," Wired's managing editor, Bob Cohn, told the New York Times.

But the Times still insisted they weren't completely placated, arguing that "Given the magazine's cheeky writing style, that may be lost." Wired had apparently failed to be rigorous enough in their anti-drug posturing, even sardonically listing each of the eight drugs with a color code identifying "how to get it."
Order online
Buy from manufacturer
Tap black market
Fake illness to get prescription
Hit drugstore

Rather than a straight-out condemnation, Wired had simply issued a gentle reminder about personal responsibility. "We at Wired aren't doctors. Anyone who takes a bushel of drugs based on our say-so must be high."

"I should probably just let it go," Wired's reporter wrote on his personal blog, but the piece "is just such a hand-wringing piece of bullshit that I have to weigh in."
I don't quite get what the Times' position is, other than "Wired is suggesting you do meth!" Well, no. That wasn't the point at all. Let's look at some of the side effects I listed: "Parkinson's-like symptoms, addiction, stroke, psychosis, prison, death." Oh, hey, and in the "what it does" column, I also note "Prolonged use can also make you stupid and crazy." Does that sound like an endorsement to you?

I'll tell you one thing about Wired that I really appreciate: we don't assume our readers are idiots.

In defending the article, Wired's reporter shared a surprising level of straight talk.
Look, here's the thing: meth can help you focus and accomplish menial and creative tasks—just as is true of other amphetamines. It boosts dopamine output. Plain and simple. Does that mean it's worth doing? No...

Why, this may shock you, but here's the thing: Cocaine is exceptionally fun. LSD? It genuinely alters your perception. I'm not suggesting that you do either of these. Both conspired, unsuccessfully, to kill me and I would no more try either today than I would attempt to put a rattlesnake in my anus. I am older and wiser and recognize that the benefits are not worth the risks... Drugs, especially highly addictive ones like speed or cocaine or heroin or ones with powerful psychological components like LSD, tend to not be worth the price you pay for their use.

Soon Gawker had taken note of the blog post, giving it their own spin with the headline "Wired Drug Writer Has His Own Drug Expertise."

"It was a stupid controversy over a relatively innocuous drug story," Gawker began, saying "The Wired piece didn't deserve criticism for its content," but then adding: "it might have been served by some disclosure." Gawker ultimately supported Honan's position — albeit in a snarky way — though ironically, both Gawker's article and the New York Times' ended up being longer than Honan's original table.

"We'll never solve society's problems if we can't at least speak honestly about them," Honan had written on his blog. But in the end, the Times had simply led its readers through yet-another exercise in knee-jerk denunciations, and there was no discussion about drug policy whatsoever. When the Times article was linked from the Huffington Post, it drew just nine comments — three of which were about the site's pop-up ads.

But at least this time there was some justifiable media criticism online to go along with the faux outrage. One of Gawker's commenters jokingly asked what kind of high they'd get from putting a rattlesnake in their anus. "Is it a jumpy high, like cocaine, or a dancey, laughy high, like shrooms, or is it groovy, like LSD? Does anyone know where I could score a rattlesnake in midtown?"

And maybe the parody of the impressionability is the ultimate point. "I don't think Wired could influence anyone to take meth," Wired's managing editor had told the Times. Instead, one Huffington Post commenter objected only to the "underlying moral self righteousness" of the headline — "Is Wired Pushing Illegal Drug Use?" — as another suggested a strong rebuttal.
Obviously the answer is no.

Why the question??

Slow news day?

The New York Times did not return our request for a comment, meaning that the online community ultimately gets the last word. "[A]s long as we're shaming, maybe the New York Times should be ashamed of itself," Honan wrote on his blog, "for assuming we are a nation of six year olds who can't be spoken to honestly or trusted to make rational decisions."

And then he linked to a video by Bill Hicks, who more than 14 years ago had laid out the case against the media's over-simplified talking points — and maybe implicitly endorsed Wired's more honest tone about the real effects of drugs.

"Wouldn't that be newsworthy? Just once to base your decision on information rather than scare tactics and superstitions and lies? Just once?

"I think it would be newsworthy."

See Also:
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
Lost "Horrors" Ending Found on YouTube

Is It Legal Porn or Illegal Porn?

I just looked at an exposé from reporter Debbie Nathan, who attended a research convention of The Academy of Forensic Sciences to discover what the geeks at the FBI have learned about the relationship, and potential, between "real" and "computer-generated" pornographic images.

The police's particular interest, in this case, is child abuse. Sexualized images of real children are illegal, but computer-generated images are not prosecuted in the U.S., as yet, because they don't show actual kids.

This debate has gotten hotter, because it's now difficult to tell what's real — computer-editing programs are facile enough to turn anyone, theoretically, into an amateur touch-up artist.

Many questions also arise from the Feds' investigations. Do virtual pictures attract people with ill intent or actions toward children? Or is this a bizarre, if preferable, method of harm reduction?

About the author: Susie Bright is the host of the weekly Audible.com podcast, "In Bed With Susie Bright." For a free month's subscription, click here. The audio version of Susie's analysis can be found here.

Debbie Nathan is perhaps best known for her book, Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt about some of the widely covered sex panic cases that rocked the U.S. in the '80s and '90s, such as the McMartin preschool case in California. Here's what she wrote after returning from the forensic scientists' conference.

"Back in the 1990s, the government outlawed computer-generated ("CG") images of sexualized children. But a few years later, ruling in a case called Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, the Supreme Court said CG child porn is legal... the general consensus was that the technological state-of-the-art for CG human images wasn't so good anyway.

If you concocted a CG image of a child having sex, the thinking went, it wouldn't fool anyone, because it was too low-tech to seem real.

Within a couple of years, though, people caught with child porn images were going to court and claiming they didn't have anything real, only CG — and that if the government thought otherwise, it would have to prove it.

The government developed several responses. One: find the actual child depicted in the pornography, and bring that real child into court, or bring in the cop who handled her case. This would show beyond a doubt that the defendant's material was not computer-generated.

Another strategy is to match the images in evidence to others previously collected by the feds, then show that the whole set dates to pre-Photoshop times, back when anything that looked like a photograph of a real kid really was real.

But what if child victims and old photo sets aren't available? A third government technique is to tell courts that the average person (an FBI agent, a jury member) can still distinguish what's real and what's CG, just by looking with the naked eye.

Is this true? The government would like us to think so. But in point of fact, the boundary between real and CG is getting fuzzier by the year – and the feds are nervous."

Check out Debbie's site to see more incredibly realistic (G-rated! of course) computer-generated images, and to read the rest of her story... it's a science fiction novel come to life:

"After [the experts'] presentations, it seemed clear that the technology exists to make real child porn look fake. And — much more significantly — to make CG porn which looks genuine enough to fool ordinary people.

An obvious question that comes to mind, then, is: how much of this sophisticated child CG porn is already on the Internet?

My sense from attending the workshops is: Probably hardly any.

But the scarcity has little to do with technology. The digital world is now rife with graphics professionals and hobbyists who spend lots of time creating reasonably real-looking virtual people as still images – adults and kids. CG adults (especially women) often look “sexy.” Sometimes they're even having sex. But virtual kids are not portrayed sexually (though teen girls often look “come hither”). CG kids remain chaste, probably, because there's no commercial market for child porn and thus no significant money to be made by doing virtual renditions of the stuff.

Hobbyists, of course, don't need money to pursue their passions. But even they are probably reluctant to do CG child porn. It's not like they can post it on graphic arts websites and get props from fellow artists.

Plus, virtual child porn is legal in the US, but it's outlawed in many other countries. If an American's CG smut got emailed overseas, he could get in big trouble."

Nathan's final conclusion?

" Given the above, I bet most defendants and their attorneys who raise the CG defense are bullshitting. They've probably been caught with the real thing.

But for how long will almost everything on the net be real? One thing is certain: if something becomes possible for human beings to do, someone will do it."

See Also:
Sex Panic: An Interview with Debbie Nathan
The Perversions of Perverted Justice
The D.C. Madam Speaks
Sex and Drugs and Susie Bright

Death of a Madam

The D.C. Madam Speaks - Deborah Jeane Palfrey Interview

"I am not going back to prison. I will commit suicide first."

Deborah Jeane Palfrey made that vow last year, a friend told the Associated Press. Today she reportedly took her own life, just two weeks after a guilty verdict on charges of running a prostitution ring.

But in August Palfrey sat down for a wide-ranging interview with sex educator Susie Bright. "Public scrutiny is not her style," Bright noted at the time. Palfrey's personality, she concluded after the interview, is "very circumspect... afraid of being ridiculed or treated like a 'whore.'" And Palfrey had obviously spent decades "compartmentalizing," Bright concluded. The woman that the newspapers had designated "the D.C. Madam" had actually spent decades cordoning parts of her life from the rest of her personality, "and she's not about to change now.

"Lots of dissonance — oceans of it."

But as a long-term observer of the scene, Bright had also spotted something odd about Palfrey's legal predicament. "They really did a 'Hoover' number on her that is unprecendented for a prostitution bust. And I don't think she knows what it is they were after, either."

More than a dozen federal agents descended on Palfrey's home and executed a search warrant, according to the local newspaper. Palfrey said in the interview that "I was obviously sitting on a powder keg of information" (adding that "there is much still to come out.")
David Vitter is not the sole and substance of my entire 13 years of operation, that's for sure. I was sitting on something — or they thought I was sitting on something. I was under observation — J. Edgar Hoover-style — from as far back as March of 2004, until the trigger was pulled on me early in October of 2006. For 31 months I was being observed!

In September, Palfrey sent Bright a follow-up email with an announcement from her attorney. Palfrey's team was filing a pro se brief alleging that "the United States Government has been directly or indirectly benefiting from the operation of her service by monitoring her customers and is thus equitably barred from prosecuting her."

In January, more discouraging news arrived about the suicide of one of Palfrey's escorts — a former University of Maryland professor (according to the Associated Press), who was facing prostitution charges. Press reports note that Palfrey recruited the women who worked at her agency with advertisements in college newspapers. Originally Palfrey even bragged on the web that her service was staffed with escorts "with two or more years of college education, who either work and/or go to school in the daytime." (Though in October, Palfrey claimed to The Smoking Gun site that she'd already shuttered the business in August because all those college-educated escorts were "driving me crazy.")

Job-seeking females were told they must have a car, a cellphone and a "weight proportionate to height." (Palfrey's web site touted the job's "excellent income and flexible hours.") Over the last seven years, Palfrey reportedly earned $750,000 — which would represent at least 2,700 dates.

"Cash or traveler's checks only."

Unfortunately, D.C. investigators were starting to ignore Palfrey's compartments. Though she lived in D.C., Palfrey kept a home near the San Francisco Bay Area. (According to an affidavit published by The Smoking Gun, women were asked to send a photograph and application to Palfrey's P.O. box in Vallejo, California.) After being hired each woman was then required to "engage in sexual activity" (without payment) to ensure they weren't undercover policewomen. Upon seeing the affidavit, Palfrey concluded it was the Department of Justice itself that was actually leaking the information.

And there was another strange anomaly in Palfrey's case, Bright observed. "What's so funny to me is how cheap these services seem to be in D.C. You'd pay sooooo much more in L.A." Five weeks before her death, Palfrey made the same argument to a reporter at Newsweek.
All along, Palfrey has claimed she was running a perfectly legal "adult fantasy" service that stopped short of sex...now, she hopes, [Eliot] Spitzer's fall may give her claims an unexpected credibility boost...

"We charged between $200 and $300," Palfrey tells NEWSWEEK. Even if the Emperor's Club rates were inflated New York area prices, Palfrey says, her business "wasn't even in the prostitution price range.

"This whole scandal helps my case considerably."

Ironically, the agency was started in 1991 while Palfrey was still on probation after 18 months in prison for running "an illegal prostitution business" in California. In the August interview, Palfrey shared her memories of that fateful day 17 years ago, saying she'd viewed prostitution as a business opportunity.
You come out prison with a scarlet F — "Felon" — across your forehead. Despite the fact that I had a four-year degree, and a little less than a year of law school — I was a fairly well-educated, well-traveled, well-read, sophisticated young woman in my mid-30s... there was no chance in hell for me in this society — certainly not back in the early 90s — to go forward, to get any kind of a job, or to do anything.

I had no choice. My life was in tatters financially, emotionally... So, I was really not in a position to do much of anything but to go back into the business.

"And to go back into it in a way that I felt — and I believed — I would never have a repeat experience."

Palfrey had earned an undergraduate degree in criminal justice, and her new plan had consisted of opening her business as far away from California as she could — in Washington D.C. And, to structure the business so that hopefully no one would do anything "that would get me into trouble"

"And I guess I did a pretty dog-gone good job," she said proudly in August, "because for 13 years, from late 1993 until last August of 2006, we did not have one bust!"

Seven days a week "Pamela Martin and Associates" opened at 5 p.m., offering "best selection and availability" before 9 p.m. — for 13 years. "Entirely female managed, [our] philosophy is to develop an on-going and sound relationship of mutual respect and consideration, with each and every staff member," Palfrey told prospective employees on her site. "For those individuals without experience, regular guidance and assistance is offered, by seasoned professional(s)."

Palfrey believes she got onto the government's radar after putting her home up for sale and wiring $70,000 to Germany. "Which by the way was picked up on one of those Homeland Security terrorist watch programs — the ones which are supposed to be watching the terrorists?

"They were watching me."

In the last year of her life, Palfrey had a unique perspective on how law enforcement handles prostitution — and she had especially strong words about vice cops. ("They love to go after defenseless women.") She talked hopefully about going public with her complaints after her trial was completed. "It is something that I want to explore when this is all over — when my actual civil/criminal case is all over. I am even talking to some folks right now about putting together a documentary on what the police have done, do, and will continue to do to defenseless women in this country involved in the sex industry."

David Vitter, who had hired Palfrey's escorts, is still a member of the U.S. Senate, and in the interview Palfrey's outrage grew when she talked about the hypocrisy of politicians, saying she was on the same crusade as Larry Flynt.
"[Vitter] has the ability to send us to war, in part. He has a vote. We don't have a vote, but he has a vote. So these people not only are hypocrites — they're kind of dangerous. And these people can and should be exposed, as far as I'm concerned. And that's the very reason I let the records go as I did, in the very end.

Though ABC News concluded that none of her patrons were newsworthy, Palfrey shocked the world by releasing 46 pounds of her phone records. It fueled the aura of scandal around her trial, though Palfrey still remained baffled as to the prosecutors' real agenda.

"We don't know what the rationale has been for them to go forward with the case," Palfrey said in August, "other than the fact that we simply wouldn't fold and give them what they wanted. At that time, I think they pretty much wanted to just take my entire life savings from me. So of course they ratcheted it up a notch, and it went into the criminal realm."

She described the prosecution as "a tremendous shock" — though nine months before her suicide, there was one moment of optimism.

"Now that I am freed from the chains of this business, in a way that I never thought I would be free... I have great hope, in the coming months, as I work my way out of my current predicament, to end up in another place, obviously.

"And in that place, I hope, indeed, to find a nice man."

Rush: The Last Taboo

Rush in 1978

As the redheaded, one-eyed stepchild in the Mondo Globo omniverse, I’ve written about some really fucked up shit; pretty much everything this side of fecalphilia.

And while I’m generally not shy about exposing my own proclivities, I’m about to reveal one that pushes the very boundaries of counterculture sensibility.

I love Rush.

Now, upon revealing this in person to some, I’ve seen the color completely drain out of the face, in a way that could only be rivaled by a revelation of secret daughter dungeon proportions. In terms of relationships, you definitely don’t want to let this cat out of the bag to a prospective mate until sometime between the farting in the bed phase and marriage.

The band is currently on tour to promote its latest release Snakes & Arrows. The tour is actually an extension of last year’s summer outing, which ended up being the sixth highest-grossing tour of the season.

With such evergreen success (Rush has been playing the same venues since I first saw them … in 1982), why does going to a Rush show still feel almost like sneaking into a NAMBLA convention?

