Monday, December 12, 2011

The Fabrication of a Word

s n u u s p e a r o
su ne ous pra
nesu pra ous
prasu neou s

suous nepra
The little man comes along into this mess
The little man who studies Brazil
not Brazilian himself

su ousne pra
He says to himself
sune praous
Says he to himself:

"Where do all these pieces go?"
su ous pra ne –
The little man wearing mirror spectacles…

...thought it not quite right yet
supreousne supreousne supeousrne
He dipped his quill

Dipped his quill did he
in a gleaming ink pot
soon he wrote

: characterized by the vertiginous replication of mutated iterations of a particular aesthetic form
First known use: 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

Giggle Christ

Christian stoners united
a polymorphic Book of Hours
Sick cattle in Devonshire
Rainstorm on the outskirts of Bangkok
War in Equinoctial Kesh
These Christian stoners
will go just about anywhere
carrying Bibles
and bags of Cheetos
Hernia Outbreak in Tripplehorn County?
you best believe
Christian stoners got there already
playing their lutes
laughing in tongues
Spreading the good word
about the nature of that universe there

"Who are they?"
ask the newsmen
"Are they in cahoots with cartels?”
question the cops
"Why don't they go back where they came from"
bark the troglodytes
A fad that will pass
or a scene that lasts
Christian stoners will
carry the day
A joint for your troubles
A crucifix bong
for the suffering
the unlimited suffering
of strips of tortured flesh
thick sluggish blood
pain that grows greater
with each choice
so take another rip

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Basement Arcadist

A version of this article I wrote 9 months ago was originally published in the zine Connect the Dots. The online supplement to Connect the Dots can be found here.

We know of a remote arcade in Berkeley. Every Friday night, games are played there. Down an unlit street in the southern reaches of town, one may find an unmarked blue door with an ornate knocker at its center. When the intrepid soul enters for the first time, bathed in the ethereal glow emanating from dozens of seemingly ancient pinball machines, one is likely to be struck with an astonishing sense of rapture. Just like falling down the rabbit hole, stepping into this enigmatic House of Games almost seems like entering another world filled with curious amusements – Egghead, Trade Winds, Magic City, Cover Girl, Gottlieb’s Two-Player Surfside, Gottlieb’s Four-Player Masquerade, Rotospin and dozens more, glittering with midcentury light, ringing and echoing caustically about every win and loss, haunted by fun until they are finally shut down and darkened for another working week of dormancy.

But the efflorescent wonder that abounds in this place derives not just from the startling locale or the antiquated games – even the surrounding superstructure has dreams to suggest. The acid-gutted pinball wizard, weary from a marathon in Magic City, may rest in the loud wilderness of political and pop cultural mythography that adorns the building’s walls. Nixon plays a leading role in the image stream of the arcade’s outer consciousness, but he is happily joined by the Three Stooges, Santa Claus, Running Wolf, “Elephants and Asses,” and copious beer advertisements, as well as his fellow demons: Reagan, Oliver North, Barbara and the two George Bushes. Alas, even the fiercest wizard may strain his eyes trying to take it all in, for it is a nearly infinite pastiche of bedazzling Americana.

What is this uncommon place that does not show up on any Google map, that goes unlisted in every phonebook still extant in our digitized age? To find out, your humble reporter spoke to the man behind the machines – Berkeley’s own maestro of underground pinball – Mack the basement arcadist. “In 1986, I was in Omaha, Nebraska and I found this warehouse that had around 1200 machines,” he explained as he passed me a joint, all within moments of having met me. “So I shipped some of them back here. I can’t believe they let me get away with doing this!”

I understood Mack’s legendary status after running into an old teacher of mine a few months ago. Bob Ernst had done experimental theater with Whoopi Goldberg, among many others, with a Berkeley group called the Blake Street Hawkeyes back in the ‘70s. When I mentioned Mack and the arcade, Bob quickly realized whom I was talking about. Apparently they were old buddies. Next time I returned to Mack’s arcade, he had forgotten me as one of the dozens of friendly strangers that passed through his labyrinth of pleasant diversions. But when I mentioned that Bob Ernst said hello, he lit up. “Any friend of Bobby’s is a friend of mine!”

He proceeded to tell me about how he had encountered Bob and the Blake Street Hawkeyes: “I got so tired of big industry so I went to work in the skylight factory – we had been making nuclear submarines, so I went from that to making skylights. And it was just so much easier on my head. A lot harder on my bank account but you know what? You spend the money for shrinks and drugs! So I got accidently collided with the Hawkeyes, but I already had some run-ins there through the dance world even though my studios were in the city.” I have to admit, I didn’t follow all of this but I had to know about why Richard Nixon’s face featured so prominently in his arcade. Mack obliged, discussing his eternal disgust with Nixon and then adding casually, “And I play with this band, The Funky Nixons–” I had seen “Funky Nixons” posters among the paraphernalia on the walls – “We’re actually playing a gig in April at Ashkenaz, a benefit for the tree people. You know they’re still up there in the trees? Around the Lost Coast.”

I began to realize why Mack had agreed to let me write this article only under the condition that I keep the exact location and hours of operation of his arcade a secret. This antiquarian pinballer has built a beautiful little world that can shimmer and twitch beneath the visible surface of a town that for all its vaunted tolerance, still maintains a darkly uneasy relationship with free thinking outsiders.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Thief Sleeps on the Couch Downstairs

This fear seems awful silly now,
this acid belly flood
when Dan the piano man says how
he found your money blood

We talked and talked like fans of Bird
so many weeks ago
of antics Dan had played absurd
it was not just a show

Some creeps on this side of the night
are not so very bad
but when he followed her with fright
they knew they had been had

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Eager Visions

“In the land of Janaki, there exists a tall cylindrical edifice covered in alabaster that serves as both a tomb and a monastery for fertile academic minds. First built in the decades following the ill-fated Keshite invasion, it did not become a tomb until centuries later. The insectivorious King Grimmage III committed his life to quiet study in the building and when he died he left strict instructions to be buried in the structure that was from that day forth to be known as Grimmage Tower.

