Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I Shot JFK

With the anniversary of Kennedy's death, Americans once again have the opportunity to engage in the most cherished of national pastimes - obsessing over the minutiae of an elaborate fantasy, rather than engage with the real world...

It's gotten to the point that it doesn't matter what "really happened" or what little bits of trivia might be revealed by the unsealing of sixty year old files now that everyone involved has died of old age. Assassination Conspiracy has had decades to germinate and is now its own culture so facts no longer matter - as demonstrated most recently by 9/11 Truthers. What does matter is the sense of group identity, the sense of purpose in facing a common enemy, and - most important to the common American mind! - the sense of being one of the few who know the truth of things. Being one of the elect.

At this point, any further information released on JFK will only serve to bolster the conspiracy theories. Even photo evidence of Oswald firing from the book depository will be determined to be deliberate disinformation, a conscious act by The Government to dispel the conspiracy theories and thereby be another piece of evidence in their favor!

That's the beauty of conspiracy theories - they can never be proven wrong. Any and all disconnected bits of information can be cobbled together as evidence, while anything to the contrary is clearly planted by some shadowy cabal, so terrified of the lone dweeb posting The Truth on a web forum. It's a power fantasy for the utterly powerless.

But let's say for the sake of argument that Oswald didn't do it. Does that imply a wide ranging conspiracy of Cubans, mobsters, the military-industrial complex, and gay orgies? Does it imply Jack Ruby killed Oswald to maintain some elaborate facade, only to die himself so as to tie up all possible loose ends? Or does it merely imply that the US Government can tremendously screw up?

We're talking about the same institution that has been forced to exonerate hundreds of people convicted on shoddy, sometimes falsified evidence. An institution that has twice occupied foreign countries when there was absolutely no strategic reason for doing so. An institution collectively dumb enough to grant Ted Cruz a salary.

And the thing is, it wouldn't be that surprising if Oswald really had nothing to do with it. Not because of that old "back and to the left" joke - perpetuated by people who don't understand ballistics and don't want to - but because 1) It was a very poor angle from the depository and 2) Connolly and the rest of the car were hit by a lot of bullets. Just as a basic understanding of ballistics makes Kennedy's death throes understandable, so does it stretch credulity that all those other holes were made by a single slug.

But again, all that really implies is "some other guy or guys got away with it." That premise does not naturally lead to military-industrial-orgies, no matter what Alex Jones tells you. But acknowledging that as an unknown - and an unknown of which you have no power over, because you're not special - is a terrifying prospect to a culture as systemically narcissistic as America. And it's why, even sixty years later, we're all still stuck on that grassy knoll.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Fiend Friday: The True Story of Jeannot

Today's Fiction Friday is a slice from Chapter 14 of my novel:

We put ashore as the sun rose over the ocean. A stirring sight - even more so as it brought such annihilating heat to the two of us. I overturned the longboat in a lagoon, making a solid shade for the day. We rested in low tide, little fish swimming and wriggling through our clothes as crabs pinched at our dead flesh... We awoke looking like we'd crawled seven miles through brambles!

"How far from Cap Francois are we?" asked Anna

"Damned if we're going back there!" I snapped, pulling off my boots to drain the seawater.

"Are we to live in the jungle then? Like maroons?" She smiled. That still beautiful smile - so rare and loveless by then - turned my stomach.

Idiota... "Not a bad idea."

We didn't, of course. But we found the next best thing - a sugarcane plantation! Just one of the hundreds dotting Hispaniola, crawling all day with slaves while the planter and his family sat with their feet up in a house to make Louis XIV envious... You'd think we'd be turned away, coming as we did in the dead of night, our fine city clothes ruined by water and wilderness. But no sooner had an elderly Negress answered the door than my Anna fell into an inspired performance -

"Oh, pity on poor travelers!" she cried, throwing herself at the surprised house slave's feet. "God's grace and pity! Our carriage was overturned and looted by maroons! And if not for my brave uncle, they'd have had my virtue too!"