Because much of their material showcases the instrumental prowess of drummer Neil Peart, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and bassist/vocalist/keyboardist Geddy Lee, that’s bound to alienate some listeners right off the bat. And while the band has taken strides to make their music more accessible over the years (and Snakes & Arrows has a sharp, fresh sound that’s remarkably contemporary for such a, well, old band), they ain’t gonna be mentors on American Idol anytime soon.

But I suspect it has a lot to do with the amount of baggage that Rush carries with it. The mythology of this legendary Canadian trio is fed almost as much on misconception as it is on their worthy musical achievements (including multiple Grammy nominations) and rabid fan base.

Because of their willingness to play with their sound over the years (evolving from the Cream/Zeppelin power trio blueprint to Yes-like sprawling masterpieces to a full embrace of synthesizers and MIDI technology in the ‘80s before stripping back down to a purely guitar-based rock sound), Rush means different things to different people. Even fans argue about “which” Rush is the “real” Rush.

Allow me to demonstrate:

Rush = Dungeons & Dragons. Thematically speaking, Rush never were a sword-and-sorcery band, though that perception thrives among the unwashed. They did use sci-fi narratives, but only to advance a larger theme, as demonstrated best in their seminal album, 2112, where futuristic elements are dwarfed by the Ayn Rand-ian perspective.

While there’s no doubt that plenty of RPG nerds have been into Rush since those bones were first rolled, you can file this one under “All puppies are dogs, but not all dogs are puppies.” That is to say, in especially the small towns of America, when considering the circle of life that is high school ass-kicking, it has just as often been the case that the one listening to “2112” has been the ass-kicker as he has been the hapless, bespectacled victim.

Rush is a heavy metal band. Wait, Rush is an ‘80s synth-pop band. It seems unlikely that these two misconceptions could co-exist in the popular culture terrain, and it is. However, I have heard both of these assertions made, and not just by the average yahoo, but by the media (below-average yahoos). Obviously age is a factor in determining which false statement you subscribe to. If you’re between the ages of 40 and 50, and all you know about Rush is “Working Man,” I guess you might call that heavy metal. I mean, you could also call it afro-funk if you wanted to, but whatever. On the other hand, if you’re between the ages of 30 and 40, and your first exposure to Rush was the MTV video for “The Big Money,” you could be excused for thinking they were … uh … The Fixx?

Girls aren’t into Rush. Okay, so there’s probably about as many girls into Rush as there are guys who watch “The View,” but let the record show that they do exist. I dated a girl last year who, to my amazement, was into Rush, and proclaimed it so defiantly my big toe jumped up in my boot. (She dumped me because I smoke too much pot. Go figure.)

Black people don’t like Rush. I remember the claim being made that you're more likely to spot RU Sirius in da club with Young Jeezy than a black person at a Rush show. This made me understandably self-conscious given my sensitive liberalitude, so I made a point of looking around at the last couple of shows and was relieved to see some color in a sea of pale flesh. I mean, there are probably more blacks at a Dave Matthews concert, but then again there are more white people at a Michael Franti show, so again, go forth and figure.

Geddy Lee isn’t human. He’s some kind of chipmunk. The aforementioned ability of Rush to tinker with their sound is one of the things that endears them to their fans. Hell, there have even been times when critics have been in synch with the band’s sensibilities (Grace Under Pressure, for example, was very in touch with its time, 1984, and appealed to critics for about a minute.)

Of all these phases, however, the most recognized, and paradoxically revered and reviled, was the first seven years of the band’s career, when Geddy Lee’s high-pitched yelps defined Rush’s music. And while Lee has spent the last 25 years proving he could also emote with more warmth in his voice, one could argue it still dogs the band. But at the same time, it is that original quality that would go on to influence vocalists like the Mars Volta’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala.

So let it be known that when I see my favorite band at their stop at the Sleep Train Pavilion (!) in Concord in the Bay Area this weekend, the sense of rapture that will somehow manage to overtake the copious amount of booze and weed in my system comes from unashamedly indulging in something the masses will never understand: The taboo of Rush.

See also:
Top 10 Pillars of Led Zeppelin Mythology
The End of Internet Radio?
The Satanic Cosmology of Jack Chick

Hating Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert won the first Pulitzer Prize for film criticism. But 33 years later, is he part of the problem?

That's what Armond White is suggesting in a 3,200-word essay arguing that Ebert's "TV glibness" misses the meat of movies. Critics today discuss movies "simply as entertainment" detached from their moral and political context, White argues, and internet bloggers are compounding the problem with an elite hipsterism which is "diminishing cultural discourse."

Vanity Fair's James Wolcott quipped that the column "has something to annoy, invigorate, and agitate just about everybody."

The 20th anniversary issue of the New York Press found Armond White declaring war on the deadened souls of the movie-loving literati. This week White, who heads the New York Film Critics Circle, accused critics of ignoring politically-relevant movies like Steven Spielberg's Munich and War of the Worlds. Instead they'll only endorse dishonest films like There Will Be Blood or Gus van Sant's film about the Columbine shootings, the kind of movies White describes as "irresponsible," "pseudo-serious," and "sometimes immoral or socially retrograde."

And where is Roger Ebert's big contribution to this cultural dialogue, White asks — his insightful new idea or his notable style? But White takes his attack even further by noting Ebert's substitutes on the show now "loyally prevaricate in Ebert’s manner — a 'criticism' show owned and sponsored by the Disney conglomerate!"

"Prevaricate" is a strong word, but White is suggesting an industry-wide pattern of dishonesty spotlighting the movie industry instead of the movies. For example, when Premiere launched in the last year of the Reagan presidency, it focused on box office receipts "for that era enthralled with tax shelters, bond-trading and pro-trust legislation," and the magazine ultimately "perverted movie journalism from criticism to production news." To this day, White concludes, we're left with film criticism "that's blurred with celebrity gossip."

But even more he objects to a "disrespect for thinking" — and this is where the bloggers come in. If it's a tragedy, "it’s not just for the journalism profession betraying its promise of news and ideas but also for those bloggers."
The love of movies that inspires their gigabytes of hyperbole has been traduced to nonsense language and non-thinking.

It breeds a new pinhead version of fan-clubism.

Unfortunately, the "post-Tarantino cinema" requires critics to reach for the esoteric in a kind of grass root elitism. With the world of film criticism now globally decentralized, it crowns "a network of bizarro authorities" — pompous trend-followers "with a hipster/avant-garde pack mentality...an opinionated throng, united in their sarcasm and intense pretense at intellectualizing what is basically a hobby." White accuses "the Internetters" of confusing the ability to publish online with democratization — "almost fascistically turning discourse into babble."

"...it’s mostly half-baked, overlong term-paper essays by fans who like to think they think."


Roger Ebert once confronted a similar issue with film critic Pauline Kael, according to a story White adds to his column. Ebert asked Kael if she watched his show, legend has it, and Kael replied dismissively that "If I wanted a layman's opinion on movies, I don't have to watch TV."

But Ebert himself takes a more philosophical view to the flood of online voices. When the web was young back in 1996, Ebert wrote a column for Yahoo! Internet Life with his reviewing partner Gene Siskel assessing the movie information available online. "You can find out almost anything about the movies on the Web," Ebert wrote.

"Some of it will be true. Some will be pure invention. A lot of it will be advertising..."

But Friday saw an announcement that for the first time the Annual Roger Ebert Film Festival would be held without Roger Ebert. Earlier this month 65-year-old Ebert made headlines when he announced he'd return to writing movie reviews after a series of health problems, though he'd forego a fourth surgery which would restore his ability to speak. "I am still cancer-free, and not ready to think about more surgery at this time," he wrote in a letter in the Chicago Sun-Times (adding "I should be content with the abundance I have.") Ebert adopted his familiar playful tone — "Are you as bored with my health as I am?" — but stressed a familiar passion. "I still have all my other abilities, including the love of viewing movies and writing about them."

After three decades in the public eye Ebert is one of the most familiar faces on television, and he seems blissfully unaware of White's column. Friday the Chicago Sun-Times site even boasted a fresh post on Roger Ebert's blog — titled Ebertfest in Exile.
Every year I keep meaning to include "Joe vs. the Volcano" in Ebertfest, and every year something else squeezes it out, some film more urgently requiring our immediate attention, you see...

Ebert writes honestly that the movie "was a failure in every possible way except that I loved it."


Did White launch his argument at the wrong time? "Don’t misconstrue this as an attack on the still-convalescent Ebert," White warns. "I wish him nothing but health. But I am trying to clarify where film criticism went bad." But White's article still drew a thumb down from blogger Matt Zoller Seitz.

"His simplistic denunciation of the meaning and impact of Roger Ebert — who has done more to widen the tastes of the movie-going public and popularize basic cinema literacy than any critic in the history of print — is shameful, and would be so even without the 'I wish him well as he recovers' parenthetical."

In fact, it was the online blog Defamer that identified the context for Armond's remarks. "Escalating Film Critic Crisis Enters Crucial 'Everything Sucks' Phase" read their snarky headline, linking the introspection to anxiety about the recent dismissal of several prominent newspaper film critics. "The discussion turned especially profound this week as a selection of esteemed critics moved on to slapping anyone and anything that would stand still long enough to absorb their blows."

Sympathy may be rolling towards Ebert in this discussion, but even before his column, White had already racked up an unflattering section in his Wikipedia entry labeled "controversy"
Many mainstream critics accuse White of contradicting the grain of mainstream criticism only to provoke debate [citation needed].

He frequently praises films that almost all other critics have drubbed, such as Little Man, Sahara and Against the Ropes. He often focuses a large portion of his reviews to attacks on the critical establishment... He is also frequently accused of being an aggressive pop culture writer who lends intellectual legitimacy to commercial product.[citation needed]

Of course, this could be dismissed as another half-baked term paper essay from the opinionated throng. The entry also notes dutifully that White "pioneered the case for the music video being one of the most significant postmodern art forms" and authored a book on the life of Tupac Shakur." (Library Journal wrote that "White has interviewed few subjects and done only modest secondary research in his attempt to place the rap star in a larger social and cultural context. This will appeal mostly to fans of standard rock biography....")

But it may be Google News that delivers the ultimate verdict. Searching for references to White's article turns up exactly one — the snarky sendup it received at Defamer. Ironically the only news outlet paying attention is one of the bizarro authorities with their "hipster/avantage-garde pack mentality."

If a critic challenges the awareness of film critics and no one notices — does he still make a sound?

See Also:
Sexy Adult Secrets in 'Little Children'
Robert Altman's 7 Secret Wars
Dead Woman Blogging
Pulp Fiction Parodies on YouTube
Author Slash Trickster 'JT LeRoy'
Robert Anton Wilson: 1932-2007
Alvin and the Chipmunks launch iMonks.com

War of the Candidate Music Videos

Is there an emerging YouTube demographic? Politically-themed music videos may be offering an unacknowledged glimpse at the next generation of voters. But judging from these clips, their real message might be that elections are stupid, and what's really important is who's got the funniest music videos.

This summer famously saw debating candidates facing questions from a cartoon-voiced talking snowman, and Barack Obama's inspiring "Yes I Can" speech eventually morphed into a hip music video. But at the same time, though Barack lost Ohio's primary, he won the support of a whopping 75 percent of voters under the age of 24. If America's future will ultimately be determined by YouTube, it's these young video stars who are running the secret campaign.

So what is the new generation trying to tell us?

1. Hillary Boy

Not only is she mandating universal healthcare for millions — but YouTube user DaveDays also has a crush on her.

He admits candidly in the second verse that "I don't have political views," but states that 60-year-old Hillary has still won his support because of "Those thighs, those eyes. Yeah, yeah, yeah..."

Using doctored footage showing Hillary winning a dance contest, he implies that Barack Obama can't win because his own supporters' videos are insufficiently sexy. "Obama Girl you're a skank," sings Days, warning his sexy video rival that she can't ensure an Obama victory "even if you take off all your clothes." Such is the devotion of this Green Day wannabe (with the Republican mom) that he'd even choose to watch Hillary instead of the Teletubbies. Which kind of puts the whole primary in perspective...

Day's real interest is becoming a video star — as he himself acknowledges in the video's description.

"This is a spoof of obama girls vid.." he scribbles.
dont take it too seriously ;-)

Unfortunately, only 900,000 people have watched his video, putting his efforts slightly behind Taryn Southern's own lesbian-themed video about her own crush on the candidate, "Hott 4 Hill." ("I know you're not gay, but I'm hoping for bi-") But together they've created a visual, musical, sexually-charged dialogue — which is entirely free of any actual political issues.

2. The Obama Girl Revolution

In November "Obama Girl" recorded a public service announcement arguing America's political system suffered from one longstanding dysfunction: public servants who can't dance. The video was viewed just 135,659 times, suggesting that 25-year-old model Amber Lee Ettinger had already fallen from her earlier fame.

As the original video figurehead, Barely Political's "Obama Girl" launched the craze for political musical videos back in June of 2007, though there's no evidence it impacted the campaigns. HCD Research later discovered that the responses reported most-frequently for her famous video were "irritated" (48%) and "embarrassed" (35%). There's even something vaguely fascist about her newest music video, released Tuesday, in which she wails to Hillary to surrender because "it's become an Obama nation."

Ironically, all that crushing didn't actually lead her to vote for Obama. According to a February post on a New York Times blog, Obama Girl skipped the New Jersey primary after a weekend of partying at the Super Bowl.

And she didn't vote for anyone.

3. Viva!

There's a positive side to political music videos. The dialogue has been democratized, with every voice claiming a part of the internet for its own message. Miguel Orozco, a Mexican-American Obama supporter born in East L.A., created Amigos de Obama.com "to fill a void in media outreach to Latinos" according to a message on his site. ("Tu Voto Tiene Swing!" it welcomes visitors...)

The site also displays one of the most sincere music videos, one that actually hopes to persuade voters — in this case, the crucial hispanic demographic — using a mariachi band. "Viva Obama!" the corridos sing...
"Families united and safe and even with a health care plan... His struggle is also our struggle, and today we urgently need a change..."

"Out of many, we are truly one," Barack announced last week in a speech about race — and it seems true even the world of viral music videos. Elsewhere on the web, there's even a video called Barack OBollywood.

4. "Oh my god! No!!!"

In an age of music videos, the worst sin is bad production values. The video Hillary4U&Me became viral simply because it was so bad, and ultimately it even provoked a YouTube counter-meme: the horrified reaction video. ("Oh my god! No! That is horrible! Ah ha ha ha ha ha! Are you serious?!" screams YouTube user CloudIzMe, as his friends gather around laughing in derision.) User "UltimateJosh" attempted to inject some edge by creating a metal "Rock Remix" by replacing the soundtrack with Marilyn Manson's "Better of Two Evils."

"I will step on you on my way up, and I will step on you on my way down...")

The music videos have evolved into post-modern deconstructive "meta" videos. But we still don't know which candidate has the best healthcare proposal.

5. McCain-o-mania

How long until John McCain feels compelled to record his own music video? The answer came in 2002, when the 65-year-old former prisoner of war appeared on Saturday Night Live to sing a medley of Barbara Streisand songs.

"I've been in politics for over 20 years," he tells the audience, "and for over 20 years I've had Barbara Streisand trying to do my job..."

As the tables turned, the young writers at Saturday Night Live thought they were writing a satire. But instead they'd stumbled into a harbinger of the strange future to come, when music and politics would collide into a near-meaningless jumble of amateur glory hounds.

Though it still remains to be seen who they'll vote for.

See Also:
Democratic Cartoon Candidates
YouTube 5 Sorriest Questions for the 2008 Presidential Candidates
5 Best Videos: Animals Attacking Reporters
5 More Nasty Campaign Ads
Pulp Fiction Parodies on YouTube

Google Stalker Reveals Secret Project

Can Google Hear Me?

It was an exciting moment. After a year of development, they were finally going to release their secret project online. Aaron Stanton and his team had been up 26 hours, according to a Boise newspaper, "broken only by a 4 a.m. trip to WinCo for more Red Bull energy drink."