“Grimmage Tower developed a reputation as the most prestigious refuge for those citizens of Janaki blessed with enormous gifts of scientific, analytic, artistic or literary character. To be invited to Grimmage Tower is a great honor, and many of Janaki’s brightest lights spend years working in its catacomb cells before eventually being buried in its mausoleum. The admission of an individual working in a field heretofore unrepresented inside Grimmage signals a new respectability for that endeavor, as was the case when Prasad Venedin entered for his pioneering work in information analytics.

“Prasad usually had a drink at Alexandrine’s after work, but after receiving word of his invitation he decided to head home immediately to dress up for a night out in celebration. He wore a caerulean cape hand dyed with smashed bodies of a type of beetle found only in the rain forests of the tropical region of Janaki. While wearing the cape prior to this day had made Prasad feel insecure about ostentatiously displaying aspirations of fully joining the intelligentsia, he now felt that he truly earned its lush appearance.”

Carly Bryann Young took her hands off the keyboard and leaned back in her chair. Her mind had been focusing on three things: the text she had written, what she planned to say next, and an idea of how her as yet non-existent readership would interpret each sentence she had composed. But now as she paused from these cognitively intense tasks, anxiety washed over her. She felt nervous about borrowing the name Janaki for the imagined country that was the setting for this story. She first heard the word in a song and liked how it sounded, but she knew little about the Indian subcontinent and therefore could not determine what connotations it might carry for those that did.

She also worried about dealing with ethnicity. Yet it was an exciting worry. She had completed a 500 page hard fantasy trilogy when she was ten years old that after a generous referral from author Leonard Colbeck was reviewed by an editor at Crooked Timber Books. At fourteen, her glo-fi play almost won a national playwriting competition in New York City. Almost. She had learned to loathe the word. She had been told that in this industry (she always used the term ‘industry’) that one can die of encouragement, and she felt that was true. She didn’t need any more pats on the head. She was nineteen and way beyond that. She felt ready for the next step.

For some reason she felt that next step was to attempt to invent a new genre. She wanted to combine the otherworldly color of the work she had come to love as a kid with more realistic politics, ethnicity, and social criticism all written in a tense, journalistic prose style more often found in nonfiction. Time will tell if she succeeds.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Invective Incitement

Robots and Monsters huddle around
the embers of our campfire
fiends gnashing their teeth
in your unimagined paradise
with the Red Army here and the Blue Army there
a tremendous wiggle loosed on the lot

Guillermo Credenza
that most magical bishop
yields before the developing
world of business disasters
wishing most earnestly to be described
as ursine

How to react to these foreseen
machinations? drink my laughs
you old plate of soup
before we prepare for murders
Monsters must burn
Robots must burst

When Credenza sings
"The Maltese Jew"
at Christmastime
Sweet Jumpin' Christmas Time!
Oh how we feel ready
to carry out his dark designs

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Great Rock Hunt Tour Adventure

An abridged version of this article I wrote just short of a year ago was originally published in the zine Connect the Dots. The online supplement to Connect the Dots can be found here.

When my editor called with an assignment about a rumor she had heard in Solano about some Ohlone shaman who had apparently carved mystical Kuksu inscriptions on five great rocks in the hundreds of years prior to white settlement in what is now North Berkeley, I was intrigued. Knowing the Ohlone – famous for their giant shell mounds as well as their skill at dancing on the rim of the world – I was certain I had a killer story on my hands. So certain that I briefly considered hiring a semiotician to assist me in decrypting the strange Ohlone symbols before abandoning the idea because I did not want to go overbudget on my very first assignment for the publication.

My editor directed me towards the Friends of Five Creeks, who have uncovered some of the history of Berkeley’s major rock parks as part their conservationist efforts. While these mysterious geophile Friends did not respond to requests for an interview, I gleaned some useful background from their website. Berkeley boasts five splendorous rock parks made of lavas from the last few million years: Great Stone Face, Indian, Mortar, Grotto and Cragmont. I resolved to uncover the hidden secrets of each in turn.

In a past life, I had already encountered Indian Rock and its intoxicating views but the others were unknown to me up until this point. So I would need a map if my rock hunt tour adventure were to succeed. Scorning my usual method of printing a map off a website called “The Google Maps,” I drew my own plot with all of the important roads and landmarks set out in pencilstroke. I planned to set off in a Northwesterly direction from Shattuck and Hearst and return to civilization via Euclid Avenue. On a chilly November day, I snaked past Safeway and over a large tunnel to arrive at The Circle, a magical font of suburban spirit waters and also the source of ALL ROADS in Berkeley. Choosing among dozens of drives, alleys and avenues, I followed Arlington Aven. This took me to my first destination.

The Great Stone Face, contrary to its name, appeared less imposing then my memory of Indian Rock. However, when I tried to climb it, I came to understand its magnitude. As I squeezed its side desperately, my breath becoming short, a woman named Julia appeared and asked me if I smoked cigarettes. Julia told me she had spent the previous summer in a hospital where she met Biggie Smalls and Method Man among other notables. This half crazed rambler subsequently distracted me from my mission by offering me avocado crackers and a pint of beer while she went to find a knife that she said she needed to make guacamole.

I sat on the park’s lone bench debating whether I could afford to tax my serotonin levels so soon after last weekend by eating the mushrooms I had hidden from myself in my jacket pocket. It may be the only way for me to operate on the same manic wavelength that Julia inhabits while allowing me a chance at the holy moment I knew I would need to make my article great. But before my professional side could offer a riposte I was interrupted by two traveling magazine sales-ladies that Julia had made vague reference to in our earlier conversation. They had come to meet Julia and drink her beer and I did not stand in their way. While they explained how houses of the Berkeley Hills were some of the nicest they had ever seen in their extensive exploits across America, I noticed the sunlight dwindling and remembered the other four rocks I was meant to investigate. The day was growing ancient and I had not found a single hallowed mark yet. With that, I took leave of Great Stone Face but not before Julia returned and insisted I take some photos of the three of them in an absurd one-handed pose that eludes further elaboration.