The Negress immediately went for her master - who was asleep, so she had to settle for the lady of the house. A sentimental old biddy who about fainted as Anna repeated her lurid tale. With more embellishment, naturally - "A dozen mad maroons! Screaming voodoo prayers to Beelzebub! My brave uncle beat them all off with a root he tore from the ground!"

Such a clever girl...

We received a royal welcome after that. Madame Bullet put Anna up in a fine room once occupied by her daughter - who'd since been married off to some other planter somewhere. Anna had her pick of the dresses left behind and the Negress brought me some of Monsieur’s older suits that didn't fit anymore. Even then, they hung a bit too loosely around my waist and shoulders. I took the guest room, an equally lavish cavern decorated liberally with every furniture and fashion to come out of Paris in the last fifty years...

And outside, perhaps the most important boon, a banquet of slave blood. The Bullet plantation was ringed with gulleys, deep and steep and filled with the dead and dying. Monsieur Bullet had so many slaves he didn't have to bother with their health! Those that suffered from disease or injury or too many whippings, those that couldn't swing a machete at the sugarcane anymore were cast into the gullies to be claimed by the island. Any who thought to bring them food or water lost the giving hand straight off before receiving a stern talking to...

Bullet was fond of talking, as we learned the following evening. We awoke to a grotesquely obese man, bustling about the mansion, putting on a great show of his management skill for us rare visitors - "Sweep out this mess!" he shouted to an old Negress, already sweeping. "We have company, by God!"

Turning to us, "Ah, Monsieur et Mademoiselle! How long you slept! I was about to send for a doctor. This jungle air can be hard on the humors, you know..."

"I fear my niece suffers from a disorder that makes the light of day unbearable," I told him. "I myself find it difficult, owing to many voyages across the North Sea."

He straightened up - not an easy feat with such girth - "A sailing man, eh? But not a sailor, surely!"

"I've captained a ship or two," I replied.

"Ah-ha, I knew it!" He led us into the front room, where Madame Bullet waited to entertain us, a younger Negress at her beck and call with a tray full of fruits and sweet meats. "You have the look, if you don't mind my saying. You've got the sharp eyes of a master... One master to another, eh? Ah-hah! I almost captained a ship myself, not too long ago. It was that or this land and - no offense, monsieur - but land is a much better investment than a ship. Of course I suspect you'd agree with me after last night..."

Fond of his own voice, to tell the truth... , a petite bourgeois who'd bought his land for centimes an acre and worked it to desolation.

If Sothanax was a crude hypocrite, Bullet was simply crude... Loudly celebrating the sanctity of wealth and station, sputtering at the mere mention of "Natural Rights" or any other "Jacobin merde! Those sly devils, thinking themselves equal to who God Himself has ordained! Why, were I a younger man, I'd set sail for France this very night! Pledge myself to King Louis! Show those low and treasonous enfillates what for!"

Never mind this petite-bourgeoisie owed his livelihood to such Jacobin merde...

Oh, he was a rotten sort! Talking himself up, running down his neighbors, bragging about his own fine clothes and how only a fine gentleman such as himself - "And honored guests!" - could wear them properly... I tell you, Doctor - give any common imbecile a little money and he'll start prancing about like you've just crowned him king of the dandies!

Bullet's only other passion? Tormenting the blacks. He collected slave heads like lesser men collect stamps, skewering them all around his vast estate as decoration. He beat and raped black children whenever he drank too much taifa - or not enough. Even his wife - that sentimental Madame who doted over Anna and I! - she had their cook thrown into his own oven one evening when a pie crust was not to her liking!

Anna and I witnessed all of this without comment... As did one other. One of Bullet's many slaves, a middle-aged Negro he called Jeannot - an intentionally diminutive name, and the Negro knew it. He kept the house, commanded its staff of flinching and twitching Negresses, and bore the brunt of every one of Bullet's rotten whims.