Aaron had already made headlines when he flew to Google's headquarters last year without an appointment, vowing he'd wait in their lobby until they heard him out. He wasn't allowed to camp in the lobby, but eventually he got his meeting and began cobbling together a prototype. Now Google, Yahoo, and Amazon have all peered at Aaron's big idea, and last week Boise's 26-year-old entrepreneur finally revealed it to the world.

Unfortunately, a year ago the world had already guessed Aaron's secret. Or at least, some commenters on Digg deduced that it was related to "the Novel Project," Aaron's abandoned venture from 2002.

His newest version also analyzes books. But instead of delivering book-writing suggestions to authors, it delivers book-buying suggestions to readers. (Aaron calls it "a Pandora.com for books.") In a December interview, Aaron told us he felt big companies would be more willing to listen to him now that he had something to show them. He'd already begun filing a patent, and "I still get e-mails on a regular basis wishing me luck."

But has he already received a rejection from Google? When we contacted Aaron twice last week with that question — we received no reply. Aaron's latest video announces instead that "This isn't just about Google any more. It's also about Yahoo, who reached out to us early in this adventure." So how did it go at Yahoo? "It was bad timing," Aaron later told Wired News. "We got down [to Silicon Valley], and two days later they had a bunch of layoffs."

He's also added more big names to his list of potential partners. "It's also about Microsoft and Amazon.com," he hedges in the video, saying they complete the list of "the four companies that we think are in the best position to look at what we're doing and say okay, that's genuinely pretty cool." But of course that depends on what "being about Microsoft" means. "If you happen to work at either one of those two companies and you see this, would you pass this on?" Aaron asks hopefully. "Because we have something we'd like to say to you."

"We do actually own 'Can Amazon Hear Me .com'," he says in the video, "but at this point (he smiles) that seems a little cliche."

Aaron rose to fame with an online video blog chronicling his quest to get that first meeting with Google — called "Can Google Hear Me?" But his enthusiastic updates had always adopted a fierce silence about one topic: his secret entrepreneurial project. Last week that mystery finally ended with the beta release of BookLamp.

Here's how it works. When a user pick a book, Aaron's system quickly "reads" it — every page — and calculates a score based on five criteria. (Its pace, the level of dialog and action, the amount of description and the density of its prose.) A slick interface then generates a graph showing how the book scored, page by page, on each criteria — and identifies other books with a similar profile.

In the next version, his interface will even let users adjust the algorithm themselves, and it may even become a self-learning system. (For example, it might tweak its scoring based on patterns like recurring "theme" words that the user may not even be aware of.) "The idea is that over time the system will be able to recommend books on data that you yourself would never think to look for on a keyword search," Aaron explains in a video.

He also thinks hopeful authors might be able to use the system to identify publishers who'd appreciate their style, using the system's analysis of the publisher's previous books. And he sees other potential advantages for readers. "Ultimately we could tell you don't give up on this book until you reach page 50 at least because then it's going to get a lot more action packed!"

So far they've analyzed 207 books — though its mostly science fiction, listed alphabetically by the author's first name. There's seven by Isaac Asimov, and five more set in Isaac Asimov's fictional world, plus two books by Michael Crichton and two by L. Ron Hubbard. There's even three by James Doohan, who played Scotty the engineer on the original Star Trek. James Doohan's Privateer rates low on description.

"I had a heavy date last night. I overslept," the spaceman replied, yawning loudly...

"We're late for Strong's meeting over at the Academy," Bret snapped. "Get up! We've got to leave right away."

But the algorithm does give it a high rating for "action" (as well as pacing).

Quent Miles looked at the other man, his black eyes gleaming coldly. "I'll get up when I'm ready," he said slowly.

The two men glared at each other for a moment, and finally Brett lowered his eyes. Miles grinned and yawned again.

If you liked The Privateer by James Doohan, BookLamp suggests eight other books — including Independent Command, by James Doohan.

They've plotted 729,000 data points across 30,293 scenes, but there's one big problem: it still doesn't return enough matches. "There's no real way around this," Aaron acknowledges, "short of adding books to our database." He estimates that delivering comprehensive results would require a database of at least a million books. "Luckily for us, we live in a time when there are a number of such large scanning projects currently underway!" And his team is even thinking about building their own scanner.

In the mean time, they've tucked a couple practical jokes into the system. Searching for George Orwell's 1984, the system returns a 98% match for the USA Patriot Act.

The book's description? "A bad idea."

A celebratory video touted the project's journey — a year of twice a week meetings for the five core team-members and 13 more working remotely. ("They worked in coffee shops and living rooms, via Skype and instant chat. They've become friends....") Though they'd originally aimed for an August prototype, it took about seven months longer. And yet it wasn't until last month that the three Boise developers met the other two core members, Matt Davenport from England and the mysterious Evan from Southern California. Dozens more programmers offered to help, the video notes.

It's been a heady ride. Aaron began receiving thousands of emails a day after launching his video blog. When his father was hospitalized in November of 2006, "I realized that if I was going to do anything with my idea I couldn't put it off any more," Aaron says.

But today he's at a crossroads. "So far, this project has been balanced against other things in our lives — we've been working on this in our own time, in our living rooms, normally after hours. And it's time for us to decide what we want to do with BookLamp."

Microsoft still hasn't opened its doors, according to Aaron's blog. But there's still one glimmer of hope. Earlier this month he posted optimistically that "our presentation materials are still being bounced around Amazon.com. We've received word on Friday that our work is being positively received, and we should be cautiously optimistic.

"Being one to celebrate whenever the opportunity arises, I immediately went out and bought myself a $1 fudge sundae from McDonald's.

And Aaron now seems to be considering other less entrepreneurial options. He told a Boise newspaper that "It could be money driven, but when you run out of money it's over. Or it could be fun driven, and you never run out of fun." He's considering simply releasing the algorithm as an open source project, and he's asking for input from the online community that's been so supportive. "It's not quite a 'choose your own adventure' project," Aaron posts in the forum at BookLamp, "but your feedback will absolutely influence our decisions."

And even if you don't like his idea, Aaron has a message for you: "thank you again to the thousands and thousands of people that have sent us good luck e-mails over this last year." He says their good will helped keep the project fun.

At the end of the day, Google, Yahoo, and Amazon at least took a look at his idea. And even if he doesn't make any money — he's still getting a chance to make his dream come true.

See Also:
Closing Pandora's Box: The End of Internet Radio?
Google Heard Me, Now What?
Should YouTube Hear Me?
Neil Gaiman Has Lost His Clothes

Lawrence Welk vs. The Hippies

Lawrence Welk was approaching his seventies when radical changes suddenly hit America's music scene. The clash in the late 1960s shook the band leader, America's most famous square, and he confronted the raging turmoil in a series of shocking performances — at least, according to these five videos.

Thirty years before American Idol, parts of America were still uncomfortable with the very idea of rock songs even appearing on television, especially during Welk's squeaky-clean song and dance show. And since The Lawrence Welk Show ran for three decades, these videos suggest the ultimate long, strange trip. They're a window in time, capturing a bizarre never-world where the hour-long show actually surrendered happily to the coming onslaught of rock.

1. Sweet Jesus

Yes, "Dale and Gail" are actually singing about the excessive use of marijuana: the devil's weed, the great satanic corrupter of our youth — and the counterculture's intellectual lubricant. Welk really did trot out a 23-year-old rejected Miss Oklahoma contestant to croon a shockingly wholesome rendition of "One Toke Over the Line." Maybe he was trying to tell us something.

Nearly 40 years later, the clip ignited a new controversy. Tom Shipley, one of the drug-friendly song's original singers, uploaded Welk's version onto YouTube — and nearly immediately, it drew over 160 comments.
"Do these two know what a 'toke' even is?"
"This fails so hard it approaches win from the other side."
"I think I'm about to stab pencils into my eyes and ears."

Welk was famous again, but for all the wrong reasons, as this forgotten moment in time "sparked" a very 21st-century enthusiasm.
"I want to make physical love to this clip."
"Way to go, Light-em-up Larry!"
"a priceless moment in television history"
"Champagne...the gateway drug!"

Though perhaps inevitably, some commenters also searched for a hidden message in the couple's giddy vocal delivery.
"look at their eyes!!, their baked!!"
"oh. my. god. becky, look at her blunt."
"She has to be baked to wear that outfit."

There's no evidence that Dale and Gail actually toked up before singing the song. But when accordionist Myron Floren introduces them — there's obviously something that's making him cough.

2. Sucking on a Ding-dong

Welk's heroin habit eventually caught up with him, and he was swallowed whole by a voracious counterculture. In a shocking turnaround, he brought in Lou Reed to jam with the show's banjo player, organist, drummer, and orchestra, citing a song which was "high" in popularity.

A remarkable video shows the squares in Welk's audience bobbing in a slow waltz as The Velvet Underground rips through "Sister Ray." ("I'm searching for my mainer, I said I couldn't hit it sideways...")

"Wonderful!" Welk declares at the end.

"Mr. Welk... This isn't like you at all," you can imagine his singers saying. Though of course, by now you folks know we were only kidding about that heroin habit...

3. Stop the Music

In a historic telecast, five men in yellow blazers and five women in matching blouses were confronted by "Hippie Welk."

The smiley man who played polkas on his accordion suddenly appeared with long hair and Beatle spectacles, flashing a peace sign and barking "Don't you cats know this polka jazz is strictly from Squares-ville? I can't stand that kind of music."

The audience actually gasps...

Backed by a Day-Glo drum, Welk then launches his singers into Wilson Pickett's "She's Looking Good." (Joking about bands with animal names, Welk says "I just opened the cages, and look what I released... The Babbling Baboons.") It rocks. Even if Welk's cast isn't quite sure how to dance to it.

While the Velvet Underground video was a mashup, this clip really is from an actual broadcast. It's a seismic shift in America's cultural landscape, as the song's driving beat fries the minds of America for exactly forty seconds. But then Welk's two white "soul sisters" are interrupted by some very unconvincing acting, as two female cast-members complain "Mr. Welk... This isn't like you at all."

Returning to their pre-liberated state of near-infantalism, they ask Welk about his trademark champagne music. "Whatever happened to the music that went doodly doodly doodly doodly doot?" They give him a raspberry, the audience applauds loudly, and Welk smilingly says "Of course, by now you folks know we were only kidding."

"We wouldn't do that to you nice people."

4. Meet the Beatles.

Drugs influenced the Beatles too, but when they broke up, it was Lawrence Welk who picked up their countercultural cred, turning "Hey Jude" into one of "ten big songs" on his ground-breaking concept album, Galveston. But where the Beatles released "Hey Jude" together with "Revolution," Welk paired it up with a softer song — Glen Campbell's "Gentle on My Mind."

Its graceful trumpet solo inspired audiences to waltz and vote for Nixon, shortly before a startling full-orchestra crescendo into the chorus, and one brief flourish of funk from an unappreciated bass player.

In a surreal moment, the string section saws away underneath a giant golden sign which says: "Geritol."

It was nobody's Woodstock.

5. Smoke on the Water?

It was almost heroic the way Welk clung to his kitschy schtick in the face of a changing world — his own personal freak flag, flown gloriously high.

Welk was nearly 90 when he died in 1989, but he lived long enough to see another accordion player make the big time, possibly channeling his spirit. In the early '80s, Weird Al Yankovic offered up the ultimate tribute, mixing Welk's "Bubbles in the Wine" into an accordion medley of 14 ridiculously inappropriate songs, from Devo to Jimi Hendrix, the Clash and the Who.

Later footage of Welk's show was even spliced into a video for the hyperactive medley (which also included "Hey Jude"), creating a montage that's oddly reminiscent of the surreal bandleader himself. It ultimately proves that given enough accordions, any song can become soul-crushingly square.

Even "Smoke on the Water."

100 Years After

It's been 105 years since Lawrence Welk was born. (Tuesday would've been his birthday.) But this November saw an interesting coda.

A video was uploaded to YouTube showing an audience of high school students baffled by a vinyl record of Welk's polka band performing "Minnie the Mermaid." Their heads bob as Welk's deep-voiced singer croons about the time he'd spent down in her seaweed bungalow...

But it turns out it was a time capsule within a time capsule, since the video came from a public access TV show they'd recorded for their local cable outlet in the 1980s. (An earlier episode featured a video by GWAR.) The two teenaged mid-80s hipsters are playing a song from 1957, just a pit stop on the song's journey to YouTube 50 years later.

The video has been watched just 87 times, but it drew one comment that puts the whole thing in perspective. "Now your show seems as ancient here as the Lawrence Welk record did..." In the future, maybe everyone will be Lawrence Welk for 15 minutes.

He'd learned to play the accordion before he'd learned to speak English at the age of 21, and rose from a poor immigrant family to become one of the richest men in Hollywood. But it was his earnest commitment to hokey friendliness that made him a kind of legend. Even if Welk never grokked the emergence of rock music, one YouTube comment suggested Welk had earned some respect simply for the role he'd played for the generations that came before.

"He made my grandparents — whom I loved dearly — happy during the final years of their lives. For that, I respect him."

The Collected Controversies of William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley

"Part of me thinks he actually died a long time ago," one blog reader commented, "like maybe the day Rush Limbaugh was awarded the inaugural 'William F. Buckley, Jr. Award for Media Excellence,' by the Media Research Center."

But Buckley always remained his own man, infuriating some neo-conservatives with his independence from their movement. As his smooth genial personality watched over the decades, Buckley observed conservatism in many flavors. There was ultimately nothing unusual about the moment when he called on George Bush to admit the war in Iraq was lost, since Buckley had consistently engaged virtually every social issue in the lifetime that preceded it.

1. Secret Agent Man

Buckley didn't just support the cold war — he actually participated in early CIA actions. In 1951 he became a deep cover CIA agent stationed in Mexico, reporting directly (and only) to E. Howard Hunt (who would later play a role in the Bay of Pigs invasion). Two years before his death, 79-year-old Buckley remembered a strange aftermath to his CIA work more than half a century before:
In 1980 I found myself seated next to the former president of Mexico at a ski-area restaurant. What, he asked amiably, had I done when I lived in Mexico?

Buckley's honest answer? "I tried to undermine your regime, Mr. President."

"It was three months before I was formally permitted to inform my wife what the real reason was for going to Mexico City to live," Buckley later remembered. And in 1986, Howard Hunt affectionately dedicated his spy novel Cozumel, to Buckley: "...como recuerdo de nuestra temporada en Mexico."

2. Yeah Yeah Yeah, They Stink

Throughout his life Buckley continued taking staunchly conservative positions, railing against desegregation in the 1950s and criticizing Nixon for going to China in the 1970s. But as a cultural critic, Buckley also injected himself into smaller controversies. "Beatle Hater William F. Buckley Dead At 82," read one post in the newsgroup rec.music.beatles. In a 1964 essay titled "Yeah Yeah Yeah, They Stink," Buckley had written that the Beatles were not merely awful: "I would consider it sacrilegious to say anything less than that they are godawful." His diatribe acknowledged the National Review critic who argued that after Sinatra's twitches and Elvis's thrusts, future entertainers would have to wrestle live octopuses. "The Beatles didn't in fact do this," Buckley wrote, "but how one wishes they did!"

"And how one wishes the octopus would win."

But behind Buckley's wit was at least the appearance of fair play, and the essay ends with him knowingly mocking the horror of parents. "What was our sin? Was it our devotion to Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald? We worshiped at the shrine of purity..."

In fact, Buckley was a genuine music lover, and when it came to Elvis Presley, Buckley had always defended him. In 2002, at the age of 77, Buckley even wrote historical fiction about the life of the pop star called Elvis in the Morning. "Ninety five percent of what he sang, in my judgment, is simply awful," he told one interviewer. "But five percent is just terrific. He was a great, great balladeer and his sense of music and his sense of rhythm was fantastic." Unfortunately, despite his genuine enthusiasm, Buckley's final novel drew mixed reviews. "This lackluster affair is filled with so little energy that one suspects that the author was as bored as his readers will be," wrote The Library Journal. "It's hard to imagine someone making Elvis and the 1960s and 1970s uninteresting, but Buckley succeeds beyond all reasonable expectations."

Today used copies are for sale on Amazon for one cent.