Sailing back to The Circle with all deliberate speed, I walked up another spoke on its wheel of routes: Indian Rock Avenue. As the sun dropped rapidly towards the horizon, a grand vision appeared before me of a spiritual watchguide of half-Ohlone, half-Friends-of-Five-Creeks-cultist descent. The luminous Archana Ram told me to skip Indian Rock as I approached it, as I already knew it well enough from earlier romantic rendezvous and anyway it was currently occupied by a gruesome nest of jackasses I would not care to encounter. She led me onto Mortar Rock where she explained that the Ohlone once used thick pestles to grind acorns into flour on this rock eventually forming hollows in the outcrops. Hence the name Mortar, I surmised, but as I did she disappeared into the thick brambles and trees surrounding the boulder. Sensing the swift encroach of forboding darkness, I climbed up the many necks of an enormous tree-like serpent, an arboreal hydra that intersected with the crest of Mortar. I surveyed the holey rock, looking for shamanistic carvings but finding only grinding indentations. When I peered into a shimmering pool in one of these hollows, Archana’s face appeared and then emerged into the temporal world to send me sliding back down the smooth nape of a thick tree arm.

I hurried down the street at her exhortations commanding me to get to Grotto Rock before sunset finally expired. I was glad I did because it’s a truly magnificent geological sight to behold. It’s much larger than any of the other rocks, and a web of enticing crevices and caves complicates its broad face. After I scaled it using the helpful stone stairs cut by one parks service or another, I looked out at the gorgeous one hundred eighty degree view of the San Francisco Bay and its surrounding environs. Disillusionment clouded the resplendent colors of the setting sun as once again I found no Ohlone glyphs anywhere on Grotto. I had a smoke and suddenly noticed some markings in blue, white and black. Excited at first, I quickly realized they had been drawn with spray paint. Perhaps these were the only purposeful symbols I would find: those of the wild-eyed contemporary Berkeley ruffian. But that’s not so bad, I thought as I noted the groups of worshippers who shared Grotto with me that evening to commemorate the daily passing of Ra.

When nightfall had taken hold and the others had left, I began to spelunk in the grandest crevasse that Grotto Rock had to offer. Shimmying and sliding with zeal, I heard the distant sound of a gruff voice intoning, “You’re making me mad, I’m tryin’ to be here with my friends!” Now will I in the chink see the phantoms of the crevasses here in this ghostly grotto? But no, as I tumbled out of the cavern and onto Santa Barbara Road, I realized it was just the voice of just such a ruffian as I mentioned earlier. Onward.

I made my way due east. It was quite dark when I reached Euclid Avenue, off of which Cragmont Rock was supposed to lie. I scrambled around in the gloom looking for the final stone park to complete my journey, but every shadow started to look like a rock. I was deceived by large bush here, a sloping driveway there. When I finally stumbled upon the park that contained Cragmont, I was greeted by a sign that read, “Barbecue Safely…Please Make Sure Your Coals Are Out !” And so it was that I discovered the holy rites of Berkeley’s great rock parks. Shaman had left no secret messages. Instead, what was once a place for Ohlone women to grind seeds and berries had become a place for the modern American rituals of barbecue, graffiti and sunset watching with friends. Archana Ram tried to tell me, but I didn’t listen. Now I know, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dripping Noise (From Your Damn Mouth)

The sounds you create anywhere are
repeated every minute of every day &
if I can hear the hands of the clock then
I will ignore those sounds you pro-duce at
dawn and dusk because too much else is
gaining and losing my attention thus
I have none left for you except
a thank you a God Bless You but
he say you didn't believe in
those old tales only the new stories that
you tell Strings lonely with doubt out
of the past crying dangerously for
more of those hit pops off
the record left to you by
that wicked corpse you call a

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

GUEST POST: A Mostly Speculative and Acerbic Look at the Fall 2011 Pilot Season

by Ben BenAry

I do not have cable, though I am a fan of television. My favorite current shows are Louie, Breaking Bad, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Parks and Recreation, and Mad Men. Though I have not seen, nor plan on seeing most of these new shows, I feel compelled to predict their potential as hits. Only time will tell how accurate I can be without having to subject myself to this dreck.


Playboy Club - I'm anticipating strong initial ratings because of the lure of the Playboy brand, which will dissipate at the same rapid rate as viewers' hopes of seeing some nips. Also there's only so much room for Mad Men imitations, and that spot belongs to Pan Am.
Cancelled after one season.

Prime Suspect
- Will Maria Bello's indie film street cred translate to TV star power? Maybe, but with police procedurals already accounting for half of all scripted television, this one about a lady detective in New York City isn't likely to stand out. She doesn't even talk to ghosts.
Cancelled after one season.

Grimm - Grimm is a modern retelling of Grimm's fairy tales. I think. I'm not going to do further research on this. I will not watch this show. If people didn't flock to see a Matt Damon/Heath Ledger retelling of these stories, why should this be any different?
Cancelled after half a season.

Up All Night - Raising Hope got a second season for some reason, and this "unfit parents raise a baby" comedy is more agreeable tonally. I like the actors. It's produced by Lorne Michaels. I'll probably never watch it, because my standards are just one notch higher.
Modest hit by TV standards, enough for NBC though. Two seasons until the Arnett curse runs Wilde.

Free Agents - An apt title considering what the career status of the actors on this show will be in about a month. Zing!
Cancelled like right now.