"Oh Jeannot?" Bullet would call, all snickering malice. "Jeannot, what do you make of this vintage?" and he would hold out whatever he happened to be drinking at the time. Wine when he wanted to look particularly sophisticated, but usually taifa...

Jeannot would look at the offered drink, then look back at his master with a weary caution. "Ain't supposed to drank, messer," he'd say, his voice a tired quaver.

"Oh don't be such a stick in the mud! Of course you can drink!" Bullet would persist. And they would go back and forth like this - Bullet sometimes winking at us - until Jeannot obeyed.

And Bullet had him wiped. Because slaves weren't allowed to drink in his house...

It does something to a man - a grown man! - to suffer such constant humiliations. Whipped for drinking or whipped for looking too long at Madame Bullet or whipped just because it was a Tuesday... Bullet drove Jeannot enough to inspire a brutal hatred, but not as badly as he did the rest. For starters, Jeannot still had both hands...

And he had this look to his eyes. Cold, hard, biding time... I can't say if the Negro ever planned to do anything about his situation but his eyes said it plain - he wanted to. Oh how he wanted to!

"I hear him in the early morning," Anna said to me once. "He whispers what he would do to that enfillate, if he could..."

"Idle talk," I replied dismissively. "He's no match for all of those whip-hands employed by El Mala Hostia and he knows it..."

And maybe that's why my Anna gave him such a bloody gift...

One hot evening out in the fields - we took our blood from the slaves who'd collapsed during the day, left there by their fellows for fear of the overseers - when I heard a terrible screaming from the house. Fearing another of Anna's indiscretions, I made a dash back through the sugar cane, barely touching the the ground.

Oh it was one of her indiscretions alright. The most overt yet! I denied her making any more of our kind and had thought that to be the end of it. Like a fool... In the open ground at the front of the Maison Bullet, Jeannot had just pulled an overseer in half with his bare hands! The screams came form Madame Bullet, who he fell upon next, silencing her with a swift bite!

And up on the porch, beside an ashen with terror Bullet, my Anna smiling at her handiwork. Gah, esta coña idiota! She'd turned that battered Negro into one of us!

I sprang up the steps, ready to knock her block clean off. "Te demonia! What have you done now!"

"Don't tell me they don't deserve it," she said coquettishly, still admiring her handiwork

Jeannot, dripping overseer gore, lurched his way up the steps to the big house. His black eyes - so like mine, so like Anna's - looked right through me to the cowering Bullet. "Out of the way..." he commanded, his voice a far away atrocity.

"Oh l'aide!" squealed Bullet, stumbling back into the house he'd built off so many other brutalized Negros. Like Jeannot. "L'aide!"

I glared back at Jeannot, seeing all that misery and hunger for vengeance he'd held so tightly no flowing through his every movement... I thought of Bullet and his prancing and his misquoting and his self-satisfaction... And I stood aside, welcoming Jeannot into the house with an "All yours, mon frere!"

Read the book that just got four stars on Smashwords! Thanks, Julia!

And here's an honest-to-god paperback for all you luddites!

Ships within the week. Kitchen table not included.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Beyond Blunderdome

The Hunger Games is in the news again because you swine have no taste. I gave the first book a try and promptly dismissed it as a pathetic escapist fantasy for reactionaries looking for their own version of Twilight. And I sure as hell ain't reading the sequel that just got its own holiday blockbuster.

So I sat down and suffered through the first film - with some help from the good people and bots over at Rifftrax. I'm reminded of John Dolan's view of the Lord of the Rings films - all of the higher themes are buried under bathos and the more vile aspects. Except The Hunger Games, both the original novel and the broader series, have no higher themes. They're vehicles of pure narcissism and so there's nothing to emphasis in a film translation but the vile.

It's starts with Jennifer Lawrence. A good enough actress but far too clean and healthy for some post-apocalyptic survivor hero. Her whole podunk town is too clean and healthy. And pretty. All unblemished white WB kids and the sort of middle aged white people you see as "middle class" shmoes in Republican campaign commercials. I counted all of three black people in the entire two and half hours and the only one who lives is Lenny Kravitz. And he doesn't count.