3. "Go Back To Your Pornography"

As the sixties heated up, Buckley made one of his most notorious statements. It was during a live television discussion about a police crackdown on demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Gore Vidal and Buckley were in absolute disagreement about the meaning of the clashes, with Buckley arguing there was a legal right to disperse the demonstrators. Vidal cited the support for North Vietnam in parts of Europe, and invoked the importance of freedom of speech in America. "Shut up a minute," Vidal said, as Buckley tried to interrupt.

"No I wont," Buckley replied — and then the debate got complicated. Addressing the question of how to handle dissenters, Buckley said "Some people were pro-Nazi, and the answer is they were well-treated by people who ostracized them. And I'm for ostracizing people who egg on other people to shoot American marines and American soldiers. I know you don't care."
Gore Vidal: As far as I'm concerned, the only sort of pro-crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself.

William F. Buckley: Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I'll sock you in your god damn face and you'll stay plastered.

Citing Vidal's book, Myra Breckinridge, Buckley suggested his opponent "Go back to his pornography." Buckley also cited his military service in World War II, which Vidal accused him of exaggerating. There were real bad feelings, though ultimately Buckley himself admitted he was deeply embarrassed about losing his composure.

Buckley remained the best of friends with an equally liberal writer, Norman Mailer, and Playboy magazine once published the transcript of a good-spirited debate between the two. (Buckley embarrassed Mailer by citing an earlier essay where he'd discussed the pursuit of the perfect orgasm...)

For 33 years Buckley held court for intellectual discussions on his talk show, Firing Line, where he gamely engaged the cultural figures of his time, including one legendary interview with Jack Kerouac just one year before the author's death in 1968. Apparently under the influence of an intoxicating substance, Kerouac blurts out "Flat foot floosie with a floy floy" at one point — and the interview was later lovingly recreated in a 2006 stage play.

4. Cigarette Smoking Man

At the time of his death, Buckley was suffering from emphysema, and 14 months earlier (at the age of 82) he penned a remarkable editorial against tobacco. Buckley first turned his witty style against cigarette advertising, skewering Newport cigarettes' claim that they're "alive with pleasure." ("The ads, of course, took no account of those who were dead, presumably without pleasure.") His wife had died the year before, after 57 years of marriage, "technically from an infection," Buckley wrote, "but manifestly, at least in part, from a body weakened by 60 years of nonstop smoking."
My wife began smoking (furtively) when 15, which is about when I also began. When we were both 27, on the morning after a high-pitched night on the town for New Year's Eve, we resolved on mortification of the flesh to make up for our excesses: We both gave up smoking.

The next morning, we decided to divorce — nothing less than that would distract us from the pain we were suffering. We came to, and flipped a coin — the winner could resume smoking. I lost, and for deluded years thought myself the real loser, deprived of cigarettes.

Buckley had defended the free market his whole life, but felt a sadness over his years of silence on the dangers of tobacco, which "puts me in something of the position of the Zyklon B defendants after World War II... They pleaded, of course, that as far as they were concerned, they were simply technicians, putting together chemicals needed in wartime for fumigation... Those who fail to protest the free passage of tobacco smoke in the air come close to the Zyklon defendants in pleading ignorance."

5. Sailing Away

Buckley famously smoked marijuana — after sailing his boat outside the U.S. territorial limits, where it would no longer be illegal. Finally at the age of 78, Buckley wrote an editorial for the National Review decrying the war on pot.

"Legal practices should be informed by realities," Buckley argued, citing 700,000 pot arrests each year, 87% of which involved only possession of small amounts. "This exercise in scrupulosity costs us $10-15 billion per year in direct expenditures alone."

But would America ever rise up and demand a change in marijuana laws?
It is happening, but ever so gradually. Two of every five Americans, according to a 2003 Zogby poll cited by Dr. Nadelmann, believe "the government should treat marijuana more or less the same way it treats alcohol: It should regulate it, control it, tax it, and make it illegal only for children". The Dutch do odd things, but here they teach us a lesson.

Buckley's position was unexpected, but it offered an honorable example of his real commitment to intellectualism. He began his essay by writing that "Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great."

His son said Buckley died "with his boots on," according to BBC News — writing at his desk. "If he had been given a choice on how to depart this world," the National Review wrote, "I suspect that would have been exactly it. At home, still devoted to the war of ideas."

See Also:
20 Secrets of an Infamous Dead Spy
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
The QuestionAuthority Proposal
The Furious Passions of Norman Mailer

Adam West and Davy Jones Meet Sexina

Sexina starring Adam West

Ladies and gentlemen...meet Sexina!

A James Bond-style theme song rolls behind the opening credits of a new film featuring Adam West as a ruthless criminal mastermind. But its star is Sexina, part Britney Spears, part private-investigator-secretly-fighting corruption-in-the-music-industry.

79-year-old West plays a ruthless music industry overlord bent on destroying the sexy pop sensation with an evil boy band composed entirely of cuddly robots. The ultimate irony? The movie's theme is sung by Davy Jones, whose vocals for The Monkees in the 1960s make him one of the original boy band singers.

Davy Jones records the theme to Sexina

Click here to hear an excerpt from
Davy Jones' theme song for "Sexina: Popstar PI."

UPDATE: You can also click here for our list of
"Seven Forgotten Classics by Davy Jones

"Sexina is a very campy film, and Davy's track blends well with the tone," according to the film's publicists. It's one of 80 wildly original films being screened at the San Francisco's Independent Film Festival, now celebrating its tenth anniversary. ("What we're lacking in corporate dollars, we make up for with our devoted IndieFest filmgoers," according to founder Jeff Ross.) To promote the festival, the organizers even came up with their own bizarre trailer.

And Sexina, Popstar PI couldn't possibly be more indie. It's the brainchild of Eric Sharkey, whose resume includes uncredited work as a production assistant on the notorious Glitter (as well as Vanilla Sky). He's written, directed, and produced two previous films — though one was a four-minute short about a Coney Island Alligator Hunter (Her secret weapon: beer.) The other film, I Got Lucky, pairs a pot-head with a talking hamburger who can predict the future.

Sexina starring Adam West
In his sexy new movie, Adam West, who was TV's original Batman, schemes in the shadows for ways to overthrow the pop stardom of the film's singing sensation, Sexina (played by Lauren D'Avella). Sexina — real name: Maude Jenkins — has withstood all challengers, including a rival singer named "Sir Stabs-a-lot."

But now she's facing new competition from a narcissistic teen idol named Lance Canyon. (Church groups complained about his controversial song, "You Need The Extra Deep Love," but Lance responds that "My penis was touched by god. They should just worship it.") By day, Sexina and her bodyguard Chainsaw deal with the pressures of show business. ("I don't want a rapping Jesus in my video!") But she's also moonlighting as a kick-ass detective.

"We have our best person on the case," says her adoring female boss. "She's tough, smart, and very sexy. She also has the coolest walk, and a great smile."

But watch out — this movie is filled with unlikely plot twists. ("Not only is G-Dog not really from Jamaica. He's also a robot!") Besides inspiring the young students at Britney High School, Sexina must also investigate a kidnapping — the daughter of yet-another former teen star. The film's crazy mix also includes ninjas, cannibals, a man in a bear costume, and even a brief parody of Barbara and Jenna Bush.

Sharkey co-wrote the theme song's campy lyrics. ("She has the boobs and the brains of a queen. She's every man's dream... ") It's not clear there's a message in his film, although despite the villainous Lance's anti-drug commercial, he's also a big hypocrite. "There's still plenty of weed, cocaine, and ecstasy for everyone," he announces to his party guests, "as well as heroin, crystal meth, horse tranquilizers, vicodin, Xanax, modelling glue, yellow jackets, black beauties..."

Lance probably should've listened to the movie's theme song more carefully.
She's wicked cool and that's a fact,
so evil-doer's watch your back.
She'll get you....

Sexina: Popstar PI makes its world premiere this week at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival. Catch it Saturday (February 16) at the Roxie at 9:30 p.m.

And click here for our list of seven forgotten classics by Davy Jones

There Won’t Be Blood

There Won't Be Blood

When Lisa Bloch opened the drawer at San Francisco General Hospital that should have housed the trauma center’s blood supply last month, a lonely single pouch of type O-negative plasma tumbled in the empty space.

Bloch, director of communications at Blood Centers of the Pacific, was seeking to draw attention to the city’s dire shortage of blood by depicting it in graphic terms. The shortage got so bad early in the month that BCoP asked local hospitals to hold off on lesser-priority surgeries.

All across the country, large cities are struggling to keep supplies at sufficient levels. The reasons are a classically tragic conflict of supply (only about five percent of adults donate blood) and demand (day-to-day trauma center crises, national emergencies, the Iraq war).

Unfortunately, agencies that collect blood are fighting the battle to keep local and national blood supplies adequate with at least one hand tied behind their backs, because a sizable percentage of the population is barred from donating blood – gay men.

If you’re a man who has had sex with another man even once since 1977, you are not allowed to donate blood. The ban was instituted during the height of the '80s AIDS outbreak, before proper testing existed that could screen out infected blood.

But despite the leaps and bounds that have been accomplished in testing blood for HIV/AIDS, the Bush administration still doesn’t think the blood of gay males is good enough.

In San Francisco, given its higher-than-average gay male population, this keeps many who would like to donate from being able to help out in what has become a day-to-day crisis situation, let alone in the event of a local or national emergency.

But San Francisco proper has just more than 1 million people. Larger cities with a large gay male presence like Los Angeles and New York City (both of which have suffered from blood shortages recently) are also affected by the inability to tap into its gay males as a blood resource.

“We have gay men come in and are surprised the ban is still in effect,” said Bloch. “They’re ready to give blood, and it’s very frustrating that we can’t use it.”

BCoP was the very first organization imploring the government to soften its stance. In 2006, the Red Cross finally joined in the effort to get the Food and Drug Administration to implement the male-to-male (MSM) deferral.

“Today, we know much more about HIV,” the center wrote to the FDA. “The development of highly sensitive genetic tests for the virus has greatly reduced the “window” of transmission. Therefore, Blood Centers of the Pacific – along with the three national blood banking organizations: America’s Blood Centers, American Association of Blood Banks and the American Red Cross – believes that a 12-month deferral would adequately prevent transfusion-transmission of HIV.”

A 12-month deferral is consistent with other high-risk activities that may exclude someone from donating blood, including sexual contact with a prostitute, getting a tattoo (for hepatitis C) and traveling to a region endemic for malaria.

But the FDA not only refused, it didn’t even dignify the request with a response.

State Assemblyman Mark Leno, an openly gay male, is convinced the Bush administration is letting its obvious agenda against gays influence public policy on an issue that not only involves public health, but national security.

“There is indeed homophobia at work, and it’s not even very subtle,” said Leno. “None of this (the FDA’s inflexibility) is scientific.”

Like many, Leno was unaware of the policy until he tried to donate blood when he was on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

“When I was on the board I got an invitation to participate in a blood drive, and was surprised to learn that as a gay man I wasn’t allowed to participate,” he said.

Leno likened the FDA policy to that of the Catholic church, which officially is “okay” with homosexuals, as long as they don’t actually do anything gay.

Ironically, heterosexuals who engage in high-risk sexual behavior are allowed to donate blood. Some feel the whole process needs to be revised to screen out high risk groups accordingly.

“They’re asking the wrong questions,” said Leno. “Ask what behaviors individuals are engaging in, not with whom.”

The issue is expected to go before the FDA again next month, though there doesn’t appear to be much hope that the current administration will implement the MSM deferral that blood centers are counting on.

Leno chuckled bitterly at the prospects, choosing instead to look forward. “With a Democratic administration, which I believe we’ll have next year, I’ll be working with House Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi to not only reverse this dangerous policy, but to address the shortage and the screening process.”

“I don’t know how much longer they can keep stalling,” said Bloch, who agreed that a change of administration might be necessary before the FDA takes any action.

With gay men in San Francisco making up somewhere between five and 10 percent of the city’s population, a change in policy could produce noticeable results.

“I think it could make an impact on local blood shortages,” said Bloch. “Any help is a good thing, especially in times like this.”

An Obama Caucus Story from Idaho

Idaho Obama Caucus line

We parked and walked to the Qwest Arena on the Grove, where the line snaked out and wound and looped around as shown in the above image. Typically, the line was 5 people thick, and I swear it felt like a mile walk from the beginning to the end. Ironically, the end of the line where we were at 6:30 was about a block from my wife's parking garage, where we started.

There were more than 8,200 Democrats there (and according to the Idaho Statesman 1,600 people caucused in neighboring Canyon County, and more than 20,000 people showed up around the state — about four times more than in the last record year, 2004).

It was cold, and I felt like I was standing in a bread line in the Soviet Union. I felt sorry for the girl in flip flops and a miniskirt in front of me. But there was a lot of camaraderie!

There was no way we were getting in by 7:00, and Obama volunteers walked the line telling us that everyone was going to get to vote. Eventually other volunteers showed up with ballots, and we voted in the freezing cold. I filled in my ballot on a bus bench shaking my ball point pen to get it to work.

We left and got a cup of coffee. Everyone was talking about the caucus.

Some observations:
  1. Although they got a bigger venue in anticipation of a record turnout, the state party needed to think through getting that number of people inside. Other doors could have been opened.
  2. The Obama people were the best organized. In fact, they were the only ones organized! They were about the only volunteers I saw all evening.
  3. I have a friend who got into the building, and he told me that a large area was reserved for Hillary, and no one was sitting there.

The Mormon Bigfoot Genesis Theory

The Mormon Bigfoot/Genesis Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six Secret Lost Videos

These videos shed new light on the phenomenon that is Lost — or was Lost. A new episode of the mind-boggling mystery hasn't aired in nearly 8 months, and last year saw the show lose nearly 50% of its audience.

But Thursday Lost returns to the airwaves, and last season's finale was even nominated for an Emmy. Whether the series can recapture its glory, it'll at least provide something for TV-loving geeks to talk about.

And these videos will put it all in perspective.

1. The 117th episode?

Lost will end in three years, after 48 more episodes. But hardcore fans know that the final episode already slipped out last January, featuring surprising scenes with Sawyer, Kate, Sayeed, and Ben.

Some argued that actors Evangeline Lilly and Josh Holloway only filmed a three-minute parody to pander to geeks attending the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (This theory is buttressed by the fact that Kate announces in the video that the first thing she'll do after leaving the island is attend the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, adding that the men attending the show are all "dead sexy.") Kate also reveals which of the hunky castaways she prefers, Sawyer or Jack, though her answer takes an unexpected twist.

It's nice to see the cast acknowledging their loyal fans, even if they're also teasing them about the show's mysteries. This video ultimately captures a final showdown with treacherous Ben (played by Michael Emerson, who would later be nominated for an Emmy.) In the clip, Ben promises Sayeed "one simple unifying theory" that explains the mysteries of the island. (Sayeed thinks the answer is purgatory — but he's in for an annoying surprise...)

2. Episode 0

Sneak a peek at a bizarro world where there is no plane crash, or even a TV series — just struggling actors desperate for work

The first season DVD holds the rare "audition tapes" that were recorded by the show's actors. As Sawyer, Josh Holloway is good-looking, charming, and even a little bit younger. But even more surprisingly, it's a world of Sawyers, since his part was also coveted by three of the other future Lost actors — Matthew Fox (Jack), Dominic Monaghan (Charlie), and Jorge Garcia (Hurley).

But the most disturbing secret of all lies in Evangeline Lilly's audition tape for the part of Kate. It apparently comes from a parallel reality where Jack, the doctor, was killed in the very first episode.

"And whatever it is that killed Jack is still out there."

3. I'll Be Lost For You

This video suggests another little-known secret about Lost. It was originally a sitcom about wacky good-looking friends living together on an island. They frolic in the water in its original opening, their smiling faces showing what good friends they really are. A montage captures their warm moments of friendship — smiling, dancing, sharing peanut butter, and relaxing by the flaming jets from a recently demolished airline.

This video's title is "The one with the Friends spoof" (even identifying one of the actors as "Matthew Fox Arquette.") But it's letting the cast off easy. Elsewhere on YouTube, someone actually redubbed four full minutes footage of Lost footage with a sitcom laugh track.