Whitney -
This is a picture of Whitney Cummings who got her very own sitcom on NBC.
2011 will be remembered as the year of Whitney Cummings. For some reason this poor man's Sarah Silverman got her own sitcom vehicle and another show she's producing. I predict that this one will be cancelled for being done in an outdated format while also starring Cummings who is neither funny nor likable.
Cancelled after one season, a full season because Cummings is apparently the most powerful woman in television.


Pan Am - I don't know anything about this show other than what I've seen on a few promos. It looks like Catch Me If You Can. I'm on board.
Hit! 5 seasons.

Charlie's Angels -
Ben prefers Barrymore.
What did people like about the first movie? Bill Murray, and probably one of the three girls, depending on your type. I'm partial to Barrymore myself. This version has none of that. The time tested formula of hot girls kicking ass is wearing a bit thin, though this may get a second season just because Disney owns the property and why not?
Cancelled after two seasons.


Person of Interest -
Jim Caviezel solves crime while nailed to crucifix.
As I understand it, this is some kind of high tech spy thingy. Starring Jim Caviezel (Jesus) and Michael Emerson (the best actor on Lost) and on the network that can't make an unpopular crime show. I think this is going to be a full-fledged hit, if not necessarily with anyone you know personally.
Hit! 8 Seasons, 1 spinoff.

2 Broke Girls - I actually watched the pilot. It's not my thing, but it might appeal to fans of The Big Bang Theory, which I also find unwatchable. I remembered one joke, told by the sage, white haired black man/one liner delivery machine who performs some unspecified job at the diner. "You're just like the night maid at the Schwarzenegger house: screwed." Studio audience ate that shit up.
Hit! 6 Seasons (they can't stay broke forever) plus TBS syndication.

How to be a Gentleman -
Gentlemen don't eat burgers.
I have only seen the poster for this show. It stars Kevin Dillon (Johnny Drama) as the guy who doesn't know how to be a gentleman, and a bland guy who plays the guy who does know how to be a gentleman.
Cancelled after half a season. Can't win 'em all CBS.


The New Girl -
Dooey Zeschanel is so adorkable it'll make you vomit.
I watched the pilot with my dad. Neither of us laughed. I think he smiled twice. I like Zooey Deschanel as much as the next red blooded American white guy, but never before has a project banked solely on her likability (or adorkability as FOX's marketing suggests). She plays this girl who breaks up with her stupid boyfriend and then moves in with three stupid guys for some reason. One of the guys is also getting out of a relationship, and is not merely a caricature, so he'll be dating Deschanel's character after about 6-8 episodes of "will they? won't they?" story lines. The other white guy is the douche bag, which is reinforced by him doing douchey things like taking off his shirt in mixed company, and everyone close to him constantly telling him he is a douche bag. The black guy yells a lot, and is played by a Wayans son, ushering in a new era of Wayanses.
This show made me legitimately sad, because it will be a hit. It is also considered quite good, with the critical consensus being that "The New Girl" is the most promising comedy of the season. But it is not good. The situations are contrived, the relationships phony, the characters cardboard demographic representations. Toward the end of the episode, Zooey's three new roommates find out that her rebound date has stood her up while they are about to get into the big party they've been waiting for all year. What do they do? They abandon their supposedly important plans in order to cheer up their new weird roommate for some reason. They arrive at the white tablecloth restaurant, serenade her (as you do), and all four are told to leave. Why do they care so much about her? She's adorkable.
Hit! 7 Seasons, until Zooey Deschanel loses her taste for money.

Fans Away the Native Fumes

Happy onlor day! I just landed
I’ll be home by auntie’s hour
Was in the future,
now I have been both told and advised to
take it easy
I will kill you with my eyes
Interactive rudix studio murderer
It’s not on the open market yet
Lodge Embles put in a bid for almost
three billion dollars
for the unfinished prototype
Ha ha ha he go east
Ah aimsol ha ahash laps cha ha ha ha ha
The brain is a machine and people forget that

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Undulating Earth

The two minute hate
the three hour fear
four instants of absolute nonsense
followed by...
an eternity of the itchiest frustration
an internal itch impossible to scratch
subsides and the three second orgasm comes next, in me, in me
fades away for there is
the lifelong nostalgia to worry about
only two shakes of lamb's tail before
"The Five Day Effective Efficiency Plan"
about "The Three Week Weight Loss Drug Bender"
Though neither can compare to
The Eight Moments He Felt Lonesome
Directed by Howard Hawks
or was it John Ford, I can't remember for more than
a few months at a time
The seven eon hoax
The nine century farce
The six millenia of abject terror
The one searing white hot ball of anger
praying for nuclear holocaust

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Diaries of Nicholson Cage

Friday, September 24th –
Only thing worth mentioning: spent longer than needed chopping vegetables

Saturday, September 25th –
Spent a good portion of the day replacing light bulbs

Tuesday, September 28th –
Can’t stand that lady at the drug store. Why is that lady always in there? Also, not going to forget to do this, no matter what they say.

Thursday, September 30th –
When the light wouldn’t turn off after flicking the switch, became convinced that it was all a dream. But it wasn’t.

Monday, October 11th –
Spent the entire weekend trying to learn how to make Tofu taste good

Tuesday, October 12th –
Remembered uncle in Thailand is still in a coma. Sent him a postcard.

Thursday, October 14th –
I have decided to start using more pronouns. Clarity is important. And consistency.

Sunday, October 17th –
My landlord burst in today with some mishegas about the property rental people and how they needed keys to unlock the door for a showing or some damn thing and how he had to be at service. I helped him out by offering to do his own job for him, but since I had the keys to someone else’s apartment I stole some incidentals like a spatula, a tape measure and a deck of cards.

Wednesday, October 20th –
Ads on TV for helping African Orphans inspired me to start my own charity

Thursday, October 28th –
Charity thing taking up more time than expected. Can’t go to the farmer’s market this weekend like usual.

Tuesday, November 23rd
Keep forgetting about this old thing. Got to figure out whether to put ads on TV, which might be a dead technology, or on the internet. Don’t know much about AdWords.