See, when just reading Suzanne Collins terrible prose, I can at least visualize a properly dystopian setting with properly worn down protagonists. Jennifer Lawrence sure doesn't look like any coal town girl I ever saw - and I've actually been through Appalachia, something the filmmakers didn't do. Instead, they just cribbed from Depression era photographs for the aforementioned pretty poor white people and then just smoked a whole mess of crack when dreaming up the super-rich capitol city. Everything is so clean there, in contrast to the squalor of the Heroes' hometown. Clean and filled with ridiculous clown people, like some guy with an exaggerated beard stencil and what I assumed was the ghost of Liberace.

"Lady Gaga, I am your father!"

And don't try to argue this shit isn't important. Film is a distinctly visual medium and the visuals in The Hunger Games go against it's attempted depiction of some pseudo-soviet state because the contrast is so sharp. The actual Soviet state could put on a kick-ass parade once in a while but the apartment blocks of the elitny got just as moldy and run down as that of the prols, not to mention how no city ever has been just rich people. After all, who would do all the real work?

It just gets worse when the two white-bread, corn-ball leads finally make it to the killing fields. The film briefly becomes passable, as all the kids rush to kill each other. But that's more fast-cut editing, the same thing Sam Raimi did to make the epic battle in Army of Darkness so punchy and engaging. As soon as Lawrence runs off into the woods, it just devolves into an hour of her and the baker boy making moon eyes at each other, when not being menaced by the Jocks. And only menaced - not like the heroine is gonna be proactive, stalking and killing them methodically like that whole opening of her hunting a deer implied...

But there I go again, expecting a coherent story from another geek stroke book. The whole "evil opressive government" deal is constantly undermined by the absurd delivery - which goes on for bloody ever, reducing the dramatic effect. And the supposed horror of the Camp Kill Your Kids is watered down to make it broadly palatable. Yes, in the book too! It's not just the poor man's Battle Royale, but an insultingly bad retread of the great unknown Series 7.

You wanna see people hunting each other for sport? You wanna see a commentary on violence in contemporary American entertainment? Series 7 is all of that and more - nominally a marathon of hit reality show The Contenders, it follows a clutch of unlucky lottery winners compelled to hunt down and murder each other for U the viewer! And not in some sanitized forest but all across suburbia, culminating in the two romantic leads trying to rebel against their own tyrannical government and meeting a much more realistic result.

Shot dead beneath the snake cakes...

But you don't want any of that. Not really. You want some corn-fed white kids to enact all your violent, paranoid fantasies but through contrivances that allow them to strike a moral pose.

Well listen up you primitive screwheads - you are not the brave hunter or huntress frolicking in the woods and bringing the strawberries. You are not a threat to the government or anything but small animals trying to cross the road. You are oppressed though - by your job and social convention and a kleptocratic system that rewards wealthy failures and gambling addicts. And you're just fine with that set up because it placates you with escapist fluff like The Hunger Games, where you can try to feel those real human emotions so alien to your craven, sedentary existence.

Monday, November 11, 2013


American elections are like herpes - they just keep on giving!

Not that you particularly want any. Since Tuesday, the news sites of every persuasion have been flooded with noise that's not so much analysis as it's just rationalizations of what the authors want.

Like all the "progressives" celebrating how Christie won with bipartisanship and charisma and whatever. News flash for all you pseudointellectual post-irony hipsters - Chris Christie is as crooked as any other corporate suck-puppet. He'll even veto a bill that passes the New Jersey legislature by 91% if it means he can score a few votes in Iowa in 2016. His bipartisanship is a means to an end, which is his wide end planted in the oval office. He's ambition unclouded by any sort of principle and just because he doesn't look like the screaming crazies currently in the House doesn't mean he's your Great White Hope.