4. Sawyer's acting class

The character of Sawyer charmed Kate, who sees tenderness under his gruff exterior. But the other castaways usually just see his volatile temper.

As the frustrations of island life mount, this remarkable video could be seen as a Lost drinking game gone horribly wrong. If you promised to chug every time Sawyer says "Son of a bitch" — prepare for alcohol poisoning.

It's surprisingly zen, a moment in time in which Sawyer's dialogue never changes, though the world flows on around him. Even when he's been captured and gagged, he still manages to snarl out a muffled version of his trademark phrase.

"Son of a bitch"

5. The magic turtle

Lost's writers received a warning message about the unsolved mysteries that are starting to pile up. (There's that smoke monster, the eyepatch guy, what "The Others" want, the ghost of Mr. Eko...)

But maybe they're more interested in discussing what would happen if Kate and Locke switched brains? The rival writers at comedy site "SuperDeluxe" offer a dead-on analysis of what this show's story meetings must look like.

"Everyone wakes up, and the ocean is missing!"
"Everything goes backward, for two and a half years!"

And a comment uploaded with the video suggests what the ABC show's writers are really feeling.

"It begins with the letter 'L' and rhymes with cost."

6. Hurley's Last Laugh

Jorge Garcia was 31 when the writers of Lost created the character of "Hurley" specifically for him. He was the first actor cast, going from stand-up comedian to top-rated TV star, playing the unlucky everyman who regrets ever winning the lottery.

In November of 2006, he even turned up on the David Letterman Show, reading a list of "The Top Ten Signs You're Obsessed With Lost." ("Number four: Your co-workers affectionately refer to you as 'That loser who's obsessed with Lost.") It speaks to the show's popularity that each of the ten jokes triggered some kind of recognition from the audience.

But maybe we're all just spending too much time watching TV.

See Also:
Leaving Lost Limbo
Five Freaky Muppet Videos
Pulp Fiction Parodies on YouTube
Six Freakiest Children's TV Rock Bands
Democratic Cartoon Candidates

Records Broken By the Perry Bible Fellowship?

Nicholas Gurewitch draws the Perry Bible Fellowship
Is Nicholas Gurewitch fulfilling a childhood dream? Photo by Jeff Marini

"This is the reason paper was invented. Give him your money now."

Marvel comic book writer Mark Millar joined the stampede which placed the first Perry Bible Fellowship collection into the top 500 on Amazon— before the book was even released.

25-year-old cartoonist Nicholas Gurewitch watched as the pre-order sales climbed past $300,000 for The Trial of Colonel Sweeto and Other Stories. Close to 27,000 copies were sold even before the collection of comic strips had its official release in November and crashed into Amazon's top 250. "It bounces off and on Amazon's best-seller lists all the time," Gurewitch told me, jokingly searching for an explanation. "Nifty cover? I'm not sure."

In December the cartoonist's site warned that only 3,000 copies remained, and now copies are "in short supply," Nick says. (The book's first printing had some errors which required a second printing to fully meet the demand, and Gurewitch confirms that "We are indeed gearing up for a third printing.") Publisher's Weekly reports that his publisher, Dark Horse Comics, received their biggest order ever from Britian's Diamond distributor.

"I think people respond to a packaged volume of comics much more than they connect with a computer screen," Gurewitch speculates about the response. "Seeing it on someone's coffee table, or seeing it in someone's hands, or on a high shelf, can affect us in ways far more grand than seeing it bookmarked on someone's computer."

Nick's cover for The Trial of Colonel Sweeto

In our interview, Nick shared even more surprising news. He's been building to this moment for two decades — sort of.

NICHOLAS GUREWITCH: My mom says I was doing cartoonist things at the age of 2, though that's hard to believe. But I was definitely story-oriented. She actually had us making little books around the age of 5 — me and my siblings.

LOU CABRON: Drawings and words?

NG: Early on, it was mostly pictures. And she would bind them with string.

LC: That's adorable.

NG: I think the idea of making a book was a really fun thing that was ever-present in my mind. I undertook a few on my own once I found a stapler.

LC: What was in the books you drew as a kid?

NG: The same stuff I'm doing now, I'm pretty sure. Lots of monsters, lots of robots, lots of dinosaurs...

I don't think I've always wanted to be a cartoonist. I've always just been a cartoonist. I've always just been making little stories.

LC: Colonel Sweeto shows a magical candy land where the reigning monarch practices some vicious realpolitik. When I contacted you, I almost wondered if you lived in a far-away fantasy castle of your own.

NG: I wonder if most people have that impression. I love castles. I plan to live in one some day. It's not wrong that you have that impression.

I wish it were true.

LC: I was picturing lots of monsters, lots of robots, and lots of dinosaurs all scattered throughout the PBF empire.

NG: It's a pretty quaint empire. My buddy Evan handles all the t-shirt stuff, and I had a friend helping me out with the prints. (They take in a lot more money than you expect, though I haven't checked my records in a while.)

Evan was actually my roommate in college when I first started the comic, and he's been writing a lot of the comics lately. He came up with the idea for Commander Crisp, as well as the one with The Masculator.

A panel from "Commander Crisp"

Earlier on Evan would come up with one out of four comics, and he's been doing that lately too. And my buddy Jordan is always really good about knowing how I should amplify an idea and he's come up with ideas on his own. We're all kind of on the same wavelength collaborating, and it's extremely easy.

LC: A writer for The Daily Show, Sam Means, described your comic strip as being almost psychedelic.

"The Perry Bible Fellowship is what Bil Keane, Jim Davis, and the guy who draws Marmaduke would see if they closed their eyes and rubbed them with their fists. It's absurdist, comic fireworks, and I can't get enough of it."

NG: I don't want to make judgments about my artwork, but a lot of people seem to think that it's good, and I chalk this up to the amount of time that I spend concentrating on it and enjoying it myself. If I enjoy it myself a lot, people tend to enjoy it a lot.

LC: Is that the secret reason why you use so many different styles? The strip about Finneas the heroic dog was drawn with acrylic paint, while The Throbblefoot Aquarium switched to the black-and-white style of Edward Gorey.

NG: I might be attracted to giving people the kind of response that makes them write in. That's always nice. I'm not terribly lonely, but its wonderful to hear when somebody recognizes that you've done something very subtle.

I like touching people on those levels. So it only makes sense to make references to childhood heroes and artists that I appreciate.

LC: You also told the Boston Phoenix. "There's something wonderful, and soon-to-be mythic, about the printed page... I'll always prefer it."

NG: I just have a feeling comics drawn on a napkin in 100 years will be far more appreciated than comics made on a computer. Don't you get the impression that we're getting bombarded by images that are digital? People often go straight to the digital format, which is unfortunate. I just really appreciate seeing evidence of hard work!

LC: Each of your strips always manages to startle me. For example, Hey Goat starts in the winter, but ends after the spring thaw, implying that there's been a horrible avalanche. You even told one interviewer "there's a lot to be said for chaos where order is making things very, very boring."

NG: I think I just always felt that it might be an aspect of my personality, that I think chaotic situations often reveal something about a scene or a person or an object that a still life wouldn't. It really squeezes out the nature of the characters.

Plus, chaos is just eye-catching. It's a necessary aspect of comedy and drama that there be some conflict.

LC: Does that mean you were a frustrated artist in school? Did you feel high school stifled your creativity?

NG: Or the spirits of the students, or the thinking of students.

I was an editor of an underground newspaper that we distributed in high school. We ruffled a lot of feathers. I think I have an FBI record because of it.

LC: How do you get an FBI record for an underground newspaper? Are you sure?

NG: Someone tells me I do, for certain.

A local pastor had seen the work that we were doing in the paper, and he must've thought we were more than the basic renegade kids because he wrote a letter to the FBI. This is right after Columbine, and he thought our paper displayed many warning signs for troubled youth.

He was probably right about that. We certainly were troubled youth. I just don't think we were the type of troubled youth that would express ourselves with guns.

LC: Well, wait — what was in this newspaper?

NG: We had a section where we presented fictionalized accounts of our teachers fighting each other, and how those fights would go. We'd show a big picture of them, and then a "versus," and then another teacher. It was really entertaining if you had these people as teachers. Lots of blood, lots of violence. Lets hope they never end up online.

We actually published the pastor's letter in the following issue. We also did a word search, and we hid the word "clitoris". It was a point at which we lost a lot of our audience.

LC: So you regret it?

NG: It's the type of thing I look back on and see as funny in retrospect. I think I get paid to make clitoris jokes now.

But I really enjoy having flexed my mind to the full extent at that tender age, because I think it's really helped me maintain a momentum. College was a little bland, but I think that's why I ended up starting the comic strip — because I was so hooked on my experience with the paper.

I noticed that the comics page at the college newspaper would get a heck of a lot of attention. It only took about a semester when I realized that's where I should be putting my attention, and not the articles about the dining hall.

LC: You were "discovered" when you won a comic strip contest in the Baltimore City Paper. When you entered that contest, where did you think it would lead?

NG: The Perry Bible Fellowship debuted in the New York Press the same week that it won, so there were parallel blessings. I had no prediction about where it was going. I just knew I appreciated the extra money while I was at school!

It was running in two papers when I graduated in 2004, so I gave myself a few weeks to see if I could call what I was doing a job. I sent out samples to ten more papers and heard back from about three. I figured that was just as good as trying to get a temporary job in New York City, so I ended up just staying home and doing the comic and operating from a studio space that I rented near my house.

The initial proliferation of the samples was the only time I sent out samples. Since then most papers have just emailed me — because of the web site, I assume.

I think the story ends right about now. Because I've still been doing it...

See Also:
Secrets of the Perry Bible Fellowship
Neil Gaiman has lost his clothes
The Perry Bible Fellowship Enters Semi-Retirement
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert - and Other Pranks
Jimmy Wales Will Destroy Google
George Bush vs. Spider-Man

Dead Woman Blogging

Theresa Duncan committed suicide in July.

But on New Year's Eve, five months after her death, she updated her blog.

January's Vanity Fair had already trumpeted "The New York Art World's Bizarre Double Suicide" in a cover story this month. (One week after Theresa's suicide, Jeremy Blake, her partner of 12 years, removed his clothes and walked into the ocean at New York's Rockaway Beach.) Morbid interest in her blog was only exacerbated when, three months after her death, a new post suddenly appeared on her blog just two days before Halloween. Its title?

"Basil Rathbone's Ghosts."

It's a weird final twist for the A-list blogger and game designer. In the last year of her life, Theresa's apartment was in a New York rectory "allegedly haunted by the ghosts of Edgar Allan Poe and Harry Houdini," according to Vanity Fair, and she'd developed an apparent intrigue in at least one ghost story.

Unfortunately, the entire 423-word post was written by Dick Cavett. On his own blog at the New York Times site, the former 70s talk show host had promised his readers ghost stories. In February he'd told a story about the actor who'd played Sherlock Holmes in the 1940s. (Moments after Rathbone's friend is killed in a car accident along with his beloved hunting dogs, the actor receives a phone call from a psychic who says she's received a ghostly message. "Traveling very fast. No time to say good-bye. There are no dogs here.")

Theresa wrote a post scheduled to appear at the end of October, quoting the entirety of Cavett's last six paragraphs.
The next time I saw Rathbone...more years had gone by, and he was in the act of receiving a summons for letting his dog Ginger off the leash in Central Park. I thought he might have decided, looking back, that it had all been some sort of bizarre coincidence, or maybe a highly original prank. He said, "At the time, of course, I was quite shaken by it." And now? "I am still shaken by it."

A note below the post warned that a second one would appear on New Year's Eve — the final blog post of Theresa Duncan.

And increasing the tension was another dark story lingering after her death — the couple's belief that Scientologists were secretly harassing her. Vanity Fair reports that her boyfriend Blake "wrote a 27-page document encapsulating their claims, which he planned on using as the basis for a lawsuit against the Church of Scientology." (They also report Tom Cruise's denial that he interfered with her negotiations to direct a modern version of Alice in Wonderland, which her agent says was blocked for "budget considerations.")

Theresa's fear of Scientologists had already led to bizarre confrontations with their Hollywood neighbors, according to the article.
"Theresa said to me, 'Jeremy and I have started a club where we've found a bunch of old men and we're letting them fuck us in the ass, and we wanted to know if you wanted to be a part of it.' I asked Theresa if she was joking. She said 'no' and repeated herself..."

In July, when O'Brien came home and picked up her mail, she wrote, Duncan "shrieked 'cult whore' and 'cult hooker' repeatedly. She was very frightening."

Both incidents appeared in a letter supporting the couple's eventual eviction from their bungalow in Venice, California in August of 2006.

But a strange mystery lingers over one detail of Theresa's story — the fact that rock star (and Scientologist) Beck pulled out of Theresa's Alice movie. New York Magazine found a curious inconsistency in Beck's statement to Vanity Fair that he'd "never met to discuss doing her film." Blogger Emmanuelle Richard says she found an Italian interview where in fact, Beck gushes excitedly about preparing for his upcoming movie debut. ("It will be full of energy and full of characters: some kind of Alice in Wonderland set in the 70s... The director is a friend of mine and it will be her directorial debut. We will begin shooting in the Fall.")

Or was their fast lane life simply catching up to them? Vanity Fair reports Blake sometimes took a hip flask of whiskey to his job at Rockstar Games, while Theresa "drank champagne by the bottle."

"It was starting to show in their faces; they were looking haggard."

After the couple's twin suicides, the New York Times ran an article about prowling through Jeremy Blake's computer, assembling his final artwork from the PhotoShop folders he'd left behind.

Other bloggers searched for a logic in the death of the two New York artists. "The same anxieties that underwrite Ms. Duncan's nightmare visions are to be found in the economic and technological circuitry that surrounds all of us," reads one post on the blog Jugadoo, "an erosion of stable modes of identity and selfhood..."
It isn't hard to imagine a future scenario when people will be able to generate AI-controlled virtual selves who will stroll around digital worlds like Second Life, having conversations with grief-stricken friends and family after their living counterparts are dead. That a person on the brink of suicide might leave a new kind of note.

And then Theresa's final blog post appeared.

It spoke of "twenty largely wasted years," saying trying to write is a failure "because one has only learnt to get the better of words for the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which one is no longer disposed to say it."

Theresa is quoting T.S. Eliot, but she'd skipped the first four passages of "East Coker" to focus in on the fifth. "With shabby equipment always deteriorating in the general mess of imprecision of feeling, undisciplined squads of emotion..."

Her final mysterious post was another long quote, arguing wearily that the great truths have already been recorded and "There is only the fight to recover what has been lost and found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions that seem unpropitious."
"But perhaps neither gain nor loss. For us, there is only the trying.

The rest is not our business."

See Also:
Scientology Fugitive Arrested
Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death
Robert Anton Wilson 1932 - 2007
Death? No Thank You

2007 Re-Mixed

In 2007 the viral video stars spawned their own wave of counter-memes, proving once again that the internet moves in mysterious ways.

Even Barack Obama ultimately acknowledged "the fertile imagination of the internet," as his fan's cranked out homegrown music videos from a mysterious swamp of unseen creativity.

But as 2007 escapes into a haze of champagne, these videos offer a helpful warning to any future YouTube stars. When you make yourself look ridiculous — it's only the beginning.

1. Ottoman-Humping Gigolos

"Pipelayer" and his boyz — Relentless, X2C, Pressure, and Satisfaktion — show the ladies their technique. But it took internet joker Neuracnu to add Benny Hill's Yakkity Sax.

"Despite the video's description and my big-pasty-white-guy user icon," Neuracnu told us today, "I still get private messages like:

that video was funny please make a notherone and
me @my sister and give it to us. we are 18

His parody also provoked an angry email. ("Ok we Gone kill yo ass...... Ha ha Bitch ass nigga u dont know what u got yo self into....") Which, of course, ended up in another YouTube video.

Eventually even Jon Stewart got involved, noting the Department of Defense had banned all YouTube videos and MySpace pages from being viewed by soldiers. "If there's one thing we don't want our fighting boys exposed to, it's guys their age with enough time on their hands to film themselves doing this.