Monday, November 29th
Met a woman over the weekend that may fall in love. Surprise: it wasn’t at a bar!

Sunday April 4th:
Found out that the IRS is investigating me for my charitable activities. Or investigating my charity, not sure what the difference is. Oh, and it’s Easter.

Sunday, May 22nd:
Uncle woke from his coma and is coming home to see me. On the phone, he said he dreamed about me when he was under.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hooligan Circus Political Technique

When Tommy Fitzgerald offered to buy me a drink for the 21st birthday I had several months ago, I did not know what to think. “Your 21st birthday should last all year, am I right?” he said with an enthusiasm bordering on spooky self-regard. Some friends had warned me that Tommy was a fat, two-faced liar. From what I had heard, he was a schemer of schemes and not to be trusted. But in my admittedly limited interactions with Tommy, I had found him fairly forthright and even amusing to be around. As he explained to me how to rent a car before turning 25, I thought I would let him buy me a drink after I finished my second beer of the evening. How often do you get to hang out in a cool Ethiopian restaurant-bar with a group of friends you see none too frequently?

Sipping my Whiskey Sour as the somewhat slapdash and informal program started, I thought to ask Tommy about whether he would be voting for Maggie in a couple of weeks as I planned to do. I actually can’t remember if I thought about this before the emcees brought up the Roy vs. Maggie race. I do remember thinking about how the closest behavior to the deceptive bastard I had been told existed that I had experienced firsthand came in the minutes after both Tommy and I had lost the elector election coming in seventh and eighth place out of a field of six. Tommy told me he would call me the next day to talk about how to get myself appointed to the elector position (don’t the losers always get appointed?). But he did not. Of course, now we were both appointed electors and as far as I know he could have very well been involved in making sure that happened.

When I finally leaned over to him to whisper incautiously my question about Maggie, he turned to me with that grin of his and snapped, “What’s my last name?” At first I thought he was teasing me and I responded louder than I should have: “Fitzgerald!” And then, after a pause, “Oh,” I thought and said at the same time. Roy Fitzgerald. Maggie Pierce versus Roy Fitzgerald. “I’m his son, Tommy Fitzgerald,” he explained to my imbalanced embarrassment. I started to apologize without saying sorry and he stopped me by saying, “I love Maggie, she’s great.” I had seen them hug jovially just moments earlier but I continued nonetheless and he stopped me again by laughing without seeming to smile. “Tommy Fitzgerald is Roy’s son but I’m not that Tommy Fitzgerald. We have the same name though, it’s pretty funny.”

I found out that Tommy’s father, Jim Fitzgerald, is the fire commissioner for the city. Apparently he was not Roy Fitzgerald and that same evening I found out I was not allowed to vote for Maggie and against Roy until I was “released” to do so. I stumbled outside in a muddled temper. In the orange and gloomy dusk I felt I could have signed my life away to the IRS or some other heartless agency, and I probably did. I needed to get my ID card back, as I had left it up one town to the north. Mostly, I experienced a matchless remorse for the modestly nightmarish scheming world I could never really understand. It had been too long since I arrived, and it was not nearly long enough until I will depart.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Customer Review: HP7-P2

I watched HP7-P2 a couple months ago and can't begin to tell you all how pleased I was with this wonderful product. It really does live up to its billing. And everything it does is so intuitive. The evil wizard Voldemort is a joy to watch and all of the product's many special effects function flawlessly. Helen Bonham Carter is fabulous and it never gets jammed or feeds more than one piece of paper at a time. I had occasion to give Hermione a real "trial by fire." The unit does not come with a manual explaining who all the characters are and what they are doing (that sucks). But it's on the provided CD. I like a paper copy of an operating manual so I printed out all 212 pages Hermioned in "Horcrux" quality. I was expecting the print quality to be so-so at best for this setting but was amazed at how good it looked. And the Hermione worked flawlessly, printing out all 212 pages on 106 pages of paper.

Now for a couple of nitpick negatives. The movie product is not the quietest in operation so don't expect to be watching it at 2:00AM without waking the neighbors. Not at least unless you enjoy getting yelled at. And the narrative is a little buggy. We had to uninstall and reinstall it twice before it made any sense dramatically to people who haven't read the book. That's about all I can think of to criticize so far.

The movie product is very attractive and a lot shorter and less bloated than the Academy-Award winning LOTR-P3. And the illumination for the LCD panel is a very attractive pure white rather than that drab 'sort-of-green' that you sometimes see on LCD's.

Amazing, just amazing.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Father Malkin is neither Filipino nor a bay laurel,
but is actually the hated visitor to the local school.
When he comes around, all the teachers sit in their desks
and can only remember what they’re supposed to be doing.
Their leisure is eaten away without even a clear idea of what the time is.
That is disruptive.
"     " is why the father is not the son.
"     " is why the father connects with
the jewel and the spike.

The father always uses the tools at his disposal
He likes a bigger screen to keep all our seaweed
He likes two loves at once.
He likes the fun of contradiction.
He likes to make sure he’s alive.
He hates oxygen but loves air.
He jumps for joy whenever a snake bites the children.
But he always protects the boys down the street
from their parents’ unwilling unrewarding unaccepting
This is the true nature of protection.

When you can make choices that limit what others seek
to put forward as rules before you,
there is enough protection to go around for both the him and the her.
He doesn’t care whether she knows it’s protection.
She doesn’t know
"whether or not there are enough numbers in the day"
for it to be clear for tomorrow.
That is the problem that she has with the future.
But he doesn’t want to know about it.
He just wants to jump up and down while singing old pub tunes.
But he likes when he hears unusual noises.
And unusual noises come often when she makes no escape.

She repeats the same words over and over again
but Father Malkin can’t hear.
He’s outside of her and he can’t be there over and over again.
And outside of the him and the her and Father Malkin and children and boys is the police officer and the librarian.
The librarian beats the police officer in the head.
The librarian is at her dresser and she puts on new clothes
because there is political blood all over the old ones.
No one addresses the fact that the blood is too orange to be natural.
We only have pyramid schemes to blame.