And on the subject of governors, let's take a look at the Commonwealth. I have yet to see any pundit acknowledge the demographic split that drove McAuliffe to victory. They all want to give the credit to the shutdown, or deny the credit to the shutdown, or entertain the Tea Party persecution complex.

Here's the thing about Virginia - the shutdown was viscerally important to one demographic and totally foreign to another. And you can see that in any district map. Northern Virginia - where all the money is federal money - went decisively for McAuliffe. My birthplace of Fairfax, not exactly a liberal hippie commune, swung blue by 72%! And the second most populous area, Charlottesville and surrounding Albermarle county, also voted Democrat. Because UVa is there and you'd best believe the Wahoos didn't want four years under the witch-finder general.

Now C-Ville may be dominated by university liberals but Northern Virginia has been strongly Republican since I can remember. Old-school, old money Republican. The kind who tolerate the anti-sex hicks who swoon over Cuccinelli if it gets them the good contracts and tax cuts. They rallied against Clinton, rallied behind Bush, supported McCain and Romeny... but they also voted for Tim Kain and Jim Webb. Because they don't give a shit about all that "liberty" and "constitution" and "islamo-commie" blather. They don't like the Democrats but they want the damn government to at least function.

And if the Tea Party has made one thing abundantly clear, it is that it will break the whole system. No matter what. If they don't get their way, smash it all. If they do, smash it all anyway. Cuccinelli demonstrated his commitment to that nihilistic jihad, pursuing one deluded cause after another as attorney general. Blocking Obamacare, criminalizing sex - if it was in the Tea Party pamphlet he did it.

That endeared him to the same mean and stupid hicks who always vote Republican anyway. I lived in central Virginia for seven years so I know these people in my goddamn blood - they are just mean and stupid. They will vote for whoever flatters their craven vanities while promising to do the most harm to coloreds and queers. This is the same third of Americans who supported Bush in 2007 when every other Republican with a career was jumping ship. The same who bought into every one of Glenn Beck's Saturday morning conspiracy theories. The same who honestly expected Romeny to win because they have as much contact with reality as the island of the lotus eaters. And they account for all of Virginia, save for little islands of blue like Arlington and Albermarle.

The only real lesson of 2013 is the one nobody will admit - for Democrats to win, campaign hard among urban non-whites and leave the hicks to stew in resentment. And if you think Virginia is somehow an aberration, just take a look at the NYC election map. American elections are now the billionaires and the hicks versus everyone else. The rest ain't even commentary.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Fiend Friday: New Paperback Available!

My novel Fiend 2.0 is finally available in paperback! Look for it at these fine internet retailers and get your fang on!

Create Space

The more money I make from this, the more time I can spend pissing off libertarians for your amusement!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

When Elections Don't Matter

The grand contest between Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota for mayor of New York City wasn't so much "sound and fury... signifying nothing" as it was a big sucking hole of a non-issue. Not just in the staggering lead de Blasio held over Lhota but in how every issue supposedly framing the election was not something the mayor of this crooked city could or would ever change.

New Yorkers pay the highest taxes of anyone in the country and for increasingly little return. Bill de Blasio campaigned on getting Wall Street pinheads to pay more, earning him the admiration of everyone scraping by - so about 99% - and a hilarious front page meltdown over at the New York Post.

But lost in all this noise was the fact that the mayor cannot raise taxes beyond a certain level. And that's a state law, not city. Not to mention the asshole bankers pulling down the big fraud bucks all either reside in Connecticut or list their primary residence as their vacation home in Aruba. Hell, there are people down in Mill Basin puling that second trick! It's a lot like Greece, where raising taxes on the wealthy doesn't even begin to get around the central problem of the wealthy refusing to pay taxes at all.

Stop and Frisk
This was the big one. Even bigger than the red-baiting and fake tax talk. And nothing will come of it. As Anthony "No Balls" Bologna should have taught everyone two years ago, the NYPD is already a straight-up fascist operation. Doing away with a tactic won't change their essential character - they'll continue to terrorize black men and pepper spray unarmed women as long as they exist.