"Ottoman-humping gigolos! You're ruining troop morale!

2. Two Girls, One Frog

Some videos become famous for being awful, like the notorious "Two Girls, One Cup." Its somber music and surprise scat-eating scene spawned its own viral video meme — footage of horrified reactions from people watching it.

Everyone got into the act, including Opie and Anthony, and even a web site called BestReactions.com. Over two dozen clips appeared on YouTube — someone's mom, four grandmothers, and even two people who appeared to be police officers.

Even after it found its way to Kermit the Frog, that wasn't the end. One follow-up video showed Kermit himself couldn't resist foisting its horrific surprises on his other muppet friends.

3. Snakes on a Chocolate Rain

Tay Zonday's deep voice and pretentious keyboards inspired imaginative re-mixes of his song "Chocolate Rain."

Tay was glad it received attention from John Mayer and Green Day's Tre Cool. But its hard message became hilarious when the singer was replaced by a ventriloquist dummy, Darth Vader, or McGruff the Crime Dog (who, like Tay, also "moves away from the mic to breathe in.")

In November Tay teamed with rapper Mista Johnson and Dr. Pepper for a new video, randomly titled Cherry Chocolate Rain. "This is the web, and it's gonna murder your TV," Tay warns, though he'd just stumbled inadvertently into the next "Snakes on a Plane" — another internet meme that proved impossible to commercialize.

4. Fox News 11 Meet Anonymous

Fox News 11 imagined a "gang" of computer "hackers" who attack "like an internet hate machine" in a sensationalistic story that echoed through countless video parodies. A local L.A. newscaster borrowed half-understood words (like "Epic Lulz") and after one victim used the word "terrorist" in a sentence, even helpfully spliced in a picture of an exploding van.

It took YouTube user "Fluffbrain" to create an appropriately irreverent video celebrating the clip's safety-conscious housewife, who not only bought a security system, but also...a dog. (Then the video segues to cameo appearances by LOL Cats.)

The crimes of "Anonymous" were, at worst, hoax threats, along with minor annoyances like guessing MySpace passwords, crank phone calls, disrupting the children's game Habbo Hotel, and shouting out the end of the new Harry Potter book. (Ironically, when Fox 11 ran a poll on their web site asking visitors if they'd ever been a victim of computer crime, a whopping 97% said "no.")

Eventually Encyclopedia Dramatica unveiled their own equally unsubstantiated act of journalism, arguing that Anonymous "is in fact, a single twelve year-old boy named Tom who has over 9000 fake AIM accounts and single-handedly makes every single post on the 4chan website. No one knows why..." And the parody videos kept coming.

Fox finally received an authoritative rebuttal from "Lord Quadros," another YouTube user who abandoned Fox's melodramatic music altogether, and simply replaced it with footage from the video game Arsenal Gear.

5. "Don't Tase Me, AOL"

The year ended with marketers hungrily eying the success of viral videos, while Hollywood's writers went on strike for a slice of future web revenues. And then AOL News decided to exploit it all.

They rolled parody versions of famous video stars into their own viral web commercial. The world's unluckiest shopkeeper confronts Florida's tased university student, Miss South Carolina, and that emo vlogger who cried "LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!!!"

If you actually visit AOL News, you'll find the real end-of-the-year headlines are a lot less entertaining. (For example, "Pakistan's Bhutto Assassinated at Rally.")

But maybe that's why people turned to the web.

See Also:
10 Video Moments From 2006
Worst Vlogs of 2006
Web Fight: Wikipedia, YouTube vs. Perverted Justice
YouTube, the 20-Year-Old, and Date Unknown
Five Freakiest Muppet Videos


Real-life miracles were the subject of Van Jones' keynote address at the Craigslist Foundation's "Nonprofit Boot Camp" last year.

He amused and inspired his audience with the story of his early days at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

There's probably at least one person, and maybe more than one, who feels like their little not-for-profit just may not make it.

There may be somebody that feels like their cause is too marginal, their constituency is too desperate, their dreams are too big, their knowledge base is too small, and they just don't know if they're going to be able to pull this one off. If you're that person, I want to tell you a little bit about my story, my secret rules for success if you're doing tough things, and to remind you how important it is that you stick this out.

Ten years ago, all I had with my co-founder was a $10,000 grant and a scribble in my notebook, and we had a dream. We wanted to do something about police brutality. We wanted to do something about kids suffering in prison. We wanted to do something about the level of violence that was going on in our community. All we had was each other and that idea.

The very first champion that we got — the first person who was on our side, the chair of our advisory board who was our hero — told us "Frankly, man, you will never raise enough money to cover your own salary on this. I think you're great, I like what you're doing, but you will never raise enough money to actually have a full staff. But I like you, I like what you're doing, and I'm willing to lend my name." And that was our most enthusiastic supporter!

Eleven years later, we have a national organization. We have 24 people on staff, we occupy a two-story building, and we've won international awards and recognition for our human rights effort. We've stopped jails from being built, and we've been able to make a difference. In just ten years. I want you to know that looking back on it, you know what it looks like? It just looks like a series of miracles. Just miracle after miracle after miracle after miracle.

The only way we were able to get to those miracles was that we believed in what we were doing. When we first started out, we had a closet in the back of the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights. When I say closet, I'm not joking. It was literally a closet, that we took the shelves out of, wedged in a desk from my house, moved the tiles, dropped down wires so we could plug things in... That was our office for three years.

I'm thankful to Eva Patterson from the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights for giving us that opportunity. We took that closet and a Macintosh SE-30 from my house and our $10,000, and we started announcing that we had a hotline for survivors of police brutality and police misconduct. I think the first week we got one phone call. The second week we got two or three. Within about two months, we were getting three to four phone calls a day from people in the community who had no place else to turn... We were young lawyers and they were calling on us, and we were doing the best that we could.

But we were spending down that little $10,000 very quickly. We got to the place where we literally didn't have any more money. Diana and I looked at each other and we said, "You know what? We'll go on unemployment. We'll do whatever we have to do. We cannot let these people down."

I got on KPFA radio. I said "My name is Van Jones, and I'm working with Bay Area Police Watch. We're running into some trouble right now, but we want you to know, keep calling us. We're going to have to reduce our hours, but we're going to stick in there." The day before we spent our last dime — literally — we got a letter in the mail. An anonymous donation of $50,000.

"Hey! We might be able to keep going!" We took that $50,000, and we decided, you know what? We're going to go after the worst police officer in the Bay Area, a man named Mark Andaya. He had 27 formal complaints against him for racism and brutality. Remember this case? There were five lawsuits against him, and he was still on the police force. We took that money and launched a campaign to get him removed from the San Francisco police department.

Keeping On

We went through hell. We went through three hearings, we went through ups and downs, but at the end of that summer, the San Francisco police department fired Mark Andaya. It was a huge breakthrough. Suddenly we went from being these kids in the closet to being the people who'd really gotten something done in the community. And, we were broke again! Because we forgot to write grants. We're just fighting, just out there, just broke and ignorant — but passionate!

But we'd already had two miracles. We were still there, and we'd gotten this guy who had killed two people out of our community. There was an African-American woman at a prestigious local foundation who'd listened to us on the radio, had seen us on TV, had heard about what we were trying to do. I'd sent her a letter letting her know that we'd like to apply for a grant, but we didn't get a chance to, we'd missed the deadline, and please, please... "Mercy?"

This woman said "You know, I've been working at this foundation for a long time, and I've been waiting for someone to come out of the community, out of the neighborhood, who was really willing to do what it takes to make a difference. I don't have any more discretionary money. But I do have the $40,000 that we've always given to the symphony... And we're going to give it to you."


Now, she no longer works there. But she is well taken care of at another foundation...

We just kept on, and kept on, and kept on. If at any moment we had gotten too rational, if at any moment we'd actually done the math on how many foundations are committed to this thing and that thing, we wouldn't be here at all. You have a dream inside yourself, and it's an impossible dream. That's why the creator gave it to your crazy ass. If it was easy, She'd have given it to somebody else.

So let's talk about your impossible dream. You need some miracles. Good luck with that. But I can give you, as a 10-year veteran, my five counter-intuitive and probably immoral success secrets.
1. Self promote
2. Steal
3. Don't Lie
4. Hate your enemies, but love your rivals.
5. Do less.

Number One, Self Promotion. People say, "Van, you're a shameless self-promoter. We're disgusted with your shameless self-promotion!" And I say, "Au contraire, my friend. I am not a shameless self-promoter. I am a proud self promoter."

Because I'm proud of the work we're doing. I'm proud of the people on our team. I'm proud of the fights we take on. I'm proud there are still people coming out of law school who are willing to take on these crazy crusades. If I don't tell the story, if I don't share the victory, if I don't share the lessons — who will?

We have a simple theory about how we built this organization, and the only thing it requires is you've got to be willing. We call it the three-M conversion: Mobilization, Media, Money. If you're serious about scaling an organization that's small, with a marginal constituency, doing very difficult stuff, you've got to mobilize. You've got to do something! You've got to take on a fight, you've got to help somebody. You've got to get something done. But too many of us stop there, and then we wonder why the support that we need doesn't come.

We get bitter, and we get angry, and we look at the group over there that has two more dollars than we do, and we start making them the enemy, and start this whole competitive thing, and start in-fighting, and it just depresses everybody. Then some poor intern comes to work for you. They see all this drama and all this crazy stuff, and they say "I was just trying to help the poor! I didn't know I was joining an armed faction!"

So let's just de-mystify this whole thing. Do good stuff — mobilize resources, do something — and then, media. Write a press release, think about how to get some coverage. A lot of times, people don't want to cover our stuff? That's fine. Take the photo your damn self! Video cameras are small and cheap. Record your meeting, interview your people... Document your passion.

Document the people that you've helped. Document what you're doing so you can show it to somebody who wasn't there. That's a critical step, and we forget, don't we? We get so passionate about, "The meeting's going to be at 4:00, we've got to have the kids and the pizza..." When we get finished, we're so tired we go home... And there's not one single photograph.

You might've served 10,000 people and don't have one photograph, while the person next door served 20, and has a glossy manual. And you know who you're mad at? Them! You could've had a glossy manual... But you're mad at them, and now we've got drama. Document, and then take that documentation to people who have money.

People say, "Aw, I don't want to deal with the fund-raising. It's not about the money to me." Obviously it's not about the money for you, you're working for a non-profit! But people who have means and who have discretionary income and who have different types of financial instruments want to be helpful, and they want to be engaged — but they don't live in your neighborhood! By definition, they don't. They need some help understanding the situation. That's the media part, the documentation.

You have to get as passionate about talking to the people with as you are talking to the people without. Because we need each other, and you're the bridge person. If you were just desperate and needing of services and help, you wouldn't be working at a not-for-profit. If you were a gazillionaire, you probably also wouldn't be working at a non-profit. So you are the person whose job it is to bring the haves and the have-nots together. And you have to be passionate about that. Yeah, somebody will say "You self promote! You're self-promoting!" Fine, and proudly so! Get that out of your mind as a barrier, and look at the service you can provide by documenting your work.

Number Two, Steal. Steal! I don't mean steal money. Steal ideas! Talk to other people who don't work on your project. If you go to New York to see your friends or your parents, look up the other groups working in a similar area and say hello. If you can't meet with the executive director, that's good, because if the organization is more than five years old the executive director has no idea what's going on anyways.

Talk to the program officer, the deputy director, the receptionist — and steal ideas. And grab onto people that you stole the ideas from. If you go overseas, make sure to visit some of the non-governmental organizations in other countries. It's amazing how many problems have already been solved that you're still stewing in and suffering through.

Our first two years, 100% of all of the paperwork we had for checking in people and interviewing them we'd stolen from a similar project in Los Angeles. I went down there, I'd knocked on their door, I said hello, I told them what we were trying to do... They were very friendly, and said, "This is our paperwork," and I said "Thank you!" I got a Bic pen — remember, I told you we were broke? — and wrote on the top of it, "Bay Area Police Watch." And then we photocopied that thing for two years!

So you've got to be willing to steal. And people love it! People will brag about it, saying "Well you know, we're now the thought leaders in the field. Our model is being replicated." So it's good for them. So I'm not saying anything immoral yet.

Number Three, Don't Lie. This is for real. There is something about the relationship between the not-for-profit sector, the government, the foundations, and the donors that creates a massive incentive to lie — flagrantly, and often.

And it's not just a one-sided thing. The relationship between not-for-profits and foundations is like the relationship between teenagers and parents. You don't really want to tell them everything that's going on, and they don't really want to know. So there's this dance of deceit, shall we say.
"What'd you do this weekend?"
"Oh... Studied! With my friends."

And the parents say "Good! So glad to hear that!" Because they don't want to know. And so what do you say?
"How did the year go?"
"We had success after success! All goals were met, and a good time was had by all."

And what was there left to say? "Good! Good!" They don't want to know about the youth in your program that cussed you out and set the building on fire. They don't want to know that you hired somebody once again who was a complete idiot. They don't want to know, and you don't want to tell them, and therefore we all stay very ignorant. Then the actual innovation curve has flattened out, because nobody's telling the truth about what we're going through any more. We're all self-deceiving and trying to make it look good.

At the Ella Baker Center, we adopted a reporting form that freaked out our board and advisors. It was very simple: highlights, low lights, and lessons learned. We created a discipline in the organization that we would report out the bad stuff. First of all, everybody knows the bad stuff anyway, because the person you fired is talking right now, so it's not like it's not out there. But did you learn anything?

Program officers at foundations, donors, and philanthropists are just inundated with lying, false crap. And they know they're being lied to. If you took all your annual reports and just read them end to end, you'd have to conclude that we're now living in a socialist paradise. Everything's going well, people are being served, and all the children are happy. And then you look at any newspaper, and it's very clear that we might be fudging a bit.

So my experience has been that donors and program officers love to actually get the truth. They don't punish you for it if you learned something. I think if all of us started to confess a little bit more, we would learn a little bit faster.

Number Four: Hate Your Enemies, if you must, but love your rivals — and know the difference. Your enemies are people like Nazis, okay? Your enemies are people who want to do you bodily harm, who hate you, and who are actively plotting your demise, with weapons. Just about everybody else that you don't get along with is probably a rival. They run an organization and you run an organization, or they have a department and you have a department. Or they have a cubicle, and you have a cubicle. And you just don't get along. You don't see eye to eye, there's some jealousy, you have different communication patterns. Their mom was this way, your dad was that way — you're working it out.

But we turn those minor differences into adversarial wars. It's fine to hate your enemies if you must. Jesus, Gandhi, other people would argue with you, but if you insist, fine. Hate your enemies. But most of the people you see every day are not your enemy. I've got emotional scars and damage from being in this work, and I've never even met a Republican! Even with people who fundamentally agree with everything I think, we just fight and hurt each other and say mean things, and think mean thoughts. All the time! That's called the movement. That's called the progressive community, right?

I want to make the case that we should actually love our rivals, and we should develop a discipline about bragging on our rivals. One group doesn't like us very much at all. I started talking about them first at every funder meeting. "I'm so happy to be here. Before I tell you about our work, have you heard about X group? They're doing extraordinary work. They did this last year, they did this this year. If you don't know about them, I want to make sure you know about them before the meeting's over. Now let me tell you about what we're doing..."

I developed the discipline in my own mind that I was going to brag on my rivals. I was going to love them, I was going to learn from them. I was going to try to figure out what it was that I could do differently in the relationship. I want to report that it has made no difference, at all, in the way they treat me. But it's made a tremendous difference in the way that other people view our organization and the way that we view ourselves. We're lighter. Love your rivals.

Number Five, Do Less. When I first came into this movement, we named the organization after a woman named Ella Baker, a civil rights heroine from the sixties. Ella Baker said many, many wise things. One of the things that caught on was something she said in a moment of frustration. Some civil rights workers had been murdered — two Jews and a black — and while they were trying to find these civil rights workers, they kept coming up with body after body after body of black men that had been lynched and drowned down through the ages. The media kept saying, "Well, that's interesting but what about the two white kids?" She got frustrated, and she said in that moment of frustration — and it didn't represent her life, but she said "We who believe in freedom cannot rest. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until all mothers' children are honored."