(guitar chords, attempted distractions , and fondled flutes were all incorrect answers)

Monday, August 1, 2011

"Making Movie History"

River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild WestRiver of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West by Rebecca Solnit
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Solnit is a remarkable prose stylist, and her examination of the brave new world of abstractions and representations born in California's violent industrializing Gilded Age past works marvelously. I will even defend her occasionally tendency to wind off into tangled thickets of near schizoid conspiracism about the connections between the various phenomena she investigates with the careful eye of a social historian. Sometimes wild theorizing about the bigger picture is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Ghosts of Electricity

don't open e-mail from me about "beach photos"- it's "phishing"

fromBarrie Thorne [email address redacted]
toMary Hatfield Henderson et al [email address redacted]
dateMon, Jun 27, 2011 at 6:58 PM
subjectdon't open e-mail from me about "beach photos"- it's "phishing"
Important mainly because it was sent directly to you.
hide details 6:58 PM (20 hours ago)
Dear folks on my gmail "contacts"list,
Alas, I have somehow been hacked. If you get an email from me asking you
to see some photos from the beach, DELETE IT.  If more mayhem occurs, I'll
take appropriate action. 
My apologies,

Barrie Thorne
Professor  of Gender & Women's Studies and
 Professor of Sociology
University of California, Berkeley

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Selections from "Thai Travels" No. 4

"...I experienced a series of highly visceral hallucinations. I felt as if I flew high above the jungle upside down. The trees, the banana palms, the noisy yet euphonic hum of insects, the replicative green - everywhere green - whirled around me with dizzying splendor...Jiminy Cricket served as our guide. He taught us the ways and protected us from the gravest dangers we may have encountered. Undoubtedly my view of the jungle has been permanently altered by meeting it under such tumultuous circumstances...

"I had already seen the muddy river below my dangling feet. But now we got deep in the muck. Our captain fancied that he was a Jack Sparrow, he heard voices, he talked to himself and he led us down the current feet first. I was prepared to dunk my head in the drink, I was ready to drown.

"The day had not yet ended and my venturesome delusions now took shape as avatars - tigers first, and then ultimately elephants. I feel no shame admitting that I am terrified of anyone who is capable of tearing my face off and eating my flesh like so much lettuce. The tiger, he is capable, but the tiger can be approached...

"The next morning, the visage of the elephant became my delusion's North Star. We were all entranced by their gentle comic majesty. Sympathy for these enormous beasts anguished me - normally my soul harbors few warm feelings for animals. I deal with them as a technocrat deals with reams of collected data. I analyze rather than pet...[The elephants] took us on slow, stuttering roller coaster ride through the jungle.

"My sister and I rode on a houda atop the elephant. Her name was Wan Pen and she was a hard working 31-year-old. She climbed like hell. She ate using her highly articulate trunk. My feet were on her back, occasionally I placed my foot behind her ear. The jungle around us made way for these hulking wanderers. Again the resounding buzz of insects surrounded us, but this time Wan Pen's ears flapped back and forth to ward them away...

"The long chain of visions that Chiang Mai induced in me ended while visiting a working silk factory. These little slugs - born to transform - provide, in their yearning to become another, a fine fiber that Thais (among many other peoples) weave into threads. We wear these threads for fashion and comfort. After examining the worms in their various stages of development as well as the fibers, the threads and the wooden machines that women work to weave the silk, I entered the adjacent retail shop that sells the finished goods. My dream ended with the stark juxtaposition of a hot silk factory and an air conditioned retail shop. Nearly every shop I have entered in my life has had a sweat shop behind its wares, but the connection had never been so clearly dramatized. I felt a vague sickness; a hangover of unearned luxury infested me like opportunistic mold."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Selections from "Thai Travels" No. 3

All photo credit to my sister, Katherine Bruens:
hey, look, that's me with a tiger

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Selections from "Thai Travels" No. 2

"...the [Chao Phraya] river bisects the city and feeds the many canals that cut through neighborhoods like so many veins and arteries...after getting on a long tail boat...[w]e sped down the river taking in views of the city. It's a truly splendorous way to travel.

"Our first stop was Wat Arun. An ornate Buddhist temple stippled by statues of cows and Gods from the Hindu pantheon, Wat Arun dares one to tumble down its pyramidal step formations. Near the end of our explorations of the vertiginous structure, I glimpsed a Buddhist monk working as a clerk behind the counter of the Wat Arun gift shop. This image inhabited me with a bemused sense of sweaty irony. I find it fatuously unsettling how easily Buddhism has taken to the highly commercial culture of modernity.

"The long tail boat than took us into a labyrinthine latticework of canals innervating Thai neighborhoods that alternate seemingly at random between wooden shantytowns and opulent villas...we stopped at a large orchid farm populated by gorgeous airborne flowers. I looked up at the opal sky, overcome by delicate blossoms with the mouths of insects..."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Selections from "Thai Travels" No. 1

"My uncle lives on the outskirts of Bangkok. I slept the hot, humid night away without a blanket. When I woke up, I went outside into the morning drizzle. While I observed the orchids, the drizzle turned into a downpour. I sat on the covered porch to watch the hard rain drench the tropical plants. A few peals of thunder anointed the day...

"A shirtless Thai man ran down the street in the rain. He got into a van and revved the engine for several minutes. The sound of gunshot echoed through the neighborhood. The van had backfired. Just then, the rain stopped, as suddenly as it started."

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Masters of the Compendium

On February 17, 1998, the acclaimed filmmaker Cesario Flores was asked by a critic to name his favorite movie. He answered by naming We Won’t Go Home Again, a book divided into a series of photo essays followed by some tense journalistic prose of obvious relation, which seemed to at first confound and then infuriate the critic. “Every movie I make is about a lesbian relationship between a young girl and a woman in late middle age,” Flores added as a somewhat generous explanation.