And make no mistake, the NYPD budget is as sacrosanct as the DOD. New York City has more armed men in uniform than most third world dictatorships and for the exact same reason - the powers that be in this city are absolutely terrified of the peasants. Whoever is mayor has to see to the interests of those powers first, so even if de Blasio orders the cops to stop touching black men's junk they'll still have the broader mandate to keep everyone terrified.

The Subway Kittens
About a month ago, there was a huge delay in the subway system when kittens were found on the tracks. Everything shut down so they could be rescued, causing a lot of people to be late but come on! Kittens!

Except Joe Lhota came out and argued that the trains should have been allowed to run anyway. So that's the one upside to this election - the kitten-hating asshole lost.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Game Over

I didn't go see Ender's Game this weekend but I did once read the book. So here's a review that'll hopefully score me some more blag traffic!

The one thing that always confused me about Ender's Game was how everyone insisted the titular Ender Wiggins was some sort of tactical genius. Yeah, I know there's supposed to be some stuff about loyalty and friendship and the horrors of war and blah blah blah... But all I ever heard from sci-fi nerds is how clever the main character was.

So I read the book and his brilliant battle tactic? More dakka. Really. No feints, no deftly timed maneuvers, just "Ender smash!" Threw me a bit...

In fairness, while zero-g training, Wiggums figures out that his team can use their own legs as a shield for the opposing team's fire. Because it's just lazer tag and differentiates between vital organs and extremities. But this doesn't change the essential plan of four yards and a cloud of bullets. And he sticks to the same kill 'em all style all the way through, until he's vaporized the alien homeworld while thinking the whole thing was still just training. And the character bits in between all the shooting in a white room... it's thoroughly forgettable.

In fact, that's a good way to sum up the entire book. Not bad, at least not enough for me to work up a good rant. It just kinda sits there, like mayonnaise. Which shouldn't be surprising, being a Mormon's attempt at grafting Starship Troopers to The Forever War.

So then why is Endgame so popular in nerd circles? I propose it has nothing to do with the story or the prose style - which is godawful, though still not enough for a proper hate-down. No, Eddie Wiggles is a popular genre character because he is the embodiment of the common Waffentwerp fantasy - the smart dork triumphing violently over everyone and everything.

It's a distinctly teenage boy mentality. It's always the put upon dweeb and the triumph is always of some violent or martial sort. Luke Skywalker, Paul Atreides, that goon from The Last Starfighter - all nobodies who redefine themselves through violence and all beloved by the real losers out there. In Paul's case, he goes on to seriously question what his killing name has wrought on the universe but the fandom doesn't usually dwell on that as it gets in the way of giggling over all the badass wormriders. Badass is the whole raison d'etre of these characters - and Ender - as far as the geek hordes are concerned because being badass - wreaking tremendous, righteous violence - elevates one from the loserdom that is the common American male's everyday existence.

And finally, it's a fantasy because it supposes that "genius" in war is even a factor. Ulysses S. Grant, a truly great general, saved most of his genius for logistics while Robert E. Lee was off doing the romantic tactician stuff. Grant won. Napoleon packed the Grand Armee with as much cannon as it could hold, like the battalions of Gustavus two centuries earlier -

Okay, so More Dakka is a highly effective strategy. But it doesn't take a whole lot of thought. The stuff that does - insurgency, counter-terrorism - takes a little more smarts but then only a little. You'd think twelve years of irregular, asymetric warfare would have taught people this stuff. Osama bin Laden scored one heck of a tactical victory on 9/11, but he also believed in Allah. Not a Mensa candidate is what I'm sayin'...

But there's nothing badass about any of that. So rather than a film treatment of the long grind and moral ambiguity of warfare, we get Indiana Ford and Ass Butter acting out the power fantasies of a Mormon milquetoast. Go read up on the Thirty Years War or the Battle of Rivoli if you wanna know what military genius looks like. If you wanna see Ender's genius, do a Zerg rush in Starcraft.