It's rung down through the decades since she said that. I just drank the Kool-Aid on that. "We who believe in freedom cannot rest. We cannot rest. We cannot rest. We cannot..." And I hurt myself. Physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually. I really hurt myself.

July 17, 2000, I had a complete emotional, physical, psychological breakdown. I literally could not get out of bed. I'd gone for years without — I would sleep with my clothes on, and the lights on, books all around me on the bed. I never took a vacation. For years it never occurred to me to take a vacation. Something just popped in my brain. It was almost audible. I was in deep trouble.

I'd been in all these coalition meetings, and it occurred to me that over the past couple years, in every meeting I'd been surrounded by idiots. I had to deal with them, and point out their flaws, and stop them from wreaking havoc, and... I was burning out, and I didn't know it. I had to take about two years of counseling, therapy, learning to go to the gym — things I'd just never done — just to be able to get back to doing this work.

My dad was an alcoholic, so I'd said, "Well I'm not going to do that," but then I was into this workaholism thing. I pulled out of it, and when I came back I saw that it was just everywhere. So what I want to say to you, very clearly, is that you have emotional needs. You have physical needs. You need to get them taken care of outside of this work.

You need to have something outside of this work where you go for re-charging, where you talk to people who don't do this kind of work, so you can keep it in perspective. So when you go into those board meetings and you go into those coalition things, you're coming with something. We who believe in freedom have to rest. We have to rest.

Who We Are

Our country is in a difficult situation now. We're facing difficult days. You're the people who are the reserve strength of the country. You're this nascent, pro-democracy movement trying to revive the best in the United States. It's important that you see yourselves in that way.

We tend in our movement to forget who we are. The legacy that we're carrying out, the shoes that we're standing in, the call that we're answering. Dr. Martin Luther King never gave a speech called "I Have...A Complaint." That wasn't his speech. The brother had a dream. And you have dreams. You have big, beautiful dreams. You will not be able to meet them alone. You need friends, you need solidarity, you need partnership, you need a movement.

But in a difficult period like the one that we're in right now, that's when there's opportunities for she-roes and heroes to step forward. People remember Roosevelt and Churchill and those guys because Hitler made it an awful, hard decade for them, and they rose to that. It's the same with every other hero and she-ro. This is a time for heroes. This is a time for she-ros. I want you to be the people who in the difficult times stood up for the best in this country, who said "We are willing to say that we'll defend America's freedoms." Who will say that the people who want to tear up the Constitution at the first opportunity are not the patriots. The patriots are the people who are willing to defend America's freedoms, the people who are willing to defend people's freedom to marry who they want to, and divorce who they want to.

We're the people who are willing to say America should be number one in the world. But not in war. Not in pollution. Not in incarceration rates. America should be number one in the world in green and clean technology, in solar power, in bio-diesel, in sharing those beautiful things with the world. We should be number one in showing how a rainbow nation — multi-colored, multi-class, multi-hued, multi-language — can come together and fix real problems, and show a rainbow planet how it's done. That's who we should be.

I believe if we do our work in that spirit, with that knowledge, with that commitment, we will build the kind of pro-democracy movement that will get past left and right, past black and white and yellow and every other color, and get back down to the very basics of who we are as people. People who believe, people who stand for something.

People who understand that at the end of the day, when it's all said and done, our love, our hope, our faith, and our commitment, is stronger than a bomb from anybody.

See Also:
20 Wildest Reactions to Obama's Victory
The QuestionAuthority Proposal
Reverend Billy Wants You To Stop Shopping
Is The Net Good For Writers
When Lego Goes To War

Alvin and the Chipmunks launch iMunks.com

It started when the real "David Seville" was facing bankruptcy, and spent his last $100 on a two-speed tape recorder. Soon he'd recorded a novelty record for Christmas that in 1958 sold an amazing 4 million copies in just 7 weeks. And "Alvin and the Chipmunks" were born.

His heirs are determined to keep the franchise going. After the movie was released, the Chipmunks' official web site began pointing visitors to an "iMunks" page for downloading Chipmunk mp3s — and not just songs from their new movie! Now re-located to Amazon.com, it includes nearly 100 songs from their 50-year career, including an 80s cover of the Knack's "Good Girls Don't," a 90s version of the X-Files theme, and their country duets with Tammy Wynette, Waylon Jennings, and Billy Ray Cyrus.

After the death of their original creator in 1972, his son re-launched their career in 1980 with an album called Chipmunk Punk. It included the Chipmunks' covers of songs like My Sharona and Blondie's "Call Me," and they continued their novelty success through the 90s with albums like "Club Chipmunk." (Its dance tracks featured their high-pitched versions of the B-52s' "Love Shack," the BeeGee's "Stayin' Alive," and "Play that Funky Music, Chipmunk.") There's even a version of "Hey, Macarena."

All these songs are available on the iMunks page, but unfortunately, there's a six-song minimum. The Chipmunks' new marketers are offering "silver," "gold," and "platinum" packages where the per-song price drops from $1 apiece to eighty cents.

But what's really newsworthy is that the singing rodents are here at all. In 1996 a lawsuit alleged that Universal Studios had bought a controlling stake in the Chipmunk franchise, but then “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.

But there's a happy ending. Ross Bagdadsarian Jr. — the son of the original "David Seville" — told the business journal that “Everything turned out great in the end," and the big budget movie has already earned back its production costs, grossing over $84 million in its first ten days. The movie's closing credits even show record covers from the Chipmunks' multi-generational career, along with a note applauding Ross Bagdadsarian Sr. for having faith in his singing novelty act. And in the film the address of Dave's apartment is "1958", subtly reminding audiences that the Chipmunks have sung his song for nearly fifty years.

The film opens with the Chipmunks singing Daniel Powter's "You Had a Bad Day," and they later win Dave's loyalty with a doo-wop version of the classic song "Only You (Can Make the World Seem Right)" while standing in the rain. (Which they segue into "Funkytown," complete with choreography.) Despite the movie's flaws, a lot of care went into the choice of songs and the storyline.

It's drawing mixed reviews. (The New York Post declared that "this charm-free atrocity is awful enough to instantly cure any remaining nostalgia for the rodent trio.") After their tree in the forest is whisked away to Los Angeles, the movie launches an obligatory Hollywood sub-plot. The new Chipmunk actors could've been funnier, and Richard Roeper complained that as David Seville, TV's Jason Lee's uses the same acting style he uses on NBC's My Name Is Earl. The "dazed loser" persona may not compliment the computer-animated chipmunks, making it harder to suspend disbelief.

But the script was better than expected, giving each chipmunk a complete character and adding a story about whether they'd find a new home in the city. Toronto reviewer Stephen Cole pointed out that in audiences filled with children, the new movie was the favorite over The Golden Compass, "paws down." And yes, the new chipmunks really do love Christmas. And also, Sponge Bob Square Pants.

Maybe the film-makers are counting on a Christmas-time indulgence for their film about the giddy singing rodents. The Chipmunks' career has always included equal parts music and humor, and the history of American pop culture shows a strange ongoing love for their high-pitched voices.

And for better or worse, they've now found a way to bring Alvin and the Chipmunks into the 21st century.

See Also:
Haunted by Chipmunk Ghosts
Six Freakiest Children's TV Rock Bands
When Kurt Vonnegut Met Sammy Davis Jr.
5 Freaky Muppet Videos
What If Ben Were One of Us?

Santa’s Crimes Against Humanity

Evil Santa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, indeedy.

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

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

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

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

We will see more of him, methinks.

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

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

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

What If Ben Were One of Us?

What If Benjamin Franklin Were One of Us, CNN Editor Asks

Would Ben Franklin be a blogger? It's a serious question pondered by news "gatekeeper" Walter Isaacson, once the managing editor at Time magazine and the chief executive officer at CNN.

Isaacson shared some startling insights about technology and media, both past and present, at a symposium last year at the Smithsonian Institution's Lemelson Center (which studies "invention and innovation.") Isaacson told the audience that Ben Franklin was influenced by both the mechanics of 18th-century printing presses and a fickle American public. But as an afterthought, Isaacson noted that today the internet creates lots of publishers. "It's turned us back to the days when technology allowed low barriers of entry into the information transmission market."

So are we all Ben Franklin? Or, to put it another way — if Ben Franklin were alive today, would he be one of us? The National Archivist of the United States, Allan Weinstein, had suddenly asked the question.

Isaacson, who'd written a 608-page biography of Franklin, insisted that the answer was no — "not a blogger." The distinction was that Franklin "polished every word." But the question was too provocative to leave without more discussion. Ben Franklin would have a web site, Isaacson speculated. "It would be carefully crafted. It would be more like Andrew Sullivan than your normal blogger in pajamas."

"And he would charge!" added archivist Weinstein.

Yes, Ben Franklin would put his content behind a pay wall. "He would definitely charge for it," Isaacson agreed, "because he believed that if you weren't tested by the marketplace..." But then America's National Archivist cut him off with an important observation about the state of the media today.
Look, you have life going in two directions, as far as technology and democracy is concerned.

In one direction, you have the centralization of mass media to a great extent. You still have the three networks getting — not as much of the audience they did, but it's something...

But at the same time you have so many decentralizing elements in the mass media, the bloggers being just one of the major ones, that there's no coherence any longer.

It's wonderful. There's this great blooming, buzzing confusion in the media world which I think is, by and large, an asset to democratization.

In a poignant moment, the National Archivist remembered his childhood in New York, when there were twelve different newspapers. "That dozen became the three or four that we have now, by 1950." And former newsman Isaacson saw an even harsher reality. "Having three newspapers in New York — however you want to count it — that's unusual. In Los Angeles now you're not going to have three, and the Chicago Sun-Times is about to go under."

But ultimately this discussion led to one inescapable conclusion. Maybe inspired by Benjamin Franklin and America's history of a decentralized media, Isaacson made one irrefutable observation about our media landscape today. In the great American city of New Orleans, yes, there's one monopoly newspaper. "But there's about twenty web sites, and probably a thousand bloggers, all attacking the mayor of New Orleans at any given moment!"

The bloggers and other new decentralized media outlets are "a wonderful asset," Isaacson added. And he pointed out that a decentralized media is almost an American tradition. "Ben Franklin arrives in Philadelphia, and it's a town of what — 12,000 people? It's got four newspapers. So what does Ben Franklin do? Get a fifth!"
All the way through our life as a country, almost, you have low barriers of entry to the technology of information. People could become printers, they could have newspapers, they could be pamphleteers, they could — whatever.

When radio hits, something else happens — a monopolization of newspapers... For a variety of reasons — classified ads, everything else — it was better to have one newspaper in town than seven newspapers, so you started seeing consolidation in the newspaper market. And the barrier to entry into the broadcast world was very hard. You couldn't become an NBC just sitting in your pajamas in your attic or something, because there were public airwaves, there were monopolies. There were three networks.

So for a very brief period in our country's history, approximately from 1940 to the year 2000 — for just that sixty-year period — you have a concentration of media where it's a higher barrier to entry. You can't start a newspaper in town, you can't start a TV network.

Then the internet blows all that away, and everybody can start web sites, blogs, email newsletters, that sort of thing, until you'll see us reverting back to the free flow of information that's more democratized.

Would Ben Franklin really fit into all this? Isaacson thinks it's unmistakable. In his book he identifies Franklin as "A successful publisher and consummate networker with an inventive curiosity.

"He would have felt right at home in the information revolution."

See Also:
Is The Net Good For Writers?
Monkey v. Dog v. Wikipedia
The Furious Passions of Norman Mailer
When Cory Doctorow Ruled The World
Neil Gaiman Has Lost His Clothes
How Gay Were the Hardy Boys?

Top 10 Pillars of Led Zeppelin Mythology

Led Zeppelin a long time ago

At London's 02 Arena Monday night, rock gods Led Zeppelin will attempt to recreate the special alchemy that made them one of the most legendary live bands of their era.

Zeppelin were notoriously inconsistent on tour, with Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham often exploring extended jams on band classics to varying effect. I've talked to people who were lucky enough to have seen them live, and the reactions range from "They didn't sound like the records" to "best 20-minute drum solo ever."

There was no doubt, however, that when the band was on they were like nothing else on earth. Zeppelin was doing three-hour-plus shows complete with acoustic sets when Bruce Springsteen was still playing bars in Asbury Park. And unlike contemporaries The Who and Pink Floyd, Zeppelin never used backing tapes or additional musicians, relying instead on sheer audacity, volume and Jones' underrated multi-instrumentalism (the man played everything from the Mellotron to the mandolin to a triple-necked acoustic monstrosity, often while performing the bass lines with his feet on custom bass pedals!).

And while the jury's still out on whether age and the lack of a huge element of their sound (Bonham) will render them incapable of getting a modicum of that magic back, in some ways it doesn't matter. For once again, the mighty Zeppelin have proved their incredible ability to stay relevant.

For those of you who aren't old enough to remember Lester Bangs dissing them in Creem magazine or the magic of bringing home the brown paper bag that held In Through the Out Door (or in an extreme example, being RU Sirius and having your first acid trip while listening to "Dazed and Confused"!), here are ten reasons I believe the mythos of Led Zeppelin remains etched in stone at a time when anything of lasting quality in pop culture seems almost impossible.

10. "Here's to My Sweet Satan … " Although you'd never know it by their slanderous remarks, America's more extreme branches of Christianity (Pentacosts, Baptists) never met a better friend/punching bag than Led Zeppelin. When crackpot preachers started playing rock records backwards in a desperate attempt to scare parents into burning their kids' records (the scene where Kathleen Turner does this to Kirsten Dunst's records in the film The Virgin Suicides shows the unintended hilarious results of this ridiculous act), Led Zeppelin was one of their first targets.

And what better tune to focus their bogeyman search on than "Stairway to Heaven?" The most famous "backwards masking" message meant to turn little Bobby from Buffalo to the side of Beelzebub was the alleged "Here's to my sweet Satan," warbled by Robert Plant.

Of course, the band denied this, and you don't have to be a Grammy-nominated sound engineer to hear what is clearly a big pile o' Christian crap.

9. The Bill Graham Beatdown Before thuggish hip hop was even an art form, let alone an industry, Led Zeppelin had a posse in full effect. Led (no pun intended) by Richard Cole, a coke-fueled maniac whose powers of physical intimidation were only outmatched by Zep's manager Peter Grant, their security was half drug-and-teen-procuring entourage, half security force.

Despite a mutually advantageous relationship in which both parties suckled at the new teat of stadium rock, the muscle behind both Zeppelin and Bill Graham Presents had run afoul of each other, by the very nature of their need for control. In 1977, during a multi-night stint at the Oakland Coliseum, the shit hit the fan.

When a BGP goon vied for a Darwin Award by roughing up the 400-lb Grant's young son backstage, the manager, Cole and Bonzo gave the poor sap and another employee a beatdown that ended in long hospital stays. Graham, ever the entrepreneur, kept charges from being filed long enough for Zep to finish the Oakland Stadium gigs.

8. This Album Has No Title Though commonly known as Led Zeppelin IV, Zep's fourth record not only had no actual title, but failed to display even the band's name on its cover. Instead, the band developed runes that stood for each member – Plant's consisted of a feather within a circle and is supposedly the Feather of Ma'at (the Egyptian goddess of justice and fairness); Jones' was three interlocking ovals; Bonzo's was also three interlocking ovals, and could either be a symbol for "man-wife-child" or the logo for Ballantine beer, depending on whom you ask; Page's (called "Zoso," which has also been used as the album's title by some fans) is the only one created by its bearer, and so its mystical significance remains a mystery.

Obviously, brass at Atlantic Records weren't exactly aroused by the unprecedented lack of identifying reference anywhere on the record. But the band's insistence on this concept formed the basis not only for their reputation as a fiercely anti-commercial artistic force, but also provided much of the mystique that was vital during the band's existence, and crucial to their continued legacy.

7. Led Wallet When Zep fans first heard the unmistakable bashing of John Bonham's drum intro to "Rock and Roll" in a Cadillac ad a couple of years ago, many were heard to utter a groan. But closer analyses of the handling of the catalog of the world's biggest rock band reveals a relatively tasteful restraint.