The critic, Christopher Dennett, responded by letting the interview devolve into an argument. Dennett had become known for championing a very controversial French zombie film. Seeing how he could profit by trading in provocation, he later wrote “A Review of a Film That Doesn’t Exist” which earned him at first a letter of rejection but later further notoriety. With that in mind, Dennett decided to needle Flores about his constant conflicts with producers over their requests that he stick to a script rather just going off and shooting footage of all the people he met on location.

Flores tried to explain by referring to a dream he had shortly after completing work on his first feature. In the dream, Flores had to convince the actor Gabriel Byrne to appear as William Shakespeare in a movie about going to Bermuda to research The Tempest. Believing that this was a sign that he had been infected by out of control cinephilia, Flores decided to completely shift his way of working. The argument instigated by Dennett because he felt Flores was deliberating obfuscating eventually bloomed into a sham rivalry that persisted between the director and critic for many years.

Flores and Dennett never realized the formative experience they nearly shared in common. When Flores was a boy, his great uncle died and left a minor and insignificant fortune to his family. They proceeded to fight viciously amongst themselves over the inheritance until they had consumed both themselves and the fortune. Flores avoided being swallowed whole by the conflagration but it left a distinct imprint on his consciousness.

In his own childhood, Dennett watched his parents conflict with increasing frequency over family finances as they found each other less attractive and lovable (and we will ask which direction the causality runs without ever receiving a satisfactory answer). The divorce battle that ensued, a mess of money and machismo, traumatized young Dennett. He had to live with his mother’s sister when it became increasingly violent. Later he would describe this experience infrequently to close friends when the mood struck him. One friend, the actor and director Danny DeVito, based the film The War of the Roses on what Christopher Dennett told him late at night in dimly lit bars.

But this story was not true, or at least it was exaggerated. The divorce was not as much about a financial conflict as it was about a deep disagreement about how to live in the world.

This article’s sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. Please help to improve this article by introducing more precise citations where appropriate. (July 2010)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Mind of Alexandra Anixter

“The ignorant man works for his own gain, the wise man acts prolifically for obvious reasons, and the wise woman behaves above all as a seer. She sees the ignorant man’s work for what it really means and the wise man’s actions for what they represent to the world. She has constant doubts, as do her sisters, but the doubts are merely a mad distraction implanted by the twisted arts of work and action. Knowledge from sight remains with the woman while man’s feeble attempts at escaping inner despair fall away with every iteration. ”

Alexandra Anixter wrote the above paragraph in the first edition of The Book of Life. The very same people who had once embraced her researches chose to ostracize, persecute, and attack her for what she had written in a radical departure from her previous work. She engaged in heated debates with academicians of every field of inquiry in lecture halls and labs; at conferences that went out over networks; on elevators; in coffeeshops; within the shadows cast by clock towers. The police arrested her for assaulting Dmitri Yersin (a bureaucrat of some repute), though she vigorously denied initiating the altercation despite the reports of a few excitable eyewitnesses.

Next she published The Book of Time, in which she claimed she could transmigrate human consciousness into objects both animate and inanimate. While this claim received the bulk of the attention still remaining due to her, much more importantly she proposed a theory of time’s relation to the real and the unreal. In discussing the theory with her, I found that Alexandra seemed increasingly aggravated by the clumsy semiosis of our language. I feared that she had begun to develop a messianic complex. Not the least of my worries: that she might actually be able to lead us to the Promised Land. I did not feel I was ready to go.

As she found herself ever more isolated and unable to hold down a job or publish further work except through publishers too sleazy for her to bear, self-medication started in earnest. It pained me to watch her body and mind decay by poison. Unfortunately, I had my own reputation to consider. I felt deeply unsettled by my own selfishness and yet I justified my cold-hearted actions as deference to my own family. I hope that her next form will forgive me.

Alexandra was not fully aware at the time that all of what has been described in the preceding paragraphs took place entirely within the confines of her own mind. Yet twelve thousand Malaysians bore witness to her paranormal adventure as part of their government’s experiment with telepathy. A distinguished program of the Wawasan 2020 campaign, these seemingly innumerable individuals watched these events in real time, and so only they could fully appreciate Alexandra’s theory of real time as she described it in her second informal book of total awareness.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

: Power Police : Merry Musicians :

The whole police department was up in arms when orchestra entered
They didn’t know which weapons were instruments
or which genders were ready to be blasted
So they lit themselves on fire.
But the building couldn’t burn.
It had been covered in plasticine material
/usually reserved for old-stile aeroplanes
that are protecting rational thinking stage actors from getting in
,too much trouble,
when they make mistakes in front of the conductor.

He screams and he screams and he doesn’t use words
because it would be confusing and pointless.
That is the nature of the police exercise.
They want to marry musicians
and be felt around the world
not those who share power among the best of us.
Power isn’t publicly traded.
/that is why the orchestra has a problem.

Each musician has an instrument that has a cat or a bird inside
But the birds are ostriches
/they are not the best of us.
But I most certainly am.
Don’t ever forget when you’re ready.
Don’t ever forget it.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Ritual and Retrogression

Timothy Corbin had been diagnosed with von Donnersmack’s syndrome, a psychological condition that prevented him from continuously internalizing his own age. Named after Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Donnersmack, the 19th century German chemist who first theorized its existence after observing the behavior of a student, it had developed in Timothy only very recently. One day, Timothy would be able to study as he normally had in the past. But the next day he would apply for Social Security benefits, thinking he would qualify as a retiree. And the day after that he would be at a playground riding the Merry-go-round without the cares of maturation and adulthood entering his mind at all.

Timothy’s unpredictable behavior quickly became a concern to his friends and family. His roommate, Chad Schmidt, had first noticed when Timothy began to watch PBS Newshour and Nickelodeon alternately with alarming frequency. Chad and Timothy had always shared a certain imaginative curiosity, but Chad could tell that his roommate was acting erratically even by their standards. Chad spoke to Timothy’s parents and helped his old buddy seek out a psychiatrist of good reputation. Even as Timothy started to receive the medical attention he desperately needed, the perpetual forgetting of his own age saddened Chad. Chad felt he might lose a friend. In the meantime that friend interfered with Chad’s ambition of inventing a new musical instrument. They would not be roommates for much longer.

The first psychiatrist that Timothy saw, in spite of his skillful manner, could not grasp the condition that burdened his new patient. For this reason, the psychiatrist decided to refer Timothy to Dr. T.M. Jiuliang, a specialist in rare psychological phenomena. Reports of Dr. Jiuliang’s notoriously intrusive methods concerned Timothy’s parents at first. But after Dr. Jiuliang’s accurately diagnosed Timothy’s disorder as von Dommersmack’s syndrome and explained to them that there is no cure or even a proven treatment, they gained a certain reluctant confidence in the renowned doctor.

Within weeks, Dr. Jiuliang had determined that talk therapy, psychotropic medicines and a variety of other traditional treatments were largely ineffectual in helping Timothy to remember his own age for more than twenty-four hours. Fortunately, inspiration struck Dr. Jiuliang in a moment of scientific rapture. He realized that Timothy’s amnesiac wanderings could be relieved by a kind of perpetual birthday celebration. By lighting the number of candles that corresponded to Timothy’s actual age on a birthday cake every day for the rest of his life, the worst effects of von Donnersmack’s syndrome could be avoided. Dr. Jiuliang thought the solution’s cost effectiveness, when compared to price of “shrinks or drugs,” might be its most beautiful aspect. And he had long held a deep appreciation for the power of ritual in the daily lives of men and women. Though he believed he had gained this understanding from reading Freud and Durkheim, as well as through his own observations and experiences, the insight had first been planted in his mind in elementary school when a particularly brilliant teacher had bestowed lessons about the great scientists of the past on her most promising pupils. His awareness of Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Donnersmack’s extensive writings on the subject of ritual remained inured in his subconsciousness ever since that time.

When Chad Schmidt felt frustrated with his stuttering and noisy contraptions, he would add or remove candles from Timothy’s birthday cake. But Timothy did not mind because occasionally forgetting his true vintage gave him an intense angle on mortality, like being confined to a room while the years passed by outside in every direction.

Friday, March 18, 2011

You Don’t Need the Boss, the Boss Needs You

On Monday, I stood in the rain on the steps of the state capitol in Sacramento with thousands of students and workers to protest further deep cuts to California’s beleaguered public infrastructure. Last Saturday, over 85,000 people marched in Madison, Wisconsin in support of the basic rights of workers to collectively bargain. What these actions have in common, aside from being largely ignored by corporate media outlets, is a renewed commitment to resisting the relentless assault on the American middle class exemplified by Governor Scott Walker’s phantom anti-worker agenda in Wisconsin and the persistent lack of democracy in California.

In last fall’s elections, Scott Walker did not campaign on stripping the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively. Yet that has become the non-negotiable central goal of his brief tenure in office. Similarly, the progressives who swept every statewide office in California while continuing to hold commanding majorities in both chambers of the legislature did not campaign on a platform of cutting further billions from California’s education and health care systems. But such cuts are the most conspicuous feature of Jerry Brown’s proposed budget.

Electoral democracy has effectively ceased to function across vast swaths of the federal, state and local governments of the United States of America. This did not happen by accident, but rather is part of a plan orchestrated and carried out by a relatively small group of wealthy plutocrats and radical right-wing ideologues with converging interests. They accept frequent assistance from heedlessly self-interested corporations particularly those in the financial industry along with various fundamentalist Christian organizations. All of this may sound like a conspiracy theory, but I would hardly call it that. Much of this plan has been carried out in the open and there is extensive literature documenting it all the way back to the late 1970s. A recent example of this documentation would be Jane Meyers’ extensive investigative report for the New Yorker on the hugely influential political activities of the Koch brothers, who are well known industrial billionaires that believe in radically remaking the U.S. to have an authoritarian government exclusively of the rich, by the rich and for the rich.

For these reasons, elections can no longer be the principal means that the American people use to express their political will because the results of elections have become increasingly detached from actual government policymaking. One can look at the unanticipated but vicious attacks on workers rights across the Midwest, or California’s non-democratic legislature, or the absurdly dysfunctional institution that is the United States Senate, to know with certainty that this assertion is true. Voting is still important and seems to occasionally yield results, but the machinery of governance has become too disconnected from the voting booth for it to be reliable as the primary democratic action. I am advocating that given the deteriorating position of the middle class and the perilous state of global climate systems, U.S. citizenship demands more from those who benefit from its rights and privileges.

But what else can we do? If the electoral process is too corrupt to be effective and a self-selected billionaire elite is systematically dismantling democratic self-government, it would seem that despair is our only option. Except to believe that would only be buying into the modern mythology about ultra wealthy people. We are meant to believe they are wealthy because they are brilliant, or talented, or because they add untold value to our economy, or even due to a preternatural luck that the rest of us cannot access. But in reality, they are only rich because of us. The Koch brothers are nothing more than a pair of clever thugs who have helped push the government to systematically redistribute the wealth of the nation upwards for the last thirty years, some of it into their own pockets. We make them wealthy and we can stop anytime we want.

When I was in Sacramento, there were huge numbers of students from community colleges and CSUs, but very few from the University of California. I think that is because UC students do not understand that we don’t need the boss. Rather, the boss needs us. Put simply: the University of California, the state of California, the United States of America and most especially the moneyed elites that have driven our country into a ditch, can only function if students keep going to school, workers keep going to work, and the police keep securing the institutions of public and private governance against the collective will of the governed. What would happen if we just stopped playing their game?

Crossposted at the Cal Dems Blog.