Especially when you consider that Jimmy Page was once referred to as "Led Wallet" for his unwillingness to part with a pence.

Still, the band has never performed again apart from a handful of mediocre events, all for charity (Live Aid, the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary). Jack Black was seen in the film "School of Rock" begging Page and Plant to allow Richard Linklater (who was also thwarted from using their songs in his film bearing an actual Zeppelin track name, "Dazed and Confused) to use their music for the soundtrack. They declined.

In fact, use of Zeppelin's music in film has been confined to the films of their pal, Cameron Crowe. Some argue this restraint is excessive – one could imagine the impact of a Zeppelin track in, say, a Scorsese film. It certainly would be nice for the guy not to have to mine the Stones all the time!

6. Peter Grant Led Zeppelin might have been the first rock band to make the business of being in a rock band a … business. Previously, bands like The Beatles would make money only when the number of records sold reached a staggering amount, and even then often under duress. Their contracts favored the record company to an obscene extent.

Zep's ability to establish a revenue producing powerhouse employing record sales, touring and merchandising was largely due to the wiles and weight of its manager, Peter Grant. A former pro wrestler, Grant was the basis for fictitious band manager Ian Faith's cricket bit in This is Spinal Tap. Further evidence of his style of communication can be seen in the new re-release of The Song Remains the Same, where Grant is seen practically ripping the head off a "cunt" who, at a show in Cleveland, failed to stop bootleggers from selling posters.

5. John Bonham Could Zeppelin have continued after its influential drummer died from choking to death on his own vomit after 40 measures of vodka?

Two words prove the perils of such an endeavor, had the band even had the heart and spirit to carry on – Keith Moon.

It's an easy argument to make that The Who's two post-Moon albums (Face Dances and It's Hard) diminish the band's catalog by causing it to sputter to an inglorious end. And while this might owe as much to a fading of Pete Townshend's genius (Zeppelin were more like Queen than The Who in this respect, with Jones making significant contributions throughout the band's career), Moon took more than just the drummer's throne with him to the grave.

He also took a huge part of the band's spirit, and while Moon was slightly more of an extroverted character, the fact that Bonham's simple "fantasy sequence" in The Song Remains the Same (showing such high-concept footage as him urging his cow along the pasture as well as intimate peeks into his home life) is the only one that isn't totally laughable either in concept or execution speaks volumes.

And even though there is something clearly fitting in having his son on the kit, in all respect, there is only one J. Bonham anyone will be thinking about when the band pulls out his showcase, "Moby Dick," as they're expected to.

4. Don Kirschner's Rock Concert with Led Zeppelin It never happened, and when I saw an old TV clip of Deep Purple recently, the wisdom of Zeppelin's avoidance of the medium of television (due both to the limitations of sound quality at the time as well as their desire to control their image and increase their mystique, not easy to do when you're playing for housewives on "The Mike Douglas Show") becomes very clear.

3. The Mud Shark An underground legend that went public with Frank Zappa's toss-off reference to it in "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" ("destined to take the place of the mud shark in your mythology!"), the story of a young band fucking a groupie with a small shark that had been caught while fishing out the window of Seattle's Edgewater Inn provided a blueprint for debauchery hardly equaled even today.

2. The Devil and Led Zeppelin In the commentary for his film The Man We Want to Hang, dedicated to the art of occult icon Aleister Crowley, filmmaker Kenneth Anger rather sheepishly admits that many of the pieces were seen courtesy of Jimmy Page, who had managed to consistently outbid Anger at auctions of the magician's work.

Then there's Page's acquisition of Crowley's Loch Ness mansion, in which many sinister acts of magick were perpetrated.

The guitarist's obsession with Crowley wasn't shared by the rest of the band, whose interest in the past didn't go much further than Elvis and "The Lord of the Rings." Still, a salacious media didn't hesitate to lump all in together, especially as Zep's fortunes seemed to turn dark toward the end (Plant's car accident in 1975, followed by troubled tours and the death of Plant's son in 1977).

1. What's in a Name? While the story goes that Keith Moon named the then-New Yardbirds "Lead Zeppelin" because he thought they'd go over like a lead balloon (badly), Page and Plant were immediately drawn to the inherent dynamics of light and heavy, which fit into their conversations about where they wanted to band's music to go.

Zeppelin weren't the first heavy rock band (and please don't call them heavy metal!), but they were the first to really understand and exploit the fact that heavy sounds even heavier when paired with lighter influences. Since then, rock bands from Iron Maiden to the Pixies to Nirvana have added new twists to the basic loud-quiet-loud dynamic.

Robert Plant once said the reason he thought people reacted to "Stairway to Heaven" favorably even after hearing it thousands of times is that it starts quietly and steadily builds in complexity and intensity throughout the duration of the song. At the same time, songs like "When the Levee Breaks" and "Kashmir" establish an intensity that never flags, but is still splashed with shades of shadow and light.

And that's the magic of Led Zeppelin, Charlie Brown.

See also:
Then End of Internet Radio?
Six Freakiest Children's TV Rock Bands
The Satanic Cosmology of Jack Chick
Author/Trickster JT LeRoy
Dan The Automator Remixes the Blue Angels

Bush Administration’s Greatest Hits (To Your Face)

Everybody who is paying attention – and who is not in deep denial – knows that there has been an intense and radical assault on civil liberties in the United States during the Bush Administration. In fact, the blows against the Constitution and the Bill of Rights have come on so fast and furious that few of us have been able to absorb them – or to try to get a complete picture of the damage done. Too many outrages tends to fog the mind against recalling the details of each or of any. Indeed, this tactic – relentlessness – is one that has often been employed by authoritarian regimes.

Working on behalf of the incipient QuestionAuthority organization and the MondoGlobo Social Network, Phil Leggiere has put together what may be the only complete timeline that delineates Bush's Greatest Hits against our rights, as well as relevant Supreme Court decisions, and Acts of Congress.

The Bushies started rockin' hard right out of the gate – well before 9/11. Taking office in January, 2001, the administration introduced it's paranoid style — immediately broadening the scope of documents and information that could be classified, and within a couple of months they had the NSA monitoring domestic calls and internet traffic.

We all tend to remember the big hits. The Patriot Act of 2001. The Military Commissions Act of 2006. But how many of us recall deceptively clever little mindfucks like when the FBI and DOD routed around US law by contracting with private companies to provide them with information on US citizens? And how about the time the Justice Department gave the FBI permission to monitor US religious and political groups? And not to be outdone, the Supreme Court showed off it's own chops in 2006, deciding that it was OK for drug-sniffing dogs to search your car when you're stopped for a random traffic violation. (Full disclosure: I've dated a few drug-sniffing dogs in my time!)

You may think that the biggest hits – the most damage – came in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Perhaps they freaked out — understandably — and it inspired the Bushies to go mental for a few years. Or maybe you would assume that the Bushies would have chilled after his popularity sank to Nixonian levels.

No way! In October, 2006, the Congress, acting in consort with the administration, gave the president the power to – in essence – declare martial law and round up troublemakers. To quote Leggiere, "The 'John Warner Defense Authorization Act' is passed. The act allows a president to declare a public emergency and station US military troops anywhere in America as well as take control of state based national guard units without consent of the governor or other local authorities. The law authorizes presidential deployment of US troops to round-up and detain 'potential terrorists', 'illegal aliens' and 'disorderly' citizenry." And then in May, 2007, El Presidente issued a directive that allowed him or his successor to take charge of all three branches of government in case of "a disaster resulting in extraordinary casualties."
There have been so many awesome hits! I have only scratched the surface here. Collect them all! Check out the timeline here!

The QuestionAuthority Proposal

This proposal is meant to be considered alongside, or in conjunction with my other recent Open Source Party proposal. They can both be discussed within active, dedicated groups at the new MondoGlobo social network, along with related issues.

A dark cloud is passing over America. We've witnessed, in recent years, the death of many of our constitutional rights and liberties. We've also seen increasingly authoritarian trends in daily life and culture.

Those of us who would prefer to keep our freedoms have been relatively powerless as the events of 9/11 have created an atmosphere of fear and acquiescence. Everybody knows the litany: the virtual death of habeas corpus, the legalization of surveillance against all Americans, the lawlessness and usurpation of powers by the executive branch, ad infinitum.

It is time for all those who oppose this gathering trend towards the worst type of authoritarian governance and culture to put aside their differences and join together in a coalition that can act as a counterforce to this gathering threat to our liberties. It is time for QuestionAuthority (QA).

1: QuestionAuthority — A Coalition

QuestionAuthority is an educational and advocacy project dedicated to defending and extending personal and civil liberties and encouraging free expression. Our goal is to create a broad-based coalition of non-authoritarian groups and individuals who may currently be working in relative isolation on single issues, for political organizations and candidates, or in relatively isolated ideological cohort groups. As a cohesive force, we can do more than just stem the tide one issue — or one court case — at a time. We can exercise political and cultural influence by uniting the vast numbers of Americans who believe that the country has taken a radical turn in an authoritarian direction.

2: QA Platform

We ask you to please endorse the QA Platform below. You can demonstrate your endorsement of the QA Platform by joining the dedicated group on the MondoGlobo Network, and by so joining, you'll send a message to the nation and the world.

1) We call for the resurrection of all basic liberties and protections – including protections against pervasive surveillance – taken away by the federal government and by the executive branch of the Federal Government resulting directly, or obviously, as the result of reactions to the events of 9/11

2) We call for maximum state transparency (an end to excesses in state secrecy). This would include a generous and resilient usage of the Freedom of Information Act; procedural oversight that can bring sane boundaries into the process of classifying materials; and a movement towards the greatest possible realistic use of open source information-sharing and problem-solving in areas related to defense and intelligence.

3) We call for the restoration of a robust system of checks and balances and separation of powers, meant by the Founders to keep concentrated growths of political malfeasance shaken and unable to take root.

We are particularly concerned about centralized power within the Executive Branch of government. In this context, we emphasize a return to active use of "The War Powers Act" in which substantive military campaigns have to be approved by the US Congress.

4) We call for an end to the so-called "war on drugs." This drug war has resulted in frequent violations of limits against search and seizure and an abhorrently large prison population, among other forms of abuse by authorities. (There is room within QA for those who would like an outright end to prohibition as well as for those who prefer more cautious approaches like reform and medicalization to bring to an end the more draconian aspects of the "drug war.")

5) We call for continued vigilance in the defense of free expression, both in the technical legal sense and in a broader socio-cultural sense. There must be a vibrant, vital dialogue around possible contemporary threats to free expression that might not strictly fall under the rubric of censorship. Issues worthy of dialogue and debate include excesses in copyright, hypersensitivity, pressures wrought by corporate media consolidation, state intimidation (such as Congressional hearings) and intimidation of discourse during times of war or during the buildup towards war.

Endorse Platform here

3: Action Agenda for QuestionAuthority

The action agenda for the QA is simple.

1a) We will monitor, inform about, and coordinate public educational responses against any further assaults on the basic constitutional liberties of Americans, and will organize information and educational responses to civil liberties already lost to the "war on terror."

1b) Imagine every authoritarian absurdity and outrage carefully explored and catalogued on a single website. Imagine networked groups that can spring into action to alert and educate the public the next time authorities savage the Bill of Rights

2a) We will do everything in our power to bring non-authoritarian and anti-authoritarian thinkers and speakers before the public and particularly before youth.

2b) Imagine a QA publicity/speakers bureau that would get a wide variety of QA types onto college campuses, on the various media talk shows (let's change the dialogue from Right v. Left to Authoritarian v. Non-Authoritarian) and before various civic groups.

3) We will encourage, initiate, and provide an online place for a wide-ranging discussion among supporters of the QA principles. We envision a QA virtual library of various "question authority" texts, videos, audio files, blogs and other media forms that give expression to diverse non-authoritarian and anti-authoritarian views.

We envision QA members organizing meetups, regional meetings, local forums and perhaps an annual or semi-annual QA conference. We envision QA members and supporters expressing these concepts in their own style through their own websites, wikis, blogs, videos, podcasts, and through other forms of communication directed towards those who are not online.


Q: What is the difference between QA and other organizations and candidates that fight for our rights?

A: First of all, our goal is to create a broad-based coalition of non-authoritarian groups and individuals who may currently be working in relative isolation on single issues, for political organizations and candidates, or in relatively isolated ideological cohort groups.

Also, in cases where civil liberty types of issues are involved, people tend to sit back and let them be fought out in the court. As a cohesive force, we can do more than just stem the tide one issue — or one court case — at a time. We can exercise political and cultural influence by uniting the vast numbers of Americans who believe that the country has taken a radical turn in an authoritarian direction.

Secondly, look again at what we promise to do in terms of organizing informational and educational materials. If these things were being done by anyone else, we wouldn't need to do them. QA proposes to be dynamic and participatory in ways that other organizations are not.

Q: Why should non-authoritarians want to unite in a big centralized organization?

A: They should unite only to the extent that it's necessary to show our numbers to the nation and amplify our influence as a way to counteract the influence of well-organized authoritarians.

How many times, in recent years, have you heard folks wonder why people don't "do something" when major, fundamental outrages against basic constitutional liberties are committed by the state? Now imagine a large, networked group of "question authority" types who can spring into action the next time something of this sort occurs to educate and advocate. Next time, do something! Additionally, the "myth" of a grand QA with a large membership filled with both influential and diverse people could have power to influence media and political discourse.

Q: How will the QA be organized?

A: QA will seek tax-deductible non-profit status. We imagine a very minimal centralized "bureaucracy." Everything about the actions of the QA as an organization, including its use of funds, will be open and transparent. For a brief period, QA decisions will be made by a Board of Directors. It will be comprised of people representing a wide variety of political (and perhaps "anti-political") views. We would hope to move quickly towards making decisions via open source, democratic processes.

We also imagine that many QA activities, right from the start, will be decentralized and taken by local and cohort groups.

Q: This document calls for action to educate and alert the pubic about basic losses of essential liberties. Isn't it time to move beyond education and into activism?

A: The rules guiding the creation of an educational organization and the rules around activism are subtly different. There is room for activist types of activity in an educational context, and those kinds of responses can be discussed and debated by the group. Also, some people will be more comfortable joining an informational/educational project than an activist project and we want a big fat sassy coalition.

Q: Who will join the QA?

A: We hope everybody who agrees with our platform (or who agrees, but with minor quibbles) will join us, so that our numbers and influence will act as a powerful counterforce against the authoritarian activists. Let's let them know we're here.

But let's be blunt. It's obvious that many of those who agree with this platform will tend to be people who are labeled "liberal" and "libertarian." Beyond that, we believe that this coalition will appeal to an even larger disenfranchised group of Americans who believe in questioning authority, but who have very few ideological certainties.

Finally, let's be excessively blunt. We want all the nation's most influential anti-authoritarian individuals and organizations to join in this coalition. We want the ACLU and the Cato Institute; Bob Barr and Mos Def; the EFF and the People for the American Way; MoveOn.org and AntiWar.com; Hitchens and Chomsky; Penn Jillette and George Carlin, Reason magazine and Harpers magazine; Howard Stern and Amy Goodman; Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich; Paris and Nicole… (OK, maybe not.) Anyway, by now, you get the point.


These days, those of us who question authority find ourselves shocked and astonished by the actions of the state – both small and large – on nearly a daily basis. As individuals, we find ourselves wondering, "Why isn't there mass outrage?"

Of course, there is quite a bit of outrage. It's distributed all over the web and all over the culture, but this sense of outrage does not have the coherence it needs to be perceived as a player on America's political stage. We can no longer afford to let that be the case. We need to act now.

Visit our newly re-purposed MondoGlobo Network to get more involved with this idea and/or in a social network for people who question authority.

See also:
Is It Fascism Yet?
Detention and Torture: Are We Still Free Or Not?
Catching Up with an Aqua Teen Terrorist
Art or Bioterrorism: Who Cares?
Homeland Security Follies
Prior Permission Required by Government Before Each Flight
Anarchy for the USA: A Conversation with Josh Wolf